Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, July 11, 2009

  The weaknesses of the FISA inspectors general reports

In my recent post highlighting aspects of the newly declassified version of the report about Bush's warrantless surveillance, I took it for granted that the inspectors general produced a thoroughly inadequate overview of the programs. Perhaps I shouldn't have left that unsaid.

One year ago almost to the day I predicted that any such FISA investigations by the intelligence agency inspectors general would be hobbled and blinkered, and would result in reports that have little merit. That commentary is still worth reading. One thing to add to it, now that we've seen the first such IG report: Two of the five inspectors involved (for CIA and DoD) are in fact "Acting" inspectors general – which makes their independence and authority all the shakier.

No surprise then that practically everything that matters is treated poorly or not at all in the unclassified version of the IG report.

It tells us nothing about which topics the inspectors general wished to but were unable to investigate adequately.

It tells us virtually nothing about the most controversial "Other Intelligence Activities" (which even Bush's own DoJ lawyers rebelled against in 2004). It tells us nothing about whether any or all of these programs were illegal. Nothing about why DoJ officials concluded that many of the programs were illegal. Nothing about what pressure if any was brought on government lawyers to produce opinions testifying to the programs legality. Almost nothing about why John Yoo was given carte blanche to whip out such opinions, without any oversight in the OLC.

It tells us very little about who was responsible, and by what steps, in the creation of seemingly illegal surveillance programs.

It tells us nothing about who was being surveilled, or how, or how often, or how many people were affected. Nothing about how many purely domestic communications were intercepted. Nothing about whether legally privileged or business or personal or political or journalistic communications were intercepted. Nothing about increases or decreases or other changes in the programs over time.

It tells us nothing about what the cooperating telecoms knew, or how willingly they cooperated.

It tells us very little about how much new and actionable intelligence these seemingly illegal programs produced. It tells us little about how much 'poisonous fruit' ended up befouling terrorism prosecutions being brought by the FBI.

And it doesn't seem to make any attempt to assess whether the statements made about the programs by Bush administration officials were on the whole accurate.

crossposted at

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