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

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

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

As such, this package reflects a number of things:

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

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

The background

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

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

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

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

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

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

The FBI’s querying violations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, I noted this in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2017, the Government Withdrew Three FISA Collection Requests Rather than Face an Amicus Review

Last year’s Section 702 Reauthorization law included a bunch of technical fix language describing how appeals of FISA Court of Review decisions should work.

In this post on that technical language, I speculated that Congress may have added the language in response to a denial of a request by the FISCR, about the only thing that would have identified the need for such language.

As one piece of evidence to support that hypothesis, I noted that one of the times the FISC consulted with an amicus (probably Amy Jeffress), it did not make the topic or the result public.

There’s one other reason to think there must have been a significant denial: The report, in the 2015 FISC report, that an amicus curiae had been appointed four times.

During the reporting period, on four occasions individuals were appointed to serve as amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i). The names of the three individuals appointed to serve as amicus curiae are as follows:  Preston Burton, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II  (with Freedom Works), and Amy Jeffress. All four appointments in 2015 were made pursuant to § 1803(i)(2)(B). Five findings were made that an amicus curiae appointment was not appropriate under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A) (however, in three of those five instances, the court appointed an amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(B) in the same matter).

We know of three of those in 2015: Ken Cuccinelli serving as amicus for FreedomWorks’ challenge to the restarted dragnet in June 2015, Preston Burton serving as amicus for the determination of what to do with existing Section 215 data, and Amy Jeffress for the review of the Section 702 certifications in 2015. (We also know of the consultation with Mark Zwillinger in 2016 and Rosemary Collyer’s refusal to abide by USA Freedom Act’s intent on amici on this year’s reauthorization.) I’m not aware of another, fourth consultation that has been made public, but according to this there was one more. I say Jeffress was almost certainly the amicus used in that case because she was one of the people chosen to be a formal amicus in November 2015, meaning she would have been called on twice. If it was Jeffress, then it likely happened in the last months of the year.

I raise that background because of a detail in the FISC report released yesterday, showing its approvals for 2017. It revealed that FISC told the government on three occasions it might appoint an amicus. On all three occasions, the government withdrew the request rather than undergo a FISC review with even a limited adversary.

During the reporting period, no individual was appointed to serve as amicus curiae by the FISA courts. No findings were made in 2017, pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A), that an amicus curiae appointment was not appropriate. There were three matters in which the Court advised the government that it was considering appointment of an amicus curiae to address a novel or significant question of law raised in proposed applications, but the government ultimately did not proceed with the proposed applications at issue, or modified the final applications such that they did not present a novel or significant question of law, thereby obviating a requirement for consideration as to the appropriateness of appointment of amicus. These matters are reflected in the table above as, respectively, a modification to a proposed order, an application denied in full, and an application denied in part. This is the first report including information about such occurrences. A similarly small number of such events occurred during prior reporting periods but were not discussed in the reports for those years.

In one case, the government withdrew an entire application after learning the FISC might appoint an amicus to review the proposed technique. In two others, the final order in one or another way did not include the requested practice.

These three instances are not the first time the government has withdrawn a request after learning FISC would invite adversarial review. While the court doesn’t reveal how many or in what years, it does say that a “similarly small number of such events occurred during prior reporting periods.” Given that there have been just two other reporting periods (the report for part of 2015 and the report covering all of 2016), the language seems to suggest it happened in both years.

That the government has been withdrawing requests rather than submitting them to the scrutiny of an amicus suggests several things.

First, it may be withdrawing such applications out of reluctance to share details of such techniques even with a cleared amicus, not even one of the three who served as very senior DOJ officials in the past. If that’s right, that would reflect some pretty exotic requests, because some of the available amici (most notably former Assistant Attorney General David Kris) have seen all that DOJ was approving with NatSec collection.

Second, remember that for at least one practice (the collection of location information), the government has admitted to opting to using criminal process rather than FISA where more lenient precedents exist in particular jurisdictions. That might happen, for example, if a target could be targeted in a state that didn’t require a warrant for some kinds of location data whereas FISC does.

Starting in 2017, the government would have the ability to share raw EO 12333 with the FBI, which might provide another alternative means to collect the desired data.

All of which is to say these withdrawals don’t necessarily mean the government gave up. Rather, past history has shown that the government often finds another way to get information denied by the FISC, and that may have happened with these three requests.

Finally, remember that as part of 702 reauthorization last year, Ron Wyden warned that reauthorization should include language preventing the government from demanding that companies provide technical assistance (which obviously includes, but is probably not limited to, bypassing or weakening encryption) as part of 702 directives. The threat the government might do so under 702 is particularly acute, because unlike with individual orders (which is what the withdrawn requests here are), the FISC doesn’t review the directives submitted under 702. Some of these withdrawn requests — which may number as many as nine — may reflect such onerous technical requests.

Importantly, one reason the government might withdraw such requests is to avoid any denials that would serve as FISC precedent for individualized  and 702 requests. That is, if the government believed the court might deny an individual request, it might withdraw it and preserve its ability to make the very same demand in a 702 context, where the FISC doesn’t get to review the techniques use.

Whatever the case, the government has clearly been bumping up against the limits of what it believes FISC will approve in individualized requests. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been surpassing those limits via one or another technical or legal means.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

WAG: The Government Made a Significant FISA Back Door Request Just Before December 9, 2015

As I’ve noted, we can be virtually certain that the government has started demanding back doors from tech companies via FISA requests, including Section 702 requests that don’t include any court oversight of assistance provided. Wyden said as much in his statement for the SSCI 702 reauthorization bill request.

It leaves in place current statutory authority to compel companies to provide assistance, potentially opening the door to government mandated de-encryption without FISA Court oversight.

We can point to a doubling of Apple national security requests in the second half of 2016 as one possible manifestation of such requests.

The number of national security orders issued to Apple by US law enforcement doubled to about 6,000 in the second half of 2016, compared with the first half of the year, Apple disclosed in its biannual transparency report. Those requests included orders received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as national security letters, the latter of which are issued by the FBI and don’t require a judge’s sign-off.

We might even be able to point to a 2015 request that involved an amicus (likely Amy Jeffress) and got appealed.

Given those breadcrumbs, I want to return to this post on the demand for a back door into the work phone of the San Bernardino killer, Syed Rezwan Farook. In it, I presented a number of other data points to suggest such a request may have come in late 2015. First, in a court filing, Apple claimed to object to a bunch of requests for All Writs Act assistance to break into its phones on the same day, December 9, 2015.

As I noted the other day, a document unsealed last week revealed that DOJ has been asking for similar such orders in other jurisdictions: two in Cincinnati, four in Chicago, two in Manhattan, one in Northern California (covering three phones), another one in Brooklyn (covering two phones), one in San Diego, and one in Boston.

According to Apple, it objected to at least five of these orders (covering eight phones) all on the same day: December 9 (note, FBI applied for two AWAs on October 8, the day in which Comey suggested the Administration didn’t need legislation, the other one being the Brooklyn docket in which this list was produced).

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 7.23.53 PM

The government disputes this timeline.

In its letter, Apple stated that it had “objected” to some of the orders. That is misleading. Apple did not file objections to any of the orders, seek an opportunity to be heard from the court, or otherwise seek judicial relief. The orders therefore remain in force and are not currently subject to litigation.

Whatever objection Apple made was — according to the government, anyway — made outside of the legal process.

But Apple maintains that it objected to everything already in the system on one day, December 9.

Why December 9? Why object — in whatever form they did object — all on the same day, effectively closing off cooperation under AWAs in all circumstances?

I suggested that one explanation might have been a FISA request for the same thing. Apple would know that FISC takes notice of magistrate decisions, and would want to avoid fighting that battle on two fronts.

There are two possibilities I can think of, though they are both just guesses. The first is that Apple got an order, probably in an unrelated case or circumstance, in a surveillance context that raised the stakes of any cooperation on individual phones in a criminal context. I’ll review this at more length in a later post, but for now, recall that on a number of occasions, the FISA Court has taken notice of something magistrates or other Title III courts have done. For location data, FISC has adopted the standard of the highest common denominator, meaning it has adopted the warrant standard for location even though not all states or federal districts have done so. So the decisions that James Orenstein in Brooklyn and Sheri Pym in Riverside make may limit what FISC can do. It’s possible that Apple got a FISA request that raised the stakes on the magistrate requests we know about. By objecting across the board — and thereby objecting to requests pertaining to iOS 8 phones — Apple raised the odds that a magistrate ruling might help them out at FISA. And if there’s one lawyer in the country who probably knows that, it’s Apple lawyer Marc Zwillinger.

At the time, Tim Cook suggested that “other parts of government,” aside from the FBI, were asking for more, suggesting the NSA might be doing so.

Aside the obvious reasons to wonder whether Apple got some kind of FISA request, in his interview with ABC the other day, Tim Cook described “other parts of government” asking for more and more cases (though that might refer to state and city governments asking, rather than FBI in a FISA context).

The software key — and of course, with other parts of the government asking for more and more cases and more and more cases, that software would stay living. And it would be turning the crank.

The other possibility is that by December 9, Apple had figured out that — a full day after Apple had started to help FBI access information related to the San Bernardino investigation, on December 6 — FBI took a step (changing Farook’s iCloud password) that would make it a lot harder to access the content on the phone without Apple’s help.

Obviously, there are other possible explanations for these intersecting breadcrumbs (including that the unidentified 2015 amicus appointment was for some other issue, and that it didn’t relate to appeals up to and including the Supreme Court). But if these issues were all related it’d make sense.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Technical Fixes in HJC Bill Suggest SCOTUS May Have Reviewed a (2015 ?) FISA Application

HJC has released a new version of the bill they’re cynically calling USA Liberty. The most significant change in the bill is that it makes the warrant requirement for criminal backdoor queries that will never be used an actual probable cause warrant, with the judge having discretion to reject the warrant.

But that’ll never be used. If a warrant requirement falls in the woods but no one ever uses it does it make a sound?

I’m more interested in a series of changes that were introduced as technical amendments that make seemingly notable changes to the way the FISC and FISCR work.

The changes are:

In 50 USC 1803 and 50 USC 1822 eliminating the requirement that the FISA Court of Review immediately explain its reason for denying an application before sending it to the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice shall publicly designate three judges, one of whom shall be publicly designated as the presiding judge, from the United States district courts or courts of appeals who together shall comprise a court of review which shall have jurisdiction to review the denial of any application made under this chapter. If such court determines that the application was properly denied, the court shall immediately provide for the record a written statement of each reason for its decision and, on petition of the United States for a writ of certiorari, the record shall be transmitted under seal to the Supreme Court, which shall have jurisdiction to review such decision.

Letting the FISA Court of Review, in addition to the FISC, ensure compliance with orders.

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to reduce or contravene the inherent authority of the court established under subsection (a) [a court established under this section] to determine or enforce compliance with an order or a rule of such court or with a procedure approved by such court.

In 50 USC 1805 (traditional FISA), 50 USC 1842(d) and 50 USC 1843(e) (pen registers), and 50 USC 1861(c) (215 orders) stating that a denial of a FISC order under 50 USC 1804 may be reviewed under 50 USC 1803 (that is, by FISCR).

Now, I suppose these (especially the language permitting FISCR reviews) count as technical fixes, ensuring that the review process, which we know has been used on at least three occasions, actually works.

But the only reason anyone would notice these technical fixes — especially how something moves from FISCR to SCOTUS — is if some request had been denied (or modified, given the language permitting the FISCR to ensure compliance with an order) at both the FISA court and the FISA Court of Review, or if FISCR tried (and got challenged) to enforce minimization procedures imposed at that level.

There’s one other reason to think there must have been a significant denial: The report, in the 2015 FISC report, that an amicus curiae had been appointed four times.

During the reporting period, on four occasions individuals were appointed to serve as amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i). The names of the three individuals appointed to serve as amicus curiae are as follows:  Preston Burton, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II  (with Freedom Works), and Amy Jeffress. All four appointments in 2015 were made pursuant to § 1803(i)(2)(B). Five findings were made that an amicus curiae appointment was not appropriate under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A) (however, in three of those five instances, the court appointed an amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(B) in the same matter).

We know of three of those in 2015: Ken Cuccinelli serving as amicus for FreedomWorks’ challenge to the restarted dragnet in June 2015, Preston Burton serving as amicus for the determination of what to do with existing Section 215 data, and Amy Jeffress for the review of the Section 702 certifications in 2015. (We also know of the consultation with Mark Zwillinger in 2016 and Rosemary Collyer’s refusal to abide by USA Freedom Act’s intent on amici on this year’s reauthorization.) I’m not aware of another, fourth consultation that has been made public, but according to this there was one more. I say Jeffress was almost certainly the amicus used in that case because she was one of the people chosen to be a formal amicus in November 2015, meaning she would have been called on twice. If it was Jeffress, then it likely happened in the last months of the year.

Obviously, we have no idea what this hidden consultation is. The scan of all of Yahoo’s email accounts was in 2015, but it has always been reported as “spring” and weeks before Alex Stamos left Yahoo, so that seems sure to have happened before June 8 and therefore without a post-USA Freedom Act amicus. Moreover, it seems very likely that this fourth amicus consultation involved a denial, because the government is supposed to release any significant decision. So I’m guessing that Jeffress proved persuasive in one case we don’t get to know about.

Update: In this bill I briefly called the bill USS Liberty but thought better of doing so.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

A Better Example of Article III FISA Oversight: Reaz Qadir Khan

As debate over reauthorization of Section 702 heats up, both those in favor of reform and those asking for straight reauthorization are making their cases. As part of that, I wrote a summary of the most persistent NSA (and FBI) violations of FISA for Demand Progress, called “Institutional Lack of Candor.” I did a piece for Motherboard based off the report, which also looks at how Rosermary Collyer did not use the leverage of FISA’s exclusivity clause to force NSA to purge improperly accessed data this year.

Meanwhile, NSA’s General Counsel, Glenn Gerstell, just did a speech at University of Texas laying out what he claimed is the judicial oversight over Section 702. There’s one line I find particularly interesting:

Among other things, Section 702 also enables collection of information on foreign weapons proliferators and informs our cybersecurity efforts.

Here, Gerstell appears to be laying out the three known certificates (counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and foreign government). But I wonder whether the “among other things” points to a new certificate, or to the more amorphous uses of the foreign government cert.

As for Gerstell’s argument that there’s sufficient judicial oversight, I find it laughable in several key points.

For example, here’s how Gerstell describes the amicus provision included with USA Freedom Act.

The FISC is entitled to call upon the assistance of amici when evaluating a novel or significant interpretation of the law or when it requires outside technical expertise. This amicus provision, which was added to FISA as part of the USA FREEDOM Act amendments in 2015, enables the court to draw upon additional expertise and outside perspectives when evaluating a proposed surveillance activity, thus ensuring that the FISC’s oversight remains both robust and knowledgeable. The court has designated a pool of experts in national security to serve as amicus curiae at the court’s request. Amici are specifically instructed to provide to the court “legal arguments that advance the protection of individual privacy and civil liberties,” “information related to intelligence collection or communications technology,” or any other legal arguments relevant to the issue before the court.

The FISC’s amicus provisions are more than a mere statutory wink and nod to strong judicial oversight. The court has in fact called upon its amici to assist in evaluating Section 702 activities. In 2015, the FISC appointed an amicus to analyze what the court felt were two novel or significant interpretations of law that arose as part of its review of the government’s annual application for 702 certifications. The first issue involved whether queries of 702 collection that are designed to return information concerning U.S. persons are consistent with statutory and constitutional requirements. The second question involved whether there were any statutory or constitutional concerns about preserving information collected under Section 702 for litigation purposes that would otherwise be subject to destruction under the government’s minimization procedures. On both issues, the FISC carefully considered the views of the amicus, ultimately concluding that both of the proposed procedures were reasonably tailored to protect the privacy of U.S. persons and thus permissible under both the FISA statute and the constitution. [my emphasis]

Gerstell speaks of the amicus provision as newly permitting — “entitled,” “enabled” — the FISC to consult with others. Yet the FISC always had the ability to call amici (in fact it did ask for outside help in the In Re Sealed Case provision and in a few issues in the wake of the Snowden leaks). What was new with the USAF amicus is an affirmative requirement to either use an amicus or explain why it chose not to in any matters that present a “novel or significant interpretation of the law.”

Authorization.–A court established under subsection (a) or (b), consistent with the requirement of subsection (c) and any other statutory requirement that the court act expeditiously or within a stated time–

(A) shall appoint an individual who has been designated under paragraph (1) to serve as amicus curiae to assist such court in the consideration of any application for an order or review that, in the opinion of the court, presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law, unless the court issues a finding that such appointment is not appropriate; and

(B) may appoint an individual or organization to serve as amicus curiae, including to provide technical expertise, in any instance as such court deems appropriate or, upon motion, permit an individual or organization leave to file an amicus curiae brief.

It’s true that USAF permits the FISC to decide what counts as new, but in those cases, the law does require one or another action, not simply permit it.

Which is why it’s so funny that Gerstell harps on the inclusion of Amy Jeffress in the 2015 recertification process. Note his silence on the 2016 process, which addressed an issue that (as both my reports above make clear) is far more problematic than the ones Jeffress weighed in on? Collyer simply blew off the USAF requirement, and didn’t get the technical help she apparently badly needed. As I noted, she sort of threw up her hands and claimed there were simply no people with the technical expertise and clearance available to help.

I suspect the Intelligence Community — and possibly even the law enforcement community — will live to regret Collyer’s obstinance about asking for help, if for no other reason than we’re likely to see legal challenges because of the way she authorized back door searches on content she knows to include domestic communications.

Gerstell then goes on to hail Mohamed Mohamud’s challenge to 702 as an example of worthwhile Title III court oversight of the program.

In certain circumstances, challenges to surveillance programs can be brought in other federal courts across the country. One recent court case is particularly illustrative of the review of Section 702 outside of the FISC, and here is how it commenced:

A few years ago, a young man named Mohamed Mohamud was studying engineering at Oregon State University. He had emigrated to the U.S. from Somalia with his family when he was only three, and he later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He grew up around Portland, Oregon, enjoying many typical American pursuits like music and the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2008, however, he was involved in an incident at Heathrow Airport in London during which he believed he was racially profiled by airport security. This incident set Mohamud on a path toward radicalization. He began reading jihadist literature and corresponding with other Al-Qaeda supporters. In 2010, he was arrested and indicted for his involvement in a plot to bomb the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Portland, which was scheduled to take place the day after Thanksgiving. He was eventually found guilty of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

After the verdict but before his sentencing, the government provided Mohamud with a supplemental notice that it had offered into evidence or otherwise used or disclosed during the proceedings information derived from Section 702 collection. After receiving this notice, Mohamud petitioned the court for a new trial, arguing that any 702-derived information should be suppressed because, among other reasons, he claimed that Section 702 violated the Fourth Amendment. The federal district court considered Mohamud’s claims before ultimately holding that 702 was constitutional. In so holding, the court found that 702 surveillance does not trigger the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement because any collection of U.S. person information occurring as a result of constitutionally permissible 702 acquisitions occurs only incidentally and, even if it did trigger the warrant requirement, a foreign intelligence exception applies. The court also found that “the government’s compelling interest in protecting national security outweighed the intrusion of Section 702 surveillance on an individual’s privacy,” so the 702 collection at issue in that case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Mohamud appealed the district court’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit, where the Circuit Court again looked at the constitutionality of the 702 collection at issue, with particular scrutiny on incidental collection. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the government’s surveillance in this case was consistent with constitutional and statutory requirements; even if Mohamud had a Fourth Amendment right to privacy in any incidentally-collected communications, the government’s searches were held to be reasonable. [my emphasis]

Look carefully at what Gerstell has argued: he uses a case where DOJ introduced evidence derived from 702, but gave the legally required notice only after the entire trial was over! That is, he’s pointing to a case where DOJ broke the law as proof of how well judicial oversight works.

And that’s important because DOJ has stopped giving 702 notice again (and has never given notice in a non-terrorism case, even though it surely has used derivative information in those cases as well). Without that notice, no defendant will be able to challenge 702 in the designated manner.

Which is why I would point to a different case for what criminal court oversight of SIGINT should look like: that of Reaz Qadir Khan (whose own case was closely linked to that of Mohamud).

At first, Khan tried to force the judge in his case, Michael Mosman, to recuse because he was serving as a FISA judge at the time. Mosman stayed.

Khan then asked for notice from the government for every piece of evidence obtained by the defense, laying out the possible authorities. Things started getting squirrelly at that point, as I summarized here.

Last year, I described the effort by the Reaz Qadir Khan’s lawyers to make the government list all the surveillance it had used to catch him (which, significantly, would either be targeted off a dead man or go back to the period during with the government used Stellar Wind). In October the government wrote a letter dodging most notice. Earlier this year, Judge Michael Mosman (who happens to also be a FISA judge) deferred the notice issues until late in the CIPA process. Earlier this month, Khan plead guilty to accessory to material support for terrorism after the fact.

What I suspect happened is that Mosman, who knows more about FISA than almost all District judges because he was (and still is) serving on the court, recognized that the government had surveillance that deserved some kind of judicial scrutiny (in this case, it probably involved Stellar Wind collection, but also likely included other authorities). So he agreed to deal with it in CIPA.

And just weeks later, Khan got a plea deal.

That’s the way it should work: for a judge to be able to look at surveillance and figure out if something isn’t exactly right or, for exotic interpretations of the law that don’t pass a smell test, and in those cases provide some means for review. Here, the government appears to have gotten uninterested in subjecting its evidence for review and, as is built into CIPA, ended up making a deal instead.

Of course, that rare exception points to one of the problems with FISC.

Gerstell claims that a court that until the Snowden leaks had no Democratic appointees on it boasts a “diversity of backgrounds.”

Recognizing the importance of judicial accountability for foreign intelligence surveillance under FISA, Congress designed a specialized court authorized to operate in secret – the FISC – to encourage rigorous oversight of activities conducted under FISA. Even its structure is deliberately assembled to serve that purpose. FISC judges are selected by the Chief Justice to serve for up to seven years, on staggered terms, which guarantees continuity and subject matter expertise on critical issues. In addition, the FISC is required by statute to be composed of judges drawn from at least seven of the U.S. judicial circuits. This statutory makeup ensures that the FISC includes judges from a diversity of backgrounds and geographic regions, rather than a court that might tend toward unanimity of thought or particular judicial sympathies.

That’s poppycock. The judges tend to be conservative. Importantly, the presiding judges are always from the DC district, not even just the DC neighborhood, such as MD or EDVA.

And remarkably, almost none of the judges on the FISC have presided over terrorism cases (Mosman is from OR, which because of a mosque that the FBI has basically lived in since 9/11, has had more than its share of terrorism cases). Which means the men and women sitting in Prettyman overseeing FISA often have little to no experience on how that data might affect an American’s right to a fair trial two years down the road.

I, like Gerstell, contest the claim that the FISC is generally a rubber stamp. But I do believe it should include more of the judges who actually oversee the trials that may result, because that experience would vastly improve understanding of the import of the review. At the very least, it should include the judges from EDVA who oversee the cases that go through the CIA-Pentagon District, which also includes a great many of the country’s espionage cases.

And most of all, the practice of having one judge, always from DC, review programmatic spying programs by herself should stop. While it is absolutely the case that judges have often shown great diligence, when a judge doesn’t show adequate diligence — as I believe Collyer did not this year — it may create problems that will persist for years.

The FISC is not a rubber stamp. But neither is the judicial oversight of 702 the consistently diligent oversight Gerstell claims.

I Con the Record Transparency Bingo (2): The Inexplicable Drop in PRTT Numbers

As noted in this post, I’m going to start my review of the new I Con the Record Transparency Report by addressing misconceptions I’m seeing; then I’ll do a complete working thread. In this post, I’m going to address what appears to be a drop in FISA PRTT searches.

The report does, indeed, show a drop, both in total orders (from 131 to 60 over the last 4 years) and an even bigger drop in targets (from 319 to 41).

Some had speculated that this drop arises from DOJ’s September 2015 loophole-ridden policy guidance on Stingrays, requiring a warrant for prospective Stingrays. But that policy should have already in place on the FISC side (because FISC, on some issues, adopts the highest standard when jurisdictions start to deal with these issues). In March 2014, DOJ told Ron Wyden that it “elected” to use full content warrants for prospective location information (though as always with these things, there was plenty of room for squish, including on public safety usage).

As to the drop in targets: it’s unclear how meaningful that is for two reasons.

First, the ultimate number of unique identifiers collected has not gone down dramatically from last year.

Last year, the 134, 987 identifiers represented 243 identifiers collected per target, or 1,500 per order. This year, the 125,378 identifiers represents a whopping 3,078 per target or 3,756 per order. So it’s appears that each order is just sucking up more records.

But something else may be going on here. As I pointed out consistently though debates about these transparency guidelines, the law ultimately excluded everything we knew to include big numbers. And the law excludes from PRTT identifier reporting any FBI obtained identifier that is not a phone number or email address, as well as anything delivered in hard copy or portable media.

For all we know, the number of unique identifiers implicated last year is 320 million, or billions, but measuring IP addresses or something else. [Update: Reminder that the FBI used a criminal PRTT in the Kelihos botnet case to obtain the IP addresses of up to 100,000 infected computers, but that’s the kind of thing they might use a FISA PRTT for.]

Alternately, it’s possible some portion of what had been done with PRTTs in 2015 moved to some other authority in 2016. A better candidate for that than Stingrays would be CISA voluntary compliance on things like data flow.

One final note. Unless I misunderstand the count, we’re still missing one amicus brief appointment from 2015. The FISC report from that year (covering just 7 months) said there were four appointments across three amici.

During the reporting period, on four occasions individuals were appointed to serve as amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i). The names of the three individuals appointed to serve as amicus curiae are as follows:  Preston Burton, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II  (with Freedom Works), and Amy Jeffress. All four appointments in 2015 were made pursuant to § 1803(i)(2)(B). Five findings were made that an amicus curiae appointment was not appropriate under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A) (however, in three of those five instances, the court appointed an amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(B) in the same matter).

Burton dealt with the resolution of the Section 215 phone data, Ken Cuccinelli dealt with FreedomWork’s challenge to the way USAF extended the phone dragnet, and Amy Jeffress dealt with the Section 702 certificates.

That leaves one appointment unaccounted for (and I’d bet money Jeffress dealt with that too). On June 18, 2015, FISC decided not to use an amicus with an individual PRTT order that was a novel interpretation of what counted as a selection term under USAF. It chose not to use an amicus because the PRTT had already expired and because there were no amici identified at that point to preside. If that issue recurred for a more permanent PRTT later in the year, it may have affected how ODNI counted PRTTs (or the still-hidden amicus use may be for another kind of individual order).

All of which is to say, the government appears to be obtaining fewer PRTT orders over the last two years. But it’s not yet clear whether that has any effect on privacy.

The Government Admits 9 Defendants Spied On Under Section 702 Have Not Gotten FISA Notice

As I noted, in his opinion approving the Section 702 certifications from last year, Judge Thomas Hogan had a long section describing the 4 different kinds of violations the spooks had committed in the prior year.

One of those pertained to FBI agents not establishing an attorney-client review team for people who had been indicted, as mandated by the FBI’s minimization procedures.

In his section on attorney-client review team violations, Hogan describes violations in all four of the Quarterly Reports submitted since the previous 702 certification process: December 19, 2014, March 20, 2015, June 19, 2015, and September 18, 2015. He also cites three more Preliminary Compliance Reports that appear not to be covered in that September 18, 2015 report: one on September 9, 2015, one on October 5, 2015, and one on October 8, 2015. His further discussion describes the government claiming at a hearing on October 8 to discuss the issue that, thanks to a new system FBI had deployed to address the problem, “additional instances of non-compliance with the review team requirement were discovered by the time of the October 8 Hearing.”

But as Hogan notes in his November 2015 opinion, FBI discovered a lot of these issues because FBI had had a similar problem the previous year and he required them to review for it closely in his 2014 order. A July 30, 2014 letter submitted as part of the recertification process describes two instances in depth: one noticed in February 2014 and reported in the March Quarterly report, and one noticed in April and reported in the June 2014, each involving multiple accounts. A footnote to that discussion admits “there have been additional, subsequent instances of this type of compliance incident.”

Set aside, for the moment, the persistence with which FBI failed to set up review teams to make sure prosecutorial teams were not reading the attorney-client conversations of indicted defendants (who are the only ones who get such protection!!!). Set aside the excuses they gave, such as that they thought this requirement — part of the legally mandatory minimization procedures — didn’t apply for sealed indictments or with targets located outside the United States.

Conservatively, this significantly redacted discussion identifies 9 examples (2 reported in Compliance Reports in 2014, at least 1 reported each in each of four quarterly Compliance report between applications, plus 3 individual compliance reports submitted after the September Compliance report) when people who have been indicted had their communications collected under Section 702, whether they were the target of the 702 directives or not.

And yet, as Patrick Toomey wrote in December, not a single defendant has gotten a Section 702 notice during the period in question.

Up until 2013, no criminal defendant received notice of Section 702 surveillance, even though notice is required by statute. Then, after reports surfaced in the New York Times that the Justice Department had misled the Supreme Court and was evading its notice obligations, the government issued five such notices in criminal cases between October 2013 and April 2014. After that, the notices stopped — and for the last 20 months, crickets.

We know both Mohamed Osman Mohamud — who received a 702 notice personally — and Bakhtiyor Jumaev — who would have secondary 702 standing via Jamshid Muhtorov, with whom he got busted — had their attorney-client communications spied on. But that wasn’t (damn well better not have been!!) 702 spying, because both parties to all those conversations were in the US.

These are 9 different defendants who’ve not yet been told they were being spied on under 702.

Why not?

The answer is probably the one Toomey laid out: that even though members of a prosecutorial team were listening in on attorney-client conversations collected under 702, DOJ made sure nothing from those conversations (or anything else collected via 702) got used in another court filing, and thereby avoided the notice requirement.

Based on what can be gleaned from the public record, it seems likely that defendants are not getting notice because DOJ is interpreting a key term of art in Fourth Amendment law too narrowly — the phrase “derived from.” Under FISA itself, the government is obliged to give notice to a defendant when its evidence is “derived from” Section 702 surveillance of the defendant’s communications. There is good reason to think that DOJ has interpreted this phrase so narrowly that it can almost always get around its own rule, at least in new cases.

It is clear from public reporting and DOJ’s filings in the ACLU’s lawsuit that it has spent years developing a secret body of law interpreting the phrase “derived from.” Indeed, from 2008 to 2013, National Security Division lawyers apparently adopted a definition of “derived” that eliminated notice of Section 702 surveillance altogether. Then, after this policy became public, DOJ came up with something else, which produced a handful of notices in existing cases.

Savage reports in Power Wars that then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole decided that Section 702 information had to have been “material” or “critical” to trigger notice to a defendant. But the book doesn’t provide any details about the legal underpinnings for this rule or, crucially, how Cole’s directive was actually implemented within DOJ. The complete absence of Section 702 notices since April 2014 suggests DOJ may well have found new ways of short-circuiting the notice requirement.

One obvious way DOJ might have done so is by deeming evidence to be “derived from” Section 702 surveillance only when it has expressly relied on Section 702 information in a later court filing — for instance, in a subsequent FISA application or search warrant application. (Perhaps DOJ’s interpretation is slightly more generous than this, but probably not by much.) DOJ could then avoid giving notice to defendants simply by avoiding all references to Section 702 information in those court filings, citing information gleaned from other investigative sources instead — even if the information from those alternative sources would never have been obtained without Section 702.

So these 9 mystery defendants don’t tell us anything new. They just give us a number — 9 — of defendants the government now has officially admitted have been spied on under 702 who have not been told that.

As I noted, Judge Hogan did not include this persistent attorney-client problem among the things he invited Amy Jeffress to review as amicus. Whether or not she would have objected to the persistent violation of FBI’s minimization procedures, a review of them would also have given her evidence from which she might have questioned FBI’s compliance with another part of 702, that defendants get notice.

But DOJ seems pretty determined to flout that requirement going forward.

Former Top Holder Aide Says Back Door Searches Violate Fourth Amendment; FISC Judge Thomas Hogan Doesn’t Care

My apologies to Amy Jeffress.

When I first realized that FISA Court Presiding Judge Thomas Hogan picked her to serve as amicus for the review of the yearly 702 certifications last year, I complained that she, not Marc Zwillinger, got selected (the pick was made in August, but Jeffress would later be picked as one of the standing amicus curiae, along with Zwillinger). After all, Zwillinger has already argued that PRISM (then authorized by Protect America Act) was unconstitutional when he represented Yahoo in its challenge of the program. He’s got experience making this precise argument. Plus, Jeffress not only is a long-time national security prosecutor and former top Eric Holder aide, but she has been involved in some actions designed to protect the Executive. I still think Zwillinger might have done a better job. But Jeffress nevertheless made what appears to be a vigorous, though unsuccessful, argument that FBI’s back door searches of US person data are unconstitutional.

A former top DOJ lawyer believes FBI’s back door queries are unconstitutional

But it says a lot that Jeffress — someone who narrowly missed being picked as Assistant Attorney General for National Security and who presumably got at least some visibility on back door searches when working with Holder — argued that FBI’s warrantless back door searches of communications collected under Section 702 is unconstitutional. (I presume it would be unethical for Jeffress to use information learned while counseling Holder in this proceeding, which might have put her in an interesting position of knowing more than she could say.)

Sadly, Hogan didn’t care. Worse, his argument for not caring doesn’t make sense. As I’ll note, not only did Hogan pick a less than optimal person to make this argument, but he may have narrowly scoped her input, which may have prevented her from raising evidence in Hogan’s own opinion that his legal conclusion was problematic.

To be clear, Jeffress was no flaming hippie. She found no problem with the NSA and CIA practice of back door searches, concluding, “that the NSA and CIA minimization procedures are sufficient to ensure that the use of U.S. person identifiers for th[e] purpose of [querying Section 702-acquired information] complies with the statutory requirements of Section 702 and with the Fourth Amendment.” But she did find the FBI practice problematic.

Jeffress’ amicus brief included at least 10 pages of discussion of her concerns with the practice, though ODNI did not release her brief and Hogan cited very limited bits of it. She argued, “the FISA process cannot be used as a device to investigate wholly unrelated ordinary crimes” and said because the queries could do so they “go far beyond the purpose for which the Section 702-acquired information is collected in permitting queries that are unrelated to national security.”

To dismiss Jeffress’ arguments, Hogan does several things. He,

  • Notes the statute requires foreign intelligence just be “a significant purpose” of the collection, and points back to the 2002 In Re Sealed Case FISCR decision interpreting the “significant purpose” language added in the PATRIOT Act to permit the use of traditional FISA information for prosecutions
  • Cites the FISA minimization procedure language that “allow[s] for the retention and dissemination of information that is evidence of a crime which has been, is being, or is about to be committed”
  • Dismisses a former top DOJ official’s concerns about the use of FISA data for non-national security crimes as “hypothetical”
  • Doesn’t address — at all — language in the FBI minimization procedures that permits querying of data for assessments and other unspecified uses
  • Invests a lot of faith in FBI’s access and training requirements that later parts of his opinion undermine

There are several problems with his argument.

In Re Sealed Case ties “significant purpose” to the target of an interception

First, Hogan extends the scope of what the FISA Court of Review interpreted the term “significant purpose,” which got added to traditional FISA in the PATRIOT Act and then adopted in FISA Amendments Act.

Hogan cites the FISCR decision in In Re Sealed Case to suggest it authorized the use of information against non-targets of surveillance. He does so by putting the court’s ultimate decision after caveats it uses to modify that. “The Court of Review concluded that it would be an “anomalous reading” of the “significant purpose” language of 50 U.S.C. § 1804(a)(6)(B) to allow the use of electronic surveillance in such a case. See id. at 736. The Court nevertheless stressed, however, that “[s]o long as the government entertains a realistic option of dealing with the agent other than through criminal prosecution that it satisfies the significant purpose test.”

But that’s not what FISCR found. Here’s how that reads in the original, with Hogan’s citations emphasized.

On the one hand, Congress did not amend the definition of foreign intelligence information which, we have explained, includes evidence of foreign intelligence crimes. On the other hand, Congress accepted the dichotomy between foreign intelligence and law enforcement by adopting the significant purpose test. Nevertheless, it is our task to do our best to read the statute to honor congressional intent. The better reading, it seems to us, excludes from the purpose of gaining foreign intelligence information a sole objective of criminal prosecution. We therefore reject the government’s argument to the contrary. Yet this may not make much practical difference. Because, as the government points out, when it commences an electronic surveillance of a foreign agent, typically it will not have decided whether to prosecute the agent (whatever may be the subjective intent of the investigators or lawyers who initiate an investigation). So long as the government entertains a realistic option of dealing with the agent other than through criminal prosecution, it satisfies the significant purpose test.

The important point is–and here we agree with the government–the Patriot Act amendment, by using the word “significant,” eliminated any justification for the FISA court to balance the relative weight the government places on criminal prosecution as compared to other counterintelligence responses. If the certification of the application’s purpose articulates a broader objective than criminal prosecution–such as stopping an ongoing conspiracy–and includes other potential non-prosecutorial responses, the government meets the statutory test. Of course, if the court concluded that the government’s sole objective was merely to gain evidence of past criminal conduct–even foreign intelligence crimes–to punish the agent rather than halt ongoing espionage or terrorist activity, the application should be denied.

The government claims that even prosecutions of non-foreign intelligence crimes are consistent with a purpose of gaining foreign intelligence information so long as the government’s objective is to stop espionage or terrorism by putting an agent of a foreign power in prison. That interpretation transgresses the original FISA. It will be recalled that Congress intended section 1804(a)(7)(B) to prevent the government from targeting a foreign agent when its “true purpose” was to gain non-foreign intelligence information–such as evidence of ordinary crimes or scandals. See supra at p.14. (If the government inadvertently came upon evidence of ordinary crimes, FISA provided for the transmission of that evidence to the proper authority. 50 U.S.C. § 1801(h)(3).) It can be argued, however, that by providing that an application is to be granted if the government has only a “significant purpose” of gaining foreign intelligence information, the Patriot Act allows the government to have a primary objective of prosecuting an agent for a non-foreign intelligence crime. Yet we think that would be an anomalous reading of the amendment. For we see not the slightest indication that Congress meant to give that power to the Executive Branch. Accordingly, the manifestation of such a purpose, it seems to us, would continue to disqualify an application. That is not to deny that ordinary crimes might be inextricably intertwined with foreign intelligence crimes. For example, if a group of international terrorists were to engage in bank robberies in order to finance the manufacture of a bomb, evidence of the bank robbery should be treated just as evidence of the terrorist act itself. But the FISA process cannot be used as a device to investigate wholly unrelated ordinary crimes.

Hogan ignores three key parts of this passage. First, FISCR’s decision only envisions the use of evidence against the target of the surveillance, not against his interlocutors, to in some way neutralize him. Any US person information collected and retained under 702 is, by definition, not the targeted person (whereas he or she might be in a traditional FISA order). Furthermore, FBI’s queries of information collected under 702 will find and use information that has nothing to do with putting foreign agents in prison — that is, to “investigate wholly unrelated ordinary crimes,” which FISCR prohibited. Finally, by searching data that may be years old for evidence of a crime, FBI is, in effect, “gaining evidence of past criminal conduct” — itself prohibited by FISCR — of someone who isn’t even the target of the surveillance.

Hogan only treats querying for criminal purposes

Having, in my opinion, expanded on what FISCR authorized back in 2002, Hogan then ignores several parts of what FBI querying permits.

Here’s (some of) the language FBI added to its minimization procedures, at the suggestion of PCLOB, to finally, after 8 years, fully disclose what it was doing to the FISC.

It is a routine and encouraged practice for FBI to query databases containing lawfully acquired information, including FISA-acquired information, in furtherance of the FBI’s authorized intelligence and law enforcement activities, such as assessments, investigations and intelligence collection. Section III.D governs the conduct of such queries. Examples of such queries include, but are not limited to, queries reasonably designed to identify foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime related to an ongoing authorized investigation or reasonably designed queries conducted by FBI personnel in making an initial decision to open an assessment concerning a threat to national security, the prevention or protection against a Federal crime, or the collection of foreign intelligence, as authorized by the Attorney General Guidelines. These examples are illustrative and neither expand nor restrict the scope of the queries authorized in the language above.

This language makes clear FBI may do back door searches for:

  • To identify foreign intelligence information
  • To identify evidence of a crime related to an ongoing investigation
  • To decide whether to open an assessment concerning a threat to national security, the prevention or protection against a Federal crime, or the collection of foreign intelligence
  • Other things, because FBI’s use of such queries “are not limited to” these uses

Given Hogan’s stingy citations from Jeffress’ brief, it’s unclear how much of these things she addressed (or whether she was permitted to introduce knowledge gained from having worked closely with Eric Holder when these back door searches were being formalized).

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FISC Makes Far Better Amicus Choices Than I Expected

I’ve long been skeptical about the potential efficacy of the amicus provision in USA Freedom Act, especially because the government can always withhold information.

But the FISC (and FISCR’s, they make clear) choices for potential amici is far better than I expected.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 2.09.12 PM

Laura Donohue, besides being an important voice on surveillance reform, is one of the few people who has as weedy an understanding of the details of the surveillance programs as I do. Plus, unlike me, she can argue the legal aspects of it with authority.

Marc Zwillinger has represented at least one corporation — Yahoo, in its 2007-8 challenge to Protect American Act — before FISC already (as well as an industry push for the right to provide more transparency numbers), and is currently representing Apple in an EDNY discussion about back doors. He even has experience not receiving notice of unclassified details necessary to his arguments before FISC!! At a PCLOB hearing on this topic, he and others predicted he’d likely be among those picked. Voila!

John Cline is probably best known to readers of this blog for the representation he gave Scooter Libby. But he did so because he has represented a wide range of defendants dealing with classified information — he’s one of the best on such issues. That perspective is one that even most (though not all) judges on the FISC lack, and I’m impressed they would let someone have vision on both processes.

Jonathan Cedarbaum was acting head at OLC for a while, though mostly worked on domestic policy issues. Though I think he did work on some cybersecurity issues. The closest tie I know of to counterterrorism came in his role on the Boumedienne case, for which he was targeted by right wingers while at DOJ.

I’m perhaps least thrilled about Amy Jeffress (whose father also represented Scooter Libby) on the panel. She has a ton of experience on all kinds of national security cases — but overwhelmingly as a prosecutor. She almost got the Assistant Attorney for National Security job until it was given to John Carlin. While a top advisor to Eric Holder, she likely saw some things that might get debated at FISC (in the same way Rachel Brand and Elisabeth Collins Cook were involved in things at DOJ during the Bush Administration that PCLOB has reviewed), which might lead her to be more invested in the government outcome than I’d like. But from everything I know she’s a very good lawyer.

All in all, a far better collection of lawyers than I expected, and any of them is a better choice than Preston Burton.

 

The Anthrax Prosecutor: The Daughter of the Defense Attorney for BushCo’s “Germ Boy”

Guess who they’ve got prosecuting the anthrax case? Amy Jeffress, daughter of Bill Jeffress, the guy who was last seen trying to keep Scooter Libby, known within the Administration as "Mr. Germ," out of the pokey. Yeah. That gives me confidence in the investigation.

First, from an account of today’s meeting with Judge Lamberth (h/t JimWhite and bmaz):

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the release of hundreds of pages of documents, including more than a dozen search warrants issued as the government closed in on Ivins in an investigation into events that killed five, sickened dozens and rattled the nation a few weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The long-sealed material was expected to be available to the public within hours.

Lamberth ordered the release after consultation with Amy Jeffress, a national security prosecutor at the Department of Justice. [my emphasis]

Next, the wedding announcement showing who Amy Jeffress’ daddy is:

The bride, 34, is known as Amy and is keeping her surname. She is an assistant United States attorney in Washington. She graduated magna cum laude from Williams College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received a master’s degree in political science from the Free University in Berlin and a law degree from Yale University.

The bride is the daughter of Judith and William Jeffress Jr. of Arlington, Va. Her mother is a social worker at the Adoption Service Information Agency in Washington. Her father is a partner in Miller, Cassidy, Larocca & Lewin, a Washington law firm where the bridegroom is an associate. [my emphasis]

And finally, here’s Jeremy Scahill on Libby’s role as "Germ Boy" within the administration.

In mid-2002, as they struggled desperately to sell the war, these key players in "Plamegate" were engaged in full-out offensive aimed at convincing Americans that the country faced an imminent threat of a smallpox attack. To underscore this "threat," Libby began fanatically pressing to have the entire US population preemptively vaccinated against smallpox (which was declared eradicated in 1980).

[snip]

What Hauer and his colleagues at HHS may not have known is that smallpox was a career-long obsession of Libby’s–so much so that his nickname in the administration was "Germ Boy."

[snip]

More than a decade later, Libby was facing renewed frustration with another group of experts challenging his obsession. Read more