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…]
The Associated Press reports: It has been nearly 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, but a lawsuit on behalf of Muslims rounded up in the aftermath has barely moved forward as lawyers try to show how frightening it was for hundreds of men with no ties to terrorism to be treated like terrorists, locked up and abused for months at a time.
The lawsuit finally got a green light from a federal appeals court last week, with two judges willing to let the courts grapple with what happened in the days after the worst terrorist attack in American history, when the largest criminal probe in U.S. history tested the boundaries of civil liberties.
In a 2-1 ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit against three former top U.S. officials, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Holding the defendants “in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with regular strip searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by al-Qaida violated the detainees’ Constitutional rights,” the majority wrote. “The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.” [Continue reading…]
Jeff Stein reports: Mark Rossini, a former FBI special agent at the center of an enduring mystery related to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, says he is “appalled” by the newly declassified statements by former CIA Director George Tenet defending the spy agency’s efforts to detect and stop the plot.
Rossini, who was assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) at the time of the attacks, has long maintained that the U.S. government has covered up secret relations between the spy agency and Saudi individuals who may have abetted the plot. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a failed effort to crash into the U.S. Capitol, were Saudis.
A heavily redacted 2005 CIA inspector general’s report, parts of which had previously been released, was further declassified earlier this month. It found that agency investigators “encountered no evidence” that the government of Saudi Arabia “knowingly and willingly supported” Al-Qaeda terrorists. It added that some CIA officers had “speculated” that “dissident sympathizers within the government” may have supported Osama bin Laden but that “the reporting was too sparse to determine with any accuracy such support.” [Continue reading…]
Huffington Post reports: Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday requesting a Justice Department investigation on whether armed protests outside a mosque in Phoenix violated the worshippers’ First Amendment-guaranteed freedom to practice religion.
“The decision to bring assault weapons to the mosque demonstrates intent to create a hostile environment to intimidate worshipers, a clear attempt to infringe on the First Amendment rights of the worshipers [sic],” the letter reads.
Last Friday, a biker gang of about 250 armed protesters, carrying assault rifles, pistols, American flags and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad assembled outside of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. The mosque had previously been attended by the two gunmen from Phoenix who opened gunfire on an anti-Islam event featuring a controversial “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, in May.
“True Islam is terrorism,” Ritzheimer told CNN last week.
Ellison and Carson, the only two Muslims in Congress, allege that the armed protests could also be a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a bill passed in 1994. The law, they note, outlaws “‘attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.'” [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology — all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.
The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. The FBI said it uses front companies to protect the safety of the pilots and aircraft. It also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being watched by the FBI.
In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.
Aerial surveillance represents a changing frontier for law enforcement, providing what the government maintains is an important tool in criminal, terrorism or intelligence probes. But the program raises questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: A bitter ideological divide in Congress appeared destined Wednesday to at least temporarily end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records as government officials warned they would have to begin shuttering the program after Friday if lawmakers do not act.
In a memorandum, the Justice Department said the National Security Agency would need to act “to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection” or use of the data should the program not be extended before a June 1 deadline.
The memo, along with comments Wednesday by FBI Director James B. Comey, puts pressure on lawmakers to act at a time when congressional Republicans remain divided over the NSA’s controversial gathering of private telephone records for counterterrorism purposes. [Continue reading…]
In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are vacant (thanks to an ongoing foreclosure crisis), and water service is being shut off for people who can’t afford to pay rising water rates. Residents, mainly black, live in what is really an unofficially segregated, hollowed-out Rust Belt city that just happens to be located on the East Coast.
As Max Blumenthal pointed out when the city’s mayor started denouncing “outside agitators,” more than 70% of Baltimore’s police force lives beyond the city limits, at least 10% of them out-of-state. The Baltimore PD is also notorious for its brutality, for the numbers of (black) residents it seems to gun down, and for its give-not-an-inch “broken windows” policing policies. In a city that is 62% black and 28% white, police officers are still 46% white and 80% outsiders heading into neighborhoods that are almost totally black. Unlike the residents of such neighborhoods, Baltimore’s police lack for little. Thanks in part to Pentagon and other government programs, the force is armed to the teeth in the increasingly military fashion that has become the post-9/11 state of things (and that TomDispatch has been covering since 2004.) It acts as if it were, that is, an occupying army, not a neighborhood protector. In this sense, “community policing” is now a joke in the U.S.
When the CVS stores go up in flames and local stores are looted, politicians denounce what’s happened and demand an instant return to law and order, while calling on police departments to wear body cameras and rethink their attitudes. But there’s another reality that has to be faced. Give some credit to Hillary Clinton. In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.” Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for. In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry.”
Among the illusions of our age, there’s this: the idea that the U.S. can fight wars in whatever fashion it pleases, year after year, in distant lands without changing our society as well. In fact, those wars have been coming home for a long time in myriad ways, and never more obviously than with American police forces and their practices. It’s not just that the police (and SWAT units) are now filled with vets from the war on terror, or that they are armed with weaponry directly off its battlefields, but that the mentality that has made those wars such disasters has come home with the troops and weaponry.
As Michael Gould-Wartofsky, author of the new book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, suggests, thoroughly militarized, surveillance-heavy forces are bringing counterinsurgency thinking from Iraq and Afghanistan back to this country. The record of such thinking abroad brings to mind a question first raised by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren about Washington’s new war in Iraq: What could possibly go wrong? Tom Engelhardt
The wars come home
A five-step guide to the police repression of protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky
Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.
Jed S. Rakoff writes: For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out.
The basic facts are not in dispute. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons, a 500 percent increase over the past forty years. Although the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The per capita incarceration rate in the US is about one and a half times that of second-place Rwanda and third-place Russia, and more than six times the rate of neighboring Canada. Another 4.75 million Americans are subject to the state supervision imposed by probation or parole.
Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. And even though crime rates in the United States have declined consistently for twenty-four years, the number of incarcerated persons has continued to rise over most of that period, both because more people are being sent to prison for offenses that once were punished with other measures and because the sentences are longer. For example, even though the number of violent crimes has steadily decreased over the past two decades, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has steadily increased, so that one in nine persons in prison is now serving a life sentence.
And whom are we locking up? Mostly young men of color. Over 840,000, or nearly 40 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are African-American males. Put another way, about one in nine African-American males between the ages of twenty and thirty-four is now in prison, and if current rates hold, one third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Approximately 440,000, or 20 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are Hispanic males. [Continue reading…]
McClatchy reports: A North Carolina blogger who became a major propagandist for al Qaida before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, was a subject of close FBI surveillance for years and a much bigger concern for U.S. authorities than previously known, according to records obtained by McClatchy.
Samir Khan, 25, was a big enough worry while he lived in Charlotte, N.C., that before he disappeared in 2009, federal agents asked the FBI’s special forces unit, Hostage Rescue Team, to help with a likely arrest, the files show. But no arrest was made, and Khan disappeared, reemerging months later in Yemen where he launched an English-language al Qaida magazine, Inspire, that has been influential in radicalizing and recruiting extremists worldwide. He was killed Sept. 30, 2011.
Khan’s case, along with those of the perpetrators of attacks that include the Boston Marathon bombings and the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, reflects a new reality for those seeking to thwart terrorism: Many of the lone wolf-style attacks authorities fear most are the work of people already known to U.S. and international intelligence agencies.
Experts say future terrorists are becoming radicalized under the very noses of intelligence officials, who struggle to balance civil liberties with stopping potentially dangerous individuals now being referred to as “known wolves.” [Continue reading…]
Patrick G. Eggerton writes: Last fall, when Apple and Google announced they were cleaning up their operating systems to ensure that their users’ information was encrypted to prevent hacking and potential data loss, FBI Director James Comey attacked both companies. He claimed the encryption would cause the users to “place themselves above the law.”
The tech community fired back. “The only actions that have undermined the rule of law,” Ken Gude wrote in Wired, “are the government’s deceptive and secret mass-surveillance programs.”
The battle resumed in February 2015. Michael Steinbach, FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, said it is “irresponsible” for companies like Google and Apple to use software that denies the FBI lawful means to intercept data.
Yet the FBI does have a lawful means to intercept it: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Its scope was vastly expanded by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
It’s worth noting that the FBI never asked Congress to force tech companies to build “back doors” into their products immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Only after Google and Apple took steps to patch existing security vulnerabilities did the bureau suddenly express concern that terrorists might be exploiting this encryption.
In fact, the bureau has a host of legal authorities and technological capabilities at its disposal to intercept and read communications, or even to penetrate facilities or homes to implant audio and video recording devices. The larger problem confronting the FBI and the entire U.S. intelligence community is their over-reliance on electronic technical collection against terrorist targets. [Continue reading…]
In a conversation recorded by the storytelling project StoryCorps just last summer, Yusor Abu-Salha, a victim from the recent Chapel Hill shooting, described her experience of being an American.
The Washington Post reports: The FBI is opening an inquiry into the shootings of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., a move that followed multiple calls this week for authorities to investigate the violence as a hate crime.
On Friday, President Obama issued a statement on “the brutal and outrageous murders,” saying that the FBI would look to see if federal laws were broken during the shooting.
“No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” Obama said.
Police are investigating the shootings of three people — newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — on Tuesday afternoon at a housing complex near the University of North Carolina.
As the shooting has attracted global attention, Obama has been criticized for not speaking out about it sooner.
“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to Mexico on Thursday, according to Reuters.
The Embassy of Jordan in Washington said Friday that Alia Bouran, the country’s ambassador to the United States, went to North Carolina on Friday. Jordan’s foreign ministry issued a statement a day earlier saying that the sisters killed in Chapel Hill also had Jordanian citizenship.
While in North Carolina, Bouran met with the families of the victims and expressed the sympathies of Jordanian King Abdullah II. The embassy said Friday that it was “closely following the ongoing investigation” in North Carolina.
The FBI probe announced on Thursday stops short of being a full investigation, as had been reported in multiple media outlets since the inquiry was announced. Rather, it is a review that could ultimately become an investigation down the line. It was opened by the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle district of North Carolina. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: A U.S. military court on Wednesday tried to assess whether government agents interfered with the trial of five men charged with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by spying on defenses attorneys and their clients.
The judge halted the pre-trial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison on Monday after one of the defendants said his interpreter had worked at a secret CIA prison.
When the hearing resumed on Wednesday, defenses attorneys contended the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency had planted Arabic interpreters on the defenses team, bugged conversations between the attorneys and their clients and questioned their support staff.
Alison Flood writes: Newly declassified documents from the FBI reveal how the US federal agency under J Edgar Hoover monitored the activities of dozens of prominent African American writers for decades, devoting thousands of pages to detailing their activities and critiquing their work.
Academic William Maxwell first stumbled upon the extent of the surveillance when he submitted a freedom of information request for the FBI file of Claude McKay. The Jamaican-born writer was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, author of the sonnet If We Must Die, supposedly recited by Winston Churchill, and Maxwell was preparing an edition of his complete poems. When the file came through from the FBI, it stretched to 193 pages and, said Maxwell, revealed “that the bureau had closely read and aggressively chased McKay” – describing him as a “notorious negro revolutionary” – “all across the Atlantic world, and into Moscow”.
Maxwell, associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St Louis, decided to investigate further, knowing that other scholars had already found files on well-known black writers such as Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. He made 106 freedom of information requests about what he describes as “noteworthy Afro-modernists” to the FBI; 51 of those writers had files, ranging from three to 1,884 pages each. [Continue reading…]
Jed S. Rakoff writes: So-called “deferred prosecutions” were developed in the 1930s as a way of helping juvenile offenders. A juvenile who had been charged with a crime would agree with the prosecutor to have his prosecution deferred while he entered a program designed to rehabilitate such offenders. If he successfully completed the program and committed no other crime over the course of a year, the charge would then be dropped.
The analogy of a Fortune 500 company to a juvenile delinquent is, perhaps, less than obvious. Nonetheless, beginning in the early 1990s and with increasing frequency thereafter, federal prosecutors began entering into “deferred prosecution” agreements with major corporations and large financial institutions. In the typical arrangement, the government agreed to defer prosecuting the company for various federal felonies if the company, in addition to paying a financial penalty, agreed to introduce various “prophylactic” measures designed to prevent future such crimes and to “rehabilitate” the company’s “culture.” The crimes for which prosecution was thus deferred included felony violations of the securities laws, banking laws, antitrust laws, anti-money-laundering laws, food and drug laws, foreign corrupt practices laws, and numerous provisions of the general federal criminal code.
The intellectual origins of this approach to corporate crime can be traced back at least to the 1980s, when various academics suggested that the best way to deter “crime in the suites” was to foster a culture within companies of acting ethically and responsibly. In practice, this meant encouraging companies not only to provide in-house ethical training but also to enlarge their internal compliance programs, so that responsible behavior would be praised and misconduct policed. The approach found favor not just with some corporations (notably General Electric under the guidance of its then general counsel, Ben Heineman), but also with the US Sentencing Commission, which, in promulgating the Corporate Sentencing Guidelines in 1991, made the overall adequacy of a company’s prior internal compliance programs the most important factor in reducing (by as much as 60 percent) the size of the fine to be imposed on a company found guilty of a federal criminal violation. [Continue reading…]
Lyric R Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe write: People think that catching terrorists is just a matter of finding them – but, just as often, terrorists are created by the people doing the chase.
While making our film (T)ERROR, which tracks a single counter-terrorism sting operation over seven months, we realized that most people have serious misconceptions about FBI counter-terrorism efforts. They assume that informants infiltrate terrorist networks and then provide the FBI with information about those networks in order to stop terrorist plots from being carried out. That’s not true in the vast majority of domestic terrorism cases.
Since 9/11, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented, the FBI has routinely used paid informants not to capture existing terrorists, but to cultivate them. Through elaborate sting operations, informants are directed to spend months – sometimes years – building relationships with targets, stoking their anger and offering ideas and incentives that encourage them to engage in terrorist activity. And the moment a target takes a decisive step forward, crossing the line from aspirational to operational, the FBI swoops in to arrest him. [Continue reading…]
After cybersleuth Barack Obama saw the evidence pointing at North Korea’s responsibility for the cyberattacks against Sony, “he had no doubt,” the New York Times melodramatically reports.
He had no doubt about what? That his intelligence analysts knew what they were talking about? Or that he too when presented with the same evidence was forced to reach the same conclusion?
I have no doubt that had Obama been told by those same advisers that North Korea was not behind the attacks, he would have accepted that conclusion. In other words, on matters about which he lacks the expertise to reach any conclusion, he relies on the expertise of others.
A journalist who tells us about the president having “no doubt” in such as situation is merely dressing up his narrative with some Hollywood-style commander-in-chief gravitas.
When one of the reporters in this case, David Sanger, is someone whose cozy ties to government extend to being “an old friend of many, many years” of Ashton Carter, whose nomination as the next Secretary of Defense is almost certain to be approved, you have to wonder whose interests he really serves. Those of his readership or those of the government?
Since Obama and the FBI went out on a limb by asserting that they had no doubt about North Korea’s role in the attacks, they have been under considerable pressure to provide some compelling evidence to back up their claim.
That evidence now comes courtesy of anonymous officials briefing the New York Times and another document from the Snowden trove of NSA documents.
Maybe the evidence really is conclusive, but there are still important unanswered questions.
For instance, as Arik Hesseldahl asks:
why, if the NSA had so fully penetrated North Korea’s cyber operations, did it not warn Sony that an attack of this magnitude was underway, one that apparently began as early as September.
Officials with the NSA and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the report. A Sony spokeswoman had no comment.
On the one hand we’re being told that the U.S. knew exactly who was behind the Sony attacks because the hackers were under close surveillance by the NSA, and yet at the same time we’re being told that although the NSA was watching the hackers it didn’t figure out what they were doing.
If Hollywood everyone decides to create a satire out of this, they’ll need to come up with a modern-day reworking of the kind of scene that would come straight out of Get Smart — the kind where Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, would be eavesdropping on conversation between his North Korean counterparts, the only problem being, that he doesn’t understand Korean.
The Times report refers to the North Korean hackers using an “attack base” in Shenyang, in north east China. This has been widely reported with the somewhat less cyber-sexy name of the Chilbosan Hotel whose use for these purposes has been known since 2004.
If the attackers wanted to avoid detection, it’s hard to understand why they would have operated out of a location that had been known about for that long and that could so easily be linked to North Korea.
It’s also hard to fathom that having developed its cyberattack capabilities over such an extended period, North Korea would want to risk so much just to try and prevent the release of The Interview.
Michael Daly claims that the regime “recognizes that Hollywood and American popular culture in general constitute a dire threat” — a threat that has apparently penetrated the Hermit Kingdom in the “especially popular” form of Desperate Housewives.
Daly goes on to assert:
a glimpse of Wisteria Lane is enough to give lie to the regime’s propaganda that North Koreans live in a worker’s paradise while its enemies suffer in grinding poverty, driven by envy to plot against Dear Leader.
Of course, as every American who has watched the show knows, Wisteria Lane represents anytown America and the cast could blend in unnoticed at any Walmart or shopping mall.
OK. I won’t deny that American propaganda is much more sophisticated than North Korea’s, but when an American journalist implies that Desperate Housewives offers ordinary North Koreans a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Americans, you have to ask: which population has been more perfectly been brainwashed?
In reality, the dire threat to the North Korean regime in terms of social impact comes not from American popular culture but from much closer: South Korean soap operas.
The Guardian reports: On the surface, she blended in very well. With a skull tattooed on her shoulder, a black-and-white keffiyeh around her neck, a shock of bright pink hair and her standard-issue dress of camouflage skirt and heavy boots, the energetic 17-year-old looked every bit the radical eco-activist she worked so hard to imitate.
But “Anna”, as she called herself, was no ordinary eco-protester. Really, she wasn’t one at all. She was an FBI informant under instructions to infiltrate fringe green groups and anti-capitalist networks and report back on their activities to the US government.
Now “Anna”, in her role at the center of a high-profile prosecution of alleged eco-terrorists in 2006-7, has been put under the spotlight following the embarrassing admission by the US Department of Justice that it failed to disclose crucial documents to defence attorneys at trial.
On Thursday, Eric McDavid, a radical green activist aged 37, was allowed to walk free after having served nine years of a 19-year federal prison sentence. Prosecutors had alleged that he was the ringleader in a small cell of eco-terrorists connected to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) conspiring to bomb the Nimbus Dam in California, cellphone towers, science labs and other targets.
Last week’s dramatic scenes in a courtroom in Sacramento, California, have focused attention on the FBI’s use of undercover informants and prompted claims that the agency lured unsuspecting activists into criminal activity through blatant entrapment. [Continue reading…]