March 21, 2012 / by emptywheel

 

Did GAO Deem Secret PATRIOT a Waste of Time?

I noticed the same thing Charlie Savage did in this letter from Senators Wyden and Udall to Eric Holder complaining about the government’s secret interpretation of the PATRIOT Act. The Senators suggest that the secret program is not very useful.

We would also note that in recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the “intelligence collection operation” discussed in the Justice Department’s recent court filing regarding the pending lawsuit. This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch’s assertions about the importance of this “operation” at face value. We will provide more detail about this skepticism in a classified correspondence.

Their new-found skepticism about the program is rather interesting given that GAO recently completed a first-ever assessment of the FBI’s counterterrorism programs.

Thus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had refused for years to submit to GAO oversight of its counterterrorism programs.  The Bureau contended that GAO had no authority to review the programs because they were funded through the intelligence budget.  Moreover, the FBI told Sen. Charles Grassley that the Office of Legal Counsel had ratified that position and supported its refusal to cooperate with GAO.

But that is now in the past.  The GAO recently completed a classified assessment of FBI counterterrorism programs with full cooperation from the FBI.  A public version of the report is expected to be released sometime in the spring.

I presume any GAO conclusions about the Secret PATRIOT program are just one factor contributing to Wyden and Udall’s skepticism. After all, Holder must know about the results of the GAO report by now, particularly if the document is being declassified (since that would require FBI’s involvement).

Nevertheless, it would be rather interesting if the long fight for real congressional oversight of intelligence programs led to increased skepticism about executive branch claims so quickly.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2012/03/21/did-gao-deem-secret-patriot-a-waste-of-time/