FBI Misused Surveillance Tool More Than 278,000 Times Including Against Jan. 6 People, BLM, Political Donors

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

We’ve seen a lot of bad things come down the pike from the FBI for a few years now. FBI whistleblowers have detailed how politicized the bureau has become, and some of them testified on Thursday during a hearing of the House Weaponization Committee. Add that to the incredible revelations in the Durham Report—and we knew we are in deep trouble with how they have been operating.

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But information released on Friday shows it’s even worse than most people knew.

The FBI has a surveillance tool that it can use to deal with foreign intelligence questions. The tool is supposed to be used to target foreign actors, not Americans, and you are supposed to have an evidentiary basis for using it.

According to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that came down in April 2022, but was released with redactions on Friday, the FBI misused that database more than 278,000 times. The order was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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 FISA, FBI agents then obtained information on Americans despite it not having any ‘analytical, investigative or evidentiary purpose.’

The report explained that 13 people connected to Jan. 6 were “inappropriately queried” to see if they had foreign ties. In the case of BLM people, the FBI searched for 130 of them in the database during the 2020 riots. Over 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign were also looked into, as well as victims of crimes, including “individuals listed in police homicide reports.” The latter included “victims, next-of-kin, witnesses, and suspects.” They didn’t reveal who the congressional campaign involved.

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The FBI also searched a member of Congress, and local political organizations, to see if they had any ties to foreign intelligence.

Just like with the Durham Report and all the terrible things that were revealed, the FBI says that it’s made “changes” since this information was determined in April 2022. What are some of those changes?

One is that they require training and overhauled the computer system so they now have to enter a search in their own words, rather than just being able to click on preset options. Oh, I’m sure that will make a big change to these folks, who had to know what they were doing was wrong when they have 278,000 violations.

They also said they enhanced their pre-approval requirement before “sensitive” U.S. citizens are run. So for example, elected officials would require Deputy Director approval. Given what we’ve seen from FBI leadership, this doesn’t comfort me at all. And it isn’t just special people that need to have their rights upheld—we all do.

Where is the action being taken against the people who did these improper things? That seems to be missing in the reports. Accessing data 278,000 times means they were regularly misusing it to do whatever they wanted. You can’t change that kind of attitude with a few cosmetic changes, you have to hold the people involved responsible. It’s more than a little troubling that on top of everything else, you had all this improper surveillance.

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“Where’s the accountability for this? Who’s going to be held to account? These are the questions we’re going to continue to ask,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said. The House Judiciary Committee Chair, Jim Jordan also called out the information, saying “it just seemed to keep getting worse.”

Members of Congress have raised questions about Section 702, and there have been concerns for some time. This latest information on the FBI seems like those concerns were more than warranted.

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