An appalling report from Circa.com on Friday revealed that the FBI under former director James Comey “illegally shared raw intelligence about Americans with unauthorized third parties and violated other constitutional privacy protections, according to newly declassified government documents.” That’s a bombshell charge — Comey told Congress earlier this month that the FBI only used warrantless data that was “lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked” — but the specifics are even more damning, and outright wrong.
According to Circa, one ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) “list[ed] hundreds of violations of the FBI’s privacy-protecting minimization rules that occurred on Comey’s watch.” That included giving intelligence data to third parties who weren’t cleared to see it, among them “a private entity that did not have the legal right to see the intelligence.” The FBI claims that the number of violations is small by percentage of all data operations.
Trump acolytes will undoubtedly claim that this is precisely what happened with Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was caught up in surveillance of Russian third parties, unmasked by the Obama administration, and then revealed to the press by someone in the know. They will suggest that we now know that the FBI was often exceeding its mandate by searching data without a warrant that they should not have, and by occasionally allowing that information to flow outside of established channels.
In reality, the business of national security is sloppy. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made. The question is twofold: what sort of mistakes were made with regard to leaking the identity of Flynn to the press? And more generally, were the systems in place for restricting the free flow of classified information about American citizens sufficient?