During a probe into the bureau’s handling of an FBI field analysis that proposed further developing sources within a group of traditionalist Catholic chapels in Richmond, Virginia, the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray for records whose agency is suspected of looking for signs of radicalization and burgeoning domestic violence extremism in traditional church services.
According to a condemning letter concerning an FBI memo issued ordering the field agents to monitor and report on findings of potential political radicalization within churches, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, accused the FBI of undertaking “domestic violent extremism investigations against Catholic Americans,” CBS reported after reviewing the letter.
Regarding the Jan. 23 analysis, Jordan said the FBI had “relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis” and that the bureau proposed “that its agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith.”
“Based on the limited information produced by the FBI to the committee, we now know that the FBI relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis, and that the FBI proposed that its agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith,” Jordan added.
Christopher Dunham, the acting assistant director for Congressional Affairs at the FBI, responded on March 23rd to a request for information regarding the FBI assessment earlier this year saying that the “Domain Perspective (report) did not meet the FBI’s exacting standards and was withdrawn.” Dunham expounded on that assertion by adding that “Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters removed it from our internal system. The FBI also initiated a review — which is now ongoing.”
Moreover, Dunham emphasized that “the FBI is not anti-Catholic in any way, shape, or form, and does not target people of any faith because of their religious beliefs.” And he told Jordan that the FBI “does not categorize investigations as domestic terrorism based on the religious beliefs—to include Catholicism—of the subject involved.” He also told Jordan that the FBI “does not categorize investigations as domestic terrorism based on the religious beliefs—to include Catholicism—of the subject involved.”
A CBS News review of heavily redacted FBI documents found that multiple FBI supervisors, including a top lawyer at the Richmond field office, initially endorsed the FBI report. An FBI undercover employee, referred to by the acronym “FBI UCE,” was cited in the report as providing information. In another section labeled “Opportunities,” the report advised using “Requests for Collection to leverage existing sources and/or initiate Type 5 Assessments to develop new sources.”
As a result of the FBI report, the GOP-led committee stressed the need for “all FBI material responsive to our request” along with the FBI director’s cooperation by April 28. Jordan wrote, “Although the FBI claims to have ‘numerous’ and ‘rigorous’ policies to protect First Amendment rights, the FBI’s Richmond document plainly undercuts these assertions.”
According to an FBI statement, it has received the subpoena issued by the committee and is fully committed to cooperating with “congressional oversight requests consistent with its constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”
The bureau’s spokesperson also noted that when questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee in early March, Wray said he was “aghast.” He explained to the committee that the bureau had “immediately” withdrawn it and said of the analysis that “it does not reflect FBI standards.”
“We do not and will not target people for religious beliefs, and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices,” Wray told the panel on March 8. “That’s not acceptable.”