The Easy Section 702 Surveillance Number James Clapper Can Share

Last week, a bunch of House Judiciary Committee members set James Clapper a letter stating that before the Committee deals with Section 702 reauthorization next year, they’d like:

  • The number of telephone communications in which one caller is located in the United States
  • The number of Internet communications acquired through upstream collection that originate or terminate in the United States
  • The number of communications of or concerning U.S. persons that the NSA positively identifies as such in the routine course of its work

They asked for those numbers by May 6.

In response, Clapper is humming and hawing about “several options” for disclosing how many Americans get spied on under Section 702.

Clapper said that “any methodology we come up with will not be completely satisfactory to all parties.”

“If we could have made such an estimate and if such an estimate were easy to do — explainable without compromise — we would’ve done it a long time ago,” he said.

We just learned there is, however, one number that should be easy-peasy to make public (and one I’m frankly alarmed the HJC members didn’t mention, as they should have known about it for some time): the number of back door searches FBI conducts on Section 702 data for reasons other than national security.

As I noted the other day, in response to FISC amicus (and former Eric Holder counsel) Amy Jeffress’ argument that FBI’s back door searches of Section 702 are unconstitutional, Thomas Hogan required FBI “submit in writing a report concerning each instance … in which FBI personnel receive and review Section 702-acquired information that the FBI identifies as concerning a United States person in response to a query that is not designed to find and extract foreign intelligence information.” As I noted, that’s an easily gamed number — I’m sure FBI treats a lot of criminal matters as national security ones, and FBI has the ability to see if there is 702 data without looking at it, permitting it to see if the same data is available under another authority.

Nevertheless, DOJ must have an exact number of reports they’ve submitted in response to this reporting requirement, which has been in place for over four months.

That’s not to say HJC shouldn’t insist on getting estimates for all the other numbers they’re seeking. But they should also demand that this number — the number of times FBI is using a foreign intelligence exception for criminal prosecutions that should be subject to a probable cause standard — be made public.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

2 replies
  1. martin says:

    quote”But they should also demand that this number — the number of times FBI is using a foreign intelligence exception for criminal prosecutions that should be subject to a probable cause standard — be made public.”unquote

    Ha. This is EXACTLY what the Intelligence Committee DON’T want exposed. Heads would explode in the DOJ, NSA, FBI, …cause they know it’s unconstitutional. But they WANT this to continue. Hence Hogan’s meh.

    I know one thing. This whole ball of wax is gonna explode one of these days. One way or another. What I don’t understand is..these programs use computers. Computers don’t lie. And they don’t estimate. And they don’t forget. Why is Congress asking for an “estimate”? There should be an EXACT number. Easy.. ALL OF US.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If Mr. Clapper needs to resort to such Rumsfeldian language, the idea that there’s just a single number that accurately answers the question asked of him must be too much for Mr. Clapper. Perhaps he should just use the old standby, 57. Or if he’s feeling more godlike than usual, 42.

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