The Leash Is Off The FBI
By Jeff Elkins

Well, the leash is off.
America's KGB, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has had its already sweeping powers augmented yet again under a set of new "guidelines" issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Keeping in mind that among other things, you can already be arrested and held incommunicado without bail, conversations with your attorney (if you're allowed one) be spied on and taped and you might even find yourself tried by military tribunal, how could things get worse?
Believe it, they just did.
The FBI's previous role was supposedly investigation of certain interstate crimes and crimes prosecutable under federal rather than state laws. Its purpose was primarily reactive rather than proactive, at least in theory. In practice, the FBI violated it's "prime directive" uncounted times over the years, with unlawful black bag jobs, surreptitious wiretaps and surveillance, and other various tramplings on the spirit and letter of US Constitution.
However, each one of these shenanigans was forbidden and the courts and the management of the FBI well knew it. Public exposure of these unsavory activities (most notably in a 1960s book called "The FBI Nobody Knows" by Fred Cook, based on a series of stories in The Nation) led to some stringent restraints on the FBI. Again, at least in theory.
Under the rubric of the "War on Terror," Ashcroft just threw those restraints in the trash.
"Under the current guidelines, FBI investigators cannot surf the web the way you or I can. Nor can they simply walk into a public event or a public place to observe ongoing activities. They have no clear authority to use commercial data services that any business in America can use." says Ashcroft.
Think about what's being said here: The FBI (again, in theory) was forbidden to spy on an individual American citizen's web site, monitor public meetings at churches, synagogues and mosques, or use Google or Lexis-Nexis to gather information on citizens - unless such activity was tied to a specific authorized investigation.
Now, based on the whim of some anonymous GS-13, FBI special agents can conceivably type "The FBI Stinks" into Google, gather up their hits and open files on any and all individuals thus collared. All this with no court order, or any oversight whatsoever, beyond that of the tissue paper guidelines issued by Ashcroft.
If your pastor, priest or rabbi happens to deliver an anti-war or anti-government message in a religious sermon, the FBI might well be in the audience taking notes - and names. If you think this is far-fetched, you are terribly naive. Not only has it happened in the past, it's happening today, and now it will increase.
In today's atmosphere of fear look for budget and staffing increases in this already bloated federal behemoth. Quoting from TracFBI, an invaluable Internet resource located at
The FBI in 1999 had more special agents and support staff than at any time in its entire 90-year history, more than at the height of World War Two, the depth of the Cold War with the Soviet Block, or the confused period of civil rights demonstrations and anti-war demonstrations before and during the Vietnam War. In 1999, there were a total of 28,192 employees - 11,646 agents and 16,546 support staff. Focusing on the Clinton years alone, there were 15% more FBI employees in 1998 than there were in 1992. In a striking contrast, the total number of all federal civilian workers had declined by 18% during the same period.
Comprehensive federal employment data show that the number of FBI intelligence officers almost quintupled during the Clinton years, jumping from 224 in 1992 to 1,025 in 1999. The actual duties of the intelligence officers are not known. But the government handbook on occupations says the FBI employees assigned to this category are involved in the "collection, analysis, evaluation, interpretation and dissemination of information on political, economic, social cultural, physical, geographic, scientific, or military conditions, trends, and forces in foreign and domestic areas which directly or indirectly affect national security." Although most aspects of the government's efforts to deal with terrorists, spies, computer hackers and other such threats are classified, the surge in FBI intelligence officers is compatible with repeated statements by FBI Director Louis Freeh and other Clinton Administration officials that stepped-up government efforts are required to combat the growth in potential threats to national security.
Parenthetically, one has to wonder how long valuable sites like FBITrac will survive under the new regime, much less sites that are frankly anti-government, such as the one where you are reading this column.
Remember, the FBITrac paragraphs above were written before the terrible events of 9/11 or the passage of the horribly mis-named "USA Patriot Act." Who knows what increases are taking place now, and will we even be allowed to know? Personally, I doubt we will. Undoubtedly such information will now be classified, lest it aid "the evil ones."
With the institution of these new guidelines, Ashcroft has indeed removed an already weak leash from a federal agency not known for restraint or respect for constitutional values. The FBI now has free rein to spy on American citizens in their churches, on their computers and telephones and in their homes.
How much longer will we tolerate this slide into Stalinism?


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