FBI creates new penalties for agents who misuse warrantless surveillance
The FBI announced a new three-strike disciplinary system for employees who misuse the warrantless surveillance program under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA.
702 allows Intelligence officials to collect information on non-U.S. persons who are located abroad and are expected to possess, receive, or communicate foreign intelligence information. But audits have shown it’s been misused.
Starting this week, if an FBI employee conducts and improper search,
They will have their FISA Access suspended while they re-take all mandatory training, sign a certification that will be placed in their personnel file and receive mandatory one-on-one counseling with their field office attorney.
Any subsequent incidents within a 24-month period would bring up to and including an indefinite loss of FISA access, reassignment to a new role, referral to the FBI’s Inspection Division or termination of employment.
The disciplinary actions are described by FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate as rapidly escalating. He said there are even stronger punishments for incidents deemed deliberate, reckless or particularly egregious.
Paul Abbate, FBI Deputy Director: “The American people and Congress also need to have trust and confidence that these queries are being done lawfully and in a fully compliant manner. It is our obligation to rebuild and to earn that trust.”
Rebuild trust after multiple official reports on misuse. Including a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion that revealed the FBI conducted improper searches for American’s communications 278,000 times, even though Americans cannot be targeted under the program regardless of their location.
The FBI is announcing these changes as Congress works to reauthorize Section 702 surveillance authorities.
Sen. Lindsey Graham R-S.C.: “There’s a warrant requirement to investigate an American citizen for potential wrongdoing. And we don’t want this to be used to get around a warrant requirement. So bottom line is let’s reauthorize this program and build in some safeguards.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.: “But why should Congress or the American people trust the executive to comply with the law this time, in light of this track record?”
Matt Olsen, Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division: “The problems that you’ve you’ve cited and that we’ve identified in our reviews of the FBI careers are not acceptable and I don’t defend them. I’m not here to do that. What I can tell you is that those problems predate the critical remedial measures that were put in place in 2021 and 2022.”
Those measures include an office of internal audit and attorney pre-approval for large searches. Congress has until December 31st to re-approve the program, some lawmakers say it may take that long. Straight From DC, I’m Ray Bogan.