The Extraordinary Secret Powers Of The FBI
The FBI’s Secret Rules
President Trump has inherited a vast domestic intelligence agency with extraordinary secret powers. A cache of documents offers a rare window into the FBI’s quiet expansion since 9/11.
After the famous Church Committee hearings in the 1970s exposed the FBI’s wild overreach, reforms were enacted to protect civil liberties. But in recent years, the bureau has substantially revised those rules with very little public scrutiny. That’s why The Intercept is publishing this special package of articles based on three internal FBI manuals that we exclusively obtained.
These stories illuminate how the FBI views its authority to assess terrorism suspects, recruit informants, spy on university organizations, infiltrate online chat rooms, peer through the walls of private homes, and more.
In addition to the articles collected here — which include nine new pieces and two that we previously published based on the same source material — we have annotated the manuals to highlight what we found most newsworthy in them. We redacted the sections that could be used to identify individuals or systems for the purpose of causing harm. We’re presenting the stories alongside the manuals because we believe the public has a right to know how the U.S. government’s leading domestic law enforcement agency understands and wields its enormous power.
Detailed rules for how the FBI handles informants. Classified secret. This unreleased September 2015 document is a major expansion and update of a manual from 2007 on the same topic.
The FBI Gives Itself Lots of Rope to Pull in Informants
Agents have the authority to aggressively investigate anyone they believe could be a valuable source for the bureau.
When Informants Are No Longer Useful, the FBI Can Help Deport Them
The FBI coordinates with immigration authorities to locate informants who are no longer of value to the bureau.
How the FBI Conceals Its Payments to Confidential Sources
A classified policy guide creates opportunities for agents to disguise payments as reimbursements or offer informants a cut of seized assets.
How the FBI Recruits and Handles Its Army of Informants
Excerpts from a guide for agents working on counterterrorism cases, which functions as a supplement to the FBI’s main rulebook, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Classified secret. Not previously released. Dates to April 2015.
Undercover FBI Agents Swarm the Internet Seeking Contact With Terrorists
The FBI’s online activities are so pervasive that the bureau sometimes finds itself investigating its own people.
Based on a Vague Tip, the Feds Can Surveil Anyone
Low-level “assessments” allow the FBI to follow people with planes, examine travel records, and run subjects’ names through the CIA and NSA.
The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement
Bureau policies have been crafted to take into account the active presence of domestic extremists in U.S. police departments.
Disruptions: How the FBI Handles People Without Bringing Them To Court
The rulebook governing all FBI agents’ activities, in unredacted form for the first time. This is the 2011 edition, which remains the baseline document today, although the FBI recently released some updates from 2013.
Hidden Loopholes Allow FBI Agents to Infiltrate Political and Religious Groups
Beneath the FBI’s redaction marks are exceptions to rules on “undisclosed participation.”
National Security Letters Demand Data Companies Aren’t Obligated to Provide
Internal documents suggest the FBI uses the secret orders to pursue sensitive customer data like internet browsing records.
Despite Anti-Profiling Rules, the FBI Uses Race and Religion When Deciding Who to Target
The bureau still claims considerable latitude to use race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion in deciding which people and communities to investigate.
In Secret Battle, Surveillance Court Reined in FBI Use of Information Obtained From Phone Calls
Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy for the FBI to Spy on Journalists
Rules governing the use of national security letters allow the FBI to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the targeted news organization.
Bureau Hid Doubts About Reliability of Stingray Evidence Behind Redaction Marks
CIA and NSA Dossiers Are Available to the FBI in the Absence of Any Crime, Raising Privacy Questions
FBI Spy Planes Must Abide Rules When Looking Into Homes
On Campus, the FBI Sometimes Operates Outside Restrictions
To Probe the Digital Defenses of Targets, the FBI Turns To a Special Program
A 2013 unclassified communique from the FBI’s counterterrorism division explaining the database checks and other steps to be taken as part of low-level investigations.
A 2016 update to the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide’s policy on profiling by race, gender, and other factors.
A document bearing the seal of the FBI’s Anchorage field office that gives tips for agents cultivating informants. It is classified secret, and dates from 2011.
An unclassified internal FBI document explaining the rules for national security letters, orders that the bureau uses to obtain certain information without a warrant. The document is undated but contains references to another document from November 2015.
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