Surveillance state: Foreign spying law can target Americans

SEATTLE — If the acronyms around surveillance make your head spin, you aren’t alone.

FBI, CIA, NSA.

“What we already know is alarming enough,” said the ACLU’s Shankar Narayan.

One of those acronyms is “FISA:” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Narayan says that broad law allows agencies to monitor non-U.S. citizens with judicial approval, but if intelligence agencies find the potential foreign target interacts with an American – it’s game on.

“The government doesn’t have to try very hard to isolate out the U.S. persons from the non-U.S. persons,” Narayan said.

And that may be what happened in the case of Trump’s administration.

While the FBI says Trump Tower wasn't wiretapped, it's possible associates may have been communicating with Russians who were targets of FISA surveillance. That's called a "backdoor search," and lets investigators turn foreign monitoring into domestic surveillance.

“The message is this: Don't expect the Constitution to protect your privacy. It won't,” said former FISA judge James Robertson.

Robertson quit his job with the court after becoming frustrated with what he considers overreaching by the intelligence community.

He's part of a growing chorus of insiders worried about the wide authority that Narayan calls the "firehose of communications."

He says broad questions by the feds become excuses for backdoor monitoring that sweeps up and collects everything along the way.

Narayan said lawsuits may be the only way to get answers and force the reclusive court to bring clarity to understanding this cloak and dagger world.

“We know that the government has not been transparent and sometimes not been truthful about the way that they described those surveillance programs,” he said.