Bipartisan group of senators bashes FBI, files oversight bill

Three key senators on judiciary issues on Tuesday blasted the FBI for ongoing failures and introduced a bill to increase congressional oversight of the agency's surveillance activities.

"The FBI is not adequate to provide the American people with intelligence," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in a press briefing. "This failure goes right to the top."

Specter leveled harsh criticism at FBI Director Robert Mueller for his failure to satisfy demands for information from members of Congress. He also said the FBI has failed to apply the correct standard in cases involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which provides a statutory framework for electronic and other surveillance powers of the Justice Department and the FBI working inside the United States to collect foreign intelligence information.

"If you sense a lot of frustration and anger, you're exactly right," Specter said.

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also attacked the FBI after the trio released a report alleging continued failures in understanding FISA and encouraging internal reform. The report concluded that excessive secrecy, inadequate training, bureaucratic bottlenecks, weak information analysis and the stifling of internal FBI criticism have plagued the FISA process.

The three senators, who began FBI oversight efforts in the 107th Congress, also introduced legislation that would require surveillance on public and university libraries to be reported to the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

The bill also would require the attorney general to issue an annual report on the number of people in the United States targeted for court orders issued under FISA. And it calls for: the rules of the FISA Court and Court of Review to be provided to the Senate and House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, and the Supreme Court; a public reporting of the number of times information acquired through FISA orders is authorized for use by the attorney general in criminal proceedings; and the public release of the legal reasoning in FISA Court documents.

Leahy said he has been stopped in the streets of Vermont by hundreds of people with concern about surveillance, some asking whether "we are going back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover," the former head of the FBI infamous for his surveillance of seemingly typical Americans.

Grassley was particularly critical of Mueller's decision to grant a Presidential Rank Award to the FBI's top FISA lawyer, Marion (Spike) Bowman, who Grassley identified as "attorney number one" in the report. In a Tuesday letter to Mueller, Grassley said that Bowman showed a lack of understanding of FISA and failed to act on intelligence reports from the field that might have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Grassley also sent a letter to Mueller on Monday strongly condemning the retaliation by Robert Jordan, assistant director of the FBI's office of professional responsibility, against unit chief John Roberts after Roberts criticized the FBI on the CBS news program "60 Minutes."

The report should help with accountability as well, Grassley said, adding that, "It seems no one in government makes mistakes anymore."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.