Civics: do we need secret courts?

Issues and insights:

If you aren’t already overdosed on irony, apparently an inexhaustible natural resource in Washington, where the “party of the people” seeks to oust arguably only the second populist president in American history, it’s worth mulling the 1970s origins of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.

In the wake of Watergate, and Richard Nixon’s use of federal intelligence and law enforcement to hound his political enemies (in the spirit of his immediate predecessor, Lyndon Johnson), Democratic Sen. Frank Church’s committee found that U.S. covert agencies were engaged in the work of the devil, such as preventing Communists from gaining power in Latin America and the Middle East. Part of the supposed cure was the establishment of an irregular, secret court to facilitate the evaluation of classified materials when the FBI or intelligence community requested warrants to spy on U.S. citizens acting as foreign agents and threatening our national security.

As Kyle Peterson of the Wall Street Journal recently described on Fox News what he called the “irreparably broken” process, whose genesis was a bill written by Sen. Ted Kennedy, “I mean, you have the government going to this court and saying we would like to surveil this person … there’s not an adversarial process; there’s nobody standing up for his rights in front of the court. The judge signs off on it – no accountability whatsoever.”

It is this dangerously dysfunctional, undemocratically insulated institution that is responsible for the country being put through the two-year agony of the Robert Mueller investigation of what we now know to be baseless suspicions of Russian collusion by Trump operatives.

A court set up to prevent our intelligence and law enforcement agencies from being used for politicized purposes actually facilitated exactly that.