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FBI Wiretaps Canceled for Non-Payment 166

Posted by timothy
from the in-united-states-bills-collect-you dept.
grassy_knoll writes "Apparently, the FBI hasn't been paying the telcos for the wiretaps they've initiated, so the telcos have canceled the wiretaps. From the AP article linked: 'Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time. A Justice Department audit released Thursday blamed the lost connections on 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. In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation "was halted due to untimely payment," the audit found.'"
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FBI Wiretaps Canceled for Non-Payment

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  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:14PM (#21987260) Homepage Journal
    Nelson Muntz: Ha Ha!

    There, it's been said. Let's move on.
  • by mudetroit (855132) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:19PM (#21987354) Journal
    Dick Cheney walks into the Oval Office... "George Herbert Walker Bush! Do you see this phone bill! I guess we are just going to have to turn it off until you can afford to pay it yourself."
  • Amnesty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kneemoe (1042818) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:20PM (#21987364)
    I can see it now, bunch of old crusty white dudes sitting around a boardroom "Well, if Congress won't get off their asses and grant us amnesty for warrant-less wiretapping we'll just have to get their attention now won't we"
  • by LibertineR (591918) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:22PM (#21987388)
    Without explanation, Telco Accounts-Receivable departments nationwide switch en-masse to VoIP.

    Film at 11.

  • by gnick (1211984) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:22PM (#21987390) Homepage
    When I hear wiretap and FBI in the same phrase, my knee jerk reaction is, especially recently, to attack the FBI. But this is awful. The US does occasionally use wiretaps for their intended purpose and, when they do, it's damned important that they be in-place and reliable. The telecoms are certainly within their rights to refuse service for non-payment, but what kind of a dysfunctional organization can't even pay their phone-bill on time? If my company's phone service was terminated, heads would roll.
    • by cptdondo (59460) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:27PM (#21987488) Journal
      The same dysfunctional organization that has abused its warrantless wiretapping power?
      • by gnick (1211984) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:29PM (#21987548) Homepage
        No doubt. I'd like to see administrative action for screwing up the phone bill. I'd like to see arrests for warrantless wiretapping.
        • by Doc Ruby (173196)
          The "administrators" are Bush & Cheney's Executive Branch that's running the whole shabby criminal enterprise. The "arrests" would have to be ordered by their Justice Department that's operating their big chunk of the whole shabby criminal enterprise.

          I'd like to see Bush/Cheney boil themselves in oil on the White House lawn, but as long as that's up to Bush/Cheney, I'll have to wait for the videogame.
      • by CrazedWalrus (901897) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:35PM (#21987624) Journal
        Dysfunctional? Try "inherently flawed".

        Poor supervision of the program also allowed one agent to steal $25,000, the audit said.


        The same people who are watching you to throw you in jail are committing grand theft themselves. Who's watching the watchers, indeed.
      • by dbIII (701233)
        The same one that uses Wonder Woman's golden lariat as a law enforcement tool to the amusement of the rest of the world. That's right - the lie detector was invented by the artist that drew Wonder Woman, adopted by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI has not wanted to admit it was scammed all those years ago so still uses the thing.
    • by morbiuswilters (604447) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:27PM (#21987500)
      You have to wonder how many fuckups like this are never reported. Then we hear that the government can't possibly protect us when they have to follow the law.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) *
        Then we hear that the government can't possibly protect us when they have to follow the law.

        Except that this is a very true statement.

        The fallacy is believing that the government can protect you at all, or that it gives a shit either way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by phoenixwade (997892)

      The telecoms are certainly within their rights to refuse service for non-payment, but what kind of a dysfunctional organization can't even pay their phone-bill on time? If my company's phone service was terminated, heads would roll.

      Umm - maybe - I did a service call on a modem that wasn't functioning in a graphics department, about 12 years ago. The modem was fine, but the line it was connected to was dead.... After checking, the modem line had been disconnected for non-payment. It was just an over site. The only reason it stuck in my mind, was because of the company - it was Bell South, they'd cut themselves off... it was good for a laugh, still is, actually. Mistakes do happen, failure to pay a phone bill isn't dysfunctional..

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sgt_doom (655561)
      While I am normally hesitant to criticize the FBI - after all, wasn't it the crack and elite FBI Passport Recovery Team which was able to miraculously recover Mohammed Atta's passport from the wreckage of the WTC in the aftermath of 9/11/01? (No doubt Atta cranked down his cockpit window prior to crashing and conveniently threw out his passport.)

      Having said that, I would question the efficacy of the FBI in any matter whatsoever - they have an long history for taking the credit for the achievements and un

    • I'm not surprised, and "dysfunctional" is the appropriate word to describe most of the US government. (And I would add most large and many small governments.)

      OT, but....

      When I was in college, I worked between 3 and 5 part time jobs (mostly tech-related). I had the habit of declaring zero deductions, just to simplify my life. When tax time came, I was expecting a nice refund, but instead I had to pay. Why?

      The explanation I got was that "to protect the poor" the state did not withhold money from small paychec
    • by dajak (662256)
      My first reaction to this article was: I smell a spin doctor. The 'news' the audit reveals is the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations, which raises serious issues. This anecdote makes it seem harmless. Late payment is perfectly normal even in the most anal retentive organizations that *do* check how every penny is spent. More interesting is how money that went missing was used, and whether there are incentives to be 'lax'. If you want to get away with being lax, it is good to beha
      • by PitaBred (632671)
        Well, the US has a lot bigger job than the Netherlands. A LOT of the world's communication goes through our networks, whereas you've only really got your country to worry about. It's like trying to find the needle in a haystack vs. finding the needle in a breadbox full of hay. Scale does matter, even with computers.
        • by dajak (662256)
          Well, the US has a lot bigger job than the Netherlands. A LOT of the world's communication goes through our networks, whereas you've only really got your country to worry about.

          Definitely not: US imports and exports are for instance less than three times larger than those of the Netherlands, with twenty times the population, so the US has the smaller proportional burden watching what crosses its borders.

          We host the biggest internet exchange point of the world [wikipedia.org], and redistribute a large share of Europe's impo
    • by rtb61 (674572)
      Perhaps accounts payable baulked at the total bill. In most companies if costs where spiralling out of control, I would expect accounts to halt payments until the matter could be investigated. "In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totalled $66,000", no wonder the telecoms have been lapping up invading every bodies privacy.

      One FBI office, for one telecom, for a single billing period, exactly how many tens of millions of dollars has been spent on illegal wire taps to feed th

  • by uxbn_kuribo (1146975) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:23PM (#21987420)
    Invading our privacy and violating the Constitution isn't nearly as profitable as one would think.
    • Re:Apparently... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustOK (667959) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:05PM (#21988074) Journal
      They invaded our privacy already and didn't have to pay for it. I think that's a good step toward profitability by lowering costs. Next step is an increase in regular consumer bills to offset the losses and to cover the eventual lawsuits. Result is, we pay to spy on ourselves.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by natedubbya (645990)

      It just goes to show that small amounts of money speak louder than millions of angry citizens. The latter hasn't ended one wiretap, the former halted it immediately.


  • by Sciros (986030) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:24PM (#21987432) Journal
    From TFA:

    Fine's report offered 16 recommendations to improve the FBI's tracking and management of the funding system, including its telecommunication costs. The FBI has agreed to follow 11 of the suggestions but said that four "would be either unfeasible or too cost prohibitive." The recommendations were not specifically outlined in the edited version of the report.
    11+4 = 15. HOLY CRAP just how bad IS the FBI at tracking numbers?? There's a whole recommendation missing there. It's probably the one that says "don't freaking steal thousands of dollars for personal use."
    • by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:34PM (#21987604) Journal

      '16. Do not follow this recommendation'.

    • Re:Recommendations (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:00PM (#21987980) Journal
      Maybe the missing suggestion is just still being evaluated and considered. I mean Following 11 suggestions and rejecting 4 says nothing to any that they haven't agreed to follow or rejected yet.

      It might be different if they said something more like agreed to 11 but rejected the other four. But as if now, they have only made statements about 15 of the 16 suggestions and those statements were limited in scope.
    • That brings up an interesting question:

      Is it more likely that a reporter, or the US government can count to numbers above 10 while wearing close-toed shoes?
    • They skipped the "..." recommendation; I can hardly blame them.

      #15 and 16 are as follows:
      15: .....
      16: Profit!
    • by PPH (736903)
      16. Don't use Excel to track bills.

      17. Don't use Excel to make lists of recommendations.

  • Hilarious Greed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:25PM (#21987452) Journal
    The love of money. Source of all things evil throughout the world (that's in the Bible somewhere). And if you're in corporate America, it's also the source of all motivation.

    How much is your own privacy worth to you? Can't put a price on it, can you? But it's amazing how fast some people can come up with a dollar amount when it's someone else's privacy. I guess the same can be said about a human life--unfortunately.

    Here's something (that is hopefully) a bit enraging to think about. You may be paying taxes to your government that fund an agency to spy on you. Hell, with the NSA wiretapping, the odds are high. How do you like that business model? You're paying for someone to watch you and press charges against you if you do something wrong. What an investment!

    And this is all very patriotic of the Telcos, serving their government up until they are past due on payments. All in the name of justice and freedom, indeed! This is genuinely amazing, you just can't even make this stuff up, people.
    • by Sciros (986030)
      But for real this is all hardly ideal. Ideally we'd be paying taxes to have the FBI/NSA/etc. investigate folks what are *reasonable* to investigate. By far most of us would never have to worry about having our privacy invaded, etc. That is, the FBI and other agencies would be *doing their job keeping us safe.* And, ideally, they'd be doing it competently and paying their bills on time so that they're allowed to do their work!

      Sadly neither of those seems to be the case.
  • 1. make sure to confuse the need to condemn bad and corrupt law enforcement with the need to condemn all law enforcement, good and bad

    2. make sure to confuse the need to question improperly obtained wiretap warrants with the need to question all wiretaps warrants, proper and improper

    there, now you are ready to flame on in misunderstanding and miscommunication on the subject of wiretapping. enjoy!

  • Argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omarius (52253) <omar@nOspam.allwrong.com> on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:29PM (#21987532) Homepage Journal
    Another puissant argument against "warrantless wiretapping." If these investigations and programs (and agents) are so poorly supervised by the FBI, it's ludicrous to insinuate that the people ought to trust them to do the Right Thing.
    • by Solandri (704621)
      Actually, I think this is a better argument against immunity for the telecos for warrantless wiretapping. If the telecos are willing to shut down wiretapping for an unpaid bill, they should've been willing to stop warrantless wiretapping until a court could rule on its legality. Apparently National Security is a legitimate argument to them only if they're being paid.
    • ... what you think it means.

      puissant [m-w.com]

      Pronunciation:
              \-snt, -snt\
      Function:
              adjective
      Date:
              15th century

      : having puissance : powerful

      Perhaps you meant pissant [m-w.com]?
  • by alextheseal (653421) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:32PM (#21987576)
    If it really was patriotism that motivated they would let billing issues slide. So I guess this proves we should not give them a pass on the illegal ones since they will stop tapping for money, but not for laws which is the ultimate in contempt for law.
    • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:58PM (#21987956) Journal

      So I guess this proves we should not give them a pass on the illegal ones since they will stop tapping for money,

      Actually, regardless of what you think about all the warrentless wiretapping stuff, why the hell are the telcos even allowed to charge for this service to begin with?

      If you believe that wiretaps (approved with due process of law) serve a purpose in criminal and/or national security investigations then how the hell can you condone the telcos charging for them? After they have received billions of dollars in tax breaks, Government assistance, laws mandating that they have the right of way to build their networks, Government granted monopolies, blah, blah, blah. After all that, they get to charge the Government money for this service? How much does it actually cost to setup a wiretap on a modern system? I'll go out on a limb and say it's probably all done from a keyboard.

      • As always, it is the Looters that expect to get money for nothing. The telco's have every right to charge whatever they want for wire-taps. Regardless of whatever kickbacks they have gotten before. To not due so - would be giving up even more rights that the people who's lines they are tapping.
      • by slapout (93640)
        I've often thought the same thing about company's "Activation fees" that are just someone changing something in a computer.
      • "why the hell are the telcos even allowed to charge for this service to begin with?

        Well, because one of the foundations for capitalism is that goods and services cost money? Why should the phone companies provide a service for free? They are corporations with a bottom line of turning a profit, not protecting a nation...
      • by Sciros (986030)
        Well, the thing is also the government *has money for this.* The FBI is budgeted to do stuff; headquarters gets money to use for wiretapping and renting cars and buying fake moustaches and trenchcoats and new jackets with big yellow "FBI" lettering and all that other good FBI stuff, as, so I gather, do the various offices. The problem is the money isn't being managed well. On the one hand you have headquarters not paying for stuff it's supposed to pay for. On the other hand you have agents stealing money.

        Th
  • Heh, (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jefan (1096649) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:33PM (#21987594)
    Can you hear me now?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As a secular progressive, I'm curious, what is the conservative Republican line on this one?

    - Are the phone companies bad for shutting off the FBI and thereby "aidin' terrirsts"?

    OR

    - Are the phone companies fully justified by free market economics in shutting off a deadbeat government agency that wouldn't even have a budget but stealing it in the form of taxes from hard working Americans?
    • As a secular conservative...

      Rank and file incompetence and/or mismanagement in any Governmental agency is unacceptable. Due to the inherent difficulties in managing large numbers of people, which helps creates this kind of misaction and waste, it is in everyone's interest to reduce the size of the Federal Government.

      The Phone Companies are well within their legal rights and have (in this instance) done nothing unethical.

      Establishing Justice, insuring domestic Tranquility and providing for the common defenc
  • by Robber Baron (112304) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:35PM (#21987628) Homepage
    ...this sort of news is what as known as "disinformation".

    So it's OK to let your guard down now because those screwups at the FBI can't manage to pay their bills on time. Sorry, but I call bullshit on that one.
    If somebody with clout thinks you need to be watched, rest assured that you are being watched.
  • That's what they want you to think.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:45PM (#21987758)
    the phone companies are making helping the government spy on us?

    Just asking.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's a good question, could I pay the phone companies more to not spy on me? I mean, why not? It's clearly a financial decision if this article is to be believed. If that was an option I'd consider getting a phone...

      Keep in mind, if you want to reply to me you may not use the word "extortion".
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:45PM (#21987760) Journal
    One explanation for the non-payment could be that these (or some of these) wiretaps were made without authorization, and would not have been authorized if a request had been made. Note that I am not arguing the warrant/warrantless issue, rather, I am suggesting that rogue agents within the FBI set up these wiretaps without even following whatever minimal control procedures the FBI has in place.
  • by KoshClassic (325934) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:47PM (#21987794)
    Apparently these wiretaps deal with issues that are important enough that the government feels that it needs to set asside our civil rights. Yet these issues and our civil rights are not as important as the phone company being paid on time. Why don't these laws force the phone companies to maintain the wiretaps regardless of when payment is received?
    • I'm wondering that myself. Of course the constitution says that you can't take private property for public use without just compensation so maybe they right is more important then the other rights.

      Well, actually, the right that is being pushed aside does have a reasonable test that can be interpreted differently depending on the moods of the courts where there isn't one about taking private property.

      But leaving that alone, it is often difficult to get funding from the government in a timely manor. They usua
  • by TWX (665546) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:48PM (#21987800)
    Human error and incompatible bureaucracies will be the two things preventing 1984 from ever truly coming true...

    Instead we'll see Brazil...
  • I would guess that the Telcos agreed to this purely for profit in the first place, because, seriously, what is the FBI going to do to a coalition of US cooperations. And noww, they aren't even getting paid.
  • by bigtrike (904535) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:54PM (#21987902)
    How soon until we're required to use multiple carriers so the government can negotiate the lowest rate?
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:03PM (#21988040) Journal
    Let me get this straight. Dubya wants us to trust him and his 'boys' to listen in on our private lives, and promises that the information will not be misused. Then they go and show us how responsible they are by 'forgetting' to pay the phone bills? Actually stealing money, and other violations of public trust.

    Is it just me, or do we need to start fixing the elections ourselves to ensure that there is a clean sweep through all of the US Government?

    Diebold has given us a way to do it, and the powers that be keep insisting that it is not possible... Maybe we should just organize it ourselves?

  • by jheath314 (916607) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:07PM (#21988110)
    I've never understood the current mania of increased government powers with less accountability. I'm all for increasing the powers of the spooks to spy, just so long as it is balanced by increased accountability and oversight.

    Increasing power while decreasing the oversight consistently gives bad results: at best we see this kind of sloppiness on the part of the FBI; at worst we get the kinds of abuses that have blackened America's reputation around the world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      I've never understood the current mania of increased government powers with less accountability. I'm all for increasing the powers of the spooks to spy, just so long as it is balanced by increased accountability and oversight.
      A) Fast
      B) Cheap
      C) Properly
      Pick two.

      Which two do you think the government picked?
      Hint: Accountability & oversight are expensive and slow
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:46PM (#21988778) Homepage

    It could be worse. Back when the FBI was taking down the New York Mafia, the FBI didn't pay the bill on some of their wiretaps. The billing software then billed the other party on the connection, the Mafia guys being wiretapped. It's in Guliani's book about that operation.

    Wiretaps are a billable service. See this DoJ document [usdoj.gov]. Search for "Wiretap Fees" in the document. A typical 30-day wiretap costs from $250 to $2600. There are base wiretap fees, monthly maintenance fees, per switch set-up fees, additional switch fees, uninterrupted continuation fees, call-bridging fees, "pinging" fees, extension fees, and fees for activity reports. Prosecutors can't challenge the fees in civil court because the wiretap orders are sealed by a criminal court.

    90% of all wiretap requests now involve mobile phones, according to DoJ.

    • A typical 30-day wiretap costs from $250 to $2600

      So, you mean i can pay this amount to Verizon and ask them to tap... say... the NY Police commissioner's office?

      After all under constitution ALL people are equal (except corporates, but that's a different topic), so i can just pay this money to verizon, and ask them to commence tapping?

      I bet my lawyers will have a field day in court trying to defend me when the cops drag me down and make a rodney king out of me.

  • by smaddox (928261)
    I guess a free market DOES solve all problems!

    Who would have guessed?
  • The check is in the mail! Really. It is. No lie. Put it there myself. But you have to restore the wire taps! You will get your money. [ bzzzzzzz...... ]

    Did we just lose power? Why did the lights go out? You did pay the power bill didn't you? Damn!
  • ...that 'government doesn't work' and 'government causes more problems than it solves'.

    Or, at least, that applies to their government.

    If I worked in the FBI, I'd be pissed. An agent go to all the work to collect evidence and get a real warrant for wiretapping and start it up and run the recordings every few days and suddenly, they discover that the wiretap has been cut off and not got anything for two days, and I bet it takes it a week to get back turned on.

    Not because of any law, they're used to laws pr

  • ...cash is STILL king.
  • These wiretaps are so important we must throw away the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and all privacy laws and then pass legislation making it retroactively legal to do all that and protect the phone companies from law suits and specifically protect Bush from felony prosecution!

    This story is obviously all lies. The government would never lie about national security just to protect a president with a 20% approval record and to make the opposition party look week.

    As long as you're doing nothing wrong yo
  • What somebody needs to do is to contact each telco and request that a copy of the bill be sent, with each wiretap itemized, so that billing discrepancies may be resolved and prompt payments can be made.

    Have it sent to an anonymous mail drop, forward copies to the various targets of surveillance and then step back and watch the fun ensue.

  • Color me confused. Why should the FBI need to pay for wiretaps? Surely the laws can simply be changed so that telcos are not permitted to charge the government a fee for these services?

  • Should some of those instances of illegal wiretapping ever go to court, this should nicely torpedo any argument by the telcoms that they only whored themselves out to the Bush administration out of a sense of patriotism.

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