Why Would Someone In The FBI Allow A Private Contractor Run Unsupervised FISA-702 Queries?

Goddess Of JusticeSomeone in the FBI delegated the investigation of a “National Security” issue to a private contractor running unsupervised “FISA-702 Queries”. What does that say about the FBI management? It is obvious from the Top Secret FISA Court Order document obtained by Judicial Watch on May 23, 2017, that the FISA Court was livid at the FBI, Department of Justice, and the NSA.  They broke the rules and the judges were pissed. This is a really, big deal both legally and politically. This is the type of flagrant abuse Senator Rand Paul could use to force a debate on the Patriot Act.  All of the good intelligence operations working under the auspices of the Patriot Act are threatened. So why did the FBI take the risk?

If FISA-702 “Queries” do not need approvals from FISC so long as inquiries center around “National Security”, why was it being handled by a private contractor and not FBI personnel?

Lawrence Person at the BattleSwarm blog makes the argument Fusion-GPS was the private contractor. It kind of makes sense, if the contractor was charged with investigating Russian interference in the United States political process. Since they wrote the infamous Trump dossier we can safely conclude that they are familiar with the shadier side of politics. I suspect the FBI chose a private contractor so that they could compartmentalize the information and avoid allegations the FBI was being used to spy on political opponents. I have two problems with this strategy.

  1. Political interference is an important issue but it is not a “National Security” issue. If political interference was not a “National Security” issue then the unsupervised FISA-702 “Queries” were illegal. I think that was the main point the Top Secret FISA Court Order was trying to make.
  2. Allowing a private contractor with a background like Fusion-GPS run unsupervised FISA-702 queries is a really bad choice. It looks like a fox in charge of the hen house scenario. When I read the Top Secret FISA Court Order complain that “they had access to raw FISA information that went well beyond what was necessary”, I have to assume that the contractor did something illegal or unethical. It is hard to tell whether the Court is madder at the FBI or the private contractor.

Why did the FBI take the risk?

The FISA court believes that these FISA-702 “Queries” should have been supervised and probably submitted to the FISA court. The FBI probably saw the protection of the Democratic party from Russian meddling as their patriotic duty and considered the legality of their actions a minor issue. More importantly, I think the FBI took the risk because they did not think they would get caught. Even if they were caught, they believed because of their good intentions that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case”. The last thing they thought was that this investigation would blow up in their faces. By April 18, 2016, the FBI they knew that their FISA-702 “Queries” irregularities had triggered a full Compliance Audit by the NSA. This would lead NSA to admit a non-compliance issue to the FISA court on October 26, 2016.  The Top Secret FISA Court Order leaves no doubt that the non-compliance issue was threatening the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. The “good intentions” of the FBI had transformed a minor “National Security” issue into a major one. The only question left is with everyone’s career at the FBI on the line, would the FBI attempt a cover-up?

Coincidentally I am reading a book called “The Tyranny of Good Intentions” and it reminds us that prosecutors and bureaucrats have been trampling the Constitution in the name of justice for a very long time. In that book, they quote Joel Prentiss Bishop, an American lawyer and legal treatise writer who said, “In times of excitement when vengeance takes the place of justice, every guard against the innocent is cast down.” Mr. Comey, Mr. Strzok, and the others seem to embody this particular interpretation of the law in which “vengeance” justifies their extra-legal actions. Once they crossed the line into extra-legal actions, there was no turning back. The Trump dossier can be seen as a natural byproduct of the original crime. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The Politicization Of The FBI Has Consequences, My Position On The Patriot Act Has Evolved

Goddess of JusticeAs a person who has been selected for three juries, I am puzzled at the staffing decisions by Mr. Mueller. As a juror, I do not want my time wasted by a prosecution’s case tainted with apparent bias. Bias is a pretty good reason for a juror to say no to the “beyond a reasonable doubt question”. If Mr. Mueller is pursuing the same blind justice that does give a whit about politics, Mr. Mueller’s staff must be beyond reproach. This is not rocket science.

Why did Mr. McCabe, Ms. Rhee, Mr. Ohr, Ms. Page, and Mr. Strzok not recuse themselves from this case?

Although Glenn Kessler makes a good argument that Mr. Mueller “is legally barred from discriminating career appointees based on political affiliation”, there is nothing prohibiting the aforementioned people from recusing themselves because of apparent bias. This would have been the right thing for them to do. Since Mr. Mueller replaced them without much effort we have to assume that qualified lawyers exist without the political baggage. Why not start off with them? Are there any adults at the Department of Justice? Is this the same culture of corruption problem we have seen at the Department of Justice for the last eight years?

If the Department of Justice cannot police themselves should we allow Section 702 of the Patriot Act to be renewed without substantial reform?

In the past, I was willing to believe the Department of Justice would do the right thing and not abuse the special privileges granted in the Patriot Act. My position on the Patriot Act has evolved. Last year I wondered whether the Fusion GPS Dossier Weaponize The FBI? I now believe that the primary motive for FISA warrant in October of 2016 was to discredit the Trump Campaign. The FISA warrant was not about catching spies or terrorists.  It was about using the power of the government to punish a political opponent. If the folks at the Department of Justice cannot play nicely with these powers, we need some adults in the room to keep the kids out of trouble. Now is a good time to listen to Amash, Paul, and Others Trying to Stop Congress from Expanding Domestic Surveillance Powers.

Modern Steak and Potatoes

Steak and Potatoes
I used two of my favorite kitchen gadgets to prepare this meal, the Anova Sous Vide and the Instant Pot Duo. I use the Sous Vide to thoroughly cook the meat to 125 degrees. Then I sear the steak on a very hot, cast iron griddle. This method is consistently better than grilling.

My favorite mashed potato dish is Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Root Vegetables. This is an old America’s Test Kitchen recipe that involves browning the root vegetables in butter for 14 minutes. I typically use carrots and parsnips as my root vegetables. I left the skins on the Yukon Gold potatoes for a bit more flavor. The Instant Pot Duo does a pretty good job at cooking the potatoes while I am caramelizing the root vegetables and frees up a burner.

Two Wrongs Still Does Not Make A Right #KateSteinle

Two Wrongs Do Not Make A RightI have three things that bother me about the KateSteinle decision.

Attorneys Gloating Over The Decision Made The Attorneys And San Francisco Look Bad

This was a sad day for the relatives of #KateSteinle family and San Francisco as both attorneys gloated over the decision. They seemed to be making the case that the decision was primarily about President Trump. There was a high road to discussing the jury’s decision and the attorneys did not take it. Ironically the attorneys took a divisive issue made the San Francisco justice system look cheap and arbitrary.

A SIG Sauer P239 Is A Modern, Reliable Gun. So How Does It Go Off Accidentally?

The gun used in the Kate Steinle murder was a SIG Sauer P239. This is a modern, reliable gun that is popular with law enforcement agencies. The handguns produced by SIG Sauer have a well-deserved reputation for reliability. As an example, the P226 is the official sidearm of the U.S. Navy SEALs. On 19 January 2017, SIG Sauer was awarded the contract to supply handguns to the US military. SIG Sauer does not make guns that go off “accidentally”. The only way a modern gun goes off “accidentally” is if someone accidentally puts their finger on the trigger and pulls. If your finger is on the trigger and you have not confirmed that the gun is empty, it is not an accident. Mr. Zarate had his finger on the trigger of a loaded gun and it went off. This is negligence. The lack of a conviction for involuntary manslaughter brings into question whether a sanctuary city is capable of justice for all. We signed up for blind justice not blind and stupid justice.

Does California Care About Gun Safety?

The only #KateSteinle conviction was for a felon possessing a firearm. Considering that the case for involuntary manslaughter was stronger, why did they convict him for accidentally picking up a firearm? The conviction reeks of tokenism and undermines the justice system. If something good is to come from Kate Steinle’s death, the conviction has to be more than a good scolding. An involuntary manslaughter conviction would have sent a strong message about gun safety. This was the message I got in my concealed carry class. My instructor was pretty adamant that if my gun was involved in an accidental discharge and someone died, I was going to jail. That is a good lesson I remember every time I handle a gun. If California cared about gun safety they should have taken the opportunity to emphasize what a person should do if they find a gun. A child or a person not familiar with guns should contact the police and let them handle it. A person more experienced with guns may want to safely secure the weapon before contacting the police. The gun may be lost or involved in a crime. An illegal immigrant high on sleeping pills he found in a trash can should walk away. Illegal immigrants with guns is a situation even sanctuary cities have to realize is a bad idea.

#Unaffordable Health Insurance Has Officially Killed The Individual Mandate

Healthcare-LunchboxIt was not that long ago that there was general agreement amongst the health care policy wonks that the “mandate was considered necessary for the market to work“. In reality what they meant to say was that the market needed both the individual mandate and affordable, unsubsidized health insurance to work. The Affordable Care Act(ACA) supporters realized that they could not deliver expanded benefits and affordable, unsubsidized health insurance. Expanding benefits was more appealing to their political base so they chose to kill the one thing that was essential for the market to succeed, affordable health insurance. So while the individual insurance market rotted away our courts debated whether the individual mandate was a “penalty” instead of a “tax” while maintaining that it was a valid exercise of Congress’s power to “lay and collect taxes”. The idea that the individual mandate was not as important as everyone claimed must be a grating reminder to Supreme Court justices like Justice Roberts who went out of his way to rationalize its legality. I wonder if the Supreme Court Justices learned anything from this exercise in futility.

The Irony of Repealing The Individual Mandate As Part Of A Tax Cut Package

Now after the ACA has blown up the individual insurance market, our legislators find themselves in a strange predicament. They cannot pass a health reform bill but they can pass a middle-class tax cut if they repeal the individual mandate. You got to love the idea of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office providing the intellectual foundation for repealing the individual mandate. What’s next? Repeal the Medicaid expansion because it would save the federal government even more money? According to their analysis, the primary source of savings comes from reduced subsidies due to healthy people leaving individual health insurance market. Avik Roy has more details in his Forbes article, How The CBO Drove Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Repeal Into Tax Reform. Although this sounds like a win-win situation, there are health insurance problems when you repeal the individual mandate. Robert Laszewski goes as far to call it a nightmare for the middle class. Then he backs off from this statement when he agrees that the repeal is good for the poor and healthy people. For the poor struggling with out of pocket costs, this is probably a better alternative than insurance. The group Mr. Laszewski says has the greatest risk are those healthy people whose income is greater than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, who get sick, and do not have the money to pay for their illness. This sounds scary but for most major medical expenses, the combination of unaffordable health insurance and high deductibles puts this group in a more precarious financial position than going without health insurance. Earlier this year I wrote how we reduced the risk of this lesser evil.

In 2015 my wife and I came to the conclusion that the healthcare industrial complex would not willingly change their ways so we started building up our HSA. At the end of 2016, I asked our insurance company if they would offer me a lower rate. They declined and we chose to drop our health insurance. The markets are working, the customer has spoken, and our health policies are dysfunctional. Although we are nervous about our choice, we think we can do a better job managing our health care than the healthcare industrial complex. It is amazing how fast the money builds up when you divert your old health insurance premium amount into a savings account. I am mildly optimistic we can get better health care advice for non-emergency room treatments if we tell our health care providers that we are a cash customer.  Every month we get by without a cancer diagnosis makes us a little more confident we made the right decision. If the insurance companies want us back all they have to do is show us an affordable health insurance plan!

In retrospect, we are a lot more comfortable with our decision now than when we started. We stuck to the plan and our emergency funds are in better shape. We are confident enough about our health that I am not sure an “affordable” health insurance plan could lure us back in. The only healthcare benefit we wish we had was the ability to add more money to our Health Savings Account.

Vote #YesOnIssue2 As The First Step At Controlling The Exorbitant Cost Of Medications

Healthcare-LunchboxThe greatest failure of the Affordable Care Act(ACA) was its unwillingness to control health care costs. In retrospect, the ACA looks more like cronyism than meaningful health care reform. For the last eight years the hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and insurance have worked with government officials to make health care more unaffordable. In this case, I find myself agreeing with my friends on the left and the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians who said:

On August 13, the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians voted to support Issue 2, the Drug Price Relief Act, because we know something must be done so that Ohioans can afford and have access to needed medications. This initiated statute is far from perfect, simplistic, and flawed in many respects, and may not be the best approach for addressing high drug costs. But, because of the inaction of state and federal lawmakers, it is all we have. By supporting this issue, we hope to send a message to legislators—the exorbitant cost of medications and the negative impact those costs have on patients must be addressed.

Did The Fusion GPS Dossier Weaponize The FBI?

370px-Denslow's_Humpty_Dumpty_1904 I am still trying to get my head around the possible impact of the dossier in getting FISA warrants. It looks like dossier weaponized the FBI for political purposes. Almost immediately after a FISA warrant was attained to wiretap the Trump Tower in October of 2016, it was disclosed to Louise Mensch.  The FBI had a history of integrity but the timing of this leak was so out of character. Now their integrity looks in peril. As I argued in the post, The #Obamagate Motive, it looks the primary objective of the FISA warrant was to discredit the Trump Campaign. In hindsight, it made the FISA court judges like a bunch of fools. This is not going to end well for the FBI!

Can Anyone Make The FBI Look Professional Again?

If the dossier played any role in the FISA warrants, I am not sure all the kings men can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Director Comey and the FBI shredded the integrity of the FBI and for what? How does anyone including the FISA judges trust the FBI again? The fact that the dossier was funded by the Democratic party shows how far the FBI reputation has fallen. The FBI should have known who funded the dossier. Investigating is something the FBI is supposed to be good at. I would think that the last thing the FBI wanted on their resume was that they acquired any FISA warrant based on Democratic Party funded opposition research. If the dossier is all the FBI had, It makes the case that President Trump did the right thing in firing Director Comey.  The fact that the dossier was circulated in the government is an embarrassment to the FBI and a source of amusement for the Kremlin. I am sorry but I am not sure anyone can make the FBI look professional again.

What is the biggest lie that the American government is telling its people?

In response to the question, What is the biggest lie that the American government is telling its people?, I disagreed with a person who said the American Revolution was the biggest lie. Here is his answer:

The American Revolution.

The American People are told the Colonies rose up against the tyranny of George III and kicked out the British because it was ‘the will of the people’.

Nothing could be further from the truth, George Washington himself stated that at no time during the War of Independence (it wasn’t a revolution) did more than 25–30% of the people support the independence movement.

I think we can all agree the man knew what he was talking about.

Primarily to see how much I learned from Constitution 101, here is what I said:

I disagree.

Historians name wars. The U.S. Government has no skin in this game.

The history of the independence movement is far more nuanced. I found the litany of grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence very revealing. Due to the distance from Britain, the English civil war(1642-1651), and the rise of Parliment versus the King, the colonies were largely self-managed and not taxed. It was British debt from the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) that forced Parliament to look at its North American colonies as a revenue source. In quick succession, they passed the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Tariffs of 1767, and the Tea Act of 1773. The colonists resented their lack of representation in Parliament and demanded the same rights as other British subjects. Violence against tax collectors ensued. Britain responded with a political power grab and sending troops to enforce Parliament’s laws. So although only 25-30% of the colonists supported independence, even the most ardent loyalists were not happy with how Britain was treating the colonies. Although they knew it was the British thing to do, the King and Parliament were unwilling to cede even a little bit of self-rule and representation to the colonies. It was this unwavering obstinance that is key to understanding the desire for independence.  By 1776 the loyalists gave up trying to negotiate a compromise.  So we had a war to settle the matter.

Fighting a war for independence was revolutionary and yet so much like the English civil war. No colony had done this before. Most colonies are dependent on the mother country for financial and military support. These colonies were already self-reliant and independent. The logical next step was a power sharing arrangement that involved representation in Parliament. Britain chose a different solution and got its first lesson on the limits of global power.