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FBI Wiretap Cut Off After Feds Fail To Pay Telecom Spying Bills

Date: 1/11/2008 4:34:52 PM

The FBI routinely failed to pay telecom companies promptly for providing phone and internet lines to the FBIs impressive domestic surveillance architecture resulting in at least one phone company cutting off a foreign intelligence wiretap until the FBI paid its bill, according to an audit released Thursday.

The Justice Departments Inspector General also found that telecom charges and invoices for surveillance overwhelmed the FBIs ability to keep track of their bill and that one field office got a $66,000 bill from a carrier for unpaid surveillance work.

Some of the problems stemmed from telecoms billing multiple times for individual surveillance warrants which, in the case of Cox Communications, costs $1500 for a 30day wiretap order. But telecoms also bill the FBI for internet connections and phone lines that connect the carriers wiretapfriendly switches with the FBIs wiretap software system known as the Digital Collection System.

Former FBI agent and now ACLU national security policy counsel Mike German directed his ire at the telecoms who happily played along with the governments warrantless spying and let the FBI illegally get customer records following requests to get surveillance today with false promises to pay with a court order tomorrow.

To put it bluntly it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when FBI says warrant is in the mail but not when they say the check is in the mail, German said.

Each field office has wiretap recording computers that are meshed together with all the other field offices and HQ through a secure fiber optic network operated by Sprint.

The Inspector General found that the FBI was often confused about whether to use confidential case funds or general HQ money to pay the telecoms, and were even so confused that when telecoms issued refunds, they sometimes sent the refunds back to the carriers.

In 2006, DCS 5000, the FBIs national security wiretapping software, captured 27,728,675 communication sessions, according to released FBI documents, but the documents do not define what a session consists of. That year the FBI reported winning 2,176 FISA, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, warrants from a secret court.

To learn more about the FBIs wiretap network and software, start with Point, Click ... Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates and find out even more including details on the FBIs cell phone tracking vans

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