Steube Pens Op-Ed in Washington Examiner Highlighting Need for Further Reforms Before FISA Reauthorization
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Greg Steube (R-Fla.) penned an op-ed in the Washington Examiner expressing concerns ahead of this week’s vote to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), explaining that if the system cannot be reformed, it should not exist at all.
“Congress should carefully consider the proposed reforms and not just push through a half-measure without proper debate or deliberation. Further work is needed to address the serious abuses by intelligence agencies like the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens and the Trump campaign in 2016,” Steube wrote.
“The need to protect the sensitive information has to be balanced with the constitutional protections afforded to our citizens. The FISA process should never allow the opportunity for political motives to corrupt the process, as was the case with U.S. citizens connected to Trump’s 2016 campaign, like [Carter] Page,” he continued.
Steube also laid out several types of reforms necessary to protect the process. “Any meaningful reform effort must provide both a robust oversight mechanism and significant penalty for abuse of the FISA rules. Our reforms need to ensure that abuses of this process are impossible,” he added.
Read Steube’s full op-ed here or below.
FISA reauthorization fails to protect American citizens
By Rep. Greg Steube
May 27, 2020
Ahead of a House vote to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Congress should carefully consider the proposed reforms and not just push through a half-measure without proper debate or deliberation. Further work is needed to address the serious abuses by intelligence agencies like the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens and the Trump campaign in 2016.
Look no further than the inspector general report released in December 2019 as justification. Even the New York Times called it a “staggeringly dysfunctional and error-ridden process in how the FBI went about obtaining and renewing court permission under FISA to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.”
The American Civil Liberties Union agreed. Hina Shamsi, the director of the organization’s National Security Project, said, “the litany of problems with the Carter Page surveillance applications demonstrates how the secrecy shrouding the government’s one-sided FISA approval process breeds abuse.”
Once the IG report was released, it drew a rare rebuke by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. On behalf of the court, Judge Rosemary Collyer noted, “the frequency with which representations made by FBI 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 FBI applications is reliable.” This was a clear signal to Congress to act decisively.
Having worked in a classified judicial setting as the chief of detainee operations for the 25th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2007, I understand the need to protect methods and sources in our national security agencies. We don’t need our enemies learning who or how we obtained information to protect the United States from terrorists.
The need to protect the sensitive information, however, has to be balanced with the constitutional protections afforded our citizens. The FISA process should never allow the opportunity for political motives to corrupt the process, as was the case with U.S. citizens connected to Trump’s 2016 campaign, like Page.
Since targets of FISA investigations are not informed of it, and therefore cannot defend themselves, the integrity of the investigators is paramount. Any meaningful reform effort must provide both a robust oversight mechanism and significant penalty for abuse of the FISA rules. For example, investigating agents need to review warrants before they go out and swear under oath that the details are accurate and that there is not exculpatory information being omitted. A possible oversight enhancement may include an ombudsman or third-party defense counsel with appropriate security clearance to argue the suspects’ constitutional rights when evidence is presented to the FISA court.
Furthermore, we need tougher penalties for those who abuse the FISA process. FBI agents who intentionally mislead the FISA court to conduct surveillance should face mandatory prison time, for example. Our reforms need to ensure that abuses of this process are impossible.
It’s now clear that the FBI’s outrageous manipulation of the FISA court occurred during the Obama-Biden administration. It remains an open question as to whether an opposition political party (an outgoing administration) sought to abuse the FISA process to spy on U.S. citizens connected to the Trump campaign and subsequent transition to office. Nothing could be more serious than the possibility that the FISA process abuse was used to change the will of the people in a fair and free election. Congress and the intelligence community must take strong actions to see this never happen again.
In this specific case, the FBI egregiously misled the FISA court on its application to spy on Page, an American citizen and former Trump campaign official. There were more than 50 errors in the application, with many of them now classified as significant. Instead of holding this application to any acceptable legal standard, a politicized FBI was able to hand-pick evidence and misrepresent facts to get court approval for a warrant to wiretap an American citizen.
Regardless of your political affiliation, you should agree that Congress has a duty right now to fix these dangerous flaws in the FISA process. If the FISA system can’t be significantly reformed to prevent abuse, the FISA court shouldn’t exist.
Congressman Greg Steube, a former army interrogator, represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.