FBI Abused Foreign Surveillance Authority to Investigate Racial Justice Protesters

By Steve Neavling

FBI officials repeatedly violated their own standards when they used a foreign surveillance authority in 2020 to search for information on racial justice protesters, according to two reports declassified Friday, Politico reports. 

The violations came before corrective measures began in 2021. 

Nevertheless, the revelations could complicate efforts by the FBI and Justice Department to receive congressional reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires at the end of the year. Federal law enforcement officials argue the information is vital to stop terrorists and cyberattacks. 

According to the declassified information, the bureau conducted a “batch query” related to 133 people “arrested in connection with civil unrest and protests” between May 30, 2020, and June 18, 2020.

The FBI believed the queries were “reasonably likely to retrieve evidence of a crime simply because they pertained to persons who had been arrested.”

“The query was run to determine whether the FBI had ‘any counter-terrorism derogatory information on the arrestees,’ but without ‘any specific potential connections to terrorist related activity’ known to those who conducted the queries,” the FISC memorandum reads.

Asked about the queries on Friday, a senior FBI official said the search was run because of a “lack of understanding on the part of the person who ran it, and that person received remedial training as well.”

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