Grassley Statement at FBI Oversight Hearing
Statement for the Record of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Hearing on Oversight of the FBI
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s oversight hearing. I welcome Director Comey for his first hearing as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). There are many issues to discuss about the FBI’s important work protecting the United States from many different threats.
Unfortunately, I must start by pointing out that it was only on Monday that we received answers to our questions for the record from our last FBI oversight hearing eleven months ago. In addition, the answers we received are marked current as of August 26, 2013 – almost nine months ago.
I understand that this is because the FBI completed its answers in August and submitted them to the Justice Department. Then they apparently disappeared into a black hole.
As I told the Attorney General in January when he appeared for an oversight hearing without having responded to the previous year’s hearing questions, this is simply not acceptable.
When we met before Director Comey’s confirmation, I provided him with a binder of all the letters and questions for the record still pending with his predecessor. The FBI has a pretty dismal record of responding to my questions.
I wish I could say that all of those unanswered issues have been fully dealt with, but they have not. However, I would like to commend Director Comey for recently beginning to make an effort to improve the FBI’s level of communication with my office.
Ignoring my questions does not make them go away. They need to be answered fully and completely, and in good faith.
Turning to the FBI’s priorities, counterterrorism rightfully remains at the top. Since the September 11 attacks, the wall between intelligence and criminal cases has come down, and our country is safer as a result.
I’m glad Congress is now in the process of considering reforms to some of the national security legal authorities, even as the President keeps changing his view about what is needed to keep us safe. However, Director Comey pointed out in the press a few months ago that some of these reforms would actually make it harder for the FBI to do terrorism investigations than bank fraud investigations. I hope we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this topic more today. At least those types of reforms seem unwise.
Of course, the threats to our nation are broader than just terrorism. Cybercrime of all types is on the rise, as this week’s events illustrate. I applaud the FBI’s efforts to hold the Chinese government accountable for stealing the trade secrets of U.S. companies and as a result, American jobs as well.
I also congratulate the FBI on its work to hold the developers of Blackshades accountable for unleashing a computer program that can steal users’ passwords and files, as well as activate their webcams, all without their knowledge. Crimes are increasingly high-tech, and the tools available to the FBI to combat them must be as well. But in many cases, these tools have at least the potential for misuse that could jeopardize the privacy of innocent Americans.
I’d like to discuss the Department of Justice Inspector General’s recommendation that the FBI develop special privacy guidelines concerning its use of drones. I’d also like to inquire about a proposal by the Department of Justice that would make it easier for the FBI to hack into computers for investigative purposes.
Despite the FBI’s external successes, I find its internal lack of cooperation with its Inspector General troubling. According to the Inspector General, the FBI has significantly delayed his office’s work by refusing to turn over grand jury and wiretap information when he deems it necessary for one of his reviews. The Inspector General Act authorizes the Inspector General to access these records.
However, the Inspector General informed me last week that, “All of the Department’s components provided . . . full access to the material sought, with the notable exception of the FBI.” According to the Inspector General, “the FBI’s position with respect to production of grand jury material . . . is a change from its longstanding practice.”
From 2001 through 2009, the FBI routinely provided this information to the Inspector General. So, I’d like to know why the FBI has been stonewalling the Inspector General, and what changed after 2009 to cut off the flow of information from the FBI.
In addition, I have questions about the status of the Justice Department’s report on the FBI’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation procedures. Nineteen months ago, President Obama issued a Presidential Directive related to the FBI’s whistleblower procedures. It directed that the Attorney General produce a report within six months on how well the FBI follows its own whistleblower and anti-retaliation procedures. That report was also to examine the effectiveness of the procedures themselves and whether they could be improved.
The Attorney General’s report is now more than a year overdue, which is simply unacceptable. The FBI is in dire need of an update to these provisions. For years, I have asked the Bureau about specific whistleblowers who came to my office, going back to Fred Whitehurst in the 1990s. Time and time again, I have heard from whistleblowers that the FBI procedures are an ineffective protection against retaliation.
When the Attorney General’s report didn’t come out at the six-month mark, I also asked the Government Accountability Office to look at this same issue. The FBI needs to cooperate with GAO on its review.
Finally, as Director Comey points out in his testimony, the FBI is actively investigating wrongdoing and getting results every day. That is why it is so perplexing to hear nothing at all from the FBI concerning its investigation into the targeting of Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service.
It’s been just about a year since the investigation was opened. I hope we’ll have the time today to talk about the status of that investigation.
I’m also concerned about how the FBI handled the Boston Marathon bombing. The bombing reminded America that it is not immune from major terrorist attacks. There is still much to be learned from events prior to and following the incident.
The FBI has been given vast powers under Title 18 and Title 28 of the U.S. Code. However, a report issued by the Inspector Generals of the Intelligence Committee in April 2014 found that many of these investigative powers were not even used in a counter-terrorism assessment of one of the alleged bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The report notes that the FBI did not visit Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s mosque and failed to interview several people with intimate knowledge of him, including his wife or former girlfriend. The report states the FBI did not search all available databases for information on Tsarnaev, including several telephone databases and databases with information collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Especially in light of all the controversy over bulk collection, it is curious that the FBI didn’t even use all the tools available to it.
If the FBI and its agents choose, for whatever reason, not to use all available tools we have provided to root out terrorists, then we risk future attacks. Following the bombing, while the FBI made great efforts to keep us informed of their investigative actions to identify and capture the bombers, there were questions my staff asked that remain unanswered. Simple questions like: when were the brothers identified as suspects on surveillance video? Who made the identifications?
Leaving these questions hanging in the wind creates a perception that the FBI is hiding something. While I don’t believe this to be the case, I also don’t understand why Director Comey, who promised transparency in his confirmation hearing only a year ago, would allow this to occur.
Over two and a half years ago, Director Mueller promised us a report on the FBI’s handing of Boston mobster Mark Rossetti. At the time, the FBI admitted that it broke its own rules by hiding Mr. Rossetti’s status as an informant from the Massachusetts State Police.
This is especially significant given that the FBI also hid information from the State Police regarding Whitey Bulger. Given the Bulger case and Mr. Rossetti’s own history, this delay is unacceptable.
I look forward to discussing these and a variety of other issues, time permitting. Thank you.