January 17, 2006

Spy agency’s post-9/11 data sidetracked FBI: NY Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the months following the
September 11 attacks, the National Security Agency sent a
torrent of names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses to the FBI
that swamped the agency but led in virtually every case to dead
ends or innocent Americans, The New York Times reported on

FBI officials complained repeatedly to the secretive spy
agency, which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping
on the international phone and Internet communications of
targeted Americans.

The unfiltered data swamped FBI investigators, the
newspaper reported on its Web site in an article written for
its Tuesday editions.

Some FBI officials and prosecutors also thought the checks,
which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless
intrusions on the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

The bureau's then-director, Robert Mueller, raised concerns
about the legal basis for the eavesdropping program, which did
not seek court warrants, the Times reported, citing an
unidentified government official. Mueller asked senior
administration officials "whether the program had a proper
legal foundation," but ultimately deferred to the Justice
Department legal opinions.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it
illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without
the approval of a special, secret court.

President George W. Bush has said he ordered the domestic
eavesdropping operation to fight terrorism after the September
11 attacks and that his actions were within the law.

Citing interviews with more than a dozen current and former
law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, the Times said
the flood of NSA tips led to few potential terrorists inside
the country they did not know of from other sources -- and
diverted agents from work they viewed as more productive.

Judith Emmel, a spokeswoman for the office of the director
of national intelligence, took issue with the FBI officials'
assessment, the Times reported, citing a statement last month
by Gen. Michael Hayden, the country's second-ranking
intelligence official and director of the NSA.

"I can say unequivocally that we have gotten information
through this program that would not otherwise have been
available," the Times quoted Hayden as saying.

Several of the unidentified law enforcement officials
interviewed by the Times acknowledged they might not know of
arrests from intelligence activities overseas that grew out of
the domestic spying program.

Some of the officials said the eavesdropping program might
have helped uncover people with ties to al Qaeda in Portland,
Oregon, Minneapolis and Albany, New York.