Archive for the ‘Secret Law’ Category

Most Federal agencies still ignore human rights complaints

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Despite a recent decision by the European Court of Justice based in part on the inability of US courts to enforce US obligations under human rights treaties to which the US is a party, and despite a direct order from the President, most Federal agencies have still done nothing to create even administrative channels or points of contact for handling complaints of human rights violations.

Last April, we joined a broad coalition of civil liberties and human rights organizations in a public letter to some of the Federal departments engaged in the most egregious human rights violations — torture, extrajudicial killings, mass surveillance, denial of freedom movement, etc. — calling on them to carry out the President’s longstanding orders to designate points of contact responsible for responding to complaints that they have violated human rights treaties.

Six months later, there’s been no response to our letter and no publicly-disclosed indication that any of the agencies and departments to which it was sent has taken any action to fulfill its duties under Executive Order 13107, which was issued by President Clinton in 1998 and has remained in effect ever since.

This week, we joined in a follow-up letter, pointing out the failure to act and the heightened importance of showing a US government commitment to human rights, including the right to privacy, if the US wants to persuade other countries and their citizens that personal information transferred to via the US will be adequately protected against unwarranted mass surveillance.

The real lesson, of course, is that neither US citizens nor foreigners can rely on merely administrative mechanisms  for the protection of fundamental rights. If direct orders from the President aren’t enough to get Federal department heads even to receive and log human rights complaints, what could be?

As the UN Human Rights Committee recommended last year at the conclusion of its latest review of US (non)implementation of its human rights treaty obligations, what’s really needed is for Congress to enact effectuating legislation for human rights treaties to grant US courts — not the agencies that are the subjects of the complaints — the jurisdiction to hear and rule on complaints of violations of rights guaranteed by those treaties that the US has ratified and promised to honor and implement.

6th Circuit Court of Appeals rules for right to trial over no-fly order

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

On October 26th, by a 2-1 vote, a  panel of judges of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a District Court’s decision that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a substantive challenge to the order by the “Terrorist Screening Center” (TSC) placing a US citizen on the “No-fly” list.

While the decision was based on arcane-seeming jurisdictional issues, and the government is already maneuvering to evade it and some other similar court decisions, it is a significant victory for the fundamental right to a trial in cases of challenges to no-fly orders.

The decision sends the lawsuit brought by Mr. Saeb Mokdad, represented by the Arab-American Civil Rights League,  back to the US District Court in Michigan where it was first filed more than two years ago.

The TSC is an inter-agency and inter-departmental entity, but the government has assigned nominal “ownership” of the TSC and its decisions — including, until recently, final authority for no-fly orders — to the FBI (a component of the Department of Justice).

At the same time, the government has argued that any challenges to the TSC’s no-fly orders must be made first through the kangaroo-court DHS TRIP administrative process, and then in a Court of Appeals that is allowed to consider only the “administrative record” of the TSA’s decision, as supplied to the court by the TSA itself.

Unlike some other people who have tried to challenge the government’s interference with their right to travel, Mr. Mokdad didn’t sue the TSA or DHS for implementing the TSC’s decision to put him on the no-fly list. Instead, he sued the TSC, FBI, and DOJ for ordering the TSA and DHS to put him on the no-fly list.

The government’s position is that no challenge to a no-fly order can be made with the agency that made the decision (the TSC/FBI/DOJ), and that any court review of the TSC decision must be based solely on TSA records (which will show, at most, that the TSA relied on a no-fly order from the TSC, and may not show anything about the factual basis, if any, or the criteria or procedures relied on by the TSC in its decision).

In its decision this week, the 6th Circuit rejected that duplicitous government position:

To the extent that Mokdad brings a direct challenge to his placement by TSC on the No Fly List, … he is challenging a TSC order, not a TSA order….  TSA does not determine who is placed on the No Fly List; TSC does. Notwithstanding the government’s attempts to characterize his claim as a challenge to TSA’s decision to deny him boarding, Mokdad makes clear that he is “challeng[ing] his actual placement on the No Fly List by the TSC.” R. 17, Appellant Br., 11. TSC is administered by the FBI. The fact that TSC is an inter-agency center that is staffed by officials from multiple agencies, including the FBI, DHS, Department of State, Customs and Border Protection, and also TSA, does not transform TSC’s order placing an individual on the No Fly List into an order of the TSA.

The 6th Circuit panel correctly held that the law assigning exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to TSA orders to Circuit Courts of Appeal, based on TSA administrative records, does not apply to challenges to TSC or other FBI orders — including no-fly listing orders.

The FBI’s hypocrisy in Mr. Mokdad’s case hasn’t been limited to its arguments in court.  The FBI has told Mr. Mokdad that it can’t tell him anything about why it put him on the no-fly list, and can’t even confirm or deny that he is barred from flying (although that’s obvious from the fact that he is denied boarding whenever he tries to fly). At the same time that the FBI officially declined to comment or give any information to Mr. Moktad, the FBI was happy to disclose derogatory alleagations about him to the local newspaper of record, the Detroit Free Press, in the form of leaks by “sources familiar with Mokdad” about what “the FBI suspects”.

Unfortunately, the next move in this legal chess game was already played by the government between the time that Mr. Mokdad’s case was argued a little over a year ago and when it was decided this week. While the Court of Appeals was contemplating its decision, the government shifted nominal final responsibility for no-fly decisions form the TSC/FBI/DOJ to the TSA/DHS, to try to bring them back within the scope of the jurisdiction-stripping statute, 49 USC §46110 (the Constitutionality of which is already being challenged in another no-fly case).

It’s unclear, in light of this evasive move by the government, what will happen to Mr. Mokdad’s case on remand. The next step will be discovery, and likely an assertion by the government in response that everything about no-fly decisions is a “state secret”.  Even if Mr. Mokdad eventually puts the FBI on trial, as has happened in only one no-fly case to date, he might win only a Pyrrhic victory, overturning the TSC’s no-fly order but then having to start from scratch, in a different court, with a new challenge to a new TSA no-fly order. Stay tuned.

Court orders TSA to publish “rules” for use of strip-search machines

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Acting on a petition submitted in July 2015 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today ordered the Department of Homeland Security to, within 30 days from today, “submit to the court a schedule for the expeditious issuance of a final rule” governing the TSA’s use of virtual strip search machines or body scanners (what the TSA calls “Advanced Imaging Technology “within a reasonable time”.

The court didn’t say what it would consider “expeditious” or a “reasonable” time for the TSA to finalize rules for its use of body scanners. Nor did the court even consider what such a rule should say, or what it would take for such a rule to be Constitutional.

But as we pointed out in the comments we submitted to the TSA three years ago in this as-yet-incomplete rulemaking, any “final rule” on body scanners promulgated by the TSA would be the first and to date only publicly-disclosed definition of any aspect of what the TSA and DHS think travelers are required to do and/or prohibited from doing in order to satisfy our obligation under Federal law to “submit” to “screening” as a condition of the exercise of our right to air travel by common carrier.

Five years ago, we were one of 35 organizations that petitioned the TSA and DHS to conduct a public “rulemaking” — including notice of the proposal, and opportunity for public comment, consideration of the comments by the agency, and finally the publication of rules for what is and isn’t prohibited and/or required — before deploying or continuing to deploy  as-though-naked body imaging machines in airports.

In  2011, in response to a lawsuit brought by one of the other petitioners, EPIC, the D.C. Circuit court ordered the DHS to conduct such a rulemaking.  The DHS dragged its feet, but under pressure from the Coiurt, finally published proposed (vague and unconstitutional) rules for body scanners in 2013. Basically, the DHS proposed rules that would require travelers to submit to whatever “imaging technology” the TSA chooses to use.

The Identity Project and more than 5000 other organizations and individuals submitted comments to the DHS, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the proposed rules, the TSA’s use of virtual strip-search machines, and the TSA practices of groping travelers including those who “opt out” of the imaging machines.

In response to the latest lawsuit by CEI, the DHS says that it is still working diligently, three years later, to read, analyze, and respond to the public comments and prepare a (possibly revised) final rule.

Today, the Court declined (for now, at least) to set a deadline for the DHS to stop dragging its feet and publish final rules for the body scanners. But the Court ordered the DHS to come up with a timeline of specific dates by which it intends to do so. Once the DHS gives dates certain to the Court, it will risk sanctions for contempt if it fails to meet those deadlines without an explanation satisfactory to the Court.

It’s a small but significant step toward subjecting the TSA, for the first time, to the rule of law.

In the wrong place at the wrong time? You might end up on the no-fly list.

Friday, August 28th, 2015

If you exercise your right to travel, will the US government use your past travel as the basis for denying you the right to travel in the future?

Reading between the lines of the redacted public versions of recent filings in one of the ongoing legal challenges to US government no-fly orders, the answer appears to be, “Yes”.

Merely having visited the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time (as subsequently and secretly determined by the precogs who devise the government’s algorithms for predicting future terrorist behavior) can be sufficient to get you put on the no-fly list.

Did you visit Yemen in 2009? Now you might be on the no-fly list — for that reason, and maybe that alone.


Will the REAL-ID Act deny you access to Federal facilities?

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

As we’ve noted in our previous commentaries on the REAL-ACT in this blog and in our recent presentation at the Cato Institute, there are two components to the threats against individual residents of “noncompliant” states (and territories and the District of Columbia) that are being used by the DHS to try to induce reluctant state governments to incorporate their state drivers license and ID databases to the distributed national REAL-ID database by connecting them to the contractor-operated REAL-ID hub:

  1. Threatened denial of common carrier airline transportation to individuals who present drivers licenses or other ID credentials issued by noncompliant states; and
  2. Threatened denial of access to (certain) Federal facilities to these individuals.

The first of these threats appears to be hollow. The TSA has consistently argued, when demands for ID from air travelers have been challenged in court, that no ID credentials at all are required to fly.

The TSA claims the right to subject any traveler to more intrusive search and interrogation, without probable cause, and may use this arbitrary power against residents of states that don’t comply with the REAL-ID Act. But the TSA appears to realize that it has no legal authority for outright denial of air travel to people who don’t have, or decline to carry or show to the TSA or its contractors, government-issued ID credentials, REAL-ID Act compliant or not.

With respect to its threat to deny access to Federal facilities, the DHS (in its usual fashion of rulemaking by press release) has posted an announcement on its website that this will be implemented in phases determined by the “Federal Security Level” (FSL) assigned to individual facilities.

But what are the facilities, if any, to which these levels have been assigned, and to which individuals with ID from noncompliant states will therefore be denied access? We’ve filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to find out.

The responses to our FOIA requests suggest that this prong of the REAL-ID Act enforcement cattle prod is, to mix metaphors, a paper tiger. We’ve been unable to find any Federal facility to which such an FSL has actually been assigned.


US again takes people off “no-fly” list to try to evade judicial review

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Four days before a Federal judge was scheduled to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by four Muslim US citizens who were placed on the US government’s “no-fly” list to try to pressure them into becoming informants for the FBI, the government has notified the plaintiffs in the case that all of them have been removed from the no-fly list.

The plaintiffs in Tanvir v. Lynch are continuing to press their claims, as are other US citizens challenging their placement on the no-fly list in retaliation for declining to inform on their friends, families, communities, and fellow worshippers.  But we expect that, as has been its pattern, the government defendants will now try to get the case dismissed as “moot“.

So far as we know, every other instance in which the US government has told anyone whether or not they are or were on the no-fly list, or that they have been removed from that list, has come after the victims of these no-fly orders have challenged them in Federal court.

Either (1) the government never had any reason to think any of these people posed a threat to aviation, but never bothered to assess the basis, if any, for belief that they posed such a threat until faced with the imminent need to defend their blacklisting to a Federal judge. Or (2) the government genuinely (although mistakenly and without any adequate basis) believed that they posed a threat, but saw the possibility of judicial review of no-fly decisions as a greater threat to the standard operating procedures of the TSA, DHS, and FBI. Or (3) both of the above.

We’ll take Door Number 3, if you please.

TSA statements to court reviewing interrogations of travelers

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

In a filing with the Court of Appeals reviewing a TSA mandate for airlines to interogate passengers on international flights before allowing them to board, the TSA has directly contradicted previous explicit written statements by an official TSA spokesperson as to whether passengers are required by the TSA to answer questions from airline staff about their travel purposes as a condition of being allowed to fly.

Equally if not more disturbingly, the TSA also claimed in the same filing with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that an airline licensed by the US government to operate as a common carrier has “independent discretion to deny boarding to any passenger about whom they have a concern.”

In an email message in January of this year to “professional troublemaker” and frequent traveler Jonathan Corbett, the TSA “Office of Global Strategic Communicationsa Desk” said:

American Airlines is required to conduct a security interview with passengers prior to departure to the United States from an overseas last point of departure airport. If a passenger declines the security interview, American Airlines will deny the passenger boarding. The contents of the security program and the security interview are considered Sensitive Security Information (SSI).

But when Mr. Corbett petitioned the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the TSA’s secret orders to airlines containing this mandate, the TSA filed the following statement with the court:

Interviews are … intended only to determine screening protocols before a passenger may fly. TSA does not direct U.S. aircraft operators to refuse to carry a passenger who declines participation in the interview process.

This isn’t the first time the TSA has told Federal judges that official TSA notices and public statements about what air travelers are “required” to do, as a condition of being “allowed” to exercise our right to travel, are false.

In 2006, the TSA told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel reviewing the requirement for air travelers to show government-issued ID credentials in Gilmore v. Gonzalez that there is no such TSA requirement in the secret TSA security directives to airlines, despite notices still posted at TSA checkpoints (and, at the time, on the TSA website) that passengers are required to show ID. Most people who are unable and/or unwilling to show ID are allowed to fly, although some aren’t. There are no rules or publicly-disclosed criteria for who the TSA does or does not allow to fly.  The TSA’s orders to the airlines, and the airline policies approved by the TSA, are secret.

At a minimum, the TSA’s repeated disavowals in court of what it has publicly claimed or implied are TSA requirements mean that travelers cannot resoanably be expected to believe or rely on those official but not legally beinding TSA statements, and have good cause to demand that TSA explicitly state whether anything they ask is a legally-binding TSA “order”, a request, or an airline or or other private demand not mandated by the TSA. Noncompliance with requests not explicitly identified by TSA staff as TSA orders cannot reasonably construed as interference with, or refusal to submit to, TSA requirements.

The only way to reconcile the TSA’s statement to the court that “TSA does not direct U.S. aircraft operators to refuse to carry a passenger who declines participation in the interview process” with the agency’s previous statement to the public that, “If a passenger declines the security interview, American Airlines will deny the passenger boarding,” is that the airline — on its own initiative and inidepndently of the TSA-mandated and TSA-approved “security program” — has committed to the TSA that it will deny boarding to anyone whoi declines to answer the airline’s questions about their travels.

That possible interpretation is supported by the TSA’s further statement to the Court of Appeals:

While … carriers retain their independent discretion to deny boarding to any passenger about whom they have a concern, whether as a result of an interview or otherwise, that outcome is not dictated by the international security interview program.

The problems with this — aside from the TSA’s misleading statements to the public about the source of this “requirement” — are that an airline, by law, has no such discretion, and that the TSA is required by law (49 USC § 40101) to “consider … the public right of freedom of transit through the navigable airspace” in carrying out its responsibilities including approving airline policies.

The duty of the TSA, if it becomes aware of an airline policy or practice to exercise such unlawful “discretion” or claim the “right to refuse service”, is to disapprove the policy or practice. If an airline persists in such a practice, the duty of the TSA is to order the airline to discontinue to the practice or, if that is outside the TSA’s jurisdiction, to refer the airline to the Department of Transportation for the imposition of sanctions, which ultimately could include the revocation of the airline’s certification from the DOT to operate as a common carrier.

It’s bad enough that airlines are trying unilaterally to abrogate their responsibilities as common carriers. It’s far worse that the government is acquiescing in, much less encouraging, such practices.

DHS still playing politics with FOIA requests

Monday, May 18th, 2015

The latest response to one of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests confirms our suspicion that despite sworn testimony to the contrary to Congress by the DHS Chief FOIA Officer, the DHS has resumed, or never abandoned, its illegal practice of political interference and specially disfavored and delayed treatment of FOIA requests from journalists and activist organizations — including the Identity Project.

In 2005, the Associated Press discovered from the response to one of its FOIA requests for FOIA processing records that the DHS Chief FOIA Officer had ordered FOIA officers for the DHS headquarters and all DHS components (TSA, CBP, etc.) to flag all “significant” FOIA requests for special handling. “Significant” FOIA requests were to include, inter alia, any request on a controversial topic; likely to generate news coverage; or from a journalist, news organization, or activist organization (those terms being undefined in the order).

All planned actions on “significant” FOIA requests (acknowledgments of receipt, releases of responsive records, appeals, litigation, etc.) were to be reported in advance to the DHS “front office” for inclusion in a weekly report to the DHS White House liaison.  Crucially, both the general order and the memos accompanying the weekly reports when they were circulated to all DHS and component FOIA officers explicitly forbade the release of any records or any other response to a “significant” request without the express prior approval of the DHS “front office”.

Questioned about this before a Congressional oversight committee during the ensuing scandal, DHS Chief FOIA Officer Mary Ellen Callahan swore that these orders didn’t really mean what they appeared to say. This was merely an “awareness” or “notification” system, not really an approval system, Chief FOIA Officer Callahan claimed:

[T]o my knowledge, no information deemed releasable by the FOIA Office or the Office of the General Counsel has at any point been withheld.

The Chief FOIA Officer told Congress, under oath,  that the “notification” period had been reduced from indefinite to one day, and the default after one day, in the absence of “front office” action, had been changed from continued indefinite withholding to release of the response:

In fact, we continue to improve the system; DHS has now moved to a one-day awareness review for significant FOIA responses…. Significant FOIA releases are uploaded into a SharePoint system for a limited awareness review period – now one business day – and then automatically released by the relevant component FOIA office back to the requester.

But had anything really changed?  We got an answer last week, as we were attempting to find out when we should expect a response to one of our requests for information about the “Federal Security Level” (FSL) that determines the date of applicability of certain REAL-ID Act rules for access to Federal facilities.

We requested information about what, if any, FSL has been assigned to each of a sampling of Federal facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area, including symbolic targets and critical infrastructure (the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges), Federal courthouses and office buildings, and more. We’ll be publishing those responses, and our analysis of them, in a future article.

At its mid-point, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge passes (in a tunnel between the east and west high-level spans) through Yerba Buena Island, a Federal reservation which constitutes the US Coast Guard Station San Francisco. We asked for records about the FSL for Station San Francisco, including the Bay Bridge, and about the FSL for the (former?) NSA listening post at Two Rock Ranch in Sonoma County, which operates as USCG Training Center (”TRACEN”) Petaluma.

The Coast Guard is a partially military, partially civilian component of both the DHS and the Department of Defense. The DoD also has special rules for “significant” FOIA requests, but they are quite explicitly a notification system, not an approval system like the (former?) DHS system.  In any case, it appears that the Coast Guard generally processes FOIA requests in its civilian, DHS capacity.

Our request was submitted to USCG headquarters, but after some run-around was referred to local USCG FOIA Officers in San Francisco and Petaluma for their separate responses directly to us. So far, so good. We had several cordial conversations with Mr. Kevin Fong, the FOIA Officer for USCG Sector San Francisco. So far as we could tell, he seemed to be making a sincere effort to identify any records responsive to our request.

The week before last, Mr. Fong told us that he had been unable to identify any responsive records (which would seem to indicate that the Bay Bridge had never been assigned an FSL).  Mr. Fong said that he would be sending us formal notice of his failure to find any responsive records.

Since no responsive records had been found, there were no legal or interpretive issues that might have required higher-level consultation or decision-making regarding whether any of those records might be exempt from disclosure. No further “processing” of records was required, since there were no records to process. The statutory deadline for the Coast Guard’s response to our FOIA request had long since passed, and a response could and should have been provided immediately.

Instead, we got radio silence for another week. When we called Mr. Fong at the end of last week to find out what was holding up his response, he told us that our request had been designated as “significant”. No surprise there. We’re an educational and activist organization that takes an interest in controversial and newsworthy topics. So far as we know, all of our requests are designated as “significant” and included in the weekly reports to the DHS White House liaison.

Mr. Fong continued, however, that because our request was “significant” he had been required to submit his proposed response to national headquarters (whether of the USCG or of DHS wasn’t clear), and had been forbidden to provide his formal written response until he received approval from headquarters.  He had been waiting a week for that approval.

Assuming what Mr. Fong told us is true, this is exactly the practice that the DHS Chief FOIA Officer swore under oath before Congress had been ended five years ago.

We’ve called the attention both of Mr. Fong and of the USCG headquarters FOIA office to the discrepancy between the way our current request is being handled and the previous DHS claims about the alleged reform of the process for “significant” FOIA requests.

DHS responses to others of our pending FOIA requests may be similarly blocked, but we can’t tell for sure. An otherwise-complete response to another of our FOIA requests, two years overdue, is also being held up pending “final review”. For this request, however — unlike the request referred to the Coast Guard discussed above — we don’t know whether the review that is delaying the response the additional review and approval by the DHS “front office” required because =our request was deemed “significant”, or some other review.

We’re still waiting for any comment, or any official response to our original FOIA request.

Bill C-51 would match Canadian no-fly scheme to the US — and go further

Friday, April 17th, 2015

This week is Stop C-51 Week, marked by events throughout Canada and elsewhere in opposition to Bill C-51, currently under consideration by the Parliament of Canada, “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.”

We’ve joined a who’s who of civil liberties and human rights organizations, activists, and experts from Canada and around the world who have co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper opposing Bill C-51.

It’s only a slight oversimplification to say that Bill C-51 is Canada’s version of the USA Patriot Act, 13 years later but on steroids.  It appears to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian obligations pursuant to several human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  But if enacted, and if not voided on constitutional grounds by Canadian courts, it would purport to authorize a wide range of government spying, “pre-crime” policing (profiling), and preemptive interference with the exercise of fundamental rights.


Feds change no-fly procedures to evade judicial review

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

In updates filed with Federal courts in at least two pending challenges to US government “no-fly” orders, lawyers for the government have revealed plans for changes to the internal procedures administrative agencies use in deciding who they “allow” to fly — and who they don’t.

While these changes look like cosmetic but inadequate improvements, they actually include an obscure but much more significant change designed to make it harder for people on the no-fly list to get the factual basis (if any) for the decision to put them on the list reviewed by a judge.

By shifting official responsibility for administrative no-fly decisions from the FBI to the TSA, the government hopes to bring those decisions fully within the scope of a special Federal jurisdictional law, 49 U.S.C. § 46110, which is designed to preclude any effective judicial review of TSA decisions — but which doesn’t apply to decisions (nominally) made by the FBI or other agencies outside the DHS.

This law allows TSA administrative orders to be reviewed only by Courts of Appeal (which have no ability to conduct trials or fact-finding), on the basis of the “administrative record” supplied to the Court of Appeals by the TSA itself.  The Court of Appeals is forbidden to second-guess the TSA’s fact-finding, even if it was made through a secret and one-sided internal process: “Findings of fact by the Secretary, Under Secretary, or Administrator, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive.”  As long as there is substantial evidence in the record constructed by the TSA to justify its actions, the Court of Appeals is forbidden to consider the weight of contrary evidence, even if it is also in the record.  And the TSA is free to decide that evidence submitted by anyone on the no-fly list is, for that very reason, not credible.

No-fly cases have been considered by District Courts, and one of them has gone to trial, only because the FBI (as the agency nominally responsible for the inter-agency Terrorist Screening Center) has been declared by both TSA and FBI to be the agency officially responsible for no-fly decisions.  When FBI decisions are challenged by people who claim their rights have been violated, those decisions are reviewed in the normal manner by District Courts that can conduct trials, hear testimony, receive evidence, and make their own findings of fact — without being required to rely exclusively on self-serving submissions by the FBI itself.