Imagine a McCain Committee as the inheritor of the tradition of Frank Church and Otis Pike.
(Yes, I did that to make bmaz’ head explode.)
That seems to be what John McCain intends with his resolution calling for a Committee to Investigate the Dragnet. (h/t Steven Aftergood)
Only, McCain proposes to investigate not just whether NSA has engaged in things it was not authorized to do. But also to investigate Snowden’s leaks themselves and the potential role of contractors in making leaks more likely.
All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described:
(3) The nature and scope of National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, that were the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosure, including–
(A) the extent of domestic surveillance authorized by law;
(B) the legal authority that served as the basis for the National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of those disclosures;
(C) the extent to which such programs, operations, and activities that were the subject matter of such unauthorized disclosures may have gone beyond what was authorized by law or permitted under the Constitution of the United States;
(D) the extent and sufficiency of oversight of such programs, operations, and activities by Congress and the Executive Branch; and
(E) the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities.
There’s just one problem with McCain’s proposal.
Here’s the list of the people who would be on the Committee (he provides titles, I’m providing names):
Jello Jay Rockefeller
A Harry Reid pick
A Mitch McConnell pick
There are a number of very big NSA defenders on this list — in addition to DiFi and Saxby, both Jello Jay and Coburn are Intel Committee members who have never questioned the dragnet (indeed, Coburn has called for getting rid of the controls on the phone dragnet!). Chuck Grassley, too, has generally been supportive of the dragnet in SJC hearings on the subject. Most of the rest are simply not the caliber of people who might critically assess the dragnet much less show real interest in Americans’ privacy. Only Carl Levin and Pat Leahy, alone among the 12 named members, have been explicitly skeptical of the dragnet at all.
McCain proposes a Select Committee to investigate the dragnet. And he proposes to fill it with people who are really happy with the dragnet as it currently exists.
Update: Just to give a sense of how terrible this make-up for a Select Committee is, compare it with the bipartisan list of 26 Senators who asked James Clapper for more information on other uses of Section 215 last June. Just one Senator from that list — Pat Leahy — would be on McCain’s committee.
Let’s take the narrative the Federal Government wants to tell us about the Boston Marathon attack.
Both FBI and CIA got tips from Russia in early- and mid-2011 implicating Tamerlan Tsarnaev in extremism which FBI, which appropriately has jurisdiction, investigated and entered into the relevant databases accessible to Joint Terrorism Task Force partners.
Later that year, the government alleges (based on the word of a guy they killed immediately thereafter), Tamerlan and Ibragim Todashev — and possibly Tamerlan’s brother Dzhokhar — knifed three friends and associates to death on 9/11 while they waited for pizza from a place the brothers may have once worked; while several of the people on both sides of that killing were involved in selling drugs, the presumed motive for that killing (especially given the date) pertains to Islamic extremism, not a drug and money dispute, in spite of or perhaps because of the pot and money left at the scene. After the killing, Tamerlan disappeared from the scene in Cambridge and was never interviewed by the cops. Senate Intelligence Committee members allege Russia passed on another warning about Tamerlan after October 2011, though the FBI insists it kept asking for more information to no avail.
The next year, Tamerlan left for Russia and Chechnya and Dagestan, but the Homeland Security dragnet missed him because Aeroflot misspelled his name (an issue that contributed to their missing the UndieBomb, too; Russia’s original tip to the FBI had gotten his birthdate wrong). While in Russia, Tamerlan met a bunch of Chechen extremists, several of whom were killed shortly after he met them. Then, Tamerlan returned to Boston, and he and his brother made some bombs out of pressure cookers and fireworks in his Cambridge flat (testimony of their cab driver notwithstanding), and then set them off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 and maiming hundreds.
Two weeks after the attack, James Clapper tasked the Intelligence Community Inspector General, Charles McCullough, with investigating the attack to see if it could have been prevented (note, after the 2009 UndieBomb attack, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted such an investigation but I’ve heard no peep of them doing so here). Also involved in that investigation are DOJ, DHS, and CIA’s IG, but not NSA’s IG, in spite of the fact that the Russians, at least, reportedly intercepted international texts implicating Tamerlan in planning jihad (though there’s no reason to believe the non-US side of those texts — a family member of the brothers’ mother — would have been a known CT target). (Note that, even as McCullough has been conducting this investigation, which ultimately involves information that has been leaked to the press, James Clapper has him conducting investigations into unauthorized leaks — does anyone else see the huge conflict here???)
Back on September 19 (perhaps not coincidentally the day after Ibragim Todashev’s friend Ashurmamad Miraliev was arrested in FL and questioned for 6 hours without a lawyer), McCullough wrote Congress to tell them that because “information relevant to the review is still being provided to the review team,” the review would be indefinitely delayed.
According to the BoGlo, McCullough is offering a new excuse for further delay: the shutdown.
Officials said the shutdown has hampered various agencies’ ability to conduct interviews, undertake research, or pay support personnel who are responsible for reviewing the operations of the government’s terrorism databases before the Marathon attack and determining whether information on the bombing suspects was properly handled.
Last month congressional oversight communities were informed that while officials were “working diligently” to complete the review, the process of interviewing counter-terrorism officials and reviewing computer fileshad turned out to be more challenging than expected. McCullough, the intelligence community’s inspector general, said at the time that “information relevant to the review is still being provided to the review teams.”
A senior Senate staffer, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said briefings recently scheduled for intelligence officials to brief key congressional committees on the progress of the review were canceled.
So here we are over 6 months after the attack, and an inquiry purportedly reviewing whether our CT information sharing (led by the National Counterterrorism Center, which reports to Clapper, to whom McCullough also reports as a non-independent IG) did what it was supposed to, is still having trouble reviewing the actual databases (!?!?), ostensibly because they had to furlough the support people doing that rather than allow them to figure out how to fix problems to prevent the next terrorist attack. (Remember, James Clapper testified he had furloughed 70% of civilian IC staff, to the shock of Chuck Grassley and others.)
Perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps it is the case that in 6 months time, IC support personnel had not yet been able to access and assess the database counterterrorism professionals are expected to monitor and respond to almost instantaneously. If that is the case, it, by itself, ought to be huge news.
Or perhaps there’s something about the Waltham investigation that has made it newly embarrassing that warnings before and — if blathery Senators are to be believed — after the murders didn’t focus more attention on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The data is pretty meaningless. As I have shown, NSA’s own internal reporting shows about 9% (and up to 20% in some categories) of its violations are “due diligence” violations, which are violations of rules that an analyst knows (human error, intelligence error, and training are treated as distinct violations). If today’s hearing was any indication, the Senate Intelligence Committee seems to have no understanding that 9% of all violations are willful violations of rules.
All that said, of the 12 incidents the NSA reported (there are 3 incidents still under investigation), fully half appear to be committed by members of different agencies (though one of those was a military person reported to NSA). That’s a lot of other agency personnel abusing SIGINT authorities they’re granted access to.
And note, DOJ has never prosecuted any of these. In just about all cases where DOJ gets a referral, the person resigns before being charged. The UCMJ does better — DOD has punished two people.
The Hill reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee will get to read the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing the targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki tomorrow.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told The Hill that he and other members of the panel will be given access to the detailed Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos, which lay out the administration’s legal support for targeting U.S. citizens who are suspected of being terrorists, pose an “imminent threat” to U.S. national security and for whom capture is not an option.
On Tuesday Leahy said the administration was planning to make documents available for committee members to read on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s ranking member, is also planning to attend, according to his spokeswoman.
It appears that this will be one of those quickie reviews, where Senators are not allowed to share with lawyers who will conduct more in-depth analysis.
Also no word on whether the House Judiciary Committee will laso get to glimpse these memos.
They really don’t want people to really scrutinize these memos, I guess.
As Ryan Reilly demonstrated a few weeks ago, the Office of Legal Counsel refuses to release a list of all the memos they’ve written in the last four years.
In response to [a FOIA list for all OLC opinions written during the Obama Administration] the OLC sent a letter dated Feb. 20 and enclosed five mostly redacted lists from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and the first month-and-a-half of 2013.
What’s more interesting is what wasn’t included: The office stated that it was withholding, in full, 11 lists of classified OLC opinions. Because the length of each list is unknown, it’s unclear how many classified opinions the OLC has issued during the Obama administration.
On the unclassified side, the OLC issued 28 legal memos in 2009, 19 in 2010, 12 in 2011, 16 in 2012 and one so far in 2013, for a total of 76 unclassified opinions.
The titles of many OLC opinions were fully redacted in the lists provided, with a Justice Department official writing that the titles were “protected by the deliberative process, attorney-client, and/or attorney work-product privileges.” The names of the lawyers who wrote a number of opinions — including the memo on the president’s use of recess appointments during the Senate’s pro forma sessions — were also blacked out because their disclosure would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” the official wrote.
In a hearing on Sunshine week today, Patrick Leahy asked DOJ’s Office of Information Policy, Melanie Pustay whether they could get a list of all OLC opinions still in action. Pustay dodged the answer, saying it wasn’t her responsibility. Leahy complained that the Attorney General and President had previously dodged the responsibility themselves. He suggested he might subpoena the list, suggesting Chuck Grassley would be in support, too. Grassley not only endorsed Leahy’s inclusion of him in this subpoena threat, but he said ”We’ve been pussy-footing too long on this.”
Yes indeed. Time to stop pussy-footing on understanding what secret interpretations of laws the government has adopted.
I noted earlier that Eric Holder suggested that a law prohibiting the use of drones against non-combatant Americans in the US would be unconstitutional.
Grassley: Do you believe Congress has the Constitutional authority to pass a law prohibiting the President’s authority to use drone aircraft to use lethal force against Americans on US soil and if not, why not?
Holder: I’m not sure that such a bill would be constitutional. It might run contrary to the Article II powers that the President has.
That’s interesting background for a move Rand Paul tried at roughly hour 8 of his filibuster.
He proposed a non-binding resolution saying precisely what Grassley had laid out 10 hour earlier, voicing the position of the Senate to be opposed to the “use of drones to target Americans on American soil who pose no imminent threat.”
As I understand it, the resolution was independent from the Brennan nomination (so it would not disrupt that, aside from a vote).
But — as just one of two Democrats to show up during this filibuster (Ron Wyden showed up in support during the 3:00 hour) — Dick Durbin showed up to oppose Paul’s unanimous consent to call for that resolution.
Durbin promised his subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee would hold a hearing on drones. Nevertheless, he objected to Paul’s resolution. He suggested more Constitutional review of this simple measure was needed.
A leader of the Democratic party (and the President’s fellow Chicagoan) opposed a non-binding resolution prohibiting the use of drones in the US against non-combatants out of Constitutional concerns.
I’ve got a lot of theories why that might be. A belief this is all about making trouble for another nomination. insistence that nothing limit potential Article II claims.
But I keep thinking about the fact that there’s a wrongful death suit out there, with state secrets as the fallback claim crumbling with the public discussion.
As I lay out in this Salon post, Eric Holder told Chuck Grassley that Article II of the Constitution would make probably any attempt to limit the use of lethal force in the US unconstitutional.
Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Holder whether Congress could prohibit the targeted killing of Americans in America. “Do you believe Congress can pass a law prohibiting POTUS to use lethal force on U.S. soil?” he bluntly asked, explaining he meant the prohibition would apply only where a person did not present an imminent threat.
“I’m not sure that such a bill would be constitutional,” the attorney general responded. “It might run contrary to the Article II powers that the president has.” Article II is the section of the Constitution that lays out the president’s authority as commander in chief of the military.
Holder went on to embrace a view of the AUMF (as he has before) that ignores Congress’ refusal in 2001 to authorize the use of military force in the US.
Holder embraced a view of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force that completely ignores the legislative history of the law that authorized the war against al-Qaida. “We didn’t exempt the homeland in the AUMF did we?” Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked the attorney general, in a question setting up his support for presidential use of lethal force in the U.S. “No,” Holder replied, “I don’t think we did.”
The attorney general may believe Congress authorized the use of lethal force in the U.S. with the AUMF, but former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has made it clear that Congress refused to authorize military force in the U.S. “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote,” Daschle revealed in a 2005 Op-Ed that described the legislative process behind the AUMF, “the [George Bush] administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States’” into the authorization. Such a change, Daschle continued, “would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas — where we all understood he wanted authority to act — but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens.”
Back in 2001, Congress very specifically refused to authorize lethal force against Americans.
It has long been clear that the Administration believed — as John Yoo did — that nothing can limit their authority in the war against terror. But these were rather more blunt admission than normal.
With Bob Goodlatte’s — and several other members of the House Judiciary Committee — renewed requests on Wednesday for the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing the targeted killing of American citizens, we have reached a milestone.
Members of Congress have asked for the targeted killing memos more than 20 times. And with the exception of the 35 members of the intelligence committees getting a quick peek without staff assistance and (presumably) a more substantial review by members of the Gang of Eight, the Administration has blown off every single one of those 20 requests.
I’ve included the updated timeline below. In addition to the hard count, note two letters from Ted Poe and Trey Gowdy to Eric Holder that don’t specifically ask for the memo, but ask a lot of pretty good questions about drone and other targeted killings.
February 2011: Ron Wyden asks the Director of National Intelligence for the legal analysis behind the targeted killing program; the letter references “similar requests to other officials.” (1)
April 2011: Ron Wyden calls Eric Holder to ask for legal analysis on targeted killing. (2)
May 2011: DOJ responds to Wyden’s request, yet doesn’t answer key questions.
May 18-20, 2011: DOJ (including Office of Legislative Affairs) discusses “draft legal analysis regarding the application of domestic and international law to the use of lethal force in a foreign country against U.S. citizens” (this may be the DOJ response to Ron Wyden).
October 5, 2011: Chuck Grassley sends Eric Holder a letter requesting the OLC memo by October 27, 2011. (3)
November 8, 2011: Pat Leahy complains about past Administration refusal to share targeted killing OLC memo. Administration drafts white paper, but does not share with Congress yet. (4)
February 8, 2012: Ron Wyden follows up on his earlier requests for information on the targeted killing memo with Eric Holder. (5)
March 7, 2012: Tom Graves (R-GA) asks Robert Mueller whether Eric Holder’s criteria for the targeted killing of Americans applies in the US; Mueller replies he’d have to ask DOJ. Per his office today, DOJ has not yet provided Graves with an answer. (6)
March 8, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ appropriations hearing.(7)
June 7, 2012: After Jerry Nadler requests the memo, Eric Holder commits to providing the House Judiciary a briefing–but not the OLC memo–within a month. (8)
June 12, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ oversight hearing. (9)
June 22, 2012: DOJ provides Intelligence and Judiciary Committees with white paper dated November 8, 2011.
June 27, 2012: In Questions for the Record following a June 7 hearing, Jerry Nadler notes that DOJ has sought dismissal of court challenges to targeted killing by claiming “the appropriate check on executive branch conduct here is the Congress and that information is being shared with Congress to make that check a meaningful one,” but “we have yet to get any response” to “several requests” for the OLC memo authorizing targeted killing. He also renews his request for the briefing Holder had promised. (10)
July 19, 2012: Both Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley complain about past unanswered requests for OLC memo. (Grassley prepared an amendment as well, but withdrew it in favor of Cornyn’s.) Leahy (but not Grassley) votes to table John Cornyn amendment to require Administration to release the memo.
July 24, 2012: SSCI passes Intelligence Authorization that requires DOJ to make all post-9/11 OLC memos available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, albeit with two big loopholes.
December 4, 2012: Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, and Bobby Scott ask for finalized white paper, all opinions on broader drone program (or at least a briefing), including signature strikes, an update on the drone rule book, and public release of the white paper.
December 19, 2012: Ted Poe and Tredy Gowdy send Eric Holder a letter asking specific questions about targeted killing (not limited to the killing of an American), including “Where is the legal authority for the President (or US intelligence agencies acting under his direction) to target and kill a US citizen abroad?”
January 14, 2013: Wyden writes John Brennan letter in anticipation of his confirmation hearing, renewing his request for targeted killing memos. (11)
January 25, 2013: Rand Paul asks John Brennan if he’ll release past and future OLC memos on targeting Americans. (12)
February 4, 2013: 11 Senators ask for any and all memos authorizing the killing of American citizens, hinting at filibuster of national security nominees. (13)
February 7, 2013: In John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden reveal there are still outstanding memos pertaining to killing Americans, and renew their demand for those memos. (15)
February 8, 2013: Poe and Gowdy follow up on their December 19 letter, adding several questions, particularly regarding what “informed, high level” officials make determinations on targeted killing criteria.
February 12, 2013: Rand Paul sends second letter asking not just about white paper standards, but also about how National Security Act, Posse Commitatus, and Insurrection Acts would limit targeting Americans within the US.
February 13, 2013: In statement on targeted killings oversight, DiFi describes writing 3 previous letters to the Administration asking for targeted killing memos. (17, 18, 19)
February 20, 2013: Paul sends third letter, repeating his question about whether the President can have American killed inside the US.
February 27, 2013: At hearing on targeted killing of Americans, HJC Chair Bob Goodlatte — and several other members of the Committee — renews request for OLC memos. (20)
But the NYT’s report last night that President Obama was going to capitulate to the Benghazi truthers rather than turn over memos revealing who and where he has been killing people — as well as all the secondary reporting on it — has made this claim.
Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos. [my emphasis]
On February 4, Susan Collins was among the 11 Senators who signed a letter asking for “any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.”
Perhaps Collins has been satisfied with the brief glimpse at the two memos it shared with the Committee back on February 7. Perhaps she — the Senator on the Intelligence Committee who asked the best questions about targeted killing efficacy — is not all that interested in the other memos the Administration is hiding, presumably along with uses of targeted killing she isn’t being briefed on. Perhaps she no longer supports the hinted hold-up for national security nominees.
But even on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the call for the targeted killing memos was a bipartisan affair (among those not on the committee, Mike Lee and Chuck Grassley also signed the letter, and Rand Paul sent his own demand for the memos). Heck, once upon a time, John Cornyn wanted to legislatively demand the memos.
Demanding that the President reveal what kind of targeted killing programs it supports is no hippie fetish. It is something that members of both parties have supported.
I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.
September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.
September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.
November 3,2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.
Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.
June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.
July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.
July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.
October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.
October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.
October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.
November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.
December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.
December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.
January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks as if Awlaki, whom he refers to as a cleric, not an AQAP member, was a designated target of December 24 attack.