My Visit with the FBI

You would expect a visit with the FBI to be terrifying. When they come with their badges out and windbreakers on, you are in trouble. The FBI headquarters is easy spot, sitting right on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Even once you get past the security guards and metal detectors in the front lobby, visitors have to pass through two more security checkpoints. Fortunately, my visit did not involve handcuffs.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation partnered with the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics to host the FBI Corporate Compliance Officer Outreach Event. I was fortunate enough to attend.

Patrick W. Kelley, Chief Compliance Officer, Office of Integrity and Compliance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was the host. That was the first unexpected piece information. The FBI has a Chief Compliance Officer and a formal compliance program. The second unexpected piece of information was that the FBI’s compliance program faces many of the same issues as any company’s compliance program.

Like many compliance programs, it was born from a crisis. The FBI was accused of abusing the use of National Security Letters. An NSL is a demand letter, which differs from a subpoena. It is issued to an organization, typically a telecom or ISP, to turn over various record and data. NSLs can only request non-content information, such as transactional records, phone numbers dialed or email addresses mailed to and from. Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act greatly expanded the use of the NSLs. An internal FBI audit found that they violated the NSL rules more than 1000 times in an audit of 10% of its national investigations between 2002 and 2007.

The FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III did not like the abuse and tasked Mr. Kelley with creating a compliance program to identify and prevent abuse. To their credit, they also expanded the compliance program to cover 49 other areas of risk.

I’ll be posting more stories from this event over the next few days.

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