On Page 4 of the Washington Post, we learn that, Royce C. Lamberth, the former top judge of the court that supervises wiretap and other surveillance applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, says existing legal safeguards are fast and flexible enough for a post-9/11 world.:
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the court shifted gears. “We changed procedures and put in all the orders from September 12 forward based on the oral briefing with the director of the FBI and the chief judge of the FISA court,” Lamberth said. “The courts can respond in times of national crisis, and I think the courts have to, and we did.”
One reason, he said, is that “if you move very quickly, that’s when things are most productive, particularly in e-mails. As soon as an event happens, everybody is e-mailing everybody and you pick up the most productive tape.”
Lamberth’s defense of the court’s speed and efficiency came after senior Bush administration officials said its procedures were too cumbersome to meet counterterrorism needs in the post-9/11 world, and created a system of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency that did not include judicial review.
Taking direct aim at the administration’s assertion, Lamberth noted that members of the court had approved almost 99 percent of the FISA applications presented. He added that he could not see a better way of conducting such surveillance.
“What the president did with the NSA,” Lamberth said, was “a proposal for a worse way.”
As evidence, Lamberth offers this remarkable story:
He said he was driving near the Pentagon on his way to work on Sept. 11, having been to the dentist, and recalled, “My car was engulfed in smoke, and I couldn’t move.” He called for help, and the FBI came “to get me in a position where I could get Justice to start approving FISA [warrants]. . . . By the time the FBI got to me in my car, I had already approved five.”