Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The DOJ IG’s office has made two sets of corrections to their Report on Carter Page, the first on December 11 (two days after its release) and a second on December 20 (eleven days after its release). Three of those corrections fix overstatements of their case against the FBI (but which don’t catch all their overstatements and errors in making that case). One correction explains that more information has been declassified (without explaining an inconsistent approach to Sergei Millian as compared with other people named in the Mueller Report). And one correction — one of the changes made Friday — fixes a legal reference.

Here’s that correction:

On page 57, we added the specific provision of the United States Code where the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is codified, and revised a footnote in order to reference prior OIG work examining the Department’s enforcement and administration of FARA.

The correction changed this passage

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by [FBI’s Cyber and Counterintelligence Division] and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Title 18 U.S.C. § 951, which makes it a crime to act as an agent of a foreign government without making periodic public disclosures of the relationship. 170

170 The FARA statute defines an “agent of a foreign government” as an individual who agrees to operate in the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official. 18 U.S.C. § 951(d).

To read like this:

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by CD and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., and 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Agents of Foreign Governments). 170

170 We have previously found differing understandings between FBI agents and federal prosecutors and NSD officials about the intent of FARA as well as what constitutes a “FARA case.” See DOJ OIG, Audit of the National Security Division~ Enforcement and Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Audit Division 16-24 (September 2016), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2016/al624.pdf (accessed December 19, 2019)

The error appears harmless on its face, just a minor citation error that conflated FARA with 951 in the original report. But both in this instantiation and in the IG Report as a whole, the error may totally undermine its analysis and, indeed, the analytical framework of this entire IG investigation. That’s because if the people conducting this analysis did not understand the difference between the two statutes — and the error goes well beyond the citation enhancement described in the correction, because it exhibits utter lack of knowledge that there are two foreign agent statutes — then the Report’s analysis on the First Amendment may be problematic (and almost certainly is with respect to Page).

As I’ve written at length and as the cited IG Report from 2016 explains, the boundary between 22 USC 611 (FARA) and 18 USC 951 (Foreign Agent), both laws about what makes someone a “foreign agent,” remains ambiguous. Maria Butina, Anna Chapman, and the Russians who tried to recruit Carter Page were prosecuted under 18 USC 951 (though often that gets charged as a conspiracy because proving it requires less classified evidence), Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Sam Patten pled guilty to FARA violations. Mike Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Kian, was charged with conspiring to file a false FARA filing and acting as a Foreign Agent, invoking both statutes in one conspiracy charge; partly because of the way he was charged and partly because Flynn reneged on his statements regarding their activities, Judge Anthony Trenga acquitted him after he was found guilty, which may suggest the boundary between the two will present legal difficulties for prosecuting such cases.

18 USC 951 is sometimes called “espionage light,” though that phrase ignores that DOJ will often charge a known foreign spy under 951 — like the SVR (foreign intelligence) agents who tried to recruit Page — because proving it requires far less classified information. It requires the person be working on behalf of a foreign government, not just a foreign principal, and can but does not necessarily include information collection. FARA, however, only requires a person to be working on behalf of a foreign principal (which might be a political party or a company), and generally pertains to political influence peddling (it includes political activities, lobbying, and PR in its definitions, along with some financial stuff). 18 USC 951 will more often be clandestine, though as Butina’s case shows, it does not have to be, whereas FARA may cover activities that are overt if the person engaging in them does not register properly. A recent Lawfare post describes how DOJ’s superseding indictment of the Internet Research Agency relies on an interesting and potentially troubling new application of FARA.

In Mueller’s description of how the two laws might be applied criminally, he suggests 951 does not require willfulness, but a criminal violation of FARA would.

The Office next assessed the potential liability of Campaign-affiliated individuals under federal statutes regulating actions on behalf of, or work done for, a foreign government.

a. Governing Law

Under 18 U.S.C. § 951, it is generally illegal to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without providing notice to the Attorney General. Although the defendant must act on behalf of a foreign government (as opposed to other kinds of foreign entities), the acts need not involve espionage; rather, acts of any type suffice for liability. See United States v. Duran, 596 F.3d 1283, 1293-94 (11th Cir. 2010); United States v. Latchin, 554 F.3d 709, 715 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. Dumeisi, 424 F.3d 566, 581 (7th Cir. 2005). An “agent of a foreign government” is an ” individual” who “agrees to operate” in the United States “subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official.” 18 U.S.C. § 951 ( d).

The crime defined by Section 951 is complete upon knowingly acting in the United States as an unregistered foreign-government agent. 18 U.S.C. § 95l(a). The statute does not require willfulness, and knowledge of the notification requirement is not an element of the offense. United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980, 998-99 (11th Cir. 2008); Duran, 596 F.3d at 1291-94; Dumeisi, 424 F.3d at 581.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) generally makes it illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal by engaging in certain (largely political) activities in the United States without registering with the Attorney General. 22 U.S.C. §§ 611-621. The triggering agency relationship must be with a foreign principal or “a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). That includes a foreign government or political party and various foreign individuals and entities. 22 U.S.C. § 611(6). A covered relationship exists if a person “acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant” or “in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the [foreign principal’s] direction or control.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). It is sufficient if the person “agrees, consents, assumes or purports to act as, or who is or holds himself out to be, whether or not pursuant to contractual relationship, an agent of a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(2).

The triggering activity is that the agent “directly or through any other person” in the United States (1) engages in “political activities for or in the interests of [the] foreign principal,” which includes attempts to influence federal officials or the public; (2) acts as “public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal”; (3) ” solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal”; or ( 4) “represents the interests of such foreign principal” before any federal agency or official. 22 U .S.C. § 611 ( c )(1 ).

It is a crime to engage in a “[w]illful violation of any provision of the Act or any regulation thereunder.” 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(l). It is also a crime willfully to make false statements or omissions of material facts in FARA registration statements or supplements. 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(2). Most violations have a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. 22 U.S.C. § 618. [my emphasis]

So back to the DOJ IG Report. As the revised footnote notes, at least until 2016, the FBI used the same case number for FARA and 951 cases. That probably makes sense from an investigative standpoint, as it’s often not clear whether someone is working for a foreign company or whether that company is a cut-out hiding a foreign government paymaster (as the government alleged in Flynn’s case). But it makes tracking how these cases get investigated more difficult, and obscures those cases where there’s a clear 951 predicate from the start.

The original text of this passage of the IG Report suggests that at least the person who wrote it — and possibly the entire DOJ IG team investigating this case — were not aware of what I’ve just laid out, that there’s significant overlap between 951 and FARA, but that clear 951 cases and clear FARA cases will both use this case designation. That’s important because one of these statutes involves politics (and so presents serious First Amendment considerations), whereas the other one does not have to (and did not, in Carter Page’s case).

It’s unclear whether this error was repeated in several other places in the Report. The passage describing how the individualized investigations were opened says these were all FARA cases:

After conducting preliminary open source and FBI database inquiries, intelligence analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team identified three individuals–Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn–associated with the Trump campaign with either ties to Russia or a history of travel to Russia. On August 10, 2016, the team opened separate counterintelligence FARA cases on Carter Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, under code names assigned by the FBI. On August 16, 2016, a counterintelligence FARA case was opened on Flynn under a code name assigned by the FBI. The opening ECs for all four investigations were drafted by either of the two Special Agents assigned to serve as the Case Agents for the investigation (Case Agent 1 or Case Agent 2) and were approved by Strzok, as required by the DIOG.

But if the person writing this did not know that a “foreign agent” case might be FARA, 951, or both, then it would mean this passage may misstate what the investigations were.

And the analysis over whether the investigation was appropriately predicated uses just FARA.

The FBI’s opening EC referenced the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and stated, “[b]ased on the information provided by [the FBI Legal Attache], this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

In other words, it seems that this entire report is based on the assumption that the FBI was conducting an investigation into whether these four men were engaged in influence peddling that should have been registered and not also considering whether they were acting as clandestine agents for Russia.

That certainly appears to be the case for some of these men. For example, the first known warrant investigating Paul Manafort — which was focused on his Ukrainian work — listed only FARA, not 951. The derogatory language on George Papadopoulos speaks in terms of explicit, shameless influence peddling (which I’ll review in a follow-up post).

That said, the predication of the Flynn investigation would have included his past ties to the GRU, the agency that had hacked the DNC, and non-political relationships with Russian companies RT, Kaspersky, and Volga-Dnepr Airlines. He notified the Defense Intelligence Agency of all those things, though the government claims some of his briefings on this stuff includes inculpatory information. And he excused his payments from other Russian sources because his speakers bureau, and not Russia itself, made the payments, which might be considered a cut-out.

When Mueller got around to describing his prosecutorial decisions about these four men, he described both statutes (and explained that the office found that Manafort and Gates had violated FARA with Ukraine, Flynn had violated what it calls FARA with Turkey but elsewhere they’ve said included 951, and there was evidence Papadopoulos was an Agent of Israel under either 951 or FARA but not sufficient to charge.

Finally, the Office investigated whether one of the above campaign advisors-George Papadopoulos-acted as an agent of, or at the direction and control of, the government of Israel. While the investigation revealed significant ties between Papadopoulos and Israel (and search warrants were obtained in part on that basis), the Office ultimately determined that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction under FARA or Section 951

So it’s unclear whether the investigations into Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort really were just FARA cases when they began, or were 951.

But the language Mueller used to describe his declination for Page (which includes a redacted sentence about his activities) makes it sound like his FISA applications alleged him to be — as would have to be the case for a FISA order — an Agent of Russia, implicating 951.

On four occasions, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issued warrants based on a finding of probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801 (b ), 1805(a)(2)(A). The FISC’s probable-cause finding was based on a different (and lower) standard than the one governing the Office’s decision whether to bring charges against Page, which is whether admissible evidence would likely be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page acted as an agent of the Russian Federation during the period at issue. Cf United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 660 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ( explaining that probable cause requires only “a fair probability,” and not “certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence”).

Indeed, the IG Report provides abundant reason to believe this is the case. That’s because the FBI Field Office opened an investigation into Page in April 2016 based on a March 2016 interview pertaining exclusively to what are called “continued contacts” with SVR intelligence officers who tried to recruit him starting at least in 2009, interactions that they had been tracking for seven years.

An FBI counterintelligence agent in NYFO (NYFO CI Agent) with extensive experience in Russian matters told the OIG that Carter Page had been on NYFO’s radar since 2009, when he had contact with a known Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 1). According to the EC documenting NYFO’s June 2009 interview with Page, Page told NYFO agents that he knew and kept in regular contact with Intelligence Officer 1 and provided him with a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company. The EC stated that Page “immediately advised [the agents] that due to his work and overseas experiences, he has been questioned by and provides information to representatives of [another U.S. government agency] on an ongoing basis.” The EC also noted that agents did not ask Page any questions about his dealings with the other U.S. government agency during the interviews. 180

NYFO CI agents believed that Carter Page was “passed” from Intelligence Officer 1 to a successor Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 2) in 2013 and that Page would continue to be introduced to other Russian intelligence officers in the future. 181 In June 2013, NYFO CI agents interviewed Carter Page about these contacts. Page acknowledged meeting Intelligence Officer 2 following an introduction earlier in 2013. When agents intimated to Carter Page during the interview that Intelligence Officer 2 may be a Russian intelligence officer, specifically, an “SVR” officer, Page told them he believed in “openness” and because he did not have access to classified information, his acquaintance with Intelligence Officer 2 was a “positive” for him. In August 2013, NYFO CI agents again interviewed Page regarding his contacts with Intelligence Officer 2. Page acknowledged meeting with Intelligence Officer 2 since his June 2013 FBI interview.

In January 2015, three Russian intelligence officers, including Intelligence Officer 2, were charged in a sealed complaint, and subsequently indicted, in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation. 182 The indictment referenced Intelligence Officer 2’s attempts to recruit “Male-1” as an asset for gathering intelligence on behalf of Russia.

On March 2, 2016, the NYFO CI Agent and SDNY Assistant United States Attorneys interviewed Carter Page in preparation for the trial of one of the indicted Russian intelligence officers. During the interview, Page stated that he knew he was the person referred to as Male-1 in the indictment and further said that he had identified himself as Male-1 to a Russian Minister and various Russian officials at a United Nations event in “the spirit of openness.” The NYFO CI Agent told us she returned to her office after the interview and discussed with her supervisor opening a counterintelligence case on Page based on his statement to Russian officials that he believed he was Male-1 in the indictment and his continued contact with Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI’s NYFO CI squad supervisor (NYFO CI Supervisor) told us she believed she should have opened a counterintelligence case on Carter Page prior to March 2, 2016 based on his continued contacts with Russian intelligence officers; however, she said the squad was preparing for a big trial, and they did not focus on Page until he was interviewed again on March 2. She told us that after the March 2 interview, she called CD’s Counterespionage Section at FBI Headquarters to determine whether Page had any security clearances and to ask for guidance as to what type of investigation to open on Page. 183 On April 1, 2016, the NYFO CI Supervisor received an email from the Counterespionage Section advising her to open a [~9-character redaction] investigation on Page. The NYFO CI Supervisor said that [3 lines redacted] In addition, according to FBI records, the relevant CD section at FBI Headquarters, in consultation with OGC, determined at that time that the Page investigation opened by NYFO was not a SIM, but also noted, “should his status change, the appropriate case modification would be made.” The NYFO CI Supervisor told us that based on what was documented in the file and what was known at that time, the NYFO Carter Page investigation was not a SIM.

Although Carter Page was announced as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign prior to NYFO receiving this guidance from FBI Headquarters, the NYFO CI Supervisor and CI Agent both told the OIG that this announcement did not influence their decision to open a case on Page and that their concerns about Page, particularly his disclosure to the Russians about his role in the indictment, predated the announcement. However, the NYFO CI Supervisor said that the announcement required noting his new position in the case file should his new position require he obtain a security clearance.

On April 6, 2016, NYFO opened a counterintelligence [8-9 character redaction] investigation on Carter Page under a code name the FBI assigned to him (NYFO investigation) based on his contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his statement to Russian officials that he was “Male-1” in the SONY indictment.

181 CI agents refer to this as “slot succession,” whereby a departing intelligence officer “passes” his or her contacts to an incoming intelligence officer.

182 Intelligence Officer 3 pied guilty in March 2016. The remaining two indicted Russian intelligence officers were no longer in the United States.

183 CI agents in NYFO told us that the databases containing security clearance information were located at FBI Headquarters. When a subject possesses a security clearance, the FBI opens an espionage investigation; if the subject does not possess a security clearance, the FBI typically opens a counterintelligence investigation. [my emphasis]

I’ve discussed Page’s designation as a “contact approval” until 2013 by CIA here, though to reiterate, his last contact with the CIA was in 2011, and while they knew about his contacts with Alexander Bulatov, a Russian intelligence officer working under cover as a consular official in NY, they apparently did not know or ask him about his contacts with Victor Podobnyy. This previous relationship with the CIA absolutely should have been disclosed, but does not cover activity in 2015, when he would have discussed his inclusion in the Podobnyy/Evgeny Buryakov indictment with a person described as a Russian minister.

The NYFO believed they should have opened an investigation into Page even before the interview, on March 2, 2016, when he admitted telling Russians he was Male-1 in the indictment and (per the Mueller Report), said he “didn’t do anything,” perhaps disavowing any help to the FBI investigation. The IG Report notes that Page provided Intelligence Officer 1 (who must be Bulatov) a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company.” The Podobnyy indictment notes that Page provided Podobnyy — someone he knew to be a foreign intelligence officer — documents about the energy business. The NYFO CI Agent’s description of Page’s, “continued contact with Russian intelligence officers” seems to suggest the person described as a Russian Minister is known or believed to be an intelligence officer (otherwise she would not have described this as ongoing contact).

Notably, NYFO’s focus was not on whether Page was engaged in political activities, whether he was a Sensitive Investigative Matter (SIM) or not. Indeed, at the time they opened the investigation in April 2016, they didn’t know he had a tie to the Trump campaign.

Rather, their focus was on whether Page, whose deployments in the Navy included at least one intelligence operation, had a security clearance, because that dictated whether the investigation into him would be an Espionage one or a Counterintelligence one. The actual type of investigation remains redacted (the word cannot be either “counterintelligence,” because of length, or “espionage” because the article preceding it forecloses the word starting with a vowel), but it is described as a counterintelligence investigation. Given the nature of the non-public information Page shared, that redacted word may pertain to economic information, perhaps to either 18 USC 1831 or 1832. Even going forward, NYFO was primarily interested in whether he would obtain a clearance that would increase the risk that the information he was happily sharing with known Russian intelligence officers would damage the US.

The counterintelligence case into Page was opened — and the FISA order targeting him was significantly predicated on — his voluntary sharing of non-public economic information with known Russian intelligence officers over a period of years. That’s almost certainly not a FARA investigation because at that point NYFO had no knowledge that Page was even engaging in politics.

And that’s important because of the IG Report’s analysis of whether and how obtaining a FISA order on Page implicated his First Amendment activities.

In its analysis of how FISA treats First Amendment activities, the Report includes the following discussion, once again citing FARA, relying on House and Senate reports on the original passage of FISA.

FISA provides that a U.S. person may not be found to be a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. 129 Congress added this language to reinforce that lawful political activities may not serve as the only basis for a probable cause finding, recognizing that “there may often be a narrow line between covert action and lawful activities undertaken by Americans in the exercise of the [F]irst [A]mendment rights,” particularly between legitimate political activity and “other clandestine intelligence activities. “130 The Report by SSCI accompanying the passage of FISA states that there must be “willful” deception about the origin or intent of political activity to support a finding that it constitutes “other clandestine intelligence activities”:

If…foreign intelligence services hide behind the cover of some person or organization in order to influence American political events and deceive Americans into believing that the opinions or influence are of domestic origin and initiative and such deception is willfully maintained in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, then electronic surveillance might be justified under [“other clandestine intelligence activities”] if all the other criteria of [FISA] were met. 131

129 See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1805(a)(2)(A), 1824(a)(2)(A).

130 H. Rep. 95-1283 at 41, 79-80; FISA guidance at 7-8; see also Rosen, 447 F. Supp. 2d at 547-48 (probable cause finding may be based partly on First Amendment protected activity).

131 See S. Rep. 95-701 at 24-25. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq., is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals such as a foreign government or foreign political party in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

The first citation to the House report says only that an American must be working with an intelligence service and must involve a violation of Federal criminal law, which may include registration statutes. The second citation says only that political activities should never be the sole basis of a finding of probable cause that a US person was an agent of a foreign power. Neither would apply to Carter Page, since the evidence against him also included sharing non-public information that had nothing to do with politics, and he shared that information with known intelligence officers.

The citation to the Senate report is a miscitation. The quoted language appears on page 29. The cited passage spanning pages 24 and 25, however, emphasizes that someone can only be targeted for activities that involve First Amendment activities if they involve an intelligence agency.

It is the intent of this requirement that even if there is some substantial contact between domestic groups or individual citizens and a foreign power, as defined in this bill, no electronic surveillance wider this subparagraph may be authorized unless the American is acting under the direction of an intelligence service of a foreign power.

With Page, the FBI had his admitted and sustained willingness to share non-public information with known intelligence officers, the Steele allegations suggesting he might be involved in a conspiracy tied to the hack and leak of Hillary’s emails, and his stated plans to set up a think tank that would serve as the kind of cover organization that would hide Russia’s role in pushing Page’s pro-Russian views.

The question of whether Page met probable cause for being a foreign agent doesn’t, in my mind, pivot on any analysis of First Amendment activities, because he had a clear, knowing tie with Russian intelligence officers with whom he was sharing non-public information. The question pivots on whether he could be said to doing so clandestinely, since he happily admitted the fact, if asked, to both the CIA and FBI. Both the Steele allegations (until such point, after his first application, that they had been significantly undermined) and Page’s enthusiasm to set up a Russian-funded think tank probably get beyond that bar.

And remember, for better and worse, this is probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The DOJ IG Report analysis all seems premised on assessing FARA violations, not violations of 18 USC 951. That may be the appropriate lens through which to assess the actions of Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort.

But the evidence presented in the report seems to suggest that’s a mistaken lens through which to assess the FISA application targeting Carter Page, the only Trump flunky who was so targeted. And given the evidence that at least some of the people who wrote the report did not understand how the two statutes overlap when they conducted the analysis, it raises real questions about whether all that analysis rests on mistaken understandings of the law.

Update: I’ve corrected the introduction of this to note that DOJ or FBI declassifies information, not DOJ IG.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

Horowitz

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

As part of my deep dive into the DOJ IG Report on the Carter Page FISA, I’ve tried to capture the key events in it, which are discussed in iterative fashion in the report so hard to understand. Note, too, that the much-touted 17 problems with the renewal applications include details that only were problematic on the last application; that doesn’t excuse the errors but it obscures what FBI might have done when.

2004-2007: Carter Page lives in Russia

2007: Bruce Ohr first meets Christopher Steele

2007: Carter Page’s ties with Intelligence Officer 1 begin

April 2008: Carter Page first meets with CIA

June 18, 2009: FBI interviews Carter Page about contact with Intelligence Officer 1, who says he has been in contact with CIA

Spring 2010: Michael Gaeta first meets Steele

Summer 2010: Steele introduces Gaeta to source who provides information on corruption in FIFA, leading to opening of that investigation

October 2010: Page tells CIA he met with Intelligence Officer 1 four times and was asked about another American

July 2011: Steele provides details of alleged conversation between Medvedev and Russian oligarch who bribed FIFA

July 2011: Page meets with CIA

2012: Steele introduces FBI to two British officials with information on FIFA

2013: Intelligence Officer 1 hands off Page to Victor Podobnyy

June 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy; Page says his acquaintance with Podobnyy was positive for him; Page says he hadn’t spoken with CIA in “about a year or so” (it was July 2011); Page never informed CIA of his contacts with another Intelligence Officer (probably Podobnyy)

August 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy, who admits he has met with Podobnyy since their last interview

October 2013: Steele provides information on 3 Russian oligarchs, including one of FBI’s most wanted fugitives

October 30, 2013: Gaeta opens him as a CHS

June 2015: Steele report quotes Kremlin official admitting to bribing FIFA

August 2015: Buryakov, Prodobnyy, and others indicted

September 2015: Fusion GPS starts working for Paul Singer

September 2015: Bruce Ohr and an FBI Agent meet with Deripaska

October 2015: Nellie Ohr begins to work for Fusion

January 2016: FBI opens money laundering investigation into Paul Manafort; Page joins Trump campaign as volunteer

January 25, 2016: Steele bills FBI for 7 meetings in prior year

March 2, 2016: FBI interviews Page in preparation for Victor Podonyy trial and learns he informed a Russian Minister and others at the UN he was identified in the indictment in “the spirit of openness”

March 21, 2016: Trump formally names Page a foreign policy advisor

April 1, 2016: Counterespionage Section advises NYFO to open an investigation on Page

April 6, 2016: NYFO opens investigation into Page (note, one reference to this says the investigation was opened on April 4)

May 2016: Simpson meets with Steele at a European airport and first discusses Trump project

May 16, 2016: Page requests permission from campaign to make trip to Russia

July 5, 2016: Midyear Exam closed; Steele meets with Gaeta and hands over Report 80

July 7 & 8, 2016: Page in Moscow

July 11 or 12, 2016: Page first meets Stefan Halper at a conference in London, though DOJ IG says that was not part of an FBI tasking

Around July 12, 2016: Steele follows up with Gaeta, who has not yet done anything with first report

July 13, 2016: Gaeta shares details from Report 80 with NYFO ASAC

July 19, 2016: Steele sends Gaeta Report 94

July 26, 2016: Australia shares info with “State” in in-person meeting

July 27, 2016: “State” passes on Australian tip to Legat in UK

July 28, 2016: Legat sends tip to Philadelphia Field Office, which passed it on to Cyber CI section at FBI HQ; Gaeta sends Reports 80 and 94 to NYFO

July 29, 2016: At meeting between Comey and McCabe where the Australian tip was discussed, both Carter Page and Manafort were mentioned

July 30, 2016: Both Ohrs meet with Steele

July 31, 2016: FBI opens Crossfire Hurricane

August 1, 2016: Peter Strzok and SSA 1 travel to London to interview Australian officials

August 3, 2016: NYFO discusses Steele Reports 80 and 94; Ohr reaches out to Gaeta

Early August, 2016: Former CHS describes investigative firm being hired by DNC and another individual to explore Trump’s longstanding ties to Russian entities; information gets shared with CH team

August 4, 2016: Gaeta sends NYFO Associate Division Counsel Reports 80 and 94; tells Ohr that’s what happened; Ohr reaches out to Bruce Swartz

August 10, 2016: FBI has a team for CH, opens case on Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort

August 11, 2016: CH team meets with Stefan Halper to talk possible Russian interference in the election (Papadopoulos was the first ask, then Halper brought up Page)

August 12, 2016: FBI pays Steele his last payment, for information provided to Cyber and CI Divisions unrelated to 2016 elections; CH team meets with Halper for general briefing about how campaigns work

August 15, 2016: FBI first considers FISA on Page

August 16, 2016: FBI opens case on Mike Flynn; OGC contacts Stu Evans about FISA

April 17, 2016: FBI receives information from CIA saying he had been approved as an operational contact for CIA from 2008 to 2013; SSA 1 attends Trump’s security briefing at which Flynn attended, reporting out an Electronic Communication on the briefing

August 20, 2016: Halper meets with Carter Page; Page denies ever having met Manafort, but talks about an October surprise where 33,000 emails may get dropped; SSA 1 documents August 17 briefing in an EC

August 22, 2016: OI tells Page case agent they’re not there yet for a FISA; Simpson contacts Ohr, provides names of three intermediaries; Ohr passes it on to Gaeta

August 25, 2016: McCabe instructs SSA 1 to contact NYFO for information related to the investigation

September 1, 2016: Stefan Halper meets Sam Clovis, gets a referral to Papadopoulos

September 2, 2016: SSA 1 trying to set up subfile for Gaeta to upload Steele reports

September 7, 2016: FBI briefing at White House on ongoing Russian interference operations

September 12, 2016: Ohr and Gaeta discuss Steele again

September 13, 2016: SSA 1 realizes email setting up subfile for Gaeta didn’t work

Setpember 15, 2016: Papadopoulos meets with Halper (and “Azra Turk”); issues denial of Russian related issues that CH deems to be a cover story

September 19, 2016: Gaetta sends Reports 80, 94, 95, 100, 101, and 102 to SSA 1

September 21, 2016: CH decides to apply for FISA for Page; Steele arrives in DC

September 22, 2016: FBI submits FISA request form and OI assigns line attorney to work with CH

September 23, 2016: Isikoff Yahoo story based on Steele; Case Agent 1 emails Gaeta to ask about Steele who provided a different description than the one used in the FISA application; Steele meets with Ohr where he pitches Deripaska

September 24, 2016: Nellie Ohr’s last day at Fusion; Carter Page “fired” from the campaign

September 27, 2016: Video conference call with Gaeta aiming to meet with Steele

September 28, 2016: OI asks if Page’s public claims to have provided information to CIA were true

September 29, 2016: OI asks whether it is true that Page had provided information to CIA

September 30, 2016: FBI submits expedited FISA application for Page (and also a request for a FISA targeting Papadopoulos); OI asks how subsources can be reliable

October 2016: Car runs over Page phone, destroys it

Early October 2016: CH team meets with Steele; he describes source believed to be Millian as a “boaster”

Early October 2016: CH assess Sergei Millian is Steele source, learns he is the subject of a counterintelligence investigation; learns he had “sustained” contact with Papadopoulos since at least August 2016

October 4, 2016: Possible date Papadopoulos left campaign

October 5 and 6, 2016: First draft of Page FISA application shared with OI and NSD management

October 6 or 7, 2016: FBI GC Jim Baker reviews application

October 7, 2016: Evans asks about Steele affiliation with any campaign

October 10, 2016: Case agent 1 provides only partly responsive answer to Evans on campaign affiliation; Papadopoulos sends text saying he was “no longer with the campaign”

October 11, 2016: Evans learns Steele was political opposition research; Steele meets with Winer and Kathleen Kavalec

October 12, 2016: Strozk and others brief Comey and McCabe abt Evans’ concerns

October 13, 2016: Kavalec emails FBI CD Section Chief Winger information about Alfa Bank and Trump; TOC-East tells Ohr CI agents have met with Gaeta

October 14, 2016: FBI changes Page FISA application to say Steele was not source for Isikoff story; Case Agent 2 writes CH informing them that Gaeta did not think Steele knew who was paying for his work; draft sent to Mary McCord for her review

October 17, 2016: McCord becomes Acting AAG for NSD; meeting with Halper where Page describes being given an “open checkbook” by Russian to open a think tank and maybe appearing on media to talk about Syria, but denies knowing Divyekin or meeting with Sechin, knowing about WikiLeaks role in hacked email release, or having any role in the change of platform; Papadopoulos sends text claiming he’s still with the campaign but only “laying low”

October 18, 2016: Taushina Gauhar and OI lawyer review application; McCord asks about Fusion’s payment and prudential question; urgent Steele call about sanctions on Rusal (IG Report says US, but it seems Ukrainian?); Ohr meets with McCabe and Lisa Page

October 19, 2016: Steele gives Gaeta Jonthan Winer dossier sourced to a friend (Blumenthal) who obtained it from a Turkish businessman with ties to Russia (including that FSB funneled payments through Azeri family, probably the Agalarovs); McCabe and Evans discuss the prudential question of targeting Page; OI signs out the application; Steele and Ohr talk

October 20, 2016: FISC legal advisor reviews the application; FBI conducts the Woods review; Comey signs the application

Third week of October, 2016: First meeting between CHS 3 and Papadopoulos where he raised Millian, said he was still “indirectly” with the campaign, and planned to travel to Russia the next summer

October 21, 2016: Yates First Carter Page FISA application submitted to FISC

End of October, 2016: Second meeting between CHS 3 and Papadopoulos, Papadopoulos lays out outlines of Mifsud ties, including someone “well connected to the Russian government” and Putin’s niece” and “the Ambassador in London;” also repeats his email denials to Halper  saying he believed he’d tell the CIA

October 31, 2016: MoJo story based on Steele

November 1, 2016: Gaeta first learns of MoJo story, calls and (in his last contact with Steele ever) confirms he spoke with David Corn for the story; warns Ohr about Steele

November 2016: Strzok and Priestap travel abroad to validate Steele, learn he has judgment issues

November 2016: SSA 1 requests Validation Review

November 6, 2016: CH receives Steele

Around November 8, 2016: Gaeta and Ohr meet in DC, where they discuss closing Steele; Ohr tells Gaeta that Nellie had worked at Fusion

November 14, 2016: Page submits application to Transition Team

November 16, 2016: Ohr meets with Bruce Swartz and Zainab Ahmad about Manafort investigation

November 17, 2016: Gaeta closes Steele as a source

November 18, 2016: FBI Liaison to State Department claims he first learned of Kavalec’s meeting with Steele

November 21, 2016: Ohr meets with State about Russian interference, where he and Kavalec discuss Steele, then later Strzok and others interview Bruce Ohr

November 29, 2016: In meeting on reauthorizing Page FISA, FBI still maintains Steele was not behind Yahoo News story

November 30, 2016: FBI memorandum explains that JD Gordan ensured the Ukraine platform did not change

December 2016: First reorganization of CH team

December 5, 2016: SSA 1 interviews Ohr, who provides Nellie Ohr’s Manafort timeline and provides more details about Steele’s outreach to the press

December 7, 2016: Ohr convenes a meeting on Deripaska, after which he discusses why the US would support working with Deripaska

December 8, 2016: Page in Moscow, claiming he is authorized to talk on behalf of Trump, including on Ukraine, per Konstantin Kilimnik [probably foldered] email to Manafort; Ohr calls Simpson to set up a meeting

December 9, 2016: McCain gives Comey set of Steele reports

December 10, 2016: Ohr receives thumb drive from Simpson, including Secretary of State report, reiterates focus on Sergei Millian

December 11, 2016: Simpson forwards article on Torshin and NRA, probably tells Ohr Steele spoke with Isikoff

December 12, 2016: SSA 1 interviews Ohr, obtains Ohr set of Steele reports

December 15, 2016: Ohr meets with Swartz, Strzok, and Lisa Page to bring a national security focus to Manafort’s money laundering investigation; Halper meets with Page, who describes declining invitations because of FBI investigation

December 16, 2016: McCabe fighting to include Steele information in ICA

December 19, 2016: Case Agent interviews Jim Baker about interactions with David Corn; Baker said Corn said Steele was passing information around town

December 20, 2016: Ohr gives SSA1 Nellie Ohr’s other Fusion work, which she has stripped of its Fusion headers

December 28, 2016: McCabe argues for putting Steele dossier in appendix; draft Page FISA renewal done

December 29, 2016: OI Attorney provides draft to Evans

December 30, 2016: OI Attorney provides read copy to Gauhar

January 3, 2017: Evans provides read copy to McCord

January 4, 2017: ODAG provides suggestions, believing the FISA yielded “relevant and useful information”

January 5, 2017: Clapper, Mike Rogers, John Brennan, and Comey brief ICA to Obama

January 6, 2017: Trump briefed on ICA, including dossier

January 10, 2017: BuzzFeed publishes Steele dossier; FISC says he’ll approve order

January 11, 2017: Clapper releases statement stating they had not made any judgment on reliability

January 12, 2017: Second Carter Page FISA application submitted to FISC, approved by Michael Mosman

January 25, 2017: Final meeting between Halper and Page; Page denies allegations in Steele dossier, tells of upcoming meeting with Steve Bannon

January 30, 2017: Dana Boente becomes AAG

January 2017 (shortly after 2nd Page FISA approved): FBI conducts an interview with Steele’s subsource

Early February 2017: Steele validation review resumes

February 2017: Supervisory Intel Analyst circulates a memo on interview with primary subsource

February 1, 2017: Ohr meets with Swartz, Ahmad, Weissman, Strzok, Lisa Page, and another FBI person about bringing financial analysts into Manafort investigation

February 9, 2017: Boente becomes Acting DAG

February 16, 2017: ODAG briefing reflects the Ohr’s ties with Steele and Fusion

March 2017: FBI conducts a second interview with Steele’s sub-source

March 2017: Supervisory Intel Analyst reviews original application for declassification

March 6, 2017: Notes from Boente briefing reflect Ohr’s efforts to re-energize Manafort case

March 10, 2017: Page interview with FBI

March 16, 2017: Page interview with FBI

March 20, 2017: Case agent provides additions to OI to being reauthorization process; FBI memo on JD Gordan

March 22, 2017: Notes from Boente meeting reflect knowledge of Weissmann, Swartz, and Ohr interest in Manafort case

March 23, 2017: Steele validation review completed, found him suitable for continued operation; case agent provided summary of subsource interview from January to OI

March 29, 2017: OI sent OGC draft of reauthorization

March 30, 2017: Page interview with FBI; OI sends draft to managers

March 31, 2017: Page interview with FBI; Boente becomes Acting AG overseeing CH

April 2017: NYFO obtains Page’s financial records

April 2017: Second reorganization of CH team

April 2, 2017: Gauhar gives draft application to Boente and Crowell

April 3, 2017: Boente approves application; Evans mails McCord application; in court filing, Steele admits he gave off-the-record briefings

April 5, 2017: Comey certifies

April 6, 2017: FISC pre-approves

April 7, 2017: Third Carter Page FISA application submitted to FISC; Anne Conway approves it

April 26, 2017: Rod Rosenstein confirmed DAG; Strozk circulates Steele admission among Intel personnel

May 2017: FBI conducts a third interview with Steele’s subsource, subsource says he or she has found zero corroboration for election reporting

May 1, 2017: In court filing Steele admits speaking to the press

May 17, 2017: CH transferred to Mueller

June 7, 2017: FBI interview with Platform Committee member confirms JD Gordon prevented the platform change

June 15, 2017L OGC emails liaison with CIA for clarity about Carter Page

June 16, 2017: First draft of renewal

June 19, 2017: Clinesmith sends an altered email to SSA 2

June 20, 2017: FBI first shares details of August 2016 Page denials (to Halper)

June 21, 2017: OI finishes draft

June 23, 2017: Read copy to FISC and ODAG

June 28, 2017: McCabe signs application

June 29, 2017: Fourth Carter Page FISA application submitted to FISC; Raymond Dearie approves

September 2017: Mueller’s team interviews Steele

September 22, 2017: Last day of FISA coverage on Carter Page

October 2017: The Ohrs informed Congress provided documents reflecting Nellie Ohr’s work at Fusion

November 28, 2017: SSCI asks for a briefing with Bruce Ohr

December 5, 2017: Crowell and Schools meet with Ohr about his 302s

December 6, 2017:: Crowell and Schools demote Ohr

December 20, 2017: Schools removes him as Director of OCDETF to avoid any coordination with the White House

January 4, 2018: Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham write the department about interviews of Ohr

March 28, 2018: OIG announces investigation

May 2018: OIG expands to include assessing whether FBI infiltrated Trump campaign; NSD learns of Papadopoulos’s September 2016 denials

July 12, 2018: NSD submits correction to FISC

October 25, 2018: George Papadopoulos testimony

January 31, 2019: Evans tells OIG he told Collyer they’d wait on the IG Report for further notice

May 10, 2019: NSD alerts FISC to two minimization violations

December 9, 2019: Release of the Report

December 17, 2019: Rosemary Collyer letter responding to report

 

Amy Berman Jackson Disputes Claims of “Exculpatory” Information on Russia and Ukraine

For all its import showing the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application, I’ll eventually show the DOJ IG Report  commits some of the same errors of inclusion and exclusion of important information that it accuses FBI of. Most importantly, it treats as exculpatory comments that George Papadopoulos made to Stephan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 when the FBI agents involved rightly (the record now confirms) suspected Papadopoulos’ answer was a cover story. Notably, Rosemary Collyer did not include the Papadopoulos comments in her letter to the government yesterday, suggesting she doesn’t think exclusion of those comments to be noteworthy.

Given Michael Horowitz’s focus on FBI’s withholding of exculpatory information (which they absolutely did, on a number of occasions), I find the focus of Amy Berman Jackson’s comments at Rick Gates’ sentencing hearing yesterday notable. (Thanks to CNN for culling these comments from the transcript.)

Some of the comments — including some focusing on Ukraine — seemed targeted at Republicans debating impeachment. For example, she emphasized that Gates’ information was not hearsay, and it implicated individuals associated with Ukraine and Russia.

Mr. Gates provided information — not hearsay, but information — based on his personal knowledge, meetings he attended, conversations in which he was a participant and information that was verified with contemporaneous records of numerous, undeniable contacts and communications between individuals associated with the presidential campaign, primarily but not only Manafort, and individuals associated with Russia and Ukraine.

ABJ likely recognizes, as I have emphasized, that Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik and its aftermath — including his booking $2.4 million from pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs eight days later — represents a clearcut case of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

She also takes a shot at those claiming there was no basis for the investigation into Russia, and suggests that obstruction successfully prevented prosecutors from charging the underlying coordination.

Gates’ debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest level of the United States Department of Justice — the United States Department of Justice of this administration — to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the known foreign interference in the election, as well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation, and to leave no stone unturned, no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation.

And she emphasizes that pursuing this investigation was critical for election security.

Gates’ information alone warranted, indeed demanded, further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws.

But there’s a line in here that seems directed at the discussion surrounding the IG Report.

One cannot possibly maintain that this was all exculpatory information. It included firsthand information about confidential campaign polling data being transmitted at the direction of the head of the campaign to one of those individuals to be shared with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia in its election interference started 3 days before Roger Stone spoke to Trump about how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. It started 5 days before Trump’s campaign manager met with Konstantin Kilimnik to explain how he planned to win the investigation, discussed carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking (an effort Manafort pursued for over a year afterwards), and how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. It started 11 days before Manafort booked $2.4 million in revenues — to be received in November — from his Ukrainian paymasters.

Again, ABJ has seen more of the underlying evidence from this investigation than anyone. And she sure seems to think that Bill Barr, Donald Trump, and Michael Horowitz are dismissing the seriousness of this investigation.

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Judge Rosemary Collyer just released a four page order responding to the DOJ IG Report showing problems with Carter Page’s FISA applications.

Before I explain the letter further, let me just explain for those who haven’t followed my FISA work. Collyer is the presiding judge of the court. Traditionally, it falls to the presiding judge to scold DOJ when things go haywire, and so it was to be expected that Collyer would write this. Collyer is nowhere near the most aggressive presiding judge in the court’s history (that honor might go to Reggie Walton, though Royce Lamberth was presiding when the Woods Procedures that weren’t followed here were introduced after he bitched about systematic problems). As an example, she wrote what I consider to be among the worst programmatic FISA opinions not written by a Dick Cheney flunkie, and she was reluctant to implement the new amicus mandated by Congress in the USA Freedom Act.

Predictably, while this is a sharp opinion, it’s not that onerous. She starts by spending a page explaining why candor is so important for the FISC, language that is probably for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the court. She cites three prior opinions complaining about lack of candor, just one of which I consider among the greatest hits.

She then reviews the problems laid out in the IG Report she considers most important, citing:

  • The failure to explain Carter Page’s past relationship with the CIA
  • Exaggerations about the degree to which Christopher Steele’s reporting had been corroborated
  • Contradictions of Steele’s claims made by his sub-source
  • Page’s denials he had worked closely with Paul Manafort
  • Page’s denials he knew the two Russians described in the Steele dossier
  • Details suggesting claims attributed to Sergei Millian in the dossier were unreliable

In addition, Collyer dedicates a paragraph to describing Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email to hide Page’s prior CIA relationship, alluding to a prior order in which she seems to have ordered a review of everything he had touched.

In addition, while the fourth electronic surveillance application for Mr. Page was being prepared, an attorney in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) engaged in conduct that apparently was intended to mislead the FBI agent who ultimately swore to the facts in that application about whether Mr. Page had been a source of another government agency. See id. at 252-56. The information about the OGC attorney’s conduct in the OIG report is consistent with classified submissions made to the FISC by the government on October 25, 2019, and November 27, 2019. Because the conduct ofthe OGC attorney gave rise to serious concerns about the accuracy and completeness of the information provided to the FISC in any matter in which the OGC attorney was involved, the Court ordered the government on December 5, 2019, to, among other things, provide certain information addressing those concerns.

In addition to ordering the declassification of that December 5 order, Collyer also ordered the FBI to explain, by January 10, what they’re going to do to fix the more general problem.

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application. In the event that the FBI at the time of that submission is not yet able to perform any of the planned steps described in the submission, it shall also include (a) a proposed timetable for implementing such measures and (b) an explanation of why, in the government’s view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable.

So she’s not calling for the FISC itself to do anything different. FBI will likely provide a plan implementing the FISC-based recommendations made by Michael Horowitz, as well as additional updates to the Woods Procedures.

This is, in the grand scheme of things, an order deferring to the government to fix the problem, not an order designed to impose new requirements (of the kind Lamberth himself ordered years ago) from the court until FBI proves it has cleaned up its act.

Which leaves it up to Congress to impose any more substantive fixes.

Days after America Learns to Hate FISA, Lev Parnas’ Co-Conspirator Focuses the Issue

During the first status hearing for Lev Parnas and his co-conspirators, the government stated clearly that no Title III wiretaps had been used in the case. I recognized at the time that didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t wiretapped. As people engaged in transnational political influence peddling, they were prime candidates to have been collected under FISA, either targeted at them or (under 702) their co-conspirators overseas.

I’m not the only one who noticed that. The lawyers for Andrey Kukushkin — who was indicted on the Nevada marijuana part of the grift, one that explicitly described funding from an unidentified Russian — have asked Judge Paul Oetken to make the government tell them whether their client or any of his co-conspirators (including unindicted co-conspirators) were the subject of any of various forms of surveillance, including 12333 and FISA. The government responded with the kind of non-denial that suggests it is quite likely one or some of these grifters (or their Russian unindicted co-conspirator) were collected under those authorities.

As we have previously told you, the Government did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in the course of this investigation. Additionally, the Government does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the other forms of surveillance identified in your letter.

Remember: The government doesn’t have to tell defendants who were targeted under FISA that they were so long as the government doesn’t rely on any evidence obtained under FISA in their prosecution. But Kukushkin seems to have a pretty clear suspicion that the government knows what he has said in his communications.

The government has said (including in a motion asking the court to revoke Parnas’ bail last night) that there are likely going to be follow-on charges. And Foreign Agent charges are the kind of thing you might expect given the way the grifters were funneling foreign money into politics. Which would mean they’re precisely the kind of people that FISA was envisioned for.

That said, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were in close contact with the President’s lawyer, and Parnas also spoke at key times to Devin Nunes (who consistently only cares about surveillance implicating him), John Solomon, and other people squealing when Adam Schiff revealed just their metadata.

So if FISA were used, a bunch of people who’ve just learned to hate FISA may have been incidentally collected in conversations with indicted fraudsters.

The thing is, Bill Barr has repeatedly said that he was briefed on this case and fully approved of it. Which means Barr may soon be in the position of defending a controversial FISA, one possibly approved under him or another Trump Attorney General.

Snowden Needs a Better Public Interest Defense: Disposing of the Journalist Filter

Some weeks ago, I wrote what was meant to be the second part of a three part review of Edward Snowden’s book, Permanent Record, in which I argued that his use of the Bildungsroman genre raised more questions than it answered about the timing of the moment he came to decide to reveal NSA’s files. I argued that the narrative did not present a compelling story that he had the maturity or the knowledge of the NSA’s files needed to sustain a public interest defense before the time he decided to take those files.

I’ve been struggling to write what was meant to be the first part of that review. That first part was meant to assess what I will treat as Snowden’s “cosmopolitan defense,” showing that his leaks have since been judged by neutral authorities to have revealed legal or human rights violations. As that first part has evolved, it has shifted into a more of a reflection on the failures of the surveillance community as a whole (and therefore my own failures) and of limits to an investment in whistleblowing as exposure. That part is not ready yet, but I hope the release of the FISA IG Report tomorrow will serve as a sounding board to pull those thoughts together.

But since this, the intended third part of the review, was mostly done, I wanted to release it to get it out of the way.

In addition to my other reactions about how this book fails to offer what Snowden has always claimed he wanted to do — offer a defense that he leaked the files in the public interest that could withstand cross-examination — this book harms the version of public interest defense Snowden has always offered. Snowden says that by sharing the NSA files with journalists, he made sure he wasn’t imposing his judgment for society. Given how unpersuasive his explanation for picking (especially) Glenn Greenwald as the journalist to make those choices is, which I addressed in my last post, and given Glenn’s much-mocked OpSec failures, there’s only so far Snowden can take that claim, because it’s always possible adversaries will steal the files or already have from journalists. The Intercept, in particular, went through very rigorous efforts to keep those files secure, but it took them some time to implement and that’s just one set of the files that are out there. 

Still, it is a claim that has a great deal of merit. It distinguishes Snowden from WikiLeaks. It mitigates a lot of concerns about the vast quantity of documents he took (or the degree to which they may relate to core national security concerns). I’m a journalist who once lost a battle to release Snowden documents that showed a troubling use of NSA authorities and who a second time chose not to rely on a Snowden document because its demonstrative value did not overcome the security damage releasing it might do. My experience working directly with the Snowden files is really quite limited and rather comical in its frustrations, but I will attest that there was a rigorous process put in place to protect the files and assess whether or not to publish them.

So I’m utterly biased about the value that journalists’ judgment might have served here. But if it ever comes to it, I will happily explain at length how Snowden’s choice to leak to journalists really does distinguish his actions.

Having made that argument, though, Snowden then violates precisely that principle by writing this book. 

There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the disclosures Snowden makes in this book. They pale in comparison to what got disclosed with his NSA files. Nevertheless, I’m certain that Snowden revealed things that have forced CIA to mitigate risks if they hadn’t already done so before the book came out. In particular, Snowden describes the infrastructure of four different IC facilities, mostly CIA ones, in a way that would be useful for adversaries. Sure, our most skilled adversaries likely already knew what he disclosed in the book, but this book makes those details (if they haven’t already been mitigated) accessible to a wider range of adversaries.

More curious still is what Snowden makes a big show of not disclosing. In the book, Snowden describes how he took the files. While he describes sneaking the NSA’s files out on SD cards, he pointedly doesn’t explain how he transferred the files onto those SD cards.

I’m going to refrain from publishing how exactly I went about my own writing—my own copying and encryption—so that the NSA will still be standing tomorrow.

If Snowden really is withholding this detail out of some belief that sharing it would bring the NSA down tomorrow, he effectively just put a target on his back, walking as that back is around Moscow, to be coerced to answer precisely this question. And if Snowden really believes this detail is that damaging to the NSA, his assurances that he destroyed his encryption key to the files before he left Hong Kong and so could not be coerced, once he arrived in Russia, to share damaging information on the US falls flat. By his own estimation, Snowden did not destroy some of the most valuable knowledge he had that might be of interest, information he claims could bring the NSA down tomorrow. 

I actually doubt that’s why he’s withholding that detail. After all, the HPSCI Report on Snowden has a three page section that describes this process, including this entirely redacted passage (PDF 18) describing a particular vulnerability he used to make copies of the files, one the unredacted part of the HPSCI report suggests may have been unknown to NSA when Snowden exploited it.

Assuming the NSA, focusing all its forensic powers on understanding what had been, to that point, the agency’s worst breach ever, managed to correctly assess the vulnerability Snowden used by October 29, 2014, the date the NSA wrote a report describing “Methods Used by Edward Snowden To Remove Documents from NSA Networks,” then the NSA has presumably already fixed the vulnerability.

I honestly don’t know why, then, Snowden kept that detail secret. It’s possible it’s something banal, an effort to avoid sharing the critical forensic detail that would be used to prosecute him if he ever were to stand trial (though it’s not like there’s any doubt he took the documents). I can think of other possible reasons, but why he withheld this detail is a big question about the choices he made about what to disclose and what not to disclose in this book.

But that’s the challenge for Snowden, after investing much of a public interest defense in using journalists as intermediaries, now making choices personally about what to disclose and what to withhold. It accords Snowden a different kind of responsibility for the choices he makes in this book. And it’s not clear that, having assumed that role, Snowden met his own standards.

Snowden Needs a Better Public Interest Defense, Part I: Bildungsroman

If I were Zachary Terwilliger, the US Attorney for Eastern District of Virginia, where Edward Snowden was indicted, I’d call up Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, and say, “Bring it on.” 

Since Snowden first went public, he has claimed he’d return to the US for trial if he could mount a public interest defense where he could explain why he did what he did and demonstrate how his leaks benefited society. With his book, Permanent Record, Snowden did just that, albeit in a narrative targeted at the general population, not prosecutors and a jury. And yet, the book falls far short of the kind of argument Snowden would need to make to mount such a legal defense. If Terwilliger were to make an exception to EDVA’s precedents that prohibit defendants from mounting a public interest defense (he won’t, of course), then, this “permanent record” would be available for prosecutors to use to pick apart any public interest defense Snowden tried to make.

Let me be clear, I think Snowden can make such a case — I’ve addressed some of the issues here. I also am well aware of the tremendous debt both domestic and international surveillance activism, to say nothing of my own journalism, owes to Snowden. While I’m agnostic about his true motives and implementation (I’ve got more questions after reading the book than before), he is undeniably a courageous person who sacrificed his comfort and safety to do what he did. Whether he can mount a hypothetical public interest defense or not is not necessarily tied to the lasting value of his releases, something I’ll address in a follow-up. And the book serves other purposes as well, such as alerting non-experts to the privacy dangers of Silicon Valley’s unquenchable thirst for their data.

But the book fails to do adequately what Snowden has been claiming he wanted to do all along, and as such, I found it profoundly disappointing. I’ve been struggling to write up how and why, so will need to break up my reasons into three parts. 

I’m an expert on surveillance. But I also happen to have a PhD in literature. And it was the narrative structure of the book that first triggered my frustration with it.

The book–which Snowden wrote with novelist Joshua Cohen–is a classic Bildungsroman, a narrative that portrays the maturation of its protagonist as he (usually it’s a he) struggles with the conventions of the world. Snowden was pretty much stuck writing his memoir as a Bildungsroman, because he needs to explain why, after enthusiastically pursuing jobs at the center of the Deep State–something he’s now bitterly critical of–he then turned on the Deep State and exposed it. He attributes his prior enthusiasm, bitterly, to naiveté, and the narrative does portray young Snowden as emotionally immature and kind of annoying. People would only voluntarily work in the Deep State because they’re naive, this narrative approach insinuates. 

For the general public, writing a Bildungsroman is a really effective genre because (for the same reason we get assigned Bildungsroman to read in high school), it helps the public vicariously travel the same path of maturation. For lay readers, the genre may help them develop a more mature view on technology and privacy. 

For a guy with legal problems, though, writing one is fraught with danger. That’s because any public interest defense will depend on Snowden arguing about his state of mind and motives for leaking, and in writing this book, he committed to a chronology that maps that out. So the serial moments that, in Bildungsroman you read in high school, are just means to reaching an ethical adulthood, here serve as roadmaps to measure whether, at key moments when Snowden engaged in certain actions related to his leaking (taking a particular job, seeking out certain files), he had the state of mind that might sustain a public interest defense. The genre provides a way to measure whether he had the maturity and pure motive to make the decisions he did at each stage of the process.

From an ethical perspective, if the moment he becomes mature comes too late in the story, then it means he was not mature enough to make the decisions he did to take NSA’s documents, and we should question the judgment he exercised, particularly given how painfully immature he portrays himself at the beginning. From a legal perspective, if that moment comes too early in the story, it means he started the process of taking the documents before he got what he claims (unconvincingly) was a full understanding of what he was taking, so he must have taken them for some other reason than a measured assessment of the problems with the NSA’s programs.

As a reader (with, admittedly, far more training in narrative than virtually all of Snowden’s imagined readers), I found it hard to determine when, in Snowden’s own mind, he graduated from being the emotionally immature and naive person he disdainfully describes himself as at the beginning of his development to being the sophisticated person who could make sound decisions about what is good for humanity he claims to be when he takes the NSA documents. He makes it clear there were several such moments: when he realized how our spying is like China’s, when he read the draft NSA IG Report on Stellar Wind, when he saw the kid of a target and realized it could have been him. The process was iterative. But every one of those moments presents problems for either his ethical or legal claims.

It doesn’t help that there were key gaps in this story. The most discussed one involves what has happened to him since he got to Russia. That gap feels all the more obvious given how much time (3 hours out of 11 in the Audible version of the book) he spends describing his youth. 

What Snowden has done since he got to Russia obviously can’t change the events that happened years ago, while dissident Snowden was being formed and as he carried out his exfiltration of NSA’s documents. But whatever has happened to him in Russia may change the perspective through which Snowden, the narrator, views his own actions.

Just by way of illustration, much of Snowden’s discussion of the law and privacy in the book bears the marks of years of intellectual exchange with Wizner and Glenn Greenwald — both of whom he invokes in his acknowledgments. If Ben and Glenn are a tangible part of the focal point through which Snowden views his own story — and as someone who knows them both, they are — then so must be exile in Russia (as well as his relationship with Lindsey, though he foregrounds that lens throughout the book). The narrator of this book is sitting in exile in Russia, and as such Snowden’s silence about what that means is jarring. 

The other gaps, however, are more problematic for this Bildungsroman of public interest.

A minor example: Snowden doesn’t address how he got sent home from Geneva, an episode that, per HPSCI’s report on Snowden, involved a disciplinary dispute. From the Intelligence Community’s perspective, that’s the moment where Snowden turned on the Deep State, and for petty emotional reasons, not ethical ones. So his silence on the point is notable.

Far more significantly, one of the episodes that Snowden treats as a key developmental moment, a moment where he shifted from repressing the problem of being a key participant in a dragnet to wanting to defeat it, came when, during convalescence after his first bout of epilepsy, he set up a Tor bridge to support Iranian protesters during the Arab Spring. 

I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. I’d had enough of feeling helpless, of being just an asshole in flannel lying around on a shabby couch eating Cool Ranch Doritos and drinking Diet Coke while the world went up in flames.

[snip]

Ever since I’d been introduced to the Tor Project in Geneva, I’d used its browser and run my own Tor server, wanting to do my professional work from home and my personal Web browsing unmonitored. Now, I shook off my despair, propelled myself off the couch, and staggered over to my home office to set up a bridge relay that would bypass the Iranian Internet blockades. I then distributed its encrypted configuration identity to the Tor core developers.

This was the least I could do. If there was just the slightest chance that even one young kid from Iran who hadn’t been able to get online could now bypass the imposed filters and restrictions and connect to me—connect through me—protected by the Tor system and my server’s anonymity, then it was certainly worth my minimal effort.

[snip]

The guy who started the Arab Spring was almost exactly my age. He was a produce peddler in Tunisia, selling fruits and vegetables out of a cart. In protest against repeated harassment and extortion by the authorities, he stood in the square and set fire to his life, dying a martyr. If burning himself to death was the last free act he could manage in defiance of an illegitimate regime, I could certainly get up off the couch and press a few buttons.

Four paragraphs later, Snowden describes realizing (once on his new job in Hawaii, on his birthday) that his life would take a new direction.

One day that summer—actually, it was my birthday—as I passed through the security checks and proceeded down the tunnel, it struck me: this, in front of me, was my future. I’m not saying that I made any decisions at that instant. The most important decisions in life are never made that way. They’re made subconsciously and only express themselves consciously once fully formed—once you’re finally strong enough to admit to yourself that this is what your conscience has already chosen for you, this is the course that your beliefs have decreed. That was my twenty-ninth birthday present to myself: the awareness that I had entered a tunnel that would narrow my life down toward a single, still-indistinct indistinct act.

As described, this is a dramatic moment, that instant where the protagonist becomes a mature actor. But it’s also (as all story-telling is) narrative manipulation, the narrator’s decision to place the key moment in a tunnel in Hawaii, after he already has the job, and not weeks earlier on a couch in Maryland before he starts looking for a new job. Nevertheless, the proximity narratively links his response to the Arab Spring inseparably to his decision to become a dissident.

Immediately after his response to the Arab Spring, then, he moved to the pineapple field in Hawaii, yet another new job at NSA helping run the dragnet. Immediately upon arriving, he set up a script to obtain certain kinds of documents, Heartbeat. He insists that he first set up the script only to read the files to learn what the NSA was really doing and also claims that that script is where most of the documents he shared with journalists came from (the latter claim would be one of the first things prosecutors would rip to shreds, because the exceptions are important ones). 

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize this: my active searching out of NSA abuses began not with the copying of documents, but with the reading of them. My initial intention was just to confirm the suspicions that I’d first had back in 2009 in Tokyo.

[snip]

Nearly all of the documents that I later disclosed to journalists came to me through Heartbeat. It showed me not just the aims but the abilities of the IC’s mass surveillance system. This is something I want to emphasize: in mid-2012, I was just trying to get a handle on how mass surveillance actually worked.

That’s a crucial step for the public interest defense, because unless he had some basis to determine the NSA was doing stuff egregiously wrong, stealing the documents to expose them would not be based on the public interest. That he could learn more in the six months to a year he spent doing that covertly, part time, than the handful of journalists who’ve spent the better part of five years doing nothing but that is questionable (though Snowden rightly claims he has a better understanding of the technology and infrastructure than most of the journalists who have reported on the files).

But the way the epilepsy narrative immediately precedes his move to Kunia hurts his public interest defense, because it means he had already started thinking in terms of action at the time he sought out a job where he’d have reason to scrape the NSA’s files in bulk.

That’s all the more true given that it would be unlikely he’d be sharing information about Tor bridges during the Arab Spring with core Tor developers and not interact with Jake Appelbaum. I know the Snowden story pretty well, but this is the first that I heard of the possibility that he was interacting with Jake — who already was a fierce critic of the US government and had close ties to WikiLeaks at the time — before he went to Kunia. And if the process by which he became a dissident involved interacting with Jake, then it makes his decision to start a new job at NSA rather than just quit and apply his skills to building privacy tools, far, far more damning. It also makes Snowden’s explanation of why he leaked to Laura Poitras and Glenn (his explanation for the latter of which is already thoroughly unconvincing in the book) far more problematic. To be clear, I don’t know if he did interact with Jake, but Jake had a very central and public role in using Tor to facilitate the Arab Spring, so the gap raises more questions than answers.

There are other, similar gaps in the narrative. I won’t lay them out because the FBI sucks ass at narrative, and there’s no reason for me to help them. Suffice it to say, though, that Snowden’s own story about when and how he became an ethical dissident hurts his legal story far more than it helps.

Surveillance Reform Can No Longer Ignore EO 12333

Yesterday, a bunch of civil liberties groups issued a letter calling for FISA 702 reform as part of the Section 215 reauthorization this year. I agree that the reauthorization this year should address the problems with 702 that weren’t addressed last year, though even on FISA, the letter doesn’t go far enough. DOJ IG will soon issue a report partly addressing the Carter Page FISA application, and that will provide an opportunity to push to make reforms to traditional (individual) FISA, such as making it clear that some defendants must get to review the underlying affidavit. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense reforming Section 215’s subpoena function without, at the same time, reforming the subpoena authority that DEA uses for a similar dragnet that undergoes far less oversight, particularly given that Bill Barr is the guy who first authorized that DEA dragnet in his first go-around as authoritarian Attorney General.

But it’s also the case that the surveillance community could — and arguably has an opportunity to — address EO 12333 as well.

The Executive branch has been exploiting the tension between EO 12333 (foreign surveillance that, because it is “foreign,” is conducted under the exclusive authority of Article II) and FISA (“domestic” surveillance overseen by the FISA court) since Dick Cheney launched Stellar Wind on bogus claims the collection on foreign targets in the US amounted to “foreign” surveillance. From 2004 to 2008, Congress moved parts of that under FISA. But at several points since, the government has reacted to FISA restrictions by moving their surveillance under EO 12333, most notably when it moved much of its collection of Internet metadata under EO 12333 in 2012.

Unfortunately, most of the surveillance community and reporters covering such issues have been woefully unaware of even the limited public disclosures on EO 12333 surveillance (which for a time was branded as SPCMA). That made activism around Section 215 far less effective, as few people understood that Section 215 data was and remains just a small part of a larger, duplicative dragnet, and a lot of the claims made about the need for USA Freedom Act didn’t account for precisely what role the Section 215 dragnet played in the larger whole.

As one of its last acts, the Obama Administration institutionalized EO 12333 sharing across intelligence agencies, formalizing what Dick Cheney had been aiming for all along, just before Donald Trump took over.  At least as soon as that happened, the FBI (and other agencies, including but not limited to CIA) obtained a source of content that paralleled (and like the metadata dragnet, surely is significantly duplicative with) Section 702 collection.

That means the Section 702 opinion released last week discusses querying methods that may also be applied, in the same systems, to EO 12333 data. Indeed, one aspect of the querying procedures FBI finally adopted — that queries limited “such that it cannot retrieve unminimized section 702-acquired information” — is the kind of setting that NSA used to re-run queries that returned FISA information so as to return, instead, only EO 12333 data that could be shared under different rules with less oversight. Furthermore, the regime set up under EO 12333, which already includes squishy language about queries “for the purpose of targeting” a US person (suggesting other purposes are permissible), has the same kind of internal approval process that the government wanted to adopt with 702.

If FBI is querying both 702 and EO 12333 raw content in the same queries, it means the standards laid out by James Boasberg in his opinion should apply. Notably, Boasberg wrote at some length about what constituted “reasonable” procedures to govern querying, and under a balancing analysis, found that the procedures in place did not comply with the Fourth Amendment.

Whether the balance of interests ultimately tips in favor of finding the procedures to be inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment is a close question. Reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment does not require perfection. See In Re Directives, 551 F.3d at J 015 (“the fact that there is some potential for error is not a sufficient reason to invalidate” surveillances as unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment). Nonetheless, if “the protections that are in place for individual privacy interests are … insufficient to alleviate the risks of government error and abuse, the scales will tip toward a finding of unconstitutionality.” kl at 1012. Here, there are demonstrated risks of serious error and abuse, and the Court has found the government’s procedures do not sufficiently guard against that risk, for reasons explained above in the discussion of statutory minimization requirements.

By contrast, under the EO 12333 procedures, the only reasonableness review takes place when NSA decides whether to share its SIGINT, which doesn’t include risk of error and abuse.

Reasonableness. Whether approving the request is reasonable in light of all the circumstances known at the time of the evaluation of the request, including but not limited to:

[snip]

e. (U) The likelihood that sensitive U.S. person information (USPI) will be found in the information and, if known, the amount of such information;

f. (U) The potential for substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to U.S. persons if the USPI is improperly used or disclosed;

And that’s with the additional minimization procedures under 702 that are stronger than the dissemination rules under the EO 12333 rules.

There are limits to this. Boasberg based his Fourth Amendment review in statutory considerations, statute that doesn’t yet exist with 12333. He did not determine that the act of querying, by itself, warranted Fourth Amendment protection (though the amici pushed him to do so).

But that shouldn’t stop Congress from requiring that FBI adhere to the same practices of querying with EO 12333 collected data as it does with Section 702 collected data, which would in turn limit the value, to FBI, of engaging in surveillance arbitrage by doing things under EO 12333 that it couldn’t do under 702.

How Twelve Years of Warning and Six Years of Plodding Reform Finally Forced FBI to Do Minimal FISA Oversight

Earlier this week, the government released the reauthorization package for the 2018 Section 702 certificates of FISA. With the release, they disclosed significant legal fights about the way FBI was doing queries on raw data, what we often call “back door searches.” Those fights are, rightly, being portrayed as Fourth Amendment abuses. But they are, also, the result of the FISA Court finally discovering in 2018, after 11 years, that back door searches work like some of us have been saying they do all along, a discovery that came about because of procedural changes in the interim.

As such, I think this is wrong to consider “FISA abuse” (and I say that as someone who was very likely personally affected by the practices in question). It was, instead, a case where the court discovered that FBI using 702 as it had been permitted to use it by FISC was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As such, this package reflects a number of things:

  • A condemnation of how the government has been using 702 (and its predecessor PAA) for 12 years
  • A (partial — but thus far by far the most significant one) success of the new oversight mechanisms put in place post-Snowden
  • An opportunity to reform FISA — and FBI — more systematically

This post will explain what happened from a FISA standpoint. A follow-up post will explain why this should lead to questions about FBI practices more generally.

The background

This opinion came about because every year the government must obtain new certificates for its 702 collection, the collection “targeted” at foreigners overseas that is, nevertheless, designed to collect content on how those foreigners are interacting with Americans. Last we had public data, there were three certificates: counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and “foreign government,” which is a too-broadly scoped counterintelligence function. As part of that yearly process, the government must get FISC approval to any changes to its certificates, which are a package of rules on how they will use Section 702. In addition, the court conducts a general review of all the violations reported over the previous year.

Originally, those certificates included proposed targeting (governing who you can target) and minimization (governing what you can do once you start collecting) procedures; last year was the first year the agencies were required to submit querying procedures governing the way agencies (to include NSA, CIA, National Counterterrorism Center, and FBI) access raw data using US person identifiers. The submission of those new querying procedures are what led to the court’s discovery that FBI’s practices violated the Fourth Amendment.

In the years leading up to the 2018 certification, the following happened:

  • In 2013, Edward Snowden’s leaks made it clear that those of us raising concerns about Section 702 minimization since 2007 were correct
  • In 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (which had become operational for the first time in its existence almost simultaneously with Snowden’s leaks) recommended that CIA and FBI have to explain why they were querying US person content in raw data
  • In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, the most successful reform of which reflected Congress’ intent that the FISA Court start consulting amicus curiae when considering novel legal questions
  • In 2015, amicus Amy Jeffress (who admitted she didn’t know much about 702 when first consulted) raised questions about how queries were conducted, only to have the court make minimal changes to current practice — in part, by not considering what an FBI assessment was
  • In the 2017 opinion authorizing that year’s 702 package, Rosemary Collyer approved an expansion of back door searches without — as Congress intended — appointing an amicus to help her understand the ways the legal solution the government implemented didn’t do what she believed it did; that brought some (though not nearly enough) attention to whether FISC was fulfilling the intent of Congress on amici
  • In the 2017 Reauthorization (which was actually approved in early 2018), Congress newly required agencies accessing raw data to submit querying procedures along with their targeting and minimization procedures in the annual certification process, effectively codifying the record-keeping suggestion PCLOB had made over two years earlier

When reviewing the reauthorization application submitted in March 2018, Judge James Boasberg considered that new 2017 requirement a novel legal question, so appointed Jonathan Cederbaum and Amy Jeffress, the latter of whom also added John Cella, to the amicus team. By appointing those amici to review the querying procedures, Boasberg operationalized five years of reforms, which led him to discover that practices that had been in place for over a decade violated the Fourth Amendment.

When the agencies submitted their querying procedures in March 2018, all of them except FBI complied with the demand to track and explain the foreign intelligence purpose for US person queries separately. FBI, by contrast, said they already kept records of all their queries, covering both US persons and non-US persons, so they didn’t have to make a change. One justification it offered for not keeping US person-specific records as required by the law is that Congress exempted it from the reporting requirements it imposed on other agencies in 2015, even though FBI admitted that it was supposed to keep queries not just for the public reports from which they argued they were exempted, but also for the periodical reviews that DOJ and ODNI make of its queries for oversight purposes. FBI Director Christopher Wray then submitted a supplemental declaration, offering not to fix the technical limitations they built into their repositories, but arguing that complying with the law via other means would have adverse consequences, such as diverting investigative resources. Amici Cedarbaum and Amy Jeffress challenged that interpretation, and Judge James Boasberg agreed.

The FBI’s querying violations

It didn’t help FBI that in the months leading up to this dispute, FBI had reported six major violations to FISC involving US person queries. While the description of those are heavily redacted, they appear to be:

  • March 24-27, 2017: The querying of 70K facilities “associated with” persons who had access to the FBI’s facilities and systems. FBI General Counsel (then run by Jim Baker, who had had these fights in the past) warned against the query, but FBI did it anyway, though did not access the communications. This was likely either a leak or a counterintelligence investigation and appears to have been discovered in a review of existing Insider Threat queries.
  • December 1, 2017: FBI conducted queries on 6,800 social security numbers.
  • December 7-11, 2017, the same entity at FBI also queried 1,600 queries on certain identifiers, though claimed they didn’t mean to access raw data.
  • February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI did approximately 30 queries of potential sources.
  • February 21, 2018: FBI did 45 queries on people being vetted as sources.
  • Before April 13, 2018: an unspecified FBI unit queried FISA acquired metadata using 57,000 identifiers of people who work in some place.

Note, these queries all took place under Trump, and most of them took place under Trump’s hand-picked FBI Director. Contrary to what some Trump apologists have said about this opinion, it is not about Obama abuse (though it reflects practices that likely occurred under him and George Bush, as well).

These violations made it clear that Congress’ mandate for better record-keeping was merited. Boasberg also used them to prove that existing procedures did not prevent minimization procedure violations because they had not in these instances.

As he was reviewing the violations, Boasberg discovered problems in the oversight of 702 that I had noted before, based off my review of heavily redacted Semiannual Reports (which means they should have been readily apparent to everyone who had direct access to the unredacted reports). For example, Judge Boasberg noted how few of FBI’s queries actually get reviewed during oversight reviews (something I’ve pointed out repeatedly, and which 702 boosters have never acknowledged the public proof of).

As noted above, in 2017 the FBI conducted over three million queries of FISA-acquired information on just one system, [redacted]. See Supplemental FBI Declaration at 6. In contrast, during 2017 NSD conducted oversight of approximately 63,000 queries in [redacted] and 274,000 queries in an FBI system [redacted]. See Gov’t Response at 36.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

He also noted that the records on such queries don’t require contemporaneous explanation from the Agent making the query, meaning any review of them will not find problems.

The FBI does not even record whether a query is intended to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime. See July 13, 2018, Proposed Tr. at 14 (DOJ personnel “try to figure out” from FBI query records which queries were run for evidence of crime purposes). DOJ personnel ask the relevant FBI personnel to recall and articulate the bases for selected queries. Sometimes the FBI personnel report they cannot remember. See July 9, 2018, Notice.

Again, I noted this in the past.

In short, as Boasberg was considering Wray’s claim that the FBI didn’t need the record-keeping mandated by Congress, he was discovering that, in fact, FBI needs better oversight of 702 (something that should have been clear to everyone involved, but no one ever listens to my warnings).

FISC rules the querying procedures do not comply with the law or Fourth Amendment

In response to Boasberg’s demand, FBI made several efforts to provide solutions that were not really solutions.

The FBI’s first response to FISC’s objections was to require General Counsel approval before accessing the result of any “bulk” queries like the query that affected 70K people — what it calls “categorical batch queries.”

Queries that are in fact reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information are responsive the government’s need to obtain and produce foreign-intelligence information, and ultimately to disseminate such information when warranted. For that reason, queries that comply with the querying standard comport with § 1801 (h), even insofar as they result in the examination of the contents of private communications to or from U.S. persons. On the other hand, queries that lack a sufficient basis are not reasonably related to foreign intelligence needs and any resulting intrusion on U.S. persons’ privacy lacks any justification recognized by§ 1801 (h)(l). Because the FBI procedures, as implemented, have involved a large number of unjustified queries conducted to retrieve information about U.S. persons, they are not reasonably designed, in light of the purpose and technique of Section 702 acquisitions, to minimize the retention and prohibit the dissemination of private U.S. person information.

But Boasberg was unimpressed with that because the people who’d need to consult with counsel would be the most likely not to know they did need to do so.

He also objected to FBI’s attempt to give itself permission to use such queries at the preliminary investigation phase (before then, FBI was doing queries at the assessment stage).

The FBI may open a preliminary investigation with even less of a factual predicate: “on the basis of information or an allegation indicating the existence of a circumstance” described in paragraph a. orb. above. Id. § II.B.4.a.i at 21 (emphasis added). A query using identifiers for persons known to have had contact with any subject of a full or preliminary investigation would not require attorney approval under § IV.A.3, regardless of the factual basis for opening the investigation or how it has progressed since then.

Boasberg’s Fourth Amendment analysis was fairly cautious. Whereas amici pushed for him to treat the queries as separate Fourth Amendment events, on top of the acquisition (which would have had broad ramifications both within FISA practice and outside of it), he instead interpreted the new language in 702 to expand the statutory protection under queries, without finding queries of already collected data a separate Fourth Amendment event.

Similarly, both Boasberg and the amici ultimately didn’t push for a written national security justification in advance of an actual FISA search. Rather, they argued FBI had to formulate such a justification before accessing the query returns (in reality, many of these queries are automated, so it’d be practically impossible to do justifications before the fact).

Boasberg nevertheless required the FBI to at least require foreign intelligence justifications for queries before an FBI employee accessed the results of queries.

The FBI was not happy. Having been told they have to comply with the clear letter of the law, they appealed to the FISA Court of Review, adding apparently new arguments that fulfilling the requirement would not help oversight and that the criminal search requirements were proof that Congress didn’t intend them to comply with the other requirements of the law. Like Boasberg before them, FISCR (in a per curium opinion from the three FISCR judges, José Cabranes, Richard Tallman, and David Sentelle) found that FBI really did need to comply with the clear letter of the law.

The FBI chose not to appeal from there (for reasons that go beyond this dispute, I suspect, as I’ll show in a follow-up). So by sometime in December, they will start tracking their backdoor searches.

FBI tried, but failed, to avoid implementing a tool that will help us learn what we’ve been asking

Here’s the remarkable thing about this. Something like this has been coming for two years, and FBI is only now beginning to comply with the requirement. That’s probably not surprising. Neither the Director of National Intelligence (which treated its intelligence oversight of FBI differently than it did CIA or NSA) nor Congress had demanded that FBI, which can have the most direct impact on someone’s life, adhere to the same standards of oversight that CIA and NSA (and an increasing number of other agencies) do.

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

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

Irrespective of whether back door searches are themselves a Fourth Amendment violation (which we will only now obtain the data to discuss), the other thing this opinion shows is that for twelve years, FISA boosters have been dismissing the concerns those of us who follow closely have raised (and there are multiple other topics not addressed here). And now, after more than a decade, after a big fight from FBI, we’re finally beginning to put the measures in place to show that those concerns were merited all along.

Horowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: I have or had a legal relationship with attorneys involved in these cases, though not when writing the underlying posts.

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