LAW AND NATIONAL SECURITY

Public trust must be protected, FBI top lawyer says

Since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, attorney Dana J. Boente has held high-profile positions including acting deputy U.S. attorney general, acting U.S. attorney general, acting head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division (while concurrently served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia) and now FBI general counsel. 

FBI General Counsel Dana Boente discussed the fight against terrorism at the ABA Law and National Security conference.

FBI General Counsel Dana Boente discussed the fight against terrorism at the ABA Law and National Security conference.

American Bar Association photo

“The FBI has been in the news lately,” he said at an ABA Law and National Security conference Nov. 7, referring to an October court opinion on the agency’s querying practices. The decision that some FBI procedures violated Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs surveillance of non-U.S. citizens located outside the United States, led to the creation of a compliance task force, which Boente sees as a proactive step to improve the agency’s practices.  “I’ve heard FBI Director Christopher Wray say it many times, we need to do the right thing in the right way.”

Among his concerns is the expiration of the USA Freedom Act in December, which provides the agency with important tools to combat terrorism. Boente says threats from self-radicalized lone wolves are on the rise and can lead to individuals acting on behalf of a foreign power or terrorist group, which threatens national security. He also believes another threat is the growing use of encryption in communications, enabling cyber criminals to operate at little cost and from a great distance, spreading disinformation and undermining confidence in our democratic institutions and values.

Boente’s speech was followed by a panel discussion on how to combat the weaponization of social media, seen as part of an ongoing assault by Russian and other adversaries on public trust in Western democracies. While debate continues about who did what to interfere in the 2016 election, there is little doubt that the 2020 election is already a target, said Suzanne Spaulding, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Combating the spread of misinformation is a complicated undertaking, but social media companies can take steps against it. Panelists cited the recent decision by Twitter to ban all political ads from its platform.

Ryan Greer, director for program assessment and strategy at the Anti-Defamation League, said they’ve had some success partnering with technology companies to create programming that redirects users to non-extremist sources. “This is a complicated problem, and there is no single panacea,” he said.

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