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The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report Makes No Mention of One Illegal Practice

The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report released by the Guardian last week — and related reporting from Barton Gellman — seem to clarify and confirm what I’ve long maintained (12/19/057/29/07; 7/30/07): that one part of the illegal wiretap program that Jack Goldsmith and Jim Comey found “illegal” in 2004 was data-mining of Americans.

Eight days later on 19 March 2004, the President rescinded the authority to collect bulk Internet metadata and gave NSA one week to stop collection and block access to previously collected bulk Internet metadata. NSA did so on 26 March 2004. To close the resulting collection gap, DoJ and NSA immediately began efforts to recreate this authority in what became the PR/TT order.

Mind you, this bulk collection resumed after Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signed an order permitting NSA to collect the same data under a Pen Register/Trap & Trace order on July 14, 2004.

The FISC signed the first PR/TT order on 14 July 2004. ALthough NSA lost access to the bulk metadata from 26 March 2004 until the order was signed, the order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk Internet metadata that it had under the PSP, except that it specified the datalinks from which NSA could collect, and it limited the number of people that could access the data.

Indeed, we know the program was expanded again in 2007, to get 2 degrees of separation deep into US person Internet data. The Obama Administration claims it ended this in 2011, though there are also indications it simply got moved under a new shell.

Mystery solved, Scoob!

Not so fast.

It appears the bulk Internet metadata collection and mining is just one of two practices that Goldsmith and Comey forced Bush to at least temporarily halt in 2004. But the second one is not mentioned at all in the NSA IG Report.

I first noted that Bush made two modifications to the program in this post, where I noted that 6 pages (11-17) of Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 OLC opinion on the program described plural modifications made in March and one other month in 2004 (I correctly surmised that they had actually shifted parts of the program under parts of the PATRIOT Act, and that they had narrowed the scope somewhat, though over-optimistically didn’t realize that still included warrantless collection of known domestic content).

But there’s actually a far better authority than Goldsmith’s heavily redacted opinion that confirms Bush made two modifications to the program in this period.

Dick Cheney.

When his office disclosed to Patrick Leahy in 2007 what documents it had regarding authorizations for the illegal wiretap program, it listed two modifications to the program: the one on March 19 described in detail in the NSA IG Report, plus one on April 2.

[Cheney Counsel Shannen] Coffin’s letter indicates that Bush signed memos amending the program on March 19 and April 2 of that year.

But there’s no hint of a second modification in the NSA IG Report.

That could mean several things. It could mean the April 2 modification didn’t involve the NSA at all (and so might appear in a one of the other Agency IG Reports at the time — say, DNI — or might have been completed by an Agency, like some other part of DOD, that didn’t complete an IG Report). It could mean that part of the program was eliminated entirely on April 2, 2004. Or it could mean that in an effort to downplay illegality of the program, the IG simply didn’t want to talk about the worst prior practice eliminated in the wake of the hospital confrontation.

Goldsmith’s opinion does seem to indicate, however, that the modification pertained to an issue similar to the bulk metadata collection. He introduces that section, describing both modifications, by saying “it is necessary to understand some background concerning how the NSA accomplishes the collection activity authorized under” the program.

That may still pertain to the kind of data mining they were doing with the Internet metadata. After all, the fix of moving Internet metadata collection under the PR/TT order only eliminated the legal problem that the telecoms were basically permitting the government to steal Microsoft and Yahoo Internet content from their equipment. There still may have been a legal problem with the kind of data mining they were doing (perhaps arising out of Congress’ efforts in that year’s NDAA to prohibit funding for Total Information Awareness).

Whatever it is, one thing is clear. Even with the release of the unredacted Draft NSA IG Report, we still aren’t seeing all the details on what made the program so legally problematic.

Maybe it’s something the Senate Judiciary Committee might ask Jim Comey during his FBI Director confirmation hearing?

What Happened to that Third Branch Oversight?

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is pissed.

After spending 2002 to 2006 as Chief Judge of the FISA Court struggling to keep parts of the American legal system walled off from a rogue surveillance program, she read the classified account the NSA’s Inspector General wrote of her efforts. And while that report does say Kollar-Kotelly was the only one who managed to sneak a peek at a Presidential Authorization authorizing the illegal program, she doesn’t believe it reflects the several efforts she made to reel in the program.

“In my view, that draft report contains major omissions, and some inaccuracies, regarding the actions I took as Presiding Judge of the FISC and my interactions with Executive Branch officials,” Kollar-Kotelly said in a statement to The Post.

[snip]

Kollar-Kotelly disputed the NSA report’s suggestion of a fairly high level of coordination between the court and the NSA and Justice in 2004 to re-create certain authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that created the court in response to abuses of domestic surveillance in the 1960s and 1970s.

“That is incorrect,” she said. “I participated in a process of adjudication, not ‘coordination’ with the executive branch. The discussions I had with executive branch officials were in most respects typical of how I and other district court judges entertain applications for criminal wiretaps under Title III, where issues are discussed ex parte.”

The WaPo story reporting on her objections makes no mention of the role one FISC law clerk — who got briefed into the program before any of the other FISC judges — played in this process, something I’m pretty curious about.

It does, however, recall two incidents where Kollar-Kotelly took measures to crack down on the illegal program, which Carol Leonnig reported back in 2006.

Both [Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor Royce Lamberth] expressed concern to senior officials that the president’s program, if ever made public and challenged in court, ran a significant risk of being declared unconstitutional, according to sources familiar with their actions. Yet the judges believed they did not have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order the eavesdropping, government sources said, and focused instead on protecting the integrity of the FISA process.

[snip]

In 2004, [DOJ Office of Intelligence Policy and Review Counsel James] Baker warned Kollar-Kotelly he had a problem with [a “federal screening system that the judges had insisted upon to shield the court from tainted information”]. He had concluded that the NSA was not providing him with a complete and updated list of the people it had monitored, so Justice could not definitively know — and could not alert the court — if it was seeking FISA warrants for people already spied on, government officials said.

Kollar-Kotelly complained to then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and her concerns led to a temporary suspension of the program. The judge required that high-level Justice officials certify the information was complete — or face possible perjury charges.

In 2005, Baker learned that at least one government application for a FISA warrant probably contained NSA information that was not made clear to the judges, the government officials said. Some administration officials explained to Kollar-Kotelly that a low-level Defense Department employee unfamiliar with court disclosure procedures had made a mistake.

Though the NSA IG Report mentions violations that occurred before 2003, it makes no mention of these violations.

What good is an IG Report that gives no idea of how often and persistent violations are?

That said, today’s WaPo story provides this as the solution to our distorted view of the FISA Court’s role in rubber-stamping this massive dragnet.

A former senior Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity, said he believes the government should consider releasing declassified summaries of relevant opinions.

“I think it would help” quell the “furor” raised by the recent disclosures, he said. “In this current environment, you may have to lean forward a little more in declassifying stuff than you otherwise would. You might be able to prepare reasonable summaries that would be helpful to the American people.”

Back in 2006, Leonnig noted that the judges didn’t believe they had the authority to intervene to stop the dragnet. So what good does a ruling — even two as broad and stunning as the ones that used Pen Registers and Business Records to collect the contact records of all Americans — do to depict the role the Court is in?

The Administration keeps pointing to this narrowly authorized court as real court review. But that’s not what it is. And until we have a better sense of how that manifested in the past (and continues to — I’ll bet you a quarter that they’ve moved the Internet data mining to some area outside of court purview), we’re not going to understand how to provide real oversight to this dragnet.

We’d be far better off having the FISC provide its own history of these surveillance programs.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly Sees No Evil, Hears No Evil

Yesterday, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly upheld the government’s right to withhold cables already released via WikiLeaks under FOIA (see my earlier posts on this FOIA here and here). Her logic seems to have a fatal flaw: she says the State Department has proven (and the ACLU has not rebutted the claim) that the US Government owns the cables.

The ACLU simply offers no rejoinder to the State Department’s affirmative showing that all the information at issue (1) was classified by an original classification authority, (2) is owned, produced, or controlled by the United States, and (3) falls within one or more of the eight relevant categories. [my emphasis]

But then she says (noting that ACLU made no mention that these cables had also been released via WikiLeaks and therefore pretending that they might be different) that the government has not officially acknowledged these cables are authentic.

No matter how extensive, the WikiLeaks disclosure is no substitute for an official acknowledgement and the ACLU has not shown that the Executive has officially acknowledged that the specific information at issue was a part of the WikiLeaks disclosure.

I guess they should let Bradley Manning go free, then, since the State Department isn’t prepared to say the cables he is accused of leaking were authentic?

But that’s not the most troubling part of this ruling. As I lay out below–and as Kollar-Kotelly presumably knows well–the cables are full of admissions of crime, including murder, torture, and kidnapping. Thus, had she reviewed them to see whether the government’s claims that they were properly classified are valid, she would have seen that–in addition to information properly classified to protect foreign relations–a lot of the original classification and the government’s refusal to officially release them (which would presumably make them admissible in a court) serve to hide confessions of criminal activity.

So Kollar-Kotelly chose not to review these cables in camera, choosing instead to rely on the State Department declaration that makes no mention of the criminal admissions included in the cables.

In this case, because the State Department’s declarations are sufficiently detailed and the Court is satisfied that no factual dispute remains, the Court declines to exercise its discretion to review the embassy cables in camera.

It was a cowardly ruling. But all the more cowardly, given that Kollar-Kotelly prevented herself from officially reviewing a bunch of evidence of criminal wrong-doing.

Here are details on the cables Kollar-Kotelly doesn’t want to read:

The famous meeting at which Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to lie about our strikes in Yemen

Kollar-Kotelly agreed to keep what has become perhaps the most famous cable ever, in which David Petraeus and Ali Abdullah Saleh discuss the missile strikes we conducted in Yemen in late 2009.

Mind you, the government likely has a very good legal reason to keep this cable secret. The cable makes it clear we were targeting Anwar al-Awlaki (as well as Nasir al-Wuhayshi) in those strikes. And releasing that would constitute official acknowledgement of the targeting of Awlaki that the government has tried so hard to avoid. Furthermore, as I’ll show in a follow-up post, it also shows that we targeted Awlaki for death before we had evidence implicating him in a crime.

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