The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.
Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court.
Created by Congress in 1978 as a check against wiretapping abuses by the government, the court meets in a secure, nondescript room in the federal courthouse in Washington. All of the current 11 judges, who serve seven-year terms, were appointed to the special court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and 10 of them were nominated to the bench by Republican presidents. Most hail from districts outside the capital and come in rotating shifts to hear surveillance applications; a single judge signs most surveillance orders, which totaled nearly 1,800 last year. None of the requests from the intelligence agencies was denied, according to the court.
Closer to home, visa-fraud prosecutions are up. According to the Herald:
A report released in April by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) showed that visa fraud criminal prosecutions now rank third among the top 10 immigration law prosecutions in the country.
Also, a Government Accountability Office report issued in September said the State Department screens visa applicants for fraud.
But GAO auditors found that consulates do not systematically employ methods to prevent fraud.
“State has a variety of technological tools and resources to assist consular officers in combating fraud, but does not have a policy for their systematic use,” the GAO report said.
In response, the State Department said it generally agreed with GAO findings and would implement recommendations to improve fraud tracking .
The GAO report said the top 10 countries where visa fraud occurs are China, Dominican Republic, Mexico, India, Brazil, Ghana, Cambodia, Jamaica, Peru and Ukraine.