Why Call Alice Donovan a Troll?

The WaPo and CounterPunch have the story of Alice Donovan, a pseudonymous persona the FBI suspected (it’s not clear starting when) of being part of a Russian influence operation. The WaPo makes it clear sources told them about the investigation (though without clearly revealing when FBI identified Donovan or when they learned about the investigation) and leaked the report behind this story (or perhaps it is all one report).

The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named “NorthernNight.” Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.

[snip]

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions.

CP first learned about it when Adam Entous called about the leaked intelligence report on her.

We received a call on Thursday morning, November 30, from Adam Entous, a national security reporter at the Washington Post. Entous said that he had a weird question to ask about one of our contributors. What did we know about Alice Donovan? It was indeed an odd question. The name was only faintly familiar. Entous said that he was asking because he’d been leaked an FBI document alleging that “Alice Donovan” was a fictitious identity with some relationship to Russia. He described the FBI document as stating that “Donovan” began pitching stories to websites in early 2016. The document cites an article titled “Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow.”

And CP reveals they first came to believe that Donovan was fake (and not just a serial plagiarist) when a NYT story listed Donovan’s account among those that Facebook had shut down as fake.

This long story focused on dozens of phony Facebook accounts which the Times claims pushed pro-Russian messages during the election. Buried in the 28th paragraph of the story was the name “Alice Donovan.” Donovan’s Facebook page, the Times said, “pointed to documents from Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations that she said showed its pro-American tilt and — in rather formal language for Facebook — describe eventual means and plans of supporting opposition movements, groups or individuals in various countries.’” According to the Times, Facebook had deactivated the Donovan account after it failed a verification protocol.

CP ends by noting that for the entirety of the period when FBI was investigating this pseudonymous persona, they never informed CP.

If the FBI was so worried about the risks posed by Alice Donovan’s false persona, they could have tipped off some of the media outlets she was corresponding with. But in this case they refrained for nearly two years. Perhaps they concluded that Donovan was the hapless and ineffectual persona she appears to be. More likely, they wanted to continue tracking her. But they couldn’t do that without also snooping on American journalists and that represents an icy intrusion on the First Amendment. For a free press to function, journalists need to be free to communicate with whomever they want, without fear that their exchanges are being monitored by federal agencies. A free press needs to be free to make mistakes and learn from them. We did.

It’s an interesting example — and given my prior focus on Facebook’s intelligence apparatus (one reiterated by the revelation that Facebook has been taking down NK infrastructure of its own accord) — one that raises questions about whether FBI identified this persona or FB did.

But I’m wondering why both WaPo and CP are calling the Donovan persona a troll. While it sounds like Donovan’s election related interventions were trollish about Hillary, some of what she published at CP and other outlets clearly supported Russian policy objectives (that CP might legitimately agree with) or — as CP notes — mirrored mainstream reporting on Clinton’s emails.

Donovan served not just to poison debate, as trolls do.

So I’m wondering why people are using that term. I’m wondering, in part, why we should distinguish Donovan’s authorship (or plagiarism) of articles from leaks from foreign intelligence services, which news articles have long relied on, whether Israeli, Saudi, or Russian sources (remember, for example, how presumed Yemeni or Saudi sources have repeatedly revealed details of US or UK double agents). A number of people in DC have laughed with me about the way that Rinat Akhmetshin — a central figure in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting and as such suspected of doing Russian intelligence bidding — has long regaled mainstream journalists as a source. And I’ve suggested that Scott Balber — and American lawyer working for a Russian oligarch — may be fostering a cover story for the same meeting.

So why is one kind of intelligence disinformation called journalism and another called trolling?

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2008-2010

Happy Birthday to me! To us! To the emptywheel community!

On December 3, 2007, emptywheel first posted as a distinct website. That makes us, me, we, ten today.

To celebrate, over the next few days, the emptywheel team will be sharing some of our favorite work from the last decade. I’ll be doing probably 3 posts featuring some of my most important or — in my opinion — resilient non-surveillance posts, plus a separate post bringing together some of my most important surveillance work. I think everyone else is teeing up their favorites, too.

Putting together these posts has been a remarkable experience to see where we’ve been and the breadth of what we’ve covered, on top of mainstays like surveillance. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, and proud of the community we’ve maintained over the years.

For years, we’ve done this content ad free, relying on donations and me doing freelance work for others to fund the stuff you read here. I would make far more if I worked for some free-standing outlet, but I wouldn’t be able to do the weedy, iterative work that I do here, which would amount to not being able to do my best work.

If you’ve found this work valuable — if you’d like to ensure it remains available for the next ten years — please consider supporting the site.

2008

We Are All Flint, MI Now

During the bailout, I did a post trying to imagine the worst that could happen if GM went bankrupt. One of my biggest worries — that China would start importing Buicks, making it far harder for US manufacturers to compete, has already happened.

This was, of course, before Republican mismanagement poisoned the entire city of Flint, MI. Perhaps the post is even more true now.

2009

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Was Waterboarded 183 Times in One Month

While most of DC was busily engaged in both sides journalism on the impact of Obama’s decision to release the torture memos in 2009, I (and readers here!) was reading closely. Which is how I noted the reference to the 183 waterboards CIA administered to KSM in one month.

“Affordable” Health Care

Bill Supporters Still Can’t Say “Affordable”

In a series of posts at the end of 2009, I laid out how ObamaCare still required participants to spend too much of their income on health insurance and care, which would lead to lots of people to not use it. That has turned out to be one of the biggest problems with ObamaCare (and one of the reason it wasn’t all that popular until Trump tried to take it away). If Democrats ever wrest control from the Republicans again, this is a problem that still needs to be fixed.

2010

Abu Zubaydah’s Torturers Relied on July 13 Yoo Fax, not Bybee Memo

I found a lot of things (including Gul Rahman’s ID, but I waited on that to protect the identity of the CIA officer who oversaw his killing) in the Office of Professional Management report on John Yoo’s torture memos released in 201. One that remains important — and poorly understood — is that the first torture actually operated under authorization from a freelance fax from Yoo issued weeks before the famous August 1 Bybee memo, rather than the full OLC memo itself.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Steven Rattner, Author of Overhaul

There were two or three of Bev’s badly missed book salons I hosted that I particularly enjoyed (Bob Woodward is another). But none was better than hosting Steven Rattner, for his very blinkered view of his own role in the auto bailout. The comment thread in it was epic, too, but sadly gone.

Hatfill and Wen Ho Lee and Plame and al-Awlaki and Assange

After a panel on the Scooter Libby case, I meditated on how those with the secrets increasingly use journalists as a stand in for due process. This is not a post I’ve returned to a lot, but particularly given everything that has transpired since, particularly given where Assange has gone since, it strikes a nerve.

Fifteen Years Fighting the War on Terror Would Have Inured Mike Flynn to Kidnapping

As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, in December 2016, Mike Flynn had a second meeting with representatives of Turkey to discuss a plan to help them kidnap Fethullah Gulen.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.

The report has led to some gleeful hand-wringing (and, as always, baby cannon eruptions) from interesting quarters.

For those of us who have opposed the US practice of extraordinary rendition, sure, the notion that Flynn would work with a foreign country to assist in the illegal kidnapping of someone that country considered a terrorist does seem outrageous. But for those who, not so long ago, worried that counterterrorism success might lead us to eschew things like extraordinary rendition, I’m not sure I understand the hand-wringing.

Yet the more effectively we conduct counterterrorism, the more plausible disbelief becomes and the more uncomfortable we grow with policies like noncriminal detention, aggressive interrogation, and extraordinary rendition. The more we convince ourselves that the Devil doesn’t really exist, the less willing we are to use those tools, and we begin reining them in or eschewing them entirely. And we let the Devil walk out of the room.

Especially not when you consider Mike Flynn’s service to the country. For fourteen years, Flynn played a key role in counterterrorism policy, serving in an intelligence role in Afghanistan when we were paying Pakistan bounties just to have enough Arabs to fill Gitmo, serving as Director of Intelligence for JSOC for some of the bloodiest years of the Iraq War, then serving in another intelligence role in Afghanistan during a period when the US was handing prisoners off to Afghanistan to be tortured.

That’s what two presidents, one a Nobel Prize winner, and another increasingly rehabilitated, asked Mike Flynn to do. And in that role, I have no doubt, he was privy to — if not directly in the chain of command — a whole lot of legally dubious kidnapping, including from countries with respectable institutions of law. (In related news, see this report on MI6 and CIA cooperation with Gaddafi, including kidnapping, after 9/11.)

So having spent 14 years kidnapping for the United States, why is it so odd that Flynn would consider it acceptable to help one of our allies in turn, to help them kidnap the kinds of clerics we ourselves have targeted as terrorists.

There is, of course, something different here: the suggestion that Flynn and his son might profit mightily off the arrangement, to the tune of $15 million.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

But even the notion of bribery to facilitate human rights abuses is not something the US forgoes. One of the biggest disclosures from the SSCI Torture Report, for example, is how the Bush Administration worked to bribe other countries to let us build torture facilities in their countries.

The buddies of those now scolding such arrangements were part of that bribery operation.

The big question with Flynn is whether the similar bribe for this kidnapping operation would have been different from those under the table bribes we paid for our torture facilities. Did they go into the countries’ populace, or did they get pocketed by the national security officials doing the dirty deeds?

I actually don’t mean it to be a gotcha — though I would sure appreciate a little less hypocritical squeamishness from those who elsewhere view such irregular operations as the cost of keeping the country safe (as Erdogan claims to believe to be the case here).

Rather, I raise it to suggest that Mike Flynn knows where the bodies are buried every bit as much as David Petraeus did, when he was facing a criminal prosecution to which the best response was graymail. Flynn surely could demand records of any number of kidnapping operations the United States carried out, and he might well be able to point to bribes paid to make them happen, if Robert Mueller were to charge him for this stuff. It’s different, absolutely, that it happened on US soil. It may (or may not be) different that an individual decided to enrich himself for this stuff.

But this is the kind of thing — Mike Flynn knows well — that the US does do, and that certain hawks have in the past believed to be acceptable.

On the DreamHost Warrant

You’ve probably already read about DOJ’s expansive request for information on the website Disrupt J20 via a warrant served on its host, DreamHost. The information the government has asked for would cover the browsing records of 1.3 million visitors to the Disrupt site. After DOJ served the warrant on July 14, DreamHost challenged it. On July 28, DOJ asked a court to force DreamHost to turn over the records. On Friday, DreamHost responded, laying out why they believed the request to be overly broad. DreamHost’s post on the challenge yesterday has generated a good deal of coverage.

Before I get to the breadth of the request, consider the background. The demand comes in the context of DOJ’s efforts to prosecute 200 people who participated in protests on inauguration day. While there was definitely violent destruction associated with the protests, there have been numerous reports of entirely peaceful protestors being included in the 200, including journalists.

The timing and the urgency with which DOJ is seeking the information (see the emails included in this filing) make me wonder whether this is a desperate attempt to sustain another overly broad effort, to prosecute both peaceful and violent protestors of the President. Is DOJ preparing to argue that people who accessed information via Disrupt J20, which it has associated with “a riot,” must themselves be rioters?

Note, too, that among the information DOJ will receive if this warrant is honored, is information posted on the site on how people charged might seek legal help, including emails pertaining to that section of the site. In other words, DOJ is seeking, in part, information on how people it has charged will respond to being charged (though I’m not claiming this amounts to attorney-client privilege).

It’s against that background that the breadth question gets interesting, in my opinion.

Orin Kerr argues that the warrant may not be problematic because the second step of the search would provide particularity — a focus on actual rioters — after DreamHost has turned over the information.

[I]t’s not obvious to me whether the warrant is problematic. Attachment B tells Dreamhost to turn over records to the government relating to “each account and identifier listed in Attachment A.” Notably, Attachment A doesn’t list any specific user accounts: It just lists the specific website. So the warrant seems to be telling Dreamhost to turn over pretty much everything it has on that website. I understand this to be Dreamhost’s objection. Dreamhost thinks the warrant should only require it to hand over specific records about specific users.

What makes this tricky, I think, is that Dreamhost is only involved in the initial search stage of a two-stage warrant. Computer warrants are ordinarily executed in two stages. First, the government gets access to all the electronic records. Next, the government searches through the records for the particularly described evidence. Courts have broadly allowed the government to follow this two-step procedure, in which they get all the stuff in the initial stage of electronic evidence warrants so that they can search it for the relevant evidence. Given that, Dreamhost’s objection is slightly off. As I read it, Dreamhost is essentially challenging the widely accepted two-stage warrant practice. Some federal magistrate judges in the “magistrate’s revolt” have made that argument, but they generally have been overruled at the district court level.

But DreamHost argues that the description of that second stage doesn’t provide particularity at all, not least because after laying out some seeming limiting language, the warrant then asks for “files, databases, and database records” — that is, everything.

The Search Warrant’s description of the things to be seized does not pass the particularity test. It defines what is to be seized in three ways. First, it is information that “constitutes fruits, evidence, and instrumentalities of violations of” the rioting statute “involving the individuals who participated, planed [sic], organized, or incited the January 20 riot.” Second, the information “relat[es] to the development, publishing, advertisement, access, use, administration or maintenance of” the website. Third, the information to be seized includes “files, databases, and database records.” Yet, describing the information to be seized as evidence of a crime “involving” unnamed participants in the crime does not provide any meaningful specificity. Compare Apple, 13 F. Supp. 3d at 161 (description of things to be seized identified the information as “involving any or all of the following: [individuals and entities . . .]”). Limiting the information seized to that “relating to” the “publishing” or “use” of the website also lacks the required specificity, since practically any conceivable information about a web site is related to its publishing or use. Similarly, even if the use of the term “including” after the preceding broad description imposed some limit on the information to be seized, which it does not, limiting the seizure to electronic “files, databases, and database records” is no limit at all. Finally, the lack of a date range alone fails the specificity test. See Microsoft, 212 F. Supp. 3d at 1036 (“In cases in which courts have either denied a search warrant for the entirety of an email account or suppressed evidence based on an overbroad search warrant, the warrants lacked particularity, for example, in identifying a specified date range . . . .”).

Paul Ohm raises a number of interesting points in this thread, ultimately arguing that the warrant should go to the site administrators, not to DreamHost.

This is less like a warrant to Gmail and more like one to Amazon Web Services. The warrant should go to the site admins, not @DreamHost

He also notes that the only reason the entire database for this period is intact is because the government got a preservation order using a 2703(f) preservation letter, which didn’t require any due process.

I want to add just one more point to this.

The breadth of this request is the kind of thing the government does in the national security context — they did with the phone and Internet dragnet, and probably intend to do more of if and when they get the right to obtain Electronic Communications Transaction Records via an NSL. The prosecutor, John Borchert, has prosecuted NSD cases in the past. As such, it’s worth asking whether DOJ is really treating this “riot” as a national security case, with even further chill on those who actually just protested (or in the case of journalists, reported on a protest). The debate on whether or not obtaining all the search records for a site is overbroad may well constrain what the government can do, in secret, in the name of national security.

The Curious Timing of Flynn Events and EO 13769

The crew here has been seasonally busy; there are graduations, returns from college, business and vacation travel, many other demands keeping us away from the keyboard. Bear with us.

That’s not to say we’re not stewing about — well, everything. EVERYTHING. Pick a subject and it’s probably on fire if it’s not smoldering. Touch it and it may burst into flame, kind of like James Comey’s job.

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with testimony from Sally Yates and James Clapper is one such topic utterly ablaze. How to even start with what went wrong — like Ted ‘Zodiac Killer’ Cruz and his sidling up to ‘But her emails!’. Or John Kennedy’s [string a bunch of expletives together and insert here] questions which did nothing to further any investigation.

I’m glad Sally Yates laid one across Cruz on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA); he deserved it for his particularly egregious mansplaining.

As you can see from their tweets, I know my fellow contributors have much they wish they could post about the hearing. I know after the closing gavel I had many more questions, not fewer.

Like timing. Timing seemed so inter-related on seemingly disparate issues.

What about the timing of Yates’ discussion with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) and the timing of the Muslim travel ban, Executive Order 13769?

10-NOV-2017 — First warning about Flynn to Trump by Obama during post-election meeting.

18-NOV-2017 — Flynn named National Security Adviser by Trump.

25-DEC-2017 — Flynn allegedly sends text messages to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak including holiday greetings.

29-DEC-2017 — New sanctions announced by Obama, including eviction of 35 Russians (including family members) from two compounds.

29-DEC-2017 — Michael Flynn talks with Kislyak more than once on the same day.

30-DEC-2017 — Trump tweeted positively about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s refusal to retaliate against the new sanctions.

12-JAN-2017 — The Washington Post reported on the Flynn-Kislyak conversations; source cited is “a senior U.S. government official.”

15-JAN-2017 — VP Mike Pence says in a TV interview that he had talked with Flynn about contact with Kislyak:

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about it was reported by David Ignatius that the incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn was in touch with the Russian ambassador on the day the United States government announced sanctions for Russian interference with the election. Did that contact help with that Russian kind of moderate response to it? That there was no counter-reaction from Russia. Did the Flynn conversation help pave the way for that sort of more temperate Russian response?

MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on—

JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after—

MIKE PENCE: —my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor—

JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.

MIKE PENCE: —should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

JOHN DICKERSON: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.

MIKE PENCE: I don’t believe there were more conversations.

20-JAN-2017 — Inauguration Day

21-JAN-2017 — Flynn has a follow-up call with Kislyak with regard to a future phone call between Trump and Putin.

23-JAN-2017 — Answers to questions during a press briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn’t match what Pence said in the 15-JAN interview. Spicer said, “There’s been one call. I talked to Gen. Flynn about this again last night. One call, talked about four subjects. … During the transition, I asked Gen. Flynn that – whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said no.”(Come on, Spicey. Come the fuck on. Pure sloppiness; this isn’t the time for disinformation.)

24-JAN-2017 — Flynn is interviewed by the FBI and without a lawyer present. Yates informed McGahn about Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Yates reviews Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Draft of the travel ban EO leaked and published by WaPo

A provision about safe zones in Syria appears in this draft. It will not appear in the final EO.

26-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and asked for an in-person meeting about a sensitive topic she could not discuss on the phone. They met later that afternoon at McGahn’s office:

…We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.”

A senior member of the DOJ’s National Security Division accompanied Yates. Yates explained why Flynn was compromised and how his actions set Pence up to make unknowingly false statements to the public.

Spicer has said McGahn immediately notified and briefed Trump after meeting with Yates.

27-JAN-2017 — McGahn called Yates and asked for a second in-person meeting. Yates met him at his office. During their conversation, McGahn asked, “Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another?” Yates re-reviews the FBI’s concerns shared the previous day. (I want to ask if McGahn got his JD out of a box of Cracker Jacks.) McGahn asked,

“And there was a request made by Mr. McGahn, in the second meeting as to whether or not they would be able to look at the underlying evidence that we had that we had described for him of General Flynn’s conduct.” (Bold mine; who is ‘they’?)

Yates indicated she would work with FBI team and “get back with him on Monday morning.”

27-JAN-2017 — Travel ban EO signed and distributed. Rex Tillerson has not yet appeared before the Senate in a confirmation hearing. Defense Department’s James Mattis did not see the EO until morning of January 27; the EO is signed later in the day after Mattis was sworn in just before 3:00 p.m. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he saw final EO draft not long before it was signed. Office of Legal Counsel issued a determination about the EO that day, “the proposed order is approved with respect to form and legality.” According to Yates’ SJC testimony the OLC’s determination goes to the form and not the content of the EO.

28-JAN-2017 — Federal Judge Ann Donnelly issued a stay late Saturday on deportations of persons with valid visas.

29-JAN-2017 — Though not yet confirmed as Secretary of State, Tillerson involved in cabinet-level meetings in pre-dawn hours regarding the travel ban.

30-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and told him he could go to FBI to look at “underlying evidence.” McGahn does not reply until the afternoon. Yates didn’t know whether McGahn looked at evidence because “because that was my last day with DOJ.” Yates ordered DOJ not to defend the EO in court

30-JAN-2017 — Yates is fired by the White House Monday night. White House statement said,

“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States … This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. … Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

08-FEB-2017 — WaPo reports Flynn denied twice discussing Russian sanctions with Kislyak.

09-FEB-2017 — Allegedly, Pence learned this day Flynn was not straight with him about his interactions with Kislyak. WaPo reported Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak prior to the inauguration.

10-FEB-2017 — ABC News reported Flynn wasn’t certain he talked about the sanctions with Kislyak. Pence spoke with Flynn twice this day.

12-FEB-2017 — Stephen Miller dodges questions about Flynn’s status during Sunday morning TV interviews.

13-FEB-2017 — Flynn resigns, 18 days after Yates raised questions with the White House about his vulnerability to compromise.

Yates’ directive not to enforce the illegal travel ban EO is the prima facie reason why she was fired a week after the EO was pushed. But was it really the travel ban or the fact she had not only warned the White House about Flynn’s compromised status but the implication there might be more at stake?

The rushed timing of the EO — pushed out on a Friday night after business hours — and its inception generate more questions about the travel ban.

Who really wrote the travel ban? Some reports say the ‘major architects’ were Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, neither of whom have law degrees or any experience in legal profession. Wikipedia entry for Bannon indicates he has a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown, but there’s no indication about the date this was conferred and it’s still not a law degree. Miller has a BA from Duke and a bunch of cred from writing conservative stuff, much of it with a white nationalist bent. (Yeah, stuff, because none of it provided adequate background to write effective executive orders.)

There were reports a week after the first travel ban EO was issued which indicated Congressional aides actually wrote the executive order — aides from Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s office.

Who were those aides?

Why Goodlatte’s aides? Was it because Goodlatte is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?

Was it because of Goodlatte’s immigration bills circa 2013:

H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (The SAFE Act)
H.R. 1773, the “Agricultural Guestworker Act”
H.R. 1772, the “Legal Workforce Act”
H.R. 2131, the “SKILLS Visa Act”

In other words, did the aides who wrote those bills also assist with and/or write the EO?

If these aides helped the ‘major architects’, why did the travel ban EO look so clearly illegal?

Did these aides ever refer the ‘major architects’ to the Office of Legal Counsel for assistance with the EO’s wording?

Did media try to interview the aides in question? If not, why? If not permitted to do so, why?

Did those aides sign a non-disclosure agreement with the White House? (Why the hell are there NDAs for ANY government employee anyhow, especially those with security clearance of any level? This is OUR government, not the Trump holding company.) Did the aides limit their work to transition team support, or were they working on the EO post-inauguration? Did they take vacation time to do the work? Or were they performing work for the White House on Congress’ dime?

In spite of his iffy-sounding support for their work, did Goodlatte kick those aides in the ass for moonlighting while puncturing the separation between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, making it appear (if tenuously) there was a degree of concurrence between the two branches?

Did Michael Flynn talk about the EO with these aides?

And was Flynn one of the ‘major architects’ of the travel ban EO along with Miller and Bannon as reported in some outlets?

Assuming Flynn was a co-architect/co-author of the EO, was the EO pushed through in a hurry to effect Flynn’s work before he might be terminated and/or prosecuted?

Was the execution of a travel ban EO part of a quid pro quo with a foreign entity?
Is this the reason why Trump reduced the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to “an as-needed basis” on National Security Council — to reduce potential interference by seasoned security professionals who might stop the EO?

Was Miller’s role in the creation of the travel ban EO less about any experience he has but instead related to his former work during 113th Congress with the Gang of Eight on immigration reform? (We come full circle – see Goodlatte’s bills above.)

How might this travel ban EO — banning Muslims from specific countries — help a foreign entity?

Or was the Muslim travel ban EO simply launched early — before the administration even had a Secretary of State, before its content was reasonably defensible — to distract Yates and the DOJ and derail further investigation into Flynn’s compromised status?

I’m sure if I spend any more time re-reading the SJC’s hearing transcript I’ll come up with even more questions. But as events around Flynn and the travel ban EO unfolded as if knit together, I can’t help wondering if they really were of a piece.

How odd that the first thing the first SJC non-chair member did, before asking witnesses any questions, was hand out a timeline of events to all the participants.

And how convenient FBI Director James Comey screwed up his last testimony before congress enough that his firing this evening by the White House would look entirely justified — immediately removing him not only from the next FBI flight from Los Angeles to DC but from any further investigation into Michael Flynn.

What timing.

The ISP/ECTR Workaround: The New Broadband Rules May Be Not So Much What They’ll Sell, But What They Give Away

Senator Ed Markey and seven of his colleagues (Franken, Blumenthal, Warren, Sanders, Wyden, Leahy, and Van Hollen) just sent letters to major ISP providers (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and CenturyLink, the latter of which I find most interesting for the purposes of this post) regarding what practices they’ll follow in the wake of Congressional Review Act overturning President Obama’s broadband privacy rules.

The letters focus on a lot of consumer right issues — such as whether customers will learn of any changes in a provider’s privacy policy, the ability to opt in or out, forced arbitration, data breach provisions, and de-identification. That’s all great stuff and I look forward to the answers Markey gets; the information will be as useful as the information he has obtained from wireless providers about information they keep.

But towards the end, the letters include what I’ll call “Wyden questions,” not because I know they came from him, but because they address issues about which he has long been obsessed. There’s one on location, reflecting a concern that providers might presume consent from customers, resulting in the sharing of their location data with third parties.

Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, carriers may not disclose subscriber location information without the “express prior authorization of the customer”.  Over each of the last three years, how many times did your company disclose to third parties individually identifiable customer location data or other Customer Proprietary Network Information with a customer’s express prior authorization?  Does your company obtain the consent from the subscriber directly?  If not, and the third party obtains the consent (or claims they do), do you request or retain a copy of documentation showing that the customer provided such consent?

More interesting still is the question asking whether providers would retain and provide — in response to a National Security Letter — “netflow” records.

Many ISPs retain so called “netflow” records, related to their customers’ internet usage. Do you retain netflow records for your customers’ web browsing activity? If so, for how long do you retain them? Will you disclose netflow records pursuant to a National Security Letter, or only court orders?

Remember, on several occasions last year, Republicans tried to change the rules of National Security Letters so as to permit the FBI to demand providers to turn over “electronic communications transactional records” (ECTRs) with just a National Security Letter. The FBI always asks for ECTRs on NSLs, but a number of providers started refusing to turn them over in the wake of a 2008 OLC decision stating they weren’t included under the law. And Republicans have been trying to force through language that would permit FBI to always obtain such things.

While the discussion about ECTRs started by focusing on email and then moved to URLs, the possibility that FBI had been and wanted to obtain netflow data had been made apparent by — among other things — Nick Merrill’s efforts to declassify the NSL he received in 2004. As he described in a 2015 declaration,

Electronic communication service providers can also record internet “NetFlow” data. This data consists of a set of packets that travel between two points. Routers can be set to automatically record a list of all the NetFlows that they see, or all the NetFlows to or from a specific IP ,address. This NetFlow data can essentially provide a complete history of each electronic communications service used by a particular Internet user.

So in effect, this question (whether or not it comes from Wyden) would reflect a concern that that would become available if these providers were willing to respond to FBI’s requests for ECTRs, and may remain widely available because of the change in the broadband rules. It also reminds me of Wyden’s neverending quest to liberate an OLC memo John Yoo wrote as part of Stellar Wind, but which purportedly pertains to cybersecurity.

In wake of the broadband rule change, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast (but not, for example, CenturyLink) have assured customers they won’t change their practices and won’t be selling individual customers’ data.

But I’m not seeing any of the providers making assurances about what they’ll be giving away to the government.

Charles Cooper, Who Sanctioned Delayed Notification of Covert Ops to Congress, Reportedly to Be Solicitor General

Update: According to the Hill, Cooper has withdrawn from consideration.

Yesterday, SCOTUSblog reported that Charles Cooper is likely to be named Trump’s Solicitor General.

Cooper is a close friend of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama lawmaker whom Trump has nominated to serve as attorney general, and helped to prepare Sessions for his confirmation hearings. Like Sessions, Cooper could prove to be a controversial pick. In addition to his role defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Cooper also signed a brief on behalf of the federal government supporting Bob Jones University in its challenge to the constitutionality of an Internal Revenue Service policy denying tax exemptions to religious institutions that discriminate based on race. The university had argued that its ban on interracial dating was based on its sincere religious beliefs, but the Supreme Court upheld the IRS policy, by a vote of 8-1. And in 1986, as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Cooper signed an OLC opinion that argued that employers could reject job applicants with AIDS if they were concerned about contracting the disease.

I take this solace out of the fact that a soul mate to Jeff Sessions will be appointed to Solicitor General. In Cooper’s most public recent work, the Prop 8 case, Cooper got his ass handed to him by facts and law. If he were to argue as poorly for Trump’s policies, it might help the courts keep the President’s excesses under check.

That said, there are things I’m gravely concerned about, with regards to the Cooper pick. I’m trying to figure out whether he is the author of the OLC memo stating that a President can ignore his own Executive Orders, the original pixie dust opinion.

But he is definitely the author of this Iran-Contra related opinion, stating that the President can delay notification on covert ops to Congress.

Section 501(b) of the National Security Act of 1947 must be interpreted in the light of § 501 as a whole and in light of the President’s broad and independent constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy. The requirement that the President inform certain congressional committees “in a timely fashion” of a foreign intelligence operation as to which those committees were not given prior notice should be read to leave the President with discretion to postpone informing the committees until he determines that the success of the operation will not be jeopardized thereby. Because the recent contacts with elements of the Iranian government could reasonably have been thought to require the utmost secrecy, the President was justified in withholding § 501(b) notification during the ongoing effort to cultivate those individuals and seek their aid in promoting the interests of the United States.

Effectively, Cooper came in, after the fact, and said it was no big deal that Ronald Reagan didn’t tell Congress he was negotiating with a sworn enemy of the United States to get around funding restrictions they had put into place. The opinion has been used since to keep Congress in the dark about things it should know — including, ironically, some of Obama’s negotiations with Iran.

Hawks should be most concerned, however, that Trump would use this to free Mike Flynn to negotiate with Russia and Syria without notice to Congress. Me, I’d be more worried that it would be used (again) to hide a torture program from Congress.

In His Last Words Before Senate Armed Services, Clapper Warns against Congressional “Micromanagement”

This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing today on foreign cyberthreats, which mostly (though not entirely) focused on the Russian hack of the DNC.

At the very end of the hearing, John McCain decided to let James Clapper — who will retire in 15 days (as he reminded several times during the hearing) — offer a few reflections on his service.

In response, Clapper acknowledged the important role Congress plays in overseeing the secret activities of the intelligence community. But he ended the statement by warning of the difference between “oversight” and “micromanagement.”

I was around in the intelligence community were first established and have watched them and experienced them ever since. Congress does have, clearly, a extremely important role to play when it comes to oversight of intelligence activities and unlike many other endeavors of the government, much of what we do — virtually all of what we do — is done in secrecy. So the Congress has a very important — a crucial responsibility — on behalf of the American people for overseeing what we do particularly in terms of legality and protection of civil liberties and privacy.

At risk of delving into a sensitive area though, I do think there is a difference between oversight and micromanagement.

This may well reflect his views. But at a time when Trump is threatening to rearrange the IC to retaliate against its reporting on the Russian DNC hack (not to mention for Clapper’s own firing of Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn), Clapper might have have been well-advised to avoid suggestion that Congress should not exercise its oversight role over Congress very vigorously.

Trump Raises the Axe over the Intelligence Community, Again

The Intelligence Community is finishing its report on the intelligence regarding Russia’s influence in our elections. The report is expected to be delivered to President Obama tomorrow and briefed to President Elect Trump on Friday.

That’s the context for — and surely at least part of the explanation for — this WSJ story reporting that Trump plans to reorganize the intelligence community.

[A]dvisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan.

“The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized,” said the individual, who is close to the Trump transition operation. “They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

[snip]

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2004 in large part to boost coordination between intelligence agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Many Republicans have proposed cutting the ODNI before, but this has proven hard to do in part because its mission centers are focused on core national security issues, such as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counterintelligence.

“The management and integration that DNI focuses on allows agencies like the CIA to better hone in on its own important work,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who believes dismantling the ODNI could lead to national security problems.

Mr. Trump’s advisers say he has long been skeptical of the CIA’s accuracy, and the president-elect often mentions faulty intelligence in 2002 and 2003 concerning Iraq’s weapons programs. But he has focused his skepticism of the agencies squarely on their Russia assessments, which has jarred analysts who are accustomed to more cohesion with the White House.

The report repeats earlier reporting — in part from some of the same WSJ reporters — that Trump planned this briefing. Back then, in mid-November, Trump was merely disdainful of the IC and much of the reorganization appeared to be a mix of vengeance on the part of Mike Flynn and, frankly, some reasonable ideas (things like splitting NSA and reversing some of the questionable changes John Brennan made). At the center of it all was a plan to make Admiral Mike Rogers Director of National Intelligence.

The day after that reporting, however, outlets reported that Ash Carter and James Clapper had been planning to fire Rogers, partly because the NSA had remained a leaky sieve under his tenure and partly because he had delayed cyber-bombing ISIS (perhaps to preserve intelligence collection). And that’s before it became public that the NSA hadn’t adopted four security measures recommended after the Snowden leaks.

After that, of course, Democrats and the CIA started leaking that Russia hacked the DNC with the purpose of electing Trump, which gave Trump the entrée to suggest this discussion is all politicized, which has escalated to this week. Trump seems to have orchestrated the Sean Hannity interview at which Julian Assange said what he has long said — that he didn’t get the DNC files from Russia.

Reuters is now reporting that after the election the IC determined that third parties had gotten the files from Russian entities to Wikileaks, which means Assange likely has no idea where the files came from.

But the timing of this story, sourced significantly to the Trump camp, seems to be a warning to those who will brief Trump on Friday. While Clapper and Brennan are on their way out (the fate of Comey and Rogers is still undecided), they certainly will want to protect their agencies.

Which should make for an interesting briefing Friday.

Donald Trump’s Intelligence Briefings and Ellsberg’s Limits of Knowledge

The spooks and their congressional mouthpieces have again leaked details about Donald Trump not accepting their briefings often enough.

 

President-elect Donald Trump is receiving an average of one presidential intelligence briefing a week, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter, far fewer than most of his recent predecessors.

Although they are not required to, presidents-elect have in the past generally welcomed the opportunity to receive the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), the most highly classified and closely held document in the government, on a regular basis.

It was not immediately clear why Trump has decided not to receive the intelligence briefings available to President Barack Obama more frequently, or whether that has made any difference in his presidential preparations.

An official on the transition team said on Thursday that Trump has been receiving national security briefings, including “routine” PDBs and other special briefings, but declined to specify their content or frequency, saying these matters were classified.

Trump has asked for at least one briefing, and possibly more, from intelligence agencies on specific subjects, one of the officials said. The source declined to identify what subjects interested the president-elect, but said that so far they have not included Russia or Iran.

[snip]

(Corrects to say Iran, not France, in fifth paragraph)

Of course, all this is supposed to generate pressure on Trump to do more briefings. Which would have the effect of briefers getting their face time with Trump instead of the people that Trump is presumably learning about these topics from — Mike Flynn, as well as lobbyists like Bob Dole, who set up Trump’s call with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen.

The repeated effort to pressure Trump into accepting briefings from the spooks reminded me of an anecdote Dan Ellsberg has told about what he briefed Henry Kissinger when he first entered government. Ellsberg told Kissinger that being briefed into compartments would, at first, be intoxicating. It would later lead him to disdain anyone not privy to the most secret information. But ultimately, Ellsberg warned Kissinger, “You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world.”

“Henry, there’s something I would like to tell you, for what it’s worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You’ve been a consultant for a long time, and you’ve dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you’re about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.

“I’ve had a number of these myself, and I’ve known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn’t previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

“First, you’ll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn’t, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn’t even guess. In particular, you’ll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn’t know about and didn’t know they had, and you’ll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.

“You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you’ve started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn’t have it, and you’ll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don’t….and that all those other people are fools.

“Over a longer period of time — not too long, but a matter of two or three years — you’ll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn’t tell you, it’s often inaccurate, and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.

“In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: ‘What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?’ And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I’ve seen this with my superiors, my colleagues….and with myself.

“You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.”

I’m not actually saying that it’s a good thing that Trump is resisting the spooks, though I do think they use classification to set up precisely this kind of seeming monopoly on information. I do, however, wonder whether Trump has driven this choice, or whether his advisors have.

It seems there’s a fight for the brain of Trump, even while he seems to be preparing to delegate all this stuff to his advisors.