FBI Sent A Special Task Force To Portland To 'Exploit' Phones Taken From Protesters

from the collect-it-all dept

Ongoing protests in Portland have been met with a federal response. The opening salvo was disturbing: Gestapo-esque tactics carried out by unidentified federal officers driving unmarked vehicles. It didn't get any better after that. The federal task force headed by the DHS seemed more willing to escalate the situation than settle things down, even if they were supposedly there to just do federal things like protect federal property and investigate federal crimes.

Documents leaked to Ken Klippenstein indicated the federal presence in Portland was more interested in finding evidence of some sort of Antifa hierarchy than sticking to the directive. FBI forensic analysts and their tech had been scrambled to Oregon to dig into phones taken from protesters and arrestees in hopes of finding some sort of organizational structure for them to attack.

This immediately raised questions about the Constitutionality of these device extractions. There's a warrant requirement in place for phone searches incident to arrests and it's not clear whether this requirement is being followed. For that matter, cloning phones belonging to detainees not necessarily suspected of criminal activity (with or without a warrant) seems like an unjustified abuse of the powers granted to law enforcement.

Emails obtained by the New York Times indicate that's exactly what's happening. A special deployment of FBI agents was sent to Portland specifically to aid in the extraction of information from protesters' phones.

The FBI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters sent agents from its “Fly Team,” an elite counterterrorism unit, to Portland this summer during the second weekend in July. Their task was to interview arrested protesters and carry out the “initial exploitation of phones, or other communication devices,” according to FBI emails obtained through a public records request. It is unclear whether the Fly Team operation extended either past that weekend or beyond Portland, but the emails suggest that the FBI has been using counterterrorism tools and powers to map left-wing protest networks just months before an election whose result is likely to be delayed, if not challenged.

The Fly Teams have been in existence since shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. But until now, they've mainly been foreign-focused -- either operating in other countries or targeting foreign terrorists. This breaks some new ground in a disturbing way: counterterrorist activity targeting US citizens, some of which have engaged in nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights.

The emails also suggest federal law enforcement is working around warrant requirements by exploiting one particular exception:

In one of the replies to [Special Agent] Chamberlin’s email, a colleague in the Portland bureau notes that the Fly Team’s “defintion [sic] of exigency will be different from ours.”

The emails [PDF] detail an incident that might be used to stretch the definition of "exigent" to cover any detained protester. A man arrested for shining laser lights into officers' eyes was found to be carrying weapons and explosives. He consented to a search of his phone, which led to a search of his home and criminal charges. If agents can talk themselves into believing any arrestee or detainee poses a threat, phones are going to be searched without warrants in the hopes a court will grant the government the benefit of a doubt if the search is challenged.

There's nothing in the emails that says the FBI is adhering to the Fourth Amendment. There's nothing in there that says it isn't, either. But you generally don't memorialize Constitutional violations in communications that can be obtained with public records requests.

As the New York Times notes, it's unclear under what authority the FBI is acting if it's treating domestic protests like domestic terrorism. But the Constitution may not be much of an obstacle thanks to actions taken by President Ronald Reagan nearly four decades ago.

Among the special powers granted exclusively to the FBI under a Reagan-era executive order (No. 12333) are authorizations to conduct “unconsented physical searches” and “physical surveillance” for intelligence purposes in the US.

We'll know more as more information leaks out or searches are challenged in court. But even if the FBI is following the law, the law gives it a lot of leeway to engage in acts it probably shouldn't, even if it legally can.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, 4th amendment, antifa, dhs, exigent circumstances, fbi, phones, portland, protests, surveillance


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2020 @ 9:46am

    Remember when Obama sent troops to invade Texas? The Gov sent out the guard to stop the Obama invasion. The paranoid reactions were hilarious.

    Now, unidentified goons go around kidnapping people and doing god knows what to them .... is met with silence from the above fine folk.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 10:50am

      Republican lawmakers don’t want to govern. They want to rule. Anything that helps move the U.S. towards a misogynistic conservative Christian autocracy (with maybe a splash of racism) is fine by them.

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

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 11:22am

      Re:

      Republicans want a government so small they can have it step on the necks of people who disagree with them.

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

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 11:34am

    Constitution, what constitution? This is about the government protecting the government. It is no longer about serving the citizens they were elected to protect. AKA, high-court vs. low-court justice. T.Rump says prosecute those who spread "Fake News" except when he does it.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 12:05pm

    'It's under the 'Laws are for those without badges' section...'

    As the New York Times notes, it's unclear under what authority the FBI is acting if it's treating domestic protests like domestic terrorism.

    Oh I can answer that one, it's the 'fuck you, we can do whatever we want' authority that gutless and/or corrupt judges and legislators have handed them and everyone else with a badge by refusing to hold them accountable for even blatant abuses of power.

    When you know you have better odds of winning the lottery multiple times than being held accountable for your actions, no matter how bad they are, those pesky things like 'laws' and 'constitutional limitations' are easy to brush aside and ignore.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 12:50pm

    The Antifa Hierarchy

    Well I could have told them the Antifa is the active arm of the Deep State.

    This should be easy for the FBI: They capture someone and ask them if they harbor anti-fascist sentiments If the answer is yes, their subject is clearly Antifa.

    Other signs can be: They own a white van or a black duffel bag.

    These are all signs they are from Antifa or the Black Bloc.

    Unlike other insurgency groups, Antifa is a monolithic unilateral front, kinda like the Swedish Borg. When a member of Antifa joins he or she get a decoder ring, an indoctrination video and an easy-to-memorize manual that explains the whole hierarchy from the bottom-most goon to the Taco Grande Supreme Commander of the Upper Echelon.

    The reason the FBI has not yet been able to infiltrate Antifa and acquire their own copy of these materials is this: The video is super effective.

    In fact, the Antifa indoctrination video may be too effective, and capable of bringing down entire established institutions. If an FBI special agent passed it on to other agents or analysts, they too might become radicalized and join the burgeoning ranks of Antifa!

    The White House has suggested as much, that the Comey directed FBI has been subverted, hence its antagonism to the Trump presidency and the current administration of the DHS, as shown by the uncovered Strzok/Page texts.

    One should always be on the lookout for Antifa sleeper agents who can be anyone in the walks of the United States.

    Aside from the flagging devices above (white van, black duffel bag) Antifa sleepers will also purport and flaunt an extreme Protestant Evangelical Christian identity and lifestyle. Watch for the words Jesus is my co-pilot, a phrase Antifa use to signal their presence to each other. If one person says it, and another person responds positively or reaffirms the sentiment, this is likely two antifa sleepers connecting in order to collaborate on future sorties.

    See something? Say something! Report all sightings to the DHS anonymous tip line at 1-866-347-2423 or call your local precinct.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Oct 2020 @ 1:13pm

      I regret that I have only one Funny vote to give you.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 15 Oct 2020 @ 12:41am

      Re: The Antifa Hierarchy

      You seem suspiciously on top of the secret Antifan globalist overlords, Uriel. I'm guessing you're at the top of some branch command chain?

      If so I'd once again like for you to take a look at throttling the water fluoridation a little bit where I'm at as my cat is still quoting the communist manifesto after drinking from the tap.

      Jokes aside I wish I could just applaud you for the sarcasm if I didn't know that you were almost verbatim quoting Ashcroft at the time when GWB's administration was trying to convince the entire US that al-quaeda was everywhere.

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

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Oct 2020 @ 12:48am

        Quoting ashcroft

        History doesn't just rhyme. Sometimes it's like a Mad-Lib where you can just fill in the blanks with the new proper nouns in place of the old.

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

    • identicon
      AnonyCog@aonsdpfoanf.com, 16 Oct 2020 @ 1:39pm

      Re: The Antifa Hierarchy

      Antifa and Anarchists Have Eyes and Ears in Quantico, the White House, the Hoover Building and Care Not Who Makes the Laws.

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

  • identicon
    bobob, 15 Oct 2020 @ 12:01pm

    Don't keep shit on your phone! As long as the government is going to do shit like this (which will be forever), keeping important shit on your phone is just asking for a protracted court battle over whether they have a right to do shit like this, which they will eventually win, assuming you even have the resources to go through all of the appeals.

    To win at the appeals level, you will probably have to convince the court that the police, fbi, whatever has such a low success record that the court will let you get as far as a constitutional argument.

    If the police have a 90% success rate, I would bet the court is going to find a way to dodge any constitutional issue with a tortured legal argument in the opinion it writes. So keep shit off of your phone and maybe some day, the success rate will be low enough that the court won't try to use a balancing argument to justify a constitutional violation. Consider the make up of the supreme court now.

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

  • identicon
    JedJames, 15 Oct 2020 @ 12:57pm

    FBI PORTLAND phone ecploitation

    The FBI has always been interested in investigating,harrassing, intimidating, black mailing, murdering and sometimes arresting US citizens exercising their first amendment rights. If MLK were alive today he could testify to all these actions.

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


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