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In Telling of Brennan Fit, Panetta Somehow Forgets the Torture Documents Stolen Back for the White House

As you likely know, I’m firmly of the belief that one should call DC memoirs — especially those written by National Security figures — autobiographical novels, because they tend to stray so far from the truth (that’s true of all autobiographies, but in DC it seems far more motivated). Turbo-Tax Timmy Geithner is about the only DC figure whose memoir has ever been treated with any of the skepticism it deserves.

With that in mind, I wanted to look at this detail from Leon Panetta’s book, which Katherine Hawkins alerted me to.

To illustrate how Obama’s micromanagement hurt relations with Congress, Panetta describes the negotiations with Dianne Feinstein over the cables that went into the torture report.

She requested access for her staff to every operational cable regarding the program, a database that had to be in the hundreds of thousands of documents. These were among the most sensitive documents the agency had. But Feinstein’s staff had the requisite clearances and we had no basis to refuse her. Still, I wanted to have some control over this material, so I proposed a deal: Instead of turning over the documents en masse to her staff, we would set up a secure room in Virginia. Her staff could come out to the secure facility and review documents one by one, and though they could take notes, the documents themselves would stay with CIA.

When the White House found out, they went apeshit, calling Panetta into the Situation Room for a spanking.

“The president wants to know who the fuck authorized this release to the committees,” Rahm said, slamming his hand down on the table. “I have a president with his hair on fire, and I want to know what the fuck you did to fuck this up so bad.”

I’d known Rahm a long time, and I was no stranger to his language or his temper, so I knew when to worry about an outburst and when it was mostly for show. On this occasion, my hunch was that Rahm wasn’t that perturbed but that Obama probably was and that others at the table, particularly Brennan and McDonough, were too. Rahm was sticking up for them by coming after me.

[snip]

It went back and forth like this for about fifteen minutes. Brennan and I even exchanged sharp words when I, unfairly, accused him of not sticking up for the agency in the debate over the interrogation memos. Finally, the White House team realized that whether they liked it or not, there was no way we could go back on our deal with the committee. And just like that, the whole matter was dropped.

Rahm and Brennan spanked Panetta, he claims, but then the whole thing blew over.

There are just three problems with this story.

First, according to the quotations Dianne Feinstein revealed from her agreement with Panetta, the CIA wasn’t supposed to “have … control over this material.”

Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”

Far more significantly, Panetta doesn’t mention the documents that disappeared during Panetta’s tenure — ostensibly, on orders from the White House.

In early 2010, the CIA was continuing to provide documents, and the committee staff was gaining familiarity with the information it had already received.

In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

And Panetta also doesn’t mention what may or may not be the same set of documents, those withheld by CIA on behalf of the White House, as described by Stephen Preston in response to Mark Udall.

With specific reference to documents potentially subject to a claim of executive privilege, as noted in the question, a small percentage of the total number of documents produced was set aside for further review. The Agency has deferred to the White House and has not been substantively involved in subsequent discussions about the disposition of those documents.

In other words, CIA didn’t live up to its deal with Feinstein, not with respect to this set of documents, anyway. After turning over all the cables it believed SSCI had a right to obtain, it then took some back. As far as we know, it never did provide them.

We know that one of the Torture Report’s conclusions is that the CIA lied to the White House.

While there’s good reason to believe CIA lied to Condi Rice, there’s also abundant reason to believe that Dick Cheney and David Addington knew precisely what was going on. If I had to guess, the documents CIA stole back probably make that clear.

Panetta would have us believe that, after his spanking by John Brennan and others, the whole matter was dropped. Which is a convenient tale, except that it obscures that the White House succeeded in clawing back documents CIA originally believed SSCI was entitled to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he advocates prosecuting every felony.

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

Alberto Gonzales and Internet Data Mining

I was going to leave this speculation well enough alone. But George W Bush decided to interrupt his dog painting to defend Obama’s surveillance dragnet.

Bush also defended the surveillance program, which began during his administration after 9/11, saying the programs guarantee civil liberties are protected.

“I put the program in place to protect the country and one of the certainties is civil liberties were guaranteed,” Bush said.

So here goes.

In his book, Jack Goldsmith describes Alberto Gonzales siding against David Addington in a debate just once, only to have George Bush override the then White House Counsel.

Addington’s hard-line nonaccommodation stance always prevailed when the lawyers met to discuss legal policy issues in Alberto Gonzales’ office. During these meetings, Gonzales himself would sit quietly in his wing chair, occasionally asking questions but mostly listening as the querulous Addington did battle with whomever was seeking to “go soft.” It was Gonzales’ responsibility to determine what to advise the president after the lawyers had kicked the legal policy matters around. But I only knew him to disagree with Addington once, on an issue I cannot discuss, and on that issue the president overruled Gonzales and sided with the Addington position. [my emphasis]

The issue Goldsmith could not discuss could be torture or prisoner transfers or something entirely unknown, but the data mining at the heart of the hospital confrontation is clearly one candidate.

There’s no overt evidence Gonzales tried to do the right thing on the illegal surveillance program. After all, even after Bush agreed to put the program right on March 12, 2004, Gonzales still objected to Goldsmith and Jim Comey’s first advice on the program. After Goldsmith laid out his initial advice on March 15, Gonzales wrote a memo saying,

Your memorandum appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of the President’s expectations regarding the conduct of the Department of Justice. While the President was, and remains, interested in any thoughts the Department of Justice may have on alternative ways to achieve effectively the goals of the activities authorized by the Presidential Authorization of March 11, 2004, the President has addressed definitively for the Executive Branch in the Presidential Authorization the interpretation of the law.

This led Comey to write up his resignation letter on March 16. “[A]lthough I believe this has been one of [DOJ’s] finest hours, we have been unable to right that wrong.” Three days later, Bush modified his March 11 Authorization, directing NSA to stop collecting Internet metadata within a week.

Of course, three months later, the Administration resumed collection of Internet metadata using the FISC PR/TT order. That was within days of Goldsmith’s departure, though he had announced his departure a month earlier and Comey, obviously, stuck around for over a year longer.

So still no evidence the Internet data mining was the issue on which Gonzales tried to stand up to Addington.

But let’s jump ahead to the circumstances of Alberto Gonzales’ resignation in August 2007. At the time, his sudden and confusing resignation was attributed to the multiple scandals embroiling him — chiefly the US Attorney firing scandal, but also Gonzales’ Clapper-like lies about the illegal wiretap program before the Senate a month earlier. But for some reason, Gonzales did not benefit from the kind of sinecure every other former Bush official — even James Comey, who went to Lockheed — enjoyed upon departure, which you would have thought he’d get after lying to protect the President.

Then, a year after Gonzales’ departure, we learned that in the weeks before he resigned, White House Counsel Fred Fielding had narced him out for storing a bunch of Top Secret CYA documents in a briefcase in his closet. Read more

The 14% Domestic Phone Content Collection under the Illegal Wiretap Program

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 7.04.51 AMThere’s something funny about the claims the NSC Draft IG Report makes.

On page 8, the report notes:

Domestic Collection. The wording of the first authorization could have been interpreted to allow domestic content collection where both communicants were located in the U.S. or were U.S. persons. General Hayden recalled that when the Counsel to the Vice President pointed this out, General Hayden told him that NSA would not collect domestic communications because 1) NSA was a foreign intelligence agency, 2) NSA infrastructure did not support domestic collection, and 3) his personal standard was so high that there would be no problem getting a FISC order for the domestic collection.

Starting in February 21, 2006, DOJ pushed to get a FISC order for PSP collection, in spite of NSA’s numerous reservations. As an interim solution, they changed the definition of “facility” from that of a specific number of email address “to encompass the gateway or cable head that foreign targets use for communications. Minimization and probable cause standards would then be applied.” After months of trying to finesse this, FISC signed two orders to accomplish this:

The Foreign Content Order

The Domestic Content Order

Remember, domestic content, to the NSA, is content in which both participants are in the US (though at this point NSA may have been distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens). And when they moved to a FISC order, they had a specific order for domestic content. And, as the chart on page 16 shows, 14% of the telephony content was domestic (it was only 2% for Internet, though its number for that collection, 19,000, sure looks awfully round).

Now, apparently, by 2007 when they went to a FISC order, there wasn’t that much domestic collection left.

The Domestic Content Order did not create a similar loss in collection [as the 73% loss on the Foreign Content side] because so few numbers were tasked at that time. It did, however, slow operations because of the documentation required, and it took considerably longer to task under the order than under the PSP. Over time, the scope of the Domestic Content Order gradually decreased to a single selector tasked for collection in January 2009. In January 2009, at NSA’s request, assumed responsibility for the Domestic Content Order and became the declarant before the FISC.

This says they still had these gateway facilities in place 17 months after PAA passed (and NSA likely dumped it off onto FBI at that point to clean up in anticipation of Obama taking over).

The original authorization might seem to authorize domestic collection. And when they shifted to FISC rather than Presidential authorization, it continued to include domestic collection, though not so much, apparently, as when the program started.

 

How David Addington Hid the Document Implicating George Bush in Illegal Wiretapping

On December 16 and December 20, 2005, respectively — just days after the NYT revealed its existence — EPIC and ACLU FOIAed DOJ for documents relating to George Bush’s (really, Dick Cheney’s) illegal wiretap program (National Security Archive also FOIAed, though more narrowly). Among other documents, they requested, “any presidential order(s) authorizing the NSA to engage in warrantless electronic surveillance.” Yet in spite of the fact that the ACLU was eventually able to get DOJ to cough up some of the OLC memos that provided a legal rationale for the program, no presidential order was ever turned over. I don’t believe (though could be mistaken) it was even disclosed in declarations submitted by Steven Bradbury in the suit.

There’s a very good (and, sadly, legal) reason for that. According to the 2009 NSC draft IG report the Guardian released yesterday, it’s not clear DOJ ever had the Authorization. The White House is exempt from FOIA, and it’s likely that NSA could have withheld the contents of the Director’s safe from any FOIA, which is where the hard copy of the Authorization was kept.

It’s worth looking more closely at how David Addington guarded the Authorization, because it provides a lesson in how a President can evade all accountability for unleashing vast powers against Americans, and how the National Security establishment will willingly participate in such a scheme without ensuring what they’re doing is really legal.

The IG report describes the initial Authorization this way:

On 4 October 2001, President George W. Bush issued a memorandum entitled “AUTHORIZATION FOR SPECIFIED ELECTRONIC ACTIVITIES DURING A LIMITED PERIOD TO DETECT AND PREVENT ACTS OF TERRORISM WITHIN THE UNITED STATES.” The memorandum was based on the President’s determination that after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, an extraordinary emergency existed for national defense purposes.

[snip]

The authorization specified that the NSA could acquire the content and associated metadata of telephony and Internet communications for which there was probable cause to believe that one of the communicants was in Afghanistan or that one communicant was engaged in or preparing for acts of international terrorism. In addition, NSA was authorized to acquire telephone and Internet metadata for communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States. NSA was allowed to retain, process, analyze and disseminate intelligence from the communications acquired under the authority.

And while the NSA IG report doesn’t say it, the Joint IG Report on the program (into which this NSA report was integrated) reveals these details:

Each of the Presidential Authorizations included a finding to the effect that an extraordinary emergency continued to exist, and that the circumstances “constitute an urgent and compelling governmental interest” justifying the activities being authorized without a court order.

Each Presidential authorization also included a requirement to maintain the secrecy of the activities carried out under the program.

David Addington’s illegal program

While the Joint report obscures all these details, the NSA IG report makes clear that Dick Cheney and David Addington were the braintrust behind the program.

The Counsel to the Vice President used [a description of SIGINT collection gaps provided by Michael Hayden] to draft the Presidential authorization that established the PSP.

Neither President Bush nor White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote this Authorization. David Addington did. Read more

Working Thread, NSA IG Report

This will be a working threat on the March 24, 2009 Draft NSA IG Report on PSP. Page numbers below are hardcopy pages.

P1: The Authorization on October 4 has never been mentioned in any FOIAs (there was an OLC memo that was).

P1: The track change suggests the author of this either didn’t know who got delegated the October 4, 2001 authority, or wasn’t sure what that person’s title stood for.

P2: The January 17, 2007 end date to this report, while legally mandated, seems convenient. Go back to check FOIA to see if it was jimmied in the legislative process.

P3: “The Counsel to the Vice President used this information to draft the Presidential authorization that established the PSP.” Welp, David Addington always did want to blow up FISA.

Read more

Remember How Angry Russia Is about Viktor Bout

As we await the next installment from Edward Snowden’s White Bronco chase around the globe, it’s worth remembering our attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and the Boston Marathon attack (and subsequent whitewashing about how closely Russia is cooperating) are not the only things underlying US-Russian relations.

Russia is still very angry about our assertion of jurisdiction to entrap Viktor Bout for selling arms to FARC.

Indeed, Preet Bharara is among the US officials that Russia sanctioned in retaliation for the Magnitsky list, along with such leading lights of American law as John Yoo and David Addington.

Jeralyn lays out Russian frustrations over our manufactured jurisdiction with two of their citizens here.

Bout’s story (background here)is even worse. He was the victim of a DEAsting in Thailand. The U.S. fought tooth and nail to extradite him and lost. The U.S. appealed (and likely pulled some strings, if the Wikileaks cables are any indication, and lo and behold, The higher court in Thailand approved his extradition. He spent a miserable two years at MCC in New York, was convicted and sentenced to 35 years which he is serving at theUSP in Marion, IL., one of our SuperMax prisons. The U.S. claims he’s a “Lord of War” and seller of arms. He never sold arms here. What’s it our business? Why have a prisoner transfer treaty if you aren’t going to use it? Did anyone ask the American taxpayers if they want to pay $40,000 a year times 30 years to warehouse Bout in a high security prison when Russia’s willing to take him?

You don’t have to like what Bout did (which is not much more destabilizing than what Erik Prince has done) to understand that when the US claims jurisdiction over anyone in the world, even if they do nothing to harm the US directly, is going to piss off other countries.

Eventually, those countries may have an opportunity to express their frustration about it.

Navy v. Egan, not Just Branzburg v. Hayes, Needs Fixed

Today, 340 new journalists will join the 10 or so who have been covering the Bradley Manning prosecution closely for the last several years; his trial starts today at Fort Meade.

Expect to see a bunch of essays on secrecy to mark the beginning of the trial.

This one, in which Steven Coll calls for the Supreme Court to revisit the Branzburg v. Hayes decision that established a spirit but not a law protecting press sources, has already generated a lot of attention.

In the long run, to rebalance the national-security state and to otherwise revitalize American democracy, the United States requires a Supreme Court willing to deepen protections for investigative reporters, as the majority in Branzburg would not.

Among some other minor factual inaccuracies (including what the AP UndieBomb 2.0 leak was originally about), it includes this claim.

[Obama’s] longest-serving advisers are disciplined and insular to a fault; press leaks offend their aesthetic of power.

While I agree Obama’s advisors are insular to a fault, and agree they revel in an aesthetic of power, they do not despise all press leaks. Even aside from the typical policy debate leaks of classified information, the White House has long reveled in “leaking” classified information to selected members of the press, to get the information out there on its own terms. The tactic is not new — it is precisely the A1 cut-out approach the Bush Administration used to get us into the Iraq War. But the Obama Administration may have expanded its use (that is actually the reason Republicans in Congress were demanding investigations of the leaks that followed the AP story, the ones that, unlike the AP, exposed our mole).

Which is why Coll proposes an inadequate solution to what I agree is the key problem.

Obama inherited a bloated national-security state. It contains far too many official secrets and far too many secret-keepers—more than a million people now hold top-secret clearances. Under a thirty-year-old executive order issued by the White House, the intelligence agencies must inform the Justice Department whenever they believe that classified information has been disclosed illegally to the press. These referrals operate on a kind of automatic pilot, and the system is unbalanced. Prosecutors in Justice’s national-security division initially decide on whether to make a criminal case or to defer to the First Amendment. The record shows that in recent years the division has been bent on action.

I’m not opposed to establishing clearer laws about when a journalist’s sources may be protected. But that can be used — as Dick Cheney tried to use it — as a screen for his exposure of Valerie Plame. Protecting journalists’ sources will not only protect real whistleblowers, but it will also protect the system of official leaks that both Bush and Obama have used to accrue power and avoid accountability.

So not only is fixing Branzburg v. Hayes not enough to fix our “unbalanced … bloated national security state,” it doesn’t get at the underlying problem

As a threshold measure, journalists should be calling for the limitation or repeal of the Espionage Act, which is the real stick Obama is using to cut down on unsanctioned leaks. It’s bad enough for whistleblowers to risk losing their clearance, and with it, a well-compensated livelihood. But as soon as you start talking extended prison sentences, as soon as you start accusing whistleblowers of being worse than an enemy’s spy because they shared damning information with the public generally, that’s going to silence unsanctioned leaks.

Just as importantly, this entire structure of abuse of power rests on a different SCOTUS decision, Navy v. Egan, which gives the Executive absolute control over security clearances (and therefore the less powerful leverage usually wielded against whistleblowers, the ability to strip their clearance), but which has been interpreted by Bush and Obama to give the Executive unfettered authority to determine what is secret and what is not. This decision — which is precisely what David Addington told Scooter Libby he could rely on to justify outing Plame on Cheney’s order — is also what the Obama Administration cited when it refused to litigate al-Haramain and in so doing granted the Bush Administration impunity for illegal wiretapping. The Executive’s claim to have unlimited authority to decide what is secret and not is also what prevents the Senate Intelligence Committee from declassifying the torture report on its own authority. It is also the basis for the authority to stall releasing video of US helicopters gunning down a Reuters team to Reuters under FOIA, which led to Manning leaking it to WikiLeaks himself.

The Obama and Bush Administrations have claimed that no one — not Congress, not the Courts — has the authority to review their arbitrary use of secrecy to accrue more power. That claim is an expansive reading of Navy v. Egan, but thus far not one anyone has challenged before SCOTUS. And that is what has enabled them (with the limited exception of the Plame outing) to avoid all consequences for their asymmetric use of leaks.

So, yes, it would be useful if SCOTUS decided that journalists and others engaging in legitimate investigation can protect sources, especially when investigating national security. But until the underlying system — the Executive’s claim that it can abuse secrecy to protect itself — is changed, secrecy will remain a cancer rotting our democracy.

America’s Human Rights Abusers: John Yoo, David Addington, and Bout’s Prosecution Team

In retaliation for the Magnitsky sanctions — in which the US placed sanctions on those deemed to have had a role in retaliating against Sergei Magnitsky’s whistleblowing — Russia just issued a list of 18 Americans who will be prohibited from traveling to Russia.

The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques; David Addington, the chief of staff for former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantánamo Bay detention center: retired Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson.

[snip]

Also on Russia’s list are 14 Americans whom Russia says violated the rights of Russians abroad. It does not give specifics of the alleged violations, but includes several current or former federal prosecutors in the case of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms merchant sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for selling weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group. One FBI agent and four U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents also are on the list.

In addition, there’s a closed list of Americans who are, according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, personally responsible for legalizing torture and indefinite detention. So maybe Dick Cheney is on that list.

I’m actually more interested Russia sanctioned Bout’s prosecutors than Yoo (it doesn’t take much creativity, after all, to call Yoo a human rights violator). After all, Bout only ever did the same kinds of things Erik Prince does for us, and our claim that we had jurisdiction over his sales stretched traditional jurisdiction beyond belief.

In any case, it sure seemed pretty easy for Russia to accuse us of violating human rights just like it does.

Appeals Court Treats Commissary Gatorade Supplies as a “Clear and Present Danger”

Navy v. Egan–the SCOTUS case Executive Branch officials always point to to claim unlimited powers over classification authority–just got bigger.

Berry v. Conyers extends the national security employment veto over commissary jobs

The original 1988 case pertained to Thomas Egan, who lost his job as a laborer at a naval base when he was denied a security clearance. He appealed his dismissal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which then had to determine whether it had authority to review the decision to fire him based on the security clearance denial. Ultimately, SCOTUS held that MSPB could not review the decision of the officer who first fired Egan.

The grant or denial of security clearance to a particular employee is a sensitive and inherently discretionary judgment call that is committed by law to the appropriate Executive Branch agency having the necessary expertise in protecting classified information. It is not reasonably possible for an outside, nonexpert body to review the substance of such a judgment, and such review cannot be presumed merely because the statute does not expressly preclude it.

Unlike Egan, the plaintiffs in this case did not have jobs that required they have access to classified information. Nevertheless, plaintiffs Rhonda Conyers (who was an accounting clerk whose “security threat” pertained to personal debt) and Devon Haughton Northover (who worked in a commissary and also charged discrimination) were suspended and demoted, respectively, when the government deemed them a security risk.

In a decision written by Evan Wallach and joined by Alan Lourie, the Federal Circuit held that the Egan precedent,

require[s] that courts refrain from second-guessing Executive Branch agencies’ national security determinations concerning eligibility of an individual to occupy a sensitive position, which may not necessarily involve access to classified information.

That is, the Federal government can fire you in the name of national security if you have a “sensitive” job, whether or not you actually have access to classified information.

As Timothy Dyk’s dissent notes, the effect of this ruling is to dramatically limit civil service protections for any position the government deems sensitive, both within DOD–where both Conyers and Northover work–and outside it.

Under the majority’s expansive holding, where an employee’s position is designated as a national security position, see 5 C.F.R. § 732.201(a), the Board lacks jurisdiction to review the underlying merits of any removal, suspension, demotion, or other adverse employment action covered by 5 U.S.C. § 7512.

[snip]

As OPM recognizes, under the rule adopted by the majority, “[t]he Board’s review . . . is limited to determining whether [the agency] followed necessary procedures . . . [and] the merits of the national security determinations are not subject to review.”

In doing so, the dissent continues, it would gut protection against whistleblower retaliation and discrimination.

As the Board points out, the principle adopted by the majority not only precludes review of the merits of adverse actions, it would also “preclude Board and judicial review of whistleblower retaliation and a whole host of other constitutional and statutory violations for federal employees subjected to otherwise appealable removals and other adverse actions.” Board Br. at 35. This effect is explicitly conceded by OPM, which agrees that the agency’s “liability for damages for alleged discrimination or retaliation” would not be subject to review. OPM Br. at 25. OPM’s concession is grounded in existing law since the majority expands Egan to cover all “national security” positions, and Egan has been held to foreclose whistleblower, discrimination, and other constitutional claims.

Tracking Gatorade supplies can now represent a “clear and present danger”

There are a couple of particularly troubling details about how Wallach came to his decision. In a footnote trying to sustain the claim that a commissary employee might be a national security threat, Wallach argues that Northover could represent a threat in the commissary by observing how much rehydration products and sunglasses service members were buying.

The Board goes too far by comparing a government position at a military base commissary to one in a “Seven Eleven across the street.”

[snip]

Commissary employees do not merely observe “[g]rocery store stock levels” or other-wise publicly observable information. Resp’ts’ Br. 20. In fact, commissary stock levels of a particular unclassified item – sunglasses, for example, with shatterproof lenses, or rehydration products – might well hint at deployment orders to a particular region for an identifiable unit. Read more