Total of 278,000 Searches of Americans
The FBI just completed one of the worst weeks in its history.
On Monday, Special Counsel John Durham came out with a detailed and scathing report that showed unmistakable bias by the FBI in using discredited allegations, paid for by a political campaign, to hoodwink the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court into allowing the agency to investigate presidential candidate Donald Trump. While the Durham report has been generally dismissed by major media and most on the left (with some notable exceptions), Republicans are hopping mad.
Now an unsealed court document shows that the FBI illicitly used Section 702 of FISA more than 278,000 times to delve into data meant to authorize the surveillance of foreigners on foreign soil – and Americans who “incidentally” get caught up in communications with those targeted foreigners.
Who were the FBI’s targets? They included activists arrested protesting the police killing of George Floyd. The FBI freely dipped into Section 702 to search the communications and digital trails of 133 people – presumably all Americans – for George Floyd-related demonstrations. Redactions make it unclear what, if any, nexus to foreign influence the FBI was looking for.
But wait, as they say in the ShamWow commercial, there’s more!
This same authority was used to run queries on 23,132 Americans to see if their presence at the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot had any connection to foreign influence. The release from FISA Court Judge Rudolph Contreras stated that there was no reason to believe foreign powers were involved.
The FBI conducted 656 queries of FISA information to do background checks on informants. Between 2016 and 2020, the FBI also used this foreign intelligence authority to conduct background searches on “police homicide reports, including victims, next-of-kin, witnesses, and suspects.”
Remember, this is an authority designed by Congress to catch foreign terrorists and spies.
Finally, the FBI conducted a batch query of 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign believed to be a target of foreign influence. Only eight identifiers had sufficient ties to “foreign influence activities” to meet FISA standards.
While expressing relief at recent procedural changes at the FBI, Judge Contreras wrote: “Nonetheless, compliance problems with querying of Section 702 information have proven to be persistent and widespread. If they are not substantially mitigated by these recent measures, it may become necessary to consider other responses, such as substantially limiting the number of FBI personnel with access to unminimized Section 702 information.”
Or Congress could just reform Section 702 to require warrants whenever the communications of Americans are searched. Alienated conservatives, progressives and civil libertarians, and their champions on the Hill now have more than enough reason to make it happen.
Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted in response to this Friday afternoon revelation: “Chris Wray told us we can sleep well at night because of the FBI’s so-called FISA reforms. But it just keeps getting worse.”
Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) put out a statement: “The FBI says that they have instituted new procedures to make this kind of abuse impossible. They have made that promise before. Without significant changes to the law to prevent this abuse, I will oppose the reauthorization of this authority.”
It looks like the stars are aligning for Section 702 reform this year.