JOHN SOLOMON: Comey Put Off Action After FBI Whistleblower Exposed Broken Warrantless Spy Program

The Hill‘s John Solomon reports then-FBI Director James Comey failed to take immediate action after a whistleblower came forward in 2014 to expose the bureau’s broken warrantless surveillance program.

John Solomon of The Hill reports:

Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the chief of the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit, said in an exclusive interview with The Hill that no action was taken by Comey in response to the concerns he raised. […]

“I explained to Director Comey that the special program was largely ineffective, very costly and highly burdensome to our agents in the field,” said Youssef, who supervised the program on a daily basis from 2005 through 2014.

Youssef, a decorated counterterrorism agent and prior FBI whistleblower, told The Hill that he sought in the summer of 2014 to get the FBI to reform the program out of concern it gave the FBI easy access to Americans’ telephone data, leaving it open to potential abuse while generating spurious connections between innocent people and bad actors.

“I believe that the program, as it was, was ripe for potential abuses,” he said. “I think that every law-abiding citizen should feel comfortable and secure in their home in terms of their privacy and that was not the case.” […]

The program was originally started immediately after the 9/11 attacks without specific congressional approval. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the FBI was eventually given the power to collect “tangible things,” including books and business records, that were merely relevant to an investigation – a standard far lower than the probable cause warrant generally required in a criminal case. […]

Youssef said Comey initially appeared very interested in pursuing the reforms but then the effort lost all momentum. Youssef said bureau leaders told him they preferred to keep the program untouched, if nothing else to be a “safety blanket” if other terrorism tools failed. […]

In spring 2017, the FBI announced it was ending some of its controversial surveillance practices, including so-called upstream searches of NSA data involving Americans. Those changes came after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued a rare public opinion, rebuking the FBI for failing to promptly disclose past abuses of some of its surveillance powers that could have impacted Americans’ privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment.

Last December, a whistleblower came forward to reveal the FBI was using NSA surveillance tools to spy on Americans, Sara A. Carter reported.

“The program can be misused by anyone with access to it,” a former intelligence agent told reporter Carter.

“There needs to be an extensive investigation of all the Americans connected to President Trump and the campaign who were unmasked in connection with the 2016 election.”

Carter reported:

The whistleblowers, who recently disclosed the program’s process to Congressional oversight committees, say concern over the warrantless surveillance mounted when it was disclosed earlier this year that Obama officials had accessed and unmasked communications of members of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, allegedly without clear justification.

The process, known as ‘reverse targeting,’ occurs when intelligence and law enforcement officials use a foreign person as a legal pretence for their intended target, an American citizen, the officials stated. […]

In Comey’s last testimony as FBI director before he was fired by President Trump, he told lawmakers any warrantless information accessed by the FBI, “lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked.”

But a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court surveillance ruling declassified in April references hundreds of violations of the FBI’s privacy-protecting minimization rules that occurred on Comey’s watch.

“The warrantless surveillance program had the appearance of being shut down following the 2005 New York Times article that exposed it,” the intelligent officer told Carter.

“However, a few weeks later, the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) approved what is known as bulk FISA collection. This FISA authority allowed for the targeting of domestic numbers believed to be tainted,” the ex-intelligence officer added.


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