Memo: FBI destroyed evidence in bin Laden case
Mon Apr 5, 2004 12:52
Memo: FBI destroyed evidence in bin Laden case after glitch with e-mail
D. IAN HOPPER, AP Technology Writer Tuesday, May 28, 2002
(05-28) 17:38 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --
An internal FBI memo says agents destroyed evidence gathered in an investigation
involving Osama bin Laden's network after its e-mail wiretap system mistakenly
captured information to which the agency was not entitled.
The FBI software not only picked up the e-mails of its target "but also picked
up e-mails on non-covered targets," said a March 2000 memo to agency
headquarters in Washington.
"The FBI technical person was apparently so upset that he destroyed all the
e-mail take, including the take on" the suspect, the memo said.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday
night that the e-mails were not destroyed. The official did not elaborate or try
to reconcile the statement with the memo.
The episode was described in documents made public through a Freedom of
Information Act request filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a
Washington advocacy group. The material was not included in an original release
but became public after a federal judge ordered the bureau to give out more
At issue was an investigation in Denver in which the FBI's bin Laden unit was
using the bureau's Carnivore system to conduct electronic surveillance of a
suspect under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.
The suspect's name and other information identifying details of the
investigation were marked out of the letter.
The memo surfaced as the FBI was addressing concerns it mishandled aspects of
terrorism investigation prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Those concerns include a
warning from its Phoenix office about Arab pilots training in the United States
As an outgrowth of that and other much-criticized FBI actions before the
attacks, the agency is to form a new office of intelligence and strengthen its
oversight of counterterror investigations. Attorney General John Ashcroft and
FBI Director Robert Mueller were expected to outline high-profile changes
Wednesday at the FBI's headquarters, including closer ties to the CIA and an
overhaul of the FBI's outdated computer systems.
FBI officials refused on Tuesday to discuss the Carnivore memo or the
investigation it referred to. They did, however, say that the bin Laden unit at
FBI headquarters handles only investigations involving suspected activity by his
The memo shows FBI agents were worried about the fallout in the Denver case.
The Justice Department's Office of Intelligence and Policy Review was furious
after learning the evidence captured by the e-mail wiretap system was destroyed
because of the glitch, the memo states.
"To state that she was unhappy at ITOS (International Terrorism Operations
Center) and the UBL (bin Laden) unit is an understatement," the memo stated,
quoting a Justice official.
The memo said Justice officials worried the destruction of the evidence would
signal an "inability on the part of the FBI to manage" the warrants that are key
tools in espionage and anti-terrorism cases.
Privacy groups and some members of Congress have complained that Carnivore had
the potential to collect more information than allowed by a warrant.
"Here's confirmation of the fact that not only did it do that, but it resulted
in a loss of legitimately acquired intelligence," said David Sobel, general
counsel of EPIC.
To allay Congress's concerns, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson testified in
July 2000, "We do not deploy (Carnivore) in a way that exceeds the court order."
The e-mail from an unnamed author to M.E. "Spike" Bowman, the FBI's associate
general counsel for national security, said Denver agents installed the e-mail
surveillance system in March 16, 2000, but the device did not work correctly.
Henry Perritt, who led a team authorized by the FBI to review the surveillance
system, said he was surprised the technician deleted the e-mails.
"The collection is supposed to be retained for judicial review," Perritt said.
"If an agent simply deleted a whole bunch of files without the court
instructing, that's not the way it's supposed to work."
Another document released through the privacy group's request explains the
bureau's policy for overcollection on a surveillance warrant. The memo, dated
just a week after the Denver e-mail, says the e-mails should be kept under seal
so that senior FBI officials can figure out how the wiretap went wrong.
The unintended targets of the FBI's snooping may have deserved notification that
the mistake was made, the FBI memo said.
Authorities have used Carnivore-type tools more than 25 times in all types of
criminal cases, to catch fugitives, drug dealers, extortionists and suspected
foreign intelligence agents. Carnivore is now called DCS-1000.
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