Valerie Caproni

David Barron’s ECPA Memo

Last week, I laid out the amazing coinkydink that DOJ provided Sprint a bunch of FISA opinions — including the December 12, 2008 Reggie Walton opinion finding that the phone dragnet did not violate ECPA — on the same day, January 8, 2010, that OLC issued a memo finding that providers could voluntarily turn over phone records in some circumstances without violating ECPA.

Looking more closely at what we know about the opinion, I’m increasingly convinced it was not a coinkydink at all. I suspect that the memo not only addresses FBI’s exigent letter program, but also the non-Section 215 phone dragnet.

As a reminder, we first learned of this memo when, in January 2010, DOJ’s Inspector General issued a report on FBI’s practice of getting phone records from telecom provider employees cohabiting at FBI with little or no legal service. The report was fairly unique in that it was released in 3 versions: the public unclassified but heavily redacted version, a Secret version, and a Top Secret/SCI version. Given how closely parallel the onsite telecom provider program was with the phone dragnet, that always hinted the report may have touched on other issues.

Roughly a year after the IG Report came out, EFF FOIAed the memo (see page 30). Over the course of the FOIA litigation — the DC Circuit rejected their appeal for the memo in January — DOJ provided further detail about the memo.

Here’s how OLC Special Counsel Paul Colborn described the memo (starting at 25):

The document at issue in this case is a January 8, 2010 Memorandum for Valerie Caproni, General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”), from David J. Barron, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (the “Opinion”). The OLC Opinion was prepared in response to a November 27, 2009 opinion request from the FBI’s General Counsel and a supplemental request from Ms. Caproni dated December 11, 2009. These two requests were made in order to obtain OLC advice that would assist FBI’s evaluation of how it should respond to a draft Report by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Justice (the “OIG”) in the course of a review by the OIG of the FBI’s use of certain investigatory procedures.In the context of preparing the Opinion, OLC, as is common, also sought and obtained the views of other interested agencies and components of the Department. OIG was aware that the FBI was seeking legal advice on the question from OLC, but it did not submit its views on the question.

The factual information contained in the FBI’s requests to OLC for legal advice concerned certain sensitive techniques used in the context of national security and law enforcement investigations — in particular, significant information about intelligence activities, sources, and methodology.

Later in his declaration, Colborn makes it clear the memo addressed not just FBI, but also other agencies.

The Opinion was requested by the FBI and reflects confidential communications to OLC from the FBI and other agencies. In providing the Opinion, OLC was serving an advisory role as legal counsel to the Executive Branch. In the context of the FBI’s evaluation of its procedures, the general counsel at the FBI sought OLC advice regarding the proper interpretation of the law with respect to information-gathering procedures employed by the FBI and other Executive Branch agencies. Having been requested to provide counsel on the law, OLC stood in a special relationship of trust with the FBI and other affected agencies.

And FBI Record/Information Dissemination Section Chief David Hardy’s declaration revealed that an Other Government Agency relied on the memo too. (starting at 46)

This information was not examined in isolation. Instead, each piece of information contained in the FBI’s letters of November 27, 2009 and December 11, 2009, and OLC’s memorandum of January 8, 2010, was evaluated with careful consideration given to the impact that disclosure of this information will have on other sensitive information contained elsewhere in the United States intelligence community’s files, including the secrecy of that other information.


As part of its classification review of the OLC Memorandum, the FBI identified potential equities and interests of other government agencies (“OGAs”) with regard to the OLC memo. … FBI referred the OLC Memo for consultation with those OGAs. One OGA, which has requested non-attribution, affirmatively responded to our consultation and concurs in all of the classification markings.

Perhaps most remarkably, the government’s response to EFF’s appeal even seems to suggest that what we’ve always referred to as the Exigent Letters IG Report is not the Exigent Letters IG Report!

Comparing EFF’s claims (see pages 11-12) with the government’s response to those claims (see pages 17-18), the government appears to deny the following:

  • The Exigent Letters IG Report was the 3rd report in response to reporting requirements of the USA PATRIOT reauthorization
  • FBI responded to a draft of the IG Report by asserting a new legal theory defending the way it had obtained certain phone records in national security investigations, which resulted in the January 8, 2010 memo
  • The report didn’t describe the exception to the statute involved and IG Glenn Fine didn’t recommend referring the memo to Congress
  • In response to a Marisa Taylor FOIA, FBI indicated that USC 2511(2)(f) was the exception relied on by the FBI to say it didn’t need legal process to obtain voluntary disclosure of phone records

Along with these denials, the government reminded that the report “contained significant redactions to protect classified information and other sensitive information.” And with each denial (or non-response to EFF’s characterizations) it “respectfully refer[red] the Court to the January 2010 OIG report itself.”

The Exigent Letters IG Report is not what it seems, apparently.

With all that in mind, consider two more details. First, as David Kris (who was the Assistant Attorney General during this period) made clear in his paper on the phone (and Internet) dragnet, in addition to Section 215, the government obtained phone records from the telecoms under USC 2511(2)(f), the clause in question.

And look at how the chronology maps.

November 5, 2008: OLC releases opinion ruling sneak peak and hot number requests (among other things) impermissible under NSLs

December 12, 2008: Reggie Walton rules that the phone dragnet does not violate ECPA

Throughout 2009: DOJ confesses to multiple violations of Section 215 program, including:

  • An alert function that serves the same purpose as sneak peaks and also violates Section 215 minimization requirements
  • NSA treated Section 215 derived data with same procedures as EO 12333 data; that EO 12333 data included significant US person data
  • One provider’s (which I originally thought was Sprint, then believed was Verizon, but could still be Sprint) production got shut down because it included foreign-to-foreign data (the kind that, according to the OLC, could be obtained under USC 2511(2)(f)

Summer and Fall, 2009: Sprint meets with government to learn how Section 215 can be used to require delivery of “all” customer records

July 9, 2009: Sprint raises legal issues regarding the order it was under; Walton halts production from provider which had included foreign-to-foreign production

October 30, 2009: Still unreleased primary order BR 09-15

November 27, 2009: Valerie Caproni makes first request for opinion

December 11, 2009: Caproni supplements her request for a memo

December 16, 2009: Application and approval of BR 09-19

December 30, 2009: Sprint served with secondary order

January 7, 2010: Motion to unseal records

January 8, 2010: FISC declassifies earlier opinions; DOJ and Sprint jointly move to extend time when Sprint can challenge order; and OLC releases OLC opinion; FISC grants motion (John Bates approves all these motions)

January 11, 2010: DOJ moves (in a motion dated January 8) to amend secondary order to incorporate language on legality; this request is granted the following day (though we don’t get that order)

January 20, 2010: IG Report released, making existence of OLC memo public

This memo is looking less and less like a coinkydink after all, and more and more a legal justification for the provision of foreign-to-foreign records to accompany the Section 215 provision. And while FBI said it wasn’t going to rely on the memo, it’s not clear whether NSA said the same.

Golly. It’d sure be nice if we got to see that memo before David Barron got to be a lifetime appointed judge.

The Lapses in Dragnet Notice to Congress

I’m at a great conference on national security and civil liberties. Unfortunately, speakers have repeatedly claimed that NSA fully informs Congress on its programs.

Even setting aside Dianne Feinstein’s admission that the intelligence committees exercise less oversight over programs conducted under EO 12333, there are a number of public documents that show the Executive failing to fully inform Congress:

April 27, 2005: Alberto Gonzales and Robert Mueller brief SSCI on PATRIOT Authorities in advance of reauthorization. They make no mention of the use of PR/TT to gather Internet metadata, much less the violations of Colleen Kollar-Kotelly limits on the kind of data collected during the first period of its use.

October 21, 2009: A Michael Leiter and NSA Associate Deputy Director briefing to the House Intelligence Committee pointed to the September 3, 2009 phone dragnet reauthorization as proof that NSA had regained FISC’s confidence, without mentioning further violations on September 21 and 23 — violations that NSA did not inform FISC about.

August 16, 2010: DOJ did not provide the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees with some of the pre-July 10, 2008 FISC rulings providing significant constructions of FISA pertaining to — at a minimum — Section 215 until after the first PATRIOT Reauthorization.

February 2, 2011: House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers did not invite members of Congress to read the 2011 notice about the phone and Internet dragnets. Approximately 86 freshmen members — 65 of whom voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, a sufficient number to tip the vote — had no opportunity to read that notice.

May 13, 2011: In a briefing by Robert Mueller and Valerie Caproni designed to substitute for the Executive’s notice to Congressmen about the phone and Internet dragnets, the following exchange took place.

Comment — Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?

A — To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.

While the balance of the briefing remains redacted, this seems to suggest the FBI did not brief House Republicans about the dragnet violations.

September 1, 2011: NSA did not provide notice to the House Judiciary Committee about its testing of geolocation data under Section 215 until after the reauthorization of PATRIOT Act, in spite of the fact that it had been conducting such tests throughout the 2010 and 2011 debates on the PATRIOT Act.

If the Executive Had Followed Clear Minimization Requirements of PATRIOT, Dragnet Abuses Might Have Been Avoided

For 4 years, it has been clear that DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine used his 2008 report on the FBI’s use of Section 215 to address how it had been used for what was then a secret program. For that reason, I want to look more closely at what he had to say about minimization.

Glenn Fine reveals how FBI minimization procedures are self-referential nonsense

As I noted, as part of a congressionally-mandated review completed in March 2008, DOJ’s Inspector General Glenn Fine reviewed whether DOJ had complied with PATRIOT Reauthorization’s requirement that the Attorney General craft minimization procedures to use with Section 215 collection.

He described how, in advance of a September 5, 2006 deadline, two parts of DOJ squabbled over what the minimization procedures should be.

Several months after enactment of the Reauthorization Act, the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) and the FBI — both of whom had been developing minimization procedures related to Section 215 orders — exchanged draft procedures. The drafts differed in fundamental respects, ranging from definitions to the scope of the procedures.

The fight seems to have been significantly fought between OIPR’s Counsel James Baker (who had a record of trying to get DOJ to follow the law) and FBI’s General Counsel Valerie Caproni (who got confirmed as a Federal Judge for NY this year literally at the same moment the Administration started releasing the most damning details on the dragnet).

Unresolved issues included the time period for retention of information, definitional issues of “U.S. person identifying information,” and whether to include procedures for addressing material received in response to, but beyond the scope of, the FISA Court order; uploading information into FBI databases; and handling large or sensitive data collections.

A couple of months would put this debate squarely in the time period when the first dragnet order would be signed (two months would be May 9; the first order was signed May 24).

And you can see how these issues would go squarely to the heart of whether or not the government could use Section 215 to authorize the dragnet. The dragnet introduces immediate retention issues, given that it authorizes collection on data not yet in existence; imagine if OIPR mandated an immediate search, with all non-responsive numbers to be destroyed. NSA itself treated phone numbers as “identifiers,” and yet this entire program fails to meet the most basic dissemination limits if you treat them as identifiers here. We know NSA had recurrent problem with receiving data that was beyond the scope, including credit card numbers and international data. Unloading this into the FBI database presents immense problems, given that the foreign intelligence value of a query is based on a algorithm, not more concrete evidence. And of course, Fine’s mention of the debate over “handling large or sensitive data collections” must implicate the dragnet, which is the quintessential large and sensitive data collection.

Almost the entirety of the detailed discussion of these issues is redacted.

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In Which Ben Wittes Proves Ben Wittes Is NAKED

160 days ago, Jim Sensenbrenner released a letter to Eric Holder expressing concern about the way DOJ had interpreted Section 215. In it, he did some creative editing to hide that he had had an opportunity to learn about that interpretation before he voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.

160 days ago, I was (I believe) the first person to point out that obfuscation.

In those 160 days, I have also documented the serial lies and obfuscations of people like Keith Alexander, James Clapper, Robert Mueller, Mike Rogers, Valerie Caproni, Dianne Feinstein, Raj De, and Robert Litt. (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three; trust me, this is just a quick survey). The most recent of these lies came last week when Raj De and Robert Litt claimed Congress had been fully informed about the authorities they were voting on, a claim which the Executive Branch’s own record proves to be false.

In spite of the clear imbalance between the lies NSA critics have told and those NSA apologists have told, Ben Wittes has made it a bit of a hobby to use Sensenbrenner’s single (egregious) lie to try to discredit NSA critics (without, of course, pointing out the serial, at times even more egregious, lies NSA apologists were telling). Of late, Wittes has harangued that, because he told a lie 160 days ago, Sensenbrenner is operating in bad faith when he criticizes NSA’s programs now. (See also this post.)

I have never questioned the good faith of Senators Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, or Rand Paul. They are legislators with a perspective. That’s how Congress works.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner is a different matter.

Since the bulk metadata program broke, the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has been on a campaign of denunciation of both agency activity under the Patriot Act—the law he helped write. And he has been denouncing the administration for having misled him about how Section 215 is being used too. He has done so with a breathtaking dishonesty that puts him in a different category from those members who have a policy dispute with the administration. [my emphasis]

Mind you, Wittes did not examine the content of Sensenbrenner’s more recent claims. Had he done so, he might have realized that the record supports Sensenbrenner’s complaints, even if the messenger for those complaints might be less than perfect.

It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority never imagined by Congress. Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that, even if our trust was restored, Congress and the American people would lack the ability to verify it.

Note, we’re still learning the full extent of how the Executive Branch blew off limits placed on the PATRIOT authorities.

Wittes might even have noted Sensenbrenner’s apparent commitment to do his own job better.

“I hope that we have learned our lesson and that oversight will be a lot more vigorous,” Sensenbrenner said.

Even ignoring Wittes’ remarkable double standard, in which he suggests Sensenbrenner’s one lie should disqualify him from speaking on this topic forever while Clapper and Alexander’s seeming addiction to lies apparently shouldn’t even be mentioned in polite company, a highly regarded expert recently laid out new evidence for why Sensenbrenner has good reason to be angry, regardless of his role in passing PATRIOT in 2001 or 2006 or 2010 or even 2011.

The expert?

Ben Wittes.

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Ben Wittes, Brookings Buck Naked

Ben Wittes tries to respond to my complaints that he continues to insist all of Congress had a way of knowing about the Section 215 dragnet program and its abuses — THEY ARE NAKED, Wittes proclaims over and over while accusing me of spewing a “storm of outrage.”

My case, remember, is based on two discrete facts, only one of which Wittes even tries to address in his rebuttal.

First, the 93 Representatives elected in 2010 were never provided access to the letter the Administration wrote, ostensibly to inform them about the dragnet so they could make an informed vote. Assuming that the 7 members of the House who were on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees learned of the program, that still left 86 members of the House who never had an opportunity to read about the secret use of Section 215 and the gross violations of it. Of those, 65 voted in favor of the PATRIOT reauthorization.

Here’s how Ben responds to this, in the 28th paragraph of his response.

Ms. Wheel insists that the 65 freshman members of the House who were not provided the 2011 briefing [note his inaccurate portrayal of this fact]  might have swung the 250-153 vote for FISA reauthorization. She’s almost certainly wrong. On July 24, 2013, well after the public revelations of Section 215 bulk metadata collection hit the press and the butt-covering had begun, the House had the chance for a do-over. It voted on the Amash-Conyers amendment to halt NSA’s “indiscriminate” collection of telephony metadata. The House declined on a 217-to-205 vote to adopt it.

Ben presents evidence of a 33-vote swing at a time before the Administration released the notice letters or the White Paper that provided sanitized descriptions of the program abuses, or the Primary Order showing some other fairly troubling details of the program, to say nothing of the 2009 documents showing the government had enabled chaining four hops deep off of 27,090 approved selectors to find informants as well as terrorists, and claims it is proof that Members of Congress won’t change their vote based on full information about these programs. (At least one member has actually stated on the record he would now vote differently on Amash-Conyers given some of these more recent revelations.)

Ben’s argument remains the same then — pointing at votes that happen without full information about a program as proof that Congress supports that program. NAKED!

But Ben fails to even hint at the other critical fact here, the evidence we have about the briefings that those 83 and other House members had available, in spite of the fact he makes this assertion:

So we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the administration wanted members to have certain detailed information about the program. We also know that there were a lot of briefings by that administration concerning this program to those same members [another false claim--all but two of the briefings were limited to Senators or Judiciary and Intelligence Committees] in the same time frame as the administration wanted those members to read that briefing paper.

Hmmmm. Wonder what they could have been talking about in those briefings….

It’s telling, here, that Ben doesn’t link to this post – which was a direct response to one of Ben’s other attempts to insist THOSE CONGRESSMEN ARE NAKED – nor to this one – which was still up on Emptywheel’s front page when I wrote this post and which quotes Ben’s NAKED post. That, in spite of the fact that Ben included this tweet among those he so courteously collected to support his assertion about my “storm of outrage” that he ignored the actual facts.

All of those would alert his readers to this detail, from one of just two out of the long list of briefings Ben posted that actually could have informed House members not on the Intelligence or Judiciary Committees. DOJ’s own account of what happened at the May 13, 2011 briefing — which Ben is sure adequately briefed those who attended about the dragnet — records this exchange.

Comment — Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?

A — To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.

A Member of Congress — surely picking up on public details Ben recites as proof they had some way of knowing about the dragnet — actually asked a question that goes to the heart of the dragnet and its problems. Feingold says Section 215 has been abused. Has it? And in response, two members of the Administration, Valerie Caproni and Robert Mueller — the people Ben is certain “beyond any shadow of a doubt” wanted Members of Congress to be informed — say the FBI had no knowledge of abuse.

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Imagine the Administration Lying to Congress about the Dragnet

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In a piece bemoaning the possibility that the dragnet programs created in secret might be scaled back now that citizens know what they entail, Ben Wittes lets his imagination run wild.

Imagine you were a high-level decision-maker in a clandestine intelligence agency. Imagine that you had played by the rules Congress had laid out for you, worked with oversight mechanisms to fix errors when they happened, and erected strict compliance regimes to minimize mistakes in a mind-bogglingly complex system of signals intelligence collection. Imagine further that when the programs became public, there was a firestorm anyway. Imagine that nearly half of the House of Representatives, pretending it had no idea what you had been doing, voted to end key collection activity. Imagine that in response to the firestorm, the President of the United States—after initially defending the intelligence community—said that what was really needed was more transparency and described the debate as healthy. Imagine that journalists construed every fact they learned in light of the need to keep feeding at the trough of a source who had stolen a huge volume of highly classified materials and taken it to China and Russia. [my emphasis]

Now, Ben sets up a few straw men here: journalists may have gotten some details wrong, but they’re probably doing better on accuracy than the Agencies that have all the information at hand, which continue to tell easily demonstrable lies. He suggests Obama is interested in debate, abundant evidence to the contrary. He excuses the NSA’s compliance problems because of complexity, when they introduced that complexity to make programs do what they legally weren’t supposed to (for example, allowing illegal access via 3 other systems and by 3 other agencies and inventing a pre-archive archive to skirt the rules in the case of the phone dragnet program). He suggests the NSA played by Congress’ rules, when in fact the FISC sets rules, and it says the government has repeatedly violated those rules and “misrepresented” claims about doing so.

But those straw men are nothing compared to the claim that those in the House who voted to defund the phone dragnet were “pretending it had no idea what you had been doing.”

The record shows that the 2011 PATRIOT Act extension was passed with the support of 65 people – enough to make the difference in the vote – who had had no opportunity to learn about the Section 215 dragnet except at hearings that didn’t provide notice of what they would present. Moreover, the record shows that when someone at one of (the only one of?) those hearings asked a question specifically designed to learn about problems with the dragnet, here’s what happened.

Comment — Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?

A — To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.

Then FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-General Counsel Valerie Caproni (the Administration waited to release the dragnet materials Monday almost until the second Caproni got confirmed to lifetime tenure as a judge) gave that answer in spite of the fact that Mueller had to submit a declaration to Judge Reggie Walton to explain why the program was important enough to keep in spite of the many abuses. Walton ordered that declaration, in part, because the government’s explanations about their gross violations “strain[] credulity,” according to Walton. And one of the abuses involved FBI getting access to this data directly.

But FBI knows nothing, Colonel Klink.

And even in what notice the government made somewhat available to Congress (but which Mike Rogers did not pass on), it provided just a one paragraph description of the abuses that would take a page to lay out in skeleton bullet form.

In other words, the record shows that many of those who voted against the dragnet in fact had no idea what the government had been doing, both about the dragnet itself, and about the abuses of the dragnet program.

And note, when almost half the House voted to defund the dragnet, they still hadn’t been informed of the full extent of these abuses (because the Administration was withholding the relevant opinions).

Congress is moving to rein in a program that the Executive Branch operated illegally for 5 years, then operated with FISC sanction for 7 years while abusing the terms of that sanction for at least 3 years. In Wittes imagination, that’s a bad thing.

Update: Also note Valerie Caproni got briefed on these abuses January 23, 2009.

Shorter NSA: That We Discovered We Had No Fucking Clue How We Use Our Spying Is Proof Oversight Works

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James Clapper’s office just released a bunch of documents pertaining to the Section 215 dragnet. It reveals a whole slew of violations which it attributes to this:

The compliance incidents discussed in these documents stemmed in large part from the complexity of the technology employed in connection with the bulk telephony metadata collection program, interaction of that technology with other NSA systems, and a lack of a shared understanding among various NSA components about how certain aspects of the complex architecture supporting the program functioned.  These gaps in understanding led, in turn, to unintentional misrepresentations in the way the collection was described to the FISC.  As discussed in the documents, there was no single cause of the incidents and, in fact, a number of successful oversight, management, and technology processes in place operated as designed and uncovered these matters.

More candidly it admits that no one at NSA understood how everything works. It appears they’re still not sure, as one Senior Official Who Refused to Back His Words admitted,

“I guess they have 300 people doing compliance at NSA.”

“I guess” is how they make us comfortable about their new compliance program.

Ultimately, this resulted them in running daily Section 215 collection on a bunch of numbers that–by their own admission–they did not have reasonable articulable suspicion had some time to terrorism. When they got caught, that number consisted of roughly 10 out of 11 of the numbers they were searching on.

The rest of this post will be a working thread.

Update: Here is the Wyden/Udall statement. It strongly suggests that the other thing the government lied about — as referenced in John Bates’ October 3, 2011 opinion — was the Internet dragnet.

With the documents declassified and released this afternoon by the Director of National Intelligence, the public now has new information about the size and shape of that iceberg. Additional information about these violations was contained in other recently-released court opinions, though some significant information – particularly about violations pertaining to the bulk email records collection program – remains classified.


In addition to providing further information about how bulk phone records collection came under great FISA Court scrutiny due to serious and on-going compliance violations, these documents show that the court actually limited the NSA’s access to its bulk phone records database for much of 2009. The court required the NSA to seek case-by-case approval to access bulk phone records until these compliance violations were addressed. In our judgment, the fact that the FISA Court was able to handle these requests on an individual basis is further evidence that intelligence agencies can get all of the information they genuinely need without engaging in the dragnet surveillance of huge numbers of law-abiding Americans.

The original order required NSA to keep the dragnet on “a secure private network that NSA exclusively will operate.” Yet on the conference call, the Secret-Officials-Whose-Word-Can’t-Be-Trusted admitted that some of the violations involved people wandering into the data without knowing where they were. And an earlier violation made it clear in 2012 they found a chunk of this data that tech people had put on their own server.

The order also requires an interface with security limitations. Again, we know tech personnel access the data outside of this structure.

That order also only approves 7 people to approve queries. That number is now 22.

(9) We need to see a copy of the first couple of reports NSA gave to FISC with its reapplications to see how things got so out of control.

(10) This approval was signed by Malcom Howard. Among other things he was in the White House during the Nixon-Ford transition period.

The original authorization for 215 was a hash. Reggie Walton got involved in 2008 and cleaned it up (though not convincingly) in this supplemental order. He relies, significantly, on the “any tangible thing” language passed in 2006. (2-3)

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20 Questions: Mike Rogers’ Vaunted Section 215 Briefings

Comment — Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?

A — To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.

That exchange is, according to DOJ’s Congressional Affairs Office, the level of detail offered up at a May 13, 2011 briefing of the House Republican Caucus regarding the PATRIOT Act provisions the House would vote to reauthorize less than two weeks later.

The questioner — who is not identified — may have been talking about comments Russ Feingold made way back on October 1, 2009, as part of the previous reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act (remember, by this point, Feingold was no longer in the Senate). Here are the things Feingold said about Section 215 in that Senate Judiciary Committee markup.

I remain concerned that critical information about the implementation of the Patriot Act remains classified. Information that I believe, would have a significant impact on the debate….. There is also information about the use of Section 215 orders that I believe Congress and the American People deserve to know. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss this information today.

Mr Chairman, I am also a member of the intelligence Committee. I recall during the debate in 2005 that proponents of Section 215 argued that these authorities had never been misused. They cannot make that statement now. They have been misused. I cannot elaborate here. But I recommend that my colleagues seek more information in a classified setting.

I want to specifically disagree with Senator Kyle’s [sic] statement that just the fact that there haven’t been abuses of the other provisions which are Sunsetted. That is not my view of Section 215. I believe section 215 has been misused as well.

Given the context, it is unclear whether Feingold referred to use of Section 215 for things they shouldn’t have, use of it to authorize bulk collection generally, or in the compliance issues identified in 2009 on which the Administration had recently briefed the Intelligence Committee. But his suggestion that the Senate Judiciary Committee was getting less detailed briefings than the Senate Intelligence Committee at that point is consistent with DOJ’s 2009 notice to Congress on the dragnet, which said, “The [compliance] incidents, and the Court’s responses, were also reported to the Intelligence Committees in great detail,” with no mention of similarly detailed briefings to SJC (the 2011 letter indicates that by that point SJC was getting detailed briefings as well). This, in turn, suggests he was referring to dragnet-related violations.

Regardless of what Feingold meant, though, he tied misuse very closely to the secret use of Section 215 to conduct dragnet collection of all Americans’ phone records. Feingold’s other public statements about Section 215 focus even more closely on the secret dragnet application of it.

In other words, this appears to have been a question attempting to get at the secret application of the PATRIOT Act that Feingold, along with Ron Wyden and people like Jerry Nadler, had been warning about. This appears to have been an attempt to learn about a topic that — in 2009, at least — DOJ had “agree[d] that it is important that all Members of Congress have access to information about this program” (DOJ didn’t include such blather in its 2011 notice).

Exactly 100 days before the briefing at which this question was asked, DOJ had sent House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers (who appears to have convened this briefing) a letter noting, “In 2009, a number of technical compliance problems and human implementation errors in these two bulk collection programs were discovered as a result of Department of Justice (DOJ) reviews and internal NSA oversight.”

Yet in response to a query clearly designed to elicit both the existence of the dragnet program and details on problems associated with it, FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-General Counsel Valerie Caproni (and/or whatever staffers were with them) said, to the Bureau’s knowledge, there had been no abuses. Perhaps, then, as now, they’re relying on the claim that none of these compliance issues were willful — the letter said they weren’t intentional or bad-faith — to avoid telling members of Congress about problems with the program.

Remember, this is one of the (and may have been the only) briefings that Mike Rogers now claims provided adequate substitute for letting House members know about the letter describing the dragnet and the compliance problems associated with it. Rogers’ House Intelligence spokesperson, Susan Phalen, has claimed those briefings “not only covered all of the material in the letter but also provided much more detail.” (As far as I’ve been able to tell from the FOIA production to the ACLU, there was no similar briefing for the Democratic caucus, though FOIA production tends to be incomplete; one Democratic Congressman, Hansen Clarke, attended the Republican briefing.)

And DOJ’s own records of the briefing make it clear that when someone tried, however inartfully, to learn about the program, Mueller and Caproni obfuscated about the compliance issues and possibly the existence of the dragnet itself.

This is a concrete example of what both Justin Amash and Ron Wyden have described as a game of 20 questions briefers play in these briefings. The questioner raised one of the few public hints about the dragnet program to ask the FBI about it, and the FBI responded in a manner very similar to the way James Clapper did in March, when he lied to the SSCI.

Now, we don’t know what remains behind the redactions in the briefing, but there is one other piece of evidence that this briefing, at least, didn’t even touch on the dragnet. If you look at all 5 closed briefings turned over in production to ACLU, two — a February 28, 2011 briefing for SJC and a March 17, 2011 briefing for the House Intelligence Committee — were deemed classified “per OGA letter dated 4/26/2012.” The acronym “Other Government Agency” is usually used to refer to CIA, but in this context, where we now know NSA played a central role but revealing that role last year would have disclosed significant new details about the secret application of Section 215, it may well refer to NSA. Those briefings also redacted the identities of some briefers which, again, may be classified to hide the NSA’s role in this program.

If all this speculation is correct, then it means there was no mention of the NSA in the briefing for the Republican caucus. If there was no mention of NSA, then they really couldn’t have explained the program (both the 2009 and 2011 notices make extensive reference to the NSA).

In any case, what remains unredacted is quite clear. Someone at that briefing — the briefing that Mike Rogers’ staffer claims offered more information than had been provided in the DOJ letter — tried to learn about problems with the secret program. And they got stonewalled in response.

Was the person who asked this question and got an incomplete answer one of the 65 people who would go on to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act having had no way of learning about the program and its compliance problems?

FBI Aspires to Be the Stasi

Charlie Savage describes changes the FBI is making to its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. On its face, the changes he describes are downright bad. The changes allow FBI agents to:

  • Make a database “assessment” search of a group or person “proactively” without making a record of that search
  • Tail people during a “proactive” assessment more than once
  • Search a potential informant’s trash to gather information to use to force the informant to snitch for the government
  • Attend up to five meetings of a group undercover
  • Eliminate extra supervision of investigations of politicians or journalists if they are witnesses, not suspects, in the investigation
  • Eliminate such protection altogether for “low-profile” blogs

These new rules allow all sorts of fishing expeditions of people based on nothing more than a lead. Moreover, it would make it easy for the FBI to surveil targets with almost no evidence against them until they could be trumped up on some crime.

To some degree they feel like an effort to clean up past illegal activity (as the FBI did with its exigent letters program).

But consider how much worse these guidelines are in consideration of what else we know, or suspect.

We suspect, after all, that our government collects generalized databases of geolocation using Section 215. Since that information need only be “relevant” to a foreign intelligence investigation, it may well include records on all of us.

These new rules would allow the FBI to search such a database without recording that search. Aside from the obvious invitation for abuse–some agent wondering whether his girlfriend was hanging out with his best friend–it also eliminates the evidence that the FBI used such a controversial technique as geolocation as the premise for further investigation. It makes it easier for the FBI to investigate someone because of nothing more than who they know.

Then there’s the new rules allowing the FBI to conduct investigations of what a journalist “witnessed” without supervision. Remember that after the FBI decided James Risen had “witnessed” a leak of classified information, they collected his business records and emails, collecting much of the evidence they needed to indict Jeff Sterling. This rule would seem to virtually eliminate any real protection for journalists’ sources.

Finally, there’s the invitation to snoop through a potential informant’s trash. As I have pointed out, as far back as 2002, the government explicitly described using FISA to collect information, even on potentially unrelated crimes like rape, on potential informants so they could blackmail them into serving as snitches. Taken together, these rules would allow the FBI to search through existing databases (potentially including telecommunications metadata showing who a person communicated with and hung out with, as well as some financial information) to find potential snitches. The agent could search those databases with no apparent limits or record. And then the agent could sift through the potential informant’s trash to get the evidence to blackmail him to become an informant.

These rules seem ripe to snare a bunch of totally innocent people in the FBI’s investigative web. And even if it doesn’t, it may well serve to increase the paranoia of average people.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @GoodWifeWriters Just rewatched your last episode. Not as compelling as I had hoped for. Look forward to the next one!
bmaz @sbagen @jadler1969 @rortybomb @onceuponA Thats where Ive always drawn my line. Even if grant stage1, just cannot get past stage2. Finis!
bmaz @sbagen @jadler1969 @rortybomb @onceuponA Agreed, though that is a LOT closer call given SCOTUS makeup. But how the heck get past stage 2??
bmaz @ajbrownies Bye Angela
emptywheel @BernardKingIII Right. Most are saying that. Guy who leaked code word programs, covert officers, plural, for a fuck.
emptywheel @AthertonKD Is there a word for "storify of storifies"?
emptywheel RT @AthertonKD: I have a newsletter Here's the latest, about all 27 storifies I made in the past month-ish http://t.…
bmaz @sbagen @jadler1969 @rortybomb @onceuponA I just think Govt wins on stage1 (inc: "textualism) or, more likely, stage2 Chevron. Rest is bunk.
emptywheel RT @Thomas_Drake1: QOTD: “Snowden wud entertain returning to #US for kind of plea Gen. #Petraeus rec'd," sed his atty .@JesselynRadack htt…
bmaz @sbagen @jadler1969 @rortybomb @onceuponA I can be busted for thinking+saying many collateral progressive arguments disingenuous though.
bmaz @sbagen @jadler1969 @rortybomb @onceuponA Ha! no worries. I am certainly more equivocal than many, but always thought Chevron was stop point
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