Tucker Carlson Burns FBI or NSA Intercepts Regarding His 30-Month Pursuit of Face-Time with Vladimir Putin

Last week, I suggested that one possible explanation for Tucker Carlson’s claim to have been spied on by NSA is that he had a back channel with Russian operatives and was trying to get ahead of allegations that he was coordinating with Russian agents.

Particularly if the communications implicating Carlson were damning and potentially illegal, leaking them to him would be an easy way to flip the story, and accuse NSA of spying rather than Carlson of coordinating with Russian agents. Again, that’s all just a hypothetical that might explain Carlson’s claims.

Overnight, Jonathan Swan — who’s a political reporter, not a surveillance reporter — described that sources claimed authorities had obtained communications from Tucker Carlson’s efforts to get an interview with Vladimir Putin. Swan describes that Tucker had two intermediaries with Russia, but they live in the US. (I had hypothesized these might be Ukrainian sources, but Swan suggests they’re Russians.)

Two sources familiar with Carlson’s communications said his two Kremlin intermediaries live in the United States, but the sources could not confirm whether both are American citizens or whether both were on U.S. soil at the time they communicated with Carlson.

Swan doesn’t note that if the surveillance happened in the US, it would have formally been an FBI intercept, not an NSA one (just as the intercepts showing Mike Flynn’s secret back channel with Russia were collected by the FBI). But he does a good job of laying out the most likely ways this happened, which is that the NSA or FBI were surveilling the kind of people they’re supposed to surveil: Russian agents, whether overt or covert.

  • The first — and least likely — scenario is that the U.S. government submitted a request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Carlson to protect national security.
  • A more plausible scenario is that one of the people Carlson was talking to as an intermediary to help him get the Putin interview was under surveillance as a foreign agent.
  • In that scenario, Carlson’s emails or text messages could have been incidentally collected as part of monitoring this person, but Carlson’s identity would have been masked in any intelligence reports.
  • In order to know that the texts and emails were Carlson’s, a U.S. government official would likely have to request his identity be unmasked, something that’s only permitted if the unmasking is necessary to understand the intelligence.

The import of the agency involved — FBI or NSA — is that “unmasking” works quite differently for the FBI, which has a duty to guard against spying in this country. FBI agents tracking a known Russian agent might review such communications to find out if a high profile US journalist was being recruited by a known Russia spy. And if this was the FBI, it might explain how it recently became known: because Merrick Garland’s DOJ is trying to disclose all the tracking of journalists that took place under the Trump Administration.

This entire faux scandal feels just like ones that Devin Nunes has twice sown, first when Republican members of Congress got picked up undermining US policy with Bibi Netanyahu, and then again when Trump’s Transition team set up a secret back channel meeting with UAE. Each time Nunes has done this, it was with the seeming intent of flipping the scandalous efforts of Republicans to undermine US policy.

That’s consistent with Tucker’s claim that his source is “in a position to know.”

The whistleblower, who’s in a position to know, repeated back to us information about a story we are working from that could have only come directly from my texts and emails. There’s no other possible source for that information, period. The NSA captured that information without our knowledge and did it for political reasons.

But it also means that, if true, then Tucker and his source — whom Tucker himself suggests had a need to know — just burned intercepts on legitimate surveillance targets from a hostile country.

Plus, there’s a far bigger problem with Tucker’s currently operative story. Jason Leopold liberated Tucker’s FOIA request to obtain what he claims would be proof of this spying. Whether intentionally or because of incompetence, the FOIA was written in such a way that it is guaranteed to fail to find anything, because it uses language that NSA would understand to mean communications targeting Tucker (and, specifically, communications obtained from physical possession of Tucker’s phone).

More interesting than the failure by design is the scope. Tucker believes these sensitive communications — ostensibly a recent effort to set up an interview with Vladimir Putin — extend from January 1, 2019 until June 28, 2021, the date he first revealed this.

That’s thirty months he has been working with Russian back channels, purportedly to set up a meeting with Putin.

That, by itself, may explain why the communications generated further attention (if indeed they did). Thirty months isn’t the pursuit of an interview, it’s a long term relationship. This would look like a recruitment effort, not journalism.

It also explains why, even though Tucker himself is the person who leaked these details (again, burning what by all accounts are legitimate intercept targets), he claims it was an effort to take him off the air. If the FBI believes that Tucker really was pursuing a long-term relationship with Russian agents, then even Fox News might rethink giving him a platform. But that wouldn’t be the content of the communications, per se, but the fact that they appear to have been going on for thirty months.

The Republican PCLOB Cover-Up of NSA’s XKEYSCORE Use Is More Troubling than Tucker Carlson’s Claims To Be Surveilled

The other day, Tucker Carlson claimed that an NSA whistleblower had contacted him to let him know that the NSA was monitoring “our” electronic communications and planned to leak them to take him off the air. Carlson claims the whistleblower’s ability to read back what Carlson said in some texts and emails (both easily hackable communications) about an upcoming story is proof that it happened.

In response, the NSA issued an unprecedented statement via Twitter, reading in part:

This allegation is untrue. Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try to take his program off the air.

[snip]

NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting.

As a number of people have pointed out, given how NSA uses “target” here, this doesn’t amount to a denial, because it’s possible that Carlson’s communications with a foreigner who was legally targeted got swept up. Strictly as a hypothetical, it could be that Carlson is working on another Hunter Biden story involving Ukraine, and the NSA picked up his communications directly with an agent of Russia in Ukraine by targeting that totally legitimate intelligence target. The result would be to incidentally collect Carlson’s communications with said hypothetical Ukrainian target. Particularly if the communications implicating Carlson were damning and potentially illegal, leaking them to him would be an easy way to flip the story, and accuse NSA of spying rather than Carlson of coordinating with Russian agents. Again, that’s all just a hypothetical that might explain Carlson’s claims.

Still, given that Carlson is a liar who has recently been spewing conspiracy theories that are whack even for him, my default assumption is that he’s lying.

Meanwhile, Carlson’s little cultivated outrage occurs at the same time that Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board member Travis LeBlanc released a scathing dissent, dated March 12, 2021 but just declassified, from a recently released but still classified PCLOB report on the NSA’s use of XKEYSCORE. The statement points to problems with both the use of XKEYSCORE and EO 12333 generally, as well as the operation of PCLOB under the recently departed Adam Klein’s tenure as Chair. Together, LeBlanc’s complaint suggests that Klein may have deliberately protected NSA from scrutiny after violations that happened during the Trump Administration were discovered in November 2020.

XKEYSCORE is effectively a means of querying the Five Eyes collections for all information on a target. Here’s what a query, called a “fingerprint,” targeting a peace and reconciliation commission in the Solomon Islands, looks like:

PCLOB started investigating XKEYSCORE in 2014 as part of its review of a limited subset of programs authorized under EO 12333.

The NSA deep dive concerned NSA’s use of XKEYSCORE, an intelligence analysis tool. The Board received briefings from and held meetings with NSA staff between May 2015 and November 2016. The Board also reviewed the guidance and training provided to NSA personnel, compliance mechanisms, and the relationship between the NSA activity and the NSA’s EO 12333 implementing procedures.

In early 2019, after the Board regained a quorum, the Board reengaged with the NSA and received additional briefings, demonstrations, and information. During this process, the Board worked with NSA to confirm and update facts provided in the 2015 timeframe. Again, the Board concentrated on the protection of U.S. persons’ privacy and civil liberties.

The Board produced a detailed, classified report explaining NSA’s use of XKEYSCORE as an analytic tool and relevant privacy and civil liberties protections in late 2020. Accompanying the report were recommendations from the Board and additional views of individual Board Members. The report and recommendations were delivered to the NSA, Congress, and other relevant executive branch agencies.

But PCLOB, under Klein’s leadership, chose not to declassify any parts of the report on XKEYSCORE.

In his dissent, LeBlanc laid out a bunch of problems with the Report itself:

  1. PCLOB didn’t address any of the technological questions presented by the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning
  2. PCLOB didn’t unpack the jargon NSA uses by separating discovery, targeting, and acquisition activities that can — and LeBlanc strongly implies does — result in domestic collection
  3. PCLOB did not conduct the kind of efficacy review that its three earlier surveillance reports had done (which showed, for example, that the phone dragnet had never been really useful)
  4. PCLOB didn’t adequately chase down the legal justification for XKEYSCORE and closed up shop before examining 2019 violations disclosed in November 2020
  5. PCLOB refused to adopt recommendations made by LeBlanc and Ed Felton, including one (to tag communications believed to belong to a US person) that would not be burdensome but would ensure that such US person communications would be not picked up in the future
  6. PCLOB didn’t release the report
  7. The former GOP majority rushed to finalize this report before Republicans lost the majority on it

Of particular note, LeBlanc suggests that (as happened with the phone dragnet), NSA had not conducted any legal analysis specific to XKEYSCORE before PCLOB asked for it in 2015.

Surprisingly, when the Board requested any legal analysis by the NSA or the Department of Justice regarding the use of XKEYSCORE’s functions in 2015, the NSA responded with a 13-page memo prepared by the NSA Office of General Counsel in 2016. Setting aside such a legal analysis was first written in January 2016, it is equally concerning that the agency apparently has not updated that written legal analysis since then. At a general level and on the basis of the documents that have been provided to the Board, it is concerning that any surveillance tool woul have been conceptualized, coded, implemented, and then executed and routinely used without such a prior legal analysis. Further, the analysis that NSA provided in 2016 fundamentally rests on decades-old Supreme Court precedent from United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, Smith v. Maryland, Katz v. United States, and two DOJ legal memoranda from the 1980s to assert that collection and use of XKEYSCORE is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.35 The NSA’s legal analysis lacks any consideration of recent relevant Fourth Amendment case law on electronic surveillance that one would expect to be considered–for example, Carpenter v. United States, Riley v. California, United States v. Jones, and United States v. Maynard. [some footnotes omitted]

Half of that footnote 35 — probably the bits that refer to DOJ memos likely including a 1984 OLC memo written by Ted Olson that DOJ is still hiding — is redacted.

The likelihood that none of this complies with the Fourth Amendment is all the more troubling given the disclosure of recent violations using XKEYSCORE and the way, subsequent to those violations, the GOP Majority rushed to finish the report before losing a majority on PCLOB.

In one of the most heavily redacted paragraphs in LeBlanc’s declassified dissent, he explains how PCLOB didn’t investigate reports of 2019 violations uncovered in November 2020.

I am equally concerned that the Board’s former majority failed to investigation [redacted] of serious compliance reports involving XKEYSCORE prior to approving this report. During the former Board’s investigation, it was uncovered in November 2020 that some [redacted] compliance reports involving XKEYSCORE occurred in 2019. Of those [redacted] XKEYSCORE reporters, [redacted] were deemed upon agency review to involve Questionable Intelligence Activities (“QIAs”). QIAs are defined as “any intelligence or intelligence-related activity when there is reason to believe such activity is unlawful or contrary to an EO, Presidential Directive, [Intelligence Community] Directive, or applicable DOD policy governing the activity. [entire sentence redacted] Obviously, violations of U.S. law and the known collection of processing of U.S. person information are serious compliance issues. Yet the former Board did not request specific information [full line redacted]

Ellen Nakashima’s story on this dissent reveals there were hundreds of such reports.

The program also resulted in hundreds of compliance incidents in 2019, a majority of which were considered “questionable intelligence activities” — a category that means the action may have involved improper surveillance of Americans’ communications, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details are classified.

As LeBlanc describes it (though much of that is redacted), when PCLOB heard about these hundreds of violations that happened under Donald Trump in the same month that Trump lost the presidency, they didn’t ask what happened.

Instead, they rushed to complete the still unfinished report while they retained a majority.

I have several concerns about the Board process that was followed to apparently approve the unfinished report. In a December 2020 Board meeting, the former majority sought ot vote on the then-unfinished XKEYSCORE report. During the Board meeting at which the vote was taken, we spent several hours discussing the revisions to the body and recommendations that would need to be made to the report. Instead of completing those revisions and then providing sufficient time for Members to review the report and prepare their statements before voting, the former Board majority sought in that meeting to approve the report for this project, ostensibly foreseeing the expiration of former Member Aditya Bamzai’s term at the end of December. Literally on the evening of December 21, former Member Bamzai circulated his statement. Subsequently, the new Board convened in January 2021 and then-Chairman submitted his own intention to resign the same month. Recognizing that the current 2021 Board has not voted on a report that we were still considering for revision as I drafted this statement, I have repeatedly requested a vote by the current Board on the final version of this report, including all final statements of current Members as well as a vote on whether to include the statement of a former Member. The then-current Chairman created a legal fiction to compel the issuing of a former Member’s statement without so much as a vote of the current Board to release this report. I simply cannot support a report that has not been voted on by the current Board that will issue it.

Even while he was pulling a fast one to close up the review of XKEYSCORE before it was done, Klein was writing his own White Paper on FISA that made claims about the soundness of FISA that he had no ability to conclude (most importantly, because PCLOB did not receive any of the applications implicating Sensitive Investigative Matters that should get the most scrutiny.

There were two claims of improper surveillance by NSA in recent days. One, made by a serial fabulist. And another, made by someone with access to classified information, that may affect hundreds of Americans.

The refusal of Republicans on PCLOB to examine the latter violations merits far more attention given the credibility of the reporting source than Tucker Carlson’s claims.

PCLOB: The Essential Oversight Link Designed to Be Inadequate

Last year, there were a couple of measures that purported to respond to the problems with the Carter Page FISA application but which would not have helped him at all. In February, House Judiciary Committee rolled out a bill to replace the now-lapsed Section 215 of FISA that included a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board review of the impact that tradition FISA had on First Amendment Activities.

SEC. 303. REPORT ON USE OF FISA AUTHORITIES REGARDING PROTECTED ACTIVITIES AND PROTECTED CLASSES.

(a) REPORT.—Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board shall make publicly available, to the extent practicable, a report on—

(1) the extent to which the activities and protected classes described in subsection (b) are used to support targeting decisions in the use of authorities pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.); and

(2) the impact of the use of such authorities on such activities and protected classes.

As I noted at the time, because PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism, it would not be able to look at counterintelligence targeting. This is not the first time that PCLOB’s mandate made its work less useful than it could be. Because its Section 702 report was necessarily limited to the counterterrorism uses of the law, PCLOB’s report did not address problems with the cybersecurity and counterproliferation uses of Section 702, both of which have far more unexpected impact on US person’s privacy than the counterterrorism use.

Then, in May, PCLOB’s Chair, Adam Klein, announced PCLOB was going to review traditional FISAs.

Adam I. Klein, the chairman of the privacy board, said that the issues Horowitz surfaced were precisely those that the board was established to examine.

“This is at the heartland of our jurisdiction,” said Klein, a lawyer and prominent researcher of FISA and other national security laws. “The IG found systemic compliance problems. At a minimum, we have a duty to inform ourselves.”

I again noted that PCLOB’s mandate would limit the value of such a review, and indeed, would prevent PCLOB from even reviewing the precipitating application, Page’s counterintelligence application.

Last week, Klein released the results of that review, billed and released not as a PCLOB report, but as a Chairperson’s White Paper (Klein has said he’d step down once Joe Biden replaced him). He makes clear,

I provide several observations and recommendations based on this review. These views are provided in my individual capacity as Chairman and should not be attributed to the Board as a whole or to other members of the Board.

Its recommendations are not obviously supported by the described scope of the review. His White Paper generally argues for more efficiency, a recommendation that conflicts with virtually all other conclusions that came out of the Carter Page review (though some of his recommendations to achieve efficiency, such as making the authorization period for non-US person FISA applications one year, make sense). He makes two recommendations (that the Woods file not require repeated documentation for repeated facts and that DOJ distinguish between information known at the time and information learned subsequent to an initial application) that would undercut some of the results of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

Klein’s White Paper does recommend that a summary memo submitted with the application which highlights novel privacy, legal, or technological issues. If the FBI Director or his delegate were required to sign off on that summary as well as the current certification (that doesn’t address the probable cause content of the application in the least), it might provide a level of accountability that (Congress doesn’t yet understand) FISA currently lacks. Other than that, Klein’s White Paper reads as much like a valedictory trying to guide future PCLOB plans as it does a report to improve FISA. Almost two pages of the 26-page report constitutes a recommendation to reauthorize Section 215 of FISA.

But, as predicted, the review did not consider anything remotely pertinent to what happened to Carter Page.

To conduct its review of applications themselves, PCLOB asked for and received the subset of the 29 FISA files that DOJ IG is conducting a review of that pertain to counterterrorism as well as the backup exchange between FBI and DOJ regarding those applications. That included:

  • 19 total applications (out of 29 reviewed by DOJ IG)
  • All counterterrorism targets
  • Most located in United States at time of targeting

These details help us understand the two reports DOJ IG wrote about the full set of 29 files, which I wrote about here. Of the 29, ten must be counterintelligence files like Carter Page’s.

Because PCLOB did not review the counterintelligence applications, it only reviewed one of the two for which DOJ IG found a material error.  The second was a CI application that showed a worse error rate than the Carter Page file (which was measured using a different methodology than the Carter Page one).

It also didn’t review any Sensitive Investigative Matters — applications which, like Carter Page’s, involve someone who is a political, journalistic, or religious figure whose targeting should get extra scrutiny. That seems to suggest that DOJ IG did not include any counterterrorism applications targeting SIMs in its review (it would seem SIMs would be more likely to be targeted on the counterintelligence side, but we know of religious and political figures targeted under counterterrorism FISA applications). These would be the applications that pose the greatest privacy and civil liberties concern.

In lieu of that, FBI Office of General Counsel provided PCLOB with,

The number of “sensitive investigative matters” pertaining to U.S. persons in which FBI sought a FISA probable cause order in each year between 2015 and 2019, a summary of each matter (including the type of investigation and the features resulting in its classification as a “sensitive investigative matter”), and whether each request was granted.

That’s presumably how PCLOB learned that there aren’t all that many SIMs targeted under FISA.

[I]nformation received by the Board indicates that relatively few FISA applications are obtained each year in SIMs.

Still, this is the core of what you’d need to review to serve the function of PCLOB. Klein even appears not to have reviewed Page’s significantly declassified public applications, which would have been simple to do, would have provided him something to compare the counterterrorism applications he reviewed with, but which would have been outside the scope of PCLOB’s mandate.

This matters because PCLOB has been reasonably effective. Indeed, in a book published in April in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, Lisa Monaco (in a contribution submitted before she became Deputy Attorney General) pointed to PCLOB’s contributions after the Snowden releases as an important way forward to balance security and secrecy in the age of mass leaks. Monaco even recommended that PCLOB consult with the Director of National Intelligence prior to the implementation of certain policies. (Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also contributed a chapter to the book, which was far more intriguing that Monaco’s.)

Another would be to institute a practice of DNI consultation with the PCLOB before the adoption of certain collection programs. The PCLOB served an important function after disclosures precisely because it is charged with considering privacy and civil liberties implications as well as the national security implications of counter-terrorism programs.82 It could be a valuable addition to the consideration and review of some intelligence programs for a standing body with the infrastructure to handle classified information to work with privacy officers in each agency to assess privacy concerns and conduct privacy impact assessments that are reported to the DNI.

But as noted above, even PCLOB’s Section 702 review suffered because it couldn’t look at several of the applications of 702, applications implicated by the Snowden releases.

Last year, I was told that efforts to expand the jurisdiction of PCLOB would be a poison pill to any bill to which they were attached. I can only assume that means the Executive doesn’t want to expose to scrutiny they kinds of practices that were central to the Carter Page application.

But if Lisa Monaco believes PCLOB has a role to play in balancing national security and secrecy, she should ensure its mandate is sufficiently broad to do that job.

Welcome to Lisa Monaco’s DOJ, E Jean Carroll Lawsuit Edition

During Lisa Monaco’s confirmation hearing, several people joked about how few questions she was getting. Because Vanita Gupta had been targeted by Republicans, Monaco was left for broad swaths of the hearing, a spectator to that effort.

There were some good exchanges. In addition to complaining about DOJ’s refusal to respond to questions from Democratic members of Congress, Sheldon Whitehouse asked about OLC, to which Monaco provided an anodyne answer that was enough for Whitehouse, who was going to vote for Monaco one way or another. Josh Hawley asked some legitimately good questions, including about end-to-end encryption. To those questions, Monaco hewed a middle ground and an adherence to the laws on the books. John Cornyn asked the same question Republicans harped on with Merrick Garland, whether she would let John Durham finish his work, to which she responded that her job is to make sure he has the resources to do so, which (while more nuanced that it sounded) shut down that line of questioning.

It was a testament to how shallowly Republican staffers interpreted Lisa Monaco’s long career that Chuck Grassley asked Monaco whether she had involvement in Crossfire Hurricane — the answer was obviously no, given her White House role at the time. But Grassley didn’t ask whether her position at the nexus of Mike Flynn’s efforts to obtain information from the Obama White House in advance of making calls with Sergey Kislyak that Flynn lied to hide would affect her view of the Russian investigation. Perhaps only Susan Rice was more personally betrayed by Mike Flynn’s outreach to Russia, and yet Republicans seemed to not even realize that Flynn and KT McFarland sent Tom Bossert to query Monaco in advance of Flynn’s covert call with Russia, making her the Obama person most directly victimized by Flynn’s underhandedness.

That blithe ignorance of how Monaco’s personal history might affect her tenure extended beyond the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, while every Assange supporter has targeted Biden and Garland for their pleas to drop the Assange prosecution, none have thought about the fact that Monaco was in charge of the response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign that led even WikiLeaks sympathizers in the Obama Administration to completely reconsider Assange’s game and his longterm relationship with Russia (then again, Assange supporters, almost to a one, have convinced themselves to believe bullshit propaganda about that decision being made under Trump).

Most people have failed to ask these questions about Monaco’s career experiences, even though as Deputy Attorney General, Monaco runs DOJ on a day-to-day basis and makes a lot of these decisions and serves as a key advisor to Garland where she doesn’t.

As a result of the very surface approach to Monaco’s career, there were a whole slew of questions in her confirmation hearing that should have been asked (and should be asked before Monaco’s close associate Matt Olsen is confirmed as National Security Division head), but were not. When Lisa Monaco was Robert Mueller’s top advisor in 2006, for example, what role did she play legalizing the phone dragnet aspiring to collect the phone records of all Americans under FISA’s Section 215? Given her past failures to fulfill promises of transparency, specifically as it relates to FISA, what can she do to ensure she will deliver on such transparency as Deputy Attorney General? What was her role in the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, and what does that say about her willingness to support unfettered executive authority? With the value of hindsight, does Monaco believe that she was suckered into continuing John Brennan’s permissive approach to drone strikes as White House Homeland Security Advisor, and if so what would she do to give herself the leverage to actually change bad policies baked in by her predecessors?

Don’t get me wrong: Monaco has almost unparalleled qualifications to be Deputy Attorney General, she brings a lot of great qualities to the job, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But there was almost no consideration about what affect her long tenure at DOJ and in National Security roles would have on her view towards Presidential authority and DOJ institutional precedent before she was confirmed.

Indeed, in perhaps the question that got closest to asking how she would treat initiatives from career DOJ officials already in place, Monaco explained to Amy Klobuchar that she viewed her job as to empower the people at DOJ she believed operated from an inherently unpartisan stance.

Klobuchar: After the last four years where civil servants withstood political interference, what do you see your role is as restoring the trust in the Department of Justice?

Monaco: Well Senator, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that the career men and women of the Justice Department are its backbone. They’re the people that enforce the law independently, faithfully, fairly, impartially, without any consideration of improper motive. I think they simply want to do their job. They want to do their job with the resources and the tools to keep the American people safe, to prosecute violent crime, to administer justice with compassion, and with humility, as Judge Garland talked about before this committee. And they want to see equal justice under law, and they want to do the work that this Committee has done on a bipartisan basis to administer criminal justice reform. And so I think my role is to ensure that they’ve got the tools and resources to do their job and to protect them from improper influence, any partisan motive, because I think they just want to do their job.

This is the belief system that leads Monaco to respond to a question about career DOJ prosecutor John Durham’s clearly politicized investigation by saying that her job is to make sure he has the resources he wants to continue that investigation.

In her role at DOJ, Monaco has overseen some key wins: with the announcement yesterday that FBI had seized much of the ransomware payment that Colonial pipelines had paid Dark Side hackers, with her quiet presence on the public line listening as Paul Hodgkins made the first pure guilty plea of the January 6 investigation, with the decision — on her first full day in office — to let SDNY resume its investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s foreign influence peddling.

But also under her leadership, DOJ has delayed notice to NYT about an effort to get their Internet records in a clearly politicized investigation. DOJ has moved to hide the contents of a Bill Barr memo that clearly abused his authority and the role of OLC (and with that decision, protected career employees who were making similarly dubious claims when Monaco ran the National Security Division). DOJ has defended a lot of legal stances that were obviously political on their face, most recently and egregiously by sustaining DOJ support to give Trump immunity from suit in his attack on alleged rape survivor, E. Jean Carroll. That is, as she did before with Cheney’s Stellar Wind and Brennan’s drone program, Monaco seems to have chosen not to make a clean break from the horrible policies of her predecessors, choosing instead to ensure the continuity of the institution.

Again, Lisa Monaco oozes intelligence and competence; she’s undeniably qualified to be where she’s at. But she also got where she’s at by cleaning up the messes left by Stellar Wind, the torture program, and John Brennan’s drone program by improving those shitty policies without demanding any accountability for the abuse of DOJ and presidential authority they entailed. Plus, as a career DOJ official, she’s going to defend professionals who did stupid things on the orders of a deeply politicized boss.

Particularly in the wake of the decision to defend Trump against Carroll’s suit, people are wondering how Merrick Garland could make such a horrible decision. My suspicion is they would be better asking what Lisa Monaco’s role was in the decision.

From Failed Whistleblower to Journalistic Source: Natalie Sours Edwards Mounts a Credible Public Interest Defense

Natalie Sours Edwards, one of the sources for a series of BuzzFeed stories on Treasury and a larger, global series on Suspicious Activity Reports, submitted her sentencing memorandum last night. It is probably the most convincing example of a whistleblower-turned-leaker telling her story to explain why she did what she did. And while she was charged under a different statute than the Espionage Act — there’s a specific law prohibiting the leaking of SARs — it is a laudable effort to make a public interest defense.

She spends much of her submission (as most do) describing her background — her Native American upbringing, the series of jobs she had after obtaining a PhD in national security decision-making, first at ATF, then at CIA, and then at Treasury’s FinCEN. Not long after she moved to Treasury, she grew concerned about a number of things she was seeing: She believed Treasury was making some organizational changes without first getting congressional approval.

By April of 2016, TFI was considering a proposal to move several employees from FinCEN to OIA. May Sours Edwards and other members of FinCEN’s upper management questioned the legality of the proposed realignment. In an email to John Farley, Acting Director of Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture (TEOAF), Dr. Edwards raised concerns about whether the transfers would be consistent with Congressional appropriations and whether OIA was moving forward in spite of a direction from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence not to proceed until the Committee had reviewed the plans for the reallocation of funds.

She was concerned — as was the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board — that Treasury had never instituted guidelines protecting Americans’ privacy when accessing records under 12333. (I had written about this problem before this period.)

Did OIA, as a member of the intelligence community, have the authority to collect and retain data domestically. Under Executive Order 12333 (“E.O. 12333”) IC entities, which OIA is, are permitted to collect information on “United States persons” only if the organization has promulgated guidelines for doing so and had them reviewed and approved by the Attorney General.11 Dr. Edwards questioned whether OIA had signed guidelines. Counsel for OIA hostilely, in Dr. Edwards’ estimation, disagreed with her interpretation of EO 12333. She believed he deliberately denigrated her during the meeting in front of the other participants in an attempt to bully her into agreeing with his position. She did not acquiesce.

11Executive Order 12333 provides in pertinent part as follows. “2:3 Collection of Information. Agencies within the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain or disseminate information concerning United States persons only in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General, consistent with the authorities provided in Part 1 of this Order.”

After she had shared these concerns with Congress, she believed that Jacob Lew had knowingly lied to Congress about whether there were whistleblowers at Treasury.

On September 22, 2016, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew testified before the House Financial Services Committee. https://www.c-span.org/video/?415661- 1/secretary-jack-lew-testifies-financial-stability-report&start=9046. Representative Fitzpatrick specifically asked him whether the proposed realignment was consistent with the existing budget, the issue Dr. Edwards had been raising. He also the Secretary whether there were any whistleblowers at Treasury. Representatives Jeb Hensarling and Sean Duffy later sent a follow-up congressional letter to Secretary Lew, expressing concern that the proposed “changes may violate appropriations requirements, civil service rules, and constraints on gathering and use of financial intelligence data.” They also noted that it was “troubling that Treasury is moving forward with the proposed reallocation with the intention to complete the process before a new Administration takes over in January 2017 and despite bipartisan requests to process at a more deliberate pace.” Id.

Something else of significance happened during the hearing. In response to a question from Representative Fitzpatrick, Secretary Lew stated that he was unaware of any whistleblowers in the Treasury Department. Dr. Edwards was taken aback and concerned. She was a whistleblower, a fact well known to Treasury OIG.

In the wake of that hearing, she believed that her clearance was pulled, briefly, as retaliation.

On September 27, 2016, a week after the contentious OIA-FinCEN meeting, someone at OIA ordered that Dr. Edward’s SCI (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information) clearance and her access to the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility) be revoked. Dr. Edwards questioned the basis for the action. Her clearance was reinstated the following day. Email of September 28, 2016, from May Edwards to Elizabeth Ortiz, attached hereto as Exhibit XX

She submitted two whistleblower complaints — to Treasury IG and to OSC. The latter found that she had engaged in protected activity (meaning that she had been a whistleblower), but ruled against her claims of retaliation on narrow grounds.

By letter dated May 21, 2018, OSC informed Dr. Edwards that they were closing her file. OSC concluded that Dr. Edwards’ reports to her “leadership, OIG, Congress and OSC all likely constitute ‘protected activity’ or whistleblowing under the law.” May 21, 2018, letter from OSC to Dr. Edwards, attached hereto as Exhibit HHH at 4. Further, Dr. Edwards could establish that her “management knew about [her] whistleblowing regarding, at a minimum, the issues [she] raised directly to them.” However, OSC made several findings that it concluded were fatal to Dr. Edwards’ claim that she had been retaliated against as a whistleblower. OSC could not find that there was a substantial likelihood that Treasury Secretary Lew knew of Dr. Edwards’ allegations when he testified before Congress that there were no whistleblowers in Treasury. Id. at 3. The email that outlined OMB’s direction to Treasury on communicating with Congress about the FinCEN/TSI realignment was not improper because it appeared to be directing Treasury officials not to discuss the issue in their official capacities as opposed to directing them in their individual capacities on their rights to report suspected wrongdoing to Congress

A Treasury IG Report ruled against her based on an alternative explanation provided for why the PKI of FinCEN employees had been pulled.

While finding that the problem with the IC PKI certificates was solely the result of inadvertence, the author of the audit did note that “the present working relationship between OIA and FinCEN related to the IC PKI process is strained.” Id. at 3. The two Treasury components had a “fundamental disagreement” about FinCEN’s need for access to the IC PKIs and more broadly about FinCEN’s autonomy.

She even explains how — after she started working with Jason Leopold — Ron Wyden complained that FinCEN was withholding information on Russian interference and its ties with Donald Trump.

In addition to her concern about OIA’s handling of realignment and the PKIs issue, Dr. Edwards grew to question whether FinCEN was providing complete information in response to Congressional requests for information. She was not alone in that belief. On May 10, 2017, Senator Ron Wyden made a floor statement placing a hold on the nomination of Sigal Mandelker for the position of Under Secretary of TFI. His office issued a statement explaining the Senator’s reasoning:

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today placed a hold on the nomination of Sigal Mandelker to be Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Wyden said he will maintain that hold until the Treasury Department provides the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Finance Committee information and documents related to Russia and its financial dealings with President Trump and his associates.

On Tuesday, May 9, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner announced that the Committee had made a request to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-announces-hold-ontreasury-nominee-until-administration-produces-documents-on-russian-dealingswith-trump-associates. On September 22, 2017, Senator Wyden put a hold on another Treasury Assistant Secretary nominee, Isabelle Patelunas, again because of Treasury’s “refusal to provide documents related to Russia.” https:// www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-announces-hold-ontreasury-nominee-over-agencys-refusal-to-provide-documents-related-to-russia.

It’s in that context that — she described — she started working with Leopold to get Congress to return its attention to misconduct at Treasury.

When Congress’ attention to the issues May believed vitally affected the security of this country flagged, she began communicating with Jason Leopold, a reporter with the online publication BuzzFeed News. He told her that he shared her concern for national security. He assured her that the only way to revive Congressional interest was through media attention. He promised to – and did – introduce her to additional Congressional staffers. At his encouragement, she provided him with Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) and other internal Treasury Department documents. He wrote articles that disclosed that information. She was arrested. He was not.

[snip]

Although Congress by then had done little to curb Treasury’s behavior, Dr. Edwards continued to believe that the only way to ensure that those responsible for the improper behavior were held accountable was through Congress. Leopold encouraged this belief: By writing articles, he could get the proper attention for the issues she believed were of vital importance to national security. This was a theme he returned to more than once when he sought information from Dr. Edwards: He could use what she gave him to write stories that would force Congress to investigate her allegations. (September 27, 2017: “We do need to keep momentum going so this story is crucial.” October 16, 2017: “We are going for the next story – keep momentum going with 12333.” January 11, 2018: “Listen, I am going to make a case that we need to leak something and report it. I am going to reach out to some of your colleagues. But this is getting ridiculous and I need to get their attention…By their attention I mean Congress).

Importantly, given the way she was charged (with a conspiracy to leak these SARs, with Leopold identified as a co-conspirator would be) she describes how hard Leopold worked to champion her efforts in Congress.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Leopold told Dr. Edwards in their WhatsApp conversations that he was committed to her cause of uncovering and remedying corruption in the Treasury Department. He told her at times that he was acting on behalf of Congressional staff members in seeking information from her. He sought to arrange meetings for Dr. Edwards with members of Congress or their staff. Such meetings did take place. Leopold attended meetings with Dr. Edwards. Staffers encouraged Dr. Edwards to provide information they sought about the inner workings of the Treasury Department, including whether the requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act were being enforced by financial institutions as required to assist U.S. government agencies.

Remember: Before the global SARs reporting effort came out, Treasury issued a statement that can only be viewed as an attempt at prior restraint, a threat against Leopold.

Edwards’ sentencing memorandum says that the Probation office recommended two years of probation.

Dr. Sours Edwards faces no mandatory minimum term of incarceration. As discussed above, the relevant range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, both as stipulated in the plea agreement and as determined by United States Probation, is zero to six months. PSR at ¶4, p. 28. Probation has recommended that the Court sentence Dr. Sours Edwards to a two-year term of Probation.

It is unclear whether this will work — whether Edwards will get probation. It is equally unclear whether Leopold’s laudable efforts to double down on his reporting, to raise global attention to the issue, will bring about reform at banks or in the US.

But this is what every other leaker I’ve covered has tried to do, far less persuasively: an attempt to make a public interest defense for leaking to a journalist.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Basaaly Moalin Wins His Appeal — But Gets Nothing

Basaaly Moalin is a Somali-American prosecuted for funding Al-Shabaab in 2010 who, years later, was used by FBI to justify the phone dragnet. After Edward Snowden revealed the Section 215 dragnet, the FBI pointed to his case, claiming they would not have found him were it not for the dragnet.

He just won an appeal of his case in the 9th Circuit, which found that the Section 215 dragnet may violate the Fourth Amendment. But it doesn’t do him any good, because the 9th Circuit panel determined that the government had been lying about how central the dragnet was in identifying him in the first place. The ruling is important, however, because it affirms that if the government is going to use evidence obtained from surveillance in court — or derived from surveillance — they need to notify the defendant.

The opinion argued that the Third Party doctrine probably doesn’t apply here, because current metadata collection obtains so much more than old-style pen registers.

There are strong reasons to doubt that Smith applies here.
Advances in technology since 1979 have enabled the
government to collect and analyze information about its
citizens on an unprecedented scale. Confronting these
changes, and recognizing that a “central aim” of the Fourth
Amendment was “to place obstacles in the way of a too
permeating police surveillance,” the Supreme Court recently
declined to “extend” the third-party doctrine to information
whose collection was enabled by new technology. Carpenter
v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206, 2214, 2217 (2018) (quoting
United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581, 595 (1948)).

Carpenter did not apply the third-party doctrine to the
government’s acquisition of historical cell phone records
from the petitioner’s wireless carriers. The records revealed
the geographic areas in which the petitioner used his cell
phone over a period of time. Id. at 2220. Citing the “unique
nature of cell phone location information,” the Court
concluded in Carpenter that “the fact that the Government
obtained the information from a third party does not
overcome [the petitioner’s] claim to Fourth Amendment
protection,” because there is “a world of difference between
the limited types of personal information addressed in Smith
. . . and the exhaustive chronicle of location information
casually collected by wireless carriers today.” Id. at 2219–
20.

There is a similar gulf between the facts of Smith and the
NSA’s long-term collection of telephony metadata from
Moalin and millions of other Americans.

[snip]

The distinctions between Smith and this case are legion
and most probably constitutionally significant. To begin
with, the type of information recorded in Smith was
“limited” and of a less “revealing nature” than the telephony
metadata at issue here. Carpenter, 138 S. Ct. at 2219. The
pen register did not disclose the “identities” of the caller or
of the recipient of a call, “nor whether the call was even
completed.” Smith, 442 U.S. at 741 (quoting United States v.
New York Tel. Co., 434 U.S. 159, 167 (1977)). In contrast,
the metadata in this case included “comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call.” In re Application II, 2013 WL 5741573, at *1 n.2. “IMSI and IMEI numbers are unique numbers associated with a particular telephone user or communications device.” Br. of Amici Curiae Brennan Center for Justice 11. “A ‘trunk identifier’ provides information about where a phone connected to the network, revealing data that can locate the parties within approximately a square kilometer.” Id. at 11–12.

Although the Smith Court perceived a significant distinction between the “contents” of a conversation and the phone number dialed, see 442 U.S. at 743, in recent years the distinction between content and metadata “has become increasingly untenable,” as Amici point out. Br. of Amici Curiae Brennan Center for Justice 6. The amount of metadata created and collected has increased exponentially, along with the government’s ability to analyze it. “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic—a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.” Klayman v. Obama, 957 F. Supp. 2d 1, 36 (D.D.C. 2013), vacated and remanded, 800 F.3d 559 (D.C. Cir. 2015). According to the NSA’s former general counsel Stewart Baker, “[m]etadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. . . . If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content . . . .” Laura K. Donohue, The Future of Foreign Intelligence 39 (2016). The information collected here was thus substantially more revealing than the telephone numbers recorded in Smith.

Importantly, it pointed to how much more revealing Moalin’s metadata was collected in conjunction with that of millions of other people (a point I made shortly after the District Court rejected Moalin’s original challenge).

Also problematic is the extremely large number of people from whom the NSA collected telephony metadata, enabling the data to be aggregated and analyzed in bulk. The government asserts that “the fact that the NSA program also involved call records relating to other people . . . is irrelevant because Fourth Amendment rights . . . cannot be raised vicariously.” Br. of United States 58. The government quotes the FISA Court, which reasoned similarly that “where one individual does not have a Fourth Amendment interest, grouping together a large number of similarly-situated individuals cannot result in a Fourth Amendment interest springing into existence ex nihilo.” In re Application II, 2013 WL 5741573, at *2. But these observations fail to recognize that the collection of millions of other people’s telephony metadata, and the ability to aggregate and analyze it, makes the collection of Moalin’s own metadata considerably more revealing.

After suggesting that Carpenter would apply to this dragnet, the panel then concluded that it doesn’t matter, because the dragnet wasn’t all that central to obtaining a warrant against Moalin.

Having carefully reviewed the classified FISA applications and all related classified information, we are convinced that under established Fourth Amendment standards, the metadata collection, even if unconstitutional, did not taint the evidence introduced by the government at trial. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963). To the extent the public statements of government officials created a contrary impression, that impression is inconsistent with the contents of the classified record

This will be a working thread.

Adam Schiff Makes Clear FBI Is Using Section 215 Like the 2014 Exception

For months, Congress has been debating the reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The House passed a compromise bill before COVID shut-downs really halted everything in Congress, though did so in such a way as to prevent Zoe Lofgren from offering any amendments. After the Senate failed to act, the provision (and two related ones lapsed). Then, a few weeks ago, the Senate passed a version that added an amendment from Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy that strengthened the amicus to the previously passed House bill. But an amendment offered by Ron Wyden and Steve Daines failed by one vote after Tom Carper said that Pelosi had warned him its passage would gut FISA (and after Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray didn’t make it for the vote). The operative language of their amendment read,

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information.

Zoe Lofgren and Warren Davidson tried to pass that amendment in the House. Over a weekend of heated negotiations, they limited the Wyden-Daines language to apply just to US persons.

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information of United States persons.

At first, Wyden endorsed the Lofgren-Davidson language. Except then Adam Schiff gave Charlie Savage a statement that suggested the amendment would only prevent the government from seeking to obtain Americans’ internet information, not prevent it altogether.

But in his own statement, Mr. Schiff put forward a narrower emphasis. Stressing the continued need to investigate foreign threats, he described the compromise as banning the use of such orders “to seek to obtain” an American’s internet information.

That led Ron Wyden to withdraw his support. Leadership withdrew that amendment from the Rule.

Schiff’s ploy seems to suggest one way the government is using Section 215.

Wyden had previously asked how each of three applications for Section 215 would appear in counts:

  • An order in which an IP address used by multiple people is the target
  • An order collecting all the people who visit a particular website
  • An order collecting all the web browsing and internet searches of a single user

I’ve argued in the past that the FBI wouldn’t go to the trouble of a Section 215 order for a person who was not otherwise targeted, the last bullet. Schiff’s willingness to limit collection to foreigners is consistent with that (because targeting non-US persons has a lower probable cause level), meaning that’s not the function the government is so intent on preserving.

Which leaves Wyden’s IP address used by multiple people and a website, what I have suggested might be VPNs and WikiLeaks. Those are the applications that Schiff (and Pelosi) are going to the mat to protect.

That makes something that happened in 2014 important. That year, FISC permitted the government to remain tasked on a selector under 702 (which can only target foreigners) even after finding that Americans were using the selector, provided the US person content was purged after the fact. Except ODNI made a list of enumerated crimes — virtually all of which exploit the Dark Web — that Section 702 content could be used to prosecute. Richard Burr codified that principle when the law was reauthorized in 2017.

Schiff has invoked the same principle — allowing the FBI to target a URL or IP, and in the name of obtaining foreign intelligence, obtaining the US person activity as well. Because this is not treated as “content,” the government may not be limited to instances where the US person activity is location obscured (though it’s possible this is just about obtaining VPN traffic, and not something like WikiLeaks).

Wyden called the resulting practice (remember, this is status quo), as “dragnet surveillance.”

“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment,” Wyden said.

So once again — still — the government is using a foreign targeted law to obtain leads of Americans to investigate. That, apparently, is what Pelosi considers the key part of FISA: honey pots to identify Americans to investigate.

Meanwhile, DOJ doesn’t even like the changes Lee and Leahy implemented, falsely claiming that the law — which requires DOJ to meet the standards laid out voluntarily by FBI’s response to the DOJ IG Report — does nothing to address the problems identified by the IG Report.

The Department worked closely with House leaders on both sides of the aisle to draft legislation to reauthorize three national security authorities in the U.S.A. Freedom Act while also imposing reforms to other aspects of FISA designed to address issues identified by the DOJ Inspector General. Although that legislation was approved with a large, bipartisan House majority, the Senate thereafter made significant changes that the Department opposed because they would unacceptably impair our ability to pursue terrorists and spies. We have proposed specific fixes to the most significant problems created by the changes the Senate made. Instead of addressing those issues, the House is now poised to further amend the legislation in a manner that will weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General.

Accordingly, the Department opposes the Senate-passed bill in its current form and also opposes the Lofgren amendment in the House. Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation.

Trump, meanwhile, is opposing the bill because it doesn’t go far enough.

WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!

Republicans are inventing reasons to oppose it after supporting it in March.

Back in March, Billy Barr said he could do what he needed to with EO 12333. It’s unclear how he’d coerce providers.

But Schiff’s efforts to defeat Wyden make it clear this is a function designed to identify Americans.

Update: I had thought a current vote was on FISA, but is on China sanctions, so I’ve deleted.

The DOJ IG Footnotes Show FBI Doing What They Do and Russia Doing What They Do

Three Republican Senators — Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Lindsey Graham — have gotten Bill Barr and Ric Grenell to declassify a bunch of things pertaining to Carter Page’s surveillance. While the materials have sent the frothy right into a frenzy again, the materials are actually far more interesting, ambiguous, and at times, damning to Trump’s narrative than the right wing stenographers have made out. This post will look at a series of footnotes to the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that have been declassified. I’m going to look at allegations about Russian knowledge of Steele’s project in July 2016 and evidence the Michael Cohen claims were disinformation in more detailed in a follow-up; both revelations may hurt Trump’s narrative more than help it, contrary to claims by the frothers.

The purge at ODNI enabled this declassification to occur

Before I get into what the declassified footnotes show, it’s important to understand Grenell’s role in it. In his statement releasing the full set of declassified footnotes, Grassley thanked both Bill Barr and Grenell. In Ron Johnson’s WSJ op-ed feeding the ignorant frenzy about the footnotes, he described how he and Grassley had to keep pressing for their declassification until Grenell made it happen.

My colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley and I began pressing Attorney General William Barr, and eventually acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, for full declassification of these footnotes. That’s why they’re now public.

In Grenell’s letter providing the footnotes (which very notably did not come as a re-released IG Report, as a prior declassification had), he explained that,

[H]aving consulted the heads of the relevant Intelligence Community elements, I have declassified the enclosed footnotes. I consulted with the Attorney General William Barr, and he has authorized the ODNI to say that he concurs in the declassification insofar as it relates to DOJ equities.

Grenell, of course, is doing the DNI job part time, on top of his full-time job as Ambassador to Germany and his day job of trolling dishonestly on the Internet.  So the declassification might be better understood as the work of Kash Patel, who, while he was a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, started this declassification project and also served as a gatekeeper to ensure GOP Congressmen did not get accurate information on Russia. While he was on the National Security Council, Patel ensured that Trump did not get accurate information on Ukraine. And the release comes just days after Trump got rid of the last Senate confirmed person at ODNI, something that Adam Schiff has raised concerns about.

Don’t get me wrong: I support these declassifications and with a very few exceptions in these footnotes, don’t think embarrassing stuff got hidden because Grenell was involved (I have a different opinion about how stuff was declassified for Lindsey, even while I’m thrilled to have the precedent for entire FISA applications being released). Some of the most interesting declassifications confirm small details about FISA that have long been known, but have been impossible to prove since DOJ guarded that confirmation so assiduously. But it is crystal clear this declassification happened as a result of dismantling longtime Intelligence Community protections, for better and worse.

The footnotes show FBI and FISA worked like it normally does and so did the Russians

As noted, Grenell didn’t effectuate this declassification by having DOJ IG release an updated version of the report, but instead by releasing all the redacted footnotes, with any newly declassified information unmarked, out of context. Not only does that obscure a few key ones that weren’t further declassified or had already been declassified, but it makes it harder to understand what they mean in context. I’ll treat each of them in turn, italicizing the newly disclosed information, if any.

17: The Brits let Steele cooperate

The OIG also interviewed witnesses who were not current or former Department employees regarding their interactions with the FBI on matters falling with the scope of this review, including Christopher Steele and employees of other U.S. government agencies. 17

17 According to Steele, his cooperation with our investigation was done with the consent of his government.

The fact that Steele emphasized this — and the delayed timing of Steele’s cooperation — suggest that the UK wanted to make clear that they were willing to expose their own intelligence weaknesses to cooperate with something Trump had put significant stock in.

21, 354: DOJ IG considered some of the FISA collection on Page irrelevant to this review

We also received and reviewed more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession. Among these were electronic communications of Department and FBI employees and documents from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including interview reports (FD-302s and Electronic Communications or ECs), contemporaneous notes from agents, analysts, and supervisors involved in case-related meetings, documents describing and analyzing Steele’s reporting and information obtained through FISA coverage on Carter Page, and draft and final versions of materials used to prepare the FISA applications and renewals filed with the FISC. 21

21 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

[snip]

Emails and other communications reflect that in the first week of surveillance on Carter Page [redacted], following the granting [redacted] application -· in the October 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team collected [redacted] 354

354 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

These declassifications reveals two phrases — “collections,” and “physical searches” — that have long been treated as classified (though they appear elsewhere in the report, usually by accident). The import of these phrases, especially “physical search,” which actually includes “stored communications,” is why they’ve been hidden in the past.

While the meaning of these footnote was always clear, the import of it (that is, what DOJ IG would considered irrelevant to their review) remains unclear, especially given Michael Horowitz’s public questions about whether the collection was ever useful.

That’s especially true given how FISA surveillance was integrated into later Carter Page applications. The applications Lindsey Graham released makes it clear there was a good deal (indeed, it clearly corroborated concerns about Page’s hope to open a pro-Russian think tank as well as sustained questions about whom Page met with in Russia — though that’s partly because he oversold his ties there to the campaign). The redactions, however, were just hiding FISA vocabulary that had previously been hidden.

61 and 63: How the FBI decides to make someone an informant

The CHSPG recognizes that the decision to open an individual as a CHS will not only forever affect the life of that individual, but that the FBI will also be viewed, fairly or unfairly, in light of the conduct or misconduct of that individual. 59 Accordingly, the CHSPG identifies criteria that handling a ents must consider when assessing the risks associated with the potential CHS. [redacted]60 These risks must be weighed against the benefits associated with use of the potential CHS. 61

Once a CHS has been evaluated and recruited, the CHSPG does not allow for tasking until after the CHS has been approved for opening by an FBI SSA; the required approvals for a specific tasking have been granted; and the CHS has met with the co-handling agent assigned to his or her file, who has the same duties, responsibilities, and file access as the handling agent. 62 The CHSPG requires additional supervisory approval by a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and review by a Chief Division Counsel CDC to open CHSs that are “sensitive” sources, [redacted]

61 Criteria used by agents and analysts to weigh the risks and benefits are: (1) access [redacted] (2) suitability: [redacted] (3) susceptibility: [redacted] (4) accessibility: [redacted] (5) security; [redacted]

62 CHSPG § 3.1.

63 CHSPG Section 3.5.1.1 Special approval and notification requirements also are necessary for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction, such as tasking a CHS to contact the subject of an investigation who is located in a foreign country. The requirements and notifications differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operating is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, [redacted]

[snip]

Under the CHSPG, which vests SSAs with daily oversight responsibility for CHSs in routine investigations, approval at the SSA level was sufficient. 525 The only relevant exception for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation were counterintelligence CHS extraterritorial operations, which required approval by an FBI Assistant Director, and which we found received approval by Priestap. 526

526 As described in Chapter Two, the special approval and notification requirements for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operation is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, CHSPG Sections 19.2, 19.3.3. Because the Crossfire Hurricane investigation at the outset was a national security investigation, the extraterritorial CHS operations in the case required Assistant Director approval.

These sections reveal details of the FBI’s rules on informants and the special approvals needed in some cases. This information had already been liberated by Terry Albury (see PDF 25 and 31ff) for the earlier sections that remain redacted (which is a testament to the novelty of this declassification, since he’s in prison for having released it). They’re interesting in the case of Carter Page because there was some dispute about using Steele (to say nothing of the disagreement between Steele and the FBI about what their relationship really entailed).

Apparently, Bill Priestap had to give approval for overseas use of informants (and this must extend to Stefan Halper), not because the investigation was sensitive, but because it was a national security investigation.

164, 464, 484: Joseph Mifsud was neither a CIA asset nor had CIA collected on him

During one of these meetings, Papadopoulos reportedly “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign “received some kind of a suggestion from Russia” that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing derogatory information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 164

164 During October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Papadopoulos stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG official was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos testified that Mifsud provided him with information about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. Papadopoulos raised the possibility during his Congressional testimony that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. As discussed in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHS), and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. In Chapter Ten, we also note that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.

(U) We refer to Joseph Mifsud by name in this report because the Department publicly revealed Mifsud’s identity in The Special Counsel’s Report (public version). According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in March 2016, after Papadopoulos had already learned that he would be serving as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Mifsud only showed interest in Papadopoulos after learning of Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, and told Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then candidate Clinton in late April 2016. The Special Counsel found that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about the timing of his discussions with Mifsud, as well as the nature and extent of his communications with Mifsud. The Special Counsel charged Papadopoulos under Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001 with making false statements. Papadopoulos pled guilty and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. See The Special Counsel’s Report, Vol. 1, at 192‐94

[snip]

The FBI’s Delta files contain no evidence that Mifsud has ever acted as an FBI CHS,463 and none of the witnesses we interviewed or documents we reviewed had any information to support such an allegation. 464

464 The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from that agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with that agency.

[snip]

In Crossfire Hurricane, the “articulable factual basis” set forth in the opening EC was the FFG information received from an FBI Legal Attache stating that Papadopoulos had suggested during a meeting in May 2016 with officials from a “trusted foreign partner” that the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist by releasing information damaging to candidate Clinton and President Obama. 484

484 Papadopoulos has stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud, and has raised the possibility that Mifsud may have been working with the FBI. As described in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received no information indicating that Mifsud had a relationship with that agency or that the agency had any derogatory information concerning Mifsud.

These declassifications debunk something George Papadopoulos has long claimed: that Joseph Mifsud was part of a Deep State plot run by either the FBI or CIA. The FBI asked CIA if they knew anything about him but did not.

166: How the FBI got involved

The Legat told us he was not provided any other information about the meetings between the FFG and Papadopoulos. 166

166 According to Legat, the senior intelligence official stated at the meeting with the USG official that the FFG information “sounds like an FBI matter.”

This explains how, after Australia passed the Papadopoulos tip to State, State called in both the FBI Legal Attaché in London and a senior intelligence officer — probably Gina Haspel, who at the time was London Station Chief — to explain the tip, after which the SIO said FBI should deal with it. Again, it undermines part of the claims of a Deep State coup.

205: Proof Steele should have known FBI considered him an informant, not a consultant

Steele stated that he never recalled being told that he was a CHS and that he never would have accepted such an arrangement, despite the fact that he signed FBI admonishment and payment paperwork indicating that he was an FBI CHS. 205

205 During his time as an FBI CHS, Steele received a total of $95,000 from the FBI. We reviewed the FBI paperwork for those payments, each of which required Steele’s Signed acknowledgement. On each document, of which there were eight, was the caption “CHS Payment” and “CHS’s Payment Name.” A signature page was missing for one of the payments.

This passage was redacted to hide the fact that when the FBI pays informants they don’t do so under their own name. The passage as a whole provides reason why Steele should have known, contrary to his claims, that FBI treated him bureaucratically as an informant. The fact he had a payment name may or may not strengthen that proof.

208: Oligarchs spent much of 2015 trying to meet the FBI through Steele

In our review of Steele’s CHS file, other pertinent documents, and interviews with Handling Agent 1, Ohr, and Steele, we observed that Steele had multiple contacts with representatives of Russian oligarchs with connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) and senior Kremlin officials. 208

208 (U) A 2015 report concerning oligarchs written by the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (TOCIU) noted that from January through May 2015, 10 Eurasian oligarchs sought meetings with the FBI, and 5 of these had their intermediaries contact Steele. The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity. The FBI’s Validation Management Unit did not perform such an assessment on Steele until early 2017 after, as described in Chapter Six, the Crossfire Hurricane team requested an assessment in the context of Steele’s election reporting. Handling Agent 1 told us he had seen the TOCIU report and was not concerned about its findings concerning Steele because he was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts to Russian oligarchs. We found that the TOCIU report was not included in Steele’s Delta file. Handling Agent 1 said that he found preparation of the TOCIU report “curious” because he believed that TOCIU was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts and fully supported them.

The fact that Steele was a liaison between the US government and Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs was not secret. Indeed the sections on Bruce Ohr, as well as Ohr’s declassified 302s, make that clear. What’s most interesting about this (prior) redaction is that, while marked as unclassified, the footnote was redacted. While it’s damning that this was not in Steele’s Delta file, that it had been but is not now redacted may say more about investigations into Ohr and Oleg Deripaska and others, than it does about Steele (meaning they’re no longer protecting those investigations).

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

I’m going to save my longer discussion on this for a separate post, though I already flagged and explained why these two footnotes were important in this post. The short version is, it suggests that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, focusing on Carter Page would have given cover for whatever mission Konstantin Kilimnik was pursuing in July 2016, at which point Deripaska may have already known of the dossier (remember he went to Moscow and met with Viktor Yanukovych before the meeting). Note, too, that the redacted word that has been substituted as “possibly aware” is too short to be that uncertain, so I question the substitution. Also note that footnote 210 is one of a handful footnotes in the entire report that was not further declassified with this review.

214: Steele used to be a spook

Steele told us he had a source network in place with a proven “track record” that could deliver on Fusion GPS’s requirements. Steele added that this source network previously had furnished intelligence on Russian interference in European affairs. 214

214 Steele told us that the source network did not involve sources from his time as a former foreign government employee and was developed entirely in the period after he retired from governmental service

This redaction only served to hide what we all knew, that Steele used to be an MI6 officer. Either the UK no longer considers that sensitive or they really want to give Trump what he wants.

242: The Carter Page investigation wasn’t only about whether he was a spy

Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he informed Steele that the FBI was interested in obtaining information in “3 buckets.” According to Case Agent 2’s written summary of the meeting, as well as the Supervisory Intel Analyst’s notes, these 3 buckets were:

(1) Additional intelligence/reporting on specific, named individuals (such as [Page] or [Flynn]) involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship; 241 (2) Physical evidence of specific individuals involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship (such as emails, photos, ledgers, memorandums etc); [and] (3) Any individuals or sub sources who [Steele] could identify who could serve as cooperating witnesses to assist in identifying persons involved in the Trump campaign-Russian relationship. 242

242 The FBI advised the OIG that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a national security investigation, and these activities therefor[e] involved national security extraterritorial CHS operations [redaction]

The only thing interesting about this declassification is how it relates the earlier and later ones, at 63 and 526, on special approval for using an informant overseas. It is equally interesting, however, that the description of why FBI focused on what they did remains substantially classified.

244: The FBI’s knowledge of Sergei Millian’s activities remains classified

For example, Steele identified a sub-source (Person 1) who Steele said was in direct contact with Steele’s primary source {Primary Sub-source). 244

244 Person 1 [redacted]

Like the footnote about Crossfire Hurricane’s knowledge of Oleg Deripaska’s ties with Steele, nothing new has been redacted here. Incidentally, after the first batch of these declassifications had come out and I called Sergei Millian out on making a chronologically impossible claim about what they showed, we had a charming exchange where he told me his interest in what I told the FBI was unique, which I include here solely to break up the monotony of this post!

253: Someone told Steele that Millian was hiding out

According to Handling Agent l’s records, during October 2016, Steele communicated with him four times and provided seven written reports, one of which concerned Carter Page and thus was responsive to the FBI’s request for information concerning Page’s activities. 253

253 (U) These seven reports, with selected highlights, were:

(U) Report 130 (Putin and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Clinton’s emails had not had a greater impact on the campaign; a stream of hacked Clinton material had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like WikiLeaks and the stream would continue until the election);

[redacted] Report 132 (a top level Russian intelligence figure claimed that Putin regrets the operation to interfere in the U.S. elections);

(U) Report 134 (a close associate of Rosneft President Sechin confirmed a secret meeting with Carter Page in July; Sechin was keen to have sanctions on the company lifted and offered up to a 19 percent stake in return);

(U) Report 135 (Trump attorney Michael Cohen was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage control in an attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed; Cohen had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials; immediate issues were efforts to contain further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit damage from the exposure of Carter Page’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month);

(U) Report 136 (Kremlin insider reports that Cohen’s secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016 was/were held in Prague);

[redacted] Report 137 (Divyekin was moved from his position in the Presidential Administration to one in the Duma; this move followed Divyekin being exposed in the western media, e.g., the Yahoo News story of September 23, 2016, as a secret interlocutor of Page); and

[redacted] Report 139 (Person 1 was forced to lie low abroad following his/her exposure in the western media and was currently in [redacted]).

There are three things about these disclosures. First, the redacted bullets were classified (they had some redaction other than the Unclassified markings these other paragraphs have). If they were known disinformation, it’s not clear why they’d be classified.

Second, this and other declassified passages suggest that FBI had IDed Divyekin (otherwise it’s unlikely to be classified). The application itself said FBI believed this person to be Igor Nikolayevich Dyevkin, who work(ed) in the Presidential Administration. Unless these original redactions were attempts to hide what FBI didn’t know but should have?

The other detail is that — whether disinformation or no — Steele got a report in October, during the month after FBI started actively investigating Millian, that claimed he had hidden out. He was in New York at the time, though, and remained out and about at least through the inauguration (where he partied with Papadopoulos). So why redact his purported locale?

This spreadsheet lists which files the FBI got when.

265: Grenell liberates basic FISA vocabulary that has long been hidden

The same day, OGC submitted a FISA request form to OI providing, among other things, a description of the factual information to establish probable cause to believe that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power, the “facilities” to be targeted under the proposed FISA coverage, and the FBI’s investigative plan. 265

“Facilities” are the items to be searched or subjected to electronic surveillance, such as email accounts, telephone numbers, physical premises, or personal property.

The term facilities has long been unredacted in reports on FISA, but without a definition (though the definition was obvious). Its declassification is long overdue. That said, this definition leaves out a lot of things that can be defined as facilities, such as IP addresses and encryption keys.

276: The rush to surveil Page before he met with foreigners

3: 11 p.m., Lisa Page to McCabe: “QI now has a robust explanation re any possible bias of the chs in the package. Don’t know what the holdup is now, other than Stu’s continued concerns. Strong operational need to have in place before Monday if at all possible, which means ct tomorrow. 276

As described below, it appears the desire to have FISA authority in place before Monday, October, 17, was due, at least in part, to the fact that Carter Page was expected to travel to the United Kingdom and South Africa shortly thereafter, and the Crossfire Hurricane team wanted FISA coverage targeting Carter Page in place before that trip.

This sounds shocking and any rush may have led to problems with the application (though the most serious problems were more substantive than that). But it’s not unusual to tie surveillance to upcoming foreign activities. After all, FBI is trying to understand what someone’s relationship to foreign governments is. And Page had some pretty interesting meetings in places besides just Russia.

Moreover only the details of where Page was traveling were classified in the original release — a description of his travel appears at 321ff.

293, 362, 368, 377: Individualized FISA orders automatically qualify the target for 705(b) surveillance

Yates signed the application, and OI submitted the application to the FISC the same day. By her signature, and as stated in the application, Yates found that the application satisfied the criteria and requirements of the FISA statute and approved its filing with the court. 293

293 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5

362 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

368 Boente’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

Rosenstein’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

A set of four footnotes describing that the Attorney General designee signature on the Page applications are one of the declassifications that has been significantly misunderstood.

Under FISA, for authorizations that are more strict (with an individualized content warrant being the most strict), authorization for less or equivalent surveillance is fairly automatic. People targeted with individual orders here in the US must either be covered, when they travel overseas, by 703 (surveillance overseas with the assistance of a US provider) or 704 (surveillance without assistance overseas, meaning EO 12333 surveillance), but there’s an authorization, 705(b), that allows both domestic collection and 12333 collection overseas. As far as all public records and some non-public ones show, 703 has never been used. 705(b) has instead, meaning that when people travel overseas, the government uses techniques available under EO 12333. There’s good reason to believe that the techniques available under 705(b)/EO 12333 are much niftier, including (as one example) more sophisticated device hacks.

I wrote about the import of 705(b) authority with Carter Page back in April 2017 (in a piece that also suggested he might be the first person ever to get to review his FISA application).

That he was approved for 705(b) is important because he was surveilled overseas. But that is in no way unique to Page. Nor, even if this were “physical search” mean they were surveilling his person. A hack of a phone, conducted from Maryland, would qualify.

296: Steele fluffed his MI6 experience

Steele is a former [redacted] and has been an FBI source since in or about October 2013. [Steele’s] reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses [Steele] to be reliable. 296

296 Although Case Agent 2’s summary of the early October meeting with Steele states that Steele described his former position in a manner consistent with the footnote in the FISA application, other documentation (discussed in Chapter Eight) indicates that Steele’s former employer told the FBI in November 2016, after the first application was filed, that Steele had served in a “moderately senior” position, not a “high‐ranking” position as Steele suggested.

This is a complaint about whether Steele or the FBI agent was responsible for the depiction of how he was described in a footnote in the application. It basically shows that Steele fluffed his experience when meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, but this kind of distinction is often semantics.

301 to 303: Hiding more details about Sergei Millian

Before the initial FISA application was filed, FBI documents and witness testimony indicate that the Crossfire Hurricane team had assessed, particularly following the information Steele provided in early October, that Source E was most likely a person previously known to the FBI, referred to hereinafter as Person 1. 301

[snip]

In addition, we learned that Person 1 was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The 01 Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, Person 1 [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that Person 1 “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that Person 1 was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on Person 1, the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was Person 1.

301 is one of a small number of footnotes that did not get declassified any further. 302 still hides the source of intelligence claiming that Millian was rumored to be a former Russian intelligence officer, though that Glenn Simpson believed it was not really secret. Clearly there are things about Millian — or about the reporting on Millian — that remain legitimately secret. For some reason, 303 was included on the declassification list even though it had been entirely declassified (it was clearly at least FOUO) for the initial release of the report.

328: Secret discussions sometimes remain secret

Priestap said he interpreted the comments about Steele’s judgment to mean that “if he latched on to something … he thought that was the most important thing on the face of this earth” and added that this personality trait doesn’t necessarily “jump out as a particularly bad or horrible [one]” because, as a manager, it can be helpful if the “people reporting to [you] think the stuff they’re working on is the most important thing going on” and use their best efforts to pursue it. Information from these meetings was shared with the Crossfire Hurricane team. However, we found that it was not memorialized in Steele’s Delta file and therefore not considered in a validation review conducted by the FBI’s Validation Management Unit (VMU) in early 2017. 328

328 Priestap told the OIG that he recalled that he may have made a commitment to Steele’s former employer not to document the former’s employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information.

It’s unclear whether DOJ IG doesn’t believe Bill Priestap’s explanation for not including details that might be considered derogatory about Steele. And he’s right that the judgment — that Steele might follow shiny objects — might not be a bad thing in a well-managed source. In any case, the US now appears uninterested in hiding this detail.

334: For some reason Steele’s primary sub-source claimed to believe he was getting paid to meet with friends

As noted in the first FISA application, Steele relied on a primary sub-source (Primary Sub-source) for information, and this Primary Sub-source used a network of sub-sources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele; Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. 334

334 When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub‐source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, but rather as friends with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations. The Primary Sub‐source [was] [redacted]

This passage (the “was” was previously unredacted but is now redacted) has generated a lot of uncritical attention, as has the DOJ IG Report’s reporting on the primary sub-source generally. One possibility for who this person is is that he’s someone in a British-based Russian community; that community has successfully been targeted for assassination repeatedly (and if the person were in Russia, would be even more vulnerable). If this person was knowingly part of disinformation, undermining Steele would be part of the disinformation. If the person was not, he might want to minimize what he did to avoid assassination himself. But the claim — made here — that someone getting paid to tell Steele these stories (as he was) didn’t realize his network was being treated as subsources is laughable, and reflects more on the reliability of what the Primary Subsource actually said, because it is solid evidence he’s spinning his relationship with Steele.

339: People who would have ties to Russian intelligence are alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence

The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339

339 The Primary Sub‐source also told the FBI at these interviews that the subsource who provided the information about the Carter Page‐ Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS). [redacted]

From the day the dossier came out, it was explicit that some of the claimed sources for it had ties to Russian intelligence, and it would be unsurprising if someone close to Igor Sechin did too. The context to this footnote — that the Primary Subsource’s texts with the subsource didn’t reflect any payment to Page — is actually far more damning for Steele (or his Subsource, who for reasons I laid out above, I think shouldn’t be trusted). But the fact that spooks talk to spooks is actually not all that interesting (and in Steele’s dossier, is explicit).

Note there’s a redaction after this claim, which may be an assessment of whether the claim, in this case, makes any sense.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

There are two allegations in this newly declassified information. First, that someone on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that said Steele’s company may have been targeted. And second, a recurring report about one or multiple June 2017 reports stating that Russian intelligence knew of Steele’s efforts in “early” or “July” 2016.

The first claim, with the continued redaction, is unclear about three things: whether Steele was targeted by human or cyber spying, and who conducted the open source investigation, and what the “it” refers to (it could be Orbis, or the attempted targeting of him). It would be thoroughly unsurprising if Steele had been phished, for example, as virtually all anti-Russian entities were in this period. Phishing might have entailed open source investigation into Orbis (but then, so would human targeting). If phishing or any other hacking were successful, Russia might have learned of his project that way.

I’ll deal with this June 2017 report(s) in more depth later. Here, though, the Supervisory Intel Analyst was making a distinction between knowing of Steele’s project and compromising it that may not be entirely credible. It’s important in this context because the FBI did not consider, before Page’s June 2017 FISA application, whether Steele’s allegations about him were disinformation. (Elsewhere, Priestap describes that he considered but dismissed the possibility because he didn’t understand how that would work.)

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

A number of frothy right wingers have pointed to this as further proof of a grand conspiracy. It could be that. But that’s not necessarily what this shows. It does show that 1) the sub-source was in touch with both the primary Subsource (which you’d want to prove to make sure the contact actually happened, and 2) the sub-source had the kind of contacts — with Russia’s Presidential Administration — to reflect actual access to information. The Hillary support absolutely could mean that the sub-source played up whatever he or she had learned from Russian sources, in which his or her claim that Steele’s reporting was exaggerated might be a way to deflect blame. That said, the better part of potential sources for this dossier would not have been pro-Hillary.

The declassification reveals the interesting detail that one and only one of Steele’s subsources was targeted under Section 702.

350: The FBI identified the Michael Cohen reporting as erroneous from early on

Stuart Evans, NSD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General who oversaw OI, stated that if OI had been aware of the information about Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1, it would have been evaluated by OI. He told us: “Counterintelligence investigations are complex, and often involve as I said, you know, double dealing, and people playing all sides…. I think that [the connection between Steele and Russian Oligarch 1] would have been yet another thing we would have wanted to dive into. “350

350 In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful. A USIC report dated February 27, 2017, contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump’s sexual activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false, and that they were the product of RIS “infiltrate[ing] a source into the network” of a [redacted] who compiled a dossier of that individual on Trump’s activities. The [redacted] noted that it had no information indicating that the individual had special access to RIS activities or information.

This footnote is meant to elaborate on Evans’ comment about counterintelligence investigations involving a lot of double dealing, context that is particularly important to reading the still redacted footnote. The footnote explains two things. First, that by January 12, 2017 — that is, days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — what is probably another intelligence service (it could even be the Czechs, given the import of Prague) raised concerns about the accuracy of the subset of reporting on Michael Cohen. Given how Steele represented his reports, however, one set of reports would not necessarily reflect on the accuracy of the others (unless they pointed to disinformation from the primary Subsource); that’s how raw intelligence works! The accuracy of the Cohen reporting does not necessarily reflect on the Page FISA application, which is what this report is about.

The record shows that Mueller did not use the Steele dossier in his investigation of Cohen — which seems to have arisen from Suspicious Activity Reports from his banks showing that immediately after the election a bunch of foreigners, including a key Russian, started paying him large sums. And given what else we know about Cohen, confirmation that this is disinformation actually suggests the disinformation was more sophisticated than otherwise understood, in that it provided cover for other things Russia was doing, something I’ll return to.

As to the 2013 dossier about 2013, because of the redactions, it’s unclear whether the FBI obtained a report of someone reporting that he had learned about a Russian dossier on Trump from his 2013 trip, or that someone else was doing a dossier about someone associated with Trump’s trip. Given what we know from Giorgi Rtskhiladze’s testimony to the FBI and Cohen’s discussion of it since, we already knew there was a dossier material from Trump’s 2013 trip, and had been floated continuously since then. Indeed, this report could actually suggest that the CIA learned of the interactions Rtskhiladze (who had ties to Russia and Trump) had before FBI did.

Update: the version of the footnote that appears in the letter to Grassley shows this footnote was transcribed incorrectly in the full version (replacing “a dossier of information” with “a dossier of that individual”), which raises questions about some of the other transcriptions.

That doesn’t actually change my point:

  1. At least according to Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony, the alleged pee tape had been out there since 2013
  2. Giorgi Rtskhiladze is one person — and if Cohen is to be believed, he’s not alone — who knew of the pee tape allegation, and he definitely wanted to claim it was not real (which I’m not contesting), even while having tried to pressure Cohen with it; he also would fit the description of someone who has ties to Russia and Trump but not public ties to Russian intelligence
  3. The redaction of whose dossier this was — which was DOJ IG’s transcription of the report, not a direct quote — is redacted. If this is about Steele (and I’m not wedded to either reading), then for some reason DOJ IG’s redacted description is sensitive (for some reason they didn’t write “source #1”). And the Steele dossier is not just about Trump’s activities. There are multiple possible explanations for why it is sensitive.

I should not have used “2013” above to distinguish this second claim. But my underlying point remains: in context, that redaction suggests something else is going on.

In any case, I’m grateful to my fan who pointed out the difference in the footnote.

365: Classified stuff about Millian that had already been declassified remains declassified

Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 did advise the court of a news article claiming that Person 1 was a source for some of the Steele reports and that Person 1 denied having any compromising information regarding the President. 365

365 In Chapter Five, we describe how the FBI did not specifically and explicitly advise or about the FBI’s assessment before the first FISA application that Person 1 was the sub-source who provided the information relied upon in the application from Steele Reports 80, 95, and 102; that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1; and that the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation on Person 1. As noted previously, in the next chapter, we describe the information from the Primary Sub-source interview concerning Person 1 and the information that was not shared with or about inconsistences [sic] between the Primary Sub-source and Steele concerning information provided by Person 1.

As with other instances, there was stuff about Sergei Millian that was declassified for the original release, but as a result was included in this declassification review.

372: FISA collections that corroborated Page’s application has been sequestered

In original form, this footnote (modifying an entirely redacted bullet) described what the third application had said. Because the FISC ordered FBI to sequester all collection from the FISA applications targeting Page, this footnote now marks the information as sequestered.

379: FBI violated minimization procedures in retaining information on Carter Page

According to NSD supervisors, as of October 2019, NSD had not received a formal response from the FISC to the Rule 13 Letter. 379

379 On May 10, 2019, NSD sent a second letter to the FISC concerning the Carter Page FISA applications, advising the court of two indicants in which the FBI failed to comply with the SMPs applicable to physical searches conducted pursuant to the final FISA orders issued by the court on June 29, 2017. According to the letter, the FBI took and retained on an FBI‐issued cell phone photographs of certain property taken in connection with a FISA‐authorized physical search on July 13, 2017, which NSD assessed did not comport with the SMPs. In addition in a separate incident on July 29, 2017, the FBI took photographs in connection with another FISA‐authorized physical search and transferred the photographs to an electronic folder on the FBI’s classified secret network. . According to NSD, court staff contacted an NSD official in response to this letter and asked when the information at issue would be removed from non‐compliant FBI systems, and asked about other cases that might be impacted by the same problem. On October 9, 2019, NSD sent another letter to the FISC advising the court that the FBI completed the remedial process for the information associated with the Page FISA applications and information from other cases impacted by the same problem.

This footnote reveals something specific to Page and more generalized as well. First, FBI did “physical searches” on Page on June 29 and July 13, 2017. Remember, “physical searches” can include searches of stored communication, and in this period, FBI had a specific interest in Page’s use of an encrypted messaging app and bank accounts they had not yet reviewed, so these may not be searches of wherever Page lived at the time (though he has said he was out of the country during one or both of them). It appears the minimization violation pertained to the means by which FBI collected the information, basically by taking a picture of evidence. The language makes it clear that this is a more general problem, one suggesting the FBI had misused cell phones in conjunction with FISA searches (but which are probably totally okay under criminal physical searches).

This is the kind of thing, incidentally, where FBI (or NSA) usually gets FISA to adjust the rules to incorporate such practice, while requiring FBI to purge files of collection that violated the rules when collected.

389: Was the Primary Sub-Source actually not truthful and cooperative?

The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not recall anyone asking him whether he thought the Primary Sub-source was “truthful and cooperative,” as noted in the renewal applications. 389

Email communications reflect that in March 2017—after the first FISA application and first renewal were filed and before the last two renewals—the Supervisory Intel Analyst reviewed the first FISA application and the first renewal at OGC’s request to assist with potential redactions before the Department responded to Congressional information requests. The Supervisory Intel Analyst provided comments to the OGC Attorney, including advising him that the Primary Sub‐source was not [redacted] as stated in the FISA applications, and asking whether a correction should be made. The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not provide any other comments relating to the Primary Sub‐source, and he told us that he did not notice anything else potentially inaccurate or incomplete in the applications at that time.

Nothing new was declassified in this declassification review — the redaction continues to hide what had been claimed about Steele’s Primary Sub-Source. That raises questions about what might still be hidden here, including that there may be some question about how helpful the Primary Sub-Source really was.

475 FBI still had stuff from a pro-Trump informant in their files

The Handling Agent placed the materials into the FBI’s files. 475

475 We notified the FBI upon learning during our review that [redacted] material that the CHS had provided to the FBI were still maintained in FBI files.

This footnote was not further declassified with the declassification review. It pertains to a standing FBI informant who (unbeknownst to the Crossfire Hurricane team) was a part of the Trump campaign and had provided some information to his handler. For some reason, it seems the information should have been removed from FBI files, perhaps because it was disinformation. Note the SSA on this other team was avowedly anti-Hillary and was working on the Clinton Foundation investigation.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Geostrategic and Historic Implications of Crypto

If you haven’t already, you should read the superb WaPo story on Crypto, the Swiss encryption company that German and US intelligence agencies secretly owned, allowing them to degrade the encryption used by governments all over the world. The story relies on classified CIA and BND histories obtained by the paper and a German partner.

The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project.

[snip]

The Post was able to read all of the documents, but the source of the material insisted that only excerpts be published.

The CIA and the BND declined to comment, though U.S. and German officials did not dispute the authenticity of the documents. The first is a 96-page account of the operation completed in 2004 by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, an internal historical branch. The second is an oral history compiled by German intelligence officials in 2008.

From the 1970s until the early 2000s, the company ensured its encryption had weaknesses that knowing intelligence partners — largely the NSA — exploited. CIA retained control of the company until 2018.

The WaPo correctly puts Crypto in a lineage that includes later spying and politicized fights over which corporations run the global telecommunications system. But it curiously suggests that the US “developed an insatiable appetite for global surveillance” from the project, as if that’s a uniquely American hunger.

Even so, the Crypto operation is relevant to modern espionage. Its reach and duration helps to explain how the United States developed an insatiable appetite for global surveillance that was exposed in 2013 by Edward Snowden. There are also echoes of Crypto in the suspicions swirling around modern companies with alleged links to foreign governments, including the Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky, a texting app tied to the United Arab Emirates and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Any nation-state or powerful non-state actor is going to want access to as much information as it can obtain. Russia, the Gulf states, and China, as well as the unmentioned Israel, are no different.

The story is better understood, in my opinion, as a lesson in how the US, Cold War partner Germany, and several key individuals and companies who could be motivated by Cold War ideology accomplished its spying. It absolutely provides important background to current US efforts to prevent rivals from achieving hegemony over communication structures. But if you didn’t know the US is so worried about Huawei’s dominance because it gives China a way to supplant the US spying footprint, you’re not paying attention.

Some particular features:

  • Crytpo was a Swiss company. That gave it some plausible deniability.
  • The operation struggled to find cryptologists who were good, but not too good. People who could identify weaknesses in the algorithms Crypto used either had to be fired or bought off.
  • The entire scheme worked off a corruption of market forces. The predecessor to Crypto sold shitty encryption to disfavored countries, but the US made up for the lost profits. Then, as integrated circuits presented a challenge for the business, the US leveraged that to get ongoing cooperation. Then CIA and BND bought out the company via a shell company set up in Lichtenstein. To sustain its customer base, Crypto would smear competitors and bribe customers with gifts and prostitutes.
  • The US leveraged its power in the US-German partnership at the core of the operation, forcing the Germans to sell degraded products to allied governments.
  • The ideology of the Cold War proved a powerful motive for some of the key participants, leading them to work for what ultimately was the CIA for no additional funds.

Those features are worth noting as you consider where this capability moved to as Crypto became less valuable:

  • AT&T and other US backbone providers
  • Silicon Valley companies compelled under Section 702 of FISA
  • Various products supported by CIA’s investment arm, In-Q-Tel
  • SWIFT

702 is the big outlier — in that the US government leveraged existing market dominance and actually didn’t hide what was going on to those who paid attention. But that’s changing. The US government is increasingly demanding that its 702 partners — notably both Apple and Facebook — make choices dictated not by a market interest in security but by their demands.

The WaPo story cites some “successes:” nearly complete visibility on Iran, a critical advantage for the UK in the Falklands war, and visibility on Manuel Noriega as he started to outgrow his client role. One wonders what would have happened if the US or its allies had lost visibility on all those key strategic points.

WaPo focuses its challenge to this spying, however, on what the US had to have known about but overlooked: assassination, ethnic cleansing, and atrocities.

The papers largely avoid more unsettling questions, including what the United States knew — and what it did or didn’t do — about countries that used Crypto machines while engaged in assassination plots, ethnic cleansing campaigns and human rights abuses.

The revelations in the documents may provide reason to revisit whether the United States was in position to intervene in, or at least expose, international atrocities, and whether it opted against doing so at times to preserve its access to valuable streams of intelligence.

Nor do the files deal with obvious ethical dilemmas at the core of the operation: the deception and exploitation of adversaries, allies and hundreds of unwitting Crypto employees. Many traveled the world selling or servicing rigged systems with no clue that they were doing so at risk to their own safety.

I’m actually more interested in the latter case, though (though after all, the US was overlooking atrocities in Iran, Panama, and Argentina, in any case).

These atrocities were known in real time, but ideology — largely, the same Cold War ideology that convinced some of the engineers to play along quietly — served to downplay them. The ideology that excuses much of our current spying, terrorism, likewise leads many to excuse Americans and allies overlooking atrocities by our allies (but that, too, is evident without proving they’re reading the SIGINT proving it).

But the solutions to this problem have as much to do with fixing ideology and market forces behind the power structures of the world as it does with protecting the encryption that people around the world can access.

Days after America Learns to Hate FISA, Lev Parnas’ Co-Conspirator Focuses the Issue

During the first status hearing for Lev Parnas and his co-conspirators, the government stated clearly that no Title III wiretaps had been used in the case. I recognized at the time that didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t wiretapped. As people engaged in transnational political influence peddling, they were prime candidates to have been collected under FISA, either targeted at them or (under 702) their co-conspirators overseas.

I’m not the only one who noticed that. The lawyers for Andrey Kukushkin — who was indicted on the Nevada marijuana part of the grift, one that explicitly described funding from an unidentified Russian — have asked Judge Paul Oetken to make the government tell them whether their client or any of his co-conspirators (including unindicted co-conspirators) were the subject of any of various forms of surveillance, including 12333 and FISA. The government responded with the kind of non-denial that suggests it is quite likely one or some of these grifters (or their Russian unindicted co-conspirator) were collected under those authorities.

As we have previously told you, the Government did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in the course of this investigation. Additionally, the Government does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the other forms of surveillance identified in your letter.

Remember: The government doesn’t have to tell defendants who were targeted under FISA that they were so long as the government doesn’t rely on any evidence obtained under FISA in their prosecution. But Kukushkin seems to have a pretty clear suspicion that the government knows what he has said in his communications.

The government has said (including in a motion asking the court to revoke Parnas’ bail last night) that there are likely going to be follow-on charges. And Foreign Agent charges are the kind of thing you might expect given the way the grifters were funneling foreign money into politics. Which would mean they’re precisely the kind of people that FISA was envisioned for.

That said, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were in close contact with the President’s lawyer, and Parnas also spoke at key times to Devin Nunes (who consistently only cares about surveillance implicating him), John Solomon, and other people squealing when Adam Schiff revealed just their metadata.

So if FISA were used, a bunch of people who’ve just learned to hate FISA may have been incidentally collected in conversations with indicted fraudsters.

The thing is, Bill Barr has repeatedly said that he was briefed on this case and fully approved of it. Which means Barr may soon be in the position of defending a controversial FISA, one possibly approved under him or another Trump Attorney General.

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