LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire – The P-I editorial of March 29 asserts that the FBI has been “flying high on the wings of the Patriot Act,” using it to collect private information, “telephone and financial records, e-mails, whatever—almost on a whim.”
At no time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has the FBI been “flying high.” Rather, our agents and analysts have worked tirelessly, under immense pressure from Congress and the American public, to ensure that what happened five years ago does not happen again. The “halcyon days”—as you called them—of collecting information, without justification or oversight, simply do not exist, and never did.
We do not use National Security Letters (NSLs) to collect intelligence haphazardly or “on a whim.” Nor do we collect information that is not relevant to a potential terrorist threat or investigation. The FBI is not in the business of needlessly collecting intelligence on American citizens; we are in the business of predicting and preventing acts of terrorism. That means being able to sort through large amounts of data and “connect the dots,” if those connections will help prevent the next attack.
If a suspected terrorist is using a particular phone number or e-mail account, we must be able to identify those with whom that individual regularly communicates, and do it quickly. If our foreign intelligence partners break up a plot involving terrorists, we need to know whom those suspects have been talking to or sending money to in the United States and we need to follow those leads. It is not for voyeuristic pleasure. It is because we carry the burden of an immense responsibility.
We recognize that we made mistakes in the process of how we used some of these investigative tools. The Inspector General’s report found no indication of any of the mistakes being deliberate. That said, we accept full responsibility for those mistakes. You suggest that Director Mueller failed to provide adequate answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s use of NSLs. To the contrary, Director Mueller has accepted full responsibility and has put forth a detailed plan to track compliance and avoid future mistakes in what is admittedly a complex process. These reforms will ensure that we comply fully with both the letter and the spirit the authorities entrusted to the FBI.
The American people expect—and rightly so—that we uphold the Constitution and protect both privacy rights and civil liberties. But they also expect and demand that in national security investigations, the FBI investigate every tip and every threat. The expect us to “connect the dots.”
While we can and will fix our administrative processes, in one sense was your editorial correct. There are no second chances—not with regard to the safety and security of the American people. Stripping the FBI of one of its most vital investigative tools will serve no one, least of all the American public.