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DNI’s Transparency Report “Provides No Basis” for Evaluating Surveillance, FBI Doesn’t Keep Track of its 702 Searches, Blackwater Back Under Scrutiny, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 7/3/2014

July 3, 2014
DNI on the Record

DNI on the Record

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) recently released its first annual “transparency report,” indicating, among other things, that it had targeted nearly 90,000 foreign entities for surveillance last year.  According to the report, the government obtained only one order last year under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates surveillance of foreign targets, and that single order covered the 89,138 targets. Privacy advocates argue that this number is artificially low and that a target could be a sole individual or an organization with thousands of members.

The DNI report also revealed that the government uses over 420 “selectors” to search its phone database, which includes records going back to at least 2006, when the program began. The transparency report also showed that the government sent over 19,000 National Security Letters last year that involved more than 38,000 requests for information. These letters, which demand business records from a wide array of organizations for national security investigations, are deservedly under scrutiny for their lack of judicial oversight and non-disclosure provisions, which prevent the full extent of the NSL program from becoming known.

All told, however, the numbers in the transparency report only provide an approximate idea of the level of surveillance conducted, and “provides no basis for evaluating the utility or legitimacy of the surveillance activities.”

The independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) issued its own report shortly after the DNI released its transparency report, finding that the NSA’s surveillance of foreign communications is lawful, but elements of Section 702 come “close to the line” of being unconstitutional. This report is in stark contrast to its previous report, which “sharply criticized the collection of the phone records of Americans” by the NSA. While PCLOB’s most recent report was considerably less damning and did not recommend the government obtain a warrant for searches of Americans’ communications that were obtained under Section 702, it did recommend “the NSA’s targeting procedures be revised to specify criteria for determining the expected foreign intelligence value of a particular target.” The board also raised concerns about the agency collecting communications in which the target’s identifying information is located in the “about” field of an email, as opposed to the “to” of “from” fields, and using selectors to search for communications of US citizens among information that had already been gathered, known as a “backdoor” searches.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or) slammed the DNI’s response to his separate request for the number of queries intelligence agencies perform using identifiers of US citizens collected under Section 702 of the FISA. While the letter the DNI sent in response to his request asserted that the searches it conducts are lawful and the Intelligence Community (IC) isn’t conducting “backdoor” searches, Senator Wyden argued the letter revealed the exact opposite. The DNI’s letter shows the CIA performed “fewer than 1900” queries associated with US citizens in 2013, that the NSA approved 198 such searches, and, startlingly, that the FBI does not keep track of the number of searches it performed pursuant to Section 702, and that “the FBI does not distinguish between U.S. and non-U.S. persons for purposes of querying Section 702 collection.” Wyden said this inadequate FBI response shows “how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight. This huge gap in oversight is a problem now, and will only grow as global communications systems become more interconnected.”

Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem leaving court on Tuesday after testifying in the Blackwater trial. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem leaving court on Tuesday after testifying in the Blackwater trial. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Blackwater, the private security contractor heavily utilized during the Iraq War, is back under scrutiny for its actions in Iraq in 2007. The FBI is coordinating travel arrangements for more than four dozen Iraqi citizens to testify against Blackwater contractors in a Washington, D.C. courtroom for fatally shooting 17 Iraqi civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square on September 16, 2007 (this is the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in American court; an earlier case was dismissed in 2009). At the same time, a New York Times article is reporting that weeks before the 2007 shooting, a Blackwater manager told a State Department investigator “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.” Troublingly, the American Embassy in Baghdad sided with the contractor and accused the government investigator of disrupting its relationship with the contractor, and ordered the investigators to leave the country. Investigator Jean C. Richter returned to D.C. and issued an August 31, 2007, memo ‘warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”’

A House Appropriations Committee report called out the Department of Homeland Security for overusing the “For Official Use Only” stamp, and said efforts to determine what material was truly sensitive “wasted substantial staff resources.” The House further argued in its 2015 DHS appropriations report that in the future “any official who marked a document FOUO [must] identify himself or herself on the document, along with a justification for doing so.”

A Chilean court has implicated US military intelligence in the 1973 murder of American journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi. The court ruling showed US Navy Capt. Ray E. Davis –the commander of the US mission in Chile during the American-backed September 1973 coup to overthrow democratically-elected President Salvador Allende and who was responsible for investigating Americans in Chile deemed to be radical-, gave information on the Americans’ whereabouts to Chilean authorities, who used this information to arrest and execute them several days later.

A newly-released version of the internal CIA history, The Battle for Iran, obtained in response to a National Security Archive MDR request, provides more specifics on internal disagreements over planning the 1953 coup. The newly-released document also offers the most explicit declassified CIA references to-date about British participation in the operation, and does not view the Iranian coup “as an undiluted success,” noting that it left considerable “debris” in its wake (p. 71)

Arabic road signs from Survival Handbook

Arabic road signs from Soldier Handbook

This week’s #tbt document pick is the US First Infantry Division’s unclassified Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq, a primer for US soldiers on the climate, culture, and dangers of Iraq. Discussed in detail in a February 2010 posting by Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones, the handbook details hazardous plants and animals to avoid, emphasizes that poison may not be used to alter weapons in order to increase enemy suffering, recommends enforcing resettlement and compensation programs ASAP, and generally contradicts Vice President Cheney’s March 2003 assertion that US soldiers “would be greeted as liberators.”

Happy FOIA-ing!


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