Opinion: Don’t let Washington spy on U.S. citizens
Whether someone liked an allegedly offensive Facebook post, attended a political rally or watched a certain news program may become the driving force of who is monitored
The Biden administration is turning the massive powers of the U.S. intelligence community inward, toward the American people. And at the same time, there is an effort among many House Democrats to increase the role of the intelligence community in domestic law enforcement issues. This is all being done under the guise of “domestic violent extremism.”
This dangerous activity raises many important questions. Why is the Intel Committee looking at domestic terrorism with no foreign nexus? Do we think the CIA should be spying on U.S. citizens? Or the National Security Agency?
I believe the answer to these questions is a resounding no. And I believe the American people — Democrat, Republican or independent — feel the same way. That’s why I introduced legislation that would put a wall between U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. citizens.
This does not mean that I, or any other Republican, do not see a need for both adequate resources and a coordinated federal response to address threats associated with domestic violent extremism. That need absolutely exists, and it needs to be handled by the FBI, state or local law enforcement.
For evidence of that fact, look no further than House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s call for the FBI to review its conclusion about the 2017 congressional baseball shooting. Scalise and more than a dozen other House Republicans wrote a letter to the FBI that reads, “We all agree that violent extremism of any kind must be rooted out and addressed by our law enforcement agencies. But we cannot presume to understand the scope of this issue if our law enforcement agencies do not investigate all instances of extremism, regardless of motivating ideology, with equal vigor.”
My colleagues are absolutely right. Domestic violent extremism is a serious issue that demands investigation. They’re also correct in contacting the FBI about this issue. This is a law enforcement activity, so law enforcement is responsible for the investigation. To the extent that it is an intelligence activity, it certainly doesn’t have to do with foreign intelligence.
Still, despite these clear guardrails, the Biden administration changed the National Counterterrorism Center’s guidelines. While it will not “collect” intel on U.S. citizens, it will “receive” intel. This is an obvious play on words with absolutely no distinction at all. This rule, coupled with House Democrats’ obsessive focus on “domestic extremism,” will lead to the monitoring of Americans who have committed no crime.
I believe that whether someone liked an allegedly offensive Facebook post, attended a political rally or watched a certain news program may become the driving force of who is monitored.
And unfortunately, this is not my imagination. Everyone reading this knows that the Obama administration weaponized intelligence agencies against former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. Former CIA Director John Brennan said that our government needs to be investigating an “unholy alliance” of those who disagree with him politically, including “libertarians.”
This is the fundamental reason why we can’t turn the Intelligence community on American citizens — it is fatal to our freedoms. And preventing that tragedy is the fundamental motivation for my new legislation.
My bill would make two changes to the National Security Act of 1947. First, it would add a new section that explicitly bans the intelligence community from conducting any surveillance activity that is unrelated to foreign intelligence or counterintelligence. Second, it would clarify terms used in the National Security Act to remove ambiguities that are being exploited. Namely, it limits “intelligence” to mean only “foreign intelligence and counterintelligence.”
I encourage all my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, to join my effort in passing this legislation. This is not a partisan issue, and it is one that demands immediate attention.
In the 1960s, the government was surveilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was surveilling anti-war protesters. The “domestic terrorism” hearings that we’ve been holding in the House, as well as the directives coming from the White House, are a massive misstep back in the direction of those dark days. My bill is an opportunity to correct course.
This is not a slippery slope — it is the edge of a cliff. If we do not act, it will break the bipartisan consensus supporting the all-important mission of the intelligence community, destroy public trust, and ultimately increase the opportunity for foreign adversaries to divide us. America’s national security is too important to fall victim to partisanship.
Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.