Last night, Mitch McConnell dealt himself a humiliating defeat. As I correctly predicted a month before events played out, McConnell tried to create a panic that would permit him and Richard Burr to demand changes — including iMessage retention, among other things — to USA F-ReDux. That is, in fact, what Mitch attempted to do, as is evident from the authoritarian power grab Burr released around 8:30 last night (that is, technically after the Administration had already missed the FISA Court deadline to renew the dragnet).
Contrary to a lot of absolutely horrible reporting on Burr’s bill, it does not actually resemble USA F-ReDux.
As I laid out here, it would start by gutting ECPA, such that the FBI could resume using NSLs to do the bulky Internet collection that moved to Section 215 production in 2009.
It also vastly expanded the application of the call record function (which it very explicitly applied to electronic communications providers, meaning it would include all Internet production, though that is probably what USA F-ReDux does implicitly), such that it could be used against Americans for any counterterrorism or counterintelligence (which includes leaks and cybersecurity) function, and for foreigners (which would chain onto Americans) for any foreign intelligence purpose. The chaining function includes the same vague language from USA F-ReDux which, in the absence of the limiting language in the House Judiciary Committee bill report, probably lets the government chain on session identifying information (like location and cookies, but possibly even things like address books) to do pattern analysis on providers’ data. Plus, the bill might even permit the government to do this chaining in provider data, because it doesn’t define a key “permit access” term.
Burr’s bill applies EO 12333 minimization procedures (and notice), not the stronger Section 215 ones Congress mandated in 2006; while USA F-ReDux data will already be shared far more widely than it is now, this would ensure that no defendant ever gets to challenge this collection. It imposes a 3-year data retention mandate (which would be a significant new burden on both Verizon and Apple). It appears to flip the amicus provision on its head, such that if Verizon or Apple challenged retention or any other part of the program, the FISC could provide a lawyer for the tech companies and tell that lawyer to fight for retention. And in the piece de la resistance, the bill creates its very own Espionage Act imposing 10 year prison terms for anyone who reveals precisely what’s happening in this expanded querying function at providers.
It is, in short, the forced-deputization of the nation’s communications providers to conduct EO 12333 spying on Americans within America.
Had Mitch had his way, after both USA F-ReDux and his 2-month straight reauthorization failed to get cloture, he would have asked for a week extension, during which the House would have been forced to come back to work and accept — under threat of “going dark” — some of the things demanded in Burr’s bill.
It didn’t work out.
But as it was, USA F-ReDux had far more support than the short-term reauthorization. Both McConnell and Rand Paul voted against both, for very different reasons. The difference in the vote results, however, was that Joe Donnelly (D), Jeff Flake (R), Ron Johnson (R), James Lankford (R), Bill Nelson (D), Tim Scott (R), and Dan Sullivan (R) voted yes to both. McConnell’s preferred option didn’t even get a majority of the vote, because he lost a chunk of his members.
Then McConnell played the hand he believed would give himself and Burr leverage. The plan — as I stated — was to get a very short term reauthorization passed and in that period force through changes with the House (never mind that permitting that to happen might have cost Boehner his Speakership, that’s what McConnell and Burr had in mind).
First, McConnell asked for unanimous consent to pass an extension to June 8. (h/t joanneleon for making the clip) But Paul, reminding that this country’s founders opposed General Warrants and demanding 2 majority vote amendments, objected. McConnell then asked for a June 5 extension, to which Ron Wyden objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 3. Martin Heinrich objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 2. Paul objected.
McConnell’s bid failed. And he ultimately scheduled the Senate to return on Sunday afternoon, May 31.
By far the most likely outcome at this point is that enough Senators — likely candidates are Mark Kirk, Angus King, John McCain, Joni Ernst, or Susan Collins — flip their vote on USA F-ReDux, which will then be rushed to President Obama just hours before Section 215 (and with it, Lone Wolf and Roving Wiretaps) expires on June 1. But even that (because of when McConnell scheduled it) probably requires Paul to agree to an immediate vote.
But if not, it won’t be the immediate end of the world.
On this issue, too, the reporting has been horrible, even to almost universal misrepresentation of what Jim Comey said about the importance of expiring provisions — I’ve laid out what he really said and what it means here. Comey cares first and foremost about the other Section 215 uses, almost surely the bulky Internet collection that moved there in 2009. But those orders, because they’re tied to existing investigations (of presumably more focused subject than the standing counterterrorism investigation to justify the phone dragnet), they will be grand-fathered at least until whatever expiration date they have hits, if not longer. So FBI will be anxious to restore that authority (or move it back to NSLs as Burr’s bill would do), especially since unlike the phone dragnet, there aren’t other ways to get the data. But there’s some time left to do that.
Comey also said the Roving Wiretap is critical. I’m guessing that’s because they use it to target things like Tor relays. But if that’s the primary secretly redefined function, they likely have learned enough about the Tor relays they’re parked on to get individual warrants. And here, too, the FBI likely won’t have to detask until expiration days on these FISA orders come due.
As for the phone dragnet and the Lone Wolf? Those are less urgent, according to Comey.
Now, that might help the Republicans who want to jam through some of Burr’s demands, since most moderate reformers assume the phone dragnet is the most important function that expires. Except that McConnell and others have spent so long pretending that this is about a phone dragnet that in truth doesn’t really work, that skittish Republicans are likely to want to appear to do all they can to keep the phone dragnet afloat.
As I said, the most likely outcome is that a number of people flip their vote and help pass USA F-ReDux.
But as with last night’s “debate,” no one really knows for sure.
As the Daily Dot reported, Senators Wyden, Heinrich, and Hirono wrote John Brennan a letter trying to get him to admit that he lied about hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But, as often happens with Wyden-authored letters, they also included this oblique paragraph at the end:
Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.
A game!!! Find the lies Brennan told in March!!!
The most likely place to look for Brennan lies comes in this appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, where Brennan took questions from the audience.
While you might think Brennan lied about outsourcing torture to our allies, his answer on CIA involvement with interrogations conducted by our partners was largely truthful, even if he left out the part of detainees being tortured in custody.
But on a related issue, Brennan surely lied. He claimed — in response to a questions from an HRW staffer — not to partner with those who commit atrocities.
QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.
And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?
BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.
And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.
As I noted at the time, Brennan totally dodged the question about Saudi atrocities. But it is also the case that many of the “moderates” we’ve partnered with in both Syria and Iraq have themselves engaged in atrocities.
So I suspect his claim that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities” is one of the statements Wyden et al were pointing to.
A potentially related alternative candidate (the letter did say Brennan had made false statements, plural) is this exchange. When Brennan claimed, at the time, he has no ties to Qasim Soleimani, I assumed he was lying, not just because we’re actually fighting a way in IRGC’s vicinity but also because Brennan seemed to exhibit some of the “tells” he does when he lies.
QUESTION: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. You spent a considerable amount of your opening remarks talking about the importance of liaison relationships. Charlie alluded to this in one of his references to you, on the adage—the old adage has it that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Are we in any way quietly, diplomatically, indirectly, liaisoning with Mr. Soleimani and his group and his people in Iraq?
BRENNAN: I am not engaging with Mr. Qasem Soleimani, who is the head of the Quds Force of Iran. So no, I am not.
I am engaged, though, with a lot of different partners, some of close, allied countries as well as some that would be considered adversaries, engaged with the Russians on issues related to terrorism.
We did a great job working with the Russians on Sochi. They were very supportive on Boston Marathon. We’re also looking at the threat that ISIL poses both to the United States as well as to Russia.
So I try to take advantage of all the different partners that are out there, because there is a strong alignment on some issues—on proliferation as well as on terrorism and others as well.
I happen to think it an exaggeration that the Russians “were very supportive on Boston Marathon,” but maybe that’s because FSB was rolling up CIA spies who were investigating potentially related groups in Russia.
Finally, while less likely, I think this might be a candidate.
QUESTION: Thank you. Paula DiPerna, NTR Foundation. This is probably an unpopular suggestion, but is it feasible or how feasible would it be to do a little selective Internet disruption in the areas concerned, a la a blockade, digital blockade, and then an international fund to indemnify business loss?
BRENNAN: OK. First of all, as we all know, the worldwide web, the Internet, is a very large enterprise. And trying to stop things from coming out, there are political issues, there are legal issues here in the United States as far as freedom of speech is concerned. But even given that consideration, doing it technically and preventing some things from surfacing is really quite challenging.
And we see that a number of these organizations have been able to immediately post what they’re doing in Twitter. And the ability to stop some things from getting out is really quite challenging.
As far as, you know, indemnification of various companies on some of these issues, there has been unfortunately a very, very long, multi-year effort on the part of the Congress to try to pass some cybersecurity legislation that addressed some of these issues. There has been passage in the Senate.
I think it’s overdue. We need to update our legal structures as well as our policy structures to deal with the cyber threats we face.
Remember, Ron Wyden has been pointing to an OLC opinion on Common Commercial Services (which, however, CIA’s now General Counsel Carolyn Krass said publicly she wouldn’t rely on) for years. I suspect indemnity is one of the things it might cover.
Plus, I do think it likely that we’ve disrupted the Internet in various circumstances.
Who knows? Maybe Brennan just told a lot of lies.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Update: NatSec sources are already dismissing this Sy Hersh piece on the real story behind the bin Laden killing. But if there’s truth to this detail, then it would suggest I was overly optimistic when I suggested Brennan was truthful about outsourcing our interrogation to allies.
The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’
If we do still have a secret prison in Diego Garcia, then the claim that we outsource everything to allies would be the key lie here.
Jameel Jaffer has a post on the government’s latest crazy-talk in the ongoing ACLU and NYT effort to liberate more drone memos. He describes how — in the government’s response to their appeal of the latest decisions on the Anwar al-Awlaki FOIA — the government claims the Court’s release of an OLC memo does not constitute official release of that memo. (Note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the government is making this claim in anticipation of orders to release torture pictures in ACLU’s torture FOIA suit that’s about to head to the 2nd Circuit.)
But there’s another interesting aspect of that brief. It provides heavily redacted discussion of the things Judge Colleen McMahon permitted the government to withhold. But it makes it clear that one of those things is a March 2002 OLC memo that offers different analysis about the assassination ban than the analysis used to kill Anwar al-Awlaki.
The district court also upheld the withholding of a March 2002 OLC Memorandum analyzing the assassination ban in Executive Order 12,333 (the “March 2002 Memorandum”). (CA 468-70; see CA 315-29). Although the district court noted that the OLC-DOD Memorandum released by this Court contained a “brief mention” of Executive Order 12,333, the district court concluded that the analysis in the March 2002 Memorandum is significantly different from any legal analysis that this Court held has been officially disclosed and for which privilege has been waived.
The statement here is carefully worded, probably for good reason. That’s because the February 19, 2010 memo McMahon permitted the government to almost entirely redact clearly explains EO 123333 and its purported ban on assassinations in more depth than the July 16, 2010 one; the first paragraph ends,
Under the conditions and factual predicates as represented by the CIA and in the materials provided to us from the Intelligence Community, we believed that a decisionmaker, on the basis of such information, could reasonably conclude that the use of lethal force against Aulaqi would not violate the assassination ban in Executive Order 12333 or any application constitutional limitations due to Aulaqi’s United States citizenship.
I pointed out that there must be more assassination analysis here. It almost certainly resembles what Harold Koh said about a month later, for which activists at NYU are now calling into question his suitability as an international law professor.
Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”
But the government is claiming that because that didn’t get disclosed in the July 2010 memo, it doesn’t have to be disclosed in the February 2010 memo, and the earlier “significantly different” analysis from OLC doesn’t have to be disclosed either.
At a minimum, ACLU and NYT ought to be able to point to the language in the white paper that addresses assassinations that doesn’t appear in the later memo to show that the government has already disclosed it.
But I’m just as interested that OLC had to change its previous stance on assassinations to be able to kill Awlaki.
Of course, the earlier memo was written during a period when John Yoo and others were pixie dusting EO 12333, basically saying the President didn’t have to abide by EO 12333, but could instead violate it and call that modifying it. Perhaps that’s the difference — that David Barron invented a way to say that killing a high ranking leader (whether or not he’s a citizen) didn’t constitute assassination because of the weapons systems involved, as distinct from saying the President could blow off his own EOs in secret and not tell anyone.
I suggested Dick Cheney had likely pixie dusted EO 12333’s ban on assassinations back in 2009.
But there’s also the possibility the government had to reverse the earlier decision in some other fashion. After all, when Kamal Derwish was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on November 9, 2002, the government claimed Abu Ali al-Harithi was the target, a claim the government made about its December 24, 2009 attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, but one they dropped in all subsequent attempts, coincident with the February 2010 memo. That is, while I think it less likely than the alternative, it is possible that the 2010 analysis is “significantly different” because they had to interpret the assassination ban even more permissively. While I do think it less likely, it might explain why Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich keep pushing for more disclosure on this issue.
One thing is clear, however. The fact that the government can conduct “significantly different” analysis of what EO 12333 means, in secret, anytime it wants to wiretap or kill a US citizen makes clear that it is not a meaningful limit on Executive power.
Tomorrow is dragnet day, the next 90-day reauthorization for the dragnet.
In advance of that date, Pat Leahy just called on President Obama to simply let the dragnet end.
The President can end the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records once and for all by not seeking reauthorization of this program by the FISA Court, and once again, I urge him to do just that. Doing so would not be a substitute for comprehensive surveillance reform legislation – but it would be an important first step.
Leahy joins 4 other Democrats who have already called for the President to unilaterally stop the dragnet.
At a hearing last month, Adam Schiff suggested to DIRNSA Mike Rogers that they move forward without waiting for a new law.
“There’s nothing in statute that requires the government to gather bulk data, so you could move forward on your own with making the technological changes,” Schiff said. “You don’t have to wait for the USA Freedom Act.”
There’s no reason for the NSA to wait for congressional approval to put additional limits on the program “if you think this is the correct policy,” Schiff added. “Why continue to gather the bulk metadata if [Obama administration officials] don’t think this is the best approach?”
And back in June, Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich not only made a similar suggestion in a letter to the President, but laid out how Obama could achieve what he says he wants to without waiting for legislation.
But the President is not going to end the dragnet. Heck, for all we know, FISC has already signed the reauthorization.
Mind you, it may be that President Obama can’t start the new-and-improved dragnet without offering providers immunity and compensation. But if Obama can’t simply end the dragnet without offering telecoms and second level contractors broad immunity, then he’s obviously planning on something more exotic than just regular phone contact chaining.
In an editorial calling on Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, the USA Today makes this claim.
Obama’s proposal last January — to leave the data with phone companies, instead of with the government — can’t happen without a new law. And, as in so many other areas, the deeply divided Congress has failed to produce one.
I don’t know whether that is or is not the case.
I do know 3 Senate Intelligence Committee members say it is not the case.
Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich wrote Obama a letter making just this point in June. They argued that Obama could accomplish most, if not all, of what he claimed he wanted without legislation, largely with a combination of Section 215 Orders to get hops and Pen Registers to get prospective collection.
[W]e believe that, in the meantime, the government already has sufficient authorities today to implement most, if not all, of the Section 215 reforms laid out in your proposal without delay in a way that does not harm our national security. More comprehensive congressional action is vital, but the executive branch need not wait for Congress to end the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records for a number of reasons.
First, we believe that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s (FISC) expansive interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act to allow the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records makes it likely that the FISC would also agree to a more narrowly-drawn interpretation of the law, without requiring further congressional action. Certainly, it seems likely that the FISC would permit the executive branch to use its current authorities to obtain phone records up to two “hops” from a suspicious phone number or to compel technical assistance by and compensation for recipients of court orders. Unless the FISC has already rejected such a request from the government, it does not seem necessary for the executive branch to wait for Congress before taking action.
Second, we believe that the FISC would likely approve the defined and limited prospective searches for records envisioned under your proposal pursuant to current USA PATRIOT Act Section 214 pen register authorities, given how broadly it has previous interpreted these authorities. Again, we believe it is vital for Congress to enact reforms, but we also believe that the government has sufficient authorities today under the USA PATRIOT Act to conduct these targeted prospective searches in the interim.
Finally, although we have seen no evidence that the government has needed the bulk phone records collection program to attain any time-sensitive objectives, we agree that new legislation should provide clear emergency authorities to allow the government to obtain court approval of individual queries after the fact under specific circumstances. The law currently allows prospective emergency acquisitions of call records under Section 403 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the acquisition of past records without judicial review under national security letter authorities. While utilizing a patchwork of authorities is not ideal, it could be done on an interim basis, while Congress works to pass legislation.
Just weeks before they sent this, Deputy Attorney General James Cole had seemed to say they could (if not already were) getting hybrid orders, in that case mixing phone and location. So it seems like DOJ is confident they could use such hybrid orders, using Section 215 for the hops and Pen Registers for the prospective collection (though, given that they’re already using Section 215 for prospective collection, I’m not sure why they’d need to use hybrids to get anything but emergency orders).
And it makes sense. After all, the public claims about what the Call Detail Record provision would do, at least, describe it as a kind of Pen Register on steroids, 2-degrees of Pen Register. As the Senators suggest, FBI already gets two-degree information of historical records with mere NSLs, so it’d be surprising if they couldn’t get 2 degrees prospectively with a court order.
So at least according to three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today is simply wrong.
Mind you, I’m not entirely convinced they’re right.
That’s because I suspect the new CDR provision is more than a Pen Register on steroids, is instead something far more intrusive, one that gets far beyond mere call records. I suspect the government will ask the telecoms to chain on location, address books, and more — as they do overseas — which would require far more than a prospective Pen Register and likely would require super immunity, as the bill provides.
I suspect the Senators are wrong, but if they are, it’s because Obama (or his Intelligence Community) wants something that is far more invasive then they’ve made out.
Still, for USAF supporters, there seems no question. If all Obama wants to replace the phone dragnet is prospective 2-degree call (not connection) chaining on RAS targets, he almost certainly has that authority.
But if he needs more authority, then chances are very good he’s asking for something far more than he has let on.
Update: Note, USAT makes at least one other clear error in this piece, as where it suggests the “the program” — the phone dragnet — imposes costs on cloud companies like Microsoft and Google.
Now that I’ve finally got around to reading the so-called transparency provisions in Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, I understand that one purpose of the bill, from James Clapper’s perspective, is to get Congress to ratify some kind of financial dragnet conducted under Section 215.
As I’ve laid out in detail before, there’s absolutely no reason to believe USA Freedom Act does anything to affect non-communications collection programs.
That’s because the definition of “specific selection term” permits (corporate) persons to be used as a selector, so long as they aren’t communications companies. So Visa, Western Union, and Bank of America could all be used as the selector; Amazon could be for anything not cloud or communications-related. Even if the government obtained all the records from these companies — as reports say it does with Western Union, at least — that would not be considered “bulk” because the government defines “bulk” as collection without a selector. Here, the selector would be the company.
And as I just figured out yesterday, the bill requires absolutely no individualized reporting on traditional Section 215 orders that don’t obtain communications. Here’s what the bill requires DNI to report on traditional 215 collection.
(D) the total number of orders issued pursuant to applications made under section 501(b)(2)(B) and a good faith estimate of—
(i) the number of targets of such orders;
(ii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders; and
(iii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders who are reasonably believed to have been located in the United States at the time of collection;
(3) INDIVIDUAL WHOSE COMMUNICATIONS WERE COLLECTED.—The term ‘individual whose communications were collected’ means any individual—
(A) who was a party to an electronic communication or a wire communication the contents or noncontents of which was collected; or
(B)(i) who was a subscriber or customer of an electronic communication service or remote computing service; and
(ii) whose records, as described in subparagraph (A), (B), (D), (E), or (F) of section 2703(c)(2) of title 18, United States Code, were collected.
Thus, the 215 reporting only requires the DNI to provide individualized reporting on communications related orders. It requires no individualized reporting at all on actual tangible things (in the tangible things provision!). A dragnet order collecting every American’s Visa bill would be reported as 1 order targeting the 4 or so terrorist groups specifically named in the primary order. It would not show that the order produced the records of 310 million Americans.
I’m guessing this is not a mistake, which is why I’m so certain there’s a financial dragnet the government is trying to hide.
Under the bill, of course, Visa and Western Union could decide they wanted to issue a privacy report. But I’m guessing if it would show 310 million to 310,000,500 of its customers’ privacy was being compromised, they would be unlikely to do that.
So the bill would permit the collection of all of Visa’s records (assuming the government could or has convinced the FISC to rubber stamp that, of course), and it would hide the extent of that collection because DNI is not required to report individualized collection numbers.
But it’s not just the language in the bill that amounts to ratification of such a dragnet.
As the government has argued over and over and over, every time Congress passes Section 215’s “relevant to” language unchanged, it serves as a ratification of the FISA Court’s crazy interpretation of it to mean “all.” That argument was pretty dodgy for reauthorizations that happened before Edward Snowden came along (though its dodginess did not prevent Clare Eagan, Mary McLaughlin, and William Pauley from buying it). But it is not dodgy now: Senators need to know that after they pass this bill, the government will argue to courts that it ratifies the legal interpretations publicly known about the program.
While the bill changes a great deal of language in Section 215, it still includes the “relevant to” language that now means “all.” So every Senator who votes for USAF will make it clear to judges that it is the intent of Congress for “relevant to” to mean “all.”
And it’s not just that! In voting for USAF, Senators would be ratifying all the other legal interpretations about dragnets that have been publicly released since Snowden’s leaks started.
That includes the horrible John Bates opinion from February 19, 2013 that authorized the government to use Section 215 to investigate Americans for their First Amendment protected activities so long as the larger investigation is targeted at people whose activities aren’t protected under the First Amendment. So Senators would be making it clear to judges their intent is to allow the government to conduct investigations into Americans for their speech or politics or religion in some cases (which cases those are is not entirely clear).
That also includes the John Bates opinion from November 23, 2010 that concluded that, “the Right to Financial Privacy Act, … does not preclude the issuance of an order requiring the production of financial records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) pursuant to the FISA business records provision.” Given that Senators know (or should — and certainly have the ability to — know) about this before they support USAF, judges would be correct in concluding that it was the intent of Congress to permit the government to collect financial records under Section 215.
So Senators supporting this bill must realize that supporting the bill means they are supporting the following:
That is, Senators supporting this bill are not only supporting a possible financial dragnet, but they are helping the government hide the existence of it.
I can’t tell you what the dragnet entails. Perhaps it’s “only” the Western Union tracking reported by both the NYT and WSJ. Perhaps James Cole’s two discussions of being able to collect credit card records under this provision means they are. Though when Leahy asked him if they could collect credit card records to track fertilizer purchases, Cole suggested they might not need everyone’s credit cards to do that.
Leahy: But if our phone records are relevant, why wouldn’t our credit card records? Wouldn’t you like to know if somebody’s buying, um, what is the fertilizer used in bombs?
Cole: I may not need to collect everybody’s credit card records in order to do that.
If somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs of course we would like to know that but we may not need to do it in this fashion.
We don’t know what the financial dragnet is. But we know that it is permitted — and deliberately hidden — under this bill.
Below the rule I’ve put the names of the 18 Senators who have thus far co-sponsored this bill. If one happens to be your Senator, it might be a good time to urge them to reconsider that support.
Patrick Leahy (202) 224-4242
Mike Lee (202) 224-5444
Dick Durbin (202) 224-2152
Dean Heller (202) 224-6244
Al Franken (202) 224-5641
Ted Cruz (202) 224-5922
Richard Blumenthal (202) 224-2823
Tom Udall (202) 224-6621
Chris Coons (202) 224-5042
Martin Heinrich (202) 224-5521
Ed Markey (202) 224-2742
Mazie Hirono (202) 224-6361
Amy Klobuchar (202) 224-3244
Sheldon Whitehouse (202) 224-2921
Chuck Schumer (202) 224-6542
Bernie Sanders (202) 224-5141
Cory Booker (202) 224-3224
Bob Menendez (202) 224-4744
Sherrod Brown (202) 224-2315
As you likely know, when the White House delivered the torture report back to the Senate Intelligence Committee, they discovered that the Intelligence Community had redacted big chunks of the summary. McClatchy’s latest report reveals the CIA blacked out the pseudonyms of torturers that SSCI had used to hide their real names.
Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told McClatchy on Monday that the blackouts _ officially known as redactions _ were made to pseudonyms used for both covert CIA officers and foreign countries.
“No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report,” he said. “Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted (by the administration).”
All of the pseudonyms were excised from the version of the executive summary that the White House returned to the committee on Friday, a person familiar with the issue said.
I presume CIA felt they had to do this because the names of the torturers are not, in fact secret. We know that Bruce Jessen reverse engineered the torture and Alfreda Bikowsky ordered the rendition of Khalid el-Masri. Keeping the pseudonyms the SSCI used for each secret prevents us from developing a more complete list of the things each did, including the legally actionable things.
In other words, the CIA is redacting things to hide evidence of crimes.
Behind this spat is a more general question: whether redacting 15% of an executive summary is excessive or not. Martin Heinrich says it makes the report unreadable.
“Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., a member of the committee, said Sunday in a statement. “Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out. It can’t be done properly.”
James Clapper and White House spokesperson Josh Earnest say leaving 85% of the summary is very “transparent.”
Josh Earnest justified the redactions, telling reporters: “We’re talking about very sensitive information here. And it’s important that a declassification process be carried out that protects sources and methods and other information that is critical to our national security.”
He noted that more than 85 percent of the executive summary wasn’t blacked out.
But as Katherine Hawkins noted on Twitter, that’s doing the math wrong. The Executive Branch has already decided that the overwhelming majority of the report — the more detailed chapters — will not be released at all right now. The roughly 408 pages the Administration has decided we can see represents just 6.2% of the report — 408 pages out of 6,600.
SSCI wrote the summary so that it could be released, with the perhaps futile expectation that the rest of the report will be released after Bikowsky and others are no longer still working (!!) for the Agency. And yet the Most Transparent Administration Evah™ believes that even releasing that much is too much transparency and democracy for us.
As I noted on Friday, the Administration got a new phone dragnet order on the same day that Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich pointed out that — so long as the Administration only wants to do what it claims to want to do — it could stop holding phone records right away, just as it implemented Obama’s 2-hop mandate and court review in February right away.
From ODNI’s announcement they got a new dragnet order Friday (which they congratulate themselves as a great show of transparency), it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. On the contrary, they’re going to hold out HR 3361 — and their unconvincing claim it ends bulk collection as normal people understand the term — with each new dragnet order.
After carefully considering the available options, the President announced in March that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk, and that it remain at the telephone companies with a legal mechanism in place which would allow the government to obtain data pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries. The President also noted that legislation would be required to implement this option and called on Congress to enact this important change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Consistent with the President’s March proposal, in May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, which would, if enacted, create a new mechanism for the government to obtain this telephony metadata pursuant to individual orders from the FISC, rather than in bulk. The bill also prohibits bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers and trap and trace devices, and National Security Letters.
Overall, the bill’s significant reforms would provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system, while ensuring our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation. The Administration strongly supports the USA FREEDOM Act. We urge the Senate to swiftly consider it, and remain ready to work with Congress to clarify that the bill prohibits bulk collection as noted above, as necessary.
Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year.
But here’s the bit I’m most struck by, particularly given that the government has not yet released the March 28, 2014 dragnet order which should be a slam dunk declassification process, given that its content has presumably all been released in the past.
In addition to a new primary order last Friday, FISC also wrote a memorandum opinion.
The Administration is undertaking a declassification review of this most recent court order and an accompanying memorandum opinion for publication.
I can think of two things that would explain a memorandum opinion: the program has changed in some way (perhaps they’ve changed how they interpret “selection term” or implement the automated process which they had previously never gotten running?), or the FISC considered some new legal issue before approving the dragnet.
As I noted last week, both US v. Quartavious Davis, in which the 11th Circuit ruled stored cell location data required a warrant), and US v Stavros Ganias, in which the 2nd Circuit ruled the government can’t use data it seized under an old warrant years later, might affect both the current and future dragnets, as well as other programs the NSA engages in.
Thing is, whatever the subject of the opinion, then it’d sure be nice to know what it says before we pass this legislation, as the legislation may have to correct the wacky secret decisions of the FISC (most members of Congress are still not getting unredacted dragnet orders). But if the last order is any indication, we won’t get this new order until months from now, long after the bill is expected to be rushed through the Senate.
Which is probably all by design.
The three surveillance critics from the Senate Intelligence Committee — Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich — wrote a letter to Obama on the developments in the NSA reform. Generally, they repeat exhortations that Wyden and Udall have already made in hearings to end the dragnet right now, as Obama has already claimed he wants to do.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but I find some of the details in it to be of particular interest.
The Senators point out, for example, that several bills accomplish the goals Obama has publicly stated he’d support. Those bills include the original USA Freedom Act, and separate proposals advanced by both Udall and Wyden.
But they also include the original PATRIOT Reauthorization from 2005, which Dianne Feinstein once supported, as did a young Senator named Barack Obama (though the Senators don’t mention either of those details). Wyden has long pointed obliquely to when the Executive first started using PATRIOT to conduct dragnets, and the record shows the Executive withheld information about how it was using the PRTT authority from even the Intelligence Committees during the 2005 reauthorization. So the Senators may be nodding towards Executive refusal to respect the will of Congress with this mention.
The Senators then both question claims from Administration officials that “in the absence of new legislation, there is no plan to suspend the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records,” and express their doubts “that the version of the USA Freedom Act that recently passed the House of Representatives would actually ban the bulk collection of Americans’ records.”
While they repeatedly reiterate their support for legislative reform, they also lay out a plan by which the President can immediately end the dragnet. Here’s the part I find particularly interesting.
First, they say it is “highly likely” FISC would let them get 2-degrees of phone records, unless FISC has already prohibited that.
Unless the FISC has already rejected such a request from the government, it does not seem necessary for the executive branch to wait for Congress before taking action.
Isn’t this already included in current orders? Shouldn’t the Senators know if FISC has rejected such a request (especially Wyden, who has been on the committee through all this period)? Is Wyden saying it’s possible there’s something else limiting the dragnet? Is he pointing to a ruling he knows about?
Just as interesting, the Senators argue the Pen Register Authority — not Section 215 — could serve to carry out the prospective collection the bill claims to want to do.
FISC would likely approve the defined and limited prospective searches for records envisioned under your proposal pursuant to current USA PATRIOT Act Section 214 pen register authorities, given how broadly it has previous interpreted these authorities.
Finally, although we have seen no evidence that the government has needed the bulk phone records collection program to attain any time-sensitive objectives, we agree that new legislation should provide clear emergency authorities to allow the government to obtain court approval of individual queries after the fact under specific circumstances. The law currently allows prospective emergency acquisitions of call records under Section 403 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the acquisition of past records without judicial review under national security letter authorities.
Of course, the PRTT authority (cited twice here) should always have been the appropriate authority for this collection; we’ve just never learned why the government didn’t use that.
Basically, the Senators are laying out how the Executive could do precisely what it says it wants to do with existing authorities (indeed, with the PRTT authority that are actually targeted to the kind of record in question).
The Executive has all the authorities it needs, the Senators lay out, so why doesn’t it end the dragnet — achieve the reform it claims it wants — immediately?
We believe the way to restore Americans’ constitutional rights and their trust in our intelligence community is to immediately end the practice of vacuuming up the phone records of huge numbers of innocent Americans every day and permit the government to obtain only the phone records of people actually connected to terrorism or other nefarious activity. We support your March 27, 2014, proposal to achieve these goals, but we also view ending bulk collection as an imperative that cannot wait.
Damn! That’s a very good question! Obama moved immediately to implement his first reform proposal — advance FISC approval and limits to two hops — back in February. So why isn’t he moving immediately to implement the plan he says he wants now, as the Senators lay out he could well do under existing authorities?
It may be the Senators are just pressuring Obama to implement changes now, and nothing here is meant to point to some underlying issue.
But I wildarseguess that they’re trying to point out the differences between what they could do — under the PRTT orders they should have been using from the start — and what they want to do.
There’s one difference we can point to right away, after all: immunity. If all the government wanted to do was to obtain call detail records, then they wouldn’t need to give the telecoms immunity. That’s something they do every day. But there’s something they will do that has led the telecoms to demand immunity. That’s the stuff that goes beyond traditional PRTT activity.
Then there’s the stuff we don’t know about: the “connections” based chaining. As I’ve said, I don’t know what that entails. But it is an obvious explanation for why the telecoms need immunity — and for why a simple PRTT order won’t suffice.
One way or another, the Senators are calling Obama’s bluff. Obama says he wants nothing more than to obtain specific phone records going forward. If that’s true, he could make the change today. Yet the Executive is clear they can’t do that.
Update: One more detail. As Wyden’s release on this makes clear, today’s the day the March 28, 2014 phone dragnet order expires, so presumably the government got another one today. We’ve never seen that March 28 order, by the way.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on HR 3361 — which I call the USA Freedumber Act because it makes the dragnet worse in several ways — Dianne Feinstein used her opening statement to talk about the role of “specific selection term” in the bill.
She says, in part,
The problem comes with the definition of a “specific selection term,” which is not clear on its face and I believe it’s confusing.
I’m glad that Feinstein is concerned about the same thing I’ve been focusing on for a month.
The problem with trying to prevent “bulk collection” using the definition of selection term — even aside from the fact that the Intelligence Community understands “bulk collection” to mean something entirely different from what normal people understand it to mean — is that it will be abused.
We didn’t even get out of the hearing without such cynicism. At the hearing, Deputy Attorney General James Cole assured Martin Heinrich and Mark Udall that statements in the legislative record indicating a desire to limit such collection would prevent any abuse. This is the same DAG whose DOJ argued — just the day before!!! — that the legislative record of FISA, which clearly indicates the congressional intent that some defendants will get to review their FISA applications, should be ignored in favor of the 36 year history during which no defendants got such review.
Cole’s comments are all the proof we need that the Executive cannot be trusted to cede to Congress’ wishes (not to mention that the legislative record is far more ambivalent than Cole pretended).
So I’m grateful Feinstein is trying to tighten the definition (though I don’t think that is the workable way to improve the bill).
But I’m a bit confused by Feinstein’s confusion.
You see, as I noted some weeks ago, the term “selection term” is already used for Section 215, and has been for at least a year. And at least in phone dragnet Primary Order standard references to FISA content orders (that is, to traditional FISA warrants and the like), they’re using “selection term” as well.
The intelligence community and the FISA Court already have some common understanding of what “selection term” means — and Primary Orders appear to define the term in a classified-to-us-but-not-Feinstein footnote — and yet Feinstein is confused about what “specific selection term” might mean?
Granted, “selection term” is slightly different than “specific selection term.” Still, given that the “selection term” appears to be defined — and used — in the existing program, I would hope that Senator Feinstein would have some clarity about what it means.
Perhaps the way to start this discussion is to publicly explain how the IC is currently using “selection term”?