The FBI destroyed evidence about terrorist Osama bin Laden because its e-mail wiretap system mistakenly gathered information it was not entitled to.
The FBI's Carnivore software not only spied on e-mails of its target "but also picked up e-mails on non-covered targets," said a March 2000 memo to agency headquarters in Washington.
"The FBI technical person was apparently so upset that he destroyed all the e-mail take, including the take on" the suspect, the memo said.
The documents were made public through a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act by Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington advocacy group. The documents were not included in an original release but became public after a federal judge ordered the FBI to reveal more information.
"At issue was an investigation in Denver in which the FBI's bin Laden unit was using the bureau's Carnivore system to conduct electronic surveillance of a suspect under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant," the Associated Press reported today.
"The memo surfaced as the FBI was addressing concerns it mishandled aspects of terrorism investigation prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Those concerns include a warning from its Phoenix office about Arab pilots training in the United States last July."
The Justice Department's Office of Intelligence and Policy Review was furious after learning the evidence was destroyed, according to the memo.
"To state that she was unhappy at ITOS [International Terrorism Operations Center] and the UBL [bin Laden] unit is an understatement," the memo said, quoting a Justice official.
Justice officials worried the destruction of the evidence would show an "inability on the part of the FBI to manage" the warrants, which are crucial tools in fighting terrorism.
Privacy groups and some congressmen have complained that Carnivore could collect more data than permitted by a warrant.
"Here's confirmation of the fact that not only did it do that, but it resulted in a loss of legitimately acquired intelligence," said David Sobel, general counsel of Electronic Privacy Information Center.
FBI officials today would not comment on the Carnivore memo or the inquiry.
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