USA PATRIOT Act, Title II - Commentary - American Bar Association - Section 218

Section 218

Andrew C. McCarthy argued that section 218, which changed FISA from stating that the purpose of foreign surveillance was to gather intelligence information to be the significant purpose of intelligence information gathering, should be kept even though it is already clear that this is what is meant under FISA in any case. He explains that FISA was misinterpreted to have "primary purpose" tests for surveillance for nearly a quarter-century, and that in April 2002 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review found that,

it is quite puzzling that the Justice Department, at some point during the 1980s, began to read the statute as limiting the Department’s ability to obtain FISA orders if it intended to prosecute the targeted agents–even for foreign intelligence crimes... the definition of foreign intelligence information includes evidence of crimes such as espionage, sabotage or terrorism. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to read the 1978 FISA to exclude from its purpose the prosecution of foreign intelligence crimes, most importantly because, as we have noted, the definition of an agent of a foreign power–if he or she is a U.S. person–is grounded on criminal conduct.

Similarly, McCarthy argues that the separation of foreign intelligence and criminal investigation is a false dichotomy, in that "the existence of a crime or national security threat is an objective reality, entirely independent of the investigators’ subjective mindsets about why they are investigating". He believes that it is wrong "to suspect systematically dishonest resort to FISA FISA applications require a specialized and rigorous internal approval process before presentation to the court. Assuming arguendo an agent willing to act corruptly, it would be far easier and less detectable to fabricate the evidence necessary to get an ordinary criminal wiretap than to fabricate a national security reason to use FISA". McCarthy believes that over time, the U.S. Justice Department misinterpreted FISA to believe that criminal investigations could not be undertaken under FISA, but "began construing the certification not as a mere announcement of purpose but as something more restrictive: a substantive limitation on the use of FISA evidence in criminal cases". McCarthy then explains that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review found that "“clearly did not preclude or limit the government’s use ... of foreign intelligence information, which included evidence of certain kinds of criminal activity, in a criminal prosecution.” McCarthy then notes the practical consequences of the U.S. DoJ's misinterpretation of FISA:

The best known pernicious consequence of all this occurred in August 2001. Relying on the wall, FBI headquarters declined to allow criminal investigators to assist an intelligence investigation seeking to locate probable terrorists Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. A few weeks later, on 9/11, the pair helped hijack Flight 77 and pilot it into the Pentagon.

In light of these matters, McCarthy believes that although section 218 is not legally necessary it should remain anyway, to clarify clearly what the Act says and remove any misunderstanding as to what is meant in FISA, and he believes that the section should not sunset.

David D. Cole argued that the changes to the law were unnecessary, and accused the proponents of the USA PATRIOT Act of " equally guilty of propagating competing myths in this debate, nowhere more so than with respect to Section 218 and the "wall." He agrees that the wall was not required by FISA, and maintains that section 218 was not sufficient to reduce barriers between information sharing amongst agencies — this, he says, was and remains a bureaucratic issue and not a statutory one. He blames the CIA not trusting the FBI, and believes that pre-Patriot Act FISA was not the cause of problems of communications between the two agencies. Cole's argument is that the primary purpose test applied to acquiring foreign intelligence information when undertaking surveillance was "simply sought to reduce the risk that FISA, which permits searches on less than criminal probable cause, would become an end run around the constitutional requirement of criminal probable cause for searches conducted for criminal law purposes" and that although a secondary criminal purpose may later arise, the agency firstly must primarily gain the order to gain foreign intelligence information. He also dismissed the claims that before section 218 was enacted possible terrorist prosecution was not possible, citing the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian by the U.S. DOJ, which used FISA wiretaps undertaken before the Patriot Act was enacted, which fell under the pre-Patriot FISA law. He also attacks suggestions that when an investigation turned from foreign intelligence to a primarily criminal investigation then a wiretap would need to be taken down, instead positing that once it became criminal "government agents would simply have to satisfy the standards applicable to criminal investigations – namely, by showing that they had probable cause that the tap would reveal evidence of criminal conduct... he tap or the search would then continue".

Cole believes that the FISA is based on an untested (by the U.S. Supreme Court) assumption that FISA searches can be performed under a lower showing of suspicion than would be mandated for criminal searches. He believes that the term "foreign power" is broad enough to " any political organization comprised of a majority of noncitizens", and though they must show reasonable evidence of a crime when targeting a U.S. citizen, the agency must only show evidence that a foreign person is an agent of a foreign power. He states that FISA was based on an "administrative search" exception to the Fourth Amendment, which relaxed the probable cause requirement for searches "where the search serves some special need beyond criminal law enforcement". However, Cole believes that the administrative search exception does not apply to criminal law enforcement, therefore when an investigation turns into a primarily criminal investigation the traditional standards of criminal probable cause would then apply. The crux of Cole's argument is that,

y abandoning that distinction and allowing searches on less than probable cause where the government is primarily seeking criminal prosecution, Section 218 raises a serious constitutional question. Thus, Section 218 was not only unnecessary to bring down the wall, but may render FISA unconstitutional.

Cole believes that section 218 makes it more likely "that information obtained through FISA wiretaps and searches will be used against defendants in criminal cases", and suggests that criminal defendants or their cleared counsel should be able to review "the initial application for the FISA wiretap or search when contesting the admissibility of evidence obtained through a FISA search" using "n amendment requiring disclosure of FISA applications where evidence is sought to be used in a criminal trial would encourage adherence to the law by putting federal officials on notice that at some point the legality of the FISA warrant would be subjected to adversarial testing". Confidentiality could be kept by limiting access to the information to cleared council or by applying the restrictions of the Classified Information Procedures Act.

McCarthy totally disagreed with everything Cole said, stating that "It is apt that Professor David Cole begins the title of his response 'Imaginary Walls' His submission is largely imaginary, creating rather than relating 'myths' about the structural impediments to good intelligence that plagued the pre-9/11 world." He believes that Cole's whole argument is pinned to the belief that FISA in unconstitutional, something McCarthy totally disagreed with. In McCarthy's mind, Cole's objection to FISA is that he believes, incorrectly, that under the Fourth Amendment searches are "inappropriate absent probable cause of a crime". He argues that Cole is wrong when he states that FISA requires a lower standard of suspicion to authorise searches, but rather it requires a different standard than is required of criminal searches. McCarthy says Cole's "suggestion that a 'foreign power' under FISA could be any 'political organization' comprised predominantly of non-citizens is overwrought", and that only those organisations proven to be engaged in clandestine operations will be targeted. He also says that Cole is wrong in that under FISA government searches and surveillance were never restricted to searches whose primary purpose was intelligence gathering, and therefore section 218 is not constitutionally suspect. McCarthy says that though the enforcing of a wall between criminal and foreign investigations under FISA was a misunderstanding by the U.S. DOJ, the reality was that the misunderstanding of the Act did not mean that structural restrictions were not established. He ends by stating that "o one claims the wall tainted the propriety of intelligence gathering. It blocked sharing of the intelligence gathered. That is the bureaucratic monstrosity dismantled by Section 218... Without that clarification of law, the disastrous primary purpose doctrine would be undisturbed, the unnecessary wall would still be in place, dots would remain unconnected, prosecutions like al-Arian would not have occurred, and the United States would be at considerably greater risk."

In his final response, Cole defended himself, stating that his argument about the constitutionality of section 218 was because it "deprives FISA of its constitutional justification" — previously, he says, FISA searches were justified without reasonable cause justifications because they fell under an "administrative search" exception in the constitution. However, Cole says that the Supreme Court has held that this "does not apply where the government's purpose is criminal law enforcement". Now that the Patriot Act makes foreign intelligence gathering the significant and not sole reason for FISA searches, allowing for criminal searches under FISA, Cole believes that such searches would then by on constitutionally shaky ground. Cole argues that McCarthy's argument is based on a false premise: that section 218 is constitutional because, in McCarthy's words, " mandat that intelligence gathering be "a primary purpose," constrains the government in a way that neither the Fourth Amendment nor FISA does". Cole disputes this, and says that "the very purpose of Section 218 was to eliminate the 'primary purpose' requirement". Cole also believes that McCarthy is wrong when he asserts that FISA targets only those "foreign powers" engaged in intelligence gathering, sabotage or international terrorism (McCarthy cited 50 U.S.C. § 1801(b)(2)(A), (C)). Cole cites 50 U.S.C. § 1801(a)(5), where FISA defines a "foreign power" as "a foreign-based political organization, not substantially composed of United States persons." and defines an "agent" of a foreign power to be those who are "an officer or employee of a foreign power." This, he says, is too broad, giving the example where a "British citizen working here as an employee of Amnesty International is an 'agent of a foreign power.'". Cole finally points out that McCarthy does not address his suggestion that " should be amended to permit defendants in those prosecutions access to the FISA applications to challenge the warrant's validity".

Read more about this topic:  USA PATRIOT Act, Title II, Commentary, American Bar Association

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