Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley of Iowa
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
FBI Oversight Hearing
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Chairman Leahy, thank you for calling this oversight hearing today. I welcome Director Mueller back for another oversight hearing to discuss matters at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is a fitting backdrop having the Director testify during police week, which annually falls the week of May 15. We owe a lot to the brave men and women of the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that keep our streets, cities, counties, states, and country safe. Thank you for being here, Director.
It has been six months since our last hearing and today’s hearing provides the opportunity to address some important oversight and policy matters. On a housekeeping matter, the FBI had been improving response time to our requests for information, but unfortunately, we continue to wait far too long for written responses. Just yesterday afternoon we received the answers to our questions for the record from the last time the Director testified. This needs to improve.
On substantive matters, there is a lot we can cover today. I want to hear from the Director about what efforts the FBI has undertaken to investigate the serious and grave national security leak surrounding the recently revealed operation in Yemen. National security leaks have unfortunately become the norm with far too much sensitive information being leaked about ongoing operations. These leaks are dangerous and can have grave consequences. They threaten sensitive sources and methods, endanger lives, and complicate relationships with our allies. I want to hear from Director Mueller what the FBI is doing to investigate this leak and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
Next, I would like to address a couple of pressing national security policy matters that we need to address in the Senate. As the Director pointed out in his written testimony, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act expires at the end of the year. This critical national security tool needs to be reauthorized and I’d like to hear from the Director about the urgency in pushing that reauthorization.
I also want to talk about the importance of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). We have been waiting patiently for the Administration to put forth a proposal with necessary fixes to ensure the “going dark” problem is addressed.
This is a critical issue and it needs to be addressed in the correct manner. There is a lot of misinformation on this issue floating around and the sooner we have a proposal, the sooner we can work to dispel those misconceptions. For starters, it is not a plan for the government to take over the internet or other mediums. It involves compliance with valid, lawfully issued court orders. Let me say that again, it is about ensuring that when a court issues an order, law enforcement can obtain the information the court has authorized. I want to hear from the Director about the status of this proposal and when the Administration plans to submit it to Congress.
Another critical national security issue to address is Cybersecurity. The House has passed four separate bills as a cybersecurity package. There are a number of other bills pending before the Senate.
While a lot of attention has been focused on the differences between these bills, the proposals do have a lot in common. All the proposals recognize the need to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity defenses. Where they differ is in how to do it. I want to ask the Director about a concern I have with proposals that create new bureaucracies to deal with Cybersecurity. I also want to ask the Director about the danger of compartmentalizing cybersecurity related threat information and whether such efforts would lead to reconstituting the “wall” between national security and criminal matters.
Aside from national security, the FBI continues to handle a significant caseload of traditional criminal matters. One matter of concern is the recent reporting by the Washington Post about the number of cases where individuals may have been convicted based upon faulty FBI Crime Lab reports.
This issue dates back the late 1990s when I conducted oversight work on the FBI crime lab. What is concerning to me is that the recent reports indicate that the Justice Department review of these cases may have been incomplete and that defendants in cases may not have been notified about the problems. This is troubling. However, what is even more troubling is that it appears the Justice Department never made public the findings of the report, nor does it appear those findings were reported to Congress.
Given the high profile problems with disclosing exculpatory evidence and serious misconduct by FBI and DOJ officials in the prosecution of Senator Stevens, this report has raised a number of questions. I want to hear from the Director what he has done as part of this review and what is being done to address these cases.
Time permitting there are a number of other topics I would like to discuss. I remain concerned that whistleblowers at the FBI continue to face retaliation and delays in clearing their name. Just yesterday we received written responses from Director Mueller’s last appearance where he addressed the long running whistleblower cases of FBI Agent Jane Turner and FBI employee Robert Kobus. Both cases have languished at the Justice Department of many years despite clear findings of retaliation for protected whistleblowing—nearly 10 years in Turner’s case and over four for Kobus.
I’m disappointed in the Director’s written answers. They fail to answer the basic questions about when these matters will come to an end and are chock full of legalese. They do nothing to bring closure to these matters which I consider a black-eye for the Bureau. In fact one response states that the Director cannot answer because of ongoing litigation. I would note, the litigation is only ongoing because the FBI continues to appeal the case. At some point, the FBI needs to own up to the retaliation and end these cases. That is something within the Director’s power—something he could and should do immediately.
Finally, I want to thank the Director for his candor in answering one of my written questions about the FBI’s attempt to over-classify a memorandum provided to the Committee. In a rare admission of fault, the written questions noted that the FBI erroneously stamped a memo to Congress as “Sensitive Security Information” under the Code of Federal Regulations. At first glance, this stamp appeared to limit disclosure of the memo. However, a closer look revealed the FBI was attempting to classify the memo using authority reserved for the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and the Secretary of Transportation.
While we in Congress understand the need to appropriately classify certain information, this was an example of the overreach that has made us cynical about the over classification of material. I’m glad the FBI owned up to this erroneous classification, but worried that it may signal a greater problem.
I look forward to addressing these topics with the Director. Thank you.