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...]
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...]
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...]
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.
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
Wired reports: The U.S. government in July obtained a search warrant demanding that Edward Snowden’s e-mail provider, Lavabit, turn over the private SSL keys that protected all web traffic to the site, according to to newly unsealed documents.
The July 16 order came after Texas-based Lavabit refused to circumvent its own security systems to comply with earlier orders intended to monitor a particular Lavabit user’s metadata, defined as “information about each communication sent or received by the account, including the date and time of the communication, the method of communication, and the source and destination of the communication.”
The name of the target is redacted from the unsealed records, but the offenses under investigation are listed as violations of the Espionage Act and theft of government property — the exact charges that have been filed against NSA whistleblower Snowden in the same Virginia court.
The records in the case, which is now being argued at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, were unsealed today by a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia. They confirm much of what had been suspected about the conflict between the pro-privacy e-mail company and the federal government, which led to Lavabit voluntarily closing in August rather than compromise the security it promised users. [Continue reading...]
ACLU National Security Project: Over the last three years, the FBI has dramatically expanded its No-Fly List of suspected terrorists, including blacklisting innocent Americans who present no threat to security.
The Americans we represent in Latif v. Holder, the ACLU’s challenge to the government’s No-Fly List procedures, provide a prime example. They were each denied boarding on planes, deprived of their right to travel, and smeared as suspected terrorists. Yet the government continues to deny them any after-the-fact explanation for their blacklisting or any meaningful chance to clear their names.
The FBI’s violation of these Americans’ due process rights is, in and of itself, abusive and unlawful. After all, preventing people from correcting the errors that led to their inclusion on a blacklist does not make our skies any safer, but it does harm constitutionally protected rights to travel and reputation — as a federal court recently recognized. And a closer look into the experiences of several ACLU clients shows another, even darker side to the No-Fly List.
FBI agents have tried to use the No-Fly List as a draconian tool to coerce Americans into spying on their communities.
FBI agents put this pressure on ACLU clients Abe Mashal, a Marine veteran; Amir Meshal; and Nagib Ali Ghaleb. Each of these Americans spoke to FBI agents to learn why they were suddenly banned from flying and to clear up the errors that led to that decision. Instead of providing that explanation or opportunity, FBI agents offered to help them get off the No-Fly List — but only in exchange for serving as informants in their communities.Our clients refused.
The ACLU’s report, Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority, explains what happened to Nagib Ali Ghaleb. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are expanding the use of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber age.
Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.
People familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programs say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can’t be wiretapped like a phone, is called “going dark” among law enforcement.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment.
The FBI develops some hacking tools internally and purchases others from the private sector. With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate the microphones in phones running Google Inc.’s Android software to record conversations, one former U.S. official said. It can do the same to microphones in laptops without the user knowing, the person said. Google declined to comment. [Continue reading...]
Salon: FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted to Congress Wednesday that drones are already being used over U.S. soil. While the use of surveillance drones domestically — both by local and federal law enforcement agencies — has been long anticipated and ushered in by a lobby with a powerful congressional caucus of supporters, Mueller’s admissions highlighted the lack of legislation currently in place to govern the use drone technology at home.
Mueller told a hearing that the FBI had used drones to aid its investigations in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom… Our footprint is very small, and we have very few and of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use,” he said.
Mueller’s acknowledgment is only the latest in a series of disclosures about the domestic use of drones. In 2010, it was revealed — and has since become common knowledge — that Border Patrol surveils both Canadian and Mexican borders with unmanned aircraft.
The New York Times reports: After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.
“The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” a bureau spokesman said.
But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.
In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened. [Continue reading...]
MarketWatch: Emails are not private. A message may have one sender and one recipient but it can, with little effort, be read by a third party. In fact, despite the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches, federal agencies do not necessarily need a warrant to read emails older than six months.
Concerns over such government snooping were raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which last week noted a “troubling picture” of email surveillance practices by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. The agencies may be taking advantage of a component of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which requires warrants only for emails that have been stored on a third-party server for less than 180 days.
Documents reviewed by the ACLU showed that the FBI may be reading emails and other electronic messages without a warrant, and that different U.S. attorney’s offices may be applying “conflicting standards,” the group says. “It is time for Congress to step in and standardize the requirements and require warrants across the board,” says Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU. The report follows a similar review of IRS documents. [Continue reading...]