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FBI behind mysterious surveillance flights over U.S. cities

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Eye see u Willis
Eye see U. All of you!

A police state? Whoever could imagine such a thing in the United States of America? Civil liberties? Ha! The Bill of Rights is no longer required because the War on Terra has usurped them.

This is the real legacy of disgraced former Congressman Dennis Hastert: willingly gutting the Constitution to please the Neo Cons and Dick Cheney, and his little puppy GWB.

Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies.

The Associated Press traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.

For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has its own planes, also registered to fake companies, according to a 2011 Justice Department inspector general report. At the time, the DEA had 92 aircraft in its fleet. And since 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service has operated an aerial surveillance program with its own fleet equipped with technology that can capture data from thousands of cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.


Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public.

(click here to continue reading FBI behind mysterious surveillance flights over Chicago, other U.S. cities – Chicago Tribune.)

You Are Being Film
You Are Being Film

In other words, we are all assumed to be guilty of something, and thus can be monitored and spied upon without need for quaint antiques like warrants or probable cause.

Evolving technology can record higher-quality video from long distances, even at night, and can capture certain identifying information from cellphones using a device known as a “cell-site simulator” — or Stingray, to use one of the product’s brand names. These can trick pinpointed cellphones into revealing identification numbers of subscribers, including those not suspected of a crime.

The FBI has recently begun obtaining court orders to use this technology. Previously, the Obama administration had been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.

Do All Photographers Need a Warrant?
Do All Photographers Need a Warrant?

Up in the sky! Look! It’s a bird! A plane! It’s the FBI!

Another Crappy Photo of a Prop Plane
Another Crappy Photo of a Prop Plane

From Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett last year:

The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.

Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.

Even having encryption on a phone, such as the kind included on Apple Inc.’s iPhone 6, doesn’t prevent this process.


Also unknown are the steps taken to ensure data collected on innocent people isn’t kept for future examination by investigators. A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that over-collection of data by investigators, and stockpiling of such data, was a violation of the Constitution.

The dirtbox and Stingray are both types of what tech experts call “IMSI catchers,’’ named for the identification system used by networks to identify individual cellphones.

The name “dirtbox’’ came from the acronym of the company making the device, DRT, for Digital Receiver Technology Inc., people said. DRT is now a subsidiary of Boeing. A Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment.

“DRT has developed a device that emulates a cellular base station to attract cellphones for a registration process even when they are not in use,’’ according to a 2010 regulatory filing Boeing made with the U.S. Commerce Department, which touted the device’s success in finding contraband cellphones smuggled in to prison inmates.


(click here to continue reading Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program – WSJ.)

Continuous Video Recording in Progress
Continuous Video Recording in Progress

and a follow up by the same reporter:

The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones at a time, part of a secret high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.

The CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said.

Today, the Justice Department program, whose existence was reported by The Wall Street Journal last year, is used to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used to track terror suspects and intelligence targets overseas, the people said.

The surveillance system briefly identifies large numbers of cellphones belonging to citizens unrelated to the search. The practice can also briefly interfere with the ability to make calls, these people said.

Some law-enforcement officials are concerned the aerial surveillance of cellphone signals inappropriately mixes traditional police work with the tactics and technology of overseas spy work that is constrained by fewer rules. Civil-liberties groups say the technique amounts to a digital dragnet of innocent Americans’ phones.

(click here to continue reading CIA Aided Justice Department Secret Program to Spy on U.S. Cellphones – WSJ.)

City of Chicago Emergency Management Surveillance Vehicle
City of Chicago Emergency Management Surveillance Vehicle

Remember when the CIA was banned on spying on Americans, and from conducting operations on American soil? Ah, those were the days…

To civil libertarians, the close involvement of America’s premier international spy agency with a domestic law-enforcement arm shows how military and espionage techniques are now being used on U.S. citizens.

“There’s a lot of privacy concerns in something this widespread, and those concerns only increase if we have an intelligence agency coordinating with them,” said Andrew Crocker of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has filed a lawsuit seeking more details about the program and its origins.

The Truth Is Not So Comfortable
The Truth Is Not So Comfortable

Written by Seth Anderson

June 3rd, 2015 at 11:33 am

Up to 18 Labs May Have Received Inadvertent Anthrax Shipments

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In War, There Are No Unwounded Soldiers
In War, There Are No Unwounded Soldiers

How can this be a good thing?

Investigators believe live anthrax samples inadvertently may have been sent from an Army research facility to as many as 18 labs in nine states and South Korea, officials said Thursday.

The U.S. military has ordered 22 service members and Defense Department civilians in South Korea who may have come near the live samples to take the antibiotic Cipro as a precautionary measure.

“There are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in any of these personnel,” said Col. Steve Warren, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

In addition to South Korea’s Osan Air Base, the defense lab at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah also sent samples of anthrax to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified private labs that received the shipment, nor said whether their employees are being treated as a precaution. But U.S. officials said there are no confirmed cases of anthrax infection in anyone who came in contact with the samples. The civilian labs are in Texas, Wisconsin, Delaware, Tennessee, California, New York and New Jersey.

(click here to continue reading Up to 18 Labs May Have Received Inadvertent Anthrax Shipments – WSJ.)

I wonder how that FBI investigation into the weaponized anthrax attacks during the run-up to the Boondoggle in the Iraqi Desert aka Operation Iraqi Freedom is going, btw? Remember? Since there no convictions, I’m guessing the investigation continues, and Dick Cheney chuckles…

Written by Seth Anderson

June 3rd, 2015 at 8:25 am

Posted in News-esque

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FBI and Justice Dept. Said to Seek Charges for Petraeus

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Red and Blue
Red and Blue.

If you ever doubted that America has two sets of laws; one for the elite, and one for rest us, look no further than the case of career Republican operative and Pentagon courtier, General David Patraeus. 

Petraeus, a retired four-star general who served as commander of American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has said he never provided classified information to Ms. Broadwell, and has indicated to the Justice Department that he has no interest in a plea deal that would spare him an embarrassing trial. A lawyer for Mr. Petraeus, Robert B. Barnett, said Friday he had no comment.

The officials who said that charges had been recommended were briefed on the investigation but asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.

Mr. Holder was expected to decide by the end of last year whether to bring charges against Mr. Petraeus, but he has not indicated how he plans to proceed. The delay has frustrated some Justice Department and F.B.I. officials and investigators who have questioned whether Mr. Petraeus has received special treatment at a time Mr. Holder has led a crackdown on government officials who reveal secrets to journalists.

(click here to continue reading F.B.I. and Justice Dept. Said to Seek Charges for Petraeus – NYTimes.com.)

Let us be clear: David Petraeus broke laws that he swore to upheld, despite these being fairly mundane leaks, mostly serving to burnish his own mythology. I doubt his biographer damaged national security by allowing Petraeus into her bed, and allowing his biographer access to his classified files, but the bottom line is other, lesser officials have suffered for breaking these same laws, and Petraeus has escaped consequence. If Petraeus was a low-level leaker, or someone like Edward Snowden, he’d be in Gitmo by now. Instead, he’s escaped any consequences. Why is that fair?

I understand that Washington classifies every single document possible, and this is a problem too, but that’s not relevant. Petraeus is avoiding answering for his transgressions solely because he is well known to the public.

And as Trevor Timm write:

It doesn’t matter what Petraeus’s motive for leaking was either. While most felonies require mens rea (an intentional state of mind) for a crime to have occurred, under the Espionage Act this is not required. It doesn’t matter that Petraeus is not an actual spy. It also doesn’t matter if Petraeus leaked the information by accident, or whether he leaked it to better inform the public, or even whether he leaked it to stop a terrorist attack. It’s still technically a crime, and his motive for leaking cannot be brought up at trial as a defense.

This may seem grossly unfair (and it is!), but remember, as prosecutors themselves apparently have been arguing in private about Petraeus’s case: “lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less.” Under the Obama administration, more sources of reporters have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and many have been sentenced to jail for leaks that should have never risen to the level of a criminal indictment.

Ultimately, no one should be charged with espionage when they didn’t commit espionage, but if prosecutors are going to use the heinous Espionage Act to charge leakers, they should at least do it fairly and across the board—no matter one’s rank in the military or position in the government. So in one sense, this development is a welcome one.

For years, the Espionage Act prosecutions have only been for low-level officials, while the heads of federal agencies leak with impunity. For example, current CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director Leon Panetta, and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo are just three of many high-ranking government officials who have gotten off with little to no punishment despite the fact we know they’ve leaked information to the media that the government considers classified.

(click here to continue reading If David Petraeus is actually charged, all of DC will finally find out how incredibly unjust the Espionage Act is | Freedom of the Press Foundation.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 10th, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , ,

Apple and Others Encrypt Phones, Fueling Government Standoff

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Apple Store in Soho
Apple Store in Soho.

Apparently this ridiculousness is still going on, we blogged about it last month, and previously

The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.


Apple executives thought the dead-child scenario was inflammatory. They told the government officials law enforcement could obtain the same kind of information elsewhere, including from operators of telecommunications networks and from backup computers and other phones, according to the people who attended.

Technology companies are pushing back more against government requests for cooperation and beefing up their use of encryption. On Tuesday, WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Facebook Inc., said it is now encrypting texts sent from one Android phone to another, and it won’t be able to decrypt the contents for law enforcement.

AT&T Inc. on Monday challenged the legal framework investigators have long used to collect call logs and location information about suspects.

In a filing to a federal appeals court in Atlanta, AT&T said it receives an “enormous volume” of government requests for information about customers, and argued Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s “apply poorly” to modern communications. The company urged the courts to provide new, clear rules on what data the government can take without a probable cause warrant.

(click here to continue reading Apple and Others Encrypt Phones, Fueling Government Standoff – WSJ.)

Law enforcement officials are clever, they can find ways to get data in other ways, like this, for instance…


And good for Tim Cook – he suggests that Apple Inc. should not be in the business of enabling the police in their quest to snoop on our phones without first getting warrants. You know, like if we were living in a constitutional Democracy with a Bill of Rights again?

In June 2013, Mr. Snowden provided reporters with documents describing a government program called Prism, which gathered huge amounts of data from tech companies. At first, tech-company executives said they hadn’t previously heard of Prism and denied participating. In fact, Prism was an NSA code word for data collection authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Tech companies routinely complied with such requests.

 More than a year later, tech executives say consumers still mistrust them, and they need to take steps to demonstrate their independence from the government.

Customer trust is a big issue at Apple. The company generates 62% of its revenue outside the U.S., where it says encryption is even more important to customers concerned about snooping by their governments.

These days, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook stresses the company’s distance from the government.

“Look, if law enforcement wants something, they should go to the user and get it,” he said at The Wall Street Journal’s global technology conference in October. “It’s not for me to do that.”

In early September, Apple said the encryption on its latest iPhone software would prevent anyone other than the user from accessing user data stored on the phone when it is locked. Until then, Apple had helped police agencies—with a warrant—pull data off a phone. The process wasn’t quick. Investigators had to send the device to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, and backlogs occurred.


Written by Seth Anderson

November 19th, 2014 at 11:10 am

F.B.I. Director James Comey Continues His Obfuscation Tour Re Encrypted Phones

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Old US Post Office building Toned
Old US Post Office building – used in Dark Knight

FBI Director James Comey continues his public obfuscation tour, blaming the upcoming Joker and Riddler crime spree in Gotham on the fairly new ability of consumers to encrypt data on their own phones against unwilling intrusions by governments and other entities.

The director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, said on Thursday that the “post-Snowden pendulum” that has driven Apple and Google to offer fully encrypted cellphones had “gone too far.” He hinted that as a result, the administration might seek regulations and laws forcing companies to create a way for the government to unlock the photos, emails and contacts stored on the phones.

But Mr. Comey appeared to have few answers for critics who have argued that any portal created for the F.B.I. and the police could be exploited by the National Security Agency, or even Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies or criminals. And his position seemed to put him at odds with a White House advisory committee that recommended against any effort to weaken commercial encryption.

Apple and Google have announced new software that would automatically encrypt the contents of cellphones, using codes that even the companies could not crack. Their announcement followed a year of disclosures from Edward J. Snowden, the former government contractor who revealed many government programs that collect electronic data, including information on Americans.

The new encryption would hinder investigations involving phones taken from suspects, recovered at crime scenes or discovered on battlefields. But it would not affect information obtained by real-time wiretaps, such as phone conversations, emails or text messages. And the government could still get information that is stored elsewhere, including emails, call logs and, in some cases, old text messages.

(click here to continue reading James Comey, F.B.I. Director, Hints at Action as Cellphone Data Is Locked – NYTimes.com.)

Warrant - Not Found

You know what isn’t mentioned in this long article? Warrants. I wonder why that is? Could it be that most criminal masterminds do not store their plans to rob Gotham National Bank solely upon their encrypted cellphones, leaving law enforcement completely in the dark? Possibly The Joker leaves other traces of his plan elsewhere? Or discusses his machinations with co-conspirators? According to Mr. Comey, without the government retaining the ability to tap into each and every one of our cellphones at any time, The Joker will win. He’ll win! He’ll win, Batman!

or as Marcy Wheeler rightfully notes, this seems to really be about warrantless searching, especially at the US border:

Encrypting iPhones might have the biggest impact on law enforcement searches that don’t involve warrants, contrary to law enforcement claims this is about warranted searches. As early as 2010, Customs and Border Patrol was searching around 4,600 devices a year and seizing up to 300 using what is called a “border exception.” That is when CBP takes and searches devices from people it is questioning at the border. Just searching such devices does not even require probable cause (though seizing them requires some rationale). These searches increasingly involve smart phones like the iPhone.

These numbers suggest border searches of iPhones may be as common as warranted searches of the devices. Apple provided account content to U.S. law enforcement 155 times last year. It responded to 3,431 device requests, but the “vast majority” of those device requests involved customers seeking help with a lost or stolen phone, not law enforcement trying to get contents off a cell phone (Consumer Reports estimates that 3.1 million Americans will have their smart phones stolen this year). Given that Apple has by far the largest share of the smart phone market in the U.S., a significant number of border device searches involving a smart phone will be an iPhone. Apple’s default encryption will make it far harder for the government to do such searches without obtaining a warrant, which they often don’t have evidence to get.

If law enforcement wants to retain this access, they should be honest about what they might lose and why every iPhone user should be asked to carry a phone that is susceptible to criminal targeting as a result. Trading default encryption for a limited law enforcement purpose is just that — a trade-off — and officials should be prepared to discuss it as such. And, as forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski explains, there’s a mountain of other data still available to help law enforcement solve crimes. “There is such a mount of peripheral evidence out there that only a small handful of cases are even likely to have the iPhone be the sole smoking gun to begin with,” he explained. “Cops have iCloud data, iCloud backups, call records, voicemail records, text messages from the carrier (if obtained within a certain retention period), gmail, email, web logs, trap and trace, proxy logs, not to mention copies of data from other people involved or from the victims themselves, desktop backups (if available), sometimes even a desktop (as many criminals don’t use encryption at all). Add to that they’re eavesdropping on the whole damn Internet.”

(click here to continue reading America’s huge iPhone lie: Why Apple is being accused of coddling child molesters – Salon.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 17th, 2014 at 8:29 am

Posted in Apple,government

Tagged with , , , ,

Signaling Post-Snowden Era, New iPhone Slows Down N.S.A.

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Cell phone-iphile
Cell phone-iphile

Remind me again why warrantless searching of personal information is a good thing again? Oh, right, TERROR, and that old shibboleth, kidnapping. Yeah, count me in the “Why not just get a warrant” camp…

The National Security Agency and the nation’s law enforcement agencies have a different concern: that the smartphone is the first of a post-Snowden generation of equipment that will disrupt their investigative abilities.

The phone encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess.

The result, the company is essentially saying, is that if Apple is sent a court order demanding that the contents of an iPhone 6 be provided to intelligence agencies or law enforcement, it will turn over gibberish, along with a note saying that to decode the phone’s emails, contacts and photos, investigators will have to break the code or get the code from the phone’s owner.

Breaking the code, according to an Apple technical guide, could take “more than 5 1/2 years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers.” (Computer security experts question that figure, because Apple does not fully realize how quickly the N.S.A. supercomputers can crack codes.)

Already the new phone has led to an eruption from the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey.

(click here to continue reading Signaling Post-Snowden Era, New iPhone Locks Out N.S.A. – NYTimes.com.)

If the NSA and related agencies hadn’t been so damn aggressive circumventing American law, perhaps Apple wouldn’t have had to taken this additional step.

Or as Vikas Bajaj writes:

Apple’s new privacy policy does nothing to prevent law enforcement from searching an iPhone or an iPad if they obtain a warrant from a court to do so. The company is merely saying that Apple will no longer be able to unlock those devices for investigators as it did previously. The police will still be free to hack into the devices, just as they are authorized to kick down the door to a house or use a blowtorch to open a safe that they have been given permission to search.

But that’s not good enough for Mr. Comey and others. They want Apple (and Google, which makes the Android mobile phone software) to do the hacking for them.

Furthermore, investigators can often get information stored on phones and tablets through other means. For example, they could get the calling history from wireless phone companies like AT&T; same with text messages. And companies like Google and Yahoo would have to turnover messages on their servers if presented with a search warrant. Lastly, law enforcement agencies could also access any photos and videos stored on the phone have been backed up to Apple’s iCloud servers from the company.

(click here to continue reading Using Scare Tactics to Fight Apple – NYTimes.com.)

Cops on Bikes
Cops on Bikes

Plus there is the issue of a dysfunctional Congress, too mired in partisan bickering to actually update the laws for a modern age. Mostly on the Republican side, but not exclusively.

The move raises a critical issue, the intelligence officials say: Who decides what kind of data the government can access? Until now, those decisions have largely been a matter for Congress, which passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in 1994, requiring telecommunications companies to build into their systems an ability to carry out a wiretap order if presented with one. But despite intense debate about whether the law should be expanded to cover email and other content, it has not been updated, and it does not cover content contained in a smartphone.

At Apple and Google, company executives say the United States government brought these changes on itself. The revelations by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden not only killed recent efforts to expand the law, but also made nations around the world suspicious that every piece of American hardware and software — from phones to servers made by Cisco Systems — have “back doors” for American intelligence and law enforcement.

Surviving in the global marketplace — especially in places like China, Brazil and Germany — depends on convincing consumers that their data is secure.
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has emphasized that Apple’s core business is to sell devices to people. That distinguishes Apple from companies that make a profit from collecting and selling users’ personal data to advertisers, he has said.

and a bit of rationality:

Mr. Zdziarski (Jonathan Zdziarski, a security researcher who has taught forensics courses to law enforcement agencies on collecting data from iPhones) said that concerns about Apple’s new encryption to hinder law enforcement seemed overblown. He said there were still plenty of ways for the police to get customer data for investigations. In the example of a kidnapping victim, the police can still request information on call records and geolocation information from phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

“Eliminating the iPhone as one source I don’t think is going to wreck a lot of cases,” he said. “There is such a mountain of other evidence from call logs, email logs, iCloud, Gmail logs. They’re tapping the whole Internet.”

(click here to continue reading Signaling Post-Snowden Era, New iPhone Locks Out N.S.A. – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 27th, 2014 at 8:02 am

Posted in Apple,government

Tagged with , , ,

Photo Republished at Man Charged in Connection with Loop Bank Robbery

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Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division

My photo was used to illustrate this post

CHICAGO — A man who was arrested by police shortly after the robbery of a Loop bank Tuesday afternoon has been charged in connection with the incident. Jamal Genson, 28, appeared in federal court Wednesday and was charged with a count of felony bank robbery. A Fifth Third Bank was robbed about 3 p.m. Tuesday after a man demanded money from a teller using a note before running off, according to FBI Special Agent Joan Hyde, an agency spokeswoman.

click here to keep reading :
Man Charged in Connection with Loop Bank Robbery – The Loop

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Written by eggplant

April 17th, 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Links

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Photo Republished at When the FBI asks you to weaken your security so it can spy on your users – Boing Boing

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Back Door?
My photo was used to illustrate this post

Nico Sell is the CEO of Wickr, a privacy-oriented mobile messaging system that’s been deliberately designed so that the company can’t spy on its users, even if they’re ordered to do so. As we know from the Snowden leaks, spooks hate this kind of thing, and spend $250M/year sabotaging security so that they can spy on everyone, all the time. After a recent presentation, she was approached by an FBI agent who asked her if she’d put a back-door into Wickr.

click here to keep reading :
When the FBI asks you to weaken your security so it can spy on your users – Boing Boing

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Written by eggplant

January 10th, 2014 at 9:23 am

Posted in Links

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mafia-like aspects of the Murdoch Empire

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Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division

Michael Wolff of Adweek has been a follower of the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation for a long time, even written a book1 about Murdoch a while ago (before the current, seemingly ever-escalating scandal). Mr. Wolff is not surprised that the FBI and the DOJ are considering pursuing RICO statute investigations into News Corp.

In my biography of Rupert Murdoch, I referred to News Corporation as Mafia-like, provoking the annoyance of my publisher’s libel lawyers. I explained to them that I did not mean to suggest this was an organized crime family, but instead was using “mafia” as a metaphor to imply that News Corp. saw itself as a state within a state, and that the company was built on a basic notion of extended family bonds and loyalty.

But just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean it isn’t the real thing, too.Well-sourced information coming out of the Department of Justice and the FBI suggests a debate is going on that could result in the recently launched investigations of News Corp. falling under the RICO statutes.

RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes a way to prosecute the leaders of organizations—and strike at the organizations themselves—for crimes company leaders may not have directly committed, but which were otherwise countenanced by the organization. Any two of a series of crimes that can be proven to have occurred within a 10-year period by members of the organization can establish a pattern of racketeering and result in draconian remedies. In 1990, following the indictment of Michael Milken for insider trading, Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm that employed him, collapsed in the face of a RICO investigation.

Right Turn Ahead
Right Turn Ahead

Michael Wolff continues with some more details about the criminal culture of News Corporation, and Rupert Murdoch:

As it happens, much of this pattern of conduct at News Corp. has long been hiding in plain site. How the company has gotten away with such behavior is, in fact, a subtext of the investigations that are now unfolding.

Partly, the company has escaped legal scrutiny because this is a boys-will-be-boys sort of story. News Corp.’s by-any-means aggressiveness has become so much a part of its identity that it seemed almost redundant to find fault with it. Everybody knew but nobody—for both reasons of fear and profit—did anything about it; hence its behavior has become, however unpleasant, accepted.

And partly, it’s because the fundamental currency of the company has always been reward and punishment. Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.)

Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”

Similarly, the Post and Fox News heap praise and favors on partisans, who in turn do them favors (the police, in New York as well as London, receive and return the favors). This reward and punishment has translated into substantial political power, both in terms of regulatory advantages and, too, in the ability of the company to shield itself from the kind of scrutiny that it has taken a perfect storm of events to have it now receive.

Then, too, as one of the largest media organizations, it has insured a hands-off attitude (if not policy) from other media organizations—those which have business with it, or whose executives want to protect their prospects of working for it, or that extend courtesies in the hope they will be extended back. There’s also the money. Ultimately, if you have the goods or the savvy with which to damage the company, you get paid off. In London, that’s how News Corp. thought it could contain the hacking scandal, with big cash payments to and confidentiality agreements with the hacking victims.

In the U.S., Floorgraphics, the company that News America Marketing tried to extort, was bought for far more than its value when it persisted in its suit against News Corp. Judith Regan received an outsize settlement when she pushed her claim that Ailes had pressured her to lie about her relationship with Kerick.

(click here to continue reading Michael Wolff on the State of the Murdoch Empire | Adweek.)

  1. The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 8th, 2011 at 7:38 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with , , , ,

FBI Invited Hatred-Based Church To Talk To Agents

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Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division

Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division

Who had this dumb-ass idea? Any attention paid to the Westboro Baptist Church that doesn’t involve brick-bats is too much.

Jacob Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court during Snyder v. Phelps this past October in Washington, D.C.
The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for picketing soldiers’ funerals with signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates the USA.” Yet the FBI recently invited leaders of the fundamentalist church to the Quantico Marine base in Virginia to talk to FBI agents as part of the bureau’s counterterrorism training program. But after four sessions this spring, the FBI canceled the arrangement amid criticism from inside the bureau, while church leaders claimed that they had been misled.

The church group, led by Pastor Fred Phelps and based in Topeka, Kan., says its protests are intended to tell the world that God is punishing the U.S. military for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. The pastor claims to be the prophet of God’s wrath.

The FBI first invited the church group to address the FBI’s law enforcement training classes back in 2008. And initially, there were no apparent problems. But the most recent sessions, including three at Quantico and one in Manassass, Va., stirred up controversy.

(click here to continue reading FBI Invited Controversial Church To Talk To Agents : NPR.)

I wonder if this program was the brainchild of one of the alumni of Regent University that infiltrated the Bush Administration?

Written by Seth Anderson

June 29th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Posted in government,religion

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Daley and Duff, BFF

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State Street Renovation 1996

Not that surprising, really. Only would become surprising if anything ever came of it, especially since Mayor Daley is no longer mayor.

In the annals of Daley administration scandals, the name Duff still ranks high.

The politically connected Duff family — campaign supporters of Mayor Daley — won about $100 million in city business, in part through what prosecutors said were bogus claims that they deserved breaks that are set aside for women-owned businesses. Those claims unraveled as James M. Duff pleaded guilty in 2005 to fraud and racketeering, among 33 federal charges.

Daley knew the Duffs, went to their parties, benefitted from their campaign fund-raisers — but downplayed his ties to the family, which, during his tenure, got city cleanup and janitorial work from City Hall at Taste of Chicago, O’Hare Airport and the Harold Washington Library Center,among other lucrative city business.

For anyone keeping score, newly released FBI files show that agents who were keeping tabs on the late John F. “Jack” Duff Jr. — the family patriarch who was an ex-con, disgraced union boss and self-described pal of the late Chicago mob boss Anthony Accardo — had a source who told them “it was common knowledge that Jack Duff Jr. and Mayor Daley were close friends and that Jack Duff Jr. had direct access to the mayor.”

The FBI files on Jack Duff, who died in 2008 at 82, were released to the Better Government Association in response to a federal Freedom of Information Act request. That law allows the release of certain law enforcement files after a person’s death.

(click here to continue reading Mayor Daley’s name turns up in FBI files on embezzler John F. Duff Jr. – Chicago Sun-Times.)


Written by Seth Anderson

May 9th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Chicago-esque

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Tea Party has really done it to the GOP

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What if the Tea Party itself is really a kind of COINTELPRO style operation – against the Republican Party? Maybe not the rank and file, but the leadership of the Tea Baggers?

LaSalle Floating World


The 2008 election, the second straight election in which it suffered a crippling national defeat, left the Republican Party drained of its hangers-on — less ideological voters who had, in the past, broadly agreed with the party’s philosophy, even if they dissented on individual issues. What was left was an angry, restive base that resented (and even feared) Barack Obama and that believed the GOP had lost power because it hadn’t been conservative enough. This base quickly found a catchy name — the Tea Party movement — and dedicated itself to cleansing from the GOP’s ranks politicians who reminded them of the party’s pre-2008 spirit.

It was the Tea Party  movement that compelled Arlen Specter, a 30-year Republican senator, to switch parties in 2009. It was the Tea Party movement that sent Charlie Crist, Florida’s Republican governor and a man who was considered a potential V.P. nominee in 2008, fleeing. It was this movement that knocked off Robert Bennett, a three-term senator from Utah, at a party convention in May; that lifted the son of Ron Paul to the Republican nomination for the Senate from Kentucky; that elevated a shady former healthcare executive to the gubernatorial nomination in Florida; and that replaced Lisa Murkowski, an incumbent senator and the daughter of one of Alaska’s most prominent politicians, with little-known Joe Miller.

And it was the Tea Party that tonight engineered its crowning feat (so far) of 2010: The utterly improbable victory of Christine O’Donnell, a right-wing gadfly and serial debtor who has equated lust with adultery and claimed that her political opponents follow her home at night and hide in the bushes, over Mike Castle in Delaware’s Republican Senate primary.

(click to continue reading Now the Tea Party has really done it – War Room – Salon.com.)

“The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (South End Press Classics Series)” (Ward Churchill, Jim Vander Wall)

Granted, the FBI usually is more sympathetic to the Right than the Left, but when did the Tea Party start? About a year into Obama’s administration. A large portion of COINTELPRO’s mission was to disrupt and discredit the targeted organization so that citizens not part of the targeted organization would align against it. Agent Provocateurs would be a good alternative title for Tea Baggers, no? Destroying the Republican Party from the inside – making it unelectable, by running right wing caricatures like Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, and Christine O’Donnell.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 15th, 2010 at 8:41 am

Posted in politics

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Ernest Withers, Civil Rights Photographer an FBI Informer

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Trust no-one. Especially when the FBI has your organization on its radar. On Sunday, the Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal published an explosive exposé on renowned Civil RIghts photojournalist, Ernest C. Withers.


At the top of the stairs he saw the blood, a large pool of it, splashed across the balcony like a grisly, abstract painting. Instinctively, Ernest Withers raised his camera. This wasn’t just a murder. This was history.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood here a few hours earlier chatting with aides when a sniper squeezed off a shot from a hunting rifle.

Now, as night set over Memphis, Withers was on the story.

Slipping past a police barricade, the enterprising Beale Street newsman made his way to room 306 at the Lorraine Motel — King’s room — and walked in. Ralph Abernathy and the others hardly blinked. After all, this was Ernest C. Withers. He’d marched with King, and sat in on some of the movement’s sensitive strategy meetings.

A veteran freelancer for America’s black press, Withers was known as “the original civil rights photographer,” an insider who’d covered it all, from the Emmett Till murder that jump-started the movement in 1955 to the Little Rock school crisis, the integration of Ole Miss and, now, the 1968 sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis and his death.

(click to continue reading Photographer Ernest Withers doubled as FBI informant to spy on civil rights movement » The Commercial Appeal.)


According to the article, Withers was instrumental in the FBI’s questionable war1 against every organization that challenged the status quo: the Black Panthers, religious groups, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, you name it. The program2 was called COINTELPRO, and it was worse, and more pervasive than you think. The links in the quoted section below go to scans of primary documents, hosted at the moment at The Commercial Appeal, so you can read them in their malicious banality yourself.

Much of his undercover work helped the FBI break up the Invaders, a Black Panther-styled militant group that became popular in disaffected black Memphis in the late 1960s and was feared by city leaders.


Yet, Withers focused on mainstream Memphians as well.

Personal and professional details of Church of God in Christ Bishop G.E. Patterson (then a pastor with a popular radio show), real estate agent O.W. Pickett, politician O. Z. Evers and others plumped FBI files as the bureau ran a secret war on militancy.

When community leader Jerry Fanion took cigarettes to jailed Invaders, agents took note. Agents wrote reports when Catholic Father Charles Mahoney befriended an Invader, when car dealer John T. Fisher offered jobs to militants, when Rev. James Lawson planned a trip to Czechoslovakia and when a schoolteacher loaned his car to a suspected radical.

Each report has a common thread — Withers.

As a so-called racial informant — one who monitored race-related politics and “hate” organizations — Withers fed agents a steady flow of information.

Records indicate he snapped and handed over photos of St. Patrick Catholic Church priests who supported the city’s striking sanitation workers; he monitored political candidates, jotted down auto tag numbers for agents, and once turned over a picture of an employee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said to be “one who will give aid and comfort to the black power groups.” In an interview this year, that worker said she came within a hearing of losing her job.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division


From the New York Times in follow up:

On Sunday, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed [Ernest C.] Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. It was an astonishing revelation about a former police officer nicknamed the Original Civil Rights Photographer, whose previous claim to fame had been the trust he engendered among high-ranking civil rights leaders, including Dr. King.


“It is an amazing betrayal,” said Athan Theoharis, a historian at Marquette University who has written books about the F.B.I. “It really speaks to the degree that the F.B.I. was able to engage individuals within the civil rights movement. This man was so well trusted.”

From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site.

A clerical error appears to have allowed for Mr. Withers’s identity to be divulged: In most cases in the reports, references to Mr. Withers and his informer number, ME 338-R, have been blacked out. But in several locations, the F.B.I. appears to have forgotten to hide them.

(click to continue reading Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer – NYTimes.com.)


Presumedly, a diligent researcher researcher could now go through redacted FBI documents, and find everywhere else that Withers code name was used

A clerical error appears to have allowed for Mr. Withers’s identity to be divulged: In most cases in the reports, references to Mr. Withers and his informer number, ME 338-R, have been blacked out. But in several locations, the F.B.I. appears to have forgotten to hide them.

Wonder if there the FBI is conducting an updated version of COINTELPRO to investigate/infiltrate the Tea Party zealots? Probably not, for most of the history of the FBI, they have only been concerned with liberal dissent. Conservatives get a pass, even if they blow up buildings or kill innocents. A liberal group providing cigarettes to an incarcerated protester? That’s grounds for expanding the file.


  1. the fact of the war is not in dispute, only its motive for existing in a supposedly free society []
  2. We’ve blogged about COINTELPRO many times []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 15th, 2010 at 8:01 am

FBI Bumbles Anthrax case to a close

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Incompetence is what this sounds like to me. Dick Cheney probably ordered the anthrax attacks.


More than eight years after anthrax-laced letters killed five people and terrorized the country, the F.B.I. on Friday closed its investigation, adding eerie new details to its case that the 2001 attacks were carried out by Bruce E. Ivins, an Army biodefense expert who killed himself in 2008.

[Click to continue reading F.B.I. Concludes Investigation in Fatal Anthrax Mailings – NYTimes.com]

Didn’t solve anything, didn’t discover the truth. The eerie new details probably wouldn’t stand up in open court, and Ivins is dead anyway, and cannot defend himself.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 10th, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Reading Around on December 29th

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Some additional reading December 29th from 17:09 to 23:39:

“The Philip K. Dick Collection” (Philip K. Dick)

  • Gregg Rickman- The Nature of Dick’s Fantasies – –None of Dick’s 1974 letters to the FBI appear in any of the FBI’s files on him (in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington). He received a polite brush-off response to his first letter, of March 20; it is likely that the FBI ignored his later letters entirely.–There is, moreover, good reason to doubt that many of these letters were ever sent. According to his wife at the time, Tessa Dick, “Phil told me he’d only sent the first three or four letters, and he stopped mailing them, because the FBI had lost interest (or perhaps never had any interest) in the case…” (letter to author, 6/6/91). Asked why, if this were so, so many letters existed not in originals but in carbons, she replied that Dick’s procedure was to “write a letter, address and stamp an envelope, go out in the back alley, and drop the letter in the trash bin.” Dick’s reasoning was that “The authorities will receive the letter if, and only if, they are spying on him”
  • Total Dick-Head: Merry Christmas To Me! – As a scholar I think these letters are a bit dangerous (as is any piece of evidence however small and seemingly innocuous in the Case of Philip K Dick); as they are the ‘Selected Letters’ I wonder who selected them (that’s probably in an introduction I skipped), what was left out, and why. I have lots of questions, like why does Phil refer to Tessa in one letter as Leslie? Who exactly is ‘Kathy’? And why in the world did PKD write that letter to the FBI about Disch’s Camp Concentration?
  • Transcript: Climbing Mount Criterion – Roger Ebert’s Journal – I’m extremely lazy in my film reviews, but Matthew Dessem is not. His blog is in-depth reviews of every Criterion Collection film released. Roger Ebert interviewed him: Here is the complete transcript of my Q&A with Matthew Dessum, in which he goes into much greater detail about his adventure that I had room for in the paper. The photo is by Yasmin Damshenas
  • Is aviation security mostly for show? – CNN.com – “Security theater” refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards. Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at U.S. airports in the months after 9/11 — their guns had no bullets. The U.S. color-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

Written by swanksalot

December 30th, 2009 at 12:00 am