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Christopher Wray and the Myth Created by Parallel Construction

At the Friday Heritage Foundation Section 702 event, FBI Director Christopher Wray argued that reforming Section 702 (he suggested, illogically, making any reforms) would rebuild the wall taken down after 9/11. (Here’s the transcript, which unfortunately doesn’t include the Q&A period.)

I think back to the time that I was in government before on 9/11, right before 9/11, right after 9/11. I think about how hard dedicated men and women throughout the intelligence community worked to try to tear down the walls that had prevented us from connecting all the information that might have been able to prevent those attacks. As I said at the beginning, listening to this debate right now, watching some of the potential ideas that are being floated strikes me as eerily similar to people, well-intentioned, starting to put bricks into a wall.

There are problems with that argument (which have as much to do with our national myopia about the risks we face and how we’ve combatted them as anything else). But I’m grateful Wray made an effort to avoid the ad hominem attacks some of Section 702’s other boosters have resorted to.

Still, Wray’s response to concerns about using Section 702 in criminal prosecutions got dangerously close to that. In response to a question from David Shedd, Wray said that concerns about the topic derive from a myth. Those of us with such concerns, Wray said, are just “confused.”

There’s been a little bit of myth development in that space. When we talk about the criminal side, I think it’s important to distinguish between the tip and lead kind of scenario that I’m describing, which is where Section 702 is so important, and the prosecution end of it, where the information of any sort is being used. Section 702 has not been used for any traditional criminal case as evidence in a trial or anything like that ever, except in about 10 terrorism prosecutions. So the notion that there are criminal agents using Section 702 to make garden variety criminal cases, that’s just myth. It is not happening.

I’m reluctant to try to guess as to how people who are confused get confused. My goal is to get them straight.

To claim this is a myth, of course, Wray has to rely on a bogus number of defendants who have gotten their legally required 702 notice — ten counterterrorism cases — thereby pretending that 702 hasn’t had a key role in far, far more criminal cases, and not just in counterterrorism cases, but also counterespionage (including nation-state hacking) and counterproliferation cases.  (Interestingly, defendants are only known to have gotten notice in eight cases, meaning Wray may have revealed two more where defendants got non-public notice.) Plus, as I’ve noted, FBI submitted notice about attorney-client violations to FISC in nine cases in the time since DOJ largely stopped giving defendants notice.

The numbers just don’t add up.

Which means, in significant part, what Wray calls a myth is, in reality, parallel construction, a myth of a different sort, the myth that law enforcement tells defendants about where their cases came from or why certain approaches were used with the case, the myth created by DOJ’s secret interpretations about how they deal with legally mandated FISA notice. The myth that decides Keith Gartenlaub is a counterintelligence threat because of the conversations he conducts on Skype, a PRISM provider, with his in-laws, only to scrub all mention of those Skype conversations (and, DOJ presumably maintains in its secret policies on the issue, the legal obligation to give notice) once you go to trial.

Wray goes on to blithely describe how content collected without a warrant comes to define the tips FBI Agents get, even before any evidence has been collected.

There’s the information over here, that the Agent is seeing in real time in the US. That’s the tip or the lead. And then there’s the information in the database. And it’s the connection that’s important. Let me talk about what’s in the database, first, and what isn’t. What’s in the database — that 4.3% [of the NSA’s targets] — that’s not evidence of garden variety criminal conduct. The only stuff that’s in that is information about foreigners, reasonably believed to be overseas, for foreign intelligence purposes. So that’s foreign intelligence information in there. That’s not evidence of … I don’t know, pick an example, you know, child porn, or something else. It could be very serious, but that’s not what’s in there. So the Agent over here, if he’s in national security investigator is connecting national sec–something that he thinks is national security information with foreign intelligence information. The criminal agent, who is not doing anything related to national security, he’s not looking to try to find some national security hook for his case. He’s just trying to make sure — let’s say he’s got a cigarette smuggling case — one of the things we know is that terrorist groups have used things like cigarette smuggling to finance their activities. There are cases that Department of Justice has brought over the years on that very thing. Cigarette smuggling is a crime. Well, it could be handled one way but if it turns out that cigarette smuggling that’s designed to support Hezballah, that’s different. It needs to be viewed differently. But we won’t know if we just build a wall between the Agent and the information that’s sitting right over here in the FBI database. [my emphasis]

Wray makes another error here, in claiming that “That’s not evidence of … I don’t know, pick an example, you know, child porn,” in the information FBI deems foreign intelligence information. Either that, or the government should very quickly inform the Ninth Circuit of that fact, because Keith Gartenlaub is as we speak challenging the use of a physical search FISA order to turn nine-year old child porn lying unaccessed on his hard drives into foreign intelligence information and thereafter into a criminal prosecution.

But it’s not just Gartenlaub and a traditional FISA search. Given that 702 PRISM collection obtains not only emails, but also attachments and data stored in the cloud, it will obtain a lot more than communications, including photos. Those photos may be garden variety sexy photos shared between adults (indeed, photos of that kind were also introduced in Gartenlaub’s case). But they also may be abusive photos of children. The Intelligence Community will use both kinds — as well as all the other kinds of non-email information obtained by targeting email accounts — for its foreign intelligence purposes.

It’s fairly unfortunate that, three years after FBI asked for and obtained a change in its Section 702 minimization procedures so as to be able to easily deal with child porn discovered using it, the FBI Director claimed publicly that Section 702  data doesn’t include child porn.

Of course it does.

Whether we should want the FBI to immediately prosecute child porn discovered in the name of foreign intelligence information or, first (as happened with Gartenlaub) use it to try to flip someone to become an informant, is a policy discussion we’re not having.

But the reason we’re not having that discussion is because of the other myth being told, the myths about prosecutions that have used parallel construction to hide the whys and wherefores of the case, in large part to sustain the myth Wray is telling here, that those tips and that warrantless collection have nothing to do with each other.

I appreciate Wray’s efforts to avoid dodging the key issues by attacking those of us who recognize the 702 needs reform. But what is really going on is that the myths the government tells about how intelligence is used serves to make a real policy discussion difficult (for people like me, who know the criminal cases) and impossible (for staffers and members of Congress, who don’t). Wray and others in the intelligence community have grown so accustomed to these myths (see this Bob Litt exchange for an example), that they don’t even seem to see the implications of parallel construction for our claims to due process anymore. If we’re confused about the use of 702 information in criminal proceedings, the government is confused about how metasticizing parallel construction rots the guarantees in our Constitution.

I imagine FBI would like to defer this discussion once again; pretending reformers are the ones inventing myths is a good way to do that. But it’s important, this time around, that we call the government on the myths they tell, even while they claim we’re the ones who’re confused.

Update: When I asked FBI about the discrepancy in numbers (8 versus 10), a spox emphasized that Wray said “about” 10 cases have used 702 evidence.

Evidence the US Government Used Section 702 against Keith Gartenlaub[‘s Parents-in-Law]

A few weeks ago, I laid out how the Keith Gartenlaub case made child pornography foreign intelligence information. I showed how the FBI moved back and forth from a criminal to a FISA to a criminal warrant, only to try to use evidence of child pornography to get Gartenlaub to flip on his Chinese in-laws regarding suspected spying.

In this post, I want to lay out circumstantial evidence that Section 702 was used in the case — probably to spy on communications of Gartenlaub’s Chinese in-laws as well as his communications with them. This is circumstantial, but important, particularly given FBI Director Christopher Wray’s claims last Friday that 702 doesn’t include child pornography and has only been used in counterterrorism cases.

FBI cites his communications on PRISM providers to obtain warrant for domestic records from those providers

The first reason to believe FBI used Section 702 with Gartenlaub is that the first warrant affidavit in the case, used to obtain his and his wife’s Yahoo and Google account data, looks like typical parallel construction. It provides a means to get the content from specific PRISM providers based in large part on the use of those providers to communicate with people in China.

The GARTENLAUB SUBJECT ACCOUNT, [email protected], is used by Keith Gartenlaub at work and at home based on information provided by Boeing regarding the use of his Boeing issued laptop computer . Information obtained from a court-authorized pen register and trap and trace device shows that he is in contact with a China based email account using a Shanghai IP address seven times since March 2013. The GARTENLAUB SUBJECT ACCOUNT is also used to communicate with his wife, as reflected in the results of a pen register and trap and trace device. Emails are also forwarded from Gartenlaubs Boeing e-mail account to the GARTENLAUB SUBJECT ACCOUNT, evidence of which exists on the results of the data pen and trap and trace device.

Given that this was a spying case, the Chinese interlocutors would have been solid Section 702 targets. Though, remarkably, nowhere in the unclassified legal documents does the government do anything more than cite him saying his wife’s family was “well connected” to explain who those suspected spying recruiters were.

Gartenlaub stated he never had to worry about his security while traveling in China because his wife’s family is “well connected.” Gartenlaub did not elaborate on what connections she has.

To get the later (or earlier!) FISA order, the FBI would have had to detail who in China he was talking about. And to get that they likely would have used 702.

The mysterious absence of Skype in evidence

In addition to Google and Yahoo, the affidavit asking for Google and Yahoo content also described his most frequent communications with people in China taking place on Skype.

I have also reviewed the records provided by Skype for the account subscribed to Keith Gartenlaub. Those records showed that in the period of April 2011 to March 2013, the account contacted other accounts based in China approximately once every three days, on average. (Gartenlaub was interviewed on February 7 , 8, and 22, 2013). After Gartenlaub was contacted by the FBI to set up an interview, the Skype account subscribed to Gartenlaub contacted accounts based in China approximately three times per day 1 on average.

[snip]

His contact with Chinese-based Skype accounts spiked as soon as he was contacted by the FBI about the C17 investigation;

But not only does the affidavit not ask for a warrant for Skype (as part of Microsoft, a PRISM provider), as best I can tell no Skype data ever got introduced at trial.

In other words, a key reason they suspected Gartenlaub — his discussions with elites in China — never made it into the case in chief.

Which may be how they avoided giving him his legally mandated 702 notice.

The timing of the Section 702 NCMEC change

Then there’s the most obvious reason to think that Gartenlaub’s prosecution implicates Section 702: the coincidence between the the change in Section 702’s minimization procedures, as it pertains to sharing with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the date of his arrest.

The government changed the standard minimization procedures for individualized FISA orders on August 11, 2014. Then, citing back to this earlier change, FISC approved an equivalent change in the Section 702 minimization procedures on August 26, 2014. The next day, the government arrested Gartenlaub. Particularly given how long they had had the child porn from the January 2014 search, it seems likely they waited until all relevant authorities included NCMEC permission before arresting him based off information that clearly relied on FISA information, if not earlier 702 information.

Mind you, the change in the 702 minimization procedures would only be necessary to cover Gartenlaub’s case if the government had found some evidence of the child porn before the FISA search. I can’t think of any way they could have done that unless they found him sharing porn with targeted people in China. That shouldn’t be possible — not according to regular targeting rules, anyway.

Still, the timing does make me think the government wanted both sets of minimization procedures available in time for the arrest.

Whatever the case, given how easily the government could have targeted Gartenlaub’s in-laws, and given the PRISM providers implicated (both in the known discovery and the missing Skype communications), I think it highly likely the government used Section 702 as part of this case.

Even if they didn’t provide notice.

702 Reauthorization Bill: Why a Back Door Fix for Criminal Searches Is Meaningless

In this post, I explained how the House Judiciary Committee Section 702 reauthorization bill only closes the back door search loophole for “quer[ies] for evidence of a crime.” In addition, they let the government define what a “query reasonably designed for the primary purpose of returning foreign intelligence information” is, which means they’re basically punting on defining it themselves until 2023.

Given that treatment, the back door search fix is virtually useless, because for every search that might return the communications of an American, the government can always claim they’re considering recruiting the American as an informant.

Any communication queryable by back door search by definition involves a person of interest for a foreign intelligence reason

To understand why, first remember why FBI would get this information in the first place. They can only get raw 702 data if they have an active full investigation — and by definition, the targets of that that active full investigation are going to be targeted for the same reasons the target would be targeted by NSA, because they are of national security interest, pertaining to counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and counterintelligence/nation-state hacking.

Thus, any American whose communications might come up in a back door search will — by definition — be someone talking to a target of interest. That doesn’t mean they’re talking to a “bad guy,” as US national security professionals insist on speaking of adversaries. They’re just someone who has foreign intelligence information related to one of those three-plus topics.

Since 2002, the government has insisted that any crime — including rape — can be foreign intelligence information

The precedent that determined the limits of the government’s use of FISA-obtained information in criminal proceedings came in the 2002 In Re Sealed case challenge where the FISA Court of Review deemed the PATRIOT Act’s adoption of “significant purpose” language in FISA targeting to permit the sharing of information for criminal purposes.

As part of that case, the government claimed it could use criminal information to recruit a foreign spy.

Thus, for example, where information is relevant or necessary to recruit a foreign spy or terrorist as a double agent, that information is “foreign intelligence information” if the recruitment effort will “protect against” espionage or terrorism.

[snip]

Whether the government intends to prosecute a foreign spy or recruit him as a double agent (or use the threat of the former to accomplish the latter), the investigation will often be long range, involve the interrelation of various sources and types of information, and present unusual difficulties because of the special training and support available to foreign enemies of this country. [my emphasis]

During the hearing, FISCR judge Laurence Silberman tried to get Solicitor General Ted Olson to envision some kind of crime that couldn’t be used for foreign intelligence purpose, suggesting rape. But even that, Olson argued, could be deemed foreign intelligence information, because the government could use evidence of rape to coerce someone to become an informant.

OLSON: And it seems to me, if anything, it illustrates the position that we’re taking about here. That, Judge Silberman, makes it clear that to the extent a FISA-approved surveillance uncovers information that’s totally unrelated — let’s say, that a person who is under surveillance has also engaged in some illegal conduct, cheating —

JUDGE LEAVY: Income tax.

SOLICITOR GENERAL OLSON: Income tax. What we keep going back to is practically all of this information might in some ways relate to the planning of a terrorist act or facilitation of it.

JUDGE SILBERMAN: Try rape. That’s unlikely to have a foreign intelligence component.

SOLICITOR GENERAL OLSON: It’s unlikely, but you could go to that individual and say we’ve got this information and we’re prosecuting and you might be able to help us. I don’t want to foreclose that.

JUDGE SILBERMAN: It’s a stretch.

SOLICITOR GENERAL OLSON: It is a stretch but it’s not impossible either. [my emphasis]

The previous year, in 2001, the government had used the threat of a rape prosecution against Abu Zubaydah’s brother, Hesham Abu Zubaydah (who had had calls with his brother picked up on wiretaps), to convince him to become an informant. The FISCR decision certainly didn’t endorse approving individual FISA warrants to find proof of crimes that could be used to flip people. But neither did it place meaningful limits (and why should it, given that in those halcyon days all FISA orders were individualized).

In years since then, the government has repeatedly told the FISC they’re using programmatic spying to find informants. In both 2006 and 2009 it said it would use the phone dragnet “to discover individuals willing to become U.S. Government assets.” (see PDF 22 for citations to two Keith Alexander statements) That’s also one way the FBI measured the efficacy of Stellar Wind.

The Gartenlaub case shows FBI will use kiddie porn to (attempt to recruit) foreign intelligence informants

This is one reason the Keith Gartenlaub case is so important, in which the government used a criminal warrant, then a FISA warrant, then another criminal warrant to obtain evidence that Gartenlaub had nine-year old kiddie porn on his hard drives. The government justified all those warrants based on the claim that Gartenlaub was working with his Chinese in-laws — who always got described as influential in China — to steal Boeing information to share with China. Ultimately, they found no evidence of that.

I will eventually show evidence that the government also used Section 702 against Gartenlaub, probably (at a minimum) to obtain the Skype conversations he had with his in-laws, who would be targetable as influential Chinese citizens.

In any case, in association with the Gartenlaub case, the government changed both the individual FISA and the Section 702 minimization procedures to permit the sharing of data collected under FISA with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, meaning they can use FISA to obtain information on kiddie porn in the name of foreign intelligence collection.

After they indicted Gartenlaub, the government offered to drop the charges for information on the spying with China.

During his initial appearance in a federal courthouse in Santa Ana, Calif., the prosecutors indicated a willingness to reduce or drop the child pornography charges if he would tell them about the C-17, said Sara Naheedy, Gartenlaub’s attorney at the time.

Even at that late date, after eighteen months, two criminal warrants, and a FISA warrant, the government was treating Gartenlaub’s alleged kiddie porn possession as potential foreign intelligence information.

One purpose of assessments — and queries conducted under them — is to assess people to become informants

Every description of back door searches is clear: FBI can use them at the assessment level (that is, when they’re trying to figure out whether to open a full investigation).

[W]henever the FBI opens a new national security investigation or assessment, FBI personnel will query previously acquired information from a variety of sources, including Section 702, for information relevant to the investigation or assessment. With some frequency, FBI personnel will also query this data, including Section 702– acquired information, in the course of criminal investigations and assessments that are unrelated to national security efforts. In the case of an assessment, an assessment may be initiated “to detect, obtain information about, or prevent or protect against federal crimes or threats to the national security or to collect foreign intelligence information.

And FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide is equally clear: the FBI uses assessments to determine whether people would make good informants. For example, the DIOG describes this scenario — which sounds just like what happened to Professor Xiaoxiang Xi — among its scenarios for using assessments.

A field office has a Full Investigation open on a group of individuals from country X believed to be targeting engineers and high-tech workers involved in the production of semiconductor chips. Evidence in the Full Investigation suggests that the individuals from country X are attempting to recruit the engineers and high tech workers to steal information regarding the semiconductor chips in exchange for money. During the investigation, an engineer who travels frequently to country X has been identified.

Information developed during the Predicated Investigation may be used to determine whether the engineer should be viewed as a subject of the investigation or a potential [Confidential Human Source]. If the engineer is determined to be a subject of the Full Investigation, a Type 5 Assessment may not be opened and the engineer needs to be opened as the target of a Full Investigation. If the primary focus of the FBI’s interest is to determine whether the individual may be a potential source, a Type 5 Assessment should be opened to collect information necessary to determine whether the FBI should attempt to recruit the engineer as a CHS. (PDF 117)

Remember: the FBI can obtain any 702 data related to a full investigation like the one described here. And Chinese scientists suspected of IP theft would be clear targets under the Foreign Government certificate. So it is solidly within the realm of possibility that the government would target Chinese scientists, obtain conversations (like the one that Xi got targeted for) about semiconductors, and then find that information at a later time when researching the American whose communication got collected incidentally.

That’s the problem with trying to fix the back door loophole while still permitting back door searches for foreign intelligence assessments: because it’s not until the government pulls up the information at the assessment stage — and it may well be years later, as was the case for Gartenlaub — that the government decides whether they’re going to use it and its fruits as foreign intelligence or criminal information.

How Keith Gartenlaub Turned Child Porn into Foreign Intelligence

As I mentioned in this post on FISA and the space-time continuum, I’m going to be focusing closely on the FISA implications of Keith Gartenlaub’s child porn prosecution.

Gartenlaub was a Boeing engineer in 2013 when the FBI started investigating him for sharing information with China (see this and this story for background). He was suspected, in significant part, because of relationships and communications tied to his wife, who is a naturalized Chinese-American and whose family appears well-connected in China. The case is interesting for the way the government used both FISA and criminal searches to prosecute him for a non-national security related crime.

The case is currently being appealed to the 9th Circuit; it will be heard on December 4. His defense is challenging several things about his conviction, including that there was insufficient evidence to deem him an Agent of a Foreign Power (and therefore to obtain the ability to conduct a broader search than might be permitted under a criminal warrant), as well as that there was insufficient evidence offered at trial that he knowingly possessed the 9-year old child porn on which his conviction rests. I think there’s some merit to the latter claim, but I’m going to bracket it for my discussion, both because I think the FISA issues would remain important even if the government’s case on the child porn charge were far stronger than it is, and because I think the government may be sitting on potentially inculpatory evidence.

In this post, I’m going to show that it is almost certain that the government changed FISA minimization procedures to facilitate using FISA to prosecute him for child porn.

Timeline

The public timeline around the case looks like this (and as I said, I believe the government is hiding some bits):

Around January 28, 2013: Agent Wesley Harris reads article that leads him to start searching for Chinese spies at Boeing

February 7, 8, and 22, 2013: Harris interviews Gartenlaub

June 18, 2013: Agent Harris obtains search warrant for Gartenlaub and his wife, Tess Yi’s, Google and Yahoo accounts

Unknown date: Harris obtains a FISA order

January 29, 2014: Using FISA physical search order, FBI searches Gartenlaub’s home, images three hard drives

June 3, 2014: Harris sends files to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which confirms some files display known victims

August 22, 2014: Criminal search warrant obtained for Gartenlaub’s premises

August 27, 2014: FBI searches Gartenlaub’s properties, seizing computers used as evidence in trial, arrests him

August 29, 2014: Government reportedly says it will dismiss charges if Gartenlaub will cooperate on spying

October 23, 2014: Grand jury indicts

December 10, 2015: Guilty verdict

FBI used a criminal search warrant to obtain evidence, then obtained a FISA order

As you can see from the timeline, the government first obtained a criminal search warrant for access to Gartenlaub and his wife’s email accounts (Gartenlaub also got an 1806 notice, meaning they used a FISA wiretap on him at some point). Only after that did they execute a FISA physical search order to search his house and image his computers. Which means — unless they had a FISA order and a criminal warrant simultaneously — they had already convinced a judge it was likely Gartenlaub’s emails would provide evidence he was “remov[ing ] information, including export controlled technical data, from Boeing’s computer networks to China.” In his affidavit, Agent Harris cited violations of the Arms Export Control Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Then, after probably months of reviewing emails later, having already shown probable cause that could have enabled them to get a search warrant to search Gartenlaub’s computer for those specific crimes — that is, proof that he had exploited his network access at Boeing in order to obtain data he could share with his wife’s Chinese associates — the government then went to FISA and convinced a judge they had probable cause Gartenlaub (or perhaps his wife) was acting as an agent of a foreign power for what are assumed to be the same underlying activities.

The government insists it still had adequate evidence Gartenlaub or his wife was an agent of a foreign power under FISA

The government’s response to Gartenlaub’s appeal predictably redacts much of the discussion to support its claim that it had sufficient probable cause, after months of reading his emails, to claim he or his wife was an agent of China. But the structure of it — with an unredacted paragraph addressing weaknesses with the criminal affidavit, followed by a redacted passage of unknown length, as well as a redacted footnote modifying the idea that the criminal affidavit “merely ‘recycled’ details that were found in the Harris affidavit” (see page 38-39) — suggests they raised evidence beyond what got included in the criminal affidavit. That’s surely true; it presumably explains what was so interesting about Yi’s family and associates in China as to sustain suspicion that they would be soliciting Boeing technology.

In any case, in a filing in which the government admits that “the [District] court expressed ‘some personal questions regarding the propriety of the FISA court proceeding even though that certainly seems to be legally authorized’,” the government pushed the Ninth Circuit to adopt a deferential standard on probable cause for FISA orders, in which only clear error can overturn the probable cause standard.

The Court has not previously articulated the standard of review applicable to an underlying finding of probable cause in a FISA case. In the analogous context of search warrants, this Court gives “great deference” to an issuing magistrate judge’s findings of probable cause, reviewing such findings only for “clear error.” Krupa, 658 F.3d at 1177; United States v. Hill, 459 F.3d 966, 970 (9th Cir. 2006) (same); United States v. Clark, 31 F.3d 831, 834 (9th Cir. 1994) (same). “In borderline cases, preference will be accorded to warrants and to the decision of the magistrate issuing it.” United States v. Terry, 911 F.2d 272, 275 (9th Cir. 1990). The same standard applies to this Court’s review of the findings in Title III wiretap applications. United States v. Brown, 761 F.2d 1272, 1275 (9th Cir. 2002).

Consistent with these standards and with FISA itself, the Second and Fifth Circuits have held that the “established standard of judicial review applicable to FISA warrants is deferential,” particularly given that “FISA warrant applications are subject to ‘minimal scrutiny by the courts,’ both upon initial presentation and subsequent challenge.” United States v. Abu-Jihaad, 630 F.3d 102, 130 (2d Cir. 2010); accord United States v. El-Mezain, 664 F.3d 467, 567 (5th Cir. 2011) (noting that representations and certifications in FISA application should be “presumed valid”). Other courts, reviewing district court orders de novo, have not discussed what deference applies to the FISC. See, e.g., Demeisi, 424 F.3d at 578; Squillacote, 221 F.3d at 553-54.

The government submits that the appropriate standard should be deferential. Consistent with findings of probable cause in other cases, the Court should review only for “clear error,” giving “great deference” to the initial conclusion that a FISA application established probable cause.

And, of course, the government argues that even if it didn’t meet the standards required under FISA, it still operated in good faith.

By using a FISA rather than a criminal search warrant, the FBI had more leeway to search for unrelated items

Nevertheless, having read Gartenlaub’s email for months and presumably having had the opportunity to obtain a warrant to search his computers for those specific crimes, the government instead obtained a FISA order that allowed the FBI to search his devices far more broadly, opening up decades old files named with sexually explicit names in the guise of finding intelligence on stealing Boeing’s secrets. Here’s how Gartenlaub’s lawyers describe the search in his appeal, a description the government largely endorses in their response:

The FISC can only authorize the government to search for and seize “foreign intelligence information.” 50 U.S.C. §§ 1822(b), 1823(a)(6)(A), 1824(a)(4). The order authorizing the January 2014 search of Gartenlaub’s home and computers presumably complied with this restriction. “Foreign intelligence information” (defined at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801(e) and 1821(1)) does not include child pornography. Nonetheless, as detailed in the government’s application for the August 2014 search warrant, the agents imaged Gartenlaub’s computers in their entirety, reviewed every file, and–upon discovering that some of the files contained possible child pornography–subjected those and related files to detailed scrutiny, including sending them to the National Center for Exploited Children for analysis. ER248-56, 262-68. In an effort to establish that Gartenlaub had downloaded the child pornography, the agents also examined and analyzed a number of other files on the computers, none of which had anything to do with “foreign intelligence information.” ER255-62, 268-70.

As far as the record shows, the agents conducted this detailed, far-ranging analysis without obtaining any court authorization beyond the initial FISC order. In other words, after encountering suspected child pornography files, the agents did not stop their search and seek a warrant authorizing them to open and review those files and other potentially related files. Instead, they opened, examined, and analyzed the suspected child pornography files and a number of other files having nothing to do with foreign intelligence information. They then incorporated the results of that analysis into the August 2014 search warrant application. ER248- 49. That application, in turn, produced the warrant that gave the agents authority to search for and seize the very materials that they had already seized and searched under the purported authority of the January 2014 FISC order.

How did agents authorized to search for “foreign intelligence information” end up opening, examining, and analyzing suspected child pornography files and a number of other files that had nothing to do with the only authorized object of the search? The agents apparently relied on the following argument: To determine whether Gartenlaub’s computers contained foreign intelligence information, it was necessary to open and review every file; after all, a foreign spy might cleverly conceal such information in .jpg files with sex-themed names or in other non-obvious locations. And after opening the files, the child pornography and other information was in “plain view” and thus could be lawfully seized under the Fourth Amendment.

As a result of these broad standards, and of Gartenlaub’s habit of retaining disk drives from computers he no longer owned, the FBI found files dating back to 2005, from a computer Gartenlaub no longer owned.

Upon finding that those files included apparent child porn, the FBI sent them off to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which confirmed some of the images included known victims. Almost two months later, FBI conducted further (criminal) searches, and arrested Gartenlaub for child porn.

In December 2015, Gartenlaub was found guilty on two counts of child porn, though one count was vacated by the judge after the verdict.

FBI changed standard minimization procedures to permit sharing with NCMEC

The timeline above is what would have been available to Gartenlaub’s defense team.

But in 2015 and 2017, two new details were added to the timeline.

First, on April 11, 2017, two months after Gartenlaub submitted his opening brief in the appeal on February 8, the government released an August 11, 2014 opinion approving the sharing of FISA-obtained data with NCMEC.

Congress established NCMEC in 1984 as a non-governmental organization and it is funded through grants administered by the Department of Justice. One of its purposes is to assist law enforcement in identifying victims of child pornography and other sexual crimes. Indeed, Congress has mandated Department of Justice coordination with NCMEC on these and related issues. See Mot. at 5-8. Furthermore, this Court has approved modifications to these SMPs in individual cases to permit the Government to disseminate information to NCMEC. See Docket Nos. [redacted]. Because of its unique role as a non-governmental organization with a law enforcement function, and because it will be receiving what reasonably appears to be evidence of specific types of crimes for law enforcement purposes, the Government’s amendment to the SMPs comply with FISA under Section 180l(h)(3).1

As noted, in the past the FISC had approved sharing FISA-collected data with NCMEC on a case-by-case basis. But in 2014, in the weeks while  it prepared to arrest Gartenlaub on child porn charges tied to a search that only found the child porn because it used the broader FISA search standard, the government finally made NCMEC sharing part of the standard minimization procedures.

Even on top of this coincidental timing, there are reasons to suspect DOJ codified the NCMEC sharing because of Gartenlaub’s case. For example, in the government’s response there’s a passage that clearly addresses how NCMEC got involved in the case that bridges the discussion of use of child porn evidence discovered in plain view in the criminal context and the discussion of its use here.

Non-FISA precedents also foreclose defendant’s claims. Analyzing a Rule 41 search warrant, this Court has held that using child pornography inadvertently discovered during a lawful search is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Giberson, 527 F.3d at 889-90 (ruling that “the pornographic material [the agent] inadvertently discovered while searching for the documents enumerated in the warrant [related to document identification fraud] was properly used as a basis for the third warrant authorizing the search for child pornography”);

[additional precedents excluded]

[CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REMOVED] With the benefit of NCMEC’s assistance, the government then sought and obtained the August 2014 search warrants, authorizing the search of defendant’s residence and storage units for child pornography. (CR 73; GER 901-53). The fruits of this warrant were then used in defendant’s prosecution. The use of information discovered during the prior lawful January 2014 search in the subsequent search warrant application was proper. Giberson, 527 F.3d at 890.

The redacted discussion must include not only a description of how NCMEC was permitted to get involved, but in the approval approving this as part of the minimization procedures, which (after all) are designed to protect Americans under the Fourth Amendment.

Of particular interest, the government argued that one of the precedents Gartenlaub cited was not binding generally, and especially not binding on the FISC.

The concurring opinion in CDT, upon which defendant relies, does not aid him. That concurrence is not “binding circuit precedent” or a “constitutional requirement,” much less one binding on the FISC. Schesso, 730 F.3d at 1049 (the “search protocol” set forth in the CDT concurrence is not “binding circuit precedent,” not a[] constitutional requirement[],” and provides “no clear-cut rule”); see CDT, 621 F.3d at 1178 (observing that “[d]istrict and magistrate judges must exercise their independent judgment in every case”); Nessland, 601 Fed. Appx. at 576 (holding that “no special protocol was required” for a computer search). Defendant thus cannot demonstrate any error relating to any FISC-authorized search.

The FISC had, by the time of the search relying on the FISA-obtained child porn as evidence, already approved the use of child porn obtained in a FISA search. So the government could say the CDT case was not binding precedent, because it already had a precedent in hand from the FISC. Of course, it didn’t tell Gartenlaub that.

Of course, that’s not proof that the government codified the NCMEC sharing just for the Gartenlaub case. But there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that that’s what happened.

The government still has not formally noticed this change to Gartenlaub

As I noted above, the government released the FISC order approving the change in the standard minimization procedures too late to be of use for Gartenlaub’s opening brief. That’s a point EFF and ACLU made in their worthwhile amicus submitted in the appeal.

For example, in this case, the government apparently refused to disclose the relevant FBI minimization procedures to Gartenlaub’s counsel even though other versions of those minimization procedures are publicly available. See Standard Minimization Procedures for FBI Electronic Surveillance and Physical Search Conducted Under FISA (2008). 8

We can debate whether the standard approval for NCMEC sharing is a good thing or whether it invites abuse, offering the FBI an opportunity to use more expansive searches to “find” evidence of child porn that it can then use as leverage in a foreign intelligence context (which I’ll return to). I suspect it is wiser to approve such sharing on a case-by-case basis, as had been the case before Gartenlaub.

But from this point forward, I would assume the FBI will routinely use this provision as an excuse to conduct particularly thorough searches for child porn, on the logic that obtaining any would provide great leverage against an intelligence target.

The timing of the approval of NCMEC sharing under Section 702

I have said repeatedly, I think the government is withholding some details.

One reason I think that is because of another remarkable coincidence of timing.

As I first reported here, the first notice that the government had approved the sharing with NCMEC in standard minimization procedures came in September 2015, when the government released the 2014 Thomas Hogan Section 702 opinion that approved such sharing under Section 702. The opinion relied on the earlier approval (by Rosemary Collyer), but redacted all reference to the timing and context of it, as well as a footnote relating to it.

I find the timing of both the release and the opinion itself to be of immense interest.

First, the government had no problem releasing this opinion back in 2015, while Gartenlaub was still awaiting trial (though it waited until almost two months after the District judge in his case, Christina Snyder, rejected his FISA challenge on August 6, 2015). So it was fine revealing to potential intelligence targets that it had standardized the approval of using FISA information to pursue child porn cases, just not revealing the dates that might have made it useful for Gartenlaub.

I’m even more interested in the timing of the order: August 26. The day before the FBI got its complaint approved and arrested Gartenlaub.

The FBI had long ago submitted FISA information to NCMEC. But it waited until both the standard minimization procedures for traditional FISA and for Section 702 had approved the sharing of data with NCMEC before they arrested Gartenlaub.

That’s one of several pieces of data that suggests they may have used Section 702 against Gartenlaub, on top of the other mix of criminal and FISA authorizations.

To be continued.

Updated timeline

Around January 28, 2013: Agent Wesley Harris reads article that leads him to start searching for Chinese spies at Boeing

February 7, 8, and 22, 2013: Harris interviews Gartenlaub

June 18, 2013: Agent Harris obtains search warrant for Gartenlaub and his wife, Tess Yi’s, Google and Yahoo accounts

Unknown date: Harris obtains a FISA order

January 29, 2014: FBI searches Gartenlaub’s home, images three hard drives

June 3, 2014: Harris sends files to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which confirms some files display known victims

August 11, 2014: Rosemary Collyer approves NCMEC sharing for traditional FISA standard minimization procedures

August 22, 2014: Search warrant obtained for Gartenlaub’s premises

August 26, 2014: Thomas Hogan approves NCMEC sharing for FISA 702

August 27, 2014: FBI searches Gartenlaub’s properties, seizing computers used as evidence in trial, arrests him

August 29, 2014: Government reportedly says it will dismiss charges if Gartenlaub will cooperate on spying

October 23, 2014: Grand jury indicts

August 6, 2015: Christina Snyder rejects Gartenlaub FISA challenge

September 29, 2015: ODNI releases 702 NCMEC sharing opinion

December 10, 2015: Guilty verdict

February 8, 2017: Gartenlaub submits opening brief

April 11, 2017: Government releases traditional FISA NCMEC sharing opinion

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

FISA and the Space-Time Continuum

I’m going to do a series of FISA posts on both the Keith Gartenlaub case (he was convicted on child porn charges after the FBI found old images on his computers during a FISA search) and the reported Paul Manafort FISA orders.

But first I want to explain FISA and the space-time continuum.

The space part is easy: the FISA Amendments Act slightly changed the geographical rules on what authority the government could use to target various kinds of people. It legalized the government’s practice of collecting on foreigners from facilities in the United States under Section 702. And it also required a judge’s approval for any spying on Americans overseas. While FAA envisioned two kinds of authorities for spying overseas — 703 (collection in the US on an American overseas, as in calling up Google for someone’s email box) and 704/705(b) (collection overseas on an American overseas, which is using all methods covered by EO 12333, including hacking them and collecting off switches), in practice just the latter authority is used. Effectively, then, the change just codified the domestic collection on foreigners, while requiring a court order for the same EO 12333 collection that had already been going on.

The time part is trickier.

The short version is that FISA imposes some restrictions on whether you can collect data at rest to obtain data from outside the period of a FISA order. Thus, if you’re not supposed to collect on someone when they’re in the US (whether that person is a US person or a foreigner), there are classified restrictions about whether you can collect stored data from that period.

None of these rules are (as far as I’m aware) public, but there are rules for all the various laws. In other words, you’re not supposed to be able to collect GMail on a foreigner while they’re in the US, but you’re also not supposed to be able to cheat and just get the same Gmail as soon as they leave the country.

This is even more complex for Americans. Domestically, there are two kinds of collection: 1805, which is the collection of data in motion — an old fashioned wiretap, and 1824, which is called a “physical search” order. The government likes to hide the fact that the collection of data at rest is accomplished with an 1824 physical search order, not 1805. So an 1824 order might be used to search a closet, or it might be used to image someone’s hard drive. Most often, 1805 and 1824 get combined, but not always (the FISC released a breakdown for these last year).

Of course (as the Gartenlaub case will show), if you image someone’s hard drive, you’re going to get data from well before the time they’ve been under a FISA order, quite possibly even from before you’ve owned your computer.

Then there’s travel overseas. If an American on whom there’s already an 1805 and/or 1824 order travels overseas, the Attorney General can automatically approve a 705(b) order for him (effectively replicating the old EO 12333 authority). But that collection is only supposed to cover the period when the person is overseas, and only for the period when they’ve had a FISA order against them. Using the kind of hacking they use overseas is going to get data in motion and stored communications and a whole lot more, meaning they may well get stuff sitting on the computer someone brings with them (yet another reason to bring travel laptops and phones overseas). And apparently, they only turn off an implant when a FISA order expires; they don’t entirely remove the implant. In addition, given the bulk collection the NSA conducts overseas, it would be child’s play (and from descriptions of violations, appears to have included) going back and accessing data that was collected in motion that had in the interim been sitting in NSA’s coffers.

Effectively, once someone leaves the country the NSA has access to time machines to collect data from the past, though there are supposed to be limits on doing this.

The FISA problems last year arose, first and foremost, from NSA collecting on Americans overseas outside the window of the orders covering them, which was a persistent problem that the NSA just never got around to fixing. That’s bad enough. But when you consider a 705(b) order only covers the period when an American normally targeted domestically is overseas, collecting outside the span of the order means you’re probably also using foreign collection to collect (including by hacking) in the US.

Which is all a way of saying that discussions of FISA almost always focus on the geographical limitations: Is someone inside the US or outside? Foreigner or American?

But because of the differing rules on data in motion and data at rest — and because of the truly awesome methods used as soon as someone goes overseas — there are actually a lot of ways that NSA can get around the legal limitations based on space by playing with the limitations on time.

Again, there are rules (which are not public) that are supposed to prevent this kind of thing from going on. But it does seem to be a problem NSA has long struggled with, even at the times it appeared to be operating in good faith rather than manipulating the space-time continuum to get what they want where they can get it.

How to Spy on Carter Page

I have no personal knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the alleged wiretapping of Carter Page, aside from what WaPo and NYT have reported. But, in part because the release of the new, annual FISC report has created a lot of confusion, I wanted to talk about the legal authorities that might have been involved, as a way of demonstrating (my understanding, anyway, of) how FISA works.

FISC did not (necessarily) reject more individual orders last year

First, let’s talk about what the FISC report is. It is a new report, mandated by the USA Freedom Act. As the report itself notes, because it is new (a report covering the period after passage of USAF), it can’t be compared with past years. More importantly, because the FISA Court uses a different (and generally more informative) reporting approach, you cannot — as both privacy groups and journalists erroneously have — compare these numbers with the DOJ report that has been submitted for years (or even the I Con the Record report that ODNI has released since the Snowden leaks); that’s effectively an apples to grapefruit comparison. Those reports should be out this week, which (unless the executive changes its reporting method) will tell us how last year compared with previous years.

But comparing last year’s report to the report from the post-USAF part of 2015 doesn’t sustain a claim that last year had record rejections. If we were to annualize last year’s report (covering June to December 2015) showing 5 rejected 1805/1824 orders (those are the individual orders often called “traditional FISA”) across roughly 7 months, it is actually more (.71 rejected orders a month or .58% of all individual content applications) than the 8 rejected 1805/1824 orders last year (.67 rejected orders a month or .53% of all individual content applications). In 2016, the FISC also rejected an 1861 order (better known as Section 215), but we shouldn’t make too much of that either given that that authority changed significantly near the end of 2015, plus we don’t have this counting methodology for previous years (as an example, 2009 almost surely would have at least one partial rejection of an entire bulk order, when Reggie Walton refused production of Sprint records in the summertime).

Which is a long-winded way of saying we should not assume that the number of traditional content order rejections reflects the reports that FBI applied for orders on four Trump associates but got rejected (or maybe only got one approved for Page). As far as we can tell from this report, 2016 had a similar number of what FISC qualifies as rejections as 2015.

The non-approval of Section 702 certificates has no bearing on any Russian-related spying, which means Page would be subject to back door searches

Nor should my observation — that the FISC did not approve any certifications for 1881a (better known as Section 702, which covers both upstream and PRISM) reflect on any Carter Page surveillance. Given past practice when issues delayed approvals of certifications, it is all but certain FISC just extended the existing certifications approved in 2015 until the matters that resulted in an at least 2 month delay were resolved.

Moreover, the fact that the number of certificates (which is probably four) is redacted doesn’t mean anything either: it was redacted last year as well. That number would be interesting because it would permit us to track any expansions in the application of FISA 702 to new uses (perhaps to cover cybersecurity, or transnational crime, for example). But the number of certificates pertains to the number of people targeted only insofar as any additional certificates represent one more purpose to use Section 702 on.

In any case, Snowden documents, among other things, show that a “foreign government” certificate has long been among the existing certificates. So we should assume that the NSA has collected the conversations of known or suspected Russian spies located overseas conducted on PRISM providers; we should also assume that as a counterintelligence issue implicating domestic issues, these intercepts are routinely shared in raw form with FBI. Therefore, unless last year’s delay involved FBI’s back door searches, we should assume that when the FBI started focusing on Carter Page again last spring or summer, they would have routinely searched on his known email addresses and phone numbers in a federated search and found any PRISM communications collected. In the same back door search, they would have also found any conversations Page had with Russians targeted domestically, such as Sergey Kislyak.

The import of the breakdown between 1805 and 1824

Perhaps the most important granular detail in this report — one that has significant import for Carter Page — is the way the report breaks down authorizations for 1805 and 1824.

1805 covers electronic surveillance — so the intercept of data in motion. It might be used to collect phone calls and other telephony communication, as well as (perhaps?) email communication collected via upstream collection (that is, non-PRISM Internet communication that is not encrypted); it may well also cover prospective PRISM and other stored communication collection. 1824 covers “physical search,” which when it was instituted probably covered primarily the search of physical premises, like a house or storage unit. But it now also covers the search of stored communication, such as someone’s Gmail or Dropbox accounts. In addition, a physical search FISA order covers the search of hard drives on electronic devices.

As we can see for the first time with these reports, most individual orders cover both 1805 and 1824 (92% last year, 88% in 2015), but some will do just one or another. (I wonder if FBI sometimes gets one kind of order to acquire evidence to get the other kind?)

As filings in the Keith Gartenlaub case make clear, “physical search” conducted under a FISA order can be far more expansive than the already overly expansive searches of devices under a Article III warrant. Using a FISA 1824 order, FBI Agents snuck into Gartenlaub’s house and imaged the hard drives from a number of his devices, ostensibly looking for proof he was spying on Boeing for China. They found no evidence to support that. They did, however, find some 9-year old child pornography files, which the government then “refound” under a criminal search warrant and used to prosecute him. Among the things Gartenlaub is challenging on appeal is the breadth of that original FISA search.

Consider how this would work with Carter Page. The NYT story on the Page order makes it clear that FBI waited until Page had left the Trump campaign before it requested an order covering him.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued the warrant, the official said, after investigators determined that Mr. Page was no longer part of the Trump campaign, which began distancing itself from him in early August.

I suspect this is a very self-serving description on the part of FBI sources, particularly given reports that FISC refused orders on others. But regardless of whether FISC or the FBI was the entity showing discretion, let’s just assume that someone was distinguishing any communications Page may have had while he was formally tied to the campaign from those he had after — or before.

This is a critical distinction for stored communications because (as the Gartenlaub case makes clear) a search of a hard drive can provide evidence of completely unrelated crime that occurred nine years in the past; in Gartenlaub’s case, they reportedly used it to try to get him to spy on China and they likely would do the equivalent for Page if they found anything. For Page, a search of his devices or stored emails in September 2016 would include emails from during his service on Trump’s campaign, as well as emails between the time Page was interviewed by FBI on suspicion of being recruited by Victor Podobnyy and the time he started on the campaign, as well as communications going back well before that. So if FISC (or, more generously, the FBI) were trying to exclude materials from during the campaign, that might involve restrictions built into the request or the final order

The report covering 2016 for the first time distinguishes between orders FISC modifies (FISC interprets this term more broadly than DOJ has in its reports) and orders FISC partly denies. FISC will modify an order to, among other things,

(1) impos[e] a new reporting requirement or modifying one proposed by the government;

(2)  chang[e] the description or specification of a targeted person, of a facility to be subjected to electronic surveillance or of property to be searched;

(3)  modify[] the minimization procedures proposed by the government; or

(4)  shorten[] the duration of some or all of the authorities requested

Using Page as an example, if the FISC were permitting FBI to obtain communications from before the time Page joined the campaign but not during it, it might modify an order to require additional minimization procedures to ensure that none of those campaign communications were viewed by the FBI.

The FISC report explains that the court will partly deny orders and “by approving some targets, some facilities, places, premises, property or specific selection terms, and/or some forms of collection, but not others.” Again, using Page as an example, if the court wanted to really protect the election related communications, it might permit a search of Page’s homes and offices under 1824, but not his hard drives, making any historic searches impossible.

There’s still no public explanation of how Section 704/Section 705b work, which would impact Page

Finally, the surveillance of Carter Page implicates an issue that has been widely discussed during and since passage of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, but not in a way that fully supports a democratic debate: how NSA spies on Americans overseas.

Obviously, the FBI would want to spy on Page both while he was in the US, but especially when he was traveling abroad, most notably on his frequent trips to Russia.

The FISA Amendments Act for the first time required the NSA to obtain FISC approval before doing that. As I explain in this post, for years, public debate has claimed that was done under Section 703 (1881b in this report). But abundant evidence shows it is all done under 704 (1881c in this report). The biggest difference between the two, according to an internal NSA document, is the government doesn’t explain its methods in the latter case. With someone who would be spied on both in the US and overseas, that spying would be done under 705b (conducted under 1881d section b), which permits the AG to approve of spying overseas (effectively, 704 authority) for those already approved under a traditional order.

This matters in the context of spying on Carter Page for two reasons. First, as noted government doesn’t share details about how it spies overseas with the court. And some of the techniques we know NSA to use — such as XKeyscore searches drawing on bulk overseas collection — would seem to present additional privacy concerns on top of the domestic authorities. If the FBI (or more likely, the FISC) is going to try to bracket off any communications that occur during the period Page was associated with the campaign, that would have to be done for overseas surveillance as well, most critically, for Page’s July trip to Russia.

This report shows that 704, like the domestic authorities, also gets modified sometimes, so it may be that FISC did just that — permitted NSA to collect information covering that July meeting, but imposed some minimization procedures to protect the campaign.

But it’s unclear whether the court would have an opportunity to do so for 705b, which derives from Attorney General authorization, not court authorization. I assume that’s why 1881d was not included in this reporting requirement, but it seems adding 705b reporting to Title VII reauthorization this year would be a fairly minor change, but one that might reveal how often the government uses more powerful overseas spying techniques on Americans. It’s unclear to me, for example, whether any modifications or partial approvals the FISC made on a joint 1805/1824 order covering Page would translate into a 705b order, particularly if the modifications in question included additional reporting to the FISC.

Carter Page might one day be the first American to get review of his FISA dossier

All of which is why, no matter what you think of Carter Page’s alleged role in influencing the Trump campaign to favor Russia, I hope he one day gets to review his FISA dossier.

No criminal defendant has ever gotten a review of the FISA materials behind the spying, in spite of clear Congressional intent, when the law was passed in 1978, to allow that in certain cases. Because of the publicity surrounding this case, and the almost unprecedented leaking about FISA orders, Page stands a better chance than anyone else of getting such review (particularly if, as competing stories from CNN and Business Insider claim, the dossier formed a key, potentially uncorroborated part of the case against him). Whatever else happens with this case, I think Page should get that review.