Politicians and activists reacted with dismay recently to the news that the FBI illegally tapped into foreign intelligence data looking for dirt on U.S. citizens. But given this news emerged just days after the release of the Durham report, which fingered the FBI as knee-deep in the bogus Russian collusion narrative that dominated Beltway politics during the Trump years, the outrage and surprise seem underwhelming.
The secret FISA court publicly released an opinion that found the agency had no factual basis to comb through reports compiled under a law intended to combat foreign espionage in search of dirt on Jan. 6 protesters and those who took to the streets after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
“The revelations were contained in a heavily redacted opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which said the violations were significant,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
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The agency claimed to be operating under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Act, which is “supposed to be limited to targeting foreign nationals located abroad who are believed to be agents of a foreign power or members of an international terrorist group.”
The information gathered, however, often includes data on American citizens who, for instance, may communicate with those abroad. To access that information in most cases, the FBI needs to obtain a warrant.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the revelations “shocking.” A top ACLU official argued that such “unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy.”
They’re right, of course. But where have they been for the past seven years? The Durham report reveals an FBI so steeped in politics that it violated its own standards to embark on a full-blown investigation of the Trump White House on the basis of a bogus dossier with little basis in reality. The agency also misled the FISA court to obtain wiretaps. In all, the FBI “failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law.”
FBI officials maintain that all these errors — made during the Trump investigation or while illegally snooping under Section 702 — have been addressed and “corrective” action has been taken. It would be nice to believe so.
But it’s clear that Congress should pay closer attention to what’s going on at FBI headquarters. And if lawmakers decide to reauthorize Section 702, which expires this year, more rigorous safeguards must be implemented to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens.