FBI improperly used warrantless search powers more than 278,000 times in 2021, FISA court filing reveals
According to a FISC filing, the FBI used its warrantless search power against U.S. Citizens more than 278,000 time in the year that ended November 2021.
The filing stated that U.S. citizens included those involved in the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6, 2020, George Floyd protesters in summer of 2020 and donors to an unsuccessful congressional candidate.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 702 allows the government conduct targeted surveillance on non-U.S. citizens located abroad in order to obtain foreign intelligence information. The FBI will begin to question U.S. Citizens for security purposes when they are identified as a part of the investigation.
The FISC unsealed the court document, which spanned 127 page, on Friday. However, it was originally filed in April of 2022.
A senior FBI official said Friday that the errors described by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in its opinion were “completely unacceptable”. Director Wray made this clear. The audits revealed that these non-compliances were not only a problem, but also a cause for concern. As a result, the FBI has changed its querying procedure to ensure these errors don’t happen again. These steps have resulted in a significant improvement to the way we query Section 702 lawfully obtained information.
The senior FBI official stated, “We are committed in continuing this work, providing greater transparency to the process, to earn the confidence of the American public and to advance our mission to safeguard both the nation’s safety, privacy, and civil liberties at the same time,”
Christopher Wray, FBI director, has stated that the FBI has taken steps to reform its system.
Fox News Digital reported first last month that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated there was a’significant decline’ in the number of FBI queries made about U.S. Citizens between 2021-2022 under Section 702, as a result of the changes the Bureau made to its’systems, processes and training relating U.S. Persons queries.
The FBI’s total number of queries in the reporting period ending November 2022 was 204,000, which is a 94% decrease from the previous year when the FBI had conducted almost 3.4 millions.
The Friday filing detailed a number improper queries including a batch search for “over 19000 donors to a campaign in Congress.”
The filing said that “the analyst who ran this query advised that the campaign is a target for foreign influence. However, NSD [National Security Division] decided that only eight of the identifiers in the query have enough ties to influence foreign activities to meet the querying standards.”
The filing does not specify which campaign in Congress is being referred to. Fox News learned that the candidate is not a member in Congress and has not won his or her elections.
In the filing, it was also stated that another batch of questions were made in June 2020 “using identifiers for 133 individuals who had been arrested in connection to civil unrest or protests between May 30 and approximately June 18, 2020.”
Civil unrest in 2020 was caused by the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 20, 2020.
The filing states that “the query was run in order to determine if the FBI had any counter-terrorism derogatory info on the arrested persons, but without knowing ‘any specific connections to terrorist activities’ to those who ran the queries.”
The filing revealed that a FBI employee conducted more than 23,000 searches “to identify possible foreign influences, even though the analyst who performed the queries did not have any indications of foreign involvement related to the query terms used.”
In the filing, it was stated that “no raw Section 702 data was accessed in response to these queries.”
The use of queries can be used to identify threats to national security or the homeland of the United States, as well as to find connections between people and entities. The queries can also be used to identify possible victims of threats to national security, such as cyberattacks by foreign actors on U.S. infrastructure.
The FBI conducted more queries between December 2021 to November 2022 based on evidence. However, the number of cases where the FBI failed to obtain the required court order before reviewing the results of some evidence-only queries decreased.
The report shows that the FBI conducted “zero” inquiries into U.S. citizens who were not deemed a threat to the national security during the year ending in November 2022.
FISA section 702 will sunset on December 31. Lawmakers on both sides are proposing reforms to reauthorize this section with greater congressional oversight.
FISA reform was a top priority for Republicans and Democrats after a review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz in 2019. This review revealed significant errors and omissions made by the FBI when it applied for a FISA to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Since then, significant reforms have been proposed to FISA Section 702 as a result.