Erin Scott/Pool via AP
Top Senate Democrat is furious after news broke that the FBI improperly used a foreign surveillance tool to spy on nearly 20,000 campaign donors. This comes as congress is debating whether or not to renew Section 702, which is set to expire at the end of this year.
During a hearing on Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin lambasted the bureu for improperly using a pivotal surveillance tool, claiming “since the last reauthorization of Section 702, many violations of the constitutional, statutory, and court-imposed restrictions on 702 have come to light”, according to the Epoch Times.
“These searches have affected all manner of Americans, such as individuals listed in police homicide reports, including victims, next of kin, and witnesses,” he continued. “One hundred thirty-three people were [queried] during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest when, as the Justice Department itself concluded, quote, ‘There was no specific factual basis to think the searches would turn up the foreign intelligence.'”
In addition, the report found that intelligence agencies had “conducted 360 queries in connection with domestic drug and gang violence, domestic terrorism investigations, and the Capitol breach.”
The report has also revealed that the program has been used against Jan. 6 protestors, who were the subject of the largest DOJ manhunt in history following the events of Jan. 6.
“An analyst ran 13 queries of individuals suspected of involvement in the January 6, 2021 Capitol breach,” the report reads. “The analyst said she ran the queries to determine whether these individuals had foreign ties, and indicated she had run ‘thousands of names within FBI systems in relation to the Capitol breach investigation’ and did not remember why she ran these 13 queries on raw FISA information.”
The report also found that an “officer ran two queries for a person under investigation for assaulting a federal officer in connection with the Capitol breach. The officer could not recall why he queried raw FISA information, but FBI field office personnel participating in the query audit stated that the FBI viewed ‘the situation in general’ at the time of the queries as a threat to national security.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence States that FBI, and intelligence community as a whole, has the authority to gather information releated to foreign intelligence under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) but the power is limited to surveilling “non-U.S. persons located abroad, who are expected to possess, receive, or communicate foreign intelligence information”.
In May, it was reported that the bureau had improperly accessed the Section 702 intelligence database 278,000 times. Roughly 19,000 of those were used against campaign donors, of which only eight were eligible for such an inquiry under the Section 702 guidelines.
The report showed that the bureu “conducted a batch query for over 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign. The analyst who ran the query advised that the campaign was a target of foreign influence, but NSD determined that only eight identifiers used in the query had sufficient ties to foreign influence activities to comply with the querying standard.”
The report did not state which congressional campaign was targeted.
This isn’t the first time that Section 702 has been used against congressional candidates. In a 2021 report, another congressional candidate was targeted but the report then also didn’t state which candidate that was. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), who is currently chairing a working group to reform FISA in the House, said he believed the person targeted was him.
The U.S. intelligence department, however, has downplayed these abuses.
One witness called it “an elegant program.” George Barnes, deputy director and senior civilian leader of the National Security Agency, called the program “agile and specific.”
Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general, emphasized the importance of the tool, which he called “irreplaceable and invaluable” to presidential daily briefings. Olsen claimed that around 59 percent of the president’s daily briefing materials came from Section 702, and said that practically 100 percent was derived at some point from Section 702 data.
The program is set to expire on December 31st 2023 if it is not renewed by both the House and Senate.