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The Upstream “About” Problem Probably Pertains to SCTs, not MCTs

Much of the reporting on the reason NSA is shutting down Section 702 authorized upstream “about” collection has assumed the problem pertains to multiple communication transactions, which is when emails get sent in batches, which can include targeted emails (meaning they include a selector tied to an approved foreign target) as well as untargeted, completely domestic ones. But we know that upstream collection also collects single communication transactions that constituted entirely domestic communications, which would happen if an email from one American to another included the selector (and remember, the selector can be things beyond email and phone numbers; it might include things like encryption keys or dark web forum addresses). Collection of a completely domestic SCT would happen for different technical reasons than an MCT: it would happen whenever an Internet communication between two Americans transited overseas and got caught in filters purportedly focused exclusively on international traffic. Here’s how John Bates described SCTs in his October 3, 2011 opinion on the upstream problems.

In addition to these MCTs, NSA likely acquires tends of thousands more wholly domestic communications every year, given that NSA’s upstream collection devices will acquire a wholly domestic “about” SCT if it is routed internationally.

And I think the problem at issue probably pertains to the SCTs, not to MCTs.

The NSA statement on the issue says nothing that would suggest this is a problem with MCTs. Indeed, its example of an “about” collection is an SCT — an email that itself contains the designated selector.

An example of an “about” email communication is one that includes the targeted email address in the text or body of the email, even though the email is between two persons who are not themselves targets. The independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board described these collection methods in an exhaustive report published in 2014.

More tellingly, Ron Wyden’s statement about the risk of the practice also describes an SCT — an American’s email that got collected because she mentioned the targeted selector.

“This change ends a practice that could result in Americans’ communications being collected without a warrant merely for mentioning a foreign target,”

The government hasn’t liked to talk much about SCTs. It appears to have made no mention of them in the notice to Congress of upstream problems leading up to reauthorization in 2012. And when Bates asked NSA to count SCTs as part of upstream discussions in 2011, it basically refused to do so. Bates came up with his own estimate of 46,000 communications a year (which represented the majority of the domestic communications collected via upstream surveillance). Ron Wyden has been pushing for a real estimate since literally the same period Bates was making his own up.

But basically, the government has been permitted to collect entirely domestic communications of Americans using targeted selectors since 2007, even as Internet usage means more and more completely domestic communications will transit overseas.

And SCTs are the ones most likely to show up in a query of a US person communication.

That’s because, when Bates was trying to sort through these issues in 2011, he viewed SCTs differently than he did MCTs, figuring that an SCT might itself have foreign intelligence value, whereas a completely unrelated email would not.

NSA’s upstream collection also likely results in the acquisition of tens of thousands of wholly SCTs that contain references to targeted selectors. See supra, pages 33-34 & note 33 (discussing the limits [redacted] Although the collection of wholly domestic “about” SCTs is troubling, they do not raise the same minimization-related concerns as discrete, wholly domestic communications that are neither to, from, nor about targeted selectors, or as discrete communications that are neither to, from, nor about targeted selectors, to any target, either of which may be contained within MCTs. The Court has effectively concluded that certain communications containing a reference to a targeted selector are reasonably likely to contain foreign intelligence information, including communications between non-target accounts that contain the name of the targeted facility in the body of the message. See Docket No. 07-449, May 31, 2007 Primary Order at 12 (finding probable cause to believe that certain “about” communications were “themselves being sent and/or received by one of the targeted foreign powers”). Insofar as the discrete, wholly domestic “about” communications at issue here are communications between non-target accounts that contain the name of the targeted facility, the same conclusion applies to them. Accordingly, in the language of FISA’s definition of minimization procedures, the acquisition of wholly domestic communications about targeted selectors will generally be “consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.” See 50 U.S.C. 1801(h)(1). Nevertheless, the Court understands that in the event NSA identifies a discrete, wholly domestic “about” communication in its databases, the communication will be destroyed upon recognition.

Accordingly, most of the special minimization procedures pertaining to upstream collection — most importantly, that it be segregated in a special database — don’t apply to SCTs.

Importantly, that destroy upon recognition is not absolute: if an analyst sees it and determines a communication has Foreign Intelligence value or is evidence of a crime (or two other things), then it can be retained, with DIRNSA approval. Of course, some kinds of selectors — such as certain dark web addresses and encryption keys — might by themselves be evidence of a crime, meaning a back door search could (hypothetically at least) lead directly to an American being implicated via 702 collection.

There are just two special limits that would protect these completely domestic SCTs: a two year — rather than five year — aging off process. And the rule that appears to have gotten broken: NSA can’t do queries on US persons (that is, back door searches) on upstream collection.

Identifiers of an identifiable U.S. person may not be used as terms to identify and select for analysis any Internet communication acquired through NSA’s upstream collection techniques.

That’s the importance of this post — describing violations involving the use of US person selectors to search upstream communications. It shows how it was possible, in 2013 and 2014, for analysts to “inadvertently” do back door searches on upstream collection. Those violations almost certainly occurred with SCTs, not MCTs, because SCTs would be the ones in general repositories that analysts who weren’t specially trained would access.

We can see in those past violations how a US person search on upstream content might happen. In 2013, analysts would avoid searching on upstream data by formally excluding it as part of their search term (maybe by adding “NOT upstream” to their query). But on “many” occasions, analysts forget to exclude “upstream” in their back door searches on US person identifiers (and none of the unredacted discussion seems to have suggested requiring them to find a better approach to prevent searches on upstream data). Then, in 2014, ODNI and DOJ seemed to think that analysts were doing searches on identifiers they didn’t know were US person identifiers and as a result doing US person searches on upstream data because they hadn’t thought about excluding it (and, in fact, the wording of the minimization procedures permit searches using selectors that are not yet identifiable as US person selectors).

We’ll find out soon enough what the current inadvertent method of searching upstream collected data using US person selectors is. But the point is, under the minimization procedures, MCTs would be segregated from general repositories but SCTs would not be, and so the mistakes are going to be easier to make (and the volume of entirely domestic communications will be greater) with SCTs. To fix the SCT problem you’d either have to move all upstream about content out of general repositories, find a better way to avoid collecting domestic communications that transited internationally, stop doing back door searches, or stop collecting on about. They’re choosing the latter option. (Note, if this were an MCT problem, then you could just delete all about MCTs on intake.)

Here’s the rub though. If the problem with upstream collection arises because so many entirely domestic US person communications now transit internationally, then shutting down upstream collection will not offer much further protection for US persons, because SCTs are — by definition! — communications that the NSA claims were transiting internationally, and so would be readily available under EO 12333 collection. And EO 12333 collection is now easier to share under Obama’s EO 12333 sharing guidelines that were passed even as the debate about what to do about upstream collection was taking place. Those guidelines do prohibit the agencies from using “a query, identifier, or other selection term that is intended to select domestic communications,” but if NSA couldn’t prevent that with the heightened scrutiny that happens under FISA, how are they going to prevent it under EO 12333 analysis?

Now, to be fair, to do a content query of EO 12333 data, you’d need to get Attorney General (Jeff Sessions!) authorization or the head of the agency, the latter of which may be used for two entirely redacted reasons.

Still, if I’m right and the problem is SCTs, then ending upstream collection under Section 702 simply shifts the privacy problems under a new shell.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The ISP/ECTR Workaround: The New Broadband Rules May Be Not So Much What They’ll Sell, But What They Give Away

Senator Ed Markey and seven of his colleagues (Franken, Blumenthal, Warren, Sanders, Wyden, Leahy, and Van Hollen) just sent letters to major ISP providers (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and CenturyLink, the latter of which I find most interesting for the purposes of this post) regarding what practices they’ll follow in the wake of Congressional Review Act overturning President Obama’s broadband privacy rules.

The letters focus on a lot of consumer right issues — such as whether customers will learn of any changes in a provider’s privacy policy, the ability to opt in or out, forced arbitration, data breach provisions, and de-identification. That’s all great stuff and I look forward to the answers Markey gets; the information will be as useful as the information he has obtained from wireless providers about information they keep.

But towards the end, the letters include what I’ll call “Wyden questions,” not because I know they came from him, but because they address issues about which he has long been obsessed. There’s one on location, reflecting a concern that providers might presume consent from customers, resulting in the sharing of their location data with third parties.

Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, carriers may not disclose subscriber location information without the “express prior authorization of the customer”.  Over each of the last three years, how many times did your company disclose to third parties individually identifiable customer location data or other Customer Proprietary Network Information with a customer’s express prior authorization?  Does your company obtain the consent from the subscriber directly?  If not, and the third party obtains the consent (or claims they do), do you request or retain a copy of documentation showing that the customer provided such consent?

More interesting still is the question asking whether providers would retain and provide — in response to a National Security Letter — “netflow” records.

Many ISPs retain so called “netflow” records, related to their customers’ internet usage. Do you retain netflow records for your customers’ web browsing activity? If so, for how long do you retain them? Will you disclose netflow records pursuant to a National Security Letter, or only court orders?

Remember, on several occasions last year, Republicans tried to change the rules of National Security Letters so as to permit the FBI to demand providers to turn over “electronic communications transactional records” (ECTRs) with just a National Security Letter. The FBI always asks for ECTRs on NSLs, but a number of providers started refusing to turn them over in the wake of a 2008 OLC decision stating they weren’t included under the law. And Republicans have been trying to force through language that would permit FBI to always obtain such things.

While the discussion about ECTRs started by focusing on email and then moved to URLs, the possibility that FBI had been and wanted to obtain netflow data had been made apparent by — among other things — Nick Merrill’s efforts to declassify the NSL he received in 2004. As he described in a 2015 declaration,

Electronic communication service providers can also record internet “NetFlow” data. This data consists of a set of packets that travel between two points. Routers can be set to automatically record a list of all the NetFlows that they see, or all the NetFlows to or from a specific IP ,address. This NetFlow data can essentially provide a complete history of each electronic communications service used by a particular Internet user.

So in effect, this question (whether or not it comes from Wyden) would reflect a concern that that would become available if these providers were willing to respond to FBI’s requests for ECTRs, and may remain widely available because of the change in the broadband rules. It also reminds me of Wyden’s neverending quest to liberate an OLC memo John Yoo wrote as part of Stellar Wind, but which purportedly pertains to cybersecurity.

In wake of the broadband rule change, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast (but not, for example, CenturyLink) have assured customers they won’t change their practices and won’t be selling individual customers’ data.

But I’m not seeing any of the providers making assurances about what they’ll be giving away to the government.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Raw Versus Cooked: Could NSC Monitor FBI’s Investigation?

Multiple people,including Bart Gellman and Josh Marshall, are now arguing that the reason Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis found intercepts involving Trump’s people is that they were monitoring FBI’s investigation of the investigation.

I certainly think the Trump people would like to do that — and would be willing to stoop to that. I even believe that the response to the Russian hack last year had some counterintelligence problems, though probably not on the FBI side.

But there are some details that may limit how much the NSC can monitor the investigation.

First, Devin Nunes has always been very clear: the intercepts he was shown have nothing to do with Russia. That’s not, itself, determinative. After all, Cohen-Watnick and Ellis might have found a bunch of Russian intercepts, but only shared the non-Russian ones so Nunes could make a stink without being accused of endangering the investigation. Also, it’s possible that intercepts involving other countries — most notably Turkey, but there are other countries that might be even more interesting, including Ukraine or Syria — would impact any Russian investigation.

Also note that among the many things Nunes appears not to understand about surveillance is that there are two ways an American’s name can be visible outside the circle of analysts doing the initial review of them: their names can be put into finished intelligence reports that get circulated more broadly, with customers asking to have the name unmasked after the fact. Alternately, their names can be found off of subsequent searches of raw data. At the NSA and CIA, searches for US person content are somewhat controlled. At FBI they are not only not controlled, but they are routine even for criminal investigations. So if, say, General Flynn (or Paul Manafort) were under investigation for failing to register as a foreign agent, the FBI would routinely search their database of raw FISA material on his name. (These are the “back door searches” Ron Wyden has been screaming about for years, concerns which people like Devin Nunes have previously dismissed on national security grounds.) And we have every reason to believe that counterintelligence intercepts of Russians in the US are among the raw feeds that the FBI gets. So if Flynn had conversations with Russians (or Turks) in the US, we should assume that FBI saw them as a routine matter if Flynn became the subject of an investigation at all. We should also assume that the FBI did a search on every Sergey Kislyak intercept in their possession, so they will have read everything that got picked up, including all recorded calls with Trump aides.

On March 15, the House Intelligence Committee asked the NSA, CIA, and FBI for information on unmasking. I don’t believe that request asked about access to US person names on subsequent searches or raw material. Furthermore, at least as of last week, the FBI was not rushing to comply with that request. As I noted after the Jim Comey hearing before HPSCI, none of the Republicans concerned about these issues seemed to have any basic clue about FBI’s searches on raw data. If Nunes doesn’t know (and he appears not to), it’s unlikely Ellis knows, who was until this month Nunes’ aide.

But there’s one other thing that may prevent NSC from obtaining information about the investigation: FBI sometimes uses what are called “ad hoc databases” that include raw FISA data (and probably, post EO 12333 sharing rule changes, raw EO 12333 data) tied to particular investigations. It’s unclear what conditions might necessitate the use of an ad hoc database (see page 25ff for a discussion of them), but if security concerns would encourage their use, it would be likely to have one here, an investigation which Comey described as being so sensitive he delayed briefing the Gang of Four. Ad hoc databases are restricted to those working on investigations, and include specific records of those authorized to access the database. So if FBI were using an ad hoc database for this investigation, it would be even harder for the NSC to learn what they were looking at.

If the FBI’s investigation relies on raw intelligence — and it would be unfathomable that it does not, because it would probably receive the raw FISA data tied to such an investigation routinely, and EO 12333 sharing rules specifically envision the sharing of raw data associated with counterintelligence investigations — then the NSC’s access to finished intelligence reports would provide little insight into the investigation (Nunes was a bit unclear on whether that’s what he was looking at, but the entire premise of his complaints is that these were finished reports).

But while we’re worrying about whether and how Trump would monitor an investigation into his aides, remember that in 2002, Jay Bybee wrote a memo authorizing the sharing of grand jury information with the President and his close advisors including for counterintelligence investigations.

In addition, the Patriot Act recently amended 6(e) and Title III specifically to provide that matters involving foreign intelligence or counterintelligence or foreign intelligence information may be disclosed by any attorney for the government (and in the case of Title III, also by an investigative or law enforcement officer) to certain federal officials in order to assist those officials in carrying out their duties. Federal officials who are included within these provisions may include, for example, the President, attorneys within the White House Counsel’s Office, the President’s Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and officials within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense.

[snip]

Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) permitting disclosure also requires that any disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, we conclude that disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President’s behalf.

In other words, Trump could demand that he — or his National Security Advisor! — get information on any grand jury investigations, including those covering counterintelligence cases. And no judge would be given notice of that.

With Jeff Sessions’ recusal, that’s far less likely to happen than it might have been. But understand that the Executive Branch believes that the President can learn about the happenings in grand jury investigations of the sort that might target his aides.

Update: additional details have been added to this post after it was first posted.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ron Wyden’s Complaints about Section 702

In this post, I reviewed the Intelligence Community’s dubious history of refusing to count how many Americans get swept up under FISA Section 702. Of particular note, I showed that when Wyden first asked for a number of how many Americans were sucked up, the NSA was in the process of conducting a partial count (on how many Americans were caught up in one kind of upstream collection); yet the government neither told Wyden that count was going on or answered his question. Even the limited count NSA conducted resulted in a FISC ruling that the US person collection violated the Constitution.

I wanted to turn, now, to the litany of concerns about Section 702 Ron Wyden laid out earlier this week.

Ultimately, Wyden’s biggest concern is about reverse targeting.

But before he gets there, he lays out a number of ways Americans can be sucked in, some of which are familiar, some of which are less so.

Upstream collection

For example, he lays out MCTs (when a completely unrelated communication is sucked in with a targeted one) and SCTs (when an about communication picks up an entirely domestic communication). About this, Wyden notes no foreigners need to be involved.

The law only requires that one of the parties to the communication who again could be another American is overseas and even that requirement is hard for the government to meet in practice. So the implications here ought to be pretty obvious. You don’t even have to be communicating with one of the government’s targets to be swept up in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act collection. You don’t even have to be communicating with a foreigner.

Note, especially, his point that the requirement that one communication be overseas “is hard for the government to meet in practice.”

Tasking errors

Wyden describes accidental targeting — which (given my review of all available reporting, at least) is very closely policed.

The first are targeting mistakes in which contrary to the law, the target turns out to be an American or someone in the United States. The full impact of these mistakes on law-abiding Americans is not readily apparent. The most recent public report on section 702 noted that there were compliance incidents involving surveillance of foreigners in the United States and surveillance of Americans.

Tasking problems are closely policed, but as Wyden notes, the most recent report showed a number of tasking problems, representing a big spike in the number of such compliance problems.

My working hypothesis is that the increase in identified tasking problems stems from the implementation of additional documentation in response to the PCLOB report. Most of this spike is related to one office completely misapplying a certificate (which makes me wonder if there’s a new, possibly fourth, certificate). But there were also tasking errors. The unredacted section actually says none of these affected US persons and people in the US, but there are three paragraphs redacted that may describe older tasking problems.

One foreigner list-servs

Wyden also notes that it only takes one person on an email to grant the entire email foreignness designation.

It is also important to note that the government is prohibited from collecting communications only when the sender of an e-mail and everyone receiving that e-mail are in the United States. So an American in the United States can send an e-mail to another American in the United States, but if the e-mail also goes to an overseas target, it’s going to be collected. So that then brings us to the different kinds of collection under section 702 and how it affects the liberties of our people in different ways.

Imagine a group of people — say hackers — collaborating on some IRC channel where one known participant was foreign. That would meet the foreignness designation and lead to the collection of everyone, American or not, participating.

American business people doing business overseas

Wyden also emphasizes that the definition of “foreign intelligence” is so broad that the target doesn’t have to be suspected of any wrongdoing.

The statute requires that the collection be conducted, quote, to acquire foreign intelligence information. As implemented the standard for targeting individuals under the program is that the government has reason to believe that these persons possess or are expected to receive or are likely to communicate foreign intelligence information. Obviously that is broad. It doesn’t even require that a target be suspected of wrongdoing.

And it’s in that context that he raises the possibility that an “American business leader” could easily be collected.

[T]hink about how easy it would be for an American business leader to be in contact with a broad set of potential targets of this program. Consider how easy it would be for Americans communicating with other Americans to forward the e-mails of these people. All of this could be collected by the government.

Of course, any business person could be collected in such a way (or scientists, which appears to be what has gotten a lot of Chinese-American scientists in trouble).

Reverse targeting

But as I said, Wyden seems most concerned about the standard for reverse targeting, which he raised as a newly urgent concern in 2013. According to the standard currently implemented, reverse targeting is extremely rare — perhaps just three instances, with the most recent occurring in the December 2014 to May 2015 period.

One of NSA’s tasking errors involved the tasking of a facility that was used by a nonUnited States person located outside the United States that was determined to involve reverse targeting.

[snip]

In this incident, the Attorney General authorized the targeting of the United States person pursuant to Section 705(b) of FISA. This reverse targeting incident resulted from an NSA analyst misunderstanding the reverse targeting prohibition and not because an NSA analyst intentionally attempted to violate Section 702 or NSA policy.

The American being targeted was overseas and got targeted, under Section 705(b) anyway. A completely redacted footnote excuses the analyst’s error.

But Wyden suggests that several other factors may lead to more reverse targeting than gets identified by the current standard of review. He suggests back door searches (which he notes Bush didn’t do, at least not for the first several years of PRISM, though I suspect it actually happened at FBI) make the problem worse.

This issue was concerning in 2008 when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments passed with a prohibition on reverse targeting, but that was before the Congress knew about the collection of e-mails that are only about a foreign target and that could be to and from Americans. That was before the Obama administration sought and obtained authority to conduct warrantless searches for communications to, from and about Americans out of section 702 PRISM collection.

[snip]

Before 2011, the FISA court prohibited, prohibited queries for U.S. persons. I’m going to repeat that: Under the Bush Administration and the first two years of the Obama Administration, it was not possible to conduct these back-door, warrantless searches of law-abiding Americans. Then the Obama Administration sought to change the rules and obtained authority to conduct them.

While he doesn’t provide much detail, he points to the expanded ability of those doing the back door searches (presumably, I’d imagine, those at CIA and FBI) to also nominate people for targeting.

Each of the agencies authorized to conduct these warrantless searches, the N.S.A., the F.B.I., the C.I.A., are also authorized to identify the overseas targets of section 702. The agencies that have developed an interest in Americans’ communications and are actually looking for these communications are the same agencies that are in a position to encourage ongoing collection of those communications by targeting the overseas party.

Such targeting still has to undergo NSA targeting review, meaning the actual target has to be overseas and have, according to NSA’s review team, foreign intelligence value unto himself. But it would be fairly easy for the FBI to target someone known to communicate prolifically with an American to be able to get the American’s side of the conversation. To make things worse, FBI has devolved its targeting to field offices, and I’m not convinced the reviews of field offices are as rigorous as they were at Headquarters. Not all field offices even get reviewed (though I assume the ones doing the most foreign targeting are), and the tracking on US persons caught up in all this has diminished with the devolution.

I share Wyden’s concerns — especially given NSA’s dodgy response to the Snowden documents released last year.

Given the volume of information the NSA and, derivatively, CIA and FBI, collect, it would be very easy to get away with reverse targeting, particularly the more you move targeting into the hands of people leading investigations, as has happened at FBI.

Wyden is not the only one concerned about this. Ted Lieu, fresh off the classified 702 briefing last week, seemed pretty concerned as well (as well as Rand Paul, though I’m not sure if Paul has had briefing on this). We won’t get the kind of granularity we need to understand how big of a problem this is.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ron Wyden’s History of Bogus Excuses for Not Counting 702 US Person Collection

The other day, Ron Wyden gave a long speech on FISA Section 702, purportedly explaining why he was voting against Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Wyden voted against Coats because his former colleague would not commit to providing a number of the number of Americans swept up under Section 702. Given that it’s always a good idea to read Wyden closely, I wanted to summarize what he said. I’ll look at his complaints in a separate post, but for now I wanted to focus on Wyden’s description of the bogus explanations James Clapper and others gave Wyden in his past efforts to get the number of Americans sucked up in 702. I summarized the known exchanges that occurred on this issue before Clapper’s famous “not wittingly” lie here.

In 2011, both Wyden and John Bates were asking for numbers at the same time — NSA refused both

The first request for a count is temporally significant(update: I think I just missed this one in the past). In April 2011, Wyden and Mark Udall asked for the number.

In April of 2011, our former colleague, Senator Mark Udall, and I then asked the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, for an estimate.

According to Clapper’s response, they sent a written letter with the request on July 14, 2011. The timing of this request is critically important because it means Wyden and Udall made the request during the period when NSA and FISA Judge John Bates were discussing the upstream violations (see this post for a timeline). As part of that long discussion Bates had NSA do analysis of how often it collected US person communications that were completely unrelated to a targeted one (MCTs). Once Bates understood the scope of the problem, he asked how many US person communications it collected that were a positive hit on the target that were the only communication collected (SCTs).

But the timing demands even closer scrutiny. On July 8, John Bates went to DOJ to express “serious concerns” — basically, warning them he might not be able to reauthorize upstream surveillance. On July 14 — the same day Wyden and Udall asked Clapper for this information — DOJ asked Bates for another extension to respond to his questions, promising more information. Clapper blew off Wyden and Udall’s request in what must be record time — on July 26. On August 16, DOJ provided their promised additional information to Bates. That ended up being a count of how many Americans were affected in MCTs.

That means Clapper claimed he couldn’t offer a number even as NSA was doing precisely the kind of count that Wyden and Udall wanted, albeit for just one kind of 702 collection. And, as Wyden suggested in his speech, Clapper’s answer was non-responsive, answering how many US persons had their communications reviewed, rather than how many had their communications collected.

In July of that year, the director wrote back and said, and I quote, it was not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He suggested reviewing the classified number of disseminated intelligence reports containing a reference to a U.S. Person, but that is very different than the number of Americans whose communications have been collected in the first place. And that’s what this is all about.

Then, after the government presented the information on how many US persons were collected via MCTs to Bates in August, Bates asked them to go back and count SCTs.

NSA refused.

Both FISC and members of SSCI were asking for this information in the same time period, and NSA refused to provide the count.

Since NSA wouldn’t help him, Bates invented an estimate himself, calculating that some 46,000 entirely domestic communications were collected under upstream collection each year.

NSA’s manual review focused on examining the MCTs acquired through NSA’s upstream collection in order to assess whether any contained wholly domestic communications. Sept. 7, 2011 Hearing Tr. at 13-14. As a result, once NSA determined that a transaction contained a single discrete communication, no further analysis of that transaction was done. See Aug. 16 Submission at 3. After the Court expressed concern that this category of transactions might also contain wholly domestic communications, NSA conducted a further review. See Sept. 9 Submission at 4. NSA ultimately did not provide the Court with an estimate of the number of wholly domestic “about” SCTs that may be acquired through its upstream collection. Instead, NSA has concluded that “the probability of encountering wholly domestic communications in transactions that feature only a single, discrete communication should be smaller — and certainly no greater — than potentially encountering wholly domestic communications within MCTs.” Sept. 13 Submission at 2.

The Court understands this to mean that the percentage of wholly domestic communications within the universe of SCTs acquired through NSA’s upstream collection should not exceed the percentage of MCTs within its statistical sample. Since NSA found 10 MCTs with wholly domestic communications within the 5,081 MCTs reviewed, the relevant percentage is .197% (10/5,081). Aug. 16 Submission at 5.

NSA’s manual review found that approximately 90% of the 50,440 transactions in the same were SCTs. Id. at 3. Ninety percent of the approximately 13, 25 million total Internet transactions acquired by NSA through its upstream collection during the six-month period, works out to be approximately 11,925,000 transactions. Those 11,925,000 transactions would constitute the universe of SCTs acquired during the six-month period, and .197% of that universe would be approximately 23,000 wholly domestic SCTs. Thus, NSA may be acquiring as many as 46,000 wholly domestic “about” SCTs each year, in addition to the 2,000-10,000 MCTs referenced above.

Presumably, Wyden learned that NSA had been doing such a count in October, well after Clapper had given his first non-responsive answer.

The 2012 privacy violation claim

Wyden skips the next request he made, when on May 4, 2012, he and Udall asked the Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough for a number (I laid out the timing of the request in this post). When they also tried to include language in the FAA reauthorization requiring the IGs to come up with a number, SSCI refused, citing their outstanding request to McCullough. Of course, McCullough did not get back to the Senators with his refusal to do such a count until after the bill had passed out of committee. He responded by saying NSA IG George Ellard didn’t have the capacity for such a review, and besides, it would violate the privacy of Americans to find out how much NSA was violating their privacy.

I defer to his conclusion that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission. He further stated that his office and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.

Clapper blows off 12 Senators

In response, Wyden rounded up some privacy minded Senators to sign onto a letter asking for an estimate of the number. In this week’s speech, Wyden noted that he said he’d be willing to take an estimate. He didn’t remind his listeners that he and his friends also asked whether such an estimate had been done.

  • Have any entities made any estimates — even imprecise estimates — about how many US communications have been collected under section 702 authorities?

The answer to that question — at least with regards to upstream collection — was yes. NSA had estimated the MCTs and Bates, using their estimate, had made an even rougher estimate of the SCTs. But as I noted here, members of Congress relying on the purported disclosure to Congress about the upstream violations wouldn’t know that — or that the upstream violations involved entirely US person collection. As Wyden noted in his speech, Congress didn’t get this information before the reauthorized FAA.

We still got no answer. And section 702 was reauthorized without this necessary information.

Clapper’s least untruthful answer

Wyden also doesn’t address Clapper’s famous March 2013 lie. Since the exposure of the phone dragnet, most discussions have assumed Wyden was probing only about that program. But the question, as asked, absolutely applied to incidental collection.

Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data, at all, on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?

Clapper: No sir.

Wyden: It does not?

Clapper: There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, uh, collect, but not wittingly.

Indeed, several of Clapper’s many excuses claim he was thinking of content when he responded. Even if he were, his first answer would still be yes: the NSA collects on so many millions of Americans incidentally that it refuses to count it. But Clapper’s “not wittingly” response is almost certainly not a goof, since he gave it after Wyden had provided a day’s warning the question would be asked and after two different John Bates’ opinions that made it clear that he would forgive the collection of content so long as NSA didn’t know about it, but once they knew about it, then it would become illegal. The not wittingly response reinforces my firm belief that the reason the government refuses to count this is because then a great deal of their Section 702 collection would be deemed illegal under those two FISC precedents.

Clapper’s blow-off becomes Dan Coats’ blow-off

Which is where Wyden brings us up to date, with both house of Congress asking for such a number and — after promises it would be forthcoming — not getting it.

So last year looking at the prospect of the law coming up, there was a renewed effort to find out how many law-abiding Americans are getting swept up in these searches of foreigners. In April 2016 a bipartisan letter from members of the House Judiciary Committee asked the Director of National Intelligence for a public estimate of the number of communications or transactions involving United States persons are collected under section 702 on an annual basis. This letter coming from the House Democrats and Republicans, again asked for a rough estimate. This bipartisan group suggested working with director clapper to determine the methodology to get this estimate.

In December there were hints in the news media that something might be forthcoming, but now we’re here with a new administration considering the nomination of the next head of the intelligence community who has said that reauthorizing section 702 is his top legislative priority and that there is no answer in sight to the question Democrats and Republicans have been asking for over six years. How many innocent law-abiding Americans are getting swept up in these searches under a law that targets foreigners overseas?

There’s one tiny tidbit he doesn’t mention here. Coats never answered that he wouldn’t provide an answer. Rather, he said he didn’t understand the technical difficulties behind providing one (not even after participating in the 2012 vote where this was discussed). In his confirmation hearing, Coats explained one reason why he couldn’t learn what the technical difficulties were before he was confirmed. When he resigned the Senate, his clearance had lapsed, and during his confirmation process, his new clearance was being processed. That meant that for this — and any other classified question that Coats might want to consider anew — he was unable to get information.

The Senate doesn’t seem to care about this serial obstruction, however. Coats was confirmed with an 85-12 vote, with the following Senators voting against confirmation.

Baldwin (D-WI)
Booker (D-NJ)
Duckworth (D-IL)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Harris (D-CA)
Markey (D-MA)
Merkley (D-OR)
Paul (R-KY)
Sanders (I-VT)
Udall (D-NM)
Warren (D-MA)
Wyden (D-OR)

Given how hard the IC is trying to hide this, the actual exposure of US persons must be fairly significant. We’ll see whether Congress finds another way to force this information out of the IC.

Updated with more granular timing on the 2011 exchange.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Problems with Pompeo: A Willingness to Use Information on Americans Russia Hacked and Shared with Trump

On Friday, the Senate confirmed the first two of President Trump’s nominees: Generals Mattis and Kelly to run DOD and DHS, respectfully. But it did not confirm the third nominee slotted for that day, Mike Pompeo. In part because the nomination was not dealt with in regular fashion in the Senate Intelligence Committee (which did not vote out his nomination), Ron Wyden managed to force Mitch McConnell to hold 6 hours of debate tomorrow on his nomination.

Wyden has suggested we need to have more debate because Pompeo hasn’t answered all the questions posed to him. And it is true that Wyden has concerns about the following issues. But perhaps most of all, Wyden’s questions suggest he is concerned that the Trump administration will use information the Russians hacked against Americans.

In follow-up questions posed to Pompeo, Wyden expressed concern about Pompeo’s:

  • Enthusiasm for using bulk collections of “lifestyle” information on Americans
  • Willingness to have the CIA engage in activities the Ambassador or other Chief of Mission disagrees with
  • Squirminess about when the CIA can kill a US person
  • Dodginess on classifying torture information that reveals illegal, embarrassing, competitive, or otherwise unclassified information

But as I said, Wyden’s chief concern appears that Pompeo will use information the Russians have or will give the Trump administration against Americans.

Enthusiasm for using bulk collections of “lifestyle” information on Americans

A big point of concern for Wyden and Martin Heinrich throughout Pompeo’s confirmation process is this op-ed he wrote at the beginning of last year. Based in part on the fact that the intelligence community didn’t find the Tashfeen Malik’s anti-American statements on non-public social media, and in part on the demonstrably false claim that the IC didn’t find the Garland attackers beforehand (in reality, the FBI was cheering them on), Pompeo argued we need to collect still more data. “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database,” he wrote.

Pompeo has dodged questions about precisely what “lifestyle” information he wants to collect — though it surely includes Twitter’s firehose of data from Dataminr. Sadly, he repeatedly pointed to executive orders in his answers, and the new EO 12333 sharing rules permit the access of “public” information, which can include information from data brokers (though Pompeo claims ignorance of what he might want to use). So while Wyden is concerned that Pompeo will start dragnetting Americans, sadly he has been enabled to do so by one of the last things Obama did.

Willingness to have the CIA engage in activities the Ambassador or other Chief of Mission disagrees with

Another concern Wyden raised pertains to disagreements between the Chief of Mission (the top diplomat in a country) and the CIA Station Chief. This has been an issue in the past at least as it pertains to drone strikes in Pakistan and the torture program, where the Ambassador was either not informed or not properly consulted on CIA activities within a country.

When asked a yes or no question whether he would permit CIA to conduct activities even while an outstanding disagreement remained, Pompeo refused to answer, stating instead that he would seek an expeditious decision from the President. Effectively, he suggested if he were losing a disagreement with State, he’d get Trump to override State.

Squirminess about when the CIA can kill a US person

Wyden, who has long sought guidelines on when the US can kill an American citizen, returned to pre-hearing questions on this topic. After citing the Drone Rule Book requirement that DOJ be involved before taking action against a US person, he asked whether Pompeo agreed with the requirement. Pompeo basically said the US “must consider an American citizen’s constitutional rights prior to targeting him” and “CIA attorneys frequently consult with” DOJ (though left open the possibility of relying on less formal analysis). Ultimately, Pompeo dodged laying out any additional checks he’d following before killing an American.

Dodginess on classifying torture information that reveals illegal, embarrassing, competitive, or otherwise unclassified information

Wyden asked Pompeo if he disagreed with the prohibitions on classifying information to “(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; (2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; (3) restrain  competition; or ( 4) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security,” prohibitions that existed in Clinton’s, George W. Bush’s, and Obama’s EOs on classified information. Pompeo said he did not. However, immediately in that context, Wyden asked about the Torture Report, and Pompeo dodged all questions about declassifying the torture report.

Willingness to use information obtained by Russians hacking Americans

But as I said, Wyden’s persistent concerns in his post-hearing questions pertained to whether and how Pompeo would be willing to cooperate with the Russians. Raising a Pompeo hearing comment that if a foreign partner gave the CIA information on US persons “independently,” “it may be appropriate of CIA to collect [that] information in bulk,” Wyden raised Trump’s encouragement of Russian hacking and asked what circumstances would make foreign collection so improper that CIA should not receive such information. Pompeo responded, “information obtained through such egregious conduct may be appropriate for the CIA to use or disseminate.”

Wyden then listed out a bunch of conditions, such as information coming from an adversary, to disrupt US democracy, information implicating First Amendment protected political activity, or information affecting thousands or millions of Americans. “The listed conditions could all be relevant,” Pompeo responded, remaining non-committal.

Wyden raised a Pompeo comment suggesting rules for accessing US person communications under EO 12333 and asked if that was true of information known to include significant US person information. Pompeo said he would consult experts and AGG guidelines (which, arguably, are this flexible).

Wyden raised Pompeo’s promise to expand intelligence cooperation with state and non-state partners, and asked specifically whether this included Russia, and if so how Pompeo planned on dealing with the counterintelligence risks of doing so. Pompeo said he as not referring to “any specific partners,” said, “CIA already has a strong counterintelligence program,” and said anything he did would comply with law and standard practices and be noticed to Congress.

Wyden then asked if “it is legal or appropriate for the White House to obtain from a foreign partner…information that includes the communications of U.S. persons” and if he learned that they were doing so, whether he would inform Congress of it. Pompeo responded “I am not aware of a DCIA role in supervising White House activities or providing legal counsel to the White House on its activities,” apparently committing only to informing Congress of CIA’s own activities.

In short, there are a lot of reasons to be worried about Pompeo as Director of CIA. But Wyden seems most worried that CIA (and the White House) will use information Russia gives them against American citizens.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Seven Democrats Write Obama Asking Him to Declassify More Information on Russian Involvement in the Election

Ron Wyden, five other Democrats, and Dem caucusing Independent Angus King just wrote Obama a cryptic letter. The entire body of the letter reads:

We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian Government and the U.S. election that should be declassified and released to the public. We are conveying specifics through classified channels.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Aside from the fact that this suggests (as Wyden’s cryptic letters always d0) there is something meaty that we really ought to know, I find the list of signers rather curious. In addition to Wyden, the following Senators signed the letter:

  • Jack Reed
  • Mark Warner
  • Barb Mikulski
  • Martin Heinrich
  • Angus King
  • Mazie Hirono

That is, every Democratic SSCI member except current Chair Dianne Feinstein, plus Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed, signed the letter. So every Democrat except DiFi and Majority Leader Harry Reid signed the letter, suggesting it is something that got briefed to the full Senate Intelligence Committee as well as the Ranking Members of SASC (the latter of which suggests NSA or CYBERCOM may be involved).

I’m as interested in the fact that DiFi and Reid didn’t sign as that the others did sign. It can’t be that Reid is retiring and DiFi is heading to SJC (it’s still unclear whether she’ll remain on SSCI or not). After all, Mikulski is retiring as well.

Plus, Harry Reid wrote a far more explicit letter last month to Jim Comey — apparently following up on a non-public letter send months earlier — alluding to direct coordination between Trump and Russia.

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Finally, what to make of the fact that not even John McCain signed onto this letter? Reed’s inclusion makes it clear that McCain, too, must have been briefed. He has been outspoken about Trump’s moves to cozy up to Putin. If he has seen — and objects to — such coordination, why not sign onto this letter and give it the patina of bipartisanship?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Yahoo Scans Closely Followed Obama’s Cybersecurity Emergency Declaration

Reuters has a huge scoop revealing that, in spring of 2015, Yahoo was asked and agreed to perform scans for certain selectors on all the incoming email to its users.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

[snip]

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

The timing of this is particularly interesting. We know that it happened sometime in the weeks leading up to May 2015, because after Alex Stamos’ security team found the code enabling the scan, he quit and moved to Facebook.

According to the two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.

[snip]

The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo’s security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.

When Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users’ security, the sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them hackers could have accessed the stored emails.

That would date the directive to sometime around the time, on April 1, 2015, that Obama issued an Executive Order declaring cyberattacks launched by persons located outside the US a national emergency.

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America,find that the increasing prevalence and severity of malicious cyber-enabled activities originating from, or directed by persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside theUnited States constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of theUnited States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with this threat.

On paper, this shouldn’t create any authority to expand surveillance. Except that we know FISC did permit President Bush to expand surveillance — by eliminating the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations — after he issued his September 14, 2001 9/11 emergency declaration, before Congress authorized that expansion. And we know that Jack Goldsmith focused on that same emergency declaration in his May 2004 OLC opinion reauthorizing Stellar Wind.

Indeed, just days after Obama issued that April 2015 EO, I wrote this:

Ranking House Intelligence Member Adam Schiff’s comment that Obama’s EO is “a necessary part of responding to the proliferation of dangerous and economically devastating cyber attacks facing the United States,” but that it will be “coupled with cyber legislation moving forward in both houses of Congress” only adds to my alarm (particularly given Schiff’s parallel interest in giving Obama soft cover for his ISIL AUMF while having Congress still involved).  It sets up the same structure we saw with Stellar Wind, where the President declares an Emergency and only a month or so later gets sanction for and legislative authorization for actions taken in the name of that emergency.

And we know FISC has been amenable to that formula in the past.

We don’t know that the President has just rolled out a massive new surveillance program in the name of a cybersecurity Emergency (rooted in a hack of a serially negligent subsidiary of a foreign company, Sony Pictures, and a server JP Morgan Chase forgot to update).

We just know the Executive has broadly expanded surveillance, in secret, in the past and has never repudiated its authority to do so in the future based on the invocation of an Emergency (I think it likely that pre FISA Amendments Act authorization for the electronic surveillance of weapons proliferators, even including a likely proliferator certification under Protect America Act, similarly relied on Emergency Proclamations tied to all such sanctions).

I’m worried about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act, the Senate version of the bill that Schiff is championing. But I’m just as worried about surveillance done by the executive prior to and not bound by such laws.

Because it has happened in the past.

I have reason to believe the use of emergency declarations to authorize surveillance extends beyond the few data points I lay out in this post. Which is why I find it very interesting that the Yahoo request lines up so neatly with Obama’s cyber declaration.

I’m also mindful of Ron Wyden’s repeated concerns about the 2003 John Yoo common commercial services opinion that may be tied to Stellar Wind but that, Wyden has always made clear, has some application for cybersecurity. DOJ has already confirmed that some agencies have relied on that opinion.

In other words, this request may not just be outrageous because it means Yahoo is scanning all of its customers incoming emails. But it may also be (or have been authorized by) some means other than FISA.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Classified Appendix Fifth Bullet on “Certain Counterterrorism Matters”

I want to make a really minor point about one of the documents produced to ACLU with the Drone Rule Book — which the White House calls a Presidential Policy Guidance — last week (here’s my working thread on the Rule Book). The Rule Book itself has a section that “requires” Congressional notification (but may be more important for the requirement that the White House must learn about information sharing before it happens, which might end up in less notification).

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.51.22 AM

As part of its implementation of the Rule Book, DOD released a Report on Congressional Notification of Sensitive Military Operations and Counterterrorism Operational Briefings (DOD released several related documents; CIA released nothing). Throughout the short document, it says the 2014 Defense Authorization (which was introduced after the Rule Book was signed but before DOD issued its Drone Rule Book implementation procedures and signed into law on December 23, 2013) and the PPG require Congress be informed of sensitive military operations. That’s the Executive Branch’s way of saying, “Congress has required we tell it what we’re doing but so has the President” as if they came up with the idea to do that additional reporting in the first place.

Its last section looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.59.46 AM

Those bullets don’t come from the Rule Book (its notice requirement is far less detailed than that). Rather, they come from this section of the Defense Authorization.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.12.58 AM

As you can see, that section mandates answers to bullets 1 through 4 (the unredacted ones), and then includes a conforming amendment that repeals this section from 2013’s Defense Authorization.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.14.17 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.14.51 AM

The only difference in the unclassified portion of the 2014 Defense Authorization that replaced the 2013’s version is the deletion of the phrase “involving special operations forces.”

Of course, we can tell from the Report there’s a fifth, Top Secret bullet. It may well be that’s why they eliminated the prior year’s requirement and added a new almost identical one: to provide an opportunity to put that fifth bullet into the Defense Authorization’s classified appendix. That’s a wildarse guess, of course, but also a logical explanation for that fifth bullet: at a time when the White House was releasing fluffy documents pretending to be more open and orderly, Congress was secretly mandating additional reporting they weren’t getting.

There are a number of things that might be in that fifth bullet. Perhaps the least controversial of those would be a requirement that DOD tell Congress — actually just a tiny handful of members — which countries the US engages in lethal force in, and which groups we partner with to do it (this would be consistent with a number of items that are redacted in the Rule Book itself). You could imagine why, in 2013 and 2014, members of Congress might want to be told if the US was partnering with al Qaeda affiliates on lethal operations anywhere in the world, seeing as how we are ostensibly at war with al Qaeda.

As a reminder, Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden spent part of 2012 and 2013 unsuccessfully trying to get a list of all the places the government was engaging in lethal operations.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.18.54 AM

As I said, this is a fairly minor point. But it also suggests that even while the Executive was leaking wildly to get good press about this Drone Rule book, Congress was at the same time mandating specifically some of the things the Rule Book only nodded to in theory.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ron Wyden: Obtaining ECTRs without a Warrant Is Almost Like Spying on Someone’s Thoughts

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.50.20 AM

As a number of outlets have reported, Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the Intelligence Authorization in an attempt to thwart FBI’s quest to be able to obtain Electronic Communication Transaction Records with just a National Security Letter.

But Wyden’s released statement on that hold differs in emphasis from what he said in his Senate address announcing the hold yesterday. The statement describes how all toll records — from emails, texts, or web browsing — can infringe on privacy.

The fact of the matter is that ‘electronic communication transaction records’ can reveal a great deal of personal information about individual Americans.  If government officials know that an individual routinely emails a mental health professional, or sends texts to a substance abuse support group, or visits a particular dating website, or the website of a particular political group, then the government knows a lot about that individual.  Our Founding Fathers rightly argued that such intrusive searches should be approved by independent judges.

But in his floor statement, Wyden went on at length about the particular threat posed by obtaining web browsing history (this starts after 4:40).

For example, the National Security Letters could be used to collect what are called Electronic Communication Transaction Records. This would be email and chat records and text message logs, and in particular, Mr. President, and I’ve had Senators come up to me to ask me about whether this could be true, folks at home this weekend, when I was out and responding to questions about this, people asked, “Does this really mean that the government can get the Internet browsing history of an individual without a warrant even when the government has the emergency authority if it’s really necessary?”

And the answer to that question, Mr. President, is yes, the government can. The government can get access to web browsing history under the Intelligence Authorization legislation, under the McCain amendment, and they can do it without getting a warrant, even when the government can go get it without a warrant when there is an emergency circumstance.

Now the reality is web browsing history can reveal an awful lot of information about Americans. I know of little information, frankly Mr. President, that could be more intimate than that web browsing history. If you know that a person is visiting the website of a mental health professional, or a substance abuse support group, or a particular political organization, or — say — a particular dating site, you know a tremendous amount of private and personal and intimate information about that individual — that’s what you get when you can get access to their web browsing history without a warrant, even when the government’s interest is protected, as I’ve said, in an emergency.

The reality is getting access to somebody’s web browsing history is almost like spying on their thoughts. This level of surveillance absolutely ought to come with court oversight, and as I’ve spelled out tonight, that is possible in two separate ways — the traditional approach with getting a warrant, and then under Section 102, which I wrote as part of USA Freedom Act, the government can get the information when there’s an emergency and come back later after the fact and settle up.

Wyden’s statement makes a few other things clear. First, by focusing on the emergency provision of USA Freedom Act, Wyden illustrates that the FBI is trying to avoid court oversight, not so much obtain records quickly (though there would be more paperwork to a retroactive Section 215 order than an NSL).

That means two things. First, as I’ve noted, FBI is trying to avoid the minimization procedures the FISC spent three years imposing on FBI. Right now, we should assume that FISC would prohibit FBI from retaining all of the data it obtains from web searches, but if it moved (back) to NSL collection it would have no such restriction.

The other thing obtaining ECTRs with NSLs would do, though, is avoid a court First Amendment review, which should be of particular concern with web search history, since everything about web browsing involves First Amendment speech. Remember, a form of emergency provision (one limited to Section 215’s phone chaining application) was approved in February 2014. But in the September 2014 order, the FISC affirmatively required that such a review happen even with emergency orders. A 2015 IG Report on Section 215 (see page 176) explains why this is the case: because once FISC started approving seeds, NSA’s Office of General Counsel stopped doing First Amendment reviews, leaving that for FISC. It’s unclear whether it took FISC several cycles to figure that out, or whether they discovered an emergency approval that infringed on First Amendment issues. Under the expanded emergency provision under USAF, someone at FBI or DOJ’s National Security Division would do the review. But FBI’s interest in avoiding FISC’s First Amendment review is of particular concern given that FBI has, in the past, used an NSL to obtain data the FISC refused on First Amendment grounds, and at least one of the NSL challenges appears to have significant First Amendment concerns.

In the Senate yesterday, Senator Wyden strongly suggested the FBI wants this ECTR provision so it can “spy[] on their thoughts” without a warrant. We know from other developments that doing so using an NSL — rather than an emergency Section 215 order — would bypass rigorous minimization and First Amendment review.

In other words, the FBI wants to spy on — and then archive — your thoughts.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.