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William Barr Ratchets Up the “Witch Hunt” over an Investigation He Judges to be “Anemic” Given the Threat

Bill Barr hit the right wing news circuit today to make vague claims designed to feed the hoax about inappropriate spying on the Trump campaign. With both the WSJ and Fox, he obfuscated about what led him to ask John Durham to conduct what amounts to at least the third review of the origins of the Russia investigation.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Mr. Barr told The Wall Street Journal, in his first interview since taking office in February. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

He added: “Just like we need to ensure that foreign actors don’t influence the outcome of our elections, we need to ensure that the government doesn’t use its powers to put a thumb on the scale.”

[snip]

In his Wednesday interview, he declined to elaborate or offer any details on what prompted his concerns about the genesis of the Russia probe.

[snip]

Mr. Barr wouldn’t specify what pre-election activities he found troubling, nor would he say what information he has reviewed thus far or what it has shown. He said he was surprised that officials have been so far unable to answer many of his questions.

“I have more questions now than when I came in,” he said, but declined to detail them.

Given his inability to point to a reason to start this (aside from Trump’s direct orders), it’s worth looking back at something Barr said in his May 1 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Mike Lee attempted to get the Attorney General to substantiate his claim — made on April 10 — that the Trump campaign had been inappropriately spied on. In response, Barr explained his spying comment by suggesting that if the “only intelligence collection that occurred” were the FISA warrant on Carter Page and the use of Stefan Halper to question George Papadopoulos, it would amount to an “anemic” effort given the counterintelligence threat posed.

One of the things I want to look — there are people — many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I’d like to find out whether that is, in fact, true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.

Over the course of this exchange, Barr admits he doesn’t know or remember what the Mueller Report says about Carter Page, and Lee displays that he’s unfamiliar with several points about Page in the Mueller Report:

  • The report shows that Page had had two earlier ties to Russian intelligence before joining the Trump campaign, not just the one in 2013
  • After Page’s conversations with Viktor Podobnyy were quoted in the latter’s criminal complaint, Page went to a Russian official at the UN General Assembly and told him he “didn’t do anything” with the FBI
  • Page defended sharing intelligence with people he knew were Russian spies by explaining, “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country”
  • Dmitry Peskov was Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich spoke about working with Page in the future
  • Mueller ultimately concluded that “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained”
  • According to Konstantin Kilimnik, on December 8, 2016 “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine”
  • The declinations discussion appears to say Page could have been charged as a foreign agent, but was not

Even with all the details about Page Lee appears to be unfamiliar with, there are more that he cannot know, because they’re protected as grand jury materials.

Which is to say neither of these men knew enough about the investigation on May 1 to be able to explain why Barr needed to do an investigation except that Barr thought not enough spying occurred so he was sure there must be more. Had Barr read the IG Report laying out some of these issues, he would know that the investigation was anemic, in part because on August 15, Peter Strzok lost an argument about how aggressively they should pursue the investigation.

In a text message exchange on August 15, 2016, Strzok told Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….” The “Andy” referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was not a party to this text message, and we did not find evidence that he received it.

In an interview with the OIG, McCabe was shown the text message and he told us that he did not know what Strzok was referring to in the message and recalled no such conversation. Page likewise told us she did not know what that text message meant, but that the team had discussions about whether the FBI would have the authority to continue the Russia investigation if Trump was elected. Page testified that she did not find a reference in her notes to a meeting in McCabe’s office at that time.

Strzok provided a lengthy explanation for this text message. In substance, Strzok told us that he did not remember the specific conversation, but that it likely was part of a discussion about how to handle a variety of allegations of “collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.” As part of this discussion, the team debated how aggressive to be and whether to use overt investigative methods. Given that Clinton was the “prohibitive favorite” to win,

Strzok said that they discussed whether it made sense to compromise sensitive sources and methods to “bring things to some sort of precipitative conclusion and understanding.” Strzok said the reference in his text message to an “insurance policy” reflected his conclusion that the FBI should investigate the allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win. Strzok stated that Clinton’s position in the polls did not ultimately impact the investigative decisions that were made in the Russia matter.

So the investigation was anemic, and it was anemic because the guy Lee blames for unfairly targeting Trump wasn’t permitted to investigate as aggressively as he believed it should be investigated.

In the exchange, Barr also says he doesn’t want to get into the “FISA issue,” on account of the IG investigation into it — which would seem to leave just the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange to investigate.

DOJ’s IG has probably given the initial results of its investigation into FISA to FBI. I say that because of Chris Wray’s objection to the use of the word “spying” to describe predicated surveillance, Trump’s attack on Wray because of it, and the unsealing of the names of additional people at the FBI involved in interviewing Mike Flynn — Mike Steinbach, Bill Priestap, James Baker — as well as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod in two of the documents tied to his sentencing released last night. That would suggest there’s nothing substantive there (which is not surprising, given how much more damning the information about Page is than we previously knew).

Which would mean the biggest reason Barr is starting this witch hunt is that the investigation was so anemic to begin with.

Asha Rangappa Demands Progressive Left Drop Bad Faith Beliefs in Op-Ed Riddled with Errors Demonstrating [FBI’s] Bad Faith

It’s my fault, apparently, that surveillance booster Devin Nunes attacked the FBI this week as part of a ploy to help Donald Trump quash the investigation into Russian involvement in his election victory. That, at least, is the claim offered by the normally rigorous Asha Rangappa in a NYT op-ed.

It’s progressive left privacy defenders like me who are to blame for Nunes’ hoax, according to Rangappa, because — she claims — “the progressive narrative” assumes the people who participate in the FISA process, people like her and her former colleagues at the FBI and the FISA judges, operate in bad faith.

But those on the left denouncing its release should realize that it was progressive and privacy advocates over the past several decades who laid the groundwork for the Nunes memo — not Republicans. That’s because the progressive narrative has focused on an assumption of bad faith on the part of the people who participate in the FISA process, not the process itself.

And then, Ragappa proceeds to roll out a bad faith “narrative” chock full of egregious errors that might lead informed readers to suspect FBI Agents operate in bad faith, drawing conclusions without doing even the most basic investigation to test her pre-conceived narrative.

Rangappa betrays from the very start that she doesn’t know the least bit about what she’s talking about. Throughout, for example, she assumes there’s a partisan split on surveillance skepticism: the progressive left fighting excessive surveillance, and a monolithic Republican party that, up until Devin Nunes’ stunt, “has never meaningfully objected” to FISA until now. As others noted to Rangappa on Twitter, the authoritarian right has objected to FISA from the start, even in the period Rangappa used what she claims was a well-ordered FISA process. That’s when Republican lawyer David Addington was boasting about using terrorist attacks as an excuse to end or bypass the regime. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court.”

I’m more peeved, however, that Rangappa is utterly unaware that for over a decade, the libertarian right and the progressive left she demonizes have worked together to try to rein in the most dangerous kinds of surveillance. There’s even a Congressional caucus, the Fourth Amendment Caucus, where Republicans like Ted Poe, Justin Amash, and Tom Massie work with Rangappa’s loathed progressive left on reform. Amash, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, among others, even have their name on legislative attempts to reform surveillance, partnering up with progressives like Zoe Lofgren, John Conyers, Patrick Leahy, and Ron Wyden. This has become an institutionalized coalition that someone with the most basic investigative skills ought to be able to discover.

Since Rangappa has not discovered that coalition, however, it is perhaps unsurprising she has absolutely no clue what the coalition has been doing.

In criticizing the FISA process, the left has not focused so much on fixing procedural loopholes that officials in the executive branch might exploit to maximize their legal authority. Progressives are not asking courts to raise the probable cause standard, or petitioning Congress to add more reporting requirements for the F.B.I.

Again, there are easily discoverable bills and even some laws that show the fruits of progressive left and libertarian right efforts to do just these things. In 2008, the Democrats mandated a multi-agency Inspector General on Addington’s attempt to blow up FISA, the Stellar Wind program. Progressive Pat Leahy has repeatedly mandated other Inspector General reports, which forced the disclosure of FBI’s abusive exigent letter program and that FBI flouted legal mandates regarding Section 215 for seven years (among other things). In 2011, Ron Wyden started his thus far unsuccessful attempt to require the government to disclose how many Americans are affected by Section 702. In 2013, progressive left and libertarian right Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to get the Intelligence Community Inspector General to review how the multiple parts of the government’s surveillance fit together, to no avail.

Rangappa’s apparent ignorance of this legislative history is all the more remarkable regarding the last several surveillance fights in Congress, USA Freedom Act and this year’s FISA Amendments Act reauthorization (the latter of which she has written repeatedly on). In both fights, the bipartisan privacy coalition fought for — but failed — to force the FBI to comply with the same kind of reporting requirements that the bill imposed on the NSA and CIA, the kind of reporting requirements Rangappa wishes the progressive left would demand. When a left-right coalition in the House Judiciary Committee tried again this year, the FBI stopped negotiating with HJC’s staffers, and instead negotiated exclusively with Devin Nunes and staffers from HPSCI.

With USAF, however, the privacy coalition did succeed in a few reforms (including those reporting requirements for NSA and CIA). Significantly, USAF included language requiring the FISA Court to either include an amicus for issues that present “a novel or significant interpretation of the law,” or explain why it did not. That’s a provision that attempts to fix the “procedural loophole” of having no adversary in the secret court, though it’s a provision of law the current presiding FISC judge, Rosemary Collyer, blew off in last year’s 702 reauthorization. (Note, as I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t think Collyer’s scofflaw behavior is representative of what FISC judges normally do, and so would not argue her disdain for the law feeds a “progressive narrative” that all people involved in the FISA process operated in bad faith.)

Another thing the progressive left and libertarian right won in USAF is new reporting requirements on FISA-related approvals for FISC, to parallel those DOJ must provide. Which brings me to Rangappa’s most hilarious error in an error-ridden piece (it’s an error made by multiple civil libertarians earlier in the week, which I corrected on Twitter, but Rangappa appears to mute me so wouldn’t have seen it).

To defend her claim that the FISC judge who approved the surveillance of Carter Page was operating, if anything, with more rigor than in past years, Rangappa points to EPIC’s tracker of FISA approvals and declares that the 2016 court rejected the highest number of applications in history.

We don’t know whether the memo’s allegations of abuse can be verified. It’s worth noting, however, that Barack Obama’s final year in office saw the highest number of rejected and modified FISA applications in history. This suggests that FISA applications in 2016 received more scrutiny than ever before.

Here’s why this is a belly-laughing error. As noted, USAF required the FISA Court, for the first time, to release its own record of approving applications. It released a partial report (for the period following passage of USAF) covering 2015, and its first full report for 2016. The FISC uses a dramatically different (and more useful) counting method than DOJ, because it counts what happens to any application submitted in preliminary form, whereas DOJ only counts applications submitted in final form. Here’s how the numbers for 2016 compare.

Rangappa relies on EPIC’s count, which for 2016 not only includes an error in the granted number, but adopts the AOUSC counting method just for 2016, making the methodology of its report invalid (it does have a footnote that explains the new AOUSC numbers, but not why it chose to use that number rather than the DOJ one or at least show both).

Using the only valid methodology for comparison with past years, DOJ’s intentionally misleading number, FISC rejected zero applications, which is consistent or worse than other years.

It’s not the error that’s the most amusing part, though. It’s that, to make the FISC look good, she relies on data made available, in significant part, via the efforts of a bipartisan coalition that she claims consists exclusively of lefties doing nothing but demonizing the FISA process.

If anyone has permitted a pre-existing narrative to get in the way of understanding the reality of how FISA currently functions, it’s Rangappa, not her invented progressive left.

Let me be clear. In spite of Rangappa’s invocation (both in the body of her piece and in her biography) of her membership in the FBI tribe, I don’t take her adherence to her chosen narrative in defiance of facts that she made little effort to actually learn to be representative of all FBI Agents (which is why I bracketed FBI in my title). That would be unfair to a lot of really hard-working Agents. But I can think of a goodly number of cases, some quite important, where that has happened, where Agents chased a certain set of leads more vigorously because they fit their preconceptions about who might be a culprit.

That is precisely what has happened here. A culprit, Devin Nunes — the same guy who helped the FBI dodge reporting requirements Rangappa thinks the progressive left should but is not demanding — demonized the FISA process by obscuring what really happens. And rather than holding that culprit responsible, Rangappa has invented some other bad guy to blame. All while complaining that people ever criticize her FBI tribe.

[Photo: National Security Agency via Wikimedia]

If a Tech Amicus Falls in the Woods but Rosemary Collyer Ignores It, Would It Matter?

Six senators (Ron Wyden, Pat Leahy, Al Franken, Martin Heinrich, Richard Blumenthal, and Mike Lee) have just written presiding FISA Court judge Rosemary Collyer, urging her to add a tech amicus — or even better, a full time technical staffer — to the FISA Court.

The letter makes no mention of Collyer’s recent consideration of the 702 reauthorization certificates, nor even of any specific questions the tech amicus might consider.

That’s unfortunate. In my opinion, the letter entirely dodges the real underlying issue, at least as it pertains to Collyer, which is her unwillingness to adequately challenge or review Executive branch assertions.

In her opinion reauthorizing Section 702, Collyer apparently never once considered appointing an amicus, even a legal one (who, under the USA Freedom structure, could have suggested bringing in a technical expert). She refused to do so in a reconsideration process that — because of persistent problems arising from technical issues — stretched over seven months.

I argued then that that means Collyer broke the law, violating USA Freedom Act’s requirement that the FISC at least consider appointing an amicus on matters raising novel or significant issues and, if choosing not to do so, explain that decision.

In any case, this opinion makes clear that what should have happened, years ago, is a careful discussion of how packet sniffing works, and where a packet collected by a backbone provider stops being metadata and starts being content, and all the kinds of data NSA might want to and does collect via domestic packet sniffing. (They collect far more under EO 12333.) As mentioned, some of that discussion may have taken place in advance of the 2004 and 2010 opinions approving upstream collection of Internet metadata (though, again, I’m now convinced NSA was always lying about what it would take to process that data). But there’s no evidence the discussion has ever happened when discussing the collection of upstream content. As a result, judges are still using made up terms like MCTs, rather than adopting terms that have real technical meaning.

For that reason, it’s particularly troubling Collyer didn’t use — didn’t even consider using, according to the available documentation — an amicus. As Collyer herself notes, upstream surveillance “has represented more than its share of the challenges in implementing Section 702” (and, I’d add, Internet metadata collection).

At a minimum, when NSA was pitching fixes to this, she should have stopped and said, “this sounds like a significant decision” and brought in amicus Amy Jeffress or Marc Zwillinger to help her think through whether this solution really fixes the problem. Even better, she should have brought in a technical expert who, at a minimum, could have explained to her that SCTs pose as big a problem as MCTs; Steve Bellovin — one of the authors of this paper that explores the content versus metadata issue in depth — was already cleared to serve as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s technical expert, so presumably could easily have been brought into consult here.

That didn’t happen. And while the decision whether or not to appoint an amicus is at the court’s discretion, Collyer is obligated to explain why she didn’t choose to appoint one for anything that presents a significant interpretation of the law.

A court established under subsection (a) or (b), consistent with the requirement of subsection (c) and any other statutory requirement that the court act expeditiously or within a stated time–

(A) shall appoint an individual who has been designated under paragraph (1) to serve as amicus curiae to assist such court in the consideration of any application for an order or review that, in the opinion of the court, presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law, unless the court issues a finding that such appointment is not appropriate;

For what it’s worth, my guess is that Collyer didn’t want to extend the 2015 certificates (as it was, she didn’t extend them as long as NSA had asked in January), so figured there wasn’t time. There are other aspects of this opinion that make it seem like she just gave up at the end. But that still doesn’t excuse her from explaining why she didn’t appoint one.

Instead, she wrote a shitty opinion that doesn’t appear to fully understand the issue and that defers, once again, the issue of what counts as content in a packet.

Without even considering an amicus, Collyer for the first time affirmatively approved the back door searches of content she knows will include entirely domestic communications, effectively affirmatively permitting the NSA to conduct warrantless searches of entirely domestic communications, and with those searches to use FISA for domestic surveillance. In approving those back door searches, Collyer did not conduct her own Fourth Amendment review of the practice.

Moreover, she adopted a claimed fix to a persistent problem — the collection of domestic communications via packet sniffing — without showing any inkling of testing whether the fix accomplished what it needed to. Significantly, in spite of 13 years of problems with packet sniffing collection under FISA, the court still has no public definition about where in a packet metadata ends and content begins, making her “abouts” fix — a fix that prohibits content sniffing without defining content — problematic at best.

I absolutely agree with these senators that the FISC should have its own technical experts.

But in Collyer’s case, the problem is larger than that. Collyer simply blew off USA Freedom Act’s obligation to consider an amicus entirely. Had she appointed Marc Zwillinger, I’m confident he would have raised concerns about the definition of content (as he did when he served as amicus on a PRTT application), whether or not he persuaded her to bring in a technical expert to further lay out the problems.

Collyer never availed herself of the expertise of Zwillinger or any other independent entity, though. And she did so in defiance of the intent of Congress, that she at least explain why she felt she didn’t need such outside expertise.

And she did so in an opinion that made it all too clear she really, really needed that help.

In my opinion, Collyer badly screwed up this year’s reauthorization certificates, kicking the problems created by upstream collection down the road, to remain a persistent FISA problem for years to come. But she did so by blowing off the clear requirement of law, not because she didn’t have technical expertise to rely on (though the technical expertise is probably necessary to finally resolve the issues raised by packet sniffing).

Yet no one but me — not even privacy advocates testifying before Congress — want to call her out for that.

Congress already told the FISA court they “shall” ask for help if they need it. Collyer demonstrably needed that help but refused to consider using it. That’s the real problem here.

I agree with these senators that FISC badly needs its own technical experts. But a technical amicus will do no good if, as Collyer did, a FISC judge fails to consult her amici.

Three Things: Shocker, Badger, Vapor

Summer doldrums are hitting hard here; it’s too steamy today to do much but watch the garden grow and the ‘hot takes’ bloom. Let’s breeze through these.

~ 1 ~

Shocker: The White House had its ass handed to it last night, alongside a serving of vanilla ice cream and peach cobbler. While it was kissing up to some über conservative Senators, Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’ Jerry Moran announced they would not support the Motion to Proceed on the latest POS edition of AHCA.

Excellent work on the dual tweets dispatched simultaneously at 8:30 p.m., by the way (see this one and this one). Live by the tweets, die by the tweets, Littlehands.

What I find particularly interesting is the secrecy this announcement revealed. Not just the discreet collaboration between two senators from very red states, taking advantage of the additional time afforded them by John McCain’s personal health care challenge. Apparently Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Yertle” McConnell has had such a tight grip on the legislative process that even his wingman, John Cornyn, doesn’t know what’s going on until McConnell’s office emails his deputies.

Not exactly a way to win friends and influence enemies, that.

(For some reason McConnell’s super-secret hyper control makes me think of the compartments Washington Post wrote about with regard to the Russian election hacks and the subsequent investigation. Why is that?)

~ 2 ~

Badger: Russia is pissed off about its dachas-away-from-home, threatening retaliation if they’re not returned. Uh, right. Like the U.S. suddenly decided to boot Russian occupants out of the Long Island and Maryland digs for no good reason last year. Russian Foreign Ministry “reserves the right to retaliate based on the principle of reciprocity,” forgetting that Obama took a too-measured response to repeated incursions by Russia into U.S. information systems — including hacks of the White House and Defense Department in 2015 — not to mention the ‘Illegals Program‘ spy who worked at Microsoft circa 2010. (Let’s also not forget an ‘Illegals Program’ spy worked their way close to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair.) The U.S. could and should have been far more aggressive in its response; Russia isn’t entitled to reciprocity.

This is a test for Congressional Republicans. Either cement sanctions against Russia including the ‘foreclosure’ on these two compounds, or admit complicity in the undermining of democratic process last year. The GOP needs to revisit a CRS report on U.S.-Russia relations and Executive Orders 13660, 13661, and 13662 before they give any ground. [EDIT: See also EO 13964, issued April 1, 2016 in response to “malicious cyberactivity” — this EO the GOP will probably ignore just as it has all signs of Team Trump collusion as well as Russian interference in the 2016 general election.]

If there are truly compelling reasons in the nation’s interest for conceding these compounds, give them back — but only after the buildings have been razed and permits for reconstruction are denied under sanctions. The Russian government can work out of trailers on the property, or on boats from the dock. They do not need to be any more comfortable than they have been.

~ 3 ~

Vapor: No longer a ghost — we  now know who the eighth attendee was at Donnie Junior’s June 9th meeting at Trump Tower last year. Lucky number seven is believed to be a translator — and wow, so is number eight!

Which seems kind of odd — in the information Junior dumped online, there was no mention that Veselnitskaya didn’t speak English and needed a translator, or who would be the translator. Doesn’t it seem strange that there would be no concerns about security clearance into Trump Tower or a meeting with a presidential candidate’s son and/or campaign team given the meeting requester was a foreign national?

Perhaps because there was little concern, Body Number Eight, Ike Kaveladze, purportedly showed up as Veselnitskaya’s translator only to learn she had brought her own, Body Number Seven, Anatoli Samochornov. It’s not clear from USA Today’s reporting who asked Kaveladze to attend; did Junior just let any Russian in the neighborhood attend the meeting? Aras Agalarov sent Kaveladze “just to make sure it happened and to serve as an interpreter if necessary,” Kaveladze’s lawyer told NYT. Why so many witnesses?

The room must have been a little crowded with Junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rob Goldstone, Veselnitskaya and two translators as well as Rinat Akhmetshin.

Given the two translators, Akhmetshin’s presence seems even more curious. Why was he there if there were two translators?

~ ~ ~

That’s that. I could go on but it’s too damned hot here. Refresh your iced tea and settle yourself in front of the fan. This is an open thread — behave.

One Takeaway from the Five Takeaways from the Comey Hearing: Election 2016 Continues to Suffocate Oversight

The Senate Judiciary Committee had an oversight hearing with Jim Comey yesterday, which I live-tweeted in great depth. As you can imagine, most of the questions pertained either to Comey’s handing of the Hillary investigation and/or to the investigation into Russian interference in the election. So much so that The Hill, in its “Five Takeaways from Comey’s testimony,” described only things that had to do with the election:

  • Comey isn’t sorry (but he was “mildly nauseous” that his conduct may have affected the outcome)
  • Emotions over the election are still raw
  • Comey explains DOJ dynamic: “I hope someday you’ll understand”
  • The FBI may be investigating internal leaks
  • Trump, Clinton investigations are dominating FBI oversight

The Hill’s description of that third bullet doesn’t even include the “news” from Comey’s statement: that there is some still-classified detail, in addition to Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton and the intercepted Hillary aide email saying Lynch would make sure nothing happened with the investigation, that led Comey to believe he had to take the lead on the non-indictment in July.

I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with the — a number things had gone on, some of which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and declined prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the — in the justice system.

As I said, it is true that most questions pertained to Hillary’s emails or Russia. Still, reports like this, read primarily by people on the Hill, has the effect of self-fulfilling prophecy by obscuring what little real oversight happened. So here’s my list of five pieces of actual oversight that happened.

Neither Grassley nor Feinstein understand how FISA back door searches work

While they primarily focused on the import of reauthorizing Section 702 (and pretended that there were no interim options between clean reauthorization and a lapse), SJC Chair Chuck Grassley and SJC Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein both said things that made it clear they didn’t understand how FISA back door searches work.

At one point, in a discussion of the leaks about Mike Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak, Grassley tried to suggest that only a few people at FBI would have access to the unmasked identity in those intercepts.

There are several senior FBI officials who would’ve had access to the classified information that was leaked, including yourself and the deputy director.

He appeared unaware that as soon as the FBI started focusing on either Kislyak or Flynn, a back door search on the FISA content would return those conversations in unmasked form, which would mean a significant number of FBI Agents (and anyone else on that task force) would have access to the information that was leaked.

Likewise, at one point Feinstein was leading Comey through a discussion of why they needed to have easy back door access to communication content collected without a warrant (so we don’t stovepipe anything, Comey said), she said, “so you are not unmasking the data,” as if data obtained through a back door search would be masked, which genuinely (and rightly) confused Comey.

FEINSTEIN: So you are not masking the data — unmasking the data?

COMEY: I’m not sure what that means in this context.

It’s raw data. It would not be masked. That Feinstein, who has been a chief overseer of this program for the entire time back door searches were permitted doesn’t know this, that she repeatedly led the effort to defeat efforts to close the back door loophole, and that she doesn’t know what it means that this is raw data is unbelievably damning.

Incidentally, as part of the exchange wit Feinstein, Comey said the FISA data sits in a cloud type environment.

Comey claims the government doesn’t need the foreign government certificate except to target spies

Several hours into the hearing, Mike Lee asked some questions about surveillance. In particular, he asked if the targeting certificates for 702 ever targeted someone abroad for purposes unrelated to national security. Comey seemingly listed off the certificates we do have — foreign government, counterterrorism, and counterproliferation, noting that cyber gets worked into other ones.

LEE: Yes. Let’s talk about Section 702, for a minute. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act authorizes the surveillance, the use of U.S. signals surveillance equipment to obtain foreign intelligence information.

The definition includes information that is directly related to national security, but it also includes quote, “information that is relevant to the foreign affairs of the United States,” close quote, regardless of whether that foreign affairs related information is relevant to a national security threat. To your knowledge, has the attorney general or has the DNI ever used Section 702 to target individuals abroad in a situation unrelated to a national security threat?

COMEY: Not that I’m aware of. I think — I could be wrong, but I don’t think so, I think it’s confined to counterterrorism to espionage, to counter proliferation. And — those — those are the buckets. I was going to say cyber but cyber is fits within…

He said they don’t need any FG information except that which targets diplomats and spies.

LEE: Right. So if Section 702 were narrowed to exclude such information, to exclude information that is relevant to foreign affairs, but not relevant to a national security threat, would that mean that the government would be able to obtain the information it needs in order to protect national security?

COMEY: Would seem so logically. I mean to me, the value of 702 is — is exactly that, where the rubber hits the road in the national security context, especially counterterrorism, counter proliferation.

I assume that Comey said this because the FBI doesn’t get all the other FG-collected stuff in raw form and so isn’t as aware that it exists. I assume that CIA and NSA, which presumably use this raw data far more than FBI, will find a way to push back on this claim.

But for now, we have the FBI Director stating that we could limit 702 collection to national security functions, a limitation that was defeated in 2008.

Comey says FBI only needs top level URLs for ECTR searches

In another exchange, Lee asked Comey about the FBI’s continued push to be able to get Electronic Communication Transaction Records. Specifically, he noted that being able to get URLs means being able to find out what someone was reading.

In response, Comey said he thought they could only get the top-level URL.

After some confusion that revealed Comey’s lie about the exclusion of ECTRs from NSLs being just a typo, Comey said FBI did not need any more than the top domain, and Lee answered that the current bill would permit more than that.

LEE: Yes. Based on the legislation that I’ve reviewed, it’s not my recollection that that is the case. Now, what — what I’ve been told is that — it would not necessarily be the policy of the government to use it, to go to that level of granularity. But that the language itself would allow it, is that inconsistent with your understanding?

COMEY: It is and my understanding is we — we’re not looking for that authority.

LEE: You don’t want that authority…

(CROSSTALK)

COMEY: That’s my understanding. What — what we’d like is, the functional equivalent of the dialing information, where you — the address you e-mailed to or the — or the webpage you went to, not where you went within it.

This exchange should be useful for limiting any ECTR provision gets rushed through to what FBI claims it needs.

The publication of (US) intelligence information counts as intelligence porn and therefore not journalism

Ben Sasse asked Comey about the discussion of indicting Wikileaks. Comey’s first refusal to answer whether DOJ would indict Wikileaks led me to believe they already had.

I don’t want to confirm whether or not there are charges pending. He hasn’t been apprehended because he’s inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

But as part of that discussion, Comey explained that Wikileaks’ publication of loads of classified materials amounted to intelligence porn, which therefore (particularly since Wikileaks didn’t call the IC for comment first, even though they have in the past) meant they weren’t journalism.

COMEY: Yes and again, I want to be careful that I don’t prejudice any future proceeding. It’s an important question, because all of us care deeply about the First Amendment and the ability of a free press, to get information about our work and — and publish it.

To my mind, it crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead just becomes about intelligence porn, frankly. Just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to interest, without regard to the First Amendment values that normally underlie press reporting.

[snip]

[I]n my view, a huge portion of WikiLeaks’s activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important public controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America. And — and — and people sometimes get cynical about journalists.

American journalists do not do that. They will almost always call us before they publish classified information and say, is there anything about this that’s going to put lives in danger, that’s going to jeopardize government people, military people or — or innocent civilians anywhere in the world.

I’ll write about this more at length.

Relatedly (though technically a Russian investigation detail), Comey revealed that the investigation into Trump ties to Russia is being done at Main Justice and EDVA.

COMEY: Yes, well — two sets of prosecutors, the Main Justice the National Security Division and the Eastern District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office.

That makes Dana Boente’s role, first as Acting Attorney General for the Russian investigation and now the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, all the more interesting, as it means he is the person who can make key approvals related to the investigation.

I don’t have any problem with him being chosen for these acting roles. But I think it supremely unwise to effectively eliminate levels of oversight on these sensitive cases (Russia and Wikileaks) by making the US Attorney already overseeing them also the guys who oversees his own oversight of them.

The US is on its way to becoming the last haven of shell corporations

Okay, technically these were Sheldon Whitehouse and Amy Klobuchar comments about Russia. But as part of a (typically prosecutorial) line of questioning about things related to the Russian investigation, Whitehouse got Comey to acknowledge that as the EU tries to crack down on shell companies, that increasingly leaves the US as the remaining haven for shell companies that can hide who is paying for things like election hacks.

WHITEHOUSE: And lastly, the European Union is moving towards requiring transparency of incorporations so that shell corporations are harder to create. That risks leaving the United States as the last big haven for shell corporations. Is it true that shell corporations are often used as a device for criminal money laundering?

COMEY: Yes.

[snip]

WHITEHOUSE: What do you think the hazards are for the United States with respect to election interference of continuing to maintain a system in which shell corporations — that you never know who’s really behind them are common place?

COMEY: I suppose one risk is it makes it easier for illicit money to make its way into a political environment.

WHITEHOUSE: And that’s not a good thing.

COMEY: I don’t think it is.

And Klobuchar addressed the point specifically as it relates to high end real estate (not mentioning that both Trump and Paul Manafort have been alleged to be involved in such transactions).

There have been recent concerns that organized criminals, including Russians, are using the luxury real estate market to launder money. The Treasury Department has noted a significant rise in the use of shell companies in real estate transactions, because foreign buyers use them as a way to hide their identity and find a safe haven for their money in the U.S. In fact, nearly half of all homes in the U.S. worth at least $5 million are purchased using shell companies.

Does the anonymity associated with the use of shell companies to buy real estate hurt the FBI’s ability to trace the flow of illicit money and fight organized crime? And do you support efforts by the Treasury Department to use its existing authority to require more transparency in these transactions?

COMEY: Yes and yes.

It’s a real problem, and not just because of the way it facilitates election hacks, and it’d be nice if Congress would fix it.

After We Help the Saudis Commit More War Crimes We’re Going to Mars!

mars-globe-valles-marineris-enhanced-br2This afternoon, the Senate had a debate on Chris Murphy and Rand Paul’s resolution to halt the sale of $1.5 billion in arms to the Saudis to use on their invasion of Yemen.

The debate was repulsive.

The opponents of the measure — led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham — had little to say about the well-being of Yemenis.

Lindsey even shrugged off both Saudi support for terrorism.

[shrugs] They have double dealing in the past of helping terrorist organizations.

And Saudi bombing of civilians.

They have dropped bombs on civilians. There’s no way to wage war without [shrugs again] mistakes being made.

But we had to help the Saudis kill Yemeni civilians, Lindsey argued, because Iran humiliated American sailors who entered Iranian waters, purportedly because of navigation errors.

That argument — one which expressed no interest in the well-being of Yemenis but instead pitched this as a battle for hegemony in the Middle East — held the day. By a vote of 71-27, the Senate voted to table the resolution.

If your Senators voted against tabling this amendment, please call to thank them:

Baldwin (D-WI)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Heller (R-NV)
Hirono (D-HI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Leahy (D-VT)
Lee (R-UT)
Markey (D-MA)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Paul (R-KY)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schatz (D-HI)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Warren (D-MA)
Wyden (D-OR)

The creepiest thing, however, came just after the vote. Bill Nelson (D-Mission to Space) got up, not just to do a victory lap that the US would continue to support Saudi war crimes. But he also announced a resolution passed earlier, which funds NASA to send humans to Mars by 2030, with an eye to colonizing the red planet.

It was as if he was saying that proliferating arms and war crimes on this globe won’t matter so much because we can just go colonize another.

Why Is the Government Poison-Pilling ECPA Reform?

Back in 2009, the Obama Administration had Jeff Sessions gut an effort by Dianne Feinstein to gut an effort by Patrick Leahy to gut an effort by Russ Feingold to halt the phone and Internet dragnet programs (as well as, probably, some Post Cut Through Dialed Digit collections we don’t yet know about).

See what Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–did in complete secrecy and behind the cover of Jeff Sessions’ skirts the other night?

They absolutely gutted the minimization procedures tied to pen registers! Pen registers are almost certainly the means by which the government is conducting the data mining of American people (using the meta-data from their calls and emails to decide whether to tap them fully). And Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–simply gutted any requirement that the government get rid of all this meta-data when they’re done with it. They gutted any prohibitions against sharing this information widely. In fact, they’ve specified that judges should only require minimization procedures in extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, there is very little limiting what they can do with your data and mine once they’ve collected it. [no idea why I was spelling Sessions with 3 ses]

At each stage of this gutting process, Feingold’s effort to end bulk collection got watered down until, with Sessons’ amendments, the Internet dragnet was permitted to operate as it had been. Almost the very same time this happened, NSA’s General Counsel finally admitted that every single record the agency had collected under the dragnet program had violated the category restrictions set back in 2004. Probably 20 days later, Reggie Walton would shut down the dragnet until at least July 2010.

But before that happened, the Administration made what appears to be — now knowing all that we know now — an effort to legalize the illegal Internet dragnet that had replaced the prior illegal Internet dragnet.

I think that past history provides an instructive lens with which to review what may happen to ECPA reform on Thursday. A version of the bill, which would require the government to obtain a warrant for any data held on the cloud, passed the House unanimously. But several amendments have been added to the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee that I think are designed to serve as poison pills to kill the bill.

The first is language that would let the FBI resume obtaining Electronic Communication Transaction Records with just a National Security Letter (similar language got added to the Intelligence Authorization; I’ll return to this issue, which I think has been curiously reported).

The second is language that would provide a vast emergency exception to the new warrant requirement, as described by Jennifer Daskal in this post.

[T]here has been relatively little attention to an equally, if not more, troubling emergency authorization provision being offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions. (An excellent post by Al Gidari and op-ed by a retired DC homicide detective are two examples to the contrary.)

The amendment would allow the government to bypass the warrant requirement in times of claimed emergency. Specifically, it would mandate that providers turn over sought-after data in response to a claimed emergency from federal, state, or local law enforcement officials. Under current law, companies are permitted, but not required, to comply with such emergency — and warrantless — requests for data.

There are two huge problems with this proposal. First, it appears to be responding to a problem that doesn’t exist. Companies already have discretion to make emergency disclosures to governmental officials, and proponents of the legislation have failed to identify a single instance in which providers failed to disclose sought-after information in response to an actual, life-threatening emergency. To the contrary, the data suggest that providers do in fact regularly cooperate in response to emergency requests. (See the discussion here.)

Second, and of particular concern, the emergency disclosure mandate operates with no judicial backstop. None. Whatsoever. This is in direct contrast with the provisions in both the Wiretap Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that require companies to comply with emergency disclosure orders, but then also require subsequent post-hoc review by a court. Under the Wiretap Act, an emergency order has to be followed up with an application for a court authorization within 48 hours (see 18 U.S.C. § 2518(7)). And under FISA, an emergency order has to be followed with an application to the court within 7 days (see 50 U.S.C. § 1805(5)). If the order isn’t filed or the court application denied, the collection has to cease.

The proposed Sessions amendment, by contrast, allows the government to claim emergency and compel production of emails, without any back-end review.

Albert Gidari notes that providers are already getting a ton of emergency requests, and a good number of them turn out to be unfounded.

For the last 15 years, providers have routinely assisted law enforcement in emergency cases by voluntarily disclosing stored content and transactional information as permitted by section 2702 (b)(8) and (c)(4) of Title 18. Providers recently began including data about emergency disclosures in their transparency reports and the data is illuminating. For example, for the period January to June 2015, Google reports that it received 236 requests affecting 351 user accounts and that it produced data in 69% of the cases. For July to December 2015, Microsoft reports that it received 146 requests affecting 226 users and that it produced content in 8% of the cases, transactional information in 54% of the cases and that it rejected about 20% of the requests. For the same period, Facebook reports that it received 855 requests affecting 1223 users and that it produced some data in response in 74% of the cases. Traditional residential and wireless phone companies receive orders of magnitude more emergency requests. AT&T, for example, reports receiving 56,359 requests affecting 62,829 users. Verizon reports getting approximately 50,000 requests from law enforcement each year.

[snip]

Remember, in an emergency, there is no court oversight or legal process in advance of the disclosure. For over 15 years, Congress correctly has relied on providers to make a good faith determination that there is an emergency that requires disclosure before legal process can be obtained. Providers have procedures and trained personnel to winnow out the non-emergency cases and to deal with some law enforcement agencies for whom the term “emergency” is an elastic concept and its definition expansive.

Part of the problem, and the temptation, is that there is no nunc pro tunc court order or oversight for emergency requests or disclosures. Law enforcement does not have to show a court after the fact that the disclosure was warranted at the time; indeed, no one may ever know about the request or disclosure at all if it doesn’t result in a criminal proceeding where the evidence is introduced at trial. In wiretaps and pen register emergencies, the law requires providers to cut off continued disclosure if law enforcement hasn’t applied for an order within 48 hours.  But if disclosure were mandatory for stored content, all of a user’s content would be out the door and no court would ever be the wiser. At least today, under the voluntary disclosure rules, providers stand in the way of excessive or non-emergency disclosures.

[snip]

A very common experience among providers when the factual basis of an emergency request is questioned is that the requesting agency simply withdraws the request, never to be heard from again. This suggests that to some, emergency requests are viewed as shortcuts or pretexts for expediting an investigation. In other cases when questioned, agents withdraw the emergency request and return with proper legal process in hand shortly thereafter, which suggests it was no emergency at all but rather an inconvenience to procure process. In still other cases, some agents refuse to reveal the circumstances giving rise to the putative emergency. This is why some providers require written certification of an emergency and a short statement of the facts so as to create a record of events — putting it in writing goes a long way to ensuring an emergency exists that requires disclosure. But when all is in place, providers respond promptly, often within an hour because most have a professional, well-trained team available 7×24.

In other words, what seems to happen now, is law enforcement use emergency requests to go on fishing expeditions, some of which are thwarted by provider gatekeeping. Jeff Sessions — the guy who 7 years ago helped the Obama Administration preserve the dragnets — now wants to make it so these fishing expeditions will have no oversight at all, a move that would make ECPA reform meaningless.

The effort to lard up ECPA reform with things that make surveillance worse (not to mention the government’s disinterest in reforming ECPA since 2007, when it first started identifying language it wanted to reform) has my spidey sense tingling. The FBI has claimed, repeatedly, in sworn testimony, that since the 2010 Warshak decision in the Sixth Circuit, it has adopted that ruling everywhere (meaning that it has obtained a warrant for stored email). If that’s true, it should have no objection to ECPA reform. And yet … it does.

I’m guessing these emergency requests are why. I suspect, too, that there are some providers that we haven’t even thought of that are even more permissive when turning over “emergency” content than the telecoms.

 

Friday Morning: Dark Water Jazz

It’s Friday and that means jazz here at emptywheel. But no genre exploration today, just this lovely, evocative downtempo jazz/trip hop fusion work.

It’s dark water jazz indeed this week…

Congress oublies the Flint water crisis
I can’t find anything in C-SPAN about the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing which was to address the crisis. Convenient for Republicans running for office right now to keep themselves at arm’s length from a Republican scandal. We’re lucky the hearing was captured at all; it can be found at the committee’s website. (Video 3:44:08)

It must be difficult to kowtow to traditional GOP underwriters while trying to appear like you’re doing a credible job of representing Americans most in need. But it’s a lot easier to bury and forget the inconvenient.

The latest scuttlebutt is that the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S.2012) will proceed without additional funding to remedy Flint’s damaged water system, still replete with lead piping. Senate Republicans led by Senator Mike Lee of Utah protested the inclusion of funding for Flint in this bill, threatening to reject it altogether.

Wait — you know who’s up for reelection this season? Senator Mike Lee! Amazing coincidence! Or not. You know, Senator Lee, when your fellow senators leak about your obstruction, you should catch a clue. Sometimes actually helping Americans is more important than sucking up to your anti-tax overlords.

You know who else is up for reelection this season? Senator Lisa Murkowski, the chair of the counterpart Senate Energy Committee and the sponsor of S.2012. You’d think she’d want to look effective as a leader and at governance.

Roughly 8,000 children will continue to live as if they are in a third world country, with a patchwork of assistance for their health and education, but no relief from the lead pipes which continue to run from the water department to their homes. Imagine them drinking water out bottles for the rest of their childhoods, their families having to take additional time and effort to lug bottles upon bottles for their daily essential needs.

Don’t even suggest these families leave. They are stuck, STUCK in Flint, because their property values have been gutted by the failure of a GOP-led state administration, and the continued avoidance by a GOP-led Congress. Who wants to buy a home with lead pipes in Flint now? Which banks want to finance new mortgages to those homes? Which insurers want to write coverage on them?

Some government aid has been offered to Flint — which the ever-ineffectual Rep. Fred Upton recited like a litany during the hearing (see 0:13:30 in the video) — but none of it addresses the lead piping.

Donald Trump won the Republican primary in Flint’s home county of Genessee, by the way. Can’t understand why…

Cleaning off the desk
Stuff worth perusing, but I’m not going to elaborate on before I chuck it in the bin for the week.

  • Microsoft suing U.S. government for gagging the software company about government requests for users’ information. (Microsoft) — MSFT president Brad Smith wrote in a blog post about the suit; note the complaint here (pdf) in which MSFT shared these details:

    Between September 2014 and March 2016, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands for customer information or data. Of those, nearly half—2,576—were accompanied by secrecy orders, forbidding Microsoft from telling the affected customers that the government was looking at their information. The vast majority of these secrecy orders related to consumer accounts and prevent Microsoft from telling affected individuals about the government’s intrusion into their personal affairs; others prevent Microsoft from telling business customers that the government has searched and seized the emails of individual employees of the customer. Further, 1,752 of these secrecy orders contained no time limit, meaning that Microsoft could forever be barred from telling the affected customer about the government’s intrusion. The government has used this tactic in this District. Since September 2014, Microsoft received 25 secrecy orders issued in this District, none of which contained any time limit. These secrecy orders prohibit Microsoft from speaking about the government’s specific demands to anyone and forbid Microsoft from ever telling its customers whose documents and communications the government has obtained. The secrecy orders thus prevent Microsoft’s customers and the public at large from ever learning the full extent of government access to private, online information

    Emphasis Microsoft’s. Therein the one way to release a limited amount of information: file suit against the government.

  • Claims after March attack that Brussels airport security was lax impels Belgium’s transport minister to quit (euronews) — Bombs were detonated before security clearance area; not certain how minister could have prevented bombing except to move clearance all the way to the edge of the airport’s perimeter instead of after check-in.
  • UC-Davis sanitized the internet to prop its image (SacBee) — School paid $175K to excise references to a 2011 attack on student protesters by police using teargas. Should keep in mind UC-Davis is part of the University of California, of which former Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano is president, who authorized spying-by-malware on UC-Berkeley.
  • Hey, did you know there’s a tiny sovereign country inside U.S. borders? (Atlas Obscura) — Welcome to Molossia, have a nice day! Surprised no uber-wealthy hit on this as a potential money-laundering. tax-avoidance strategy: make your own country inside the U.S.

And with that we’re off, headed for a nice spring weekend ahead. Have a good one!

NSA Propagandist John Schindler Suggests Boston Marathon Terrorist Attack Not “Major Jihadist Attack”

NSA propagandist John Schindler has used the San Bernardino attack as an opportunity to blame Edward Snowden for the spy world’s diminished effectiveness, again.

Perhaps the most interesting detail in his column is his claim that 80% of thwarted attacks come from an NSA SIGINT hit.

Something like eighty percent of disrupted terrorism cases in the United States begin with a SIGINT “hit” by NSA.

That’s mighty curious, given that defendants in these cases aren’t getting notice of such SIGINT hits, as required by law, as ACLU’s Patrick Toomey reminded just last week. Indeed, the claim is wholly inconsistent with the claims FBI made when it tried to claim the dragnet was effective after the Snowden leaks, and inconsistent with PCLOB’s findings that the FBI generally finds such intelligence on its own. Whatever. I’m sure the discrepancy is one Schindler will be able to explain to defense attorneys when they subpoena him to explain the claim.

Then there’s Schindler’s entirely illogical claim that the shut-down of the phone dragnet just days before the attack might have helped to prevent it.

The recent Congressionally-mandated halt on NSA holding phone call information, so-called metadata, has harmed counterterrorism, though to what extent remains unclear. FBI Director James Comey has stated, “We don’t know yet” whether the curtailing of NSA’s metadata program, which went into effect just days before the San Bernardino attack, would have made a difference. Anti-intelligence activists have predictably said it’s irrelevant, while some on the Right have made opposite claims. The latter have overstated their case but are closer to the truth.

As Mike Lee patiently got Jim Comey to admit last week, if the Section 215 phone dragnet (as opposed to the EO 12333 phone dragnet, which remains in place) was going to prevent this attack, it would have.

Schindler then made an error that obscures one of the many ways the new phone dragnet will be better suited to counterterrorism. Echoing a right wing complaint that the government doesn’t currently review social media accounts as part of the visa process, he claimed “Tashfeen Malik’s social media writings [supporting jihad] could have been easily found.” Yet at least according to ABC, it would not have been so easy. “Officials said that because Malik used a pseudonym in her online messages, it is not clear that her support for terror groups would have become known even if the U.S. conducted a full review of her online traffic.” [See update.] Indeed, authorities found the Facebook post where Malik claimed allegiance to ISIS by correlating her known email with her then unknown alias on Facebook. NSA’s new phone program, because it asks providers for “connections” as well as “contacts,” is far more likely to identify multiple identities that get linked by providers than the old program (though it is less likely to correlate burner identities via bulk analysis).

Really, though, whether or not the dragnet could have prevented San Bernardino which, as far as is evident, was carried out with no international coordination, is sort of a meaningless measure of NSA’s spying. To suggest you’re going to get useful SIGINT about a couple who, after all lived together and therefore didn’t need to use electronic communications devices to plot, is silliness. A number of recent terrorist attacks have been planned by family members, including one cell of the Paris attack and the Charlie Hebdo attack, and you’re far less likely to get SIGINT from people who live together.

Which brings me to the most amazing part of Schindler’s piece. He argues that Americans have developed a sense of security in recent years (he of course ignores right wing terrorism and other gun violence) because “the NSA-FBI combination had a near-perfect track record of cutting short major jihadist attacks on Americans at home since late 2001.” Here’s how he makes that claim.

Making matters worse, most Americans felt reasonably safe from the threat of domestic jihadism in recent years, despite repeated warnings about the rise of the Islamic State and terrible attacks like the recent mass-casualty atrocity in Paris. Although the November 2009 Fort Hood massacre, perpetrated by Army Major Nidal Hasan, killed thirteen, it happened within the confines of a military base and did not involve the general public.

Two months before that, authorities rolled up a major jihadist cell in the New York City area that was plotting complex attacks that would have rivalled the 2005 London 7/7 atrocity in scope and lethality. That plot was backed by Al-Qa’ida Central in Pakistan and might have changed the debate on terrorism in the United States, but it was happily halted before execution – “left of boom” as counterterrorism professionals put it.

Jumping from the 2009 attacks (and skipping the 2009 Undiebomb and 2010 Faisal Shahzad attempts) to the Paris attack allows him to suggest any failure to find recent plots derives from Snowden’s leaks, which first started in June 2013.

However, the effectiveness of the NSA-FBI counterterrorism team has begun to erode in the last couple years, thanks in no small part to the work of such journalists-cum-activists. Since June 2013, when the former NSA IT contactor [sic] Edward Snowden defected to Moscow, leaking the biggest trove of classified material in all intelligence history, American SIGINT has been subjected to unprecedented criticism and scrutiny.

There is, of course, one enormous thing missing from Schindler’s narrative of NSA perfection: the Boston Marathon attack, committed months before the first Snowden disclosures became public. Indeed, even though the NSA was bizarrely not included in a post-Marathon Inspector General review of how the brothers got missed, it turns out NSA did have intelligence on them (Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in international contact with known extremists and also downloaded AQAP’s Inspire magazine repeatedly). Only, that intelligence got missed, even with the multiple warnings from FSB about Tamerlan.

Perhaps Schindler thinks that Snowden retroactively caused the NSA to overlook the intelligence on Tamerlan Tsarnaev? Perhaps Schindler doesn’t consider an attack that killed 3 and injured 260 people a “major jihadist attack”?

It’s very confusing, because I thought the Boston attack was a major terrorist attack, but I guess right wing propagandists trying to score points out of tragedy can ignore such things if it will spoil their tale of perfection.

Update: LAT reports that Malik’s Facebook posts were also private, on top of being written under a pseudonym. Oh, and also in Urdu, a language the NSA has too few translators in. The NSA (but definitely not the State Department) does have the ability to 1) correlate IDs to identify pseudonyms, 2) require providers to turn over private messages — they could use PRISM and 3) translate Urdu to English. But this would be very resources intensive and as soon as State made it a visa requirement, anyone trying to could probably thwart the correlation process.

If Ending DOD’s Train and Assist Program Is about Returning to Covert Status, Will Congress Get Details?

When Mike Lee, Joe Manchin, Chris Murphy, and Tom Udall wrote the Administration calling for an end to the Syria Train and Equip Program last week, they addressed it to CIA Director John Brennan, along with Defense Secretary Ash Carter (its primary addressee, given the clear reference to details about DOD’s T&E mission) and Secretary of State John Kerry.

It appears the Senators got the result they desired. As a number of outlets are reporting, Carter has decided to end DOD’s T&E program, which has done little except arm al Qaeda affiliates in Syria. But it’s not that we’re going to end our involvement in Syria. The stories provide different descriptions of what we intend to continue doing. The NYT, which pretended not to know about the CIA covert program, described a shift of training to Turkey, while discussing armed Sunnis in eastern Syria.

A senior Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that there would no longer be any more recruiting of so-called moderate Syrian rebels to go through training programs in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Instead, a much smaller training center would be set up in Turkey, where a small group of “enablers” — mostly leaders of opposition groups — would be taught operational maneuvers like how to call in airstrikes.

[snip]

The official said the training was “to be suspended, with the option to restart if conditions dictate, opportunities arise.” The official also said that support to Sunni Arab fighters in eastern Syria was an example of focusing on groups already fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “rather than using training to try to manufacture new brigades.”

The LAT to its credit did acknowledge the parallel CIA program in a piece vaguely describing our “new” approach of working with a wide range of groups on the Turkish border.

Under the new approach, the administration will continue to work with a range of groups to capitalize on the successes that Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen groups have had over the last several months driving the Islamic State forces out of much of the Turkey-Syria border region.‎

[snip]

The decision to end the Pentagon training program does not appear to immediately affect a separate program run by the CIA.

While Ash Carter’s public remarks associated with this discussion make it clear Russia’s actions in the same region remain a concern, the reporting I’ve seen thus far hasn’t tied the decision to end the DOD program to the need to respond to Russia in any way.

Which raises the question: is this just an attempt to shift our existing T&E efforts entirely under a covert structure again? There are many reasons why you’d want to do that, not least because it would make it a lot easier to hide that not only aren’t your “rebels” “moderate,” but they’re al Qaeda affiliates (as David Petraeus and others were floating we should do). Given Qatari and Saudi efforts to flood more weapons into Syria in response to Russia’s involvement, you’d think the US would want to play along too.

But especially since Tom Udall is the guy who — a year ago — raised the crazy notion that Congress should know some details about the (at that point) two year long effort by CIA to support “moderate” forces …

Everybody’s well aware there’s been a covert operation, operating in the region to train forces, moderate forces, to go into Syria and to be out there, that we’ve been doing this the last two years. And probably the most true measure of the effectiveness of moderate forces would be, what has been the effectiveness over that last two years of this covert operation, of training 2,000 to 3,000 of these moderates? Are they a growing force? Have they gained ground? How effective are they? What can you tell us about this effort that’s gone on, and has it been a part of the success that you see that you’re presenting this new plan on?

… I wonder whether Congress has ever gotten fully briefed on that program — and whether they would going forward.

After all, none of the men who signed this letter would be privy to how a covert effort to train rebels was going under normal guidelines unless Udall or Murphy were getting details on the Appropriations Committee.

So while it may be — and I think it likely this is — just an effort to make it easier to partner with al Qaeda to defeat Bashar al-Assad and Putin (teaming with al Qaeda to fight Russia! just like old times!) — I also wonder whether this is an effort to avoid telling most of Congress just how problematic (even if effective from an anti-Assad perspective) both the DOD and CIA effort are.