FBI officials misused key surveillance tool when searching for Americans involved in the January 6 Capitol insurrection and the George Floyd protests of 2020, according to an explosive new court document which outlines the latest in a string of black marks against the agency.
The violations were first outlined in a secret court order from April 2022 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Office of the Director of the National Intelligence (ODNI) released a redacted version of the report Friday, which found the FBI did not follow its own standards when using Section 702 to conduct warrantless searches, The Daily Mail reported.
Section 702 under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows US federal intelligence agencies to conduct targeted searches of foreigners, but sometimes Americans are improperly searched in the process.
The report details how the FBI used Section 702 to “query” – or search – names of individuals who were suspected of being on the Capitol grounds during the January 6, 2021 riot, Black Lives Matters protestors, victims of crime and their families and donors to one congressional campaign.
Due to clear violations of standard procedures on FIA, FBI agents then obtained information on Americans despite it not having any “analytical, investigative or evidentiary purpose”.
The explosive report follows damning conclusions in Special Counsel John Durham’s final report published on Monday – including the dismantling of the Steele dossier and “salacious” claims against former President Donald Trump. He concluded the FBI did not have any “factual evidence” to investigate Trump-Russia collusion.
The report states 13 people connected to January 6 were inappropriately queried in order to determine if they had “foreign ties”.
In addition, over 130 individuals were searched in the database who were linked to the social unrest and riots conducted by Black Lives Matter activists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
The FISA search was conducted to gain information on whether they were connected to any counterterrorism plots – which DOJ wrote in the report was “reasonable”, but the high level of redactions don’t allow for a fuller explanation.
There was also a “batched inquiry” of over 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, which was unnamed.
The FBI analyst who conducted the search said the campaign was a possible target of foreign influence.
However, the Department of Justice said there were only “eight identifiers” used in the search in total that “had sufficient ties to foreign influence activities to comply with the querying standard”.
Additionally, FBI FISA searches were conducted on crime victims, including “individuals listed in police homicide reports, including victims, next-of-kin, witnesses, and suspects”.
DOJ said these queries were inappropriate because there was “no reasonable basis” to expect the individuals would be linked to foreign intelligence through those searches.
In total, the FBI misused Section 702 over 278,000 times – according to the document.
The Section 702 provision is set to expire by the end of the year, so Congress is taking action and especially working to ensure abuses are not repeated.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan previously called Section 702 renewal “the most important thing we are going to do this Congress”.
Jordan told DailyMail.com in a statement Friday, “[FBI Director] Chris Wray told us we can sleep well at night because of the FBI’s so-called FISA reforms. But it just keeps getting worse.”
In December, ODNI declassified a 2021 report that includes instances of numerous FISA abuses.
It also revealed that the FBI searched the data for an “unnamed” congressman and local political organizations when conducting an investigation into whether they had any ties to foreign intelligence.
The FBI said in a statement that since the ODNI report, the agency has made “extensive changes” on Section 702 searches.
“Although we cannot comment on specific queries, the FBI has made extensive changes over the past few years – changes that post-date the period covered in the reports raised in the hearing today – to address 702 compliance issues, including standing up a whole new Office of Internal Audit currently focused on FISA compliance and instituting new policies requiring enhanced pre-approval requirements before certain ‘sensitive’ US person queries can be run,” said an FBI spokesperson at the time.
“For example, ‘sensitive’ queries involving elected officials now require Deputy Director approval. We look forward to sharing the impact of our reforms. The FBI takes seriously its role as stewards of our 702 authorities, which are indispensable to fulfilling our mission of protecting Americans from foreign threats from countries like China, Russia, and Iran,” the statement continued.
In March, Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., revealed that his name was improperly searched by the FBI conducting a Section 702 query.
“I want to make clear the FBI’s inappropriate querying of a duly elected member of Congress is egregious and a violation not only that degrades the trust in FISA, but is viewed as a threat to the separation of powers,” LaHood said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.
Officials told the Associated Press that the “unnamed congressional campaign” in the new court document is not connected to LaHood.