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.
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.
“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 …