Mace requests GAO determine details of FBI ‘assessments’

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) wants to know exactly what the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is doing when it conducts surveillance of individuals and groups through activities the agency classifies as “assessments.”

“We are concerned that FBI assessments operate as de facto investigations that can be launched without a factual predicate of criminal wrongdoing,” Rep. Mace wrote in a March 7 letter sent to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Joining her in signing the letter was U.S. Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-MD). Rep. Mace and Rep. Raskin are ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the U.S. House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

They requested that the GAO examine whether FBI assessments result in the improper monitoring of protected First Amendment activity — including by political, racial or religious organizations — and whether the FBI has sufficient controls in place to ensure that they “do not run afoul of constitutional protections,” according to their letter.

“The FBI has opened investigations into people without any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, undermining our right to free speech and due process under the First Amendment,” Rep. Mace said in a March 8 statement.

The congresswoman pointed out that under the FBI’s 2008 guidelines, it may use “intrusive investigative techniques,” including informants and unlimited physical surveillance, on individuals and groups without any link to criminality. “This is scary and it is a violation of the Constitution, plain and simple,” she said.

In fact, according to the lawmakers’ letter, the FBI between December 2008 and March 2009 opened 11,667 assessments of individuals and groups under the 2008 guidelines. Just 427 developed into full investigations based on the information collected, they wrote, noting that by 2011, the FBI had opened 82,235 similar assessments with fewer than 4,000 yielding any factual predicate to proceed with follow ups.

Rep. Mace and her colleague requested that the GAO issue a report on the use of assessments from Dec. 1, 2008, to the present, and include an examination of the individuals and groups targeted by these investigations, according to their letter.

“We are deeply concerned that the FBI’s use of the 2008 Guidelines to open investigations without evidence of criminal wrongdoing may undermine First Amendment activities and chill protected speech,” they wrote, adding that upon completion of its investigation, the GAO should issue an unclassified report on its findings, as well as a separate classified version, if necessary.