The disclosure is part of a 117-page order from April that was made public by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Normally, the foreign intelligence surveillance court of the federal judiciary renders decisions in secret. However, the surveillance court's ruling provides more questions than answers in regard to the FBI's history of warrantless surveillance after the court noted that "there is reason to believe that the FBI has been doing a better job" at following its own rules surrounding surveillance without a warrant, the outlet reports.
Four searches of data obtained through the warrantless monitoring program were made in June 2022 by an FBI analyst "using the last names of a US Senator and a State Senator." The analyst reportedly had evidence that the two lawmakers were being watched by a foreign intelligence agency in both instances.
Politico reports that a senior FBI official asserted that "none of these individuals were surveilled" and the FBI "did not collect any information on them." However, the official admitted that the analyst was not authorized to run a search "against our databases to retrieve any information that was already lawfully collected."
Court documents show that the analyst, who was not identified in records, violated FBI policy by failing to obtain the deputy director's prior consent, which is necessary for searches that involve "sensitive query terms," such as the names of candidates or public figures. The court determined that the analyst's searches fell short of the FBI's standards for searches that it takes into account when deciding whether a search is "likely to retrieve foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime," according to Politico.
The identity of the US senator who was searched for was not named in the court document, although the senior FBI official told reporters that the senator was in office in June 2022 and revealed that the FBI discussed the improper search with the senator involved.
The foreign intelligence surveillance court judgment, which was published on Friday, also revealed that in October, the FBI improperly searched the surveillance database for a state judge using that judge's social security number.
This is not the first time a court has revealed that an FBI analyst wrongly searched a member of Congress's warrantless monitoring data.
The FBI and Justice Department have been working to implement new regulations and internal improvements since 2021 in an effort to stop the illegal use of surveillance technology through the creation of the Office of Internal Audit.
FBI Director Christopher Wray commended the OIA and sent a letter on Friday to Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asserting that the agency is holding itself accountable since its creation.
"We are committed to holding ourselves accountable and we are eager to discuss with Members how these reforms can be enshrined as part of Section 702’s reauthorization. We also welcome discussing with Congress additional reforms and evaluating how these reforms can be implemented without diminishing Section 702’s vital intelligence value," Wray wrote to the congressmen.
By the end of the year, Congress will have to make a decision on whether or not they will extend the FBI's surveillance program. The decision will be made following the heavy scrutiny allotted towards the FBI from congressional lawmakers over numerous incidents, including the FBI working alongside Big Tech companies to silence political opposition, working with the DOJ to indict former President Donald Trump, targeting parents for attending school board meetings, and other controversies.
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