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Lawmaker claims FBI wrongly requested surveillance information about him


WASHINGTON– A Republican lawmaker on Thursday accused the FBI of falsely searching foreign surveillance data for his name, pointing to challenges ahead for US officials trying to persuade Congress to renew their powers to collect massive amounts of communications .

Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., did not explain why the FBI might have searched for his name in information collected under a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as Section 702, and a lawmaker spokesperson did not respond to a request. for more details.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing, LaHood pressed FBI Director Chris Wray to acknowledge that his agency and others had sometimes violated rules on the use of data collected by electronic espionage.

“We clearly have work to do, and we look forward to doing it with this committee, to show that we can be worthy stewards of these important authorities,” Wray said.

In a statement, the FBI said that while it cannot comment on specific queries, it has made “significant changes over the past few years” to address compliance issues. He also offered LaHood a classified briefing to discuss the circumstances of the request, according to a person familiar with the situation who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential conversations.

The White House and US intelligence officials are lobbying Congress to renew Section 702, which expires at the end of this year. They face heavy criticism both from Republicans who accuse the FBI of abusing surveillance powers against allies of former President Donald Trump and from Democrats who believe that the protection of civil liberties is insufficient. .

Section 702 allows the United States to collect foreign communications without a warrant and interrogate the data for a variety of reasons, from fighting China to stopping terrorism and cyberattacks. Intelligence agencies end up incidentally collecting large amounts of emails and communications from US citizens. They can access U.S. citizen data under strict rules for law enforcement and intelligence purposes, but the agencies have admitted breaking those rules in certain circumstances.

LaHood will lead an effort by House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee to recommend changes to Section 702. While he and other Republicans on the committee say they support the law, LaHood has criticized those violations as rendering a more difficult renewal.

“There are far too many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle wondering if the executive can trust this powerful tool,” he said. “And that’s because in the past and currently there has been abuse and misuse of 702 by the FBI.”

LaHood cited a 2021 report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence Compliance that notes an example of data searches on an anonymous congressman. Those responsible for assessing the incident determined that the searches were being conducted for foreign intelligence purposes, but were “overbroad” and therefore not in accordance with agency rules.

Wray did not directly respond to LaHood’s claim, but in its statement, the FBI said its changes included a new internal audit office focused on FISA compliance and new requirements governing particularly sensitive queries. Searches involving elected officials now require deputy director approval, the FBI said.

Wray also said he was aware of oversight errors made during the FBI’s investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, which include botched apps to monitor the former adviser’s communications. Trump campaign, Carter Page.

A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general into that investigation “describes conduct that I considered to be completely unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI,” Wray told lawmakers Thursday, though he added that substantial reforms had been made since then.

Although these errors occurred in a different section of the law than the one that is up for renewal, the backlash of the errors has complicated the FBI’s efforts to advocate for the reauthorization of Section 702.

The bureau has made several compliance changes and also reformed the way it searches for Section 702 data, Wray said, adding that the number of searches of US citizens has dropped sharply over the past two years.

The White House launched an effort earlier this year to convince Congress that the powers of Section 702 are essential to US intelligence. Senior officials gave numerous examples of the program’s success, saying they used its data in the operation to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri last year.

A key Democrat this week pushed the Biden administration to push harder for the law. Sen. Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told intelligence officials Wednesday that he and his colleagues are “going to push you to declassify more information so we can convince the American public again.” .

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.