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.

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

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27 Comments
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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!

Anonymous Coward says:

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 ™ enterprise solution.

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

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

davnel (profile) says:

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.

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