The FBI’s creeping advance into the world of counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact sheets. Instead of declaring “law enforcement” as its “primary function,” as it has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists “national security” as its chief mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers.
“What happened in the last year that changed?” asked Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer.
Source: Mother Jones
In a lapse that national security experts call baffling, a high-ranking FBI agent filed a sensitive internal manual detailing the bureau’s secret interrogation procedures with the Library of Congress, where anyone with a library card can read it.
For years, the American Civil Liberties Union fought a legal battle to force the FBI to release a range of documents concerning FBI guidelines, including this one, which covers the practices agents are supposed to employ when questioning suspects. Through all this, unbeknownst to the ACLU and the FBI, the manual sat in a government archive open to the public. When the FBI finally relented and provided the ACLU a version of the interrogation guidebook last year, it was heavily redacted; entire pages were blacked out. But the version available at the Library of Congress, which a Mother Jones reporter reviewed last week, contains no redactions.
The 70-plus-page manual ended up in the Library of Congress, thanks to its author, an FBI official who made an unexplainable mistake. This FBI supervisory special agent, who once worked as a unit chief in the FBI’s counterterrorism division, registered a copyright for the manual in 2010 and deposited a copy with the US Copyright Office, where members of the public can inspect it upon request. What’s particularly strange about this episode is that government documents cannot be copyrighted.
“A document that has not been released does not even need a copyright,” says Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “Who is going to plagiarize from it? Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t violate the copyright because you don’t have the document. It isn’t available.”
“The whole thing is a comedy of errors,” he adds. “It sounds like gross incompetence and ignorance.”
The names of nearly three-quarters of a million individuals have been secretly added to watch lists administered by the United States government, but federal officials are adamant about keeping information about these rosters under wraps.
A report by the New York Times’ Susan Stellin published over the weekend attempted to shine much-deserved light on an otherwise largely unexposed program of federal watch lists, but details about these directories — including the names of individuals on them and what they did to get there — remain as elusive as ever.
More than 12 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, federal agencies continue to keep lists on hand containing names of individuals of interest: people who often end up un-cleared to enter or exit the US due to an array of activity that could be considered suspicious or terrorist-related to government officials.
In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that an Inspector General of the Department of Justice report found at least 700,000 individual names on the database maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sub-office tasked with overseeing the “single database of identifying information about those known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity.” Five years later, that number of suspicious persons is reportedly close to what it was at the time. Half-a-decade down the road, however, Americans and foreign nationals who end up on the government’s radar are offered little chance to find out how they ended there, or even file an appeal.