DOJ’s Twisted Notion of Rule of Law Is Poisoning Our Country

Yesterday, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years and a $10,000 fine for his successful efforts to expose an improper BLM drilling auction.

At his hearing, DeChristopher rebutted the prosecution’s claim that he needed to face a tough sentence to uphold rule of law.

Mr. Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law. The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law.


This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr. Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.” But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding. I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned. But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development. A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration. In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law. In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.


I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr. Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience.

And in response, of course, the judge did lock DeChristopher away. It’s a farce given the facts of the case, but consider how it looks when, as DeChristopher invites, you consider DOJ’s other efforts to “uphold rule of law.”

Compare the damage–if any–DeChristopher’s actions did to that which BP has done. As bmaz noted in April, a year after the Macondo explosion, no one has yet been held accountable for 11 deaths, to say nothing of the physical damage to the Gulf. And as Jason Leopold recently reported, our unwillingness to heed whistleblowers has led to more damage from BP. Part of the problem, of course, is the difficulty finding a judge without a financial interest in BP.

Or compare DeChristopher’s punishment with that of Massey energy. DOJ has records that Massey faked safety records for the Big Branch mine, yet over a year after 29 people were killed, no one has been held responsible. Don Blankenship not only got to retire with $12 million, he continues to get paid by the company as a “consultant.”

Or compare DeChristopher’s punishment with that of Angelo Mozilo or Lloyd Blankfein. Between them, they had a huge role in causing Americans trillions of dollars in preventable losses. After fining Mozilo $67 million he won’t pay personally, DOJ judged that Mozilo’s actions did not constitute criminal wrongdoing, so he remains free to enjoy his corruptly gained riches. And in spite of the apparent fact that Blankfein lied to Congress last year about the ways Goldman crashed the economy, DOJ has only now begun to make motions of investigating his lies.

And consider the others who tried to expose government wrong-doing. The government spent three years trying to prosecute Thomas Drake for whistleblowing–apparently because they suspected he leaked details of the illegal wiretap program. And it is currently pursuing a strategy that may land James Risen in prison–Risen says, in retaliation for his reporting on the illegal wiretap program. Yet DOJ went to great lengths to avoid holding anyone responsible for actually doing the illegal wiretapping.

We’re about to try Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri for his alleged role in the USS Cole bombing, which is fine. But the government not only hasn’t punished his torturers, but it hasn’t punished those who destroyed exonerating evidence of his torture.

DOJ has apparently given up any pretense of supporting the rule of law. The law is a tool used to punish political protest and exposure of wrong-doing. And it is a tool to protect the corporations whose crimes do far more damage to this country.

John Robb recently predicted that after a Soviet-style collapse, our legal system will collapse.

What happens to the legal system when the US suffers a Soviet style collapse?  Answer:  It will rapidly decay.

Here’s a simple formula for this (it works for both legal systems and government bureaucracies):

Low legitimacy + slashed operating budgets = rampant corruption

Regardless of any decay in the legal system, business will still be conducted.  Small disputes will be resolved through the existing system, with graft tipping the scales or speeding the outcome.  Large disputes involving substantial wealth transfer will be something else entirely.  These disputes will be resolved through the ability of one party or the other to apply the threat of (or actual) violence to the negotiation process.

These pressures won’t only be the result of counterparties that have access or control the large mafias/gangs/militias (or corporate militaries) that will spring up during economic collapse (far larger than we’ve seen the US to date).  Threats will also be mounted by government/defense/security officials that use their government sanctioned command of violence (police, SWAT, military units, etc.) as a means to personal enrichement.

But (as his suggestion about the impunity people like Mozilo and Blankfein were given shows) he gets the chronology wrong. Aside from the bribed BP judges, it’s not corruption per se that is collapsing our judicial system. It’s the apparently conscious choice on the part of the government to void the concept of rule of law, the choice to treat political speech and whistleblowing as a much greater crime than the corporate crimes that have devastated our country.

I think DeChristopher is right: seeing his sentence isn’t going to scare anyone into cowing in the face of such a capricious legal system. Rather, it makes it clear what the stakes are.

Sterling’s Graymail Attempt

As Josh Gerstein reported, back in June, Jeffrey Sterling asked the government for details about which parts of James Risen’s account of Merlin are true and which are false. His lawyers argue that Sterling cannot be guilty of disseminating national defense information if what he disseminated–as the government claims–was actually not true.

Now, at first glimpse, this seems to be a graymail attempt: an attempt to demand information from the government it will ultimately refuse to turn over.

In addition to details of the alleged operation, the defense is entitled to know if, as a result of the publication of State of War, the identity of Human Asset No. 1 was learned by any foreign power at all. It is entitled to know if because of the publication of State of War, the Iranians shelved plans to use the blue prints that they allegedly learned, due to the publication of State of War, were allegedly flawed. The defense is entitled to know if this “Rogue Operation,” as described by Mr. Risen, did help the Iranian nuclear program in any way.

Some of this information, after all, would be the information Risen’s sources would have been trying to get out in the first place; this is precisely the kind of information the government is trying to suppress by prosecuting this case. And the emphasis on whether Iran (or another country) learned this information from Risen’s book–or from the operation itself–would make for an interesting question (though I suspect the government would retreat to a claim they’ve made before: that part of the damage comes in letting other countries know about this op).

But I’m also interested in Sterling’s focus on expert witnesses: as of June 22, when this was filed, the government had not yet revealed to the defense what expert they would call to verify that this information was actually national defense information. I suspect part of what the defense is trying to do is force that issue–and in particular, learn whether that expert will be someone who was actually involved in the operation (and therefore could refute Sterling’s version of what happened) or someone else, who would rely on second-hand information.

At a minimum, it must allow the defense to challenge the accuracy of that testimony by confronting the witness called by the government with the truth of what actually occurred.

I hope to come back to this issue in the coming days.

just as interesting as this attempt to get more information on what the government claims happened with the Merlin program is the timing. At one level, it seems very late in the process, almost a second swipe at a Bill of Particulars (the government responded to the first one by giving Sterling the chapter of Risen’s book).

But remember that this filing also came before most of the filings on whether or not Risen will have to testify. I noted that in addition to everything else the government has said to support its subpoena of Risen, they also said he cannot protect a source who passed false information. Of course, they haven’t proven that, they’ve simply gotten a grand jury to buy off on that.

It seems the stakes on whether information Sterling allegedly provided Risen was true or not have gone up. But that seems to be precisely the kind of information the government will want to keep out of court.

ACLU FOIAs CIA for Documents on Juan Cole

The ACLU has just FOIAed the CIA and Director of National Intelligence for any information on Juan Cole. It asks for,

e-mails, letters, faxes, or other correspondence, memoranda, contemporaneous notes of meetings or phone calls, reports or any other material relating to the gathering, collecting, copying, collating, generating or other use of information and material regarding Professor Cole,

The FOIA is addressed to CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and DOJ.

Now, far be it for me to tell ACLU how to FOIA–after all, they’re the best in the business at wringing embarrassing documents out of the government.

But they might want to FOIA DOD, too.

You see, there’s something that has been haunting me about this description from James Risen’s story on this.

According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.

Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.

That first request elicited, Carle told Amy Goodman, four paragraphs of information, one of which included derogatory information.

GLENN CARLE: Yes, that’s correct. I was—the following day, I came to work and was asked to represent my office at the senior staff meeting, which is routine. And I did. And it was also routine that I take a memorandum of some sort up to the front office, I believe, for the White House. And I thought that I should know what I was doing for the morning, and I read the memo, and it was a memo on Professor Cole with four paragraphs, as I recall, only one of which was about inappropriate personal information. The other three struck me as innocuous. I don’t remember specifically what they said, but one of the four.

Now maybe it’s Carle’s reference, also in the Democracy Now interview, to the Plame outing. But I can’t help but think of how the White House got people across the national security community to reveal that Plame worked for the CIA: They kept asking for information on Wilson’s trip, long after they had already gotten the information they purportedly needed. So, for example, the day after John Hannah briefed Cheney on the trip, Cheney asked someone at CIA for more information on the trip, using incorrect information that would need corrected (I suspect this request was made at a Deputies Committee meeting at the White House, and I think Libby is the one who formally made the request). Then, two days later and almost certainly after Cheney had been briefed personally by (he says) George Tenet as well as (records show) John McLaughlin, and almost certainly after Libby had gotten information from Marc Grossman on Plame’s work at the CIA, Cheney and Libby called the CIA from a meeting with Cathie Martin, to ask for information they already knew. That call was ultimately how Martin learned, from Bill Harlow, that Plame worked for the CIA.

You see, the White House kept asking for the same information they already knew so they could try to get the CIA to share that information in a way they could use it. Of course, along the way, they increased the circle of people who knew that information, which is one of the things that led to the leak of Plame’s identity.

Now, this may not be what is happening here: an attempt to get CIA to take note of information about Cole the White House believed was derogatory.

But it would be worth checking to see whether likely co-participants in a meeting with National Intelligence Council’s David Low or CIA’s Deputy Director for intelligence, John A. Kringen also got similar requests–not least because DOD, with its CIPA program, would likely have been less squeamish about digging up dirt on Cole.

In any case, given the way the government responds to FOIAs, we’ll probably learn more about this in 5 years or so.

Government: Risen Shouldn’t Be Able to Reveal We Want(ed) to Trump Up War against Iran

The government has now responded to Risen’s attempt to quash his subpoena in the Jeffrey Sterling case. I fear the government will succeed in at least getting Risen to the stand, not least because of the gimmicks they’ve used to claim they need information not protected by any confidentiality agreement Risen might have had with Sterling.

But a more interesting political debate–albeit one that likely will be dismissed from a legal standpoint–pertains whether Risen was right to expose a program to deal fabricated nuclear materials to Iran at the moment when the government was using fabricated nuclear materials to try to drum up a war against Iran.

The government’s weak rebuttal to Risen’s harassment claim

I think the government’s subpoena of Risen is still very vulnerable to the argument that they are harassing Risen. The government dismisses the claim by emphasizing that the grand jury approved this indictment, as if that eliminated any animus from the government officials presenting the case to them, or the way that the government could “affirmatively operat[e] with furtive design or ill will” (the government’s own definition for harassment) to jail Risen in pursuit of his testimony.

Moreover, the Indictment in this matter was returned by a grand jury that found probable cause that serious crimes were committed by Sterling, and that Risen was a witness to those crimes. As such, any alleged harassment prior to that time – which the Government denies – is of no moment. Risen does not even attempt to address this central fact, or challenge in any way the detailed allegations against Sterling in the Indictment for which he is an eyewitness.

But Risen’s team would need to emphasize more strongly the extent to which the government is going to shield illegal behavior in the al-Haramain case. Moreover, the question of how the government got a list of Risen’s phone contacts remains a crucial one impacting the proof of harassment.

If secret unrebutted witnesses claim something is false, then journalists have to testify

I’m also amused (or perhaps disgusted) by a new tack the government takes here, by insisting that Risen must disclose his source because–they argue–the grand jury has found that his reporting included false information.

Risen’s beliefs that his confidential source(s) provided him truthful information, no matter how sincerely held, do not alter the indisputable fact that the grand jury found otherwise.

Aside from the fact that the government does not dispute that some of what it claims Sterling told Risen is true, the grand jury, of course, is not a confrontational proceeding. Sterling and his Russian asset did not, to the best of my understanding, testify before the grand jury. No final judgment on whether Sterling lied or not has been rendered.

And of course, the government would adamantly refuse to make any information with which the jury could assess such information available in court (indeed, I doubt they have made it available to Judge Brinkema here). In other words, the government wants to be able to force a reporter to testify based solely on its unrebutted assertion–endorsed by a grand jury–that Sterling lied. Given the asymmetry of access to classified information, given the government’s repeated success in withholding information from such trials, that is a very dangerous approach to allow to stand.

Risen’s efforts to prevent another war

But I’m most interested in the government’s weak response to Risen’s claim to have published the information because it was newsworthy. They don’t deal with the substance of Risen’s claim to newsworthiness, which basically argues he published the information in 2006 because the government was threatening to trump up another war, this time against Iran.

I gave this type of serious consideration to my publication of the information contained in Chapter 9 of State of War. I actually learned the information about Operation Merlin that was ultimately published in Chapter 9 of State of War in 2003, but I held the story for three years before publishing it. I made the decision to publish the information about Operation Merlin only after: (1) it became clear that the main rationale for fighting the Iraq War was based on flawed intelligence about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, including its supposed nuclear program; (2) the press, patiicularly The New York Times, had been harshly criticized for not doing more independent investigative reporting before the Iraq War about the quality of our intelligence concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; (3) the March 31, 2005 Report to the President by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction described American intelligence on Iran as inadequate to allow finn judgments about Iran’s weapons programs, making it clear that the CIA’s intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iran was just as badly flawed as it had been on Iraq; and (4) there was increasing speculation that the United States might be planning for a possible conflict with Iran, once again based on supposed intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction, just as in Iraq. After all of this, I realized that U.S. intelligence on Iran’s supposed weapons of mass destruction was so flawed, and that the information I had was so important, that this was a story that the public had to know about before yet another war was launched.

Instead, they just talk about how dangerous (because trumped up wars aren’t dangerous) it would be excuse Risen from testifying because he published information that was newsworthy.

Moreover, the practical effect of a court’s engaging in such an analysis, by explicitly recognizing “good leaks” of classified information, would effectively destroy the system through which the country protects that information. It would encourage government employees who are provided access to classified information to betray their commitment to safeguard it by suggesting that they, too, should undertake their own independent analysis of the effect of their disclosure of that information should they desire to do so. It would also provide a ready-made defense for every disgruntled intelligence community employee or contractor who discloses such information to the press because he harbors a grudge against the institution for which he works.

(They also revert to their unproven claim that Sterling provided Risen with false information.)

But consider the environment in which Risen published this. Just a month before the publication of Risen’s book, it was becoming increasingly clear that the government had been trying for a year to generate support for actions against Iran by using a dodgy dossier and selectively tailored presentations based on non-traditional intelligence analysis.

The Bush Administration (or at least State Department officials) may not have believed that intelligence was ready for prime time a year ago. But they apparently believe it is ready now. In September we learned BushCo had itself another powerpoint presentation, this one titled “A History of Concealment and Deception” (did they get the same guy who came up with the name for the WHIG product, “A Grave and Gathering Danger” to name this one?):

The PowerPoint briefing, titled “A History of Concealment and Deception,” has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries.


Several diplomats said the slide show reminded them of the flawed presentation on Iraq’s weapons programs made by then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.

BushCo may think this is ready for prime time. But some people who have seen the presentation are not so sure.

Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran’s intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

The presenters argue that the evidence leads solidly to a conclusion that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, according to diplomats who have attended the briefings and U.S. officials who helped to assemble the slide show. But even U.S. intelligence estimates acknowledge that other possibilities are plausible, though unverified.

The problem, acknowledged one U.S. official, is that the evidence is not definitive. Briefers “say you can’t draw any other conclusion, and of course you can draw other conclusions,” said the official, who would discuss the closed-door sessions only on condition of anonymity

Sounds familiar, huh? Omitting alternative explanations … again? But the most important line from this passage is this: “But even U.S. intelligence estimates acknowledge that other possibilities are plausible, though unverified.” Quick, someone tell Condi that somewhere deep in the bowels of the agency there are people who doubt this intelligence, because she will deny it later, mark my words.

We’re in the middle of arguments about the intelligence used to get us into the Iraq War, where Republicans try to prove that BushCo didn’t withhold information and Democrats point out that the Administration suppressed the doubts within the IC. But why are we having the argument about the last war, when they’re doing it again??? The Bush Administration is withholding information in the present–regardless of what it did in the past.

One more thing. This slide show? You’d think it’d reflect the consensus opinion of the IC, right? Well, no. Rather, it looks a lot more like the product of the reincarnation of OSP or WHIG than something respectable intelligence professionals (if there are any left who haven’t been hounded out by BushCo) would buy off on:

The presentation has not been vetted through standard U.S. intelligence channels because it does not include secret material. One U.S. official involved in the briefing said the intelligence community had nothing to do with the presentation and “probably would have disavowed some of it because it draws conclusions that aren’t strictly supported by the facts.”

The presentation, conducted in a conference room at the U.S. mission in Vienna, includes a pictorial comparison of Iranian facilities and missiles with photos of similar-looking items in North Korea and Pakistan, according to a copy of the slides handed out to diplomats. Pakistan largely supplied Iran with its nuclear infrastructure but, as a key U.S. ally, it is identified in the presentation only as “another country.”

Two months ago, the Bush Administration presented an explicitly politicized presentation to diplomats from other countries in an attempt to drum up support for a hardline against Iran.

Since that time, the IAEA has received evidence that the “laptop of death” on which this fearmongering was based might be a fabrication. Later, evidence came out to suggest the laptop of death came from the MEK (the same terrorist group the neocons are trying to rehabilitate, oddly without being prosecuted for material support for terrorism) via Mossad.

In other words, Risen published a story about the US providing fabricated nuclear plans to Iran. He published it–in spite of the government’s earlier success at persuading the NYT not to publish it–because the US had since been proven to have used fabricated intelligence to trump up a war against Iraq, and the government was in the process of using probably-fabricated materials (which included fabricated blueprints) to trump up action against Iran.

Now, I think Leonie Brinkema will do what District Court judges tend to do when the government says judges are unqualified to measure the importance of secrecy: I think she’ll cede to the government’s argument, no matter what she does on the other legal arguments.

But that doesn’t mean the conflict shouldn’t be one of the primary  topics of public discussion about this case.

The government is basically arguing that Risen shouldn’t have published information that helped us (so far) avoid a trumped-up war against Iran. It is quite possible he will end up spending time in jail–for protecting his sources–for having done so (as well as for having exposed illegal wiretapping that has never been punished). While the legal arguments may not work in Risen’s favor, that is what is at stake.

William Welch’s Gimmick and the Harassment of James Risen

As Josh Gerstein reports, Leonie Brinkema has unsealed her November 2010 ruling quashing the government’s subpoena of James Risen to testify before the grand jury. Gerstain describes several interesting details revealed in the ruling–including that the government withheld information, including details surrounding the 2005 testimony of, apparently, a Senate staffer. Go check out those details.

There are a couple of things I wanted to add to Gerstein’s analysis, though.

First, when the subpoena was first announced, I suggested that it appeared that the government’s inclusion of ticky tack charges like mail fraud seemed like an effort to invent a reason to require Risen’s testimony.

It appears likely they planned to [subpoena Risen again] all along and crafted the charges against Sterling accordingly. For example, they claim they need Risen to testify, in part, to authenticate his book and the locale where alleged leaks took place.

Risen can directly identify Sterling as the individual who illegally transmitted to him national defense information concerning Classified Program No. 1 and Human Asset No. 1. Because he is an eyewitness, his testimony will simplify the trial and clarify matters for the jury. Additionally, as set forth below, Risen can establish venue for certain of the charged counts; can authenticate his book and lay the necessary foundation to admit the defendant’s statements in the book; and can identify the defendant as someone with whom he had a preexisting source relationship that pre-dated the charged disclosures. His testimony therefore will allow for an efficient presentation of the Government’s case.

Locale issues stem from mail fraud charges that appeared ticky tack charges up to this point. But the government is now arguing that that information–as distinct from whether Sterling served as a source for the information at issue–is critical to these ticky tack charges. Which, it seems they hope, would get them beyond any balancing test on whether Risen’s testimony is crucial for the evidence at question.

As it turns out, Brinkema’s opinion makes it clear that the biggest window she left the government to call Risen at trial was authentication.

Although the government might have a plausible argument that such authentication may be necessary at trial, it cannot argue that the government has a compelling interest in authenticating chapter 9 during grand jury proceedings.

But given that she has rejected the government’s venue articles, it appears the mail fraud charges are a cheap attempt to enlarge the possible window of necessity of calling Risen for authentication.

In other words, it appears likely that Welch is just using a gimmick to try to force Risen to testify.

Which brings us to Risen’s claim the government is harassing him. Of note, Brinkema dismisses the claim that a new Attorney General couldn’t harass Risen, because some of the other lawyers on the case might be Bush dead-enders.

The issuance of the 2010 subpoena under a new Attorney General does not remove the specter of harassment, because we do not know how many of the attorneys and government officials who sought Risen’s testimony in 2008 are still in their jobs and to what extent, if any, they advised the new Attorney General about approving the subpoena.

She also notes that requesting all his book proposals supports a harassment charge; I would suggest it does so more so when you consider the possibility they were harassing Risen for the warrantless wiretap story that would also have been in the book proposal. But Brinkema doesn’t consider the way the Obama Administration has made some crazy ass arguments to defend Bush against illegal wiretap charges, which shows Obama’s DOJ is protecting the program itself as fiercely as Cheney did. In addition, she doesn’t consider Welch’s history of being a sloppy, overly aggressive prosecutor (though her disapproval of the broad scope of the Welch subpoena suggests she’d be open to such an argument).

But given my suspicion that a community of interest subpoena in this case might have served as a fishing expedition for the government’s investigation in the warrantless wiretap case, I’m particularly interested in the date the grand jury was convened in this case.

A grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia began investigating the disclosures about the [MERLIN] operation in

or about March 2006.

That’s not surprising, mind you. But it does date when a grand jury subpoena asking for a community of record might have been issued. And it does suggest that this investigation started at the same time as the government was going apeshit over their exposure on the illegal wiretap front.

James Risen’s Community of Interest

I’ll probably have several things to say about the James Risen filings of the past week. But for the moment, I wanted to focus on his assertions about the government’s access of his phone records.

Remember, these assertions are not new: Josh Gerstein reported them in February.

Risen said the government never notified him that they were seeking his phone records. But he said he got an inkling in 2008 that investigators had collected some information about his calls.

“We heard from several people who had been forced to testify to the grand jury that prosecutors had shown them phone records between me and those people—not the content of calls but the records of calls,” he said. “As a result of what they told us, my lawyers filed a motion with the court as asking how the Justice Department got these phone records and whether or not they had gotten my phone records.”

“We wanted the court to help us decide whether they had abided by the attorney general’s guidelines,” Risen said. “We never got an answer from the court or the government.”

But Risen’s affidavit discussion of the government accessing his phone records includes a few interesting new details. First, the earliest chronological mention he makes of the government accessing his phone records–he makes it very clear he’s talking about records, not content–dates to 2006.

Around the same time that the Government was making public statements about potentially prosecuting journalists, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito of ABC News reported on May 15, 2006, that senior federal law enforcement officials had informed them that the government was tracking the phone numbers of journalists without the journalists’ knowledge as part of an effort to root out the journalists’ confidential sources. According to the article, the journalists’ phones were not being “tapped,” but the government was tracking the incoming and outgoing numbers called and received on the journalists’ phones. The story stated that the government was examining the phone calls and contacts of journalists from ABC News, The New York Times, and the Washington Post as part of a “widespread CIA leak investigation.” I was mentioned by name as one of the reporters whose work the government was looking into.

More interesting, Risen notes that someone who testified before the warrantless wiretapping grand jury–not the Sterling grand jury–was shown copies of his phone records.

I have reason to believe that the story by Brian Ross and Richard Esposito is true. Since that story was published, I have learned from an individual who testified before a grand jury in this District that was examining my reporting about the domestic wiretapping program that the Government had shown this individual copies of telephone records relating to calls made to and from me.

Which ties in with Risen’s claim that this subpoena (and the other two) is about persecuting–and possibly imprisoning–him in retaliation for the warrantless wiretap story (again, not the MERLIN story Sterling allegedly served as a source for).

I believe that the investigation that led to this prosecution started because of my reporting on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Bush White House was furious over that story. I believe that this investigation started as part of an effort by the Bush Administration to punish me and silence me, following the publication of the NSA wiretapping story.

So to sum up, Risen asserts his phone records were collected around 2006 in retaliation for the warrantless wiretap story. And he says he first learned that definitively when he learned warrantless wiretap grand jury witnesses had been shown his phone records. He says this Sterling investigation is just retaliation for that the wiretap story.

Recall that I made a wildarsed guess back in February that James Risen was the reporter whose phone contacts had been picked up using a community of interest grand jury subpoena (a subpoena that picks up all a person’s phone contacts, as well as all the contacts of his contacts). As DOJ’s Inspector General reported, an FBI case agent had worked with onsite telecom analysts to make the first subpoena in a leak case “as encompassing as possible.” There are contradictory stories about whether the case agent would have known that such a subpoena would have picked up a known reporter’s contacts. But when the prosecutor learned that such a subpoena would include the reporter’s contacts, the FBI sealed the reporter’s records in the case agent’s case files. But it appears DOJ did nothing about the records on the telecom side. Plus, a great deal of the discussion on what they did with the records in the FBI database is redacted. In the last days before Obama came into office, DOJ got an OLC opinion and interpreted it very liberally to claim they did not have to inform the reporter that his or her records had been collected. So we–and more importantly, the reporter–still don’t know whose records were collected improperly.

My suggestion Risen might be the journalist in question was a wildarsed guess. But here are two of the reasons I thought it was possible that Risen was the journalist in question.

  • The subpoena would have had to have been issued between early 2002, when DOJ first contracted to have the telecom involved onsite, and January 2008, when the telecoms moved out of CAU. If it were indeed a community of interest subpoena, then it would have had to have been issued before early 2007, when the FBI discontinued the program. While we don’t know whether the Sterling investigation began after Risen first tried to report the story in April 2003 or after he published his book in January 2006, both would fall in the time frame during which CAU was active.
  • The investigative team was clearly focused on one target, which would be the case in the Sterling investigation but not–for example–in the warrantless wiretap investigation. In addition, the investigative team knew of at least one reporter who had had contact with the target; given both a 2000 article Risen had written about Sterling and the unsuccessful attempt to publish [the MERLIN story] in 2003 would have alerted the CIA that Risen was in contact with Sterling.

I’ll add one more timing detail. If Risen were the reporter whose records had been collected, then the OLC opinion would have come after the time in 2008 when Risen’s lawyers asked the government whether it had complied with guidelines about reporters’ phone contacts–a question the government has never answered.

Now, none of this means Risen was the reporter in question. By the same token, this use of a community of interest subpoena was only discovered because the prosecutor discovered the implications of its use–as an exigent letter–in another case he was working; there may well be other instances where agents got community of interest subpoenas in leak cases knowing they’d pick up reporters’ contacts that, for a variety of reasons, never got reported.

Furthermore, Risen was in a rather unique position in 2006: his reporting was the target of two leak investigations. This one, in which the government had a good idea of at least one of his sources. And the warrantless wiretap one, in which the government presumably had much less of an idea of his sources. A community of interest subpoena on Jeff Sterling–which would pull up Risen’s calls with Sterling but also his calls with warrantless wiretap sources–would serve both investigations. And the unredacted IG language seems to address sealing his records only in the Sterling case.

With that in mind, look at what the government claimed about Risen’s phone records in this case.

In addition, as a point of clarification, the government has not subpoenaed the telephone records of any reporter in this particular investigation.

Note two parts of this denial: first, the government says it hasn’t subpoenaed the phone records of any reporter. Presumably they mean no reporter has been the target of a subpoena. But with a community of interest subpoena, of course, the government would get Risen’s call data without subpoenaing him directly.

Furthermore, the government makes this claim only about the Sterling investigation. It says nothing about any other investigation of leaks to Risen.

Risen may or may not have been this reporter whose records were accessed via a community of interest subpoena. But his discussion of how the two investigations–the wiretap investigation and the MERLIN investigation–relate, as well as the detail that witnesses in the wiretap grand jury were the ones questioned about his call records, suggest one possible explanation: that using a community of interest subpoena in the Sterling investigation served as an investigative boost for the wiretap investigation.

Government Subpoenas James Risen for the Third Time

The government appears to hope three time’s a charm. The last two times they subpoenaed James Risen in the case of Jeffrey Sterling, Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed the subpoena. But they’re trying again, this time to get him to testify at Sterling’s trial.

It appears likely they planned to do this all along and crafted the charges against Sterling accordingly. For example, they claim they need Risen to testify, in part, to authenticate his book and the locale where alleged leaks took place.

Risen can directly identify Sterling as the individual who illegally transmitted to him national defense information concerning Classified Program No. 1 and Human Asset No. 1. Because he is an eyewitness, his testimony will simplify the trial and clarify matters for the jury. Additionally, as set forth below, Risen can establish venue for certain of the charged counts; can authenticate his book and lay the necessary foundation to admit the defendant’s statements in the book; and can identify the defendant as someone with whom he had a preexisting source relationship that pre-dated the charged disclosures. His testimony therefore will allow for an efficient presentation of the Government’s case.

Locale issues stem from mail fraud charges that appeared ticky tack charges up to this point. But the government is now arguing that that information–as distinct from whether Sterling served as a source for the information at issue–is critical to these ticky tack charges. Which, it seems they hope, would get them beyond any balancing test on whether Risen’s testimony is crucial for the evidence at question. They also point to mentions in the indictment of an on-the-record article Risen did with Sterling, suggesting that at the very least they ought to be able to ask Risen about this at trial since he would not be protecting an anonymous source.

In other words, they crafted the indictment to be able to argue to Brinkema that on some matters, Risen’s testimony is crucial, and on others, it qualifies for no privilege.

Of course, they also have to argue that this subpoena is not harassment. If I were Risen’s lawyer, I’d argue crafting the indictment in such a way as to carve out areas to get Risen into court is itself harassment.

But that’s not all. The government tries to argue for the necessity of Risen’s testimony in one other way, one that is of particular interest. They say that Risen told his publisher that he relied on more than one CIA source for his work on MERLIN.

In addition, Risen’s own representations to his publisher demonstrate the importance of his testimony regarding the defendant’s identity. In his book proposal, Mr. Risen represented that, in writing his book, he spoke with more than one CIA officer involved in Classified Program No. 1. Consistent with these representations, moreover, the chapter of Mr. Risen’s book that includes information about Classified Program No. 1 appears to reflect the private conversations and inner thoughts of more than one individual.11 See, e.g., Exhibit A at p. 203. Risen’s testimony is therefore relevant to identifying Sterling as a source and to identifying the specific items of national defense information in his book for which Sterling was his source. Put simply, Risen’s testimony will directly establish that Sterling disclosed to him the national defense information about which he sought to write in a 2003 newspaper article, and which he ultimately included in his 2006 book. The jury should be permitted to hear that evidence in assessing whether the Government has met its burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

While this might support the necessity of Risen’s testimony on one hand (to identify what he got from Sterling and what he got from other sources), wouldn’t it also admit a selective prosecution defense? That is, if the government itself is arguing that Risen spoke to more than one CIA officer about MERLIN, then why are they only charging Sterling?

The answer may be because of the dispute about the accuracy of Sterling’s testimony. Remember, the government claims that Sterling lied to Risen about some aspect of MERLIN, presumably about whether or not the blueprints we gave to Iran had an obvious flaw that the Russian defector immediately identified. And they’re trying to use that claim–that Sterling lied–to argue that Risen doesn’t have an obligation anymore to protect his source.

Finally, whatever interest Risen has in keeping confidential his source for the national defense information at issue here, it is severely diminished by the fact that the defendant characterized some of that information in a false and misleading manner as a means of inducing Risen to write about it. See Ind. ¶ 18, 19(d). In short, the Indictment charges that the defendant perpetrated a fraud upon Risen. If “[s]preading false information in and of itself carries no First Amendment credentials” in the civil context, see Lando, 441 U.S. at 171, then it should carry no greater weight in a criminal prosecution.

They say that even while conceding that some of the information Sterling allegedly leaked to Risen is true.

The Indictment alleges that some of the information that appears in Risen’s book is national defense information – and thus is implicitly true – but also notes that some of the information contained therein is characterized in a false and misleading manner. See Ind. ¶¶ 18,19(d). The Government is not here either confirming or denying the accuracy of any particular fact reported in the book.

There’s a lot we can conclude from this filing–not least that the government seems to be abandoning the intent of the Attorney General guidelines on subpoenaing journalists (the guidelines are not mentioned once in the filing). But most of all, it seems we can conclude that the government doesn’t care so much that Sterling allegedly leaked this information–because they’re not charging the other CIA officers they appear to know leaked to Risen–but that Sterling was critical of the operation while he leaked the information.

William Welch and DOJ’s Mojo Is Not Risen

Who says fun things don’t come on Fridays? There is some nice little spooky news on the wire this afternoon. Jeffrey Sterling, a former veteran CIA agent on the Iran beat, was charged back in January with leaking classified information to a reporter. the reporter is widely known and accepted to be none other than the New York Time’s James Risen, and the material supposedly was contained in his book State of War. The prosecution, headed by DOJ leak hitman William Welch (disgraced supervisor in the unethical prosecution of Ted Stevens). For some unknown reason, Welch was installed by the Obama/Holder DOJ as head of their unprecedented crackdown on leaks to the media.

Looks like Welch may have gotten in front of himself again. From the Washington Post:

The government’s case against an ex-CIA officer charged with leaking classified documents to a reporter may not make it to trial because of potential issues with a witness, a federal prosecutor said Friday.


At a pretrial hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, prosecutor William Welch told the judge that “potential witness issues” will determine “whether the case goes to trial or not.” He did not elaborate.

Uh huh. What this really means is the court is not likely to change its mind about compelling Risen to testify – Judge Brinkema has already refused and quashed a subpoena once – and the DOJ’s own written guidelines make it hard for them to pursue that further. Oh, and they bloody well do not have enough admissible evidence to make their case without Risen. Makes you wonder just how, and how legally, the prosecution got much of their evidence.

Something you might would have thought a guy like Welch, who has made such an embarrassment of himself in prior big public cases, would have figured out ahead of time. Hey, who knows, maybe Welch can salvage his witchhunt against Sterling and Risen somehow; but you sure don’t see this kind of banter in open court when things are all nice and rosy.

William Welch’s mojo ain’t Risen.

Did FBI First Request James Risen’s Phone Records Using the CAU Program?

In Josh Gerstein’s report on DOJ’s collection of James Risen’s phone and business records, he quotes University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley saying that the government doesn’t give reporters notice when it collects telephone or business records on them.

Kirtley also said journalists often aren’t notified when the government asks telecom companies, banks or other service providers for their records.

DOJ must inform reporters if their call records have been subpoenaed

That may be the case in practice. But DOJ policy actually requires that journalists receive notice if their phone records are subpoenaed.

(g) In requesting the Attorney General’s authorization for a subpoena for the telephone toll records of members of the news media, the following principles will apply: (1) There should be reasonable ground to believe that a crime has been committed and that the information sought is essential to the successful investigation of that crime. The subpoena should be as narrowly drawn as possible; it should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period. In addition, prior to seeking the Attorney General’s authorization, the government should have pursued all reasonable alternative investigation steps as required by paragraph (b) of this section.

(2) When there have been negotiations with a member of the news media whose telephone toll records are to be subpoenaed, the member shall be given reasonable and timely notice of the determination of the Attorney General to authorize the subpoena and that the government intends to issue it.

(3) When the telephone toll records of a member of the news media have been subpoenaed without the notice provided for in paragraph (e)(2) of this section, notification of the subpoena shall be given the member of the news media as soon thereafter as it is determined that such notification will no longer pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. In any event, such notification shall occur within 45 days of any return made pursuant to the subpoena, except that the responsible Assistant Attorney General may authorize delay of notification for no more than an additional 45 days.

(4) Any information obtained as a result of a subpoena issued for telephone toll records shall be closely held so as to prevent disclosure of the information to unauthorized persons or for improper purposes.

From that we should assume that DOJ got the phone records by subpoenaing Sterling’s records, not Risen’s. But if that’s the case, you’d think the government would have just told Risen that when his lawyer asked whether his records had been subpoenaed back in 2008.

Risen said the government never notified him that they were seeking his phone records. But he said he got an inkling in 2008 that investigators had collected some information about his calls.

“We heard from several people who had been forced to testify to the grand jury that prosecutors had shown them phone records between me and those people—not the content of calls but the records of calls,” he said. “As a result of what they told us, my lawyers filed a motion with the court as asking how the Justice Department got these phone records and whether or not they had gotten my phone records.”

“We wanted the court to help us decide whether they had abided by the attorney general’s guidelines,” Risen said. “We never got an answer from the court or the government.”

In other words, there may be no cause for suspicion, except for the suspicious funkiness on the government’s part.

DOJ has refused to inform at least one reporter his or her records were subpoenaed

Now, there is one case we know of where DOJ collected information on a reporter’s phone records and did not inform him or her. The DOJ Inspector General Report on Exigent Letters describes three cases in which reporters’ phone records were collected through the telecom’s onsite Communications Analysis Unit. Two of these were collected using exigent letters; in both, the editors (for stories published in both the NYT and WaPo) and the journalist (for an Ellen Nakashima story) were informed the reporters’ records had been collected.

In the third case, the records were collected with a grand jury subpoena. Here’s what we know about the collection:

  • The investigative team included two federal prosecutors who appear to belong to a counterintelligence group at DOJ, an AUSA from the jurisdiction in which the grand jury was seated who was rubberstamping records for the investigation, the FBI case agent, and intelligence analysts.
  • The FBI case agent asked the CAU agent about how to do a phone records subpoena for the leak investigation, and the CAU agent referred the case agent to the telecom analysts at CAU for help with the subpoena. Following a meeting with (I think) an AT&T analyst, the case agent asked that analyst for boilerplate language to make sure the subpoena was “as encompassing as possible.” It appears from the report (though this information is highly redacted) that the resultant subpoena may have asked for the community of interest of the suspected leaker’s numbers. That is, it appears the subpoena asked for a network analysis of all the people who had directly contacted the target.
  • One of the two prosecutors used that boilerplate language to write up attachments to the subpoena; the rubberstamp AUSA never saw the attachments. This was the first subpoena the rubberstamp AUSA signed in the case.
  • The prosecutor that generated the subpoena claims–with an undated document to back up that claim–that the case agent told him the subpoena would not collect phone records for the reporter that–they both knew at the time–had been in phone contact with the suspected leaker. The case agent, however, did not recall such a discussion and claims it was “very unlikely” such a conversation occurred. The implication of this seems to be that the case agent knew full well he’d be getting the reporter’s call data.
  • In talking to a counterintelligence Special Agent, the prosecutor who generated the subpoena learned that such a subpoena could produce the records of reporters; he also learned there was a way to write the subpoena to avoid that from happening. Once he realized that, he had conversations with other DOJ lawyers and supervisors about what to do; they all agreed to seal the records. Though they sealed the records of the case agent and deleted them from his computer, they didn’t ask what CAU had done with the records, much less ask the CAU analyst to delete the records.
  • When the IG learned about all this, they finally checked whether this information got loaded into the investigative database. The target’s records were entered into the FBI database; the IG did not find any reporters’ information uploaded, though much of the report’s discussion on this topic is redacted.
  • DOJ’s Criminal Division informed the Court overseeing the grand jury of the subpoenas and the “corrective actions” taken.

After learning all this, the IG asked DOJ whether it should have notified the reporter in question per the policy cited above. Here’s what happened:

The Criminal Division and the OIG asked the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to opine on the question when the notification provision in the regulation would be triggered. Read more

The Business Records and Classified (?) Emails of James Risen

Jeffrey Sterling’s lawyers are throwing a number of interesting theories against the wall. In a filing demanding a bill of particulars (and presumably ultimately supporting a greymail defense),they demand to know which “defense information” is tied to each count of leaking or possessing such information, arguing that they need to know that to prevent double jeopardy. As part of that argument, though, they note that the 10 year statute of limitations on this crime exists only to make sure crafty Communists don’t evade the law.

In this case, the Government will surely claim that there is a ten year statute of limitations applicable to violations of 18 U.S.C. 793. See Internal Security Act, Ch. 1024, 64 Stat. 987, P.L. 831 (§19) (1950).

As set forth in the statute, this law was passed, by its terms, because of the then existing threat of global communism.

There exists a world Communist movement which, in its origins, its development, and its present practice, is a world-wide revolutionary movement whose purpose is by treachery, deceit…espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and any other means necessary, to establish a Communist totalitarian dictatorship in the countries throughout the world through the medium of a worldwide Communist organization. Id. at § 2 (1)

In this regard, the Court can see that when this law was passed in 1950, it appears that the Congress extended the statute of limitations applicable to 18 U.S.C. § 793 because the “agents of communism have devised clever and ruthless espionage and sabotage tactics which are carried out in many instances in form and manner successfully evasive of existing law.” Id. at § 2 (11).

As such, the defense reserves the right to challenge the application of this McCarthy era law to the charges in this case which challenge would result in the application of the general five year statute applied to felonies. 18 U.S.C. § 3282.

Sterling is alleged to have leaked to James Risen in 2003; if a 5 year SOL applied, then it would have expired after the time when the Bush DOJ declined to charge Sterling. Charging him at this late date, he seems to suggest, is just McCarthyite.

But the other interesting aspect of this filing is the one Josh Gerstein points out: the details Sterling’s lawyers provide about what they’ve gotten in discovery.

In this case, for example, the United States has provided in unclassified discovery various telephone records showing calls made by the author James Risen. It has provided three credit reports – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – for Mr. Risen. It has produced Mr. Risen’s credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel. The government has also provided a copy of the cover of the book State of War written by Mr. Risen and published in 2006. It has provided receipts and shipping records from Borders and Barnes and Noble indicating that State of War was sold in this District between November 1, 2005 and March 1, 2006.4 From this document production, it can be inferred that Mr. Risen is Author A and that the “national defense information” at issue can perhaps be found somewhere in State of War.

But State of War is a long book containing many chapters. Just pointing the defense to the book, or even a particular chapter in the book, is not legally sufficient to provide notice.

4 Count Eight is a mail fraud count under 18 U.S.C. §§1341 & 2, that seeks to hold Mr. Sterling criminally liable for the decision of Author A’s publisher to sell in the Eastern District of Virginia a book allegedly containing “national defense information” obtained from Mr. Sterling. Author A and his publisher are not charged with any crime.

Now, obviously this passage does several things. It sets up a future argument–one that might be modeled on the AIPAC case–that if they’re going to charge mail fraud they also need to charge Risen’s publishers. Also, it exploits the fact that the government has sent an entire book full of highly classified disclosures–including details of the warrantless wiretap program–to introduce selective prosecution. Why is the government choosing to prosecute the alleged leaker of MERLIN information, but not the leakers of the illegal surveillance program?

But it seems Sterling’s lawyers are just as interested in getting details about the government surveillance of Risen into the record.

Now, some of this is unsurprising. We knew the government had Risen’s phone records, because the indictment cites at least 46 phone calls between Risen and Sterling. The indictment also mentions a trip Risen made (presumably to Vienna), so it’s unsurprising they have his credit card and airline information.

But that leaves two other items.

The filing mentions Risen’s three credit reports and bank records. The only possible application of this information in the indictment is the repeated distinction between Risen’s office and his residence. Presumably the latter would show up on the credit report. But that information would also be available by public means (publicly available property records, for example). So why collect Risen’s credit reports and bank records?? Was the government trying to argue Risen was in some way induced to publish this?

Also, given that this would have qualified as a counterintelligence investigation, one wonders whether the government used the PATRIOT Act to collect these records.

More interesting, though, is what Sterling’s lawyers don’t mention in this passage: emails. We know they got emails, since they refer to at least 13 emails between Risen and Sterling (and point out that the emails went through a server conveniently located in the CIA’s home district!). But for some reason, Sterling’s lawyers don’t mention having received the emails in what they specify is “unclassified discovery.”

The probable explanation for that, of course, is that they have received those emails. It’s possible they can’t mention them, though, in an unclassified filing (one clearly targeted to the public), because they were turned over in classified discovery.

It’s troubling that the government collected Risen’s credit report and bank records to develop its case against Sterling. But the possibility that the government considers the email traffic between Risen and Sterling classified suggests some even more troubling possibilities.