Secrecy News

FISA Annual Report Recedes in Importance

For many years, the Justice Department’s annual report to Congress on the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was a primary source of public information on intelligence surveillance activity and on the workings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Today, that is less true than ever before.

The latest annual report, released by DOJ yesterday, indicated that in 2013 the Government submitted 1,655 applications for electronic surveillance, physical search or both. Of the 1,588 applications that included electronic surveillance, none were denied by the Court. But that hardly provides an accurate sense of the scope or the scale of intelligence surveillance activity.

The significance of this information, and other statistical data on access to “business records” and the use of national security letters, has receded in the wake of the far more substantial disclosures of the post-Snowden era. For example, we now know that the bland term “business records” extends in principle to everyone’s telephone call records.

In truth, the annual DOJ reports to Congress were never very informative, and they never provided useful data that could inform public policy in a practical way. They represented a facade of transparency with little or no real content. Today, they are practically irrelevant.

More informative and altogether more important is the new website of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has recently been revamped.

One thought on “FISA Annual Report Recedes in Importance

  1. As always, administrative agencies of the executive that are responsible for carrying out the task of government assert that we don’t ask them how they are doing. Almost every committee meeting is populated with department heads that speak to the great work their personnel are performing for the U.S. citizenry. I don’t see how this can be true when so much of what is termed a metric in performance has nothing to do with the efficacy or alignment with the mission or objectives. Measuring things such as number of personnel in a specific role, pay rates, benefits, physical site statues, and other internal operational components speaks not to the service that is rendered to the public.

    There are so many examples, but, when the necessity to accurately measure the use of systems that can be abused (such as though employed by the intelligence and military agencies) is intolerable–this is a huge fail. From the lack of transparency, accuracy, and operational effectiveness in reporting to the public, to the continued abuse of the citizenry whom are not at that table–ever–serves what purpose? As I see it, the person providing funding (taxpayer/citizen), expects a service or function of governance, but is not represented in any effective manner. Government is engaged in talking to government about government’s performance, goals, and mandates. To add to the insult, government officials and congress will blame sequester not what we’ve done but some opaque conceptual budget control gimmick. Hearing people in congress and the administration blame sequester is nothing more than laying blame at the foot of another when they have had a clear and superior role.

    This has become endemic with governance at nearly every level. It is difficult to fathom how we got here but I’ll take a stab at it…

    1.) Under the Cheney Administration, the primacy of government (in service to government) subjugated the sovereign to indentured servant. It was called continuity of government–not democracy or an idea as the constitution suggests.

    2.) This change effected state governments–governors and state assemblies sang the chorus that federal systems were orchestrating.

    3.) Accountability has been mitigated by using two tools;

    a.) government has become a large class of professional (huh) managers, and,

    b.) training includes minimizing taking responsibility or accountability and shifts the blame either downstream or outside their wheelhouse. (Ahbu Grib is a good example, as is Clapper).

    4.) Citizenry is largely absent–not enough pressure from the electorate and the classic journalists’ in depth coverage and research. Tweeting about how the IG at NSA is doing in monitoring performance just doesn’t happen. Tweets do go out for American Idol though, and media organizations grab an extra 10 million dollars for the fifty cent vote.

    5.) The intelligentsia is largely absent, executive and senior management roles must be compatible with what I regard the classic academic–though in the past most academics would scoff at the idea of being involved at some administrative level–it was beneath them.

    6.) The lack of the sense of community, a role that pays respect to the history and people that made the institutional environment that they now abuse. Seeing their role as more than a respected position or in service to our country–they don’t even know what “this country” means–not understanding the relationship between the actions and objectives and its effects on real people.

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