Of Course The FBI Has Been Gradually Expanding Its Access To And Influence Over NSA's Data Trove

from the because-of-course dept

It’s no secret that the FBI and the NSA often work hand in hand in surveillance activities. As we’ve discussed before, it’s actually the DOJ/FBI who goes to the FISA Court to put in the NSA’s requests to collect all your data. However, thanks to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the NY Times, a Justice Department Inspector’s General report from 2012 has been revealed (with significant black ink blocking out the juicy parts, of course) that reveals that beyond being the NSA’s FISA Court gopher, the FBI has been dipping its hands into the data pot as well:

In 2008, according to the report, the F.B.I. assumed the power to review email accounts the N.S.A. wanted to collect through the ?Prism? system, which collects emails of foreigners from providers like Yahoo and Google. The bureau?s top lawyer, Valerie E. Caproni, who is now a Federal District Court judge, developed procedures to make sure no such accounts belonged to Americans.

Then, in October 2009, the F.B.I. started retaining copies of unprocessed communications gathered without a warrant to analyze for its own purposes. And in April 2012, the bureau began nominating new email accounts and phone numbers belonging to foreigners for collection, including through the N.S.A.?s ?upstream? system, which collects communications transiting network switches.

Now, remember, just a few months ago it was revealed that the NSA, CIA and FBI all freely search this treasure trove of info — and the FBI admitted that it uses it so often that it does not even track how often it has done queries on that data concerning “US person identifiers.” So even though the entire point of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act was to set up procedures for “targeting certain persons outside the United States other than United States persons,” the FBI has basically thrown it wide open so that it can use it basically however it wants. And, the FBI doesn’t then track how it uses that info, because the less of a paper trail, the better, apparently.

As the report notes, basically, if the FISA Court said the NSA could have it (supposedly only for non-US persons), the FBI got its own damn copy to hang onto. Just because.

If you can’t read that, it notes:

On October 14, 2009, the FBI began to request that a portion of the raw 702-acquired data also be “dual routed” to the FBI so that it could retain this data for analysis and dissemination in intelligence reports.

As for the FBI starting to choose its own emails and phone numbers to snoop on, the details there involve a whole hell of a lot of black ink redacting the details, but it does note that:

The FBI plans to greatly expand its role in the 702 Program this year by nominating selectors for Section 702 Coverage. Because the nominations program was still being formulated during our review period, the OIG was unable to review these proposed activities in depth for this report. However, in Chapters Three and Four we identify certain FBI policies and practices under the 702 Program that may be affected by the nominations initiative, and thus briefly summarize the nominations proposal below.

This is followed by a paragraph and a half of the finest black ink your tax dollars can buy. Then we get:

Unlike the [REDACTED] process, the FBI, and not the NSA, would be the owning agency for the selectors it nominates, and would assume the primary obligation to review the content of incoming communications to ensure that the targeted account remains legally eligible for 702 collection and continues to produce foreign intelligence information.

This is followed by three paragraphs of black ink and then an admission that while the plan was supposed to start in early 2013, the FBI was so damn eager to get it started, that they’d actually begun in April 2012. Who knew the FBI were early adopters?

Either way, it seems clear that the FBI has had pretty broad access to this collection of data and the power to get selectors added on its own without much oversight or review. And, remember, it doesn’t track how often it dips into this data. So, for all the talk of how carefully monitored the NSA’s access is… who the hell knows what the FBI is doing with it?

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Comments on “Of Course The FBI Has Been Gradually Expanding Its Access To And Influence Over NSA's Data Trove”

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Anonymous Coward says:

who the hell knows what the FBI is doing with it?

At a guess, the uses include locating people who sound like it might be possible to talk committing a terrorist act. So that once such a person is located, the FBI can send an undercover agent to convince the possible terrorist to carry out a terrorist plot, provide all planning, materials, and weapons; then arrest them for terrorism as soon as the theoretical terrorist accepts the “weapons” which are fake. The FBI then trumpets what a great job it’s doing of rooting out domestic terrorism.

Anonymous Coward says:


It is so sad how underhanded our agencies have become. Little kids once played FBI/CIA agents in their spare time and now would rather play white hat vs black hat.

In my lifetime I have lost all faith in the leaders of our government agencies. I would have a hard time crying over a terrorist attack against one of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

NSA knows what the FBI is up to

The NSA probably knows what the FBI is up to, because the FBI still has to use electronic communications sometimes, and with no honour among criminals, the NSA doubtless listens in. Of course, the NSA can neither confirm nor deny that they are aware of what the FBI is up to, so this doesn’t help much in practice.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

On the plus side

At least the FBI actually has legal jurisdiction to do domestic spying, unlike the NSA. Of course, that’s rather meaningless since it’s not the FBI that’s doing this spying at all: it’s the NSA. The FBI is just looking over the information that NSA spying obtained.

So, never mind. There is no plus side.

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