For reasons previously noted, I'm not a big fan of National Security Letters. But, that said, media accounts of the DOJ Inspector General's report about problems with the FBI's use of NSL's have blown those problems way out of proportion. That's the conclusion of an analysis by Ron Kessler today at NewsMax. Kessler is worth heeding on this — he has followed the FBI for years and has not pulled punches in criticizing the Bureau when they've had it coming.
As Kessler points out, the IG stressed that the problems here are sloppy mistakes, not "abuses" — as the privacy obsessives in the press claim. There's no indication whatsoever that the Bureau has engaged in Big Brother tactics to spy on innocent Americans.
What they've basically done is two-fold: they've accidentally transposed (or otherwise gotten wrong) phone numbers for which calling-activity records were sought (meaning they got the records for the wrong number), and they've accepted from overly cooperative NSL recipients information that went beyond what the NSL requested.
As human error is not going to be eliminated any time soon, it should come as no surprise that either of these problems can — and frequently do — happen even when government pursues information by subpoena, the method preferred by critics (including me). Anyone who has ever dialed a wrong number should be able to understand that. Indeed, as Kessler notes, the Washington Post, in its breathless page-one story on the IG report, included a table which inadvertently stated that the IG had examined a total of 273 NSLs over a three-year period. The number was actually 293 (as the Post had correctly stated in its accompanying story). Don't hold your breath waiting for a page-one story on media errors.
The Bureau has made the sorts of mistakes here that make its usual defenders (like me) cringe. Without a malevolent bone in their bodies, agents failed to keep adequate records of what they'd initially asked for and failed to go carefully through what was disclosed to them to make sure it was limited to what they really needed. hese are dumb mistakes. They happen too often, but they are not sinister. And to its credit, the FBI did its own internal review, found and forthrightly reported 26 other errors that the IG had not uncovered, and put in place an improved training and record-keeping regime to avoid a recurrence of these problems.
So let's get a grip. The errors are worthy of being criticized. But the suggestion that Director Mueller or AG Gonzales should be made to walk the plank over this controversy is absurd.