The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Mail for High-Risk Inmates
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2006-009
Office of the Inspector General
Many of the BOP staff responsible for monitoring inmates’ mail also are responsible for monitoring inmates’ verbal communications. Because of the close association of mail monitoring to other types of inmate monitoring (for example, an inmate on a mail monitoring list is usually on the telephone monitoring list as well), we also reviewed the BOP’s monitoring activities for verbal communications.
We found that telephone calls from high-risk inmates are not always monitored. The institutions we visited were not consistently meeting their monthly goals of monitoring 100 percent of Alert telephone calls or 100 percent of telephone calls of other inmates on the regular telephone monitoring lists.75
According to the SIS staff at 7 of the 10 institutions we visited, the frequent rotation of staff in the telephone monitor position, as well as the reallocation of other positions that monitor telephone calls, caused many calls to remain unmonitored. Additionally, telephone calls conducted in foreign languages were often not translated and therefore not monitored, including calls placed by inmates on the Alert and regular telephone monitoring lists. SIS staff told us that, as a result, they believed important intelligence information was missed. Although some institutions met or exceeded their goals for random monitoring, institutions did not consistently meet the 10 to 15 percent random monitoring goals set by Regional Directors.
Despite the importance of telephone monitoring and the requirement to monitor 100 percent of Alert calls for high-risk inmates, we found the percentage of Alert calls monitored varied widely by month and by institution.76 When we reviewed the institutions’ SIS records and INTRUDR data for FY 2005, we found that only 3 of the 10 institutions we visited consistently monitored close to 50 percent of Alert telephone calls each month. Even the country’s highest security prison, ADX Florence, which houses the largest number of and most dangerous terrorist inmates, did not monitor 50 percent of Alert calls each month. Only 2 of 10 institutions monitored close to 100 percent of Alert calls almost every month– USP Allenwood and USP Beaumont.
Subsequent to our field work, we requested telephone monitoring data from INTRUDR and SIS records from October 2005 to February 2006 for the 10 institutions we visited. We found that of the eight institutions that monitored significantly less than 100 percent of Alert telephone calls during FY 2005, six had markedly increased the percentage monitored after our visits, and three of these institutions reached 100-percent monitoring during these 5 months of FY 2006. SIS staff at the six institutions told us that the rate of monitoring had improved either because they were ordered by their Regional Director to increase their Alert monitoring numbers or because their SIS office had focused on streamlining its Alert telephone call list by ensuring that only appropriate inmates were included on the list. Additionally, in December 2005, the BOP Central Office re-allocated a telephone monitor position to the SIS offices who lost these positions earlier in 2005 as a result of the mission critical roster.
Although the BOP does not track and could not estimate how many telephone calls were monitored for inmates on institutions’ regular telephone monitoring lists, all SIS staff at the 10 institutions we visited told us that 100 percent of these calls were not being monitored as required by the BOP Assistant Director for the Correctional Programs Division.77 SIS staff told us that monitoring for these inmates was affected by the same factors that affected the monitoring of Alert calls – frequent rotation of staff in the telephone monitor position and staffing reallocations.
As discussed in the mail monitoring section, many SIS telephone monitor positions are filled on a rotational basis and have been subject to staff reductions. We found that the loss of continuity caused by the rotation of telephone monitors reduced intelligence gathering from inmate telephone calls. Like most post assignments at BOP institutions, the telephone monitor is a “bid” post subject to quarterly rotation.78 Frequent rotation of telephone monitors reduces the SIS offices’ knowledge of inmate behavior patterns and requires time-consuming training that reduces productivity. Also, SIS offices at 5 of the 10 institutions we visited had lost at least 1 telephone monitor position, through the reallocation of this position, which decreased the amount of telephone monitoring accomplished. One SIS official at an institution where multiple terrorists were housed told us his office lost two of three telephone monitor positions and all three intelligence officer positions that also helped monitor telephone calls, due to the reallocation of the positions elsewhere in the institution.
SIS staff at each institution we visited told us that not all telephone calls were being monitored adequately. For example, a Special Investigative Agent at one institution told us that during a 3-month period when an experienced telephone monitor was outbid for the position and a new staff member rotated in, the new staff member could monitor only 45 to 50 percent of what the experienced staff member had monitored and wrote no incident (misconduct) reports. The experienced telephone monitor subsequently returned to the SIS office, and in his first month back he monitored 100 percent of the telephone calls for inmates on the monitoring list and issued eight incident reports to inmates. An FBI Special Agent who conducted investigations in this same prison told us that “the key to effective monitoring is continuity in the SIS department, which requires a full-time, dedicated staff.”
A reduction in telephone monitoring directly affects the amount of intelligence gathered at an institution. SIS staff said they rely heavily on this type of intelligence to keep them abreast of planned criminal and other unauthorized activity in the institutions. At one SIS office, staff stated that the BOP was “missing critical information from not monitoring phone calls.” One Special Investigative Agent told us, “Phone calls are SIS’s main source of intelligence.” Another Special Investigative Agent said, “We’d be flying in the dark if not for mail and telephone monitoring.”
The BOP Assistant Director for the Correctional Programs Division, told the OIG that he supported a quarterly rotation in the telephone monitor position because Correctional Officers should be “out walking around and talking to the inmates” to bring a current knowledge of inmates and inmate activity to the SIS office. However, the Assistant Director said he would consider less frequent rotation of the telephone monitor position in SIS offices after being briefed on the results of our review.
The same concerns BOP staff expressed about the lack of guidance on translating foreign language inmate mail apply to translating foreign language telephone calls. The March 15, 2005, BOP memorandum that discussed the Language Translation Services Project addressed only translations of mail and telephone calls for specific international terrorist inmates. The BOP has no foreign language translation guidelines for any other group of inmates. Institution staff, primarily the SIS staff, decide what priority will be placed on obtaining telephone translations for inmates other than non-SAMs terrorists.
We found that BOP staff often do not listen to or translate calls in a foreign language from inmates on telephone monitoring lists (including Alert calls). Or, in some cases, BOP staff listen to the calls but do not understand the language. Staff who conducted telephone monitoring in 5 of the 10 institutions we visited informed us that if the institution did not have a staff member readily available to translate a foreign language phone call, the call was unlikely to get translated, even though the calls were recorded.
Spanish is the foreign language most frequently spoken by BOP inmates. Staff at 7 of the 10 institutions we visited told us that there were not enough Spanish-speaking staff to translate telephone calls. The telephone monitor in one SIS office told us that when he was monitoring Alert calls and came across one in Spanish, he “just moves on to the next one,” and the call does not get translated. The SIS Technician in that same office stated, “I’m going to be honest with you, on mail and Alert phone calls, 9 out of 10 times, Spanish goes untranslated.” We also found a similar situation at a penitentiary we visited. An SIS Technician there told us:
At another penitentiary because of quarterly staff rotations, the SIS office lost the telephone monitor who translated Spanish telephone calls that could not be translated by the tower officers. Because the new telephone monitor who rotated in did not speak Spanish, the calls went untranslated. An SIS Lieutenant at another institution stated, “Foreign language never gets translated – we operate on faith.”
In addition to not meeting the BOP goal of monitoring 100 percent of calls for inmates on Alert and regular telephone monitoring lists, we found that only 3 of the 10 institutions we visited met or surpassed their goals for randomly monitoring between 10 and 15 percent of all other monthly telephone calls placed by inmates. While the BOP has a 5-percent goal for random monitoring of inmate telephone calls, the Regional Directors require institutions within their regions to randomly monitor a higher percentage of all calls from inmates not on monitoring lists, percentages that vary by region from 10 to 15 percent. Officials at several institutions we visited said they strive to monitor 100 percent of all inmate phone calls. For example, between October 2004 and February 2006 ADX Florence randomly monitored 100 percent of inmate telephone calls for inmates not on monitoring lists (except in December 2004, when 85.7 percent of calls were randomly monitored). Also during this same period, USP Allenwood consistently monitored between 90 and 100 percent of inmate telephone calls for inmates not on monitoring lists.79
We found that in FY 2005, 7 of the 10 institutions we visited did not consistently meet their Regional Directors’ random telephone monitoring goals of between 10 to 15 percent. Four of these seven institutions never reached their Regional Director’s goal for random monitoring of inmate telephone calls during the entire fiscal year, and two of the seven institutions met their Regional Director’s goal only 1 and 2 months of FY 2005. One of the institutions met the goals for only 6 months of the fiscal year. Additionally, one of these seven institutions was unable to meet even the minimum 5-percent random monitoring goal established by the Central Office.80 From October 2005 to February 2006, four of seven institutions that previously were not meeting the Regional Director’s goals increased their random telephone monitoring percentages and met the goals for each of those 5 months. However, the other three institutions were still not meeting the Regional Director’s goals during this 5-month period.
In interviews with the OIG, the BOP Director and the Assistant Director for the Correctional Programs Division emphasized their commitment to 100-percent monitoring of telephone calls of inmates on telephone monitoring lists. They acknowledged receiving feedback from institution staff describing the negative effects of losing telephone monitor positions on their monitoring and intelligence gathering. The Assistant Director said that despite its budget limitations, in December 2005 the BOP reallocated one telephone monitor position to all medium- and high-security and administrative institutions that previously lost this position.
Although SAMs authorize the BOP to audio record SAMs inmates’ cellblock conversations, three of the four institutions we visited that house SAMs inmates were not recording these conversations.81 Only ADX Florence was recording cellblock conversations for SAMs inmates, using recording equipment available as part of the cellblock construction. The BOP has not issued guidance for when or under what circumstances cellblock conversations of SAMs inmates should be recorded. The BOP Director told us he does not see the value of putting recording devices in all cellblocks where SAMs inmates are housed. He stated that the BOP is capable of audio recording on a case-by-case basis when intelligence indicates a need.
All Special Investigative Agents and SIS Lieutenants at the institutions we visited which house SAMs inmates informed us that they would like to listen to cellblock conversations of SAMs inmates but were unable to do so because they lacked specialized recording equipment and the SIS staff and translators to listen to the recordings. A manager at MCC New York told us that it would be helpful to monitor what terrorist inmates were saying, particularly when they were incarcerated during their trials. He said terrorist inmates under SAMs were conversing with other inmates at the facility and he believes the FBI would be interested in these conversations. However, neither the FBI nor the USAOs at the sites we visited had ever asked the BOP to record the cellblock conversations of SAMs inmates.
The BOP does not audio record the social visits of non-SAMs terrorist and other high-risk inmates for monitoring purposes. As a result, despite the challenges of recording in a visiting room setting, the BOP may be missing opportunities to detect terrorist or criminal activity.82 Additionally, the BOP has not issued guidance for when or under which circumstances social visits of non-SAMs inmates should be recorded. As with cellblock conversations, the BOP Director stated that the BOP has the authority and tools to audio monitor specific visits with special advance preparation when intelligence indicates the need.
None of the 10 institutions we visited had the capability to routinely audio record conversations in the institution’s large contact visiting room. Many of the non-SAMs international terrorist and other high-risk inmates are housed in the general population of BOP institutions and are allowed contact visits. All visiting room staff we interviewed at each of the 10 institutions said the capability to listen to the visiting room conversations of selected inmates to detect planned terrorist and criminal activities or inappropriate behavior would be helpful. SIS staff told us that because inmates realized their telephone conversations and mail were monitored, they directed their family and friends to visit because they knew the conversations would not be audio monitored.83
Most SIS staff members we interviewed said that while recording visits would be beneficial for intelligence gathering purposes, it would be extremely difficult to carry out. Correctional Officers told us that the visiting room gets very noisy during peak visiting hours, making it almost impossible to listen “live” to a specific conversation without special equipment. Limited staff resources within the SIS offices would be further stretched by the additional responsibility of listening to recordings of social visits, and translation of some of these conversations would be required. Additionally, all of the visiting rooms we observed were staffed with the minimum number of Correctional Officers to process the visits (i.e., search and escort inmates, escort visitors, and visually monitor the visiting room). Consequently, operating and monitoring audio recording equipment in these visiting rooms with the current staff contingent would not be viable.
We found that the Department has no policy requiring that all inmates arrested for international terrorism-related crimes are reviewed to determine whether they should be placed under SAMs.84 Unless a review is required, there is no guarantee that international terrorist inmates will be considered for SAMs. Consequently, terrorist inmates who pose a risk for continuing their terrorist activities while incarcerated may not receive the heightened security and communications monitoring they require during pretrial and post-conviction incarceration.
Several documents provide information about the criteria and procedures for requesting SAMs for inmates – the Code of Federal Regulations, the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, and Criminal Division guidelines. However, none of these documents requires that all international terrorist inmates be considered for SAMs. For example, the Code of Federal Regulations states that requests for SAMs may be submitted in writing to the Attorney General, through the Criminal Division’s OEO, by the head of a federal law enforcement agency (e.g., the prosecuting USAO) or the head of an agency in the U.S. intelligence community. The U.S. Attorneys’ Manual includes a section on Procedures for Special Confinement Conditions, dated October 1997, which defines SAMs and provides brief guidance about where a written request is to be sent (OEO) and what information to include in the request. It also states that the USAO, if requesting SAMs, should first contact and discuss the request with FBI field personnel familiar with the inmate.
In March 2006, the Criminal Division’s Counterterrorism Section, in coordination with OEO, distributed SAMs guidance to coordinators of the USAOs’ Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils (ATACs).85 This document states in part:
The guidance encourages USAOs to discuss the proposed SAMs with the FBI (or other involved law enforcement or intelligence agencies) and also encourages the USAO to consult with the Criminal Division. We consider these guidelines, which are detailed and informative, to be a positive development, but they are not mandatory Department requirements. We believe that policy issued by the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General requiring a SAMs review process and coordination among the USAOs, FBI, Criminal Division, and the Department’s newly formed National Security Division when inmates charged with international terrorism-related crimes are incarcerated initially and after they are convicted would better ensure that inmates who require the highest level of communications monitoring will receive it.
We found that the FBI’s interaction with the BOP for intelligence gathering and information sharing on incarcerated terrorists varied widely among FBI field offices at the sites we visited. We also found that the FBI was not always timely in translating the foreign language communications of SAMs inmates, which could contain valuable sources of intelligence.
The FBI assigns a Special Agent to each BOP institution from the field office or resident agency office with geographic jurisdiction for the institution. The Special Agent is responsible for investigating inmate-related criminal incidents that occur at the BOP institution.87 Depending on the size of the FBI office and the number of terrorist inmates housed at institutions in its jurisdiction, the Special Agent also may be responsible for handling terrorism-related inmate issues, or a second agent may be assigned to that task.88
We found that two of the five FBI offices at sites we visited conducted little to no proactive intelligence gathering regarding the activities of the terrorist inmates or inmates described as terrorist associates. The ADX Florence SIS staff told us that the FBI showed little interest in the 17 international terrorist inmates held at ADX until August 2004, when the FBI was told by Spanish authorities that three of those inmates – the 1993 World Trade Center bombers – had been corresponding with Islamic extremists in Spanish prisons and with a fugitive wanted for questioning in a planned courthouse bombing in Madrid. After discovery of the World Trade Center bombers’ letter writing, these three inmates were placed under SAMs, and the FBI assigned two Special Agents from its resident agency office in Pueblo, Colorado, to handle terrorist issues at the Florence complex.
The three FBI agents we interviewed who were responsible for both terrorism and criminal matters at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex in Texas were unaware that two inmates at the USP were incarcerated for international terrorism crimes. The SIS staff informed us that the local FBI office did not coordinate or proactively gather intelligence, share information, or monitor the activities of any terrorist inmate or those inmates described as terrorist associates at the complex.
Backlogs in SAMs translations can result in missed intelligence. The FBI is required by SAMs provisions to complete translations of SAMs inmate communications within 60 days. However, staff in at least three of the institutions we visited experienced delays of 6 to 18 months in obtaining Arabic translations of SAMs inmate communications from the FBI.89 For example, staff at the Allenwood complex in Pennsylvania sent nine letters to the FBI in New York for translation between April 2004 and August 2005 that were not translated until November 2005. Officials from MCC New York said they waited 12 to 18 months for translations of SAMs inmates’ letters they sent to the FBI. Although the FBI is responsible for monitoring SAMs inmates, the FBI and the BOP must work together and use information from inmate mail and calls to detect and deter activities by SAMs inmates that pose a security risk to the institution and to the public. When asked about the delay in translation, the FBI stated that it does not have enough Arabic translators to meet the demand for translations for all its ongoing counterterrorism efforts.90 Consequently, the FBI said it must prioritize the translation workload, which leads to delays in providing some translations. Additionally, the lengthy delays in FBI translations create a management problem for the BOP because the SAMs inmates are not permitted to send out or receive their mail until it is translated. We believe that a delay of 6 to 18 months to send and receive mail is unreasonable, and it causes numerous complaints from the inmates. In one case, after a BOP Special Investigative Agent inquired to the FBI about a delay in mail translation for a SAMs inmate, he was verbally told by the FBI agent to release the mail to the inmate even though the FBI had not yet translated the mail and the contents were unknown.
Examples of positive collaboration between the BOP and FBI. The Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division at FBI headquarters told us that the level of communication between the BOP and FBI is “very good, open, and fluid.” He believed the level of monitoring for terrorist inmates depends on the individual, the charges, the individual’s role in the crime, and on the FBI’s available resources. He stated that while the FBI has limited resources, the inmates have an unlimited ability to correspond. According to this FBI official, the FBI tries to “pick and choose those [inmates]” for monitoring and translation that can yield intelligence to “help the U.S. government.”
During our site visits, we found instances where the FBI Special Agents assigned to BOP institutions were actively working with the BOP and collecting intelligence on terrorist inmates. For example, the FBI Special Agents assigned to the Allenwood Correctional Complex and FCI Sheridan are proactively gathering intelligence, monitoring international terrorist inmates’ activities, and communicating with the SIS staff at the institutions on a regular basis. These FBI agents stated that their relationships with the SIS staff were excellent. Both agents were knowledgeable about the terrorist inmates’ communications, visits, associations, and movements inside and outside the prisons. These agents also referred leads and passed on information to other FBI field offices regarding potential terrorism activity in those jurisdictions that resulted from intelligence collected within the prisons.
Developments and Future Plans
The FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism stated that during FY 2005 the FBI had sought to identify more systematically where terrorist inmates are incarcerated, as well as monitor their activities and with whom they were communicating. Toward that end, the FBI, through the National Joint Terrorism Task Force’s (NJTTF) Correctional Intelligence Initiative, directed all FBI field offices to open intelligence case files on any incarcerated international terrorist inmates within the field offices’ jurisdictions.91 1515"> Before this change in policy, the FBI case agent who arrested an inmate was responsible for monitoring that inmate, no matter where the inmate was incarcerated. For example, many international terrorists are investigated and prosecuted in the Southern District of New York but are sent to prisons all over the country to serve their sentences. Therefore, an FBI Special Agent in New York City was still responsible for an international terrorist inmate incarcerated in ADX Florence in Colorado. The FBI Assistant Director said he expected this policy change to increase communication and information exchange between the FBI and the BOP because the jurisdiction and responsibility for monitoring the international terrorist inmates is now transferred to the local FBI office where the prison is located. Case monitoring for inmates housed at, for example, ADX Florence is now conducted by the FBI Resident Agency Office located in Pueblo, Colorado. Closer proximity of the monitoring agent to the international terrorist inmate should assist the FBI in proactively gathering intelligence available within the BOP.
Management staff at the MCC New York reported that they routinely receive “remarkably little” information other than a single page synopsis of charges when they receive terrorist inmates.92 The BOP depends on the arresting agency and the prosecuting USAOs to provide information on the inmates’ background, criminal history, and security threat to determine the level of security monitoring for newly incarcerated inmates. However, we found that the FBI and USAOs do not always communicate this information to the BOP. MCC staff told us that the lack of information about pretrial inmates, who are unclassified as to their security level, prevents them from doing their job effectively and also puts the security of staff and the institution at risk.
For example, MCC staff discovered in a news article, rather than from the FBI or USAO, that an international terrorist inmate housed at the MCC, and currently under SAMs, was a high-ranking member of al Qaeda, had martial arts and urban warfare training, and had trained to be a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. Staff stated that when a new inmate is received, they have to generate a call to the FBI or USAO to ask, “What’s the story? [We] shouldn’t have to call them – they should call us. They’re very reluctant to give specifics....” Staff told us that they need this information to plan for appropriate security monitoring, which includes monitoring mail, telephone calls, visitors, and inmate-to-inmate communications.
As mentioned previously, an institution’s participation in the FBI’s JTTF and other task forces may affect the level of information sharing between the FBI and the BOP. All MCCs and MDCs have an Intelligence Operations Officer (IO) whose primary function is to oversee information gathering and sharing. The SIS staff we interviewed from five additional FDCs and MCCs where IOs were members of the JTTF cited a high level of information sharing. At MCC New York, however, the IO is not a member of the JTTF and therefore does not receive background information on incoming inmates.
|« Previous||Table of Contents||Next »|