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'Outrageous': Feds sought to develop sources inside Catholic churches, FBI documents say

Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images

The FBI sought to plant "tripwire" sources in local Catholic churches, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

"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 wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray Monday, describing the actions as "outrageous."

A subpoena compelling Wray to provide related documents reportedly accompanied the scathing missive.

"We know from whistleblowers that the FBI distributed this document to field offices across the country. It is unclear, however, how many FBI employees explored 'new avenues for tripwire and source development' in Catholic houses of worship across the country," Rep. Jordan also wrote.

Rep. Jordan prefaced his letter by noting the committee was "conducting oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) handling of domestic violent extremism investigations against Catholic Americans and its effect on protected First Amendment activity."

The committee requested information on February 16 on a document generated by the FBI's Richmond Field Office entitled "Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities."

The committee sent the letter again March 20 after receiving no response.

On March 23, the committee received a paltry 18 pages of redacted documents for its trouble. Jordan described the response as "substandard" and "partial." The redactions were "significant," Jordan said, noting that the portions intentionally kept secret prevented the committee from fully assessing the situation.

The subpoena Rep. Jordan sent today is meant to compel the agency to bring forward fuller information for the committee to evaluate in performing its oversight duties.

Society of Saint Pius X chapels in the FBI Richmond Area of Responsibility were specifically mentioned in a press release addressing today's letter. The letter states that the FBI engaged in "outreach" to the leadership there to "sensitize these congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and to enlist their assistance to serve as activity tripwires" [emphasis in original].

The FBI's outreach plan included contacting "mainline Catholic parishes" and local "diocesan leadership." In addition, the FBI "expressed an interest in 'leverag[ing] existing sources and/or initiat[ing] Type 5 Assessments to develop new sources with the placement and access' to report on suspicious activity," according to the Judiciary Committee press release.

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