In a review of nearly 2,500 pages of documents released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a result of litigation under the Freedom of Information Act, EFF uncovered alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices. The documents consist of reports made by the FBI to the Intelligence Oversight Board of violations committed during intelligence investigations from 2001 to 2008. The documents suggest that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed. In particular, EFF’s analysis provides new insight into:
Number of Violations Committed by the FBI
- From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800 violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.
- From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.
- Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI’s own statements regarding the number of NSL violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.1
Substantial Delays in the Intelligence Oversight Process
- From 2001 to 2008, both FBI and IOB oversight of intelligence activities was delayed and likely ineffectual; on average, 2.5 years elapsed between a violation’s occurrence and its eventual reporting to the IOB.
Type and Frequency of FBI Intelligence Violations
- From 2001 to 2008, of the nearly 800 violations reported to the IOB:
- over one-third involved FBI violation of rules governing internal oversight of intelligence investigations.
- nearly one-third involved FBI abuse, misuse, or careless use of the Bureau’s National Security Letter authority.
- almost one-fifth involved an FBI violation of the Constitution, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or other laws governing criminal investigations or intelligence gathering activities.
- From 2001 to 2008, in nearly half of all NSL violations, third-parties to whom NSLs were issued — phone companies, internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit agencies —contributed in some way to the FBI’s unauthorized receipt of personal information.
- From 2001 to 2008, the FBI engaged in a number of flagrant legal violations, including:
- submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts.
- using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas.
- accessing password protected documents without a warrant.