May 13, 2021 / by 

 

The George Nader Problem: NSA Removes the Child Exploitation Content from Its Servers

When Lebanese-American dual citizen George Nader was stopped at Dulles after arriving on a flight from Dubai on January 17, 2018, he had at least 12 videos on his phone depicting boys as young as two years old being sexually abused, often with the involvement of farm animals. In the days before a Mueller prosecutor obtained the contents of the three phones Nader had with him, Nader sat for at least four interviews with Mueller’s prosecutors and told a story (which may not have been entirely forthright) about how he brokered a meeting in the Seychelles between Russia and Erik Prince a year earlier. Nader exploited Prince’s interest in work with Nader’s own employer — Mohammed bin Zayed — to set up the back channel meeting, and as such was a very effective broker in the service of two foreign countries, one hostile to the US. As such, I assume, Nader became a key counterintelligence interest, on top of whatever evidence he provided implicating Trump and his flunkies.

Mueller’s team got the returns on Nader’s phones back on March 16. An FBI Agent in EDVA in turn got a warrant for the child porn. But two days after the agent got the warrant return, Nader skipped town and remained out of the country until days after Mueller shut down his investigation, at which point he returned to the US and was promptly arrested for his abuse of children. Even without the other influence peddling that Nader had done on behalf of the Emirates, he would have remained a key counterintelligence interest for the entire 14 months he remained outside the country. After all, Nader had been making key connections since at least the time he introduced Ahmed Chalabi to Dick Cheney, and probably going back to the Clinton Administration.

So it is quite possible that for the entire period Nader was out of the country, he was surveilled. If that happened, it almost certainly would have happened with the assistance of NSA. As an agent of Dubai, he would be targetable under FISA, but as a US citizen, targeting him under FISA would require an individualized FISA warrant, and the surveillance overseas would take place under 705b.

If the surveillance did happen, Nader’s sexual abuse of boys would have had foreign intelligence value. It would be of interest, for example, to know who knew of his abuse and whether they used it as leverage over Nader. The source of the videos showing the children being exploited would be of interest. So, too, would any arrangements Nader made to procure the actual boys he abused, particularly if that involved high powered people in Middle Eastern countries.

Understanding how George Nader fit in international efforts to intervene in US affairs would involve understanding his sexual abuse of boys.

And that poses a problem for the NSA, because it means that really horrible content — such as Nader’s videos showing young boys being abused with goats for the object of an adult’s sexual pleasure — is among the things the NSA might need to collect and analyze.

I’ve been thinking about George Nader as I’ve been trying to understand one detail of the recent FISA 702 reauthorization. In January 2020, the NSA got permission to — in the name of lawful oversight — scan its holdings for child exploitation, stuff like videos of adults using goats to sexually abuse very young boys.

In a notice filed on January 22, 2020, the government informed the Court that NSA had developed a method, [redacted] of known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography), to identify and remove such material from NSA systems. To test this methodology, NSA ran the [redacted] against a same of FISA-acquired information in NSA systems. The government concedes that queries conducted for such purposes do not meet generally applicable querying standard; nor do they fall within one of the lawful oversight functions enumerated in the existing NSA querying procedures. Nevertheless, NSD/ODNI opined that “the identification and removal of child exploitation material … from NSA systems that is a lawful oversight function under section IV.C.6,” and that the deviation from the querying procedures was “necessary to perform this lawful oversight function of NSA systems.” Notice of Deviation from Querying Procedures, January 22, 2020, at 3; see Oct. 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10.

NSA anticipates using such queries going forward, likely on a recurring basis, to proactively identify and remove child-exploitation material from its systems. The government submits that doing so is necessary to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly disturbing, illegal material.” October 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10. The Court credits this suggestion and likewise finds that performance of these queries qualifies as a lawful oversight function for NSA systems. But the Court encouraged the government to memorialize this oversight activity in § IV.C.6, among the other enumerated lawful oversight functions that are recognized exceptions to the generally acceptable querying standards.

The government has done so. Section IV.C.6 now includes a new provision for “identify[ing] and remov[ing] child exploitation material, including child pornography, from NSA systems.” NSA Querying Procedures § IV.C.6.f. The Court finds that the addition of this narrow exception has no material impact on the sufficiency of the querying procedures taken as a whole.

At first, I thought they were doing this to protect the children. Indeed, my initial concern was that NSA was using these scans to expand the use of NSA queries for what wound up being law enforcement action, such that they could ask to do similar scans for the seven other crimes they’ve authorized sharing FISA data on (though of the other crimes, only snuff videos would be as easy to automate as child porn, which has a well-developed technology thanks to Facebook and Google). I thought that, once they scanned their holdings, they would alert whatever authority might be able to rescue the children involved that they had been victimized. After all, under all existing minimization procedures, the NSA can share proof of a crime with the FBI or other relevant law enforcement agency. Indeed, in 2017, FISC even authorized NSA and FBI to share such evidence of child exploitation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so they could attempt to identify the victims, help bring the perpetrators to justice, and track more instances of such abuse.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.

Indeed, as described, “saving the victims” is not the purpose of these scans. Rather, preventing NSA personnel from having to look at George Nader’s pictures showing goats sexually abusing small boys is the goal. When I asked the government about this, NSA’s Director for Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency, Rebecca Richards, distinguished finding child exploitation material in the course of intelligence analysis — in which case it’ll get reported as a crime — from this, which just removes the content.

NSA does not query collected foreign intelligence information to identify individuals who may be in possession of child exploitation material. This particular provision allows NSA to identify and remove known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography) from NSA systems.

The Court agreed that this was appropriate lawful oversight to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly distributing, illegal material.” The point of the query is not to surface the material for foreign intelligence analysis, the function of the query is to remove the material. If NSA finds such information in the course of its analytic process to identify and report on foreign intelligence, it will review and follow necessary crimes reporting.

The Court credits the suggestion to conduct this activity as part of NSA’s lawful oversight function. [my emphasis]

I asked NSA a bunch of other questions about this, but got no further response.

First, isn’t the NSA required to (and permitted to, under the minimization procedures) alert the FBI to all such instances they find? So wouldn’t this be no different from a law enforcement search, since if found it will lead to the FBI finding out about it?

Second, as offensive as this stuff is, isn’t it also of value from a foreign intelligence perspective? Ignoring that George Nader is a US person, if a high profile advisor to MbZ was known to exploit boys, wouldn’t that be of interest in explaining his position in MbZ’s court and his preference for living in Dubai instead of VA? Wouldn’t it be of interest in understanding the counterintelligence threat he posed?

If it is of FI interest (I seem to recall a Snowden revelation where similar discoveries were used against a extremist cleric, for example), then how is it recorded to capture the FI use before it is destroyed? And in recording it, aren’t there NSA and/or FBI personnel who would have to look more closely at it? Wouldn’t that increase the amount of child exploitation viewed (presumably with the benefit of finding more predators, even if they are outside US LE reach)?

Finally, can you tell me whether NCMEC is involved in this? Do they receive copies of the material for their databases?

Are you saying that if the NSA finds evidence of child exploitation via these searches, it does not refer the evidence to FBI, even if it implicates victims in the United States?

Another question I have given Richards’ response is, why would NSA personnel be accessing collections that happen to include child exploitation except for analytic purposes?

But maybe that’s the real answer here: NSA employees would access child exploitation 1) for analytical purposes (in which case, per Richards, it would get reported as a crime) or 2) inappropriately, perhaps after learning of its presence via accessing it for analytic purposes (something that is not inconsistent with claims Edward Snowden has made).

After all, there have been two really high profile examples of national security personnel accused of critical leaks in the last decade who also have been accused of possessing child pornography: Donald Sachtleben, who after he was busted for (amazingly) bringing child porn on his laptop into Quantico, he later became the scapegoat for a high profile leak about Yemen, and Joshua Schulte, on whose computer the government claims to have found child porn on when it searched the computer for evidence that he stole all of CIA’s hacking tools.

So perhaps the NSA is just removing evidence of child exploitation from its servers — which it spent a lot of resources to collect as foreign intelligence — to avoid tempting NSA employees from accessing it and further victimizing the children?

If that’s correct, then it seems that NSA has taken a totally backwards approach to mitigating this risk.

If you’re going to scan all of NSA’s holdings to ID child exploitation, why not do so on intake, and once found, hash and encrypt it immediately. Some of what analysts would be interested in — tracking the dissemination of known child porn or the trafficking of known victims by transnational organized crime, for example — could be done without ever viewing it, solely after those existing hashes. If there were some other need — such as identifying a previously unidentified victim — then the file in question can be decrypted as it is sent along to FBI. That would have the added benefit of ensuring that if NSA personnel were choosing to expose themselves to George Nader’s videos of young boys being abused with farm animals, then the NSA would have a record of who was doing so, so they could be fired.

I get why the NSA doesn’t want to host the world’s biggest collection of child abuse, particularly given its difficulties in securing its systems. I don’t have any answers as to why they’re using this approach to purge their systems.


The Rickety 702 System: Why It Continues to Fail

Back in 2009, I showed how a heavily redacted opinion rejecting what we now know to be a Yahoo challenge to the Protect America Act found that the predecessor to FISA 702 was constitutional because of the minimization procedures implementing certificates implementing the surveillance program. We learned seven years later that Yahoo hadn’t been provided those minimization procedures as part of their challenge, and indeed, DOJ withheld a key document from Reggie Walton, who presided over the challenge, until after he made key decisions in the case. That was also the first year the government finally presented details about the intended use of what had become 702 to FISC, most importantly that FBI was getting raw data they would encourage Agents to query, even at the assessment level. But even two years later, FISC was still just pushing FBI to follow rules imposed requiring them to track their queries of the raw 702 data. Two years later, after being presented with evidence that FBI still hasn’t complied with the law as currently written, outgoing presiding judge James Boasberg nevertheless reauthorized the program.

In general, Boasberg’s opinion reauthorizing 702 from last November describes violations pertaining to FBI access of 702 data for queries that have both a national security and criminal investigative function, FBI’s improper use of batch queries, and real problems with protections for attorney-client communications at NSA that could really blow up in the IC’s face one of these days, all problems FISC has been reviewing for years. The opinion also describes how training and COVID has delayed what will be an inevitable accounting for the fact that one key purpose of 702 when it was started — to select a fraction of all the intelligence NSA examines and put it into FBI coffers to make it available for querying — is a poor fit with the current law.

To understand one reason why this never gets better, I wanted to look at the structure of this and all other reauthorization opinions, because it never fixes some of the problems built in from the start.

The 702 opinions, like traditional FISA approvals, are all driven by the statute, ticking one after another required element off. If everything gets ticked, in order, then hundreds of thousands of people remain targeted for surveillance, along with all the people they communicate with.

Memorandum opinion and order

The opinion starts with introductory mapping. Even at that point, Boasberg describes this reauthorization as a “status-quo” reauthorization, meaning the request certificates from the government have remained largely the same and so don’t present any new issues to reconsider.

I. Government’s Submission

A. 2020 Certifications and Amendments: The opinion starts by laying out what gets included in the package, which basically includes the certificates, along with the targeting (NSA and FBI), querying (NSA, FBI, CIA, and NCTC), and minimization (NSA, FBI, CIA, and NCTC) procedures that implement the certificates.

B. Subject Matter of the Certification: This section describes, in heavily redacted fashion, what the certificates do and the rules and intent for all of them. Last we knew, there were three certifications: one targeting terrorists, one targeting proliferation, and one targeting “foreign governments,” focusing not just on other country’s spying, but also (to the extent it is a separate entity) their hacking. This section also notes, importantly, that these certificates renew prior authorizations; every year, FISC approves the new rules to apply to any new collections but also all the stuff already in the government’s possession. This is important, because analysts will continue to query (governed by one set of procedures) and report out (governed by minimization procedures) communications obtained in year’s past. Thus, every new approval covers all the stuff that came before (which also means the judges largely rely on their earlier decisions).

II. Review of the 2020 Certifications and Prior Certifications

One of the first things FISC does in these opinions is review the changes from past certifications, usually coming to the conclusion that, “we’ve approved these certifications going back 12 years, so we’ll just approve them again.” And some of this, as Boasberg admits in this opinion, is a matter of “check[ing]” procedural boxes — do the applications have the things required of them.

III. Targeting Procedures

Then each set of procedures is approved in isolation. First, the judge reviews whether targeting procedures fulfill the requirement that targeting procedures are “reasonably designed” to ensure that targets are outside the US and the procedures do not intentionally target communications entirely made up of US persons. For years, this has focused on making sure that if NSA or FBI get it wrong and target someone who’s in the US or is a US person, they detask the target quickly.

IV. Minimization and Querying Procedures

Then, the judge reviews whether the minimization procedures limit the dissemination of non-public US person data, allowing for its use for a foreign intelligence purpose and the sharing of evidence of a crime. Most opinions come with some language like this (from last year’s opinion) rationalizing — even though NSA and FBI have always refused to provide the data to test this assumption — that this content will be less impactful than traditional FISA collection.

In applying these statutory requirements, the Court is mindful that Section 702 acquisitions target persons reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons outside the United States. Although such targets may communicate with or about U.S. persons, Section 702 acquisitions, as a general matter, are less likely to acquire information about U.S. persons that is unrelated to the foreign-intelligence purpose of the acquisition than, for example, electronic surveillance or physical search of a home or workplace within the United States that a target shares with U.S. persons.

Remember, unlike traditional FISA, there’s no individualized review of the foreign intelligence claims of these targets. So yeah, someone in Iran may have less contact with Americans, but the claims about that person require a far lower burden of foreign intelligence interest.

In last year’s opinion, Boasberg noted that the minimization (limits on dissemination) and querying (limits on searching the files) work together and analyzed them together. Nevertheless, with some more box-checking (for example, on whether each agency requires a record of queries made), Boasberg then concludes that since not much has changed, he can approve both the minimization and querying procedures.

Nothing detracts from the Court’s earlier findings [in past years] that these procedures as written are statutorily and constitutionally sufficient.

Remember: the FBI queries are the area where 702 has been particularly controversial of late, but the analysis of their application does not come here, in the section that approves them.

There is a discussion of attorney-client communications in here, particularly with regards to NSA’s use of attorney-client communications. But even after observing that,

The government does little by way of justifying the differing treatment of privileged communications by NSA,

Boasberg nevertheless relies on past approval for this same application to approve last year’s certificates.

[T]he Court has previously approved the dissemination provisions in the NSA procedures highlighted above, which unambiguously contemplate the dissemination of attorney-client privileged communications of the types being discussed here [redacted] subject to certain limitations and requirements.

[snip]

The Court again concludes that NSA’s procedures, as a whole and applied to it, an agency with no law-enforcement mission or authority, are reasonably designed to protect the substantial privacy interests in attorney-client communications, consistent with the need to exploit those communications for legitimate foreign-intelligence purposes.

Boasberg does “admonish[]” NSA to make sure none of this dissemination ends up in an FBI report. But having expressed concerns about how NSA exploits attorney-client communications, he nevertheless approves its use for foreign intelligence purposes.

V. Fourth Amendment Requirements

Then, in totally separate analysis, Boasberg (like judges before him) assesses whether all those procedures he just reviewed “are consistent with the Fourth Amendment.” This review, like all the ones since 2008, has relied on procedures to find that the program as a whole complies with the Fourth Amendment.

It does so by finding that the Targeting Procedures limit the collection to people not protected by the Fourth Amendment, and the interests of those swept up in that collection can be protected with Minimization and Querying Procedures.

For reasons explained above, the Court has found that the proposed targeting procedures, as written, are reasonably designed to limit acquisitions to those targets reasonably believed to be non-Untied States persons located outside the United States. The Fourth Amendment does not protect the privacy interests of such individuals. [citation omitted]

To the extent U.S.-person information is acquired under Section 702 — e.g., when a communication between a U.S. person and a Section 702 target is intercepted — the government can reduce the intrusiveness of the acquisition for Fourth Amendment purposes by restricting use or disclosure of such information.

After language about the import of national security interests, Boasberg then concludes that, “those procedures, as written, are consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

VI. Implementation and Compliance Issues

It’s only after ruling everything meets the legal requirements — all the boxes are checked — that Boasberg (and this opinion is in no way unique on the structure — turns to a list of compliance issues. Yes, this analysis feigns to be part of reviewing “how [the procedures] are implemented.” But Boasberg has already found the procedures, in the abstract, sufficient to comply with the Fourth Amendment.

As part of his analysis, Boasberg offers the following excuses for the FBI:

  • It took time for them to make the changes in their systems
  • It took time to train everyone
  • Once everyone got trained they all got sent home for COVID
  • Given mandatory training, personnel “should be aware” of the requirements, even if actual practice demonstrates they’re not
  • FBI doesn’t do that many field reviews
  • Evidence of violations is not sufficient evidence to find that the program inadequately protects privacy
  • The opt-out system for FISA material — which is very similar to one governing the phone and Internet dragnet at NSA until 2011 that also failed to do its job — failed to do its job
  • The FBI has always provided national security justifications for a series of violations involving their tracking system where an Agent didn’t originally claim one
  • Bulk queries have operated like that since November 2019
  • He’s concerned but will require more reporting

At the end of this section, Boasberg issued a 5-bullet conclusion that the certifications check all the boxes, the 2020 certifications comply with FISA and the Fourth Amendment, the minimization procedures (incorporating therein the querying procedures) mean access to prior collections complies with FISA and the Fourth Amendment, and one querying procedure is approved for the 2020 collection.

By conducting first an abstract analysis and only then an analysis of what that has meant in past practice, and where real concerns remain to require ongoing reporting, Boasberg “gets to yes” (as Brennan’s Liza Goitein aptly wrote). Boasberg repeatedly said he didn’t have evidence to assess whether this really works to meet the requirements, but nevertheless signed the reauthorization.

Reporting requirements

Boasberg doesn’t provide a heading for his reporting requirements. But as part of his order approving the certifications, he lays out all the reports that he and past judges have required to make up for the fact that there’s no evidence these protections work. There are 11 old ones and two new ones.

Two years ago, as part of the most rigorous amicus intervention known to date, the amici recommended that Boasberg consider the querying at the heart of the FBI’s use of 702 as its own Fourth Amendment consideration. Even though Boasberg refused, FBI still threw a fit and appealed his demand that they comply with the law as written. And this opinion, as noted, still lumps the abstract analysis of compliance of minimization procedures and querying in together.

Yet the document itself, by separating the box-checking from the concepts the box-checking is supposed to fulfill, and separating both of those from the program as implemented, and even still authorizing a program while deferring the obvious proof of compliance by simply asking for 13 different reports, often of non-compliance, doesn’t actually do what it is supposed to do.

Unless what it is supposed to do is give the patina of legal review while instead turning judges into a bureaucratic functionary who can, once a year, offer some compliance suggestions that may not be implemented.


FISC Suspects John Ratcliffe of Relaxing Rules for Unmasking of FISA Material

I Con the Record released last year’s FISA 702 reauthorization the other day. A number of people have written pieces about it. I think my piece, predicting what would happen with this one, written in September 2020, sums it up nicely. I say that because, as presiding Judge James Boasberg notes in his opinion, the certification process was largely a “status-quo replacement of certifications and procedures approved by the court [on] December 6, 2019.”

With regards to the pressing issue reported on by others (which I will return to) — whether FISC will ever fully account for the problems with the way FBI does back door searches, on FISA 702 material, traditional FISA material, and otherwise — because of the way certifications happen, the court is still working through stuff that happened over a year ago.

But a more interesting aspect of the filing deals with one of the more substantive changes in the “status-quo” reauthorization. Because of changes at the National Counterterrorism Center made under Ric Grenell and John Ratcliffe, ODNI had to change the title in the minimization procedures governing NCTC’s access to raw 702 data. When NCTC wants to override requirements that data get purged after five years, one of two fairly senior people needs to sign off on it. Before, those people were the Deputy Director for Intelligence and the Deputy Director for Terrorist Identities; now they are the Assistant Director for Intelligence and the Assistant Director for Identity Intelligence. Boasberg found that change was no big deal.

Boasberg was more troubled by a change arising from the same reorganization that assigns authority to disseminate unmasked information on US persons. Before, that approval had to come from the NCTC Director “or a designee who shall hold a position no lower than Group Chief within the NCTC Directorate of Intelligence.” Now, a “Group Chief” within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence can be delegated that authority. As Boasberg interprets it, this might allow NCTC to expand the universe of people who can authorize the dissemination of unmasked US person data.

This proposed change gives the Court pause. That the change is purportedly necessitated by the transfer of one analytic group to another directorate does not mean that the practical effect of the proposed change would be limited to that group. Presumably there are other groups within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, and, on its face, this change would allow the NCTC Director to delegate dissemination determinations to chiefs of those other groups, as well as to other, more senior officials within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, none of whom currently can be delegated such authority.

Mind you, Boasberg approved the change anyway.

To be sure, the Court does not second-guess internal organizational decisions made by the Executive. The Court, moreover, has no objection in principle to the maintenance of the status quo vis-à-vis the group, previously within the Directorate of Intelligence, and now within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, that is “responsible for identifying and locating members of terrorist networks.” Id. But the Court has not been provided enough information about other groups within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence to know whether the extension of delegated authority to chiefs of those other groups to authorize [redacted] disseminations is equally appropriate. The Court will approve the proposed change, but require the government to report in the future on the exercise of the delegation authority to any group chief or official within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence other than the one specifically discussed in the government’s submission.

This is how FISA problems get so bad (as the FBI back door searches did) such that it takes years before FISC learns and catalogs current problems: it requires reporting, not imposes prohibitions, and as a result only learns if there are problems months or years after the fact.

Probably, this change did not result in a relaxation of the rules regarding who could unmask US person identities. Probably, the changes imposed under Grenell and Ratcliffe were just an attempt to root out people they deemed to be disloyal to Donald Trump. Probably, this has resulted in the same fairly strict rules regarding the unmasking of US person identities that were in place before.

But it’s fairly ironic that Boasberg suspected that a change made in a certification signed by John Ratcliffe would make it easier for the government to unmask the identities of Americans who had been captured in FISA surveillance — because that’s the kind of thing the GOP led a years-long campaign accusing others of.


Former Presiding FISA Judge John Bates’ Curious Treatment of White Person Terrorism

By chance of logistics, the men and women who have presided over a two decade war on Islamic terrorism are now presiding over the trials of those charged in January 6.

To deal with the flood of defendants, the Senior Judges in the DC District have agreed to pick up some cases. And because FISA mandates that at least three of the eleven FISA judges presiding at any given time come from the DC area, and because the presiding judge has traditionally been from among those three, it means a disproportionate number of DC’s Senior Judges have served on the FISA Court, often on terms as presiding judge or at the very least ruling over programmatic decisions that have subjected millions of Americans to collection in the name of the war on terror. Between those and several other still-active DC judges, over 60 January 6 cases will be adjudicated by a current or former FISA judge.

Current and former FISA judges have taken a range of cases with a range of complexity and notoriety:

  • Royce Lamberth served as FISC’s presiding judge from 1995 until 2002 and failed in his effort to limit the effect of the elimination of the wall between intelligence and criminal collection passed in the PATRIOT Act. And during a stint as DC’s Chief Judge he dealt with the aftermath of the Boumediene decision and fought to make the hard won detention reviews won by Gitmo detainees more than a rubber stamp. Lamberth is presiding over 10 cases with 14 defendants. A number of those are high profile cases, like that of Jacob Chansley (the Q Shaman), Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, bullhorn lady and mask refusenik Rachel Powell, and Proud Boy assault defendant Christopher Worrell.
  • Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is still an active DC District judge, but she served as FISC presiding judge starting way back in 2002, inheriting the difficulties created by Stellar Wind from Lamberth. She’s the one who redefined “relevant to” in an effort to bring the Internet dragnet back under court review. She is presiding over ten January 6 cases with 12 defendants. That includes Lonnie Coffman, who showed up to the insurrection with a truck full of Molotov cocktails, as well as some other assault cases.
  • John Bates took over as presiding judge of FISC on May 19, 2009. In 2010, he redefined “metadata” so as to permit the government to continue to use the Internet dragnet; the government ultimately failed to make that program work but FISC has retained that twisted definition of “metadata” nevertheless. In 2011, he authorized the use of “back door searches” on content collected under FISA’s Section 702. In 2013, Bates appears to have ruled that for Islamic terrorists, the FBI can get around restrictions prohibiting surveillance solely for First Amendment reasons by pointing to the conduct of an American citizen suspect’s associates, rather than his or her own. And while not a FISA case, Bates also dismissed Anwar al-Awlaki’s effort to require the government to give him some due process before executing him by drone strike; at the time, the government had presented no public evidence that Awlaki had done more than incite violence. Bates has eight January 6 cases with nine defendants (as well as some unrelated cases), but he is presiding over several high profile ones, including the other Zip Tie Guy, Larry Brock, the scion of a right wing activist family, Leo Bozell IV, and former State Department official Freddie Klein.
  • Reggie Walton, who took over as presiding judge in 2013 but who, even before that, oversaw key programmatic decisions starting in 2008, showed a willingness both on FISC and overseeing the Scooter Libby trial to stand up to the Executive. That includes his extended effort to clean up the phone and Internet dragnet after Bush left in 2009, during which he even shut down part or all of the two dragnets temporarily. Walton is presiding over six cases with eight defendants, most for MAGA tourism.
  • Thomas Hogan was DC District’s head judge in the 2000s. In that role, he presided over the initial Gitmo detainees’ challenges to their detention (though many of the key precedential decisions on those cases were made by other judges who have since retired). Hogan then joined FISC and ultimately took over the presiding role in 2014 and in that role, affirmatively authorized the use of Section 702 back door searches for FBI assessments. Hogan is presiding over 13 cases with 18 defendants, a number of cases involving multiple defendants (including another set of mother-son defendants, the Sandovals). The most important is the case against alleged Brian Sicknick assailants, Julian Khater and George Tanios.
  • James Boasberg, who took over the presiding position on FISC on January 1, 2020 but had started making initial efforts to rein in back door searches even before that, is presiding over about eight cases with ten defendants, the most interesting of which is the case of Aaron Mostofsky, who is himself the son of a judge.
  • Rudolph Contreras, who like Kollar-Kotelly and Boasberg is not a senior judge, is currently a FISC judge. He has six January 6 cases with seven defendants, most MAGA tourists accused of trespassing. There’s a decent chance he’ll take over as presiding judge when Boasberg’s term on FISC expires next month.

Of the most important FISA judges since 9/11, then, just Rosemary Collyer is not presiding over any January 6 cases.

Mind you, it’s not a bad thing that FISA judges will preside over January 6 cases. These are highly experienced judges with a long established history of presiding over other cases, ranging the gamut and including other politically charged high profile cases, as DC District judges do.

That said, in their role as FISA judges — particularly when reviewing programmatic applications — most of these judges have been placed in a fairly unique role on two fronts. First, most of these judges have been forced to weigh fairly dramatic legal questions, in secret, in a context in which the Executive Branch routinely threatens to move entire programs under EO 12333, thereby shielding those programs from any oversight by a judge. These judges responded to such situations with a range of deference, with Royce Lamberth and Reggie Walton raising real stinks and — the latter case — hand-holding on oversight over the course of most of a year, to John Bates and to a lesser degree Thomas Hogan, who often complained at length about abuses before expanding the same programs being abused. Several — perhaps most notably Kollar-Kotelly when she was asked to bring parts of Stellar Wind under FISA — have likewise had to fight to affirm the authority of the entire Article III branch, all in secret.

Ruling on these programmatic FISA applications also involved hearing expansive government claims about the threat of terrorism, the difficulty and necessity of identifying potential terrorists before they attack, and the efficacy of the secret programs devised to do that (the judges who also presided over Gitmo challenges, which includes several on this list, also fielded similar secret claims about the risk of terrorism). Some of those claims — most notably, about the efficacy of the Section 215 phone dragnet — were wildly overblown. In other words, to a degree unmatched by most other judges, these men and women were asked to balance the rights of Americans against secret government claims about the risks of terrorism.

Now these same judges are part of a group being asked to weigh similar questions, but about a huge number of predominantly white, sometimes extremist Christian, defendants, but to do so in public, with defense attorneys challenging their every decision. Here, the balance between extremist affiliation and First Amendment rights will play out in public, but against the background of a two decade war on terror where similar affiliation was criminalized, often in secret.

Generally, the District judges in these cases have not done much on the cases yet, as either Magistrates (on initial pre-indictment appearances) or Chief Judge Beryl Howell (on initial detention disputes) have handled some of the more controversial issues, and in a few cases, Ketanji Brown Jackson presided over arraignments before she started handing off cases in anticipation of her Circuit confirmation process.

But several of the judges have written key opinions on detention, opinions that embody how differently the conduct of January 6 defendants looks to different people.

Lamberth, for example, authored the original detention order for “Zip Tie Guy” Eric Munchel and his mom, Lisa Eisenhart. Even while admitting that Munchel made efforts to limit any vandalization during the riot, Lamberth nevertheless deemed Munchel’s actions a threat to our constitutional government.

The grand jury charged Munchel with grave offenses. In charging Munchel with “forcibly enter[ing] and remain[ing] in the Capitol to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” Indictment 1, ECF No. 21, the grand jury alleged that Munchel used force to subvert a democratic election and arrest the peaceful transfer of power. Such conduct threatens the republic itself. See George Washington, Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796) (“The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.”). Indeed, few offenses are more threatening to our way of life.

Munchel ‘s alleged conduct demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the rule of law. Munchel is alleged to have taken part in a mob, which displaced the elected legislature in an effort to subvert our constitutional government and the will of more than 81 million voters. Munchel’ s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends. Such conduct poses a clear risk to the community.

Defense counsel’s portrayal of the alleged offenses as mere trespassing or civil disobedience is both unpersuasive and detached from reality. First, Munchel’s alleged conduct carried great potential for violence. Munchel went into the Capitol armed with a taser. He carried plastic handcuffs. He threatened to “break” anyone who vandalized the Capitol.3 These were not peaceful acts. Second, Munchel ‘s alleged conduct occurred while Congress was finalizing the results of a Presidential election. Storming the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral votes is not the akin to a peaceful sit-in.

For those reasons, the nature and circumstances of the charged offenses strongly support a finding that no conditions of release would protect the community.

[snip]

Munchel gleefully entered the Capitol in the midst of a riot. He did so, the grand jury alleges, to stop or delay the peaceful transfer of power. And he did so carrying a dangerous weapon. Munchel took these actions in front of hundreds of police officers, indicating that he cannot be deterred easily.

Moreover, after the riots, Munchel indicated that he was willing to undertake such actions again. He compared himself-and the other insurrectionists-to the revolutionaries of 1776, indicating that he believes that violent revolt is appropriate. See Pullman, supra. And he said “[t]he point of getting inside the building is to show them that we can, and we will.” Id. That statement, particularly its final clause, connotes a willingness to engage in such behavior again.

By word and deed, Munchel has supported the violent overthrow of the United States government. He poses a clear danger to our republic.

This is the opinion that the DC Circuit remanded, finding that Lamberth had not sufficiently considered whether Munchel and his mother would pose a grave future threat absent the specific circumstances present on January 6. They contrasted the mother and son with those who engaged in violence or planned in advance.

[W]e conclude that the District Court did not demonstrate that it adequately considered, in light of all the record evidence, whether Munchel and Eisenhart present an identified and articulable threat to the community. Accordingly, we remand for further factfinding. Cf. Nwokoro, 651 F.3d at 111–12.

[snip]

Here, the District Court did not adequately demonstrate that it considered whether Munchel and Eisenhart posed an articulable threat to the community in view of their conduct on January 6, and the particular circumstances of January 6. The District Court based its dangerousness determination on a finding that “Munchel’s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends,” and that “[s]uch conduct poses a clear risk to the community.” Munchel, 2021 WL 620236, at *6. In making this determination, however, the Court did not explain how it reached that conclusion notwithstanding the countervailing finding that “the record contains no evidence indicating that, while inside the Capitol, Munchel or Eisenhart vandalized any property or physically harmed any person,” id. at *3, and the absence of any record evidence that either Munchel or Eisenhart committed any violence on January 6. That Munchel and Eisenhart assaulted no one on January 6; that they did not enter the Capitol by force; and that they vandalized no property are all factors that weigh against a finding that either pose a threat of “using force to promote [their] political ends,” and that the District Court should consider on remand. If, in light of the lack of evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart committed violence on January 6, the District Court finds that they do not in fact pose a threat of committing violence in the future, the District Court should consider this finding in making its dangerousness determination. In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way. See Simpkins, 826 F.2d at 96 (“[W]here the future misconduct that is anticipated concerns violent criminal activity, no issue arises concerning the outer limits of the meaning of ‘danger to the community,’ an issue that would otherwise require a legal interpretation of the applicable standard.” (internal quotation and alteration omitted)). And while the District Court stated that it was not satisfied that either appellant would comply with release conditions, that finding, as noted above, does not obviate a proper dangerousness determination to justify detention.

The District Court also failed to demonstrate that it considered the specific circumstances that made it possible, on January 6, for Munchel and Eisenhart to threaten the peaceful transfer of power. The appellants had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests. Thus, Munchel and Eisenhart were able to attempt to obstruct the electoral college vote by entering the Capitol together with a large group of people who had gathered at the Capitol in protest that day. Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community. Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities— seemingly would have posed little threat. The District Court found that appellants were a danger to “act against Congress” in the future, but there was no explanation of how the appellants would be capable of doing so now that the specific circumstances of January 6 have passed. This, too, is a factor that the District Court should consider on remand. [my emphasis]

The DC Circuit opinion (joined by Judith Rogers, who ruled for Gitmo detainees in Bahlul and a Boumediene dissent) was absolutely a fair decision. But it is also arguably inconsistent with the way that the federal government treated Islamic terrorism, in which every time the government identified someone who might engage in terrorism (often using one of the secret programs approved by this handful of FISA judges, and often based off far less than waltzing into the Senate hoping to prevent the certification of an election while wielding zip ties and a taser), the FBI would continue to pursue those people as intolerably dangerous threats. Again, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, but that is how it did work, in significant part with the approval of FISA judges.

That is, with Islamic terrorism, the government treated potential threats as threats, whereas here CADC required Lamberth to look more closely at what could make an individual predisposed to an assault on our government — a potential threat — as dangerous going forward. Again, particularly given the numbers involved, that’s a better application of due process than what has been used for the last twenty years, but it’s not what happened during the War on Terror (and in weeks ahead, this will be relitigated with consideration of whether Trump’s continued incitement makes these defendants an ongoing threat).

Now compare Lamberth’s order to an order John Bates issued in the wake of and specifically citing the CADC ruling, releasing former State Department official Freddie Klein from pretrial detention. Klein is accused of fighting with cops in the Lower West Terrace over the course of half an hour.

Bates found that Klein, in using a stolen riot shield to push against cops in an attempt to breach the Capitol, was eligible for pre-trial detention, though he expressed skepticism of the government’s argument that Klein had wielded the shield as a dangerous weapon).

The Court finds that Klein is eligible for pretrial detention based on Count 3. Under the BRA, a “crime of violence” includes “an offense that has as an element of the offense the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 3156(a)(4)(A). The Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States defined “physical force” as “force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.” 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010); see also Def.’s Br. at 9.

[snip]

6 The Court has some doubts about whether Klein “used” the stolen riot shield as a dangerous weapon. The BRA does not define the term, but at least for purposes of § 111(b), courts have held that a dangerous weapon is any “object that is either inherently dangerous or is used in a way that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See United States v. Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7 (D.D.C. Mar. 8, 2021) (Lamberth, J.) (collecting cases). A plastic riot shield is not an “inherently dangerous” weapon, and therefore the question is whether Klein used it in a way “that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” The standard riot shield “is approximately forty-eight inches tall and twenty-four inches wide,” see Gov’t’s Br. at 13, and the Court disagrees with defense counsel’s suggestion that a riot shield might never qualify as a dangerous weapon, even if swung at an officer’s head, Hr’g Tr. 18:18–25, 19:1–11. See, e.g., United States v. Johnson, 324 F.2d 264, 266 (4th Cir. 1963) (finding that metal and plastic chair qualified as a dangerous weapon when “wielded from an upright (overhead) position and brought down upon the victim’s head”). But it is a close call whether Klein’s efforts to press the shield against officers’ bodies and shields were “likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7.

But Bates ruled that there were certain things about the case against Klein — that he didn’t come prepared for combat, that he didn’t bring a weapon with him and instead just made use of what he found there, that any coordination he did involved ad hoc cooperation with other rioters rather than leadership throughout the event — that distinguished him from other defendants who (he suggested) should be detained, thereby limiting the guidelines laid out by CDC.

Bates’ decision on those points is absolutely fair. He has distinguished Klein from other January 6 defendants who, he judges, contributed more to the violence.

But there are two aspects of Bates’ decision I find shocking, especially from the guy who consistently deferred to Executive Authority on matters of national security and who sacrificed all of our communicative privacy in the service of finding hidden terrorist threats to the country. First, Bates dismissed the import of Klein’s sustained fight against cops because — he judged — Klein was only using force to advance the position of the mob, not trying to injure anyone.

The government’s contention that Klein engaged in “what can only be described as hand-to-hand combat” for “approximately thirty minutes” also overstates what occurred. See Gov’t’s Br. at 6. Klein consistently positioned himself face-to-face with multiple officers and also repeatedly pressed a stolen riot shield against their bodies and shields. His objective, as far as the Court can tell, however, appeared to be to advance, or at times maintain, the mob’s position in the tunnel, and not to inflict injury. He is not charged with injuring anyone and, unlike with other defendants, the government does not submit that Klein intended to injure officers. Compare Hr’g Tr. 57:12–18 (government conceding that the evidence does not establish Klein intended to injure anyone, only that “there was a disregard of care whether he would injure anyone or not” in his attempt to enter the Capitol), with Gov’t’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. to Reopen Detention Hearing & For Release on Conditions, ECF No. 30 (“Gov’t’s Opp’n to McCaughey’s Release”), United States v. McCaughey, III, 21-CR-040-1, at 11 (D.D.C. Apr. 7, 2021) (government emphasizing defendant’s “intent to injure” an officer who he had pinned against a door using a stolen riot shield as grounds for pretrial detention). And during the time period before Klein obtained the riot shield, he made no attempts to “battle” or “fight” the officers with his bare hands or other objects, such as the flagpole he retrieved. That does not mean that Klein could not have caused serious injury— particularly given the chaotic and cramped atmosphere inside the tunnel. But his actions are distinguishable from other detained defendants charged under § 111(b) who clearly sought to incapacitate and injure members of law enforcement by striking them with fists, batons, baseball bats, poles, or other dangerous weapons.

[snip]

Klein’s conduct was forceful, relentless, and defiant, but his confrontations with law enforcement were considerably less violent than many others that day, and the record does not establish that he intended to injure others. [my emphasis]

Bates describes that Klein wanted to use force in the service of occupying the building, not harming individual cops.

Of course, using force to occupy a building in service of halting the vote count is terrorism, but Bates doesn’t treat it as such.

Even more alarmingly, Bates flips how Magistrate Zia Faruqui viewed a government employee like Klein turning on his own government. The government had argued — and Faruqui agreed — that when a federal employee with Top Secret clearance attacks his own government, it is not just a crime but a violation of the Constitutional oath he swore to protect the country against enemies foreign and domestic.

Bates — after simply dismissing the import of Klein’s admittedly limited criminal history that under any other Administration might have disqualified him from retaining clearance — describes what Klein did as a “deeply concerning breach of trust.”

The government also argues that “Klein abdicated his responsibilities to the country and the Constitution” on January 6 by violating his oath of office as a federal employee to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Id. at 24–25 (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 3331). The fact that, as a federal employee, Klein actively participated in an assault on our democracy to thwart the peaceful transfer of power constitutes a substantial and deeply concerning breach of trust. More so, too, because he had been entrusted by this country to handle “top secret” classified information to protect the United States’ most sensitive interests. In light of his background, Klein had, as Magistrate Judge Faruqui put it, every “reason to know the acts he committed” on January 6 “were wrong,” and yet he took them anyway. Order of Detention Pending Trial at 4. Klein’s position as a federal employee thus may render him highly culpable for his conduct on January 6. But it is less clear that his now-former employment at the State Department heightens his “prospective” threat to the community. See Munchel, 2021 WL 1149196, at *4. Klein no longer works for or is affiliated with the federal government, and there is no suggestion that he might misuse previously obtained classified information to the detriment of the United States. Nor, importantly, is he alleged to have any contacts—past or present—with individuals who might wish to take action against this country. [my emphasis]

Bates then argues that Klein’s ability to obtain clearance proves not that he violates oaths he takes (the government argument adopted by Faruqui), but that he has the potential to live a law-abiding life.

Ultimately, Klein’s history—including his ability to obtain a top-level security clearance—shows his potential to live a law-abiding life. His actions on January 6, of course, stand in direct conflict with that narrative. Klein has not—unlike some other defendants who have been released pending trial for conduct in connection with the events of January 6—exhibited remorse for his actions. See, e.g., United States v. Cua, 2021 WL 918255, at *7–8 (D.D.C. Mar. 10, 2021) (Moss, J.) (weighing defendant’s deep remorse and regret in favor of pretrial release). But nor has he made any public statements celebrating his misconduct or suggesting that he would participate in similar actions again. And it is Klein’s constitutional right to challenge the allegations against him and hold the government to its burden of proof without incriminating himself at this stage of the proceedings. See United States v. Lawrence, 662 F.3d 551, 562 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (“[A] district court may not pressure a defendant into expressing remorse such that the failure to express remorse is met with punishment.”). Hence, despite his very troubling conduct on January 6, the Court finds on balance that Klein’s history and characteristics point slightly toward release.

In short, Bates takes the fact that Klein turned on the government he had sworn to protect and finds that that act weighs in favor of release.

Bates judges that this man, whom he described as having committed violence to advance the goal of undermining an election, nevertheless finds that — having already done that — Klein does not pose an unmanageable prospective threat.

Therefore, although it is a close call, the Court ultimately does not find that Klein poses a substantial prospective threat to the community or any other person. He does not pose no continuing danger, as he contends, given his demonstrated willingness to use force to advance his personal beliefs over legitimate government objectives. But what future risk he does present can be mitigated with supervision and other strict conditions on his release.

Again, it’s not the decision itself that is troubling. It’s the thought process Bates used, both for the way Bates flips Klein’s betrayal of his oath on its head, and for the way that Bates views the threat posed by a man who already used force in an attempt to coerce a political end. And it’s all the more troubling knowing how Bates has deferred to the Executive’s claims about the nascent threat posed even by people who have not, yet, engaged in violence to coerce a political end.

Bates similarly showed no deference to the government’s argument that Larry Brock, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who also brought zip ties into the Senate chamber, should have no access to the Internet given really inflammatory statements on social media, including a call for “fire and blood” as early as November. Bates decided on his own that Probation could sufficiently monitor Brock’s Internet use, comparing Brock to (in my opinion) two unlike defendants to justify the decision. Again, the decision itself is absolutely reasonable, but for the guy who decided the government could monitor significant swaths of transnational Internet traffic out of a necessity to identify potential terrorists, for a guy who okayed the access of US person’s content with no warrant, it’s fairly remarkable that he hasn’t deferred to the government about the danger Brock poses on the Internet (to say nothing of Brock’s likely sophistication at evading surveillance).

Again, I’m not complaining about any of these opinions. The outcomes are all reasonable. It is genuinely difficult to fit the events of January 6 into our existing framework (and perhaps that’s a good thing). Plus, there is such a range of fact patterns that even in the Munchel opinion give force to the mob even while trying to adjudicate individuals’ actions.

But either because these discussions are public, or because we simply think about white person terrorism differently, less foreign, perhaps, than we do Islamic terrorism, the very same judges who’ve grappled with these questions for the past two decades don’t necessarily have the ready answers they had in the past.

FISA Judges January 6 cases

Lamberth:

Kollar-Kotelly:

Bates:

Walton:

Hogan:

Boasberg:

Contreras:


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.


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.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/fisa/