Updated Sep 1, 2023, 7:06am EDT

Congress goes to spy school


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The News

Congress faces a hard end-of-year deadline to reauthorize the surveillance powers referred to as Section 702 — but it’s a very different Congress than the one that did it five years ago. The White House and key legislators are conducting a blitz of briefings to bring new members up to speed on the program, which allows the government to collect foreign suspects’ electronic communications without a warrant.

“60% of the current House of Representatives has never voted on 702 before,” Joshua Geltzer, one of President Biden’s top national security aides, said in an appearance on the War on the Rocks podcast. “About a quarter of the U.S. Senate has never voted on it.”

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Know More

Conservatives have grown significantly more suspicious of the FBI and intelligence agencies in recent years, making reauthorization a tougher climb this year. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., who is leading an Intelligence Committee working group to develop reforms related to 702, told Semafor at an event in Stoughton, Wis. that they plan to brief each Republican member on their recommendations for “significant revisions” and “safeguards” when Congress returns in September, after having briefed over 75 members in classified setting during July.

While the working group hasn’t released specifics of the proposed reforms, LaHood said they would aim to address alleged abuses by the FBI in the Trump-Russia investigation (a member of Donald Trump’s 2016 foreign policy team was surveilled, but not under 702) and bring more transparency to the court that oversees warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Asked how worried he was about conservatives standing in the way of reauthorizing the key surveillance power, LaHood acknowledged it would be “tough.” “Are we going to get every member? Of course not,” he said. “Is it going to have to be bipartisan? Yes. But I feel we’re on a good path right now in order to do that.”