The former FBI director knew exactly what his agency had on Carter Page and, contrary his assertion, it’s incredibly easy to get a FISA warrant.
By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News
Former FBI Director James Comey gave an interview this week to journalist Chris Wallace on Fox News in which he made one of the most disingenuous and dissembling statements I’ve heard in years, one that screams out for correction and real Congressional oversight.
When asked about Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz’s report, which found “17 significant errors and omissions” by the FBI when it began investigating alleged Russian involvement with the 2016 Trump campaign and it applied for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Comey said that he had been “overconfident” when he defended the FBI’s use of FISA.
Overconfident! Comey ignored the fact that the FBI repeatedly renewed the warrant against Page, whom the FBI suspected was working for Russian intelligence, even if it had no evidence to indicate that was the case. He downplayed the fact that an FBI attorney illegally changed an FBI report to indicate that Page was not working for the CIA, when the FBI knew for a fact that he was.
Perhaps most disingenuously, Comey told Wallace that, “I thought the FBI had gone about this in a thoughtful and appropriate way. He’s (Horowitz) right. I was wrong. I was overconfident as director in our procedures…It’s incredibly hard to get a FISA.”
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Comey downplayed the fact that this all happened on his watch. The buck was supposed to stop with him. He was the boss, the commander, the one giving the orders. He knew exactly what the FBI had on Page and what it did not. And the truth was that it had nothing.
Comey’s Lie About a FISA Warrant
Even more importantly, at least for the American people as a whole, is Comey’s lie that “it’s incredibly hard to get a FISA.” It’s actually incredibly easy to get a FISA. Over its 33-year lifespan, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has issued 33,942 warrants. It has denied 12. In fact, between the court’s creation in 1986 and 2003, it didn’t deny a single request for a warrant. Those numbers simply don’t support Comey’s odd contention that it’s “incredibly hard” to get a FISA. He’s lying to us.
And the truth of the matter is that the FISA court isn’t really a court at all. It meets in secret. A “defendant” has no idea that the government is asking for a warrant against him. The defendant has no attorney to represent his interests before the court.
All that happens — literally — is that the FBI, usually with CIA or NSA information, goes before a FISA judge and says, “We think person X is dangerous or working for the Russians or is a terrorist or finances terrorists or is a spy and we want a secret warrant to tap his phones, intercept his emails, collect his metadata, and put physical surveillance teams on him.” Out of 33, 960 requests, the court has approved 33,942 of them. “Incredibly hard” indeed.
There is talk of reform, however. In a rare public order this week, the FISA court condemned the FBI for the errors and omissions that led to the warrant being issued (and reissued) against Page, and the court gave the FBI until Jan. 10 to come up with a list of reforms to prevent such an event from happening again.
The senior judge wrote:
“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. Therefore, the Court orders that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application.”
That’s a start. But real reform has to be more than just a list by Jan. 10. The American people must see real reform. We need to see that more than 0.03 percent of warrant requests are denied. We need to see fewer overall requests. And most importantly, we need to see that the congressional oversight committees are doing their jobs. The statistics on warrants requested and warrants granted are unacceptable.
It’s Congress’s job to protect our civil rights and civil liberties. We need to see proof it’s happening.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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