Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, was staunchly opposed to the release of the FISA memo drafted by chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
Schiff argued that federal law enforcement sources could be more reluctant to come forward with information in the future if there is a chance their identities could be revealed as a result of future Nunes-like memos. He even claimed releasing the memo would trigger a "constitutional crisis."
But old footage of Schiff advocating for increased transparency on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court proves Schiff previously would have applauded the transparency of Nunes’ memo.
What did he say then?
Appearing on the Kremlin-owned Russia Today news network in 2013, Schiff explained what FISA reforms he wanted the secret court to undergo. His comments came after government contractor Edward Snowden leaked millions of documents exposing the government’s surveillance and intelligence collection methods.
"I think they'll have the cumulative impact of making the FISA court much more transparent, so the American people can understand what's being done in their name, in the name of national security, so that we can have a more informed debate over the balance between privacy and security," Schiff explained.
"I think this can be accomplished while also maintaining sources and methods, and not compromising some of the very real national security concerns at stake,” he added.
Speaking of specific reforms, Schiff said judges appointed to the FISA court need to be more diverse and the process more transparent and expressed his desire for court opinions to be declassified so the public can see how the secret court is interpreting law.
At the end of the interview, Schiff argued the necessity of increased transparency measures to prevent massive leaks from government workers like Snowden and former Army private Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning). He said:
We don't condone and we can't condone people deciding for themselves what to declassify. That would not allow us to have any kind of a national security system.
So, we need to find other mechanisms to raise these issues. I think bringing more transparency to the FISA court will allow us to do that... We have to condemn these leaks, take them very seriously, and find a better way to raise these substantive issues.
In 2013, Schiff introduced a set of bills to bring more transparency to the FISA court. One of the bills would have required the attorney general and president to declassify FISA court opinions, while another would have created a special privacy advocate to act as a liaison between the court and the public. Those bills were not successful.