Increase follows expanded powers for terror investigation
WASHINGTON - The government requested and won approval for a record number of special warrants last year for secret wiretaps and searches of suspected terrorists and spies, 75 percent more than in 2000, the Bush administration disclosed Friday.
Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella revealed the figure in an annual report to Congress. Last year’s total of 1,754 approved warrants was only slightly higher than the 1,724 approved in 2003. But the number has climbed markedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as authorities have moved aggressively against terror suspects. In 2000, there were 1,003 warrants approved under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Since passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI can use such warrants in investigations that aren’t mostly focused on foreign intelligence.
Operating with permission from a secretive U.S. court that meets regularly at Justice headquarters, the FBI has used such warrants to break into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles, install hidden cameras, search luggage and eavesdrop on telephone conversations. Agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails.
Details about some FBI surveillance efforts last year emerge from court records spread across different cases. But only a fraction of such warrants each year result in any kind of public disclosure, so little is known outside classified circles about how they work.
Last year, for example, the FBI used a special warrant to search the home of Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed in May after his fingerprint was incorrectly matched to one found on a bag of detonators near the scene of train bombings in Spain that killed 191 people in March 2004. He was released after the FBI admitted its mistake.
The Justice Department acknowledged the search as part of a lawsuit Mayfield has filed against the U.S. government in which he contends his rights were violated by his arrest and by the investigation against him.
The Associated Press Updated: 8:19 p.m. ET April 1, 2005
© 2005 The Associated Press.