As you’ve no doubt heard, earlier today Jim Comey had a press conference where he said Hillary and her aides were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” but went on to say no reasonable prosecutor would prosecute any of them for storing over 100 emails with classified information on a server in Hillary’s basement. Comey actually claimed to have reviewed “investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information” and found no “case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”
Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.
Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.
In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.
To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.
Before we get into his argument, consider a more basic point: It is not Jim Comey’s job to make prosecutorial decisions. Someone else — whichever US Attorney oversaw the prosecutors on this case, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, or Loretta Lynch — makes that decision. By overstepping the proper role of the FBI here, Comey surely gave Lynch cover — now she can back his decision without looking like Bill Clinton convinced her to do so on the tarmac. But he has no business making this decision, and even less business making it public in the way he did (the latter of which points former DOJ public affairs director Matthew Miller was bitching about).
But let’s look at his judgment.
Given that Jeffrey Sterling has been in prison for a year based off a slew of metadata (albeit showing only 4:11 seconds of conversation between James Risen and Sterling) and three, thirty year old documents, classified Secret, describing how to dial a phone, documents which were presented to prove Sterling had the “intent” to retain a document FBI never showed him retaining, I’m particularly interested in Comey’s judgment that no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges based on the facts found against Hillary. Similarly, given the history of the Thomas Drake prosecution, in which he was charged with Espionage because he kept a bunch of documents on NSA’s fraud, at the direction of the Inspector General, which the FBI found in his basement.
I can only imagine Comey came to his improper public prosecutorial opinion via one of two mental tricks. Either he — again, not the prosecutor — decided the only crime at issue was mishandling classified information (elsewhere in his statement he describes having no evidence that thousands of work emails were withheld from DOJ with ill intent, which dismisses another possible crime), and from there he decided either that it’d be a lot harder to prosecute Hillary Clinton (or David Petraeus) than it would be someone DOJ spent years maligning like Sterling or Drake. Or maybe he decided that there are no indications that Hillary is disloyal to the US.
Understand, though: with Sterling and Drake, DOJ decided they were disloyal to the US, and then used their alleged mishandling of classified information as proof that they were disloyal to the US (Drake ultimately plead to Exceeding Authorized Use of a Computer).
Ultimately, it involves arbitrary decisions about who is disloyal to the US, and from that a determination that the crime of mishandling classified information occurred.
For what its worth, I think most of these cases should involve losing security clearances rather than criminal prosecution (though Petraeus also lied to FBI). But we know, even there, the system is totally arbitrary; DOJ has already refused to answer whether any of Hillary’s aides will be disciplined for their careless handling of classified information and Petraeus never did lose his clearance. Nor did the multiple witnesses who testified against Sterling who themselves mishandled classified information lose their security clearance.
Which is another way of saying our classification system is largely a way to arbitrarily label people you dislike disloyal.
In our piece on NSA’s response to requests for records of Edward Snowden’s complaints, Jason Leopold and I reported that a senior NSA official apologized to Admiral Mike Rogers for providing insufficient context about Snowden’s contacts with oversight entities before Snowden’s email to OGC got released on May 29, 2014. (See PDF 6 for the email and response as they got publicly released.) More importantly, we reported that the apology — written after several days of fact-checking — included at least one clear error. After we pointed that out to the intelligence community and asked questions for clarification, the NSA significantly moved the goalposts on its claims about whether Snowden had raised concerns, denying that Snowden had talked to the top three NSA officials rather than lower level ones. Here’s why I think that’s significant.
On April 8, 2014, NSA learned that an upcoming Vanity Fair piece would include a claim from Edward Snowden that “I contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies.” (PDF 13)
Apparently in response to that claim, on the following day a woman involved in training in Signals Intelligence Compliance and Oversight (what the NSA calls SV) wrote up an exchange she had with Snowden a year earlier. (PDF 147) Here’s how that email appeared on April 10, after at least one draft.
The individual appeared at the side of my desk in the SV training area during the timeframe between 5 – 12 April 2013, shortly after lunch time. He did not introduce himself and instead asked if he could talk to someone about the OVSC1203 [Section 702] course. I indicated that he could talk to me. He seemed upset and proceeded to say that he had tried to take OVSC1203 and that he had failed. He then commented that he felt we had trick questions throughout the course content that made him fail. SV Training has standard (canned) responses we use to respond to questions like this. I introduced myself and provided the information to him. My comments were standard and part of our “canned” responses, and informed him that the OVSC courses did not contain any trick questions and that all of the answers to the test questions could be located within the course content (our standard response when someone states they have failed any of our courses). Also, as part of our standard response with this type of question, we remind the student that the course is open book and not timed, also part of our routine canned response. I also reminded him that students receive multiple attempts to successfully pass the course and if they are not successful after multiple attempts he would need to contact us for further assistance. He seemed to have calmed down by then and said he still thought the questions tricked the students but he would try again.
Several pieces of evidence in the email collection suggest this email was the first time she wrote up the exchange (though I imagine there’s an FBI 302 of an interview with her). Not only did no other written version of it get turned over in Leopold’s FOIA, but when the Chief of SV explained the exchange to superiors, no claim of contemporaneous report was made. (PDF 255) Similarly, there’s no definitive written evidence of this report getting reported to the various investigators (though there is one piece of evidence it may have been orally described). In addition, the woman had to revise at least the dates during which she described the exchange taking place on April 10, suggesting she wasn’t working from an existing written document. (PDF 300)
On May 29, 2014, first Dianne Feinstein (there’s evidence she was prodded by someone at NSA or ODNI) released Snowden’s email exchange with OGC, then NSA formally released it.
Later the evening of May 29, Edward Snowden told WaPo the release did not include “correspondence” with SV in which he said they “believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress.”
Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.
About an hour and a half after Feinstein had released Snowden’s email on May 29 but before WaPo published Snowden’s claim, the Media Leaks Task Force discovered the write-up of the SV exchange from April, but did not release it publicly (meaning when Snowden made his claim, he did not know they had written up the exchange). Around, or even before that, OGC realized that some of the discussions they were having would have to be turned over in response to this FOIA, and then-General Counsel Raj De “ask[ed] that no one else comment on the low-side [less secure] (or add additional folks to the e-mail exchange),” (PDF 148), so it’s not clear subsequent discussions about this exchange got released in the FOIA.
In the days thereafter, NSA Chief of Staff Elizabeth Brooks got asked to fact check the claims that had been made so far, with the SV Chief and Deputy Chief providing more details on the exchange. It appears there was a senior meeting, probably including Admiral Rogers, at 10AM on June 3, at which someone (probably Brooks) wrote down (PDF 261) “conversation between Snowden & compliance officer where he complained / wants in writing exactly what Snowden has done in writing and verbally.”
Later that day, “the accountable NSA official for Media Disclosures issues” wrote Admiral Rogers a pretty remarkable apology for not providing sufficient context about Snowden’s interactions. (PDF 96) It’s remarkable that it happened — kudos to Admiral Rogers for trying to get clarity on this issue. But it’s remarkable, too, because even after the two day fact-checking process, the apology endeavoring to keep NSA leadership fully informed did not do so.
For example, the apology does not tell Rogers that the face-to-face exchange could have happened on one of the same days as the OGC email (and definitely happened within the same week), making it more likely the OGC email and the SV face-to-face exchange were actually two parts of the same exchange (Snowden would have known SV had been involved in his OGC response from both the final response he got, as well as the email forwarding the question from OGC to SV, which got forwarded to him). The apology also, like NSA’s response to this FOIA, doesn’t disclose what got discussed between 7 people as they decided who and how to respond to Snowden’s email (the apology itself, because it gave Rogers the redacted version of Snowden’s email released to the public, would have obscured that 6 people were involved in this response, but he could have gotten that information in previous email threads had he read them closely). It also makes what — given the evidence in the emails, at least — appears to be a clear error by claiming that the SV woman wrote up her exchanges with Snowden in response to NSA’s request for information on contacts with him: “In response to the June 2013 Agency All (See Attachment B) [the SV training woman] provided in writing her account of these engagements.”
That claim appears to be erroneous on two counts.
The political press is abuzz with news that the State Department (State IG) and Intelligence Community Inspectors General (ICIG) have asked the Department of Justice to review whether the Department’s handling of the personal email from Hillary Clinton was proper. The story was first reported in sensational fashion by the New York Times, revised somewhat overnight, and then reported in more measured form — making it clear that Clinton herself is not being investigated — by the Associated Press this morning.
The report has put the practice of retroactive classification of information — of the type that convicted Jeffrey Sterling and DOJ tried to use to convict Thomas Drake — at the forefront of presidential politics.
The referral to DOJ arises out of State IG’s review of the use of private emails and the response to Freedom of Information Act requests for Clinton’s email. After consulting with the ICIG, State IG reported that a number of the emails reviewed so far, including one released to the public, included classified information. The ICIG criticized State for using retired foreign service officers with extensive FOIA experience to review Clinton’s email before release, rather than conducting an interagency process (though according to a response from Patrick Kennedy, the CIA and ODNI had already approved the arrangement).
The referral pertains to State’s actions, not Clinton’s. “[T]he referral doesn’t suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself,” AP noted. None of the emails in question were marked as classified when she sent them and one of them — pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of the Benghazi attack — was not classified at time she received it. Nevertheless, this news has led to a flurry of stories implicating Clinton in a potential DOJ investigation.
Clinton supporters are dismissing this as election year frenzy. The former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matt Miller, even tweeted, “If you examined the entire email [account] of any senior official, someone in [government] would later argue something was classified. Absurd standard.”
But Clinton is not the first this has happened to. After all, DOJ attempted to use five retroactively classified documents to convict Thomas Drake on Espionage charges; once DOJ had to admit that fact, their case against Drake fell apart.
And the only hard evidence DOJ presented that Jeffrey Sterling had improperly handled classified information were documents seized from his home that had nothing to do with the nuclear program he was accused of leaking. When the government introduced three of those documents under a silent witness rule limiting what Sterling’s lawyers could ask about them, CIA’s top classification official admitted they had not been classified as secret at first.
“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.
“They weren’t,” [CIA Chief of Litigation Support Martha] Lutz responded.
“But they are now properly classified secret?”
“Yes,” Lutz answered.
The defense team made statements revealing that these documents offered instructions on how to dial rotary phones to call into CIA headquarters, hardly a cutting edge secret. Nevertheless, those documents were a key piece of evidence used to send Sterling to prison for 42 months.
Clinton deserves a good deal of criticism for using personal email that has made it more difficult to access via FOIAs. But retroactively classified information should no more be used to prosecute her — in reality or in the press — than Drake and Sterling.
When asked about the double standard via email, Drake did not join the frenzy. Rather, he described “having really bad flashbacks” given the calls to criminally investigate the former Secretary of State because release of the emails put “unauthorized classified information … in adversaries’ hands.”
Perhaps there’s room for agreement here. Via email, Miller noted, “the entire classification system is a mess: overly complex, riddled with ambiguity, and used at times for inappropriate reasons. And because of that you get perverse outcomes.”
Secretary Clinton surely should have made her emails more secure and accessible, via the formal FOIA process, by using official email. But that doesn’t mean retroactively classified information should be used against her anymore than it should be used against Drake and Sterling.
Neocon scribes Eli Lake and Josh Rogin published a piece asserting that the man whose COIN theories failed in 3 different war theaters is making a comeback undermined only by his extramarital affair.
By all outward appearances, David Petraeus appears to be mounting a comeback. The former general landed a job at powerhouse private-equity firm KKR, has academic perches at Harvard and the University of Southern California and, according to White House sources, was even asked by the President Barack Obama’s administration for advice on the fight against Islamic State. Yet it turns out that the extramarital affair that forced him to resign as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is still hanging over him.
Yet that’s not actually what their article describes. Instead, it explores why it is that the FBI investigation into David Petraeus for leaking information to his mistress, not fucking her, is ongoing.
Curiously, these two journalists exhibit no shred of curiosity about why the GOP Congress continues to investigate the Benghazi attack, an investigation that started exactly contemporaneously with the Petraeus leak investigation — or, for that matter, why all the investigations have avoided questions about Petraeus’ training failures in Libya.
Instead, they see in this particular 2 year counterintelligence investigation a conspiracy to silence the fine General.
[Retired General Jack] Keane questions whether the Petraeus FBI probe lasting this long may be driven by something other than a desire to investigate a potential crime. “It makes you wonder if there is another motivation to drag an investigation out this long,” he said.
Petraeus allies both inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community and the military express a concern that goes beyond a criminal probe: that the investigation has caused Petraeus to trim his sails — that one of the most informed and experienced voices on combating terrorism and Islamic extremism is afraid to say what he really thinks, a sharp juxtaposition to Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, two former defense secretaries who have not been shy about criticizing Obama’s national security team.
But what does seem surprising, to many who know and have worked with him, is that the views he has been expressing are so at odds with what he has said and implied in the past.
For example, when Petraeus was inside Obama’s administration in his first term, he advocated for more troops inside Afghanistan and made the case for arming Syrian moderate forces. But when asked this summer about that effort, Petraeus demurred and focused on Obama’s new $500 million initiative in 2014 to train Syrian rebels. “I strongly support what’s being done now,” he said. “Half a billion dollars is a substantial amount of resourcing to train and equip.”
Petraeus’s rhetoric on Iraq and Syria differs sharply not only from his past positions, but from that of many retired generals of his generation and of his biggest supporters.
To support their conspiracy theory, they not only cite noted leaker Pete Hoekstra, but Lake and Rogin ignore a whole load of other details, such as how long leak investigations normally take. Even the investigation into and punishment of Sandy Berger — which they cite — took 18 months from leak to guilty plea, plus another two years until he relinquished his license. The investigation into Donald Sachtleben — or rather, the UndieBomb 2.0 leak that Sachtleben was singularly held responsible for — took 15 months, even with his computer in custody and Sachtleben on bond most of that time. John Kiriakou was charged almost 4 years after his leaks, and two after Pat Fitzgerald was appointed to find a head for the CIA. Thomas Drake was indicted over 4 years after the investigation into Stellar Wind leaks started and almost 3 years after the FBI raided the homes of those associated with Drake’s whistleblowing. Jeffrey Sterling was indicted 7 years after FBI first started looking into leaks to James Risen.
Leak investigations can take a long time. That’s not a good thing, as they leave the targets of those investigations in limbo through that entire time. Petraeus is, comparatively, doing better off than most of the others I named above. Indeed, in paragraph 7, Lake and Rogin reveal that Petraeus, in fact, has gotten preferential treatment, in that his security clearance hasn’t been stripped.
To wit: Petraeus is ostensibly being investigated for mishandling classified material and yet he retains his security clearance.
Even Hoss Cartwright had his security clearance stripped for allegedly leaking details of StuxNet to the press. Heck, based on this detail, one has just as much evidence to support a counter-conspiracy theory that Petraeus is getting lax treatment because he’s got damning information on Obama (not one I’m adopting, mind you, but it does illustrate what one can do with an absence of evidence).
If warmongers like Jack Keane want to make drawn out leak investigations a cause, they would do well to make it a principle, not a singular conspiracy theory used to explain why David Petraeus isn’t being more critical of Obama’s efforts not to escalate into another failed counterinsurgency.
Is it possible, after all, that Petraeus is silent because he realizes what a hash he has made of the Middle East?
As part of its superb piece on NSA spying on Tuesday, Frontline included interviews with key sources. In my opinion, the most enlightening was that with former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark, so you should read that entire interview (especially her comments on NSA at 9/11).
Both she and Tom Drake mention a part of the illegal NSA program that has been largely forgotten: the financial records. Here’s Roark’s non-denial.
And from what you knew at that point, what type of information was taken, and how pervasive was the collection?
It is now quite obvious, since the Snowden revelations, that the program grew progressively over time. Initially, I knew that it involved a lot of broad domestic surveillance, bulk collection, domestically. And I knew that it involved emails, landlines, regular house phones, cell phones. I also knew that they had branched out into non-communications data.
Which is what, bank records?
I’m not really — they have not acknowledged that. All I can tell you is that when I met the second time with Gen. Hayden in July, I said to him that it appeared the program was expanding, not only in number of servers, but also that two new data categories had recently been added, and he nodded to confirm that. I knew that one of those data programs was not communications data. …
And other commentators have made allusions to other personal data that may be collected. Of course, we all know that transportation data, airline data is connected. We know that international banking data is collected; that has been acknowledged. But there have been allusions to other items, too, by people hypothetically, such as credit, medical, banking and so on.
And here’s Drake’s more explicit mention of it.
You watched the president [George W. Bush] come out and say this is a valuable program; one side of the communications has to be outside; we’re following terrorists; this has prevented attacks on our country. The vice president [Dick Cheney] attacks the Times for publishing. You’re watching this, and you know what’s going on inside. What are you thinking?
This actually was part of the triggering event for me in which increasingly I knew I was going to have to touch the third rail, back to your earlier question. I realized that they were lying, that they were desperate to protect the domestic surveillance program. And so they could use the excuse, although it was still in violation of FISA, that as long as one link somehow was tied to a suspected terrorist, that justified collecting or targeting the link that was in the United States proper.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. The far larger program was the dragnet surveillance, the vast bulk copy of millions and millions of phone records, email records, Internet usage and financial transactional and credit card information.
Since the Snowden leaks started we’ve heard almost nothing about this. There have been the two stories about the CIA collecting Western Union records with at least one end foreign. There is the 2010 Section 215 order tied to an allegedly specific investigation, which must long post-date the CIA-related orders.
What happened to this collection? Is it the April 2, 2004 modification we have never learned about? Is it the second secret Section 215 appendix included in Glenn Fine’s 2008 report? Have they been accomplishing this via NSLs, or perhaps only recently moved it to Section 215? I have suggested in the past that for domestic records, FBI would be the likely lead … is that right?
The financial records collection has, outside of Shane Harris’ book (on TIA), completely disappeared.
But it must be under a new shell somewhere.
Jeff Stein has a troubling scoop that both the Government Accountability Project and POGO have been burgled — POGO in recent weeks and GAP several years ago.
The POGO break-in seems of lesser concern, because they don’t appear to have taken anything — though Stein notes that POGO was involved in releasing the DOD IG Report that revealed CIA’s close ties to Zero Dark Thirty (and, because some dirty fucking hippie pointed it out, that William McRaven ordered Osama bin Laden photos “destroyed immediately” when Judicial Watch FOIAed them).
POGO is also relentless in its documentation of the waste of the F-35 program.
The GAP break-in occurred back in January 2011.
In the Jan. 6, 2011 incident, the burglars seemed interested in just a few of the computers among the dozen or so in the office. Of the six stolen, two belonged to GAP’s national security attorneys, and one to its legal director, according to GAP President Louis Clark. No culprits have been arrested.
Jesselyn Radack, the director of GAP’s National Security and Human Rights Program, is a legal adviser to Snowden.
This was the period when the WikiLeaks investigation was heating up, as was the Jeffrey Sterling prosecution. Several months later, Thomas Drake would get his plea deal.
In addition, in recent months, someone has been trying to deal GAP classified documents.
In the months since the group’s association with the fugitive leaker began, Clark said, “We have had a highly suspicious person twice try to give us so-called ‘classified’ documents.” Because the group is not a news organization, accepting classified documents could leave it open to prosecution.
It’s not surprising that weird stuff is happening to Raddack’s organization as she assist Snowden. But this does seem like a setup.
Update: Via Twitter Radack made it clear the break in to GAP was during the Thomas Drake case.
I’m going to return to Glenn Greenwald’s latest showing details of how the NSA treated WikiLeaks and, to a lesser degree, Anonymous (as well as Alexa O’Brien’s update on the investigation into WikiLeaks) later.
If GCHQ does this kind of tracking, how did Five Eyes miss the Tsarnaev brothers?
But for now I want to look at one slide covering GCHQ’s AntiCrisis monitoring approach (see slide 34), which in this case is focused on WikiLeaks. It shows how GCHQ has the ability — and had it in 2012 — to monitor particular websites. It shows GCHQ can monitor the visitors of a particular website, where they’re coming from, what kind of browsers they use. None of that is, in the least surprising. But given those capabilities, it would be shocking if GCHQ weren’t doing similar monitoring of AQAP’s online magazine Inspire, with the added benefit that certain text strings in each Inspire magazine would make it very easy to track copies of it as it was downloaded, even domestically via upstream collection. And for the UK, this isn’t even controversial; even possessing Inspire in the UK can get you imprisoned.
Given that that’s the case, why didn’t GCHQ and NSA find the Tsarnaev brothers who — the FBI has claimed but provided no proof — learned to make a bomb from the Inspire release that GCHQ or NSA hacked? Why isn’t NSA reviewing why it didn’t find the brothers based on cross-referencing likely NSA tracking of Inspire with its FBI reporting on Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
I used to not believe NSA should have found the Tsarneavs. But now that I’ve seen all the nifty tools we’ve learned NSA and, especially, GCHQ have, they really do owe us an explanation for why they didn’t find the Tsarnaev brothers, one of whom was already in an FBI database, and who was allegedly learning to make a pressure cooker bomb from a document that surely gets tracked by the NSA and its partners.
Speaking of NSA failures…
Which brings me back to James Clapper’s interview with Eli Lake.
Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.
“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints
Now, I’ll have to review the latest declarations in Jewel, but I think Clapper’s statement — that the genesis of today’s phone dragnet dates to 9/11 — goes slightly beyond what has been admitted, because it ties today’s phone dragnet program back to the PSP phone dragnet program. Ron Wyden has tried to make the tie between the illegal program and the current one clear for months. Clapper has now inched closer to doing so.
But I also want to take issue with Clapper’s claim that if NSA had presented a “gap” to Members of Congress and the public after 9/11 we would have loved the dragnet.
Had we known of the errors and territorialism that permitted 9/11, would we have agreed to any of this?
I do so, in part, because the claim there was a “gap” is erroneous and has been proven to be erroneous over and over. Moreover, that myth dates not to the days after 9/11, but to misrepresentations about the content of the 9/11 Commission report 3 years later. Note, too, that (as has happened with Inspector Generals reviews of the Boston Marathon attack) the Commission got almost no visibility into what NSA had against al Qaeda.
More importantly, had NSA gone to the public with claims about gaps it did and didn’t have before 9/11, we would likely have talked not about providing NSA more authority to collect dragnets, but instead, about the responsibility of those who sat on intelligence that might have prevented 9/11.
As Thomas Drake and the other NSA whistleblowers have made clear, the NSA had not shared intelligence reports that might have helped prevent 9/11.
I found the pre- and post-9/11 intelligence from NSA monitoring of some of the hijackers as they planned the attacks of 9/11 had not been shared outside NSA. Continue reading
“Intelligence agencies often act on the edges of executive prerogative and move forward based on a narrow base of lawfulness and limited congressional notification,” says Michael Hayden, the guy who oversaw Bush’s illegal wiretap for 2.5 years before the full Gang of Eight first got adequately briefed, and who never briefed Congress on CIA’s assassination program.
In the same piece, Hayden hails media editors who ceded to his requests to hold or adjust a story.
So, how do we limit the damage? Well, journalists will have to expand the kind of sensitivities to the national welfare that some already show. In those calls I made to slow, scotch or amend a pending story, most on the other end of the line were open to reasonable arguments. In one case a writer willingly changed a reference that had read “based on intercepts” to “based on intelligence reports,” somewhat amazed that that change made much of a difference. (It did.)
But then insists the UndieBomb 2.0 story — for which AP editors had made precisely those kinds of concessions — was right to be investigated because John Brennan’s push back to it exposed a mole.
The two prominent cases being debated were indeed serious leaks, because they touched upon sources, not just information.
In the case of the Associated Press report on a Yemen-based bomb plot, the source had apparently penetrated an al Qaeda network and there were hopes that he could continue to be exploited.
And, since the Yemen source appears to have actually been recruited by a liaison partner, the impact of a leak goes far beyond our own service. In that same talk with bureau chiefs, I pointed out that several years before 9/11, one chief of station reported that a press leak of liaison intelligence had “put us out of the (Osama) bin Laden reporting business”.
In both stories, investigations were in order. Journalists, of all people, should understand the need to protect sources and relationships.
As the LAT story Hayden links to says clearly, “The AP did not mention the informant in its report.” And, as I laid out some weeks back, to believe our mole was going to return, the former head of the CIA would have to believe that AQAP shows great tolerance for recruits who fuck up and then return right after high ranking operatives get drone killed.
Because to maintain that claim, you’d have to explain how an AQAP operative who had been entrusted with the latest version of Ibrahim al-Asiri’s UndieBomb sometime in early April, had left (at least as far as Sanaa), had not apparently succeeded in his mission (which was, after all, meant to be a suicide bombing), could return to AQAP without the UndieBomb and infiltrate even further than he had the first time.
“Oh, hi, AQAP gatekeeper” — their story must imagine the mole saying as he returned to AQAP — “I’ve both failed in my mission and somehow lost the bomb you gave me, but based on that would you be willing to let me spend some quality time with even higher-ranking AQAP operatives?”
In short, Hayden appears to have decided it’d be a good idea to ignore the facts, good sense, and his own history so as to suggest that the Obama Administration is worse than the reasonable old Bush Administration.
But the investigations have been very aggressive and the acquisition of journalists’ communications records has been broad, invasive, secret and—one suspects—unnecessary.
A quick survey of former Bush administration colleagues confirmed my belief that a proposal to sweep up a trove of AP phone records or James Rosen’s e-mails would have had a half-life of about 30 seconds in that administration.
Just ignore the fact that the government was asking people questions about James Risen‘s phone contacts — indicating they had probably doing just what the Obama Administration did to the AP reporters, only without telling him — before Obama took over.
But here’s my favorite part:
The government may also want to adjust its approach to enforcement. The current tsunami of leak prosecutions is based largely on the Espionage Act, a blunt World War I statute designed to punish aiding the enemy. It’s sometimes a tough fit. The leak case against former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake collapsed of its own overreach in 2011.
Perhaps in many of these cases the best approach is not through the courts or the Department of Justice.
Remember, Drake was investigated for telling a journalist about Hayden’s own boondoggle that cost many times what NSA’s existing better solution cost. There is virtually no way the investigation against him didn’t rely, in part, on Hayden’s own testimony.
And now, 6 years after the investigation into Drake started in earnest, Hayden suggests Drake shouldn’t have been criminally investigated at all.
Hayden can afford that very belated generosity, of course. He’s been profiting off the same kind of boondoggles Drake tried to expose for years now.
I mean, sure, the main jist of what Hayden says is true: the Administration is pursuing leaks far too aggressively. But coming from a guy who has long benefitted from the Executive Branch asymmetric abuse of secrecy, he’s not exactly the right person to be making the point.
When the FBI found sensitive — though it turned out, unclassified — documents in Thomas Drake’s basement, he was charged under the Espionage Act. When the Army found hundreds of thousands of classified — but not Top Secret — cables on Bradley Manning’s computer, they charged him with Espionage and Aiding the Enemy.
But when the FBI found Top Secret documents on Sudan — our actual enemy, if sanctions count — in Reagan National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane’s basement, it decided to investigate him for illegal lobbying.
The FBI has searched the apartment of former Reagan administration national security adviser Robert McFarlane for evidence of whether he lobbied for the government of Sudan, in violation of federal law.
The search warrant is on file in federal district court in Washington. It shows agents seized items this month including handwritten notes about Sudan and White House documents with classifications up to Top Secret.
From this I can only assume that McFarlane is being subjected to the same double standard that Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was (represented, it should be noted, by former Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer), when he snuck 9/11 related documents out of the Archives, yet only plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
When National Security Advisors take top secret documents, they’re called lobbyists, not spies.
I can’t wait to find out what Condi Rice will be called if she’s ever caught with sensitive documents in her basement.
I’m sure I could grill John Brennan for hours. But after a lot of thought, here are the five questions I believe most important that should be asked of him Today.
1) Do you plan to continue lying to Americans?
You have made a number of demonstrable lies to the American people, particularly regarding the drone program and the Osama bin Laden raid. Most egregiously in 2011, you claimed “there hasn’t been a single collateral death” in almost a year from drone strikes; when challenged, you revised that by saying, “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths,” even in spite of a particularly egregious case of civilian deaths just months earlier. On what basis did you make these assertions? What definition of civilian were you using in each assertion? (More background)
In addition, in a speech purportedly offering transparency on the drone program, you falsely suggested we know the identities of all people targeted by drones. Why did you choose to misrepresent the kind of intelligence we use in some strikes?
2) What was the intelligence supporting the first attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki?
The US government’s first attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone strike was December 24, 2009. WikiLeaks cables make it clear that Awlaki was a primary target of that strike, not just intended collateral damage. Yet the Webster report makes clear that on that day — that is, until the Underwear Bomber attempt the next day — the Intelligence Community did not consider Awlaki to be operational. Thus, the strike seems to have been approved before he fulfilled the criteria of the white paper released the other day, which authorizes the targeting of senior operational leaders of groups like AQAP. What was the legal basis for targeting this American citizen at a time when the IC did not believe him to be operational? (More background)
3) Will your close friendships with Saudis cloud your focus on the US interest?
In a fawning profile the other day, Daniel Klaidman nevertheless laid out the following points:
In addition, recent reports have confirmed that the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was launched from Saudi territory.
Were the personal entreaties you responded to from Yemenis or Saudis (or both)?
What role did the Saudis have in the Awlaki strike? Did they have an operational role?
As someone with such close ties to liaison sources, how have you and will you manage to prioritize the interests of the United States over the interests of friends you have from two decades ago?
To what degree is your intelligence sharing — especially with the Saudis — a stovepipe that creates the same risks of intelligence failures that got us into the Iraq War? (More background)
4) What role did you have in Bush’s illegal wiretap program?
The joint Inspector General report on the illegal wiretap program reported that entities you directed — the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in 2003 and 2004, and the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004 and 2005 — conducted the threat assessments for the program.
What role did you have, as the head of these entities, in the illegal wiretapping of Americans? To what extent did you know the program violated FISA? What role did you have in counseling Obama to give telecoms and other contractors immunity under the program? What influence did you have in DOJ decisions regarding suits about the illegal program, in particular the al-Haramain case that was thrown out even after the charity had proved it had been illegally wiretapped? Did you play any role in decisions to investigate and prosecute whistleblowers about this and other programs, notably Thomas Drake? (More background)
5) Did you help CIA bypass prohibitions on spying domestically with the NYPD intelligence (and other) programs?
In your additional prehearing questions, you admit to knowing about CIA’s role in setting up an intelligence program that profiled Muslims in New York City. What was your role in setting up the program? As someone with key oversight over personnel matters at the time, did you arrange Larry Sanchez’ temporary duty at the NYPD or CIA training for NYPD detectives?
Have you been involved in any similar effort to use CIA resources to conduct domestic spying on communities of faith? You said the CIA provides (among other things) expertise to local groups spying on Americans. How is this not a violation of the prohibition on CIA spying on Americans? (More background)
Update: I realized that I have left out a caveat in Brennan’s drone lies — he was talking in the previous year. I’ve fixed that.