Last week, Congress caved to White House pressure, passing an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that moved the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program “out from under any real legal restrictions. Before the vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner revealed a secret opinion by the FISA court that declared part of the administration’s program illegal was central to rush to reform the law. The Washington Post adds more details today about the fight over the law, including the revelation that there were actually two court rulings against the program:
But in a secret ruling in March, a judge on a special court empowered to review the government’s electronic snooping challenged for the first time the government’s ability to collect data from such wires even when they came from foreign terrorist targets. In May, a judge on the same court went further, telling the administration flatly that the law’s wording required the government to get a warrant whenever a fixed wire is involved. […]
The rulings — which were not disclosed publicly until the congressional debate this month — represented an unusual rift between the court and the U.S. intelligence community. They led top intelligence officials to conclude, a senior official said, that “you can’t tell what this court is going to do” and helped provoke the White House to insist that Congress essentially strip the court of any jurisdiction over U.S. surveillance of communications between foreigners.