The FBI and Surveillance

DoJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has produced a report that’s pretty damning of the FBI and its surveillance practices.  This has raised concerns about how far the FBI goes, and whether it exceeds the spirit, even the letter, of our laws governing FBI surveillance.

Monday’s report…also faulted the bureau for its “failure to adhere to its own standards of accuracy and completeness when filing applications” to conduct electronic surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign staffer, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Privacy advocates said the report’s findings validated their belief that surveillance practices under the FISA law…lacked adequate oversight and transparency.

Indeed. And this is the crux of the matter.  I suspect that the FISA law and other of our government surveillance-related laws are adequate to their task (eliding questions about FISA’s courts). It’s the humans in charge of the FBI, and their subordinates, who are wanting in this.

It’s virtually certain that additional law, or tweakings of existing laws, will accomplishment a good approximation of nothing in redressing this.

I suggest that what is needed are a couple of things.  One is an increase in the severity of sanction applied to those FBI managers (I won’t call them leaders; failure here disqualifies them from that favorable label) who fail in their oversight duties and separately in their transparency duties.  This will produce improvement, but that will erode, just as we’ve reached our present sorry pass via erosion over the past several years. J Edgar Hoover and James Comey are merely the culmination of such erosion.

The other thing promises to produce more long-lasting results. FBI managers who are Presidentially nominated and Senate confirmed should be barred from any service, including pro bono and lobbying, within DoJ under any immediately subsequent administration; they can go work in the private sector instead. Their eligibility for DoJ employment could be restored with the election of the second President (not the next President reelected) after the one in whose administration they served.

This removal from employment should extend into and across the top tiers just below the confirmation positions, as well.

None of those folks will have necessarily done anything wrong or even untoward; it’s merely necessary to break up and terminate the accumulating power of incumbency and bureaucratic inertia.  Some might worry that too much corporate memory would be lost.  Such memory and history are valuable in any enterprise; however, in the case of the FBI, there will be sufficient value in the senior agents and remaining other senior employees. As well as from the non-FBI DoJ with its outside-looking-in perspective.

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