WASHINGTON — The FBI has hit a major hang-up in its wiretapping surveillance program: failing to pay its phone bills on time.
Facing tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals, a Justice Department audit released Thursday shows. In one office, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.
And in at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation "was halted due to untimely payment," the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal and intelligence investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.
"We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," according to Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.