The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2017 rejected a record number of spy warrants, according to statistics released Wednesday to Congress.
The court approved 71 percent of surveillance applications submitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2017, according to a report from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. That’s down significantly from the 79 percent approved in 2016.
The number of applications declined 8.5 percent, from 1,752 in 2016 to 1,614 the following year.
The FBI and Justice Department abused the FISA process by relying heavily on the unverified Steele dossier in applications to spy on President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser, Carter Page, Republican lawmakers have alleged. FISA warrants are granted when there is probable cause to believe the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.
The first FISA warrant was granted against Page on Oct. 21, 2016. The warrants were renewed three times — in January, April and June 2017.
Page was illegally wiretapped since U.S. officials relied on the dossier to obtain the FISA warrants, the former Trump campaign adviser alleged. The dossier, which the Clinton campaign and DNC funded, alleges Page was a central player in the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with Russia. It also alleges he met secretly with two Kremlin insiders during the 2016 campaign. Page, who volunteered for the campaign, has denied taking part in collusion. He also denies meeting the two Kremlin insiders alleged in the dossier.
Marcy Wheeler, an expert in the FISA process, noted the “alarming” increase in outright rejections in Wednesday’s report.
“This suggests the government is trying to wiretap and otherwise surveil people as agents of a foreign power that the FISC doesn’t agree are such,” she wrote at her blog, Emptywheel.
Fifty applications were denied in part in 2017, and another 26 were denied in total, according to the report, which was provided to Congress. That’s a significant jump from 2016, when the FISC denied 26 applications in part. Only nine applications were completely denied.