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The FBI Is Using NSLs to Target “Facilities” Now

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has been looking for more details about when the FBI can use NSLs to obtain records including the communication records of journalists, and they just obtained initial response to a FOIA on the subject. There is abundant reason to believe the government does this in leak cases, though as Trevor Timm noted in his piece on this, “a ‘broad reading’ of the media guidelines [was] allegedly hindering leak investigations” in the summer of 2015.

As part of DOJ’s response to FPF’s FOIA, the provided a section of the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide for the FBI that covers NSLs generally. While I don’t think the FOIA response provides the date of the DIOG (it was declassified on November 6, 2015), it appears to post-date last June’s passage of USA Freedom Act, because it incorporates the language on disclosure from that bill (see the last section).

I was particularly interested in the discussion of reporting to Congress, as that’s something DOJ’s Inspector General found FBI to have serious problems with in the 2014 IG Report on NSLs.

There are two potentially significant changes in the passage on “notice and reporting requirements” in what FPF obtained (see page 9) from the 2011 version (see page 106) that was the last to be released on comprehensive fashion (see below for the text).

First, and probably most importantly, the 2015 version envisions targeting “facilities/accounts,” whereas the 2011 version envisioned targeting “phone numbers/e-mail accounts/financial accounts.” The reason this is so concerning is that, in 2007, the government invented a new meaning for “facility” that could mean an entire data switch. The language is all the more concerning if, as I believe, this DIOG post-dates USAF, because that law limits bulk collection by requiring a selection term for NSLs and other collection. But if they’re using that expansive definition of “facility,” then selection terms may not be all that limiting.

That language is accompanied by a change I don’t entirely understand (I can’t figure out whether this alleviates or magnifies my concern about “facilities” being targeted). It appears the FBI has entirely reversed the meaning of the words “target” and “subject” here. Whereas they used to refer to the “target” of an investigation and then track individual “subjects” named in NSLs, they now refer to the “subject” of an investigation (which would more closely match how prosecutors would describe someone not yet charged and might cover enterprise investigations without one identified culprit) and the “target” of an NSL (which would allow all others collected to be treated as incidental collection). In both cases, they’re surely accounting for the fact that the FBI may investigate a suspect by investigating other people known to have ties to the suspect. This pertains directly to tracking of US persons swept up, but I’m not entirely sure the net effect. Note, too, the language tying NSLs to “predicated” investigations is different in other parts of the DIOG fragment.

Again, I’m not entirely sure what all this means (aside from the fact that using “facility” instead of email or phone number is very concerning). But it is rather alarming, in any case.

2015 version

i.e., delineate the number of targeted facilities/accounts in each NSL issued to an NSL recipient.

NSLB also reports to Congress the USPER status of the target (as opposed to the subject of the investigation) of all NSLs, other than NSLs that seek only subscriber information. While the subject of the investigation is often the target of the NSL, that is not always the case. The EC must record the USPER status of the target of the NSL — the person whose information the FBI is seeking. If the NSL is seeking information about more than one person, the EC must record the USPER status of each person.

2011 version

The EC must delineate the number of targeted phone numbers/e-mail accounts/financial accounts that are addressed to each NSL recipient. For example, if there are three targets, ten accounts, and six recipients of an NSL, the EC must state how many accounts are the subject of the NSL as to Recipient 1, Recipient 2, etc. It is not sufficient to indicate only that there are ten accounts and six recipients.

In addition, the FBI must report the USPER status of the subject of all NSLs (as opposed to the target of the investigation) other than NSLs that seek only subscriber information. While the subject is often the target of the investigation, that is not always the case. The EC must reflect the USPER status of the subject of the request–the person whose information the FBI is seeking. If the NSL is seeking information about more than one person, the EC must reflect the USPER status of each person.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

DOJ Changed Its FISA Disclosure Policy on January 10, 2008

While wandering through FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide today, I realized that on January 10, 2008, DOJ changed its FISA use policy (at PDF 104) . In a memo announcing the new policy, Ken Wainstein explained that “this revised policy includes significant changes from current practice that will streamline the process for using FISA information in certain basic investigative processes, while still ensuring that important intelligence and law enforcement interests are protected.”

It then lists 4 (entirely redacted) investigative processes for which FISA information could be used.

While I’m sure this letter has been reported in the past, it has far greater significance given several newly disclosed facts.

First, just days earlier, Attorney General Michael Mukasey reversed existing policy by permitting NSA to contact chain on US person data in EO 12333-collected information. That decision would make it far easier to identify existing communications implicating Americans.

Even more importantly, this move took place just weeks before the government revamped the PRISM program, such that FBI had a much more central role in the process and obtained selected PRISM material directly. In effect, Mukasey made it easier to use FISA information just weeks before FBI started getting a lot more of it, and getting it directly.

This change adds to the already significant evidence that the FBI started back door searches on PRISM information with that change in January 2008.

It’s interesting, too, that FBI had already decided to make these changes before Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled the initial Protect America Act certifications met the statute on January 15, 2008. There’s growing evidence that DOJ long planned to involve FBI more centrally, but waited on her decision (and the day the PAA was originally scheduled to expire) to roll out the change formally.

One more critical detail: The letter indicated that the new policy would be tied to a new interpretation of information “derived from” FISA.

The revised policy requires that it be reviewed one year from its effective date and requires NSD to issue guidance on what constitutes information “derived from” FISA collections by March 31, 2008.

Note that that initial annual review date would mean Bush’s DOJ would conduct such a review in the last days before Obama came in.

In any case, the redacted parts of this letter are probably, arguably, unclassified and FOIAble at this point, since PCLOB has revealed that FBI uses its back door searches for assessments.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

New and Improved FBI! Now with 12 New Pages of Investigative Methods!

Among the documents ACLU obtained as part of its EO 12333 FOIA are 3 pages out of the bajillion-paged Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.

The actual content of the pages isn’t all that interesting. The content has been available for years.

But this is interesting.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 2.29.38 PM

The pagination of the third page, discussing wiretapping of a targeted American overseas, shows two things.

First — as the description of the document provided to ACLU also describes — this is a new version of the DIOG. The publicly available DIOG is dated October 15, 2011. This DIOG is dated October 16, 2013, two years later.

Also, the pagination reveals that there are at least 12 new pages in Section 18, which describes investigative methods.

What do you want to bet FBI has already added hacking to its investigative methods?

Update: Via Mike German, I learn that FBI did a 2012 edition as well, for which just a fragment plus the Table of Contents got released. The methods section grew about 4 pages between 2011 and 2012. So that leaves 8 pages that are new in this 2013 edition.

Also note, the latest revision came the day before Charlie Savage reported that DOJ would start giving defendants notice of Section 702 usage.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

On “Bullshit by Omission”

Screen shot 2013-07-15 at 4.54.30 PMApparently, Walter Katz — who tweets as “lawscribe / Wieland” — believes he succeeded in “calling me out” on “bullshit by omission” with this post on Saturday.

After he pointed me to it in apparent good faith on Saturday, I pointed out his own omissions, as well as two errors.

The errors were two-fold. First, he originally identified me as a lawyer, which I noted here I am not. He just updated his post to correct that and one other error (though seems not to have noted that I corrected him, as bmaz has in the past).

More problematic for his argument, he believes he caught me in an error in this passage:

But with its revised “News Media Policies,” DOJ gets us closer to having just that, an official press.

That’s because all the changes laid out in the new policy (some of which are good, some of which are obviously flawed) apply only to “members of the news media.” They repeat over and over and over and over, “news media.” I’m not sure they once utter the word “journalist” or “reporter.”

The “I’m not sure they once utter” comment clearly referred, in context, to DOJ in the News Media Policies. And, in point of fact, I’ve since done a search of the document, and DOJ does not once use the term “journalist” or “reporter” in it. It was a correct statement.

But Katz cites the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide — not the News Media Policies — and notes that it mentions “journalist.”

A freelance journalist may be considered to work for a news organization if the journalist has a contract with the news entity or has a history of publishing content.

Not only does the DOJ refer to “journalists” as Emptywheel said she was not “sure” if it ever did, it specifically provides for independent journalists who are either under contract with a publication or have published before.

Of course DOJ, in its history, has uttered the word “journalist” before, plenty of times. They have an entire department that deals with journalists! But I made no claim that DOJ, generally, had never used the word “journalist,” which would be an absurd claim. In spite of the fact that I noted this clear error in his piece, Katz did not correct his own piece when he took out his erroneous reference to me as a lawyer.

As to Katz’ omissions, he makes two, one substantive, and one of equal weight to one he complains I’ve made. First, he quotes my entire 2011 discussion on what the DIOG says about news media I included in my post except for this last bit:

The definition does warn that if there is any doubt, the person should be treated as media. Nevertheless, the definition seems to exclude a whole bunch of people (including, probably, me), who are engaged in journalism.

Now, it’s especially odd that he doesn’t quote that passage, because immediately after that blockquote, he paraphrases (arguably mis-paraphrases, since my argument is that I engage in journalism that should clearly be protected) the last part of the passage.

Emptywheel argues that she, as a blogger, is not included in the definition of “news media” even though she may be disseminating information to the public as defined in the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.

Not only would it have been useful for Katz to convey to his readers that I made that assertion in 2011 (when I had no regular affiliation with a news media organization and therefore it was a much clearer case). But by leaving out my note that “The definition does warn that if there is any doubt, the person should be treated as media,” he leaves out a key caveat I made. I noted that omission here.

Then he complains that I didn’t (in 2011, when I had no regular ties to news media) continue my citation from DIOG one sentence further. He introduced the “freelance journalist” passage, above, with this language:

Emptywheel neglected to include what it states in the DIOG definition of “news media” on page 157 directly after it notes that a national reporter with a personal blog is covered by the guidelines:

But curiously, Katz chose to stop his own citation there, leaving out the sentence that immediately followed:

Publishing a newsletter or operating a website does not by itself qualify an individual as a member of the news media.

The passage certainly reinforces my point (as do a few other lines in the definition), and was part of what might have disqualified me — in 2011, when I made the statement about not qualifying — as a member of the news media. I noted that Katz omission here.

Of course, these mutual “gotchas” would be mooted had Katz simply not clipped my own quote and instead (mis)paraphrased my 2011 comment so as to skip my caveat. Nevertheless it is that omission — the sentence that my caveat would have incorporated — that he thinks demonstrates my “bullshit by omission.”

Incidentally, Katz also chose to clip my sentence that said some of these changes were good. I guess that would have harmed his claim that I “do[] not see the new guidelines as much progress.”

Finally, Katz fails, according to his own terms, in one other way. He embraces the term “news media” because it allows DOJ to be consistent across its document.

Emptywheel continutes:

They repeat over and over and over and over, “news media.” I’m not sure they once utter the word “journalist” or “reporter.” And according to DOJ’s Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, a whole slew of journalists are not included in their definition of “news media.”

Since I consult with law enforcement agencies on writing policy, the fact the DOJ generally uses one term, “news media,” is of no moment and, in fact, is desirable for clarity purposes.

But, of course, a key part of these policies (indeed, the one Katz focuses on in his post) is in addressing the Privacy Protection Act. And as I noted in my post, the PPA uses an entirely different standard than “news media” — it applies to “individuals who have a purpose to disseminate information to the public.”

The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (PPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa, generally prohibits the search or seizure of work product and documentary materials held by individuals who have a purpose to disseminate information to the public. The PPA, however, contains a number of exceptions to its general prohibition, including the “suspect exception” which applies when there is “probable cause to believe that the person possessing such materials has committed or is committing a criminal offense to which the materials relate,” including the “receipt, possession, or communication of information relating to the national defense, classified information, or restricted data “under enumerated provisions. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa(a)(1) and (b)(1). Under current Department policy, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General may authorize an application for a search warrant that is covered by the PPA, and no higher level reviews or approvals are required.

First, the Department will modify its policy concerning search warrants covered by the PPA involving members of the news media to provide that work product materials and other documents may be sought under the “suspect exception” of the PPA only when the member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities. Under the reviews policy, the Department would not seek search warrants under the PPA’s suspect exception if the sole purpose is the investigation of a person other than the member of the news media. [my emphasis]

So by using “news media,” DOJ has actually shifted from one definition to another in the course of two paragraphs in discussing the topic that Katz focuses on as the reason for the new guidelines. I noted that here.

Now, to be fair to Katz, when I linked to my 2011 analysis of DIOG, I didn’t obviously identify it (beyond the link) as 18 month old analysis, so he may have been confused about that (though he appears to have clicked through, at least using my link to DIOG). So perhaps when he was bragging about having called out my “bullshit by omission” he may not have understood the errors such claims introduced in his own writing. My apologies if that’s the case.

But none of that explains why Katz went into his post and made corrections, yet didn’t correct the clear error about my reference to “journalist.”

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

In Bid to Placate Legacy Media, DOJ Moves Closer to Instituting Official Press

The First Amendment was written, in part, to eliminate the kind of official press that parrots only the King’s sanctioned views. But with its revised “News Media Policies,” DOJ gets us closer to having just that, an official press.

That’s because all the changes laid out in the new policy (some of which are good, some of which are obviously flawed) apply only to “members of the news media.” They repeat over and over and over and over, “news media.” I’m not sure they once utter the word “journalist” or “reporter.” And according to DOJ’s Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, a whole slew of journalists are not included in their definition of “news media.”

DIOG does include online news in its definition of media (PDF 157).

“News media” includes persons and organizations that gather, report or publish news, whether through traditional means (e.g., newspapers, radio, magazines, news service) or the on-line or wireless equivalent. A “member of the media” is a person who gathers, reports, or publishes news through the news media.

But then it goes on to exclude bloggers from those included in the term “news media.”

The definition does not, however, include a person or entity who posts information or opinion on the Internet in blogs, chat rooms or social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, or MySpace, unless that person or entity falls within the definition of a member of the media or a news organization under the other provisions within this section (e.g., a national news reporter who posts on his/her personal blog).

Then it goes onto lay out what I will call the “WikiLeaks exception.”

As the term is used in the DIOG, “news media” is not intended to include persons and entities that simply make information available. Instead, it is intended to apply to a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the general public, uses editorial skills to turn raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience, as a journalism professional.

The definition does warn that if there is any doubt, the person should be treated as media. Nevertheless, the definition seems to exclude a whole bunch of people (including, probably, me), who are engaged in journalism.

The limitation of all these changes to the “news media” is most obvious when it treats the Privacy Protection Act — which should have prevented DOJ from treating James Rosen as a  suspect. They say,

The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (PPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa, generally prohibits the search or seizure of work product and documentary materials held by individuals who have a purpose to disseminate information to the public. The PPA, however, contains a number of exceptions to its general prohibition, including the “suspect exception” which applies when there is “probable cause to believe that the person possessing such materials has committed or is committing a criminal offense to which the materials relate,” including the “receipt, possession, or communication of information relating to the national defense, classified information, or restricted data “under enumerated provisions. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa(a)(1) and (b)(1). Under current Department policy, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General may authorize an application for a search warrant that is covered by the PPA, and no higher level reviews or approvals are required.

First, the Department will modify its policy concerning search warrants covered by the PPA involving members of the news media to provide that work product materials and other documents may be sought under the “suspect exception” of the PPA only when the member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities. Under the reviews policy, the Department would not seek search warrants under the PPA’s suspect exception if the sole purpose is the investigation of a person other than the member of the news media.

Second, the Department would revise current policy to elevate the current approval requirements and require the approval of the Attorney General for all search warrants and court orders issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) directed at members of the news media. [my emphasis]

The PPA, however, applies to all persons “reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”

Notwithstanding any other law, it shall be unlawful for a government officer or employee, in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce;

I’m clearly covered by the PPA. But the FBI could easily decide to exclude me from this “news media” protection so as to be able to snoop into my work product.

Congratulations to the “members of the news media” who have been deemed the President’s official press. I hope you use your privileges wisely.

Update: I’ve learned that the issue of whom this applied to did come up in background meetings at DOJ; in fact, DOJ raised the issue. The problem is, there is no credentialing system that could define who gets this protection and DOJ didn’t want to lay it out (and most of the people invited have never been anything but a member of the news media, making it hard for them to understand how to differentiate a journalist).

Ultimately, I think DOJ is so anxious for Congress to pass a shield law (which they say elsewhere in their report) because it’ll mean Congress will do the dirty work of defining who is and who is not a journalist.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

DOJ Goes Nuclear on Goldman and Apuzzo

While the AP doesn’t say it in their report that DOJ got two months of unnamed reporters’ call records, but this effectively means they’ve gone nuclear on Goldman and Apuzzo for breaking a story the White House was going to break the following day anyway.

Prosecutors took records showing incoming and outgoing calls for work and personal numbers for individual reporters, plus for general AP offices in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn. The government also seized those records for the main phone number for AP in the House of Representatives press gallery.

The Justice Department disclosed the seizure in a letter the AP received Friday.

[snip]

In the letter notifying the AP received Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure, according to Pruitt’s letter and attorneys for the AP. The records were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year although the government letter did not explain that. None of the information provided by the government to the AP suggested the actual phone conversations were monitored.

As a reminder, here’s a history of the White House’s attempts to dubiously claim they weren’t planning on releasing the information themselves, as they had the last time a Saudi infiltrator tipped us to a plot.

When the AP first broke the story on UndieBomb 2.0, it explained that it had held the story but decided to publish before the Administration made an official announcement on what would have been Tuesday, May 8.

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way.

Once those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday. [my emphasis]

Since that time, the Administration has tried to claim they never intended to make an official announcement about the “plot.” They did so for a May 9 LAT story.

U.S. intelligence officials had planned to keep the bomb sting secret, a senior official said, but the Associated Press learned of the operation last week. The AP delayed posting the story at the request of the Obama administration, but then broke the news Monday.

[snip]

“We were told on Monday that the operation was complete and that the White House was planning to announce it Tuesday,” he said.

Then the White House tried misdirection for a Mark Hosenball story last week–both blaming AP for information about the Saudi infiltrator the AP didn’t break, and attributing Brennan’s comments implying the plot involved an infiltrator to hasty White House efforts to feed the news cyclespinrespond to the story.

According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.

But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP’s insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.

[snip]
The White House places the blame squarely on AP, calling the claim that Brennan contributed to a leak “ridiculous.”

“It is well known that we use a range of intelligence capabilities to penetrate and monitor terrorist groups,” according to an official statement from the White House national security staff.

“None of these sources or methods was disclosed by this statement. The egregious leak here was to the Associated Press. The White House fought to prevent this information from being reported and ultimately worked to delay its publication for operational security reasons. No one is more upset than us about this disclosure, and we support efforts to prevent leaks like this which harm our national security,” the statement said.

The original AP story, however, made no mention of an undercover informant or allied “control” over the operation, indicating only that the fate of the would-be suicide bomber was unknown. [my emphasis]

Now, there are several problems with this latest White House story. The allegation of a quid pro quo rests on the premise that the Administration was also about to release the information; it’s just a different version of the request to hold the story until an official White House announcement. Furthermore, if the White House didn’t want this information out there, then why brief Richard Clarke and Fran Fragos Townsend, who went from there to prime time news shows and magnified the story?

Meanwhile, John Brennan, who leaked the most damaging part of this (that it was just a Saudi sting), has since been promoted to run the CIA, even though, at least according to James Clapper’s definition, he’s a leaker.

Also, note the language used here: “seized.” Not “subpoenaed.”

That, plus the description of these as “phone records” suggests DOJ may well have relied on a National Security Letter to get journalist contacts, as I’ve long been predicting they’ve been doing.

Update, per the more detailed AP update: Apparently the letter says they were subpoenaed.

Update: Actually, the letter itself doesn’t say they were subpoenaed, and given that no notice was provided, it seems like NSLs are a likely candidate.

Last Friday afternoon, AP General Counsel Laura Malone received a letter from the office of United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. advising that, at some unidentified time earlier this year, the Department obtained telephone toll records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists. The records that were secretly obtained cover a full two-month period in early 2012 and, at least as described in Mr. Machen’s letter, include all such records for, among other phone lines, an AP general phone number in New York City as well as AP bureaus in New York City, Washington, D.C., Hartford, Connecticut, and at the House of Representatives. This action was taken without advance notice to AP or to any of the affected journalists, and even after the fact no notice has been sent to individual journalists whose home phones and cell phone records were seized by the Department.

This entire leak investigation was always a witch hunt, because sources in the Middle East were blabbing about it anyway, because John Brennan was blabbing too, and because the White House planned to blab about it the following day.

But that, apparently, didn’t stop DOJ from throwing its most aggressive weapons against Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, who first broke the story.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Find Every Terrorist at Any Cost Industry

As a thought experiment, replace the word “terrorist” in this paragraph with “soldier” or “military.”

All terrorists fundamentally see themselves as altruists: incontestably believing that they are serving a “good” cause designed to achieve a greater good for a wider constituency—whether real or imagined—which the terrorist and his organization or cell purport to represent. Indeed, it is precisely this sense of self-righteous commitment and self-sacrifice that that draws people into terrorist groups. It all helps them justify the violence they commit. It gives them collective meaning. It gives them cumulative power. The terrorist virtually always sees himself as a reluctant warrior: cast perpetually on the defensive and forced to take up arms to protect himself and his community. They see themselves as driven by desperation——and lacking any viable alternative—to violence against a repressive state, a predatory rival ethnic or nationalist group, or an unresponsive international order.

The paragraph comes from Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown Professor/ThinkTanker whose studies of terrorism predate 9/11 by decades. It forms part of his explanation, post Boston, for why people become terrorists: because they, like our own country increasingly, see violence as a solution to their grievance.

That’s not all of Hoffman’s description of what makes people terrorists, mind you. He goes onto discuss religion and the human relations that might convince someone to engage in violence. But the paragraph has haunted me since I read it over a week ago for how clearly it should suggest that one of the few things that separates terrorism from our country’s own organized violence is official sanction (and at least lip service about who makes an appropriate and legal target).

Which is one reason why Jack Levin, in a piece debunking four myths about terrorism, offers this as one solution.

Somehow, we must reinstate the credibility of our public officials — our president, our Congress, and our Supreme Court Justices — so that alienated Americans do not feel they must go outside of the mainstream and radicalize in order to satisfy their goals.

Blaming terrorism on our dysfunctional political system feels far too easy, but it’s worth remembering that in Afghanistan, Somalia, and parts of Yemen, Al Qaeda has at times won support from locals because it offered “justice” where the official government did not or could not.

In any case, the common sense descriptions Hoffman and Levin offer haven’t prevented a slew of people responding to Boston — some experts, some not — from demanding that we redouble our efforts to defeat any possible hint of Islamic terrorism, no matter the cost.

Batshit crazy Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert claims the Boston attack is all Spencer’s fault: because FBI purged some its training materials of some of the inaccurate slurs about Muslims (but did not even correct the training of Agents who had been taught that claptrap in the first place), it can no longer speak a language appropriate to pursuing terrorists. “They can’t talk about the enemy. They can’t talk about jihad. They can’t talk about Muslim. They can’t talk about Islam.” Which elicited the equally batshit crazy response from Glenn Kessler of taking Gohmert’s premise as a valid one that should be disproven by weighing how much offensive language remains in FBI materials, rather than debunking the very premise that only people who engage in cultural slurs would be able to identify terrorists. I award Kessler four wooden heads.

Somewhat more interesting is this piece from Amy Zegart, another Professor/ThinkTanker. She admits we may not know whether Boston involved some kind of intelligence failure for some time.

Finding out what happened will be trickier than it sounds. Crowdsourcing with iPhones, Twitter, and Lord & Taylor surveillance video worked wonders to nail the two suspects with lightning speed. But assessing whether the bombing constituted an intelligence failure will require more time, patience, and something most people don’t think about much: understanding U.S. counter-terrorism organizations and their incentives and cultures, which lead officials to prioritize some things and forget, or neglect, others.

But that doesn’t stop her from insisting FBI’s culture remains inappropriate to hunting terrorists “pre-boom.”

But it is high time we asked some hard, public questions about whether the new FBI is really new enough. Transformation — moving the bureau from a crime-fighting organization to a domestic intelligence agency — has been the FBI’s watchword since 9/11. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

BREAKING! EXCLUSIVE! NYT’s Ambiguous Reporting Leads to Logical Conclusions

I guess John Brennan has figured out that the effort to roll out the Steely Decider campaign has backfired.

How else to explain the almost unheard of tactic from the NYT of accusing those who drew very logical conclusions from its own article of engaging in gossip?

For example, the NYT complains that people read these passages:

This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

[snip]

“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

And concluded that, “President Obama really add[ed] a 17-year-old girl to the counterterrorism “kill list.”

The NYT complains that people read this passage:

David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.

And concluded that “his political adviser, David Axelrod, really participate[d] in discussions of which terrorist suspects should be targeted in drone strikes.”

In its effort to suggest readers have drawn unfair conclusions from what I assume was NYT’s deliberately vague reporting, it clings to that very ambiguity (ambiguity, I’ll add, which made the article far more dramatic and therefore more widely read).

The article said that Mr. Obama knew he might be asked to add such terrorism suspects to the kill list — but it did not say he had been asked to do it in this case. Nor did it say that he had done so.

Ah, but the article also didn’t say he hadn’t done so, either, did it? So whose fault is it that readers drew precisely the conclusions that the narrative and emphasis of the article created?

The NYT is so intent on impugning those who drew very logical conclusions from its vague reporting that it made this laughably inaccurate claim:

On the left, too, there were thousands of posts with inaccurate claims about what The Times had reported. Many picked up what a blogger for the conspiracy-minded PrisonPlanet.com wrote on the day the article appeared: that The Times had said Mr. Obama had placed several Americans and a 17-year-old girl, all with alleged links to the branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen, on the kill list.

I’m not sure what is most offensive about this. That a newspaper complaining that readers drew inaccurate conclusions from its vague reporting made an inaccurate claim that a libertarian is a lefty? That, in an effort to impugn Alex Jones the NYT decided to label him as a lefty?

Or that neither here nor in the larger article did the NYT breathe one word of that American 16-year old who was killed in a drone strike, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Even if this particular 17-year old girl weren’t ever put on the kill list (though she may well have been–the NYT effectively commits a journalistic Glomar by neither confirming nor denying it here), an American teenager was, one whose death goes unmentioned.

I refrained from noting the following when I first wrote about this article, but this odd attempt to ensure the Steely Decider campaign doesn’t backfire makes it pertinent.

First, remember what Scott Shane said when he got called on letting a senior Administration official hide behind anonymity to insinuate those doing independent reporting on drone strikes were al Qaeda sympathizers?

Shane, in written responses to a number of questions that Nieman Watchdog posed to him about the two articles, said he believes this particular quote was not necessarily directed at BIJ, calling it “ambiguous, and I wish I had been able to clarify it.” He added: “Based on all my reporting over the last couple of years, I believe U.S. government officials have in mind not BIJ or other journalists as sympathizers of Al Qaeda but militants and perhaps ISI officers who supply what they consider disinformation on strikes to journalists.”

Apparently, he was helpless in the face of the ambiguity that allowed sources–probably the same one demanding he go back and counter the blowback from this article–to insinuate independent journalism amounted to helping terrorism. But now, he sees fit not to clear up his own ambiguities, but rather to attack those who drew fair conclusions from those ambiguities.

The story must always mean what is most convenient for John Brennan.

Then there’s this. The Administration is currently prosecuting John Kiriakou for leaking information about the torture program John Brennan once championed. The very core of their case–not to mention any pretense that the government didn’t use National Security Letters to get journalists’ sources to identify leads in this case–is a Scott Shane story for which, he said, he had two dozen sources. One of the very first things Kiriakou’s lawyer is going to do, I’d wager, is demand to know who the other 23 sources for the story are so he can prove that some of those people–people like Buzzy Krongard–knew that Deuce Martinez was involved in the torture and interrogation program.

Now, as a threshold matter, the fact that Shane might have been–and may well be–under DOJ surveillance for a leak investigation suggests that every source who spoke to him for the drone story would have heightened awareness of the risk of speaking out of turn. That sucks. It goes to the core of the problem of Obama’s war on leakers, not to mention their claimed authority to use NSLs to get journalist contact information in national security investigations. But because of this Administration’s decision to prosecute a guy who allegedly identified torturers, Scott Shane’s sources–at least those that say things the Administration doesn’t want out there, mind you–may be in a precarious position. Yet people spoke to Shane for this blockbuster article nevertheless.

Furthermore, Shane undoubtedly knows that the Kiriakou prosecution–particularly those 23 sources sitting between John Kiriakou and a fair trial–could get him in a bigger pickle than James Risen is currently in. This makes Shane’s awkward position even worse. DOJ may well get to decide whether to let Kiriakou go free or risk a judge allowing Kiriakou’s lawyer to demand a list of Shane’s sources from 2008.

Now, I’m not blaming Shane on this front. I’m just pointing out what kind of ancillary power the Administration gets from its leak investigations. It may well be that that’s not playing a part here at all. But I do think it worth noting that Shane–and the NYT generally–may be in a position where the same people hiding behind all this ambiguity will have some say over what kind of headaches Shane will face for once using Kiriakou as a source.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

In Last Two Years, FBI Developed Intrusive Files on 77,100 Innocent Americans

Charlie Savage has a story reporting on the number of assessments the FBI opened in the last two years that turned into preliminary investigations. It shows that over the period, the FBI has conducted assessments of 77,100 Americans whom they determined were not a cause for concern. Their investigations of 3,315 others turned into preliminary investigations.

Data from a recent two-year period showed that the bureau opened 82,325 assessments of people and groups in search for signs of wrongdoing. Agents closed out most of the assessments, the lowest-level of F.B.I. investigation, without finding information that justified a more intensive inquiry.

[snip]

The disclosure, covering March 25, 2009, to March 31, 2011, focused on assessments, which an agent may open “proactively or in response to investigative leads” and without first having a particular factual basis for suspecting a target of wrongdoing, according to the F.B.I. manual. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued guidelines for the bureau creating that category in 2008.

During an assessment, agents may use a limited set of techniques, including searching databases about targets, conducting surveillance of their movements and sending a confidential informant to an organization’s meetings. But to use more intrusive techniques, like secretly reading e-mail, agents must open a more traditional “preliminary” or “full” investigation. Such inquiries require agents to first have a greater reason to start scrutinizing someone: either an “information or allegation” or an “articulable factual basis” indicating possible wrongdoing.

According to the data, during the 2009-11 period agents opened 42,888 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were terrorists or spies. A database search in May 2011 showed that 41,056 of the assessments had been closed. Information gathered by agents during those assessments had led to 1,986 preliminary or full investigations.

The data also showed that agents initiated 39,437 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were engaged in ordinary crime. Of those, 36,044 had been closed, while 1,329 preliminary or full investigations had been opened based on the information gathered.

The FBI would like to spin this as good news. Some of these investigations, Valerie Caproni explains in the story, would have been full-blown preliminary investigations in the past. But, as Mike German points out, the FBI is keeping records of all these searches.

The threat assessment conducted on Antiwar.com provides a really good example of what this means, even though it dates to an earlier period. That assessment–conducted in April 2004–fell under slightly different categories than the ones that generated these data. Nevertheless, the general guidelines (what FBI Agents could do to investigate these people) are roughly similar.

And what we saw in the threat assessment was the collection (and dissemination) of information that tied incidences of First Amendment protected activities of other people–an explosives suspect surfing the web, antiwar activists handing out literature at a peaceful protest–to criminal investigations. The result flips the notion of criminality on its head for the way other people’s potential criminal behavior gets lumped onto Antiwar’s free speech.

The Antiwar.com threat assessment also shows what this kind of assessment means in reality. The FBI searched somewhere between 2-4 public databases for information on Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo that they don’t want even to even admit searching publicly (they’ve exempted the disclosure under investigative techniques exemption).

Finally, the Antiwar.com threat assessment shows the kind of logic the FBI uses to advance to the next level: it found that Raimondo uses his middle name, that Antiwar.com posted a publicly available document (the watch lists showing terrorist suspects), and that some unsavory characters like white supremacists and explosives suspects had read their work. And from that–partly because Antiwar.com relies on donations for funding–the FBI decided it had sufficient basis to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether Garris and Raimondo are spies.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.