FISA Court adviser says FBI’s proposed reforms are insufficient
The FBI’s proposed 12-step plan to prevent future blunders in its applications for surveillance warrants was blasted as “insufficient” Wednesday by the adviser overseeing the bureau’s changes.
David Kris, the former Obama administration lawyer tapped to oversee reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, said the actions proposed by FBI Director Christopher A. Wray don’t go far enough to give the court confidence in the veracity of future surveillance applications.
“These efforts are a reasonable beginning, but they are not sufficient and should be expanded and supplemented,” Mr. Kris wrote in a brief filed with the FISA Court.
Mr. Wray last week outlined a 12-step plan to avoid future mistakes, saying he “deeply regrets” the bureau’s bungling of its Russia probe surveillance.
The proposed changes come after a damning report by the Justice Department inspector general, who found at least 17 errors in the FBI’s application to wiretap former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The FBI’s mistakes included leaving out evidence that exonerated Mr. Page and doctoring evidence submitted to the court, said Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
In the plan Mr. Wray filed with the FISA court, he proposed more stringent verification forms to certify the accuracy of information provided by informants, a checklist for agents to fill out when seeking approval for FISA warrants and training to emphasize the importance of accuracy when dealing with the FISA court.
But Mr. Kris said the FBI must do more to assure the court the measures will prevent future errors.
He took Mr. Wray to task for not addressing cooperation between the FBI and Justice Department among his list of changes. Mr. Kris cited the inspector general’s conclusion that the FBI failed to advise the department of relevant facts in the FISA process.
“This iterative process is essential to avoiding errors in the first instance, rather than merely detecting them after the fact,” Mr. Kris wrote. “It puts primary responsibility on the parties most knowledgeable about the relevant facts and therefore best equipped to prepare a complete and accurate FISA application.”
Mr. Kris also said the FBI director did not offer enough details about proposed technology reforms or how the checklist would work.
“The government does not appear to have committed a timeline for completing this checklist or for reporting on the status of its efforts to the court,” he wrote. “This checklist should ensure and document a rigorous inter-agency check for sources that have relationships with other U.S. government agencies.”
Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the FISA court’s criticism emphasizes the need for Congress to overhaul the FISA process.
“It should come as no surprise that the FBI’s surveillance ‘fixes’ don’t go nearly far enough,” he said. “The government’s surveillance system, which has long been used to wrongly target Muslims, racial minorities and others, requires fundamental reforms.”
“Congress must radically reform the FISA process to instill accountability, require sufficient notice to individuals affected by FISA surveillance, and ensure that there is a meaningful opportunity to challenge the government’s allegations in FISA applications,” he said.
Mr. Wray’s proposed changes come one month after the FISA court’s chief judge slammed the FBI in rare and surprising order. The court gave the bureau until Jan. 10 to offer solutions.
“The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether the information contained in other FBI applications is reliable,” Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wrote.
Republicans have criticized the appointment of Mr. Kris, a former assistant attorney general in the Obama Justice Department’s national security division.
He has publicly defended the FBI’s decisions in the Russia probe, including its use of a salacious and unverified dossier by British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
Mr. Kris was appointed last week, and the decision was quickly lambasted by Mr. Trump in a tweet Sunday.
“You can’t make this up!” the president tweeted. “Zero credibility. THE SWAMP!”
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