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Last month president Trump signed the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, extending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act until December 31, 2023. The law “allows the Intelligence Community, under a robust regime of oversight by all three branches of Government, to collect critical intelligence on international terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other important foreign intelligence targets located outside the United States.” Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, was part of the Senate Intelligence Committee staff that drafted FISA in 1978. Codevilla believes FISA was “a big mistake to begin with” and wants to see it repealed.
The legislation was supposedly to address complaints from leftists who sued the FBI and the National Security Agency after learning they had been overheard working against the United States during the Vietnam War. According to Codevilla, “the main push for FISA, in fact, came from the FBI and NSA” who sought to preclude further lawsuits by having wiretaps approved by a judge “thus absolving them of responsibility.” The law “removed responsibility for the substance of executive judgment from the shoulders of the very people who make such judgments” and the FISA court “creates an irresistible temptation to political abuse.” Therefore, “it behooves us to erase doubt about who is responsible for electronic surveillance by repealing FISA.”
What great national security successes FISA might have achieved remain unclear. The NSA, which pushed for FISA, conducts massive surveillance on U.S. citizens, allegedly in their best interest. It remains unclear whether the powerful agency captured emails and other records corrupt government officials sought to hide from the people. And of course, acts of terrorism continue on the domestic scene.
FISA allows the “intelligence community,” to conduct surveillance but long after FISA was authorized the 16 powerful agencies, plus the vaunted FBI, failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, FISA succeeds as a Federal Internal Surveillance Act, easily subject to abuse. Mr. Codevilla makes a strong case for its repeal.