WHO DID WHAT: Federal law enforcement chiefs say the FBI broke the law in prying out Americans’ personal information.
The report by the Justice Department’s inspector general said the FBI itself had identified 26 intelligence violations and that his auditors found many other privacy infringements in reviewing some of the 143,074 National Security Letters the bureau issued between 2003 and 2005. The letters give the FBI power to obtain private business and personal records without court review.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller apologized and pledged to stop it. The report prompted an outpouring of harsh criticism from Congress, with some leading lawmakers joining civil libertarians in calling for a rollback of the FBI’s authority under the Patriot Act. It also was another major embarrassment for the Bush administration and Gonzales over their failure to safeguard civil rights in hunting and interrogating terrorists, even as Gonzales tries to quell a furor surrounding the recent firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
WHAT’S NEXT: Disciplinary action is likely, but not criminal charges.
Mueller stressed that the inspector general’s report identified no intentional violations, that the National Security Letters were an “absolutely essential” tool in counterterrorism investigations and that many of the report’s recommendations were being implemented.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said House Democrats would honor their duty to defend the Constitution “by investigating the disturbing” disclosures.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Congress may need to strip the FBI of some of its authority “since they appear not to be able to know how to use it.”