More Irregularities with the Andrew McCabe Notes: Bleg for Graphic Design Analysis

The Andrew McCabe notes just certified on Monday as a regular FBI document have at least four and, I think, more irregularities. This kind of graphic analysis is not my forté, so I’m going to just post what I think the irregularities are, and invite some people who are better at this to test my hypotheses.

Here’s an annotated version of the McCabe notes (here’s the original). Below, I’ll describe what I think I’m seeing.

A: The left-hand rule of the notebook at the top of the page appears not to line up with the left-hand rule at the bottom of the page. To be sure, I’ve just sketched this up, and it’s the observation I’m the least confident in, so please check my work. [Note: This may arise from copying the notebook.] Update: a reader has convinced me I’m wrong about this — see below.

B: There’s a non-horizontal line drawn to the margin to the left of where the first big redaction begins. Below it, the horizontal page rules don’t appear for about nine lines.

C: As noted here, the footer reading, “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” has been redacted. It would be restored in the re-altered version authenticated on Monday.

D: As DOJ has now admitted, someone — and DOJ has not told Judge Emmet Sullivan what government agent it was — added a date. DOJ claimed this was done with a clear sticky with a blue tab, but there’s no sign of the blue tab. Moreover, when the document was re-altered to remove the date, that was accomplished by digitally whiting it out (not the technical term!), leaving a clean white rectangle with no rules.

E: This document has no declassification stamp. The larger redaction here, by topic, must hide notes from a prep session for the World Wide Global Threats hearing that would be held on May 11, 2017. It is, by definition, classified (indeed, that’s presumably the claimed reason for the redaction). And yet there is no declassification stamp for the document. The Peter Strzok notes released in the same batch have declassification stamps dated September 17 and 21.

This document got released after a dispute between McCabe and the FBI about whether he can access his own notes. After the Senate Judiciary Committee promised Andrew McCabe he could review his notes before testifying before the committee in early September, and after McCabe’s lawyer Michael Bromwich engaged in what he believed to be a good faith discussion about obtaining those documents on September 15, on September 16, FBI told the Committee that the request was “unmanageably voluminous;” the Committee passed that determination onto McCabe’s team. On September 18, McCabe’s lawyers worked with FBI’s OGC to narrow the request. One thing FBI lawyers were balking at, categorically, was providing McCabe’s calendars. In addition, they complained that if McCabe reviewed his own notes, he would have access to material beyond Crossfire Hurricane materials (as this page has). On September 23 — the day this document was provided to Flynn’s lawyers by DOJ, according to discovery correspondence — FBI for the first time raised a categorical objection, stating that, the FBI “has a policy of generally not providing documents to former employees and does not see a basis to make an exception to that policy under these circumstances.”

If McCabe had access to his own notes and calendar, he would be able to tell whether this document has been altered beyond the date addition. On the day DOJ sent it out, they decided that McCabe could not be provided access to any of his own notes or calendars so he could provide accurate testimony to Congress.

Update: I have a request for comment from FBI’s press office regarding the lack of a declassification stamp.

Update: FBI referred me to DOJ to ask them why FBI’s EAD certified a declassified document that lacked a declassification stamp.

Update: I have asked the Senate Judiciary Committee (which was supposed to have had McCabe testify earlier this month) for their copy of this set of McCabe notes, to see if we can make sense of the document. I am awaiting a response.

Update: A reader with expertise in the area provides these notes anonymously:

A. yes, the tilt with the line (to the left) at top left, normally would be compensated for with less visible binder rings at bottom right. (to which there is more showing) so its backwards.

B. Yes, agree. The line looks like it was hand drawn. And if you zoom in at 400% in the middle of the red box B) you can see an additional line, very faint. Whited out some way.

C. if you zoom in at 400% at the redaction box, it may have been redacted twice. There are two corners at top left, that are not lined up and same issue at lower right. If they were, it would look like one, clean cornered box.

D. the lines on each side of the date are fainter and in the same distance from each other implying that there was some kind of clear sticker put on top with a handwritten date in the center. When scanning light bounces off the sides of any clear plastic tab, mylar etc. and reflects and fades out whatever is next to it.

E. No opinion.

Other observations:

If you zoom in at 400% in between each of the 3 lines at the lower left (just above the redaction box) there are other faint lines, which make no sense.

At the 3 lines above the handwritten text “possible”, it looks like there was some handwritten text there before, the dot patterns resemble writing that was there once upon a time. Can’t prove it. I don’t have iText redaction software to see if that would show editing (it may be capable or may not), but the scanner would also have to have extra dirt on that area, and doesn’t have the same intensity of dot/dirt scatter as the rest of the white spaces on the rest of the page. Same issue under the 3-6 lines under the text “not the strongest”.

Update: A different reader, who also asks to remain anonymous, sends this screencap of the document pulled into Photoshop and darkened, which (the person explains) can show things that aren’t otherwise readily apparent. The person added a ruler which, I think, shows I’m wrong about the left margin. I’ve crossed out that observation above accordingly.

32 replies
    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      No. Accepting anything other than the originals is a convenience, which relies on a presumption of regularity in the government handling its documents. This series of troublesome revelations about potential DoJ mishandling and alteration of documents is likely to make Sullivan demand the originals.

      Further proceedings that straddle the election and what are likely to be a long wait for final results, would delay resolution of this case until close to January 20th. That’s fish or cut bait time for Donny.

      In a flurry of activity after he loses, Trump is likely to invent a whirlwind of pardons and commutations (the latter can only be issued after sentence is imposed). One reason for the whirlwind would be to obscure the most controversial pardons, including of Trump’s family. But no number of pardons could obscure Trump’s attempt to pardon himself.

  1. Fraud Guy says:

    25 years ago, skillful photocopies were an excellent way to hide and enhance what you wanted seen and not seen. Today, there are even more tools available.

  2. Cborg says:

    If you load up both altered and re-altered in photoshop, do basic alignment and do a diff using layer modes, you can see these two documents are exact match other than the places where you pointed out the changes. So this was digitally altered.

  3. Alan Charbonneau says:

    “B : There’s a non-horizontal line drawn to the margin to the left of where the first big redaction begins.”

    I know everyone is saying digital alterations were made, but the non-horizontal line suggests to me to be a piece of paper, like a sticky, was placed there before photocopying. The line is not only non-horizontal, it is much thicker/darker than the other lines, suggesting the edge of a piece of paper was showing up in a copy. I don’t see how a digital edit would cause the line to appear. It can’t be a continuation of the horizontal page rules as a straight line doesn’t come close to matching the distance from the top, even if the line were perfectly horizontal.

  4. Jim Wood says:

    Regarding Point D. I was wondering what would explain the following “when the document was re-altered to remove the date, that was accomplished by digitally whiting it out (not the technical term!), leaving a clean white rectangle with no rules.” Why not simply peel off the sticky note? One possibility is that they no longer had the original document. A second possibility is that they had the original, but there was another date written on it underneath the sticky note, and someone at DOJ wanted to hide the date on the original. Why would they want to hide that date? Because it would contradict the story that the sticky note was placed there by some diligent investigator who was simply trying to keep track of the date of the document: If there was already a date written on the document, there would be no need to add such a sticky note. In fact, if the date on the original document is different than the date on the sticky note, this would be smoking gun evidence of an intent to falsify. Marcie or bmaz, I am just trying to be helpful and my idea here may overlook something obvious. If so, please feel free to delete it.

    • subtropolis says:

      I see no evidence of a sticky note. It looks to me as though the date is written on the original document.

      • BeingThere says:

        If a copy of the original scanned document has been printed out, then some stickies/scribbles added to that, then re-scanned, there’s an extra layer of mischief possible..

        Noting also that the top and bottom of this notebook page are missing. If the author made date/time/initials/signature notes at top/bottom of page (per usual research/laboratory/engineering notebook etiquette) those seem conspicuously absent.

  5. DLup says:

    Are the faint lines at C that the reader with expertise notes possibly the lines of the page in the notebook below this one bleeding through in the photocopy?

    • P J Evans says:

      As this is a left-hand page in a notebook, I’d guess show-through from the previous page, particularly for the stuff noted in the reader’s last paragraph. (The more liquid inks tend to do this, especially on lower-quality paper. Ball-point ink not so much.)

      • P J Evans says:

        I had a piece of dark paper (red construction paper works for this) that I’d put behind the page so show-through wasn’t a problem.

  6. Silly but True says:

    I’m curious about the fine details of the “standard agency declass process” when documents have been categorically declassified by Presidential tweet? If I were the stamping authority, rule of CYA says you wouldn’t put your or agency name to that decision made above you/your agency. Maybe they’re still waiting for White House to distribute the standard “Declassified by Presidential Tweet” stamp?

    Silly but True

  7. JAFive says:

    B seems the most important here:
    -There are random dots in the area
    -Particularly in the darkened image, I think I can discern a partial outline of what would have been two of the lines.

    So it seems most likely that something was placed there? And perhaps the non-parallel line at the top is actually the result of that object?

  8. John Paul Jones says:

    The vertical line at B extends below the boxed area, so it might be show-through from the other side of the page. When you darken an image in Photoshop, it brings out lots of stuff that is recorded by the scan (or by the camera if you’re working with slides or negatives) but which “normal” exposure hides. That said, the white box at B, with its apparently hand-drawn attempt at concealment, is the strangest part of this. If the margin line from the obverse is showing through, why isn’t anything else, i.e., whatever the box was hiding?

  9. elise says:

    Judge Sullivan, it would be great for you to be able to cite some/any/all of marcy’s efforts since the DOJ submission is emphatically laughable.
    what we used to refer to as typos are now MO for sand in our eyes: what was there is no longer there, and neither is There.

  10. MinnesotaFaqs says:

    I question the redaction of the text below the Flynn notes and above the date. Clearly, the word “everything” was crossed out (probably by McCabe), after the word “Closed:” (which likely referred to the Flynn investigation) and a line was drawn from this edit down to the text below to amplify on the reason for the crossout. This redacted text likely gives a reason for why the Flynn investigation was NOT closed and what kind of investigation it was. It might even contain McCabe’s suspicion that other presidential advisors, and maybe even the president himself, was involved in Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador. If I were Judge Sullivan, I would want to know what this redacted text said, and whether it conflicted with other testimony that DOJ presented.

  11. CD54 says:

    Deja vu?

    Didn’t the Bushies routinely do this kind of generalized bad faith representation except as soon as they got caught they would just say, “Never mind.”– and incur no consequences whatsoever?

    • Rugger9 says:

      Indeed, it was a favorite Bushie ploy along with selective memory gaps. Those techniques were brought forward from Reagan/Bush along with the concept of “plausible deniability” which also continues to this day.

      Sort of OT, but I’m hoping that someone will push back on the (still unlawful) “Acting HHS Secretary” Chad Wolf on one of his actions by pointing out he has no authority to order anyone around. Even if he was nominated for the permanent job, the Senate still has not confirmed him and won’t until after the election.

  12. ducktree says:

    I’m having a bad flashback (is there any other kind?) to Dan Rather’s e-mail … pdf or Xerox. ima fwow up!

  13. BeingThere says:

    Note that redaction ‘C and the text “DOJSCO – 700023502” are the only parts of the ‘original’ document to reach a consistent saturated colour level, where the black is 00,00,00 (in R,G,B) without variation. The rest of the document the blacks are varying shades because of previous printing (inkjet printer because of horizontal banding), then re-scanning.
    So whoever made the edits for C and placed the text “DOJSCO – 700023502” did not start with an original scanned copy of the book, but a copy that was a scan of the original, then digitally redacted, then printed, then re-scanned. (at a minimum of steps).
    The edits for the ‘C’ redaction and text stamp (“DOJSCO – 700023502”) are both added after this re-scanning. Note also that the document image has remained digital after this point, though it has been re-sized/sampled or format changed somewhere after that last edit for ‘C’ and the text stamp, which resulted in edge artefacts on the text and redaction rectangles _without_ losing the saturated black level in the box and text.
    The blue text at the top has been added digitally to the scanned copy of the printed copy of a scan of the original notebook, and has subsequently been re-sampled digitally – hence the non-uniform, non-saturated color, but with clean rectangularly aligned edges.

    There’s also a small dark redaction rectangle (looks like a large fat ‘I’ ) to the lower right of the large blacked out redaction adjacent to the ‘B’ region. It may be a redaction typo, or covering a small marking on the page.

    The line drawn to the left of the page across the left margin from top left corner of the first large blacked-out redaction (in the top of ‘B’ region) is not parallel to the page lines. It is consistently lighter ink than, or feinter contrast than, the original writing. Possibly scanned through semi-transparent sticky notes, or a different pen. It could be captured from a scan of the original notebook, or from writing on a scan of the printed copy of the original scan (hence lighter contrast than the printer ink).

    • BeingThere says:

      A couple other notes to your Anon’s:
      Considering the document looks to have been through the following steps: scanned (possibly with some stickies or hand edits), digitally redacted, printed (hence banding artefacts in image), printed out, possibly edited/stickies attached to printout, scanned again, digitally edited for further redactions and DOJ text and blue text?, digitally reformatted/edited (blue text artefacts), published

      Scanning software/drivers often correct for original document rotation in a couple of ways, one being image straightening, which applies various re-sampling filters (varies by scanner/printer company and software). another does simple image shear correction, which keeps vertical edges vertical though won’t correct document rotation (horizontal lines will slope).

      Also wondering if we have access to the preceding or following pages. Those dots and marks who Anon has also observed if bleed-thought from a previous page, may be visible there. That might allow image registration between the two page sides (remember to undo the two passes of scan software shear/alignment ‘correction’ before registering). If so we may also get a clue to the redacted regions from text bleed-through on those ‘other-side’ scans. Anon’s suggested iText redaction software approach on that, or a combination of both page sides, may be enlightening….

      • BeingThere says:

        My apologies for spamming this post and others – pre 2016 never imagined work in image analysis and processing would be so fundamental to democracy

        • Rayne says:

          Oh no, you’re definitely not spamming. In fact your comments jogged another thought about content which could be on the original but not appear on the image(s) we’ve seen.

          I used non-photo blue pencils for markup which didn’t reproduce when photocopied. This can appear in some scanned images but it can also be screened out. As long as we are looking at an unknown version of a document, we can’t rule out there is other content on the page which may have been blue but eliminated with changes in channel (ex. blue to red) and to greyscale.

          Add the missing top and bottom of the notebook page and there’s a possibility a considerable amount of content isn’t visible to us.

          Sullivan needs to see the entire original document, IMO.

          Thanks for your helpful observations.

        • emptywheel says:

          Echoing Rayne those are tremendously helpful. They jive with what the reader who pulled out the original scan from the PDF. What appears to normally happen is 1) scan [FBI] 2) add footers [DOJ] 3) submit to docket [Court]. But as you note, the McCabe file and to a lesser degree the others appear to involve several more passes.

  14. vvv says:

    Everything and anything *can* have a chain of custody (CoC), but if it does it might not have a documented or unbroken CoC.

    Also, defining *what* has the CoC is part of the analysis.

    For example, the CoC of the copy does not necessarily address the accuracy of the original document, or intermediate copies, nor their respective CoC’s. The document might, for example and as herein, have been altered.

    And what you term “evidence docs” are, like all evidence, subject to a weight analysis, *i.e.*, the value given the alleged evidence, *ex.*, “strong” or ‘weak”, *etc.*

    In evaluating the strength of the evidence of what was *originally written*, an un-altered original document with an un-questioned CoC would be the best evidence.

    But if the issue is about the alterations, then you would want to know the CoC of that altered document, and the strength issue might include what the alterations themselves purport to say (*ex.*, as here, the date) as well as who made them (*ex.*, the original writer, a reviewer attempting to “aid” other reviewers) and when (*ex.*, on the date written or not) and how (*ex.”, ink or sticky note) and perhaps why (*ex.*, to assist or explain or mislead).

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