A FISA court judge issued an order banning DoJ and FBI officials who were involved in warrant applications to spy on Carter Page from seeking other surveillance orders from the court.
Judge James Boasberg ordered that “no DOJ or FBI personnel under disciplinary or criminal review relating to their work on FISA applications shall participate in drafting, verifying, reviewing, or submitting such applications to the Court.”
Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz issued a scathing report on FISA abuses by the FBI last December, citing at least 17 “errors and omissions” on the part of officials involved in the Page warrant application, including placing too much reliance on the spurious and unverified Steele dossier.
All the FBI employees mentioned in the FISA report were referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is the bureau’s disciplinary arm, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers last month.
Boasberg said, “The frequency and seriousness” of the errors found by the DOJ independent watchdog “called into question the reliability of the information proffered in other FBI applications.” The judge said the government has been “acknowledging its deficiencies” and “undertaking multiple remedial measures” in response to Horowitz’s report and to court orders but also noted that “the errors the OIG pointed out cannot be solved through procedures alone” and that everyone at the DOJ and FBI “must fully understand and embrace the heightened duties of probity and transparency” in the secret court proceedings.
Those “heightened duties of probity and transparency” aren’t enough. The administration is looking at major reforms of the FISA court and many Republicans in Congress agree.
President Trump signaled to GOP lawmakers Tuesday that he will not sign an extension of federal surveillance laws unless the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process is reformed, telling lawmakers to work out a bipartisan deal.
Trump met privately on Tuesday to discuss the expiring USA Freedom Act with Attorney General William Barr and House and Senate Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as other lawmakers.
“It was a spirited discussion. The president made it exceedingly clear he will not accept a clean re-authorization … without real reform,” said libertarian Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican. “He was told by the attorney general, we can massage around the edges and we can fix this through regulation, the president didn’t accept that, pushed back very vigorously and said ‘we’re not doing this.’”
When 99 percent of applications to spy on American citizens are approved by the FISA court, more than “massaging around the edges” of the law is needed. Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, refused to hold FISA reauthorization hearings last week and said that if no deal is forthcoming between the White House and Congress, he will allow the provisions in the law to expire.
How effective has FISA been in keeping Americans safe? The FBI says it’s a vital tool in its anti-terrorist operations. It’s also been very useful in catching American turncoats who spy for foreign intelligence agencies.
But civil libertarians have been saying since the program was authorized in 1978 that its powers are too broad and ill-defined. That may be so. But the FBI’s reliance on the court’s secrecy to carry out political surveillance needs to be ended and stricter rules put in place so no other American has to go through what Carter Page was forced to endure.