By Reuters: The FBI improperly conducted warrantless searches for information about a U.S. senator and two state officials, a U.S. intelligence agency revealed on Friday, as lawmakers are weighing whether to renew the surveillance power that makes such searches possible.
The names of the U.S. senator, the state senator and the state judge targeted were not disclosed.
The disclosure by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) followed a secret court order reauthorizing the use of Section 702 – the part of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the FBI to scour the vast troves of intelligence data for information that might be useful for its own investigations.
The April 11 court order was declassified earlier this week and published on the ODNI’s blog on Friday.
The order said that while the Federal Bureau of Investigation analyst who sought the two lawmakers’ data had information that they were being pursued by an unidentified foreign intelligence service, the search was still improper. It is not clear why the FBI sought to put the judge – who had complained to the bureau about alleged civil rights violations perpetrated by an unnamed police chief – under surveillance.
The FBI did not immediately return emails seeking the target’s identities or further comment on the targeting.
Despite the missteps, the FBI was praised by the judge involved for doing “a better job” at curbing surveillance abuses.
Section 702 expires at the end of the year and intelligence chiefs – including President Joe Biden’s nominee for the National Security Agency – have championed its renewal in the face of skepticism from lawmakers in both parties. That skepticism only deepened when an earlier court order – declassified in May – revealed that the FBI had improperly searched for the foreign intelligence database more than a quarter million times over several years.
In Friday’s blog post, the ODNI noted that the earlier reporting “does not reflect the current status of FBI compliance.”
The bureau itself was keen to stress how important its surveillance power was to keeping Americans safe.
In a pair of letters to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate – also released on Friday – FBI Director Chris Wray said that Section 702’s “critical importance to our national security has only grown.” He said it had helped thwart a Chinese effort to hack a “major U.S. transportation hub” in advance of a potential conflict over Taiwan and also frustrated Iranian hackers’ attempts to target a former senior U.S. official under threat by Iranian agents.
It was not clear whether the examples provided by the FBI were new. A senior bureau official declined to provide details during a call with reporters.
In May, Microsoft (MSFT.O)warned of a group known as Volt Typhoon that was positioning itself to “disrupt communications between the United States and Asia region during future crises.” Last year, an alleged Iranian agent was charged with trying to arrange the assassination of former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.