PATRIOT

Judge in WikiLeaks FOIA Cites “Events that Have Transpired,” Government Claims FOIA Is “Improper”

Back in 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued to enforce a FOIA for documents on FBI’s investigation of WikiLeaks supporters. In response, the government cited an ongoing investigation exemption. But they also cited a statutory exemption, claiming some law prevented them from releasing the records on investigations into WikiLeaks supporters. Unusually, DOJ refused to name the law in question. For that reason, and because my suspicions of how Section 215 gets used suggested it would make a spectacular tool for investigating a group of WikiLeaks supporters, I suggested that the statute was likely Section 215.

Since then, we’ve seen indications of NSA involvement in the investigation into WikiLeaks, though without any details from before EPIC’s FOIA.

And until March 11, that’s where things stood, with the government claiming it couldn’t release records about its investigation into completely innocent supporters of a publishing outlet and the judge (who had been newly assigned to the case in April 2013) doing nothing with the government’s motion for summary judgement.

On March 11, however, Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein ordered DOJ and EPIC to submit briefs updating her on the status of the investigation into WikiLeaks and with it the government’s ongoing investigation exemption, but not its claimed statutory exemption.

The Court takes judicial notice that events have transpired during that time that may cause the government’s position to to have changed. Therefore, the Court instructs the government to update its position regarding Plaintiff’s FOIA request, particularly with respect to the government’s invocation of exemption 7(A).

The language of her order suggests two things. First, if Rothstein is asking whether the 7(A) ongoing investigation exemption remains active, it suggests she’s may not accept the government’s statutory exemption 3 to completely withhold these documents. And she doesn’t say what the “events” that “have transpired” are, but it’s probably not any developments in the WikiLeaks investigation, as that’s what she says she doesn’t know. That makes it likely the Snowden leaks and related official disclosures have made the exemption 3, the basis for which she knows about from classified declarations, moot.

That’s all tea leaf reading. And even if I’ve read the tea leaves correctly, it doesn’t mean I’m right about Section 215. After all, back door searches on collection targeted at Julian Assange (who, as a foreign citizen and alleged spy, would be a legal target under Section 702 or even generally) would be a useful investigation into WikiLeaks supporters as well, though there’s abundant reason to believe dragnet queries serve as the basis for back door searches. Still, I think it’s likely that something that has been released and declassified since last April has mooted the government’s secret statutory claims.

The government, having sat on Judge Rothstein’s April 11 deadline from March 11 until Tuesday, is now stalling for time. (h/t JG; links to come shortly) On Tuesday, the lawyer who inherited this case claimed she has another case that prevents her from writing 10 pages on the status of the WikiLeaks investigation. But also that she needs more time to consult with the “defendant agencies.”

In addition, the draft supplemental brief will require review within the Department of Justice and defendant agencies before it may be filed.

EPIC’s not buying it, citing from the judge’s previous orders warning against extensions and stating clearly that business in other matters is not a good excuse. EPIC also described DOJ’s sleazy post-business hours effort to provide notice. and noted this is precisely the kind of thing Judge Rothstein had said would get a motion summarily denied.

Ms. Zeidner Marcus also did not timely notify Plaintiff’s counsel of her plans to file this Motion for Extension of Time. Ms. Zeidner Marcus first contacted Ms. McCall on April 8, 2014, the date that the filing was due, after ordinary business hours. Ms. Zeidner Marcus first emailed Ms. McCall on April 8, 2014 at 5:01 PM and followed up at approximately 5:30 PM that day with a telephone call. This did not give Ms. McCall sufficient time to consider Ms. Zeidner Marcus’ request or to consult with Ms. McCall’s co-counsel ,Mr. Rotenberg, regarding that request. Ms. Zeidner Marcus then filed her Motion for Extension of Time at 11:23 PM on the same day (April 8, 2014).

To which DOJ responded by accusing EPIC of filing an “improper” FOIA.

This case involves plaintiff’s attempts to improperly use the Freedom of Information Act to seek information about ongoing criminal investigations.

Remember, the underlying issue here is that DOJ shouldn’t be investigating innocent supporters of a publishing outlet. But DOJ believes trying to learn how and why they are doing so is an improper FOIA.

Meanwhile, DOJ sources admitted last November that they can’t really charge Assange without charging the NYT as well.

Justice officials said they looked hard at Assange but realized that they have what they described as a “New York Times problem.” If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Which, I guess, explains the rudeness and urgent need for one more month. Because if the government loses both its ongoing investigation and its statutory exemptions, they might have to explain why they used national security tools against people exercising free speech.

Update: The Judge gave the government half the extension they requested, to April 25.

In light of the fact that the motion was not timely filed and that press of business is not an adequate reason for an extension, the Court will not grant the request for a thirty day extension. Instead, the Court will grant an extension to and including April 25, 2014. Plaintiff’s opposition shall be filed on or before May 12, 2014. The reply shall be file on or before May 19, 2014. In the future, the Court expects the parties to comply with the terms of the Standing Order in this case.

Initial Thoughts on Obama’s Dragnet Fix

The White House has rolled out the bare sketch of its proposal to fix the dragnet. The sketch says,

  • the government will not collect these telephone records in bulk; rather, the records would remain at the telephone companies for the length of time they currently do today;
  • absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns;
  • the records provided to the government in response to queries would only be within two hops of the selection term being used, and the government’s handling of any records it acquires will be governed by minimization procedures approved by the FISC;
  • the court-approved numbers could be used to query the data over a limited period of time without returning to the FISC for approval, and the production of records would be ongoing and prospective; and
  • the companies would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.

The most important question asked in a conference call on this is what the standard for querying would be. Congress would decide that, but it Reasonable Articulable Suspicion would be the starting point.

That sketch doesn’t really answer a lot of questions about the program, including:

  • Will this program be used for “national security concerns” beyond counterterrorism? Never once did the conference call say it was limited to CT, and several comments suggested it could be used more broadly.
  • What kind of protections will the data (the overwhelming number of which would be innocent people) get once it lands at NSA (see the minimization procedures noted above)? Will it resemble the corporate store of forever datamining that currently exists?
  • Who will do the data integrity that currently requires access to the raw data, which has a dramatic influence on how much data would be responsive to a 2-hop query? The required “technical assistance” might include some of it (it definitely includes formatting the data such that NSA can legally accept it, which has caused a problem with cell data). But does Verizon or NSA or Booz go through the raw data and pull out the high volume numbers?
  • For how long will these orders be granted? (It sounds like the White House will use this to entice congressional support.)
  • Will the NSA have access to location data (I’m guessing the answer is no but would like assurances)?

All that said, this is an improvement over the status quo and over RuppRoge in several ways, not least that it applies only to phone data, and that they’re using the same vocabulary we’ve just spent 10 months agreeing on common definitions for.

Update: One observation. One thing both this reform and RuppRoge include is the ability to dictate what the government gets from providers. That’s a testament to how poorly suited the Section 215 program has always been, because it could only ask for existing business records, and most telecoms (the likely exception is AT&T) could and almost certainly did simply provide their SS7 telecom records, which would include everything, including cell location data that apparently became problematic, probably since 2010, when Congress learned NSA was actually going to start using that data. Those problems likely grew more intense after the Jones decision made it clear SCOTUS had problems with the government tracking location persistently without a warrant.

In other words, these “reforms” seem to arise as much from the fact that the outrage against this dragnet provides the government with an opportunity to build a system more appropriate to the task at hand rather than what they could jerry-rig together in secret.

A Key Part of RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix Reform: Pay the Telecoms

Here’s an interesting “reform” in the RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix. It pays the telecoms.

COMPENSATION AND ASSISTANCE.–The Government shall compensate, at the prevailing rate, an electronic communications service provider for providing records in accordance with directives issued pursuant to [their bill].

Section 215 does not include such a payment provision. And while the first two phone dragnet orders included provision for such payments, that was probably illegal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the government has found some way to pay the telecoms, either through added payments for AT&T’s Hemisphere program or gifts in kind. (Though given the timing of DOJ’s suit against Sprint for over-billing, I do wonder whether the government is retaliating for something.) Telecoms don’t spy for free, so I’m sure they’ve been getting paid, illegally, for the last 8 years of dragnet spying they’ve been doing.

But the lack of such provision in Section 215 should have limited the scope of the dragnet. It should have required that requests be so narrow no telecom was going to send big bills to the government every month. And it presumably made the telecoms (well, except for AT&T, which never met a spying request it didn’t love) less willing to interpret orders from the government expansively.

The inclusion of such a compensation clause in the RuppRoge “reform” makes it even more likely this dragnet will expand with the now well-oiled willingness of the telecoms to go above and beyond the letter of the request.

Which is presumably just how the NSA wants it to be.

RuppRogers Fake Dragnet Fix Would End (?) Bulk Firearm Record Collection, But Not Bulk Credit Card Record Collection

I’m just beginning to go through the House Intelligence Fake Dragnet Fix bill — what I will henceforth call the RuppRogers Fake Dragnet Fix.

It does have some improvements — the kind of bones you throw into a legislation to entice members of Congress to back what is in fact a broad expansion of surveillance.

One of those is a prohibition on the use of FISA (presumably including Section 215) to engage in bulk collection of certain kinds of records:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Federal Government may not acquire under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, book customer lists, firearm sales records, tax return records, education records, or medical records containing information that would identify a person without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms.

I find this interesting, for one, because it is yet another piece of evidence that suggests the government has been using Section 215 (and National Security Letters, probably) to make its own firearm registry, in defiance of congressional intent.

But I also find it instructive to compare this list:

  • Some but not all library and book records
  • Firearm sales records
  • Tax return (but not other tax) records
  • Education records
  • Some but not all medical records

With the list laid out in this letter from Ron Wyden and Mark Udall and others.

  • Credit card purchases
  • Pharmacy records
  • Library records
  • Firearm sales records
  • Financial information
  • Book and movie purchase records

I would assume from the difference that NSA was unwilling to give up certain kinds of bulk collection, notably credit card and non-tax return financial records.

I think the use of Section 215 to collect gun records is patently illegal, even though I might support a gun registry if passed legislatively. But if we’re going to roll back that collection, let’s roll back the bulk financial record collection as well.

The October 30, 2009 Statement of Authorities: The EFF Document Fight Could Get Very Interesting

If the Chief FISC Judge accuses the government of material misrepresentations but no one but a dirty fucking hippie blogger reports it, did it happen?

On Friday, I reported on Judge Reggie Walton’s cranky opinion asking for an explanation about why the government didn’t tell him EFF believed they had a protection order in cases relevant to the dragnets. And while it overstates the resounding silence to say that only your esteemed DFH host reported it — TechDirt had a good reportsome of the other reporting on it thus far seems to have missed the whole material misrepresentation judgement in Walton’s order.

But I think it’s not yet clear — to anyone — how interesting this document fight could get.

Just as one example of why (I’ll develop some of the others over the next couple of days, I hope), consider the October 30, 2009 statement of authorities.

Earlier this month, I noted that EFF had submitted a list of filings that the government had not released in spite of what they believed to be Judge Jeffrey White’s order to declassify everything.

  • April 9, 2007 notices indicating FISC Judge rejected early bulk orders
  • October 25, 2007 government challenge to motion to protect evidence, with ex parte NSA official declaration submitted in Shubert
  • April 3, 2009 supplemental memorandum in Jewel
  • October 30, 2009 supplemental memorandum on points of authority in Shubert
  • November 2012

In last Wednesday’s hearing, the government claimed they didn’t have to release these because they engaged in a colloquy limiting White’s orders to the state secrets declarations. And for the moment, I’ll take that as accurate.

But since then, the government has released one of these — the October 25, 2007 challenge to the protection motion — as part of their filing on Monday fighting a protection order in EFF’s phone dragnet suit. And that document was pretty stunning. Not only did it show the government had redefined the Multidistrict Litigation suits so as to exclude any of the FISA-authorized metadata dragnets that EFF of course had no way of knowing about yet. But in the filing, the government revealed that because of this filing and in defiance of Vaughn Walker’s November 2007 protection order, it has been destroying the metadata dragnet data in the interim.

In other words, the government is withholding these filings because they’re fairly damning.

Which got me thinking about the timing and significance of the October 30, 2009 supplemental memorandum on points of authority supporting a motion to dismiss the Shubert suit based on sovereign immunity and state secrets.

At one level, the memorandum is not all that suspicious. As you can see above, the government filed what is presumably roughly the same filing at the analogous time in Jewel, just as it was making its state secrets bid.

But I find the timing of the October 30 filings in Shubert to be of particular interest. That’s because a 2011 NSA training program seems to indicate that the Internet dragnet shut down at almost precisely that time, as it indicates that Internet dragnet data collected prior to November 2009 requires some sort of special treatment.

In addition, in the source information at the end of the line, the SIGAD [redacted] BR data can be recognized by SIGADs beginning with [redacted] For PR/TT, data collected after October 2010 is found [redacted] For a comprehensive listing of all the BR and PR/TT SIGADs as well as information on PR/TT data collected prior to November of 2009, contact your organization’s management or subject matter expert.

Remember, Shubert was suing for illegal wiretapping. And while Judge John Bates did not fully assess what NSA was doing — which appears to be collecting data that counts as content in the guise of collecting metadata — until the following year (some time between July and October 2010), when he did so, he implied the government had to comply with the laws in which they were claiming, in 2009, they had sovereign immunity. And the government had to know by that point they had serious legal problems with the Internet dragnet.

Indeed, the government kept asking for extensions leading up to this filing — at the time they claimed it was because of DOJ’s whats-old-is-new state secrets policy. Altogether they got an extra 22 days to file this filing (which should have been substantially similar to the ones they filed in April). They were almost certainly having still-undisclosed problems with the phone dragnet (probably relating to dissemination of data), as the October 30, 2009 phone dragnet orders is one of the ones the government has withheld even though it is obviously responsive to ACLU and EFF’s FOIA. But the discussions on the Internet dragnet must have been even more contentious, given that the FISC (probably either Reggie Walton or John Bates) refused to reauthorize it. (Note, October 30, 2009 was a Friday, so if FISC formally didn’t approve the Internet dragnet in October 2009, it would have been that day).

And the thing is, from Keith Alexander’s state secrets declaration, submitted perhaps hours and almost certainly no more than a month before the Internet dragnet got shut down because it was illegally collecting metadata that was legally content, it’s not at all clear that the government fully disclosed details they knew about those legal problems with the dragnet. Look closely at ¶¶ 27 and 28, ¶¶48-56, ¶¶58-62 with footnotes.

The phone dragnet description hides the problems with ongoing dissemination problems (which the Administration hid from Congress, as well). It also makes no mention that the phone dragnet had US persons on an alert list without reviewing those selectors for First Amendment review, something that should be central to the suits against NSA (see in particular ¶60). And while there are redacted sentences and footnotes — 13 and 24 — which could include notice that the government was (and had been, since the inception of the FISC-authorized Internet dragnet) collecting metadata that counted as content, those are all very brief descriptions. Moreover, the unredacted descriptions clearly claim that the Internet dragnet program collects no content, which legally it almost certainly did. Moreover, note that the references to the Internet dragnet speak of it in the present tense: “Pursuant to the FISA Pen Register, …. NSA is authorized to collect in bulk.”But there doesn’t seem to be the parallel structure in ¶28 where you’d expect the government to confess that the program was imminently shutting down because it was illegally collecting Internet content.

Note, too, how the declaration refers to the reauthorizations. ¶59 describes the phone dragnet authority “continuing until October 30, 2009″ and ¶58 describes the Internet dragnet “requires continued assistance by the providers through [redacted] 2009. They appear not to have known for sure whether the programs would be reauthorized that night! But they appear not to have explained why not.

Perhaps the most pregnant paragraph is ¶62, which in context appears to relate only to the phone dragnet, though I suspect the government would point to to claim their description of violations was not comprehensive:

NSA is committed to working with the FISC on this and other compliance issues to ensure that this vital intelligence tool works appropriately and effectively. For purposes of this litigation, and the privilege assertions now made by the DNI and by the NSA, the intelligence sources and methods described herein remain highly classified and the disclosure that [redacted] would compromise vital NSA sources and methods and result in exceptionally grave harm to national security.

By any measure, Alexander’s declaration falls short of what the government already knew at that time, demonstrably so in the case of the phone dragnet. He hid details — significantly, the watchlist of Americans that violated statute, and almost certainly that the NSA was collecting content in the name of metadata — that were material to the suits at hand.

Which brings me to the memo on authorities. Even as the government was hiding material violations of the statutes they were disclosing to Judge Walker, was it also making expansive Executive Authority claims it couldn’t (and still can’t) share with plaintiffs? Did the government, for example, make an Executive Authority claim that we have every reason to believe John Bates (especially) and Reggie Walton would rebut if they knew about it?

In any case, in addition to the watchlist data from those 3,000 US persons (which would have aged off last month otherwise), the last of the illegal Internet content-as-metadata data might be aged off as soon as April absent these stays.That data might well provide plaintiffs proof they were illegally wiretapped (note, the Internet dragnet was limited to certain switches, but Jewel was built around the Folsom Street switch which was almost certainly included in that). And that the government provided highly misleading descriptions to Vaughn Walker when bidding for a state secrets exemption.

And add in one more legal fight here: as I noted, DOJ is withholding the October 30, 2009 (as well as one later one from 2009) from both the ACLU and EFF (the EFF suit is before a different San Francisco judge). In addition, DOJ is refusing all push for expedited processing on FOIAs for the Internet dragnet filings.

Seeing how clearly manipulative their data release in these lawsuits is, it seems safe to suggest the government is also making FOIA decisions to prevent plaintiffs from obtaining information to really contest these suits. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. But I would hope it would piss off the judges.

Former NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz, Who Rubber-Stamped Illegal Wiretap Program, Says All Felonies Should Be Prosecuted

I’m watching a CUNY conference on sources and secrets, which currently has a panel including Bob Woodward, Jane Mayer, and former NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz.

When asked whether he could think of a leak that had been damaging, Deitz said the exposure of the illegal (he called it “special”) wiretap program had been damaging.

Then, in the context of prosecuting leaks, Deitz argued that all leaks should be prosecuted, because they involve a felony violation of an oath (that’s not always true, but I’ll just accept that Deitz believes all felonies should be prosecuted). He went on to say, “How is it you put a line around this felony and not prosecute it?”

According to the 2009 Draft NSA IG Report, Deitz, on September 20, 2001, suggested to Alberto Gonzales they should consider modifying FISA (which was then being modified as part of the PATRIOT Act); he appears to have gotten no answer. On October 5, 2001 — having asked but not been permitted to read the underlying OLC authorization for it (Addington read him a few lines over the phone), having not participated in the drafting of the Presidential Authorization for it, and having given it just one day of legal review — Deitz said a program violating the exclusivity provision of FISA was legal. On October 8, Deitz briefed the analysts who would carry out this illegal program.

Deitz’ subordinates provided the only oversight of the program at first. (Later in today’s program he claimed the line between domestic and foreign intelligence was rigorously maintained.) To his credit, Deitz ultimately fought to have the Inspector General read into the program after it had operated for some months.

This is a man who provided the legal fig leaf for a patently illegal program (though the IG Report provides no details of Deitz’ actions for the March to May 2004 timeframe, when the program was even more illegal). This is a man who showed awareness of the legally correct way to do this — include this expanded program in PATRIOT — but nevertheless accepted and participated in not doing so.

And he advocates prosecuting every felony.

Perhaps before he talks about prosecuting journalists and their sources, he should consider his own role in encouraging felonies?

The Government Has a Festering EO 12333 Problem In Jewel/First Unitarian

The government claims it does not have a protection order pertaining to the phone dragnet lawsuits because the suits with a protection order pertain only to presidentially-authorized programs.

The declaration made clear, in a number of places, that the plaintiffs challenged activities that occurred under presidential authorization, not under orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and that the declaration was therefore limited to describing information collected pursuant to presidential authorization and the retention thereof.

Therefore, the government is challenging the EFF’s effort to get Judge Jeffrey White to reaffirm that the preservation orders in the Multidistrict Litigation and Jewel apply to the phone dragnet.

Fine. I think EFF can and should challenge that claim.

But let’s take the government at its word. Let’s consider what it would obliged to retain under the terms laid out.

The government agrees it was obliged, starting in 2007, to keep the content and metadata dragnets that were carried out exclusively on presidential authorization. Indeed, the declaration from 2007 they submitted describing the material they’ve preserved includes telephone metadata (on tapes) and the queries of metadata, including the identifiers used (see PDF 53). It also claimed it would keep the reports of metadata analysis.

That information is fundamentally at issue in First Unitarian Church, the EFF-litigated challenge to the phone dragnet. That’s true for three reasons.

First, the government makes a big deal of their claim, made in 2007, that the metadata dragnet databases were segregated from other programs. Whether or not that was a credible claim in 2007, we know it was false starting in early 2008, when “for the purposes of analytical efficiency,” a copy of that metadata was moved into the same database with the metadata from all the other programs, including both the Stellar Wind phone dragnet data, and the ongiong phone dragnet information collected under EO 12333.

And given the government’s promise to keep reports of metadata analysis, from that point until sometime several years later, it would be obliged to keep all phone dragnet analysis reports involving Americans. That’s because — as is made clear from this Memorandum of Understanding issued sometime after March 2, 2009 — the analysts had no way of identifying the source of the data they were analyzing. The MOU makes clear that analysts were performing queries on data including “SIGINT” (EO 12333 collected data), [redacted] — which is almost certainly Stellar Wind, BRFISA, and PR/TT. So to the extent that any metadata report didn’t have a clear time delimited way of identifying where the data came from, the NSA could not know whether a query report came from data collected solely pursuant to presidential authorization or FISC order. (The NSA changed this sometime during or before 2011, and now metadata all includes XML tags showing its source; though much of it is redundant and so may have been collected in more than one program, and analysts are coached to re-run queries to produce them under EO 12333 authority, if possible.)

Finally, the real problem for the NSA is that the data “alerted” illegally up until 2009 — including the 3,000 US persons watchlisted without undergoing the legally required First Amendment review — was done so precisely because when NSA merged its the phone dragnet data with the data collected under Presidential authorization — either under Stellar Wind or EO 12333 — it applied the rules applying to the presidentially-authorized data, not the FISC-authorized data. We know that the NSA broke the law up until about 5 years ago. We know the data from that period — the data that is under consideration for being aged off now — broke the law precisely because of the way the NSA mixed EO 12333 and FISC regulations and data.

The NSA’s declarations on document preservation — not to mention the declarations about the dragnets more generally — don’t talk about how the EO 12333 data gets dumped in with and mixed up with the FISC-authorized data. That’s NSA’s own fault (and if I were Judge White it would raise real questions for me about the candor of the declarants).

But since the government agreed to preserve the data collected pursuant to presidential authorization without modification (without, say, limiting it to the Stellar Wind data), that means they agreed to preserve the EO 12333 collected data and its poisonous fruit which would just be aging off now.

I will show in a follow-up post why that data should be utterly critical, specifically as it pertains to the First Unitarian Church suit.

But suffice it to say, for now, that the government’s claim that it is only obliged to retain the US person data collected pursuant to Presidential authorization doesn’t help it much, because it means it has promised to retain all the data on Americans collected under EO 12333 and queries derived from it.

The Clear Precedent for Carrie Cordero’s “Uncharted Territory” of Destruction of Evidence

Shane Harris has a report on the government’s odd behavior in regards to preserving the phone dragnet data in light of the suits challenging its legality.

It’s surprising on three counts. First, because he claims the legal back and forth has not previously been reported.

Now, that database will include phone records that are older than five years — not exactly the outcome that critics of the NSA program were hoping for. A dramatic series of legal maneuvers, which have not been previously reported, led the outcome.

It’s surprising not just because the “legal maneuvers” have in fact been reported before (though not the detail that James Cole got involved, though it’s not yet clear how his involvement affected the actual legal maneuvers rather than the internal DOJ communication issues). But also because Harris neglects to mention key details of those legal maneuvers — notably that EFF reminded DOJ, starting on February 26, that it had preservation orders that should affect the dragnet data, reminders which DOJ stalled and then ignored.

Harris’ piece is also surprising because of the implicit suggestion that NSA hasn’t been aging off data regularly, as it is supposed to be.

A U.S. official familiar with the legal process said the question about what to do with the phone records needn’t have been handled at practically the last minute. “The government was coming up on a five-year deadline to delete the data. Lawsuits were pending. The Justice Department could have approached the FISC months ago to resolve this,” the official said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

There should be no “deadline” here — aside from the daily “deadline” that should automatically age off the five year old data. Now, the WSJ had previously reported that that’s not actually how age-off works.

As the NSA program currently works, the database holds about five years of data, according to officials and some declassified court opinions. About twice a year, any call record more than five years old is purged from the system, officials said.

But even assuming NSA only ages off data twice a year (in which case they should stop claiming they only “keep” data for 5 years because they already keep some of it for 5 1/2 years), most of these suits are well older than 6 months old, predating what might have been an August age-off, which means unless NSA already deviated from its normal pattern, it deleted data relevant to the suits.

By far the most surprising detail in Harris’ story, however, is this response from former DOJ National Security Division Counsel Carrie Cordero to the news that Deputy Attorney General James Cole has gotten involved. This is, Cordero claims, “uncharted territory.”

“This is all uncharted territory,” said Carrie Cordero, a former senior Justice Department official who recently served as the counsel to the head of the National Security Division. “Given the complexity and the novelty of this chain of events, it’s a good thing that the deputy attorney general is personally engaged, and it demonstrates the significant attention that they’re giving to it.”

To be more specific about Cordero’s work history, from 2007 to 2011, she was deeply involved in FISA-related issues, first at ODNI and then at DOJ’s NSD.

In 2009, I served as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Unit ed States Department of Justice, where I co – chaired an interagency group created by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to improve FISA processes. From 2007 – 2009, I served in a joint duty capacity as a Senior Associate General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where I worked behind the scenes on matters relating to the legislative efforts that resulted in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

Given her position in the thick of FISA-related issues, one would think she was at least aware of the protection order Vaughn Walker issued on November 6, 2007 ordering the preservation of evidence, up to and including “tangible things,” in the multidistrict litigation issues pertaining to the dragnet.

[T]he court reminds all parties of their duty to preserve evidence that may be relevant to this action. The duty extends to documents, data and tangible things in the possession, custody and control of the parties to this action,

And Cordero presumably should be aware that Walker renewed the same order on November 13, 2009, extending it to cover the Jewel suit, which had an ongoing focus.

Cordero is presumably aware of two other details. First, there should be absolutely no dispute that the phone dragnet was covered by these suits. That’s because at least as early as May 25, 2007 (and again in a declaration submitted October 2009), Keith Alexander included the phone dragnet among the things he considered related to the EFF and other suits over which he claimed state secrets.

In particular, disclosure of the NSA’s ability to utilize the TSP (or, therefore, the current FISA Court-authorized content collection) in conjunction with contact chaining [redacted--probably relating to data mining] would severely undermine efforts to detect terrorist activities.

[snip]

To the extent that the NSA’s bulk collection and targeted analysis of communication meta data may be at issue in this case, those activities–as described in paragraphs 27 and 28 above–must also be protected from disclosure.

In paragraphs 27 and 28 and the following paragraphs, Alexander named the FISC Pen Register and Telephone Records Orders by name.

Thus, as far back as 2007, the NSA acknowledged that it used its content collection in conjunction with its metadata dragnets, including data obtained pursuant to the FISA dragnet orders.

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In Nomination Hearing, DIRNSA Nominee Mike Rogers Continues James Clapper and Keith Alexander’s Obfuscation about Back Door Searches

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing for Vice Admiral Mike Rogers to serve as head of Cyber Command (see this story from Spencer about how Rogers’ confirmation as Cyber Command chief serves as proxy for his role as Director of National Security Agency because the latter does not require Senate approval).

Many of the questions were about Cyber Command (which was, after all, the topic of the hearing), but a few Senators asked questions about the dragnet that affects us all.

In one of those exchanges — with Mark Udall — Rogers made it clear that he intends to continue to hide the answers to very basic questions about how NSA conducts warrantless surveillance of Americans, such as whether the NSA conducts back door searches on American people.

Udall: If I might, in looking ahead, I want to turn to the 702 program and ask a policy question about the authorities under Section 702 that’s written into the FISA Amendments Act. The Committee asked your understanding of the legal rationale for NASA [sic] to search through data acquired under Section 702 using US person identifiers without probable cause. You replied the NASA–the NSA’s court approved procedures only permit searches of this lawfully acquired data using US person identifiers for valid foreign intelligence purposes and under the oversight of the Justice Department and the DNI. The statute’s written to anticipate the incidental collection of Americans’ communications in the course of collecting the communications of foreigners reasonably believed to be located overseas. But the focus of that collection is clearly intended to be foreigners’ communications, not Americans. But declassified court documents show that in 2011 the NSA sought and obtained the authority to go through communications collected under Section 702 and conduct warrantless searches for the communications of specific Americans. Now, my question is simple. Have any of those searches been conducted?

Rogers: I apologize Sir, I’m not in a position to answer that as the nominee.

Udall: You–yes.

Rogers: But if you would like me to come back to you in the future if confirmed to be able to specifically address that question I will be glad to do so, Sir.

Udall: Let me follow up on that. You may recall that Director Clapper was asked this question in a hearing earlier this year and he didn’t believe that an open forum was the appropriate setting in which to discuss these issues. The problem that I have, Senator Wyden’s had, and others is that we’ve tried in various ways to get an unclassified answer — simple answer, yes or no — to the question. We want to have an answer because it relates — the answer does — to Americans’ privacy. Can you commit to answering the question before the Committee votes on your nomination?

Rogers: Sir, I believe that one of my challenges as the Director, if confirmed, is how do we engage the American people — and by extension their representatives — in a dialogue in which they have a level of comfort as to what we are doing and why. That is no insignificant challenge for those of us with an intelligence background, to be honest. But I believe that one of the takeaways from the situation over the last few months has been as an intelligence professional, as a senior intelligence leader, I have to be capable of communicating in a way that we are doing and why to the greatest extent possible. That perhaps the compromise is, if it comes to the how we do things, and the specifics, those are perhaps best addressed in classified sessions, but that one of my challenges is I have to be able to speak in broad terms in a way that most people can understand. And I look forward to that challenge.

Udall: I’m going to continue asking that question and I look forward to working with you to rebuild the confidence. [my emphasis]

The answer to the question Rogers refused to answer is clearly yes. We know that’s true because the answer is always yes when Wyden, and now Udall, ask such questions.

But we also know the answer is yes because declassified parts of last August’s Semiannual Section 702 Compliance Report state clearly that oversight teams have reviewed the use of this provision, which means there’s something to review.

As reported in the last semiannual assessment, NSA minimization procedures now permit NSA to query its databases containing telephony and non-upstream electronic communications using United States person identifiers in a manner designed to find foreign intelligence information. Similarly, CIA’s minimization procedures have been modified to make explicit that CIA may also query its databases using United States person identifiers to yield foreign intelligence information. As discussed above in the descriptions of the joint oversight team’s efforts at each agency, the joint oversight team conducts reviews of each agency’s use of its ability to query using United States person identifiers. To date, this review has not identified any incidents of noncompliance with respect to the use of United States person identifiers; as discussed in Section 4, the agencies’ internal oversight programs have, however, identified isolated instances in which Section 702 queries were inadvertently conducted using United States person identifiers. [my emphasis]

It even obliquely suggests there have been “inadvertent” violations, though this seems to entail back door searches on US person identifiers without realizing they were US person identifiers, not violations of the procedures for using back door searches on identifiers known to be US person identifiers.

Still, it is an unclassified fact that NSA uses these back door searches.

Yet the nominee to head the NSA refuses to answer a question on whether or not NSA uses these back door searches.

And it’s not just in response to this very basic question that Rogers channeled the dishonest approach of James Clapper and Keith Alexander.

As Udall alluded, at the end of a long series of questions about Cyber Command, the committee asked a series of questions about back door searches and other dragnet issues. They asked (see pages 42-43):

  • Whether NSA can conduct back door searches on data acquired under EO 12333 and if so under what legal rationale
  • Whether NSA can conduct back door searches on data acquired pursuant to traditional FISA and if so under what legal rationale
  • What the legal rationale is for back door searches on data acquired under FISA Amendments Act
  • What the legal rationale is for searches on the Section 215 query results in the “corporate store”

I believe every single one of Rogers’ answers — save perhaps the question on traditional FISA — involves some level of obfuscation. (See this post for further background on what NSA’s Raj De and ODNI’s Robert Litt have admitted about back door searches.)

Consider his answer on searches of the “corporate store” as one example.

What is your understanding of the legal rationale for searching through the “Corporate Store” of metadata acquired under section 215 using U.S. Persons identifiers for foreign intelligence purposes?

The section 215 program is specifically authorized by orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court pursuant to relevant statutory requirements. (Note: the legality of the program has been reviewed and approved by more than a dozen FISC judges on over 35 occasions since 2006.) As further required by statute, the program is also governed by minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General an d approved by the FISC. Those orders, and the accompanying minimization procedures, require that searches of data under the program may only be performed when there is a Reasonable Articulable Suspicion that the identifier to be queried is associated with a terrorist organization specified in the Court’s order.

Remember, not only do declassified Primary Orders make it clear NSA doesn’t need Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search the corporate store, but PCLOB has explained the possible breadth of “corporate store” searches plainly.

According to the FISA court’s orders, records that have been moved into the corporate store may be searched by authorized personnel “for valid foreign intelligence purposes, without the requirement that those searches use only RAS-approved selection terms.”71 Analysts therefore can query the records in the corporate store with terms that are not reasonably suspected of association with terrorism. They also are permitted to analyze records in the corporate store through means other than individual contact-chaining queries that begin with a single selection term: because the records in the corporate store all stem from RAS-approved queries, the agency is allowed to apply other analytic methods and techniques to the query results.72 For instance, such calling records may be integrated with data acquired under other authorities for further analysis. The FISA court’s orders expressly state that the NSA may apply “the full range” of signals intelligence analytic tradecraft to the calling records that are responsive to a query, which includes every record in the corporate store.73

There is no debate over whether NSA can conduct back door searches in the “corporate store” because both FISC and PCLOB say they can.

Which is probably why SASC did not ask whether this was possible — it is an unclassified fact that it is — but rather what the legal rationale for doing so is.

And Rogers chose to answer this way:

  1. By asserting that the phone dragnet must comply with statutory requirements
  2. By repeating tired boilerplate about how many judges have approved this program (ignoring that almost all of these approvals came before FISC wrote its first legal opinion on the program)
  3. By pointing to AG-approved minimization procedures (note–it’s not actually clear that NSA’s — as distinct from FBI’s — dragnet specific procedures are AG-approved, though the more general USSID 18 ones are)
  4. By claiming FISA orders and minimization procedures “require that searches of data under the program may only be performed when there is a Reasonable Articulable Suspicion that the identifier to be queried is associated with a terrorist organization”

The last part of this answer is either downright ignorant (though I find that unlikely given how closely nominee responses get vetted) or plainly non-responsive. The question was not about queries of the dragnet itself — the “collection store” of all the data. The question was about the “corporate store” — the database of query results based off those RAS approved identifiers. And, as I said, there is no dispute that searches of the corporate store do not require RAS approval. In fact, the FISC orders Rogers points to say as much explicitly.

And yet the man Obama has picked to replace Keith Alexander, who has so badly discredited the Agency with his parade of lies, refused to answer that question directly. Much less explain the legal rationale used to conduct RAS-free searches on phone query results showing 3rd degree connections to someone who might have ties to terrorist groups, which is what the question was.

Which, I suppose, tells us all we need to know about whether anyone plans to improve the credibility or transparency of the NSA.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @JasonLeopold: Execution in Arizona Is Approved by Justices. Scheduled for Wednesday. http://t.co/VmgjiE1MWm
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bmaz @cocktailhag Sounds like a fair addition to me.
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bmaz Also in the totally awesome to meet at #NN2014 department: @StephanieKelton @NadiaKayyali and @alexisgoldstein
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JimWhiteGNV RT @RaysBaseball: That moment when a pitcher who hasn't batted since high school executes a perfect safety squeeze. @JakeOdorizzi http://t.…
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bmaz Despite their limited stay no two more fun+incredibly awesome people I finally personally met at #NN2014 than @astepanovich + @McElweeWhite
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JimWhiteGNV RT @TBTimes_Rays: You can only hope to contain #Rays C Jose Molina, who swiped his 3rd bag of the season at the back end of a double steal.…
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JimWhiteGNV RT @ArifCRafiq: Please also visit Gaza. MT @MikeBloomberg This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to demonstrate that it is safe…
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bmaz @WilliamOckhamTx Pretty much that whole area of the world appears to be GohmertLand.
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bmaz The only way in the world @John_Dingell could earn more love is to say he doesn't know similarly worthless chumps Kanye West, JayZ+Beyonce.
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bmaz I have never been prouder of @John_Dingell in my life than him not knowing squat about the worthless Kardashian idiot clan.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @onekade: The rockets are extremely dangerous and horrible but also Israel is open for business as usual, nothing to fear! Ok
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bmaz It appears the Ukranian government has the combined credibility of Peter King and Steve Stockman. #GoodEnoughForJoshEarnestAndCNN
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