FBI Repeatedly Misuses FISA Program

FBI Misused Surveillance Data, Spied On Its Own, FISA Ruling Finds

Contractor looked up relatives; data was used to vet agents, sources in US.

Sean Gallagher | ARS Technica | 10/9/2019
In an October 2018 ruling unsealed and posted on October 8, 2019 by the Office of the Director of Intelligence, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) found that the employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had inappropriately used data collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FBI was found to have misused surveillance data to look into American residents, including other FBI employees and their family members, making large-scale queries that did not distinguish between US persons and foreign intelligence targets.

In a statement emailed to Ars Technica, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani, said:

The government should not be able to spy on our calls and emails without a warrant. Any surveillance legislation considered by Congress this year must include reforms that address the disturbing abuses detailed in these opinions. Congress and the courts now have even more reason to prohibit warrantless searches of our information, and to permanently close the door on any collection of information that is not to or from a surveillance target.

A Declassified Court Ruling Shoes How The FBI Abused NSA Mass Surveillance Data

By abusing the NSA’s mass surveillance data, the FBI may have violated the rights of millions of Americans, a federal judge ruled.

Trevor Aaronson | The Intercept | October 10 2019

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that the FBI may have violated the rights of potentially millions of Americans — including its own agents and informants — by improperly searching through information obtained by the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program.

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg, who serves in the District of Columbia and the FISA court, made his sweeping and condemnatory assessment in October 2018 in a 138-page ruling, which was declassified by the U.S. government this week.

FBI Attorney Admits Altering Email Used for FISA Application During “Crossfire Hurricane” Investigation

US Attorney’s Office District of Connecticut | August 19, 2020

Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, 38, pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a false statement offense stemming from his altering of an email in connection with the submission of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) application, announced John H. Durham, Special Attorney to the Attorney General.

Pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the guilty plea proceeding occurred via videoconference before U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg.

According to court documents and statements made in court, between July 2015 and September 2019, Clinesmith was employed with the FBI as an Assistant General Counsel in the National Security and Cyber Law Branch of the FBI’s Office of General Counsel in Washington, D.C.  On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a Foreign Agents Registration Act investigation, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” into whether individuals associated with the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign were coordinating activities with the Russian government.  By August 16, 2016, the FBI had opened cases under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella on four individuals, including an individual identified in this case as “Individual #1.”

Clinesmith was assigned to provide legal support to FBI personnel working on Crossfire Hurricane, and he assisted FBI personnel with applications prepared by the FBI and the Justice Department’s National Security Division to conduct surveillance under the FISA.  During the investigation, there were a total of four court-approved FISA applications targeting Individual #1.  Each of the FISA applications alleged there was probable cause that Individual #1 was a knowing agent of a foreign power, specifically Russia.

On August 17, 2016, prior to the approval of the first FISA application #1, another U.S. government agency (“OGA”) provided certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team a memorandum indicating that Individual #1 had been approved as an “operational contact” for the OGA from 2008 to 2013 and detailing information that Individual #1 had provided to the OGA concerning Individual #1’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers.  The first three FISA applications did not include Individual #1’s history or status with the OGA.

Prior to the submission of the fourth FISA application, and after Individual #1 stated publicly that he/she had assisted the U.S. government in the past, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent (“SSA”) asked Clinesmith to inquire with the OGA as to whether Individual #1 had ever been a “source” for the OGA.  On June 15, 2017, Clinesmith sent an email to a liaison at the OGA (“OGA Liaison”) seeking clarification as to whether Individual #1 was an OGA source, and the OGA Liaison responded via email to Clinesmith.  On June 19, 2017, Clinesmith altered the email he received from the OGA Liaison by adding the words “not a source,” and then forwarded the email to the FBI SSA.  Relying on the altered email, on June 29, 2017, the SSA signed and submitted the fourth FISA application to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  The application did not include Individual #1’s history or status with the OGA.

Clinesmith pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement within both the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the U.S. government, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.  Judge Boasberg scheduled sentencing for December 10, 2020.

This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj N. Patel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Scarpelli, with the support and assistance of other members of Special Attorney Durham’s team.