Obama Administration

Further Implications of UndieBomb II Leaker Guilty Plea

As you have likely heard by now, a former FBI agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking material about the second underwear bomb attempt to reporters in May of 2012. Charlie Savage of the New York Times has the primary rundown:

A former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen last year, the Justice Department announced on Monday. Federal investigators said they identified him after obtaining phone logs of Associated Press reporters.

The retired agent, a former bomb technician named Donald Sachtleben, has agreed to serve 43 months in prison, the Justice Department said. The case brings to eight the number of leak-related prosecutions brought under President Obama’s administration; under all previous presidents, there were three such cases.

“This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation’s secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, who was assigned to lead the investigation by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

In a twist, Mr. Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., was already the subject of a separate F.B.I. investigation for distributing child pornography, and has separately agreed to plead guilty in that matter and serve 97 months. His total sentence for both sets of offenses, should the plea deal be accepted by a judge, is 140 months.

Here is the DOJ Press Release on the case.

Here is the information filed in SDIN (Southern District of Indiana). And here is the factual basis for the guilty plea on the child porn charges Sachtleben is also pleading guilty to.

So Sachtleben is the leaker, he’s going to plead guilty and this all has a nice beautiful bow on it! Yay! Except that there are several troubling issues presented by all this tidy wonderful case wrap up.

First off, the information on the leak charges refers only to “Reporter A”, “Reporter A’s news organization” and “another reporter from Reporter A’s news organization”. Now while the DOJ may be coy about the identities, it has long been clear that the “news organization” is the AP and “Reporter A” and “another reporter” are AP national security reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman (I’d hazard a guess probably in that order) and the subject article for the leak is this AP report from May 7, 2012.

What is notable about who the reporters are, and which story is involved, is that this is the exact matter that was the subject of the infamous AP phone records subpoenas that were incredibly broad – over 20 business and personal phone lines. These subpoenas, along with those in the US v. Steven Kim case collected against James Rosen and Fox News, caused a major uproar about the sanctity of First Amendment press and government intrusion thereon.

The issue here is that Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ, as a result of the uproar over the Continue reading

The Return of the NFL: It’s ON!!!

[Hey there Lugnuts!! We are having a fundraiser here at Emptywheel. Help the effort out! We have been really hesitant about doing this in the past. To the best of my recollection, we have not done one at all since leaving FDL. Marcy will not toot her own horn, but I will. The level, depth, independence, and rationality, of what Ms. Wheeler does makes most "Main Stream" and other "blogs" look feeble. And it is not just her, Jim White, Rayne and, occasionally, I who also contribute. This is a valuable forum. We live for you, but we also need your help. To the extent you can give it, it would be remarkably well placed, and much appreciated. Thank you!]

I have been being heckled about this Trash Talk stuff forever. Marcy is just cranky jonesing for football and Jim White thinks the Devil Rays count. But this ain’t called “Trash Talk” for nothing you know. Pre-season fake football and baseball in the swamps are not enough. Nosirree. Not in a sophisticated joint like this.

But there was a little smattering of real college football last Saturday, so there was primordial Trash. But, now, my friends, there is REAL, professional grade, NFL football in the queue. Let it be known, unless I meet a bigger margarita pitcher and burrito that looks like this tomorrow night, there will by Saturday morning be additional MAJOR LEAGUE Trash for the weekend. NCAA, NFL and the F1 Circus at Monza (yes, that really may be the bigger story worldwide. Formula One rules; get used to it).

But, tonight, there are two games on the schedule. The biggest, of course, is a replay of last season’s AFC Divisional Playoffs between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens. Ought to be a great game. Despite what the naysayers say, Peyton Manning’s arm is turning bionic in its incredible strength. The Bronco’s, however, are a bit wounded with Elvis Dumervil now on the Ravens and Von Miller suspended for the first six games. The Ravens have also lost a LOT of weight from last year’s Superbowl team, including Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. As much as the media and fans have always focused on Ray Lewis, I cannot help but believe the absence of Ed Reed, one of the most incredible ball hawks in the history of the NFL, is every bit as big a loss. Broncos are at home and are PISSED about that last minute loss last year to the Ravens. My money is on Peyton and the ARM OF HULK.

Secondarily, and I, (maybe you?) will probably have to DVR this, but the ASU Sun Devils are opening their season tonight at 10:00 pm EST against Sacramento State. Okay, this won’t be much of a game. But, GO DEVILS!!

That’s it for now. More later as promised. This is the best blog in the world, if I do say so from my completely neutral perch! Rock and roll my friends. Today’s music is by Government Mule. Because Donkos and Peyton rock….and, because, the US Government, collectively, are a bunch of War Pigs.

Operation Ballsack Labor Day Football Trash Talk

Hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me.

I am not sure how well the Trash Talk Machine is greased after such egregious neglect. But, we can only do what we do, and carry on. And those skilz have NOT been forgotten jack. So saddle up cowboys and cowgirls.

You would think being a blogger is an easy, Cheetos filled, lifestyle. Not the case. It is hard work, hard work I tell ya. I have suffered the indignation of Marcy and Jim yammering about wanting “trash this” and “trash that”. Weeeeelllllll that is so much SPAM! So, as I said earlier, it’s not easy, you know. I get no respect!

To make a quick comment on the title of this 2013 football season opening trash, shit is truly fucked up and bullshit. We have Mr. Constitutional Nobel Scholar President agitating to make unilateral bizarrely unnecessary war on Syria….apparently because he screwed up and drew a moronic “red line” in the sand and now has to prove he actually has bolas, in addition to stupidity and hubris. The man who when seeking votes to be elected in 2007-2008 claimed war without Congressional assent was wrong, and whose Vice-Predident called such unsanctioned war bullshittery and an “impeachable offense”, now insists without the UN, without the Brits, and with a coalition of effectively one (one who were previously described as “cheese eating surrender monkeys” not that long ago in American lore). But that is where we are now. Which is why the best name for this clusterfuck is “Operation Ballsack“. Yes, it is all about Obama’s balls, and his desperate need to prove he actually has a primordial pair.

Huh? Oh, wait! This was supposed to be football Trash Talk wasn’t it?!?!

Yikes, better get to that then. Last night was a pretty exciting open to the NCAA 2013 schedule. The ‘Ole Ball Coach Spurrier and the ‘Cocks did not seem all that animated, but still clocked a fairly solid NC Tarheel team. Looked like Vady was gonna take a bite off the ‘Ole Miss Rebels, but Ole Miss tailback Jeff Scott let loose with a 75 yard TD romp with 1:07 left, giving the Rebels a 39-35 last minute win. Good stuff. In other news, Lane Kiffen proves the question of why he has not been fired yet is still very salient by coaching a narrow win for Tommy Trojan over the Rainbows. Mighty Troy barely made it over the Rainbows. Yay. If that is all USC has, even the Sun Devils are going to wax them this year (a game I will be attending by the way). also, from Friday night, let me just say that Sparty has some VERY sticky fingered defenders. Look out B1G.

Well, what else is up I wonder? Hmmmm, appears some fella named “Manziel” was suspended half a game for something. Guess it wasn’t anything bad, cause Dez Bryant got suspended a whole season for eating dinner with Neon Deion Sanders. I sign my name on things a lot too. I get paid to do so. Not sure who would sign thousands of items for zip, nuthin, free. Apparently the crack investigators and accountability specialists at the NCAA found no problem though. And you KNOW how sane they are, cause they banned Penn State from all bowls for four years without having any NCAA violation whatsoever present. Ugh.

Alright. Games. Real ones are being played this weekend. Battle manufactured where it should be. Naturally. By a nerd at ESPN instead of that fake Operation Obama Ballsack baloney.

The game of the weekend looks to be Georgia at Clemson. These are two top ten worthy teams, if not potential national championship contenders. Special players abound everywhere on both teams, including Sammy Watkins the super receiver for the Tigers, and Tajh Boyd his quarterback. For the Bulldogs, Aaron Murray may be the best QB in the conference, and that includes Johnny Football. Awesome game to have so early. Alabama hosting Virginia Tech is another unusual one to start off with. The Tide will roll them, but there could be a struggle. should be a way better game than the Tide expected.

Honorable mentions goes to TCU and LSU in neutral Texas, Boise State/Washington and Cal versus Northwestern. Tell us what you have and why!

The one other thing I want to address is the noggins of the NFL. As you may have heard, there was a settlement this week, and it heavily favored the NFL. The craven plantation owners admitted nothing, gave up no liability findings, and gave up a ridiculously cheap total sum as hard settlement. By the time lawyer’s fees and mandatory testing etc. is deducted, it is criminal how little was gotten for a class of at risk humans. Down the road, if these class members live, they and their representatives will be screaming bloody murder. Here is an outrageously great article laying out the factors, and doing so with the tart and sarcastic truth it deserves

This long Labor Day weekend’s music is from the one, the only, Ms. Linda Ronstadt. I have a real affinity for Linda, and haver seen her numerous times including a couple of very special ones. If there has ever been a better pure female vocal talent, I am not sure I have seen it. Pure, and with a range to die for. The singing voice may be silenced, but Linda is rocking on and fighting for the causes she believes in. And they are, and always have been, great, and the right, ones. Oh, also, in case you didn’t notice, she had a backup band on the first video. Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Robert Cray and some other chaps. The second is the band she normally toured with (including Waddy Wachtel – but with Mike Botts on drums instead of Russ Kunkel, who I always saw) and, trust me, they were absolutely killer, and very cool people to boot.

That’s it for now. Let Willis, and one and all, rock this joint. We are Livin In The USA. All things considered, it is still pretty fucking grand. Enjoy the holiday weekend my friends.

Bradley Manning’s Sentence, Parole and Appeal Implications

CryingJusticeOn Monday I laid out the dynamics that would be in play for the court in considering what sentence to give Bradley Manning in light of both the trial evidence and testimony, and that presented during the sentencing phase after the guilty verdict was rendered. Judge Lind has entered her decision, and Bradley Manning has been sentenced to a term of 35 years, had his rank reduced to E-1, had all pay & allowances forfeited, and been ordered dishonorably discharged. This post will describe the parole, appeal and incarceration implications of the sentence just imposed.

Initially, as previously stated, Pvt. Manning was credited with the 112 days of compensatory time awarded due to the finding that he was subjected to inappropriate pre-trial detention conditions while at Quantico. Pvt. Manning was credited with a total 1294 days of pre-trial incarceration credit for the compensatory time and time he has already served since the date of his arrest.

Most importantly at this point, Manning was sentenced today to a prison term of 35 years and the issue of what that sentence means – above and beyond the credit he was given both for compensatory time and time served – is what is critical going forward. The following is a look at the process, step by step, Bradley Manning will face.

The first thing that will happen now that Judge Lind has gaveled her proceedings to a close is the court will start assembling the record, in terms of complete transcript, exhibits and full docket, for transmission to the convening authority for review. It is not an understatement to say that this a huge task, as the Manning record may well be the largest ever produced in a military court martial. It will be a massive undertaking and transmission.

At the same time, the defense will start preparing their path forward in terms of issues they wish to argue. It is my understanding that Pvt. Manning has determined to continue with David Coombs as lead counsel for review and appeal, which makes sense as Coombs is fully up to speed and, at least in my opinion, has done a fantastic job. For both skill and continuity, this is a smart move.

The next step will be designation of issues to raise for review by the “convening authority”. In this case, the convening authority is Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, who heads, as Commanding General, the US Army’s Military District of Washington. This step is quite different than civilian courts, where a defendant proceeds directly to an appellate court.

The accused first has the opportunity to submit matters to the convening authority before the convening authority takes action – it’s not characterized as an “appeal,” but it’s an accused’s first opportunity to seek relief on the findings and/or the sentence. According to the Manual for Courts-Martial, Rule for Court-Martial 1105:

(a) In general. After a sentence is adjudged in any court-martial, the accused may submit matters to the convening authority in accordance with this rule.

(b) Matters which may be submitted.
(1) The accused may submit to the convening au­ thority any matters that may reasonably tend to af­ fect the convening authority’s decision whether to disapprove any findings of guilty or to approve the sentence. The convening authority is only required to consider written submissions.
(2) Submissions are not subject to the Military Rules of Evidence and may include:
(A) Allegations of errors affecting the legality of the findings or sentence;
(B) Portions or summaries of the record and copies of documentary evidence offered or intro­ duced at trial;
(C) Matters in mitigation which were not avail­ able for consideration at the court-martial; and
(D) Clemency recommendations by any mem­ber, the military judge, or any other person. The defense may ask any person for such a recommendation.

Once the convening authority has the full record and the defense has designated its matters for review, Buchanan will perform his review and determine whether any adjustments to the sentence are appropriate, and that will be considered the final sentence. At this point, the only further review is by a traditional appeal process.

Generally, the level of appellate review a case receives depends on the sentence as approved by the Continue reading

The Bradley Manning Sentencing Dynamics

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning stands convicted of crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The convictions result from two events. The first was a voluntary plea of guilty by Pvt. Manning to ten lesser included charges in February, and the remainder from a verdict of guilty after trial entered by Judge Denise Lind on July 30.

The maximum possible combined sentence originally stood at 136 years for the guilty counts, but that was reduced to a maximum possible sentence of 90 years after the court entered findings of merger for several of the offenses on August 6. The “merger” resulted from the partial granting of a motion by Mr. Manning’s attorney arguing some of the offenses were effectively the same conduct and were therefore multiplicitous. The original verdict status, as well as the revised verdict status after the partial merger of offenses by the court, is contained in a very useful spreadsheet created by Alexa O’Brien (whose tireless coverage of the Manning trial has been nothing short of incredible).

Since the verdict and merger ruling, there have been two weeks of sentencing witnesses, testimony and evidence presented by both the government and defense to the court. It is not the purpose of this post to detail the testimony and evidence per se, but rather the mechanics of the sentencing process and how it will likely be carried out. For detailed coverage of the testimony and evidence, in addition to Alexa O’Brien, the reportage of Kevin Gosztola at FDL Dissenter, Julie Tate at Washington Post, Charlie Savage at New York Times and Nathan Fuller at the Bradley Manning Support Network has been outstanding.

All that is left are closing arguments and deliberation by Judge Lind on the final sentence she will hand down. So, what exactly does that portend for Bradley Manning, and how will it play out? Only Judge Lind can say what the actual sentence will be, but there is much guidance and procedural framework that is known and codified in rules, practice and procedure under the UCMJ.

Initially, the obvious should be stated, Bradley Manning is in front of an Army court martial process under the UCMJ, and while there is Continue reading

Negative Manning Decision and the Future of Investigative Journalism

imagesLittle more than few hours ago, a critical ruling was handed down by Judge Denise Lind in the Bradley Manning UCMJ prosecution ongoing at Fort Meade. The decision was on based on this motion by the defense seeking dismissal of the “Aiding the Enemy” charge, among others in the prosecution.

To make a long, even if sadly predictable, story short, the motion was denied by Judge Lind and the charge will proceed to determination on the merits. This is, to be sure, a nod to the prosecution (which is actually the standard in such motions for directed verdicts during trials; that is the facts are taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the government). It is also, obviously, a blow to the defense, although undoubtedly an expected one for defense attorney David Coombs. There is a very outside chance of a silver lining I will discuss below.

Julie Tate at the Washington Post sets the table:

The motion to dismiss the charge was filed July 4 by Manning’s civilian defense attorney. He argued that the government had failed to show that Manning “had ‘actual knowledge’ that by giving information to WikiLeaks, he was giving information to an enemy of the United States.” He said the government did introduce evidence “which might establish that PFC Manning ‘inadvertently, accidentally, or negligently’ gave intelligence to the enemy,” but that this was not enough to prove the most serious charge against him, known as an Article 104 offense.

On two separate occasions, Lind, an Army colonel, had questioned military prosecutors about whether they would be pursuing the charge if the information had been leaked directly to The Washington Post or the New York Times. Each time, the prosecution said it would. That troubles advocates for whistleblowers, who fear that the leaking of national defense information that appears online, as it inevitably does, can be construed as assisting the enemy.

If convicted of aiding the enemy, Manning, an intelligence analyst who served in Iraq, could face life in prison.

That describes the motion and the stakes as to Manning. Julie’s article also gives more particulars on the denial this morning, and is worth a read. For a tick tock, please see the continuously good coverage by Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake.

But as enormous as the stakes are for Bradley Manning, the enterprise of investigative journalism is also on trial, even if in an indirect manner.

Yet another journalist who has tirelessly, and superbly, covered the Manning prosecution, Alexis O’Brien, has written at the Daily Beast, the stakes for investigative journalism are also life and/or death in the face of the security/surveillance state. Citing the in court, and on the trial record, compelling testimony of Professor Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School, Alexis related:

In a historic elocution in court last week, Prof. Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, told Lind that “the cost of finding Pfc. Manning guilty of aiding the enemy would impose” too great a burden on the “willingness of people of good conscience but not infinite courage to come forward,” and “would severely undermine the way in which leak-based investigative journalism has worked in the tradition of [the] free press in the United States.”

“[I]f handing materials over to an organization that can be read by anyone with an internet connection, means that you are handing [it] over to the enemy—that essentially means that any leak to a media organization that can be read by any enemy anywhere in the world, becomes automatically aiding the enemy,” said Benkler. “[T]hat can’t possibly be the claim,” he added.

Benkler testified that WikiLeaks was a new mode of digital journalism that fit into a distributed model of emergent newsgathering and dissemination in the Internet age, what he termed the “networked Fourth Estate.” When asked by the prosecution if “mass document leaking is somewhat inconsistent with journalism,” Benkler responded that analysis of large data sets like the Iraq War Logs provides insight not found in one or two documents containing a “smoking gun.” The Iraq War Logs, he said, provided an alternative, independent count of casualties “based on formal documents that allowed for an analysis that was uncorrelated with the analysis that already came with an understanding of its political consequences.”

Those really are the stakes in the, now, not all that new age of digital journalism. When the prosecutors in the Manning trial, upon direct questioning by Judge Lind as to whether they would still prosecute Manning if his leaks had been delivered straight to the New York Times or Washington Post, it had to be a wake up call for traditional media. Or so you would think. But, really, the outrage has been far greater over the James Rosen/Fox subpoena that could, and arguably should, be considered relative peanuts.

But, Yochai Benkler is right as to the import of the consideration as to Wikileaks in the Manning case.

In closing, the one slim and thin ray of limited hope from today’s ruling by Denise Lind: If I were Lind and cared at all about the ultimate verdict on Pvt. Bradley Manning, I too would have made this ruling. Why, you ask? Well, because a dismissal on the motion would have been the equivalent of a directed verdict on the law and would be far easier to overturn on appeal than a decision on the merits that the government has not met its burden of proof. Is this possible; sure, it certainly is. Is this likely; no, I would not make any substantial bets on it.

The 3 Hop Scotch of Civil Liberties and Privacy

I was in court, so I didn’t see it, but apparently there was a little hearing over at House Judiciary Committee this morning on “Oversight of the Administration’s Use of FISA Authorities“. There was an august roll of Administration authorities and private experts: Mr. James Cole, United States Department of Justice; Mr. John C. Inglis, National Security Agency; Mr. Robert S. Litt, ODNI; Ms. Stephanie Douglas, FBI National Security Branch; Mr. Stewart Baker; Mr. Steven G. Bradbury; Mr. Jameel Jaffer; and Ms. Kate Martin.

Hmmm, let’s take a look and see if anything interesting occurred (as reported by Pete Yost of AP). Uh, well, there was THIS:

For the first time, NSA deputy director John C. Inglis disclosed Wednesday that the agency sometimes conducts what’s known as three-hop analysis. That means the government can look at the phone data of a suspect terrorist, plus the data of all of his contacts, then all of those people’s contacts, and finally, all of those people’s contacts.

If the average person calls 40 unique people, three-hop analysis could allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.
….
The government says it stores everybody’s phone records for five years. Cole explained that because the phone companies don’t keep records that long, the NSA had to build its own database.

Go read all of Yost’s report, there is quite a bit in there that is stunning in the blithe attitude the Administration takes on this hoovering of data and personal information. Also clear: Congress has no real grasp or control of the government’s actions. The Article I brakes are out and the Article II car is accelerating and careening down the road.

Federal Court Strikes Down Obama DOJ’s State Secrets Defense

In what can only be described as a significant ruling, Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern California District (CAND) has rejected the federal government’s, via the Obama and Holder Department of Justice, assertion of state secrets privilege in the case of Jewel v. National Security Agency and the related consolidated case of Shubert v. Obama.

The full decision of the court is here, and in the critical active language from the court’s own summary states:

Having thoroughly considered the parties’ papers, Defendants’ public and classified declarations, the relevant legal authority and the parties’ arguments, the Court GRANTS the Jewel Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary adjudication by rejecting the state secrets defense as having been displaced by the statutory procedure prescribed in 50 U.S.C. § 1806(f) of FISA. In both related cases, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ statutory claims on the basis of sovereign immunity. The Court further finds that the parties have not addressed the viability of the only potentially remaining claims, the Jewel Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims under the Fourth and First Amendments and the claim for violation of separation of powers and the Shubert Plaintiffs’ fourth cause of action for violation of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court RESERVES ruling on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining, non-statutory claims.

The Court shall require that the parties submit further briefing on the course of this litigation going forward.

Now, before too much celebration is made, there are some sobering aspects of this decision as well. As can be told from the quote above, several counts in both complaints have been dismissed based on sovereign immunity, and the court has questions about the continued validity of the remaining counts and has requested further briefing in that regard.

With the ultimate status of the litigation left for another day, the big news today is the negation of the dreaded state secrets assertion. To say this is a rare occurrence is to be too kind. In fact, the main instance where the privilege was overcome was the al-Haramain litigation, also in CAND, where Judge Vaughn Walker found non-classified evidence sufficient to proceed in the face of the state secrets assertion, and even that case was later reversed and dismissed by the 9th Circuit.

The court in Jewel mapped out the consideration process for the privilege challenge:

The analysis of whether the state secrets privilege applies involves three distinct steps. First, the Court must ascertain whether the procedural requirements for invoking the privilege have been satisfied. Second, the Court must make an independent determination whether the information is privileged. In determining whether the privilege attaches, the Court may consider a party’s need for access to the allegedly privileged materials. See Reynolds, 345 U.S. 19 at 11. Lastly, the “ultimate question to be resolved is how the matter should proceed in light of the successful privilege claim.” El-Masri v. United States, 479 F.3d 296, 304 (4th Cir. 2007).

Noting that the assertion of state secrets must not cause “a complete surrender of judicial control over access to the courts”, Judge White wrote:

Here, having reviewed the materials submitted for review and having considered the claims alleged and the record as a whole, the Court finds that Defendants have timely invoked the state secrets doctrine. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ lawsuits should be dismissed as a result of the application of the privilege because the state secrets information is so central to the subject matter of the suit that permitting further proceedings would jeopardize national security. Given the multiple public disclosures of information regarding the surveillance program, the Court does not find that the very subject matter of the suits constitutes a state secret. Just as in Al-Haramain, and based significantly on the same set of facts in the record here, the Court finds that although there are certainly details that the government has not yet disclosed,

because of the voluntary disclosures made by various officials since December 2005, the nature and purpose of the [Terrorist Surveillance Program], the ‘type’ of persons it targeted, and even some of its procedures are not state secrets. In other words, the government’s many attempts to assuage citizens’ fears that they have not been surveilled now doom the government’s assertion that the very subject matter of this litigation, the existence of a warrantless surveillance program, is barred by the state secrets privilege.

507 F.3d at 1200; see also Hepting v. AT&T Corp., 439 F. Supp. 2d 974, 986-88, 991 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (holding that the existence of a program of monitoring the contents of certain telephone communications was no longer a state secret as a result of the public statements made by the President and the Attorney General). Accordingly, the Court does not find dismissal appropriate based on the subject matter of the suits being a state secret. See Totten, 92 U.S. at 107.

White went on to note that there were significant items of evidence in the Jewel case tending to confirm or negate the factual allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaints that would be subject to state secrets exclusion. However, White held that, as a matter of law, the FISA procedural mechanism prescribed under 50 U.S.C. 26 § 1806(f) preempted application of the state secrets privilege in the litigation at bar.

Citing one of the interlocutory appellate decisions in al-Haramain and the underlying logic of then trial judge Vaughn Walker), Judge White said:

In its opinion on remand in the Al-Haramain matter, this district court found that “FISA preempts the state secrets privilege in connection with electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes ….” In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Records Litigation (“In re N.S.A. Telecommunication Records Litig.”), 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1111 (N.D. Cal. 2008). The undersigned agrees and finds that the in camera review procedure in FISA applies and preempts the determination of evidentiary preclusion under the state secrets doctrine. Section 1806(f) of FISA displaces the state secrets privilege in cases in which electronic surveillance yields potentially sensitive evidence by providing secure procedures under which courts can consider national security evidence that the application of the state secrets privilege would otherwise summarily exclude.

Section 1806 of the FISA enabling statutes in Title 50 of the United States Code provides, inter alia;

… whenever any motion or request is made by an aggrieved person pursuant to any other statute or rule of the United States or any State . . . to discovery or obtain applications or orders or other materials relating to electronic surveillance . . . the United States district court … shall, notwithstanding any other law, if the Attorney General files an affidavit under oath that disclosure or an adversary hearing would harm the national security of the United States, review in camera and ex parte the application, order, and such other materials relating to the surveillance as may be necessary to determine whether the surveillance of the aggrieved person was lawfully authorized and conducted.

This finding by Judge White reaffirmed at least some control by federal trial courts of sweeping assertions of state secrets privilege by the Executive Branch. That is, better than nothing, for sure. But it is rather small comfort in light of the finding of qualified immunity extended to the government on the Jewel and Shubert plaintiffs’ statutory claims under FISA.

In discussing the intersection of the FISA claims with related claims by plaintiffs under the Stored Communication Act and Wiretap Act, the court did leave several more general counts of the complaints active. However, there is no way to look at the entirety of Jeff White’s opinion and come away believing the plaintiffs have any clear path to victory in the long run. The Jewel and Shubert cases live on to fight another day, for now, but the handwriting is on the wall for either the 9th Circuit or Supreme Court to deal the death blow down the road.

The Union Imperfect

MinuteManStatue_Muffet-Flickr

[photo: Minute Man statue by Muffet via Flickr]

Like Marcy, I find myself pondering today the Declaration of Independence as well as the subsequent system of government set in motion with publication of this influential document.

So much of what our founding fathers protested about the monarchy was the unilateral nature of governance. The signatories quite literally signed their death warrants as they rejected the power of the British crown to govern their lives, so serious were they about the need for self-rule with representation, and oversight to prevent abuses.

Yet here we are, 237 years later, moving toward a unicameral government, witnessing the slow-moving collapse of a democratic republic for which the earliest Americans gave both blood and treasure.

Increasing in number under the last several presidents, the White House has issued classified or secret executive orders and findings—in effect creating law without true oversight by the only body charged with lawmaking, and/or without restraint by the judiciary responsible for ensuring government powers are confined within the limits established by the Constitution.

Congress has failed to adequately exercise its oversight powers to constrain the White House’s execution of laws and and unilateral orders, while permitting departmental employees to lie and misrepresent actions carried out at the orders of the President or subordinate functions.

Congress’s failure to take adequate action with regard to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s misrepresentations is but one example. Were the three branches of government truly distinct and acting according their purview, Congress would have demanded an immediate investigation into Clapper’s activities as well as the intelligence functions he oversees, punishing Clapper as appropriate for misleading the people through their representatives.

The judiciary as the third branch has become a rubber stamp function of the plutocracy, set in place by the über-wealthy who co-opted members of Congress with campaign donations, or media sufficient to bully members of Congress to do their bidding. The Court’s composition does not represent the American public, interpreting laws through a perspective shaped and dominated by white male privilege. Continue reading

The Marriage Equality Decisions

Picture-1The moment of truth has finally come on the long and tortured path through the Supreme Court for the marriage equality movement. Without further adieu, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been struck down as unconstitutional under Equal Protection grounds in a 5-4 opinion authored by Anthony Kennedy. A lack of standing has been found by the court in the California Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, thus meaning the case will revert to the Ninth Circuit decision.

Frankly, everybody in the universe is going to have instantaneous analysis and opinion on the nature and import of these two decisions. I will likely be along with the same on particular aspects later, but for now I want to get the decisions and opinions up here so that one and all can read and discuss them. Below I will give the links to the opinions and the critical language blurbs from each.

United States v. Windsor (DOMA): Here is the opinion. As stated above, it is a 5-4 split authored by Justice Kennedy, joined by the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissent in separate dissents written by Roberts and Scalia.

The opinion is very broad in range and focuses on Section 3 of DOMA, which will effectively obliterate the law. The key holding comes at the end of Kennedy’s majority opinion:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA in- structs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the mar- riages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8): Here is the opinion. As stated above, the court found a lack of standing by the appellants Hollingsworth (Prop 8 Proponents). ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. So, just to be clear here: The liberals are the reason the court could not issue a decision granting ALL Americans the right to marriage equality that citizens in California, and the other few states who have state law marriage equality, will enjoy.

Anthony Kennedy, by his crystal clear decision and language he penned in the Windsor DOMA decision, and his willingness to find standing and rule on the merits in the Prop 8 case, was ready to make it happen. And all the liberal justices, save for Sonia Sotomayor, prevented it.

The court has remanded Hollingsworth back to the 9th Circuit with instructions to enter a similar ruling based on lack of standing/jurisdiction. That means that the broad and sweeping decision entered by Vaughn Walker in the district court trial will become law in California.

Now, to again be clear, I expect there will be litigation attempts by the Equality Haters to try to restrict Walker’s decision to the two plaintiff couples and/or the two respective counties at issue in the original Perry complaint. I do not believe that will bear any fruit and fully expect full marriage equality to exist across all of California, but it may not be as immediate as it should. We shall see.

In closing, a very good day for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The DOMA decision is broad and provides for heightened scrutiny in evaluating marriage and sexual identity issues; that portends well for future rights litigation. And, of course, DOMA is dead. Also heartwarming that all of California’s citizens will have their rights protected; it is, however, sad that this will not extend to all Americans.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @richardSFO True. Tho not sure if you saw him w/Execs fr Comcast and TW. Pretty great at hammering them on lies abt merger.
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emptywheel Of a book that starts lying at word 64, http://t.co/YfPsXVeVpN @benjaminwittes says, "Rizzo is just being honest." http://t.co/b3JtB1eSdo
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bmaz @LegallyErin Hang in there!
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bmaz @arcsine Yes, that is how I read it too; which, considering how they communicate, makes sense. @MichaelKelleyBI
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bmaz @MichaelKelleyBI Think DB article very disingenuously constructed+ that you have no way of supporting your claim short of rank supposition
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bmaz @adamsteinbaugh Good grief, good way to exacerbate the initial pain.
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bmaz @MichaelKelleyBI Good of you to assign who they are with no evidence.
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bmaz @Ali_Gharib Them "helping him craft the question" is not in there. @MichaelKelleyBI just pulled that out of vapor @NoahShachtman @benwizner
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bmaz @Ali_Gharib Other than that it is disingenuous+unsupported for @MichaelKelleyBI tonasser they contributed. @NoahShachtman @benwizner
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bmaz @ammartin33 Agree has been some degree of a shift. But think the Danger Room guys always went out of their way to stay close to govt sources
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bmaz @kgosztola @thedailybeast Exactly. That said, looks to me like DB+Schachtman puffed the hell out of what was said.
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April 2014
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