Horowitz

What a Properly Scoped FISA Abuse Inspector General Report Would Look Like

In this piece on the Jim Comey IG Report, I showed that Michael Horowitz’s department received evidence of two violations of DOJ rules. His office first received seven memos that documented that DOJ’s protocols to ensure the integrity of investigations had collapsed under Donald Trump’s efforts to influence investigations. And then, at some later time, his office learned that Comey had (improperly, according to the report) retained those memos even after being fired and that FBI had classified six words in the memos he retained retroactively.

Horowitz’s office has completed an investigation into an act that otherwise might be punished by termination that already happened. But there is zero evidence that Horowitz has conducted an investigation into the subject of the whistleblower complaint, the breakdown of DOJ’s protections against corruption.

In April 2018, Horowitz released a report (which had been hastily completed in February) detailing that Andrew McCabe had been behind a reactive media release during the 2016 election. But his office has not yet released its conclusions regarding the rampant leaks that McCabe was responding to. In other words, Horowitz seems to have once again released a report on a problem that — however urgent or not — has already been remedied, but not released a report on ongoing harm.

Horowitz is reportedly preparing to release a report on what the frothy right calls “FISA abuse.” but given the content of a Lindsey Graham letter calling for declassification of its underlying materials, it’s seems likely that that report, too, is scoped narrowly, focusing just on Carter Page (and any other Trump officials targeted under FISA). There’s no request for backup materials on the other investigation predicated off of hostile opposition research, the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

I have long said that if Republicans think the FISA order into Carter Page was abusive, then they’re being remiss in their oversight of FISA generally, because whatever abuse happened with Page happens, in far more egregious fashion, on the FISA applications of other people targeted and prosecuted with them.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that the information from paid informants is not properly vetted before being used as the basis for a FISA application, they would be better to focus on any number of terrorism defendants. Adel Daoud appears to have been targeted under FISA based off a referral — probably, like Christopher Steele, a paid consultant — claiming he said something in a forum that the government later stopped claiming; Daoud remains in prison right now after having been set up in an FBI sting.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that the FBI is misusing press reports in FISA applications, they would be better to focus on the case against Keith Gartenlaub. The FBI based its FISA applications partly off a Wired article that was totally unrelated to anything Gartenlaub was involved with. Gartenlaub will forever be branded as a sex criminal because, after finding no evidence that he was a spy, the government found 10 year old child porn they had no evidence he had ever accessed.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that information underlying a FISA application included errors — such as that there are no Russian consulates in Miami — he should probably review how Xiaoxing Xi got targeted under FISA because the FBI didn’t understand what normal scholarship about semiconductors involves. While DOJ dropped its prosecution of Xi once it became clear how badly they had screwed up, he was charged and arrested.

And if Michael Horowitz is concerned about FISA abuse, then he should examine why zero defendants have ever gotten able to review their applications, even though that was the intent of Congress. Both Daoud and Gartenlaub should have been able to review their files, but both were denied at the appellate level.

The point being, the eventual report on “FISA abuse” will not be about FISA abuse. It will, once again, be about the President’s grievances. It will, at least according to public reporting, not treat far more significant problems, including cases where the injury against the targets was far greater than it was for Carter Page.

I don’t believe Michael Horowitz believes he is serving as an instrument of the President’s grievances. But by scoping his work to include only the evidence that stems from the President’s grievances and leaving out matters that involve ongoing harm, that’s what he is doing.

Admitted Former Foreign Agent Mike Flynn Demands More Classified Information

According to Mike Flynn’s Fox News lawyer, Sidney Powell, to “defend” himself in a guilty plea he has already sworn to twice under oath, he needs to obtain unredacted versions of a Comey memo showing he was not targeted with a FISA warrant and a FISA order showing that people who were targeted with FISA warrants might have been improperly scrutinized while they were overseas.

That’s just part of the batshittery included in a request for Brady material submitted to Emmet Sullivan last Friday.

The motion is 19 pages, most of which speaks in gross generalities about Brady obligations or repeats Ted Stevens Ted Stevens Ted Stevens over and over again, apparently a bid to convince Judge Emmet Sullivan that this case has been subject to the same kind of abuse that the late Senator’s was.

After several readings, I’ve discovered that Powell does make an argument in the motion: that if the government had provided Flynn with every damning detail it has on Peter Strzok, Flynn might not have pled guilty to lying to Strzok about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak or admitted that he used a kickback system to hide that he was a paid agent of Turkey while getting Top Secret briefings with candidate Trump.

They affirmatively suppressed evidence (hiding Brady material) that destroyed the credibility of their primary witness, impugned their entire case against Mr. Flynn, while at the same time putting excruciating pressure on him to enter his guilty plea and manipulating or controlling the press to their advantage to extort that plea. They continued to hide that exculpatory information for months—in direct contravention of this Court’s Order—and they continue to suppress exculpatory information to this day.

One of the things Powell argues Flynn should have received is unredacted copies of every text Strzok sent Lisa Page.

The government’s most stunning suppression of evidence is perhaps the text messages of Peter Srzok and Lisa Page. In July of 2017, (now over two years ago), the Inspector General of the Department of Justice advised Special Counsel of the extreme bias in the now infamous text messages of these two FBI employees. Mr. Van Grack did not produce a single text messages to the defense until March 13, 2018, when he gave them a link to then-publicly available messages. 14

Mr. Van Grack and Ms. Ahmad, among other things, did not disclose that FBI Agent Strzok had been fired from the Special Counsel team as its lead agent almost six months earlier because of his relationship with Deputy Director McCabe’s Counsel—who had also been on the Special Counsel team—and because of their text messages and conduct. One would think that more than a significant subset of those messages had to have been shared by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice with Special Counsel to warrant such a high-level and immediate personnel change. Indeed, Ms. Page left the Department of Justice because of her conduct, and Agent Strzok was terminated from the FBI because of it.

14 There have been additional belated productions. Each time more text messages are found, produced, or unredacted, there is more evidence of the corruption of those two agents. John Bowden, FBI Agent in Texts: ‘We’ll Stop’ Trump From Becoming President, THE HILL (June 14, 2018), https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/392284-fbi-agent-in-texts-well-stop-trumpfrom-becoming-president; see also U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election. Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018) (https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download). But the situation is even worse. After being notified by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice of the extraordinary text communications between Strzok and Page (more than 50,000 texts) and of their personal relationship, which further compromised them, Special Counsel and DOJ destroyed their cell phones. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation: Recovery of Text Messages From Certain FBI Mobile Devices, Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018), https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download. This is why our Motion also requests a preservation order like the one this Court entered in the Stevens case.

As is true of most of this filing, Powell gets some facts wrong here. The public record says that as soon as Mueller got the warning from Michael Horowitz about the texts, he started moving Strzok off the team. He didn’t need to see the texts, that they were there was issue enough. And Lisa Page remained at FBI until May 2018, even after the texts were released to the public.

And while, if Sullivan had taken Flynn’s initial guilty plea rather than Rudy Contreras, one might argue that Van Grack should have alerted Flynn’s lawyer Rob Kelner of the existence of the Strzok-Page texts, DOJ was not required to turn them over before Flynn’s guilty plea. Moreover, the problem with claiming that withholding the Strzok-Page texts prevented Flynn from taking them into account, is that they were made public the say day Emmet Sullivan issued his Brady order and Flynn effectively pled guilty again a year after they were released, in sworn statements where he also reiterated his satisfaction with his attorney, Kelner. Any texts suggesting bias had long been released; what remains redacted surely pertains either to their genuine privacy or to other counterintelligence investigations.

Finally, at least as far as public evidence goes, Strzok was, if anything, favorable to Flynn for the period he was part of the investigation. He found Flynn credible in the interview, and four months later didn’t think anything would come of the Mueller investigation. So the available evidence, at least, shows that Flynn was treated well by Strzok.

The filing also complains about information just turned over on August 16.

For example, just two weeks ago, Mr. Van Grack, Ms. Curtis, and Ms. Ballantine produced 330 pages of documents with an abject denial the production included any Brady material.6 Yet that production reveals significant Brady evidence that we include and discuss in our accompanying Motion (filed under seal because the prosecutors produced it under the Protective Order).

6 “[T]he government makes this production to you as a courtesy and not because production of this information is required by either Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), or the Court’s Standing Order dated February 16, 2018.” Letter from Mr. Brandon Van Grack to Sidney K. Powell, Aug. 16, 2019.

Given the timing, it may well consist of the unclassified materials showing that Turkey (and possibly Russia) believed Flynn to be an easy mark and expected to be able to manipulate Trump through him. I await either the unsealing of Powell’s sealed filing or the government response to see if her complaints are any more worthy than this filing.

That’s unlikely. Because the rest of her memo makes a slew of claims that suggest she’s either so badly stuck inside the Fox bubble she doesn’t understand what the documents in question actually say, or doesn’t care. In her demand for other documents that won’t help Flynn she,

  • Misstates the seniority of Bruce Ohr
  • Falsely claims Bruce Ohr continued to serve as a back channel for Steele intelligence when in fact he was providing evidence to Bill Priestap about its shortcomings (whom the filing also impugns)
  • Suggests the Ohr memos pertain to Flynn; none of the ones released so far have the slightest bit to do with Flynn
  • Falsely suggests that Andrew Weissmann was in charge of the Flynn prosecution
  • Claims that Weissman and Zainab Ahmad had multiple meetings with Ohr when the only known meeting with him took place in fall 2016, before Flynn committed the crimes he pled guilty to; the meeting likely pertained to Paul Manafort, not Flynn
  • Includes a complaint from a Flynn associate that pertains to alleged DOD misconduct (under Trump) to suggest DOJ prosecutors are corrupt

In short, Powell takes all the random conspiracy theories about the investigation and throws them in a legal filing without even fact-checking them against the official documents, or even, at times, the frothy right propaganda outlets that first made the allegations.

Things get far weirder when it comes to her demands relating to FISA information. In a bid to claim this is all very pressing, Powell demands she get an unredacted version of the Comey IG Report.

Since our initial request to the Department by confidential letter dated June 6, 2019, we have identified additional documents that we specify in our Motion. Now, with the impending and just-released reports of the Inspector General, there may be more. The Report of the Inspector General regarding James Comey’s memos and leaks is replete with references to Mr. Flynn, and some information is redacted. There may also be a separate classified section relevant to Mr. Flynn. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation of Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s Disclosure of Sensitive Investigative Information and Handling of Certain Memoranda, Oversight and Review Division Report 19-02 (Aug. 29, 2019), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2019/o1902.pdf

The only redacted bits in the report are in Comey’s memos themselves — the stuff that the frothy right is currently claiming was so classified that Comey should have been prosecuted for leaving them in a SCIF at work. Along with unclassified sections quoting Trump saying he has “serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment” (the redacted bit explains that the President was pissed that Flynn didn’t tell him about Putin’s congratulatory call right away) and “he had other concerns about Flynn,” there’s this section that redacts the answer to Reince Priebus’ question about whether the FBI has a FISA order on Flynn (PDF 74).

The answer, though, is almost certainly no. Even if the FBI obtained one later, there was no way that Comey would have told Priebus that Flynn was targeted; the FBI became more concerned about Flynn after this February 8 conversation, in part because of his continued lies about his work with Turkey.

Flynn’s team also demands an unredacted copy of this 2017 FISA 702 Rosemary Collyer opinion, though Powell’s understanding of it seems to based off Sara Carter’s egregiously erroneous reporting on it (here’s my analysis of the opinion).

Judge Rosemary Collyer, Chief Judge of the FISA court, has already found serious Fourth Amendment violations by the FBI in areas that likely also involve their actions against Mr. Flynn. Much of the NSA’s activity is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. Not only did the last administration—especially from late 2015 to 2016—dramatically increase its use and abuse of “about queries” in the NSA database, which Judge Collyer has noted was “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” it also expanded the distribution of the illegally obtained information among federal agencies.10 Judge Collyer determined that former FBI Director Comey gave illegal unsupervised access to raw NSA data to multiple private contractors. The court also noted that “the improper access granted the [redacted] contractors was apparently in place [redacted] and seems to have been the result of deliberate decision making” including by lawyers.11, 12

10 See also Charlie Savage, NSA Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications, THE N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 12, 2017) (reporting that Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed new rules for the NSA that permitted the agency to share raw intelligence with sixteen other agencies, thereby increasing the likelihood that personal information would be improperly disclosed), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/nsa-gets-more-latitude-to-share-interceptedcommunications.html; See also Exec. Order No. 12,333, 3 C.F.R. 200 (1982), as amended by Exec. Order No. 13,284, 68 Fed. Reg. 4075 (Jan. 23, 2003).

11 FISC Mem. and Order, p. 19, 87 (Apr. 26, 2017) www.dni.gov/files/documents/icotr/51117/2016_Cert_FISC_Memo_Opin_Order_Apr_2017.pdf (noting that 85% of the queries targeting American citizens were unauthorized and illegal).

12 This classified and heavily redacted opinion is one of the documents for which defense counsel requests a security clearance and access.

As a threshold matter, Powell gets virtually everything about the Collyer memo wrong. Collyer didn’t track any increase in “about” searches (it was one of the problems with her memo, that she didn’t demand new numbers on what NSA was doing). It tracked a greater number of certain kinds of violations than previously known. The violation resulting in the 85% number she cited was on US persons targeted between November 2015 and May 2016, but the violation problem existed going back to 2012, when Flynn was still part of the Deep State. What Collyer called a Fourth Amendment violation involved problems with 704/705b targeting under FISA, which are individualized warrants usually tied to individualized warrants under Title I (that is, the kind of order we know targeted Carter Page), and probably a limited set of terrorism targets. Given that the Comey memo almost certainly hides evidence that Flynn was not targeted under FISA as of February 8, 2017, it means Flynn would have had to be a suspected terrorist to otherwise be affected. Moreover, the NSA claimed to have already fixed the behavioral problem by October 4, 2016, even before Carter Page was targeted. I had raised concerns that the problems might have led to problems with Page’s targeting, but since I’ve raised those concerns with Republicans and we haven’t heard about them, I’m now fairly convinced that didn’t happen.

At least some of the FBI violation — letting contractors access raw FISA information — was discontinued in April 2016, before the opening of the investigation into Trump’s flunkies, and probably all was discontinued by October 4, 2016, when it was reported. One specific violation that Powell references, however, pertains to 702 data, which could not have targeted Flynn.

Crazier still, some of the problems described in the opinion (such as that NSA at first only mitigated the problem on the tool most frequently used to conduct back door searches) cover things that happened on days in late January 2017 when a guy named Mike Flynn was National Security Advisor (see PDF 21).

Powell should take up her complaints with the guy running National Security at the time.

Craziest still, Powell describes data collected under EO 12333 as “illegally obtained information” (Powell correctly notes that the Obama Administration permitted sharing from NSA to other agencies, but that EO would not affect the sharing of FISA information at all). If EO 12333 data, which lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn used through his entire career, is illegally obtained, then it means lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn broke the law through his entire government career.

Sidney Powell is effectively accusing her client (incorrectly) of violating the law in a motion that attempts to argue he shouldn’t be punished for the laws he has already admitted breaking.

In short, most of the stuff we can check in this motion doesn’t help Flynn, at all.

And at least before Powell submitted this, Emmet Sullivan seemed unimpressed with her claims of abuse.

The government and Flynn also submitted a status report earlier on Friday. In the status report, the government was pretty circumspect. Flynn’s cooperation is done (which is what they said almost a year ago), they’d like to schedule sentencing for October or November, and they’ve complied with everything covered by Brady. Anything classified, like Powell is demanding, would be governed by CIPA and only then discoverable if it is helpful to the defense.

Powell made more demands in the status report, renewing her demand for a security clearance and insisting there are other versions of the Flynn 302.

To sort this out, the government suggested a hearing in early September, but Powell said such a hearing shouldn’t take place for another month (during which time some of the IG reports she’s sure will be helpful will come out).

The parties are unable to reach a joint response on the above topics. Accordingly, our respective responses are set forth separately below. Considering these disagreements, the government respectfully requests that the Court schedule a status conference. Defense counsel suggests that a status conference before 30 days would be too soon, but leaves the scheduling of such, if any, to the discretion of the Court. The government is available on September 4th, 5th, 9th or 10th of 2019, or thereafter as the Court may order. Defense counsel are not available on those specific dates.

Judge Sullivan apparently sided with the government (and scheduled the hearing for a date when Flynn’s attorneys claim to be unable to attend).

Every time Flynn has tried to get cute thus far, it has blown up in his face. And while Sullivan likely doesn’t know this, the timing of this status hearing could be particularly beneficial for the government, as they’ll know whether Judge Anthony Trenga will have thrown out Bijan Kian’s conviction because of the way it was charged before the hearing, something that would make it far more likely for the government to say Flynn’s flip-flop on flipping doesn’t amount to full cooperation.

And this filing isn’t even all that cute, as far as transparent bullshit goes.

John Ratcliffe’s Lies about His Time at DOJ Raise New Questions about His Claim to Have Used Warrantless Searches

Both NBC and ABC have stories laying out how two key claims about his work at DOJ that John Ratcliffe has used to get elected three times are lies. Less important for this post, when Ratcliffe repeatedly took credit for “arresting over 300 illegal [sic] aliens in a single day,” he was actually taking credit for a poultry worker bust that was led by ICE and involved four other US Attorneys offices and a slew of other investigative agencies.

This is an ICE-led investigation with support from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern District of Texas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Middle District of Florida, and the Northern District of West Virginia. Also aiding in the investigation are the DOL-OIG; the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the West Virginia State Police; and numerous other state and local agencies.

More interesting, however, is Ratcliffe’s claim that, “There are individuals that currently sit in prison because I prosecuted them for funneling money to terrorist groups.” As both NBC and ABC note, there’s not a shred of evidence that Ratcliffe ever prosecuted a terrorism case. His own campaign press release botches the timing and titles of this, seemingly conflating his time as (an unconfirmed) US Attorney with his role as chief of the anti-terrorism section for the US Attorney office he’d eventually run.

In 2008, Ratcliffe served by special appointment as the prosecutor in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, one of the nation’s largest terrorism financing cases.  During his tenure as the Chief of the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Section for the Eastern District of Texas he personally managed dozens of international and domestic terrorism investigations.

The statement his office gave ABC, which explains that the reference pertained to his appointment as Special Counsel investigating why the Holy Land Foundation case resulted in a mistrial, conflates those two roles even worse.

Ratcliffe’s office clarified that his status regarding the case was instead related to investigating issues surrounding what led to the mistrial in the first case.

“Because the investigation did not result in any charges, it would not be in accordance with Department of Justice policies to make further details public,” Rachel Stephens, a spokesperson for Ratcliffe, said. “However, Department of Justice records will confirm that as both Chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for the Eastern District of Texas from 2004-2008, John Ratcliffe opened, managed and supervised numerous domestic and international terrorism related cases.”

The timing here is critical, for reasons I’ll get into in a second. Ratcliffe was appointed Acting US Attorney sometime between May 20 and June 20, 2007; prior to that, he had been the First AUSA and the chief of the anti-terrorism and national security division in a division that didn’t see many national security cases (though in his campaigns, Ratcliffe would take credit for a big meth bust he mostly oversaw the sentencing of).

The mistrial of the first Holy Land Foundation trial was on October 23, 2007.

Ratcliffe was appointed US Attorney by Michael Mukasey sometime after he was confirmed as Attorney General on November 8, 2007.

Ratcliffe’s tenure as US Attorney ended after his replacement was confirmed on April 29, 2008. It’s unclear whether he stayed on after that; he joined a law firm leveraging John Ashcroft’s name the next April.

I’m interested in those dates because, in a 2015 debate over whether to prohibit back door searches of data collected using Section 702 of FISA, Ratcliffe claimed he had used warrantless searches as a terrorism prosecutor.

In full disclosure to everyone, I am a former terrorism prosecutor that has used warrantless searches, and frankly have benefitted from them in a number of international and domestic terrorism cases.

The implication was that he had done back door searches, but (as I noted at the time) he could only have done back door searches of Section 702 content if he stuck around after being replaced as US Attorney, because the FISA Amendments Act did not become law until July 10, 2008, after he was replaced as US Attorney. It’s true that Protect America Act was in place during part of the time he was US Attorney and during the time he would have been investigating the Holy Land Foundation case, but that remained in flux until February 2008 and DOJ was claiming, in the Yahoo challenge, not to permit back door searches.

If, as Ratcliffe suggests, his big terrorism “prosecution” was on the Holy Land case, it suggests he was using data from Protect America Act. Any back door searches in conjunction with that would be particularly controversial given that a bunch of Muslim groups were improperly named in a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a filing in the case, and some of them (such as CAIR’s Executive Director Nihad Awad) was under FISA surveillance through that period. In other words, if he used back door searches in the wake of the Holy Land mistrial, there’s a good chance he was engaged in what Carter Page insists in FISA abuse. This was also a period when there were a slew of violations with the Section 215 phone dragnet, which was almost certainly used to map out all of CAIR during the period.

One possible alternative is still worse. Ratcliffe started his anti-terrorism position in 2004. At the time, the George Bush warrantless wiretap program Stellar Wind — on which the back door searches of FAA were modeled — remained active (though in somewhat constrained form in the wake of the hospital confrontation). If Ratcliffe did back door searches on Stellar Wind data, he was part of Bush’s illegal surveillance program, and not just involved in “FISA abuse” but in crimes under FISA.

Given the number of lies he has already been caught in, and given his obvious confusion in any number of public hearings since, it’s quite possible he was just pretending to be an expert on a national security issue to fluff up his credibility. Perhaps he didn’t really understand the subject of the debate, and mistook normal criminal process for FISA surveillance.

That said, there’s frankly no good answer for this claim: the least damning explanation is confusion or puffery, the most damning is that he was involved in criminal surveillance.

But it’s a specific detail that demands an answer if Ratcliffe wants to supervise the entire intelligence community.

The Irony of Glenn Greenwald Cuddling Up with Bill Barr, the Grandfather of Ed Snowden’s Phone Dragnet

Glenn Greenwald, who has written two books about the abuse of Presidential power, continues to dig in on his factually ignorant claims about the Mueller report. For days, he and the denialists said that if Mueller’s report was being misrepresented by Bill Barr, Mueller would speak up. Now that Mueller’s team has done so, Glenn complains that these are anonymous leaks and nevertheless only address obstruction, not a conspiracy with Russia on the election.

Glenn and his lackeys in the denialist crowd who continue to willfully misrepresent the public evidence have yet to deal with the fact that Mueller has already presented evidence that Paul Manafort conspired with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik on the election, but that they weren’t able to substantiate and charge it because Manafort lied. Mueller’s team say they believe Manafort did so in hopes and expectation that if he helped Trump and denialists like Glenn sustain a “no collusion” line, he might get a pardon. That is, we know that Trump’s offers of pardons — his obstruction — specifically prevented Mueller from pursuing a fairly smoking gun incident where Trump’s campaign manager coordinated with Russians on the hack-and-leak.

As Glenn once professed to know with respect to Scooter Libby’s obstruction, if someone successfully obstructs an investigation, that may mean the ultimate culprit in that investigation escapes criminal charge.

Glenn’s denialism is all the more remarkable, though, given that this same guy who wrote two books on abuse of presidential power is choosing to trust a memo from Bill Barr that was obviously playing legalistic games over what the public record says. As Glenn must know well, Barr has a history of engaging in precisely the kind of cover-up of presidential abuses Glenn once professed to oppose, fairly epically on Iran-Contra. The cover-up that Barr facilitated on that earlier scandal was the model that Dick Cheney used in getting away with leaking Valerie Plame’s identity and torture and illegal wiretapping, the kinds of presidential abuses that Glenn once professed to oppose.

I find Glenn’s trust of Bill Barr, one of the most authoritarian Attorneys General in the last half century, all the more ironic, coming as it does the same week that DOJ IG released this IG report on several DEA dragnets.

That’s because Glenn’s more recent opposition to abuse of power comes in the form of shepherding Edward Snowden’s leaks. Glenn’s recent fame stems in significant degree to the fact that on June 5, 2013, he published a document ordering Verizon to turn over all its phone records to the government.

The dragnet Snowden revealed with that document was actually just the second such dragnet. The first one targeted the phone calls from the US to a bunch of foreign countries claimed, with no court review, to have a drug nexus. Only, that term “drug nexus”  came to include countries with no significant drug ties but instead a claimed tie between drug money and financing terrorism, and which further came to be used in totally unrelated investigations. That earlier dragnet became the model for Stellar Wind, which became the model for the Section 215 dragnet that Glenn is now famous for having helped Edward Snowden expose.

Here’s what the IG Report released the same week that Glenn spent hours cuddling up to Bill Barr says about the original dragnet.

Bill Barr, the guy Glenn has spent 10 days nuzzling up to, is the grandfather of the dragnet system of surveillance.

The IG Report also shows that Bill Barr — the guy Glenn has spent 10 days trusting implicitly — didn’t brief Congress at all; the program wasn’t first briefed to Congress until years after Barr left office the first time.

This is the man that former critic of abusive presidential power Glenn Greenwald has chosen to trust over the public record.

This is, it seems, the strange plight of the denialist left, cozying up to the kind of authoritarians that their entire career, at least to this point, have vigorously opposed.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

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

Keith Gartenlaub Challenges the Destroyed FISA Wall

Keith Gartenlaub is appealing his conviction on possession of child porn to the Supreme Court, based on a FISA challenge. And while any petition for cert before SCOTUS faces long odds, I believe this one is interestingly situated in that its challenge to the plain view doctrine, in conjunction with the use of FISA evidence in a prosecution having nothing to do with national security, may present a way for SCOTUS to reconsider the wall between national security investigations and criminal prosecutions.

As a reminder, the FBI decided to investigate Gartenlaub (at a time when they were making other bone-headed investigative decisions involving Chinese-Americans) because he had access to files the Chinese government was seeking and a naturalized Chinese-American wife.

FBI switched back and forth from criminal to FISA access at least once (and probably twice), and in the process did a physical search of three Gartenlaub hard drives using the more expansive search regime available under FISA, only to then repeat the same search to obtain the same evidence of child porn to use for prosecution.

The government never presented evidence the child porn had been accessed since 2005, and Gartenlaub presented an alternate explanation for how it had gotten on his computer. In fact, the record suggests the FBI didn’t want to prosecute Gartenlaub for child porn; they wanted to flip him, so he would spy on his well-connected in-laws. It didn’t happen and now, even after his release from prison, he’s trying to challenge the genesis of his prosecution from that FISA search.

The reason why the case is interesting is because the FBI was seeking something very specific: materials relating to Boeing’s C-17 program. A criminal forensic search for such materials, conducted under a Rule 41 warrant, would start by turning off the forensic search for items — most notably, videos — that would not return the suspected evidence of crime (which would be engineering documents).

Because of typical games the FBI plays with forensics, this was not established in the District court. But the appeal points to the government’s claims that under FISA they don’t have to use such forensic narrowing. It goes on to establish that they did not use such forensic narrowing tools, and, not having done that, found no evidence to support the FISA allegations but instead finding evidence that led to the child porn charges.

In its Opposition Brief before the Ninth Circuit, the government acknowledges that there were no limitations to its secret search of Gartenlaub’s hard drives, saying in a header: “The Government Was Permitted to Search Every File on Defendant’s Computers . . . .”17 And nothing in the record indicates that the government used any standard forensic techniques routinely used to particularize computer searches like: date limitations; targeted key word searches; image recognition scans; taint teams, or other routine, well established techniques to limit a digital search to its target and screen out privileged, confidential, and irrelevant information.

Despite its unlimited search, the FBI found no evidence that Gartenlaub had provided C-17 data to China, or otherwise acted as a spy for China. But the FBI did allegedly find, among the tens of thousands of files on the hard drives, a handful of files containing child pornography. Dropping its fantasy that Gartenlaub was a Chinese spy, the FBI turned to the theory he collected child pornography.

The appeal then argues that using FISA to get to criminal evidence is an end run around criminal procedure, in part because Gartenlaub had no way to challenge the criminal warrant after the evidence had already been found via FISA warrant.

Gartenlaub’s case demonstrates how easy it is to bypass the Constitution’s criminal procedure guarantees by getting a secret FISA search warrant and using it to prosecute regular crimes. And it is impossible for a criminal defendant to challenge a secret FISA warrant because the defendant cannot access any of the information underlying the FISA warrant due to its secrecy. This thwarts a criminal defendant’s Due Process right to test the government’s case in adversarial proceedings. For these reasons alone the Court should grant certiorari to clarify the use of non-responsive FISA evidence in regular criminal proceedings.

Ultimately, one of Gartenlaub’s requests for cert (and most his requests parallel this closely) argues that the government should not be permitted to use FISA warrants unless it submits those FISA warrants for court review.

Gartenlaub’s case is an example of how the government can abuse a national security investigation under FISA to prosecute unrelated non-national security crimes. Because of this risk, the government should not be permitted to use secret national security warrants to prosecute regular crimes if it won’t submit those warrants and supporting materials to investigation and the adversarial process the criminal procedure amendments require. This Court should grant certiorari to analyze and clarify the scope of the 1978 FISA’s encroachment upon the fundamental, centuries old, criminal procedure protections of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.

On its face, it’s a fairly modest request. And, as the appeal notes, a fairly modest one, given that there is only one other case where FISA is known to be used in a pure criminal case. The appeal distinguishes this case from the past one, Isa, in a way that appeals directly to the Court’s recent narrowing of digitally-based searches.

The 27 year old FISA case of United States v. Isa appears to be one of the few instances where a prosecutor used the non-responsive fruits of a FISA search for an unrelated regular criminal prosecution.70 Isa upheld the use of a FISA surveillance recording, in a state prosecution, of the surveillance target’s murder of his 16-year-old daughter.71 During the course of the surveillance the murder occurred and was incidentally recorded. Unlike Gartenlaub’s case, the evidence was not obtained via the methodical rummaging over the course of months through the target’s computers.

In other words, on its face, it presents a case where there is no question of standing, where the reach of the questions presented may seem narrow, and on topics that fit nicely with recent court decisions recognizing the greater invasiveness of digital searches.

Except the impact of putting FISA review on the table for a purely criminal case (the appeal raises the Carter Page example) would have significant, probably overdue impact on the complete elimination of the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations after 9/11.

None of that says it will work, of course. But it’s a neat formulation that, if it did, might finally push FISA back towards being closer to what it was first envisioned as.

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

Surveillance Whack-a-Mole, Section 215 to Section 702 Edition

As it happens, I and others covered the report that NSA purportedly has not restarted its use of the Section 215 CDR program in the wake of finding serious over-collection on the same day that I Con the Record released another Semiannual report on 702, the one completed in October 2018, which covers December 2016 to May 2017.

In my post on the Section 215 CDR claim, I suggested that function probably hasn’t shut down, but likely moved instead to a different authority, probably EO 12333.

The NSA almost never gives up a function they like. Instead, they make sure they don’t have any adverse court rulings telling them they’ve broken the law, and move the function some place else. Given that the government withdrew several applications last year after FISC threatened to appoint an amicus, and given that the government now has broadened 12333 sharing, they may have just moved something legally problematic somewhere else.

In Ellen Nakashima’s report on the 215 CDR shutdown, she suggested that NSA may not longer need the 215 CDR function because “terrorists” (this program was never just about terrorists) increasingly use secure apps which “don’t always create metadata.”

But these days, terrorists generally are not coordinating via phone calls or standard text messages, but communicate by using secure apps that don’t always create metadata trails, analysts said.

That is, the suggestion is that because “terrorists” are using encrypted apps like Signal and WhatsApp rather than AT&T or Verizon’s own SMS apps, getting the latter via the CDR program is not as useful.

But perhaps that explains the over-collection issue behind all this.

From the start of the USA Freedom Act debate, I have noted that the definition used in the law — session identifier — did not match the intent of most members of Congress: that is, to track telephony contacts. Telephony contacts are just an increasingly minimal subset of the session identifiers than any mobile phone user will generate. And in the age of super-cookies, providers increasingly track these other session identifiers. If providers collect it, spooks and law enforcement will try to use it, and the expanded universe of session identifiers is no exception.

One of several likely explanations for the over-collection that led the government to destroy all its records last year is that the FISA Court wrote something that distinguished between the two (basically, establishing a precedent that made fudging the issue legally problematic), leading NSA to “discover” the over-collection and quickly start deleting records before any overseer found the proof that it was no accident.

At least, that same pattern has happened numerous times before.

Anyway, back to surveillance whack-a-mole.

When this has happened in the past, the NSA didn’t actually shut down the function. It instead moved it to another authority, preferably one with less court oversight. Of particular note, when NSA shut down the PRTT dragnet in 2011, it moved some of that function to EO 12333 (NSA had resumed a practice shut down during the Stellar Wind shutdown allowing the agency to chain on Americans) and Section 702.

That’s why I want to point to something in the most recent Section 702 Semiannual Report (which, remember, reflects really dated reviews of Section 702 use. On top of being really dated, the report is, as all of these are, heavily redacted and largely boilerplate. Nevertheless, a close read of it (I do think I’m the only one who actually reads these!) can point to trends that can sometimes help identify problems on the same timeline that NSA’s Inspector General does.

And this most recent Semiannual report, from the period mid-way into implementation of the new USAF CDR function, has this passage (which — I believe — includes a typo).

This passage is not reporting a decrease, as the last clause of the paragraph claims; it is reporting an increase in the number of times Section 702 data appears in serialized (that is, finished) reports. The typo appears to be the result of retaining the claim that this is “the first and only decrease of for these ten reporting periods” from the prior report.

What is likely true of this passage, however, is that it is reporting a new trend: “expanded use of Section 702” for some function.

There are several likely candidates for the time period (early 2017). The increasing use of the 2014 exception, the ongoing shift of the old PRTT function (obtaining email metadata) are two.

But another would be to use 702 — such that it is technically feasible — to obtain what metadata exists for encrypted apps. Notably, during precisely this period, Facebook was moving to more closely integrate WhatsApp with its platform generally. And this would give it access (but not content) of chats. Since then, it has probably become easier for Verizon and AT&T to identify who is using Signal by matching the individual keys generated for each contact (just as an example, you can set Verizon to show this or not, meaning they’ve got visibility onto it one way or another). Using 702 to get encrypted app metadata would only give you one degree of separation from a foreign target. But you’d get it with far less oversight than NSA undergoes with Section 215.

Here’s the dirty secret about FISA. It is far easier for NSA to use Section 702 to get content and metadata than it is for NSA to use Section 215 to get just session identifiers.

Section 702 couldn’t replace all of what Section 215 — if it were collecting on the session identifiers associated with encrypted chat apps — gets. But what it could get might be far more voluminous than the 500 million session identifiers collected in 2017.

Update: Bobby Chesney — who seems to know more than he’s letting on — weighs in on the news here.

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

Lawfare “Breaks” News: NSA Hasn’t Restarted the Section 215 CDR Function

Last week, Lawfare’s podcast had on Luke Murry, National Security Advisor to Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Daniel Silverberg, National Security Advisor to Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

At 5:10, in response to a question from Margaret Taylor about what kind of oversight Congress will exercise in this Congress, one of them says,

I think my mind goes to the must-pass things. Let’s use that as lowest common denominator. One which may be must-pass, may actually not be must-pass, is Section 215 of USA Freedom Act, where you have this bulk collection of, basically metadata on telephone conversations — not the actual content of the conversations but we’re talking about length of call, time of call, who’s calling — and that expires at the end of this year. But the Administration actually hasn’t been using it for the past six months because of problems with the way in which that information was collected, and possibly collecting on US citizens, in the way it was transferred from private companies to the Administration after they got FISA court approval. So, if the Administration does ask on that, that’s inherently a very sensitive subject. And we’ve seen that sensitivity be true in other areas of USA Freedom Act so I think that’s going to be a real challenge for Congress. But I’m not actually certain that the Administration will want to start that back up given where they’ve been in the last six months.

The staffer seems a bit confused by what he’s talking about.

By description — the description of this being metadata turned over by providers — this must be the Call Detail Record of USA Freedom Act, not all of Section 215. It appears to be public confirmation that the government never resumed the CDR program after it announced that it had destroyed all its records last June (though that works out to be 8 months, not just 6).

That, in turn, suggests that the problem with the records may not be the volume or the content turned over, but some problem created either by the specific language of the law or (more likely) the House Report on it or by the Carpenter decision. Carpenter came out on June 22, so technically after the NSA claims to have started deleting records on May 23. It also may be that the the NSA realized something was non-compliant with its collection just as it was submitting the 6th set of 180-day applications, and didn’t want to admit to the FISC that it had been breaking the law (which is precisely what happened in 2011 when the government deleted all its PRTT records).

Just as an example, I long worried that the government would ask providers to use location data to match phones. Under the law, so long as the government just got the phone number of a new phone that had been geolocated, it might qualify as a CDR under the law, but would absolutely be a violation of the intent of the law. Such an application — which is something that AT&T has long offered law enforcement — might explain what we’ve seen since.

One other thing, though: The NSA almost never gives up a function they like. Instead, they make sure they don’t have any adverse court rulings telling them they’ve broken the law, and move the function some place else. Given that the government withdrew several applications last year after FISC threatened to appoint an amicus, and given that the government now has broadened 12333 sharing, they may have just moved something legally problematic somewhere else.

In any case, there’s no follow-up on the podcast, which might at least clarify the obvious parts of this revelation, to say nothing of asking for the underlying detail. So it will take some work to figure out what really happened.

In the Most Cowardly Possible Decision, Ninth Circuit Upholds Gartenlaub Conviction

The Ninth Circuit just released an unsigned opinion in Keith Gartenlaub’s case; in a non-precedental opinion, they upheld his conviction.

As a reminder, Gartenlaub was an engineer at Boeing. During a period when there were suspected Chinese breaches of Boeing at other locations, an FBI Agent in the LA area decided that there must be someone breaching Boeing at the local facility. He set out to find a suspect and focused on Gartenlaub (apparently) because he had access to relevant files and a Chinese-America wife. It appears that the FBI used back door searches on Section 702 material in their early investigation of Gartenlaub. They also moved back and forth from criminal warrants to FISA warrants. Using a FISA physical search warrant, the FBI searched his home and imaged his hard drives. Searches of those hard drives found no evidence he was a spy for China, as they had claimed; instead, they found child porn that had not been accessed in a decade. The government used that to obtain yet another warrant on Gartenlaub, parallel constructing the child porn for use at trial, all in an attempt to get him to agree to spy on his Chinese relatives. Instead, he went to trial and was found guilty of knowingly possessing child porn.

He appealed his conviction both because the government presented no evidence he had actually accessed this child porn since it had been loaded onto his computer, and because the government used a FISA order to find the porn that they then used to search him (and also used to legitimize the Tor exception, which permits the NSA to target location-obscured facilities known to be used by Americans, so long as they sift out the non-criminal US person content after the fact).

The Ninth Circuit sat on this decision until Gartenlaub was out of prison

I say this opinion was cowardly for a number of reasons (aside from the court taking nine months to release a thin, unsigned opinion). Part of the cowardice is the timing. The court entered this judgment on September 17, two weeks ago.

They just released it today.

Today also happens to be the day that Gartenlaub moved to a halfway house. Perhaps the court hoped by releasing it after he was released from prison, it would moot any further challenge.

Even the Carter Page precedent didn’t win Gartenlaub a review of his FISA application

While Gartenlaub challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he knowingly possessed the child porn (which the Ninth also upheld), the key to this challenge was whether using child porn the government had found using the broader search protocols available under FISA presented a Fourth Amendment challenge, particularly in light of the US v. Comprehensive Drug Testing precedent on plain view doctrine in the circuit.

The Ninth avoided dealing with this issue in two ways. First, even though Carter Page has established the precedent that defendants — indeed, the whole world! — can see FISA applications, the court conducted its own review, and found the FBI had presented probable cause that Gartenlaub (or perhaps his wife?) was an agent of China “when the FISA order was issued.”

Based upon our independent review of the classified record evidence, we conclude that the FISA warrant was supported by probable cause. The FISA application and supporting materials demonstrated probable cause to believe that Gartenlaub was an agent of a foreign power when the FISA order was issued.

I’m really curious about that language, “when the order was issued,” as the two streams of collection the FBI was using leaves open the possibility that FBI had learned that he wasn’t a spy by the time they did the search.

Based on their review of the FISA application the Ninth decided that such a review was not necessary or even useful to determine the legality of the search.

We have conducted an in camera review of the underlying FISA materials. We conclude that the disclosure of the FISA materials to Gartenlaub was not “necessary to make an accurate determination of the legality of the search.” 50 U.S.C. § 1825(g); see also United States v. Ott, 827 F.2d 473, 476–77 (9th Cir. 1987) (finding “no indications of possible misrepresentation of fact, vague identification of the persons to be surveilled, or surveillance records which include a significant amount of non-foreign intelligence information, or any other factors that would indicate a need for disclosure” (internal quotation marks omitted)). In point of fact, disclosure was not necessary even under a less rigorous standard than that proposed by the government.

Of course, given the likelihood that the government used 702 data to obtain this FISA order (and the FBI’s use of shoddy public reporting), that’s not all that comforting.

The Ninth punts on the Fourth Amendment issue

Having disposed of the sufficiency of the evidence and the probable cause challenges, the Ninth then addressed the key issue that any non-cowardly opinion would have dealt with: whether using a FISA order, instead of a criminal warrant, to get the ability to search more extensively on a person’s life constitutes a Fourth Amendment violation (this is particularly important in Gartenlaub’s case, because he was suspected of stealing non-videos, so a criminal search wouldn’t have had any reason to search for videos). The court admits that this is a really troubling issue.

The idea that the government can decide that someone is a foreign agent based on secret information; on that basis obtain computers containing “[t]he sum of [that] individual’s private life,” Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2489 (2014); and then prosecute that individual for completely unrelated crimes discovered as a result of rummaging through that computer comes perilously close to the exact abuses against which the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect.

But they treat this question as a review for plain error (in part because Gartenlaub’s original attorney, who made some other key errors at the District level, didn’t raise the Fourth Amendment issue).

Plain error review is the appropriate standard because Gartenlaub did not assert the Fourth Amendment argument predicated on alleged misuse of the FISA warrant before the district court.

Note, significant evidence about how the government abused the FISA process to get at the more expansive search authority under FISA became public after Gartenlaub submitted his appeal.

In any case, having deemed this a plain error review rather than a Fourth Amendment one, the court basically said there’s no standard set for the use of plain view in national security cases, so the District judge could not have plainly erred.

No controlling authority dictates the conclusion that the government’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) search and subsequent use of FISA-derived materials in a non-national security prosecution violates the Fourth Amendment, such that the district court’s failure to follow it was plain error. See United States v. Gonzalez-Aparicio, 663 F.3d 419, 428 (9th Cir. 2011), as amended (Nov. 16, 2011). Our decision in United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 621 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc), abrogation recognized by Demaree v. Pederson, 887 F.3d 870 (9th Cir. 2018) (per curiam), is inapposite; it did not decide the question presented by this case and, in fact, addressed no national security concerns particular to the FISA context.

This is, in other words, a punt — a punt that admits such unrestricted searches are a problem, but manages to avoid ruling for this case, a case that itself served as precedent at the FISA court for a whole slew of even more problematic national security searches.

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

Keith Gartenlaub Wonders Why He Can’t Get the Carter Page Treatment

Whatever else you think of the Carter Page pseudo-scandal, the release of his FISA application has finally ended the 50 year period during which not a single person targeted under FISA has ever seen the application used to obtain the order.

That should mean that for defendants who can legitimately demonstrate there was probably something actually problematic with the application they can review the application and challenge the order and everything that comes from it. Keith Gartenlaub, who was targeted as a Chinese spy based off basically nothing, currently has a pending challenge in his FISA case in the 9th Circuit.

His attorney, John Cline, has already written the court pointing out that the release of Page’s FISA application demonstrates DOJ’s 50 year fearmongering about FISA is really overblown.

As with the HPSCI memoranda, the declassification and disclosure of the redacted Page FISA materials demonstrates that it is possible to discuss publicly aspects of a FISA application without damaging national security. In addition, the declassification and disclosure of the redacted FISA materials highlights the absurdity of the government’s assertion, in this and other cases involving motions to suppress FISA surveillance, that any disclosure of any portion of a FISA application, even to cleared defense counsel under the protections of CIPA, would harm national security. If the redacted Page FISA materials can be disclosed publicly without harming national security, as the Executive Branch has
determined, even more substantial disclosure of the Gartenlaub FISA application can be made to cleared defense counsel under CIPA without causing such harm.

It is likely that we (or rather, Cline, Gartenlaub’s cleared attorney) would learn far more about the things FBI gets away with in FISA applications from Gartenlaub’s application than Page’s.

If defendants like Gartenlaub can carry out such review, we actually might be able to make FISA more reasonable.

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

NSA — Continually Violating FISA Since 2004

Last year, I did a report that catalogued all the times NSA had violated FISA since the Stellar Wind phone dragnet got moved under FISA in 2004. There were the five different practices deemed violations of 1809(a)(2), which prohibits the use of any data that was illegally collected.

From 2004 until 2009, in spite of twice quarterly Office of General Counsel spot checks imposed to prevent it, “‘[v]irtually every PR/TT record’ generated [by the bulk Internet metadata program] included some data that had not been authorized for collection.” 3

From 2007 until 2011, NSA collected entirely domestic and untargeted communications as part of Multiple Communication Transaction bundles without restricting access to the unrelated communications. 4

In June 2010, NSA admitted it had improperly retained Title I data in a management system that the court had deemed an overcollection; in May 2011, FISC found this retention problematic under 1809(a)(2). The government even argued that prohibitions 5 on using unlawfully collected information “only applied to interceptions authorized by the Court and did not apply to the fruits of unlawful surveillance.”

From 2011 to 2016, NSA retained Section 702 overcollection in its management systems, in spite of the 2011 FISC retention precedent ruling such retention a violation of 1809(a)(2). 7

In 2013, NSA discovered its post-tasking checks to ensure targeted phones had not roamed into the United States had not functioned properly for some redacted period of time (possibly dating back to 2008), meaning some of the telephone collection from that period may have been collected on individuals located inside the United States in violation of 702. 8

In addition to those, NSA had continued to conduct back door searches of data collected using upstream 702 collection even after John Bates prohibited the practice in 2011.

Because upstream collection foreseeably results in the collection of domestic communications, when John Bates first permitted searches of 702 data using US person identifiers in late 2011, he prohibited such searches on upstream data, for fear it would amount to using 702 for domestic surveillance. Yet NSA starting disclosing “many” such violations as early as 2013. 9

As NSA’s compliance organizations started looking more closely in 2015 and 2016, they discovered the NSA was even conducting such searches in systems “that do not interface with NSA’s query audit system,” raising questions about their ability to oversee US person queries 10 more generally. NSA discovered that some data obtained using upstream collection had been mislabeled as PRISM collection, meaning it would get no special treatment. With one tool used 11 to conduct queries of Americans located overseas, NSA experienced an 85% noncompliance rate. 12

While Rosemary Collyer (who is the worst presiding FISA Judge ever) didn’t deem that a violation of 1809(a)(2) — meaning NSA didn’t have to segregate and destroy andy data collected improperly — it still violated the minimization procedures that control 702 collection.

So between 2004 and 2016, NSA was always breaking the rules of FISA in one way or another.

And we can now extend that timeline to 2018. The NSA just revealed that it had destroyed all the call detail records it had collected since 2015, which would be all those collected under USA Freedom Act.

Consistent with NSA’s core values of respect for the law, accountability, integrity, and transparency we are making public notice that on May 23, 2018, NSA began deleting all call detail records (CDRs) acquired since 2015 under Title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)

The Government relies on Title V of FISA to obtain CDRs, which do not include the content of any calls. In accordance with this law, the Government obtains these CDRs, following a specific court-authorized process.

NSA is deleting the CDRs because several months ago NSA analysts noted technical irregularities in some data received from telecommunications service providers. These irregularities also resulted in the production to NSA of some CDRs that NSA was not authorized to receive. Because it was infeasible to identify and isolate properly produced data, NSA concluded that it should not use any of the CDRs. Consequently, NSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, decided that the appropriate course of action was to delete all CDRs. NSA notified the Congressional Oversight Committees, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and the Department of Justice of this decision. The Department of Justice, in turn, notified the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The root cause of the problem has since been addressed for future CDR acquisitions, and NSA has reviewed and revalidated its intelligence reporting to ensure that the reports were based on properly received CDRs.

Now it could well be these CDRs that NSA was not authorized to collect were selectors that went beyond what had been approved (though that’d be unlikely to trigger a technical alert). It may be these CDRs obtain something that counts as content — such as cookie information that identifies sublevel domains of a webpage.

But the only non content thing that is affirmatively permitted in USAF is location data, which as of last week would get treated as a search if not content. Which leads me to believe this is most likely location data (which would also explain the sudden transparency). It may be content data collected in ways the NSA didn’t understand, perhaps via apps that retain the location data shared from the phone. But it’s likely it was content data.

And given the specific reference to data “that NSA was not authorized to receive,” and the fact that NSA destroyed three years of CDRs, I suspect this, too, was deemed a violation of 1809(a)(2).

Which means the NSA’s streak of violating FISA just got extended several more years. It has been violating FISA, in one way or another, for 14 years.

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