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House to Try Again on Spy Program Bill 04/12 06:18

   House Republicans will try again Friday to advance a bill that would 
reauthorize a crucial national security surveillance program, a second attempt 
just days after a conservative revolt prevented similar legislation from 
reaching the floor.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans will try again Friday to advance a bill 
that would reauthorize a crucial national security surveillance program, a 
second attempt just days after a conservative revolt prevented similar 
legislation from reaching the floor.

   Speaker Mike Johnson is expected to bring forward a Plan B that would reform 
and extend a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as 
Section 702 for a shortened period of two years, instead of the full five-year 
reauthorization first proposed, in hopes that the shorter timeline will sway 
GOP critics.

   "We're going to try to find a way to unlock the rule. And I think it's 
possible," Johnson told reporters Wednesday evening, referring to the step 
needed to bring up the legislation. "I mean, there are some differences of 
opinion. But I think everyone -- most everyone -- understands the necessity of 
getting this right and getting it done."

   It is unclear if Johnson, who has called the program "critical" to national 
security, will have the Republican support necessary to move ahead.

   Skepticism of the government's spy powers has grown dramatically in recent 
years, particularly on the right. Republicans have clashed for months over what 
a legislative overhaul of the surveillance program should look like, creating 
divisions that spilled onto the House floor this week as 19 Republicans broke 
with their party to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote.

   However, some of the original opponents signaled their support for the new 
plan late Thursday.

   "The two-year timeframe is a much better landing spot because it gives us 
two years to see if any of this works rather than kicking it out five years," 
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said Thursday. "They say these reforms are going to 
work. Well, I guess we'll find out."

   The legislation in question would permit the U.S. government to collect, 
without a warrant, the communications of non-Americans located outside the 
country to gather foreign intelligence. The reauthorization is currently tied 
to a series of reforms aimed at satisfying critics who complained of civil 
liberties violations against Americans.

   But far-right opponents have complained that those changes did not go far 
enough. Among the detractors are some of Johnson's harshest critics, members of 
the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, who have railed against the 
speaker the last several months for reaching across the aisle to carry out the 
basic functions of the government.

   To appease some of those critics, Johnson plans to bring forward next week a 
separate proposal that would close a loophole that allows U.S. officials to 
collect data on Americans from big tech companies without a warrant.

   "All of that added up to something that I think gave a greater deal of 
comfort," Roy said.

   House passage of the bill is dependent on GOP support as Democrats on 
Thursday ruled out helping Johnson break the impasse on the legislation.

   Though the program is technically set to expire April 19, the Biden 
administration has said it expects its authority to collect intelligence to 
remain operational for at least another year, thanks to an opinion earlier this 
month from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which receives 
surveillance applications. But officials say that court approval shouldn't be a 
substitute for congressional authorization, especially since communications 
companies could cease cooperation with the government.

   First authorized in 2008, the spy tool has been renewed several times since 
then as U.S. officials see it as crucial in disrupting terror attacks, cyber 
intrusions and foreign espionage. It has also produced intelligence that the 
U.S. has relied on for specific operations.

   But the administration's efforts to secure reauthorization of the program 
have repeatedly encountered fierce, and bipartisan, pushback, with Democrats 
like Sen. Ron Wyden who have long championed civil liberties aligning with 
Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump, who in a post on Truth 
Social on Wednesday stated incorrectly that Section 702 had been used to spy on 
his presidential campaign.

   "Kill FISA," Trump wrote in all capital letters. "It was illegally used 
against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign." A former adviser to 
his 2016 presidential campaign was targeted for surveillance over potential 
ties to Russia under a different section of the law.

   A specific area of concern for lawmakers is the FBI's use of the vast 
intelligence repository to search for information about Americans and others in 
the U.S. Though the surveillance program only targets non-Americans in other 
countries, it also collects communications of Americans when they are in 
contact with those targeted foreigners.

   In the past year, U.S. officials have revealed a series of abuses and 
mistakes by FBI analysts in improperly querying the intelligence repository for 
information about Americans or others in the U.S., including about a member of 
Congress and participants in the racial justice protests of 2020 and the Jan. 
6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

   Those violations have led to demands for the FBI to have a warrant before 
conducting database queries on Americans, which FBI director Chris Wray has 
warned would effectively gut the program's effectiveness and would also be 
legally unnecessary given that the information in the database has already been 
lawfully collected.

   "While it is imperative that we ensure this critical authority of 702 does 
not lapse, we also must not undercut the effectiveness of this essential tool 
with a warrant requirement or some similar restriction, paralyzing our ability 
to tackle fast-moving threats," Wray said in a speech Tuesday.

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