Gavel Grab

Greenwald: Oversight by Secretive Court a ‘Fig Leaf’

Glenn Greenwald, who recently has reported disclosures about U.S. government Internet and telephone information-gathering, now turns his focus to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington and finds its purported oversight a “fig leaf.”

Drawing upon secret documents Greenwald says he has obtained, he writes in The Guardian that political leaders, journalists, and government officials say there are legal safeguards protecting Americans from certain warrantless surveillance, and these “claims are highly misleading, and in some cases, outright false.”

Under amendments in 2008 to existing foreign intelligence surveillance law, Greenwald writes, “no warrants are needed for the [National Security Agency] to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens. Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic. But even under the law, no individualized warrant is needed to listen in on the calls or read the emails of Americans when they communicate with a foreign national whom the NSA has targeted for surveillance.

“As a result, under the [amendments], the NSA frequently eavesdrops on Americans’ calls and reads their emails without any individualized warrants – exactly that which NSA defenders, including Obama, are trying to make Americans believe does not take place,” he says.

After examining secret FISA court documents, Greenwald concludes that its oversight process “is a fig leaf, ‘oversight’ in name only. It offers no real safeguards. That’s because no court monitors what the NSA is actually doing when it claims to comply with the court-approved procedures.”

The surveillance programs that were disclosed have become the topic of heated debate in Washington. In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, senior government officials said the programs, according to the Washington Post, “have disrupted more than 50 terrorist plots in the United States and abroad.”

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