Jeff Merkley

Breaking: Four Senators Rediscover Congress Has Oversight Role for Committing Troops

Don’t look for this important bit of news in the New York Times or Washington Post. At least at the time I started writing this, they hadn’t noticed that Senators Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) put out a press release yesterday calling for a Congressional vote on whether to authorize keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. President Barack Obama and the Pentagon have been bargaining with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for over a year now to get a Bilateral Security Agreement that will authorize keeping US troops there after the current NATO mission officially ends at the end of this year, but we have heard almost nothing at all from Congress. Well, we did have some hypocrisy tourists calling for Karzai to sign the agreement immediately or suffer the financial consequences, but they didn’t call for using their Constitutional role in authorizing use of troops.

This bipartisan group had some pretty strong language about the push to exclude Congress from the decision-making on keeping troops in Afghanistan:

Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) announced the introduction of a bipartisan resolution calling for Congress to have a role in approving any further United States military involvement in Afghanistan after the current mission ends on December 31, 2014. The Administration is reportedly negotiating an agreement that could keep 10,000 American troops or more in Afghanistan for another ten years.

“The American people should weigh in and Congress should vote before we decide to commit massive resources and thousands of troops to another decade in Afghanistan,” Merkley said. “After over 12 years of war, the public deserves a say. Congress owes it to the men and women in uniform to engage in vigorous oversight on decisions of war and peace.”

“After over a decade of war, Congress, and more importantly the American people, must be afforded a voice in this debate,” Lee said. “The decision to continue to sacrifice our blood and treasure in this conflict should not be made by the White House and Pentagon alone.

“After 13 years, more than 2,300 American lives lost and more than $600 billion, it is time to bring our brave warriors home to the hero’s welcome they deserve and begin rebuilding America, not Afghanistan,” Manchin said. “We do not have an ally in President Karzai and his corrupt regime. His statements and actions have proven that again and again. Most West Virginians believe like I do money or military might won’t make a difference in Afghanistan. It’s time to bring our troops home.”

“The power to declare war resides in the hands of Congress,” Paul said. “If this President  or any future President has the desire to continue to deploy U.S. troops to this region, it should be done so only with the support of Congress and the citizens of the United States.”

After 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the Administration has declared that the war in Afghanistan will be wound down by December 31, 2014. However, the Administration is also negotiating an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan that would set guidelines for U.S. troops to remain in training, support, and counter-terrorism roles through at least 2024.

In November, the Senators introduced this bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, but it wasn’t allowed a vote. In June, the House of Representatives approved a similar amendment to the NDAA stating that it is the Sense of Congress that if the President determines that it is necessary to maintain U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, any such presence and missions should be authorized by Congress.  The House amendment passed by a robust, bipartisan 305-121 margin.

But Merkley added yet another zinger. From the AFP story on the move, as carried in Dawn (emphasis added):

“We are introducing a bipartisan resolution to say before any American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is committed to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, Congress should vote,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley told reporters.

Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war.

Wow. What a concept. Continue reading

Ancient History: December 2012 in the Dragnet

PCLOB tells us that the FISA Court approved a new automated query system (versions appear to have been in development for years, and it replaced the automated alert system from 2009) in late 2012 that permitted all the 3-degree contact chains off all RAS-approved identifiers to be dumped into the corporate store at once where they can be combined with data collected under other authorities (presumably including both EO 12333 and FAA) for further analysis.

In 2012, the FISA court approved a new and automated method of performing queries, one that is associated with a new infrastructure implemented by the NSA to process its calling records. 68 The essence of this new process is that, instead of waiting for individual analysts to perform manual queries of particular selection terms that have been RAS approved, the NSA’ s database periodically perform s queries on all RAS – approved seed terms, up to three hops away from the approved seeds. The database places the results of these queries together in a repository called the “corporate store.”

The ultimate result of the automated query process is a repository, the corporate store, containing the records of all telephone calls that are within three “hops” of every currently approved selection term. 69 Authorized analysts looking to conduct intelligence analysis may then use the records in the corporate store, instead of searching the full repository of records.

According to the FISA court’s orders, records that have been moved into the corporate store may be searched by authorized personnel “for valid foreign intelligence purposes, without the requirement that those searches use only RAS – approved selection terms.” 71 Analysts therefore can query the records in the corporate store with terms that are not reasonably suspected of association with terrorism. They also are permitted to analyze records in the corporate store through means other than individual contact-chaining queries that begin with a single selection term: because the records in the corporate store all stem from RAS-approved queries , the agency is allowed to apply other analytic methods and techniques to the query results. 72 For instance, such calling records may be integrated with data acquired under other authorities for further analysis. The FISA court’s orders expressly state that the NSA may apply “the full range” of signals intelligence analytic tradecraft to the calling records that are responsive to a query, which includes every record in the corporate store.

(While I didn’t know the date, I have been pointing the extent to which corporate store data can be analyzed for some time, but thankfully the PCLOB report has finally led others to take notice.)

On December 27, 2012, Jeff Merkley gave a speech in support of his amendment to the FISA Amendments Act that would push to make FISC decisions public. It referenced both the backdoor loophole (which John Bates extended to NSA and CIA in 2011, was implemented in 2012, and affirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2012) and the language underlying the phone dragnet. Merkley suggested the government might use these secret interpretations to conduct wide open spying on Americans.

If it is possible that our intelligence agencies are using the law to collect and use the communications of Americans without a warrant, that is a problem. Of course, we cannot reach conclusions about that in this forum because this is an unclassified discussion.

My colleagues Senator Wyden and Senator Udall, who serve on Intelligence, have discussed the loophole in the current law that allows the potential of backdoor searches. This could allow the government to effectively use warrantless searches for law-abiding Americans. Senator Wyden has an amendment that relates to closing that loophole. Congress never intended the intelligence community to have a huge database to sift through without first getting a regular probable cause warrant, but because we do not have the details of exactly how this proceeds and we cannot debate in a public forum those details, then we are stuck with wrestling with the fact that we need to have the sorts of protections and efforts to close loopholes that Senator Wyden has put forward.

[snip]

Let me show an example of a passage. Here is a passage about what information can be collected: “ ….. reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2),” and so on.

Let me stress these words: “relevant to an authorized investigation.”

There are ongoing investigations, multitude investigations about the conduct of individuals and groups around this planet, and one could make the argument that any information in the world helps frame an understanding of what these foreign groups are doing. So certainly there has been some FISA Court decision about what “relevant to an authorized investigation” means or what “tangible things” means. Is this a gateway that is thrown wide open to any level of spying on Americans or is it not? Continue reading

On the Meanings of “Dishonor” and “Hack”

The former NSA IG (and current affiliate of the Chertoff Group profiteers, though he didn’t disclose that financial interest) Joel Brenner has taken to the pages of Lawfare to suggest anyone trying to force some truth out of top Intelligence Community officials is dishonorable.

On March 12 of this year, Senator Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, whether the National Security Agency gathers “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

“No, sir,” replied the director, visibly annoyed. “Not wittingly.”

Wyden is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and had long known about the court-approved metadata program that has since become public knowledge. He knew Clapper’s answer was incorrect. But Wyden, like Clapper, was also under an oath not to divulge the story. In posing this question, he knew Clapper would have to breach his oath of secrecy, lie, prevaricate, or decline to reply except in executive session—a tactic that would implicitly have divulged the secret. The committee chairman, Senator Diane Feinstein, may have known what Wyden had in mind. In opening the hearing she reminded senators it would be followed by a closed session and said,  “I’ll ask that members refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.” Not dissuaded, Wyden sandbagged he [sic] director.

This was a vicious tactic, regardless of what you think of the later Snowden disclosures. Wyden learned nothing, the public learned nothing, and an honest and unusually forthright public servant has had his credibility trashed.

Brenner of course doesn’t mention that Clapper had had warning of this question, so should have provided a better non-answer. Later in his post, he understates how revealing telephone metadata can be (and of course doesn’t mention it can also include location). He even misstates how often the phone metadata collection has been queried (it was queried on 300 selectors, not “accessed only 300 times”).

But the really hackish part of his argument is in pretending this whole exchange started on March 12.

It didn’t. It started over a year ago and continued through last week when Keith Alexander had to withdraw a “fact sheet” purporting to lay out the “Section 702 protections” Americans enjoy (see below for links to these exchanges).

The exchange didn’t start out very well, with two Inspectors General working to ensure that Wyden and Mark Udall would not get their unclassified non-answer about how many Americans are surveilled under Section 702′s back door until after the Intelligence Committee marked up the bill.

But perhaps the signature exchange was this October 10, 2012 Wyden letter (with 3 other Senators) to Keith Alexander and Alexander’s November 5, 2012 response.

On July 27, 2012, Alexander put on a jeans-and-t-shirt costume and went to DefCon to suck up to hackers. After giving a schmaltzy speech including lines like, “we can protect the networks and have civil liberties and privacy,” DefCon founder Jeff Moss asked Alexander about recent Bill Binney allegations that the NSA was collecting communications of all Americans. Wired reported the exchange here.

It was this exchange — Keith Alexander’s choice to make unclassified statements to a bunch of hackers he was trying to suck up to — that underlies Wyden’s question. And Wyden explicitly invoked Alexander’s comments in his March 12 question to Clapper.

In Wyden’s letter, he quoted this, from Alexander.

We may, incidentally, in targeting a bad guy hit on somebody from a good guy, because there’s a discussion there. We have requirements from the FISA Court and the Attorney General to minimize that, which means nobody else can see it unless there’s a crime that’s been committed.

Wyden then noted,

We believe that this statement incorrectly characterized the minimization requirements that apply to the NSA’s FISA Amendments Act collection, and portrays privacy protections for Americans’ communications as being stronger than they actually are.

This is almost precisely the exchange that occurred last week, when Wyden and Udall had to correct Alexander’s public lies about Section 702 protections again. 8 months later and Alexander is reverting to the same lies about protections for US Persons.

In the letter, Wyden quoted from Alexander again,

You also stated, in response to the same question, that “…the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false. We are not entirely clear what the term “dossier” means in this context, so we would appreciate it if you would clarify this remark.

And asked,

Are you certain that the number of American communications collected is not “millions or hundreds of millions”? If so, then clearly you must have some ability to estimate the scale of this number, at least some range in which you believe it falls. If this is the case, how large could this number possibly be? How small could it possibly be?

Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”?

This last question was precisely the question Wyden asked Clapper 5 months later on March 12 (Alexander’s response in November didn’t even acknowledge this question — he just blew it off entirely).

As Wyden emphasized, Alexander is the one who chose to make misleading assertions in unclassified form, opening up the door for demands for an unclassified response.

Since you made your remarks in an unclassified forum, we would appreciate an unclassified response to these questions, so that your remarks can be properly understood by Congress and the public, and not interpreted in a misleading way.

In other words, Brenner presents the context of Wyden’s question to Clapper completely wrong. He pretends this exchange was about one cleared person setting up another cleared person to answer a question. But Brenner ignores (Wyden’s clear invocation of it notwithstanding) that this exchange started when a cleared person, General Alexander, chose to lie to the public.

And now that we’ve seen the minimization standards, we know just how egregious a lie Alexander told to the hackers at DefCon. It’s bad enough that Alexander didn’t admit that anything that might possibly have a foreign intelligence purpose could be kept and, potentially, disseminated, a fact that would affect all Americans’ communications.

But Alexander was talking to high level hackers, probably the group of civilians who encrypt their online communications more than any other.

And Alexander knows that the NSA keeps encrypted communications indefinitely, and with his say-so, can keep them even if they’re known to be entirely domestic communications.

In other words, in speaking to the group of American civilians whose communications probably get the least protections from NSA (aside from the encryption they themselves give it), Alexander suggested their communications would only be captured if they were talking to bad guys. But the NSA defines “those who encrypt their communications” as bad guys by default.

He was trying to suck up to the hackers, even as he lied about the degree to which NSA defines most of them as bad guys.

Brenner gets all upset about his colleagues being “forced” to lie in public. But that’s not what’s going on here: James Clapper and, especially, Keith Alexander are choosing to lie to the public.

And if it is vicious for an intelligence overseer to call IC officials on willful lies to the public, then we’ve got a very basic problem with democracy. Continue reading

ACLU, Another Civil Liberties Narcissist, Defends Its Own Freedom of Assembly, Speech

Since the Edward Snowden leaks first started, many have called him and Glenn Greenwald narcissists (as if that changed the dragnet surveillance they exposed).

If that’s right, I can think of nothing more narcissistic than ACLU, which is a Verizon customer, suing the government for collecting their call records and chilling their ability to engage in activism.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a constitutional challenge to a surveillance program under which the National Security Agency vacuums up information about every phone call placed within, from, or to the United States. The lawsuit argues that the program violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and association as well as the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment. The complaint also charges that the dragnet program exceeds the authority that Congress provided through the Patriot Act.

“This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation. The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.”

Here’s the complaint.

In addition to this suit, Jeff Merkley and others are submitting a bill to force the government to release its secret law.

If Wanting to Reveal that All Americans’ Metadata Gets Swept Up Is Treason, Edward Snowden Is in Distinguished Company

Earlier this evening, Dianne Feinstein called Edward Snowden’s decision to leak NSA documents an act of treason.

“I don’t look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it’s an act of treason,” the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told reporters.

The California lawmaker went on to say that Snowden had violated his oath to defend the Constitution.

“He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s treason.”

Perhaps DiFi can be excused for her harsh judgment. After all, in addition to exposing the sheer range of surveillance our government is doing, Snowden made it very clear that DiFi allowed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to lie to her committee.

And continues to allow Clapper’s lie to go unreported, much less punished.

But I thought it worthwhile to point out the many people who have committed to make the FISA Court Opinions describing, among other things, how the government’s abuse of Section 215 violated the Constitution.

In 2010, DOJ promised to try to declassify important rulings of law.

In 2010, as part of the same effort, Clapper’s office promised to try to declassify important rulings of law.

In 2011, prior to be confirmed as Assistant Attorney General, now White House Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco promised, “I will work to ensure that the Department continues to work with the ODNI to make this important body of law as accessible as possible.”

All these people claimed they wanted to make FISC’s opinion, among other things, on the secret use of Section 215 public.

What Snowden released on Section 215 — just a single 215 order to Verizon, without details on how this information is used — is far, far less than what DOJ and ODNI and Lisa Monaco pledged to try to release. Given that the collection is targeted on every single American indiscriminately, it won’t tell the bad guys anything (except that they’ve been sucked into the same dragnet the rest of us have). And while it shows that FBI submits the order but the data gets delivered to NSA (which has some interesting implications), that’s a source and method to game the law, not the source or method used to identify terrorists.

So if Snowden committed treason, he did so doing far less than top members of our National Security establishment promised to do.

Wait.

There’s one more member of this gang of — according to DiFi — traitors committed to tell Americans how their government spies on them. There’s the Senator who said this on December 27, 2012.

I have offered to Senator Merkley to write a letter requesting declassification of more FISA Court opinions. If the letter does not work, we will do another intelligence authorization bill next year, and we can discuss what can be added to that bill on this issue.

Oh, wait! That was Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing that they didn’t have time to pass an actual amendment, attached to the actual FISA Amendments Act renewal, forcing the government to turn over this secret law.

But she promised to write a letter!

And even, DiFi claimed (though similar promises to John Cornyn to obtain the OLC memo authorizing Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing went undelivered), to include a requirement in this year’s intelligence authorization requiring the government to turn over far more information on the government’s use of Section 215 than Snowden did.

I get that DiFi doesn’t agree with his method — that he leaked this rather than (!) write a letter. I get that Snowden has exposed DiFi for allowing Clapper lie to her committee, in part to hide precisely this information.

But in debates in the Senate, at least, DiFi has claimed to support releasing just this kind of information.

That Makes Over 21 Requests by 31 Members of Congress, Mr. President

Adding the letter that Barbara Lee, as well as a list of all Members of Congress who have, at one time or another, requested the targeted killing memos.

February 2011: Ron Wyden asks the Director of National Intelligence for the legal analysis behind the targeted killing program; the letter references “similar requests to other officials.” (1) 

April 2011: Ron Wyden calls Eric Holder to ask for legal analysis on targeted killing. (2)

May 2011: DOJ responds to Wyden’s request, yet doesn’t answer key questions.

May 18-20, 2011: DOJ (including Office of Legislative Affairs) discusses “draft legal analysis regarding the application of domestic and international law to the use of lethal force in a foreign country against U.S. citizens” (this may be the DOJ response to Ron Wyden).

October 5, 2011: Chuck Grassley sends Eric Holder a letter requesting the OLC memo by October 27, 2011. (3)

November 8, 2011: Pat Leahy complains about past Administration refusal to share targeted killing OLC memo. Administration drafts white paper, but does not share with Congress yet. (4) 

February 8, 2012: Ron Wyden follows up on his earlier requests for information on the targeted killing memo with Eric Holder. (5)

March 7, 2012: Tom Graves (R-GA) asks Robert Mueller whether Eric Holder’s criteria for the targeted killing of Americans applies in the US; Mueller replies he’d have to ask DOJ. Per his office today, DOJ has not yet provided Graves with an answer. (6) 

March 8, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ appropriations hearing.(7)

June 7, 2012: After Jerry Nadler requests the memo, Eric Holder commits to providing the House Judiciary a briefing–but not the OLC memo–within a month. (8)

June 12, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ oversight hearing. (9)

June 22, 2012: DOJ provides Intelligence and Judiciary Committees with white paper dated November 8, 2011.

June 27, 2012: In Questions for the Record following a June 7 hearing, Jerry Nadler notes that DOJ has sought dismissal of court challenges to targeted killing by claiming “the appropriate check on executive branch conduct here is the Congress and that information is being shared with Congress to make that check a meaningful one,” but “we have yet to get any response” to “several requests” for the OLC memo authorizing targeted killing. He also renews his request for the briefing Holder had promised. (10)

July 19, 2012: Both Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley complain about past unanswered requests for OLC memo. (Grassley prepared an amendment as well, but withdrew it in favor of Cornyn’s.) Leahy (but not Grassley) votes to table John Cornyn amendment to require Administration to release the memo.

July 24, 2012: SSCI passes Intelligence Authorization that requires DOJ to make all post-9/11 OLC memos available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, albeit with two big loopholes.

December 4, 2012: Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, and Bobby Scott ask for finalized white paper, all opinions on broader drone program (or at least a briefing), including signature strikes, an update on the drone rule book, and public release of the white paper.

December 19, 2012: Ted Poe and Tredy Gowdy send Eric Holder a letter asking specific questions about targeted killing (not limited to the killing of an American), including “Where is the legal authority for the President (or US intelligence agencies acting under his direction) to target and kill a US citizen abroad?”

January 14, 2013: Wyden writes John Brennan letter in anticipation of his confirmation hearing, renewing his request for targeted killing memos. (11)

January 25, 2013: Rand Paul asks John Brennan if he’ll release past and future OLC memos on targeting Americans. (12)

February 4, 2013: 11 Senators ask for any and all memos authorizing the killing of American citizens, hinting at filibuster of national security nominees. (13)

February 6, 2013: John McCain asks Brennan a number of questions about targeted killing, including whether he would make sure the memos are provided to Congress. (14)

February 7, 2013Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley ask that SJC be able to get the memos that SSCI had just gotten. (15)

February 7, 2013: In John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden reveal there are still outstanding memos pertaining to killing Americans, and renew their demand for those memos. (16)

February 8, 2013: Poe and Gowdy follow up on their December 19 letter, adding several questions, particularly regarding what “informed, high level” officials make determinations on targeted killing criteria.

February 8, 2013: Bob Goodlatte, Trent Franks, and James Sensenbrenner join their Democratic colleagues to renew the December 4, 2012 request. (17)

February 12, 2013: Rand Paul sends second letter asking not just about white paper standards, but also about how National Security Act, Posse Commitatus, and Insurrection Acts would limit targeting Americans within the US.

February 13, 2013: In statement on targeted killings oversight, DiFi describes writing 3 previous letters to the Administration asking for targeted killing memos. (18, 19, 20)

February 20, 2013: Paul sends third letter, repeating his question about whether the President can have American killed inside the US.

February 27, 2013: At hearing on targeted killing of Americans, HJC Chair Bob Goodlatte — and several other members of the Committee — renews request for OLC memos. (21)

March 11, 2013: Barbara Lee and 7 other progressives ask Obama to release “in an unclassified form, the full legal basis of executive branch claims” about targeted killing, as well as the “architecture” of the drone program generally. (22)

All Members of Congress who have asked about Targeted Killing Memos and/or policies

  1. Ron Wyden
  2. Dianne Feinstein
  3. Saxby Chambliss
  4. Chuck Grassley
  5. Pat Leahy
  6. Tom Graves
  7. Jerry Nadler
  8. John Conyers
  9. Bobby Scott
  10. Ted Poe
  11. Trey Gowdy
  12. Rand Paul
  13. Mark Udall
  14. Dick Durbin
  15. Tom Udall
  16. Jeff Merkley
  17. Mike Lee
  18. Al Franken
  19. Mark Begich
  20. Susan Collins
  21. John McCain
  22. Bob Goodlatte
  23. Trent Franks
  24. James Sensenbrenner
  25. Barbara Lee
  26. Keith Ellison
  27. Raul Grijalva
  28. Donna Edwards
  29. Mike Honda
  30. Rush Holt
  31. James McGovern

Will Senators Filibuster Chuck Hagel’s Nomination to Get the Targeted Killing Memo?

Eleven Senators just sent President Obama a letter asking nicely, for at least the 12th time, the targeted killing memo. They remind him of his promise of transparency and oversight.

In your speech at the National Archives in May 2009, you stated that “Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions — by Congress or by the courts.” We applaud this principled commitment to the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and hope that you will help us obtain the documents that we need to conduct the oversight that you have called for. The executive branch’s cooperation on this matter will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security positions. 

And asks — yet again — for “any and all memos.”

Specifically, we ask that you direct the Justice Department to provide Congress, specifically the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, with any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.

But perhaps the most important part of this letter is that it refers not just to John Brennan’s nomination, but to “senior national security positions.”

As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask that you ensure that Congress is provided with the secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.

There are just 11 Senators on this list:

  • Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • Mike Lee (R-Utah)
  • Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Dick Durbin (Ill.)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
  • Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
  • Al Franken (D- Minn.)

And just three of these — Wyden, Mark Udall, and Collins — are on the Intelligence Committee. That’s not enough to block Brennan’s confirmation.

But it may be enough to block Hagel’s confirmation, given all the other Republicans who are opposing him.

DOJ: We Can’t Tell Which Secret Application of Section 215 Prevents Us From Telling You How You’re Surveilled

As Mike Scarcella reported yesterday, the government has moved for summary judgment in an Electronic Privacy Information Center FOIA suit for details on the government’s investigation into WikiLeaks. EPIC first FOIAed these materials in June 2011. After receiving nothing, they sued last January.

The government’s motion and associated declarations would be worth close analysis in any case. All the more so, though, in light of the possibility that the government conducted a fishing expedition into WikiLeaks as part of its Aaron Swartz investigation, almost certainly using PATRIOT Act investigative techniques. The government’s documents strongly suggest they’re collecting intelligence on Americans, all justified and hidden by their never ending quest to find some excuse to throw Julian Assange in jail.

EPIC’s FOIA asked for information designed to expose whether innocent readers and supporters of WikiLeaks had been swept up in the investigation. It asked for:

  1. All records regarding any individuals targeted for surveillance for support for or interest in WikiLeaks;
  2. All records regarding lists of names of individuals who have demonstrated support for or interest in WikiLeaks;
  3. All records of any agency communications with Internet and social media companies including, but not limited to Facebook and Google, regarding lists of individuals who have demonstrated, through advocacy or other means, support for or interest in WikiLeaks; and
  4. 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. [my emphasis]

At a general level, the government has exempted what files it has under a 7(A) (ongoing investigation) exemption, while also invoking 1 (classified information), 3 (protected by statute), 5 (privileged document), 6 (privacy), 7(C) (investigative privacy), 7(D) (confidential source, which can include private companies like Visa and Google), 7(E) (investigative techniques), and 7(F) (endanger life or property of someone) exemptions.

No one will say what secret law they’re using to surveil Americans

But I’m most interested in how all three units at DOJ — as reflected in declarations from FBI’s David Hardy, National Security Division’s Mark Bradley, and Criminal Division’s John Cunningham – claimed the files at issue were protected by statute.

None named the statute in question. All three included some version of this statement, explaining they could only name the statute in their classified declarations.

The FBI has determined that an Exemption 3 statute applies and protects responsive information from the pending investigative files from disclosure. However, to disclose which statute or further discuss its application publicly would undermine interests protected by Exemption 7(A), as well as by the withholding statute. I have further discussed this exemption in my in camera, ex parte declaration, which is being submitted to the Court simultaneously with this declaration

In fact, it appears the only reason that Cunningham submitted a sealed declaration was to explain his Exemption 3 invocation.

And then, as if DOJ didn’t trust the Court to keep sealed declarations secret, it added this plaintive request in the motion itself.

Defendants respectfully request that the Court not identify the Exemption 3 statute(s) at issue, or reveal any of the other information provided in Defendants’ ex parte and in camera submissions.

DOJ refuses to reveal precisely what EPIC seems to be seeking: what kind of secret laws it is using to investigate innocent supporters of WikiLeaks.

By investigating a publisher as a spy, DOJ gets access to PATRIOT Act powers, including Section 215

There’s a very very large chance that the statute in question is Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act (or some other national security administrative subpoena). After all, the FOIA asked whether DOJ had collected business records on WikiLeaks supporters, so it is not unreasonable to assume that DOJ used the business records provision to do so.

Moreover, the submissions make it very clear that the investigation would have the national security nexus to do so. While the motion itself just cites a Hillary Clinton comment to justify its invocation of national security, both the FBI and the NSD declarations make it clear this is being conducted as an Espionage investigation by DOJ counterintelligence people, which — as I’ve been repeating for over two years – gets you the full PATRIOT Act toolbox of investigative approaches.

Media outlets take note: The government is, in fact, investigating a publisher as a spy. You could be next.

Continue reading

Lisa Monaco Moves On without Fulfilling Promise to Reveal FISA Court Opinions

In response to Chuck Grassley’s question whether the government has struck the right balance between national security and civil liberties leading up to her confirmation as Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Lisa Monaco claimed the right balance had indeed been found.

Do you believe that an appropriate balance has been struck between national security concerns and civil liberties?

Agents, analysts and prosecutors who work every day to protect us from national security threats do so pursuant to the authorities Congress has given them under the Constitution. I believe these authorities reflect an effort to strike a balance between the imperative of protecting national security interests of the United States on the one hand and the importance of doing so consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Through carefully crafted authorities, compliance efforts within the Executive Branch and robust Congressional oversight of those compliance efforts, I believe we have been able to strike the right balance over time.  As the threat continues to evolve, and technology develops that better enables us to detect and disrupt threats while at the same time providing new tactics and capabilities to those who would do us harm, we must be constantly vigilant in our efforts to maintain that balance.

In her other answers, she emphasized the importance of having “relevance” standard access to call data and other records so as to provide the probable cause to investigate people.

As noted above, NSLs (some of which are issued under ECPA) form the building blocks of national security investigations under a relevance standard. This is vital to the ability of national security investigators to obtain information that forms the basis for probable cause and to further national security investigations.

In utterly related news, Jeff Merkley recalled last month that during her confirmation process in 2011, Monaco supported the idea of releasing FISA Court opinions that–it appears–would reveal how these “relevant to” laws have been used to substantiate probable cause.

Congress never intended the intelligence community to have a huge database to sift through without first getting a regular probable cause warrant, but because we do not have the details of exactly how this proceeds and we cannot debate in a public forum those details, then we are stuck with wrestling with the fact that we need to have the sorts of protections and efforts to close loopholes that Senator Wyden has put forward.

What we do know is that this past summer, the Director of National Intelligence said in a public forum that on at least one occasion the FISA Court has ruled that a data collection carried out by the government did violate the fourth amendment. We also know that the FISA Court has ruled that the Federal Government has circumvented the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. But too much else of what we should know about this law remains secret. In fact, we have extremely few details about how the courts have interpreted the statutes that have been declassified and released to the public.

[snip]

In 2010, due to concerns that were raised by a number of Senators about the problem of classified FISA Court opinions, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they would establish a process to declassify opinions of the FISA Court that contained important rulings of law. In 2011, prior to her confirmation hearing, Lisa Monaco, who is our Assistant Attorney General for National Security, expressed support for declassifying FISA opinions that include “significant instructions or interpretations of FISA.”

Yet here were are, two years later, and Lisa Monaco is moving on to replace John Brennan at the White House. Yet we still haven’t seen the memos that describe how the government uses massive databases of information collected using this “relevance” standard to then access the private communications of Americans (which are probably the same databases).

Mind you, Monaco is not the person most responsible for refusing to declassify documents that describe the shreds of the Fourth Amendment in this country–she’s not the Original Classification Authority.

Nevertheless, we’ve got another fan of massive data mining moving into an oversight free position in the White House without having fulfilled her commitment to tell the American people what they’re doing with that data mining.

It’s Hard to Summarize Opinions Pertaining to Two Purportedly Unrelated Laws

Steven Aftergood relays the explanation of a senior intelligence official as to why the intelligence community can’t release even a teensy little bit of the FISA Court’s classified opinions.

“We tried,” a senior intelligence agency official said, but the rulings were hard to declassify. After redacting classified operational information and other sensitive details, no intelligible text of any consequence remained, according to this official.

The Department of Justice made a similar assertion years ago in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, stating that “Any legal discussion that may be contained in these materials would be inextricably intertwined with the operational details of the authorized surveillance.”

Aftergood’s source goes on to explain that they can’t just summarize the Court’s decisions, because … well, I don’t really understand this objection, but I suspect it has to do with some disagreement between the FISC and DOJ about the opinions that currently exist.

But the intelligence agency official said that unclassified summaries of surveillance court decisions were probably not a satisfactory alternative.  A summary written by the Department of Justice would not be a statement of the court’s opinion at all, the official said.  At best, it would represent the Administration’s own understanding of what the court had ruled, paraphrased for public release.

Aftergood holds out hope that a letter from Dianne Feinstein will provide sufficient independent direction to convince the Court to write their own summary.

Now, I’m interested in this for two reasons. First, consider what it means that the Administration and their complacent-overseer DiFi refused to let Jeff Merkley’s amendment–which would have called for summaries in some cases–pass. For starters, it would have shortened the time frame (two years have already passed since Lisa Monaco assured Senators she’d declassify opinions if only they confirmed her) it’d take to ask the Courts for a summary and get it. Additionally, it would have required the government admit if they could not, would not, declassify any teensy bit of the opinions on this secret law. That is, they’d have to finally admit there is secret law, which they’re denying right now.

I’m officially predicting that all this will be wrapped up a few short months after after the PATRIOT Act gets extended in 2015, forestalling the moment yet again when we confirm that the government is conducting massive surveillance on innocent Americans.

But then there’s the claim that they cannot summarize this themselves (suggesting, as I said, that there was no way DOJ could write a summary that the FISC would buy off on).

Frankly, I don’t buy that. Even John Yoo’s November 2, 2001 opinion authorizing the illegal wiretap program–a 21 page document redacted down to 183 words–communicates the main gist of the opinion:

FISA only provides a safe harbor for electronic surveillance and cannot restrict the President’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.

[snip]

FISA purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence.

[snip]

Such a reading of FISA would be an unconstitutional infringement on the President’s Article II authorities.

[snip\

Thus, unless Congress made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area–which it has not–then the statute must be construed to avoid such a reading.

[snip]

…we do not believe that Congress may restrict the President’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence to defend the nation from direct attacks.

[snip]

…intelligence gathering in direct support of military operations does not trigger constitutional rights against illegal searches and seizures.

[snip]

A warrantless search can be constitutional “when special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable.”

[snip]

…no governmental interest is more compelling than the security of the Nation.” Haig v. Agee. 453 US 280. 307 (1981)

Of course, in this case, the government is hiding the current interpretation of law. So rather than displaying the ugly shreds of our Constitution as it existed when Dick Cheney roamed the halls (though some of these opinions were written under the Bush Administration), the government is faced with revealing the ugly shreds of our Constitution as it exists. And 183 words, even in an opinion written by FISC, is probably sufficient to get some complacent people rather worried.

Then there’s the matter I noted the other day. In Merkley’s speech supporting his amendment, he focused on how Section 215 plays–apparently in conjunction with FAA (that’s why the government doesn’t want FAA debated at the same time as Section 215; because we might get “confused”)–particularly the passage that allows the government to get business records relevant to an investigation.

Let me show an example of a passage. Here is a passage about what information can be collected: “ ….. reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2),” and so on.

Let me stress these words: “relevant to an authorized investigation.”

There are ongoing investigations, multitude investigations about the conduct of individuals and groups around this planet, and one could make the argument that any information in the world helps frame an understanding of what these foreign groups are doing. So certainly there has been some FISA Court decision about what “relevant to an authorized investigation” means or what “tangible things” means. Is this a gateway that is thrown wide open to any level of spying on Americans or is it not? Is it tightly constrained in understanding what this balance of the fourth amendment is? We do not know the answer to that. We should be able to know.

As I noted, Merkley professes not to know whether the “relevant to” provision of Section 215 has been used to gut probable cause in a way far more thorough than even John Yoo accomplished. But most of the co-sponsors of his Amendment do know.

And while I still think you’d be able to summarize even that, if the thing they’re trying to hide is that Section 215 has been grafted onto FAA so as to permit the government to access any tangible thing from anyone for whatever shoddy reason the government invents, I do get why it’d be hard to summarize that and still hide the fact that that’s what is now going on.

I guess they think it’d be confusing for us if their claims that there isn’t a massive program of government surveillance were proven to be utterly false.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @goodyk Had to go to the airport. Which prevented me from saying you were right. Ugh.
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bmaz @robertcaruso @KatieSimpsonCTV Hey, in Ohio that person would be dead; the border is apparently safer!
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bmaz @goodyk Meh, I think the defense looks different if they were not gambling and pressing because there is no possibility of offense.
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bmaz @goodyk No. But would really like to have seen how this game went with Carson Palmer, or, really, any quarterback, around.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @remesdh: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/eB7tiZlzCH
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emptywheel @thegrugq Precisely. Some criminal networks are more lucrative than others--esp if top govt officials are revolving door in and out of it.
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emptywheel @thegrugq See also Wall Street.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @JasonLeopold: NYT Editorial Board: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/BPPranpgDy
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JimWhiteGNV RT @froomkin: NYT editorial: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/nqXkNZ3VQY
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JimWhiteGNV @bsonenstein Maybe tomorrow?
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JimWhiteGNV Costas the philosopher. #Destiny
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bmaz @JimWhiteGNV Yes. But the inevitable has started.
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