Dennis Blair’s Spokesperson: The Domestic Surveillance Program Violates the Fourth Amendment

I’ve already posted on the general contents of Lichtblau and Risen’s seemingly quarterly report that illegal wiretapping is still going on–including the eye-popping news that Bill Clinton’s emails were illegally accessed. But I wanted to focus on one really critical passage of the story.

The N.S.A. declined to comment for this article. Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Dennis C. Blair, the national intelligence director, said that because of the complex nature of surveillance and the need to adhere to the rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees surveillance operation, and “other relevant laws and procedures, technical or inadvertent errors can occur.”

“When such errors are identified,” Ms. Morigi said, “they are reported to the appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken.” [my emphasis]

The DNI is basically blaming its "technical or inadvertent errors" [no word about Clinton’s emails, which can’t be inadvertent] on "the need to adhere to the rules of FISC and other relevant laws and procedures."

Not only does this not make sense, but it completely undercuts any claim that this program is legal under the Fourth Amendment. 

In one of the most important posts of mine that few people ever read, I explained why. I showed that the FISA Court of Review understood the Protect America Act (and I believe the same holds true for the FISA Amendment Act program) does not, by itself, comply with the Fourth Amendment. Rather, the FISCR explicitly said that the wiretap program only complied with the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement through the application of a provision in Executive Order 12333 that requires only that the Attorney General "determine" that surveillance is directed against an agent of a foreign power. And the PAA program (and, I assume, the FAA program) only complies with the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for particularity through a set of procedures not mandated by PAA or FAA, and not shared with the telecoms handing over their customer data.

The FISCR explained:

The petitioner’s arguments about particularity and prior judicial review are defeated by the way in which the statute has been applied. When combined with the PAA’s other protections, the [redacted] procedures and the procedures incorporated through the Executive Order are constitutionally sufficient compensation for any encroachments.

The [redacted] procedures [redacted] are delineated in an ex parte appendix filed by the government. They also are described, albeit with greater generality, in the government’s brief. [redacted] Although the PAA itself does not mandate a showing of particularity, see 50 USC 1805b(b), this pre-surveillance procedure strikes us as analogous to and in conformity with the particularity showing contemplated by Sealed Case. [my emphasis]

These are precisely the procedures, I suspect, that the DNI’s office is now blaming for the "inadvertent" review of US person emails.

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Russ Feingold Throws Vaughn Walker a Softball

With this letter:

I am writing to reiterate my request for you to formally and promptly renounce the assertions of executive authority made by the Bush Administration with regard to warrantless wiretapping.  As a United States Senator, you stated clearly and correctly that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal.  Your Attorney General expressed the same view, both as a private citizen and at his confirmation hearing.

It is my hope that you will formally confirm this position as president, which is why I sent you a letter on April 29, 2009, urging your administration to withdraw the unclassified and highly flawed January 19, 2006, Department of Justice Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President (“NSA Legal Authorities White Paper”), as well as to withdraw and declassify any other memoranda providing legal justifications for the program.  Particularly in light of two recent events, I am concerned that failure to take these steps may be construed by those who work for you as an indication that these justifications were and remain valid. 

On June 8, Director of National Intelligence Blair asserted in a speech and in response to a question from a reporter that the warrantless wiretapping program “wasn’t illegal.” His office subsequently clarified that he did not intend to make a legal judgment and that he had meant to convey only that the program was authorized by the president and the Department of Justice.  Nonetheless, Director Blair’s remarks – which directly contravene your earlier position, as well as the position of Attorney General Holder – risk conveying to the Intelligence Community, whose job it is to explore legally available surveillance options, that not complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may be such an option.  Moreover, his “clarification” highlights the need to formally renounce the legal justification that the “White Paper” provides. 

In addition, I asked your nominee to be General Counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, whether, based on the “White Paper” and other public sources, he believed that the warrantless wiretapping program was legal.  His written response to my question, which was presumably vetted by your administration, indicated that, because the program was classified, he could not offer an opinion.  Should he be confirmed, this position, too, risks conveying to the Intelligence Community that there may be classified justifications for not complying with FISA.  As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has seen all of the legal justifications, classified and unclassified, that were offered in defense of the warrantless wiretapping program, I strongly disagree with this implication. 

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