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.