FBI Raises Security Fears Over Bureau Contracting Out Surveillance Documents

The FBI has been contracting out work to a private firm who handles the distribution and monitoring of highly sensitive surveillance documents, an arrangement that has seasoned FBI agents worried of a potential privacy breach and a risk of counterintelligence

The agreement between the bureau and the private firm has been ongoing since 2015. The FBI has trusted Aveshka, which is a national-security professional services contractor, to handle tasks regarding surveillance materials and the documentation of such materials. Such tasks include preparing, organizing, and couriering the materials. Some of the highly sensitive documents include those leading to “court orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the legal wellspring of domestic national-security surveillance,” as the Guardian notes.

The company has not been accused of any ill-practice, nor has the employees at the private firm, yet the risk of national security has been a hot topic in regard to the matter following an arrest that was made last week of a Booz Allen Hamilton employee, for suspicion of stealing a National Security Agency computer code. Veteran FBI agents and other experts in surveillance have a view of the bureau’s insertion of a middleman in surveillance as an unnecessary vulnerability.

Jim Wedick, a 35-year-old agent who retired in 2014, shares his opinion on the step by the FBI when it comes to contracting out surveillance.

“The FBI here is literally giving out the keys to the national security kingdom. Being a courier for Fisa material, you literally have all information needed to identify both subjects and informants. Something any adversary would want. It’s the choke point for information.”

Bob Martin, who is a senior vice-president at Aveshka, stated that the contract was worth less than $1 million when it began in 2015. He also shared that the Aveshka employees, who are “relatively junior folks,” work in the FBI’s Fisa unit, where they prepare and organize the basis for the surveillance applications under “the law for the secret Fisa court.” The applications, although prepared by the FBI, also can involve surveillance from other intelligence agencies, such as the NSA.

The publication shares the company’s responsibilities via an online job posting.

“…[responsibilities include] prepar[ing] Fisa documents which shall include the review and selection of relevant documents and other materials; “[d]eliver and pickup FISA, FISA orders, and other classified documents to and from Executive Management, the Department of Justice, and other sources at scheduled times/dates”; and “[d]isseminat[ing] FISA orders and add[ing] document to electronic files and data repositories”, including the FBI’s database for tracking Fisa cases.”

Martin relayed that the main task given to the firm involved “supporting the logistics operation” of the bureau which concerned Fisa documents. He also shared that employees of Aveshka were working on contracts for the FBI and held top-secret clearances. Employees have the responsibility to physically courier the Fisa-related documents.

Another retired FBI agent, Ed Shaw, had a 25-year career with the bureau which ended in 2014. Shaw shared that the material within the Fisa submissions are among the most highly sensitive and classified material that the United States government possesses, especially when it comes to the renewals of surveillance and court orders.

Additional FBI vets and outsiders who are experts on the bureau and security share that over decades, there have been a number of private contractors that have become a part of the organizations which focus on national security. However, most have functions outside the core and are related to maintaining information-tech systems.

Former FBI counter-terrorism agent Michael German noted the vast difference between the roles of most private contractors and those of Aveshka employees within the FBI.

“Preparing Fisa documents – talk about an inherently governmental function. We have a private contractor that’s preparing a wiretap request. That seems dangerous … Certainly the FBI has people who can walk across the street to the Department of Justice and deliver a Fisa package.”

[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]