Incompetence, as we have seen time again over the course of the Bush administration’s botched handling of border security, immigration enforcement, and TSA policies, knows no partisan bounds. And it isn’t limited to DHS or TSA. The latest results of a Justice Department audit reveal that FBI wiretaps–including one involving a suspected terrorists were cut off because the agency failed to pay its damned phone bills on time:
Telephone companies cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau’s repeated failures to pay phone bills on time, according to a Justice Department audit released Thursday.
The faulty bookkeeping is part of what the audit, by the Justice Department’s inspector general, described as the FBI’s lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. Poor supervision of the program also allowed one agent to steal $25,000, the audit said.
More than half of 990 bills to pay for telecommunication surveillance in five unidentified FBI field offices were not paid on time, the report shows. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.
And at least once, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation — the highly secretive and sensitive cases that allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies — “was halted due to untimely payment.”
Here’s the summary of the report over at the DOJ IG’s site. An excerpt:
As part of our audit, we analyzed 990 telecommunication surveillance payments made by 5 field divisions and found that over half of these payments were not made on time. We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence including an instance where delivery of intercept information required by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order was halted due to untimely payment.
According to FBI field division officials, the various types of telecommunication charges, coupled with the number of invoices resulting from each surveillance order, make it difficult to identify and track incoming surveillance bills. The FBI also lacks proper guidance and consistent procedures necessary to track telecommunication surveillance bills
accurately. Lacking such headquarters-issued procedures, FBI field divisions have instituted separate, ad hoc tracking mechanisms, which had mixed results in paying bills on time. For example, a primary carrier sent a list to one of the field divisions we tested detailing $66,000 in unpaid telecommunication costs resulting from surveillance activity.
I’d say this is worth a Code Red Elmo Alert: