The watchdog group Judicial Watch has received 131 heavily redacted pages of records from the FBI showing top officials rushing to craft a public response to a leaked FBI intelligence memo revealing the targeting of “radical traditionalist” Catholics.
Judicial Watch received the records in response to an April 2023 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit it filed along with CatholicVote Civic Action. The groups sued athe FBI and the Dept. of Justice after their failure to respond to March 2023 requests for public records about the FBI intelligence memo.
The FBI intelligence document was leaked in February 2023. It revealed FBI targeting of Catholics who adhere to traditional beliefs on abortion and other cultural issues.
The Catholic News Agency reported: “The leaked document has been condemned by several federal and state officials, as well as clergy, including Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond, who recently called the memo a ‘threat to religious liberty.’”
The newly obtained records show a Feb. 8, 2023, email with the subject line “Media Request: FBI Richmond Document cites SPLC” from the FBI’s National Press Office alerting FBI officials regarding media inquiries. It reads as follows:
"We have inquiries from the Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal (Heritage Foundation) about an article written by [redacted]. It references a January intelligence product from the Richmond Field office. After speaking with SC Goodwater, I am alerting all of you so we can get a copy of the actual document and hear any recommendations on how to respond. I am attaching a cut and paste of the [redacted] article."
Miriam Coakley of the Office of General Counsel then forwarded the email to other FBI officials noting, “Adding InTo [Insider Threat Office], SecD [Security Division] and OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility]. The date of the leaked domain perspective appears to be 23 Jan. 2023.”
Further along in the email chain, an official in the Office of Public Affairs forwards the chain to more people, saying, “Adding Pamela Bryon from the DI. [Deputy Asst. Director of Intelligence Pamela Byron.] Any info on how this product came about would be appreciated.”
In a heavily redacted reply, Byron responds as follows:
"As mentioned on FBINET, the type of product leaked is a Domain Perspective (DP) – the purpose of DPs is to offer information and/or highlight how a shift or new development in an AOR (domain) related to an environmental variable could impact the threat. Environmental variables include demographic shifts, technology development, economic conditions, special events, social/cultural conditions, etc. In particular the analysis in DPs (as in FBI products in general) is focused on the activity of identified or potential threat actors, not on the environmental variables themselves, and how those threat actors react to shifts in the environment, and the subsequent impact on the threat posed by those actors.
In that context, there are a couple of things to note with this situation: [redacted].
We stand by to assist on any other questions."
The records include a February 9 email with the subject line “Coordination of Draft statement regarding leaked RH intel document” from Office of Public Affairs official Douglas Goodwater to top FBI officials, including FBI Chief of Staff Johathan Lenzner, Asst. Dir. for Intelligence Tonya Ugoretz, Asst. Dir. for Counterterrorism Robert Wells and others:
"Draft/pre decision, Coordination for media statement – DI/CTD/OGC [Directorate of Intelligence/Counterterrorism Division/Office of General Counsel]
Potential statement for review/edits-: [Redacted].
Asst. Director for Public Affairs Catherine Milhoan then responds:
"All, we have received two new inquiries in addition to the three last night and are making the decision to respond in the next hour. We want to get our statement out before this picks up any steam.
Please review the draft and let us know if you have any edits or concerns."
Later in the email chain, Stanley Meador, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI's Richmond Field Office, replies, “Looks good. One small suggestion in yellow. I would send it out. It is migrating onto Fox. https://www.foxnews.com/media/purported-fbi-document-suggests-agency-targeting-catholics-attend-latin-mass."
On February 10, 2023, FBI Chief of Staff Jonathan Lenzner emails FBI colleagues with the subject “intel piece that has been withdrawn,” saying, “I don’t know if we are there yet, [redacted].”
Lenzner then follows up on February 13, writing, “Looks like at least one religious organization is speaking out publicly: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/catholic-league-condemns-fbi-internal-memo-targeting-catholics.”
Ryan T. Young, the Executive Assistant Director of the Intelligence Branch replies to Lenzner, “Not a good look … Real frustrating when it is self-inflicted. I’ll be back in town Wednesday. We can look into next best steps.”
A senior sdvisor to CatholicVote commented on the records: “After seven months of delay and more to come, Joe Biden’s FBI remains committed to one thing: covering up their un-American spying on Catholic citizens. By fully withholding more than 200 pages of public documents, the Biden administration is more interested in hiding the truth than ending this unconstitutional witch hunt of Catholics and other faithful Americans.”
“The FBI launched a vicious spy effort against Catholics and sought to spy on parishioners as they sat in church pews,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These records show top FBI officials were panicked in response about their domestic spying abuse leaking out.”
CatholicVote.org describes itself as a community of patriotic Americans who believe that the timeless truths of the Catholic faith are good for America. It makes its mission “to inspire every Catholic in America to live out the truths of our faith in public life.”
Read entire JW CatholicVote v. DOJ FBI complaint here.