Robert Mueller: Civil Liberties Don’t Need a “Fresh” Review

This exchange last Thursday between Senator Al Franken and FBI Director Robert Mueller was frustrating enough–Senator Franken’s questions were the only ones on civil liberties Mueller faced, and the Director seemed pretty miffed to be questioned on the subject in the first place.

But I’m even more troubled by the exchange now that we’ve learned about the FBI’s new investigative guidelines that allow, among other things, database searches without any record and new powers to coerce informants.

After all, Mueller’s response to Franken’s concern about NSLs boasted that they had implemented a compliance system for NSLs and “other areas” where FBI might “fall into the same habits.” (What do you suppose those other areas are? Is he addressing FISC concerns?)

But perhaps as important if not more important, we set up a compliance program to address not just [National] Security Letters, but other areas such as National Security Letters where we could fall into the same, the same pattern, or habits. And so the National Security Letters I believe we addressed appropriately at the time, and it was used as a catalyst to set up a compliance program that addresses a concern in other areas comparable to what we had found with regard to National Security Letters.

Getting rid of the records on database searches would seem to eliminate any compliance system. And Mueller knew he was planning to do so (as did, I presume, Franken) when he gave this answer.

And in response to Franken’s question about infiltration of mosques and peace groups, Mueller assured Franken that FBI complied with its own guidelines.

I’m not certain it needs a fresh, a fresh, uh, look because I’m very concerned whenever those allegations arise. I will tell you that I believe that in terms of surveillances of religious institutions we have done it appropriately and with appropriate predication under the guidelines in the applicable statutes, even though there are allegations out there to the contrary. I also believe that when we have undertaken investigations of individuals expressing their First Amendment rights, we have done so according to our internal guidelines and the applicable statutes. And so, whenever these allegations come forward, I take them exceptionally seriously, make sure our inspection division or others look into it to determine whether or not we need to change anything. And I will tell you that addressing terrorism, and the responsibility to protect against attacks, brings us to the point where we are balancing day in and day out civil liberties and the necessity for disrupting a plot that could kill Americans and it’s something that we keep in mind day in and day out.

But of course, FBI is about to change those guidelines, making it easier for the Agents to attend political meetings undercover and track innocent people. And it doesn’t much matter if FBI complies with its own guidelines if those guidelines support abusive investigations. Mueller is basically insisting that he doesn’t need to reconsider FBI’s actions because FBI complies with its own guidelines and therefore the underlying guidelines themselves don’t need any more scrutiny.

And that canard about balancing civil liberties with the necessity of disrupting a plot (there’s zero evidence of course, that the FBI’s surveillance of peace groups has any tie to a plot, save against political speech)? Not only is this not a zero sum game, but the FBI doesn’t take similar civil liberties-infringing actions to disrupt right wing plots.

When he was gently, respectfully challenged to defend his civil liberties record, Mueller instead resorted to that same old terror fear-mongering. Given the new permissive guidelines, such an attitude is even more troubling.

29 replies
  1. DWBartoo says:

    “…such an attitude is even more troubling.”


    However, is it surprising in any real fashion, EW?

    By now the intended trajectories must be abundantly clear.

    So clear that no Senator save Franken even bothered to ask Meuller anything so disrespectful and counterproductive. Franken, while daring to ask the questions did not “push” … very long or very hard.

    On the looking forward way to the neofeudal future you have well-described, is Meuller’s behavior and attitude not precisely what you would anticipate and expect?

    Things will become just a bad as you imagine them, in fact, things will become far worse, diabolically worse, for ’tis the Best and Brightest behind this and they’ve had since before the beginning of WWII to lay out their plans and hatch their “pranky” schemes, the fourth estate is in their pocket as is the law, both judicial and congressional, as is the money, the vast bulk of it …

    To imagine that Meuller et al have the best interests of the nation or “the people” at heart, ever, flies in the face of both reason and experience.

    America is being systematically gutted, it is an “end-game” scenario if for no other reason than money and power believe, firmly and completely, that “they” do not need America as a viable nation, or its people as anything but serfs and good. little. low-end consumers … which is as far as “their” thinking goes.

    The relation of the people to the masters is like a “marriage of convenience” with a nasty divorce and vicious leave-taking, while all of the spoils, the “assets” go to the victors, the the self-proclaimed “smartest” champions of the world …

    This is no little abberation we are caught in, it is a deliberate, well-coordinated, virtually universal seige.

    The masters are not nice people and they believe that no rules apply or should apply to them …


    • orionATL says:


      i’ve come to really enjoy reading your no bull-shit, no-quarter commentary

      you’re developing one hell of a hammer; keep on poundin’ !!

  2. justbetty says:


    That talk of balancing civil liberties struck me as well- nearly fell off my chair! Freedom in the US is in really bad shape- and it’s hard to see how things get turned around given the people in charge.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    Marcy, just last week on one of your posts I questioned the NSA and FISA rules and the secret laws regarding National Security Letters. This is becoming more and more unrealistic in a country of Liberty. They should just stop wasting their time on the excuses and cover-ups and just tell the citizens we are now living under a Communist style rule.

    The FBI complies with it’s own guidelines???????? Excuse me, but I thought they were under regulation and guidance from officials that represent the citizens and protect the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence!

  4. harpie says:

    FBI to Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers as Details Emerge of Its Spy Campaign Targeting Activists; Democracy Now!; 6/14/11

    Civil liberties advocates are raising alarm over news the FBI is giving agents more leeway to conduct domestic surveillance. According to the New York Times, new guidelines will allow FBI agents to investigate people and organizations “proactively” without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity. We speak to former FBI agent Mike German, who now works at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas activist Scott Crow, who has been the focus of intense FBI surveillance from 2001 until at least 2008.” […]

  5. orionATL says:

    franken would, of course, be one to question mueller; he has the passion, the concern, and the courage.

    but where were other senators, especially, where were any other democratic senators?

  6. powwow says:

    I think an important, unasked question related to all this is what’s become of the “Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s” investigative capacity and mission, with regard to actual committed crimes within its domestic jurisdiction. Because if “investigation” of domestic federal criminal acts (as opposed to domestic “threats”) has been allowed, or encouraged, to take a distant back seat at the FBI, surely that seriously negatively impacts the degree to which federal prosecutions can feasibly be commenced to bring federal criminals to account.

    The dramatic and consequential, if mostly-unseen, change in the FBI’s law-enforcement mission was brought home to me as a result of reading what struck me as a stark and chillingly-unvarnished account of what the FBI has become, post-9/11 (in essence, a “Federal Bureau of Intelligence,” or a domestic “security service,” much more than a federal policing agency focused on crime), as delivered at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “Open Hearing: Nomination of Lisa Monaco to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security” last month. Did Congress consciously make a choice to restrict and devalue federal law enforcement investigations (and thus prosecutions) in this way, or did this state of affairs somehow evolve of its own accord?

    Here’s Lisa Monaco – the experienced insider who’s been nominated to replace David Kris, who quietly resigned his position in March, and his temporary acting replacement, Todd Hinnen, as head of the DOJ’s National Security Division – describing today’s FBI, in her opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee:

    Opening Statement of Lisa O. Monaco
    May 17, 2011

    At the outset, I would like to thank the President for his confidence in nominating me, and the Attorney General for his support. I am tremendously honored to be considered for this position.


    Over my career in the Department of Justice I have been privileged to work in a number of different capacities. As a federal prosecutor I saw the importance of rigorous legal argument and the power of the criminal justice system. As a senior advisor and Chief of Staff at the FBI, as well as in my roles in the Deputy Attorney General’s Office, I have worked closely with colleagues across the Intelligence Community on many operational and policy matters. I have seen the value of bringing all capabilities to bear against emerging threats. Having joined the Department before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I have participated in the fundamental changes in how the Department fulfills its national security functions. I have been privileged to work with Director Mueller to help advance the transformation of the FBI from primarily a law enforcement agency focused on investigating crime AFTER the fact to a national security organization focused on PREVENTING the next attack before it happens. I also witnessed the creation of the [DOJ’s] National Security Division and its maturation over the past several years into a highly effective organization. This transformation and the reorientation of the Department’s national security apparatus after September 11 reflect a focus on an intelligence-led approach to combating national security threats. If confirmed, I will be privileged to continue this focus working alongside the dedicated men and women of the National Security Division and their equally dedicated partners in the Intelligence Community.

    The Assistant Attorney General for National Security sits astride the law enforcement and intelligence responsibilities of the Department of Justice. This position embodies an evolution in how the Department approaches its top priority: protecting the security of the American people. The National Security Division brings intelligence lawyers together with agents and prosecutors to focus on the most serious threats – be they terrorists plotting attacks against us or spies bent on stealing our secrets. Because Congress had the wisdom to remove barriers – both legal and structural – to allow committed professionals to share their information, their talent and their missions, today we are better able to detect, deter and disrupt national security threats. We are also better able to take advantage of the other reforms that this body has enacted – chief among them the lowering of the proverbial wall between law enforcement and intelligence. […]

    The creation of the [DOJ’s] National Security Division followed the creation of the National Security Branch of the FBI and the transformation of that organization [meaning the FBI, or just its “National Security Branch”?] into a security service. Today, the NSB and the NSD have formed a very effective partnership. If I am confirmed, one of my priorities will be to continue and build upon that partnership.

    The mission of the Division fundamentally is to work with the FBI and other elements of the Intelligence Community and the military to prevent terrorism and to protect the American people.

    • orionATL says:

      ah, how much should we attribute to words?

      from lisa o. monaco’s testimony:

      “…The creation of the [DOJ’s] National Security Division followed the creation of the National Security Branch of the FBI and the transformation of that organization [meaning the FBI, or just its “National Security Branch”?] into a security service…”

      monaco’s “national security service”

      would be translated “staatssicherheitsdienst”,

      “stassi” for short

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The FBI may have been retasked to focus on “prevention” rather than “investigation”, but that doesn’t answer the question prevention of what? It is not just a “terror” attack, but something far more broadly focused. The most obvious candidate is prevention of any threat perceived by the MOTU.

    • DWBartoo says:

      You ask “what” is the purpose of this new and improved Federal Bureau of Intimidation?

      And then you answer with a suggestion which reflects the concerns of the Bureau’s new … directors.

      We are looking at a modern agency, a “multi-tasking” agency, some of whose tasks are public and acknowleged while others, how many is not known, are secret and hidden.

      Nine-eleven certainly signaled a change, one that had been anticipated, apparently, at least on some levels, for many decades.

      Can you imagine how vicious and destructive Cheney would have become had Nixon not been pardoned, EOH?

      For that matter, had NIxon not been pardoned, history might well have followed a different course …

      And, since those who condoned torture, those who engaged in it, will not even be held to the most meager of account, while the people will be subject to tyranny, economic predation, and official violence … it might be time to consider both the purposes and principles of this nation, else civil society will be ground under the heels of an elite whose capacity for destructiion knows no bounds of reason, humanity, or conscience.

      What or who will gainsay the new elite?

      Soon, who will dare?

      And we wonder at the purpose of the “new” FBI?


      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I suggested a focus that might describe the Bureau’s retasked focus, not with approval but with the disdain of anyone familiar with the law, and the constitutional and social history of the United States. As Deep Harm said in another context, this appears to be preparation for a more explicit form of corporate governance, where the consent required is not from the governed, but from the corporations.

        The FBI already understands the law and the Constitution; it neither needs nor would respond to protests from Congress. Since Hoover, it has concluded that its job is to follow neither, but to follow the whims of its political masters in the White House, which controls its nominal direct superior, the DoJ. Congress can pound salt all it wants; unless it’s willing to withhold funds in a credible fight, it will be ignored.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Totally agree, EOH.

          But Congress, in a “credible fight”?

          Not bloody likely.

          The new FBI is totally unconcerned with Congress, its “targets” are any INDIVIDUALS who question, any who resist, and any who dare to share their ideas with other INDIVIDUALS.

          The FBI is to be used as a major tool of domestic oppression. Period.

          (At, as you said, and with which I agree, the behest of the MOTU)

          We are already deeply immersed in a police state, with trials of heresy, and star-chamber tribunals … for anyone to imagine, or hope, that civil society still obtains, in any meaningful way, is not only unrealistic, but totally beyond even the most meagerly informed reason.

          To pretend that “things” will not become far worse is, at the very least, an act of magical thinking or else a deliberate attempt to encourage others to close their eyes, their ears, and their minds.


  8. Deep Harm says:

    I was not pleased to read about the expanded surveillance, which sounds contrary to Constitutional protections against search and siezure and due process. But, this interview of one of Mueller’s investigation targets on Democracy Now was downright chilling. Next thing we know, they’ll be gathering spectral evidence as well.

  9. marksb says:

    How do you “balance” a civil liberty, anyway?
    It either is or it isn’t.
    As Yoda said,

    Do or do not… there is no try.

  10. marksb says:

    Now you-all know me, I’m not a troll.
    So now let’s look at this from the FBI’s point of view.

    They got their asses handed to them for ignoring the *potential* terrorism suspects who were learning to fly airplanes. They didn’t follow through, didn’t pay attention, even when the suspects were reported through channels.

    The system didn’t work. (It didn’t work for a number of reasons, but one of them was the FBI ignored their own agent’s reports.)

    The President and Congress directed them to change the way they did things so they would catch every single potential terrorist before they were able to take action.

    While it’s true (as we’ve discussed around here over the last week) that these procedures (and violations of civil rights) are nothing new at all, what’s also true is now the Bureau’s specific mission is to prevent terrorism by being proactively involved early in the stages of planning. That logically leads to the kind of guidelines we are seeing, the kind of actions that have been taken.

    Congress told the Bureau who told the agents to do exactly this.

    My point is that in order to get the FBI to act with more respect to our constitutionally mandated civil rights, Congress is going to have to direct them to do so.

    • emptywheel says:

      Agree. And right now, Al Franken will only ask about this in sheepish fashion. And Tester is thus far the only one to budge on this front.

  11. orionATL says:

    can we stop over-thinking this issue.

    what the fbi has just finished codifying is phenomenally dangerous to individual political liberty.

    any, repeat, any power or authority given to a national police force such as the fbi under the control of a prez, PM, king

    will be, not might be, but WILL be used against that prez’, PM’s political opponents.

    a tiny recent non-fbi historical example: the use of the secret service to mug anti-bush protesters appearing with bush.

    do those of you here “thoughtfully” approaching this current unacceptable codification of prior fbi misconduct

    really understand why the language of the first ten amendments was so absolute?

    do we have to wait for the next gross abuse before we appreciate the severe erosion the fbi’s prospective “cover your ass” document represents?

    the vague, ephermeral justifications?

    threat of violence

    threat to property

    threat to national security

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The FBI’s newly arrogated powers seem explicitly designed to give it access to the digital trail that would be created by any concerted movement to regain our constitutional footing. If vegans were offensive to the current and past administrations, how might they respond to those who take their constitutions seriously.

  13. john in sacramento says:

    And that canard about balancing civil liberties with the necessity of disrupting a plot (there’s zero evidence of course, that the FBI’s surveillance of peace groups has any tie to a plot, save against political speech)? Not only is this not a zero sum game, but the FBI doesn’t take similar civil liberties-infringing actions to disrupt right wing plots.

    Hermann Goering is looking at them and nodding in approval

  14. orionATL says:

    continuing from my #14

    political and constitutional evaluation (which is most assuredly not the same as legal evaluation) of this latest fbi “cover-your-ass-while-you’ve-got-the-opportunity” bureaucratic maneuver

    requires maintaining context.

    specifically we have at least four major heavily funded agencies, of which the fbi is one, whose raison d’etre is to protect us from less than, say, 200 bad guys and gals per year – drug lords included, banksters excluded.

    those four:

    – the fbi

    – the dept of homeland security

    – the nsa eavesdropping gang

    – the cia


    but there are probably more, aren’t there:

    – military drones

    – special forces

    – coast guard

    – cia contractors

    – mercenaries from ex-special forces

    i wonder:

    what’s the manpower ratio between bad guys and u.s. gov security agents?

  15. lefty665 says:

    what’s the manpower ratio between bad guys and u.s. gov security agents?

    The problem is it’s not a simple ratio, it’s an inverse square. Cut the number of bad guys in half and we get 4x as many security types. It’s also the equation for the pitch of a slippery slope.

  16. Mary says:

    “when we have undertaken investigations of individuals expressing their First Amendment rights”

    Umm, isn’t that the point of the First Amendment? Of the Constitution? That government doesn’t get to “undertake investigations” of you for exercising your Constitutional rights?

    I realize in Mueller’s world, “when we haev undertaken investigations of people whose religion we don’t like” would have gone down equally as well with the members of Congress listening, what about

    “when we have undertaken investigations of the memers of Congress exercising their right to legislative immunity” or “when we have undertaken investigations of members of the judiciary who have exercised their Article III powers to rule against us” What would it take to raise and eyebrow?

  17. Mary says:

    BTW EW, did you edit out the place where Mueller pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and says, “I have right here a list of known Warrantists, they have infiltrated the military, Executive branch agencies, the judiciary, even this legislative body!”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      A scene stolen from Johnny and Mrs. Iselin’s tete-a-tete about how many Communists are in the State Dept., itself stolen from Mr. McCarthy’s theatrics. In the case of Mrs. Iselin, as presumably was true for Mr. McCarthy, the constantly shifting number was to persuade a gullible press that the issue was not whether but how many.

      To keep things easier for Johnny, Mrs. Iselin finally chose the number 57; it matched one of the few numbers he could remember, because he read it every time he enjoyed a steak dinner and poured Heinz 57 all over it. Pity for Mr. Mueller that he is not the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being his friends have ever known. The same could be said of the men he works for.

Comments are closed.