No Carnivore? No Osama evidence
May 28, 2002 4:19 PM   Subscribe

No Carnivore? No Osama evidence "The FBI destroyed evidence gathered in an investigation involving bin Laden's network after its e-mail wiretap system mistakenly captured information to which the agency was not entitled. 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". Another example of the need for significant FBI reform?
posted by matteo (12 comments total)
I mean, let's assume that some e-mail surveillance of really really bad suspects can sometimes be reasonable, but how is it that "the FBI technical person" can delete all that stuff? Is it really a tech person's responsibility at the Bureau?
Like a kind of FBI mathowie, he can delete stuff -- and maybe put suspects on timeout?
posted by matteo at 4:28 PM on May 28, 2002

Please tell me we aren't going to be upset that somebody at the FBI erred on the side of protecting privacy, civil liberties, and the American Way. The odds are stacked against the idea that the tech deleted an email from titled "RE: plans to destroy american infidel landmarks".
posted by ilsa at 4:34 PM on May 28, 2002

Better we miss a nugget of intelligence than continue to play Secret Squirrel around law-abiding citizens. Price of freedom.
posted by majick at 4:46 PM on May 28, 2002

Sounds like disinformation to me.

It would have sounded better if they had said: "We would have caught Osama, but you forced us get warrants before routine searches and read suspects their Miranda rights and give them attorneys if they could not afford them!"

Poll: Do you trust what the FBI says? Ever? What was the last thing they said you believed?
posted by kablam at 5:41 PM on May 28, 2002

Here's the document the story is based on:
posted by bobo123 at 5:52 PM on May 28, 2002

All well and good but what is left out is the fact that it is the National Security Agency that collects electronic imformation. We are now led to believe that the FBI and the CIA fought territorial wars and that was cause of problem. then we are told that FBI is domestic and CIA is non-domestic and that the two agencies did not exchange information.
But what then is the security council that represents all our intelligence agencies and reports tdirectly to the president? Isn't it that group that gets ALL the info? What is Rice's job?
posted by Postroad at 5:54 PM on May 28, 2002

I'm with kablam: if Carnivore picked it up, you'd think Echelon would too, and that's arranged so that the old 'no domestic spying' restriction doesn't apply.
posted by riviera at 6:13 PM on May 28, 2002

I'm with Ilsa and Majick...I doubt seriously that they deleted the "plans to hijack planes and crash them into buildings" subject messages. This strikes me as one of those "See, if you'd just let us snoop when and where we want, we could avoid terrorists."
posted by dejah420 at 7:22 PM on May 28, 2002

What this really highlights is the impossibility of electronic surveillance. While the FBI and most American's think it's ok to keep throwing out civil liberties and privacy, there is no way to filter the vast quantity of data that is collected.
posted by jonnyp at 8:25 AM on May 29, 2002

matteo, no matter what security there is inside Carnivore/DCS1000 itself, in the end it runs on top of an operating system and file system. Even assuming a secure OS like Unix, there will be someone with 'root' who can delete the files. As for it being his responsibility, I think that is exactly what the memo is all about. Clearly they were trying to establish responsibility at the FISA court level. But of course the technician is ultimately capable of this simply because your average field agent is not.

This is not that remarkable -- someone running a phone tap, or video surveillance, could always erase or 'lose' tapes. In fact, I believe this was a key plot point of the movie 'Stakeout'.

ilsa: in fact from the FISA memo it seems the information in the file was never examined by an agent. It could all have been innocuous. The problem wasn't that something useful had been deleted (frex, that they then couldn't use in court because of the errors); the problem was that the deletion put the court on notice that there were implementation problems, and further surveillance was delayed while those were worked out.

kablam: Our system is not predicated on the idea that no one, including government agents, can ever do wrong. It is predicated on the notion that if they do wrong, they will be accountable. And that illegally-obtained evidence will not be admissable. Do I trust every single FBI agent as you say? No. Do I trust the system of accountability involving the executive (FBI), judicial (FISA courts), and legislative (Intel Committee) oversight? Yes.

Postroad: what are you on about? This didn't even reach the field agents, let alone Condi.

riviera: Echelon may listen to all cross-border open channels and report on keywords (more likely, on a select subset mixed with random surveillance). Carnivore is not listening on all intraborder channels; it's technically impossible. Legally it may only be configured to listen to one person's traffic, which means a particular mail server. This is governed by judicial oversight (FISA courts) and subpoena power. The 'no domestic spying' rule applies to the CIA, not the FBI, which retains investigative responsibility for counter-terrorism within our borders.

jonnyp: bogus. It's quite possible to filter on (say) e-mail headers; I do it frequently. That doesn't mean you'll always get it right the first time; heck, there was one case of a syntax error deleting the right stuff and saving practically everything else. (This may have been the White House e-mail business.) Read the RISKS digest for many examples. The problems are not technical, they are systemic -- as this whole memo / court-supervision / techie/field-agent problem suggests.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2002

...And that illegally-obtained evidence will not be admissable...Do I trust the system of accountability involving the executive (FBI), judicial (FISA courts), and legislative (Intel Committee) oversight? Yes.

dhartung: What *exactly* IS illegally-obtained evidence?
Remember that all of the rules have been severely re-worked recently, and it will be years, if ever, before there is judicial review of them. Plus, the evidence might be presented without examination, after "National Security" is invoked. This of course *assumes* that you are permitted a fair trial in the first place--no longer a given.
As far as "accountability" seems to exist only when an agent breaks the 'inside' rules; agents are *never* punished for abusing the "little people", only for messing with The Company.
Compare Waco and Ruby Ridge (external matters), with FBI agents who have gone over to the mob or foreign powers, or even whistleblown their bosses (internal violations.)
The former walk or are even promoted. The latter are sent up for life.
posted by kablam at 11:07 AM on May 29, 2002

Good for the technician. I think the reform needed is for this guy to get promoted.
posted by bingo at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2002

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