Surveillance of American Citizens Need Proper Controls

Reno Gazette Journal December 29, 2019

Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz has submitted his long-awaited report. The report documents 17 significant omissions and inaccuracies in the FBI’s wiretapping of former Trump aide Carter Page. Wiretapping by the FBI on US soil has to be approved by the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court which was established in 1978. The FISA court, also known as FISC, operates in total secrecy and little is known about this court.

Let’s start with some basic information on FISC. It consists of 11 judges selected from the federal district courts by the Chief Justice of the United States. These 11 judges continue their responsibilities with their respective federal district courts while serving on the FISC. They take turns serving one week each, serving one as the FISC judge and the next 10 in their federal district courts. When the FBI has reason to believe that someone on US soil is a spy or a terrorist, the FBI files an application with the FISC to surveil that person. This application establishes probable cause to collect communications of that person and is approved by a single judge with no representation from the subject of such surveillance.

That brings us to the case of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor. The FBI used the “Steele Dossier”, containing mostly unverified gossip and hearsay, as probable cause to spy on Carter Page while he was working on the Trump campaign. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, created the Dossier for the firm Fusion GPS using Russian and Ukrainian sources. Fusion GPS was funded with $1.02 million by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) according to Reuters. Additionally, Nellie Ohr, the wife of Bruce Ohr (the 4th highest ranking FBI official at that time), worked for Fusion GPS. When the FBI filed the application with the FISC to spy on Page, it left out the facts that Clinton and the DNC funded the Dossier and that Nellie Ohr is related to Bruce Ohr. As you can see, there were multiple conflicts of interest that the FBI was aware of, which were not shared with the FISC as part of the surveillance application for Carter Page.

Here are a few takeaways for all Americans regardless of political affiliation: (1) A presidential campaign was spied on using a document funded by the opposing campaign; (2) a top FBI official’s wife was employed by the organization which created the document used by the FBI to obtain the warrant; and (3) none of this was disclosed to the FISC during the application process. If such questionable means can be used to spy on a presidential campaign, where does that leave us average Americans?

One final point: The FBI is the nation’s top law enforcement agency, and any impropriety in the use of its powers should be dealt with sternly. What happened with the spying of Carter Page is wrong and constitutes a massive abuse of the FISC process by the FBI. Top FBI officials failed to disclose pertinent information to the FISC. There was significant political bias withing the FBI as the involvement of Nellie Ohr and text messages between top FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page indicate. All past FISC applications should be reviewed for abuse and significant reforms must be enacted to the FISC process. Those who were involved in the questionable FISC application which led to the spying of a presidential campaign should be brought to justice. The punishment should include not months, but years of prison time and loss of all benefits from the FBI. Proceeds from any books they write on the topic should be confiscated.