Najibullah Zazi

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PCLOB Ignores Glaring Section 702 Non-Compliance: Notice to Defendants

I will have far more to say about PCLOB once I finish my working thread. But there’s one glaring flaw in the report’s claim that the government complies with the statute.

Based on the information that the Board has reviewed, the government’s PRISM collection complies with the structural requirements of the statute.

But here’s the report’s discussion of what happens with aggrieved persons — those prosecuted based in information derived from Section 702 information.

Further, FISA provides special protections in connection with legal proceedings, under which an aggrieved person — a term that includes non-U.S. persons — is required to be notified prior to the disclosure or use of any Section 702–related information in any federal or state court.447 The aggrieved person may then move to suppress the evidence on the grounds that it was unlawfully acquired and/or was not in conformity with the authorizing Section 702 certification.448 Determinations regarding whether the Section 702 acquisition was lawful and authorized are made by a United States District Court, which has the authority to suppress any evidence that was unlawfully obtained or derived.449 

But for 5 years after the passage of the law, the government never once gave defendants notice they were aggrieved under Section 702. It lied to the Supreme Court about not having done so. And even while it has since given a limited number of defendants — like Mohamed Osman Mohamud — notice, there are others — David Headley, Najibullah Zazi and Adis Medunjanin, and Khalid Ouazzani — who are known to be aggrieved under Section 702 who have never received notice. Finally, there is the case of the Qazi brothers, which seems to be a case where the government is parallel constructing right in the face of the magistrate.

PCLOB said that the government is generally in compliance with the statute. And yet, it made no mention of known, fairly egregious violations of the statute.

That suggests the report as a whole may be flawed.

NSA’s Latest Claim: It Only Gets 30% of “Substantially All” the Hay in the Haystack

SIGINT and 215In December 2007, the FBI began intercepting MOALIN’s cell phone.

FBI search warrant affidavit seeking (among other things) additional cell phones, October 29, 2010

Yesterday, Siobhan Gorman reported that NSA’s “phone-data program” collects 20% or less of the phone data in the US. She explains that the program doesn’t collect cell phone data, and so has covered a decreasing percentage of US calls over the last several years.

The National Security Agency’s phone-data program, which has been at the center of controversy over the NSA’s surveillance operations, collects information from about 20% or less of all U.S. calls—much less than previously described by lawmakers.

The program had been described as collecting records on virtually every phone call placed in the U.S., but in fact, it doesn’t cover records for most cellphones, the fastest-growing sector in telephony and an area where the agency has struggled to keep pace, according to several people familiar with the program.

Ellen Nakashima’s report places the percentage between 20 and 30%, echoing Gorman’s claim about limits on cell data.

The actual percentage of records gathered is somewhere between 20 and 30 percent and reflects Americans’ increasing turn away from the use of land lines to cellphones. Officials also have faced technical challenges in preparing the NSA database to handle large amounts of new records without taking in data such as cell tower locations that are not authorized for collection.

[snip]

The bulk collection began largely as a land-line program, focusing on carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Business Network Services. At least two large wireless companies are not covered — Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile U.S., which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Industry officials have speculated that partial foreign ownership has made the NSA reluctant to issue orders to those carriers. But U.S. officials said that was not a reason.

“They’re doing business in the United States; they’re required to comply with U.S. law,” said one senior U.S. official. “A court order is a court order.”

Rather, the official said, the drop in collection stems from several factors.

Apart from the decline in land-line use, the agency has struggled to prepare its database to handle vast amounts of cellphone data, current and former officials say. For instance, cellphone records may contain geolocation data, which the NSA is not permitted to receive.

These reports offer a more credible explanation than Geoffrey Stone’s multiple claims to this effect about why the program misses data. So they may be true.

But I think they instead point to the legal range of authorities NSA uses to collect phone records, not to what records they actually have in their possession.

These reports are commenting (though without specifying, or even seeming to be aware they need to specify) on what the government claims it collects under Section 215. These reports are not commenting on what NSA collects under all authorities.

In this post I will show why I believe these reports to be credible only in a very narrow sense. In a follow-up post I will point to the legal issues that underlie the Administration’s conflicting claims about what it collects.

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The Government Plays Connect-the-Dots Differently than They Say

In my continuing obsession to understand precisely how the government really uses the dragnet, consider this post, in which NSA Review Group member Geoffrey Stone conducts (IMO) inadequate analysis to conclude the phone dragnet is probably unconstitutional.

In it, he provides this description of how the government uses the phone dragnet:

In 2012, the NSA queried a total of 288 phone numbers. Based on these queries, the NSA found 16 instances in which a suspect phone number was directly or indirectly in touch with another phone number that the NSA independently suspected of being associated with terrorist activity. In such cases, the NSA turns the information over to the FBI for further investigation.

In terms of the “connect the dots” metaphor, the purpose of the program is not so much to discover new “dots” but to determine if there are connections between two or more already suspect “dots.” For example, if a phone number belonging to a terrorist suspect in Pakistan is found to have called a phone number in the United States that the government independently suspects belongs to a person involved in possible terrorist activity, alarm bells (figuratively) go off very loudly, alerting the government to the need for immediate attention. [my emphasis]

I don’t think this can be an accurate description of how the dragnet works.

It is close to what happened with Adis Medunjanin. As the FBI was honing in on Najibullah Zazi, the NSA did a query and found a new cell phone for Medunjanin, though they already knew Medunjanin was a likely accomplice of Zazi’s through via travel records. The government says they were particularly interested in this phone because it was in contact with other extremists. Thus, they found a brand new phone number, but one that ended up being associated with both a suspect (Medunjanin) and other suspects (the other people that phone was in contact with).

But that cell phone for Medunajnin was a brand new number to the NSA, at least according to their reports.

The claim may still be true if they used burner matching to identify Medunjanin as a match to the other phone record they had on him. But it seems this process would have to involve additional information about Medunjanin at some point — at the very least, the match of those travel documents to that phone number, if not his identity.

In other words, this only seems to make sense if they had Medunjanin’s “identity” in some form or another, belying their claims not to have identities while they’re contact chaining.

The description is potentially more problematic with Basaaly Moalin. In his case, the stated explanation for what happened is they found his number on a second-degree search, sent it to the FBI, and the FBI learned he was the guy who had previously been investigated in 2003.

The problem might be alleviated in two ways: first, if the hawala through which Moalin was sending money to Ayro, was also tied to a suspect number. That’s a distinct possibility: but the question is, how does that identity as a suspect number get communicated to NSA? If NSA already had it, doesn’t it mean they’ve got more suspect numbers sitting somewhere than have been RAS approved?

The other possibility is that Moalin himself was still identified as a suspect number from the investigation back in 2003 — that an investigation that turned up no evidence might still, during the era of the illegal program, have gotten someone nominated as a suspect number under Cheney’s program, and they never purged the system entirely (which would seem to be supported by the 2009 problems, which showed they hadn’t turned off the illegal program features).

Either of these possibilities, of course, would raise new concerns about the NSA program.

But the description would also raise real issues, both about the honesty of witnesses and the potential efficacy of the system. If the NSA only triggers on people who’ve got ties to a second suspect number (which is entirely different than what they’ve been saying) then it could not possibly alert the government to a fully compartmented lone actor (someone like, say, Faisal Shahzad). That is, it would only find people who were engaged in the kind of elaborate planning seen before the government dismantled al Qaeda, but would not find the kind of individual extremists we’ve seen almost exclusively (with the exception of Zazi) for years.

This would answer the question of whether the NSA is finding the right numbers, in that it would be less likely to find someone innocent. It also might explain why the program didn’t find Shahzad. But it would also mean it does (as presented) far less than the NSA has been saying it does.

I don’t actually believe that, but that is what it would suggest.

The Purpose(s) of the Dragnet, Revisited

As I noted the other day, one basis Judge Richard Leon used to find that the dragnet was likely unconstitutional was that it wasn’t all that useful. But I was particularly interested in the evidence he points to to establish that (see page 61 of his ruling), because it and the underlying basis for it reveal far more about how the government uses the dragnet than we’ve seen.

Leon points to the three cases in which the phone dragnet was supposed to be useful, which he gets from the declaration of FBI Acting Assistant Director Robert Holley. Holley claims the dragnet was useful in the Khalid Ouazzani, David Headley, and Najibullah Zazi cases (though Holley does not mention Ouazzani by name), using the following language.

In January 2009, using authorized collection under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of an extremist overseas with ties to al-Qa’ida, NSA discovered a connection with an individual based in Kansas City. NSA tipped the information to the FBI, which during the course of its investigation discovered that there had been a plot in its early stages to attack the New York Stock Exchange. After further investigation, NSA queried the telephony metadata to ensure that all potential connections were identified, which assisted the FBI in running down leads.

[snip]

At the time of his arrest, Headley and his colleagues, at the behest of al-Qa’ida, were plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Headley was later charged with support for terrorism based on his involvement in the planning and reconnaissance for the 2008 hotel attack in Mumbai. Collection against foreign terrorists and telephony metadata analysis were utilized in tandem with FBI law enforcement authorities to establish Headley’s foreign ties and them in context with his U.S. based planning efforts.

[snip]

NSA received Zazi’s telephone number from the FBI and ran it against the Section 215 telephony metadata, identifying and passing additional leads back to the FBI for investigation. One of these leads revealed a previously unknown number  for co-conspirator Adis Medunjanin and corroborated his connection to Zazi as well as to other U.S.-based extremists.

First, note what’s missing? Any mention of Basaaly Moalin, the only defendant for which the government claims the phone dragnet was critical to his identification. Holley may have left Moalin out because of the timing: DOJ submitted his declaration on November 12, the day before the hearing on Moalin’s bid for a new trial and two days before Jeffrey Miller’s ruling rejecting that. Did DOJ think they might lose that argument, and so left it out out of fear it would make them more likely to lose this one (Leon does acknowledge Miller’s ruling in his own). Or was the case just so dated they chose not to mention it?

Whatever the reason, they’re left describing three cases in which even Keith Alexander admits the dragnet was at best only helpful.

But note the other thing: Up until now, the government has only described how the dragnet was useful in the Zazi case. While in its propaganda about 54 plots or maybe just terrorist events thwarted, it has implicitly suggested that only those with a US-nexus could involve the dragnet, I know of no other instance where they made it clear that they sort of used it in the Headley and Ouazzani cases (I’m going to check the declarations in the parallel suits later).

In both cases, it appears, the government only used it after the fact (which is how they used it in the Boston Marathon attack, which bizarrely also goes unmentioned).

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Did DOJ Prosecute Basaaly Moalin Just to Have a Section 215 “Success”?

At yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dragnet, the government’s numbers supporting the value of the dragnet got even worse. At one point, Pat Leahy asserted that the phone dragnet had only been useful in one case (in the last hearing, there had been a debate over whether it had been critical in one or two cases).

Leahy (after 1:09:40): We’ve already established that Section 215 was uniquely valuable in just one terrorism case, not the 54 that have been talked about before.

In a follow up some minutes later, Keith Alexander laid out numbers that explain how the Administration had presented that 1 case as 12 in previous claims.

Alexander (at 1:21:30): As you correctly stated, there was one unique case under 215 where the metadata helped. There were 7 others where it contributed. And 4 where it didn’t find anything of value, and we were able to tell the FBI that.

That is, to publicly claim that the phone dragnet has been useful in 12 cases, the Administration included 7 cases where — as with the Najibullah Zazi case — it proved to be a tool that provided non-critical information available by other means, and 4 cases where it was useful only because it didn’t show any results.

To fluff their numbers, the Administration has been counting cases where the phone dragnet didn’t show results as showing results of no results.

With sketchy numbers like that, it’s high time for a closer examination of the details — and the timing — of the Basaaly Moalin prosecution, the only case (Alexander now agrees) where the phone dragnet has been critical.

As a reminder, Moalin was first identified via the dragnet — probably on a second hop away from Somali warlord Aden Ayro – in October 2007.  They used that and probably whatever tip they used to investigate him in 2003 to get a FISA warrant by December 20, 2007. Only 2 months later, February 26, 2008, was al-Shabaab listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Ayro was killed on May 1, 2008, though the government kept the tap on Moalin through December 2008, during which period they collected evidence of Moalin donating money (maybe 3 times as much as he gave to al-Shabaab-related people) to a range of people who had nothing to do with al-Shabaab. A CIPA stipulation presented at the trial revealed that during this period after the inculpatory conversations, Moalin’s tribe and Shabaab split and Moalin’s collections supported other entities in Somalia.

1. Money collected for the Ayr sub-clan was given to individuals including Abukar Suyare (Abukar Mohamed) and Fare Yare, who were associated with the Ilays charity.

2. Money collected by the men in Guracewl on behalf of the Ayr sub-clan was given to a group that was not as-Shabaab. [sic]

3. There was a dispute between al-Shabaab, the Ayr clan and Ilays over the administration pf [sic] of Galgaduud regions.

4. Members of the Ilays charity and the Ayr sub-clan, including Abukar Suryare, were opposed to the al-Shabaab and were Ayrow’s enemies.

On April 8, 2009, FBI would search the hawala used to send money based entirely on Moalin’s case. Yet on April 23, 2009, according to a document referenced but not provided to Moalin’s defense, the FBI concluded that Moalin not only no longer expressed support for al-Shabaab, but that he had only ever supported it because of tribal loyalties, not support for terrorism.

The San Diego FIG assesses that Moalin, who belongs to the Hawiye tribe/Habr Gedir clan/Ayr subclan, is the most significant al-Shabaab fundraiser in the San Diego Area of Operations (AOR). Although Moalin has previously expressed support for al-Shabaab, he is likely more attentive to Ayr subclan issues and is not ideologically driven to support al-Shabaab. The San Deigo FIG assesses that Moalin likely supported now deceased senior al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayrow due to Ayrow’s tribal affiliation with the Hawiye tribe/Habr Gedir clan/Ayr subclan rather than his position in al-Shabaab. Moalin has also worked diligently to support Ayr issues to promote his own status with Habr Gedir elders. The San Diego FIG assesses, based on reporting that Moalin has provided direction regarding financial accounts to be used when transferring funds overseas that he also serves as a controller for the US-based al-Shabaab fundraising network.

The intercepts on which the prosecution was based support this. They show that Moalin’s conversations with Ayro and others focused on fighting the (American-backed) Ethiopian invaders of his region, not anything outside of Somalia.

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John Bates Intervened in the Phone Dragnet Problems

Yesterday, I Con the Record released more records in response to the ACLU FOIA for records on the Section 215 program (though once again, they didn’t mention the FOIA).

Three of the documents provide more data points for a notable progression I laid out in this post, in which Reggie Walton appears to have shut down some collection from one telecom on July 9, 2009, reapproved it (including retroactively) on September 3, 2009, just in time for the Intelligence Community to claim Section 215 collection was central to the Najibullah Zazi investigation.

First, a July 2, 2009 notice to Walton provided the End-to-End review “for the Court’s information.” It had been completed on June 25 and provided to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees on June 30. It was also included in the formal DOJ filing to Walton on August 19, which left the impression that DOJ had held it for two months before sharing it with the court. But this notice makes it clear Walton received a copy with only a slight delay (and the day before they delivered the first weekly report he had demanded). It also makes it clear he had gotten it, and probably read it, before whatever action he took on July 9. What may be the problematic collection (see page 15-16) apparently got reported to FISC before May 29 (no mention of a formal notice is included, though it seems to be addressed in the May 29 order). But there are other violations (such as the sharing described on page 17 that may involve Homeland Security) that appear to have been newly disclosed with this report.

In a second document — a September 10 notice to just the Senate Intelligence Committee (?!) that Judge Walton had reauthorized the bulk collection program on September 3 — reveals that on August 4, FISC Chief Judge John Bates had written Eric Holder a letter raising concerns. The notice portrays a September 1 demonstration for Walton, Bates, and Judge Thomas Hogan (who I believe was the only other FISC judge from the DC Circuit at the time) apparently at NSA as a response to Bates’ concerns. But the description of the demonstration also notes that,

The information was presented in the context of a current operation that concerns a potential threat to the U.S. homeland.

Remember, this was before (by 2 days) the Zazi investigation started. So this must reference something else, though it certainly didn’t sound all that urgent.

In any case, while it is unclear who got Bates involved (after all, it could have been the Administration, complaining that some of its production had been cut off), it is noteworthy he was involved, which provides a little more background to the frustration he expressed in his October 3, 2011 opinion accusing the government of signifiant misrepresentations on 3 occasions.

Finally, on October 21, in what must have been part of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization push, National Counterterrorism Center’s Michael Leiter and the NSA’s Assistant Deputy Director for Counterterrorism addressed the House Intelligence Committee. Along with their case for the program and a heavily glossed description of the problems with it (which they indicate had already been noticed in some form to the Committee), they described how tips from the dragnet “have contributed directly to the following specific cases,” plural. It includes an entirely unredacted description of the dragnet’s role in the Zazi investigation (without, for example, disclosing FBI already knew of Adis Medunjanin through travel documents to Pakistan where he and Zazi trained with terrorists). And it includes a shorter description of what must be at least one other case, which is entirely redacted. It’s possible, after all, that that second “success” (which is so credible we can’t know about it) is the ongoing threat referred to in the September 10 notice, which NSA used to scare FISC into reauthorizing the dragnet.

One more detail about the notice to HPSCI. It fails to mention that, less than 3 weeks after he reauthorized the dragnet, Walton learned — from DOJ, not NSA — of further information sharing violations. In other words, the HPSCI witnesses falsely portrayed the problems as fixed, when there were pending violations still being discussed between NSA and FISC.

There’s nothing enormous in these revelations, but they do add to the understanding of how grave FISC took these violations to be, and how partial was Congressional briefing on them.  Continue reading

DOJ’s New “Transparency” on the Dragnet: Admitting Their “Physical Search” Was the “Dragnet”

DOJ has been boasting to the press for weeks that it will give Jamshid Muhtorov (though they didn’t name him) notice that they used NSA spook authorities to catch him in his alleged support for Uzbekistan’s Islamic Jihad Union. Now that they have released his name, there are a lot of reasons to be cynical about that: the possibility they’ll try to implicate Human Rights Watch, the possibility they’ll tie him to Najibullah Zazi (like Muhtorov) living in Aurora, CO, the apparent fact that they have no other evidence against him except intercepts.

But here’s what this notice constitutes. Here’s the notice they filed in February 2012.

Comes now the United States of America, by John F. Walsh, United States Attorney, and Gregory Holloway, Assistant United States Attorney, both for the District of Colorado and Jason Kellhofer and Erin Creegan, Trial Attorneys United States Department of Justice, National Security Division, Counterterrorism Section, and hereby provides notice to this Court and the defendant, Jamshid Muhtorov that pursuant to Title 50, United States Code, Sections 1806(c) and 1825(d), the government intends to offer into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any proceedings in the above-captioned matter, information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance and physical search conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1811, 1821-1829.

And here’s the notice they filed today, in their big bid for transparency.

Comes now the United States of America, by John Walsh, United States Attorney, and Gregory Holloway, Assistant United States Attorney, both for the District of Colorado and Erin Creegan, Trial Attorney United States Department of Justice, National Security Division, Counterterrorism Section, and hereby provides notice to this Court and the defense, pursuant to 50 U.S.C. ” 1806(c) and 1881e(a), that the government intends to offer into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in proceedings in the above-captioned matter information obtained or derived from acquisition of foreign intelligence information conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended, 50 U.S.C. ‘ 1881a. Dated this 25th day of October, 2013.

That is, their idea of “transparency” is to notice 50 USC 1881a, which is Section 702 of FAA (wiretapping based off a foreign target), instead of 50 USC 1825(d) which is physical search. (See here and here for just two of the instances where I note they’re calling dragnet searches physical ones.)

That’s it. For years, they’ve been telling defendants they were subjects of a physical search, when in fact they were subjects of a dragnet.

And this is their gleeful new exhibit of transparency.

On the 12th Day of Christmas, the NSA Gave to Me … 12 “Terrorism Supporters”

Dianne Feinstein is writing op-eds again. Of course, I’m not actually recommending you read her defense of the phone dragnet program — though I do recommend this rebuttal of her claims from ACLU’s Mike German.

In other words, the problem was not that the government lacked the right tools to do its job (it had ample authority to trace Mihdhar’s calls). The problem was that the government apparently failed to use them.

But I do want to look at how DiFi dances around the debunked claims about all the plots the dragnet have stopped.

Since its inception, this program has played a role in stopping roughly a dozen terror plots and identifying terrorism supporters in the U.S.

Her claim is grammatically false, of course. Of the 2 known of these 12 cases where Section 215 was useful, with just one — when it was used to identify an unknown phone of one already identified accomplice of Najibullah Zazi — was a plot actually stopped. In the other, all Section 215 did was identify a supporter of terrorism, Basaaly Moalin. And even there, the FBI itself believed Moalin sent money to al-Shabaab not so much to support terrorism, but to support expelling (US backed) Ethiopian invaders of Somalia.

So while she could say that on 12 occasions Section 215 has helped stop a plot or identified terrorism supporters, what she has said is — surprise surprise! — a lie.

But I am rather amused at how close DiFi gets to arguing a dragnet of every Americans’ phone based relationships is worthwhile because it has found 12 guys who support, but do not engage in, terrorism.

The Scandal of Lying about “Thwarted” “Plots” Started 4 Years Ago

As predicted, one big takeaway from yesterday’s NSA hearing (the other being the obviously partial disclosure about location tracking) is Keith Alexander’s admission that rather than 54 “plots” “thwarted” in the US thanks to the dragnet, only one or maybe two were. Here are some examples.

But they’re missing this real scandal about the government’s lies about the central importance of Section 215.

That scandal started 4 years ago, when an example the FBI now admits had limited import played a critical role in the reauthorization of Section 215 without limits on the dragnet authority.

First, note that even while Leahy got Alexander to back off his “54 plots” claim, the General still tried to insist Section 215 had been critical in two plots, not just one.

SEN. LEAHY: Let’s go into that discussion, because both of you have raised concerns that the media reports about the government surveillance programs have been incomplete, inaccurate, misleading or some combination of that. But I’m worried that we’re still getting inaccurate and incomplete statements from the administration.

For example, we have heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted by the use of Section 215 and/or Section 702 authorities. That’s plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress; we get it in statements. These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all thwarted. The American people are getting left with an inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs.

Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and out of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S. Would you agree with that, yes or no?

DIR. ALEXANDER: Yes.

SEN. LEAHY: OK. In our last hearing, Deputy Director Inglis’ testimony stated that there’s only really one example of a case where, but for the use of Section 215, bulk phone records collection, terrorist activity was stopped. Is Mr. Inglis right?

DIR. ALEXANDER: He’s right. I believe he said two, Chairman; I may have that wrong, but I think he said two, and I would like to point out that it could only have applied in 13 cases because of the 54 terrorist plots or events, only 13 occurred in the U.S. Business Record FISA was only used in (12 of them ?).

SEN. LEAHY: I understand that, but what I worry about is that some of these statements that all is — all is well, and we have these overstatements of what’s going on — we’re talking about massive, massive, massive collection. We’re told we have to do that to protect us, and then statistics are rolled out that are not accurate. It doesn’t help with the credibility here in the Congress; doesn’t help with the credibility with us, Chairman, and it doesn’t help with the credibility with the — with the country. [my emphasis]

Here’s the transcript at I Con the Record from the previous hearing, where Inglis in fact testified that Section 215 was only critical in the Basaaly Moalin case (which was not a plot against the US but rather funding to defeat a US backed invasion of Somalia).

MR. INGLIS: There is an example amongst those 13 that comes close to a but-for example and that’s the case of Basaaly Moalin.

 

That is, in fact, Inglis said it had been critical in just one “plot.”

After he did, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce piped in to note the phone dragnet also “played a role” by identifying a new phone number of a suspect we already knew about in the Najibullah Zazi case.

MR. JOYCE: I just want to relate to the homeland plots. So in Najibullah Zazi and the plot to bomb the New York subway system, Business Record 215 played a role; it identified specifically a number we did not previously know of a —

SEN. LEAHY: It was a — it was a critical role?

MR. JOYCE: What I’m saying — what it plays a

SEN. LEAHY: (And was there ?) some undercover work that was — took place in there?

MR. JOYCE: Yes, there was some undercover work.

SEN. LEAHY: Yeah —

MR. JOYCE: What I’m saying is each tool plays a different role, Mr. Chairman. I’m not saying that it is the most important tool —

SEN. LEAHY: Wasn’t the FBI — wasn’t the FBI already aware of the individual in contact with Zazi?

MR. JOYCE: Yes, we were, but we were not aware of that specific telephone number, which NSA provided us. [my emphasis]

So, when pressed, Joyce admitted that Section 215 wasn’t critical to finding Adis Medunjanin, one of Zazi’s conspirators. (And if you read Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman’s Enemies Within, you see just how minor a role it played.)

That’s important, because the Administration’s use of Section 215 in the Zazi case was crucially important to the defeat of two efforts to rein in the dragnet in 2009.

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Oh, So THAT’S Why the Government Is So Insistent Section 215 Had a Role in the Zazi Case?

There’s a remarkable passage in the Primary Order for the Section 215 dragnet that Judge Reggie Walton signed on September 3, 2009.

In addition, the Custodian of Records of [redacted] shall produce to NSA upon service of the appropriate Secondary Order an electronic copy of the same tangible things created by [redacted] for the period from 5:11 p.m. on July 9, 2009 to the date of this Order, to the extent those records still exist.

In an order authorizing the prospective collection of phone records until October 30, 2009, Walton also authorizes the retroactive collection of phone records generated between July 9 and September 3, 2009, if the telecom(s) haven’t destroyed them yet.

This seems to suggest that in an Order on July 9 (which we don’t get, but which the government references in its August 19 submission) Walton halted the program.

Boom. 5:11, July 9. No more phone records, from at least one telecom.

We don’t know why he did so either. In his June 22 Order, he referenced a May 29 Order (another one we didn’t get), responding to NSA’s very delayed disclosures that unminimized results had been shared with NSA analysts unauthorized to receive them and that CIA, FBI, and NCTC had access to the dragnet databases.  He had assigned the government a new report, due on June 18. But in that, too, the government revealed new abuses (including one — described on page 4 — that may pertain to the Internet dragnet rather than the phone dragnet; recall that the NSA offered to “review” that program at the same time they did the phone dragnet). Walton issued new homework to the NSA, requiring the government to provide a weekly report of the dissemination that occurred, with the first due July 3 and therefore the second due July 10, the day after Walton appears to have stopped the collection.

In the government’s August submission, this line seems to indicate querying has been halted.

Based on these findings and actions, the Government anticipates that it will request in the Application seeking renewal of docket number BR 09-09 authority that NSA, including certain NSA analysts who obtain appropriate approval, be permitted to resume non-automated querying of the call detail records using selectors approved by NSA.

But it doesn’t seem to reflect that collection stopped. (Note, Walton’s June Order had a docket number of 09-06, whereas the August submission bears the docket number 09-09).

So while we can’t be sure, it appears the discoveries submitted to Walton in June 2009, as well as new ones in early July, may have led him to halt production of new phone records.

And that collection was turned back on on September 3, 2009. 3 days before the NSA intercepted Najibullah Zazi’s frantic emails to Pakistan trying to get help making TATP he planned to use in a September 11 attack on NYC’s subways.

According to Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman’s superb Enemies Within, after discovering Zazi’s emails, FBI had used travel records to find Zazi’s suspected accomplices, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin.

But when the government tried to justify the dragnet earlier this year, they pointed to the fact that Medunjanin came up in the Section 215 collection as proof of the dragnet’s value, as in this July 17 House Judiciary Committee hearing where FBI National Security Division Executive Assistant Director Stephanie Douglas testified.

Additionally, NSA ran a phone number identifiable with Mr. Zazi against the information captured under 215. NSA queried the phone number and identified other Zazi associates. One of those numbers came back to Adis Medunjanin, an Islamic extremist located in Queens, New York.

The FBI was already aware of Mr. Medunjanin, but information derived from 215 assisted in defining his — Zazi’s network and provided corroborating information relative to Medunjanin’s connection to Zazi. Just a few weeks after the initial tip by NSA, both Zazi and Medunjanin were arrested with — along with another co-conspirator. They were charged with terrorist acts and a plot to blow up the New York City subway system.

As I noted 4 years ago, Dianne Feinstein immediately started using the Zazi investigation to successfully argue that Section 215 must retain its broad relevance standard, defeating an effort by Pat Leahy to require some tie to terrorism.

Now, it may be that the FBI also used Section 215 to collect records of 3 apparently innocent people buying beauty supplies. The government has neither explained what happened to these apparently innocent people or on what basis (it may have been the Section 215 dragnet) they claimed they were associates of Zazi.

But the public case that backs up DiFi’s claims that Section 215 dragnet was central to the Zazi investigation is now limited to the fact that the FBI used the dragnet to find a Zazi associate they already knew about.

Yet imagine! What if Reggie Walton’s stern action in response to the government’s blatantly violating dissemination rules on the dragnet prevented the FBI from finding Zazi’s associates (which wasn’t a problem, and would have been less of a problem if the NYPD hadn’t tipped of Zazi, but never mind)? What if Walton’s effort to rein in the government had prevented the FBI from thwarting an attack?

That, it seems to me, is the implicit threat. The government claims — in spite of all the evidence to the contrary — that Section 215 played a key role in thwarting one of the only real terrorist attacks since 9/11. And, I’d bet they warn in private, they might have been prevented from doing so because a pesky FISA judge halted the program because they hadn’t followed the most basic rules for it.

That, I’m guessing, is why they claim the Section 215 dragnet was central to the Zazi investigation. Not because it was. But because it raises the specter of a judge’s effort to make the government follow the law interfering with FBI’s work.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @mucha_carlos @JoshMBlackman Well OLC said no to Obama's Libya war as Josh pointed out. The hospital deal kind of different thing, but yeah.
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bmaz RT @conor64: I keep hearing Americans are panicking over ISIS. D.C. is panicking. On the streets of America, no one is panicked. Ask around…
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bmaz RT @AntheaButler: but we go after ISIS because they are barbaric and we have people who shoot down their 6 grandchildren.....
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bmaz @mucha_carlos @JoshMBlackman Well, more than you'd think probably, but OLC renders a lot of advisory opinions not as consequential as war
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bmaz RT @dcbigjohn: Most transparent administration ever won't say if the NSA is doing business with an official's husband http://t.co/b2M5IIaGMi
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bmaz .@JoshMBlackman Dunno about "cementing" any integrity of OLC, not sure they have much, but if even rather pliable OLC won't buy Obama war...
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bmaz @BradMossEsq @robertcaruso It is not yet unconstitutional, but it will be soon. Separation of powers matter.
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bmaz RT @Mansfield2016: Alison Lee is Obama's 7th nomination to directly fail as a result of the blue slip
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bmaz @HanniFakhoury Yes, but it sure helps that the verdict and govt.'s argument are absolutely absurd.
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emptywheel @KevinBuist Just barely missed the opportunity to slap a sign on them and chat up some votes. @WOODTV
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emptywheel @conor64 Wouldn't that require getting out of DC? Scary.
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bmaz @FedcourtJunkie @ScottKGraham Was there any mention of Merry Chan's little Tuesday night stunt?
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