Saxby Chambliss

The Pearl-Clutchers Normalizing Inflammatory Dog Whistles


As expected, last night Justin Amash held off a challenge from a corporatist Republican, Brian Ellis (though the margin was closer than polls predicted). What has the local punditry surprised, however, is Amash’s victory speech, where he attacked Ellis and former Congressman Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who endorsed Ellis.

AMASH VICTORY SPEECH: U.S. Rep. Justin Amash’s win over 3rd District GOP primary challenger Brian Ellis wasn’t too surprising, but his victory speech was. Rather than simply celebrate, Amash reportedly refused to answer a concession phone call from Ellis and then unloaded on the businessman, who had run a TV ad calling him “Al Qaeda’s best friend” in Congress. “I ran for office to stop people like you,” Amash said to Ellis, who was not present. He also ripped former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who backed Ellis in a separate commercial. “I’m glad we can hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance,” he said of Hoekstra. (more >>)

I get that you’re supposed to give a happy unity speech after you win (though I personally don’t much care if MI Republicans rip themselves apart, and MI’s Republican Congressmen already broke protocol by offering no support to Amash and in Mike Rogers’ case giving big support for Ellis). But not only is Crazy Pete a disgrace, Ellis did try to gain traction by smearing Amash.

From the coverage, I think Amash was most pissed that Ellis and Hoekstra treated a vote Amash refused to cast to defund Planned Parenthood on constitutional grounds as a pro-choice vote.

But in an interview with Fox, Amash also called Ellis’ ad rather famously repeating a claim he’s al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress disgusting.

“I’m an Arab-American, and he has the audacity to say I’m Al-Queda’s best friend in congress. That’s pretty disgusting.”

This ad, which played (among other prominent ad buys) during the World Cup, really pissed me off.

Not only for the treatment of Gitmo as anything but a terrible moneypit, all in the hopes of maintaining some extra-legal space to sustain the notion of war rather than law. But especially for the notion that anything but lock-step support for counterproductive counterterrorism policies makes you a friend of al Qaeda.

And yes, especially the suggestion that one of Congress’ only Arab-American members (Amash’s parents are Palestinian and Syrian Christians) might therefore be an Islamic terrorist.

For 12 years – ever since Saxby Chambliss used a similar technique to take out Max Cleland – our political culture has tolerated ads that invoke terror to short-circuit any real political debate about how we fight it. Those ads get treated as business as usual. Win or lose the race and then make nice with your opponent.

That such ads are still (were ever!) considered acceptable political discourse — that Amash, and not Ellis, is getting the scolds – damns our political system. By treating any debate over the efficacy of counterterrorism policy as terrorism itself, we foreclose potentially far more effective ways of keeping the country safe and potentially far smarter ways to spend limited resources. (Crazy Pete, for example, fear-mongered about moving Gitmo detainees to a prison threatened with closure in Michigan, thereby losing Michigan jobs, but also committing the US to continue to spend exorbitant amounts to keep our gulag open.)

At some point, it needs to be okay to call out such bullshit. Because until then, we’ll never be able to actually debate the best way to keep the country safe.

Aspiring Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr Goes After Mark Udall

Yesterday, I predicted the CIA and its Republican apologists would try to use the torture crisis to knock off a few Democrats in an attempt to retake the Senate. If that happened, Richard Burr, who would become Senate Intelligence Chair, would surely kill the Torture Report as one of his first acts.

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.

It sure didn’t take long to be proven right.

Republicans say that not only has the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), provided selective information to the public about improper CIA conduct, but they are also now pointing the finger at Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

The Colorado Democrat, Republicans say, shouldn’t have disclosed internal Senate proceedings over the CIA investigation — something that some Republicans privately say should warrant an ethics committee review.

[snip]

“I think Mark did make some public releases that were committee-sensitive information, but that’s for the committee internally to handle,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the committee. “That’s being reviewed right now.”

Udall said “No way” when asked Wednesday if he was involved in the leaking of sensitive information, saying he’s “done absolutely nothing wrong here.”

“If some of my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee really want to press the case that in referring to an executive branch abuse in my March 4 letter – what I called an ‘unprecedented action’ that the CIA had taken in relation to the internal CIA review – I have somehow violated Committee rules, I am more than happy to have that debate,” Udall said.

Udall added: “In fact, the only thing I’ve done is exercise vigorous oversight over senior intelligence officials who are all too often unwilling to cooperate with Congress.”

[snip]

Several Intelligence Committee Republicans also asserted that ethics charges should be filed against Udall for his public statements about the CIA’s interrogation program and about the agency’s reaction to the panel’s investigation into that program, including the March 4 letter.

But others on the panel, said the matter should be handled internally by the Intelligence Committee — not by the Ethics Committee.

Burr added: “If you look historically, the committee has cleaned up any mistakes that members have made. Members can do whatever they want to. My concern is that the release of information could potentially causes the losses of life to Americans. That to me, is a threshold that should be addressed.”

As I noted on Twitter, Burr is the distant relation of noted assassin Aaron Burr (which he joked about once when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified). He sure seems to take to the assassination role well. He’s now suggesting Mark Udall might potentially cause the loss of American life because he revealed that in 2009 the CIA agreed with what Senate Democrats (and John McCain) would ultimately conclude, that the CIA’s torture program was ineffective and they lied about it.

Right. Knowing the truth about CIA’s torture will kill us all.

In any case, this is all proceeding, very quickly, as I predicted. The Republicans will try to make this an election issue, helped in the background by CIA’s torturers, with the understanding that they will not only kill the Torture Report if Republicans take the Senate, but give CIA free rein.

But honest, the Intelligence Community has adequate oversight.

Where the Bodies Are Buried: A Constitutional Crisis Feinstein Better Be Ready To Win

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.

Do Senators Collins, King, and Warner Like Being Spied On?

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.

The “McCain Committee” Would Be Full of NSA Defenders

Imagine a McCain Committee as the inheritor of the tradition of Frank Church and Otis Pike.

(Yes, I did that to make bmaz’ head explode.)

That seems to be what John McCain intends with his resolution calling for a Committee to Investigate the Dragnet. (h/t Steven Aftergood)

Only, McCain proposes to investigate not just whether NSA has engaged in things it was not authorized to do. But also to investigate Snowden’s leaks themselves and the potential role of contractors in making leaks more likely.

All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described:

(3) The nature and scope of National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, that were the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosure, including–

(A) the extent of domestic surveillance authorized by law;

(B) the legal authority that served as the basis for the National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of those disclosures;

(C) the extent to which such programs, operations, and activities that were the subject matter of such unauthorized disclosures may have gone beyond what was authorized by law or permitted under the Constitution of the United States;

(D) the extent and sufficiency of oversight of such programs, operations, and activities by Congress and the Executive Branch; and

(E) the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities.

There’s just one problem with McCain’s proposal.

Here’s the list of the people who would be on the Committee (he provides titles, I’m providing names):

  • Diane Feinstein
  • Saxby Chambliss
  • Carl Levin
  • Jim Inhofe
  • Tom Carper
  • Tom Coburn
  • Robert Menendez
  • Bob Corker
  • Pat Leahy
  • Chuck Grassley
  • Jello Jay Rockefeller
  • John Thune
  • A Harry Reid pick
  • A Mitch McConnell pick

There are a number of very big NSA defenders on this list — in addition to DiFi and Saxby, both Jello Jay and Coburn are Intel Committee members who have never questioned the dragnet (indeed, Coburn has called for getting rid of the controls on the phone dragnet!). Chuck Grassley, too, has generally been supportive of the dragnet in SJC hearings on the subject. Most of the rest are simply not the caliber of people who might critically assess the dragnet much less show real interest in Americans’ privacy. Only Carl Levin and Pat Leahy, alone among the 12 named members, have been explicitly skeptical of the dragnet at all.

McCain proposes a Select Committee to investigate the dragnet. And he proposes to fill it with people who are really happy with the dragnet as it currently exists.

Update: Just to give a sense of how terrible this make-up for a Select Committee is, compare it with the bipartisan list of 26 Senators who asked James Clapper for more information on other uses of Section 215 last June. Just one Senator from that list — Pat Leahy — would be on McCain’s committee.

Update: Haha! Via Matt Sledge, DiFi shot McCain’s idea down pretty quickly.

Wyden: We Proved that “Unique” and “Vital” Information Wasn’t in 2011

I should have some analysis on the documents James Clapper released yesterday.

But it’s worth pointing to Ron Wyden’s analysis. He notes that the two documents on bulk collection programs — one from 2009 and one from 2011, both of which covered the Internet and phone metadata programs – both boasted of how unique and valuable the information was.

The briefing documents that were provided to Congress in December 2009 and February 2011 clearly stated that both the bulk email records and bulk phone records collection programs were “unique in that they can produce intelligence not otherwise available to NSA.” The 2009 briefing document went on to state that the two programs “provide a vital capability to the Intelligence Community,” and the 2011 briefing document stated that they provided “an important capability.”

The problem is, by the end of 2011, Wyden and Mark Udall had been able to prove that the Intelligence Community had oversold the value of the Internet metadata program, which led to its termination.

Senator Mark Udall and I have long been concerned about the impact of bulk collection on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing the Intelligence Community to provide evidence to support the claims that they had made about the bulk email records program. They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down due to a lack of operational value, as senior intelligence officials have now publicly confirmed.

This experience demonstrated that intelligence agencies’ assessments of the usefulness of particular collection programs – even significant ones – are not always accurate.

So while the government thought these documents would prove how controlled these programs are (aspects of them don’t), Wyden demonstrates that they show the IC lies about the usefulness of programs when they talk to Congress about them.

Which is, Patrick Leahy suggested in yesterday’s hearing, what the IC appears to be doing when invoking 54 plots to justify the 215 phone dragnet, which has only been tied to 12 plots.

Which is an interesting dynamic to proceed today’s meeting between Obama, Wyden, Udall, Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Goodlatte, James Sensenbrenner, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Mike Rogers.

The presence of Sensenbrenner is key: to the extent they still exist, he’s a mainstream Republican. And he’s furious about the 215 program that he himself shepherded through Congress in 2006. So I would assume today’s meeting is an effort to develop the White House’s plan to phase out the dragnet.

All that said, Obama has clearly gamed the results, by inviting more of the surveillance champions than he did critics (and apparently House Democrats don’t count anymore).

Obama probably won’t see this through his bubble, but the day before this meeting Wyden demonstrated that the basis for the rosy tales DiFi and the other Gang of Four members are telling are claims from the IC that have since been discredited.

Shorter Mark Udall: Why Can’t John Brennan “Honor the Oath”?

Still reading the NSA IG Report, so I’ll just quote right from Mark Udall’s release:

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am concerned to see news reports about the CIA’s response to the Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program before the information was provided to the committee. Committee members have not yet seen this response, which we have been expecting for nearly six months.

The American people’s trust in intelligence agencies requires transparency and strong congressional oversight. This latest leak–the latest incident in a long string of leaks from unnamed intelligence officials who purport to be familiar with the Committee’s Study and the CIA’s official response to it–is wholly unacceptable. Even as these reports emerged today and over the past several months, the CIA and the White House have repeatedly rejected requests to discuss the Committee’s report with Members or Committee staff.

The continual leaks of inaccurate information from unnamed intelligence officials are embarrassing to the agency and have only hardened my resolve to declassify the full Committee Study, which is based on a review of more than six million pages of CIA records, comprises more than 6,000 pages in length and includes more than 35,000 footnotes. The report is based on CIA records including internal memoranda, cables, emails, as well as transcripts of interviews and Intelligence Committee hearings. The Study is fact-based, and I believe, indisputable.

I am confident the American people will agree once they have the opportunity to read the Study, as well as the CIA’s official response, that this program was a failure and a tragic moment in America’s history. The only way to correct the inaccurate information in the public record on this program is through the sunlight of declassification.

The other thing that leaked in the last day, in addition to CIA’s claim that millions of its reports are inaccurate, is this news:

CIA Director John Brennan is launching a new campaign aimed at pressuring CIA officers to keep the intelligence agency’s secrets secret, after a series of leaks to the media.

In a memo to the CIA workforce this week, Brennan says the “Honor the Oath,” campaign is intended to “reinforce our corporate culture of secrecy” through education and training.

Some leadership on “our corporate culture of secrecy” Brennan is showing, huh?

BREAKING: CIA Admits to SSCI Millions of Its Official Records Are Badly Inaccurate

As I noted in this post, today John Brennan will try to convince Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss that their (well, really McCain and the Democrats’) 6,000 page report documenting that torture didn’t work and CIA lied to Congress (and the White House and DOJ and the public) about it not working.

Here’s the basis on which Brennan will stake his claim that SSCI’s report is wrong.

The CIA report catalogues errors that teams of agency analysts found in the committee’s research. It also questions the panel’s methodology, noting that the committee collected millions of internal CIA cables and other documents on the interrogation program, but it did not interview anyone directly involved.

Never mind that the CIA chose not to make its officials available to the committee. Never mind that John Kiriakou made it clear that the cables describing Abu Zubaydah’s torture, at least, both downplayed the number of times he had been waterboarded and exaggerated how effectively it worked.

The CIA will make the case that if you were to read millions of their cables recording their intelligence programs, you would have a grossly distorted understanding of those programs. CIA will make the case that nothing true they do is written down.

Or something like that.

Now, there’s abundant evidence the conclusions of the SSCI report are actually correct, no matter what torturers would say if asked.

But I do think it ought to raise at least as many concerns to be told that the millions of CIA cables and other documentation SSCI read doesn’t convey the truth about what CIA is doing.

Hell, I think John Brennan just made the case that the lawyers for Gitmo detainees who were held by the CIA need to interview all of the CIA personnel in person.

Saxby Chambliss Reveals the Game

In an article explaining why Dianne Feinstein is in no rush to hold a hearing on the massive dragnet sucking up your communication and mine, Saxby Chambliss is quoted as saying,

“We so rarely have open hearings,” Chambliss said.

Eleven days ago, Saxby offered this as proof there is no problem with a dragnet collection of all Americans’ phone records.

To my knowledge, we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information.

Congressional oversight in a democracy, ladies and gentlemen!

Jim Sensenbrenner’s Horseshit Claims of Innocence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola Even McCulloch would be better served if he was replaced, but understand why he doesn't voluntarily recuse
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bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola ie I'd at least think about letting him testify to GJ. But wouldn't let him chat w/prosecutor at this point
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bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola Not nearly enough info to have opinion on that. If he struck me as a really good witness, Id think about it
12mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola I have real issue wi appearance of bias/distrust of McCulloch, think he should be bounced but timing fine.
18mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola Yep, pretty familiar w/Garrity statements; but that is one thing, forced chatting w/prosecutor quite anothr
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bmaz @MasaccioFDL No, he made a full statement to investigators; cooperating w/prosecutor is not only not grounds for firing, it is fairly normal
23mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola Anybody but a cop, and defendant is indicted already; but given it is a cop, the time frame is not that off
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bmaz @walterwkatz @mtracey @kgosztola Right. Wilson has a police union/PBA lawyer, there is a protocol for this. Even in Ferguson.
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bmaz RT @walterwkatz: @bmaz @mtracey @kgosztola they could have obtained med records with a search warrant but subpoena now is more likely. No i…
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bmaz @MasaccioFDL Would depend on a lot of factors, but my inclination is I would not let him be chatted up by prosecutor.
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bmaz @MasaccioFDL Wilson was interviewed for and participated in the departmental report; his job doesn't hinge on talking to prosecutor.
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bmaz @carwinb And I was sure the Vulcan response was a winner....
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August 2014
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