In 2009, the FISA Court Shut Down an NSA Program for 6 Months Because It Had “Frequently and Systemically” Violated the Rules


Last month we learned that in 2011 a FISA judge slammed the NSA for “the third instance in less than three years” in which an NSA surveillance program had been misrepresented to the court. Today, the Obama administration released a set of documents that describes one of the previous instances. It involves the NSA’s collection of phone records, which are supposed to be governed by strict minimization procedures that prevent analysts from illegally accessing the records of U.S. persons who are not reasonably suspected of terrorist ties. But it turned out that for three years, from 2006 to 2009, NSA had been routinely breaking its own rules; had been routinely providing false affirmations to the court; and apparently had no one on their staff who even understood how their own systems worked. Here is Judge Reggie Walton’s conclusion:

The NSA’s explanation for how these violations occurred “strained credulity,” Walton wrote, and because of that he shut down the phone record program entirely until the government put in place safeguards against abuse that satisfied him. Six months later, he finally allowed the program to restart.

Josh Gerstein has more details here. The main takeaway, however, is the obvious one: no agency can perform oversight on itself. NSA was violating the court’s rules for three years, and only discovered the problem because a spot check happened to turn up a violation, which in turn prompted them to do a broader investigation. That’s no way to ensure compliance with legal and constitutional standards.

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Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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