The Joe Biden administration released a report endorsing the renewal of a controversial law which enables US intelligence agencies to spy on foreign nationals and American citizens on Monday. This comes amid a heated debate in Congress regarding how such surveillance powers are weaponized against the American people, as well as a slew of scandals involving these capabilities being wielded by the FBI against protesters and lawmakers.
Published by the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and Intelligence Oversight Board, the 42-page report states that a failure of Congress to renew Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act – before it expires at the end of the year – would constitute “one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.”
Section 702 authorizes a tool used by US spy agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance on foreign targets and any Americans with whom they may be interacting. This practice has long been criticized by domestic civil liberties groups because in the process also collected are US citizens’ electronic communications including phone calls, text messages, and emails.
Unless reauthorized in December, the law will expire. This will be complicated as growing animosity over the spy bureaucracies’ abuse of power continues to prompt stiff opposition and demands for extensive reforms from lawmakers across the aisle and particularly the GOP.
Most recently, a declassified court document revealed the FBI improperly searched a surveillance database created by Section 702 to search information about a US senator, a state senator, and a state judge.
A senior FBI official made clear to Politico that the unnamed FBI analyst who snooped on the US senator and the state senator was not authorized to conduct searches using “sensitive query terms,” including the names of people running for office or public officials. The improper searches did not even meet the threshold of being “reasonably likely to retrieve” evidence of a crime or foreign intelligence information.
Despite the claim that the analyst had evidence that these officials were being targeted by a foreign spy service, the aforementioned FBI official conceded to Politico that if the analyst had sought the required pre-approval from the deputy director for the queries, “they would not have been approved.”
In light of rampant misconduct, such as the targeting of January 6th and Black Lives Matter protesters during recent years, the White House’s report says “FBI personnel should receive additional training on what foreign intelligence entails.” The administration does acknowledge, however, that the bureau’s conduct “undermined public confidence in its ability to use Section 702 in the way it was intended.”