FBI wrongly searched for US senator and state senator in Section 702 spy data, court says

Jul 21, 2023, 12:04 PM | Updated: 3:04 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI employees wrongly searched foreign surveillance data for the last names of a U.S. senator and a state senator, according to a court opinion released Friday. The disclosure could further complicate Biden administration efforts to renew a major spy program that already faces bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Another FBI employee improperly queried the Social Security number of a state judge who alleged civil rights violations by a municipal chief of police, according to the opinion by the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

News of the latest violations comes as the Biden administration faces a difficult battle in persuading Congress to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows spy agencies to collect swaths of emails and other communications.

Already this year, U.S. spy officials have disclosed that the FBI improperly searched Section 702 databases for information related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the 2020 protests following the police killing of George Floyd.

U.S. officials say Section 702 enables their highest priority work on China, Russia and threats like terrorism and cybersecurity. But many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they won’t vote to renew Section 702 when it expires at this year’s end without major changes targeting how the FBI uses foreign surveillance data to investigate Americans.

Democrats who have long demanded new limits on the FBI’s access to surveillance have increasingly been joined by Republicans angry about the bureau’s investigations of former President Donald Trump as well as errors and omissions made during the probe of Russian ties to his 2016 campaign.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement that reforms at the bureau had led to “significant improvement” and fewer incidents of not following intelligence rules. He later sent a letter to congressional leaders arguing for the importance of the Section 702 program.

“We take seriously our role in protecting national security and we take just as seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our Section 702 authorities,” Wray said in his statement. “We will continue to focus on using our Section 702 authorities to protect American lives and keeping our Homeland safe, while safeguarding civil rights and liberties.”

Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement that the latest errors show it is “long past time for Congress to step in.”

“As Congress debates reauthorizing Section 702, these opinions show why that can’t happen without fundamental reforms,” he said.

The surveillance court opinion released Friday didn’t disclose the names, states or party affiliations of the people whose names were searched. It said the searches of the state senator and U.S. senator occurred in June 2022. According to the court opinion, the analyst who did the searches had information that a foreign spy service was targeting the lawmakers. But the Justice Department’s national security division reviewed the searches and found that they didn’t meet FBI standards to limit how much information was retrieved, the opinion stated.

The state judge’s Social Security number was searched that October. It was later determined that the analyst did not have sufficient evidence to conduct the search and did not clear the search with higher-ups as required of politically sensitive searches, according to a senior FBI official who briefed reporters Friday on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the agency.

The unnamed U.S. senator has been notified of the search, but the state senator and state judge have not, the FBI official said.

The FBI gets a section of foreign surveillance data collected primarily by the National Security Agency, U.S. officials have said. Unlike the NSA and CIA, which go after intelligence targets abroad, the FBI is responsible for investigating threats affecting the U.S. such as cyberattacks or attempts to influence or interfere in American elections.

There are strict rules governing when analysts can search for U.S. citizens or businesses in surveillance data. Facing pressure from the surveillance court and Congress, the FBI in recent years has changed its search tools, ramped up training for analysts working with foreign data, and required new approvals from higher-ups for larger searches or sensitive searches like the names of public officials.

The FBI last month also announced new disciplinary measures. Any employees accused of negligence would immediately lose access to surveillance data until they undergo training and meet with a bureau attorney. The actions revealed Friday predate the new disciplinary policy.

Judge Rudolph Contreras’ opinion, which was completed in April 2023 and released Friday with redactions, says “there is reason to believe that the FBI has been doing a better job in applying the querying standard.” Of nearly 80,000 searches audited over a 16-month period ending in December 2022, 1.8% were found to have not met internal standards, the court said.

The total number of searches for Americans appears to have dropped as well. Over a year-long period ending in March, the FBI ran about 180,000 searches of U.S. citizens and other American entities, the court said.

That’s well below the roughly 2 million searches reported just between December 2020 and February 2021, something Contreras wrote “should indicate less intrusion into the private communications of U.S. persons.”

United States News

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y.; Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate. __ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Preempted by coverage of golf’s Ryder Cup. __ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

An ex-investigative journalist is sentenced to 6 years in a child sexual abuse materials case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A former investigative journalist for ABC News was sentenced Friday to six years in federal prison for possessing and transporting child sexual abuse images. James Gordon Meek, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty in July, admitting in a plea agreement that he used an iPhone to exchange illicit materials during a chat […]

47 minutes ago

Associated Press

Dad who won appeal in college admissions bribery case gets 6 months home confinement for tax offense

BOSTON (AP) — A former Staples Inc. executive whose fraud and bribery convictions in the sprawling college admissions cheating scandal were thrown out by an appeals court was sentenced on Friday to six months of home confinement for a tax offense. John Wilson, 64, of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, was sentenced in Boston’s federal appeals court months […]

50 minutes ago

Associated Press

Subway franchise owners must pay workers nearly $1M – and also sell or close their stores

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal court ordered the owners of 14 Subway locations north of San Francisco to pay employees nearly $1 million in damages and back pay — and also to sell or shut their businesses, with any sale proceeds going to the Department of Labor. Federal investigators said franchise owners John and […]

56 minutes ago

Associated Press

2 Indianapolis officers indicted for shooting Black man who was sleeping in his car, prosecutor says

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A grand jury has indicted two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers for shooting a Black man who was sleeping in a car parked outside his grandmother’s house, a prosecutor said Friday. Officers Carl Chandler and Alexander Gregory were indicted on battery and criminal recklessness charges in connection with the Dec. 31 predawn […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Rounded up! South Dakota cowboys and cowgirls rustle up hundreds of bison in nation’s only roundup

South Dakota cowboys and cowgirls rounded up a herd of more than 1,500 bison Friday as part of an annual effort to maintain the health of the species, which has rebounded from near-extinction. Visitors from across the world cheered from behind wire fencing as whooping horseback riders chased the thundering, wooly giants across hills and […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Home moving relocation in Arizona 2023...

BMS Moving

Tips for making your move in Arizona easier

If you're moving to a new home in Arizona, use this to-do list to alleviate some stress and ensure a smoother transition to your new home.


Ignite Digital

How to unlock the power of digital marketing for Phoenix businesses

All businesses around the Valley hopes to maximize their ROI with current customers and secure a greater market share in the digital sphere.



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]

FBI wrongly searched for US senator and state senator in Section 702 spy data, court says