The following is an excerpt of my latest article in The Hill.
Six ways we were blinded to screaming red flags about government surveillance
By Sharyl Attkisson
The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has given the FBI until Jan. 10 to address abuses and lapses identified by the Department of Justice inspector general (IG) in a recent report. That report heavily criticized FBI practices in its long-term spy case that produced no evidence of any American improperly conspiring with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Here are six ways we were blinded to screaming red flags about government surveillance abuse:
1. FBI Woods Procedures: One red flag came with creation of FBI “Woods Procedures” nearly two decades ago under then-Director Robert Mueller. These rules were designed to appease the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which had flagged abuses by FBI officials in wiretap applications submitted to the court. The procedures require strict verification of all facts and sources in a wiretap application by FBI officials all the way up the chain. Facts that cannot be properly verified are to be removed from the application. The Woods Procedures were designed to prevent the very sorts of abuses that FBI officials committed in 2016 and 2017. The problem is, it’s left to the FBI to execute the safety check upon itself and, apparently, some officials weren’t capable of doing so faithfully. Why were the Woods Procedures set up if the FBI ultimately doesn’t follow them and nobody notices? What makes us think any new, proposed reforms will have a different fate?
2. Congress: Despite many public reports of government surveillance abuses, Congress passed up its most recent opportunity to exercise much-needed oversight. Two years ago, in January 2018, Congress reauthorized Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. It allows the U.S. intelligence community wide latitude to spy on U.S. citizens. Shocking abuses of this government authority were exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Yet Congress voted down a measure to reform the law by adding significant safeguards. Insiders told me that a majority of Democrats and Republicans had favored reforms, but shortly before the vote, the parties’ leaders directed members to renew the surveillance authority without them. Critics say the reauthorization codified “some of the most troubling aspects.”
3. FISA: The FISA court has documented numerous serious government surveillance abuses over the years. This includes a scathing review issued by the court in the fall of 2016, accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) of problematic “lack of candor” that raised constitutional questions. Yet the court remained publicly silent these past three years amid questions, a crisis of confidence, and evidence that it had in hand about FBI wrongdoing. The court only spoke out in recent days, well after the damning findings in the IG report.
4. Election year red flags: Following sporadic reports of intelligence officials misleading Congress about surveilling U.S. citizens — even spying on journalists and political figures and their staffs — there was a series of red flags in 2016 and 2017 that should have drawn attention and action. Some of the same intelligence officials who we now know wanted to keep President Trump from winning the White House apparently modified rules to make it easier to share and leak intelligence involving innocent U.S. citizens (including people connected to the Trump campaign). (Continued...)
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