Three Things: In the Debris Field After Health Care ‘Freedom’ Act

I still don’t have enough caffeine in my system and it’s nearly noon here. An entire pot of java may do the trick. As I rouse and read the hot takes after the failure of H.R. 1628 last night, a few thoughts stick with me.

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All the think pieces — most written by white men lauding John McCain’s maverick move by departing from the party line — are evidence ‘the show’ worked.
McCain called it that when asked before the vote last night which way he was going. “Watch the show,” he said.

Meanwhile, the two women senators who have been firm all along they couldn’t vote for a bill causing damage to their constituents receive far fewer plaudits from the same mostly-white-male pundit class. Murkowski had been threatened by the Interior Secretary at Trump’s request. I haven’t heard for certain, but I’ll bet Collins received threats as well, probably from Trump-supporting constituents.

McCain won’t get those kinds of threats. He made his point last night about the power he wields within GOP Senate caucus as the final A/B switch on legislation. But the GOP Senate already knew this.

What McCain did was give the GOP a face-saving way to vote for a piece of shit they didn’t want to pass, without the repercussions Collins and Murkowski (and at varying times, Heller and Capito) have faced for rejecting a POS bill.

This is why they waited until the last goddamned minute to draft a meager eight-pages, slapping in some egregious stuff to ensure Collins and Murkowski couldn’t vote, adding the 20% annual premium increase as a coup de grace.

Because McCain would do the maverick kabuki for them, slap on his mask and robes, make big gestures and kill the bill for them.

And it worked not only because all the white male pundit class got suckered by their usual privileged blindness, but the white male Tweeter-in-Chief bought it, hook, line, sinker. He blamed all the Democrats and three GOP senators. All the other senators are off the hook.

Bonus: McCain’s legacy is salvaged with the patriarchal punditry.

Great ‘show’, maverick.

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Scaramucci is nothing more than a highly-animated automaton on a stage; nothing he says is real. Why? Because the real communications are being run out of house by Steve Bannon, and likely in violation of federal law.

What is it and to whom is Bannon really communicating for the White House?
This operation may be in violation of the Antideficiency Act, but is it also in violation of the Presidential Records Act? What about any other regulations regarding FOIA?

Don’t believe me about Scaramucci’s role? Take a look at your news feed and point to any announcement about his firing or resignation. You know damned well had a communications director acted like he has under any other previous administration he’d have been walked out the White House’s fence.

p.s. Some say Scaramucci’s lowering discourse. Come the fuck on. He talks the way all of Wall Street’s white males do. The misogynist crack about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance? Par for the course.

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Recommended lunch hour read for you: a book review by Andrew Bacevich in London Review of Books on The General v. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands. Bacevich’s background here.

Putting this book on my shopping list after this review, given how much power Trump has given and is likely to give to the military, breaking with civilian control.

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That’s it for now. I’m stewing on something else but it’ll be dedicated and not an open thread like this one. Hasta pasta.

US Isn’t Collecting Only Electronic Data On You — Huge Biometric Database Under Construction, Too

Edward Snowden’s revelations have shed much light on how secret government programs are collecting huge amounts of telephone, email and other electronic data generated by every US citizen even though, as Marcy has shown repeatedly, claims that collecting all of this data have enabled the capture of terrorists turn out to be significantly overblown. Sadly, it’s not just records of our communications that the government is collecting. The FBI is taking the lead in putting together what it calls Next Generation Identification. This program will expand the conventional FBI fingerprint database to include significant amounts of biological, or biometric data. From the FBI’s own description:

The future of identification systems is currently progressing beyond the dependency of a unimodal (e.g., fingerprint) biometric identifier towards multimodal biometrics (i.e., voice, iris, facial, etc.). The NGI Program will advance the integration strategies and indexing of additional biometric data that will provide the framework for a future multimodal system that will facilitate biometric fusion identification techniques. The framework will be expandable, scalable, and flexible to accommodate new technologies and biometric standards, and will be interoperable with existing systems. Once developed and implemented, the NGI initiatives and multimodal functionality will promote a high level of information sharing, support interoperability, and provide a foundation for using multiple biometrics for positive identification.

Wait. See that “etc.” in the “voice, iris, facial, etc”? Given the government’s behavior on electronic data, throwing in an “etc.” on biometric data is pretty unnerving. Impressive work is being done by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to shed light on just what the government is up to with Next Generation Identification. Here is their description of the program:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is developing a biometric identification database program called “Next Generation Identification” (NGI). When completed, the NGI system will be the largest biometric database in the world. The vast majority of records contained in the NGI database will be of US citizens. The NGI biometric identifiers will include fingerprints, iris scans, DNA profiles, voice identification profiles, palm prints, and photographs. The system will include facial recognition capabilities to analyze collected images. Millions of individuals who are neither criminals nor suspects will be included in the database. Many of these individuals will be unaware that their images and other biometric identifiers are being captured. Drivers license photos and other biometric records collected by civil service agencies could be added to the system. The NGI system could be integrated with other surveillance technology, such as Trapwire, that would enable real-time image-matching of live feeds from CCTV surveillance cameras. The Department of Homeland Security has expended hundreds of millions of dollars to establish state and local surveillance systems, including CCTV cameras that record the routine activities of millions of individuals. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States. The NGI system will be integrated with CCTV cameras operated by public agencies and private entities.

So just as the government has moved far beyond tapping communications only with a warrant to include the communications of innocent civilians, biometric identifiers of innocent civilians will be included in NGI alongside identifiers of known criminals. And what could possibly go wrong with our information being assembled in this way? Here’s how EPIC says the database will be built and maintained: Read more

The Implications of DOJ’s FOIA “Lies”

On Thursday, we learned it has been the practice of DOJ for nearly a quarter century to provide misleading information in response to FOIAs asking for certain kinds of information–broadly, ongoing investigations, informants, and foreign intelligence.

In this post I want to consider how the practice may be ripe for abuse.

Here’s the statutory language in question, Section 552(c) of FOIA:

(c)(1) Whenever a request is made which involves access to records described in subsection (b)(7)(A) [ed: this is the law enforcement exception] and – (A) the investigation or proceeding involves a possible violation of criminal law; and (B) there is reason to believe that (i) the subject of the investigation or proceeding is not aware of its pendency, and (ii) disclosure of the existence of the records could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, the agency may, during only such time as that circumstance continues, treat the records as not subject to the requirements of this section.

(2) Whenever informant records maintained by a criminal law enforcement agency under an informant’s name or personal identifier are requested by a third party according to the informant’s name or personal identifier, the agency may treat the records as not subject to the requirements of this section unless the informant’s status as an informant has been officially confirmed.

(3) Whenever a request is made which involves access to records maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation pertaining to foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism, and the existence of the records is classified information as provided in subsection (b)(1) [ed: this is the exemption for information that has been properly classified according to Executive Order], the Bureau may, as long as the existence of the records remains classified information, treat the records as not subject to the requirements of this section.

Let’s take each of these in order.

Ongoing Legal Investigation

The first exclusion–for information that might tip the subject of an investigation into a potential crime to that investigation and therefore lead her to, for example, destroy evidence–makes a bit of sense.

But it seems ripe for abuse in several ways.

First, DOJ can only exclude these files if “the subject of the investigation or proceeding is not aware of its pendency.” But DOJ gets to decide whether the subject of an investigation really “knows” she is being investigated or not. As the Meese Guidelines governing this practice explain,

Obviously, where all investigative subjects already are aware of an investigation’s pendency, the “tip off” harm sought to be prevented through this record exclusion is not of concern. Accordingly, the language of this exclusion requires agencies to consider the level of awareness already possessed by all investigative subjects involved as they consider employing it. It is appropriate that agencies do so, as the statutory language provides, according to a good-faith, “reason to believe” standard, which closely comports with the “could reasonably be expected to” standard utilized both within this exclusion and in the amended form of Exemption 7(A).

This “reason to believe” standard for considering a subject’s pre-existing awareness should afford agencies all necessary latitude in making such determinations. As the exclusion is phrased, this requirement is satisfied so long as an agency determines that it affirmatively possesses “reason to believe” that such awareness does not in fact exist. Read more

DOJ Set To Shuck And Jive Judge White In EFF FOIA Case

Just two days ago we were discussing the status of EFF v. ODNI, the FOIA case in NDCA where disclosure is being sought of documents evidencing the telecom lobbying on immunity for corporate participation in Bush’s surveillance program. As you will recall, Judge White had denied the various stay attempts put forth by the government (and one they had not even made yet) and ordered disclosure on or before 4 pm PST today, October 16.

Josh Gerstein at Politico, who has done an excellent job following this case, has some news of what the government plans to do:

The Obama administration may be on the verge of a major concession in a long-running legal battle over records about so-called telecom immunity.

An email obtained by POLITICO shows that the Obama Administration is preparing for the possible release of some details of the Bush Administration’s lobbying for legislation giving telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits over their involvement in warrantless domestic wiretapping.

But even if they do release those details, the administration may press on with a legal battle to keep secret the identities of the companies involved in the program.

And what will the government be oh so graciously disclosing? A lot of stuff that, while responsive to the FOIA request, is certainly not responsive to the core of the request.

“The Executive Branch will be providing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation in its FOIA suit a large number of e-mail communications between House staffers and Executive branch employees regarding the legislation involving immunity to telecommunications companies enacted as part of the [revised Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] legislation last year,” Nathan wrote.

In short, they are not going to disclose the identities of the telecom companies and their employees which sought immunity. And, predictably, the government relies on the well worn claptrap that:

Disclosure of such information would assist our adversaries in drawing inferences about whether certain telecommunications companies may or may not have assisted the government in intelligence-gathering activities,

But the court has already expressed its position on this argument: Read more

Two Reminders: Not an Agency and Search Terms

We’ve had a bit of discussion whether the White House has lost all its email because of some nefariousness–or because of rank incompetence. I’m still not claiming to know the answer to that question. But there are two data points I want to remind everyone of.

First, remember that the White House all of a sudden decided that the Office of Administration was no longer an agency at precisely the time when CREW started asking questions about the disappearing emails.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that records about missing White House e-mails are not subject to public disclosure, the latest effort by the Bush administration to expand the boundaries of government secrecy.

Administration lawyers detailed the legal position in a lawsuit trying to force the White House Office of Administration to reveal what it knows about the disappearance of White House e-mails.

They did so to support a claim that OA was not subject to FOIA, and therefore they could tell CREW to go Cheney itself. This, in spite of the fact that OA had FOIA materials on its website and responded to over 60 FOIA requests the previous year! (They tried to fix that little problem by throwing their website down the memory hole, though they have since recanted grudgingly, still claiming that they’re not subject to FOIA, but retaining the proof that they’re subject to FOIA on their website to comply with the Presidential Records Act.)

The argument is reminiscent of Cheney’s Pixie Dust argument, in which rewrote an Executive Order after the fact, also claiming he was not an agency, so as to claim he didn’t have to tell anyone about his classification and declassification activities. Dick also apparently used this logic to explain how he insta-declassified a CIA spy’s identity so he could out that spy to Judy Miller.

You see, this Administration does use such arguments for nefarious purposes.

The other data point to keep in mind, regarding the White House use of emails, is the RNC’s attempts to hide damaging emails by use of rather silly search terms.

… the RNC counsel has proposed to limit the Committee’s request by using narrow "search terms" to identify e-mails relevant to the Committee’s investigation. On Monday, RNC counsel proposed eight search terms, such as ‘political briefing," "Hatch Act," and "2008." While the "search term" approach was offered in good faith by the RNC counsel, it presents some serious problems. Read more