The FBI and the CIA help track terrorists and cyberterrorists who appear to be a threat to the U.S. homeland. In November 2003, the U.S. Congress approved a bill expanding the reach of the USA PATRIOT Act. It increased the power given to the FBI and intelligence agencies and shifted the balance of power away from the courts and legislature. The amendments were known as the Intelligence Spending Bill. A provision in the Intelligence Spending Bill expanded the power of the FBI to be able to subpoena documents and transaction records from a wider range of businesses—from libraries to travel agencies to eBay on the Internet—without first getting approval from a judge.
Under the PATRIOT Act of 2001, the FBI could get bank records, Internet logs, or telephone calls just by issuing a national security letter saying that the records were believed to be important in a terrorism investigation. The FBI is not required either to show “probable cause” or consult a judge. Also, the targeted institution is issued what is known as a “gag order” to stop it from disclosing the subpoena’s existence to any party, including the party under investigation.
The Intelligence Spending Bill was considered by many to contain “sensitive” information, so it was drafted in secret. It was approved without debate or public comment, and it seemed to replace the Patriot II Act—the contents of which were leaked to the public, causing a public uproar. Consequently, the Patriot II Act was not passed.
On March 8, 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate appropriations committee that the FBI spent $170 million attempting to build a virtual file system called Trilogy, a case-management system allowing FBI agents to share information more efficiently and effectively. Not only did the FBI fail to meet its December 2003 deadline to install the case system, noted Mueller, it also repeatedly failed to retain its Chief Information Officers leading the Trilogy project. In fact, since September 11, 2001, the FBI has had to replace four of its officers. The Trilogy project was considered by the FBI to be one of its most important technology projects since September 11.
Some of the FBI’s computers have been found to be vulnerable to crack attacks. At the beginning of February 2005, FBI officials were forced to close a commercial email network used by supervisors and agents to communicate with the public. The reason given was a crack attack by an outsider—who FBI officials said may have been cracking so-called “secure but unclassified” email messages since late 2004. The White House was notified about the cyber attack. Although FBI officials said that there was no evidence that the cracker was part of any terrorist or foreign intelligence group, they were not sure how the breach occurred. One conjecture was that the cracker used complex password-cracking software or listened in on Internet transmissions.
Dignan, L. Public Disservice. [Online March 8, 2005.] Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings, Inc. Website. http://www.baselinemag.com/article2/0,1397,1773861,00 .asp; Isikoff, M. and Hosenball, M. FBI Computers: You Don’t Have Mail. [Online, February 7, 2005.] Microsoft Corporation Website. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6919621/site/newsweek/; Meyer, P. ZipUSA: 26306. National Geographic, May, 2005, Vol. 207 (5), p. 122–124, 126, 128; Singel, R. Congress Expands FBI Spying Power. [Online, November 24, 2003.] Lycos, Inc. Website. http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,61341,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1.