Congress is being told that a controversial FBI program to monitor library use is more widespread than the agency has acknowledged and involves even the books people borrow.
The FBI's "Library Awareness Program" has operated for about 12 years though it was not revealed until a Columbia University librarian complained last fall. FBI Director William Sessions said it was limited to the New York area.That assertion was contradicted, however, in testimony before the House subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights as it hears conflicting statements in reviewing the situation.
"Eighteen libraries have indicated approaches by the FBI," said Duane Webster, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, calling the program "a serious intrusion by government into American libraries."
"It's an intrusion that has a fearsome effect on the way people use libraries in search of ideas and information," Webster warned.
The American Civil Liberties Union called Monday for legislation to restrict the FBI effort, calling it "an ill-conceived, broad-based counterintelligence campaign in our nation's libraries." The ACLU said the FBI should seek a court order to obtain information on library patrons.
Webster said FBI agents have visited libraries around the country, including Columbia University, New York University, New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, State University of New York-Albany, University of Maryland, University of Cincinnati, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Houston, University of Utah, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania State University and Broward County Public Library in Florida.
FBI spokeswoman Sue Schnitzer termed the effort an educational program aimed at specialized scientific and technological libraries in the New York area to explain the FBI's belief that Soviet intelligence officers gather information and attempt to recruit librarians and students.
Schnitzer said librarians in other parts of the country were not contacted under the program but as part of other "classified" investigations.