Yes, lots of people whine about the fact that so many people out in public these days seem to have their heads down in their mobile phones, but as we've pointed out before, things aren't necessarily so different than in the past:
However, Pauline Neville-Jones, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the UK, has taken this form of anti-smartphone luddism to new and even more ridiculous levels, claiming that all these people looking at their mobile phones or listening to music/podcasts in public are a public nuisance, because they're not watching out for terrorists. Really.
“I think being alert is very important. I am alarmed by the number of people I see wandering along the street entirely engaged in their mobile telephones and with their ears plugged into music and they are not aware of their surroundings. You need to be aware of your surroundings,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “You do have to take some personal responsibility.”
In short: you lowly citizens, do not enjoy your life, but live in fear and report on any suspicious looking neighbors. I mean, while there have been terrorist attacks in the UK, it's not as if they're a regular occurrence. And living life in fear is hardly a productive way to live in a modern society.
However, Neville-Jones is pretty sure that living in fear is the best possible idea. Because she also encouraged the UK government to issue terrorist warnings more frequently, even if the evidence wasn't very strong:
She said the authorities had to take any intelligence seriously: “If you have got a piece of information, it may be difficult for you to assess it, you may not be comfortable about having a broader picture – part of the problem with intelligence is it can be fragmentary – but it’s a very bold government or policeman who chooses not to take precautions in such circumstances.
“I think the population on the whole would prefer them to be cautious and occasionally have closed something that it turned out wasn’t necessary – but how do we know – rather than take the risk of exposing people to dangers on which they have information, even if it’s not complete and on which they can’t necessarily totally rely.”
Of course, when you live in a world where bogus "terrorist threat" warnings come out all too often, it does the exact opposite of what Neville-Jones actually appears to want. That is, it makes people no longer trust the system at all, and become cynical about it. Wouldn't it be a lot smarter to explain to people that the real risk of dying in a terrorist attack is basically nil?
I have to say, it can certainly be quite frustrating to watch dispassionately how terrorism is discussed in the United States. After the fervor in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when terrorism was used either as a reason or excuse to enact all kinds of liberty-diffusing policies and to launch an insane surveillance state that we still haven't recovered from, I had thought we were quietly entering an era of eye-rolling at the way some in government throw around the word "terrorism." But, because the home of the brave is so easily whipped into a frenzy of fear, an admittedly horrible terrorist attack half a world away and a shooting spree in California that would have been shrugged off as "Hey, that's just America" except that the perpetrators had scary sounding last names, has once again meant that our political debates and twenty-four hour news programs are focused on the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism and not all of the other zillions of ways that you might die in the next twenty-four hours.
What all of this fear-mongering has done, which completely escapes my understanding, is create the impression that our enemy is generally devious and technologically intelligent on Bond-villain-esque levels. This is how you create a climate where a legitimate tool such as encryption is under attack as a threat. That's what makes it so useful to point out when would-be terrorists prove themselves to be bumbling idiots practically begging to be caught. Our own Glyn Moody wrote up a useful piece for ArsTechnica detailing one would-be terrorist's attempt to crowdsource his targets on Twitter under a not-so-smart Twitter handle.
A would-be UK bomber and his wife have been found guilty by the Old Bailey court of plotting to carry out an explosion in London to mark the tenth anniversary of the 2005 suicide attacks that took place in the same city. Both have been sentenced to life imprisonment: a minimum of 27 years for Mohammed Rehman, and a minimum of 25 years for his ex-wife Sana Ahmed Khan.
Remarkably, Rehman took to Twitter to ask for advice on which of those two targets he should choose: "Westfield shopping centre or London underground?" Rehman asked. "Any advice would be appreciated greatly." The post carried a link to an al-Qaida press release about the 2005 London bombings. Sky News reports that Rehman's Twitter name was "Silent Bomber," with the handle @InService2Godd. As if that weren't enough, his Twitter bio read: "Learn how to make powerful explosives from the comfort of ones' bedroom." The Twitter account has since been suspended.
I have seen the face of my enemy, and it is a very stupid face. This isn't to say that there aren't some terrorists and organizations with sophisticated operations, but the homegrown folks we're always warned to be wary of so often end up looking silly. When they are able to pull off their attacks, I'm often left wondering how we could have the surveillance state we do and yet these people aren't caught, as public and obvious they tend to be. In fact, far from proving the need for an attack on encryption, more often these attacks and attackers demonstrate the futility of the surveillance we're already doing.
Curiously, Rehman seems to have expended no effort to hide his online searches for information about how to create explosives, or his plans to carry out an attack. It doesn't appear that Rehman or his wife used encryption to hide their preparations from prying eyes.
Information about this latest (failed) terrorist bombing undermines further the repeated claim that the world is "going dark" for the intelligence agencies, and that strong encryption poses a threat to society. Once again, all the information that the security services needed to stop the plot was publicly available; fortunately, in this case it was spotted and acted upon.
Which is entirely the point: the best bulwark against terrorist attacks of this nature is the public itself. Anything that reduces the likelihood of the public actively alerting authorities to these threats is counter-productive. Such as the government taking a heavy hand in suggesting that sharing information about the threat is material support for that threat, or acting in a way that erodes trust in the government's ability to tell terrorism from normal criminal behavior.
The threat from terrorism isn't null, but the point is these aren't masterminds, folks, and we shouldn't be so eager to hand over liberty in favor of safety from what is mostly a really dumb enemy.
I have to admit that I find Donald Trump's presidential campaign fascinating. Or, rather, I find its survival to this point fascinating. What amazes me about it is that the Trump campaign exhibited a strong commitment to not actually putting forward any detailed policy prescriptions, except for a few general policy ideas that mostly conflict with the party whose nomination he's seeking. And those policy ideas he does express have generally been either despicable, impossible to implement, or both. Deporting six million Latin Americans? Yeah, that just isn't going to happen. Putting a hold, however temporary, on legal immigration by using a religious test to keep Muslims out of the country? That violates the very founding document an American President would be tasked with upholding. Also, it's disgusting.
But this is what you get when you have a candidate whose campaign is reflecting base anger rather than actual knowledge and know-how. And Trump's latest policy proclamation is further proof that potential voters are listening to someone who simply doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. If, like me, you're a sadist, then you too were watching the latest Republican debate on CNN the other night when Trump was asked several times if he would consider censoring the internet to combat ISIS. He eventually said he would, in a very Trump-ish way.
"I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don't want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our internet."
So that nobody thinks this is pulled out of context, Trump was actually confirming what he'd said at a campaign stop days earlier.
"We're losing a lot of people because of the internet, and we have to do something," Trump said at a rally earlier this month. "We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them maybe in certain areas closing that internet up in some way."
So, the policy prescription here is for all of us to caravan over to Bill Gates house and discuss how to close up that internet over coffee and scones. Putting aside the concept of the internet being "ours", as in America's, which is dumb to begin with, most people have taken Trump's idea to be one of two things: either we're shutting down the internet in Syria and Iraq, or we're filtering the internet both inbound and outbound on the American side to keep ISIS from reaching our citizens.
This post claims it would be easy, just forge a BGP announcement. Doing so would then redirect all Syrian traffic to the United States instead of Syria. This is too simplistic of a view. Technically, the BGP attack described in the above post wouldn't even work. BGP announcements in the United States would only disrupt traffic to/from the United States. Traffic between Turkey and ISIS would remain unaffected. The Internet is based on trust -- abusing trust this way could only work temporarily, before everyone else would untrust the United States. Legally, this couldn't work, as the United States has no sufficient legal authority to cause such an action. Congress would have to pass a law, which it wouldn't do.
ISIS has to pay for telecommunications links to route traffic through other countries. This causes ISIS to share the IP address space of those countries. Since we are talking about client access to the Internet, these are probably going through NATs of some kind. Indeed, that's how a lot of cellphone access works in third world countries -- the IP address of your phone frequently does not match that of your country, but of the country of the company providing the cellphone service (which is often outsourced). Any attempt to shut those down is going to have a huge collateral impact on other Internet users. You could take a scorched earth approach and disrupt everyone's traffic, but that's just going to increasingly isolate the United States while having little impact on ISIS. Satellite and other private radio links can be setup as fast as you bomb them.
This is technical speak for "the internet routes around censorship", especially so when you're talking about an outside force attempting to flip the off switch on internet access to an entire geographical region. It's impossible as a practical matter and downright stupid strategically on top of it. Note that ISIS controlled territory is absolutely spilling over with innocents that have no interest in ISIS ruling their lives. Trump would have us cut off one of our few access roads to those people? Why? They're the ones we're going to eventually need on our side.
Well, since that idea of censoring the internet wouldn't work, maybe Trump was talking about putting the blocks in place on the America side. You know, by blocking access to and from certain parts of the web so that they don't reach American users and American users can't reach them. There is a model for this, of course, though it's a bit strange to watch a Republican candidate pitch a Chinese censorship model as policy.
Of course, if we really wanted to exclude ISIS from the US internet, there is a model of how to do it: China's Great Firewall. That's the censorship regime the Chinese government uses to try to keep subversive ideas like democracy and human rights out of their country. In principle, we could adopt the same tactics here in the United States, building a virtual wall around the United States and filtering all of the information flowing in and out of the country to try to prevent jihadists from communicating with Americans.
And for this to work, we'd have to not only prevent ISIS members from posting on US websites but also prevent impressionable Americans from browsing websites the US government deems too ISIS-friendly. This would, of course, be a massive violation of the First Amendment, and Americans are unlikely to stand for the US government deciding which websites they're allowed to read.
It also still wouldn't work, because, again, the internet routes around censorship. Anyone that believes that the great firewall of China hasn't been penetrated is laughably naive. It may have limited access, but it hasn't cut it off. And that's in China, where there isn't a built-in fundamental value into the history of the citizenry centered around free speech and free access to information. So, not only an inept idea, but against the very Constitution that Trump would be swearing to defend.
Look, we make a habit around these parts of not ragging on either Republicans or Democrats, because that isn't what this site is about. And fortunately, this post has done neither, because Trump is neither conservative nor liberal. He's just a guy whose only ideas seem to be censorious and authoritarian. Given his wish to censor the internet, I'd say he's disqualified himself from the office.
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."
"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.
Earlier this year, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who seems to be an endless well of bad ideas around surveillance, started pushing a bill that would require internet companies to report to the government any content they suspected was posted by terrorists. This bill has all sorts of problems, not the least of which is that most of the major internet companies already alert the government to any terrorist-related content that they come across. But, by mandating such reporting, it will only lead to these companies filing a bunch more reports -- much of which will be bogus, flooding the government with useless information, just to avoid running afoul of the law.
Back in September, Senator Wyden successfully forced Feinstein to drop the bill...
But, of course, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks all bad ideas are back on the table, and Feinstein is bringing this one back as well. She's teaming up with the intelligence committee's other biggest cheerleader, Intelligence Committee boss Senator Richard Burr, to reintroduce the idea, and they put out a completely bogus statement that plays up the fearmongering angle as much as possible, about those darn ISIS people using social media.
“We’re in a new age where terrorist groups like ISIL are using social media to reinvent how they recruit and plot attacks,” Senator Feinstein said. “That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need help from technology companies. This bill doesn’t require companies to take any additional actions to discover terrorist activity, it merely requires them to report such activity to law enforcement when they come across it. Congress needs to do everything we can to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies identify and prevent terrorist attacks, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”
“Terror groups have become adept at taking advantage of social media platforms to spread their message,” Senator Burr said. “Social media is one part of a large puzzle that law enforcement and intelligence officials must piece together to prevent future attacks. It’s critical that Congress works together to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools available to keep Americans safe. The stakes have never been higher and having cooperation with these outlets will help save lives here and abroad.”
Neither of those quotes makes any sense. Again, most companies already report stuff, and mandating it will only lead to more bogus reports to avoid liability for the companies, while potentially leading to less active monitoring since they only have to report stuff if they come across it. As for Burr's assertion that this is necessary to give law enforcement "the tools" to find this information -- that's a totally different issue. Doesn't law enforcement have computers? Can't they go to Twitter and Facebook and YouTube themselves and do searches?
Let’s make sure the record is clear: The Director of the FBI testified a few months ago that social media companies are ‘pretty good about telling us what they see.’ Social media companies must continue to do everything they can to quickly remove terrorist content and report it to law enforcement.
I’m opposed to this proposal because I believe it will undermine that collaboration and lead to less reporting of terrorist activity, not more. It would create a perverse incentive for companies to avoid looking for terrorist content on their own networks, because if they saw something and failed to report it they would be breaking the law, but if they stuck their heads in the sand and avoided looking for terrorist content they would be absolved of responsibility.
I’m for smart security policies. If law enforcement agencies decide that terrorist content is not being identified quickly enough, then the solution should be to give those agencies more resources and personnel so they know where to look for terrorist content online and who to watch, and can ensure terrorist activity is quickly reported and acted upon.
Why is this proposal such a bad idea? As we described in July, it would create a requirement for all electronic communication services – social media companies, as well as Internet service providers, web hosts, cloud services, and public libraries or coffee shops that offer WiFi access – to make reports about their users’ activity based on a completely opaque set of criteria. Creating such an obligation, with its vague parameters, would drive Internet companies to one of several likely responses. Some would decide to significantly over-report their customers’ information and private communications to the US government to ensure that the company stays on the right side of the law. Others would refuse to review any content that was flagged to them, for fear that doing so would mean they obtain the “actual knowledge of any terrorist activity” that triggers the reporting obligation.
Either of these outcomes pose major problems for the free expression and privacy of Internet users. It’s also far from clear that this would generate actionable information for law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Further, this type of reporting obligation would undermine any sense of trust between Internet users and the companies that provide the service providers that enable them to access information, conduct transactions, and share their perspectives online. The proposal would essentially deputize US-based Internet companies to act as agents of the government, including potentially requiring entities such as email services to turn over the contents of private communications if they are part of the “facts and circumstances” of alleged terrorist activities – for their users both in the US and abroad.
It's a bad idea and Feinstein knows it's a bad idea, because all of this has been explained to her multiple times in the past. So why is she still proposing it?
The tragic shootings in San Bernadino earlier this week have created a political field day for the usual idiotic partisan arguments -- which tend to have little to nothing to do with whatever actually happened. You have people on one side using it to call for gun control and folks on the other side using it to spark fears of "domestic terrorism." And, of course, it didn't take long for someone to pop up with using it as an excuse to call for greater surveillance. That was the argument that former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer took on MSNBC yesterday when asked what should be done in response. MSNBC Kate Snow asked if this could lead to bipartisan support for gun control (ha ha!) and Fleischer turned it around to say the answer is more surveillance.
Well, I hope there will be bipartisan support to really increase our surveillance. If you want to fight terrorism -- what happened in Paris and what apparently now happened in California -- the answer is not gun control or pipe bomb control (they also had 12 pipe bombs). The answer is more surveillance, tougher surveillance at home, so we can detect these attacks before they go off and protect people. We've done it many times in the past. We have the techniques. We need to make sure we're using those techniques.
Almost all of that is complete bullshit of course -- not that Snow calls him on it, because that's not what cable news hosts do. Fleischer repeats the same line a few more times after this, saying over and over again "surveillance stops terrorism." Except, there's been little proof of that. Over and over again, it's been shown that the domestic surveillance programs have failed to stop a single domestic terrorist act.
I'm sure it's only a matter of time until someone tries to connect the fact that the NSA's bulk collection of domestic phone records "ended" (and the quotes are there on purpose) this past weekend with the shooting this week. But, of course, that leaves out that the system was in place leading up to this and no one apparently knew a damn thing.
Once again, it's fairly astounding how these surveillance state cheerleaders will use any situation -- even their own failures -- to argue it means we just need greater surveillance.
But, really, for all of Fleischer's bullshit talk about how this is a moment for America to "come together," doesn't that include respecting things like the 4th Amendment?
"See Something, Send Something" allows anyone to capture suspicious activity as a photo or written note and send the information to the New York State Intelligence Center. From there, the tip will be reviewed and if relevant, sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Public service announcements promoting the campaign will be played at DMV offices and service areas along state highways.
By using the app, which can be downloaded for free for iPhone and Android phone users, there is no worry about who to send the tip to or what phone number to call—users can simply send a photo of the suspicious activity using their device’s camera, by choosing a photo from its library, or sending a written note. It also includes information on what to look for and when to report suspicious activity. The service is already available in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The governor's press release reminds New Yorkers that the app is for reporting of suspicious people/objects/actions only and very definitely not for criticizing the government's terrorist hysteria or regaling local DHS Fusion Centers with an assortment of dick pics.
In order to keep the app focused on safety, users should report only suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or briefcase in a public place) rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity.
The governor's office also links to recommended reading material to better inform would-be See-Senders about the warning signs of potential terrorist activity.
Terrorist cells have been known to record and monitor activities, taking pictures and making drawings.
ALSO: new parents, artists, people with excessive amounts of time on their hands, public sector employees, everyone who possesses a smartphone, etc.
A clarifying note inside the app that will probably be read by no one adds some cautionary wording not found on the NY DHS website.
Taking pictures or video of facilities, buildings, or infrastructure in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person…All reporting on photography should be done within the totality of the circumstances.
But acting as an extra set of eyes for a city that has millions of them -- some even located in human skulls -- doesn't just help fight the War on Terror. It also helps fight the War on… Fire.
Being observant supports homeland security and fire prevention efforts.
If nothing else, the app comes highly recommended by someone who watches a lot of cable news programming.
This App was on Cnn, Cnbc, Msnbc.. Due to IsIs we have to do all we can to protect ourselves
The app itself has been around since January 2013. Despite that, it's apparently still only usable in six states. And there seems to be no information available on how many suspicious activity reports the app has generated, much less if it's actually resulted in any attacks prevented.
What it is, though, is "something," the favorite activity of politicians looking to capitalize on tragic events. My Mobile Witness is nothing more than "Do Something: the App." It gives those who feel they need a direct line to local DHS offices something to do with their idle fingers/paranoia and gives the state's top legislator something to say in the wake of the Paris attacks. Everybody wins… except maybe those who are accosted/arrested for whipping out their sketch pad within eyeshot of a public structure.
Current and former government officials have been pointing to the terror attacks in Paris as justification for mass surveillance programs. CIA Director John Brennan accused privacy advocates of "hand-wringing" that has made "our ability collectively internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging." Former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden said, "In the wake of Paris, a big stack of metadata doesn't seem to be the scariest thing in the room."
Ultimately, it's impossible to know just how successful sweeping surveillance has been, since much of the work is secret. But what has been disclosed so far suggests the programs have been of limited value. Here's a roundup of what we know.
An internal review of the Bush administration's warrantless program – called Stellarwind – found it resulted in few useful leads from 2001–2004, and none after that. New York Times reporter Charlie Savage obtained the findings through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and published them in his new book, Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post–9/11 Presidency:
[The FBI general counsel] defined as useful those [leads] that made a substantive contribution to identifying a terrorist, or identifying a potential confidential informant. Just 1.2 percent of them fit that category. In 2006, she conducted a comprehensive study of all the leads generated from the content basket of Stellarwind between March 2004 and January 2006 and discovered that zero of those had been useful.
In an end note, Savage then added:
The program was generating numerous tips to the FBI about suspicious phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and it was the job of the FBI field offices to pursue those leads and scrutinize the people behind them. (The tips were so frequent and such a waste of time that the field offices reported back, in frustration, "You're sending us garbage.")
In 2014, the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies analyzed terrorism cases from 2001 on, and determined that the NSA's bulk collection of phone records "was not essential to preventing attacks." According to the group's report,
In at least 48 instances, traditional surveillance warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court were used to obtain evidence through intercepts of phone calls and e-mails, said the researchers, whose results are in an online database.
More than half of the cases were initiated as a result of traditional investigative tools. The most common was a community or family tip to the authorities. Other methods included the use of informants, a suspicious-activity report filed by a business or community member to the FBI, or information turned up in investigations of non-terrorism cases.
Another 2014 report by the nonprofit New America Foundation echoed those conclusions. It described the government claims about the success of surveillance programs in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as "overblown and even misleading."
An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda's ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA's bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.
Edward Snowden's leaks about the scope of the NSA's surveillance system in the summer of 2013 put government officials on the defensive. Many politicians and media outlets echoed the agency's claim that it had successfully thwarted more than 50 terror attacks. ProPublica examined the claim and found "no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate."
It's impossible to assess the role NSA surveillance played in the 54 cases because, while the agency has provided a full list to Congress, it remains classified.
The NSA has publicly discussed four cases, and just one in which surveillance made a significant difference. That case involved a San Diego taxi driver named Basaaly Moalin, who sent $8,500 to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. But even the details of that case are murky. From the Washington Post:
In 2009, an FBI field intelligence group assessed that Moalin's support for al-Shabab was not ideological. Rather, according to an FBI document provided to his defense team, Moalin probably sent money to an al-Shabab leader out of "tribal affiliation" and to "promote his own status" with tribal elders.
Also in the months after the Snowden revelations, the Justice Department said publicly that it had used warrantless wiretapping to gather evidence in a criminal case against another terrorist sympathizer, which fueled ongoing debates over the constitutionality of those methods. From the New York Times:
Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan.
Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government's case was based on intercepted e-mails and phone calls.
Local police departments have also acknowledged the limitations of mass surveillance, as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis did after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Federal authorities had received Russian intelligence reports about bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but had not shared this information with authorities in Massachusetts or Boston. During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, Davis said,
"There's no computer that's going to spit out a terrorist's name. It's the community being involved in the conversation and being appropriately open to communicating with law enforcement when something awry is identified. That really needs to happen and should be our first step."
Republished from ProPublica.
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Yet, pushed by their sources in the government, the media quickly became a sound wall of noise suggesting that encryption was hampering the government's ability to stop these kinds of attacks. NBC was particularly breathless this week over the idea that ISIS was now running a 24 hour help desk aimed at helping its less technically proficient members understand encryption (even cults help each other use technology, who knew?). All of the reports had one central, underlying drum beat implication: Edward Snowden and encryption have made us less safe, and if you disagree the blood is on your hands.
"...News emerging from Paris — as well as evidence from a Belgian ISIS raid in January — suggests that the ISIS terror networks involved were communicating in the clear, and that the data on their smartphones was not encrypted.
European media outlets are reporting that the location of a raid conducted on a suspected safe house Wednesday morning was extracted from a cellphone, apparently belonging to one of the attackers, found in the trash outside the Bataclan concert hall massacre. Le Monde reported that investigators were able to access the data on the phone, including a detailed map of the concert hall and an SMS messaging saying “we’re off; we’re starting.” Police were also able to trace the phone’s movements.
The reports note that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the "mastermind" of both the Paris attacks and a thwarted Belgium attack ten months ago, failed to use any encryption whatsoever (read: existing capabilities stopped the Belgium attacks and could have stopped the Paris attacks, but didn't). That's of course not to say batshit religious cults like ISIS don't use encryption, and won't do so going forward. Everybody uses encryption. But the point remains that to use a tragedy to vilify encryption, push for surveillance expansion, and pass backdoor laws that will make everybody less safe -- is nearly as gruesome as the attacks themselves.
from the a-prison-sentence-for-your-(secondhand)-thoughts? dept
Social media platforms are the best (unwitting) honeypots. The FBI continues to prowl public posts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. for "suspicious" material. Whatever triggers the FBI's counterterrorism spidey senses is followed shortly thereafter with subpoenas for user info. This is then followed up by DOJ press releases announcing the successful capture of another dangerous individual.
An Akron, Ohio, man was arrested today on federal charges that he solicited the murder of members of the U.S. military.
Terrence J. McNeil, 25, appeared in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio after being charged with one count of solicitation of a crime of violence.
The charge was announced by Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division.
“According to the allegations in the complaint, Terrence McNeil solicited the murder of members of our military by disseminating ISIL’s violent rhetoric, circulating detailed U.S. military personnel information, and explicitly calling for the killing of American service members in their homes and communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “ISIL and its followers continue to use social media in an attempt to incite violence around the world, including in the United States. The National Security Division's highest priority is counterterrorism and we will use all of our tools to disrupt threats and acts of violence against our military members and their families.”
And just one day after Veteran's Day, as the press release points out. (That would be the arrest, not the post. The reblogging occurred on September 24th. Optics, people.) The complaint details McNeil's social media interactions and postings -- under multiple accounts. Tucked in amongst the banalities of everyday social media life are McNeil's more inflammatory posts (and reposts). The FBI already had him under surveillance by the time he posted the thing that bothered the agency the most.
A man from Akron, Ohio, who has supported the Islamic State online was arrested by federal authorities Thursday and charged because he allegedly "reblogged" a GIF on Tumblr that called for attacks on members of the U.S. military.
The GIF, under the banner "Islamic State Hacking Division," reportedly loops through "several dozen photographs, purportedly of U.S. military personnel, along with their respective name, address and military branch," according to a Justice Department press release.
"Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe," the GIF reportedly stated. McNeil allegedly reblogged the GIF on Sept. 24.
Is a "reblog" the same thing as uttering the threat yourself? This nuance is likely to be lost during the upcoming prosecution. Certainly, it will be argued that "reposts are not endorsements," to paraphrase the Twitter profile stock phrase slightly.
What's in the affidavit shows McNeil apparently had an affinity for ISIS. Whether or not it would have led to anything but spirited reblogging is impossible to determine. At one point, another Tumblr user asked whether his pro-ISIS postings represented the "real" him. His answer?
Somewhat about 60%, if it was 100% I would be in jail
McNeil obviously miscalculated this ratio.
The FBI's affidavit contains little more than a thorough recounting of McNeil's ISIS/Islam-related social media posts. There's nothing in there that suggests McNeil was anything more than someone who made a bunch of ill-advised posts about ISIS and Islam. Reposting someone else's threats isn't really the same thing as rolling your own. But it's apparently enough to result in criminal charges.
The FBI may yet uncover evidence of something more malicious lurking under McNeil's "talks big on Tumblr" exterior. An expansive search warrant attached to the affidavit not only grants the FBI permission to perform forensic examinations of every electronic device in McNeil's possession, but to seize nearly everything else in his possession, including papers, documents, bank records, receipts, weapons, ammo, photos, airplane tickets, "tactical head coverings," and, because this is the way the government does things:
United States Currency in excess of $500.00, precious metals and gems, gold coins, jewelry and financial instruments, including stocks and bonds, deeds of trust, sales contracts, vehicle instruments and artwork.
It looks like McNeil will be getting a public defender, since $500 doesn't buy much lawyering -- not in a case involving alleged threats to kill military personnel. The government hasn't secured a conviction and nowhere in its affidavit does it even suggest McNeil's money came from any other source than his job at a local hospital. But it's going to take it anyway.
As Reilly points out, FBI director James Comey hasn't exactly made it clear what sort of reposting/retweeting will more likely result in federal charges. This was his answer in response to questions after the FBI arrested a Virginia teen for retweeting pro-ISIS tweets. Comey believes the line between benign and nefarious is "pretty darn clear." It isn't, but it's the government that has the privilege of making the initial determination. The rest will be sorted out in court… unless, of course, the DOJ is able to coax obviously impressionable and not overly-bright young men into plea agreements, in which case, no further determinations will be made.