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While Lindsey Graham Was Stalling Merrick Garland’s Confirmation He Was Hoping for Imminent Hunter Biden and John Durham News

One of the very last things Lindsey Graham did as Senate Judiciary Chair was to send a letter to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson urging him not to do anything about two investigations that — according to his addled little brain — “Democrats would rather go away.” In addition to the Delaware investigation of Hunter Biden, Lindsey included the John Durham investigation in that.

I was even the primary sponsor of bipartisan legislation, favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to protect Special Counsel Mueller’s probe from being terminated. Special Counsel Mueller of course found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it was important for public trust that the probe be completed without interference.

We now find the shoe on the other foot. We have two properly predicated, ongoing investigations Democrats would rather go away: Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the investigation by the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office into Hunter Biden. Special Counsel Durham’s probe has already yielded a felony conviction.

I am writing to respectfully request that you refrain from interfering in any way with either investigation while the Senate processes the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the position of Attorney General. The American public deserve the truth and must know that these investigations will continue without political interference.

There’s a lot that’s ridiculous about this letter. It is laughably false to claim that Mueller “found no evidence of ‘collusion,'” — that would be a false claim even if Lindsey had used the legally relevant term of “conspiracy.”

The shoe is not on the other foot. In contradistinction to Trump’s incessant focus on the Russian investigation, there has been no peep about these investigations from the Biden White House. Instead, Hunter Biden rolled out a book deal the other day, which led his father to focus on the import of recovery from addiction, not legal risk.

Lindsey waves Durham’s single felony conviction around — as compared to Mueller’s much more productive investigation and based on evidence entirely derived from Michael Horowitz’ investigation — even after presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg concluded that Kevin Clinesmith did not commit that crime out of any ill-will and sentenced him to a year of probation.

It’s just such a pathetic effort to sustain conspiracy theories Trump chased, and in spite of the Fox News piece on this letter quoting someone that sounds remarkably like Lindsey Graham talking about an ongoing investigation he shouldn’t know about off the record, it’s not actually clear that either of these will result in a showy prosecution. Hell, for all we know, Durham has shifted his focus to what the FBI Agents who were sending pro-Trump tweets on their phones did during the investigation or why Bill Barr’s DOJ submitted altered documents to a criminal docket, precisely the crime Clinesmith pled guilty to.

To repeat, Graham wrote this to urge Wilkinson, who remains in charge of DOJ and oversees the Durham investigation (Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin probably oversees the Hunter Biden one) because Merrick Garland remains the most senior Cabinet official who hasn’t been confirmed yet. This was one of his last acts as Chair of SJC.

But the other major final stunt before handing his gavel over to Dick Durbin was precisely that delay. In spite of Garland’s bipartisan support and in spite of Durbin’s exhortations to stop delaying, Lindsey simply didn’t take up Garland’s nomination when he counterparts were doing so. And so DOJ may not get a confirmed Attorney General until late February or early March.

Probably, Lindsey primarily stalled this confirmation just to impose a price on Democrats for impeaching the former President.

But I had been wondering whether Lindsey didn’t have more in mind, perhaps the delay of charges that DOJ would not unseal without Garland’s sanction. And that may be the case.

But along with that delay, Lindsey has also delayed his opportunity to obtain assurances from Garland that he’ll leave these two investigations Lindsey is obsessed about untouched.

Kevin Clinesmith Sentenced to a Year of Probation

Judge James Boasberg just sentenced Kevin Clinesmith to a year of probation for altering a CIA email describing Carter Page’s prior relationship with the CIA.

Carter Page spoke at some length in his typical rambling style. Notably, he did not call for a harsh sentence for Clinesmith. And much of what he said was irrelevant to the sentencing (he seemed to be pitching to be a FISC amicus, as if the ties between him and Russian intelligence weren’t real concerns).

Anthony Scarpelli, arguing for the government, did not repeat a claim made in their sentencing memorandum, that Clinesmith may have made this alteration for political reasons. Judge Boasberg noted that the DOJ IG Report had found no evidence of such.

The government did suggest that Clinesmith had altered the email for more than just to avoid the work of correcting it. Boasberg didn’t see it that way. He found the argument of Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, compelling that there was no personal benefit to Clinesmith because he wasn’t on the hook for the earlier mistakes in the application.

Boasberg also made a quip that, unlike certain politicians, Clinesmith had not chosen to be in the public limelight.

The hearing was perhaps most interesting for Boasberg’s comments, as the presiding FISA judge presiding over a criminal case pertaining to FISA, about the import of the FISA court’s role in checking Executive authority. I’ll return to those comments when a transcript is available.

Ultimately, then, this closes the most productive aspect of the Durham investigation, which has gone on almost as long as the investigation it is supposed to investigate.

The Clinesmith Sentencing Memos: Politically Biased Data In, Politically Biased Data Out

The government and Kevin Clinesmith — the FBI lawyer who altered a document relating to the Carter Page FISA application — submitted their sentencing memos in his case yesterday. The sentencing guidelines call for 0 to 6 months of prison time (as they did for the now pardoned Mike Flynn). Clinesmith asked for probation. The government asked for a sentence in the middle to top of that range — effectively calling for 3 to 6 months of prison time.

I think the government has the better argument on a key point, for reasons that I expect will be very persuasive to the judge in the case, James Boasberg, who is also the presiding FISA judge. The government argues that Clinesmith’s actions undermined the integrity of the FISA process.

The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor. The FISC serves as a “check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance in order to protect the fourth amendment rights of U.S. persons[,]” but it can “serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cases exists.” Order, In Re Accuracy Concerns Regarding FBI Matters Submitted to the FISC, Docket No. Misc. 19-02, at 2 (FISA Ct. Dec. 17, 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, and particularly because FISA applications involve ex parte proceedings with no adverse party on the other side to challenge the facts, the government “has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC].” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In other words, “[c]andor is fundamental to [the FISC’s] effective operation[.]” Id. (citation omitted).

While I think the government’s case on Clinesmith’s understanding of the term “source” is not persuasive, this language is. It matters that Clinesmith did this within the context of the FISA process. Boasberg has a real incentive to ensure that those preparing FISA applications do think of Clinesmith as an object lesson about the duty of candor. I expect he’ll agree with the government and impose some prison term.

That said, the government sentencing memo goes off the rails on another point, one that badly discredits the John Durham investigation.

Both the government and Clinesmith provide the same explanation for why he did what he did: it was a shortcut to avoid filing a footnote with the FISA court.

Clinesmith explains it this way:

Kevin, however, reviewed the OGA email and realized that it did not specifically address the issue of whether Individual #1 had been a source. In a misguided attempt to save himself time and the embarrassment of having to backtrack on his assurance he had it in writing, Kevin forwarded the OGA’s response to the SSA (including the list of OGA reports) immediately after telling the SSA he would do so, but Kevin added the phrase notated in bold to reflect his understanding of Individual #1’s status:

[The OGA uses] the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual . . . is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual #1] was or is . . . [digraph] and not a “source” but the [documents] will explain the details.

OIG Report at 254-55.

And the government endorses that explanation in its sentencing memo (in language that further reinforces why Clinesmith should be treated sternly to preserve the integrity of the FISA process).

By his own words, however, it appears that the defendant falsified the email in order to conceal Individual #1’s former status as a source and to avoid making an embarrassing disclosure to the FISC. Such a disclosure would have likely drawn a strong and hostile response from the FISC for not disclosing it sooner since the FBI had the information in its possession before the first FISA application was filed. Indeed, in the June 19, 2017 instant message conversation with the SSA, the defendant wrote “at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote” explaining that Individual #1 was a source. OIG Report at 253. While the defendant told OIG he was referring to how “laborious” it would be to draft a footnote explaining that Individual #1 had been an OGA source, see id., that reading is self-serving and absurd. Moreover, as a practical matter, how laborious would it have been to draft a single footnote to explain to the FISC that Individual #1 had been a source for the OGA. The SSA involved in the application understood the defendant to be referring to the terrible optic of just now, in the fourth application, disclosing to the Court that Individual #1 had been a source for another agency after failing to do so in all of the prior applications. See id. Such a disclosure would have undermined the probable cause in the FISA application and the overall investigation of Individual #1, which the defendant was able to avoid by altering the email.

That’s it. At that point, both sides have explained what happened as the kind of bureaucratic sloppiness that can be particularly dangerous where there’s no transparency. Case closed. Clinesmith may not have meant this maliciously but because it happened as part of the FISA process it was very problematic.

Except the government continues by suggesting, without evidence, that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias.

The public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct. As noted in the OIG Report and PSR, the defendant was previously investigated, and ultimately suspended, for sending improper political messages to other FBI employees. See OIG Report at 256 n.400. For example, on the day after the 2016 presidential election, the defendant wrote “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Id. When another FBI colleague asked the defendant “[i]s it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration[,]” the defendant replied, “Hell no,” and then added “Viva le resistance.” Id. The defendant was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation for these and other related messages, and in July 2018 he was suspended, without pay, for 14 days. The defendant’s prior disciplinary infraction for expressing his political views in a work setting is a relevant aspect of his background. Indeed, it is plausible that his strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current President made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty. While it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct, the defendant plainly has shown that he did not discharge his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity, and objectivity required of such a sensitive job position. [my emphasis]

There are several reasons why this argument is not only problematic, but betrays an unbelievable stupidity about the investigation before Durham.

First, as prosecutors admit, they have no evidence that Clinesmith’s claimed bias influenced his actions. The bias “may have motivated” him, “it is plausible” that it did, “it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct.” This kind of language has no place in a sentencing memo. They’re effectively admitting they have no evidence, but relying on their lack of evidence anyway. It’s the kind of shoddy unethical work they’re trying to send Clinesmith to prison for.

Worse still, as Lawfare has shown, the data the government is relying on here comes from a politically biased application of discipline within DOJ. Since 2011, the only cases of people being disciplined for expressing political views on their government devices involved people opposing Trump.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

[snip]

The verdict is now in, at least for the past four major-party presidential candidates, one of whom served as president of the United States for eight full years. FBI employees who voiced political sentiments in favor of or opposed to Clinton, Obama and Romney did not face consequences—nor did those who praised Trump. Those who criticize the current president appear to be the only people subject to discipline.

Lawfare raises the example of an FBI agent who — unlike Clinesmith, Lisa Page, or Peter Strzok — was running informants targeting Hillary in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign who expressed clear bias. That person — clearly identified as biased by the same Inspector General who identified Clinesmith’s bias — wasn’t disciplined. And there are reports that a key witness in the Durham probe, Bill Barnett, similarly expressed pro-Trump bias on his devices. No one has done an IG Report into whether Barnett’s self-described role in single-handedly preventing the Mueller team from concluding that Mike Flynn lied to protect President Trump reflected improper political bias, much less sent him home for two weeks without pay. You can’t treat OPR’s treatment of biased FBI employees as valid for sentencing because it has already been demonstrated to be itself biased in the same way it treats as discipline-worthy.

Most importantly, you’d have to be fucking stupid to believe that supporting the FISA application of Carter Page in June 2017 would inherently reflect any anti-Trump bias. Even on the first application, the claim that targeting Page would be a way to hurt Trump was a bit of a stretch. At that point, the Trump campaign had very publicly distanced themselves from him because of his embarrassing ties to Russia. Thus, if the FBI treated Trump’s public statements with any weight, then they would be right to view Trump as victimized by Page, someone pushing his pro-Russian views far beyond what the candidate supported, someone removed from the campaign for precisely that reason. That’s one of the potential problems arising from a suspected foreign agent working on a campaign, that the person will make policy commitments that the candidate doesn’t support on behalf of the foreign country in question. Still, you might argue (and Bill Barr has argued) that the FBI targeted Page as a way to collect campaign emails, so one might make some claim to support the case that by targeting Page the FBI was targeting Trump with the October 2016 application.

But Clinesmith wasn’t in the loop on the non-disclosure of Page’s ties with CIA on that first application.

Kevin was not aware of that information, however. When he assisted the FBI’s efforts to obtain the initial FISA warrant, Kevin knew of no prior relationship between Individual #1 and the OGA. And he was not involved in any discussions—including the one discussed above between the case agent and DOJ attorney—concerning whether or not to include information about that relationship in the FISA application. As was typical, the DOJ attorney worked primarily with the case agent to collect and develop information for the FISA application. The first time Kevin was asked to inquire into whether, and to what extent, Individual #1 had a relationship with the OGA was in connection with the fourth and final application.

To suggest that someone would target Page in June 2017 because of anti-Trump bias, though, takes gigantic flights of fancy. Already in October 2016, it was clear that Page (like every other person originally targeted under Crossfire Hurricane) was using Trump, attempting to monetize his access to Trump to get a plush deal to start a think tank that, in his case, would have been funded by the Russian government. Page boasted to Stefan Halper the Russians had offered him an “open checkbook.”

But even before the first renewal in January 2017, Page had victimized Trump in the way that is dangerous for counterintelligence cases. When he was in Russia in December 2016 — at a time when he was still hoping to get a think tank funded by the Russian government — Page claimed to speak on behalf of Trump with respect to Ukraine policy.

According to Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s associate, Page also gave some individuals in Russia the impression that he had maintained his connections to President-Elect Trump. In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DJT on a range of issues of mutual interest including Ukraine.”

There’s no record that Page made those representations with the approval of Trump. As such, Page’s representations risked undermining Trump’s ability to set his own foreign policy, whatever it was.

By June, moreover, Page had been totally marginalized by Trump’s people. The fourth warrant served significantly to obtain encrypted content from a phone Page had destroyed when he came under investigation. Tactically, there’s almost no way that that application would have generated new content involving Trump’s people because they were no longer talking to Page. So there’d be no political advantage to targeting him, neither based on the potential content the FBI might collect nor on any political taint from a guy the campaign had loudly dissociated from nine months earlier. Indeed, if your goal was to paint Trump as a pro-Russian asset, focusing on Page — the guy Trump himself had distanced himself from — is the last thing you’d do in June 2017. It’s just a profoundly stupid attack from Durham’s prosecutors, one with no basis in logic or (as the prosecutors admit) evidence.

In short, not only does the gratuitous, evidence-free insinuation that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias misrepresent the biased quality of the targeting of those OPR investigations, but it fundamentally misunderstands why the FBI would investigate the infiltration of a campaign by a suspected foreign agent. Someone infiltrating Trump’s campaign on behalf of Russia could and — in Page’s misrepresentations in Moscow in December 2016 — did harm Trump. That’s a harm the FBI is paid to try to prevent. Here, prosecutors are trying to criminalize Clinesmith’s efforts to protect Trump from that kind of damage.

After making it clear in his first official filings that Durham’s team didn’t understand the investigation they were investigating, in this one, his prosecutors make it crystal clear they don’t understand how, if an agent of a foreign power were to hypothetically infiltrate a political campaign (which is what the FBI had good reason to believe in October 2016 and more evidence to believe by December 2016), it could be damaging to the campaign and to the President and to the country. That’s not just dangerous malpractice given their involvement in this case, but it betrays a really basic level of stupidity about how the world works.

The government is right that Clinesmith’s alteration of a document should be treated aggressively given that it occurred as part of the FISA process. But oh my goodness has the government discredited both this sentencing filing and the larger Durham investigation by betraying continued ignorance about the investigation, the politicized nature of the evidence they’re getting, and basic facts about counterintelligence investigations.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Frothy Right Proves Trump Buried 7 Details of Russian Outreach by Wailing about Carter Page

The other day, the government released a spreadsheet that the FBI used to validate the Steele dossier.

The spreadsheet shows that, if the Steele dossier included disinformation, the disinformation was really well crafted, because the disinformation was close enough to the truth to make known events — like Paul Manafort’s expanding corruption scandal — appear to confirm the dossier.

It also shows that when John Solomon claimed, in 2019, that the spreadsheet “was a sea of blanks,” he was wrong.

Multiple sources familiar with the FBI spreadsheet tell me the vast majority of Steele’s claims were deemed to be wrong, or could not be corroborated even with the most awesome tools available to the U.S. intelligence community. One source estimated the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search.

In other words, it was mostly useless.

“The spreadsheet was a sea of blanks, meaning most claims couldn’t be corroborated, and those things that were found in classified intelligence suggested Steele’s intelligence was partly or totally inaccurate on several claims,” one source told me.

Given the redactions, it is unclear whether the redacted material affirmatively disproves claims from the dossier or provides partial corroboration. Since I’ve argued the dossier was problematic for longer than even the frothers, I don’t have a stake in that. But the spreadsheet in no way was full of blanks. There are relatively few blank entries in the spreadsheet.

Which means, if it was disinformation, it succeeded in wasting a lot of the FBI’s time.

But a potentially more important detail from the spreadsheet is that it shows the Carter Page FISA collection was useful in testing the dossier’s claims. Probably, given other soft corroboration and Igor Danchenko’s claims to have two independent sources backing the claim, the FISA collection produced evidence that made it harder to rule out a meeting between Igor Sechin and Page (which is what the Mueller Report ultimately concluded, that they couldn’t rule it out; 302s show there was time in Page’s schedule he didn’t account for).

And Trump has succeeded in burying that useful intelligence, even the intelligence collected during a period when — the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded — the FISA application targeting Page was appropriate.

In September, the FISA Court unsealed an opinion explaining its decision to sequester the intelligence collected under the Carter Page orders. The order reveals that, when the Court asked whether it should treat the first two applications targeting Page the same way it would treat the two for which DOJ had withdrawn probable cause determination, DOJ declined to do so.

In fact, in response to the Conrt’s directive to explain why retaining the Page FISA information “in the manner intended by the government, and any contemplated use or disclosure of it,” comport with§§ 1809(a)(2) and 1827(a)(2), Jan. 7, 2020, Order at 2, the government declined to argue, even alternatively, that those provisions do not apply ( or apply differently) to information obtained under the first two dockets. See Feb. 5, 2020, Resp. at 28-29. Under the circumstances, the Court will assume that§§ l 809(a)(2) and l 827(a)(2) apply to information acquired under color of the first and second dockets just as, per the government’s admission, they apply to information acquired under color of the third and fourth.

This had the result that, even though DOJ itself did not withdraw its probable cause determination, and even though a bipartisan committee at SSCI believed the initial applications were merited, all four applications targeting Page would be treated as if the applications were improper.

DOJ did not tell the FISC that it was (and probably still is) criminally investigating several people involved in these applications, meaning the FISC opinion sequestering case file information would be make necessary source information unavailable for anyone targeted in that investigation to show that the applications were reasonable.

That may have been part of the point.

And the Steele dossier spreadsheet shows in tangible form that useful information — whether it corroborated suspicions against Page or disproved them — has been sealed permanently as a result. The spreadsheet redacts information on the following topics because of FISC’s decision to sequester everything collected under the Page applications:

I get why the FISC would want to rule aggressively to protect Carter Page’s privacy, and I’m fine with the decision.

But this intelligence seems like it would be really useful to understanding the Russian operation, even if Page was targeted by Russian disinformation. Indeed, this intelligence would be really important to understand the nature of the disinformation Russia fed the US.

The decision by Trump’s DOJ not to stand by its earlier decision that the first two applications were appropriate had the effect, then, of burying intelligence on Trump and the Russian operation.

Which was likely part of the point.

The Latest Stinky 702 Opinion Bodes Poorly for the Next One

Last night, I Con the Record released last year’s 702 opinion, approved by current presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg. It’s stinky. It shows continued violations of querying procedures (which I’ll describe below), as well as on new troubling issue at NSA (which I hope to describe in a follow-up).

Worse still, the opinion, the timing, and recent Bill Barr actions suggest we’ll see an even stinkier opinion in maybe another year.

The opinion we’re getting on September 3, 2020, was released by FISC on December 6, 2019. Not only has it taken nine months to release this opinion, but ODNI sat on it in anticipation of and in the aftermath of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, which was publicly released December 9, 2019. That means that the delay in releasing this led to a disproportionate focus on events that happened three or four years ago, but not on events that have persisted under Billy Barr.

But the timing is important for several other reasons: the government has to be preparing its next reapproval package now (assuming the 2019 certificates are good until December 5, it would need to submit a new package by November 5). That’s significant for several reasons. First, as laid out by the timeline below, while the FBI waited for a FISCR review of an October 2018 Boasberg decision that its querying procedures didn’t comply with a new requirement passed by Congress, there were ongoing querying problems of the same type, including both the deliberate querying of 702 information to vet sources (and cops), but also at least one mass query that ended up finding seven leads out of 16,000 Americans. There was a significant delay in reporting some of these:

  • Querying violations found in June reported September 18, 2019
  • Querying violations found in July reported September 6, 2019
  • August querying violation involved 16,000 people reported November 25, 2019

In addition, there were several more reports on querying violations, one on September 17, and another on September 20.

That is, the reports on some of these were delayed until after FISCR ruled (on July 12), and for many of them, there was a delay until around the same time as the government submitted their new reauthorization packet on September 17, 2019 (which is the package that led to this December 6 opinion).

Then, after submitting the reauthorization package, starting on October 4, 2019, the FBI asked to be excused from two reporting requirements imposed in 2018.

In one case — requiring that FBI has retained 702 information in some archival systems — the FBI waited to comply with a change in reporting requirements made in October 2018 until it was prepping the 2019 certificates, and then asked for a weaker reporting requirement (and got it, prospectively).

It must be noted, however, that the government has unjustifiably disregarded the current reporting requirement. Instead of taking concrete steps to comply even partially with the Court’s directive (or timely seeking relief from it), it chose to wait while the FBI reportedly worked on guidance to instruct its personnel on how to handle unminimized Section 702 information on these archival systems. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps to Implement an Aspect of the Court’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Sept. 27, 2019, at 3. In fact, it has taken so long to prepare this guidance that, instead of using it to instruct personnel on the October 2018 reporting requirement, which the government reports was the original plan, the FBI now intends to address only the narrower reporting requirement incorporated into the FBI’s proposed minimization procedures. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps taken by the FBI to implement an aspect of the Comt’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Nov. 20, 2019, at 4.

It should be unnecessary to state that government officials are not free to decide for themselves whether or to what extent they should comply with Court orders. The government has not sought retrospective relief from the reporting requirement imposed by the Court on October 18, 2018. Although the AG and DNI have amended the prior Section 702 certifications to authorize the FBI to apply its proposed minimization procedures to information acquired under prior certifications, that authorization only becomes “effective on October 17, 2019, or on the date upon which [this Court] issues an order concerning [the] amendments pursuant to subsection 702(j)(3) of the Act, whichever is later.”[redacted] The Court’s approval of those amendments does not have any nunc pro tune effect, nor does it excuse the government from reporting instances of retention that it is already obligated to report. With respect to those instances of retention, the October 2018 reporting requirement remains in effect.

In another — far more important — case, the FBI asked for the reporting requirement (on when an Agent conducts a criminal search and finds 702 information) to be eliminated entirely, again, after the reauthorization package was completed. This reporting requirement was designed to test the FBI’s now provably false claim that agents would never find 702 information when conducting criminal searches. It goes to the heart of concerns about Fourth Amendment violations.

Boasberg relaxed, though did not eliminate, that reporting requirement.

The government has not reported such instances in timely fashion. Rather, they have been reported to the Court belatedly, usually after they were uncovered during oversight reviews. The government now seeks relief from this reporting requirement “because the requirements in Section 702(f)(2) are a sufficient mechanism for the Court to assess the risk that the results of a query designed to elicit evidence of crimes unrelated to foreign intelligence will be viewed or otherwise used in connection with an investigation that is unrelated to national security.” October 4, 2019, Request at 8. But it would be premature to regard the government’s implementation of Section 702(f)(2) as a sufficient source of information. As discussed above, the FBI has repeatedly accessed Section 702-acquired contents under circumstances requiring a FISC order under Section 702(£)(2), but has never applied for such an order.

Closer to the mark is the government’s contention that implementing both Section 702(f)(2) and the November 2015 reporting requirement could complicate training and systems design. See October 4, 2019, Request at 8-9. For example, Section 702(f)(2) looks to whether a query involves a U.S.-person query term, while the applicability of the November 2015 reporting requirement depends on whether U.S.-person information is retrieved. And Section 702(f)(2) is implicated only when contents are accessed, while the November 2015 reporting requirement · does not distinguish between contents and non-contents information.

The Court has decided to retain a reporting requirement separate from Section 702(f)(2) because the obligation to get a FISC order under that section is limited to queries conducted in the context of a predicated criminal investigation. The FBI conducts numerous queries of Section 702 information at earlier investigative stages. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 75. Reports about queries at those stages remain relevant to the Court’s interest in receiving information about the extent to which U.S.-person privacy interests are implicated by queries that are not designed to find and extract foreign-intelligence information. The Court has concluded, however, that it is appropriate to modify the prior reporting requirement so that it will focus on the use of U.S.-person query terms, rather than on whether U.S.-person information is accessed as a result of a query, and will be triggered only when contents information is accessed. Such modifications should make it considerably simpler for the government to implement the requirement in combination with Section 702(f)(2), while still requiring reporting in situations where Fourth Amendment concerns are likely to be implicated. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 93 (queries that use U.S.-person query terms and result in review of contents are “the subset of queries that are particularly likely to result in significant intrusion into U.S. persons’ privacy”).

Ultimately, Boasberg approved the certifications, effectively arguing that FBI just needed time to be trained on them.

The Court has previously assessed that requiring FBI personnel to document why a query involving a U.S.-person query term is reasonably likely to have returned foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime before examining contents returned by the query should “help ensure that FBI personnel … have thought about the querying standard and articulated why they believe it has been met” and prompt them “to recall and apply the guidance and training they have received on the querying standard.” See id. at 93; see also In re DNI/AG Certifications at 41 (that requirement may “motivate FBI personnel to carefully consider … whether a query satisfies” the standard). The recently reported querying violations suggest that some FBI personnel still need such help. That is not altogether surprising. As discussed above, the FBI is really just sta11ing to implement that documentation requirement on a comprehensive basis. For that reason, the improper queries described above do not undermine the Court’s prior determination that, with that requirement, the FBI’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.

I suggested when the 2018 package was released last year, we’d start learning details of back door searches that had been implicit since 2007.

Nevertheless, 12 years after this system was first moved under FISA (notably, two key Trump players, White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg and National Security Division AAG John Demers were involved in the original passage), we’re only now going to start getting real information about the impact on Americans, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. For the first time,

  • We will learn how many queries are done (the FISC opinion revealed that just one FBI system handles 3.1 million queries a year, though that covers both US and non US person queries)
  • We will learn that there are more hits on US persons than previously portrayed, which leads to those US persons to being investigated for national security or — worse — coerced to become national security informants
  • We will learn (even more than we already learned from the two reported queries that this pertained to vetting informants) the degree to which back door searches serve not to find people who are implicated in national security crimes, but instead, people who might be coerced to help the FBI find people who are involved in national security crimes
  • We will learn that the oversight has been inadequate
  • We will finally be able to measure disproportionate impact on Chinese-American, Arab, Iranian, South Asian, and Muslim communities
  • DOJ will be forced to give far more defendants 702 notice

The thing is, 11 months after the release of that opinion, we’re still not seeing results — in the form of declassified opinions — of what FBI’s querying really looks like, once they’re forced to actually track it. The entirely of this 2019 opinion still shows what Boasberg considers the pre-implementation period for this reporting regime.

And the FBI has been trying to weaken it for two years now!

There’s one more indication that we may see troubling details once we get the next 702 opinion in a year’s time, if we do get it.

Less than a week ago, Billy Barr issued a memo imposing a new national security auditing function on the FBI.

To enhance the FBI’s existing compliance efforts, the Director of the FBI is taking steps to build a more robust and exacting internal audit capability, including the creation of an office focused on auditing the FBI’s national security activities. To support that effort, I hereby authorize the Director of the FBI to commence the process of establishing, consistent with law and policy, the Office ofInternal Auditing (“OIA”). A separate office devoted to internal auditing and headed by a senior FBI official will ensure that ri gorous and robust auditing, which is an essential ingredient to an effective compliance regime, is canied out. The FBI shall work with the Justice Management Division to make the required reorganization notifications regarding this new office. Once established, OJA shall be led by an Assistant Director who shall have the same reporting chain as the Assistant Director for OIC and the Assistant Director for INSD. The Director of the FBI shall appoint the Assistant Directors for OIC, INSD, and OIA, with the approval of the Deputy Attorney General.

OIC, INSD, and OIA shall be responsible for carrying out the internal compliance functions of the FBI as assigned by the Director of the FBI, who shall ensure that each office does not duplicate responsibilities and is adequately staffed to perform its assigned functions. The Deputy Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for Administration shall coordinate with the Director to ensure that those functions are resourced and funded appropriately.

Even though Barr says the newly created OIA won’t overlap with the compliance and inspection functions at FBI, it’s not clear why not. Further, Barr’s memo does not explicitly say why FBI needed a new compliance review for national security cases rather than the existing legal reviews that had conducted such review.

Don’t get me wrong, done correctly, this could be a long-needed reform. It’s not clear it is being done correctly. It seems partly timed to the elections (with a report on implementation due just before then). And DOJ IG — which has, historically, found abundant problems with the functions enumerated here — will not review the efficacy of this until around May 2022.

The Department ofJustice Inspector General has agreed to assess the implementation of this memorandum (“initial assessment”) no sooner than 18 months after the establishment of OIA and to report such assessment, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security. The Inspector General has furt her agreed to conduct a subsequent assessment no later than five years after the initial assessment, and periodically thereafter as determined by the Inspector General, and to report such assessments, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Within 60 days of the date of the Inspector General’s initial assessment, the Director of the FBI shall provide the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General an assessment of the implementation of this memorandum, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the FBI’s compliance structure and whether compliance functions should be consolidated under an Executive Assistant Director.

Which is to say, this initiative, while it may be long overdue, feels like Barr trying to get ahead of something or somethings.

Billy Barr is an authoritarian. He doesn’t care about surveillance (indeed, he’s the grandfather of the dragnets that Edward Snowden revealed).

But something must have led him to take action to make it look like he cares.

Timeline

March 24-27, 2017: The querying of 70K facilities “associated with” persons who had access to the FBI’s facilities and systems. FBI General Counsel (then run by Jim Baker, who had had these fights in the past) warned against the query, but FBI did it anyway, though did not access the communications. This was likely either a leak or a counterintelligence investigation and appears to have been discovered in a review of existing Insider Threat queries.

December 1, 2017: FBI conducted queries on 6,800 social security numbers.

December 7-11, 2017, the same entity at FBI also queried 1,600 queries on certain identifiers, though claimed they didn’t mean to access raw data.

February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI did approximately 30 queries of potential sources.

February 21, 2018: FBI did 45 queries on people being vetted as sources.

March 27, 2018: Initial 2018 package submitted.

April 5, 2018: Extension order.

Before April 13, 2018: an unspecified FBI unit queried FISA acquired metadata using 57,000 identifiers of people who work in some place.

October 17, 2018: Order finding FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

February 21, 2019: NSA submits notice of Upstream violations.

February 26, 2019: Date after which NSA fixes Upstream violations.

June 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including to vet a source, a candidate to be a local cop, and to find information about a planned visit by foreign officials.

June 26, 2019: Notice that CIA assistance to NCTC does not comply with rules.

July 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including of college students in a “Collegiate Academy” and individuals who visited an FBI office. 

July 12, 2019: FISCR opinion finding that FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

August 2019: Query of 16,000 persons identifies seven leads. 

August 12, 2019: FBI submits new querying procedures.

August 23, 2019: NSA complains about post-tasking for some collections.

September 4, 2019: Approval of amended FBI querying procedures.

September 6, 2019: Report of July 2019 query violations.

September 13, 2019: Notice regarding 702 query response showing 100 characters of text surrounding search term.

September 17, 2019: Application submitted, including proposed improvements on targeting procedures.

September 17, 2019: Notice of at least four querying violations involving taking steps to access 702 products without getting a warrant.

September 18, 2019: Report on June 2019 query violations.

September 20, 2019: Reports of other FBI querying violations, including to vet sources, to search on complainants, and to vet potential cops.

September 26, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

October 1, 2019: Review period extended to December 16, 2019 (because of NSA and NCTC compliance issues, not FBI ones).

October 3, 2019: FISC orders further information.

October 4, 2019: FBI requests relief from requirement to report 702 access in response to criminal search.

October 10, 2019: Notice of overly attenuated NSA queries, including content searches using 23 US person identifiers.

October 11, 2019: Notice on FBI violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 4, November 13, 2019: Government provides additional information.

November 8, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

November 14, 2019: Notice on violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 20, 2019: Government tells FISC that they never tried to comply with reporting requirement imposed in October 2018, are instead training their new proposed compliance method.

November 25, 2019: Notice regarding August 2019 mass query.

mid-December 2019: Date FBI promised to impose new record-keeping on FBI’s queries.

January 2020: Date NSA promised to have purged improperly acquired communications.

Billy Barr Signs a Memo That Wouldn’t Have Helped Carter Page

For eight months, FBI and DOJ have been diligently making changes to the way they do FISA applications, with regular reports into the FISA Court. Whether or not those changes are adequate to fix the problems that beset the Carter Page application, they represent significant effort.

Curiously, a memo Billy Barr just released purporting to enhance compliance in FISA applications appears unaware of the filings at FISC, and instead cites only changes implemented in Christopher Wray’s response to the December 9, 2019 DOJ IG Report (see PDF 466 for his letter).

Therefore, in order to address concerns identified in the report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice entitled, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI ‘s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (December 2019), and to build on the important reforms described by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in his December 6, 2019, response to the Inspector General’s report, I hereby direct that the following additional steps be taken:

Arguably (as I’ll show), at least one of the provisions in the memo is weaker than a change FISC mandated itself.

And while the memo claims to want to protect the rights of people like Carter Page, Barr’s memo would in no way apply to Page. That’s because the special protections tied to political campaigns only apply to those currently associated with campaigns.

With respect to applications for authorization to conduct electronic surveillance or physical searches pursuant to FISA targeting (i) a federal elected official or staff members of the elected official, or (ii) an individual who is a declared candidate for federal elected office or staff members or advisors of such candidate’s campaign (including any person who has been publicly announced by a campaign as a staff member or member of an official campaign advisory committee or group, or any person who is an informal advisor to the campaign),

By the time FBI applied for a FISA application targeting Page, several prominent members of the campaign had dissociated the campaign from him — for his controversial ties to Russia! — in no uncertain terms; those disavowals were included in the FISA application. Yes, Page had been announced as an informal advisor, but then the campaign made very clear he was no longer an informal advisor (and even claimed he never had been).

To be sure, some of the changes proposed — both those limited to those connected with a campaign and the more general ones — are improvements. For example:

  • ¶3(b) requires non-delegable sign-off by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General) of any application targeting someone associated with a campaign; while requiring non-delegable sign-off may introduce some problems, this is the kind of certification recommended by the DOJ IG Report (though arguably is already incorporated in the December 6, 2019 letter Barr cited).
  • ¶3(d) and ¶3(e) institutes a shorter renewal deadline for these political FISAs, 60 days instead of 90, and requires monthly reports to FISC describing the results and affirming the continued need for such surveillance. These are arbitrary but perhaps useful improvements, not least because by increasing the paperwork required to surveil a political target, they make it more likely that such surveillance will actually be worth it (as the third and fourth applications targeting Page were not).
  • ¶3(f) requires that any political application describe whether less intrusive investigative procedures have been considered — something already required in all FISA applications — and an explanation why those procedures weren’t used. Such a requirement would have been useful in Page’s case (as I noted last year), because it would have emphasized the efforts FBI was making not to take public actions, but in practice this response would almost always point to DOJ guidelines on avoiding taking public actions that might affect an election and might actually encourage the increased reliance on informants, something Trump’s people claim equates to FISA surveillance. A requirement like this might be useful if it took place in the scope of a debate about what techniques were intrusive or not, but there’s zero evidence such a debate has happened.

The memo has two parts on defensive briefings, probably designed to placate Republicans, but which likely don’t do much in practice:

  • For political targets, ¶3(a) requires the FBI Director to consider a defensive briefing before targeting someone, and if no briefing is given, then the Director must document it in writing. FBI did consider defensive briefings for Trump’s people, but for various reasons decided not to do it, but in the case of Carter Page, he had long been wittingly sharing non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers and when FBI tried to explain why such dalliances were problematic in March 2017, he simply disagreed. A defensive briefing for Page would have been as useless as President Obama’s warnings to Trump that Mike Flynn was a problem.
  • For all counterintelligence concerns pertaining to election interference, ¶4 requires the FBI Director to “promulgate procedures, in consultation with the Deputy Attorney General, concerning defensive briefings.” Not only is this requirement utterly silent about what such procedures should do, not only did Wray commit to a similar recommendation in his December 2019 letter, but defensive briefings are precisely what Acting Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is currently politicizing.

As for key review processes mandated by the memo, some are just redundant at best or stupid at worst. For example:

  • ¶1 requires FBI personnel to review the accuracy sub-file before submitting a FISA application. That process is already in place. It’s called the Woods Procedure and it’s the procedure that failed to find errors in the Page application.
  • ¶2 requires someone — it doesn’t say whether FBI or NSD bears responsibility — to report any misstatement or omission to FISC. That’s already required. Plus, this requirement twice gives NSD the authority to determine whether something amounts to a reportable incident. The ongoing DOJ IG investigation into all the errors in FISA applications suggest NSD has deemed some omissions and errors not to be worthwhile of reporting (indeed, there were multiple instances in the Page applications where NSD did not include information they knew of, in at least one case information that FBI did not have). In short, this paragraph seems more focused on ensuring NSD — and not an outside entity, like DOJ IG or the FISC — retains the ability to determine what is and is not a reportable error.
  • ¶3(c) requires an FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge who is not involved in an investigation to review the FISA application of any defined political targets. The DOJ IG Report found that even NSD lawyers involved in an investigation don’t have enough insight into a case to identify omissions. While an ASAC might have access to case files that NSD lawyers do not, there’s zero reason to believe someone with even less insight into an investigation would better be able to spot omissions than an NSD lawyer with an ongoing role in the application. So this review is likely useless busywork.
  • ¶3(g) requires the Assistant Attorney General to review the case file of a political target within 60 days of its initial grant to make sure everything is kosher, including that the investigation was properly predicated. In conjunction with the shorter renewal timeframe of such applications (which would require DAG sign-off in any case), all this amounts to is a heightened review on first renewal (the memo does not say this is not delegable, so such a review will and probably should not be done by the AAG). But in Page’s case, it would have done nothing (indeed, at the time this would have been done for Page, he was in Russia meeting high level officials, falsely claiming to represent Trump’s interests).

In short, while some of these changes are salutary, a number are just show, and some are worthless busy work.

But my real concern about them — particularly given how Barr only invokes the first Christopher Wray letter to DOJ IG — is how they interact with other details of the FISA reform events that have transpired since last December.

For example, in the last month, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a big dog-and-pony show to claim that none of the errors DOJ IG had identified in 29 FISA applications they reviewed affected probable cause and just two were material. Effectively, that big press push amounted to having NSD pre-empt DOJ IG’s findings in an ongoing investigation, and the public details of NSD’s own review raise abundant reason to doubt the rigor of it. So Barr’s emphasis (in ¶2) on NSD’s role in deciding what is an error seems to be a reassertion of the status quo ante in the midst of an ongoing investigation that is still assessing whether NSD’s reviews are adequate. That makes this feel like another attempt to pre-empt an ongoing investigation.

Even more troubling, Barr’s memo seems unaware of — and in key respects, conflicts with — an order presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued in March. As I noted at the time, that order recognized something that was apparent from the DOJ IG Report but which the IG either missed, ignored, or was bureaucratically unable to address: it wasn’t just FBI that dropped the ball on the Page FISA application, NSD did so too.

According to the OIG Report, the DOJ attorney responsible for preparing the Page applications was aware that Page claimed to have had some type of reporting relationship with another government agency. See OIG Rpt. at 157. The DOJ attorney did not, however, follow up to confirm the nature of that relationship after the FBI case agent declared it “outside scope.” Id. at 157, 159. The DOJ attorney also received documents that contained materially adverse information, which DOJ advises should have been included in the application. Id. at 169-170. Greater diligence by the DOJ attorney in reviewing and probing the information provided by the FBI would likely have avoided those material omissions.

Because of that, Boasberg required that DOJ attorneys, too, sign off on all FISA applications, and suggested they get more involved earlier in the process.

As a result, reminders of DOJ’s obligation to meet the heightened duty of candor to the FISC appear warranted. The Court is therefore directing that any attorney submitting a FISA application make the following representation: “To the best of my knowledge, this application fairly reflects all information that might reasonably call into question the accuracy of the information or the reasonableness of any FBI assessments in the application, or otherwise raise doubts about the requested probable cause findings.”

DOJ should also consider whether its attorneys need more formalized guidance – e.g. , their own due-diligence checklists. Consideration should also be given to the potential benefits of DOJ attorney visits to field offices to meet with case agents and review investigative files themselves, at least in select cases – e.g. , initial applications for U.S.-person targets. Increased interaction between DOJ attorneys and FBI case agents during the preparatory process should not only improve accuracy in individual cases but also likely foster a common understanding of how to satisfy the government’s heightened duty of candor to the FISC.

There’s no mention of Boasberg’s order and suggestions in Barr’s memo, and it’s unclear whether that’s because he has no idea what has transpired with the FISC, whether he thinks he can ignore Boasberg’s order, or whether his memo is just for show. In any case, it’s notable that Barr’s memo doesn’t incorporate the key insight Boasberg made, that FISA requires increased diligence from NSD, too.

Similarly, because Boasberg deemed the role of FBI’s lawyers to be “perfunctory,” he asked for more details about their role.

But the role described in the revised Woods Form appears largely 10 perfunctory. To assess whether additional modifications to the Woods Form or related procedures may be warranted, the Court is directing the FBI to describe the current responsibilities FBI OGC lawyers have throughout the FISA process.

Here, Barr has added one more FBI person (an ASAC uninvolved in the case) to the process, whose review can only be perfunctory, rather than ensuring that those with more visibility on the process have a substantive role. Barr also doesn’t incorporate into his memo a change that came from Amicus David Kris after the Wray letter cited in Barr’s memo that case agents attest to the accuracy of FISA reviews, a recommendation FBI adopted, which might accomplish more than any review by an outside ASAC.

There’s one more reason this memo is concerning. ABC reported the other day that long-time Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Brad Wiegmann was reassigned two weeks ago and replaced by a far less experienced political appointee, Kellen Dwyer (though I’ve seen people vouch for his integrity — he’s not a hack). Wiegmann would likely be part of discussions about how to meet FISC’s demands for further accountability.

Though a relatively small unit of fewer than two dozen attorneys, the Office of Law and Policy participates in almost every National Security Council meeting, works with congressional staff to draft new legislation, and conducts oversight of the FBI’s intelligence-gathering activities.

“[It] has been sort of the center of gravity for the Department of Justice on national security policy, and it’s a central role,” said Olsen, who at one point ran the department’s National Security Division and later advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Wiegmann has led the office since the Obama administration and for almost all of the Trump administration.

In particular, Wiegmann has long been involved in efforts to meet FISC’s demands regarding surveillance it authorizes. Here, just days after Wiegmann’s removal, Barr is issuing a memo that seems unaware of and in at least a few respects, potentially inconsistent with, explicit orders from the presiding FISA Judge.

There’s nothing obviously offensive about this memo. But it would do little to prevent a repeat of the Carter Page problems. And it’s not clear that it adds anything to the very real efforts to improve the FISA process at DOJ. Indeed, it may well be an effort to pre-empt more substantive concerns about the role of NSD (as opposed to FBI) in this process.

Barr released a second memo creating an audit mechanism for national security functions that feels like an effort to get ahead of ongoing DOJ IG investigation. I welcome additional oversight of FBI’s national security functions, though the timing of this and the timing of its implementation — with a report on its creation due just days before the election but all review of its functionality years down the road — feels like an attempt to stave off real legal oversight.

Kevin Clinesmith Ordered to Cooperate with People Not on John Durham’s Team

According to multiple reports and live-tweeting from his plea hearing last week, John Durham is relying, in part, on former FBI Agents to conduct his investigation into an investigation he may not understand.

Mr. Durham is relying on a team of prosecutors, including Nora R. Dannehy and Neeraj Patel, from Connecticut, as well as former and current F.B.I. agents to complete his investigation. Anthony Scarpelli, a top prosecutor from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, was detailed to the team along with a federal prosecutor from Manhattan, Andrew DeFilippis.

Two former F.B.I. agents, Timothy Fuhrman and Jack Eckenrode, are also assisting. An F.B.I. agent who oversaw public corruption in Chicago and served in Ukraine as an assistant legal attaché, Peter Angelini, has also joined Mr. Durham’s team.

That’s important because of a detail in the Kevin Clinesmith plea deal that the frothy right has totally misrepresented. The plea deal includes a paragraph — addressing the “use of self-incriminating information,” not cooperation — that requires Clinesmith’s cooperation with the FBI, not prosecutors.

10. Use of Self-Incriminating Information

As an express condition of this agreement, the defendant agrees to be personally debriefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) regarding the FBI’s review of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) matters and any information he possesses, direct or indirect, that should be brought to the attention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). The Government agrees pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.8(a), that information provided by your client pursuant to this Agreement or during the course of the aforementioned debriefing, and about which the Government had no prior knowledge or insufficient proof in the absence of the debriefing, will not be used at the time of sentencing for the purpose of determining the applicable guideline range. However, all information provided by the defendant may be used for the purposes and in accordance with the terms identified in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.8(b).

The paragraph even describes the topic of Clinesmith’s mandated cooperation: working with the FBI to figure out if there’s anything further he worked on that must be noticed to the FISA Court.

On December 5, then presiding FISA Judge Rosemary Collyer (she has been succeeded by James Boasberg, who also presides over Clinesmith’s prosecution) ordered the government to check every FISA application Clinesmith had been involved with to make sure he hadn’t done anything similar on other applications.

(1) Identify all other matters currently or previously before this Court that involved the participation of the FBI OGC attorney whose conduct was described in the Preliminary Letter and Supplement Letter;

(2) Describe any steps taken or to be taken by the Department of Justice or FBI to verify that the United States’ submissions in those matters completely and fully described the material facts and circumstances; and

(3) Advise whether the conduct of the FBI OGC attorney bas been referred to the I appropriate bar association(s) for investigation or possible disciplinary action.

Nothing in the public record indicates that FBI has completed this review. Which means the FBI still needs Clinesmith’s help to review the cases he worked on.

So the language here covers what happens if, in the course of this review, FBI finds other cases where he doctored the record or somehow lied to the FISA Court.

The emphasis on cooperating with the FBI (and Durham’s heavy reliance on retired FBI Agents) should have been hint enough that this is not some grand cooperation agreement that will land Jim Comey and John Brennan in prison. But there’s another clue. The plea deal specifically says the government will not file any downward departure for sentencing.

In addition, your client acknowledges that the Government is not obligated and does not intend to file any post-sentence downward departure motion in this case pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

There’s no cooperation agreement because there’s nothing on the table for Clinesmith to cooperate on, except to avoid further exposure.

And the plea agreement says there’s nothing more (some plea agreements have sealed addendums).

There’s no upside promised in this plea agreement. Which means Clinesmith has not promised to deliver any heads on a platter for the frothers.

Amid Discussions of FISA Reform, James Boasberg Pushes for Greater Reform

It’s not entirely clear what will happen in a few weeks when several existing FISA provisions expire; there are ongoing discussions about how much to reform FISA in the wake of the Carter Page IG Report. But before anyone passes legislation, they would do well to read the order presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued yesterday.

On its face, Boasberg’s order is a response to DOJ’s initial response to FISC’s order to fix the process, Amicus David Kris’ response to that, and DOJ’s reply to Kris. The order ends by citing In re Sealed Case, the 2002 FISCR opinion that limited how much change the FISA Court can demand of DOJ, and “acknowledging that significant change can take time, and recognizing the limits of its authority.” By pointing to In re Sealed Case, Boasberg highlights the limits of what FISC can do without legislation from Congress — and, importantly, it highlights the limits of what FISC could do to improve the process if Bill Barr were to convince Congress that DOJ can fix any problems itself, without being forced to do so by Congress.

After invoking In Re Sealed Case, Boasberg orders reports (due March 27, May 4, May 22, June 30, and July 3) on the progress of a number of improvements. He orders that any DOJ or FBI personnel under disciplinary or criminal review relating to work on FISA applications may not participate in preparing applications for FISC, and he requires additional signoffs on applications, including Section 215 orders, which currently don’t require such affirmations.

Boasberg recognizes that DOJ, not just FBI, needs to change

Remarkably, Boasberg notes what I have — the IG Report provides evidence, its focus on FBI notwithstanding, that some of the blame for the Carter Page application belongs with DOJ, not FBI.

According to the OIG Report, the DOJ attorney responsible for preparing the Page applications was aware that Page claimed to have had some type of reporting relationship with another government agency. See OIG Rpt. at 157. The DOJ attorney did not, however, follow up to confirm the nature of that relationship after the FBI case agent declared it “outside scope.” Id. at 157, 159. The DOJ attorney also received documents that contained materially adverse information, which DOJ advises should have been included in the application. Id. at 169-170. Greater diligence by the DOJ attorney in reviewing and probing the information provided by the FBI would likely have avoided those material omissions.

As a result, Boasberg requires the DOJ attorney signing off on a FISA application to attest to the accuracy of it as well. He also suggests DOJ attorneys “participate in field-office visits to assist in the preparation of FISA applications.”

Boasberg recognizes that DOJ’s existing plan doesn’t address any root cause

Similarly, Boasberg recognizes that if the real problem with the Carter Page FISA applications involved information withheld from the application, improving the Woods procedure won’t fix the problem. In an extended section on oversight, Boasberg strongly suggested that DOJ needs to review whether information was withheld from the application.

Amicus agrees that reviews designed to elicit any pertinent facts omitted from the application, rather than merely verifying the facts that were included, would be extremely valuable, but also recognizes that such in-depth reviews would be extremely resource intensive. See Amicus Letter Br. at 12. He thus recommends that such reviews be conducted periodically at least in some cases and, echoing Samuel Johnson, advises that selection of cases for such reviews should be unpredictable because the possibility that any case might be reviewed “should help concentrate the minds of FBI personnel in all cases.” Id. In its response, the government advised that “it will expand its oversight to include additional reviews to determine whether, at the time an application is submitted to the FISC, there was additional information of which the Government was aware that should have been included and brought to the attention of the Court.” Resp. to Amicus at 13. DOJ advised, however, that given limited personnel to conduct such reviews, it is still developing a process for such reviews and a sampling methodology to select cases for review. ld. The Court sees value in more comprehensive completeness reviews, and random selection of cases to be reviewed should increase that value. As DOJ is still developing the necessary process and methodology, the Court is directing further reporting on this effort.

Amicus also encouraged the Court to require a greater number of accuracy reviews using the standard processes already in place. See Amicus Letter Br. at 12. He believes that the FBI and DOJ have the resources to ensure that auditing occurs in a reasonable percentage of cases and suggested that it might be appropriate to audit a higher percentage of certain types of cases, such as those involving U.S. persons, certain foreign-agent definitions, or sensitive investigative matters. Id. The government did not address Amicus’s recommendation that it increase the number of standard reviews.

Even though accuracy reviews are conducted after the Court has ruled on the application in question, the Court believes that they have some positive effect on future accuracy. In addition to guarding against the repetition of errors in any subsequent application for the same target, they should provide a practical refresher on the level of rigor that should be employed when preparing any FISA application. It is, however, difficult to assess to what extent accuracy reviews contribute to the process as a whole, partly because it is not clear from the information provided how many cases undergo such reviews. The Court is therefore directing further reporting on DOJ’s current practices regarding accuracy reviews, as well as on the results of such reviews.

Finally, the FBI has directed its Office of Integrity and Compliance to work with its Resource Planning Office to identify and propose audit, review, and compliance mechanisms to assess the effectiveness of the changes to the FISA process discussed above. See OIG Rpt. app. 2 at 429. Although the Court is interested in any conclusions reached by those entities, it will independently monitor the government’s progress in correcting the failures identified in the OIG Report.

Again, as I already noted, Boasberg himself found DOJ’s oversight regime inadequate in a 702 opinion written last year. He knows this is insufficient.

But as noted above, all Boasberg can do is order up reports and attestations.

At a minimum, Congress should put legal language behind the oversight he has now demanded twice.

A far better solution, however, would be to provide the oversight on FISA applications that other criminal warrant applications receive: review by defense attorneys in any cases that move to prosecution, which by itself would build in “unpredictabl[y] because the possibility that any case might be reviewed.”

James Boasberg, the presiding judge of the FISA court, issued an order in the middle of a debate about reform that points to several ways FISA should be improved, ways that the he can’t do on his own.

Congress would do well to take note.

FISC Reveals DOJ Has Withdrawn Probable Cause Assertion for Two of Carter Page Applications

The FISA Court just declassified an order — issued on January 7 — revealing that along with the previously released December 9 order listing problems with the Carter Page applications, DOJ also reassessed its previous probable cause assessment.

DOJ assesses that with respect to the applications in Docket Number 17-375 and 17-679, “if not earlier, there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause to believe that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

[snip]

The Court understands the government to have concluded, in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the Court’s authorizations in Docket Numbers 17-375 and 17-679 were not valid. The government apparently does not take a position on the validity of the authorizations in Docket Numbers 16-1182 and 17-52, but intends to sequester information acquired pursuant to those dockets in the same manner as information acquired pursuant to the subsequent dockets.

The function of this January 7 order is to demand that FBI follow up on a previous agreement to “sequester all collection the FBI acquired pursuant to the Court’s authorizations in the above-listed four docket numbers targeting [Carter] Page pending further review of the OIG Report and the outcome of related investigations and any litigation,” to explain how it is doing so, how it has chased down all information collected pursuant to the Page orders, and why it needs to keep the data at all.

The reason it needs to keep the data, incidentally, is in case it is sued or John Durham decides to prosecute someone (including Kevin Clinesmith, who altered an email that was used as back-up to the final renewal application) or Page decides to sue. Indeed, one of the most unprecedented aspects of this order is that the docket numbers have been declassified, which will make FOIAing the records far easier.

Which is probably what the only substantive redaction remaining in the order pertains to: the possibility that someone will be held liable under FISA for illegal surveillance.

A lot of people are assuming that DOJ took this stance only because Bill Barr wanted to prove that Trump was illegally wiretapped (which would only be true if he was in direct contact with Page, which everyone has denied). That’s certainly possible!

But it’s quite possible that DOJ and FBI feel the need to be proactive on this point and FISC — particularly given the letters it has received from Congress — feels the need to look stern. Moreover, it is in everyone’s interest for DOJ to withdraw at least the last application (the one influenced by Clinesmith’s actions). It’s an important precedent, and there’s no reason Carter Page’s personal data should be floating around the FBI after discovering he was improperly surveilled. This doesn’t mean the FBI didn’t have reason to investigate Page. In a March 23, 2017 interview, after all, Carter Page was quite clear he knew he was being recruited by Russian intelligence officers and he believed the more immaterial non-public information he gives them, the better off we are.

But, first of all, he wasn’t hiding his happiness to share information with Russian spies, meaning he wasn’t acting in the clandestine matter that would merit a FISA order. And by April 2017, it was pretty clear that the Russians had lost all interest in recruiting Page.

In any case, FISC’s demand for what the government is doing with the data is not unusual. Similar things have happened virtually every other time the government did something improper.

There’s one more important lesson, though: Even from the start, people raised questions about whether the applications targeting Page were prudential. By the third application — the first one being withdrawn — there were not only real questions about whether it would yield anything more, but whether Page was central enough to their investigation to want to surveil him. Had the FBI simply not pursued surveillance it questioned whether it really needed, the worst revelations of the IG Report would have been avoided.

So one of the lessons of this whole fiasco is that the FBI would benefit from giving greater consideration about whether its most intrusive methods are necessary.

Useful But Not Sufficient: FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

As one of her last acts as presiding FISA judge, Rosemary Collyer ordered the government to explain how it will ensure the statement of facts in future FISA applications don’t have the same kind of errors laid out in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application. In the event that the FBI at the time of that submission is not yet able to perform any of the planned steps described in the submission, it shall also include (a) a proposed timetable for implementing such measures and (b) an explanation of why, in the government’s view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable.

DOJ and FBI submitted their response on Friday. (This post lays out new revelations about the FISA process in it.) While I think there are useful fixes, most laid out in FBI Director Chris Wray’s response to the IG Report itself, the fixes are insufficient to fix FISA.

The filing largely focuses on the institution and evolution of the current accuracy review process. It promises to review the memorandum guiding that process (though doesn’t set a deadline for doing so), and adds some forms and training to try to ensure that FBI Agents provide DOJ all the information that the lawyers should include in an application to FISA. One of those forms — pertaining to human sources — seems important though might lead to counterintelligence problems in the future. Another, requiring agents to provide all exculpatory information, may improve the process. But fundamentally, DOJ and FBI assume that the process they currently use just needs to be improved to make sure it works the way they intend it to.

They’re probably insufficient to fix the underlying problems in the Carter Page FISA application.

The FISA Fix Filing is based on faulty assumptions

I say that, first of all, because the FISA Fix Filing adopts certain assumptions from the DOJ IG Report that may not be valid. The FISA Fix Filing assumes that:

  • FBI was responsible for all the errors on the Carter Page application
  • The right people at FBI had the information they needed
  • The Carter Page application was an aberration

The IG Report ignored where DOJ’s National Security Division contributed to errors

As I note in this post, possibly because of institutional scope (DOJ IG cannot investigate DOJ’s prosecutors), possibly because of its own confirmation bias, the IG Report held the FBI responsible for all the information that was known to investigators, but not included in the Carter Page FISA applications. Yet the report showed that at least two of the things it says should have been included in the Page applications — Page’s own denials of a tie with Paul Manafort, and Steele’s own derogatory comments about Sergei Millian — were shared with DOJ’s Office of Intelligence, which writes the applications. Indeed, Rosemary Collyer even noted the latter example in her letter. It also shows DOJ’s National Security Division had confirmed a fact — that Carter Page had no role in the platform change at the RNC — before FBI had.

Because the FISA Fix Filing assumes FBI is responsible for everything mistakenly excluded from the applications, the proposed fixes shift even more responsibility to FBI, requiring agents, with FBI lawyers, to identify the information that should be in an application. But if — as the IG Report shows — sometimes FBI provides the relevant information but it’s not included by the lawyers, then ensuring they provide all the relevant information won’t be sufficient to fix the problem.

The focus on FBI to the detriment of NSD has one other effect. NSD includes few changes to their behaviors in the FISA Fix Filing (largely limited to training and inadequate accuracy reviews). And where they do consider changes, they do not — as ordered by the court — set deadlines for themselves.

The IG Report barely noted the import of the failure to share information in timely fashion

The IG Report deviates radically from almost twenty years of after-action reports that have consistently advocated for more sharing of national security information. It recommends that Bruce Ohr be disciplined for doing just that. Perhaps to sustain that bizarre conclusion, the IG Report focuses almost no attention on an issue that is critical to fixing the problems in the Carter Page applications: ensuring that the people submitting a FISA application have all the information available to the US government. The IG Report showed a 2 month delay before the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained the Steele reports, a month delay in getting feedback from State Department official Kathleen Kavalec, and delays in obtaining the full extent of Bruce Ohr’s knowledge on the dossier, all of which contributed to the delayed vetting of the dossier. But the IG Report doesn’t explore why this happened. And the FBI FISA Fix only addresses it by reminding agents to consult with other agencies.

In another of the 17 problems with the FISA applications, the people submitting the applications apparently did not learn that Christopher Steele had admitted meeting with Yahoo in court filings.

According to the Rule 13 Letter and FBI officials, although there had been open source reporting in May 2017 about Steele’s statements in the foreign litigation, the FBI did not obtain Steele’s court filings until the receipt of Senators Grassley and Graham’s January 2018 letter to DAG Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray with the filings enclosed. We found no evidence that the FBI made any attempts in May or June 2017 to obtain the filings to assist a determination of whether to change the FBI’s assessment concerning the September 23 news article in the final renewal application.

In other instance (as noted above), while NSD had affirmative knowledge that Carter Page had not been involved in the change to the RNC platform, FBI had a different view, yet this issue was not resolved to fully discount the claim in FISA applications. The IG Report also faults FBI managers (but never NSD ones) for not aggressively questioning subordinates to get a full sense of problems with the applications. All of these are information sharing problems, not errors of transparency. Making the case agent fill out forms about what he or she knows will have only limited effect on ensuring that those agents obtain all the information they need, because if they don’t know it, they won’t know to look for it.

With the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, that problem was exacerbated by the close hold of the investigation (most notably by running the investigation out of Main Justice) and, probably, by the urgency of investigating an ongoing attack while it’s happening, which likely led personnel to focus more on collecting information about the attack than exculpatory information.

The FISA Fix Filing includes a vaguely worded document describing technological improvements — including a workflow document that sounds like bureaucratic annoyance as described — that suggest FBI is considering moving some of this to the cloud.

Corrective Action #11 requires the identification and pursuit of short- and long-term technological improvements, in partnership with DOJ, that aid in consistency and accountability. I have already directed executives in the FBI’s Information Technology Branch leadership to work with our National Security Branch leadership and other relevant stakeholders to identify technological improvements that will advance these goals. To provide one example of a contemplated improvement, the FBI is considering the conversion of the revised FISA Request Form into a workflow document that would require completion of every question before it could be sent to OI. The FBI proposes to update the Court on its progress with respect to this Corrective Action in a filing made by March 27, 2020.

It’s still not clear this would fix the problem (it’s still not clear how Bruce Ohr would have shared the information he had in such a way that he wouldn’t now be threatened with firing for doing so, for example). And for a close hold investigation like this, such a cloud might not work. But it would be an improvement (if FBI could keep it secure, which is a big if).

The FISA Fix Filing does have suggests to improve information sharing. But because the scope of the problem, as defined in the IG Report, doesn’t account for information that simply doesn’t get to the people submitting the application, it’s not clear it will fix that problem.

No one knows whether the Page applications are an aberration or not

Finally, no one yet knows whether the Carter Page application was an aberration, and thus far, no one at DOJ has committed to finding out. DOJ IG has committed to doing an audit of the Woods Procedure process that failed in the Carter Page case (and the FISA Fix Filing committed to respond to any findings from that).

The Government further notes that the OIG is conducting an audit of FBI’s process for the verification of facts included in FISA applications that FBI submits to the Court, including an evaluation of whether the FBI is in compliance with its Woods Procedures requirements. The Department will work with the OIG to address any issues identified in this audit.

Yet everyone involved admits that the most serious problems with the Page applications consisted of information excluded from the application, not inaccurate information in it.

Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were … [when] relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney.

Doing an audit of the Woods Procedures, then, does not test the conclusion that Page’s applications are an aberration, and therefore does not test whether more substantive fixes are necessary.

DOJ IG has considered doing more — and PCLOB suggested last year they might get involved (though technically, their counterterrorism scope wouldn’t even permit them to look at counterintelligence cases like Page’s) — but thus far there’s no plan in this filing to figure out of this is a broader problem.

The existing oversight for FISA may be inadequate

There are several reasons to believe that the existing oversight regime for FISA may be inadequate.

As noted, the existing IG plan to audit the Woods Procedure is insufficient to identify whether the existing FISA Fix Filing is sufficient to fix the problem. Also as noted above, the jurisdiction of DOJ’s IG, because it cannot review the actions of prosecutors, might not (and in this case, pretty demonstrably did not) adequately review all parts of the process, because it could not subject NSD attorneys to the same scrutiny it did FBI.

Then there are shortcomings to NSD’s oversight regime — shortcomings that Judge James Boasberg — the new presiding FISA Judge and so the just now in charge of overseeing these fixes — already highlighted in an opinion on problems with Section 702 queries.

As the FISA Fix Filing describes, OI (the same office that the IG Report let off when it received information but did not include it in applications) does a certain number of oversight reviews each year. But they don’t do reviews in every FBI field office (to which FBI devolved the FISA application process some years ago), and they don’t do accuracy reviews at every office where they do an oversight review.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number ofFISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice,_ conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background.

As Boasberg noted in his 702 opinion last year, this partial review may result in problems going unaddressed for years.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

Furthermore, OI’s review of a subset of a subset of applications targeting Americans only reviews for things included in the application, not things excluded from it.

OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case.

DOJ admits that this is a problem, and considers doing a check for the kind of information excluded from Carter Page’s applications, but doesn’t commit to doing so and (again, unlike FBI) doesn’t give itself a deadline to do so.

Admittedly, these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application. That is, if additional, relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney, these accuracy reviews would not uncover the problem. Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were of this nature. Accordingly, OI is considering how to expand at least a subset of its existing accuracy reviews at FBI field offices to check for the completeness of the factual information contained in the application being reviewed. NSD will provide a further update to the Court on any such expansion of the existing accuracy reviews.

Improving these oversight reviews will have a salutary effect on all FISA authorities, not just individualized orders. Since Boasberg has already identified the inadequacies of the current reviews, I would hope he’d ask for at least an improved oversight regime.

Treating alleged subpoenas like they’re not subpoenas

There’s a change promised that I’m unsure about: Chris Wray’s voluntary decision to subject Section 215 and pen register orders to heightened accuracy reviews.

Currently, the accuracy of facts contained in applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1841 , et seq. , or applications for business records pursuant to 50 U.S. C. § 1861 , et seq. , must, prior to submission to the Court, be reviewed for accuracy by the case agent and must be verified as true and correct under penalty ofpeijury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 by the Supervisory Special Agent or other designated federal official submitting the application. Historically, the Woods Procedures described herein have not been formally applied by the FBI to applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance or business records. As discussed in the FBI Declaration, FBI will begin to formally apply accuracy procedures to such applications and proposes to update the Court on this action by March 27, 2020.

FBI has, for years, told the public these are mere grand jury subpoena equivalents, and so the privacy impact is not that great. That Wray thinks these need accuracy reviews suggests they’re more intrusive than that, in which case by all means FBI should add these reviews.

But as I suggested in this post, some of the problems with the Carter Page applications might have been avoided had the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained call records from both Page and George Papadopoulos early in the process, which would not only have confirmed Page’s accurate claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails (undermining a key claim from the dossier), but it would have revealed Papadopoulos’ interactions with suspect Russian asset Joseph Mifsud, thereby pinpointing where the investigative focus should have been (and making it a lot harder for Papadopoulos to obstruct the investigation in the way he did). The IG Report doesn’t ask why this didn’t happen, but it seems an important question because if the FBI chose not to use ostensibly less intrusive legal process because existing Section 215 applications are not worth the trouble, then making the purportedly less-intrusive applications even more onerous will only lead to a rush to use full FISA, as appears to have happened here.

Further breaking the affiant-officer of the court relationship

One of the more insightful observations from the IG Report described how OI attorneys and FBI agents applying for FISA orders don’t work as closely as prosecutors and agents on a normal case.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that OI rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

The proposed FISA fixes seem to derive from this OI viewpoint, that because OI don’t work closely with agents they need to replace cooperation that is often inadequate on normal criminal investigations with a process that has even less cooperation for applications that are supposed to have a higher degree of candor.

The FISA Fix Filing seems to envision FBI lawyers picking up this slack, but especially since DOJ devolved the application process to Field Agents some years ago, it’s not clear, at all, why this would result in better lawyering.

Formalizing the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal review;

[snip]

Corrective Action #7 requires the formalization of the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal reviewer. Through this Corrective Action, the FBI seeks to encourage legal engagement throughout the FISA process, while still ensuring that case agents and field supervisors maintain ownership of their contributions.

As it is, the FISA process requires a more senior agent to be the affiant on an application, which in at least one of the Page applications, resulted in someone who had less knowledge of the case making the attestation under penalty of perjury.

It may be that these changes go in the opposite direction from where FISA should go, which would be closer to the criminal warrant model where a judge will have an FBI affiant who anticipates taking the stand at a trial (and therefore needs to retain his or her integrity to avoid damaging the case), and an office of the court signing off on applications (whom judges can sanction directly). That is, by introducing more layers and absolving OI from some of the direct responsibility for the process, these proposed changes may make FISA worse, not better.

Remarkably, the court might consider something far more effective.

On Friday, Boasberg appointed David Kris as amicus for this consideration. Kris literally wrote the book on all this, in addition to writing the 2001 OLC memo that eliminated the wall between the intelligence collected under FISA and the prosecutions that arise out of them. In a recent podcast, he mused that the way to fix all this may be to give defendants review of their applications, something always envisioned by Congress, but something no defendant has done. That — along with a more robust oversight process — seems like it has a better chance of changing the way the FBI and DOJ approach FISA applications than adding a bunch more checklists for the process.

The frothy right is in a lather over Kris’ appointment, which is a testament to how little these people (up to and especially Devin Nunes) understand FISA. But he has the institutional clout to be able to recommend real fixes to FISA, rather than a bunch of paperwork to try to make the Woods Procedure to work the way it’s supposed to.

DOJ could, voluntarily, provide review to more defendants. Alternately, Congress could mandate it in whatever bill reauthorizes Section 215 this year. Or Kris could suggest that’s the kind of thing that should happen.

Update: David Kris submitted his recommendations to Boasberg. Like me, he finds Wray’s plan useful but not sufficient. Like me he notes that the agents doing the investigation should be the ones signing off on affidavits (and he suggests the FISC review more applications until new procedures are in place). Kris also focuses on cultural changes that need to happen.

One thing he doesn’t do is review DOJ’s role (though he does argue that part of this stems from conflict between DOJ and FBI).

He also notes that DOJ has not imposed deadlines for itself.