WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers launched an effort Wednesday to save a secretive government spy tool that faces an uphill battle for reauthorization amid increased skepticism of the 9/11-era surveillance program.
The House Intelligence Committee, one of just a few GOP-led panels that hasn’t shifted its priorities to partisan investigations in the new Congress, named three Republicans and three Democrats to form a working group that will focus on renewing a statute that allows the federal government to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreigners outside the U.S., even if they’re communicating with Americans.
Without congressional action, the provision, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, will expire at the end of the year.
In recent weeks, intelligence officials have begun ramping up lobbying efforts in support of reauthorizing the program, known as FISA.
Opposition to the program, however, has created strange bedfellows. Some Republicans have aligned themselves with former President Donald Trump’s distrust of intelligence agencies and are pushing to kill the program altogether. They’re joined by civil liberties groups and privacy-focused lawmakers on the left.
The surveillance debate took an unexpected twist this month at the committee’s annual worldwide threats hearing when GOP Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois, who will lead the bipartisan working group seeking FISA reauthorization, publicly revealed that he may have been at the center of “improper queries” by the FBI.
“The FBI’s actions raise further questions about the serious reforms needed to FISA,” LaHood said at the time, while praising the “incredible value” the program offers to the intelligence community. “Many Americans have rightfully lost faith in the FBI and the FISA process. This incident, along with other outlined abuses, must be a wake-up call for” the intelligence community.
In announcing the new working group, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner of Ohio said that “corrections must be made to protect American citizens’ constitutional rights.”
Joining LaHood in the working group are GOP Reps. Chris Stewart of Utah and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who is also a co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and Democratic Reps. Andre Carson of Indiana, Joaquin Castro of Texas and Jason Crow of Colorado, who were all chosen by the committee’s top Democrat, Jim Himes of Connecticut.
“The six members of this working group encapsulated the thoughtful, pragmatic, bipartisan approach that will be essential to tackling one of the most important issues facing this Congress,” Himes said in a statement.