Concerned with Christopher Wray’s evasiveness in response to the most basic questions about how the FBI will conduct surveillance and investigations of Americans engaged in First Amendment protected activities, Defending Rights & Dissent sent a letter to every member of the Senate last week, urging them to oppose Wray’s confirmation as FBI Director. Several allied organizations, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Restore the Fourth, and X-Lab joined the call. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination before they depart for August recess (at the end of this week).
A pdf version is available here.
July 27, 2017
The Honorable ______
Dear Senator ________;
The undersigned civil liberties and civil rights organizations write to highlight our concerns with responses Christopher Wray submitted to the Judiciary Committee’s Questions for the Record after his confirmation hearing. On several occasions, Mr. Wray was asked about his views on the FBI engaging in activity based on religion. His answers were disturbing in their evasiveness. Because of Mr. Wray’s refusal to firmly condemn and rule out participation in general surveillance of mosques, or in the creation of a Muslim registry, we urge you to oppose his nomination.
Mr. Wray was nominated by President Trump to serve a 10-year term as Director of the FBI. As FBI Director, Mr. Wray will supervise 12,892 special agents with the authority to open ‘assessments,’ (which allow for the tasking of informants, physical surveillance, and querying government databases) without any predicating facts or allegations. Agents are allowed to consider race, religion, and/or ethnicity in deciding to initiate an assessment.
Because of this expansive authority, and the President’s campaign rhetoric that displayed animosity toward Muslim Americans, it is essential that the FIB Director pledge to steadfastly safeguard the rights and privacy of US persons. Mr. Wray was given several opportunities to reject categorically the various forms of discriminatory treatment of Muslim Americans that Mr. Trump called for during the campaign.
One example is the general surveillance of mosques. When asked by Mr. Leahy how he “would respond to an instruction from the White House or Justice Department to conduct general surveillance of mosques unrelated to a specific, ongoing investigation, or to conduct assessments or investigations of Muslim-American civil society leaders,” Mr. Wray responded, “I cannot speculate on a hypothetical question…”
Mr. Coons also asked, “Will you commit to instructing the FBI that the agency should not surveil a house of worship unless there is probable cause of criminal activity?” To which Mr. Wray again responded, “I cannot speculate on a hypothetical question…”
We believe that Mr. Wray owes Congress, and the American people, a more definitive answer about his willingness to instruct FBI agents to engage in general surveillance based on religion.
During the campaign, President Trump also called for the creation of a Muslim registry. The FBI controls a vast amount of data, which could be integral to the creation of such a registry. Mr. Wray did not commit to preventing the use of FBI data to create a registry.
Mrs. Hirono asked, “You stated during your hearing that you would not support the creation of a Muslim registry. If such a registry were created by another government agency, what would you do to prevent the use of FBI data in such a registry?”
Mr. Wray responded, “As I testified, religious freedom has always been very important to me, and I would want to pay close attention to any program that seemed to raise the kinds of concerns you note. I would look at the individualized facts of the situation and follow the Constitution, the law, and any policies of the FBI and the Department.”
Mr. Wray’s answer neither offers assurance that he will oppose the creation of any registry based on religion or other First Amendment protected activities, nor pledges to prevent the use of FBI resources to create a registry.
The FBI has a well-documented history of disregard for the First Amendment, including the Bureau’s creation and maintenance of custodial lists of people to be detained in case of a national “emergency,” the Palmer Raids, COINTELPRO, colluding with the House Un-American Activities Committee to suppress dissent, and more recently, the FBI’s misuse of the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, spying on mosques and activist groups.
Particularly under this administration, which has shown disdain for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, the FBI needs a leader who will staunchly stand up for the rights of all Americans, and refuse to target people based on race, religion, ethnicity or political belief. In his testimony and responses to QFRs, Mr. Wray did not indicate that he can be that leader. Accordingly, we urge you to oppose his nomination.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Defending Rights & Dissent
Restore the Fourth
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Yemen Peace Project