Sunday, May 10, 2009

FBI budget request raises questions

From ABC News:
The budget request shows that the FBI is currently developing a new "Advanced Electronic Surveillance" program which is being funded at $233.9 million for 2010. The program has 133 employees, 15 of whom are agents.

According to the budget documents released Thursday, the program, otherwise known as "Going Dark," supports the FBI's electronic surveillance intelligence collection and evidence gathering capabilities, as well as those of the greater Intelligence Community.

"The term 'Going Dark' does not refer to a specific capability, but is a program name for the part of the FBI, Operational Technology Division's (OTD) lawful interception program which is shared with other law enforcement agencies," an FBI spokesman said.

... the program is designed to help the agency deal with changing technology and ways to intercept phone calls such as those used by VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones or technology such as Skype.

That is rather interesting, considering that in 2008, there were only 10 electronic communications intercept court orders requested nation wide (by both Federal and State law enforcement). As for Skype and other encrypted communications -- again in 2008, only two instances of encryption were encountered, and neither posed a barrier to investigators, who were still able to obtain the information they wanted.

So. Either we're paying 23 million in development/staff costs per intercept (assuming the number has stayed the same since 2008), electronic intercepts have jumped in number by an order of magnitude, or.... the FBI and other agencies are engaging in electronic surveillance in a way that evades the traditional reporting requirements for wiretap and intercept orders. I wonder which it is?


Anonymous said...

Only 10? The URL that you gave us points the main page of the 2008 Wiretap Report and then leads us to Table 2 which shows roughly 1800 were granted nationwide. That's fairly normal. The most interesting and un-revealed aspect of electronic surveillance are the FISA orders which are _not_ publicly reported.

What's far more interesting than the actual count of orders is the disparity across population. For example, compare Massachusetts to Colorado.

Christopher Soghoian said...

I've updated the link to point to Table 6 in the 2008 wiretap report, which shows that 10 total electronic intercept orders were sought.

Kevin Bankston said...

Hi Chris--I tend to think that backdoor wiretaps such as the one in the Warshak case (see our PR at may offer an explanation for the lack of electronic intercepts...