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 a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.
What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.
I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.
Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.
If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.
Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.
Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).
But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.
Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.
Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)
Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.
The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.
Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.
There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.
Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.
And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.
If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.
“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”
Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.
And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.
Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.
I meant that very, very literally.
Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.
Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.
I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.
Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.
I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.
Over the last few days, I’ve tracked the accusations and counter-accusations between CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
A number of people have asked why, as a way to end this issue, the Committee doesn’t just declassify the entire SSCI Report.
But it’s not so simple as that.
It’s not clear there are the votes to release the Report.
Recall that when the Committee approved the Report back in 2012, the vote was largely split on party lines, with the exception of John McCain, who voted as an Ex Officio member (as Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee) to release the Report. McCain is no longer SASC Ranking member: Jim Inhofe is, and I’m betting he’s not going to vote to release the Report.
There are few other changes in the Committee proper since the report was originally finalized. Martin Heinrich and Angus King have replaced Bill Nelson and Kent Conrad, and Susan Collins and Tom Coburn have replaced Olympia Snowe and Roy Blunt.
And while Heinrich has quickly become one of the better overseers on the Committee, including on torture, it’s not actually clear whether King would vote to release the report. Collins, too, has been reported to be undecided (and her vote would be critical to making this a “bipartisan vote,” now that McCain doesn’t have a vote). There are even hints that Mark Warner wouldn’t vote to support its declassification (though he supported its finalization).
And importantly, King and Collins have been reported to be undecided after the time when, in January, the Committee at least began to suspect they’d been surveilled.
There are, obviously, two different issues (though Saxby Chambliss, at least, sides with CIA on both counts). But there’s been little outcry from the swing votes on releasing the underlying report itself.
Update: h/t to JK for the link to the Collins/King report I was not finding.
McClatchy has now posted an update to the tale of the CIA-SSCI spat.
It appears the following happened: Sometime around August, SSCI staffers working on a database at CIA discovered the internal CIA report, started under Leon Panetta, that corroborated the SSCI report. It also contradicted CIA’s official response to the SSCI Report.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
So having discovered even the CIA disagreed with the CIA’s response, the SSCI staffers took a copy with them.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings which they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
Mark Udall raised the report in a December hearing. In January, CIA accused SSCI of absconding with the document.
After the CIA confronted the panel in January about the removal of the material last fall, panel staff concluded that the agency had monitored computers that they’d been given to use in a high-security research room at the CIA campus in Langley, Va., a McClatchy investigation found.
In response, the CIA asked DOJ to start an investigation.
Then there’s this weird question about the document. I’m not sure whether the issue is how the document first got included in the database at CIA, or whether it’s how it migrated to SSCI.
White House officials have held at least one closed-door meeting with committee members about the monitoring and the removal of the documents, said the first knowledgeable person.
The White House officials were trying to determine how the materials that were taken from CIA headquarters found their way into a data base into which millions of pages of top-secret reports, emails and other documents were made available to panel staff after being vetted by CIA officials and contractors, said the knowledgeable person.
My favorite part of this passage, though, is that contractors are helping choose with documents CIA’s overseers are allowed to see.
Because contractors should surely have more visibility into what the CIA does than CIA’s overseers, right?
All of which is to say the SSCI busted the CIA for lying in their official response to the Committee. And as a result, CIA decided to start accusing the Committee of breaking the law. And now everyone is being called into the Principal’s office for spankings.
This reminds me of what happened when Gitmo defense lawyers tried to independently identify the identities of their clients torturers. The lawyers got too close to the torturers, which set off a process that ultimately led to John Kiriakou, as the sacrificial lamb, going to jail.
But it seems that this is part of a larger CIA effort to stall. As McClatchy notes, CIA took 3 extra months to provide their initial response to SSCI. Then this erupted 2 months later. It has now been almost 3 months since Udall first revealed the existence of the Panetta report. Which brings us just 8 months away from an election in which the Democrats stand a good chance of losing the Senate, and with it, the majority on the Committee that might vote to declassify the report in defiance of CIA’s wishes. Which may be why Saxby Chambliss is fanning the CiA’s flames for them.
“I have no comment. You should talk to those folks that are giving away classified information and get their opinion,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked about the alleged intrusions.
Stall, stall, stall. It’s what CIA did with the OPR report, it’s what they did with the torture tape investigation, and now this.
CIA may well suck at doing their job — getting intelligence that is useful to the country. But they sure are experts at outlasting any oversight onto their real activities.
By my count, Senate Intelligence Committee members asked CIA General Counsel nominee and Acting OLC Head Caroline Krass 3 questions, plus follow-ups, about torture (these are my summaries):
Granted, these questions come from people who have been particularly concerned about the Senate Torture report. So perhaps they’re just asking to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
But the questions, together, point to several potential loopholes around Obama’s purported ban on torture (even ignoring the way Executive Orders can be pixie dusted).
After all, as far as we know, the September 17, 2001 “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification remains active. That MON explicitly calls for partnering with countries that torture, both close partnership with Egypt (which was the first country we used to torture detainees), but even countries like Syria.
Then there’s the perennial question — which was the driving question in 2004 and 2005, which led to OLC memos Udall has made clear were based on CIA’s lies — of our compliance with the Convention Against Torture. We seem to have a sustained interest in humiliating detainees. Should we assume we continue to do so?
Finally, Udall’s question about the 2007 OLC memo, with his particular focus on sleep deprivation. As long ago as Faisal Shahzad’s interrogation, there have been suggestions that the High Value Interrogation Group might have found ways to keep detainees awake for extended periods. And while public explanations attributed Abu Anas al-Libi’s abbreviated shipboard interrogation to his own hunger strike, I do wonder whether some kind of coercion wasn’t also involved. Plus, there were claims that the CIA Annex in Benghazi was conducting interrogations. So I would be unsurprised if CIA were using sleep deprivation, again.
Again, perhaps Udall and Heinrich are asking these questions just to measure whether or not Krass would prevent CIA from getting back into the torture business. But I do find the questions troubling.
In addition to the apparent miscommunication between Mark Udall and Acting (and presumably soon to be confirmed) DOJ National Security Division Head John Carlin, there was an even more telling exchange in today’s hearing.
In it, Martin Heinrich asked whether DOJ had yet written down its radical new policy of giving notice to defendants caught using Section 702.
Heinrich: As you know in October 2013, after months and months of discussion and debate in which you and the NSD were involved, DOJ adopted a new policy by which Federal prosecutors would inform defendants when they intended to offer evidence informed, obtained, or derived from intelligence collected under Section 702 of FISA. And when you and I met in December you informed me that that policy had not yet been reduced to a formal written policy, and so, Mr. Carlin, I wanted to ask, is that process done yet and has that policy been finalized and if so has it been disseminated in written form?
Carlin: Thank you Senator, and thank you for having taken the time to meet prior to this uh, hearing, in terms of the question, it is my understanding that it was the practice of the, uh, or policy of the Department, to inform a defendant in a criminal case, to give notice, if there was 702 information that was going to be used against them prior to, uh, prior to this change in practice. The change in practice had to do with a particular set of circumstances when there was an instance where information obtained from one prong of the FISA statute, 702, was used and led to information that led to another prong of FISA, Title I FISA, being used, and that when the notice was given to the defendant that that notice was referring to one type of FISA but not both types of FISA. And that is the practice that we uh reviewed and changed, so that now defendants are receiving notice in those instances of both types of uh, FISA, the review of cases affected like that, uh, affected by that continues, but we have filed such notice now, I believe in three uh criminal matters, including the case of Mohamed Mohamud, the individual convicted by a jury of attempting to uh use an explosive device in a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. In reference to that case we’ve now filed, um, there’s a filing in that case we should provide to your staff where we lay out what our practice is and I will ensure that that filing is distributed to US Attorneys offices across the country so they know exactly what our position is in that issue.
Heinrich: That’s helpful. And so you’ll share that with the committee as well?
Carlin: Yes sir.
Now, Carlin might be forgiven for all the uming and ahing here. After all, the filing he appears to be referring to is sort of an extended effort to pretend that “derived from” doesn’t mean “derived from,” all in an effort to pretend DOJ hasn’t been deliberately hiding this (in Mohamud’s case) for over 3 years.
But kudos to Carlin for not using that verb — derived — in his answer, choosing instead to use “was used and led to information that led to.”
All that said, Carlin did admit what has been clear for some time: that DOJ has been hiding Section 702 collected information by getting Title I warrants they provide to defendants. Which is another way of saying all the reassurances people have given about the protections given to people collected incidentally in Section 702 fall flat, because what has actually been happening is the government uses that incidental collection to justify Title I warrants.
I’m glad that’s all cleared up.
NPR’s Carrie Johnson reports that OLC head Virginia Seitz quietly left OLC before Christmas.
Virginia Seitz, who won Senate confirmation after an earlier candidate under president Obama foundered, resigned from federal service after two-and-a-half years on the job. The timing is unusual because her unit plays a critical role in drawing the legal boundaries of executive branch action —at a time when President Obama says he will do more to bypass a divided Congress and do more governing by way of executive order.
And while DOJ’s official line is that Seitz left entirely for personal reasons, two sources told Johnson the ongoing discussions about whether to drone kill another American were another factor.
Two other sources suggested that aside from the tough work, another issue weighed heavily on her mind over the last several months: the question of whether and when the US can target its own citizens overseas with a weaponized drone or missile attack. American officials are considering such a strike against at least one citizen linked to al Qaeda, the sources said.
While a “law enforcement” source (but wait! the entire point of drone assassinations is they replace law enforcement with intelligence entirely!) suggests the decision has not yet been made.
A law enforcement source told NPR the controversy over the use of drones against Americans in foreign lands did not play a major role in Seitz’s decision to leave government, since the OLC is continuing to do legal analysis on the issue and there was no firm conclusion to which she may have objected or disagreed.
Which is sort of funny, because Kimberly Dozier’s report on the American in question says DOD, at least, has made its decision.
But one U.S. official said the Defense Department was divided over whether the man is dangerous enough to merit the potential domestic fallout of killing an American without charging him with a crime or trying him, and the potential international fallout of such an operation in a country that has been resistant to U.S. action.
Another of the U.S. officials said the Pentagon did ultimately decide to recommend lethal action.
And remember, as I’ve pointed out, this potential drone execution target is differently situated from Anwar al-Awlaki, in that there appears to be no claim this one is targeting civilians in the US.
But let’s take a step back and consider some other interesting details of timing.
First, on November 29 of last year, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich released a letter they sent to Eric Holder asking for more clarity on when the President could kill an American.
[W]e have concluded that the limits and boundaries of the President’s power to authorize the deliberate killing of Americans need to be laid out with much greater specificity. It is extremely important for both Congress and the public to have a fully understanding of what the executive branch thinks the President’s authorities are, so that lawmakers and the American people can decide whether these authorities are subject to adequate limits and safeguards.
Retrospectively, it seems this letter may have pertained to this new execution target, particularly given the different circumstances regarding his alleged attacks against the US. I might even imagine this serving as a public demand that DOJ not simply rely on the existing Awlaki drone assassination memo, creating the need to do a new one.
Now consider how (currently acting OLC head) Caroline Krass’ confirmation hearing plays in. On December 17, Wyden asked her who had the authority to withdraw an OLC opinion (the opinion in question pertains to common commercial services in some way related to cybersecurity, but I find it interesting in retrospect).
Wyden: But I want to make sure nobody else ever relies on that particular opinion and I’m concerned that a different attorney could take a different view and argue that the opinion is still legally valid because it’s not been withdrawn. Now, we have tried to get Attorney General Holder to withdraw it, and I’m trying to figure out — he has not answered our letters — who at the Justice Department has the authority to withdraw the opinion. Do you currently have the authority to withdraw the opinion?
Krass: No I do not currently have that authority.
Wyden: Okay. Who does, at the Justice Department?
Krass: Well, for an OLC opinion to be withdrawn, on OLC’s own initiative or on the initiative of the Attorney General would be extremely unusual.
She said she did not “currently have that authority.” Was she about to get that authority in days or hours?
Then finally there are the implications for Krass’ confirmation. The leaks about this current drone execution target almost certainly came from Mike Rogers’ immediate vicinity. He’s torqued because Obama’s efforts to impose some limits on the drone war have allegedly made it more difficult to execute this American with no due process.
And while Rogers doesn’t get a vote over Krass’ confirmation to be CIA General Counsel, Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss do. And their efforts to keep CIA in the drone business may well have an impact on — and may have been motivated by — our ability to assassinate Americans.
I don’t recall Krass getting questions that directly addressed drone killing, though she did get some that hinted at the edges of such questions, such as this one:
Are there circumstances in which a use of force, or other action, by the U.S. government that would be unlawful if carried out overtly is lawful when carried out covertly? Please explain.
ANSWER: As a matter of domestic law, I cannot think of any circumstances in which a use of force or other action by the U.S. government that would be unlawful if carried out overtly would be lawful when carried out covertly, but I have not studied this question.
This seems to be a question she would have had to consider if she had any involvement in OLC’s consideration of a new drone execution memo.
All that said, she hasn’t yet gotten her vote (though any delay may arise from holds relating to the Senate Torture Report).
It just seems likely that — as we did in May 2005 when Steven Bradbury reapproved torture in anticipation of a promotion to head OLC — we’re faced yet again with a lawyer waiting for a promotion being asked to give legal sanction to legally suspect activity. My impression is that Krass has far more integrity than Bradbury (remember, she’s the one who originally imposed limits on the Libya campaign), so I’m only raising this because of the circumstances, not any reason to doubt her character.
It just seems like if you need lawyers to rubber stamp legally suspect activities, there ought to be more transparency about what promotions and resignations are going on.
Surprisingly, the most contentious comments from today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on were not directed at James “Too Cute by Half” Clapper, but instead John Brennan. Both Martin Heinrich (who used the Early Bird rule to ensure he got to speak early in the hearing) and Mark Udall hit on John Brennan’s comments about the SSCI torture report given what the CIA concluded in an internal review carried out under Leon Panetta. First, Martin Heinrich accused CIA of intimidating legitimate oversight.
[Heinrich] accused Brennan of making statements about the Intelligence panel’s interrogation report that are “meant to intimidate, deflect and thwart legitimate oversight.”
“There’s a chasm between the committee and Director Brennan on some of these issues, but it doesn’t appear to be in the director’s nature to accept those overtures, frankly,” Heinrich said.
“I respectfully and vehemently disagree with your characterization of the CIA’s cooperation with this committee,” Brennan responded.
Heinrich asked Brennan to explain why the Panetta review had been disbanded, wherein Dianne Feinstein interrupted and said that was no an appropriate question for the hearing, at which point Heinrich rebutted DiFi.
“Actually, it doesn’t fully answer the question,” Heinrich responded.
Later, Udall suggested that Brennan’s stonewalling on this internal report suggested he might have been less than forthcoming in his earlier answers about the torture report (remember, Brennan has been dodging Udall’s questions on the torture report for a year).
Udall then asked if the internal review contradicted Brennan’s statement, which the CIA director said was not appropriate to respond to in a public setting.
“Are you saying that the CIA officers who were asked to produce this internal review got it wrong? Just like you said the committee got it wrong?” Udall asked.
“Senator, as you well know, I didn’t say that the committee got it wrong,” Udall shot back. “I said there were things in that report I disagreed with, there were things that I agreed with and I look forward with working committee on the next steps in report.”
That’s when DiFi interrupted again, suggesting this wasn’t an appropriate discussion for this hearing.
Curiously, in spite of DiFi’s insistence that all mention of the Panetta report — or what led it to being quashed — take place in closed session, the CIA claims it might release their report (if they can also release their rebuttal of the Senate report). But they’re still fighting the release of the 6,000 page SSCI torture report.
They’re likely using the same dodge DOJ just used in a FOIA from Jason Leopold (who is also suing for some or all the same reports ACLU is). They said they can’t release the torture report because DiFi owns it (remember, Congress is immune from FOIA).
A report completed more than a year ago by a Senate panel that investigated the CIA’s torture program can only be released by the committee, which maintains complete “control” over the highly classified document, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday.
The Justice Department made that claim in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed against the agency last September, in which I asked for a copy of the 300-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) much sought after $40 million torture report. The Justice Department asked a federal court judge Friday to dismiss my case, arguing it does not have the authority to disseminate the report because it is a “congressional record” as opposed to an “agency record,” which would make it subject to provisions of FOIA.
So DiFi doesn’t want Brennan to have to admit in public session that even the CIA found the CIA torture program didn’t work. And DiFi seems to be the single solitary hold-up for releasing her own Committee’s torture report.
Why is DiFi protecting John Brennan and his agency rather than overseeing them?