FRINFORMSUM 6/19/2014: The FBI’s Elite Hostage Rescue Team, the Bureau’s 83-Page Guide to Twitter Slang, and Much More.
The Pentagon declined to name the units involved in the recent capture of September 11, 2012, Benghazi bombing suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, identified by the State Department as a “senior leader” of the Ansar al-Shariah militia. The October 2013 abduction of alleged al-Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai in Libya by Delta Force and members of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), however, likely means that the HRT was involved in the raid to capture Khattala as well. HRT was “a domestic counter-terrorism unit prior to the 9/11 attacks, [which] has become a de facto Special Operations force in its own right.” An earlier Washington Post article revealed more details about HRT’s secret relationship with the Joint Special Operations Command overseas, specifically the bureau’s role in “hundreds of raids” in Iraq and Afghanistan, seen by some as a “natural evolution” for the FBI unit.
As violence in Iraq escalates after the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) seized the towns of Mosul and Tikrit, the US is being forced to confront its diminished spying capabilities throughout the Middle East. According to reports, a major problem in the wake of the 2011 American troop withdrawal from Iraq is “that much of the intelligence network the U.S. built up during eight years of fighting in Iraq has been dismantled, including a network of CIA and Pentagon sources and an NSA system that U.S. officials said made available the details of every Iraqi insurgent email, text message and phone-location signals in real time.” Lt. Gen Mike Flynn of the Defense Intelligence Agency, however, ‘predicted to Congress in February that the ISIS “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria.”’
The digital library Cryptome recently posted documents on the joint Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)/National Security Agency (NSA) SANDKEY program, which targets drug trafficking at sea in and around the Caribbean. Considered a successful program, it is largely credited for “the reduced narco-trafficking by boat.” According to Cryptome, the program is administered by the SANDKEY committee, “which includes NSA and DEA, USCG, law enforcement, and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) which is highly involved. EPIC receives little scrutiny but is a major intelligence player in the central and south Americas and often provides cover for CIA operations.”
Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY) jointly penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times denouncing the intelligence community’s transparency regarding its dragnet surveillance practices, and the watered-down version of the USA Freedom Act recently approved by the House. The Senators were unconvinced that the House version of the bill would end bulk surveillance practices and argued, “This is clearly not the meaningful reform that Americans have demanded, so we will vigorously oppose this bill in its current form and continue to push for real changes to the law.”
While the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to begin considering cybersecurity legislation that would encourage tech companies “to exchange information on hacking attempts and cybersecurity threats with the government,” those same tech companies are banding together to fight a recent court ruling that would force Microsoft to disclose customer information stored abroad in response to a court-issued search warrant. Microsoft, joined by Verizon, AT&T, Apple, and Cisco Systems, is arguing in court that the US government has “no right” to customer data stored outside the US, and that forcing Microsoft to comply with such an order ‘threatens to rewrite the Constitution’s protections against illegal search and seizure, damage U.S. foreign relations and “reduce the privacy protection of everyone on the planet.”’
A unanimous decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will pave the way for a British MP to seek CIA documents on British cooperation with its extraordinary rendition program. The CIA and other intelligence agencies were attempting to deny requests from MP Andrew Tyrie by citing an exemption that prevents intelligence agencies from providing information to “a representative” of a foreign government. The three-judge panel disagreed with the government’s assertions, however, arguing that Tyrie being an elected representative of the British government did not make him its agent, though further noting that “one of FOIA’s traditional exemptions prevents disclosure of classified records, [and] no classified information will see the light of day regardless of how we decide this case.”
An appeals court overturned a lower court ruling this week that would have allowed defense attorneys for Chicago bombing suspect Adel Daoud access to sealed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court records. In its ruling the appeals court argued that the lower-court judge, Sharon J. Coleman, had “disobeyed the statute” by ordering the disclosure of the FISA court records “without first determining whether the surveillance was lawfully authorized.”
More great FOIA work from MuckRock this week spurred the release of the FBI’s official 83-page guide to twitter and other social media slang, and, more importantly, delved into newly-released NSA records management documents. The documents illuminate how long the NSA retains certain documents, and, for the most part, it’s a very short period of time, making records destruction schedules read to some extent “like a guide on how to hide potentially illegal or unethical practices.” The main lesson? Don’t procrastinate sending in your FOIA requests to the NSA, whose SIGINT records are reviewed for destruction every five years, whose employee complaints are destroyed every two years, and whose “weapons and special programs file” is destroyed when no longer needed for operations, however long that may be.
Of course, NSA records don’t have to be destroyed for the agency to give FOIA requesters the run-around. The NSA recently Glomared (neither confirmed or denied) investigative reporter Jason Leopold’s request for all documents containing the phrases “sniff it all,” “know it all,” “collect it all,” “process it all,” “exploit it all,” and “partner it all,” which were all phrases displayed on an agency slide leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden last year.
Finally this week, the Archive’s #tbt document pick! This week’s pick is honor of the recent meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, one of the fiercest critics of the NSA’s surveillance practices, and Vice President Joe Biden. During the meeting Biden, in response to an Archive initiative and as a gesture of declassification diplomacy, “handed over to Ms. Rousseff declassified documents related to Brazil’s military dictatorship, which seized power in a 1964 coup supported by the United States.” To commemorate the gesture, our #tbt document is a Top Secret March 28, 1964, National Security Council Memcon (memorandum of conversation) discussing how the US ought to support the Brazilian military’s overthrow of populist president Joao Goulart. “The shape of the problem,” according to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, “is such that we should not be worrying that the military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react.” Read more declassified documents on the 1964 coup here and here.