The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an overhaul of FBI rules after a Washington Times report that agents used the CIA and National Security Agency to spy on Americans.
The ACLU urged the bureau to impose new limits on agents’ power to investigate Americans without a warrant.
The FBI’s updated rulebook, rewritten in 2021, revealed new details about how the FBI tasks the CIA and NSA for help on matters including assessments, which are probes that can involve surveillance without a court order against people not accused of a crime.
The new GOP-run House was already fed up with the national security community but the fervor is spreading to include liberal-leaning outfits such as the ACLU.
ACLU senior staff attorney Ashley Gorski told The Times there is no question that the FBI must tighten its standards for conducting assessments.
“Under this authority, agents engage in certain types of surveillance and deploy informants, even without a factual basis to suspect someone of wrongdoing,” Ms. Gorski said in a statement. “The DIOG and related policies should be reformed to limit these powers, and the FBI should not be enlisting the CIA and NSA in domestic investigations where there’s no suspicion to begin with.”
The updated 906-page Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, authored during the Trump administration and revised under President Biden, confirmed a decade-old leak detailing the bureau’s work with the CIA and NSA for probes that may involve warrantless surveillance. The bureau published the 2021 rules online after previously rejecting requests to make it public, marking the first time the FBI has shared the rulebook since the Obama administration.
CIA and NSA appear unredacted for section 20.2 of the 2021 rulebook, with other information from the section hidden. A leaked 2011 version of the FBI’s rulebook containing no redactions obtained by The Intercept showed section 20.2 involves name trace requests, the mechanism the FBI uses to formally ask other agencies to conduct a search of their records regarding a subject of interest.
Information gathered from the CIA and NSA’s searches of their records are available for use in assessments and predicated investigations, according to the leaked 2011 rulebook.
The FBI’s assessments are investigations of groups and people that do not require allegations of wrongdoing and only need an “authorized purpose” and a clear objective, according to the 2021 rulebook. Speculation is not sufficient cause for starting an assessment, which is intended to be reserved for serious issues involving the prevention of federal crimes, protection against national security threats, and the collection of foreign intelligence.
The history of people swept up in assessments crosses traditional boundaries of politics and ideology. The conservative Concerned Women for America, a New York chapter of the League of Women Voters, and the Muslim Justice League in Massachusetts are among the groups that have faced FBI assessments, according to records obtained by Cato Institute senior fellow Patrick Eddington.
“We want answers as to why CWA was targeted by FBI,” Concerned Women for America said Wednesday on Twitter.
A full accounting of who has faced FBI assessments is not known. Mr. Eddington, who has pressed the FBI for access to government records and obtained documentation of agents’ rule-breaking, has previously estimated that the FBI likely made hundreds of thousands of assessments. His estimate was based upon data obtained in 2011 by the New York Times indicating the FBI conducted more than 82,000 assessments for potential wrongdoing in the preceding two years.
The updated rulebook’s revelation of the FBI’s collaboration with the CIA and NSA is expected to fuel conservatives’ fire for Republican lawmakers to obtain answers about the FBI’s conduct.
Article III Project founder Mike Davis, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel for Republicans, said the FBI and intelligence community’s politicization has become crystal clear.
“This is illegal, outrageous, and dangerous,” Mr. Davis said in a statement about the FBI’s conduct. “Congress must — and will — fulfill its critical constitutional oversight responsibility by ending this.”
Allegations that federal agencies have taken action against Americans, including parents focused on their kids’ schooling and social media users, have spurred GOP lawmakers’ investigations. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Judiciary Committee are digging into how intelligence agencies target Americans, including via a new panel studying the weaponization of the federal government against U.S. citizens.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday and previously declined to answer questions about its work with the CIA and NSA. NSA previously declined to comment and referred questions to the FBI.
The CIA told The Times it takes seriously its obligation to respect Americans’ privacy and follows the law, relevant rules, and executive action.