Even the Government Can’t Figure Out How It Uses Its FISA Dragnet

Things are getting interesting in the case of Raez Qadir Khan in Oregon, who was charged in 2011 with conspiring to materially support a suicide bombing that took place in Pakistan in 2009.

As I laid out in September, his lawyers asked to know what types of surveillance it used to collect all the data that went into a search warrant on Khan’s house.

At a hearing on September 11, the government said that it had provided all the notice Khan needed with its traditional, FAA, and physical search FISA notices.

JUDGE MOSMAN: Am I reading your brief correctly that in some way the defense has been told which authorities they ought to think about challenging here, maybe informally?

MR. GORDER: Well, both formally and informally, Your Honor. The formal way was the notices that we filed with the Court, which indicates that the government intends to use evidence derived from FISA Title I and FISA Title IIand FISA Title VII.

In response, at the hearing, Khan attorney Amy Baggio said she’d hold the government to those 3 FISA authorities.

MS. BAGGIO: Now, I understand the point that you made earlier, Your Honor, is they’ve narrowed that somewhat if we’re going to hold them to Title 1, 3 and 7,

Just over a month later, the government wrote the judge, Michael Mosman, a letter, changing its mind. It basically said:

  • It didn’t have to give Khan notice that they used FISA’s PRTT authority against him (most likely in the illegal Internet dragnet), because he didn’t meet all 5 of the criteria required before the government would have to give notice.
  • It didn’t have to give notice under FAA 703 because the government doesn’t intend to enter that electronic surveillance into evidence.
  • It didn’t have to give notice it used Section 215 (note, they almost surely used both the phone dragnet and the Western Union dragnet against him), because Khan lacks standing to contest the admission of this evidence. (Predictably, the government made no mention of the language in phone dragnet orders specifically permitting it to be used for discovery purposes.)

The government said nothing about Protect America Act, Section 704 of FISA (at least according to a Snowden document, the government doesn’t use 703, they use 704, which if that remains true Judge Mosman should know as a FISC judge), or EO 12333. The latter of which, in particular, Baggio has raised repeatedly.

In short, after a month of thinking about it, the government realized that its statements at the hearing were not correct, and that these other authorities were used, and maybe it ought to sort of confess to that after all.

Which Baggio pointed out in a letter filed yesterday.

In the October 15, 2014, letter, the government no longer claims that FISA Titles I, II, and VII (§702) are the only authorities relied on in this case. Instead the government advances, for the first time, arguments about why it is not legally required to provide Mr. Khan with notice that it used FISA subchapters III (PR/TT), IV (§ 215 business records), or FAA § 703. Effectively, the October 15, 2014, letter tacitly admits use of these provisions, but goes on to argue that there are other reasons it need not provide notice.

She also pointed out that, in submitting its letter over a month after the hearing, the government had violated the court’s briefing schedule without obtaining permission to do so.

On October 15, 2014, 65 days after the government’s briefing was due and 34 days after the motion was taken under advisement by the Court, the government submitted a letter raising new arguments and taking new positions in support of its request that the Court deny Mr. Khan’s Motion to Compel Notice. Exhibit B.


When the Court sets deadlines in a Rule 12(c) scheduling order, a party who fails to raise a “defense, objection, or request” related to a pretrial motion to suppress waives that argument. Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(e).1 A court may grant a party leave to submit a late argument if the party establishes “good cause.” Id. Here, the government did not seek leave before offering additional arguments over two months after its briefing was due. Moreover, the letter makes no attempt to establish good cause.

She goes on to hammer the government for its tortured definitions of “collect,” citing — among other things — James Clapper’s lie to Oregon’s Senator.

That is, the DoD definition permits the NSA to obtain communications and store them in a government database without a “collection” occurring. These regulations establish that government takes the position that the communications were “collected” only after an algorithm searches them for key words and analyzes the metadata.

Similarly, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Clapper explained in Senate testimony in response to a direct question from Senator Wyden in which DNI Clapper denied “collecting” data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans by stating: “[T]here are honest differences on the semantics when someone says ‘collection’ to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him [Senator Wyden].”

While she doesn’t say it, we know that the government uses both phone and Internet dragnet data — the Section 215 and PRTT collection the government refuses to notice — as the index to pull up this already collected data. Given that the investigation into Khan likely started only after his alleged co-conspirator’s suicide bombing, much of the evidence was almost certainly stored communication, pulled up using metadata as an index.

Baggio ends by calling on Mosman — a Title III judge but also a FISC judge — to guard his prerogative as the former.

The government’s letter attempts to justify a blanket policy of non-disclosure by coopting this Court’s constitutional role to resolve legal questions about whether (1) particular government conduct constitutes a search or seizure, (2) whether the search or seizure violated Mr. Khan’s constitutional rights and (3) if so, whether evidence obtained or derived from the search or seizure should be suppressed. The government’s argument amounts to an assertion that it need not provide Mr. Khan with notice because, even if it did, Mr. Khan would lose a motion to suppress. Such arguments offend the fundamental principles of the criminal justice system, and the Court should reject them. Without the type of notice requested in Mr. Khan’s Motion to Compel Notice,

I originally thought that having Mosman preside over this case would be a bit of a disaster, given FISC judges’ apparent willingness to make ridiculous arguments to defend the viability of their secret court. But I think Baggio is giving Mosman an important lesson in how the authorities he approves in secret actually play out in practice.

We’ll see whether he’s more interested in defending the prerogative of his Title III role or the claimed legitimacy of his secret judge role.

Raez Qadir Khan: Hoisting the FBI on Its Own Metadata Problems


As I said earlier, the lawyers defending Pakistani-American Raez Qadir Khan — who is accused of material support of terrorist training leading up to an associate’s May 2009 attack on the ISI in Pakistan — are doing some very interesting things with the discovery they’ve gotten.

Request for Surveillance Authorities

The first thing they did, in a July 14, 2014 filing, was to list all the kinds of surveillance they’ve been shown in discovery with a list of possible authorities that might be used to conduct that surveillance. The motion is an effort to require the government to describe what it got how.

The table above is my summary of what the motion reveals and shows only if a particular kind of surveillance happened during a given year; it only gives more specific dates for one-time events.

The brown (orange going dark!) reflects that emails were turned over in discovery from this period, but that the 2013 search warrant apparently says “authorization to collect emails existed from August 2009 to May 2012.” That’s not necessarily damning; they could get those earlier emails legitimately via a number of avenues that don’t involve “collecting” them. But it is worth noting for reasons I explain below.

The filing itself includes tables with more specific dates, Bates numbers, possible authorities, and — where relevant — search warrant items reliant on the items in question. It also describes surveillance they know to have occurred — further Internet and email surveillance, for example, a 2009 search of Khan’s apartment, as well as surveillance in later 2012 — that was not turned over in discovery.

Effectively, the motion lays out all the possible authorities that might be used to collect this data and then makes very visible that the criminal search warrant was derivative of it (there’s a bit of a problem, because the warranted March 2013 search actually took place after the indictment, and so Khan’s indictment can’t be entirely derivative of this stuff; that relies largely on emails).

I also think some of the authorities may not be comprehensive; for example, the pre-2009 emails may have been a physical FISA search. We also know FISC has permitted the government to collect URL searches under Section 215.

But it’s a damn good summary of the multiple authorities the government might use to obtain such information, by itself a superb demonstration of the many ways the government can obtain and parallel construct evidence.

The filing seems to suggest that the investigation started in fall 2009, some months after Khan’s alleged co-conspirator, Ali Jalil, carried out a May 2009 suicide attack in Pakistan. If that’s right, then the government obtained miscellaneous records (which is not at all surprising; these are things like immigration and PayPal records), email content, and call detail records retroactively. Alternately (Jalil was arrested in the Maldives in April 2006 and interrogated by people presenting themselves as FBI), the government conducted all the other surveillance back to 2005 in real time, but doesn’t want to show Khan’s team it has. In a response to this motion, the government claims that when the surveillance of Khan began is classified.

The motion for a description of which authorities the government used to obtain particular information is still pending.

Motion to Throw Out the Emails

Here’s where things get interesting.

On September 15, Khan’s lawyers submitted a filing moving to throw out all the email evidence (which is the bulk of what has been shown so far and — as I said — most of what the indictment relies on). It argues the 504 emails provided in discovery — spanning from February 2005 to February 2012–lack much of the metadata detail necessary to be submitted as authenticated evidence. Some of the problems, but by no means all, stem from FBI having printed out the emails, hand-redacted them, then scanned them and sent them as “electronic production” to Khan’s lawyers.

That argument is highly unlikely to get anywhere on its own, though a declaration from a forensics expert does raise real questions about the inconsistency of the metadata provided in discovery.

But the filing does pose interesting questions that — in conjunction with questions about the authorities used to investigate Khan — may be more fruitful.

Read more

Oregon Prosecutors Wiretapped Defense Investigators on Mohamed Osman Mohamud Case

I’m working on a post on some interesting FISA moves the defense attorney for Reaz Qadir Khan, a Pakistani American indicted for material support for terrorism back in 2012, recently made. But before that, I wanted to note something revealed by documents in his prosecution that I wasn’t aware of before.

The FBI wiretapped 2 conversations and one voicemail defense investigators for Mohamed Osman Mohamud had with Khan in June 2011 and then handed those recordings over to the prosecutor who prosecuted Mohamud and is prosecuting Khan.

In a filing in April, Khan’s lawyers moved to obtain information about the government’s minimization procedures. They pointed to 4 different privileged conversations that had been included in discovery:

  • January 21, 2010 conversation between Khan and his immigration attorney seeking help because the FBI had told him he would be unable to fly overseas to visit his family
  • June 9, 2011 phone interview of Khan by Public Defenders conducting an investigation on behalf of Mohamed Osman Mohamud
  • June 14, 2011 phone interview between Khan and Mohamud’s investigators
  • June 14, 2011 voice mail in which a Mohamud investigator asked Khan to look for something needed by the defense

While the filing doesn’t identify Mohamud as the client in this case, the judge’s subsequent order to unseal the exhibits pertaining to those calls so as to be handed over to the defendant in that case references Mohamud’s docket.

Share with Mohamud

This also likely explains why, at the beginning of this case, the government submitted notice of a possible conflict involving Khan’s lawyer Amy Baggio[Update, that may refer to Lawrence Matasar, who then represented Khan.] She used to work at the Public Defenders office (for all we know, she could have been recorded on those calls). Also, it may begin to explain why the government indicted Khan on December 27, 2012, just weeks before Mohamud’s trial began, but waited to arrest him until March 5, 2013, after Mohamud’s trial had concluded.

Mohamud was right in the middle of his fight to throw out his conviction because he was not noticed about the government’s use of FAA at the time the judge issued this order on May 14, but I don’t see any sign of it in his docket.

While all this doesn’t explain what the tie between Khan and Mohamud is — in its response, the government actually claims it is “unrelated” and that it was not handed over to prosecutors until after the conclusion of Mohamud’s case (which would mean it wasn’t provided to the prosecutor before he indicted Khan) — it does make it clear that the government would share the privileged conversations of one defendant with that defendant’s prosecutor via the prosecution of another defendant under FISA.

In related news, the minimization procedures tied to FBI electronic surveillance released as part of the Yahoo dump have been on the fritz since the release. Here is a copy, but the section on privileged communication is entirely redacted.

Update: In a follow-up, Khan’s lawyer noted 3 more privileged conversations, all January 28, 2012 contacts between Khan and a T Nelson, who is probably Thomas Nelson, who was involved in — among other things — the al-Haramain case.