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

Posts Tagged ‘USA Patriot Act’

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.

 

Advertisements

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

New York Federal Reserve ‘Bomb’ Plotter Ensnared In FBI Sting: FBI Provided Encouragement, Guidance, Money & Materials Needed For Attack

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Oldspeak:”The case appears to be the latest to fit a model in which, in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism, federal law enforcement officials have played the role of enabler. Agents and informers have provided suspects with encouragement, guidance, money and even, the subjects of the sting operations are led to believe, the materials needed to carry out an attack. Though these operations have almost always held up in court, they have come under increasing criticism from those who believe that many of the subjects, even some who openly espoused violence, would have been unable to execute such plots without substantial assistance from the government. –Mose Secret. Not quite sure how this highly questionable, entrapment-like practice doesn’t qualify as state-sponsored terrorism. Money, materials and guidance provided by the FBI, paid informants orchestrating the whole excercise, yet this poor schmuck, gets disappeared for “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.” Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, Tarek Mehanna, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shahzad, The Newburg 4, The Liberty City 7, The Fort Dix 5, etc, etc etc, the names change, but as Robert Plant wailed “The Song Remains The Same”… Federal agents crucially involved in “terrorist” plots in which federal agents  “controlled the “entire operation to ensure the safety of the public” where the public “was never at risk”. High profile arrests are always widely reported. When one understands that “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.’-Trevor Aaronson, one sees this latest “foiled” terror plot for what it is, a means to an end. “As long as the American people are still easily whipped into a frenzy over forged menaces from afar, their blood and treasure will go on to be squandered on military boondoggles and redundant intelligence agencies.  War and fear end up becoming a way of life.  And so does the state’s command over what could be a life of peace and tranquility for the nation it supposedly protects.” -James E. Miller “The populace is convinced with these FBI coordinated terror attacks to believe that the perpetual “War On Terror” needs to continue. That militarized, violent, vengeful response and increasingly automated response is the best response to terrorism. That no critical thought should be devoted to positively changing the conditions (in all probability created by U.S. actions) that are creating terrorists. Your duty as a citizen has been reduced to a few essentials Vote,work, shop, eat, drink & believe. Question nothing, consume everything. “War Is Peace”, “War Is A Drug”, “War Is A Racket”

Related Stories:

Times Square bomb used non-explosive fertilizer. Another False Flag Operation?

Tarek Mehanna Convicted For Words, Not Deeds, After 3 Years Surveillance, Failed Inducement To Commit Terrorist Acts & Turn Informant For FBI

Fake Terror Plots Using Paid Informants: The Tactics Of FBI ‘Entrapment’ Questioned

Al-Qaida “Underwear Bomber” Was Working For The C.I.A. : The Yemen Bomb Plot & Other Hobgoblins

Informant Posing As Drug Cartel Member “Foiled” Iranian Assassination Plot

By Adam Gabbatt @ The U.K. Guardian:

A man has been arrested in New York for allegedly trying to blow up the Federal Reserve with what he believed was a 1,000lb bomb but was in fact a fake device provided by federal agents.

The FBI said its sting operation culminated in the arrest of Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, in a hotel room near the Fed as he tried in vain to detonate the inert device.

The agency said it had controlled the “entire operation to ensure the safety of the public and New Yorkers”, adding that the public “was never at risk”. But the FBI’s admission that it ran the whole operation will inevitably attract accusations of entrapment.

According to the FBI, Nafis travelled to the US from Bangladesh in January with the intention of conducting a terrorist attack. Upon arrival he “actively sought out al-Qaida contacts within the US to assist in carrying out an attack”, the FBI said.

In the course of his search he came across an undercover FBI agent posing as an al-Qaida facilitator. The agent supplied Nafis with 20 50lb bags of fake explosives, the FBI said, and drove to the Federal Reserve with Nafis on Wednesday morning.

During the journey to lower Manhattan the 21-year-old assembled what he thought was a 1,000lb bomb using the material supplied by the undercover agent. When the van arrived at the Federal Reserve, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, Nafis and the agent left the vehicle and walked to a nearby hotel, where Nafis “repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to detonate the bomb”, which had been assembled using “inert” explosives, the FBI said.

Nafis was arrested by agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the scene.

“Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested this morning in downtown Manhattan after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb at the New York Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan’s financial district,” the FBI said in a statement.

“The defendant faces charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.”

Nafis is said to have proposed several targets for the attack, including a “high-ranking US official” and the New York Stock Exchange before settling on the New York Federal Reserve. In a written statement he had professed a desire to “destroy America” and praised Osama bin Laden.

Nafis has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.

The Federal Reserve bank in New York is one of 12 locations around the country that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, make up the Federal Reserve System that serves as the central bank of the United States.

Man Is Charged With Plotting to Bomb Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan

By Mosi Secret @ The New York Times:

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged a 21-year-old Bangladeshi man with conspiring to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, saying he tried to remotely detonate what he believed was a 1,000-pound bomb in a van he parked outside the building in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday.

But the entire plot played out under the surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department as part of an elaborate sting operation, according to court papers.

 

The man, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who arrived in the United States in January on a student visa, tried to make contacts and recruit people to form a terrorist cell to help him carry out an attack, according to a criminal complaint in the case. But one of these recruits was an F.B.I. informer, who later introduced him to an undercover F.B.I. agent who helped him with the plot.

 

In addition, the complaint said, Mr. Nafis spoke of a desire to “attack and kill” a high-ranking government official. A senior law enforcement official said Wednesday night that the official was President Obama, but that Mr. Nafis’s desire never got past the talking stage.

 

Mr. Nafis was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to Al Qaeda. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

 

Mr. Nafis arrived at Federal District Court in Brooklyn, looking boyish despite his trim beard. He spoke quietly when answering the questions of the magistrate judge, Roanne L. Mann.

 

The case appears to be the latest to fit a model in which, in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism, federal law enforcement officials have played the role of enabler. Agents and informers have provided suspects with encouragement, guidance, money and even, the subjects of the sting operations are led to believe, the materials needed to carry out an attack. Though these operations have almost always held up in court, they have come under increasing criticism from those who believe that many of the subjects, even some who openly espoused violence, would have been unable to execute such plots without substantial assistance from the government.

 

Both F.B.I. leaders and federal prosecutors have defended the approach as valuable in finding and stopping people predisposed to commit terrorism.

 

In a prominent case in 2009, several men, urged by an unusually persistent government informer, planted what they believed to be homemade bombs in front of synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Four men were convicted, but the judge who oversaw the trial also criticized the law enforcement agents who helped push the plot forward: “The government made them terrorists.”

 

The court papers describe Mr. Nafis as a man of persistence, who wanted to be respected by Al Qaeda leaders.

 

The undercover agent began meeting with Mr. Nafis in July, first in Central Park and later in hotels in Queens, secretly recording Mr. Nafis’s statements. Mr. Nafis had grand but vague plans, according to the indictment. “I don’t want something that’s like, small. I just want something big,” he said, according to the complaint. “Very, very, very, very big, that will shake the whole country.”

 

He settled on the financial district as a target, hoping to shake the American economy. The original plan was for a suicide mission but that changed when Mr. Nafis said he wanted to go home to Bangladesh first to put his affairs in order. The undercover agent told Mr. Nafis that he could use a remote-control device, so that he could stage the attack and then return to Bangladesh.

 

On Wednesday morning, they drove to a warehouse and assembled the fake bomb, placing supposedly explosive material in trash bins they had bought, then putting the bins in a van, according to the complaint. They assembled a fake detonator that was to be triggered by a cellphone and drove to the fortresslike Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the largest bank structure in the world when it was completed in 1924, about two blocks from Wall Street.

 

Mr. Nafis and the undercover agent parked the van outside the bank and walked to a nearby hotel, where Mr. Nafis recorded a video statement addressed to the American people, which he planned to publicize after the attack. In the statement, he said, “We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom.”

 

Then he tried again and again to detonate the bomb, dialing the cellphone repeatedly until agents arrested him.

 

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

 

 

 

 

 

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Assassination Of Anwar al-Awlaki, Has U.S. Entered New Era of Killing Its Citizens Without Charge?

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites

Oldspeak:”President Obama has claimed the right to detain, eavesdrop on, and kill American citizens without due process. Anwar al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. He was ordered assassinated by the President of the United States without presenting any evidence of any kind as to his guilt, without attempting to indict him in any way or comply with any of the requirements of the Constitution that say that you can’t deprive someone of life without due process of law. The president ordered him killed wherever he was found, including far away from a battle field, no matter what it was he was doing at the time. And if you’re somebody who believes that the president of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without even a shred of due process, without having to have charged him with a crimes or indict him and prove in a court he’s actually guilty, then you’re really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets.” –Glenn Grunwald. Is this what it’s come to? The U.S. conspiring with illegitimate and murderous foreign governments to target and kill American deemed citizens undesirable without due process? Now that it’s started down this frightfully slippery slope, where does it end? What is there to prevent You or I from being unilaterally targeted for assassination with no evidence of wrongdoing or guilt?”

Related Story:

The Due-Process-Free Assassination Of U.S. Citizens Is Now Reality

By Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

Guest:

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com.

The United States has confirmed the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in northern Yemen. The Obama administration says Al-Awlaki is one of the most influential al-Qaeda operatives on its ‘most wanted’ list. In response to news of al-Awlaki’s death, constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald and others argue the assassination of U.S. citizens without due process has now has become a reality. “One of the bizarre aspects of it is that media and government reports try to sell al-Awlaki as some grand terrorist mastermind … describing him as the new bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Osama bin Laden to justify this type of endless war … For a while, al-Awlaki was going to serve that function,” Greenwald says. “If you are somebody that believes the President of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without a shred of due process … then you are really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Shortly before we went on the air this morning, senior U.S. administration officials confirm the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in northern Yemen. The United States says Awlaki is one of the most influential Al Qaeda operatives on its most wanted list. News of the death was first announced by Yemen’s Defense Ministry in a text message sent to journalists the ministry wrote, “The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions,” but did not provide further details. In a separate email statement, the Yemeni government reported Awlaki was targeted and killed about 90 miles east of the capital Sanaa. The statement said the attack was launched at 9:55 a.m. local time. Despite the Yemeni government’s claims its forces successfully targeted Awlaki in a raid near the capital, sources on the ground say he was likely killed in a U.S. air-strike. Awlaki was previously targeted in U.S. bombing of Yemen earlier this year. Well, for more, we turn to Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for salon.com. He joins us via Democracy Now! video-stream from Brazil. He first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom it had ordered assassinated without any due process. One of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki, despite substantial doubt among the Yemen experts about whether he had an operational role in Al Qaeda Glenn Greenwald, welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW!

GLENN GREENWALD: Good to be here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well Glenn, your reaction, first of all, to this news and what it means in terms of any new precedence now set by this administration in the targeting of U.S. citizens?

GLENN GREENWALD: Let’s begin with the fact Anwar al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen. He was ordered assassinated by the President of the United States without presenting any evidence of any kind as to his guilt, without attempting to indict him in any way or comply with any of the requirements of the Constitution that say that you can’t deprive someone of life without due process of law. The president ordered him killed wherever he was found, including far away from a battle field, no matter what it was he was doing at the time. And if you’re somebody who believes that the president of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without even a shred of due process, without having to have charged him with a crimes or indict him and prove in a court he’s actually guilty, then you’re really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets. Remember that there was great controversy that George Bush asserted the power simply to detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversations without warrants. Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process, and yet many Democrats and progressives, because it’s President Obama doing it, have no problem with it and are even in favor of it. To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, for those in the audience not familiar with him, give us the sketch of who Al-Awlaki is and what the alleged terrorist plots that he was involved with are.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, he, as I said, was born in the United States and went to college in the United States and, for a long time, was considered by the U.S. government and the media to be a moderate Muslim cleric. In fact the Pentagon invited him to a lunch in the wake of 9/11 in order to talk to him and other Muslim leaders about how to root out extremism in the Muslim community. The Washington Post had him host his own chat about the meaning of various Muslim holidays and the like. So, for a long time he was viewed as this, sort of, moderate figure. He became increasingly radicalized, like a lot of people have, over the last decade, as the United States has continued to slaughter Muslim men, women and children in multiple countries around the world, and he definitely became much more hostile in his sermons to the United States, and began arguing that it wasn’t just the duty but the right of Muslims to not just be passive receivers of violence by the U.S., but also to begin to attack the United States back as a means of deterring further violence. And so, he definitely became a great concern to the U.S. because he was so effective in communicating these ideas in English to large parts of the English speaking Muslim world. And, of course, expressing those ideas that the United States is engaged in aggression against the Muslim world and that Muslims have the right or even the duty to fight back rather than getting passively slaughtered, whether you agree with those ideas are not, or think they’re horrible ideas, they’re obviously rights you have to express under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The government began claiming that it wasn’t just his messages and his ideas that were bothering them and making them want to kill him, but the fact he started to have an operational role in various plots, such as the attempt by Abdulmutallab to detonate a bomb in a jet over Detroit over Christmas. They claim that he was involved in the attack by Nidal Hasan on the Fort Hood base that killed 14 American service members. The problem with that is that, there’s been no evidence presented that he’s actually been involved in any of those plots. He is not been indicted or charged. If he has been involved in those plots, then the solution is to charge him with those crimes, bring him before a court of justice, and prove his guilt; not simply to order him killed as though the President is judge, jury, and executioner.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, his father had attempted, or started a court proceeding to try to enjoin the Obama administration from carrying out any attack on his son. Could you talk about that and where that is?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure, well, Awlaki, himself, was incapable of suing to vindicate his rights because, had he popped his head up at any time, as we proved today, he would have been killed by the Unites States government, which sought on several occasions before today to kill him. So, his father brought suit on his behalf, represented by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, asking a court to enjoin the President from murdering his son without due process, and in response the Obama administration made numerous claims, mostly arguing courts have no right to interfere in the decisions the president makes about who is an enemy combatant using standard Bush-Cheney theories about how this is a military operation that the court shouldn’t be involved in it. They argued that whom the president decides to assassinate is a state secret. And that courts have no business meddling in or judging or adjudicating the president’s choices in that regard. A federal court, several months ago, accepted the argument that this was really a political and military number, and not a legal or constitutional or judicial question for courts to resolve. Although, the judge said there are very difficult questions raised because of what an extraordinary step this is for the president to order American citizens killed. He said it’s really up to the Congress to stop it or for the president to make decisions on his own. That, I believe that is being appealed; the appeal is pending, but, obviously, it’s now it is too late. There’s no point in trying to obtain an injunction now that Awlaki has been killed by President Obama.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the Bizarre irony of the government in Yemen which is clearly illegitimate by any international standards, facing a huge popular rebellion among its own people, being involved, to some degree or other, with the United States in this killing?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, President Saleh, who, of course, has been slaughtering his own citizens by the dozens over the last several months, and is still, you know—-has been a longtime ally of the United States. The State Department has issued some very meek statements, suggesting that there should be a democratic transition. But, we’ve continued to work with President Saleh, the U.S. government has, to try and kill those people that we want dead in Yemen, including Awlaki, and this is widely viewed as an attempt by President Saleh to, sort of, offer an olive branch to the United States; we will help to kill the American citizen within our borders whom you want dead in exchange for your continuing to support our regime. Of course, the United States has been trying to claim to the Arab world that it is on the right side of the Arab Spring, and yet just yesterday, of course, in Bahrain, numerous medical professionals, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, were imprisoned for the crime of treating protesters who were shot by government forces just two weeks after the U.S. government announced that it plans to ship to Bahrain huge amounts of new weapons. Here, our long time ally, President Saleh, is not only now slaughtering his own citizens, but helping the United States government murder its own. So, it’s a pretty difficult sell to people in the Muslim world to claim that we’re on the right side of the Arab Spring when we not only continue to embrace the people who kill their own citizens, but now kill our citizens as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to read to you a quote from the editor of The Yemeni Post, Hakim Al Masmari. He said, “The Yemeni government will face a lot of criticism, especially in the south, for allowing US drones to attack Yemeni civilians. But it will not be a blow to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from any perspective. We don’t feel they will suffer, because Awlaki did not have any real role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Right,well, one of the bizarre aspects of this is that media and government reports have tried to sell Awlaki is some kind of grand terrorist mastermind. There’s even lots of articles you can find online and major publications describing him as the new Bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Bin Laden to justify this type of endless war that President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is insisting on not just continuing, but escalating. And for a while, Awlaki was the person to going to serve that function. But, the problem is, if you the read experts in Yemen, like Gregory Johnson and others, they mock the idea Awlaki was some kind of a leader of Al Qaeda and even question whether he had any operational role at all in any of these plots. He was clearly a cleric who developed some audience and was popular, particularly among English-speaking Muslim youth because of his ability to communicate with them. But, the idea that he was some high up in Al Qaeda or this is a blow to the operational capability of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely ludicrous. And if you read Yemen experts, you’ll see that that’s true. The problem is that American political culture is such that evidence doesn’t make a difference. Trials and due process are very pre-9/11. What we believe is that if the president stands up and says, someone is a terrorist, that’s all we need to know; they are therefore there are guilty because the leader has accused him of being that, and as long as the Aides then go and leak to the media, which they have done, that he played a significant operational role and was a big Al Qaeda leader, we won’t need to see evidence. We’ll just stand up and blindly click our heels and accept it’s true, and then cheered the fact he’s been murdered based on as unproven claims.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn, what can people who are concerned about this extraordinary extension of the powers of a president to basically ignore any kind of due process with our American citizens, what can they do?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one thing that is obvious, is that voting for Democrats as opposed to Republicans doesn’t help. In fact, if you read The New York Times article from 2010 confirming that Awlaki is on the hit list, it makes clear that there’s been no instances where George Bush ordered American citizens targeted for assassination, that this is extraordinary and perhaps an unprecedented step under the Democratic president. What people in the Arab world did, when their leaders did things like imprison them, let alone kill them, and their fellow citizens without trials, is they went out into the streets and protested and demanded that it stop. It’s hard to see how voting for one of these two parties is going to end these extraordinary excesses in violations of the constitution; it clearly doesn’t. Something outside of that system is necessary to address it. That’s been proven. So, I think if Americans cared about the constitutional rights the pretended to care about under George Bush, Democrats in particular, they would be very vocally protesting and objecting to this. But, the problem is that, the opportunity to use these issues as a means to undermine Republican politicians is now gone, and so, many people who, three years ago, were pretending to care about these things, no longer do. So, the question that American citizens have to ask themselves, is whether they believe in the principles of liberty and rights that they have learned were protected by the Constitution? That’s just a piece of paper—-the Constitution—-it cannot protect those rights, only the citizenry can ensure that those rights are not trampled on; and the question is whether citizens actually believe in those.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Finally, Glenn Greenwald, we’re getting reports that U.S. government confirming that it was a joint operation with the Yemeni government. Your sense of whether you believe this was a drone strike largely carried out by the United States?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, there’s no question I believe that the United States played a significant role. I mean, the United States have been wanting to kill Awlaki for a long time. The Yemeni government has not wanted to kill him, in part, because if it does, it will trigger lots of unrest and resentment, and that’s the last thing, especially at this point, that it wants. So, I believe that this has been done by an air strike, certainly the Yemeni government would not have the ability to carry that out on its own. The fact U.S. government confirmed so quickly that he was dead and accepting responsibility, I think, is fairly definitive proof that the U.S. played a very significant role, if not the lead role, in extinguishing the life of its own citizen without due process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn Greenwald, I want thank you for being with us, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for Salon.com.


Bay Area Rapid Transit Accused Of Censorship For Blocking Wireless Services To Foil Protests

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

BART workers remove a man atop a train during a protest at the Civic Center station in San Francisco last month. Authorities closed the station where demonstrators condemned the fatal shooting of a man by transit police the week before.

Oldspeak:” ‘BART may be the first government agency in the U.S. to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration.’ ‘I think the problem that we’re dealing with is that we’re finding, all around the country, that folks are playing with the law and trying to figure out how they can have an advantage by shutting down the ways in which the citizens of this country communicate with one another. And this was a testing ground. If we can shut down the BART service here and get away with it, maybe we’ll do it in New York, and then we’ll do it in Chicago, and then we’ll do it at a ball game, and maybe in front of, you know, the college campuses, all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety.’ A glimpse of America’s future. Suppression of your 1st amendment rights to assemble, protest, and petition. A dramatic example of the utter and complete power a nebulous few have over you ability to communicate. And with communication taking place nearly all digitally, via fewer and fewer tightly controlled and monitored modes, that power is profound.  We also get a strong indication of how much of a threat dissent, protest, and civil disobedience, is perceived to be by those few; ‘all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety’. 

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

The operators of the San Francisco area subway system are facing intense criticism for temporarily cutting off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform by a BART police officer in July. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first government agency in the United States to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration. Some have compared the move to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s blockage of internet access across Egypt in January during the popular uprising against his rule. The Federal Communications Commission says it will investigate BART’s decision. We go to San Fransisco to speak with Davey D, a hip-hop journalist and activist who has been covering the protests. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley. We’re also joined by Catherine Crump, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

Guests:

Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Davey D, hip-hop journalist and activist. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com. He is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley.

AMY GOODMAN: The operators of the San Francisco subway system are facing intense criticism following their decision last week to temporarily cut off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday night, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations. The decision was made in an effort to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform in July by a BART police officer. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first U.S. government agency to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration.

Free speech advocates across the country have condemned the move. Some have compared it to the decision by former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak who shut down internet access across Egypt in January in an attempt to stifle the growing protest movement. On Twitter, critics of BART’s action took to using the hashtag “Mu-BART-ek.”

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced it will investigate BART’s decision. FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said, quote, “We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks.”

On Monday, BART officials were forced to close four stations during the evening rush hour as free speech advocates attempted to disrupt the evening commute. The protest was called by the activist hacker group Anonymous that had hacked into the BART website over the weekend and released personal information about 2,000 transit riders. Later in the program, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the actions of Anonymous and political hackers, but first we’re going to look at this free speech controversy in the Bay Area.

For more, we go to San Francisco to speak with Davey D, hip-hop journalist, activist, who’s been covering the protests. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley. We’re also joined in New York by Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. And in a moment we’ll be joined by an anonymous member of Anonymous; he’ll use the pseudonym X. He was at the BART protest last night.

Davey D, before we talk about the whole free speech issue, explain what happened at the beginning of July. How did this police killing take place, the killing of a homeless man? What do you know?

DAVEY D: Well, what we’re talking about is Charles Hill, who was homeless and was approached by a couple of officers on the Civic CenterBART station. And that’s where it gets murky. According to the police, he had a knife, and he had a beer bottle. And he supposedly put the officers’ lives in danger, so they shot him. But conflicting witnesses say that the officers weren’t in danger and that if he had anything, he could have been easily disarmed.

And just considering the record that BART has had in overreacting and being brutal towards many of its passengers, that sparked these protests. Obviously, BART has footage, but it wasn’t released. And that raised a lot of concern amongst people, because they’re feeling like the first time that—when Oscar Grant was shot, the footage showed that the BART police were in the wrong, in many people’s opinion. So why didn’t we see the footage for this to immediately quell any sort of concern with the public? And I think that’s what kind of brought about the type of protests that you saw.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, there have been a series of protests since police killed Hill on July 2nd?

DAVEY D: Yes, there’s been a couple of them. There’s been a couple of them. And the most notable one was the one in which the BART trains were shut down. I think what happened with BART is that they were caught off guard. What happens is, with the police and many of these agencies, they’ve gotten very used to protest being something that is brought about because people sought permission. This time people didn’t seek permission. They went out, and they protested. And the end result was the downtown BART lines being shut down. And that really upset them. So when the second protest came, the one that we’re talking about last week, or the scheduled one, they decided to shut down all the cell phones. And that, of course, brought about last night’s protest.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey, who spoke to the media shortly after the shooting on July 2nd.

CHIEF KENTON RAINEY: The suspect was—in fact had a bottle, which was used as a weapon. He was also armed with a knife. A confrontation occurred as a result of the suspect’s aggressive actions. And fearing for their safeties, one of the officers discharged his duty weapon, striking the suspect. Paramedics were summoned and responded to the scene.CPR was performed on the suspect before he was transported to the San Francisco General Hospital, where medical personnel pronounced him dead about an hour later.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the Linton Johnson, the BARTspokesperson [correction: BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey]?

DAVEY D: Well, if you rewind the tape and listen to the type of explanation that BART had for the shooting of Oscar Grant, we don’t take BART’s word at—we don’t take BART’s word when they immediately give it. They’re always going to be suspect, because we feel that, initially, they lied about a lot of these incidents. So, of course they’re going to give the best story forward, that he was armed, the police were in trouble, blah, blah, blah, all that stuff. Nobody buys it. It’s like, if that’s really the case, show us the footage. Let everybody see it. Let’s have the transparency that I think the citizens of the Bay Area and around the country would really like to have. And so, that didn’t really happen. And so, once you started to hear that there were witnesses that had conflicting reports, then it was really on and popping. Everybody feels that they’re covering things up and they’re not really being forthright.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to correct that. That was the BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey who we just heard. So let’s talk about the protests.

DAVEY D: Right. Well, I mean, even—whatever the agency, I mean, BARTpolice chief, you know, BART spokespeople, it’s the same bag, as far as most people are concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the protests that just took place and the shutting down of the internet service at four BART stations, Davey D.

DAVEY D: Well, there was a scheduled protest last Thursday, and in reaction to the protest that actually shut down the BART trains, they decided that they were going to shut off cell service. And then they used the excuse that public safety—and I think that’s what raised a lot of concern: public safety for who? We’ve had flash mobs go up on the BARTtrain and do dances on the platform and disrupt traffic for a little bit; we haven’t seen them shut down the cell phones for that. I’ve been on theBART trains where there’s been fights after Raider games and after other sporting events; they haven’t shut down the BART trains for that. So, in this case, you have people protesting the police, and now they want to shut it down and say it’s public safety. I think the key word there is “public safety,” because then that sets a precedent for anybody to shut down cell service under the guise of public safety. They could shut it down in front of a ballpark, they could shut it down if you’re on the streets, they could shut it down at any rally, under the guise of public safety.

The other point that I think we need to also consider is the fact that they were saying that the protesters were coordinating with the cell phones. Well, first of all, most protesters don’t really need cell phones to coordinate. A good protester, at least the ones out in San Francisco, have been protesting long before there’s been internet, Facebook, Twitter and all that, so they got their game on lock. But with that being said, the police can also coordinate with communications devices, as well. And just considering the type of laws we have on the books, from PATRIOT Acts and all types of things that allow the police to peer and follow you on Twitter and Facebook and all that, I think that any sort of protest that people are doing, the police probably have infiltrated you, either in your rank-and-file membership or even—or definitely online. So they know what’s going on at any given point.

I think the problem that we’re dealing with is that we’re finding, all around the country, that folks are playing with the law and trying to figure out how they can have an advantage by shutting down the ways in which the citizens of this country communicate with one another. And this was a testing ground. If we can shut down the BART service here and get away with it, maybe we’ll do it in New York, and then we’ll do it in Chicago, and then we’ll do it at a ball game, and maybe in front of, you know, the college campuses, all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety. So I don’t buy it. And I think that, you know, just being at the protest yesterday and seeing that BART shut down the Civic Center, when there really wasn’t anything going on, said to me that this is a dog and pony show and that they’re trying to win the battle of public opinion by getting the mainstream media to follow their talking points, make it seem like it was a real big crisis when it really wasn’t. If I show you the footage from what took place at the Civic Center, you would question: why did you close the Civic Center when there was nothing going on? That, to me, said a whole lot about their motivation. And their motivation wasn’t public safety. It’s to win public opinion and maybe set a precedent for other agencies later down the road.

AMY GOODMAN: BART spokesperson Linton Johnson appeared on the San Francisco radio station KQED Monday and defended BART’s actions.

LINTON JOHNSON: Well, here’s how I respond to anybody who questions this gut-wrenching decision that we were forced to make by a group that had proven in the past that they were wanting to create chaos on the platform and were going to make it even more chaotic had we let it happen. As you will remember, there was somebody who jumped on top of the train car. My heart stopped. That moment when I saw that happen, I was scared to death that that guy would hurt himself or kick in a window and splatter glass all over one of our other passengers, violating another constitutional right that people aren’t talking about, and that is the constitutional right to safety. And on the platform, the constitutional right to safety is paramount. The right to be able to express your opinion ends, basically, at the fare gate, where you have to have a ticket. So the paid area is where it ends. And the reason for that is because we can’t have chaos on the platform, because people get hurt.

AMY GOODMAN: BART spokesperson Linton Johnson on KQED in San Francisco. Catherine Crump also with us, joining Davey D, staff attorney at the ACLU. Can you respond?

CATHERINE CRUMP: There’s no question that what happened in San Francisco sets a terrible precedent. It’s the first known incident that we’ve heard of where the government has shut down a cell phone network in order to prevent people from engaging in political protest. Cell phone networks are something we’ve all come to rely on. People use them for all sorts of communication that have nothing to do with protest. And this is really a sweeping and overbroad reaction by the police.

AMY GOODMAN: What other information do you have about what police are doing with cell phones around the country, at the ACLU?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Yeah, cell phones have been in the news frequently recently, not just—because they’ve become such a vital part of our lives. One big issue these days is the use of cell phones as tracking devices. Police around the country are using cell phones to track people’s movements. And frequently, they’re not even getting a warrant based on probable cause. Just last week, we filed 365 Public Records Act requests around the country with police departments, big and small, to try to get a better perspective on the degree to which cell phones are being used as surveillance tools. So these new devices are raising all sorts of constitutional issues that we’ve just never had to confront before.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they don’t even get warrants when they’re tracking your phone? How do they do it, then?

CATHERINE CRUMP: They frequently go to court, and they show a lower standard than the full probable cause standard. They show that it’s irrelevant to an ongoing investigation, which is far less than showing that they have probable cause to believe that tracking someone’s location will turn up evidence of wrongdoing. The constitutional ground here is really unsettled, and the police have been taking advantage of that to engage in really massive amounts of cell phone tracking without meeting the full probable cause standard. And we believe that violates the Fourth Amendment, which gives you a right to be free from unreasonable searches. And we don’t think there’s anything reasonable about tracking people’s locations without showing probable cause.

AMY GOODMAN: The ACLU met with the police chief yesterday in San Francisco?

CATHERINE CRUMP: We did. And what we were really looking—

AMY GOODMAN: You met with him?

CATHERINE CRUMP: I did not, but my colleagues did. And what we were really looking for out of that meeting was a guarantee that this would never happen again. And unfortunately, the police chief was not able to provide that kind of assurance. And so, we are going to continue exploring what options we can do to try to guarantee that this never happens again.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?

CATHERINE CRUMP: You know, it was a very short and inconclusive meeting that didn’t give us any sort of reassurance. And we’re really in new territory here. We’d really like to see a policy change, that they put into writing that this doesn’t happen frequently. We’ve put on our websitea place where people can go to take action to ask—to ask for this sort of thing not to happen again. And we’re continuing to see what other sorts of pressure we can put on the government here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the ACLU. Davey D, hip-hop journalist and activist, runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is a co-host at Pacifica Radio KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio in Berkeley. This isDemocracy Now! When we come back, we’ll also be joined by others, including an anonymous member of Anonymous, which hacked the BARTwebsite, and we’ll talk about the information that they released.