How Much Did The FBI Snoop On Email Messages To Uncover The Petreaus Situation?

from the all-for-what? dept

As you're probably aware since it's "the big story" right now, General David Petreaus stepped down last week after an FBI investigation turned up an affair he'd been having. It seems that every few hours more news "breaks" on the story, and it keeps getting more involved, with a growing number of players (and with each new revelation the story gets more and more bizarre). However, some have started wondering how and why the FBI was snooping on various emails. The original story was that it came about after Petreaus' mistress allegedly sent threatening (anonymous) emails to another woman, who reported them to the FBI. From that came a wider investigation, which supposedly may involve another General and a variety of other players. But some are realizing that this seems to show how the FBI has pretty free rein in terms of snooping on email accounts hosted online:
Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor — not a judge — to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. To get more recent communications, a warrant from a judge is required. This is a higher standard that requires proof of probable cause that a crime is being committed.
But even that isn't entirely clear. Folks like Julian Sanchez have been puzzling through the timeline of events and wondering how a simple investigation into a small number of "rude" (but not illegal) emails then uncovered thousands of questionable emails involving a different general as alleged in the news that broke last night. It feels like the FBI may have taken a simple report of misconduct (which may have been driven by another love triangle issue involving an FBI agent who seemed to take the whole thing a lot more personally than makes sense) and turned it into a massive fishing expedition.

Given how fast new parts of this story keep breaking, I'm sure there are still a number of other dominoes to fall, but hopefully this actually gets people to pay attention to just how easy it is for law enforcement to snoop on people's emails these days based on next to nothing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:36am

    You'd think the head of the CIA would be familiar with the acronym PGP.

     

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  2.  
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    Jessica, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:38am

    Is any email sacred?

    If this is the case, are there any free email accounts that don't easily bend over (or troll your email to target ads) or are more encrypted?

     

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  3.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:40am

    Re: Is any email sacred?

    If your email is sacred shouldn't you be willing to pay for it?

     

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  4.  
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    Jessica, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Is any email sacred?

    touchee

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:43am

    Typo

    'free rein', not 'free reign'

     

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  6.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:49am

    No one is safe

    NO ONE. If this isn't a wake up call to Congress... they are next.

     

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  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:52am

    Petraeus isn't a "people", he's a public servant.

    And if you don't know that the surveillance state mainly watches its own evil minions, you're a simp.

    A must-read:
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/the-sins-of-general-david-petraeus

     

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  8.  
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    John Doe, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:53am

    Re: No one is safe

    Exactly. This is the ultimate wake up call for the need for privacy and oversight of government snooping. When a few top dawgs fall to this kind of thing you will suddenly see congress putting a stop to it.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 11:23am

    I bet the Postmaster General behind this. In a twisted sort of way to discredit email and get Americans to use good ol' fashioned letters again.

    Wow, I had to tie the tinfoil hat on real tight for that one.

     

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  10.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 11:29am

    Re: No one is safe

    The lesson learned by voters is that snooping is necessary to get criminals.

    The lesson learned by congress is that the FBI probably already has their resignation on file, so don't speak up.

     

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  11.  
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    Atkray (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 11:45am

    Re:

    What really made my head hurt is that your theory is the most sensible one out there.

     

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  12.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 11:51am

    I don't see anything wrong with the FBI reviewing every email sent to or from anyone involved in this. If that happens to dig up other stuff, so be it.

     

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  13.  
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    avitarx, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:07pm

    I hate to call conspiracy

    But I'm pretty sure this has more to do with finding dirt on someone that they wanted to resign for not towing the party line when he was going to be a witness.

    The FBI has played this role in government in the past it's not shocking that they'd do it again.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:14pm

    Why do Americans consider this a "normal" thing to happen and allow FBI to snoop on e-mail messages when they want to? Do they expect them to do the same with real mail? I would assume not. But then they should treat e-mail exactly the same, too.

     

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  15.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:22pm

    Tenuous rules?

    Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor not a judge to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. To get more recent communications, a warrant from a judge is required. This is a higher standard that requires proof of probable cause that a crime is being committed.
    Given that many if not most people keep all their email in 1 big inbox going back probably years, how exactly does one get access only to the "old email"?
    Off the top of my headI can only see two ways:
    1/ Get the email provider to pre-filter the inbox and olny hand over the allowed bit... Which seems unlikely since it then costs the provider more in man-hours to action and besides what the hell are they doing snooping through a private inbox?
    2/ The ISP hand over the lot and the FBI promise faithfully to not look at anything they shouldn't without a warrant... (Boy, that was hard to type with a straight face)

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    Re:

    But how many hops away do you have to be to not be involved? Is Kevin Bacon's email getting dredged on account of this?

     

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  17.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re:

    Only if your Kevin Bacon number is <=3.

     

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  18.  
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    Jay (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Re: No one is safe

    Countess helped cause this...

    Because of the partisanship of our Congress, Eric Cantor tried to user this in October to affect the election.

    I find it amazing that Republicans would stoop so low but they hanger always tried to sabotage elections for personal gain since Nixon sabotaged the 68 elections by destroying the Vietnam peace accord.

     

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  19.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 12:55pm

    Re: I hate to call conspiracy

    Anyone who thinks you are not correct has simply put their blinders on.

    I would say there is a 50/50 chance that the FBI was simply fed information to lead them right where certain people wanted them to go.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 1:01pm

    Re: FBI reviewing every email

    I don't see anything wrong with the FBI reviewing every email sent to or from anyone involved in this

    Why the shortcut? What is wrong with asking a judge for permission before snooping on God knows what? Why do you accept violation of your privacy for someone else's indiscretion?

    You may not realize it, but you are arguing for a police state.

     

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  21.  
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    Edward Teach, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re: No one is safe

    "Wake up call to Congress" - don't make me laugh, mate!

    One of the interesting things that came up in the Jane Harman AIPAC thing a few years ago (http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/04/the_harman-aipac_story_a_timeline.php) was that the DoJ apparently held a wiretap recording over Jane Harman's head, to get a key vote.

    The FBI has compromised the US Congress.

     

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  22.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Tenuous rules?

    Who said they get the email from your Inbox?

    With a well placed server or two they can easily collect, filter, and store all email for many, many domains.

    Starting in 1997 you have:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivore_(software)

    Followed by NarusInsight:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NarusInsight

    And those are only a couple of the ones we KNOW about. It would not surprise me to learn that nearly all email is scanned, and much of it stored, as those ones and zeros go zipping down the line.

    Don't want your email to be spied on? PGP or GPG

    No I don't wear a tin hat but I do work in IT. Where I work all email is copied off and 'archived', most users know nothing about it.

     

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  23.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    Who said they get the email from your Inbox?
    Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have.
    If they need a warrant to look at something they already have that raises a whole bunch of other questions doesn't it? Not to mention making it even harder to keep a straight face when saying they won't look at anything they're not allowed to...
    And those are only a couple of the ones we KNOW about.
    Indeed... I believe GCHQ do a good line in that too. I can never make head or tail out of the conflicting jurisdictions of the ludicrous amounts of federal agencies in the US, but I'd understood that the FBI technically was supposed to get a warrant to spy on americans and most of the rest supposedly "aren't allowed" (though getting the info from a friendly government that did it for you works I suppose)

     

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  24.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Re: FBI reviewing every email

    I didn't say there shouldn't be warrants or court orders, even if they are FISA court orders. And I'm not happy about the distinction between communications older or newer than 6 months. I just think when it's the director of the CIA, a fast and thorough investigation is in order, and if that means they drag up thousands of emails to see which ones matter, that seems normal and it's the way I'd do it.

    There's an important difference between surveillance of the CIA, including people who hang out with CIA personnel, and wholesale surveillance of our entire society.

    So, no, I am not arguing for a police state.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tenuous rules?

    "Well since it was talking about subpoenas one assumes it's something they have to get rather than already have."

    Maybe the subpoena is from the prosecutors office to the FBI, or some third party "shell agency".

    Then again, it could just be to make it all nice and 'legal' since the government is not supposed to be spying on US citizens. They already have the information, but they subpoena the information so it is in a nice neat package.

    It is easy enough for an email provider to do a date range or any other filtering.

    I have been asked on more than one occasion to filter over a half million emails down to a few hundred (This was a corporate email dump). It doesn't take long. From who, to whom, Before Date...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anon, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 2:42pm

    Misspelling of "Petreaus"

    This article misspells Petreaus-- should be "Petraeus", with 'a' before the 'e'

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:27pm

    Tin Foil Hats

    For years I alway thought that the Tin Foil Hat crowd was just a bunch of wackos...now not so much.

    Do you suppose the end of the world crowd may be right too!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2012 @ 10:38pm

    None

    I find it hard to believe that the director of the CIA doesn't know how to keep this kind of thing private.

    If he doesn't know how then why is he in charge?

    This is a scam to keep him from testifying and to redirect media attention.Just the kind of thing the CIA excels in.

    I mean come on...using gmail and expecting privacy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2012 @ 7:24pm

    Re: Mail Drop

    this is a common method for clandistine communication, remember some ranting from U.S security services about how hard/difficult it was to monitor some years ago. Seems the Security services solved that problem, and didn't bother to inform anyone, guess that is why the general used this technique for his affair, there was no memo sent round saying the classic webmail, mail drop was compromised for everyone.

    How-ever, Why did the FBI compomise this Intelligence source on such a trite matter, do they want to justify new anti-privacy laws?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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