News & Events

Professor William C. Banks Comments on FISA Reform for USA Today

A report on FBI surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser shows dysfunction, not political bias. That’s still a problem.

President Donald Trump has used the words spying, political bias, even treason to describe the FBI’s controversial surveillance of a former campaign aide.

“All the politics that surrounded the headlines of this story would rear their ugly head again … It could end up with more amendments to FISA that do more harm than good.”

A massive report released this week by the Justice Department’s watchdog didn’t back up any of those claims. But it did expose errors that hint at systemic problems with how the FBI conducts surveillance on American citizens suspected of working on behalf of foreign powers.

When investigators asked judges for permission to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, they provided documents that didn’t back up their assertions. A supervisor said he didn’t necessarily review the full documents to make sure they supported what the agents claimed, according to the report.

Investigators overstated the reliability of a former British intelligence officer whose information they used to justify the warrants. They described Christopher Steele as someone whose information had previously been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” the report said. That wasn’t true.

These “basic and fundamental errors,” as the report described them, were made by investigators handpicked to work on a case that was sure to be scrutinized. They raise questions about the accuracy of more than 1,000 wiretap applications processed every year under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA …

… During Horowitz’s testimony Wednesday, several Republicans expressed horror at the FISA process, with some suggesting the law needs to be changed.

William Banks, a Syracuse University law professor who studies FISA, said congressional action could further insert politics into a process that should be free of it.

“All the politics that surrounded the headlines of this story would rear their ugly head again,” he said. “It could end up with more amendments to FISA that do more harm than good.”

Aside from the inspector general, who has promised more oversight of the surveillance process, Banks said the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, another independent agency that vets policies and regulations, can review the FISA process.

Still, some say Congress should take action.

“The system requires fundamental reforms, and Congress can start by providing defendants subjected to FISA surveillance the opportunity to review the government’s secret submissions,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

Aftergood agreed.

“This is a case where the existing procedures were not adequate,” he said. “The FBI needs to do some of that. I would say Congress needs to do a lot of it.”

Congress must renew certain provisions of FISA in March. If lawmakers want to rewrite laws in response to the inspector general’s report, that would be the time to do it, Banks said …

Read the full article.

 

Sinclair Speaks to Professor William C. Banks About Horowitz Report, FISA Reform

Amid partisan warfare over Russia probe, lawmakers agree FISA reforms needed

(Sinclair Broadcasting Group | Dec. 12, 2019) The release of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s long-awaited report on the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and its surveillance of a former aide to President Donald Trump’s campaign has fueled a heated partisan debate over the extent to which the 480-page document refuted the president’s claims of a politically-motivated conspiracy to spy on his campaign.

“For many of us who’ve been FISA people for a long time, it came as a surprise and a disappointment.”

But the political theater on Capitol Hill this week threatened to overshadow a central point of Horowitz’s report: that safeguards put in place to protect Americans from inappropriate government surveillance appear to have utterly failed multiple times and need to be fixed …

… Investigators obtained a FISA order to wiretap Page in October 2016 and the permission for surveillance was renewed three times in the following year. Horowitz’s review provided an unusually in-depth look at the applications and the evidence within them, and the results were troubling for national security experts, civil rights advocates, and many members of Congress.

“For many of us who’ve been FISA people for a long time, it came as a surprise and a disappointment,” said William Banks, founding director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism and professor emeritus at Syracuse University.

When concerns have been raised about FISA in the past, proponents have often stressed how thoroughly FISA applications are vetted before they are submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, Horowitz identified at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” in the four Page FISA applications …

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SPL, CSIS Host Panel on the Future of US-Iran Relations

On Nov. 19, 2019, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law (SPL) convened a panel of distinguished experts on US foreign policy to discuss the question of US-Iran relations. 

Titled, “Learning from the Past to Inform the Future of US-Iran Relations: On the 40th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis, What Lies Ahead?” the panelists were:

  • Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and US Ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, the UN, India, and Russia
  • Thomas L. Ahern Jr., former intelligence officer and CIA Station Chief in Tehran
  • Osamah Khalil, Associate Professor of History, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

The conversation—moderated by the SPL Director the Hon. James E. Baker—was timed to address the latest developments in US-Iranian relations and to mark a significant anniversary.

Referring to current events, the panel addressed President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran Nuclear Deal”); the attacks in May and June 2019 on international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz; the Sept. 14, 2019, attack on two Saudi oil fields (widely attributed to the Iranian government); and the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen.

November 2019 also marked the 40th anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran (Nov. 4, 1979). The embassy seizure began a 444-day hostage crisis, which ended in 1981 with a diplomatic resolution brokered by the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, known as the Algiers Accords.

The insightful commentary from these experts, as well as a fruitful back-and-forth with the audience of foreign policy professionals and Syracuse alumni, explored the lessons that we can learn from the past in order to inform the future of this critical bilateral relationship.

William C. Banks Comments to China Daily on Impeachment, 2020 Elections

Impeachment Seen as Impacting 2020 Election

(China Daily | Dec. 11, 2019) As the US House Democrats sought on Monday to bolster the case for impeaching President Donald Trump, analysts said the move would have political repercussions on the campaign trail even if the result is “impeached but not removed”.

Trump “constitutes a continuing threat to the integrity of our elections and to our democratic system of government,” Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said after the panel heard from House Intelligence Committee staff members on their investigation of Trump on Monday.

“Such conduct is clearly impeachable. This committee will proceed accordingly,” said Nadler, a New York Democrat …

… William C. Banks, a Syracuse University College of Law professor, said the scenario that Trump is subjected to a trial and ultimately acquitted may help him politically, but “only time will tell how voters react”.

“For those who believe in the rule of law and the importance of constitutional norms, his impeachment is nonetheless important because it upholds and reinforces the importance of those norms,” Banks said.

Banks, who co-authored National Security Law and the Power of the Purse, a 1994 book about tensions between the executive and legislative branches over security and spending, said there will undoubtedly be an impact on the 2020 campaign.

“Biden is of course central to the Ukraine scandal, and his testimony will be more damning of the president than harmful to Biden,” Banks said.
Banks also said it is impossible to know the immediate repercussions of the impeachment for Democrats in next November’s election.

“Trump continues to have a constant 40 percent approval rating, but given the electoral system, he could win again with less than a majority of votes. It’s too soon to tell,” Banks said …

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David M. Crane Publishes “Every Living Thing: Facing Down Terrorists, Warlords, and Thugs in West Africa”

David M. CraneDavid M. Crane L’80, Syracuse University College of Law Distinguished Scholar in Residence, has published a memoir of his time as Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL). Every Living Thing: Facing Down Terrorists, Warlords, and Thugs in West Africa—A Story of Justice is drawn from Crane’s personal journals and is the first ever detailed account written by a chief prosecutor of an international war crimes tribunal.

Appointed by then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from 2001 to 2005, Crane—the first American since Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg in 1945 to be named the Chief Prosecutor of an international war crimes tribunal—worked with a team of intrepid investigators to unravel a complicated international legal puzzle. In doing so, he became the only prosecutor in the modern era to take down a sitting head of state for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Set in the ravaged West African country of Sierra Leone, Every Living Thing shows how multiple countries were devastated by an international criminal enterprise led by presidents Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Blasé Compare of Burkina Faso, with an assist from a vast network of terrorists—including Al Qaeda—vying for the control of diamonds.

Following the creation of Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2002, a small band of lawyers, investigators, and paralegals changed the face of international criminal law with their innovative plan to effectively and efficiently deliver justice for the tens of thousands of victims, most of them women and children. Among those Crane indicted was Taylor, the first sitting African head of state to be held accountable in this way. Taylor was found guilty in April 2012 of all 11 charges levied by the SCSL, and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Writes Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In Sierra Leone, David Crane masterfully built up a fully-fledged court, investigating and prosecuting some of the worst cases of international crimes and many of the most notorious war criminals of our era. He brought with him a deep commitment to justice, and genuine empathy for a country and people who had endured unbearable atrocities. The memoirs of this admirable and learned public servant will undoubtedly convey important lessons on how—and why—we must strive to deliver justice for all victims, even in the most challenging circumstances.”

 

William C. Banks Reviews Impeachment Day 2 with KPCC

Impeachment Hearing: Day Two with Marie Yovanovitch

(KPCC Los Angeles | Nov. 15, 2019) On the second day of impeachment hearings, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee.

Yovanovitch was removed from her post in May by what she described as a “smear campaign” by the Trump Administration and the former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yurij Lutsenko. Yovanovitch had clashed with Lutsenko over alleged corruption in his department, say Ukrainian officials.

Yovanovitch previously testified to Democrats behind closed doors last month that she was warned to “watch her back,” before being ousted as ambassador. She said that she was the victim of a “campaign of disinformation” by Trump’s allies working through “unofficial back channels.” She attributes her loss of position to her anti-corruption stance. Without sustaining any criticism from the State Department itself, Yovanovitch was removed from office in May.

Republican House members largerly wrote off the relevance of Yovanovitch’s testimony. California Representative Devin Nunes said she “is not a material fact witness.” But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asserted that by removing Yovanovitch, Trump and his allies had “set the stage for an irregular channel” of foreign policy communication with Ukraine led by Rudy Giuliani to pressure Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden and the Democratic Party …

Listen to the segment.

 

Watch: Robert B. Murrett Interviews Ambassador Ryan Crocker

At the Rumsfeld Foundation seventh annual Graduate Fellowship Conference in Washington, DC, on Sept. 19-20, 2019, Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, Professor of Practice at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Deputy Director of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law, conducted an engaging interview with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Diplomat in Residence at Princeton University.

From his service as former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, Amb. Crocker offered his advice for rising leaders from his wide-ranging experience, as well as remarked on broader diplomatic and security issues of the day.

Newly Re-Named Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law Expands Mission Toward Emerging Technologies, Intelligence Community

Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law (SPL) is the new name for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), a collaboration between the Syracuse University College of Law and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Security Policy and Law

Founded by Professor of Law Emeritus William C. Banks in 2003, the Institute has its roots in the global response to terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It has since expanded to work across the Syracuse University campus and beyond on a wide spectrum of national and international security topics, including homeland security, the law of armed conflict, violent extremism, postconflict reconstruction, disaster response, the rule of law, veterans’ affairs, critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies.

The Institute’s new name and identity reflect this growth in topics and activities, and it acknowledges the Institute’s longstanding flexibility in addressing evolving security challenges—both within the United States and around the world—through interdisciplinary research, teaching, public service, and policy analysis.

The Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law is led by the Hon. James E. Baker, former Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and former Legal Adviser to the National Security Council. The Institute’s Deputy Director is Vice Admiral Robert B. Murrett (Ret.), former Director of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and former Director of Naval Intelligence.

“Our new identity recognizes the essential interdisciplinary nature of contemporary security challenges.”

“Our new identity recognizes the essential interdisciplinary nature of contemporary security challenges,” says Judge Baker. “As the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law, we continue our mission to conduct leading-edge policy and law research and analysis across disciplines and to educate and inspire the next generation of security thought-leaders and practitioners.”

“A prime mover in national security policy and law for more than 16 years, the re-positioned Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law is poised for the future,” says Dean Craig M. Boise, College of Law. “I am particularly excited about the Institute’s expansion into emerging technologies, the private practice of security, and diversity in the intelligence community. These changes are transforming the workplaces our students are entering. By staying abreast of these trends, the Institute is and will remain a premier training ground for future practitioners across all security sectors.”

“This new identity change reflects the expansive ways in which policy, law, and governance intersect a broad array of issue areas that shape not just US national security but human security around the world,” says Dean David M. Van Slyke, Maxwell School. “As a top-ranked research institution, Syracuse University provides boundless opportunities for us to explore these intersections across campus.”

SPL’s growing subject-matter expertise and diversity is evident in the range of sectors that the Institute’s certificate program graduates work across, in the national and international security community, for US and foreign governments, international humanitarian organizations, the intelligence community, public health agencies, the private sector, think tanks, and NGOs. Alumni serve in all five branches of the US military.

SPL offers three interdisciplinary certificates of advanced study, in Security Studies, National Security and Counterterrorism Law, and Postconflict Reconstruction. It has graduated more than 700 students from its academic programs since 2003.

Adding to its emerging research and practice areas of expertise, the Institute recently played a key leadership role in generating external funding for two major collaborative research initiatives.

The first award is a research and production partnership with the Georgetown University-based Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). As part of the $500,000 agreement, SPL will assist CSET in investigating the legal, policy, and security impacts of emerging technology; supporting academic work in security and technology studies; and delivering nonpartisan analysis to the law and policy community. Judge Baker is the grant’s Primary Investigator.

In the second, federal award, Syracuse University was named as a US Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (ICCAE) with total support for the new program up to $1.5 million over five years. Known as the Partnership for Educational Results/Syracuse University Adaptive, Diverse, and Ethical Intelligence Community Professionals (PER/SUADE), Syracuse University is leading a consortium of universities and colleges to recruit and educate talented, diverse students interested in public service careers in the intelligence and national security fields.

The grant’s goal is to help diversify the US government’s intelligence and national security pipelines. The program is open to all Syracuse University students—graduate and undergraduate—from all schools and colleges, as well as partner schools (Wells College, the Grove School of Engineering at the City College of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Norfolk State University). PER/SUDAE’s Primary Investigator is Vice Admiral Murrett and Judge Baker is the Co-Primary Investigator. Multiple University faculty are helping to design the program as co-investigators, including the SPL Director of Research Corri Zoli and faculty from the College of Law, Maxwell School, College of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, College of Engineering and Computer Science, University College, and elsewhere.

Impeachment & Public Opinion: William C. Banks Speaks to China Daily

Public opinion could be telling as impeachment proceedings unfold

(China Daily | Nov. 2, 2019) The impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump could shape and sway public opinion and impact the 2020 presidential campaign, analysts said.

The House of Representatives, in a 232-196, mostly party-line vote on Thursday, approved rules for the next, more public, stage in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Over the past five weeks, the probe has primarily been shaped by closed-door testimony from several officials who have raised questions about whether Trump and his inner circle withheld nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine in order to pressure Kiev to investigate Trump’s political rivals, thehill.com reported.

The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to investigate Joe Biden, a 2020 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings …

… William C. Banks, co-author of National Security Law and the Power of the Purse, a 1994 book about tensions between the executive and legislative branches over security and spending, said that to win a second term, Trump would need the impeachment effort to fail and backfire, showing the Democrats as interested only in partisan victory and not the rule of law.

“If the public impeachment process builds the Ukraine abuse of office case clearly, so that average Americans can see what the president did, it should lead to impeachment and a trial in the Senate,” said Banks, a Syracuse University College of Law professor.

“From there on, everything depends on events that have yet to occur,” he said …

Read the full article.

 

The Burden of a Militarized US Foreign Policy

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Medium.com | Oct, 30, 2019) What role should American troops play — some would say, standing in the crossfire — between distant governments and groups engaged in protracted armed conflicts, whose grievances long predate 9/11? What US obligations are owed to parties of these conflicts, even partners, particularly if their issues — which they believe are worth fighting and dying for — have little to do with US national strategic priorities? How many of the long-term conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which the US is often expected to manage, are defined by the same, solvable problems — ethnic strife, capitulation on human rights, bad actors using political violence rather than building pluralistic consensus — which could be solved if local governments would simply govern their own diverse constituencies with care and accountability? In the Mideast in particular, these “conflict drivers” create economic-conflict traps and erode region-wide stability. Should the US then pick up the pieces?

“What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered.”

Unfortunately, there are far too many wars to which these questions apply — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen (between Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, and Iran), Pakistan and India, in fractured Syria, lawless Libya, Sudan, and South Sudan, even the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict. If we broaden the lens to include — not just active wars and internal strife — but low-intensity conflicts and hybrid threats, the numbers rise to include post-Arab Spring Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Syrian-Civil War spillover into Lebanon. Is it reasonable to expect American servicemembers to protect and police these nations’ in light of their security threats, much of which stems from internal governance deficits? Can the American public feasibly support US intervention — at a cost of trillions, not to mention in lives — in 10 Mideast conflicts out of 16 nations?

What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered. Few analysts mention the dismal empirics of war, the backdrop for weighing the merits of any lasting US presence in Syria, from policy, strategic, democratic, and other perspectives. From a democratic perspective, for instance, American voters have spoken, twice, in the last two elections, supporting both Obama and Trump Administrations’ promise of “no new wars.” From a policy perspective, the picture is even more bizarre: despite Obama’s best intentions, his own political appointees would not let him extricate the US from the Mideast. Hence, Obama called his Libyan intervention the “worst mistake” of his presidency, even as he initiated this and two other new US interventions in Syria and Yemen, adding three more wars to US ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (which Obama tried unsuccessfully to end in 2011). Biden, who presided over Obama’s withdrawal ceremony in Iraq in December 2011, said: “thank you, Obama, for giving me the opportunity to end this goddamn war.” Such a sentiment was short-lived and, as most analysts believe, the prerequisite for the rise of ISIS in the Levant.

These examples illustrate how easy it is for all of us — even Presidents with foreign policy authority — to get lost in the mixed media messages, the twists and turns of self-serving politics, the topsy-turvy world of policy recommendations, and the “fog of war” complexities of conflict, all of which inexorably push for more war …

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