Thick as a wrist

John and Paul have examined the Washington Post story disclosing the existence of the FISA warrant authorizing the surveillance of Carter Page. I want only to add a brief footnote.

Referring to the FISA warrant process, FBI Director James Comey has explained for the benefit of outsiders: “Those applications are often as thick as my wrist or thicker. It is a huge pain in the neck to get permission to bug somebody in the United States, and that’s the way it should be.” Comey had to explain because none of us has ever seen a FISA warrant application or a FISA warrant. The FISA court and related processes are all secret. Among other things, those applications contain highly classified information that would disclose intelligence sources and methods.

The Washington Post story on the FISA court warrant authorizing surveillance on Carter Page is posted here. The three Post reporters mask the identity of their sources for the story, identifying them only as “law enforcement and other U.S. officials[.]” Later in the story they note: “The officials spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.”

The Post reporters do not state whether or not they have seen the warrant application on Page. They imply that they are relying on their sources for a description of its contents: “The government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.” The Post’s sources add: “Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, officials said.” And that’s not all: “In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.”

The Post of course fails to note the profound impropriety implicit in their story. One may infer from the story that the contents of FISA warrants in general, and this one in particular, are not lawfully subject to public disclosure. As is frequently the case in such stories, the Post reporters are highly likely to have made themselves accomplices to the violation of one or more provisions of the Espionage Act. You’d think “officials” including the FBI might take a professional interest.

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