In a rare and hard-hitting letter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court accused the FBI Tuesday of misleading it and lying in an effort to spy on former President Donald Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
The letter written by FISA Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, gave bureau officials a Jan. 10 deadline to address how to remedy the extraordinary malfeasance that led to the FBI’s baseless warrant to spy on Page. This is the first time the court has spoken since the Department of Justice Inspector General released its findings on the FBI’s now debunked investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his shocking report last week, revealing that senior FBI officials withheld information from the court, lied and misled the justices in an effort to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Page.
The seriousness of the violations discovered are forcing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reassess whether or not to keep the FISA program, which comes up for reauthorization in March. The FISA court was founded in 1978, under the enactment of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It was created to authorize the “most intrusive surveillance techniques modern technology allows” and many contend it conflicts with the basic tenants of the Fourth Amendment, noted criminal defense and civil rights attorney David Schoen, who spoke last week to SaraACarter.com.
Collyer’s letter to the FBI is significant and was expected after Horowitz’s findings but the extent of FISA courts concern is historic, as this is the first time the court has been given information that law enforcement officials directly violated the court standards to wiretap an American citizen.
“This order responds to reports that personnel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provided false information to the National Security Division (NSD) of the Department of Justice, and with held material information from NSD which was detrimental to the FBI’s case, in connection with four applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance of a U.S.citizen named Carter W. Page,” stated Collyer to the FBI.
The letter stated that “when FBI personnel mislead NSD in the ways described above, they equally mislead the FISC.”
“In order to appreciate the seriousness of that misconduct and its implications , it is useful to understand certain procedural and substantive requirements that apply to the government’s conduct of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes.”
The court went on to say that the FBI is required by the “government to apply for and receive an order from the FISC approving a proposed electronic surveillance. When deciding whether to grant such an application, a FISC judge must determine among other things, whether it provides probable cause to believe that the proposed surveillance target is a “ foreign power or an agent a foreign power. See 1805(a)(2)(A ). Those terms are defined by FISA. See 1801(a)-( ). A finding of probable cause to believe that a U.S. citizen.”
Collyer emphasized that the ‘frequency with which representations made by F.B.I. personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other F.B.I. applications is reliable.”
What happened in the case of Page is an issue that civil libertarians have been concerned with for some time, said Schoen. The court operates in secret and its decisions as to whether to authorize the government to intrude on our most private activities are “based exclusively on representations of facts unilaterally submitted to the court in secret by a government official with an agenda.”
Schoen warned that the “potential for abuse is limited only by one’s imaginations. It is past time for Congress, working with judicial branch officials and civil libertarians, to reform the process.”
Collyer addresses those concerns. She chides the bureau’s failings on all four FISA applications, three of which were renewals to spy on Page.
“With that background, the Court turns to how the government handled the four applications it submitted to conduct electronic surveillance of Mr. Page The FISC entertained those applications in October 2016 and January, April, 1 and June 2017,” she says.
“On December 9, 2019, the government filed with the FISC public and classified versions of the OIG Report. The OIG Report describes in detail the preparation of the four applications for electronic surveillance of Mr. Page. It documents troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to NSD which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession. It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
Horowitz’s 435 page report revealed 17 gross violations, which included withholding exculpatory information, altering documents and basically lying to the court about Page.
Those violations against Page were initiated by former FBI Director James Comey’s Crossfire Hurricane Team and Horowitz’s scathing report on the team was reminiscent of the J. Edgar Hoover era, where the bureau’s spying on American citizens was rampant.
Page’s life was turned upside down when the Crossfire Hurricane team opened up its investigation on July 31, 2016.
Other FBI agents and sources associated with the FISA against Page, leaked erroneous stories about the Trump campaign volunteer to the media, in an effort to create a narrative that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.
“Those checks, however, depend entirely on the integrity of the government officials making the application or supervising those who made them. In the so-called Russia collusion “investigation” it appears that all involved simply chose to ignore the Court’s rules and have faced no penalty for doing so,” said Schoen.