Warnings about risks posed by encryption have been wildly overblown by intelligence agencies, says report

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The New York Times reports: For more than two years the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies have warned that encrypted communications are creating a “going dark” crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers.

Now, a study in which current and former intelligence officials participated concludes that the warning is wildly overblown, and that a raft of new technologies — like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars — are creating ample opportunities for the government to track suspects, many of them worrying.

“ ‘Going dark’ does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” concludes the study, to be published Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

The study argues that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad. [Continue reading…]

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How the FBI is pressuring Muslim immigrants to become informants

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BuzzFeed reports: When he got the last call to come meet with the FBI agents, A.M. allowed himself an uncharacteristic bit of optimism. An immigrant from Pakistan, he had spent the last seven years trying to get a green card, a process that had so far included a series of interviews, three encounters with the FBI, and unexplained bureaucratic delays. Maybe this meeting would bring some resolution?
But when the 37-year-old software programmer arrived at the Homeland Security offices in Dallas that day in August 2014, the conversation quickly swerved. One of the two agents placed a piece of paper on the table and told him to write down the names of all the people he knew who he thought were terrorists.

Bewildered, he said he didn’t know any terrorists. He said he didn’t know about any suspicious activity at all. “We think you do,” the agents replied.

A.M. was quickly becoming alarmed. (Like almost all other immigrants interviewed for this story, he said he did not feel safe allowing his name to be published. A.M. are his initials.) He was a family man, with a highly skilled 9-to-5 job. He had lived in America for nearly two decades. He went to college in America. Why would the FBI see him as a link to terrorism? And weren’t they supposed to be discussing his green card application?
As it turned out, that’s precisely what they were discussing. “We know about your immigration problems,” he recalls one of the agents telling him. “And we can help you with that.” If, they said, he agreed to start making secret reports on his community, his friends, even his family.

Pressuring people to become informants by dangling the promise of citizenship — or, if they do not comply, deportation — is expressly against the rules that govern FBI agents’ activities.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales forbade the practice nine years ago: “No promises or commitments can be made, except by the United States Department of Homeland Security, regarding the alien status of any person or the right of any person to enter or remain in the United States,” according to the Attorney General’s Guidelines Regarding the Use of FBI Confidential Human Sources.

In fact, Gonzales’s guidelines, which are still in force today, require agents to go further: They must explicitly warn potential informants that the FBI cannot help with their immigration status in any way.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government and court documents, official complaints, and interviews with immigrants, immigration and civil rights lawyers, and former special agents — shows that the FBI violates these rules. Mandated to enforce the law, the bureau has assumed a powerful but unacknowledged role in a very different realm: decisions about the legal status of immigrants — in particular, Muslim immigrants. First the immigration agency ties up their green card applications for years, even a decade, without explanation, then FBI agents approach the applicants with a loaded offer: Want to get your papers? Start reporting to us about people you know. [Continue reading…]

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Suspect in pro-ISIS plot called mentally ill ‘panhandler’ who was ‘manipulated’

The Associated Press reports: An ex-convict arrested in a plot to carry out a pro-Islamic State attack at a bar on New Year’s Eve is a panhandler who had been asked to leave in the past, the bar’s owner said. The man’s family said he had a long history of mental problems.

Federal authorities have said Emanuel Lutchman, 25, sought to prove he was worthy of joining Isis by leading an attack in Rochester with a machete and knives that were provided by an FBI informant.

After authorities announced his arrest on Thursday, Lutchman’s father and mother described a man who had had psychiatric troubles since childhood, had recently stabbed himself in a suicide attempt and, they said, would not have conducted the attack on his own.

“The boy is impressionable,” his father, Omar Lutchman, told NBC News. “First he was a Blood, then he was a Crip, then he became a Muslim. He’s easily manipulated.”

The father and the suspect’s grandmother, Beverley Carridice-Henry, told the network Lutchman is married and has a two-year-old son but had been having marital and money problems. He was frustrated over being unable to find work and care for his family, they said. [Continue reading…]

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FBI listed It’s a Wonderful Life as suspected Communist propaganda

Quartz reports: It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of the holiday season in the United States, but it was once considered un-American by the government.

From the film’s release in 1946 until 1956, it was listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as suspected Communist propaganda. Mr. Potter, the villainous banker who nearly drives George Bailey to financial ruin and suicide, “represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture,” according to an FBI report (pdf, pg. 14) in 1947.

The report called it “a common trick used by Communists.” [Continue reading…]

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Pete Seeger’s FBI file reveals how the folk legend first became a target of the feds

David Corn writes: From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the US government spied on singer-songwriter Pete Seeger because of his political views and associations. According to documents in Seeger’s extensive FBI file—which runs to nearly 1,800 pages (with 90 pages withheld) and was obtained by Mother Jones under the Freedom of Information Act—the bureau’s initial interest in Seeger was triggered in 1943 after Seeger, as an Army private, wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese American citizens and residents when World War II ended.

Seeger, a champion of folk music and progressive causes—and the writer, performer, or promoter of now-classic songs, including as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” “Goodnight, Irene,” and “This Land Is Your Land”—was a member of the Communist Party for several years in the 1940s, as he subsequently acknowledged. (He later said he should have left earlier.) His FBI file shows that Seeger, who died in early 2014, was for decades hounded by the FBI, which kept trying to tie him to the Communist Party, and the first investigation in the file illustrates the absurd excesses of the paranoid security establishment of that era. [Continue reading…]

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Climate advocates to Department of Justice: It’s time to prosecute Exxon

Good reports: Members of Congress, presidential candidates, and now at least 350,000 American citizens are calling upon U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate and prosecute Exxon Mobil for intentionally deceiving the public about the science of climate change.

In September, two exclusive investigative reports by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News, revealed that Exxon’s own scientists were researching climate change, even as the company was spending big money to misinform the public about climate science. The Inside Climate News investigation found that as early as 1977, Exxon’s own scientists were warning management about oil’s role in “potentially catastrophic” global warming.

Many climate advocates – including a growing number of politicians – believe that the deception could well be criminal. Last Thursday, representatives from a number of climate advocacy group – including Climate Hawks Vote, 350.org, the Moms Clean Air Force, the Working Families Party, and Greenpeace USA – delivered over 350,000 signed petitions to the Department of Justice demanding an investigation. [Continue reading…]

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FBI to help Russia investigate plane crash in Egypt

The New York Times reports: The F.B.I. has agreed to help the Russian government with its investigation into the deadly crash of a Russian charter plane in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, senior American officials said on Saturday.

Some American officials said that the Russians want help doing a forensic analysis to determine what brought down the Airbus A321-200, while other officials said that the request from the Russians was more general. Although most of the debris is scattered over nearly eight square miles in the desert, some parts of the plane were taken to Russia for analysis.

It is rare for the Russians to make such a request, which was first reported on Friday by CBS News, and some American officials interpreted it as a sign of the challenges facing investigators. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Russian officials said Saturday that more than 70,000 of their citizens were in Egypt awaiting the arrival of jets being sent to carry them home. British officials said on Saturday that there were about 19,000 Britons at Sharm el Sheikh and that it would take 10 days to get them all home.

The exodus from Sharm el Sheikh has dealt a devastating blow to Egypt’s already sputtering tourism industry. The loss of foreign currency from tourists is likely to greatly increase downward pressure on the value of the Egyptian pound, compounding the damage to the broader economy.

Only a small number of Western European airlines operated direct flights to Sharm el Sheikh before the crash, flying from Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Airlines from some countries, including France and the Netherlands, stopped offering direct service in recent years, in part out of security concerns, European officials said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Six days after the crash of a Russian charter flight from the Egyptian resort area of Sharm el Sheikh, the government of Egypt is finding itself increasingly isolated in its resistance to the possibility that a terrorist’s bomb brought down the plane.

Britain has concluded the cause was most likely a bomb. President Obama has said pointedly that he takes the possibility “very seriously.” After standing arm in arm with Egypt for six days in discouraging any such discussion of terrorism, even President Vladimir V. Putin on Friday suspended Russia’s flights to Egypt for fear of another attack, stranding tens of thousands of tourists at the resort.

But the government of Egypt, critically dependent on the money tourists bring to Sharm el Sheikh’s resorts, has dismissed any suggestion that a bombing killed the 224 people aboard as “premature,” “surprising” and “unwarranted.”

The widening chasm between Egypt and the world, some say, recalls an earlier crash, in 1999, when EgyptAir Flight 990 plunged into the ocean off the coast of Nantucket Island. Although American investigators said flight records pointed to the decisions of an Egyptian pilot, the Egyptian government blamed a malfunction in the Boeing airplane, and 17 years later the Egyptian-American dispute over the cause is still unresolved.

In that case, the Egyptian investigation was cloaked in mystery and, critics say, politicized from that start.

“I don’t anticipate the Egyptian investigation here to be any more transparent than their work on EgyptAir 990,” James E. Hall, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board who oversaw that investigation, said in an interview. [Continue reading…]

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How U.S. officials can kidnap and threaten American citizens without legal risk

Patrick G. Eddington writes: At exactly 5 p.m. on March 13, 2007, just as I was preparing to leave my cubicle in Washington for the day, I got a phone call from the journalist Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. To this day, I remember his exact words.

“One of your congressman’s constituents is being held in an Ethiopian intelligence service prison, and I think your former employer is neck-deep in this.”

The congressman was Rush Holt, then a Democratic representative from New Jersey, for whom I worked for 10 years starting in 2004. The constituent was Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J., who alleges that he was illegally taken to Ethiopia, where he was threatened with torture by American officials. My “former employer” was the Central Intelligence Agency, but it soon became apparent that the agency “neck-deep in this” was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eight years after Mr. Meshal’s rendition, his case ended up before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The questions hanging over the proceeding were: can the United States government allow, or even facilitate, the rendition of an American citizen to another country for interrogation? And can United States officials themselves conduct rendition and interrogations of American citizens, including threats of torture, on foreign soil?

According to a decision handed down last week, the answers appear to be yes. [Continue reading…]

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American paranoia and govt. red tape creates multiple barriers for Syrian refugees

Olivia Goldhill writes: [O]nce the US agrees, in theory, to resettle a refugee, authorities then begin a laborious vetting process that can take up to two years, a State Department spokesman told Voice of America.

The refugees, who have already been vetted by the UN, must then be screened by US authorities — involving the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and Homeland Security officers, former State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in February.

Syrians who have been approved for resettlement are often survivors of torture, female-led families without protection, and unaccompanied minors. They can be in danger throughout the vetting process, and delays are common, Daryl Grisgraber, senior advocate for the Middle East and North Africa at Refugees International, tells Quartz.

“Once the person is cleared medically, that medical clearance may even expire while the security check is happening,” she says from Washington. “There’s a whole cycle that makes the process quite slow.”

Syrian refugees face particularly long delays because of anxieties about terrorism in the Middle East. But excessive fears can make the resettlement process redundant. The US does not accept refugees who have given “material support” to armed groups, but this has previously been used to block people for the slightest excuse — a Burundi refugee was detained for 20 months because armed rebels robbed him of $4 and his lunch. The immigration judge decided this counted as “material support.” [Continue reading…]

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AP sues over access to FBI records involving fake news story

The Associated Press reports: The Associated Press sued the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday over the FBI’s failure to provide public records related to the creation of a fake news story used to plant surveillance software on a suspect’s computer.

AP joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

At issue is a 2014 Freedom of Information request seeking documents related to the FBI’s decision to send a web link to the fake article to a 15-year-old boy suspected of making bomb threats to a high school near Olympia, Washington. The link enabled the FBI to infect the suspect’s computer with software that revealed its location and Internet address.

AP strongly objected to the ruse, which was uncovered last year in documents obtained through a separate FOIA request made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Continue reading…]

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Justice Dept. hit with lawsuit after refusing to disclose rules for spying on journalists

AllGov reports: The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to reveal its rules for spying on the media, prompting one group representing journalists to sue the agency in federal court.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act that document Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) procedures for issuing national security letters to spy on the media. The Justice Department has so far refused to release the information or even respond to the FOIA request the foundation made in March.

Victoria Baranetsky, the foundation’s attorney, told Courthouse News Service obtaining the records and publishing them “is necessary to deter chilling effects on the press and its sources, especially given recent years during which the Obama Administration has increased surveillance of reporters.” [Continue reading…]

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What’s inside the Justice Department’s secret cybersecurity memo?

National Journal reports: Sen. Ron Wyden has many problems with the cybersecurity bill that the Senate may take up before the August recess.

But he can only talk about some of them publicly. Other reservations remain strictly classified.

Wyden, the Democratic privacy hawk from Oregon, claims that a classified Justice Department legal opinion written during the early years of the George W. Bush administration is pertinent to the upper chamber’s consideration of cyberlegislation — a warning that reminds close observers of his allusions to the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers years before they were exposed publicly by Edward Snowden. [Continue reading…]

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Laura Poitras sues U.S. government to find out why she was repeatedly stopped at the border

The Intercept reports: Over six years, filmmaker Laura Poitras was searched, interrogated and detained more than 50 times at U.S. and foreign airports.

When she asked why, U.S. agencies wouldn’t say.

Now, after receiving no response to her Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to her systemic targeting, Poitras is suing the U.S. government.

In a complaint filed on Monday afternoon, Poitras demanded that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release any and all documentation pertaining to her tracking, targeting and questioning while traveling between 2006 and 2012. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Justice Department must investigate American Psychological Association’s role in U.S. torture program

Physicians for Human Rights today called for a federal criminal probe into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in the U.S. torture program following the release of a damning new report that confirms the APA colluded with the Bush administration to enable psychologists to design, implement, and defend a program of torture. In light of the 542-page independent report first reported by The New York Times, PHR again called for a full investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The corruption of a health professional organization at this level is an extraordinary betrayal of both ethics and the law, and demands an investigation and appropriate prosecutions,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “Rather than uphold the principle of ‘do no harm,’ APA leadership subverted its own ethics policies and sabotaged all efforts at enforcement.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. runs hundreds of counter-terrorism investigations: DOJ official

Reuters reports: U.S. authorities are pursuing hundreds of active counter-terrorism investigations embracing all 50 American states, a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Wednesday.

John Carlin, Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the department’s National Security Division, speaking to journalists in London, said in the last two weeks alone, federal authorities had made 10 counter-terrorism related arrests.

A second U.S. official indicated that investigators believed some of these cases involved potentially active attack plots, though he provided no details.

The Islamic State “wants individuals to conduct an attack in the United States and they are doing everything they can to try to advance that goal,” said Carlin, whose visit to Britain included consultations with British security officials.

Over the last six months, Carlin said, U.S. investigators had noticed a change in tactics by the Syria-based Islamic State group. The group had become particularly adept at using social media to pitch sophisticated recruitment messages towards an increasingly young target audience.

Sixty percent of the Islamic State’s target audience, by the official’s estimate, is aged 25 or younger and a substantial subset of that group are under 21, including many juveniles. [Continue reading…]

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