Two Republican congressmen are demanding that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray provide details on efforts to rein in the bureau’s use of warrants to spy on Americans that are approved by a secretive federal court.
In a letter sent Thursday, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana asked Mr. Wray if the FBI has located a cache of missing files from applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
They pointed to a September report by the Justice Department inspector general that uncovered at least 183 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications between 2014 and 2019 in which the so-called “Woods File” — the documentation intended to justify the FBI’s argument for surveillance — was missing, destroyed or incomplete.
“This lack of documentation suggests, at best, the FBI maintains sloppy oversight of its use of warrantless spying authorities,” they wrote. “At worst, it suggests the FBI holds a cavalier disregard for the fundamental protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”
The FBI’s handling of FISA warrants has been closely scrutinized since 2016, when the bureau obtained a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign official. That warrant was heavily based on the largely discredited “Steele Dossier” and included at least one piece of information fabricated by an FBI lawyer.
The bureau adopted the Woods File process in 2001 to ensure strict checks and balances on every assertion in support of a FISA wiretap. Under the Woods Procedures, the application was to be withdrawn or the assertion removed if a claim was not verifiable.
If an application is approved by the secret FISA court, the FBI is given a warrant to conduct a physical search or electronic surveillance of a U.S. citizen.
In the letter, the lawmakers also requested information on data acquired through Section 702 of the 2008 FISA law which allows the government to engage in mass, warrantless surveillance of foreigners’ electronic communications, including emails, phone calls and text messages. The attorney general and the director of national intelligence are allowed to submit rules and certifications specifying the categories of foreign intelligence that the court can use to surveil foreigners under the provision.
The rules and certifications are meant to protect Americans’ communication records.
However, the lawmakers noted that the FISA court issued a ruling in November 2020 which found that the FBI conducted large batch queries of data under section 702 between 2019 and 2020 that contained U.S. citizens’ communication data without proper justification. Their letter asks Mr. Wray how many FBI employees have access to data acquired through section 702 and for details on the frequency of batch queries of the data.
“It is imperative that Congress is fully informed about the FBI’s steps to improve its respect for the constitutional and statutory parameters of FISA — including section 702, which will be up for reauthorization in 2023,” they wrote, asking the FBI director to respond by February 10.
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.
• Emily Zantow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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