The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI's Unchecked Abuse of Authority

Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI's Unchecked Abuse of Authority, a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), details the "extraordinary expansion of FBI power over the last 12 years" and the way the agency "has subverted internal and external oversight by squelching whistleblowers, imposing and enforcing unnecessary secrecy, and actively misleading Congress and the American people."

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation serves a crucial role in securing the United States from criminals, terrorists, and hostile foreign agents. Just as importantly, the FBI also protects civil rights and civil liberties, ensures honest government, and defends the rule of law. Its agents serve around the country and around the world with a high degree of professionalism and competence, often under difficult and dangerous conditions. But throughout its history, the FBI has also regularly overstepped the law, infringing on Americans' constitutional rights while overzealously pursuing its domestic security mission."

The report scrutinizes the powers given to to the FBI in the aftermath of 9/11 as well as questionable activities undertaken by the agency, including: evidence of spying on political activists, the surveillance and aggressive investigation of innocent victims, the targeting of journalists, the decrease in Department of Justice oversight, proxy detentions, and the use of the No-Fly List to pressure Americans abroad into becoming informants.

The document "highlights areas in which the FBI has abused its authority and recommends reforms to ensure the FBI fulfills its law enforcement and security missions with proper public oversight and respect for constitutional rights and democratic ideals."

The ACLU acknowledges that the "FBI has an extremely dedicated and proficient workforce that is given the crucial and enormously difficult mission of protecting our nation from a diverse array of domestic and international threats. When at its best, the FBI uses its law enforcement authorities in a narrowly tailored and focused way to protect American communities from dangerous criminals and defend the national security from foreign spies and terrorists. [...] Establishing and maintaining effective checks against error and abuse is necessary for the FBI to remain an effective law enforcement agency and essential to securing liberty and preserving democratic processes."