‘Disgraceful’: Sen. Mike Lee blasts FBI monitoring of U.S. citizens without a warrant

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By CASEY HARPER | THE CENTER SQUARE

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, blasted FBI Director Christopher Wray during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday over the agency’s spying on Americans without a warrant.

The agency has been under fire since news broke that the FBI used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 to spy on hundreds of thousands of American citizens without a warrant.

The FISA law was intended to allow federal surveillance to monitor foreign residents’ communications within the U.S. but has since been expanded much more.

“You have a lot of gall sir,” Lee told Wray at the hearing. “This is disgraceful. The Fourth Amendment requires more than that and you know it.”

Lee’s comments come after Wray admitted during the hearing that the FBI had also ignored the requirement to obtain court orders to monitor Americans even though they are legally obligated to do so in some circumstances.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified FISA Court opinions in 2021 showing a pattern of the FBI monitoring American citizens without the proper legal authority. ODNI reported there were hundreds of thousands of improper searches of the FBI database, which includes Americans’ communications, in recent years by the FBI with no reasonable expectation of a crime committed or real intelligence to gather.

“Would abuse of Section 702 by an FBI employee, would that be something that would warrant the revocation of security clearance?” Lee asked Wray at the hearing, referring to FBI employees who used the agency’s search for personal reasons.

Wray agreed that abuse could possibly qualify for discipline but that he may not agree what constitutes an abuse of the program.

Lee also asked Wray about searches conducted by the agency on political figures and even a judge who had complained about the FBI. Wray pointed to new measures the agency has put in place to prevent abuses, but Lee pushed back, pointing out that lawmakers have not been able to see the details of those changes.

“I’ve been on this committee for 13 years,” Lee said. “During the entirety of those 13 years I’ve expressed concerns to FBI Directors appointed by presidents of both political parties and three different presidential administrations. Every darn one of them has told me the same thing: ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ve got new procedures. It’s going to be different now.’

“It’s never different,” Lee added. “You haven’t changed, and you keep referring to these policies, these new procedures. We haven’t seen that. We’re not even allowed to have access to it, and we have absolutely no reason to trust you because you haven’t behaved in a manner that’s trustworthy.”

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent a letter to the FBI in August on this issue blasting the agency and calling for accountability.

Notably, the 702 provision expires at the end of this year unless Congress reauthorizes it. Wray has offered options to make changes to improve the program, but Scott shared Lee’s sentiment, saying those changes were broad and lacked details or a sense of substantial reform.

“In the face of these rampant abuses, it was disappointing that you are lobbying Congress to renew the Section 702 authorities without substantial reforms, and without public disclosure of accountability,” the letter said. “If you agree with me that the hundreds of thousands of unlawful, warrantless searches of U.S. citizen information your agency has conducted under Section 702 are entirely unacceptable, to attempt to regain the American public’s trust, please explain the accountability for those rogue agents who conducted those illegal queries.”

20 COMMENTS

    • Disband the FB I

      Repeal the misnamed patriot act.

      Unseat anyone who voted for it .

      Sue the government for blatantly stealing what was not theirs. Privacy. Freedom of expression. No longer secure in own home.

      Can you put a value on privacy?
      I can . Our founders risked their lives for it.
      Privacy is part of liberty and free speech.
      If the government is listening in you’re freedom of expression has been compromised. Its an unlawful search of your most intimate being.

      The patriot act is insurrection against citizens and the meaning of everything our nation held dear.
      It’s stealing the future from our children.

      Unseat any one who votes for it then sue them for theft of private property and charge them with insurrection.

    • Frank, sadly I agree with you on that one.
      It seems that our government agencies are abusing the tools given to pursue the political agenda (of the day) instead of ferrying out and countering real threats. J. Edgar Hoover would be so proud!
      It appears most of our agencies like the FBI or CIA have become bean-counting behemoth bureaucracies more interested in guarding their own interest instead of that of the country. Agencies like that are not able to nimbly react to threats and pivot to combat them. Please note that while Director Wray warned of all the “blinking lights”, he said very little on the underlying causes (open southern border anyone??) and the agencies plan to prevent attacks.
      Maybe along with the repeal of the Patriot act a serious reduction in funding with the proviso that 70% of the budget needs to be applied to actual law enforcement/investigations not paper-pushing. Separating the counter terrorism branch from the FBI would return that agency to its initial intent of pure law enforcement. While we are at it a serious revision of the forfeiture laws are also in order.

  1. He’s right.

    But unless he has tried to repeal the Patriot Act, he’s part of the problem.
    Grandpa bloodstains is just following a road paved by the damn Bush family.

    Way back in ‘02, we forgot the wisdom of Ben Franklin. We traded away some of our freedoms for an illusion of security. And in doing so lost much of both.

  2. The FBI has long been dark and secretive, and unaccountable to law and to public scrutiny and legislative oversight. The FBI is an untrustworthy organization at its DC headquarters, as proven over and over again in well-known abuses of the Constitution and ethical conduct since the days when J. Edgar was its lifetime director (an obvious error). Congress seems to be impotent in oversight, the U.S. courts seem lame, and the U.S. DOJ seems complicit. The agency is overdue for a radical overhaul. To Alaska’s U.S. senators and ‘congressperson’ — why not now?

  3. Fire Wray! These endless hearings with no real action are ridiculous. The FBI must either be re-ordered from top to bottom or disbanded completely. And the Patriot Act (which actually attacks patriots such as abortion protestors and those who give testimony against wokism at school board meetings) must be repealed completely.

    • That won’t be enough. Comey put in so many apparatchiks they permeant the agency.

      Plus they changed the recruitment strategies to attract woke Ivy League types.

      The only solution is to disband them totally and return said power to the individual states.

  4. That year-long stint as director of the CIA (’76-’77) probably helped “adjust” Bush’s mindset to upend that wisdom into “add some security for the illusion of freedom” …

  5. We need to stop the current government and start over with real people who care about the country and not power, money and control.
    They will not give up power and even if the court says so I won’t be leave them as they are all proven liars.

  6. [QUOTE]ODNI reported there were hundreds of thousands of improper searches of the FBI database, which includes Americans’ communications, in recent years by the FBI[/QUOTE]

    I must’ve missed a meeting and I definitely don’t have the conspiracy theorist gene. What record of American’s communications is there to search?

    • The one that does not officially exist.
      When the Patriot act passed, it gave the Federal Government warrantless search powers for communication. At first, I am sure it was benign. If a US number received a call from an area known to harbor terrorists, the Feds could listen in. If the conversations were harmless, stop listening. If not, approach a judge for a more serious warrant. (Search of home for example)
      But, it soon turned into listen in to every communication, looking for problems.
      .
      Give the feds an inch, and they will take miles and miles.

    • Much the say way that Alexa or Siri do not “listen” to everything you say, but have to have an active mic so they can respond when you say their name. Curiously, both Apple and Amazon have been dinged for recording everything these devices hear.

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