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John Brennan Denies a Special Harry Reid Briefing

This passage from John Brennan’s testimony about Russia to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday has gotten a lot of attention:

Through the so-called Gang of Eight process, we kept Congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere with the election to Congressional leadership, specifically Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Richard Burr, and to Representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes, and Adam Schiff between 11 August and 6 September. I provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members.  Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counterintelligence case involving an ongoing Russian effort to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of Congress, each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member. The substance of those briefings was entirely consistent with the main judgments contained in the January classified and unclassified assessments, namely that Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency and to help President Trump’s election chances.

The passage has been used to question why GOP leaders, most especially Mitch McConnell, didn’t react more strongly, particularly given public reports that he wouldn’t sign onto a more aggressive statement about Russian efforts.

As I noted in this post, the record thus far reflects a difference in emphasis (on protecting the election systems rather than on Russian attempts to hurt Clinton).

But I want to look more closely at what Brennan actually said.

His description of the briefings seems to be a denial of what I laid out in this post — the NYT report that he gave Harry Reid a special briefing (one which may have been based on the Christopher Steele dossier) that was more alarming than others.

CIA DIRECTORS SHOULD NOT MEET WITH JUST ONE GANG OF EIGHT MEMBER

The second detail I find most interesting in this story is that John Brennan privately briefed Harry Reid about his concerns about the Russians.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.

Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”

While I’m generally sympathetic to Democrats’ complaints that DOJ should have either remained silent about both investigations or revealed both of them, it was stupid for Brennan to give this private briefing (and I hope he gets grilled about it by HPSCI when he testifies in a few weeks). In addition to the things Reid said publicly about the investigation, it’s fairly clear he and his staffers were also behind some of the key leaks here (and, as CNN reported yesterday, leaks about the investigation actually led targets of it to alter their behavior). For reasons beyond what appears in this story, I think it likely Reid served as a cut-out for Brennan.

And that’s simply not appropriate. There may well have been reasons to avoid briefing Richard Burr (who was advising Trump). But spooks should not be sharing information with just one party. CIA did so during its torture cover-up in ways that are particularly troubling and I find this — while not as bad — equally problematic.

When Brennan said he “provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members,” he might be seen as denying that the briefing to Reid was anything unusual.

Except this NYT article describes Reid’s as taking place in “late summer” and describes top officials as already having received briefings. Another NYT article describes the special briefing for Reid as having taken place on August 25.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

Mr. Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as “ridiculous” and “fake news.” The White House has also sought to redirect the focus from the investigation and toward what Mr. Trump has said, with no evidence, was President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. declined to comment for this article, as did Mr. Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

As described by the NYT, the Reid briefing went beyond what Brennan says he briefed all the Gang of Eight members on, specially with regards to Trump advisors working with Russia. It’s possible Brennan briefed Reid twice.

Much later in the hearing, Trey Gowdy asked Brennan about the Steele dossier. Some of Brennan’s responses — especially his claim not to know who commissioned the Steele dossier; watch him play with his pen — were not all that believable. Brennan went on to say that the CIA didn’t rely on the dossier, but his denial pertained to the IC report on the hack.

It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence, uh, information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done, uh, it was not.

Note the funny mouth gesture which used to be Brennan’s main “tell.”

Gowdy being Gowdy was not smart enough to ask whether the dossier was ever used in a briefing to members of Congress.

As I have noted, the IC denials pertaining to the dossier are, um, unconvincing (one two three). That’s all the more true given that Steele has admitted to sharing copies of his dossier with his former employer, who would naturally share with Brennan (elsewhere in the hearing Brennan refused to address what our foreign partners had shared with us).

In any case, it seems to me the question is not so much whether McConnell blew off the seriousness of the Brennan warning, but, still, whether Reid received another briefing–perhaps outside that date scope–that included information McConnell didn’t get.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Thoughts on the NYT Comey Blockbuster

The NYT has a big piece on Jim Comey’s involvement in the election you should definitely read. Rather than share my thoughts in a tweet storm I thought I’d share here so we can all gab about it.

Consensus coming closer to Jim Comey being self-righteous

As long time readers know, I think Jim Comey is self-righteous. He creates a heroic self-image that is often overblown (as it was regarding the post hospital hero events). So I was happy to see this paragraph — and observations matching it — through out the story.

Mr. Comey made those decisions with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.

Comey deserves all the criticism he has gotten for his statements about the Hillary investigation. But we’re stuck with Comey for now; he’s one of the few checks against Trump’s arbitrary rule (and Comey is enough of a media hound to be able to create the space to conduct the investigation into Trump).

But one way or another I’m happy people are beginning to understand Comey not as the hospital hero, nor as a partisan, but as someone who doesn’t (or didn’t?) assess his own actions with a fair measure.

The secret David Margolis meeting

One of two really interesting new details in this story is that, when Comey was trying to decide what to do, he consulted with David Margolis, who has long been treated as the conscience of DOJ by DOJers. (See this bmaz post for more background on Margolis.)

Mr. Comey sought advice from someone he has trusted for many years. He dispatched his deputy to meet with David Margolis, who had served at the Justice Department since the Johnson administration and who, at 76, was dubbed the Yoda of the department.

What exactly was said is not known. Mr. Margolis died of heart problems a few months later. But some time after that meeting, Mr. Comey began talking to his advisers about announcing the end of the Clinton investigation himself, according to a former official.

This meeting (and the description of how they staged Margolis’ funeral so the DOJ people criticizing Comey wouldn’t have to share a stage with him) plays a weird role in the story, as if just the mention of the meeting serves to exonerate Comey’s terrible decision to announce the end of the Hillary investigation.

But what the story doesn’t note is that Comey was effectively consulting with the person who for years always intervened to make sure DOJ’s lawyers don’t get held accountable for their misconduct (most notably, he did this for John Yoo). Now, I’m not sure whether as FBI Director Comey’s behavior might have been reviewed by the Office of Professional Responsibility; as it happens DOJ IG is doing so. But it is not ethical to have the guy who, later on, would bless your actions, bless them before the fact. It’s like getting pre-approval to break the rules.

Loretta Lynch should have recused

One of the details others find most interesting is that the FBI acted as they did, in part, because a Democratic operative suggested in an email that Loretta Lynch would ensure nothing came of the investigation.

During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.

The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.

Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.

Normally, when the F.B.I. recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and nobody says anything. The consensus in both places was that the typical procedure would not suffice in this instance, but who would be the spokesman?

The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.

I’ve got a slew of hacking related questions about this document — starting with why it hasn’t, as far as I know, been leaked. The described timing as “early last year” suggests that it may have been hacked in the FSB phase of the hacking. But the document would have solidified the narrative the Russians were reportedly fostering about Hillary.

The article doesn’t pursue those questions, but it notes that in response to finding it, Comey did not ask Lynch to recuse. He should have. You recuse whether or not there’s basis for recusal but because of appearances as well. Moreover, so much awfulness could have been avoided had she recused. This was one of the big own goals of this whole mess.

CIA Directors should not meet with just one Gang of Eight member

The second detail I find most interesting in this story is that John Brennan privately briefed Harry Reid about his concerns about the Russians.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.

Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”

While I’m generally sympathetic to Democrats’ complaints that DOJ should have either remained silent about both investigations or revealed both of them, it was stupid for Brennan to give this private briefing (and I hope he gets grilled about it by HPSCI when he testifies in a few weeks). In addition to the things Reid said publicly about the investigation, it’s fairly clear he and his staffers were also behind some of the key leaks here (and, as CNN reported yesterday, leaks about the investigation actually led targets of it to alter their behavior). For reasons beyond what appears in this story, I think it likely Reid served as a cut-out for Brennan.

And that’s simply not appropriate. There may well have been reasons to avoid briefing Richard Burr (who was advising Trump). But spooks should not be sharing information with just one party. CIA did so during its torture cover-up in ways that are particularly troubling and I find this — while not as bad — equally problematic.

Two missing details: the leaks and the delayed notice to Congress

While this is already a comprehensive story (though its telling of October 7 omits key details), there are two parts that seem critical that are missing: the flood of leaks from FBI and the decision to delay notifying the Gang of Four of the CI investigation.

This week, CNN reported that the FBI was “clarifying” an earlier policy fostering more contact between FBI employees with the media in response to leaks about the Trump campaign. (Click through to read about the TV series coming out focusing on FBI heroism that the FBI exercised editorial control over!!!)

The FBI is overhauling its media policy, restricting contacts between the news media and its employees amid controversy over alleged leaks, bureau officials told CNN.

The new media policy was rolled out this week at a conference in Washington attended by FBI special agents in charge of its 56 field offices, according to officials who attended.
Media access to top officials at the FBI became more common in recent years under FBI Director James Comey, part of a transparency effort he said was aiming at demystifying the FBI and helping the public understand its mission. But the new policy appears to curtail that access.
An official familiar with the development of the new policy described it as largely a “clarification” intended to reinforce existing rules on who is authorized to talk to reporters, not a step back from Comey’s transparency initiatives.

Not only should this policy have been put in place before people leaked details of FISA orders, but it should have been put in place in early 2016, when it was clear FBI Agents were leaking details of the Hillary investigation to try to force their supervisors to expand its scope to include the Clinton Foundation.

Instead, the possibility that FBI Agents would leak was one of the reasons why Comey did what he did. The correct thing, instead of making unprecedented public statements as he did, would have been to shut down the leaking.

Additionally, according to Comey’s testimony, FBI actually delayed notifying at least the heads of the Intelligence Committees  until fairly recently. The NYT acknowledges that this detail was hidden. But I’d love to understand how this departure from normal briefing affected all the other decisions (particularly in light of the the Brennan meeting).

In any case, read the whole thing. It’s very frustrating. But it also lays out a series of things that Comey — and other Obama officials — should have done differently.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Brennan Makes Even Crazier Plausible Deniability Claims about Trump Dossier

As I have laid out, the intelligence community has been making some odd claims about the Trump dossier. First, James Clapper claimed that the IC was the last to learn of the dossier, in spite of the fact that IC member FBI was getting the reports at least by August and probably earlier. Then, Sunday, John Brennan claimed the IC couldn’t be held responsible for leaking the dossier (though without denying that the IC had leaked it), because the dossier had already been out there; except the dossier — released with a report that post-dates all known public versions of the dossier — therefore post-dates what “was already out there.”

Brennan’s back with yet another claim, this in response to Trump’s insinuation that Brennan might have leaked it: Brennan claimed he has never read the dossier.

“Was I a leaker of this? No,” Mr. Brennan said Monday in an interview at CIA headquarters, days before he ends a career that has spanned more than three decades and that took him from entry-level recruit to head of the nation’s most storied spy service.

“First of all, this is not intelligence community information,” Mr. Brennan said. He noted that the dossier had been circulating “many months” and that he first heard about it from inquiring reporters last fall. To date, he hasn’t read the document and gave it no particular credence, he said.

“I would have no interest in trying to give that dossier any additional airtime,” Mr. Brennan said.

I mean, sure, you’re conducting one of the most sensitive briefings of recent history. The briefers here are all principals — along with Brennan and Clapper, Admiral Mike Rogers and Jim Comey. And you don’t even read the stuff that goes into it? You don’t review the underlying dossier that, you claim, you’re briefing just so Trump knows what the Russians have on him?

That may well be true. But if it is, it suggests a very deliberately cultivated plausible deniability, one that the decision to have Comey brief the dossier to Trump by himself only adds to. Most charitably, Brennan cultivated such deniability only to ensure he can claim that the CIA is not engaging in domestic politics (and that may well be enough).

But along with the pointedly false claims about what the IC knew when, the claim raises questions about why CIA would go so far out of its way to be able to claim they didn’t know.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Significance of the December 13 Trump Dossier Report

John Brennan and Donald Trump are in a fight.

In his press conference last week, Trump called out the intelligence community for “allowing … information that turned out to be so false and fake” out, likening the leak to something that would happen in Nazi Germany.

I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace. And I say that and I say that.

And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. It’s a disgrace. That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public, as far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.

Over the weekend, Brennan went on Fox News to scold Trump for the Nazi analogy. At that appearance, he said this about the release of the dossier.

I think as the Director of National Intelligence said in his statement, this is information that’s been out there, circulating, for many months. So it’s not a question of the intelligence community leaking or releasing this information. It was already out there.

[snip]

There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly.

In response to Brennan’s appearance (and his suggestion Trump didn’t know what the fuck he was doing in Syria and Russia), Trump insinuated that Brennan may have leaked the dossier.

Let’s unpack this. Because while I have no idea who leaked the document (though I highly doubt Brennan would have done so personally), the intelligence community’s claims are really suspect.

As I noted last week, the James Clapper statement rather bizarrely claimed the IC was the last to know about the document. The dossier, according to Clapper, was “widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it.”

That (as some people have pointed out) cannot be true.

The stories about what Christopher Steele did when have been evolving. But David Corn’s description, based off a conversation that occurred before the IC started making public claims, strongly suggests that Steele started sharing documents with the FBI “soon” after “the end of June.”

By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.

The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.

Some other reports, based off claims made after the Clapper statement, put this date later — maybe August — even while the implication has always been that the FBI request for a FISA warrant in June stems from these reports.

Even if that information sharing dates to August, however, it would mean the FBI — a member of the IC — had regular updates from the dossier at least by then, if not by June. Sure, you might claim that FBI investigative teams are not part of the IC, but given that this would be a counterintelligence investigation, that’d be a laughable claim.

In other words, even assuming the claims about where the dossier came from and who paid for it are true, the IC was not the last to know, but one of the first.

There are two other dates of note that go into the claim the dossier was widely circulated before it got briefed to Trump this month. We know that the IC briefed the Gang of Eight on this dossier in October. Shortly thereafter, Corn received a copy of the dossier and wrote about it (though he has not revealed who gave it to him). Then in December, John McCain got a copy from Sir Andrew Wood. According to a Guardian article published around 9AM on the same day as the Clapper statement, McCain had not only received the dossier, but handed it over — yet another copy — to the FBI on December 9.

Senator John McCain, who was informed about the existence of the documents separately by an intermediary from a western allied state, dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source and then decided to present the material to Comey in a one-on-one meeting on 9 December, according to a source aware of the meeting. The documents, which were first reported on last year by Mother Jones, are also in the hands of officials in the White House.

McCain, in a statement released midday on the day of the Clapper statement, is more vague about the hand-off date, describing it only as “late last year.”

I’m working on the specific times, but it is significant that the Guardian with the exact date came out in the morning on January 11, the vague McCain statement came out mid-day sometime, and Clapper’s statement came out that evening.

That’s significant because some people assume that McCain is the one who released the dossier — the dossier he received on December 9.

If that date is correct, the dossier couldn’t have come from McCain, because the last report in the dossier is dated four days later, December 13.

Very significantly, this last report, which talks about the Russian cover-up of the hack, alleges “the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin.” This is, in my opinion, one of the most incendiary claims in the entire dossier — that Trump not only encouraged Russia’s campaign, but paid operatives involved in it.

Just as significantly, the date completely undermines the substance of Brennan’s defense. When he says, “this is information that’s been out there, circulating, for many months. … It was already out there. … There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” he’s wrong. The full set of information released to BuzzFeed — including the allegation Trump paid for this operation — actually hasn’t been out there, because it post-dates all known circulation of the document.

Also remember that journalists have suggested they got copies of the dossier that redacted all the sources. This one didn’t. At least one likely source named in the report has died in curious circumstances since the release of the report.

I really have no idea where the dossier got leaked from — that is one reason I’m so interested in artifacts in the document that may raise questions about the provenance of the released dossier. I also wouldn’t, at this point, be surprised if Trump were getting his own stream of intelligence, possibly even from Russia, about where and how it got released.

But thus far, the IC’s claims about the dossier are even more dodgy than Trump’s, which is saying something.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Trump Raises the Axe over the Intelligence Community, Again

The Intelligence Community is finishing its report on the intelligence regarding Russia’s influence in our elections. The report is expected to be delivered to President Obama tomorrow and briefed to President Elect Trump on Friday.

That’s the context for — and surely at least part of the explanation for — this WSJ story reporting that Trump plans to reorganize the intelligence community.

[A]dvisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan.

“The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized,” said the individual, who is close to the Trump transition operation. “They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

[snip]

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2004 in large part to boost coordination between intelligence agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Many Republicans have proposed cutting the ODNI before, but this has proven hard to do in part because its mission centers are focused on core national security issues, such as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counterintelligence.

“The management and integration that DNI focuses on allows agencies like the CIA to better hone in on its own important work,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who believes dismantling the ODNI could lead to national security problems.

Mr. Trump’s advisers say he has long been skeptical of the CIA’s accuracy, and the president-elect often mentions faulty intelligence in 2002 and 2003 concerning Iraq’s weapons programs. But he has focused his skepticism of the agencies squarely on their Russia assessments, which has jarred analysts who are accustomed to more cohesion with the White House.

The report repeats earlier reporting — in part from some of the same WSJ reporters — that Trump planned this briefing. Back then, in mid-November, Trump was merely disdainful of the IC and much of the reorganization appeared to be a mix of vengeance on the part of Mike Flynn and, frankly, some reasonable ideas (things like splitting NSA and reversing some of the questionable changes John Brennan made). At the center of it all was a plan to make Admiral Mike Rogers Director of National Intelligence.

The day after that reporting, however, outlets reported that Ash Carter and James Clapper had been planning to fire Rogers, partly because the NSA had remained a leaky sieve under his tenure and partly because he had delayed cyber-bombing ISIS (perhaps to preserve intelligence collection). And that’s before it became public that the NSA hadn’t adopted four security measures recommended after the Snowden leaks.

After that, of course, Democrats and the CIA started leaking that Russia hacked the DNC with the purpose of electing Trump, which gave Trump the entrée to suggest this discussion is all politicized, which has escalated to this week. Trump seems to have orchestrated the Sean Hannity interview at which Julian Assange said what he has long said — that he didn’t get the DNC files from Russia.

Reuters is now reporting that after the election the IC determined that third parties had gotten the files from Russian entities to Wikileaks, which means Assange likely has no idea where the files came from.

But the timing of this story, sourced significantly to the Trump camp, seems to be a warning to those who will brief Trump on Friday. While Clapper and Brennan are on their way out (the fate of Comey and Rogers is still undecided), they certainly will want to protect their agencies.

Which should make for an interesting briefing Friday.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Conspiracy Theory in YouGov’s Conspiracy Theory Poll

YouGov has a poll showing that “belief in conspiracy theories largely depends on political identity.” For example, it shows that Republicans believe Obama is Kenyan.

It focuses on several things it considers conspiracy theories tied to this election, including pizzagate, millions of alleged illegal votes, and claims about the Russian hack.

Interestingly, it shows that half of Clinton voters believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies to get Trump elected, in spite of the White House’s assurances that did not happen.

It’s the other tested question about Russian hacking that strikes me as more curious. 87% of Clinton voters believe Russia hacked Democratic emails “in order to help Donald Trump,” whereas only 20% of Trump voters believe that.

That’s about the result I’d expect. But to explain why this is a conspiracy theory, YouGov writes,

Similarly, even after the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that Russia was responsible for the leaks of damaging information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and that the hacking was done to help Donald Trump win the Presidency, only one in five say that is definitely true, about the same percentage as believe it is definitely not true.

So YouGov bases this “truth” on a claim that the CIA and FBI “reported that Russia was responsible for the leaks … and that the hacking was done to help Donald Trump win the Presidency.”

Except there has been no such report, not from CIA and FBI, anyway.

There was an official report finding that,

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. … These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.

That is, the official report stated that the hack was “intended to interfere with the US election process;” it did not say the hack was done to help Trump.

Moreover, while the report speaks for the entire IC (including the FBI), the report itself came from DHS and ODNI, not FBI or CIA.

It is absolutely true that anonymous leakers — at least some of whom appear to be Democratic Senate sources — claim that CIA said the hack happened to get Trump elected. It is also true that anonymous sources passed on the substance of a John Brennan letter that said in separate conversations with Jim Comey and James Clapper, each agreed with Brennan about the purpose of the hack, which WaPo edited its previous reporting to say included electing Trump as one of a number of purposes, but that’s a third-hand report about what Jim Comey believes.

But that was not an official report, not even from CIA. Here’s what John Brennan said when interviewed about this topic by NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly:

You mentioned the FBI director and the director of national intelligence. And NPR confirmed with three sources that after the three of you meeting last week, you sent a memo to your workforce and that the memo read: There is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential elections. Is that an accurate quote from your memo?

I certainly believe that, that there is strong consensus.

Was there ever not?

Well, sometimes in the media, there is claims, allegations, speculation about differences of view. Sometimes I think that just feeds concerns about, you know, the strength of that intelligence and …

And in this case it was reports of tension between FBI and CIA …

… and differences of view. And I want to make sure that our workforce is kept as fully informed as possible so that they understand that what we’re doing, we’re doing in close coordination with our partners in the intelligence community. And so I try to keep my workforce informed on a periodic basis. But aside from whatever message I might have sent out to the workforce, there is, I strongly believe, very strong consensus among the key players — but not just the leaders of these organizations, but also the institutions themselves. And that’s why we’re going through this review. We want to make sure that we scrub this data, scrub the information and make sure that the assessment and analysis is as strong and as grounded as it needs to be.

That quote I read you about the memo that you sent mentioned that there is agreement on scope, nature and intent of Russian interference. And intent is the one that’s been controversial recently, the question of motive. How confident are you in the intelligence on that? It seems like proving motive is an infinitely harder thing than proving that somebody did something. The “why” is tough.

I will not disagree with you that the why is tough. And that’s why there needs to be very careful consideration of what it is that we know, what it is that we have insight into and what our analysis needs to be. But even back in early October when Jim Clapper and Jeh Johnson put out this statement, it said “the intent to interfere in the election.” Now, there are different elements that could be addressed in terms of how it wanted to interfere. And so that’s why this review is being done to make sure that there is going to be a thorough look at the nature, scope and intent of what transpired.

What’s been reported is that the CIA has concluded the intent was to interfere with the election with the purpose of swinging at Donald Trump. Is that an accurate characterization?

That’s an accurate characterization of what’s been appearing in the media. Yes.

Is it an accurate characterization of where the CIA is on this?

Well, that’s what the review is going to do. And we will be as forward-leaning as the intelligence and analysis allows us to be, and we will make sure that, again, President Obama and the incoming administration understands what the intelligence community has assessed and determined to have happened during the run-up to this election.

Why not confirm that that’s where the CIA is on this? Why not confirm if you have the evidence that you believe is …

Because I don’t work for NPR, Mary Louise. I work for the president, I work for the administration, and it is my responsibility to give them the best information and judgment possible.

That is, the CIA Director specifically avoided stating what he or his agency believes the motive to be, deferring to the ongoing review of the evidence, something that Obama also did in his press conference earlier this month.

Q Mr. President, I want to talk about Vladimir Putin again. Just to be clear, do you believe Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hack? And do you believe he authorized that to help Donald Trump? And on the intelligence, one of the things Donald Trump cites is Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction, and that they were never found. Can you say, unequivocally, that this was not China, that this was not a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, as Donald Trump says? And do these types of tweets and kinds of statements from Donald Trump embolden the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: When the report comes out, before I leave office, that will have drawn together all the threads. And so I don’t want to step on their work ahead of time.

What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I have seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.

None of that is to say that CIA and (perhaps to a lesser extent) FBI don’t think Russia hacked Democrats to help Trump, as one of several — probably evolving over the course of the election — reasons. CIA surely does (but then it has a big incentive to downplay the most obvious motivation, that Russia was retaliating for perceived and real CIA covert actions against it). FBI probably does.

But there has been no “report” that they believe that, just anonymous reports of reports. The official stance of the Executive Branch is that they’re conducting a review of the evidence on this point.

Perhaps if YouGov wants to test conspiracy theories, it should start by sticking to topics about which there aren’t a slew of anonymous leaks and counter-leaks contravened by public deferral?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

John Brennan, Doing the Holiday Friday News Dump Wrong

On Friday, October 14 at 8:30 PM, NBC posted a story promising, “CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia.”

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation.

On Friday December 9, just hours after President Obama announced a review of the intelligence on Russia hacking the election, at least one senior US official (which I said at the time “seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators”) told the WaPo,

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

Over the following week, caveats on that story got leaked to the press. But on Friday, December 16, literally as the White House press corps was waiting for President Obama to speak, the WaPo reported that John Brennan released a letter to CIA’s workforce telling them FBI and DNI agreed one reason Russia hacked the election was to get Trump elected.

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

[snip]

The positions of Comey and Clapper were revealed in a message that CIA Director John Brennan sent to the agency’s workforce Friday.

“Earlier this week, I met separately with FBI [Director] James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” Brennan said, according to U.S. officials who have seen the message.

As I noted, the quoted parts of the letter didn’t actually say what the purpose of the hack was, and it made clear that Brennan had met separately with Jim Comey and James Clapper, meaning any claim of consensus was merely Brennan’s view of the serial meetings. In its report, the WaPo made no note that a week earlier it had reported that getting Trump elected was the (singular) goal of the hack, whereas here it was saying getting Trump elected was one of the goals.

On December 20, a senior intelligence official suggested to me this leakapalooza came from Congress, not the CIA. I noted I had made that so clear that a Harry Reid aide had given me shit about it. I also noted that the second leak came from a Brennan letter, which of course was carefully crafted and easily leaked.

On Thursday December 22 at 9:27 PM, NPR posted an interview between Mary Louise Kelly and John Brennan. It played the interview during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Here’s the full transcript.

In one version of the interview, Kelly explained to Steve Inskeep that the interview wasn’t supposed to cover Russia at all but in fact spent 20 minutes (out of 52) on it.

He did not want to talk about Russia at all. When his team was confirming the interview with me they said, he’s not gonna go there, he’s not gonna talk about Russia. I said, well, I gotta ask about Russia. And they said, well, you can try. So I did and we ended up talking about Russia for close to 20 minutes.

After Kelly asked, “hand over heart, is [the intelligence] solid?” Brennan assured her Russia did in fact “try to interfere” in the US election. Brennan explained,

There is very strong consensus among not just the leaders of these organizations but also the institutions themselves. And that’s why we’re going through this review. We want to make sure that we scrub the information and make sure that the assessment and analysis is as strong and as grounded as it needs to be.

Kelly then goes on to prod him about motive specifically, mentioning that his letter said FBI and DNI agreed on the “nature, scope, and intent” of the hack. But she doesn’t yet raise what the conflict had been — whether Putin wanted to get Trump elected or not — or even any of the stated motives at all. Brennan responded by not addressing that issue either,

I will not disagree with you that the why is tough. And that’s why there needs to be very very careful consideration of what it is that we know and what it is that we have insight into and what our analysis needs to be. That’s why this review is being done, to make sure that there is going to be a thorough look at the nature, scope, and intent of what transpired.

Kelly reminds him that what had been appearing in the press is that Russia hacked the election “with the purpose of swinging it to Donald Trump.” Brennan responds,

Kelly: Is that an accurate characterization?

Brennan: That’s an accurate characterization of what’s been appearing in the media, yes.

Kelly: Is that an accurate characterization of where the CIA is on this?

Brennan: Well, that’s what the review is going to do. And we will make sure that President Obama and the incoming administration understands what the intelligence community has assessed and determined to have happened during the run-up to this election.

Which brings NPR to the big headline of their story from an interview in which Brennan didn’t want to discuss Russia at all. Kelly explains that Brennan doesn’t want to hack Russia in retaliation for its hack. Here’s why:

Well, this country is based on the democratic principles that our nation was founded upon. And there is a lot of challenges throughout the world to those principles of freedom, liberty, freedom of speech and the will of the people in order to govern as they see fit. And the election process is one of those foundational elements of our democracy. And I individually believe that there are certain things that this government, our country, should not be engaged in because it is inconsistent with those precepts, those tenets of the United States of America. So this was what’s making, you know, this challenging, which is how to safeguard our system, safeguard our digital domain, and make sure that there are decisions that can be taken that will deter, maybe sometimes punish those who violate the law, as well as try to attack our national security and try to undermine the democracy that we are.

Kelly asked how retaliating in kind would undermine American democratic principles.

Help me understand. Connect that line for me. How would retaliating in kind — so, a cyberattack against Russia — how would that undermine American democratic principles?

Well, I think if we hold dear the principles of democracy, liberty, freedom and freedom of speech and the right of people everywhere to have governments of their choosing, preventing the conduct of a free and fair and open election, devoid of interference and foreign manipulation, is something that I think the United States government, as well as the American people, would certainly want to make sure that’s going to be who we are.

And so there are a lot of things that those adversaries, enemies that we have, whether they be terrorists or proliferators or … whomever. Nation-states. They do some things that I think are beyond the pale. That’s why I don’t think we should resort to some of the tactics and techniques that our adversaries employ against us. I think we need to remember what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for our country, our democracy, our way of life, and to engage in the skulduggery that some of our opponents and adversaries engage in, I think, is beneath this country’s greatness.

[snip]

We need to make sure that we are going to lead the way when it comes to allowing countries and people to choose their leaders, free of that foreign interference. And that’s the concerns we have, as we’ve seen, not just the United States but in other countries as well, the hand of foreign actors. And I don’t think it’s a secret that the the Russians have tried to influence the outcome of elections in other countries as well. So this is not just a question of their cyber activity. It’s a question of their using their influence in ways that are inconsistent, I believe, with what should be happening in these countries’ electoral processes.

Brennan goes on to state that the CIA has never tampered in elections in the 21st century (though he admits CIA does do what it can to ensure people get to vote), even while asserting that the rebels in Aleppo have not gotten adequate outside support.

So to sum up: CIA doesn’t want to retaliate against Russia because that’s not consistent with the democratic principles on which this country was founded.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Just Before Obama Weighs in on the Russian Hack, John Brennan Tells Everyone What He Says Others Said

At 2:20, WaPo published a story basically saying, “Anonymous source says CIA Director Wrote a Letter Claiming FBI Director and Director of National Intelligence Agree with Him,” but you wouldn’t know that from the headline.

At 2:40, President Obama entered the White House briefing room to give his last press conference of the year, which was scheduled to start at 2:15. Everyone anticipated, correctly, the presser would be dominated by questions about Russia’s role in the election.

So:

2:15: scheduled start for the President to comment on Russia’s hacking and what the intelligence says.

2:20: WaPo tells you what an anonymous leaker says CIA’s Director says FBI’s Director and Director of National Intelligence say, which differs somewhat from what Obama says.

2:40: Obama walks to the podium as, presumably, everyone waiting is reading WaPo’s scoop.

Who says only Vladimir Putin is good at information ops?

Mind you, once you get into the body of the article, there’s a significant difference between what WaPo says CIA says today and what its anonymous sources said CIA said a week ago, the last time it stomped on Obama’s efforts to introduce some deliberation into the claims about Russia’s hacks. Last week, WaPo said the CIA view was this:

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

[snip]

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. [my emphasis]

Goal, singular.

Here’s what the lead says in today’s article.

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.

With this further elaboration below.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill about two weeks ago in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Specifically, CIA briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a “single purpose” by intervening during the presidential campaign. In addition to helping Trump, intelligence officials have told lawmakers that Moscow’s other goal included undermining confidence in the U.S. electoral system. [my emphasis]

WaPo still makes no mention of the most obvious goal, that Russia hacked Hillary to retaliate for real and perceived slights covertly carried out by Hillary and CIA, something that Hillary claimed just before the WaPo story and the Obama presser.

In any case, if you look at CNN’s far more sober version of this, it appears that there is still some difference in emphasis about whether Russia was trying to elect Trump (and Brennan’s statement appears not to lay out what the consensus view is).

The nuance lay in a stronger view by the CIA that the hacking was intended to help elect Trump, and the CIA leans more strongly in that view than the FBI does.

Ah well, in the waning days of a great empire, who cares about deference to the outgoing President?

Update: This exchange between Obama and Martha Raddatz most directly addresses what Obama wants to say about the hack (elsewhere he says there was no evidence Russia hacked any polls).

Q Mr. President, I want to talk about Vladimir Putin again. Just to be clear, do you believe Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hack? And do you believe he authorized that to help Donald Trump? And on the intelligence, one of the things Donald Trump cites is Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction, and that they were never found. Can you say, unequivocally, that this was not China, that this was not a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, as Donald Trump says? And do these types of tweets and kinds of statements from Donald Trump embolden the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: When the report comes out, before I leave office, that will have drawn together all the threads. And so I don’t want to step on their work ahead of time.

What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I have seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.

Q Which hack?

THE PRESIDENT: The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta.

Now, the — but again, I think this is exactly why I want the report out, so that everybody can review it. And this has been briefed, and the evidence in closed session has been provided on a bipartisan basis — not just to me, it’s been provided to the leaders of the House and the Senate, and the chairman and ranking members of the relevant committees. And I think that what you’ve already seen is, at least some of the folks who have seen the evidence don’t dispute, I think, the basic assessment that the Russians carried this out.

Q But specifically, can you not say that —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Martha, I think what I want to make sure of is that I give the intelligence community the chance to gather all the information. But I’d make a larger point, which is, not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.

We have said, and I will confirm, that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. And I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

Q So I wouldn’t be wrong in saying the President thinks Vladimir Putin authorized the hack?

THE PRESIDENT: Martha, I’ve given you what I’m going to give you.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

False Reassurances: On Pixie Dusted Executive Orders, Appendix M, and Proxy Detention and Torture

In the wake of Trump’s victory, a number of people have offered some thoughts intended to reassure. In a piece titled, “The United States is not about to spiral into tyranny,” Kevin Drum claimed — among other things — that Trump will have a hard time reversing Obama’s Executive Orders.

Trump will learn that repealing executive orders is harder than he thinks, and it’s unlikely he has the attention span to really keep at it.

And a number of pieces — such as this one from Reuters — point to last year’s language in the NDAA limiting interrogation to techniques that appear in the Army Field Manual.

Trump’s support for water-boarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, also would meet opposition. Congress last year passed legislation barring the use of waterboarding and other “extreme interrogation techniques” widely considered torture. Obama signed the measure into law last November.

Both of those reassurances are overly optimistic.

Pixie Dusting EOs

Even on its face, the idea that Trump can’t reverse Obama’s EOs doesn’t make sense. A president has uncontested authority to pass EOs as he pleases. The only limit on that power is Congress. If sufficient numbers in Congress, backed by sufficiently powerful leaders in Congress, want to contest a president’s public EOs, they can try to legislate or defund an activity.

There is no likelihood of that happening with Trump anytime soon. None. Especially not with the EO that Trump is probably most anxious to reverse, Obama’s order deferring deportation of 5 million people who’ve long been valuable members of American society.

More importantly — and this is something everyone needs to start accounting for — according to two different OLC memos, one used to authorize Iran-Contra, the other used to authorize Stellar Wind, the president doesn’t even have to make the actual implementation of his EOs public.

An executive order is only the expression of the President’s exercise of his inherent constitutional powers. Thus, an executive order cannot limit a President, just as one President cannot legally bind future Presidents in areas of the executive’s Article II authority. Further, there is no constitutional requirement that a President issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of previous executive order. In exercising his constitutional or delegated statutory powers, the President often must issue instructions to his subordinates in the executive branch, which takes the form of an executive order. An executive order does not commit the President himself to a certain course of action. Rather than “violate” an executive order, the President in authorizing a departure from an executive order has instead modified or waived it. Memorandum for the Attorney General, From: Charles J. Cooper, Assistant Attorney General, Re: Legal Authority for Recent Covert Arms Transfers to Iran (Dec. 17, 1986). In doing so, he need not issue a new executive order, rescind the previous order, or even make his waiver or suspension of the order publicly known. Thus, here, the October 4, 2001 Authorization, even if in tension with Executive Order 12,333, only represents a one-time modification or waiver of the executive order, rather than a “violation” that is in some way illegal.

While Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 Stellar Wind memo supplanted the Yoo memo in which he made this argument, there has been no public repudiation of this logic or the underlying Iran-Contra memo, not by Constitutional scholar Barack Obama, not by Congress.

In other words, no one has invented any kind of requirement that the president let the public or even Congress know what rules he believes he is bound by.  Indeed, it’s absurd to think Obama would have institutionalized something like that, given that (according to CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass) his administration has started hiding its self-authorizations in places besides OLC so we won’t know where to look for them.

Which means a man who used disinformation to get elected has no obligation to tell us what rules he considers himself bound by.

Three shell games that already exist under which to conduct torture

Similarly, the NDAA prohibition on torture is less ironclad than often claimed. That amendment didn’t prohibit torture. Rather, it restricted national security interrogators to the techniques in the Army Field Manual.

The amendment explicitly excluded law enforcement personnel from this restriction. As John Brennan said when he was asked about this way back in 2013, the FBI has its own processes and procedures, many of which remain obscure, others of which include clear loopholes. Importantly, the FBI increasingly operates — as the DEA has long done — overseas, where any problematic processes and procedures can easily be hidden.

In addition, as Jeff Kaye pointed out at the time, the AFM includes a section called Appendix M, which permits the use of a technique called Separation. The UN Committee Against Torture found Appendix M problematic, because it induced psychosis, during the UN review of US practices back in 2014.

But there’s another problem with the AFM. In 2006, Steven Bradbury wrote an OLC memo that basically authorized Appendix M largely divorced from the actual details of it. As I read it, that memo may be used for authorization of techniques used in Appendix M even if they’re not enumerated in the memo, meaning Trump can put anything in Appendix M and claim to have OLC buy-off. In fact, Bradbury incorporated within that memo yearly updates to the Appendix. It basically created a drawer, which might or might not be classified, into which DOD could throw whatever it wants to do.

When Congress passed the NDAA, they required the Appendix M to be reviewed to make sure it is humane and legal — but not until 2017. So while the intent of this amendment was explicitly to prohibit inhumane treatment, it relies on a structure of interpretations left up to the future President. The future President, as it turns out, got elected insisting that waterboarding is not torture.

Finally, the Drone Rule Book (which Trump can throw out on January 20 in any case) explicitly envisions letting our friends detain people, so long as they give us reassurances the person will be treated humanely. The Bush Administration started waterboarding people by watching while Egyptians did the waterboarding for us. It asked Bashar al-Assad (and a number of other countries we still are friends with) do far worse to people on our behalf. There has never been any appetite to eliminate the shell game of proxy detention. Indeed, Obama has used such shell games in Somalia and Kuwait, with tortured alleged in the latter case.

The CIA has been leaking wildly about its concerns about being asked to torture. But the CIA — and its enablers — didn’t do the things to make it impossible to ask them to torture when we had the chance.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Threat Level Orange! Election Week Plot!

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-5-01-51-pmThis morning, CBS published a story attributed to senior producer Pat Milton, who has done a lot of FBI-based stories (and co-produced fawning 60 Minutes interviews with John Brennan and Jim Comey), reporting on a possible terrorist attack. The story described the threat with specific detail — scheduled for Monday, in maybe NY, TX, or VA — but even while explicitly stating that “its credibility hasn’t been confirmed.”

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday.

It is believed New York, Texas and Virginia are all possible targets, though no specific locations are mentioned.

U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

The version published at 7:43 AM (and screen captured to the right) clearly attributed the story to a senior FBI official. (I’ve bolded the differences.)

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

The version published at 12:52 rewrote that paragraph, obscuring that FBI was the source.

While we do not comment on intelligence matters, we will say the counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News. “The FBI and DHS, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, share and assess intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.

This story, leaked by a senior FBI official who “doesn’t comment on intelligence matters” but nevertheless did just that, comes at the end of the crappiest week for the FBI in decades.

At this point, it is fair to argue that the intelligence community — including people leading it today — have capitalized on a terrorist threat, even a dodgy one. As I tweet stormed this morning (and wrote in more detail here), in 2004 the government played up two dodgy election year threats.

In March 2004 (just as torture, spying cut back) fabricator went to CIA in Pakistan and said, “Janat Gul wants to attack US elections.”

Someone in CIA immediately said, “Nah!” Nevertheless, US got PK to detain, turn Gul to US to be tortured.

USG (including Jim Comey) reauthorized torture, to be used with Gul. Including waterboarding & techniques CIA had already used w/o approval.

USG (including Comey & John Brennan) also used election year plot based off fabrication as one reason FISC had to approve Internet dragnet.

There were, of course, leaks to the press about this election year plot.

CIA kept torturing and torturing Janat Gul, because they needed details of an election year plot based off a fabrication.

It wasn’t until October that someone said, “Hey, let’s go check if that guy claiming Gul wanted to attack US election was lying!” He was.

But Gul had served purpose: election year scare, reauthorizing torture, getting FISC approval for dragnet. Not bad for one torture victim!

Comey didn’t know CIA immediately raised concerns abt fabricator’s claims. It’s one thing Cheney/Gonzales prevented him fr learning in 2005

Comey signed off on torture again, including waterboarding w/o knowing that that case was all based off a fabrication.

But Comey has also refused to read torture report, which lays all this out. He’s avoiding learning what he did in 2004, 2005. Brennan too!

I lay all this out bc, w/history like this, IC (still led by Brennan & Comey) should be VERY careful abt leaking election year plots.

Succinctly: They cried wolf in 2004. And have yet to face accountability for that.

Then, in 2006 (at a time when both Comey and Brennan were on hiatus from directly government work, though they were both working with key government contractors), it happened again. Dick Cheney triggered the revelation of a very real terrorist plot in 2006 — fucking over the British officials trying to collect enough information to prosecute the perpetrators — to help Joe Lieberman stay in the Senate.

The point is, these people, including the people in charge of the IC now, have selectively exploited real or imagined terrorist plots before. The leak of this one, which FBI clearly hasn’t even vetted, sure seems exploitative given how badly FBI needs to distract from its own fuck-ups.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.