The Federal Bureau of Investigation has become a serious threat to the liberties of the American people.
There’s a growing sense of urgency, especially among conservatives in Congress, that the FBI must be brought under effective oversight and fundamentally reformed to end its weaponization and to resecure our most basic freedoms. Monday, The Heritage Foundation issued a report that contains extensive suggestions that should be considered in rebuilding the FBI from the ground up.
The FBI’s record is nothing less than chilling. Since 9/11, the bureau has expanded its use of broad intelligence-gathering powers, increasingly directing them at political movements that the Left perceives threaten the Washington establishment and directing its surveillance at ordinary Americans’ exercise of free speech, religious liberties, and other constitutionally protected rights.
This dangerous trend led to the partisan abuses of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane operation to link Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to Russian interference in the election, as confirmed in damning detail in special counsel John Durham’s report.
Then-Director James Comey’s FBI fabricated the “Russian collusion” hoax to support the fraudulent misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, conducting a politicized assault on Trump’s presidential campaign while giving Hillary Clinton’s competing campaign protective treatment.
And then there were the shocking revelations exposed in the Twitter Files: the suppression of the damning evidence on Hunter Biden’s laptop to the benefit of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the monitoring of social media to target opinions that dissented from the Biden administration’s preferred policies on COVID-19 vaccines and other matters, and the ongoing efforts to pressure Big Tech to censor or “shadow ban” disfavored speech and label it as “disinformation.”
Then there’s the FBI’s harassment of Americans for expressing their religious convictions at abortion clinics while violent Antifa rioters get a pass. And there’s its treatment of parents as potential terrorists for trying to look after their children’s education by speaking up at school board meetings.
And recent reports unsealed by the FISA court reveal that the FBI has repeatedly abused its access to the data collected under FISA Section 702, a powerful foreign intelligence tool.
While Section 702 surveillance is targeted only at foreigners located outside the U.S., it does sweep in some communications involving persons in the U.S., and the FBI has improperly dipped into the 702 database more than 278,000 times to gather information on Americans for purposes having nothing to do with national security.
The subjects of these improper FBI searches have included Jan. 6 rioters, Black Lives Matter protesters, visitors to the FBI headquarters, and even donors to congressional campaigns, among others.
So, there are certainly compelling grounds for a complete reformation of the FBI. Many in Congress are intent on reconstructing the bureau from the ground up in a new form, one limited to traditional core law enforcement responsibilities and subject to the structural restraints and oversight needed to protect the constitutional rights of Americans.
In a major paper published Monday, The Heritage Foundation weighs in on these issues, explaining the need for fundamental reforms, describing the general elements that would be involved in rebuilding the FBI, and offering options for Congress’ consideration. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
One option is to narrow the bureau’s jurisdiction and focus its mission on major law enforcement and national security challenges that are beyond the capacity of local law enforcement and that are not adequately addressed by other federal agencies. Another significant option would be to take away the FBI’s intelligence functions and move them elsewhere.
Other proposed elements include:
- Prohibiting efforts to suppress free speech, religious liberty, and other constitutional rights by restricting or eliminating the bureau’s authority to monitor the activities of Americans without any evident connection to a possible crime.
- Enhancing the bureau’s support for and technical assistance to state and local law enforcement. The bureau’s tools and expertise can be employed to improve the performance and effectiveness of law enforcement at the local level.
- Putting the FBI director under the attorney general’s chain of command and repealing the director’s 10-year term of office. No federal law enforcement bureau should be a power unto itself, able to act on a rogue basis without supervision.
- Reviewing the bureau’s personnel and personnel practices and including requirements for new, more stringent ethical standards and employee screenings.
- Shifting headcount and resources from the Washington headquarters to the field offices.
- Creating an FBI inspector general to ensure proper oversight of the bureau’s compliance with all applicable requirements, limitations, and protections envisioned by Congress.
- Requiring the inspector general to complete a comprehensive review cataloging and exposing all prior abuses.
- Requiring the attorney general to purge all information that was improperly collected on Americans by the FBI or other components of the Justice Department.
Whether or not Congress decides to start the bureau over from scratch, there remains the imperative to end the weaponization of the FBI and the misuse of intelligence authorities. Our Heritage report discusses in detail the minimum set of reforms that must be enacted to do that job.
At the very least, these should include insulating the FBI from the Section 702 program and making other reforms to FISA necessary to address the abuses seen in Crossfire Hurricane. The Biden administration’s push for legislation reauthorizing Section 702, which expires at the end of this calendar year, gives Congress the ideal opportunity to insist on these important FISA reforms.
It’s also critical to prohibit the FBI and other federal agencies from working with outside entities to pressure or suppress constitutionally protected speech as “disinformation,” as well as to prohibit any efforts to target the exercise of religious beliefs and parental rights.
One way or another, the time is now for Congress to do what’s needed to fix the FBI and end its trampling of Americans’ most precious civil liberties.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal