Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
No skin off their noses, they figure—and doing anything about it is a lot of bother, so they stall. Spencer Hsu writes in the Washington Post:
Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.
The findings troubled the bureau, and it stopped the review of convictions in August. Case reviews resumed this month at the order of the Justice Department, the officials said.
U.S. officials began the inquiry after The Washington Post reported two years ago that flawed forensic evidence involving microscopic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people. Most of those defendants never were told of the problems in their cases.
The inquiry includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s in which the FBI’s hair and fiber unit reported a match to a crime scene sample before DNA testing of hair became common. The FBI had reviewed about 160 cases before it stopped, officials said.
The investigation resumed after the Justice Department’s inspector general excoriated the department and the FBI for unacceptable delays and inadequate investigation in a separate inquiry from the mid-1990s. The inspector general found in that probe that three defendants were executed and a fourth died on death row in the five years it took officials to reexamine 60 death-row convictions that were potentially tainted by agent misconduct, mostly involving the same FBI hair and fiber analysis unit now under scrutiny.
“I don’t know whether history is repeating itself, but clearly the [latest] report doesn’t give anyone a sense of confidence that the work of the examiners whose conduct was first publicly questioned in 1997 was reviewed as diligently and promptly as it needed to be,” said Michael R. Bromwich, who was inspector general from 1994 to 1999 and is now a partner at the Goodwin Procter law firm.
Bromwich would not discuss any aspect of the current review because he is a pro bono adviser to the Innocence Project, which along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is assisting the government effort under an agreement not to talk about the review. Still, he added, “Now we are left 18 years [later] with a very unhappy, unsatisfying and disquieting situation, which is far harder to remedy than if the problems had been addressed promptly.”
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole this month ordered that reviews resume under the original terms, officials said.
According to the FBI, the delay resulted, in part, “from a vigorous debate that occurred within the FBI and DOJ about the appropriate scientific standards we should apply when reviewing FBI lab examiner testimony — many years after the fact.” [Tjat makes no sense whatsoeve. - LG] . . .
George Tenet, one-time director of the CIA who famously declared it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (meaning actual weapons of mass destruction, not merely hand grenades), is now furiously at work to keep details of the US torture program from coming out. This NY Times article by Mark Mazzetti describes some of his machinations. From the article:
The April meeting at C.I.A. headquarters highlighted how much of the agency is still seeded with officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program, which Mr. Obama officially ended during his first week in office in 2009.
At one point during the meeting, the current head of the counterterrorism center, an officer with the first name Mike, told Mr. Brennan that roughly 200 people under his leadership had at some point participated in the interrogation program. They wanted to know, he said, how Mr. Brennan planned to defend them in public against accusations that the C.I.A. engaged in systematic torture and lied about its efficacy.
Mr. Tenet flashed his anger at these accusations in 2007, when he was asked about the interrogation program during an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.”
Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”
“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”
First, of course, it is well known that the CIA did indeed torture people, sometimes to death. That is documented. (The CIA destroyed all videotaped evidence, of course, but word was already out.)
Second, Mr. Tenet simply denies that the CIA tortured people, but then in his rebuttal explains why the CIA tortured people: denial, and then justification.
It’s a lawyer’s defense. “We didn’t do it—and the reasons we did do it are very good.”
Contemptible—and Obama apparently is fine with Tenet riding herd on the investigation and its report. But that helps clarify the degree to which intelligence services control the White House and the government.
It’s almost as if there’s a trans-governmental coalition of intelligence/security services, linking arms to leverage their intelligence (and control)—a new governmental emerging from within the existing government. I look forward to the outcome of the CIA transgressions.
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussein write at The Intercept:
The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.
But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.
In general, U.S. support for the Saudi regime is long-standing. One secret 2007 NSA memo lists Saudi Arabia as one of four countries where . . .
Man, the gloves are off. The CIA feels powerful enough that it can reveal that it’s reading confidential Congressional email, which is illegal on any number of counts, beginning with: the CIA is not to mount operations in the US. But that’s obviously long gone, and the CIA is not only operating within the US but also spying on their overseers. In no way is that appropriate. Or legal. But the CIA at this point doesn’t care, which speaks volumes. And Obama faces now a choice: own it (the CIA is part of the Executive Branch, which he presumably heads), or repudiate it. Big decision that will let us know which way things are going.
Gil Kerlikowske has his work cut out for him, as this news report from Marcus McIntosh makes clear:
A central Iowa Boy Scout troop just returned from a three-week trip they will likely never forget.
About 10 days into the trip, an innocent action by one of the nearly two dozen Scouts at the Canadian border into Alaska set off a chain of events that lead to a U.S. border official pointing a gun at a scout’s head.
Boy Scout Troop 111 Leader Jim Fox spelled out what happened to him and the Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111 as four van-loads of Scouts and adult volunteers tried to drive from Canada into Alaska.
Fox said one of the Scouts took a picture of a border official, which spurred agents to detain everyone in that van and search them and their belongings.
“The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison,” Fox said.
Fox said he was told it is a federal offense to take a picture of a federal agent.
Not wanting things to escalate, Fox said he did not complain.
Another of the Scouts was taking luggage from the top of a van to be searched when something startling happened.
“He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head,” Fox explained.
Fox said that had them all in fear.
Ultimately no one was hurt or arrested, and after about four hours they were allowed to continue their trip into Alaska. . .
Continue reading. Video at the link.
Data are a two-edged sword: One wants to collect metrics to determine quality of performance, but as soon as metrics are defined they distort performance, which takes as a new goal to drive up good metrics (measures of success). For example, if you are fighting terrorism, it’s good to know how many terrorist plots are disrupted, but once you start counting, those in the agency start pushing for the number to go higher, and soon it’s found that not enough terrorist plots are disrupted to make the numbers look good. So the FBI starts promoting terrorist plots (in an undercover fashion, of course), contributing plans, contacts, helping to arrange for supplies, and then step in and arrest everyone and chalk up another big win for the FBI. (Cf. the stop-and-frisk quotas in Bloomberg’s NYPD.) For example:
In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
That’s from this Juan Cole’s post at Informed Comment:
The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.
The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.
The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.
In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. . .
Continue reading. And watch this:
I blogged this article earlier, and in case you didn’t read it—it’s long—let me post a few paragraphs about what sort of things the US government checks for if you happen to be on the Watchlist or have the same name as someone on the Watchlist:
In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.
Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.
The list of government entities that collect this data includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is neither an intelligence nor law-enforcement agency. As the rulebook notes, USAID funds foreign aid programs that promote environmentalism, health care, and education. USAID, which presents itself as committed to fighting global poverty, nonetheless appears to serve as a conduit for sensitive intelligence about foreigners. According to the guidelines, “When USAID receives an application seeking financial assistance, prior to granting, these applications are subject to vetting by USAID intelligence analysts at the TSC.” The guidelines do not disclose the volume of names provided by USAID, the type of information it provides, or the number and duties of the “USAID intelligence analysts.”
We are more and more living under a government that believes it has the right to build a dossier on any citizen. More controls (over citizens) is coming, if this plays out according to history.
A very good column in the Washington Post by Andreas Busch, professor of comparative politics and political economy at the University of Göttingen. Well worth reading.
The FDA isn’t doing its job because it’s almost totally in thrall to the businesses that it is supposed to regulate and seems mostly to do their bidding. And, given the GOP pressures, I imagine funding has been cut. But still, for a Federal judge to explicitly rule that the FDA doesn’t have to do its job to protect the public makes one throw up his hands.
And, of course, once someone is so designated, the US Patriot Act allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely and in secret. Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux explain at The Intercept:
The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.
The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.
Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”
The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.
“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.” Shamsi, who reviewed the document, added, “These criteria should never have been kept secret.”
The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.
This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.
“If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it’s a slippery slope we’re sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. “Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn’t make you a terrorist. That’s the kind of information that gets put in there.”
The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome—or impossible—to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals. . .
This is good news, though the DoJ seems to be digging in its heels: too much work, they say.
Jeff Horowitz reports at The Big Story:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has heard from hundreds of thousands of consumers who feel wronged by banks and finance companies. Now the agency wants the public to hear from those consumers too.
On Wednesday, the bureau proposed allowing consumers to publish online the details of their complaints against lenders and financial service providers. Those narratives would augment the bureau’s consumer complaint database, which lists complaints about checking accounts, credit cards, student loans and other financial products. If consumers choose to make their complaints public, the companies involved would then be given a chance to write a public response.
“By proposing to share people’s stories, we are giving consumers an opportunity to be heard by the entire world and not simply by a government agency and its officials,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in remarks prepared for a Thursday event in El Paso, Texas.
The consumer bureau’s current database simply lists the company being complained about, a general subject matter like “deposits and withdrawals,” and whether the complaint has been resolved. By adding the narratives, the bureau believes it will help consumers determine where to take their business and identify systemic problems. A similar complaint reporting system is already in place at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which seeks to identify dangerous products from appliances to toys.
Consumer groups were elated by the bureau’s proposal, which Ruth Susswein, a deputy director at Consumer Action, called “essential for consumers to protect themselves.” Banks have complained bitterly about . . .
This is excellent news—indeed, the complaints from the banks show how good it is. And as we saw in the previous article, making Federal databases open to the public whenever possible can help mitigate fraud and bad practice.
You credit card numbers and expiration dates sent (and stored) without encryption, for example. See this article at Ars Technica by Cyrus Farivar. From the article:
. . . Hasbrouck pointed out that the more information the airlines choose to retain, the more of an opportunity the government has to build a profile on me. “They have seat assignments [and] could probably search who is seated next to you for social network analysis,” he said. “You have no way of knowing when you’re using this website which information they are storing.”
“This is not to catch people under suspicion; this is for the purpose of finding new suspects,” Hasbrouck added.
I asked Travelocity about its practices and received a statement from Keith Nowak, a company spokesman.
“As the ticketing agents to the airlines, travel agencies like Travelocity routinely provide ticketing and other relevant passenger data to the airlines to help facilitate passenger flight requests,” he said, declining to answer further specific questions. “Once this data has been transferred, the airlines use the data for appropriate operational purposes, and the airlines determine how and when the data may be shared with other parties. As a partner in this process, Travelocity consistently complies with all relevant data privacy and data security requirements.”
He declined to respond to how or why my credit card number was transmitted in the clear.
Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, said that my story raises a lot of questions about what the government is doing.
“Why isn’t the government complying with even the most basic cybersecurity standards?” Cate said. “Storing and transmitting credit card numbers without encryption has been found by the Federal Trade Commission to be so obviously dangerous as to be ‘unfair’ to the public. Why do transportation security officials not comply with even these most basic standards?”
The goal of PNR collection, according to CBP, is “to enable CBP to make accurate, comprehensive decisions about which passengers require additional inspection at the port of entry based on law enforcement and other information.”
This information is retained for quite some time in government databases. CBP publicly states that PNR data is typically kept for five years before being moved to “dormant, non-operational status.” But in my case, my earliest PNR goes back to March 2005. A CBP spokesperson was unable to explain this discrepancy. . .
A somewhat depressing article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott.
He cites many studies, but the EPA so far has shown little or no interest.
Evan McMorris-Santoro reports in Buzzfeed:
Earlier this year, the Obama administration Justice Department announced sweeping reductions in the sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, an announcement that was heralded in the press and by advocates, liberal and conservative alike.
But when it comes to people already in prison for those very same drug offenses, the Justice Department is taking a very different stance: Officials have recommended a policy that would keep tens of thousands behind bars under the old guidelines, a decision that has set off a firestorm among advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle.
The sentencing rules for federal drug crimes were established in the 1980s, sending thousands to prison for long sentences with the goal of reducing drug crime — a policy demonstrated to disparately affect minorities, and the subject of intense advocacy in recent years. The Justice Department announced its support earlier this year for new guidelines recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that will lower the sentences for future offenders by an average of 11 months versus sentences handed down today.
Since that decision, however, the department has asked the commission, an independent board that creates sentencing guidelines for federal courts, to make thousands of drug offenders currently serving time exempt from those rule changes. On Friday, the commission will vote on the issue. Sources familiar expect the ruling to come sometime in the mid-afternoon.
In the balance: Whether 50,000 drug offenders serving time will be able to petition a judge to review their sentences according to the new standards.
That number represents around 25% of the total federal prison population — approximately 210,000 convicts — a daunting figure that has made even the advocates for change in the Justice Department blanch.
“The Justice Department is being very pragmatic here,” said Doug Berman, a professor at Ohio State law school and a leading expert on the Sentencing Commission and its decisions. Inside the department, there are fears about what allowing 50,000 prisoners to have their sentences reevaluated will mean. . .
Shorter version: The Justice Department could reduce unjust sentences for thousands of prisoners, but it would be a lot of work, so DOJ will just let them stay in prison. After all, no skin off the DOJ’s nose, eh?
I’m sort of keeping an eye on the US Border Patrol to see what changes Gil Kerlikowske will make. He certainly seems to have done a good job as chief of police in Seattle, but his tenure at DEA did not produce any positive changes in that organization. The Border Patrol, another out-of-control law-enforcement operation, may give him a better chance to make positive changes, since the Border Patrol was in crisis, and it seems likely that Kerlikowske was given the authority to make serious change.
In this NPR interview (transcript at the link), he describes some of his initiatives—for example, getting a new head of internal affairs from outside the Border Patrol—someone on loan from the FBI. This is highly encouraging.
Read the interview for more. It sounds good. And it’s an extremely interesting article—for example, the drawbacks of putting police in riot gear (face masks, body shields, etc.) instead of in normal police uniforms.
So if we legalize drugs, we’ll immediately cut way back on surveillance of citizens. And studies have shown that making the drugs illegal, though extremely costly (DEA, corruption, prisons, deaths, wiretaps, etc.), has no real effect on consumption. We’re spending billions we can ill afford on a fool’s errand.
Brian Anderson reports on the wiretaps in Motherboard:
Earlier this year, a joint US-Mexico wiretap investigation netted the world’s top drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, after American agents in Arizona intercepted a mobile phone owned by the son of one of Chapo’s closest confidantes. It was a huge catch—Chapo, the elusive head of the globe-spanning Sinaloa cartel, had been on the run for 13 years.
But that was merely one eavesdrop in the bucket of narcotics-based wiretaps carried out in the US in 2013, during which the bulk of the surveillance that ultimately led to Chapo’s arrest actually went down. According to a new Administrative Office of US Courts report, wiretaps not only hit an all-time high in 2013, the most recent year for which we have data on law enforcement wiretaps. The overwhelming majority, nearly 90 percent, listened for suspected narcotics dealings.
The report breaks down the various shades and hotspots of authorized wiretap surveillance on electronic, oral, and wire communicatons in the US. All told, federal and state judges greenlit 3,576 wiretaps last year, according to the report. That’s only a five percent bump over 2012, to be sure. Compare that to a decade ago, however, when domestic law enforcement carried out about half as many wiretaps as today, and it’s clear that agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration are taking more and more after the Central Intelligence and National Security Agencies when it comes to spying.
But the real kicker is in what crimes, exactly, all these wiretaps were out for. Of all the criminal offenses investigated using wiretaps, as seen in the above chart, illegal drug offenses were far and away most prevalent. “Narcotics” constituted a whopping 3,115 of the 3,576 total wiretaps, followed by “other major offenses” (including smuggling and money laundering), homicide, and kidnapping, which was the subject of one wiretap.
No, I am not kidding. “Kidnapping” got a single wiretap last year. . . .
Boy, talk about teaching the wrong lesson! Alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana, and yet Obama (when in Colorado, where marijuana is legal) turned down a joint in favor of a beer.
Check out this article by German Lopez, which contains many interesting and useful graphs, such as:
And this one:
And watch this 4-minute video for a quick rundown of how Federal policy regarding marijuana, though extremely expensive, makes no sense whatsoever:
Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:
Wall Street On Parade has been reporting for the past six months on a series of tragic, sudden deaths of Information Technology workers at JPMorgan. Now coming to the fore are stories of relentless prosecutions of Wall Street’s IT workers by Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance. Bloomberg News reports today that Vance is engaged in at least four prosecutions of Wall Street workers over theft of computer code or other intellectual property.
Bestselling author, Michael Lewis, devoted a significant part of his latest book, Flash Boys, to the prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov over alleged stolen computer code. Aleynikov had been working for Goldman Sachs when he received an offer to move to a hedge fund and build a system from scratch. Aleynikov accepted the offer but agreed to stay at Goldman for six weeks to train his colleagues. (That does not seem like the action of a person on the run with stolen computer code.)
That was 2009. For the past five years, Aleynikov has been arrested and jailed by the Feds, had his conviction overturned by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, rearrested by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and now faces more prosecution over the same set of facts: namely, that he took computer code that belonged to Goldman Sachs. Aleynikov is said to be among the best coders in the industry. He is increasingly being seen as the victim of malicious prosecution at the behest of the powerful Goldman Sachs.
According to the Lewis book, on the very same day that Kevin Marino, Aleynikov’s lawyer, gave his oral arguments to the Appeals Court, “the judges ordered Serge released, on the grounds that the laws he stood accused of breaking did not actually apply to his case.” He had been in prison for a year.
When the Second Circuit Appeals Court handed down its opinion of the case in December 2010, it found that Aleynikov had neither taken a tangible good from Goldman nor had he stolen a product involved in interstate commerce – noting that at oral argument the government “was unable to identify a single product that affects interstate commerce.”
But the hounds from hell were not finished with Aleynikov. Approximately six months after his vindication by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, arrested Aleynikov, placed him in jail on essentially the same charges, and sought to have bail denied on the basis that he was a flight risk. Lewis notes in the book that the prosecutor put in charge of the case, Joanne Li, was actually the flight risk – Li soon fled the case, getting a job at Citigroup.
The ill repute that is now surrounding the Vance case is sending a message to close observers that this is more about harassing IT workers and delivering a cautionary warning to others than it is about punishing a real crime.
On Friday, June 20 of this year, New York State Judge Ronald A. Zweibel found that Aleynikov’s arrest at the hands of the Feds had been illegal. The Judge wrote that the FBI agent “did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, let alone search him or his home.” The Judge further noted that the “defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.”
The Judge also ruled that Aleynikov’s computer property seized by the FBI should have been returned to him after his case was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. Instead, the Federal prosecutors turned the computers over to Vance’s office.
After Zweibel’s ruling, Aleynikov’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, released a statement saying that the Judge’s decision “represents a damning indictment of those assistant U.S. attorneys, assistant district attorneys and FBI agents who have now twice pursued an unlawful prosecution of an innocent man at the behest of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.” Marino added that Goldman “not only provoked but has been an active co-conspirator in the government’s case against Mr. Aleynikov.”
Is co-conspirator too strong a word? To comprehend the arrest and imprisonment of IT workers on Wall Street, one has to have context.
For many decades, there was a saying on Wall Street that . . .
It’s pretty clear that Wall Street controls at least some of the Federal government. They do not use their power to good ends.
They do not simply eavesdrop, they also interact, and the purpose of their interactions is to mislead, manipulate, and control. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:
The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, “amplif[y]” sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be “extremist.” The capabilities, detailed in documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even include an old standby for pre-adolescent prank callers everywhere: A way to connect two unsuspecting phone users together in a call.
The tools were created by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG’s use of “fake victim blog posts,” “false flag operations,” “honey traps” and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.
But as the U.K. Parliament today debates a fast-tracked bill to provide the government with greater surveillance powers, one which Prime Minister David Cameron has justified as an “emergency” to “help keep us safe,” a newly released top-secret GCHQ document called “JTRIG Tools and Techniques” provides a comprehensive, birds-eye view of just how underhanded and invasive this unit’s operations are. The document—available in full here—is designed to notify other GCHQ units of JTRIG’s “weaponised capability” when it comes to the dark internet arts, and serves as a sort of hacker’s buffet for wreaking online havoc.
The “tools” have been assigned boastful code names. They include invasive methods for online surveillance, as well as some of the very techniques that the U.S. and U.K. have harshly prosecuted young online activists for employing, including “distributed denial of service” attacks and “call bombing.” But they also describe previously unknown tactics for manipulating and distorting online political discourse and disseminating state propaganda, as well as the apparent ability to actively monitor Skype users in real-time—raising further questions about the extent of Microsoft’s cooperation with spy agencies or potential vulnerabilities in its Skype’s encryption. Here’s a list of how JTRIG describes its capabilities: . . .
Continue reading. Very interesting stuff at the link. And it does seem clear that the government targets not just potential terrorists but pretty much anyone active in opposing things the government wants to do: dissenters, in a word. We’re moving toward “democracies” of total control and surveillance by government agencies that pretty much run themselves and answer to no one.