An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data...

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WASHINGTON — An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.

The new audit covers 10 percent of the bureau’s national-security investigations since 2002, and so the actual number of mistakes in the FBI’s domestic-surveillance efforts is probably several thousand, bureau officials said. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.

The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway.

But two dozen of the newly discovered violations involved agents’ requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have, according to the audit results. Only two such examples were identified in the earlier sample.

FBI officials said the results confirmed what agency supervisors and outside critics feared, namely that many agents did not understand or follow required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information with one of the most sensitive and powerful intelligence-gathering tools of the post-Sept. 11 era — the National Security Letter (NSL).

Such letters are uniformly secret and amount to nonnegotiable demands for intimate information — demands that are not reviewed in advance by a judge. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress substantially eased the rules for issuing NSLs, requiring only that the bureau certify that the records are “sought for” or “relevant to” an investigation “to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

The change led to an explosive growth in use of the letters.

More than 19,000 such letters were issued in 2005 seeking 47,000 pieces of information, mostly from telecommunications companies. FBI officials said the audit found no evidence that any agent knowingly or willingly violated the laws or that supervisors encouraged such violations.

The officials said they are making widespread changes to ensure that the problems do not recur, including regular monitoring of employees’ work by supervisors in each office, and frequent audits to track compliance.