John Conyers

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The RNC and the Dead-Enders

If you’ve spent much time in political party conventions, you likely know that the resolution process largely serves as an opportunity for active members to vent. While party resolutions might represent where the ideological base of the party is, nothing prevents the elected leaders of the party to blow off resolutions (though at times resolutions are deemed toxic enough for leaders to undermine by parliamentary stunts).

Which is why I find the response to the RNC’s resolution renouncing the NSA’s “Surveillance Prorgam” (it mentions PRISM and, implicitly, the phone dragnet) so interesting.

There are responses like this, from Kevin Drum, who spins it as pure politics.

I get that politics is politics, and the grass always looks browner when the other party occupies the Oval Office. And there are plenty of liberals who are less outraged by this program today than they were back when George Bush and Dick Cheney were in charge of it.

But holy cow! The RNC! Officially condemning a national security program that was designedby Republicans to fight terrorism!

Benjy Sarlin, in the account Drum linked, got the politics more clear, reading this, in part, as the influence of libertarians who largely gained ascendance as part of a backlash against Bush policies or at least failures.

But the resolution also is a sign of the increasing influence of the libertarian wing of the party, especially supporters of Ron Paul and his son, Rand Paul, who have made government overreach in pursuit of terrorists a top issue. Both Orrock and fellow Nevada Committeeman James Smack, who presented the resolution on her behalf, supported the elder Paul’s presidential campaign.

But I also think there’s more to it.

There is certainly a great deal of opportunism here (note, Democrats’ utter disdain for tech companies’ concerns about the dragnet make this a monetary, as well as political opportunity for the GOP, one already bearing fruit). And while the GOP establishment is still cautiously trying to regain control over the Tea Party forces that it once encouraged, there has also been a slow change in traditional conservatives’ stance, too, which I measure through Amash-Conyers opponent Bob Goodlatte’s changing position.

Goodlatte has issued three statements in recent weeks (January 9, January 17, and January 23) calling for reform (including more civil liberties protections and attention to tech companies’ concerns) and more transparency. In the most interesting of the statements, Goodlatte suggested that if Obama wanted to keep the dragnet he’d have to explain what purpose it was really serving and then argue that that purpose

Over the course of the past several months, I have urged President Obama to bring more transparency to the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering programs in order to regain the trust of the American people. In particular, if the President believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security. The President has unique information about the merits of these programs and the extent of their usefulness. This information is critical to informing Congress on how far to go in reforming the programs. Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate. [my emphasis]

As I’ve been pointing out for some time, no dragnet defenders have yet to explain what purpose it really serves, and I’m struck that Goodlatte seems to suggest the same. Note, too, that Goodlatte was among the 6 Representatives who attended Bruce Schneier’s briefing on what NSA was really doing, along with leading GOP dragnet opponents Jim Sensenbrenner and Justin Amash and 3 Democrats.

I would suggest to Democrats who see this resolution exclusively as an overly cynical attack on Obama there may, in fact, be things that could explain why Republicans specifically or reasonable Americans more generally might have good reason to oppose the dragnet.

Now back to the resolution. As Sarlin notes, “Not a single member rose to object or call for further debate, as occurred for other resolutions.” (I like to think that had Michigan’s retrograde Dave Agema been able to participate rather than fending off calls for his resignation, he might have spoken up for authoritarianism.)

Instead of opposition from the Republican Party then, came first this quote to Sarlin,

“I think it probably does reflect the views of many of the people who really want to turn out the vote and who are viewing the world through the prism of the next election,” Stewart Baker, a former Bush-era Homeland Security official, told msnbc in an email. “It’s a widespread view among Republicans, but I think the ones that know this institution best and for whom national security is a high priority don’t share this view.”

Then what Eli Lake reports as a letter (Lake doesn’t say to whom) from just one elected official — KS Representative and House Intelligence Committee member Mike Pompeo — and 7 Bush officials (including Baker) blasting the resolution. Part of the letter, apparently, serves to waggle National Security seniority, as Baker already had.

Their letter says: “The Republican National Committee plays a vital role in political campaigns, but it has relatively little expertise in national security.”

And part of it serves to correct a technical inaccuracy that may not be one.

In particular the letter takes issue with the resolution’s claim that the NSA’s PRISM program “monitors searching habits of virtually every American on the internet.”

“In fact, there is no program that monitors the searches of all Americans,” the letter says. “And what has become known as the PRISM program is not aimed at collecting the communications of Americans. It is targeted at the international communications of foreign persons located outside the United States and is precisely the type of foreign-targeted surveillance that Congress approved in 2008 and 2012 when it enacted and reauthorized amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

At issue is the language of the resolution, which starts by discussing PRISM, but then talks about what is clearly the phone (though it would encompass the Internet) dragnet, but then explicitly returns to both, by name of the authority that govern them.

WHEREAS, the secret surveillance program called PRISM targets, among other things, the surveillance of U.S. citizens on a vast scale and monitors searching habits of virtually every American on the internet;

WHEREAS, this dragnet program is, as far as we know, the largest surveillance effort ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens, consisting of the mass acquisition of Americans’ call details encompassing all wireless and landline subscribers of the country’s three largest phone companies.

[snip]

RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to enact legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records and correspondence — electronic, physical, and otherwise — of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;

RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to call for a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying and the committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform ot end unconstitutional surveillance as well as hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance; [my emphasis]

7 Bush officials and 1 HPSCI member (but not, oddly enough, the always boisterous Mike Rogers) have weighed in to say that the NSA doesn’t monitor the searches of some Americans and then trots out the tired “targeted at foreign persons” line, without addressing the question of blanket surveillance of communications more generally.

Sarlin, in his piece, similarly retreats to “targeting” claptrap, claiming only that “lawmakers have accused the agency of overreaching.”

Somehow both the Bush dead-enders and Sarlin neglect to mention backdoor searches, which allow the NSA to use metadata collected under a range of dragnets to obtain US content without even Reasonable Articulable Suspicion.

And while it’s not all that surprising that Sarlin chose not to discuss how NSA can get domestic content, as I will show in a follow-up post the collection of dead-enders (Lake fleshed out the list here) who weighed in to deny that the NSA dragnet gets US person content is particularly instructive, as I’ll show in a follow-up post.

After Meeting with Obama, Bob Goodlatte Calls for Reform of Phone Dragnet

Bob Goodlatte, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, voted against the Amash-Conyers Amendment that would have defunded the phone dragnet. Nor is he a named cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act, the Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill that would reform the dragnet.

Which is why it is particularly notable that he’s the one member of Congress cited by name in a story reporting on skepticism that Obama will actually reform the NSA.

President Obama met with hand-picked lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to discuss the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs, the main event of a week full of meetings at the White House focusing on potential reforms for the maligned federal agency.

[snip]

At least some of the lawmakers left the meeting unconvinced that the president is going to do enough to curtail the NSA’s activities. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform” the NSA’s intelligence gathering.

“If the president believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate.”

If the President has not yet been able to convince Goodlatte the phone dragnet is necessary, if Goodlatte walks out of meeting with the President calling to legislatively roll back the phone dragnet, it might just have a shot at passing.

Update: Here’s Goodlatte’s full statement.

Over the course of the past several months, I have urged President Obama to bring more transparency to the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering programs in order to regain the trust of the American people. In particular, if the President believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security. The President has unique information about the merits of these programs and the extent of their usefulness. This information is critical to informing Congress on how far to go in reforming the programs. Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate.

With each new revelation of the scope of these programs, it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform some of our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs to ensure that they adequately protect Americans’ civil liberties and operate in a sensible manner. We also need to ensure the laws are clear so that the U.S. tech industry is not disadvantaged vis-à-vis their foreign competitors. The House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the legal framework of these programs, has conducted aggressive oversight on this issue and will be instrumental to reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I am committed to working with members of Congress and Senators from both political parties, House leaders, and President Obama to ensure our nation’s intelligence collection programs include real protections for Americans’ civil liberties, robust oversight, and additional transparency. [my emphasis]

 

Steny Hoyer Thinks All Americans May Be Pre-Investigation Terrorist Communicators

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 8.05.39 AM

Like Glenn Greenwald, I’m appalled by the crazy language Steny Hoyer circulated yesterday to oppose the Amash-Conyers amendment. Here’s the language:

2) Amash/Conyers/Mulvaney/Polis/Massie Amendment – Bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act (as codified by Section 501 of FISA) to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who may be in communication with terrorist groups but are not already subject to an investigation under Section 215.

The language is crazy on the macro level, as Glenn notes, but I’m also fascinated by the structure of it. First, the language reverses the structure of the actual “relevant to” language that has been blown up beyond all meaning pretending it is instead specific: “pertain to persons who may be in communication with terrorist groups.” But this language is only true if you assume every single American is a pre-investigative terrorist communicator (and to be fair, with the permission to go three hops deep into the dragnet database, we probably all are “in communication with terrorist groups”). Steny then qualifies this group (all of us, really, now that we’ve all been defined to be terrorist communicators through the genius of the half-Bacon) as “not already subject to an investigation.”

But you will be, America. You will be subject to an investigation, according to Steny Hoyer.

Then there are details of the language that suggest why the Administration panicked so badly. This language would have defunded all bulk collection under Section 215, including phone records, but also including acetone and hydrogen peroxide and probably now pressure cookers. Presumably, that’s what Keith Alexander and James Clapper explained to Congress in their TS/SCI briefings the other day (not having learned they’re better off admitting their dragnets rather than having them exposed).

Which is why I find it interesting that Steny noted this would apply to NSA “and other agencies,” which includes, but is apparently not limited to, FBI.  And these other agencies are using 215 to collect, “records, including telephone call records.” And probably including health records and geolocation and gun records and the like.

And Steny wants to make sure the FBI and other agencies can get this information about us, because after all, once you go three hops deep, every American just becomes a terrorist communicator not yet under investigation.

Amash-Conyers Fails 205-217

In one of the closest votes in a long time for civil liberties, the Amash-Conyers amendment just failed, but only barely, by a vote of 205-217.

The debate was lively, with Mike Rogers, Michele Bachmann, and Iraq verteran Tom Cotton spoke against the amendment; Amash closely managed time to include a broad mix of Democrats and Republicans.

The only nasty point of the debate came when Mike Rogers (R-MI) suggested Justin Amash (R-MI) was leading this charge for Facebook likes.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

Mike Rogers: IRS Scandal Is Real, NSA Scandal Is Not; AP Collection Is a Dragnet, Section 215 Collection Is Not

One of the four members of Congress with greatest influence over this country’s “intelligence,” House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers, claims that the IRS scandal is real and the risk of NSA dragnet is not.

Rogers said Amash’s amendment, which stops the NSA from collecting data under the Patriot Act, was an attempt to take advantage of anger over recent scandals including the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status and the Justice Department’s probe of Associated Press journalists in connection to a leak about a thwarted terrorist plot that originated in Yemen.

“It’s certainly inflammatory and certainly misleading,” Rogers said Wednesday in an interview on Michigan radio station WTKG 1230. “I think, he tried to take advantage at any rate of people’s anger of the IRS scandal, which is real, and the AP —Associated Press dragnet by the Attorney General, Benghazi —all of those things are very real and there’s no oversight function “What they’re talking about doing is turning off a program that after 9/11 we realized we missed —we the intelligence community- missed a huge clue.” [my emphasis]

Note, too, that Rogers calls the (completely inappropriate) collection of the phone records for 20 AP phone lines a “dragnet,” but somehow doesn’t think the collection of the phone records for every single American is also a dragnet.

Again, this dude plays a significant role in this country’s “intelligence.”

From there, Rogers declined into outright misinformation.

Rogers added that NSA’s telephone data collection program has helped thwart over 50 terrorist plots.

The Section 215 collection — the only thing that would be affected by the Amash-Conyers amendment — has had a role in (per Keith Alexander’s latest claims) 13 plots.

Not 50.

13.

I can’t think of a better way for Mike Rogers to demonstrate that these programs have insufficient oversight — in which the Intelligence Committees play a crucial role — than to open his yap and make such ludicrous statements.

“Section 215 Is Silent”

Justin Amash has a useful fact sheet on the Amash-Conyers amendment that would defund dragnet 215 collection. (If you haven’t yet called your Congressperson and told her to support the amendment, please do so!)

As a whole, the fact sheet clears up some misconceptions about the amendment, making it clear, for example, that the amendment only returns the meaning of Section 215 to the intent Congress had when it first passed.

Given that the fact sheet — dated today — appears to post-date yesterday’s TS/SCI briefing by Keith Alexander and James Clapper, I am particularly interested in these two sentences.

The administration has not provided a public explanation as to how the telephone records of all Americans are “relevant” to a national security investigation.  Similarly, Sec. 215 is silent as to how the government may use these records once it has obtained them.

The language seems to suggest the Administration has provided a classified explanation as to how phone records became “relevant to” a massive terrorism investigation.

More interestingly, the next sentence points to the Administration’s silence about how the government can use this dragnet collection.

That’s a concern I’ve long had. After all, only FISA Court minimization might, with very strict language, prevent the National Counterterrorism Center from simply copying the dragnet database and data mining it with abandon. And so I find it interesting that a document released after yesterday’s TS/SCI hearing mentions the possibility the government does something with it beyond what they’ve stated publicly.

If this were a Ron Wyden statement, I’d take it as a big hint. I’m not sure it is meant as such here, but it does heighten my concerns that this data is circulated far more widely than the government has admitted.

The Liars Are “Very Concerned” Program They Lied About Will Be Defunded

Buried at the bottom of a broader story on opposition to the Amash-Conyers amendment, CNN offers a very solicitous account of the White House statement opposing it, making no note of how absurd the entire premise is.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying that it opposes the amendment and urges the House to reject it. “In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the president has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens,” the statement said. “However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”

CNN does, however, provide James Clapper and Keith Alexander an opportunity to give their readout of the TS/SCI briefings they gave Congress.

In spite of reporting describing it as a lobbying session, these noted prevaricators claim their job wasn’t to persuade, it was just to answer questions.

“Our mission wasn’t to convince the House to do anything other than to provide information for them to make a decision,” Alexander told CNN.

Asked if they satisfied lawmakers and persuaded them not to change the program, Alexander would only say it was useful to “get the facts on the table.”

Sort of gives you the impression they failed to persuade, huh?

But if their mission was really to “provide information” and “get the facts on the table,” then what have all the unclassified briefings been about? Is this claim they were only now “providing information” yet another indication that they were, perhaps, misinforming before? Again?

That, to me, is a big part of this story: that two men who have lied repeatedly about these programs felt the need to conduct Top Secret briefings to provide information that hadn’t been provided in the past.

All of which makes me very unsympathetic to Clapper’s stated worry.

A day before the House is expected to vote on restrictions to the National Security Agency’s controversial phone surveillance program, the director of national intelligence told CNN Tuesday he would be “very concerned” if the measure were to pass.

This program is problematic for several reasons: it is overkill to achieve its stated purpose and it violates the intent of the Fourth Amendment.

But add to that the trust those overseeing the program chose to piss away by lying about this collection repeatedly in the past.

If Amash-Conyers does pass (and it’s still a long-shot unless each and every one of you manages to convince your Rep to support it), it will be in significant part because Clapper and Alexander abused the trust placed in them.

Update: HuffPo covers this straight, too, though at least it includes Demand Progress’ views.

After 7 Years of Refusing Any Public Debate, Executive Decries Congress for Not Being “Open”

Here’s what the Administration thinks about the Amash-Conyers amendment (which it calls the Amash Amendment, perhaps not wanting to name a Democrat who has been involved in historic fights against out-of-control executive power in the past), which would defund dragnet Section 215 collection.

In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens. The Administration has taken various proactive steps to advance this debate including the President’s meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, his public statements on the disclosed programs, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of its own public statements, ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt’s speech at Brookings, and ODNI’s decision to declassify and disclose publicly that the Administration filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We look forward to continuing to discuss these critical issues with the American people and the Congress.

However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process. We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.

I find it interesting, first of all, that they sent this after Keith Alexander had his shot to lobby Congress in a Top Secret/SCI briefing. I guess they didn’t come away with a high degree of confidence Amash-Conyers was going to fail.

Then consider the head-spinning logic:

  • Unauthorized disclosures led to a Presidential claim he welcomes a “debate”
  • It lists several examples in which Executive Branch figures tell the public details about this surveillance (note the White House didn’t mention the NSA documents, which had to be withdrawn for inaccuracies); it calls these “proactive” in spite of the fact that they are all clear reactions to that unauthorized disclosure
  • It reiterates that it considers these one-way communications discuss[ions]
  • After saying one-way communication is discussion, the Administration says, “this blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process”
  • Having made this ridiculous argument, the White House says it wants a “reasoned review”

Hell, if I were a self-respecting member of Congress, I’d support Amash-Conyers even if I weren’t already predisposed to, if only because this is such a crazy bat-shit claim to reason and openness.

The Executive Branch has had 7 years to have an open debate. It chose not to have that open debate. Now that one has been brought to it by Congress, it pretends Congress is the one at fault for the lack of informed or open process.

Will Keith Alexander FINALLY Tell the Full Truth about the Section 215 Dragnet in Today’s Secret Emergency Hearing?

Since Edward Snowden made it clear the government has been collecting every American’s phone records in the name of terrorism (and Iran), the National Security establishment has made a great show of transparency.

Don’t worry it’s “just” metadata, they said. Only 300 queries, well, we really mean only 300 identifiers to query on, which works out to be more than 300 queries. Only those who talk to terrorists. Or talk to those who talk to terrorists. Or talk to those who talk to those who talk to those who talk to terrorists, they ultimately revealed.

But last Thursday, the government admitted, sort of, that they’re not being as transparent as they claim. In a letter submitted in an effort to stall for time in ACLU’s suit to stop the 215 collection, the government offered a 400+ word description of the program. But the description started by claiming the program is, “in may respects, still classified.”

This case concerns a highly sensitive and, in many respects, still classified intelligence-collection program that is designed to assist the U.S. Government in discovering whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, including persons and activities inside the United States. Under this program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) obtains authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISA Court”) to collect telephony metadata from certain telecommunications service providers. The National Security Agency (NSA), in turn, archives this information; queries the data, when strict standards are met, to detect communications between foreign terrorist organizations and their potential operatives located in the United States; and provides leads to the FBI or others in the Intelligence Community for counterterrorism purposes. [my emphasis]

So what do the “many respects” of this program that remain classified do? And do those “many respects” describe why the government needs to create an associational database including every American to help in just 13 plots over 7 years?

Which is why I find it interesting that, as soon as it became clear the Amash-Conyers amendment to the Defense Appropriations — which would defund the dragnet collection — would get a vote, NSA Director Keith Alexander decided he needed to talk to Congress in secret.

NSA head General Keith Alexander scheduled a last-minute, members-only briefing in response to the amendment, according to an invitation distributed to members of Congress this morning and forwarded to HuffPost. “In advance of anticipated action on amendments to the DoD Appropriations bill, Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee invites your Member to attend a question and answer session with General Keith B. Alexander of the National Security Agency,” reads the invitation.

“The briefing will be held at the Top Secret/SCI level and will be strictly Members-Only,” the invitation read.

So it seems that Alexander has more to say about this program he has feigned transparency on for the last month and a half.

That said, Alexander has a serial history of misleading statements when he doesn’t have a public fact-checker. So while he may tell Congressmen and -women more details about how they’re really using this dragnet database and why making 13 investigations easier merits such overkill, it’s unlikely he’ll tell the compete truth. I’m not optimistic.

But he may finally reveal why the government chose this overkill method of surveillance.

While Alexander is conducting this top secret briefing, you can do your own lobbying[: call you member of Congress and tell them to support Amash-Conyers.

Jim Sensenbrenner’s Horseshit Claims of Innocence

The reaction from members of Congress to the revelation that the Section 215 surveillance was just as bad as some of us have been warning has varied, with Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss reiterating claims about the value and oversight of the program (though not having any idea, according to DiFi, whether it has prevented any attacks), and Ron Wyden and Mark Udall effectively saying “I told you so.” John Boehner dodged aggressively, suggesting even though he had approved this surveillance President Obama had to explain it.

Asked whether lawmakers should answer for an order that fell under the Patriot Act they passed, Boehner disagreed. “The tools were given to the administration, and it’s the administration’s responsibility to explain how these tools are used,” he said. ”I’ll leave it to them to explain.”

By far the most disingenuous, however, was Jim Sensenbrenner, who (as he has emphasized to the credulous journalists who served as his stenographers today) wrote the PATRIOT Act, who has remained in a senior position on House Judiciary Committee since that day, and who now claims to be shocked — shocked! — there is dragnet collection going on in the casino he built.

Predictably, he wrote a letter demanding to know how a law he has fought to retain its current form could be used to do what the law authorizes.

In the letter, Sensenbrenner de-emphasizes the role of the relevance standard to the collection.

To obtain a business records order from the court, the Patriot Act requires the government to show that: (1) it is seeking the information in certain authorized national security investigations pursuant to guidelines approved by the Attorney General; (2) if the investigative target is a U.S. person, the investigation is not based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment; and (3) the information sought is relevant to the authorized investigation.

Compare that to the letter of the law, which requires the government to show,

(A) a statement of facts showing that there are 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) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to—

(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;

(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or

(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation;

That is, the emphasis is not on the investigation, as Sensenbrenner’s interpretation would have it, but on the relevance of the information sought, which Sensenbrenner adds third. More importantly, Sensenbrenner omits all mention of the presumptively relevant conditions — basically something pertaining to a foreign power.

With his interpretation, Sensenbrenner has omitted something baked into Section 215, which is that so long as the government says this pertains to foreign spies or terrorists, the judge has almost no discretion on whether information is relevant to an investigation.

Then Sensenbrenner points to 2011 testimony from Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen, who he claims said the following:

Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. . . On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year

Which Sensenbrenner uses to claim the Department never told the Committee about this dragnet.

The Department’s testimony left the Committee with the impression that the Administration was using the business records provision sparingly and for specific materials. The recently released FISA order, however, could not have been drafted more broadly.

As it happens, Hinnen has been testifying since at least 2009 that Section 215 authorizes other secret programs. So I checked Sensenbrenner’s work. Here’s what that precise passage of Hinnen’s testimony says, without the deceitful ellipsis.

Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. Some orders have also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed. On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year. [my emphasis]

In other words, Sensenbrenner points to doctored proof he has been briefed on this secret program, but doctors it in such a way as to support his claim he never knew about this.

Not to mention that a series of DOJ Inspector General reports included classified appendices describing these secret collection operations.

Continue reading

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bmaz @TheBradBlog @JasonLeopold This is almost laughable. Completely feckless w/o backing of Spanish govt.
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