Conyers to Mukasey: So You Did Spin Shamelessly, Didn’t You?

(Updated with selise’s YouTube showing Leahy confronting Mukasey on his misrepresentation.) 

I really really like this letter Conyers, Nadler, and Scott sent to Attorney General Mukasey on his claim that they could have prevented 9/11 if only FISA hadn’t been preventing them. In it, they basically nail DOJ on its non-responsive response to their earlier letter asking about Mukasey’s claim. If you recall, the prior letter basically gave Mukasey a few choices: either Mukasey completely misunderstands FISA, the Administration withheld information from the 9/11 Commission, or the Administration screwed up.

These include a public statement by you that appears to suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the federal government’s existing surveillance authority to combat terrorism, as well as possible malfeasance by the government prior to 9/11,

The underlying truth that DOJ won’t admit, of course, is that Mukasey misrepresented the incident in an attempt to make a case for FISA that doesn’t actually hold up.

In an apparent attempt to avoid admitting Mukasey has been spinning wildly, DOJ wrote a non-responsive response back–it turned the question into a general question about FISA legislation, rather than specific question about whether Mukasey misrepresented the facts.

We are writing about the April 10, 2008, letter from Brian Benczkowski in response to our letter of April 3, 2008, concerning disturbing recent revelations about apparent pre-9/11 failures and subsequent abuses of civil liberties by the Administration. While we appreciate the promptness of the April 10 letter, we are extremely concerned about its failure to address several of our specific inquiries.


In addition, however, the April 10 letter does not respond to several of our requests. Our letter did not, as you characterize it, generally inquire “why FISA’s emergency provisions were not an adequate substitute for the authorities the Government has obtained under the Protect America Act.” Rather, our inquiry concerned the specific phone call about which you spoke. We asked whether the then-existing emergency provisions would have allowed interception of the specific call at issue, if indeed the foreign portion of the call was a known terrorist location. To the extent that your response set forth an argument for the PAA or the Administration’s preferred version of FISA reform, it was non-responsive to our request for information. Read more

Mark Schauer Condemns Bush’s and Walberg’s Fear-Mongering

Crazy wingnut Tim Walberg doesn’t yet realize what even the White House has realized–the fear mongering isn’t working any more. Here’s the op-ed Walberg wrote condemning Democrats because they insist on protecting Americans’ civil liberties and privacy.

House leadership will not support current FISA legislation because the bill would prevent trial lawyers from suing American telecommunications companies who cooperate with American intelligence agencies’ monitoring of foreign terrorist communications.

Recent news reports revealed that almost 40 lawsuits are pending against the very telecommunications companies who helped our country in a time of crisis. Gathering intelligence to defend America’s national security has never been and should never be a political issue.

It is shameful that some in Washington place the ability of trial lawyers to sue over national security. When American companies assist American intelligence agencies with monitoring foreign terrorist threats, they should be thanked, not sued.

We need the foreign intelligence surveillance law passed so America’s intelligence community can monitor al-Qaida and other terrorist networks without getting permission to listen to foreign terrorists plotting on foreign lands.

I guess Tim Walberg doesn’t even know that our intelligence community already has–and has always had–the ability "to monitor … al Qaeda without getting permission to listen to foreign terrorists plotting on foreign lands." If he doesn’t even know that most basic fact about FISA, then he surely doesn’t know that the reason the telecoms want immunity is because they agreed to spy on Americans based solely on the legal authorization of the White House Counsel–the President’s own lawyer!

Blue America is supporting Walberg’s challenger, Mark Schauer. Here’s what Mark has to say about FISA:

I’m Mark Schauer. Personally I’m tired of Tim Walberg and George W. Bush using fear about our national security to score cheap political points. Congress has passed legislation to ensure that tools are in place to protect our country’s safety, but Walberg and Bush seem more interested in protecting big corporations that have helped them listen to our phone calls, read our emails, violate our privacy, then they are about protecting law-abiding citizens. I believe our Constitution, and our rights, including our right to privacy, are worth fighting for. If our government or big corporations break the rules, they should be held accountable.

Support the guy who supports the Constitution, not more fear-mongering.

Warrantless Wiretap Memos Timeline

I laid out the OLC opinions described in the Steven Bradbury declaration to the ACLU. In this post, I’ll add in the other significant documents he describes. Note, Bradbury names four documents–OLC 56, 57, and 58, and OIPR 138–which are documents created by the President or his immediate staff, and so are not agency documents; he provides no description of these documents. There are, of course, a great number of documents withheld, which therefore have no description or date.

Materials not included in Bradbury’s memos are not bold.

October 4, 2001, from DAAG OLC to Alberto Gonzales: OLC 132,which consists of two copies, one with handwritten comments and marginalia, of a 36-page memorandum, dated October 4, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC to the Counsel to the President, created in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views regarding what legal standards might govern the use of certain intelligence methods to monitor communications by potential terrorists.

October 21, 2001, from Ashcroft to Mueller: FBI 7 is a one-page memorandum, dated October 20, 2001, from the Attorney General to the Director of the FBI, advising the Director that certain intelligence collection activities are legal and have been appropriately authorized. The memorandum is classified TOP SECRET.

October 23, 2001, from Yoo and Delahunty to Alberto Gonzales: OLC 146, which is a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, and a Special Counsel, OLC, to the Counsel to the President, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity.

November 2, 2001, from DAAG OLC to John Ashcroft: OLC 131, which consists of two copies, both with underscoring and marginalia, of a 24-page memorandum, dated November 2, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC to the Attorney General, prepared in response to a request from the Attorney General for OLC’s opinion concerning the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.

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Was the October 23, 2001 OLC Opinion the Basis for the Illegal Wiretap Program?

By now, you’ve noted the footnote in the Torture Memo referencing a different OLC opinion declaring the 4th Amendment invalid.

[O]ur office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See 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, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25 (Oct. 23, 2001).

Scribe and I have been in a bit of a dispute whether or not that October 23, 2001 document was written to justify the illegal wiretapping program. I’m going to try to lay out what we know about it here.

The Case for Believing the 10/23/01 Memo Authorized the Warrantless Wiretap Program

The basis for arguing that the opinion is the rationale for the illegal wiretapping program is simple. First, the timing is right. As the AP notes, the opinion was written just two days before Dick briefed the Gang of Four on the program.

The October memo was written just days before Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, briefed four House and Senate leaders on the NSA’s secret wiretapping program for the first time.

Then there’s the argument that DOJ included the document in a list of materials withheld in response to an ACLU FOIA.

The government itself related the October memo to the TSP program when it included it on a list of documents that were responsive to the ACLU’s request for records from the program. It refused to hand them over.

The document they’re referring to is this Steven Bradbury declaration. In the declaration, Bradbury writes,

OLC 146, which is a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, and a Special Counsel, OLC, to the Counsel to the President, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity OLC 146 is withheld under FOIA Exemption Five.

I’m going to add an update below, showing the other OLC documents Bradbury withheld in this declaration. But note that this one does not specifically address communications (some of the others do).

The last reason it would make sense is the content. By all appearances, the warrantless wiretap program is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. Thus, it would be logical that the Administration simply invalidated the Fourth Amendment in an OLC opinion to make its illegeal wiretap program legal.

Update: Here’s part of scribe’s logic for arguing the opinion relates to domestic spying (click through to the comment for his complete argument).

The NSA is part of the military .

The title of Yoo’s 10/23/01 memo is, what: “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States”

But the proposition for which that memo is cited* in footnote 10 of the memo is:

Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court’s treatment of the destruction of property for the purposes of military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.

So, what does this mean? Depends on how you define “domestic military operations”, don’t it?

I argue the 10/23/01 memo was the lawyerly justification for:

(a) NSA (military) wiretapping and surveillance operations inside the United States;
(b) domestic military operations of the intel-gathering sort – e.g., CIFA, physical surveillance, black-bag jobs, etc.;
(c) the incarceration of suspected terrists in military brigs, regardless of citizenship status (e.g., Jose Padilla, etc.), their removal from the civilian criminal justice system and their transportation from place to place;
(d) when done by the military, the odd kidnapping, interrogating, whacking of suspected terrists who happened to be within the United States (none of which we know about actually having occurred, but which could have been deemed “legitimate” under the analysis we know about so far).

All of those things are military operations. 

The Case against Believing the 10/23/01 Memo Authorized the Warrantless Wiretap Program

But there are several reasons to believe the opinion has nothing to do with the warrantless wiretap program. Least credibly, there’s Tony Fratto’s insistence that it doesn’t.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Wednesday that the Fourth Amendment finding in the October memo was not the legal underpinning for the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

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The Joint Inquiry and Mukasey’s Call

Alright. Glenn has me intrigued by Michael Mukasey’s story about an intercept that–if it had been disseminated–might have prevented 9/11. So I’m going to flog it for a couple more posts. As a reminder, here’s the story that Mukasey has apparently heard, Zelikow doesn’t recognize, and Conyers has not heard.

And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.

As I pointed out in this comment, Mukasey tells a similar (thought not exactly the same) story in his and Mike McConnell’s letter to Harry Reid listing which FISA amendments would have incurred a veto threat (I think this story was also actually used in the debate in the Senate, though that’s going to have to wait for a later post).

The Joint Inquiry has learned that one of the future hijackers communicated with a known terrorist facility in the Middle East while he was living the United States. The Intelligence Community did not identify the domestic origin of those communications prior to September 11, 2001, so that additional FBI inevstigative efforts could be coordinated.

Before moving on, note the key difference here: Mukasey’s weepy story has the person in the US receiving a call from an Afghan safe house. The Joint Inquiry was told the US person called the known terrorist facility. That may have import as we move forward–but for now, just keep in mind that little discrepancy.

Also note the reference is somewhat vague. When did this intercept come in? Which hijacker did it involve? Did the Joint Inquiry see the intercept itself, or did they just "learn" about it, as the passage implies?

To see if I could clarify those issues, I decided to look at the Joint Inquiry to see precisely what it said about this intercept that could have prevented 9/11 (see page 36 of the PDF). From the context, it is clear the members and staffers from both intelligence committees–who conducted this inquiry–believed that the NSA had all the legal authority it needed to collect this intercept.

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Jane Harman v. Jello Jay: Compare and Contrast

Jane Harman explained her response to the warrantless wiretap program over at TPMCafe. I’m interested in it not so much to determine whether Eric Licthblau or she is right about whether she "switched her view" on the program (I think Harman is actually too sensitive to the charge; as she tells it, she did drastically change her view, but not because of the publicity of Lichtblau’s reporting, but because of the new information she learned from it; though after writing this post, I’m a little sympathetic to Lichtblau’s claim). Rather, I’m interested in the contrast Harman’s narrative presents with what we know of Jello Jay’s evolving views toward the illgeal wiretapping program. After all, Harman and Jello Jay apparently learned of the program in the same briefing (Harman had just replaced Pelosi as Ranking Member on HPSCI; Jello Jay had replaced Graham as the top Democrat on SSCI). But the two have apparently taken dramatically different trajectories in their positions on the program, and the comparison offers an instructive view on oversight.

The First Harman/Jello Jay Briefing: January 29, 2003

Harman provides this description of the January 29, 2003 she and Jello Jay received (along with Pat Roberts, then SSCI Chair, and Porter Goss, then HPSCI Chair):

When I became Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, I was included for the first time in highly classified briefings on the operational details of an NSA effort to track al Qaeda communications using unique access points inside the US telecommunications infrastructure. The so-called “Gang of Eight” (selected on the basis of our committee or leadership positions) was told that if the terrorists found out about our capability, they would stop using those communications channels and valuable intelligence would dry up (which had happened before).

This program was so highly classified that I could discuss it with no one, not even my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee or the committee’s professional staff. (See p. 169 of the Lichtblau book.) And I was assured that it complied with the law and that the senior-most officials in the Justice Department conducted a full legal review every 45-60 days.

At that point, then, she and Jello Jay appear to have learned that:

  • The US was tracking Al Qaeda communication via US-based access points
  • The program was legal and was reviewed regularly by top Justice Department officials

If Harman’s description is accurate, it suggests the Administration gave a very distorted view of the program. Read more

It Turns Out There Was No Wolf

Even as Mike McConnell is making ham-handed attempts to prove his good faith with Democrats, the White House is facing up to the fact that its fear-mongering no longer works.

The White House, seeking to break a months-long standoff, has signaled to Democratic lawmakers it is open to negotiation over a proposal to expand government spy powers, according to officials familiar with the conversations.


Over the two-week spring recess, administration officials contacted Democratic leaders to suggest they were open to compromise on updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "We definitely want to get it done," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "We’ve had some initial conversations with Congress about the need to get FISA reform done quickly." He added that Mr. Bush still prefers the Senate measure, which the White House negotiated with Senate Democrats.


The White House’s more conciliatory posture reflects a recognition that the Bush administration’s leverage on national-security matters has slipped since this past summer, a top Republican congressional aide said. "There’s a recognition that if they’re actually going to get a product they can support, there’s going to have to be some new level of engagement," the aide said.

For months, the White House has tried to replicate its performance last August, when Republicans outmaneuvered Democrats and forced passage of a temporary expansion of domestic spy powers. Republicans then tried to use the temporary law’s expiration date to force Democrats to accept a permanent expansion. But since the law expired Feb. 16, House Democrats have stood firm.

Democrats see the White House’s new tack as acknowledgment that their strategy failed. "Once they saw we had the votes in the House for something other than the Senate bill, they saw the writing on the wall," said one Democratic aide. "They’re more willing to reach out and begin those conversations." [my emphasis]

We’re not there yet on a reasonable FISA bill. After all, Mukasey and McConnell are still plying dishonest claims. The Gorman article points to Steny Hoyer as the key player in the House, which seems logical–which means we’re still trying to persuade a moderate to stand firm.

But this is a good sign. If for no other thing, it suggests that Republicans are facing an election season, with a Presidential candidate who believes he should be elected solely because his Daddy was a big Admiral, finally recognizing the bankruptcy of its fear-mongering strategy.

The DNI Is Well-Meaning. Really. Except with Those He Claims Want No IC.

The LAT has an article on the acrimony between Mike McConnell and Democrats over FISA. In it, McConnell’s backers insist in his good faith in his negotiations with Democrats.

A spokesman for McConnell said that the director’s dealings with Congress were "always in good faith."

"He values the relationship with Congress," said the spokesman, Michael Birmingham. "He works at it, and he invites and welcomes the oversight they provide."


"I think the fact that it was open and argumentative at times was very positive," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). "I think he improved his relations [with the committee] just by communicating."


"I feel he’s an honorable person," Ruppersberger said. "Some of my peers feel he’s compromised. I would say that on the majority side, we were not happy with some of the positions he took."

But the article also lists the many attacks McConnell has made against Democrats. Apparently, in a secret meeting leading up to the House vote, Democrats aired those complaints. And McConnell responded by attacking HPSCI members for being insufficient cheerleaders for the Intelligence Community (I really do hope he attacked both parties equally, since Crazy Pete Hoekstra is one of the loudest critics of the Intelligence Community).

Democrats accused McConnell of making exaggerated claims and of doing the bidding of the Bush administration, according to officials who attended the event. McConnell bristled at the Democrats’ charges, and chastised members of the committee for failing to defend the intelligence community amid a barrage of bad press. [my emphasis]

Incidentally, can someone point out where in the Constitution it requires Congress to defend Executive Branch incompetence in the press? That McConnell would even make such a complaint reveals his rather stunted understanding of the role of Congress.

Given McConnell’s apparent attempt to make nice with Congress, though, I’m utterly mystified by the comments he made in a speech at his alma mater, Furman University in South Carolina, last Friday, about the negotiations with the Senate.

We had a bill go into the Senate. It was debated vigorously. There were some who said we shouldn’t have an Intelligence Community. Some have that point of view. Some say the President of the United States violated the process, spied on Americans, should be impeached and should go to jail. I mean, this is democracy, you can say anything you want to say. That was the argument made.

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Not Even John Yoo Approved of the Illegal Wiretap Program

I do hope that Eric Lichtblau’s book gets enough coverage this week to further stall Jello Jay’s attempts to ram through telecom immunity. The excerpt in the NYT today reveals that when the illegal wiretap program started in 2001, it had no specific legal authorization–not even from the compliant John Yoo!

Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, assured nervous officials that the program had been approved by President Bush, several officials said. But the presidential approval, one former intelligence official disclosed, came without a formal legal opinion endorsing the program by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

At the outset of the program in October 2001, John Ashcroft, the attorney general, signed off on the surveillance program at the direction of the White House with little in the way of a formal legal review, the official said. Mr. Ashcroft complained to associates at the time that the White House, in getting his signature for the surveillance program, “just shoved it in front of me and told me to sign it.”

Aides to Mr. Ashcroft were worried, however, that in approving a surveillance program that appeared to test the limits of presidential authority, Mr. Ashcroft was left legally exposed without a formal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, which acts as the legal adviser for the entire executive branch.

At that time, the office had already issued a broad, classified opinion declaring the president’s surveillance powers in the abstract in wartime, but it had not weighed in on the legality or the specifics of the N.S.A. operation, officials said.

The nervousness among Justice Department officials led the administration to secure a formal opinion from John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, declaring that the president’s wartime powers allowed him to order the N.S.A. to intercept international communication of terror suspects without a standard court warrant.

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Listening To You – Mukasey Plays The Emotion Card

The Bush Administration and their never say die FISA/Immunity push are like cockroaches. You can’t kill em, and they never go away. Well, they’re back again. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has graduated from DC water carrier to full fledged traveling snake oil salesman for the Cheney/Bush Administration and their sordid attempts to cover their own criminal wrongdoing via retroactive immunity for telcos.

Last night, Mukasey spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and got so emotional in his desperate plea for retroactive immunity and unlimited snooping that he he welled up with tears in the process.

… Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America’s anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. "We got three thousand. … We’ve got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn’t come home to show for that," he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

Isn’t that special? Who from this Administration of criminals, fools and incompetents will cry for the Constitution that has been shredded? Who will lament the privacy of ordinary American citizens that has been lost? Who will shed a tear for the souls that have been tortured, beaten, extinguished and/or disappeared? That would be left to us I guess. There is no justice; just us.

Here, from the San Francisco Chronicle, are a few more highlights from Mukasey’s traveling minstrel show:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey defended the Bush administration’s wiretapping program Thursday to a San Francisco audience and suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could have been prevented if the government had been able to monitor an overseas phone call to the United States.
The government "shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody picks up a phone in Iraq and calls the United States," Mukasey said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the Commonwealth Club

Mukasey also defended President Bush’s insistence on retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that have cooperated with the administration’s surveillance program, in which phone calls and e-mails between U.S. citizens and foreign terrorist suspects were intercepted without warrants.

"They have cooperated," Mukasey said of the companies, without naming them. "It just ain’t fair to ask somebody to cooperate with the government" and face a lawsuit for substantial damages, he said.
If Congress denies the companies retroactive immunity, he said, the firms will withdraw their voluntary participation and the government will have to Read more