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2020 Vice Presidential Debate: In the Land of the Shoshone

This post is dedicated to discussion of the Vice Presidential debate between current VP Mike Pence and Democratic VP candidate Senator Kamala Harris.

The debate is scheduled to begin at 9:00 PM ET and will take place in the Nancy Peery Marriott Auditorium at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah.

University of Utah’s efforts to prevent the dispersion of the candidates’ aerosolized exhalations — particularly those of Pence who has been in contact with infected persons within the last week — are absolutely laughable, evident in this photo of the stage (via NBC):

Harris had asked for a plexiglass partition between the candidates which the Commission on Presidential Debates approved though not without complaint by Team Pence. What the Commission furnished is a joke, clearing the candidates’ heads by no more than 18″.

Check-out clerks at major grocery store chains and banks have more protection than this.

I’m crossing my fingers that Harris’s people have reached out to SC Senate candidate Jaime Harrison to see if they could borrow the folding plexiglass screen he used when debating Lindsey Graham.

Or found a mask with a built-in mic (why hasn’t this become a thing?) so that she has more protection but is still audible.

~ ~ ~

Like the three Presidential debates, this event is booked in a red state venue. None of the events organized by the allegedly nonpartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates is scheduled for a blue state.

Partisan bias could well explain the casual attitude toward infection control.

Utah’s state nickname is the Gateway to the West, but Native Americans know this is land taken from Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone tribes. Though some of the state falls under sketchy treaties, Salt Lake City itself is unceded land of the Northwestern Shoshone. Let’s hope this is recognized at some point during the evening.

USA Today’s Susan Page is the scheduled moderator, who has a conflict of interest:

… A potential conflict of interest has arisen in the vice-presidential debate. In late 2018, moderator Susan Page hosted a party in honor of Mike Pence’s protégé Seema Verma, who runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs for the Trump administration. As New York’s Ed Kilgore notes, the controversy centers on “whether a working journalist at Page’s level who has been hobnobbing with Mike Pence’s best-known associate in the Trump administration ought to be moderating his debate with Kamala Harris.” …

And in spite of the hubbub which arose when this conflict of interest was identified, Page and USA Today have refused to do anything about it — apparently there are no other journalists at USA Today covering the presidential race who are free of conflicts…? Or COVID-negative?

Sure hope it comes up in the debate that Mike Pence has had to return to DC when Air Force 2 was turned around mid-flight on its way to or from New Hampshire not once but twice in the last 18 months.

Has any journalist confirmed it was Air Force 2 hitting a bird which caused Pence to turn around on September 22 and not something else? Or did they leave it to Pence’s communications people to explain this?

~ ~ ~ 

Add these two dates to your calendar for the remaining two presidential debates — if Trump is healthy enough to participate:

Thursday 15-OCT-2020
9:00–10:30 p.m. ET
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Miami, Florida
Moderator: Steve Scully, C-SPAN

Thursday 22-OCT-2020
8:00–9:30 p.m. ET
Curb Event Center at Belmont University
Nashville, Tennessee
Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC

I’m not holding my breath for these.

Not the Right Kind of Monster, Says the Racist [UPDATE-2]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! Updates at bottom of post. / ~Rayne]

It was just a matter of time before Republicans honed their eye teeth and sharpened their claws, coalescing around a single line of attack after Joe Biden announced he’d selected Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Harris is a dirty radical leftist! Harris is an Obama centrist! they snarled across social media, grasping at any point to prove to Democratic Party voters that Harris isn’t their kind of candidate.

Harris will defund the police! Harris is a cop! they growled in more posts and tweets from the right and their horseshoe left proxies, whipping up vortices of volatility in messaging about Harris’s identity.

But Newsweek solved that yesterday by publishing this piece of racist bullshit to which I won’t link:

Not only is this racist ogre’s argument wrong, the contributor was a former candidate who lost the Republican primary for California Attorney General in 2010 when Kamala Harris won.

Newsweek failed to point out this conflict of interest upfront; in for a penny, in for a pound, though, as Newsweek had already failed to spike the piece.

Early this morning Newsweek’s editor offers an explanation and it is just as bad as Eastman’s:

Newsweek’s editors claim it wasn’t birtherism (racism focusing on a candidate’s birth place), but a 14th Amendment issue (racism focusing on a candidate’s parents’ birth place).

It’s still racism. There’s no excuse for running Eastman’s racist op-ed. Period.

It’s bad when right-leaning Axios says the op-ed is baseless and hypocritical since Eastman didn’t have any problem with Ted Cruz’s candidacy in 2016.

Justin Fox at Bloomberg Opinion definitively takes apart Eastman’s monstrous argument in case there’s any doubt, replete with excerpts about the drafting of the 14th Amendment. This is what Newsweek should have sought before approving Eastman’s racist crap.

~ ~ ~

Eastman likely picked up his cue from USAToday’s fact-checking article addressing an earlier Facebook entry which cast doubt about Harris’s eligibility (not linking to the entry):

USAToday said they reached out to this Facebook poster. They never mention whether they had any luck making contact.

I doubt they could.

The poster’s last name, Sciuridae, means squirrel in Latin; the last name doesn’t match the username in the Facebook URL for the post, aseckora. The post looks — well, squirrelly.

The post’s timing doesn’t make sense — it’s dated August 2 when Biden didn’t announce his running mate until Tuesday August 11.

While USAToday did a thorough job shooting down the Facebook post’s false claims, it doesn’t look good that it didn’t resolve the source of the claims.

Whatever triggered Newsweek’s unacceptable choices isn’t rational. A once-respected news organization has now become cursed by its terminal adherence to bothsides-ism, giving a platform to racism.

~ ~ ~

In the manga work, “Death Note,” by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the character L Lawliet describes the targets of his detective work:

“… There are many types of monsters that scare me: Monsters who cause trouble without showing themselves, monsters who abduct children, monsters who devour dreams, monsters who suck blood… and then, monsters who tell nothing but lies. Lying monsters are a real nuisance: They are much more cunning than others. They pose as humans even though they have no understanding of the human heart; they eat even though they’ve never experienced hunger; they study even though they have no interest in academics; they seek friendship even though they do not know how to love. …”

While their adored tangerine-tinted president abducts children from the parents and cages them, sucks resources from taxpayers’ government services, lies about the spread of pandemic and the reasons why Americans are dying, the right-wing will argue again and again that Harris is some kind of monster. These arguments will be propelled even further by their trollish minions to flood the zone.

They’ll ignore the logical inconsistency of their claim Harris is not eligible as an immigrants’ child though their fearless and feckless leader is an immigrant’s child, too, and the grandson of a then-Canadian brothel owner to boot.

We can see the challenge isn’t immigrant parentage. We can see their problem.

The real problem for the right-wing isn’t that Harris is some kind of dread bugaboo or a feared bugbear.

It’s that Harris isn’t one of their kind.

She’ll never be qualified to be a white supremacist monster.

.
UPDATE-1 — 6:45 P.M. ET —

The monster in the White House just referred to Eastman’s piece-of-shit racist op-ed.

This is why this argument must be repudiated strongly. Average Americans have taken this man’s word on face value too often — like the man who poisoned himself with HCQ or the people who sickened themselves drinking disinfectant after Trump promoted both as means to treat COVID-19.

These same people will accept on faith this racist’s racist lawyer’s bad opinion because he said it from the presidential podium.

.
UPDATE-2 — 8:00 P.M. ET —

This observation is key:

It’s on Newsweek for platforming Eastman’s racist bullshit, validating it as equal to any counter argument.

It’s on other entities like USAToday which fact checked another birther’s claims but did not call it out forcefully as racism. The words race, racist, racism never appear in their article.

As I’ve said before: Get comfortable with calling out racism. I’m talking to you white people. Recognize, call it out, shame it.

The reason why Trump had any chance of winning in 2016 and again in 2020 is racism. Until you, white people, make it socially, morally, ethically unacceptable to be racist, Trump and his kind of monster will continue to acquire and hold power.

It’s not enough to just nod your head. Silence is approval. Silence is complicity. You must be anti-racist if you want the monsters dead.

Newsweek was overtly racist by publishing Eastman’s racist screed.

USAToday piece is what happens when white people just nod their heads and don’t openly acknowledge racism at work.

Which media outlets recognized the next generation birtherism as racism?

Semi-Open Thread: Biden’s Vice President Will Be… [UPDATE-4]

Incoming. Duck and cover, people.

Let’s keep all the commentary about the Democratic Party’s VP nominee here in this thread alone though other topics are welcome.

Updates will appear at the bottom of this post.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 3:06 P.M. ET —

NYT’s Jonathan Martin tweets:

No actual VP event today, per a Biden official.

doesn’t mean there won’t be a reveal of who it is, leaked or planned. just no plans for an in-person event.

As usual, assholes show up to joke about missing a rose ceremony a la The Bachelor.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-2 — 3:53 P.M. ET —

According to CNN’s Dana Bash:

The Biden campaign has informed some of the women the former Vice President’s team vetted about his choice of running mate, three sources familiar with the matter tell CNN. Karen Bass was told by Biden himself that she was not the pick, a source familiar tells CNN.

Wonder if each prospective nominee will simply announce they’ve not been chosen leaving us to assume the nominee by process of elimination.

Only seven more to go, I think…could be a long evening.

Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart interviewed all eight known candidates; you can listen to a podcast available at this link.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-3 — 4:20 P.M. ET —

And there it is, the pyroclastic flow trigger…

Okay, bring it. Get all the snarky takes out of your systems now.

Come dawn tomorrow it will be time to get behind these two to boot Trump and Pence out of office and take back our country.

Lock and load, people, let’s roll.

John Ratcliffe Demonstrates How He’ll Politicize Intelligence by Claiming Trump Has Been Honest about COVID-19

John Ratcliffe just had his confirmation hearing to be Director of National Intelligence.

I’ll have more to say about what we learned about the Intelligence Committee after I walk June Bug the Terrorist FosteX Dog. But the main takeaway from the hearing is entirely encapsulated in this exchange (my transcription):

Kamala Harris: Do you believe President Trump has accurately conveyed the threat of COVID-19 to the American people?

Ratcliffe: Are you saying, presently?

Harris: We are in the midst of the pandemic, presently correct.

Ratcliffe: Can you repeat the question? I guess I’m misunderstanding the question. I’m sorry. Has he accurately represented the status of the pandemic?

Harris: Conveyed the severity of the pandemic, yes, Has he accurately conveyed the severity of COVID-19 to the American people.

Ratcliffe: I believe so.

Harris asked a question which has just one true answer. The only objective answer to this question is that no, Trump has not accurately conveyed the seriousness of COVID-19.

Ratcliffe answered yes.

Ratcliffe was asked over and over again whether he’ll politicize intelligence and each time he dutifully delivered his rehearsed answer, no, he won’t. Both Politico and NBC reported those rehearsed answers as the “news” of the hearing. Neither mentioned the Harris exchange, where Ratcliffe answered far more clearly than in any yes or no questions that he will, in fact, lie to the American people to serve Trump (and there were other instances where he made it clear he will politicize intelligence, just not so clear cut).

It is a matter of life or death during a pandemic to separate false information from truth. Everyone should be doing that, and such truthful reporting is supposed to be the job of journalists. For political accountability on the pandemic to happen, it must be clear that Trump appointed a sycophant as Director of National Intelligence, someone who is unwilling to tell the truth about it. It must be clearly reported that Ratcliffe lied in this hearing about a clear factual issue. Hiding that fact by treating Ratcliffe’s false assurances as truthful contributes to the danger of the pandemic.

Ratcliffe will be confirmed DNI. He might even get some Democratic votes, from people who view him as a less awful alternative than the Twitter troll turned German Ambassador turned part time DNI he would replace. But it matters that it be accurately reported that it was clear going into it that Ratcliffe would lie to and for Trump.

Trump Administration Still Gaming Intelligence on Election Interference

Last month, I tracked a disturbing exchange between Dan Coats and Martin Heinrich regarding whether any of the efforts to tamper with this year’s election succeeded.

At the Global Threats hearing on January 29, Heinrich asked Coats whether the committee was going to get the results of the assessment of whether any of the tampering had had an effect. A week later, DOJ and DHS issued a report saying “no harm no foul.” Then 10 days later, the entire Senate Intelligence Committee wrote Coats a letter asking for DNI’s findings.

That troubling exchange took place against another one, revealed in a letter sent yesterday from Heinrich, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris.

On September 26, 2018, Trump mucked up a UN meeting by claiming, without evidence, that China was tampering in the 2018 midterms. The Democratic Senators apparently asked Dan Coats about it, and he issued a classified response on October 31. During the same Global Threat Hearing where Heinrich raised the general assessment in open session, the Senators raised the China accusation in the closed session. In response, Coats sent a letter on February 8, basically covering for Trump.

As early as August, during a press conference, I stated that Russia was not the only country that had an interest in trying to influence our domestic political environment and that we knew others had the capability and may be considering influence activities. On October 19, 2018 and again on November 5, 2018 my office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, released public statements detailing ongoing campaigns by Russia, China, and other foreign actors, including Iran, to influence public sentiment and government policies and undermine democratic institutions.

But that’s not what the Senators were getting at in their request. In yesterday’s letter, they noted,

The October 31, 2018, letter includes important information about the 2018 elections, as well as the 2016 elections, which your February 8, 2019 letter did not address.

That is, there’s something — apparently about both the 2018 and the 2016 elections — that Coats is hiding, information that surely would embarrass Trump.

And Coats isn’t giving it to us.

Given that just Democratic Senators are on the request (unlike the earlier request), this one seems to amount to Coats running partisan interference to prevent Trump from being embarrassed. Which, if true, would mean that the head of the Intelligence Community is using classification to hide the fact that the President is making bullshit claims about our elections.

Let Them Eat (Starbucks’ Coffee) Cake

A couple of older billionaire white dudes have been shooting off their mouths. One of them is partially clued in. The other one apparently lives on a different planet where the sky is a groovy coffee-colored plaid.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I point out these facts:

The links above include scolding by financial experts who say Americans need to do a better job of saving. But…

Don’t get me started on what college tuition and subsequent debt does to Americans’ ability to save.

We all know that health care costs have not improved and remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. even though more Americans have health insurance under ACA.

And rich older white dudes are completely, utterly, hopelessly out of touch about the financial facts of life for nearly half of Americans let alone the next 2-3 deciles.

Like Wilbur Ross — our Commerce Secretary who lied about his assets and clearly knows nothing about Americans’ daily commerce — struggled to comprehend why federal employees might need to use a food bank after missing a paycheck.

Just get a loan, Ross thinks. Sure, sure, banks give signature loans to people without any collateral let alone a source of income all the time. Come on, Wilbur: would you invest in a bank offering those kinds of terms to the average Joe/Josephine off the street?

And then there’s Trump, who thinks we can just ask the grocer to extend some credit for an unspecified period of time. Right — a nationwide grocery chain clearing 1-3% a year in profits can afford to extend credit.

So goddamned clueless he is. I’m only surprised he didn’t tell furloughed federal workers he’d give them a 5% discount to play golf at one of his courses during their free time.

76-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who thinks he’s still young enough to run for president in 2020, trashed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal as “probably unconstitutional,” thereby revealing his brain’s atrophy. If taxing higher levels of income wasn’t unconstitutional under Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, then it probably isn’t unconstitutional.

And then Seattle coffee magnate Howard Schultz popped off at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ proposals to increase marginal tax rates on the uber-wealthy, calling her “a bit misinformed” and her proposal “un-American.”

Except the U.S. had higher tax rates on the wealthy, for most of the 20th century. The country could afford to build more infrastructure; it built a successful public school system and went to the moon. How nice for Schultz that he could grow up and become a young entrepreneur in that economic environment.

(Put a pin in here for future reference, as a reminder that Schultz not only called AOC “un-American” but Sen. Kamala Harris, too. It’s as if he has a problem with women of color…)

Schultz thinks he has become a billionaire all on his own, as if the increasingly fascist political system with its active suppression of younger, marginalized citizens played no role in his wealth accumulation.

As if the last two decades of stagnant wages due to employment monopsony, repressive Federal Reserve policies, and the real estate market haven’t helped line his pockets by assuring low-wage workers get locked in and unable to move to better paying jobs.

Schultz has been able to accumulate massive amounts of wealth on the backs of people who aren’t being paid living wages, out of the wallets of those whose limited resources allows them to buy a coffee but not a house or health care. He’s rolling in a sea of cash because minimum wage workers are living in little more than indentured servitude.

You know what’s really un-American?

An ungrateful and narrow-minded billionaire white dude who doesn’t think living wages and health care for everyone are fair, who thinks that higher taxes after his first $50 million are theft.

A purveyor of luxury beverage products unable to grasp the unselfish commitment it will take to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for all the people.

At least Bloomberg sees the danger Schultz’s presidential candidacy poses to this country.

But Schultz isn’t in it for the country’s benefit. He’s in the race for himself. It’s clear he’s done the number crunching and determined that it’s cheaper to run for POTUS even if he were to cause Trump to win re-election. (I’ll bet he’s even figured out how to write off his exploratory trips around the country as a business expense.)

Because the campaign expenses are less than the cost to his personal wealth if he were taxed at a higher rate and if he were also forced to pay living wages to his workers.

What a pity Schultz hasn’t calculated how much more overpriced, excessively roasted coffee minimum wage workers can buy if they didn’t have to worry about health care expenses on top of their rent.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

Gina Haspel’s Fluid Moral Compass

I expected to dislike Gina Haspel, but be impressed with her competence (the same view I always had about John Brennan). But she did not come off as competent in her confirmation hearing, in large part because the lies surrounding her career cannot be sustained.

Let’s start with the questions she didn’t answer (usually offering a non-responsive rehearsed answer instead). She refused to say:

  • Whether she believes, with the benefit of hindsight, torture was immoral.
  • If a terrorist tortured a CIA officer, whether that would be immoral.
  • Whether the torture program was consistent with American values.
  • Whether she oversaw the torture of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.
  • Whether she was in a role supervising torture before she became Jose Rodriguez’ Chief of Staff.
  • Whether she pushed to keep the torture program between 2005 and 2007 (see that question here).
  • Whether she would recuse from declassification decisions relating to her nomination.
  • Whether Dan Coats should oversee declassification decisions regarding her nomination.
  • Whether she has been alone with President Trump.
  • Whether she would tell Congress if he asked her for a loyalty oath.

She also answered that she didn’t think torture worked, but then hedged and said she couldn’t say that because we got evidence from it.

She did answer one question that went to the core of her abuse when she participated in the destruction of the torture tapes. She said she would consider it insubordination today if an officer bypassed her for something as substantive as destroying the tapes, as Jose Rodriguez did. But she as much as said she would have destroyed the tape much earlier, because of the security risk they posed to the officers who appeared in the videos.

Then there was the logical inconsistency of her presentation. Several Senators, including Mark Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris, complained about the selective declassification of information surrounding her confirmation. Haspel explained that she had to abide by the rules of classification just like everyone else. Not only was that transparent bullshit on its face (as Harris noted, the CIA released a great deal of information that revealed details of her operations), during the course of the hearing she provided details about her first meeting with an asset, Jennifer Matthews’ life and assignments, and a counter-drug program that also must be classified, and yet she was willing to simply blurt them out.

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is a key claim she made to excuse the destruction of the torture tape.

She claimed she did not recall which of the long list of entities that opposed the destruction of the torture tape she knew about at the time. That includes a move by Carl Levin to form a congressional commission to investigate torture. But on several occasions, she said that because the torture was covered in cable traffic, no other evidence needed to be kept.

That assumes, of course, that both the specific CIA cable and CIA cables generally are a fair rendition of any event CIA does (it’s not; in this case, and some videos were destroyed before the reviews finding them to match).

But when the Senate Intelligence Committee did a 6.700 page report based on the cables CIA used to describe their own torture, CIA wailed because SSCI didn’t interview the individual officers. Haspel effectively suggested that cables, in the absence of the torture tapes, would be sufficient for a congressional commission. Yet when Congress used cables to do an investigation of torture, CIA then claimed that was invalid.

When asked whether torture was moral, Haspel instead repeatedly insisted she has a sound moral compass. Except what her testimony made clear is that her idea of moral compass has everything to do with what is good for the CIA and its officers. It has absolutely nothing to do with traditional moral values. That’s not actually surprising. That’s what we ask of clandestine CIA officers: to break the rules normal people adhere to, in the name of serving our country, and to remain absolutely loyal to those whose lives are exposed in doing so.

Except today, Haspel proved unable to move beyond the fluid moral compass of a CIA officer to adopt a more stringent moral code of an official serving a democracy.

2018 Senate Intelligence Global Threat Hearing Takeaways

Today was the annual Senate Intelligence Committee Global Threat Hearing, traditionally the hearing where Ron Wyden gets an Agency head to lie on the record.

That didn’t happen this time.

Instead, Wyden gave FBI Director Christopher Wray the opportunity to lay out the warnings the FBI had given the White House about Rob Porter’s spousal abuse problems, which should have led to Porter’s termination or at least loss of access to classified information.

The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July. That, soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry. And we did that follow-up and provided that information in November. Then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.

That, of course, is the big takeaway the press got from the hearing.

A follow-up from Martin Heinrich shortly after Wyden’s question suggested he had reason to know of similar “areas of concern” involving Jared Kushner (which, considering the President’s son-in-law is under investigation in the Russian investigation, is not that surprising). Wray deferred that answer to closed session, so the committee will presumably learn some details of Kushner’s clearance woes by the end of the day.

Wray twice described the increasing reliance on “non-traditional collectors” in spying against the US, the second time in response to a Marco Rubio question about the role of Chinese graduate students in universities. Rubio thought the risk was from the Confucius centers that China uses to spin Chinese culture in universities. But not only did Wray say universities are showing less enthusiasm for Confucius centers of late, but made it clear he was talking about “professors, scientists, and students.” This is one of the reasons I keep pointing to the disproportionate impact of Section 702 on Chinese-Americans, because of this focus on academics from the FBI.

Susan Collins asked Mike Pompeo about the reports in The Intercept and NYT on CIA’s attempts to buy back Shadow Brokers tools. Pompeo claimed that James Risen and Matt Rosenberg were “swindled” when they got proffered the story, but along the way confirmed that the CIA was trying to buy stuff that “might have been stolen from the US government,” but that “it was unrelated to this idea of kompromat that appears in each of those two articles.” That’s actually a confirmation of the stories, not a refutation of them.

There was a fascinating exchange between Pompeo and Angus King, after the latter complained that, “until we have some deterrent capacity we are going to continue to be attacked” and then said right now there are now repercussions for Russia’s attack on the US.

Pompeo: I can’t say much in this setting I would argue that your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that, frankly, some of us at this table have engaged in or that this government has been engaged in both before and after, excuse me, both during and before this Administration.

King: But deterrence doesn’t work unless the other side knows it. The Doomsday Machine in Dr. Strangelove didn’t work because the Russians hadn’t told us about it.

Pompeo: It’s true. It’s important that the adversary know. It is not a requirement that the whole world know it.

King: And the adversary does know it, in your view?

Pompeo: I’d prefer to save that for another forum.

Pompeo later interjected himself into a Kamala Harris discussion about the Trump Administration’s refusal to impose sanctions by suggesting that the issue is Russia’s response to cumulative responses. He definitely went to some effort to spin the Administration’s response to Russia as more credible than it looks.

Tom Cotton made two comments about the dossier that Director Wray deferred answering to closed session.

First, he asked about Christopher Steele’s ties to Oleg Deripaska, something I first raised here and laid out in more detail in this Chuck Grassley letter to Deripaska’s British lawyer Paul Hauser. When Cotton asked if Steele worked for Deripaska, Wray said, “that’s not something I can answer.” When asked if they could discuss it in a classified setting, Wray said, “there might be more we could say there.”

Cotton then asked if the FBI position on the Steele dossier remains that it is “salacious and unverified” as he (misleadingly) quoted Comey as saying last year. Wray responded, “I think there’s maybe more we can talk about this afternoon on that.” It’s an interesting answer given that, in Chuck Grassley’s January 4 referral, he describes a “lack of corroboration for [Steele’s dossier] claims, at least at the time they were included in the FISA applications,” suggesting that Grassley might know of corroboration since. Yet in an interview by the even better informed Mark Warner published 25 days later, Warner mused that “so little of that dossier has either been fully proven or conversely, disproven.” Yesterday, FP reported that BuzzFeed had hired a former FBI cybersecurity official Anthony Ferrante to try to chase down the dossier in support of the Webzilla and Alfa bank suits against the outlet, so it’s possible that focused attention (and subpoena power tied to the lawsuit) may have netted some confirmation.

Finally, Richard Burr ended the hearing by describing what the committee was doing with regards to the Russian investigation. He (and Warner) described an effort to bring out an overview on ways to make elections more secure. But Burr also explained that SSCI will release a review of the ICA report on the 2016 hacks.

In addition to that, our review of the ICA, the Intel Committee Assessment, which was done in the F–December of 06, 16–we have reviewed in great detail, and we hope to report on what we found to support the findings where it’s appropriate, to be critical if in fact we found areas where we found came up short. We intend to make that public. Overview to begin with, none of this would be without a declassification process but we will have a public version as quickly as we can.

Finally, in the last dregs of the hearing, Burr suggested they would report on who colluded during the election.

We will continue to work towards conclusions  on any cooperation or collusion by any individual, campaign, or company with efforts to influence elections or create societal chaos in the United States.

My impression during the hearing was that this might refer to Cambridge Analytica, which tried to help Wikileaks organize hacked emails — and it might well refer to that. But I wonder if there’s not another company he has in mind.

Eleven (or Thirteen) Senators Are Cool with Using Section 702 to Spy on Americans

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on its version of Section 702 “reform” is out. It makes it clear that my concerns raised here and here are merited.

In this post, I’ll examine what the report — particularly taken in conjunction with the Wyden-Paul reform — reveals about the use of Section 702 for domestic spying.

The first clue is Senator Wyden’s effort to prohibit collection of domestic communications — the issue about which he and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have been fighting about since June.

By a vote of four ayes to eleven noes, the Committee rejected an amendment by Senator Wyden that would have prohibited acquisition under Section 702 of communications known to be entirely domestic under authority to target certain persons outside of the United States. The votes in person or by proxy were as follows: Chairman Burr—no; Senator Risch—no; Senator Rubio—no; Senator Collins—no; Senator Blunt—no; Senator Lankford—no; Senator Cotton—no; Senator Cornyn—no; Vice Chairman Warner—no; Senator Feinstein—aye; Senator Wyden—aye; Senator Heinrich— aye; Senator King—no; Senator Manchin—no; and Senator Harris—aye.

It tells us that the government collects entirely domestic communications, a practice that Wyden tried to prohibit in his own bill, which added this language to Section 702.

(F) may not acquire communications known to be entirely domestic;

This would effectively close the 2014 exception, which permitted the NSA to continue to collect on a facility even after it had identified that Americans also used it. As I have explained is used to collect Tor (and probably VPN) traffic to obtain foreigners’ data. I suspect that detail is what Wyden had in mind when, in his comments in the report, he said the report itself “omit[s] key information about the scope of authorities granted the government” (though there are likely other things this report hides).

I have concerns about this report. By omitting key information about the scope of authorities granted the government, the Committee is itself contributing to the continuing corrosive problem of secret law

As the bill report lays out, Senators Burr, Risch, Rubio, Collins, Blunt, Lankford, Cotton, Cornyn, Warner, King, and Manchin are all cool using a foreign surveillance program to spy on their constituents, especially given that Burr has hidden precisely the impact of that spying in this report.

Any bets on whether they might have voted differently if we all got to know what kind of spying on us this bill authorized.

That, of course, is only eleven senators who are cool with treating their constituents (or at least those using location obscuring techniques) like foreigners.

But I’m throwing Feinstein and Harris in with that group, because they voted against a Wyden amendment that would have limited how the government could use 702 collected data in investigations.

By a vote of two ayes to thirteen noes, the Committee rejected an amendment by Senator Wyden that would have imposed further restrictions on use of Section 702-derived information in investigations and legal proceedings. The votes in person or by proxy were as follows: Chairman Burr—no; Senator Risch—no; Senator Rubio—no; Senator Collins—no; Senator Blunt—no; Senator Lankford—no; Senator Cotton—no; Senator Cornyn—no; Vice Chairman Warner—no; Senator Feinstein—no; Senator Wyden— aye; Senator Heinrich—aye; Senator King—no; Senator Manchin— no; and Senator Harris—no.

While we don’t have the language of this amendment, I assume it does what this language in Wyden’s bill does, which is to limit the use of Section 702 data for purposes laid out in the known certificates (foreign government including nation-state hacking, counterproliferation, and counterterrorism — though this language makes me wonder if there’s a Critical Infrastructure certificate or whether it only depends on the permission to do so in the FBI minimization procedures, and the force protection language reminds me of the concerns raised by a recent HRW FOIA permitting the use of 12333 language to do so).

(B) in a proceeding or investigation in which the information is directly related to and necessary to address a specific threat of—

(i) terrorism (as defined in clauses (i) through (iii) of section 2332(g)(5)(B) of title 18, United States Code);

(ii) espionage (as used in chapter 37 of title 18, United States Code);

(iii) proliferation or use of a weapon of mass destruction (as defined in section 2332a(c) of title 18, United States Code);

(iv) a cybersecurity threat from a foreign country;

(v) incapacitation or destruction of critical infrastructure (as defined in section 1016(e) of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195c(e))); or

(vi) a threat to the armed forces of the United States or an ally of the United States or to other personnel of the United States Government or a government of an ally of the United States.

Compare this list with the one included in the bill, which codifies the use of 702 data for issues that,

“Affects, involves, or is related to” the national security of the United States (which will include proceedings used to flip informants on top of whatever terrorism, proliferation, or espionage and hacking crimes that would more directly fall under national security) or involves,

  • Death
  • Kidnapping
  • Serious bodily injury
  • Specified offense against a minor
  • Incapacitation or destruction of critical infrastructure (critical infrastructure can include even campgrounds!)
  • Cybersecurity, including violations of CFAA
  • Transnational crime, including transnational narcotics trafficking
  • Human trafficking (which, especially dissociated from transnational crime, is often used as a ploy to prosecute prostitution; the government also includes assisting undocumented migration to be human trafficking)

[snip]

Importantly, the bill does not permit judicial review on whether the determination that something “affects, involves, or is related to” national security. Meaning Attorney General Jeff Sessions could decide tomorrow that it can collect the Tor traffic of BLM or BDS activists, and no judge can rule that’s an inappropriate use of a foreign intelligence program.

The bill report’s description of this section makes it clear that — in spite of its use of the word “restriction,” — this is really about providing affirmative “permission.”

Section 6 provides restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) use of Section 702-derived information, so that the FBI can use the information as evidence only in court proceedings [my emphasis]

That is, Wyden would restrict the use of 702 data to purposes the FISC has affirmatively approved, rather than the list of 702 purposes expanded to include the most problematic uses of Tor: all hacking, dark markets, and child porn.

So while Feinstein and Harris voted against the use of 702 to collect known domestic communications, they’re still okay using domestic Tor commuincations they say they don’t want to let NSA collect to prosecute Americans (which is actually not surprising given their past actions on sex workers).

Again, they’re counting on the fact that the bill report is written such that their constituents won’t know that this is going on. Unless they read me.

Look, I get the need to collect on Tor traffic to go after its worst uses. But if you’re going to do that, stop pretending this is a foreign surveillance bill, and instead either call it a secret court bill (one that effectively evades warrant requirements for all Tor wiretapping in this country), or admit you’re doing that collection and put review of it back into criminal courts where it belongs.

Senate Intelligence Committee Tried to Say WikiLeaks Constituted — Not Just Resembled — A Spy

The bill report for the Intelligence Authorization is out. Among other things, it provides more details on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s efforts to get WikiLeaks treated as a non-state hostile intelligence service. It reveals that the original language of the bill

By voice vote, the Committee adopted a second-degree amendment by Senator King to an amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill. Section 623 originally provided a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership constitute a non-state hostile intelligence service.

By a vote of 13 ayes to 2 noes, the Committee adopted the amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill, as modified by the second-degree amendment by Senator King, to provide a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The votes in person or by proxy were as follows: [my emphasis]

Chairman Burr–aye;

Senator Risch–aye;

Senator Rubio–aye;

Senator Collins–aye;

Senator Blunt–aye;

Senator Lankford–aye;

Senator Cotton–aye;

Senator Cornyn–aye;

Vice Chairman Warner–aye;

Senator Feinstein–aye;

Senator Wyden–no;

Senator Heinrich–aye;

Senator King–aye;

Senator Manchin–aye;

Senator Harris–no.

As you can see, Kamala Harris is the only one, besides Ron Wyden, who voted against this troubling amendment.

Here’s her statement from the report:

In particular, I have reservations about Section 623, which establishes a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The Committee’s bill offers no definition of “non-state hostile intelligence service” to clarify what this term is and is not. Section 623 also directs the United States to treat WikiLeaks as such a service, without offering further clarity.

To be clear, I am no supporter of WikiLeaks, and believe that the organization and its leadership have done considerable harm to this country. This issue needs to be addressed. However, the ambiguity in the bill is dangerous because it fails to draw a bright line between WikiLeaks and legitimate journalistic organizations that play a vital role in our democracy.

I supported efforts to remove this language in Committee and look forward to working with my colleagues as the bill proceeds to address my concerns.