FBI 'Carnivore' Glitch Hurt Al Qaeda Probe

R. A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Wed May 29 00:24:26 EDT 2002


FBI 'Carnivore' Glitch Hurt Al Qaeda Probe
Tue May 28, 8:40 PM ET

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Glitches in a controversial FBI (news - web sites)
system to monitor the e-mail of suspected criminals likely hampered an
investigation of al Qaeda two years ago, according to internal FBI
documents released on Tuesday.

According to memos obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center,
FBI investigators threw out the results of an e-mail wiretap in March 2000
because the system, commonly known as "Carnivore," collected electronic
messages of regular Internet users as well as the target of the probe.

While the target was blacked out in the memo, the FBI unit in question was
charged with monitoring Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), said David
Sobel, the EPIC lawyer who obtained the documents under the Freedom of
Information Act. Washington blames bin Laden and his al Qaeda network for
the Sept. 11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

"The FBI software not only picked up the e-mails under the electronic
surveillance of the FBI's target ... but also picked up e-mails on
non-covered targets. The FBI technical person was apparently so upset that
he destroyed all the e-mail take," said an unidentified supervisor in an
April 5, 2000, memo to M.E. "Spike" Bowman, the FBI's associate general
counsel for national security issues.

The documents do not imply the FBI could have prevented the Sept. 11
attacks, but they do highlight problems with the implementation of
Carnivore, Sobel said.

"This shows that the FBI has been misleading Congress and the public about
the extent to which Carnivore is capable of collecting only authorized
information," he said.

An FBI official declined to comment.

Developed to intercept the e-mail and other online activities of suspected
criminals, Carnivore has come under fire from lawmakers and civil liberties
groups who say it is too invasive.

FBI officials have told Congress the system captures only a narrow field of
information for which interception is authorized by a court order.

The documents showed Carnivore had occasionally grabbed the e-mail messages
of other Internet users, especially when set up to work on unusual e-mail

"Encountering nonstandard implementation has led to inadvertently capturing
and processing data outside the Order of Consent," says one memo from an
FBI field officer.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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