Proposes GAO Investigation of CIA’s Section 702-Like Program
As Congress debates reform of Section 702, Patrick Eddington, former CIA analyst turned Cato Institute senior fellow, offers a timely reminder of how much we don’t know about government surveillance of Americans.
In a piece in The Orange County Register, Eddington writes that for years prior to the 9/11 attacks, the CIA was “apparently conducting exactly the kind of internet ‘backbone’ surveillance now carried out under FISA Section 702 … with absolutely no judicial oversight.”
Eddington notes that it took a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to reveal an audit by the Inspector General of the CIA that covered 1999-2000. The audit is heavily redacted.
Despite the fact that millions of Americans live, work, and travel abroad, under the CIA’s Section 702-like program, the agency presumed a target was foreign when starting collection. The CIA only allegedly ended collection when it discovered the target was in fact an American. The CIA IG report admitted it “was unable to review every regulated activity.” Did other CIA collection activities ensnare the communications of Americans?
Most important, Eddington writes that the redactions prevent us from knowing if this CIA program was terminated or if it still operating.
What can be done? First, Eddington points to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who last year tasked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the FBI’s use of “assessments” – de facto investigations that can be opened on any person or organization absent any criminal predicate. Eddington proposes Congress instruct GAO to expand its surveillance program inquiry to include the CIA’s surveillance program.
A good place for the GAO to start would be to determine if this program is, in fact, still in operation.
Second, Congress should look to the solutions of the Government Surveillance Reform Act to curb widespread abuses, including those in FISA’s Section 702, which also targets digital communications passing through the backbone of major telecommunications firms and internet service providers’ networks. The absence of sunlight is sure to provide a breeding ground for many abuses.