The FBI conducted unauthorized searches for domestic terrorists and other suspected criminals using data collected by the National Security Agency, according to a newly declassified court order.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court warned the FBI in 2018 that its so-called backdoor searches were constitutionally questionable, but the bureau continued to conduct warrant-free queries related to criminal investigations "racially motivated violent extremists" using the NSA's massive troves of foreign communications, reported The Daily Beast.
An FBI analyst ran a "batch query," using multiple search terms, on Americans in connection with domestic terror investigations that turned up 33 foreign surveillance results, and the FISA Court document shows the government acknowledged at least 40 FBI searches of the NSA's warrantless data involving "health care fraud, transnational organized crime, violent gangs" and "public corruption and bribery."
Seven FBI field offices were implicated in one analyst's May 2020 search through NSA data to vet a potential source in a public corruption investigation.
The newly declassified Nov. 18, 2020, FISA Court opinion signed by Judge James Boasberg found "widespread violations of the querying standard" for routine investigations that are supposed to require warrants.
Those searches were all conducted before the Jan. 6 insurrection, which renewed law enforcement interest in domestic terrorism, in the final year of Donald Trump's presidency.