A Justice Department audit has found that the FBI has devoted "considerable resources" to fixing problems with its handling of National Security Letters, and has made definite progress.
In an extensive follow-up to past audits, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General noted that officials have implemented 23 of 28 recommendations that include "creating new internal controls, providing guidance and training to FBI personnel (and) establishing new record-keeping practices."
National Security Letters are written directives ordering third parties such as telephone companies, Internet service providers and financial institutions to turn over information. Past audits found "repeated instances of FBI misuse" of these letters, auditors noted. In particular, said theNational Journal, the inspector general identified a number of areas that "require additional effort and attention," such as a tendency to collect data on the wrong person because of routine mistakes.
"We found that the FBI's corrective measures have not completely eliminated potential intelligence violations resulting from typographical errors in the identification of a telephone number, email address, or social security number in an NSL," the report read. "These typographical errors cause the FBI to request and, in some instances receive, the information of someone other than the intended target of the NSL."
The new audit includes fresh information on the letters' use, though the auditors also noted that the FBI insisted on redacting some details that the auditors felt should be made public, reportedABC News.
In 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, the report notes that the FBI requested 41,299 National Security Letters. In 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, the number of requests fell to 30,442, saidABC News.
But in 2010, the number of requests jumped back up to 54,935, more than in all but one year of the Bush administration. In 2011, the last year for which records are made public, the FBI requested 46,648 letters.
"According to the FBI, the number of NSLs issued in any given year is a function of the needs of the national security investigations conducted in that year," the audit reported. A majority of the requests are "in furtherance of counterterrorism investigations," the audit noted.
FBI officials, in their formal response to the audit, said they were "pleased" with the observations about improvements and declared officials "will work to bring closure" to the remaining recommendations.