EXCLUSIVE: House Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Andy Biggs are demanding answers from FBI Director Christopher Wray after a newly declassified opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed “widespread” FISA violations.
Republicans, throughout the Trump administration, were vocal about abuses of FISA after the FBI obtained a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Wray last year called the actions taken to obtain that FISA warrant “unacceptable” and told Congress they “cannot be repeated.”
But, last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified an opinion from the FISC – the court with oversight of the FISA system – which Jordan and Biggs said revealed the FBI “has been seriously and systematically abusing its warrantless electronic surveillance authority.”
The opinion, from November 2020, detailed the FBI’s “apparent widespread violations” of privacy rules in conducting surveillance under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but was not related to the controversial FISA warrant against Page.
“We write to request information about the FBI’s illegal spying activities,” Jordan, of Ohio, and Biggs, of Arizona, wrote to Wray Tuesday.
Section 702 authorizes the attorney general and the director of National Intelligence to jointly authorize warrantless surveillance of non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States, subject to limitations.
The section requires the adoption of “targeting procedures” to ensure that acquired information is limited to non-U.S. persons to prevent the “intentional acquisition” of U.S. domestic communications, according to U.S. Code. The section also requires the use of minimization and querying procedures, specifically requiring that the government obtain a FISC order for any review of Section 702 query results in criminal investigations unrelated to national security.
But, the opinion revealed that the FBI “violated the querying standard” after the Justice Department audited the government’s compliance with Section 702 querying safeguards. The FISC determined that the “FBI’s failure to properly apply its querying standard when searching section 702-acquired information was more pervasive than was previously believed.”
The opinion further documented that “the government has reported numerous incidents regarding searches of section 702 FISA information without first obtaining court permission.” Pointing to the discovery of 40 queries in which the FBI accessed information for investigations involving “healthcare fraud, transnational organized crime, violent gangs, domestic terrorism involving racially motivated violent extremists, as well as investigations relating to public corruption and bribery” — all unrelated to foreign surveillance.
The FISC opinion noted that “none of these queries was related to national security and they returned numerous Section 702-acquired products in response.”
Judge James E. Boasberg, the chief judge of the FISC, concluded that the court is “concerned about the apparent widespread violations.”