The House Judiciary Committee on Monday revealed new details about the FBI Field Office in Richmond’s plan to spy on Catholic churches and church leaders, including that the plan was distributed to other FBI offices across the country.
The FBI internal document revealed the bureau relied on information derived from at least one undercover operative who sought to use local religious organizations as “new avenues for tripwire and source development,” the committee said.
The documents detail how the FBI planned to develop sources in Catholic churches, and was reviewed and approved by two senior intelligence analysts and the chief counsel for the Richmond office.
“This information is outrageous and reinforces the committee’s need for all FBI records about the domain perspective document,” Republican lawmakers on the committee said in a statement highlighting the documents.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, on Monday sent a subpoena to FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding all documents related to the targeting of Catholic churches.
Asked about the Richmond offices plan, the FBI said it was cooperating with the committee.
“The FBI received the subpoena. The FBI recognizes the importance of congressional oversight and remains fully committed to cooperating with Congress’s oversight requests consistent with its constitutional and statutory responsibilities,” the bureau said in a statement to The Washington Times.
The FBI also said it is actively “working to respond to congressional requests for information – including voluntary production of documents.”
During his March 8 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Wray faced questions about the FBI Richmond office proposal to monitor traditional Catholic parishes.
“Let me say that when I first learned of the piece, I was aghast. And we took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems. It does not reflect FBI standards. We do not conduct investigations based on religious affiliation or practices, full stop,” he told lawmakers.
Mr. Wray said that the bureau set up refresher training for the “relevant employees” and that the FBI does not and will not “target people for religious beliefs and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices. That’s not acceptable.”
He said the FBI inspection division was looking into it and working on measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“It was a product by one field office, which of course we have scores and scores of these products, and when we found out about it, we took action,” said Mr. Wray.
According to Mr. Jordan, FBI whistleblowers told congressional lawmakers that the bureau distributed this document to field offices nationwide.
In a Jan. 23 document titled “Opportunities,” the FBI wrote: “In addition to [redaction], engage in outreach to the leadership of other [Society of Saint Pius X] chapels in the FBI Richmond [area of responsibility] to sensitize these congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and to enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires.”
The FBI similarly noted two other opportunities to engage in outreach with religious institutions in the Richmond area, citing a desire “to sensitize the congregation to the warning signs of radicalization and enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires,” according to the Judiciary Committee.
The committee said the outreach plan included contacting “mainline Catholic parishes” and the “diocesan leadership.”
The FBI also wanted to “leverage existing sources and/or initiate Type 5 Assessments to develop new sources with the placement and access” to report on suspicious activity, according to the documents
In February, Mr. Jordan and Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican, asked the FBI for information relating to another document dated Jan. 23 from the Richmond Field Office with the header “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”
Mr. Jordan and Mr. Johnson said they received no response from the bureau after their initial request. They reiterated their request in a March 20 letter. The lawmakers said they received “a substandard and partial response” from the FBI.
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