In the wake of NSA scandal, government surveillance techniques have been under increased scrutiny. The main defense of NSA supporters revolves around the actions of a small and secretive court that originated from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a fascinating story that looked into the inner workings of one the nation’s most enigmatic magistrates – the FISA courts.
“Did you see in the Washington Post this weekend, this amazing story about what was built underneath the Capitol museum,” Glenn said on radio this morning. “Remember that Capitol museum cost, what, three quarters of a billion dollars to build? And I'm walking through the Capitol museum a couple of weeks ago and I'm like, that doesn't look like a three quarter of a billion dollar building.”
The Capitol Visitor Center remodel, which was commissioned under President George W. Bush, cost a small fortune, but there was very little pushback from Republicans or Democrats. Based on the information in the Washington Post article, Glenn believes we are now beginning to figure out why.
“Nobody had a problem with the three quarters of a billion dollar Capitol Visitors Complex… Now we are beginning to figure out why,” Glenn said. “The Washington Post had an amazing story this weekend about the secret meetings that happened way below the Capitol Visitors Complex. The Visitors Complex was a ruse. They built the Visitors Complex to make us believe they were building this stupid museum. There was a lot of infrastructure that's underneath the Visitors Complex… I've never believed in the Star Chamber. I've never believed there are secret courts going on and things like that. I know the FISA court, but not Star Chamber stuff.”
Glenn is specifically referring to the opening of the Washington Post article, in which it becomes clear there is a lot happening below the surface of the Capitol Visitors Center:
Wedged into a secure, windowless basement room deep below the Capitol Visitors Center, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates appeared before dozens of senators earlier this month for a highly unusual, top-secret briefing.
The lawmakers pressed Bates, according to people familiar with the session, to discuss the inner workings of the United States’ clandestine terrorism surveillance tribunal, which Bates oversaw from 2006 until earlier this year.
Perhaps that more alarming part of the article comes a few paragraphs later, when the decisions and actions of the court are described as Supreme Court-style:
Critics, including some with knowledge of the court’s internal operations, say the court has undergone a disturbing shift. It was created in 1978 to handle routine surveillance warrants, but these critics say it is now issuing complex, classified, Supreme Court-style rulings that are quietly expanding the government’s reach into the private lives of unwitting Americans.
“So basically who they can monitor, who they can't, who they can kill, who they can't. I'm not comfortable with the Star Chamber underneath the Capitol. Is anybody else,” Glenn asked.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke at the progressive Netroots Nation conference over the weekend, and she faced a less-than-friendly audience that took issue with the lack of transparency in the NSA/FISA court system:
PELOSI: [Snowden] did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents. We don't know. I understand. I understand. I understand. But it did violate the law, and the fact is – and the fact is that, again, we have to have the balance.
“I like that ‘you suck’ in the background there,” Pat said.
“They were not only saying ‘you suck,’ they were also saying, ‘No secret courts. No secret courts,’” Glenn said.
There are a lot of things progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans disagree on, but reducing the overt secretiveness of the FISA court system is something we can all agree on.
“And this is something that we can unite on,” Glenn concluded.