Paul R. Hollrah
June 21, 2011
According to a June 12 article by Charlie Savage in the New York Times, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash, or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.
“The FBI soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide...The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.”
According to the Times report, “The FBI recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.
Mr. German is quoted as saying that, “Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse, pointing to complaints about the bureau’s surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general’s findings in 2007 that the FBI had frequently misused ‘national security letters’ which allow agents to obtain information like phone records without a court order.”
Valerie E. Caproni, the FBI general counsel, is quoted as saying that the “bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur. She also said the bureau, which does not need permission to alter its manual so long as the rules fit within broad guidelines issued by the attorney general (emphasis added), had carefully weighed the risks and the benefits of each change...
As the Times reports, “Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an ‘assessment.’ The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations ‘proactively’ and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.”
As an employee of a major oil company I was once assigned as a member of a six-man team of engineers, one member from each of six companies, whose job it was to prepare preliminary design, cost estimates, and economic justification for the construction of a major large-diameter products pipeline from Gulf Coast refineries to the Upper Midwest...a project then described as the world’s largest privately-financed construction project. If constructed, the 300,000 barrel/day pipeline would carry refined products...gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, and jet fuel...from refineries in Texas and Oklahoma to major terminals in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. From those terminals, petroleum products would be distributed to a dozen other states.
Because it was necessary to approximate the daily throughput through the pipeline for purposes of determining the size (diameter) of the pipeline, each of the six companies involved in the study was required to nominate input volumes for each refined product at each of their refinery locations along the proposed route. And since it would have been a violation of federal anti-trust laws for the companies to exchange actual sales volumes for the various markets, and since the throughput estimated by each company would ultimately determine each company’s share of capital investment and ownership, all of the throughput volumes nominated by each of the companies were a carefully calculated fiction...large enough to insure that the line capacity would be sufficient to handle market growth for the foreseeable future, but not so large as to make the initial cost of the system uneconomic.
Prior to being assigned to the six-man task force I had participated in friendly penny-ante poker games on perhaps a dozen occasions. I had never before been involved in a multi-billion dollar poker game, which is essentially what we were doing as representatives of our respective companies.
As the project proceeded and the first iteration of the study was finalized, each of the task force members returned to their companies to develop their respective IRRs (Internal Rate of Return), allowing each of the companies to assess their relative position in the project. And when each of the companies had reassessed their strategies...increasing or decreasing projected volumes so as to increase or decrease their share of the required investment...the task force was reconvened for the second iteration.
As this process was repeated through at least three iterations in ground floor offices in a building in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, we were tipped off by the janitorial staff that men in suits and ties were collecting our waste paper each evening. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that it was either the FBI or lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office who were collecting and studying our discarded waste paper, trying to find evidence of anti-trust violations.
Even though our internal controls and practices were designed to avoid any possibility of illegal or anti-competitive information sharing, to the outsider...or to the FBI...what we were doing may have “appeared” to be anti-competitive. So, in an effort to escape the prying eyes of federal agents we were provided with office space in what appeared to be an old brick school building or county courthouse in Independence, a small town in southeastern Kansas. It was in that building that we completed our final iteration of the joint venture...the iteration which was finally adopted by the six company coalition.
On the day that we completed our work and each member of the task force was given two complete Xerox copies of the final study, I drove south on US Route 75 through Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and south from there to our corporate offices in Tulsa.
As I reentered my office for the first time in many weeks, dropped my briefcase, a box of files, and my two copies of the final study onto my desk, I barely had time to remove my suit jacket before two FBI agents entered my office with subpoena in hand. They had apparently followed me all the way from Independence, Kansas.
I spent nearly a week making Xerox copies of an entire file cabinet of project files...most of it reams of handwritten calculations that would have meaning to no one but me...before turning it all over to lawyers for the Department of Justice. When teams of lawyers had combed through the six sets of files and found no evidence of anti-trust activity, the project was given a clean bill of health by the Department of Justice.
But that was forty-five years ago, in an era when Justice Department lawyers and the FBI needed the approval of senior-level appointees in the Department of Justice to engage in warrantless searches. The far less restrictive investigative powers announced by the FBI on June 12, 2011 require no such senior level approval.
And while the Bush Administration made good use of the Patriot Act in fighting the War on Terror, much to the displeasure of the radical left, it is when leftist regimes find themselves in control of borderline law enforcement tools that enforcement tends to overlap into the realm of domestic political activity and freedom of expression is jeopardized. It was true of Nazi Party rule in Germany during the 1930s and ‘40s, it was true of successive totalitarian regimes in Soviet Russia during most of the 20th century, and it is just as true in the early 21st century as the Obama regime engages in politically expedient enforcement of the law.
Since leftist regimes can always be expected to ignore caution signals or stop signs as they move briskly across the line to violate the civil rights of law abiding citizens, the American people would be well advised to keep a wary eye on Obama’s political police. If we can’t expect the Obama regime to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party for intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling place, when acts of intimidation were caught on video tape, and if the Obama regime can simply ignore a federal court order requiring the Interior Department to lift an illegal ban on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, then what laws can we expect them to enforce...or not enforce?
With Barack Obama and Eric Holder in charge of enforcing our laws, and with the FBI given unprecedented police powers of search and seizure, the American people have much cause for concern.
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