FBI, DOJ Announce New Civil-Liberties Safeguards

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Ever since a March report by the Justice Department’s inspector general highlighted mistakes made by the FBI in obtaining e-mail and financial records without a court order — through what’s known as a National Security Letter — Bureau and DOJ officials have pledged to establish institutional safeguards against further abuse.

Today Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that attorneys will form an oversight office within DOJ’s National Security Division to examine “all aspects of the FBI’s national security program for compliance with laws, regulations, and guidelines,” according to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein. Additionally, FBI will create an integrity and compliance office for internal policing over all FBI activities, which a DOJ announcement terms a “substantial innovation.”

Time and further scrutiny will tell how exactly this will all work — to say nothing of how well — but Wainstein termed the move “historic.” One question: will there be an office in place to ensure that Gonzales reads reports he receives about FBI abuse?

Additionally, in a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional leaders, Mueller and Gonzales noted that the FBI has just completed a “historical audit of the FBI’s use of NSLs in all 56 field offices.” The two say that it largely confirms the inspector generals’ findings. We’ll bring you the report as soon as we have it.