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Secret Terrorism-Espionage Wiretaps Increased in 2011

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department sought 1,745 secret wiretapping warrants in 2011, an increase of 239 over 2010, according to correspondence sent to Congressional leaders and oversight committees posted on the Justice Department website.  The secret warrants are governed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and are used in terrorist and espionage investigations by the FBI. The secret warrants are prepared by FBI agents and prosecutors to present to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington.

Sent to Congressional leaders and Vice President Joseph Biden, the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said, “During the calendar year 2011, the government made 1,745 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (hereinafter FISC) … for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes.”

A copy of the letters can be viewed here.

The letter says that 1,676 of the applications were for electronic surveillance. It is impossible to determine based on the information made available if the 69 other warrants were for physical searches during terrorism and espionage investigations.  Some FISA warrants can cover both electronic intercepts and physical searches when FBI agents secretly enter an area and pull information off of computers or documents they are seeking as part of their investigation.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on any specific reasons for the fluctuations in the numbers.

“The number of applications that the government submits to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to conduct court-authorized surveillance in national security matters varies from year-to-year and depends on myriad of different factors.  The annual numbers have gone up and down and up over the past decade.” Boyd said when asked about the change in numbers.

The number of FISA applications was highest in 2007 when there were 2,370 applications to conduct electronic and physical surveillance. The number steadily grew after the 9/11 attacks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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