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By Ben Johnson
The Washington Stand

Conservative critics find it “very bizarre” that sources announced an unspecified “national security threat” just hours before the House of Representatives had scheduled a vote to rein in a warrantless government spy program. Republicans said they had “no confidence” in Biden’s foreign policy leadership and his promises not to use the authority to spy on U.S. citizens, including President Donald Trump. In fact, one congressman said a bipartisan faction of Congress aligned with the intelligence community “wants to keep spying on Americans.”

On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) warned of a “serious national security threat” and called on the Biden administration to declassify all information on the issue. Although Turner did not spell out the nature of the threat, anonymous sources later told the media it centers around Russian plans to launch space-based nuclear weapons that could target U.S. satellites. Those sources said Russia has not yet deployed the technology. Biden included information technology on a list of 16 critical infrastructure targets he gave to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021, which he deemed “off-limits” for cyberattacks.

The announcement’s timing concerned many inside and outside Congress, as it coincided with House leadership canceling a vote to reform a spying provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 702 of FISA allows U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on foreign actors without a warrant. However, that foreign-targeted spying also sweeps up vast amounts of information on U.S. citizens who are in touch with foreigners. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) canceled a vote to roll back the secret surveillance authority on Wednesday. Originally passed in 1978 and strengthened after 9/11, section 702 has long concerned civil libertarians of both parties.

‘Very Bizarre’ Timing: General

The timing and vagaries of the announcement seemed “very bizarre,” said Lt. General Jerry Boykin (Ret.), Family Research Council’s executive vice president, on Wednesday’s “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.” National leaders announced a distressing-but-general external threat and, so far, “We don’t know what we’re looking at; we don’t know what it does; we don’t know where it comes from.” The lack of specificity coupled with a purportedly imminent threat “has the potential to scare every American” and “make them fearful of what their government is doing,” said Boykin. “And that’s a bad thing. That is a really bad thing.”

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) faulted “the lack of information and the lack of response from the administration. … They’re not declassifying it, although we’re calling the administration to do so.” Waltz told Perkins his concerns stem from the full weight of the Biden administration’s foreign policy failures. “From the [Communist Chinese] spy balloon incident, to our disastrous Iran policy, to sitting on our hands and allowing the Houthis to use our ships as target practice, there’s a real lack of confidence in the leadership and the policy decisions and judgment of this White House.”

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) told Perkins he had not looked at the intelligence but that members of Congress who had seen the alleged threat had “mixed reactions” to the evidence, leaving Davidson uncertain the announcement “should be taken seriously.”

The threat announcement came roughly at the same time news broke that the Obama-Biden administration had illegally collaborated with foreign intelligence agencies to spy on U.S. citizens. Sources close to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that then-CIA Director John Brennan targeted 26 officials in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign to be surveilled by foreign members of the “Five Eyes”: the U.S., U.K,, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Brennan admitted that he voted for Soviet-funded Communist Party USA presidential candidate Gus Hall in 1976.

“FISA needs to be reformed, and this reauthorization is an opportunity to do that,” Waltz told Perkins, especially in light of “the abuses of the process as it pertained to President Trump, the Steele dossier, [and] the relying on media reports as evidentiary factors in getting a FISA warrant.” Yet despite these revelations, Waltz considers the surveillance tool so valuable that “we cannot allow this provision to die or go dark,” an outcome he would oppose as strongly as “a clean authorization that doesn’t put reforms in place.”

Bipartisan Faction in Congress ‘Wants to Keep Spying on Americans’: Davidson

The story deepened divisions within the House GOP, the House Freedom Caucus, and members of the Judiciary Committee’s amendments. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) accused federal bureaucrats of “spying and lying.” The caucus also backs the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, introduced by Davidson, which would bar federal officials from purchasing commercially available information (CAI) about U.S. citizens without a warrant. The data federal agents have bought contains enough sensitive information to “cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being, or physical safety,” according to a 2022 intelligence report on CAI collection, made public last June by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“There wasn’t a plan to just let it lapse. I mean, when this thing was passed into law, it has a sunset provision for a reason. We anticipate a period where maybe we won’t need to keep doing this,” said Davidson on Wednesday.

A bipartisan coalition — spanning from libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and conservative House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), to liberal Rep. Jerrold Nadler (R-N.Y.) and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) — “want to protect civil liberties and still protect the American people.”

“The Intelligence Committee in [the House and Senate] essentially wants to keep spying on Americans,” Davidson insisted. In fact, the amendments that the Intelligence Committee proposed were all to expand the surveillance capabilities that they already have. They want to add ways to spy on Americans.”

Davidson accused Biden administration officials of “targeting everyone from pro-life Catholics, to people that go to school board meetings to people who go to protests for [Black Lives Matter] or people who back certain political candidates. These are massive abuses, and no one’s been held accountable for it. That’s why we have to get the reforms through.”

The American system of government relies on a system of checks-and-balances, with robust privacy rights to guard citizens against an encroaching federal tyranny, Davidson said. “If you really wanted to keep everyone safe, you could put a soldier in every home,” but the Third Amendment prevents the quartering of troops in Americans’ homes, and the Fourth Amendment prevents “unreasonable searches and seizures.” That amendment also requires the government to obtain warrants based on probable cause.

The Founding Fathers designed the Bill of Rights as their “check on the abuse by the executive branches.” But the court that grants warrants to spy, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), amounts to little more than “an executive branch-dominated system,” said Davidson.

“We have to be extra careful, extra careful, to preserve the rights and freedoms of Americans,” said Tony Perkins.

During the program, Lt. Gen. Boykin revealed he had personally used FISA’s surveillance powers in an appropriate way. “Right after the act was created, there was a lot of angst about it then. But I started using it, and it was under a lot of control. It wasn’t just willy-nilly; it was under control, and they used proper procedures.”

“In fact, I was on a board that oversaw some of” FISA’s activities, “and we caught a lot of people that needed to be taken off the streets of America by using that act,” the general revealed. But federal authorities have so abused FISA surveillance powers that “right now, I have no confidence whatsoever” in their current use.

“Under this administration, there is no way that any of us should trust what these agencies are doing,” Boykin told Perkins.

Originally published at The Washington Stand


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