DOJ Rings Up Another Leaker, Nailing Financial Investigation Official For Handing Docs To Buzzfeed

from the stop-handing-journalists-info-the-public-might-want-to-see! dept

Another government employee has been charged with leaking sensitive info. This time it's a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) official -- one who apparently handed dozens of suspicious activity reports (SARs) to Buzzfeed.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was picked by Trump to replace Preet Bharara’s deputy Joon Kim, denounced BuzzFeed’s accused source.

“Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior-level FinCEN employee, betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information contained in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to an individual not authorized to receive them,” Berman said in a statement Wednesday announcing the charges.

The leaked SARs dealt with alleged money laundering by Russian diplomats, as well as transactions possibly related to the purchase of hacked Hillary Clinton emails by a GOP figure. These were supposedly the basis for nine Buzzfeed articles over the last year, with the most recent article cited in the complaint appearing only a few days ago (October 15).

The complaint [PDF] itself is an interesting read. It makes it clear investigators don't necessarily need to see the content of a person's messages to draw inferences about their behavior.

18. Based upon my training, experience, my conversations with other law enforcement agents with training and experience in cyber technology, and my conversations with law enforcement agents who have reviewed records received in response to a judicially-authorized pen register and trap and trace order for the EDWARDS Cellphone (the "EDWARDS Pen"), I have learned, among other things, that:

a.The EDWARDS Cellphone utilized a mobile messaging service that utilizes end-to-end encryption (the "Encrypted Application"), that is, a method of secure communication that prevents third-parties from accessing data, including the companies that host the end-to-end services, and law enforcement.

b. On or about August 1, 2018, within approximately six hours of the EDWARDS Pen becoming operative--and the day after the July 2018 Article was published--the EDWARDS Cellphone exchanged approximately 70 messages via the Encrypted Application with the Reporter-1 Cellphone during an approximately 20-minute time span between 12:33 a.m. and 12:54 a.m.

c.Between on or about July 31, 2018 and August 2, 2018, the EDWARDS Cellphone and the personal cellphone of CC-1 exchanged dozens of messages via the Encrypted Application.

d. On or about August 2, 2018, approximately one week prior to the publication of the First August 2018 Article, the EDWARDS Cellphone exchanged approximately 541 messages with the Reporter-1 Cellphone via the Encrypted Application.

e. On or about August 10, 2018, the day of the publication of the First August 2018 Article, the EDWARDS Cellphone and the Reporter-1 Cellphone exchanged approximately 11 messages via the Encrypted Application.

It doesn't appear investigators were able to access the content of the messages until they examined Edwards' phone.

Throughout the course of 2018, EDWARDS engaged in hundreds of electronic communications with Reporter-1, many via an encrypted application. A review to date, pursuant to a judicially-authorized search warrant executed today, of EDWARDS's personal cellphone has revealed that that cellphone contains the substance of many of these communications, including, as described in greater detail below, communications in which EDWARDS transmitted or described SARs or other protected information to Reporter-1.

So much for going dark. Presumably the information obtained with the pen register order was enough to secure a warrant to search a cellphone and flash drive owned by Edwards. "Reporter-1" is likely Jason Leopold, who wrote or co-wrote every article named in the DOJ complaint. This also means the DOJ likely has a whole bunch of conversations between a journalist and his source, although obtaining them from the source makes it far less of a First Amendment issue.

The other interesting part of the complaint is this: Edwards viewed her leaks as whistleblowing and had pursued a whistleblower complaint in the past.

During the interview described herein, EDWARDS told the Interviewing Agents, in sum and substance, that she is a "whistleblower" who provided the SARs to Reporter-1 for "record keeping." Based on my participation in this investigation and my conversations with other law enforcement agents, I am aware that, prior to the SARs Disclosures, EDWARDS had previously filed a whistleblower complaint unrelated to the SARs Disclosures, and that EDWARDS had also reached out to congressional staffers regarding, among other things, her unrelated whistleblower complaint.

These leaked SARS may have been one of the "other things" she spoke to staffers about. It appears she felt these SARs would just be buried by the administration. Or she felt these were of enough public interest they should be publicly-disclosed. Or it just may be the excuse she gave investigators during the interview.

Whatever the case, one thing remains clear: the Trump Administration is definitely interested in punishing whistleblowers, self-described or otherwise. As Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation points out, this is the fifth time journalists' sources have been charged with felonies since Trump took office. If he keeps it up, Obama's record-setting persecution of whistleblowers will be viewed with fond remembrance usually reserved for misremembering America's halcyon days of segregation and post-war baby making.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 12:08pm

    > from the stop-handing-journalists-info-the-public-might-want-to-see! dept

    There is nothing journalistic about NBC's Buzzfeed. That organization aggressively harasses and doxxes independent journalists that go out and collect live footage and coverage and make the feed available to the public.

    This was not leaking to the public so much as leaking to a legacy media apparatus more concerned with protecting media trusts and the bureaucracies that protect them.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 12:13pm

    > If he keeps it up, Obama's record-setting persecution of whistleblowers will be viewed with fond remembrance usually reserved for misremembering America's halcyon days of segregation and post-war baby making.

    Well, to be fair, there's just so much more to blow the whistle on these days. Trump's administration could be way more lenient on whistleblowers and relaxed in hunting them down, and they'd STILL end up going after more of them than the Obama administration did.

    The Obama administration was noteworthy because of the percentage of whistleblowers they hounded, not the volume.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 1:42pm

    what a way..

    to PROVE and Proof documents...
    What a way to insert ??????????? data into a record..

    How to prove truth??

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

  • identicon
    Digitari, 18 Oct 2018 @ 1:53pm

    Subject matter

    It seems she released info on the wrong people. They just had the same name, so she wasn't even competent at her "leaking".
    Too funny.

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

  • identicon
    jimbo, 18 Oct 2018 @ 2:29pm

    Warning to leakers

    1. Use a burn phone
    2. Tell reporter to use a burn phone
    3. Only put battery in burn phone when in use
    4. Discard burn phone immediately after use

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 7:47am

    I'm actually with the DOJ on this one. Ms. Edwards apparently leaked the SARs because she felt the government was covering up other SARs she knew had been in the database but had disappeared. But in reality the government had removed access to them from all but those with a need to know due to the sensitivity of the investigation. They didn't get disappeared, just disappeared from her. So her leak only served to alert criminals to information about their case.

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

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 19 Oct 2018 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      I'm actually with the DOJ on this one. Ms. Edwards apparently leaked the SARs because she felt the government was covering up other SARs she knew had been in the database but had disappeared. But in reality the government had removed access to them from all but those with a need to know due to the sensitivity of the investigation. They didn't get disappeared, just disappeared from her. So her leak only served to alert criminals to information about their case.

      One could make the argument that under Trump, they would never have gotten investigated and the public would have never found out about them.

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

      • icon
        BentFranklin (profile), 20 Oct 2018 @ 7:46pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, I'm assuming that because the investigation is sensitive that means there is an investigation. Of course, not by Trump but it's happening!

        I guess when you are a whistle blower you just better know what you are talking about, like Snowden was. Even if you're right it will blow back hard on you, but if you are wrong, well, then you threw your life away for almost nothing.

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


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