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Obama Administration Changed the Rationale for Why Assassinations Don’t Violate the Assassination Prohibition

As a number of outlets have reported, the Second Circuit last month upheld the government’s effort to keep a March 29, 2002 OLC memo pertaining to targeted killing secret; the opinion was unsealed yesterday. The government is probably doing so to keep changes in their rationale for why assassinations don’t violate the prohibition on assassination in EO 12333 secret.

The judges on the panel — especially Judge Jon Normand, who wrote the opinion — had pushed during an ex parte hearing in June to release language in that earlier memo because the dog & pony show around drone strikes in 2012 to 2013 had used closely related language. But after some more secret briefing, the court decided the application of EO 12333 was different enough such that it remained properly protected.

It seems highly likely the specific part of EO 12333 under discussion pertains to the assassination ban. Between the earlier hearing and the opinion, the court pointed to language in the March 25, 2010 Harold Koh speech, the March 5, 2012 Eric Holder speech, and the April 30, 2012 John Brennan speech on targeted killing (they also pointed to two Panetta comments). Each of the cited speeches discusses the assassination ban — and little else that might directly pertain to EO 12333, besides just generally covert operations authorized under Article II. There’s this language in Koh’s speech.

Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”

This language in Holder’s speech,

Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.

And this language in Brennan’s speech.

In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces are legitimate military targets.  We have the authority to target them with lethal force just as we targeted enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as German and Japanese commanders during World War II.

But even though all these public speeches commented on this interpretation of the assassination ban, the 2nd Circuit still permitted the government to shield the earlier memo.

The transcript of the June ex parte hearing reveals one explanation for that: the earlier memo was a “far broader interpretation” of the issue.

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That’s consistent with the government’s earlier claim (which I wrote about here).

Although the district court noted that the OLC-DOD Memorandum released by this Court contained a “brief mention” of Executive Order 12,333, the district court concluded that the analysis in the March 2002 Memorandum is significantly different from any legal analysis that this Court held has been officially disclosed and for which privilege has been waived.

In other words, while the earlier memo discusses the same aspect of EO 12333 as these public speeches (again, the assassination ban is by far the most likely thing), the earlier memo uses significantly different analysis, and so it may be hidden.

The June transcript also reveals that OLC lawyers reviewed and wrote on the 2002 memo at a later time — the implication being that someone in OLC reviewed the earlier memo in 2010 when writing the Awlaki one (and curiously, that hard copy with handwritten notes is the only one DOJ claims it can find).

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There are two things I find increasingly interesting about this earlier memo about EO 12333 — including at least one part presumably about the assassination ban. First, the implication that one of the lawyers reviewing it in 2010 saw the need to write a new memo (perhaps seeing the need to clean up yet more crazy John Yoo language? who knows). As I repeat endlessly, we know there’s a memo of uncertain date in which Yoo said the President could pixie dust the plain language of EO 12333 without changing the public language of it, and it’s possible this is what that memo did (though the President was clearly pixie dusting surveillance rules).

But I’m also interested in the date: March 29, 2002. The day after we captured Abu Zubaydah (who, at the time, top officials at least claimed to believe was a top leader of al Qaeda). The SSCI Torture Report made it clear the CIA originally intended to disappear detainees. Were they planning to execute them? If so, what stopped things?

In any case, CIA won its battle to hide this earlier discussion so we may never know. But it appears that DOJ may have felt the need to think thing through more seriously before drone assassinating a US citizen. So there is that.


Defining Stingray Emergencies … or Not

A couple of weeks ago, ACLU NoCal released more documents on the use of Stingray. While much of the attention focused on the admission that innocent people get sucked up in Stingray usage, I was at least as interested in the definition of an emergency during which a Stingray could be used with retroactive authorization:
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I was interested both in the invocation of organized crime (which would implicate drug dealing), but also the suggestion the government would get a Stingray to pursue a hacker under the CFAA. Equally curiously, the definition here leaves out part of the definition of “protected computer” under CFAA, one used in interstate communication.

(2) the term “protected computer” means a computer—
(A) exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States Government, or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government; or
(B) which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States;

Does the existing definition of an emergency describe how DOJ has most often used Stingrays to pursue CFAA violations (which of course, as far as we know, have never been noticed to defendants).

Now compare the definition Jason Chaffetz used in his Stingray Privacy Act, a worthwhile bill limiting the use of Stingrays, though this emergency section is the one I and others have most concerns about. Chaffetz doesn’t have anything that explicitly invokes the CFAA definition, and collapses the “threat to national security” and, potentially, the CFAA one into “conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest.”

(A) such governmental entity reasonably determines an emergency exists that—

(i) involves—

(I) immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person;

(II) conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest; or

(III) conspiratorial activities characteristic of organized crime;

Presumably, requiring conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest might raise the bar — but would still permit — the use of Stingrays against low level terrorism wannabes. Likewise, while it would likely permit the use of Stingrays against hackers (who are generally treated as counterinteligence threats among NatSec investigators), it might require some conspiracy between hackers.

All that said, there’s a whole lot of flux in what even someone who is often decent on civil liberties like Chaffetz considers a national security threat.

And, of course, in the FISA context, the notion of what might be regarded as an immediate danger of physical injury continues to grow.

These definitions are both far too broad, and far too vague.

The Second Circuit Attempts to Reassert Its Non-Definition of Relevant

Orin Kerr and Steve Vladeck got in a bit of a squabble last week over the Second Circuit’s decision not to reach the constitutionality of the phone dragnet. Vladeck called it wrong-headed, because even if the constitutional injury of the dragnet is temporary (that is, only until November 29), it’s the kind of injury that can recur. Kerr reads both this — and the Second Circuit’s original opinion — to be nothing more than a pragmatic nudge to Congress. “If you liked that opinion, it’s a little hard to object to the Second Circuit’s pragmatic, politically savvy, we-got-Congress-to-act-on-this-so-we’re-done moves in the second opinion.”

But I think both are misreading what the Second Circuit tried to do with this.

Take Kerr’s suggestion that the initial ruling from the Second Circuit got Congress to act.  He doesn’t say what he means by that (or which civil libertarians he had in mind when asserting that). The earlier decision certainly added pressure to get the bill through Congress.

But look at how Gerard Lynch, in his opinion, describes the relationship: Congress not just passed a bill to prohibit bulk telephone collection, but it “endorsed our understanding of the key term ‘relevance.'”

Congress passed the Freedom Act in part to prohibit bulk telephone metadata collection, and in doing so endorsed our understanding of the key term “relevance.”  See H.R. Rep. No. 114‐109, at 19.

Lynch goes on to cite the House report on the bill to support this claim.

Section 103 of the Freedom Act, titled “Prohibition on Bulk Collection of Tangible Things,” states that “[n]o order issued under this subsection may authorize the collection of tangible things without the use of a specific selection term” that meets certain requirements.  Id.  The purpose of § 103 is to “make[] clear that the government may not engage in indiscriminate bulk collection of any tangible thing or any type of record.”  H.R. Rep. No. 114‐109, pt. 1, at 18 (2015).  Section 103 is also intended to “restore meaningful limits to the ‘relevance’ requirement of Section 501, consistent with the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in ACLU v. Clapper.”  Id. at 19.

He cites language point to an entire section that the House says will restore limits to the relevance requirement of a section of a law “consistent” with his own earlier opinion.

All that said, it’s not clear that USA F-ReDux, as written, does do that. That’s true, first of all, because while the House report specifically states, “Congress’ decision to leave in place the ‘relevance’ standard for Section 501 orders should not be construed as Congress’ intent to ratify the FISA Court’s interpretation of that term” (Lynch cites this language in his opinion), it also doesn’t state that Congress intended to override that definition. What the bill did instead was leave the word “relevant” (still potentially meaning “all” as FISC defined it) in place, but place additional limits for its application under FISA.

Moreover, I’m not convinced the limits as written in USA F-ReDux accomplish all that the Second Circuit’s earlier opinion envisioned, which is perhaps best described in the ways the dragnets didn’t resemble warrants or subpoenas.

Moreover, the distinction is not merely one of quantity – however vast the quantitative difference – but also of quality.  Search warrants and document subpoenas typically seek the records of a particular individual or corporation under investigation, and cover particular time periods when the events under investigation occurred.  The orders at issue here contain no such limits.  The metadata concerning every telephone call made or received in the United States using the services of the recipient service provider are demanded, for an indefinite period extending into the future.  The records demanded are not those of suspects under investigation, or of people or businesses that have contact with such subjects, or of people or businesses that have contact with others who are in contact with the subjects – they extend to every record that exists, and indeed to records that do not yet exist, as they impose a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis as they are created.

Even setting aside my concern that USA F-ReDux only explicitly prohibits the use of communications company names like Verizon and AT&T as a specific selection term — thus leaving open the possibility FISC will continue to let the government use financial company names as specific selection terms — USA F-ReDux certainly envisions the government imposing “a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis.” It also permits the collection of records that “are not those of suspects under investigation.”

In other words, Lynch used this second opinion to do more than say the Second Circuit was “done with it.” He used it to interpret USA F-ReDux — and the word “relevant” generally, outside of FISA, and to do so in ways that go beyond the clear language of the bill.

Vladeck is wrong when he suggested the Second Circuit would assess “whether and to what extent the Fourth Amendment applies to information we voluntarily provide to third parties” — that is, the Third Party Doctrine generally. The Second Circuit made it quite clear throughout that they were interested in the application of “relevant,” not whether the Third Party Doctrine still applied generally, which is probably why Lynch isn’t that worried about the injury recurring.

And I think Lynch used this opinion — one the government can’t really appeal — to suggest the application of USA F-ReDux is broader than it necessarily is, and to suggest the narrowing of “relevant to” is more general than it would be under USA F-ReDux (which applies just to certain sections of FISA, but not to the definition of “relevant” generally).

It’s not clear how useful the opinion will be in restricting other over-broad uses of the word “relevant” (especially given DEA claims it has eliminated its dragnet). But I do suspect, having interpreted the law as having narrowed the meaning of the law, Lynch felt like he had limited the egregious constitutional injury.

The Awkward Timing of the 2nd Circuit Denial of ACLU’s Request for a Phone Dragnet Injunction

The 2nd circuit just denied the ACLU’s request for an injunction in the phone dragnet, finding that Congress intended to let the dragnet continue for 6 months after passage of USA F-ReDux.

That’s not all that surprising, but it also means the 2nd circuit is dodging constitutional issues for now (in part by claiming Congress had adopted their reasoning on the meaning of “relevant to,” which it did not; I will return to this).

But the court remanded the case on one main issue: what happens on November 29, when the 6 month transition period ends.

Appellants and the government disagree, however, regarding the mootness of the final relief requested after November 29: an injunction that would require the government to end the telephone metadata program and purge records collected unlawfully.  Appellants argue that the government intends to retain the records “indefinitely,” and are under no outside obligation to purge them, and thus that their claims for relief will not become moot on November 29.  The government argues that the claims will be moot on November 29, because the telephone metadata program will cease at that time, and an order enjoining the telephone metadata program will have no effect.

Further, the government notes that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has announced that the government will not use § 215 data for law enforcement or investigatory purposes after November 29.  See Statement by the ODNI on Retention of Data Collected Under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (July 27, 2015).  Additionally, the government states that it will destroy all records as soon as possible after the government’s litigation‐preservation obligations end, id., and thus Appellants’ requests that their information no longer be queried and that their records be purged will also be moot.


We do not address whether Appellants’ claims will become moot on November 29, and leave this, and all other remaining questions, to the district court in the first instance.

While I don’t expect much to come of this question either, it is rather awkward that the court has chosen to remand that decision today, of all days.

As it is, the 2nd circuit misses one development in this case, which is that after declaring on July 27 that they were going to keep the data but not use it for law enforcement purposes, the FISC then refused the government’s request to just rubber stamp that decision. So the question of what will happen with the data is still being review at the FISC.

Not only that, but today is also the deadline Michael Mosman set for FISC-appointed amicus Preston Burton to submit his first brief on this question.

So Burton will submit something — there’s no reason to think we’ll get to see all of his brief — without the benefit of knowing that ACLU may still contest whatever he argues for regarding the use of the data past November 29. And of course, one reason the government may need to keep that data past November 29 is because EFF has a protection order that requires they keep it for their lawsuit(s).

That still doesn’t mean anything all that interesting will come of this, but we do have two courts addressing the same question at the same time, without full notice of the other.

The Loopholes in DOJ’s New Stingray Policy

DOJ just announced a new policy on use of Stingrays which requires a warrant and minimization of incidentally-collected data. It’s big news and an important improvement off the status quo.

But there are a few loopholes.

Exigent and emergency uses

First, the policy reserves exigent uses. The exigent uses include most of DOJ Agencies known uses of Stingrays now.

These include the need to protect human life or avert serious injury; the prevention of the imminent destruction of evidence; the hot pursuit of a fleeing felon; or the prevention of escape by a suspect or convicted fugitive from justice.


In addition, in the subset of exigent situations where circumstances necessitate emergency pen register authority pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3125 (or the state equivalent), the emergency must be among those listed in Section 3125: immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury to any person; conspiratorial activities characteristic of organized crime; an immediate threat to a national security interest; or an ongoing attack on a protected computer (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1030) that constitutes a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment greater than one year.

We know the US Marshals constitute the most frequent users of admitted Stingray use — they’d be covered in prevention of escape by a fugitive. DEA seems to use them a lot (though I think more of that remains hidden). That’d include “conspiratorial activities characteristic of organized crime.” And it’s clear hackers are included here, which includes the first known use, to capture Daniel Rigmaiden.

And I’m not sure whether the exigent/emergency use incorporates the public safety applications mentioned in the non-disclosure agreements localities sign with the FBI, or if that’s included in this oblique passage.

There may also be other circumstances in which, although exigent circumstances do not exist, the law does not require a search warrant and circumstances make obtaining a search warrant impracticable. In such cases, which we expect to be very limited, agents must first obtain approval from executive-level personnel at the agency’s headquarters and the relevant U.S. Attorney, and then from a Criminal Division DAAG. The Criminal Division shall keep track of the number of times the use of a cell-site simulator is approved under this subsection, as well as the circumstances underlying each such use.

In short, many, if not most, known uses are included in exceptions to the new policy.

Notice to defendants

The many known uses of Stingrays where warrants would not be necessary — and where DOJ would therefore just be using a PRTT — are of particular importance given the way new disclosure requirements work. There are, to be sure, admirable new requirements to tell judges what the fuck they’re approving and what it means. But nothing explicitly says defendants will not get noticed. DOJ has said no past or current usage of Stingrays will get noticed to defendants. And all these non-warrant uses of Stingrays will be noticed either, probably. In other words, this returns things to the condition where defendants won’t know — because they would normally expect to see a warrant that wouldn’t exist in these non-warrant uses.

Sharing with localities

The policy doesn’t apply to localities, which increasingly have their own Stingrays they permit federal agencies to use. Curiously, the language applying this policy to federal cooperation with localities would suggest the federal rules only apply if the Feds are supporting localities, not if the reverse (FBI borrowing Buffalo’s Stingray, for example) is the case.

The Department often works closely with its State and Local law enforcement partners and provides technological assistance under a variety of circumstances. This policy applies to all instances in which Department components use cell-site simulators in support of other Federal agencies and/or State and Local law enforcement agencies.

Thus, it may leave a big out for the kind of cooperation we know to exist.

National security uses

Then, of course, the policy only applies in the criminal context, though DOJ claims it will adopt a policy “consistent” with this one on the FISC side.

This policy applies to the use of cell-site simulator technology inside the United States in furtherance of criminal investigations. When acting pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Department of Justice components will make a probable-cause based showing and appropriate disclosures to the court in a manner that is consistent with the guidance set forth in this policy.

BREAKING! FBI has been using Stingrays in national security investigations! (Told ya!)

This language is itself slippery. FISC use of Stingrays probably won’t be consistent on the FISC side (even accounting for the many ways exigent uses could be claimed in national security situations), because we know that FISC already has different rules for PRTT on the FISC side, in that it permits collection of post cut through direct dialed numbers — things like extension numbers — so long as that gets minimized after the fact. The section on minimization here emphasizes the “law enforcement” application as well. So I would assume that not only will national security targets of Stingrays not get noticed on it, but they may use different minimization rules as well (especially given FBI’s 30 year retention for national security investigation data).

Other agencies use of Stingrays for content

DOJ suggests that DOJ never collects content using Stingrays by stating that its Stingrays always get set not to collect content.

Moreover, cell-site simulators used by the Department must be configured as pen registers, and may not be used to collect the contents of any communication, in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 3127(3). This includes any data contained on the phone itself: the simulator does not remotely capture emails, texts, contact lists, images or any other data from the phone. In addition, Department cell-site simulators do not provide subscriber account information (for example, an account holder’s name, address, or telephone number).

But the rest of the policy makes it clear that department agents will work with other agencies on Stingray use. Some of those — such as JSOC — not only would have Stingrays that get content, but can even partner within the US with FBI.  So DOJ hasn’t actually prohibited its agencies from getting content from a Stingray (domestically — it goes without saying they’re permitted to do so overseas), just that it won’t do so using its own Stingrays.

Funny definitional games

Finally, while not necessarily a loophole (or at least not one I completely understand yet), I’m interested in this definition.

In the context of this policy, the terms “collection” and “retention” are used to address only the unique technical process of identifying dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information, as described by 18 U.S.C. § 3 I 27(3), emitted by cellular devices. “Collection” means the process by which unique identifier signals are obtained; “retention” refers to the period during which the dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information is utilized to locate or identify a target device, continuing until tlle point at whic!h such information is deleted.

This definition (which only applies to this policy and therefore perhaps not to national security uses of Stingrays) employs an entirely different definition for collection and retention than other collection that relies on collection then software analysis. Under upstream collection, for example, the government calls this definition of “retention” something closer to “collection.” Don’t get me wrong — this is probably a better definition than that used in other contexts. But I find it funny that FBI employs such different uses of these words in very closely connected contexts.

So, in sum, this is a real victory, especially the bit about actually telling judges what they’re approving when they approve it.

But there are some pretty obvious loopholes here….

Update: ACLU also welcomes this while pointing to some of the limits of the policy.

Update: Here are some of my posts on the FISA uses of PRTT, including (we now know) Stingrays.

I Con the Record: Drop the Lawsuits and We’ll Release the Data Hostages

I Con the Record just announced that the NSA will make the phone dragnet data it has “analytically unavailable” after the new system goes live in November, and unavailable even to techs three months later.

On June 29, 2015, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Government’s application to resume the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program pursuant to the USA FREEDOM Act’s 180-day transition provision. As part of our effort to transition to the new authority, we have evaluated whether NSA should maintain access to the historical metadata after the conclusion of that 180-day period.

NSA has determined that analytic access to that historical metadata collected under Section 215 (any data collected before November 29, 2015) will cease on November 29, 2015.  However, solely for data integrity purposes to verify the records produced under the new targeted production authorized by the USA FREEDOM Act, NSA will allow technical personnel to continue to have access to the historical metadata for an additional three months.

Separately, NSA remains under a continuing legal obligation to preserve its bulk 215 telephony metadata collection until civil litigation regarding the program is resolved, or the relevant courts relieve NSA of such obligations. The telephony metadata preserved solely because of preservation obligations in pending civil litigation will not be used or accessed for any other purpose, and, as soon as possible, NSA will destroy the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations.

As I understand it, whatever data has been found to be two or three degrees of separation from a baddie will remain in NSA’s maw, but the data that has never returned off a search will not.

I’m pleasantly surprised by this, as I suspect it reflects a decision to accept the Second Circuit verdict in ACLU v. Clapper and to move to shut down other lawsuits.

As I noted, two weeks ago, the ACLU moved for an injunction against the dragnet, which not only might have led to the Second Circuit ordering the government to purge ACLU’s data right away (and possibly, to stop collecting all data), but also basically teed up the Second Circuit to remind the FISC it is not an appellate court. I worried that would lead the FISC to ask FISCR to review its dragnet decisions under a provision newly provided under the USA F-ReDux.

Shortly after ACLU filed its request for an injunction, the government asked for an extension to … today, which the court granted.

So I assume we’ll shortly see that filing arguing that, since the government has voluntarily set a purge date for all the dragnet data, ACLU should not get its injunction.

That doesn’t necessarily rule out a FISCR fast track request, but I think it makes it less likely.

The other player here, however, is the EFF.

I believe both ACLU and EFF’s phone dragnet client Council on American Islamic Relations, had not only standing as clients of dragnetted companies, but probably got swept up in the two-degree dragnet. But CAIR probably has an even stronger case, because it is public that FISC approved a traditional FISA order against CAIR founder Nihad Awad. Any traditional FISA target has always been approved as a RAS seed to check the dragnet, and NSA almost certainly used that more back when Awad was tapped, which continued until 2008. In other words, CAIR has very good reason to suspect the entire organization has been swept up in the dragnet and subjected to all of NSA’s other analytical toys.

EFF, remember, is the one NGO that has a preservation order, which got extended from its earlier NSA lawsuits (like Jewel) to the current dragnet suit. So when I Con the Record says it can’t destroy all the data yet, it’s talking EFF, and by extension, CAIR. So this announcement — in addition to preparing whatever they’ll file to get the Second Circuit off its back — is likely an effort to moot that lawsuit, which in my opinion poses by far the biggest threat of real fireworks about the dragnet (not least because it would easily be shown to violate a prior SCOTUS decision prohibiting the mapping of organizations).

We’ll see soon enough. For the moment, though, I’m a bit surprised by the cautious approach this seems to represent.

Update: Timeline on data availability fixed.

Update: Here’s the government’s brief submitted today. I’m rather intrigued by how often the brief claims USA F-ReDux was about bulk “telephony” data when it was supposed to be about all bulk collection. But I guess I can return to that point.

Update: They depart from describing USA F-ReDux as a ban bulk collection of telephony when they describe it as a ban on collection of bulk collection under Section 215, also not what the bill says.

Part of the compromise on which Congress settled, which the President supported, was to add an unequivocal ban on bulk collection under Section 215 specifying that “[n]o order issued under” Section 215(b)(2) “may authorize collection of tangible things without the use of a specific selection term that meets the requirements” of that subsection.

Update: This is key language — and slightly different from what they argued before FISC. I will return to it.

Plaintiffs assert that, by not changing the language of Section 215 authorizing the collection of business records during the transition period, Congress implicitly incorporated into the USA FREEDOM Act this Court’s opinion holding that Section 215 did not authorize bulk collection. See Pls.’ Mot. 7- 8. Plaintiffs rely on language providing that the legislation does not “alter or eliminate the authority of the Government to obtain an order under” Section 215 “as in effect prior to the effective date” of the statute. USA FREEDOM Act § 109, 129 Stat. at 276. That language does not advance plaintiffs’ argument, however, because the statute says nothing expressly about what preexisting authority the government had under Section 215 to obtain telephony metadata in bulk. It is implausible that Congress employed the  word “authority” to signify that the government lacked authority to conduct the Section 215 bulk telephony-metadata program during the 180-day transition period, contrary to the FISC’s repeated orders and the Executive Branch’s longstanding and continuing interpretation and application of the law, and notwithstanding the active litigation of that question in this Court. That is especially so because language in the USA FREEDOM Act providing for the 180-day transition period has long been a proposed feature of the legislation. It is thus much more plausible that the “authority” Congress was referring to was not the understanding of Section 215 reflected in this Court’s recent interpretation of Section 215, but rather the consistent interpretation of Section 215 by 19 different FISC judges: to permit bulk collection of telephony metadata.

Illiberal Hollywood: What’s the Point of a Union if It Doesn’t Represent Members?

BrokenHollywoodThis year continues to be a big one for women in film. Films featuring women as leads and/or directed by women made beaucoup at the box office. Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Insurgent, and Fifty Shades of Grey are among the top ten films out of more than 284 released so far this year. Two of these films were directed by women; all four featured female leads. And two of these films put to lie once again the bullshit claim that ‘women can’t lead action films.’

The immense popularity of these movies — especially with women — demonstrates how much Hollywood underserves the female audience, in spite of repeated studies revealing how much women contribute to box office results. Women want women’s stories, told by women, and they’ve gotten them too rarely.

You’d think that Hollywood would actively court the single largest demographic by catering to its desires — but no. The film production pipeline remains solidly weighted toward men, still chasing the increasingly distracted 18-25 year-old male demographic.

It’s not as if women aren’t available as actors or directors. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) — the labor organization representing directors — counts among its ranks roughly 1200 female directors, reflecting the parity of female students who’ve been through film school or learned on the job in other production roles.

Which makes one wonder why actor/director/producer George Clooney said in a recent interview, “…there’s something like 15 female directors in a town of directors …

If a household name like Clooney doesn’t know more female directors, what exactly is it the DGA is doing for its female membership? It’s clearly not representing them within their own organization, let alone to studios and the public.

The ACLU‘s May 12th letter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) spelled out DGA’s complicity with Hollywood’s exclusion of female directors, when it asked the EEOC to investigate discriminatory practices. DGA has denied the use of short lists, but apart from preparing regular reports on diversity in hiring, it’s not clear at all what the DGA does to further the hiring of women directors. Continue reading

ACLU’s Poker Face

Thus far, I have not seen a statement from the ACLU on last night’s developments with respect to the PATRIOT Act — the passage of cloture, McConnell’s failure to even ask for an immediate vote, followed by McConnell filing several amendments that would weaken USA F-ReDux. [Correction: here is one. h/t EG]

Indeed, no one even seems to be interested what the ACLU thinks about all this, reporting the key players to include Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr, the White House and Intelligence Agencies, and the House, especially House leadership that would be forced to shepherd any changes to USA F-ReDux back through the House, but not the ACLU.

I’m interested.

Especially with Burr’s amendment to extend the transition period to the new phone records program to a full year. After all, ACLU’s lawsuit just got punted back to the District to see what happens now, but it was punted based on the presumption that Congress was going to fix the illegal dragnet “soon.”

A year is not “soon,” at least not in my book.

If ACLU agrees with me, they can asks the judges to provide some relief “sooner” than a year from now, either by ordering an earlier end to the dragnet or — at the very least — requiring the NSA to pull all of ACLU’s records from their dragnet. Indeed, given the number of active court challenges the ACLU has against the government, they’d be able to argue pretty compellingly they need quicker relief than a year.

In the past, NSA has suggested it would be too onerous to pull the records of one plaintiff from the dragnet. Who knows whether they were just bullshitting judges, but if it is too onerous, that would present other issues.

All of which is my way of saying the ACLU may have a few cards of interest in their hand that no one is much considering. I’m not going to ask them what they’re holding, mind you. I like that they may be deliberating in secret to thwart efforts to extend the dragnet.

I’m just noting that they do appear to still be holding some cards…

Government’s Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki Used “Significantly Different” EO 12333 Analysis

Jameel Jaffer has a post on the government’s latest crazy-talk in the ongoing ACLU and NYT effort to liberate more drone memos. He describes how — in the government’s response to their appeal of the latest decisions on the Anwar al-Awlaki FOIA — the government claims the Court’s release of an OLC memo does not constitute official release of that memo. (Note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the government is making this claim in anticipation of orders to release torture pictures in ACLU’s torture FOIA suit that’s about to head to the 2nd Circuit.)

But there’s another interesting aspect of that brief. It provides heavily redacted discussion of the things Judge Colleen McMahon permitted the government to withhold. But it makes it clear that one of those things is a March 2002 OLC memo that offers different analysis about the assassination ban than the analysis used to kill Anwar al-Awlaki.

The district court also upheld the withholding of a March 2002 OLC Memorandum analyzing the assassination ban in Executive Order 12,333 (the “March 2002 Memorandum”). (CA 468-70; see CA 315-29). Although the district court noted that the OLC-DOD Memorandum released by this Court contained a “brief mention” of Executive Order 12,333, the district court concluded that the analysis in the March 2002 Memorandum is significantly different from any legal analysis that this Court held has been officially disclosed and for which privilege has been waived.

The statement here is carefully worded, probably for good reason. That’s because the February 19, 2010 memo McMahon permitted the government to almost entirely redact clearly explains EO 123333 and its purported ban on assassinations in more depth than the July 16, 2010 one; the first paragraph ends,

Under the conditions and factual predicates as represented by the CIA and in the materials provided to us from the Intelligence Community, we believed that a decisionmaker, on the basis of such information, could reasonably conclude that the use of lethal force against Aulaqi would not violate the assassination ban in Executive Order 12333 or any application constitutional limitations due to Aulaqi’s United States citizenship.

I pointed out that there must be more assassination analysis here. It almost certainly resembles what Harold Koh said about a month later, for which activists at NYU are now calling into question his suitability as an international law professor.

Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”

But the government is claiming that because that didn’t get disclosed in the July 2010 memo, it doesn’t have to be disclosed in the February 2010 memo, and the earlier “significantly different” analysis from OLC doesn’t have to be disclosed either.

At a minimum, ACLU and NYT ought to be able to point to the language in the white paper that addresses assassinations that doesn’t appear in the later memo to show that the government has already disclosed it.

But I’m just as interested that OLC had to change its previous stance on assassinations to be able to kill Awlaki.

Of course, the earlier memo was written during a period when John Yoo and others were pixie dusting EO 12333, basically saying the President didn’t have to abide by EO 12333, but could instead violate it and call that modifying it. Perhaps that’s the difference — that David Barron invented a way to say that killing a high ranking leader (whether or not he’s a citizen) didn’t constitute assassination because of the weapons systems involved, as distinct from saying the President could blow off his own EOs in secret and not tell anyone.

I suggested Dick Cheney had likely pixie dusted EO 12333’s ban on assassinations back in 2009.

But there’s also the possibility the government had to reverse the earlier decision in some other fashion. After all, when Kamal Derwish was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on November 9, 2002, the government claimed Abu Ali al-Harithi was the target, a claim the government made about its December 24, 2009 attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, but one they dropped in all subsequent attempts, coincident with the February 2010 memo. That is, while I think it less likely than the alternative, it is possible that the 2010 analysis is “significantly different” because they had to interpret the assassination ban even more permissively. While I do think it less likely, it might explain why Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich keep pushing for more disclosure on this issue.

One thing is clear, however. The fact that the government can conduct “significantly different” analysis of what EO 12333 means, in secret, anytime it wants to wiretap or kill a US citizen makes clear that it is not a meaningful limit on Executive power.

The FBI PRTT Documents: Combined Orders

As I noted the other day, I’m working through documents submitted in EPIC’s FOIA for PRTT documents (see all of EPIC’s documents on this case here).

In addition to the documents released (the reports to Congress, the extensive reporting on the Internet dragnet), the government submitted descriptions of what appear to be two (possibly three) sets of documents withheld: documents pertaining to orders combining a PRTT and Section 215 order, and documents pertaining to a secret technique, which we’ll call the Paragraph 31 technique. In this post I’ll examine the “combined order” documents.

The Vaughn Index for this FOIA made it clear that a number of the documents Withheld in Full (WIF) pertained to orders combing the Pen Register and Section 215 (Business Record) authorities, as does this list from David Hardy’s second declaration.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 11.46.30 AM

Footnotes 3, 4, and 5 all note that these documents have already been successfully withheld in the EFF’s FOIA for Section 215 documents, and by comparing the page numbers in that Vaughn Index in that case, we can guess with some confidence that these orders are the following documents and dates:

  • Document 16 is EFF 89D, dated  2/17/2006, 17 pages
  • Document 17 is EFF 89K,  dated 2/24/2006, 8 pages

As I’ll show, this correlates with what we can glean from the DOJ IG Reports on Section 215.

I’m less certain about Document 12. Both the EFF and ACLU Vaughn Indices show a 10/31/06 document (it is 82C in the EFF Vaughn) that is the correct length, 4 pages, that is linked with another 10/31/06 document (see 82B and 84, for example). For a variety of reasons, however, I think we can’t rule out Document 89S which appears only in the EFF FOIA (but not the ACLU FOIA), which is dated December 16, 2005 (intriguingly, the day after NYT exposed Stellar Wind), in which case the withheld portion might be the relevant 4 pages of a longer 16 page order.

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