The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
The Justice Department recently announced it uncovered more problems with the integrity of FBI wiretaps on American citizens. That after serious abuses were exposed in the FBI’s wiretapping of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign volunteer. Amid the scandal, some Democrats and Republicans are pressing to eliminate the secretive court put in place decades ago to fix previous abuses by U.S. intel officials. Today, George Croner is defending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA court. He’s a FISA expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and was a lawyer at the National Security Agency.
Croner: FISA was an outgrowth of intelligence abuses unearthed during congressional hearings in the 1970s. In particular, a couple of programs that were that operated without any judicial supervision or involvement whatsoever.
Sharyl: Give me one line on each program and the name of it because I think that's interesting.
George Croner: The two principal programs involving the National Security were one called Project Minaret, which was called the Watch list Program, in which the communications of individuals identified for collection had their communications collected by NSA without a warrant, solely at executive direction, and included prominent Americans at the time, like Tom Wicker, Arthur Burns, Jane Fonda, and I could go on and on. That was Minaret, the Watch List. One of the ways you might've ended up on the Watch List was another program even more pervasive, which was Operation Shamrock, which was the program whereby NSA from the 40s on received copies of every telegram that entered, exited or transited the United States, through the three principle, virtually sole telegram companies operating at the time, Western Union, RCA, IT&T. But again, the entire program was implemented without any legislative or judicial oversight and for years collected every telegram.
Sharyl: There are some members of Congress who say, these are regular judges in the rest of their life that serve on the FISA court. We can just go to federal judges and have them do this in a very secretive and confidential way rather than having them gather as a special court. What's wrong with that idea?
Croner: If you spread it to every district judge, they may get one in a lifetime. You're not going to get that level of expertise. If you spread this to the hundreds of federal judges out there, they not going to have that institutional competence.
Sharyl: How do you think it slipped past them, if you consider that it did slip past them, that a wiretap application was brought to them one time, two times, three times, four times on the same man, Carter Page, without additional evidence, in fact with flawed evidence, but without additional evidence showing he was acting as a Russian spy. Should that have been captured by the system?
Croner: If the judges aren't told the information they need to make the decision because the FBI isn't telling them the information, I don't know how that's an institutional problem at the FISA court.
Look, I can assure you of this. I suspect that every FBI FISA application that now comes before the FISA court is being microscopically examined. And I suspect you'll see a lot more of situations where the court calls on an Amicus counsel that is available to them to look at FBI applications.
Sharyl: And an Amicus counsel in simple terms is what?
Croner: The Amicus Curiae council are designed to come in and as I say, introduce the concept of adversariality to the process by poking at it, looking at it and so on. And they're supposed to be people who are skilled and have fine reputations in the area of privacy, civil liberties and technical issues.
Sharyl: What if this is found to be a systemic problem?
Croner: Then I think you have obviously more serious and more detailed corrective measures, remedial measures that have to be instituted. But I think you have to recognize the focus of where those remedial measures need to be directed. And that would be the FBI and the Department of Justice. If you don't have the leadership in place at the Justice Department to institute the reforms that are necessary to ensure that a document that reaches the FISA court can be accepted by the court as trustworthy, then that's to me, that's where the remedial action needs to be directed.
Croner: Look, there's an underlying group of folks who have hated FISA from day one. And politically, they come from both directions. You have people like Ron Wyden who is a civil liberties advocate and he just doesn't like FISA and he certainly doesn't like section 702. And then you have people on this side, Mark Meadows, Rand Paul. There is absolutely nothing in the world that they share with Ron Wyden except their mutual dislike of FISA. And so you see that sort of rather bizarre political coalition develop. And to me, it's an opportunistic effort to go after a statute that I just don't think anyone has shown that FISA is fundamentally flawed.
Several parts of the government’s surveillance authority have lapsed with members of Congress in disagreement over whether to make major reforms, minor ones, or leave things as they are.