FBI Director Christopher Wray: ‘We Investigate Violence, Not Speech’

FBI Director Christopher Wray: ‘We Investigate Violence, Not Speech’

FBI Director Christopher Wray (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

FBI Director Christopher Wray (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday said that the FBI does not investigate speech on social media sites, it investigates violence.

Wray made the statement after being questioned by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to the homeland on whether Facebook or other social media sites supplied the FBI with the private messages of users that without being compelled to do so by the FBI.

Wray said that he didn’t believe so, but the couldn’t be sure of that.

Paul asked the director to check with his team and get back to him, and he pointed out that it was against the law for social media platforms to provide electronic communications with anyone, including the FBI, unless it was “compelled” to do so. The senator said that if this was being done, it would be challenged in court.

The senator then questioned the FBI director on whether or not the agency obtained “anonymous social media data” and used “technical methods to pierce the anonymous nature of the data.”

Wray said that was “a more complicated answer” than he could give during the hearing.

“Are you receiving private messages from social media companies through the use of confidential human sources from Facebook, social media companies? Do you have people working over there who you’re paying or who are volunteering to give you information even though it would be against the law for Facebook to do this, but now you’re saying, well, we’ll get around the law by using confidential human sources?” Paul asked.

Wray responded, saying that the FBI has had situations where “confidential human sources, not employees” of social media companies report to the agency “on their own communications.”

“I think what we have had situations where we have confidential human sources, not employees of those companies, but who report to us on their own communications, so if the two of us had communication, then Secretary Mayorkas was a human source, he could report to us about what he is saying to me,” he said.

The senator asked Wray about a New York Post article that reported that Facebook had been spying on the private messages and data of U.S. users and reporting them to the FBI “if they 
express anti-government or anti-authority sentiments — or question the 2020 election — according to sources within the Department of Justice.”

“Basically, you get information that Facebook’s volunteering – this has all been written up in the Post article. You’re familiar with the Post article with the accusations, and the question is, are you getting information they’re giving to you,” Paul said.

“They say, ‘Oh, somebody says January 6 was great. Here’s information on this guy.’ Then you’re taking it and then using it as a predicate to say, well, now let’s go to the court and get a real warrant and get the information we already actually got without a warrant,” the senator said.

“So we get tips and leads from all over the place, from members of the public, from businesses, from community leaders, from other government partners all the time, and we use the tips and leads that we get to often form predicates for lawful–” Wray said before Paul interrupted him, asking whether the FBI is getting tips and leads from Facebook and social media companies.

“We get tips and leads from companies, absolutely,” Wray said.

When asked whether that “includes private information,” the director said he’s not aware of the agency “receiving any tips or leads or information that is in a way that’s not in compliance with the law.”

When asked whether the social media companies are giving the FBI information on private things that the director told them, like people who question the election, Wray said, “I’ll give you two classic examples that I think happened with some frequency. One, if we supply information to say Facebook or any social media companies about foreign accounts, Russian intelligence service for example accounts, they– when they then look in their system for those accounts, they often find other accounts related to those, and they provide tips and leads back to us about those. 

“That’s one example. Second, would be a situation where a technology company encounters a threat of violence on their platform, on their services, and they provide tips and leads to us, and we follow up on those threats of violence,” the director said.

Paul clarified, saying that he was referring to “political speech.”

“Are you receiving things that could be interpreted, and we’d want to know. and if you’re not going to admit to us whether it’s political speech – someone who questions the election, someone who is mad about something that is going on, but it’s not saying they’re directly going to commit violence. They’re mad about things,” the senator said.

“What the New York Post article said is, yes, you’re getting this, and then when they’re finally read in context, and this is from a whistleblower, which makes us suspect you’re not being forthcoming or honest with us, is that whistleblowers are saying you are receiving this information from Facebook and others and that you are going around the Constitution and to come back and try to get warrants for it, but then once you read it, there’s been no actionable intelligence on this, but this is an active program that you’ve got,” he said.

“You work for the government. You should admit to us whether or not you have a program going after our speech,” Paul said, to which Wray replied: “We investigate violence, not speech.”

The following is a transcript of the exchange between Paul and Wray:

PAUL: Is Facebook or any other social media company supplying private messages or data on American users that is not compelled by the government or the FBI?

WRAY: Not compelled, no there’s not in response to legal processes.

PAUL: No warrant, no subpoena. They’re just supplying you information on their users?

WRAY: I don’t believe so, but I can’t sit here and be sure of that as I, as I sit here.

PAUL: Can you give us a yes or no by going back to your team and asking? Because it’s a very specific question, because if they are, it’s against the law. The law, the Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits providers from sharing electronic communications with any person or entity unless it’s compelled. 

This was done to protect the privacy of people so we can feel like we can send an email or direct message to people without having that information given over. It’s a very specific question. Will you get with your team of lawyers and give us a specific answer because this is the law. If you’re doing it, then we need to go to court to prevent you from receiving that information.

WRAY: Well I can tell you that I’m quite confident that we’re following the law, but I will also do is follow up—

PAUL: That’s not the answer. That’s not the answer.

WRAY: – but I will also follow up to make sure that we get you more information, more detailed information.

PAUL: Is the FBI obtaining anonymous social media data and then using technical methods to pierce the anonymous nature of the data?

WRAY: Anonymous social media data?

PAUL: So you purchase data. People purchase data all the time, and we sort of tolerate it for advertisings and things because it’s anonymous data. Are you purchasing what is said to be anonymous data through the marketplace and then piercing the anonymous nature to attach individual names to that data?

WRAY: Right, when you asked about anonymous data, I was thinking more in terms of–

PAUL: No, I’m talking about data that’s out there and are you purchasing anonymous data and then piercing the anonymous nature of that data?

WRAY: So the manner in which we use – we usually use the term commercial data – is probably longer than I could explain here, but again, let me have a–

PAUL: So you will not answer the question of whether or not you’re attaching names to anonymous data?

WRAY: I think it’s a more complicated answer than I can give here.

PAUL: So far we’re 0 for 2 with getting you to answer this, but you’re pledging you will actually answer the question, because you have to realize the frustration. We’ll write you a letter, and your team of lawyers will write back a 15-page letter that says nothing, and you won’t answer the question. These are very specific. This is whether you’re obeying the law, whether we can have confidence. I want to have confidence in the FBI.

WRAY: We are obeying the law.

PAUL: Well you’re saying that, but you won’t tell us the answer, so you have to say yes or no. You aren’t telling me the answer, the answer is, are you collecting data not compelled by a warrant. That would not be in compliance with the law, but you won’t answer that you’re not collecting that data.

WRAY: I said two things: one, we’re following the law, and second, that we would have somebody follow up with you with more detailed specifics–

PAUL: So those are two specific questions. Are you getting data from them that’s not compelled and then are you piercing the anonymous nature of that technically? Are you receiving private messages from social media companies through the use of confidential human sources from Facebook, social media companies? Do you have people working over there who you’re paying or who are volunteering to give you information even though it would be against the law for Facebook to do this, but now you’re saying, well, we’ll get around the law by using confidential human sources?

WRAY: You mean – just to be clear, I’m following the question – you mean in effect recruiting a human source inside the company?

PAUL: Exactly.

WRAY: No, I don’t believe so. I think what we have had situations where we have confidential human sources, not employees of those companies, but who report to us on their own communications, so if the two of us had communication, then Secretary Mayorkas was a human source, he could report to us about what he is saying to me.

PAUL: Once again, I need the answer to be more specific answers, not that I don’t believe so, but you are or are not using human confidential resources within Facebook. So we get back to the idea of whether or not you’re getting information for them outside the warrant process, because the question, the next question is – which you probably won’t answer either – is are you taking information that you’re getting not through the warrant process and then going around and coming back and using that as a predicate for getting a warrant to actually get the information you’ve already given?

WRAY: I’m not sure I’m completely following the –

PAUL: Basically, you get information that Facebook’s volunteering – this has all been written up in the Post article. You’re familiar with the Post article with the accusations, and the question is, are you getting information they’re giving to you. They say, ‘Oh, somebody says January 6 was great. Here’s information on this guy.’ Then you’re taking it and then using it as a predicate to say, well, now let’s go to the court and get a real warrant and get the information we already actually got without a warrant. 

WRAY: So we get tips and leads from all over the place, from members of the public, from businesses, from community leaders, from other government partners all the time, and we use the tips and leads that we get to often form predicates for lawful–

PAUL: Are you getting tips and leads from Facebook and social media companies?

WRAY: We get tips and leads from companies, absolutely.

PAUL: It includes private information?

WRAY: I’m not aware of us receiving any tips or leads or information that is in a way that’s not in compliance with the law.

PAUL: You think it’s just golly well to get all this stuff without a warrant that people volunteered to you, but many of us are alarmed that you’re getting this information in private communication between people, because it is against the law. It’s against the law for Facebook or social media companies to give it to you, but it’s also against the law for you to receive it. So you’re going to have to very specifically go back with your team and search over whether you’re doing it or not just say, ‘We obey the law. We’re good people.’ No, there are doubts, because this has been reported. Even the FBI when you responded to the New York Post article said that companies are referring information to the FBI with investigative value relating to foreign maligned influence. 

There’d probably be a great deal more tolerance about that if it’s foreign maligned influence but the question is, are you also receiving information on so-called domestic. What would that mean? Is someone questioning whether paper ballots are an accurate way of running election? Is that good enough for you to be getting our private informations because we have a political beef with the way votes are counted or recorded in our country. Is that something that you’re collecting information on?

Are they giving you information on private things that you told them well, people who question the election we want to hear about these people, and so then they’re giving you this information. Are you receiving information like that?

WRAY: I’ll give you two classic examples that I think happened with some frequency. One, if we supply information to say Facebook or any social media companies about foreign accounts, Russian intelligence service for example accounts, they– when they then look in their system for those accounts, they often find other accounts related to those, and they provide tips and leads back to us about those. 

That’s one example. Second, would be a situation where a technology company encounters a threat of violence on their platform, on their services, and they provide tips and leads to us, and we follow up on those threats of violence.

PAUL: Wait, there’s not a lot of disagreement about that. The question is when we start to talk about political speech, and that is the question. Are you receiving things that could be interpreted, and we’d want to know. and if you’re not going to admit to us whether it’s political speech – someone who questions the election, someone who is mad about something that is going on, but it’s not saying they’re directly going to commit violence. They’re mad about things. 

What the New York Post article said is, yes, you’re getting this, and then when they’re finally read in context, and this is from a whistleblower, which makes us suspect you’re not being forthcoming or honest with us, is that whistleblowers are saying you are receiving this information from Facebook and others and that you are going around the Constitution and to come back and try to get warrants for it, but then once you read it, there’s been no actionable intelligence on this, but this is an active program that you’ve got. You work for the government. You should admit to us whether or not you have a program going after our speech.

WRAY: We investigate violence, not speech.

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