Judge Offers Glimpse Behind Veil Of Secret Surveillance Court


In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, the presiding judge of the country’s surveillance court laid out some details about the operations of the top secret court.The unclassified document discussed the way the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), its staff, and the government interact, along with how applications for court orders are handled. As The Atlantic’s Conor Freidersdorf pointed out, it also disclosed how rarely FISA court orders are challenged.

In his letter, Judge Reggie Walton pushed back against media reports depicting the court as a rubber stamp for the government.

He brought up annual statistics provided to Congress that show the court approves nearly all of the applications it receives from the government. Those stats “reflect only the number of final applications submitted to and acted on by the Court,” Walton wrote in his letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “These statistics do not reflect the fact that many applications are altered prior to final submission or even withheld from final submission entirely, often after an indication that a judge would not approve them.”

According to Walton, during a “typical” week, the court asks for additional information or modifies the terms proposed by the government in a “significant percentage” of cases. Hard numbers, however, were not available.

“The Court has recently initiated the process of tracking more precisely how frequently this occurs,” Walton wrote.

Read the whole thing here.