FBI Director Says 'Smart People' At Office Supply Companies Can Help Limit Terrorists' Access To Pen And Paper

from the also-has-concerns-about-auto-manufacturers-offering-locking-trucks-by-default dept

Another terrorist attack (this one thwarted) has renewed calls for private companies to work more closely with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The pair were arrested in counter-terror raids in Sydney’s west yesterday with police saying they and three other conspirators were involved in “formulating documents connected with preparations to facilitate, assist or engage a person to undertake a terrorist act”.

The group of alleged extremists used handwritten notes to plot a Sydney attack in a bit to circumvent police and ASIO surveillance, The Australian reports.

The scrawled messages circulating between the group allegedly detailed the an attack on a government building, believed to be the AFP’s Sydney headquarters.

FBI Director James Comey has spent the last several months expressing his concern that criminals and terrorists are eluding justice by using off-the-shelf products offered by manufacturers nationwide — paper, pens, shredders, trash cans, etc.*

“We aren’t seeking anything more than what we’ve always been able to obtain with court orders, subpoenas and warrants. But now, this information is unavailable to us, thanks to decisions being made by some very smart people who have, for whatever reason, decided to start supplying their customers with these items.”

Comey acknowledged that a legislated ban on these items is highly unlikely, but pointed out that the lack of access to handwritten notes was on its way to becoming a day-to-day occurrence for law enforcement.

“The reality is that terrorist plots are going to be carried out, kids are going to be kidnapped and to-do lists are going be executed — and law enforcement will be locked out. We go to Georgia-Pacific, Bic or Royal with a warrant and we still can’t obtain the communications we’re seeking because these companies have decided to allow their customers to use a destructible form of communication.”

Addressing his critics, Comey coldly noted that approaching third parties for access to these communications has also been a dead end.

“We’ve sought the assistance of Staples, Office Depot and other office supply retailers, but have been stymied completely by the incredulous laughter of their legal representatives, along with their demands to know whether ‘we’re serious’ and ‘Where’s the camera? Is this one of those punk’d shows?'”

Comey again expressed his belief that a solution is out there, but it takes law enforcement and nation’s top office supply companies working together.

“There are some very smart people running these companies and I think if they were willing to apply themselves to the problem, they could come up with a solution.”

The administration has less-than-firmly stated that it won’t look into mandating the elimination of this communication method. Congress has similarly shown little support for Comey’s quest to achieve the impossible.

But some long-time supporters of the NSA — along with presidential candidates who believe everything the AP prints — are calling for more extreme measures to be taken in response to recent terrorist attacks.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and a handful of others are touting a plan for mandatory internet usage.

“Extremists and terrorists are hiding behind pen-and-paper while carrying out their violent plans. This is unacceptable. If the nation is going to be secure, citizens and non-citizens residing in the US should be required to use internet-based communication methods, preferably of the unencrypted variety.”

Comey agreed that something must be done to prevent today’s criminals from “going looseleaf.” The key, he says, is no longer in the government’s hands. It’s in the hands of private companies, who he feels are more interested in their bottom line than a secure nation.

“It’s not a security issue. It’s a business model issue,” Comey said, adding that customers should pressure companies into abandoning the production of these archaic items. “In a world where iPad-like devices are as prevalent as National Security Letters, it makes no sense for the Hammermills of the nation to continue to offer archaic communication methods.”

*Just in case it wasn’t obvious, nothing in the above post actually happened other than the thwarted terrorist attack in which the suspects used handwritten notes to avoid surveillance. They also used text messages, which was (part of) their downfall. But arguments against encryption because some bad people use it are no different than arguments against pen/paper, which also helps bad people avoid the scrutiny of law enforcement.

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Comments on “FBI Director Says 'Smart People' At Office Supply Companies Can Help Limit Terrorists' Access To Pen And Paper”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Back to basics

“next proposals will be DNA modification to make humans born without vocal cords or vocal cord cutting at birth”

Too many lethal appendages. Brains in jars kept in freezers for us (), perpetual regeneration for the anointed hereditary ruler class. Robots will take care of feeding and watering them, providing amusements and counting their $$.

What is the point? So we can vote for them of course. By wiggling a neuron.

Anonymous Coward says:

Come on this must be a parody or sarcasm

No one in a position of responsibility can be that stupid can they?? If they are and they are running these agencies no wonder we have such a global mess. Even the criminals are smarter then the politicians that appoint these guys (excluding the criminals that are politicians of course). Wow I am getting dizzy shaking my head…

Anonymous Coward says:

Legal Precedents

The reason why this scenario was farcical is because when it comes to handwritten items, the law actually specified when it was legal and when it wasn’t to search and obtain from 3rd parties. George Washington himself was worried about his letters being intercepted. When we change things to a digital format, somehow all of those precedents somehow fail to apply and we end up with the current quagmire of good intentions leading us down to a hellish reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Terrorists flush evidence down the toilet, so

let’s send all of our sewage to Bluffdale for processing.

“In May, when two terrorists attempted to kill a whole lot of people in Garland, Texas, and were stopped by the action of great local law enforcement … that morning, before one of those terrorists left to try to commit mass murder, *he used the toilet and flushed it.* We have no idea what he flushed, because that sewage was not retained by the NSA.”

“That is a big problem,” Comey said.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…like finding a coupon for a free banana split. (do they still exist?)…

Banana splits still exist but they’re hard to find because dedicated ice cream shops can’t make it in the business world these days (at least in the US), and very few coffee shops and restaurants offer them.

Free? No longer exists unless it’s piggybacked onto a required purchase.

(footnote: unlike the article this comment is – sadly – not satire.)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Banana splits still exist but they’re hard to find because dedicated ice cream shops can’t make it in the business world these days (at least in the US), and very few coffee shops and restaurants offer them.

Dairy Queen has them right? And I can think of at least four shops that are largely or exclusively ice cream (though one is seasonal) and at least three frozen yogurt places in my not particularly big town. I think they’re doing fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a parody until I see some links. Where do you get these quotes about the FBI trying to get Office Depot not to sell paper to terrorists? James Comey is a reliable source of hilariously misinformed quotes but I don’t believe for a second that he seriously had the FBI approach office supply companies about cracking down on destructible information formats or that Tom Cotton, silly as he is, would spout a line as silly as “Extremists and terrorists are hiding behind pen-and-paper while carrying out their violent plans.” There is no reason to lie about these people. It only gives ammunition to their defenders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe FBI Director James Comey needs to extend the pen & paper ban to include pigeons.


Henceforth anyone caught having a pigeon without a permit will become an automatic terrorist suspect. And then if the government can conduct an expensive, decades-long nationwide effort to eradicate certain wild medicinal plants from the environment, then why not certain animals as well?

Anonymous Coward says:

another thing. i bet somebody in the fed employ is working on micro-gps capabilities for pens and pencils with built-in transmitters, so the snoops can accumulate even larger mounds of impenetrable goop.

of course, pocket-protectors will have to gain in gauge to handle the additional weight of pens and pencils, and the cost of a pencil will be about 45 bucks.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Yeah, about that pen and paper thing...

This story was published less than 24 hours ago:

Police: Edgewater man arrested with guns, plans to attack government offices

Here’s an excerpt:

Police searched Green’s vehicle Monday and discovered a Marlin 30-30 lever-action rifle and a Benelli 12-gauge shotgun. Investigators also found boxes of ammunition, earplugs and a brown leather briefcase.

Inside the briefcase investigators found numerous handwritten pages and documents containing government officials’ private information, telephone numbers, office addresses and a log of attempts to contact those government officials, police said. The officials weren’t named in charging documents.

Green told police he wrote the papers.

A handwritten journal also was found, police said, in which Green wrote he planned to “take back the land.”

Green also wrote: “Keep track of targets = everything dead – NSA, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, DOD, IRS, Ssec, NASA, State Dept., White House, MD State Attorney, House of Rep, Navy,” charging documents state.

lars626 (profile) says:

Lethal weapons

You cannot be too careful about those office supplies. A sharpened #2 pencil can be deadly if used to stab between the ribs. It punctures the heart and they will bleed out before anyone can save them. I don’t recall which ribs, I saw it in a movie decades ago.

The damage that can be done with a letter opener is also scary. Then there is a network cable used as a garrote.

The world is Not a safe place.

Anonymous Coward says:

The simplest way for them to enact their totalitarian paradise they seem to be dreaming of, would be to make it mandatory for every citizen to be chipped. If you refuse to have said tracker implanted into your body then your obviously a terrorist that should be thrown in jail without a trial. Since only terrorists would refuse to allow their government to track them at all times, and monitor their bodies.

Why stop there, make it so that anytime you want to do something you have to call the local stasi and let them know where you are going and what you are doing. Failure to comply means you must be up to no good and must be jailed immediately.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve never seen a more underhanded way of exposing confidential material right out of the top secret folders of the NSA and the FBI. My hat off to the thief.

I’m surprised he didn’t get the next one down that exposes the great plan of limiting funds for education as a way to combat this sort of communications. After all no education means you usually can’t write and that would be the ultimate defense. /s

383bigblock (profile) says:

Time for the Obama-Pad

I’m in. Let’s get rid of all pens and paper, I’m sure the government doesn’t mind providing iPads and Surface Pro 3’s to every living person in America so that they can effectively take notes and pass them to their friends. Hell, we shouldn’t stop there they should also provide us all with a free Office 365 account and cloud email storage (that way they can read it even easier).

What a brilliant idea. After reading this gem of a story now I fully understand why we’re going to be screwed by Terrorists….. because this is the best that our government Asshats can come up with. No wonder they can only thwart the terror plots that they manufacture as opposed to real ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Time for the Obama-Pad

“I’m sure the government doesn’t mind providing iPads and Surface Pro 3’s to every living person in America so that they can effectively take notes and pass them to their friends. “

it is called safelink wireless
lately called “obamaphones”
only for those who can not afford to buy a surveillance “smartphone” + internet acces plan by themselves

John85851 (profile) says:

To keep going...

Why can’t Office Depot keep a copy of everything written in their store? How hard is it to install something in the countertops that records a copy of people’s writing? You know, to keep for up to a year “just in case”.

And then cross-reference the written record with the camera surveillance so we’ll know who used that countertop and when.

And don’t give us any of that “my my girlfriend was writing” excuse- you were at the countertop and it should have been in your control. I don’t think you tried to password-protect it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To keep going...

The purchase of any item with a unique serial number (which these days is very many things) can easily be traced down to the camera video at the cash register, and even cross-referenced with the parking lot video to get a buyer’s car license plate number. Wal-Mart does this fairly routinely upon police request, without asking for a search warrant or court order. Even before the era of wireless cellular telephones, people buying a long-distance card to use on a pay-telephone across town on a dark night were in for a surprise knock on the door by police (yes, that was long ago, when police still knocked on doors).

It would not be hard to track things like copier paper in much the same way, with a video record made of the purchase. Each page of paper within the package could also be embossed with an invisible series of marks forming a unique code, in much the same way that every page printed by a color laser copier machine for the last 2 decades has tiny yellow dots secretly printed on it.

As for pens, the ink could be ‘spiked’ in the same way as explosives and cyanide, leaving a unique telltale chemical signature.

If only George Orwell had been around today.

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