Monday, June 10, 2013

Brief Note on Intelligence Collection Under FISA

Ignore the hype of some very recent news reports.  Focus on the facts.

The DNI has published a very helpful summary of what the intelligence community (IC) does to collect from  electronic sources.  All of those procedures are in compliance with statutes such as FISA.  Much of this capability has been disclosed for a long time in public media and in well-written books like James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace.  The only people who feel shocked by revelations of routine procedures are people with short attention spans.

The correct way to seek publication of sensitive information is to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to a federal government agency.  Analysts and managers can then thoroughly review records to ensure disclosure does not harm America's national interests.  Any deviation from this path undermines the rule of law and subjects American national interests to compromise from our adversaries.  I have used the FOIA process myself in one case not related to any classified information, but bearing on misconduct and fraud.  My colleague successfully obtained a FOIA release in that case that we could use in public.

I do not believe that low-level technicians who make unauthorized disclosures of restricted information deserve to be hailed as heroes or whistleblowers.  An entry-level system administrator does not have any business whatsoever deciding whether classified information is fit for release to the public.

Addendum:  One would think that federal employees concerned with justice would first turn to their supervisory chain and then to internal channels such as the federal government's various inspector generals.  None of the recent crop of so-called "heroic whistleblowers" seem to have made use of the DOD Whistleblower Program or the IGs within the intelligence community.  Perhaps further inquiries through the judicial process will uncover whether any headline-grabbing loudmouths used these channels.  I have no sympathy for people whose reckless disclosures violate federal laws and security protocols.  Such unauthorized disclosures place American lives at severe risk.