House Republican Darin LaHood (Co.) accused the FBI of abusing foreign surveillance powers to spy on him.
LaHood confronted the FBI’s scandal-plagued director, Christopher Wray, with the claim at an oversight hearing Thursday.
The Republican said that he was looked up by name multiple times in a trove of data that was collected under a controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) program, Section 702. An intelligence community report found that the search was inappropriately broad, he said.
“I have had the opportunity to review the classified summary of this violation, and it is my opinion that the member of Congress that was wrongfully queried multiple times solely by his name was in fact me,” LaHood said.
Republican was spied on
FISA is supposed to be a counterintelligence tool, but it can and has been used to snoop on Americans.
The Biden administration is pushing to renew Section 702, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Under the controversial program, the government may conduct sweeping, warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens who are “incidentally” in communication with foreign targets.
While the government is required to follow “minimization” procedures to protect the identities of any Americans who are snooped on, that procedure wasn’t followed in LaHood’s case.
The FBI “retrieved unminimized FISA acquired information, including Section 702 acquired products that were opened,” he said, calling it an “egregious” violation.
Culture of abuse
The government can also spy on Americans by going to the FISA court and getting a warrant — but that route has also been rife with abuse, as conservatives know very well. The FBI’s top brass notoriously misled the FISA court to justify spying on Carter Page, an aide to former President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Wray told the House Thursday that a scathing watchdog report on the FBI’s handling of the Page case “describes conduct that I considered totally unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI.”
LaHood begged to differ, saying the FBI’s searches of his name are “indicative of the culture that the FBI has come to expect and even tolerate.”
Can the FBI be fixed?
The notoriously cagey Wray vowed that the FBI will be more scrupulous with FISA powers in the future, and he claimed the agency has already made significant reforms.
“We are absolutely committed to making sure that we show you, the rest of the members of Congress and the American people that we’re worthy of these incredibly valuable authorities,” Wray said.
Amazingly, LaHood says he’ll still support Section 702 as long as there are “reforms and safeguards.”
But can the seemingly incorrigible FBI — which has now been caught targeting conservative parents, pro-life activists, and even a former president — actually be fixed? That’s the million-dollar question.