Judge: CIA, Pentagon May Still Neither Confirm Nor Deny Records Exist on US Citizens Killed by Drones

A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011.

In the same decision, which contained top secret information and was heavily redacted, Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York also ordered the CIA, DOD and Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to disclose portions of documents with facts about US drone operations already “officially acknowledged.”

These facts include:

(1) US government uses drones for “targeted killings” overseas;

(2) DOD and CIA have an “intelligence interest in the use of drones to carry out targeted killings”;

(3) DOD and CIA have an “operational role in conducting targeted killings”;

(4) information about the legal basis (constitutional, statutory, common law, international law, and treaty law) for engaging in the targeted killings abroad, including specifically the targeted killing of a US national;

(5) US government carried out the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki

(6) FBI was investigating Samir Khan’s involvement in jihad

The development was the latest in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2011, which sought documents on the “targeted killings” of Anwar Al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Weeks later, Abdulrahman was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on October 14.

In April 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a January 2013 decision by the district court. The government was ordered to release a memo related to the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. The memo was released in June. The same appeals court ruling additionally ordered the government to list documents and make a case for why each document should remain secret.

McMahon examined over 100 documents and determined the CIA had to release parts of three documents. The OLC had to release the parts of three documents and one full document. None of the documents the DOD was required to submit for review had to be disclosed.

McMahon allowed the government agencies to invoke attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process privilege for a number of the documents, which advocates for reform of FOIA have referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

The CIA and Defense Department were permitted to continue to “stand on its Glomar” with respect to information on the drone strikes, which killed Khan and Abdulrahman. This means neither agency has to acknowledge to the ACLU that it has documents related to any decision to target and kill these individuals. (more…)

Journalist Sues US Government for Records on ‘Kafkaesque Harassment’ by Security Agents During Travel

Laura Poitras, 2010

Laura Poitras is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, who recently won an Academy Award for the documentary on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called Citizenfour. But, between July 2006 and April 2012, Poitras was “subjected to ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection,” detained and questioned at the United States border on every international flight she took” to the US, according to her recently filed lawsuit.

When traveling from the US, when she was outside the US traveling internationally, and even when she was traveling within the US, Poitras was “occasionally subjected to secondary security screening.” More than 50 times she was given this designation, which allowed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to subject her to extra scrutiny.

On January 24, 2014, Poitras filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and TSA for “all agency records concerning, naming, or relating to Ms. Poitras.” She also submitted requests to the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Poitras has, to date, received no records in response to her requests and alleges agencies are wrongfully withholding records [PDF].

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the US border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras explained in a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

“I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

One of those individuals, who Poitras may be referring to, is Jacob Appelbaum. He is a journalist, Tor developer, and WikiLeaks volunteer, who has been stopped and harassed at the US border multiple times. (He has also had his personal data connected to services, such as Twitter and Google, targeted as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks.)

Airport security agents have previously informed Poitras that she had a “criminal record,” even though that is not true. She has been informed her name was in a “national security threat database.” During one stop, she was told she was on the “No Fly List.” Her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and her notebooks have been seized and copied. One time when she attempted to take notes while she was detained by agents, she was threatened with being put in handcuffs. The agents pretended to fear that she might use the pen as a weapon so she could not create a record of their interaction.

Poitras is not the first to challenge this abuse. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have challenged suspicionless laptop searches by DHS through a lawsuit filed in 2010.

Detaining Journalists, Abusing Families, and Humiliating American Muslims

Abuse by US security agents at the border has become increasingly common. In February 2014, the podcast, On the Media, aired an episode called “Secrecy on the Border.” The episode focused on how Homeland Security violates the rights of people and refuses to provide any explanations. (more…)

Documents Raise Concerns About Extent of CIA Spying Inside the United States

The American Civil Liberties Union published a batch of documents obtained from the CIA on how it complies with and understands Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan which mandates the powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies. The documents strongly suggest that the agency engages in an extensive amount of domestic spying operations that are largely kept secret from the American people.

Of the 49 documents released, many of them are policy briefings on what the CIA can and cannot collect on US persons when conducting spying operations. They largely have to do with the rules that the agency is expected to follow and how the agency goes about complying with them. However, many of the documents are highly censored.

The CIA claims much of the information in the documents involves “classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy.” It also believes that the National Security Act partly exempts the agency from the Freedom of Information Act, which is why many of the documents have huge chunks of information missing.

What can be gleaned from the documents is that the agency has a secret definition of “monitoring” as it relates to surveillance of US persons that the public is not allowed to know:

Secret definition of monitoring - CIA

The definition of “electronic surveillance” in regards to US persons is partially censored too, however, the CIA will let the public know that “electronic surveillance” involves the “acquisition of a non-public communication by electronic means without the consent of any party to the communication or, in the case of a non-electronic communication, without the consent of a person who is visibly present at the place of communication.”

Part of the definition for “unconsented physical searches,” which requires Attorney General approval, is censored.

Details from a “memorandum of understanding” [PDF] between the FBI and CIA provides a glimpse at how the two agencies coordinate spying activities:

FBI-CIA Coordination

Another document, “CIA and EO 12333: Overview for the ICIG Boston Review Forum” [PDF], dated June 2013, outlines detailed talking points, which includes some details on the loopholes the agency might be able to use to obtain information on US citizens.

The CIA is allowed to “provide specialized equipment and technical knowledge to assist another department or agency in the conduct by that department or agency of lawful and authorized electronic surveillance in the United States.” (more…)