Susan Collins

CIA’s Torture Pushback Gets More Artful

I well remember when Robert Grenier testified at Scooter Libby’s trial. His performance – like most of the witness testimony — was a performance. But I was more intrigued by the response. Even the cynical old DC journalists were impressed by the smoothness of the performance. “You can tell he was a great briefer,” one journalist who had written a book on the CIA said.

Today, he takes up the role of bogus pushback to the Senate torture report, complete with all the false claims about the report, including:

  • SSCI should not have relied exclusively on documents — which, if true, is an admission that millions of CIA’s cables are fraudulent and false
  • The claim that members of the Gang of Four were briefed earlier and more accurately than even CIA’s own documents show them to have been
  • SSCI — and not CIA — made the decision that CIA officers should not testify to the committee
  • That a report supported by John McCain and Susan Collins is a Democratic report (Grenier also claims all involved with it know history from history books, not — as McCain did — from torture chambers)
  • That the CIA cables exactly matched the torture depicted on the torture tapes (see bullet 1!), and that CIA’s IG reported that, both of which are false

But perhaps Grenier’s most cynical assertion is his claim — in a piece that falsely suggests (though does not claim outright) that Congress was adequately briefed that Congress’ job, their sole job, is to legislate, not oversee.

A second, related reason would be to build support for comprehensive legislation — that is what Congress is supposed to concern itself with, after all — to remove any of the interpretive legal ambiguity which permitted coercive interrogation to be considered in the first place, and ensure it never happens again.

It is a cynical move, but given the rest of his argument, the part that I find compelling, necessary.

Because Grenier warns Dianne Feinstein that her attack on the Presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods of the past will chill President Obama’s preferred presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods — drone strikes — going forward.

It is not just the past which is at stake, but the present and the future as well. Make no mistake — those currently serving in CIA are watching these developments closely.

Senator Feinstein, we are told, though having great moral qualms about vigorously interrogating terrorists, appears to have no particular compunction about killing them — so long as it is done remotely, with little direct contact with the gruesome details. As anyone reading the press will know, the current, Democratic administration has shown great enthusiasm for directed killings, employing drones in lethal operations around the world to an extent that might have shocked their Republican predecessors in the Bush administration. Death by video game has its attractions, particularly for those lacking intestinal fortitude. It enables them to avoid confronting the essential and unavoidable brutality of what they are doing.

Just as was the case with harsh interrogations during the last administration, the current resort to directed killings, including so-called “signature strikes,” in which the specific identities of those targeted are unknown, though remarkably uncontroversial at the outset of the current administration, has become anything but uncontroversial since. Should the perceived threat from various bits of ungoverned, terrorist-dominated geography around the globe diminish, the controversy involving drone strikes will only grow further. At some point soon, if they haven’t already, the tribunes of the people in the U.S. Congress will begin to wonder about the political wisdom of their association with directed killings.

They needn’t worry — they have already demonstrated their ability to avoid all responsibility — but those charged with carrying out such strikes should, and they know it. Those in both the White House and the Congress who have chosen to comfort themselves by propagating the myths associated with drone strikes — that they are universally “surgical,” always precisely targeted, and that any civilian casualties associated with them are rare — will inevitably find themselves shocked — perhaps “chilled” is the word — by reality when political calculation dictates that they examine it more closely. Drone strikes, like any other aspect of war, are far more messy and imprecise than advertised, involving subjective judgments easily vulnerable to second-guessing and ex-post-facto recrimination. They benefit only by comparison with more primitive methods, including ground attacks and conventional air strikes, but those comparisons will no longer matter when political interest moves in the other direction. Some successor to Dianne Feinstein may well soon find political cover or political advantage, as the case may be, in a thorough, negative investigation of the drone program — we can watch for it.

I told you CIA would invoke Obama’s drone strikes to limit the damage of the torture report.

To be sure, there is already evidence CIA is lying to Congress about drone strikes, just as it lied about torture, particularly about the numbers of civilians it has killed. Yet DiFi has willfully continued to believe those lies, to believe the CIA’s purportedly better record on drone strikes stems from some inherent skill and not the preference of foreign partners to work with a malleable CIA rather than DOD.

Grenier is absolutely right that Congress and the White House want to be lied to on this point.

Grenier then launches a more interesting implicit threat — that CIA will stop doing what the President demands under Article II.

In my own time in CIA, as perhaps in all times, there were those inside the organization who preached that the Agency should steadfastly avoid presidential directives to affect or shape events, rather than just report on them. “Stick to traditional intelligence collection,” they’d say. We hear similar voices now. But presidents always feel otherwise. Every president confronts foreign policy challenges for which a cheap, clandestine solution appears tempting. Given CIA’s unique capabilities, it’s often the right thing to do. But the opportunities to frustrate the president’s wishes and avoid such entanglements are rife for those who are so inclined. There is even a term for it: “slow rolling.” Current events, and the anticipated Senate report, will greatly strengthen the hand of the slow-rollers. It’s hard to disagree with them now.

[snip]

Rather than taking responsibility for changes in counterterrorism policy on itself, it is a far safer, if more insidious course — one instinctive to Congress — to abuse the CIA to the point where it self-regulates. But as noted above, there are serious downsides to that approach. U.S. national security will not be served by fostering a culture within CIA in which the organization decides for itself which of its lawful orders it will choose to follow, and makes those judgments based on what CIA officers consider best for themselves and their institution, rather than on what their elected masters deem best for the country. That is not the way the system is supposed to work. The federal bureaucracy is supposed to follow legal orders. That is what CIA has always done, frequently to its cost, and that is what the American people need it to do. If they don’t like what their elected leaders have done, they can throw them out. They shouldn’t look to CIA to make these decisions for them — on their own, and for their own purposes.

Ostensibly, this talk about slow rolling the President’s Findings is about drone strikes. Except that the President is re-launching the war in Iraq even as we speak, based solely on Article II authority (I presume JSOC features as prominently as CIA, but CIA clearly has been on the ground for some time).

The implicit threat: if SSCI continues to push, both the President and the Democrats who want to respond to ISIS without declaring war will regret it.

Even here, Grenier is full of shit. He makes no mention of the structure of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Finding, which itself outsourced most substantive decisions to CIA. It’s one thing to demand Congress do something about that — and they should — and yet another to suggest the rest of Obama’s covert operations employ such structure (though I wouldn’t put it beyond the National Security establishment). Moreover, the abundant evidence (in CIA’s own records, which Grenier treats both as accurate and as inaccurate!) that CIA ignored even the limits imposed by DOJ makes their actions illegal, regardless of what order Bush originally gave.

The problem is the orders — both to torture and to drone strike. But it is also the type of relationship Cofer Black and Dick Cheney embraced (and Obama has retained, at least with respect to the Gloves Come Off MON).

Which is why this is my favorite line from Grenier’s piece.

Goodness. If even a substantial portion of this were true, I would be among the first to advise that CIA be razed to the ground and begun all over again.

This is coming (as Grenier alludes to but doesn’t fully lay out, just as he lays out the suggestion that CIA resumed torture after he refused in early 2006) from a guy who tried to stay within the law, stopped torturing after the Detainee Treatment Act forbade it. It is, perhaps, the best line, given the impasse we’re at.

CIA has become the instrument of illegal actions, an arm of the Executive that evades all law, precisely because of its corrupted relationships with both the Executive and Legislative branch.

So, I take you up on the suggestion, Robert Grenier. Let’s raze the damn thing and — if a thorough assessment says a democracy really needs such an agency, which it may not — start over.

 

Say, Why Should Mikey Hayden Get a Say on Torture that Purportedly Preceded Him?

My favorite call for John Brennan’s head thus far comes from Fred Fleitz, who helped John Bolton sex up WMD claims leading into the Iraq War.  He says John Brennan has to resign not just to shore up CIA’s relations with Congress, but also NSA’s.

I believe CIA director John Brennan and agency officials involved in the monitoring of computers used by the SSCI staff must resign to help mend the CIA’s relationship with Congress. Such resignations would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of the SSCI in the CIA and, it is to be hoped, would win the agency and the National Security Agency some crucial allies in both houses of Congress to fend off several ill-advised intelligence-reform proposals currently under discussion there.

But that’s not my favorite part. Nor is where this “intelligence” professional says a report voted out with support from John McCain (in the first vote) and Susan Collins (in the second) is a Democratic vote. Nor is the bit where Fleitz claims the program was properly briefed, which it wasn’t.

My favorite part is Fleitz’ conflicting claims about Michael Hayden.

The main focus of the SSCI probe reportedly is to prove Democratic claims that the effectiveness of the enhanced-interrogation program has been exaggerated. Former CIA director Michael Hayden and other former senior CIA officials involved in the enhanced-interrogation program dispute this. According to Hayden, as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from harsh interrogations.

Despite their firsthand knowledge of the enhanced-interrogation program, there is no input in the SSCI report from Hayden, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, or other CIA officials, since the report is based solely on an examination of documents.

Assertion 1) Michael Hayden claims half of the government’s knowledge about al Qaeda came from torture, meaning no more than half came from the illegal torture he was conducting at the time over at NSA (and also meaning that relatively more intelligence has come in from SIGINT since Hayden left).

Assertion 2) Michael Hayden, whose entire CIA tenure post-dated the Detainee Treatment Act that made the torture program illegal, should have some say in a torture report.

Maybe Hayden was spying on the CIA while he was in charge of NSA. Or maybe (ok, in fact) Hayden continued torture after such time as Congress made it doubly illegal.

But in the same way that Cofer Black should not need to have a say in torture if the CIA’s false narrative were not false, Michael Hayden shouldn’t either.

Man, as much as this report is demonstrating how much CIA lies and how useless their torture program was, it also demonstrates the misnomer of the whole “intelligence” label.

How the Torture Report Declassification Is Likely to Work

Aspiring Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr has announced he will vote to declassify the Torture Report.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said he planned to vote to declassify.

[snip]

Burr added: “We’ve already expressed our opposition to the content.”

Declassifying, he said, is “the only way that we get minority views out there,” because the Republicans plan to offer their views on the report.

This gives a pretty strong indication of where this Torture Report debate will go — and why CIA got so quiet all of a sudden, aside from former CIA lawyer John Rizzo’s tireless propaganda efforts.

The Committee would have published dissenting views in any case, but Republican Susan Collins specifically included them in her support for the report.

What we’re going to get will be the Executive Summary, Findings, and Additional and Dissenting Views. Because we’ll get just the Executive Summary, we won’t get much hard detail — aside from that which has been public for years — about the allegations that will appear in the Executive Summary, which will make it harder to rebut any claims CIA’s defenders make.

Moreover, I would not be in the least surprised if the same rule that applies to CIA Publication Review Board decisions — that the writings of torture critics like Ali Soufan and Glenn Carle are aggressively censored, while the views of torture boosters like Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez will be permissively published — applied here. The CIA has — as McClatchy emphasizes — already assumed they’ll do the declassification review. And in spite of calls for the White House to take the lead, I expect they won’t. After all, the White House has relied on CIA to hide the Executive Privilege-lite documents (which I suspect would show that CIA only lied to some people at the White House, but not to people like David Addington). So CIA is owed something by the White House.

That mutual embrace of incrimination will provide the CIA a great deal of protection.

Remember, too, that torture critics have gotten recent warnings not to speak publicly, even while Rodriguez and Rizzo blather away.

And all this — what will surely be calls that Democrats have unfairly tainted noble Jose Rodriguez’ reputation — will play out against electoral politics, as Republicans try to take out Mark Udall for his opposition to torture.

Thus far, too, the torture boosters have laid the groundwork to win this debate. Even ignoring Rizzo and Rodriguez’ books, they’ve been working the press with details, as compared to the vague releases that the Torture Report will find CIA lied.

Which is my pessimistic way of saying that unless torture critics get a lot more serious about the propaganda onslaught the Republicans plan to launch to defend torture, this Torture Report release may not do all that much good at all. Torture critics largely lost this debate in 2009, and they’ll actually have less new information with which to fight this if CIA gets its way on declassification.

In Announcing Support for Declassifying Report, Susan Collins Uses Word “Torture”

It is fairly big — and welcome — news that, along with Angus King, Susan Collins will support the release of the Senate Torture Report. Collins’ vote will give the report the patina of bipartisanship, which will therefore increase its legitimacy among the chattering classes.

Just as welcome, however, is the language the Maine Senators use to describe what CIA did.

We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program.

Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members. We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA’s rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.

Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program never happen again. [my emphasis]

Two of the last weathervanes of right-centrism have deemed it acceptable to use the word “torture” to describe what the CIA did, a word most of the nation’s press still refuses to use for fear it will affect their claim to objectivity.

If Susan Collins can use the word torture, then can the other institutions that aspire to be such measures of centrism also do so?

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.

Susan Collins Can’t Decide Whether to Abandon Her Infant, PCLOB

Politico has an article predicting civil liberties will become a big issue this year. I’m skeptical (I say that as someone whose Rep the GOP is trying to take out largely because of his defense of civil liberties).

But I am interested in what Susan Collins had to say about Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows’ criticism of her stance on civil liberties.

In a phone interview from Maine, Collins rebutted criticism that she has not done enough to protect against civil liberties, highlighting legislation she co-sponsored in 2004 that created the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board and her support for recent proposals to tighten oversight over the surveillance programs. But, she said, doing away with the ability of the government to collect phone records would cause great harm to the country’s ability to root out terrorism.

“We know that there were plots thwarted solely or partially by the programs, so doing away with it altogether would mean a less safe America,” said Collins, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and has supported the PATRIOT Act and legislation codifying broader electronic surveillance.

You see, it was only 4 days ago that Collins was disowning her infant creation, PCLOB, because it had presented a hard-hitting report that said the dragnet was not just bad policy, but against the law.

“As the mother of this board, that [split decision] is not what I’m looking for,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who co-wrote the post-Sept. 11 legislation creating the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The split in the board’s first major report “really weakens its recommendations and undermines the role that we envisioned it would play,” she said.

At the moment when Collins’ self-described offspring took its first step, the Senator felt it had not chosen bipartisanship over stating the truth. I guess we understand what role Collins felt it could play.

And as for her purported efforts to tighten oversight over the dragnet (which includes measures to strengthen PCLOB she probably now regrets), while she did support some improvements to DiFi’s Fake FISA Fix, she not only cast a decisive vote against limiting dragnet retention to 3 years, but even backed a failed Tom Coburn amendment to “eliminate restrictions on the retention of bulk metadata.”

 

Dragnet at Bernie’s: On Spying on Congress

Bernie SandersIt turns out that Mark Kirk — not Bernie Sanders — was the first member of Congress to raise concerns about the NSA spying on Senators after Edward Snowden’s leaks started being published. Kirk did so less than a day after the Guardian published the Verizon order from the phone dragnet, in an Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Justice’s budget (see at 2:00). After Susan Collins raised the report in the context of drone killing, Kirk asked for assurances that members of Congress weren’t included in the dragnet.

Kirk: I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored, of members of Congress, that would give a future Executive Branch if they started pulling this kind of thing up, would give them unique leverage over the legislature?

Holder: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue–I’d be more than glad to come back in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that you’ve raised but in this open forum–

Kirk: I’m going to interrupt you and say, the correct answer would say, no, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.

The first substantive question Congress asked about the dragnet was whether they were included in it.

After that, a few moments of chaos broke out, as other Senators — including NSA’s representative on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Barb Mikulski — joined in Kirk’s concerns, while suggesting the need for a full classified Senate briefing with the AG and NSA. Richard Shelby jumped in to say Mikulski should create the appropriate hearing, but repeated that what Senator Kirk asked was a very important question. Mikulski agreed that it’s the kind of question she’d like to ask herself. Kirk jumped in to raise further separation of powers concerns, given the possibility that SCOTUS had their data collected.

The very first concern members of Congress raised about the dragnet was how it would affect their power.

And then there was a classified briefing and …

… All that noble concern about separation of power melted away. And some of the same people who professed to have real concern became quite comfortable with the dragnet after all.

It’s in light of that sequence of events (along with Snowden’s claim that Members of Congress are exempt, and details about how data integrity analysts strip certain numbers out of the phone dragnet before anyone contact-chains on it) that led me to believe that NSA gave some assurances to Congress they need not worry that their power was threatened by the phone dragnet.

The best explanation from external appearances was that Congress got told their numbers got protection the average citizen’s did not, perhaps stripped out with all the pizza joints and telemarketers (that shouldn’t have alleviated their concerns, as some of that data has been found sitting on wayward servers with no explanation, but members of Congress can be dumb when they want to be).

And they were happy with the dragnet.

Then, 7 months later, Bernie Sanders started asking similar — but not the same –questions. In a letter to Keith Alexander, he raised several issues:

  • Phone calls made
  • Emails sent
  • Websites visited
  • Foreign leaders wiretapped

He even defined what he meant by spying.

“Spying” would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.

In response, Alexander rejected Sanders’ definition of spying (implicitly suggesting it wasn’t fair), while using a dodge he repeatedly has: the Americans in question are not being targeted, even while they might be collected “incidentally.”

Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as “spying on Members of Congress or other American elected officials.”

[snip]

NSA may not target any American for foreign intelligence collection without a finding of probable cause that the proposed target of collection is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. Moreover, as you are aware, whenever an NSA activity results in the incidental collection of information about Americans, that information is handled pursuant to the very robust procedures designed to protect privacy interests — procedures that must be approved by the Attorney general or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as appropriate. All those protections apply to members of Congress, as they do to all Americans.

Alexander then addressed just one of the three kinds of spying Sanders raised: phone data (which, if I’m right that NSA strips Congressional numbers at the data integrity stage, is the one place Alexander can be fairly sure Sanders’ contacts won’t be found).

Your letter focuses on NSA’s acquisition of telephone metadata…

And used the controls imposed on the raw data of the phone dragnet as an excuse for not answering Sanders’ question.

Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.

Alexander totally ignored Sanders’ two other specified concerns: emails sent and websites visited.

Which is mighty convenient, because for a very large segment of that collection (the internet metadata collected under EO 12333 and via PRISM, though not the data collected domestically before 2011 or domestic upstream collection), NSA believes it doesn’t even need Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search on US person identifiers. Continue reading

The Common Commercial Services OLC Memo and Zombie CISPA

Some time last summer, Ron Wyden wrote Attorney General Holder, asking him (for the second time) to declassify and revoke an OLC opinion pertaining to common commercial service agreements. He said at the time the opinion “ha[d] direct relevance to ongoing congressional debates regarding cybersecurity legislation.”

That request would presumably have been made after President Obama’s April 25, 2012 veto threat of CISPA, but at a time when several proposed Cybersecurity bills, with different information sharing structures, were floating around Congress.

Wyden asked for the declassification and withdrawal of the memo again this January as part of his laundry list of requests in advance of John Brennan’s confirmation. Then, after having been silent about this request for 8 months (at least in public), Wyden asked again on September 26.

It appears that Wyden had intended to ask the question of one of the witnesses at an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing (perhaps Deputy Attorney General James Cole), but — having had warning of his questions (because he sent them to the witnesses in advance) — Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins ensured there would not be a second round of questions.

As it happens, Wyden made the request for the memo two days after DiFi told The Hill she was preparing to advance her version of CISPA, and the day after Keith Alexander started calling for cybersecurity legislation again.

In a brief interview with The Hill in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Feinstein said she has prepared a draft bill and plans to move it forward.

The legislation would be the Senate’s counterpart to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, which cleared the House in April.

CISPA would remove legal barriers that prevent companies from sharing information with each other and the government about cyber attacks. It would also allow the government to share more information with the private sector.

Since then, Alexander has pitched new cybersecurity legislation in an “interview” with the NYT, admitting he needs to be more open about his places for cybersecurity.

Now, the Executive Branch’s unwillingness to actually share the law as it interprets it with us mere citizens prevents us from understanding precisely what relationship this OLC memo has with proposed cybersecurity legislation — but Wyden made it clear in January that it does have one. But here are some things we might surmise about the memo:

  • The Administration is currently relying on this memo. If it weren’t using it, after all, it wouldn’t need to be revoked. That means that since at least January 14, 2011 (before which date Wyden and Russ Feingold first asked it be revoked), the Administration has had a secret interpretation of law relating in some way to cybersecurity.
  • The interpretation would surprise us. As Wyden notes, “this opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law” (he doesn’t say what that law is, but I’ll hazard a guess and say it pertains to information sharing). It’s likely, then, that some form of online provider has been sharing cyber-intelligence with the federal government under some strained interpretation of our privacy protections (and, probably, some kind of Attorney General assurances everything’s cool).

Let’s use the lesson we learned during the FISA Amendments Act where the telecoms were clambering for the legislation and the retroactive immunity, but the Internet companies were grateful for “clarity,” but explicitly opposed to retroactive immunity. When we learned the telecoms had been turning over the Internet companies metadata and content, this all made more sense. The Internet Companies wanted the telecoms to be punished for stealing their data.

In this case, in the first round of CISPA (which had broad immunity protections), Facebook and Microsoft were supporters. But in this go-around (which has still generous but somewhat more limited immunity), the big supporters consist of:

  • Telecoms (AT&T, Verizon; interestingly, Sprint did not sign a letter of support)
  • Broadband and other backbone providers (Boeing, Cisco, Comcast, TimeWarner, USTelecom)
  • Banks and financial transfer
  • Power grid operators and other utilities

Now, who knows with which of these entities the government is already relying on this common commercial services memo, which of our providers we believe have made some assurances to us but in fact they’ve made entirely different ones.

But I will say the presence of the telecoms, again, angling for immunity for information sharing, along with their analogues the broadband providers does raise questions. Especially considering Verizon Exec’s trash talking about consumer-centric Internet companies that don’t prioritize national security.

Stratton said that he appreciated that “consumer-centric IT firms” such as Yahoo, Google, Microsoft needed to “grandstand a bit, and wave their arms and protest loudly so as not to offend the sensibility of their customers.”

“This is a more important issue than that which is generated in a press release. This is a matter of national security.”

After all, the telecoms have a history of willingly cooperating with the government, even if it bypassed the protections offered by Internet companies, even if it violated the law. Have they been joined by big broadband?

Well, DOJ could clear all this up by revoking and releasing the memo. Until they do, though, my wildarsed guess is that those operating the Toobz in the country — the telecom and broadband companies — have already started sharing consumers’ data that a plain reading of the law seemingly wouldn’t permit them to do.

The Intelligence Committee’s “Secret” Briefings on the Boston Attack

There are 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. By my count, at least 5 of them revealed some part of what they got briefed on the Boston attack yesterday afternoon to the press.

Saxby Chambliss says an agency may not have shared one piece of evidence.

“There now appears that may have been some evidence that was obtained by one of the law enforcement agencies that did not get shared in a way that it could have been. If that turns out to be the case, then we have to determine whether or not that would have made a difference,” Chambliss said.

Though Chambliss would not get into specifics on  the information or whether or not the bombing could have been prevented, he told Channel 2 Action News that they will find out if someone dropped the ball.

“Information sharing between agencies is critical. And we created the Department of Homeland Security to supervise that. We created the National Counter Terrorism Center to be the collection point for all of this information, and we’re going to get to the bottom of whether or not somebody along the way dropped the ball on some information and did not share it in a way that it should have been shared.”

Chambliss also suggested that some of the walls that had been eliminated after 9/11 may have been unintentionally recreated.

“Post-911 we thought we had created a systems that would allow for the free flow of information between agencies,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia and member of the intelligence panel. “And I think there have been some stone walls .. .that have been re-created that were probably unintentional.”

Richard Burr revealed that FSB had contacted the government more than the single, January 2011 time that has been reported; it contacted us (he didn’t say what agency) at least once since October 2011.

Russian authorities alerted the US government not once but “multiple’’ times over their concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev — including a second time nearly a year after he was first interviewed by FBI agents in Boston — raising new questions about whether the FBI should have focused more attention on the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, according to US senators briefed on the probe Tuesday.

[snip]

In a closed briefing on Tuesday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee learned that Russia alerted the United States about Tsarnaev in “multiple contacts’’ — including “at least once since October 2011,’’ said Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, speaking with reporters afterward.

Susan Collins revealed that one agency even had problems sharing information within its own agency and repeated that magic word, “stovepipe.”

“But I’m very concerned that there still seem to be serious problems with the sharing of information, including critical investigative information,’’ she said after emerging from the closed-door committee briefing. “That is troubling to me, this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001, that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively, not only among agencies but also with the same agency in one case.”

Russian authorities alerted the US government not once but “multiple’’ times over their concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev — including a second time nearly a year after he was first interviewed by FBI agents in Boston — raising new questions about whether the FBI should have focused more attention on the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, according to US senators briefed on the probe Tuesday.

The FBI has previously said it interviewed Tsarnaev in early 2011 after it was initially contacted by the Russians. After that review, the FBI has said, it determined he did not pose a threat.

In a closed briefing on Tuesday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee learned that Russia alerted the United States about Tsarnaev in “multiple contacts’’ — including “at least once since October 2011,’’ said Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, speaking with reporters afterward.

Marco Rubio shared details echoing those reported elsewhere, that the brothers had gotten both their beliefs and bomb instructions online. Dianne Feinstein — the only Democrat I found blabbing to the press — said to hold off on making judgments.

Now, none of these details are that informative. I’m interested in the multiple follow-up complaints from Russia, particularly given that other reports say FBI asked for follow-up information from Russia three different times and got nothing (was FSB sharing it with the CIA?). I’m interested in the agency that couldn’t share information within its own agency.

Other than that, I get the impression this is more of what plagues our counterterrorism efforts in the first place: a flood of information with an imperfect ability to sort it (not to mention the very distinct possibility that there were no definitive pieces of intelligence that would have alerted authorities to the brothers’ violent intent).

But I wonder, given that no one seems to take the “closed” part of “closed hearings” very seriously. Why can’t we just brief this stuff publicly, so taxpayers and citizens can learn whether the billions we’ve spent on counterterrorism have done anything more than create even more bureaucracies.

Update: This story confirms that the second request was to CIA, which referred it back to the FBI.

Meanwhile, a review of Russia’s contacts with the U.S. authorities, shows that six months after the Russians asked the FBI to review the activities of Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, Russian authorities made an identical request to the CIA.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the CIA was aware of the FBI’s prior review—which turned up nothing improper—and referred the Russian request back to the FBI.

The CIA is prohibited from conducting intelligence operations on U.S. soil.

The FBI, which had closed its review on Tsarnaev in June 2011 after sharing its results with Russian officials, again contacted their Russian counterparts, asking if they had developed additional information on the Cambridge, Mass., man.

But the official said Russian authorities never responded.

This story notes that FSB has been accompanying the FBI as it questions the Tsarnaev parents and provides background on all the ways US-Russian relations are strained right now.

The White House’s Self-Authorization to Use Military Force in Algeria and Mali

Back when the Administration dug in its heels over releasing 7 OLC memos on targeted killing, I suggested at least some of the authorized targeted killing in places we’re not at war.

This National Journal story seems to suggest that that’s correct, at least in the case of Mali and Algeria.

Others may have been signed with the leaders of Algeria and Mali, the legal expert said. Given the widespread unpopularity of the drone program, the disclosure of these agreements could prove extremely embarrassing both for the United States and partner governments.

I have also suggested (though usually verbally) that others of the missing 7 memos authorize signature strikes in the two places we’re using them — Pakistan and Yemen. And while the NJ story is more confused on this point (it seems unclear how many memos there are, for example), it does appear that several of the memos involve secret protocols with those two countries.

A senator who sits on the Intelligence Committee and has read some of the memos also said that the still-unreleased memos contain secret protocols with the governments of Yemen and Pakistan on how targeted killings should be conducted. Information about these pacts, however, were not in the OLC opinions the senator has been allowed to see.

I’d be really curious how much the Yemeni memo involves protocols with Yemen, and how much it involves protocols with our buddies the Saudis.

The best part of the story, though, is the cranky Administration figure who may or may not be Tommy Vietor bitching that Dianne Feinstein would use this opportunity to force the Administration to hand over what it would otherwise refuse to hand over.

An Obama administration official who is familiar with the negotiations with Feinstein’s committee indicated that the White House was miffed at efforts by the senator and her staff to obtain all the memos at once, because such efforts play into the Republican strategy of using the dispute to delay the confirmation of John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA and the main architect of the drone program, as well as Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary.

“These guys don’t even know what the hell they’re asking for,” the official said. “They think they can ‘reverse-engineer’ the [drone] program by asking for more memos, but these are not necessarily things that exist or are relevant…. What they’re asking for is to get more people read into very sensitive programs. That’s not a small decision.”

Uh, last I checked the only Republican — on the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least — who has made a stink about the OLC memos is Susan Collins (though given the reporting on this front, which says only Democrats care about memos, I think she may have flipped parties). The Democrats — plus Collins — who are pushing for memos are pushing to conduct oversight, not to delay the confirmation of Brennan and Hagel per se.

Maybe if the Administration hadn’t adopted a worse transparency standard than Bush lawyer Steven Bradbury, it wouldn’t leave key votes like this the only opportunity to conduct oversight.

But that’s a choice the Administration made, not some Republicans — or even Democrats — in the Senate.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Congratulations to @OKnox whose team actually stopped a touchdown drive.
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bmaz Lucky he wasn't shot and killed RT @Nick_Hentoff Man arrested after pointing banana at #police http://t.co/eO3RzZJu2N
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bmaz @PhilPerspective @walterwkatz @nytimes Sweet. Yeah I had missed that.
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bmaz @LegallyErin I bet there are a lot of people saying that in Chicago about now.
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JimWhiteGNV Mmmmm. Meal is on board. All is good...
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bmaz @walterwkatz @nytimes What NYT piece, did I miss something?
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emptywheel @sluggahjells Perfect pumpkin pie--he's got a much better chef now.
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bmaz @LegallyErin You should be thankful that you have Jay Cutler under contract for the rest of the decade! Or, mebbe not....
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bmaz RT @LegallyErin: BEARS. You useless shitmongers!
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emptywheel @charlie_savage This year, anyway. Yes, I'm thankful for Da Bears at home.
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bmaz RT @LegallyErin: Here are my Three Phases as to the Bears: 1) Sure they will suck; 2) they suck; and 3) satisfied I was right to believe th…
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bmaz @MasaccioFDL And he is not tradable. Yikes!
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