The FISA memo issue is so convoluted that hardly anyone can understand it. Yet, it is of vital importance to every American. And, it will develop further over the next few weeks. The following few paragraphs provide a plain language summary of what is important to understand about the issue and how it relates to your freedom and privacy.
First, some background to aid in understanding the memo. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 established processes and procedures for federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to spy on American citizens suspected of having illegal or treasonous interface with foreign individuals or governments. The Act established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) as a secret federal court of judges who hear request for surveillance of Americans and authorize or deny them. The judges are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with no congressional oversight. Supposedly, the judge considers both the evidence and the Forth Amendment (privacy) rights of the surveillance target and decides on whether to authorize the activity in the form of a FISA warrant.
Actually, the FISC almost never denies a warrant. In its history, only .03 percent of the requests have been denied leading to its reputation of being merely a “rubber stamp” court. So, if the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, etc. have even the flimsiest excuse to tap your phone, intercept your email, access your Facebook, or video your activities, they can do so. The FISC only hears the federal agency’s points of view. There is no one to advocate for the surveillance target.
Now to summarize the memo. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Clinton campaign and the DNC jumped on a rumor that Trump was colluding with Russia to help in his campaign. They paid $160,000 for an opposition research “dossier” from a British intelligence officer and FBI informant, Christopher Steele. The dossier, also desired by the FBI, contained derogatory information on Trump including Trump’s supposed ties to Russia. Steele was known to be very anti-Trump. Fusion GPS was the research firm that obtained the information from Steele. Later, for many reasons, the FBI and the DNC determined the Steele dossier was bogus. The FBI terminated Steele as a source due to what it described as the most serious of violations.
Meanwhile, the FBI had been watching Carter Page on suspicion of his being recruited by Russia as a spy. Mr. Page became a low-level volunteer for the Trump campaign, and the FBI thought he might be a way to connect Trump with Russia. So, the FBI applied for a FISA warrant from the FISC to spy on Page. The justification for the surveillance was almost entirely based on the Steele dossier which they knew to be false. The application mentioned nothing about the DNC and the Clinton campaign paying for the dossier, thereby making it a political document. But, the FBI was at loss for anything else to justify surveillance of Page. Subsequently, three more FISA applications were submitted to extend the surveillance of Page based on the Steele dossier known to be fabricated.
Several high-level DOJ officials were aware of every aspect of this issue including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who initiated the special counsel investigation and appointed Robert Mueller to investigate a supposed Russian collusion with Trump. Also involved and knowing the truth was Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr whose wife was employed by Fusion GPS to find dirt on Trump for the DNC. Former FBI Director, James Comey, signed three of the FISA warrant applications and Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe, signed one. Again, both knew the applications were based on false information. Comey was fired by Trump, and McCabe recently resigned when it became apparent the memo would be released to the public.
The FISA memo declassified from Top Secret by the president is a four-page document from Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to the members of his Committee summarizing the numerous inappropriate activities I have further summarized above. Of interest to all Americans, of course, are the many other classified documents that would provide further evidence of Congressman Nunes’ findings. It is obvious why the Democrats and the FBI didn’t want the memo released to the public. Further attempts to release other supporting documents will likely be met with the same resistance from the same people. Of course, they claim that this memo is out of context, contains errors, and is politically motivated.
I needed to sort this out in my mind to understand the current media frenzy. I hope it helped you, too. My take-away is that the memo spotlights an anti-trump bias in the upper echelons of the FBI, corruption in the DNC, dishonesty of the Clinton campaign, and further evidence that the Mueller investigation is waste of time and money.