July 21, 2023 – FISC Report: FBI searched U.S. Senator’s name in foreign-spying database

In Email/Dossier Investigations, Featured Timeline Entries by Katie Weddington

CIA Director David Petraeus, whose agency reads Americans’ email and listens to their phone calls, loses his career because the FBI read his emails. (Credit: Ted Rall)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation wrongfully searched a foreign-intelligence database for information about a U.S. senator and two state officials last year, a federal surveillance court said, a disclosure that could fuel a bipartisan effort in Congress to overhaul the spying program.

In June 2022, an FBI analyst conducted four overly broad searches of the U.S. senator’s last name in a database of calls, texts, emails and other electronic information collected by the National Security Agency, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said. The analyst also searched the data using the last name of a state senator. The names of the senators haven’t been made public.

The analyst had information that an unnamed foreign intelligence service had been targeting the two legislators, but the analyst failed to meet standards required to conduct the search, the court said.

Additionally, an unidentified state judge’s social security number was wrongfully used in an October 2022 search of the foreign-intelligence trove after the judge complained to the FBI about alleged civil-rights violations perpetrated by a municipal chief of police, the court said.

Also Friday, U.S. intelligence agencies revealed that counterterrorism officials use the database to help them vet immigrants being processed to travel to the U.S.

The court opinion, written in April but partially declassified only Friday, overall applauded the FBI for what it described as dramatic improvements in adhering to rules for conducting searches of Americans’ data.

The National Security Agency collects the data under a law known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows the secretive eavesdropping agency to siphon digital data from U.S. technology providers. The data can then be searched without a warrant by various spy agencies, including the FBI, which has a robust counterintelligence mission. (Read more: The Wall Street Journal, 7/32/2023 – Archive copy)