Intelligence officials offered up a rather weird argument in defense of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program in congressional testimony today:
But the administration officials called FISA impractical and ineffective for tracking al Qaeda, saying the law would require separate warrants for each U.S.-bound phone call placed by an overseas suspect.
“It would cause a tremendous burden,” said NSA Director Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander.
“You’d be so far behind the target if you were in hot pursuit, with the number of applications that you’d have to make and the time to make those, that you’d never catch up.”
Now, if FISA actually works like that—if you really need a separate warrant for each call from a foreign suspect to a U.S. person, rather than a single warrant that covers any incoming communication from the person named—that’s stupid. I find it a little hard to believe that’s really how it works, given that we don’t do domestic surveillance that way, but assume it is. Isn’t the proper remedy just to tweak FISA to allow somewhat broader warrants? What about this problem requires a whole new program?