FBI Audit Reveals 8,000 Unjustified Searches Of Americans’ Communications

OPINION:  This article contains commentary which may reflect the author’s opinion

An internal study published on May 10 claims that despite having no warrant and no reason under the FBI’s own regulations, the FBI carried out thousands of inquiries on digital data acquired on American residents in 2021 and 2022.

The FBI Office of Internal Auditing (OIA) carried out the audit with the goal of examining the agency’s adherence to the guidelines for querying the data that the government routinely gathers on American residents in accordance with Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).

Even if the communications include a U.S. citizen, FISA permits the government to gather electronic data, such as phone conversations, text messages, and emails of foreigners living abroad. After then, those data can be searched by American authorities looking into matters of national security.

Any search of the data involving a citizen of the United States is subject to the FISA court’s approved guidelines, which have three requirements.

It must be justified by a specific factual basis indicating that it is likely to retrieve foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime, be for the purpose of retrieving foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime, be reasonably designed to avoid needlessly retrieving information unrelated to the purpose, and meet other requirements as well.

According to the report, between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, 4 percent of FISA data searches were unable to satisfy those requirements. Listing insufficient reason for the search was the most frequent failure.

In 2022, the FBI reportedly performed more than 204,000 searches of FISA data on Americans, according to a separate FBI report. Given a 4 percent noncompliance rate, that would mean that the FBI accessed American citizens’ digital communications more than 8,000 times without a warrant or adequate explanation in accordance with the FISA Court’s guidelines.

Following the implementation of new FISA query procedures by FBI Director Christopher Wray in 2021 and 2022, an audit was carried out.

After the FISA Court discovered “widespread violations” of the laws, the agency has faced criticism. These offenses included looking into the correspondence of Congressmen, journalists, political pundits, and government officials.

In response to similar unauthorized surveillance of American individuals by the Nixon administration, FISA was established.

The audit contrasts sharply with one conducted between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, which found an 18% noncompliance rate.

The FBI made about 3.4 million FISA requests involving Americans in 2021. With an 18% noncompliance rate, that means that the FBI unlawfully obtained 612,000 times in that year alone the electronic communications of American residents.

Although the number of FISA requests significantly dropped and the FBI’s compliance rate increased, some privacy activists weren’t satisfied with the shift.

“Even if the compliance rate were 100 percent, the government should not be able to access Americans’ communications without a warrant,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated on Twitter.

“But with a baseline of 8,000 violations per year, there can be no question that a warrant is needed to protect Americans’ fundamental rights.”

The OIA suggested additional adjustments to the FISA data querying processes in light of the audit conclusions. These include making system adjustments to alert users when they enter data incorrectly, ensuring that all users complete necessary training before obtaining access to raw FISA data, and enhancing the FISA query compliance monitoring program.

The FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged collaboration with the Russian Federation in the 2016 presidential election concluded with the release of U.S. Special Counsel John Durham’s final report, as earlier reported by the DC Enquirer.

President Trump was ultimately cleared in the lengthy, over 300-page assessment, according to Durham, who noted that “Neither U.S. law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”

The report contends that the FBI and the Justice Department were wrong for allowing the investigation into President Trump to go without following the correct procedure and policy, such as using a FISA warrant to spy on an American citizen, according to Just The News.

“Based on the review of Crossfire Hurricane and related intelligence activities, we concluded the Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report,” the study states.

“The FBI personnel also repeatedly disregarded important requirements when they continued to seek renewals of that FISA surveillance while acknowledging — both then and in hindsight — that they did not genuinely believe there was probably cause to believe that the target was knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of foreign power,” Durham went on.

Durham came to the conclusion that the investigation into President Trump should never have been opened by the FBI and Justice Department, but he made no accusations against those responsible.

After Special Counsel John Durham’s long-awaited report was made public this week, House Republicans demanded action, claiming that federal intelligence and agencies had been “weaponized” against political foes like former President Donald Trump.

Jim Jordan, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, invited Durham to address the panel’s special subcommittee on government weaponization the next week. The Ohio Republican, who along with other Republicans claimed the research demonstrated Trump was a political target, is now calling for accountability.


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