Geek Squad techs get a $500 spiff from the FBI for snooping through customer’s computers

❝ FBI agents and prosecutors usually strut inside Santa Ana’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, knowing they’ve focused the wrath of the criminal-justice system on a particular criminal. But an unusual child-pornography-possession case has placed officials on the defensive for nearly 26 months. Questions linger about law-enforcement honesty, unconstitutional searches, underhanded use of informants and twisted logic…

Rettenmaier is a prominent Orange County physician and surgeon who had no idea that a Nov. 1, 2011, trip to a Mission Viejo Best Buy would jeopardize his freedom and eventually raise concerns about, at a minimum, FBI competency or, at worst, corruption. Unable to boot his HP Pavilion desktop computer, he sought the assistance of the store’s Geek Squad. At the time, nobody knew the company’s repair technicians routinely searched customers’ devices for files that could earn them $500 windfalls as FBI informants…

❝ According to court records, Geek Squad technician John “Trey” Westphal, an FBI informant, reported he accidentally located on Rettenmaier’s computer an image of “a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck.” Westphal notified his boss, Justin Meade, also an FBI informant, who alerted colleague Randall Ratliff, another FBI informant at Best Buy, as well as the FBI. Claiming the image met the definition of child pornography and was tied to a series of illicit pictures known as the “Jenny” shots, agent Tracey Riley seized the hard drive.

❝ Setting aside the issue of whether the search of Rettenmaier’s computer constituted an illegal search by private individuals acting as government agents, the FBI undertook a series of dishonest measures in hopes of building a case…James D. Riddet, Rettenmaier’s attorney…says agents conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records.

❝ To convict someone of child-pornography charges, the government must prove the suspect knowingly possessed the image. But in Rettenmaier’s case, the alleged “Jenny” image was found on unallocated “trash” space, meaning it could only be retrieved by “carving” with costly, highly sophisticated forensics tools. In other words, it’s arguable a computer’s owner wouldn’t know of its existence…Worse for the FBI, a federal appellate court unequivocally declared in February 2011…that pictures found on unallocated space did not constitute knowing possession because it is impossible to determine when, why or who downloaded them…

❝ The case is presently so tenuous that Riddet, who has 47 years of court experience, suggests that federal officials sloppily pushed for an unnecessary arrest…But the biggest issue remains whether Geek Squad technicians acted as secret law-enforcement agents and, thus, violated Fourth Amendment prohibitions against warrantless government searches. Riddet claims records show “FBI and Best Buy made sure that during the period from 2007 to the present, there was always at least one supervisor who was an active informant.” He also said, “The FBI appears to be able to access data at [Best Buy’s main repair facility in Brooks, Kentucky] whenever they want.” Calling the relationship between the agency and the Geek Squad relevant to pretrial motions, Judge Cormac Carney approved Riddet’s request to question agents under oath.

The FBI can be trusted to obey the law, constitutional rights and respect the privacy of American citizens – about as much as the average armed burglar. Since I’ve been down this road before — and won — I’d suggest that any concerned citizens who’ve been taking their computers in to Best Buy for Geek Squad service Google around to stay in touch with possible class action suits resulting from information revealed in this case.

It stinks on ice.

Feds say they will disclose an estimate of Americans spied upon early in 2017


I’ll be keeping an eye on all of you

❝ The U.S. intelligence community will soon disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose electronic communications have been caught in the crosshairs of online surveillance programs intended for foreigners…

The estimate, requested by members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is expected to be made public as early as next month…Its disclosure would come as Congress is expected to begin debate in the coming months over whether to reauthorize or reform the so-called surveillance authority, known as Section 702, a provision that was added to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008…

❝ The government has long held that calculating the number of Americans subject to Section 702 surveillance might be technically impossible and would require privacy intrusions exceeding those raised by the actual surveillance programs…blah, blah, blah…!

Intelligence officials have said that online data about Americans is “incidentally” collected under Section 702, due to a range of technical and practical reasons. Critics have assailed such collection as back-door surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

❝ Section 702 will expire on Dec. 31, 2017, absent congressional action. It enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream that were revealed in a series of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden more than three years ago.

Prism gathers messaging data from…Google, Facebook , Microsoft, Apple and other major tech companies that is sent to and from a foreign target under surveillance. Upstream allows the NSA to copy web traffic flowing along the internet backbone located inside the United States and search that data for certain terms associated with a target.

The priority for government spooks, from the NSA to the FBI is mining data. The more the merrier as far as official scumbags are concerned. Privacy is meaningless, not a human right, not constitutionally protected…for their remit as spies. None of us are exempt.

Our Congress-critters have collectively rolled over and stuck their feet in the air, time and again. They may as well be listening to Gulf of Tonkin declarations or Dick Cheney’s contrived WMDs. No serious questioning comes from pimps for the military-industrial complex. Only a few voices from a few souls touched with integrity.

How Russian cyberwar hackers invaded the U.S.


A filing cabinet broken into in 1972 as part of the Watergate burglary sits beside a computer server that Russian hackers breached during the 2016 presidential campaign

❝ When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.

His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government…

❝ Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor…

❝ It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.

❝ Like another famous American election scandal, it started with a break-in at the D.N.C. The first time, 44 years ago at the committee’s old offices in the Watergate complex, the burglars planted listening devices and jimmied a filing cabinet. This time, the burglary was conducted from afar, directed by the Kremlin…instead of Republican President Richard Nixon.

RTFA. Journalism from the NY TIMES mostly unadulterated by editorial requirements. Well done tale of the level of cyber-ignorance common to much of our government, a significant chunk of the global corporate world.

A worthwhile read for you and me – long before the movie comes out. And it will.

A cluster of politicians, spies, and a Trumpkin – run a casino in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

On a tiny island in the western Pacific, at the end of a duty-free mall wedged between a one-story laundromat and a cell-phone shop, you’ll find what may be the most successful casino of all time.

The awkwardly named Best Sunshine Live hardly looks like a high-roller hub. Construction workers bet $5 or $10 at a time on roulette and baccarat in a fug of nicotine. Clustered in a far corner are a handful of tables for so-called VIP gamblers, which at 8:30 p.m. on a September Saturday are almost empty. A nearby bar has just a couple of patrons.

Nothing about the facility, which opened last year on the U.S. island of Saipan, hints at the money flowing through it — table for table, far more than at the biggest casinos in Macau, the world’s number-one gambling capital. Nor is there any sign of the connections of its owner, Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., which has a market value of $2.4 billion.

It’s a power list that includes a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and three former U.S. governors, including past chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Behind them all: a Donald Trump protege, Mark Brown, who ran the Republican president-elect’s Atlantic City casino empire and is now Imperial Pacific’s chief executive officer.

With that backing, Best Sunshine is posting numbers that stagger industry veterans. The daily reported revenue for each of its VIP tables in the first half of the year, about $170,000, is almost eight times the average of Macau’s largest casinos. Its 16 VIP tables alone generate revenue that’s more than half of the receipts from 178 high-stakes tables at Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s flagship casino in the Chinese territory, a 20-story palace with three Michelin-starred restaurants.

The revenue figures, or actual wins by the house, are just a fraction of total bets. In September, Imperial Pacific reported a record $3.9 billion in bets at its casino — meaning the 100 or so high-rollers who it says come through its doors monthly each wagered an average of $39 million.

Those volumes of cash are drawing the attention of law-enforcement officials. The U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is responsible for alerting prosecutors and other authorities of suspicious financial flows, has taken notice of the activity at Best Sunshine…

Nothing new about accusations of money laundering via casinos whether overtly owned by the mob like the old days in Las Vegas or contemporary arrangements stacked with public figures from the world of American politics and covert intelligence. Beacoup funds passing through an operation that can’t even attract regular air flights.

“A legitimate high-stakes gambler wouldn’t want to spend time in this place,” said Greg Hunter, plaintiff in a suit against the Saipan casino law, said of Best Sunshine. “Have you seen it? It’s a duty-free store with a fresh coat of paint and some chandeliers.”

RTFA. A delightful piece of investigative journalism and writing by folks who usually report on economics and high finance throughout Asia for Bloomberg. Impressive.

Republicans are now committed to Total War – on American democracy

❝ The election is just five days away, and something truly frightening is happening, something with far-reaching implications for the immediate future of American politics. Republicans, led by Donald Trump but by no means limited to him, are engaging in kind of termite-level assault on American democracy, one that looks on the surface as though it’s just aimed at Hillary Clinton, but in fact is undermining our entire system…

Consider these recent developments:

❝ There appears to be a war going on inside the FBI, and from what we can tell, a group of rogue agents, mostly in New York, may be in such a fervor to destroy Hillary Clinton that they may be aggressively leaking damaging innuendo to the press against her in the waning days of the campaign. They succeeded in their apparent goal of making FBI director James Comey a tool of their campaign — and the basis for their investigation is an anti-Clinton book written under the auspices of an organization of which the CEO of the Trump campaign is co-founder and chairman. Pro-Trump FBI agents now seem to be coordinating with Trump surrogates to do maximal possible damage to Clinton…

High-ranking Republican officeholders are now suggesting that they may impeach Clinton as soon as she takes office. These are not just backbench nutbars of the Louie Gohmert variety, but people with genuine power, including Ron Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin, Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and veteran legislators like James Sensenbrenner and Peter King. The message is being echoed by top Trump surrogates like Rudy Giuliani…

There is a growing movement among Republicans in the Senate to simply refuse to approve any nominee appointed by a Democratic president to the Supreme Court, leaving open any and all vacancies until a Republican can be elected to fill them.

State and local Republican officials are engaged in widespread and systematic efforts to suppress the votes of African-Americans and other groups likely to vote disproportionately Democratic; in many cases officials have been ordered by courts to stop their suppression efforts and they have simply ignored the court orders.

❝ And please, spare me any explanations for this phenomenon that rely on how “divided” Americans are. Are we divided? Sure. But there’s only one party that is so vigorously undermining core democratic institutions in this way. You may not like what Democrats stand for, but they aren’t engaging in widespread official vote suppression, chanting that should their candidate win her opponent should be tossed in jail, promising to prevent any Republican president from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, suggesting that they’ll try to impeach their opponent as soon as he takes office, cheering when a hostile foreign power hacks into American electronic systems, and trying to use the FBI to win the election.

Only one party is doing all of that. And we should all be very worried about what Republicans will do after November 8, whether they win or lose.

RTFA if you’re not already fully aware of the details.

Regardless, understand that this election and the ideology dedicated to replacing democracy with autocracy, corporate plutocrats profiting, populist mob rule utilized as a tactic – ain’t new and will continue beyond November 8th.

The real face of terrorism in America


Gavin Wright, 49, Curtis Allen, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47

Three Kansas men from a militia cell called “the Crusaders” plotted to bomb a mosque and apartment complex home to Somali immigrants…

Curtis Allen, 49, Gavin Wright, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47, were charged Friday with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, according to the Department of Justice’s national security division. The Crusaders call Muslims “cockroaches,” and they had discussed attacks brutal attacks on Muslims for months, federal prosecutors said.

FBI agents working on tips from an undercover informant said the three men planned to blow up four car bombs at the Garden City apartments. Allen, Wright and Stein hoped the attack on the 120-resident complex would “wake people up,” the feds said.

The arrests followed an eight-month investigation that took the agents “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence,” said acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall. “Many Kansans may find it as startling as I do that such things could happen here.”…

If you read more than the TV Guide, watch more than Fox Noise, you shouldn’t be surprised.

…Allen, Wright and Stein had stockpiled guns, ammunition and explosive components, prosecutors said. They also spied on possible targets and planned to issue a manifesto, according to the feds.

They decided on the apartment complex in Garden City, a meatpacking town of 26,000 people in southwestern Kansas. Many Somali refugees who work at a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse live there, and the complex includes a mosque where they worship together.

“They chose the target location based on their hatred of these groups, their perception that these groups represent a threat to American society, a desire to inspire other militia groups, and a desire to ‘wake people up,'” the complaint said…

They talked about attacking targets such as city or county meetings, landlords who rent to Muslim refugees, organizations that assist Muslim refugees, a mall frequented by Muslims and Garden City’s African Community Center, investigators said. They decided on the W. Mary St. apartment complex in August, according to the complaint.

…Police in Liberal arrested Allen on Tuesday night after his girlfriend said he beat her, the charging documents showed. His car had ammo for an AR-15, an AK-47 and a Glock handgun, according to investigators.

Liberal police later found nearly a metric ton of ammo at Allen’s house, investigators said. FBI agents who searched G&G, where Allen worked for Wright, said they uncovered a detonator believed to be a homemade explosive and other bomb components…

Federal agents took custody of all three of them Friday morning. Allen, Wright and Stein face up to life in federal prison without parole if they’re convicted.

Throw away the key!

The Feds secretly subpoenaed the chat app Signal earlier this year

❝ Earlier this year, Open Whisper Systems was served with a federal subpoena for records on its users, according to documents published today. Prosecutors were seeking data on two suspects who used Signal, an encrypted chat app produced by Open Whisper. Unfortunately for the government, Signal keeps only minimal logs on users, so the vast majority of the requested information was unavailable.

❝ The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Open Whisper Systems in the fight, has published a number of court filings related to the the request. Portions of the filings are redacted and much about the subpoena is still secret — including the case number, the date it was served, and the details of the underlying case — but it’s clear that the government sought detailed information on the users including subscriber name, payment information, and associated IP addresses.

It’s also clear that almost none of that information was ultimately produced. One of the phone numbers named by the government did not correspond to a Signal account, and logs on the other number showed only when the user first signed up for the service and when they most recently logged in.

❝ Crucially, the request was filed under gag order, and Open Whisper was only able to publish the documents after a significant legal fight. That has become standard practice for such requests, although many legal scholars believe widespread use of the tactic presents a threat to free speech.

Not that the Department of Justice or any US government I can recall – liberal or conservative – cares a rat’s ass about Constitutional rights when the secret police boffins declare an event to be a question of national security. The creeps get to redefine the rules governing themselves. No democracy, no oversight, no transparency.

Yahoo scanned all incoming customer emails for US intelligence

❝ Yahoo last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials…

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time…

❝ Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

❝ According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook…

RTFA. It’s long and detailed – and I haven’t had a boatload of trust in the integrity of Yahoo in years. All credit to Alex Stamos for walking out.

Teen busted trying hire a clown to assassinate her teacher

❝ Police in Virginia have arrested a 13-year-old girl in connection with a social media threat involving a clown.

The investigation revealed that the girl made contact with someone via social media, and asked the person to murder one of her teachers at Davis Middle School…

The person she contacted was using a clown photo as a profile picture as well as an alias.

❝ The 13-year-old girl from Hampton was arrested and charged with one count of threatening to kill by electronic message. She remains in custody.

❝ Hampton police detectives made contact with the victim to ensure her safety and make her aware of the situation. At this time, there is no evidence to indicate a threat against any others.

There was increased police presence Monday at Davis Middle School and Hampton police officers are working with school security to ensure student safety.

❝ This incident comes just two days after schools in Hampton and Newport News tightened security because of threats from social media accounts of people posing as clowns…

The Hampton Police Division is collaborating with Hampton City Schools, the Newport News Police Division, and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate each of these threats and social media pages.

None of the security hustlers are going to miss out on an opportunity to increase fun and profits from fear. I’m surprised the NRA hasn’t shown up selling handguns outside the school. Yet.

Elizabeth Warren asks DOJ, FBI, to answer why bankers haven’t been prosecuted?

❝ Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is marking the eighth anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy with a new push to investigate—and potentially jail — more than two dozen individuals and corporations who were referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution in 2011 by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a government-appointed group that investigated the roots of the 2008 financial crisis. None was ever prosecuted. The names of the referrals — including former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who held a top job at Citigroup, and Citigroup’s former CEO, Charles Prince — became public earlier this year when the National Archives released new documents.

In a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general, Warren calls the lack of prosecutions “outrageous and baffling” and asks the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to investigate why no charges were brought…

❝ In a separate letter, to FBI Director James Comey, Warren asks for the immediate release of “any and all materials related to the FBI’s investigations and prosecutorial decisions regarding these referrals.” This disclosure is warranted, she writes, by Comey’s decision in July to release a lengthy and critical statement that included previously undisclosed information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server—even though Comey decided not to recommend that charges be brought against Clinton. “Your recent actions with regard to the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” Warren writes, “provide a clear precedent for releasing additional information about the investigation of the parties responsible for the financial crisis.”

❝ …She said Comey’s rationale for disclosing details of the Clinton investigation — Comey said it was warranted by “intense public interest” — creates a new precedent that obligates him to shed light on why the bankers and financial institutions referred by the FCIC to the Justice Department were never prosecuted. “Those same standards ought to apply to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Warren said. “There’s a clear public interest in finding out why none of these individuals or corporations were held responsible.”

❝ The timing of Warren’s effort, less than two months before the presidential election, aims to encourage the next administration to prosecute financial crimes more aggressively than the Obama administration has done. “The public outrage is still there,” she said. “This is about reminding our government officials who they work for.”

Warren in 2024. Or 2000. 🙂