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J. MICHAEL WALLER: Poison Pill In 2024 Defense Bill Holds The Military Hostage To Domestic Spying


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J. Michael Waller J. Michael Waller is Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy.
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The Firm has inserted a last-minute poison pill in the legislation to spy on American citizens while funding our Armed Forces.

Senate Democrats and their Republican conferees have agreed to hold our military hostage to an extension of a domestic spying law that has allowed the FBI to stomp Americans’ rights through warrantless surveillance. (RELATED: ‘Surrogate Spies’: Massive Expansion Of Gov’t Surveillance Powers Buried In House Intel Committee Bill, Experts Say)

“The Firm” is Sen. Mike Lee’s term for the intelligence-industrial complex of the politicized FBI and its parent Department of Justice, the foreign intelligence community, contractors who make their livelihoods from them, and compromised lawmakers and staff.

The Utah Republican, a constitutional lawyer, has been warning that the law to keep our military running in 2024, the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA, will also extend a law that the intelligence community has used to make warrantless searches of American citizens.

The FBI has committed these abuses “not just sporadically and by accident but quite deliberately and on hundreds of thousands of occasions,” Lee writes in one of his many carefully reasoned arguments.

The Firm inserted renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, with its notorious Section 702 on electronic surveillance, into the Defense bill.

FISA is an important law passed after the 2001 al-Qaida attacks as a tool for the intelligence community to bust foreign terrorists and other subversives inside the United States.

Because of the potential for abuse, Congress originally intended for FISA to expire on its own. The Firm persuaded Congress to renew it. FISA is due to expire this month.

Rather than address the systematic abuses, FBI Director Christopher Wray has covered them up, obfuscated and even lied to Congress, and lobbied for an extension of FISA as-is.

The Bureau won’t even provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with the reforms it claims to have implemented. “We have absolutely no reason to trust you,” Lee told Wray in a hearing last week, “because you can’t even behave in a manner that’s trustworthy. You can’t even as we sit here tell me that people who intentionally, knowingly, deliberately violated the civil rights of American citizens, that they were fired, or that they had their security clearance stripped.”

And so The Firm is using the universally supported Defense bill to insert its last-minute FISA poison pill.

There are alternatives. With a huge bipartisan majority, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill by Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs to reform FISA and Section 702. Sen. Lee and Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a bipartisan reform bill in the Senate, practically ensuring that it would pass.

But the Senate leadership went with The Firm and  buried the latest FISA extension in the Defense bill as Congress prepares to recess for the year.

As far as taking care of Section 702, The Firm appears partial to a House Intelligence Committee bill, also under consideration this week, purporting to fix FISA abuses. That bill is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” against the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution to protect citizens against unreasonable search and seizure, says Sen. Lee, who has been burning up Twitter/X with attacks on NDAA and a companion intelligence bill with fake reforms.

“That bill’s actual reforms are at best illusory. But it’s worse than that,” warns Lee. The intelligence bill is a “Trojan horse” that “would actually make it easier for the FBI to spy on Americans without a warrant.”

Which gets us back to the NDAA.

The Firm’s logic is terrifying: On the eve of the 2024 election year, senators who vote to oppose warrantless spying on American citizens are opposing our men and women in uniform. By fixing a law to prevent constitutional abuses, senators would, the logic holds, be helping terrorists, Communist China and Putin.

Lee has a way out of that dishonest argument. A vote for the NDAA with the FISA Trojan horse is really a vote against defending our constitutional rights. He argues that the Senate should vote against the NDAA, strip out the FISA extension, and then vote for a clean Defense bill and a separate bipartisan bill to reform FISA.

But The Firm has other plans.

J. Michael Waller is Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy. His book, “Big Intel: How the CIA and FBI Went from Cold War Heroes to Deep State Villains” (Regnery), will be released in January. Follow him on X @JMichaelWaller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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