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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s true for three reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several takeaways from this table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated for clarity.

Task and Countertask: The Interview of Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource

According to the interview report from Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource, the PSS confirmed that he had two sources behind the reporting that Carter Page met with Igor Sechin. He said one of those two sources — whom he described having ties to FSB — told him that Russia was sitting on kompromat against Trump (and Hillary). He described that his source for all the Michael Cohen reporting came from an old friend whom he trusted 100%. Steele’s Primary Subsource even took credit for some of the specific phrases in the Steele dossier — such as the one describing Michael Cohen’s efforts to sweep the Carter Page and Paul Manafort scandals “under the carpet.”

Even the Primary Subsource’s interactions with a person he believed to be Sergei Millian tracked most of the report based off the call.

[PSS] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. [PSS] recalls that the individual believed to be [Millian] said that there was an “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it,” Millian said that some of the information exchange could be good for Russian, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [PSS] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wikileaks.

The passage shows how badly DOJ IG over-read the interview when it first published the report and affirmatively stated that PSS “had no discussion” or “made no mention at all of” WikiLeaks.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary SubSource] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

To be sure, the provenance of that claimed Millian conversation is an utter shitshow — consisting of a call with someone the Primary Subsource believed, but had no way of confirming, was Millian. But Steele’s Primary Subsource did confirm that most of that report tracked the call, whoever it was from.

Still, you wouldn’t know that the Primary Subsource described the multiple sources behind key allegations in the dossier from the way the DOJ IG Report described what was a raw intelligence report. For example, this passage doesn’t reveal that the Primary Subsource heard details on Page’s trip from people with high level connections, including the meeting with Sechin (remember, the FBI had another source report that he had heard rumors about the Sechin meeting, which probably partly explains why Mueller concluded that Page’s whereabouts in Russia were still uncertain).

A second example provided by the Primary Sub-source was Report 134’s description of a meeting allegedly held between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft, a Russian energy conglomerate. 337 Report 134 stated that, according to a “close associate” of Sechin, Sechin offered “PAGE/ TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft” in return for the lifting of sanctions against the company. 338 The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339 We reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a “brokerage. ” 340

The IG Report also repeats uncritically stuff from both the PSS and his sources that is pretty obviously bullshit, such as the claim from the PSS — who had been paid full time by Orbis for years to collect this intelligence — that he didn’t expect his reporting to show up in written reports.

The Primary Subsource also stated that he/she never expected Steele to put the Primary Subsource’s statements in reports or present them as facts. According to WFO Agent 1, the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” WFO Agent 1 said that the Primary Sub-source explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.”341 The Primary Sub-source also told WFO Agent 1 that he/she believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.

Or the claim from a subsource who would be the key source of disinformation in the dossier if such disinformation exists that nothing in the dossier was attributable to her.

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

Nor would you know that from the reporting on the interview report of the Primary Subsource, released last night by Lindsey Graham.

Ultimately, the belated assessment of the Supervisory Intel Analyst probably appropriately attributes blame for problems with the dossier to multiple sources; a lot of the problems with this dossier stem from communication breakdowns and exaggerations from multiple people trying to make a buck.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.

Let me be very clear: none of this means these allegations are true, nor does this excuse the failures to alert the FISA Court to key problems in the dossier. I was one of the first people to raise doubts about some of the problems with the allegations in the dossier, and I stand by that.

Operational security

What’s more interesting about the interview are the hints of all the ways the dossier could have gone so badly wrong. The interview report describes multiple ways that Russia’s spooks might have found out about the project and fed it with disinformation (the footnotes declassified earlier this year describes that several Russian spooks knew of the project after what would have been the PSS’ first trip to Russia to do the reporting).

Steele’s PSS was an analyst by training that Steele increasingly used in an operational role (including by getting him hired at some kind of consulting company that seems to have served as a kind of cover for his travel to Russia). The arrangement seems to have had spotty operational security. For better and worse, PSS said that he rarely took substantive notes.

[PSS] was asked if he takes notes on the information he is collecting from his sources, or if he keeps any kind of records. He was told by Steele that it is a security risk to take notes; he hasn’t kept notes or electronic records. He occasionally makes scribbles and/or chicken scratch notes here and there, but gives verbal debriefs in [redacted] following his trips [to Russia].

PSS would then share the information with Steele, whom he always briefed alone (making misunderstandings more likely). He had no communications with Steele while in Russia. PSS described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.

PSS was originally tasked to investigate Manafort (which he had little success on), at a time when Fusion was still being paid by Paul Singer, meaning this interview seems to confirm, once and for all, that not just Fusion’s reporting, but Steele’s, was initially paid for by a Republican. PSS specified for that reporting he did some of his reporting to Steele via an encrypted app.

But his communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

Ties to intelligence

Meanwhile, for all the reports that PSS was “truthful and cooperative,” the interview report describes that he “balked, meandered in the conversation, and did not really answer the question” about whether he used other sources for his election year reporting aside from the six he described to the FBI. And, as laid out in the interview report, it became increasingly clear over the three days of interviews that PSS was not entirely forthcoming about any interactions he had had with Russian intelligence.

This started with his lawyers’ careful caveat at the beginning of the process that PSS did not have any contacts with people he knew to be part of the Russian intelligence services (the interview as a whole was conducted under a proffer).

[PSS] indicated, to his knowledge, he has not had any contacts with the Russian intelligence or security services. [ANALYST NOTE: His attorney emphasized “to his knowledge” during this part of the discussion.]

PSS said he had contact with Russian government officials, but — “as far as he … knew,” not with anyone in SVR, GRU, or FSB.

On day three, however, PSS described a friend (whose experience he drew on for a report on how Russia coerces criminal hackers to work for the intelligence services) who had had been busted for involvement with online pornography and pressured to work with the FSB. The Senior Intel Analyst noted that conflicted with his earlier claim to have no known ties to Russian spooks.

[ANALYST NOTE: This is in contradiction to [PSS’s] statement the first day, at which time he indicated that he did not have any contacts associated with the Russian intelligence and security services.]

Later that same day, PSS seemed to acknowledge that a Russian official and a Russian journalist he interacted with were spooks. The FBI noted,

[ANALYST NOTE: This contradicted [PSS’s] earlier statements regarding having no contact with Russia’s intelligence and security services, and it also contradicted regarding not really knowing if [a Russian official] was actually connected to Russia’s intelligence and security services.]

The EC goes on to describe PSS “brush[ing] aside the idea of being approached by the intelligence and security services” while he was a student.

This squirreliness about his own ties with Russian spooks was probably just self-preservation, an effort to avoid any exposure on 18 USC 951, but it is probably the key issue where the FBI questioned his candor in real time.

Countertasking

Meanwhile, PSS described at least three of his sources — Source 1, Source 2, and Source 3 — in such a way that led the FBI to wonder whether PSS was being tasked by his own sources. S1, for example — who has a close relationship to a Russian intelligence officer (probably FSB) —  always asks PSS to do projects together.

[S1] is always trying to get [PSS] to start projects and make money together — [PSS] related how [S1], like others, is always asking questions like, “Can you get us some projects?” or “Can you get us financing?” or “Let’s do something together dealing with [redacted]!” [PSS] doesn’t consider this as his source “tasking him” but as simply the normal course and scope of networking in these circles. [PSS] did help [S1] with an academic book about [redacted].

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In addition to S1, Source 5 also has ties to Russian intelligence. This showed up in footnote 339, which was partly declassified earlier this year.

This is to be expected, of course. Indeed, the dossier prominently touts the intelligence sourcing of its allegations, as I noted the first day the dossier was published. If the person on whose source network Steele was relying didn’t have ties to spooks, it would be as problematic.

The thing, though, is that it’s certain now that many of the allegations in the dossier are not true or were rumor, particularly virtually all the allegations sourced to Source 3 (the source for all the Michael Cohen reporting), PSS’s childhood friend whom he trusts 100%. That’s true even though generally the reports were sourced to people with at least indirect access to senior level officials.

All the huffing and puffing aside, that should be the takeaway from this. Steele was definitely not collecting this intelligence in optimal fashion, and sharing it with the press made things far worse. But in January 2017, it looked like raw intelligence, of varying quality, which is precisely what it was billed at. Yet, well before any pitches Steele made to the press, it seems some really well-connected people in Russia were feeding Steele’s PSS information that distracted from the real events going on and focused it elsewhere.

The Government Argues that Edward Snowden Is a Recruiting Tool

As I noted in my post on the superseding indictment against Julian Assange, the government stretched the timeline of the Conspiracy to Hack count to 2015 by describing how WikiLeaks helped Edward Snowden flee to Russia. DOJ seems to be conceiving of WikiLeaks’ role in helping Snowden as part of a continuing conspiracy designed to recruit more leakers.

Let me make clear from the onset: I am not endorsing this view, I am observing where I believe DOJ not only intends to head with this, but has already headed with it.

Using Snowden as a recruitment tool

After laying out how Chelsea Manning obtained and leaked files that were listed in the WikiLeaks Most Wanted list (the Iraq Rules of Engagement and Gitmo files, explicitly, and large databases more generally; here’s one version of the list as entered into evidence at Manning’s trial), then describing Assange’s links to LulzSec, the superseding Assange indictment lays out WikiLeaks’ overt post-leak ties and claimed ties to Edward Snowden.

83. In June 2013, media outlets reported that Edward J. Snowden had leaked numerous documents taken from the NSA and was located in Hong Kong. Later that month, an arrest warrant was issued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, for the arrest of Snowden, on charges involving the theft of information from the United States government.

84. To encourage leakers and hackers to provide stolen materials to WikiLeaks in the future, ASSANGE and others at WikiLeaks openly displayed their attempts to assist Snowden in evading arrest.

85. In June 2013, a WikiLeaks association [Sarah Harrison, described as WLA-4 in the indictment] traveled with Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.

86. On December 31, 2013, at the annual conference of the Chaos Computer Club (“CCC”) in Germany, ASSANGE, [Jacob Appelbaum] and [Harrison] gave a presentation titled “Sysadmins of the World, Unite! A Call to Resistance.” On its website, the CCC promoted the presentation by writing, “[t]here has never been a higher demand for a politically-engaged hackerdom” and that ASSANGE and [Appelbaum] would “discuss what needs to be done if we re going to win.” ASSANGE told the audience that “the famous leaks that WikiLeaks has done or the recent Edward Snowden revelations” showed that “it was possible now for even a single system administrator to … not merely wreck[] or disabl[e] [organizations] … but rather shift[] information from an information apartheid system … into the knowledge commons.” ASSANGE exhorted the audience to join the CIA in order to steal and provide information to WikiLeaks, stating, “I’m not saying doing join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out.”

87. At the same presentation, in responding to the audience’s question as to what they could do, [Appelbaum] said “Edward Snowden did not save himself. … Specifically for source protection [Harrison] took actions to protect [Snowden] … [i]f we can succeed in saving Edward Snowden’s life and to keep him free, then the next Edward Snowden will have that to look forward to. And if look also to what has happened to Chelsea Manning, we see additionally that Snowden has clearly learned….”

The following section describes how, “ASSANGE and WikiLeaks Continue to Recruit,” including two more paragraphs about the Most Wanted Leaks:

89. On May 15, 2015, WikiLeaks tweeted a request for nominations for the 2015 “Most Wanted Leaks” list, and as an example, linked to one of the posts of a “Most Wanted Leaks” list from 2009 that remained on WikiLeaks’s website.

[snip]

92. In June 2015, to continue to encourage individuals to hack into computers and/or illegaly obtain and disclose classified information to WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks maintained on its website a list of “The Most Wanted Leaks of 2009,” which stated that documents or materials nominated to the list must “[b]e likely to have political, diplomatic, ethical or historical impact on release … and be plausibly obtainable to a well-motivated insider or outsider,” and must be “described in enough detail so that … a visiting outsider not already familiar with the material or its subject matter may be able to quickly locate it, and will be motivated to do so.”

Effectively, Snowden is included in this indictment not because the government is alleging any ties between Snowden and WikiLeaks in advance of his leaks (Snowden’s own book lays out reasons to think there was more contact between him and Appelbaum than is publicly known, but the superseding Assange indictment makes no mention of any contacts before Snowden’s first publications), but because WikiLeaks used their success at helping Snowden to flee as a recruiting pitch.

Snowden admits Harrison got involved to optimize his fate

This is something that Snowden lays out in his book. First, he addresses insinuations that Assange only helped Snowden out of selfish reasons.

People have long ascribed selfish motives to Assange’s desire to give me aid, but I believe he was genuinely invested in one thing above all—helping me evade capture. That doing so involved tweaking the US government was just a bonus for him, an ancillary benefit, not the goal. It’s true that Assange can be self-interested and vain, moody, and even bullying—after a sharp disagreement just a month after our first, text-based conversation, I never communicated with him again—but he also sincerely conceives of himself as a fighter in a historic battle for the public’s right to know, a battle he will do anything to win. It’s for this reason that I regard it as too reductive to interpret his assistance as merely an instance of scheming or self-promotion. More important to him, I believe, was the opportunity to establish a counterexample to the case of the organization’s most famous source, US Army Private Chelsea Manning, whose thirty-five-year prison sentence was historically unprecedented and a monstrous deterrent to whistleblowers everywhere. Though I never was, and never would be, a source for Assange, my situation gave him a chance to right a wrong. There was nothing he could have done to save Manning, but he seemed, through Sarah, determined to do everything he could to save me.

This passage is written to suggest Snowden believed these things at the time, describing what “seemed” to be true at the time. But it’s impossible to separate it from Appelbaum’s explicit comparison of Manning and Snowden at CCC in December 2013.

Snowden then describes what he thinks Harrison’s motive was.

By her own account, she was motivated to support me out of loyalty to her conscience more than to the ideological demands of her employer. Certainly her politics seemed shaped less by Assange’s feral opposition to central power than by her own conviction that too much of what passed for contemporary journalism served government interests rather than challenged them.

Again, this is written to suggest Snowden believed it at the time, though it’s likely what he has come to believe since.

Then Snowden describes believing, at that time, that Harrison might ask for something in exchange for her help — some endorsement of WikiLeaks or something.

As we hurtled to the airport, as we checked in, as we cleared passport control for the first of what should have been three flights, I kept waiting for her to ask me for something—anything, even just for me to make a statement on Assange’s, or the organization’s, behalf. But she never did, although she did cheerfully share her opinion that I was a fool for trusting media conglomerates to fairly guard the gate between the public and the truth. For that instance of straight talk, and for many others, I’ll always admire Sarah’s honesty.

Finally, though, Snowden describes — once the plane entered into Chinese airspace and so narratively at a time when there was no escaping whatever fate WikiLeaks had helped him pursue — asking Harrison why she was helping. He describes that she provided a version of the story that WikiLeaks would offer that December in Germany: WikiLeaks needed to be able to provide a better outcome than the one that Manning suffered.

It was only once we’d entered Chinese airspace that I realized I wouldn’t be able to get any rest until I asked Sarah this question explicitly: “Why are you helping me?” She flattened out her voice, as if trying to tamp down her passions, and told me that she wanted me to have a better outcome. She never said better than what outcome or whose, and I could only take that answer as a sign of her discretion and respect.

Whatever has been filtered through time and (novelist-assisted) narrative, Snowden effectively says the same thing the superseding indictment does: Assange and Harrison went to great lengths to help Snowden get out of Hong Kong to make it easier to encourage others to leak or hack documents to share with WikiLeaks. I wouldn’t be surprised if these excerpts from Snowden’s book show up in any Assange trial, if it ever happens.

Snowden’s own attempt to optimize outcomes

Curiously, Snowden did not say anything in his book about his own efforts to optimize his outcome, which is probably the most interesting new information in Bart Gellman’s new book, Dark Mirror (the book is a useful summary of some of the most important Snowden disclosures and a chilling description of how aggressively he and Askhan Soltani were targeted by foreign governments as they were reporting the stories). WaPo included the incident in an excerpt, though the excerpt below is from the book.

Early on in the process, Snowden had asked Gellman to publish the first PRISM document with a key, without specifying what key it was. When WaPo’s editors asked why Gellman’s source wanted them to publish a key, Gellman finally asked.

After meeting with the Post editors, I remembered that I could do an elementary check of the signature on my own. The result was disappointing. I was slow to grasp what it implied.

gpg –verify PRISM.pptx.sig PRISM.pptx

gpg: Signature made Mon May 20 14:31:57 2013 EDT

using RSA key ID ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛

gpg: Good signature from “Verax”

Now I knew that Snowden, using his Verax alter ego, had signed the PowerPoint file himself. If I published the signature, all it would prove to a tech-savvy few was that a pseudonymous source had vouched for his own leak. What good would that do anyone?

In the Saturday night email, Snowden spelled it out. He had chosen to risk his freedom, he wrote, but he was not resigned to life in prison or worse. He preferred to set an example for “an entire class of potential whistleblowers” who might follow his lead. Ordinary citizens would not take impossible risks. They had to have some hope for a happy ending.

To effect this, I intend to apply for asylum (preferably somewhere with strong Internet and press freedoms, e.g. Iceland, though the strength of the reaction will determine how choosy I can be). Given how tightly the U.S. surveils diplomatic outposts (I should know, I used to work in our U.N. spying shop), I cannot risk this until you have already gone to press, as it would immediately tip our hand. It would also be futile without proof of my claims—they’d have me committed—and I have no desire to provide raw source material to a foreign government. Post publication, the source document and cryptographic signature will allow me to immediately substantiate both the truth of my claim and the danger I am in without having to give anything up. . . . Give me the bottom line: when do you expect to go to print?

Alarm gave way to vertigo. I forced myself to reread the passage slowly. Snowden planned to seek the protection of a foreign government. He would canvass diplomatic posts on an island under Chinese sovereign control. He might not have very good choices. The signature’s purpose, its only purpose, was to help him through the gates.

How could I have missed this? Poitras and I did not need the signature to know who sent us the PRISM file. Snowden wanted to prove his role in the story to someone else. That thought had never occurred to me. Confidential sources, in my experience, did not implicate themselves—irrevocably, mathematically—in a classified leak. As soon as Snowden laid it out, the strategic logic was obvious. If we did as he asked, Snowden could demonstrate that our copy of the NSA document came from him. His plea for asylum would assert a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” for an act of political dissent. The U.S. government would maintain that Snowden’s actions were criminal, not political. Under international law each nation could make that judgment for itself. The fulcrum of Snowden’s entire plan was the signature file, a few hundred characters of cryptographic text, about the length of this paragraph. And I was the one he expected to place it online for his use.

Gellman, Poitras, and the Post recognized this would make them complicit in Snowden’s flight and go beyond any journalistic role.

After some advice from WaPo’s lawyers, Gellman made it clear to Snowden he could not publish the key (and would not have, in any case, because the slide deck included information on legitimate targets he and the WaPo had no intent of publishing).

We hated the replies we sent to Snowden on May 26. We had lawyered up and it showed. “You were clear with me and I want to be equally clear with you,” I wrote. “There are a number of unwarranted assumptions in your email. My intentions and objectives are purely journalistic, and I will not tie them or time them to any other goal.” I was working hard and intended to publish, but “I cannot give you the bottom line you want.”

This led Snowden to withdraw his offer of exclusivity which — as Gellman tells the story — is what led Snowden to renew his efforts to work with Glenn Greenwald. The aftermath of that decision led to a very interesting spat between Gellman and Greenwald — to read that, you should buy the book.

To be clear, I don’t blame Snowden for planning his first releases in such a way as to optimize the chances he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in prison. But his silence on the topic in his own account, even while he adopted the WikiLeaks line about their goal of optimizing his outcome, raises questions about any link between Harrison’s plans and Snowden’s.

The government is using Snowden as inspiration in other cases

The superseding Assange indictment is the first place I know of where the government has specifically argued that WikiLeaks’ assistance to Snowden amounted to part of a criminal conspiracy (though it is totally unsurprising and I argued that it was clear the government was going there based on what they had argued in the Joshua Schulte case).

But it’s not the first place they have argued a tie between Snowden as inspiration and further leaks.

The indictment for Daniel Everette Hale, the guy accused of sharing documents on the drone program with Jeremy Scahill, makes it clear how Hale’s relationship with Scahill blossomed just as the Snowden leaks were coming out (and this detail makes it clear he’s the one referred to in Citizenfour as another source coming forward).

15. On or about June 9, 2013, the Reporter sent HALE an email with a link to an article about Edward Snowden in an online publication. That same day. Hale texted a friend that the previous night he had been hanging out with journalists who were focused on his story. Hale wrote that the evening’s events might provide him with “life long connections with people who publish work like this.”

Hale launched a fairly aggressive (and if it weren’t in EDVA, potentially an interesting) challenge to the Espionage Act charges against him. It included (but was not limited to) a Constitutional motion to dismiss as well as a motion to dismiss for selective prosecution. After his first motions, however, both the government’s response and Hale’s reply on selective prosecution were (and remain, nine months later) sealed.

But Hale’s reply on the Constitutional motion to dismiss was not sealed. In it, he makes reference to what remains sealed in the selective prosecution filings. That reference makes it clear that the government described searching for leakers who had been inspired “by a specific individual” who — given the mention of Snowden in Hale’s indictment — has to be Snowden.

Moreover, as argued in more detail in Defendant’s Reply in support of his Motion to Dismiss for Selective or Vindictive Prosecution (filed provisionally as classified), it appears that arbitrary enforcement – one of the risks of a vague criminal prohibition – is exactly what occurred here. Specifically, the FBI repeatedly characterized its investigation in this case as an attempt to identify leakers who had been “inspired” by a specific individual – one whose activity was designed to criticize the government by shedding light on perceived illegalities on the part of the Intelligence Community. In approximately the same timeframe, other leakers reportedly divulged classified information to make the government look good – by, for example, unlawfully divulging classified information about the search for Osama Bin Laden to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty, resulting in two separate Inspector General investigations.3 Yet the investigation in this case was not described as a search for leakers generally, or as a search for leakers who tried to glorify the work of the Intelligence Community. Rather, it was described as a search for those who disclosed classified information because they had been “inspired” to divulge improprieties in the intelligence community.

Hale argued, then, that the only reason he got prosecuted after some delay was because the FBI had a theory about Snowden’s role in inspiring further leaks.

Judge Liam O’Grady denied both those motions (and most of Hale’s other motions), though without further reference to Snowden as an inspiration. But I’m fairly sure this is not the only case where they’re making this argument.

In a Bid to Remain Relevant, PCLOB Will Treat Carter Page as a Suspected Terrorist

It takes until paragraph 19 of this story on the decision by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to examine Title I FISA processes before it explains why the decision is such an obvious political game.

[PCLOB Chair Adam] Klein said the board plans only to examine counterterrorism matters, which would preclude any review of wiretap applications for Page or any investigation by the FBI of the Trump campaign.

PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism. There were efforts to expand its mandate to include counterintelligence as part of Section 215 reauthorization that failed, so Congress has expressed an intent in recent days to limit PCLOB’s mandate to counterterrorism. Which means PCLOB has no mandate to investigate the Carter Page investigation.

But in spite of that limit on PCLOB’s mandate, PCLOB’s Republicans have decided to examine what the story calls DOJ IG’s “findings.”

Adam I. Klein, the chairman of the privacy board, said that the issues Horowitz surfaced were precisely those that the board was established to examine.

“This is at the heartland of our jurisdiction,” said Klein, a lawyer and prominent researcher of FISA and other national security laws. “The IG found systemic compliance problems. At a minimum, we have a duty to inform ourselves.”

Let’s review the posture of DOJ IG’s investigations into FISA-related functions. DOJ IG did an investigation into the Carter Page FISA applications, and found significant problems, both Woods Procedure compliance problems and lack of disclosure of material facts to the court. The way in which FBI first validated and then fact-checked an informant — long cited as a problem by defense attorneys representing counterterrorism defendants — was among the most egregious problems in the Page applications.

The Page investigation is the only finished investigation. That investigation is into a counterintelligence case, and therefore well outside of PCLOB’s mandate.

Based on the findings in that report, DOJ IG set out on an investigation into whether the problems evinced in the Page report are more systematic. As originally scoped, however, that review focused on whether the Woods Procedures–failures in which were not the most urgent or egregious aspect of the Carter Page problems–works. After three months, DOJ IG decided to issue a Management Advisor Memorandum to formally reveal its interim results that show that the Woods Procedures, and the National Security Division’s associated Accuracy Reviews, don’t work.

As a result of these findings, in December 2019, my office initiated an audit to examine more broadly the FBI’s execution of, and compliance with, its Woods Procedures relating to U.S. Persons covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019. As an initial step in our audit, over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period. The proportion of counterintelligence and counterterrorism applications within our sample roughly models the ratio of the case types within that total of FBI FISA applications. Our initial review of these applications has consisted solely of determining whether the contents of the FBI’s Woods File supported statements of fact in the associated FISA application; our review did not seek to determine whether support existed elsewhere for the factual assertion in the FISA application (such as in the case file), or if relevant information had been omitted from the application. For all of the FISA applications that we have reviewed to date, the period of courtauthorized surveillance had been completed and no such surveillance was active at the time of our review.

[snip]

As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy.

[snip]

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

The statistics provided in the MAM reveal that, with respect to Woods Procedures, Carter Page’s FISA applications were actually far better than all but one of the applications DOJ IG reviewed.

But the MAM is not a finished review and, aside from a passing reference to FBI’s failures to document informant reliability, hasn’t focused on issues known to be problematic in FISA applications targeting counterterrorism suspects.

Meanwhile, PCLOB plans to use its mandate to review counterterrorism programs to demand a list of prominent individuals targeted under FISA for the period of the DOJ IG review, 2015 to 2019.

The board will also request the number of investigations touching on prominent individuals in which the FBI sought an order from the surveillance court between 2015 and 2019. Those investigations, which the bureau defines as sensitive investigative matters, may include public officials or candidates for office, according to Justice Department guidelines.

As far as is public there have been zero prominent individuals known to be targeted under FISA. Carter Page — an unknown advisor with no institutional affiliation in DC — certainly didn’t qualify when he was targeted. (I can think of one person investigated as part of the Russian investigation who is a key influence peddler in DC who might have been targeted, but the person is not nationally known outside of political circles.)

There have, however, been key leaders in the Muslim community — who are virtually unknown outside of the Muslim or civil liberties community — targeted under FISA, per one of the most important reports to come out of the Snowden leaks (though before the period of PCLOB’s review).

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

PCLOB probably can’t access this list because its members all have clearance, but this is where you’d start to understand the First Amendment impact of FISA on counterterrorism subjects, not by asking for a list of all the prominent people more likely to be targeted under counterintelligence.

Don’t get me wrong. If this PCLOB review were credible, I’d welcome it. If PCLOB’s mandate actually matched the scope of FISA, it could be a welcome new check on the authority.

But, as I noted in a post on some of the efforts to reform FISA legislatively, because PCLOB’s mandate does not cover some of the FISA practices of most concern, it is useless as an oversight body.

One would imagine that Carter Page, whom the Republicans think was targeted because he volunteered for the Trump campaign, would be among the people bill drafters had in mind for First Amendment protect activities.

Except he wouldn’t be included, for two reasons.

First, PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism programs. That didn’t matter for their very good Section 215 report, because they were examining only the CDR program, which itself was limited to terrorism (and Iran).

But it did matter for the Section 702 report. In fact, PCLOB ignored some of the most problematic practices under Section 702, conducted under the guise of cybersecurity, because that’s outside their mandate! It also didn’t explore the impact of NSA’s too-broad definition of targeting under the Foreign Government certificate.

In this case, unless you expand the scope of PCLOB, then this report would only report on the targets of terrorism FISA activity, not foreign intelligence FISA activity, and so not people like Carter Page.

I was told by a key congressional negotiator that expanding PCLOB’s mandate to match FISA (that is, to include counterintelligence and foreign cyber investigations) would kill the bill. Mind you, the bill died overnight anyway, in part because Trump and his supporters want something that more directly feels like a response to the Carter Page applications.

Particularly given that FISA remains under active legislative debate, then, PCLOB would be much better served by arguing that their mandate needs to be expanded to cover all national security investigations, citing their inability to review what happened to Carter Page without overstepping their mandate.

Instead, they appear intent on overstepping their mandate.

Update: In a response to some questions from PCLOB’s press person, it appears PCLOB may misunderstand the results of DOJ IG’s interim findings. PCLOB appears to believe that DOJ IG has found material problems with the 29 files it reviewed, rather than Woods Procedures violations that it has not yet determined to be material.

As you’re aware, the most recent DoJ IG examination found problems with all 29 FISA applications it examined, many of which were for counterterrorism. Of these 29, the Board has requested only those applications that were related to counterterrorism.

The IG’s findings are troubling and suggest systematic shortcomings, with serious implications for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

It also appears to believe the FISA mandate to involve PCLOB would permit PCLOB to meaningfully address First Amendment issues even though it could not address many of the problems disproportionately affecting Americans.

Finally, as you may know, the House draft of the USA FREEDOM Act reauthorization bill includes a provision that directs the Board to examine whether activities protected under the First Amendment have any impact on the FISA process.  Should the bill ultimately pass Congress and be signed into law, the forum would help inform Board members on that project as well.

Adam Schiff Makes Clear FBI Is Using Section 215 Like the 2014 Exception

For months, Congress has been debating the reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The House passed a compromise bill before COVID shut-downs really halted everything in Congress, though did so in such a way as to prevent Zoe Lofgren from offering any amendments. After the Senate failed to act, the provision (and two related ones lapsed). Then, a few weeks ago, the Senate passed a version that added an amendment from Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy that strengthened the amicus to the previously passed House bill. But an amendment offered by Ron Wyden and Steve Daines failed by one vote after Tom Carper said that Pelosi had warned him its passage would gut FISA (and after Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray didn’t make it for the vote). The operative language of their amendment read,

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information.

Zoe Lofgren and Warren Davidson tried to pass that amendment in the House. Over a weekend of heated negotiations, they limited the Wyden-Daines language to apply just to US persons.

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information of United States persons.

At first, Wyden endorsed the Lofgren-Davidson language. Except then Adam Schiff gave Charlie Savage a statement that suggested the amendment would only prevent the government from seeking to obtain Americans’ internet information, not prevent it altogether.

But in his own statement, Mr. Schiff put forward a narrower emphasis. Stressing the continued need to investigate foreign threats, he described the compromise as banning the use of such orders “to seek to obtain” an American’s internet information.

That led Ron Wyden to withdraw his support. Leadership withdrew that amendment from the Rule.

Schiff’s ploy seems to suggest one way the government is using Section 215.

Wyden had previously asked how each of three applications for Section 215 would appear in counts:

  • An order in which an IP address used by multiple people is the target
  • An order collecting all the people who visit a particular website
  • An order collecting all the web browsing and internet searches of a single user

I’ve argued in the past that the FBI wouldn’t go to the trouble of a Section 215 order for a person who was not otherwise targeted, the last bullet. Schiff’s willingness to limit collection to foreigners is consistent with that (because targeting non-US persons has a lower probable cause level), meaning that’s not the function the government is so intent on preserving.

Which leaves Wyden’s IP address used by multiple people and a website, what I have suggested might be VPNs and WikiLeaks. Those are the applications that Schiff (and Pelosi) are going to the mat to protect.

That makes something that happened in 2014 important. That year, FISC permitted the government to remain tasked on a selector under 702 (which can only target foreigners) even after finding that Americans were using the selector, provided the US person content was purged after the fact. Except ODNI made a list of enumerated crimes — virtually all of which exploit the Dark Web — that Section 702 content could be used to prosecute. Richard Burr codified that principle when the law was reauthorized in 2017.

Schiff has invoked the same principle — allowing the FBI to target a URL or IP, and in the name of obtaining foreign intelligence, obtaining the US person activity as well. Because this is not treated as “content,” the government may not be limited to instances where the US person activity is location obscured (though it’s possible this is just about obtaining VPN traffic, and not something like WikiLeaks).

Wyden called the resulting practice (remember, this is status quo), as “dragnet surveillance.”

“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment,” Wyden said.

So once again — still — the government is using a foreign targeted law to obtain leads of Americans to investigate. That, apparently, is what Pelosi considers the key part of FISA: honey pots to identify Americans to investigate.

Meanwhile, DOJ doesn’t even like the changes Lee and Leahy implemented, falsely claiming that the law — which requires DOJ to meet the standards laid out voluntarily by FBI’s response to the DOJ IG Report — does nothing to address the problems identified by the IG Report.

The Department worked closely with House leaders on both sides of the aisle to draft legislation to reauthorize three national security authorities in the U.S.A. Freedom Act while also imposing reforms to other aspects of FISA designed to address issues identified by the DOJ Inspector General. Although that legislation was approved with a large, bipartisan House majority, the Senate thereafter made significant changes that the Department opposed because they would unacceptably impair our ability to pursue terrorists and spies. We have proposed specific fixes to the most significant problems created by the changes the Senate made. Instead of addressing those issues, the House is now poised to further amend the legislation in a manner that will weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General.

Accordingly, the Department opposes the Senate-passed bill in its current form and also opposes the Lofgren amendment in the House. Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation.

Trump, meanwhile, is opposing the bill because it doesn’t go far enough.

WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!

Republicans are inventing reasons to oppose it after supporting it in March.

Back in March, Billy Barr said he could do what he needed to with EO 12333. It’s unclear how he’d coerce providers.

But Schiff’s efforts to defeat Wyden make it clear this is a function designed to identify Americans.

Update: I had thought a current vote was on FISA, but is on China sanctions, so I’ve deleted.

Ron Wyden Hints at How the Intelligence Community Hides Its Web Tracking Under Section 215

Ron Wyden had an amendment to Section 215 that would have limited the use of that provision to obtain web traffic information that fell one vote short in the Senate, partly because Nancy Pelosi whipped Tom Carper against it and partly because two Senators (Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray) didn’t get back for a vote. In an effort to resuscitate the amendment in the House under Zoe Lofgren and Warren Davidson’s leadership (which would surely pass if Section 215 got bounced back to the Senate), Ron Wyden released a letter to Ric Grenell trying to force some transparency about how the IC hides the scope of the use of Section 215 to get web search and Internet traffic information.

The letter asks Grenell to explain how Section 215 orders served on IP addresses, rather than email addresses, might get counted in transparency provisions.

How would the government apply the public reporting requirements for Section 215 to web browsing and internet searches? In this context, would the target or “unique identifier” be an IP address?

If the target or “unique identifier” is an IP address, would the government differentiate among multiple individuals using the same IP address, such as family members and roommates using the same Wi-Fi network, or could numerous users appear as a single target or “unique identifier”?

If the government were to collect web browsing information about everyone who visited a particular website, would those visitors be considered targets or “unique identifiers” for purposes of the public reporting? Would the public reporting data capture every internet user whose access to that website was collected by the government?

If the government were to collect web browsing and internet searches associated with a single user, would the public reporting requirement capture the scope of the collection? In other words, how would the public reporting requirement distinguish between the government collecting information about a single visit to a website or a single search by one person and a month or a year of a person’s internet use?

Wyden here lays out three use cases for how the IC might (one should assume does) use Section 215 to get web traffic.

  • An order in which an IP address used by multiple people is the target
  • An order collecting all the people who visit a particular website
  • An order collecting all the web browsing and internet searches of a single user

The government is required to report:

(5)the total number of orders issued pursuant to applications made under section 1861(b)(2)(B) of this title and a good faith estimate of—

(A)the number of targets of such orders; and

(B)the number of unique identifiers used to communicate information collected pursuant to such orders;

Taking each of his three scenarios, here’s what I believe the government would report.

An order in which an IP address used by multiple people is the target

In the first scenario, the government is trying to obtain everyone who “uses” a particular IP address. The scenario laid out by Wyden is a WiFi router used by family or friends, but both because the House Report prohibited such things in 2015 and because DOJ IG has raised questions about targeting everyone who uses a Friends and Family plan, I doubt that’s what the IC really does.

Rather, I suspect this is about VPNs and other servers that facilitate operational security. The government could hypothetically obtain four orders a year getting “VPNs,” requiring providers of each of the 10 major VPNs in the country to provide the IP addresses of all the incoming traffic, which would show the IP addresses of everyone who was using their location obscuring traffic.

In such a case, the targeted VPN IP addresses wouldn’t be communicating information at all. The users would get no information back. Therefore, the IC would only report the number of targets of such orders. If the “target” were defined as VPN, the number would be reported as 4 (for each of the 4 orders); if the “target” were defined as the specific VPN providers, the number of targets would be reported as 10.

The IC would entirely hide the number of individual Americans affected.

An order collecting all the people who visit a particular website

This application would seek to learn who visited a particular website. The classic case would be Inspire magazine, the AQAP propaganda. But I could also see how the IC might want to collect people who visit WikiLeaks’ submission page, or any number of sites that would offer information of interest to foreign spies (even DNI’s report on surveillance collection!). In such a use case, the government might ask not for the information provided to the user, but instead the incoming IP addresses of every request to the website. Again, this would not reflect a communication of information (and certainly not to the end user), so would not be reported under 5B.

If the targets were defined as “AQAP propaganda sites,” Inspire and all its affiliates might be reported as just one target (or might even be counted on a more generalized 215 order targeting AQAP or WikiLeaks, and so not as a unique 215 order at all).

The end users here would, again, not be counted if the collection request deliberately asked for something that did not “communicate information,” though I’m not sure precisely what technical language the government would use to accomplish this.

An order collecting all the web browsing and internet searches of a single user

This use case would ask how a 215 order targeting an individualized target (like Carter Page) shows up in transparency reports. If this were an order served on Google targeting a single account identifier for Google (say, Page’s Gmail account), the government might treat that Gmail identifier as the unique identifier, even though the government was getting information on every time this unique identifier obtained information.

Even in the criminal context, prosecutors don’t always target Google histories (for example, they did not with Joshua Schulte, and so got Google searches going back to before he joined the CIA). In the intelligence context, the FBI is given even more leeway to obtain everything, based off the logic that it’s harder to find clandestine activity.

In other words, Wyden has pointed to three use cases, all of which the IC is surely using, which existing transparency reporting requirements would entirely obscure the impact of.

The Public Record Claims that Flynn Had No Permission from Trump to Undermine US Policy in Calling Kislyak

In the last several days, part time Director of National Intelligence and full time Twitter troll Ric Grennell declassified the names of people who unmasked Mike Flynn’s name in call transcripts with Sergey Kislyak. The public record already shows the FBI did so after they discovered his calls explained why Russia had not responded as expected after Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia on December 28, 2016.

The press has, predictably, chased this issue as a matter of partisan game, demonstrating utter disinterest in how obviously they are being chumps in a political ploy.

Release of the list, which would be an unprecedented move, is likely to resurrect a partisan debate over an episode that had roiled the early days of Mr. Trump’s presidency and has taken on renewed urgency after the Justice Department moved to drop a criminal case against Mr. Flynn last week.

It takes enormous leaps of willful ignorance of the facts to treat this as the partisan spat that Trump wants it to be.

That’s true, for two reasons:

  • The public record shows that the Obama Administration did need to know Flynn’s identity to understand the Kislyak intercept and accorded Flynn deference as a result until such time that it appeared Flynn had acted without official sanction
  • The public record, over three years after the call, remains consistent with Mike Flynn making that call to Sergey Kislyak without permission from Trump himself, meaning the public record is consistent with Flynn acting on his own

Under FISA, the Executive Branch may not disseminate an American’s identity obtained from a FISA intercept, “unless such person’s identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance.” But if the Executive Branch needs that person’s identity to understand foreign intelligence, they can unmask the identity.

It matters that this call was made by the incoming National Security Advisor. At first, Flynn’s identity made the call look less suspicious. But within days of its discovery, Flynn’s own actions had created reason for far greater concern that the incoming NSA had made this call.

At first, the Flynn unmasking led to deference to him, albeit with concerns about sharing intelligence with (just) him

When Russia did not respond to the December 2016 sanctions, per Jim Comey’s testimony, the Intelligence Community tasked its members to learn why not.

And so the last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the Intelligence Community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why is this — why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us? And so we were all tasked to find out, do you have anything [redacted] that might reflect on this? That turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January.

Some days later, the FBI provided an answer: because someone had called up Russia and asked them not to escalate, and days later Russia had called up and told the same person that Vladimir Putin had not responded because of his call. Imagine the possible implications of this call without the identity. The call could reflect an amazingly powerful private individual who for some reason had the ability to make Vladimir Putin to take action against his stated interests. Or it could reflect something fairly routine. You had to know who made the call to figure out which it was.

In his testimony, Comey made it clear that, 1) they did unmask Flynn’s name but 2) the FBI issued no finalized report on this, meaning they were protecting the discovery from wider dissemination.

We did not disseminate this [redacted] in any finished intelligence, although our people judged was appropriate, for reasons that I hope are obvious, to have Mr. Flynn’s name unmasked. We kept this very close hold, and it was shared just as I described.

Sally Yates’ 302 describes how Obama responded. He stated specifically that he wanted no more follow-up information, but he did want advice on whether his White House should treat Flynn differently as a result.

After the briefing, Obama dismissed the group but asked Yates and Comey to stay behind. Obama started by saying he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Kislyak about sanctions. Obama specified he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information.

[snip]

Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can’t recall if he specified there was an “investigation.” Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting. It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey’s response to the President’s question about how to treat Flynn.

A letter Congress sent to Susan Rice quoting from her own letter to the file makes it clear that Obama explicitly stated he wanted no involvement in any law enforcement matters. He just wanted to know whether the Administration should limit how they would share classified information with Flynn during the transition.

On January 5, following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Corney and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present.

President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “by the book”. The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.

From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.

[redacted]

The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.

As to DOJ, at first Mary McCord treated this just as Republicans would want: by assuming this was just the normal pre-inauguration outreach one would expect from an incoming National Security Advisor.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners.

There are several takeaways from this record. We don’t know exactly what the transcripts say (and neither did some of the people involved), but this reaction is entirely inconsistent with Flynn saying anything to Kislyak to indicate he was operating on Trump’s orders. If he had, then Obama would not have had a concern about sharing information with Flynn and only Flynn. If it was clear Trump was involved, Obama’s concerns would be mitigated because Trump constitutionally would be entitled to this anyway. There’s no evidence Flynn made it clear he had Trump’s sanction to make these calls.

These actions also make it clear that, while the FBI responded to this as they would any counterintelligence investigation, both Obama and Rice were very careful about respecting the transition of power. The redacted passage in Rice’s letter is consistent with Obama adopting some caution, but deferring any more drastic measures unless, “anything changes in the next few weeks.”

From January 15, 2017 to the present, the public record has always been consistent with Flynn deciding to make the call on his own — and possibly acting rogue

Ten days after the Obama Administration adopted a cautious response to learning of Flynn’s calls, something did change.

The Vice President went on Face the Nation and told a journalist that he had asked Mike Flynn and Flynn denied speaking about sanctions at all.

MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on–

JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after–

MIKE PENCE: –my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor–

JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.

MIKE PENCE: –should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

From that moment to this day, the record is consistent with Mike Flynn working without the knowledge of or prior sanction from Trump and Pence. I believe Flynn did have prior sanction from Trump, but I believe that only because I think Trump and Flynn have hidden that detail for years. But because Flynn and KT McFarland, at least, told Mueller’s prosecutors that they had no memory of consulting with Trump about what to say to Kislyak ahead of time and Trump has categorically denied it, the public record says that Flynn made the decision both to undermine the official policy of the United States and decide what policy to pursue after consulting with a few Transition aides, but not Trump himself, which was a key conclusion of this part of the Mueller Report.

Although transition officials at Mara-Lago had some concern about possible Russian reactions to the sanctions, the investigation did not identify evidence that the President-Elect asked Flynn to make any request to Kislyak.

To be clear, starting in November 2017 — ten months after Obama’s people got Flynn’s name unmasked — Flynn and KT McFarland for the first time started admitting that Flynn had consulted with Trump’s staff at Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak, after denying it for that time. (This passage is largely sourced to a November 17, 2017 Flynn interview and a December 22, 2017 McFarland interview.)

Flynn recalled that he chose not to communicate with Kislyak about the sanctions until he had heard from the team at Mar-a-Lago.1241 He first spoke with Michael Ledeen, 1242 a Transition Team member who advised on foreign policy and national security matters, for 20 minutes. 1243 Flynn then spoke with McFarland for almost 20 minutes to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to Kislyak about the sanctions. 1244 On that call, McFarland and Flynn discussed the sanctions, including their potential impact on the incoming Trump Administration’s foreign policy goals. 1245 McFarland and Flynn also discussed that Transition Team members in Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. 1246 They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand.1247

Immediately after speaking with McFarland, Flynn called and spoke with Kislyak. 1248 Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East. 1249 With respect to the sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a “tit for tat,” and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.1250

Multiple Transition Team members were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day. In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252 During the briefing, President-Elect Trump asked McFarland if the Russians did “it,” meaning the intrusions intended to influence the presidential election. 1253 McFarland said yes, and President-Elect Trump expressed doubt that it was the Russians.1254 McFarland also discussed potential Russian responses to the sanctions, and said Russia’s response would be an indicator of what the Russians wanted going forward. 1255 President-Elect Trump opined that the sanctions provided him with leverage to use with the Russians. 1256 McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to President-Elect Trump that Flynn was speaking to the Russian ambassador that evening. 1257

So Flynn had the input of Michael Ledeen, McFarland, and through McFarland, the input of Transition Team members at Mar-a-Lago.

But — as I lay out in this post — the timeline laid out in Mueller’s deliberately unclear account shows no consultation between Flynn and Trump, or even McFarland and Trump, before the call. Someone may have mentioned that Flynn was making the call in a briefing Trump attended, but there’s no evidence Trump provided input on what he should say. Moreover, by the time of that briefing, Flynn appears to have already made the first call. McFarland reported to Flynn on the briefing in the same call where he told her what had transpired on his call.

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: [Transition Team Member] Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland calls Flynn, but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

Sometime in here but the Report doesn’t tell us precisely when: Flynn talks to Michael Ledeen, KT McFarland, and then Kislyak. [my emphasis]

4:43PM: McFarland emails other transition team members saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone. Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

Moreover, the record shows that, after Flynn reported back to McFarland after Kislyak told him Russia would not respond because of the call Flynn made, he sent an email specifically designed to cover up that Kislyak had said so.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

Not only did Trump say, shortly after he fired Flynn, that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak (though he said he would have directed him to do so if he wasn’t already doing it), but according to the public record, Flynn claims to have first told Trump he may have spoken about sanctions on February 6.

The week of February 6, Flynn had a one-on-one conversation with the President in the Oval Office about the negative media coverage of his contacts with Kislyak. 193 Flynn recalled that the President was upset and asked him for information on the conversations. 194 Flynn listed the specific dates on which he remembered speaking with Kislyak, but the President corrected one of the dates he listed. 195 The President asked Flynn what he and Kislyak discussed and Flynn responded that he might have talked about sanctions.196

The record also shows that, after Trump asked Reince Priebus to get KT McFarland to write a statement asserting that Trump had not spoken with Flynn before the call, she declined to do so because she didn’t know whether it had or not and John Eisenberg advised she not do so because it would make her Ambassadorial appointment look like a quid pro quo (which recently released 302s makes it look like).

Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak.255 McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no to the request.256 P

255 KTMF _ 00000048 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum for the Record); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

256 KTMF _00000047 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum_ for the Record) (“I said I did not know whether he did or didn’t, but was in Maralago the week between Christmas and New Year’s (while Flynn was on vacation in Carribean) and I was not aware of any Flynn-Trump, or Trump-Russian phone calls”); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

In short, even today, there is no evidence that Flynn had any permission from Trump to make this call. For over three years, Flynn and Trump have insisted he did not, which makes the significance of the intercept very different.

The public record, over three years later, is that Mike Flynn called up the country that just attacked us and — with no permission from Trump to do so — undermined the foreign policy of the United States.

So two things happened with this intercept.

At first, the fact that it was made by the incoming National Security Advisor led top DOJ officials to treat it with deferral. That is, they decided the meaning and the context was that of an incoming NSA calling foreign countries, and therefore fairly routine.

But ten days later, the transcript would look like something entirely different, the incoming NSA — who had received direct payments from Russia in the years leading up to this action — acting on his own with the Russian Ambassador. The President specifically denied having any role in the calls and fired Flynn (though said he didn’t mind the call). He went to some lengths to create a record to substantiate that he had not spoken to Flynn about it.

It would take ten months before prosecutors would have testimony (they had call records reflecting calls by March and probably had emails by August 2017) reflecting any consultation on Flynn’s part with any of his colleagues. Until they got that testimony, Flynn would have looked like had gone rogue, and decided to not only undermine Obama’s policy, but to set Trump’s policy, all on his own.

Either of those situations would justify unmasking someone’s identity. In either one of those situations, the FBI and other national security officials would have an obligation to track who was undermining the punishment for an attack by a hostile government, whether they deferred to it (in the case for the period when it seemed routine outreach) or investigated it (once it became clear the official was lying about it).

To suggest or even parrot, as Trump’s lackeys are, that this was a partisan decision suggests the United States should ignore when top national security officials appear to go rogue, undermining the current Administration without any evidence of sanction from the incoming one.

The Nuances of the Carter Page Application

I’ve now finished a close read of the last Carter Page FISA application. I think the contents bring a lot more nuance to the discussion of it over the last three years. This post will try to lay out some of that nuance.

Hot and cold running Carter Page descriptions

In most ways, the declassified application tracks the DOJ IG Report and shows how the problems with the application in practice. One newly declassified example conservatives have pointed to shows that FBI Agents believed that Page’s media appearances in spring 2017 were just an attempt to get a book contract.

The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian Government efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. [redacted–sensitive information] The believes this approach is important because, from the Russian Government’s point-of-view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in the front of the American and world media, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current U.S. Administration. The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts. (57)

Even if Page were doing media to get a book contract, short of being charged and put under a court authorized gag, there’s nothing that prevents him from telling his story. He’s perfectly entitled to overtly criticize US foreign policy. And as so often happens when intelligence analysis sees any denials as a formal Denial and Deception strategy, the FBI allowed no consideration to the possibility that some of his denials were true.

Julian Sanchez argued when the IG Report came out that FBI’s biases were probably confirmation bias, not anti-Trump bias, and this is one of the many examples that supports that.

One specific Page denial that turned out to be true — that he was not involved in the Ukraine platform issue — is even more infuriating reading in declassified form. As the IG Report noted, by the time FBI filed this last application, there were several piece of evidence that JD Gordan was responsible for preventing any platform change.

An FBI March 20, 2017 Intelligence Memorandum titled “Overview of Trump Campaign Advisor Jeff D. [J.D.] Gordon” again attributed the change in the Republican Platform Committee’s Ukraine provision to Gordon and an unnamed campaign staffer. The updated memorandum did not include any reference to Carter Page working with Gordon or communicating with the Republican Platform Committee. On May 5, 2017, the Counterintelligence Division updated this Intelligence Memorandum to include open source reporting on the intervention of Trump campaign members during the Republican platform discussions at the Convention to include Gordon’s public comments on his role. This memorandum still made no reference to involvement by Carter Page with the Republican Platform Committee or with the provision on Ukraine.

On June 7, 2017, the FBI interviewed a Republican Platform Committee member. This interview occurred three weeks before Renewal Application No. 3 was filed. According to the FBI FD-302 documenting the interview, this individual told the FBI that J.D. Gordon was the Trump campaign official that flagged the Ukrainian amendment, and that another person (not Carter Page) was the second campaign staffer present at the July 11 meeting of the National Security and Defense Platform Subcommittee meeting when the issue was tabled.

Although the FBI did not develop any information that Carter Page was involved in the Republican Platform Committee’s change regarding assistance to Ukraine, and the FBI developed evidence that Gordon and another campaign official were responsible for the change, the FBI did not alter its assessment of Page’s involvement in the FISA applications. Case Agent 6 told us that when Carter Page denied any involvement with the Republican Platform Committee’s provision on Ukraine, Case Agent 6 “did not take that statement at face value.” He told us that at the time of the renewals, he did not believe Carter Page’s denial and it was the team’s “belief” that Carter Page had been involved with the platform change.

But the application’s treatment of this issue doesn’t just leave out that information. The utterly illogical explanation of why the FBI believed he had a role in the platform — which was quoted in the IG Report — appears worse in context.

During these March 2017 interviews, the FBI also questioned Page about the above-referenced reports from August 2016 that Candidate #1’s campaign worked to make sure Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces [this matter is discussed on pgs. 25-26]. According to Page, he had no part in the campaign’s decision. Page stated that an identified individual (who previously served as manager of Candidate #1’s campaign) more likely than not recommended the “pro-Russian” changes. As the FBI believes that Page also holds pro-Russian views and appears to still have been a member of Candidate #1’s campaign in August 2016, the FBI assesses that Page may have been downplaying his role in advocating for the change to Political Party #1’s platform. (55)

(Here’s the March 16, 2017 interview.)

It’s not just that the FBI had about five other pieces of evidence that suggested Page was not involved, but for the FBI, it was enough that he was pro-Russian to suggest Page would have had the influence and bureaucratic chops to make it happen, even in the absence of any evidence to the fact. Add in the fact that FBI obtained a pen register on Page as part of this application (as reflected by notations in the margin of redacted material), and the fact that FBI didn’t track what communications he did or did not have at any time is particularly inexcusable.

So there’s abundant evidence in the Page applications that FBI acted like they normally do, seeing in every denial yet more evidence of guilt.

That said, the application does show more to explain why the FBI suspected Page in the first place and continued to have questions about his veracity until the end. For example, here’s the full explanation of how Page came to tell a Russian minister he had been the guy that Viktor Podobnyy was recruiting.

Based on information provided by Page during this [March 2016] interview, the FBI determined that Page’s relationship with Podobnyy was primarily unidirectional, with Page largely providing Podobnyy open source information and contact introductions. During one interview, Page told the FBI that he approached a Russian Minister, who was surrounded by Russian officials/diplomats, and “in the spirit of openness,” Page informed the group that he was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. (16-17)

The FBI took this both as Page’s own confirmation that he was the person in the complaint, which in turn meant that Page knew he was being recruited, and, having learned that, sought ought well-connected Russians to identify himself as such.

As the application laid out later, Page at first denied what he had previously told the FBI about this incident and the Russians who had previously tried to recruit him in his March 2017 interviews. (This occurred in his March 16, 2017 interview.)

In a reference to the Buryakov complaint, Page stated that “nobody knows that I’m Male-1 in this report,” and also added that he never told anyone about this. As discussed above, however, during a March 2016 interview with the FBI regarding his relationship with Podobnyy, Page told the FBI he informed a group of Russian officials that he (Page) was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. Thus, during the March 2017 interview, the FBI specifically asked Page if he told any colleague that he (Page) was “Male-1.” In response, Page stated that there was a conversation with a Russian Government official at the United Nations General Assembly The FBI again asked Page if he had told anyone that he was “Male-1.” Page responded that he “forgot the exact statement.”

Note, Page’s 302 quotes Page as telling the Minister, “I didn’t do anything [redacted],” but it’s unclear (given the b3 redaction) whether that relays what Page said in March 2017 or if the b3 suggests FBI learned this via other means. But the redacted bit remains one of the sketchier parts of this.

The application also describes how Page denied having a business relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov, the first presumed time Russia tried to recruit him, claiming he may have had lunch with him in New York. That Page claimed only to have had lunch with him is all the more absurd since this was the basis for his supposed cooperation with the CIA.

Having seen how Page handled his HPSCI interview and TV interviews, it’s not surprising to see he denied ties he earlier bragged about (which, in any case, undermines any claim he was operating clandestinely). But at best, Page didn’t deny the key thing he could have to avert suspicion: to admit (as George Papadopoulos readily did) that he was overselling his access in Russia to the Trump campaign, in emails the FBI presumably obtained using FISA. Nothing in the IG Report rebuts the claim that Page claimed things in communications that provided basis to believe he was lying (the actual communications are redacted in the applications because all of the FISA collection targeted at Page has been sequestered). So while the FBI did a bunch of inexcusable things with Page, there were things that Page did — and never explained — that explain the FBI’s sustained suspicion of him.

An explanation for some of the GOP’s core beliefs about the dossier and the investigation

The release of the full application also helps to explain how Republicans came to have certain beliefs about the Steele dossier and the Russian investigation. Take this passage:

Source #1 reported the information contained herein to the FBI over the course of several meetings with the FBI from in or about June 2016 through August 2016.

The passage is slightly inaccurate: Mike Gaeta first got reports from Christopher Steele in early July.

Shortly before the Fourth of July 2016, Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that he received a call from Steele requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Handling Agent 1 said he departed his duty station in Europe on July 5 and met with Steele in Steele’s office that day. During their meeting, Steele provided Handling Agent 1 with a copy of Report 80 and explained that he had been hired by Fusion GPS to collect information on the relationship between candidate Trump’s businesses and Russia.

Since initial details of Steele’s reporting have been made public, the frothy right has been unable to understand that information doesn’t necessarily flow instantaneously inside of or between large bureaucracies. And having read this line, I assume Kash Patel would have told Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy that it was proof that the FBI predicated the investigation on the Steele dossier, because “the FBI” had Steele’s reports a month before opening the investigation into Trump’s aides (though, in fact, that was months after NYFO had opened an investigation into Page). The IG Report, however, explains in detail about how there was a bit of a delay before Steele’s handler sent his reports to the NY Field Office, a delay there for a while, and a further delay after a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team asked NYFO to forward anything they had. As a result, the CH team didn’t receive the first set of Steele reports until September 19, over a month after the investigation started.

On August 25, 2016, according to a Supervisory Special Agent 1 (SSA 1) who was assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, during a briefing for then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the investigation, McCabe asked SSA 1 to contact NYFO about information that potentially could assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 225 SSA 1 said he reached out to counterintelligence agents and analysts in NYFO within approximately 24 hours following the meeting. Instant messages show that on September 1, SSA 1 spoke with a NYFO counterintelligence supervisor, and that the counterintelligence supervisor was attempting to set up a call between SSA 1 and the ADC. On September 2, 2016, Handling Agent 1, who had been waiting for NYFO to inform him where to forward Steele’s reports, sent the following email to the ADC and counterintelligence supervisor: “Do we have a name yet? The stuff is burning a hole.” The ADC responded the same day explaining that SSA 1 had created an electronic sub-file for Handling Agent 1 in the Crossfire Hurricane case and that he

In any other world, this delay — as well as a delay in sharing derogatory information freely offered by Bruce Ohr and Kathleen Kavalec — would be a scandal about not sharing enough information. But instead, this passage about when FBI received the files likely plays a key part of an unshakeable belief that the dossier played a key role in predicating the investigation, which it does not.

Similarly, declassification of the application helps to explain why the frothy right believes that claims George Papadopoulos made to Stefan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 should have undermined the claims FBI made.

To be clear: the frothy right is claiming Papadopoulos’s denials should be treated as credible even after he admitted to a second informant that he told the story he did to Halper about Trump campaign involvement in the leaked emails because he believed if he had said anything else, Halper would have gone to the CIA about it. The FBI, however, believed the claims to be lies in real time, and on that (unlike Carter Page’s denials) the record backs them. There’s even a footnote (on page 11) that explicitly said, “the FBI believes that Papadopoulos provided misleading or incomplete information to the FBI” in his later FBI interviews.

That said, the way Papadopoulos is used in this application is totally upside down. A newly declassified part of the footnote describing Steele’s partisan funding claims that Papadopoulos corroborates Steele’s reporting (the italicized text is newly declassified).

Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s herein to be credible. Moreover, because of outside corroborating circumstances discussed herein, such as the reporting from a friendly foreign government that a member of Candidate #1’s team received a suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the release of information damaging to Candidate #2 and Russia’s believed hack and subsequent leak of the DNC e-amils, the FBI assesses that Source #1’s reporting contained herein is credible.

This is the reverse of how the IG Report describes things, which explains that the DNC emails came out, Australia decided to alert the US Embassy in London about what Papadopoulos had said three months earlier, which led the FBI to predicate four different investigations (Page, Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort; though remember that NYFO had opened an investigation into Page in April) to see if any of the most obvious Trump campaign members could explain why Russia thought it could help the Trump campaign beat Hillary by releasing emails. The Steele dossier certainly seemed to confirm questions raised by the Australia report (which explains why the FBI was so susceptible, to the extent this was disinformation, to believing it, and why, to the extent it was disinformation, it was incredibly well-crafted). The Steele dossier seemingly confirmed the fears raised by the Australia report, not vice versa. It seems like circular logic to then use Papadopoulos to “corroborate” the Steele dossier. That has, in turn, led the right to think undermining the original Australian report does anything to undermine the investigation itself, even though by the end of October Papadopoulos had sketched out the outlines of what happened with Joseph Mifsud and discussed wanting to cash in on it, and Papadopoulos continued to pursue this Russian relationship, including a secret back channel meeting in London, well into the summer.

Finally, I’m more sympathetic, having read this full application, to complaints about the way FBI uses media accounts — though for an entirely different reason than the frothy right. The original complaint on this point misread the way the FBI used the September 23 Michael Isikoff article reporting on Page, suggesting it was included for the facts about the meeting rather than the denials from Page and the campaign presented in it. The discussion appears in a section on “Page’s denial of cooperation.”  And — as I’ve noted before — the FBI always sourced that story to the Fusion GPS effort, even if they inexcusably believed that Glenn Simpson, and not Steele, was the “well-placed Western intelligence source” cited in the article.

But with further declassification, the way the application relied on two articles about the Ukraine platform to establish what the campaign had actually done (see page 25), rather than refer to the platform itself — or, more importantly, Trump’s own comments about policy, which I’ll return to — appears more problematic (not least because FBI confused the timing of one of those reports with the actual policy change.

Steele and Sergei Millian as uniquely correct about WikiLeaks

There’s another thing about sourcing in this application (which carries over to what I’ve often seen in FBI affidavits). While there are passages discussing the larger investigation into Russia’s 2016 operation that remain redacted (and indeed, there’s a substitution of a redaction with “FBI” on page 7 which probably hides that the IC as a whole continued to investigate Russian hacking), key discussions of that investigation cite to unclassified materials, even in a FISA application that would have under normal circumstances never been shared publicly. For example, the discussion describing attribution of the operation to Russia from pages 6 to 10 largely relies on the October 7 joint statement and Obama’s sanctions statement, not even the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, much less (with the exception of two redacted passages) anything more detailed.

Even ignoring secret government sources, there was a whole lot more attributing Russia and WikiLeaks’s role in the hack-and-leak, especially by June 2017. Yet the Page application doesn’t touch any of that.

And that makes the way the application uses the allegations — attributed to Sergei Millian — to make knowable information about the WikiLeaks dump tie to unsupported information in the dossier all the more problematic. As parroted in the application, this passage interlaces true, public, but not very interesting details with totally unsupported allegations:

According to information provided by Sub-Source [redacted] there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them [assessed to be individuals involved in Candidate #1’s campaign] and the Russian leadership.” Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the conspiracy was being managed by Candidate #1’s then campaign manager, who was using, among others, foreign policy advisor Carter Page as an intermediary. Sub-Source [redacted] further reported that the Russian regime had been behind the above-described disclosure of DNC e-mail messages to WikiLeaks. Sub-Source [redacted] reported that WikiLeaks was used to create “plausible deniability,” and that the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page. In return, according to Sub-Source [redacted], Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page, agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise U.S.NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

The DOJ IG report describes how FBI responded to this report by (purportedly) examining the reliability of Steele and his sources closely.

The FISA application stated that, according to this sub-source, Carter Page was an intermediary between Russian leadership and an individual associated with the Trump campaign (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” that led to the disclosure of hacked DNC emails by Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign team’s agreement, which the FBI assessed included at least Carter Page, to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue. The application also stated that this same sub-source provided information contained in Steele’s Report 80 that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Trump’s campaign for an extended period of time and that the information had reportedly been “very helpful,” as well as information contained in Report 102 that the DNC email leak had been done, at least in part, to swing supporters from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. 300 Because the FBI had no independent corroboration for this information, as witnesses have mentioned, the reliability of Steele and his source network was important to the inclusion of these allegations in the FISA application.

Except there would seem to be another necessary step: to first identify how much of this report cobbled together stuff that was already public — which included Russia’s role, the purpose of using WikiLeaks, Carter Page’s trip to Russia (but not specifics of his meetings there), and — though the application got details of what happened with Ukraine in the platform wrong — the prevention of a change to the platform. On these details, Steele was not only not predictive, he was derivative. Putting aside the problems with the three different levels of unreliable narrators (Steele, his Primary Subsource, and Millian), all of whom had motives to to package this information in a certain way, the fact that these claims clearly included stuff that had been made available weeks earlier should have raised real questions (and always did for me, when I was reading this dossier). Had the FBI separated out what was unique and timely in these allegations, they would have looked significantly different (not least because they would have shown Steele’s network was following public disclosures on key issues).

This is not the kompromat you’re looking for

Which brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of this application.

As I started arguing at least by September 2017 (and argued again and again and again), to the extent the dossier got filled with disinformation, it would have had the effect of leading Hillary’s campaign to be complacent after learning they had been hacked, because according to the dossier, the Russians planned to leak years old FSB intercepts from when Hillary visited Russia, not contemporaneous emails pertaining to her campaign and recent history. It might even have led the Democrats to dismiss the possibility that the files Guccifer 2.0 was releasing were John Podesta files, delaying any response to the leak that would eventually come in October.

To the extent the dossier was disinformation, it gave the Russian operation cover to regain surprise for their hack-and-leak operation. At least with respect to the Democrats, that largely worked.

And, even though the Australians apparently believed the DNC release may have confirmed Papadopoulos prediction that Russia would dump emails, it appears to have partly worked with the FBI, as well. This passage should never appear in an application that derived from a process leading from the DNC emails to the shared tip about Papadopoulos to a request to wiretap Page:

According to reporting from Sub-Source [redacted] this dossier had been compiled by the RIS over many years, dating back to the 1990s. Further, according to Sub-Source [redacted] his dossier was, by the direct instructions of Russian President Putin, controlled exclusively by Senior Kremlin Spokesman Dmitriy Peskov. Accordingly, the FBI assesses that Divyekin received direction by the Russian Government to disclose the nature and existence of the dossier to Page. In or about June 2016, Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time. Sub-Source [redacted] also reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time and added that the information had reportedly been “very helpful.” The FBI assesses the information funneled by the Russians to Page was likely part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Note, the FBI contemporaneously — though not after December 9, 2016 — would not have had something Hillary’s team did, the July Steele report on Russia’s claimed lack of hacking success that the FBI should have recognized as utterly wrong. Still, the earliest Steele reports they did have said the kompromat the Russians were offering was stale intercepts. At the very least, one would hope that would raise questions about why someone with purported access to top Kremlin officials didn’t know about the hack-and-leak operation. But the FBI seems to have expected there might be something more.

Trump clearly was not, but should have been, the target earlier than he was

There’s an irony about the complaints I lay out here: they suggest that Trump should have been targeted far earlier than he was.

The Page application rests on the following logic: One of the notably underqualified foreign policy advisors that Trump rolled out to great fanfare in March 2016 told someone, days later, that Russia had offered to help Trump by releasing damaging information on Hillary. The July dump of DNC emails suggested that Papadopoulos’ knowledge foreknowledge may have been real (and given Mifsud’s ties to someone with links to both the IRA and GRU people behind the operation, it probably was). The temporal coincidence of his appointment and that knowledge seemed to tie his selection as an advisor and that knowledge (and in his case, because Joseph Mifsud only showed an interest in Papadopoulos after learning he was a Trump advisor, that turned out to be true). That made the trip to Russia by another of these notably underqualified foreign policy advisors to give a speech he was even more underqualified to give, all the more interesting, especially the way the Trump people very notably reversed GOP hawkishness on Ukraine days after Page’s return.

In other words, the FBI had evidence — some of it now understood to be likely disinformation, and was trying to understand, how, after Trump shifted his focus to foreign policy, he shifted to a more pro-Russian stance in seeming conjunction with Russia delivering on their promise (shared with foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos) to help Trump by releasing the DNC emails.

It turns out the change in policy was real. And JD Gordan attributed his intervention on the RNC platform, in contravention of direction from policy director John Mashburn, to Trump’s own views.

Gordon reviewed the proposed platform changes, including Denman’s.796 Gordon stated that he flagged this amendment because of Trump’s stated position on Ukraine, which Gordon personally heard the candidate say at the March 31 foreign policy meeting-namely, that the Europeans should take primary responsibility for any assistance to Ukraine, that there should be improved U.S.-Russia relations, and that he did not want to start World War III over that region.797 Gordon told the Office that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail following the March meeting underscored those positions to the point where Gordon felt obliged to object to the proposed platform change and seek its dilution.798

[snip]

According to Denman, she spoke with Gordon and Matt Miller, and they told her that they had to clear the language and that Gordon was “talking to New York.”803 Denman told others that she was asked by the two Trump Campaign staffers to strike “lethal defense weapons” from the proposal but that she refused. 804 Demnan recalled Gordon saying that he was on the phone with candidate Trump, but she was skeptical whether that was true.805 Gordon denied having told Denman that he was on the phone with Trump, although he acknowledged it was possible that he mentioned having previously spoken to the candidate about the subject matter.806 Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Sessions’s office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls directly to a number associated with Trump.807 And according to the President’s written answers to the Office’s questions, he does not recall being involved in the change in language of the platform amendment. 808

Gordon stated that he tried to reach Rick Dearborn, a senior foreign policy advisor, and Mashburn, the Campaign policy director. Gordon stated that he connected with both of them (he could not recall if by phone or in person) and apprised them of the language he took issue with in the proposed amendment. Gordon recalled no objection by either Dearborn or Mashburn and that all three Campaign advisors supported the alternative formulation (“appropriate assistance”).809 Dearborn recalled Gordon warning them about the amendment, but not weighing in because Gordon was more familiar with the Campaign’s foreign policy stance.810 Mashburn stated that Gordon reached him, and he told Gordon that Trump had not taken a stance on the issue and that the Campaign should not intervene.811

[snip]

Sam Clovis, the Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor, stated he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.816 Mashburn stated that when he saw the word “appropriate assistance,” he believed that Gordon had violated Mashburn’s directive not to intervene.817

Sam Clovis would ultimately testify there had been a policy change around the time of the March 31 meeting (though Clovis’ testimony changed wildly over the course of a day and conflicted with what he told Stefan Halper).

Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But (as noted above), to lay this out in the Page application, the FBI sourced to secondary reporting of the policy change rather than to the platform itself. More notably, in spite of all this happening after late July 2016, there’s no mention of Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, where he asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails (and they almost immediately started hacking Hillary’s personal accounts), said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions, and lied about his ongoing efforts to build a tower in Russia.

Trump directed Mueller to a transcript of the press conference, I’ve put excerpts below. They’re a good reminder that at the same press conference where Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails (and in seeming response to which, GRU officers targeted Hillary’s personal office just five hours later), Trump suggested any efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow were years in the past, not ongoing. After the press conference, Michael Cohen asked about that false denial, and Trump “told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” He also said they’d consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which makes Konstantin Kilimnik’s travel — to Moscow the next day, then to New York for the August 2 meeting at which he and Paul Manafort discussed carving up Ukraine at the same meeting where they discussed how to win Michigan — all the more striking. Trump’s odd answer to whether his campaign “had any conversations with foreign leaders” to “hit the ground running” may reflect Mike Flynn’s meetings with Sergei Kislyak to do just that.

In other words, rather than citing Trump’s language itself, which in one appearance tied ongoing hacking to an even more dramatic policy change than reflected in the platform, the Carter Page application cited secondary reporting, some of it post-dating this appearance.

Mueller asked Trump directly about two of the things he said in this speech (the Russia if you’re listening comment and the assertion they’d look at recognizing Crimea) and obliquely about a third (his public disavowals of Russian business ties). Trump refused to answer part of one of these questions entirely, and demonstrably lied about another. Publicly, Mueller stated that Trump’s answers were totally inadequate. And these statements happened even as his campaign manager and Konstantin Kilimnik were plotting a clandestine meeting to talk about carving up Ukraine.

The FBI may have done this to stay way-the-fuck away from politics — though, to be clear, Trump’s call on Russia to find more Hillary emails in no way fits the bounds of normal political speech.

But by doing do, they ended up using far inferior sourcing, and distracting themselves from actions more closely implicating Trump directly — actions that remain unresolved.

The Carter Page application certainly backs the conclusions of the DOJ IG Report (though it also shows I was correct that DOJ IG did not know what crimes Page was being investigated for, and as such likely got the First Amendment analysis wrong). But it also shows that the Steele dossier, which fed the FBI’s inexcusable confirmation biases, undermined the FBI investigation into questions that have not yet been fully answered.

The DOJ IG Footnotes Show FBI Doing What They Do and Russia Doing What They Do

Three Republican Senators — Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Lindsey Graham — have gotten Bill Barr and Ric Grenell to declassify a bunch of things pertaining to Carter Page’s surveillance. While the materials have sent the frothy right into a frenzy again, the materials are actually far more interesting, ambiguous, and at times, damning to Trump’s narrative than the right wing stenographers have made out. This post will look at a series of footnotes to the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that have been declassified. I’m going to look at allegations about Russian knowledge of Steele’s project in July 2016 and evidence the Michael Cohen claims were disinformation in more detailed in a follow-up; both revelations may hurt Trump’s narrative more than help it, contrary to claims by the frothers.

The purge at ODNI enabled this declassification to occur

Before I get into what the declassified footnotes show, it’s important to understand Grenell’s role in it. In his statement releasing the full set of declassified footnotes, Grassley thanked both Bill Barr and Grenell. In Ron Johnson’s WSJ op-ed feeding the ignorant frenzy about the footnotes, he described how he and Grassley had to keep pressing for their declassification until Grenell made it happen.

My colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley and I began pressing Attorney General William Barr, and eventually acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, for full declassification of these footnotes. That’s why they’re now public.

In Grenell’s letter providing the footnotes (which very notably did not come as a re-released IG Report, as a prior declassification had), he explained that,

[H]aving consulted the heads of the relevant Intelligence Community elements, I have declassified the enclosed footnotes. I consulted with the Attorney General William Barr, and he has authorized the ODNI to say that he concurs in the declassification insofar as it relates to DOJ equities.

Grenell, of course, is doing the DNI job part time, on top of his full-time job as Ambassador to Germany and his day job of trolling dishonestly on the Internet.  So the declassification might be better understood as the work of Kash Patel, who, while he was a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, started this declassification project and also served as a gatekeeper to ensure GOP Congressmen did not get accurate information on Russia. While he was on the National Security Council, Patel ensured that Trump did not get accurate information on Ukraine. And the release comes just days after Trump got rid of the last Senate confirmed person at ODNI, something that Adam Schiff has raised concerns about.

Don’t get me wrong: I support these declassifications and with a very few exceptions in these footnotes, don’t think embarrassing stuff got hidden because Grenell was involved (I have a different opinion about how stuff was declassified for Lindsey, even while I’m thrilled to have the precedent for entire FISA applications being released). Some of the most interesting declassifications confirm small details about FISA that have long been known, but have been impossible to prove since DOJ guarded that confirmation so assiduously. But it is crystal clear this declassification happened as a result of dismantling longtime Intelligence Community protections, for better and worse.

The footnotes show FBI and FISA worked like it normally does and so did the Russians

As noted, Grenell didn’t effectuate this declassification by having DOJ IG release an updated version of the report, but instead by releasing all the redacted footnotes, with any newly declassified information unmarked, out of context. Not only does that obscure a few key ones that weren’t further declassified or had already been declassified, but it makes it harder to understand what they mean in context. I’ll treat each of them in turn, italicizing the newly disclosed information, if any.

17: The Brits let Steele cooperate

The OIG also interviewed witnesses who were not current or former Department employees regarding their interactions with the FBI on matters falling with the scope of this review, including Christopher Steele and employees of other U.S. government agencies. 17

17 According to Steele, his cooperation with our investigation was done with the consent of his government.

The fact that Steele emphasized this — and the delayed timing of Steele’s cooperation — suggest that the UK wanted to make clear that they were willing to expose their own intelligence weaknesses to cooperate with something Trump had put significant stock in.

21, 354: DOJ IG considered some of the FISA collection on Page irrelevant to this review

We also received and reviewed more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession. Among these were electronic communications of Department and FBI employees and documents from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including interview reports (FD-302s and Electronic Communications or ECs), contemporaneous notes from agents, analysts, and supervisors involved in case-related meetings, documents describing and analyzing Steele’s reporting and information obtained through FISA coverage on Carter Page, and draft and final versions of materials used to prepare the FISA applications and renewals filed with the FISC. 21

21 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

[snip]

Emails and other communications reflect that in the first week of surveillance on Carter Page [redacted], following the granting [redacted] application -· in the October 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team collected [redacted] 354

354 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

These declassifications reveals two phrases — “collections,” and “physical searches” — that have long been treated as classified (though they appear elsewhere in the report, usually by accident). The import of these phrases, especially “physical search,” which actually includes “stored communications,” is why they’ve been hidden in the past.

While the meaning of these footnote was always clear, the import of it (that is, what DOJ IG would considered irrelevant to their review) remains unclear, especially given Michael Horowitz’s public questions about whether the collection was ever useful.

That’s especially true given how FISA surveillance was integrated into later Carter Page applications. The applications Lindsey Graham released makes it clear there was a good deal (indeed, it clearly corroborated concerns about Page’s hope to open a pro-Russian think tank as well as sustained questions about whom Page met with in Russia — though that’s partly because he oversold his ties there to the campaign). The redactions, however, were just hiding FISA vocabulary that had previously been hidden.

61 and 63: How the FBI decides to make someone an informant

The CHSPG recognizes that the decision to open an individual as a CHS will not only forever affect the life of that individual, but that the FBI will also be viewed, fairly or unfairly, in light of the conduct or misconduct of that individual. 59 Accordingly, the CHSPG identifies criteria that handling a ents must consider when assessing the risks associated with the potential CHS. [redacted]60 These risks must be weighed against the benefits associated with use of the potential CHS. 61

Once a CHS has been evaluated and recruited, the CHSPG does not allow for tasking until after the CHS has been approved for opening by an FBI SSA; the required approvals for a specific tasking have been granted; and the CHS has met with the co-handling agent assigned to his or her file, who has the same duties, responsibilities, and file access as the handling agent. 62 The CHSPG requires additional supervisory approval by a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and review by a Chief Division Counsel CDC to open CHSs that are “sensitive” sources, [redacted]

61 Criteria used by agents and analysts to weigh the risks and benefits are: (1) access [redacted] (2) suitability: [redacted] (3) susceptibility: [redacted] (4) accessibility: [redacted] (5) security; [redacted]

62 CHSPG § 3.1.

63 CHSPG Section 3.5.1.1 Special approval and notification requirements also are necessary for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction, such as tasking a CHS to contact the subject of an investigation who is located in a foreign country. The requirements and notifications differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operating is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, [redacted]

[snip]

Under the CHSPG, which vests SSAs with daily oversight responsibility for CHSs in routine investigations, approval at the SSA level was sufficient. 525 The only relevant exception for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation were counterintelligence CHS extraterritorial operations, which required approval by an FBI Assistant Director, and which we found received approval by Priestap. 526

526 As described in Chapter Two, the special approval and notification requirements for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operation is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, CHSPG Sections 19.2, 19.3.3. Because the Crossfire Hurricane investigation at the outset was a national security investigation, the extraterritorial CHS operations in the case required Assistant Director approval.

These sections reveal details of the FBI’s rules on informants and the special approvals needed in some cases. This information had already been liberated by Terry Albury (see PDF 25 and 31ff) for the earlier sections that remain redacted (which is a testament to the novelty of this declassification, since he’s in prison for having released it). They’re interesting in the case of Carter Page because there was some dispute about using Steele (to say nothing of the disagreement between Steele and the FBI about what their relationship really entailed).

Apparently, Bill Priestap had to give approval for overseas use of informants (and this must extend to Stefan Halper), not because the investigation was sensitive, but because it was a national security investigation.

164, 464, 484: Joseph Mifsud was neither a CIA asset nor had CIA collected on him

During one of these meetings, Papadopoulos reportedly “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign “received some kind of a suggestion from Russia” that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing derogatory information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 164

164 During October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Papadopoulos stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG official was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos testified that Mifsud provided him with information about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. Papadopoulos raised the possibility during his Congressional testimony that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. As discussed in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHS), and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. In Chapter Ten, we also note that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.

(U) We refer to Joseph Mifsud by name in this report because the Department publicly revealed Mifsud’s identity in The Special Counsel’s Report (public version). According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in March 2016, after Papadopoulos had already learned that he would be serving as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Mifsud only showed interest in Papadopoulos after learning of Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, and told Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then candidate Clinton in late April 2016. The Special Counsel found that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about the timing of his discussions with Mifsud, as well as the nature and extent of his communications with Mifsud. The Special Counsel charged Papadopoulos under Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001 with making false statements. Papadopoulos pled guilty and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. See The Special Counsel’s Report, Vol. 1, at 192‐94

[snip]

The FBI’s Delta files contain no evidence that Mifsud has ever acted as an FBI CHS,463 and none of the witnesses we interviewed or documents we reviewed had any information to support such an allegation. 464

464 The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from that agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with that agency.

[snip]

In Crossfire Hurricane, the “articulable factual basis” set forth in the opening EC was the FFG information received from an FBI Legal Attache stating that Papadopoulos had suggested during a meeting in May 2016 with officials from a “trusted foreign partner” that the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist by releasing information damaging to candidate Clinton and President Obama. 484

484 Papadopoulos has stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud, and has raised the possibility that Mifsud may have been working with the FBI. As described in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received no information indicating that Mifsud had a relationship with that agency or that the agency had any derogatory information concerning Mifsud.

These declassifications debunk something George Papadopoulos has long claimed: that Joseph Mifsud was part of a Deep State plot run by either the FBI or CIA. The FBI asked CIA if they knew anything about him but did not.

166: How the FBI got involved

The Legat told us he was not provided any other information about the meetings between the FFG and Papadopoulos. 166

166 According to Legat, the senior intelligence official stated at the meeting with the USG official that the FFG information “sounds like an FBI matter.”

This explains how, after Australia passed the Papadopoulos tip to State, State called in both the FBI Legal Attaché in London and a senior intelligence officer — probably Gina Haspel, who at the time was London Station Chief — to explain the tip, after which the SIO said FBI should deal with it. Again, it undermines part of the claims of a Deep State coup.

205: Proof Steele should have known FBI considered him an informant, not a consultant

Steele stated that he never recalled being told that he was a CHS and that he never would have accepted such an arrangement, despite the fact that he signed FBI admonishment and payment paperwork indicating that he was an FBI CHS. 205

205 During his time as an FBI CHS, Steele received a total of $95,000 from the FBI. We reviewed the FBI paperwork for those payments, each of which required Steele’s Signed acknowledgement. On each document, of which there were eight, was the caption “CHS Payment” and “CHS’s Payment Name.” A signature page was missing for one of the payments.

This passage was redacted to hide the fact that when the FBI pays informants they don’t do so under their own name. The passage as a whole provides reason why Steele should have known, contrary to his claims, that FBI treated him bureaucratically as an informant. The fact he had a payment name may or may not strengthen that proof.

208: Oligarchs spent much of 2015 trying to meet the FBI through Steele

In our review of Steele’s CHS file, other pertinent documents, and interviews with Handling Agent 1, Ohr, and Steele, we observed that Steele had multiple contacts with representatives of Russian oligarchs with connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) and senior Kremlin officials. 208

208 (U) A 2015 report concerning oligarchs written by the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (TOCIU) noted that from January through May 2015, 10 Eurasian oligarchs sought meetings with the FBI, and 5 of these had their intermediaries contact Steele. The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity. The FBI’s Validation Management Unit did not perform such an assessment on Steele until early 2017 after, as described in Chapter Six, the Crossfire Hurricane team requested an assessment in the context of Steele’s election reporting. Handling Agent 1 told us he had seen the TOCIU report and was not concerned about its findings concerning Steele because he was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts to Russian oligarchs. We found that the TOCIU report was not included in Steele’s Delta file. Handling Agent 1 said that he found preparation of the TOCIU report “curious” because he believed that TOCIU was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts and fully supported them.

The fact that Steele was a liaison between the US government and Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs was not secret. Indeed the sections on Bruce Ohr, as well as Ohr’s declassified 302s, make that clear. What’s most interesting about this (prior) redaction is that, while marked as unclassified, the footnote was redacted. While it’s damning that this was not in Steele’s Delta file, that it had been but is not now redacted may say more about investigations into Ohr and Oleg Deripaska and others, than it does about Steele (meaning they’re no longer protecting those investigations).

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

I’m going to save my longer discussion on this for a separate post, though I already flagged and explained why these two footnotes were important in this post. The short version is, it suggests that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, focusing on Carter Page would have given cover for whatever mission Konstantin Kilimnik was pursuing in July 2016, at which point Deripaska may have already known of the dossier (remember he went to Moscow and met with Viktor Yanukovych before the meeting). Note, too, that the redacted word that has been substituted as “possibly aware” is too short to be that uncertain, so I question the substitution. Also note that footnote 210 is one of a handful footnotes in the entire report that was not further declassified with this review.

214: Steele used to be a spook

Steele told us he had a source network in place with a proven “track record” that could deliver on Fusion GPS’s requirements. Steele added that this source network previously had furnished intelligence on Russian interference in European affairs. 214

214 Steele told us that the source network did not involve sources from his time as a former foreign government employee and was developed entirely in the period after he retired from governmental service

This redaction only served to hide what we all knew, that Steele used to be an MI6 officer. Either the UK no longer considers that sensitive or they really want to give Trump what he wants.

242: The Carter Page investigation wasn’t only about whether he was a spy

Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he informed Steele that the FBI was interested in obtaining information in “3 buckets.” According to Case Agent 2’s written summary of the meeting, as well as the Supervisory Intel Analyst’s notes, these 3 buckets were:

(1) Additional intelligence/reporting on specific, named individuals (such as [Page] or [Flynn]) involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship; 241 (2) Physical evidence of specific individuals involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship (such as emails, photos, ledgers, memorandums etc); [and] (3) Any individuals or sub sources who [Steele] could identify who could serve as cooperating witnesses to assist in identifying persons involved in the Trump campaign-Russian relationship. 242

242 The FBI advised the OIG that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a national security investigation, and these activities therefor[e] involved national security extraterritorial CHS operations [redaction]

The only thing interesting about this declassification is how it relates the earlier and later ones, at 63 and 526, on special approval for using an informant overseas. It is equally interesting, however, that the description of why FBI focused on what they did remains substantially classified.

244: The FBI’s knowledge of Sergei Millian’s activities remains classified

For example, Steele identified a sub-source (Person 1) who Steele said was in direct contact with Steele’s primary source {Primary Sub-source). 244

244 Person 1 [redacted]

Like the footnote about Crossfire Hurricane’s knowledge of Oleg Deripaska’s ties with Steele, nothing new has been redacted here. Incidentally, after the first batch of these declassifications had come out and I called Sergei Millian out on making a chronologically impossible claim about what they showed, we had a charming exchange where he told me his interest in what I told the FBI was unique, which I include here solely to break up the monotony of this post!

253: Someone told Steele that Millian was hiding out

According to Handling Agent l’s records, during October 2016, Steele communicated with him four times and provided seven written reports, one of which concerned Carter Page and thus was responsive to the FBI’s request for information concerning Page’s activities. 253

253 (U) These seven reports, with selected highlights, were:

(U) Report 130 (Putin and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Clinton’s emails had not had a greater impact on the campaign; a stream of hacked Clinton material had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like WikiLeaks and the stream would continue until the election);

[redacted] Report 132 (a top level Russian intelligence figure claimed that Putin regrets the operation to interfere in the U.S. elections);

(U) Report 134 (a close associate of Rosneft President Sechin confirmed a secret meeting with Carter Page in July; Sechin was keen to have sanctions on the company lifted and offered up to a 19 percent stake in return);

(U) Report 135 (Trump attorney Michael Cohen was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage control in an attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed; Cohen had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials; immediate issues were efforts to contain further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit damage from the exposure of Carter Page’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month);

(U) Report 136 (Kremlin insider reports that Cohen’s secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016 was/were held in Prague);

[redacted] Report 137 (Divyekin was moved from his position in the Presidential Administration to one in the Duma; this move followed Divyekin being exposed in the western media, e.g., the Yahoo News story of September 23, 2016, as a secret interlocutor of Page); and

[redacted] Report 139 (Person 1 was forced to lie low abroad following his/her exposure in the western media and was currently in [redacted]).

There are three things about these disclosures. First, the redacted bullets were classified (they had some redaction other than the Unclassified markings these other paragraphs have). If they were known disinformation, it’s not clear why they’d be classified.

Second, this and other declassified passages suggest that FBI had IDed Divyekin (otherwise it’s unlikely to be classified). The application itself said FBI believed this person to be Igor Nikolayevich Dyevkin, who work(ed) in the Presidential Administration. Unless these original redactions were attempts to hide what FBI didn’t know but should have?

The other detail is that — whether disinformation or no — Steele got a report in October, during the month after FBI started actively investigating Millian, that claimed he had hidden out. He was in New York at the time, though, and remained out and about at least through the inauguration (where he partied with Papadopoulos). So why redact his purported locale?

This spreadsheet lists which files the FBI got when.

265: Grenell liberates basic FISA vocabulary that has long been hidden

The same day, OGC submitted a FISA request form to OI providing, among other things, a description of the factual information to establish probable cause to believe that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power, the “facilities” to be targeted under the proposed FISA coverage, and the FBI’s investigative plan. 265

“Facilities” are the items to be searched or subjected to electronic surveillance, such as email accounts, telephone numbers, physical premises, or personal property.

The term facilities has long been unredacted in reports on FISA, but without a definition (though the definition was obvious). Its declassification is long overdue. That said, this definition leaves out a lot of things that can be defined as facilities, such as IP addresses and encryption keys.

276: The rush to surveil Page before he met with foreigners

3: 11 p.m., Lisa Page to McCabe: “QI now has a robust explanation re any possible bias of the chs in the package. Don’t know what the holdup is now, other than Stu’s continued concerns. Strong operational need to have in place before Monday if at all possible, which means ct tomorrow. 276

As described below, it appears the desire to have FISA authority in place before Monday, October, 17, was due, at least in part, to the fact that Carter Page was expected to travel to the United Kingdom and South Africa shortly thereafter, and the Crossfire Hurricane team wanted FISA coverage targeting Carter Page in place before that trip.

This sounds shocking and any rush may have led to problems with the application (though the most serious problems were more substantive than that). But it’s not unusual to tie surveillance to upcoming foreign activities. After all, FBI is trying to understand what someone’s relationship to foreign governments is. And Page had some pretty interesting meetings in places besides just Russia.

Moreover only the details of where Page was traveling were classified in the original release — a description of his travel appears at 321ff.

293, 362, 368, 377: Individualized FISA orders automatically qualify the target for 705(b) surveillance

Yates signed the application, and OI submitted the application to the FISC the same day. By her signature, and as stated in the application, Yates found that the application satisfied the criteria and requirements of the FISA statute and approved its filing with the court. 293

293 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5

362 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

368 Boente’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

Rosenstein’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

A set of four footnotes describing that the Attorney General designee signature on the Page applications are one of the declassifications that has been significantly misunderstood.

Under FISA, for authorizations that are more strict (with an individualized content warrant being the most strict), authorization for less or equivalent surveillance is fairly automatic. People targeted with individual orders here in the US must either be covered, when they travel overseas, by 703 (surveillance overseas with the assistance of a US provider) or 704 (surveillance without assistance overseas, meaning EO 12333 surveillance), but there’s an authorization, 705(b), that allows both domestic collection and 12333 collection overseas. As far as all public records and some non-public ones show, 703 has never been used. 705(b) has instead, meaning that when people travel overseas, the government uses techniques available under EO 12333. There’s good reason to believe that the techniques available under 705(b)/EO 12333 are much niftier, including (as one example) more sophisticated device hacks.

I wrote about the import of 705(b) authority with Carter Page back in April 2017 (in a piece that also suggested he might be the first person ever to get to review his FISA application).

That he was approved for 705(b) is important because he was surveilled overseas. But that is in no way unique to Page. Nor, even if this were “physical search” mean they were surveilling his person. A hack of a phone, conducted from Maryland, would qualify.

296: Steele fluffed his MI6 experience

Steele is a former [redacted] and has been an FBI source since in or about October 2013. [Steele’s] reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses [Steele] to be reliable. 296

296 Although Case Agent 2’s summary of the early October meeting with Steele states that Steele described his former position in a manner consistent with the footnote in the FISA application, other documentation (discussed in Chapter Eight) indicates that Steele’s former employer told the FBI in November 2016, after the first application was filed, that Steele had served in a “moderately senior” position, not a “high‐ranking” position as Steele suggested.

This is a complaint about whether Steele or the FBI agent was responsible for the depiction of how he was described in a footnote in the application. It basically shows that Steele fluffed his experience when meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, but this kind of distinction is often semantics.

301 to 303: Hiding more details about Sergei Millian

Before the initial FISA application was filed, FBI documents and witness testimony indicate that the Crossfire Hurricane team had assessed, particularly following the information Steele provided in early October, that Source E was most likely a person previously known to the FBI, referred to hereinafter as Person 1. 301

[snip]

In addition, we learned that Person 1 was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The 01 Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, Person 1 [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that Person 1 “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that Person 1 was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on Person 1, the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was Person 1.

301 is one of a small number of footnotes that did not get declassified any further. 302 still hides the source of intelligence claiming that Millian was rumored to be a former Russian intelligence officer, though that Glenn Simpson believed it was not really secret. Clearly there are things about Millian — or about the reporting on Millian — that remain legitimately secret. For some reason, 303 was included on the declassification list even though it had been entirely declassified (it was clearly at least FOUO) for the initial release of the report.

328: Secret discussions sometimes remain secret

Priestap said he interpreted the comments about Steele’s judgment to mean that “if he latched on to something … he thought that was the most important thing on the face of this earth” and added that this personality trait doesn’t necessarily “jump out as a particularly bad or horrible [one]” because, as a manager, it can be helpful if the “people reporting to [you] think the stuff they’re working on is the most important thing going on” and use their best efforts to pursue it. Information from these meetings was shared with the Crossfire Hurricane team. However, we found that it was not memorialized in Steele’s Delta file and therefore not considered in a validation review conducted by the FBI’s Validation Management Unit (VMU) in early 2017. 328

328 Priestap told the OIG that he recalled that he may have made a commitment to Steele’s former employer not to document the former’s employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information.

It’s unclear whether DOJ IG doesn’t believe Bill Priestap’s explanation for not including details that might be considered derogatory about Steele. And he’s right that the judgment — that Steele might follow shiny objects — might not be a bad thing in a well-managed source. In any case, the US now appears uninterested in hiding this detail.

334: For some reason Steele’s primary sub-source claimed to believe he was getting paid to meet with friends

As noted in the first FISA application, Steele relied on a primary sub-source (Primary Sub-source) for information, and this Primary Sub-source used a network of sub-sources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele; Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. 334

334 When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub‐source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, but rather as friends with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations. The Primary Sub‐source [was] [redacted]

This passage (the “was” was previously unredacted but is now redacted) has generated a lot of uncritical attention, as has the DOJ IG Report’s reporting on the primary sub-source generally. One possibility for who this person is is that he’s someone in a British-based Russian community; that community has successfully been targeted for assassination repeatedly (and if the person were in Russia, would be even more vulnerable). If this person was knowingly part of disinformation, undermining Steele would be part of the disinformation. If the person was not, he might want to minimize what he did to avoid assassination himself. But the claim — made here — that someone getting paid to tell Steele these stories (as he was) didn’t realize his network was being treated as subsources is laughable, and reflects more on the reliability of what the Primary Subsource actually said, because it is solid evidence he’s spinning his relationship with Steele.

339: People who would have ties to Russian intelligence are alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence

The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339

339 The Primary Sub‐source also told the FBI at these interviews that the subsource who provided the information about the Carter Page‐ Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS). [redacted]

From the day the dossier came out, it was explicit that some of the claimed sources for it had ties to Russian intelligence, and it would be unsurprising if someone close to Igor Sechin did too. The context to this footnote — that the Primary Subsource’s texts with the subsource didn’t reflect any payment to Page — is actually far more damning for Steele (or his Subsource, who for reasons I laid out above, I think shouldn’t be trusted). But the fact that spooks talk to spooks is actually not all that interesting (and in Steele’s dossier, is explicit).

Note there’s a redaction after this claim, which may be an assessment of whether the claim, in this case, makes any sense.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

There are two allegations in this newly declassified information. First, that someone on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that said Steele’s company may have been targeted. And second, a recurring report about one or multiple June 2017 reports stating that Russian intelligence knew of Steele’s efforts in “early” or “July” 2016.

The first claim, with the continued redaction, is unclear about three things: whether Steele was targeted by human or cyber spying, and who conducted the open source investigation, and what the “it” refers to (it could be Orbis, or the attempted targeting of him). It would be thoroughly unsurprising if Steele had been phished, for example, as virtually all anti-Russian entities were in this period. Phishing might have entailed open source investigation into Orbis (but then, so would human targeting). If phishing or any other hacking were successful, Russia might have learned of his project that way.

I’ll deal with this June 2017 report(s) in more depth later. Here, though, the Supervisory Intel Analyst was making a distinction between knowing of Steele’s project and compromising it that may not be entirely credible. It’s important in this context because the FBI did not consider, before Page’s June 2017 FISA application, whether Steele’s allegations about him were disinformation. (Elsewhere, Priestap describes that he considered but dismissed the possibility because he didn’t understand how that would work.)

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

A number of frothy right wingers have pointed to this as further proof of a grand conspiracy. It could be that. But that’s not necessarily what this shows. It does show that 1) the sub-source was in touch with both the primary Subsource (which you’d want to prove to make sure the contact actually happened, and 2) the sub-source had the kind of contacts — with Russia’s Presidential Administration — to reflect actual access to information. The Hillary support absolutely could mean that the sub-source played up whatever he or she had learned from Russian sources, in which his or her claim that Steele’s reporting was exaggerated might be a way to deflect blame. That said, the better part of potential sources for this dossier would not have been pro-Hillary.

The declassification reveals the interesting detail that one and only one of Steele’s subsources was targeted under Section 702.

350: The FBI identified the Michael Cohen reporting as erroneous from early on

Stuart Evans, NSD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General who oversaw OI, stated that if OI had been aware of the information about Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1, it would have been evaluated by OI. He told us: “Counterintelligence investigations are complex, and often involve as I said, you know, double dealing, and people playing all sides…. I think that [the connection between Steele and Russian Oligarch 1] would have been yet another thing we would have wanted to dive into. “350

350 In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful. A USIC report dated February 27, 2017, contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump’s sexual activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false, and that they were the product of RIS “infiltrate[ing] a source into the network” of a [redacted] who compiled a dossier of that individual on Trump’s activities. The [redacted] noted that it had no information indicating that the individual had special access to RIS activities or information.

This footnote is meant to elaborate on Evans’ comment about counterintelligence investigations involving a lot of double dealing, context that is particularly important to reading the still redacted footnote. The footnote explains two things. First, that by January 12, 2017 — that is, days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — what is probably another intelligence service (it could even be the Czechs, given the import of Prague) raised concerns about the accuracy of the subset of reporting on Michael Cohen. Given how Steele represented his reports, however, one set of reports would not necessarily reflect on the accuracy of the others (unless they pointed to disinformation from the primary Subsource); that’s how raw intelligence works! The accuracy of the Cohen reporting does not necessarily reflect on the Page FISA application, which is what this report is about.

The record shows that Mueller did not use the Steele dossier in his investigation of Cohen — which seems to have arisen from Suspicious Activity Reports from his banks showing that immediately after the election a bunch of foreigners, including a key Russian, started paying him large sums. And given what else we know about Cohen, confirmation that this is disinformation actually suggests the disinformation was more sophisticated than otherwise understood, in that it provided cover for other things Russia was doing, something I’ll return to.

As to the 2013 dossier about 2013, because of the redactions, it’s unclear whether the FBI obtained a report of someone reporting that he had learned about a Russian dossier on Trump from his 2013 trip, or that someone else was doing a dossier about someone associated with Trump’s trip. Given what we know from Giorgi Rtskhiladze’s testimony to the FBI and Cohen’s discussion of it since, we already knew there was a dossier material from Trump’s 2013 trip, and had been floated continuously since then. Indeed, this report could actually suggest that the CIA learned of the interactions Rtskhiladze (who had ties to Russia and Trump) had before FBI did.

Update: the version of the footnote that appears in the letter to Grassley shows this footnote was transcribed incorrectly in the full version (replacing “a dossier of information” with “a dossier of that individual”), which raises questions about some of the other transcriptions.

That doesn’t actually change my point:

  1. At least according to Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony, the alleged pee tape had been out there since 2013
  2. Giorgi Rtskhiladze is one person — and if Cohen is to be believed, he’s not alone — who knew of the pee tape allegation, and he definitely wanted to claim it was not real (which I’m not contesting), even while having tried to pressure Cohen with it; he also would fit the description of someone who has ties to Russia and Trump but not public ties to Russian intelligence
  3. The redaction of whose dossier this was — which was DOJ IG’s transcription of the report, not a direct quote — is redacted. If this is about Steele (and I’m not wedded to either reading), then for some reason DOJ IG’s redacted description is sensitive (for some reason they didn’t write “source #1”). And the Steele dossier is not just about Trump’s activities. There are multiple possible explanations for why it is sensitive.

I should not have used “2013” above to distinguish this second claim. But my underlying point remains: in context, that redaction suggests something else is going on.

In any case, I’m grateful to my fan who pointed out the difference in the footnote.

365: Classified stuff about Millian that had already been declassified remains declassified

Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 did advise the court of a news article claiming that Person 1 was a source for some of the Steele reports and that Person 1 denied having any compromising information regarding the President. 365

365 In Chapter Five, we describe how the FBI did not specifically and explicitly advise or about the FBI’s assessment before the first FISA application that Person 1 was the sub-source who provided the information relied upon in the application from Steele Reports 80, 95, and 102; that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1; and that the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation on Person 1. As noted previously, in the next chapter, we describe the information from the Primary Sub-source interview concerning Person 1 and the information that was not shared with or about inconsistences [sic] between the Primary Sub-source and Steele concerning information provided by Person 1.

As with other instances, there was stuff about Sergei Millian that was declassified for the original release, but as a result was included in this declassification review.

372: FISA collections that corroborated Page’s application has been sequestered

In original form, this footnote (modifying an entirely redacted bullet) described what the third application had said. Because the FISC ordered FBI to sequester all collection from the FISA applications targeting Page, this footnote now marks the information as sequestered.

379: FBI violated minimization procedures in retaining information on Carter Page

According to NSD supervisors, as of October 2019, NSD had not received a formal response from the FISC to the Rule 13 Letter. 379

379 On May 10, 2019, NSD sent a second letter to the FISC concerning the Carter Page FISA applications, advising the court of two indicants in which the FBI failed to comply with the SMPs applicable to physical searches conducted pursuant to the final FISA orders issued by the court on June 29, 2017. According to the letter, the FBI took and retained on an FBI‐issued cell phone photographs of certain property taken in connection with a FISA‐authorized physical search on July 13, 2017, which NSD assessed did not comport with the SMPs. In addition in a separate incident on July 29, 2017, the FBI took photographs in connection with another FISA‐authorized physical search and transferred the photographs to an electronic folder on the FBI’s classified secret network. . According to NSD, court staff contacted an NSD official in response to this letter and asked when the information at issue would be removed from non‐compliant FBI systems, and asked about other cases that might be impacted by the same problem. On October 9, 2019, NSD sent another letter to the FISC advising the court that the FBI completed the remedial process for the information associated with the Page FISA applications and information from other cases impacted by the same problem.

This footnote reveals something specific to Page and more generalized as well. First, FBI did “physical searches” on Page on June 29 and July 13, 2017. Remember, “physical searches” can include searches of stored communication, and in this period, FBI had a specific interest in Page’s use of an encrypted messaging app and bank accounts they had not yet reviewed, so these may not be searches of wherever Page lived at the time (though he has said he was out of the country during one or both of them). It appears the minimization violation pertained to the means by which FBI collected the information, basically by taking a picture of evidence. The language makes it clear that this is a more general problem, one suggesting the FBI had misused cell phones in conjunction with FISA searches (but which are probably totally okay under criminal physical searches).

This is the kind of thing, incidentally, where FBI (or NSA) usually gets FISA to adjust the rules to incorporate such practice, while requiring FBI to purge files of collection that violated the rules when collected.

389: Was the Primary Sub-Source actually not truthful and cooperative?

The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not recall anyone asking him whether he thought the Primary Sub-source was “truthful and cooperative,” as noted in the renewal applications. 389

Email communications reflect that in March 2017—after the first FISA application and first renewal were filed and before the last two renewals—the Supervisory Intel Analyst reviewed the first FISA application and the first renewal at OGC’s request to assist with potential redactions before the Department responded to Congressional information requests. The Supervisory Intel Analyst provided comments to the OGC Attorney, including advising him that the Primary Sub‐source was not [redacted] as stated in the FISA applications, and asking whether a correction should be made. The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not provide any other comments relating to the Primary Sub‐source, and he told us that he did not notice anything else potentially inaccurate or incomplete in the applications at that time.

Nothing new was declassified in this declassification review — the redaction continues to hide what had been claimed about Steele’s Primary Sub-Source. That raises questions about what might still be hidden here, including that there may be some question about how helpful the Primary Sub-Source really was.

475 FBI still had stuff from a pro-Trump informant in their files

The Handling Agent placed the materials into the FBI’s files. 475

475 We notified the FBI upon learning during our review that [redacted] material that the CHS had provided to the FBI were still maintained in FBI files.

This footnote was not further declassified with the declassification review. It pertains to a standing FBI informant who (unbeknownst to the Crossfire Hurricane team) was a part of the Trump campaign and had provided some information to his handler. For some reason, it seems the information should have been removed from FBI files, perhaps because it was disinformation. Note the SSA on this other team was avowedly anti-Hillary and was working on the Clinton Foundation investigation.

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