Devin Nunes, R‑CA (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

Since the House Intel­li­gence Com­mittee released the now declas­sified memo written by Rep. David Nunes, R‑California, the overall reaction by Amer­icans has been mixed.

The left utterly dis­re­gards the state­ments made by the memo and claims its dam­aging to the integrity and rep­u­tation of the American intel­li­gence com­munity. The right, the alt-right espe­cially, sees it as bigger than Watergate and proof that the gov­ernment con­spires against parties and private cit­izens. The Never-Trumpers say it is insignif­icant; proving neither politi­cization of federal agencies nor the exon­er­ation of the Trump cam­paign. The memo’s con­tents have a defin­itive takeaway: that the FBI did some­thing right and some­thing wrong.

According to the memo, the Federal Bureau of Inves­ti­gation and Department of Justice used a dossier assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele as evi­dence to acquire a Foreign Intel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act warrant on Carter Page, a vol­untary adviser to the 2016 Trump cam­paign.

Steele per­formed a private inves­ti­gation into the Trump cam­paign on behalf of the DNC and the Clinton cam­paign, being paid through Fusion GPS and Perkins Coie — a research firm and law firm, respec­tively. Steele himself admitted to the former Asso­ciate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr that he was des­perate to stop Trump and that he would do what he could to stop him from getting elected.

The FBI received the requested warrant, which is valid for 90 days, and renewed it three times. According to federal law, the FBI needed to prove probable cause at every point of renewal, and they were required to have new evi­dence to support it. The FBI could not use Steele’s dossier the first time it sought renewal and there­after.

Say what you will about FISA’s’ exis­tence, the hope and intent is that these courts protect American cit­izens’ rights as much as pos­sible, which is why their war­rants are valid for only 90 days and new evi­dence is required to con­tin­ually conduct sur­veil­lance.

Nunes is right, then, to be alarmed when the FBI and DOJ did not dis­close to FISC all rel­evant facts to their inves­ti­gation and their source, Steele. He had been dis­missed by the FBI as a “unre­liable source” whose dossier could only be “min­i­mally cor­rob­o­rated” and without which the FBI would not have pursued the warrant.

Both the DOJ and FBI knew exactly who Steele was, the quality of his infor­mation, and who paid him to assemble the infor­mation in his dossier. Yet, they only dis­missed him when he com­mitted “the most serious of vio­la­tions” by dis­closing to a Mother Jones jour­nalist, David Corn, that he was con­nected to the FBI, though he had pre­vi­ously done so with other media outlets before the interview with Corn.

The FBI and DOJ offi­cials involved in the FISA warrant appli­cation clearly acted inap­pro­pri­ately and politi­cized a sup­posedly impartial federal law enforcement agency. It is unethical and unpro­fes­sional for two U.S. agencies to col­lab­orate with other intel­li­gence agencies against American cit­izens.

U.S. law defines what evi­dence is per­mis­sible and imper­mis­sible in court. The U.S. has just as many pro­fes­sional and ethical reg­u­la­tions that govern intel­li­gence, but the FBI and DOJ ignored them.

This is not bigger than Watergate, but it is not nothing. It does not change the fact that there is an inves­ti­gation into col­lusion between Trump’s cam­paign and the Russian gov­ernment. It should lead Amer­icans to question the ethics of the FBI (as if they did not have enough reason to do so before).

The FBI and DOJ used “unver­ified” infor­mation as a basis for probable cause to acquire a warrant. No other law enforcement agency would have obtained as much as a search warrant with Steele’s ques­tionable infor­mation.

Another takeaway from this sit­u­ation is that the U.S. intel­li­gence com­munity is cum­bersome, extensive, and in serious need of con­sol­i­dation.

There is no reason why the U.S. needs sev­enteen member agencies of the “intel­li­gence com­munity” gath­ering intel­li­gence sep­a­rately from each other, con­ducting oper­a­tions and inves­ti­ga­tions inde­pen­dently, com­peting for federal funding, and keeping secrets from each other.

Ian McRae, a senior, studies history and pol­itics.