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The Psy-Group Proposal: A Way to Measure the Value that Russian Hackers Provided the Trump Campaign

On April 15, 2016, Russian hackers searched in DCCC and DNC networks for information on (among other things) Ted Cruz and the Democrats’ field plan.

The Conspirators searched for and identified computers within the DCCC and DNC networks that stored information related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, on or about April 15, 2016, the Conspirators searched one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump.” The Conspirators also copied select DCCC folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.” The Conspirators targeted computers containing information such as opposition research and field operation plans for the 2016 elections.

That’s an important detail with which to assess the recent NYT story that, in March, Rick Gates asked Israeli intelligence firm Psy-Group for a proposal on influence operations targeting both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. As the NYT story notes, Gates wasn’t actually all that interested in the Psy-Group proposal and there’s no indication anyone in the Trump camp was either.

There is no evidence that the Trump campaign acted on the proposals, and Mr. Gates ultimately was uninterested in Psy-Group’s work, a person with knowledge of the discussions said, in part because other campaign aides were developing a social media strategy.

But he was interested in the services Psy-Group offered, including intelligence gathering and influence operations.

According to Mr. Birnbaum, Mr. Gates expressed interest during that meeting in using social media influence and manipulation as a campaign tool, most immediately to try to sway Republican delegates toward Mr. Trump.

“He was interested in finding the technology to achieve what they were looking for,” Mr. Birnbaum said in an interview. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to comment.

[snip]

The proposal to gather information about Mrs. Clinton and her aides has elements of traditional opposition research, but it also contains cryptic language that suggests using clandestine means to build “intelligence dossiers.” [I’ve switched the order of these passages]

So aside from context for the meeting Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel had with Don Jr (and any downstream arrangement the two had), it’s not clear what the report itself means for Mueller’s investigation, with regards to Psy-Group, particularly given claims that the group closely vetted their programs for legal compliance (though NYT was unable to learn whether Covington & Burling had given a green light for this campaign).

But the report that Gates was seeking proposals in March 2016 and the guts of the report are interesting for what they say about the mindset that Gates and Manafort brought to, first, the Convention and after that managing the entire campaign.

The materials Psy-Group provided in response to a Gates request provide at least three things that may be useful for a Mueller prosecution. First, they show that the Russian hackers were working on the same schedule that Gates and Manafort were, with initial data collection slotted for April.

The report also shows what kind of targets the Trump team knew would be resistant to messaging directly from Trump, and so should be targeted by unaffiliated online assets, including fictional avatars.

These groups — especially minority and swing voters — were precisely the groups that Russian trolls and Cambridge Analytica’s dark marketing targeted.

Likewise, Russian hackers may well have shared what amounted to intelligence dossiers with Trump.

Finally, the Psy-Group proposal also provides a dollar figure for the value of these kinds of services. That provides Mueller with a way to show the kind of financial benefit Trump received from both the Russian efforts and whatever efforts Cambridge Analytica gave to Trump for free (or coordinated on illegally): $3.31 million dollars.

The above proposed activity will cost $3,210,000. This does not include the cost of media, which will be billed at cost + 20% management fee and pre-approved with the client in advance prior to committing and spending. We estimate media cost at around $100,000 at this point (mostly social / online media).

One charge we know (from Manafort’s warrant applications) that Mueller is considering is receiving a thing of value from a foreigner. This proposal measures what kind of value Trump’s campaign received from the Russians.

It may be that Psy-Group poses a risk to Trump’s people directly, perhaps as a way to understand Israel’s role as a cut-out for Russia, or as a way to prove that Don Jr lied under oath about his willingness to accept gifts from foreigners. But even without that, the Psy-Group proposal provides a real time measure of how Trump’s campaign under Manafort planned to run their campaign.

 As I said in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

If Mueller Shows Trump and Stone Cheated to Win the Primary, Will Republicans Turn on Trump?

Before you answer, “no,” hear me out.

I’ve been obsessing about what else — besides repeatedly entertaining offers of help from Russians and changing his opinion about whether Russia hacked the DNC on a dime and thereafter magnifying propaganda that helped Russia’s plausible deniability, even while claiming some knowledge of it — Mueller is investigating Roger Stone. The subpoena challenge of his sometime assistant, Andrew Miller, makes it clear that at least part of the investigation focuses on Stone’s dodgy 527 and PACs. I’ve shown how the second (general election) incarnation of Stone’s Stop the Steal 527 engaged in voter suppression that paralleled the efforts Russia was making.

But we know from the reports of witnesses, including Michael Caputo, that Mueller’s interest in Stone’s activities go back before the general election. For example, he’s interested (in the wake of Rick Gates signing a cooperation agreement) in meetings Stone had with Gates. According to Stone, the only meeting he had with Gates during the election happened shortly after April 19, 2016; Gates was there because Manafort had to cancel at the last minute.

“I only have a record of one dinner with Rick Gates,” he said, adding that the guest list included two other political operatives: Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide who was recently interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s investigators, and Paul Manafort, who soon after took over as chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign. But Mr. Manafort canceled at the last minute, and Mr. Gates, his deputy, attended in his place.

Mr. Stone said the conversation during the dinner, which fell soon after the New York primary in April 2016, was about the New York State delegate selection for the Republican National Convention. The operatives expressed concern about whether delegates, at a time of deep division among Republicans, would be loyal to Mr. Trump’s vision for the party, Mr. Stone said.

The suggestion, then, is that Mueller’s star witness, Rick Gates, told the special counsel about Stone and Manafort getting the old gang back together. Which would have started in March, as Manafort was wooing Stone’s longtime associate Donald Trump. During the same month, Stone-style rat-fucking was putting the finishing touches to Ted Cruz’ presidential ambitions. That was precisely the period when former Young Republican John Powers Middleton was loading up Stone’s Committee to Restore American Greatness (from which Stop the Steal would get its initial cash infusion). Stone was tweeting out his Stop the Steal campaign, even if he had not yet registered it with the IRS. And not long afterwards, Russian hackers would still be searching Democratic servers for dirt on Cruz, even after he had been mathematically eliminated.

[O]n or about April 15, 2016, the Conspirators searched one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump.”

The possibility that Mueller’s interest in Stone (and Manafort) extends back to the primary is all the more interesting given how centrally some of Stone’s core skill-sets played out in the lead-up to the Convention. There were veiled threats of violence (and in the home of his dark money, actual violence), a smear story projecting on Cruz the infidelity more typical of Trump, and lots of money sloshing around.

It’s not entirely clear what crime that would implicate — besides potential campaign finance violations (particularly, given Trump’s repeated disavowals of any coordination between Stone and his old buddy Manafort).

And, given how rabidly Republican base voters support Trump, I could see why Republicans would let bygones be bygones. It’s not like the Republican party has ever before shown distaste for Stone’s rat-fucking. Plus, no one likes Ted Cruz, and he may not even survive his race against Beto O’Rourke. So, no, Republicans won’t be any more disposed against Stone if he is shown to have helped Trump cheat in the primary.

All that said, if Mueller indicts Stone in other crimes that Republicans would like to distance themselves from, any allegations about the primary may provide cover.

So, no, whatever dark money slush Mueller is looking at implicates Trump’s victory over the mainstream party won’t, by itself, turn Republicans against Trump. But down the road it may provide cover for the moment Republicans would like to turn on him.

Timeline

September 2, 2011: Pamela Jensen registers Should Trump Run 527 with Michael D Cohen listed as President

October 1, 2015: Pamela Jensen registers STOP RAPE PAC by loaning it enough money to pay for a mailbox

November 10, 2015: Jensen & Associates loans $2,398.87 to CRAG

November 10, 2015: CRAG pays Entkesis 2373.87

December 17, 2015: Corey Lewandowski disavows CRAG

December 24, 2015: CRAG pays Newsmax 10803.55

December 31, 2015: CRAG pays Newsmax 1585.76

February 1, 2016: Pamela Jensen sends out fundraising letter to World Net Daily pushing Kathleen Wiley’s mortgage fundraiser

February 4, 2016: Jensen & Associates loans $2,610 to CRAG

February 10, 2016: Loans from Jensen & Associates repaid

February 19, 2016: Roger Stone tells Alex Jones that Donald Trump has donated to the Kathleen Willey fundraiser, even though it had raised less than $4,000 at that time

February 29, 2016: Paul Manafort pitches Trump on managing his convention

March 1, 2016: John Powers Middleton Company donates $150,000 to CRAG

March 6, 2016: First tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

March 9, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

March 11, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 14, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 23, 2016: National Enquirer publishes story, quoting Stone, claiming multiple Ted Cruz affairs

March 28, 2016: On recommendation of Tom Barrack and Roger Stone, Trump hires Manafort as convention manager, thereby bringing in “traditional” methods Stone resigned over in 2015

April 5, 2016: Stone threatens to send Trump supporters to disloyal delegates hotel rooms, also claims voter fraud in primaries Cruz won

April 6, 2016: Stone (Sarah Rollins) establishes Stop the Steal in same UPS post box as CRAG

April 6, 2016: CRAG gives $50,000 to Stop the Steal

April 6, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $11,000

April 6, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $9,000

April 6, 2016: Stone tweets Stop the Steal toll free line to “report voter fraud in Wisconsin” primary

April 8, 2016: Stone accused of menacing after threat of Day of Rage

April 12, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $60,000 to CRAG

April 13, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $386.72

April 14, 2016: CRAG pays Tim Yale $9,000

April 14, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Jim Baker $1,500 in “expense reimbursements for rally”

April 15, 2016: GRU hackers search “one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump”

April 15, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $500

April 15, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $15,000 to CRAG

April 15, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $2,000 to CRAG

April 15, 2016: $1,000 refunded to John Powers Middleton

April 18, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $1,000 to CRAG

April 18, 2016: CRAG pays Citroen Associates $40,000

April 19, 2016: CNN writes profile on “the Return of Roger Stone”

Shortly after April 19, 2016: Stone and Rick Gates meet in NY.

April 25, 2016: CRAG pays Paul Nagy $2,500

April 25, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $500 plus $41.66 in expenses

April 28, 2016: Protest outside of Donald Trump rally in Costa Mesa turns violent

April 29, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

May 1, 2016: Last Stone tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

May 2, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $800

May 2, 2016: Stop the Steal fundraises and calls for march on Convention, even as Trump disavows any tie to it or other PACs/527s

May 4, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $5,000

May 13, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins 93.50

May 15, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $500

May 16, CRAG pays Andrew Miller $2,000

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Citroen Associates $10,000

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $400

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Kathy Shelton $2,500

May 24, 2016: Stone PAC RAPE PAC, aka Women v Hillary, announced

June 2, 2016: Pamela Jensen sets up Women v Hillary PAC out of a different mailboxes location in Costa Mesa (again, this only ever showed enough money to pay for the mailbox used as its address)

June 7, 2016: FEC informs CRAG it must submit filings by July 12, 2016

June 7, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $4,790

June 8, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Paul Nagy $800 in “expense reimbursements for rally”

June 17, 2016: CRAG pays Andrew Miller $3,000

July 5, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $14,500

July 6, 2016: CRAG pays Michelle Selaty $10,000

July 6, 2016: CRAG pays Drake Ventures $12,000

July 11, 2016: CRAG pays Cheryl Smith $4,900

July 12, 2016: Stop the Steal gives $63,000 to CRAG

July 12, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $7,200

July 15, 2016: CRAG pays Jason Sullivan $1,500

July 18, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $7,500

July 20, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $3,000

July 29, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $6,000

August 1, 2016: CRAG pays Andrew Miller $4,000; Stone flies from JFK to LAX

August 2, 2016: Stone dines with Middleton at Dan Tanas in West Hollywood

August 3, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $9,500

August 3, 2016: CRAG pays Josi & Company $2,500

August 3-4, 2016: Stone takes a red-eye from LAX to Miami

August 4, 2016: Stone flip-flops on whether the Russians or a 400 pound hacker are behind the DNC hack and also tells Sam Nunberg he dined with Julian Assange; first tweet in the fall StopTheSteal campaign

August 5, 2016: Stone column in Breitbart claiming Guccifer 2.0 is individual hacker

August 9, 2016: CRAG pays Jason Sullivan $1,500

August 15, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $19,500

August 29, 2016: CRAG pays Law Offices of Michael Becker $3,500

August 31, 2016: Robert Shillman gives $8,000 to CRAG

September 12, 2016: CRAG gives $8,000 to Donald Trump

September 14, 2016: CRAG pays $3,000 to Citroen Associates

September 21, 2016: Robert Shillman gives $8,000 to CRAG

September 22, 2016: CRAG gives $8,000 to Donald Trump

October 13, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Andrew Miller $5,000

October 23, 2016: Stone tweets out message saying Clinton supporters can “VOTE the NEW way on Tues. Nov 8th by texting HILLARY to 8888”

October 28, 2016: GRU officer Anatoliy Kovalev and co-conspirators visit websites of counties in GA, IA, and FL to identify vulnerabilities

October 30, 2016: Ohio Democratic Party sues Ohio Republican Party to prevent Stop the Steal voter suppression; Democrats also sue in NV, AZ, and PA

November 3, 2016: Filings in ODP lawsuit describing Stop the Steal (declarationexhibits)

November 4, 2016: Judge James Gwyn issues Temporary Restraining Order against Trump, Stone, and Stop the Steal

November 4, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 post claiming Democrats may rig the elections

November 7, 2016: Sixth Circuit issues a stay in OH TRO

December 14, 2016: Women versus Hillary gives $158.97 to CRAG

December 19, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $5,000 to Alejandro Vidal for “fundraising expenses”

December 19, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $3,500 to C Josi and Co.

December 21, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $1,500 to The Townsend Group

December 27, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $3,500 to Kristen [sic] Davis

December 28, 2016: Stop the Steal gives $94 to CRAG

December 29, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Jerry Steven Gray $4,000 for “fundraising expenses”

December 30, 2016: Stop the Steal pays 2,692 total to unnamed recipients

January 19, 2017: Stop the Steal pays $5,000 for fundraising expenses to Alejandro Vidal

February 8, 2017: Stop the Steal pays Kristen [sic] Davis $3,500 for “fundraising expenses”

February 15, 2017: Stop Steal pays Brad Boeck $862 for sales consultant consulting fee

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Trump’s Pecker and His Rat-Fucker’s “Pervy Ted”

According to Michael Cohen’s criminal information, he and David Pecker started conspiring to protect Trump from scandals pertaining to his extramarital affairs and alleged sexual assault starting in August 2015.

In or about August 2015, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Corporation-1 ( “Chairman-1”), in coordination with MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and one or more members of the campaign, offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-l’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Chairman-1 agreed to keep COHEN apprised of any such negative stories.

That means Cohen and Pecker were conspiring to help Trump’s electoral chances when Trump’s rat-fucker, Roger Stone, planted a story in Pecker’s pages on March 23, 2016, accusing Ted Cruz, who was running on his Evangelical brand, of having affairs with five different women. (h/t Allen Smith for remembering this incident)

The National Enquirer published an article Wednesday alleging that the Texas senator had five secret mistresses. While it did not identify the alleged mistresses by name, the article included headshots of five women that were pixelated with black bars over their eyes.

The article also quoted Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who is still close to the real-estate mogul. “These stories have been swirling about Cruz for some time,” Stone said in the National Enquirer. “I believe where there is smoke there is fire. I have to believe this will hurt him with his evangelical Christian supporters.”

Cruz unsurprisingly accused Trump of planting the story. To which Trump claimed he does not surround himself with political hacks … then pretend total innocence.

“And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him. He’s a man whom a term was coined for copulating with a rodent. Well let me be clear, Donald Trump may be a rat but I have no desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics,” Cruz said.

Trump issued a statement Friday afternoon denying any involvement with the National Enquirer.

“I have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week’s issue of the National Enquirer is true or not, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it, did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it,” Trump said.

“I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchman (sic) and then pretend total innocence. Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” he added.

The timing of all this is quite interesting for several reasons. First, because Mueller has asked witnesses against Stone about meetings they had with Stone and Rick Gates in the spring, meaning we know the scope of his investigation into Stone extends back into the primary timeframe. The story came out just before Trump formally announced the hiring of Paul Manafort to manage his convention.

More interesting, still, the story came out even as Stone and his ally Pamela Jensen were ramping up attacks on Hillary for Bill’s philandering — the same kind of projection this Enquirer story entailed. The story came weeks after Stone first tweeted out his Stop the Steal campaign. Not long after, Stone started to shift money from his PAC, Committee to Restore America’s Greatness (CRAG in the timeline below), to his 527, Stop the Steal.

February 1, 2016: Pamela Jensen sends out fundraising letter to World Net Daily pushing Kathleen Wiley’s mortgage fundraiser

February 4, 2016: Jensen & Associates loans $2,610 to CRAG

February 10, 2016: Loans from Jensen & Associates repaid

February 19, 2016: Roger Stone tells Alex Jones that Donald Trump has donated to the Kathleen Willey fundraiser, even though it had raised less than $4,000 at that time

March 1, 2016: John Powers Middleton Company donates $150,000 to CRAG

March 6, 2016: First tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

March 9, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

March 11, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 14, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 23, 2016: Ted Cruz National Enquirer smear

March 29, 2016: Trump announces hiring of Paul Manafort

April 6, 2016: Stone (Sarah Rollins) establishes Stop the Steal in same UPS post box as CRAG

April 6, 2016: CRAG gives $50,000 to Stop the Steal

So there’s good reason to believe that Mueller is reviewing Stone’s actions from this time period.

As numerous outlets have reported, prosecutors have given Pecker immunity to testify (at least) about the Cohen matter. The NYT reported that the Enquirer’s Chief Content Officer, Dylan Howard, also keeps a recording device in his office.

Though several people familiar with American Media’s operations have said that the company keeps a strict records policy that ensures that emails are deleted regularly, it is not clear the same held for encrypted communications or recordings; Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer, who is also said to be cooperating, was known to have a recording device in his office, according to people familiar with his operations. American Media would not comment.

In court documents filed on Tuesday federal prosecutors cited “encrypted” communications among Mr. Pecker, Mr. Howard and Mr. Cohen regarding the payoff to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a brief affair with Mr. Trump.

Perhaps the Pecker participation in this conspiracy goes beyond just hush payments?

Peter Strzok Is a Sideshow to Information that Directly Implicates the President

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public shaming of Peter Strzok, in yet another attempt to prove that the Mueller investigation is hopelessly tainted by Strzok’s belief — shared at the time by Republicans Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz — that Donald Trump is “an opportunist” who is “not fit to be President of the United States” and “Donald Trump can’t be trusted with common sense. Why would we trust him in the White House?”

But Strzok and his testimony is, in significant respect, a sideshow to evidence that directly implicates Donald Trump.

I say that based on the following information related to my own interview with the FBI.

  • DOJ probably used a clean team with me to ensure it shared nothing it already knew with me
  • Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview
  • Information I provided would change the importance of evidence otherwise obtained publicly

DOJ probably used a clean team with me

First, as I have suggested, I believe the team that interviewed me was a “clean team,” a prosecutor and FBI agents who weren’t centrally involved in the investigation I provided information on. I say that because the agents came into the interview with almost no information about either me or the person I was discussing.

My interview consisted of three sessions with two breaks. In the first session, the lead agent questioned me aggressively about a detail about the person I was discussing; he didn’t believe I had adequately vetted the detail. By the third session, however, he said something that suggested he had since confirmed the detail he had earlier challenged me on. From that I conclude that the FBI already knew of this person, but the agents who interviewed me did not.

I believe they didn’t know about me because, while the second agent seemed to know I would happily make small talk about cycling in northern Michigan, neither knew how well I know FBI surveillance (for the love of J Edgar Hoover, why would you put agents in a room with me without making that clear?). To be very clear: in the interview, they did not disclose anything I didn’t already know. But I did find myself citing information publicly available in the DIOG about the FBI’s rules on journalists to them. Given that that issue is one I’ve reported on more than virtually anyone else, I conclude they simply were unfamiliar with my work.

Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview

This point has gotten muddled, though I have tried to be very meticulous about it. As far as I understand things, I was not interviewed by Mueller’s team. Rather, I provided information to the FBI about a subject matter that was not part of the Mueller investigation at the time. One of the prosecutors who was in the loop on, but did not participate in, my interview was later incorporated into the Mueller team, and public reports say that one of the subject matters was as well.

Thus, whether my interview happened before or after Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team (remember I’m deliberately not sharing what date it happened), it doesn’t seem possible that he had any upstream or downstream involvement in it. So even if you believe Strzok tainted everything downstream of him, my information was neither up- nor downstream of him. It came into Mueller’s possession via a parallel stream.

Information I provided may have changed the importance of other publicly available information — information that implicates Trump directly

I apologize, but I’m going to be deliberately obscure on this point (and will neither confirm nor deny if I’m asked, as it’s not something I’ve run by the Mueller team). As I have said, I don’t think I was the first person to provide information on the person I went to the FBI about. I’ll add that this person has no discernible tie to Trump or the Republican Party. But I do think I was the first person to provide certain information about him that may have widened the scope of FBI’s understanding of the matter.

Subsequent to my interview with the FBI, I realized certain things about publicly available information. I’ve never shared that realization with the government, but it’s a realization they undoubtedly came to on their own from the same publicly available information.

And that realization I had and the government surely also had would have changed the importance of evidence Mueller received via means unrelated to Peter Strzok.

That evidence likely implicates the President directly.

Let me reiterate: when I went to the FBI, I did not believe this person had a direct tie to Trump or the Republicans at all and I know of none, still. The text about Mike Flynn is the only thing that provably suggested any tie (and that, only in conjunction with the Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn corroboration of it — at the time I received it I thought it was bullshit).  Any suspicions I had about a tie between information I had — and understood — when I went into that interview with the FBI and the Trump team would have been speculative and in any case tangential to the central point of what I went to the FBI about.

I believe that when the government had the same realization I had, the scope of their understanding about the person in question would have eventually expanded, though probably not as far as the information I provided may have. Which is to say the information that implicates the President in no way relies on my information, though my information would have made the import far more obvious. In any case, none of this comes from me. It’s just the evidence that is publicly available.

So tomorrow, as House Judiciary Republicans spend half the day or longer publicly flogging Peter Strzok, know that all that flogging cannot change the fact that key evidence in Mueller’s possession, evidence which I suspect implicates the President directly, has absolutely no tie to Peter Strzok at all. None. Tomorrow will be just one big giant show that in no way can alter the provenance of key, damning evidence in Mueller’s possession.

The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment for this post.

Name the Social Media Author: Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Or Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz?

In Lindsey Graham’s questioning of DOJ IG Michale Horowitz in today’s hearing on the IG Report on the investigation of Hillary Clinton, he said, repeatedly, “none of this is normal.” By that, he meant the comments that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had made about Trump back in 2016. (1:45)

Would you say that this investigation was done by the book?

[snip]

The whole idea that this is normal, folks, there’s nothing here normal. I don’t want you think the FBI does this day in and day out. This is not normal.

He then reviewed a couple of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s texts.

Trump’s not ever going to be come president right? right?

No, no he won’t. We’ll stop him.

[snip]

I want to believe the path you threw out in Andy’s office, that there’s no likelihood he’ll become President. It’s like an insurance policy.

[snip]

God Trump is a loathsome human.

Lindsey then repeated that such comments were not normal.

None of this is normal, folks.

Senator Graham, as a former longtime government lawyer as a JAG, should talk to Senator Graham how abnormal such thoughts about Donald Trump are.

“As early as March, these people hated Trump,” Graham said in the hearing, horrified by the thought that someone could come to such conclusions that early.

Former Texas Attorney General Ted Cruz was also alarmed about the mean things that Strzok and Page had said in their social media about Donald Trump. (3:04)

These are difficult days in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both the Department and the Bureau have long — decades long, in the Department’s case, century’s long traditions of fair and impartial administration of justice. There are thousands of honorable good men and women that work at the Bureau, that work at the Department of Justice, and yet their integrity has been called into question by misconduct and political bias at the highest level.

Cruz went on to quiz Horowitz about the things that Peter Strzok, as lead investigator, had said about Trump.

Is it true that during the period of the investigation in late 2015 and in 2016, when Mr. Strzok was in charge, he used an FBI device to call President [sic] Trump a quote Effing idiot, although I don’t believe he abbreviated it, a loathsome human, and a disaster?

Did he also say multiple times that, quote, Donald Trump cannot be President?

And on August 6, 2016, when FBI Counsel Lisa Page said to Strzok that, quote, maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from this menace, meaning President [sic] Trump. Did Mr. Strzok reply that, quote, I can protect our country at many levels?

[snip]

And is it true that there are many similar statements by Mr. Strzok in the report?

[snip]

Does any of that conduct give anyone confidence in the fairness in the enforcement of justice?

These are some of the thoughts that this self-imagined arbiter of integrity had to say about Donald Trump during the period he defined, 2015 to 2016.

These are, of course, different things. Cruz and Lindsey were publicly sharing their thoughts about how unfit Donald Trump was to be President, how outrageous his racism, how unhinged he was. Strzok and Page were engaging in what they foolishly treated as private conversations, but did so on government owned devices at a time when they were conducting politically charged investigations.

I don’t mean to defend the decisions of Strzok and Page with regards to how they shared their thoughts about the unacceptability of Donald Trump.

But I will defend the principle that it is solidly normal to say that Trump is unacceptable.

And there are no better witnesses to that than Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

There’s one other lesson Lindsey teaches us. “I’m glad I don’t text and email,” he also said. If Graham and Cruz’ personal devices were investigated with the scrutiny that Strzok and Page’s were, Strzok and Page might look tame by comparison.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans Have No Excuse for Not Doing Something about White Supremacist Violence

Last I checked, the following Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have criticized white supremacists, violence, and/or Trump’s appeasement of the former in Charlotteville.

Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair:

What ” WhiteNatjonalist” are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can’t be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does

Orrin Hatch, President pro tempore:

We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home

Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.

Lindsey Graham, Chair of Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism:

The South Carolina Republican called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go to Virginia and “personally handle domestic terrorism investigations” and alleged civil rights abuses by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis “who took this young woman’s life.”

Graham was referring to Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when a car ran into a group of counter-protesters Saturday in Charlottesville where white supremacists and neo-Nazis were holding a “Unite the Right” rally. Many more were injured.

Graham additionally proposed the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security form a task force on the threat of white supremacist groups and report back to Congress with potential solutions for cracking down on them.

“This is an opportunity for the Trump administration to come down like a hammer on white supremacists,” Graham said during a news conference in his Columbia office. “And I hope they do.”

John Cornyn, Chair of Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration and Senate Majority Whip:

No place for the bigotry & hate-filled violence in . These actions should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

And (update, from August 17):

We’ve all been shocked that the unhealed wounds of the nation’s racial divide flared up in such a surprising and disturbing way,” Cornyn said in a Chronicle interview. “I think the president had an opportunity to send a message that would unite America behind our common resolve to heal those wounds and unite our country, and unfortunately I don’t think he did that.”

Ted Cruz, Chair of Subcommittee on the Constitution, who while Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, had a hearing on the importance of naming Islamic terrorism Islamic terrorism:

It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed. Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society.

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this. Our Nation was built on fundamental truths, none more central than the proposition ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’

But,

“One of the things we’re seeing going on is the media and the Democrats are, to the surprise of no one, demagoguing this issue and using it for political advantage,” Cruz said. “So, in the media’s telling, they want to tar and feather any Republican, any conservative, and paint us all as these crazy racist nutbags.”

Jeff Flake, Chair of Subcommittee Privacy, Technology, and the Law):

We can’t accept excuses for white supremacy & acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn. Period.

Flake, more generally:

Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos. As the first branch of government (Article I), the Congress was designed expressly to assert itself at just such moments. It is what we talk about when we talk about “checks and balances.” Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, “Someone should do something!” without seeming to realize that that someone is us. And so, that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility.

Ben Sasse, Chair of Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts:

“I refuse to accept that mankind is tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism… Unconditional love will have the final word” -MLK

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” -Abraham Lincoln

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator with…unalienable Rights”

These people are utterly revolting–and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects “blood & soil” nationalism.

John Kennedy:

Violence and hatred are never the answer.

There are 20 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Of the Republicans, eight have made statements at least condemning the violence in Charlottesville, even if Cornyn and Kennedy, among others, are obviously issuing empty condemnations.

If even two of the Republicans who’ve made statements condemning the right wing violence in Charlottesville are serious — or more specifically serious about actions that DOJ must take, as in comments that both Lindsey and Cruz made — then they’ve got the numbers to make it happen.

They’ve got the numbers to force DOJ to refund the Life After Hate program, which white supremacist Seb Gorka’s wife Katherine defunded. They’ve got the numbers to ask Jefferson Beauregard Sessions whether his DOJ will treat this act of terrorism as terrorism. They’ve got the numbers to ask whether FBI ignored warnings of surging white supremacism.

Republicans often complain that there’s nothing they can do about their unmanageable President. This is one case where that’s patently false.

What We Know about the Section 215 Phone Dragnet and Location Data

Last month’s squabble between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz about USA Freedom Act led a number of USAF boosters to belatedly understand what I’ve been writing for years: that USAF expanded the universe of people whose records would be collected under the program, and would therefore expose more completely innocent people, along with more potential suspects, to the full analytical tradecraft of the NSA, indefinitely.

In an attempt to explain why that might be so, Julian Sanchez wrote this post, focusing on the limits on location data collection that restricted cell phone collection. Sanchez ignores two other likely factors — the probable inclusion of Internet phone calls and the ability to do certain kinds of connection chaining — that mark key new functionalities in the program which would have posed difficulties prior to USAF. But he also misses a lot of the public facts about location collection and cell phones under the Section 215 dragnet.  This post will lay those out.

The short version is this: the FISC appears to have imposed some limits on prospective cell location collection under Section 215 even as the phone dragnet moved over to it, and it was not until August 2011 that NSA started collecting cell phone records — stripped of location — from AT&T under Section 215 collection rules. The NSA was clearly getting “domestic” records from cell phones prior to that point, though it’s possible they weren’t coming from Section 215 data. Indeed, the only known “successes” of the phone dragnet — Basaaly Moalin and Adis Medunjanin — identified cell phones. It’s not clear whether those came from EO 12333, secondary database information that didn’t include location, or something else.

Here’s the more detailed explanation, along with a timeline of key dates:

There is significant circumstantial evidence that by February 17, 2006 — two months before the FISA Court approved the use of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to aspire to collect all Americans’ phone records — the FISA Court required briefing on the use of “hybrid” requests to get real-time location data from targets using a FISA Pen Register together with a Section 215 order. The move appears to have been a reaction to a series of magistrates’ rulings against a parallel practice in criminal cases. The briefing order came in advance of the 2006 PATRIOT Act reauthorization going into effect, which newly limited Section 215 requests to things that could be obtained with a grand jury subpoena. Because some courts had required more than a subpoena to obtain location, it appears, FISC reviewed the practice in the FISC — and, given the BR/PR numbers reported in IG Reports, ended, sometime before the end of 2006 though not immediately.

The FISC taking notice of criminal rulings and restricting FISC-authorized collection accordingly would be consistent with information provided in response to a January 2014 Ron Wyden query about what standards the FBI uses for obtaining location data under FISA. To get historic data (at least according to the letter), FBI used a 215 order at that point. But because some district courts (this was written in 2014, before some states and circuits had weighed in on prospective location collection, not to mention the 11th circuit ruling on historical location data under US v. Davis) require a warrant, “the FBI elects to seek prospective CSLI pursuant to a full content FISA order, thus matching the higher standard imposed in some U.S. districts.” In other words, as soon as some criminal courts started requiring a warrant, FISC apparently adopted that standard. If FISC continued to adopt criminal precedents, then at least after the first US v. Davis ruling, it would have and might still require a warrant (that is, an individualized FISA order) even for historical cell location data (though Davis did not apply to Stingrays).

FISC doesn’t always adopt the criminal court standard; at least until 2009 and by all appearances still, for example, FISC permits the collection, then minimization, of Post Cut Through Dialed Digits collected using FISA Pen Registers, whereas in the criminal context FBI does not collect PCTDD. But the FISC does take notice of, and respond to — even imposing a higher national security standard than what exists at some district levels — criminal court decisions. So the developments affecting location collection in magistrate, district, and circuit courts would be one limit on the government’s ability to collect location under FISA.

That wouldn’t necessarily prevent NSA from collecting cell records using a Section 215 order, at least until the Davis decision. After all, does that count as historic (a daily collection of records each day) or prospective (the approval to collect data going forward in 90 day approvals)? Plus, given the PCTDD and some other later FISA decisions, it’s possible FISC would have permitted the government to collect but minimize location data. But the decisions in criminal courts likely gave FISC pause, especially considering the magnitude of the production.

Then there’s the chaos of the program up to 2009.

At least between January 2008 and March 2009, and to some degree for the entire period preceding the 2009 clean-up of the phone and Internet dragnets, the NSA was applying EO 12333 standards to FISC-authorized metadata collection. In January 2008, NSA co-mingled 215 and EO 12333 data in either a repository or interface, and when the shit started hitting the fan the next year, analysts were instructed to distinguish the two authorities by date (which would have been useless to do). Not long after this data was co-mingled in 2008, FISC first approved IMEI and IMSI as identifiers for use in Section 215 chaining. In other words, any restrictions on cell collection in this period may have been meaningless, because NSA wasn’t heeding FISC’s restrictions on PATRIOT authorized collection, nor could it distinguish between the data it got under EO 12333 and Section 215.

Few people seem to get this point, but at least during 2008, and probably during the entire period leading up to 2009, there was no appreciable analytical border between where the EO 12333 phone dragnet ended and the Section 215 one began.

There’s no unredacted evidence (aside from the IMEI/IMSI permission) the NSA was collecting cell phone records under Section 215 before the 2009 process, though in 2009, both Sprint and Verizon (even AT&T, though to a much less significant level) had to separate out their entirely foreign collection from their domestic, meaning they were turning over data subject to EO 12333 and Section 215 together for years. That’s also roughly the point when NSA moved toward XML coding of data on intake, clearly identifying where and under what authority it obtained the data. Thus, it’s only from that point forward where (at least according to what we know) the data collected under Section 215 would clearly have adhered to any restrictions imposed on location.

In 2010, the NSA first started experimenting with smaller collections of records including location data at a time when Verizon Wireless was named on primary orders. And we have two separate documents describing what NSA considered its first collection of cell data under Section 215 on August 29, 2011. But it did so only after AT&T had stripped the location data from the records.

It appears Verizon never did the same (indeed, Verizon objected to any request to do so in testimony leading up to USAF’s passage). The telecoms used different methods of delivering call records under the program. In fact, in August 2, 2012, NSA’s IG described the orders as requiring telecoms to produce “certain call detail records (CDRs) or telephony metadata,” which may differentiate records that (which may just be AT&T) got processed before turning over. Also in 2009, part of Verizon ended its contract with the FBI to provide special compliance with NSLs. Both things may have affected Verizon’s ability or willingness to custom what it was delivering to NSA, as compared to AT&T.

All of which suggests that at least Verizon could not or chose not to do what AT&T did: strip location data from its call records. Section 215, before USAF, could only require providers to turn over records they kept, it could not require, as USAF may, provision of records under the form required by the government. Additionally, under Section 215, providers did not get compensated after the first two dragnet orders.

All that said, the dragnet has identified cell phones! In fact, the only known “successes” under Section 215 — the discovery of Basaaly Moalin’s T-Mobile cell phone and the discovery of Adis Medunjanin’s unknown, but believed to be Verizon, cell phone — did, and they are cell phones from companies that didn’t turn over records. In addition, there’s another case, cited in a 2009 Robert Mueller declaration preceding the Medunjanin discovery, that found a US-based cell phone.

There are several possible explanations for that. The first is that these phones were identified based off calls from landlines and/or off backbone records (so the phone number would be identified, but not the cell information). But note that, in the Moalin case, there are no known land lines involved in the presumed chain from Ayro to Moalin.

Another possibility — a very real possibility with some of these — is that the underlying records weren’t collected under Section 215 at all, but were instead collected under EO 12333 (though Moalin’s phone was identified before Michael Mukasey signed off on procedures permitting the chaining through US person records). That’s all the more likely given that all the known hits were collected before the point in 2009 when the FISC started requiring providers to separate out foreign (EO 12333) collection from domestic and international (Section 215) collection. In other words, the Section 215 phone dragnet may have been working swimmingly up until 2009 because NSA was breaking the rules, but as soon as it started abiding by the rules — and adhering to FISC’s increasingly strict limits on cell location data — it all of a sudden became virtually useless given the likelihood that potential terrorism targets would use exclusively cell and/or Internet calls just as they came to bypass telephony lines. Though as that happened, the permissions on tracking US persons via records collected under EO 12333, including doing location analysis, grew far more permissive.

In any case, at least in recent years, it’s clear that by giving notice and adjusting policy to match districts, the FISC and FBI made it very difficult to collect prospective location records under FISA, and therefore absent some means of forcing telecoms to strip their records before turning them over, to collect cell data.

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Richard Burr Just Told ISIS USAF Phone Program Gets Internet Phone Data

Richard Burr has apparently stated publicly that he’s looking into not Marco Rubio’s serial leaking of classified information, but Ted Cruz’s alleged disclosure of classified information at least night’s debate. That’s particularly curious given that Rubio has gotten privileged access to this information on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whereas Cruz has not.

I assume Burr is thinking of this passage, in which Cruz explained how the USA Freedom Act phone program adds to the tools the intelligence community gets.

It strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists. It gave us greater tools and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino.

And in particular, what it did is the prior program only covered a relatively narrow slice of phone calls. When you had a terrorist, you could only search a relatively narrow slice of numbers, primarily land lines.

The USA Freedom Act expands that so now we have cell phones, now we have Internet phones, now we have the phones that terrorists are likely to use and the focus of law enforcement is on targeting the bad guys.

[snip]

And the reason is simple. What he knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that’s the case.

Shortly thereafter, Rubio said,

RUBIO: Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information.

Of course, that means Burr — who has the most privileged access to this information — just confirmed for ISIS and anyone else who wants to know (like, say, American citizens) that the IC is targeting “Internet phones” as well as the the more limited set of call records the Section 215 phone dragnet used to incorporate, and in doing so getting closer to 100% of “calls” (which includes texting and messaging) in the US.

I’m not sure why Burr would give OpSec tips to our adversaries, all to score political points against Cruz. Obviously, his tolerance for Rubio’s serial leaks, which effectively confirmed the very same information, shows this isn’t about protecting sources and methods.

Maybe it’s time to boot Burr, in addition to Rubio, from SSCI before he continues to leak classified information?

Only Remaining Senator Personally Targeted by Terrorist Attack Still Believes in Constitution

The Senate just voted down cloture on the USA Freedom Act, 58-42. Even while we disagreed on the bill, I extend sincere condolences to civil liberties allies who worked hard to pass this in good faith. I know you all have worked hard in good faith to pass something viable.

Several things about the vote were predictable (in fact, I predicted them in June). Just as one example, I noted to allies that if Jeff Flake — who had a great record on civil liberties while he was still in the House — did not support the effort, it would fail. Four Senators — cosponsors Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller, plus Lisa Murkowski voted for cloture; Rand Paul did not. Bill Nelson voted against cloture as well (there are reports he is claiming it was a mistake, but given how closely this bill was whipped that would be … telling).

Equally predictable was the fear-mongering. GOP Senator after GOP Senator got up and insisted if the phone dragnet ended, ISIL would attack the country. None noted, of course, that the phone dragnet had never succeeded in preventing a terrorist attack. Pat Leahy made that point but it’s one opponents of the dragnet need to make in more concerted fashion.

Then there was a piece of news that neither side — supporter or opponent — seemed to want to mention. Dianne Feinstein revealed that at first 2 of 4 providers (presumably the fourth is T-Mobile though it could even be Microsoft, given that Skype is a more important phone carrier for international traffic) had refused to keep phone records, but that they had voluntarily agreed to do so for a full two years (this is at least a 6 month extension for Verizon, though may be significantly longer for cell calls).

The most dramatic part of the debate came after everyone left, when a frustrated Pat Leahy made the case for defending the Constitution. He recalled the anthrax letter addressed to him, on September 18, 2001, that killed a postal worker who processed it (another letter killed a Tom Daschle aide see Meryl Nass’ correction). “13 years ago this week, a letter was sent to me, addressed to me. It was so deadly, with the antrax in it that one person who touched the envelope–addressed to me, that I was supposed to open–They died!” Leahy reminded that the FBI had still not caught all the culprits for the attack. (That he believes that was first reported here in 2008; I believe FBI has, in fact, caught none of the culprits.) That attack targeting him personally, Leahy noted, did not convince him he had to abrogate the Constitution. “This nation should not let our liberties to be set aside by passing fears.” Leahy said. “If we do not protect our Constitution we do not deserve to be in this body.”

Senators like Marco Rubio got up and screamed about terrorists. But unless I’m mistaken, Pat Leahy is the only one remaining in the Senate who was personally targeted by a terrorist.

Maybe we ought to highlight that point?

Updated w/additions from Leahy’s comments.

Every Senator Who Supports USA Freedom May Be Affirmatively Ratifying a Financial Dragnet

Now that I’ve finally got around to reading the so-called transparency provisions in Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, I understand that one purpose of the bill, from James Clapper’s perspective, is to get Congress to ratify some kind of financial dragnet conducted under Section 215.

As I’ve laid out in detail before, there’s absolutely no reason to believe USA Freedom Act does anything to affect non-communications collection programs.

That’s because the definition of “specific selection term” permits (corporate) persons to be used as a selector, so long as they aren’t communications companies. So Visa, Western Union, and Bank of America could all be used as the selector; Amazon could be for anything not cloud or communications-related. Even if the government obtained all the records from these companies — as reports say it does with Western Union, at least — that would not be considered “bulk” because the government defines “bulk” as collection without a selector. Here, the selector would be the company.

And as I just figured out yesterday, the bill requires absolutely no individualized reporting on traditional Section 215 orders that don’t obtain communications. Here’s what the bill requires DNI to report on traditional 215 collection.

(D) the total number of orders issued pursuant to applications made under section 501(b)(2)(B) and a good faith estimate of—
(i) the number of targets of such orders;
(ii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders; and
(iii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders who are reasonably believed to have been located in the United States at the time of collection;

The bill defines “individuals whose communications were collected” this way:

(3) INDIVIDUAL WHOSE COMMUNICATIONS WERE COLLECTED.—The term ‘individual whose communications were collected’ means any individual—
(A) who was a party to an electronic communication or a wire communication the contents or noncontents of which was collected; or
(B)(i) who was a subscriber or customer of an electronic communication service or remote computing service; and
(ii) whose records, as described in subparagraph (A), (B), (D), (E), or (F) of section 2703(c)(2) of title 18, United States Code, were collected.

Thus, the 215 reporting only requires the DNI to provide individualized reporting on communications related orders. It requires no individualized reporting at all on actual tangible things (in the tangible things provision!). A dragnet order collecting every American’s Visa bill would be reported as 1 order targeting the 4 or so terrorist groups specifically named in the primary order. It would not show that the order produced the records of 310 million Americans.

I’m guessing this is not a mistake, which is why I’m so certain there’s a financial dragnet the government is trying to hide.

Under the bill, of course, Visa and Western Union could decide they wanted to issue a privacy report. But I’m guessing if it would show 310 million to 310,000,500 of its customers’ privacy was being compromised, they would be unlikely to do that.

So the bill would permit the collection of all of Visa’s records (assuming the government could or has convinced the FISC to rubber stamp that, of course), and it would hide the extent of that collection because DNI is not required to report individualized collection numbers.

But it’s not just the language in the bill that amounts to ratification of such a dragnet.

As the government has argued over and over and over, every time Congress passes Section 215’s “relevant to” language unchanged, it serves as a ratification of the FISA Court’s crazy interpretation of it to mean “all.” That argument was pretty dodgy for reauthorizations that happened before Edward Snowden came along (though its dodginess did not prevent Clare Eagan, Mary McLaughlin, and William Pauley from buying it). But it is not dodgy now: Senators need to know that after they pass this bill, the government will argue to courts that it ratifies the legal interpretations publicly known about the program.

While the bill changes a great deal of language in Section 215, it still includes the “relevant to” language that now means “all.” So every Senator who votes for USAF will make it clear to judges that it is the intent of Congress for “relevant to” to mean “all.”

And it’s not just that! In voting for USAF, Senators would be ratifying all the other legal interpretations about dragnets that have been publicly released since Snowden’s leaks started.

That includes the horrible John Bates opinion from February 19, 2013 that authorized the government to use Section 215 to investigate Americans for their First Amendment protected activities so long as the larger investigation is targeted at people whose activities aren’t protected under the First Amendment. So Senators would be making it clear to judges their intent is to allow the government to conduct investigations into Americans for their speech or politics or religion in some cases (which cases those are is not entirely clear).

That also includes the John Bates opinion from November 23, 2010 that concluded that, “the Right to Financial Privacy Act, … does not preclude the issuance of an order requiring the production of financial records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) pursuant to the FISA business records provision.” Given that Senators know (or should — and certainly have the ability to — know) about this before they support USAF, judges would be correct in concluding that it was the intent of Congress to permit the government to collect financial records under Section 215.

So Senators supporting this bill must realize that supporting the bill means they are supporting the following:

  • The interpretation of “relevant to” to permit the government to collect all of a given kind of record in the name of a standing FBI terrorism investigation.
  • The use of non-communication company corporate person names, like Visa or Western Union, as the selector “limiting” collection.
  • The use of Section 215 to collect financial records.
  • Not requiring the government to report how many Americans get sucked up in any financial (or any non-communications) dragnet.

That is, Senators supporting this bill are not only supporting a possible financial dragnet, but they are helping the government hide the existence of it.

I can’t tell you what the dragnet entails. Perhaps it’s “only” the Western Union tracking reported by both the NYT and WSJ. Perhaps James Cole’s two discussions of being able to collect credit card records under this provision means they are. Though when Leahy asked him if they could collect credit card records to track fertilizer purchases, Cole suggested they might not need everyone’s credit cards to do that.

Leahy: But if our phone records are relevant, why wouldn’t our credit card records? Wouldn’t you like to know if somebody’s buying, um, what is the fertilizer used in bombs?

Cole: I may not need to collect everybody’s credit card records in order to do that.

[snip]

If somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs of course we would like to know that but we may not need to do it in this fashion.

We don’t know what the financial dragnet is. But we know that it is permitted — and deliberately hidden — under this bill.

Below the rule I’ve put the names of the 18 Senators who have thus far co-sponsored this bill. If one happens to be your Senator, it might be a good time to urge them to reconsider that support.


Patrick Leahy (202) 224-4242

Mike Lee (202) 224-5444

Dick Durbin (202) 224-2152

Dean Heller (202) 224-6244

Al Franken (202) 224-5641

Ted Cruz (202) 224-5922

Richard Blumenthal (202) 224-2823

Tom Udall (202) 224-6621

Chris Coons (202) 224-5042

Martin Heinrich (202) 224-5521

Ed Markey (202) 224-2742

Mazie Hirono (202) 224-6361

Amy Klobuchar (202) 224-3244

Sheldon Whitehouse (202) 224-2921

Chuck Schumer (202) 224-6542

Bernie Sanders (202) 224-5141

Cory Booker (202) 224-3224

Bob Menendez (202) 224-4744

Sherrod Brown (202) 224-2315