Conservative groups are pushing Speaker Johnson to reform controversial spy program FISA

A group of conservative policy organizations are urging House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to not reauthorize the controversial surveillance program Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and are pushing the Republican leader to oppose including reforms in any upcoming must-pass legislative vehicles such as a continuing resolution or omnibus package.

In a letter to Johnson sent Thursday, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), FreedomWorks, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Conservative Partnership Institute said ‘it is critical that Congress does not attempt to force a reauthorization of this authority into a must-pass legislative vehicle, and once and for all finally have a standalone vote on this topic.’

‘A standalone vote on Section 702 ensures focused scrutiny and accountability, safeguarding Americans’ privacy and maintaining the country’s national security. Shoving it into a must-pass continuing resolution avoids a transparent and open process on how to reform a deeply flawed program,’ AFP’s senior policy analyst James Czerniawski told Fox News Digital. 

Earlier this month, the House Rules Committee was set to vote on the measure to renew Section 702 of FISA, which would have advanced it to the House floor for a possible vote later in the week, but Johnson pushed that vote. 

In the letter, the groups slammed the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) for allegedly negotiating in ‘bad faith’ after it and the House Judiciary Committee ‘agreed to a floor process the week of Feb. 12th to consider a base reauthorization bill, but with the opportunity for both committees to offer amendments, the contours of which were understood by both parties.’

The letter also claims that on the eve of the Rules Committee hearing, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, ‘inexplicably released a cryptic Dear Colleague claiming a serious and urgent threat to national security requiring review by Members of the House in a classified setting.’

That warning, reportedly, was the intelligence related to Russian nuclear capabilities in space which could threaten satellites, including potentially knocking out U.S. military communications and reconnaissance.

On Feb. 13, HPSCI voted 23-1 to make information about a destabilizing foreign military capability available to Members of Congress. 

Turner and Ranking Member Jim Himes, D-Conn., issued a bipartisan notification — what’s known as ‘a Dear Colleague letter’ — urging their colleagues to review this classified information in the secured room on Feb. 13. The language of the Dear Colleague letter was cleared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

On Feb. 14, reports of the Dear Colleague letter surfaced, which prompted Turner to issue a statement around 11:30 a.m. about a ‘serious national security threat.’ 

In an interview with ‘Meet the Press,’ Turner emphasized that he believed that the Biden administration was sleepwalking its way into an international crisis. 

The letter criticized Turner’s disclosure, adding that ‘both the White House and Senate Intelligence Committee have made statements suggesting serious concerns regarding the risk of disclosure of sources and methods because of Chairman Turner’s Dear Colleague and subsequent press release.’

The groups asserted that ‘the reauthorization of Section 702 has been top of mind for Members of Congress for over a year now and HPSCI’s sole focus and engagement on this issue during this time is evident. It is highly suspect that as the House was on the verge of considering a vehicle for reauthorization, rather than helping to facilitate a carefully negotiated floor process for considering a powerful surveillance tool, HPSCI instead spent its efforts on a non-urgent matter and in the process may ultimately have jeopardized national security.’

But a spokesperson for HPSCI told Fox News Digital that Turner ‘does not play politics with national security.’ 

Section 702 of FISA has been both credited with preventing terror attacks on U.S. soil and accused of being a vehicle for spying on U.S. citizens.

It lets the government keep tabs on specific foreign nationals outside the country without first obtaining a warrant to do so, even if the party on the other side of those communications is an American on U.S. soil. 

Turner has also advocated for FISA reforms and put forth his own reforms.  

But the groups told Johnson in its letter Thursday that while the genesis of HPSCI was originally intended to rein in and provide oversight of an unaccountable Intelligence Community found to be violating Americans’ rights, they claim it has ‘unfortunately morphed into merely a rubber stamp’ of Intelligence Community activities, ‘unwilling to even have a debate on how to hold the Intelligence Community accountable for their rampant and repeated abuses of the Section 702 authority.’

It is critical that Congress does not attempt to force a reauthorization of this authority into a must-pass legislative vehicle, and once and for all finally have a standalone vote on this topic. We stand ready to work with Congress to advance a solution that accomplishes the security and Americans’ civil liberties,’ they said. 

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