FBI Illegally Searched Phone Records for Years
Thousands targeted, including Times and Post reporters
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2010 8:55 AM CST
WASHINGTON - JUNE 25: FBI Director Robert Mueller speaks during a news conference at the FBI headquarters June 25, 2008. Mueller did not know about the phone record searches until 2006.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – From 2002 to 2006, the FBI repeatedly violated its own rules, collecting more than 2,000 telephone records by declaring terror emergencies that didn't exist, and then never following up with the letters required to justify such searches. As the bureau strained to gather intelligence more quickly in the wake of 9/11, it implemented a new system allowing "national security letters" to substitute for subpoenas in urgent terrorism-related cases—but then failed to use the letters, a lengthy Washington Post expose shows.

Hundreds of emergency requests and thousands of gathered phone records lacked the required letters. FBI officials said the oversight was not deliberate, but came as agents worked under intense pressure to thwart the next terrorist attack. Searches permitted by so-called "exigent circumstances letters" ended in 2006 with a Justice Department investigation of the practice. Those targeted in the illegal phone record searches included Washington Post and New York Times reporters based in Indonesia.

 

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