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Context of 'Late 2003: FBI Keeping Data on Innocent US Citizens'

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An FBI investigation finds that Turkish nationals are involved in efforts to bribe members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. Targets of the FBI’s investigation include individuals at Chicago’s Turkish Consulate and the American-Turkish Consulate, as well as members of the American-Turkish Council (ATC) and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). Wiretaps obtained by investigators also contain what appears to be references to large scale drug shipments and other crimes. In 1999 some FBI investigators call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to continue the investigation. But after the Bush administration comes to office, higher-ups in the Department of State pressure the bureau to shift the attention of its investigation away from elected politicians and instead focus on appointed officials. (Deliso 8/15/2005; Rose 9/2005)

The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. This information is now being put in government data banks to be shared with other agencies. (Gellman 11/6/2005)

The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. Such information has since commonly been put in government data banks and shared with other agencies. (Gellman 11/6/2005)

After a 16-month review by the US State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bush administration says it has found no basis to charge any of the 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf with violations of American law. The decision is made in spite of the group’s long history of collusion with Saddam Hussein. MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces against Iran during the 1980s (see December 2003) and helped Saddam’s internal security forces brutally put down the 1991 Shia uprisings (see 1991). The organization was also responsible for a number of American deaths during the 1970s (see 1970s) and has been listed on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” since 1997 (see 1997). “A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist,” a senior American official explains. “To take action against somebody, you have to demonstrate that they have done something.” (Jehl 7/27/2004; Peterson 7/29/2004)

President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. (Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005 10/25/2005) The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” (Gellman 11/6/2005)


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