Since USA F-ReDux passed JustSecurity has published two posts about how the lapse of Section 215 might create problems for the dragnet. Megan Graham argued that technically USA F-ReDux would have amended Section 215 as it existed in 2001, meaning the government couldn’t obtain any records but those that were specifically authorized before the PATRIOT Act passed. And former SSCI staffer Michael Davidson argued that a technical fix would address any uncertainty on this point.
DOJ, however, doesn’t much give a shit about what USA F-ReDux actually amends. In its memorandum of law accompanying a request to restart the dragnet submitted the night USA F-ReDux passed, DOJ asserted that of course Section 215 as it existed on May 31 remains in place.
Its brief lapse notwithstanding, the USA FREEDOM Act also expressly extends the sunset of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, as amended, until December 15, 2019, id.§ 705(a), and provides that, until the effective date of the amendments made by Sections 101through103, it does not alter or eliminate the Government’s authority to obtain an order under Section 1861 as in effect prior to the effective date of Sections 101through103 of the USA FREEDOM Act. Id.§ 109(b). Because the USA FREEDOM Act extends the sunset for Section 215 and delays the ban on bulk production under Section 1861until180 days from its enactment, the Government respectfully submits that it may seek and this Court may issue an order for the bulk production of tangible things under Section 1861 as amended by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act as it did in docket number BR 15-24 and prior related dockets.
It cites comments Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley made on May 22 (without, curiously, quoting either Rand Paul or legislative record from after Mitch McConnell caused the dragnet to lapse) showing that the intent of the bill was to extend the current dragnet.
While I think most members of Congress would prefer DOJ’s argument to hold sway, I would expect a more robust argument from DOJ on this point.
Likewise their dismissal of the Second Circuit decision in ACLU v. Clapper (which they say they’re still considering appealing). While it notes the Second Circuit did not immediately issue an injunction, DOJ’s base argument is weaker: it likes FISC’s ruling better and so it thinks FISC’s District Court judges should consider but ultimately ignore what the Second Circuit said.
The Government believes that this Court’s analysis of Section 215 reflects the better interpretation of the statute, see, e.g., In Re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things, docket no. BR 13-109, Amended Mem. Op., 2013 WL 5741573 (FISA Ct. Aug. 29, 2013) (Eagan, J.) and In Re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things, docket no. BR 13-158, Mem. (FISA Ct. Oct. 11, 2013) (McLaughlin, J.), disagrees with the Second Circuit panel’s opinion, and submits that the request for renewal of the bulk production authority is authorized under the statute as noted above.
The Government submits that this Court’s analysis continues to reflect the better reading of Section 1861.
This is where, incidentally, the flaccid report language attached to USA F-ReDux is so problematic. In a filing affirming the importance of legislative language, had the HJC report said something more than “Congress’ decision to leave in place the ‘‘relevance’’ standard for Section 501 orders should not be construed as Congress’ intent to ratify the FISA Court’s interpretation of that term,” DOJ might have to take notice of the language. But as it is, without affirmatively rejecting FISC’s opinion, the government will pretend it doesn’t matter.
I’m no more surprised with DOJ’s argument about the Second Circuit decision than I am its insistence that lapsing a bill doesn’t have legal ramifications.
But I would expect both arguments to make some effort to appear a bit less insolent. I guess DOJ is beyond that now.
Back in October 2013, Jim Sensenbrenner and Patrick Leahy released the original, far better, version of the USA Freedom Act. As I noted in November 2013, it included a provision that would limit upstream collection to international terrorism and international proliferation of WMD uses.
It basically adds a paragraph to section d of Section 702 that limits upstream collection to two uses: international terrorism or WMD proliferation.
(C) limit the acquisition of the contents of any communication to those communications—
(i) to which any party is a target of the acquisition; or
(ii) that contain an account identifier of a target of an acquisition, only if such communications are acquired to protect against international terrorism or the international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.;
And adds a definition for “account identifier” limiting it to identifiers of people.
(1) ACCOUNT IDENTIFIER.—The term ‘account identifier’ means a telephone or instrument number, other subscriber number, email address, or username used to uniquely identify an account.
At the time, I noted that this would give the NSA 6 months to shut down the use of upstream collection to collect cyber signatures.
Jonathan Mayer’s comments on the NYT/PP story today reveals why that would be important to do (this is a point I’ve been making for years): because if you’re collecting signatures of cyber attacks, you’re collecting victim data, as well, a problem that would only get worse under the cyberinformation sharing bills before Congress.
This understanding of the NSA’s domestic cybersecurity authority leads to, in my view, a more persuasive set of privacy objections. Information sharing legislation would create a concerning surveillance dividend for the agency.
Because this flow of information is indirect, it prevents businesses from acting as privacy gatekeepers. Even if firms carefully screen personal information out of their threat reports, the NSA can nevertheless intercept that information on the Internet backbone.
Furthermore, this flow of information greatly magnifies the scale of privacy impact associated with information sharing. Here’s an entirely realistic scenario: imagine that a business detects a handful of bots on its network. The business reports a signature to DHS, who hands it off to the NSA. The NSA, in turn, scans backbone traffic using that signature; it collects exfiltrated data from tens of thousands of bots. The agency can then use and share that data.12 What began as a tiny report is magnified to Internet scale.
But, instead of giving NSA 6 months to close this loophole, we instead passed USA F-ReDux, which does nothing to rein domestic spying in the name of cybersecurity.
Leahy released a remarkable statement in response to today’s story that doesn’t reveal whether he knew of this practice (someone knew to forbid it in their original bill!), but insisting he’ll fight for more limits on surveillance and transparency.
Today’s report that the NSA has expanded its warrantless surveillance of Internet traffic underscores the critical importance of placing reasonable and commonsense limits on government surveillance in order to protect the privacy of Americans. Congress took an important step in this direction this week by passing the USA FREEDOM Act, but I have always believed and said that more reforms are needed. Congress should have an open, transparent and honest debate about how to protect both our national security and our privacy. As Congress continues to work on surveillance and cybersecurity legislation, I will continue to fight for more reforms, more transparency, and more accountability – particularly on issues related to the privacy of Americans’ personal communications.
Remember: on Tuesday, Richard Burr vehemently denied we had secret law. And while this application of FISA wasn’t entirely secret — I figured it out pretty quickly, but a great great many people doubted me, as per usual — even Leahy is faced with a situation where he can’t admit he knew about a practice he already tried to shut down once.
I say bizarre because Vladeck complains that Paul “seize[d] the national spotlight in order to focus everyone’s attention on a hyper-specific question” — that of the Section 215 dragnet — when Vladeck has, at this late date, joined those of us who have long been pushing a focus on broader issues, specifically EO 12333 and Section 702. To support his claim that Paul is singularly focused on Section 215, Vladeck links to a second-hand report of a sentence in Paul’s campaign announcement, rather than to the announcement itself which (while more muddled than in other statements where Paul has named EO 12333 directly) invokes surveillance authorized by Executive Order, not the PATRIOT Act.
The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president on day one, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.
Contrary to Vladeck’s miscitation, in this and other comments, Paul seized the national spotlight, in significant part, to talk about the broader issues, specifically EO 12333 and Section 702, that those pushing USA F-ReDux had set aside for future fights. Indeed, big parts of Paul’s filibuster speech — including his 10 and Ron Wyden’s 2 references to EO 12333 and his 18 and Wyden’s 3 references to 702 — sounds a lot like Vladeck’s series of posts worrying that this will be the only shot at reform and therefore regretting that we didn’t talk about the bigger issues as part of it.
Another deficiency of the USA FREEDOM Act is that it does not address bulk collection under Executive Order 12333. The bill also fails to address bulk collection under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
One could say: What are you complaining about? You are getting some improvement. You still have problems, but you are getting some improvement.
I guess my point is that we are having this debate, and we don’t have it very often. We are having the debate every 3 years, and some people have tried to make this permanent, where we would never have any debate. Even though we are only having it every3 years, it is still uncertain whether I will be granted any amendments to this bill.
So, yes, I would like to address everything while we can. I think we ought to address section 702. I think we ought to–for goodness’ sake, why won’t we have some hearings on Executive Order 12333? I think they may be having them in secret, but I go back to what Senator Wyden said earlier. I think the principles of the law could be discussed in public. We don’t have to reveal how we do stuff. Do we think anybody in the world thinks we are not looking at their stuff? Why don’t we
explore the legality and the law of how we are doing it as opposed to leaving it unsaid and unknown in secret?
In other words, unlike the drone filibuster Vladeck points to as proof of “libertarian hijacking” — where Paul definitely defined his terms narrowly (but in a later iteration did succeed in getting more response from Jim Comey than Ron Wyden making demands) — Paul was arguing for precisely what Vladeck said we should be arguing about. He just has cooties, I guess is the substance of Vladeck’s argument, so Vladeck doesn’t want him as an ally.
Equally bizarre is Vladeck’s claim that, “it was the very same Senator Paul who all-but-singlehandedly torpedoed the Leahy bill back in November, helping to force the entirely unnecessary political and legal brinkmanship of the past week.” That’s bizarre because, as a matter of fact, Paul did not “singlehandedly” torpedo the bill; Bill Nelson played an equal role (and that’s even assuming the bill had enough votes to pass, which given that I know of 1 pro-cloture vote who was a no vote on passage and a significant number who weren’t committed to vote for it without improving amendment, was never a foregone conclusion). It’s easy to blame Paul because it absolves whoever it was that whipped a bill but didn’t even count all the Democratic votes on it, but Paul was in no way singlehandedly responsible.
But the view all the more bizarre, coming from Vladeck, because if Paul singlehandedly torpedoed the bill (he didn’t) he also singlehandedly made the 2nd Circuit ruling for ACLU possible (he didn’t, but that is Vladeck’s logic). And unlike most USA F-ReDux champions, Vladeck has been very attentive– if, at times, arguably mistaken in his understanding of it — to the interaction of USA F-ReDux legislation and the courts. While USA F-ReDux is — important additional Congressional reporting requirements on PRTT and bulky 215 collection notwithstanding — definitely a worse bill than its predecessor, that’s not the measure. So long as the 2nd Circuit decision ruling against “relevant to” and finding a Fourth Amendment interest at the moment of collection rather than review stands (the government still has a few weeks to challenge it), the measure is USA F-ReDux plusthe 2nd Circuit decision as compared to USAF without the additional leverage of an appellate court ruling. There are very important things the 2nd Circuit decision may add to USA F-ReDux. Every commenter is entitled to weigh that measure themselves, but if you’re going to hold Paul responsible for torpedoing the legislation last fall you also have to credit him with buying time so the 2nd Circuit could weigh in.
Which brings me to leverage.
I was not a fan of any version of USAF because all left every key provision save the CDR function (and even some of that was left dangerously open to interpretation until HJC wrote its final bill report) subject to the whim of the Executive and/or the FISC, and the bill itself jettisoned necessary leverage over the Executive (Vladeck has written about the gutting of the FISC advocate, and a parallel gutting has happened on transparency provisions from the start). That is, rather than exercise some kind of authority over the Executive, Congress basically wrote down what the Executive wanted and passed it in a way that the Executive still had a lot of leeway to decide what it wanted to do.
I get why that happened and I don’t mean to diminish the work of those who pushed for more: the votes and leadership buy-in simply isn’t there yet to actually start limiting what Article II will do in secret.
But that means none of the other things Vladeck wants will be possible until we get more leverage. And while the outcome of the bill may be the same and/or worse, what is different about the passage of USA F-ReDux is that leadership in both house of Congress barely kept it together.
And Rand Paul, whether he has cooties or not, was key to that process.
That’s true, in large part, because Mitch McConnell was aiming to set up an urgent crisis as a way to scare people into making the bill worse. He succeeded in doing so by delaying consideration of the bill until the last minute, but when Paul — and Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich — prevented him from getting a short-term extension to do so without lapsing the dragnet, that changed the calculus of the crisis. It meant those who had bought into the idea you need a dragnet to keep the country safe could be pressured to vote against McConnell’s efforts to weaken USA F-ReDux. (Note, there are some who have claimed that Paul objected to immediately considering USA F-ReDux Sunday night, giving McConnell his opportunity to amend the bill, but the congressional record doesn’t support that; McConnell didn’t call for immediate consideration of the bill itself until he had already filled the tree with amendments.)
And while I don’t want to minimize the utterly crucial efforts of Mike Lee to actually whip the vote, that effort was made easier by the very real threat that if the bill had to go back to the House it would die, resulting in a more permanent lapse to Section 215 and the other expired authorities. Leahy and others used that threat repeatedly, in fact, to argue that surveillance hawks needed to support an amended bill. And the threat was heightened because John Boehner had real worries that if he tried something funny, his own leadership would be at risk.
Last year, the privacy community was mostly fighting with carrots against an Executive branch that was dictating what it was willing to give up. Now, it’s fighting with carrots and sticks. We haven’t gotten the Executive branch to give up anything it didn’t already want to give up yet. But having dealt McConnell a big defeat and having the threat to do so with Boehner might make that possible going forward.
Having someone like Rand Paul, who is not afraid to be accused of having cooties, to make that possible is a critical part of that process. That doesn’t negate the efforts of anyone else (again, I’m really encouraged by Mike Lee’s role in all this). But it does mean people holding carrots but demanding things that will only be obtained with some sticks, too, ought not to dismiss the efforts to make the threat of a stick real.
As I noted earlier, the House Judiciary Committee just released a new version of USA Freedom Act, which I’ve dubbed USA F-ReDux. I’ll have a lot more to say about it, but I want to make two minor point about things that got taken out of Leahy’s bill from last year.
First, last year’s bill had minimization procedures tied to bulky Section 215 collection effectively requiring the government to destroy the data that had not been determined to be two hops from a target within a period of time.
(C) for orders in which the specific selection term does not specifically identify an individual, account, or personal device, procedures that prohibit the dissemination, and require the destruction within a reasonable time period (which time period shall be specified in the order), of any tangible thing or information therein that has not been determined to relate to a person who is—
(i) a subject of an authorized investigation;
(ii) a foreign power or a suspected agent of a foreign power;
(iii) reasonably likely to have information about the activities of—
(I) a subject of an authorized 21 investigation; or
(II) a suspected agent of a foreign power who is associated with a subject of an authorized investigation;
(iv) in contact with or known to—
(I) a subject of an authorized investigation; or
(II) a suspected agent of a foreign power who is associated with a subject of an authorized investigation,
Those minimization procedures resemble what we’ve seen from the minimization procedures FISC imposed on the phone dragnet, which probably means they also resemble what FISC was imposing in other cases. In the previous year (2013), FISC had imposed minimization procedures on almost 80% of all orders.
In other words, the clause basically required the government to do what the FISC was probably already forcing it to do in the majority of orders (which, in any case, permitted the government to keep, indefinitely, the records associated with people two hops out of someone whom the government had a traffic stop suspicion had ties to terror or spying).
Last year, however, the FISC modified fewer than 3% of orders, and at least one of those was probably a phone dragnet one. Perhaps the change means the government finally started complying with the requirement laid out in 2006 that it adopt minimization procedures (the impending Section 215 IG Report likely created an incentive to do that, as following the law on minimization was one of the recommendations Glenn Fine had made in 2008, so Michael Horowitz surely followed up on that recommendation; plus, the generally law-abiding James Baker assumed FBI’s General Counsel role in this period). Perhaps it means the government stopped making bulky collections (though that is unlikely). But for some reason, the number of orders on which the FISC imposed minimization procedures and a report back fell off a cliff.
And now the requirement that the government adopt minimization procedures for bulky collection is gone from the bill.
I might be alarmed by that, but this year’s bill does add a Rule of Construction clarifying that the FISA Court can impose additional minimization procedures on top of what the bill requires the government to adopt for Section 215. So it may be that if the FBI returns to its recidivist ways on minimization procedures, we’ll see the number of modified orders spike again.
I’m more concerned about what happened on the Pen Register side.
Last year, the PRTT section added new “privacy” (not “minimization”) procedures.
IN GENERAL.—The Attorney General shall ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are in place to safeguard nonpublicly available information concerning United States persons that is collected through the use of a pen register or trap and trace device installed under this section. Such policies and procedures shall, to the maximum extent practicable and consistent with the need to protect national security, include privacy protections that apply to the collection, retention, and use of information concerning United States persons.
Compare how squishy those privacy procedures are to the required Section 215 minimization procedures FBI blew off for years.
A) specific procedures that are reasonably designed in light of the purpose and technique of an order for the production of tangible things, to minimize the retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information;
(B) procedures that require that nonpublicly available information, which is not foreign intelligence information, as defined in section 1801 (e)(1) of this title, shall not be disseminated in a manner that identifies any United States person, without such person’s consent, unless such person’s identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance; and
Rather than requiring the procedures minimize the retention and dissemination, the bill required only that privacy protections be applied. And there was no requirement limiting dissemination of non-foreign intelligence data.
But at least there were privacy procedures, right? Baby steps?
Last year’s bill had, and this year’s bill retains, a Rule of Construction (like that added to Section 215) that notes nothing limits FISC’s power to impose additional minimization procedures.
(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this subsection limits the authority of the court established under section 103(a) or of the Attorney General to impose additional privacy or minimization procedures with regard to the installation or use of a pen register or trap and trace device.
Which is all well and good, but FISC’s authority to do so with PRTT has no statutory basis, unlike Section 215. And during both the 2004 initial application for the Internet dragnet and John Bates’ 2010 reauthorization of it, the government made some fairly aggressive claims about FISC’s impotence to do anything but rubber stamp applications. So this Rule of Construction may not have the same weight as that in Section 215.
Which is why I worry that this section was removed from the bill.
(3) COMPLIANCE ASSESSMENT.—At or before the end of the period of time for which the installation and use of a pen register or trap and trace device is approved under an order or an extension under this section, the judge may assess compliance with the privacy procedures required by this subsection by reviewing the circumstances under which information concerning United States persons was collected, retained, or disseminated.
As the documents on the phone dragnet violations showed, unless FISC has and exercises the authority to ensure compliance with minimization procedures, the government will cheat (or, more charitably, not find systematic years-long violations staring them in the face). FISC seemed to recognize this when it imposed compliance reports on its minimization of Section 215 orders in recent years. But it won’t have statutory authority to review assessment with these already-squishy “privacy procedures.”
Now that the Section 215 Sunset draws nearer, the debate over what reformers should do has shifted away from whether USA Freedom Act is adequate reform to whether it is wise to push for Section 215 to sunset.
That debate, repeatedly, has focused almost entirely on the phone dragnet that Section 215 authorizes. It seems most of the people engaging in this debate or reporting on it are unaware or uninterested in what the other roughly 175 Section 215 orders authorized last year did (just 5 orders authorized the phone dragnet).
But if Section 215 sunsets in June, those other 175 orders will be affected too (though thus far it looks like FISC is approving fewer 215 orders than they did last year). Yet the government won’t tell us what those 175 orders do.
We know — or suspect — some of what these other orders do. NYT and WSJ reported on a Western Union dragnet that would probably amount to 4-5 orders a year (and would have been unaffected and hidden in transparency reporting under USA Freedom Act).
The FBI has previously confirmed that it used Section 215 to collect records of explosives precursors — things like large quantities of acetone, hydrogen peroxide, fertilizer, and (probably now) pressure cookers; given that the Presidential Review Group consulted with ATF on its review of Section 215, it’s likely these are programmatic collection. (If the government told us it was, we might then be able to ask why these materials couldn’t be handled the same way Sudafed is handled, too, which might force the government to tie it more closely to actual threats.) This too would have been unaffected by USAF.
The government also probably uses Section 215 to collect hotel records (which is what it was originally designed for, though not in the bulk it is probably accomplished). This use of Section 215 will likely be reinforced if and when SCOTUS affirms the collection of hotel records in Los Angeles v. Patel.
But the majority of those 175 Section 215 orders, we now know, are for some kind of Internet records that may or may not relate to cyber investigations, depending on whether you think FBI talks out of its arse when trying to keep authorities, but which they almost certainly collect in sufficient bulk that FISC imposed minimization procedures on FBI.
Which brings me to my argument that reauthorizing Section 215 will forestall any ECPA reform.
We know most Section 215 orders are for Internet records because someone reliable — DOJ’s Inspector General in last year’s report on National Security Letters — told us that a collection of Internet companies successfully challenged FBI’s use of NSLs to collect this stuff after DOJ published an opinion on ECPA in 2008.
The decision of these [redacted] Internet companies to discontinue producing electronic communication transactional records in response to NSLs followed public release of a legal opinion issued by the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding the application of ECPA Section 2709 to various types of information. The FBI General Counsel sought guidance from the OLC on, among other things, whether the four types of information listed in subsection (b) of Section 2709 — the subscriber’s name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records — are exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request in an NSL. In a November 2008 opinion, the OLC concluded that the records identified in Section 2709(b) constitute the exclusive list of records that may be obtained through an ECPA NSL.
Although the OLC opinion did not focus on electronic communication transaction records specifically, according to the FBI, [redacted] took a legal position based on the opinion that if the records identified in Section 2709(b) constitute the exclusive list of records that may be obtained through an ECPA NSL, then the FBI does not have the authority to compel the production of electronic communication transactional records because that term does not appear in subsection (b).
That report went on to explain that FBI considered fixing this problem by amending the definition for toll records in Section 2709, but then bagged that plan and just moved all this collection to Section 215, which takes longer.
In the absence of a legislative amendment to Section 2709, [2.5 lines redacted]. [Deputy General Counsel of FBI’s National Security Law Branch] Siegel told us that the process of generating and approving a Section 215 application is similar to the NSL process for the agents and supervisors in the field, but then the applications undergo a review process in NSLB and the Department’s National Security Division, which submits the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court). According to Siegel, a request that at one time could be accomplished with an NSL in a matter of hours if necessary, now takes about 30-40 days to accomplish with a standard Section 215 application.
In addition to increasing the time it takes to obtain transactional records, Section 215 requests, unlike NSL requests, require the involvement of FBI Headquarters, NSD, and the FISA Court. Supervisors in the Operations Section of NSD, which submits Section 215 applications to the FISA Court, told us that the majority of Section 215 applications submitted to the FISA Court [redacted] in 2010 and [redacted] in 2011 — concerned requests for electronic communication transaction records.
The NSD supervisors told us that at first they intended the [3.5 lines redacted] They told us that when a legislative change no longer appeared imminent and [3 lines redacted] and by taking steps to better streamline the application process.
The government is, according to the report, going through all sorts of hoop-jumping on these records rather than working with Congress to pass ECPA reform.
That’s not all the Report told us. Even earlier than that problem, in 2007, the IG identified other uncertainties about what the FBI should be obtaining with an NSL, and FBI actually put together a proposal to Congress. The proposed definition included both financial information and what could be construed as location data in toll records. That bill has never been passed.
But while Internet companies have shown reluctance to let the FBI secretly expand the meaning of toll record, two telecoms have not (a third, which I suspect is Verizon, backed out of closer cooperation on NSLs in 2009, and presumably a fourth, which probably is T-Mobile, was never a part of it).
And here’s what happened to the kinds of records FBI has been obtaining (almost certainly from AT&T) in the interim:
FBI is collecting 7 kinds of things from (probably) AT&T that the Inspector General doesn’t think fits under ECPA.
Now, I’m not sure precisely why ECPA reform has gone nowhere in the last 8 years, but all this redaction suggests one reason is the government doesn’t want to be bound by a traditional definition of toll record, so much so it’s willing to put up with the aggravation of getting Section 215 orders for (what may be the same kind of) information from Internet companies in order to not be bound by limits on its telecom (or at least AT&T) NSLs.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather have the Internet stuff be under Section 215 orders, where it will be treated with some kind of minimization (the FBI is still completely ignoring the 2006 language in Section 215 requiring it to adopt minimization procedures for that section, but FISC has stepped into the void and imposed some itself).
But ultimately what’s going on — in addition to the adoption of a dragnet approach for phone records (that might have been deemed a violation of 18 USC 2302-3 if litigated with an adversary) and financial records (that might have been deemed a violation of 12 USC 3401-3422 if litigated with an adversary), is that the government is also, apparently, far exceeding the common understanding of NSLs without going back to Congress to get them to amend the law (and this goes well beyond communities of interest — two or maybe three hop collection under an NSL — which isn’t entirely redacted in this report).
It may be moot anyway. I actually wonder whether Internet companies will use the immunity of CISA, if and when it passes, to turn whatever they’re turning over without a Section 215 order.
And it’s not like Pat Leahy and Mike Lee have been successful in their efforts to get ECPA reform that protects electronic communications passed. ECPA isn’t happening anyway.
But maybe it might, if Section 215 were to lapse and the government were forced to stop kluging all the programs that have never really been approved by Congress in the first place into Section 215.
As Jason Leopold reports, the government recently released a newly declassified version of the 2002 NIE that justified the war with Iraq to Black Vault’s John Greenwald. Leopold has a useful overview of what the report includes. But I’m most appalled by this.
The NIE also restores another previously unknown piece of “intelligence”: a suggestion that Iraq was possibly behind the letters laced with anthrax sent to news organizations and senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a week after the 9/11 attacks. The attacks killed five people and sickened 17 others.
“We have no intelligence information linking Iraq to the fall 2001 attacks in the United States, but Iraq has the capability to produce spores of Bacillus anthracis — the causative agent of anthrax — similar to the dry spores used in the letters,” the NIE said. “The spores found in the Daschle and Leahy letters are highly purified, probably requiring a high level of skill and expertise in working with bacterial spores. Iraqi scientists could have such expertise,” although samples of a biological agent Iraq was known to have used as an anthrax simulant “were not as pure as the anthrax spores in the letters.”
Perhaps the inset discussing the US-developed anthrax used to attack two Senators and members of the media purports to respond to questions raised by anonymous sources leaking the previous year. But it basically does nothing but suggest the possibility Iraq might have launched the attack, even while providing one after another piece of evidence showing why that was all but impossible.
Moreover, by the time this NIE was completed in October 2002, that deliberate leak had been silent for a almost a year.
That the rumor appeared again, secretly, in the Iraq NIE really ought to raise questions about a whole slew of unanswered questions about the anthrax attack: about why Judy Miller got fake anthrax, about why the FBI scoped its investigation to find only lone wolves and therefore not to find any conspirators (and still almost certainly hasn’t found the culprit), about why the first person framed for the attack also happened to be someone who knew of efforts to reverse engineer Iraq’s purported bioweapon labs.
No. No, Iraq wasn’t linked to the anthrax letters in fall 2001. It’s a simple answer. But nevertheless, the question got treated as a serious possibility when Bush Administration was trying to drum up war against Iraq.
Yesterday, Pat Leahy issued a Sunshine Week statement criticizing Richard Burr for attempting to reclaim all copies of the Torture Report, but also complaining that State and DOJ haven’t opened their copy of the Torture Report.
I also was appalled to learn that several of the agencies that received the full report in December have not yet opened it. In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking release of the full report, Justice Department and State Department officials submitted declarations stating that their copies remain locked away in unopened, sealed envelopes. I do not know if this was done to attempt to bolster the government’s position in the FOIA lawsuit, or to otherwise avoid Federal records laws. I certainly hope not. Regardless of the motivation, it was a mistake and needs to be rectified.
The executive summary of the torture report makes clear that both the State Department and the Justice Department have much to learn from the history of the CIA’s torture program. Both agencies were misled by the CIA about the program. Both should consider systemic changes in how they deal with covert actions. Yet neither agency has bothered to open the final, full version of the report, or apparently even those sections most relevant to them.
Today, Ron Wyden issued a Sunshine Week release linking back to a February 3 letter Eric Holder is still ignoring. The letter — which I wrote about here — addresses 4 things: 1) the unclear limits on the President’s ability to kill Americans outside of war zones 2) the common commercial service agreement OLC opinion that should be withdrawn 3) some action the Executive took that Wyden and Russ Feingold wrote Holder and Hillary about in late 2010 and 4) DOJ’s failure to even open the Torture Report. Wyden’s statement, lumps all these under “secret law.”
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., renewed his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to answer crucial questions on everything from when the government believes it has the right to kill an American to secret interpretations of law. The Justice Department has ignored these questions or declined to answer them, in some cases for years.
“It is never acceptable to keep the basic interpretations of U.S. law secret from the American people. It doesn’t make our country safer, and erodes the public’s confidence in the government and intelligence agencies in particular,” Wyden said. “While it is appropriate to keep sources, methods and operations secret, the law should never be a mystery. Sunshine Week is the perfect time for the Justice Department to pull back the curtains and let the light in on how our government interprets the law.”
This may be secret law.
But I find it interesting that both Wyden’s letter and Leahy’s statement tie covert operations to the lessons from the Torture Report.
There are many reasons DOJ (and FBI) are probably refusing to open the Torture Report. The most obvious — the one everyone is pointing to — is that by not opening it, these Agencies keep it safe from the snooping FOIAs of the ACLU and Jason Leopold.
But the other reason DOJ and FBI might want to keep this report sealed is what it says about the reliability of the CIA.
The CIA lied repeatedly to DOJ, FBI, and FBI Director Jim Comey (when he was Deputy Attorney General) specifically. Specifically, they lied to protect the conduct of what was structured as a covert operation, CIA breaking the law at the behest of the President.
Of course, both DOJ generally and FBI specifically continue to partner with CIA as if nothing has gone on, as if the spooks retain the credibility they had back in 2001, as if they should retain that credibility. (I’m particularly interested in the way FBI participated in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, perhaps relying on CIA’s claims there, too, but it goes well beyond that.)
That’s understandable, to a point. If DOJ and the FBI are going to continue pursuing (especially) terrorists with CIA, they need to be able to trust them, to trust they’re not being lied to about, potentially, everything.
Except that ignores the lesson of the Torture Report, which is that CIA will lie about anything to get DOJ to rubber stamp criminal behavior.
No wonder DOJ and FBI aren’t opening that report.
Less than 10 days ago, Jim laid out yet more evidence that the FBI’s claimed explanation for the anthrax attack — that USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins not only perpetrated the attack, but did so acting alone — was scientifically problematic. So 13 years ago, anonymous sources blamed Iraq for the attack, 12 years ago they blamed Steven Hatfill, and 6 years ago, they started blaming Bruce Ivins. Probably, none of those claims are true.
The FBI still hasn’t solved one of the most alarming terrorist attacks in this country, an attempt to kill two sitting US Senators. Instead, it persists in a claim (versus Ivins) that doesn’t comport with the science, to say nothing of the other circumstantial evidence. FBI only ever sustained that claim by assuming — based on no known evidence — that a Lone Wolf, rather than conspirators, launched the attack.
Even as new evidence undermining the FBI’s obstinate claims about Ivins got released, the FBI has been making equally obstinate claims that North Korea is behind the Sony hack.
And then someone crashed North Korea’s Internet which, given how tiny it is, is the strategic equivalent of launching spitballs at a small group of North Korea’s elite. A truly awesome use of American power!
Now, with a week of holiday cheers under their belts, more of the press is beginning to note all the experts questioning the FBI’s claim. Shane Harris describes the FBI “doubling down” on its original theory.
In spite of mounting evidence that the North Korean regime may not have been wholly responsible for a brazen cyberassault against Sony—and possibly wasn’t involved at all—the FBI is doubling down on its theory that the Hermit Kingdom solely bears the blame.
“We think it’s them,” referring to the North Koreans, an FBI spokesperson told The Daily Beast when asked to respond to reports from private investigators that other culprits were responsible. The latest evidence, from the cyberanalysis firm the Norse Corp., suggests that a group of six individuals, including at least one disgruntled ex-Sony employee, is behind the assault, which has humiliated Sony executives, led to threats of terrorist attacks over the release of a satirical film, and prompted an official response from the White House.
The FBI said in a separate statement to journalists on Monday that “there is no credible information to indicate that any other individual is responsible for this cyberincident.” When asked whether that left open the possibility that other individuals may have assisted North Korea or were involved in the assault on Sony, but not ultimately responsible for the damage that was done, the FBI spokesperson replied, “We’re not making the distinction that you’re making about the responsible party and others being involved.”
Time catalogs the alternatives to FBI’s theories.
And Politico notes that when one cybersecurity company, Norse, shared its analysis, the FBI refused to share its own data, as the company had expected.
The FBI says it is standing by its conclusions, but the security community says the agency has been open and receptive to help from the private sector throughout the Sony investigation.
Norse, one of the world’s leading cyber intelligence firms, has been researching the hack since it was made public just before Thanksgiving.
Norse’s senior vice president of market development said the quickness of the FBI’s conclusion that North Korea was responsible was a red flag.
“When the FBI made the announcement so soon after the initial hack was unveiled, everyone in the [cyber] intelligence community kind of raised their eyebrows at it, because it’s really hard to pin this on anyone within days of the attack,” Kurt Stammberger said in an interview as his company briefed FBI investigators Monday afternoon.
He said the briefing was set up after his company approached the agency with its findings.
Stammberger said after the meeting the FBI was “very open and grateful for our data and assistance” but didn’t share any of its data with Norse, although that was what the company expected.
It’s a bad thing, given how much evidence is out there about this hack, that the FBI won’t let more of its thinking be tested publicly.
And NYT’s Ombud, Margaret Sullivan, admits that NYT too quickly repeated — and granted anonymity to — FBI’s flimsy claims.
[A]s a reader, Brad Johnson, noted in an email. He wrote: “Did NYT learn its lesson from the Iraq WMD debacle, or is the paper back to bad habits of writing stories from whole cloth based on anonymous White House and intelligence agency officials?”
One thing is certain: Anonymity continues to be granted to sources far more often than a last-resort basis would suggest.
Though Sullivan’s caution didn’t lead the Editorial Board to show any.
I’m glad people are now showing skepticism, even if it is too late to preserve American credibility (as if we had that anyway after StuxNet).
There’s one more factor that deserves notice here: the role of cybersecurity firms in laundering government propaganda.
One of the most pregnant observations in Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day comes after Symantec published the first details implicating the US and Israel in the StuxNet attack. The Symantec team expected a bunch of others to jump in and start validating their work. Instead, they were met with almost complete silence. While Zetter didn’t say it explicitly, the implication was that the security industry is driven by its interest in retaining the good will of the US Government. Here, the first security firm to back the North Korea claim was Mandiant, the firm that served as a surrogate for claims against China.
And while in this case there is no lack of experts willing to push back against US claims, I just wonder whether at least some of the initial credulity on the North Korea claims arose because of the dominance of USG contractors among the earliest reports on the hack? While there are some equivalents in the WMD vein, the cyberindustry, in particular, seems particularly prone to serving as a cut-out for both poorly analyzed intelligence and even propaganda.
Ah well. It’s not like anyone is demanding FBI resume its hunt for the terrorist who might have killed two sitting US Senators. Why do I think this will be any different?
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.
The Senate just voted down cloture on the USA Freedom Act, 58-42. Even while we disagreed on the bill, I extend sincere condolences to civil liberties allies who worked hard to pass this in good faith. I know you all have worked hard in good faith to pass something viable.
Several things about the vote were predictable (in fact, I predicted them in June). Just as one example, I noted to allies that if Jeff Flake — who had a great record on civil liberties while he was still in the House — did not support the effort, it would fail. Four Senators — cosponsors Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller, plus Lisa Murkowski voted for cloture; Rand Paul did not. Bill Nelson voted against cloture as well (there are reports he is claiming it was a mistake, but given how closely this bill was whipped that would be … telling).
Equally predictable was the fear-mongering. GOP Senator after GOP Senator got up and insisted if the phone dragnet ended, ISIL would attack the country. None noted, of course, that the phone dragnet had never succeeded in preventing a terrorist attack. Pat Leahy made that point but it’s one opponents of the dragnet need to make in more concerted fashion.
Then there was a piece of news that neither side — supporter or opponent — seemed to want to mention. Dianne Feinstein revealed that at first 2 of 4 providers (presumably the fourth is T-Mobile though it could even be Microsoft, given that Skype is a more important phone carrier for international traffic) had refused to keep phone records, but that they had voluntarily agreed to do so for a full two years (this is at least a 6 month extension for Verizon, though may be significantly longer for cell calls).
The most dramatic part of the debate came after everyone left, when a frustrated Pat Leahy made the case for defending the Constitution. He recalled the anthrax letter addressed to him, on September 18, 2001, that killed a postal worker who processed it (
another letter killed a Tom Daschle aide see Meryl Nass’ correction). “13 years ago this week, a letter was sent to me, addressed to me. It was so deadly, with the antrax in it that one person who touched the envelope–addressed to me, that I was supposed to open–They died!” Leahy reminded that the FBI had still not caught all the culprits for the attack. (That he believes that was first reported here in 2008; I believe FBI has, in fact, caught none of the culprits.) That attack targeting him personally, Leahy noted, did not convince him he had to abrogate the Constitution. “This nation should not let our liberties to be set aside by passing fears.” Leahy said. “If we do not protect our Constitution we do not deserve to be in this body.”
Senators like Marco Rubio got up and screamed about terrorists. But unless I’m mistaken, Pat Leahy is the only one remaining in the Senate who was personally targeted by a terrorist.
Maybe we ought to highlight that point?
Updated w/additions from Leahy’s comments.