Imprisoned government leaker Chelsea Manning spent months behind bars writing draft legislation to overhaul the nation’s spying powers, she revealed on Tuesday.
The sweeping legislation would abolish the shadowy court used to oversee American intelligence operations and release much of its work to the public.
“It took me all summer to create this 139 page monster — and it’s far from perfect,” she explained from her cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “The important thing is: there are alternatives.”
The draft legislation — which would almost certainly go nowhere were it to be introduced in Congress — would “abolish” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which provides a check on intelligence programs but is largely shrouded in secrecy. The court conducts its business behind closed doors, and makes determinations based largely on one-sided arguments from the government.
Abolishing the court and putting all of its business in U.S. district courts would place U.S. intelligence powers “in a tried and true, real and historically viable court system,” Manning wrote in a separate op-ed for The Guardian.
“And the American people could have more faith that our judicial branch wasn’t completely beholden to structures put into place by the executive and legislative branches to limit accountability.”
In her Medium post, Manning said that she was inspired to write the bill after a top federal appeals court ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of records about Americans’ phone calls was illegal. However, the court’s ruling did not immediately kill the program, and Congress went on to reform the program weeks later.
Her process was interrupted, she noted, by various punishments and charges while in prison.
The final bill was written in three weeks. For five days after that, she typed it up on “a word processing computer that doesn’t save anything.
“I had to print it our in sections, slowly, hoping I didn’t make any typos,” she wrote.