Tagged: FBI

Another corrupt politician goes up the river

Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), the Staten Islander best known for threatening on-camera to “break” a reporter “in half—like a boy,” has been sentenced by a federal judge to eight months in prison for tax evasion.

The sentencing, by US District Judge Pamela Chen, comes seven months after Grimm pleaded guilty to his role in filing a false tax return. Grimm had been indicted in April 2014 on 20 counts related to accounting practices at Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant he owned before his time in Congress. The restaurant’s co-owner, Bennett Orfaly, has previously been accused of having ties to a convicted Gambino family mobster.

Despite his indictment, last year, Grimm ran for reelection to his third term in Congress—and won. It was not until December 30—seven days after entering his guilty plea—that he announced his intentions to resign his seat.

Before Grimm was the target of an investigation by the FBI, he served for two decades as one of its agents. It was during this time that Grimm reportedly pulled a gun in a Queens nightclub, and, after a bouncer ejected him, stormed the nightclub with another FBI agent and members of the NYPD. “I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent,” Grimm reportedly said. “Ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.”

Sad commentary on the more criminal side of today’s Republican constituency. Just as the loony, creationist side of Christianity slanders well-meaning religious folk – just as Confederate flag-toting racists with teabags dangling from their AR-15s slander anyone who used to join the NRA to support their classes in hunting safety – conservatism as a political class is now deeply defined as the last bastion of fear and hatred. Better Dead Than Red is back and voting for more of the same.

FBI wants easy access to all our communications or Isis will KILL US ALL!


Quillian and Comey

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned US senators that the threat from the Islamic State merits a “debate” about limiting commercial encryption – the linchpin of digital security – despite a growing chorus of technical experts who say that undermining encryption would prove an enormous boon for hackers, cybercriminals, foreign spies and terrorists.

In a twin pair of appearances before the Senate’s judiciary and intelligence committees on Wednesday, James Comey testified that Isis’s use of end-to-end encryption, whereby the messaging service being used to send information does not have access to the decryption keys of those who receive it, helped the group place a “devil” on the shoulders of potential recruits “saying kill, kill, kill, kill”…

He added: “I am not trying to scare folks.”

Since October, following Apple’s decision to bolster its mobile-device security, Comey has called for a “debate” about inserting “back doors” – or “front doors”, as he prefers to call them – into encryption software, warning that “encryption threatens to lead us all to a very, very dark place”.

But Comey and deputy attorney general Sally Quillian Yates testified…they did not wish the government to itself hold user encryption keys and preferred to “engage” communications providers for access, though technicians have stated that what Comey and Yates seek is fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encryption.

Comey, who is not a software engineer, said his response to that was: “Really?”…

…Comey’s campaign against encryption has run into a wall of opposition from digital security experts and engineers. Their response is that there is no technical way to insert a back door into security systems for governments that does not leave the door ajar for anyone – hackers, criminals, foreign intelligence services – to exploit and gain access to enormous treasure troves of user data, including medical records, financial information and much more.

The cybersecurity expert Susan Landau, writing on the prominent blog Lawfare, called Comey’s vision of a security flaw only the US government could exploit “magical thinking”…

In advance of Comey’s testimony, several of the world’s leading cryptographers, alarmed by the return of a battle they thought won during the 1990s “Crypto Wars”, rejected the effort as pernicious from a security perspective and technologically illiterate.

A paper they released on Tuesday, called “Keys Under Doormats”, said the transatlantic effort to insert backdoors into encryption was “unworkable in practice, raise[s] enormous legal and ethical questions, and would undo progress on security at a time when internet vulnerabilities are causing extreme economic harm”.

I guess all these years spent successfully stopping enemies of democracy [excluding politicians and elected officials] before encrypted communications were broadly, cheaply possible were just a fluke.

Perhaps time spent hiring and training talented well-educated people to work within a system that respects democratic freedoms may have something to do with it. Perhaps aiding folks, domestic and foreign, to build a better life – instead of simply insisting upon obedience – might diminish the danger from demagogues.

Feds abuse another law — defendant charged with clearing his browser history


A law designed to prosecute corporate fraud – but that requires work, integrity, dedication

Khairullozhon Matanov is a 24-year-old former cab driver from Quincy, Massachusetts. The night of the Boston Marathon bombings, he ate dinner with Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev at a kebob restaurant in Somerville. Four days later Matanov saw photographs of his friends listed as suspects in the bombings on the CNN and FBI websites. Later that day he went to the local police. He told them that he knew the Tsarnaev brothers and that they’d had dinner together that week, but he lied about whose idea it was to have dinner, lied about when exactly he had looked at the Tsarnaevs’ photos on the Internet, lied about whether Tamerlan lived with his wife and daughter, and lied about when he and Tamerlan had last prayed together. Matanov likely lied to distance himself from the brothers or to cover up his own jihadist sympathies—or maybe he was just confused.

Then Matanov went home and cleared his Internet browser history.

Matanov continued to live in Quincy for over a year after the bombings. During this time the FBI tracked him with a drone-like surveillance plane that made loops around Quincy, disturbing residents. The feds finally arrested and indicted him in May 2014. They never alleged that Matanov was involved in the bombings or that he knew about them beforehand, but they charged him with four counts of obstruction of justice. There were three counts for making false statements based on the aforementioned lies and—remarkably—one count for destroying “any record, document or tangible object” with intent to obstruct a federal investigation. This last charge was for deleting videos on his computer that may have demonstrated his own terrorist sympathies and for clearing his browser history.

Matanov faced the possibility of decades in prison — twenty years for the records-destruction charge alone.

Federal prosecutors charged Matanov for destroying records under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law enacted by Congress in the wake of the Enron scandal. The law was, in part, intended to prohibit corporations under federal investigation from shredding incriminating documents. But since Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in 2002 federal prosecutors have applied the law to a wider range of activities.

RTFA for all the details, all the analysis about what is reasonable – nothing the Feds want to do in this case.

Just like the Patriot Act, lousy policing leads to abuse of laws written for another purpose. Just like the Patriot act, abuse of constitutional rights is OK with incompetent cops who can’t begin to prove guilt under relevant law. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a local cop using the Patriot Act for parking violations.

Join the FBI Air Force and spy on all of America – from above!

Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned.

The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.

For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy…

The FBI says blah, blah, blah…and the surveillance equipment is used for ongoing investigations…generally without a judge’s approval.

The FBI confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”

The front companies are used to protect the safety of the pilots, the agency said. That setup also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being followed.

So, the program isn’t secret, Just the planes and phony companies and activities are secret. What’s left?

Continue reading

Patriot Act powers to lapse [legally] at midnight – Senate hawks FAIL


“What do we do, now?”

No doubt those who value security over liberty will return to Congress in coming days and weeks to rebuild a legal framework for keeping an eye on all of us. I have no confidence they will relent – even if illegal means are their core methods. We will need to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, read this GUARDIAN article to get up-to-date.

NSA bulk phone records collecting to expire – at least for a while – we hope


“What do we do, now?”

Even as the Senate remains at an impasse over the future of US domestic surveillance powers, the National Security Agency will be legally unable to collect US phone records in bulk by the time Congress returns from its Memorial Day vacation…

The administration, as suggested in a memo it sent Congress on Wednesday, declined to ask a secret surveillance court for another 90-day extension of the order necessary to collect US phone metadata in bulk. The filing deadline was Friday, hours before the Senate failed to come to terms on a bill that would have formally repealed the NSA domestic surveillance program…

It represents a quiet, unceremonious end to the most domestically acrimonious NSA program revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, in a June 2013 exposé in the Guardian – effectively preempting a bid by GOP leader Mitch McConnell to retain it. But McConnell and other Senate Republicans intend to continue their fight to preserve both that program and other broad surveillance powers under the Patriot Act…

I hope no one expected leading Republicans to support unfettered privacy for Americans other than themselves.

“The Senate is in gridlock, but the tides are shifting,” Michael Macleod-Ball of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office said Saturday. “For the first time, a majority of senators took a stand against simply rubber-stamping provisions of the Patriot Act that have been used to spy on Americans…

It is unclear how the House will vote if its choices are pushed to the extremes that the Senate impasse has set up: all the post-9/11 domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act or none of them.

The NSA and the Obama administration have conceded that the bulk domestic phone records collection has never stopped a terrorist attack. Even though the administration has taken as a fallback position the line that the FBI surveillance powers under Section 215 are crucial for domestic counterterrorism, a Justice Department inspector general’s report issued on Thursday “did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.”

I was heartened by the actions of a New Mexico Senator I haven’t followed as well or as long as I have Tom Udall. That is Martin Heinrich. I wasn’t surprised by Rand Paul’s grandstand opposition. After all, he’s running for president. Heinrich has nothing to run for other than re-election and that is with a base that is highly dependent on government funding for every military-industrial gewgaw since the invention of the Cold War.

Apprehensive as I am of Democrats who talk like they’re prepared to stand up for working class families and constitutional rights, civil rights and civil liberties – Martin Heinrich appears ready to walk the walk, as well.

Canada prepares to replace democracy with NSA-approved world view

Widespread protest and souring public opinion has failed to prevent Canada’s ruling Conservative Party from pushing forward with sweeping anti-terror legislation which a battery of legal scholars, civil liberties groups, opposition politicians and pundits of every persuasion say will replace the country’s healthy democracy with a creeping police state.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is looking forward to an easy victory…when the House of Commons votes in its final debate on the bill, known as C-51. But lingering public anger over the legislation suggests that his success in dividing his parliamentary opposition may well work against him when Canadians go to the polls for a national election this fall.

No legislation in memory has united such a diverse array of prominent opponents as the proposed legislation, which the Globe and Mail newspaper denounced as a a plan to create a “secret police force”.

The campaign to stop Bill C-51 grew to include virtually every civil-rights group, law professor, retired judge, author, editorialist and public intellectual in Canada…

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay have described the bill as a “reasonable and proportionate” response to the threat of “jihadi terrorism.” – blah, blah, blah.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Canadians signed petitions urging the bill be scrapped and took to the streets in a national day of protest last month.

Critics of the legislation say the imminent law gives Canadian spies sweeping new powers to investigate and disrupt broadly defined threats to public safety, with language that makes no distinction between terrorist plots and legitimate political protests and demonstrations. At the same time, it neglects to provide any increased oversight of the country’s vastly empowered chief spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

Harper like so many other supposedly independent – but always obedient – leaders of the world’s industrial nations can be counted on to toe the party line established by the White House. Whether that rarely honorable structure houses a Republican or Democrat.

When the topic is homeland security – as defined by Wall Street savants and corporate lobbyists – there is only one source for standards or the lack thereof. That is Uncle Sugar. And if you want to keep your place in the gallery of loyalist ideologues, you had better fall in line.

Psychologists secretly aided Bush torture program

image

The leading American professional group for psychologists secretly worked with the Bush administration to help justify the post-9/11 US detainee torture program, according to a watchdog analysis…

The report, written by six leading health professionals and human rights activists, is the first to examine the alleged complicity of the American Psychological Association (APA) in the “enhanced interrogation” program.

Based on an analysis of more than 600 newly disclosed emails, the report found that the APA coordinated with Bush-era government officials – namely in the CIA, White House and Department of Defense – to help ethically justify the interrogation policy in 2004 and 2005, when the program came under increased scrutiny for prisoner abuse by US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

A series of clandestine meetings with US officials led to the creation of “an APA ethics policy in national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program,” the report’s authors found…

In secret opinions, the US Department of Justice argued that the torture program did not constitute torture and was therefore legal, since they were being monitored by medical professionals.

…The report says the APA passed “extraordinary policy recommendations”, in which the association reaffirmed that its members could be involved in the interrogation program, without violating APA ethical codes.

Additionally, the APA permitted research on “individuals involved in interrogation processes” without their consent; according to the report’s authors, such a policy turned against decades of medical ethics prohibitions…

Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights…an organization with which all of the report’s authors have been affiliated at some point, said in a statement issued on Thursday: “This calculated undermining of professional ethics is unprecedented in the history of US medical practice and shows how the CIA torture program corrupted other institutions in our society.”

An accomplishment in its own right. The United States as a nation, government institutions, corporate entities and banks in particular, has descended steadily in all global ranking for corruption. A process that probably started with the VietNam War, nudged along by the Reagan years, and put into high gear by the Bush Administration.

We’ve posted before about individual shrink-wrapped programs designed to aid and abet torture programs run by the United States government. This is the first wholesale exposure of professional bodies complicit in torture on behalf of the American government.

Not a surprise to me.

FBI admits flaws in analysis, forensic testimony over decades

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

RTFA for a long and painful tale. One serious aspect of the questions unanswered by this declaration is the role to be played by prosecutors, local law enforcement, district attorneys in many of these cases who, like so many in state judicial systems refuse to acknowledge any need to revisit these cases. Something the Innocence Project has encountered in state after state.

Judges, prosecutors, district attorneys often are political animals. They refuse to confront fallibility or responsibility for participating in lousy trials. Even in hindsight. This is a completely separate task facing those who came together for these revelations. Updating the science is the easy part. Getting law enforcement to review trials is going to be a much harder task.

Secret deal between FBI and police hides spying from the courts

Innovation = police state
Innovation + Police State = Lots of profits + no oversight

The FBI is taking extraordinary and potentially unconstitutional measures to keep local and state police forces from exposing the use of so-called “Stingray” surveillance technology across the United States, according to documents obtained separately by the Guardian and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Multiple non-disclosure agreements…revealed in Florida, New York and Maryland this week show federal authorities effectively binding local law enforcement from disclosing any information – even to judges – about the cellphone dragnet technology, its collection capabilities or its existence.

In an arrangement that shocked privacy advocates and local defense attorneys, the secret pact also mandates that police notify the FBI to push for the dismissal of cases if technical specifications of the devices are in danger of being revealed in court.

The agreement also contains a clause forcing law enforcement to notify the FBI if freedom of information requests are filed by members of the public or the media for such information, “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels”.

The strikingly similar NDAs, taken together with documents connecting police to the technology’s manufacturer and federal approval guidelines obtained by the Guardian, suggest a state-by-state chain of secrecy surrounding widespread use of the sophisticated cellphone spying devices known best by the brand of one such device: the Stingray.

“The device has the ability to pull content, so all the sudden your text messages are at risk, your phone calls are at risk, and your data transmission, potentially,” said John Sawicki, a former police officer who consults attorneys on technological evidence, of the Stingray device made by Harris Corporation…

The ACLU has shown that at least 48 agencies across 20 states likely use the devices. Documents obtained by the Guardian show police from states as such as Texas, Florida, Washington, Minnesota, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, Illinois,Arizona, and California utilize the devices.

The Florida agreement – obtained from the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office by the Guardian after a series of Stingray-related Freedom of Information Act requests sent over the past seven months – reads in part:

“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will, at the request of the FBI, seek dismissal of the case in lieu of providing, or allowing others to use or provide, any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology, its associated software, operating manuals, and any related documentation.”

Law enforcement agencies that sign NDAs similar to the one in Hillsborough County are barred from providing “any information” about the Stingray-style devices in search warrants, pre-trial hearings, testimony, grand jury proceedings, in appeals or even in defense discovery. Per the agreement, police can only release the “evidentiary results” obtained with the device.

RTFA. Just in case you mistakenly thought you lived in a country where constitutional freedoms were honored and the government is working to bring a new level of transparency to law enforcement.