Dean Baquet Explains that the CIA Cries Wolf, But Misses How Transparency Helps Hold Feinstein Accountable

Jack Goldsmith conducted  fascinating interview with NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet about the latter’s decision to name Michael D’Andrea and two other top CIA officials whose identities the CIA was trying to suppress.

He attributes his decision to three factors: The CIA has increasingly taken on a new military role that demands some accountability, the CIA admitted these three figures were widely known anyway, and the CIA (and NSA’s) explanations in the past have proven lame.

There are some interesting points, but I think Baquet — and Goldsmith — miss two aspects of accountability that the NYT article permitted.

Widely known figures

Baquet reveals that even the CIA didn’t claim these men were secret, even if it still pretends they are under cover.

DB: These guys may technically be undercover. But even the CIA admitted when they called – and this was a big factor in the decision – that they are widely known, and they were known to the governments where they were stationed. The CIA’s pitch was not that these guys are secret or that people don’t know about them. The CIA’s pitch to me was, “Look, its one thing to be widely known, and to be known to governments and to be on web sites; but when they appear on the front page of the New York Times, that has a larger meaning.” So they were known anyway. The gentleman at the very top [of the CTC] runs a thousand-person agency, and makes huge decisions, personally, that have tremendous repercussions for national security. I’m not making judgments about him, but that’s the reality.

Later in the interview Goldsmith appears to totally ignore this point when he worries that these men don’t have the same kind of security as their counterparts running drone programs in the military. He suggests they might come under new threat because their names have been published on the front page of the NYT.

But that assumes our adversaries are too dumb to look in the places where these men’s names have been published before — just like CIA’s successful attempt to suppress Raymond Davis’ association with the CIA even after it was broadly known in Pakistan. It assumes our adversaries who seek out this information are not going to find where it’s hiding in plain sight.

The CIA isn’t keeping these secrets from our adversaries. They already know them. Which makes CIA’s efforts to keep them from the US public all the more problematic.

Crying wolf

Baquet’s argument about CIA’s squandered credibility is two fold. First, he notes that the CIA always claims people are under cover, which makes their claims less credible as a result.

JG: Let me ask you a different question. What do you think about the claim by Bob Litt, the General Counsel of the DNI, that you’ve put these guys’ lives and their families’ lives in jeopardy, and also the people they worked with undercover abroad? How do you assess that? How do you weigh that?

DB: I guess I would say a couple of things. I wish the CIA did not say that about everybody and everything. They hurt their case.

JG: They say it a lot?

DB: They say it all the time. I wish they were a little more measured in saying that. Sometime it’s a little difficult to deal with the Agency. When somebody says that and has a track record of rarely saying that, it really gives me pause. But they [the CIA] say it whenever we want to mention a [covert] CIA operative or CIA official.

But — perhaps more importantly for a guy who has taken heat for killing important stories in the past — Baquet also mentions the times agencies convince him to kill stories that turn out to get published anyway. Baquet uses sitting on the detail that the US used a drone base in Saudi Arabia to kill Anwar al-Awlaki as his example.

DB: I’ll give you an example. When Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike, we were on deadline, and I was the Managing Editor. The Acting Director of the CIA called up because we were going to say in the middle of the story that the drone that killed Al-Awlaki took off from a base in Saudi Arabia. (I can give you twenty examples, but this is just one.) He called up and said, “If you say that the drone took off from a base in Saudi Arabia, we are going to lose that base. The Saudis are going to go nuts, they don’t want people to know that we are flying drones from their base.” And so I took it out. And I think we made it something like, “The drones took off from a base in the Arabian Peninsula,” something vague. Sure enough, the next day, everybody other than us said it was Saudi Arabia. When I thought hard about it, [I concluded] that was not a good request. And I later told the CIA it was not a good request. And they should have admitted that was not a good request. Everyone knew they had a base. It was for geopolitical reasons, not really national security reasons. I think that’s one where they shouldn’t have asked and I shouldn’t have said “yes” so automatically. So now I am tougher. Now I just say to them, “Give me a compelling reason, really really tell me.” Because to not publish, in my way of thinking, is almost a political act. To not publish is a big deal. So I say, “Give me a compelling reason.” And I don’t think I said that hard enough earlier on. That influences me now. It does make me want to say to the CIA, and the NSA, and other agencies involved in surveillance and intelligence: “Guys, make the case. You can’t just say that it hurts national security. You can’t just say vaguely that it’s going to get somebody killed. You’ve got to help me, tell me.” In cases where they have actually said to me something really specific, I have held it. There is still stuff that’s held, because it is real. But I think I am tougher now and hold them to higher standards. And part of that is that secrecy now is part of the story. It’s not just a byproduct of the story. It’s part of the story. I think there is a discussion in the country about secrecy in government post-9/11. It was provoked partly by Snowden, it was provoked partly by the secrecy of the drone program. And I think that secrecy is now part of it. And that puts more pressure on me to reveal details when I have them.

But I find his invocation of Snowden (and the mention of the NSA which he makes 4 times) all the more interesting.

Remember, in 2006, Mark Klein brought the story, with documents to prove the case, that the NSA had tapped into AT&T’s Folsom Street switch to Baquet when the latter was at the LAT. Baquet killed the story, only to have the NYT publish the story shortly thereafter.

Back in 2006, former AT&T employee Mark Klein revealed information that proved the communications giant was allowing the NSA to monitor Internet traffic “without any regard for the Fourth Amendment.” Klein initially brought the story to The Los Angeles Times, but it never made it to print under Baquet, who recently replaced the fired Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times.

Klein told HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski that he gave 120 pages of AT&T documents to an LA Times reporter who “was promising a big front-page expose” on the story. But the reporter eventually told Klein there was a “hangup,” and the story was abandoned shortly after with no explanation.

Months later, producers from ABC’s “Nightline” who were working on the story contacted editors at the LA Times to ask if they had, in fact, decided not to print it. The producers were told that Baquet killed the story, Klein said.

“That’s when Dean Baquet came out with this lame excuse that he just couldn’t figure out my technical documents, so he didn’t think they had a story. I don’t think anybody really believed that argument because, as I said, a few weeks after the LA Times killed the story, I went to The New York Times and they had no trouble figuring it out,” Klein said.

Any question of the clarity in the documents Klein produced “was just Dean Baquet’s lame cover story for capitulating to the government’s threats,” Klein alleged.

And while Baquet still claims he didn’t kill the story due to pressure from the government, the claim has always rung hollow.

The CIA and NSA have not only cried wolf once too often, they have cried wolf with Baquet personally.

Missing accountability

There are two things that are, sadly, missing from this discussion.

First, no one actually believes that Michael D’Andrea, who (as I pointed out yesterday) the CIA helped Hollywood turn into one of the heroes of the Osama bin Laden hunt) is really under cover. But it’s important to look at what suppressing his actual name does for accountability. And the torture report is the best exhibit for that.

If you can’t connect all the things that D’Andrea — or Alfrea Bikowsky or Jonathan Fredman — have done in their role with torture, you can’t show that certain people should have known better. After KSM led Bikowsky to believe, for 3 months, that he had sent someone to recruit black Muslims in Montana to start forest fires, any further unfathomable credulity on her part can no longer be deemed an honest mistake; it’s either outright incompetence, or a willful choice to chase threats that are not real. Hiding D’Andrea’s name, along with the others, prevents that kind of accountability.

But there’s one other crucial part of accountability that’s core to the claim that our representative government adequately exercises oversight over CIA.

A key part of the NYT story (and Baquet emphasized this) was challenging whether the Intelligence Committees were exercising adequate oversight over the drone strikes. The NYT included really damning details about Mike Rogers and Richard Burr pushing to kill Americans.

Yet the article was most damning, I think, for Dianne Feinstein, though it didn’t make the case as assertively as they could have. Consider the implications of this:

In secret meetings on Capitol Hill, Mr. D’Andrea was a forceful advocate for the drone program and won supporters among both Republicans and Democrats. Congressional staff members said that he was particularly effective in winning the support of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who was chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until January, when Republicans assumed control of the chamber.


The confidence Ms. Feinstein and other Democrats express about the drone program, which by most accounts has been effective in killing hundreds of Qaeda operatives and members of other militant groups over the years, stands in sharp contrast to the criticism among lawmakers of the now defunct C.I.A. program to capture and interrogate Qaeda suspects in secret prisons.

But both programs were led by some of the same people.

The implication — which should be made explicit — is that Dianne Feinstein has been protecting and trusting a guy who also happens to have been a key architect of the torture program (Feinstein did the same with Stephen Kappes).

Feinstein can complain about torture accountability all she wants. But she has the ability to hold certain people to a higher standard, and instead, in D’Andrea’s case and in Kappes, she has instead argued that they should maintain their power.

And that’s the kind of the thing the public can and should try to hold Feinstein accountable for. Rogers and Burr, at least, are not hypocrites. They like unchecked and ineffective CIA power, unabashedly. But Feinstein claims to have concerns about it … sometimes, but not others.

The public may not be able to do much to hold the CIA accountable. But we can call out Feinstein for failing to do the things she herself has power to do to get accountability for torture and other CIA mismanagement. And that, at least, is a key value of having named names.

Wyden and Udall Accuse DOJ of Misleading SCOTUS about Upstream Even as NSA Misleads NDCA about Upstream

As Charlie Savage reported this morning, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall continue their ceaseless efforts to get NSA and DOJ to tell the truth. They (along with Martin Heinrich) wrote a letter to DOJ in November complaining about representations made in the Amnesty v. Clapper case. DOJ responded. And now Wyden and Udall have just written another response.

In addition to complaining about the government’s notice to defendants, Wyden and Udall claim DOJ improperly hid Section 702 upstream collection from SCOTUS by claiming the Amnesty plaintiffs could only be swept up in the dragnet if they communicated with a target.

These statements — if taken at face value — appear to foreclose the possibility of collection under section 702 intercepting any communications that are not to or from particular targets. In other words, the Justice Department indicated that communications that are merely “about” a target would not be collected. But recently declassified court opinions make it clear that legitimate communications about particular targets can also be intercepted under this authority. Since this fact was classified at the time, the plaintiffs did not raise it, but in our view this does not make these misleading statements acceptable.

The Justice Department’s reply also states that the “about” collection “did not bear upon the legal issues in the case.” But in fact, these misleading statements about the limits of section 702 surveillance appear to have informed the Supreme Court’s analysis. In writing for the majority, Justice Alito echoed your statements by the Court by stating that the “respondents’ theory necessarily rests on their assertion that the Government will target other individuals — namely their foreign contacts.” This statement, like your statements, appears to foreclose the possibility of “about” collection.


[W]hile the Justice Department may claim that the Amnesty plaintiffs’ arguments would have been “equally speculative” if they had referenced the “about” collection, that should be a determination for the courts, and not the Justice Department, to make.

After laying this out, they conclude by accusing the Executive of making “misleading statements to the public, Congress and the courts.”

They don’t name all the Courts, though.

They might want to start collecting a list of all the courts DOJ and NSA have lied to, though. Because even as the Senators and DOJ were having this squabble in DC, NSA was continuing to misinform courts on the other side of the country.

Consider how then Acting NSA Deputy Director Frances Fleisch described upstream collection — and the collection of entirely domestic communications that FISC deemed illegal — in a then-sealed declaration in the EFF Jewel case submitted 4 days before DOJ responded to the Senators.

Once a target has been approved, the NSA uses two means to acquire the target’s electronic communications. First, it acquires such communications directly from compelled U.S.-based providers. This has been publicly referred to as the NSA’s PRISM collection. Second, in addition to collection directly from providers, the NSA collects electronic communications with the compelled assistance of electronic communications service providers as they transit Internet “backbone” facilities within the United States.


In an opinion issued on October 3, 2001, the FISC found the NSA’s proposed minimization procedures as applied to the NSA’s upstream collection of Internet transactions containing multiple communications, or “MCTs,” deficient. In response, the NSA modified its proposed procedures and the FISC subsequently determined that the NSA adequately remedied the deficiencies such that the procedures met the applicable statutory and constitutional requirements, and allowed the collection to continue.

That is, Fleisch doesn’t even hint that the problem on which Bates ruled — the MCTs — consisted of entirely domestic communications unrelated to those mentioning the “about” selector. She doesn’t even hint that in addition to those MCTs, upstream collection also includes over 4 times as many completely domestic communications — SCTs — as well. She doesn’t reveal that John Bates threatened NSA with sanctions over distributing illegally collected domestic person content. And all of these issues are central to the Jewel complaint, which has always focused on telecoms collecting US person content at circuits. (I believe earlier declarations to NDCA were even more incomplete or downright dishonest on this issue, though will need to show that in a later post.)

In fact, EFF complained about this omission its response to the government’s declarations, noting that upstream about collection is precisely what whistleblower Mark Klein revealed back in 2006.

Public disclosures over the past six months, however, provide substantially more information about these collection practices than the government’s passing references. In particular, the government has publicly released an opinion of the FISC confirming that “‘upstream collection’ refers to the acquisition of Internet communications as they transit the ‘internal backbone’ facilities” of telecommunications firms, such as AT&T. Mem. Op. at 26, Redacted, No. [Redacted] (FISC Sep. 25, 2012) (emphasis added) (Ex. 1).


These descriptions of upstream Internet surveillance are functionally identical to the surveillance configuration described by the [Mark] Klein evidence: a system designed to acquire Internet communications as they flow between AT&T’s Common Backbone Internet network to the networks of other providers.

The FISA Court ruled that NSA had been breaking the law and violating the Constitution for at least 3 years leading up to the 2011 decision. And neither DOJ nor NSA have bothered telling courts ruling on the legality of the program about that fact.

It’s pretty impressive that the Executive can mislead courts about the same subject in so many places at once.

But I guess that’s just the flip side of an omnipresent spying agency, that it can also serve as an omnipresent lying agency.

Three Theories Why the Section 215 Phone Dragnet May Have Been “Erroneous” from the Start

Update, 1/6/14: I just reviewed this post and realize it’s based on the misunderstanding that the February 24 OLC opinion is from last year, not 2006. That said, the analysis of the underlying tensions that probably led to the use of Section 215 for the phone dragnet are, I think, still valid. 

According to ACLU lawyer Alex Abdo, the government may provide more documents in response to their FOIA asking for documents relating to Section 215 on November 18. Among those documents is a February 24, 2006 FISA Court opinion, which the government says it is processing for release.

That release — assuming the government releases the opinion in any legible form — should solve a riddle that has been puzzling me for several weeks: whether the FISA Court wrote any opinion authorizing the phone dragnet collection before its May 24, 2006 order at all.

The release may also provide some insight on why former Assistant Attorney General David Kris concedes the initial authorization for the program may have been “erroneous.”

More broadly, it is important to consider the context in which the FISA Court initially approved the bulk collection. Unverified media reports (discussed above) state that bulk telephony metadata collection was occurring before May 2006; even if that is not the case, perhaps such collection could have occurred at that time based on voluntary cooperation from the telecommunications providers. If so, the practical question before the FISC in 2006 was not whether the collection should occur, but whether it should occur under judicial standards and supervision, or unilaterally under the authority of the Executive Branch.


The briefings and other historical evidence raise the question whether Congress’s repeated reauthorization of the tangible things provision effectively incorporates the FISC’s interpretation of the law, at least as to the authorized scope of collection, such that even if it had been erroneous when first issued, it is now—by definition—correct. [my emphasis]

That “erroneous” language comes not from me, but from David Kris, one of the best lawyers on these issues in the entire country.

And the date of the opinion — February 24, 2006, 6 days before the Senate would vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act having received no apparent notice the Administration planned to use it to authorize a dragnet of every American’s phone records — suggests several possible reasons why the original approval is erroneous.

Possibility one: There is no opinion

The first possibility, of course, is that my earlier guess was correct: that the FISC court never considered the new application of bulk collection, and simply authorized the new collection based on the 2004 Colleen Kollar-Kotelly opinion authorizing the Internet dragnet. In this possible scenario, that February 2006 opinion deals with some other use of Section 215 (though I doubt it, because in that case DOJ would withhold it, as they are doing with two other Section 215 opinions dated August 20, 2008 and November 23, 2010).

So one possibility is the FISA Court simply never considered whether the phone dragnet really fit the definition of relevant, and just took the application for the first May 24, 2006 opinion with no questions. This, it seems to me, would be erroneous on the part of FISC.

Possibility two: FISC approved the dragnet based on old PATRIOT knowing new “relevant to” PATRIOT was coming

Another possibility is that the FISA Court rushed through approval of the phone dragnet knowing that the reauthorization that would be imminently approved would slightly different language on the “relevance” standard (though that new language was in most ways more permissive). Thus, the government would already have an approval for the dragnet in hand at the time when they applied to use it in May, and would just address the “relevance” language in their application, which we know they did.

In this case, the opinion would seem to be erroneous because of the way it deliberately sidestepped known and very active actions of Congress pertaining to the law in question.

Possibility three: FISC approved the dragnet based on new PATRIOT language even before it passed

Another possibility is that FISC approved the phone dragnet before the new PATRIOT language became law. That seems nonsensical, but we do know that DOJ’s Office of Intelligence Policy Review briefed FISC on something pertaining to Section 215 in February 2006.

After passage of the Reauthorization Act on March 9, 2006, combination orders became unnecessary for subscriber information and [one line redacted]. Section 128 of the Reauthorization Act amended the FISA statute to authorize subscriber information to be provided in response to a pen register/trap and trace order. Therefore, combination orders for subscriber information were no longer necessary. In addition, OIPR determined that substantive amendments to the statute undermined the legal basis for which OIPR had received authorization [half line redacted] from the FISA Court. Therefore, OIPR decided not to request [several words redacted] pursuant to Section 215 until it re-briefed the issue for the FISA Court. 24

24 OIPR first briefed the issue to the FISA Court in February 2006, prior to the Reauthorization Act. [two lines redacted] [my emphasis]

Still, this passage seems to reflect an understanding, at the time DOJ briefed FISC and at the time that the FISC opinion was written that the law was changing in significant ways (some of which made it easier for the government to get IDs along with the Internet metadata it was collecting using a Pen Register).

This would seem to be erroneous for timing reasons, in that the judge issued an opinion based on a law that had not yet been signed into law, effectively anticipating Congress.

The looming threat of Hepting v. AT&T and Mark Klein’s testimony

Which brings me to why. The 2009 Draft NSA IG Report describes some of what went on in this period.

After the New York Times article was published in December 2005, Mr. Potenza stated that one of the PSP providers expressed concern about providing telephone metadata to NSA under Presidential Authority without being compelled. Although OLC’s May 2004 opinion states that NSA collection of telephony metadata as business records under the Authorization was legally supportable, the provider preferred to be compelled to do so by a court order.

As with the PR/TT Order, DOJ and NSA collaboratively designed the application, prepared declarations, and responded to questions from court advisors. Their previous experience in drafting the PRTT Order made this process more efficient.

The FISC signed the first Business Records Order on 24 May 2006. The order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk telephony metadata from business records that it had under the PSP. And, unlike the PRTT, there was no break in collection at transition.

But the IG Report doesn’t explain why the telecom(s) started getting squeamish after the NYT scoop.

It doesn’t mention, for example, that on January 17, 2006, the ACLU sued the NSA in Detroit. A week after that suit was filed, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote the telecoms a letter giving them cover for their cooperation.

On 24 January 2006, the Attorney General sent letters to COMPANIES A, B, and C, certifying under 18 U.S.C. 2511 (2)( a)(ii)(B) that “no warrant or court order was or is required by law for the assistance, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the assistance has been and is required.”

Note, this wiretap language pertains largely to the collection of content (that is, the telecoms had far more reason to worry about sharing content). Except that two issues made the collection of metadata particularly sensitive: the data mining of it, and the way it was used to decide who to wiretap.

More troubling still to the telecoms, probably, came when EFF filed a lawsuit, Hepting, on January 31 naming AT&T as defendant, largely based on an LAT story of AT&T giving access to the its stored call records.

But I’m far more interested in the threat that Mark Klein, the AT&T technician who would ultimately reveal the direct taps on AT&T switches at Folsom Street, posed. Read more