!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'March 9-19, 2007: FBI Issues Tens of Thousands of Improper National Security Letters, Audit Finds'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event March 9-19, 2007: FBI Issues Tens of Thousands of Improper National Security Letters, Audit Finds. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

April 25, 1996: New Anti-Terrorism Law Passed

President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” [CNN, 4/18/1996; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. [New York Times, 4/17/1996] By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. [Guardian, 9/10/2001]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Louis J. Freeh, National Rifle Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Clinton administration, Michael Freeman, USA Patriot Act, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department publishes an interim regulation allowing non-citizens suspected of terrorism to be detained without charge for 48 hours or “an additional reasonable period of time” in the event of an “emergency or other extraordinary circumstance.” [New York Times, 9/19/2001] The new rule is used to hold hundreds indefinitely until the Patriot Act passes in October (see October 26, 2001), providing more solid grounds to hold non-citizens without charge.

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sen. Russell Feingold will ultimately be the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
Sen. Russell Feingold will ultimately be the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. [Source: Publicity photo]The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress. The act is technically known as The USA PATRIOT Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” [US Congress, 10/2/2001] The legislation was ready four days after the 9/11 attacks, in what Attorney General John Ashcroft called a “full-blown legislative proposal” ready to submit to Congress. The proposal is actually a revamping and enlargement of the Clinton-era antiterrorism legislation first proposed after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see April 25, 1996). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: US Congress, USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

On October 9, 2001, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) blocks an attempt to rush the Patriot Act to a vote with little debate and no opportunity for amendments. He criticizes the bill as a threat to civil liberties. [Associated Press, 10/10/2001] One day earlier, in the story “Cracks in Bipartisanship Start to Show,” the Washington Post reported, “Congress has lost some of the shock-induced unity with which it first responded to the [9/11] attacks.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2001] Also on October 9, identical anthrax letters are postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, with lethal doses to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Inside both letters are the words, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great” (see October 15, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The House of Representatives passes the final version of the Patriot Act and other previously unpopular Bush administration projects: Alaska oil drilling, $25 billion in tax cuts for corporations, taps into Social Security funds, and cuts in education. [CNN, 10/25/2001] Republican Congressman Ron Paul states: “It’s my understanding the bill wasn’t printed before the vote—at least I couldn’t get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote.” It is later found that only two copies of the bill were made available in the hours before its passage, and most House members admit they voted for the act without actually reading it first. [Insight, 11/9/2001] Two days later, the Senate will pass the final version of the Patriot Act. Anthrax targets Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 15, 2001) now support the bill. President Bush signs it into law the same day (see October 26, 2001). [Fox News, 10/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Patrick J. Leahy, Ron Paul

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

October 26, 2001: USA Patriot Act Becomes Law

President Bush signs the Patriot Act into law.President Bush signs the Patriot Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the USA Patriot Act (see October 2, 2001) into law. The act’s provisions include:
bullet 1) Non-citizens can be detained and deported if they provide “assistance” for lawful activities of any group the government chooses to call a terrorist organization. Under this provision the secretary of state can designate any group that has ever engaged in violent activity as a terrorist organization. Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI) notes that in theory supporters of Greenpeace could now be convicted for supporting terrorism. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12/2001]
bullet 2) Immigrants can be detained indefinitely, even if they are found not to have any links to terrorism. They can be detained indefinitely for immigration violations or if the attorney general decides their activities pose a danger to national security. They need never be given a trial or even a hearing on their status. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002]
bullet 3) Internet service providers can be ordered to reveal the websites and e-mail addresses that a suspect has communicated to or visited. The FBI need only inform a judge that the information is relevant to an investigation. [Village Voice, 11/26/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002]
bullet 4) The act “lays the foundation for a domestic intelligence-gathering system of unprecedented scale and technological prowess.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2001] It allows the government to access confidential credit reports, school records, and other records, without consent or notification. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] All of this information can now be given to the CIA, in violation of the CIA’s mandate prohibiting it from spying within the US. [Village Voice, 11/26/2001]
bullet 5) Financial institutions are encouraged to disclose possible violations of law or “suspicious activities” by any client. The institution is prohibited from notifying the person involved that it made such a report. The term “suspicious” is not defined, so it is up to the financial institutions to determine when to send such a report.
bullet 6) Federal agents can easily obtain warrants to review a library patron’s reading and computer habits (see January 2002). [Village Voice, 2/22/2002] Section 215 allows the FBI to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for an order to obtain documents relating to counterterrorism investigations without meeting the usual standard of legal “probable cause” that a crime may have been committed. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI—see October 9, 2001) says that Section 215 can allow the FBI to “go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone.” Librarians will make Section 215 the centerpiece of their objections to the Patriot Act, arguing that the government can now “sweep up vast amounts of information about people who are not suspected of a crime.” In 2005, one librarian will say, “It reminds me of the Red Scare of the 1950s.” However, some FBI officials find it easier to use provisions of Section 505, which expands the usage of so-called “national security letters” (see November 28, 2001). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 39-40]
bullet 7) The government can refuse to reveal how evidence is collected against a suspected terrorist defendant. [Tampa Tribune, 4/6/2003]
Passes with No Public Debate - The law passes without public debate. [Village Voice, 11/9/2001; Village Voice, 11/26/2001] Even though it ultimately took six weeks to pass the law, there were no hearings or congressional debates. [Salon, 3/24/2003] Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) says: “This was the least democratic process for debating questions fundamental to democracy I have ever seen. A bill drafted by a handful of people in secret, subject to no committee process, comes before us immune from amendment” (see October 2-4, 2001 and October 24, 2001). [Village Voice, 11/9/2001] Only 66 congresspeople, and one senator, Feingold, vote against it. Few in Congress are able to read summaries, let alone the fine print, before voting on it. [Los Angeles Times, 10/30/2001] Feingold says, “The new law goes into a lot of areas that have nothing to do with terrorism and have a lot to do with the government and the FBI having a wish list of things they want to do.” [Village Voice, 11/9/2001] Supporters of the act point out that some of its provisions will expire in four years, but in fact most provisions will not expire. [Chicago Tribune, 11/1/2001]
Mounting Opposition - One year later, criticism of the law will grow. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Dozens of cities will later pass resolutions criticizing the Patriot Act (see January 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, USA Patriot Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, US Congress, Patsy Mink, Russell D. Feingold, Barney Frank

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The newly adopted USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) allows FBI field offices to issue, without court orders, so-called “national security letters,” or NSLs, that require recipients—telecommunications firms, employers, libraries, anyone—to provide detailed information on their clients, employees, and patrons. The FBI’s Office of General Counsel warns each field office of the potential for abuse inherent in such powerful and relatively unrestricted instruments, writing in part: “NSLs are powerful investigative tools in that they can compel the production of substantial amounts of relevant information. However, they must be used judiciously.… In deciding whether or not to re-authorize the broadened authority, Congress certainly will examine the manner in which the FBI exercised it. Executive Order 12333 and the FCIG [Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Foreign Intelligence Collection and Counterintelligence Investigations] require that the FB[I] accomplish its investigations through the ‘least intrusive’ means. Supervisors should keep this in mind when deciding whether or not a particular use of NSL authority is appropriate. The greater availability of NSLs does not mean that they should be used in every case.” This warning not to overuse NSLs is not always heeded (see February 2005 and Before Mid-March, 2007). [Wired News, 7/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of General Counsel (FBI), USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Patriot Act permits federal agents to secretly obtain information from booksellers and librarians about customers’ and patrons’ reading, internet and book-buying habits, merely by alleging that the records are relevant to an anti-terrorism investigation. The act prohibits librarians and booksellers from revealing these requests, so they cannot be challenged in court (see October 2, 2001). [Newsday, 9/16/2002] A University of Illinois study now concludes that federal agents have sought records from about 220 libraries nationwide since September 2001. [Miami Herald, 9/1/2002] The Justice Department refuses to say how many times it has invoked this Patriot Act provision (see June 13, 2002). [Observer, 3/16/2003] But Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bryant says that people who borrow or buy books surrender their right of privacy. [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10/2003] Some libraries and bookstores unhappy with the law begin to fight back in a number of ways. Some libraries have posted signs warning that the government may be monitoring their users’ reading habits. [Reuters, 3/11/2003] Thousands of libraries are destroying records so agents have nothing to seize. [New York Times, 4/7/2003] Many librarians polled say they would break the law and deny orders to disclose reading records. [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Daniel Bryant, US Department of Justice, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Several members of Congress submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2002] For instance, they ask, “How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?” Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall from Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 8/21/2002] In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department provides limited information to the House Judiciary Committee about actions performed under the new Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001). Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) had demanded answers to 50 questions regarding the Patriot Act from Attorney General John Ashcroft, or else he would “start blowing a fuse.” Among other things, Sensenbrenner wanted to know how many times the Justice Department had implemented wiretaps under the act, and threatened Congressional subpoenas and opposition to the act when it comes up for renewal. Sensenbrenner and the Judiciary Committee receive far less than originally requested, with the Justice Department asserting that much of the information is classified and cannot be revealed. Sensenbrenner declares himself satisfied. [Savage, 2007, pp. 114-115]

Entity Tags: James Sensenbrenner, House Judiciary Committee, USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

It is reported that 22 cities representing 3.5 million residents have passed resolutions criticizing the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts (see October 26, 2001). Another 70 cities have such resolutions in the works. [Associated Press, 1/12/2003] Many of the resolutions provide some legal justification for local authorities to resist cooperating in the federal war on terrorism when they deem civil liberties and Constitutional rights are being compromised. [New York Times, 12/23/2002]

Entity Tags: USA Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

At a speech in Hershey, Pennsylvania, supporting the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush tells listeners that all US surveillance efforts are done with warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court: “For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wire taps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wire tap by court order—and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example.… See, with court approval, we have long used roving wire taps to lock up monsters—mobsters. Now [with the Patriot Act in effect] we have a chance to lock up monsters, terrorist monsters.” [White House, 4/19/2004] The next day, Bush makes a similar claim during another pro-Patriot Act speech in Buffalo. He tells listeners: “[T]here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. But a roving wiretap means—it was primarily used for drug lords. A guy, a pretty intelligence drug lord would have a phone, and in old days they could just get a tap on that phone. So guess what he’d do? He’d get him another phone, particularly with the advent of the cell phones. And so he’d start changing cell phones, which made it hard for our DEA types to listen, to run down these guys polluting our streets. And that changed, the law changed on—roving wiretaps were available for chasing down drug lords. They weren’t available for chasing down terrorists, see? And that didn’t make any sense in the post-9/11 era. If we couldn’t use a tool that we’re using against mobsters on terrorists, something needed to happen. The Patriot Act changed that. So with court order, law enforcement officials can now use what’s called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones in order to get a message out to one of his buddies.” [White House, 4/20/2004] Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48] Klein will call Bush’s description of the surveillance program “disingenuous,” and continue: “They present it as about phone calls. They’re just watching a few bad people who make phone calls to al-Qaeda and the Middle East, and you notice they don’t talk about the Internet hardly at all. That part of it hasn’t been revealed, because if they did, Americans would realize it’s not just a few people; it’s everybody, because the data they’re handing over is not selected out. When you run fiber optics through a splitter and you send all that data to a secret room, there’s no selecting going on there at all.… They have no way of sifting it out unless they look through it later. Now they can claim, ‘Oh, we are right as rain; we’re only doing the legal thing and selecting out a few people that we’re legally entitled to,’ but that’s only after they get all the data. The analogy I use: If the government claims: ‘Well, when you do your taxes, why don’t you just write me a blank check and we’ll fill in the amount? Don’t worry. We’ll do it legal. We’ll fill in the right amount,’ would you do that? Nobody would trust the government by writing a blank check to them. It’s the same thing with the data we’re giving them.… [T]he Fourth Amendment specifically bans general warrants. It calls for specific warrants in which the things to be seized and the persons to be seized are specifically named. There’s a reason for that. It’s to protect against arbitrary government power. And what they’ve done is to trample over the Fourth Amendment by basically instituting a general warrant on the Internet.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress expands the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) by approving an intelligence spending bill with a provision that gives the FBI the power to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broad range of businesses and entities—including libraries, travel agencies, and even eBay—without court warrants. This reduces oversight of the FBI and shifts power away from the judiciary. The Patriot Act already allows the FBI to acquire bank records and communications records by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL) affirming that the information it seeks is relevant to an open investigation; the targeted institution is legally “gagged,” unable to inform anyone, especially the subject of the investigation, of the subpoena. The new law expands the use of NSLs by redefining “financial institution” to include insurance companies, real estate agents, the US Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” The provision is one of the most controversial parts of the so-called “Patriot II” act (see February 7, 2003) that was withdrawn after the public learned of its elements. Like most intelligence spending bills, this one was drafted in secret and passed with little debate or public comment. Law professor Chris Schroeder, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general, says the insertion of the provision shows that “people who want to expand the powers of the FBI didn’t want to stop after Patriot II was leaked. They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis. It’s insidious.” James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology agrees: “On its face, it’s a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment. It wasn’t until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI and CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills.” CIA Director Porter Goss, when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the provision, saying it is necessary to keep pace with terrorists and the changing economy. “This provision brings the definition of ‘financial institution’ up to date with the reality of the financial industry,” Goss told House members. “This provision will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to ‘follow the money’ more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively.” Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far in expanding executive branch powers. “The more that checks and balances against government abuse are eroded, the greater that abuse,” Edgar says. “We’re going to regret these initiatives down the road.” [Wired News, 11/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Tim Edgar, US Department of Justice, USA Patriot Act, Porter J. Goss, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union, James Dempsey, Chris Schroeder, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut receives an e-mail that looks like a terrorist threat. The agents there follow the normal routine: they ask the service provider, a group of Connecticut public libraries, for the real name, street address, and Internet logs of the sender. The agents have no search warrant, grand jury subpoena, or court order. What they do have is a National Security Letter (NSL) that describes the records needed. According to the expanded USA Patriot Act, the NSL is all the FBI needs, and the NSL statute bars the librarians from disclosing the request to anyone. The librarians will refuse to hand over the information, and will file a federal lawsuit challenging the NSL as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech (see July 13, 2005). The e-mailed threat will turn out to be a hoax. Kevin O’Connor, the US attorney in Connecticut, later says the FBI suspected that the threat was a hoax from the outset, but believed they had an “obligation” to pursue it. “We weren’t tying up librarians or reading through books,” he will say. “All we wanted was identifying information. God forbid it isn’t a hoax.” The librarians who challenge the NSL, however, feel differently. George Christian, the point man in the librarians’ legal challenge, will say, “The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling.” A judge will strike down the NSL gag order, allowing Christian and his three colleagues (by now dubbed the “Connecticut Four” by the media) to disclose the fact that they had received an NSL, with a judge calling the NSL gag order “antithetical to democratic concepts”. In April 2006, the government will drop its NSL request (see August 2005-May 2006). Christian will be unmollified. “The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the Fire Department only after a building has burned to the ground,” he will say. [USA Today, 7/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Connecticut Four, American Civil Liberties Union, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin O’Connor, National Security Letters, USA Patriot Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a Columbus, Ohio, speech praising the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush claims that when US government agencies wiretap anyone’s phones or email communications, they do so with a court order. Bush says: “Before the Patriot Act, agents could use wiretaps to investigate a person committing mail fraud, but not to investigate a foreign terrorist. The Patriot Act corrected all these pointless double standards—and America is safer as a result. One tool that has been especially important to law enforcement is called a roving wiretap. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to follow suspects who frequently change their means of communications. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge, and they have been used for years to catch drug dealers and other criminals. Yet, before the Patriot Act, agents investigating terrorists had to get a separate authorization for each phone they wanted to tap. That means terrorists could elude law enforcement by simply purchasing a new cell phone. The Patriot Act fixed the problem by allowing terrorism investigators to use the same wiretaps that were already being using against drug kingpins and mob bosses. The theory here is straightforward: If we have good tools to fight street crime and fraud, law enforcement should have the same tools to fight terrorism.” [White House, 6/9/2005] Bush made almost identical claims a year ago (see April 19-20, 2004). The same day as Bush makes his speech, the White House issues a fact sheet making the same claims (see June 9, 2005). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. The bill, which extends and modifies the original USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), was driven through Congress primarily by the Republican majorities in both Houses. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the Senate bill, numerous Democrats in both Houses voted with the Republicans in favor of the bill, and the final bill sailed through the Senate by an 89-10 vote on March 2. [GovTrack, 3/9/2006; Library of Congress, 3/9/2006] In the signing ceremony, Bush calls the Reauthorization Act “a really important piece of legislation… that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” He repeatedly evokes the 9/11 attacks as a reason why the new law is needed. [Government Printing Office, 3/9/2006]
Provisions for Oversight Added - One of the reasons why the reauthorization bill received such support from Congressional moderates on both sides of the aisle is because Congress added numerous provisions for judicial and Congressional oversight of how government and law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, especially against US citizens. Representative Butch Otter (R-ID) said in 2004 that Congress came “a long way in two years, and we’ve really brought an awareness to the Patriot Act and its overreaches that we gave to law enforcement.” He adds, “We’ve also quieted any idea of Patriot II, even though they snuck some of Patriot II in on the intelligence bill” (see February 7, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/23/2004]
Opposition From Both Sides - Liberal and conservative organizations joined together in unprecedented cooperation to oppose several key provisions of the original reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act, including easing of restrictions on government and law enforcement agencies in obtaining financial records of individuals and businesses, “sneak-and-peek” searches without court warrants or the target’s knowledge, and its “overbroad” definition of the term “terrorist.” Additionally, lawmakers in Congress insisted on expiration dates for the various surveillance and wiretapping methodologies employed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies (see Early 2002). [Associated Press, 5/23/2005] The final bill mandates that anyone subpoenaed for information regarding terrorist investigations has the right to challenge the requirement that they not reveal anything about the subpoena, those recipients will not be required to tell the FBI the name of their lawyer, and libraries that are not Internet service providers will not be subject to demands from “national security letters” for information about their patrons. Many of the bill’s provisions will expire in four years. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/3/2006]
Reauthorizing Original Provisions - The bill does reauthorize many expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that allows federal officials to obtain “tangible items,” such as business records from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. Port security provisions are strengthened, and restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine that can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine are imposed, forcing individuals to register their purchases of such medicines and limiting the amounts they can buy. [CBS News, 3/9/2006]
Bush Signing Statement Says He Will Ignore Oversight Mandates - But when he signs the bill into law, Bush also issues a signing statement that says he has no intention of obeying mandates that enjoin the White House and the Justice Department to inform Congress about how the FBI is using its new powers under the bill. Bush writes that he is not bound to tell Congress how the new Patriot Act powers are being used, and in spite of what the law requires, he can and will withhold information if he decides that such disclosure may “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.” [Statement on Signing the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, 3/9/2006; Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that Bush’s assertion that he can ignore provisions of the law as he pleases, under the so-called “unitary executive” theory, are “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” Law professor David Golove says the statement is illustrative of the Bush administration’s “mind-bogglingly expansive conception” of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power. [Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Author and legal expert Jennifer Van Bergen warns of Bush using this signing statement to avoid accountability about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, writing: “[I]t is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance. … His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 3/27/2006]
Request to Rescind Signing Statement - In late March, Democratic House members Jane Harman and John Conyers will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting that the administration rescind the signing statement, writing: “As you know, ‘signing statements’ do not have the force of law. Legislation passed by both Houses and signed by the president does. As Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution states: ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’” Bush and Gonzales will ignore the request. [US House of Representatives, 3/29/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, David Golove, Alberto R. Gonzales, Butch Otter, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Conyers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jennifer Van Bergen, Jane Harman, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, finds that the FBI used self-issued subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, e-mail, and financial information on at least 143,074 targets between 2003 and 2005. The report’s main conclusions include:
bullet More than half of those targeted are US citizens;
bullet In many cases FBI officials evaded limits on NSLs and sometimes illegally issued them;
bullet 60% of the audited NSLs do not follow the FBI’s rules of issuance, and a further 22% contain unreported possible violations of the law, including improper requests and unauthorized collections of information;
bullet The number of surveillance targets is probably far higher than the audit finds, because the FBI practices poor record-keeping that allow at least 22% of surveillance to go unreported;
bullet Fine finds that agents had routinely issued the letters even when they had no open investigation, as required by law;
bullet One office made arrangements with telecommunications firms to get information instantly, even before issuing NSLs, by sending “exigent letters” claiming it needed the requested information because of an emergency, and that the letters and necessary court warrants were in preparation (see Before Mid-March, 2007). But, the audit finds, “we could not confirm one instance in which a subpoena had been submitted to any US attorney’s office before the exigent letter was sent to the phone companies” and that “many were not issued in exigent circumstances.”
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wants hearings. “The Inspector General’s report is a scathing critique of FBI misuse of the secretive process,” Markey says. Although the FBI has used NSLs for years, their usage soared after the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) eased the restrictions on them. Now, FBI agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations can issue NSLs themselves, without court warrants or even the approval of a supervisor, as long as the agent affirms that the information they seek is “relevant” to an open investigation. The information obtained by NSLs remains in a massive “data warehouse,” where it can be accessed again for data-mining or subsequent investigations. [Wired News, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Markey, USA Patriot Act, Glenn Fine, US Department of Justice, House Homeland Security Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FBI director Robert Mueller orders a criminal probe into FBI officials who used misleading “exigent letters”—letters used in lieu of National Security Letters (NSLs) that demand information on an emergency basis—to acquire thousands of US citizens’ phone records. Mueller tells civil liberties groups of the probe, which focuses on the activities of the Communications Analysis Unit (CAU). The probe could result in criminal prosecutions for misuse of Patriot Act investigative tools. NSLs are powerful subpoenas that can be issued by FBI supervisors without court supervisions, and have played central roles in previous allegations of misuse (see February 2005). The probe is investigating incidents where CAU officials wrote “exigent letters” to telecommunications firms requesting immediate wiretaps and promising that court warrants would be forthcoming—but the warrants had never been applied for and were never issued. Some FBI employees have already been granted immunity in return for their testimony. NSLs are routinely used to provide investigators in terrorism and espionage cases with data from phone companies, banks, credit reporting agencies, and Internet service providers on any US citizens considered “relevant” to an ongoing investigation. This information is then stored in three separate computer systems, including a shared data-mining system called the Investigative Data Warehouse. Though warned in 2001 to use this power with restraint, FBI agents have so far issued over 47,000 NSLs, more than half of those targeting Americans. In the case of the CAU, a support bureau which analyzes suspected terrorist communications and provides intelligence to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, its officials cannot issue subpoenas, but must have counterterrorism investigators do so. But the CAU has issued at least 739 “exigent letters” to AT&T, Verizon, and MCI seeking information on over 3,000 phone numbers; some of the individual letters contained requests for over 100 numbers. The letters read in part, “Due to exigent circumstances, it is requested that records for the attached list of telephone numbers be provided. Subpoenas requesting this information have been submitted to the US Attorney’s Office who will process and serve them formally to [telecom firm] as expeditiously as possible.” [Wired News, 7/12/2007] (Reporter Ryan Singel notes, The most striking thing about these exigent letters… is that they all use the same pathetic, passive bureaucratese.”) [Wired News, 7/10/2007] No such subpoena requests had been filed with the particular US attorneys, and only some of the requests were later followed up with proper legal processes. CAU chief Bassem Youssef says he ended the problem after he took over the unit in 2005, and says his attempts to provide post-facto legal processes were often hampered by uncooperative field offices. Youssef is suing the FBI over his complaints that the bureau was wasting his Arabic-language skills and antiterrorism experience and the bureau’s alleged retaliation. [Wired News, 7/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Verizon Communications, USA Patriot Act, Ryan Singel, Robert S. Mueller III, Bassem Youssef, Communications Analysis Unit (FBI), AT&T, MCI, Investigative Data Warehouse, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Wired News reporter Ryan Singel examines the documents released as part of the FBI’s probe into the possibly illegal use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by its agents (see Before Mid-March, 2007). Singel finds that all of the letters originate from the same room in the FBI’s Washington headquarters, Room 4944. Almost all of them refer to a “Special Project,” and the only name on any of the letters is Larry Mefford. At the time the letters were written, Mefford was the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division. His job primarily focused on preventing domestic terror attacks. Having Mefford’s name on the letters adds another layer of interest, Singel writes: “… Mefford’s name is on documents that requested personal information on Americans. Some of those requests included information known to be false to the agents signing them. That’s a federal crime, according to one former FBI agent.” It is unclear what the “Special Project” is, outside of its existence within the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit (CAU), which issued the NSLs in question. Why some of the NSLs requested over two pages of phone numbers as part of a single request is also unclear. Singel observes, “The documents also show that these ‘exigent letters’—essentially end runs around the rules set up to keep the FBI from trampling on citizens rights—weren’t devised by some rogue Jack Bauer-style agent [a reference to the popular TV action drama 24.]. The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI official who should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and possibility for abuse.” [Wired News, 7/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division (FBI), Communications Analysis Unit (FBI), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Larry Mefford, Ryan Singel

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” [Politico, 2/4/2009] Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Obama administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike