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FBI: We Were so Busy in 2001 We Couldn’t Follow the Law from 2003-2006

In testimony to Congress last week, FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni’s made this excuse for the FBI practice over four years of declaring terrorist threats that didn’t exist in order to grab Americans’ phone records without a warrant:

For reasons lost in the fog of history – but no doubt partially the result of the intense pace of activity in the months following the 9/11 attacks – the FBI did not adequately educate our workforce that Congress had provided a clear mechanism to obtain records in emergency situations.

When and how often did the law-breaking happen? A letter by House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to FBI Director Robert Mueller clarifies:

As you are aware, the IG report documents numerous improper actions by FBI personnel to obtain personal telephone record information on individuals between 2003 and 2006, including actions that “violated the requirements” of federal law. More than 700 times, such information was obtained about more than 2,000 phone numbers by so-called “exigent letters,” some of which were signed by FBI agents even though they believed that factual information in the letters was false. For more than 3,500 phone numbers, the call information was extracted without even a letter, but instead by email, requests on a post-it note, or “sneak peeks” of telephone company records. In several cases, FBI personnel violated additional rules by seeking telephone records of news reporters, including one case where actual phone records were improperly obtained concerning Washington Post and New York Times reporters.

Let’s get this straight: according to Caproni, the FBI — the nation’s top law enforcement organization — broke the law to spy on more than 5,500 phone numbers from 2003 to 2006 because nobody “adequately educated” FBI agents about the law. Nobody “adequately educated” FBI agents about the law from 2003 to 2006 because the FBI was so gol-darned busy “in the months following the 9/11 attacks” … of 2001.

Well, that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Now why won’t everyone just take the word of the FBI and stop all this fussing?

P.S. Who would be the person ultimately responsible for communicating the state of law to the FBI? That would be the FBI General Counsel. Who was appointed FBI General Counsel in 2003? That would be Valerie Caproni.

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