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[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Reclassification of Details on the 2011 Upstream Fight

As I noted in this post, Charlie Savage recently liberated more details on the resolution of the 2011 upstream 702 problems.

With respect to some details, however, the newly liberated documents represent a reclassification of details that were made public when the October 3, 2011 John Bates opinion was released in 2013. The government has provided entirely classified documents that are probably the early exchanges on the problem, including language that was unclassified in Bates’ 2011 opinion. In addition, the government has redacted dates that were also made public in Bates’ opinion.

I laid out both the timeline and the language cited from those early exchanges in this post. As I noted in this post, that timeline makes it clear that at the same time John Bates was asking NSA to assess the impact of upstream collection on US persons by sampling real NSA collection, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall were asking for the same thing.

I’ve laid out the combined timeline below. What it — and the newly released documents — show is just how brazen James Clapper’s refusal to provide real numbers to Wyden and Udall was. Not only did their request exactly coincide with the government’s request for more time so they could get more data — the count of US persons — to Bates (though Clapper’s record quick response delivered his refusal before Bates got his first real numbers). But the 48-hour turnaround on analysis of SCTs in September shows how quickly NSA can get rough estimates of US person data when they need to.

There are more alarming things the reclassification of these details suggests, which I’ll address in a follow-up. But for now, know that in 2011, the Intelligence Community refused to treat Congress with the same respect due a co-equal branch of government as it was treating Bates (and that’s the deep background to James Clapper’s 2013 “not wittingly” response).

April 2011, unknown date: Wyden and Udall ask for estimate of US person collection verbally

 

April 19, 2011: Notice of two upstream overcollection violations [see PDF 144]

April 20, 2011: One recertification submission

April 22, 2011: Two more recertification submissions

May 2, 2011: Clarification letter first admits MCT problem

May 5, 2011: Government asks for extension until July 22, 2011

May 9, 2011: Court grants extension, issues briefing order

June 1, 2011: Government submits response to briefing order

June 17, 2011: Court presents follow-up questions

June 28, 2011: Government response to follow-up questions

July 8, 2011: Court (John Bates) meets with senior DOJ people, tells them he has serious concerns

July 14, 2011: Government files another extension; court grants extension to September 20, 2011

July 14, 2011: Wyden and Udall send letter to James Clapper asking (among other things):

  • In a December 2007 Statement of Administration Policy on the FISA Amendments Act, the Office of Management and Budget said that it would “likely be impossible” to count the number of people located in the United States whose communications were reviewed by the government pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act. Is this still the case? If so, is it possible to estimate this number with any accuracy?
  • Have any apparently law-abiding Americans had their communications collected by the government pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act?

July 26, 2011: Clapper responds to Wyden and Udall, refusing to give numbers or describe compliance incidents

August 16, 2011: Government files supplement, presenting results of “manual review of statistically representative sample” for 6 months

August 22, 2011: Meeting between Court and government

August 30, 2011: Government makes another submission

September 7, 2011: Court has hearing

September 9, 2011: Government files additional submission, submitting results of analysis of SCTs completed in just 48 hours

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Domestic Communications NSA Won’t Reveal Are Almost Certainly Obscured Location Communications

The other day, I laid out the continuing fight between Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Senator Ron Wyden over the former’s unwillingness to explain why he can’t answer the question, “Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?” in unclassified form. As I noted, Coats is parsing the difference between “intentionally acquir[ing] any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States,” which Section 702 prohibits, and “collect[ing] communications [the government] knows are entirely domestic,” which this exchange and Wyden’s long history of calling out such things clearly indicates the government does.

As I noted, the earlier iteration of this debate took place in early June. Since then, we’ve gotten two sets of documents that all but prove that the entirely domestic communication the NSA refuses to tell us about involves communications that obscure their location, probably via Tor or VPNs.

Most Entirely Domestic Communications Collected Via Upstream Surveillance in 2011 Obscured Their Location

The first set of documents are those on the 2011 discussion about upstream collection liberated just recently by Charlie Savage. They show that in the September 7, 2011 hearing, John Bates told the government that he believed the collection of discrete communications the government had not examined in their sampling might also contain “about” communications that were entirely domestic. (PDF 113)

We also have this other category, in your random sampling, again, that is 9/10ths of the random sampling that was set aside as being discrete communications — 45,000 out of the 50,0000 — as to which our questioning has indicataed we have a concern that some of the about communications may actually have wholly domestic communications.

And I don’t think that you’ve really assessed that, either theoretically or by any actual examination of those particular transactions or communications. And I’m not indicating to you what I expect you to do, but I do have this concern that there are a fair number of wholly domestic communications in that category, and there’s nothing–you really haven’t had an opportunity to address that, but there’s nothing that has been said to date that would dissuade me from that conclusion. So I’m looking there for some convincing, if you will, assessment of why there are not wholly domestic communications with that body which is 9/10s of the random sample.

In a filing submitted two days later, the government tried to explain away the possibility this would include (many) domestic communications. (The discussion responding to this question starts at PDF 120.) First, the NSA used technical means to determine that 41,272 of the 45,359 communications in the sample were not entirely domestic. That left 4,087 communications, which the NSA was able to analyze in just 48 hours. Of those, the NSA found just 25 that were not to or from a tasked selector (meaning they were “abouts” or correlated identities, described as “potentially alternate accounts/addresses/identifiers for current NSA targets” in footnote 7, which may be the first public confirmation that NSA collects on correlated identifiers). NSA then did the same kind of analysis it does on the communications that it does as part of its pre-tasking determination that a target is located outside the US. This focused entirely on location data.

Notably, none of the reviewed transactions featured an account/address/identifier that resolved to the United States. Further, each of the 25 communications contained location information for at least one account/address/identifier such that NSA’s analysts were able assess [sic] that at least one communicant for each of these 25 communications was located outside of the United States. (PDF 121)

Note that the government here (finally) drops the charade that these are simply emails, discussing three kinds of collection: accounts (which could be both email and messenger accounts), addresses (which having excluded accounts would significantly include IP addresses), and identifiers. And they say that having identified an overseas location for the communication, NSA treats it as an overseas communication.

The next paragraph is even more remarkable. Rather than doing more analysis on those just 25 communications it effectively argues that because latency is bad, it’s safe to assume that any service that is available entirely within the US will be delivered to an American entirely within the US, and so those 25 communications must not be American.

Given the United States’ status as the “world’s premier electronic communications hub,” and further based on NSA’s knowledge of Internet routing patterns, the Government has already asserted that “the vast majority of communications between persons located in the United States are not routed through servers outside the United Staes.” See the Government’s June 1, 2011 Submission at 11. As a practical matter, it is a common business practice for Internet and web service providers alike to attempt to deliver their customers the best user experience possible by reducing latency and increasing capacity. Latency is determined in part by the geographical distance between the user and the server, thus, providers frequently host their services on servers close to their users, and users are frequently directed to the servers closest to them. While such practices are not absolute in any respect and are wholly contingent on potentially dynamic practices of particular service providers and users,9 if all parties to a communication are located in the United States and the required services are available in the United States, in most instances those communications will be routed by service providers through infrastructure wholly within the United States.

Amid a bunch of redactions (including footnote 9, which is around 16 lines long and entirely redacted), the government then claims that its IP filters would ensure that it wouldn’t pick up any of the entirely domestic exceptions to what I’ll call its “avoidance of latency” assumption and so these 25 communications are no biggie, from a Fourth Amendment perspective.

Of course, the entirety of this unredacted discussion presumes that all consumers will be working with providers whose goal is to avoid latency. None of the unredacted discussion admits that some consumers choose to accept some latency in order to obscure their location by routing it through one (VPN) or multiple (Tor) servers distant from their location, including servers located overseas.

For what it’s worth, I think the estimate Bates did on his own to come up with a number of these SCTs was high, in 2011. He guessed there would be 46,000 entirely domestic communications collected each year; by my admittedly rusty math, it appears it would be closer to 12,000 (25 / 50,000 comms in the sample = .05% of the total; .05% of the 11,925,000 upstream transactions in that 6 month period = 5,962, times 2 = roughly 12,000 a year). Still, it was a bigger part of the entirely domestic upstream collection than those collected as MCTs, and all those entirely domestic communications have been improperly back door searched in the interim.

Collyer claims to have ended “about” collection but admits upstream will still collect entirely domestic communications

Now, if that analysis done in 2011 were applicable to today’s collection, there shouldn’t be a way for the NSA to collect entirely domestic communications today. That’s because all of those 25 potentially domestic comms were described as “about” collection. Rosemary Collyer has, according to her IMO apparently imperfect understanding of upstream collection, shut down “about” collection. So that should have eliminated the possibility for entirely domestic collection via upstream, right?

Nope.

As she admits in her opinion, it will still be possible for the NSA to “acquire an MCT” (that is, bundled collection) “that contains a domestic communication.”

So there must be something that has changed since 2011 that would lead NSA to collect entirely domestic communications even if that communication didn’t include an “about” selector.

In 2014 Collyer enforced a practice that would expose Americans to 702 collection

Which brings me back to the practice approved in 2014 in which, according to providers newly targeted under the practice, “the communications of U.S. person will be collected as part of such surveillance.”

As I laid out in this post, in 2014 Thomas Hogan approved a change in the targeting procedures. Previously, all users of a targeted facility had to be foreign for it to qualify as a foreign target. But for some “limited” exception, Hogan for the first time permitted the NSA to collect on a facility even if Americans used that facility as well, along with the foreign targets.

The first revision to the NSA Targeting Procedures concerns who will be regarded as a “target” of acquisition or a “user” of a tasked facility for purposes of those procedures. As a general rule, and without exception under the NSA targeting procedures now in effect, any user of a tasked facility is regarded as a person targeted for acquisition. This approach has sometimes resulted in NSA’ s becoming obligated to detask a selector when it learns that [redacted]

The relevant revision would permit continued acquisition for such a facility.

It appears that Hogan agreed it would be adequate to weed out American communications after collection in post-task analysis.

Some months after this change, some providers got some directives (apparently spanning all three known certificates), and challenged them, though of course Collyer didn’t permit them to read the Hogan opinion approving the change.

Here’s some of what Collyer’s opinion enforcing the directives revealed about the practice.

Collyer’s opinion includes more of the provider’s arguments than the Reply did. It describes the Directives as involving “surveillance conducted on the servers of a U.S.-based provider” in which “the communications of U.S. person will be collected as part of such surveillance.” (29) It says [in Collyer’s words] that the provider “believes that the government will unreasonably intrude on the privacy interests of United States persons and persons in the United States [redacted] because the government will regularly acquire, store, and use their private communications and related information without a foreign intelligence or law enforcement justification.” (32-3) It notes that the provider argued there would be “a heightened risk of error” in tasking its customers. (12) The provider argued something about the targeting and minimization procedures “render[ed] the directives invalid as applied to its service.” (16) The provider also raised concerns that because the NSA “minimization procedures [] do not require the government to immediately delete such information[, they] do not adequately protect United States person.” (26)

[snip]

Collyer, too, says a few interesting things about the proposed surveillance. For example, she refers to a selector as an “electronic communications account” as distinct from an email — a rare public admission from the FISC that 702 targets things beyond just emails. And she treats these Directives as an “expansion of 702 acquisitions” to some new provider or technology.

Now, there’s no reason to believe this provider was involved in upstream collection. Clearly, they’re being asked to provide data from their own servers, not from the telecom backbone (in fact, I wonder whether this new practice is why NSA has renamed “PRISM” “downstream” collection).

But we know two things. First: the discrete domestic communications that got sucked up in upstream collection in 2011 appear to have obscured their location. And, there is now a means of collecting bundles of communications via upstream collection (assuming Collyer’s use of MCT here is correct, which it might not be) such that even communications involving no “about” collection would be swept up.

Again, the evidence is still circumstantial, but there is increasing evidence that in 2014 the NSA got approval to collect on servers that obscure location, and that that is the remaining kind of collection (which might exist under both upstream and downstream collection) that will knowingly be swept up under Section 702. That’s the collection, it seems likely, that Coats doesn’t want to admit.

The problems with permitting collection on location-obscured Americans

If I’m right about this, then there are three really big problems with this practice.

First, in 2011, location-obscuring servers would not themselves be targeted. Communications using such servers would only be collected (if the NSA’s response to Bates is to be believed) if they included an “about’ selector.

But it appears there is now some collection that specifically targets those location-obscuring servers, and knowingly collects US person communications along with whatever else the government is after. If that’s right, then it will affect far more than just 12,000 people a year.

That’s especially true given that a lot more people are using location-obscuring servers now than on October 3, 2011, when Bates issued his opinion. Tor usage in the US has gone from around 150,000 mean users a day to around 430,000 users.

And that’s just Tor. While fewer VPN users will consistently use overseas servers, sometimes it will happen for efficacy reasons and sometimes it will happen to access content that is unavailable in the US (like decent Olympics coverage).

In neither of Collyer’s opinions did she ask for the kind of numerical counts of people affected that Bates asked for in 2011. If 430,000 Americans a day are being exposed to this collection under the 2014 change, it represents a far bigger problem than the one Bates called a Fourth Amendment violation in 2011.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Collyer newly permitted back door searches on upstream collection, even though she knew that (for some reason) it would still collect US person communications. So not only could the NSA collect and hold location obscured US person communications, but those communications might be accessed (if they’re not encrypted) via back door searches that (with Attorney General approval) don’t require a FISA order (though Americans back door searched by NSA are often covered by FISA orders).

In other words, if I’m right about this, the NSA can use 702 to collect on Americans. And the NSA will be permitted to keep what they find (on a communication by communication basis) if they fall under four exceptions to the destruction requirement.

The government is, once again, fighting Congressional efforts to provide a count of how many Americans are getting sucked up in 702 (even though the documents liberated by Savage reveal that such a count wouldn’t take as long as the government keeps claiming). If any of this speculation is correct, it would explain the reluctance. Because once the NSA admits how much US person data it is collecting, it becomes illegal under John Bates’ 2010 PRTT order.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Coats v. Wyden, the Orwellian Reclassification Edition

Back on June 7, Ron Wyden asked a question similar to the one he asked James Clapper in 2013: “Can the government use FISA 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?” As Clapper did 4 years before ,Coats denied that it could. “Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law.”

The claim was particularly problematic, given that less than two months earlier, Coats had signed a Section 702 certificate that admitted that the NSA would acquire entirely domestic communications via upstream collection.

When I asked ODNI about Coats’ comment, they responded by citing FISA.

Section 702(b)(4) plainly states we “may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” The DNI interpreted Senator Wyden’s question to ask about this provision and answered accordingly.

On June 15, Wyden — as he had in 2013 — insisted that Coats answer the question he asked, not the one that made for easy public assurances.

That was not my question. Please provide a public response to my question, as asked at the June 7, 2017 hearing.

After Wyden asked a few more times — again, as happened in 2013 — Coats provided a classified response on July 24. On September 1, however, Coats wrote Wyden stating that,

After consulting with the relevant intelligence agencies, I concluded that releasing the information you are asking to be made public would cause serious damage to national security. To that end, I provided you a comprehensive classified response to your question on July 24.

[snip]

While I recognize your goal of an unclassified response, given the need to include classified information to fully address your question, the classified response provided on July 24 stands as our response on this matter.”

Wyden is … unsatisfied … with this response.

It is hard to view Director Coats’ behavior as anything other than an effort to keep Americans in the dark about government surveillance. I asked him a simple, yes-or-no question: Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?

What happened was almost Orwellian. I asked a question in an open hearing. No one objected to the question at the time. Director Coats answered the question. His answer was not classified. Then, after the fact, his press office told reporters, in effect, Director Coats was answering a different question.

I have asked Director Coats repeatedly to answer the question I actually asked. But now he claims answering the question would be classified, and do serious damage to national security.

The refusal of the DNI to answer this simple yes-no question should set off alarms. How can Congress reauthorize this surveillance when the administration is playing games with basic questions about this program?

This is on top of the administration’s recent refusal even to estimate how many Americans’ communications are swept up under this program.

The Trump administration appears to have calculated that hiding from Americans basic information relevant to their privacy is the easiest way to renew this expansive surveillance authority. The executive branch is rejecting a fundamental principle of oversight by refusing to answer a direct question, and saying that Americans don’t deserve to know when and how the government watches them.

Significantly, in the midst of this back-and-forth about targeting, Wyden and Coats were engaged in a parallel back-and-forth about counting how many US persons are impacted by Section 702. In a letter sent to Coats on August 3, Wyden suggested that it might be easier for NSA to count how many people located in the US are affected by Section 702.

First, whatever challenges there may be arriving at an estimate of U.S. persons whose communications have been collected under Section 702, those challenges may not apply equally to persons located in the United States. I believe that the impact of Section 702 on persons inside the United States would constitute a “relevant metric,” and that your conclusion that an estimate can and should be revisited on that basis.

So effectively, Coats is willing to say publicly that the NSA can’t knowingly target entirely domestic communications, but it does knowingly collect entirely domestic communications. But he’s unwilling to explain how or why it continues to do so in the wake of ending “about” collection.

And in the middle of Coats’ non-admission, Wyden challenged him to come up with a count of how many people in America are affected by Section 702, which would presumably include those incidentally collected because they were communicated with a target, but also these entirely domestic communications that Coats admits exist but won’t explain.

I’ll try to explain in a follow-up what I think this is about.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Senate Intelligence Committee Tried to Say WikiLeaks Constituted — Not Just Resembled — A Spy

The bill report for the Intelligence Authorization is out. Among other things, it provides more details on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s efforts to get WikiLeaks treated as a non-state hostile intelligence service. It reveals that the original language of the bill

By voice vote, the Committee adopted a second-degree amendment by Senator King to an amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill. Section 623 originally provided a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership constitute a non-state hostile intelligence service.

By a vote of 13 ayes to 2 noes, the Committee adopted the amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill, as modified by the second-degree amendment by Senator King, to provide a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The votes in person or by proxy were as follows: [my emphasis]

Chairman Burr–aye;

Senator Risch–aye;

Senator Rubio–aye;

Senator Collins–aye;

Senator Blunt–aye;

Senator Lankford–aye;

Senator Cotton–aye;

Senator Cornyn–aye;

Vice Chairman Warner–aye;

Senator Feinstein–aye;

Senator Wyden–no;

Senator Heinrich–aye;

Senator King–aye;

Senator Manchin–aye;

Senator Harris–no.

As you can see, Kamala Harris is the only one, besides Ron Wyden, who voted against this troubling amendment.

Here’s her statement from the report:

In particular, I have reservations about Section 623, which establishes a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The Committee’s bill offers no definition of “non-state hostile intelligence service” to clarify what this term is and is not. Section 623 also directs the United States to treat WikiLeaks as such a service, without offering further clarity.

To be clear, I am no supporter of WikiLeaks, and believe that the organization and its leadership have done considerable harm to this country. This issue needs to be addressed. However, the ambiguity in the bill is dangerous because it fails to draw a bright line between WikiLeaks and legitimate journalistic organizations that play a vital role in our democracy.

I supported efforts to remove this language in Committee and look forward to working with my colleagues as the bill proceeds to address my concerns.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Senate Intelligence Bill Aims to Label WikiLeaks — and Maybe the Journalists Who Look Like Them — Spooks

I’m reading the draft Senate Intelligence Authorization for 2018; in a follow-up, I will lay out why it is a remarkably useful bill, particularly in the way it addresses vulnerabilities identified in the wake of the Russian efforts to tamper with our election.

But there is a major point of concern, one which led Senator Ron Wyden to vote against the bill in committee. Attached to a must-pass bill, it holds that it is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks resembles a non-state hostile intelligence service.

SEC. 623. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON WIKILEAKS.

It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.

In explaining his opposition to the provision, Wyden laid out all the unintended consequences that might come from labeling WikiLeaks a hostile intelligence service. “My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” stated Senator Wyden. “The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling. The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles. The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction.”

Wyden has a point. If WikiLeaks is treated as an intelligence service, for example, then anyone having extensive conversations with them can be targeted for surveillance. Any assistance someone gives — like donations — can be deemed a potential criminal violation. And a lot of people who access and support Wikileaks because of the content it publishes may be deemed suspect.

Wyden did find other things in the bill to praise, including three things he sponsored, two of them explicitly tied to the Russian threat:

  1. A report on the threat to the United States from Russian money laundering. The amendment calls on intelligence agencies to work with elements of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, such as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), to assess the scope and threat of Russian money laundering to the United States.
  2. Requires Congressional notification before the establishment of any U.S.-Russia cybersecurity unit, including a report on what intelligence will be shared with the Russians, any counterintelligence concerns, and how those concerns would be mitigated.
  3. A report from the Intelligence Community on whether cyber security vulnerabilities in the U.S. cell network, including known vulnerabilities to SS7, are resulting in foreign government surveillance of Americans. The report follows on a study by the Department of Homeland Security that found major, widespread weaknesses in U.S. mobile networks.

But he nevertheless voted against the bill to register his concerns about the new label for WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks language would sure make it harder for Trump to exchange information with Julian Assange in exchange for a pardon. But tacking this onto such an otherwise useful bill seems like a bad idea.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

[Photo: National Security Agency via Wikimedia]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wyden to Coats: Admit You Know NSA Is Collecting Domestic Communications under 702

Last week, I noted that Ron Wyden had asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats a question akin to the one he once asked James Clapper.

Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?

Coats responded much as Clapper did four years ago.

Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law.

But, as I pointed out, Coats signed a certification based off an application that clearly admitted that the government would still collect entirely domestic communications using upstream collection. Rosemary Collyer, citing the application that Coats had certified, stated,

It will still be possible for NSA to acquire [a bundled communication] that contains a domestic communication.

When I asked the Office of Director of National Intelligence about this, they said,

Section 702(b)(4) plainly states we “may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” The DNI interpreted Senator Wyden’s question to ask about this provision and answered accordingly.

Yesterday, Ron Wyden wrote Dan Coats about this exchange. Noting everything I’ve just laid out, Wyden said,

That was not my question. Please provide a public response to my question, as asked at the June 7, 2017 hearing.

Wyden doesn’t do the work of parsing his question for Coats. But he appears to be making a distinction. The language ODNI’s spox pointed to discusses “intentionally acquir[ing a] communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” Wyden’s question, however, did not use the term “intentionally” and did not include the language about “knowing at the time of collection” that the communication is domestic.

The distinction he is making appears to be the one I pointed out in this post. In a 2010 opinion, John Bates distinguished data that NSA had no reason to know was domestic communication (in this case, categories of packet information prohibited by the FISC in 2004, effectively content as metadata, but the precedent holds for all FISA collection), which he treated as legal, from that the NSA had reason to know was domestic.

When it is not known, and there is no reason to know, that a piece of information was acquired through electronic surveillance that was not authorized by the Court’s prior orders, the information is not subject to the criminal prohibition in Section 1809(a)(2). Of course, government officials may not avoid the strictures of Section 1809(a)(2) by cultivating a state of deliberate ignorance when reasonable inquiry would likely establish that information was indeed obtained through unauthorized electronic surveillance.

If NSA knew the data it was collecting was domestic, it was illegal. If NSA didn’t know the data it was collecting was domestic, it was not illegal.

But don’t you dare deliberately cultivate ignorance about whether the data you’re collecting is domestic, John Bates warned sternly!

Here, of course, the government has told the court in its application, “Hey, we’re going to be collecting domestic communications,” but then, in testimony to Congress, said, “nah, we’re not collecting domestic communications.”

Having said in its application that it is still possible to collect domestic communications, it sure seems the government has ceded any claim to be ignorant that it is collecting domestic communications.

Which would make this collection of domestic communications illegal.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Privacy Community Lets Dan Coats Off Easy in Letter Accusing Him of Reneging on His Promise

This post may make me some enemies in DC.

But the privacy community appears to be missing some critical points in this letter accusing Dan Coats of reneging on his promise to provide an estimate of how many Americans have been sucked up in Section 702 surveillance. The letter rehearses what it claims is the history of NSA counting or not counting how many Americans get collected under Section 702, going back to 2011.

This debate began in 2011 when Senator Wyden first asked Director Clapper to provide an estimate.2 In 2012, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community claimed that such an estimate would not be possible because the process of establishing the estimate would violate the privacy of U.S. persons, and require too many resources.3

Yet in the same letter, it claims that NSA managed to do a count of Americans implicated in upstream surveillance in 2011.

First, the NSA previously undertook an effort to provide the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) with a similar estimate, and “there is no evidence that this undertaking impeded any NSA operations.”5 There, in order to address the FISC’s concerns about the number of wholly domestic communications that were being collected under Section 702, the NSA “conducted a manual review of a random sample consisting of 50,440 Internet transactions taken from the more than 13.25 million Internet transactions acquired through the NSA’s upstream collection during a six month period.”6

It is absolutely true that NSA “undertook an effort” to provide the number of Americans implicated in upstream surveillance. But it was not “a similar estimate.” On the contrary, NSA only obtained an estimate of entirely domestic communications collected as part of multiple communication transactions, MCTs. It did not — not even after Bates asked — come up with an estimate of how many entirely domestic communications NSA collected via upstream collection as single communication transactions, much less an estimate of all the Americans collected.

Here’s how John Bates described it in the opinion cited in footnote 6.

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 August 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.

Now, ODNI might raise this detail and say that the 2011 review was not as intensive as the one the privacy community wants to conduct. They’d be right, not least because the upstream review should be easier to conduct than the PRISM review, even though there should be less upstream collection under the new rules (under 702, anyway — much of it would have just gone to EO 12333 collection).

But the other critical point is that, having done the sampling, NSA wasn’t even willing to give Bates the information he requested t0 explain the scope of illegal collection under Section 702.

NSA’s refusal to count all the entirely domestic communications collected in their own right is particularly important given another point that would be worth mentioning here.

It’s not so much that this debate started when Ron Wyden made his request. Rather, Ron Wyden, with Mark Udall, made a written request for such a count on the very same day, July 14, 2011, that DOJ obtained an extension to conduct the count for John Bates.

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.

So this debate started when Wyden, simultaneously with the FISC, asked for numbers on how many Americans were affected. But the NSA proceeded to do a count that was only partially responsive to Bates’ concerns and barely responsive to Wyden’s.

NSA did a count in 2011. But even though they had requests for a number from both other co-equal branches of government, they refused to do a responsive count, even as they were already committing the resources to doing the count.

The claim about resources made in 2011 rings hollow, because the resources were expended but the scope was narrowly drawn.

Which brings me to the last critical point here: the most likely motive for drawing the scope so narrowly even as both other co-equal branches of government were requesting the number.

In July 2010, John Bates wrote another opinion. On its face, it addressed the NSA’s collection of prohibited categories under the PR/TT Internet dragnet. But in reality, that collection was just upstream collection with some filtering to try to get down to the part of the packets that constituted metadata under rules set in 2004. Effectively, then, it was also an opinion about the deliberate collection of domestic content via upstream collection. And in that opinion, he weighed the government’s request to let it keep data it had collected that might contain entirely domestic content. Ultimately, Bates said that if the government knew it had obtained domestic content, it had to delete the data, but if it didn’t know, it could keep it.

When it is not known, and there is no reason to know, that a piece of information was acquired through electronic surveillance that was not authorized by the Court’s prior orders, the information is not subject to the criminal prohibition in Section 1809(a)(2). Of course, government officials may not avoid the strictures of Section 1809(a)(2) by cultivating a state of deliberate ignorance when reasonable inquiry would likely establish that information was indeed obtained through unauthorized electronic surveillance.

[snip]

In light of the government’s assertions of need, and in heavy reliance on the assurances of the responsible officials, the Court is prepared — albeit reluctantly — to grant the government’s request with respect to information that is not subject to Section 18099a)(2)’s prohibition. Hence, the government may access, use, and disseminate such information subject to the restrictions and procedures described above that will apply to future collection.

From that point forward, it was a precedent in the FISC that the government could obtain entirely domestic communications, provided that they didn’t know they were collecting it. But they couldn’t cultivate deliberate ignorance of what they were doing. (They still violated the precedent, but quickly destroyed all the data before they got caught in 2011.)

If the NSA knows they’re intentionally collecting entirely domestic communications, it is illegal. If the NSA doesn’t know they’re intentionally collecting entirely domestic collections, it’s not illegal.

You can see how, even with Bates’ stern warning not to deliberately cultivate ignorance, this provided a huge incentive to deliberately cultivate ignorance.

Of course, Dan Coats performed just that deliberate ignorance the other day, when Wyden made it clear Coats had signed the reauthorization certification for 702 even though the accompanying memo made it clear that the NSA would still be collection entirely domestic communications. Coats claimed they wouldn’t collect Americans’ communications even in spite of the fact that the memo accompanying his certification said it would do just that.

This is a concept the privacy community really needs to learn, quickly. Because Ron Wyden is laying all the ground work to make it clear that this is about deliberate ignorance, of just the sort that Bates said was improper, not actually a concern about resources.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Sessions Recusal: Election And/Or Russia?

Back when Jeff Sessions recused from the investigation into Trump, I noted that it was actually fairly narrow. He recused from election-related issues, but said nothing about Russia.

[T]he only thing he is recusing from is “existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”

There are two areas of concern regarding Trump’s ties that would not definitively be included in this recusal: Trump’s long-term ties to mobbed up businessmen with ties to Russia (a matter not known to be under investigation but which could raise concerns about compromise of Trump going forward), and discussions about policy that may involve quid pro quos (such as the unproven allegation, made in the Trump dossier, that Carter Page might take 19% in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions against Russia), that didn’t involve a pay-off in terms of the hacking. There are further allegations of Trump involvement in the hacking (a weak one against Paul Manafort and a much stronger one against Michael Cohen, both in the dossier), but that’s in no way the only concern raised about Trump’s ties with Russians.

Which is why I was so interested that Jim Comey emphasized something else in his testimony (see this post on this topic) — issues pertaining to Russia. [my emphasis throughout]

We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations. (He did so two weeks later.)

This came up in his hearing yesterday, as well. First Wyden asked why Sessions was involved in Comey’s firing if he got fired for continuing to investigate Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia.

WYDEN: Let me turn to the attorney general. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general’s interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?

COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, is that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an opening setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic. So we were convinced — in fact, I think we’d already heard the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer. That turned out to be the case.

WYDEN: How would you characterize Attorney General Sessions’s adherence to his recusal? In particular, with regard to his involvement in your firing, which the president has acknowledged was because of the Russian investigation.

COMEY: That’s a question I can’t answer. I think it is a reasonable question. If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know.

Then Kamala Harris asked whether there had been any official guidance on recusal.

HARRIS: Thank you. As a former attorney general, I have a series of questions in connection with your connection with the attorney general while you were FBI director. What is your understanding of the parameters of Attorney General Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation?

COMEY: I think it’s described in a written release from DOJ which I don’t remember sitting here but the gist is he will be recused from all matters relating to Russia or the campaign. Or the activities of Russia and the ’16 election or something like that.

HARRIS: So, is your knowledge of the extent of the recusal based on the public statements he’s made?

COMEY: Correct.

HARRIS: Is there any kind of memorandum issued from the attorney general to the FBI outlining the parameters of his recusal?

COMEY: Not that I’m aware of.

In every comment, Comey emphasized the Russian aspect. Indeed, most of his comments only mention Russia; just one instance mentions the election.

Indeed, yesterday’s hearing made it clear that Comey believed Sessions should be recused from Russia-related issues because of unclassified issues that include his undisclosed two (now three) conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

After yesterday’s hearing, DOJ issued a statement (reproduced in its entirely below), and also released an email that appears to serve as the written guidance on Sessions’ recusal. Yesterday’s statement makes the limitation to election-related issues even more explicit.

Given Attorney General Sessions’ participation in President Trump’s campaign, it was for that reason, and that reason alone, the Attorney General made the decision on March 2, 2017 to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

So while the email directive does state Sessions’ recusal “extends to Department responses to Congressional and media inquiries related to any such investigations,” not a single thing from DOJ ever mentions the word Russia.

There are actually many important potential implications of this.

It may mean, for example, that Sessions feels he had every right to help Trump fire Comey for his aggressive investigation in Russian issues — even in spite of the fact that his own actions may be reviewed in the Russian investigation — because the Flynn investigation pertained to issues that happened after the election.

More alarmingly, it may mean that there will be a squabble about the scope of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which has already started digging into matters of Russian corruption that go back years, because Rod Rosenstein overstepped the scope of his own authority based on the limits of Sessions’ recusal.

Jim Comey thinks that as soon as February 14, it was clear that Sessions had to recuse from Russian related issues. Instead (all the evidence suggests) he recused only from election related issues.

The difference in understanding here is troubling.

Update: A friend notes that Jeff Sessions basically relied on Rod Rosenstein’s letter in recommending Trump fire Comey.

[F]or the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum, I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.

The friend suggested that because Comey’s actions implicated the election, that means Sessions intervened in matter pertaining to the election (albeit for Trump’s opponent).

I’m not so sure. The phrasing of Rosenstein’s letter here is critical. Democrats may be angry at Comey for reopening the investigation (and sending a sure-to-leak letter to a stable of GOP Committee Chairs) days before the election. So to Democrats, Comey’s handing of the Hillary investigation pertains to the election.

But Rosenstein frames the issue in terms of “usurp[ing] the Attorney General’s authority” and “supplant[ing] federal prosecutors and assum[ing] control of the Justice Department.” While Rosenstein cites Eric Holder and Donald Ayer describing how Comey’s actions violated long-standing policies pertaining to comments in advance of elections, the Deputy Attorney General himself pitches it as insubordination.

Update: On Twitter Charlie Savage suggested the scope of the recusal could be taken from the language of Comey’s confirmation of the investigation in a HPSCI hearing on March 20, arguing that on March 2, when Sessions recused, the investigation and its ties to campaign members who spoke to Russians had not yet been disclosed.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

Except this statement says nothing about Jeff Sessions’ recusal, and in Thursday’s testimony, Comey said he was unaware of a memo aside from Sessions public statement. As noted above, the email that DOJ has now pointed to says nothing about Russia.

Plus, even if the recusal originally intended to include the secret Russia investigation, the statement written on Thursday, very clearly in response to Comey’s testimony and repeated claims that Sessions had to recuse from Russia-related issues, said the only reason Sessions recused was because of the campaign tie. And as I noted in my original post on the scope of Sessions’ recusal, he played games in his admission of conversations with Sergey Kislyak as to whether they pertained to Russia.

Update: In a March 6 letter to SJC claiming he didn’t need to correct his false testimony on conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Sessions said that his recusal should cover Russian contacts with the Trump transition and administration.

The March 3, 2017, letter also asked why I had not recused myself from “Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration.” I understand the scope of the recusal as described in the Department’s press release would include any such matters.

This would seem to conflict with Thursday’s statement.

______________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

THURSDAY, JUNE 8, 2017

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ISSUES STATEMENT ON TESTIMONY OF FORMER FBI DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY

 

WASHINGTON – In response to testimony given today by former FBI Director James Comey, Department of Justice Spokesman Ian Prior issued the following statement:

  • Shortly after being sworn in, Attorney General Sessions began consulting with career Department of Justice ethics officials to determine whether he should recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

Those discussions were centered upon 28 CFR 45.2, which provides that a Department of Justice attorney should not participate in investigations that may involve entities or individuals with whom the attorney has a political or personal relationship. That regulation goes on to define “political relationship” as:

“[A] close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof ***”

Given Attorney General Sessions’ participation in President Trump’s campaign, it was for that reason, and that reason alone, the Attorney General made the decision on March 2, 2017 to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

  • In his testimony, Mr. Comey stated that he was “not *** aware of” “any kind of memorandum issued from the Attorney General or the Department of Justice to the FBI outlining the parameters of [the Attorney General’s] recusal.” However, on March 2, 2017, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff sent the attached email specifically informing Mr. Comey and other relevant Department officials of the recusal and its parameters, and advising that each of them instruct their staff “not to brief the Attorney General *** about, or otherwise involve the Attorney General *** in, any such matters described.”
  • During his testimony, Mr. Comey confirmed that he did not inform the Attorney General of his concerns about the substance of any one-on-one conversation he had with the President. Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House. The Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.
  • Despite previous inaccurate media reports, Mr. Comey did not say that he ever asked anyone at the Department of Justice for more resources related to this investigation.
  • In conclusion, it is important to note that after his initial meeting with career ethics officials regarding recusal (and including the period prior to his formal recusal on March 2, 2017), the Attorney General has not been briefed on or participated in any investigation within the scope of his recusal.

# # #

17-631

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Dan Coats Just Confirmed He Signed the Section 702 Certificate without Even Reading the Accompanying Memo

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee had a hearing on Section 702 of FISA. It basically went something like this:

It’s okay that we have a massive dragnet because the men running it are very honorable and diligent.

The men running the dragnet refuse to answer a series of straight questions, and when they do, they’re either wrong or deeply dishonest.

I’ll lay that out in more detail later.

But the most important example is an exchange between Ron Wyden and Dan Coats that will reverberate like Clapper’s now famous answer to Wyden that they don’t “wittingly” collect on millions of Americans. It went like this:

Wyden: Can the government use FISA 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?

Coats: Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law.

Coats’ knowledge should necessarily extend at least as far as Rosemary Collyer’s opinion reauthorizing the dragnet that Coats oversees, which was, after all, the topic of the hearing. And that opinion makes it quite clear that even under the new more limited regime, the NSA can collect entirely domestic communications.

Indeed, the passage makes clear that that example was presented in the memo tied to the certification about Section 702 that Coats signed (but did not release publicly). Effectively, Dan Coats signed a certificate on March 30 stating that this collection was alright.

I’m not sure what this example refers to. Collyer claims it has to do with MCTs, though like Dan Coats, she didn’t seem to understand the program she approved. There are multiple ways I know of where entirely domestic communications may be collected under 702, which I’ll write about in the near future.

In any case, if Dan Coats was being truthful in response to Wyden’s question, then he, at the same time, admitted that he certified a program without even reading the accompanying memorandum, and certainly without understanding the privacy problems with the program as constituted.

He either lied to Wyden. Or admitted that the current 702 certification was signed by someone who didn’t understand what he was attesting to.

Update: I did a version of this (including comment on Mike Rogers’ testimony) for Motherboard. It includes this explanation for Coats’ comment.

Section 702(b)(4) plainly states we ‘may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.’ The DNI interpreted Senator Wyden’s question to ask about this provision and answered accordingly.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.