John Conyers, Jim Sensenbrenner, Darrell Issa, Steve Cohen, Jerry Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee, Trey Gowdy, John Ratcliffe, Bob Goodlatte all voted to postpone the Fourth Amendment today.
At issue was Ted Poe’s amendment to the USA Freedom Act (USA F-ReDux; see the debate starting around 1:15), which prohibited warrantless back door searches and requiring companies from inserting technical back doors.
One after another House Judiciary Committee member claimed to support the amendment and, it seems, agreed that back door searches violate the Fourth Amendment. Though the claims of support from John Ratcliffe, who confessed to using back door searches as a US Attorney, and Bob Goodlatte, who voted against the Massie-Lofgren amendment last year, are suspect. But all of them claimed they needed to vote against the amendment to ensure the USA Freedom Act itself passed.
That judgment may or may not be correct, but it’s a fairly remarkable claim. Not because — in the case of people like Jerry Nader and John Conyers — there’s any question about their support for the Fourth Amendment. But because the committee in charge of guarding the Constitution could not do so because the Intelligence Committee had the sway to override their influence. That was a point made, at length, by both Jim Jordan and Ted Poe, with the latter introducing the point that those in support of the amendment but voting against it had basically agreed to postpone the Fourth Amendment until Section 702 reauthorization in 2017.
(1:37) Jordan: A vote for this amendment is not a vote to kill the bill. It’s not a vote for a poison pill. It’s not a vote to blow up the deal. It’s a vote for the Fourth Amendment. Plain and simple. All the Gentleman says in his amendment is, if you’re going to get information from an American citizen, you need a warrant. Imagine that? Consistent with the Fourth Amendment. And if this committee, the Judiciary Committee, the committee most responsible for protecting the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and fundamental liberties, if we can’t support this amendment, I just don’t see I it. I get all the arguments that you’re making, and they’re all good and the process and everything else but only in Congress does that trump — I mean, that should never trump the Fourth Amendment.
(1:49) Poe; We are it. The Judiciary Committee is it. We are the ones that are protecting or are supposed to protect, and I think we do, that Constitution that we have. And we’re not talking about postponing an Appropriations amount of money. We’re not talking about postponing building a bridge. We’re talking about postponing the Fourth Amendment — and letting it apply to American citizens — for at least two years. This is our opportunity. If the politics says that the Intel Committee — this amendment may be so important to them that they don’t like it they’ll kill the deal then maybe we need to reevaluate our position in that we ought to push forward for this amendment. Because it’s a constitutional protection that we demand occur for American citizens and we want it now. Not postpone it down the road to live to fight another day. I’ve heard that phrase so long in this Congress, for the last 10 years, live to fight another day, let’s kick the can down the road. You know? I think we have to do what we are supposed to do as a Committee. And most of the members of the Committee support this idea, they agree with the Fourth Amendment, that it ought to apply to American citizens under these circumstances. The Federal government is intrusive and abusive, trying to tell companies that they want to get information and the back door comments that Ms. Lofgren has talked about. We can prevent that. I think we should support the amendment and then we should fight to keep this in the legislation and bring the legislation to the floor and let the Intel Committee vote against the Fourth Amendment if that’s what they really want to do. And as far as leadership goes I think we ought to just bring it to the floor. Politely make sure that the law, the Constitution, trumps politics. Or we can let politics trump the Constitution. That’s really the decision.
Nevertheless, only Louie Gohmert, Raul Labrador, Zoe Lofgren, Suzan DelBene, Hakeem Jeffries, David Cicilline, and one other Congressman–possibly Farenthold–supported the amendment.
The committee purportedly overseeing the Intelligence Community and ensuring it doesn’t violate the Constitution has instead dictated to the committee that guards the Constitution it won’t be permitted to do its job.
Having been badly outmaneuvered on USA Freedumber — what was sold as reform but is in my opinion an expansion of spying in several ways — in the House, civil liberties groups are promising a real fight in the Senate.
“This is going to be the fight of the summer,” vowed Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.
If advocates are able to change the House bill’s language to prohibit NSA agents from collecting large quantities of data, “then that’s a win,” he added.
“The bill still is not ideal even with those changes, but that would be an improvement,” Rottman said.
“We were of course very disappointed at the weakening of the bill,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Right now we really are turning our attention to the Senate to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
One factor working in the reformers’ favor is the strong support of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Unlike House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who only came to support the bill after negotiations to produce a manager’s amendment, Leahy was the lead Senate sponsor of the USA Freedom Act.
The fact that Leahy controls the committee gavel means he should be able to guide the bill through when it comes up for discussion next month, advocates said.
“The fact that he is the chairman and it’s his bill and this is an issue that he has been passionate about for many years” is comforting, Greene said.
I hope they prove me wrong. But claims this will get better in the Senate seem to ignore the recent history of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s involvement in surveillance bills, not to mention the likely vote counts.
It is true Pat Leahy wants real reform. And he has a few allies on SJC. But in recent years, every surveillance-related bill that came through SJC has been watered down when Dianne Feinstein offered an alternative (which Leahy sometimes adopted as a manager’s amendment, perhaps realizing he didn’t have the votes). After DiFi offered reform, Sheldon Whitehouse (who a number of less sophisticated SJC members look to as a guide on these issues) enthusiastically embraced it, and everyone fell into line. Often, a Republican comes in and offers a “bipartisan reform” (meaning conservative Republicans joining with the Deep State) that further guts the bill.
This is how the Administration (shacking up with Jeff Sessions) defeated an effort to rein in Section 215 and Pen Registers in 2009.
This is how DiFi defeated an effort to close the backdoor loophole in 2012.
As this was happening in 2009, Russ Feingold called out SJC for acting as if it were the “Prosecutors Committee,” rather than the Judiciary Committee.
(Note, in both of those cases as well as on the original passage of Section 702, I understood fairly clearly what the efforts to stymie reform would do, up to 4 years before those programs were publicly revealed; I’ve got a pretty good record on this front!)
And if you don’t believe this is going to happen again, tell me why this whip count is wrong:
If my read here is right, the best case scenario — short of convincing Sheldon Whitehouse some of what the government wants to do is unconstitutional, which John Bates has already ruled that it is — is relying on people like Ted Cruz (whose posturing on civil liberties is often no more than that) and Jeff Flake (who was great on these issues in the House but has been silent and absent throughout this entire debate). And that’s all to reach a 9-9 tie in SJC.
Which shouldn’t be surprising. Had Leahy had the votes to move USA Freedom Act through SJC, he would have done so in October.
That was the entire point of starting in the House: because there was such a large number of people (albeit, for the most part without gavels) supporting real reform in the House. But because reformers (starting with John Conyers and Jerry Nadler) uncritically accepted a bad compromise and then let it be gutted, that leverage was squandered.
Right now, we’re looking at a bill that outsources an expanded phone dragnet to the telecoms (with some advantages and some drawbacks), but along the way resets other programs to what they were before the FISC reined them in from 2009 to 2011. That’s the starting point. With a vote count that leaves us susceptible to further corruption of the bill along the way.
Edward Snowden risked his freedom to try to rein in the dragnet, and instead, as of right now it looks like Congress will expand it.
Update: I’ve moved Richard Blumenthal into the “pro reform” category based on this statement after the passage of USA Freedumber. Thanks to Katherine Hawkins for alerting me to the statement.
I fear, reading this Kevin Drum post, that my explanations of why USA Freedumber will not end what you and I think of as bulk collection have not been clear enough. So I’m going to try again.
It is now, with the bill in current form, a 4-part argument:
The intelligence versus the plain English definition of bulk collection
This entire bill is based on the intelligence community definition of bulk collection, not the common English definition of it. As defined by President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive on SIGINT, bulk collection means,
the authorized collection of large quantities of signals intelligence data which, due to technical or operational considerations, is acquired without the use of discriminants (e.g., specific identifiers, selection terms, etc.).
Bulk collection, as defined by the intelligence commonly, only means collection that obtains all of a particular type of record: all phone records, all Internet metadata, all credit card records. Anything that stops short of that — all 202 Area Code phone records, all credit card records buying pressure cookers, all Internet metadata for email sent to Yemen — would not count as bulk collection under this definition.
A more commonsense meaning of bulk collection would be the collection of large volumes of data, sweeping up the data of totally innocent people, on which to do further (sometimes technically intrusive) searches to find the data of interest. What we call “Big Data,” for example, would very often not qualify as bulk collection as the intelligence community defines it (perhaps its starts with the health data of everyone born after 1946, for example, or the purchase records from just one online store) but would qualify as bulk collection as you and I would define it.
As I explained in this post, the means USA Freedumber uses to ensure that it does not permit bulk collection is to require the collection start from a “selection term.” Thus, by definition, it cannot be bulk collection because the technical (but not commonsense) definition of bulk collection is that which uses a selection term.
And because they defined it that way, it means that every time some well-intentioned Congressman (it was all men, pushing this bill) boasted that this bill “ends bulk collection” they were only laying a legislative record that would prohibit the intelligence community definition of bulk collection, not the commonsense meaning.
The bill retains the “relevant to” language that gave us bulk collection in the first place
Man, Jim Sensenbrenner must have complained about the way the FISA Court reinterpreted the plain meaning of “relevant to” from the 2006 reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act three or four times in the post-passage press conference. He’s still angry, you see, that a court, in secret, defined the term “relevant to” to mean “any data that could possibly include.”
But this bill does nothing to change that erroneous meaning of the term.
Worse, it relies on it!
For most authorities — the Pen Register (PRTT) authority, the non-call record Section 215 authority, and all National Security Letter authorities –USA Freedumber leaves that language intact. It now requires the use of a selection term, but unlike the new call record language, those authorities don’t require that the selection term be “associated with a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” (You can compare the language for traditional Section 215 and the new call records Section 215 at b2B and b2C in this post.) They don’t even require that the selection term itself be relevant to the investigation!
Thus, so long as there is a selection term — some term to ensure the NSA isn’t grabbing all of a certain kind of record — they’re going to still be able to get that data so long as they can argue that sorting through whatever data they get will yield useful information.
“Specific selection term” is too broad
Now, all that wouldn’t matter if the bill required specific selection terms to be tied to the individual or entity under investigation. Even the USA Freedumb bill didn’t require that.
But the language in USA Freedumber that got passed today makes things worse.
SPECIFIC SELECTION TERM.—The term ‘specific selection term’ means a discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device, used by the Government to limit the scope of the information or tangible things sought pursuant to the statute authorizing the provision of such information or tangible things to the Government.’
Again, note that the selection term only needs to limit the scope of production, not have a tie to the target of the investigation.
And while I actually find comfort from some of these terms — I’d be happy if the financial NSLs could only search on a specific account and the toll record NSL could only get phone records of a specific device (though FBI does use NSLs to get 2 degree separation, so this would return more than just that device’s records). As I’ve said in the past, “entity” is far too broad. It could include al Qaeda — allowing the NSA to obtain all data that might have al Qaeda data within it — or VISA — allowing the NSA to obtain all of that credit card entity’s data.
When Bernie Sanders asked the NSA whether it spied on Members of Congress, Keith Alexander responded, in part,
Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.
Alexander’s response was dated January 10, 2014, one week after the current dragnet order was signed.
It’s an interesting response, because one of the changes made to the dragnet access rules with the January 3 order was to provide Congress access to the data for oversight reasons. Paragraph 3D reads, in part,
Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share the results from intelligence analysis queries of the BR metadata, including United States person information, with Legislative Branch personnel to facilitate lawful oversight functions.
This doesn’t actually mean Sanders (and Darrell Issa, Jerrold Nadler, and Jim Sensenbrenner, who sent a letter on just this issue yesterday) can just query up the database to find out if their records are in there. The legislature can only get query results — it can’t perform queries. And as of last week, all query identifiers have to be approved by the FISC.
Still, they might legitimately ask to see what is in the corporate store, the database including some or all past query results, which may include hundreds of millions of Americans’ call records. And Nadler and Sensenbrenner — as members of the Judiciary Committee — can legitimately claim to play an oversight role over the dragnet.
So why don’t they just ask to shop the corporate store, complete with all the US person data, as permitted by this dragnet order? While they’re at it, why not check to see if the 6 McClatchy journalists whose FOIA NSA just rejected have been dumped into the corporate store? (No, I don’t think giving Congress this access is wise, but since they have it, why not use it?)
Incidentally, this access for legislative personnel is not unprecedented. Starting on February 25, 2010 and lasting through 3 orders (so until October 29, 2010, though someone should check my work on this point) the dragnet orders included even broader language.
Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share certain information, as appropriate, derived from the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch and Legislative Branch personnel in order to enable them to fulfill their lawful oversight functions…
Of course at that point, most of Congress had no real understanding of what the dragnet is.
Now that they do, Nadler and Sensenbrenner should use the clear provision of the dragnet order as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of what happens to query results and how broadly they implicate average Americans’ privacy.
Update: Added short explanation of corporate store.
Comment — Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?
A — To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.
That exchange is, according to DOJ’s Congressional Affairs Office, the level of detail offered up at a May 13, 2011 briefing of the House Republican Caucus regarding the PATRIOT Act provisions the House would vote to reauthorize less than two weeks later.
The questioner — who is not identified — may have been talking about comments Russ Feingold made way back on October 1, 2009, as part of the previous reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act (remember, by this point, Feingold was no longer in the Senate). Here are the things Feingold said about Section 215 in that Senate Judiciary Committee markup.
I remain concerned that critical information about the implementation of the Patriot Act remains classified. Information that I believe, would have a significant impact on the debate….. There is also information about the use of Section 215 orders that I believe Congress and the American People deserve to know. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss this information today.
Mr Chairman, I am also a member of the intelligence Committee. I recall during the debate in 2005 that proponents of Section 215 argued that these authorities had never been misused. They cannot make that statement now. They have been misused. I cannot elaborate here. But I recommend that my colleagues seek more information in a classified setting.
I want to specifically disagree with Senator Kyle’s [sic] statement that just the fact that there haven’t been abuses of the other provisions which are Sunsetted. That is not my view of Section 215. I believe section 215 has been misused as well.
Given the context, it is unclear whether Feingold referred to use of Section 215 for things they shouldn’t have, use of it to authorize bulk collection generally, or in the compliance issues identified in 2009 on which the Administration had recently briefed the Intelligence Committee. But his suggestion that the Senate Judiciary Committee was getting less detailed briefings than the Senate Intelligence Committee at that point is consistent with DOJ’s 2009 notice to Congress on the dragnet, which said, “The [compliance] incidents, and the Court’s responses, were also reported to the Intelligence Committees in great detail,” with no mention of similarly detailed briefings to SJC (the 2011 letter indicates that by that point SJC was getting detailed briefings as well). This, in turn, suggests he was referring to dragnet-related violations.
Regardless of what Feingold meant, though, he tied misuse very closely to the secret use of Section 215 to conduct dragnet collection of all Americans’ phone records. Feingold’s other public statements about Section 215 focus even more closely on the secret dragnet application of it.
In other words, this appears to have been a question attempting to get at the secret application of the PATRIOT Act that Feingold, along with Ron Wyden and people like Jerry Nadler, had been warning about. This appears to have been an attempt to learn about a topic that — in 2009, at least — DOJ had “agree[d] that it is important that all Members of Congress have access to information about this program” (DOJ didn’t include such blather in its 2011 notice).
Exactly 100 days before the briefing at which this question was asked, DOJ had sent House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers (who appears to have convened this briefing) a letter noting, “In 2009, a number of technical compliance problems and human implementation errors in these two bulk collection programs were discovered as a result of Department of Justice (DOJ) reviews and internal NSA oversight.”
Yet in response to a query clearly designed to elicit both the existence of the dragnet program and details on problems associated with it, FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-General Counsel Valerie Caproni (and/or whatever staffers were with them) said, to the Bureau’s knowledge, there had been no abuses. Perhaps, then, as now, they’re relying on the claim that none of these compliance issues were willful — the letter said they weren’t intentional or bad-faith — to avoid telling members of Congress about problems with the program.
Remember, this is one of the (and may have been the only) briefings that Mike Rogers now claims provided adequate substitute for letting House members know about the letter describing the dragnet and the compliance problems associated with it. Rogers’ House Intelligence spokesperson, Susan Phalen, has claimed those briefings “not only covered all of the material in the letter but also provided much more detail.” (As far as I’ve been able to tell from the FOIA production to the ACLU, there was no similar briefing for the Democratic caucus, though FOIA production tends to be incomplete; one Democratic Congressman, Hansen Clarke, attended the Republican briefing.)
And DOJ’s own records of the briefing make it clear that when someone tried, however inartfully, to learn about the program, Mueller and Caproni obfuscated about the compliance issues and possibly the existence of the dragnet itself.
This is a concrete example of what both Justin Amash and Ron Wyden have described as a game of 20 questions briefers play in these briefings. The questioner raised one of the few public hints about the dragnet program to ask the FBI about it, and the FBI responded in a manner very similar to the way James Clapper did in March, when he lied to the SSCI.
Now, we don’t know what remains behind the redactions in the briefing, but there is one other piece of evidence that this briefing, at least, didn’t even touch on the dragnet. If you look at all 5 closed briefings turned over in production to ACLU, two — a February 28, 2011 briefing for SJC and a March 17, 2011 briefing for the House Intelligence Committee — were deemed classified “per OGA letter dated 4/26/2012.” The acronym “Other Government Agency” is usually used to refer to CIA, but in this context, where we now know NSA played a central role but revealing that role last year would have disclosed significant new details about the secret application of Section 215, it may well refer to NSA. Those briefings also redacted the identities of some briefers which, again, may be classified to hide the NSA’s role in this program.
If all this speculation is correct, then it means there was no mention of the NSA in the briefing for the Republican caucus. If there was no mention of NSA, then they really couldn’t have explained the program (both the 2009 and 2011 notices make extensive reference to the NSA).
In any case, what remains unredacted is quite clear. Someone at that briefing — the briefing that Mike Rogers’ staffer claims offered more information than had been provided in the DOJ letter — tried to learn about problems with the secret program. And they got stonewalled in response.
Was the person who asked this question and got an incomplete answer one of the 65 people who would go on to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act having had no way of learning about the program and its compliance problems?
In one of the closest votes in a long time for civil liberties, the Amash-Conyers amendment just failed, but only barely, by a vote of 205-217.
The debate was lively, with Mike Rogers, Michele Bachmann, and Iraq verteran Tom Cotton spoke against the amendment; Amash closely managed time to include a broad mix of Democrats and Republicans.
The only nasty point of the debate came when Mike Rogers (R-MI) suggested Justin Amash (R-MI) was leading this charge for Facebook likes.
Update: Here’s the roll call.
I was going to leave the whole CNET thing well enough alone after Jerry Nadler issued a statement retracting his sort-of suggestion that the NSA could wiretap Americans without a warrant (more on that below).
But I can’t remember seeing a more concentrated piece of Orwellian turd-splat than this statement addressing the issue from James Clapper.
The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress. Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world.
The claim that NSA doesn’t wittingly “collect” data on millions of Americans was just an opening act for James Clapper, it seems. I know it won’t work this way for those who trust this program, but Clapper’s statement should raise more questions whether the thrust of what Nadler said, rather than four words taken out of context, are in fact true.
Let’s take this slowly.
I’ve put my transcription of the exchange between Jerry Nadler and Robert Mueller below for your reference. But one thing to keep in mind as you read Clapper’s turd-splat is that Nadler first described “getting the contents of the [American] phone” identified using the metadata database and, in repeating the question he had earlier asked a briefer who actually knows about how these programs are used, “getting specific information from that telephone.” It is true that in response to Mueller, he spoke of “listening to the phone,” the four words taken out of context, and his walk-back describes “listening to the content.” But the range of Nadler’s language suggests the distinct possibility the briefer discussed a different kind of collection, and Nadler never once explicitly described setting a dedicated wiretap on the phone of an American identified from conversations with suspected terrorists (which is what CNET blew it up as).
With that in mind, I offer you turd-splat:
The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization and was not briefed to Congress.
Clapper has set up a straw man that differs in at least three key ways from what Nadler asked about. First, he is addressing only eavesdropping, monitoring a phone in real time going forward, not accessing historic collections (though one thing these two programs in conjunction do is collapse historic and ongoing communications). I’m especially amused by this move, because it replicates a mistake that many have made when discussing these programs (especially the metadata one) as wiretapping. Clapper is only addressing the most inflammatory language Nadler used, not the language he used first and last in this exchange.
Then Clapper introduces the idea of domestic communications. This has no source in Nadler’s comment whatsoever, at least so long as you believe the only way NSA uses the metadata database is to see which Americans are talking to suspected foreign terrorist phone numbers. Given the government’s improbable claim they’re only making 300 queries a year, we may well be talking about domestic communications, but that’s not what Nadler addressed, which was about the American participant in a call with a suspected foreign terrorist phone number.
Nadler asked about an analyst deciding, on the basis of metadata analysis, that a US phone number looks suspicious, to “get the content” from that number. He implies that he has been told an analyst has that authority. Clapper addresses only whether an analyst without proper legal authorization can get US person content. That is, in response to Nadler’s question whether an analyst does have the legal authority to get content based on suspicion, Clapper says an analyst can’t get content without the proper legal authority. Nadler’s entire (implied) question was whether an analyst would have the legal authority to do so. Clapper doesn’t answer it.
So in other words, Clapper alters Nadler’s comment in three fundamental ways, changing its entire meaning, and then asserts Clapper’s now only tangentially related distortion of Nadler’s comment was not briefed to Congress.
No. Of course not. And Nadler hadn’t said it was, either.
And then Clapper describes what (he claims) members were briefed. Splat!
Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world.
Whoa! Do you see what Clapper did there? Nadler asked a question about how an analyst would move from metadata analysis — the Section 215 program — and then use it to access content, via whatever means. Nadler mentioned Section 215 specifically. Yet Clapper claims this is all about the implementation of Section 702. (Note, I find this interesting in part because Mueller suggests Nadler might be talking about another program entirely, which remains a possibility.)
I have pointed out on several times how desperate the Administration is to have you believe that Section 215 metadata collection and Section 702 content collection are unrelated, even if surrogates can’t keep them straight themselves. Clapper’s ploy is more of the same.
As is his emphasis that Section 702 targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose. Now, just to make clear, the government has always held that any collection of information on what foreigners are doing is a valid foreign intelligence purpose. While Clapper doesn’t engage in suggesting this as directly as he and others have in past weeks, for Section 702 there is clearly no limitation of this authority to terrorism or counterintelligence or proliferation or hacking (the Administration and surrogates have suggested there is a terrorism limit for the Section 215 dragnet, but if there is, it comes from court-ordered minimization, not the law). But the real cherry here is the word “target,” which has become almost as stripped of common meaning as “collect” in this context.
In the 702 context, “target” refers to the node of communication at which collection is focused, not to all communications associated with that collection. So a directive to Verizon might ask for all communications that the original suspected terrorist phone number engages in (including its surfing and texting and pictures and email). But at a minimum that would include everyone the suspected terrorist communicates via his Verizon service, and there’s very good reason to believe it includes at least one and probably more degrees of separation out, if Verizon has it.
So when Clapper says 702 cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world, he means Americans cannot be the communication node on which collection is focused unless you have a FISA warrant (which is the practice Marc Ambinder, who is far more impressed with Clapper’s turd-splat than I am, addresses in this piece).
But what has never been answered — except perhaps in an off-hand comment in a debate defeating language that would actually prevent what everyone says is already prevented — is whether the government can, um, “collect” the content of Americans who communicate with those who are, um, “targeted.”
I’m not saying I have the answer to that question — though it is a concern that has been raised for years by the very same people who have been vindicated in their warnings about Section 215. But let’s be very clear what Clapper did here. He completely redefined Nadler’s comment, then divorced that redefined comment from the context of Section 215, and then threw the Orwellian term “target” at it to make it go away.
He could have denied Nadler’s more general assertions. That, he did not do. Continue reading
CNET is getting a lot of attention for its report that NSA, “has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.”
In general, I’m just going to outsource my analysis of what the exchange means to Julian Sanchez (I hope he doesn’t charge me as much as Mike McConnell’s Booz Allen Hamilton for outsourced analysis).
What seems more likely is that Nadler is saying analysts sifting through metadata have the discretion to determine (on the basis of what they’re seeing in the metadata) that a particular phone number or e-mail account satisfies the conditions of one of the broad authorizations for electronic surveillance under §702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
The analyst must believe that one end of the communication is outside the United States, and flag that account or phone line for collection. Note that even if the real target is the domestic phone number, an analyst working from the metadatabase wouldn’t have a name, just a number. That means there’s no “particular, known US person,” which ensures that the §702 ban on “reverse targeting” is, pretty much by definition, not violated.
None of that would be too surprising in principle: That’s the whole point of §702!
That is, what Nadler may have learned that the same analysts who have access to the phone metadata may also have authority to issue directives to companies for phone content collection. If so, it would be entirely feasible for the same analyst to learn, via the metadata database, that a suspect phone number is in contact with the US and for her to submit a request for actual content to the providers, without having to first get a FISA order covering the US person callers directly. Since she was still “targeting” the original overseas phone number, she would be able to get the US person content without a specific order.
Mueller: I’m not certain it’s the same–I’m not certain it’s an answer to the same question.
Mueller didn’t deny the NSA can get access to US person phone content without a warrant. He just suggested that Nadler might be conflating two different programs or questions.
And that’s one of the things to remember about this discussion. Among many other methods of shielding parts of the programs, the government is thus far discussing primarily the two programs identified by the Guardian: the phone metadata collection (which the WaPo reports is called MAINWAY) and the Internet content access (PRISM).
As I laid out in this Guardian column on today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, after citing Smith v. Maryland a bunch of times to justify getting all Americans’ phone records, FBI Director Robert Mueller went on to pretend not to know whether those records include geolocation.
New York Representative Jerry Nadler wasn’t convinced Mueller’s excuse was good enough. He noted that metadata includes so much more information than it did in 1979, and that that earlier ruling might not stand in this case. Utah’s Jason Chaffetz got much more specific about the difference between phones in 1979 and now: location.
Landlines include location information. But with cell phones, the same location information necessary to route a call effectively provides a rough idea of where a person is even as they move from place to place (map functions on smart phones, as well as a lot of applications, rely on this data). Thus, the geolocation available as part of cell phone metadata provides a much better idea of where a person goes and what they do than location data for a landline tied to a person’s address.
Chaffetz posed several questions that, he revealed, he had sent Mueller Wednesday so that he would be prepared to answer, starting with whether or not geolocation is part of this metadata collection. In spite of Chaffetz’s prior warning, Mueller said he did not know whether it was included.
Note that the order to Verizon the Guardian publishedspecifically includes routing information in its description of metadata, which gets to geolocation. It’s clear this collection includes geolocation.
Mueller was also unprepared to answer whether or not a different supreme court case from last year, US v Jones, which determined that installing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car constituted a search, meant that the geolocation provided by the GPS function on cell phones did not qualify as metadata. Mueller was also unprepared to answer whether tracking someone’s location by using their phone constituted metadata.
In fact, Mueller admitted his staffers had told him he’d be asked these questions – yet still hadn’t prepared. It seemed almost as if his inability to answer this question in public was intentional.
As I suggested, Mueller’s feigned ignorance was probably intentional.
Moreover, his professed ignorance about whether the phone records include location is probably bullshit. That’s true, as I noted, because the order in question includes routing information, which in the case of cell phones, includes tower location which is location.
And remember, according to Tom Coburn, the FBI Director’s role in approving this process is so central, Coburn was worried that legal challenges to Mueller’s two-year extension might put the entire dragnet program at risk. So it’s hard to believe all this time Mueller has been personally vouching for orders like the one to Verizon that ask explicitly for routing information without knowing he was asking for routing information.
Here’s the other reason I think Mueller is telling a least untruth that is too cute by half when he claims ignorance.
Shortly after the US v. Jones ruling, Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to what degree Jones affected the intelligence community. He even invoked “secret law,” the way he always has done when referring to this dragnet program(s).
Wyden: Director Clapper, as you know the Supreme Court ruled last week that it was unconstitutional for federal agents to attach a GPS tracking device to an individual’s car and monitor their movements 24/7 without a warrant. Because the Chair was being very gracious, I want to do this briefly. Can you tell me as of now what you believe this means for the intelligence community, number 1, and 2, would you be willing to commit this morning to giving me an unclassified response with respect to what you believe the law authorizes. This goes to the point that you and I have talked, Sir, about in the past, the question of secret law, I strongly feel that the laws and their interpretations must be public. Continue reading
The reaction from members of Congress to the revelation that the Section 215 surveillance was just as bad as some of us have been warning has varied, with Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss reiterating claims about the value and oversight of the program (though not having any idea, according to DiFi, whether it has prevented any attacks), and Ron Wyden and Mark Udall effectively saying “I told you so.” John Boehner dodged aggressively, suggesting even though he had approved this surveillance President Obama had to explain it.
Asked whether lawmakers should answer for an order that fell under the Patriot Act they passed, Boehner disagreed. “The tools were given to the administration, and it’s the administration’s responsibility to explain how these tools are used,” he said. ”I’ll leave it to them to explain.”
By far the most disingenuous, however, was Jim Sensenbrenner, who (as he has emphasized to the credulous journalists who served as his stenographers today) wrote the PATRIOT Act, who has remained in a senior position on House Judiciary Committee since that day, and who now claims to be shocked — shocked! — there is dragnet collection going on in the casino he built.
Predictably, he wrote a letter demanding to know how a law he has fought to retain its current form could be used to do what the law authorizes.
In the letter, Sensenbrenner de-emphasizes the role of the relevance standard to the collection.
To obtain a business records order from the court, the Patriot Act requires the government to show that: (1) it is seeking the information in certain authorized national security investigations pursuant to guidelines approved by the Attorney General; (2) if the investigative target is a U.S. person, the investigation is not based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment; and (3) the information sought is relevant to the authorized investigation.
Compare that to the letter of the law, which requires the government to show,
(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to—
(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or
(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation;
That is, the emphasis is not on the investigation, as Sensenbrenner’s interpretation would have it, but on the relevance of the information sought, which Sensenbrenner adds third. More importantly, Sensenbrenner omits all mention of the presumptively relevant conditions — basically something pertaining to a foreign power.
With his interpretation, Sensenbrenner has omitted something baked into Section 215, which is that so long as the government says this pertains to foreign spies or terrorists, the judge has almost no discretion on whether information is relevant to an investigation.
Then Sensenbrenner points to 2011 testimony from Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen, who he claims said the following:
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. . . On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year
Which Sensenbrenner uses to claim the Department never told the Committee about this dragnet.
The Department’s testimony left the Committee with the impression that the Administration was using the business records provision sparingly and for specific materials. The recently released FISA order, however, could not have been drafted more broadly.
As it happens, Hinnen has been testifying since at least 2009 that Section 215 authorizes other secret programs. So I checked Sensenbrenner’s work. Here’s what that precise passage of Hinnen’s testimony says, without the deceitful ellipsis.
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. Some orders have also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed. On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year. [my emphasis]
In other words, Sensenbrenner points to doctored proof he has been briefed on this secret program, but doctors it in such a way as to support his claim he never knew about this.
Not to mention that a series of DOJ Inspector General reports included classified appendices describing these secret collection operations.