The Capitol dome is ringing and reverberating like a bell after being struck by Jordain Carney’s article in Monday’s Politico about the FBI’s lack of credibility on the Hill.
Carney spells out what until now has been whispered – that years of disingenuous claims by the FBI is making it the odd man out in this year’s reform of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
For years, PPSA has been critical of the defensive, often patronizing, tone of FBI Director Christopher Wray who praises the bureau’s “culture of compliance.” He glosses over years of FBI lying about bulk collection of Americans’ data and massive amounts of backdoor searches as if he had accidentally taken a sip from someone else’s water glass over lunch.
Wray has particularly rubbed Republicans the wrong way. After the Justice Department Inspector General detailed the manifold failings of the FBI in its FISA Title I Carter Page investigation – from lying by omission to the secret FISA court (later to be compounded by the submission of a forged document by an FBI lawyer) – Wray had a snappy comeback. He thanked the inspector for his “constructive criticism.”
At the time, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) responded by detailing how much is at stake when the FBI overreaches: “The FBI can be entrusted with the most terrifying powers that we can give our government – the power to ruin people’s lives, the power to invade their privacy, to launch pre-dawn raids on their homes, to bankrupt them with legal costs, to deprive them of their liberty.”
Undaunted, Wray doubled down with his smooth, nothing-to-see here demeanor in recent testimony on the Hill. He revealed that the Section 702 program saw a 93 percent decrease between 2021 and 2022 in the number of FBI searches for U.S. persons – only to have staff reveal to The New York Times that the remaining number is 204,090. That’s still millions of Americans illicitly surveilled outside the Constitution in just a few years.
“The FBI is absolutely the problem child in FISA and 702,” House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) told Carney. “The abuses are abhorrent. Wray is not a compelling advocate for FISA or 702, because he’s not been a compelling advocate for reform.”
It didn’t help that the lawmaker tasked with spearheading the reauthorization of Section 702, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), turned out to be the very Member of Congress who had his name used in three queries, compromising all his private communications. Rep. LaHood, who is generally supportive of 702 reauthorization, told Wray in a recent hearing that a clean, or unamended, reauthorization of Section 702 was not in the cards.
Now Carney reveals that congressional “negotiators are already signaling that they will likely miss the Dec. 31 deadline to re-up the warrantless surveillance.”
PPSA hopes that in investigating FBI abuses that Congress looks at other agencies – from NSA to DEA – that also promise a “culture of compliance.” They all need to be reined in instead of following the FBI in the wrong direction. Congress needs to act with strong reforms of Section 702 that require probable cause warrants whenever an American is targeted, as the Constitution requires.