Former FBI counsel escapes accountability for legal violations, cashes out and joins defense contractorMonday, October 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm by Farid Zakaria
Former FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni is leaving the FBI and will join the fourth largest defense contractor in the world, Nothrop Grumman Corporation, as vice president and deputy general counsel.
FBI Director Robert Mueller named Ms. Caproni general counsel of the FBI in 2003. In January 2010, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published a report on the FBI’s illegal acquisition of the telephone records of individuals living in the US, determining that the FBI engaged in “widespread use of exigent letters and other informal requests for telephone records that did not comply with legal requirements or FBI policies governing acquisition of these records” (page 257).
The FBI used so-called exigent letters to obtain telephone records from communications service providers. Typically, these letters stated that exigent circumstances had prompted the request and that “subpoenas requesting this information have been submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office who will process and serve them formally [on the communications service provider] as expeditiously as possible.” Between 2003 and 2006 some 722 exigent letters were issued to three communication service providers.
The OIG investigation found that in some instances FBI agents signed exigent letters knowing that they contained inaccurate statements, or doubting that an emergency actually existed. Further, most of the exigent letters did not include date ranges for the records requested and, remarkably,
The FBI’s use of exigent letters became so casual, routine, and unsupervised that employees of all three communications service providers told us that they—the company employees—sometimes generated the exigent letters for [FBI] personnel to sign and return to them (at page 258).
OIG also found that the FBI obtained records from the communications service providers through other informal methods including requests made by email, face-to-face requests, requests on pieces of paper (including post-it notes), and telephonic requests made without first providing legal process or even exigent letters.
These practices were illegal because
[they] violated FBI guidelines, Department policy, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act statute. … Some of the most troubling improper requests for telephone records occurred in media leak cases, where the FBI sought and acquired reporters’ telephone toll billing records and calling activity information without following federal regulation or obtaining the required Attorney General approval.
OIG concluded that every level of the FBI, including the Office of the General Counsel, was responsible for these failures.
After a hearing on the report in April 2010, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. stated, “Today’s hearing showed that the FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the General Counsel’s Office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it.”
Ms. Caproni was scheduled to attend an event held by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School about FBI abuses, at which BORDC’s Shahid Buttar was also set to speak. She backed out at the last minute and, tellingly, since then has refused to allow DOJ spokespeople speak publicly on the record at events where BORDC also appears.
Now there is unlikely to be any accountability for Ms. Caproni’s egregious violations of the law and individual privacy at the FBI—instead, she’ll be paid handsomely by an enormous government contractor.