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FBI Director Warns Congress of Lapse in Surveillance Tool Amid 'Blinking Red Lights'

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The head of the FBI hopes Congress will reauthorize a surveillance tool before it expires at the end of the year and warns letting it lapse could have devastating consequences.

FBI Director Christopher Wray devoted much of his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to asking the Senate panel to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA. It's set to expire in a few weeks. 

Section 702 was created after 9/11, providing a way to gather intelligence without a warrant on foreign targets outside of the U.S.  Wray said the growing threats from China and Iran were reasons enough to renew it. 

"What are we going to say to the family whose loved ones' care was sabotaged when a hospital was taken offline by a foreign adversary and the FBI wasn't able to stop that cyber attack? What's the justification for not using every lawful tool to stop China from stealing our technology and undermining our freedoms, because I can assure you the PRC is not holding back," Wray said to the committee. 

Wray also said the Israel-Hamas war has elevated the terrorist threat level with calls from terrorist organizations to attack America and its citizens.

"Blinking red lights, the analogy about 9/11, all the lights were blinking red before 9/11. Obviously, all of us missed it. Would you say there's multiple blinking red lights out there," asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). 

"I see blinking lights everywhere I turn," Wray said. 

The 702 program has come under fire over concerns about how it can be used. Including the potential to spy on American citizens.

"There is a concern that the tools, including FISA, can be abused. It can be abused to target U.S. citizens. Let me just ask you directly is it possible to lawfully target an American citizen under 702," asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). 

"Well I think reverse targeting is explicitly prohibited," replied Wray. 

Section 702 expires at the end of the year. There has been a bipartisan push to reform some of the powers in 702 over the concerns it could be abused and used against Americans.

A court found the FBI broke its own rules when it used some of the 702 powers to search for information related to the January 6th riots as well as the racial riots from recent years.

Some of the reforms members of Congress would like to see would include getting a warrant before searching through the intelligence they've gathered. Wray told the panel that weakening the 702 powers could open the United States up to another attack. 


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