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.]

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

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.

Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

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.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

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.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

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.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

In Bid to Placate Legacy Media, DOJ Moves Closer to Instituting Official Press

The First Amendment was written, in part, to eliminate the kind of official press that parrots only the King’s sanctioned views. But with its revised “News Media Policies,” DOJ gets us closer to having just that, an official press.

That’s because all the changes laid out in the new policy (some of which are good, some of which are obviously flawed) apply only to “members of the news media.” They repeat over and over and over and over, “news media.” I’m not sure they once utter the word “journalist” or “reporter.” And according to DOJ’s Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, a whole slew of journalists are not included in their definition of “news media.”

DIOG does include online news in its definition of media (PDF 157).

“News media” includes persons and organizations that gather, report or publish news, whether through traditional means (e.g., newspapers, radio, magazines, news service) or the on-line or wireless equivalent. A “member of the media” is a person who gathers, reports, or publishes news through the news media.

But then it goes on to exclude bloggers from those included in the term “news media.”

The definition does not, however, include a person or entity who posts information or opinion on the Internet in blogs, chat rooms or social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, or MySpace, unless that person or entity falls within the definition of a member of the media or a news organization under the other provisions within this section (e.g., a national news reporter who posts on his/her personal blog).

Then it goes onto lay out what I will call the “WikiLeaks exception.”

As the term is used in the DIOG, “news media” is not intended to include persons and entities that simply make information available. Instead, it is intended to apply to a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the general public, uses editorial skills to turn raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience, as a journalism professional.

The definition does warn that if there is any doubt, the person should be treated as media. Nevertheless, the definition seems to exclude a whole bunch of people (including, probably, me), who are engaged in journalism.

The limitation of all these changes to the “news media” is most obvious when it treats the Privacy Protection Act — which should have prevented DOJ from treating James Rosen as a  suspect. They say,

The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (PPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa, generally prohibits the search or seizure of work product and documentary materials held by individuals who have a purpose to disseminate information to the public. The PPA, however, contains a number of exceptions to its general prohibition, including the “suspect exception” which applies when there is “probable cause to believe that the person possessing such materials has committed or is committing a criminal offense to which the materials relate,” including the “receipt, possession, or communication of information relating to the national defense, classified information, or restricted data “under enumerated provisions. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa(a)(1) and (b)(1). Under current Department policy, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General may authorize an application for a search warrant that is covered by the PPA, and no higher level reviews or approvals are required.

First, the Department will modify its policy concerning search warrants covered by the PPA involving members of the news media to provide that work product materials and other documents may be sought under the “suspect exception” of the PPA only when the member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities. Under the reviews policy, the Department would not seek search warrants under the PPA’s suspect exception if the sole purpose is the investigation of a person other than the member of the news media.

Second, the Department would revise current policy to elevate the current approval requirements and require the approval of the Attorney General for all search warrants and court orders issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) directed at members of the news media. [my emphasis]

The PPA, however, applies to all persons “reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”

Notwithstanding any other law, it shall be unlawful for a government officer or employee, in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce;

I’m clearly covered by the PPA. But the FBI could easily decide to exclude me from this “news media” protection so as to be able to snoop into my work product.

Congratulations to the “members of the news media” who have been deemed the President’s official press. I hope you use your privileges wisely.

Update: I’ve learned that the issue of whom this applied to did come up in background meetings at DOJ; in fact, DOJ raised the issue. The problem is, there is no credentialing system that could define who gets this protection and DOJ didn’t want to lay it out (and most of the people invited have never been anything but a member of the news media, making it hard for them to understand how to differentiate a journalist).

Ultimately, I think DOJ is so anxious for Congress to pass a shield law (which they say elsewhere in their report) because it’ll mean Congress will do the dirty work of defining who is and who is not a journalist.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Federal Court Strikes Down Obama DOJ’s State Secrets Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

caught up

Congratulations to the AP, which has caught up to the reporting I did a month ago on the way SOCOM purged their own systems of Osama bin Laden photos (and, apparently, records) and moved them to the CIA.

But it appears that this shell game involved more than just moving all these records to CIA. It appears CIA had to retroactively classify at least the photographs.

As you recall, Judicial Watch (as well as a bunch of other entities) had FOIAed any pictures of the raid. It its motion for summary judgment, JW made several complaints about the government’s FOIA response:

  • The search, particularly at DOD, was inadequate.
  • The government declarations didn’t adequately specify what was included in the pictures (I suspect this was done to hide trophy pictures not shown to Congress or, possibly, even the President).
  • The government declarations don’t prove that all the photos could cause exceptionally grave harm.
  • The description of the classification process was inadequate.

It is the last of these that is most interesting, given the apparent fact that DOD transfered all its photos to CIA (plus my suspicion that a lot of these are trophy photos, not official operational photos).

First, Defendants fail to identify who classified the records. Director Bennett testifies as to who generally has the authority to classify information as TOP SCERET and who generally has the authority to delegate such authority. Bennett Decl. at ¶¶ 14-15. In addition, Director Bennett states that the “Director of the CIA has delegated original TOP SECRET classification authority to me. As an original classification authority, I am authorized to conduct classification reviews and to make original classification decisions.” Id. at ¶ 18. Yet, Director Bennett does not testify that he personally classified the records. Nor does he state that any other authorized official actually classified the records.  If an individual without the proper authority classified the records, Defendants have not complied with the procedural requirements of EO 13526.

Second, Director Bennett does not specifically testify as to when the 52 records were classified. Director Bennett only states that as of September 26, 2011, the 52 records are currently and properly classified. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report Makes No Mention of One Illegal Practice

The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report released by the Guardian last week — and related reporting from Barton Gellman — seem to clarify and confirm what I’ve long maintained (12/19/057/29/07; 7/30/07): that one part of the illegal wiretap program that Jack Goldsmith and Jim Comey found “illegal” in 2004 was data-mining of Americans.

Eight days later on 19 March 2004, the President rescinded the authority to collect bulk Internet metadata and gave NSA one week to stop collection and block access to previously collected bulk Internet metadata. NSA did so on 26 March 2004. To close the resulting collection gap, DoJ and NSA immediately began efforts to recreate this authority in what became the PR/TT order.

Mind you, this bulk collection resumed after Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signed an order permitting NSA to collect the same data under a Pen Register/Trap & Trace order on July 14, 2004.

The FISC signed the first PR/TT order on 14 July 2004. ALthough NSA lost access to the bulk metadata from 26 March 2004 until the order was signed, the order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk Internet metadata that it had under the PSP, except that it specified the datalinks from which NSA could collect, and it limited the number of people that could access the data.

Indeed, we know the program was expanded again in 2007, to get 2 degrees of separation deep into US person Internet data. The Obama Administration claims it ended this in 2011, though there are also indications it simply got moved under a new shell.

Mystery solved, Scoob!

Not so fast.

It appears the bulk Internet metadata collection and mining is just one of two practices that Goldsmith and Comey forced Bush to at least temporarily halt in 2004. But the second one is not mentioned at all in the NSA IG Report.

I first noted that Bush made two modifications to the program in this post, where I noted that 6 pages (11-17) of Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 OLC opinion on the program described plural modifications made in March and one other month in 2004 (I correctly surmised that they had actually shifted parts of the program under parts of the PATRIOT Act, and that they had narrowed the scope somewhat, though over-optimistically didn’t realize that still included warrantless collection of known domestic content).

But there’s actually a far better authority than Goldsmith’s heavily redacted opinion that confirms Bush made two modifications to the program in this period.

Dick Cheney.

When his office disclosed to Patrick Leahy in 2007 what documents it had regarding authorizations for the illegal wiretap program, it listed two modifications to the program: the one on March 19 described in detail in the NSA IG Report, plus one on April 2.

[Cheney Counsel Shannen] Coffin’s letter indicates that Bush signed memos amending the program on March 19 and April 2 of that year.

But there’s no hint of a second modification in the NSA IG Report.

That could mean several things. It could mean the April 2 modification didn’t involve the NSA at all (and so might appear in a one of the other Agency IG Reports at the time — say, DNI — or might have been completed by an Agency, like some other part of DOD, that didn’t complete an IG Report). It could mean that part of the program was eliminated entirely on April 2, 2004. Or it could mean that in an effort to downplay illegality of the program, the IG simply didn’t want to talk about the worst prior practice eliminated in the wake of the hospital confrontation.

Goldsmith’s opinion does seem to indicate, however, that the modification pertained to an issue similar to the bulk metadata collection. He introduces that section, describing both modifications, by saying “it is necessary to understand some background concerning how the NSA accomplishes the collection activity authorized under” the program.

That may still pertain to the kind of data mining they were doing with the Internet metadata. After all, the fix of moving Internet metadata collection under the PR/TT order only eliminated the legal problem that the telecoms were basically permitting the government to steal Microsoft and Yahoo Internet content from their equipment. There still may have been a legal problem with the kind of data mining they were doing (perhaps arising out of Congress’ efforts in that year’s NDAA to prohibit funding for Total Information Awareness).

Whatever it is, one thing is clear. Even with the release of the unredacted Draft NSA IG Report, we still aren’t seeing all the details on what made the program so legally problematic.

Maybe it’s something the Senate Judiciary Committee might ask Jim Comey during his FBI Director confirmation hearing?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

What Happened to that Third Branch Oversight?

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is pissed.

After spending 2002 to 2006 as Chief Judge of the FISA Court struggling to keep parts of the American legal system walled off from a rogue surveillance program, she read the classified account the NSA’s Inspector General wrote of her efforts. And while that report does say Kollar-Kotelly was the only one who managed to sneak a peek at a Presidential Authorization authorizing the illegal program, she doesn’t believe it reflects the several efforts she made to reel in the program.

“In my view, that draft report contains major omissions, and some inaccuracies, regarding the actions I took as Presiding Judge of the FISC and my interactions with Executive Branch officials,” Kollar-Kotelly said in a statement to The Post.

[snip]

Kollar-Kotelly disputed the NSA report’s suggestion of a fairly high level of coordination between the court and the NSA and Justice in 2004 to re-create certain authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that created the court in response to abuses of domestic surveillance in the 1960s and 1970s.

“That is incorrect,” she said. “I participated in a process of adjudication, not ‘coordination’ with the executive branch. The discussions I had with executive branch officials were in most respects typical of how I and other district court judges entertain applications for criminal wiretaps under Title III, where issues are discussed ex parte.”

The WaPo story reporting on her objections makes no mention of the role one FISC law clerk — who got briefed into the program before any of the other FISC judges — played in this process, something I’m pretty curious about.

It does, however, recall two incidents where Kollar-Kotelly took measures to crack down on the illegal program, which Carol Leonnig reported back in 2006.

Both [Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor Royce Lamberth] expressed concern to senior officials that the president’s program, if ever made public and challenged in court, ran a significant risk of being declared unconstitutional, according to sources familiar with their actions. Yet the judges believed they did not have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order the eavesdropping, government sources said, and focused instead on protecting the integrity of the FISA process.

[snip]

In 2004, [DOJ Office of Intelligence Policy and Review Counsel James] Baker warned Kollar-Kotelly he had a problem with [a “federal screening system that the judges had insisted upon to shield the court from tainted information”]. He had concluded that the NSA was not providing him with a complete and updated list of the people it had monitored, so Justice could not definitively know — and could not alert the court — if it was seeking FISA warrants for people already spied on, government officials said.

Kollar-Kotelly complained to then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and her concerns led to a temporary suspension of the program. The judge required that high-level Justice officials certify the information was complete — or face possible perjury charges.

In 2005, Baker learned that at least one government application for a FISA warrant probably contained NSA information that was not made clear to the judges, the government officials said. Some administration officials explained to Kollar-Kotelly that a low-level Defense Department employee unfamiliar with court disclosure procedures had made a mistake.

Though the NSA IG Report mentions violations that occurred before 2003, it makes no mention of these violations.

What good is an IG Report that gives no idea of how often and persistent violations are?

That said, today’s WaPo story provides this as the solution to our distorted view of the FISA Court’s role in rubber-stamping this massive dragnet.

A former senior Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity, said he believes the government should consider releasing declassified summaries of relevant opinions.

“I think it would help” quell the “furor” raised by the recent disclosures, he said. “In this current environment, you may have to lean forward a little more in declassifying stuff than you otherwise would. You might be able to prepare reasonable summaries that would be helpful to the American people.”

Back in 2006, Leonnig noted that the judges didn’t believe they had the authority to intervene to stop the dragnet. So what good does a ruling — even two as broad and stunning as the ones that used Pen Registers and Business Records to collect the contact records of all Americans — do to depict the role the Court is in?

The Administration keeps pointing to this narrowly authorized court as real court review. But that’s not what it is. And until we have a better sense of how that manifested in the past (and continues to — I’ll bet you a quarter that they’ve moved the Internet data mining to some area outside of court purview), we’re not going to understand how to provide real oversight to this dragnet.

We’d be far better off having the FISC provide its own history of these surveillance programs.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.