"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Privacy Rights’

How All Of Us Are Helping Build A Participatory Totalitarianism

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm
social-media-state-corporate-surveillance-privacy

In the new public-private surveillance state, we’re so at home with Big Brother that we’re not just passively watched–we actively display ourselves

We are not passive objects of the surveillance state. We are active subjects of our own YouTube channels

 

Oldspeak: “We see, then, that modern technology has led to the concentration of economic and political power, and to the development of a society controlled (ruthlessly in the totalitarian states, politely and inconspicuously in the democracies) by Big Business and Big Govern­ment. But societies are composed of individuals and are good only insofar as they help individuals to real­ize their potentialities and to lead a happy and creative life. How have individuals been affected by the tech­nological advances of recent years? Here is the answer to this question given by a philosopher-psychiatrist, Dr. Erich Fromm:

 

        Our contemporary Western society, in spite of its material, intellectual and political progress, is in­creasingly less conducive to mental health, and tends to undermine the inner security, happiness, reason and the capacity for love in the individual; it tends to turn him into an automaton who pays for his human failure with increasing mental sickness, and with despair hidden under a frantic drive for work and so-called pleasure.

        Our “increasing mental sickness” may find expres­sion in neurotic symptoms. These symptoms are con­spicuous and extremely distressing. But “let us beware,” says Dr. Fromm, “of defining mental hygiene as the prevention of symptoms. Symptoms as such are not our enemy, but our friend; where there are symp­toms there is conflict, and conflict always indicates that the forces of life which strive for integration and happiness are still fighting.” The really hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. “Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been si­lenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does.” They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their per­fect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted, still cherish “the illusion of indi­viduality,” but in fact they have been to a great extent deindividualized. Their conformity is developing into something like uniformity. But “uniformity and free­dom are incompatible. Uniformity and mental health are incompatible too. . . . Man is not made to be an automaton, and if he becomes one, the basis for mental health is destroyed.” –Adolous Huxley

“Share Everything”. “Broadcast Yourself” “Stay Connected”….  Relentlessly, we’re peppered with the propaganda and it is extremely seductive and powerful. Encouraged to incessantly create and consume “content” fashioned from our lives and the lives of others. Preying on the paradoxically profound narcissism/insecurity our maladjustment civilization breeds and selling it via the new virtues of ‘convenience’ and ‘personalization’, our privacy, liberty and ownership of our selves is freely given away to our controllers. Which they then use to surveil, sell, and profit handsomely from. The Stasi had it all wrong. Making the tools of totalitarianism ones that the populace loves, uses of its own free will and can’t live with out, makes things INFINITELY easier. How comfortable are you in your “Velvet Prison”? “Ignorance is Strength.” “Freedom is Slavery.” “War is Peace.”-OSJ

 

By John Feffer @ Foreign Policy In Focus:

According to the Chinese zodiac, the heavens circle around every 12 years. The Year of the Snake, the creature that sheds its skin to emerge anew, marks a time of great transformation. Indeed, for the last quarter century, the world has experienced three profound shifts at 12-year intervals, beginning with the Year of the Snake in 1989.

On June 4, 1989, on one side of the globe, Poles were participating in their first semi-free elections in more than 40 years, which—though few suspected at the time—sounded the death knell for Communism in East-Central Europe. Meanwhile, on the same day on the other side of the globe, the Chinese government was cracking down on the Tiananmen Square protests and ensuring that Communism would continue there as an official ideology for at least another 25 years.

Twelve years later, the Year of the Snake returned, and the ground shifted radically beneath our feet once again. This time, the 9/11 attacks brought the two sides of the world together as both China and Poland threw their weight behind the U.S.-led war on terror. Poland, presided over by a former Communist who’d embraced market reforms, even went so far as to host one of the “black sites” that the Bush administration set up to interrogate suspects gathered up through extraordinary rendition. China, presided over by a current Communist who’d also embraced market reforms, used the opportunity of 9/11 to ramp up operations against separatists in Xinjiang and secure “unprecedented” counter-terrorism information sharing with the United States.

And then last year, the Year of the Snake came around again, and this time it was Edward Snowden who caused a seismic shift in our understanding of everyday reality. We thought that we’d seen through the efforts of the Communist state to control our minds and the efforts of the corporate state to control our desires. But it turned out that we really didn’t know the full extent to which intelligence services and corporate entities had invaded our private spaces. Nor had we understood our own complicity in this brave new world. It wasn’t just states like Warsaw and Beijing that had joined forces with Washington against non-state actors. We had all become informers under this new regime, whether we liked it or not.

The old metaphor for surveillance was the Panopticon: the warden, sitting at the hub of a penitentiary, could see what all the inmates were doing along the perimeter of the structure. Then came the Big Brother of the Cold War era: a state apparatus that used informers, propaganda, and interrogations to infiltrate every crevice of society.

Today’s metaphor is still Big Brother—but it’s the TV show, not the sinister presence of the George Orwell novel. In this reality TV show, the public watches what goes on inside a house fully monitored by surveillance cameras. But here’s the twist: we are both voyeurs and exhibitionists, for we have also turned the cameras on ourselves so that the surveillance can be mutual. We don’t just like to watch, like Chance the gardener in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There. We like to be watched as well.

It’s time to update Socrates for the era of selfies and YouTube: the unwatched life is not worth living.

The novel that out-Orwells Orwell in its depiction of this new reality is The Circle by Dave Eggers, in which characters willingly wear cameras that track their every movement and broadcast to an ever-increasing number of social media followers. The novel exaggerates only slightly what we are already doing through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, or what is being done to us through our cell phones and our credit card purchases and our Google searches.

To rein in Big Corporations and even out the inequities of Big Politics, activists have long clamored for participatory democracy. What we didn’t expect was that Big Corporations and Big Politics would team up in what I’ve previously called the “surveillance blitz” to create a new phenomenon: participatory totalitarianism.

If we look at the three seismic shifts that have taken place between 1989 and today, they all center around the state and its ability to maintain its authority in the post-modern world. In 1989, the Communist states failed in their effort to manage the economy through five-year plans and artificially fixed prices. In both post-Communist Poland and post-Deng China, the market became the arbiter of production and consumption, restricting the state largely to redistribution (with a bit more capacity for strategic investments in China). Privatization and austerity budgeting in the capitalist world also whittled away what remained of the welfare state’s ability to intervene in the economy. This was the neo-liberal victory in what had been an epic 20th-century war, though many skirmishes continue to this day and a second grand battle may yet take place in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In 2001, states faced a second major challenge from al-Qaeda, though more as an idea than an actual military force. Al-Qaeda is an unusual hybrid of the globalized and the localized. It grew out of a specific context (the mujahedeen’s attacks on the Soviet army in Afghanistan) and has taken on a different character in each national context where it has taken root (Yemen, Syria, North Africa). Al-Qaeda is a franchise not unlike McDonald’s, offering a universal product (a global caliphate) that can be adapted to the cultural preferences of local consumers just as McDonald’s sells its well-known French fries with the McAloo Tikki burger in Mumbai or the McArabia Chicken sandwich in Doha. To use the awkward phrase from academia, al-Qaeda is a “glocalized” phenomenon. It thus has represented both a global and a local challenge to the state—offering a vision of subsuming the state into something larger and, from below, attacking the state’s monopoly on violence. It’s no wonder that states as different as Poland and China found common cause in fighting against al-Qaeda.

And now, after 2013, the state is suffering yet another challenge to its authority. After the revelations of Snowden, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and his colleagues point out, “It may not be going too far to suggest that what we still call national security has been colonized by a new nobility of intelligence agencies operating in an increasingly autonomous transnational arena.” National security, as the phrase suggests, has been the responsibility of the nation-state. But intelligence agencies, led by the disproportionately powerful NSA, have skirted the traditional mechanisms of the state to operate across borders and with little oversight. Members of Congress, even though many have branded Snowden a traitor, havepushed for changes in the way the NSA does business domestically. The leaders of Germany and Brazil who discovered to their dismay that they too have been punked by the NSA—U.S. spies listened in on the communications of both Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff—are also pushing at an international level for reform.

The state’s status has deteriorated over the decades. It no longer provides the “iron rice bowl.” Its monopoly on violence has been challenged by non-state actors, and many states have failed or are near failure as a result. And intelligence-gathering organs have metastasized beyond the control of the traditional nation-state in order to sift through the rapidly expanding universe of global data to stop plots while they are still twinkles in the eyes of the conspirators (shades of Minority Report).

If surveillance was monaural during the Cold War and became stereophonic in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it is now quadrophonic. It can’t be reduced to the activity of a single state or even a particular government-industrial complex. We are all now embedded in a veritable matrix of surveillance. It has become surround sound.

In the Communist era, Hungarian writer Miklos Haraszti wrote about what he called the “velvet prison.” Under state socialism, he observed, the vast majority of artists accommodated to the strictures imposed from above. “We learn to live with discipline,” hewrote. “We are at home with it. It is a part of us, and soon we will hunger for it because we are unable to create without it.”

We are at home in the new surveillance state, for we barely register all the cameras, all the targeted advertising, all the intrusions into what had previously been considered sacred private space. We are not passive objects of observation. We are active subjects of our own YouTube channels.

This is not inevitable. States like Germany and Brazil are fighting back. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are fighting back. Whistleblowers and journalists are fighting back. So, perhaps when the next Year of the Snake rolls around and we are preparing to shed our skin once again, we will see a shift in the other direction—toward a new economy, a new kind of politics, a new definition of security, and a new way to interact with our fellow citizens that relies on mutual solidarity and not mutual surveillance.

High Level Congressional Staffer Speaks: An Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm
Jennifer Hoelzer U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) shows off a current version of the computer game "Oregon Trail" on his iPhone while playing the the original version on an Apple IIGS with his Communications Director Jennifer Hoelzer (C) after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) and his Communications Director Jennifer Holelzer play the computer game “Oregon Trail” on an Apple IIGS after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

Oldspeak: “ A big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?” –Jennifer Hoelzer

“Pay no attention President Obama’s or anyone else associated with the administrations’ assurances. There is no real congressional oversight of NSA or most of the deep surveillance state.  There are no effective safeguards against surveillance abuse. They have no intention of  revealing the “legal” rationale for continued blatant violations of Americans’ constitutional, civil & privacy rights. Or changing anything related to bulk collection of your data outside of window dressing “regulation”.  Be careful. take precautions. Use the Tor Network to browse the internet anonymously.” –OSJ

Related Story:

Loophole Shows That, Yes, NSA Has ‘Authority’ To Spy On Americans — Directly In Contrast With Public Statements

Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda

By Jennifer Hoelzer @ Tech Dirt:

In a bit of fortuitous timing, this week we had asked former deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, to do our weekly “Techdirt Favorites of the Week” post, in which we have someone from the wider Techdirt community tell us what their favorite posts on the site were. As you’ll see below, Hoelzer has a unique and important perspective on this whole debate concerning NSA surveillance, and given the stories that came out late Friday, she chose to ditch her original post on favorites and rewrite the whole thing from scratch last night (and into this morning). Given that, it’s much, much more than a typical “favorites of the week” post, and thus we’ve adjusted the title appropriately. I hope you’ll read through this in its entirety for a perspective on what’s happening that not many have.

Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of the week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda,” when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” — much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like SOPA — have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners.” I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years,” he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al Qaeda.

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twenty-somethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the Internet gives those twenty-somethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me) but isn’t one of the things that makes the Internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks — like General Hayden — who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect — online or anywhere else — when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

But my main reason for singling out Tim’s post this week is that Hayden’s remark goes to the heart of what I continue to find most offensive about the Administration’s handling of the NSA surveillance programs, which is their repeated insinuation that anyone who raises concerns about national security programs doesn’t care about national security. As Tim explains this “attitude fosters the “us vs. them” antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn’t come with a price.”

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago — including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college — I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover — and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand — I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden’s office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn’t even tell me about.

Which brings me to my next favorite Techdirt post of the week, Mike’s Friday post entitled “Don’t Insult Our Intelligence, Mr. President: This Debate Wouldn’t Be Happening Without Ed Snowden,” which is a much less profane way of summing up my feelings about the President’s “claim that he had already started this process prior to the Ed Snowden leaks and that it’s likely we would [have] ended up in the same place” without Snowden’s disclosure.

“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

I hope you won’t mind if I take a moment to respond to that.

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which — correct me if I am wrong — is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen — whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist — Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter “requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

“The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act’s most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress – and nearly all of the American public – lack important information about the issue.”

Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

In May 2011, before the Senate was — again — scheduled to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Senators Wyden and Udall — again — called for the declassification of the Administration’s secret interpretation of Section 215. This time, in a Huffington Post Op-Ed entitled “How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?” they wrote:

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.

As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people — including many Members of Congress — think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is — stunningly –classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

During the debate itself, Wyden and Udall offered an amendment to declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance authorities and, in a twenty minute speech on the Senate floor, Wyden warned that the American people would one day be outraged to learn that the government was engaged in surveillance activities that many Americans would assume were illegal, just as they were every other time the national security committee has tried to hide its questionable activities from the American people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMAX_Frj8xM&feature=player_embedded

Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn’t have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we — as critics — could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn’t even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn’t share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. “You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can’t say?” I’d vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President — who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration’s surveillance authorities — jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

No. Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden’s request for a “ballpark figure” of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: “Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;” So, I guess if this was part of the Administration’s plan to publicly debate the NSA’s surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?

And, as I explained in an interview with Brian Beutler earlier this summer, that is just a fraction of the ways the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Communities ignored and even thwarted our attempts to consult the public on these surveillance programs before they were reauthorized. In fact, after the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which Wyden attempted to close the FAA’s Section 702 loophole, which another important Techdirt post this week explains, “gives the NSA ‘authority’ to run searches on Americans without any kind of warrant,” I — as Wyden’s spokesperson — was specifically barred from explaining the Senator’s opposition to the legislation to the reporters. In fact, the exact response I was allowed to give reporters was:

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released. The fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.

That’s right, supporters of a full scale reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act put out a press release explaining why this was a good thing, while explicitly barring the Senator who voted against the legislation from explaining his concerns.

Months later, the FISA Amendments Act, which the Administration contends authorizes its PRISM program, passed without the open debate that the President now contends he wanted all along. And, again, I’m only touching on a fraction of the efforts just Senator Wyden made to compel the administration to engage the American people in a democratic debate. I, obviously, haven’t mentioned the Director of National Intelligence’s decision to lie when Wyden “asked whether the NSA had collected ‘any type of data at all on millions of Americans.'” (Btw: Given that Wyden shared his question with the ODNI the day before the hearing, I am highly skeptical that Clapper’s decision to lie was made unilaterally.) Or the fact that the Obama Administration repeatedly fought lawsuits and FOIA requests for, again — not sources and methods — but the Section 215 legal interpretation that the Administration claims authorizes its surveillance authorities.

The below is an excerpt from a March 2012 letter that Wyden and Udall sent the Obama Administration urging them to respect the democratic process:

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss these Freedom of Information Act lawsuits argues that it is the responsibility of the executive branch to determine the best way to protect the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods. While this is indeed a determination for the executive branch to make, we are concerned that the executive branch has developed a practice of bypassing traditional checks and balances and treating these determinations as dispositive in all cases. In other words, when intelligence officials argue that something should stay secret, policy makers often seem to defer to them without carefully considering the issue themselves. We have great respect for our nation’s intelligence officers, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and dedicated professionals. But intelligence officials are specialists — it is their job to determine how to collect as much information as possible, but it is not their job to balance the need for secrecy with the public’s right to know how the law is being interpreted. That responsibility rests with policy makers, and we believe that responsibility should not be delegated lightly.

But, as Mike’s last post on Friday explains, “President Obama flat out admitted that this was about appeasing a public that doesn’t trust the administration, not about reducing the surveillance.” Mike’s insight continues:

Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place.

I’d go even further than that and argue that a big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?

I think it’s understandably hard for the American people to trust the President when he says his Administration has the legal authority to conduct these surveillance programs when one of the few things that remains classified about these programs is the legal argument that the administration says gives the NSA the authority to conduct these programs. This is the document that explains why the Administration believes the word “relevant” gives them the authority to collect everything. It’s also the document I’d most like to see since it’s the document my former boss has been requesting be declassified for more than half a decade. (A reporter recently asked me why I think the Administration won’t just declassify the legal opinion given that the sources and methods it relates to have already been made public. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I believe it will be much harder for the Administration to claim that these programs are legal, if people can see their legal argument.”)

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust the President when his administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to silence critics and — again — treat oversight as a threat on par with al Qaeda. As another great Techdirt post this week — US Releases Redacted Document Twice… With Different Redactions — illustrates, many of the Intelligence Community’s classification decisions seem to be based more on a desire to avoid criticism than clear national security interests. And as Senator Wyden said back in 2007, when then CIA Director Hayden (yes, the same guy who thinks we’re all losers who can’t get laid) attempted to undermine oversight over his agency by launching an investigation into the CIA’s inspector general, “people who know that they’re doing the right thing aren’t afraid of oversight.”

Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most. Ed Snowden’s Email Provider, Lavabit, Shuts Down To Fight US Gov’t Intrusion. Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit — the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden’s email account — decided to shut down his email service this week.

Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levon included in his email informing customers of his decision:

“I feel you deserve to know what’s going on,” he wrote. “The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.”

He’s right, isn’t he? If these aren’t the moments the First Amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the Administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?

In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House Committee on Operations which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:

Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully informed public is the basis of self government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people.

Which brings me to my final point (at least for now) I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

 

Emergency “Continuity Of Government” Plans Currently In Effect Suspend Normal Laws & Legal Process: Is This The REAL Reason For Government Spying On Americans?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/be4f0-shadow_govt_logo.jpgOldspeak: “The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present… That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also… Simply by proclaiming a national emergency… President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law… Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.”  –Washington’s Blog

“Viewed in the context of the government behaviours being exhibited: Indefinite detention, summary executive order executions,  general contempt for,  zealous prosecution of and jailing of journalists, suppression of dissent, state censorship, suspended rights to petition, assemble & speak, state propaganda, compromised system checks and balances, constant mass surveillance; this makes a lot of sense. We’re in living under a form of stealth martial law. How else would our government feel justified and within the law to do enact all these extra-constitutional measures? The “threat of terrorism” has been used to activate hundreds of little known “emergency” legal provisions. Without debate in pubic or  knowledge of the public… Why are we not entitled to know about our Shadow Government that seems to be making so much secret & anti-democratic policy?” –OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Are Emergency Plans Meant Only for Nuclear War the Real Justification for Spying?

To understand the scope and extent of government spying on all Americans – and the reasons for such spying – you have to understand what has happened to our Constitutional form of government since 9/11.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11, 2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . .

That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also.

For example, on September 9, 2011, President Obama declared:

CONTINUATION OF NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARED BY PROC. NO. 7463

Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 9, 2011, 76 F.R. 56633, provided:

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities
adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect
beyond September 14, 2011. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and
transmitted to the Congress.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

Simply by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.

The White House has kept substantial information concerning its presidential proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government (“COG”) measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

The secretary of defense directed the nation’s armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Dick Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . .

(See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.)

CNN reported that – 6 months later – the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution.” The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of ‘the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,’ a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation’s capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration’s move.

Among Congress’s GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can’t say much about the plan.

“We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that.”

Indeed, the White House has specifically refused to share information about Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

Specifically, in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House.

(Or here is the transcript).

The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans.

DeFazio concluded: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott points out that – whether or not COG plans are still in effect – the refusal of the executive branch to disclose their details to Congress means that the Constitutional system of checks and balances has already been gravely injured:

If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.

To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don’t know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

Bush triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes, and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence suggesting a possible threat.

Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device “were a major factor” in the president’s decision, the official said. “The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,” this official said.

This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation — “and no solid evidence” — that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the “consensus” among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was “quite low.”

Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.

As is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since 9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could, hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is still in effect and has never been listed.

Indeed,  President Bush said on December 17, 2005, 4 years after 9/11:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.

During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president.

I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks [45 days times 30 equals approximately 4 years] and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related groups.

The N.S.A.’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials, including N.S.A.’s general counsel and inspector general.

In other words, it appears that as of December 2005, COG plans had never been rescincded, but had been continously renewed every 45 days.

In 2008, Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

A contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance [more on Main Core below]. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

In 2007, President Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’ Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate.

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

I see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive NSPD51] to prevent even a “localized” forest fire or hurricane from giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans”

This is all the more bizarre when you realize that COG plans were originally created solely to respond to a decapitating nuclear strike which killed our civilian leaders.   (It was subsequently expanded decades before 9/11 into a multi-purpose plan by our good friends Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. See this, this and this.)

Does COG Explain the Pervasive Spying on Americans?

5 years ago, investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham disclosed the spying which was confirmed last week by  whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Given that Ketcham was proven right, let’s see what else he reported:

Given that Ketcham was right about the basics, let’s hear what else the outstanding investigative journalist said in 2008:

There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

***

According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger [for martial law ].

***

When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools.

***

A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

***

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, [current nominee to head the FBI, and former Deputy Attorney General] James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” [Snowden and high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney have since confirmed this] …. A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”

***

The veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey’s suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: “Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway.” But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. “The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable,” the senior government official says.

In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won’t prevent terrorist conspiracies. “Because there is so little historical terrorist event data,” Jonas tells Radar, “there is not enough volume to create precise predictions.”

***

[J. Edgar Hoover’s] FBI “security index” was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. [One of the main headquarter of COG operations.] The senator’s findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases were run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.”

***

Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that [Oliver] North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, “Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.

***

Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, “How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?” Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.

***

We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There’s no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch.

***

UPDATE [from Ketcham]: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of “legal” torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.” According to the Associated Press, “Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Americans have the right to know whether a COG program is  still in effect, and whether the spying on our phone calls and Internet usage stems from such COG plans. Indeed, 9/11 was a horrible blow, but it was not a decapitating nuclear strike on our leaders … so COG and the state of emergency should be lifted.

If COG plans are not still in effect, we have the right to demand that “enemies lists” and spying capabilities developed  for the purpose of responding to a nuclear war be discarded , as we have not been hit by nuclear weapons … and our civilian leaders – on Capitol Hill, the White House, and the judiciary – are still alive and able to govern.

Big Brother Is Prism: NSA Is Watching All Communications Over Phones, Facebook Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Skype, Pal Talk, AOL & You Tube

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Prism Oldspeak:”It is a massive surveillance state of exactly the kind that the Church Committee warned was being constructed 35 years ago… the idea that the PATRIOT Act enables bulk collection, mass collection of the records of hundreds of millions of Americans, so that the government can store that and know what it is that we’re doing at all times, even when there’s no reason to believe that we’ve done anything wrong, that is ludicrous“. –Glenn Grunwald

If Someone want’s to know why their government has decided to go on fishing expedition through every personal record or private document – through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made – this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.” –Senator Barack Obama, 2005, On The USA Patriot Act.

I came in with a healthy skeptcism about these programs. My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded the oversight. But my assessment… was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachment… on privacy in getting phone numbers and durations without a name attached, and looking at content that – [I decided] net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment. I think it’s important to recognize you can’t have 100 percent security and also 100 percent privacy, and also zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society….In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.” –President Barack Obama, 2013 

AHAHA! HA! My man went from “This is just plain wrong.” to “we scrubbed them throughly” and…decided it was worth doing.” My people Big Brother is OFFICIALLY watching you.  Obama was nice enough to scrub it down and balance it out for you, placing some of the burdens for surveillance on government and some on oligarchical collectivist corporations. We are living in the age of the painless concentration camp. Assume all your digital communications are insecure. I wonder though, when was it that society made these choices? When did “society” choose to be systematically surveilled during an endless war? To do away with, privacy safeguards, transparency, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from unlawful search & seizure, summary execution and indefinite detention? I think when Obama said “society” he meant the elites and the imperial institutions they control. If you look at what he said that way, it makes a lot more sense, as I’m fairly certain most of the people who live and suffer in this society did not make those “tough choices”.  The good news about this though is there are more and more leaks springing in the secret U.S. Government. This is the third whisleblower to speak the truth about Big Brother. Thomas Drake and Willam Binney preceded him. Hopefully, conscientious patriots will continue to expose the lies, illegality and anti-democratic actions of the Secret Corporatocracy. ”

Related Stories:

A Massive Surveillance State”: Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails

We Don’t Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Appelbaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance”

By Glenn Grunwald @ The U.K. Guardian:

Prism

A slide depicting the top-secret PRISM program.

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.

The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Disclosure of the Prism program follows a leak to the Guardian on Wednesday of a top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers.

The participation of the internet companies in Prism will add to the debate, ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

Some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.

It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.

Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

Prism

The extent and nature of the data collected from each company varies.

Companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under US law, but the Prism program allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers. The NSA document notes the operations have “assistance of communications providers in the US”.

The revelation also supports concerns raised by several US senators during the renewal of the Fisa Amendments Act in December 2012, who warned about the scale of surveillance the law might enable, and shortcomings in the safeguards it introduces.

When the FAA was first enacted, defenders of the statute argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

A chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian, underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.

PRISM slide crop
The document is recent, dating to April 2013. Such a leak is extremely rare in the history of the NSA, which prides itself on maintaining a high level of secrecy.

The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.

With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users.

The presentation claims Prism was introduced to overcome what the NSA regarded as shortcomings of Fisa warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists. It noted that the US has a “home-field advantage” due to housing much of the internet’s architecture. But the presentation claimed “Fisa constraints restricted our home-field advantage” because Fisa required individual warrants and confirmations that both the sender and receiver of a communication were outside the US.

“Fisa was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them,” the presentation claimed. “It took a Fisa court order to collect on foreigners overseas who were communicating with other foreigners overseas simply because the government was collecting off a wire in the United States. There were too many email accounts to be practical to seek Fisas for all.”

The new measures introduced in the FAA redefines “electronic surveillance” to exclude anyone “reasonably believed” to be outside the USA – a technical change which reduces the bar to initiating surveillance.

The act also gives the director of national intelligence and the attorney general power to permit obtaining intelligence information, and indemnifies internet companies against any actions arising as a result of co-operating with authorities’ requests.

In short, where previously the NSA needed individual authorisations, and confirmation that all parties were outside the USA, they now need only reasonable suspicion that one of the parties was outside the country at the time of the records were collected by the NSA.

The document also shows the FBI acts as an intermediary between other agencies and the tech companies, and stresses its reliance on the participation of US internet firms, claiming “access is 100% dependent on ISP provisioning”.

In the document, the NSA hails the Prism program as “one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses for NSA”.

It boasts of what it calls “strong growth” in its use of the Prism program to obtain communications. The document highlights the number of obtained communications increased in 2012 by 248% for Skype – leading the notes to remark there was “exponential growth in Skype reporting; looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype”. There was also a 131% increase in requests for Facebook data, and 63% for Google.

The NSA document indicates that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider. The agency also seeks, in its words, to “expand collection services from existing providers”.

The revelations echo fears raised on the Senate floor last year during the expedited debate on the renewal of the FAA powers which underpin the PRISM program, which occurred just days before the act expired.

Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware specifically warned that the secrecy surrounding the various surveillance programs meant there was no way to know if safeguards within the act were working.

“The problem is: we here in the Senate and the citizens we represent don’t know how well any of these safeguards actually work,” he said.

“The law doesn’t forbid purely domestic information from being collected. We know that at least one Fisa court has ruled that the surveillance program violated the law. Why? Those who know can’t say and average Americans can’t know.”

Other senators also raised concerns. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon attempted, without success, to find out any information on how many phone calls or emails had been intercepted under the program.

When the law was enacted, defenders of the FAA argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

When the NSA reviews a communication it believes merits further investigation, it issues what it calls a “report”. According to the NSA, “over 2,000 Prism-based reports” are now issued every month. There were 24,005 in 2012, a 27% increase on the previous year.

In total, more than 77,000 intelligence reports have cited the PRISM program.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, that it was astonishing the NSA would even ask technology companies to grant direct access to user data.

“It’s shocking enough just that the NSA is asking companies to do this,” he said. “The NSA is part of the military. The military has been granted unprecedented access to civilian communications.

“This is unprecedented militarisation of domestic communications infrastructure. That’s profoundly troubling to anyone who is concerned about that separation.”

A senior administration official said in a statement: “The Guardian and Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law does not allow the targeting of any US citizen or of any person located within the United States.

“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-US persons outside the US are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons.

“This program was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.

“The Government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”

Additional reporting by James Ball and Dominic Rushe

‘We’re Going To Have More Visibility & Less Privacy’: NYC Mayor Bloomberg Admits Soon NYPD Surveillance Cameras Will Be On Nearly Every Corner & Drones In The Sky

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm

New York  Manhattan 59th St 5AV Plaza Hotel . NYPD Security Camera in front Central park .( Marcus Santos for the NY Daily News )Oldspeak:‘You wait, in five years, the technology is getting better, they’ll be cameras everyplace . . . whether you like it or not. The argument against using automation is just this craziness that ‘Oh, it’s Big Brother.’ Get used to it!’Michael Bloomberg. Coming soon to a city and town near you: Total Information Awareness! All your movements, communications and activities, constantly observed, analyzed and assessed by parties unknown.  This little story in the News documenting a chilling moment of candor managed to pass without much notice. When tech billionaires start telling you that you should get used to a life where Big Brother is always watching it is significant, especially when he sees it as sure to come as “you can’t keep the tides from coming in.” This man is brazen enough to say omnipresent, constant surveillance is a going to be an unavoidable part of a brave new and “different world, uncharted“. There are already 2 of the same cameras shown above on the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood not more than a couple blocks from each other. This will be our 1984 world.   Where drones surreptitiously peep into people’s windows. Where your DVR watches and listens you via “ambient action” technology and all cameras use face recognition. Face recognition is already being marketed as something cool.  It’s already being used to sell you shit you don’t need.  Now it will be used to keep track of you. Your privacy be damned. This is how the surveillance state protects the interests of the rich and ignores the interests of everyone else. Unless of course your interest is to by something from them.” “Ignorance Is Strength”, “Profit Is Paramount”.

By Tina Moore @ The New York Daily News:

Big Brother is watching. Now get used to it!

Envisioning a future where privacy is a thing of the past, Mayor Bloomberg said Friday it will soon be impossible to escape the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras and even drones in the city.

He acknowledged privacy concerns, but said “you can’t keep the tides from coming in.”

“You wait, in five years, the technology is getting better, they’ll be cameras everyplace . . . whether you like it or not,” Bloomberg said.

The security measures have drawn scorn from some civil libertarians — but Bloomberg scoffed at privacy concerns on his Friday morning program on WOR-AM.

“The argument against using automation is just this craziness that ‘Oh, it’s Big Brother,’” Bloomberg said. “Get used to it!”

RELATED: DRONES SOON PART OF REPORTER’S ARSENAL

The New York Civil Liberties Union has documented nearly 2,400 surveillance cameras fixed on public spaces in Manhattan alone. Many are operated by the police, others by poroperty owners.

In Lower Manhattan, an initiative developed after 9/11 known as the “Ring of Steel” integrates the NYPD’s cameras with those of banks and other institutions.

But in the future, the cameras won’t just be planted on buildings and utility poles. Some of them will be able to fly, the mayor pointed out.

“It’s scary,” Bloomberg said. “But what’s the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building? I mean intellectually I have trouble making a distinction. And you know you’re gonna have face recognition software. People are working on that.”

Bloomberg warned that drones would be able to peep into private residences – but that Peeping Tom legislation could help maintain some privacy.

“It’s just we’re going into a different world, unchartered,” he said.

“We’re going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that. And it’s not a question of whether I think it’s good or bad. I just don’t see how you could stop that because we’re going to have them.”

tmoore@nydailynews.com

FCC report: Google Engineer Told Officials Street View Cars Collected Private Data Without Permission

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Oldspeak:The report showed an engineer, identified in the report as “Engineer Doe,” appeared to conceive of the Wi-Fi collection software to collect sensitive information that he thought might be useful to the firm for other services.” I wonder what “other services” involve collecting millions of people’s email addresses, email passwords, text messages, from residential and business network, without permission or knowledge of people? What does Google need people’s private information and communications for? And if they needed it, wouldn’t it have been nice to ask, not just steal it, and do god knows what with it?  Google is a key intelligence asset. It has supplied the core search technology for Intellipedia, a highly-secured online CIA system and has shared a close relationship with both the CIA, NSA, and government national security officials. So think of Google as an intelligence gathering platform, where every search is recorded for analysis by the surveillance state. Think about limiting your use of Google and using alternative search engines that don’t collect your private information. I use http://duckduckgo.com/. Also think about the Tor Network, to increase your privacy online and avoid network surveillance of your movements.

Related Stories:

The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets

Google’s Wi-Spying And Intelligence Ties To CIA, NSA Prompt Call For Congressional Hearing

Tor Network Cloaks Your Browsing From Prying Eyes

FTC brings in prosecutor to dig deeper into Google antitrust

Google announces privacy changes across its products

FCC gives light penalty for Street Views privacy flap

By Cecilia Kang @ The Washington Post:

A Google engineer knowingly created software that would collect sensitive personal information about people without their knowledge, according to an un-redacted version of a federal investigative report.

In a full version of a Federal Communications Commission report, an engineer shared e-mails with other Google officials indicating the company could collect “payload data,” including e-mail addresses and text messages through a program to collect location-based software from residential and business Wi-Fi networks. The company released the full contents of the report, which was heavily redacted by the FCC, except for the names of its employees.

(READ: A timeline of developments related to Google and privacy)

The report, supplied by Google, concluded that the company’s actions do not violate FCC or federal eavesdropping rules. The agency recently fined the company $25,000, however, for being uncooperative in a two-years-long investigation. A separate investigation by the FTC resulted in no fines and was closed in 2010.

With both investigations closed, Google released the full report by the FCC upon the request of reporters. The report showed an engineer, identified in the report as “Engineer Doe,” appeared to conceive of the Wi-Fi collection software to collect sensitive information that he thought might be useful to the firm for other services.

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,” a Google spokeswomen said in an e-mailed statement. “While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC’s conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us”.

And inconsistent with public remarks, the report showed knowledge within the company that Google officials knowingly collected the payload data with its crews of Street View cars roaming the world for its mapping and location-based services.

(READ: FCC points to rogue Google engineer)

“On at least two occasions Engineer Doe specifically informed colleagues that Street View cars were collecting payload data,” the FCC report said.

So besides e-mail addresses, what could Google derive from its data collection?

In the report, the FCC cited an analysis by French regulators over a sample of Google’s data collection: 72 e-mail passwords, 774 distinct e-mail addresses and, for example, “an exchange of e-mails between a married woman and man, both seeking an extra-marital relationship with first names, e-mail addresses and physical addresses.”

House Passes CISPA (Another) “Big Brother” Internet Surveillance Bill; Garners Broad Support Among Internet/Telecom Corporations

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm
Congress

Oldspeak:”Internet Privacy? What internet privacy?! CISPA would “waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity; allowing the military and NSA to spy on Americans on American soil goes against every principle this country was founded on.”-Rep. Jared Polis, (D) ColoradoOne of the biggest differences between CISPA and its SOPA predecessor is that the Web blocking bill was defeated by a broad alliance of Internet companies and millions of peeved users. Not CISPA: the House Intelligence committee proudly lists letters of support from Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, and trade association CTIA, which counts representatives of T-Mobile, Sybase, Nokia, and Qualcomm as board members.”-Declan McCullagh Why did all these computer, internet and telecom corporations speak out against SOPA and PIPA, but are now falling over themselves to endorse a damn near identical threat to our civil liberties? PROFIT. They’re no longer subject to legal action and damages for sharing your private information with the military and surveillance state. (Which they have been doing unconstitutionally for some time now) “The bill immunizes ISPs from privacy lawsuits for voluntarily disclosing customer information thought to be a security threat. Internet companies are also granted anti-trust protection to immunize them against allegations of colluding on cybersecurity issues. The measure is not solely limited to cybersecurity, and includes the catchall phrase “national security” as a valid reason for turning over the data”-David Kravets. Even though in their earnest and sincere sounding “Privacy Statements” they promise not to.Reminds me alot of how the President uses “Signing Statements” where he’ll decide to veto or pass legislation and then draft a signing statement that expresses his intention to do the exact opposite of his publicly stated decision. Doublespeak par excellence. The internet is the last bastion of free, open, non-corporate controlled thought, news and information. Steps are being taken to change that, under the familiar pretexts of “National Security” and “Counter-terrorism” It must be controlled and surveilled constantly to eliminate potential threats to the Transnational Corporate Network. “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Video

“We Don’t Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Appelbaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance

we_do_not_live_in_a

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By Declan McCullagh @ CNET News

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a controversial Internet surveillance bill, rejecting increasingly vocal arguments from critics that it would do more to endanger Americans’ privacy than aid cybersecurity.

By a vote of 248 to 168, a bipartisan majority approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, which would permit Internet companies to hand over confidential customer records and communications to the National Security Agency and other portions of the U.S. government.

CISPA would “waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity,” said Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, during today’s marathon floor debate. “Allowing the military and NSA to spy on Americans on American soil goes against every principle this country was founded on.”

Americans’ confidential information that could legally provided to the feds would “include health records, it can include firearm registration information, it can include credit card information,” warned Polis, a former Web entrepreneur who was a leader in opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act as well.

CISPA wouldn’t formally grant the NSA or Homeland Security any additional surveillance authority. (A proposed amendment that would have veered in that direction was withdrawn.)

But it would usher in a new era of information sharing between companies and government agencies — with limited oversight and privacy safeguards. The House Rules committee yesterday rejected a series of modestly pro-privacy amendments, which led a coalition of civil-liberties groups to complain that “amendments that are imperative won’t even be considered” in a letter today.

CISPA Excerpts

Excerpts from the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cybersecurity purposes — (i) use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property of such self-protected entity; and (ii) share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government

The term ‘self-protected entity’ means an entity, other than an individual, that provides goods or services for cybersecurity purposes to itself.”

That prompted some politicians, including House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), to reluctantly oppose the bill. Schiff said that because his proposed amendments were rejected, he had to vote against CISPA “due to my concerns about civil liberties and the privacy of Americans.”

What made CISPA so controversial is a section saying that, “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” companies may share information with Homeland Security, the IRS, the NSA, or other agencies. By including the word “notwithstanding,” CISPA’s drafters intended to make their legislation trump all existing federal and state laws, including ones dealing with wiretaps, educational records, medical privacy, and more.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had predicted earlier in the week he had the votes. And it turned out he did, despite a last-minute surge of opposition that included Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul warning that “CISPA is Big Brother writ large,” a White House veto threat, and 18 Democratic House members saying it “does not include necessary safeguards.”

CISPA is “needed to stop the Chinese government from stealing our stuff,” Rogers said. They’re “stealing the value and prosperity of America.”

Rogers’ position paper on CISPA said the bill is necessary to deal with threats from China and Russia, and that it “protects privacy by prohibiting the government from requiring private sector entities to provide information.” During today’s floor debate, Rogers repeatedly referred to the need for the Feds to share attack signatures with the private sector — but never addressed the privacy criticisms directly, except to say they were invalid.

One of the biggest differences between CISPA and its SOPA predecessor is that the Web blocking bill was defeated by a broad alliance of Internet companies and millions of peeved users. Not CISPA: the House Intelligence committee proudly lists letters of support from Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, and trade association CTIA, which counts representatives of T-Mobile, Sybase, Nokia, and Qualcomm as board members.

CISPA’s authorization for information sharing extends far beyond Web companies and social networks. It would also apply to Internet service providers, including ones that already have an intimate relationship with Washington officialdom. Large companies including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer records to the NSA; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders. An AT&T whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where related cybersecurity legislation has been stalled for years, and the threat of a presidential veto makes speedy approval unlikely.

“Once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back,” Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel, said after the House vote. “We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”

FBI Quietly Releases Plans For ‘Social Media Application’ To Continuously Monitor Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Flickr & Other Social Networks Worldwide

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Oldspeak:’ Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance. It is not necessarily the case that the more information law enforcement officers have, the safer we will be.’ –Gus Hosein, Privacy International  Following the lead of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, & The Pentagon, the FBI will be monitoring all social networks for ‘bad actors’ & ’emerging threats’, and locating them via Google and Yahoo Maps. The power of social networking to foment and facilitate protest and dissent has been demonstrated the world over. Tools are being created to dilute, counteract & co-opt that power. Left unanswered, who will be designated as a ‘bad actor’ or ‘threat’, in the minds of people who are trained to view protestors and dissenters as low-level terrorists. It will be interesting to see as more and more freedoms are eliminated, and more and more people are viewed as “domestic terrorists” for protesting unconstitutional laws, who will be labeled “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” in the future. Intellectutals? Journalists? Activists? Bloggers? You?

Related Stories:

FBI’s Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists

Spying on U.S Citizens — Uncle Sam turns his multi-billion dollar espionage network on U.S Citizens

By Common Dreams:

The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) posted a ‘Request for Information (RFI)’ online last week seeking companies to build a social network monitoring system for the FBI. The 12-page document (.pdf) spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by February 10, 2012.

It says the application should provide information about possible domestic and global threats superimposed onto maps “using mash-up technology”.

It says the application should collect “open source” information and have the ability to:

  • Provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
  • Allow users to create new keyword searches.
  • Display different levels of threats as alerts on maps, possibly using color coding to distinguish priority. Google Maps 3D and Yahoo Maps are listed among the “preferred” mapping options.
  • Plot a wide range of domestic and global terror data.
  • Immediately translate foreign language tweets into English.

It notes that agents need to “locate bad actors…and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions”. It also states that the bureau will use social media to create “pattern-of-life matrices” — presumably logs of targets’ daily routines — that will aid law enforcement in planning operations.

* * *

New Scientist magazine reports today:

“These tools that mine open source data and presumably store it for a very long time, do away with that kind of privacy. I worry about the effect of that on free speech in the US” — Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier FoundationThe US Federal Bureau of Investigation has quietly released details of plans to continuously monitor the global output of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, offering a rare glimpse into an activity that the FBI and other government agencies are reluctant to discuss publicly. The plans show that the bureau believes it can use information pulled from social media sites to better respond to crises, and maybe even to foresee them. […]

The use of the term “publicly available” suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be able to exempt themselves from the monitoring by making their posts private. But the desire of the US government to watch everyone may still have an unwelcome impact, warns Jennifer Lynch at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.

Lynch says that many people post to social media in the expectation that only their friends and followers are reading, which gives them “the sense of freedom to say what they want without worrying too much about recourse,” says Lynch. “But these tools that mine open source data and presumably store it for a very long time, do away with that kind of privacy. I worry about the effect of that on free speech in the US”.

* * *

The BBC reports:

“Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance” — Gus Hosein, Privacy InternationalThe FBI issued the request three weeks after the US Department of Homeland Security released a separate report into the privacy implications of monitoring social media websites.

It justified the principle of using information that users have provided and not opted to make private.

“Information posted to social media websites is publicly accessible and voluntarily generated. Thus the opportunity not to provide information exists prior to the informational post by the user,” it says.[…]

The London-based campaign group, Privacy International, said it was worried about the consequences of such activities.

“Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance,” said Gus Hosein, the group’s executive director.

“It is not necessarily the case that the more information law enforcement officers have, the safer we will be.

“Police may well find themselves overwhelmed by a flood of personal information, information that is precious to those it concerns but useless for the purposes of crime prevention.”

* * *

The Fierce Government website reports on ‘refining raw social media into intelligence gold’:

The notion that the future can be predicted by trends expressed in collective social media output is one that has gained increased currency in academic writing. A January analysis (.pdf) published by the Rand Corp. of tweets using the #IranElection hashtag during 2009 and early 2010 found a correlation between appearance of swear words and protests. The study also found a shift that indicated the protest movement was losing momentum when swearing shifted from curses at the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to curses at an opposition figure.

A March 2011 paper published in the Journal of Computational Science (abstract) also posited that movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average could be predicted to an accuracy of 86.7 percent by changes of national mood reflected in Tweets. According to The Economist, British hedge fund Derwent Capital Markets has licensed the algorithm to guide the investments of a $41 million fund.

Carrier IQ Is Watching You – Secret App On Millions Of Phones Logs Key Taps, Geographic Locations & Received Messages Of Users

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Oldspeak:“So apparently it’s not just iPhones that keep a secret record of your movements. Surveillance companies can use your iPhone to take photos of you and your surroundings without your knowledge. If you use an Apple, Android, BlackBerry, or Nokia smartphone then you may be at risk of being illegally wire-tapped by Carrier IQ. Carrier IQ’s “mobile intelligence platform”, currently on at least 150 million devices surreptitiously records keystrokes, SMS messages, and internet search topics. Without your knowledge or consent. It can’t be turned off or opted out of. It’s always running even, when your phone’s screen is off. The ostensible reason given for this spyware on your phone is it is “a diagnostic tool designed to give network carriers and device manufacturers detailed information about the causes of dropped calls and other performance issues.” –Carrier IQ VP of Marketing Andrew Coward I’m not sure what your private information  has to do with dropped calls and performance. But if it’s simply a ‘diagnostic tool’ Why is its purpose not explicitly delineated? Why is it not accessible to users? Why is there no privacy policy as there is with every other app? These troubling questions remain unanswered by Carrier IQ? But more people are beginning to ask questions. “Without controls on this industry, the threat that surveillance poses to freedom on expression and human rights in general is only going to increase.” –Steven Murdoch of Cambridge Security Group “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Video:

Related Stories:

Does your smartphone run Carrier IQ? Find out here

Secret app on millions of phones logs key taps

By James Mulroy @ PC World:

If you use an Android, BlackBerry, or Nokia smartphone then you may be at risk of being illegally wire-tapped by Carrier IQ–a provider of performance monitoring software for smartphones–according to reports.

Earlier this month, security researcher Trevor Eckhart announced that he found software made by Carrier IQ that may be logging your every move on your mobile phone. Trevor referred to it as a “rootkit“, a piece of software that hides itself while utilizing privileged access like watching your every move. Carrier IQ didn’t take too kindly to this accusation, and responded aggressively with acease-and-desist letter, and went on to deny this accusation. However, to further back his accusation, Eckhart released a video that he says shows the software in action.

In the video, Eckhart navigates to a list of running applications on his phone, and he found that the application IQRD–made by Carrier IQ–was not shown. However, when he searched all of the applications on the device, Eckhart discovered that IQRD showed up with the option to force stop it; therefore, he determined that the app must have been running. However, when he tried to stop the application, the force stop function did absolutely nothing. Additionally, this application always runs when the device is started, according to his research.

After connecting his HTC device to his computer, Trevor found that IQRD is secretly logging every single button that he taps on the phone–even on the touchscreen number pad. IQRD is also shown to be logging text messages.

In the video, Eckhart shows that Carrier IQ is also logging Web searches. While this doesn’t sound all that bad by itself, it suggests that Carrier IQ is logging what happens during an HTTPS connection which is supposed to be encrypted information. Additionally, it can do this over a Wi-Fi connection with no 3G, so even if your phone service is disconnected, IQRD still logs the information.

Wired goes on to say that the application “cannot be turned off without rooting the phone and replacing the operating system.”

While Eckhart tested his accusation on an HTC device it is likely that Carrier IQ is logging information on millions of more devices. According to Carrier IQ (pdf)”Carrier IQ’s Mobile Intelligence platform is currently deployed with more than 150 million devices worldwide.”

While Carrier IQ has since backed off and apologized for its aggressive legal action against Eckhart, this isn’t the end of the story for Carrier IQ. Paul Ohm, a former Justice Department prosecutor and professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told Forbes that this isn’t just creepy, but it’s also likely grounds for a class action lawsuit, citing a federal wiretapping law.

Make sure to check out the video below to see what Trevor discovered.

 

Update, Nov 30, 2011: iOS jailbreak developer Grant Paul (AKA chpwn) points out on Twitter that earlier versions of iOS appear to have included Carrier IQ. And Erica Sadum of The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) notes that iOS 5 makes references to Carrier IQ as well. In the TUAW post, Erica analyzes the Carrier IQ references and concludes that Carrier IQ in iOS 5 doesn’t appear to be collecting much data–if any at all (i.e. it may need to be explicitly turned on). Read her story for the full details.

Update 2: The Verge claims that neither the Nexus-branded Android phones nor the Motorola Xoom tablet include Carrier IQ, and suggests that the carriers insist on including the software. We haven’t been able to verify this, but if you have any more information, feel free to tip us off.

 

 

The Informants: How The FBI’s Massive Informant Network Actually Created Most Terrorist Plots “Foiled” In U.S. Since 9/11

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Oldspeak:“So this is the America we live in today. Law enforcement spying on citizens without warrants or probable cause. Law enforcement using paid informants to identify and cultivate “targets”; usually poor, simpletons, desperate for money, mostly muslim. Encourage them to commit terrorist acts. HELP THEM PLAN AND GIVE THEM THE MATERIALS to carry out the attack. Then at the last possible instant arresting them for doing so. AND using those same paid informants unsubstantiated testimony (who get a performance bonus every time) to help prosecute and convict the men they coerced into performing terrorist acts. “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing [26] the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet [27], an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad [28].” What we have here is Federal Law Enforcement, under a democratic president, CREATING CRIMES. Why? You ask? Law Enforcement is business. It’s a vital cog in the prison-industrial complex. Without crime, budgets can’t be justified. Smaller budgets mean less inmates, less inmates means less slave laborers available, to make low-cost goods. But I digress. The farcical “War On Terror” must have its ‘Emmanuel Goldstein‘, today, in America, it’s “Muslim Extremists”. There must be paradeable, widely reported and commented on ‘defeats’ of  the ‘extremists’ to justify the existence of the gargantuan ‘National Security/Surveillance State‘ No one really knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it. Good news for the  Military Industrial Complex; it’s selling surveillance  technology to state and local law enforcement to monitor thousands of average Americans, who 9 times out of 10 have not been accused of wrongdoing.

This is the America we live in today. A highly sophisticated, stealth totalitarian state, where the range of acceptable thought and behavior are dictated by a few powerful men and that range is getting narrower and more polarized every day. These few men assiduously and insidiously, tell you what to think, say, learn and  know In the schools they finance and control. What to love, ignore and hate, via multivariate and impossibly seductive and addictive marketing, entertainment, social networking  and infotainment platforms. What to wear, how to smell, where to go, what’s cool what’s not…. etc. All the while telling you you’re an individual, you’re the master of your fate, you’re free to choose whatever you like.  Neo-totalitarianism isn’t something you fear, it’s something you adore. Unless of course you step out of line. The  beauty of neo-totalitarianism is it’s self-correcting. “Extremists” are treated with skepticism, suspicion, derision, or just flat-out ignored, if the point of view espoused doesn’t fit into a prescribed range of thought that supports the status quo. Citizens do it all the time. When they hear things that don’t jive with the corporate approved narrative they’re bombarded with every day, their first reaction is not to explore it further and determine it’s veracity on their own. They’re more likely to dismiss it as “crazy” or a “conspiracy theory” or some “leftie” “righty” propaganda. Our ability to think critically and independently is constantly being eroded on both an institutional and social level. The sound-bytetification  and atomization of our society pervasive, making it that much more difficult for us to organize, resist, and dissent.” “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories:

FBI Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists 

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists 

Deserving Neither Liberty Nor Safety: The Patriot Act & The FBI’s Long-Term Assault on Civil Liberties In America 

By Trevor Aaronson @ Mother Jones:

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots—or leading them?

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote-controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

To learn more about how the FBI uses informants to bust, and sometimes lead, terrorist plots, read Aaronson’s article below.

James Cromitie [8] was a man of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once said [9].

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine, Cromitie had lots of worries—convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real big [10],” he’d say. “I just feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood asked [11].

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

CRUNCH THE NUMBERS

We analyzed the prosecutions of 508 alleged domestic terrorists. View them by affiliation or state, or play with the full data set.

     <All States>     Alabama     Alaska     Arizona     Arkansas     California     Colorado     Connecticut     Delaware     District of Columbia     Florida     Georgia     Illinois     Indiana     Iowa     Kentucky     Louisiana     Maine     Maryland     Massachusetts     Michigan     Minnesota     Mississippi     Missouri     Montana     New Jersey     New York     North Carolina     Ohio     Oklahoma     Oregon     Pennsylvania     South Carolina     Tennessee     Texas     Virginia     Washington     Wisconsin      
     <All Affiliations>     Abu Sayyaf     Al Qaeda     Al Shabaab     Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades     Al-Barakat     Al-Fuqra     Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation     Al-Ittihad Al-Islami     Alleged affiliation     Ansar al-Islam     Free Government of Vietnam     Hamas     Hezbollah     Iraqi insurgency     Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh     Jemaah Islamiyah     Khalistan Commando Force (KCF)     Lashkar-e-Taiba     Mujahideen-e-Khalq     Palestinian Islamic Jihad     FARC     Taliban     Tamil Tigers     Terrorist training camps in AfPak     AUC      

Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?” he offered [12]. “Two Stingers, rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed Hussain [13], and he was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies, some paid as much as $100,000 per case, many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States.

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO [14], the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informant [15]s [15]. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800 [16]. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported [16] in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request [17], the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase [18] in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million [19] for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a franchise model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry out attacks in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference [20] announcing another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro [21] bombing plot? The New York subway [22]plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower [23]? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree [24] lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

  • Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see our charts page [6] and searchable database [25].)
  • Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
  • With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing [26] the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet [27], an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad [28].)
  • In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded—making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.
  • Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented a man caught in a 2004 sting involving New York’s Herald Square [22] subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly is willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna Six [29], an alleged terror cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say, ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

A guide to counterterrorism jargon.

1001: Known as the “Al Capone,” Title 18, Section 1001 [30] of the federal criminal code covers the crime of lying to federal agents. Just as the government prosecuted Capone for tax violations[31], it has frequently used 1001 against terrorism defendants [32] whose crimes or affiliations it couldn’t prove in court.
Agent provocateur: An informant or undercover operative who incites a target to take unlawful action [33]; the phrase originally described strikebreakers trying to provoke violence [34].

Assessment: The term for a 72-hour investigation [35]—which may include surveillance—that FBI agents can launch without having a predicate [36] (see below).

COINTELPRO [14]: From 1956 to 1971, the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program attempted to infiltrate and sometimes harass domestic political groups [37], from the Ku Klux Klan to the National Lawyers Guild and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [38].

DIOG: The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide [36], a 258-page FBI manual for undercover operations and the use of informants. Recently revised to allow agents to look for information—including going through someone’s trash—about a person who is not formally being investigated [39], sometimes to flip them as an informant.

Domain Management: An FBI data-mining and analysis program [36] used to map US communities along ethnic and religious lines.

Hip pocket: An unregistered informant who provides information [40] and tips to FBI agents but whose information is not used in court.

Joint Terrorism Task Force: A partnership among federal and local law enforcement agencies [41]; through it, for example, FBI agents can join forces with immigration agents [42] to put the squeeze on someone to become an informant.

Material support: Providing help to a designated foreign terrorist organization. This can include money, lodging, training, documents, weapons, and personnel[43]—including oneself, and including joining a terrorist cell dreamed up by the FBI [44].

Operator: Someone who wants to be a terrorist; in the FBI’s view, sympathizers become operators [3].

Predicate: Information clearly suggesting that an individual is involved in unlawful activity; it’s required for the FBI to start an investigation [36].

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 2010 speech [45] to Muslim lawyers and civil rights activists. President Obama’s Department of Justice has announced sting-related prosecutions at an even faster clip than the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since January 2009. With the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous conflict, the FBI doesn’t have an exit strategy.

Located deep in a wooded area on a Marine Corps base west of Interstate 95—a setting familiar from Silence of the Lambs—is the sandstone fortress of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This building, erected under J. Edgar Hoover, is where to this day every FBI special agent is trained.

J. Stephen Tidwell graduated from the academy in 1981 and over the years rose to executive assistant director, one of the 10 highest positions in the FBI; in 2008, he coauthored the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG [46] (PDF), the manual for what agents and informants can and cannot do.

A former Texas cop, Tidwell is a barrel-chested man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He’s led some of the FBI’s highest-profile investigations, including the DC sniper case and the probe of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

On a cloudy spring afternoon, Tidwell, dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, drove me in his black Ford F-350 through Hogan’s Alley [47]—a 10-acre Potemkin village with houses, bars, stores, and a hotel. Agents learning the craft role-play stings, busts, and bank robberies here, and inside jokes and pop-culture references litter the place (which itself gets its name from a 19th-century comic strip). At one end of the town is the Biograph Theater, named for the Chicago movie house where FBI agents gunned down John Dillinger [48] in 1934. (“See,” Tidwell says. “The FBI has a sense of humor.”)

Inside the academy, a more somber tone prevails. Plaques everywhere honor agents who have been killed on the job. Tidwell takes me to one that commemorates John O’Neill, who became chief of the bureau’s then-tiny counterterrorism section in 1995. For years before retiring from the FBI, O’Neill warned [49] of Al Qaeda’s increasing threat, to no avail. In late August 2001, he left the bureau to take a job as head of security for the World Trade Center, where he died 19 days later at the hands of the enemy he’d told the FBI it should fear. The agents he had trained would end up reshaping the bureau’s counterterrorism operations.

Before 9/11, FBI agents considered chasing terrorists an undesirable career path, and their training did not distinguish between Islamic terror tactics and those employed by groups like the Irish Republican Army. “A bombing case is a bombing case,” Dale Watson, who was the FBI’s counterterrorism chief on 9/11, said in a December 2004 deposition. The FBI also did not train agents in Arabic or require most of them to learn about radical Islam. “I don’t necessarily think you have to know everything about the Ku Klux Klan to investigate a church bombing,” Watson said. The FBI had only one Arabic speaker [50] in New York City and fewer than 10 nationwide.

But shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush called FBI Director Robert Mueller to Camp David. His message: never again. And so Mueller committed to turn the FBI into a counterintelligence organization rivaling Britain’s MI5 in its capacity for surveillance and clandestine activity. Federal law enforcement went from a focus on fighting crime to preventing crime; instead of accountants and lawyers cracking crime syndicates, the bureau would focus on Jack Bauer-style operators disrupting terror groups.

To help run the counterterrorism section, Mueller drafted Arthur Cummings, a former Navy SEAL who’d investigated the first World Trade Center bombing. Cummings pressed agents to focus not only on their immediate target, but also on the extended web of people linked to the target. “We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to become an operator, and we want to catch them when they step over that line to operator,” Cummings says. “Sometimes, that step takes 10 years. Other times, it takes 10 minutes.” The FBI’s goal is to create a hostile environment for terrorist recruiters and operators—by raising the risk of even the smallest step toward violent action. It’s a form of deterrence, an adaptation of the “broken windows” theory used to fight urban crime. Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there hasn’t been a successful large-scale attack against the United States since 9/11. But what can’t be answered—as many former and current FBI agents acknowledge—is how many of the bureau’s targets would have taken the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.
So how did the FBI build its informant network? It began by asking where US Muslims lived. Four years after 9/11, the bureau brought in a CIA expert on intelligence-gathering methods named Phil Mudd [51]. His tool of choice was a data-mining system using commercially available information, as well as government data such as immigration records, to pinpoint the demographics of specific ethnic and religious communities—say, Iranians in Beverly Hills or Pakistanis in the DC suburbs.

The FBI officially denies that the program, known as Domain Management, works this way—its purpose, the bureau says, is simply to help allocate resources according to threats. But FBI agents told me that with counterterrorism as the bureau’s top priority, agents often look for those threats in Muslim communities—and Domain Management allows them to quickly understand those communities’ makeup. One high-ranking former FBI official jokingly referred to it as “Battlefield Management.”

Some FBI veterans criticized the program as unproductive and intrusive—one told Mudd during a high-level meeting that he’d pushed the bureau to “the dark side.” That tension has its roots in the stark difference between the FBI and the CIA: While the latter is free to operate internationally without regard to constitutional rights, the FBI must respect those rights in domestic investigations, and Mudd’s critics saw the idea of targeting Americans based on their ethnicity and religion as a step too far.

Nonetheless, Domain Management quickly became the foundation for the FBI’s counterterrorism dragnet. Using the demographic data, field agents were directed to target specific communities to recruit informants. Some agents were assigned to the task full time. And across the bureau, agents’ annual performance evaluations are now based in part on their recruiting efforts.

People cooperate with law enforcement for fairly simple reasons: ego, patriotism, money, or coercion. The FBI’s recruitment has relied heavily on the latter. One tried-and-true method is to flip someone facing criminal charges. But since 9/11 the FBI has also relied heavily on Immigration and Customs Enforcement [42], with which it has worked closely as part of increased interagency coordination. A typical scenario will play out like this: An FBI agent trying to get someone to cooperate will look for evidence that the person has immigration troubles. If they do, he can ask ICE to begin or expedite deportation proceedings. If the immigrant then chooses to cooperate, the FBI will tell the court that he is a valuable asset, averting deportation.

A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Craig Monteilh has been a versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, a Sicilian drug trafficker, and a French-Syrian Muslim.

Sometimes, the target of this kind of push is the one person in a mosque who will know everyone’s business—the imam. Two Islamic religious leaders, Foad Farahi [52] in Miami and Sheikh Tarek Saleh in New York City, are currently fighting deportation proceedings that, they claim, began after they refused to become FBI assets. The Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center has filed similar complaints on behalf of seven other Muslims with the Department of Homeland Security.

Once someone has signed on as an informant, the first assignment is often a fishing expedition. Informants have said in court testimony that FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a specific target or “predicate”—the term of art for the reason why someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent.

“The FBI is now telling agents they can go into houses of worship without probable cause,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “That raises serious constitutional issues.”

Tidwell himself will soon have to defend these practices in court—he’s among those named in a class-action lawsuit [53] (PDF) over an informant’s allegation that the FBI used him to spy on a number of mosques in Southern California.

That informant, Craig Monteilh, is a convicted felon who made his money ripping off cocaine dealers before becoming an asset for the Drug Enforcement Administration and later the FBI. A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Monteilh has been a particularly versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, and a Sicilian drug trafficker. He says when the FBI sent him into mosques (posing as a French-Syrian Muslim), he was told to act as a decoy for any radicals who might seek to convert him—and to look for information to help flip congregants as informants, such as immigration status, extramarital relationships, criminal activities, and drug use. “Blackmail is the ultimate goal,” Monteilh says.

Officially, the FBI denies it blackmails informants. “We are prohibited from using threats or coercion,” says Kathleen Wright, an FBI spokeswoman. (She acknowledges that the bureau has prevented helpful informants from being deported.)

FBI veterans say reality is different from the official line. “We could go to a source and say, ‘We know you’re having an affair. If you work with us, we won’t tell your wife,'” says a former top FBI counterterrorism official. “Would we actually call the wife if the source doesn’t cooperate? Not always. You do get into ethics here—is this the right thing to do?—but legally this isn’t a question. If you obtained the information legally, then you can use it however you want.”

But eventually, Monteilh’s operation imploded in spectacular fashion. In December 2007, police in Irvine, California, charged him with bilking two women out of $157,000 as part of an alleged human growth hormone scam. Monteilh has maintained it was actually part of an FBI investigation, and that agents instructed him to plead guilty to a grand-theft charge and serve eight months so as not to blow his cover. The FBI would “clean up” the charge later, Monteilh says he was told. That didn’t happen, and Monteilh has alleged in court filings that the government put him in danger by letting fellow inmates know that he was an informant. (FBI agents told me the bureau wouldn’t advise an informant to plead guilty to a state criminal charge; instead, agents would work with local prosecutors to delay or dismiss the charge.)

The class-action suit, filed by the ACLU, alleges that Tidwell, then the bureau’s Los Angeles-based assistant director, signed off on Monteilh’s operation. And Tidwell says he’s eager to defend the bureau in court. “There is not the blanket suspicion of the Muslim community that they think there is,” Tidwell says. “We’re just looking for the bad guys. Anything the FBI does is going to be interpreted as monitoring Muslims. I would tell [critics]: ‘Do you really think I have the time and money to monitor all the mosques and Arab American organizations? We don’t. And I don’t want to.'”
Shady informants, of course, are as old as the FBI; one saying in the bureau is, “To catch the devil, you have to go to hell.” Another is, “The only problem worse than having an informant is not having an informant.” Back in the ’80s, the FBI made a cottage industry of drug stings—a source of countless Hollywood plots, often involving briefcases full of cocaine and Miami as the backdrop.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that one of the earliest known terrorism stings also unfolded in Miami, though it wasn’t launched by the FBI. Instead the protagonist was a Canadian bodyguard and, as a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper put it in 2002 [54], “a 340-pound man with a fondness for firearms and strippers.” He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune[55] and hung around a police supply store on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, north of Miami.

Howard Gilbert aspired to be a CIA agent but lacked pertinent experience. So to pad his résumé, he hatched a plan to infiltrate a mosque in the suburb of Pembroke Pines by posing as a Muslim convert named Saif Allah [56]. He told congregants that he was a former Marine and a security expert, and one night in late 2000, he gave a speech about the plight of Palestinians.

“That was truly the night that launched me into the terrorist umbrella of South Florida,” Gilbert would later brag [57] to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nineteen-year-old congregant Imran Mandhai, stirred by the oration, approached Gilbert and asked if he could provide him weapons and training. Gilbert, who had been providing information to the FBI, contacted his handlers and asked for more money to work on the case. (He later claimed that the bureau had paid him $6,000.) But he ultimately couldn’t deliver—the target had sensed something fishy about his new friend.

The bureau also brought in Elie Assaad [58], a seasoned informant originally from Lebanon. He told Mandhai that he was an associate of Osama bin Laden tasked with establishing a training camp in the United States. Gilbert suggested attacking electrical substations in South Florida, and Assaad offered to provide a weapon. FBI agents then arrested Mandhai; he pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. It was a model of what would become the bureau’s primary counterterrorism M.O.—identifying a target, offering a plot, and then pouncing.

"These guys were homeless types," one former FBI official says about the alleged Sears Tower plotters. "And yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?": Illustration: Jeffrey Smith“These guys were homeless types,” one former FBI official says about the alleged Sears Tower plotters. “And yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?” Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

Gilbert himself didn’t get to bask in his glory; he never worked for the FBI again and died in 2004. Assaad, for his part, ran into some trouble when his pregnant wife called 911. She said Assaad had beaten and choked her to the point that she became afraid[59] for her unborn baby; he was arrested, but in the end his wife refused to press charges.

The jail stint didn’t keep Assaad from working for the FBI on what would turn out to be perhaps the most high-profile terrorism bust of the post-9/11 era. In 2005, the bureau got a tip [60] from an informant about a group of alleged terrorists in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The targets were seven men [61]—some African American, others Haitian—who called themselves the“Seas of David” [62] and ascribed to religious beliefs that blended Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The men were martial-arts enthusiasts who operated out of a dilapidated warehouse, where they also taught classes for local kids. The Seas of David’s leader was Narseal Batiste [63], the son of a Louisiana preacher, father of four, and a former Guardian Angel.

In response to the informant’s tip, the FBI had him wear a wire during meetings with the men, but he wasn’t able to engage them in conversations about terrorist plots. So he introduced the group to Assaad, now playing an Al Qaeda operative. At the informant’s request, Batiste took photographs of the FBI office in North Miami Beach and was caught on tape discussing a notion to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago. Assaad led Batiste, and later the other men, in swearing an oath to Al Qaeda, though the ceremony (recorded and entered into evidence at trial) bore a certain “Who’s on First?” flavor:

God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact,” Assaad said as he and Batiste sat in his car. “Repeat after me.”

“Okay. Allah’s pledge is upon you.”

“No, you have to repeat exactly. God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact. You have to repeat.”

Ultimately, the undercover recordings suggest that Batiste was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend.

“Well, I can’t say Allah?” Batiste asked.

“Yeah, but this is an English version because Allah, you can say whatever you want, but—”

“Okay. Of course.”

“Okay.”

Allah’s pledge is upon me. And so is his compact,” Batiste said, adding: “That means his angels, right?”

“Uh, huh. To commit myself,” Assaad continued.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother,” Batiste repeated.

“Uh. That’s, uh, what’s your, uh, what’s your name, brother?”

“Ah, Brother Naz.”

“Okay. To commit myself,” the informant repeated.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother.”

“You’re not—you have to say your name!” Assaad cried.

“Naz. Naz.”

“Uh. To commit myself. I am Brother Naz. You can say, ‘To commit myself.'”

To commit myself, Brother Naz.”

Things went smoothly until Assaad got to a reference to being “protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directive of Al Qaeda.”

Here Batiste stopped. “And to…what is the directive of?”

Directive of Al Qaeda,” the informant answered.

“So now let me ask you this part here. That means that Al Qaeda will be over us?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Assaad said. “It’s an alliance.”

“Oh. Well…” Batiste said, sounding resigned.

“It’s an alliance, but it’s like a commitment, by, uh, like, we respect your rules. You respect our rules,” Assaad explained.

“Uh, huh,” Batiste mumbled.

And to the directive of Al Qaeda,” Assaad said, waiting for Batiste to repeat.

“Okay, can I say an alliance?” Batiste asked. “And to the alliance of Al Qaeda?

Of the alliance, of the directive—” Assaad said, catching himself. “You know what you can say? And to the directive and the alliance of Al Qaeda.”

“Okay, directive and alliance of Al Qaeda,” Batiste said.

“Okay,” the informant said. “Now officially you have commitment and we have alliance between each other. And welcome, Brother Naz, to Al Qaeda.”

Or not. Ultimately, the undercover recordings made by Assaad suggest that Batiste, who had a failing drywall business and had trouble making the rent for the warehouse, was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend. After first asking the informant for $50,000, Batiste is recorded in conversation after conversation asking how soon he’ll have the cash.

“Let me ask you a question,” he says in one exchange. “Once I give you an account number, how long do you think it’s gonna take to get me something in?”

“So you is scratching my back, [I’m] scratching your back—we’re like this,” Assaad dodged.

“Right,” Batiste said.

“When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

The money never materialized. Neither did any specific terrorist plot. Nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged (PDF [64]) Batiste and his cohorts—whom the media dubbed the Liberty City Seven—with conspiracy to support terrorism, destroy buildings, and levy war against the US government. Perhaps the key piece of evidence was the video of Assaad’s Al Qaeda “oath.” Assaad was reportedly paid [65] $85,000 for his work on the case; the other informant got $21,000.

James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, was hired to review the Liberty City case as a consultant for the defense. In his opinion, the informant simply picked low-hanging fruit. “These guys couldn’t find their way down the end of the street,” Wedick says. “They were homeless types. And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only cared about the money. When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

Indeed, the Department of Justice had a difficult time winning convictions in the Liberty City case. In three separate trials, juries deadlocked [66]on most of the charges, eventually acquitting one of the defendants (charges against another were dropped) and convicting five of crimes that landed them in prison for between 7 to 13 years. When it was all over, Assaad told ABC News’ Brian Ross [58] that he had a special sense for terrorists: “God gave me a certain gift.”

But he didn’t have a gift for sensing trouble. After the Liberty City case, Assaad moved on to Texas and founded a low-rent modeling agency [67]. In March, when police tried to pull him over, he led them in a chase through El Paso [68] (with his female passenger jumping out at one point), hit a cop with his car, and ended up rolling his SUV on the freeway. Reached by phone, Assaad declined to comment. He’s saving his story, he says, for a book he’s pitching to publishers.

Not all of the more than 500 terrorism prosecutions [25] reviewed in this investigation are so action-movie ready. But many do have an element of mystery. For example, though recorded conversations are often a key element of prosecutions, in many sting cases the FBI didn’t record large portions of the investigation, particularly during initial encounters or at key junctures during the sting. When those conversations come up in court, the FBI and prosecutors will instead rely on the account of an informant with a performance bonus on the line.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was an 18-yeaer old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he'd like to "help the brothers." Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting.: Illustration: Jeffrey SmithMohamed Osman Mohamud [69] was an 18-year old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he’d like to “help the brothers.” Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting. Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

 

One of the most egregious examples of a missing recording involves a convoluted tale that begins in the early morning hours of November 1, 2009, with a date-rape allegation on the campus of Oregon State University. Following a Halloween party, 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud [70], a Somali-born US citizen, went home with another student. The next morning, the woman reported to police that she believed she had been drugged.

Campus police brought Mohamud in for questioning and a polygraph test; FBI agents, who for reasons that have not been disclosed had been keeping an eye on the teen for about a month, were also there [71]. Mohamud claimed that the sex was consensual, and a drug test given to his accuser eventually came back negative.

During the interrogation, OSU police asked Mohamud if a search of his laptop would indicate that he’d researched date-rape drugs. He said it wouldn’t and gave them permission to examine his hard drive. Police copied its entire contents and turned the data over to the FBI—which discovered, it later alleged in court documents, that Mohamud had emailed someone in northwest Pakistan talking about jihad.

Soon after his run-in with police, Mohamud began to receive emails from “Bill Smith,” a self-described terrorist who encouraged him to “help the brothers.” “Bill,” an FBI agent, arranged for Mohamud to meet one of his associates in a Portland hotel room. There, Mohamud told the agents that he’d been thinking of jihad since age 15. When asked what he might want to attack, Mohamud suggested the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony [72]. The agents set Mohamud up with a van that he thought was filled with explosives. On November 26, 2010, Mohamud and one of the agents drove the van to Portland’s Pioneer Square, and Mohamud dialed [73] the phone to trigger the explosion. Nothing. He dialed again. Suddenly FBI agents appeared and dragged him away as he kicked and yelled, “Allahu akbar!” Prosecutors charged him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; his trial is pending.

The FBI’s defenders say the bureau must flush out terrorist sympathizers before they act. “What would you do?” asks one. “Wait for him to figure it out himself?”

The Portland case has been held up as an example of how FBI stings can make a terrorist where there might have been only an angry loser. “This is a kid who, it can be reasonably inferred, barely had the capacity to put his shoes on in the morning,” Wedick says.

But Tidwell, the retired FBI official, says Mohamud was exactly the kind of person the FBI needs to flush out. “That kid was pretty specific about what he wanted to do,” he says. “What would you do in response? Wait for him to figure it out himself? If you’ll notice, most of these folks [targeted in stings] plead guilty. They don’t say, ‘I’ve been entrapped,’ or, ‘I was immature.'” That’s true—though it’s also true that defendants and their attorneys know that the odds of succeeding at trial are vanishingly small. Nearly two-thirds of all terrorism prosecutions since 9/11 have ended in guilty pleas, and experts hypothesize that it’s difficult for such defendants to get a fair trial. “The plots people are accused of being part of—attacking subway systems or trying to bomb a building—are so frightening that they can overwhelm a jury,” notes David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who has studied these types of cases.
But the Mohamud story wasn’t quite over—it would end up changing the course of another case on the opposite side of the country. In Maryland, rookie FBI agent Keith Bender had been working a sting against 21-year-old Antonio Martinez [74], a recent convert to Islam who’d posted inflammatory comments on Facebook [75] (“The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah”). An FBI informant had befriended Martinez and, in recorded conversations, they talked about attacking a military recruiting station.

Just as the sting was building to its climax, Martinez saw news reports about the Mohamud case, and how there was an undercover operative involved. He worried: Was he, too, being lured into a sting? He called his supposed terrorist contact: “I’m not falling for no BS,” he told him [75].

Faced with the risk of losing the target, the informant—whose name is not revealed in court records—met with Martinez and pulled him back into the plot. But while the informant had recorded numerous previous meetings with Martinez, no recording [76] was made for this key conversation; in affidavits, the FBI blamed a technical glitch. Two weeks later, on December 8, 2010, Martinez parked what he thought was a car bomb in front of a recruitment center and was arrested when he tried to detonate [77] it.

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, concedes that missing recordings in terrorism stings seem suspicious. But, she says, it’s more common than you might think: “I can’t tell you how many times I had FBI agents in front of me and I yelled, ‘You have hundreds of hours of recordings, but you didn’t record this meeting.’ Sometimes, I admit, they might not record something intentionally”—for fear, she says, that the target will notice. “But more often than not, it’s a technical issue.”

Wedick, the former FBI agent, is less forgiving. “With the technology the FBI now has access to—these small devices that no one would ever suspect are recorders or transmitters—there’s no excuse not to tape interactions between the informant and the target,” he says. “So why in many of these terrorism stings are meetings not recorded? Because it’s convenient for the FBI not to record.”

So what really happens as an informant works his target, sometimes over a period of years, and eases him over the line? For the answer to that, consider once more the case of James Cromitie [8], the Walmart stocker with a hatred of Jews. Cromitie was the ringleader in the much-publicized Bronx synagogue bombing plot that went to trial last year[78]. But a closer look at the record reveals that while Cromitie was no one’s idea of a nice guy, whatever leadership existed in the plot emanated from his sharply dressed, smooth-talking friend Maqsood, a.k.a. FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the FBI’s more successful counterterrorism informants. (See our timeline of Hussain’s career as an informant [13].) He’d originally come to the bureau’s attention when he was busted in a DMV scam [79] that charged test takers $300 to $500 for a license. Having “worked off” those charges, he’d transitioned from indentured informant to paid snitch, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.

At trial, informant Hussain admitted that he created the “impression” that his target would make big money by bombing synagogues in the Bronx.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would start conversations with strangers about jihad [80]. “I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI,” Hussain said during Cromitie’s trial. Most of the mosque’s congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a wealthy businessman and always arrived in one of his four luxury cars [81]—a Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs—made plenty of friends. But after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he had not identified a single actual target [82].

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain clearly had Cromitie’s number. “Allah didn’t bring you here to work for Walmart,” he told him [83] at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could “con the corn from the cob,” had a history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw and heard things that weren’t there and had twice tried to commit suicide [84]. He told tall tales, most of them entirely untrue—like the one about how his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four months of their relationship isn’t known, because the FBI did not record [85] those conversations. Based on later conversations, it’s clear that Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target, all expenses paid [86] by the FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped pay Cromitie’s rent [87]. He offered to buy him a barbershop [88]. Finally, he asked Cromitie to recruit others [89] and help him bomb synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A hidden camera [90] was trained on the living room.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Cromitie told the informant [91].

“Who? I—”

“Think about it before you speak,” Cromitie interrupted.

“If there is American soldiers, I don’t care,” Hussain said, trying a fresh angle.

“Hold up,” Cromitie agreed. “If it’s American soldiers, I don’t even care.”

“If it’s kids, I care,” Hussain said. “If it’s women, I care.”

“I care. That’s what I’m worried about. And I’m going to tell you, I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.”

“Yep.”

“I would take ’em down, I don’t even care. ‘Cause I know they are the ones.”

“We have the equipment to do it.”

“See, see, I’m not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I’m worried about is my safety,” Cromitie said.

“Oh, yeah, safety comes first.”

“I want to get in and I want to get out.”

“Trust me,” Hussain assured.

At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain would admit that he created the—in his word—”impression” that Cromitie would make a lot of money by bombing synagogues.

“I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he once told [92] Cromitie when the target seemed hesitant. “What can I tell you?” (Asked about the exchange in court, Hussain said that “$250,000” was simply a code word for the bombing plot—a code word, he admitted, that only he knew.)

But whether for ideology or money, Cromitie did recruit three others, and they did take photographs of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh as well as of synagogues in the Bronx. On May 20, 2009, Hussain drove Cromitie [93] to the Bronx, where Cromitie put what he believed were bombs [94] inside cars he thought had been parked by Hussain’s coconspirators. Once all the dummy bombs were placed, Cromitie headed back to the getaway car [95]—Hussain was in the driver’s seat—and then a SWAT team surrounded the car.

At trial, Cromitie told the judge [96]: “I am not a violent person. I’ve never been a terrorist, and I never will be. I got myself into this stupid mess. I know I said a lot of stupid stuff.” He was sentenced to 25 years.

For his trouble, the FBI paid Hussain $96,000 [97]. Then he moved on to another case, another mosque, somewhere in the United States.

For this project, Mother Jones partnered with the University of California-Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program [98], headed by Lowell Bergman, where Trevor Aaronson[1] was an investigative fellow. The Fund for Investigative Journalism [99] also provided support for Aaronson’s reporting. Lauren Ellis [100] and Hamed Aleaziz [101]contributed additional research.