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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - It has been disclosed that the FBI misused its surveillance powers on United States citizens hundreds of thousands of times within the span of one year.
On Friday, May 19, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made public an April 2022 opinion that details over 280,000 violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act between 2020 and 2021. The heavily redacted document reveals the FBI conducted warrantless searches on Americans — including congressional campaign donors, George Floyd protesters, Black Lives Matter protesters and Jan. 6 protestors.
Civil rights advocates have reacted to the revelations with alarm.
"These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It's clear the FBI can't be left to police itself," Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said. "Today's disclosures underscore the need for Congress to rein in the FBI's egregious abuses of this law, including warrantless searches using the names of people who donated to a congressional candidate."
Section 702 of FISA authorizes warrantless surveillance of non-Americans located outside the United States to acquire intelligence on threats to U.S. interests. But the act, created in 2008, is now being used to do more than collect foreign intelligence from non-Americans. In 2013, classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden exposed that the NSA was using FISA for spying not just on criminals or terrorists but ordinary Americans.
In 2013, the government reported having 89,138 targets. However, by 2021 the number ballooned to more than 230,000 individuals, groups and organizations. Since then, the number has risen to more than 280,000.
The FBI's overreach, as revealed in the recent publication, is eliciting demands from people across the political spectrum to reform, or even end, section 702.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, blasted the bureau after the disclosure of new abuses:
Yet again, the public is learning about shocking abuses of FISA Section 702, in particular the FBI's warrantless searches through 702 data for information on Americans. These abuses have been going on for years and despite recent changes in FBI practices, these systematic violations of Americans' privacy require congressional action. If Section 702 is to be reauthorized, there must be statutory reforms to ensure that the checks and balances are in place to put an end to these abuses.
Catholics have become targets of the FBI of late.
In January, the FBI's Richmond field office released an internal memo warning against "radical traditionalist Catholic ideology." The document titled "Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities" was released by a Catholic FBI whistleblower, Kyle Seraphin.
In February, Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and committee member Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, requested information connected to the document from the FBI.
After multiple requests, the FBI responded with an 18-page letter that the committee considered "substandard and partial" and which prevented the committee from performing a proper analysis of the situation.
Jordan stated, "We now know the FBI, relying on information derived from at least one undercover employee, sought to use local religious organizations as 'new avenues for tripwire and source development.'"
We now know the FBI, relying on information derived from at least one undercover employee, sought to use local religious organizations as "new avenues for tripwire and source development."— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) April 10, 2023
The memo cited Church Militant along with some organizations it describes as espousing "radical-traditionalist Catholic (RTC) ideology," claiming Church Militant is part of "a growing overlap between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs."
Church Militant, however, completely rejected the FBI's characterization, declaring in part, "The FBI report is based on 'reporting' by far-left extremist groups and media outlets that demonstrate zero understanding of Catholic theology," adding, "Church Militant does not believe that [w]hites are superior or non-white races are somehow inferior. We are faithful Catholics, and Catholic teaching abhors such a notion."
The FBI subsequently disavowed the memo, saying, "This particular field office product — disseminated only within the FBI — regarding racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI."
Section 702 of FISA will expire at the end of 2023 unless Congress ends, or radically changes, the spying program.