House Republicans have called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to provide a “detailed accounting” of every instance since 2019 that the agency has used warrantless surveillance authority to obtain information unrelated to national security, while accusing the FBI of “illegal spying activities.”
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), in a joint letter to Wray, cited a 67-page opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which they said shows the FBI has been “seriously and systematically abusing its warrantless electronic surveillance authority” by overstepping the limitations under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Section 702 allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to jointly authorize warrantless surveillance of non-U.S. citizens residing outside the United States, subject to certain constraints. These include requiring investigators to adopt “targeting procedures” to make sure the information obtained under Section 702 warrantless surveillance is indeed limited to noncitizens and to prevent the “intentional acquisition” of communications within the United States.
Section 702 also requires a FISA court order for a review of query results in criminal investigations that aren’t related to national security.
The FISC opinion, however, indicates that the FBI has used Section 702 authority to obtain information on Americans, including subjecting victims of a crime to the background search.
In one example cited by the court’s presiding judge, James Boasberg, an FBI task force officer conducted 69 queries that weren’t in line with the agency’s internal rules on how to conduct the searches.
“The Court continues to be concerned about FBI querying practices involving U.S.-person query terms, including (1) application of the substantive standard for conducting queries; (2) queries that are designed to retrieve evidence of crime that is not foreign-intelligence information; and (3) recordkeeping and documentation requirements,” Boasberg wrote.
The government also self-reported numerous incidents in which queries involving Americans were designed to return evidence of a crime completely unrelated to foreign intelligence without getting an order from the court. The same issues were found the previous year, “which suggests that similar violations … likely have occurred across the Bureau.”
Boasberg’s overview of the FBI’s use of FISA was written on Nov. 18, 2020, although it was just released to the public last week.
BY TOM OZIMEK