Daniel Hale, Citizenfive

Jeremy Scahill: So if I have a confidential source who’s giving me information as a whistleblower and he works within the US government and he’s concerned about what he perceives as violations of the Constitution, and he gets in touch with me…

Bill Binney: From there on they would nail him and start watching everything he did, and if he started passing data, I’m sure they’d take him off the street. I mean, the way you have to do it is like Deep Throat did in the Nixon years — meet in the basement of a parking garage. Physically.

— Citizenfour

Last week, drone whistleblower Daniel Hale pled guilty. In pleading guilty, Hale admitted that he was the source behind The Intercept‘s Drone Papers package of stories that provided new details about the drone program as operated under President Obama. He also may have made clear that Laura Poitras’ film, Citizenfour, isn’t so much about Snowden, as it has always been described, but about Hale.

Hale pled guilty to one of five counts against him, Count 2 of the superseding indictment, 18 USC §793(e), for retaining and transmitting National Defense Information to Jeremy Scahill (Scahill was referred to as “the Reporter” in charging documents).

Before Hale pled guilty, the government released a list of exhibits it planned to use at trial. The exhibit list not only shows the government would have introduced a picture of Hale meeting publicly with Scahill at an event for the latter’s Dirty Wars, texts Hale sent to his friend Megan describing meeting Scahill, emails between Scahill and Hale sent months before they moved their communication to Jabber (those all were mentioned in the Indictment), but it included texts Hale and Scahill exchanged between January 24 and March 7, 2014, continuing after Hale had started the process of printing off documents at the contractor where he worked which he would ultimately send to Scahill. (The exhibit list doesn’t describe via what means they sent these texts and there are no correlating Verizon records prepared as exhibits covering that period, meaning they may not be telephony texts but instead could be the Jabber chats mentioned in the indictment, or maybe Signal texts). The government also would have introduced up to seven types of proof that Hale had printed each of the documents he was charged with, and badge records showing he was in his office and logged onto the relevant work computer each time those documents were printed out.

The government would also have submitted, for each of the agencies where Hale ever held clearance — NSA, DOD, a JSOC Task Force, NGA, and Air Force — a certification that the agency had no evidence that Hale had made any whistleblower complaints.

Unless those 2014 texts were from Jabber, there’s nothing in the exhibit list that obviously shows that the government was intending to introduce proof of three Jabber chats the government reconstructed that Hale had with Scahill, though those were mentioned in the indictment.

At the change of plea hearing last Thursday, the government refused to dismiss the four other counts against Hale, which Hale’s attorney, Todd Richman, said raised concerns that the government might revert to those charges if Judge Liam O’Grady didn’t sentence Hale harshly enough. O’Grady (who seemed as concerned about the possibility Hale might harm himself between now and the July 13 sentencing as anything else) as much as said that, if the government tried that, it would still amount to the same sentence, signaling he would have sentenced Hale with a concurrent sentence for all counts, had he gone to trial.

The plea agreement has not been released yet, but pleading guilty days before the trial was to start will give Hale a slight reduction in his sentence, but he’s still facing a draconian sentence for revealing details about the drone program.

That said, given what EDVA prosecutors — including Hale prosecutor Gordon Kromberg, who is the lead prosecutor on the Assange case — did to Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, I worry they might try something similar with Hale. From the start, the government has been interested in Hale for how he fit in the series of document leaks that started with Chelsea Manning and continued through Vault 7. That came up in mostly sealed filings submitted early in Hale’s prosecution.

[T]he FBI repeatedly characterized its investigation in this case as an attempt to identify leakers who had been “inspired” by a specific individual – one whose activity was designed to criticize the government by shedding light on perceived illegalities on the part of the Intelligence Community.

And the government intended to submit exchanges between Hale and Scahill about Snowden and Chelsea Manning at trial.

There are two things that appear in the Statement of Facts Hale pled guilty to that don’t appear in the indictment.

First, the biographical language that explains how Hale enlisted in the Air Force, quit in May 2013, and only then got a job at a defense contractor where he had access to the files he ultimately leaked, is slightly different and generally abbreviated (leaving out, for example, that Hale was assigned to the NSA from 2011 to 2013, overlapping with Snowden). However, the Statement of Facts adds the detail that, “In July 2009, while the United States was actively engaged in two wars,” Hale first enlisted. It’s as if to suggest that Hale knew he would end up killing people when he signed up to join the Air Force.

Of more interest, the Statement of Facts includes an admission that Hale authored an anonymous document that prosecutors had planned to use at trial.

Mr. Hale authored an essay, attributed to “Anonymous,” that became a chapter in a book published by the Reporter’s online news outlet (defined as Book 2 in the Superseding Indictment).

It’s a chapter in The Assassination Complex, a free-standing publication based on the documents Hale released.

The government first requested to use this document at trial in a sealed motion, accompanied by 6 exhibits, submitted on September 16, 2019 as part of the first wave of motions. But the judge didn’t resolve that request until November 17, 2020, a month after a hearing on that and other requests. In his order, O’Grady permitted the government to enter the chapter into evidence, but reminded them the jury gets to decide whether they believe the evidence is authentic or not.

The Court hereby ORDERS that the Government’s Motion to Admit an Anonymous Writing as an Admission of the Defendant (dkt. 54) is GRANTED, as the Court stated in the October 13 hearing; the government will be permitted to present the book chapter attributed to an anonymous author. Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a) requires the proponent of a piece of evidence to authenticate it before it can be admitted. United States v. Smith, 918 F.2d 1501,1510 (11th Cir. 1990). The Court’s role in determining whether evidence is authentic is limited to that of a gatekeeper in assessing whether the proponent has offered a satisfactory foundation.” United States v. Vidacak, 553, F.3rd 344, 349 (4th Cir. 2009). The court finds that the government has laid satisfactory foundation for the purpose of admitting the evidence at trial. It now falls to the jury to determine whether the evidence is indeed what the government says it is: an anonymous writing that was written by Defendant admitting to the conduct of which he is accused.

At trial, it seems, the government would have treated this chapter as a confession. There are three exhibits in their trial exhibit list — stills and video of an Obama event in June 2008 — that suggest they planned to authenticate it, in part, by pointing to the anonymous author’s admission that he shook then-Candidate Obama’s hand in 2008 and showing pictures of the exchange.

In 2008 I shook hands with Senator Obama when he came through my town on his way to the White House. After his inauguration he said, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” I firmly believe those principles are crucial to an open society, which is why I was compelled to reveal this information. If this administration lacks the courage to uphold its promises to the people, then I and others like me will do so for them.

So after having made their case that this was Hale, they then would have asked the jury to consider it a confession that he was the leaker described throughout The Intercept‘s reporting on the drones.

But with Hale’s guilty plea, there’s no evidentiary value to this chapter anymore. (That is, unless the government wants to argue that the specific Tide Personal Numbers Hale listed in the chapter — TPN 1063599 for Osama bin Laden and TPN 26350617 for Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki — amount to new disclosures not included in the charged releases.) Hale has already admitted, under oath, to being the anonymous source referred to by journalists throughout the rest of the book.

What the admission that he was part of the book publication does do, however, is tie Hale far more closely with Snowden, who wrote a hubristic introduction for the book. In it, he tied his leaks with Manning’s and in turn his with Hale’s.

[U]nlike Dan Ellsberg, I didn’t have to wait forty years to witness other citizens breaking that silence with documents. Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971; Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq and Afghan War logs and the Cablegate materials to WikiLeaks in 2010. I came forward in 2013. Now here we are in 2015, and another person of courage and conscience has made available the set of extraordinary documents that are published here.

I noted, when Snowden called for Trump to pardon Hale along with The Intercept‘s other sources, Terry Albury and Reality Winner, he effectively put a target on Hale’s back, because it suggested those leaks all tied to him. All the more so, I now realize, given the way this Snowden essay suggests Hale’s leaks have some tie to him.

Snowden ended the introduction by suggesting there were far more people like Manning, himself, and Hale waiting to drop huge amounts of documents than there were the “insiders at the highest levels of government” guarding the monopoly on violence.

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

Yet the book suggests the links between Manning, Snowden, and Hale are merely inspirational.

Not so Citizenfour.

There’s a scene of the movie, quoted above, where Bill Binney warns Jeremy Scahill that if he wanted to publish documents from a source we now know to be Hale, with whom (trial exhibits would have shown) Scahill had already met in public, emailed, and texted during the period Hale was leaking, then (Binney instructed Scahill) he needed to do so by meeting in person, secretly.

It was probably too late for Hale by the time Binney gave Scahill this warning.

Then there’s the film’s widely discussed closing scene, showing a meeting where Glenn Greenwald flew to Moscow to update Snowden about “the new source” that has come to The Intercept. Apparently believing he’s using rockstar operational security, he’s writing down — on camera!!! — how The Intercept is communicating with this new source, bragging (still writing on camera about a source that had first reached out to Scahill via email and in person) that “they’re very careful.” One of the things he seems to write down is “Jabber,” chats from which the government obtained and might have released at Hale’s trial. In the scene, Greenwald continues to sketch out the contents of several of the documents — including one of the first ones to be published — that Hale just admitted he shared with The Intercept.

But in retrospect, the most important part of this sequence is where — against video footage showing Snowden and Lindsey in Moscow together — Poitras reads an email, dated April 2013 (a month before Hale quit the Air Force and NSA within days after Snowden fled to Hong Kong). She offers no explanation, not even naming the recipient of the email.

Let’s disassociate our metadata one last time, so we don’t have a clear record of your true name and our final communication chain. This is obviously not to say you can’t claim your involvement. But as every trick in the book is likely to be used in looking into this, I believe it’s better that that particular disclosure come on your own terms. Thank you again for all you’ve done. So sorry again for the multiple delays but we’ve been in unchartered territory with no model to benefit from. If all ends well, perhaps the demonstration that our methods worked will embolden more to come forward.

That email has received far less attention than Greenwald’s confident descriptions to Snowden of how someone inspired by his actions has come forward. But I remember when first viewing Citizenfour (which I watched long after it first came out), I had the feeling that Snowden was only feigning surprise when Greenwald told him of this new source and described the signals intercepts for the drone program going through Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

That is, that unexplained email may suggest that Hale met Snowden while both were at the NSA, and that days before the first Snowden releases, Hale quit, reached out to a close associate of Greenwald, then (months later) found a new job in the intelligence community where he could get files that would expose certain details of the drone program. The government had planned to introduce other movies at Hale’s trial. But Citizenfour was not on the exhibit list.

Update: PseudonymousInDenver has persuaded me this is a reference to Poitras, not to someone else.

That’s a detail I hadn’t realized before: Hale reached out to Scahill, then quit the Air Force and NSA, and only then got a new job that gave him access to files he ended up leaking.

I have no idea what the government intends to do, now that it has Hale admitting that he participated in this book in which Snowden promised a legion of similar leakers. I have always been concerned the government would go after Scahill. But now I think this is about Snowden.

Since last year, the government has explicitly argued that WikiLeaks considered its help to Snowden as part of a recruiting effort for further leakers (a detail of Julian Assange’s most recent superseding indictment that literally every one of Snowden’s closest associates has studiously avoided mentioning). They’re not making that up. It’s something Snowden admitted in his own book, and Bart Gellman described that Snowden was thinking the same as he leaked to Gellman. As noted, the government appears to have made a similar argument in sealed filings with Hale.

But one thing they seem to have demanded before they let Hale plead out before trial was a further admission, one that makes the Snowden tie more explicit.

Update: On Twitter, Hale corrected me that that TPN is for Awlaki’s son, not for Awlaki himself.

Kevin Clinesmith Sentenced to a Year of Probation

Judge James Boasberg just sentenced Kevin Clinesmith to a year of probation for altering a CIA email describing Carter Page’s prior relationship with the CIA.

Carter Page spoke at some length in his typical rambling style. Notably, he did not call for a harsh sentence for Clinesmith. And much of what he said was irrelevant to the sentencing (he seemed to be pitching to be a FISC amicus, as if the ties between him and Russian intelligence weren’t real concerns).

Anthony Scarpelli, arguing for the government, did not repeat a claim made in their sentencing memorandum, that Clinesmith may have made this alteration for political reasons. Judge Boasberg noted that the DOJ IG Report had found no evidence of such.

The government did suggest that Clinesmith had altered the email for more than just to avoid the work of correcting it. Boasberg didn’t see it that way. He found the argument of Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, compelling that there was no personal benefit to Clinesmith because he wasn’t on the hook for the earlier mistakes in the application.

Boasberg also made a quip that, unlike certain politicians, Clinesmith had not chosen to be in the public limelight.

The hearing was perhaps most interesting for Boasberg’s comments, as the presiding FISA judge presiding over a criminal case pertaining to FISA, about the import of the FISA court’s role in checking Executive authority. I’ll return to those comments when a transcript is available.

Ultimately, then, this closes the most productive aspect of the Durham investigation, which has gone on almost as long as the investigation it is supposed to investigate.

The Clinesmith Sentencing Memos: Politically Biased Data In, Politically Biased Data Out

The government and Kevin Clinesmith — the FBI lawyer who altered a document relating to the Carter Page FISA application — submitted their sentencing memos in his case yesterday. The sentencing guidelines call for 0 to 6 months of prison time (as they did for the now pardoned Mike Flynn). Clinesmith asked for probation. The government asked for a sentence in the middle to top of that range — effectively calling for 3 to 6 months of prison time.

I think the government has the better argument on a key point, for reasons that I expect will be very persuasive to the judge in the case, James Boasberg, who is also the presiding FISA judge. The government argues that Clinesmith’s actions undermined the integrity of the FISA process.

The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor. The FISC serves as a “check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance in order to protect the fourth amendment rights of U.S. persons[,]” but it can “serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cases exists.” Order, In Re Accuracy Concerns Regarding FBI Matters Submitted to the FISC, Docket No. Misc. 19-02, at 2 (FISA Ct. Dec. 17, 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, and particularly because FISA applications involve ex parte proceedings with no adverse party on the other side to challenge the facts, the government “has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC].” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In other words, “[c]andor is fundamental to [the FISC’s] effective operation[.]” Id. (citation omitted).

While I think the government’s case on Clinesmith’s understanding of the term “source” is not persuasive, this language is. It matters that Clinesmith did this within the context of the FISA process. Boasberg has a real incentive to ensure that those preparing FISA applications do think of Clinesmith as an object lesson about the duty of candor. I expect he’ll agree with the government and impose some prison term.

That said, the government sentencing memo goes off the rails on another point, one that badly discredits the John Durham investigation.

Both the government and Clinesmith provide the same explanation for why he did what he did: it was a shortcut to avoid filing a footnote with the FISA court.

Clinesmith explains it this way:

Kevin, however, reviewed the OGA email and realized that it did not specifically address the issue of whether Individual #1 had been a source. In a misguided attempt to save himself time and the embarrassment of having to backtrack on his assurance he had it in writing, Kevin forwarded the OGA’s response to the SSA (including the list of OGA reports) immediately after telling the SSA he would do so, but Kevin added the phrase notated in bold to reflect his understanding of Individual #1’s status:

[The OGA uses] the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual . . . is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual #1] was or is . . . [digraph] and not a “source” but the [documents] will explain the details.

OIG Report at 254-55.

And the government endorses that explanation in its sentencing memo (in language that further reinforces why Clinesmith should be treated sternly to preserve the integrity of the FISA process).

By his own words, however, it appears that the defendant falsified the email in order to conceal Individual #1’s former status as a source and to avoid making an embarrassing disclosure to the FISC. Such a disclosure would have likely drawn a strong and hostile response from the FISC for not disclosing it sooner since the FBI had the information in its possession before the first FISA application was filed. Indeed, in the June 19, 2017 instant message conversation with the SSA, the defendant wrote “at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote” explaining that Individual #1 was a source. OIG Report at 253. While the defendant told OIG he was referring to how “laborious” it would be to draft a footnote explaining that Individual #1 had been an OGA source, see id., that reading is self-serving and absurd. Moreover, as a practical matter, how laborious would it have been to draft a single footnote to explain to the FISC that Individual #1 had been a source for the OGA. The SSA involved in the application understood the defendant to be referring to the terrible optic of just now, in the fourth application, disclosing to the Court that Individual #1 had been a source for another agency after failing to do so in all of the prior applications. See id. Such a disclosure would have undermined the probable cause in the FISA application and the overall investigation of Individual #1, which the defendant was able to avoid by altering the email.

That’s it. At that point, both sides have explained what happened as the kind of bureaucratic sloppiness that can be particularly dangerous where there’s no transparency. Case closed. Clinesmith may not have meant this maliciously but because it happened as part of the FISA process it was very problematic.

Except the government continues by suggesting, without evidence, that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias.

The public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct. As noted in the OIG Report and PSR, the defendant was previously investigated, and ultimately suspended, for sending improper political messages to other FBI employees. See OIG Report at 256 n.400. For example, on the day after the 2016 presidential election, the defendant wrote “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Id. When another FBI colleague asked the defendant “[i]s it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration[,]” the defendant replied, “Hell no,” and then added “Viva le resistance.” Id. The defendant was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation for these and other related messages, and in July 2018 he was suspended, without pay, for 14 days. The defendant’s prior disciplinary infraction for expressing his political views in a work setting is a relevant aspect of his background. Indeed, it is plausible that his strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current President made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty. While it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct, the defendant plainly has shown that he did not discharge his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity, and objectivity required of such a sensitive job position. [my emphasis]

There are several reasons why this argument is not only problematic, but betrays an unbelievable stupidity about the investigation before Durham.

First, as prosecutors admit, they have no evidence that Clinesmith’s claimed bias influenced his actions. The bias “may have motivated” him, “it is plausible” that it did, “it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct.” This kind of language has no place in a sentencing memo. They’re effectively admitting they have no evidence, but relying on their lack of evidence anyway. It’s the kind of shoddy unethical work they’re trying to send Clinesmith to prison for.

Worse still, as Lawfare has shown, the data the government is relying on here comes from a politically biased application of discipline within DOJ. Since 2011, the only cases of people being disciplined for expressing political views on their government devices involved people opposing Trump.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

[snip]

The verdict is now in, at least for the past four major-party presidential candidates, one of whom served as president of the United States for eight full years. FBI employees who voiced political sentiments in favor of or opposed to Clinton, Obama and Romney did not face consequences—nor did those who praised Trump. Those who criticize the current president appear to be the only people subject to discipline.

Lawfare raises the example of an FBI agent who — unlike Clinesmith, Lisa Page, or Peter Strzok — was running informants targeting Hillary in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign who expressed clear bias. That person — clearly identified as biased by the same Inspector General who identified Clinesmith’s bias — wasn’t disciplined. And there are reports that a key witness in the Durham probe, Bill Barnett, similarly expressed pro-Trump bias on his devices. No one has done an IG Report into whether Barnett’s self-described role in single-handedly preventing the Mueller team from concluding that Mike Flynn lied to protect President Trump reflected improper political bias, much less sent him home for two weeks without pay. You can’t treat OPR’s treatment of biased FBI employees as valid for sentencing because it has already been demonstrated to be itself biased in the same way it treats as discipline-worthy.

Most importantly, you’d have to be fucking stupid to believe that supporting the FISA application of Carter Page in June 2017 would inherently reflect any anti-Trump bias. Even on the first application, the claim that targeting Page would be a way to hurt Trump was a bit of a stretch. At that point, the Trump campaign had very publicly distanced themselves from him because of his embarrassing ties to Russia. Thus, if the FBI treated Trump’s public statements with any weight, then they would be right to view Trump as victimized by Page, someone pushing his pro-Russian views far beyond what the candidate supported, someone removed from the campaign for precisely that reason. That’s one of the potential problems arising from a suspected foreign agent working on a campaign, that the person will make policy commitments that the candidate doesn’t support on behalf of the foreign country in question. Still, you might argue (and Bill Barr has argued) that the FBI targeted Page as a way to collect campaign emails, so one might make some claim to support the case that by targeting Page the FBI was targeting Trump with the October 2016 application.

But Clinesmith wasn’t in the loop on the non-disclosure of Page’s ties with CIA on that first application.

Kevin was not aware of that information, however. When he assisted the FBI’s efforts to obtain the initial FISA warrant, Kevin knew of no prior relationship between Individual #1 and the OGA. And he was not involved in any discussions—including the one discussed above between the case agent and DOJ attorney—concerning whether or not to include information about that relationship in the FISA application. As was typical, the DOJ attorney worked primarily with the case agent to collect and develop information for the FISA application. The first time Kevin was asked to inquire into whether, and to what extent, Individual #1 had a relationship with the OGA was in connection with the fourth and final application.

To suggest that someone would target Page in June 2017 because of anti-Trump bias, though, takes gigantic flights of fancy. Already in October 2016, it was clear that Page (like every other person originally targeted under Crossfire Hurricane) was using Trump, attempting to monetize his access to Trump to get a plush deal to start a think tank that, in his case, would have been funded by the Russian government. Page boasted to Stefan Halper the Russians had offered him an “open checkbook.”

But even before the first renewal in January 2017, Page had victimized Trump in the way that is dangerous for counterintelligence cases. When he was in Russia in December 2016 — at a time when he was still hoping to get a think tank funded by the Russian government — Page claimed to speak on behalf of Trump with respect to Ukraine policy.

According to Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s associate, Page also gave some individuals in Russia the impression that he had maintained his connections to President-Elect Trump. In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DJT on a range of issues of mutual interest including Ukraine.”

There’s no record that Page made those representations with the approval of Trump. As such, Page’s representations risked undermining Trump’s ability to set his own foreign policy, whatever it was.

By June, moreover, Page had been totally marginalized by Trump’s people. The fourth warrant served significantly to obtain encrypted content from a phone Page had destroyed when he came under investigation. Tactically, there’s almost no way that that application would have generated new content involving Trump’s people because they were no longer talking to Page. So there’d be no political advantage to targeting him, neither based on the potential content the FBI might collect nor on any political taint from a guy the campaign had loudly dissociated from nine months earlier. Indeed, if your goal was to paint Trump as a pro-Russian asset, focusing on Page — the guy Trump himself had distanced himself from — is the last thing you’d do in June 2017. It’s just a profoundly stupid attack from Durham’s prosecutors, one with no basis in logic or (as the prosecutors admit) evidence.

In short, not only does the gratuitous, evidence-free insinuation that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias misrepresent the biased quality of the targeting of those OPR investigations, but it fundamentally misunderstands why the FBI would investigate the infiltration of a campaign by a suspected foreign agent. Someone infiltrating Trump’s campaign on behalf of Russia could and — in Page’s misrepresentations in Moscow in December 2016 — did harm Trump. That’s a harm the FBI is paid to try to prevent. Here, prosecutors are trying to criminalize Clinesmith’s efforts to protect Trump from that kind of damage.

After making it clear in his first official filings that Durham’s team didn’t understand the investigation they were investigating, in this one, his prosecutors make it crystal clear they don’t understand how, if an agent of a foreign power were to hypothetically infiltrate a political campaign (which is what the FBI had good reason to believe in October 2016 and more evidence to believe by December 2016), it could be damaging to the campaign and to the President and to the country. That’s not just dangerous malpractice given their involvement in this case, but it betrays a really basic level of stupidity about how the world works.

The government is right that Clinesmith’s alteration of a document should be treated aggressively given that it occurred as part of the FISA process. But oh my goodness has the government discredited both this sentencing filing and the larger Durham investigation by betraying continued ignorance about the investigation, the politicized nature of the evidence they’re getting, and basic facts about counterintelligence investigations.

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

The Frothy Right Proves Trump Buried 7 Details of Russian Outreach by Wailing about Carter Page

The other day, the government released a spreadsheet that the FBI used to validate the Steele dossier.

The spreadsheet shows that, if the Steele dossier included disinformation, the disinformation was really well crafted, because the disinformation was close enough to the truth to make known events — like Paul Manafort’s expanding corruption scandal — appear to confirm the dossier.

It also shows that when John Solomon claimed, in 2019, that the spreadsheet “was a sea of blanks,” he was wrong.

Multiple sources familiar with the FBI spreadsheet tell me the vast majority of Steele’s claims were deemed to be wrong, or could not be corroborated even with the most awesome tools available to the U.S. intelligence community. One source estimated the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search.

In other words, it was mostly useless.

“The spreadsheet was a sea of blanks, meaning most claims couldn’t be corroborated, and those things that were found in classified intelligence suggested Steele’s intelligence was partly or totally inaccurate on several claims,” one source told me.

Given the redactions, it is unclear whether the redacted material affirmatively disproves claims from the dossier or provides partial corroboration. Since I’ve argued the dossier was problematic for longer than even the frothers, I don’t have a stake in that. But the spreadsheet in no way was full of blanks. There are relatively few blank entries in the spreadsheet.

Which means, if it was disinformation, it succeeded in wasting a lot of the FBI’s time.

But a potentially more important detail from the spreadsheet is that it shows the Carter Page FISA collection was useful in testing the dossier’s claims. Probably, given other soft corroboration and Igor Danchenko’s claims to have two independent sources backing the claim, the FISA collection produced evidence that made it harder to rule out a meeting between Igor Sechin and Page (which is what the Mueller Report ultimately concluded, that they couldn’t rule it out; 302s show there was time in Page’s schedule he didn’t account for).

And Trump has succeeded in burying that useful intelligence, even the intelligence collected during a period when — the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded — the FISA application targeting Page was appropriate.

In September, the FISA Court unsealed an opinion explaining its decision to sequester the intelligence collected under the Carter Page orders. The order reveals that, when the Court asked whether it should treat the first two applications targeting Page the same way it would treat the two for which DOJ had withdrawn probable cause determination, DOJ declined to do so.

In fact, in response to the Conrt’s directive to explain why retaining the Page FISA information “in the manner intended by the government, and any contemplated use or disclosure of it,” comport with§§ 1809(a)(2) and 1827(a)(2), Jan. 7, 2020, Order at 2, the government declined to argue, even alternatively, that those provisions do not apply ( or apply differently) to information obtained under the first two dockets. See Feb. 5, 2020, Resp. at 28-29. Under the circumstances, the Court will assume that§§ l 809(a)(2) and l 827(a)(2) apply to information acquired under color of the first and second dockets just as, per the government’s admission, they apply to information acquired under color of the third and fourth.

This had the result that, even though DOJ itself did not withdraw its probable cause determination, and even though a bipartisan committee at SSCI believed the initial applications were merited, all four applications targeting Page would be treated as if the applications were improper.

DOJ did not tell the FISC that it was (and probably still is) criminally investigating several people involved in these applications, meaning the FISC opinion sequestering case file information would be make necessary source information unavailable for anyone targeted in that investigation to show that the applications were reasonable.

That may have been part of the point.

And the Steele dossier spreadsheet shows in tangible form that useful information — whether it corroborated suspicions against Page or disproved them — has been sealed permanently as a result. The spreadsheet redacts information on the following topics because of FISC’s decision to sequester everything collected under the Page applications:

I get why the FISC would want to rule aggressively to protect Carter Page’s privacy, and I’m fine with the decision.

But this intelligence seems like it would be really useful to understanding the Russian operation, even if Page was targeted by Russian disinformation. Indeed, this intelligence would be really important to understand the nature of the disinformation Russia fed the US.

The decision by Trump’s DOJ not to stand by its earlier decision that the first two applications were appropriate had the effect, then, of burying intelligence on Trump and the Russian operation.

Which was likely part of the point.

Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, and Mike Lee Exhibit Utter Ignorance about FBI Certification on FISA Applications

Jim Comey’s testimony in Lindsey’s Graham’s purported investigation of FISA — by which Lindsey means using the Carter Page FISA application as a stand-in for the Russian investigation more generally while remaining silent about both DOJ IG findings that the problems identified with the Page application are true more generally, and about ongoing 702 abuses under Bill Barr and Chris Wray — just finished.

As a Comey hearing connoisseur, it wasn’t bad. Notably, he repeatedly refused to answer questions for which the presumptions were false.

But as a connoisseur of hearings on FISA and FBI oversight, it was an atrocity.

This hearing was meant to talk about the dangers of counterintelligence investigations that unfairly treat people as Russian agents, meaning Page. But by my count, on at least 19 occasions, Republicans raised the investigation into Christopher Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, for being a suspected Russian Agent. The investigation lasted from 2009 to 2011. It used many of the same tactics used against Page, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort. While the FBI closed the investigation in 2011 because Danchenko left the country — meaning they never affirmatively decided he wasn’t a Russian spy — neither did they decide he was.

That makes Danchenko exactly like Carter Page, someone once suspected of and investigated over a period for being a Russian Agent, but about whom the investigation was inconclusive, with remaining unanswered questions.

If you believe in due process in this country, you treat Igor Danchenko exactly like you’d like Carter Page to be treated.

And Republicans — starting and ending with Lindsey Graham — over and over again — stated that Danchenko was a suspected Russian agent in 2016 (which is plausible but for which there is no evidence) and even, repeatedly, stated as fact that he was a Russian spy. Lindsey claimed at one point that “the Primary Subsource was a Russian agent.” He later called Danchenko, “Igor the Russian spy.”

Republicans today did everything they complain was done with Carter Page, but they did so in a public hearing.

Danchenko may very well have been still suspect in 2016; that may very well have been something to consider when vetting the dossier (though as Comey noted, it could either corroborate that Danchenko had the sources he claimed or raise concerns about Russian disinformation). That absolutely should have been a factor to raise concerns about Russian disinformation. But everything in the public record shows that Danchenko was, in 2016, in exactly the same status Page will be in 2022, someone against whom an inconclusive foreign agent investigation was closed years earlier.

Still worse, at a hearing in which Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators claimed they wanted to fix the problems in the FISA process identified as part of the Carter Page application, one after another — including Graham, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, and Joni Ernst — betrayed utter ignorance about the role of the FBI Director’s certification in a FISA application.

By statute, the FBI Director (or National Security Advisor) certification requires a very limited set of information, basically explaining why the FBI wants to and can use a FISA warrant rather than a criminal warrant, because they believe the desired information in part pertains to a national security threat.

(6)a certification or certifications by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, an executive branch official or officials designated by the President from among those executive officers employed in the area of national security or defense and appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if designated by the President as a certifying official–

(A)that the certifying official deems the information sought to be foreign intelligence information;

(B)that a significant purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information;

(C)that such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

(D)that designates the type of foreign intelligence information being sought according to the categories described in section 1801(e) of this title; and

(E)including a statement of the basis for the certification that—

(i)the information sought is the type of foreign intelligence information designated; and

(ii)such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

Thanks to the declassification of the Carter Page FISA applications, we can see what the declaration Comey signed looked like. In 8 pages tracking the statutory requirement, it explains (in redacted language) what kind of foreign intelligence information FBI hoped to obtain from the FISA, and why normal investigative methods are not sufficient to achieve those objectives.

Not a shred of that declaration pertains to the underlying affidavit.

And Comey tried to alert people to this, over and over, in the hearing, stating that his certification was very limited, even while taking responsibility in the affidavit that he didn’t sign (and once, in response to a question from Lindsey, stating explicitly that he had not signed). Rather than asking him what his certification entailed and how he thought about that responsibility, Republican Senators entrusted with overseeing FISA insinuated over and over, falsely, that he should have known the underlying pieces of evidence used to obtain the FISA.

Maybe he should have. He frankly exhibited some awareness of what was in that.

But that’s not what the law requires. And if the Senate Judiciary Committee wants FBI Directors signing FISA applications to have that kind of granular awareness of case, they need to rewrite the law to mandate it.

Instead, they simply exhibited their utter lack of awareness of what FISA law requires.

Some of these Senators, notably Grassley, have been overseeing FISA for decades. Lindsey heads this committee. Mike Lee is easily among the Senators who is best informed about FISA. And yet none of them know — not even with a declassified application to read — what it is that the FBI Director certifies.

Glenn Greenwald Moves to Close the Deal on Trump’s Election Help Quid Pro Quo

Two days ago, Glenn Greenwald started teasing a cable appearance where he was going to discuss — he claimed — the dangers an Assange extradition poses to press freedom. He was coy, however, about what outlet it was.

When he announced that his appearance had been postponed, he was again coy about what outlet this was.

The next day he described how “tyrannical” the hawkish civil servants who inhabit the Deep State are.

Last night, shortly before he went on, he revealed the cable outlet was Tucker Carlson’s show, which, he claimed, was “one of the few places on cable” where he could discuss the dangers of the prosecution of Julian Assange and the persecution of Edward Snowden. He excused his appearance on a white supremacist’s show by explaining that he cares more about having an opportunity to speak to “millions of Americans” about the “abuse of power by CIA/DOJ in persecuting those who expose the truth” than he does about the “sentiments of online liberals.”

Here’s the appearance, with my transcription to follow.

Tucker: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has been held in a high security prison since his arrest last spring in the Ecuadorian Embassy where he effectively was held for many years, in isolation. His extradition hearing is now finally under way. Assange’s lawyer estimates he could face 175 years in prison if he’s extradited to the United States. He faces Espionage charges here. WikiLeaks exposed all kinds of things, some of which it was good to know — including corruption by the Democratic National Committee in 2016. So what is the story on Julian Assange. Why is the DOJ pursuing this case so aggressively? Glenn Greenwald has followed this from the very beginning. He is of course a journalist, founded The Intercept. And we’re happy to have him tonight. So Glenn, thanks for coming on. I think a lot of people have heard for years that Julian Assange is a bad guy who hurt the United States, now the United States is going to bring justice in this case. What’s your view of this? Tell us what we should know, in 3 minutes, about Julian Assange.

Glenn: Let’s remember, Tucker, that the criminal investigation into Julian Assange began by the Obama Administration because in 2010 WikiLeaks published a slew of documents — none of which harmed anybody, not even the government claims that. That was very embarrassing to the Obama Administration. It revealed all kinds of abuses and lies that they were telling about these endless wars that the Pentagon and the CIA are determined to fight. They were embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, and so they conducted, they initiated a grand jury investigation to try and prosecute him for reporting to the public. He worked with the New York Times, the Guardian, to publish very embarrassing information about the endless war machine, about the Neocons who were working in the Obama Administration. To understand what’s happening here, we can look at a very similar case which is one that President Trump recently raised is the prosecution by the Obama Administration, as well, of Edward Snowden for the same reason — that he exposed the lies that James Clapper told, he exposed how there’s this massive spying system that the NSA and the CIA control, that they can use against American citizens. Obviously this isn’t coming from President Trump! He praised WikiLeaks in 2016 for informing the public. He knows, firsthand, how these spying systems that Edward Snowden exposed can be abused and were abused in 2016. This is coming from people who work in the CIA, who work in the Pentagon, who insist on endless war, and who believe that they’re a government unto themselves, more powerful than the President. I posted this weekend that there’s a speech from Dwight Eisenhower warning that this military industrial complex — what we now call the Deep State — is becoming more powerful than the President. Chuck Schumer warned right before President Obama — President Trump — took office that President Trump challenging the CIA was foolish because they have many ways to get back at anybody who impedes them. That’s what these cases are about Tucker, they’re punishing Julian Assange and trying to punish Edward Snowden for informing the public about things that they have the right to know about the Obama Administration. They’re basically saying to President Trump, “You don’t run the country even though you were elected. We do!” And they’re daring him to use his pardon power to put an end to these very abusive prosecutions. One which resulted in eight years of punishment for Julian Assange for telling the truth, the other which resulted in seven years of exile for Edward Snowden of being in Russia simply for informing the public and embarrassing political officials who are very powerful.

Tucker: So, in thirty seconds, the President could pardon Julian Assange right now, and end this. Is that correct?

Glenn: He could pardon him and Edward Snowden and there’s widespread support across the political spectrum on both the right and the left for doing both. It would be politically advantageous for the President. The only people who would be angry would be Susan Rice, John Brennan, Jim Comey, and James Clapper because they’re the ones who both of them exposed.

As has become the new norm for Glenn, there’s a lot that is exaggerated or simply made up in this rant (I’ve bolded the four main claims above):

  • It is not the case that the government claims no one was harmed by Assange’s releases (even assuming we’re limiting the discussion to those already charged, and ignoring Vault 7, where the government presented hours and hours of testimony on the subject). The government has repeatedly claimed they caused a great deal of harm, even if they have not released their damage assessments publicly.
  • The files that Assange has been charged for do include the first (in the case of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs) and the first two years of Obama’s term (in the case of Cablegate). They also include details about Guantanamo that were helpful to Obama’s failed efforts to shut down the gulag set up by Bush. The files did cause grave embarrassment to the Obama Administration, both for some policy stances (Yemen remains, to my mind, one of the most important disclosures), and because the Obama Administration had to explain how candid conversations could leak. But to the extent one wants to (as Glenn appears to) make this about tribalism, they exposed far more about the Bush Administration, and many of the policies exposed (like support for torture and Saudi Arabia) are policies Trump is more supportive of than Obama was.
  • Glenn insinuates that the spying systems revealed by Edward Snowden were abused in 2016. He suggests that Trump was targeted by them. Glenn has made this error before, in his invention-filled defense of Mike Flynn. But there is no relationship between Snowden’s disclosures of NSA programs and the FBI surveillance that caught Flynn incidentally or FBI’s FISA targeting of Carter Page. And the worst abuses on the Page targeting happened in 2017, under Trump. Crazier still, Trump himself is worse on surveillance issues than Obama was! He has had enemies targeted by contract spies to thwart a peace deal. His DOJ got a Title III warrant on a suspected leaker to capture evidence implicating the journalists he was leaking to. Various of his agencies have been purchasing location data to bypass a Supreme Court prohibition on warrantless surveillance of location. ICE and other agencies have ratcheted up earlier spying on immigrants and those who advocate for them. And Trump’s Attorney General — the guy who unilaterally approved the predecessor of the spying systems Snowden exposed — has said the government doesn’t need Section 215 (one authority Snowden exposed) to conduct the surveillance it had been using it for until March 15, 2020; the suspicion is Barr has resumed reliance on legal claims rejected in 2010. It is, frankly, insane for Glenn to suggest that Trump is better on surveillance than his predecessors.

And while WikiLeaks releases have been embarrassing in certain ways to John Brennan, Jim Comey, and (especially) James Clapper, I’m particularly astounded that Glenn claims that Susan Rice was “exposed” by the releases.

I checked. I found just three Cablegate releases involving Susan Rice. One discusses efforts to remain engaged in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One discusses a meeting between Rice, Dennis Ross, and Ban Ki-moon where Obama’s officials described wanting to establish a bilateral channel with Iran in pursuit of peace.

Ambassador Rice and Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia Ambassador Dennis Ross on June 9 met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to explain key elements of U.S. diplomatic outreach to Iran and to hear Ban’s assessment. Ambassador Ross explained that President Obama in various fora and particularly from Cairo has made it clear that the USG will engage Iran without any preconditions.

[snip]

Ambassador Ross said the USG values the P5 1 structure for dealing with Iran because it is a statement of the international community’s resolve to deal with the nuclear issue in a coordinated fashion, and he said the USG will be a full participant in the P5 1 structure. Despite its importance, Ambassador Ross said the USG aims to engage Iran bilaterally, because that would allow for a broader treatment of the issues, which is more difficult to achieve in a multilateral context.

And one describes Rice engaging with UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director for Gaza John Ging to learn how supporting infrastructure projects in Gaza would counter the growth of Hamas.

In an October 22 meeting with USUN Ambassador Susan Rice, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) Robert Serry and UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director for Gaza John Ging emphasized the need to restart essential infrastructure projects in Gaza, including shelters and schools. As a result of the Israeli “blockade,” both Serry and Ging noted that Hamas now controls Gaza’s tunnel-driven economy, increasing people’s dependency on Hamas. Ging described a population in Gaza suffering from massive physical devastation. He pointed out that while Hamas has all the cement it needs to build a new checkpoint near Erez, the UN cannot get the cement it needs to build a single school. Serry stressed the need for a new strategy on Gaza, suggesting that the current policy has only strengthened Hamas’ position.

In short, purported anti-imperialist Glenn Greenwald claims that Susan Rice was “exposed” because Cablegate revealed her involvement in efforts to make peace in Iran and Gaza.

But Glenn’s lies and exaggerations aren’t the craziest thing about this appearance.

The craziest thing about the appearance is that Glenn doesn’t talk about the danger to journalism of an Assange extradition.

What Glenn does instead of discussing the very real dangers that the Assange extradition poses to journalism is instead push Trump’s buttons — the very same buttons that Sergei Kislyak first started pushing on December 31, 2016, when he called Flynn to tell him that Putin had not retaliated against Obama’s sanctions because, in part, the sanctions were “targeted not only against Russia, but also the president elect.”

KISLYAK: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and …

FLYNN: Good

KISLYAK: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

FLYNN: Good

KISLYAK: And I just wanted to tel I you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

FLYNN: yeah, yeah

KISLYAK: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

Glenn’s case — made in an appearance that was transparently an attempt to lobby the President directly — wasn’t about journalism. It was about sticking it to the “tyrannical” civil servants in the Deep State™ who had the audacity to try to protect the country from Russian interference. Glenn pitched this as one more way for Trump to damage Obama (which is presumably why Glenn falsely claimed that Obama was the most embarrassed by the disclosures), spitting out the names — Jim Comey, James Clapper, and Susan Rice’s tyrannical consideration of how to improve life in Gaza — that serve as triggers to the President.

And, remarkably, at a time when all the messaging of WikiLeaks supporters is focused on claiming that Trump has targeted Assange as part of his larger war on the press (a bullshit claim, but politically useful in an effort to mobilize press advocates in support of Assange), Glenn does the opposite, suggesting that Trump wants to pardon Assange (and Snowden), but the Deep State that Trump has been in charge of for 45 months, that Trump has purged of any disloyalty and much competence, is preventing him.

Of course, Tucker knows his audience of one, and so tees this up perfectly, reminding Trump of the only information Assange exposed that Trump cares about: Democratic emails that Russia released to help Trump get elected.

Seven days after the election, Trump’s rat-fucker, Roger Stone, started pursuing a pardon for Julian Assange. I’m increasingly convinced that effort started earlier, as part of Stone’s efforts to optimize the release of the emails in August 2016. Up until now, the overt signs of the effort to pay off Trump’s debt to Assange (and Russia) for help getting elected seemed to cease in 2018, after the nihilistic damage of the Vault 7 releases made such an effort increasingly toxic (and perhaps because the Mueller investigation made it legally dangerous).

But last night, Glenn Greenwald joined Tucker Carlson to renew the effort explicitly, claiming to defend press freedoms but instead pitching it as an opportunity to stick to to a Deep State™ that both Glenn and Trump have inflated so ridiculously that they prefer real tyranny to civil servants pursuing draconian measures within the dregs of law that Trump hasn’t already blown away.

For four years, this campaign debt has been hanging over Trump’s head. And Glenn Greenwald, pushing all the same buttons Russia did starting in 2016, last night moved to close the deal.

The Latest Stinky 702 Opinion Bodes Poorly for the Next One

Last night, I Con the Record released last year’s 702 opinion, approved by current presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg. It’s stinky. It shows continued violations of querying procedures (which I’ll describe below), as well as on new troubling issue at NSA (which I hope to describe in a follow-up).

Worse still, the opinion, the timing, and recent Bill Barr actions suggest we’ll see an even stinkier opinion in maybe another year.

The opinion we’re getting on September 3, 2020, was released by FISC on December 6, 2019. Not only has it taken nine months to release this opinion, but ODNI sat on it in anticipation of and in the aftermath of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, which was publicly released December 9, 2019. That means that the delay in releasing this led to a disproportionate focus on events that happened three or four years ago, but not on events that have persisted under Billy Barr.

But the timing is important for several other reasons: the government has to be preparing its next reapproval package now (assuming the 2019 certificates are good until December 5, it would need to submit a new package by November 5). That’s significant for several reasons. First, as laid out by the timeline below, while the FBI waited for a FISCR review of an October 2018 Boasberg decision that its querying procedures didn’t comply with a new requirement passed by Congress, there were ongoing querying problems of the same type, including both the deliberate querying of 702 information to vet sources (and cops), but also at least one mass query that ended up finding seven leads out of 16,000 Americans. There was a significant delay in reporting some of these:

  • Querying violations found in June reported September 18, 2019
  • Querying violations found in July reported September 6, 2019
  • August querying violation involved 16,000 people reported November 25, 2019

In addition, there were several more reports on querying violations, one on September 17, and another on September 20.

That is, the reports on some of these were delayed until after FISCR ruled (on July 12), and for many of them, there was a delay until around the same time as the government submitted their new reauthorization packet on September 17, 2019 (which is the package that led to this December 6 opinion).

Then, after submitting the reauthorization package, starting on October 4, 2019, the FBI asked to be excused from two reporting requirements imposed in 2018.

In one case — requiring that FBI has retained 702 information in some archival systems — the FBI waited to comply with a change in reporting requirements made in October 2018 until it was prepping the 2019 certificates, and then asked for a weaker reporting requirement (and got it, prospectively).

It must be noted, however, that the government has unjustifiably disregarded the current reporting requirement. Instead of taking concrete steps to comply even partially with the Court’s directive (or timely seeking relief from it), it chose to wait while the FBI reportedly worked on guidance to instruct its personnel on how to handle unminimized Section 702 information on these archival systems. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps to Implement an Aspect of the Court’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Sept. 27, 2019, at 3. In fact, it has taken so long to prepare this guidance that, instead of using it to instruct personnel on the October 2018 reporting requirement, which the government reports was the original plan, the FBI now intends to address only the narrower reporting requirement incorporated into the FBI’s proposed minimization procedures. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps taken by the FBI to implement an aspect of the Comt’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Nov. 20, 2019, at 4.

It should be unnecessary to state that government officials are not free to decide for themselves whether or to what extent they should comply with Court orders. The government has not sought retrospective relief from the reporting requirement imposed by the Court on October 18, 2018. Although the AG and DNI have amended the prior Section 702 certifications to authorize the FBI to apply its proposed minimization procedures to information acquired under prior certifications, that authorization only becomes “effective on October 17, 2019, or on the date upon which [this Court] issues an order concerning [the] amendments pursuant to subsection 702(j)(3) of the Act, whichever is later.”[redacted] The Court’s approval of those amendments does not have any nunc pro tune effect, nor does it excuse the government from reporting instances of retention that it is already obligated to report. With respect to those instances of retention, the October 2018 reporting requirement remains in effect.

In another — far more important — case, the FBI asked for the reporting requirement (on when an Agent conducts a criminal search and finds 702 information) to be eliminated entirely, again, after the reauthorization package was completed. This reporting requirement was designed to test the FBI’s now provably false claim that agents would never find 702 information when conducting criminal searches. It goes to the heart of concerns about Fourth Amendment violations.

Boasberg relaxed, though did not eliminate, that reporting requirement.

The government has not reported such instances in timely fashion. Rather, they have been reported to the Court belatedly, usually after they were uncovered during oversight reviews. The government now seeks relief from this reporting requirement “because the requirements in Section 702(f)(2) are a sufficient mechanism for the Court to assess the risk that the results of a query designed to elicit evidence of crimes unrelated to foreign intelligence will be viewed or otherwise used in connection with an investigation that is unrelated to national security.” October 4, 2019, Request at 8. But it would be premature to regard the government’s implementation of Section 702(f)(2) as a sufficient source of information. As discussed above, the FBI has repeatedly accessed Section 702-acquired contents under circumstances requiring a FISC order under Section 702(£)(2), but has never applied for such an order.

Closer to the mark is the government’s contention that implementing both Section 702(f)(2) and the November 2015 reporting requirement could complicate training and systems design. See October 4, 2019, Request at 8-9. For example, Section 702(f)(2) looks to whether a query involves a U.S.-person query term, while the applicability of the November 2015 reporting requirement depends on whether U.S.-person information is retrieved. And Section 702(f)(2) is implicated only when contents are accessed, while the November 2015 reporting requirement · does not distinguish between contents and non-contents information.

The Court has decided to retain a reporting requirement separate from Section 702(f)(2) because the obligation to get a FISC order under that section is limited to queries conducted in the context of a predicated criminal investigation. The FBI conducts numerous queries of Section 702 information at earlier investigative stages. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 75. Reports about queries at those stages remain relevant to the Court’s interest in receiving information about the extent to which U.S.-person privacy interests are implicated by queries that are not designed to find and extract foreign-intelligence information. The Court has concluded, however, that it is appropriate to modify the prior reporting requirement so that it will focus on the use of U.S.-person query terms, rather than on whether U.S.-person information is accessed as a result of a query, and will be triggered only when contents information is accessed. Such modifications should make it considerably simpler for the government to implement the requirement in combination with Section 702(f)(2), while still requiring reporting in situations where Fourth Amendment concerns are likely to be implicated. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 93 (queries that use U.S.-person query terms and result in review of contents are “the subset of queries that are particularly likely to result in significant intrusion into U.S. persons’ privacy”).

Ultimately, Boasberg approved the certifications, effectively arguing that FBI just needed time to be trained on them.

The Court has previously assessed that requiring FBI personnel to document why a query involving a U.S.-person query term is reasonably likely to have returned foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime before examining contents returned by the query should “help ensure that FBI personnel … have thought about the querying standard and articulated why they believe it has been met” and prompt them “to recall and apply the guidance and training they have received on the querying standard.” See id. at 93; see also In re DNI/AG Certifications at 41 (that requirement may “motivate FBI personnel to carefully consider … whether a query satisfies” the standard). The recently reported querying violations suggest that some FBI personnel still need such help. That is not altogether surprising. As discussed above, the FBI is really just sta11ing to implement that documentation requirement on a comprehensive basis. For that reason, the improper queries described above do not undermine the Court’s prior determination that, with that requirement, the FBI’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.

I suggested when the 2018 package was released last year, we’d start learning details of back door searches that had been implicit since 2007.

Nevertheless, 12 years after this system was first moved under FISA (notably, two key Trump players, White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg and National Security Division AAG John Demers were involved in the original passage), we’re only now going to start getting real information about the impact on Americans, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. For the first time,

  • We will learn how many queries are done (the FISC opinion revealed that just one FBI system handles 3.1 million queries a year, though that covers both US and non US person queries)
  • We will learn that there are more hits on US persons than previously portrayed, which leads to those US persons to being investigated for national security or — worse — coerced to become national security informants
  • We will learn (even more than we already learned from the two reported queries that this pertained to vetting informants) the degree to which back door searches serve not to find people who are implicated in national security crimes, but instead, people who might be coerced to help the FBI find people who are involved in national security crimes
  • We will learn that the oversight has been inadequate
  • We will finally be able to measure disproportionate impact on Chinese-American, Arab, Iranian, South Asian, and Muslim communities
  • DOJ will be forced to give far more defendants 702 notice

The thing is, 11 months after the release of that opinion, we’re still not seeing results — in the form of declassified opinions — of what FBI’s querying really looks like, once they’re forced to actually track it. The entirely of this 2019 opinion still shows what Boasberg considers the pre-implementation period for this reporting regime.

And the FBI has been trying to weaken it for two years now!

There’s one more indication that we may see troubling details once we get the next 702 opinion in a year’s time, if we do get it.

Less than a week ago, Billy Barr issued a memo imposing a new national security auditing function on the FBI.

To enhance the FBI’s existing compliance efforts, the Director of the FBI is taking steps to build a more robust and exacting internal audit capability, including the creation of an office focused on auditing the FBI’s national security activities. To support that effort, I hereby authorize the Director of the FBI to commence the process of establishing, consistent with law and policy, the Office ofInternal Auditing (“OIA”). A separate office devoted to internal auditing and headed by a senior FBI official will ensure that ri gorous and robust auditing, which is an essential ingredient to an effective compliance regime, is canied out. The FBI shall work with the Justice Management Division to make the required reorganization notifications regarding this new office. Once established, OJA shall be led by an Assistant Director who shall have the same reporting chain as the Assistant Director for OIC and the Assistant Director for INSD. The Director of the FBI shall appoint the Assistant Directors for OIC, INSD, and OIA, with the approval of the Deputy Attorney General.

OIC, INSD, and OIA shall be responsible for carrying out the internal compliance functions of the FBI as assigned by the Director of the FBI, who shall ensure that each office does not duplicate responsibilities and is adequately staffed to perform its assigned functions. The Deputy Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for Administration shall coordinate with the Director to ensure that those functions are resourced and funded appropriately.

Even though Barr says the newly created OIA won’t overlap with the compliance and inspection functions at FBI, it’s not clear why not. Further, Barr’s memo does not explicitly say why FBI needed a new compliance review for national security cases rather than the existing legal reviews that had conducted such review.

Don’t get me wrong, done correctly, this could be a long-needed reform. It’s not clear it is being done correctly. It seems partly timed to the elections (with a report on implementation due just before then). And DOJ IG — which has, historically, found abundant problems with the functions enumerated here — will not review the efficacy of this until around May 2022.

The Department ofJustice Inspector General has agreed to assess the implementation of this memorandum (“initial assessment”) no sooner than 18 months after the establishment of OIA and to report such assessment, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security. The Inspector General has furt her agreed to conduct a subsequent assessment no later than five years after the initial assessment, and periodically thereafter as determined by the Inspector General, and to report such assessments, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Within 60 days of the date of the Inspector General’s initial assessment, the Director of the FBI shall provide the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General an assessment of the implementation of this memorandum, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the FBI’s compliance structure and whether compliance functions should be consolidated under an Executive Assistant Director.

Which is to say, this initiative, while it may be long overdue, feels like Barr trying to get ahead of something or somethings.

Billy Barr is an authoritarian. He doesn’t care about surveillance (indeed, he’s the grandfather of the dragnets that Edward Snowden revealed).

But something must have led him to take action to make it look like he cares.

Timeline

March 24-27, 2017: The querying of 70K facilities “associated with” persons who had access to the FBI’s facilities and systems. FBI General Counsel (then run by Jim Baker, who had had these fights in the past) warned against the query, but FBI did it anyway, though did not access the communications. This was likely either a leak or a counterintelligence investigation and appears to have been discovered in a review of existing Insider Threat queries.

December 1, 2017: FBI conducted queries on 6,800 social security numbers.

December 7-11, 2017, the same entity at FBI also queried 1,600 queries on certain identifiers, though claimed they didn’t mean to access raw data.

February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI did approximately 30 queries of potential sources.

February 21, 2018: FBI did 45 queries on people being vetted as sources.

March 27, 2018: Initial 2018 package submitted.

April 5, 2018: Extension order.

Before April 13, 2018: an unspecified FBI unit queried FISA acquired metadata using 57,000 identifiers of people who work in some place.

October 17, 2018: Order finding FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

February 21, 2019: NSA submits notice of Upstream violations.

February 26, 2019: Date after which NSA fixes Upstream violations.

June 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including to vet a source, a candidate to be a local cop, and to find information about a planned visit by foreign officials.

June 26, 2019: Notice that CIA assistance to NCTC does not comply with rules.

July 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including of college students in a “Collegiate Academy” and individuals who visited an FBI office. 

July 12, 2019: FISCR opinion finding that FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

August 2019: Query of 16,000 persons identifies seven leads. 

August 12, 2019: FBI submits new querying procedures.

August 23, 2019: NSA complains about post-tasking for some collections.

September 4, 2019: Approval of amended FBI querying procedures.

September 6, 2019: Report of July 2019 query violations.

September 13, 2019: Notice regarding 702 query response showing 100 characters of text surrounding search term.

September 17, 2019: Application submitted, including proposed improvements on targeting procedures.

September 17, 2019: Notice of at least four querying violations involving taking steps to access 702 products without getting a warrant.

September 18, 2019: Report on June 2019 query violations.

September 20, 2019: Reports of other FBI querying violations, including to vet sources, to search on complainants, and to vet potential cops.

September 26, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

October 1, 2019: Review period extended to December 16, 2019 (because of NSA and NCTC compliance issues, not FBI ones).

October 3, 2019: FISC orders further information.

October 4, 2019: FBI requests relief from requirement to report 702 access in response to criminal search.

October 10, 2019: Notice of overly attenuated NSA queries, including content searches using 23 US person identifiers.

October 11, 2019: Notice on FBI violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 4, November 13, 2019: Government provides additional information.

November 8, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

November 14, 2019: Notice on violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 20, 2019: Government tells FISC that they never tried to comply with reporting requirement imposed in October 2018, are instead training their new proposed compliance method.

November 25, 2019: Notice regarding August 2019 mass query.

mid-December 2019: Date FBI promised to impose new record-keeping on FBI’s queries.

January 2020: Date NSA promised to have purged improperly acquired communications.

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

Basaaly Moalin Wins His Appeal — But Gets Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will be a working thread.

Billy Barr Signs a Memo That Wouldn’t Have Helped Carter Page

For eight months, FBI and DOJ have been diligently making changes to the way they do FISA applications, with regular reports into the FISA Court. Whether or not those changes are adequate to fix the problems that beset the Carter Page application, they represent significant effort.

Curiously, a memo Billy Barr just released purporting to enhance compliance in FISA applications appears unaware of the filings at FISC, and instead cites only changes implemented in Christopher Wray’s response to the December 9, 2019 DOJ IG Report (see PDF 466 for his letter).

Therefore, in order to address concerns identified in the report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice entitled, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI ‘s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (December 2019), and to build on the important reforms described by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in his December 6, 2019, response to the Inspector General’s report, I hereby direct that the following additional steps be taken:

Arguably (as I’ll show), at least one of the provisions in the memo is weaker than a change FISC mandated itself.

And while the memo claims to want to protect the rights of people like Carter Page, Barr’s memo would in no way apply to Page. That’s because the special protections tied to political campaigns only apply to those currently associated with campaigns.

With respect to applications for authorization to conduct electronic surveillance or physical searches pursuant to FISA targeting (i) a federal elected official or staff members of the elected official, or (ii) an individual who is a declared candidate for federal elected office or staff members or advisors of such candidate’s campaign (including any person who has been publicly announced by a campaign as a staff member or member of an official campaign advisory committee or group, or any person who is an informal advisor to the campaign),

By the time FBI applied for a FISA application targeting Page, several prominent members of the campaign had dissociated the campaign from him — for his controversial ties to Russia! — in no uncertain terms; those disavowals were included in the FISA application. Yes, Page had been announced as an informal advisor, but then the campaign made very clear he was no longer an informal advisor (and even claimed he never had been).

To be sure, some of the changes proposed — both those limited to those connected with a campaign and the more general ones — are improvements. For example:

  • ¶3(b) requires non-delegable sign-off by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General) of any application targeting someone associated with a campaign; while requiring non-delegable sign-off may introduce some problems, this is the kind of certification recommended by the DOJ IG Report (though arguably is already incorporated in the December 6, 2019 letter Barr cited).
  • ¶3(d) and ¶3(e) institutes a shorter renewal deadline for these political FISAs, 60 days instead of 90, and requires monthly reports to FISC describing the results and affirming the continued need for such surveillance. These are arbitrary but perhaps useful improvements, not least because by increasing the paperwork required to surveil a political target, they make it more likely that such surveillance will actually be worth it (as the third and fourth applications targeting Page were not).
  • ¶3(f) requires that any political application describe whether less intrusive investigative procedures have been considered — something already required in all FISA applications — and an explanation why those procedures weren’t used. Such a requirement would have been useful in Page’s case (as I noted last year), because it would have emphasized the efforts FBI was making not to take public actions, but in practice this response would almost always point to DOJ guidelines on avoiding taking public actions that might affect an election and might actually encourage the increased reliance on informants, something Trump’s people claim equates to FISA surveillance. A requirement like this might be useful if it took place in the scope of a debate about what techniques were intrusive or not, but there’s zero evidence such a debate has happened.

The memo has two parts on defensive briefings, probably designed to placate Republicans, but which likely don’t do much in practice:

  • For political targets, ¶3(a) requires the FBI Director to consider a defensive briefing before targeting someone, and if no briefing is given, then the Director must document it in writing. FBI did consider defensive briefings for Trump’s people, but for various reasons decided not to do it, but in the case of Carter Page, he had long been wittingly sharing non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers and when FBI tried to explain why such dalliances were problematic in March 2017, he simply disagreed. A defensive briefing for Page would have been as useless as President Obama’s warnings to Trump that Mike Flynn was a problem.
  • For all counterintelligence concerns pertaining to election interference, ¶4 requires the FBI Director to “promulgate procedures, in consultation with the Deputy Attorney General, concerning defensive briefings.” Not only is this requirement utterly silent about what such procedures should do, not only did Wray commit to a similar recommendation in his December 2019 letter, but defensive briefings are precisely what Acting Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is currently politicizing.

As for key review processes mandated by the memo, some are just redundant at best or stupid at worst. For example:

  • ¶1 requires FBI personnel to review the accuracy sub-file before submitting a FISA application. That process is already in place. It’s called the Woods Procedure and it’s the procedure that failed to find errors in the Page application.
  • ¶2 requires someone — it doesn’t say whether FBI or NSD bears responsibility — to report any misstatement or omission to FISC. That’s already required. Plus, this requirement twice gives NSD the authority to determine whether something amounts to a reportable incident. The ongoing DOJ IG investigation into all the errors in FISA applications suggest NSD has deemed some omissions and errors not to be worthwhile of reporting (indeed, there were multiple instances in the Page applications where NSD did not include information they knew of, in at least one case information that FBI did not have). In short, this paragraph seems more focused on ensuring NSD — and not an outside entity, like DOJ IG or the FISC — retains the ability to determine what is and is not a reportable error.
  • ¶3(c) requires an FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge who is not involved in an investigation to review the FISA application of any defined political targets. The DOJ IG Report found that even NSD lawyers involved in an investigation don’t have enough insight into a case to identify omissions. While an ASAC might have access to case files that NSD lawyers do not, there’s zero reason to believe someone with even less insight into an investigation would better be able to spot omissions than an NSD lawyer with an ongoing role in the application. So this review is likely useless busywork.
  • ¶3(g) requires the Assistant Attorney General to review the case file of a political target within 60 days of its initial grant to make sure everything is kosher, including that the investigation was properly predicated. In conjunction with the shorter renewal timeframe of such applications (which would require DAG sign-off in any case), all this amounts to is a heightened review on first renewal (the memo does not say this is not delegable, so such a review will and probably should not be done by the AAG). But in Page’s case, it would have done nothing (indeed, at the time this would have been done for Page, he was in Russia meeting high level officials, falsely claiming to represent Trump’s interests).

In short, while some of these changes are salutary, a number are just show, and some are worthless busy work.

But my real concern about them — particularly given how Barr only invokes the first Christopher Wray letter to DOJ IG — is how they interact with other details of the FISA reform events that have transpired since last December.

For example, in the last month, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a big dog-and-pony show to claim that none of the errors DOJ IG had identified in 29 FISA applications they reviewed affected probable cause and just two were material. Effectively, that big press push amounted to having NSD pre-empt DOJ IG’s findings in an ongoing investigation, and the public details of NSD’s own review raise abundant reason to doubt the rigor of it. So Barr’s emphasis (in ¶2) on NSD’s role in deciding what is an error seems to be a reassertion of the status quo ante in the midst of an ongoing investigation that is still assessing whether NSD’s reviews are adequate. That makes this feel like another attempt to pre-empt an ongoing investigation.

Even more troubling, Barr’s memo seems unaware of — and in key respects, conflicts with — an order presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued in March. As I noted at the time, that order recognized something that was apparent from the DOJ IG Report but which the IG either missed, ignored, or was bureaucratically unable to address: it wasn’t just FBI that dropped the ball on the Page FISA application, NSD did so too.

According to the OIG Report, the DOJ attorney responsible for preparing the Page applications was aware that Page claimed to have had some type of reporting relationship with another government agency. See OIG Rpt. at 157. The DOJ attorney did not, however, follow up to confirm the nature of that relationship after the FBI case agent declared it “outside scope.” Id. at 157, 159. The DOJ attorney also received documents that contained materially adverse information, which DOJ advises should have been included in the application. Id. at 169-170. Greater diligence by the DOJ attorney in reviewing and probing the information provided by the FBI would likely have avoided those material omissions.

Because of that, Boasberg required that DOJ attorneys, too, sign off on all FISA applications, and suggested they get more involved earlier in the process.

As a result, reminders of DOJ’s obligation to meet the heightened duty of candor to the FISC appear warranted. The Court is therefore directing that any attorney submitting a FISA application make the following representation: “To the best of my knowledge, this application fairly reflects all information that might reasonably call into question the accuracy of the information or the reasonableness of any FBI assessments in the application, or otherwise raise doubts about the requested probable cause findings.”

DOJ should also consider whether its attorneys need more formalized guidance – e.g. , their own due-diligence checklists. Consideration should also be given to the potential benefits of DOJ attorney visits to field offices to meet with case agents and review investigative files themselves, at least in select cases – e.g. , initial applications for U.S.-person targets. Increased interaction between DOJ attorneys and FBI case agents during the preparatory process should not only improve accuracy in individual cases but also likely foster a common understanding of how to satisfy the government’s heightened duty of candor to the FISC.

There’s no mention of Boasberg’s order and suggestions in Barr’s memo, and it’s unclear whether that’s because he has no idea what has transpired with the FISC, whether he thinks he can ignore Boasberg’s order, or whether his memo is just for show. In any case, it’s notable that Barr’s memo doesn’t incorporate the key insight Boasberg made, that FISA requires increased diligence from NSD, too.

Similarly, because Boasberg deemed the role of FBI’s lawyers to be “perfunctory,” he asked for more details about their role.

But the role described in the revised Woods Form appears largely 10 perfunctory. To assess whether additional modifications to the Woods Form or related procedures may be warranted, the Court is directing the FBI to describe the current responsibilities FBI OGC lawyers have throughout the FISA process.

Here, Barr has added one more FBI person (an ASAC uninvolved in the case) to the process, whose review can only be perfunctory, rather than ensuring that those with more visibility on the process have a substantive role. Barr also doesn’t incorporate into his memo a change that came from Amicus David Kris after the Wray letter cited in Barr’s memo that case agents attest to the accuracy of FISA reviews, a recommendation FBI adopted, which might accomplish more than any review by an outside ASAC.

There’s one more reason this memo is concerning. ABC reported the other day that long-time Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Brad Wiegmann was reassigned two weeks ago and replaced by a far less experienced political appointee, Kellen Dwyer (though I’ve seen people vouch for his integrity — he’s not a hack). Wiegmann would likely be part of discussions about how to meet FISC’s demands for further accountability.

Though a relatively small unit of fewer than two dozen attorneys, the Office of Law and Policy participates in almost every National Security Council meeting, works with congressional staff to draft new legislation, and conducts oversight of the FBI’s intelligence-gathering activities.

“[It] has been sort of the center of gravity for the Department of Justice on national security policy, and it’s a central role,” said Olsen, who at one point ran the department’s National Security Division and later advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Wiegmann has led the office since the Obama administration and for almost all of the Trump administration.

In particular, Wiegmann has long been involved in efforts to meet FISC’s demands regarding surveillance it authorizes. Here, just days after Wiegmann’s removal, Barr is issuing a memo that seems unaware of and in at least a few respects, potentially inconsistent with, explicit orders from the presiding FISA Judge.

There’s nothing obviously offensive about this memo. But it would do little to prevent a repeat of the Carter Page problems. And it’s not clear that it adds anything to the very real efforts to improve the FISA process at DOJ. Indeed, it may well be an effort to pre-empt more substantive concerns about the role of NSD (as opposed to FBI) in this process.

Barr released a second memo creating an audit mechanism for national security functions that feels like an effort to get ahead of ongoing DOJ IG investigation. I welcome additional oversight of FBI’s national security functions, though the timing of this and the timing of its implementation — with a report on its creation due just days before the election but all review of its functionality years down the road — feels like an attempt to stave off real legal oversight.

Horowitz

DOJ’s Accounting of Its FISA Errors Cannot Be Compared to the Carter Page Report

Last year, Bill Barr adopted the stance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s assessment of FISA — in the report on the Carter Page FISA applications — wasn’t strict enough, because it found no evidence that the errors in the applications arose from political bias. Last week, Bill Barr’s DOJ adopted the opposite stance, that DOJ IG was too critical of FISA, finding errors in the FBI process where there were none.

It did so in the second of two filings reviewing the errors that DOJ IG had found in 29 other FISA applications. When DOJ IG released an interim report (MAM) describing those errors in March, it appeared to suggest that the level of error in the Carter Page applications — at least with respect to the Woods Files — was actually lower than what DOJ IG had found in the 25 applications.

Now, DOJ appears to be trying to claim — without basis — that that’s not the case.

Ahead of the release of the actual filing, DOJ and FBI orchestrated a press release last week, announcing that they would tell the court none of the errors identified by DOJ IG invalidated the probable cause finding for the 29 files. Predictably, both the responsible press and the frothy right (in stories that misunderstood the findings of either DOJ IG report and at times made errors about the FISA process), concluded that this review shows that Page’s application was uniquely bad.

Only after the press had jumped on that conclusion did DOJ release the filing (here’s the earlier one and here’s AAG John Demers’ statement in conjunction with last week’s release).

The filing makes it clear that it is impossible to draw any comparison between these findings about the earlier Carter Page ones (or even to declare — as many in the press have — that this filing proves DOJ’s FISA problems aren’t as bad as DOJ IG suggested).

That’s true for three reasons:

  • DOJ IG has not finished the kind of review on any of the 29 files it did for Page, and DOJ is not claiming it did either
  • DOJ used a dramatically different methodology for this Woods review than DOJ IG did for the Page review
  • DOJ effectively disagreed with DOJ IG’s findings for roughly 46% of the errors DOJ IG identified — and it’s not clear they explained to the FISA Court why they did so

Before I explain these, there’s a more important takeaway.

In giving itself a clean bill of health, DOJ judged that it doesn’t matter that a 2016 FISA application claimed that one of their sources accused a person of sympathizing with a particular terrorist organization when in fact the source said the person had become sympathetic to radical Muslim causes. For the purposes of FISA, this is a huge distinction, because a terrorist organization counts as a foreign power for the sake of FISA, but radical Muslim causes do not. It’s the difference between targeting someone as a suspected agent of a foreign power and targeting them for First Amendment protected activities. DOJ said this error didn’t matter because there was so much other derogatory information against the target; whether that’s true or not, it remains the case that DOJ’s self-congratulation nevertheless admits to a key First Amendment problem in one of the applications.

Woods violations are different from significant inaccuracies are different from material inaccuracies are different from probable cause

As I explained in this post, the IG Report on Carter Page found two types of problems: 17 “significant inaccuracies” that were mostly errors of omission (see PDF 12 and 14-15 for a list), and Woods file errors (PDF 460ff) for which an assertion made in the application did not have or match the back-up in the accuracy file that is supposed to prove it. The “significant inaccuracies” are the more serious of the two, but a number of those were overblown and in a few cases, dubious, in the DOJ IG Report.

Both of those categories are different from material misstatements, of which DOJ admitted to a number by the time they withdrew the probable cause claim from the third and fourth, but not the first two, Page applications. Before the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report they had told the court of the following material misstatements:

  • July 12, 2018: Cover stories Papadopoulos gave to informants that FBI accurately assessed in real time as false, statements Bruce Ohr made that (in the slightly misrepresented form included in the DOJ IG Report) call into question Christopher Steele’s motives, admissions that Steele himself had spoken to the press
  • October 25, 2019 and November 27, 2019: Details about the actions of Kevin Clinesmith — first not disclosing and then altering a document to hide Page’s relationship with the CIA that covered some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers

It’s not clear the government specified which aspects of the DOJ IG Report it submitted to Rosemary Collyer in December 2019 it deemed material, but she focused on:

  • Statements made by Steele’s primary sub-source that undermined key claims about Page
  • Page’s denials (some proven true, some of still undetermined veracity) of details in the Steele dossier
  • Steele’s derogatory comments about Sergei Millian

On the scale of severity, the material misstatements are the ones that matter, because they’re the ones that will affect whether someone gets wiretapped or not. But the Woods file errors in the Carter Page report identified by DOJ IG describe just four (arguably, three) details even related to things ultimately deemed material which, in turn, led to the withdrawal of two of the applications. None directly described the core issues that led to the withdrawal of the two applications (though the Page denials in conjunction with the sub-source comments did).

Indeed, one key conclusion of this entire process — one that DOJ, DOJ IG, and FISC have all agreed with — is that the Woods files process is not very useful at finding the more important errors of omission of the kind that were the most serious problems in the Page application.

And that’s important because all three of these reports — the March DOJ IG MAM and the June and July responses to FISA — stem from, and only explicitly claim to address, Woods file errors. In its MAM, DOJ IG described what it called its “initial” review this way:

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

For its part, DOJ calls DOJ IG’s report “preliminary” (seemingly ignoring that the IG claimed in that MAM and claims on its website to be continuing this part of what it calls a preliminary part of a larger review of FISA). DOJ’s Office of Intelligence did do materiality reviews of both the errors DOJ IG found and some that it found in the process of compiling these reports (in addition to the CT material misstatement described above, it found what sounds like the omission of exculpatory statements in a CI case).

But all this amounts to the more basic of the two kinds of reviews that DOJ IG did in the Carter Page case.

For these reports, DOJ continued to use the accuracy review methodology it now agrees is inadequate

As noted, all parties now agree that the Woods procedure wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. One reason it wasn’t is because the FBI has always given agents a few weeks notice before they review one of their Woods files, allowing them to scramble to fill out the accuracy file.

But DOJ IG (perfectly reasonably) didn’t give the Crossfire Hurricane team or any of the people involved in the 29 FISA applications it reviewed here that same notice. It conducted its Woods file assessment on what was actually in the accuracy file. In the case of the Carter Page review, they found a placeholder for a 302 that said exactly what DOJ IG faulted FBI for not having evidence for, an observation about how much Stefan Halper has been paid, and publicly available details about Gazprombank, among other true claims that were nevertheless not backed up in the Woods file. It would have been child’s play — but take some work — to get proof of those and most other claims in the file. The Woods file review that DOJ IG did in the Page case — and almost certainly, the review of the 29 files — tested whether the Woods procedures were being adhered to at all, not whether the Woods procedure effectively ensured only documented claims made it into a FISA application.

If you’re going to rely on the Woods procedure as an accuracy tool, that’s what reviews need to do, because otherwise they’re doing nothing to test the accuracy of the reports.

And DOJ now agrees. In its June filing, DOJ committed to changing how it does accuracy reviews starting in September (maybe). Starting then, agents will get no notice of a review before it happens, and the accuracy rate of that no-notice review will be tracked along with the accuracy once an agent is given time to chase down the documentation he didn’t include the first time.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced.

That said, that’s not how DOJ did these reviews. In fact, John Demers emphasized this fact in his statement claiming victory over these reviews.

In addition, when the OIG found a fact unsupported by a document in the Woods file, the OIG did not give the FBI the opportunity to locate a supporting document for the fact outside the file.

Indeed, that’s not the only thing that DOJ did to help DOJ clean up DOJ’s shitty performance on DOJ IG’s review of their work. After FBI Field Office lawyers got the DOJ IG assessment, they pulled together the existing documentation, then DOJ’s OI worked with agents to fill in what wasn’t there. In fact, DOJ even got an extension on the second report because DOJ and FBI agents were still working through the files, suggesting it took up to three months of work to get the files to where DOJ was willing to tell FISC about them.

In other words, whereas the Crossfire Hurricane team got judged — by Bill Barr’s DOJ — on what was in the Woods file when DOJ IG found it, Bill Barr’s DOJ is judging Bill Barr’s DOJ on what might be in a Woods file after agents have up to three months to look for paperwork to support claims they made as long as six years ago.

DOJ disagreed with DOJ IG’s finding of error about 46% of the time

Finally, DOJ and DOJ IG did not use the same categories of information to track errors on the Woods file reviews, and one of the most common ways they dismissed the import of an error was by saying that DOJ IG was wrong.

The MAM divides the errors it found into three categories: claims not supported by any documentation, claims not corroborated by the supposed back-up, and claims that were inconsistent with the supporting documentation.

[W]e identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File.

In addition to the two material errors they found, DOJ claims the errors they found fall into five categories (described starting on page 10):

  • Non-material date errors
  • Non-material typographical errors
  • Non-material deviations from the source documentation
  • Non-material misidentified sources of information
  • Non-material facts lacking supporting documentation

But to get to that number, DOJ also weeded out a number of other problems identified by DOJ IG via three other categories of determination reflected in the up to three month back and forth with OI:

  • Claims made that were substantiated by documents added to the file after DOJ IG’s review
  • Claims that, after reviewing additional information, OI “determined that the application accurately stated or described the supporting documentation, or accurately summarized other assertions in the application that were supported by the accuracy subfile”
  • Claims not backed by any document, but for which “the supporting documentation taken as a whole provided support for the fact in the application”

DOJ doesn’t count those instances in its overview — as distinct from individual narratives — of the report (indeed, the scope of added documentation is not qualified at all). And while the DOJ fillings say FBI described that it added documentation to the file in the redacted FBI declaration for FISC, it’s not clear whether it told FISC what it added and how much and where and when it came from (FBI has been known to write 302s long after the fact to document events not otherwise documented in real time).

Here’s what all this looks like in one table (FBI did what is probably a similar table, but it’s classified). Note that DOJ IG used still different categories for the Carter Page review: “Supporting document does not state this fact,” which is probably the same as their “not clearly corroborated” category. In my table, I’ve counted that as a “lacking documentation error.”

There are several takeaways from this table.

First, the numerical discrepancy provides some idea of how many errors DOJ IG found that DOJ made go away either by finding documentation for them, or by deciding that DOJ IG was wrong. DOJ IG said it found an average of 20 errors in the 25 applications it was able to review, or 500 total. DOJ says it found 63 errors in the June report and 138 errors in the July Report, over a total of 29 applications (they did a review of the four files for which DOJ IG was provided with no Woods file, so had 4 more files than DOJ IG).

My numbers are off by 3 from theirs, which might be partly accounted for recurrent errors in a reauthorized application or lack of clarity on DOJ’s narrative. Or maybe like DOJ, I subtracted 48 from 138 and got 91.

Approximately 48 of these 138 non-material errors reflect typographical errors or date discrepancies between an assertion in an application and a source document. Of the remaining 91 non-material errors or unsupported facts, four involve nonmaterial factual assertions that may be accurate, but for which a supporting document could not be located in the FBI’s files; 73 involve non-material deviations between a source document and an application; and 13 involve errors in which the source of an otherwise accurate factual assertion was misidentified.

But my count shows that DOJ simply declared DOJ IG to be wrong 151 times in its assessment that something was an error, with an amazing 35 examples of that in one application, and of which 14 across all applications were instances where DOJ couldn’t find a document to support a claim (not even with three months to look), but instead said the totality of the application supported a claim.

Claiming that the totality of an application supports a claim, while being unable to find documentation for a discrete fact, sure sounds like confirmation bias.

And in the up to three months of review, FBI found documentation to support upwards of 130 claims that originally were not supported in the Woods file. In other words, these weren’t errors of fact — they were just instances of FBI not following the Woods procedure.

We know that if the Crossfire Hurricane team had been measured by the standard DOJ did in these filings, it would have done better than most of these applications (again, only with respect to the Woods file). That’s because, aside from the four claims that rely on intercepted information (which is not public), there is public documentation to support every claim deemed unsupported in the report but three: the one claiming that James Clapper had said that Russia was providing money in addition to the disinformation to help Trump.

The DNI commented that this influence included providing money to particular candidates or providing disinformation.

And the two claiming that Christopher Steele’s reporting had been corroborated, something the DOJ IG Report lays out at length was not true in the terms FBI normally measured. Except, even there, Steele handler Mike Gaeta’s sworn testimony actually said it had been. He described jumping when Steele told him he had information because he was a professional,

And at that time there were a number of instances when his information had borne out, had been corroborated by other sources.

He also provided a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Steele’s reporting was not corroborated in the way DOJ IG measured it in the report: because you could never put Steele on a stand, so his testimony would never be used to prosecute people.

From a criminal perspective and a criminal investigative kind of framework, you know, Christopher Steele and [redacted] were never individuals who were going to be on a witness stand.

In other words, while it appears that DOJ cleaned up many of the errors identified by DOJ IG by finding the documentation to back it over the course of months, the public record makes it clear that Crossfire Hurricane would have been able to clear up even more of the Page Woods file.

The exceptions prove the rule. There are, as my table notes, two or three claims that do not accurately describe what the underlying document says, claiming:

  • That Page never refuted the claims against him (he had, and in many cases, was telling the truth in his refutations)
  • That Steele told the FBI he never shared information with anyone outside his “business associate” [Fusion] and the FBI (he also shared it with State, as other parts of FBI had been told)
  • That in his first FBI interviews Papadopoulos admitted he had met with Australian officials but not that he discussed Russia during those meetings (it’s unclear how accurate this claim is)

Assume the last bullet (used just once) reflects the redacted parts of Papadopoulos’ 302s even though it does match his current statements, that nevertheless leaves you with an error rate on arguably the worst category — misrepresenting your evidence — of 2 or 3 per application. The first two of these are the Woods file errors that turned out to have a tie (a significant one in the first bullet) with the material reasons why some of the files were withdrawn. They’re the two errors in the Woods file that most directly tied to omitted evidence in the application that would lead to their withdrawal.

Of the 29 applications reviewed by DOJ, 12 of them have 3 or more “deviations from the source” material. One has 14 and another has 15.

So on the worst measure that this review actually did measure, the one that on Page’s application tied most directly to reasons to withdraw the application, Page’s application actually was within the norm.

It may well be that when all the reviews are done, DOJ will have proof that Carter Page’s application was an exceptionally bad application. Certainly, the material misstatements may end up being worse.

But the only thing this apples to oranges comparison of the Page methodology and the traditional DOJ methodology has proven is that — as a matter of the Woods file reviews — Bill Barr has used a different standard for Bill Barr’s DOJ than he has with Crossfire Hurricane. And that if the Page file had been treated as all the others were, from a Woods file perspective, it actually wouldn’t look that bad.

It also shows that when Bill Barr’s DOJ wants to continue spying on Americans who don’t happen to be associated with Donald Trump, he’s happy to argue that Michael Horowitz’s very legalistic reviews of the sort that did Andrew McCabe in are wrong.

Updated for clarity.

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