This might not be the way to get immunity

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So American telephone companies appear to continue to believe that they are om-NI-po-tent.

I was going to call this Giggle of the Day, but really, I feel the FBI's pain too keenly. I'm sure we all do. Who has never been a little late in paying one of those bills? Who has never felt the wrath of Ernestine?

WASHINGTON [AP] — Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

A Justice Department audit released Thursday blamed the lost connections on the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. Poor supervision of the program also allowed one agent to steal $25,000, the audit said.

In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation "was halted due to untimely payment," the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.

"We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

More than half of 990 bills to pay for telecommunication surveillance in five unidentified FBI field offices were not paid on time, the report shows. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.

The FBI did not have an immediate comment.

Seriously, I do feel their pain. Anyone who has followed the tortured adventures of the U.S. Department of Justice over the last couple of years knows that the people who do the real work of that department have been disgracefully mismanaged by the appointees of the Bush administration and are coping with severe demoralization. It is entirely believable to me that the same people in Washington who are so fixed on fighting for immunity for the telcos from prosecution for illegal wiretapping (as cover for immunity for this rogue administration) just never thought of the FBI's phone bills. Slipped their minds, it did. Never occurred to them.

But you know Ernestine. If she'll cut off Mr Veedle, she'll cut off the FBI, and apparently she has. More than once. A FISA wiretap, even. Holy smokes, Ernestine: don't you realize that your bosses are trying to get themselves out of hot water on that very score at this very moment? Did you not get the memo? Ever heard of Joseph Nacchio? Watch it, Ernestine.

Via bmaz in comments at emptywheel

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I didn't realize the Keystone Cops series had been updated for the 21st century.

Oh. You're serious.

I think I'm losing track of when I'm serious and when I'm laughing. So Keystone Cops is probably as good a location as any when you're thinking about the jokers in Washington.

I do feel bad for the people who are trying to do their work properly. I think a lot of them are naive and I'm sure I wouldn't share their politics, but so many have been betrayed by the crooks at the top.

The whole FISA thing really messes with my mind. I would like to see Congress defend it as much as possible, and yet when you look at that program, even at its strictest, it isn't something that you or I would feel entirely comfortable with. The presumptions of guilt are awful. The authorization of state power to interfere in people's lives is awful.

At the moment, the best they've got is pretty bad. So what is left to us but satire?

Satire? The reality is that one of the few entities on earth more fucked up than the FBI is the phone company.

(yes, I'm grumpy having had to endure an inexplicable internet outage for several days this week...and I had paid the bill...wouldn't be surprised if they both use the same personnel agency to recruit "talent")

I have a mental vision of aborted testimony at a criminal trial because the FBI witness for the prosecution cannot continue his testimony:

Judge: "And what happened next?"

Agent: "I don't know, yer honor."

Judge: "And why don't you know?"

Agent: "Uh...because I didn't hear anything else, yer honor."

Judge: "And why didn't you hear anything else? Did you take a break in the middle of their conversation?"

Agent: "Uh...nossir...the wiretap was, um, discontinued."

Judge: "Discontinued? Why was it discontinued?"

Agent: *mumbles*

Judge: "Well, speak up, son. Why was the wiretap discontinued?"

Agent: "Because we didn't pay the phone bill..."

Judge: "Case dismissed!"

This story actually made the Guardian:

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been critical of some of the FBI's wiretaps, also took a swipe at phone companies.

"It seems the telecoms, who are claiming they were just being 'good patriots' when they allowed the government to spy on us without warrants, are more than willing to pull the plug on national security investigations when the government falls behind on its bills," a spokesman said.

"To put it bluntly, it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when FBI says a warrant is in the mail but not when they say the cheque is in the mail."

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This page contains a single entry by skdadl published on January 10, 2008 3:08 PM.

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