(THE GUARDIAN) -- The chief judge of the secretive court that granted an order permitting the US government to sweep up the phone records of millions of Verizon customers has strongly defended the panel's integrity.
In the wake of the Guardian's revelations, Reggie Walton, presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa), said claims that the body was unduly acquiescent to the government's requests for surveillance orders were "absolutely false".
The court, which was established in 1978 and which operates out of the E Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse near Capitol Hill, rarely provides a glimpse into its operations. Set up by Congress to act as a check on the government's broad surveillance powers, it operates in secret, with minimal public access to its deliberations or rulings. Civil libertarians have long been alarmed that it approves the vast majority of government surveillance requests.
"It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp," said Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst.
But in a rare public statement about the court's operations, Walton rejected the charge. "The perception that the court is a rubber stamp is absolutely false," he told the Guardian.
He added: "There is a rigorous review process of applications submitted by the executive branch, spearheaded initially by five judicial branch lawyers who are national security experts and then by the judges, to ensure that the court's authorizations comport with what the applicable statutes authorize."
Charged with oversight of some of the US government's most sensitive intelligence activities, the Fisa court is a rare judicial body that does not operate in an adversarial manner. Its only petitioners come from the government. Its records are almost always classified. In its 35 years of existence, only a handful of its rulings have ever made their way into public view. Continue reading via The Guardian...