Friday, August 22, 2008

New FBI Investigation Guidelines

The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department has a tentative plan to allow FBI agents "to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion."

The plan has not yet been made public, but Congress received a private briefing about it in July. In a August 20 letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, four Senate Democrats claim that the plan "might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on First Amendment activities."

However, Attorney General Mukasey gave a speech last week in which he indicated that the FBI would still need a valid purpose to investigate and that the proposal "clarifies the rules by which the FBI conducts its intelligence mission."

The AG is scheduled to respond to lawmakers' questions about the plan at a September 17 Congressional hearing. The guidelines are on hold until then.

Separately, President Bush has issued a very detailed Executive Order (as a revision to an earlier White House pronouncement) clarifying and perhaps expanding the cooperative roles and obligations of the various intelligence agencies in counter-terrorism activities. Among other things, it gives (or reaffirms) the Director of National Intelligence overall responsibility for ensuring a network of relationships, guidelines, procedures so that U.S. intelligence activities overseas and at home (including at the state and local levels) get coordinated, de-conflicted, and integrated. The order specifically states that "The United States Government has a solemn obligation, and shall continue in the conduct of intelligence activities under this order, to protect fully the legal rights of all United States persons, including freedoms, civil liberties, and privacy rights guaranteed by Federal law."