Is it shocking to find out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been improperly spying on thousands of American citizens? It should be shocking, but, of course, it isn’t. The unraveling of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax exposed the extent to which senior members of the Bureau are willing to go – and the laws they are willing to break – to investigate people they don’t like; even in the absence of any proof that a crime has been committed.
The idea of interagency rivalries within the federal government is also something that would not surprise anybody. However, if the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) are not on the same page, that might be cause for concern – and it appears that the latter may have just thrown the former under the bus, so to speak. The FBI does not have a good track record when it comes to abiding by the federal laws – and even its own protocols – regarding surveillance of American citizens. Just recently, the NSA – which itself is not known for respecting privacy rights – agreed to release some FBI-related records that are likely to further tarnish the reputation of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.
Improper Data Collection
This particular story begins with Ty Clevenger, an attorney who last year filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a nonprofit organization called The Transparency Project. Clevenger requested records relating to FBI searches of intelligence databases; the Bureau was attempting to gather information on some 16,000 Americans. Clevenger’s request was denied when the FBI claimed that he did “not provide enough descriptive information to permit a search of our records.” The attorney had also filed a FOIA request with the NSA and, initially, the Agency declined to hand anything over.
Back in 2019, the FBI told a U.S. District judge that their data intercepts for all 16,000 of these Americans “were reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of a crime because [redacted].” That judge, Obama-appointee James Boasberg, found the Bureau’s claim “unsupportable” in all but just seven cases. Nevertheless, he allowed the FBI to continue with its data collection.
It was almost as if the Bureau was working on the principle that, although it had no proof that crimes had been committed, enough searching and surveillance would surely uncover some. As Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police, famously boasted: “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.”
There’s been a change of heart at the NSA, however, and Clevenger will now obtain the requested documents. This puts the agency at odds with the FBI, or so Clevenger believes. The attorney told The Epoch Times that “there’s been some history of the NSA trying to limit the FBI access [to electronic searches], because they know that the FBI is misusing the data intercepts.”
Does this mean that the NSA are the good guys? Are they determined to prevent the FBI from violaing Americans’ rights to privacy – or is it perhaps that the folks at the Agency think that they should be the only ones to infringe upon those rights?
Clevenger believes that the NSA, for the most part, does not abuse the rules governing such searches to the extent that the FBI abuses them. Whether most Americans would agree with that belief is another matter.
One wonders whether the men and women who run the government’s intelligence and law enforcement operations even believe that citizens have any right to privacy. Some people, after all, say that if one has nothing to hide, then one need not be concerned that private documents and communications are being monitored by the authorities. This is an altogether disturbing way of looking at the issue. It is akin to believing that private citizens should be continuously proving that they have not committed a crime by allowing others to pry into their personal lives.
Gathering the information of thousands of Americans because doing so is “reasonably likely” to turn up evidence of a crime sends a pretty clear message to the general public: Your government does not trust you. Well, as it turns out, the feeling is entirely mutual.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.