Dianne Feinstein's Bragging About NSA Surveillance Program May Finally Result In It Being Declared Unconstitutional

from the ooops dept

This is quite an incredible story that's unfolding about a new opportunity for a Constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act, which has enabled broad NSA surveillance. If you haven't been following the details (and even if you haven't been following all of this closely), the specifics may be a bit confusing, so we'll try to go piece by piece through the history here to explain the events leading up to a new Constitutional challenge being placed on the law, which the Supreme Court had previously effectively wiped out -- in large part due to false information presented by the Solicitor General, who now appears to be not at all happy the intelligence community led him to lie to the Supreme Court. And it may have all unravelled because of Dianne Feinstein's gloating and bragging about how important the FISA Amendments Act is.

First up: the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) was passed in 2008, after Congress claimed that the intelligence community was hamstrung in important areas of surveillance. Much of the debate over the law was focused on the fact that it gave telcos retroactive immunity for anything illegal they might have done regarding President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, which was only revealed by the NY Times a few years earlier. But, even more important than that was that the FAA more or less authorized continued warrantless wiretapping by the intelligence community. In 2011, the FAA was up for renewal. Some in the Senate sought to use the distraction (that year) over the "debt ceiling" to sneak through an early renewal with no debate, and Senator Ron Wyden put a hold on it, demanding more answers about how many Americans were being spied on. He eventually lifted the hold in exchange for a one-year extension and a promised debate over the FAA.

Fast forward to the end of last year, with the FAA set to expire yet again, and Senate Intelligence Committee boss Dianne Feinstein, who had originally made that "deal" with Wyden, tried very hard to avoid having any debate. Eventually, at the very end of December, she allowed a brief debate, in which she showed up up to insist that the FAA had to be renewed or we'd all be at risk. As we noted at the time, her reasoning was somewhat laughable, where she held up a pretend piece of paper with a supposed "classified" reason for why the FAA was so important. Remember that speech, because it's going to become quite important a little later on in this story.

Parallel to all of this, there was a legal fight making its way through the courts, brought by the ACLU to challenge the Constitutionality of the FAA. The big question was whether or not the courts could be convinced that the ACLU had "standing" to sue, since it couldn't prove that it had been spied on directly. Eventually, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said that the ACLU had no standing. Of course, the key thing that had concerned the Justices the most was the simple question: if the program is secret, then could anyone ever challenge the Constitutionality of the program?

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued the case on behalf of the government, told the Supreme Court that of course people could have standing to challenge the law, and that the government would be required to inform defendants in cases where such information was used that it was collected under the FAA. This point is what pushed the Supreme Court over the edge to rule against the ACLU. As they noted in the majority decision:
...if the Government intends to use or disclose information obtained or derived from a §1881a acquisition in judicial or administrative proceedings, it must provide advance notice of its intent, and the affected person may challenge the lawfulness of the acquisition.... Thus, if the Government were to prosecute one of respondent-attorney’s foreign clients using §1881a-authorized surveillance, the Government would be required to make a disclosure.... In such a situation, unlike in the present case, it would at least be clear that the Government had acquired the foreign client’s communications using §1881a-authorized surveillance.
Okay, now the law has been in place since 2008. If what Verrilli said was true, then, um, shouldn't there have been some cases between now and then where the FAA-enabled wiretapping was used? And if that's true, then it should have been disclosed in the various cases. Except, there is no case on record where it had been disclosed.

Right, so now we jump back to Feinstein's grandstanding about why we need to keep the FAA. In her speech on the floor, she announced that the FAA was necessary in a long list of cases:
"I've asked the staff to compile arrests that have been made in the last four years in America on terrorist plots that have been stopped. And there are 100 arrests that have been made since 2009 and 2012. There have been 16 individuals arrest just this year alone. Let me quickly just review what these plots were. And some of them come right from this program. The counterterrorism come and the information came right from this program. And again, if Members want to see that they can go and look in a classified manner.

[proceeds to list out eight "examples" of terrorism arrests -- two with names, six are just general descriptions of plots]

... and it goes on and on and on. So this has worked. And you know, as the years go on, the intelligence becomes the way to prevent these attacks. Now that the FBI has geared up a national security unit, they've employed 10,000 people and information gained through programs like this, through other sources as well, is able to be used to prevent plots from happening. So in four years 100 arrests to prevent something from happening in the United States, some of which comes from this program. So I think it's a vital program.
The lawyers for the defendants in the two named cases suddenly recognized an issue. They were named in this list, but at no point had they been told that evidence was gathered under this program. So they asked. And... the government refused to tell them the details. The NY Times took notice of this, pointing out that either Feinstein lied in her Senate statement or Verrilli lied to the Supreme Court:
In a prosecution in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., against two brothers accused of plotting to bomb targets in New York, the government has said it plans to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, which authorized individual warrants. But prosecutors have refused to say whether the government obtained those individual warrants based on information derived from the 2008 law, which allows programmatic surveillance.

Prosecutors in Chicago have taken the same approach in a prosecution of teenager accused of plotting to blow up a bar.
To his credit, it appears that once this all became clear, Verrilli had a crisis of conscience, suggesting that he did not knowingly lie to the Supreme Court, but honestly believed that the DOJ would reveal its use of these programs in cases. From that new NY Times piece by Charlie Savage, it's reported that Verrilli was pretty angry about being misled and demanded some answers:
As a result, Mr. Verrilli sought an explanation from national security lawyers about why they had not flagged the issue when vetting his Supreme Court briefs and helping him practice for the arguments, according to officials.

The national security lawyers explained that it was a misunderstanding, the officials said. Because the rules on wiretapping warrants in foreign intelligence cases are different from the rules in ordinary criminal investigations, they said, the division has long used a narrow understanding of what “derived from” means in terms of when it must disclose specifics to defendants.
Either way, Verrilli followed through on this, and apparently kicked off a major "internal debate" over whether or not there was "any persuasive legal basis for failing to clearly notify defendants that they faced evidence linked to the 2008 warrantless surveillance law, thereby preventing them from knowing that they had an opportunity to argue that it derived from an unconstitutional search." According to the article, Verrilli "argued that withholding disclosure from defendants could not be justified legally." Eventually, even the NSA and FBI's lawyers and James Clapper's office agreed. The decision was made to start revealing this information going forward.

However, they also agreed to reveal to at least one defendant that the FAA was used to collect evidence against them, and that this had not been revealed. Of course, this means they get to cherry pick the "right" case.

The ACLU, however, is not waiting around. Almost immediately, it filed a case about this, arguing that the government had illegally hidden this information in response to a FOIA request. It seems like that may be the most obvious procedural way of re-raising this question, as I have no idea if there's some way for the ACLU to directly petition the Supreme Court to reopen the case, noting that the key piece of information the Justices relied on to make their ruling was false (though, apparently, from a Solicitor General who had been misled by prosecutors).

Now, to wrap this all up, we bring it back around to Feinstein's speech in the Senate. Remember, the whole point of her speech was to directly argue for the reapproval of the FAA. And while she equivocated a few times in describing what programs were responsible for the arrests, she clearly made references to "this program" working. However, when the lawyers for one of the defendants named by Feinstein asked the Senate Intelligence Committee for some clarification, Morgan Frankel, a Senate Intelligence Committee lawyer, responded by arguing that Feinstein wasn't actually referring to the FAA program. Seriously.
Notwithstanding that she was speaking in support of reauthorization of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Senator Feinstein did not state, and she did not mean to state, that FAA surveillance was used in any or all of the nine cases she enumerated, including Mr. Daoud's case, in which terrorist plots had been stopped. Rather, the nine cases the Chairman sumamrized were drawn from a list of 100 arrests arising out of foiled terrorism plots in the United States between 2009 and 2012 compiled by the staff from FBI press releases and other public sources.

[....] To summarize, nothing in Senator Feinstein's remarks was intended to convey any view that FAA authorities were used or were not used in Mr. Daoud's case or in any of the other cases specifically named. Rather, her purpose in reviewing several recent terrorism arrests was to refute the "view by some that this country no longer needs to fear attack." Thus, because Senator Feinstein was neither relying on, nor attempting to convey, any information about the use or non-use of FAA authorities in any of the nine cases, there are no "assessments, reports, and other information" in the Committee's possession to which Senator Feinstein referred in her comments, pertaining to FAA surveillance with respect to Mr. Daoud's case.
Did you get that? So, what they're now saying is that Senator Feinstein went to the floor of the Senate to argue strongly in favor of renewing the FAA, and she named a bunch of cases, clearly stating that this program was necessary because of those cases -- but she didn't mean to imply that it was ever actually used in any of those cases. And, in the meantime, we now find out that even in cases where it has been used, no one's been told about it, despite the law requiring defendants to be told -- and the Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court they would be told.

So, it appears that both Verrilli and the Supreme Court got duped by the intelligence community, while Feinstein clearly misled the Senate and the American public by pretending that the FAA had been used to stop terrorism, but when called on it, now pretends she meant no such thing. Thankfully, however, her attempt at misleading the public by bragging about these arrests may have now (finally) kicked off the legal rationale for a case to prove that the FAA is, in fact, unconstitutional.


Filed Under: constitutional, dianne feinstein, donald verrilli, faa, fisa amendments act, nsa, nsa surveillance, standing


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  1. identicon
    desertspeaks, 21 Oct 2013 @ 1:49pm

    unconstitutional laws are null and void!

    18 USC § 241 - Conspiracy against rights
    18 USC § 242 - Deprivation of rights under color of law
    42 USC § 1983 - Civil action for deprivation of rights
    18 USC § 4 - Misprision of felony
    18 USC § 1622 - Subornation of perjury

    "Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them." - Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 491.

    "Anyone entering into an arrangement with the government takes the risk of having accurately ascertained that he who purports to act for the government stays within the bounds of his authority, even though the agent himself may be unaware of limitations upon his authority." The United States Supreme Court, Federal Crop Ins. Corp, v. Merrill, 332 US 380-388 L1947)

    "State officers may be held personally liable for damages based upon actions taken in their official capacities." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991).

    "Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void;" and the courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument." Marbury v Madison, 5 US 1803 (2 Cranch) 137, 170?180, and NORTON v. SHELBY COUNTY, 118 U.S. 425.

    "When an act of the legislature is repugnant or contrary to the constitution, it is, ipso facto, void." 2 Pet. R. 522; 12 Wheat. 270; 3 Dall. 286; 4 Dall. 18.

    "[p]owers not granted (to any government) are prohibited." United States v. Butler, 297 U.S 1, 68 (1936).

    "...all laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void' (Marbury v Madison, 5 US 1803 (2 Cranch) 137, 174, 170).

    "Insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, (constitution) it is superseded thereby." (16 Am Jur 2d 177, Late Am Jur 2d. 256)

    “A fact which constitutes an essential element of a cause of action cannot be left to inference.”
    Roberts v. Roberts, 81 C.A.2d 871, 185 P.2d 381

    “Matters of substance must be presented by direct averment and not by way of recital.”
    Stefani v. Southern Pacific Co. (1932), 119 C.A. 69, 5 P.2d 946

    in Eisner v. Macomber, 252 U.S. 189 (1920), to wit:
    Congress ... cannot by legislation alter the Constitution, from which alone it derives its power to legislate, and within whose limitations alone that power can be lawfully exercised.

    U.S. v Mersky (1960) 361 U.S. 431 a statute that regulates without constitutional authority is a nullity even though it be published in the books, recognized by the police and lowers courts, and even though it be unchallenged for decades.

    Rost v. Municipal Court of Southern Judicial District of San Mateo (1960) The Legislature, either by amending or otherwise, may not nullify a constitutional provision

    A fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process.” People v. Hawkins, 181 Ill.2d 41, 50, 228 Ill.Dec. 924, 690 N.E.2d 999 (1998) (citing Bracy, 520 U.S. 899, 117 S.Ct. 1793). “Fairness at trial requires not only the absence of actual bias but also the absence of the probability of bias.” **971 *1001 Hawkins, 181 Ill.2d at 50, 228 Ill.Dec. 924, 690 N.E.2d 999 (citing In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955)). “To this end, no person is permitted to judge cases in which he or she has an interest in the outcome.” Hawkins, 181 Ill.2d at 50, 228 Ill.Dec. 924, 690 N.E.2d 999. “ ‘Every procedure which would offer a possible temptation to the average man as a judge to forget the burden of proof required to convict the defendant, or which might lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true between the state and the accused denies the latter due process of law.’ ” Hawkins, 181 Ill.2d at 51, 228 Ill.Dec. 924, 690 N.E.2d 999 (quotingTumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 532, 47 S.Ct. 437, 71 L.Ed. 749

    Invoking the FRUIT OF THE POISONED TREE DOCTRINE The government cannot break the law to enforce the law!
    the doctrine that evidence discovered due to information found through illegal search or other unconstitutional means (such as a forced confession), may not be introduced by a prosecutor. The theory is that the tree (original illegal evidence) is poisoned and thus taints what grows from it
    An extension of the exclusionary rule established in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920). This doctrine holds that evidence gathered with the assistance of illegally obtained information must be excluded from trial.

    Brookfield Construction Co. v. Stewart, 284 F.Supp 94: "An officer who acts in violation of the Constitution ceases to represent the government."

    DeSoto Securities Co. v. Commissioner, 235 F.2d 409, 411 (7th Cir. 1956)"It is a basic principle of statutory construction that courts have no right first to determine the legislative intent of a statute and then, under the guise of its interpretation, proceed to either add words to or eliminate other words from the statute's language.

    18 USC § 1001 - Statements or entries generally
    (a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
    (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
    (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
    (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
    shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
    (b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party’s counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.
    (c) With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to—
    (1) administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch; or
    (2) any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.

    15 USC § 1122 - Liability of United States and States, and instrumentalities and officials thereof
    (a) Waiver of sovereign immunity by the United States
    The United States, all agencies and instrumentalities thereof, and all individuals, firms, corporations, other persons acting for the United States and with the authorization and consent of the United States, shall not be immune from suit in Federal or State court by any person, including any governmental or nongovernmental entity, for any violation under this chapter.
    (b) Waiver of sovereign immunity by States
    Any State, instrumentality of a State or any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his or her official capacity, shall not be immune, under the eleventh amendment of the Constitution of the United States or under any other doctrine of sovereign immunity, from suit in Federal court by any person, including any governmental or nongovernmental entity for any violation under this chapter.
    (c) Remedies
    In a suit described in subsection (a) or (b) of this section for a violation described therein, remedies (including remedies both at law and in equity) are available for the violation to the same extent as such remedies are available for such a violation in a suit against any person other than the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or any individual, firm, corporation, or other person acting for the United States and with authorization and consent of the United States, or a State, instrumentality of a State, or officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his or her official capacity. Such remedies include injunctive relief under section 1116 of this title, actual damages, profits, costs and attorney’s fees under section 1117 of this title, destruction of infringing articles under section 1118 of this title, the remedies provided for under sections 1114, 1119, 1120, 1124 and 1125 of this title, and for any other remedies provided under this chapter.

    "The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void and ineffective for any purpose, since its unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment... In legal contemplation, it is as inoperative as if it had never been passed... Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principles follow that it imposes no duties, confers no right, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection and justifies no acts performed under it... A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing law. Indeed insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, (the Constitution JTM) it is superseded thereby. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it." Bonnett v. Vallier, 116 N.W. 885, 136 Wis. 193 (1908); NORTON v. SHELBY COUNTY, 118 U.S. 425 (1886). See also Bonnett v Vallier, 136 Wis 193, 200; 116 NW 885, 887 (1908); State ex rel Ballard v Goodland, 159 Wis 393, 395; 150 NW 488, 489 (1915); State ex rel Kleist v Donald, 164 Wis 545, 552-553; 160 NW 1067, 1070 (1917); State ex rel Martin v Zimmerman, 233 Wis 16, 21; 288 NW 454, 457 (1939); State ex rel Commissioners of Public Lands v Anderson, 56 Wis 2d 666, 672; 203 NW2d 84, 87 (1973); and Butzlaffer v Van Der Geest & Sons, Inc, Wis, 115 Wis 2d 539; 340 NW2d 742, 744-745 (1983).

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