Within months after the Bush administration relaxed limits on domestic-intelligence gathering in late 2008, the F.B.I. assessed thousands of people and groups in search of evidence that they might be criminals or terrorists, a newly disclosed Justice Department document shows.
In a vast majority of those cases, F.B.I. agents did not find suspicious information that could justify more intensive investigations. The New York Times obtained the data, which the F.B.I. had tried to keep secret, after filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act…
The statistics shed new light on the F.B.I.’s activities in the post-Sept. 11 era, as the bureau’s focus has shifted from investigating crimes to trying to detect and disrupt potential criminal and terrorist activity.
It is not clear, though, whether any charges resulted from the inquiries. And because the F.B.I. provided no comparable figures for a period before the rules change, it is impossible to determine whether the numbers represent an increase in investigations.
Still, privacy advocates contend that the large number of assessments that turned up no sign of wrongdoing show that the rules adopted by the Bush administration have created too low a threshold for starting an inquiry. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has left those rules in place.
Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the volume of fruitless assessments showed that the Obama administration should tighten the rules.
“These are investigations against completely innocent people that are now bound up within the F.B.I.’s intelligence system forever,” Mr. German said. “Is that the best way for the F.B.I. to use its resources?”
RTFA for the sort of details we have come to expect from our government – whether that government is Republican or Democrat. Padding out the spy bureaucracy may enable bigger budgets; but, I doubt if there is any bona fide proof of increased security or safety.
If anything, diminishing capacity of terror organizations around the world is doing more to protect American citizens than FBI agents responding to anonymous phone calls about someone secretly wearing a turban in his bathroom at night.