The political press is abuzz with news that the State Department (State IG) and Intelligence Community Inspectors General (ICIG) have asked the Department of Justice to review whether the Department’s handling of the personal email from Hillary Clinton was proper. The story was first reported in sensational fashion by the New York Times, revised somewhat overnight, and then reported in more measured form — making it clear that Clinton herself is not being investigated — by the Associated Press this morning.
The report has put the practice of retroactive classification of information — of the type that convicted Jeffrey Sterling and DOJ tried to use to convict Thomas Drake — at the forefront of presidential politics.
The referral to DOJ arises out of State IG’s review of the use of private emails and the response to Freedom of Information Act requests for Clinton’s email. After consulting with the ICIG, State IG reported that a number of the emails reviewed so far, including one released to the public, included classified information. The ICIG criticized State for using retired foreign service officers with extensive FOIA experience to review Clinton’s email before release, rather than conducting an interagency process (though according to a response from Patrick Kennedy, the CIA and ODNI had already approved the arrangement).
The referral pertains to State’s actions, not Clinton’s. “[T]he referral doesn’t suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself,” AP noted. None of the emails in question were marked as classified when she sent them and one of them — pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of the Benghazi attack — was not classified at time she received it. Nevertheless, this news has led to a flurry of stories implicating Clinton in a potential DOJ investigation.
Clinton supporters are dismissing this as election year frenzy. The former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matt Miller, even tweeted, “If you examined the entire email [account] of any senior official, someone in [government] would later argue something was classified. Absurd standard.”
But Clinton is not the first this has happened to. After all, DOJ attempted to use five retroactively classified documents to convict Thomas Drake on Espionage charges; once DOJ had to admit that fact, their case against Drake fell apart.
And the only hard evidence DOJ presented that Jeffrey Sterling had improperly handled classified information were documents seized from his home that had nothing to do with the nuclear program he was accused of leaking. When the government introduced three of those documents under a silent witness rule limiting what Sterling’s lawyers could ask about them, CIA’s top classification official admitted they had not been classified as secret at first.
“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.
“They weren’t,” [CIA Chief of Litigation Support Martha] Lutz responded.
“But they are now properly classified secret?”
“Yes,” Lutz answered.
The defense team made statements revealing that these documents offered instructions on how to dial rotary phones to call into CIA headquarters, hardly a cutting edge secret. Nevertheless, those documents were a key piece of evidence used to send Sterling to prison for 42 months.
Clinton deserves a good deal of criticism for using personal email that has made it more difficult to access via FOIAs. But retroactively classified information should no more be used to prosecute her — in reality or in the press — than Drake and Sterling.
When asked about the double standard via email, Drake did not join the frenzy. Rather, he described “having really bad flashbacks” given the calls to criminally investigate the former Secretary of State because release of the emails put “unauthorized classified information … in adversaries’ hands.”
Perhaps there’s room for agreement here. Via email, Miller noted, “the entire classification system is a mess: overly complex, riddled with ambiguity, and used at times for inappropriate reasons. And because of that you get perverse outcomes.”
Secretary Clinton surely should have made her emails more secure and accessible, via the formal FOIA process, by using official email. But that doesn’t mean retroactively classified information should be used against her anymore than it should be used against Drake and Sterling.
Neocon scribes Eli Lake and Josh Rogin published a piece asserting that the man whose COIN theories failed in 3 different war theaters is making a comeback undermined only by his extramarital affair.
By all outward appearances, David Petraeus appears to be mounting a comeback. The former general landed a job at powerhouse private-equity firm KKR, has academic perches at Harvard and the University of Southern California and, according to White House sources, was even asked by the President Barack Obama’s administration for advice on the fight against Islamic State. Yet it turns out that the extramarital affair that forced him to resign as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is still hanging over him.
Yet that’s not actually what their article describes. Instead, it explores why it is that the FBI investigation into David Petraeus for leaking information to his mistress, not fucking her, is ongoing.
Curiously, these two journalists exhibit no shred of curiosity about why the GOP Congress continues to investigate the Benghazi attack, an investigation that started exactly contemporaneously with the Petraeus leak investigation — or, for that matter, why all the investigations have avoided questions about Petraeus’ training failures in Libya.
Instead, they see in this particular 2 year counterintelligence investigation a conspiracy to silence the fine General.
[Retired General Jack] Keane questions whether the Petraeus FBI probe lasting this long may be driven by something other than a desire to investigate a potential crime. “It makes you wonder if there is another motivation to drag an investigation out this long,” he said.
Petraeus allies both inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community and the military express a concern that goes beyond a criminal probe: that the investigation has caused Petraeus to trim his sails — that one of the most informed and experienced voices on combating terrorism and Islamic extremism is afraid to say what he really thinks, a sharp juxtaposition to Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, two former defense secretaries who have not been shy about criticizing Obama’s national security team.
But what does seem surprising, to many who know and have worked with him, is that the views he has been expressing are so at odds with what he has said and implied in the past.
For example, when Petraeus was inside Obama’s administration in his first term, he advocated for more troops inside Afghanistan and made the case for arming Syrian moderate forces. But when asked this summer about that effort, Petraeus demurred and focused on Obama’s new $500 million initiative in 2014 to train Syrian rebels. “I strongly support what’s being done now,” he said. “Half a billion dollars is a substantial amount of resourcing to train and equip.”
Petraeus’s rhetoric on Iraq and Syria differs sharply not only from his past positions, but from that of many retired generals of his generation and of his biggest supporters.
To support their conspiracy theory, they not only cite noted leaker Pete Hoekstra, but Lake and Rogin ignore a whole load of other details, such as how long leak investigations normally take. Even the investigation into and punishment of Sandy Berger — which they cite — took 18 months from leak to guilty plea, plus another two years until he relinquished his license. The investigation into Donald Sachtleben — or rather, the UndieBomb 2.0 leak that Sachtleben was singularly held responsible for — took 15 months, even with his computer in custody and Sachtleben on bond most of that time. John Kiriakou was charged almost 4 years after his leaks, and two after Pat Fitzgerald was appointed to find a head for the CIA. Thomas Drake was indicted over 4 years after the investigation into Stellar Wind leaks started and almost 3 years after the FBI raided the homes of those associated with Drake’s whistleblowing. Jeffrey Sterling was indicted 7 years after FBI first started looking into leaks to James Risen.
Leak investigations can take a long time. That’s not a good thing, as they leave the targets of those investigations in limbo through that entire time. Petraeus is, comparatively, doing better off than most of the others I named above. Indeed, in paragraph 7, Lake and Rogin reveal that Petraeus, in fact, has gotten preferential treatment, in that his security clearance hasn’t been stripped.
To wit: Petraeus is ostensibly being investigated for mishandling classified material and yet he retains his security clearance.
Even Hoss Cartwright had his security clearance stripped for allegedly leaking details of StuxNet to the press. Heck, based on this detail, one has just as much evidence to support a counter-conspiracy theory that Petraeus is getting lax treatment because he’s got damning information on Obama (not one I’m adopting, mind you, but it does illustrate what one can do with an absence of evidence).
If warmongers like Jack Keane want to make drawn out leak investigations a cause, they would do well to make it a principle, not a singular conspiracy theory used to explain why David Petraeus isn’t being more critical of Obama’s efforts not to escalate into another failed counterinsurgency.
Is it possible, after all, that Petraeus is silent because he realizes what a hash he has made of the Middle East?
As part of its superb piece on NSA spying on Tuesday, Frontline included interviews with key sources. In my opinion, the most enlightening was that with former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark, so you should read that entire interview (especially her comments on NSA at 9/11).
Both she and Tom Drake mention a part of the illegal NSA program that has been largely forgotten: the financial records. Here’s Roark’s non-denial.
And from what you knew at that point, what type of information was taken, and how pervasive was the collection?
It is now quite obvious, since the Snowden revelations, that the program grew progressively over time. Initially, I knew that it involved a lot of broad domestic surveillance, bulk collection, domestically. And I knew that it involved emails, landlines, regular house phones, cell phones. I also knew that they had branched out into non-communications data.
Which is what, bank records?
I’m not really — they have not acknowledged that. All I can tell you is that when I met the second time with Gen. Hayden in July, I said to him that it appeared the program was expanding, not only in number of servers, but also that two new data categories had recently been added, and he nodded to confirm that. I knew that one of those data programs was not communications data. …
And other commentators have made allusions to other personal data that may be collected. Of course, we all know that transportation data, airline data is connected. We know that international banking data is collected; that has been acknowledged. But there have been allusions to other items, too, by people hypothetically, such as credit, medical, banking and so on.
And here’s Drake’s more explicit mention of it.
You watched the president [George W. Bush] come out and say this is a valuable program; one side of the communications has to be outside; we’re following terrorists; this has prevented attacks on our country. The vice president [Dick Cheney] attacks the Times for publishing. You’re watching this, and you know what’s going on inside. What are you thinking?
This actually was part of the triggering event for me in which increasingly I knew I was going to have to touch the third rail, back to your earlier question. I realized that they were lying, that they were desperate to protect the domestic surveillance program. And so they could use the excuse, although it was still in violation of FISA, that as long as one link somehow was tied to a suspected terrorist, that justified collecting or targeting the link that was in the United States proper.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. The far larger program was the dragnet surveillance, the vast bulk copy of millions and millions of phone records, email records, Internet usage and financial transactional and credit card information.
Since the Snowden leaks started we’ve heard almost nothing about this. There have been the two stories about the CIA collecting Western Union records with at least one end foreign. There is the 2010 Section 215 order tied to an allegedly specific investigation, which must long post-date the CIA-related orders.
What happened to this collection? Is it the April 2, 2004 modification we have never learned about? Is it the second secret Section 215 appendix included in Glenn Fine’s 2008 report? Have they been accomplishing this via NSLs, or perhaps only recently moved it to Section 215? I have suggested in the past that for domestic records, FBI would be the likely lead … is that right?
The financial records collection has, outside of Shane Harris’ book (on TIA), completely disappeared.
But it must be under a new shell somewhere.
Jeff Stein has a troubling scoop that both the Government Accountability Project and POGO have been burgled — POGO in recent weeks and GAP several years ago.
The POGO break-in seems of lesser concern, because they don’t appear to have taken anything — though Stein notes that POGO was involved in releasing the DOD IG Report that revealed CIA’s close ties to Zero Dark Thirty (and, because some dirty fucking hippie pointed it out, that William McRaven ordered Osama bin Laden photos “destroyed immediately” when Judicial Watch FOIAed them).
POGO is also relentless in its documentation of the waste of the F-35 program.
The GAP break-in occurred back in January 2011.
In the Jan. 6, 2011 incident, the burglars seemed interested in just a few of the computers among the dozen or so in the office. Of the six stolen, two belonged to GAP’s national security attorneys, and one to its legal director, according to GAP President Louis Clark. No culprits have been arrested.
Jesselyn Radack, the director of GAP’s National Security and Human Rights Program, is a legal adviser to Snowden.
This was the period when the WikiLeaks investigation was heating up, as was the Jeffrey Sterling prosecution. Several months later, Thomas Drake would get his plea deal.
In addition, in recent months, someone has been trying to deal GAP classified documents.
In the months since the group’s association with the fugitive leaker began, Clark said, “We have had a highly suspicious person twice try to give us so-called ‘classified’ documents.” Because the group is not a news organization, accepting classified documents could leave it open to prosecution.
It’s not surprising that weird stuff is happening to Raddack’s organization as she assist Snowden. But this does seem like a setup.
Update: Via Twitter Radack made it clear the break in to GAP was during the Thomas Drake case.
I’m going to return to Glenn Greenwald’s latest showing details of how the NSA treated WikiLeaks and, to a lesser degree, Anonymous (as well as Alexa O’Brien’s update on the investigation into WikiLeaks) later.
If GCHQ does this kind of tracking, how did Five Eyes miss the Tsarnaev brothers?
But for now I want to look at one slide covering GCHQ’s AntiCrisis monitoring approach (see slide 34), which in this case is focused on WikiLeaks. It shows how GCHQ has the ability — and had it in 2012 — to monitor particular websites. It shows GCHQ can monitor the visitors of a particular website, where they’re coming from, what kind of browsers they use. None of that is, in the least surprising. But given those capabilities, it would be shocking if GCHQ weren’t doing similar monitoring of AQAP’s online magazine Inspire, with the added benefit that certain text strings in each Inspire magazine would make it very easy to track copies of it as it was downloaded, even domestically via upstream collection. And for the UK, this isn’t even controversial; even possessing Inspire in the UK can get you imprisoned.
Given that that’s the case, why didn’t GCHQ and NSA find the Tsarnaev brothers who — the FBI has claimed but provided no proof — learned to make a bomb from the Inspire release that GCHQ or NSA hacked? Why isn’t NSA reviewing why it didn’t find the brothers based on cross-referencing likely NSA tracking of Inspire with its FBI reporting on Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
I used to not believe NSA should have found the Tsarneavs. But now that I’ve seen all the nifty tools we’ve learned NSA and, especially, GCHQ have, they really do owe us an explanation for why they didn’t find the Tsarnaev brothers, one of whom was already in an FBI database, and who was allegedly learning to make a pressure cooker bomb from a document that surely gets tracked by the NSA and its partners.
Speaking of NSA failures…
Which brings me back to James Clapper’s interview with Eli Lake.
Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.
“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints
Now, I’ll have to review the latest declarations in Jewel, but I think Clapper’s statement — that the genesis of today’s phone dragnet dates to 9/11 — goes slightly beyond what has been admitted, because it ties today’s phone dragnet program back to the PSP phone dragnet program. Ron Wyden has tried to make the tie between the illegal program and the current one clear for months. Clapper has now inched closer to doing so.
But I also want to take issue with Clapper’s claim that if NSA had presented a “gap” to Members of Congress and the public after 9/11 we would have loved the dragnet.
Had we known of the errors and territorialism that permitted 9/11, would we have agreed to any of this?
I do so, in part, because the claim there was a “gap” is erroneous and has been proven to be erroneous over and over. Moreover, that myth dates not to the days after 9/11, but to misrepresentations about the content of the 9/11 Commission report 3 years later. Note, too, that (as has happened with Inspector Generals reviews of the Boston Marathon attack) the Commission got almost no visibility into what NSA had against al Qaeda.
More importantly, had NSA gone to the public with claims about gaps it did and didn’t have before 9/11, we would likely have talked not about providing NSA more authority to collect dragnets, but instead, about the responsibility of those who sat on intelligence that might have prevented 9/11.
As Thomas Drake and the other NSA whistleblowers have made clear, the NSA had not shared intelligence reports that might have helped prevent 9/11.
I found the pre- and post-9/11 intelligence from NSA monitoring of some of the hijackers as they planned the attacks of 9/11 had not been shared outside NSA. Continue reading
“Intelligence agencies often act on the edges of executive prerogative and move forward based on a narrow base of lawfulness and limited congressional notification,” says Michael Hayden, the guy who oversaw Bush’s illegal wiretap for 2.5 years before the full Gang of Eight first got adequately briefed, and who never briefed Congress on CIA’s assassination program.
In the same piece, Hayden hails media editors who ceded to his requests to hold or adjust a story.
So, how do we limit the damage? Well, journalists will have to expand the kind of sensitivities to the national welfare that some already show. In those calls I made to slow, scotch or amend a pending story, most on the other end of the line were open to reasonable arguments. In one case a writer willingly changed a reference that had read “based on intercepts” to “based on intelligence reports,” somewhat amazed that that change made much of a difference. (It did.)
But then insists the UndieBomb 2.0 story — for which AP editors had made precisely those kinds of concessions — was right to be investigated because John Brennan’s push back to it exposed a mole.
The two prominent cases being debated were indeed serious leaks, because they touched upon sources, not just information.
In the case of the Associated Press report on a Yemen-based bomb plot, the source had apparently penetrated an al Qaeda network and there were hopes that he could continue to be exploited.
And, since the Yemen source appears to have actually been recruited by a liaison partner, the impact of a leak goes far beyond our own service. In that same talk with bureau chiefs, I pointed out that several years before 9/11, one chief of station reported that a press leak of liaison intelligence had “put us out of the (Osama) bin Laden reporting business”.
In both stories, investigations were in order. Journalists, of all people, should understand the need to protect sources and relationships.
As the LAT story Hayden links to says clearly, “The AP did not mention the informant in its report.” And, as I laid out some weeks back, to believe our mole was going to return, the former head of the CIA would have to believe that AQAP shows great tolerance for recruits who fuck up and then return right after high ranking operatives get drone killed.
Because to maintain that claim, you’d have to explain how an AQAP operative who had been entrusted with the latest version of Ibrahim al-Asiri’s UndieBomb sometime in early April, had left (at least as far as Sanaa), had not apparently succeeded in his mission (which was, after all, meant to be a suicide bombing), could return to AQAP without the UndieBomb and infiltrate even further than he had the first time.
“Oh, hi, AQAP gatekeeper” — their story must imagine the mole saying as he returned to AQAP — “I’ve both failed in my mission and somehow lost the bomb you gave me, but based on that would you be willing to let me spend some quality time with even higher-ranking AQAP operatives?”
In short, Hayden appears to have decided it’d be a good idea to ignore the facts, good sense, and his own history so as to suggest that the Obama Administration is worse than the reasonable old Bush Administration.
But the investigations have been very aggressive and the acquisition of journalists’ communications records has been broad, invasive, secret and—one suspects—unnecessary.
A quick survey of former Bush administration colleagues confirmed my belief that a proposal to sweep up a trove of AP phone records or James Rosen’s e-mails would have had a half-life of about 30 seconds in that administration.
Just ignore the fact that the government was asking people questions about James Risen‘s phone contacts — indicating they had probably doing just what the Obama Administration did to the AP reporters, only without telling him — before Obama took over.
But here’s my favorite part:
The government may also want to adjust its approach to enforcement. The current tsunami of leak prosecutions is based largely on the Espionage Act, a blunt World War I statute designed to punish aiding the enemy. It’s sometimes a tough fit. The leak case against former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake collapsed of its own overreach in 2011.
Perhaps in many of these cases the best approach is not through the courts or the Department of Justice.
Remember, Drake was investigated for telling a journalist about Hayden’s own boondoggle that cost many times what NSA’s existing better solution cost. There is virtually no way the investigation against him didn’t rely, in part, on Hayden’s own testimony.
And now, 6 years after the investigation into Drake started in earnest, Hayden suggests Drake shouldn’t have been criminally investigated at all.
Hayden can afford that very belated generosity, of course. He’s been profiting off the same kind of boondoggles Drake tried to expose for years now.
I mean, sure, the main jist of what Hayden says is true: the Administration is pursuing leaks far too aggressively. But coming from a guy who has long benefitted from the Executive Branch asymmetric abuse of secrecy, he’s not exactly the right person to be making the point.
When the FBI found sensitive — though it turned out, unclassified — documents in Thomas Drake’s basement, he was charged under the Espionage Act. When the Army found hundreds of thousands of classified — but not Top Secret — cables on Bradley Manning’s computer, they charged him with Espionage and Aiding the Enemy.
But when the FBI found Top Secret documents on Sudan — our actual enemy, if sanctions count — in Reagan National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane’s basement, it decided to investigate him for illegal lobbying.
The FBI has searched the apartment of former Reagan administration national security adviser Robert McFarlane for evidence of whether he lobbied for the government of Sudan, in violation of federal law.
The search warrant is on file in federal district court in Washington. It shows agents seized items this month including handwritten notes about Sudan and White House documents with classifications up to Top Secret.
From this I can only assume that McFarlane is being subjected to the same double standard that Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was (represented, it should be noted, by former Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer), when he snuck 9/11 related documents out of the Archives, yet only plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
When National Security Advisors take top secret documents, they’re called lobbyists, not spies.
I can’t wait to find out what Condi Rice will be called if she’s ever caught with sensitive documents in her basement.
I’m sure I could grill John Brennan for hours. But after a lot of thought, here are the five questions I believe most important that should be asked of him Today.
1) Do you plan to continue lying to Americans?
You have made a number of demonstrable lies to the American people, particularly regarding the drone program and the Osama bin Laden raid. Most egregiously in 2011, you claimed “there hasn’t been a single collateral death” in almost a year from drone strikes; when challenged, you revised that by saying, “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths,” even in spite of a particularly egregious case of civilian deaths just months earlier. On what basis did you make these assertions? What definition of civilian were you using in each assertion? (More background)
In addition, in a speech purportedly offering transparency on the drone program, you falsely suggested we know the identities of all people targeted by drones. Why did you choose to misrepresent the kind of intelligence we use in some strikes?
2) What was the intelligence supporting the first attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki?
The US government’s first attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone strike was December 24, 2009. WikiLeaks cables make it clear that Awlaki was a primary target of that strike, not just intended collateral damage. Yet the Webster report makes clear that on that day — that is, until the Underwear Bomber attempt the next day — the Intelligence Community did not consider Awlaki to be operational. Thus, the strike seems to have been approved before he fulfilled the criteria of the white paper released the other day, which authorizes the targeting of senior operational leaders of groups like AQAP. What was the legal basis for targeting this American citizen at a time when the IC did not believe him to be operational? (More background)
3) Will your close friendships with Saudis cloud your focus on the US interest?
In a fawning profile the other day, Daniel Klaidman nevertheless laid out the following points:
In addition, recent reports have confirmed that the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was launched from Saudi territory.
Were the personal entreaties you responded to from Yemenis or Saudis (or both)?
What role did the Saudis have in the Awlaki strike? Did they have an operational role?
As someone with such close ties to liaison sources, how have you and will you manage to prioritize the interests of the United States over the interests of friends you have from two decades ago?
To what degree is your intelligence sharing — especially with the Saudis — a stovepipe that creates the same risks of intelligence failures that got us into the Iraq War? (More background)
4) What role did you have in Bush’s illegal wiretap program?
The joint Inspector General report on the illegal wiretap program reported that entities you directed — the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in 2003 and 2004, and the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004 and 2005 — conducted the threat assessments for the program.
What role did you have, as the head of these entities, in the illegal wiretapping of Americans? To what extent did you know the program violated FISA? What role did you have in counseling Obama to give telecoms and other contractors immunity under the program? What influence did you have in DOJ decisions regarding suits about the illegal program, in particular the al-Haramain case that was thrown out even after the charity had proved it had been illegally wiretapped? Did you play any role in decisions to investigate and prosecute whistleblowers about this and other programs, notably Thomas Drake? (More background)
5) Did you help CIA bypass prohibitions on spying domestically with the NYPD intelligence (and other) programs?
In your additional prehearing questions, you admit to knowing about CIA’s role in setting up an intelligence program that profiled Muslims in New York City. What was your role in setting up the program? As someone with key oversight over personnel matters at the time, did you arrange Larry Sanchez’ temporary duty at the NYPD or CIA training for NYPD detectives?
Have you been involved in any similar effort to use CIA resources to conduct domestic spying on communities of faith? You said the CIA provides (among other things) expertise to local groups spying on Americans. How is this not a violation of the prohibition on CIA spying on Americans? (More background)
Update: I realized that I have left out a caveat in Brennan’s drone lies — he was talking in the previous year. I’ve fixed that.
The most interesting line of this WSJ article–describing the dissent to the Administration’s plan to give the National Counterterrorism Center any government database it wants for five years–is this one.
Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines.
The story suggests that the way the Administration resolved objections from people within Department of Homeland Security (as well as DOJ) to giving NCTC Americans’ flight data in ways they hadn’t been informed of when the data was collected was to have a meeting at the White House Situation Room at which John Brennan would decide whether to heed those objections.
John Brennan. Not the President, not the Attorney General, not even National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, but instead John Brennan (not coincidentally, a former contractor on data mining and before that in charge of targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program).
Much of the rest of the story rehearses what I reported (among other places) here and here and here and here. It describes how the NCTC will have access to any database it claims contains terrorist information.
What’s new in this story is the reason NCTC demanded a policy granting them broad access to these databases–because it had not complied with an agreement made with DHS regarding one of its databases.
Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.
After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn’t yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn’t even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.
Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC’s access to the data.
To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. [my emphasis]
And it describes how, primarily, former DHS Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan fought the changes.
In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, “How Best to Express the Department’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center,” according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.
The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn’t search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said.
To resolve the issue, Homeland Security’s deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House.
Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?
It also describes how all these people who not only championed privacy, but also pointed out our targeting failures in the past came from not investigating quickly, not lacking the data to find those people.
This feels very similar to the same argument that Thomas Drake fought at NSA. He, like these former DHS and DOJ people, fought for a way to find terrorists that didn’t also infringe on the privacy of Americans. And he, like these DHS people, was overruled.
The difference, of course, is that this abuse of privacy came under Barack Obama, who never seems to get criticized for showing the same disdain for privacy that Dick Cheney did.
Though, insofar as John Brennan is making all the decisions in Obama’s war on terror, I’m not sure there’s a real difference between the two.
Last night, WaPo reported that the FBI is still trying to figure out how Paula Broadwell got classified information they found on her computer and–it looks like–in her home.
The FBI is making a new push to determine how a woman who had an affair with retired Gen. David H. Petraeus when he was CIA director obtained classified files, part of an expanding series of investigations in a scandal that also threatens the career of the United States’ top military commander in Afghanistan.
Senior law enforcement officials said that a late-night seizure on Monday of boxes of material from the North Carolina home of Paula Broadwell, a Petraeus biographer whose affair with him led to his resignation last week, marks a renewed focus by investigators on sensitive material found in her possession.
“The issue of national security is still on the table,” one U.S. law enforcement official said. Both Petraeus and Broadwell have denied to investigators that he was the source of any classified information, officials said.
The surprise move by the FBI follows assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.
As the WaPo correctly points out, this new investigative push is surprising, because the FBI has already been blabbing for several days that no charges would be filed.
Which is why I find it strange that Matthew Miller made this claim in a column arguing the FBI has handled the Petraeus investigation properly:
In this case, it appears the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the matter entirely in keeping with those rules and precedents. And, importantly, they passed the most crucial test faced whenever the department investigates a senior member of the existing administration: They conducted the entire investigation without playing favorites and without a hint of political interference.
While it’s not the central thrust of Miller’s piece (whether or not Congress should have been informed is), it’s too soon to know whether DOJ is playing favorites or not. But up until this latest report from WaPo, it appeared they were playing favorites.
After all, DOJ charged people–like Thomas Drake–for retaining unclassified information, information he had been directed by the Inspector General to retain. DOD charged Bradley Manning with retaining classified information.
Retaining classified information improperly is a crime, even if you have clearance to view the information.
Sure, it’s usually used as a proxy for other crimes for which no evidence exists. Or, in the case of Drake, in an effort to get him to plead guilty to other crimes.
But if DOJ is going to use it as a tool to persecute leakers, there is no reason it should exempt General Petraeus’ one-time mistress.
I’m not saying I want Broadwell to be charged, nor am I saying I think DOJ’s use of such charges in the past is proper. But that’s the problem with witch hunts, isn’t it? They either stick out as arbitrary political prosecutions, or they set a standard that few in the national security establishment could meet.
Update: Ut oh. Broadwell might get herself in trouble after all.
A computer used by Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with CIA director General David Petraeus led to his resignation, contained substantial classified information that should have been stored under more secure conditions, law enforcement and national security officials said on Wednesday.
The contents of the classified material and how Broadwell acquired it remain under investigation, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment publicly.
But the quantity of classified material found on the computer was significant enough to warrant a continuing investigation, the officials told Reuters.
Though it sounds like they’re only contemplating stripping her security clearance.
Law enforcement officials also have said that they believe the continuing FBI probe into the matter is likely to end without criminal charges. If Broadwell is found to have mishandled classified information, she could face action under administrative security regulations.
Which would mean they’re striking a middle ground between treating her as they’ve treated others and retaliating against her for getting the sainted Petraeus in trouble (because of course grown men never get themselves in trouble).
Update: CNN now reporting that Broadwell has had her security clearance revoked.