The Justice Department finalized a new set of more lenient guidelines regulating what tactics FBI agents can use for criminal and national security investigations.Elements of the proposed changes generated attention after Democratic lawmakers heard testimony about them in August and worried publicly in a letter to the Attorney General's Office that they could lead to abuse. ...
The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department was asked to wait until the next president takes office before making any drastic changes to bureau guidelines, but the current White House, which is similarly overhauling how other law-enforcement agencies can collect domestic intelligence as Bush's tenure comes to a close, rejected that idea.
The bureau's definition of "assessment" is what seems to startle some observers the most. An assessment is different than a full-blown criminal or national security investigation, the latter of which requires reasonable suspicion, or "factual predication" as the bureau calls it, that a crime has occurred.
Groups or individuals targeted for an assessment may simply resemble to an agent a risk to public safety without any advance information indicating that was the case. It's not clear, then, how the bureau determines what groups or people should be spied upon if they haven't broken any laws and whether that process is arbitrary.
"[The FBI] cannot be content to wait for leads to come in through the actions of others, but rather must be vigilant in detecting terrorist activities to the full extent permitted by law, with an eye towards early intervention and prevention of acts of terrorism before they occur," the new guidelines state.
Among the powers agents now have for an assessment:
• Conduct surveillance without an otherwise required court order
• Obtain grand jury subpoenas for personal telephone and e-mail accounts
• Recruit informants for feeding information about a group or person to the bureau
• Examine records maintained by federal, state and local government agencies, which are typically not accessible to the public, like police databases profiling past criminal suspects.
In particular, the powers allow agents to "collect information relating to demonstration activities," according to the guidelines, for the purpose of protecting "public health and safety" before a major event, like the party conventions that occurred in St. Paul and Denver. The bureau can gather intelligence to determine where political demonstrators are lodging during the event, how they're traveling there, where demonstration activities are planned and how many people will attend, all without advanced proof that a national-security threat exists.
Agents can also access commercial databases containing large volumes of personal information on U.S. citizens, like those maintained by the private company ChoicePoint, which specializes in serving government agencies.
The bureau, for its part, says the old rules led to confusion among agents who were limited to varying techniques for intelligence gathering depending solely on whether an investigation was given a "criminal" or "national security" label.
"Under the new guidelines, the investigative steps that the FBI may take in a particular investigation will not be driven by irrelevant factors, such as the type of paperwork the agent uses to open the investigation," Mukasey told a crowd during an August anti-terrorism conference in Oregon. "The revisions also aim to eliminate distinctions in the existing rules that make it, in practice, harder to gather information about threats to the national security than it is to conduct 'ordinary' criminal investigations."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
New FBI guidelines expand reliance on snitching, political snooping
I'd like to hear both Presidential candidates tell us whether they'd repeal the new DOJ investigative guidelines (pdf) issued this month by the Bush Administration, which appear designed to enable expanded investigations of political dissenters and create all sorts of negative, unintended consequences, not the least of which is expanding FBI use of informants in situations there is no active investigation of a crime - sort of like the East German Stasi maintained an ongoing informant network to monitor dissenters during the Cold War. Reported the Center for Investigative Reporting's Muckraker Blog: