For many people, the passage of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11 served as a wake-up call, with many concerned that provisions designed to combat foreign terrorist threats could be subverted and used against Americans.
Some were concerned that the act violated the Fourth Amendment by allowing warrantless searches and making it unnecessary to establish probable cause that the person has committed or will commit a crime. Those fears appear to have been realized twenty years later.
According to the Washington Times:
The FBI’s updated rulebook, rewritten in 2021, reveals the agency uses the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans without a warrant.
The new handbook seems to confirm a leak from around 10 years ago which showcased the FBI’s collusion with the CIA and NSA which may involve surveillance of American citizens without search warrants and where those citizens are not yet accused of any crimes. Such investigations are commonly called “assessments” at the FBI.
The latest revelations will confirm the fears of many Americans that the FBI has an alarming tendency to abuse its national security surveillance powers.
This comes amidst a promise from the new Republican majority in the House to implement a so-called “Church” committee to probe the involvement of agencies such as the FBI in spying on Americans and abusing their power. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Judiciary Committee are currently looking into how intelligence agencies target Americans.
The new panel, designed to resemble a committee headed by former Sen. Frank Church in the 1970s, will examine the weaponization of the federal government against American citizens.
The new information from the FBI’s handbook reveals how the bureau collaborates with other federal agencies as well as state and local officials. It was authorized by former President Trump and revised again by Joe Biden. Despite the FBI’s initial reluctance to make it public, the newly updated Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide was published online.
The words CIA and NSA are left unredacted in section 20.2 of the 2021 rule book, but the full details are hidden from public view.
Meanwhile, The Intercept obtained a leaked copy of the FBI’s rule book without redactions from 2011. Section 20.2 covers name trace requests, which involve requests from the FBI to other agencies to conduct searches of their records regarding so-called subjects of interest.
According to the leaked 2011 rule book, information obtained by the CIA and NSA searches of their records can then be used in assessments and predicated investigations.
According to the 2021 rule book, the so-called FBI assessments are investigations of individuals and groups that do not require specific accusations of wrongdoing, but rather only an “authorized purpose” and a clear objective. The investigations are intended to prevent federal crimes, protect against national security threats, and gather foreign intelligence.
The new rule book appears to show the FBI is unconcerned about facing consequences for spying on Americans, according to Patrick Eddington, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
“The bureau is continuing to hide the fact that 1) they can and clearly do use informants to penetrate domestic civil society organizations where those informants may, either on their own or at FBI direction, attempt to influence the organization’s actions,” Eddington said in an email. “And 2) [they] employ searches of CIA and NSA data streams on U.S. persons or civil society organizations absent a criminal predicate via assessments.”
Eddington believes that both of the above should be illegal, and he hopes that Congress, now led by Republicans, will address this issue later this year.
The Times contacted the NSA, which referred questions to the FBI, which, predictably, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the CIA claims it follows the rules and respects American citizens’ privacy.
“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333, and our Attorney General guidelines,” the CIA said in a statement to The Times.
The assessment process has drawn bipartisan attention in recent years, with internal FBI audits dating back to 2013 revealing a pattern of agents failing to follow rules for sensitive investigations.
The FBI’s use of assessments, particularly given the agency’s recent activities in targeting people based on political and ideological factors, has raised concerns among Americans that the agency is using them to target political enemies.
According to Eddington, Concerned Women for America, a conservative-leaning New York chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Muslim Justice League in Massachusetts are among the groups targeted by FBI assessments, based on records he reviewed.
In 2021, the FBI revealed there was nothing to pursue at Concerned Women for America after an assessment was conducted in 2016. In December 2021, the FBI told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that it didn’t need to explain its investigation of the group. The FBI believes it is accountable to nobody, apparently.
Last year, two unlikely allies, Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), pressed the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the FBI’s assessments.
Both lawmakers stated that the FBI appeared to use assessments inappropriately to conduct investigations in the absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing. They were curious as to whether the assessments included monitoring of constitutionally protected activity.
According to the 2021 rule book, the FBI has been collaborating on assessments with the CIA and NSA for over ten years.
The rule book was released after the Cato Institute sued the FBI for access to government records, specifically requesting the release of the FBI rule book before the agency published it online last fall. Eddington stated that his team intends to file challenges to the FBI’s withholding (aka hiding) of information in its updated rule book.