The NYT today:
The National Security Agency has used its bulk domestic phone records program to search for operatives from the government of Iran and “associated terrorist organizations” — not just Al Qaeda and its allies — according to a document obtained by The New York Times.
The inclusion of Iran and allied terrorist groups — presumably the Shiite group Hezbollah — and the confirmation of the names of other participating companies add new details to public understanding of the once-secret program. The Bush administration created the program to try to find hidden terrorist cells on domestic soil after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and government officials have justified it by using Al Qaeda as an example.
emptywheel, 15 months ago:
I want to post Dianne Feinstein’s statement about what Section 215 does because, well, it seems Iran is now a terrorist. (This is around 1:55)
The Section 215 Business Records provision was created in 2001 in the PATRIOT for tangible things: hotel records, credit card statements, etcetera. Things that are not phone or email communications. The FBI uses that authority as part of its terrorism investigations. The NSA only uses Section 215 for phone call records — not for Google searches or other things. Under Section 215, NSA collects phone records pursuant to a court record. It can only look at that data after a showing that there is a reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran. At that point, the database can be searched. But that search only provides metadata, of those phone numbers. Of things that are in the phone bill. That person, um [flips paper] So the vast majority of records in the database are never accessed, and are deleted after a period of five years. To look at, or use content, a court warrant must be obtained.
Is that a fair description, or can you correct it in any way?
Keith Alexander: That is correct, Senator. [underline/italics added]
Some time after this post Josh Gerstein reported on Keith Alexander confirming the Iran targeting.
The NYT today:
One document also reveals a new nugget that fills in a timeline about surveillance: a key date for a companion N.S.A. program that collected records about Americans’ emails and other Internet communications in bulk. The N.S.A. ended that program in 2011 and declassified its existence after the Snowden disclosures.
In 2009, the N.S.A. realized that there were problems with the Internet records program as well and turned it off. It then later obtained Judge Bates’s permission to turn it back on and expand it.
emptywheel in November 2013:
I’ve seen a lot of outright errors in the reporting on the John Bates opinion authorizing the government to restart the Internet metadata program released on Monday.
Bates’ opinion was likely written in July 2010.
It had to have been written after June 21, 2010 and probably dates to between June 21 and July 23, 2010, because page 92 footnote 78 cites Holder v. HLP (which was released on June 21), but uses a “WL” citation; by July 23 the “S. Ct.” citation was available. (h/t to Document Exploitation for this last observation).
So: it had to have been written between June 21, 2010 and October 3, 2011, but was almost certainly written sometime in the July 2010 timeframe.
The latter oversight is understandable, as this story — which has been cited in court filings — misread Claire Eagan’s discussions of earlier bulk opinions, which quoted several sentences of Bates’ earlier one (though it was not the among the stories that really botched the timing of the Bates opinion).
In September, the Obama administration declassified and released a lengthy opinion by Judge Claire Eagan of the surveillance court, written a month earlier and explaining why the panel had given legal blessing to the call log program. A largely overlooked passage of her ruling suggested that the court has also issued orders for at least two other types of bulk data collection.
Specifically, Judge Eagan noted that the court had previously examined the issue of what records are relevant to an investigation for the purpose of “bulk collections,” plural. There followed more than six lines that were censored in the publicly released version of her opinion.
There have been multiple pieces of evidence to confirm my earlier July 2010 deduction since.
The big news in the NYT story (though not necessarily the NYT documents, which I’ll return to) is that in 2010, Verizon Wireless also received phone dragnet orders. I’ll return to what that tells us too.
But the news that Iran was targeted under the phone dragnet was confirmed publicly — and reported here — in a prepared statement from the Senate Intelligence Chair and confirmed by the Director of National Security Agency a week after the first Snowden leak story.
There’s an aspect missing thus far from the discussion of NSA’s possible bid for a cyber certification under Section 702 for primary use in the collection of attack signatures that could not be attributed to a foreign government.
The discussion of creating a new Section 702 certificate came in the aftermath of the 6-month back and forth between DOJ and the FISA Court over NSA having collected US person data as part of its upstream collection (for more detail than appears in the timeline below, see this post). During that process, John Bates ruled parts of the program — what he deemed the intentional collection of US person data within the US — to be unconstitutional. That part of his opinion is worth citing at length, because of the way Bates argues that the inability to detach entirely domestic communications that are part of a transaction does not mean that those domestic communications were “incidentally” collected. Rather, they were “intentionally” collected.
Specifically, the government argues that NSA is not “intentionally” acquiring wholly domestic communications because the government does not intend to acquire transactions containing communications that are wholly domestic and has implemented technical means to prevent the acquisition of such transactions. See June 28 Submission at 12. This argument fails for several reasons.
NSA targets a person under Section 702 certifications by acquiring communications to, from, or about a selector used by that person. Therefore, to the extent NSA’s upstream collection devices acquire an Internet transaction containing a single, discrete communication that is to, from, or about a tasked selector, it can hardly be said that NSA’s acquisition is “unintentional.” In fact, the government has argued, that the Court has accepted, that the government intentionally acquires communications to and from a target, even when NSA reasonably — albeit mistakenly — believes that the target is located outside the United States. See Docket No. [redacted]
The fact that NSA’s technical measures cannot prevent NSA from acquiring transactions containing wholly domestic communications under certain circumstances does not render NSA’s acquisition of those transactions “unintentional.”
[T]here is nothing in the record to suggest that NSA’s technical means are malfunctioning or otherwise failing to operate as designed. Indeed, the government readily concedes that NSA will acquire a wholly domestic “about” communication if the transaction containing the communication is routed through an international Internet link being monitored by NSA or is routed through a foreign server.
By expanding its Section 702 acquisitions to include the acquisition of Internet transactions through its upstream collection, NSA has, as a practical matter, circumvented the spirit of Section 1881a(b)(4) and (d)(1) with regard to that collection. (44-45, 48)
There are a number of ways to imagine that victim-related data and communications obtained with an attack signature might be considered “intentional” rather than “incidental,” especially given the Snowden document acknowledging that so much victim data gets collected it should be segregated from regular collection. Add to that the far greater likelihood that the NSA will unknowingly target domestic hackers — because so much of hacking involves obscuring attribution — and the likelihood upstream collection targeting hackers would “intentionally” collect domestic data is quite high.
Plus, there’s nothing in the 2011 documents released indicating the FISC knew upstream collection included cyber signatures — and related victim data — in spite of the fact that “current Certifications already allow for the tasking of these cyber signatures.” No unredacted section discussed the collection of US person data tied to the pursuit of cyberattackers that appears to have been ongoing by that point.
Similarly, the white paper officially informing Congress about 702 didn’t mention cyber signatures either. There’s nothing public to suggest it did so after the Senate rejected a Cybersecurity bill in August, 2012, either. That bill would have authorized less involvement of NSA in cybersecurity than appears to have already been going on.
With all that in mind, consider the discussions reflected in the documents released last week. The entire discussion to use FBI’s stated needs to apply as backup to apply for a cyber certificate came at the same time as NSA is trying to decide what to do with the data it illegally collected. Before getting that certificate, DOJ approved the collection of cyber signatures under other certificates. It seems likely that this collection would violate the spirit of the ruling from just the prior year.
And NSA’s assistance to FBI may have violated the prior year’s orders in another way. SSO contemplated delivering all this data directly to FBI.
Yet one of the restrictions imposed on upstream collection — voluntarily offered up by DOJ — was that no raw data from NSA’s upstream collection go to FBI (or CIA). If there was uncertainty where FBI’s targeting ended and NSA’s began, this would create a violation of prior orders.
Meanwhile, the reauthorization process had already started, and as part of that (though curiously timed to coincide with the release of DOJ’s white paper on 702 collection) Ron Wyden and Mark Udall were trying to force NSA to figure out how much US person data they were collecting. Not only did the various Inspectors General refuse to count that data (which would have, under the logic of Bates’ opinions finding that illegally collected data was only illegal if the government knew it was US person data, made the data illegal), but the Senate Intelligence Committee refused to consider reconstituting their Technical Advisory Committee which might be better able to assess whether NSA claims were correct.
Sometime in that period, just as Wyden was trying to call attention to the fact that NSA was collecting US person data via its upstream collection, NSA alerted the Intelligence Committees to further “overcollection” under upstream collection.
As I suggested here, the length of the redaction and mention of “other authorities” may reflect the involvement of another agency like FBI. One possibility, given the description of FBI collecting on cyber signatures using both PRTT and (presumably) traditional FISA in the discussions of SSO helping the FBI conduct this surveillance (note, I find it interesting though not conclusive that there is no mention of Section 215 to collect cybersecurity data), is that the initial efforts to go after these signatures in some way resulted in overcollection. If FISC interpreted victim-related data to be overcollection — as would be unsurprising under Bates’ 2011 upstream opinion — then it would explain the notice to Congress.
One more point. In this post, I noted that USA F-ReDux authorized FISC to let the government use data it had illegally collected but which FISC had authorized by imposing additional minimization procedures. It’s just a wildarseguess, but I find it plausible that this 2012 overcollection involved cyber signatures (because we know NSA was collecting it and there is reason to believe it violated Bates’ 2011 opinion), and that any victim data now gets treated under minimization procedures and therefore that any illegal data from 2012 may now, as of last week, be used.
All of which is to say that the revelation of NSA and FBI’s use of upstream collection to target hackers involves far more legal issues than commentary on the issue has made out. And these legal issues may well have been more appropriate for the government to reveal before passage of USA F-ReDux. Continue reading
I’m working on a longer post on the timing of the NSA’s bid to get a cyber Section 702 certificate in 2012. But I wanted to point to a detail about upstream 702 collection that may be relevant to the issue.
According to the 4Q FY2012 Intelligence Oversight Board report — the one covering the quarter ending September 30, 2012 — NSA notified Congress of an overcollection (a polite way of saying “illegal data collection”) under both upstream collection and “other authorities.” The overcollection was fairly significant, both because NSA did notify Congress, which it doesn’t do for individual incidences of overcollection, and because NSA had to implement both a short-term and long-term solution to the collection issue.
This is almost certainly separate from the upstream violations reported in 2011, which resulted in Judge John Bates declaring the collection of entirely US-person data as part of Multi-Communication Transactions collected using upstream 702 collection to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Reference to that notice appeared in the 3Q FY2011 report, the one covering the quarter ending June 30, 2011. Not only does the earlier IOB Report show Congress had already been notified of the 2011 violations, but that (unlike some earlier notices) they were notified in timely fashion.
Which suggests the 2012 notification was probably provided to Congress shortly after its official discovery, too.
Moreover, a description of the 2011 problems with upstream collection appeared in a May 4, 2012 letter to Congress, in anticipation of FISA Amendments Act reauthorization that year, by which point NSA had already informed Bates they were going to purge the overcollected MCT data (that happened in April 2012). Thus, no new notice would have been necessary (and would have been sent exclusively to the Intelligence Committees) in 3Q FY2012, which started on July 1.
So this 2012 notice almost certainly represents yet another incidence where NSA (and possibly another agency, given the redaction length and reference to other authorities) illegally collected content it wasn’t entitled to collect inside the US.
This overcollection is significant for two reasons.
First, as will become more clear when I do this timeline, DOJ and NSA would have been dealing with this overcollection at precisely the same time the two agencies were preparing to apply for a Section 702 certification authorizing the collection of cyber signatures. Indeed, it’s possible that is why this overcollection was officially identified, as I’ll lay out, though there are plenty of other possibilities as well.
Just as importantly, USA F-ReDux probably just authorized the government to use the data collected under this second incident of apparently systemic overcollection under upstream 702.
On its face, Section 301 of USA F-ReDux appears to prohibit the use (but not the parallel construction of) data collected unlawfully under Section 702 unless it presents a threat of death or serious bodily harm (which NSA has secretly redefined to include threat to property).
[I]f the Court orders a correction of a deficiency in a certification or procedures under subparagraph (B), no information obtained or evidence derived pursuant to the part of the certification or procedures that has been identified by the Court as deficient concerning any United States person shall be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial [… or any other Federal proceeding …] except with the approval of the Attorney General if the information indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm to any person.
But in substance, the Section actually authorizes the government to use such data once it has satisfied the FISC.
If the Government corrects any deficiency identified by the order of the Court under subparagraph (B), the Court may permit the use or disclosure of information obtained before the date of the correction under such minimization procedures as the Court may approve for purposes of this clause.
The Section likely addresses something that happened as John Bates tried to deal with both the PRTT Internet dragnet violations in 2010 and the upstream collection violations in 2011. In both cases, he found the government had intentionally collected US person content in the US. And so, Bates determined, under 50 U.S.C. § 1809(a), it would be a crime for the government to disseminate the data.
In 2010, Bates rejected a slew of government arguments (see pages 100 to 113) that he could just retroactively make this illegal collection legal.
Finally, insofar as the government suggests that the Court has an inherent authority to permit the use and disclosure of all unauthorized collection without regard to Section 1809, see Memorandum of Law at 73-74 & n.37, the Court again must disagree.
The Court simply lacks the power, inherent or otherwise, to authorize the government to engage in conduct that Congress has unambiguously prohibited
Bates’ interpretation of 50 U.S.C. § 1809(a) is what led the government to purge the illegally collected upstream data in April 2012 (that may have also been why NSA purged its illegally collected Internet dragnet data in December 2011).
Section 301 of USA F-ReDux was clearly intended to give FISC the authority Bates said he didn’t have in 2010: to permit a FISC judge to permit the government to disseminate data found to be illegally collected, but retroactively sanctioned via the use of minimization procedures.
At first, I didn’t think the Section would affect any known data, because NSA purged both the illegal PRTT data and the illegal upstream data, so that couldn’t be used anymore.
But the IOB report shows there was more illegal upstream data collected, within a year. And the reference to a “long-term solution” to it may suggest that NSA held onto the data and was just finding a way to retroactively authorize it.
From the IOB description, we can’t know what data NSA had illegally collected or why. But there’s a decent chance USA F-ReDux just retroactively made the use of it legal.
I wanted to provide some background of how we got to this week’s PATRIOT Reauthorization debate to explain what I believe the surveillance boosters are really aiming for. Rather than a response to Edward Snowden, I think it is more useful to consider “reform” as an Intelligence Community effort to recreate functionalities they had and then lost in 2009.
That history starts in 2009, when NSA was still operating under the system they had established under Stellar Wind while pretending to abide by FISC rules.
At the beginning of 2009, the NSA had probably close to full coverage of phone records in the US, and coverage on the most important Internet circuits as well. Contrary to the explicit orders of the FISC, NSA was treating all this data as EO 12333 data, not PATRIOT data.
On the Internet side, it was acquiring data that it considered Dialing, Routing, Addressing, and Signaling information but which also constituted content (and which violated the category limits Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had first imposed).
On the phone side, NSA was not only treating PATRIOT data according to NSA’s more general minimization procedures as opposed to those dictated by the FISC. But in violation of those minimization procedures, NSA was submitting phone dragnet data to all the automated procedures it submitted EO 12333 data to, which included automated searches and automatic chaining on other identifiers believed to belong to the same user (the latter of which NSA calls “correlations”). Either these procedures consisted of — or the data was also treated to — pattern analysis, chaining users on patterns rather than calls made. Of key importance, one point of having all the data in the country was to be able to run this pattern analysis. Until 2008 (and really until 2009) they were sharing the results of this data in real time.
Having both types of data allowed the NSA to chain across both telephony and Internet data (obtained under a range of authorities) in the same query, which would give them a pretty comprehensive picture of all the communications a target was engaging in, regardless of medium.
I believe this bucolic state is where the surveillance hawks want us to return to. Indeed, to a large extent that’s what Richard Burr’s bill does (with a lot of obstructive measures to make sure this process never gets exposed again).
But when DOJ disclosed the phone violations to FISC in early 2009, they shut down all those automatic processes. And Judge Reggie Walton took over 6 months before he’d even let NSA have full ability to query the data.
Then, probably in October 2009, DOJ finally confessed to FISC that every single record NSA had collected under the Internet dragnet for five years violated Kollar-Kotelly’s category rules. Walton probably shut down the dragnet on October 30, 2009, and it remained shut down until around July 2010.
At this point, not only didn’t NSA have domestic coverage that included Internet and phone, but the phone dragnet was a lot less useful than all the other phone data NSA collected because NSA couldn’t use its nifty automatic tools on it.
We know that NSA convinced John Bates to not only turn the Internet dragnet back on around July 2010 (though it took a while before they actually turned it on), but to expand collection to some or all circuits in the US. He permitted that by interpreting anything that might be Dialing, Routing, Addressing, and Signaling (DRAS) to be metadata, regardless of whether it also was content, and by pointing back to the phone dragnet to justify the extension of the Internet dragnet. Bates’ fix was short-lived, however, because by 2011, NSA shut down that dragnet. I wildarseguess that may partly because DOJ knew it was still collecting content, and when Bates told NSA if it knew it was collecting content with upstream collection, it would be illegal (NSA destroyed the Internet dragnet data at the same time it decided to start destroying its illegal upstream data). I also think there may have been a problem with Bates’ redefinition of DRAS, because Richard Burr explicitly adopted Bates’ definition in his bill, which would have given Bates’ 2010 opinion congressional sanction. As far as we know, NSA has been coping without the domestic Internet dragnet by collecting on US person Internet data overseas, as well as off PRISM targets.
Remember, any residual problems the Internet dragnet had may have affected NSA’s ability to collect any IP-based calls or at least messaging.
Meanwhile, NSA was trying to replace the automated functions it had up until 2009, and on November 8, 2012, the NSA finally authorized a way to do that. But over the next year plus, NSA never managed to turn it on.
Meanwhile, the phone dragnet was collecting less and less of the data out there. My current theory is that the gap arose because of two things involving Verizon. First, in 2009, part or all of Verizon dropped its contract with the FBI to provide enhanced call records first set up in 2002. This meant it no longer had all its data collected in a way that was useful to FBI that it could use to provide CDRs (though Verizon had already changed the way it complied with phone records in 2007, which had, by itself, created some technical issues). In addition, I suspect that as Verizon moved to 4G technology it didn’t keep the same kind of records for 4G calls that transited its backbone (which is where the records come from, not from customer bills). The problems with the Internet dragnet may have exacerbated this (and in any case, the phone dragnet orders only ask for telephony metadata, not IP metadata).
Once you lose cell calls transiting Verizon’s backbone, you’ve got a big hole in the system.
At the same time, more and more people (and, disproportionately, terrorist targets) were relying more and more on IP-based communications — Skype, especially, but also texting and other VOIP calls. And while AT&T gets some of what crosses its backbone (and had and still has a contract for that enhanced call record service with the FBI, which means it will be accessible), a lot of that would not be available as telephony. Again, any limits on Internet collection may also impact IP based calls and messaging.
Which brings you to where the dragnets were in 2013, when Edward Snowden alerted us to their presence. The domestic PATRIOT-authorized Internet dragnet had been shut down (and with it, potentially, Internet-based calls and messaging). The phone dragnet still operated, but there were significant gaps in what the telecoms would or could turn over (though I suspect NSA still has full coverage of data that transits AT&T’s backbone). And that data couldn’t be subjected to all the nifty kinds of analysis NSA liked to subject call data to. Plus, complying with the FISC-imposed minimization procedures meant NSA could only share query results in limited situations and even then with some bureaucratic limits. Finally, it could only be used for counterterrorism programs, and such data analysis had become a critical part of all of NSA’s analysis, even including US collection.
And this is where I suspect all those stories about NSA already considering, in 2009 and in 2013, shutting down the dragnet. As both Ken Dilanian stories on this make clear, DOJ believed they could not achieve the same search results without a new law passed by Congress. Bob Litt has said the same publicly. Which makes it clear these are not plain old phone records.
So while Edward Snowden was a huge pain in the ass for the IC, he also provided the impetus to make a decision on the phone dragnet. Obama made a big show of listening to his Presidential Review Group and PCLOB, both of which said to get rid of it (the latter of which said it was not authorized by Section 215). But — as I noted at the time — moving to providers would fix some of their problems.
In their ideal world, here’s what we know the IC would like:
And the IC wants this while retaining Section 215’s use of bulky collections that can be cross-referenced with other data, especially the other Internet collection it conducts using Section 215, which makes up a majority of Section 215 orders.
Those 5 categories are how I’ve been analyzing the various solutions (which is one of about 10 reasons I’m so certain that Mitch McConnell would never want straight reauthorization, because there’s nothing that straight reauthorization would have ratified that would have fixed the existing problems with the dragnet), while keeping in mind that as currently constructed, the Internet 215 collection is far more important to the IC than the phone dragnet.
USA F-ReDux, as currently incarnated, would vastly expand data sharing, because data would come in through FBI (as PRISM data does) and FBI metadata rules are very permissive. And it would give collection on telephony and IP-based calls (probably not from all entities, but probably from Apple, Google, and Microsoft). It would not permit use for all intelligence purposes. And it is unclear how many of NSA’s analytical tools they’d be able to use (I believe they’d have access to the “correlations” function directly, because providers would have access internally to customers’ other accounts, but with the House report, other kinds of analysis should be prohibited, though who knows what AT&T and Microsoft would do with immunity). The House report clearly envisions federated queries, but they would be awkward to integrate with the outsourced collection.
Burr’s bill, on the other hand, would expand provider based querying to all intelligence uses. But even before querying might — maybe — probably wouldn’t — move to providers in 2 years, Burr’s bill would have immediately permitted NSA to obtain all the things they’d need to return to the 2009 bucolic era where US collected data had the same treatment as EO 12333 collected data. And Burr’s bill would probably permit federated queries with all other NSA data. This is why, I think, he adopted EO 12333 minimization procedures, which are far more restrictive than what will happen when data comes in via FBI, because since it will continue to come in in bulk, it needs to have an NSA minimization procedure. Burr’s bill would also sneak the Section 215 Internet collection back into NSL production, making that data more promiscuously available as well.
In other words, this is why so many hawks in the House are happy to have USA F-ReDux: because it is vastly better than the status quo. But it’s also why so many hawks in the Senate are unsatisfied with it: because it doesn’t let the IC do the other things — some of the analytical work and easy federated queries — that they’d like, across all intelligence functions. (Ironically, that means even while they’re squawking about ISIS, the capabilities they’d really like under Burr’s bill involve entirely other kinds of targets.)
A lot of the debate about a phone dragnet fix has focused on other aspects of the bill — on transparency and reporting and so on. And while I think those things do matter (the IC clearly wants to minimize those extras, and had gutted many of them even in last year’s bill), what really matters are those 5 functionalities.
A new chapter by Professors Amos Guiora and Jeffrey Brand–“Establishment of a Drone Court: A Necessary Restraint on Executive Power“–has been receiving a fair amount ofmedia and blog attention. The chapter differs from some prior calls for a “drone court” in seeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) not as a model, but rather as a lesson in what not to do–a “non-starter,” in the authors’ words. Nevertheless, the chapter argues, we need a special “Operational Security Court” (OSC) comprised of already sitting Article III district and circuit judges (selected through a far different process from FISC judges) to strike the right balance between the government’s need to protect operational (and national) security and the rights of those targeted for drone operations to contest their targeting (through security cleared lawyers) ex ante.
My take on the proposal is slightly different from Vladeck’s. I take it as a proposal for a Sparkle Pony. The proper response to such a proposal is to point out all the reasons why we can’t have Sparkle Ponies. But I would end up largely where Valdeck is, looking at all the reasons FISC is failing its task, especially now that it has been blown up beyond proportion in the wake of President Bush’s illegal spy program. And Vladeck’s solution — to ensure people can sue after the fact — is a reasonable start.
That said, Vladeck asks an important question.
Finally, there’s the question of why an entire new court(the “OSC”) is needed at all. What’s wrong with giving the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia exclusive original jurisdiction over these proceedings–as the Supreme Court has effectively provided in the secrecy-laden Guantánamo habeas cases? Even if one believes that ex ante judicial review of drone strikes is constitutionally and pragmatically feasible, why reinvent the wheel when there are perfectly good judges sitting in a perfectly good courthouse replete with experience in highly classified proceedings?
In my insistence it’s time to get rid of FISC, I’ve been thinking the same thing: why can’t we just have all the DC District judges rule on these cases?
The biggest drawback I see in this is that it would mean the judges presiding over national security criminal cases — not even Espionage cases, which are more likely to be charged in EDVA — are not the same who preside over the National Security Court decisions. Just as an example, I think it important that a bunch of judges in Portland, OR are presiding over some of the more interesting national security cases. And for that reason I’m fascinated that Michael Mosman, who is presiding over the case of Reaz Qadir Khan, is also a FISC judge. While I don’t think Mosman brings a neutral approach to the Khan case, I do think he may be learning things about how the FISC programs work in practice.
But both sides of this debate, both the government and reformers, could point to Vladeck’s proposal as a vast improvement. That’s because it gets us out of what has become a series of one person courts.
Partly for logistical reasons (and potentially even for security reasons), rather than a court of 11 judges presiding over these expanding counterterrorism programs, we’ve actually had a series of single judges: Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over at least the Internet dragnet, some other important Pen Register rulings, and several initial Protect America Act reviews, then mostly Reggie Walton presiding over the Yahoo challenge and then the phone and Internet dragnet fixes, then John Bates presiding over the upstream fix (as well as reauthorizing and expanding the Internet dragnet). Presumably, presiding judge Thomas Hogan has assumed the role of one person court (though I suspect Rosemary Collyer, who is next in line to be presiding in any case, takes on some of this work).
And while I’d find great fault with some of Kollar-Kotelly and Bates’ rulings (and even some of Walton’s), I suspect the NatSec establishment was thrilled to see the end of Walton on the court, because he dared to consider questions thoughtfully and occasionally impose limits on the intelligence programs.
No one benefits from having what works out to be primarily one judge review such massive programs. But that’s what we’ve effectively got now, and because it operates in secret, there’s no apparent check on really boneheaded decisions by these individual judges.
There are a lot of reasons to replace the FISC with review by normal judges, and one of them is that the current system tends to concentrate the review of massive spying programs in the hands of one or two judges alone.
In addition to liberating the document dump pertaining to the Internet dragnet program. (See my working threads: one, two, three, four, five.), EPIC has been fighting several other parts of the FOIA for the PRTT documentation to Congress. I’m going to have three more posts on these materials. This post will comment on the reports to Congress, all of which (except the December 2006 one, which I’ll ask them to fix) are available here.
Here’s a summary of the changes from report to report.
Here’s an explanation of what I make of these details:
Throughout this reporting requirement, DOJ has been obligated to include the number of US persons targeted. How it has done so has varied by period. Here’s how it breaks out by reporting period (I’m doing it this way so we can match it up to known techniques).
July 2000 through December 2001: US person subjects of investigation described by sketch but not broken out by number
January 2002 through June 2002: US person targets identified by number and sketch
July 2002 through December 2004: US person targets identified by number “who were targeted”; sketches replaced by general language about First Amendment review
January 2005 through June 2006: Orders include a definition of aggregate that includes corporations and other non-individual legal persons, these orders provided an “at least” aggregate number (with a footnote explaining why that is redacted). This method covers most of the reports during the “combined” period. Update: The DOJ IG Report on Section 215 use in 2006 may explain some of this: for 215 orders in this period, FBI did not count the requested records of non-subjects, which would likely apply to combined orders.
July 2006 through December 2006: This report includes no discernible US person breakout.
January 2007 through June 2008: These reports used an “at least” number to count US persons.
July 2008 through June 2010:This period included exact numbers for USP targets, and also no longer includes modifications (which often are minimization procedures).
July 2010 through December 2012: This period uses “named US persons” as a reporting category, and to the extent it’s relevant, breaks out the NSA orders.
Note, some of the differential reporting (such as the “aggregate” language for the period before Congress got briefed on the bulk PRTT) to be get around informing Congress of certain collections. Some–such as the apparently still-current “named USP” suggests there’s a lot of incidental collection the government doesn’t count (which would be likely in the use of stingrays, though the prior use of target could be done there too).
Note the variation in agencies named, with PRTT being listed as FBI only, then being listed as NSA and FBI, then all government, then both again, and finally, broken out by agency. This likely stems most significantly from efforts to hide that they were using PRTT for the dragnet, then incorporation of NSA into the FBI dragnet numbers.
The NSA numbers first get broken out for the December 2010 report, with a statement there were no NSA applications in the first half of 2010. That accords with the understanding that the Internet dragnet got shut down around October 30, 2009, then Bates approved it again in July 2010 (which would be the partial declination marked).
I was interested that John Ashcroft didn’t a bunch of reports during a period when DOJ provided narratives of the Americans targeted. Also, for the first few periods of Stellar Wind, the signee was not read into Stellar Wind. I’ve increasingly noticed AGs having someone else sign something as a workaround, and that may have been true here, too (remember that the government was obtaining Internet metadata even before Stellar Wind).
But then, to the extent we still got transmittal letters (they stopped entirely in June 2007), they were signed by the Congressional Liaison.
The White House has come out with an enthusiastic statement supporting USA Freedom Act.
The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 2685, the USA FREEDOM Act. In January, the President called on Congress to enact important changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would keep our Nation safe, while enhancing privacy and better safeguarding our civil liberties. This past spring, a broad bipartisan majority of the House passed a bill that answered the President’s call. S. 2685 carefully builds on the good work done in the House and has won the support of privacy and civil liberties advocates and the private sector, including significant members of the technology community. As the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence stated in a letter dated September 2, 2014, the bill is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.
The bill strengthens the FISA’s privacy and civil liberties protections, while preserving essential authorities that our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need.
It says the bill ends bulk collection which might be a useful record if the President used a definition besides “without any discriminator,” but that is what he is on the record as meaning by “bulk.”
The bill would prohibit bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters while maintaining critical authorities to conduct more targeted collection. The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have indicated that the bill will retain the essential operational capabilities of the existing bulk telephone metadata program while eliminating bulk collection, based on communications providers’ existing practices.
Perhaps the most troubling part of Obama’s statement, however, is its endorsement of John Bates’ language about the amicus as echoed by James Clapper and Eric Holder, which among other things said that the amicus could not be required to represent the interests of civil liberties and privacy.
The bill also authorizes an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) — the Administration is aware of the concerns with regard to this issue, as outlined in the letter from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, and the Administration anticipates that Congress will address those concerns. Finally, the bill will enhance transparency by expanding the amount of information providers can disclose and increasing public reporting requirements.
In sum, this legislation will help strengthen Americans’ confidence in the Government’s use of these important national security authorities. Without passage of this bill, critical authorities that are appropriately reformed in this legislation could expire next summer. The Administration urges Congress to take action on this legislation now, since delay may subject these important national security authorities to brinksmanship and uncertainty. The Administration urges the Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act and for the House to act expeditiously so that the President can sign legislation into law this year. [my emphasis]
As I said here, the designed impotence of the amicus is not a reason to oppose the bill; it’s just a reason to expect to have to wait 9 years before it becomes functional, as happened with PCLOB. Still, it is very very troubling that given all the evidence that the Executive has been abusing the process of the FISC for a decade, the Executive is moving to ensure they’ll still be able to do so.
The government assures us that it does not maintain a database of incidentally collected information from non-targeted United States persons, and there is no evidence to the contrary. On these facts, incidentally collected communications of non-targeted United States persons do not violate the Fourth Amendment.(26)
That line, from the FISCR opinion finding the Protect America Act constitutional, gets to the core problem with the FISA Court scheme. Even in 2009, when the line was first made public, it was pretty clear the government had made a false claim to the FISA Court of Review.
Now that we know that FBI had already been given authority to keep PAA-collected content in databases that they could search at what is now called the assessment stage of investigations — warrantless searches of the content of Americans against whom the FBI has no evidence of wrong-doing — the claim remains one of the signature moments where the government got approval for a program by being less than candid to the court (the government has been caught doing so in both Title III courts and at FISC, and continues to do so).
That’s also why I find Greg McNeal’s paper on Reforming the FISC, while very important, ultimately unconvincing.
McNeal’s paper is invaluable for the way he assesses the decision — in May 2006 — to authorize the collection of all phone records under Section 215. Not only does the paper largely agree with the Democratic appointees on PCLOB that the program is not authorized by the Section 215 statute, McNeal conducts his own assessment of the government’s application to use Section 215 for that purpose.
The application does not fare well.
Moreover, the government recognized that not all records would be relevant to an investigation, but justified relevance on what could best be described as usefulness or necessity to enable the government’s metadata analysis, stating:
The Application fully satisfies all requirements of title V of FISA. In particular, the Application seeks the production of tangible things “for” an international terrorism investigation. 50 U.S.C. § 1861(a)(1). In addition, the Application includes a statement of facts demonstrating that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the business records sought are “relevant” to an authorized investigation. Id. § 1861(b)(2). Although the call detail records of the [redacted] contain large volumes of metadata, the vast majority of which will not be terrorist-related, the scope of the business records request presents no infirmity under title V. All of the business records to be collected here are relevant to FBI investigations into [redacted] because the NSA can effectively conduct metadata analysis only if it has the data in bulk.49
The government went even further, arguing that if the FISC found that the records were not relevant, that the FISC should read relevance out of the statute by tailoring its analysis in a way that would balance the government’s request to collect metadata in bulk against the degree of intrusion into privacy interests. Disregarding the fact that the balancing of these interests was likely already engaged in by Congress when writing section 215, the government wrote:
In addition, even if the metadata from non-terrorist communications were deemed not relevant, nothing in title V of FISA demands that a request for the production of “any tangible things” under that provision collect only information that is strictly relevant to the international terrorism investigation at hand. Were the Court to require some tailoring to fit the information that will actually be terrorist-related, the business records request detailed in the Application would meet any proper test for reasonable tailoring. Any tailoring standard must be informed by a balancing of the government interest at stake against the degree of intrusion into any protected privacy interests. Here, the Government’s interest is the most compelling imaginable: the defense of the Nation in wartime from attacks that may take thousands of lives. On the other side of the balance, the intrusion is minimal. As the Supreme Court has held, there is no constitutionally protected interest in metadata, such as numbers dialed on a telephone.50
Thus, what the government asked the court to disregard the judgment of the Congress as to the limitations and privacy interests at stake in the collection of business records. Specifically, the government asked the FISC to disregard Congress’s imposition of a statutory requirement that business records be relevant, and in disregarding that statutory requirement rely on the fact that there was no constitutionally protected privacy interest in business records. The government’s argument flipped the statute on its head, as the purpose of enhancing protections under section 215 was to supplement the constitutional baseline protections for privacy that were deemed inadequate by Congress.
McNeal is no hippie. That he largely agrees and goes beyond PCLOB’s conclusion that this decision was not authorized by the statute is significant.
But as I said, I disagree with his remedy — and also with his assessment of the single source of this dysfunction.
McNeal’s remedy is laudable. He suggests all FISC decisions should be presumptively declassified and any significant FISC decision should get automatic appellate review, done by FISCR. That’s not dissimilar to a measure in Pat Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, which I’ve written about here. With my cautions about that scheme noted, I think McNeal’s remedy may have value.
The reason it won’t be enough stems from two things.
First, the government has proven it cannot be trusted with ex parte proceedings in the FISC. That may seem harsh, but the Yahoo challenge — which is the most complete view we’ve ever had of how the court works, even with a weak adversary — really damns the government’s conduct. In addition to the seemingly false claim to FISCR about whether the government held databases of incidentally collected data, over the course of the Yahoo challenge, the government,
In short, the materials withheld or misrepresented over the course of the Yahoo challenge may have made the difference in FISCR’s judgment that the program was legal (even ignoring all the things withheld from Yahoo, especially regarding the revised role of FBI in the process). (Note, in his paper, McNeal rightly argues Congress and the public could have had a clear idea of what Section 702 does; I’d limit that by noting that almost no one besides me imagined they were doing back door searches before that was revealed by the Snowden leaks).
One problem with McNeal’s suggestion, then, is that the government simply can’t be trusted to engage in ex parte proceedings before the FISC or FISCR. Every major program we’ve seen authorized by the court has featured significant misrepresentations about what the program really entailed. Every one! Until we eliminate that problem, the value of these courts will be limited.
But then there is the other problem, my own assessment of the source of the problem with FISC. McNeal thinks it is that Congress wants to pawn its authority off onto the FISC.
The underlying disease is that Congress wants things to operate the way that they do; Congress wants the FISC and has incentives to maintain the status quo.
Why does Congress want the FISC? Because it allows them to push accountability off to someone else. If members ofCongress are responsible for conducting oversight of secretoperations, their reputations are on the line if the operations gotoo far toward violating civil liberties, or not far enoughtoward protecting national security. However, with the FISC conducting operations, Congress has the ability to dodge accountability by claiming they have empowered a court to conduct oversight.
I don’t, in general, disagree with this sentiment in the least. The last thing Congress wants to do is make a decision that might later be tied to an intelligence failure, a terrorist attack, a botched operation. Heck, I’d add that the last thing most members of Congress serving on the Intelligence Committees would want to do is piss off the contractors whose donations provide one of the perks of the seat.
But the dysfunction of the FISC stems, in significant part, from something else.
In his paper on the phone dragnet (which partly incorporates the Internet dragnet), David Kris suggests the original decision to bring the dragnets under the FISC (in the paper he was limited by DOJ review about what he could say of the Internet dragnet, so it is not entirely clear whether he means the Colleen Kollar-Kotelly opinion that paved the way for the flawed Malcolm Howard one McNeal critiques, or the Howard one) was erroneous. Continue reading
Over at VICE, I’ve got a long piece summarizing all the ways (well, probably just some of them) FBI refuses to count its intelligence surveillance, meaning there’s a black hole about what FBI does with some of its most intrusive surveillance.
Among other things in the piece, it includes this explanation of why FBI doesn’t want to count how many Americans get sucked up in Section 215 collection under USA Freedom Act (though the FBI improbably depicted that as a independent decision of Congress).
The bill also exempts the FBI from counting how many US persons get swept up in its use of another authority, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the statute currently used to collect some significant subset of all Americans’ phone records. In addition to those phone records, FBI also uses Section 215 for other “tangible things,” which it can collect in significant bulk. The FBI says it won’t start counting the Section 215 records obtained because the records it collects (which include email metadata, hotel records, and sales transactions, in addition to phone records) “typically do not indicate the location of the sender or recipient at the time of communication or collection.” So learning the location would “require the FBI to scrutinize certain communications or take additional investigative steps to determine the location of the communicants.” Basically, FBI says tracking what it is doing would, by itself, be a privacy invasion.
The FBI’s comments on why it should not track how many Americans get sucked up in Section 215 collection is worth further focus, however.
The types of business records collected under a Section 215 order rarely contain information sufficient to determine the location of the person(s) referenced in the records. The FBI collects a variety of information from FISA business records orders, from hotel records to sales transactions to e-mail metadata – many of which provide little or no information regarding the location of those referenced in the records. The majority of communications collected by business records are related to e-mail metadata. This information is only provided in a to-from format and does not include subscriber information for the communicants. In addition, the records typically do not indicate the location of the sender or recipient at the time of communication or collection. Imposing a reporting requirement to track the number persons located in the U.S. whose information had been collected under Section 215 would thus require the FBI to scrutinize certain communications or take additional investigative steps to determine the location of the communicants. In many instances, the FBI would otherwise have elected not to scrutinize these communicants or take additional investigative steps. The imposition of a reporting requirement, therefore, could actually result in a greater intrusion of privacy on certain communicants. It simply does not make sense for a reporting requirement designed to monitor privacy impact on U.S. persons to result in further scrutiny or investigative activity that may not otherwise be pursued.
First, because FBI confirms how it is using Section 215 (though much of this has been made public, much of it covered here first).
(Note the silence about money transfers; but maybe FBI just disavows that program, which is a CIA focus.)
Given many things the government has said in legal filings, I would understand “email metadata” very broadly to include “Internet communications metadata.”
The rest of the statement expands on arguments (that are implicit in USAF’s refusal to count a US-based IP address as US location) about why the Intelligence Community can’t count how many Americans are subject to Section 215 surveillance: Because it professes to be unable to track whether email participants are in the US.
So they argue that their devised helplessness in determining where email takes place makes it counterproductive for them to give any sense of how many Americans’ email they’re surveilling.
Of course, there’s another side to this devised ignorance.
John Bates has twice told the Intelligence Community that illegal wiretapping of email in the US is only illegal if the government knows that the emails in question are domestic. So by refusing to find some solution to their devised ignorance, the FBI also ensures that it can never be held to account if it happens to start collecting things — like content as metadata — that it should not legally be able to obtain without a warrant.
It’s a brilliant scheme, this black hole of FBI surveillance. Not only doesn’t it have to alert Americans to how many Americans the FBI is surveilling. But unlike every American the FBI might target, it can claim that ignorance is a defense.
A few weeks back, I pointed to 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s criticism of John Bates’ presumption to speak for the judiciary in his August 5 letter complaining about some aspects of USA Freedom Act. Kozinski was pretty obviously pissed.
But compared to the op-ed from retired District Court Judge Nancy Gertner — who effectively scolds Bates, as the Administrative staff, speaking out of turn — Kozinski was reserved.
[W]hatever the merits of Bates’ concerns—and other judges have dissented from it—he most assuredly does not speak for the Third Branch.
Bates has been appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts to serve as director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the body that administers the federal courts. It was created in 1939 to take the administration of the judiciary out of the Department of Justice. Its principal tasks were data collection and the creation of budgets and, while its duties have grown over the years, they remain administrative (dealing with such things as court reporters, interpreters, judicial pay, maintenance of judicial buildings, staffing etc.).
When members of Congress solicit the “judiciary’s” opinion they may write to the office’s director, but he has no authority to make policy for the federal judiciary. It is the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts, to which the AO director is only the “secretary,” that has that responsibility.
I’m very supportive of Gertner’s defense of judicial independence and her concern about the operation of the FISA Court.
But her critique goes off the rails when she points to DOJ’s purported support of USA Freedom Act as a better indication of the Executive’s views than Bates’ comments.
Moreover, a great deal of Bates’ letter focuses on the Senate proposals’ impact on the executive branch and the intelligence community. The Senate bill would burden the executive with more work and even delay the FISA court’s proceedings, he suggests. Worse yet, the executive may be reluctant to share information with an independent advocate—a troubling claim.
Bates’ concerns are belied by the support voiced by the Department of Justice and the president for the Senate proposal. Surely, the executive branch understands its own needs better than does Bates. Surely, the executive branch has confidence in the procedures that the FISA court would have in place for dealing with classified information, just as the courts that have dealt with other national security issues have had.
And surely, the executive would abide by what the law requires, notwithstanding Bates’ predictions about its “reluctance” to share information with a special advocate.
DOJ’s “support” of the bill was expressed when Eric Holder co-signed a letter (which Gertner tellingly doesn’t mention, much less link) from James Clapper which, when read with attention, clearly indicated the Executive would interpret the bill to be fairly permissive on most of the issues on which the Senate bill would otherwise improve on the House one. Holder’s “support” of the bill strongly indicates that DOJ, with ODNI, plans to use the classification and privilege “protections” in the bill to refuse to share information with the special advocate.
And that’s precisely the part of the letter where Holder and Clapper invoke Bates.