Eric Holder has attracted a bit of attention for lecturing the Europeans that they should engage in
entrapment stings like our FBI, specifically to prevent Europeans from going to fight in Syria.
The second part of our comprehensive strategy looks to ensure that we have in place law enforcement investigative tools and techniques that are both effective and protective of individual rights and the rule of law. In this regard, we have found undercover operations – which the Federal Bureau of Investigation pioneered in fighting transnational organized crime – to be essential in fighting terrorism as well. In the United States, the FBI has already conducted undercover operations that have identified individuals with intentions to travel to Syria. These operations are conducted with extraordinary care and precision, ensuring that law enforcement officials are accountable for the steps they take – and that suspects are neither entrapped nor denied legal protections. Here, too, the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Rabat Memorandum calls for such techniques to be applied in countries around the world: one of the “good practices” it advocates is that countries “Provide a Legal Framework and Practical Measures for Undercover Investigations of Terrorist Suspects or Organizations
Even more noteworthy, in my opinion, is his claim that the fourth part of our strategy to prevent Syria from becoming a training ground for terrorists is preventing radicalization in the first place.
The fourth and final element of our strategy is founded on the notion that strong laws, effective investigative tools, and robust information-sharing must be matched with public engagement – and extensive community outreach. We must seek to stop individuals from becoming radicalized in the first place by putting in place strong programs to counter violent extremism in its earliest stages. In my time here in Norway, I have had the chance to learn about – and have been deeply impressed by – Norway’s Action Plan Against Radicalization and Violent Extremism.
Indeed, I have found it critical to engage in international exchanges with my counterparts regarding how we can do better on combating radicalization, and to learn from each other. I will take home with me important lessons from Norway’s experience. These lessons will help us implement our own National Strategy and Strategic Implementation Plan, which is led by the Justice Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center.
Our approach depends on building mutual trust and respect with members of communities across the country – so that we can understand their needs and concerns and to foster open dialogue with community leaders and citizens. This enables us to work with them to mitigate tensions and identify emerging threats.
At the heart of these engagement efforts in the United States are our United States Attorneys, the chief federal prosecutors in each of the jurisdictions they serve. Since 2012, our U.S. Attorneys have held or attended more than 1,700 engagement-related events. And the resulting relationships have not only served to build trust. They have also produced valuable cooperation, in some cases spurring community members to alert law enforcement about individuals who show an inclination to turn to violence.
Remember, when Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s father called the FBI for help because his son was embracing extremism, the FBI used that as the predicate to entrap him.
I mean, it’d be nice if, when the national security establishment found a young man talking trash in jihadist forums, they’d find him a healthier outlet. But right now, they instead throw undercover officers at the guys, bearing inert bombs.
Let’s hope the Europeans do teach us how to change that.
In the wake of yesterday’s PCLOB Report, Presidential Review Board Member Geoffrey Stone reminded that Obama’s hand-picked group recommended requiring warrants before accessing US person data collected via Section 702.
In effect, the Review Group recommended that backdoor searches for communications involving American citizens should be prohibited unless the government has probable cause and a warrant. This is essentially what the recently enacted House amendment endorsed.
The Review Group concluded that the situation under section 702 is distinguishable from the situation when the government lawfully intercepts a communication when it has probable cause and a warrant. This is so because, in the section 702 situation, the government is not required to have either probable cause or a warrant to intercept the communication. Because section 702 was not intended to enable the government to intercept the communications of American citizens, because our recommended reform would leave the government free to use section 702 to obtain the types of information it was designed and intended to acquire—the communications of non-U.S. citizens, and because the recommended reform would substantially reduce the temptation the government might otherwise have to use section 702 impermissibly in an effort intentionally to intercept the communications of American citizens, we concluded that this reform was both wise and essential.
But there’s a forgotten detail from ancient history of greater interest. Even the President ordered up changes for back door searches in criminal contexts.
Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.
Yet in spite of the fact the President asked the Attorney General and DNI to place additional restrictions on the government’s ability to keep, search, and use Section 702 collected information in criminal cases, here’s what we learned yesterday.
[A]lthough a communication must be “destroyed upon recognition” when an NSA analyst recognizes that it involves a U.S. person and determines that it clearly is not relevant to foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime,531 in reality this rarely happens. Nor does such purging occur at the FBI or CIA: although their minimization procedures contain age-off requirements, those procedures do not require the purging of communications upon recognition that they involve U.S. persons but contain no foreign intelligence information.
FBI requires that metadata queries, like content queries, be reasonably designed to return foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime. As noted above, however, the FBI does not separately track which of its queries involve U.S. person identifiers, and so the number of such metadata queries is not known.
As illustrated above, rules and oversight mechanisms are in place to prevent U.S. person queries from being abused for reasons other than searching for foreign intelligence or, in the FBI’s case, for evidence of a crime. In pursuit of the agencies’ legitimate missions, however, government analysts may use queries to digitally compile the entire body of communications that have been incidentally collected under Section 702 that involve a particular U.S. person’s email address, telephone number, or other identifier, with the exception that Internet communications acquired through upstream collection may not be queried using U.S. person identifiers.540 In addition, the manner in which the FBI is employing U.S. person queries, while subject to genuine efforts at executive branch oversight, is difficult to evaluate, as is the CIA’s use of metadata queries.
And the best estimate we’ve been given for how many of these FBI queries take places is a “substantial” amount.
It has been 6 months since the President ordered changes. And the FBI still can’t even count its US person queries, much less quantify them. PCLOB calls it “difficult to evaluate.”
Um, did James Clapper and Eric Holder just blow off the President’s order in January? Because it sure looks like FBI’s back door searches remain a relatively unregulated mess.
As many people have reported, SCOTUS today declined to take Jim Risen’s appeal of the Fourth Circuit’s decision requiring him to testify in Jeff Sterling’s trial. As I noted at the time of the decision, this effectively guts any reporter’s privilege in the circuit that matters: the Fourth Circuit governs the CIA and JSOC.
Now, Risen’s team is calling on DOJ to uphold Eric Holder’s promise of last week, that no journalist engaged in journalism will be prosecuted on his watch.
“As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail. As long as I’m attorney general, someone who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted.”
As Kevin Gosztola has noted on Twitter, however, there’s a difference between prosecution and jailing under contempt. So that promise is likely meaningless.
And not only does that put Holder where he wants to be: with the courts on his side, exercising the discretion to jail a journalist or not as he can convince the court.
Furthermore, consider how it creates pressure for Chuck Schumer’s (Administration-backed) badly flawed press shield bill. The bill wouldn’t cover me. It wouldn’t cover Glenn Greenwald. And it would leave James Risen precisely where he is now, subject to a judges ruling on the significance of the information he has.
There was already a lot of support for this bill. But now that the Executive Branch has gained all the leverage where it matters, I imagine there’ll be a greater push to Do Something — even if that just codifies an official press that gets privilege.
On the same day NYT’s Adam Liptak reported this decision, he also did a profile of SCOTUSBlog’s Thomas Goldstein, who — because he doesn’t fit the official model of journalist, in spite of the number of people who rely on his journalism — still can’t get press SCOTUS press credentials. In spite of near universal acknowledgment of the important role SCOTUSBlog plays, the traditional press hasn’t budged, which has helped SCOTUS punt on the issue too.
The closer the press gets to official sanction, the worse the reporting we’ll get.
As I noted in my last post, DOJ’s Inspector General recently created a page showing their ongoing investigations. It shows some things not described in Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ last report to Congress.
Of particular interest is this investigation.
The OIG is examining the DEA’s use of administrative subpoenas to obtain broad collections of data or information. The review will address the legal authority for the acquisition or use of these data collections; the existence and effectiveness of any policies and procedural safeguards established with respect to the collection, use, and retention of the data; the creation, dissemination, and usefulness of any products generated from the data; and the use of “parallel construction” or other techniques to protect the confidentiality of these programs.
The description doesn’t say it, but this is Hemisphere, the program under which DEA submits administrative subpoenas to AT&T for phone records from any carrier that uses AT&T’s backbone. DEA gets information matching burner phones as well as the call records. In addition, it gets some geolocation — and continued to increase what it was getting even after US v Jones raised concerns about such tracking.
The presentation on Hemisphere makes it very clear the government uses “parallel construction” to hide Hemisphere.
Protecting the Program: When a complete set of CDRs are subpoenaed from the carrier, then all memorialized references to relevant and pertinent calls can be attributed to the carrier’s records, thus “walling off” the information obtained from Hemisphere. In other words, Hemisphere can easily be protected if it is used as a pointed system to uncover relevant numbers.
Exigent Circumstances — Protecting the Program: In special cases, we realize that it might not be possible to obtain subpoenaed phone records that will “wall off” Hemisphere. In these special circumstances, the Hemisphere analyst should be contacted immediately. The analyst will work with the investigator and request a separate subpoena to AT&T.
Official Reporting — Protecting the Program: All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document. If there is no alternative to referencing a Hemisphere request, then the results should be referenced as information obtained from an AT&T subpoena.
And this is not the only area where DEA Is using parallel construction to hide where it gets its investigative leads. Reuters reported in August that DEA also uses parallel construction to hide the leads it gets from purportedly national security-related wiretapping.
A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”
A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned.
Presuming that Horowitz is investigating whether DEA’s extensive use of parallel construction complies with the Constitution (and not, as is possible, whether the sources of this information are being adequately buried), this is welcome news indeed.
But it’s also one of several reasons why I’m particularly alarmed, in retrospect, that Horowitz is complaining about his ability to get grand jury information without having to get either Attorney General Holder or Deputy Attorney General James Cole to personally approve it.
After all, the only way you can learn what truly happens in prosecutions that have used parallel construction to hide their sources is to work backward from the actual prosecution. Continue reading
I’m about to do a series of posts on several investigations of DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz.
Before I do that, however, I want to call attention to Horowitz’ recent complaints — most notably at a Senate Appropriations Hearing on April 3 — about limits on his ability to get grand jury information.
In the exchange above, Senator Richard Shelby asked Horowitz about the problem.
Shelby: Do you believe that you, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, should have to seek approval of the Attorney General to access grand jury documents or any documents relevant to ongoing investigations?
Horowitz: I don’t, Senator. It’s inconsistent in my view with the–
Shelby: With your mandate, is it?
Shelby: Because even though it’s the Justice Department, but it could be any department, if you have to go to the head of the department — the Secretary — for example, cabinet level position to approve what you’re seeking, it seems that could be, under dire circumstances, an impediment to doing your job.
Horowitz: Well, and ultimately, that’s correct, and ultimately, the letters that we’ve gotten from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General giving us access have focused on finding that the review was important to their oversight of the department. The Act sets it up such a way that oversight decisions should be made by Inspectors General not by the Secretaries or cabinet heads.
Horowitz had described the problem in his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee as well (and he mentioned Fast & Furious, to be sure to get Republicans to take notice).
However, there have been occasions when our office has had issues arise with timely access to certain records due to the Department’s view that access was limited by other laws. For example, issues arose in the course of our review of Operation Fast and Furious regarding access to grand jury and wiretap information that was directly relevant to our review. Similar issues arose during our ongoing review of the Department’s use of Material Witness Warrants. Ultimately, in each instance, the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General provided the OIG with permission to receive the materials because they concluded that the two reviews were of assistance to them. The Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General have also made it clear that they will continue to provide the OIG with the necessary authorizations to enable us to obtain records in future reviews, which we of course appreciate. However, requiring an Inspector General to rely on permission from Department leadership in order to review critical documents in the Department’s possession impairs the Inspector General’s independence and conflicts with the core principles of the Inspector General Act.
We have had similar issues raised regarding our access to some other categories of documents.
And the issue came up when Holder testified to the House Judiciary Committee the following week (as I said, mentioning Fast & Furious is like catnip for Republicans).
Horowitz sure seems intent on drawing immediate attention to this issue, which I agree is pretty significant.
As I will show, Horowitz is currently conducting at least two investigations that will or already do require fairly broad access to grand jury investigations. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two things were connected.
As I noted in this post, the declaration submitted in EFF’s FOIA for Section 215 by ODNI’s Jennifer Hudson is remarkably revealing. I’m particularly intrigued by these comments about the financial dragnet order released on March 28.
A FISC Supplemental Order in BR 10-82, dated November 23, 2010 and consisting of two pages, has been withheld in part to protect certain classified and law enforcement sensitive information. The case underlying BR 10-82 is an FBI counterterrorism investigation of a specific target. That investigation is still pending. Here, in the course of a pending counterterrorism investigation, the FBI sought authorization under the FISA to obtain financial records, under the FISA’s business records provision, pertaining to the target of the investigation and in fact obtained such authorization.
Here, in the course of a pending counterterrorism investigation, the FBI sought authorization under the FISA to obtain certain financial records. The FISC Supplemental Order, which was issued in relation to its authorization for such collection, was thus compiled for law enforcement purposes, in furtherance of a national security investigation within the FBI’s authorized law enforcement duties.
Here, the FBI has determined that the release of the final paragraph of the order, which describes certain requirements reflecting the FBI’s particular implementation of the authority granted by the FISC, could reasonably be expected to adversely impact the pending investigation and any resulting prosecutions. Release of this paragraph would reveal the specific and unique implementation requirements imposed on the FBI under this FISA-authorized collection during a particular time period. It is unclear what and how much the target might already know about the FBI’s investigation. However, as more fully explained in my classified ex parte, in camera declaration, there is reason to believe that the target or others knowledgeable about the nature and timing of the investigation could piece together this information, the docket number, the dates of the collection, and other information which has already been released or deduced to assemble a picture that would reveal to the target that the target was the subject of a particular type of intelligence collection during a specific time period, and by extension, that the target’s associates during that period may have been subject to similar intelligence collections. This could lead the target to deduce the scope, focus, and direction of the FBI’s investigative efforts, and potentially any gaps in the collections, from which the target could deduce times when the target’s activities were “safe.” [my emphasis]
The bolded section says that certain people — the target, but also “others knowledgeable about the nature and timing of the investigation” — could put the financial dragnet request together with other information released or deduced to figure out that the target and his associates had had their financial data collected.
Gosh, that’s like waving a flag at anyone who might be “knowledgeable about the nature of the investigation.”
What counterterrorism investigation has generated sufficient attention such that not only the target, but outsiders, would recognize this order pertains the investigation in question? The investigation would be:
The CIA & etc. Money Order Orders
One obvious possibility is the generalized CIA investigation into Western Union and international money transfers reported by WSJ and NYT last year. While both stories said the CIA got these orders, I suggested it likely that FBI submitted the orders and disseminated the information as broadly as FBI’s information sharing rules allowed, not least because CIA has no analytical advantage on such orders, as NSA would have for the phone dragnet.
There are two reasons this is unlikely. First, there’s the timing. The WSJ version of the story, at least, suggested this had been going on some time, before 2010. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to believe a new order in 2010 reviewed this issue. And while I don’t think the 2010 order necessarily indicates the first financial 215 order (after all, it took 2.5 years before FISC weighed the equivalent question in the phone dragnet), it is unlikely that this order comes from an existing program.
That’s true, too, because this seems to be tied to a specific investigation, rather than the enterprise counterterrorism investigation that underlies the phone dragnet (and presumably the CIA program). So while this practice generated enough attention to be the investigation, I doubt it is.
The Scary Car Broker Plot
Then there’s what I call the Scary Car Broker Plot, which I wrote about here. Basically, it’s a giant investigation into drug trafficking from Colombia through Western Africa that contributes some money to Hezbollah and therefore has been treated as a terror terror terror investigation when in reality it is a drug investigation. Treasury named Ayman Joumaa, the ultimate target of that investigation, a Specially Designated Trafficker in February 2011, so presumably the investigation was very active in November 2010, when FISC issued the order. The case’s domestic component involves the car broker businesses of a slew of (probably completely innocent) Lebanese-Americans, who did business with the larger network via wire transfers.
The Car Buyers also received wire transfers for the purpose of buying and shipping used cars from other account holders at the Lebanese Banks (“Additional Transferors”), including the OFAC-designated Phenicia Shipping (Offshore); Ali Salhab and Yasmin Shipping & Trading; Fadi Star and its owners, Mohammad Hammoud and Fadi Hammoudi Fakih for General Trade, Khodor Fakih, and Ali Fakih; and Youssef Nehme.
Perhaps most interesting, the government got at these businessmen by suing them, rather than charging them, which raised significant Fifth Amendment Issues. So between that tactic and Joumaa’s rather celebrated status, I believe this is a possible case. And the timing — from 2007 until 2011, when Joumaa got listed — would certainly make sense.
All that said, this aspect of the investigation was made public in the suit naming the car brokers, so FBI would be hard-pressed to claim that providing more details would compromise the investigation.
HSBC’s Material Support for Terrorism
Then there’s a very enticing possibility: that this is an investigation into HSBC for its material support for terrorism, in the form of providing cash dollars to the al Rajhi bank which went on to support terrorist attacks (including 9/11).
HSBC’s wrist slap for money laundering is one of the most noted legal atrocities in recent memory, but most people focus on the bank’s role laundering money for drug cartels. Yet as I’ve always emphasized, HSBC also played a key role in providing money to al Qaeda-related terrorists.
As the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ report made clear, HSBC’s material support for terror continued until 2010.
After the 9-11 terrorist attack in 2001, evidence began to emerge that Al Rajhi Bank and some of its owners had links to financing organizations associated with terrorism, including evidence that the bank’s key founder was an early financial benefactor of al Qaeda. In 2005, HSBC announced internally that its affiliates should sever ties with Al Rajhi Bank, but then reversed itself four months later, leaving the decision up to each affiliate. HSBC Middle East, among other HSBC affiliates, continued to do business with the bank.
Due to terrorist financing concerns, HBUS closed the correspondent banking and banknotes accounts it had provided to Al Rajhi Bank. For nearly two years, HBUS Compliance personnel resisted pressure from HSBC personnel in the Middle East and United States to resume business ties with Al Rajhi Bank. In December 2006, however, after Al Rajhi Bank threatened to pull all of its business from HSBC unless it regained access to HBUS’ U.S. banknotes program, HBUS agreed to resume supplying Al Rajhi Bank with shipments of U.S. dollars. Despite ongoing troubling information, HBUS provided nearly $1 billion in U.S. dollars to Al Rajhi Bank until 2010, when HSBC decided, on a global basis, to exit the U.S. banknotes business. HBUS also supplied U.S. dollars to two other banks, Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd. and Social Islami Bank, despite evidence of links to terrorist financing. Each of these specific cases shows how a global bank can pressure its U.S. affiliate to provide banks in countries at high risk of terrorist financing with access to U.S. dollars and the U.S. financial system. [my emphasis]
Now, the timing may match up here, and I’d really love for a bankster to be busted for supporting terrorism. Plus, an ongoing investigation into this part of HSBC’s crimes might explain why Lanny Breuer said nothing about it when he announced the settlement with HSBC. But I doubt this is the investigation. That’s because former Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey moved to HSBC after this point in time, in large part in a thus-far futile attempt to try to clean up the bank. And I can’t imagine a lawyer could ethically take on this role while (presumably) knowing about such seizures. Moreover, as the PSI report made clear, there are abundant other ways to get at the kind of data at issue in the HSBC investigation without Section 215 orders.
Who am I kidding? This DOJ won’t ever really investigate a bank!
WikiLeaks the Aider of Al Qaeda
I realize these three possibilities do not exhaust the list of sufficiently significant and sufficiently old terrorism investigations that might be the target named in the order. So I’m happy to hear other possibilities.
But there is one other investigation that is a near perfect fit for almost all the description provided by Hudson: WikiLeaks.
As I’ve reported, EPIC sued to enforce a FOIA for records the FBI has on investigations into WikiLeaks supporters. The FOIA asked for and FBI did not deny having, among other things, financial records.
All records of any agency communications with financial services companies including, but not limited to Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal, regarding lists of individuals who have demonstrated, through monetary donations or other means, support or interest in WikiLeaks.
In addition to withholding information that they apparently have because of an ongoing investigation (though the Judge has required the government to confirm it is still ongoing by April 25), the government also claimed exemption under a statute that they bizarrely refused to name. I speculated four months before Edward Snowden’s leaks that that statute was Section 215.
And the timing on this investigation is a perfect fit. On November 3, 2010, Joint Terrorism Task Force Officer Darin Louck seized David House’s computer as he came across the border from Mexico. While House refused to give the government his encryption passwords, the seizure makes it clear FBI was targeting WikiLeaks supporters. Then, according Alexa O’Brien, on November 21, 2010, a report on the upcoming Cablegate release was included in President Obama’s Daily Brief. The government spent the weeks leading up to the first releases in Cablegate on November 28, 2010 scrambling to understand what might be in them. On December 4, PayPal started refusing donations to WikiLeaks. And on December 6, Eric Holder stated publicly he had authorized extraordinary investigative measures “just last week.”
Nor would he say whether the actions involved search warrants, requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes wiretaps or other means, describing them only as “significant.”
“I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can, hopefully, get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable as they should be,” he said.
December 6 was a Monday and technically Tuesday, November 23 would have been 2 weeks earlier, just 2 days before Thanksgiving. But a Section 215 order doesn’t require AG approval, and indeed, dragnet orders often generate leads for more intrusive kinds of surveillance.
Moreover, according to Hudson’s declaration, this order did precisely what EPIC’s FOIA seems to confirm FBI did, investigate not just Julian Assange, but also his associates (also known as supporters), including WikiLeaks donors.
The only thing — and it is a significant thing — that would suggest this guess is wrong is Hudson’s description of this as a “counterterrorism” investigation and not a “counterespionage” investigation (which is how Holder was discussing it in December 2010).
But that doesn’t necessarily rule WikiLeaks out. As noted above, already by early November 2010, the FBI had JTTF agents involved in the investigation. And central to the government’s failed claim that Chelsea Manning had aided the enemy was that she had made the Afghan war logs available knowing (from the DIA report she accessed) that the government worried about al Qaeda accessing such things, and that some Afghan war logs were found at Osama bin Laden’s compound. So the government clearly has treated its WikiLeaks investigation as a counterterrorism investigation.
Moreover, all Hudson’s declaration claims is that the government currently considers this a counterterrorism investigation. Section 215 can be used for counterintelligence investigations (as I’ve noted over and over). Since the Osama bin Laden raid revealed al Qaeda had accessed cables, the government has maintained that it does involve al Qaeda. So it may be that Hudson’s reference to the investigation as a counterterrorism investigation only refers to its current status, and not the status used to obtain the order in 2010.
That said, Hudson also provided a classified version of her statement to Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, and I can’t imagine she’d try to pitch the WikiLeaks case as a counterterrorism one if a judge actually got to check her work. But you never know!
It’s likely that I’m forgetting a very obviously publicly known counterterrorism investigation.
But I think it possible that either the Scary Car Broker plot or WikiLeaks is the target named in the order.
Back when Mark Udall first hinted about the CIA’s efforts to intimidate the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”
That’s language Harry Reid repeats in a letter to John Brennan informing him that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms will conduct a forensic review of the SSCI computers.
You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regards to constitutional separation of powers this action raises.
The language Reid uses in a letter to Eric Holder is even stronger.
As Majority Leader of the Senate, I have a responsibility to protect the independence and effectiveness of our institution. The CIA’s decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context. This action has serious separation of powers implications. It is immaterial whether this action was taken in response to concerns about the Committee’s possession of a disputed document; this stands as a categorically different and more serious breach.
In my capacity as the leader of the U.S. Senate, the CIA’s actions cause me great concern. The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation. These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress’s ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok. The CIA cannot be permitted to undermine Congress’s ability to serve as an effective check on executive power as our nation’s Founders intended.
For all the talk of interbranch conflict, however, the letter to Brennan includes hints of partisan conflict. He asks Brennan to keep his staffers away from Senate staffers except the Sergeant-at-Arms.
To ensure its [the Sergeant-at-Arms review] independence, I ask that you take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Segeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination while the examination is underway.
This suggests there has been such contact. And there’s no reason to believe anyone from the Democratic side would be working back channel with Brennan’s spooks.
As I noted last week, the Republicans — especially Richard Burr, who would become Intelligence Chair if Republicans retake the Senate — have been going after Mark Udall aggressively. In the interim we’ve seen fairly obvious hit jobs that use the CIA-SSCI dispute to focus on Udall’s electoral prospects in November.
So while I believe everything Reid says about separation of powers — while I believe he regards this as an unprecedented threat to separation of powers — this also reeks of an attempt to prevent the collaboration of Republicans and the CIA.
We’ll see whether it has the other probable goal: giving DOJ an easy way to back out of any entanglement in this dispute.
In a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.
What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.
I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.
Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.
If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.
Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.
Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).
But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.
Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.
Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)
Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.
The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.
Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.
There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.
Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.
And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.
If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.
“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”
Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.
And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.
Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.
I meant that very, very literally.
Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.
Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.
I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.
Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.
I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.
For years, I have been harping on the language in FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide that permits DOJ to get journalists’ contact information using NSLs because — given that they are not warrants — they need no Attorney General review.
A heavily-redacted section (PDF 166) suggests that in investigations with a national security nexus (so international terrorism or espionage, as many leak cases have been treated) DOJ need not comply with existing restrictions requiring Attorney General approval before getting the phone records of a journalist. The reason? Because NSLs aren’t subpoenas, and that restriction only applies to subpoenas.
Department of Justice policy with regard to the issuances of subpoenas for telephone toll records of members of the news media is found at 28 C.F.R. § 50.10. The regulation concerns only grand jury subpoenas, not National Security Letters (NSLs) or administrative subpoenas. (The regulation requires Attorney General approval prior to the issuance of a grand jury subpoena for telephone toll records of a member of the news media, and when such a subpoena is issued, notice must be given to the news media either before or soon after such records are obtained.) The following approval requirements and specific procedures apply for the issuance of an NSL for telephone toll records of members of the news media or news organizations. [my emphasis]
So DOJ can use NSLs–with no court oversight–to get journalists’ call (and email) records rather than actually getting a subpoena.
The section includes four different approval requirement scenarios for issuing such NSLs, almost all of which are redacted. Though one only partly redacted passage makes it clear there are some circumstances where the approval process is the same as for anyone else DOJ wants to get an NSL on:
If the NSL is seeking telephone toll records of an individual who is a member of the news media or news organization [2 lines redacted] there are no additional approval requirements other than those set out in DIOG Section 18.104.22.168.3 [half line redacted]
And the section on NSL use (see PDF 100) makes it clear that a long list of people can approve such NSLs:
- Deputy Director
- Executive Assistant Director
- Associate EAD for the National Security Branch
- Assistant Directors and all DADs for CT/CD/Cyber
- General Counsel
- Deputy General Counsel for the National Security Law Branch
- Assistant Directors in Charge in NY, Washington Field Office, and LA
- All Special Agents in Charge
In other words, while DOJ does seem to offer members of the news media–which is itself a somewhat limited group–some protection from subpoena, it also seems to include loopholes for precisely the kinds of cases, like leaks, where source protection is so important.
See also this post, where I tried to write it really plainly.
Then, last year, after it got caught obtaining the call records of some Pulitzer Prize winners, DOJ pretended to roll out new protections for journalists.
Charlie Savage reports that DOJ has just rolled out the final version of those great new protections.
Here’s the last paragraph of his report on the “new guidelines.”
The rules cover grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations. They exempt wiretap and search warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “national security letters,” a kind of administrative subpoena used to obtain records about communications in terrorism and counterespionage investigations.
Which makes these “new guidelines” worth approximately shit in any leak — that is, counterintelligence — investigation.
Attorney General Holder has decided to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Prosecutors cite Dzhokhar’s “betrayal of the US,” his encouragement to others, the depraved manner in which he conducted his attack, and his targeting of the Boston Marathon among the reasons for their decision.
But, as Matt Apuzzo suggests in his story on the decision, DOJ’s pursuit of the death penalty — along with their earlier accession to letting death penalty specialist Judy Clarke represent him — actually makes a plea deal more likely. Clarke specializes in negotiating plea deals for clients in similar situations. Thus, one way to look at this decision is as a decision to aim for a plea deal rather than a trial.
There are multiple reasons DOJ may want to do that, starting with the contrast such a tidy resolution would offer with the 9/11 defendants, who are still engaged in the Kangaroo Court in Gitmo 13 years after their attack. A quick plea deal with ensure that Dzhokhar will be sent to Florence SuperMax within 20 months of his attack, yet again proving that civilian resolution to terrorism actually works better than the Kangaroo Court. Obama would get to look tough on terrorism and prove yet again that civilian trials work better than what Republicans prefer.
There’s also the way that a plea deal would serve to reinforce DOJ’s narrative of the crime, of two brothers radicalized by reading Anwar al-Awlaki’s Inspire (though if they were, why wasn’t NSA tracking them?) who acted on their own. The decision may also serve to close any questions about Ibragim Todashev’s death at the hands of the FBI and other unnamed law enforcement (or intelligence?) personnel; if I know this DOJ, they might even require Tsarnaev to throw in incriminating statements about the 2011 Watertown murders. It also would serve to side-step any evidence about the Tsarnaev’s family (including their spooked up uncle).
So I’m betting this leads not to the death penalty, but to a plea deal that closes the case.