Update, 1/6/14: I just reviewed this post and realize it’s based on the misunderstanding that the February 24 OLC opinion is from last year, not 2006. That said, the analysis of the underlying tensions that probably led to the use of Section 215 for the phone dragnet are, I think, still valid.
According to ACLU lawyer Alex Abdo, the government may provide more documents in response to their FOIA asking for documents relating to Section 215 on November 18. Among those documents is a February 24, 2006 FISA Court opinion, which the government says it is processing for release.
That release — assuming the government releases the opinion in any legible form — should solve a riddle that has been puzzling me for several weeks: whether the FISA Court wrote any opinion authorizing the phone dragnet collection before its May 24, 2006 order at all.
The release may also provide some insight on why former Assistant Attorney General David Kris concedes the initial authorization for the program may have been “erroneous.”
More broadly, it is important to consider the context in which the FISA Court initially approved the bulk collection. Unverified media reports (discussed above) state that bulk telephony metadata collection was occurring before May 2006; even if that is not the case, perhaps such collection could have occurred at that time based on voluntary cooperation from the telecommunications providers. If so, the practical question before the FISC in 2006 was not whether the collection should occur, but whether it should occur under judicial standards and supervision, or unilaterally under the authority of the Executive Branch.
The briefings and other historical evidence raise the question whether Congress’s repeated reauthorization of the tangible things provision effectively incorporates the FISC’s interpretation of the law, at least as to the authorized scope of collection, such that even if it had been erroneous when first issued, it is now—by definition—correct. [my emphasis]
That “erroneous” language comes not from me, but from David Kris, one of the best lawyers on these issues in the entire country.
And the date of the opinion — February 24, 2006, 6 days before the Senate would vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act having received no apparent notice the Administration planned to use it to authorize a dragnet of every American’s phone records — suggests several possible reasons why the original approval is erroneous.
Possibility one: There is no opinion
The first possibility, of course, is that my earlier guess was correct: that the FISC court never considered the new application of bulk collection, and simply authorized the new collection based on the 2004 Colleen Kollar-Kotelly opinion authorizing the Internet dragnet. In this possible scenario, that February 2006 opinion deals with some other use of Section 215 (though I doubt it, because in that case DOJ would withhold it, as they are doing with two other Section 215 opinions dated August 20, 2008 and November 23, 2010).
So one possibility is the FISA Court simply never considered whether the phone dragnet really fit the definition of relevant, and just took the application for the first May 24, 2006 opinion with no questions. This, it seems to me, would be erroneous on the part of FISC.
Possibility two: FISC approved the dragnet based on old PATRIOT knowing new “relevant to” PATRIOT was coming
Another possibility is that the FISA Court rushed through approval of the phone dragnet knowing that the reauthorization that would be imminently approved would slightly different language on the “relevance” standard (though that new language was in most ways more permissive). Thus, the government would already have an approval for the dragnet in hand at the time when they applied to use it in May, and would just address the “relevance” language in their application, which we know they did.
In this case, the opinion would seem to be erroneous because of the way it deliberately sidestepped known and very active actions of Congress pertaining to the law in question.
Possibility three: FISC approved the dragnet based on new PATRIOT language even before it passed
Another possibility is that FISC approved the phone dragnet before the new PATRIOT language became law. That seems nonsensical, but we do know that DOJ’s Office of Intelligence Policy Review briefed FISC on something pertaining to Section 215 in February 2006.
After passage of the Reauthorization Act on March 9, 2006, combination orders became unnecessary for subscriber information and [one line redacted]. Section 128 of the Reauthorization Act amended the FISA statute to authorize subscriber information to be provided in response to a pen register/trap and trace order. Therefore, combination orders for subscriber information were no longer necessary. In addition, OIPR determined that substantive amendments to the statute undermined the legal basis for which OIPR had received authorization [half line redacted] from the FISA Court. Therefore, OIPR decided not to request [several words redacted] pursuant to Section 215 until it re-briefed the issue for the FISA Court. 24
24 OIPR first briefed the issue to the FISA Court in February 2006, prior to the Reauthorization Act. [two lines redacted] [my emphasis]
Still, this passage seems to reflect an understanding, at the time DOJ briefed FISC and at the time that the FISC opinion was written that the law was changing in significant ways (some of which made it easier for the government to get IDs along with the Internet metadata it was collecting using a Pen Register).
This would seem to be erroneous for timing reasons, in that the judge issued an opinion based on a law that had not yet been signed into law, effectively anticipating Congress.
The looming threat of Hepting v. AT&T and Mark Klein’s testimony
Which brings me to why. The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report describes some of what went on in this period.
After the New York Times article was published in December 2005, Mr. Potenza stated that one of the PSP providers expressed concern about providing telephone metadata to NSA under Presidential Authority without being compelled. Although OLC’s May 2004 opinion states that NSA collection of telephony metadata as business records under the Authorization was legally supportable, the provider preferred to be compelled to do so by a court order.
As with the PR/TT Order, DOJ and NSA collaboratively designed the application, prepared declarations, and responded to questions from court advisors. Their previous experience in drafting the PRTT Order made this process more efficient.
The FISC signed the first Business Records Order on 24 May 2006. The order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk telephony metadata from business records that it had under the PSP. And, unlike the PRTT, there was no break in collection at transition.
But the IG Report doesn’t explain why the telecom(s) started getting squeamish after the NYT scoop.
It doesn’t mention, for example, that on January 17, 2006, the ACLU sued the NSA in Detroit. A week after that suit was filed, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote the telecoms a letter giving them cover for their cooperation.
On 24 January 2006, the Attorney General sent letters to COMPANIES A, B, and C, certifying under 18 U.S.C. 2511 (2)( a)(ii)(B) that “no warrant or court order was or is required by law for the assistance, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the assistance has been and is required.”
Note, this wiretap language pertains largely to the collection of content (that is, the telecoms had far more reason to worry about sharing content). Except that two issues made the collection of metadata particularly sensitive: the data mining of it, and the way it was used to decide who to wiretap.
More troubling still to the telecoms, probably, came when EFF filed a lawsuit, Hepting, on January 31 naming AT&T as defendant, largely based on an LAT story of AT&T giving access to the its stored call records.
But I’m far more interested in the threat that Mark Klein, the AT&T technician who would ultimately reveal the direct taps on AT&T switches at Folsom Street, posed. Continue reading
Back when John Negroponte appointed him to be the Director of National Intelligence’s Civil Liberties Protection Officer, Alexander Joel admitted he had no problem with Cheney’s illegal domestic wiretap program.
When the NSA wiretapping program began, Mr. Joel wasn’t working for the intelligence office, but he says he has reviewed it and finds no problems. The classified nature of the agency’s surveillance work makes it difficult to discuss, but he suggests that fears about what the government might be doing are overblown.
“Although you might have concerns about what might potentially be going on, those potentials are not actually being realized and if you could see what was going on, you would be reassured just like everyone else,” he says.
That should trouble you, because he’s the cornerstone of oversight over the National Counterterrorism Center’s expanded ability to obtain and do pattern analysis on US person data.
The Guidelines describe such oversight to include the following:
There are a few reasons to be skeptical of this. First, rather than replicate the audits recently mandated under the PATRIOT Act–in which the DOJ Inspector General develops the metrics, these Guidelines have NCTC develop the metrics themselves. And they’re designed to go to the CLPO, who officially reports to the NCTC head, rather than an IG with some independence.
That is, to a large extent, this oversight consists of NCTC reporting to itself.
I’ve been writing a lot about the way CIA gamed briefings with Congress so they could destroy evidence of torture: how they created potentially misleading records about the September 2002 briefings with destroying the torture tapes in mind, how they created a record of Pat Roberts’ approval for destroying the torture tapes in February 2003 but not Harman’s disapproval of them, and how Crazy Pete Hoekstra got a really suspicious briefing the morning the torture tapes were destroyed.
But I’ve been neglecting the role Jay Rockefeller may play in all this.
Yesterday’s AP-hosted CIA spin made a big deal of Harriet Miers’ early 2005 order that CIA not destroy the torture tapes.
In early 2005, Rizzo received a similar order from the new White House counsel, Harriet Miers. The CIA was not to destroy the tapes without checking with the White House first.
It’s in that context where they list all the requests that might cover the videotapes and explain why they weren’t legally binding on the CIA: three judges orders and the 9/11 Commission request.
But that narrative left out a few more data points. Oddly, the AP seems to make nothing of John Negroponte’s warning to Porter Goss–issued on or before July 28, 2005–not to destroy the torture tapes. Maybe that’s because it reveals that months after Rizzo got the order from Harriet Miers, the Director of CIA was still actively discussing destroying the tapes. Maybe that’s because, given Goss’ apparent happiness with Rodriguez’ destruction of the tapes in November 2005, the evidence that Goss was considering destroying them three months earlier suggests complicity.
Now consider the two requests from Jay Rockefeller for John McPherson’s report on the torture tapes.
In May 2005, I wrote the CIA Inspector General requesting over a hundred documents referenced in or pertaining to his May 2004 report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. Included in my letter was a request for the CIA to provide to the Senate Intelligence Committee the CIA’s Office of General Counsel report on the examination of the videotapes and whether they were in compliance with the August 2002 Department of Justice legal opinion concerning interrogation. The CIA refused to provide this and the other detention and interrogation documents to the committee as requested, despite a second written request to CIA Director Goss in September 2005.
It was during this 2005 period that I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. In fact, all members of the congressional intelligence committees were not fully briefed into the CIA interrogation program until the day the President publicly disclosed the program last September. [my emphasis]
So in May 2005, Rockefeller asked John Helgerson for McPherson’s report. Then in September 2005, Rockefeller asked Porter Goss for the report directly. And Porter Goss–the guy who was actively considering destroying the torture tapes in July 2005 and who ultimately applauded Rodriguez’ success in destroying them–completely blew off Rockefeller’s request.
Mind you, Rockefeller asked for the report on the tapes, not the tapes themselves. But we now know that the report lacked any mention of the things noted in the IG Report: descriptions of the broken and blank tapes. We also know that the report didn’t do what is was purportedly intended to do: review whether the torturers had followed guidelines on torture.
Had Rockefeller gotten that report in 2005–in response to either his request of Helgerson or his request directly of Goss–he would have had good reason to at least suspect that the CIA had been engaging in a cover-up in November 2002 to January 2003, when it claimed to have reviewed whether Abu Zubaydah’s torturers followed DOJ guidelines but really did no such thing. He would have had reason to wonder why a lawyer, having reviewed tapes with abundant evidence of tampering, hadn’t even bothered to mention that tampering.
Which probably would have led him to ask for the tapes.
Mind you, like the 9/11 Commission, Rockefeller didn’t subpoena the report (as he noted, his push for a torture investigation was thwarted, presumably by then SSCI Chair Pat Roberts, the guy who had signed off on destroying the tapes).
But for some reason the CIA doesn’t want to admit it had this request pertaining to the torture tapes, in addition to all the requests from judges.
MadDog is right. This AP article provides a slew of interesting details on the torture tapes, including a list of Administration lawyers who objected to the destruction of the tapes. The article adds Alberto Gonzales and John Bellinger to the list of White House lawyers who–along with Harriet Miers–objected to the destruction of the tapes.
But no David Addington. Funny. Who would have thought that Addington would be the one lawyer who–at least thus far–doesn’t appear in records as having objected to the destruction of the tapes?
But there are a few more details I’d like to focus on. First, the AP offers a list of who Reyes plans to invite to testify to HPSCI, and it includes the CIA lawyers who wrote the opinion used–however fraudulently–to justify the destruction of the tapes.
Reyes also wants the CIA to make available CIA attorneys Steve Hermes, Robert Eatinger, Elizabeth Vogt and John McPherson to testify before the committee. Former CIA directors Porter Goss and George Tenet, former deputy director of operations James L. Pavitt and former general counsel Scott Muller are also on the list.
No mention of Negroponte, who apparently advised strongly against the destruction in 2005, when he was DNI (and presumably should have had significant sway over the decision). Hey Silvestre Reyes! Didn’t you get Isioff’s telegram?
For now, though, I’d like to return to the issue of timing, because it looks like somebody is fudging the true nature of the discussion by playing with the dates of discussions on the destruction of the tapes. John Bellinger is out there saying that in 2003, at least, the White House "consensus" objected to the tapes’ destruction. Continue reading
For all his faults, Michael Isikoff is certainly a reliable journalist through whom people can launder leaks. Take his story (with Hosenball) today (h/t bmaz). Note the grammar of these first two paragraphs:
In the summer of 2005, then CIA director Porter Goss met with then national intelligence director John Negroponte to discuss a highly sensitive matter: what to do about the existence of videotapes documenting the use of controversial interrogation methods, apparently including waterboarding, on two key Al Qaeda suspects. The tapes were eventually destroyed, and congressional investigators are now trying to piece together an extensive paper trail documenting how and why it happened.
One crucial document they’ll surely want to examine: a memo written after the meeting between Goss and Negroponte, which records that Negroponte strongly advised against destroying the tapes, according to two people close to the investigation, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter. The memo is so far the only known documentation that a senior intel official warned that the tapes should not be destroyed. Spokespeople for the CIA and the intel czar’s office declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations. [my emphasis]
This article is framed in terms of what Congressional investigators want, not in terms of what the DOJ investigation is finding. Indeed, the leak about the Negroponte memo appears to come from two people involved in the investigation in some manner–whatever that investigation may be–who want to make sure news of this memo comes out and who seem to have little faith that news of Negroponte’s clear instructions to Goss will come out otherwise.
Also, note the curious no comment in this paragraph. "Spokespeople for the CIA and the intel czar’s office." You might assume, forgetting the last year of jostling within the Bush Administration, that it means that Isikoff called Negroponte’s office and got a no comment. But while Negroponte was "intel czar" when he wrote this memo, he’s not now; he’s at State running things for Condi. So unless Isikoff forgot all these details, I’d suggest this article only appears to record a "no comment" from Negroponte, and it certainly doesn’t exclude a pretty big comment from him. As in, "Mikey, I’d like you to write about this memo I wrote to Porter, because I’m afraid it’s getting buried in the DOJ investigation." Continue reading