Not Saved by the Bell, but Saved by the Bill at the FBI

All the hand-wringing (a good bit of it by me) over lost freedoms, Big
Brother and this administration’s Homeland Insecurity pale by
comparison to bad judgment and malfeasance. Jeffersonian democracy may
be against the ropes in the 10th round, but it has a far better chance
of being saved by the bill than the bell.

All the hand-wringing (a good bit of it by me) over lost freedoms, Big
Brother and this administration’s Homeland Insecurity pale by
comparison to bad judgment and malfeasance. Jeffersonian democracy may
be against the ropes in the 10th round, but it has a far better chance
of being saved by the bill than the bell.

I’ll settle for that in these years of eroding constitutional
authority. We Americans take what we can and do the best we can with

Dan Eggen over at the Washington Post writes in today’s paper;

Telecommunications companies have repeatedly cut off FBI access to
wiretaps of alleged terrorists and criminal suspects because the bureau
did not pay its phone bills, according to the results of an audit released yesterday.

report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that
more than half of nearly 1,000 FBI telecommunications bills reviewed by
investigators were not paid on time, including one invoice for $66,000
at an unidentified field office.

Thank god for small deliverances.

We have trillion-dollar government these
days, unable to function in hurricanes or prevail against
fundamentalist terror forces. Half that dough goes to the Pentagon,
where they promptly lose it. The other half splits between actual needs
and office-preserving earmarks. Boil it down and that means (in real
and unadulterated and gold-backed dollars), the whole thing is worth
about ten billion.

No one alive today even remembers gold-backed currency, but
even ten billion isn’t chump-change (depending upon how you define both
chump and change). No doubt the Congress will find a way—and soon—to do
away with Inspectors General. IGs are just too embarrassing to the
legislative ego, what with all that reporting and checking-up and
keeping of tabs.

The report cited a case in which
an order obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act —
which covers clandestine wiretaps of terrorism and espionage suspects
— was halted because of "untimely payment."

"Late payments have
resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone
lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting
in lost evidence," Fine said in a seven-page summary of the audit’s

Imagine that. The FBI (in
kindergarten lingo) failed “to work and play well with others.” Not
once, a bunch of times. Please have mommy come in to see me.

with losing their guns and laptop computers, agents have been caught
with their pants down and fingers in the cookie jar—not a pretty sight
for the federal police. Some of the cutoffs were do to not giving a
damn, some to a ‘we’re the FBI” mentality and some to siphoning off
funds into agent pockets.

The late payments were
part of a broader pattern of lax bookkeeping identified by Fine’s
review, which focused on how FBI headquarters tracks special funds that
are sent to field offices to pay for rental cars, surveillance and
other expenses in undercover investigations.

A review of 35
employees with access to such funds found that half had personal
bankruptcies or other financial problems, the report said. In one case
prosecuted in June 2006, an FBI telecommunications specialist pleaded
guilty to stealing more than $25,000 intended for telephone services.

another example of the FBI’s administrative difficulties, Fine’s office
reported in 2002 that the bureau could not account for hundreds of
missing guns and laptop computers. His office noted more of the same in
a follow-up report last year.

Administrative difficulties. Sounds like the Pentagon’s trillion-dollar oops.

FBI Director Bob Mueller was either too chagrined or too caught up in
the endless meetings (that make law enforcement subject to chagrin) to
comment. He dropped that duty on Assistant Director John Miller’s desk.
John immediately fired off memos and statements to cover various parts
of his anatomy, stut, stut, stuttering . . .

is widespread agreement that the current financial management system,
first introduced in the 1980s, is inadequate." Miller said the FBI
"will not tolerate financial mismanagement" and is working to address
the problems revealed by the audit.

Widespread agreement does not a solution make.

For the first thirty-five years or so of the FBI’s existence, Director
J. Edgar Hoover ran a dictatorial and often criticized bureau. But the
damned thing worked and by god his agents didn’t lose their guns.

The misnamed, misguided and mismanaged Department of Homeland Security exemplifies a unique and self-destructive government structure–an incredibly bloated system devised by those who purport to want smaller government.

It strives to know everything about everyone and thereby knows
nothing about anybody. DHS took too many independent agencies (18 or
more, depending on how you count), each of which more or less worked,
and turned them into one gigantic, ungainly, ineffective and
ungovernable statistical stew, stirred by 200,000 employees.

Inspectors General like Glenn Fine are the scorekeepers. I wouldn’t say this as proven fact, but they seem to be the only people between the American taxpayer and absolute government chaos.

A break down of access is what concentrated the slip-ups that
allowed the 9-11 attacks. A fine example of the nail that lost the shoe
that lost the horse that lost the general that lost the war. The FBI
agent with critical knowledge couldn’t get through. In Hoover’s time,
you better damned well have something of value, but you could move information up the chain.

Back to Miller’s statement about not tolerating financial mismanagement, the Inspector General first tagged these problems in 2002. Six years of not tolerating? C’mon, John, get serious.

seven-page report released yesterday was only a summary of Fine’s
87-page audit, which has been deemed too sensitive for public release.
The summary did not say which field offices had problems or identify
any of the individuals involved.

The American Civil Liberties
Union, which has been sharply critical of the Bush administration’s
surveillance practices, called on the FBI to release the full report.
The group’s national security policy counsel, Michael German, also said
that the report raises questions about the motives of large telecom
firms, which have, in many cases, allowed the government to run
wiretaps on their systems without warrants.

"It sounds as
though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the
mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail," said German, a
former FBI agent.

I love it. Great line, Mike.

We all worry, with considerable reason, about who is looking down
the front of our metaphoric blouse and for what reasons. But the larger
worry is what we gained for what we lost. It doesn’t seem like much of
a bargain.

Living outside the United States, as I do, a U.S. citizen’s life is a nightmare of Patriot Act regulation that seems aimed at the innocent. Banking is virtually impossible as Americans are presumed to be drug dealers, money launderers or terrorists—all in the simple pursuit of living abroad and trying to access home.

Yet the prosecution of those the government has dragged off the streets
of the world and claimed to be terrorists, fails in case after case.
We’re losing the keystone of our freedoms to the Keystone Kops of

audit comes as the Bush administration is urging Congress to approve an
overhaul of the 1978 wiretap law to grant telecommunications firms
immunity from lawsuits for helping the FBI and other government
agencies conduct secret surveillance.

Seems we’ve done enough updating of laws.

I’d settle (and maybe you would too) for taking our federal government back to 1978 instead of asking Congress to immunize the telecoms. And, if I were the telecoms . . .

. . . I’d just as soon have the Feds pay their phone bill.

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