FBI director Chris Wray insists controversial spy tool FISA keeps Americans SAFE as Republican critics grill him on ‘abuses’ of warrantless surveillance

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • ‘Section 702 is indispensable in keeping Americans safe from a whole barrage of fast moving foreign threats,’ Wray insisted
  • FISA Section 702 has been credited for helping intel officers thwart terror attacks on U.S. soil, but has also been prone to abuse with spying on U.S. citizens

FBI Director Christopher Wray sent a chilling warning on what could happen if FISA’s Section 702 lapses in a hearing on Thursday, just as Republicans debate how to move forward on reauthorizing the controversial spy tool.

Section 702 of the Foreign Information Surveillance Act (FISA) is set to expire on April 19, after which the intelligence community will not be allowed go ‘blind’ to conversations of suspected terrorists abroad whenever they are communicating with a U.S. citizen on American soil. 

‘Section 702 is indispensable in keeping Americans safe from a whole barrage of fast moving foreign threats,’ Wray insisted during a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday.

‘It is crucial to identifying terrorists in the homeland, working with or inspired by a rogue’s gallery of foreign terrorist organization and who have publicly called for attacks against our country. It helps us find out who these terrorists are working with … and what we need to stop them before they kill Americans.’ 

‘Section 702 is indispensable in keeping Americans safe from a whole barrage of fast moving foreign threats,’ Wray insisted.

Alleged Crocus City Hall terrorist Dalerjon Mirzoev, 32

Alleged Crocus City Hall terrorist Dalerjon Mirzoev, 32

Smoke from fire rises above the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, on March 22

Smoke from fire rises above the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, on March 22

FISA Section 702 has been credited for helping intelligence officers thwart terror attacks on U.S. soil, but has also been prone to abuse with spying on U.S. citizens. 

‘So if Congress lets 702 lapse, which it’s set to do now, next week, it will massively increase the risk of missing crucial intelligence during a time of heightened national security threats across a whole multiple of fronts,’ Wray said. 

‘If we’re blinded from seeing what our adversaries are, who they’re working with, I can tell you that’s going to most definitely have consequences for our ability to protect the American people, because I can assure that none of our adversaries are tying their own hands. So now is not the time for us to hang up our gloves.’ 

Wray was on Capitol Hill testifying for his $11.6 billion budget request to run the FBI in 2025 before the Appropriations Committee.  

A FISA reauthorization bill with new guardrails for transparency failed to advance on the House floor Wednesday after hardliner conservative revolt. It’s expected to come up again on Friday. 

Former President Donald Trump posted on Truth Social Wednesday morning ahead of the vote, urging the bill to be killed.

‘KILL FISA, IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!! DJT’ the former president exclaimed. 

Another part of the law that is not up for reauthorization – Title 1 – was used to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 when he was suspected of communications with the Russians.

Section 702 specifically allows the U.S. government to surveil foreign nationals with suspected terror ties who are not on U.S. soil, even if the party on the other side of such communications is a U.S. national in America. 

Wray said earlier Thursday that the ‘greatest terrorism threat’ to the U.S. is ‘posed by lone actors or small cells of individuals who typically radicalize to violence online.’

That includes ISIS – which recently carried out a terrorist attack at a theatre in Russia. 

Russian social media abuzz with 'Men In Blue' (marked) conspiracy theory linking terrorist attack in Moscow's Crocus City Hall to FSB

Russian social media abuzz with ‘Men In Blue’ (marked) conspiracy theory linking terrorist attack in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall to FSB

Wray was on Capitol Hill testifying for his $11.6 billion budget request to run the FBI in 2025 before the Appropriations Committee

Wray was on Capitol Hill testifying for his $11.6 billion budget request to run the FBI in 2025 before the Appropriations Committee

If an intelligence officer queried Section 702 to pick up communications of a suspected terrorist, and they were talking with a U.S. citizen in the states, they would only be able to see the terrorists’ half of the conversation without a warrant to look at the U.S. national’s. 

Speaker Mike Johnson shot back to Trump’s message ahead of the vote: ‘Trump used the intel from this program to kill terrorists.’ 

The speaker claimed the bill as it stands now ‘kills the abuses’ that took place under FISA in the past. 

He’s warned that if the compromise bill fails, the Senate will ‘jam’ the House with a clean reauthorization without oversight reforms before FISA’s expiration on April 19. 

The House will now try again to vote on FISA on Friday morning, after discussing new amendments and a shorter timeframe for reauthorization – two years – which conservatives hope will allow them to hash out FISA under a potential future Trump administration. 

Hardliners on the right and left have become strange bedfellows over accusations that FISA has trampled on Americans’ civil liberties. 

They are advocating for an amendment that would require intelligence officers to get a warrant before picking up communications of any U.S. citizens who are talking with foreign nationals under suspicion. 

That amendment pits the Judiciary Committee and its allies against the Intelligence Committee and national security hawks who say the intel community should not be bogged down trying to get warrants when potential terror plots involve communications with Americans. 

A report from May 2023 detailed how the FBI used Section 702 to ‘query’ – or search – names of individuals who were suspected of being on the Capitol grounds during the January 6, 2021 riot, Black Lives Matters protestors, victims of crime and their families and donors to one congressional campaign. 

In total, the FBI misused Section 702 over 278,000 times – according to the document. The FBI says FISA abuses have plummeted in recent years. 

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., asked Wray whether the FBI currently complies ‘in every way’ with 702.  

‘My understanding is that we’re in compliance with the law,’ Wray insisted. 

While many of Section 702’s uses remain classified, intelligence officials leaked late last year that they had used the controversial tool to thwart weapons sales to Iran. 

The CIA and other intelligence agencies had used information gathered through monitoring the electronic communications of foreign weapons manufacturers and stopping several shipments of advanced weapons to Iran. 

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