John Brennan

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Behold, John Brennan’s Scary Memo!

Brennan with TortureI’ve been writing for a long time about the “Scary Memos” the government used to justify its dragnet.

As the Joint IG Report described, they started in tandem with George Bush’s illegal wiretap program, and were written before each 45-day reauthorization to argue the threat to the US was serious enough to dismiss any Fourth Amendment concerns that the President was wiretapping Americans domestically.

Jack Goldsmith relied on one for his May 6, 2004 memo reauthorizing some — but not all — of the dragnet.

Yesterday, James Clapper’s office released the Scary Memo included in the FISA Court application to authorize the Internet dragnet just two months later, on July 14, 2004.

ODNI calls it the Tenet Declaration — indeed it is signed by him (which, given that he left government on July 11, 2004 and that final FISC applications tend to be submitted days before their approval, may suggest signing this Scary Memo was among the very last things he did as CIA Director).

Yet the Memo would have been written by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, then headed by John Brennan.

Much of the Scary Memo describes a “possible imminent threat” that DOJ plans to counter by,

seeking authority from this Court [redacted] to install and use pen register and trap and trace devices to support FBI investigations to identify [redacted], in the United States and abroad, by obtaining the metadata regarding their electronic communications.

There is no mention of NSA. There is no mention that the program operated without legal basis for the previous 2.5 years. And there’s a very curious redaction after “this Court;” perhaps CIA also made a show of having the President authorize it, so as to sustain a claim that all this could be conducted exclusively on Presidential authority?

After dropping mention of WMD – anthrax! fissile material! chemical weapons! — the Scary Memo admits it has no real details about this “possible imminent threat.”

[W]e have no specific information regarding the exact times, targets, or tactics for those planned attacks, we have gathered and continue to gather intelligence that leads us to believe that the next terrorist attack or attacks on US soil could be imminent.

[snip]

Reporting [redacted] does not provide specific information on the targets to be hit or methods to be used in the US attack or attacks.

But based on “detainee statements and [redacted] public statements since 9/11,” the Scary Memo lays out, CIA believes al Qaeda (curiously, sometimes they redact al Qaeda, sometimes they don’t) wants to target symbols of US power that would negatively impact the US economy and cause mass casualties and spread fear.

It took an “intelligence” agency to come up with that.

Based on that “intelligence,” it appears, but not on any solid evidence, CIA concludes that the Presidential conventions would make juicy targets for al Qaeda.

Attacks against or in the host cities for the Democratic and Republican Party conventions would be especially attractive to [redacted].

And because of that — because CIA’s “intelligence” has decided a terrorist group likes to launch attacks that cause terror and therefore must be targeting the Presidential conventions — the FBI (though of course it’s really the NSA) needs to hunt out “sleeper cells.”

Identifying and disrupting the North American-based cells involved in tactical planning offers the most direct path to stopping an attack or attacks against the US homeland. Numerous credible intelligence reports since 9/11 indicate [redacted] has “sleepers” in North America. We judge that these “sleepers” have been in North American, and the US in general, for much of the past two years. We base our judgment, in part, [redacted] as well as on information [redacted] that [redacted] had operatives here.

Before we get to what led CIA to suggest the US was targeted, step back and look at this intelligence for a moment. This report mentions detainee reporting twice. It redacts the name of what are probably detainees in several places. Indeed, several of the claims in this report appear to match those from the exactly contemporaneous document CIA did on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to justify its torture program, thus must come from him.

Yet, over a year after KSM had been allegedly rendered completely cooperative via waterboarding, CIA still did not know the answer to a question that KSM was probably one of the only people alive who could answer.

We continue to investigate whether the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui may have accelerated the timetable for the 9/11 attacks because he knew of al-Qa’ida’s intention to use commercial aircraft as weapons.

Nevertheless, they believed KSM was being totally straight up and forthcoming.

Note, too, the CIA relied on claims of sleeper cells that were then two years old, dating back to the time they were torturing Abu Zubaydah, whom we know did give “intelligence” about sleeper cells.

To be sure, we know CIA’s claims of a “possible imminent threat” in the US do not derive exclusively from CIA’s earlier torture (though CIA had claimed, just months earlier, that their best intelligence came from that source for the Inspector General’s report).

Less than 3 weeks after this Scary Memo was written, we’d begin to see public notice of this “possible imminent threat,” when Tom Ridge raised the threat level on August 1, 2004 because of an election year plot, purportedly in response to the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan in Pakistan on July 13 (which could only have been included in “the Tenet declaration” if Khan were secretly arrested and flipped earlier, because Tenet was no longer CIA Director on July 13). But what little basis the election year plot had in any reality dated back to the December 2003 British arrest and beating of Khan’s cousin, Babar Ahmed, which would lead to both Khan’s eventual capture as well as the British surveillance of Dhiren Barot as early as June 10 and the latter’s premature arrest on August 3. KSM’s nephew, Musaad Aruchi, was also handed over by Pakistan to CIA on June 12; best as I know, he remains among those permanently disappeared in CIA’s torture program. This would also lead to a new round of torture memos reauthorizing everything that had been approved in the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo plus some.

The claims the US was a target derive, based on the reporting in the NYT, from Dhiren Barot. Barot apparently did want to launch a terrorist attack. Both KSM and Hambali had identified Barot during interrogations in 2003, and he had scouted out attack sites in the US in 2000 and 2001. But his active plots in 2004 were all focused on the UK. In 2007 the Brits reduced his sentence because his plots weren’t really all that active or realistic.

Which is to say this election plot — the Scary Plot that drives the Scary Memo that provided the excuse for rolling out (or rather, giving judicial approval for continuing) an Internet dragnet that would one day encompass all Americans — arose in significant part from 2003 torture-influenced interrogations that led to the real world detention of men who had contemplated attacking the US in 2000, but by 2004 were aspirationally plotting to attack the UK, not the US, as well as men who may have been plotting in Pakistan but were not in the US.

That, plus vague references to claims that surely were torture derived, is what John Brennan appears to have laid out in his case for legally justifying a US dragnet.

You see, it’s actually John Brennan’s dragnet — it all goes back to his Scary Memo — and his role in it is presumably one of the reasons he doesn’t want us to know how many lies went into the CIA torture program.

Brennan’s Scary Memo provides yet more evidence how closely linked are torture and the surveillance of every American.

How Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Put CIA and FBI in NSA’s Databases

I said yesterday that the plan, going as far back as 2002, was to let CIA and FBI tap right into NSA’s data. I base that on this explanation from Keith Alexander, which he included in his declaration accompanying the End to End Report that was submitted sometime after October 30, 2009.

By the fall of 2002, the Intelligence Community had grown increasingly concerned about the potential for further attacks on the United States. For example, during 10 to 24 September 2002, the Government raised the homeland security threat condition to “orange,” indicating a high likelihood of attack. In this context, in October 2002 the Directors of NSA, CIA, and FBI established an Inter-Agency Review Group to examine information sharing [redacted] The group’s top recommendation was that NSA create a common target knowledge database to allow joint research and information exchanges [redacted].

Of course, we now know that the threat level was high in September 2002 because the government was chasing down a bunch of false leads from Abu Zubaydah’s torture.

Abu Zubaida’s revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological “dirty bomb” in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.

“We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official said.

In other words, the justification for creating a database where CIA and FBI could directly access much of NSA’s data was a mirage, one created by CIA’s own torture.

All that’s separate from the question of whether CIA and FBI should have access directly to NSA’s data. Perhaps it makes us more responsive. Perhaps it perpetuates this process of chasing ghosts. That’s a debate we should have based on actual results, not the tortured false confessions of a decade past.

But it’s a testament to two things: the way in which torture created the illusion of danger, and the degree to which torture — and threat claims based on it — have secretly served as the basis the Executive uses to demand the FISA Court permit it to extend the dragnet.

Even the current CIA Director has admitted this to be true — though without explicitly laying out the import of it. Isn’t it time we start acknowledging this — and reassessing the civil liberties damage done because of it — rather than keeping it hidden under redactions?

Working Thread, Internet Dragnet Dump 2: 2004 Documents

This will be a closer working thread on documents released yesterday.

X: Initial Dragnet Application (prior to July 14, 2004)

(2) From the start, the government said they wanted to disseminate the dragnet info, perhaps to tag into FBI’s investigative authorities.

(2) The footnote defining metadata hides all the stuff not associated with “standard e-mails.”

(4) The application discusses the briefing I discussed here, attended by (among others) John Brennan.

(5) The application is not submitted by a lawyer, but by Michael Hayden.

(6) The government hasn’t released a Tenet submission; back in November it hid that this submission was from him.

(16) ODNI maintains that the fictional example of metadata is classified.

(18) Originally access was restricted by making the metadata accessible only by 2 admin login accounts. That’s probably a carry-over from the compartments of the illegal program.

(20) RAS approval assigned to the same 7 authorizers that were in place for the beginning of the phone dragnet in 2006.

(21) They’re hiding at least one kind of Internet metadata.

(23) Metadata originally accessible for only 18 months. Is that what they used for the illegal dragnet?

Y. Memo of Law in Support of Original Dragnet Application, before July 14, 2004

(4) The government claims that only email metadata related to terrorism will be seen. By definition, that means anything returned in a query would be related to counterterrorism and therefore game for dissemination.

(4) This is the jist of the illegal use of PRTT for the dragnet:

Nevertheless, it involves nothing more than adapting the traditional tools of FISA to meet an unprecedented challenge and does so in a way that promotes both of the twin goals of FISA: facilitating the foreign-intelligence collection needed to protect American lives while at the same time providing judicial oversight to safeguard American freedoms.

This claim is followed by a 5-page redaction, which is mighty interesting as it would have to explain why this judicial review was so useful.

(9) Footnote 5 again makes it clear that this involves email and other online communications.

(12) This language is remarkable for a secret court document.

Collecting and archiving meta data is thus the best avenue for solving this fundamental problem: although investigators do know know exactly where the terrorists’ communications are hiding in the billions of bits of data flowing through the United States today, we do know that they are there, and if we archive the data now, we will be able to use it in a targeted way to find the terrorists tomorrow.

(20) This language is particularly important given debates about USA Freedom.

Nothing in the definitions of pen registers or trap and trace devices requires that the “instrument” or “facility” on which the device is placed carry the communications solely of a single user.

(20) This section really tries to constrain the Court.

Unlike certain other certifications made in other contexts under the statute, see, e.g., U.S.C. § 1805(a)(5), FISA does not subject the certification of relevance to any review by the Court.

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The President Who Demanded Stanley McChrystal’s Resignation Is Not Sheltering the NatSec Bureaucracy

As I have repeatedly noted, I think President Obama will protect John Brennan — and the CIA more generally — because of the mutual complicity built in between CIA and the White House over covert ops.

It’s not just that CIA knows the full details of the drone killings Obama authorized on his sole authority. It’s also that the CIA is still protecting the Office of the Presidency’s role in torture by withholding from the Senate documents over which the White House might — but did not formally — claim Executive Privilege. Obama did the same thing when he went to some lengths to prevent a very short phrase making it clear torture was Presidentially-authorized from being released in 2009; it wasn’t just the Finding that still authorized his drone strikes the President was protecting, but the Office that George Bush sullied by approving torture.

I also think Obama will stand by Brennan because they have worked closely so long Brennan is one of Obama’s guys.

Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t agree, however. After dismissing Conor Friedersdorf’s version of the mutual incrimination argument, he suggests Obama is simply demonstrating to the national security bureaucracy he’s on their side.

Obama is concerned -– in my view, overly so -– with demonstrating to the intelligence bureaucracy, the broader national security bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in general, that he is on their side. The basic impulse to stand up for the people he appointed isn’t a bad one; nor is the impulse to demonstrate to the intelligence community that he is no wild-eyed peacenik softie who opposes the work they do. For one thing, he’s more likely to effect change in national security areas if experts in the government believe he’s at least sympathetic to them as individuals and to their basic goals, even if he questions some of the George W.Bush-era (or earlier) methods. For another, the ability of bureaucrats to hurt the president with leaks doesn’t depend on the existence of deep dark secrets. Every president is vulnerable to selective leaks and a drumbeat of steady negative interpretations from the bureaucracy.

And yet, overdoing support for the bureaucracy can have severe costs. On torture, for example, emphasizing the good intentions of those faced with difficult choices during the last decade makes sense. But failing to take action, and leaving bureaucrats with serious liabilities because the status of their past actions is unresolved, only may have made reassuring them of presidential support increasingly necessary. That’s not a healthy situation.

Again: some of the incentive to (at least at first) stand up for presidential appointees is inherent in the presidency, and a healthy thing to do even when the president believes people have misbehaved and should go. But throughout his presidency, Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to potentially crossing his national security bureaucracy, and I strongly suspect that torture and other Bush-era abuses are both part of the original cause and will cause more of that timidity down the road.

Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to crossing his NatSec bureaucracy?

First, as I have already noted, Obama was perfectly happy demanding David Petraeus’ resignation for fucking his biographer. While I have my doubts whether that was really the reason — and while by firing him, Obama undercut a potential 2012 rival — he didn’t shy away from firing a man with some of the best PR in DC.

You might also ask the 19 top Generals and Admirals Obama has fired (most with the help of Bob Gates; also note the 20th on this list is Petraeus) — so many that conservatives accuse him of “purging” — whether he’s squeamish about crossing the NatSec bureaucracy. And while Micah Zenko’s comment on Twitter is correct that intelligence officials have largely escaped this treatment, Obama seemed happy to use  Michael Leiter’s National Counterterrorism Center’s failure to stop the UndieBomb attack to fire then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

President Obama is not a man afraid to fire members of the national security bureaucracy.

The starkest contrast with Brennan’s treatment comes from the case of Stanley McChrystal.

Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation not because his night raids were exacerbating extremism in Afghanistan. Not because many service members felt he had left them exposed. Not because, even then, it was clear the surge in Afghanistan was going to fail.

Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his top aides (including Michael Flynn, who quit in April because of differences on policy) being insubordinate. Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because doing so was necessary to maintain the primacy of civilian control — like separation of powers, one of the bedrocks ensuring national security doesn’t trump democracy.

That, to me, is the important takeaway from comparing McChrystal’s fate with Brennan’s.

When a top member of the national security bureaucracy challenged the control of the civilian executive, he got canned, appropriately, in my opinion.

But when the Director of the CIA permitted his Agency to strike at the core of the separation of powers by investigating its overseers, Obama offered his support. Obama may have fired a top general for threatening Executive authority, but he has supported a top aide after he threatened Legislative authority.

You can come up with any number of explanations why Obama did that. But being afraid of taking on his National Security bureaucracy — as distinct from taking on the intelligence agencies, as Obama chose not to do when Clapper lied or when Keith Alexander oversaw the leaking of the family jewels even while getting pwned in his core cyberdefense capacity — is not the explanation.

Obama has proven to have no qualms about upsetting his national security bureaucracy. Just that part of it run covertly.

Under Clapper’s Continuous Monitoring CIA Could Continuously Monitor SSCI on CIA Network

As I pointed out the other day, the CIA IG Report on spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to say the egregious spying happened after John Brennan told Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss on January 15 CIA had been spying on SSCI.

Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet:

Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.

Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff:

The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.

Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity:

Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.

With that in mind, consider this passage of James Clapper’s July 25, 2014 response to Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden’s concerns about Clapper’s new ongoing spying on clearance holders.

With respect to your second question about monitoring of Members of Congress and Legislative Branch employees, in general those individuals will not be subject to [User Activity Monitoring] because their classified networks are not included in the definition of national security systems (NSS) for which monitoring is required.

[snip]

Because no internally owned or operated Legislative branch network qualifies as a national security system, UAM by the Executive Branch is accordingly neither required nor conducted. To be clear, however, when Legislative Branch personnel access a national security system used or operated by the Executive Branch, they are of course subject to UAM on that particular system.

CIA’s spying on SSCI took place on CIA’s RDI network, not on the SSCI one. SSCI had originally demanded they be given the documents pertaining to the torture program, but ultimately Leon Panetta required them to work on a CIA network, as Dianne Feinstein explained earlier this year.

The committee’s preference was for the CIA to turn over all responsive documents to the committee’s office, as had been done in previous committee investigations.

Director Panetta proposed an alternative arrangement: to provide literally millions of pages of operational cables, internal emails, memos, and other documents pursuant to the committee’s document requests at a secure location in Northern Virginia. We agreed, but insisted on several conditions and protections to ensure the integrity of this congressional investigation.

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

It was this computer network that, notwithstanding our agreement with Director Panetta, was searched by the CIA this past January,

Presumably, those limits on access should have prevented CIA’s IT guys from sharing information about what SSCI was doing on the network. But it’s not clear they would override Clapper’s UAM.

Remember, too, when Brennan first explained how this spying didn’t qualify as a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, he said CIA could conduct “lawfully authorized … protective … activity” in the US. Presumably like UAM.

I have no idea whether this explains why CIA’s IG retracted what Feinstein said had been his own criminal referral or not. But I do wonder whether the CIA has self-excused some of its spying on SSCI in the interest of continuous user monitoring?

If so, it would be the height of irony, as UAM did not discover either Chelsea Manning’s or Edward Snowden’s leaks. Imagine if the only leakers the Intelligence Community ever found were their own overseers?

Say, Why Should Mikey Hayden Get a Say on Torture that Purportedly Preceded Him?

My favorite call for John Brennan’s head thus far comes from Fred Fleitz, who helped John Bolton sex up WMD claims leading into the Iraq War.  He says John Brennan has to resign not just to shore up CIA’s relations with Congress, but also NSA’s.

I believe CIA director John Brennan and agency officials involved in the monitoring of computers used by the SSCI staff must resign to help mend the CIA’s relationship with Congress. Such resignations would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of the SSCI in the CIA and, it is to be hoped, would win the agency and the National Security Agency some crucial allies in both houses of Congress to fend off several ill-advised intelligence-reform proposals currently under discussion there.

But that’s not my favorite part. Nor is where this “intelligence” professional says a report voted out with support from John McCain (in the first vote) and Susan Collins (in the second) is a Democratic vote. Nor is the bit where Fleitz claims the program was properly briefed, which it wasn’t.

My favorite part is Fleitz’ conflicting claims about Michael Hayden.

The main focus of the SSCI probe reportedly is to prove Democratic claims that the effectiveness of the enhanced-interrogation program has been exaggerated. Former CIA director Michael Hayden and other former senior CIA officials involved in the enhanced-interrogation program dispute this. According to Hayden, as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from harsh interrogations.

Despite their firsthand knowledge of the enhanced-interrogation program, there is no input in the SSCI report from Hayden, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, or other CIA officials, since the report is based solely on an examination of documents.

Assertion 1) Michael Hayden claims half of the government’s knowledge about al Qaeda came from torture, meaning no more than half came from the illegal torture he was conducting at the time over at NSA (and also meaning that relatively more intelligence has come in from SIGINT since Hayden left).

Assertion 2) Michael Hayden, whose entire CIA tenure post-dated the Detainee Treatment Act that made the torture program illegal, should have some say in a torture report.

Maybe Hayden was spying on the CIA while he was in charge of NSA. Or maybe (ok, in fact) Hayden continued torture after such time as Congress made it doubly illegal.

But in the same way that Cofer Black should not need to have a say in torture if the CIA’s false narrative were not false, Michael Hayden shouldn’t either.

Man, as much as this report is demonstrating how much CIA lies and how useless their torture program was, it also demonstrates the misnomer of the whole “intelligence” label.

USA Freedom Does Not Rein in the Spies

Honest. I started writing about this David Cole column asking, “Can Congress rein in the spies?” before John Brennan admitted that, contrary to his earlier assurances, his spooks actually had been spying on their Congressional overseers and also before President Obama announced that, nevertheless, he still has confidence in Brennan.

Cole’s column isn’t about the the Senate Intelligence Committee’s struggles to be able to document CIA torture, however. It’s about how Patrick Leahy introduced his version of USA Freedom Act “not a moment too soon.”

I don’t want to gripe with the column’s presentation of Leahy’s version of Freedom; with a few notable exceptions (one which I’ll get to), it accurately describes how Leahy’s bill improves on the bill the spies gutted in the House.

I first wanted to point to why Cole says Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon.

Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the costs of a system that allows its government to conduct dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing. In With Liberty to Monitor All, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU make a powerful case that mass surveillance has already had a devastating effect on journalists’ ability to monitor and report on national security measures, and on lawyers’ ability to represent victims of government overreaching. And the same day, the New America Foundation issued Surveillance Costs, a report noting the widespread economic harm to US tech companies that NSA surveillance has inflicted, as potential customers around the world take their business elsewhere.

Together, these reports make concrete the damaging effects of out-of-control surveillance, even to those with “nothing to hide.” Our democracy has long rested on a vibrant and vigorous press and open legal system. On matters of national security, journalists probably serve as a more important check on the executive than even the courts or Congress.

[snip]

And, it turns out, tech companies also need to be able to promise confidentiality. Customers of Internet services or cloud computing storage programs, for example, expect and need to be certain that their messages and stored data will be private. Snowden’s revelations that the NSA has been collecting vast amounts of computer data, and has exploited vulnerabilities in corporate encryption programs, have caused many to lose confidence in the security of American tech companies in particular.

Cole describes the great costs out-of-control surveillance imposes on journalists, lawyers, and cloud providers, and implies we cannot wait to reverse those costs.

Then he embraces a bill that would not protect journalists’ conversations with whistleblowers (Leahy’s Freedom still permits the traditional access of metadata for counterintelligence purposes as well as the Internet dragnet conducted overseas) or alleged terrorists, would not protect lawyers’ discussions with their clients (the known attorney-client protected collections happened under traditional FISA, EO 12333, and possibly Section 702, none of which get changed in this bill), and would expose American companies’ clouds even further to assisted government access under the new Call Detail Record provision.

Cole does admit the bill does not address Section 702; he doesn’t mention EO 12333 at all, even though both the HRW and NAF reports did.

Senator Leahy’s bill is not a cure-all. It is primarily addressed to the collection of data within the United States, and does little to reform Section 702, the statute that authorizes the PRISM program and allows the government to collect the content of electronic communications of noncitizens abroad, even if they are communicating with US citizens here. And it says nothing about the NSA’s deeply troubling practice of inserting vulnerabilities into encryption programs that can be exploited by any hacker. It won’t, therefore, solve all the problems that the HRW and New American Foundation reports identify. But it would mark an important and consequential first step.

But he doesn’t admit the bill does little to address the specific sources of the costs identified in the two reports. It’s not a minute too soon to address these costs, he says, but then embraces a bill that doesn’t really address the actual sources of the costs identified in the reports.

That is mostly besides the point of whether Leahy’s bill is a fair apples-to-oranges trade-off with the status quo as to represent an improvement – an answer to which I can’t yet give, given some of the obvious unanswered questions about the bill. It is, however, a testament to how some of its supporters are overselling this bill and with it anyone’s ability to rein in the intelligence community.

But it’s one testament to that that bugs me most about Cole’s column. As I noted, he does mention Leahy’s failure to do anything about Section 702. Nowhere in his discussion of 702, however, does he mention that it permits warrantless access to Americans’ content, one which FBI uses when conducting mere assessments of Americans. Which of course means Cole doesn’t mention the most inexcusable part of the bill — its exemption on already soft reporting requirements to provide the numbers for how many Americans get exposed to these back door searches.

I’m not a fancy Georgetown lawyer, but I strongly believe the back door searches — conducted as they are with no notice to anyone ultimately prosecuted based off such information — are illegal, and probably unconstitutional. When retired DC Circuit Court judge Patricia Wald raised these problems with the practice, Director of National Intelligence Counsel Bob Litt simply said it would be “impracticable” to add greater oversight to back door searches. And in spite of the fact that both the President’s Review Group and PCLOB advised significant controls on this practice (which implicates the costs identified in both the HRW and NAF reports), the version of USA Freedom Act crafted by the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the Committee that’s supposed to ensure the government follows the law — not only doesn’t rein in the practice, but it exempts the most egregious part of the practice from the transparency applauded by people like Cole, thereby tacitly endorsing the worst part of the practice.

And all that’s before you consider that the IC also conducts back door searches of EO 12333 collected information — as first reported by me, but recently largely confirmed by John Napier Tye. And before you consider the IC’s explicit threat — issued during the passage of the Protect America Act — that if they don’t like any regulation Congress passes, they’ll just move the program to EO 12333.

The point is, Congress can’t rein in the IC, and that’s only partly because (what I expect drives the Senate’s unwillingness to deal with back door searches) many members of Congress choose not to. The have not asserted their authority over the IC, up to and including insisting that the protections for US persons under FISA Amendments Act actually get delivered.

In response to the news that Brennan’s spies had been spying on its Senate overseers, Patrick Leahy (who of course got targeted during the original PATRIOT debate with a terrorist anthrax attack) issued a statement insisting on the importance of Congressional oversight.

Congressional oversight of the executive branch, without fear of interference or intimidation, is fundamental to our Nation’s founding principle of the separation of powers.

Yet his bill — which is definitely an improvement over USA Freedumber but not clearly, in my opinion, an improvement on the status quo — tacitly endorses the notion that FBI can conduct warrantless searches on US person communications without even having real basis for an investigation.

That’s not reining in the spies. That’s blessing them.

But Brennan Didn’t Fuck His Biographer!

Brennan with TorturePresident Obama made a bunch of news today with the following.

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan.  I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.  And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled.  Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.  We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened.  I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.  And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.  And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.  And that’s what that report reflects.

Amidst calls for Brennan’s firing, Obama basically responded, “Sure, we tortured some folks, but I still have confidence in the guy who found the waterboard and black sites at which to torture.”

But I’m not sure why folks are so surprised by Obama’s reluctance to criticize Brennan for lying about hacking the SSCI. Aside from the mutual complicity — Brennan was personal witness to each and every drone strike Obama approved that violated international law, after all — CIA Directors don’t get fired for lying.

They get fired for fucking their biographer.

Is CIA’s Admission of Spying an Effort to Undercut Whistleblowers?

The CIA spied on Congress! The headlines yesterday read.

By the end of the day, the CIA shared the unclassified summary of Inspector General David Buckley’s conclusions.

But the conclusions are a muddle:

Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet:

Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.

Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff:

The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.

Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity:

Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.

Lack of Candor:

The three IT staff members demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews by the OIG.

Compare the suggested chronology of these bullets with some of the details Dianne Feinstein provided in March.

[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search”—that was John Brennan’s word—of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.

According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.

Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.

[snip]

Days after the meeting with Director Brennan, the CIA inspector general, David Buckley, learned of the CIA search and began an investigation into CIA’s activities. I have been informed that Mr. Buckley has referred the matter to the Department of Justice given the possibility of a criminal violation by CIA personnel.

[snip]

Weeks later, I was also told that after the inspector general referred the CIA’s activities to the Department of Justice, the acting general counsel of the CIA filed a crimes report with the Department of Justice concerning the committee staff’s actions.

According to DiFi, CIA had already accessed the servers by January 15. Buckley says that at least some of the searches — the ones by the Office of Security — happened after that point, after Brennan ordered them to stop.

This limited hangout is not just an admission that CIA spied on SSCI, but that they spied and continued spying.

Buckley also appears to be saying that what DiFi described as his own referral (though he doesn’t refer to it as such) — made sometime before March — was based off erroneous information. The implication is DOJ didn’t pursue charges because they were told the original allegations — which Buckley passed on, according to DiFi — were incorrect.

That’s all very fishy, particularly when you recall this story, about the CIA spying on its own whistleblower in the matter.

The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

[snip]

Buckley obtained the email, which was written by Daniel Meyer, the intelligence community’s top official for whistleblower cases, to the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a leading whistleblower-protection advocate. The Senate Intelligence Committee also learned of the matter, said the knowledgeable people.

After obtaining the email, Buckley approached Meyer’s boss, I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the 17-agency U.S. intelligence community, in what may have constituted a violation of the confidentiality of the whistleblowing process, they said.

[snip]

Meyer’s email concerned allegations that Buckley failed to thoroughly investigate a whistleblower retaliation claim, McClatchy has learned. The retaliation allegedly involved delays by the CIA in paying the legal fees of CIA officials who cooperated with the Senate committee. An indemnification agreement required the agency to cover those costs – which it eventually did – as long as the officers weren’t found to have committed any wrongdoing.

We know David Buckley has been treating whistleblowers inappropriately. Yet he’s the guy who apparently reneged on his claims that CIA illegally spied. Even though they spied after the time John Brennan told them (heh) to stop.

Having Been Absolved by DOJ, CIA Now Admits They Illegally Spied on SSCI

When Ron Wyden first asked John Brennan whether CIA had to comply with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Brennan suggested they didn’t have to if they were conducting investigations.

The statute does apply. The Act, however, expressly “does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity … of an intelligence agency of the United States.” 18 U.S.C. § 1030(f).

Then in March, after Senator Feinstein accused the CIA of improperly spying on her committee, Brennan claimed it was outside the realm of possibility.

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

Now that DOJ has decided not to investigate CIA’s illegal domestic spying, we learn it was well within the realm of possibility.

CIA employees improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a report on the agency’s now defunct detention and interrogation program, an internal CIA investigation has determined.

Findings of the investigation by the CIA Inspector General’s Office “include a judgment that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) and the CIA in 2009,” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement.

Brennan’s solution is to have corrupt hack Evan Bayh conduct an accountability review of the spying.

Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are furious. DiFi is less so. The Republicans on the Committee have been silent; apparently they’re okay with CIA breaching separation of powers.

And yet again, the CIA proves it refuses to subsist within democratic structures.

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