I remember parsimonious warnings from the left back in the period following the terrorist attacks on our soil back in 2001 of the terrible dangers to privacy and civil liberties inherent in increasing the ability of our intelligence services to collect intelligence on foreign nationals, including communications which involved United States Persons [legally defined as U. S. Citizens and Legal Resident Aliens]. They were both right and wrong. Wrong in that the Republican Administrations did not tend to abuse the capabilities, Right in that the Democratic Administrations have abused the capabilities.
Who’s spying on who? FBI’s use of NSA foreign surveillance program needs to be investigated, say whistleblowers
“The program can be misused by anyone with access to it,” said an Intelligence official, with knowledge of the program.
A controversial NSA surveillance program used to monitor foreigners was also being used by the FBI as ‘backdoor’ to gain warrantless access to American communications, according to numerous former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials with knowledge of the program.
The whistleblowers, who recently disclosed the program’s process to Congressional oversight committees, say concern over the warrantless surveillance mounted when it was disclosed earlier this year that Obama officials had accessed and unmasked communications of members of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, allegedly without clear justification.
The process, known as ‘reverse targeting,’ occurs when intelligence and law enforcement officials use a foreign person as a legal pretense for their intended target, an American citizen, the officials stated. The program, as it exists, failed to prevent terror attacks and in many cases made incorrect connections between a foreign target and an innocent American, they stated.
The whistleblowers said the program established after the September 11, 2001, attacks has not been successful in preventing terror threats, but instead infringes on privacy rights and could easily be abused for political purposes. Those concerns were also voiced to then FBI Director James Comey in 2014, and alternative options for the program were discussed, a source with knowledge said. And now, those intelligence officials want lawmakers to conduct extensive investigations into the program.
Comey was instead taking full advantage of the opportunities for abuse.
The program was first disclosed in a New York Times article from 2005 , and was later outed by its codename Stellar Wind when whistleblower, now fugitive, Edward Snowden released thousands of classified government documents showing the extensive Internet and phone surveillance of American’s by the NSA, according to reports. Since 2001, various legal authorities were put in place to justify the access to communications and giving the appearance that the practice of warrantless surveillance was strictly regulated.
“The warrantless surveillance program had the appearance of being shut down following the 2005 New York Times article that exposed it,” said a former Intelligence official, with knowledge of the program. “However, a few weeks later, the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) approved what is known as bulk FISA collection. This FISA authority allowed for the targeting of domestic numbers believed to be tainted.”
And the issue comes at a critical time. Members of Congress are preparing to vote on the reauthorization of Section 702, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which is set to expire at the end of the year. Section 702 allows the NSA to monitor foreign communications but American’s are often ‘incidentally’ swept into the surveillance. In those cases, Americans are either communicating with the foreign target, have spoken to someone who’s part of the chain of calls associated with the original target or their names have been swept up in conversations where two foreigners are speaking about them.
On Wednesday, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, questioned the FBI’s use of Section 702’s warrantless surveillance. He asked Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, why the FBI should be able to use the FISA to search for information stored “incidentally” on US citizens without a warrant. Rosenstein used a “hypothetical situation,” as an example, suggesting the program could tip off law enforcement officials to a possible terror threat.
Since it is now well established that the Intelligence Community and the Department of Justice cannot be trusted with this ability, it should be withdrawn.
Hat Tip: The Indispensible Instapundit.