In a statement made this past Friday, The F.B.I. revealed that they responded to a request by a foreign government [later identified as the Russians] for background information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 by "[using] U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history."
I get most of that - i.e., that most of that information could be culled from digital records generated by the normal processes/mechanics of business. Where I get more than a little concerned is with the phrase "derogatory telephone communications."
[more over the bad Jackson Pollock imitation ...]
How can you go back in time and see if an individual has engaged in such communication without first having already recorded his phone calls? It would seem to me that this capability implies that the F.B.I. has access to recordings of everyone's past phone conversations.
Relevant text from the F.B.I. Statement, dated Friday, April 19, 2013:
"Once the FBI learned the identities of the two brothers today, the FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.
"In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government." — (emphasis added)
One might argue that the ability to determine what he had said in the past was due to some ongoing investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was seeking U.S. citizenship at that time, but that does not appear to be the case. He does not appear to have been "a person of interest" at the time the request was made by the Russians or subsequent to that request.
It would appear from what I've seen in the news that MSM will be pursuing the question of "why the F.B.I. didn't keep tabs on him, especially after he went out of the country for 6 months and then returned?" That's a reasonable question given the events of the past week, but I'd hate to see it pursued at the expense of finding out how the F.B.I. could know whether or not a person they had no interest in had already engaged in "derogatory telephone communications."
Since when did that capability become okay?