FISA Court Rebukes FBI Abuse, Sets January Deadline for Reforms

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The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance warrants on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page said in an order on Tuesday that the FBI’s handling of the warrant applications was “antithetical” to its “heightened duty of candor.”

The order, issued in response to reports the FBI provided false information to the Justice Department and withheld information that went against their case, stated, “When FBI personnel mislead NSD in the ways described above, they equally mislead the FISC.”

The order described the process in which the FISC grants Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants, stating that it was “useful” to understand the requirements in getting a FISA warrant “in order to appreciate the seriousness of that misconduct and its implications.”

The FISC judge must determine whether the government’s application provides probable cause to believe the proposed surveillance target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power,” the order said. It added that Congress intended that the judge act as an “external check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance” to protect U.S. persons’ rights.

However, it said, “The FISC’s assessment of probable cause can serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately  provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cause exists. Accordingly, ‘the government … has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC] in ex parte proceedings,'” where there is not an adverse party. The order said:

The FISC expects the government to comply with its heightened duty of candor in ex parte proceedings at all times. Candor is fundamental to this Court’s effective operation. The FBI’s handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the OIG report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said in a statement he was “very pleased to see the FISA court condemn the FISA warrant application and process against Carter Page.”

“As Inspector General Horowitz’s report describes in great detail, the FISA process falsified evidence and withheld exculpatory evidence to obtain a warrant against Mr. Page on numerous occasions,” he said, adding:

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’ll be working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to reform FISA in a fashion to better protect civil liberties while maintaining our ability to monitor foreign surveillance directed against our economic and national security interests. FISA reform will be a top priority for the Judiciary Committee in 2020.

The FISC order also told the FBI to take action related to a former FBI lawyer doctoring an email in order to mislead an FBI agent who signed off on the last FISA application on Page. “The conduct of the OGC attorney gave rise to serious concerns about the accuracy and completeness of the information provided to the FISC in any matter in which the OGC attorney was involved,” the order said.

The FISC ordered the government on December 5, 2019, to provide certain information addressing those concerns, the order said.

The order also said that the frequency with which FBI personnel made representations to the court that were unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, or withheld information that went against their case “calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.” It said:

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application.

If the FBI cannot meet that deadline, it must provide a proposed timetable for implementing such measures, and say why the FBI should be regarded as reliable in the interim, it said.

The FISC also ordered that the FBI, no later than December 20, 2019, complete a declassification review of its December 5, 2019 order, in anticipation of the FISC’s publishing that order.

 

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