The more people look at the ruling last week by Judge William Pauley saying that the NSA's bulk metadata collection is legal
, the more perplexed they become. We noted multiple problems with the ruling last week, but at almost every turn is evidence that Judge Pauley not only came into the court with his decision already set, but that he took the government's claims at face value, even when they were flat-out factually incorrect -- and which could have been easily checked. We already noted that Pauley's argument that 9/11 could have been prevented with such a metadata collection had been widely debunked, but it's worse than that. Pauley's ruling cites the 9/11 Commission report for this particular argument. There's a big problem with that. The 9/11 Commission report doesn't even mention the story
that Judge Pauley claims is in the report.
As we've discussed in the past, the NSA and its defenders keep pointing to the story of Khalid al-Mihdhar, a terrorist who was in San Diego and made a call to a known Al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. Except, as was widely reported, the intelligence community had collected all the necessary info
and was even intercepting calls between the US and the safe house. The problems was that the CIA "lost" al-Mihdhar, didn't tell the FBI that he was in the US (even though it knew he'd received a Visa) and no one put him on a watch list. None of that would have changed with the metadata collection.
However, as Pro Publica notes, not only does Judge Pauley ignore all of this, he claims the 9/11 Commission report talks about the NSA being unable to "capture al-Mihdhar's telephone number identifier" -- but that's not true:
In fact, the 9/11 Commission report does not detail the NSA's intercepts of calls between al-Mihdhar and Yemen. As the executive director of the commission told us over the summer, "We could not, because the information was so highly classified publicly detail the nature of or limits on NSA monitoring of telephone or email communications.”
So when you have a judge using this as a key part of his ruling, and it appears that he simply did not read the report he's citing, but rather accepted the government's misrepresentation of the report, it should call into question what Judge Pauley was doing with this case. Others are noticing this same thing. The NY Times has an editorial, noting that Pauley's reasoning is "perplexing"
in that it assumes that the government never breaks the law:
Judge Pauley's opinion is perplexing in its near-total acceptance of the claim by the government that it almost always acts in accordance with the law and quickly self-corrects when it does not. For example, Judge Pauley said the N.S.A.'s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, was being "crystal clear" when he responded to charges that the agency was mining data from phone calls by saying: "We're not authorized to do it. We aren't doing it."
That shows an alarming lack of skepticism, particularly in light of the testimony of James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, who falsely told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting any type of data at all on hundreds of millions of Americans.
It is also incorrect to say, as Judge Pauley does, that there is "no evidence" that the government has used the phone data for anything other than terrorism investigations. An inspector general's report in September revealed at least a dozen instances in which government employees used the databases for personal purposes.
Over at the New Yorker, Amy Davidson, goes even deeper in exploring the differences between Judge Pauley's ruling and Judge Leon's ruling (which found the NSA's metadata collection unconstitutional), and has pointed out multiple other "perplexing"
elements in Pauley's ruling -- including the idea that the more completely the NSA spies on Americans, the more legal the program would be under his bizarre legal interpretation.
And yet if Pauley's opinion offers a single instruction for the N.S.A, it is this: go big. The more people whose data was swept up, the less this judge apparently thinks he has to say about it. Reading his fifty-four-page opinion, one wonders whether, if the intelligence community could only find a way to violate every single American's rights, and tell a story about how that protected them, he would look around and find that no one had been hurt. "This blunt tool only works because it collects everything," he writes.
And yet, "collect everything" is exactly what the 4th Amendment was designed to not allow. It was put in place to end the concept of general warrants for the collection of everything. It's this very concept of "collect everything" that is why Judge Leon noted that the "third party doctrine" as established in Smith v. Maryland makes no sense to apply to this bulk metadata collection.
Furthermore, Davidson also notes how Pauley uncritically accepts the feds' blatantly misleading spin that even with all the metadata collection only a very small number of people are spied upon. Judge Leon actually breaks it down and does the math, while Pauley doesn't bother:
The contrast can be seen in the two judges' responses to the way the government queries its database of phone records—those of almost every American. It starts with a "seed"—maybe a phone number of someone it suspects (and only suspects) is connected to a foreign terrorist group. It then makes three "hops": looks at all the numbers that the seed number has called or been called by, each number that those have been connected to, and each that those have been connected to. Leon does some calculations and sees that the number of phone numbers gets big very quickly (if you call a hundred friends, and they each call a hundred friends…). They also get attenuated: he cites the example of a suspect calling a pizza place, and the way every other pizza orderer is then inveigled. (I wrote about this “Domino's hypothetical” when Judge Leon's ruling was issued.) But just as interesting was Leon's response to the government's note that it has done this with three hundred seeds, yielding a number of American phone records “substantially larger than 300, but is still a very small percentage of the total volume of metadata records.”
The first part of this assertion is a glaring understatement, while the second part is virtually meaningless when placed in context…. It belabors the obvious to note that even a few million phone numbers is “a very small percentage of the total volume of metadata records” if the Government has collected metadata records on hundreds of millions of phone numbers.
Pauley, looking at the same statement, repeats it primly and uncritically twice: “only a ‘very small percentage of metadata records…’ ” He is just relieved that terrorists, or those connected to them even by “filaments,” might be found. (Last week, a Presidential review panel found that the program was not, in fact, all that useful.)
So there are huge problems with Pauley's decision. Not only does he quote a report that doesn't say what he claims it says, he further supports his argument by accepting a claim that another judge quickly showed to be clearly false just by doing some simple math. So far, we've got Judge Pauley failing to actually read or do math but simply accepting the government's claims of what the report and the math say, when anyone who's actually looked at either know the government is not being honest.
You would think that a judge would actually review the source material, rather than accept one party's misrepresentations. Unfortunately, Judge Pauley appears to have failed in his job to do the most basic checking of what he was told. And, because of that, we now have a horrible ruling on the books.