state secrets

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Where the Bodies Are Buried: A Constitutional Crisis Feinstein Better Be Ready To Win

In a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.

What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.

Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.

If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.

Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.

Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues  to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).

But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.

Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.

Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)

Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.

The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.

Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.

There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.

Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.

And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.

If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.

“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”

Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.

And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.

Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.

I meant that very, very literally.

Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.

Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.

I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.

Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.

I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.

Chelsea Manning Wonders Whether She Could Have Gotten Anwar al-Awlaki’s Treatment

In accepting the Sam Adams prize, Chelsea Manning raised the ACLU/NYT lawsuits for the OLC memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

In doing so, she borrows an argument about separation of power and secrecy Judge Colleen McMahon made in her opinion on the FOIA.

Here’s McMahon:

As they gathered to draft a Constitution for their newly liberated country, the Founders – fresh from a war of independence from the rule of a King they styled a tyrant- were fearful of concentrating power in the hands of any single person or institution, and  most particularly in the executive. That concern was described by James Madison in Federalist No. 47 (1788):

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny ….

The magistrate in whom the whole executive power resides cannot of himself … administer justice in person, though he has the appointment of those who do administer it.

[snip]

The Framers — who were themselves susceptible to being hanged as traitors by the King of England during the Revolutionary War — were as leery of accusations of treason as they were of concentrating power in the hands of a single person or institution. As a result, the Constitution accords special protections to those accused of the most heinous of capital crimes; Article 3, Sec. 3 sets the procedural safeguard that, “No Person shall be convicted of treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

Interestingly, the Treason Clause appears in the Article of the Constitution concerning the Judiciary — not in Article 2, which defines the powers of the Executive Branch. This suggests that the Founders contemplated that traitors would be dealt with by the courts of law, not by unilateral action of the Executive. As no less a constitutional authority than Justice Antonin Scalia noted, in his dissenting opinion in Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 554, “Where the Government accuses a citizen of waging war against it, our constitutional tradition has been to prosecute him in federal court for treason or some other crime.”

Here’s Manning:

The founders of America – fresh from a war of independence from King George lll – were particularly fearful of concentrating power. James Madison wrote that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”(1)

[snip]

When drafting Article III of the American Constitution, the founders were rather leery of accusations of treason, and accorded special protections for those accused of such a capital offense, providing that “[n]o person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

For those of you familiar with the American Constitution, you may notice that this provision is under the Article concerning the Judiciary, Article III, and not the Legislative or Executive Articles, I and II respectively. And, historically, when the American government accuses an American of such crimes, it has prosecuted them in a federal criminal court.

After having repeated McMahon’s lesson on the checks our Founders gave Article III courts over the President, Manning described how frustrated McMahon was in not being able to release the OLC memo to ACLU and NYT.

In a recent Freedom of Information Act case(2) – a seemingly Orwellian “newspeak” name for a statute that actually exempts categories of documents from release to the public – a federal district court judge ruled against the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Times and the ACLU argued that documents regarding the practice of “targeted killing” of American citizens, such as the radical Sunni cleric Anwar Nasser al-Aulaqi were in the public’s interest and were being withheld improperly.

The government first refused to acknowledge the existence of the documents, but later argued that their release could harm national security and were therefore exempt from disclosure. The court, however, felt constrained by the law and “conclud[ed] that the Government [had] not violated the FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and [could not] be compelled . . . to explain in detail the reasons why [the Government's] actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

However, the judge also wrote candidly about her frustration with her sense that the request “implicate[d] serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States,” and that the Presidential “Administration ha[d] engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of [American] citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.” In other words, it wasn’t that she didn’t think that the public didn’t have a right to know – it was that she didn’t feel that she had the “legal” authority to compel disclosure.

Against that background, Manning notes that she was charged with treasonable offense, and wonders whether under the Awlaki precedent she could have been drone killed, just like Awlaki.

I was accused by the Executive branch, and particularly the Department of Defense, of aiding the enemy – a treasonable offense covered under Article III of the Constitution.
Granted, I received due process. I received charges, was arraigned before a military judge for trial, and eventually acquitted. But, the al-Aulaqi case raises a fundamental question: did the American government, and particularly the same President and Department, have the power to unilaterally determine my guilt of such an offense, and execute me at the will of the pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?

She then compares (I think, though the timing on this is perhaps understandably murky) the release of both the OLC memo and follow-up speeches — and its revelation of the powers claimed by the President — with her own releases.

Until documents held by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel were released after significant political pressure in mid-2013, I could not tell you. And, very likely, I do not believe I could speak intelligently of the Administration’s policy on “targeted killing” today either.

There is a problem with this level of secrecy, obfuscation, and classification or protective marking, in that they supposedly protect citizens of their nation; yet, it also breeds a unilateralism that the founders feared, and deliberately tried to prevent when drafting the American Constitution. Now, we have a “disposition matrix,” classified military commissions, and foreign intelligence and surveillance courts – modern Star Chamber equivalents.

I am now accepting this award, through my friend, former school peer, and former small business partner, Aaron, for the release of a video and documents that “sparked a worldwide dialogue about the importance of government accountability for human rights abuses,” it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the dangers of withholding documents, legal interpretations, and court jurisprudence from the public that pertain to the right to “life, liberty, and property” of a state’s citizens is as fundamental and important to protecting against such human rights abuses.

Of course, we still don’t know what happened to Anwar al-Awlaki; the White Paper leaves many of the key details obscure. Even as the government prepares to execute another of its citizens.

But in comparing her own releases with the government’s refusal to reveal precisely how they decided to execute an American with no due process, Manning points to where this has already gone.

And she makes a compelling case that the government’s claims of secrecy cannot be trusted.

Crimes against Secrecy, Crimes against the Constitution

I’m not all that interested in the debate about offering Edward Snowden some kind of amnesty, as I think he could never accept the terms being offered, it arises in part out of NSA’s PR effort, and distracts from the ongoing revelations.

But I am interested in this. Amy Davidson wrote a column refuting Fred Kaplan’s assertion that because Snowden “signed an oath, as a condition of his employment as an NSA contractor, not to disclose classified information,” comparisons with Jimmy Carter’s pardon for draft dodgers are inapt. She notes (as a number of people have already) that the only “oath” that Snowden made was to the Constitution.

To begin with, did Snowden sign “an oath…not to disclose classified information”? He says that he did not, and that does not appear to have been contradicted. Snowden told the Washington Posts Barton Gellman that the document he signed, as what Kaplan calls “a condition of his employment,” was Standard Form 312, a contract in which the signatory says he will “accept” the terms, rather than swearing to them. By signing it, Snowden agreed that he was aware that there were federal laws against disclosing classified information. But the penalties for violating agreement alone are civil: for example, the government can go after any book royalties he might get for publishing secrets.

Snowden did take an oath—the Oath of Office, or appointment affidavit, given to all federal employees:

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Now, some would argue—and it would have to be an argument, not an elision—that he violated this oath in revealing what he did; Snowden told Gellman that the revelations were how he kept it—protecting the Constitution from the officials at the N.S.A., which was assaulting it. Either way this is just not an oath, on the face of it, about disclosing classified information. [my emphasis]

Former Obama DOD official Phil Carter then attempted to refute Davidson on Twitter. He did so by pointing to the “solemnity” of the forms Snowden did sign, and then noting such “promises are far more legally enforceable than an ‘oath’ of office.”

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 8.16.52 AM

I don’t dispute Carter’s point that nondisclosure agreements are easier to enforce legally than an oath to the Constitution. And, as noted above, in her original piece Davidson admitted that Snowden had acknowledged there were laws against leaking classified information. No one is arguing Snowden didn’t break any laws (though if our whistleblower laws covered contractors, there’d be a debate about whether that excuses Snowden’s leaks).

Nevertheless, Carter’s comment gets to the crux of the point (and betrays how thoroughly DC insiders have internalized it).

We have an ever-growing side of our government covered by a blanket of secrecy. Much of what that secrecy serves to cover up involves abuse or crime. Much of it involves practices that gut the core precepts of the Constitution (and separation of powers are as much at risk as the Bill of Rights).

Yet we not only have evolved a legal system (by reinforcing the clearance system, expanding the Espionage Act, and gutting most means to challenge Constitutional violations) that treats crimes against secrecy with much greater seriousness than crimes against the Constitution, but DC folks (even lawyers, like Carter) simply point to it as the way things are, not a fundamental threat to our country’s government.

That plight — where our legal system guards this country’s “secrets” more greedily than it guards the Constitution — is the entire point underlying calls for amnesty for Snowden. He has pointed to a system that not only poses a grave threat to the Bill of Rights, but just as surely, to separation of powers and our claim to be a democracy.

Moreover, those who (like Carter) point to our failed branches of government as better arbiters of the Constitution than Snowden ignore many of the details in the public record. Just as one example, David Kris has suggested that the entire reason Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote a badly flawed opinion authorizing the Internet dragnet was because George Bush had created a constitutional problem by ignoring Congress’ laws and the courts.

More broadly, it is important to consider the context in which the FISA Court initially approved the bulk collection. Unverified media reports (discussed above) state that bulk telephony metadata collection was occurring before May 2006; even if that is not the case, perhaps such collection could have occurred at that time based on voluntary cooperation from the telecommunications providers. If so, the practical question before the FISC in 2006 was not whether the collection should occur, but whether it should occur under judicial standards and supervision, or unilaterally under the authority of the Executive Branch. [my emphasis]

And while Kris argued Congress’ subsequent approval of the dragnets cures this original sin, the record in fact shows it did so only under flawed conditions of partial knowledge. Of course, these attempts to paper over a constitutional problem only succeed so long as they remain shrouded in secrecy.

That the first response of many is to resort to legalistic attempts to prioritize the underlying secrecy over the Constitution raises questions about what they believe they are protecting. The next torture scandal? Covert ops that might serve the interest of certain autocratic allies but actually make Americans less secure? The financial hemorrhage that is our military industrial complex? The sheer ignorance our bloated intelligence community has about subjects of great importance? Petty turf wars? Past failures of the national security system we’re encouraged to trust implicitly?

At some point, we need to attend to protecting our Constitution again. If Article I and III have gotten so scared of their own impotence (or so compromised) that they can no longer do so, then by all means lets make that clear by revealing more of the problems.

But we need to stop chanting that our Constitution is not a suicide pact and instead insist that our secrecy oaths non-disclosure agreements should not be suicide bombs.

The Civil Liberties Celebration Hangover Wears Off

JusticePicAt the end of last week, I joked a little about privacy and civil liberties advocates having had the “best week ever”. It was indeed a very good week, but only relatively compared to the near constant assault on the same by the government. But the con is being put back in ICon by the Administration and its mouthpieces.

As I noted in the same post, Obama himself has already thrown cold water on the promise of his NSA Review Board report. Contrary to some, I saw quite a few positives in the report and thought it much stronger than I ever expected. Still, that certainly does not mean it was, or is, the particularly strong reform that is needed. And even the measures and discussion it did contain are worthless without sincerity and dedication to buy into them by the intelligence community and the administration. But if Obama on Friday was the harbinger of the walkback and whitewash of real reform, the foot soldiers are taking the field now to prove the point.

Sunday morning brought out former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell on CBS Face the Nation to say this:

I think that is a perception that’s somehow out there. It is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else’s phone calls. It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.

Morrell also stated that there was “no abuse” by the NSA and that Ed Snowden was a “criminal” who has shirked his duties as a “patriot” by running. Now Mike Morrell is not just some voice out in the intelligence community, he was one of the supposedly hallowed voices that Barack Obama chose to consider “reform”.

Which ought to tell you quite a bit about what Barack Obama really thinks about true reform and your privacy interests. Not much. In fact, Morrell suggested (and Obama almost certainly agrees) that the collection dragnet should be expanded from telephony to also include email. Not exactly the kind of “reform” we had in mind.

Then, Sunday night 60 Minutes showed that fluffing the security state is not just a vice, but an ingrained habit for them. Hot on the heels of their John Miller blowjob on the NSA, last night 60 Minutes opened with a completely hagiographic puff piece on and with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. There was absolutely no news whatsoever in the segment, it was entirely a forum for Rice and her “interviewer”, Lesley Stahl, to spew unsupported allegations about Edward Snowden (He “has 1.5 million documents!”), lie about how the DOJ has interacted with the court system regarding the government surveillance programs (the only false statements have been “inadvertent”) and rehab her image from the Benghazi!! debacle. That was really it. Not exactly the hard hitting journalism you would hope for on the heels of a federal judge declaring a piece of the heart of the surveillance state unconstitutional.

Oh, yes, Susan Rice also proudly proclaimed herself “a pragmatist like Henry Kissinger which, as Tim Shorrock correctly pointed out, is not exactly reassuring from the administration of a Democratic President interested in civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law.

So, the whitewashing of surveillance dragnet reform is in full swing, let the giddiness of last week give way to the understanding that Barack Obama, and the Intelligence Community, have no intention whatsoever of “reforming”. In fact, they will use the illusion of “reform” to expand their authorities and power. Jonathan Turley noted:

Obama stacked the task force on NSA surveillance with hawks to guarantee the preservation of the program.

Not just preserve, but to give the false, nee fraudulent, patina of Obama Administration concern for the privacy and civil liberties concerns of the American citizenry when, in fact, the Administration has none. It is yet another con.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald noted:

The key to the WH panel: its stated purpose was to re-establish public confidence in NSA – NOT reform it.

There may be some moving of the pea beneath the shells, but there will be no meaningful reform from the administration of Barack Obama. The vehicle for reform, if there is to be one at all, will have to come from the Article III federal courts. for an overview of the path of Judge Leon’s decision in Klayman through the DC circuit, see this piece by NLJ’s Zoe Tillman.

Lastly, to give just a little hope after the above distressing content, I recommend a read of this excellent article by Adam Serwer at MSNBC on the cagy pump priming for surveillance reform Justice Sotomayor has done at the Supreme Court:

If Edward Snowden gave federal courts the means to declare the National Security Agency’s data-gathering unconstitutional, Sonia Sotomayor showed them how.

It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.

“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Give the entire article a read, Adam is spot on. If there is to be reform on the surveillance dragnet, it will almost certainly have to be the handiwork of the courts, and Justice Sotomayor planted the seed. The constant barrage of truth and facts coming from the Snowden materials, what Jay Rosen rightfully terms “The Snowden Effect” is providing the food for Sotomayor’s seed to flower. Hopefully.

James Clapper Claims Publicly Acknowledged Details Are State Secrets While Boasting of Transparency

Between documents leaked by Edward Snowden, official court submissions, and official public statements, we know at least the following about the surveillance system set up after 9/11 and maintained virtually intact to this day:

  • Around of 8-14% of the content collected under Bush’s illegal program was domestic content (page 15 of the NSA IG Report says this constituted 8% of all the illegal wiretap targets but the percentage works out to be higher)
  • Some of the content collected via ongoing upstream collection currently includes intentionally-collected domestic content (NSA refuses to count this, even for the FISA Court)
  • Bush’s illegal wiretap program targeted Iraqi Intelligence Service targets, as well as targets affiliated with al Qaeda and its associates (see page 8)
  • NSA uses the phone metadata program with Iranian targets, as well as targets affiliated with al Qaeda and its associates
  • Both the illegal wiretap program and the Internet dragnet authorized under Pen Register/Trap and Trace in 2004 collected information that (because of the way TCP/IP works) would be legally content if treated as electronic surveillance
  • The NSA still conducts an Internet dragnet via collection overseas, which not only would permit the metadata-as-content collection, but would permit far more collection on US persons; that collection is seamlessly linked to the domestic dragnet collection
  • NSA uses the dragnets to decide which of content the telecoms have briefly indiscriminately collected to read

That is, the surveillance system is not so much discrete metadata programs and content programs directed overseas, directed exclusively against al Qaeda or even terrorists. Rather, it is a system in which network analysis plays a central role in selecting which collected content to read. That content includes entirely domestic communication. And targets of the system have not always been — and were not as recently as June — limited to terrorists.

These details of the surveillance system — along with the fact that AT&T and Verizon played the crucial role of collecting content and “metadata” off domestic switches — are among the details James “Least Untruthful” Clapper, with backup from acting Deputy Director of NSA Frances Fleisch, declared to still be state secrets on Friday, in spite of their public (and in many cases, official) acknowledgement.

In doing so, they are attempting to end the last remaining lawsuits for illegal wiretapping dating to 2006 by prohibiting discussion of the central issue at hand: the government has repeatedly and fairly consistently collected the content of US persons from within the US, at times without even the justification of terrorism. (For more background on Jewel v. AT&T, see here.)

Here’s how Clapper, with a nod to Fleisch, lays out the rebuttal of the Jewel plaintiffs.

the NSA’s collection of the content of communications under the TSP was directed at international communications in which a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al-Qa’ida or an affiliated organization. Thus, as the U.S. Government has previously stated, plaintiff’s allegation that the NSA has indiscriminately collected the content of millions of communications sent or received by people inside the United States after September 11, 2001, under the TSP is false.

There are several weasel parts of this claim.

The “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and the “Other Target Surveillance Program”

First, to make this claim, Clapper (and Fleisch) revert to use of “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” a term invented to segment off the part of the larger illegal wiretap program that George Bush was willing to confess to in December 2005, that involving international communications with a suspected al Qaeda figure. But as Fleisch admits — but doesn’t explain — at ¶20, the TSP is just a subset of the larger Presidential Surveillance Program.  Continue reading

Conning the Record, Conning the Courts, Defrauding the People

In the parlance of the once and forever MTV set, civil libertarians just had one of the “Best Weeks Ever”. Here is the ACLU’s Catherine Crump weighing in on the surprising results of President Obama’s Review Board:

Friday, the president’s expressed willingness to consider ending the NSA’s collection of phone records, saying, “The question we’re going to have to ask is, can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that in fact the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing?”

With this comment and the panel’s report coming on the heels of Monday’s remarkable federal court ruling that the bulk collection of telephone records is likely unconstitutional, this has been the best week in a long time for Americans’ privacy rights.

That “federal court ruling” is, of course, that of Judge Richard Leon handed down a mere five days ago on Monday. Catherine is right, it has been a hell of a good week.

But lest we grow too enamored of our still vaporous success, keep in mind Judge Leon’s decision, as right on the merits as it may be, and is, is still a rather adventurous and activist decision for a District level judge, and will almost certainly be pared back to some extent on appeal, even if some substantive parts of it are upheld. We shall see.

But the other cold water thrown came from Obama himself when he gave a slippery and disingenuous press conference Friday. Here is the New York Times this morning capturing spot on the worthless lip service Barack Obama gave surveillance reform yesterday:

By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.

He did not do any of that.
….
He kept returning to the idea that he might be willing to do more, but only to reassure the public “in light of the disclosures that have taken place.”

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated to correct the flaws in the government’s surveillance policy had they not been revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

And that is why any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.

Precisely. The NYT comes out and calls the dog a dog. If you read between the lines of this Ken Dilanian report at the LA Times, you get the same preview of the nothingburger President Obama is cooking up over the holidays. As Ken more directly said in his tweet, “Obama poised to reject panel proposals on 702 and national security letters.” Yes, indeed, count on it.

Which brings us to that which begets the title of this post: I Con The Record has made a Saturday before Christmas news dump. And a rather significant one to boot. Apparently because they were too cowardly to even do it in a Friday news dump. Which is par for the course of the Obama Administration, James Clapper and the American Intel Shop. Their raison de’etre appears to be keep America uninformed, terrorized and supplicant to their power grabs. Only a big time operator like Big Bad Terror Voodoo Daddy Clapper can keep us chilluns safe!

So, the dump today is HERE in all its glory. From the PR portion of the “I Con” Tumblr post, they start off with Bush/Cheney Administration starting the “bulk” dragnet on October 4, 2001. Bet that is when it first was formalized, but the actual genesis was oh, maybe, September 12 or so. Remember, there were security daddies agitating for this long before September 11th.

Then the handcrafted Intel spin goes on to say this:

Over time, the presidentially-authorized activities transitioned to the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). The collection of communications content pursuant to presidential authorization ended in January 2007 when the U.S. Government transitioned the TSP to the authority of the FISA and under the orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). In August 2007, Congress enacted the Protect America Act (“PAA”) as a temporary measure. The PAA, which expired in February 2008, was replaced by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which was enacted in July 2008 and remains in effect. Today, content collection is conducted pursuant to section 702 of FISA. The metadata activities also were transitioned to orders of the FISC. The bulk collection of telephony metadata transitioned to the authority of the FISA in May 2006 and is collected pursuant to section 501 of FISA. The bulk collection of Internet metadata was transitioned to the authority of the FISA in July 2004 and was collected pursuant to section 402 of FISA. In December 2011, the U.S. Government decided to not seek reauthorization of the bulk collection of Internet metadata.

After President Bush acknowledged the TSP in December 2005, two still-pending suits were filed in the Northern District of California against the United States and U.S. Government officials challenging alleged NSA activities authorized by President Bush after 9/11. In response the U.S. Government, through classified and unclassified declarations by the DNI and NSA, asserted the state secrets privilege and the DNI’s authority under the National Security Act to protect intelligence sources and methods. Following the unauthorized and unlawful release of classified information about the Section 215 and Section 702 programs in June 2013, the Court directed the U.S. Government to explain the impact of declassification decisions since June 2013 on the national security issues in the case, as reflected in the U.S. Government’s state secrets privilege assertion. The Court also ordered the U.S. Government to review for declassification all prior classified state secrets privilege and sources and methods declarations in the litigation, and to file redacted, unclassified versions of those documents with the Court.

This is merely an antiseptic version of the timeline of lies that has been relentlessly exposed by Marcy Wheeler right here on this blog, among other places. What is not included in the antiseptic, sandpapered spin is that the program was untethered from law completely and then “transitioned” to FISC after being exposed as such.

Oh, and lest anybody think this sudden disclosure today is out of the goodness of Clapper and Obama’s hearts, it is not. As Trevor Timm of EFF notes, most all of the “I Con” releases have been made only after being forced to by relevant FOIA and other court victories and that this one in particular is mostly germinated by EFF’s court order (and Vaughn index) obtained.

So, with that, behold the “I Con” release of ten different declarations previously filed and extant under seal in the Jewel and Shubert cases. Much of the language in all is similar template affidavit language, which you expect from such filings if you have ever dealt with them. As for individual dissection, I will leave that for later and for discussion by all in comments.

The one common theme that I can discern from a scan of a couple of note is that there is no reason in the world minimally redacted versions such as these could not have been made public from the outset. No reason save for the conclusion that to do so would have been embarrassing to the Article II Executive Branch and would have lent credence to American citizens properly trying to exercise and protect their rights in the face of a lawless and constitutionally infirm assault by their own government. The declarations by Mike McConnell, James Clapper, Keith Alexander, Dennis Blair, Frances Fleisch and Deborah Bonanni display a level of too cute by a half duplicity that ought be grounds for sanctions.

The record has been conned. Our federal courts have been conned. All as the Snowden disclosures have proven. And the American people have been defrauded by pompous terror mongers who value their own and institutional power over truth and honesty to those they serve. Clapper, Alexander and Obama have the temerity to call Ed Snowden a traitor? Please, look in the mirror boys.

Lastly, and again as Trevor Timm pointed out above, these are just the declarations for cases the EFF and others are still pursuing. What of the false secret declarations made in al-Haramain v. Obama, which the government long ago admitted were bogus? Why won’t the cons behind “I Con” release those declarations? What about the frauds perpetrated in Mohamed v. Jeppesen that have fraudulently ingrained states secrets cons into the government arsenal?

If the government wants to come clean, here is the opportunity. Frauds have been perpetrated on our courts, in our name. We should hear about that. Unless, of course, Obama and the “I Cons” are really nothing more than simple good old fashioned cons.

[By the way, Christmas is a giving season. If you have extra cheer to spread, our friends like Cindy Cohn, Trevor Timm, Hanni Fakhoury and Kurt Opsahl et al at EFF, and Ben Wizner, Alex Abdo, Catherine Crump et al at the ACLU all do remarkable work. Share your tax deductible love with them this season if you can. They make us all better off.]

CIA Aims to Hide Its SEKRIT Files at Second Circuit Again

Roughly four years ago, then National Security Advisor James Jones submitted a nearly unprecedented sealed declaration to the Second Circuit in the ACLU’s torture FOIA lawsuit. In it he argued the government needed to keep secret a short reference making it clear the torture program operated under Presidential authorization.

The following May — perhaps not coincidentally just months after America’s first attempt to execute Anwar al-Awlaki by drone strike and as OLC was scrambling to come up with some justification for doing so — the Second Circuit granted the government’s request, deeming the language an intelligence source or method, and giving the request particular weight because the language pertained to intelligence activities unrelated to torture.

On October 1, the Second Circuit heard the ACLU and NYT’s appeal of Colleen McMahon’s decision to dismiss their FOIA on documents relating to the Awlaki killing.

At the hearing, this exchange occurred.

JUDGE NEWMAN: In one of your sealed excerpts from your briefs, I am not going to disclose a secret. There is a statutory reference from Title 50. You’re probably familiar with it. It has to do with whether affidavits are sufficient. It’s Title 50. I think it’s Section 430(f)(2). Does that ring a bell at all?

MS. SWINGLE: I believe so, your Honor.

JUDGE NEWMAN: Is that a correct citation? Because I  couldn’t find it.

MS. SWINGLE: I can check and provide the information for your Honor. Off the top of my head, I can’t say that I know either.

JUDGE NEWMAN: Do they have it there?

MS. SWINGLE: Again, your Honor, that would be information we could provide separately to the Court, to the extent it is something that’s only in the classified part.

JUDGE NEWMAN: Just the statutory reference. Is it the right statute? That’s all I want to know.

Citing this passage, on Thursday the government asked to submit an ex parte filling clarifying both the answer Swingle gave, as well as the answer to an unidentified question raised in the hearing.

During the oral argument on October 1, 2013, a member of the panel asked the government to clarify a citation contained in a classified declaration in the record. See Tr. 73-74. The government’s proposed supplemental classified submission provides the clarification requested by the Court. The proposed supplemental classified submission also provides an additional answer to a question posed during oral argument that could not be adequately and completely answered in a public setting.

Both the NYT and the ACLU objected to this ex parte clarification of the answer (the NYT doesn’t object to such a filing pertaining to the citation), given that the Court didn’t ask for any further clarification.

The Government’s motion does not at any point include information about the nature of the “additional answer” that the Government is providing to the Court or the question to which it is addressed. The Court did not request such a supplemental answer, and there is no basis for a party to unilaterally provide itself with a further opportunity to extend argument – especially in secret – after the conclusion of oral argument.

Now, it’s entirely unclear what the erroneous citation in the classified government brief is. Though 50 USC 431(f) may describe this section of the National Security Act on  to CIA files being FOIAed (though 50 USC 403 includes definitions and roles of CIA).

(f) Whenever any person who has requested agency records under section 552 of title 5, United States Code (Freedom of Information Act), alleges that the Central Intelligence Agency has improperly withheld records because of failure to comply with any provision of this section, judicial review shall be available under the terms set forth in section 552(a)(4)(B) of title 5, United States Code, except that–

(2) the court shall, to the fullest extent practicable, determine issues of fact based on sworn written submissions of the parties;

In which case, surprise surprise, this is about hiding CIA files.

But we already knew that.

And unsurprisingly, the two questions that DOJ’s Sharon Swingle referred back to the classified documents to answer also pertained to the CIA’s SEKRIT role in drone killing Americans.

One — which gets repeated several times — pertains to why DOJ’s prior disclosure that OLC wrote one drone killing memo for DOD forces DOJ to use a No Number No List response because admitting there were other OLC memos would also entail admitting an Other Government Agency carries out those drone killings.

JUDGE NEWMAN: I come back to saying, why can’t you have a redacted Vaughn index, at least on legal reasoning. Because I don’t understand your argument that if we say there are five of them, that somehow tells people more information. What does it tell them? It says five lawyers were working.

MS. SWINGLE: With respect, your Honor, it says that OLC on five separate instances wrote advice memoranda about the use of targeted lethal force. It now tells us, and I do think this is critical, that on four of those instances, it did not involve the Department of Defense. Because we have acknowledged there is a single responsive document as to the Department of Defense. I think that is really significant information. And it is not information that has been made public by the U.S. government.

JUDGE NEWMAN: That’s a secret.

MS. SWINGLE: It is.

Continue reading

Say Hello To Our New Friends At Just Security

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 11.46.58 AMWe do a lot of things here at Emptywheel including occasionally, goofing off. But our primary focus has always been the intersection of security issues, law and politics. I think I can speak for Marcy and Jim, and I certainly do for myself, we would love it if that intersection were not so critical in today’s world. But, alas, it is absolutely critical and, for all the voices out there in the community, there are precious few that deep dive into the critical minutiae.

Today we welcome a new and important player in the field, the Just Security Blog. It has a truly all star and broad lineup of contributors (most all of whom are listed as “editors” of one fashion or another), including good friends such as Steve Vladeck, Daphne Eviatar, Hina Shamsi, Julian Sanchez, Sarah Knuckey and many other quality voices. It is an ambitious project, but one that, if the content already posted on their first day is any indication, will be quite well done. The home of Just Security is the New York University School of Law, so they will have ample resources and foundation from which to operate for the long run.

Ironically, it was little more than three years ago (September 1, 2010 actually) that the Lawfare Blog went live to much anticipation (well, at least from me). Whether you always agree with Ben Wittes, Bobby Chesney, Jack Goldsmith and their contributors or not, and I don’t always, they have done this field of interest a true service with their work product, and are a fantastic and constantly evolving resource. There is little question but that Just Security intends to occupy much of the same space, albeit it in a complimentary as opposed to confrontational manner. In fact, it was Ben Wittes who hosted the podcast with Steve Vladeck and Ryan Goodman that serves as the multi-media christening of Just Security.

Orin Kerr (who is also a must read at Volokh conspiracy), somewhat tongue in cheek, tweeted that the cage match war was on between Lawfare and Just Security. That was pretty funny actually, but Orin made a more serious point in his welcome post today, and a point that I think will greatly interest the readers of Emptywheel:

Whereas Lawfare tend to have a center or center-right ideological orientation, for the most part, Just Security‘s editorial board suggests that it will have a progressive/liberal/civil libertarian voice.

From my understanding, and my knowledge of the people involved, I believe that to be very much the case. And that is a very good thing for us here, and the greater discussion on so much of our work.

So, say hello to our new friends at Just Security, bookmark them and give them a read. Follow them on Twitter. You will be better informed for having done so.

Candidate Obama’s Tribute to “Courage and Patriotism” of Whistleblowers Disappears 2 Days after First Snowden Revelations

Sunlight Foundation discovers the Obama Administration has removed access to his 2008 campaign promises from the White House website. It suggests one of the promises Obama may want to hide has to do with his support for whistleblowers.

While front splash page for for Change.gov has linked to the main White House website for years, until recently, you could still continue on to see the materials and agenda laid out by the administration. This was a particularly helpful resource for those looking to compare Obama’s performance in office against his vision for reform, laid out in detail on Change.gov.

According to the Internet Archive, the last time that content (beyond the splash page) was available was June 8th – last month.

Why the change?

Here’s one possibility, from the administration’s ethics agenda:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

It may be that Obama’s description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability.

To be fair, Obama did extend whistleblower protection beyond that of the law last year — though he did it largely in secret.

Of course, that came at the same time as Obama rolled out an Insider Threat Detection system that seems designed to discourage anyone from speaking out … about anything.

And then there’s the issue of all the whistleblower prosecutions.

But if Obama did hide his campaign promises specifically to hide this tribute to the “courage and patriotism” of whistleblowers, then I find the timing particularly interesting. June 8 was just two days after the first Edward Snowden release (at a time, moreover, when the Guardian had reported only issues that went to lies James Clapper and Keith Alexander had told, making Snowden’s claim to be unable to go through regular channels quite credible).

Mind you, Obama could be hiding other promises. I still think promises about mortgages and homes are his biggest failure.

Hiding the 215 Index from Defendants, Too

Adam Liptak reviews one of the issues I laid out in this post and the ACLU first laid out here. The government is reneging on multiple promises made over the course of the Amnesty v. Clapper case — including to SCOTUS itself — to make sure defendants could challenge evidence collected under “the program” (then defined as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act).

But I’m particularly interested in Liptak’s focus on the government’s use of “derived from” here.

If the government wants to use information gathered under the surveillance program in a criminal prosecution, [Solicitor General Don Verrilli] said, the source of the information would have to be disclosed. The subjects of such surveillance, he continued, would have standing to challenge the program.

Mr. Verrilli said this pretty plainly at the argument and even more carefully in his briefs in the case.

In one brief, for example, he sought to refute the argument that a ruling in the government’s favor would immunize the surveillance program from constitutional challenges.

“That contention is misplaced,” he wrote. “Others may be able to establish standing even if respondents cannot. As respondents recognize, the government must provide advance notice of its intent to use information obtained or derived from” the surveillance authorized by the 2008 law “against a person in judicial or administrative proceedings and that person may challenge the underlying surveillance.” (Note the phrase “derived from.”)

In February, in a 5-to-4 decision that split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court accepted Mr. Verrilli’s assurances and ruled in his favor. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority in the case, Clapper v. Amnesty International, all but recited Mr. Verrilli’s representation.

“If the government intends to use or disclose information obtained or derived from” surveillance authorized by the 2008 law “in judicial or administrative proceedings, it must provide advance notice of its intent, and the affected person may challenge the lawfulness of the acquisition.” (Again, note the phrase “derived from.”)

What has happened since then in actual criminal prosecutions? The opposite of what Mr. Verrilli told the Supreme Court. [my emphasis]

It’s time to broaden the focus of this discussion, finally. It’s time to include both Section Section 215 collection (metadata) and 702 collection (content) in this discussion together.

As I have noted, the government has claimed these are “distinct issues” and that 215 metadata collection is not part of the 702 content creation.

But in an interview, Edward Snowden claims the metadata is used to identify and pull content.

In most cases, content isn’t as valuable as metadata because you can either re-fetch content based on the metadata or, if not, simply task all future communications of interest for permanent collection since the metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want.

And James Clapper described metadata as a kind of Dewey Decimal system that allows the government to pull selected conversations from its giant library of all conversations.

ANDREA MITCHELL: At the same time, when Americans woke up and learned because of these leaks that every single telephone call in this United States, as well as elsewhere, but every call made by these telephone companies that they collect is archived, the numbers, just the numbers, and the duration of these calls. People were astounded by that. They had no idea. They felt invaded.

JAMES CLAPPER: I understand that. But first let me say that I and everyone in the intelligence community all– who are also citizens, who also care very deeply about our– our privacy and civil liberties, I certainly do. So let me say that at the outset. I think a lot of what people are– are reading and seeing in the media is a lot of hyper– hyperbole.

A metaphor I think might be helpful for people to understand this is to think of a huge library with literally millions of volumes of books in it, an electronic library. Seventy percent of those books are on bookcases in the United States, meaning that the bulk of the of the world’s infrastructure, communications infrastructure is in the United States.

There are no limitations on the customers who can use this library. Many and millions of innocent people doing min– millions of innocent things use this library, but there are also nefarious people who use it. Terrorists, drug cartels, human traffickers, criminals also take advantage of the same technology. So the task for us in the interest of preserving security and preserving civil liberties and privacy is to be as precise as we possibly can be when we go in that library and look for the books that we need to open up and actually read.

You think of the li– and by the way, all these books are arranged randomly. They’re not arranged by subject or topic matter. And they’re constantly changing. And so when we go into this library, first we have to have a library card, the people that actually do this work.

Which connotes their training and certification and recertification. So when we pull out a book, based on its essentially is– electronic Dewey Decimal System, which is zeroes and ones, we have to be very precise about which book we’re picking out. And if it’s one that belongs to the– was put in there by an American citizen or a U.S. person.

We ha– we are under strict court supervision and have to get stricter– and have to get permission to actually– actually look at that. So the notion that we’re trolling through everyone’s emails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone’s phone calls is on its face absurd. We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to. And I assure you, we don’t want to.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Why do you need every telephone number? Why is it such a broad vacuum cleaner approach?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, you have to start someplace. If– and over the years that this program has operated, we have refined it and tried to– to make it ever more precise and more disciplined as to which– which things we take out of the library. But you have to be in the– in the– in the chamber in order to be able to pick and choose those things that we need in the interest of protecting the country and gleaning information on terrorists who are plotting to kill Americans, to destroy our economy, and destroy our way of life.

And according to William Arkin, the 215 metadata database, called MAINWAY, is considered a “signals navigation database.”

In other words, the 215 database is at least sometimes used as a roadmap to all the other collections the NSA gathers.

As I’ll show in a follow-up post, how that roadmap is used may go to the heart of the legitimacy of investigations into American.

I’m not entirely sure what discovery obligations the government thinks it has with this tool. But given that it’s a moment where the government claims to be exercising reasonable cause analysis (in secret) it sure ought to be disclosed.

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