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 Monday.
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.
Matt Yglesius comments about what might be going on – a "cover your ass" factor at the NSA:
If an attack comes, and someone involved was fingered by something the NSA had going on, and the NSA didn’t forward it to the FBI, the NSA is going to get the blame. If the NSA just forwards tons and tons of stuff to the FBI which, overwhelmed, can’t follow-up on everything properly, then the NSA gets to say they fingered the right dudes and blame the FBI for not picking up the ball. So the incentive is to overestimate the amount of stuff that should be dumped on the other guy’s desk.
Based on the Times story, this worry looks more real than theoretical. Again, it’s hard to pronounce definitively about a secret program, run by a secret agency, fighting a secretive terrorist network. But there’s plenty of reason to be suspicious that this is just a plain old bad idea along with being illegal and open to abuse.
RELATED: Don’t get sucked in by this headline. It’s not just the ACLU doing the suing. Other plaintiffs include conservative columnist Christopher Hitchens and others across a wide political spectrum.