[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.

The Very Limited Republican Concern about FISA

There are a number of FISA submissions made by the Trump Administration that the FISA Court has found problematic. They include:

March 24-27, 2017: FBI conducts queries on FISA data using identifiers for over 70,000 facilities associated with persons with access to FBI facilities and systems (noticed to the court on November 22, 2017)

April 7, 2017: Reauthorization of Carter Page FISA, signed by Jim Comey and Dana Boente, at a time when probable cause was thin and contrary evidence mounting

June 29, 2017: Reauthorization of Carter Page FISA, signed by Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein, at a time when few believed the order was producing valuable intelligence and abundant contrary evidence was known

October 11, 2017: FBI conducts queries to identify cleared personnel on whom to serve process (noticed to the court on February 21, 2018)

November 22, 2017: FBI takes 8 months before notifying FISC of the March 2017 queries

December 1, 2017: FBI conducts over 6,800 queries using a group of social security numbers (noticed to the court on April 27, 2018)

December 7-11, 2017: FBI conducts queries on the identifiers of 1,600 people (noticed to the court on April 12, 2018)

Unknown date: FBI conducts queries of 57,000 identifiers (or individuals) that may not have been designed to return foreign intelligence information (noticed to the court on April 13, 2018)

February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI conducts 30 queries on potential sources (noticed to the court on June 7, 2018)

February 21, 2018: FBI conducts 45 queries on persons being considered as sources (noticed to the court on May 21, 2018)

March 27, 2018: Submission of FBI 702 querying procedures, accompanying an application that included a declaration from Christopher Wray, that fell far short of what Congress recently required

September 18, 2018: Submission of FBI 702 querying procedures that still fall short of standards mandated by Congress, including a supplemental declaration from Wray that relies, in part, on FBI’s “strong culture that places great emphasis on personnel consistently conveying true and accurate information”

Not only did both the Carter Page applications from which DOJ withdrew its probable cause claim come under the Trump Administration, but a slew of fairly alarming uses of FISA data happened under Trump as well. A bunch of them occurred under Chris Wray. Indeed, Chris Wray submitted a declaration to the FISC in September 2018 — long after there were questions about the Carter Page FISAs — suggesting the FBI shouldn’t have to write stuff down as it queries 702 data, in spite of what Congress required by law.

The Director anticipates that approach would divert resources from investigative work, delay assessment of threat information, and discourage its personnel from querying unminimized FISA information, to the detriment of public safety. Id. at 9-12. He also describes an alternative approach whereby personnel would be allowed to forgo such research and rely solely on their “personal knowledge” in making those assessments. Id. at 12. The Director expects that practice would “result in inconsistent and unreliable information in FBI systems,” id., thereby complicating other aspects of the FBI’s work – e.g., implementing its Section 702 targeting procedures. Id. at 13-14. The Director also expresses concern that such an approach would be inconsistent with the FBJ’s “strong culture that places great emphasis on personnel consistently conveying true and accurate information.” Id. at 14.

[snip]

The government further objects that requiring a written justification to examine the contents provided in response to U.S.-person queries of Section 702 information “would substantially hinder the FBI’s ability to investigate and protect against threats to national security.” Supplemental FBI Declaration at 17. Different fo1ms of hindrance are claimed.

[snip]

[At the heart of the government’s objections to the documentation requirement proposed by amici is an understandable desire to ensure that FBI personnel can] perform their work with the utmost efficiency and “connect dots” in an effort to protect the national security. Given the lessons learned following 9/11 and the Fort Hood shooting, as well as the FBI’s significant reliance on queries to effectively and efficiently identify threat streams in its holdings, the FBI is extremely concerned about anything that would impede, delay, or create a disincentive to querying FBI databases. Supplemental FBI Declaration at 7 (emphasis added).

Yet in spite of the fact that Chris Wray, himself, participated in a 18-month effort to ignore the will of Congress with respect to 702 queries, no one raised that in yesterday’s oversight hearing. Not to mention the GOP got plenty of facts wrong, such as treating FISA as a terrorism thing, and not, increasingly, the very same counterintelligence purpose used with Page.

To be sure, aside from some comments acknowledging that IG Report, Democrats weren’t raising any questions about FISA (though Jerry Nadler did thank Jim Sensenbrenner for agreeing to delay consideration of Section 215 reauthorization to allow for consideration of the IG Report).

Here’s the thing, though: The FISA Court has complained about FBI surveillance practices all occurring under Trump affecting up to 135,476 Americans.

And Republicans claiming to give a goddamn about FISA are really just concerned about one of those Americans.

Which is a pretty good indication they’re not really concerned about the surveillance at all.

Mike Flynn Seizes the Rope to Hang Himself With: Flynn’s Motion to Dismiss Carter Page’s Non-Existent Plea

As I noted yesterday, Mike Flynn’s legal team and the government submitted a bunch of filings yesterday.

I’m collectively titling my posts on them, “Mike Flynn Seizes the Rope to Hang Himself,” which is the advice Rob Kelner gave his then-client in December 2018 when Judge Emmet Sullivan swore him in to reallocute his guilty plea, effectively arguing that if Flynn withdrew his plea, it would lead to worse consequences. Flynn’s current lawyer, Sidney Powell, argues that advice was objectively incompetent. I predict the outcome of the next few weeks will show Kelner had the better judgment.

This post from yesterday covers the government reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo.

This post will focus on Flynn’s motion to dismiss for misconduct, a 27-page motion that Flynn submitted yesterday with neither warning nor pre-approval from Sullivan. Flynn has made much of this argument before (and Sullivan has rejected it) in a filing that argued,

The government works hard to persuade this Court that the scope of its discovery obligation is limited to facts relating to punishment for the crime to which Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty. However, the evidence already produced or in the public record reveals far larger issues are at play: namely, the integrity of our criminal justice system and public confidence in what used to be our premier law enforcement institution. When the Director of the FBI, and a group of his close associates, plot to set up an innocent man and create a crime—while taking affirmative steps to ensnare him by refusing to follow procedures designed to prevent such inadvertent missteps—this amounts to conduct so shocking to the conscience and so inimical to our system of justice that it requires the dismissal of the charges for outrageous government conduct.

[snip]

As new counsel has made clear from her first appearance, Mr. Flynn will ask this Court to dismiss the entire prosecution based on the outrageous and un-American conduct of law enforcement officials and the subsequent failure of the prosecution to disclose this evidence— which it had in its possession all along—either in a timely fashion or at all.

In a footnote in yesterday’s filing, Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell explains that, no, the last time she tried this argument, which Sullivan rejected in an unbelievably meticulous 92 page opinion, wasn’t actually her motion to dismiss, this is,

Contrary to a suggestion in this Court’s recent opinion, Mr. Flynn did not previously move to dismiss the case against him. ECF No. 144 at 2. As the docket sheet and this Court’s recital of motions show, this is Mr. Flynn’s only Motion to Dismiss. In Mr. Flynn’s previous filings, he made clear he would ultimately move for dismissal, that the evidence requested in his Brady motion would further support the basis for dismissal, and that the case should be dismissed.

Particularly given that much of this repeats what Powell said in the earlier motion, the claim that this is the real motion to dismiss probably won’t sit well with Judge Sullivan. But Powell has to try again, because (as I’ll show) her motion to dismiss doesn’t actually claim that Flynn is innocent of lying to the FBI about his call with Sergey Kislyak — he says the opposite. So this motion to dismiss appears designed to explain why Flynn should not be held accountable for that lie.

Powell justifies doing so because she claims she found new damning information in the IG Report on Carter Page. (She also complains that she received Flynn’s 302s since the prior motion, but presents not a single piece of evidence from them; as I’ll show in my third post on these filings, she’s probably going to regret raising them.)

Such exculpatory evidence and outrageous misconduct includes that on December 9, 2019, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued its 478-page report on the “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (“IG Report”).2 The IG Report illustrates the misconduct by the government as further detailed below.

[snip]

Additionally, the IG Report shows that the government long suppressed evidence of shocking malfeasance by the leadership of the FBI and Supervisory Special Agent 1 (“SSA 1”) that was favorable to Mr. Flynn’s defense. For these reasons, and those outlined in prior briefing, Mr. Flynn moves to dismiss this entire prosecution for outrageous government misconduct and in the interest of justice.

In a probably ill-considered move, Powell blames Sullivan for not considering the IG Report in his previous opinion.

Despite the defense, the government, and this Court agreeing to abate the schedule in this case because of the pending and admittedly-relevant IG Report (ECF No. 140 and this Court’s Minute Order of November 27, 2019), this Court denied Mr. Flynn’s Motion to Compel Production of Brady Evidence without allowing for additional briefing in light of that report or considering any of the deliberate government misconduct it disclosed. ECF Nos. 143 and 144. Mr. Flynn now moves to dismiss the indictment for the additional egregious misconduct documented in the IG Report, other recently produced materials, all previously briefed issues, and in the interest of justice.

A week passed between the time the IG Report came out — which has just one small section relating to Flynn — and the date Sullivan issued his opinion. It is Powell’s job to ask him to consider any new information in it, not his job to cull through the report and find out if anything is relevant. She did not do so. Which is one of many reasons why Sullivan would be in his right to just dismiss this as untimely.

As I note in this thread, much of what follows is either a repetition of complaints that Sullivan already rejected or a claim that Mike Flynn, honored General of thirty years, is actually Carter Page, maligned gadfly, because they describe things that did injure Page but did not injure Flynn and are utterly irrelevant to the lies Flynn told on January 24, 2017.

  • Asks that Sullivan rely on a Ninth Circuit opinion on the Bundy family to reconsider Brady violations he already ruled did not happen.
  • Revisits a Jim Comey comment that was briefed before Flynn pled guilty the last time and Powell’s conspiracy theories about a draft 302 that she claims differs from the notes and the released 302s which are all consistent.
  • Invokes Ted Stevens by invoking the Henry Shuelke report, which laid out problems with the Senators prosecution, but which Sullivan has already said is an inapt comparison.
  • Mixes up the 2017 FISA order that shows (in part) that Flynn, personally, presided over FISA abuses with the 2018 FISA order that shows Chris Wray’s FBI committed querying violations that affected thousands (quite possibly in an attempt to find out who leaked details of Flynn’s comments to Sergei Kislyak).
  • Claims that the Carter Page FISA allowed the FBI to illegally obtain the communications of “hundreds of people, including Mr. Flynn,” which is a claim that doesn’t show up in the IG Report (Powell cites to it “generally,” which is her tell in this motion that she’s making shit up); while it’s possible emails from the campaign (possibly group emails on National Security) involving both Page and Flynn were collected, there is zero chance any of them pertain to the lies Flynn told on January 24, 2017. Moreover, there is virtually no chance that Flynn was communicating with Carter Page after April 2017 via encrypted messaging apps — months after both had been ousted from Trump’s circles because of their problematic interactions with Russians — which is what it likely would have taken to have been collected under the applications deemed problematic by FBI.
  • Twice claims that Flynn’s obligation (which he fulfilled) to tell DIA when he went traipsing off to RT Galas in Russia equates to CIA’s designation of Carter Page as an acceptable contact and notes that Sullivan already ruled that wasn’t exculpatory on the charges before him (the government has made it clear Flynn’s DIA briefing was actually inculpatory).
  • Claims SSA1 — whom Powell asserts, probably but not necessarily correctly, is the second Agent who interviewed Flynn — supervised Crossfire Hurricane, but doesn’t note that was only until December 2016, at least four weeks before Flynn lied to FBI agents on January 24, 2017; Powell repeatedly claims, falsely, that SSA1 supervised Crossfire Hurricane during the entire period when Carter Page was under surveillance.
  • Insinuates, with no evidence, that SSA1 knew that Case Agent 1 had excluded comments from George Papadopoulos that the frothy right believes are exculpatory but which the FBI judged correctly at the time were just a cover story.
  • Claims falsely that Lisa Page had a role in opening an investigation into Flynn.
  • Complains that the FISA applications made statements about Stefan Halper that were true but not backed by paperwork in the Woods File, even though (contrary to Flynn’s conspiracy theories) Halper never spoke with Flynn as part of tihs investigation.

Pages and pages into this, Powell admits that actually all of this would matter if she were representing Carter Page, but she claims (with no evidence, and given the scope of the Page warrants, there would be none) that it nevertheless injures her client.

While Mr. Flynn’s case is not even the focus of the IG Report, the Report reveals illegal, wrongful, and improper conduct that affected Mr. Flynn, and is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by United States Attorney John Durham.

Even where the IG Report does describe something that affected Flynn directly — in SSA1’s inclusion in Trump’s first briefing, in part, to see what kinds of questions he was asking — Powell manages to lard it with false claims. On top of misrepresenting how long SSA1 oversaw the investigation into Trump’s flunkies (noted above and exhibited specifically below), Powell suggests that SSA1 snuck into the August 17, 2016 intelligence briefing Flynn attended as Trump’s top national security advisor and had no purpose but to observe her client.

There were two FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn in the White House on January 24, 2017—Agent Peter Strzok and SSA 1. The IG Report confirms both participated in government misconduct. As explained in further detail below, not only was Strzok so biased, calculated, and deceitful he had to be terminated from Mueller’s investigation and then the FBI/DOJ, but it has also now been revealed that SSA 1 was surreptitiously inserted in the mock presidential briefing on August 17, 2016, to collect information and report on Mr. Trump and Mr. Flynn. Moreover, SSA 1 was involved in every aspect of the debacle that is Crossfire Hurricane and significant illegal surveillance resulting from it. Further, SSA 1 bore ultimate responsibility for four falsified applications to the FISA court and oversaw virtually every abuse inherent in Crossfire Hurricane— including suppression of exculpatory evidence. See generally IG Report.

[snip]

Shockingly, as further briefed below, SSA 1 also participated surreptitiously in a presidential briefing with candidate Trump and Mr. Flynn for the express purpose of taking notes, monitoring anything Mr. Flynn said, and in particular, observing and recording anything Mr. Flynn or Mr. Trump said or did that might be of interest to the FBI in its “investigation.” IG Report at 340

[snip]

More specifically, as the Inspector General explained further in his testimony to Congress on December 11, 2019, SSA 1 surreptitiously interviewed and sized-up Mr. Flynn on August 17, 2016, under the “pretext” of being part of what was actually a presidential briefing but reported dishonestly to others as a “defensive briefing.”

[snip]

Strzok and Lisa Page texted about an “insurance policy” on August 15, 2016.20 They opened the FBI “investigation” of Mr. Flynn on August 16, 2016. IG Report at 2. The very next day, SSA 1 snuck into what was represented to candidate Trump and Mr. Flynn as a presidential briefing. IG Report at 340. [my emphasis]

The overwhelming bulk of her complaint about this is that — she claims — SSA1’s participation was secret. Reading this motion, you’d think he was hidden under the couch while the briefing was conducted. His presence, of course, was in no way surreptitious. What was secret was that Flynn was under investigation and SSA1 was overseeing it.

In one of her discussions of the briefing, Powell quotes the part of the IG Report that refutes her suggestions that SSA1 was only in this briefing to observe Flynn.

In August 2016, the supervisor of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, SSA 1, participated on behalf of the FBI in an ODNI strategic intelligence briefing given to candidate Trump and his national security advisors, including Flynn, and in a separate briefing given to candidate Clinton and her national security advisors. The stated purpose of the FBI’s participation in the counterintelligence and security portion of the briefing was to provide the recipients ‘a baseline on the presence and threat posed by foreign intelligence services to the National Security of the U.S.’ However, we found the FBI also had an investigative purpose when it specifically selected SSA 1, a supervisor for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, to provide the FBI briefings. SSA 1 was selected, in part, because Flynn, who would be attending the briefing with candidate Trump, was a subject in one of the ongoing investigations related to Crossfire Hurricane. SSA 1 told us that the briefing provided him ‘the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview…I would have that to fall back on.’

As the passage she quotes makes clear, that was just part of the reason why he was selected. She doesn’t mention that, as a senior counterintelligence agent, SSA1 was appropriate to give the briefing in any case, and in fact did give the equivalent first briefing to Hillary, as well.

In one place, however, Powell totally misrepresents what the purpose of this briefing was claiming that it was the defensive briefing about specific threats to the candidate.

While SSA 1’s stated purpose of the presidential briefing on August 17, 2016, was “to provide the recipients ‘a baseline on the presence and threat posed by foreign intelligence services to the National Security of the U.S,’” IG Report at xviii (Executive Summary), the IG Report confirmed that, in actuality, the Trump campaign was never given any defensive briefing about the alleged national security threats. IG Report at 55. Thus, SSA 1’s participation in that presidential briefing was a calculated subterfuge to record and report for “investigative purposes” anything Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump said in that meeting. IG Report at 408. The agent was there only because Mr. Flynn was there. IG Report at 340. Ironically, Mr. Flynn arranged this meeting with ODNI James Clapper for the benefit of candidate Trump.

As the IG Report makes clear, these are different things. The IG Report even provides several different explanations for why the FBI did not give Trump a defensive briefing that Russia was trying to influence his campaign, but which Powell doesn’t include. Andrew McCabe’s explanation was particularly prescient.

[T]he FBI did not brief people who “could potentially be the subjects that you are investigating or looking for.” McCabe told us that in a sensitive counterintelligence matter, it was essential to have a better understanding of what was occurring before taking an overt step such as providing a defensive briefing.

You couldn’t brief Trump on a potential Russian threat with Flynn present because Flynn was considered — because of his past close ties to the GRU and his paid appearances with Russian entities, including one where he met Putin — one of the most likely people for Russia to have alerted about the email hack-and-dump plan. And, as I noted, there was a bunch of language about counterintelligence issues in the government’s original sentencing memo specifically pertaining to Flynn that should concern him if he weren’t so busy producing fodder for the frothy right. So, in fact, the FBI was right to worry (and I suspect we may hear more about this).

Moreover, as this entire effort to blow up the plea deal emphasizes, Flynn turned out to be an egregious counterintelligence risk for other reasons, as well: the secret deal he was arranging with Turkey even as this briefing occurred, which he explained, at length, under oath, to the grand jury. That is, this proceeding makes it clear that the FBI was right not to trust Mike Flynn, because, days before this briefing, his firm had committed, in secret to working on a frenemy government’s payroll.

This is tangential to Powell’s trumped up complaints about the only thing the IG Report says that directly affected her client. But — as with so much of this stunt — my suspicion is that if she presses this issue it will backfire in spectacular fashion.

In any case, the main takeaway from this motion to dismiss the plea is that virtually all the new stuff that Judge Sullivan hasn’t already ruled was irrelevant in meticulous fashion doesn’t affect Mike Flynn, it affects Carter Page. And the stuff that does affect Flynn directly is probably not something he wants to emphasize before Sullivan weighs the gravity of his lies.

More importantly, for the motion to withdraw his plea, nothing here undercuts the fact that Mike Flynn pled guilty to his lies about Russia.

Joshua Schulte Spoke Positively of Edward Snowden the Day Snowden Came Forward

Here I thought that Joshua Schulte’s lawyers had finally come up with a decent argument, that Paul Rosenzweig’s testimony would be pointless to prove that Schulte, in choosing to leak to WikiLeaks, intended to damage the US because the government would have to prove Schulte knew of WikiLeaks when he allegedly first stole the CIA documents in May 2016.

But after pointing out that Schulte’s lawyers already blew their chance to make that argument, in a response the government  then pointed out how bad this argument is: because Schulte’s lawyers have already admitted that, “of course, Mr. Schulte knew” about Chelsea Manning’s leaks.

As an initial matter, the defendant’s Reconsideration Motion directly contradicts the argument he made in his original motions in limine concerning Mr. Rosenzweig’s testimony. The defendant argues in the instant motion that Mr. Rosenzweig’s testimony should not be admitted because there is no evidence that the defendant knew of, for example, Chelsea Manning’s disclosures to WikiLeaks. In his original opposition to the Government’s motions in limine, however, the defendant argued the exact opposite:

Next, the government says that it intends to introduce evidence of Mr. Schulte’s “knowledge of [Ms.] Manning’s leak.” Gov. Res. 11. The release of documents by Ms. Manning was front page news in every major news publication for numerous days. Of course, Mr. Schulte knew about it; so did everyone else who picked up a newspaper. It is not clear what the expert would have to add to this information. (Dkt. 242 at 44).

Worse, the government lays out not just that Schulte wrote about both Manning’s leaks to WikiLeak and Edward Snowden’s leaks, but discloses that they intend to introduce those chats at trial.

Moreover, even setting aside the dubious assertion that a member of the U.S. intelligence community could have been completely unaware of WikiLeaks’ serial disclosures of classified and sensitive information and the resulting harm, the Government’s proof at trial will include evidence that the defendant himself was well aware of WikiLeaks’ actions and the harms it caused. For example, WikiLeaks began to disclose classified information Manning provided to the organization beginning in or about April 2010, including purported information about the United States’ activities in Afghanistan. In electronic chats stored on the defendant’s server, the defendant discussed these disclosures. For example, on August 10, 2010, the defendant wrote in a chat “you didn’t read the wikileaks documents did you?” and, after that “al qaeda still has a lot of control in Afghanistan.” In addition, on October 18, 2010, the defendant had another exchange in which he discussed Manning’s disclosures, including the fact that the information provided was classified, came from U.S. military holdings, and that (according to the defendant) it was easy for Manning to steal the classified information and provide it to WikiLeaks. Similarly, in a June 9, 2013 exchange, the defendant compared Manning to Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency, and stated, in substance and in part, that Snowden, unlike Manning, “didnt endanger in [sic] people.”

Effectively, the government is going to show that Schulte — who like Snowden worked at both CIA and NSA (though in reverse order) — had decided the day that Snowden revealed himself that he hadn’t endangered someone.

I suggested in this post that the government appears to be preparing to use Schulte as an exemplar of an ongoing conspiracy, complete with their reliance on organized crime precedents.

[T]he government is preparing to argue that Schulte intended to harm the United States when he leaked these files to WikiLeaks, a stronger level of mens rea than needed to prove guilt under the Espionage Act (normally the government aims to prove someone should have known it could cause harm, relying on their Non-Disclosure Agreements to establish that), and one the government has, in other places, described as the difference between being a leaker and a spy.

To make that argument, the government is preparing to situate Schulte’s leaks in the context of prior WikiLeaks releases, in a move that looks conspicuously like the kind of ongoing conspiracy indictment one might expect to come out of the WikiLeaks grand jury, one that builds off some aspects of the existing Assange indictment.

That is, the government appears to be using Schulte to lay out their theory — rolled out in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks — that WikiLeaks is a non-state hostile intelligence service.

To be sure, there’s nothing in the least bit incriminating about talking about Snowden in real time. But it will make it a lot easier to hold Schulte accountable for leaking stuff in a far more damaging way in 2016 than Snowden did in 2013.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI in 2017.

FISC Reveals DOJ Has Withdrawn Probable Cause Assertion for Two of Carter Page Applications

The FISA Court just declassified an order — issued on January 7 — revealing that along with the previously released December 9 order listing problems with the Carter Page applications, DOJ also reassessed its previous probable cause assessment.

DOJ assesses that with respect to the applications in Docket Number 17-375 and 17-679, “if not earlier, there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause to believe that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

[snip]

The Court understands the government to have concluded, in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the Court’s authorizations in Docket Numbers 17-375 and 17-679 were not valid. The government apparently does not take a position on the validity of the authorizations in Docket Numbers 16-1182 and 17-52, but intends to sequester information acquired pursuant to those dockets in the same manner as information acquired pursuant to the subsequent dockets.

The function of this January 7 order is to demand that FBI follow up on a previous agreement to “sequester all collection the FBI acquired pursuant to the Court’s authorizations in the above-listed four docket numbers targeting [Carter] Page pending further review of the OIG Report and the outcome of related investigations and any litigation,” to explain how it is doing so, how it has chased down all information collected pursuant to the Page orders, and why it needs to keep the data at all.

The reason it needs to keep the data, incidentally, is in case it is sued or John Durham decides to prosecute someone (including Kevin Clinesmith, who altered an email that was used as back-up to the final renewal application) or Page decides to sue. Indeed, one of the most unprecedented aspects of this order is that the docket numbers have been declassified, which will make FOIAing the records far easier.

Which is probably what the only substantive redaction remaining in the order pertains to: the possibility that someone will be held liable under FISA for illegal surveillance.

A lot of people are assuming that DOJ took this stance only because Bill Barr wanted to prove that Trump was illegally wiretapped (which would only be true if he was in direct contact with Page, which everyone has denied). That’s certainly possible!

But it’s quite possible that DOJ and FBI feel the need to be proactive on this point and FISC — particularly given the letters it has received from Congress — feels the need to look stern. Moreover, it is in everyone’s interest for DOJ to withdraw at least the last application (the one influenced by Clinesmith’s actions). It’s an important precedent, and there’s no reason Carter Page’s personal data should be floating around the FBI after discovering he was improperly surveilled. This doesn’t mean the FBI didn’t have reason to investigate Page. In a March 23, 2017 interview, after all, Carter Page was quite clear he knew he was being recruited by Russian intelligence officers and he believed the more immaterial non-public information he gives them, the better off we are.

But, first of all, he wasn’t hiding his happiness to share information with Russian spies, meaning he wasn’t acting in the clandestine matter that would merit a FISA order. And by April 2017, it was pretty clear that the Russians had lost all interest in recruiting Page.

In any case, FISC’s demand for what the government is doing with the data is not unusual. Similar things have happened virtually every other time the government did something improper.

There’s one more important lesson, though: Even from the start, people raised questions about whether the applications targeting Page were prudential. By the third application — the first one being withdrawn — there were not only real questions about whether it would yield anything more, but whether Page was central enough to their investigation to want to surveil him. Had the FBI simply not pursued surveillance it questioned whether it really needed, the worst revelations of the IG Report would have been avoided.

So one of the lessons of this whole fiasco is that the FBI would benefit from giving greater consideration about whether its most intrusive methods are necessary.

Useful But Not Sufficient: FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

As one of her last acts as presiding FISA judge, Rosemary Collyer ordered the government to explain how it will ensure the statement of facts in future FISA applications don’t have the same kind of errors laid out in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application. In the event that the FBI at the time of that submission is not yet able to perform any of the planned steps described in the submission, it shall also include (a) a proposed timetable for implementing such measures and (b) an explanation of why, in the government’s view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable.

DOJ and FBI submitted their response on Friday. (This post lays out new revelations about the FISA process in it.) While I think there are useful fixes, most laid out in FBI Director Chris Wray’s response to the IG Report itself, the fixes are insufficient to fix FISA.

The filing largely focuses on the institution and evolution of the current accuracy review process. It promises to review the memorandum guiding that process (though doesn’t set a deadline for doing so), and adds some forms and training to try to ensure that FBI Agents provide DOJ all the information that the lawyers should include in an application to FISA. One of those forms — pertaining to human sources — seems important though might lead to counterintelligence problems in the future. Another, requiring agents to provide all exculpatory information, may improve the process. But fundamentally, DOJ and FBI assume that the process they currently use just needs to be improved to make sure it works the way they intend it to.

They’re probably insufficient to fix the underlying problems in the Carter Page FISA application.

The FISA Fix Filing is based on faulty assumptions

I say that, first of all, because the FISA Fix Filing adopts certain assumptions from the DOJ IG Report that may not be valid. The FISA Fix Filing assumes that:

  • FBI was responsible for all the errors on the Carter Page application
  • The right people at FBI had the information they needed
  • The Carter Page application was an aberration

The IG Report ignored where DOJ’s National Security Division contributed to errors

As I note in this post, possibly because of institutional scope (DOJ IG cannot investigate DOJ’s prosecutors), possibly because of its own confirmation bias, the IG Report held the FBI responsible for all the information that was known to investigators, but not included in the Carter Page FISA applications. Yet the report showed that at least two of the things it says should have been included in the Page applications — Page’s own denials of a tie with Paul Manafort, and Steele’s own derogatory comments about Sergei Millian — were shared with DOJ’s Office of Intelligence, which writes the applications. Indeed, Rosemary Collyer even noted the latter example in her letter. It also shows DOJ’s National Security Division had confirmed a fact — that Carter Page had no role in the platform change at the RNC — before FBI had.

Because the FISA Fix Filing assumes FBI is responsible for everything mistakenly excluded from the applications, the proposed fixes shift even more responsibility to FBI, requiring agents, with FBI lawyers, to identify the information that should be in an application. But if — as the IG Report shows — sometimes FBI provides the relevant information but it’s not included by the lawyers, then ensuring they provide all the relevant information won’t be sufficient to fix the problem.

The focus on FBI to the detriment of NSD has one other effect. NSD includes few changes to their behaviors in the FISA Fix Filing (largely limited to training and inadequate accuracy reviews). And where they do consider changes, they do not — as ordered by the court — set deadlines for themselves.

The IG Report barely noted the import of the failure to share information in timely fashion

The IG Report deviates radically from almost twenty years of after-action reports that have consistently advocated for more sharing of national security information. It recommends that Bruce Ohr be disciplined for doing just that. Perhaps to sustain that bizarre conclusion, the IG Report focuses almost no attention on an issue that is critical to fixing the problems in the Carter Page applications: ensuring that the people submitting a FISA application have all the information available to the US government. The IG Report showed a 2 month delay before the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained the Steele reports, a month delay in getting feedback from State Department official Kathleen Kavalec, and delays in obtaining the full extent of Bruce Ohr’s knowledge on the dossier, all of which contributed to the delayed vetting of the dossier. But the IG Report doesn’t explore why this happened. And the FBI FISA Fix only addresses it by reminding agents to consult with other agencies.

In another of the 17 problems with the FISA applications, the people submitting the applications apparently did not learn that Christopher Steele had admitted meeting with Yahoo in court filings.

According to the Rule 13 Letter and FBI officials, although there had been open source reporting in May 2017 about Steele’s statements in the foreign litigation, the FBI did not obtain Steele’s court filings until the receipt of Senators Grassley and Graham’s January 2018 letter to DAG Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray with the filings enclosed. We found no evidence that the FBI made any attempts in May or June 2017 to obtain the filings to assist a determination of whether to change the FBI’s assessment concerning the September 23 news article in the final renewal application.

In other instance (as noted above), while NSD had affirmative knowledge that Carter Page had not been involved in the change to the RNC platform, FBI had a different view, yet this issue was not resolved to fully discount the claim in FISA applications. The IG Report also faults FBI managers (but never NSD ones) for not aggressively questioning subordinates to get a full sense of problems with the applications. All of these are information sharing problems, not errors of transparency. Making the case agent fill out forms about what he or she knows will have only limited effect on ensuring that those agents obtain all the information they need, because if they don’t know it, they won’t know to look for it.

With the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, that problem was exacerbated by the close hold of the investigation (most notably by running the investigation out of Main Justice) and, probably, by the urgency of investigating an ongoing attack while it’s happening, which likely led personnel to focus more on collecting information about the attack than exculpatory information.

The FISA Fix Filing includes a vaguely worded document describing technological improvements — including a workflow document that sounds like bureaucratic annoyance as described — that suggest FBI is considering moving some of this to the cloud.

Corrective Action #11 requires the identification and pursuit of short- and long-term technological improvements, in partnership with DOJ, that aid in consistency and accountability. I have already directed executives in the FBI’s Information Technology Branch leadership to work with our National Security Branch leadership and other relevant stakeholders to identify technological improvements that will advance these goals. To provide one example of a contemplated improvement, the FBI is considering the conversion of the revised FISA Request Form into a workflow document that would require completion of every question before it could be sent to OI. The FBI proposes to update the Court on its progress with respect to this Corrective Action in a filing made by March 27, 2020.

It’s still not clear this would fix the problem (it’s still not clear how Bruce Ohr would have shared the information he had in such a way that he wouldn’t now be threatened with firing for doing so, for example). And for a close hold investigation like this, such a cloud might not work. But it would be an improvement (if FBI could keep it secure, which is a big if).

The FISA Fix Filing does have suggests to improve information sharing. But because the scope of the problem, as defined in the IG Report, doesn’t account for information that simply doesn’t get to the people submitting the application, it’s not clear it will fix that problem.

No one knows whether the Page applications are an aberration or not

Finally, no one yet knows whether the Carter Page application was an aberration, and thus far, no one at DOJ has committed to finding out. DOJ IG has committed to doing an audit of the Woods Procedure process that failed in the Carter Page case (and the FISA Fix Filing committed to respond to any findings from that).

The Government further notes that the OIG is conducting an audit of FBI’s process for the verification of facts included in FISA applications that FBI submits to the Court, including an evaluation of whether the FBI is in compliance with its Woods Procedures requirements. The Department will work with the OIG to address any issues identified in this audit.

Yet everyone involved admits that the most serious problems with the Page applications consisted of information excluded from the application, not inaccurate information in it.

Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were … [when] relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney.

Doing an audit of the Woods Procedures, then, does not test the conclusion that Page’s applications are an aberration, and therefore does not test whether more substantive fixes are necessary.

DOJ IG has considered doing more — and PCLOB suggested last year they might get involved (though technically, their counterterrorism scope wouldn’t even permit them to look at counterintelligence cases like Page’s) — but thus far there’s no plan in this filing to figure out of this is a broader problem.

The existing oversight for FISA may be inadequate

There are several reasons to believe that the existing oversight regime for FISA may be inadequate.

As noted, the existing IG plan to audit the Woods Procedure is insufficient to identify whether the existing FISA Fix Filing is sufficient to fix the problem. Also as noted above, the jurisdiction of DOJ’s IG, because it cannot review the actions of prosecutors, might not (and in this case, pretty demonstrably did not) adequately review all parts of the process, because it could not subject NSD attorneys to the same scrutiny it did FBI.

Then there are shortcomings to NSD’s oversight regime — shortcomings that Judge James Boasberg — the new presiding FISA Judge and so the just now in charge of overseeing these fixes — already highlighted in an opinion on problems with Section 702 queries.

As the FISA Fix Filing describes, OI (the same office that the IG Report let off when it received information but did not include it in applications) does a certain number of oversight reviews each year. But they don’t do reviews in every FBI field office (to which FBI devolved the FISA application process some years ago), and they don’t do accuracy reviews at every office where they do an oversight review.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number ofFISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice,_ conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background.

As Boasberg noted in his 702 opinion last year, this partial review may result in problems going unaddressed for years.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

Furthermore, OI’s review of a subset of a subset of applications targeting Americans only reviews for things included in the application, not things excluded from it.

OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case.

DOJ admits that this is a problem, and considers doing a check for the kind of information excluded from Carter Page’s applications, but doesn’t commit to doing so and (again, unlike FBI) doesn’t give itself a deadline to do so.

Admittedly, these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application. That is, if additional, relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney, these accuracy reviews would not uncover the problem. Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were of this nature. Accordingly, OI is considering how to expand at least a subset of its existing accuracy reviews at FBI field offices to check for the completeness of the factual information contained in the application being reviewed. NSD will provide a further update to the Court on any such expansion of the existing accuracy reviews.

Improving these oversight reviews will have a salutary effect on all FISA authorities, not just individualized orders. Since Boasberg has already identified the inadequacies of the current reviews, I would hope he’d ask for at least an improved oversight regime.

Treating alleged subpoenas like they’re not subpoenas

There’s a change promised that I’m unsure about: Chris Wray’s voluntary decision to subject Section 215 and pen register orders to heightened accuracy reviews.

Currently, the accuracy of facts contained in applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1841 , et seq. , or applications for business records pursuant to 50 U.S. C. § 1861 , et seq. , must, prior to submission to the Court, be reviewed for accuracy by the case agent and must be verified as true and correct under penalty ofpeijury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 by the Supervisory Special Agent or other designated federal official submitting the application. Historically, the Woods Procedures described herein have not been formally applied by the FBI to applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance or business records. As discussed in the FBI Declaration, FBI will begin to formally apply accuracy procedures to such applications and proposes to update the Court on this action by March 27, 2020.

FBI has, for years, told the public these are mere grand jury subpoena equivalents, and so the privacy impact is not that great. That Wray thinks these need accuracy reviews suggests they’re more intrusive than that, in which case by all means FBI should add these reviews.

But as I suggested in this post, some of the problems with the Carter Page applications might have been avoided had the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained call records from both Page and George Papadopoulos early in the process, which would not only have confirmed Page’s accurate claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails (undermining a key claim from the dossier), but it would have revealed Papadopoulos’ interactions with suspect Russian asset Joseph Mifsud, thereby pinpointing where the investigative focus should have been (and making it a lot harder for Papadopoulos to obstruct the investigation in the way he did). The IG Report doesn’t ask why this didn’t happen, but it seems an important question because if the FBI chose not to use ostensibly less intrusive legal process because existing Section 215 applications are not worth the trouble, then making the purportedly less-intrusive applications even more onerous will only lead to a rush to use full FISA, as appears to have happened here.

Further breaking the affiant-officer of the court relationship

One of the more insightful observations from the IG Report described how OI attorneys and FBI agents applying for FISA orders don’t work as closely as prosecutors and agents on a normal case.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that OI rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

The proposed FISA fixes seem to derive from this OI viewpoint, that because OI don’t work closely with agents they need to replace cooperation that is often inadequate on normal criminal investigations with a process that has even less cooperation for applications that are supposed to have a higher degree of candor.

The FISA Fix Filing seems to envision FBI lawyers picking up this slack, but especially since DOJ devolved the application process to Field Agents some years ago, it’s not clear, at all, why this would result in better lawyering.

Formalizing the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal review;

[snip]

Corrective Action #7 requires the formalization of the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal reviewer. Through this Corrective Action, the FBI seeks to encourage legal engagement throughout the FISA process, while still ensuring that case agents and field supervisors maintain ownership of their contributions.

As it is, the FISA process requires a more senior agent to be the affiant on an application, which in at least one of the Page applications, resulted in someone who had less knowledge of the case making the attestation under penalty of perjury.

It may be that these changes go in the opposite direction from where FISA should go, which would be closer to the criminal warrant model where a judge will have an FBI affiant who anticipates taking the stand at a trial (and therefore needs to retain his or her integrity to avoid damaging the case), and an office of the court signing off on applications (whom judges can sanction directly). That is, by introducing more layers and absolving OI from some of the direct responsibility for the process, these proposed changes may make FISA worse, not better.

Remarkably, the court might consider something far more effective.

On Friday, Boasberg appointed David Kris as amicus for this consideration. Kris literally wrote the book on all this, in addition to writing the 2001 OLC memo that eliminated the wall between the intelligence collected under FISA and the prosecutions that arise out of them. In a recent podcast, he mused that the way to fix all this may be to give defendants review of their applications, something always envisioned by Congress, but something no defendant has done. That — along with a more robust oversight process — seems like it has a better chance of changing the way the FBI and DOJ approach FISA applications than adding a bunch more checklists for the process.

The frothy right is in a lather over Kris’ appointment, which is a testament to how little these people (up to and especially Devin Nunes) understand FISA. But he has the institutional clout to be able to recommend real fixes to FISA, rather than a bunch of paperwork to try to make the Woods Procedure to work the way it’s supposed to.

DOJ could, voluntarily, provide review to more defendants. Alternately, Congress could mandate it in whatever bill reauthorizes Section 215 this year. Or Kris could suggest that’s the kind of thing that should happen.

Update: David Kris submitted his recommendations to Boasberg. Like me, he finds Wray’s plan useful but not sufficient. Like me he notes that the agents doing the investigation should be the ones signing off on affidavits (and he suggests the FISC review more applications until new procedures are in place). Kris also focuses on cultural changes that need to happen.

One thing he doesn’t do is review DOJ’s role (though he does argue that part of this stems from conflict between DOJ and FBI).

He also notes that DOJ has not imposed deadlines for itself.

The Revelations about FISA Bureaucracy in FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

The government submitted the filing ordered by now (thankfully) former FISA presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer on Friday, explaining how it’ll avoid the problems identified in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. As I’ll show in a follow-up, I believe the changes — with one possible exception — are worthwhile, if inadequate to the task.

In this post, however, I’d like to lay out what the filing reveals about two aspects of the FISA process that I did not know before.

Other agencies and state and local law enforcement can use FISA: While minimization procedures have revealed that FBI can share FISA information with other agencies, including state and local authorities, this filing reveals those other agencies can serve as the affiant for FISA applications.

Agents from other federal law enforcement agencies or state or local law enforcement officers serving on a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI may, in some cases, act as the declarants for applications submitted by the FBI after reviewing receiving the necessary training. In the case of state or local law enforcement officers, such officers are deputized as Special Deputy United States Marshals for this purpose. (4)

I’ve never heard of this before and there are a whole lot of questions this raises, both about whether non-DOJ agencies are submitting FISA applications (CIA would be unsurprising, but ICE would be alarming and under this administration, not at all crazy), but also about the accountability for people who aren’t Federal employees. How many “Special Deputy United States Marshals” does SDNY have, for example, and was FISA used during the worst excesses of its intelligence program?

The timeline of updates to the Woods Procedures: The filing explains (I’m sure some of this is public, but it’s laid out here as well) that the Woods Procedures have been updated:

  • On February 2, 2006, FBI reminded its agents they need to,”create, maintain, and update a sub-file that contains all materials that document the support for each factual assertion contained in FISA applications.” Given the timing, this change may have been part of the effort to clean up Stellar Wind, which had been used to substantiate FISA applications without notice for the previous five years.
  • On March 24, 2006, DOJ’s OIPR advised the court about the sub-file requirement, though focused especially on ensuring that, “the federal official currently handling the source (or the federal official who is responsible for liaison to another entity who is handling the source) [confirms] that the source remains reliable, and that all material information regarding the reliability of the source is reported accurately in the FISA application.” This would have been the period when the FBI was cleaning up after Katrina Leung, one of the worst double agents in recent history, so may have pertained to her reporting.
  • In February 2009, NSD and FBI together required the FBI to remove any asserted fact for which there is no documentation, and do so retroactively. It also implemented quarterly accuracy reviews that have since been made semi-annual. The Section 215 disclosures in this same time period suggest Bush got sloppy in its last years, so this may have reflected a need to clean that up, too.
  • August 2016. There was an update to the Woods Procedure and 2009 Memorandum in 2016, but the filing doesn’t describe it (or why).

How OI’s accuracy reviews work:

As DOJ has revealed in the past, OI’s Oversight Section does FISA oversight reviews at 25-30  (of the 56) Field offices a year. They review the compliance with minimization and querying procedures, the latter of which only recently got imposed.

In addition, they do an accuracy review of a subset of FISA applications that reviews:

  • The facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or agent thereof
  • The verification process that the targeted facilities are used by, owned by, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target
  • The basis for the US person status of the target
  • The factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case

As the filing makes clear, “these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application,” which is the real source of the problems identified in the Page application. Right now, OI is “considering” expanding a subset of reviews to check for completeness, but is not committing to doing so.

Two things are of interest here. The definition of FISA “facilities,” has long been of interest, not least because the government likes to pretend it consists mostly of phone numbers and email addresses. Indeed, 2007, FISC approved a broad definition of “facility” that can be used to target suspects of a terrorist group (and, presumably now, other clandestine networks), in large numbers. The language in this bullet all comes from statute, but the use of “about to be used,” would support the kind of monitoring of a new computer or phone we’ve heard of. This language also might support the monitoring of Amazon and bank accounts. The validation of facilities (both to be sure Page was still using them and to sustain FISA coverage to be able to get to new ones) was something important to the renewal process of Page’s FISAs.

The language on criminal matters reveals how the FBI deals with parallel investigations, such as the one that happened with Keith Gartenlaub (where they government used both criminal subpoenas and FISA searches, which ultimately led to a child porn prosecution unrelated to any FISA suspicion). I knew this section existed, but thought it did so just to comply with a statutory requirement, when targeting US persons, that their clandestine activities may involve violating criminal statute. But this language makes it clear that this part of the FISA application also serves to provide notice of such parallel proceedings. Given that the FBI has to declare that they can’t obtain information under FISA via other means, this raises more questions about the degree to which FISA can serve as an additive authority for certain kinds of investigations that will let the FBI use techniques they wouldn’t use otherwise.

The section on OI reviews also reveals that they review FISA applications before information from an application is used in a proceeding against someone picked up in it.

OI has also, as a matter of general practice, conducted accuracy reviews ofFISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use ofFISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person.

It’s hard to tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily help the defendant. After all, if the OI review discovers problems with FISA applications, then DOJ would be more likely to parallel construct the prosecution, thereby burying a problematic part of the investigation. And a review at the period when FBI is already considering using it in a proceeding is too late in the process to protect the civil liberties of the person who is aggrieved if there was a problem with the application.

The section describing these reviews also reveals that, “in enumerated exceptions,” the FBI doesn’t have to rely on “the most authoritative document that exists” in the Woods Procedure. A footnote makes clear that one of the areas where the application itself may not include everything in the underlying documentation is human sources, which permits the lawyer submitting the application to ask a human source coordinator to verify the application matches the underlying documentation. Remember that the language about Christopher Steele used in the Carter Page application didn’t come from his handling agent’s assessment, but it came from a serialized intelligence report based off his reporting. That’s not what this describes, but may be one of the reasons the FBI took that shortcut.

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

As I noted, I spent much of the last month wading through the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. Back when the IG Report came out, a bunch of people — largely Devin Nunes flunkies — declared, incorrectly and apparently without close review, that the IG Report shows that Devin Nunes was right and Adam Schiff was wrong in their memos from 2018.

The reality is that both were talking past each other, with Nunes trying to make the Steele dossier stand in for and discredit the entire investigation, and Schiff trying to point out that the Steele dossier did not predicate the entire Russia investigation. Nunes made dishonest claims about the Ohrs and Comey’s briefing of the Steele dossier to Trump. Schiff wrongly defended the FBI’s treatment of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff story and overstated the known reliability of the dossier at the time of the memo, to which additional details were added by the IG Report.

Schiff overstates both the predicted and actual efficacy of the FISA collection, which is something it’d be nice to see both parties return to. Though it has long been evident that the FBI and the IC generally often continues surveillance (and surveillance programs) past their point of usefulness, the Intelligence Committees do a piss poor job of challenging such collection.

Before I compare the two, though, consider that both memos came before almost a year of parallel investigations (one conducted by House Republicans, another conducted by the DOJ IG) into the process. Even Nunes was not aware when he wrote his memo of some of the problems identified in the IG Report. I say that with great confidence, not least because I spoke with a Republican who had read the FISA application closely months after the Nunes memo was written who told me there was so much else in Carter Page’s FISA application that approval of the application was not a close call even with concerns about the dossier; the person changed his opinion after that time. In other words, when both parties released a memo about the Carter Page application in early 2018, neither side knew of some of the problems revealed in the IG Report. That’s actually evident from the things Nunes does not complain about in his memo (though he may remain silent about Page’s past relationship with CIA for classification reasons), and it means some of Schiff’s assurances about the dossier have been proven inaccurate since.

This post will conduct a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the letters that uses the IG Report, with one key exception, as arbiter of accuracy. The exception is DOJ IG’s conclusions on (but not facts presented about) Bruce Ohr, as that is one area where DOJ IG can be shown to misrepresent the record.

Nunes Memo

¶1-4: The introductory paragraphs of the Nunes memo lays out when FBI obtained FISA orders on Page and who approved them. These details are true, though uncontroversial. From there, Nunes adopts an outline of allegations that are either less sound or inaccurate:

¶5 (marked as 1):

“The dossier was essential:”

The IG Report said the FBI lawyer said ” the Steele reporting in September ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause,” and generally the IG Report shows that FBI would not have initiated the FISA process without the dossier, though by the time the application was approved FBI had collected more damning information on Page.

The IG Report describes five things substantiated probable cause against Page:

  • Russia’s effort to influence the election
  • The Papadopoulos report
  • Page’s past history with Russia, including his Gazprom dealings, his serial recruitment by Russian intelligence officers, his comments about what he had told the FBI
  • The Steele allegations
  • His enthusiasm about being offered a “blank check” to start a pro-Russian think tank on his July trip to Russia

“Steele was a longtime FBI source:” Steele had been known to Bruce Ohr and Andrew McCabe via mutual interest in combatting organized crime since the 2000s. Ohr first introduced Steele to an FBI handler in 2010. He was formally opened as a CHS in 2013, though the two sides disagreed about the terms of that relationship.

Steele was paid over $160K, to obtain derogatory research: True, but not part of the IG Report. The Nunes memo doesn’t note that Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI, none of it for dossier-related work.

¶ 6, 7 (marked as 1a and 1b): “Neither the initial applications nor the renewals disclose the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials:” The footnote disclosing this did not name any Democrat, but it wouldn’t have in any case. It did say that,

[Steele], who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #l’s ties to Russia (the identified U.S. person and [Steele] have a long-standing business relationship). The identified U.S. person hired [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #l’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1 ‘s campaign.

The political origins of the dossier were suspected by senior FBI and DOJ officials before the first application. After that, they had far more specific knowledge of it, thanks largely to Bruce Ohr. The FBI did not disclose its enhanced understanding of the nature of the project in reauthorizations, though some of the people involved believed the initial footnote remained adequate.

“The FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.” It wasn’t the same information. FBI authorized Steele to be paid if he completed taskings focused on the subjects of the investigation, but they offered that in the (false) expectation he’d offer them information exclusively. He was not, ultimately, paid for this.

¶8 (marked as 2): “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff … This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself.

This entirely misstates the point of the Yahoo inclusion, which was to include Page’s denials.

Evans told the OIG that 01 included the reference to the September 23 Yahoo News article in the FISA application solely because it was favorable to Carter Page and not as corroboration for the Steele reporting in the application. According to Evans, the application’s treatment of the article was favorable to Page in three respects: (1) the application described statements in the article that the campaign distanced itself from Page and minimized his role as an advisor; (2) the application stated that Page denied the allegations in the news article in a letter to the Director; and (3) as described below, the application made clear that the people who financed Steele’s reporting were likely the same source for the information in the article.

While it is true that the FISA application did not attribute the quote to Steele (not even after FBI learned he had been the source from Bruce Ohr), the application did attribute it to Glenn Simpson.

Given that the information contained in the September 23rd News Article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered during his/her research, the FBI assesses that [Steele’s] business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.

¶9, 10 (marked as 2a and 2b): “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations–an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI. … Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo.”

This is correct, insofar as Steele was closed for cause because he disclosed that he had shared information with the FBI, which amounted to being a control problem.

Strzok told the OIG that the FBI closed Steele “because he was a control problem. We did not close him because we thought he was [a] fabricator.” According to Strzok, Steele’s decisions to discuss his reporting with the media and to disclose his relationship with the FBI were “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.”

But there are more serious violations, such as breaking the law.

However, a CHS must be closed for cause “if t here is grievous action by the CHS or a discovery of previously unknown facts or circumstances that make the individual unsuitable for use as a CHS.”97 Reasons that justify closing a CHS for cause include commission of unauthorized illegal activity, unwillingness to follow instructions, unreliability, or serious control problems. 98

Also, Steele’s decision to share the information, while utterly stupid from a HUMINT standpoint, was not actually a violation of any warning the FBI had given him, since he disclosed information he had collected for someone else.

Steele’s handling agent said that Steele should have been closed for cause because of the attention he was attracting for himself, but he recognized that Steele was not leaking information he had collected for the FBI (and the IG Report didn’t find any orders that he not speak to the press, either).

Handling Agent 1 told us that he understood why Steele would believe in September 2016 that he did not have an obligation to discuss his press contacts with him given that: (1) Steele’s work resulted from a private client engagement; and (2) Handling Agent 1 told Steele on July 5 that he was not collecting his election reporting on behalf of the FBI. However, Handling Agent 1 ‘s view was that while it was obvious that Fusion GPS would want to publicize Steele’s election information, it was not apparent that Steele would be conducting press briefings and otherwise interjecting himself into the media spotlight. Handling Agent 1 told us that he would have recommended that Steele be closed in September 2016 if he had known about the attention that Steele was attracting to himself. According to Handling Agent 1, Steele should have had the foresight to recognize this fact and the professionalism to afford Handling Agent 1 an opportunity to assess the situation. However, we are unaware of any FBI admonishments that Steele violated by speaking to third parties, including the press, about work that he had done solely for his firm’s clients and where he made no mention of his relationship with the FBI.

[snip]

According to Handling Agent 1, while Steele appeared to follow the directions of Fusion GPS, he did not treat his other client – the FBI – fairly. According to Handling Agent 1, if Steele “had been straight with the FBI,” he would not have been closed as a CHS.

¶11 (marked as 3): Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via … Bruce Ohr.

This is true, but it was part of a 10 year relationship based on sharing information about organized crime, and this information included non-dossier related information on Trump (focused on Oleg Deripaska’s double game offers to offer evidence against Paul Manafort) and other Russian (including doping) and non-Russian matters.

The IG Report makes the same kinds of errors in its portrayal of Ohr as the FISA Application does about Page, effectively arguing Ohr should be disciplined for the kind of information sharing DOJ and FBI have insisted they need to encourage since 9/11.

Ohr said, “Steele said he ‘was desperate.'”

This is true, though the IG Report shows (but then misrepresents) that Ohr specifically said this was an ideological desperation, not a political one: “but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

¶12 (marked as 3a): “During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump … the Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.”

This is dishonest. Nellie Ohr’s last day working as a contractor for Fusion was September 24, 2016, so she was no longer employed by Fusion at the time of the first Page application or at the time when Ohr was helping FBI vet the dossier. The IG Report does not say their relationship should have been disclosed to the FISC, nor should it have been, as Nellie Ohr’s research was a separate stream from Steele’s.

¶13 (marked as 4):

“corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page application.”

This is true, but that is not unusual in the FISA context.

Evans and other witnesses told us that the fact that the source information in the FISA application had not yet been corroborated was not unusual in the FISA context

DOJ assessed the reliability of this information, for the first application, by assessing Steele’s reliability and including information on his subsources. His past as an MI6 officer gave him more credibility than other sources might have had. All the applications misstated what Steele’s handling agent had said about the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated.

“a source validation report … assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”

The source validation that found Steele’s reporting to be minimally corroborated was done in March 2017, after the first two FISA applications and the Trump briefing.

“Yet in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steel dossier, even though it was–according to his June 2017 testimony–‘salacious and unverified.'”

This is an utterly dishonest attack. As noted, the validation review referred to here took place two months after Comey briefed Trump on the dossier. And Comey briefed Trump on it largely because it was salacious, out of desire to warn Trump about what was out there.

“McCabe testified … that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from FISC without the Steele dossier.”

McCabe said something different to the IG when asked about this quote and this discrepancy remains unresolved.

McCabe told us that he did not recall his exact testimony, but that his view was that the FBI would have “absolutely” sought FISA authority on Carter Page, even without the Steele reporting, based upon Page’s historical interactions with known Russian intelligence officers and the fact that Page told known Russian intelligence officers about the FBI’s knowledge of those interactions. However, McCabe also told us that he was not privy to the discussions that took place between attorneys in FBI OGC and Case Agent 1 on the sufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause before the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reports. McCabe said he could not speculate as to whether the FBI would have been successful in obtaining FISA authority from the FISC without the inclusion of the Steele reporting.

Schiff Memo

¶1-4: Introductory matter, including an assertion that ODJ would have been remiss if they had not sought a FISA warrant. The IG Report showed that while there was no question about investigating Page’s ties to Russia, there was some question about the efficacy of the FISA application.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly.

¶5: “Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI’s closely held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.”

This is true. The FBI opened the investigation on July 31 based off the Australian tip, and the Crossfire Hurricane team only got the Steele dossier information on September 19.

¶6-7:

“Multi-pronged rational for surveilling Page” There were five things the first Page application used to establish probable cause, as noted above.

“no longer with the Trump campaign” True.

“narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities … did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump” This is a bit cynical, because while the FBI did not use all the reports they had gotten from Steele (including the pee tape allegation), the Page application used the specific references to Page plus more general allegations about cooperation between Russia and Trump.

Specifically, the following aspects of Steele’s Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102 were used to support the application:

  • Compromising information about Hillary Clinton had been compiled for many years, was controlled by the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had been feeding information to the Trump campaign for an extended period of time (Report 80);
  • During his July 2016 trip to Moscow, Carter Page attended a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Chairman of Rosneft and close associate of Putin, to discuss future cooperation and the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia; and a secret meeting with Igor Divyekin, another highly placed Russian official, to discuss sharing compromising information about Clinton with the Trump campaign (Report 94);
  • Page was an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign’s then manager (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation, which led, with at least Page’s knowledge and agreement, to Russia’s disclosure of hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign’s agreement to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue (Report 95); 267 and
  • Russia released the DNC emails to Wikileaks in an attempt to swing voters to Trump, an objective conceived and promoted by Carter Page and others (Report 102).

“interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign … FBI interviewed Page in March 2016.” It is both true that Page’s actual interactions with Russian officials — including the offer of an “open checkbook” to open a pro-Russian think tank during his July 2016 trip — and his comments to the FBI in March 2016 were part of the case for probable cause.

“DOJ also disclosed” It is true DOJ disclosed Steele’s prior relationship and the details of his termination as a source — though at first they incorrectly only said he had been suspended — but they did not supplement the application with details of the Fusion project as they became known after the first application.

¶8-10: Repetition of the opening blather.

¶11-13: The investigation was started based off Australia’s tip about Papadopoulos and by the time the Crossfire Hurricane team received dossier information on September 19, they had already opened investigations against 4 Trump people, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort [the other three names of which are redacted]. That’s true. Here’s what the government told FISC about the Papadopoulos tip:

In or about March 2016, George Papadopoulos [footnote omitted] and Carter Page (the target of this application) were publicly identified by Candidate #1 as part of his/her foreign policy team. Based on reporting from a friendly foreign government, which has provided reliable information in the past … the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #l’s campaign. In or about July 2016, the above-referenced friendly foreign government provided information to a senior official within the U.S. [government] regarding efforts made by the Russian Government to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, according to this information, during a meeting in or about April 2016 between officials of the friendly foreign government and George Papadopoulos … Papadopoulos suggested that Candidate #l’s campaign had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to another candidate for U.S. President (Candidate #2). It was unclear whether Papadopoulos or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear from this reporting how Candidate #l’s campaign reacted to the alleged Russian offer. Nevertheless, as discussed below, the FBI believes that election influence efforts are being coordinated between the RIS and Page, and possibly others.

Note the Schiff memo supplements what the government told FISC and what FBI knew at the time with information from Papadopoulos’ plea deal, though by October 2016, the FBI had come to learn outlines of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Mifsud via an informant.

¶14: Details about the Page applications. As corrected these claims are true. The Schiff memo doesn’t list the judges, but they are:

  • September application: Rosemary Collyer, W appointee
  • January application: Michael Mosman, W appointee
  • April application: Anne Conway, Poppy appointee
  • June application: Raymond Dearie, Reagan appointee

Note that the Schiff memo describes both electronic surveillance and physical search; the IG Report hides the latter. The physical search authorization is important because that provided FBI authorization to obtain Page’s stored communications, including emails.

¶15: FISA was not used to spy on the campaign. True, but the use of physical surveillance would permit the FBI to obtain stored communication, and it’s not public whether the specific minimization procedures adopted by FISC limited the access to emails Page sent while on the campaign.

¶16-17: Page’s connections to Russian Government and intelligence officials. To the extent this information is public, this is largely true (though it’s probably more accurate to state that one of the Russians indicted, Victor Podobnyy, attempted to recruit Page, and he talked about it with a second). We now know, however, that an earlier attempted recruitment happened with the knowledge of CIA, and there’s no allegation that Page hid his willingness to share information with Russian intelligence officers until 2017. That raises problems for claims he was secretly working with Russian spies.

¶18: Page’s suspicious activity during the 2016 campaign. To the extent this is public, it does reflect what FBI told FISC. The memo doesn’t deal with real questions about the allegations about whom Page met with in Russia. There’s still no corroboration that Page met with anyone named Divyekin (indeed, Dmitry Peskov affirmatively chose not to set up a meeting for him with the Kremlin), but the IG Report reveals that the people who brought Page to Moscow provided RUMINT that he had met with Igor Sechin. The Mueller Report concluded Page’s activities in Moscow “were not fully explained.”

¶19: Subsequent renewals. Much of this discussion is redacted, though it’s clear it provides details of Page’s December trip to Moscow, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, and probably refers to Page’s meeting with the VP of Gazprombank in Singapore.

This table shows the new claims made in each FISA application described in the IG Report.

It’s not clear that Page’s denials in the HPSCI interview are as damning as Schiff makes out, as some of them amounted to denials of claims in the dossier than have not been proven. The IG Report would go on to describe other denials from Page that were provably true, denials that did not get included in reauthorization applications.

¶20: The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable information. Publicly, Michael Horowitz has suggested this is not the case. But the IG Report admits that that investigation team “did not review the entirety of the FISA [intelligence collected by] targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those [redacted] under FISA authority that were relevant to our review.”

The Report suggests that the reality is that the first two, and possibly three, warrants were useful, as they captured Page interacting with Russia in suspicious ways, but that the fourth and maybe the third application were far less useful, in part because by that point Page knew he was being surveilled and by that point he was no longer a key player in Trump’s orbit.

¶21-22: DOJ was transparent with the Court about Steele’s sourcing. The Schiff memo accurately describes the footnote used to inform the court of the political nature of Steele’s project. It doesn’t describe that FBI didn’t amend that description as more information became known, though there is disagreement over whether more was necessary.

¶23: DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible. The Schiff memo accurately describes how DOJ described Steele. But it doesn’t note that the reauthorizations did not reflect questions FBI had come to raise about the credibility of the dossier, nor does it note (and it probably wasn’t known) that the applications used language from an intelligence report rather than from Steele’s handling agent to describe the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated, and as a result overstated that.

¶24-25: FBI properly notified FISC after it terminated Steele as a source. As a minor point, in the first reauthorization, FBI said Steele had been suspended rather than closed, when he had actually been closed. More seriously, the Schiff memo badly understates how obvious it should have been that Steele had a role in Michael Isikoff’s October 21 story (though, as noted, the FBI attributed the story to Simpson in any case).

¶26: The FBI never paid Steele for the dossier. Here, the two memos are talking past each other dishonestly. The FBI did authorize Steele to be paid for any exclusive reporting on specific taskings, but what he provided was always his work for Fusion.

¶27: DOJ appropriately provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including … Papadopoulos. This is largely true. The IG Report complains that FBI didn’t include Papadopolous’ really damning admissions to informants, but the FBI correctly deemed the denials he made (and Joseph Mifsud’s denials) to be inaccurate, so had they been included they would have been included to substantiate deceit.

¶28: DOJ made proper use of news coverage. The unredacted claims are all true (though don’t account for FBI’s failures to identify Isikoff’s article as coming from Steele).

¶29-30: The Majority’s reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading.

This passage states that Ohr’s meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team happened after the FISA application, which is true, but it doesn’t mention a meeting had with Andrew McCabe (not Crossfire Hurricane) days before the FISA application. The McCabe meeting included reporting from Steele (whom Ohr had spoken to the previous day) and Simpson; I argue, however, that the precipitating reason for the meeting had to do with Oleg Deripaska, which the IG Report inaccurately treats as synonymous with the Steele dossier (though it’s problematic for other reasons).

Also, the Schiff memo speaks of “debriefs” without describing the multiple meetings.

The Schiff memo correctly calls the Nunes memo on insinuating that because Ohr worked with Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein that meant there was a conspiracy; in fact, the IG Report argues he should be disciplined because he didn’t provide them enough notice of what he was doing.

The evidence in the IG Report backs Schiff’s conclusion — that Ohr’s contacts with the Crossfire Hurricane team amounted to debriefing about Steele’s project — more than it backs its own.

¶31: Strzok and Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. That is true. The IG Report found,

As part of this review, in order to determine whether there was any bias in the investigative activities for Crossfire Hurricane that we reviewed, we asked agents and analysts assigned to the case about the roles Strzok and Page played in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and their level of involvement in decision making. With respect to Strzok, these witnesses told us that while he approved the team’s investigative decisions during the time he was in the supervisory chain of command for the investigation, he did not unilaterally make any decisions or override any proposed investigative steps. Priestap, in addition to telling us that it was his (Priestap’s) decision to initiate the investigation, told us that to his knowledge, Strzok was not the primary or sole decision maker on any investigative step in Crossfire Hurricane. Further, as described above, in January 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were divided between two operational branches within CD, and Strzok no longer supervised the Carter Page investigation, which was transferred to Operations Branch II, CD-1, under the supervision of then DAD Boone. In this report, we describe those occasions when Strzok was involved in investigative decisions.

With respect to Lisa Page, witnesses told us that she did not work with the team on a regular basis or make any decisions that impacted the investigation.

Joshua Schulte’s Three Lawyer Monte

For at least five months, accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte has been trying one after another ploy to avoid or delay his trial next month. But his latest move isn’t even very clever.

The problem, for Schulte, is that after he submitted a pro se filing attacking the government’s case that included classified information, his lawyers tried to get him to stop by telling him to write his complaints in notebooks instead. He did so and marked the notebooks “Attorney-Client,” but included things that could in no way be considered as such (such as passwords to Proton Mail accounts he used to email people outside of jail). So after the government discovered he had a cell phone in jail and searched his cell, they discovered the notebooks, where he had basically confessed to his past and ongoing crimes. As the government wrote in a later motion, that information includes:

(i) admissions by the defendant relating to his disclosure of classified information to WikiLeaks (such as the identification of information provided to WikiLeaks that has not yet been disclosed by WikiLeaks); (ii) admissions by Schulte with respect to his plan to disseminate additional classified information illegally from the MCC (such as his declaration of a so-called “information war” and notations of plans to, for example, schedule postings on various social media accounts he created from jail); (iii) false exculpatory statements; (iv) evidence connecting Schulte to contraband cellphones and electronic communications accounts (such as notations to install encrypted messaging applications on contraband cellphones or to delete “suspicious emails” from covert accounts used by Schulte while at the MCC); and (v) writings prepared for public dissemination that include classified information (such as draft tweets written by the defendant as one of his alleged former CIA colleagues who claimed to be able to exonerate the defendant and who recounted information about CIA activities to “authenticate” the author).

Since then, he has been trying to make that evidence unavailable for trial.

First, last June, he tried to suppress it (and the Proton Mail emails accessed with the passwords he stored in there) on Fourth Amendment grounds, which Judge Paul Crotty denied last October, in part because the FBI’s use of a wall team to sort out the non-privileged material demonstrated good faith.

Then, in August, Schulte’s lawyers informed the judge they had provided some kind of advice that led him to believe he could write down classified information in his prison notebooks, and asked that the judge sever the charges tied to his attempts to leak classified information from jail from the charges tied to his alleged leak of the Vault 7 documents to WikiLeaks, something that would have made the MCC admissions of guilt unavailable for his main trial. In September, Judge Crotty denied that motion, pointing out that the lawyer who gave the purportedly bad advice is not on Schulte’s trial team and so could testify.

Then, in October, his lawyers asked to be relieved of defending Schulte altogether, or at least asked for the judge to appoint a Curcio counsel to determine whether there is a conflict. On November 6, Judge Crotty appointed a Curcio counsel.

Meanwhile, also in October, Schulte’s lawyers said they were buried preparing for trial and needed help and asked that he appoint another lawyer to help them, James Branden, which Judge Crotty immediately did. That soon looked like a ploy, because Branden — who had said he’d be able to handle the schedule — wrote a letter in November asking for a six month adjournment saying he couldn’t handle the schedule. In the letter, he said he had not, in the interim month, met with Schulte. He also said he couldn’t elaborate on the need for a delay until December 9 because he was on vacation until then. Crotty was none too impressed with that, and denied that motion in December (though extended the trial date by three weeks.

On December 13, Schulte’s public defenders wrote the judge and said they decided their advice to Schulte meant they had to be relieved on ineffective assistance of counsel grounds.

On December 18, they held the Curcio hearing, and Judge Crotty (who had previously described ways to get the exculpatory evidence admitted at trial) denied the request to be relieved.

Last week, Schulte’s public defenders wrote Judge Crotty saying they could no longer defend Schulte because it would mean providing ineffective counsel, and also noting that they may have engaged in misconduct, meaning that Schulte’s decision to present the evidence would reflect badly on his trial lawyers. (Again, the lawyer who gave the bad advice will not be his trial lawyer.)  The next day they wrote against stating that, even though to adopt this ineffective assistance of counsel defense, he’d have to waive privilege on the current set of lawyers, he did not waive privilege.

The government responded to this second letter laying out all the case law that says if you’re going to argue ineffective counsel, you need to share what the bad advice is. In it, they called bullshit on Schulte’s claim that he really relied on his lawyers’ counsel.

For example, the Government has described to the defense how, if the defendant offered his counsel’s testimony, the Government would likely rely on recorded prison calls in which the defendant criticized defense counsel’s advice, including, for example, calls in which the defendant stated that he would “go around” Ms. Shroff to disclose information to the media, despite her objections to this strategy.

They also note that Schulte claims he needs this testimony to prove his innocence but is willing to wait years, under SAMs, to get it.

The Curcio counsel, Sean Maher, wrote as well last week, repeating that he believes the public defenders need to be relieved, because he can’t advise Schulte on whether or not he should call both lawyers to testify, thereby waiving privilege and necessitating getting new lawyers. He argues Schulte needs new lawyers to decide whether he needs to jettison his current lawyers. He ends his letter by explaining that he doesn’t have enough information to advise Schulte on that point.

Only conflict-free counsel who has a full sense of the case — the classified and unclassified discovery, the complicated forensic information, and knowledge of what other witnesses, including rebuttal witnesses, might say — should advise Mr. Schulte on this matter.

What seems to have dropped out of this conversation is that Schulte has another lawyer who can’t fathomably be said to have this conflict, James Branden, who in spite of his December vacation has nevertheless had over two months to get up to speed, the amount of time he originally said it’d take to prepare for trial. Branden is in a position to decide whether Schulte’s claim he got bad advice and so did what he said on recorded jail house conversations that he would ignore he wouldn’t do will hold with a jury.

Schulte is pretending he has two sets of lawyers: the ones he claims gave him shitty advice, which led him to try to record what he must be preparing to claim is just an imaginary Information War entirely within the bounds of his prison notebooks, and the Curcio counsel appointed to tell him — absent any context — whether that means they can’t represent him anymore.

But he’s got a third lawyer who has curiously dropped out of this discussion, Branden, who hasn’t signed his name to a filing since he asked for an adjournment (though he attended the Curcio hearing, so would be competent to provide the kind of advice that Maher says no one is available to provide).

Likely, if asked, Branden would note that claiming his lawyers told him to commit everything to his prison notebooks wouldn’t much help him (even ignoring his Non-Disclosure Agreements that commit him alone to protecting classified information), because Schulte allegedly shared classified information in public documents outside of his prison notebooks, in defiance of the advice the government says he got and ignored from Shroff.

I guess Schulte is hoping if he moves the three cards in his hand around fast enough, Judge Crotty — who he has attacked in a pro se filing Shroff probably told him not to file — won’t see that there are actually three and not two cards in his hand.

Three lawyer monte, with all the lawyers paid for by taxpayers, ostensibly in the name of a fair defense.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

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