Ex-FBI counsel implicated in surveillance abuses nominated to crucial federal bench
The former top lawyer at the FBI deeply implicated in surveillance abuses revealed before and by Edward Snowden’s leaks was confirmed as a federal judge in a top court for terrorism cases this week.
The US Senate voted 73-24 on Monday in approving Valerie Caproni, Federal Bureau of Investigation general counsel from 2003 to 2011, to the Southern District of New York, one of the country’s most important federal courts for terrorism cases.
Caproni has received bipartisan criticism for allowing and defending surveillance abuses both found to be overbroad during her tenure and those not disclosed when she was counsel but later revealed to be inappropriate or illegal. For example, the Snowden leaks showed Caproni mischaracterized the limits of the Patriot Act during her term.
A 2010 report by the Department of Justice revealed the FBI inappropriately used non-judicial subpoenas called “exigent letters” to gather phone numbers of over 5,550 Americans until 2006.
“The FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the general counsel’s office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it and must face consequences,” said John Conyers in April 2010 as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyers called for Caproni’s firing at the time over the use of the non-judicial subpoenas, according to the Guardian.
“It’s not in the Patriot Act. It never has been. And its use, perhaps coincidentally, began in the same month that Ms Valerie Caproni began her work as general counsel,” Conyers said in 2010.
Caproni told House lawmakers in 2008 if phone numbers — acquired from telephone companies by the FBI via the non-judicial subpoenas evidently sanctioned in the Patriot Act — were not related to a “currently open investigation, and there was no emergency at the time we received the records, the records are removed from our files and destroyed.”
Yet revelations found in documents supplied by Snowden outlined how the National Security Agency stores phone records on all Americans for up five years no matter if they are associated with an open investigation or not. In addition, it’s been found that the NSA has the capability to feed the FBI phone records if there is a “reasonable articulable suspicion” they are related to terrorism.
“Caproni knew that the Bush administration could use or was using the Section 215 provision in the Patriot Act to obtain Americans’ phone records on a broad scale, an issue that has recently been documented by the whistleblower material first printed in the Guardian,” Lisa Graves, a former deputy assistant attorney general who dealt with Caproni while working on national security issues for the ACLU, told the Guardian.
In 2007, DOJ’s Inspector General Glenn Fine found the FBI was serially abusing National Security Letters — a demand regarding national security independent of legal subpoenas– to obtain business records, including “unauthorized collection of telephone or internet email transactional records.” While the larger collection of phone records was still not exposed at the time, Caproni called the inappropriate collection a “colossal failure on our part.”
“Government officials that secretly approved of overbroad surveillance programs the public is only seeing now because of leaks, and whose testimony on the issue obscured rather than revealed these abuses, should be held to account for their actions in a public forum,” former FBI agent Mike German told the Guardian.
Caproni’s nomination to the federal bench had some bipartisan opposition, but not enough to block her appointment.
“She is a woman with impeccable credentials,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Monday. “This country needs more women like her.”