Assistant Secretary of State says FISA abuses 'disturbing' but cost of ending program 'significant'
"It was disturbing and unfortunate. But the fact that those came to light was because of the reporting and transparency requirements," he said.
Assistant Secretary of State Brett Holmgren said that abuses of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are "disturbing" but warned that if Congress does not reauthorize the controversial surveillance program it "will have significant costs for U.S. diplomacy."
Holmgren, who oversees the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, highlighted what he saw as the need for Section 702 during a talk Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C.-based think tank.
The State Department uses 702 for assessment on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, as well as to advance "human rights and climate security," Holmgren said, according to the State Department's official transcript of his speech. "To give our diplomats [an] information advantage, they will continue to need every tool at our disposal—especially Section 702."
He also said, "The State Department is only a consumer of intelligence derived from 702 collection, so my colleagues at [the Justice Department] and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are best placed to address potential reforms to the program."
After the speech, he was asked to comment about the FBI's alleged abuses of FISA, which were detailed in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court filing unsealed earlier this month. The document revealed that the FBI improperly used the Section 702 database to surveil George Floyd protesters and Jan. 6 participants.
"On the FISC court opinions that you mentioned, I think I was like a lot of us. It was disturbing and unfortunate. But the fact that those came to light was because of the reporting and transparency requirements that have been instituted by the director of National Intelligence, so in some respects, it shows that the oversight process is ultimately working to help expose practices that obviously need to be addressed," Holmgren responded.
Section 702 is set to expire on Dec. 31 if Congress does not renew it. A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to revamp the law to better protect civil liberties.