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Monday, June 05, 2006

Gagged Library Exec Speaks Out

George Christian is the executive director of Library Connection, Inc., a nonprofit cooperative of more than two dozen public and academic libraries in Connecticut.

Last summer, his office got an odd call. It wasn’t from a co-op member.

And it wasn’t from a library patron. It was from the FBI.

One of Christian’s staff answered the phone and then brought him the news.

“We got a call from the FBI, they want to send us something called a National Security Letter, and they asked who to address it to, and I told them you,” the staffer informed Christian, he recalls.

“I thought, National Security what? What’s a National Security Letter?

Until that moment, I’d never heard those three words, National Security Letter. I never knew there was such a thing. I had no inkling whatsoever,” Christian says.

These letters are an extraordinarily powerful tool in the hands of the FBI. Basically, they amount to subpoenas the Justice Department issues by itself, without having to go to a judge for approval. When they were first authorized in the 1970s, the FBI was required to have “ ‘specific and articulable’ reasons to believe the records it gathered in secret belonged to a terrorist or spy,” Barton Gellman reported for The Washington Post on November 6, 2005. But thanks to the Patriot Act, the FBI can slap these letters not only on terrorist suspects but on anyone who is “relevant” to a national security investigation, even those “who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies,” Gellman wrote. The Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to use these National Security Letters to obtain “transactional records” from financial institutions. And the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act expanded the scope of these letters beyond financial institutions to include car dealers, travel agents, real estate agents, pawnbrokers, and others. The FBI is churning these National Security Letters out at the rate of 30,000 a year, Gellman discovered.

Christian says the phone call alerting him that he was about to get such a letter gave him enough time to research the issue and to decide that “this was not something I wanted to cooperate with.”

He said he was torn.---------------
read the rest......
Gagged Library Exec Speaks Out


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