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Telcos yank FBI wiretaps

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FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals have been repeatedly canceled by telephone companies because the bureau failed to pay their bills on time.

According to an audit conducted by an inspector general at the Justice Department, the disconnected wiretaps were the result of the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. Poor bookkeeping also resulted in the theft of more than $25,000 by a single agent.

In once case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation was halted because the phone bill wasn't paid on time. Surveillance authorized under FISA frequently relates to sensitive probes that involve suspected terrorists or government spies. The audit (a heavily redacted PDF is available here) was released Thursday and reported by the Associated Press.

In some cases, evidence has been lost after carriers cut lines dedicated to delivering surveillance results to FBI agents. More than half of 990 bills related to telecommunication surveillance in five FBI field offices were not paid on time. One office had unpaid invoices totaling $66,000.

The inspector general issued 16 recommendations for improving the management of the FBI's funding system. ®

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