On Dec. 22, Congressman Adam Schiff sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong calling on USDA to provide answers about the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on its investigation into the allegations that phone calls were improperly recorded and withheld during the initial government investigation in response to the Station Fire.
In an October 2010 meeting that was led by Schiff along with Representatives David Dreier, Brad Sherman, Buck McKeon and Judy Chu, the issue of water dropping planes and when they were ordered were at the forefront. At that meeting, the Station Fire Incident Commander Division Chief Will Spyrison, now retired, and Forest Supervisor Jody Norton spoke about the ordering of water dropping planes for the early morning hours of the fire. Spyrison said at the time an order was made through the dispatcher but someone told the dispatcher to hold the order. Who gave that order and when it was given were not made clear at that meeting or any community meetings that followed.
The dispatch/phone recordings from those first few hours of the fire were withheld during the investigation.
Schiff is not only concerned about those withheld recordings, but that the service did not follow proper procedures for recording conversations.
“I am concerned that the Forest Service’s recordings of conversations on two telephone lines at the Angeles National (ANF) Emergency Communication Center (ECC) during the Station Fire appear to have been in violation of federal or state law,” Schiff wrote. “The OIG report suggests that the law was broken, but inexplicably fails to reach a conclusion.
“I look forward to a timely response from Inspector General Fong on whether this recording system violated state or federal law, and if so, what remedies are available, and [what] the Forest Service must do to ensure that future calls are not recorded without both parties’ consent.”
Thank you for providing me a copy of the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on its investigation into the revelations that critical dispatch recordings were withheld during the initial government investigation in response to the Station Fire.
After reading the report, I am concerned that the Forest Service’s dictaphone system that made a recording of communication from two telephone lines at the Angeles National (ANF) Emergency Communication Center (ECC) during the Station Fire was in violation of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The OIG’s report indicated that the State of California has a two-party consent standard for recording of conversations, which means according to the report that “under California law it is necessary to obtain consent from both parties prior to recording a conversation.”
Additionally, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) memorandum indicated that the inclusion of a message on recorded calls that notified both participants on the call that the call is being monitored and recorded would have met the California statuary requirements and USDA’s own regulations.
Lastly, the report notes that the telephone lines at the ECC do not contain such a pre-recorded message.
It seems clear then that under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act that the Forest Service was legally required to obtain the consent of both parties to the calls into the ANF ECC to record those calls and did not have a mechanism for doing so, but did in fact record those calls. However, the OIG’s report is silent on whether such an action constitutes a violation of Title III.
Please indicate in writing whether it is the OIG’s judgment that Forest Service violated the law in recording phone calls into the ANF ECC during the Station Fire in August 2009. Additionally, if it is OIG’s determination that phone recordings were made in violation of Title III, please indicate what is the appropriate legal remedy is for those whose calls were illegally recorded and what if anything the Forest Service is doing to ensure that future calls are not recorded without both parties’ consent.
I look forward to your timely response to this request.