Technical Glitches and Minimization

A number of you sent me this Eric Lichtblau story describing how, because of a "technical glitch," the FBI accidentally got all the emails going to one domain, rather than just the emails to and from their particular target.

A technical glitch gave the F.B.I. access to the e-mail messages from an entire computer network — perhaps hundreds of accounts or more — instead of simply the lone e-mail address that was approved by a secret intelligence court as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal report of the 2006 episode.

F.B.I. officials blamed an “apparent miscommunication” with the unnamed Internet provider, which mistakenly turned over all the e-mail from a small e-mail domain for which it served as host. The records were ultimately destroyed, officials said.

Bureau officials noticed a “surge” in the e-mail activity they were monitoring and realized that the provider had mistakenly set its filtering equipment to trap far more data than a judge had actually authorized.

The episode is an unusual example of what has become a regular if little-noticed occurrence, as American officials have expanded their technological tools: government officials, or the private companies they rely on for surveillance operations, sometimes foul up their instructions about what they can and cannot collect.

The problem has received no discussion as part of the fierce debate in Congress about whether to expand the government’s wiretapping authorities and give legal immunity to private telecommunications companies that have helped in those operations.

But an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because surveillance operations are classified, said: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen. It’s not weekly, but it’s common.”

My response to this is sort of similar to Kagro X’s (and given all my posts about minimization, I would certainly take issue with Lichtblau’s assertion that "the problem has received no discussion"). This story illustrates why minimization is every bit as important in the FISA discussion as immunity.

Hmm. Minimization. That rings a bell. What was it?

Oh yeah! The FISA fight in the Senate! Minimization was a concern because the Senate bill pretty much gave the government a free hand to suck up every phone call, e-mail, text message, etc. there is, and — amazingly enough — had to be amended on the floor in order to even approach a proper handling of minimization concerns. Read more

Ode to Donna Edwards’ Wheaties

I don’t actually know that this sudden outbreak of spine and seemingly coordinated messaging among Democrats is the result of seeing Donna Edwards kick a Democratic incumbent’s behind, but she’s a great person and might as well get the credit. Here’s Silvestre Reyes:

Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

[snip]

If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don’t have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations– including al Qaeda– that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized.

The issue of telecom liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

[snip]

I urge you, Mr. President, to put partisanship aside and allow Republicans in Congress to arrive at a compromise that will protect America and protect our Constitution.

I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won. [my emphasis]

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Will The House Honor Their Oath To Office, Or Follow The Senate’s Lead And Cave To Fear?

Some of us, okay, I am referring to myself, thought that FISA was cooked yesterday (really, I have thought this from the second they announced the unanimous consent agreement and bi-partisan extension baloney) and that the fork might as well be stuck in. As I said in the last thread,

…the House is putting on what appears to be a better showing than the Senate, but I have no doubt that it is all kabuki and the deal is done. I am pretty much positive that Pelosi, Hoyer and Boehner have their skids all greased and did so in conjunction with Hanoi Harry and the Senate Stumblebums. It is good to keep in mind that ALL of the representatives are up for election (only a third, give or take a few, of the Senate), so they have a vested interest in putting on a show. When the curtain closes, the final act will have been the same though.

Remember, we thought there was at least a fighting chance in the Senate, and then all those eloquent and moving words by Chris Dodd, all followed by a whopping 29 Senators having the one ethical bone in their bodies to protect the constitution. Depressing. There is no way the House is going to squelch this after the Senate did that.

I still believe that analysis, but I will have to say that the House has put on a better show today than I expected, even after seeing the John Conyers letter issued evidencing that a little fight might be left in the old boys after all.

Cboldt had this to say last Saturday about the interplay between the Senate and House:

This latest push by the progressives, plus the fact that they have another extension ready, give me a little hope; but not much

The number of signatories, and their general “place” in the hierarchy of power, inclines me to think they are being “humored.” Their objection and voice can’t be blocked, and while it’s good to let them express their point of view, I’m not sure there is enough weight of objection in the House as a whole.

Yes, the right things are being said. But not by many.

The procedural details are in accord with the substantive material (e.g., contents of amendments, UC agreement) and a vote breakdown that heavily favors capitulation to the DNI demands. I wouldn’t be shocked if there was another extension, as a token political concession to the objectors, but I don’t expect Congress to send another extension to the WH.

I Read more

Roll Call–Then and Now

Phred asked what we had accomplished with all our work in the last five months. I’ve got a more specific post (among other things, calling out my Senator Stabenow for another one of her ridiculously bad votes). But for now, here are Democrats who voted for the Protect America Act, in August (bold are those who voted differently today; final vote was 60-28-12):

Bayh (D-IN)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Conrad (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Salazar (D-CO)
Webb (D-VA)

And here are the Democrats who voted for S.2248 today (bold are those who changed their vote since August; underline did not vote in August; final vote was 68-29-3).

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Conrad (D-ND)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

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FISA: On to the House

Sorry I missed all the misery on FISA votes today. Though I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed the Senate committing collective hari kari again.

Which, of course, sends FISA back to the House. The Blue Dogs are no doubt ready to bend over for Bush. Again. But John Conyers isn’t going to go quietly. He sent Fred Fielding a long "to do" list, some of it relating to requests going

First, please provide access to all Members of the House Judiciary Committee those briefings and materials you have made available to 19 Members as of now. Currently, it is my understanding that the entire membership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been permitted to be “read in” to the TSP program. The only Committee of jurisdiction that has not been offered the same access is the House Judiciary Committee. This is unacceptable and serves little purpose but to impede our Members review of the program and understanding of your request for retroactive amnesty.

Second, please provide the Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States. It is believed that this Memorandum is dated either October 17, 2001, or October 23, 2001. Based on the title of this document, and based on the contents of similar memoranda issued at roughly the same time, it appears that a substantial portion of this Memorandum provides a legal determination and analysis as to the nature and scope of the Presidential war powers to accomplish specific acts within the United States. Congress is entitled to know the executive branch’s interpretation of its constitutional powers.

Third, please provide copies of filings, correspondence or transcripts of colloquies with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about TSP or other warrantless or other electronic surveillance programs, containing legal analysis, arguments, or decisions concerning the interpretation of FISA, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force enacted on September 18, 2001, or the President’s authority under Article II of the Constitution.

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FISA Liveblog And Trash Talk Thread Tuesday 2/12/08

Another day, another sellout. That may actually be a good question to ask to ask any Congresscritter you can get your hands on, or voice to, over the next eight months. "What was you personal price for selling out the Constitution and my privacy? As a taxpaying constituent and citizen, I am entitled to an honest answer; what was your price?" What are the odds that even one single critter gives an honest answer? About zero is my guess. Document the atrocities as you see them today, I will be in and out, as I believe Marcy will be. A good lawyer always makes a record for appeal, even when he or she is losing miserably. So, make a record; Phred demands it! Because we are certainly going to be appealing what our Senate, and Congress, is doing to us and our Constitution by their cancerous and derelict actions on FISA.

George Bush’s “Perfect Crime”

You guys are chatty, so I thought I’d put up some of the Feingold speech you’ve been talking about.

The telephone companies and the government have been operating under this simple framework for 30 years. The companies have experienced, highly trained, and highly compensated lawyers who know this law inside and out.

In view of this history, it is inconceivable that any telephone companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program did not know what their obligations were. And it is just as implausible that those companies believed they were entitled to simply assume the lawfulness of a government request for assistance. This whole effort to obtain retroactive immunity is based on an assumption that doesn’t hold water.

And quite frankly, the claim that any telephone company that cooperates with a government request for assistance is simply acting out of a sense of patriotic duty doesn’t fare much better. Just recently, we learned that telecommunications companies have cut off wiretaps when the government failed to promptly pay its bills. The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a report last month finding that, quote, "late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence." Since when does patriotic duty come with a price tag? Evidently, assisting the government’s criminal and intelligence investigation efforts fell somewhere below collecting a paycheck on the companies’ list of priorities.

Mr. President, some of my colleagues have argued that the telephone companies alleged to have cooperated with the program had a good faith belief that their actions were in accordance with the law. But there is an entirely separate statute, in addition to the certification provision, that already provides telephone companies with a precisely defined good faith defense. Under this provision, which is found in section 2520 of title 18, if the companies rely in good faith on a court order or other statutory or legislative authorization, they have a complete defense to liability. This is a generous defense, Mr. President. But as generous as it is, it is not unlimited. A court must find that the telephone company determined, in good faith, that there was a judicial, legislative, or statutory authorization for the requested assistance.

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FISA Liveblog And Trash Talk Thread Monday 2/11/08

RevDeb and Selise ask for a forum for discussion of the FISA debate currently on CSPAN-2; who am I to say no? Discuss away my fine friendlies…….

Don’t Gag Ma Bell

I’ve been dissing my Congressman John Dingell by not pointing to the letter he, Bart Stupak (also from Michigan) and Edward Markey sent their colleagues about the FISA bill. But it raises an issue that deserves more attention. After discussing the rationales for telecom immunity, they point out,

For the past five months this Committee has asked, in a bipartisan manner, the phone companies and the Administration to explain whether they acted outside the bounds of the law and what would justify Congress telling a Federal judge to dismiss all lawsuits against the phone companies. The phone companies respond that the Administration has gagged and threatened them with prosecution if they respond to our inquiries. When the Committee requested that the Administration either remove the gag or provide the Committee with the relevant information, the Administration repeatedly refused. Surprisingly, even at this late date, the Administration has not deemed it important enough to respond to our repeated inquiries or even to brief the Committee Members in closed session.

Understand, John Dingell is a long-time friend of the telecoms (and can muster an awesome lecture to constituents on telecom history on demand). And this is the crowd in the House that legislates on telecoms more generally.

Yet the Administration won’t let Ma Bell talk to them–at least not about her overwhelming need for immunity. The Republicans claim that, unless Ma Bell gets immunity, she’ll go out of business. But they won’t let her tell that to the legislators who know the telecom business best.

So it’s not just the Administration’s justifications for their illegal spying program they’ll show to only 20 or so members of Congress in each house. They won’t even let Ma Bell make her case herself. 

I’m traveling tomorrow through Wednesday, so I won’t be glued to the teevee to liveblog the FISA votes. But I’ll try to touch base as the Senate vote develops.

FISA Debate and Votes

Sounds like we’ve got two votes coming up–two roll call and two voice votes.

Feingold: Use limit. Gives FISC option to limit use of data collected illegally.

Bond: Recommend veto, reading from Mukasey/McConnell letter directly.

Jello Jay: This amendment would prevent dissemination of any US person data. No need to add another penalty. Amendment gives statute court whether non-disclosure is required. I oppose this amendment strongly.

Reid: Resume Feingold amendments, and time until 5:25 be for debate, and then vote.

Bond: Four minutes each for next vote.

Feingold: Respond to burden bc require govt to identify info about US persons. Kick in only if govt proposes to disseminate information, in which case minimization already requires govt to identify US person information. My amendment imposes no addition burden.

Bond: Makes no sense to exclude information simply becase [it was illegally gathered]. Calls for roll call.

DiFi hanging out with Jello Jay by the table. Read more

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