Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Wall and Fran Townsend

Captain's Quarters (which seems to be down) had a good post up that traced the development of the FISA "Wall" that goes beyond mere Gorelick-bashing. Of all the players he discusses, I think Fran Townsend is the most interesting. For one thing, she was Reno's most trusted advisor while still enjoying a good working relationship with Louis Freeh. For another, she is still in government.

This US News profile raises several other points.

1. It changes the context of the Rowley memo:

in November 2000, the FISA court held a rare meeting of the full court to discuss "wall" -related issues. "The chief judge was so annoyed with me," says Townsend, "that he wouldn't permit me personally to attend, because I had pushed so hard against the restrictions they had imposed." Others say the real root of Lamberth's anger at Townsend was the false information given by the FBI in dozens of wiretap applications to the FISA court. Lamberth declined to comment. But he told Reno's successor, Ashcroft, that he had lost faith in Townsend.

So it just was not obtuse bureaucrats at FBI headquarters who were scrutinizing FISA requests more carefully. Why? What was the FBI lying about?

2. What groups were being investigated when the FISA court approved those warrants based on "false information given by the FBI"? Was it al Qaeda? Or did the FBI have other high priority terrorism investigations going on?

3. Some of her critics suggest that Townsend kept the Wall high for reasons having nothing to do with Reno's wishes.

But others suspect an ulterior motive. Some Justice Department prosecutors felt Townsend wanted to keep the wall up because it kept prosecutors out of national security investigations, leaving more authority in the hands of Townsend and friendly bureau agents.
If Townsend used OIPR to keep prosecutors away from FBI national security investigations, did she do the same when it came to other agencies? Did the DOD lawyers fear that Townsend would resent SOCOM for encroaching on the turf of her beloved Bureau? The FBI has a well-established reputation for demanding to be the lead dog on every investigation it touches. Did Townsend restrain that impulse on counterterrorism matters? Or did she use her position at OIPR to encourage it?

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