• Was It All Just Pilot Error? IG Report Says No Political Bias Found in FBI Investigation of Clinton Email

    June 21, 2018 // 25 Comments »



    What everyone will agree on: Comey and the FBI interfered with the election. What everyone will not agree on: Everything else.

    It will be easy to miss the most important point amid the partisan bleating over what the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation really means. While each side will find the evidence they want to find that the FBI, with James Comey as Director, helped/hurt Hillary Clinton’s and/or maybe Donald Trump’s campaign, the real takeaway is this: the FBI influenced the election of a president.

    In January 2017 the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz (who previously worked on the 2012 study of the Obama-era gun operation Fast and Furious), opened his probe into the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, including statements by Comey made about that investigation at critical moments in the presidential campaign. Horowitz’s focus was always to be on how the FBI did its work, not to re-litigate the case against Clinton. Nor did the IG plan to look into anything Russiagate.

    In a damning passage, the 568 page report found it “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same… by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.” Comey’s drafting of a press release announcing no prosecution for Clinton, written before the full investigation was even completed, is given a light touch though in the report, along the lines of roughly preparing for the conclusion based on early indications. We also learned Comey ironically used private email for government business.

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself is criticized for not being more sensitive to public perceptions when she agreed to meet privately with Bill Clinton aboard an airplane as the FBI investigation into Hillary unfolded. “Lynch’s failure to recognize the appearance problem… and to take action to cut the visit short was an error in judgment.” Her statements later about her decision not to recuse further “created public confusion and didn’t adequately address the situation.”

    The report also criticizes in depth FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump, and then moved from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigations. Those texts “brought discredit” to the FBI and sowed public doubt about the investigation, including one exchange that read “Lisa Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Rights?! Peter Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Another Strzok document stated “we know foreign actors obtained access” to some Clinton emails, including at least one secret message.”

    Page and Strzok also discussed cutting back the number of investigators present for Clinton’s in-person interview in light of the fact she might soon be president, their new boss. Someone identified only as Agent One went on to refer to Clinton as “the President” and in a message told a friend “I’m with her.” The FBI also allowed Clinton’s lawyers to attend the interview, even though they were also considered witnesses to a potential set of crimes committed by Clinton.

    Page and Strzok were among five FBI officials the report found expressed hostility toward Trump before his election as president, and who have been referred to the FBI’s internal disciple system for possible action. The report otherwise makes only wishy-washy recommendations, things like “adopting a policy addressing the appropriateness of Department employees discussing the conduct of uncharged individuals in public statements.”

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated he will review the report for possible prosecutions. The IG previously referred former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for possible prosecution after an earlier report found McCabe leaked to the press and later “lacked candor” when speaking to Comey and federal investigators. Sessions fired McCabe him in March 2018.

    But at the end of it all, the details really don’t matter, because the report found no political bias, no purposeful efforts or strategy to sway the election. In aviation disaster terms, it was all pilot error. An accident of sorts, as opposed to the pilot boarding drunk, but the plane crashed and killed 300 people anyway.

    The report is already being welcomed by Democrats — who feel Comey had shattered Clinton’s chances of winning the election by reopening the email probe just days before the election — and by Republicans, who feel Comey let Clinton off easy. Many are now celebrating it was only gross incompetence, unethical behavior, serial bad judgment, and insubordination that led the FBI to help determine the election. No Constitutional crisis. A lot of details in those 568 pages to yet fully parse, but at first glance there is not much worthy of prosecution (though IG Horowitz will testify in front of Congress on Monday and may reveal more information.) Each side will point to the IG’s conclusion of “no bias” to shut down calls for this or that in a tsunami of blaming each other. In that sense, the IG just poured a can of jet fuel onto the fires of the 2016 election and walked away to watch it burn.

    One concrete outcome, however, is to weaken a line of prosecution Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be pursuing. To say Comey acted incompetently during the election, albeit in ways that appear to have helped Trump, does not add to the argument he is otherwise competent, on Russia or any other topic. An FBI director willing to play in politics with an investigation is simply that, an FBI director who has abandoned the core principles of his job and can’t be trusted. Defend him because it was all good natured bad judgment doesn’t add anything healthy to the question of competency.

    Mueller has just seen a key witness degraded — any defense lawyer will characterize his testimony as tainted now — and a possible example of obstruction weakened. As justification for firing Comey, the White House initially pointed to an earlier Justice Department memo criticizing Comey for many of the same actions now highlighted by the IG (adding later concerns about the handling of Russiagate.) The report thus underscores one of the stated reasons for Comey’s dismissal. Firing someone for incompetence isn’t obstructing justice; it’s the boss’ job.

    It will be too easy, however, to miss the most important conclusion of the report: there is no longer a way to claim America’s internal intelligence agency, the FBI, did not play a role in the 2016 election. There is only to argue which side they favored and whether they meddled via clumsiness, as a coordinated action, or as a chaotic cluster of competing pro- and anti- Clinton/Trump factions inside the Bureau. And that’s the tally before anyone brings up the FBI’s use of a human informant inside the Trump campaign, the FBI’s use of both FISA warrants and pseudo-legal warrantless surveillance against key members of the Trump team, the FBI’s use of opposition research from the Steele Dossier, and so on.

    The only good news is the Deep State seems less competent than we originally feared. But even if one fully accepts the IG report’s conclusion all this — and there’s a lot — was not intentional, at a minimum it makes clear to those watching ahead of 2020 what tools are available and the impact they can have. While we continue to look for the bad guy abroad, we have already met the enemy and he is us.



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    A Government is Seizing Control of Our Election Process, and It Is Not the Russians

    October 8, 2016 // 72 Comments »

    Reichstag fire


    There is an attempt underway for a government to take control of our election process and throw the election to Hillary Clinton. It is not the Russian government. Mark this day — it is when we came to understand that the American government decided to elect a president.


    (Note: I understand in the minds of the mass media the most important issue in America today is Trump’s crude remarks, but there are indeed real things to be concerned about otherwise.)


    Here’s how:

    — Two days before the second presidential debate, the government of the United States officially accused Russia of a hacking campaign aimed at interfering in the U.S. election. In a joint statement, absent any specifics or technical details, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence stated “the recent [hacked email] disclosures… are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts… based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

    — The statement goes on to detail how only Democratic servers were attacked, meaning the American government is claiming that Russia is trying to throw the election to Donald Trump, plain and simple. It is left unsaid why the Russians would risk cyberwar with the United States to do this, as many have suggested Trump is a neocon in spirit whose loose finger will be on the nuclear button from day one. Clinton is much more of a political realist, comfortable with the business-as-usual of the past eight years that has gone in Russia’s favor in the Ukraine and Syria. She in fact seems like the stable known known, always a preference.

    — Though the first “Russian” hacks were reported in July, it is only 48 hours before the second presidential debate that the statement was released. It could easily have been held until Monday, there is no national security urgency for this to come out Friday. However, with the timing, Trump, essentially tied with Clinton in the polls, will now spend much of the debate defending himself. Since the statement includes no details, only accusations, it is hard to see how anyone could defend themselves. It would be near-impossible for Trump to come out ahead Sunday night; this is a near-coup.

    — Despite the certainty with which the U.S. government has accused Russia of trying to influence the election by hacking into secured email servers, the FBI maintains there is no evidence the Russians or anyone else accessed Clinton unsecured, unencrypted email server laden with actual classified materials, including during Clinton’s first trip to Moscow when she sent and received encrypted email over the Internet and WiFi.


    — In the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton broadly speculated that Donald Trump had paid no taxes. Days later, several pages of Trump’s tax returns, documents that had been sought unsuccessfully by the media for over a year, arrive at the New York Times, who front pages a story. In the Vice Presidential debate which followed, Trump’s running mate spent time on the defensive defending his boss’ deductions.

    — Clinton sent and received classified material on an unsecured, classified server. That violated the most basic rule of information security. She lied about it. She deleted emails and “lost” both the majority of her devices and many, many emails. The FBI and the Department of Justice, ahead of the Democratic nominating convention, found she violated no law. The Department of Justice granted broad immunity to key Clinton staffers, and allowed two of them to destroy their devices. No further investigation will thus be possible.

    — The State Department aided and abetted Clinton for over four years in hiding her private server, and avoiding her responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act. Only under court order has the Department stopped slow-walking its “review” process to release emails publically. There has been no investigation.

    — Emails released show a tangle of interests among State Department decisions, the Clinton Foundation and access to Hillary as Secretary of State (“pay for play”). Clinton sought Pentagon and State Department contracts for Chelsea’s friend. There has been no investigation.

    — The State Department and White House coordinated to “crush” Clinton’s email coverage.


    If you can add it up any other way than direct interference by the White House, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the intelligence community, it would be interesting to hear how that works. The comments are open to make a benign case for these actions.



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    The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016 // 31 Comments »

    spy


    The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.


    Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

    So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.


    As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.

    The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.

    The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.


    The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.

    In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.




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    FBI, Police ‘Visited’ Activists’ Homes Ahead of the Republican National Convention

    July 19, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    knock


    In another step towards the fascist state Donald Trump has warm dreams envisioning, FBI agents and Cleveland police officers “visited” the homes of local activists in an attempt to gather intelligence on possible planned demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention. Such actions step over the line of information gathering into the realm of seeking to chill free speech.


    Activists said they viewed the visits as intimidating. A spokeswoman for the local branch of the FBI acknowledged only that “community outreach” took place as law enforcement officials try to ensure the GOP convention is a “safe and secure” event. During their visits, officials asked activists about past addresses, political and social affiliations, and plans for the RNC. The questions appear on their face of dubious constitutionality.

    A spokesperson for the National Lawyer’s Guild, a group prepared to defend those arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights outside the convention, first reported the visits by teams of federal and local law enforcement officials.

    Some of the activists are involved with groups planning RNC demonstrations, while some aren’t, the spokesperson said. She also said that some of the people who were visited were among the 71 people who were arrested in May 2015 in the aftermath of protests that broke out following the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a then-Cleveland police officer who had been charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the 2013 shooting deaths of two Cleveland motorists following a police chase.


    The FBI and police made no attempts to hide what they were doing; in fact, quite the opposite.

    For example, in a June 8 public hearing, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told members of City Council’s public safety committee that Cleveland police have “a real, real good idea of who we think is coming here and what their objectives are. And if we can deter those objectives, that’s what we’re going to do.”

    Cleveland purchased a $10 million “protest insurance” policy to protect against civil rights lawsuits resulting from the convention.



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    The FBI ‘Missed’ Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen. What Should We Do?

    June 16, 2016 // 21 Comments »

    omar

    If I had to choose one phrase to sum up America’s efforts against terrorism since 9/11, it would be that lay definition of mental illness, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.


    Following 9/11 we had to go after the terrorists in their dark lairs. So we did, in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, then Yemen, then by militarizing Africa, the Iraq again and then Syria. We’ve been bombing and invading places in the Middle East continuously since 9/11, every day expecting different results.

    Literally days after 9/11, it was felt that the problem was the government did not know enough about what was happening inside the U.S. vis-vis terrorists, so the vast capabilities of the NSA and FBI were pointed inward. From a relatively modest start, we advanced to Snowden-esque levels where every phone call, every email and every GPS-tracked move of everyone is monitored, every day expecting different results.

    When it seemed we did not have the intelligence and enforcement tools needed, we created a new cabinet level agency, the Department of Homeland Security. That quickly grew into one of the largest bureaucracies in America. We created terror fusion centers, staffed up at the FBI and CIA, every day expecting different results.



    Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen

    And that of course brings us to Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen, whom the FBI stalked for 10 months, interviewed twice and then ignored. Through that we learned that there are some 10,000 FBI terrorism investigations open, with new cases added daily as Americans are encouraged to see something and say something. The New York Times tells us tens of thousands of counterterrorism tips flow into the FBI each year, some maybe legitimate, others from “vengeful ex-spouses or people casting suspicion on Arab-Americans.”

    The flood of leads is so relentless that counterterrorism agents hung a section of fire hose outside their offices in Northern Virginia as a symbol of their mission.


    Intelligence Surge, or a Surge of Intelligence?

    So having missed the Orlando shooter, the Boston Marathon bombers, angry white anti-abortion shooters here and there, the answer is obvious. We need more FBI resources (Hillary Clinton has already called for an “intelligence surge”), of course every day thereafter expecting different results.

    It is almost as if by trying to track every branch, leaf and dirt clod in the forest we are missing the trees. By running down every panicked tip (can you imagine how many calls have come in since Sunday in Orlando?) as a CYA exercise, we get bitten in the YA part over and over.

    The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept. If so many are terrorists in one form or another, how can anyone pinpoint the real bad guys, should many of them exist at all?

    By imagining we can track everyone and then sort them out, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of just why terrorists seem to keep attacking the U.S. Could it have something to do with our scorched earth policy in the Middle East?

    By becoming terrified of every brown-skinned person and Muslim in America, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of how throwing innocent people off planes, maintaining secret no-fly lists, spying on whole communities, and giving media platforms to every nut job that wants to rant about what they don’t know but hate anyway about Islam might be helping “radicalize” folks here at home and abroad.

    And certainly never admitting that our culture of easily available weaponry might play a role shuts down any useful discussions about gun control.

    I am sure it is reasonable to expect different results by tomorrow.




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    Hidden Mics as Part of Government Surveillance Program

    May 19, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    NSA-golden-nugget-slide


    In another example of multi-dimensional clash among the Fourth Amendment, privacy, technology and the surveillance state, hidden microphones that are part of a broad, public clandestine government surveillance program that has been operating around the San Francisco Bay Area have been exposed.


    The FBI planted listening devices at bus stops and other public places trying to prove real estate investors in San Mateo and Alameda counties are guilty of bid rigging and fraud. FBI agents were previously caught hiding microphones inside light fixtures and at public spaces outside an Oakland Courthouse, between March 2010 and January 2011.

    The apparent goal of the feds was to catch the defendants in their impromptu conversations following court sessions.


    At issue is the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unwarranted search, which includes electronic “search,” and the concept that one has no expectation of privacy in a public place. The legal argument is that by choosing voluntarily to enter a public space, such a courtroom or bus stop, one gives up one’s Fourth Amendment rights. In the government’s interpretation, their actions are roughly the equivalent of overhearing a conversation on street corner waiting for a light to change.

    The lawyer for one of the accused real estate investors will ask the judge to throw out the recordings. “Speaking in a public place does not mean that the individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy. Private communication in a public place qualifies as a protected ‘oral communication’ and therefore may not be intercepted without judicial authorization.”


    In addition to the Constitutional issues in the real estate case, the broad use of public surveillance devices also touches on the question of other people who may be swept up alongside the original targets. For example, the FBI’s interpretation means if its microphones inadvertently pick up conversation relating to another alleged crime, they would be free to use that as evidence in court as well.

    The use of microphones, coupled with technologies such as voice recognition (to identify a person) and keyword recognition (to identify specific terms of interest electronically) means that what appears to be a one-dimensional listening device can actually function within a web of technology to enable broad-spectrum surveillance of masses of people in public spaces.


    (The “Golden Nugget” slide above is provided by the NSA, courtesy of former employee Edward Snowden)

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    Student Thrown Off Flight After Passenger Heard Him Say ‘God Willing’ in Arabic

    April 17, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    makhzoomi-800x430

    So once again people from The World’s Most Frightened Country (C) fully overreacted to nothing. One of the 230 million people worldwide who speak Arabic happened to be on an airplane and happened to use one of the most common expressions in his language.


    Hilarity ensued. Bigoted, frightened, discriminatory hilarity, in keeping with the American Way.

    UC Berkeley student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, above, whose family fled Iraq in 2002 after his diplomat father was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight and questioned by the FBI after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic. Makhzoomi was flying home from attending a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon when he stopped to make a call to an uncle.

    Makhzoomi explained he was talking on the phone with his uncle and, as he said goodbye, he used the phrase “inshallah,” which translates as “if God is willing.” The student said that after hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him who then got up and left her seat.

    Moments later an airport employee made Makhzoomi step off the plane into the arms of security officers. Makhzoomi was told the woman thought he said “Shahid,” meaning martyr. Because in-shal-lah and sha-hid sound the same, at least to a dumb ass who speaks no apparent Arabic and likely learned the term shahid when it was last mispronounced on AM talk radio.


    The student was told he would not be allowed to get back on the plane. Security officers searched his bag again, asked him if he had any other luggage he was keeping “secret,” and publicly felt around his genital area and asked him if he was hiding a knife.

    “The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me,” Makhzoomi said. “I escaped Iraq because of the war, because of Saddam and what he did to my father.”

    Makhzoomi said the FBI questioned him about his family, and about his phone call and what he knew about martyrism. The FBI informed Makhzoomi that Southwest would not fly him home. He later booked a flight on another airline, arriving home nine hours later than expected.

    According to Southwest Airlines, the student was removed because crew members decided to “investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft.”



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    Talking More About Apple, Encryption and the Fourth Amendment

    March 19, 2016 // Comments Off on Talking More About Apple, Encryption and the Fourth Amendment



    I had a chance to drop by Ron Paul’s web show to talk more about Apple, Encryption, the evil genius of the FBI/NSA, and the Fourth Amendment.





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    FBI Threatens to Demand Apple’s iPhone Source Code, Digital Key

    March 15, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    apple

    The FBI on Thursday threatened to raise the stakes in its legal battle with Apple, suggesting it could demand access to the iPhone’s source code and the electronic signature used to verify its software updates.

    Battle Over Encryption

    As part of the ongoing battle between the government and the tech industry over encryption in the United States, the FBI demanded Apple help it defeat the password security features on an iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Specifically, the FBI wants Apple to create a modified version of the iPhone operating software that would allow the FBI to run an unlimited number of brute force attacks against a phone’s password to gain access.

    When Apple refused to assist voluntarily, the FBI went to court, where a U.S. Magistrate Judge cited the 1789 All Writs Act as legal justification to force Apple to comply. Apple is now appealing that court decision.



    FBI Wants It All

    But in a new court filing on Thursday, the FBI said that if it can’t require Apple to create the weakened software, it may demand access to Apple’s actual source code instead. Source code is the programming instructions that run the iPhone, and controls every aspect of the phone’s operation, including security protections.

    The FBI also said it may demand Apple’s signature digital key, which is required to update software on all iPhones. That key is what allows Apple to push out updates with the assurance that only its software will be installed by a phone. With the digital key, the FBI would be able to push out malware and spyware of its own design to any Apple phone worldwide.

    Basically, with the digital key, the FBI would be able to fool technology globally that it “was Apple.” The key is a very powerful tool, to either ensure security, or defeat it.

    The Lavabit Case

    The Apple case is not the first time the government has demanded encryption keys from private businesses.

    In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, the government demanded the digital encryption keys used by a secure email service, Lavabit, alledgedly used by Snowden. Lavabit shut down its services in August 2013 to avoid being forced to compromise user data, with founder Ladar Levison saying at the time: “I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

    Lavabit has filed an amicus brief in support of Apple.



    The FBI’s Threat: Time to Get Scared

    In the Apple case, if the FBI got access to those two items, the source code and the digital key, the Bureau could write a security-weakened version of iOS and install it on any phone they wished. The FBI’s threat was thinly-veiled:

    The FBI itself cannot modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature,” the agency wrote in its court filing. “The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.

    Time to get scared.

    The government wants it all — not just your data, but the technical tools and code to control your devices and bypass any security and encryption you or the tech companies might employ. That would be the end of any Fourth Amendment protections left that apply to the digital world.



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    FBI Has New Plan to Spy on High School Students

    March 11, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    cve


    The FBI is instructing high schools across the country to report students who criticize government policies as potential future terrorists, warning that such “extremists” are in the same category as ISIS.

    The FBI’s Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools guidelines try to avoid the appearance of specific discrimination against Muslim students by targeting every American teenager who is politically outspoken, as if that somehow makes all this better. The FBI’s goal is to enlist every teacher and every student as informants. The concept is not dissimilar to attempts by the FBI to require tech companies such as Apple to become extensions of the FBI’s power. FYI, the FBI also now has full access to data collected on Americans by the NSA.


    You really do need to scan through the FBI’s materials, which are aimed directly at our children; my words cannot describe the chilling 1984-tone purposely adopted.


    As author Sarah Lazare points out, the FBI’s justification for such mass teenage surveillance is based on McCarthy-era theories of radicalization, in which authorities monitor thoughts and behaviors that they claim without any proof lead to acts of subversion, even if the people being watched have not committed any wrongdoing. This model is now (again, welcome back to the 1950s) official federal policy.

    The FBI guidelines claim “High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists seeking support for their radical ideologies, foreign fighter networks, or conducting acts of violence within our borders… youth possess inherent risk factors.” In light of this, the FBI instructs teachers to “incorporate a two-hour block of violent extremism awareness training” into the core curriculum for all youth in grades 9 through 12.


    Here are the danger signs the FBI directs teachers keep a sharp eye out for:

    — “Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious”;

    — “Using code words or unusual language”;

    — “Using several different cell phones and private messaging apps”;

    — “Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building);”

    — “Some immigrant families may not be sufficiently present in a youth’s life due to work constraints to foster critical thinking”;

    — “Encryption is often used to facilitate extremism discussions.”


    And just to make sure the connection with McCarthyism and the red baiting days of the 1950s is clear enough, the FBI materials warn “Anarchist extremists believe that society should have no government, laws, or police, and they are loosely organized, with no central leadership. Violent anarchist extremists usually target symbols of capitalism they believe to be the cause of all problems in society — such as large corporations, government organizations, and police agencies.”

    So, sorry, Bernie Sanders supporters.



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    Judge Orders Apple to Help FBI Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone

    February 18, 2016 // 15 Comments »

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    A magistrate judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI retrieve encrypted data on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers. Investigators have so far been unable to gain access to the data on killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, which could contain communications between him and his wife and co-conspirator, Tashfeen Malik, and potentially others, prior to the December 2 shooting rampage that killed 14 people.

    “Prosecutors said they needed Apple’s help accessing the phone’s data to find out who the shooters were communicating with and who may have helped plan and carry out the massacre, as well as where they traveled prior to the incident,” NBC News reports. “The judge ruled Tuesday that Apple had to provide ‘reasonable technical assistance’ to the government in recovering data from the iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone.”

    The court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” Apple has five days to respond to the ruling.

    Can the Feds Break Into the iPhone?

    Some interesting issues afoot here. First, it appears the FBI cannot figure out a way to bypass Apple’s security feature, the one that bricks the phone after a certain number of unsuccessful login attempts. If Apple modified the phone so an unlimited number of attempts can be made, then the Feds would simply brute force the password, trying potentially millions of combinations.


    Or is it?

    America’s intelligence agencies have so far been unsuccessful in persuading manufacturers and/or Congress to create and pass on to them backdoors around security and encryption. The FBI may indeed know how to get into the iPhone, but wants to make this a public example case — who can complain about learning more about real terrorists (no ambiguity issues), and of course the phone’s owners are dead, and so cannot claim their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure/privacy are being violated.

    Also of interest would be an Apple claim that while they will cooperate, it is technically impossible to comply with the request, i.e., the phone simply cannot be modified as the FBI wishes. Could a court require Apple to turn over all of their code and engineering documents so that the NSA could have a shot at what Apple said it could not do on its own?

    Equally interesting would be even if Apple can comply this time, would Apple run into future legal issues if they created a next generation phone that truly could not be modified no matter what, making it fully unhackable, even by their own engineers?

    Either way, the suit against Apple sets a precedent, likely making it easier for the Feds to compel cooperation from tech companies in more legally hazy cases in the future.


    Apple Responds

    Apple has vowed to aggressively fight the federal order to unlock the iPhone. CEO Tim Cook published a public response that said “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

    So the good (?) news is in 2016 we are now depending on a private company to protect our privacy against the wishes of our own government.




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    Virginia Man Is Accused of Trying to Join ISIS

    February 6, 2016 // 6 Comments »

    isis



    Another day, another faux-terrorism arrest by the FBI. Who do we really need to be protected from anyway?



    Now watch the italics:

    The Justice Department charged two Virginia men with terrorism-related offenses, a day after FBI agents arrested one of them at an airport where officials believe he was planning to begin a journey to Syria to fight with the Islamic State.

    Both men, Joseph Hassan Farrokh and Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, are in FBI custody and face up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted.

    The department did not cite any evidence that the two men had direct contact with operatives for Islamic State, and based the terrorism charges on conversations they had with three informants.

    Farrokh, a 28-year-old native of Pennsylvania, was arrested at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, where he was planning to fly to Chicago and on to Amman, Jordan, according to a criminal complaint released on Saturday. During wiretapped conversations with an FBI informant, Farrokh discussed beginning his journey from a smaller airport to evade scrutiny.

    The complaint said that Elhassan, a 25-year-old permanent resident of the United States originally from Sudan, drove Farrokh to within a mile of the airport, and that Farrokh took a taxi the rest of the way. Elhassan is being charged with aiding and abetting Farrokh’s attempts to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

    The complaint said that Farrokh did not appear to want to return to the United States.


    Quick summation:

    — No terrorism committed, or even planned, inside America.

    — One guy arrested for trying to fly to Chicago.

    — Other guy arrested for driving Guy I to the airport.

    — 100% of “evidence” are conversations with informants.

    — No information on how the two arrested men came together with informants, or what the informants said that might have spurred the conversations.




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    Terror Arrest After Watching ‘Breaking Bad’

    September 23, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    bad


    A British software programmer has been sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to buy the deadly toxin ricin (from the FBI) over the Internet.

    Mohammed Ali was convicted of attempting to possess a chemical weapon. He admitted trying to buy ricin, but claimed he was motivated by curiosity after it featured on the TV show “Breaking Bad.”

    He told jurors he was just “curious” and wanted to test the boundaries of the Dark Web, and was unaware ricin was illegal. “I just wanted to know what the fuss was about,” he said.

    Computer analysis showed Ali first began trawling the Internet for information on poisons such as abrin, ricin and cyanide in October last year.
    The court heard he approached the undercover agent in January with a private message, saying: “Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?”

    Because sure, that’s exactly how one goes about these things, so hey, I need some plutonium, please leave your full name and address in the Comments so me and SWAT can swing by later.

    At one point, Ali asked his FBI handler: “How do I test this ricin?” and received the instruction: “You must test it on a rodent.”

    Records showed that Ali then made a to-do list on his computer which included the entries “pay ricin guy” and “get pet to murder.” He had also made a series of web searches for chinchillas, animal rescue center, rabbits and “pocket-sized pets.”

    Ali has been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autistic traits.

    Ali, who is 31, contacted a “U.S. seller” about buying 500 milligrams of ricin for $500. Of course, the contact was just another undercover FBI agent pretending to be a terrorist, and Ali was arrested after he was sent a toy car (below) containing a harmless powder. One wonders if it is 99 percent or 99.9 percent of the FBI that now spends its time pretending to be terrorists online.

    A judge said Ali’s sentence was intended to send a message “that the possession of a chemical weapon is extremely serious.” And indeed possession is a serious thing. Only this guy never possessed anything dangerous, and had no chance of actually possessing anything dangerous. He was just another ignorant web dweller who imagined he could pop online and buy highly toxic substances.


    Protip: Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans. In other words, you don’t have to buy it, you can brew it, and yes, instructions are online. If the guy really, really wanted to cause mass harm, he was a quick Google and a trip to the supermarket away from getting started. And as far as anyone knows, the FBI is not yet staffing the bean aisle at your local Safeway.

    Or are they…





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    FBI Saved 9/11 Day By Foiling Another Non-Terror Plot Plot

    September 14, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    coyote


    Did you have a nice 9/11 day Friday? Did you know you almost were killed? No, not really, except…

    Whew. America survived another never was going to happen terror plot nearly completely driven by the FBI because the FBI arrested the lone, sad loser they tricked into the plot. See, that’s the sound of freedom. Never Forget, m*therfuckers!


    Here’s what sort of happened: A Florida man faces up to 20 years in federal prison after authorities say he was trying to help plan an attack on an upcoming 9/11 memorial in Missouri. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that 20-year-old Joshua Ryne Goldberg was arrested and charged with distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.

    A criminal complaint says Goldberg began communicating online with an FBI informer in July and gave that person information on how to build a bomb with a pressure cooker, nails and rat poison. The complaint says Goldberg also instructed the informer to place the bomb at an upcoming memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, that was commemorating the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.


    Here’s what really happened: a college kid with a history of internet trolling was talking dumb sh*t online. The Australian intelligence services (i.e., the NSA monitoring Americans from abroad where it is legal, versus from inside the U.S. where it is not) alerted the FBI, who had one of their people make contact with the troll online and ease him forward with the plot. The troll ran a Google search for “how to build a pressure cooker bomb”.

    Boom! That resulted in charges of “distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.”

    Once again FBI informants have courageously defended us from a plot that probably would never have existed were it not for the involvement of FBI informants. Absolutely nothing to see here. No one was in danger. Nothing was foiled, but at least some of us may have been fooled.

    Happy 9/11 America!



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    Florida Man Arrested in FBI/ISIS-Inspired Plot to Bomb a Beach

    August 21, 2015 // 18 Comments »

    WPTV-Harlem-Suarez_1438112209144_22068991_ver1.0_640_480


    So you be the judge: which organization, the FBI or ISIS, had more to do with this supposed “threat” to Das Homeland?


    The FBI has arrested a man who allegedly wanted to detonate a bomb in what authorities describe as an ISIS-inspired terror attack, officials said.

    Harlem Suarez, 23, of Key West, Florida, (pictured, and do note the Batman T-shirt) has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States.

    So Terrorist Suarez first came onto the FBI’s radar in April, after he posted whatever “extremist rhetoric” and pro-ISIS messages are on Facebook, according to the Justice Department. Facebook, yep, everything people post on Facebook is serious sh*t, man, no boasting or false bravado online, ever. Everybody always means exactly what they say.

    Anyway, after creeping Suarez on Facebook, the FBI then sent in an FBI-employed “confidential source” who for months allegedly talked with Suarez online and in person about plans to attack the United States. Not that any of that would have encouraged or emboldened someone whose previous plans would have otherwise never left his bedroom.

    In May, according to the FBI, Suarez recorded his own video, declaring: “We will destroy America and divide it into two. We will raise our black flag on top of your White House and any president on duty.”

    Nice touch– “any president on duty.” Man, Suarez was obviously well-informed.

    The FBI said that in subsequent meetings with the FBI informant, Suarez discussed plans for an attack around the July 4 holiday and said he would “cook American in cages” — an apparent reference to the ISIS video of a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive while in a cage.

    Last week, Suarez allegedly gave the informant two boxes of nails, a cell phone, a backpack and $100 to build a bomb. In the most recent discussions, Suarez talked about bombing a public beach in Key West and placing explosive devices under police cars, according to charging documents filed by the FBI.

    Note that without some actual explosive material and the knowledge to build a bomb without first blowing yourself up (yeah, yeah, it’s all online, but so is a lot of stuff. Reading stuff online and actually safely handling explosives and ensuring they work remotely is a whole ‘nother story.) In case you wish to experiment, here are instructions for making a nuclear weapon.

    And seriously, a backpack bomb, is that really a weapon of mass destruction?

    Also note that at no point was anyone in America in danger in any way whatsoever.

    “There is no room for failure when it comes to investigating the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction,” said Special Agent in Charge George Piro, head of the FBI’s Miami Field Office.



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    FBI Stops Terrorist Death Ray Plot; Roadrunner Still at Large

    August 20, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    acme

    Another close call as the FBI announced it stopped another terrorist plot it helped facilitate. The best part of this one is that the plot involved some yahoo trying to develop a “death ray machine” that he was going to unleash on Obama and the Muslims.


    A self-proclaimed Ku Klux Klan member conspired to use a remote-controlled X-ray device hidden in a truck, which he called “Hiroshima on a light switch,” as a weapon of mass destruction to harm Muslims and Barack Obama, a prosecutor told jurors.

    But a lawyer for Glendon Scott Crawford, 51, said that government undercover agents dragged him further into the plot to build what media dubbed the “death ray” machine after he tried to pull away in the initial stages, when he had no more than “a piece of paper” sketching out his ideas.

    Government agents apparently gave Crawford an old X-ray machine and an arc welder that he was otherwise unable to procure himself. In opening arguments at U.S. District Court in Albany, a lawyer for Crawford said the device would have never been built if not for the government supplying the necessary components.

    The FBI learned of this evil plot after Crawford approached Jewish community leaders in Albany, New York, seeking funding. Those leaders immediately called the FBI.


    Here’s the caper: Crawford and another man were arrested in 2013 and charged in the plot to unleash radiation at a mosque and a Muslim school. The men also planned to attack the White House.

    The weapon: a remote-controlled device Crawford said was going to be like “Hiroshima on a light switch.”

    Crawford faces three charges, including attempting to produce, construct, acquire, transfer, receive, possess and use a radiological dispersal device. The other two charges are conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and distributing information with respect to a weapon of mass destruction.


    Left unanswered so far is the vast gap between what a hateful nut like Crawford imagined and reality on Earth.

    “Death Rays” are notoriously hard to construct, the evidence of which is that none have ever been constructed. One faces issues such as acquiring massive X-ray machines that are portable, powering those massive x-ray machines in a portable way, and directing said x-rays through stuff to reach people somewhere in the distance. Perhaps such devices are sold by the Wil E. Coyote division of the Acme X-Ray Corporation?

    Given that Crawford has no training in high-energy physics and has been unable to contact Dr. Evil at his lair for help, this is all another silly attempt by the FBI to entrap some nasty loser who may indeed belong in jail, but to dress it all up as “terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction” ahead of their next promotion cycle.




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    FBI Monitored Peaceful Demos in Baltimore with High-Tech Surveillance Planes

    May 11, 2015 // 8 Comments »

    cessna


    The FBI surveilled peaceful protests in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray, protest acts protected by the First Amendment, from the air, using high-tech monitoring aircraft.

    The surveillance aircraft can be equipped with infrared and other surveillance gear that extend the intrusion into privacy far into unconstitutional territory.

    When violence rocked Baltimore recently, local Police Captain Jeff Long told reporters “When you’ve got something like this, you’ve got people running all over the place, throwing rocks and looting and starting vehicles on fire and destroying vehicles like this, really the best vantage point you can get is from the air.”

    Which is why city and state police took to the air in helicopters and small planes, all clearly marked.


    Eyes in the Skies

    Less obvious was a single engine prop Cessna and a small Cessna jet flying over the city, not during the worst of the violence, but during periods of peaceful protest. Who did they belong to?

    In response to media inquiries, the Baltimore police referred questions to the FBI. The FBI initially refused to comment. They eventually released a statement claiming the aircraft worked for the Bureau, saying also “The aircraft were specifically used to assist in providing high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground. The FBI aircraft were not there to monitor lawfully protected first amendment activity.” The local FBI spokesperson also noted any aviation support supplied to local police must be approved at the highest levels of the FBI.

    The aircraft, however, are not owned, overtly at least, by the FBI. Research done in part by the Washington Post shows the ostensible owners as NG Research, located near Manassas Regional Airport, just outside of Washington, DC. Searches of public records revealed little about the company, which could not be reached by the Post.



    Understanding the Technology

    The key to understanding the constitutionality of the FBI’s dragnet search is knowing what sensors were mounted on each aircraft.

    According to Cessna, “when you choose Citation [the jet believed to have been overhead in Baltimore] for your surveillance and patrol aircraft, we customize your jet to fit your exact mission requirements. For example, jets can be equipped with a securely mounted EO/IR device, technology specially suited to carry out territory surveillance work such as border patrol, land-use patrol, and general policing.”

    EO/IR refers to electro-optical and infrared capabilities. In this context the former can be any type of laser or telescopic device used for visible light, the latter measuring “heat,” allowing one to “see” in the dark. Stingrays, electronic devices which can monitor and/or disrupt cell phone communications, can also be mounted on such aircraft.

    The FBI is also known to employ aircraft with the Wescam stabilized surveillance sensor pod, allowing high quality images to be taken under bumpy flight conditions.

    Such technology has been used extensively by the U.S. military in general, and by Special Forces in the particular, in their hunt for terrorists abroad, and represents another example of the weapons of war coming to the Homeland, now aimed at Americans instead of “the enemy.”

    Here’s a sample image via Ars Technica of what a zoomed out nighttime IR image can show:




    ACLU Actions

    The ACLU has filed a request with the FBI to learn what video and cell phone data was collected during the flights.

    It is possible that the FBI was simply duplicating the visual search capabilities likely to have been employed by regular Baltimore cops and their prop aircraft. However, such duplication of effort seems unlikely. One can reasonably suppose the FBI joined the aerial surveillance with something new to bring to the party, such as more advanced observation tech.

    For example, on May 1 and May 2, what is believed to be the FBI Cessna Citation V jet made nighttime flights (path recorded below), orbiting Baltimore at the relatively low altitudes for a jet aircraft of 6,400 and 9,400 feet, based on records from Flightradar24. That action would be consistent with the use of any of the surveillance devices noted above.




    Constitutional Questions

    The constitutional questions are significant.

    Civil libertarians have particular concern about surveillance technology that can gather images across dozens of city blocks, tracking the travel, actions and associations of people under no suspicion of criminal activity.

    “A lot of these technologies sweep very, very broadly, and, at a minimum, the public should have a right to know what’s going on,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU specializing in privacy and technology issues.

    If the FBI was using infrared (IR) devices overhead, that use may have constituted an unlawful search.

    In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the use of a thermal imaging, or IR, device from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person’s home was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and thus required a warrant.

    Perhaps the ACLU can check if the FBI was issued warrants for most of the city of Baltimore. And then stick a fork in it people, ’cause this democracy is about done.



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    How to Communicate Securely with the Media

    November 15, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Glenn Greenwald almost missed the story of his career because he didn’t understand how to communicate securely.

    The person Greenwald now knows as Edward Snowden began contacting him via open email, urging Greenwald to learn how to use encryption and other web tools to receive sensitive information. When Greenwald was slow to act, Snowden even made a video tutorial to baby-step him through the necessary procedures. Absent these extraordinary efforts by Snowden, who knows when or even if his game-changing NSA information would have come to light.

    You don’t have to wait for some future Snowden to teach you how to communicate securely, thanks to Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

    SecureDrop

    Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. Here’s how to use it:

    — Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop. Take the bus to a new place you’ll not visit again.

    Download and install the Tor Browser Bundle. For more security, also install and use the Tails operating system. For maximum security, run all this off a flash drive you bought with cash, and throw away the drive after one use.

    –Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s Onion URL (below). Only load this URL inside the Tor Browser.

    — Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.


    Onion URLs

    Here are Onion URLs for the five groups of journalists currently operating SecureDrop:

    The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion

    ProPublica: pubdrop4dw6rk3aq.onion

    New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion

    Forbes: bczjr6ciiblco5ti.onion

    Wired’s Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion


    A Plea to Computer People

    I have heard from many journalists their concern that sources are unaware or incapable of communicating securely. Many times the journalist, who may or may not really understand this stuff, ends up trying to explain it to an already-nervous source whose computer skills may be basic at best. Every one of the writers say the same thing: someone please create a secure system for dummies.

    So, computer people of the web, please consider this. Create a one-button click piece of software that installs all the software needed on a flash drive. The users need only plug in the flash drive and click one button. Create the necessary front ends so that the software can be used by anyone. Please don’t write in and say “But it is already so easy to use.” Experience is that it is not. Think software that your grandma could make work. For better or worse, many people who are or who might communicate important information to responsible journalists need your help. Without your help, many will either not communicate at all, or put themselves at increased risk by communicating insecurely.

    Disclaimer

    Anyone takes great personal risk, including financial ruin and potential jail time, by transmitting to journalists, so all the warnings and caveats apply. Do not leak or transmit classified information. Courts are attacking journalists’ abilities to protect their sources. Though Snowden and others have endorsed the use of systems such as described here, there is no information now available on if/how the NSA can monitor such communications, now or in the future. The FBI has successfully, on a known, limited scale, monitored some parts of the Tor Network. Everything else. This is America, 2014. We’re on our own to fix our country.




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    There is Much to Fear

    September 29, 2014 // 6 Comments »




    One of the exceptional things about Post-Constitutional America is how instead of using the traditional tools of an autocracy– secret police, torture, mass round ups– the majority of Americans have given up their rights willfully, voluntarily, almost gleefully. The key tool used by government to have accomplished this is fear-mongering.

    Fear is one of our most powerful emotions. It plays a very important evolutionary role after all; the first folks who learned to fear lions and tigers and bears tended to live longer than those who were slower learners. Fears from childhood about heights or spiders often stick with us forever. So using fear of terrorists and other bogeymen has proven to be the most effective tool of the world’s first voluntary national security state and its coalition partners in scariness.

    The post-9/11 months are nothing but a master class in fear-mongering. Condoleezza Rice’s oft-quote statement about not wanting to wait for a mushroom cloud over America to be the smoking gun of terror is near-Bond villain level evil genius. The 2003 Iraq War was sold in large part on fear-mongering over fake nukes, fake biological weapons and a fake hunt for WMDS.

    A few recent examples illustrate how the work continues. Because nothing is better to keep fear alive than a regular flow of refreshers (watch out behind you, a spider!).


    Australia

    The Australians have proven excellent students of the American model. After a single phone call from one purported jihadi in the Middle East to a purported jihadi in Sydney suggesting a random beheading would be a fine terror act, the Aussies kicked off the largest counterterrorism operation in Australian history, with full world-wide media coverage of course, all of which resulted in the arrest of one 22-year-old. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it showed that “a knife, an iPhone and a victim” were the only ingredients needed for a terrorist attack.

    B.S. Factor: Between 2009-2010 (last statistics located) 257 Australians were killed domestically, many with knives. None of those cases involved the largest manhunts in Australian history. Drunken dingos seem more a threat to citizens than terrorists, perhaps even with an iPhone and a knife for the dingo.


    Britain

    The British are loosely joining the coalition against ISIS in Iraq, based largely on the beheading video of a single Brit hostage (beheading videos of two American hostages have also been an effective fear-mongering tool in the United States recently.) Since most westerners do not visit the Arabic-language web sites where such videos widely appear, this form of fear- mongering requires the assistance of the main stream media, who appear more than happy to assist by re-running the videos in an endless loop.

    B.S. Factor: In 2013, 6,193 Brits died abroad. Very few cases even made the news in a small way.


    United States

    Back here in the U.S., higher-level encryption built directly into the new iPhone caused much concern among law enforcement, who will have a harder time mass-monitoring the communications of all Americans as they have freely done for the past decade or so. FBI Director James Comey at a news conference already focused on ISIS terror threats said “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.” He cited specifically kidnapping cases, in which exploiting the contents of a seized phone could lead to finding a victim, and predicted there would be moments when parents would come to him “with tears in their eyes, look at me and say, ‘What do you mean you can’t’ ” decode the contents of a phone.

    B.S. Factor: We could find no statistics on how often decoding the contents of a phone alone resolved a kidnapping case. We also note that even if the FBI or the NSA could not actually break the iPhone encryption, existing, working tools unaffected by encryption such as triangulation geolocating, standard GPS, cell tower tracking, Stingray intercepts, call logs, email logs, cloud contents, and web searches can provide a wealth of data remotely, without even the need to seize a physical phone.


    OMG: Americans May Be Killed By Terrorists

    Obviously the uber fear-mongering are the pervasive streams of warnings about “almost executed” terror plots inside America. Whether told “if you see something, say something” on a bus, strip searched in the airport or hearing about one pseudo-plot after another on the news, the meme is that danger lurks everywhere in the United States.

    B.S. Factor: Since 9/11, as few as 16 Americans here in Das Homeland has been killed by terrorists, almost all fellow Americans. On the high end, some claim the death count is about 100, but that includes murders at abortion clinics not everyone would call terrorism as far as traditional government fear-mongering is concerned.

    The odds of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States are 20,000,000 to 1. By comparison, Americans are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack.

    Maybe more terrifying than anything else, in America you are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. That’s a broad average; it is higher if you are a young African-American male.


    Exceptionalism?

    To be fair, fear-mongering in general, and fear-mongering over terrorism, have a much longer history of use by autocrats than what has been employed since 9/11. One national leader in fact said “The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. The public will clamor for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” That was Joseph Stalin.

    So yes, there is indeed much to fear.



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    Mysterious Phony Cell Towers: Who is Spying on You Now?

    September 4, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    A security researcher identified multiple “fake” cell phone towers around the United States, many near military bases, designed to intercept calls and texts without your knowledge, and to potentially inject spyware into your phone by defeating built-in encryption.

    The researcher has located a number of towers; what he can’t figure out is who built them and who controls them.

    Tech

    The basics of the technology are pretty clear: your cell phone is always trying to electronically latch-on to three cell towers. Three means the network can triangulate your phone’s location, and pass you off from one set of towers to the next tower in line as you move around. The phone obviously looks for the strongest tower signal to get you the best reception, those bars. The fake towers, called Interceptors, jump into this dance and hijack your signal for whatever purpose the tower owner would like. The Interceptors then transparently pass your signal on to a real tower so you can complete your call, and you don’t know anything happened.

    Because phones use various types of encryption, the Interceptors need to get around that. There are likely complex methods, but why not go old-school and save some time and money? The towers do that by dropping your modern-day 4G or 3G signal, and substituting a near-obsolete 2G signal, which is not encrypted. That is one way researchers can find the Interceptor towers, by identifying a phone using a 2G signal when it should be 4G or 3G.

    More Tech

    Want more tech? Popular Science magazine has it:

    Whether your phone uses Android or iOS, it also has a second operating system that runs on a part of the phone called a baseband processor. The baseband processor functions as a communications middleman between the phone’s main O.S. and the cell towers. And because chip manufacturers jealously guard details about the baseband O.S., it has been too challenging a target for garden-variety hackers.

    But for governments or other entities able to afford a price tag of $100,000, high-quality interceptors are quite realistic. Some interceptors are limited, only able to passively listen to either outgoing or incoming calls. But full-featured devices like the VME Dominator, available only to government agencies, not only capture calls and texts, but actively control the phone, sending out spoof texts, for example. Edward Snowden revealed the NSA is capable of an over-the-air attack that tells the phone to fake a shut-down while leaving the microphone running, turning the seemingly deactivated phone into a bug. And various ethical hackers have demonstrated DIY interceptor projects that work well-enough for less than $3,000.

    Those VME Dominators are quite a piece of electronics. In addition to ho-hum listening in, they allow for voice manipulation, up or down channel blocking, text intercept and modification, calling and sending texts on behalf of the user, and directional finding of a user. The VME Dominator, its manufacturer Meganet claims, “is far superior to passive systems.”


    Stingray

    Police departments around the U.S. have been using such tech to spy on, well, everyone with a cell phone. The cops’ devices are called Stingrays, and work off the same 4G-to-2G exploit mentioned above.

    The tech does not require a phone’s GPS and was first deployed against America’s enemies in Iraq. Then it came home.

    Also available is a version of Stingray that can be worn by a single person like a vest.

    Because the antiquated 2G network in the U.S. is due to be retired soon, the Department of Homeland Security is issuing grants to local police agencies to obtain a new, state-of-the-art cell phone tracking system called Hailstorm. The key advantage is Hailstorm will work natively with 4G, rendering current layperson detection methods ineffectual.


    Who is Spying On You Now?

    The technology is important, but not the real story here. The real question is: who owns those Interceptor towers and who is spying on you?

    Is it:

    — The NSA? A likely culprit. While post-Patriot Act the NSA can simply dial up your cell provider (Verizon, ATT, etc.) and ask for whatever they want, the towers might be left-overs from an earlier time. The towers do have the advantage of being able to inject spyware. But their biggest advantage is that they bypass the carriers, which keeps the spying much more secret. It also keeps the spying outside any future court systems that might seek to rein in the spooks.

    — Local law enforcement? Maybe, but the national placement of the towers, and their proximity in many cases to military bases, smells Federal.

    — DEA or FBI? Also likely. Towers could be established in specific locations for specific investigations, hence the less-than-nationwide coverage. One tower was found at a Vegas casino. While the NSA shares information with both the DEA and the FBI, what self-respecting law enforcement agency wouldn’t want its own independent capability?

    — The military? Another maybe. The military might want the towers to keep a personal eye on the area around their bases, or to spy on their own personnel to ensure they are not on the phone to Moscow or Beijing.

    — Private business? Unlikely, but the towers could be testbeds for new technology to be sold to the government, or perhaps some sort of industrial spying.

    The mystery remains!



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    No-Fly List Appeals System Declared Unconstitutional

    July 15, 2014 // 3 Comments »




    No-Fly is No Fair.

    People on the government’s no-fly list are denied their constitutional right to due process, because the government’s procedures to challenge inclusion on the secretive roster are “wholly ineffective,” U.S. District Judge Anna Brown declared in a case brought by thirteen American citizens and supported by the ACLU.

    Important: The court did not declare the no-fly list itself unconstitutional per se, but did say that the lack of any effective system for knowing you are on the list (absent showing up at the airport and being denied boarding) and especially the lack of any real procedure for trying to clear your name and get off the list, are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, as they deny people the Constitutional right to due process. Due process basically means the government cannot punish you, or take something away from you, without giving you the right to challenge that decision, typically in court with a lawyer.

    Specifically, in a 65-page opinion, the Oregon judge ordered the government to come up with a new way for the thirteen plaintiffs to contest their inclusion on the no-fly list that prohibits them from flying in or through U.S. airspace. The government must provide notice to the plaintiffs that they are on the list and give the reasons for their inclusion. The judge also ordered that the government allow the plaintiffs to submit evidence to refute the government’s suspicions.

    There is nothing, however, in the judge’s decision that negates or otherwise does away with the no-fly list. Because her decision took place only in a District Court, the government may appeal the case, perhaps as far as the Supreme Court.

    What is the Current Appeals Process Like for the No-Fly List?

    Understanding the importance of the judge’s decision requires understanding how the no-fly List “appeals” process works currently.

    If you find yourself denied boarding, you must contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) via their TRIP Program and ask them to remove your name from the no-fly list. You might succeed just by asking nice; the TSA itself says that 99 percent of individuals who apply for redress are not on the terrorist watchlist, but are misidentified as people who are. To start, you use DHS’ online form. They strongly encourage an online submission, warning on their web site that “if documents are mailed, it may take 10-15 business days to receive your submission due to federal government mail screening requirements,” something left over from the very small and long ago anthrax powder letters mailed to a handful of people in 2001. Careful though– proving you are not a terrorist must be done in a 10 meg attachment or less or DHS will reject your request.

    You are not currently allowed to know why, or based on what information, you are on the no-fly list. You just are. While you can ask a lawyer to help you prepare whatever you submit to DHS, you cannot be represented because you cannot otherwise interact with DHS.

    The government argues in return that national security prevents a more open system– they can’t tip off the terrorists– and that limited judicial review covers any due process requirement. No-fly list appeals may ultimately go to a federal appellate court, but that court makes decisions based only on government input. The person affected is not even present and will never know what evidence the government presented against him in this secret court.

    What if You’re Not a Terrorist?

    If DHS agrees you are not a terrorist, you get a redress number which you can use when booking a ticket. There is never an explanation, and DHS is not allowed to tell you you are still on the no-fly list, or ever were, or why they did or did not issue you a redress number. If you never hear back from DHS and wonder if you are allowed to fly, the only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat. Even with a redress number that clears your name in theory, DHS advises arriving at the airport extra early in anticipation of extra screening and questioning.

    There are no deadlines for an answer from DHS. They may take weeks, months or forever to reply to you. Meanwhile, you, as an official dangerous person, will be able to travel by ship, train, bus, rental car, horseback, donkey cart, ferry, private rented plane, unicycle or other means. Of course none of those conveyances have TSA screening or security.

    How Do You Get on No-Fly in the First Place?

    On September 10, 2001, there wasn’t any formal no-fly list, though the FBI held a folder of 16 names of suspicious flyers. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting September 12 was the creation of two lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list. The latter was for person who would undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. The former, like its name, meant if your name was on the list you simply could not board a flight inside the U.S., out of the U.S. or from some other country into the U.S.

    The flight ban can also extend far outside of America’s borders. The no-fly list is shared with 22 other countries.

    Names are nominated for no-fly or selectee by one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer and so forth. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards and approval processes, some strict, some pretty sloppy. Your name may end up on the list based on scraps of online postings or as the result of a multi-year detailed investigation or because of a bureaucratic typo. The nominated name is sent to The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), located in a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency organization administered by the FBI, staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the intel community.

    A key issue is that people are never notified they are on the no-fly list. The only way to even get a hint is to buy an airplane ticket and be prevented from boarding once you arrive at the airport after at check-in the airline receives a “no-fly” message. Through the interrogation process you may (or you may not) learn you might live in the list. You will never have any idea why you are on the list; maybe you share a similar name with some real or imagined bad guy. Still on the list? The only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat.

    Want to read about the ultimate No-Fly list nightmare?




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    Stung: Government Disappears Stingray Spying Records

    July 14, 2014 // 3 Comments »




    We’ve heard variations on the phrase “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” from the government for quite some time. It appears this may be true, at least if you are the government.

    In the case of Stingray, a cell phone spying device used against Americans, the government does have something to hide and they fear the release of more information. Meanwhile, the Fourth Amendment weeps quietly in the corner.

    Stingray

    Cell phone technology is very useful to the cops to locate you and to track your movements. In addition to whatever as-yet undisclosed things the NSA may be up to on its own, the FBI acknowledges a device called Stingray to create electronic, “fake,” cell phone towers and track people via their phones in the U.S. without their knowledge. The tech does not require a phone’s GPS. This technology was first known to have been deployed against America’s enemies in Iraq, and it has come home to be used against a new enemy– you.

    Stingray, also known as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI, catcher, works like this. The cell network is designed around triangulation and whenever possible your phone is in constant contact with at least three towers. As you move, one tower “hands off” your signal to the next one in your line of motion. Stingray electronically inserts itself into this process as if it was a (fake; “spoofed”) cell tower itself to grab location data before passing your legitimate signal back to the real cell network. The handoffs in and out of Stingray are invisible to you. Stingrays also “inadvertently” scoop up the cell phone data of anyone within several kilometers of the designated target person. Though typically used to collect location metadata, Stingray can also capture conversations, texts and mobile web use if needed.

    Stingray offers some unique advantages to a national security state: it bypasses the phone company entirely, which is handy if laws change and phone companies no longer must cooperate with the government, or simply if the cops don’t want the phone company or anyone else to know they’re snooping.

    This has led the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to warn “A Stingray— which could potentially be beamed into all the houses in one neighborhood looking for a particular signal— is the digital version of the pre-Revolutionary war practice of British soldiers going door-to-door, searching Americans’ homes without rationale or suspicion, let alone judicial approval… [Stingray is ] the biggest technological threat to cell phone privacy.”


    Trying to Learn about Stingray

    Learning how Stingray works is difficult.

    The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a FOIA request for more information on Stingrays, but the FBI is sitting on 25,000 pages of documents explaining the device that it won’t release.

    The device itself is made by the Harris Corporation. Harris makes electronics for commercial use and is a significant defense contractor. For Stingray, available only to law enforcement agencies, Harris requires a non-disclosure agreement that police departments around the country have been signing for years explicitly prohibiting them from telling anyone, including other government bodies, about their use of the equipment “without the prior written consent of Harris.”

    A price list of Harris’ spying technology, along with limited technical details, was leaked online, but that’s about all we know.

    Though the non-disclosure agreement includes an exception for “judicially mandated disclosures,” there are no mechanisms for judges even to learn that the equipment was used at all, thus cutting off any possibility they could know enough demand disclosure. In at least one case in Florida, a police department revealed that it had decided not to seek a warrant to use the technology explicitly to avoid telling a judge about the equipment. It subsequently kept the information hidden from the defendant as well. The agreement with Harris goes further to require law enforcement to notify Harris any time journalists or anyone else files a public records request to obtain information about Stingray and also demands the police department assist Harris in deciding what information to release.



    Something to Hide

    An evolving situation in Florida shows how hard the government is working to keep the details of its Stingray spying on Americans secret.

    The ACLU originally sought Stingray records in Sarasota, Florida after they learned a detective there obtained permission to use the device simply by filing an application with a local court, instead of obtaining a probable-cause warrant as once was required by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It became clear that the Sarasota police had additionally used Stingray at least 200 times since 2010 without even the minimal step of even notifying a judge. In line with the non-disclosure agreement, very rarely were arrested persons advised that Stingray data was used to locate and prosecute them.

    The ACLU, which earlier in 2014 filed a Florida state-level FOIA-type request with the Sarasota police department for information detailing its use of Stingray, had an appointment with the local cops to review documents. The local police agreed to the review. However, the June 2014 morning of the ACLU’s appointment, U.S. Marshals arrived ahead of them and physically took possession of the files. The Marshals barred the Sarasota police from releasing them. The rationale used by the federal government was that having quickly deputized a Sarasota cop, all Sarasota records became federal property.

    “This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for Stingray information,” an ACLU spokesperson said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

    A Court Says the Feds Can Hide the Records

    Following the feds’ seizure of the Stingray records, the ACLU filed an emergency motion with a Florida court that would require Sarasota to make its Stingray records available. However, in a decision issued June 17, 2014, a Florida state circuit court judge found that his court lacked jurisdiction over a federal agency, allowing the transfer of the Stingray documents to the feds and de facto blocking their release.

    The ACLU plans further appeals. Unless and until they succeed, details of another way of spying on Americans will remain secret. The government does indeed have something to hide.



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    Where was the NSA before the Isla Vista Mass Shooting?

    May 27, 2014 // 23 Comments »



    Elliot Rodger, a college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women, killed six people and wounded 13 others last week. He stabbed three men to death in his apartment and shot the others as he opened fire on bystanders on the crowded streets of Isla Vista, California. Rodger then killed himself. Three semi automatic handguns, along with 41 loaded ten-round magazines— all bought at local gun stores— were found in his car. There could have been many more dead.

    So where was the NSA?

    For the year since Edward Snowden revealed in detail the comprehensive spying on every aspect of American lives, we have been assured by the president and the NSA that every single one of those intrusions into our life was necessary to protect us. The now-former NSA chief said he knows of no better way his agency can help protect the U.S. than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records. “How do we connect the dots?” he said, referring to often-hidden links between people, events and what they do online. “There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do.”

    So where was the NSA?

    Elliot Rodger posted on his social media, presumably monitored by the NSA, about suicide and killing people. His family asked police to visit Rodger’s residence. But when they showed up, Rodger simply told deputies it was a misunderstanding and that he was not going to hurt anyone or himself. No search was conducted.

    Barely 24 hours before the killing spree, Rodger posted a video on YouTube, presumably monitored by the NSA, in which he sat behind the steering wheel of his black BMW and for seven minutes announced his plans for violence. The video has been leaked– see it here.

    So where was the NSA in Boston?

    In the case of the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the NSA failed to notice the Boston bomber’s visits to al Qaeda’s online magazine or his “terrorist” YouTube videos. The online magazine gave Tsarnaev the details he needed to build his bombs. The NSA also failed to note the online communications Tsarnaev had with a known extremist in Dagestan, who reportedly listed Tsarnaev among his cyber friends.

    Even after the bombing, the NSA, Justice Department, and Homeland Security failed to identify the suspects from close-up pictures, and had to ask the public for help, even though photos of both brothers were scattered across social media, presumably monitored by the NSA.

    What was law enforcement doing in Boston in the time period leading up to the bombings? Monitoring Occupy and others, including tracking the Facebook pages and websites of protesters and writing reports on the potential impact on “commercial and financial sector assets” in downtown areas.

    The monitoring of legitimate protest groups was not limited to Boston. The FBI monitored Occupy Wall Street from its earliest days and treated the nonviolent movement as a potential terrorist threat. Internal government records show Occupy was treated as a potential threat when organizing first began in August of 2011. Counterterrorism agents were used to track Occupy activities.

    So where is the NSA?

    All of the failures of the NSA cited above are exactly the kind of connect-the-dots fails that spying on all Americans were supposed to alleviate. At this point we’re left with one of two explanations.

    The first explanation is that the NSA is simply incompetent. They may not be very good at their job, their technological ability to collect may not be matched with an ability to process the data, or they are simply so flooded with data as to be ineffective. Why should we expect a government that stumbles on everything from managing appointment lists at veteran’s hospitals to major foreign policy endeavors to do any better at intelligence work.

    The second explanation is much darker. It remains possible the business about connecting dots and protecting America is a ruse, a sham, a cover story, and that mass surveillance has a much more sinister purpose. Pick one: control dissent, spy on groups like Occupy, blackmail, political advantage, industrial intel, and so forth. Snowden’s revelations, as significant as they are, really only shed light on what the NSA does. They do not address why the NSA spies on us. Therein lies the real story of the century, waiting for the next whistleblower to expose.


    BONUS

    Some commentators on the Isla Vista mass killing have decried the problem of “What could have been done? Sure he posted some crazy stuff, but he didn’t really commit a crime before he started shooting, right?”

    Interesting argument, until you compare it to how the government deals with “real terrorists.” The magic words used are “conspiracy to commit terrorism,” a crime that basically involves talking about or planning to do something awful. The same law exists in regards to planning to commit a garden-variety murder. The logic is that if the police have clear evidence that you are about to blow up a skyscraper, it makes no sense that they have to wait until you trigger the dynamite to arrest you. Fair enough.

    But let’s look at a few examples in practice.

    In North Carolina recently, the FBI charged two men they say conspired and trained to exact “violent jihad.” The federal investigation began when one man contacted an undercover FBI source by email and told him he wanted to go overseas and fight, and he asked another how he should prepare to fight in Yemen or Syria. The other guy frequently “spoke about his weapons,” and said he was “considering” violent acts either in the United States or abroad. The men were arrested and charged with conspiracy.

    Three members of a Georgia militia were charged with conspiracy to attack federal agencies. They “attempted” to obtain pipe bombs and thermite devices, and chatted online about plans to attack the federal government.

    American citizen “Jihani Jane” was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism based nearly completely on her online activities.




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    Hilarious Anti-China U.S. Propaganda Smoked by Online Ad

    May 24, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently sort-of happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. The video explains how to become a Chinese spy so you don’t do that.

    If you’d like to see this 21st century version of those hygiene movies once shown in health classes across America (Reefer Madness for STDs), you need only drop by the Facebook page of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). What, you didn’t know that the U.S. government organization responsible for coordinating all spying for America had a Facebook page? Silly you. It’s here. We’ll leave the question of who the 23,000 people who “like” the page are aside for now.

    Instead, let’s enjoy the irony of the web. Playing inside the video warning American kids about being recruited as spies when they study abroad is in fact an ad encouraging Americans to study abroad. Look:




    See the ad, there on the bottom? Win for the internet.

    As a follow up, did the Chinese in fact place that ad to undermine the U.S. government’s efforts to get kids to stay at home? Or does the ad imply the close cooperation Google and Facebook warmly enjoy with the NSA helping them spy on Americans? Better yet, why does a video made and paid by taxpayer money have ads at all?

    Bottom Line: Americans, stay home. Ignorance of the world is a small price to pay. For Freedom.



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    FBI Makes a Video on How You Can Be a Chinese Spy

    May 23, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Are you a bonehead? Or do you have a college-age son or daughter who is a bonehead interested in study abroad? Have we got a video for you.

    Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. This video explains how to become a Chinese spy.

    The whole silly thing is a long half hour to wade through, so for those already at the airport waiting to board a flight to Asia, we’ll summarize the steps to becoming a Red spy:

    — Go to China. Make out a bit with Chinese girls. These are not spies, it’s just that Chinese girls are easy. Be seduced by the ancient culture and sleazy Asian tail. You know they like big, tall Americans, just like in those old Vietnam movies, Charlie.

    — Answer an ad on Craigslist in China. This is really what happened LOL. It seems the Chinese government will pay you, a dumbass abroad who speaks just tragically awful Mandarin, a lot of money to write “papers” on whatever, politics and stuff, with no strings attached. They will not, however, send one of those beautiful hot Chinese women as your “handler.” They will send someone who looks like your mom if she was Chinese and used to be sort of hot but really, not any more, even if you’d been drinking a little first. Very clever.

    — Your Chinese mom will soon introduce you to Mr. X. He will look and act like a Chinese Bond villain, but kinda sleazier. He will ply you with booze and hand you lots of money, because, that’s what happens in China. He will make a chess analogy. You won’t get it, but you… are… the… pawn!!!!!

    — Mr. X will encourage you to take the State Department Foreign Service Exam. In the video, the kid fails it, because of course he is a bonehead. Next, Mr. X will introduce you to Mr. Y, who somehow is even sleazier. He’ll say hello, then demand you apply for a job with the CIA, perhaps via Craigslist.

    — The stern CIA will catch you with their super-polygraph trade-craftery and you’ll go to jail. No more Chinese love affairs buddy.


    An Idiot Abroad

    The real life dumbass this instructional hygiene film is based on did indeed do all these things. He ended up charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, even though he never had a chance to enter the federal government (he couldn’t even pass the State Department test!) and was in no position to give away any secrets because he knew none.

    One assumes it was either a slow week at the FBI, or the kid was popped as a warning to other stupid Americans to just stay on campus smoking dope in L.A. and not mess around with foreign languages and their vile women. Indeed, the collegiate perp had this insider’s advice from another dumb video for his peeps studying abroad: “If someone is offering you money and it feels like you don’t have to do anything for that money, then there’s probably a hook in there that you’re not seeing.”

    Americans: That advice, about not accepting free money because there is always a hook, also applies when “Coach” invites you over to his bachelor pad to do some yardwork. On Saturday night. At midnight. In your tight jeans, specifically.

    Important Video Points

    Before you consume the video, a couple of things to watch for.

    — Note how all the Chinese in the video are nice, polite, well-spoken. Note how every American in the video is shrill and unpleasant. The FBI video crew may want to send the script back with notes for a rewrite.

    — Note how much technology and how many people the CIA and the FBI devote to luring in and arresting this kid. They even surveilled him in China! They were on to the scheme all along, just like Jack Bauer and Tom Clancy!

    — Hey Chinese spies, a tip! You want to recruit Americans who actually have access to secrets, not the nerds we send abroad during college, ‘kay?

    — But if the Chinese really want to waste their time, money and assets on recruiting idiot American college students, we should let them. Just like when the Republicans won the Cold War by tricking the Russkies into spending too much on outer space rocket defenses against the Spiders from Mars, we’ll sit back and watch China fritter away their moola, then hope they still have some left to loan us.


    One also hopes that this helpful video from the FBI is never translated into Mandarin. It is highly likely our own secret agent men are using these same tactics to lure in Chinese students in America. Wouldn’t want to tip them off…

    Anyway, here’s the FBI’s anti-spy video, along with one of its peers:




    Or maybe this???????????????????????????





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    Obama NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

    January 18, 2014 // 13 Comments »

    Bottom Line Up Front: The details of Obama’s most recent speech about “changes” to the NSA’s surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip away from the public eye as “fixed.” Not word one about how absent Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures the president would not even be offering this lip service, happy to allow the tumor of spying to continue to grow in secret as he had done for the last six years of his presidency.

    But let’s get specific.

    Announced Changes

    Obama announced that the U.S. will no longer electronically surveil allied, friendly, heads of state. So, Americans, the only documented way to protect yourself from NSA spying is to be chosen as leader of another country. Note that Obama did not specify what he means by allied and friendly (Turkey? Iraq? Brazil?), and he clearly did not outlaw spying on a head of state’s closest advisors, cabinet members, secretaries, code clerks and the like. This is simply a gesture; it is unlikely that any of German head of state Andrea Merkel’s cell phone conversations revealed much terrorist information anyway. Worldwide reaction, the audience to which this was aimed, has been tepid and unconvinced.

    The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA) will need to grant the NSA permission to search the phone records metadata database. Most significant here is that the NSA will continue to compile the database itself. Use of the FISA court remains just the illusion of a check and balance, because either the government is very good at making its case, or the court has become a rubber stamp: that secret FISA court approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. Of key importance is the question of what constitutes a “search” and a “record.” FISA decisions and Department of Justice internal legal briefs dramatically broadened the definitions of those words such that a “record” may now consist of every piece of data collected by say, Verizon. It is very, very unclear that this change announced by Obama will have any real-world positive impact on protecting Americans’ privacy.

    Obama also announced that the NSA will face new limits on how far from a target it can search into the metadata. Currently the NSA traces “three hops” from a target: A knows B, C, and D. But once C morphs into a target, C’s three hops mean the NSA can poke into E, F, and G, and so forth. Obama wishes to limit this to two hops, A knows B and C. This is again a false palliative; if a “target” has fifty friends, the two hops rule authorizes access to a total of 8,170 additional people. And there is nothing to stop the NSA from redesignating any of them as a new target and thus allowing the math to expand the two hops rule indefinitely.

    Changes Thrown into Congress

    These are for all intents and purposes just throwaways. Obama knows as well as anyone that a hyper-partisan Congress, already divided on what if anything should be done with the NSA, heading into elections, will never act on these issues. Obama can take the high road and deflect any criticism from his progressive base by pointing a finger at Congress. Democrats can blame Republicans and vice-versa, so everyone wins in the calculus of Washington.

    For the record, even Obama’s Congressional changes are limp. Having private companies instead of the NSA hold data for the NSA to search? What kind of practical change would result from that? A public advocate in the FISA court? A possible, but how many, what staff and resources, what actual role would they play, under what rules of disclosure by the government would they function? The adversarial judicial process that otherwise fuels our legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys, rules to compel disclosure, cross examination and so forth would not exist as new FISA-only “advocate” rules are created in a pseudo-parallel system. And since the whole process would remain highly-classified, no one outside the government would ever know if such advocates indeed played any role in protecting our privacy.

    The last change Obama threw to Congress concerned some form of privacy protections for foreigners. Again, this is just a sop to our “allies and friends” abroad. A Congress that apparently cares little about the privacy of Americans will never pass privacy protections for foreigners.

    Changes Not Mentioned at All

    What was not even mentioned by Obama is sadly the largest category of all. The list could fill dozens of pages, but the use of National Security Letters without judicial oversight is one of the most significant omissions. In 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. In addition, not a word was mentioned about pulling back the NSA’s breaking into the Internet backbone, accessing the key Google, Yahoo, Microsoft servers, the NSA use of malware to spy on computers, the NSA’s exploitation of software bugs, the NSA’s efforts to weaken encryption that puts our data at risk to ease the burden on the Agency of decoding things, the use of offensive cyberattacks, indiscriminate gathering of data in general contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against General Warrants and on and on and on and on, at least until the next revelations from Edward Snowden reveal even more NSA tricks being played on innocent Americans.

    But the mother of all omissions from the Obama speech is this one: there is no proof that all of the spying and surveillance, at the sake of our basic Constitutional rights, has resulted in the purported aim of keeping us safe. The White House’s own review panel on NSA surveillance said they discovered no evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records thwarted any terrorist attacks.

    And there Mr. President is the real change needed. A massive, frighteningly expensive program that does much harm and no good does not need tweaking. It needs to be ended.



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    FBI Takes Over Consulate Naples Case

    December 10, 2013 // 4 Comments »

    For those who have enjoyed our coverage of the allegations of sex, false expense claims and forced resignations at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (and if you have not read the story, catch up here and here), there is good news: according to sources close to the case, the FBI has now stepped in.

    Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore had a sexual relationship with an employee, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedures:

    –express “concern” and promise a full investigation;
    –transfer the alleged perp to another cushy assignment (a “pivot”);
    –pressure the whistleblower into quitting;
    –sweep the rest under the rug. Movin’ on for more 21st century diplomacy.

    The problem with this one is that it did not go away. The whistleblower, instead of fading as State counted on, found proper legal representation and filed charges. State actually loves when people try to work through its system– it gives them a chance to express more “concern” and promise more full investigation, all the while hoping the whistleblower either gives up with time or that the length of the it-ain’t-gonna-conclude “investigation” bleeds her dry in fees and despair.

    However, as in so many things, State’s 19th century model is outdated. The Naples story was picked up by the media, including a major New York newspaper and, with exclusive access to witness reports, this blog. The old model of keeping reporters compliant by hand-feeding them bon mots from the Secretary does not matter outside of the usual sleepers at the networks. Public pressure does not always work, but sometimes it does. The FBI stepped in and, we are told, is on the ground in Naples conducting the investigation State planned on avoiding.

    See ya’ next time, Department of State!



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    War Comes Home: Welcome to Post-Constitution America

    August 21, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com. In light of the Bradley Manning verdict, this seemed worth re-reading.

    On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress created the first whistleblower protection law, stating “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”

    Two hundred thirty-five years later, on July 30, 2013, Bradley Manning was found guilty on 20 of the 22 charges for which he was prosecuted, specifically for “espionage” and for videos of war atrocities he released, but not for “aiding the enemy.”

    Days after the verdict, with sentencing hearings in which Manning could receive 136 years of prison time ongoing, the pundits have had their say. The problem is that they missed the most chilling aspect of the Manning case: the way it ushered us, almost unnoticed, into post-Constitutional America.


    The Weapons of War Come Home

    Even before the Manning trial began, the emerging look of that new America was coming into view.  In recent years, weapons, tactics, and techniques developed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the war on terror have begun arriving in “the homeland.”

    Consider, for instance, the rise of the warrior cop, of increasingly up-armored police departments across the country often filled with former military personnel encouraged to use the sort of rough tactics they once wielded in combat zones. Supporting them are the kinds of weaponry that once would have been inconceivable in police departments, including armored vehicles, typically bought with Department of Homeland Security grants. Recently, the director of the FBI informed a Senate committee that the Bureau was deploying its first drones over the United States.  Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security and already flying an expanding fleet of Predator drones, the very ones used in America’s war zones, is eager to arm them with “non-lethal” weaponry to “immobilize targets of interest.”

    Above all, surveillance technology has been coming home from our distant war zones. The National Security Agency (NSA), for instance, pioneered the use of cell phones to track potential enemy movements in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NSA did this in one of several ways. With the aim of remotely turning on cell phones as audio monitoring or GPS devices, rogue signals could be sent out through an existing network, or NSA software could be implanted on phones disguised as downloads of porn or games.

    Using fake cell phone towers that actually intercept phone signals en route to real towers, the U.S. could harvest hardware information in Iraq and Afghanistan that would forever label a phone and allow the NSA to always uniquely identify it, even if the SIM card was changed. The fake cell towers also allowed the NSA to gather precise location data for the phone, vacuum up metadata, and monitor what was being said.

    At one point, more than 100 NSA teams had been scouring Iraq for snippets of electronic data that might be useful to military planners. The agency’s director, General Keith Alexander, changed that: he devised a strategy called Real Time Regional Gateway to grab every Iraqi text, phone call, email, and social media interaction. “Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ ” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official. “Collect it all, tag it, store it, and whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

    Sound familiar, Mr. Snowden?


    Welcome Home, Soldier (Part I)

    Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the “collect it all” technique employed by the NSA in Iraq would soon enough be used to collect American metadata and other electronically available information, including credit card transactions, air ticket purchases, and financial records. At the vast new $2 billion data center it is building in Bluffdale, Utah, and at other locations, the NSA is following its Iraq script of saving everything, so that once an American became a target, his or her whole history can be combed through. Such searches do not require approval by a court, or even an NSA supervisor. As it happened, however, the job was easier to accomplish in the U.S. than in Iraq, as internet companies and telephone service providers are required by secret law to hand over the required data, neatly formatted, with no messy spying required.

    When the U.S. wanted something in Iraq or Afghanistan, they sent guys to kick down doors and take it. This, too, may be beginning to happen here at home. Recently, despite other valuable and easily portable objects lying nearby, computers, and only computers, were stolen from the law offices representing State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Similarly, a Washington law firm representing NSA whistleblower Tom Drake had computers, and only computers, stolen from its office.

    In these years, the FBI has brought two other NSA wartime tools home. The Bureau now uses a device called Stingray to recreate those battlefield fake cell phone towers and track people in the U.S. without their knowledge. Stingray offers some unique advantages: it bypasses the phone company entirely, which is, of course, handy in a war zone in which a phone company may be controlled by less than cooperative types, or if phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, or simply if you don’t want the phone company or anyone else to know you’re snooping. American phone companies seem to have been quite cooperative. Verizon, for instance, admits hacking its own cellular modems (“air cards”) to facilitate FBI intrusion.

    The FBI is also following NSA’s lead implanting spyware and other hacker software developed for our war zones secretly and remotely in American computers and cell phones. The Bureau can then remotely turn on phone and laptop microphones, even webcams, to monitor citizens, while files can be pulled from a computer or implanted onto a computer.

    Among the latest examples of war technology making the trip back to the homeland is the aerostat, a tethered medium-sized blimp. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more of them flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance. The Army recently announced plans to operate two such blimps over Washington, D.C., starting in 2014. Allegedly they are only to serve as anti-missile defenses, though in our war zones they were used as massive surveillance platforms. As a taste of the sorts of surveillance systems the aerostats were equipped with abroad but the Army says they won’t have here at home, consider Gorgon Stare, a system that can transmit live images of an entire town.  And unlike drones, an aerostat never needs to land. Ever.


    Welcome Home, Soldier (Part II)

    And so to Bradley Manning.

    As the weaponry and technology of war came home, so did a new, increasingly Guantanamo-ized definition of justice. This is one thing the Manning case has made clear.

    As a start, Manning was treated no differently than America’s war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo and the black sites that the Bush administration set up around the world. Picked up on the “battlefield,” Manning was first kept incommunicado in a cage in Kuwait for two months with no access to a lawyer. Then, despite being an active duty member of the Army, he was handed over to the Marines, who also guard Guantanamo, to be held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia.

    What followed were three years of cruel detainment, where, as might well have happened at Gitmo, Manning, kept in isolation, was deprived of clothing, communications, legal advice, and sleep. The sleep deprivation regime imposed on him certainly met any standard, other than Washington’s and possibly Pyongyang’s, for torture. In return for such abuse, even after a judge had formally ruled that he was subjected to excessively harsh treatment, Manning will only get a 112-day reduction in his eventual sentence.

    Eventually the Obama administration decided Manning was to be tried as a soldier before a military court. In the courtroom, itself inside a military facility that also houses NSA headquarters, there was a strikingly gulag-like atmosphere.  His trial was built around secret witnesses and secret evidence; severe restrictions were put on the press — the Army denied press passes to 270 of the 350 media organizations that applied; and there was a clear appearance of injustice. Among other things, the judge ruled against nearly every defense motion.

    During the months of the trial, the U.S. military refused to release official transcripts of the proceedings. Even a private courtroom sketch artist was barred from the room. Independent journalist and activist Alexa O’Brien then took it upon herself to attend the trial daily, defy the Army, and make an unofficial record of the proceedings by hand. Later in the trial, armed military police were stationed behind reporters listening to testimony. Above all, the feeling that Manning’s fate was predetermined could hardly be avoided. After all, President Obama, the former Constitutional law professor, essentially proclaimed him guilty back in 2011 and the Department of Defense didn’t hesitate to state more generally that “leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”

    As at Guantanamo, rules of evidence reaching back to early English common law were turned upside down. In Manning’s case, he was convicted of espionage, even though the prosecution did not have to prove either his intent to help another government or that harm was caused; a civilian court had already paved the way for such a ruling in another whistleblower case. In addition, the government was allowed to label Manning a “traitor” and an “anarchist” in open court, though he was on trial for neither treason nor anarchy. His Army supervisor in the U.S. and Iraq was allowed to testify against him despite having made biased and homophobic statements about him in a movie built around portraying Manning as a sad, sexually-confused, attention-seeking young man mesmerized by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Finally, the same judge who essentially harassed the press throughout Manning’s trial issued a 24-hour advance notice of her verdict to ensure maximum coverage only of the denouement, not the process.

    Given all this, it is small comfort to know that Manning, nailed on the Espionage Act after multiple failures in other cases by the Obama administration, was not convicted of the extreme charge of “aiding the enemy.”


    Not Manning Alone

    Someday, Manning’s case may be seen as a bitter landmark on the road to a post-Constitutional America, but it won’t be seen as the first case in the development of the post-Constitutional system. Immediately following 9/11, top officials in the Bush administration decided to “take the gloves off.” Soon after, a wounded John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was captured on an Afghan battlefield, held in a windowless shipping container, refused access to a lawyer even after he demanded one as an American citizen, and interrogated against his will by the FBI. Access to medical care was used as a bribe to solicit information from him. “Evidence” obtained by such means was then used to convict him in court.

    Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who clumsily plotted to detonate a nonexistent “dirty bomb,” was held incommunicado for more three years, over a year of which was in a South Carolina military jail. He was arrested only as a material witness and was not formally charged with a crime until years later. He was given no means to challenge his detention under habeas corpus, as President Bush designated him an “enemy combatant.” Pictures of Padilla being moved wearing sound-proof and light-proof gear strongly suggest he was subjected to the same psychosis-inducing sensory deprivation used as “white torture” against America’s foreign enemies in Guantanamo.

    Certainly, the most egregious case of pre-Manning post-Constitutional justice was the execution of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by drone in Yemen, without due process or trial, for being an al-Qaeda propagandist. In this, President Obama and his top counterterrorism advisors quite literally took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.  In a similar fashion, again in Yemen, the U.S. killed al-Awlaki’s American teenage son, a boy no one claimed was connected to terrorism. Obama administration lawyers went on to claim the legal right to execute U.S. citizens without trial or due process and have admitted to killing four Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that “United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted.”

    Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, asked in a Congressional hearing if the FBI could assassinate an American citizen in the United States, replied that he simply did not know. “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not.” He added, “I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.” As if competing for an Orwellian prize, an unnamed Obama administration official told the Washington Post, “What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.”


    Post-Constitutional America

    So welcome to post-Constitutional America. Its shape is, ominously enough, beginning to come into view.

    Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984 was not intended as an instruction manual, but just days before the Manning verdict, the Obama administration essentially buried its now-ironic-campaign promise to protect whistleblowers, sending it down Washington’s version of the memory hole. Post-9/11, torture famously stopped being torture if an American did it, and its users were not prosecutable by the Justice Department.

    Similarly, full-spectrum spying is not considered to violate the Fourth Amendment and does not even require probable cause. Low-level NSA analysts have desktop access to the private emails and phone calls of Americans. The Post Office photographs the envelopes of every one of the 160 billion pieces of mail it handles, collecting the metadata of “to:” and “from:” addresses. An Obama administration Insider Threat Program requires federal employees (including the Peace Corps) to report on the suspicious behavior of coworkers.

    Government officials concerned over possible wrongdoing in their departments or agencies who “go through proper channels” are fired or prosecuted. Government whistleblowers are commanded to return to face justice, while law-breakers in the service of the government are allowed to flee justice. CIA officers who destroy evidence of torture go free, while a CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture is locked up.

    Secret laws and secret courts can create secret law you can’t know about for “crimes” you don’t even know exist.  You can nonetheless be arrested for committing them. Thanks to the PATRIOT Act, citizens, even librarians, can be served by the FBI with a National Security Letter (not requiring a court order) demanding records and other information, and gagging them from revealing to anyone that such information has been demanded or such a letter delivered.  Citizens may be held without trial, and denied their Constitutional rights as soon as they are designated “terrorists.” Lawyers and habeas corpus are available only when the government allows.

    In the last decade, 10 times as many employers turned to FBI criminal databases to screen job applicants. The press is restricted when it comes to covering “open trials.” The war on whistleblowers is metastasizing into a war on the First Amendment. People may now be convicted based on secret testimony by unnamed persons. Military courts and jails can replace civilian ones. Justice can be twisted and tangled into an almost unrecognizable form and then used to send a young man to prison for decades. Claiming its actions lawful while shielding the “legal” opinions cited, often even from Congress, the government can send its drones to assassinate its own citizens.

    One by one, the tools and attitudes of the war on terror, of a world in which the “gloves” are eternally off, have come home. The comic strip character Pogo’s classic warning — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — seems ever less like a metaphor. According to the government, increasingly we are now indeed their enemy.




    This article also appeared on:

    The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/175589/welcome-post-constitution-america

    Commondreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/05-3

    Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/05/in_post_constitutional_america_we_are_all_the_governments_new_enemy_partner/

    Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-van-buren/bradley-manning-trial_b_3707109.html

    Michael Moore: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/welcome-post-constitution-america-what-if-your-country-begins-change-and-no-one-notices

    Digg.com

    Asia Times: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-060813.html

    Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/08/bradley-manning-constitutional-rights

    Le Monde Diplomatique (English): http://mondediplo.com/openpage/welcome-to-post-constitution-america

    ZNET: http://www.zcommunications.org/welcome-to-post-constitution-america-by-peter-van-buren

    Truthdig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/welcome_to_post-constitution_america_20130805/

    Counterinformation: https://counterinformation.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/welcome-to-post-constitution-america/

    Information Clearing House: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35760.htm

    Nation of Change: http://www.nationofchange.org/welcome-post-constitution-america-1375712052

    Middle East online: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60564

    al-Arab online: http://www.alarabonline.org/english/display.asp?fname=\2013\08\08-05\zopinionz\970.htm&dismode=x&ts=8/5/2013%2011:15:21%20AM

    Democratic Underground: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023408050

    Outlook India: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?287286

    Smirking Chimp: http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/tom-engelhardt/50975/tomgram-peter-van-buren-the-manning-trial-began-on-9-11

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/05/1228975/-Peter-Van-Buren-The-Manning-Trial-Began-on-9-11?detail=hide

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Peter-Van-Buren-The-Manni-by-Tom-Engelhardt-130805-781.html

    http://my.firedoglake.com/tomengelhardt/2013/08/05/peter-van-buren-the-manning-trial-began-on-911/

    http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com/2013/08/welcome-to-post-constitutional-america.html

    Welcome to Post-Constitution America

    http://www.blogotariat.com/node/1185276

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    The National Security State Continues to Militarize the Homeland

    August 3, 2013 // 16 Comments »




    (This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post)


    While poets and psychologists talk about soldiers bringing the battlefield home with them, in fact, the U.S. is doing just that. More and more, weapons, tactics, techniques and procedures that have been used abroad in war are coming home, this time employed against American Citizens.

    Armor, Drones and Armed Drones

    Others have written about the rise of warrior cops. Armored military-style vehicles are now part of most big-city police forces, as are military-style weapons. The FBI has admitted to using drones over America. In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their fleet of drones to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest.

    Stingray Knows Where You Are

    Much of the technology and methodology the NSA and others have been shown to be using against American Citizens was developed on and for the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular the advanced use of cell phones to track people’s movements.

    A technique now at use here at home is employing a fake cell phone tower under a program called Stingray. Stingrays spoof a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless devices into connecting to the fake tower instead of a nearby real one. When devices connect, stingrays can harvest MAC addresses and other unique identifiers and data, as well as location information. To prevent detection, the stingray relays the call itself to a real tower so the pickup is transparent to the caller. By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, the Feds can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.

    Better yet, stingray bypasses the phone company entirely. Handy when the phone company is controlled by the enemy, handy when laws change and the phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, handy when you simply don’t want the phone company to know you’re snooping on its network.

    Meta-Your-Data

    Also refined in Iraq, Afghanistan and the greater archipelago of the war of terror was the use of metadata and data-mining, essentially amassing everything, however minor or unimportant, and then using increasingly powerful computers to pull out of that large pile actionable information, i.e., specific information to feed back to combat commanders and special forces to allow them to kill specific people. Knowing, for example, the name of a guy’s girlfriend leads to knowing what car she drives which leads to knowing when she left home which leads to listening to her make a date via cell phone which leads a credit card charge for a room which leads to a strike on a particular location at a specific time, high-tech flagrante delicto.

    The FBI has followed the NSA’s wartime lead in creating its Investigative Data Warehouse, a collection of more than a billion documents on Americans including intelligence reports, social security files, drivers’ licenses, and private financial information including credit card data. All accessible to 13,000 analysts making a million queries monthly. One of them called it the “uber-Google.”

    Welcome Home Aerostat

    The latest (known) example of war technology coming home is the aerostat, a medium-sized blimp tethered high above its target area. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance (You can see photos online).

    What did those blimps do in war? Even drones have to land sometime, but a blimp can stay aloft 24/7/forever. Blimps are cheaper and do not require skilled pilots. Blimps can carry tons of equipment, significantly more than a drone. The blimps can carry any sensor or technology the U.S. has available, suspending it at altitude to soak up whatever that sensor is aimed at– cell calls, radio waves, electronic whatevers. The aerostats also carried high-powered cameras, with heat and night vision of course. While in Iraq, I had the aerostat video feed on my desktop. Soldiers being soldiers, occasional diversions were found when a camera operator spotted almost anything of vague interest, including two dogs mating, an Iraqi relieving himself outdoors or on really dull days, even a person hanging out laundry. The device obviously also had much less benign tasks assigned to it.

    The war has come home again, as the Army announced this week that by 2014 at least two of these aerostats will be permanently over Washington DC. They will be run by the Army, using operators who likely learned their trade at war. The aerostats are brought to you by the Raytheon company, who also makes some of America’s favorite weapons and surveillence gear.

    It’s All Good

    No need to worry Citizens, as the aerostats will only be used for your own good. In fact, their sensors will scan for incoming cruise missiles, mine-laying ships, armed drones, or anything incoming from hundreds of miles away, because of course Washington is constantly being attacked by those sorts of things (I love the idea of protecting the city from mine-laying ships sneaking up the Potomac River).

    Those DC-based aerostats will certainly not have employed the Gorgon Stare system, now in use in Afghanistan to rave reviews. Gorgon Stare, made up of nine video cameras, can transmit live images of physical movement across an entire town (four km radius), much wider in scope than any drone. Might be handy for VIP visits and presidential stuff, however, right?

    And of course the temptation to mount a stingray device where it can ping thousands of cell phones would be ignored.

    But I could be wrong about all the 1984-stuff, in which case the multi-million dollar aerostat program to protect against mines in the Potomac would be noteworthy only as another waste of taxpayer money. Remember when that was what made us the maddest about the government?



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    FBI Again Creates, then “Stops” a Terror Attack, Refutes Constitution

    July 9, 2013 // 14 Comments »

    Sleep safe Citizens, for the rough men of your national security state are guarding the walls.

    Wait. Those rough men are actually clowns. The truth is more that the FBI is creating its own terror plots using some of the dumbest, most gullible would-be internet jihadis on the planet, and then claiming it stopped another attack on Das Homeland. This is the equivalent of a firefighter committing arson so he could look like a hero for putting out the fire.

    We talked recently here about one plot involving a make-believe death ray. Today’s silliness involves a fake bomb attack in Chicago.

    So this guy, probably based out of his parents’ basement, posts some stuff on a jihadi web site. The NSA takes note. Then he emails himself a link to the al Qaeda online magazine Inspire. The NSA spends billions of dollars to snoop and take note. With the incriminating evidence of unallowed actions of free speech in hand, two FBI undercover employees posing as jihadists contacted the guy, met up with him in Chicago, gave him fake explosives and a bum detonator, and helped him plan an attack. The FBI then arrested him when he tried to blow up a Chicago bar with the non-working gear supplied to him by the FBI. Senator Diane Feinstein raised this very case last year as justification for extending the existing surveillance laws.

    But Wait, There’s More!

    You’d think that was enough heroism for one case. However, in a sleazy attempt to avoid creating the grounds for a Constitutional challenge to the surveillance laws, the government is refusing to acknowledge that those laws were employed in this case. See, if the government admits it used its super snooping powers in a particular case, the defendant gains standing to pursue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. The government dearly wishes to avoid having its actions tested for Constitutional legitimacy. Yeah, democracy!

    Indeed, the most serious attempt, by the ACLU and others, to challenge the Constitutionality of the surveillance laws was denied by the courts because the ACLU lacked standing. The ACLU could not prove it had been surveilled and thus could not sue. Neat.

    Remember, if you see something (you children especially, keep an eye on your parents’ internet use!), say something. Seriously, just say it out loud, because the NSA is listening.



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