'Security Letters' Aimed at Pentagon Workers
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained new documents revealing that the Department of Defense worked with the FBI to issue hundreds of national security letters. These letters allow investigators to get personal information on Americans without court approval. Typically the information would include phone records, e-mails, and financial records.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is following this story for us.
Dina, is the Defense Department allowed to conduct investigations like this?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it is, if it's in conjunction with the FBI. And the FBI has said that there were 455 national security letters issued as part of joint investigations with the DOD and they were conducted together, and on the surface it seems that all these was done as part of a number of joint terrorist and task force investigations.
SEABROOK: So, this is 455 new letters that are new to us - newly public coming from an ACLU Freedom Of Information Active Group.
TEMPLE-RASTON: As far as we know, yes they're new.
SEABROOK: Okay. Are we necessarily talking about terrorism investigations here?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, theoretically, yes. To get an NSL, the FBI or other government agencies need to some - show some sort of suspicion or some of a terrorism link. And in this case, I mean, we don't think that it's contractors who might be bilking but in fact has this terrorism sort of connection.
SEABROOK: And has the Department of Defense commented on this story yet?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, only in the minimal way. They've told NPR that the National Security Letters were issued to investigate their own employees. And that could mean civilian employees of the Pentagon, members of the military or contractors. And I actually think that's the most interesting part of this story. That would mean since 2002, the Department of Defense has had reason to suspect 455 of its employees of a link to terrorism. I think that's sort of a big deal.
SEABROOK: And then request information without a warrant, without a court approval, request information that would be considered private information -telephone calls, e-mails, that sort of thing.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. And theoretically, had set quite a high bar and had evolved over it. The NSLs are not just a regular old subpoena. You have to actually show that you have some suspicion of a terrorism link. So clearly, there are millions of potential employees in the Department of Defense. But I find it very interesting that over 450 of them might actually have this kind of link.
SEABROOK: Now, explain what the American Civil Liberties Union is alleging about these new national security letters.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what they were saying is that they - that the Department of Defense actually used the FBI as a foil to actually get information that it shouldn't have been getting personal information on its employees.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And, you known we're checking into this, but it looks like what has actually happened is that - and certainly this is what the FBI says has happened - was that the FBI and the DOD were working together on joint investigations and in connection to those joint investigations, that is where the NSLs were actually issued.
So it's unclear whether or not there really was an end run DOD actually try to get around the law, or whether or not this was done on the up and up. It looks right now like it was all done on the up and up.
SEABROOK: Very interesting story. I'm sure you'll still be following it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You bet.
SEABROOK: Even in weeks to come. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, thanks very much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure.
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