Eric Holder

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John Galt Faces Prison For Contaminating West Virginia Water

Back in January, John Galt proclaimed his independence from pesky regulatory oversight in West Virginia when he contaminated the drinking water supply of over 300,000 residents. Recall that Galt did his damage through his appropriately named corporation, Freedom Industries, where he was using the contaminant to magically make coal “clean”. In a remarkable development, though, we learned yesterday that a federal grand jury has indicted six people associated with Freedom Industries:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted four owners and operators of the company whose toxic chemical spill tainted a West Virginia river in January, forcing a prolonged cutoff of drinking water to nearly 300,000 residents in and around Charleston.

Each was charged with three counts of violating the Clean Water Act, which bars discharges of pollutants without a permit. Their company, Freedom Industries, and its owners and managers did not meet a reasonable standard of care to prevent spills, the indictment stated.

One of those indicted, Gary L. Southern, the company’s president, was also charged with wire fraud, making false statements under oath and bankruptcy fraud. Freedom declared bankruptcy days after the spill.

Actual prison time is at stake in these charges:

Besides Mr. Southern, of Marco Island, Fla., the indictment named three other owners and operators: Dennis P. Farrell, 58, of Charleston; William E. Tis, 56, of Verona, Pa.; and Charles E. Herzing, 63, of McMurray, Pa.

Two others were also charged: Robert J. Reynolds, 63, of Apex, N.C., and Michael E. Burdette, 63, of Dunbar, W.Va. Mr. Reynolds was Freedom’s environmental consultant, and Mr. Burdette managed the tank farm. Mr. Herzing, Mr. Tis and Mr. Farrell sold the tank farm to a Pennsylvania company about a month before the accident.

All six were charged with the negligent discharge of a pollutant, negligent discharge of a refuse matter and violating an environmental permit. The violations carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison, according to a statement issued by the United States attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Southern, on the other hand, faces up to 68 years when the additional ten charges he is facing are factored in.

This is a truly remarkable development. Recall that John Galt got away with killing Texans in the massive fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that caused over $100 million in property damage in addition to killing 15 and injuring over 200. That investigation was stymied at almost every turn, and no criminal charges were ever filed unless you count the strange prosecution of one of the first responders for possession of homemade bomb-making materials.

But recall that this is Eric Holder’s “Justice” Department that we are talking about here, so it is worth drilling down below the headlines. If we move to more local reporting on the charges, we find typical Holder behavior when it comes to how the company is being treated:

Also, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin charged Freedom Industries, the bankrupt company, with the same three counts of criminal water pollution violations. The company was charged through a document called an information, rather than an indictment, a move that usually indicates the defendant has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.

Mark Welch, Freedom’s chief restructuring officer, confirmed that the company had entered into a plea agreement with federal authorities and said the move was aimed partly at limiting the possible fines and criminal defense costs if the company were to be indicted. Welch, in a prepared statement, said the plea agreement also stipulates that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not seek restitution from Freedom for victims of the company’s crimes, because of the company’s ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.

“This will permit Freedom to focus its time and limited resources on its environmental cleanup obligations and addressing the claims of its creditors,” Welch said.

In the world of Eric Holder (and John Galt), any claims by creditors who helped Freedom Industries to contaminate the Elk River have higher standing than any mere citizen who was harmed by Freedom.

UN Official: Prosecute “Systematic Crimes and Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law”

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights. (UN photo)

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights. (UN photo)


Ben Emmerson is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. His statement released yesterday in response to the SSCI torture report points out the clear responsibilities that the US has under the Convention Against Torture and other international human rights laws to prosecute not only those who carried out torture, but those who designed the torture program and gave orders for its implementation.

Emmerson opens by noting the delay in release of the report’s summary:

I welcome the belated publication of the summary report by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance of terrorist suspects by the Bush-era CIA. It has taken four years since the report was finalised to reach this point. The Administration is to be commended for resisting domestic pressure to suppress these important findings.

In my 2013 report* to the Human Rights Council as SpeciaI Rapporteur, I called on the US Government to release the report without further delay, and to ensure that it was published in full, without excessive and unnecessary redactions.

It seems a bit strange to me that Emmerson would commend the “administration” for “resisting domestic pressure to suppress these important findings”. We can only presume that “administration” refers to the Obama administration. It has been clear that in many instances of the struggle by the SSCI to release the report, the Obama administration has come down more on the side of the CIA than the committee. Only if the committee itself is included in Emmerson’s view of the “administration” does the comment make sense.

Emmerson then gets down to business:

The summary of the Feinstein report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law.

The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the programme.

So we know that crimes have been committed. Further, the committee also knows who is responsible for those crimes. What to do about it?

It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.

The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

Note the language here. Emmerson doesn’t say that those responsible for the crimes should be brought to justice. He says outright that they MUST be brought to justice. Emmerson further points out that being authorized at a high level in the government gives no protection. Further, he notes a “conspiracy” to carry out the crimes.

Emmerson then goes on to destroy Barack Obama’s “look forward” bullshit and John Durham’s coverup disguised as an investigation:

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.

Obama, Holder and Durham simply cannot grant immunity for these crimes. International law forbids it. More specifically, the Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, prohibits it. Similarly, the Convention on Enforced Disappearances also comes into play in the crimes committed by the US and also prevents the granting of immunity that Obama has tried to orchestrate.

Emmerson’s conclusion reiterates those points and provides a warning to those guilty of these crimes:

It is no defence for a public official to claim that they were acting on superior orders. CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture therefore bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct, and cannot hide behind the authorisation they were given by their superiors.

However, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.

President Obama made it clear more than five years ago that the US Government recognises the use of waterboarding as torture. There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer. The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.

Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction. The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, the primary responsibility for bringing them to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

Emmerson specifically calls out those who planned and authorized the torture as deserving the “heaviest penalties”.

And they need to be careful. Even though they are facing no punishment in the US for their crimes, these criminals can face prosecution should they travel abroad because torture is a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. Under universal jurisdiction, other countries would normally defer to the US for prosecution of crimes carried out by citizens of the US. However, once it is clear that no such prosecutions will take place, other countries are free to act.

Although I’d like to see them inside cells of much smaller dimensions, it appears that for now those who designed the CIA torture program and ordered its implementation are now imprisoned within the borders of the US because they are at risk of real prosecution while traveling outside the borders.

White House Supports USA Freedom Act, with Bates-Clapper Caveats about Amicus

The White House has come out with an enthusiastic statement supporting USA Freedom Act.

The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 2685, the USA FREEDOM Act. In January, the President called on Congress to enact important changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would keep our Nation safe, while enhancing privacy and better safeguarding our civil liberties. This past spring, a broad bipartisan majority of the House passed a bill that answered the President’s call. S. 2685 carefully builds on the good work done in the House and has won the support of privacy and civil liberties advocates and the private sector, including significant members of the technology community. As the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence stated in a letter dated September 2, 2014, the bill is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.

The bill strengthens the FISA’s privacy and civil liberties protections, while preserving essential authorities that our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need.

It says the bill ends bulk collection which might be a useful record if the President used a definition besides “without any discriminator,” but that is what he is on the record as meaning by “bulk.”

The bill would prohibit bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters while maintaining critical authorities to conduct more targeted collection. The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have indicated that the bill will retain the essential operational capabilities of the existing bulk telephone metadata program while eliminating bulk collection, based on communications providers’ existing practices.

Perhaps the most troubling part of Obama’s statement, however, is its endorsement of John Bates’ language about the amicus as echoed by James Clapper and Eric Holder, which among other things said that the amicus could not be required to represent the interests of civil liberties and privacy.

The bill also authorizes an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) — the Administration is aware of the concerns with regard to this issue, as outlined in the letter from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, and the Administration anticipates that Congress will address those concerns. Finally, the bill will enhance transparency by expanding the amount of information providers can disclose and increasing public reporting requirements.

In sum, this legislation will help strengthen Americans’ confidence in the Government’s use of these important national security authorities. Without passage of this bill, critical authorities that are appropriately reformed in this legislation could expire next summer. The Administration urges Congress to take action on this legislation now, since delay may subject these important national security authorities to brinksmanship and uncertainty. The Administration urges the Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act and for the House to act expeditiously so that the President can sign legislation into law this year. [my emphasis]

As I said here, the designed impotence of the amicus is not a reason to oppose the bill; it’s just a reason to expect to have to wait 9 years before it becomes functional, as happened with PCLOB. Still, it is very very troubling that given all the evidence that the Executive has been abusing the process of the FISC for a decade, the Executive is moving to ensure they’ll still be able to do so.

UNCAT Process Exposes Flaw in US Torture Coverup: DOJ Not Final Authority

A combination of factors is forcing the issue of US torture back into the international spotlight and there are even hints that progress on some fronts is occurring. Consider, for instance, James Risen’s report this morning that the American Pyschological Association, greatly embarrassed by the revelations in Risen’s just-published book, has re-opened an investigation into the role the association played in giving cover to pyschologists who lent their credentials to the torture program in an effort to pronounce it medically ethical. We also have gotten the first official hint from Mark Udall himself that he has not ruled out using the Senate’s speech and debate clause to enter the Senate Intelligence Committtee’s report on torture into the record (the way that Mike Gravel disclosed the Pentagon Papers), bypassing the two year old debate about redactions.

We should pay special attention, though, to word filtering out of Geneva as the United Nations Committee Against Torture reviews the report submitted by the US. As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, the US is required to make periodic reports to the committee. The process, however, is exceedingly slow. The current report from the US (pdf) is finally getting around to answering questions submitted to the US in 2006 and 2010. A New York Times story from Charlie Savage shows that the committee has been paying close attention both to what the US is saying and to what the US is doing. Consider this blockbuster:

Alessio Bruni of Italy, a member of the United Nations committee, pressed the delegation to explain Appendix M of the manual, which contains special procedures for separating captives in order to prevent them from communicating. The appendix says that prisoners shall receive at least four hours of sleep a day — an amount Mr. Bruni said would be sleep deprivation over prolonged periods and unrelated to preventing communication.

Brig. Gen. Richard C. Gross, the top legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that reading the appendix as intended to permit sleep deprivation was a misinterpretation. Four hours is “a minimum standard; it’s not the maximum they can get,” he said, adding that the rule had to be read in the context of the rest of the manual, including a requirement for medical and legal monitoring of treatment “to ensure it is humane, legal and so forth.”

Mr. Bruni was not persuaded. He said that calling the provision a minimum standard still meant four hours a night for long periods was “permissible.” He suggested that Appendix M “be simply deleted.”

This exchange counts as a huge victory for the community of activists who have fought hard to abolish all forms of torture by the US. When it comes to the Appendix M battle, though, perhaps nobody has been more determined to expose the torture still embedded in Appendix M practices than Jeff Kaye, and he is to be congratulated for the support he provided in getting this question to the forefront.

The most important part of the proceedings, though, pertains to the questions about US investigation of torture since it now openly admits torture took place. Returning to Savage’s report:

A provision of the treaty, the Convention Against Torture, requires parties to investigate and provide accountability for past instances of torture. The American delegation said that the United States had investigated the C.I.A. program, and that the coming publication of a Senate Intelligence Committee report would add to the public record.

/snip/

The American officials pointed to a criminal investigation by John H. Durham, an assistant United States attorney in Connecticut, whom Michael B. Mukasey, then attorney general, appointed in 2008 to look at whether the C.I.A. had broken the law by destroying videotapes of its interrogations of Qaeda suspects.

In 2009, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to look at C.I.A. torture that went beyond what the Justice Department had said was legal. Mr. Durham eventually closed the investigation without indicting anyone.

Another member of the United Nations panel, Jens Modvig of Denmark, pressed for details. He asked if Mr. Durham’s team had interviewed any current or former detainees.

It is clear from Modvig’s question that he feels the US investigation fell short of what is required. To get a good feel for that, we can look to this terrific “shadow report” (pdf) to the UNCAT prepared by “Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions” at Harvard Law School.

The report does an excellent job of framing the questions at hand, beginning with the observation that “The U.S. Government’s criminal program of torture was authorized at the highest levels” (fitting nicely with Marcy’s post earlier today about it being authorized by the President). But when we get to inadequacy of Durham’s investigation, we see this (footnotes removed): Continue reading

Eric Holder Resigns, Will Likely Go Back to Representing Banks at Covington and Burling

As we speak, Chuck Schumer is probably yelling into a phone trying to get President Obama to nominate Wall Street’s US Attorney Preet Bharara to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. “Barahck,” Schumer is probably yelling, “I can get Mitch to agree to push Preet through in the Lame Duck.”

That’s because Holder has just announced his resignation, pending confirmation of his successor.

The three most interesting details in Carrie Johnson’s scoop on Holder’s resignation are that he is likely to return to Covington and Burling, where — like former Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer before him — he will represent banks as they craft sweetheart deals with DOJ.

Friends and former colleagues say Holder has made no decisions about his next professional perch, but they say it would be no surprise if he returned to the law firm Covington & Burling, where he spent years representing corporate clients.

Nice to know a guy can still profit off of 6 years of overlooking rampant bank crime.

Johnson also reported that Holder plans to push through racial profiling guidelines that will protect African Americans but not Muslims.

Long-awaited racial profiling guidelines for federal agents will be released soon, too. Those guidelines will make clear that sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion are not legitimate bases for law enforcement suspicion, but controversial mapping of certain communities — including Muslim Americans — would still be allowed for national security investigations, one of the sources said.

That will soil the one real bright spot of Holder’s tenure at DOJ, his fight for civil rights.

Finally, Johnson reported that Don Verrilli — the guy who seemed to, but did not quite — lose the ObamaCare fight is the leading candidate to replace Holder.

The sources say a leading candidate for that job is Solicitor General Don Verrilli, the administration’s top representative to the Supreme Court and a lawyer whose judgment and discretion are prized in both DOJ and the White House.

By “judgement and discretion,” I wonder whether Johnson’s sources are referring to Verrilli’s stubbornness in not correcting the lies he told SCOTUS (wittingly or unwittingly) about DOJ’s implementation of FISA Amendments Act in the Amnesty v. Clapper case. By claiming, falsely, that DOJ gives defendants notice that they’ve been caught using Section 702, Verrilli successfully beat back the Justices’ concerns that no one would ever have standing to challenge these laws.

For what it’s worth, I think people are vastly overestimating the time it will take to replace Holder. After all, Republicans are on the record that they believe Holder to be contemptuous of Congress. While the House GOP that is suing him don’t actually get a vote on his replacement, surely they’ll convince their proxy Ted Cruz to represent their contempt.

Thus, for the right candidate, I suspect confirmation will happen quickly, just as Caroline Krass got confirmed in a landslide when the costs of leaving Robert Eatinger — who referred CIA’s overseers to DOJ for investigation — in place as Acting CIA General Counsel became clear.

I’m just not convinced Verrilli is that guy. And while Preet did lead the investigation into Alberto Gonzales’ politicization of the US Attorneys when he worked for Schumer, surely the GOP cares more about his diligent efforts to not investigate the banks in the interim.

John Bates Gets Slapped Down for Speaking Out of Turn, Again

A few weeks back, I pointed to 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s criticism of John Bates’ presumption to speak for the judiciary in his August 5 letter complaining about some aspects of USA Freedom Act. Kozinski was pretty obviously pissed.

But compared to the op-ed from retired District Court Judge Nancy Gertner – who effectively scolds Bates, as the Administrative staff, speaking out of turn — Kozinski was reserved.

[W]hatever the merits of Bates’ concerns—and other judges have dissented from it—he most assuredly does not speak for the Third Branch.

[snip]

Bates has been appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts to serve as director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the body that administers the federal courts. It was created in 1939 to take the administration of the judiciary out of the Department of Justice. Its principal tasks were data collection and the creation of budgets and, while its duties have grown over the years, they remain administrative (dealing with such things as court reporters, interpreters, judicial pay, maintenance of judicial buildings, staffing etc.).

When members of Congress solicit the “judiciary’s” opinion they may write to the office’s director, but he has no authority to make policy for the federal judiciary. It is the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts, to which the AO director is only the “secretary,” that has that responsibility.

I’m very supportive of Gertner’s defense of judicial independence and her concern about the operation of the FISA Court.

But her critique goes off the rails when she points to DOJ’s purported support of USA Freedom Act as a better indication of the Executive’s views than Bates’ comments.

Moreover, a great deal of Bates’ letter focuses on the Senate proposals’ impact on the executive branch and the intelligence community. The Senate bill would burden the executive with more work and even delay the FISA court’s proceedings, he suggests. Worse yet, the executive may be reluctant to share information with an independent advocate—a troubling claim.

Bates’ concerns are belied by the support voiced by the Department of Justice and the president for the Senate proposal. Surely, the executive branch understands its own needs better than does Bates. Surely, the executive branch has confidence in the procedures that the FISA court would have in place for dealing with classified information, just as the courts that have dealt with other national security issues have had.

And surely, the executive would abide by what the law requires, notwithstanding Bates’ predictions about its “reluctance” to share information with a special advocate.

DOJ’s “support” of the bill was expressed when Eric Holder co-signed a letter (which Gertner tellingly doesn’t mention, much less link) from James Clapper which, when read with attention, clearly indicated the Executive would interpret the bill to be fairly permissive on most of the issues on which the Senate bill would otherwise improve on the House one. Holder’s “support” of the bill strongly indicates that DOJ, with ODNI, plans to use the classification and privilege “protections” in the bill to refuse to share information with the special advocate.

And that’s precisely the part of the letter where Holder and Clapper invoke Bates.

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“Let’s Bomb Syria” Version 2 Is Working; Why Did Version 1 Fail?

Polls taken almost exactly one year apart show a remarkable reversal in US opinion regarding the prospect of air strikes on Syria. Last year, in a poll conducted September 6-8, (pdf) there were a number of questions regarding action in Syria. By a margin of 59% to 39%, Americans overwhelmingly said they thought Congress should not pass the then pending resolution authorizing “military action for 60 to 90 days” that also banned use of US troops in a combat role. Further, 55% of those polled stated that even if Congress passed the resolution, they opposed US air strikes in Syria while only 43% favored them. In the hypothetical of no Congressional authorization, opposition to the air strikes rose to 71% with only 27% favoring them. Just one year later, those numbers have reversed. In a poll conducted September 4-7, 65% of Americans now say they support expanding US air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria, while only 28% oppose them. Checking the crosstabs, support for the strikes jumps to 74% for Republicans but still is 60% for Democrats.

So why is this year’s Drum-Up-War week working, when last year’s failed?

Despite the heinous nature of last year’s sarin attack, it seems to me that most Americans did a good job of recognizing that what is underway in Syria is a civil war in which the US has no vital interest other than humanitarian concern for widespread death and displacement of citizens. Having failed to paint Bashar al-Assad as an evil-doer on the level of Saddam Hussein (or perhaps after Americans rejected such an obvious campaign to do so) Obama and his fellow war hawks now consider ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world“.

The beheading of US journalists in Syria got huge play in the press. And yet, if we drill down a bit, the rate of journalists being killed in Syria is going down from its peak in 2012.

Somehow, Obama’s war gang has managed to convince ordinary Americans that ISIS represents a real threat to the US. That same poll that favors attacks on ISIS in Syria found that a staggering 91% of Americans find ISIS to be a serious threat to the US (59% said “very serious” and 31% said “somewhat serious”). Sadly, there is no reality behind this fear on the part of Americans. Even Time, in doing its best to support the hysteria, winds up undercutting the concept in a story today. In a piece creatively titled “Understanding the ISIS Threat to Americans at Home“, we learn:

On the one hand, Attorney General Eric Holder has said western fighters joining ISIS and returning home radicalized are the national security danger he worries about most. “We are seeing, I would say, an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups,” Holder told TIME last month. “This represents a grave threat to our security,” he said.

But in a thorough presentation on Sept. 3 at the Brookings Institution, outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, presented a less scary picture. ISIS has no cells in the U.S., Olsen said, “full stop.” Further, Olsen said, “we have no credible information” that the group “is planning to attack the U.S.” ISIS, Olsen said “is not al Qaeda pre-9/11.”

At most, the article concludes, quoting Obama in his “exclusive” with Chuck Todd, he needed “to launch air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.”

The links Holder is hyping about ISIS and AQAP simply do not exist:

Holder says the danger comes from the combination of westerners joining ISIS and the expert bomb-makers working for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear what if any evidence exists of such collaboration yet. On the one hand, AQAP has issued statements in support of ISIS, and both groups are active in Syria and Iraq; on the other, al Qaeda and ISIS split in the last year after a debate over tactics and territory.

Several senior administration officials tell TIME they have seen no evidence of direct contact between individual members of AQAP and ISIS.

In the end, the article concludes, Obama’s war team has deduced that we must attack ISIS because at some point in the future, they will turn their sights on us. Never mind that in this case, attacking ISIS in Syria winds up helping Assad, whom we wanted to attack last year:

Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that while the Assad government was a major topic of discussion, she and other participants told Mr. Obama that he could order military action in Syria without fear of helping Mr. Assad, since ISIS was occupying ungoverned territory that his forces were unlikely to reconquer.

I guess that Harman and Obama know that Assad won’t be able to reconquer those once ISIS is gone because of the bang-up job we will do training and equipping our famousmoderate” rebels, but hey, what could go wrong on any of this?

In the end, though, the apparent support for this version of strikes on Syria seems to me to have come about because of the shift in focus on the “enemy” from a president oppressing the citizens of his country to an international terror group that we must fear and that represents true evil. As far as the average American is concerned, meddling in another country’s civil war is out of bounds, but when it comes to protecting the homeland against evil-doers, anything goes.

And it doesn’t even need Congressional approval.

 

James Clapper’s Letter DIDN’T Endorse S 2685; It Endorsed HR 3361

I’m sorry to return to James Clapper’s letter that has been grossly misreported as endorsing Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act.

In this post I pointed out what Clapper’s letter really said. In this one, I described why it is so inexcusable that Clapper emphasized FBI’s exemption from reporting requirements (I will have a follow-up soon about why that earlier post just scratches the surface). And this post lays out some — but not all — the ways Clapper’s letter said he would gut the Advocate provision.

But I think there’s a far better way of understanding Clapper’s letter. He didn’t endorse Leahy’s USAF, S 2685. He endorsed USA Freedumber, HR 3361.

Below the rule I’ve put a summary of changes from USA Freedumber to Leahy USA Freedom, HR 3361 to S 2685. I did it a very long time ago, and there are things I’d emphasize differently now, but it will have to do for now (it may also be helpful to review this summary of how USA Freedumber made USA Freedumb worse). Basically, S 2685 improved on HR 3361 by,

  • Tightening the definition of “specific selection term”
  • Adding transparency (though, with exemptions for FBI reporting)
  • Improving the advocate
  • Limiting prospective CDR collection (but not retention and therefore probably dissemination) to counterterrorism

This closely matches what the coalition that signed onto S 2685 laid out as the improvements from HR 3361 to S 2685.

[T]he new version of the bill:

  • Strengthens and clarifies the ban on “bulk” collection of records, including by tightening definitions to ensure that the government can’t collect records for everyone in a particular geographic area or using a particular communication service, and by adding new post-collection minimization procedures;
  • Allows much more detailed transparency reporting by companies—and requires much more detailed transparency reporting by the government—about the NSA’s surveillance activities; and
  • Provides stronger reforms to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s processes, by creating new Special Advocates whose duty is to advocate to the court in favor of privacy and civil liberties, and by strengthening requirements that the government release redacted copies or summaries of the court’s significant decisions.

Though as I explained here, there is no public evidence the minimization procedures required by the bill are even as stringent as what the FISC currently imposes on most orders, so the minimization procedures of S 2685 might – like the emergency procedures do — actually weaken the status quo.

Here are three of the key passages from Clapper’s letter that I believe would address the intent of the bill as written.

  • “Recognizing that the terms [laid out in the definition of specific selection term] enumerated in the statute may not always meet operational needs, the bill permits the use of other terms.”
  • “The transparency provisions in this bill … recognize the technical limitations on our ability to report certain types of information.”
  • “The appointment of an amicus in selected cases, as appropriate, need not interfere with important aspects of the FISA process, including the process of ex parte consultation between the Court and the government. We are also aware of the concerns that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts expressed in a recent letter, and we look forward to working with you and your colleagues to address those concerns.”

In other words, the limiting language in Clapper’s letter very clearly maps the changes from HR 3361 to S 2685.

He clearly says he doesn’t have to follow the new limits on specific selection terms. He signals he will use his authority to make classification and privilege determinations to keep information away from the amicus (or retain ex parte procedures via some other means). And by endorsing John Bates’ letter, he revealed his intention to take out requirements that the amicus advocate in favor of privacy and civil liberties. In addition — this is the part of Bates’ letter I missed in my previous analysis — he thereby endorsed Bates’ recommendation to “delet[e] this provision [specifying that the Court must release at least a summary], leaving in place the provision that significant FISA court decision would continue to be released, whenever feasible, in redacted form.”

Plus, as I mentioned, his use of “metadata” rather than “Call Detail Record” suggests he may play with that laudable limit in the bill as well.

I think Clapper’s read on the exemption for FBI is totally a fair reading of the bill; I just happen to think the Senate is doing a great deal of affirmative damage by accepting it. (Again, I hope to explain more why that is the case in the next day or so.)

Voila! Clapper’s “endorsement” of the bill managed to carve out almost all the improvements from HR 3361 to S 2685 (as well as emphasize Congress’ ratification for the FBI exemption, the huge reservation on the one improvement he left untouched). The only other improvement Clapper left in place was the limit on collection of prospective phone record to counterterrorism purposes.

That’s it. If Clapper’s views hold sway, that’s all this bill is: USA Freedumber with the retention of the status quo counterterrorism application for CDR collection.

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The Holder-Clapper Letter Ought to Make You Worry about Leahy’s USA Freedom

As the press is reporting right now, James “Too Cute by Half” Clapper and Eric Holder have written Patrick Leahy a letter endorsing his version of the dragnet reform bill. Reports claim this shows that Clapper supports reform.

Consider me unimpressed.

To understand why, it helps to understand what this letter was once supposed to do. According to a Senate source who is skeptical this reform does enough, it was supposed to provide language that would endorse civil libertarians’ understanding of key terms of the bill. I’m not sure if the letter is still supposed to do that work — if it is not, that is a story unto itself. But the language in this letter doesn’t make any commitments on the key points of concern.

As an initial matter, I was told this letter would include language making it clear that the “connection chaining” language I’ve been so concerned about would limit contact chaining to actual calls made. The letter doesn’t address connection chaining at all. Huh. How about that?

Here’s what Clapper’s letter says about the prospective call detail record (CDR) collection:

The bill also provides a mechanism to obtain telephone metadata records in order to identify potential contacts of suspected terrorists inside the United States. The Intelligence Community believes that, based on communications providers’ existing practices in retaining metadata, the bill will retain the essential operational capabilities of the existing bulk telephone metadata program while eliminating bulk collection.

It’s good news the IC is not asking for data retention requirements — but you ought to ask why, given that the most important provider, Verizon, has told the Senate Intelligence Committee that it only keeps billing records — not CDRs – for 18 months.

Note, however, that Clapper doesn’t use CDR language here — he uses “metadata,” which is actually broader — potentially far broader — than CDRs as defined by the bill. We know, for example, that the IC considers location data metadata — and James Cole told Mark Warner they might ask for hybrid orders to get location data. We know from the ICREACH documents that the IC admits it uses a different definition of metadata than the FISA Court does (the IC’s definition of metadata not only includes content, but also substantive information about people). We know that providers store customer things-that-count-as-metadata on their clouds, indefinitely. Adopting metadata here, in short, may back off the otherwise limited definition of CDR, which is one of the bills laudable limiting factors.

The letter’s claim to end bulk collection does nothing to reflect that the IC’s definition of bulk — anything without a discriminator — has nothing to do with the common English definition of it; it certainly doesn’t promise to end the English language definition of bulk. Moreover, it only promises to limit bulk collection to the “greatest extent practicable.”

[T]he bill permits collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act using a specific selection term that narrowly limits the scope of the tangible things sought to the greatest extent reasonably practicable, consistent with the purposes for seeking the tangible things. Recognizing that the terms enumerated in the statute may not always meet operational needs, the bill permits the use of other terms, provided there are court-approved minimization procedures that prohibit the dissemination and require the destruction within a reasonable period of time of any information that has not been determined to satisfy certain specific requirements.

That “reasonably practicable” language is a direct quote from the bill. It adds nothing, and given that Bob Litt refuses to limit FBI back door searches because it’s not practicable, what the IC means by practicable could very easily encompass gross privacy violations — ones that have already been approved by FISC! And remember–the IC can use corporate persons as selection terms.

Then the letter all but admits it will use selection terms that violate this principle, but points to the minimization procedures required by the law to rationalize that. As I’ve pointed out, there’s no reason to believe the minimization procedures will be any more stringent than what the FISC currently requires — and there’s at least some reason to suspect they might be weaker than current minimization procedures. (And remember, the retention requirements for the CDR authority almost certainly broadens permitted dissemination to foreign intelligence purpose, which might lead to a similar broadening of it elsewhere under the authority.)

The transparency paragraph includes this language.

the transparency provisions  in this bill … among other things, [] recognize the technical limitations on our ability to report certain types of information.

This is James Clapper saying quite clearly to anyone willing to listen that he sees this bill — which explicitly carves out FBI back door searches from any transparency reporting — as Congressional endorsement of the idea that we should never demand the number of FBI back door searches. This language, by itself, ought to make the bill toxic.

Congratulations NGOs. You’re backing the idea that the FBI should be able to use 702 and 12333 collected information in criminal contexts with zero oversight or accountability.

Finally, Clapper’s letter makes it clear that Leahy’s bill will do nothing to stop ex parte communication between the Executive and FISC. And he even points to John Bates’ ridiculous letter (huh, now we have a better sense of who put Bates up to that!) to warn he’ll carve out even more.

We believe that the appointment of an amicus in selected cases, as appropriate, need not interfere with important aspects of the FISA process, including the process of ex parte consultation between the Court and the government. We are also aware of the concerns that the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts expressed in a recent letter, and we look forward to working with you and your colleagues to address these concerns.

Especially after we learned Bates single-handedly rewrote PATRIOT last year to make it okay to spy on Americans for their protected speech, we should do nothing to accommodate Bates’ wishes, especially since he didn’t speak with the authority of his position. The FISC, as Bates envisions it, doesn’t resemble a real court at all.

In short, there’s one piece of good news in this letter — that the IC won’t ask for data retention requirements — and a whole lot of reason to be even more skeptical of the bill.

Holder’s Agency in Ferguson

Eric Holder just published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, apparently aiming to generate confidence in DOJ’s investigation into Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown.

It starts with 3 sentences describing Brown’s killing — with no mention of Wilson, or even that a cop killed Brown.

Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.

At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.

A disembodied shooting killed Brown in this telling; violence did not.

Holder then spends several paragraphs discussing both the investigation itself, as well as the actions of the Civil Rights Division before he turns – in the course of one paragraph — to the protests. Here, violence is described as violence.

We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.

The implication, of course, is that the violence comes exclusively from that “very small minority,” not the cops shooting rubber bullets from their tanks.

I find the next paragraph truly remarkable.

The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.

The Justice Department — the Agency Eric Holder leads, the 40 FBI Agents and Civil Rights prosecutors Holder described — has done nothing visible thus far to defend the First Amendment.

And then, Holder says, “violence cannot be condoned.” A bizarre passive sentence with no agent. By whom? Who cannot condone violence?!?!

And he uses it to urge “the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights” — many of whom have been arrested, bullied, tear gassed, some of whom have formed chains to protect businesses — to “join with law enforcement,” the same law enforcement  that has been bullying them. Holder asks these citizens — who presumably are the ones he says cannot condone violence — to join the cops who have been engaging in violence to condemn others who have also been engaging in violence. Those “others” inflame tensions and sow discord. The cops don’t, according to this telling.

It takes a good paragraph and a half before Holder says the cops must restore trust. Only unlike the “citizens” of Ferguson, Holder does not urge the cops directly to do … anything. He just describes what should happen, he doesn’t command it to happen.

At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Note what else happens? That violence — unmentioned in Mike Brown’s actual shooting, but explicitly described when “those others” did it — here becomes “force.” Something distinct from the violence of looters.

Darren Wilson’s shooting of Mike Brown? Not described as violence — not even described as the act of a known man. The looters’ looting? They’re engaged in “violence.” And finally, the cops, whom Holder doesn’t dare urge to tone things down? They are exercising “force,” not “violence.”

I get there are legal reasons why he did this — notably, this permits him to endorse findings that Wilson used “force” out of fear for his own safety! But the grammar and vocabulary of this op-ed insists on the state’s monopoly on violence that it has been abusing for 10 days.

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