Surprise: National Security Wiretap System Is A Mess

The NY Times notices a big problem

National Security Wiretap System Was Long Plagued by Risk of Errors and Omissions

In the 1990s, F.B.I. agents hunting for a Russian mole zeroed in on a C.I.A. official as their main suspect as they tried to determine who had sold secrets that had led to the deaths of American spies. When they sought court permission to wiretap him, they kept quiet about facts that cast doubts on their theory.

But the mole turned out to instead be one of the F.B.I.’s own, Robert P. Hanssen, and the agents were later exposed for cherry-picking evidence against the innocent C.I.A. official in their surveillance applications.

That little-known aspect of the notorious Hanssen case illustrates the risk of dysfunction in national security wiretapping, one of counterintelligence agents’ most powerful tools in fighting terrorism and espionage. Now, that defect has surfaced again. The F.B.I.’s flawed applications to monitor a former Trump adviser in the Russia investigation, Carter Page, has prompted a new cycle of scandal revealed in a damning report from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The problems may be part of a broader pattern in other applications that never receive the same intense scrutiny, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials who have worked with national security wiretaps. The system is vulnerable, they said, to lower-level agents suppressing or overlooking evidence that weakens their case when they seek permission to conduct surveillance.

Hmm, lower level agents

President Trump and his supporters have long embraced a theory that Mr. Page was a victim of a high-level political conspiracy. The inspector general report did not confirm that narrative, instead finding different — yet still serious — problems. (snip)

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, will mark up a bill that is expected to become a vehicle for Congress to weigh in on broader surveillance issues. He has been negotiating with Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, who leads the Intelligence Committee, and with Republicans on his own panel. (snip)

But the bill, according to people familiar with negotiations over the draft, would make other adjustments that dovetail with the inspector general report — like expanding when FISA judges should appoint outsiders to critique the government’s arguments. Lawmakers could also legally require the F.B.I. to be candid with the FISA court and to correct errors.

Um, it’s already rather against the law to lie to any court, including the FISA court. If anything, the bill should make sure that government employees who lie to the court are actually punished. Who has been punished for lying to the FISA court over Carter Page or any of the other Trump associates, as well as Mr. Trump himself?

Notice what this is really all about: blaming low level agents and a flawed process, which is why they mentioned Robert Hanssen, rather than high ranking government employees who took advantage of the system and lied, hid information, and made up information. There’s zero chance that it was low level agents involved in obtaining warrants to spy on a presidential candidate and people working for and associated with his campaign. Sure, there are issues with the court and the process, as the Times lays out ad nauseum in a long article, but, a junior agent isn’t going to be getting a warrant to surveille a presidential candidate.

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