That's Not Oversight: Head Of FISC Admits He Relies On NSA's Statements To Make Sure They're Obeying The Law

from the that's-not-oversight dept

So, we already wrote about the reports revealing massive NSA abuses in collecting intelligence information, contrary to the claims of the surveillance program defenders -- and in a companion piece, the Washington Post blows up another myth. Beyond the "no abuse" talking point, we've seen the President and defenders, including James Clapper, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers, regularly argue that the program has full oversight from the other branches of government -- including Congress and the judicial system, in the form of FISC. It's already been shown that the Congressional oversight is a joke, because of obstruction by the Intelligence Committee. And now we know that the "oversight" from the courts was similarly a joke. The chief judge of FISC, Reggie Walton, who has reacted angrily in the past to the claims of FISC being a "rubber stamp", has now admitted that the FISC really can't check on what the NSA is doing and relies on what they tell him to make sure that they're not breaking the law.
“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”
That's not quite true. You see, with "any other court" when it comes to "enforcing compliance" things aren't all hidden away from everyone, so there is scrutiny to make sure that there's compliance. Not here.

Either way, this again shows just how laughable President Obama's claims are about the FISC's oversight abilities:
“We also have federal judges that we’ve put in place who are not subject to political pressure,” Obama said at a news conference in June. “They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.”
Not quite. Now we know that they rely on the NSA to tell the judges what they might see if they were looking over their shoulders... and the NSA isn't entirely truthful to FISC about that. For example, in the last post, we noted that one of the big mistakes was collecting a ton of phone calls from the DC area, when someone accidentally typed in "202" -- the area code for DC -- instead of "20" -- the country code for Egypt. It should be worrisome enough that the system is designed in such a manner that such a typo still allows such a massive collection of data (I mean, if they really were trying to limit collection on US information, wouldn't they at least program it not to allow US area codes?). But, even worse, the NSA decided not to tell the FISC about this:
The description of the 2008 problem suggests that the inadvertent collection of U.S. phone calls was not reported to the FISA court.
Ooops. No one standing over their shoulder there.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 7:58pm

    That's akin to taking the word of someone who murdered his neighbor that he did not murder his neighbor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    artp (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:07pm

    But it looks good!

    Form over function. Everything looks like it ought to work, and nobody can figure out why it doesn't work!

    And the paperwork is done, so the job must be done, too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:09pm

    Everyone who is involved in the NSA or is supporting the NSA has proven themselves to be liars and completely incompetent. Can't trust any of them or believe a single word they say. They've got their own definition of every word in the English language anyway which makes every word they utter just a code meaning something else entirely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

    Go ahead Mr. President. Tell us something else that the NSA isn't doing.

    Then, we'll wait for the next article on the Washington Post or The Guardian to refute it.

    We're here ready for that debate you allegedly welcome.

    But, you're going to have to stop lying first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:28pm

    Go ahead, President Obama, tell us again how there is oversight with the FISA courts. There is no oversight because there is no opposing attorney to question the government attorney over his statements.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:47pm

    Automating the approval process

    In the interests of increased throughput, administrative efficiency, and reduced headcount, General Keith Alexander has announced a 90% reduction in FISC personnel. According to General Alexander, "employing technology in place of people will make the agency more secure." Unnamed experts expect the FISC to be replaced with a customized StampIt(R) for Word (tm) enterprise solution.

    Background: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/microsoftr-word-add-in-ends-rubber-stamp-use-and-automates-d ocument-marking-64236462.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 8:49pm

    "“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,”"

    We follow the Least Untruth to its ultimate conclusion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 10:10pm

    In other news...

    Fox assures farmer chicken coop remains safe, and assures farmer that there is no need to check anything.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 10:26pm

    Why are we not hearing congress calling for a special investigator over all this? It seems congress is complicit in this mess or just can't be bothered to do their jobs.

    The more that comes out, the worse it looks. It is to the point it's just as bad as it looks to be, despite assurances coming out of Washington.

    We know beyond doubt no one in charge of either security nor any one in the executive branch apparently can tell the truth about matters. The lying and cover up must stop. Exposure to the light of day is now required and not by those in charge.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 10:47pm

    Re:

    Congress isn't calling for a special investigator because Congress is complicit in this. Hence various Representatives and Senators defending the NSA, the flurry of activity to kill the Amash Amendment, etc. The spying even have bipartisan support, so you can't rely on partisanship to bring pressure to bear.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 11:56pm

    The chief judge of FISC, Reggie Walton, who has reacted angrily in the past to the claims of FISC being a "rubber stamp"...

    Truth hurts, eh, Reggie? Suck it up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    davnel, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 12:41am

    It's Depressing

    Every time I read this blog, or a news source, I only see more unconstitutional, totally illegal, blatant malfeasance on the part of the Executive, with Congress and the Judiciary rubberstamping it. They're all in cahoots. I sure hope they're getting paid a lot by their masters, 'cause, one of these days, the general populace will have had enough and the result ain't gonna be pretty.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 12:42am

    Supervise

    In order to supervise something, the one who's responsible for that should be given unlimited access to all aspects of the object be supervised. If some aspects of the object is blocked from access, they really shouldn't claim that they can supervise the object.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:08am

    how about the NSA asking me to perform 'oversight'? i could do the same as FISC and it would be 'cheap as chips' instead of cost a fortune to get the same result. ask me to 'overlook' what the NSA are doing, however, and that is another matter!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:33am

    Re:

    This is why it's called security theater. Because there's fuck-all secure about it, and it's only to make the populace fearful.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    antymat, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:49am

    Re: It's Depressing

    And it's senseless,
    And that's why:

    I like Chinese,
    I like Chinese,
    They only come up to your knees,
    Yet they're always friendly and they're ready to please.
    ...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkGkv7NWyl4

    Somehow the Britons have figured it all out long time ago.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 3:26am

    Re:

    That may be taking it too far.

    Hopefully NSA has internal procedures against the same agents making the errors and doing the investigation/prosecution. It is problematic in itself that NSA has to investigate NSA.

    With the extremely shaky checks and balances in the rest of the system it would not be surprising, but it would be an even larger systematic failure than congress abuse of information, Obamas constant hypocricy and lying and Clappers lying to congress.

    Ultimately we do not know enough about the internal procedure of NSA in these situations to condemn them to hades, yet!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 3:59am

    Well, why don't they replace the FISC employees with monkeys then?

    I bet if you swear to the judge you never broke the law he'll take your word for granted in a trial, right?

    Bs...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 5:27am

    Re:

    You mean John McAfee?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 5:36am

    “They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges...

    I fail to see how a setup that gives every reason for a judge to fall into total complacency should be a comfort.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 5:47am

    Just like Google sez: "We're not being evil! Honest!"

    And Mike never questions them.

    "The new Google privacy policy is: You have no privacy."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 6:09am

    Re: Re:

    More like OJ

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    ss, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 6:32am

    Re: Just like Google sez: "We're not being evil! Honest!"

    If only you were a cockroach..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    Re:

    The idea is they don't have to kowtow or consider the interests of the party appealing to them, because they are free from reprisal.

    Although it seems like its just falling into complacency since they only ever hear one side of things anyways.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re:

    Well, sure run appointed positions that are relatively safe from reprisal. But don't give them a cushy lifetime term.

    And make sure there are systems that actually work to safeguard against the judge's abuse of the safety during that term.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 2:02pm

    Re: But it looks good!

    This reminds me of the audit of the Three-mile-island meltdown, in which they discovered some indicator lights were attached to the switches and not the components they operated.

    When the lights indicated that (say) a vent was set to be open and not whether it was open, it meant there was no indicator that a vent might be jammed shut. It made for a disaster waiting to happen.

    And ultimately, it did.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 2:06pm

    My congresscritters are all complicit.

    Down to my representative, every last one of my elected officials have knowingly lied to me and mine about the NSA affair. And they're the ones who were actually informed in 2003.

    So sending crappy email to them isn't going to do diddly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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