DOJ gains greater oversight of FBI

A new program lets the department inspect all aspects of the bureau's national security program to ensure compliance with laws.

A new oversight program will enable the Justice Department for the first time to inspect all aspects of the FBI’s national security program to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

DOJ announced July 13 the creation of a program within the department’s National Security Division to monitor FBI intelligence investigations. Also, an Office of Integrity and Compliance will be created within the FBI to ensure cooperation with DOJ.

“The FBI is instituting one of the first agencywide internal compliance programs in the federal government, and, for the first time, Justice Department attorneys will have a comprehensive mandate to examine all aspects of the FBI’s national security program for compliance with laws, regulations and guidelines,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein said.

In the past, DOJ oversight of the FBI was primarily related to the bureau’s use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities.

Data-mining operations and electronic surveillance are among the issues recent Inspector General reports brought to light. “These changes [in DOJ and FBI] are pointing to the fact that we’re beyond FISA-era,” said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This new oversight will not stop new investigative activities, but it will make it conform to the law. Justice will do a good job under the existing framework but there’s the existing question of making the laws match the technology. We must adjust laws to suit the Internet Age.”

Oversight officials will also review FBI activities relating to national security at all FBI offices. These reviews will not be limited to FISA as they were in the past, but will include all aspects of national security. Since its establishment in April, the division has reviewed four FBI field offices and has two reviews scheduled for this month. By the end of the year, it plans to complete 15 reviews.

The division will also review the FBI’s referrals to the Intelligence Oversight Board, focusing on whether a policy, training or oversight mechanism needs to be changed. The division will also train its lawyers and FBI agents on compliance with legal and regulatory issues.

The second component of the oversight effort is the establishment of the Office of Integrity and Compliance. FBI Director Robert Mueller recently proposed the creation of this office. It will be responsible for implementing a strong compliance program.

“The FBI is charged with the mission to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce the nation's criminal laws, while upholding the fundamental protections provided by the Constitution,” Mueller said in a recent statement. “That requires striking a sometimes delicate balance, and the establishment of a compliance program marks another important step toward ensuring we fulfill our mission with an unswerving commitment to the rule of law.”