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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

 

 

USA Freedumber Will Not Get Better in the “Prosecutors” Committee

Having been badly outmaneuvered on USA Freedumber — what was sold as reform but is in my opinion an expansion of spying in several ways — in the House, civil liberties groups are promising a real fight in the Senate.

“This is going to be the fight of the summer,” vowed Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

If advocates are able to change the House bill’s language to prohibit NSA agents from collecting large quantities of data, “then that’s a win,” he added.

“The bill still is not ideal even with those changes, but that would be an improvement,” Rottman said.

[snip]

“We were of course very disappointed at the weakening of the bill,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Right now we really are turning our attention to the Senate to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

[snip]

One factor working in the reformers’ favor is the strong support of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Unlike House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who only came to support the bill after negotiations to produce a manager’s amendment, Leahy was the lead Senate sponsor of the USA Freedom Act.

The fact that Leahy controls the committee gavel means he should be able to guide the bill through when it comes up for discussion next month, advocates said.

“The fact that he is the chairman and it’s his bill and this is an issue that he has been passionate about for many years” is comforting, Greene said.

I hope they prove me wrong. But claims this will get better in the Senate seem to ignore the recent history of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s involvement in surveillance bills, not to mention the likely vote counts.

It is true Pat Leahy wants real reform. And he has a few allies on SJC. But in recent years, every surveillance-related bill that came through SJC has been watered down when Dianne Feinstein offered an alternative (which Leahy sometimes adopted as a manager’s amendment, perhaps realizing he didn’t have the votes). After DiFi offered reform, Sheldon Whitehouse (who a number of less sophisticated SJC members look to as a guide on these issues) enthusiastically embraced it, and everyone fell into line. Often, a Republican comes in and offers a “bipartisan reform” (meaning conservative Republicans joining with the Deep State) that further guts the bill.

This is how the Administration (shacking up with Jeff Sessions) defeated an effort to rein in Section 215 and Pen Registers in 2009.

This is how DiFi defeated an effort to close the backdoor loophole in 2012.

As this was happening in 2009, Russ Feingold called out SJC for acting as if it were the “Prosecutors Committee,” rather than the Judiciary Committee.

(Note, in both of those cases as well as on the original passage of Section 702, I understood fairly clearly what the efforts to stymie reform would do, up to 4 years before those programs were publicly revealed; I’ve got a pretty good record on this front!)

And if you don’t believe this is going to happen again, tell me why this whip count is wrong:

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 5.18.49 PM

If my read here is right, the best case scenario — short of convincing Sheldon Whitehouse some of what the government wants to do is unconstitutional, which John Bates has already ruled that it is — is relying on people like Ted Cruz (whose posturing on civil liberties is often no more than that) and Jeff Flake (who was great on these issues in the House but has been silent and absent throughout this entire debate). And that’s all to reach a 9-9 tie in SJC.

Which shouldn’t be surprising. Had Leahy had the votes to move USA Freedom Act through SJC, he would have done so in October.

That was the entire point of starting in the House: because there was such a large number of people (albeit, for the  most part without gavels) supporting real reform in the House. But because reformers (starting with John Conyers and Jerry Nadler) uncritically accepted a bad compromise and then let it be gutted, that leverage was squandered.

Right now, we’re looking at a bill that outsources an expanded phone dragnet to the telecoms (with some advantages and some drawbacks), but along the way resets other programs to what they were before the FISC reined them in from 2009 to 2011. That’s the starting point. With a vote count that leaves us susceptible to further corruption of the bill along the way.

Edward Snowden risked his freedom to try to rein in the dragnet, and instead, as of right now it looks like Congress will expand it.

Update: I’ve moved Richard Blumenthal into the “pro reform” category based on this statement after the passage of USA Freedumber. Thanks to Katherine Hawkins for alerting me to the statement.

What Michael Flynn’s DIA Imputes to Facts We Know

Before I point to reasons why we should exercise some caution before we believe a DIA report claiming that Edward Snowden’s entire leak was orchestrated by the Russians, let me lay out the following.

First. until such time as we see evidence that the reported documents somehow inordinately benefit Russia (and/or see evidence that our cooperation with Russia isn’t increasing during the period of Snowden’s asylum there), I’m not much interested in the question. I’m still so busy — both between Snowden document reports and documents declassified in response to FOIAs in a false show of transparency — reading about programs Americans should have known, that I don’t have time or interest in this manufactured sideshow.

Second, I don’t know what Snowden’s relationship with Russia is (and suspect 99% of the people commenting don’t either). The claims Mike Rogers, in particular, made on Sunday are full of Clown Show logic problems, some of which Snowden debunked in a limited rebuttal in an interview with Jane Mayer. Some accusers and defenders are conflating what happened while Snowden was working at NSA and what happened after Snowden got stuck in Moscow. All that said, while we have no evidence of cooperation now, I fully expect Vlaidimir Putin tried all he could to get as much out of Snowden as he could.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that DIA under General Michael Flynn’s leadership seems to be developing a pattern of leaking sensational intelligence conclusions based on apparently bad logic at politically opportune moments.

The accusations against Snowden are from a DIA report that DIA’s Director, Michael Flynn, organized.

The Defense Department report was conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency in coordination with other intelligence agencies across the government, according to two sources familiar with its findings. A spokesperson for the DIA said Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the agency’s director, organized a task force “to assess the potential impact to the Department of Defense from the compromise of this information.” But the spokesman did not say what, if any, conclusions the task force had reached about actual damage caused by documents Snowden took, regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed or not.

Admittedly, the conclusions of it got leaked with apparent White House permission. But it got leaked in the worst manner of Obama Administration asymmetric leaking, which have a history of being rather partial and politically self-serving.

Moreover, the entire orchestrated leak feels a lot like the “leak” last year — during heightened tensions between North and South Korea — of DIA’s conclusion that North Korea had the capability of launching a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile. Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, protected by Speech and Debate, revealed a detail that “accidentally” wasn’t redacted in a larger declassified finding. The “leak” fed a lot of fearmongering even as the Obama Administration was trying to temper responses.

A week after the initial leak, James Clapper and Flynn happened to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (the entire clip is worthwhile, but the particularly important parts start after 4:00). And in response to some Ted Cruz questions about North Korea, both Clapper and Flynn made it clear that the reason DIA had come to different conclusions than the rest of the Intelligence Community was because of the assumptions it had made. This inflammatory finding arose because of “a difference in how we judge assumptions,” Flynn explained. Clapper (who had spent a week trying to batten down the alarmism) said the debate arose from the “facts we know versus what we impute to those facts.”

That is, DIA had imputed conclusions to facts other agencies hadn’t.

According to its Director, DIA has a difference in how it judges assumptions from other intelligence agencies. And in this case, those who have read the DIA report appear to be repeating allegations remarkably divorced from any evidence, relying on wacky theories rather than real evidence.

Michael Flynn seems to be making a habit of this kind of analysis.

John Galt’s Trail of Death and Destruction Continues to Grow

Building destroyed in West, Texas fertilizer explosion. (Courtesy of State Farm via Flickr under Creative Commons license.)

Building destroyed in West, Texas fertilizer explosion. (Courtesy of State Farm via Flickr under Creative Commons license.)

John Galt has been a deadly and destructive guy lately, with the largest of his most recent attacks taking place in the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh on April 24 where the death toll has now tragically topped 900 and the fertilizer storage facility explosion in West, Texas on April 17 that miraculously killed only fourteen people but injured over 200 and caused damage that is now estimated to exceed $100 million.

In an interesting development, Bangladesh has shown that at least on some fronts it is more civilized than Texas. Both the building’s owner and the engineer accused of colluding with the owner to add three unregulated floors on top of the building have been arrested, while Texas lawmakers, previously known for their refusal to vote in favor of disaster relief when it was in New York and New Jersey, now have called for socializing the losses in Texas. Of course, since the fertilizer plant owner (who has not been arrested) only carried $1 million in liability insurance (and since Texas doesn’t require liability insurance for many businesses operating with dangerous materials), those losses are bound to be socialized anyway.

From CBS News on the response to the disaster in Bangladesh:

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith spoke as the government cracked down on those it blamed for the disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. It suspended Savar’s mayor and arrested an engineer who had called for the building’s evacuation last week, but was also accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the eight-story structure. The building owner was arrested earlier.

The government appears to be attempting to fend off accusations that it is in part to blame for the tragedy because of weak oversight of the building’s construction.

It looks like Muhith went a bit too far in trying to deflect responsibility from the government:

During a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi, Muhith said the disaster would not harm Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is by far the country’s biggest source of export income.

“The present difficulties … well, I don’t think it is really serious — it’s an accident,” he said. “And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”

The article goes on to point out that Muhith had made a similar hollow promise to improve safety conditions several months ago when a fire in a garment factory killed over a hundred workers.

In a tragic testament to the shoddy conditions in these facilities in Bangladesh, we have word this morning of another eight deaths in a fire in a garment factory. However, this time the fire was after hours and it wasn’t workers who were killed: Read more