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FISA Reauthorization Vote Defeated By Recalcitrant Republicans

“As Republicans, we’re supposed to fight against the Big Brother surveillance state, not fuel it.”

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This week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives split over the reauthorization of a controversial national security surveillance program. Nearly twenty GOP lawmakers broke with party leadership’s push for the reauthorization of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This program was originally intended to permit “targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States,” but recent years have seen numerous instances of intelligence agencies conducting warrantless domestic surveillance of Americans under its auspices.

Congressional reauthorization of FISA is typically a foregone conclusion given how essential it is to government’s ability to collect information on potential adversaries. A portion of an Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report explaining the legislation is reproduced below …

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Office of the Director of National Intelligence FISA 702 Report
(ODNI)

Notably, the ODNI report goes on to claim the program cannot target “U.S. persons, regardless of location” or “any person located inside the U.S.”

Targeting Americans in such a manner would blatantly violate their Fourth Amendment right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” All Americans are constitutionally entitled to their privacy barring the issuance of a warrant with “probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Unfortunately, members of the intelligence community have routinely disregarded the constitution and conducted warrantless domestic surveillance en masse. A 2023 Freedom of Information Act request revealed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling that FBI employees spied on an unnamed U.S. Senator, state lawmaker, and even a state judge using FISA.

FBI officials also used the tool to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans who engaged in both the George Floyd and January 6, 2021 protests.

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Former FBI director Robert Mueller, former U.S. president Barack Obama and former FBI director James Comey. (The White House)

Perhaps most controversially, in 2016 FBI agents used the program to spy on staffers of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. According to an office of the Inspector General report (.pdf), four members of Trump’s team – George PapadopoulosCarter PagePaul Manafort and Michael Flynn – were found to have been inappropriately surveilled. By spying on these top level operatives, FBI agents were able to obtain extensive communications from within the Trump campaign.

The publicized private communications of the FBI agent in change of the investigation put a fine point on the politicization of the process. When asked by Page if Trump would ever become president, lead FBI agent Peter Strzok famously replied “no, no he won’t – we’ll stop it.”

These numerous, blatantly unconstitutional actions have caused lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the political spectrum to demand reform as a prerequisite for the reauthorization of the program.

Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU‘s national security projects, released a statement expressing concern that recent revelations “show how Section 702 surveillance, a spy program the government claims is focused on foreign adversaries, is routinely used against Americans, immigrants, and people who are not accused of any wrongdoing.”

With such broad public exposition of the government’s improprieties, even members of the intelligence community have acknowledged that renewal of the program is unlikely without some reform. Members of the intelligence community and their allies on Capitol Hill have pushed for reforms to title one of the program, which is what was abused to obtain the warrant to surveil team Trump. Even if FBI agents followed a reformed title one, the issue of warrantless spying would remain unaddressed.

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RELATED | WHITE HOUSE BACKS WARRANTLESS SPYING ON AMERICANS

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While there is relatively broad support for adding additional guardrails to title one, there is a fierce political battle over adding a warrant requirement to the program. U.S. President Joe Biden‘s national security advisor Jake Sullivan announced the White House’s unequivocal position that “a warrant requirement from our perspective would go too far in undermining the very purpose of FISA.”

This outlook seems to be shared by many GOP security hawks who’ve worked to advance a reauthorization bill without warrant requirements. However, the recent election of Republican legislators willing to break with centrists thwarted embattled house speaker Mike Johnson‘s attempt to advance the reauthorization bill this Wednesday.

South Carolina representatives Nancy Mace and Ralph Norman both voted with Democrats to prevent debate of the bill without the warrant provision.

“As Republicans, we’re supposed to fight against the Big Brother surveillance state, not fuel it,” Mace said.

Norman hinted at the likelihood of a compromise when approached by a press gaggle following a closed door GOP meeting held after the vote was taken.

“It was emphasized there’s a big segment that wants the warrant provisions,” Norman said.

Norman added he was confident the party would “get it together” before the expiration of the current authorization on April 19, 2024.

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Johnson echoed Norman’s sentiments about the desire to readdress the issue after the meeting.

“We’re going to find consensus to talk to a few of the members who are most vocal tonight, through the evening, tomorrow morning, if necessary,” the speaker said. “We’re going to try to find a way to unlock the rule.”

Garnering the support of liberty-minded Republicans isn’t Johnson’s only path forward, though. According to Democratic representative Jim Himes, the idea of Johnson working with minority leader Hakeem Jeffries to pass the bill without a warrant provision was floated on Wednesday evening.

Himes told Politico, “if the Republicans want help on the rule, they need to go to talk to Hakeem and Hakeem is a ‘get it done’ kind of guy, so I know he’ll listen.”

Libertarian national committee chair Angela McArdle told FITSNews “politics is often a choice between bad and worse.”

“You don’t always get an obvious best choice,” McArdle said. “I think that they need to do whatever it takes to to overcome an expansion of spying on United States citizens.”

“Policies like this outlast the terms of politicians,” she added.

While a final deal has not been reached, the rejection of the legislation is another political black eye for Johnson, whose tenuous hold on the speakership could be imperiled by any collaboration with Democrat lawmakers.

Johnson faces a similarly difficult battle next week, as he has vowed to attempt to move a stalled Ukraine aid package through the lower chamber. FITSNews will update our readership as negotiations on both of these issues progress. Stay tuned for updates as a vote on the FISA bill could be held as soon as this afternoon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell)

Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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2 comments

CongareeCatfish Top fan April 12, 2024 at 9:48 am

My first question to the intelligence community would be this: if this is such an important tool for national security, then why did you allow it to be used for purely political purposes and destroy the personal lives of several citizens? [that we know of – who knows whom else has been targeted that we’ve never heard about.] Question #2: if this surveillance capability is so vital to national security, are you willing to fire the dozen or so people who abused this power and told demonstrable lies to a FISA court so as to restore public confidence in the integrity of the system? If the answer is no, then it really must not be THAT important.

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Terminator44 Top fan April 12, 2024 at 1:17 pm

Amen Brother, Preach!

Reply

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