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.”