FBI Abuses of the USA Patriot Act

Since the Patriot Act was passed, administration officials have repeatedly assured the public and Congress that there have not been improper uses of that law. As recently as April 27, 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified that "there has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse."

However:

Documents obtained by EPIC from the FBI describe thirteen cases of possible misconduct in intelligence investigations. The case numbering suggests that there were at least 153 investigations of misconduct at the FBI in 2003 alone.

These documents reveal that the Intelligence Oversight Board has investigated many instances of alleged abuse, and perhaps most critically, may not have disclosed these facts to the Congressional oversight committees charged with evaluating the Patriot Act.

According to The Washington Post

In one case, FBI agents kept an unidentified target under surveillance for at least five years -- including more than 15 months without notifying Justice Department lawyers after the subject had moved from New York to Detroit. An FBI investigation concluded that the delay was a violation of Justice guidelines and prevented the department "from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of an ongoing foreign counterintelligence investigation of a U.S. person."

In other cases, agents obtained e-mails after a warrant expired, seized bank records without proper authority and conducted an improper "unconsented physical search," according to the documents.

Although heavily censored, the documents provide a rare glimpse into the world of domestic spying, which is governed by a secret court and overseen by a presidential board that does not publicize its deliberations. The records are also emerging as the House and Senate battle over whether to put new restrictions on the controversial USA Patriot Act, which made it easier for the government to conduct secret searches and surveillance but has come under attack from civil liberties groups.

EPIC received these documents under FOIA, and has written to the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge hearings on the matter, and has recommended that the Attorney General be required to report to Congress when the Intelligence Oversight Board receives allegations of unlawful intelligence investigations.

This week marks the four-year anniversary of the enactment of the Patriot Act. Does anyone feel safer because of it?

EDITED TO ADD: There's a New York Times article on the topic.

Posted on October 25, 2005 at 7:09 AM • 36 Comments

Comments

Ed T.October 25, 2005 7:38 AM

And we are surprised by this why? There is a good reason that our system of government includes all those "checks and balances" thingies -- simply put, government is made up of people, and people aren't always trustworthy.

-EdT.

Bret McDanelOctober 25, 2005 7:49 AM

These types of things have gone on before the patriot act and they will continue to go on long after the sunset provisions and/or full repeal of anything that doesnt sunset.

The patriot act itself had little to do with what amounts to business as usual. If anything the patriot act has helped to identify these types of actions and bring them to light because more people are actively looking for abuses when they were not before.

The only way to stop the abuses is to hold those that abuse their power accountable, and that would be the agents themselves. FBI agents undergo training in the law, they also have policy directives which any agent can review. Following orders contrary to the law and policy directives is not a valid excuse, although I would be suprised if actions like these were directly ordered by anyone much higher up than the agents themselves -- simply becuase an unconsented search of a person for example is too spur of the moment, and something that you can see daily, ever watch cops?

Law enforcement should not be held to a lower standard when it comes to following the law, they should be held to a higher standard. Only when the will of the people demand no less will it happen. Unfortunately most people are either too apathetic or refuse to believe that injustices occur on a daily basis, regardless of who is in the whitehouse.

BrettOctober 25, 2005 7:50 AM

I’m surprised that it has taken this long for this to come to light. I also think that what we see here are the “small��? indiscretions, not the “big��? ones that would make the general public run out of their houses screaming.

All of this is bad. I had a recent “discussion��? with my father-in-law about this very thing. He’s about 67 or so and thinks that most all of the new “security��? laws are great. He is all for the American military being used on our soil in the event of an emergency, he likes the idea that it could be easier for Americans to be spied upon (by Americans), etc, etc. He thought was that if you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. He just doesn’t get that it is not about right or wrong, it is about loss of Freedom.

I’m really glad that some of this is starting to come out, maybe we can get rid of some of these laws (probably not, it seems like once it is a law it is there forever)

JohnOctober 25, 2005 8:48 AM

I don't see that these investigations are directly related to 'patriot act' extended authorities, but from the description seem to be merely abuses of existing powers. OF course, since things are behind closed doors, we can't know. Not at least until people die and retire and we get to see the documents... (a la Nixon tapes).

*sigh*

MomotaroOctober 25, 2005 8:54 AM

I spent 20 years involved in the defense and security of this nation. Nothing irks me more than abuse and malfeasance associated with the intelligence and security business.

However, I’d be willing to bet any amount that what we have here is a case of ‘heart in right place, head up ass’ syndrome. If agents made mistakes they should pay for them accordingly, but lets not pretend that we’re talking about cases where agents are just randomly picking people out of a phone book and subjecting them to illegal surveillance, or that they’re sneaking-and-peaking into the lives of Playmates, ex-wives, or a boy who wants to date someone’s daughter. Something else tipped off the government that the subjects in these reports were worth watching; these are probably bad guys who deserve to get the hairy eyeball.

Let’s also not forget that the WaPo story says:

“FBI officials [said] none of the cases have involved major violations and most amount to administrative errors. The officials also said that any information obtained from improper searches or eavesdropping is quarantined and eventually destroyed.��?

If I learned anything about FBI Agents it is that they want to work good investigations and help win successful prosecutions. Cases and investigations don’t just spring up out of the ground and they aren’t worked solo (read: you have to involve many people and justify the time and resources, you can’t go renegade on your own). You're not going to get a dozen-odd administrative, operational, and managerial people to go along with a boondoggle. A bad/illegal investigation will show up come prosecution time when the accused walks out of court.

Tim VailOctober 25, 2005 9:02 AM

John:

This sentence: "In one case, FBI agents kept an unidentified target under surveillance for at least five years -- including more than 15 months without notifying Justice Department lawyers after the subject had moved..."

Suggests that a power afforded to them via the Patriot act was used. Before the Patriot act, the FBI could not hold someone in prison for very long -- let alone 5 YEARS without informing justice and/or having a trial. That, and I'd trust that EPIC people know what they are talking about. They have several good lawyers working for them.

John JenkinsOctober 25, 2005 9:31 AM

Tim Vail, they didn't hold the subject in jail at all. Surveillance is not imprisonment (and prisoners don't get to voluntarily change their addresses). These records indicate that there were a number of complaints, that only has a vague connection with the actual number of abuses. Finally, the USA PATRIOT act is just a generic bogeyman for people who are too lazy to think about these issues. There is almost nothing in the Act that the government couldn't do before the act was passed because most of the freedoms that have been infringed were infringed in the name of the drug war (evisceration of the 4th Amendment) long before the USA PATRIOT act was enacted.

ProbitasOctober 25, 2005 9:54 AM

"The only way to stop the abuses is to hold those that abuse their power accountable, and that would be the agents themselves."

Bret, please don't forget to consider the very real possibility that if there are numerous instances of this abuse, it may well be due to a climate of permissiveness. To say that the buck stops with the agents themselves implies that their supervisors are not to be held accountable for their failure to supervise.

Matthew X. EconomouOctober 25, 2005 10:19 AM

Does anyone feel safer? Almost certainly most people do, given the electorate's support for such executive powers. The problem is that "feeling safer" does not equate to "being safer". I, personally, am very unnerved by secret courts and domestic surveillance, having been taught all my life that such political constructions were the work of evil people, such as the Soviet and Maoist Communists or the Nazi Fascists. Our existence as a state was predicated on the belief that civil servants are beholden to the people, but legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act illustrates a dangerous popular attitude: That the people should be forced to serve the will of the government (it's for their own good). With this attitude, civil rights get in the way of governance.

Fred PageOctober 25, 2005 10:28 AM

Does anyone feel safer because of it?

Yes, of course.

Some people also believe the Earth is flat.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 25, 2005 10:34 AM

@ John

"Surveillance is not imprisonment"

True, and it is often said that *prisoners* would prefer surveillance if given a choice, but when you are supposed to be a free citizen and your every moment is strictly monitored by hidden informants, you are certainly no longer free.

We would be fools to frame the debate as "hey, at least we are not in prision yet" because it distracts us from concentrating on the things we actually and actively want to preserve.

jammitOctober 25, 2005 11:09 AM

The earth isn't flat? At least I can still put my trust in the Easter bunny. Many do feel safer, but that's a self induced illusion. I'm worried about being snooped on by people who don't have anybody to answer to not because I'm doing anything wrong, but because it'd be too easy to quiet someone up. It's really too easy to find a reason to detain someone on a technicality for way too long. What if I had some real juicy stuff on a presidential candidate that could change an election, but I'm put in jail without bail, lawyer, or parole for 5 years? It's be too late to kick a guy out of office after he's been intrenched for a year.

TJVMOctober 25, 2005 11:15 AM

"A bad/illegal investigation will show up come prosecution time when the accused walks out of court."

This assumes that the actions in question are taken in preparation for a prosecution. While that is the traditional function of the FBI, it is my understanding that the Bureau is being increasingly re-oriented toward intelligence-gathering. If you're spying, rather than prosecuting, the "walk out of court" concern is greatly reduced.

Also, you're assuming that a court will have the power to release a wrongfully investigated or detained person. This administration appears to want to maximize its ability to detain people outside the legal system. If you've been designated an "enemy combatant" and stuck in a classified detention facility with no access to a lawyer or a judge, it may not matter if the government has obeyed the law.

BrettOctober 25, 2005 12:07 PM

@Matthew

I like the way you put it.

One thing that a lot of people I talk to, that are in denfence of stuff like the Patriot Act, seem to forget. While they are happy with the current political powers and support them. What happens with that changes and they are on the wrong side. Will they like the Patriot Act when they are no longer "Patriots".

Given time it will happen. Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutly. (Or something like that)

MuninOctober 25, 2005 12:08 PM

Wait, you mean the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actually working on investigating!? Someone hold me, I'm getting the vapors.

JimOctober 25, 2005 12:11 PM

@Tim V.

Can you explain to me how the case described by "In one case, FBI agents kept an unidentified target under surveillance for at least five years" can attributed to a Patriot Act that is only 4 years old?

Tim VailOctober 25, 2005 12:11 PM

Oops...I misread -- somehow I read imprisoned instead of survellience.

But, I still think that EPIC should know what they are talking about regarding what power was given via the Patriot Act.

another_bruceOctober 25, 2005 12:20 PM

this is the natural course of a republic in decline, there isn't anything anybody can do about it. i grinned at some of the earnest naivete expressed above. living in the modern late-stage rome doesn't mean you can't have a good time, just that you have to take care and maintain a lower profile on some occasions.

Roy OwensOctober 25, 2005 2:08 PM

From Will and Ariel Durant: "Power dements even more than it corrupts ...."

Our government is demented, and there is no remedy. Remember the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany? When things get too far out of whack, there is no self-correction.

Matthew X. EconomouOctober 25, 2005 2:44 PM

Re: a republic in decline

That's as maybe, but I'm not a nihilist. I want my progeny to enjoy the four freedoms, and I'm willing to use what little power is apportioned to me in an attempt to protect those freedoms. (In fact, I think our decline is due in no small part to voter apathy.)

Dido SevillaOctober 25, 2005 10:10 PM

None of this should be surprising. One word: COINTELPRO. Anyone around here remember that terrifying bit of American history? The gory details (in the form of declassified papers and transcripts of congressional hearings about them) are here:

http://www.cointel.org/

If such abuses were possible even without something like the PATRIOT Act, think of what they can do today. Thank God J. Edgar Hoover's been dead for more than thirty years.

vasya pupkinNovember 18, 2005 1:14 PM

We currently are on the very slippery path to the police state. In history there are many examples when freedom was taken bit by bit and one day people found concetration camps inside their countries.
The wrong assumption is to give ANY uncontrolleable by soceity power to the police (regardless of its name) regardless of pretext police requested it.
Otherwise, we may get very soon Gestapo or KGB or something similar when those institutions control society rather than society control them.
Does anybody sane want such future for them or their kids.
This message will be recorded/logged anyway and author will be traced. That is the reality.

tomNovember 19, 2005 4:06 PM

we can not defend democracy abroad and abandon at home

but the war in iraq and afghanistan are dending democracy abroad while patriot act is abandoning it at home this lowers the bar for freedom

the usa is home of the free so if freedom is lost dimished it allows all other contrys to lower standerds to or below are own this is a global promblem first other western contrys like britin

http://home.uni-one.nl/plein/jon/Read_more/...

in the end I dont want the us constitution or any foreign constitution to read somthing like this

all living human beens are people unless parliament rules other wise

all poeple have the freedom of speech unless other wise dictated by law all speech is protected unless dictated other wise dictated by law

now this style of constitutional law would provide no protection of are rights but the patriot act is worded no different some spots and if up held by the courts we could very well have a interpretation of the us constitution just like the sample I gave above worded different but the end result would be the same

tomNovember 19, 2005 4:37 PM

we can not defend democracy abroad and abandon at home

but the war in iraq and afghanistan are dending democracy abroad while patriot act is abandoning it at home this lowers the bar for freedom

the usa is home of the free so if freedom is lost dimished it allows all other contrys to lower standerds to or below are own this is a global promblem first other western contrys like britin

http://home.uni-one.nl/plein/jon/Read_more/...

in the end I dont want the us constitution or any foreign constitution to read somthing like this

all living human beens are people unless parliament rules other wise

all poeple have the freedom of speech unless other wise dictated by law all speech is protected unless other wise dictated by law

now this style of constitutional law would provide no protion are rights but the patriot act is worded no different some spots and if up held by the courts we could very well have a interpretation of the us constitution just like the sample I gave above

RickNovember 21, 2005 3:11 PM

The Patriot Act (the irony) never made sense to me as to the need, creation, or its use. The very reason why the Act was ever suggested was because of "poor intel" by our "secret service" agencies. Now, with the Patriot Act, we've given up more privacy to the same government that didn't leverage enough of this intel in the first place!!! How has it helped? How has it hurt?????!!!!

Unfortunately, our gov decided to exploit the emotions of our citizens for the sake of "Freedom and Democracy" and we ended up being fooled and sacrificing both.

tomNovember 30, 2005 9:59 PM

what if the patriot act becomes law as is whats next laws that are classified them selves so combined with the idea that Ignorance of the law is no excuse breaking the law now anyone can be areasted for anything in the name of national security

quotes.ibnerd.net/politicalquotes_1.html

After 9/11, Bush made two statements: “Terrorists hate America because America is a land of freedom and opportunity.��? and “We intend to attack the root causes of terrorism.��? ..Sounds like everything is going according to plan.

tomNovember 30, 2005 10:05 PM

what if the patriot act becomes law as is whats next laws that are classified them selves so combined with the idea that Ignorance of the law is no excuse breaking the law now anyone can be areasted for anything in the name of national security

quotes.ibnerd.net/politicalquotes_1.html

After 9/11, Bush made two statements: “Terrorists hate America because America is a land of freedom and opportunity.��? and “We intend to attack the root causes of terrorism.��? ..Sounds like everything is going according to plan.

screaming eagleFebruary 14, 2006 5:01 AM

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said,"a people willing to sacrifice freedom for security, deserve neither." It seems history really does repeat itsself.

AnonymousMarch 9, 2007 7:28 PM

Hi, My name is Deborah Douglas and I am under investigation by the FBI. They are using the Patriot Act and violating my civil rights. I am innocent yet have no money for a lawyer and am not getting any help locally. Any suggestions? I don't know where and who to turn to. My address is 141 N.E. 25th Street, Pompano Bch., Fl. 33064. The phone number I have started using is 1-770-378-6630. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Bob MorganMarch 22, 2007 9:25 AM

Like Ms Douglas, I too am a target of ATF-FBI-SS-SA-GESTAPO and Georgia variant GBI and the "dirty work gang IRS".
"None are so hopplesly enslaved as those who falselly believe themselves to be free." Gothe! Like George Orwell, he too saw it comming.
I am a 71 year old retired single white male, I was a CIA contractor about 1970-1980. and flew bio-warfare missions along the south coast of Cuba in the 70's. A "Kill the cash crop (sugar cane) and the Cubans will stay home?".
When you say "investigate" does this include the Murder of 4 of my foundling pet dogs, one by one over the last 7 years? Does it include agents subverting every friend or person I have delt with over the "twylight" years of my life?
Just as the SA evolved into the SS then into Holochaust (Shoa) so too will ATF/FBI/IRS/DEA etc evolve into a police agency of the like human kind cannot immagine. George Orwell only scratched the surface of the "controll technology of NOW!".
The Supper Enemy" the now "terrorists" are among us and as Pogo said "we have met the enemy and he is US.".

robert jonesDecember 29, 2007 2:06 PM

Paranoia or truth?

You decide: Here in Leavenworth Kansas people are SO concerned that they patrol the streets day and night
in order to make certain that the F.B.I.
is not looking for their abuses of Military
access and perhaps stock piles of weapons in the name of the "lord".

After all, if there is anything you count on it is the distrust of the American people of the government which they themselves have duly elected.

So in these times I must smile as I realize that the most nervous people in the world are right here in the Midwest as the entire country is rethinking our billions of expense for the worlds largest political and social machines, such as our prisons and our military.

Imagine what would happen if the American people pulled the pork out from
under the big machine and also finally withdrew the mindless ownership rights
of gun owners and others who love weapons even more than sports.

I am happy that I do not have control
over those decisions. It must truly be a difficult task to see what our flag really stands for in these times.

Best regards to those Americans who refuse to live in fear of our super patriots
who would attempt to use religion and "decency" as cover for the largest pork nation in history.

Our government is indeed the one we truly deserve. And paranoia is nothing new in the landscape of those who would always claim that they are the good and the normal people.

r.k.j. 2007 all rights reserved


S. LedanoisApril 1, 2008 4:07 PM

Hi, I'm trying to understand this US Patriot Act.
I'm not American, but still interested in this particular subject.
Can anyone give me some concrete examples of these abuses? Have heard of keeping in surveillance. Has it gone any further?
Thank you
S. Ledanois

YUNG PAIKApril 5, 2010 4:59 PM

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT AELECTRONIC TORTURE THAT ONLY YOU CAN HEAR IN YOUR BRAIN AND NOT AUDIBLE TO YOU OR ANYBODY ELSE IAM NOT CRAZY I HEAR FBI AGENTS TALK SHIT ABOUT ME AND COMMITING ALL KINDS OF CRIMINAL ACTS ITHINK IAM AVICTEM OF TECHNOLOGIE THAT IS DESCRIBED IN DETAIL IN WEBSITE [SURVELLANCE TECHNOLOGIES] IAM HOPING THESE ARE ACTS BY THE CROOKED AGENTS SO IF FBI IS LEGIT THEY NEED TO AT LEAST CALLME AND ASK WHAT IS GOING ON THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR ABOUT 7 YEARS IF ANYONE OUT THEIR THAT WANTS TO RESTORE HUMANRIGHTS ABUSES GIVE ME A CALL OR TELL ME MY HEAD IS FUCKED UP IDO NO E MAIL TEL 503 250 3657

Mary EJanuary 3, 2013 4:04 PM

I am a Tibetan Buddhist but in Virginia they have us on watch and I now have a United Nations complaint. In the South the Patriot is used against people of different faiths if it isn't Jesus in the South we get watched, followed, Everyone knows that Tibetan Buddhist are Peace been in Peace for years
but because of Faith they did abuse my rights under the Patriot

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