Secrecy News

A New Judge for the FISA Court

Judge Claire V. Eagan of the Northern District of Oklahoma was appointed this month to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the Chief Justice of the United States.

Her term on the FIS Court began on February 13, 2013 and will extend until May 18, 2019.  She replaces Judge Jennifer B. Coffman, who retired on January 8 before the end of her term.  Another appointment, to replace outgoing Judge John D. Bates, whose term ends tomorrow, is imminent, said Sheldon Snook, spokesman for the Court.

The FIS Court authorizes electronic surveillance and physical searches for intelligence and counterterrorism purposes. The current membership of the Court is listed here.

Judge Eagan was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001.

The FIS Court has been discussed lately as a potential model for some form of judicial review of the use of drones in lethal strikes against suspected terrorists. Speaking at the February 7 confirmation hearing of John Brennan to be CIA Director, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein said her Committee would examine “the proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes.”

But the application of the FISA model for authorizing intelligence surveillance to the substantially different issue of lethal targeting would not be straightforward, and may not be appropriate at all.

The notion “that federal judges ought to be assigned the task of monitoring, mediating and approving the killer instincts of our government […] is a very bad idea,” wrote Judge James Robertson, a former FIS Court member, in the Washington Post (“Judges shouldn’t decide about drone strikes,” February 15).