WASHINGTON, DC- For many people, the passing of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11 served as a warning, with many being concerned that provisions in the Act, designed to unravel foreign terrorist threats, could be subverted and used against Americans.
For example, some were concerned the act violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing searches without a warrant and further making it not necessary to establish probable cause that the person has committed or will commit a crime. Twenty years later, it appears those fears may have been realized.
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 FBI works with other federal agencies, as well as state and local officials, was authorized under former President Trump and revised again under Joe Biden. The newly updated Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide was published online despite the FBI’s initial hesitance to make it public.
In section 20.2 of the 2021 rule book, the words CIA and NSA are left unredacted, however the full details are hidden from public view.
Meanwhile, a leaked copy of the 2011 copy of the FBI’s rule book without redactions, obtained by The Intercept shows section 20.2 covers name trace requests, which involve requests from the FBI to other agencies in order to conduct searches of their records regarding so-called subjects of interest.
The Times reports that information obtained by the CIA and NSA searches of their records are then able to be used in assessments and predicated investigations, the leaked 2011 rule book says.
The so-called FBI assessments are investigation of persons and groups that do not require specific accusations of wrongdoing, but rather only require an “authorized purpose” and a clear objective, the 2021 rule book says. The investigations are designed to prevent federal crimes, protect against threats to national security or collect foreign intelligence.
According to Patrick Eddington, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the new rule book seems to show the FBI is unconcerned about facing consequences for spying on Americans.
“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 said that both of the above should be prohibited by law, and hopes Congress, now led by Republicans, will address that later this year.
The Times reached out to the NSA, which referred questions to the FBI, which of course refused to comment.
Meanwhile, the CIA claims it follows the rules and respects the privacy of American citizens.
“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 process of assessments have drawn bipartisan attention over recent years, with the FBI’s internal audits dating back to 2013 showing a pattern of agents failing to follow rules for sensitive investigations.
The use of assessments by the FBI, especially given the activities of the agency over the past several years in targeting people based on political and ideological factors, has drawn worries from Americans that the agency uses them as a cudgel 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 groups targeted by FBI assessments, based on records he reviewed.
In 2021, the FBI revealed there was nothing to pursue at the 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, the FBI’s use of assessments drew bipartisan scrutiny from two unlikely allies, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who pressed the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the agency’s assessments.
Both lawmakers said the FBI appeared to inappropriately use assessments to conduct investigations without a factual basis showing criminal wrongdoing. They wanted to know if the assessments involved monitoring of constitutionally protected activity.
According to the unveiling of the 2021 rule book, it indicates the FBI has been working with the CIA and NSA on assessments for over ten years.
The release of the rule book came about after the Cato Institute sued the FBI for access to government records, in particular pressing for the release of the FBI rule book prior to the agency publishing it online last fall. Eddington said his team plans on filing challenges regarding information the FBI is withholding (aka hiding) in its updated rule book.
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