Posts

The Government Uses the Dragnets for Detainee Proceedings

In the middle of a discussion of how the NSA let FBI, CIA, and NCTC directly access the database of Internet query results in the report accompanying the Internet dragnet End-to-End report, a footnote describes searches NSA’s litigation support team conducts. (See page 12)

In addition to the above practices, NSA’s litigation support team conducts prudential searches in response to requests from Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. The team does not perform queries of the PR/TT metadata. This practice of sharing information derived from PR/TT metadata was later specifically authorized. See Primary Order, Docket Number PR/TT [redacted] at 12-13. The Government respectfully submits that NSA’s historic practice of sharing of U.S. person identifying information in this manner before it was specifically authorized does not constitute non-compliance with the PR/TT Orders.

Keith Alexander’s declaration accompanying the E2E adds more detail. (See page 16)

The designated approving official does not make a determination to release information in response to requests by Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. In the case of such requests, NSA’s Litigation Support Team conducts prudential, specific searches of databases that contain both previously disseminated reporting and related analyst notes. The team does not perform queries of the PR/TT metadata. NSA then provides that research to Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel for their review in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. This practice of sharing information derived from the PR/TT metadata is now specifically authorized. See Primary Order, Docket Number PR/TT [redacted] at 12-13.

Language approving searches of the corporate store conducted on behalf of DOJ and DOD does not appear (at least not at 12-13) in the early 2009 — probably March 2, 2009 — Internet dragnet primary order. But related language was included in the September 3, 2009 phone dragnet order (it does not appear in the July 8, 2009 phone dragnet order, so that appears to have been the first approval for it). Given the timing, the language might stem either from another notice of violation to the FISC (one the government has redacted thus far); or, it might be a response to recommendations made in the Joint IG Report on the illegal dragnet, which was released July 10, 2009, and which did discuss discovery problems.

But the language describing the Litigation Support Team searches is far less descriptive in the September 3, 2009 phone dragnet order.

Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share information derived from the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch personnel in order to enable them to determine whether the information contains exculpatory or impeachment information or is otherwise discoverable in legal proceedings.

The E2E and Alexander’s declaration make two things more clear.

First, NSA can disseminate this information without declaring the information is related to counterterrorism (that’s the primary dissemination limitation discussed in this section), and of course, without masking US person information. That would at least permit the possibility this data gets used for non-counterterrorism purposes, but only when it should least be permitted to, for criminal prosecutions of Americans!

Remember, too, the government has explicitly said it uses the phone dragnet to identify potential informants. Having non-counterterrorism data available to coerce cooperation would make that easier.

The E2E and Alexander declaration also reveal that the Litigation Support Team conducts these searches not just for DOJ, but also for DOD on detainee matters.

That troubles me.

According to the NYT’s timeline, only 20 detainees arrived at Gitmo after these dragnets got started, and 14 of those were High Value Detainees who had been stashed elsewhere for years (as were the last batch arrived in 2004). None of the men still detained at Gitmo, at least, had been communicating with anyone outside of very closely monitored situations for years. None of the Internet dragnet data could capture them (because no historical data gets collected). And what phone data might include them — and remember, the phone dragnet was only supposed to include calls with one end in the US — would be very dated.

So what would DOD be using these dragnets for?

Perhaps the detainees in question weren’t Gitmo detainees but Bagram detainees. Plenty of them had been out communicating more recently in 2004 and 2006 and even 2009, and their conversations might have been picked up on an Internet dragnet (though I find it unlikely any were making phone calls to the US).

It’s possible the dragnet was used, in part, to track released detainees. Is dragnet contact chaining one of the things that goes into claims about “recidivist” detainees?

Finally, a more troubling possibility is that detainee attorneys’ contacts with possible witnesses got tracked. Is it possible, for example, that DOD tracked attorneys’ contacts with detainee family members in places like Yemen? Given allegations the government spied on detainees’ lawyers, that’s certainly plausible. Moreover, since NSA does not minimize contacts between attorneys and their client until the client has been indicted, and so few of the Gitmo detainees have been charged, it would be utterly consistent to use the dragnet to track lawyers’ efforts to defend Gitmo detainees. Have the dragnets been focused on attorneys all this time?

One thing is clear. There is not a single known case where DOJ or DOD have used the dragnets to provide exculpatory information to someone; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was unable to obtain discovery on dragnet information even after the government bragged about using the dragnet in his case.

Nevertheless, NSA has been sharing US person information without even having to attest it is counterterrorism related, outside of all the minimization procedures the government boasts about.

The Associations behind FBI’s No Fly Informant Coercion

Before I disappeared on my trip last week, the WaPo and others reported on a new suit against the FBI for using the No Fly list to coerce Muslims to become informants, one of whom, Naveed Shinwari, talked about it with Democracy Now as well.

WaPo included a quote from a former senior FBI official dismissing the notion that someone might be added to the No Fly lists to coerce them to inform.

A former senior FBI official said that there are criteria for putting people on the list and that refusing to work as a confidential informant is not one of them.

“That’s not a reason,” the former official said. “It has nothing to do with potential threats to aviation.”

That is, FSFBIO claims there are criteria that must be met before placing someone on the No Fly list.

Let’s take the FSFBIO at his (or her) word, and imagine that the FBI singled out the four plaintiffs in this suit for some reason, and only then used the No Fly status as leverage to try to coerce an informant. Because the sort of things that appear to have gotten the FBI interested in these plaintiffs is just as telling as that, after learning the men weren’t threats, the FBI then tried to use their No Fly status to flip them.

At least according to the complaint, the FBI seems to have focused on these men because of who they knew or what they may have done online.

Naveed Shinwari

Naveed Shinwari, whom Amy Goodman interviewed above, was first questioned in Dubai on his way back from his wedding in Afghanistan in February 2012. At that point, they asked general questions about his trip to Afghanistan, including whether he had visited any training camps on his trip.

But a month later, the FBI asked about videos he had watched online.

Agents Dun and Langenberg began the meeting by asking Mr. Shinwari to think about the reasons why he may have been placed on a watch list. Mr. Shinwari said that he did not know. The agents then asked Mr. Shinwari about videos of religious sermons that he had watched on the internet. Mr. Shinwari responded that he watched the videos to educate himself about his faith.

Last December though, in response to Shinwari’s second TRIP complaint (DHS’ ineffective recourse process), DHS suggested the whole thing had been a mistake.

The letter stated, in part, that Mr. Shinwari’s experience “was most likely caused by a misidentification against a government record or by random selection,” and that the United States government had “made updates” to its records.

Since then, Shinwari has flown domestically once, but says he has become reluctant to share his religious and political views with others.

Awais Sajjad

Like Shinwari, Awais Sajjad may have first come to attention of FBI because of a trip to a wedding — that of his brother — in Pakistan.

He was first prevented from flying when trying to visit his father and grandmother in Pakistan in September 2012. In that interrogation, he was asked about his friends in the US. But in a follow-up interrogation a month later, the FBI asked for specifics about a trip he had made the previous year.

Once inside Mr. Sajjad’s home, the agents asked Mr. Sajjad many questions, including questions about his last trip to Pakistan in 2011, why he went and which cities he visited on that trip. Mr. Sajjad replied that he went to Pakistan to attend his brother’s wedding.

But then, as part of the same interrogation, they asked if he watched bomb-making videos on YouTube.

On the way, they asked Sajjad whether he had watched bomb-making videos on YouTube, to which he replied that he had not, that he only watches movies and music videos.

More recently, in an interview without the presence of his counsel, the FBI asked what Sajjad would do if his family members were involved in a terrorist attack.

They asked him hypothetical questions regarding what he would do if he were to find out that any of his relatives or friends were involved in a terrorist attack.

At that same interview, however, one of the FBI Agents told Sajjad he was not a threat to America.

Agent John Doe #13 told Mr. Sajjad that he had been watching Mr. Sajjad for the last two years and knew that Mr. Sajjad did not do anything wrong and was not a “terrorist” or a threat to America.

As far as Sajjad knows, he remains on the No Fly list.

Muhammad Tanvir

The FBI first approached Muhammad Tanvir back in 2007, when out of the blue they came to his workplace to interview him. At that very first interview, they asked about “an old acquaintance” who apparently had tried to enter the US illegally.

They asked him about an old acquaintance whom the FBI agents believed had attempted to enter the United States illegally.

Then, as he returned from a 2008 trip to visit his wife in Pakistan, agents (possibly DHS) interrogated him for 5 hours and confiscated his passport. Just before he was supposed to go back to DHS to get it back, the FBI showed up to his workplace again. This time, they asked questions about Taliban training camps, but also his rappelling skills.(!)

The FBI agents asked Mr. Tanvir about terrorist training camps near the village where he was raised, and whether he had any Taliban training. The agents also referred to the fact that at his previous job as a construction worker, Tanvir would rappel from higher floors while other workers would cheer him on. They asked him where he learned how to climb ropes. Mr. Tanvir responded that he never attended any training camps and did not know the whereabouts of any such camps. He also explained to the FBI agents that he grew up in a rural area, where he regularly climbed trees and developed rope-climbing skills.

Immediately after that interview, DHS returned Tanvir’s passport, saying he had been cleared. But he was prevented from flying after that point — in 2010 domestically,and twice in 2011 and once in 2012 to Pakistan — because he had gotten placed on the No Fly List. All that time, the FBI continued to pressure him to inform.

Read more

More FOIA Refusals Hiding DOJ’s Informant Practices

The Center for Constitutional Rights is helping former Black Panther, community activist, and Common Ground founder Malik Rahim sue to get the FBI’s records on FBI informant Brandon Darby’s infiltration of Common Ground.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), in collaboration with the Loyola Law School’s Clinic in New Orleans, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanding records related to Brandon Darby’s collaboration with the FBI during his involvement with Common Ground, a New Orleans relief organization that provided supplies and assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and worked on rebuilding the New Orleans community from the ground up. Darby, who notoriously infiltrated protest groups at the 2008 Republican National Convention, co-founded Common Ground only to then infiltrate and disrupt the group. The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of New Orleans community organizer and Common Ground Relief founder Malik Rahim, follows repeated unsuccessful requests by Mr. Rahim to have the FBI release documents detailing warrantless surveillance that he and other activists might have been subject to while working alongside Mr. Darby.

Darby’s work–and his work as an informant has been repeatedly documented (see also this report on the FBI file of Scott Crow, who started Common Ground with Darby and Rahim). But when Rahim tried to FOIA his own file in 2009, the FBI refused to turn over anything related to Darby’s work as an informant.

Plaintiff submitted, by letter dated February 24, 2009, and later amended on July 30, 2009, a FOIA request to Defendant FBI for all documents relating to Malik Rahim or his organization Common Ground Relief.

[snip]

Specifically, the FOIA request further sought “all records, documents and things . . . ” related to surveillance, investigation, use of informants and agents, planting or gathering “evidence,” and any other activities pertaining to Malik Rahim including anything related to Common Ground Relief and Brandon Darby.

On March 17, 2009, the FOIA request of Malik Rahim was denied on the grounds that the FBI would not respond to a FOIA request concerning another individual in addition to Malik Rahim without a “privacy waiver” being filled out by Brandon Darby.

On July 30, 2009, an appeal was filed to the denial. This appeal set out several reasons why the records should be made public, including: “the public right to be informed about what their government is up to,” citing U.S. Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 773 (1989); the fact that if Brandon Darby was an undercover informant for the FBI during his time at Common Ground, then that would be an act of such public concern that it would overcome personal privacy exemptions, citing National Archives & Records Administration v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 172 (2004). This appeal is attached.

[snip]

On September 25, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Information Policy stated it was affirming the original refusal of the FBI to release any information pertaining to Brandon Darby and further affirmed the refusal of the FBI to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records responsive to the request. They said: “Without consent, proof of death, official acknowledgement of an investigation, or an overriding public interest, confirming or denying the existence of the records your client requested would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The FBI response to Rahim’s FOIA is interesting on two counts. Rahim FOIAed for these records before Comac Carney ruled in the Islamic Shura Council FOIA case; the first denial, in which the FBI invoked privacy concerns, came before Carney’s June 23, 2009 ruling; the final denial came after it (remember it was two years before that ruling would be made public). But rather than excluding these files by pretending that no such files existed as they would under the Meese Memo, they responded using something like a Glomar response, “neither confirming nor denying” the records existed. And the denial is particularly odd given the hodge podge of reasons the FBI offered that might convince them to release the documents. Would Rahim get the same packet of documents, redacted the same way, if FBI released them with a privacy waver as they would with a public interest waiver?

One thing seems clear. The FBI is using all manner of dumb excuses to avoid handing over details of its infiltration of groups exercising their First Amendment rights. We can debate how they’ll respond under FOIA, but it’s clear their informant files exist.

Spain Will Investigate Gitmo Torture

The High Court in Spain has decided that it can proceed with its investigation of the torture that Lahcen Ikassrien alleges he suffered at Gitmo.

A Spanish court Friday agreed to investigate a complaint by a Moroccan who said he was tortured while in the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, judicial sources said.

The National Court said it was competent to take the case as the complainant, Lahcen Ikassrien, has been living in Spain for 13 years.

[snip]

The judges Friday rejected an appeal by prosecutors who sought to have the case thrown out on the grounds that Ikassrien did not have sufficient links with Spain.

Here’s what the Center for Constitutional Rights has to say about the news:

This is a monumental decision that will enable a Spanish judge to continue a case on the “authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill treatment” by U.S. officials at Guantanamo. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, has already been implicated, and the case will surely move up the chain of command. Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks,  also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity. The Center for Constitutional Rights applauds the Spanish courts for not bowing to political pressure and for undertaking what may be the most important investigation in decades.

As always, it pays to be skeptical that the US won’t still find a way to quash this investigation. But given the exposure WikiLeaks gave DOJ’s prior interventions with Spanish officials, they may have overplayed their hand.Also note, this is not the case that implicates the 6 lawyers who approved torture. I suspect that the pending suits against John Yoo and others might give the DOJ the ability to claim that crime is still being investigated here in the states.

Update: CCR quote updated.

What Bush and Ashcroft Meant By “If al-Qaida Is Calling”

Remember when George W. Bush defended his illegal warrantless surveillance program with these lines:

We are at war with an enemy who wants to hurt us again …. If somebody from Al Qaeda is calling you, we’d like to know why,” he said. “We’re at war with a bunch of coldblooded killers.

…when we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so … We’re at war, and as commander in chief, I’ve got to use the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people

That statement was made on January 2, 2006 in direct response to a question Bush got about Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s blockbuster article in the New York Times exposing the illegal program that went to print just two weeks prior.

Since those early days of realizing the United States government was running an illegal and unconstitutional spy surveillance operation on its own citizens, we have learned an awful lot. For too many citizens, it does not even seem to hold interest. Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights reminds us what the Bush Administration was really up to, how patently absurd it was and just how big of a lie George Bush fostered on the American public. Turns out “If al-Qaida is calling” meant random government searches of phone books for Muslim sounding names and taking crank phone calls.

From a CCR press release I just received:

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) announced that six new plaintiffs have joined a federal, class action lawsuit, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, challenging their detention and mistreatment by prison guards and high level Bush administration officials in the wake of 9/11. In papers filed in Federal Court in Brooklyn, CCR details new allegations linking former Attorney General Ashcroft and other top Bush administration officials to the illegal roundups and abuse of the detainees.

Five of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit won a $1.26 million settlement in November 2009. Read more

ACLU, CCR Sue to Protect Anwar al-Awlaki’s Right to a Lawyer

Some weeks ago, the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights had planned to sue the government on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki’s father. But in remarkable bit of timing, the government designated Awlaki a specially designated terrorist, meaning ACLU and CCR would have to get a “license” before they could engage in a transaction like legal representation on behalf of Awlaki. So now, the two groups are suing to make such licensing illegal.

Glenn Greenwald has the full story:

Early last month, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights were retained by Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Obama assassination target (and U.S. citizen) Anwar al-Awlaki, to seek a federal court order restraining the Obama administration from killing his son without due process of law.  But then, a significant and extraordinary problem arose:   regulations promulgated several years ago by the Treasury Department prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” and those regulations specifically bar lawyers from providing legal services to such individuals without a special “license” from the Treasury Department specifically allowing such representation.On July 16 — roughly two weeks after Awlaki’s father retained the ACLU and CCR to file suit — the Treasury Department slapped that label on Awlaki.  That action would have made it a criminal offense for those organizations to file suit on behalf of Awlaki or otherwise provide legal representation to him without express permission from the U.S. Government.  On July 23, the two groups submitted a request for such a license with the Treasury Department, and when doing so, conveyed the extreme time-urgency involved:  namely, that there is an ongoing governmental effort to kill Awlaki and any delay in granting this “license” could cause him to be killed without these claims being heard by a court.  Despite that, the Treasury Department failed even to respond to the request.

Left with no choice, the ACLU and CCR this morning filed a lawsuit on their own behalf against Timothy Geithner and the Treasury Department.  The suit argues that Treasury has no statutory authority under the law it invokes — The International Emergency Economic Powers Act — to bar American lawyers from representing American citizens on an uncompensated basis.  It further argues what ought to be a completely uncontroversial point:  that even if Congress had vested Treasury with this authority, it is blatantly unconstitutional to deny American citizens the right to have a lawyer, and to deny American lawyers the right to represent clients, without first obtaining a permission slip from Executive Branch officials.

Click through for much more.

CCR Fights to Uphold Attorney-Client Privilege

So al-Haramain, at least for the moment, has won its case against the government. But there’s an aspect of the case that often gets forgotten: al-Haramain argued not just that some of its employees were wiretapped, but that lawyers working for al-Haramain, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, were wiretapped. We seem to have forgotten that this country once believed that attorney-client conversations should be protected to ensure the legal process.

The Center for Constitutional Rights hasn’t forgotten. They, too, had a suit arguing that the government wiretapped attorney-client conversations (though unlike al-Haramain, they never got a wiretap log reflecting those conversations, nor were they able to make a prima facie case they were wiretapped). Last night, they appealed their suit to the Supreme Court. From their press release:

Last night, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) asked the Supreme Court to take up its warrantless surveillance case, Wilner v. National Security Agency (NSA). CCR and co-counsel argue that the Executive Branch must disclose whether or not it has records related to the wiretapping of privileged attorney-client conversations without a warrant. Lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees fit the officially acknowledged profile of those subject to surveillance under the former administration’s program, and the Executive Branch has argued in the past that it has a right to target them.

The plaintiffs in the case are 23 attorneys who have represented Guantánamo detainees. They filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records of any surveillance of their communications under the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, which began after 9/11 but was only disclosed to the public in December 2005. The government refused to either confirm or deny whether such records existed, and the lower courts refused to order the government to confirm whether it had eavesdropped on attorney-client communications. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the government can refuse to confirm or deny whether records of such surveillance exist, even though any such surveillance would necessarily be unconstitutional and illegal.

“Illegal surveillance of attorney-client communications makes it nearly impossible to challenge other illegal behavior by the government,” said Shayana Kadidal, Senior Managing Attorney of the CCR Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative. “The new administration has no legal basis for refusing to come clean about any violations of attorney-client privilege by the NSA.”

The petition filed last night includes declarations from the Guantánamo attorneys detailing how the threat of illegal surveillance by the NSA has made it harder for them to gather evidence in their cases from witnesses overseas, including family members of detainees, who are often unwilling to speak freely on the phone given the threat that the government may be listening in.

I’m in the process of writing a post on why I think the government will not appeal Judge Walker’s ruling in al-Haramain. But who knows–SCOTUS might get a warrantless wiretap case sooner rather than later.

Update: Here’s their petition. I’ll have some comment on that later.

Comments on Mukasey’s Call for an Election-Season Showdown

Just as a follow-up to this post, a couple of official comments.

From DC District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, who has already set into motion an expedited process for the detainees:

I am pleased that Attorney General Mukasey said that our ‘court should be commended for the preliminary steps it has taken thus far to provide for the fair, efficient, and prompt adjudication of these cases.’ Guidance from Congress on these difficult subjects is, of course, always welcome. Because we are on a fast track, however, such guidance sooner, rather than later, would certainly be most helpful.

From Harry Reid:

As a result of its repeated efforts to circumvent the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution, the Bush administration has yet to bring to justice the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of September 11. If legislation is needed, it is important that Congress proceed in a deliberate and thoughtful way to write rules that will not be thrown out by the courts yet again. Congress must hold public hearings, consult with national security and legal experts, and take the time to get this right. It is hard to imagine that Congress can give this complex issue the attention it deserves in the closing weeks of this legislative session.

The courts are well equipped to handle this situation, and there is no danger that any detainee will be released in the meantime.

From Patrick Leahy:

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Boumediene v. Bush last month reaffirmed our core American values by concluding that detainees at Guantanamo have the right to bring habeas corpus claims in federal court. I applauded that decision because I have maintained from the beginning that the provisions of the Military Commission Act that purported to strip away those rights were unconstitutional and un-American.

The Judiciary Committee has held a wide range of hearings on issues of detainee rights and procedures. Attorney General Mukasey’s call today for Congress to create new rules for these habeas proceedings is the first I have heard from the Administration on this issue. Given the Judiciary Committee’s long interest in this subject, it is regrettable that the Attorney General neither consulted with nor informed the Committee about this request before his speech.

The Courts have a long history of considering habeas petitions and of handling national security matters, including classified information. Read more