The Federation of American Scientists has posted a new Congressional Research Service report (FAS pdf; archive pdf) concerning the FBI and its terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks and how the FBI’s investigations affect individuals’ privacy and civil liberty rights. The CRS says, “Since 9/11, the Bureau has arguably taken a much more proactive posture, particularly regarding counterterrorism. It now views its role as both ‘predicting and preventing’ the threats facing the nation, drawing upon enhanced resources.”
The CRS report details “several enhanced investigative tools, authorities, and capabilities provided to the FBI through post-9/11 legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; the 2008 revision to the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations (Mukasey Guidelines); and the expansion of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) throughout the country.” The CRS also discusses the civil liberties controversy surrounding the FBI use of, among other things, national security letters (NSLs), roving wiretaps, “sneak and peek” search warrants.
And CRS notes the publicly condemned domestic surveillance program, COINTELPRO, which revealed that the FBI built dossiers on groups (including the NAACP) that were suspected of having a Communist ideology even though they had not engaged in crimes, and that the agency burglarized political groups to gather data on them:
As discussed, the FBI’s DIOG articulates a need to proactively gather intelligence in counterterrorism investigations and establishes the assessment as a technique to do so. Balancing civil liberties against the need for preventative policing to combat terrorism is a key policy challenge. The notion of balancing civil liberties against security requirements is not new. In 1976, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (commonly referred to as the Church Committee after its chair, Senator Frank Church) noted as much in its investigation of domestic intelligence abuses:
“A tension between order and liberty is inevitable in any society. A Government must protect its citizens from those bent on engaging in violence and criminal behavior, or in espionage and other hostile foreign intelligence activity…. Intelligence work has, at times, successfully prevented dangerous and abhorrent acts, such as bombings and foreign spying, and aided in the prosecution of those responsible for such acts.”
But intelligence activity in the past decades has, all too often, exceeded the restraints on the exercise of governmental power that are imposed by our country’s Constitution, laws, and traditions.