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A House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Russia-Ukraine war provided a rare opportunity for members of Congress to conduct a backhanded oversight of our intelligence agencies. The hearing, which assembled all the alphabet agency chiefs(FBI, NSA, CIA & DIA) in one room(a very rare occurrence), afforded members of Congress a unique opportunity to raise other domestic issues of public concern regarding our intel agencies. Oversight of our intelligence agencies, as you may know, is an issue Congress has dragged its feet on, ever since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, so this was a breath of fresh air.
Rep Chris Stewart(R-UT) questioned FBI Director Wray about the controversial NSO Spyware Pegasus , which several media reports indicated last year, was being used by dictators worldwide, to illegally track/spy on political dissidents and even journalists. Rep Stewart wanted to know whether Pegasus was being used on U.S. persons for investigative purposes. Director Wray assured Rep Stewart that the FBI purchased Pegasus in 2019 only for “testing and evaluation purposes“, adding that it has never been used on any U.S. person for investigative purposes.
Rep Stewart then asked why the FBI would test a spying software if it didn’t intend to use it? Director Wray, acknowledging that this was a good question, maintained that Pegasus has never been used for investigative purposes on U.S. persons, and that FBI routinely tests products out there, that could be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Rep Joaquin Castro(D-TX) followed up on Rep Stewart’s questioning re Pegasus software. He wanted to know whether foreign governments have used Pegasus to target U.S. persons. Director Wray indicated that such a question would be better answered in a classified setting, so we are left hanging on that issue. Yay!!
Another interesting line of questioning came from Rep Elise Stefanik(R-NY) who brought up a very troubling case of an FBI counterterrorism informant, who was not only known to have violated the law multiple times, but whose Limo company led to the deaths of some 20 innocent New Yorkers, ruining the lives of their surviving family members. The crux of Rep Stefanik’s question, an excellent one that quite frankly isn’t asked often enough, was whether informants used in counterterrorism cases, are vetted to make sure they are not criminals. Director Wray assured Rep Stefanik that there are strict rules in place regarding the conduct of FBI informants, even when it comes to counterterrorism cases. This was a very important question because there is a widely held belief out there that in counterterrorism cases, “anything goes”, including the use of criminals/criminal gangs to go after/harass terrorism suspects–people who often times, have not been convicted of anything. A sad state of affairs indeed.
Bottom line folks, the hearing today showed just how important it is to have proper oversight of our intelligence agencies, something Yours Truly has been screaming about. There is absolutely no reason why questions about Pegasus spyware and other intelligence-related questions cannot be aired in a public forum like it happened today. Simply put, not every intelligence-related hearing has to be in a private setting. There are enough topics of public interest that can be safely discussed in public. Hopefully when U.S. Senators get their go-around with these intelligence chiefs, somebody will pop the $1 million question–the plight of targeted individuals in the U.S., which maybe, just maybe, may solve the Havana Syndrome mystery.
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