FBI's Use Of 'Sneak And Peek' Warrants Still Steadily Increasing, Still Has Nearly Nothing To Do With Fighting Terrorism
from the more-drug-warring dept
Another tool supposedly "crucial" to the War on Terror is just another lowly footsoldier in the War on Drugs. Some long-delayed reports on Section 213 "sneak and peek" warrants have finally been released by the US government, providing more detail on the constantly-expanding use of delayed-notification warrants by the FBI.
While Section 213 didn't originate with the regrettable PATRIOT Act, it did coattail ride the government-expanding legislation into legitimacy. Robert Mueller, director of the FBI at the time, made this statement in 2005 defending the ongoing use of these warrants.
While not scheduled to sunset, the USA Patriot Act's delayed notice provision, Section 213, has been the subject of criticism and various legislative proposals. The FBI believes that Section 213 is an invaluable tool in the war on terror and our efforts to combat serious criminal conduct. It is important to note that delayed notice warrants were not created by the USA Patriot Act. Rather, the Act simply codified a common law practice recognized by courts across the country and created a uniform nationwide standard for the issuance of those warrants…Legislators expressed concern about these warrants during a 2005 Senate hearing, pointing out the significant increase in the number issued.
Delayed notice search warrants provide a crucial option to law enforcement and can only be issued if a federal judge finds that one of five tailored circumstances exists. The FBI has requested this authority in several cases. In most instances, the FBI seeks delayed notice when contemporaneous notice would reasonably be expected to cause serious jeopardy to an ongoing investigation.
Apparently, the department sought and received the authority to delay notice 108 times between April 2003 and January 2005, a period of approximately 22 months. By contrast, it sought and received this authority 47 times between November 2001, when the PATRIOT Act was enacted, and April 2003, a period of about 17 months. The 5-month difference in timeframe aside, these numbers clearly reveal a substantial increase in use.If they could have peered a little further into the future, they probably wouldn't have bothered noting this slight increase. 2010's report noted nearly 4,000 requests for delayed notification. A year later, the number had lept to 6,775. Two years later and the number has nearly doubled -- 11,129.
From 47 times in 17 months to over 30 times a day over the last ten years. This is another limited-use, for-emergency-use-only tool that has been converted into a workhouse by law enforcement. To keep it from being killed off, FBI Director Robert Mueller cited terrorism and investigations being placed in "serious jeopardy," but in reality, it's still all about drugs, drugs and more drugs.
This was the ratio in 2010.
It hasn't gotten any better.
Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism.Additionally, only 11 requests were rejected and the average delay was over 60 days. The longest recorded in 2013 was well over a year -- 546 days.
This was supposed to be an option of last resort -- something deployed when it was too dangerous to do otherwise. But it never was anything more than a way to skirt the Fourth Amendment for maximum FBI efficiency. Even in its early days -- not far removed from the horror of the 9/11 attacks -- the FBI was using delayed notice warrants to conduct routine investigations.
It would astound most Americans that government agents could enter their homes while they are asleep or their places of business while they are away and carry out a secret search or seizure and not tell them until weeks or months later. It would especially astound them that this authority is available for all Federal offenses, ranging from weapons of mass destruction investigations to student loan cases. That is what Section 213 of the PATRIOT Act authorizes. Indeed, the Justice Department has admitted that it has used Section 213 sneak and peek authority in nonviolent cases having nothing to do with terrorism. These include, according to the Justice Department's October 24, 2003 letter to Senator Stevens, an investigation of judicial corruption, where agents carried out a sneak and peek search of a judge's chambers, a fraudulent checks case, and a health care fraud investigation, which involved a sneak and peek of a home nursing care business.So, the DOJ requests an inch, takes several miles, and searches citizens' homes and places of business several thousand times a year -- all without feeling compelled to inform its targets. The justifications the FBI offers (and has offered for years) are false. Are we actually supposed to believe the danger posed to investigating officers has increased at the same rate as the deployment of "sneak and peek" warrants? The defenders of this program can't expect anyone to believe anything that ridiculous. And yet, it continues -- not just unabated, but with steady increases.
Section 213 is just another way for the DOJ to keep the pesky public from impeding its forward progress. Anything hinting of rights or civil liberties is generally viewed as a loophole for criminals to exploit. This is more of the same. It's easier to execute search warrants when you don't have to bother serving them first.