Ah, But Are You Like George W. Bush?

I’ve been in an car dealer service waiting room all morning, so I’m late to the story about Barack Obama telling Jello Jay Rockefeller he’s not as bad as Dick Cheney.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) confronted the president over the administration’s refusal for two years to show congressional intelligence committees Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying the use of lethal force against American terror suspects abroad.

[snip]

In response to Rockefeller’s critique, Obama said he’s not involved in drafting such memos, the senators told POLITICO. He also tried to assure his former colleagues that his administration is more open to oversight than that of President George W. Bush, whom many Democratic senators attacked for secrecy and for expanding executive power in the national security realm.

“This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” he said, according to Democratic senators who asked not to be named discussing the private meeting.

Aside from the fact that — as I’ve pointed out — Obama is actually worse than the last year of the Bush Administration, when Acting OLC head Steven Bradbury was sharing OLC memos with Congress, I’m struck that Obama seems to forget he is the President, not the Vice President.

The comparison still is inapt. George Bush didn’t write any Executive Orders pretending to be transparent and his classification Executive Order effective empowered Dick Cheney to classify and instadeclassify at will (an authority that John Brennan seemed to use while he was in the White House).

But like Bush, Obama has people working for him who are as allergic to oversight as Dick Cheney. I pointed out yesterday, for example, that Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, thinks he shouldn’t even answer questions in open session and tried to stop publishing the number of people with security clearances.

Under Bush, DOD hid pictures of coffins; under Obama DOD just started hiding numbers of drone strikes.

Cheney went to the mat to hide who he had met with on his Energy Task Force. Obama’s National Security Council went to the mat to hide any mention that the President had authorized the torture program — and they hid it, they explained, because they were still using that very same authorization (though to do thinks like engage in targeted killings).

Obama seems to be hiding behind his own stated good intention (even while he admitted to Democratic Senators he would feel the way they do now if he were still in the Senate) just like Bush hid by his stated good intention that no one would leak the name of a CIA officer. Both, meanwhile, were either ignoring or pretending to ignore the sheer paranoia about secrecy of the men that work for them.

The Author of the White Paper, Stuart Delery, Argues Selective, Misleading Disclosures Should Not Be Checked by FOIA

As I noted in this post, Daniel Klaidman has identified the author of the targeted killing white paper as Stuart Delery.

At the time he wrote the white paper, Delery was Senior Counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder. Last March, he became Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of DOJ and, in the absence of an Assistant AG (or, as far as I can tell, even a nominee, in which case this feels a lot like what George Bush did with Steven Bradbury when he left the Acting head in charge for years on end), the Acting head of the Civil Division.

As I also noted, Delery actually argued the government’s case in the ACLU’s Drone FOIA on September 20, 2012. Now, that’s the ACLU’s other drone FOIA, not the one specifically requesting information that should have included the unclassified white paper Delery wrote if DOJ had answered the FOIA in good faith.

Nevertheless, it asked for closely related information:

The Request seeks a variety of records relating to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct targeted killings, including the legal basis for the strikes and any legal limits on who may be targeted; where targeted drone strikes can occur; civilian casualties; which agencies or other non-governmental entities may be involved in conducting targeted killings; how the results of individual drone strikes are assessed after the fact; who may operate and direct targeted killing strikes; and how those involved in operating the program are supervised, overseen or disciplined.

At the time ACLU submitted the request on January 13, 2010, Delery was in the Deputy Attorney General’s Office. DOJ responded to its part of the FOIA on February 3, 2010 — 16 days after DOJ worked on a briefing on targeted killing Eric Holder would make to President Obama and 15 days after he delivered that briefing — by claiming only FBI would have responsive records. When FBI searched its records it found none. DOJ made that initial response 6 days before someone in DAG — Delery’s office — wrote an email to OLC about the Holder briefing.

So while DOJ’s non-responsiveness in the drone FOIA is not as egregious as it was in the Awlaki FOIA, it’s still clear that the department Delery worked in, if not (as in the Awlaki FOIA) Delery’s work itself, was shielded from FOIA by a disingenuous FOIA response.

Yet Delery, the Acting head of the Civil Division, nevertheless decided he should argue the government’s case. Technically, Delery was arguing for CIA’s right to pretend it hadn’t confirmed its role in drone strikes in spite of repeated public statements doing just that, so he wasn’t defending the non-disclosure of his Department’s work, per se. Still, it’s not generally considered good form for a lawyer to argue a matter in which he has been so closely involved. He did so, however, at a time before we knew just how centrally involved he was in this matter.

With all that in mind, I thought I’d look at what Delery said to the DC Circuit.

MR. DELERY: May it please the Court, Stuart Delery for the Appellee, CIA.

This Court in several cases has identified two important interests that the strict test for official confirmation serves. It protects the Government’s vital interest in information related to national security and foreign affairs, and it advances FOIA’s interest in disclosure by not punishing officials for attempting to educate the public on matters of public concern because otherwise officials would be reluctant to speak on important national security matters.

Here, the Government has acknowledged that the United States makes efforts to target specific terrorists as part of its counter-terrorism operations, that as part of those operations or, in some cases, those operations involve the use of remotely piloted aircraft or drones, and it’s also described the legal framework and standards that apply in this context in a series of speeches and interviews including by the President’s counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, but also the Attorney General, the legal advisor to the State Department, the General Council of DOD, and as has been  referenced in yesterday’s or the recent exchange of 28J letters including a recent interview by the President. But, there’s been no official acknowledgment one way or the other about whether the CIA is involved in these particular operations. [my emphasis]

Delery suggests that a series of Leon Panetta comments (both before and after he moved from CIA to DOD) making the CIA’s role in drone killing clear should not amount to confirmation that the CIA is involved in drone killing because, he says, FOIA’s interest in disclosure should not punish public officials for attempting to educate the public.

Or, to put it another way, the Administration giving a bunch of self-serving speeches should not then make the topic of those speeches subject to FOIA because, in Delery’s mind, that would work contrary to FOIA’s support for disclosure because it would punish officials for giving self-serving speeches.

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General Dynamics: The Digital Tale of John & Jill and Dave & Paula

DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO TAMPA BAY??

Another giant shoe has dropped in L’Affaire Petraeus. Not simply more specifics, but yet another General:

Gen. John Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defense official said early Tuesday was “inappropriate communication’’ with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa who was seen as a rival for David H. Petraeus’s attentions by Paula Broadwell, the woman who had an extramarital affair with Mr. Petraeus.

In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the F.B.I. had informed him on Sunday of its investigation of General Allen.

Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct its own investigation into what the defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married with children.

Really, at this point, what can you even say about the secret storm soap opera that roils within the rarified brass air of the US Military? This was just the last hit for a night that saw the emergence of the Shirtless FBI Guy (now under investigation himself by the Office of Professional Responsibility at DOJ) to a nightime search of Paula Broadwell’s home by the FBI.

There are too many tentacles, evolving too quickly, to go too deep on all the facts that have rolled out even in the last twelve hours. But the General Allen/Jill Kelley bit is fascinating. Remember, the handful of emails Paula Broadwell sent to Kelley reportedly did not mention Petraeus by name. This latest report at least raises the possibility Broadwell was referring to an inappropriate relationship between Kelley and Allen, and not Kelley and Petraeus. I am not saying such is Read more

Jay Bybee Wrote Memo Permitting Broad Sharing of Intelligence-Related Grand Jury Information

In March 2011, I noted a previously unreleased OLC memo mentioned in Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 illegal wiretapping memo seemingly giving the President broad authority to learn about grand jury investigations.

For example, this Office has concluded that, despite statutory restrictions upon the use of Title III wiretap information and restrictions on the use of grand jury information under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), the President has an inherent constitutional authority to receive all foreign intelligence information in the hands of the government necessary for him to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities and that statutes and rules should be understood to include an implied exception so as not to interfere with that authority. See Memorandum for the Deputy Attorney General from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Effect of the Patriot Act on Disclosure to the President and Other Federal Officials of Grand Jury and Title III Information Relating to National Security and Foreign Affairs 1 (July 22, 2002)

The Brennan Center has now liberated that memo (though they don’t yet have it linked). And it shows that in July 2002, Jay Bybee interpreted a section of the PATRIOT Act that expanded information-sharing to include sharing grand jury information, with no disclosure, with the President and his close aides.

The notion that grand jury testimony should be secret dates back to at least the seventeenth century. The rules governing disclosure of grand jury proceedings are set by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; prior to the PATRIOT Act, those rules declared that grand jury information could be shared only under certain circumstances, such as when the material was necessary to assist a prosecutor. However, disclosures had to be reported to a judge, and everyone receiving the information had to be told of its confidentiality.

The PATRIOT Act changed these rules significantly. Government lawyers could now share “any grand-jury matter involving foreign intelligence, counterintelligence …, or foreign intelligence information” with nearly any federal official, including those working in law enforcement, intelligence, immigration, national defense, or national security. Even records about a grand jury’s deliberations or a particular grand juror’s vote were apparently fair game. And the standard for sharing the information was not whether the material was “necessary” to the official’s duties; instead, the information need only “assist” the official in some way.

[snip]

First, although the rule expressly requires that disclosures of grand jury information be reported to the court, Bybee advised that disclosures to the president need not be reported lest they “infringe on the presumptively confidential nature of presidential communications.” (OLC had previously decided that similar disclosures to the president would be reportable in some circumstances but not in others.)  In addition, disclosures to the president’s “close advisors” – including the president’s chief of staff, the vice president, and counsel to the president – could be kept secret as well. While only “information that is actually necessary for the President to discharge his constitutional duties” could be secretly disclosed to the president or his advisors, that requirement is highly unlikely to be tested in practice.

Permitting the content of deliberations or a grand juror’s vote to be shared secretly with the vice president is surprising enough.  The memo goes much further, however.  Once an attorney for the government has shared grand jury information with anyone – the president, one of his close advisors, or any other federal official whose duties are listed above – the person receiving the information can share it with anyone else without reporting to the court.  That later disclosure, according to the memo’s crabbed reasoning, is not a disclosure “under” the rule, and therefore is not bound by the reporting requirement.

And there’s more: the recipient of one of those subsequent distributions can use the information for any purpose.  Because these down-the-line releases are not technically disclosures “under” the rule, the “official duties” constraint does not apply.

I’ll have more to say about this once I get the memo.

But imagine how it might be used in, say, the Valerie Plame or the Thomas Drake investigations. They were, after all, investigations about the unauthorized disclosure of foreign intelligence information. They also happened to be investigations into Dick Cheney’s law-breaking, but they were ostensibly about leaks of precisely the kind of information Jay Bybee permitted be shared with the President and … the Vice President. And in the case of the Plame leak, once Cheney got a hold of the information, he could share it with Karl Rove who could do whatever the fuck he wanted with it.

Mind you, once Pat Fitzgerald got put in charge, I doubt such sharing happened on the Plame case–at least not before August 2005, when Jim Comey retired. After that, who’s to say what David Margolis, the master of institutional self-preservation, might have done with grand jury information implicating top White House officials?

And, yes, by all appearances, this memo remains operative.

Update: Here’s the memo. And here’s the operative passage:

 Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) requires that any such disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President’s behalf.

DOD to Give Penguin the WikiLeaks Treatment?

As a number of outlets have reported, DOD has written a threatening letter to Matt Bissonnette, the Navy SEAL whose memoir comes out next week.

But I think they’re misunderstanding part of the nature of the threat (though Mark Zaid, a lawyer who has represented a lot of spooks in cases like this one, alludes to it here, which I’ll return to). Here are, in my opinion, the two most important parts of the letter. First, DOD’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson addressed it to Penguin’s General Counsel as the custodian for the pseudonymous writer he makes clear he knows the real identity of elsewhere in the letter.

Mr. “Mark Owen”

c/o Alexander Gigante, Esquire

General Counsel

Penguin Putnam, Inc.

That, by itself, is not a big deal. But it does mean Johnson knows Penguin’s GC will read this letter.

More importantly, here’s how Johnson ended the letter:

I write to formally advise you of your material breach and violation of your agreements, and to inform you that the Department is considering pursuing against you, and all those acting in concert with you, all remedies legally available to us in light of this situation. [my emphasis]

That is, DOD is also considering legal remedies against “those acting in concert” with Bissonnette.

As far as we know, the only people acting in concert with Bissonnette are at Penguin’s imprint of Dutton. Thus, as much as this is a threat to Bissonnette, it’s also a threat to Penguin.

Which would make sense because–as Zaid points out–the government has been trying to push the application of the Espionage Act to those sharing classified information since the AIPAC trial.

Mark Zaid, a lawyer who has represented a variety of former military and intelligence officials in disclosure and leak cases, said the Johnson letter looked like a signal that the Pentagon was “contemplating a test case against the publisher or media for disclosing classified information.”

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The First Rule of the Fight Club…

I’ve been waiting to comment on the news that one of the SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden has a book coming out on September 11.

The publication will undoubtedly be yet another telling episode in our government’s asymmetric treatment of secrecy, but thus far it is too soon to say how. After all, when a SEAL wants to “correct the story,” does he plan to engage in a little JSOC score-settling (I heard rumors the Rangers and the SEALs had competing versions not long after the operation). Will he reveal details that change our understanding of Pakistani knowledge of the operation? Or will he significantly upend the myth Obama’s team has spun about it? All were–and probably still are–possible.

In any case, the book publication will present an interesting challenge for the Obama Administration, which has gone to great lengths to prevent or disincent publication of other books revealing secret information. Nevertheless, the completely arbitrary system for prepublication review seems to encourage people to bypass the system. (This SEAL has already planned to donate much of the proceeds of the book, following a lead set by Ishmael Jones, which takes away one of the tools the government might use against him.)

Finally, there’s the political problem Obama will have. It’ll be hard for the Administration to villainize this SEAL the way it has given others. After all, the SEAL played a key role in half of Obama’s re-election bumper sticker: “Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” Either he’s a hero for killing OBL, or he’s not, right?

It’s against that background that I read the exposure–first by a Fox News Pentagon reporter, citing “multiple sources,” and then by Craig Whitlock, citing “Pentagon sources”–of the SEAL’s real identity. Given that the Pentagon was sharing (or at least confirming) the SEAL’s identity to the WaPo, then this line from the SOCOM spokesperson is rather ominous.

And Col. Tim Nye, a Special Operations Command spokesman, said the author “put himself in danger” by writing the book.

“This individual came forward. He started the process. Read more

John Brennan Channels Scott McClellan Dodging Leak Questions

When Margaret Warner asked John Brennan about the leak witch hunt today, he said, in part,

First of all, there are investigations underway, so we have to be mindful of that and respectful of that investigative process.

Secondly, the President has made it very clear that any leak of classified national security information is something that should be rigorously pursued.

Let’s see. Dodging the question by invoking an ongoing investigation.

Check.

Reassurance that–quote–“the President has made it very clear” that he takes this stuff seriously.

Check.

Brennan must not have seen this movie when it was first released. Because this strategy ultimately didn’t work out that well.

Using Pensions to “Punish” “Leaks” Will Subject Clearance Holders to Arbitrary Power

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s new anti-leak laws are the part of the Intelligence Authorization that will generate the most attention. Greg Miller already got Dianne Feinstein to admit there’s no reason to think one of the new provisions–permitting only the most senior intelligence officials to do background briefings–will limit leaks.

Feinstein acknowledged that she knew of no evidence tying those leaks or others to background sessions, which generally deal broadly with analysts’ interpretations of developments overseas and avoid discussions of the operations of the CIA or other spy services.

Another of the provisions–requiring intelligence committee heads to ensure that every sanctioned leak be recorded–ought to be named the Judy Miller and Bob Woodward Insta-Leak Recording Act.

(a) RECORD REQUIREMENT.—The head of each element of the intelligence community shall ensure that such element creates and maintains a record of all authorized disclosures of classified information to media personnel, including any person or entity under contract or other binding agreement with the media to provide analysis or commentary, or to any person or entity if the disclosure is made with the intent or knowledge that such information will be made publicly available.

I’m sure someone can think of some downside to this provision, but I can’t think of it at the moment (which is why Obama will probably find some way to eliminate it). It will end some of the asymmetry and abuse of classification as it currently exists.

In addition, there are a bunch of provisions that are just dumb bureaucracy.

But it’s this one that is deeply troubling. Among the other provisions making nondisclosure agreements more rigorous is a provision that would allow an intelligence community head to take away a person’s pension if they “determine” that an individual violated her nondisclosure agreement.

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Cheney’s Thugs Win the Prize for Leak Hypocrisy

I wasn’t much interested in Mitt Romney’s latest efforts to change the narrative from the evil things he profited off of at Bain Capital and the tax havens he stashed the money he got as a result. Not only don’t I think journalists will be all that interested in Mitt’s claim that Obama’s White House is a leaky sieve. But I’m not about to defend the Most Fucking Transparent™ White House in Fucking History against such accusations.

Until Cheney’s thugs start leading the attack.

Such as Eric Edelman, who says we need “change” because Obama’s Administration leaked details of the Osama bin Laden raid.

Eric Edelman is this guy:

Shortly after publication of the article in The New Republic, LIBBY spoke by telephone with his then Principal Deputy [Edelman] and discussed the article. That official asked LIBBY whether information about Wilson’s trip could be shared with the press to rebut the allegations that the Vice President had sent Wilson. LIBBY responded that there would be complications at the CIA in disclosing that information publicly, and that he could not discuss the matter on a non-secure telephone line

Four days after Edelman made the suggestion to leak information about Joe Wilson’s trip, Scooter Libby first revealed to Judy Miller that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.

But Edelman is not the only one of Cheney’s thugs bewailing leakers: (h/t Laura Rozen, who follows BabyDick so I don’t have to)

Romney today at VFW on contemptible conduct of Obama White House leaking classified info for political gain. Must read. http://tinyurl.com/bw4s4lt

Now, to be fair to dear BabyDick, unlike Edelman she has not been directly implicated in her father’s deliberate exposure of a US CIA officer working to stop nuclear proliferation. Unlike Edelman, she was not protected from legal jeopardy by Scooter Libby’s lies.

But she did co-author her father’s book, which was a whitewash of his treachery (even if it did reveal that Cheney had a second interview with Pat Fitzgerald, one treated as a grand jury appearance, just around the time Fitzgerald subpoenaed Judy Miller. BabyDick Cheney is complicit in the lies the Cheney thugs have used to hide what a contemptible leak for political gain the Plame leak was.

And now she thinks she should lecture others about far less treacherous leaks?

Lamar Smith’s Futile Leak Investigation

Lamar Smtih has come up with a list of 7 national security personnel he wants to question in his own leak investigation. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told President Obama Thursday he’d like to interview seven current and former administration officials who may know something about a spate of national security leaks.

[snip]

The administration officials include National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Antony Blinken.

Of course the effort is sure to be futile–if Smith’s goal is to figure out who leaked to the media (though it’ll serve its purpose of creating a political shitstorm just fine)–for two reasons.

First, only Clapper serves in a role that Congress has an unquestioned authority to subpoena (and even there, I can see the Intelligence Committees getting snippy about their turf–it’s their job to provide impotent oversight over intelligence, not the Judiciary Committees).

As for members of the National Security Council (Tom Donilon, John Brennan, Denis McDonough, Audrey Tomason, and Antony Blinken) and figures, like Bill Daley, who aren’t congressionally approved? That’s a bit dicier. (Which is part of the reason it’s so dangerous to have our drone targeting done in NSC where it eludes easy congressional oversight.)

A pity Republicans made such a stink over the HJC subpoenaing Karl Rove and David Addington and backed Bush’s efforts to prevent Condi Rice from testifying, huh?

The other problem is that Smith’s list, by design, won’t reveal who leaked the stories he’s investigating. He says he wants to investigate 7 leaks.

Smith said the committee intends to focus on seven national security leaks to the media. They include information about the Iran-targeted Stuxnet and Flame virus attacks, the administration’s targeted killings of terrorism suspects and the raid which killed Usama bin Laden.

Smith wants to know how details about the operations of SEAL Team Six, which executed the bin Laden raid in Pakistan, wound up in the hands of film producers making a film for the president’s re-election. Also on the docket is the identity of the doctor who performed DNA tests which helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden’s hideout.

But his list doesn’t include everyone who is a likely or even certain leaker.

Take StuxNet and Flame. Not only has Smith forgotten about the programmers (alleged to be Israeli) who let StuxNet into the wild in the first place–once that happened, everything else was confirmation of things David Sanger and security researchers were able to come up with on their own–but he doesn’t ask to speak to the Israeli spooks demanding more credit for the virus.

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