What Databases Are You Using? We Won’t Tell…

I’ll be in my Scottie McC daze for one more day yet, but I wanted to point those of you with free time to this Ryan Singel post and the collection of documents he’s reporting on. The EFF just got a slew of documents recording the questions the FISA Court asked of the FBI.

Does the FBI track cellphone users’ physical movements without a warrant? Does the Bureau store recordings of innocent Americans caught up in wiretaps in a searchable database? Does the FBI’s wiretap equipment store information like voicemail passwords and bank account numbers without legal authorization to do so?

That’s what the nation’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wanted to know, in a series of secret inquiries in 2005 and 2006 into the bureau’s counterterrorism electronic surveillance efforts, revealed for the first time in newly declassified documents.

I’m most intrigued (though not at all surprised) by this question.

In October 2005, the court also asked the FBI to explain how it stored "raw" foreign-intelligence wiretap content and information about Americans collected during those wiretaps.

The government is supposed to "minimize" — that is anonymize or destroy — information gathered on Americans who aren’t the targets of a wiretap, unless that information is crucial to an investigation.

The court wanted the FBI to explain what databases stored raw wiretaps (.pdf), how those recordings could be accessed, and by whom, as well as how minimization standards were implemented.

The documents don’t reveal the answer to that question. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The question came, of course, just months before the NYT broke the story on the illegal wiretap program. You think maybe there’s a connection?

56 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I read Ryan’s piece earlier today and was expecting you to jump in with both feet.

    You’re getting predictable EW. *g*

    Seriously, Ryan also refer’s to a August 7 2006 FISC order by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the FBI report on whether the PCTDD or ”post-cut-through dialed digits” are captured:

    …and whether it stored them in a centralized data-mining depository known as Telephone Application…

    Numerous Federal Court cases clearly define PCTDD as ”content” and require a separate warrant.

    Examples of what constitutes the PCTDD data include any dialed digits after the completion of the dialed phone number. Stuff like passwords to one’s voicemail account or passwords to one’s financial accounts.

    And the FBI’s anwer?

    The PCTDD info does indeed get captured (much to the FBI Techies amazement since the wiretapping system software’s default setting says not to capture, but it still does), but does not get passed to the TA database.

    How-fookin’-ever, the FBI’s own document also says this:

    Since OTD only acquires the information and passes it along, and since the determination on whether one set of PCTDDs is content and not addressing, routing, dialing or signaling can only be made at the field office or analyst level, there really is nothing technologically speaking that can be done to ensure that content determined PCTDD is not used for investigative purposes.

    Basically, the FBI is saying that they can’t prevent the technology used to identify who called where from also providing “illegal” content of the call, and further, said content is then actively used for investigative purposes.

  2. Mary says:

    What has been reported is that both Lamberth when he was Chief Judge, then Kollar-Kotelly as his successor, were briefed on ‘teh program’ and that both believed it to be unconstituional and/or violative of law – to the point where both required specific firewalls to not only prevent the illegally obtained information from tainting the process but also to screen out applications involving those who had been surveilled under the illegal process and funnel those appliations to only the Chief Judges for handling.

    We also know that generally the AG, DAG and/or FBI director need to “sign off” on applications. And there were reports of FISC actions in 2000 in response to incorrect representations to the court about matters such as targets also being targets of criminal investigations etc. that supposedly resulted in FISC taking some very strong actions, including barring individuals who fibbed to them from appearing before the Court. Fragos-Townsend might have been one of those so barred (and if so I’d like to know what happened with her license to practice)

    We also know from Lichtblau that Thompson became afraid of signing off on FISA applications and refused. This is someone who signed on for the torture trip to GITMO and willingly signed off on the paperwork that disappeared Arar into Syrian torture – so I tend to believe that his refusal was linked to concern for his own career and what the Court might do to him when they found out the after the 2000 fiasco, and despite the careful firewalls demanded by the Judges, DOJ/FBI were violating those firewalls.

    I still stick with the theory that the reason Comey and Goldsmith got motivated isn’t so much their worry over trying to put a less unconstitutional, less illegal, less domestically invasive program in place – but rather their knowledge that Baker had advised the Chief Judge of the firewall breaches and she was threatening to take scalps and they wanted to save their own. I think the fact that once Lamberth started to mention a few things, he made direct reference to the fact that the Court wasn’t afraid to go after someone who lied to it, is circumstantially supportive of that theory too.

    But whether you buy that or not, FISC had experience with the 2000 debacle and numerous lies misrepresentations being made to the Court by the agents and lawyers involved and by the time of the “palace revolt” FISC seems to have twice been through incidents where a program the Chief Judges believed to be illegal and demanded be handled with firewalls, was being operated with no oversight and the firewalls had been breached.

    So I’m guessing that, in addition to the reports that Kollar-Kotelly was going to hold Ashcroft’s and Mueller’s feet to the fire and make them look at perjury penalty issues for further breaches, the Chief Judge also got a little more concerned about what OTHER violations, in general, were going on while Congress sat back and allowed a free for all with no oversight.

    And things that were easy to do (like get the location information without warrant off cell signals, or not purge files of US citizen information to minimize) with no oversight were probably first on her list of things to pin down FBI about. Of course, FBI and NSA and WH are all different entities, so just getting info from FBI on what they did on minimization wouldn’t paint the picture of what NSA was doing with their illegally obtained info.

    And we know that

    • MadDog says:

      Of course, FBI and NSA and WH are all different entities, so just getting info from FBI on what they did on minimization wouldn’t paint the picture of what NSA was doing with their illegally obtained info.

      And to me, this is a very key point! That the FISC was all hot and bothered by what the FBI was doing has got to be just a wee single snowflake on the tip of a monstrous iceberg.

      We can only imagine what the FISC reactions might be to the ongoing massive warrantless capture by the NSA of gazillions of email messages, phone calls, Internet access of millions of Americans as documented in Hepting v. AT&T.

    • Leen says:

      “breaching firewalls” “saving their own scalps” congress allowing “a free for all”

      Don’t have to look very far to find very serious reasons why the American people feel little hope and have very little faith in our congress or Justice system.

  3. MadDog says:

    For those who are reading the EFF pdfs that EW links to in Ryan’s post, here are some techie acronym definitions of the FBI systems and technology to help your perusal/analysis:

    DCS 3000/DCS 5000/DSC 6000 – From the EFF:

    DCS-3000 was developed in the wake of “Carnivore” or DCS-1000, a controversial surveillance system the FBI used several years ago to monitor online traffic through Internet service providers. One Department of Justice report said DCS-3000 was created to “to intercept personal communications services delivered via emerging digital technologies used by wireless carriers.”

    And from Wired, there’s this:

    DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.

    Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.

    The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information — primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone — but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)

    DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.

    A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists.

    EDMS – Electronic Surveillance Data Management System – refer to this link which provides this definition:

    Because of the inefficiency and imprecision of its workload survey process, the Language Services Section is working with the FBI’s Information Technology Division on the development of a nationally integrated statistical collection and reporting system known as the Electronic Surveillance Data Management System (EDMS). According to the FBI, EDMS ultimately will be the presentation/reviewing system for all FISA digital data collected and will be able to monitor all information for potential backlog and duration of backlog.

    DWS – Data Warehouse System – A further delineation of this can be found at this link which describes DWS currently as a separate database, but will become a component of “Next Generation Electronic Data Management System (EDMS)/Data Warehouse System (DWS) System II (EDII.”

  4. FrankProbst says:

    I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that this Administration keeps MY e-mails forever (which is illegal), even though they have no trouble erasing any of THEIR OWN e-mails (which is also illegal). This would strain the nearly-inexhaustible powers of the Irony Fairy, had she not already died from a massive stroke several years ago.

    • klynn says:

      That’s where the WH gets their damn pixie dust…the Irony Fairy.

      Jeez, I’ve been trying to figure that out since EW’s first Pixie Dust post…

      (For the record, Pixie Dust is having a profound impact on my writing…that was the first damn (oops now second) I’ve ever included in any of my writing.)

      Madness, madness, madness…

      A great collection of posts EW. Connection? Definitely.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    That picture of the boat brig for terra detainees, like Gitmo, FBIaccessible only with layered permissions, as Fine observed in the OIG May 2008 report basically because it is DoD turf, reminded of the P3 vacuums of cellphones and probability some of those boats deployed during the noFly week after the terra incident, to vacuum airborne data as well. Then there are the mirror nodes, which are more numerous than the one Hepting documents, for fiber transported datastreams.

  6. greenbird4751 says:

    what is the keyboard equivalent of the emoticon for a great, big, sloppy, fervent and genuinely adoring kiss?
    these posts are almost making unemployment w/o income bearable.

  7. joejoejoe says:

    I’m trying to figure out what CDC means in the PDF and I think it means “Chief Division Counsel” not “Center for Disease Control”.

    • MadDog says:

      Based on a quick Google search, you’re very likely correct. “Chief Division Counsel” is apparently a standard title and position in FBI Field Offices.

  8. joejoejoe says:

    My Google monkeys found this related USDOJ IG report from July 2005:

    [pg 30/54 in PDF] Storage Capacity of Digital Collection Systems

    As we described in our July 2004 report, because the FBI field offices’ digital collection systems have limited storage capacity, audio sessions resident on a system are sometimes deleted through an automatic file deletion procedure to make room for incoming audio sessions. Although these sessions are archived, it is difficult for the FBI to determine, once these sessions have been deleted and archived, whether they have been reviewed. We found that sessions are automatically deleted in a set order, and unreviewed sessions are sometimes included in the material deleted, especially in offices with a high volume of audio to review.

    We reported in July 2004 that the FBI had not established necessary controls to prevent critical audio material from being automatically deleted, such as protecting sessions of the highest priority on digital collection systems’ active on-line storage until linguists reviewed them. Also, in our July 2004 audit we reported that the results of our tests showed that three of eight offices tested had Al Qaeda sessions that potentially were deleted by the system before linguists had reviewed them. We recommended that the FBI establish necessary controls to prevent critical audio material from being deleted.

    During our follow-up review this year, we tested data for eight offices to determine if unreviewed translation material was still being deleted. The results of our testing showed that no unreviewed counterterrorism or Al Qaeda sessions had been deleted at the eight offices. However, unreviewed counterintelligence material had been deleted and archived at six of the eight offices.

    I wonder if some of the secrecy here relates to having massive collection capacity but crappy storage capacity and procedures. As of July ‘05, 75% of FBI offices were deleting unreviewed counter-intelligence material — a point the FISA court might have found relevant when determining the urgency of some of these taps. Suck up the data…only to delete it? Maybe covering for incompetence is part of the story here.

  9. perris says:

    Does the FBI’s wiretap equipment store information like voicemail passwords and bank account numbers without legal authorization to do so?

    I have been saying for quite some time, the reason they want this ability without oversite is so nobody can see what they are stealing and who they are stealing it from

    it’s clear as day

  10. joejoejoe says:

    I think “NY Tech Cut Database” refers to transcriptions of surveillance. Here’s an explanation of “tech cuts” from a ruling in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. SAMI AMIN AL-ARIAN, SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH, GHASSAN ZAYED BALLUT, HATIM NAJI FARIZ:

    Defendant claims that two documents regarding the conversation alleged in Overt Act 239, one of which is an English-language summary of a conversation (commonly referred to as a “tech cut”) and one of which appears to be a substantially verbatim transcript of the same conversation, demonstrate his necessity to have all prior translations. However, what defendant is identifying as a material difference in content is really just the difference in function between a transcript and an interpretive summary of a conversation.

    The primary purpose of a verbatim transcript is to provide the reader with the particular words that were spoken by the participants to the conversation. Some background or interpretation may be included but, for the most part, it just translates word-for-word what was said. In contrast, the purpose of a “tech cut” summary is to outline the general substance of the conversation and explain what it means in context of the investigation, so that the investigating agent can determine if the call should be logged as relevant to the case. A translator preparing a “tech cut” summary will use his knowledge of prior calls, intonation, and other additional information to explain meaning of the call in context. These types of differences do not make a “tech cut” summary more or less “benign” or “incriminatory” than a verbatim transcript, but merely reflect a difference in purpose.

    The defendant’s example illustrates this point clearly. The “tech cut” summary of Overt Act 239 incorporates information from Overt Act 238, a prior call between Hatim Naji Fariz and Ghassan Ballut in which they discuss a suicide bombing in Haifa that occurred on the previous day. The translator who prepared the “tech cut” summary used his knowledge of the conversation alleged in Overt Act 238 to interpret the “world news” identified in the transcript of Overt Act 239 as the news of the Haifa suicide bombing. The transcript shows defendant and Fariz discussing the news, while the “tech cut” further interprets the defendants’ language and tone as sarcasm. Properly viewed with consideration of their distinct purposes, the “tech cut” summary and the transcript do not contain any material differences, but rather are entirely consistent with each other. Thus, defendant cannot rely on these or any other similar instances to support his overly expansive view of the Brady materiality standard.

  11. posaune says:

    OT, sorry. can’t help it.

    bmaz and other tax law sleuths:
    know anything about this?

    U.S. Congress recently passed The Heroes Earning Assistance and
    Relief Tax Act of 2008 (H.R. 6081), which provides tax benefits for
    military personnel. The President is expected to sign this bill into
    law very soon.

    To help cover the costs of these benefits, the bill includes
    provisions that would tighten the tax rules for U.S. citizens and
    long-term permanent residents who expatriate. The key provisions
    impacting expatriating citizens and residents include (1) a mark-to-
    market obligation on property held by the expatriating individual,
    (2) a 30% withholding tax for certain deferred compensation items
    and foreign trust distributions paid to covered expatriates and (3)
    a transfer tax on certain gifts or bequests to U.S. citizens or
    residents from a covered expatriate.

  12. PJEvans says:

    what defendant is identifying as a material difference in content is really just the difference in function between a transcript and an interpretive summary of a conversation

    How can they say they’re the same, if one is an ‘interpretive summary’ and one is a transcript? Those are different beasts in my view. I’d bet on them making up some of the stuff, just to make their bosses happy.

  13. masaccio says:


    Noon in Guangzhou. Warm and muggy, but our host here says at least it is 15 degrees cooler than last week. I seem to be able to post on this site, and read it and the mothership. I cannot get Balkinization, or Atrios, which are blogspot domains, or Inside Iraq, a typepad blog, confirming EWs statement that these domains are blocked. I can access google mail and my normal mail site.

    The internet at my hotel is lightening fast. I’d say it’s loading a page of this site about 20% faster than on my home DSL or my office T-1 line.

    We are staying in a university district, and it is very beautiful, lots of parks and trees, and a view of the mountains, which are roughly north and west.

    • PetePierce says:

      I hope you’ll post your China pictures on some site. I imagine you’re googling etc. search engining is restricted. Not too long ago MSFT was reporting the msn searches of Chinese citizens, and for some of them that could have meant death. Other search engines were doing the same thing. I disagreed strongly with this practice.

    • MarieRoget says:

      This sounds like a lovely spot, masaccio. Have a wonderful time & plz do post some pix if you are able. Just consulted Kiwi, the globe trotting sig other, who’s been to Guangzhou. Said besides the amazing natural beauty of the area, there are several exquisite temples there- didn’t look them up myself, but there’s the Chen Family Temple, as well as Temple of the 6 Banyan Trees.
      He also pointed out that any net connect from a hotel or business can be assumed to be both filtered & monitored (sometimes a bit quirkily depending on location) so there’s a chance those pix may or may not have to wait until you get out of China.

    • emptywheel says:

      While in Guangzhou you should pass by the Pearl hotel, to see all the happy Americans bringing home their new babies. I actually stayed in a Best Western or something–it’s the hotel all the Frenchies stay in before they bring home their new babies. It was very very surreal to see all these proper Parisians trying to teach young baby girls, used only to eating rice porridge, how to eat Yogurt like a proper French toddler.

  14. bmaz says:

    In the rich tradition of Wolfowitz and Bremer, Bush to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Larry Silberman; I guess for all his fine work training up the fine legal scholar torture criminal John Yoo.

  15. kspena says:

    Here’s a little description of Scottie’s friend on his victory lap in Europe…

    “Not a tear was shed, nor a cheer raised. Not even the protesters have bothered to turn out as President Bush has wound his way around Europe on the final visit of his two-term occupancy of the White House. Instead, he has come almost like an anonymous diplomat to hold talks in private, say a few words to the cameras and –unless the UK has something very unexpected up its sleeve this weekend – to depart almost unrecognised, and certainly unacclaimed.

    “There’s a fanciful version of this event, spun by the commentators in Washington and followed even by some here, which says the very anonymity of Bush’s visit is a tribute to the success of the relationship he has now developed with Europe. Where in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, relations were fraught and loud, now Bush and Europe are pretty comfortable with each other. The EU’s three main leaders – Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy – are all positively pro-American. Even Iran does not divide them.

    “Well, this may be the gloss which diplomats wish you to believe. But it’s the opposite of reality. The silence that has accompanied Bush’s final foreign tours is the silence of failure, not the quiet of accomplishment…”

    more of The Strange Legacy of President Bush in Thursday’s The Independent


  16. masaccio says:

    EW and MarieRoget, I hope to visit both tomorrow, weather permitting. The forecast per weatherbug is “tons of rain”. I expect that’s one of those techie terms.

    The internet is indeed quirky. This morning it was really fast, now its slow. And, some of the ads are in Chinese. I’ll click through a couple of those, that ought to confuse anyone watching.

  17. MadDog says:

    OT – Breaking News Per Scotusblog:

    SCOTUS rules 5-4 that GITMO prisoners can pursue Habeas challengs. In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights.

    • martha says:

      Oh thank heavens. I remember when he was nominated–I lived in Sacramento at the time. I remember reading all the local media about him and his background. My instincts were that although he was much more conservative than I, but he seemed…reasonable. Can’t explain it, but he didn’t scare me like the others.

  18. MadDog says:

    From the syllabus in Justice Kennedy’s opinion:

    The Nation’s basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say “what the law is.”

  19. JThomason says:

    First Articles of Impeachment now Boumediene, a good start to bringing some accountability into the picture.

  20. 4jkb4ia says:

    In light of decisions like this it should be shouted from the rooftops that McCain is willing to adopt the entire Bush legal philosophy to get elected. The Democratic majority in the Senate will be comfortable enough to prevent the worst people from being appointed to the Court. But we may get another one or two Robertses, or a Latino Clarence Thomas if such a person exists.

    • MarieRoget says:

      This is where the MSM could do us all a service by asking McCain about this highly important SCOTUS decision.
      Who am I kidding.

      Have to drive in to the office now. Justice Kennedy will be receiving an email attaboy later when I’ve got time to properly compose one for not giving in to whatever Roberts’ arm twisting or other “persuasion” was no doubt used on him.

      Read you all later.

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