The National Journal reports that Leahy’s USA Freedom Act probably won’t move until after the election, if not next year.
A bill that would curtail the government’s broad surveillance authority is unlikely to earn a vote in Congress before the November midterms, and it might not even get a vote during the postelection lame-duck session.
The inaction amounts to another stinging setback for reform advocates, who have been agitating for legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency ever since Edward Snowden’s leaks surfaced last summer. It also deflates a sudden surge in pressure on Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which scored a stunning endorsement from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week.
Of course, contrary to what the NJ keeps reporting, that letter is not a stunning endorsement. On the contrary, it’s a signal James Clapper would change — at a minimum — the FISA Advocate position, and probably the Call Detail Record provision as well.
And even while the story suggests timing is the problem, further down the story suggests the bill doesn’t have the votes.
But beyond the calendar squeeze and geopolitical tensions, the Freedom Act has never had a clear path forward. It was not embraced by defense hawks such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein or Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have become icons of the surveillance-reform movement. The two Democrats said they wanted to strengthen the bill to require warrants for “backdoor” searches of Americans’ Internet data that can be incidentally collected during foreign surveillance hauls. Sources indicated that their support for the Freedom Act remains a bridge too far.
“We were told to go after Republicans,” one industry said.
Wyden and Udall’s reticence to publicly back Leahy’s bill may stem from a conviction that they can get a better deal next Congress, with Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act—the legal underpinning for the NSA’s phone-records collection—due to expire on June 1, 2015.
Without the left flank of the Senate, this wasn’t going to pass. But so long as this bill endorsed warrantless back door searches of Americans at the assessment stage, it wasn’t going to get those votes.
The story ends with a solitary quote purportedly representing the voices of “many” people.
But many see an NSA reform debate that rolls into next year as no sure bet, regardless of what party holds control of the Senate.
“If the USA Freedom Act is not passed this Congress, we are really in uncharted territory, and the process has to start all over again,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a pro-reform group. “All the elements for reform are in place now, but it just happens that we don’t have much time.”
Geiger is the same purpose mis-reading Clapper’s letter as a complete endorsement of the bill.
Note what doesn’t get mentioned in any of this, though?
Last we heard from the 2nd Circuit, it sounded very very skeptical that it was constitutional to, “collect everything there is to know about everybody and have it all in one big government cloud.” And while SCOTUS was happy to reverse precisely this court in Section 702, both ACLU’s standing and the details of the program are much clearer this time. Had Congress legislated quickly, it likely would moot this and several other challenges to this dragnet.
This way, at least, the courts will be forced to determine whether it is actually legal for the government to conduct dossiers of every American and store them on a cloud.
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.
And yet again, the CIA proves it refuses to subsist within democratic structures.
Among the many posts I’ve written about Executive Order 12333 — the order that authorizes all non-domestic spying — includes this post, where I noted that proposed changes to NSA’s phone dragnet won’t affect programs authorized by EO 12333.
Obama was speaking only about NSA’s treatment of Section 215 metadata, not the data — which includes a great amount of US person data — collected under Executive Order 12333.
Section 215 metadata has different and significantly higher protections than EO 12333 phone metadata because of specific minimization procedures imposed by the FISC (arguably, the program doesn’t even meet the minimization procedure requirements mandated by the law). We’ve seen the implications of that, for example, when the NSA responded to being caught watch-listing 3,000 US persons without extending First Amendment protection not by stopping that tracking, but simply cutting off the watch-list’s ability to draw on Section 215 data.
Basically, the way NSA treats data collected under FISC-overseen programs (including both Section 215 and FISA Amendments Act) is to throw the data in with data collected under EO 12333, but add query screens tied to the more strict FISC-regulations governing production under it.
NSA’s spokeswoman will say over and over that “everyday” or “ordinary” Americans don’t have to worry about their favorite software being sucked up by NSA. But to the extent that collection happens under EO 12333, they have relatively little protection.
That’s precisely the point made in an important op-ed by the State Department’s former Internet freedom chief, John Napier Tye, who had access to data from EO 12333 collection.
Bulk data collection that occurs inside the United States contains built-in protections for U.S. persons, defined as U.S. citizens, permanent residents and companies. Such collection must be authorized by statute and is subject to oversight from Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The statutes set a high bar for collecting the content of communications by U.S. persons. For example, Section 215 permits the bulk collection only of U.S. telephone metadata — lists of incoming and outgoing phone numbers — but not audio of the calls.
Executive Order 12333 contains no such protections for U.S. persons if the collection occurs outside U.S. borders.
Unlike Section 215, the executive order authorizes collection of the content of communications, not just metadata, even for U.S. persons. Such persons cannot be individually targeted under 12333 without a court order. However, if the contents of a U.S. person’s communications are “incidentally” collected (an NSA term of art) in the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, then Section 2.3(c) of the executive order explicitly authorizes their retention. It does not require that the affected U.S. persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limits on the volume of communications by U.S. persons that may be collected and retained.
As I noted on Friday, the Administration got a new phone dragnet order on the same day that Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich pointed out that — so long as the Administration only wants to do what it claims to want to do — it could stop holding phone records right away, just as it implemented Obama’s 2-hop mandate and court review in February right away.
From ODNI’s announcement they got a new dragnet order Friday (which they congratulate themselves as a great show of transparency), it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. On the contrary, they’re going to hold out HR 3361 — and their unconvincing claim it ends bulk collection as normal people understand the term — with each new dragnet order.
After carefully considering the available options, the President announced in March that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk, and that it remain at the telephone companies with a legal mechanism in place which would allow the government to obtain data pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries. The President also noted that legislation would be required to implement this option and called on Congress to enact this important change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Consistent with the President’s March proposal, in May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, which would, if enacted, create a new mechanism for the government to obtain this telephony metadata pursuant to individual orders from the FISC, rather than in bulk. The bill also prohibits bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers and trap and trace devices, and National Security Letters.
Overall, the bill’s significant reforms would provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system, while ensuring our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation. The Administration strongly supports the USA FREEDOM Act. We urge the Senate to swiftly consider it, and remain ready to work with Congress to clarify that the bill prohibits bulk collection as noted above, as necessary.
Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year.
But here’s the bit I’m most struck by, particularly given that the government has not yet released the March 28, 2014 dragnet order which should be a slam dunk declassification process, given that its content has presumably all been released in the past.
In addition to a new primary order last Friday, FISC also wrote a memorandum opinion.
The Administration is undertaking a declassification review of this most recent court order and an accompanying memorandum opinion for publication.
I can think of two things that would explain a memorandum opinion: the program has changed in some way (perhaps they’ve changed how they interpret “selection term” or implement the automated process which they had previously never gotten running?), or the FISC considered some new legal issue before approving the dragnet.
As I noted last week, both US v. Quartavious Davis, in which the 11th Circuit ruled stored cell location data required a warrant), and US v Stavros Ganias, in which the 2nd Circuit ruled the government can’t use data it seized under an old warrant years later, might affect both the current and future dragnets, as well as other programs the NSA engages in.
Thing is, whatever the subject of the opinion, then it’d sure be nice to know what it says before we pass this legislation, as the legislation may have to correct the wacky secret decisions of the FISC (most members of Congress are still not getting unredacted dragnet orders). But if the last order is any indication, we won’t get this new order until months from now, long after the bill is expected to be rushed through the Senate.
Which is probably all by design.
The three surveillance critics from the Senate Intelligence Committee — Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich — wrote a letter to Obama on the developments in the NSA reform. Generally, they repeat exhortations that Wyden and Udall have already made in hearings to end the dragnet right now, as Obama has already claimed he wants to do.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but I find some of the details in it to be of particular interest.
The Senators point out, for example, that several bills accomplish the goals Obama has publicly stated he’d support. Those bills include the original USA Freedom Act, and separate proposals advanced by both Udall and Wyden.
But they also include the original PATRIOT Reauthorization from 2005, which Dianne Feinstein once supported, as did a young Senator named Barack Obama (though the Senators don’t mention either of those details). Wyden has long pointed obliquely to when the Executive first started using PATRIOT to conduct dragnets, and the record shows the Executive withheld information about how it was using the PRTT authority from even the Intelligence Committees during the 2005 reauthorization. So the Senators may be nodding towards Executive refusal to respect the will of Congress with this mention.
The Senators then both question claims from Administration officials that “in the absence of new legislation, there is no plan to suspend the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records,” and express their doubts “that the version of the USA Freedom Act that recently passed the House of Representatives would actually ban the bulk collection of Americans’ records.”
While they repeatedly reiterate their support for legislative reform, they also lay out a plan by which the President can immediately end the dragnet. Here’s the part I find particularly interesting.
First, they say it is “highly likely” FISC would let them get 2-degrees of phone records, unless FISC has already prohibited that.
Unless the FISC has already rejected such a request from the government, it does not seem necessary for the executive branch to wait for Congress before taking action.
Isn’t this already included in current orders? Shouldn’t the Senators know if FISC has rejected such a request (especially Wyden, who has been on the committee through all this period)? Is Wyden saying it’s possible there’s something else limiting the dragnet? Is he pointing to a ruling he knows about?
Just as interesting, the Senators argue the Pen Register Authority — not Section 215 — could serve to carry out the prospective collection the bill claims to want to do.
FISC would likely approve the defined and limited prospective searches for records envisioned under your proposal pursuant to current USA PATRIOT Act Section 214 pen register authorities, given how broadly it has previous interpreted these authorities.
Finally, although we have seen no evidence that the government has needed the bulk phone records collection program to attain any time-sensitive objectives, we agree that new legislation should provide clear emergency authorities to allow the government to obtain court approval of individual queries after the fact under specific circumstances. The law currently allows prospective emergency acquisitions of call records under Section 403 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the acquisition of past records without judicial review under national security letter authorities.
Of course, the PRTT authority (cited twice here) should always have been the appropriate authority for this collection; we’ve just never learned why the government didn’t use that.
Basically, the Senators are laying out how the Executive could do precisely what it says it wants to do with existing authorities (indeed, with the PRTT authority that are actually targeted to the kind of record in question).
The Executive has all the authorities it needs, the Senators lay out, so why doesn’t it end the dragnet — achieve the reform it claims it wants — immediately?
We believe the way to restore Americans’ constitutional rights and their trust in our intelligence community is to immediately end the practice of vacuuming up the phone records of huge numbers of innocent Americans every day and permit the government to obtain only the phone records of people actually connected to terrorism or other nefarious activity. We support your March 27, 2014, proposal to achieve these goals, but we also view ending bulk collection as an imperative that cannot wait.
Damn! That’s a very good question! Obama moved immediately to implement his first reform proposal — advance FISC approval and limits to two hops — back in February. So why isn’t he moving immediately to implement the plan he says he wants now, as the Senators lay out he could well do under existing authorities?
It may be the Senators are just pressuring Obama to implement changes now, and nothing here is meant to point to some underlying issue.
But I wildarseguess that they’re trying to point out the differences between what they could do — under the PRTT orders they should have been using from the start — and what they want to do.
There’s one difference we can point to right away, after all: immunity. If all the government wanted to do was to obtain call detail records, then they wouldn’t need to give the telecoms immunity. That’s something they do every day. But there’s something they will do that has led the telecoms to demand immunity. That’s the stuff that goes beyond traditional PRTT activity.
Then there’s the stuff we don’t know about: the “connections” based chaining. As I’ve said, I don’t know what that entails. But it is an obvious explanation for why the telecoms need immunity — and for why a simple PRTT order won’t suffice.
One way or another, the Senators are calling Obama’s bluff. Obama says he wants nothing more than to obtain specific phone records going forward. If that’s true, he could make the change today. Yet the Executive is clear they can’t do that.
Update: One more detail. As Wyden’s release on this makes clear, today’s the day the March 28, 2014 phone dragnet order expires, so presumably the government got another one today. We’ve never seen that March 28 order, by the way.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on HR 3361 — which I call the USA Freedumber Act because it makes the dragnet worse in several ways — Dianne Feinstein used her opening statement to talk about the role of “specific selection term” in the bill.
She says, in part,
The problem comes with the definition of a “specific selection term,” which is not clear on its face and I believe it’s confusing.
I’m glad that Feinstein is concerned about the same thing I’ve been focusing on for a month.
The problem with trying to prevent “bulk collection” using the definition of selection term — even aside from the fact that the Intelligence Community understands “bulk collection” to mean something entirely different from what normal people understand it to mean — is that it will be abused.
We didn’t even get out of the hearing without such cynicism. At the hearing, Deputy Attorney General James Cole assured Martin Heinrich and Mark Udall that statements in the legislative record indicating a desire to limit such collection would prevent any abuse. This is the same DAG whose DOJ argued – just the day before!!! — that the legislative record of FISA, which clearly indicates the congressional intent that some defendants will get to review their FISA applications, should be ignored in favor of the 36 year history during which no defendants got such review.
Cole’s comments are all the proof we need that the Executive cannot be trusted to cede to Congress’ wishes (not to mention that the legislative record is far more ambivalent than Cole pretended).
So I’m grateful Feinstein is trying to tighten the definition (though I don’t think that is the workable way to improve the bill).
But I’m a bit confused by Feinstein’s confusion.
You see, as I noted some weeks ago, the term “selection term” is already used for Section 215, and has been for at least a year. And at least in phone dragnet Primary Order standard references to FISA content orders (that is, to traditional FISA warrants and the like), they’re using “selection term” as well.
The intelligence community and the FISA Court already have some common understanding of what “selection term” means — and Primary Orders appear to define the term in a classified-to-us-but-not-Feinstein footnote — and yet Feinstein is confused about what “specific selection term” might mean?
Granted, “selection term” is slightly different than “specific selection term.” Still, given that the “selection term” appears to be defined — and used — in the existing program, I would hope that Senator Feinstein would have some clarity about what it means.
Perhaps the way to start this discussion is to publicly explain how the IC is currently using “selection term”?
In an effort to rebut Edward Snowden’s claims that he raised concerns via proper channels, NSA just released an email Snowden sent to NSA’s Office of General Counsel. The email reveals their own training is not clear about something central to Snowden’s leaks: whether laws passed by Congress take precedence over EO 12333.
In the email, Snowden describes a training program on USSID 18, NSA’s internal guidelines on protecting US person data. Snowden’s email reads, in part,
Hello, I have a question regarding the mandatory USSID 18 training.
The training states the following:
(U) The Hierarchy of Governing Authorities and Documents is displayed from the highest authority to the lowest authority as follows:
Federal Statutes/Presidential Executive Orders (EO)
I’m not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law. My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EOs may not override statute.
An NSA lawyer wrote back (in part),
Executive Orders (E.O.s) have the “force and effect of law.” That said, you are correct that E.O.s cannot override a statute.
The NSA has not revealed whether Snowden called the lawyer with further questions, as he invited Snowden to do. Nor have they said this email to Office of General Counsel is the only email Snowden sent (only that it’s the only one he sent to OGC).
Nevertheless, the email is really suggestive, particularly as it took place when Snowden had already started downloading a slew of information.
That’s because Snowden’s documents (and documents released in response to his leaks) reveal NSA has repeatedly used EO 12333 to push the limits of laws passed by Congress, if not to evade the law altogether.
Here are just two of numerous examples:
NSA Avoids Stricter Minimization Procedures Under the Phone Dragnet: The NSA has fairly strict minimization procedures under the Section 215-authorized phone dragnet, but only NSA’s internal rules (USSID 18) for the EO 12333-authorized phone dragnet. Nevertheless, for the first 3 years of the FISA-authorized program, NSA didn’t follow their Section 215 rules, instead applying the less stringent rules of USSID 18 (effectively letting a DOD Directive supersede the PATRIOT Act). In one of their most egregious violations discovered in 2009, they watch listed 3,000 US persons without giving those people the required First Amendment review, as required by minimization procedures written to fulfill the law. But instead of purging those records upon discovery (or even stopping the watchlisting), they just moved them into the EO 12333-only category. They just kept spying on the US persons using only data collected under EO 12333.
And these 2009 violations are not isolated. At least as recently as 2011, the NSA was still engaging in this authority arbitrage; a training program from that year makes it clear NSA trained analysts to re-run queries under EO 12333, if possible, to get around the dissemination requirements of Section 215. (Update: I’m not saying this particular arbitrage is illegal; it’s not. But it does show how NSA games these authorities.)
NSA Collects US Person Content by Getting It Overseas: Because of the structure of the Internet, a great deal of US person data exists overseas. We’ve seen discussion of this US person data overseas including at least email content, address books, videocam images, and location. But because NSA collects this via dragnet, not targeted collection, it claims it is not targeting any American, even though it permits the searching of EO 12333 data for US person content, apparently without even Reasonable Articulable Suspicion. And because it is not targeting Americans under their dragnet and back door loopholes, it does not apply FISA Amendment Act restrictions on collecting US person data overseas under Sections 703, 704, and 705. Effectively, it has the ability to avoid those restrictions entirely by using EO 12333 as a dodge.
I’m not the only one concerned about this: at a hearing in February, both Dianne Feinstein and (at more length) Mark Udall raised concerns with National Security Division Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, suggesting some of this EO 12333 data should be treated according to FISA. Carlin — who is supposed to be a key player in overseeing NSA — showed no interest in doing so.
In both these questions, NSA did not allow laws to take precedence over EO 12333. On the contrary, NSA just created ways that it could apply EO 12333 and ignore the law that should have or might have applied.
Not only does Snowden’s question make it clear that the NSA doesn’t make the precedence of law over EO 12333 clear in training, but the lawyer’s response was rather ambiguous on this point as well.
One thing we’ve learned from Snowden’s leaks is that the Executive is (at a minimum) evading the intent of Congress on some of its treatment of US person data. And by releasing this email as part of a pissing contest with Snowden, NSA has made it clear that’s by design, even in their most core training program.
NSA is not telling its analysts that laws passed by Congress — even those offering protection to US person data — must take precedence over the looser protections under EO 12333. Which may be why they’re comfortable collecting so much US person data under EO 12333.
Update: According to Snowden, I’m absolutely right.
Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.
Jason Leopold has a new article at the Guardian based off a FOIA of NSA’s FOIA process. Perhaps the funniest part of the documents he received, however, is the number of times the NSA claimed its own discussion of FOIA process — including praise for the FOIA responders! — was Top Secret, suggesting revealing details would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.
That said, I think there’s a missing piece to this puzzle (and hope Leopold pursues it when he makes his inevitable appeal of some of these redaction decisions).
On June 11, NSA’s Chief of FOIA Office Pamela Phillips raised the possibility of having “a paper or sheet of unclassified facts that could be provided to the public.” (See PDF 1) She repeated that request on June 17. (See PDF 3) I believe that is separate from the efforts to come up with a standard Glomar letter (that discussion, incidentally, is redacted in some enormously interesting ways).
But I’m particularly interested in a redaction in an email from Deputy Chief of Staff Trumbull Soule to Associate Director for Policy and Records David Sherman and then Media Leaks Task Force head and now Deputy Director of NSA Richard Ledgett, and cc’ed to Phillips and (among at least 12 others) NSA General Counsel Raj De on June 26.
That’s because that email got sent on the day after the NSA had to pull what I believe was that unclassified fact sheet, which NSA first posted on June 18, after Ron Wyden and Mark Udall wrote a letter, on June 24, to Keith Alexander noting two problems with the letter, in that it misleadingly suggested,
In addition, the letter had a classified attachment that, I suspect, noted that John Bates’ response to the upstream problems did not require the destruction of entirely domestic communications.
NSA withdrew the fact sheet from its website sometime before 1 PM on June 25.
Now, it may just be a coinkydink that the highest level of discussion among these emails come on that particular day (though I assume NSA withheld a bunch of emails). But I do find the timing rather interesting.
But it is going to ask nicely that the Circuit reconsider some of its instructions on redactions.
Granted, we knew they were going to try to hide that CIA conducts the drone killing, and some other details (perhaps even that the drone killing happened in Yemen).
But they insist on doing this ex parte.
The government does not intend to seek further review of the Court’s ruling that the OLC-DOD Memorandum may not be withheld in full under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). The government does intend, however, to seek panel rehearing, and alternatively, rehearing en banc, with respect to certain parts of the Court’s opinion and its proposed redactions.
The government intends to seek rehearing to protect certain information in the Court’s opinion, the Court-redacted version of the OLC-DOD Memorandum, and the OLC classified Vaughn index ordered disclosed by the Court. In the government’s view, that information is properly classified, protected from disclosure by statute, and/or privileged, and therefore exempt under FOIA Exemptions 1, 3, and/or 5, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1), (3), and/or (5), even if the OLC-DOD Memorandum cannot be withheld in its entirety under FOIA. Some of the information appears to have been ordered disclosed based on inadvertence or mistake, or is subject to distinct exemption claims or other legal protections that have never been judicially considered.
Of course, the Administration got David Barron confirmed before this was resolved (that was naive response from Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, in my opinion — I wouldn’t trust the Administration’s word after this!).
And now they’re going to make a secret bid to keep the jist of the report (likely everything that hasn’t already been published in the white paper) secret.
As Charlie Savage reported this morning, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall continue their ceaseless efforts to get NSA and DOJ to tell the truth. They (along with Martin Heinrich) wrote a letter to DOJ in November complaining about representations made in the Amnesty v. Clapper case. DOJ responded. And now Wyden and Udall have just written another response.
In addition to complaining about the government’s notice to defendants, Wyden and Udall claim DOJ improperly hid Section 702 upstream collection from SCOTUS by claiming the Amnesty plaintiffs could only be swept up in the dragnet if they communicated with a target.
These statements — if taken at face value — appear to foreclose the possibility of collection under section 702 intercepting any communications that are not to or from particular targets. In other words, the Justice Department indicated that communications that are merely “about” a target would not be collected. But recently declassified court opinions make it clear that legitimate communications about particular targets can also be intercepted under this authority. Since this fact was classified at the time, the plaintiffs did not raise it, but in our view this does not make these misleading statements acceptable.
The Justice Department’s reply also states that the “about” collection “did not bear upon the legal issues in the case.” But in fact, these misleading statements about the limits of section 702 surveillance appear to have informed the Supreme Court’s analysis. In writing for the majority, Justice Alito echoed your statements by the Court by stating that the “respondents’ theory necessarily rests on their assertion that the Government will target other individuals — namely their foreign contacts.” This statement, like your statements, appears to foreclose the possibility of “about” collection.
[W]hile the Justice Department may claim that the Amnesty plaintiffs’ arguments would have been “equally speculative” if they had referenced the “about” collection, that should be a determination for the courts, and not the Justice Department, to make.
After laying this out, they conclude by accusing the Executive of making “misleading statements to the public, Congress and the courts.”
They don’t name all the Courts, though.
They might want to start collecting a list of all the courts DOJ and NSA have lied to, though. Because even as the Senators and DOJ were having this squabble in DC, NSA was continuing to misinform courts on the other side of the country.
Consider how then Acting NSA Deputy Director Frances Fleisch described upstream collection — and the collection of entirely domestic communications that FISC deemed illegal — in a then-sealed declaration in the EFF Jewel case submitted 4 days before DOJ responded to the Senators.
Once a target has been approved, the NSA uses two means to acquire the target’s electronic communications. First, it acquires such communications directly from compelled U.S.-based providers. This has been publicly referred to as the NSA’s PRISM collection. Second, in addition to collection directly from providers, the NSA collects electronic communications with the compelled assistance of electronic communications service providers as they transit Internet “backbone” facilities within the United States.
In an opinion issued on October 3, 2001, the FISC found the NSA’s proposed minimization procedures as applied to the NSA’s upstream collection of Internet transactions containing multiple communications, or “MCTs,” deficient. In response, the NSA modified its proposed procedures and the FISC subsequently determined that the NSA adequately remedied the deficiencies such that the procedures met the applicable statutory and constitutional requirements, and allowed the collection to continue.
That is, Fleisch doesn’t even hint that the problem on which Bates ruled — the MCTs — consisted of entirely domestic communications unrelated to those mentioning the “about” selector. She doesn’t even hint that in addition to those MCTs, upstream collection also includes over 4 times as many completely domestic communications — SCTs — as well. She doesn’t reveal that John Bates threatened NSA with sanctions over distributing illegally collected domestic person content. And all of these issues are central to the Jewel complaint, which has always focused on telecoms collecting US person content at circuits. (I believe earlier declarations to NDCA were even more incomplete or downright dishonest on this issue, though will need to show that in a later post.)
In fact, EFF complained about this omission its response to the government’s declarations, noting that upstream about collection is precisely what whistleblower Mark Klein revealed back in 2006.
Public disclosures over the past six months, however, provide substantially more information about these collection practices than the government’s passing references. In particular, the government has publicly released an opinion of the FISC confirming that “‘upstream collection’ refers to the acquisition of Internet communications as they transit the ‘internal backbone’ facilities” of telecommunications firms, such as AT&T. Mem. Op. at 26, Redacted, No. [Redacted] (FISC Sep. 25, 2012) (emphasis added) (Ex. 1).
These descriptions of upstream Internet surveillance are functionally identical to the surveillance configuration described by the [Mark] Klein evidence: a system designed to acquire Internet communications as they flow between AT&T’s Common Backbone Internet network to the networks of other providers.
The FISA Court ruled that NSA had been breaking the law and violating the Constitution for at least 3 years leading up to the 2011 decision. And neither DOJ nor NSA have bothered telling courts ruling on the legality of the program about that fact.
It’s pretty impressive that the Executive can mislead courts about the same subject in so many places at once.
But I guess that’s just the flip side of an omnipresent spying agency, that it can also serve as an omnipresent lying agency.