From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

Help EFF Examine Once-Secret FBI Docs / July 11, 2007

“We’ve already started scouring newly-released documents relating to
the misuse of National Security Letters to collect Americans’ private
information. But don’t let us have all fun – you, too, can dive into
the docs and help uncover the truth about the FBI’s abuse of power.
All 1138 pages are freely downloadable (with searchable text) from
EFF’s website, and we’ll be posting a new batch every month.

We’ve had over 8000 downloads so far, and the blogosphere is starting
to light up with feedback and analysis of the documents, which were
disclosed after EFF sued the government under the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) earlier this year. Over at Wired, Threat Level
reports that much of the mischief at the FBI seems to be emanating
from a mysterious “Room 4944”, and this anonymous blogger is asking
questions about who knew what when.

The whole point of sunshine laws like FOIA is to help the public hold
the government accountable, and it’s great to see individuals
exercising their right to know.

EFF received these documents as the result of a FOIA request made
through our FLAG project. We ask that you please mention EFF if you
use these documents in any way. We’re a nonprofit organization, and
our funding for this project depends on showing that our work is
important and relevant. For more information about these documents or
EFF’s FLAG project, please contact EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann
at marcia(at)”


In March, the Justice Department’s Inspector General revealed that FBI
agents had sent a flurry of fake emergency letters to phone companies,
asking them to turn over phone records immediately by promising that
the proper papers had been filed with U.S. attorneys, though in many
cases this was a complete lie.  More than 60 of these letters were
made public today as part of a FBI document dump in response to a
government sunshine lawsuit centered on the FBI’s abuse of a key
Patriot Act power.

The most striking thing about these expedited letters (.pdf) (made
public via the Electronic Frontier Foundation) is that they all use
the same pathetic, passive bureaucratese:  “Due to exigent
circumstances, it is requested that records for the attached list of
telephone numbers be provided.”

So far they seem to all be coming from the same office: the
Communications Analysis Unit which looks to be located in Room 4944 in
FBI Headquarters.  The “exigent letters” also refer almost exclusively
to a “Special Project” and the only name on any of the letters is
Larry Mefford.

Mefford was no rookie FBI agent. Mefford was the Executive Assistant
Director, in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence
Division. In English, that means he was in charge of preventing
another terrorist attack domestically.

What does that mean?  Well, 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.

What was this “Special Project” in the Communications Analysis Group?
What exactly were they doing that would require “expedited” letters
that sometimes requested more than 2 pages of phone numbers from phone
companies?  In the immortal words of the Butch Cassidy, who are those

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.  The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and
in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI offiicial who
should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and
possibility for abuse.

The FBI is fully aware of the power handed to it by Congress’s passage
of the Patriot Act.  Indeed, as early as November 28, 2001, every
field office was warned by the Office of the General Counsel that:

   “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 require that the FBU 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.”

From the looks of the audits coming out, that seems to be one memo FBI
agents dutifully ignored.  And perhaps rightfully so, since Congress
didn’t bother to challenge Alberto Gonzales’s knowingly false
statements to Congress about the FBI’s use of these powers before they
made them permanent.

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