The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those [Bush-era intelligence gathering] rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide; The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.
In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it needed greater flexibility to hunt for would-be terrorists inside the United States. But the manual’s details have alarmed privacy advocates.
One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for scrutiny.
...The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats.
Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”
...If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a “preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like wiretapping.