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Deputy attorney general says surveillance law that’s about to expire is vital to holding Russia accountable

<i>Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters</i><br/>Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco delivers remarks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on April 17.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco delivers remarks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on April 17.

By Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Wednesday that the United States government has gained “vitally important” intelligence about the war in Ukraine from a surveillance law that allows the government to collect foreign communications without a warrant.

The law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enables the US government to obtain intelligence by targeting non-Americans overseas who are using US-based communications services.

“When it comes to this conflict and what Russia is doing in Ukraine, it has proved vitally important,” Monaco said Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Section 702 “has helped us uncover gruesome atrocities in Ukraine, including the murder of noncombatants, the forced relocation of children from Russian-occupied Ukraine to Russia, and the detention of refugees fleeing violence by Russian personnel.”

Monaco’s comments come amid an ongoing battle over whether to reauthorize the law, which is set to sunset at the end of 2023. The law has previously garnered bipartisan backing, although that support has frayed over the past several years over scrutiny for alleged misuse.

The searches are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say that loopholes allow the program to look through the emails and other communications of American citizens — as opposed to foreign adversaries — without proper justification.

However, Monaco said that losing Section 702 would hamper the department’s efforts to hold Russia accountable because the information the department has uncovered from the law “has helped us as a country and as a national security community galvanize accountability efforts regarding Ukraine by allowing us to confidently and accurately speak with the international community about Russian atrocities.”

Monaco also raised concerns that there are other areas where the Justice Department lacks the resources or the authority to take stronger action against Russia.

She emphasized that while the department has “active investigations” into crimes perpetrated in the war and those cases “are moving just as fast as we can possibly move them,” the department is hoping to work with Congress to give federal prosecutors criminal jurisdiction over “crimes against humanity” and “expanding the department’s authority to prosecute acts of torture committed against US nationals abroad.”

“We cannot — and we will not — let war criminals escape accountability for the aggression and atrocities they have committed in Ukraine,” she added.

Monaco also told the Judiciary Committee that the US government is “leaving money on the table” to support Ukraine that the Justice Department has seized from Russian oligarchs.

According to Monaco, the department has seized more than half a billion dollars in assets from Russian oligarchs and people who support the Russian government and have evaded US sanctions. But the department is only able to seize and transfer Russian assets that came from certain types of sanctions evasion, Monaco said.

That means that “millions” of dollars can’t be transferred to the Ukrainian government for humanitarian efforts like repairing damage from the war, she said.

“We are leaving money on the table if we don’t expand our ability to use the forfeited access that we gain from enforcement of our export control violations,” Monaco said, adding that the DOJ wants “Congress to give us that authority so we can make the oligarchs pay for rebuilding Ukraine.”

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