The mistakes extend beyond those criticized in a rare public decision this summer by the secretive U.S. court that oversees the surveillance warrants. That court admonished the FBI for providing inaccurate information in warrant applications.
The April 2000 memo — marked "immediate" and classified as "secret" — describes different problems from those cited by the court. It describes agents conducting unauthorized searches, writing warrants with wrong addresses and allowing "overruns" of electronic surveillance operations beyond their legal deadline.
"The level of incompetence here is egregious," said Rep. William D. Delahunt, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who obtained the memo from the FBI and provided it to AP.
Said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy: "Honest mistakes happen in law enforcement, but the extent, variety and seriousness of the violations recounted in this FBI memo show again that the secret FISA process breeds sloppiness unless there's adequate oversight."
The FBI's deputy general counsel, whose office approves requests for national security warrants, acknowledged Wednesday the mistakes led to broad concern inside his agency long before Congress began investigating whether the bureau missed signs of Sept. 11.
"There's always going to be mistakes," said M.E. "Spike" Bowman. "We looked at those incidents very, very hard. We found no common thread. A lot of it was inattention to detail."
These warrants are among the most powerful tools in the U.S. antiterrorism arsenal, permitting secret searches and wiretaps for up to one year without ever notifying the target of the investigation.
The court approved 1,012 such warrants in 2000.
Bowman said the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility investigated the problems. No FBI agent lost his or her job as a result of the internal inquiry, Bowman said, and the FBI has not had the same number of mistakes since. It averages now about 10 mistakes a year in such cases, he said.
—The Associated Press
Lawmakers Decide Meeting With CIA, FBI Directors Should Be Closed
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10 — With tensions rising between intelligence agencies and a congressional panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, lawmakers have decided that a meeting with the directors of the CIA and FBI should be held behind closed doors.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet had been scheduled to appear today before an open session of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
But those plans were changed abruptly late Wednesday while the committees met in a closed session. The subject of Wednesday's meeting wasn't announced, but it was believed to have included discussions about the FBI's handling of an informant who was the landlord of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said congressional staff have spoken several times to the agent who handled the informant. But the bureau won't allow staff to speak to the informant, who has been promised anonymity.
In a statement announcing the postponement of the public hearing and today's closed-door meeting, the committees said only they needed to discuss "more business" from Wednesday's session.
The public hearing will be rescheduled for next week, it said. The two directors were expected to appear, along with the National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden.