Yet More Cell Phones IDed in Program that Purportedly Doesn’t Get Cell Phones

For another purpose, I’m reviewing Robert Mueller’s declaration in support of the government’s report to the FISA Court in 2009, attempting to get full phone dragnet privileges turned back on. (starting on PDF 91)

As part of it, Mueller provides narratives about 4 FBI investigations that became full investigations as a result of phone dragnet data.

One of those (the first, starting on PDF 102) is Basaaly Moalin. As I’ve already noted, that involved the connection of at least one and almost certainly two T-Mobile cell phone users to a phone used by Somali warlord Aden Ayro.

While the declaration’s redaction on this point is inconsistent, it does confirm cell phones were involved in the chain between Ayro and Moalin (and may suggest Moalin was identified on a 3rd degree connection, not 2nd as court documents had seemed to imply).

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But the description of another case, ultimately involving a selector who got killed off, involved another cell phone.


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Of course, in this case, the newly identified cell phone could be an AT&T cell, and there seems to be no claim that those aren’t collected under the phone dragnet.

Altogether, unredacted sections of Mueller’s narrative mention cell phones 6 times, and a number of the redactions appear likely to hide others. A number of those, mind you, are probably foreign cells, which were likely collected under EO 12333. But given that 12333 data was mixed with (and, indeed, indistinguishable from to the NSA at that point) Section 215 data, claims the database couldn’t accept cell data seem clearly wrong.

Still, given all the credulous claims that the phone dragnet has not been collecting cell data, it seems rather relevant that FBI’s own discussions of the phone dragnet successes involve so many cell phones.

5 replies
  1. Snoopdido says:

    On a related NSA subject, I noticed your tweet of regarding the posting over at Lawfare of the National Security Agency, Civil Liberties and Privacy Office’s report on “NSA’s Implementation of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Section 702” (
    Though as you state that it is less honest than what Raj De acknowledged back in November, I did find some things that struck me.
    One thing in particular that got my attention was the sentence that stated this:
    “Additionally, NSA’s procedures prohibit NSA from querying Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers.”
    Why? Why would the NSA prohibit this when the NSA was given permission to query with U.S. persons identifiers via 702’s Prism, and furthermore, why would they make the point of stating so?
    After thinking about it, the following thoughts occurred to me:
    1. Any query with U.S. persons identifiers via 702’s Upstream collection is highly likely to return all kinds of non-foreign intelligence content and information from all kinds of U.S. persons since the NSA Upstream collection is capturing ALL the data that flows on and through the NSA Upstream collection points.
    There is no discrimination whatsoever. Everything flowing by is grabbed, and of course that includes masses of non-foreign intelligence content and information from all kinds of U.S. persons such as logins/passwords, credit card and pin information, websites accessed, etc.
    2. Secondly, I think one of the reasons that the NSA “now” prohibits querying Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers is because it is likely that there was significant violations of US law in previous years where the NSA (and other “multiple federal agencies [that] participate in Section 702 collection”) did in fact permit this querying of Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers.
    There had to be a reason for the NSA to state that they prohibit querying Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers, and I can’t think of any other logical reason for this statement other than they and their partners in crime once, probably repeatedly, broke a lot of US laws doing that style of querying of US persons.

  2. emptywheel says:

    Actually, Bates included that in his 10/3/11 order, so they can’t do that.

    But I think they willingly gave it up for other reasons. I think they search upstream primarily to get metadata that they then give to the Internet companies to collect the rest of the content. So I think they basically get and use it much more quickly in any case.

    • Snoopdido says:

      The issue underlying that Bates prohibition of querying US person identifiers on the NSA Upstream collection may have more to it than meets the eye in his order.
      Take that statement in the NSA report of:
      “Although multiple federal agencies participate in Section 702 collection, this paper describes the process by which NSA obtains, uses, shares, and retains communications of foreign intelligence value pursuant to Section 702. ”
      Remember, this report only describes the NSA’s activities.
      I can easily imagine an agency like Treasury or the IRS using a US person identifier on the Upstream collection to query about that little transfer of non-reported income to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, and then using that longstanding federal government tactic of “parallel construction” to go after the tax dodger.
      I just wonder if Bates, and the other FISC judges, are too narrowly focused on just the activities of the NSA and FBI while other “multiple federal agencies” get a Upstream collection free pass.
      Again, it feels like that NSA sentence on the prohibition for querying Upstream data with U.S. person identifiers is almost a non-sequitur given that it is tagged on to the end of a paragraph regarding 702 US person minimization procedures.
      It just seems really out of place and without any explanation.

  3. abbadabba says:

    I’m not dead, Gummie, the Milgrams at the Intercept must have me on auto-dump.
    Thanks for the memories, Worlitzer. I’m a frequent Intercpetor, simply gagged and bound up the way the Milgrams prefer me. GCHQ is unlikely here, this is homegrown liberty trampling. Way to become your adversaries, Intercept evesdopers.

  4. abbadabba says:

    Gummie, I did appreciate you knowing I’m all over that Tabloid hackery scandal as that hacking and GCHQ’s are one and the same. Did not GCHQ provide Brooks’ wiped BlackBerry with less than fresh Tempora? Why is the PM’s email naked? Past its smellby date? Went meta on their late arses?

    I’m still disgusted the BBC would hire James Harding to run their show when HE let a judge be LIED to about a staffer committing same hacking crime with his lies for coverage. Do all Murdoch’s silks go to lying school?

    So sorry to jack your ride, Marcy, but I’m dealing with Milgrams at the Intercept.

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