WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI improperly obtained personal data on U.S. citizens while investigating terrorism and spy suspects in 2006, but later adopted reforms to prevent future lapses, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Wednesday
He told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing a soon-to-be released, follow-up report by the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general found that privacy violations, previously identified in prior years, continued in 2006.
The department’s inspector general in March last year said the FBI abused its power by improperly obtaining telephone, financial and other secret records between 2003 and 2005.
At issue were national security letters, which allow the FBI to compel the release of private information without obtaining authority from a judge or grand jury.
The FBI’s use of the letters has grown dramatically, mainly as a result of powers granted to the federal law enforcement agency under the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law Congress approved after the September 11 attacks.
Mueller said the inspector general will soon release an audit of the FBI’s use of national security letters in 2006.
“This report will identify issues similar to those in the report issued last March. This is, of course, because it covers a time period which predates the reforms we now have in place,” he said.
Mueller said the FBI adopted various new procedures and internal oversight mechanisms, including the creation of a new office, aimed at preventing future lapses.
“We will continue our vigilance in this area,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring that we not only get this right, but maintain the vital trust of the American people.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman and a Democrat from Vermont, asked Mueller about the CIA’s confirmed use of waterboarding on terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks. Mueller replied the FBI’s policy prohibits the use of coercive techniques.
“A determination was made ... we would not participate in that type of interrogation,” he said, referring to coercive techniques like waterboarding, which often is described as simulated drowning and has been widely condemned.
“I believe that our techniques are effective,” Mueller said. “Those techniques are founded on a desire to develop a rapport and a relationship,” he said, adding it worked in the FBI’s interrogation of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after his capture.
Asked by Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, if there had been a rift between the CIA and the FBI on the interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects, Mueller replied, “There periodically have been disagreements.”
Editing by Alan Elsner