By JD Heyes
During Barack Obama’s regime, Glenn Greenwald and a few other investigative journalists associated with him revealed through whistleblower Edward Snowden a complex, widespread — and shocking — National Security Agency operation to literally electronically spy on virtually every American who had an electronic device.
The program involved very sophisticated software tools that were classified at the highest levels. But Snowden, who was a very well-paid NSA contractor at the time, felt like he had to do his civic duty and blow the whistle on the entire operation.
His story rocked official Washington, and politicians from both sides of the aisle demanded a) that the program end; and b) answers from the Obama administration about who was responsible for the program and the extent it was being utilized to target and persecute American citizens (who were paying for it with their tax dollars).
Now, less than a decade later, another bombshell revelation: The FBI has apparently picked up where the NSA left off — that is, if the NSA every really did end its program — according to newly outraged lawmakers who are once again demanding answers and accountability.
Top House Republicans are demanding answers from the FBI after court-ordered information came to light showing that the federal agency had collected the information of over 3 million Americans without a warrant.
In a May 25 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Wray to explain why his agency had wiretapped and gathered personal information on over 3.3 million Americans without a warrant.
Limited authority to gather foreign intelligence information is granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
One section of the law, which was originally passed in 1978, called “702” states that “the Attorney General (AG) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) may jointly authorize the targeting of (i) non-U.S. persons (ii) who are reasonably believed to be outside of the United States (iii) to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
But, the provision also grants an expanding circle of potential searches to the FBI and other intelligence agencies that can utilize the authority to target Americans who may have come in contact with foreigners already under surveillance. And it’s this power that the FBI and NSA thoroughly abused.
Historically speaking, details about how the law has been utilized against American citizens has been shielded from the public, buried in reports that are classified.
But in November 2020, a decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, which hears secret evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies seeking surveillance warrants, required that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report on “the number of U.S. person queries run by the FBI against Section 702-acquired information.”
To comply with the order, ODNI’s recently-released Annual Statistical Transparency Report contained information on the frequency of the FBI gathering information on U.S. citizens using Section 702 authorities last year.
“In total, queries against U.S. citizens came out to a jaw-dropping 3,394,053 searches. By comparison, only 1,324,057 such queries were made in 2020, representing around a 250 percent increase during President Joe Biden’s first year in office,” The Epoch Times reported.
“According to ODNI more than half of these queries—approximately 1.9 million—were part of the larger investigation of alleged Russian attempts to target or weaken U.S. critical infrastructure,” the outlet continued.
The intelligence director’s office also admitted that on at least four occasions, the FBI did not bother to get FISC approval to access information that was collected under Section 702.
The FBI has been busted for abusing its legal authorities under the section before.
In November 2020, the FISC announced that “the government … reported numerous incidents” in which the bureau spied on Americans and gathered confidential information without first obtaining a FISC warrant.
But the problem is this: Not enough lawmakers in Congress would vote to substantially strip the FBI and the Justice Department of funding and the corrupt officials who run both know that. They also know they’re never going to be held accountable.
So none of these abuses are going to end.