The murders before the Boston Marathon

f13-iconSusan Zalkind writes: It’s nearly midnight in a nondescript condo complex a few blocks from Universal Studios in Orlando, and Tatiana Gruzdeva has been crying all day. Though neither of us knows it yet, as she sits on the corner of her bed and sobs in tiny convulsions, the fact that she’s talking to me will lead to her being arrested by federal agents, placed in solitary confinement, and deported back to Russia.

Next to us on the bed are nine teddy bears. Eight of them came with her from Tiraspol, Moldova. The ninth was a gift from her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev. Today would have been Ibragim’s 28th birthday, but he is not here to see it, because in the early hours of May 22, 2013, a Boston FBI agent shot and killed him in this very apartment, under circumstances so strange that a Florida state prosecutor has opened an independent investigation. According to the FBI, just before Ibragim was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.

I’m sitting awkwardly at one end of the twin bed. She’s crying quietly, cross-legged at the other end, wearing shorts and a white shirt with sequins. Most of her outfits have sequins or rhinestones. She’s 19. I’m 26. We both have long blond hair. We’ve both been close to men who were in trouble with the law, and lost them violently. We’ve been talking for about an hour, mostly about men, and parties, and moving forward after a tragedy. Ibragim was a good man, she says. He could never have committed a murder.

“I’m here alone,” she cries. “I hope it never can be worse than this.”

I try to comfort her, but it’s complicated. We both want to know why Ibragim Todashev was killed. She wants to clear his name. For me, and for the families of the Waltham murder victims, Ibragim’s shooting may have snuffed out the last chance at finding out what really happened that night. In the back of my mind is this question: Did her dead boyfriend kill my friend Erik? [Continue reading...]

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Mole who met Bin Laden killed by Al Qaeda in Bosnia

n13-iconNBC News reports: An FBI mole who provided valuable intelligence on al Qaeda and met with Osama bin Laden was lured away from the FBI to work for the CIA, but was killed by al Qaeda operatives in Bosnia who suspected he was an informant, NBC News has learned exclusively.

The informant, a Sudan-born driver and confidante to “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, the radical Muslim cleric who allegedly masterminded the first attempt to take down the World Trade Center, had been the sole human asset providing first-person information about al Qaeda in the mid-1990s as the terror group gained strength around the globe.

According to sources familiar with the management of the mole, the FBI recruited him in 1993 because he was a known associate of the Blind Sheikh. [Continue reading...]

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White House considers four options for modifying NSA mass phone surveillance

The Wall Street Journal reports that administration lawyers have presented the White House with four options for reforming the NSA’s mass phone-surveillance program the first of which would require phone companies to store such data and deliver specific search requests.

A second option presented to the White House would have a government agency other than the NSA hold the data, according to a U.S. official. Candidates for this option could include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which some current and former intelligence officials have recommended.

Another possibility floated in policy circles was turning the program over to the custody of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the phone-data and other NSA surveillance programs, but judges have balked at an expanded role for the court.

A third option would be for an entity outside the phone companies or the government to hold the data, officials said. This approach has been criticized by privacy groups who say such a third party would just become an extension of the NSA and would provide no additional privacy benefit.

A final alternative would be to scrap the phone-data program and instead bolster investigative efforts under current authorities to obtain the information about possible terrorist connections some other way, an official said. Mr. Obama acknowledged this approach in his January speech, but said “more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.”

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FBI had human source in contact with bin Laden as far back as 1993

n13-iconThe Washington Times reports: In a revelation missing from the official investigations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI placed a human source in direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993 and ascertained that the al Qaeda leader was looking to finance terrorist attacks in the United States, according to court testimony in a little-noticed employment dispute case.

The information the FBI gleaned back then was so specific that it helped thwart a terrorist plot against a Masonic lodge in Los Angeles, the court records reviewed by The Washington Times show.

“It was the only source I know in the bureau where we had a source right in al Qaeda, directly involved,” Edward J. Curran, a former top official in the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told the court in support of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the bureau by his former agent Bassem Youssef.

Mr. Curran gave the testimony in 2010 to an essentially empty courtroom, and thus it escaped notice from the media or terrorism specialists. The Times was recently alerted to the existence of the testimony while working on a broader report about al Qaeda’s origins.

Members of the Sept. 11 commission, congressional intelligence committees and terrorism analysts told The Times they are floored that the information is just now emerging publicly and that it raises questions about what else Americans might not have been told about the origins of al Qaeda and its early interest in attacking the United States.

“I think it raises a lot of questions about why that information didn’t become public and why the 9/11 Commission or the congressional intelligence committees weren’t told about it,” said former Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 through 2007 when lawmakers dealt with the fallout from the 9/11 Commission’s official report.

“This is just one more of these examples that will go into the conspiracy theorists’ notebooks, who say the authorities are not telling us everything,” Mr. Hoekstra told The Times in an interview last week. “That’s bad for the intelligence community. It’s bad for law enforcement and it’s bad for government.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission with former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said that as far as he can remember, the FBI never told the commission that it had been working a source so close to bin Laden that many years before 9/11.

“I do not recall the FBI advising us of a direct contact with Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Hamilton told The Times in a recent interview. [Continue reading...]

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A threat to the U.S. power grid?

e13-iconAn attack on a California power station last year “appears to be preparation for an act of war,” according to a senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute, the Wall Street Journal reports.

After the attack, Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, flew to California accompanied by experts from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, where Navy SEALs train.

After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, Mr. Wellinghoff said, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.

In addition to fingerprint-free shell casings, they pointed out small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.

“They said it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack,” Mr. Wellinghoff said.

Wellinghoff branded this as “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”

On the one hand this attacks appears to have been meticulously planned and professionally executed, yet to what end? It’s primary effect appears to have been to provoke fears of a larger attack, or even — at the hyperbolic level of interpretations — the fear of war.

One can’t discount the possibility that some as-yet unknown group has the ambition of crippling America’s energy supply. Yet if they were willing to go to these lengths to plan such an operation, why would they have exposed their hand and given the utility industry a heads-up on what to expect?

Just as plausible, if not more so, is the possibility that the goal of whoever carried this out has already been accomplished.

That is to say, it’s purpose may have been simply to elevate fear of domestic terrorism.

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What it’s like when the FBI asks you to backdoor your software

SecurityWatch: At a recent RSA Security Conference, Nico Sell was on stage announcing that her company — Wickr — was making drastic changes to ensure its users’ security. She said that the company would switch from RSA encryption to elliptic curve encryption, and that the service wouldn’t have a backdoor for anyone.

As she left the stage, before she’d even had a chance to take her microphone off, a man approached her and introduced himself as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He then proceeded to “casually” ask if she’d be willing to install a backdoor into Wickr that would allow the FBI to retrieve information.

This encounter, and the agent’s casual demeanor, is apparently business as usual as intelligence and law enforcement agencies seek to gain greater access into protected communication systems. Since her encounter with the agent at RSA, Sell says it’s a story she’s heard again and again. “It sounds like that’s how they do it now,” she told SecurityWatch. “Always casual, testing, because most people would say yes.” [Continue reading...]

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Would NSA surveillance have stopped 9/11 plot?

Peter Bergen writes: The Obama administration has framed its defense of the controversial bulk collection of all American phone records as necessary to prevent a future 9/11.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”

This closely mirrors talking points by the National Security Agency about how to defend the program.

In the talking points, NSA officials are encouraged to use “sound bites that resonate,” specifically, “I much prefer to be here today explain these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

On Friday in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records is lawful. He cited Alexander’s testimony and quoted him saying, “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots.”

But is it really the case that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t have the dots in the lead up to 9/11? Hardly.

In fact, the intelligence community provided repeated strategic warning in the summer of 9/11 that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attacks on American interests.

Here is a representative sampling of the CIA threat reporting that was distributed to Bush administration officials during the spring and summer of 2001:

– CIA, “Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations,” April 20
– CIA, “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent,” June 23
– CIA, “Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays,” July 2
– CIA, “Threat of Impending al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely,” August 3

The failure to respond adequately to these warnings was a policy failure by the Bush administration, not an intelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community. [Continue reading...]

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The FBI files on being and nothingness

Andy Martin writes: I was leafing through some FBI files on French philosophers when a new candidate for occupancy of the populous Grassy Knoll in Dallas leapt out at me. To the massed ranks of the CIA, the Mafia, the KGB, Castro, Hoover, and LBJ, we can now add: Jean-Paul Sartre. FBI and State Department reports of the 1960s had drawn attention to Sartre’s membership of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, of which Lee Harvey Oswald was also a member. And — prophetically? — Sartre had “dismissed the US as a headless nation.” Naturally I rushed around trying to work out exactly where Sartre might have been on 22nd November 1963. Could he, after all, have been the Second Shooter? Suddenly all the pieces started to fall into place.

But subsequent references in the main Oswald file showed that the FBI, although generally perturbed by the “Leftist tendencies” of Sartre, and his association with Communists, Castro, and Bertrand Russell, were specifically concerned that he was now — in addition to protesting against US involvement in Vietnam — threatening to “take an active part in the French Who Killed Kennedy Committee” (according to an article in the Washington Post of 14th June 1964). The FBI was wedded to the Lone Gunman theory. The emphasis of their interest in Sartre, then, was not on whether he had participated in any conspiracy, but rather that he was a believer in conspiracy theory and “supported the position that Oswald was not the true assassin of President Kennedy.”

The FBI had been keeping an eye on Sartre from as early as 1945. Soon after, they began to investigate his contemporary, Albert Camus. On 7th February, 1946, John Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, wrote a letter to “Special Agent in Charge” at the New York field office, drawing his attention to one ALBERT CANUS, “reportedly the New York correspondent of Combat [who] has been filing inaccurate reports which are unfavorable to the public interest of this country.” Hoover gave orders “to conduct a preliminary investigation to ascertain his background, activities and affiliations in this country.” One of Hoover’s underlings had the guts to inform the director that “the subject’s true name is ALBERT CAMUS, not ALBERT CANUS” (diplomatically hypothesizing that “Canus” was probably an alias he had cunningly adopted).

The irony that emerges from the FBI files on Camus and Sartre, spanning several decades (and which, still partly redacted, I accessed thanks to the open-sesame of the Freedom of Information Act) is that the G-men, initially so anti-philosophical, find themselves reluctantly philosophizing. They become (in GK Chesterton’s phrase) philosophical policemen. [Continue reading...]

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Meet the spies doing the NSA’s dirty work

Shane Harris writes: With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA’s indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.

When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic U.S. law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s Prism system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA.

But the FBI is no mere errand boy for the United States’ biggest intelligence agency. It carries out its own signals intelligence operations and is trying to collect huge amounts of email and Internet data from U.S. companies — an operation that the NSA once conducted, was reprimanded for, and says it abandoned.

The heart of the FBI’s signals intelligence activities is an obscure organization called the Data Intercept Technology Unit, or DITU (pronounced DEE-too). The handful of news articles that mentioned it prior to revelations of NSA surveillance this summer did so mostly in passing. It has barely been discussed in congressional testimony. An NSA PowerPoint presentation given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hints at DITU’s pivotal role in the NSA’s Prism system — it appears as a nondescript box on a flowchart showing how the NSA “task[s]” information to be collected, which is then gathered and delivered by the DITU. [Continue reading...]

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Jeremy Hammond: FBI directed my attacks on foreign government sites

The Guardian reports: The Anonymous hacktivist sentenced on Friday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in releasing thousands of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor has told a Manhattan court that he was directed by an FBI informant to break into the official websites of several governments around the world.

Jeremy Hammond, 28, told a federal court for the southern district of New York that a fellow hacker who went under the internet pseudonym “Sabu” had supplied him with lists of websites that were vulnerable to attack, including those of many foreign countries. The defendant mentioned specifically Brazil, Iran and Turkey before being stopped by judge Loretta Preska, who had ruled previously that the names of all the countries involved should be redacted to retain their secrecy.

Within a couple of hours of the hearing, the three countries had been identified publicly by Forbes, the Huffington Post and Twitter feeds serving more than a million followers. “I broke into numerous sites and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu – and by extension his FBI handlers – to control these targets,” Hammond told the court.

The 28-year-old hacker has floated the theory in the past that he was used as part of an effective private army by the FBI to target vulnerable foreign government websites, using the informant Sabu – real name Hector Xavier Monsegur – as a go-between. Sabu, who was a leading figure in the Anonymous-affiliated hacking group LulzSec, was turned by the FBI into one of its primary informants on the hacker world after he was arrested in 2011, about six months before the Stratfor website was breached. [Continue reading...]

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Chris Hedges: Jeremy Hammond exposed state’s plan to criminalize democratic dissent

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National Security State: FBI and DHS warn Congress about the domestic threat

The Washington Post reports: FBI Director James B. Comey testified Thursday that the risk of cyberattacks is likely to exceed the danger posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks as the top national security threat to the United States and will become the dominant focus of law enforcement and intelligence services.

Appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Comey said he expected Internet-related attacks, espionage and theft to emerge as the most consuming security issue for the United States by the end of his 10-year FBI term.

“We have connected all of our lives — personal, professional and national — to the Internet,” Comey said. “That’s where the bad guys will go because that’s where our lives are, our money, our secrets.”

The warning underscored the growing sense of alarm among officials in Washington over the nation’s vulnerability to online attacks as well as the diminished ability of al-Qaeda to mount plots against the United States after more than a decade of CIA drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations.

Rand Beers, the acting homeland security secretary, said his agency is working with European allies to identify and track militants from Western nations who may travel to Syria and then seek to return.

Despite that potential danger, officials said that the main terrorist threat inside the United States is that U.S. citizens or residents could adopt militant ideologies and develop plans for domestic attacks without communicating with terrorist networks or traveling overseas.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechen brothers accused of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon this year, had “no formal or direct ties to al-Qaeda” but had embraced aspects of the terrorist group’s ideology, Olsen said. He added that cooperation with Russian intelligence services has improved since the Boston attacks.

The officials said counterterrorism efforts had been damaged by leaks of U.S. intelligence operations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and they warned of the impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration. Comey said the FBI is in the process of eliminating 3,500 positions because of budget pressures.

Despite concern about “homegrown extremists,” Comey said that he had concluded after just two months on the job that cyberthreats are likely to be more worrisome in the long term.

“That is why we anticipate that in the future, resources devoted to cyber-based threats will equal or even eclipse the resources devoted to non-cyber-based terrorist threats,” Comey said.

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The fight against the FBI’s effort to undermine the Freedom of Information Act

Will Potter writes: Ryan Shapiro has just wrapped up a talk at Boston’s Suffolk University Law School, and as usual he’s surrounded by a gaggle of admirers. The crowd­, consisting of law students, academics, and activist types, is here for a panel discussion on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law targeting activists whose protest actions lead to a “loss of profits” for industry. Shapiro, a 37-year-old Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contributed a slideshow of newspaper headlines, posters, and government documents from as far back as the 1800s depicting animal advocates as a threat to national security. Now audience members want to know more about his dissertation and the archives he’s using. But many have a personal request: Would Shapiro help them discover what’s in their FBI files?

He is happy to oblige. According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI’s “most prolific” Freedom of Information Act requester — filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency’s records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he’s after.

Invoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro’s multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a “mosaic” of information whose release could “significantly and irreparably damage national security” and would have “significant deleterious effects” on the bureau’s “ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism.”

So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. “It’s designed to be retrospective,” explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIA law. “You can’t say, ‘What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?’ because that would include all information!”

Fearing that a ruling in the FBI’s favor could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies, open-government groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Security Archive, and the National Lawyers Guild (as well as the nonprofit news outlet Truthout and the crusading DC attorney Mark Zaid) have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Shapiro’s behalf. “Under the FBI’s theory, the greater the public demand for documents, the greater need for secrecy and delay,” says Baher Azmy, CCR’s legal director. [Continue reading...]

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FBI monitored Antiwar.com for six years

You receive an ominous and anonymous email warning that your website will soon be the target of a cyberattack and since cyberattacks are illegal you decide to alert your local FBI office. Instead of providing assistance, the FBI thinks that you are threatening to take down their site and starts monitoring you.

This is like a story from the movie Brazil — one of the most durable representations of the bumbling tyranny of a national security state — except it’s not fiction. It happened to Antiwar.com.

The Guardian reports: The FBI monitored a prominent anti-war website for years, in part because agents mistakenly believed it had threatened to hack the bureau’s own site.

Internal documents show that the FBI’s monitoring of antiwar.com, a news and commentary website critical of US foreign policy, was sparked in significant measure by a judgment that it had threatened to “hack the FBI website” and involved a formal assessment of the “threat” the site posed to US national security.

But antiwar.com never threatened to hack the FBI website. Heavily redacted FBI documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and shared with the Guardian, show that Eric Garris, the site’s managing editor, passed along to the bureau a threat he received against his own website.

Months later, the bureau characterized antiwar.com as a potential perpetrator of a cyberattack against the bureau’s website – a rudimentary error that persisted for years in an FBI file on the website. The mistake appears to have been a pillar of the FBI’s reasoning for monitoring a site that is protected by the first amendment’s free-speech guarantees.

“The improper investigation led to Garris and Raimondo being flagged in other documents, and is based on inappropriate targeting and sloppy intelligence work the FBI relied on in its initial memo,” said Julia Mass, an attorney with the ACLU of northern California, which filed the Freedom of Information Act request, and shared the documents with the Guardian.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the bureau could not comment, as the ACLU’s litigation of the antiwar.com case is ongoing.

On 12 September 2001, Garris received an email with the subject line “YOUR SITE IS GOING DOWN.”

“Be warned assholes, ill be posting your site address to all the hack boards tonight, telling them about the little article at the moscowtimes and all. YOUR SITE IS HISTORY,” the unredacted parts of the email read.

Concerned, Garris forwarded the threatening email to the FBI field office in San Francisco, where he lives. (It is contained in the disclosed FBI documents.) “It was a threat and I wanted to report it,” Garris said.

But by 7 January 2002, someone in the field office characterized the message as “A THREAT BY GARRIS TO HACK FBI WEBSITE.” [Continue reading...]

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How the NSA and FBI foil weak oversight

Yochai Benkler writes: Over 20 congressional bills aim to address the crisis of confidence in NSA surveillance. With Patriot Act author and Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner working with Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy on a bipartisan proposal to put the NSA’s metadata program “out of business“, we face two fundamentally different paths on the future of government surveillance.

One, pursued by the intelligence establishment, wants to normalize and perpetuate its dragnet surveillance program with as minimal cosmetic adjustments as necessary to mollify a concerned public. The other challenges the very concept that dragnet surveillance can be a stable part of a privacy-respecting system of limited government.

Pervasive surveillance proponents make two core arguments.

First, bulk collection saves Americans from foreign terrorists. The problem with this argument is that all publicly available evidence presented to Congress, the judiciary, or independent executive branch review suggests that the effect of bulk collection has been marginal. Perhaps, this paucity of evidence is what led General Alexander and other supporters to add cyber security as a backup exigency to justify the program.

The second argument that defenders of mass surveillance offer is that detailed, complex and faithfully-executed rules for how the information that is collected will be used are adequate replacements for what the fourth amendment once quaintly called “probable cause” and a warrant “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”. The problem with this second argument is that it combines two fundamentally incompatible elements.

Mass surveillance represents a commitment to near-universal all-seeing gaze, so as to assess and respond to threats that can arise anywhere, at any time. Privacy as a check on government power represents a constitutional judgment that a limited government must have limited power to inspect our daily lives, and that an omniscient government is too powerful for mere rules to restrain. The experience of the past decade confirms this incompatibility. Throughout its lifetime, NSA dragnet surveillance has repeatedly and persistently violated any rules in place meant to constrain it. [Continue reading...]

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How the feds took down the Dread Pirate Roberts

Ars Technica reports: The Dread Pirate Roberts, head of the most brazen drug trafficking site in the world, was a walking contradiction. Though the government says he raked in $80 million in commissions from running Silk Road, he allegedly lived under a false name in one bedroom of a San Francisco home that he shared with two other guys and for which he paid $1,000 a month in cash. Though his alleged alter ego penned manifestos about ending “violence, coercion, and all forms of force,” the FBI claims that he tried to arrange a hit on someone who had blackmailed him. And though he ran a site widely assumed to be under investigation by some of the most powerful agencies in the US government, the Dread Pirate Robert appears to have been remarkably sloppy — so sloppy that the government finally put a name to the peg leg: Ross William Ulbricht.

Yesterday, Ulbricht left his apartment to visit the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library in the southern part of the city. Library staff did not recognize him as a regular library patron, but they thought nothing of his visit as he set up his laptop in the science fiction section of the stacks. Then, at 3:15pm, staffers heard a “crashing sound” from the sci-fi collection and went to investigate, worried that a patron had fallen. Instead, library Communications Director Michelle Jeffers tells us that the staff came upon “six to eight” FBI agents arresting Ulbricht and seizing his laptop. The agents had tailed him, waiting for the 29-year-old to open his computer and enter his passwords before swooping in. They marched him out of the library without incident.

For a promising young physics student from Austin, Texas, this wasn’t how things were supposed to turn out.

Sure, you could buy meth, LSD, cannabis, heroin, and MDMA on the Silk Road, but the hidden website wasn’t (just) about drugs. Silk Road was, said its owner, about freedom. In January 2012, as part of a “State of the Road Address” posted in the site’s discussion forum, the Dread Pirate Roberts explained the site’s goal: “To grow into a force to be reckoned with that can challenge the powers that be and at last give people the option to choose freedom over tyranny.”

To that end, the Dread Pirate Roberts built the Silk Road marketplace in 2011 as a “hidden” service accessible only over the encrypted Tor network. To connect, users first had to install a Tor client and then visit a series of arcane site names (the most recent was silkroadfb5piz3r.onion), but the reward was a simple, effective marketplace to buy drugs from sellers all over the world using such Internet commerce staples as escrow accounts and buyer feedback. [Continue reading...]

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