Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) questions FBI Director Christopher Wray on March 9, 2023. Image: CSPAN

Congressman says he was target of ‘wrongful’ data searches by FBI

The lawmaker spearheading the House Intelligence Committee's effort to reauthorize powerful surveillance tools revealed on Thursday that he had been the target of data searches by the FBI.

Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) made the disclosure while questioning FBI Director Christopher Wray during the panel’s annual worldwide threats hearing. He was tasked last year to helm a group of GOP members to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which collects the digital communications of foreign targets but also incidentally hoovers up the personal data of an unknown number of Americans.

The Illinois Republican cited a recently declassified compliance report that detailed abuses of Section 702 and its massive database, which bureau analysts can search without a warrant. In a footnote, the summary mentions that an analyst repeatedly searched the repository using the name of a U.S. congressman.

“I have had the opportunity to review the classified summary of this violation. And it is my opinion that the member of Congress that was wrongfully queried multiple times, solely by his name, was, in fact, me,” Lahood said, noting the results were “unminimized,” so the target’s identity was not protected.

“Now this careless abuse of this critical tool by the FBI is unfortunate. Ironically, I think it gives me a good opportunity and a unique perspective about what’s wrong with the FBI,” he added.

According to LaHood, the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reviewed the incident and “found these queries to be wholly inappropriate, not compliant and a violation because they were overly broad as constructed.”

The revelation adds another potential hurdle to what is expected to be a dragout fight to extend the spying authorities, which will expire at the end of the year without congressional action.

In recognition of how difficult the task will be, three committee Democrats will be selected by Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the panel’s ranking member, to work with LaHood to hammer out a solution that can overcome a deeply divided Congress, Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) announced during the hearing.

“I'm excited about the important work this working group is planning to do. And under Darin's leadership I'm confident that they will produce meaningful reform proposals,” Turner said.

Wray, meanwhile, said he “completely” understood LaHood’s concerns about Section 702.

“We are absolutely committed to making sure that we show you, the rest of the members of Congress and the American people that we’re worthy of these incredibly valuable authorities,” he said.

Wray emphasized that the “compliance violations” predate reforms to FISA enacted by the FBI.

Turner closed the public portion of the hearing by saying the committee would give Wray a letter requesting that he “go back and look at all of the reports that we have received that indicate those abuses and provide us … how those abuses that are identified would have been addressed under your new reforms so that we could find out” what else must be addressed.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication's cybersecurity newsletter.