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FBI's Carnivore-lies may have blown bin Laden inquiry

Bad, bad little people

Fundamental design flaws in the FBI's infamous Carnivore packet sniffer have led to the destruction of evidence related to a suspect possibly involved in Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network which had been obtained legally under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, the watchdog group EPIC has learned.

The FBI has long denied that Carnivore is an indiscriminate tool which vacuums up the personal correspondence of innocent persons not targeted for surveillance. But an internal memo obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows that it does in fact gather the communications of innocent third parties illegally. It appears the FBI has been lying about Carnivore all along, and covering up its deficiencies even to the Justice Department.

According to the memo, a cache of Carnivore evidence from a person legally under surveillance also contained inadvertent and illegal captures from regular Joes, which in turn inspired a perhaps too-conscientious technician to destroy all of what had been gathered, including all material related to the legitimate surveillance target.

The FBI can only hope that what it lost wouldn't have yielded any useful intelligence; but of course no one will ever know that now.

The memo makes reference to another, related incident: "When you add this story to the FISA mistakes covered in [another document], you have a pattern of occurrences which inability on the part of the FBI to manage its FISAs," the author says.

An even more interesting paragraph complains that the FBI lied about Carnivore to the Department of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), as well as the public (which of course we expect it to do). The memo appears to come from someone in OIPR, who reports that "OIPR was never told that the software was experimental. OIPR was informed that it would work."

Obviously it doesn't; and obviously the FBI has been lying through its teeth about Carnivore all along, as we've suspected from day one.

You may recall that the DoJ, then under guidance from the child-obsessed Janet Reno, commissioned a whitewash of Carnivore under an official euphemism pitching it as an 'independent review'. But even with all the Orwellian disclosure restrictions placed on the reviewers, it remained clear that Carnivore was severely lacking in mechanisms to prevent illegal collections, as well as any access auditing controls.

These glaring failures in its design, no doubt, are what inspired the technician to blow up the entire yield. He likely realized that the data was destined to be misused by overzealous agents.

As for what happens now, we can only guess. Enough useful evidence in the so-called 'war on terror' has gone missing or been destroyed by Washington's typical bureaucratic stuff-ups already. The FBI ignored warnings from the Phoenix field office about foreigners taking pilot training last Summer, and failed to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui while he was in custody, well before the September atrocity and in spite of what would turn out to be prescient warnings from field agents. If Carnivore can only ruin an investigation, DoJ may well lose confidence in it and we may all live to see it scrapped. Which it should be; it's a technological fraud, after all.

As for the FBI and its little high-tech scam, we needn't be surprised. Anyone acquainted with the findings of the Church Commission knows what sorts they really are. But things have evolved since the Church days, and indeed since the Reno days when pedophiles appeared at every turn. Now they're led by a neo-Cromwellian sour-puss with the requisite disapproval of drinking, music and dancing, along with a pronounced loathing of women's breasts both real and artistically represented and an uncanny fondness for firearms, whose only known distinction is having lost his Senate seat to a dead man.

So drink up, and toast the fine men and women who would bring Justice to every corner of the world.

And use crypto. Really good crypto. ®

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