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Thursday, July 25, 2024

SCOOP: GAO to Investigate Dubious FBI Surveillance Practice

'The work will likely begin next month...'

(Ken Silva, Headline USAThe Government Accountability Office has informed Headline USA that it will soon begin reviewing the FBI’s use of “assessments”—a constitutionally dubious practice that allows the bureau to target groups and individuals without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

FBI assessments have come under recent scrutiny in relation to the DOJ’s targeting of parents who hotly protested COVID-19 restrictions and other issues at school board meetings. A report published Tuesday by the House Weaponization Subcommittee revealed that the FBI conducted at least 25 assessments of school board threats—only one of which resulted in a full investigation, and none of which resulted in federal prosecutions.

However, the impending GAO audit stems from a request more than a year ago from Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and Jamie Raskin, D-N.Y.

“We ask that GAO examine whether assessments result in the improper monitoring of protected First Amendment activity—including by political, racial, or religious organizations—and whether the FBI has sufficient controls in place to ensure that they do not run afoul of constitutional protections,” Mace and Raskin wrote to the GAO last March.

Headline USA asked the GAO about the status of this request on Wednesday, and was told that work will begin soon.

“We accepted [Mace and Raskin’s] request and the work will likely begin next month. Our relevant team had to complete some legislative mandates first,” Chuck Young, the managing director of GAO’s public affairs, said in an email.

The FBI treats assessments as precursors to full investigations, but Reps. Mace and Raskin have warned of their rampant abuse.

“We are concerned that FBI assessments operate as de facto investigations that can be launched without a factual predicate of criminal wrongdoing,” they said in their letter last March.

According to the Mace and Raskin, the FBI opened 11,667 assessments of individuals and groups between December 2008 and March 2009; only 427 developed into full investigations based on information collected. By 2011, the FBI had opened 82,235 similar assessments with fewer than 4,000 yielding any factual predicate to proceed with more intensive inquiries, they said.

“The FBI has opened investigations into people without any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, undermining our right to free speech and due process under the First Amendment,” Mace wrote last March.

“Under the FBI’s 2008 guidelines, the Agency is free to use ‘intrusive investigative techniques,’ including informants and unlimited physical surveillance, on individuals and groups without any link to criminality. This is scary, and it is a violation of the Constitution, plain and simple.”

Specific examples of improper assessments cited by Mace and Raskin include a two-year assessment into a group opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline, and multiple assessments on “black identity extremists” between 2015 and 2018, despite the lack of any known connection between the targets and violent activity.

The FBI also targeted the First Amendment-protected public protests and educational activities, including a University of Oregon coordinated “kayak field trip,” organized by groups opposing the Jordan Cove liquified natural gas terminal project in Coos Bay, Oregon, according to Mace and Raskin.

In relation to the school board protests, the recent Weaponization Subcommittee report said its findings supplement FBI whistleblower allegations that the FBI investigated a mom because she belonged to a “right-wing mom’s group” and a dad because “he rails against the government.”

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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