Threat Level Orange! Election Week Plot!

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-5-01-51-pmThis morning, CBS published a story attributed to senior producer Pat Milton, who has done a lot of FBI-based stories (and co-produced fawning 60 Minutes interviews with John Brennan and Jim Comey), reporting on a possible terrorist attack. The story described the threat with specific detail — scheduled for Monday, in maybe NY, TX, or VA — but even while explicitly stating that “its credibility hasn’t been confirmed.”

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday.

It is believed New York, Texas and Virginia are all possible targets, though no specific locations are mentioned.

U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

The version published at 7:43 AM (and screen captured to the right) clearly attributed the story to a senior FBI official. (I’ve bolded the differences.)

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

The version published at 12:52 rewrote that paragraph, obscuring that FBI was the source.

While we do not comment on intelligence matters, we will say the counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News. “The FBI and DHS, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, share and assess intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.

This story, leaked by a senior FBI official who “doesn’t comment on intelligence matters” but nevertheless did just that, comes at the end of the crappiest week for the FBI in decades.

At this point, it is fair to argue that the intelligence community — including people leading it today — have capitalized on a terrorist threat, even a dodgy one. As I tweet stormed this morning (and wrote in more detail here), in 2004 the government played up two dodgy election year threats.

In March 2004 (just as torture, spying cut back) fabricator went to CIA in Pakistan and said, “Janat Gul wants to attack US elections.”

Someone in CIA immediately said, “Nah!” Nevertheless, US got PK to detain, turn Gul to US to be tortured.

USG (including Jim Comey) reauthorized torture, to be used with Gul. Including waterboarding & techniques CIA had already used w/o approval.

USG (including Comey & John Brennan) also used election year plot based off fabrication as one reason FISC had to approve Internet dragnet.

There were, of course, leaks to the press about this election year plot.

CIA kept torturing and torturing Janat Gul, because they needed details of an election year plot based off a fabrication.

It wasn’t until October that someone said, “Hey, let’s go check if that guy claiming Gul wanted to attack US election was lying!” He was.

But Gul had served purpose: election year scare, reauthorizing torture, getting FISC approval for dragnet. Not bad for one torture victim!

Comey didn’t know CIA immediately raised concerns abt fabricator’s claims. It’s one thing Cheney/Gonzales prevented him fr learning in 2005

Comey signed off on torture again, including waterboarding w/o knowing that that case was all based off a fabrication.

But Comey has also refused to read torture report, which lays all this out. He’s avoiding learning what he did in 2004, 2005. Brennan too!

I lay all this out bc, w/history like this, IC (still led by Brennan & Comey) should be VERY careful abt leaking election year plots.

Succinctly: They cried wolf in 2004. And have yet to face accountability for that.

Then, in 2006 (at a time when both Comey and Brennan were on hiatus from directly government work, though they were both working with key government contractors), it happened again. Dick Cheney triggered the revelation of a very real terrorist plot in 2006 — fucking over the British officials trying to collect enough information to prosecute the perpetrators — to help Joe Lieberman stay in the Senate.

The point is, these people, including the people in charge of the IC now, have selectively exploited real or imagined terrorist plots before. The leak of this one, which FBI clearly hasn’t even vetted, sure seems exploitative given how badly FBI needs to distract from its own fuck-ups.

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.

Or Maybe the FBI Really Did Have a Reason to Stay Off the Russian Attribution?

The Comey whiplash continues.

In the latest development, a single source — a “former FBI official,” offered with no description of how he or she would know — told CNBC that weeks ago Jim Comey refused to join onto the Intelligence Community’s attribution of the DNC hacks to Russia because it was too close to the election.

FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI’s name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former FBI official tells CNBC.

The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.

In the end, the Department of Homeland Security and The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the statement on Oct. 7, saying “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

[snip]

According to the former official, Comey agreed with the conclusion the intelligence community came to: “A foreign power was trying to undermine the election. He believed it to be true, but was against putting it out before the election.” Comey’s position, this official said, was “if it is said, it shouldn’t come from the FBI, which as you’ll recall it did not.”

In spite of what Hillary said at the most recent debate, the statement was billed as a “Joint Statement,” though it did claim to represent the view of the intelligence community.

Until someone else confirms this story — preferably with more than one source, one clearly placed in a position to know — I advise caution on this.

That’s true, first of all, because a bunch of people who likely harbor grudges against Jim Comey are coming out of the woodwork to condemn Comey’s Friday statement. Given the reasons they might resent Comey, I really doubt Alberto Gonzales or Karl Rove were primarily motivated to criticize him out of a concern for the integrity of our election process.

The same could be true here.

The other reason I’d wait is because of reporting going back to this summer on the case against Russia. As I’ve noted, reporters repeatedly reported that while there seemed little doubt that Russia had hacked the Democrats, the FBI had not yet proven some steps in the chain of possession. For example, at the end of July, FBI was still uncertain who or how the emails from DNC were passed onto WikiLeaks.

The FBI is still investigating the DNC hack. The bureau is trying to determine whether the emails obtained by the Russians are the same ones that appeared on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Friday, setting off a firestorm that roiled the party in the lead-up to the convention.

The FBI is also examining whether APT 28 or an affiliated group passed those emails to WikiLeaks, law enforcement sources said.

As I noted, the IC attribution statement actually remained non-committal on precisely this step of the process, finding that the leaks of emails were consistent with stuff Russia’s GRU has done in the past, but stopping short of saying (as they had on the hack itself) that it is confident that Russia leaked the files.

Which is to say the same thing the FBI had questions about in July is something that remained non-committal in the October statement, which might be one of a number of reasons (including that FBI wants to retain the ability to prosecute whoever they charge with this, including if it is a currently unknown middleman) that the FBI might not want to be on the attribution. FBI was unwilling to fully commit to the accusation in July, and apparently unwilling to do so in October.

Note that CNBC’s anonymous source, even when confirming that Comey backed the statement, didn’t confirm he backed the whole content of it. The person contrasts the most aggressive quote from the IC statement:

… the U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises …

With this, allegedly from Comey:

A foreign power was trying to undermine the election

Those statements are not the same thing, and it may be that FBI continued to have perhaps not doubts, but unproven holes in the case, that led to caution on the Russia statement.

In any case, it’s not that I believe the anonymous CNBC statement to be impossible. But there is another perfectly consistent explanation for Comey hesitating to name FBI on that IC attribution.

Update: Ellen Nakashima has a version of this story (sourced to more than one person) now. Here’s an excerpt, but definitely read the whole thing for the logic (or lack thereof) FBI used.

In the debate over publicly naming Russia, the FBI has investigative interests to protect, officials said. At the same time, other officials said, the aim of public attribution was to stop Russia from undermining confidence in the integrity of the election.

[snip]

But the White House, Justice Department, State Department and other agencies debated for months whether to officially blame Moscow or not.

Comey’s instincts were to go with the public attribution even as late as August, said one participant in the debate. But as the weeks went by and the election drew nearer, “he thought it was too close,” the official said.

When, by early October, the decision was made, the talk shifted to who would make the announcement. In December 2014, it was the FBI that publicly pointed the finger at North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment and damaging its computers. That was because the attribution to Pyongyang was based on the FBI investigation, said a senior administration official.

[snip]

The announcement did not mention the White House, which also had been very concerned about appearing to influence the election.

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.

Anthony Weiner Creates a Virgin Birth for Evidence the Clinton Foundation Investigators Want

WSJ’s Devlin Barrett has a long story he describes as laying bare “tensions that have built for months inside the bureau and the Justice Department over how to investigate someone who could soon be elected president.” It might just as well be described as a catalogue of the ways FBI has gotten out of control.

To show the important background to the decision to get a warrant to access Huma Abedin’s email, I’m going to switch the order of the story from that Barrett uses. Looked at in this way, it becomes clear that by accessing Huma’s email, the FBI may not just have renewed the probably fruitless investigation into Hillary’s email server, but also found a way to access Huma’s emails for use in an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

FBI ignores Public Integrity orders not to escalate the investigation of the Clinton Foundation

After laying out the recent decision to access Huma Abedin’s email (which I deal with below), Barrett confirms what Comey made obvious with a “neither confirm nor deny” response at his July testimony before the House Oversight Committee (though a flood of leaks had long claimed such an investigation existed).

The FBI has been investigating the Clinton Foundation for over a year.

As Barrett describes it, the case arose because Agents were seeing if a crime was committed, not because they had found evidence that it had:

Early this year, four FBI field offices—New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Ark.—were collecting information about the Clinton Foundation to see if there was evidence of financial crimes or influence-peddling, according to people familiar with the matter.

He describes that in February, when Andrew McCabe got promoted to Deputy Director, he took over oversight of this investigation. (In an earlier article Barrett insinuated that an earlier Terry McAuliffe donation to McCabe’s wife’s state senate campaign presented a conflict, but in this article Barrett provides McAuliffe’s explanation for the donation.) Also in February — Barrett doesn’t say whether McCabe was involved — investigative teams located in Los Angeles, DC, Little Rock, and New York (he doesn’t say whether they were in EDNY or SDNY or both, which is relevant to a later development in the story) presented their case to DOJ’s Public Integrity (PIN) section.

Here’s how Barrett describes that meeting:

Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case.

“That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,” one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.

Anticorruption prosecutors at the Justice Department told the FBI at the meeting they wouldn’t authorize more aggressive investigative techniques, such as subpoenas, formal witness interviews, or grand-jury activity. But the FBI officials believed they were well within their authority to pursue the leads and methods already under way, these people said.

Mind you, seven paragraphs before describing PIN telling the FBI it would not authorize subpoenas, Barrett described the Los Angeles team having “issued some subpoenas for bank records related to the foundation.” So when he says FBI officials believed they could pursue leads and methods already under way, it may mean they decided they could use the fruit of subpoenas PIN subsequently judged weren’t merited by the evidence.

In July, after DOJ decided not to prosecute anyone on the email server and Comey started blabbing (including his non-denial of the existence of this investigation), FBI “sought to refocus the Clinton Foundation probe,” which sounds a lot like redoubling efforts to find something to investigate Hillary for. (Note, this entire article makes no mention of the June Supreme Court decision throwing out much of former VA governor Bob McDonnell’s conviction, which would have significantly raised the bar for any prosecution of the Clinton Foundation.) McCabe bracketed the DC work focusing on Terry McAuliffe, from which he was recused, and put NY in charge of the rest.

Barrett spends a paragraph airing both sides of a dispute about whether that was the right decision, then describes a (male, and therefore someone besides Loretta Lynch or Sally Yates) senior DOJ official bitching out McCabe for continuing to pursue the Clinton Foundation investigation, especially during the election.

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant.

Barrett spends several paragraphs airing both sides of what happened next, whether FBI agents were ordered to stand down entirely or whether McCabe said they could continue to investigate within the existing guidelines.

FBI attempts to venue shop to get at Clinton server emails

Even after that order, the Clinton Foundation investigators tried to get more — specifically, all the emails turned over in the email server investigation. When EDNY (as a reminder, that’s where Loretta Lynch was until last year US Attorney) refused, the investigators asked to go get them in SDNY.

In September, agents on the foundation case asked to see the emails contained on nongovernment laptops that had been searched as part of the Clinton email case, but that request was rejected by prosecutors at the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn. Those emails were given to the FBI based on grants of partial immunity and limited-use agreements, meaning agents could only use them for the purpose of investigating possible mishandling of classified information.

Some FBI agents were dissatisfied with that answer, and asked for permission to make a similar request to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. McCabe, these people said, told them no and added that they couldn’t “go prosecutor-shopping.”

Several comments on this: First, McCabe did the right thing here in refusing to let his agents venue shop until they got their way. I hope he would do the same in a less visible investigation where senior DOJ officials were chewing him out for conducting the investigation in the first place.

Second, consider how the timing of this coincides with both leaks about the immunity agreements, Jason Chaffetz’ inquiry into the same, and two sets of email server related materials. As one key example, on October 5, just weeks after McCabe told his Agents they couldn’t go “prosecutor-shopping” to get to the emails released in the email server probe, Republicans were releasing details of their in camera review of the terms of the immunity agreements used to deny the Clinton Foundation investigations access to the emails. We should assume that some entities within the FBI are using all angles, using Chaffetz’ investigations to publicize decisions that have thwarted their investigation.

Did FBI Agents review the content of Huma Abedin’s email without a warrant?

So sometime in September, the Clinton foundation team was told they couldn’t have emails associated with the server investigation that were tied to immunity agreements. On October 3 (per the NYT), FBI agents seized a number of devices, including a laptop used jointly by Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin with a warrant permitting just the investigation of Weiner’s alleged sexting of an underaged woman (curiously, Barrett says they were permitted to look for child porn). Shortly thereafter, they found found emails from accounts, plural, of Huma Abedin on the laptop. Multiple reports suggest those emails may be duplicative of the ones that FBI had just been told they couldn’t access because of the immunity agreements tied to other devices.

There’s no reason to believe FBI found those potentially duplicative emails because they were prohibited from accessing the ones turned over voluntarily as part of the email server probe (in any case, they are presented as different investigative teams, although the description of this sprawling Clinton Foundation investigation may explain why earlier leaks said 147 people were part of the Clinton investigation); it’s just one of those coinkydinks that seem to plague the Clintons.

At that point, per Barrett, “Senior FBI officials decided to let the Weiner investigators proceed with a closer examination of the metadata on the computer, and report back to them.” Early last week (so two or three weeks later), some asked how that weeks-long review of the Huma emails (allegedly just the metadata) was going.

“At that point, officials realized that no one had acted to obtain a warrant, these people said.”

In other words, for several weeks, FBI has been nosing around those emails without court authorization to do so in conjunction with the email server investigation (which may or may not have been formally closed). If they really stuck to metadata, that’s no big deal under Third Party rules. If they did peek — even at subject lines — then that may be a bigger problem.

Only then did the Weiner investigators compare notes with the Hillary investigators and decide the emails were relevant. Barrett doesn’t answer the obvious question: how did the Weiner investigators determine these emails might be relevant and did they really just review only metadata? Given all the stories to FBI friendly sources claiming Comey — and implying no one — has seen the content of the email, I suspect the answer is Weiner investigators went beyond metadata.

The background Barrett provides gives more significance to FBI’s decision to (perhaps belatedly) obtain a warrant to get Huma’s email and to Comey’s highly inappropriate magnification of it. Not only have they reopened (or renewed — reports on this are still all over the map on this point) the email investigation, but they’ve also created a virgin birth for emails that the Clinton foundation investigators tried — and were willing to venue shop — but failed to get.

FBI leaking has neutralized DOJ’s control over the Bureau

This story shows that FBI has tried a number of methods to defy PIN advice to drop the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

I don’t know whether the investigation into the Clinton Foundation has merit or not (though given Barrett’s explanation, it does seem that some in FBI were looking for a crime rather than looking to solve one).

But I do know that if FBI agents operate outside of bounds on their power, they constitute a grave threat to the rule of law.

And Barrett’s article suggests at least three ways they appear to have done just that:

  • Fiddling with investigative guidelines of the DIOG (by using subpoenas without the appropriate level of investigation and authority)
  • Attempting to venue shop to get permission to access evidence they were told they couldn’t have
  • Leaking promiscuously, in clear violation of the rules, to bring political pressure including on Comey to conduct an investigation their supervisors had told them to either limit or halt

That promiscuous leaking, of course, includes this article, which relied on a great number of sources, almost none of whom should be speaking about this investigation. Don’t get me wrong — it’s great reporting on Barrett’s part. But it also serves the purpose of airing the claim that McCabe, PIN, and DOJ generally have thwarted an investigation into the Clinton Foundation that some at FBI believe has merit.

In addition, I’ve got questions about whether they read Huma’s email when they were supposed to just be looking at metadata.

Whatever else Comey’s totally inappropriate behavior reflects, his justification for doing so because it otherwise might leak suggests he doesn’t have control over his agency. Though given his coy response to Chaffetz in July, I do wonder whether he isn’t rooting for the Clinton foundation investigation to proceed; whatever else he is, Comey is a master of using the press to win political fights.

And remember, the FBI (under Comey) has undermined one of the few irreproachable entities that might fix this sorry state of affairs. It has refused, now backed by an OLC opinion, to give DOJ’s Inspector General the unfettered right to investigate things like grand jury proceedings (though given that no grand jury was used in these cases, it might be harder to keep them out here). So if Patrick Leahy were to ask Michael Horowitz to investigate whether FBI acted inappropriately in these related investigations — and he should! — FBI might be able to withhold information from the IG.

A bunch of people who have unquestioned faith in the goodness of DOJ — now including Eric Holder, the guy who couldn’t prosecute a single criminal bank — have been, rightly, scolding Comey for his actions. But they have largely remained utterly silent about the runaway agents at the FBI, both about their obvious leaking and now about their efforts to sustain this investigation in defiance of at least some of the chain of command, including career prosecutors who should be fairly insulated from any political influence that someone like Lynch might respond to.

As I said, I’m agnostic about the investigation of the Clinton Foundation. I’m not agnostic on the importance of keeping FBI firmly within the bureaucratic bounds that prevents them from acting as an abusive force.

They seem to have surpassed those bounds.

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.

When Reporters Discover Selective Leak Targeting

Shane Harris wants to know — and not for the first time — why James Cartwright will be the only one to take the fall for leaking to David Sanger about StuxNet.

The charges weren’t exactly a surprise. Cartwright has known for more than three years that he was the target of an investigation into who leaked details about the so-called Stuxnet computer virus, which the United States used to destroy centrifuges inside an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in 2008 and 2009.

But notably, Cartwright who previously served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the only person to have been charged with leaking information about the highly classified program, even though it’s clear from various books and articles that he wasn’t the only source of information about it. Times reporter David Sanger revealed the operation and wrote about it extensively in his book, Confront and Conceal.

That raises questions about why Cartwright is being charged now and if he was somehow singled out for speaking to Sanger and another journalist, Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman. Journalists and U.S. officials in Washington have generally known for years that Cartwright was a major source about Stuxnet, but it was also understood that he had permission from the White House to share certain details about the program.

The intrigue surrounding the investigating dates back more than three years, according to Harris, to the last time he raised questions about Cartwright’s targeting. In that article, he admits,

Cartwright did have fans in the press corps, which usually found him an affable and, most importantly, accessible source.

Harris might more productively look at what was different about the Sanger story that got investigated — namely, that it blamed the Israelis for revealing the program by letting StuxNet escape. That it, it may well be that Cartwright got prosecuted not because he leaked the thing that was permissible — that the US had allegedly stalled Iran’s nuclear power production with computer code — but rather that the Israelis undermined the program that was undermining their excuse to attack Iran.

Still, it’s odd that Harris finds it odd that just one person is getting prosecuted in the first place, as if he’s only discovering that happens all the time.

It’s something Charlie Savage did in his book, Power Wars, too. I showed how erroneous that assumption is in the case of the UndieBomb 2.0 leak, where Donald Sachtleben was scapegoated even though the record shows he only confirmed something the reporters already had. But the same is true of other leaks, as well. For example, the public record already identifies another source for James Risen’s Merlin leak, and the trial record shows FBI believed still another person was the main leaker and never really dismissed him as a target.

So we always should be asking why the one and only one person who gets targeted gets targeted. In this case, a better parallel might be to the Scooter Libby case. There, as here, the target claims to have been authorized to leak. In that case, Fitzgerald was definitely trying to move up the chain to Dick Cheney. In both cases, the big question may be about whether the President (or Vice President, if he’s the one in charge) authorized the specific leak.

Me, I’m more interested in why Cartwright was prosecuted in DC, rather than Maryland, even while Maryland’s US Attorney Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation. I suspect that’s because it was deemed a special counsel investigation of sorts, but that raises even more questions about why Ronald Machen investigated UndieBomb 2.0 and Rosenstein investigated this, but both were apparently in DC.

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.

In Latest Russian Plot, WikiLeaks Reveals Hillary Opposes ISDS

Among the emails released as part of the Podesta leaks yesterday, WikiLeaks released this one showing that, almost a year before she was making the same argument in debates with Bernie Sanders, Hillary was opposed to Investor State Dispute Settlement that is part of the Trans Pacific Partnership. (h/t Matt Stoller) ISDS is the means by which corporations have used trade agreements to operate above the domestic laws of party countries (if you haven’t read this three part series from BuzzFeed to learn about the more exotic ways business are profiting off of ISDS).

The email also appears to echo her later public concern that she had changed her mind on TPP because of KORUS.

After our last talk with HRC, we revised our letter to oppose ISDS and include her caution about South Korea.

Sure, other Podesta emails show Hillary supporting a broad region of free trade (and labor) in the Americas. But this more recent email confirms that the views she expressed in debate were more than just an attempt to counter Bernie’s anti-trade platform.

Whether or not this is newsworthy enough to justify the WL dump, it is noteworthy in light of NYT’s rather bizarre article from some weeks back suggesting that WL always sides with Putin’s goals. As I noted, the article made a really strained effort to claim that WL exposed TPP materials because it served Putin’s interests. Now, here, WL is is releasing information that makes Hillary look better on precisely that issue.

That doesn’t advance the presumed narrative of helping Trump defeat Hillary!

Then, as I noted yesterday, in spite of all the huff and puff from Kurt Eichenwald, the release of a Sid Blumenthal email used by Trump is another case where the WL release, as released, doesn’t feed the presumed goals of Putin.

Which brings me to this Shane Harris piece, which describes four different NatSec sources revealing there’s still a good deal of debate about WL’s ties to Russia.

Military and intelligence officials are convinced that WikiLeaks is an ongoing threat to U.S. national security and privacy owing to its leaks of classified documents and emails. But its precise relationship with Russia has been a subject of internal debate. Some do see the group as being in cahoots with the Kremlin. But others find that WikiLeaks is acting mainly as the beneficiary of stolen documents, not unlike a journalistic organization.

There are some funny aspects to this story. Nothing in it considers the significant evidence that WL is (and has reason to be) affirmatively anti-Hillary, which means its interests may align with Russia, even if it doesn’t take orders from Russia.

It also suggests that if the spooks can prove some tie between WL and Russia, they can spy on it as an agent of foreign power.

But those facts don’t mean WikiLeaks isn’t acting at Russia’s behest. And that’s not a trivial matter. If the United States were to determine that WikiLeaks is an agent of a foreign power, as defined in U.S. law, it could allow intelligence and law enforcement agencies to spy on the group—as they do on the Russian government. The U.S. can also bring criminal charges against foreign agents.

WL has been intimately involved in two separate charges cases of leaking-as-espionage in the US, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The government has repeatedly told courts that it has National Security/Criminal investigations, plural, into WikiLeaks, and when pressed for details about how and whether the government is collecting on supporters and readers of WikiLeaks, the government has in part hidden those details under a b3 FOIA exemption, meaning a statute prevents disclosing it, while extraordinarily refusing to reveal what statute that is. We certainly know that FBI has used multiple informants to spy on WL and used a variety of collection methods against Jacob Appelbaum, including (according to Appelbaum) physical tails.

So there’s not only no doubt that the US government believes it can spy on WikiLeaks (which is, after all, headed by a foreigner and not a US organization), but that it already does, and has been doing for at least six years.

Perhaps Harris’ sources really mean they’ve never found a way to indict Julian Assange before, but if they can claim he’s working for Putin, then maybe they’ll overcome past problems of indicting him because it would criminalize journalism. If that’s the case, it may be shading analysis of WL, because the government would badly like a reason to shut down WL (as the comments about the direct threat to the US in the story back up).

As I’ve said before, the role of WL in this and prior leak events is a pretty complex one, one that if approached too rashly (or too sloppily) could have ramifications for other publishers. While a lot of people are rushing to collapse this (in spite of what sounds like a continuing absence of directly incriminating evidence) into a nation-state conflict, things like this TPP email suggest it’s not that simple.

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.

Why Is HPSCI’s Snowden Report So Inexcusably Shitty?

There’s now a growing list of things in the HPSCI report on Snowden that are either factually wrong, misleading, or spin.

One part of the spin the report admits itself: the committee assessed damage based on the 1.5 million documents Snowden touched — an approach the now discredited General Michael Flynn presented in briefings to the committee — rather than the far more limited set the Intelligence Community included in its damage assessment.

Over the past three years, the IC and the Department of Defense (DOD) have carried out separate reviews with differing methodologies of the damage Snowden caused. Out of an abundance of caution, DOD reviewed all 1.5 million documents Snowden removed. The IC, by contrast, has carried out a damage assessment for only a small subset of the documents. The Committee is concerned that the IC does not plan to assess the damage of the vast majority of documents Snowden removed.

Clearly, the IC wants a real assessment of the damage Snowden caused. HPSCI, however, appears to be interested in the most damning, which makes sense given that members of Congress actively solicited information they could use to damage Snowden.

Here are other problems with the report.

From Bart Gellman’s rebuttal:

  • HPSCI claimed the “bilateral tibial stress fractures” that led to Snowden’s discharge were “shin splints.”
  • HPSCI claimed he never got a GED. According to official Maryland records, Snowden got his equivalent degree on June 2, 2004.
  • HPSCI claimed Snowden was a computer technician at CIA. At the end he served as a “solutions referent/cyber referent” working on cyber contracts.
  • HPSCI claimed Snowden’s effort to show a security hole in CIA’s human resources intranet was an effort to doctor his performance evaluations.

From me:

HPSCI claimed Snowden failed the Section 702 training. According to an email from the SIGINT Compliance Chief, Snowden did pass it (the Chief had not checked whether or not Snowden had really failed it).“He said he had failed it multiple times (I’d have to check with ADET on that). He did pass the course at some point.”

The claim Snowden didn’t pass the test stems from an email written a year after an exchange between him and a Compliance training person. The training person wrote the email in direct response to Snowden’s claims that he had “contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies.” While it may be true Snowden failed the test before he passed it, there are enough irregularities with the email claim and related story it should not be credited without backup. When we asked NSA for specific answers about that email in conjunction with this story, they flipped out and went nuclear and preemptively released all the emails rather than provide the very easy answers to validate the email story.

From Patrick Eddington:

HPSCI claimed Snowden could have reported complaints to the committee, but HPSCI killed an effort to extend whistleblower protections to intelligence contractors in 2012.

Eddington and Steven Aftergood both suggest the shitty HPSCI report is good reason to embrace a set of reforms to improve HPSCI oversight.

But depending on the reason for the utter shittiness of the report, I think it might just warrant shutting the entire committee down and devolving oversight to real committees, like Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Armed Services. Remember, every single member of the committee, Democrat or Republican, signed this report. Every single one. For some reason, even fairly smart people like Adam Schiff and Jackie Speier signed off on something with inexcusable errors.

So I wanted to point to this passage on methodology.

The Committee’s review was careful not to disturb any criminal investigation or future prosecution of Snowden, who has remained in Russia since he fled there on June 23, 2013. Accordingly, the Committee did not interview individuals whom the Department of Justice identified as possible witnesses at Snowden’s trial, including Snowden himself, nor did the Committee request any matters that may have occurred before a grand jury. Instead, the IC provided the Committee with access to other individuals who possessed substantively similar knowledge as the possible witnesses. Similarly, rather than interview Snowden’s NSA coworkers and supervisors directly, Committee staff interviewed IC personnel who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s co-workers and supervisors.

So for this inexcusably shitty report, HPSCI did not interview:

  • Direct witnesses (presumably including the Compliance training woman whose email on 702 training is dodgy and probably also Booz and Dell contractors who might risk losing contracts)
  • Snowden’s co-workers
  • Snowden’s supervisors

They did interview:

  • People who possessed “substantively similar knowledge” as the people DOJ think might be witnesses at trial
  • People who reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s co-workers and supervisors

HPSCI spent two years but didn’t interview any of the direct witnesses.

Now, as a threshold matter, the publicly released emails provide good reason to doubt the adequacy of this indirect reporting on Snowden’s colleagues. Here’s how the Chief of NSA’s CI Division backed the conclusion that Snowden never talked about concerns about NSA surveillance with his colleagues.

Our findings are that we have found no evidence in the interviews, email, or chats reviewed that support his claims. Some coworkers reported discussing the Constitution with Snowden, specifically his interpretation of the Constitution as black and white, and others reported discussing general privacy issues as it relates to the Internet. Not one mentioned that Snowden mentioned a specific NSA program that he had a problem with. Actually, many of the people interviewed affirmed that he never complained about any NSA program. We also did not have any reflection that he asked anyone how he should/could report perceived wrongdoing.

So colleagues — who would presumably be in great fear of association with Snowden, especially in interviews with NSA’s Counterintelligence people — nevertheless revealed that they discussed the Constitution (and Snowden’s black and white interpretation of it) and general privacy issues about the Internet. “Many” of the interviewees said he never complained about any NSA program, which raises questions about what those excluded from this “many” said.

But it appears that NSA’s CI investigators only considered mention of specific programs to be a complaint, not general discussions about privacy and the Constitution.

We should assume the interview reports back to HPSCI members and staffers were similarly scoped.

There’s another reason I’m interested in this methodology section. That’s the implication from Spencer Ackerman’s series on SSCI’s Torture Report that CIA successfully used the John Durham investigation to undermine the SSCI investigation.

In August 2009, US attorney general Eric Holder expanded the remit of the prosecutor looking at the tapes destruction, John Durham, to include the torture program, much as the Senate committee had. The justice department’s new mandate was not as broad as the Senate’s. It would only concern itself with torture that exceeded the boundaries set for the CIA by the Bush-era justice department. Still, for all of Obama’s emphasis on looking forward and not backward, now the CIA had to face its greatest fear since launching the torture program: possible prosecution.

Holder’s decision, ironically, would ultimately hinder the committee more than the CIA, and lead to a criticism that the agency would later use as a cudgel against the Senate.

Typically, when the justice department and congressional inquiries coincide, the two will communicate in order to deconflict their tasks and their access. In the case of the dual torture investigations, it should have been easy: Durham’s team accessed CIA documents in the exact same building that Jones’s team did.

But every effort Jones made to talk with Durham failed. “Even later, he refused to meet with us,” Jones said.

Through a spokesman, Durham, an assistant US attorney in Connecticut, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The lack of communication had serious consequences. Without Durham specifying who at CIA he did and did not need to interview, Jones could interview no one, as the CIA would not make available for congressional interview people potentially subject to criminal penalty. Jones could not even get Durham to confirm which agency officials prosecutors had no interest in interviewing. “Regrettably, that made it difficult for our committee to do interviews. So the judgment was, use the record,” said Wyden, the Oregon Democrat on the panel.

[snip]

The CIA stopped compiling the Panetta Review in 2010 after Durham told Preston that CIA risked complicating any prosecution if it “made different judgments than the prosecutors had reached”, Charlie Savage reported in his 2015 book Power Wars.

Not only did CIA’s General Counsel Stephen Preston (who later served as DOD General Counsel from October 2013 until June 2015) use the Durham investigation to halt the CIA’s own internal investigation into the worthlessness of their torture, but it served as the excuse to withhold cooperation from SSCI. That, in turn, gave Republicans an excuse to disavow the report.

With the HPSCI report, an FBI investigation has again been used as an excuse to limit congressional oversight.

HPSCI’s failure to interview any of the relevant people directly is all the weirder given that there should be no problem for a witness to appear before both the grand jury and the committee. Certainly, House Oversight had no problem interviewing some of the subjects of the Hillary email investigation! And unlike the email investigation, with the Snowden one, few if any of the people who might serve as witnesses at any Snowden trial would be subjects of the investigation; they’d have no legal risk in also testifying to the committee. Snowden is the one at legal risk, and he has already been charged. And curiously, we’re hearing no squawking from Republicans about the necessity of direct interviews for the integrity of an investigation, like we heard with the Senate Torture Report.

One thing is certain: the public is owed an explanation for how HPSCI came to report knowably false information. The public is owed an explanation for why HPSCI is effectively serving as NSA’s propaganda wing.

And if we don’t get one, we should shut down the entire charade of post-Church Committee oversight committee.

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.

HPSCI: We Must Spy Like Snowden To Prevent Another Snowden

I was going to write about this funny part of the HPSCI report anyway, but it makes a nice follow-up to my post on Snowden and cosmopolitanism, on the importance of upholding American values to keeping the servants of hegemon working to serve it.

As part of its attack on Edward Snowden released yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee accused Snowden of attacking his colleagues’ privacy.

To gather the files he took with him when he left the country for Hong Kong, Snowden infringed on the privacy of thousands of government employees and contractors. He obtained his colleagues’ security credentials through misleading means, abused his access as a systems administrator to search his co-workers’ personal drives, and removed the personally identifiable information of thousands of IC employees and contractors.

I have no doubt that many — most, perhaps — of Snowden’s colleagues feel like he violated their privacy, especially as their identities are now in the possession of a number of journalists. So I don’t make light of that, or the earnestness with which HPSCI’s sources presumably made this complaint (though IC employee privacy is one of the things all journalists who have reported these stories have redacted, to the best of my knowledge).

But it’s a funny claim for several reasons. Even ignoring that what the NSA does day in and day out is search people’s personal communications (including millions of innocent people), this kind of broad access is the definition of a SysAdmin.

HPSCI apparently never had a problem with techs getting direct access to our dragnet metadata, as they had and (now working in pairs) still have, for those of us two degrees away from a suspect.

Plus, HPSCI has never done anything publicly to help the 21 million clearance holders whose PII China now holds. Is it possible they’re more angry at Snowden than they are at China’s hackers, who have more ill-intent than Snowden?

But here’s the other reason this complaint is laugh-out-loud funny. HPSCI closes its report this way:

Finally, the Committee remains concerned that more than three years after the start of the unauthorized disclosures, NSA and the IC as a whole, have not done enough to minimize the risk of another massive unauthorized disclosure. Although it is impossible to reduce the change of another Snowden to zero, more work can and should be done to improve the security of the people and the computer networks that keep America’s most closely held secrets. For instance, a recent DOD Inspector General report directed by the Committee had yet to effectively implement its post-Snowden security improvements. The Committee has taken actions to improve IC information security in the Intelligence Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, and looks forward to working with the IC to continue to improve security.

First, that timeline — showing an effort to improve network security in each year following the Snowden leaks — is completely disingenuous. It neglects to mention that the Intel Committees have actually been trying for longer than that. In the wake of the Manning leaks, it became clear that DOD’s networks were sieve-like. Congress tried to require network monitoring in the 2012 Intelligence Authorization. But the Administration responded by insisting 2013 — 3 years after Manning’s leaks — was too soon to plug all the holes in DOD’s networks. One reason Snowden succeeded in downloading all those files is because the network monitoring hadn’t been rolled out in Hawaii yet.

So HPSCI is trying to pretend Intel Committee past efforts didn’t actually precede Snowden by several years, but those efforts failed to stop Snowden.

The other reason I find this paragraph — which appears just four paragraphs after it attacks Snowden for the invasion of his colleagues’ privacy — so funny is that in the 2014 Intelligence Authorization (that is, the first one after the Snowden leaks), HPSCI codified an insider threat program, requiring the Director of National Intelligence to,

ensure that the background of each employee or officer of an element of the intelligence community, each contractor to an element of the intelligence community, and each individual employee of such a contractor who has been determined to be eligible for access to classified information is monitored on a continual basis under standards developed by the Director, including with respect to the frequency of evaluation, during the period of eligibility of such employee or officer of an element of the intelligence community, such contractor, or such individual employee to such a contractor to determine whether such employee or officer of an element of the intelligence community, such contractor, and such individual employee of such a contractor continues to meet the requirements for eligibility for access to classified information;

This insider threat program searches IC employees hard drives (one of Snowden’s sins).

Then, the following year, HPSCI got even more serious, mandating that the Director of National Intelligence look into credit reports, commercially available data, and social media accounts to hunt down insider threats, including by watching for changes in ideology like those Snowden exhibited, developing an outspoken concern about the Fourth Amendment.

I mean, on one hand, this isn’t funny at all — and I imagine that Snowden’s former colleagues blame him that they have gone from having almost no privacy as cleared employees to having none. This is what people like Carrie Cordero mean when they regret the loss of trust at the agency.

But as I have pointed out in the past, if someone like Snowden — who at least claims to have had good intentions — can walk away with the crown jewels, we should presume some much more malicious and/or greedy people have as well.

But here’s the thing: you cannot, as Cordero does, say that the “foreign intelligence collection activities [are] done with detailed oversight and lots of accountability” if it is, at the same time, possible for a SysAdmin to walk away with the family jewels, including raw data on targets. If Snowden could take all this data, then so can someone maliciously spying on Americans — it’s just that that person wouldn’t go to the press to report on it and so it can continue unabated. In fact, in addition to rolling out more whistleblower protections in the wake of Snowden, NSA has made some necessary changes (such as not permitting individual techs to have unaudited access to raw data anymore, which appears to have been used, at times, as a workaround for data access limits under FISA), even while ratcheting up the insider threat program that will, as Cordero suggested, chill certain useful activities. One might ask why the IC moved so quickly to insider threat programs rather than just implementing sound technical controls.

The Intelligence world has gotten itself into a pickle, at once demanding that a great deal of information be shared broadly, while trying to hide what information that includes, even from American citizens. It aspires to be at once an enormous fire hose and a leak-proof faucet. That is the inherent impossibility of letting the secret world grow so far beyond management — trying to make a fire hose leak proof.

Some people in the IC get that — I believe this is one of the reasons James Clapper has pushed to rein in classification, for example.

But HPSCI, the folks overseeing the fire hose? They don’t appear to realize that they’re trying to replicate and expand Snowden’s privacy violations, even as they condemn them.

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.

Hillary Clinton’s Three Devices

I really don’t want to get bogged down in the Hillary email story. But given the ongoing discussions about whether claims she used the personal server to avoid oversight have merit, I did two more things. First, I did this timeline. Without going into too much detail, there are decisions made after requests for emails that suggest avoiding oversight was driving some of this. That’s especially true given the conflicting stories from Paul Combetta pertaining to his actions in late 2014 and March 2015; he ended up deleting Hillary’s emails after being informed of the House Oversight request for them. He may have only revealed that with an immunity deal.

The other detail I want to focus on is the number of devices Hillary had. Hillary defenders often point to her claim that she used the Blackberry for convenience to claim she surely wasn’t avoiding oversight. But I think the FBI report shows that she had three devices, not just one.

Most of the attention on the number of her devices focuses on the fact that she had 13 serial BBs, none of which were handed over to the FBI (instead of her actual BBs,, Williams & Connolly turned over two other BBs, though without SIM or SD cards).

It is true that her 13 BBs were used serially, not at once, which makes Hillary Clinton just like Tom Brady in her serial use of phones: she’s just a famous person who likes to swap out her phones all the time. The difference being that Tom Brady was told he didn’t need to keep his phone, whereas Hillary was under record-keeping obligations even before any investigation started. And Brady at least had had his comms reviewed by lawyers before he deleted his phone.

But it’s not the 13 BB detail that poses problems to Hillary’s single device claim. It’s this passage.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-5-14-21-am

Justin Cooper, the Bill Clinton staffer who ran much of the tech in the Chappaqua basement, says that Hillary used both a Blackberry and a flip phone for calls. Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills dispute that, though in terms that leave some wiggle room (curiously, FBI apparently didn’t ask Monica Hanley, who bought all of Hillary’s Blackberries). There were 2 phone numbers Hillary used, the latter of which only became the Blackberry number after her tenure as SoS. But footnote 8 reveals that there were 4 mobile devices that used what appears to be the second number during her tenure as SoS. This seems to indicate that Cooper is right: Hillary had both an email phone and a series of 4 telephony phones, the latter of which were not email capable.

The footnote makes clear FBI didn’t pursue these telephony phones because they were, by definition, outside the scope of an email leak investigation (which is one of the many reasons one needs to come to this report with an understanding of the narrow scope of the investigation). But any use of flip phones would not be outside the scope of an FRA investigation, because they undermine Hillary’s claim that she adopted the BBs for singe-device convenience.

Then there’s the passage on page 9 that shows there were also 5 iPads that were potentially used for emails, 3 of which were turned over to the FBI (indeed, one of them actually had draft emails from 2012). This suggests that at least during 2012, Hillary had still another device: 3 devices, not 1. She may not have used the iPads for email throughout her tenure, but she did, apparently, use them in some sense.

Finally, there are two more mysterious devices that aren’t accounted for: a personally-owned computer in both of Hillary’s 2 household SCIFs. Amid the discussion of those SCIFs (including the detail that both were not secure at times, which undermines claims that her only SCIF violation was bringing her BB just inside the State SCIF) is this detail.

According to Abedin, Cooper, and [redacted] there were personally-owned desktop computers in the SCIFs in Whitehaven and Chappaqua. Conversely, Clinton stated to the FBI she did not have a computer of any kind of the SCIFs in her residences. According to Abedin and Clinton, she did not use a computer, and she primarily used her BlackBerry or iPad for checking e-mails.

There is admittedly another conflict in the testimony here, between every aide asked and Hillary, but given that even Abedin and Hillary’s [redacted] staffer say there were personally-owned computers in the SCIFs, I tend to believe it.

But Abedin says Hillary didn’t use them, and I sort of believe that too. But that raises questions about 1) why personally-owned computers were in the SCIF in the first place, which is surely also a violation of SCIF rules, especially if Hillary didn’t use them, but also 2) who was using them. The passage also makes it clear Hillary’s aides had access to the SCIF so perhaps they were?

In any case, we can’t be certain given the redactions and conflicting testimony, but according to my count, Hillary probably had three parallel devices during her tenure as Secretary of State: her BB, a flip phone, and an iPad (the latter of which may or may not have been regularly used for comms, though it was at least briefly in 2012), as well as two SCIF desktops that she personally didn’t use.

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.

The Misunderstandings of the Anti-Transparency Hillary-Exonerating Left

It wasn’t enough for Matt Yglesias to write a widely mocked piece calling for less transparency, now Kevin Drum has too. It all makes you wonder whether there’s some LISTERV somewhere — the successor to JOURNOLIST, from which leaked emails revealed embarrassing discussions of putting politics above principle, perhaps — where a bunch of center-left men are plotting about how to finally end the email scandal that Hillary herself instigated with a stupid decision to host her own email. Especially given this eye-popping paragraph in Drum’s piece:

Part of the reason is that Hillary Clinton is a real object lesson in how FOIA can go wrong when it’s weaponized. Another part is that liberals are the biggest fans of transparency, and seeing one of their own pilloried by it might make them take a second look at whether it’s gone off the rails. What we’ve seen with Hillary Clinton is not that she’s done anything especially wrong, but that a story can last forever if there’s a constant stream of new revelations. That’s what’s happened over the past four years. Between Benghazi committees and Judicial Watch’s anti-Hillary jihad, Clinton’s emails have been steadily dripped out practically monthly, even though there’s never been any compelling reason for it. It’s been done solely to keep her alleged corruption in the public eye.

Even setting aside that his piece generally ignores (perhaps, betrays no knowledge of) the widely-abused b5 exemption that already lets people withhold precisely the kinds of deliberations that Drum wants to kill FOIA over (and is used to withhold a lot more than that), this paragraph betrays stunning misunderstanding about the Clinton email scandal. Not least, the degree to which many of the delays have arisen from Clinton’s own actions.

It led me to go back to read this post, which engages in some cute spin and selective editing, but really gives up the game in this passage.

Oddly, the FBI never really addresses the issue of whether Hillary violated federal record retention rules. They obviously believe that she should have used a State email account for work-related business, but that’s about it. I suppose they decided it was a non-issue because Hillary did, in fact, retain all her emails and did, in fact, turn them over quickly when State requested them.

There’s also virtually no discussion of FOIA. What little there is suggests that Hillary’s only concern was that her personal emails not be subjected to FOIA simply because they were held on the same server as her work emails.

Of course the FBI never really addresses how Hillary violated the Federal Records Act. Of course the FBI never really addresses how Hillary tried to avoid FOIA. (Note too that Drum ignores that some of those “personal” emails have been found to be subject to FOIA and FRA and Congressional requests; they weren’t actually personal.)

That’s because this wasn’t an investigation into violating the Federal Records Act. As I wrote in this post summarizing Jim Comey’s testimony to Oversight and Government Reform:

The FBI investigation that ended yesterday only pertained to that referral about classified information. Indeed, over the course of the hearing, Comey revealed that it was narrowly focused, examining the behavior of only Clinton and four or five of her close aides. And it only pertained to that question about mishandling classified information. That’s what the declination was based on: Comey and others’ determination that when Hillary set up her home-brew server, she did not intend to mishandle classified information.

This caused some consternation, early on in the hearing, because Republicans familiar with Clinton aides’ sworn testimony to the committee investigating the email server and Benghazi were confused how Comey could say that Hillary was not cleared to have her own server, but aides had testified to the contrary. But Comey explained it very clearly, and repeatedly. While FBI considered the statements of Clinton aides, they did not review their sworn statements to Congress for truth.

That’s important because the committee was largely asking a different question: whether Clinton used her server to avoid oversight, Federal Record Act requirements, the Benghazi investigation, and FOIA. That’s a question the FBI did not review at all. This all became crystal clear in the last minutes of the Comey testimony.

Chaffetz: Was there any evidence of Hillary Clinton attempting to avoid compliance with the Freedom of Information Act?

Comey: That was not the subject of our criminal investigation so I can’t answer that sitting here.

Chaffetz: It’s a violation of law, is it not?

Comey: Yes, my understanding is there are civil statutes that apply to that. I don’t know of a crimin–

Chaffetz: Let’s put some boundaries on this a little bit — what you didn’t look at. You didn’t look at whether or not there was an intention or reality of non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

Comey: Correct.

Having started down this path, Chaffetz basically confirms what Comey had said a number of times throughout the hearing, that FBI didn’t scrutinize the veracity of testimony to the committee because the committee did not make a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: You did not look at testimony that Hillary Clinton gave in the United States Congress, both the House and the Senate?

Comey: To see whether it was perjurious in some respect?

Chaffetz: Yes.

Comey: No we did not.

[snip]

Comey: Again, I can confirm this but I don’t think we got a referral from Congressional committees, a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: No. It was the Inspector General that initiated this.

Now, let me jump to the punch and predict that OGR will refer at least Hillary’s aides, and maybe Hillary herself, to FBI for lying to Congress. They might even have merit in doing so, as Comey has already said her public claims about being permitted to have her own email (which she repeated to the committee) were not true. Plus, there’s further evidence that Hillary used her own server precisely to maintain control over them (that is, to avoid FOIA).

As I said in my earlier post, I’m loathe to admit this, because I’d really like to be done with this scandal (I’d like, even more, to come up with sensible policy proposals like fixing email and text archiving to prevent this from happening in every presidential administration). All the questions about whether Hillary chose to keep her own server to avoid oversight (or, as Chaffetz asked today, to obstruct OGR’s investigation) has never been investigated by FBI. Those requests even have more merit than Democrats are making out — in part for precisely this reason, FBI has never considered at least some evidence to support the case Hillary deliberately avoided FRA, including a string of really suspicious timing. As I wrote in my other post, I also think they won’t amount to anything, in part because these laws (including laws prohibiting lying to Congress) are so toothless. But they are a fair question.

All that said, it is incorrect to take a report showing the FBI not charging Hillary for intentionally mishandling classified information and conclude from that that hers is an example of FRA and FOIA gone amuck. On the contrary. Hillary has never been exonerated for trying to avoid FOIA and FRA. The evidence suggests it would be hard to do that.

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.

Jim Comey, Poker Face, and the Scope of the Clinton Investigation(s)

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 10.11.04 PMI write this post reluctantly, because I really wish the Hillary investigations would be good and over. But I don’t think they are.

After having watched five and a half hours of the Clinton investigation hearing today, I’ve got new clarity about what the FBI has been doing for the last year. That leads me to believe that this week’s announcement that DOJ will not charge Clinton is simply a pause in the Clinton investigation(s). I believe an investigation will resume shortly (if one is not already ongoing), though that resumed investigation will also end with no charges — for different reasons than this week’s declination.

First, understand how this all came about. After the existence of Hillary’s server became known, State’s IG Steve Linick started an investigation into it, largely focused on whether Hillary (and other Secretaries of State) complied with Federal Records Act obligations. In parallel, as intelligence agencies came to complain about State’s redactions of emails released in FOIA response, the Intelligence Committee Inspector General Charles McCullough intervened in the redaction process and referred Clinton to the FBI regarding whether any classified information had been improperly handed. As reported, State will now resume investigating the classification habits of Hillary and her aides, which will likely lead to several of them losing clearance.

The FBI investigation that ended yesterday only pertained to that referral about classified information. Indeed, over the course of the hearing, Comey revealed that it was narrowly focused, examining the behavior of only Clinton and four or five of her close aides. And it only pertained to that question about mishandling classified information. That’s what the declination was based on: Comey and others’ determination that when Hillary set up her home-brew server, she did not intend to mishandle classified information.

This caused some consternation, early on in the hearing, because Republicans familiar with Clinton aides’ sworn testimony to the committee investigating the email server and Benghazi were confused how Comey could say that Hillary was not cleared to have her own server, but aides had testified to the contrary. But Comey explained it very clearly, and repeatedly. While FBI considered the statements of Clinton aides, they did not review their sworn statements to Congress for truth.

That’s important because the committee was largely asking a different question: whether Clinton used her server to avoid oversight, Federal Record Act requirements, the Benghazi investigation, and FOIA. That’s a question the FBI did not review at all. This all became crystal clear in the last minutes of the Comey testimony.

Chaffetz: Was there any evidence of Hillary Clinton attempting to avoid compliance with the Freedom of Information Act?

Comey: That was not the subject of our criminal investigation so I can’t answer that sitting here.

Chaffetz: It’s a violation of law, is it not?

Comey: Yes, my understanding is there are civil statutes that apply to that. I don’t know of a crimin–

Chaffetz: Let’s put some boundaries on this a little bit — what you didn’t look at. You didn’t look at whether or not there was an intention or reality of non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

Comey: Correct.

Having started down this path, Chaffetz basically confirms what Comey had said a number of times throughout the hearing, that FBI didn’t scrutinize the veracity of testimony to the committee because the committee did not make a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: You did not look at testimony that Hillary Clinton gave in the United States Congress, both the House and the Senate?

Comey: To see whether it was perjurious in some respect?

Chaffetz: Yes.

Comey: No we did not.

[snip]

Comey: Again, I can confirm this but I don’t think we got a referral from Congressional committees, a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: No. It was the Inspector General that initiated this.

Now, let me jump to the punch and predict that OGR will refer at least Hillary’s aides, and maybe Hillary herself, to FBI for lying to Congress. They might even have merit in doing so, as Comey has already said her public claims about being permitted to have her own email (which she repeated to the committee) were not true. Plus, there’s further evidence that Hillary used her own server precisely to maintain control over them (that is, to avoid FOIA).

That said, there are two reasons why Hillary and her aides won’t be prosecuted for lying to Congress: James Clapper and Scott Bloch.

Clapper you all know about. The Director of National Intelligence — unlike Clinton — was not under oath when he spectacularly lied to Ron Wyden. Nor was he referred to DOJ for prosecution. But that recent lie will make FBI hesitate.

DOJ will hesitate even more given the history of Scott Bloch. bmaz has written a slew of posts about this but the short version is that the former Office of Special Counsel lied to this very committee and wiped his hard drive to obscure that fact. He ultimately pled guilty, but when the magistrate handling the case pointed out that the plea carried a minimum one month sentence, Bloch and DOJ went nuts and tried to withdraw his plea. bmaz and a bunch of whistleblowers who had been poorly treated by Bloch went nuts in turn. All to no avail. After DOJ claimed there were secret facts that no one understood, the court agreed to sentence Bloch to just one day in jail.

In other words, to keep one of their own out of jail, DOJ made expansive claims about how unimportant lying to Congress is. Even assuming DOJ would ignore their own recent historical claims about the frivolity of lying to Congress, Hillary’s lawyers could use that precedent to argue that lying to Congress has, effectively, been decriminalized (unilaterally by the Executive Branch!).

So FBI will investigate it. Comey might even refer, this time, for prosecution, because the evidence is actually far stronger that Hillary used her own server to avoid oversight (and that she was less than forthcoming about that to Congress). But that, too, won’t be prosecuted because you basically can’t prosecute lying to Congress after the Bloch case.

Which brings me to the funniest part of this exchange with Chaffetz (which, coming as it did in the last minutes of the hearing, has escaped most notice).

Chaffetz: Did you look at the Clinton Foundation?

Comey: I’m not going to comment on the existence or non-existence of any other investigation.

Chaffetz: Was the Clinton Foundation tied into this investigation?

Comey: I’m not going to answer that.

Understand: Comey had already commented on the existence or non-existence of other investigations, commenting at length on the non-investigation of questions pertaining to FOIA and FRA, even describing how many people (four to five) were subjects of this investigation. Comment on non-existence of investigation, comment on non-existence of investigation, comment on non-existence of investigation.

And for what it’s worth, the Clinton Foundation probably couldn’t have been part of the scope of this, given that this was only focused on four to five people (note, a Clinton Foundation investigation would better explain why FBI gave Brian Pagliano immunity, another topic on which Comey would not comment).

But when asked about the Clinton Foundation, he claimed he couldn’t say. All of a sudden, refusal to comment on existence or non-existence of investigation.

Now, I’m just going to say I don’t think anything will come of that, because I doubt FBI would clear Hillary on one issue but not the related one (plus, given SCOTUS’ ruling in the Bob McDonnell case, it probably became impossible to prosecute any Clinton Foundation violations). But Comey’s answer does make it clear that FBI considers questions about improperly handling classified information, avoiding FOIA and other oversight, lying about avoiding FOIA, and deals made with the Clinton Foundation to be different things.

I think that doesn’t change that Hillary won’t be indicted. But I do think she will continue to be investigated in conjunction with questions about what she did and said to avoid FOIA and other oversight.

Update: This post has been tweaked.

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.