The Justice Department has joined the Pentagon in an urgent effort to determine how secret military documents on the war in Ukraine made their way onto multiple social media sites.
A small number of documents, including some marked “top secret,” were found on Twitter and Telegram on Wednesday. Since then, journalists, researchers, and social media sleuths have uncovered additional classified documents posted as early as March 1 on additional sites. This raises a host of questions about how widespread the breach may be and how much damage it could cause.
The Defense Department has confirmed the leaked documents are authentic. So, that identifies the source. But why they’ve been posted publicly remains a mystery. The Ukraine government is pointing its finger at Russian operatives, claiming it’s an attempt to muddy the international waters with this seemingly counterproductive public posting.
If the Russians are indeed behind this, the leak could be a strategic move designed to expose the extent of the US government’s Ukraine war-related surveillance dragnet. This report from the New York Times delves into the leaked documents and comes away with some surprising findings. Like the fact that our participation in the war effort involves spying on… Ukraine’s government and military.
The leak, the source of which remains unknown, also reveals the American assessment of a Ukrainian military that is itself in dire straits. The leaked material, from late February and early March but found on social media sites in recent days, outlines critical shortages of air defense munitions and discusses the gains being made by Russian troops around the eastern city of Bakhmut.
The intelligence reports seem to indicate that the United States is also spying on Ukraine’s top military and political leaders, a reflection of Washington’s struggle to get a clear view of Ukraine’s fighting strategies.
This does seem a bit strange, but the documents show the Defense Department is doing a better job tracking the Russian military effort than getting a handle on the details of Ukraine’s response to the invasion. The leaks ultimately help the Russian war effort, though, giving that government an idea of what’s being watched and where its own operational security is failing.
It also suggests the US government can’t be trusted to keep secrets, which is always an uncomfortable position to be in, especially when efforts to circumvent other nations’ operational security are now part of the public record, thanks to OPSEC failures on the home front.
With tensions already high, this sort of thing just doesn’t help.
The documents could also hurt diplomatic ties in other ways. The newly revealed intelligence documents also make plain that the United States is not spying just on Russia, but also on its allies. While that will hardly surprise officials of those countries, making such eavesdropping public always hampers relations with key partners, like South Korea, whose help is needed to supply Ukraine with weaponry.
There are only about 100 pages, of which the NYT viewed 50. But there’s a wealth of information in them, apparently all of it real. It includes information pulled from several sources, including the NSA, CIA, the State Department. It also mentions intel drawn from FISA-authorized surveillance sources. It not only discusses what’s been collected but how it’s being collected.
But for all the effort made to keep an eye on the war in Ukraine, all it apparently took was the existence of pockets to circumvent multiple layers of operational security.
The documents appeared online as hastily taken photographs of pieces of paper sitting atop what appears to be a hunting magazine. Former officials who have reviewed the material say it appears likely that a classified briefing was folded up, placed in a pocket, then taken out of a secure area to be photographed.
Sometimes the best tech is almost no tech at all. From the hands of a hunting magazine purchaser to Discord, and from Discord to everywhere else. Something in those photos is bound to give investigators something to work with, but the Defense Department admits “hundreds, if not thousands” of government employees and officials have the security clearance to access these briefings. And it’s a safe bet a decently sized percentage of those thousands have at least a passing interest in hunting.
Whatever the origin story of this leak, it clearly helps Russia more than anyone else. But if there’s an upside, it’s that Russia’s entire military apparatus appears to be compromised. Plugging those leaks will take time and the US government will be watching this response the entire time.
Another FOIA lawsuit has paid off for the ACLU. But there are no real winners here, since the documents pried from the government’s grasp detail a bunch of stuff we all wish the government wouldn’t be doing with its time and our money. Here’s Drew Harwell with the details for the Washington Post:
The FBI and the Defense Department were actively involved in research and development of facial recognition software that they hoped could be used to identify people from video footage captured by street cameras and flying drones, according to thousands of pages of internal documents that provide new details about the government’s ambitions to build out a powerful tool for advanced surveillance.
Program leaders worked with FBI scientists and some of the nation’s leading computer-vision experts to design and test software that would quickly and accurately process the “truly unconstrained face imagery” recorded by surveillance cameras in public places, including subway stations and street corners, according to the documents, which the ACLU shared with The Washington Post.
The documents detail two programs: Janus and Horus. Both were funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the intelligence community’s version of the Defense Department’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The goal was to create facial recognition tech versatile enough to be deployed in drones and stationary cameras, and powerful enough to perform identification “at target distances,” defined in the documents as distances of more than a half-mile.
The tools were tested by the Defense Department in facilities mocked up to resemble schools, hospitals, subway stations, and outdoor markets. Encouraged by the results, the Janus program’s facial recognition tool was added to an existing search tool called Horus, and handed over to the military’s counter-terrorism support unit. From there it spread to at least six other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.
These revelations have prompted some rather horrified statements from people like Senator Edward Markey, who expressed his concerns about the secret development of this powerful surveillance tool, and Nathan Wessler of the ACLU, who bluntly called this a “nightmare scenario.”
But the revelations haven’t prompted much in the way of contrition from the involved entities.
The FBI said in a statement it is “committed to responsible use of facial recognition technology ensuring it appropriately respects individuals’ privacy and civil liberties.” A Defense Department official acknowledged a request for comment but did not respond to a list of questions by the time of publication. An IARPA spokeswoman said the agency is focused on developing the technology rather than how it is applied.
There you have it. The FBI said something it doesn’t really mean (or at least doesn’t seem to demonstrate very often). The Defense Department kept its mouth closed. And IARPA basically said whatever the government does with powerful surveillance tools developed with funding from this government agency is none of its business.
But the documents say what these spokespeople won’t: that the federal government wanted better, faster surveillance tools.
Research teams were tasked with developing new algorithms that could help investigators tap into a new generation of surveillance footage, allowing for instant identification and the ability to track the same person’s face across multiple videos and camera angles. The goal was to “change video from an impediment to an advantage,” one document states.
The documents also show how the FBI can help law enforcement work around local bans on facial recognition tech via its FACE (Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation) unit, which runs submitted facial images through not only the FBI’s own database, but also through databases run by the Defense Department.
No matter what the government won’t say about this, it’s clear the desire is — at some level — to engage in pervasive domestic surveillance. The capabilities exist. All the federal government is lacking, at the moment, is the willpower or the right kind of domestic tragedy to push itself over that line. No one spends six years developing this kind of tech without having a compelling desire to deploy it wherever and whenever possible.
Part of the federal court system doesn’t even give us that much. Despite being subject to a 2016 law mandating access to military court documents, the US military’s court system has continued to do its own thing. For seven years, it pretty much completely ignored the law ordering it to perform “timely” releases of court documents “at all stages of the military justice system.”
This hasn’t happened. A recent Pentagon directive finally addresses the seven-year-old law. But the directive merely tells military branches it’s still business as usual, no matter what the law says. Megan Rose has the details for ProPublica.
Caroline Krass, general counsel for the Defense Department, told officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force in a memorandum last month that they could mostly continue doing what they have been for years: keep many court records secret from the public.
The guidance tells the services they do not have to make any records public until after a trial ends. It gives the military the discretion to suppress key trial information. And in cases where the defendant is found not guilty, the directive appears to be even more sweeping: The military services will be allowed to keep the entire record secret permanently.
The memo [PDF] appears to instruct the military’s court system to act more like the rest of the federal court system.
Public access to military justice docket information, filings, trial-level court documents, and appellate documents should follow the best practices of Federal and State courts, to the extent practicable.
Then the discretionary part kicks in. “To the extent practicable” aren’t words that inspire efforts meant to surmount obstacles. They’re words that encourage lackadaisical efforts — something that doesn’t even rise to the level of trying. It encourages failure due to a lack of effort, so long as actual success can still be portrayed as impracticable.
These aren’t the best practices of federal and state courts, which generally make most documents available almost immediately.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, filings, trial-level court documents, and appellate documents will be publicly accessible no later than 45 calendar days after the certification of the record of trial (at the trial court level) or after the Court of Criminal Appeals decision (at the appellate level).
“Extraordinary circumstances.” Just a little more discretionary leeway. And while the memo notes courts are free to make documents available earlier, they won’t be considered in violation of a directive that is pretty much in direct violation of federal law.
A 45-day delay means most court records will be of limited public interest and of almost no use to journalistic agencies, which rely on the newsworthiness of their reporting to attract readers and viewers. And what will be made public won’t be everything that’s made public by other courts.
The services do not have to provide transcripts or recordings of court sessions or any evidence entered as exhibits, according to the Pentagon guidance. And the Pentagon does not consider any preliminary hearing documents to be part of the trial record.
In the military, there is a proceeding called an Article 32 hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence for a trial. Under the new guidance, the military won’t have to put these hearings on the docket, so the public won’t even know they are happening.
If there’s any upside, it’s this: the guidance does not allow the military to continue to abuse Freedom of Information Act exemptions to redact or withhold court documents. That kind of thing doesn’t fly in the US federal court system and it definitely has no place in the military court system.
The rest is all downside. A law is only as effective as its enforcement. Unless Congress is willing to step in and force the Defense Department to issue new guidance that actually complies with the 2016, the military will continue to play keep away from taxpayers.
We finally have an interesting edition of the Twitter files!
When the Twitter Files began, I actually expected something interesting to come out of them. All of the big tech companies have been unfortunately unwilling to be as transparent as they could be about how their content moderation practices work. Much of the transparency we’ve received has been either through whistleblowers leaking information (which is often misinterpreted by journalists) or through the companies partnering with academics, which often leads to rather dry analysis of what’s happening, and which maybe a dozen people read. There have been moments of openness, but the messy stuff gets hidden.
So I had hoped that when Elon took over and announced his plans to be transparent about what had happened in the past, we might actually learn some dirt. Because there’s always some dirt. The big question was what form that dirt might take, and how much of it was systemic rather than one-time errors and mistakes. But, until now, the Twitter Files have been worse than useless. They were presented by journalists who had neither the knowledge nor the experience to understand what they were looking at, combined with an apparent desire to present the narrative in a certain framing.
Because of that, I’ve written multiple posts walking through the “evidence” presented, and showing how Musk’s chosen reporters didn’t understand things and were misrepresenting reality. Given that most journalist know to put the important revelations up top, and that each new “release” in the Twitter files seemed more breathless, but less interesting, than the previous ones, I was basically expecting nothing at all of interest to come from the files. Indeed, that was a disappointment.
As Stanford’s Renee DiResta noted, this was a real missed opportunity. If the files had actually been handed over to people who understand this field, what was important, and what was banal everyday trust & safety work, the real stories could have been discussed.
The Twitter Files thus far are a missed opportunity. To settle scores with Twitter’s previous leaders, the platform’s new owner is pointing to niche examples of arguable excesses and missteps, possibly creating far more distrust in the process. And yet there is a real need for public understanding of how platform moderation works, and visibility into how enforcement matches up against policy. We can move toward genuine transparency—and, hopefully, toward a future in which people can see the same facts in similar ways.
So when the Intercept’s Lee Fang kicked off the 8th installment of the Twitter files, I was not expecting much at all. After all, Fang was one of the authors of the very recent garbage Intercept story that totally misunderstood the role of CISA in the government and (falsely) argued that the government demanded Twitter censor the Hunter Biden laptop story. The fact that the evidence from the Twitter files totally disproved his earlier story should at least result in Fang questioning his understanding of these things.
And yet… it appears that he may have (finally) legitimately found a real story of malfeasance in the Twitter files in his most recent installment. Like all the others, he initially posted his findings — where he admits he was granted access to Twitter’s internal systems via a Twitter-employed lawyer who would search for and access the documents he requested — on Twitter in a messy and hard to follow thread. He then posted a more complete story on The Intercept.
The story is still somewhat messy and confused, and it’s not entirely clear Fang even fully realizes what he found, but it does suggest serious malfeasance on the part of the government. It actually combines a few other stories we’ve covered recently. First, towards the end of the summer, Twitter and Meta announced that they had found and taken down a disinformation campaign running on their platforms — and all signs suggested the campaign was being run by the US government.
As was noted at the time, the propaganda campaign did not appear to be all that successful. Indeed, it was kind of pathetic. From the details, it sounded like someone in the US government had the dumb idea of “hey, let’s just create our own propaganda social media accounts to counter foreign propaganda accounts,” rather than embracing “hey, we’re the US government, we can just speak openly and transparently.” The overall failure of the campaign was… not surprising. And we were happy that Twitter and Meta killed the campaign (and now we’re hearing that the US government is doing an investigation into how this campaign came to be in the first place).
The second recent story we had was about Meta’s “Xcheck” program, which was initially revealed in the Facebook files as a special kind of “whitelist” for high profile accounts. Meta asked the Oversight Board to review the program, and just a few weeks ago the Oversight Board finally released its analysis and suggestions (after a year of researching the program). It turns out that it’s basically just like what we said when the program was first revealed: after a few too many “false positives” on high profile accounts became embarrassing (for example, then President Obama’s Facebook account was taken down because he recommended the book “Moby Dick” and there was an automated flag on the word “dick”), someone at Facebook instituted the Xcheck program to effectively whitelist high profile individuals so that flags on their account would need to be reviewed by a human before any action was taken.
As we discussed in our podcast about Xcheck, in many ways, Facebook was choosing to favor “false negatives” for high profile accounts over “false positives.” The end result, then, is that high profile accounts are effectively allowed to get away with more, and violate the rules with a larger lag for consequences, but they’re less likely to be suspended accidentally. Tradeoffs. The entire content moderation space is full of them.
Again as we noted when that story first came out, basically every social media platform has some form of this in action. It almost becomes necessary to deal with the scale and not accidentally ban your most high profile users. But, it comes with some serious risks and issues, which are also highlighted in the Oversight Board’s policy recommendations regarding Xcheck.
Thus, it’s not at all surprising that Twitter clearly has a similar whitelist feature. This was actually somewhat revealed in an earlier Twitter File when Bari Weiss, thinking she was revealing unfair treatment of the @LibsOfTikTok account, actually revealed it was on a similar Xcheck style whitelist that clearly showed a flag on the account saying DO NOT TAKE ACTION ON USER WITHOUT CONSULTING an executive team.
That’s all background that finally gets us to the Lee Fang story. It reveals that the US government apparently got some of its accounts onto this whitelist after they had been dinged earlier. The accounts, at the time, were properly labeled as being run by the US government. But here’s the nefarious bit: sometime after that, the accounts changed to no longer be transparent about the US government being behind them, but because they were on this whitelist it’s likely that they were able to get away with sketchy behavior with less review by Twitter, and it likely took longer to catch that they were engaged in a state-backed propaganda campaign.
As the article notes, in 2017, someone at the US government noticed that these accounts — which, again, at the time clearly said they were run by the US government — were somehow limited by Twitter:
On July 26, 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, at the time an official working with U.S. Central Command — also known as CENTCOM, a division of the Defense Department — emailed a Twitter representative with the company’s public policy team, with a request to approve the verification of one account and “whitelist” a list of Arab-language accounts “we use to amplify certain messages.”
“We’ve got some accounts that are not indexing on hashtags — perhaps they were flagged as bots,” wrote Kahler. “A few of these had built a real following and we hope to salvage.” Kahler added that he was happy to provide more paperwork from his office or SOCOM, the acronym for the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Now, it seems reasonable to question whether or not Twitter should have put them on a whitelist in the first place, but if they were properly marked, and not engaged in violative behavior, you can see how it happened. But Twitter absolutely should have had policies stating that if those accounts have their descriptions or names or whatever changed, the whitelist flag should automatically be removed, or at least sent up for a human review to make sure it was still appropriate. And that apparently did not happen.
As The Intercept report notes, Twitter at this time was under tremendous pressure from basically all corners about the fact that ISIS was an effective user of social media for recruitment and propaganda. So the company had been somewhat aggressive in trying to stamp that out. And it sounds like the US accounts got caught up in those efforts.
So there is a lot of interesting stuff revealed here: more details on the US government’s foreign social media propaganda campaigns, and more evidence of how Twitter’s “whitelist” program works and the fact that it did not appear to have very good controls (not that surprising, as almost no company’s similar tool has good controls, as we saw with the OSB’s analysis of Xcheck for Meta).
But… the spin that “Twitter aided the Pentagon in its covert online propaganda campaign,” is, yet again, kinda missing the important stuff here. Neither the Pentagon nor Twitter look good in this report, but in an ideal world it would lead to more openness (a la the OBS’s look into Xcheck) regarding how Twitter’s whitelist program works, as well as more revelations about how the DOD was able to run its foreign propaganda campaign, including how it changed Twitter accounts from being public about their affiliation to hiding it.
This is where it would be useful if a reporter who understood how all this worked was involved in the research and could ask questions of Twitter regarding how big the whitelist is (for Meta it reached about 6 million users), and what the process was for getting on it. What controls were there? Who could put people on the whitelist? Were there ever any attempts to review those who were on the whitelist to see if they abused their status? All of that would be interesting to know, and as Renee DiResta’s piece noted, would be the kinds of questions that actual experts would ask if Elon gave them access to these files, rather than… whoever he keeps giving them to.
A couple of weeks ago, news leaked of a match made in hell: the acquisition of toxic asset/exploit developer NSO Group by defense contractor L3Harris. The “Harris” part of the contractor’s name refers to none other than Harris Corporation, the manufacturer of Stingray cell tower spoofers and an entity that often found itself described as “controversial” or “embattled.”
The American defense firm L3Harris has ended talks with blacklisted Israeli spyware company, NSO Group, to buy the firm’s hacking tools following intelligence and security concerns raised by the Biden administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
Shortly after news reports were released last month about administration concerns regarding the talks, L3Harris told the U.S. government it was no longer pursuing the acquisition of NSO’s spyware capabilities, a U.S. official said.
It didn’t take long for the Biden Administration to respond to initial reports of the proposed acquisition. Given that this administration was the one to sanction NSO for its decision to sell malware to abusive governments, it was unsurprising White House officials greeted the news with “oh hell no” statements indicating the federal government would do what it could to prevent this from happening.
Selling malware to human rights abusers is easy. Trying to make this dubious partnership work when one of the principals is forbidden by the Commerce Department from utilizing or purchasing US hardware/software was always going to be a logistical nightmare.
[F]ive people familiar with the negotiations said that the L3Harris team had brought with them a surprising message that made a deal seem possible. American intelligence officials, they said, quietly supported its plans to purchase NSO, whose technology over the years has been of intense interest to many intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world, including the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.
The NSA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) would be the most likely supporters of a deal that would make NSO malware an American product — a move that could possibly limit sales to more problematic governments around the world. Then again, almost every president in recent years has maintained at least cordial relationships with notorious human rights abusers like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and, until very recently, Russia.
NSO still wants off the Commerce Department blacklist, though. And it’s spending a lot of money on lobbyists to get that accomplished. But for now, NSO remains without a prospective partner or clear plan for the future.
The military has an obvious need for secure communications. It offered its support of encryption even as the NSA tried to find ways to undercut to make its surveillance ends easier to achieve.
The problem is the military doesn’t have a great plan for securing communications between personnel. Due to tech limitations the Defense Department has yet to overcome (despite billions in annual funding), soldiers are turning to third-party messaging services to communicate orders and disseminate information.
The use of the encrypted messaging app Signal is ubiquitous within the Department of Defense. Service members have received briefings about operational security (OPSEC) and information security (INFOSEC) and have taken the dangers of living in a digital world seriously by making sure that the work-related text messages they send on their cell phones are encrypted. The contradiction is that using Signal for official military business is against regulations.
Securing communications apparently means breaking the rules. The DoD forbids the use of non-DoD-controlled messaging services to handle the distribution of nonpublic DoD information. The Defense Department insists personnel use its services, but those services can’t be accessed by employees who don’t have military-issued cell phones. And everyone has a cell phone, so it’s often easier to use third-party platforms to communicate.
When this happens, it raises the risk that unauthorized access or sharing of information could occur. It also puts many communications beyond the reach of public records requests, which often cannot access communications between privately owned devices.
And there appears to be no fix on the immediate horizon. The Defense Department is quick to point out the use of Signal and WhatsApp violates regulations. But it has nothing in place that would allow the many military members not in possession of government-issued cell phones to communicate when out in the field.
This is what the Secretary of Defense’s Public Affairs Officer (Russell Goemaere) told Audacy when asked about how military members were expected to use DoD-approved communications platforms they didn’t actually have access to on their personal devices.
“DoD365 provides a messaging capability that is approved for CUI and use on DoD mobile devices. The Services are in the final stages of testing Bring Your Own Approved Device (BYOAD) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions that provide access to the DoD365 collaboration capability on service member’s personal devices,” Goemaere said.
It’s 2022 and the Defense Department is only at the “final stage of testing” for solutions it needed years ago. Cell phone usage has been ubiquitous for nearly two decades at this point. For the Department to still be weeks or months away from a solution should be considered unacceptable. Denying soldiers access to third-party options means cutting them off from communications that can often have life-or-death implications.
This also means the Defense Department is still weeks or months away from ensuring communications subject to FOIA law are being captured and retained. The priority should still be personnel safety, but this is another downside of the Defense Department’s slow roll into the 21st century.
Of particular interest to the Defense Department was location data generated by apps popular with the world’s Muslims, including the Muslim Pro prayer app and Muslim Mingle, a Muslim-centric Tinder. The DoD didn’t have much to say in its… um… defense at that time, obviously preferring everyone to assume the focus on Muslim-focused apps was indicative of its good and righteous work fighting terrorist organizations around the world.
Unfortunately, the data came from brokers who also collect plenty of location info from US located app users and there was no information provided by the government that showed the military made an effort to steer clear of acquiring this data.
The Pentagon is carrying out warrantless surveillance of Americans, according to a new letter written by Senator Ron Wyden and obtained by Motherboard.
Senator Wyden’s office asked the Department of Defense (DoD), which includes various military and intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), for detailed information about its data purchasing practices after Motherboard revealed special forces were buying location data. The responses also touched on military or intelligence use of internet browsing and other types of data, and prompted Wyden to demand more answers specifically about warrantless spying on American citizens.
Unfortunately, further details have yet to be released. For the moment, Senator Wyden is indulging the Pentagon’s demands for further secrecy. But his letter lets the public know some of what he knows — even if the Defense Department has refused to make this information public.
“I write to urge you to release to the public information about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) warrantless surveillance of Americans,” the letter, addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, reads.
The DoD may not have publicly admitted to this surveillance of Americans but Wyden is willing to make that disclosure on its behalf.
According to Wyden staffers, this refers to the DoD’s bulk purchases of internet metadata that contain information about US persons’ communications. Some of these are wholly domestic conversations. Some involve communications between Americans and people located in other countries. In either case, the DoD appears to be bypassing protections erected to prevent this sort of bulk surveillance. And while components of the Defense Department are in the intelligence business, their adversaries and targets are supposed to be foreigners. Incidental collection is one thing. Buying data in bulk and sifting through it with zero oversight is quite another.
One of President Trump’s main goals while in office was to roll back anything his predecessor had put in place. One of his earliest executive orders removed the (minimal) restrictions Barack Obama had placed on the Defense Department’s 1033 program. This program allowed local law enforcement agencies to acquire military gear at almost zero cost — something that had been used and abused for years until the sight of an armored vehicle rolling up on protesters in Ferguson, Missouri proved to be a bit too much for Americans and their Congressional representatives.
Trump’s reopening of the 1033 program was based on a couple of factors: his all-encompassing love of all things law enforcement and some dubious research that claimed giving cops access to war gear actually reduced crime.
President Trump is serious about this mission. He is doing all he can to restore law and order and support our police across America. And that is why, today, I am here to announce that President Trump is issuing an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities. He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies’ ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first responder and rescue equipment like what they’re using in Texas right now.
Those restrictions went too far. We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.
Those “superficial concerns” included genuine concerns that deploying war gear against US citizens tends to make officers think they’re soldiers in a war zone, rather than public servants who need a solid relationship with those they serve to make meaningful changes that reduce crime and increase public safety.
When Emory scholars read the studies, they noticed statistical flaws in the analysis. They set out to rigorously test those two previous studies’ claims by replicating them. They utilized the same 2014 NPR data and applied the studies’ same methods of analysis.
What immediately got the attention of the Emory scholars was that the studies were doing analysis at the county level, not the municipal level (i.e., the individual jurisdictions of cities). So, there wasn’t a way to directly compare which local agencies received SME and their specific crime rates. That’s because the federal government only reported the 1033 Program data at the county level.
Fortunately, there was more data available now to double-check the claims made by these earlier studies. Obama’s 1033 program reforms mandated more reporting on acquisition, which gave these researchers more to work with. The granular detail missing from the first studies was included in the second examination.
It was only after Emory used the new, agency-level data in analysis that they determined the SME didn’t reduce crime.
“It crystalizes so many of the concerns and claims both pro and con about policing in the U.S. It raises the matter of funding the police and how do we provide resources to the police — through money or giving them equipment. It raises the matter of police militarization — that the police look and act like they are soldiers at war against citizens,” [Associate Professor Michael] Owens says. “And it raises questions about efficiency — costs and benefits.”
I use 3.8 million archived inventory records to estimate the magnitude of sources of bias in existing studies of the 1033 Program. I show that most variation in militarization comes from previously unobserved sources, which implies that studies that show crime-reduction benefits are unreliable. I then leverage recent policy changes to evaluate the effect of military equipment: the Obama Administration recalled property under Executive Order 13688, which resulted in a forced demilitarization of several hundred departments. Difference-in-difference estimates of agencies that retained similar equipment show negligible or undetectable impacts on violent crime or officer safety.
“This is just a symptom of the larger defund the police movement and this has turned political,” retired police Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the nonprofit National Police Association, which educates the public on policing in America, told ABC News. “Obama took it away, Trump gave it back, and now we’ll probably see Biden take it away again so that they can say, ‘I took this away from the big bad police.'”
Wow. What a thoughtful counterpoint. On one hand, we have data showing handing cops military hand-me-downs doesn’t reduce crime. On the other hand, we have a police union rep claiming math is politicized. At least the other police union rep quoted in piece makes a better point while still disputing the findings.
Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, also slammed the two studies as “convoluted logic.”
“It has never been the contention of the FOP that surplus military equipment prevents crime, but rather that such equipment plays a critical role in protecting police officers and citizens in life-threatening situations such as active shooters at large, civil disturbances, and natural disasters.”
But do cops really need war gear to make them safer? Crime rates in most of the country are still at historic lows. Officer safety remains at an all-time high. This last decade has been the safest time in history to be a cop and yet complaints like these are always offered up anytime someone points out the flaws in their logic.
So, military gear given to cops doesn’t reduce crime. And it likely doesn’t make officers much safer than they are already. What it does do is cultivate a warrior mindset that harms law enforcement’s relationship with the public. And maybe that’s all law enforcement really wants: more distance between them and those they’ve declared war on.
Every presidential administration seems to make a game of thwarting oversight. The current one is no different. President Trump is setting himself apart from the pack by firing IGs at an alarming pace. Whatever’s being done in our name at various government agencies is being done in the dark. Whistleblowers and leakers are being hunted down and persecuted/prosecuted (another favorite presidential sport).
What would be considered unlawful obstruction in a criminal investigation is just business as usual at the Executive branch. The latest (but certainly not the last) obstruction was revealed in the investigation of the “JEDI” contract procedure. Amazon really wanted to be a part of American bloodsports, but was beaten out by Microsoft for lucrative Pentagon cloud storage contracts. Amazon sued, alleging it got illegally screwed by the President, claiming his frequent derogatory comments about Amazon and the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post pushed the Pentagon towards selecting Microsoft.
An investigation was opened by the Defense Department’s Inspector General. And we’ll never know what really happened because it appears the administration inserted itself into the investigation. Jacqueline Feldscher has more details at Politico:
The Pentagon’s inspector general “could not definitively determine” whether the White House influenced the procurement process for a major cloud computing contract because senior Defense Department officials were barred from answering questions on the subject during interviews, according to a 313-page report released on Wednesday.
Sticking it to the Deep State, I guess. So, what looks like some impropriety now officially only looks like some impropriety because the Defense Department’s general counsel told DoD officials to not answer any questions about communications between the DoD and the White House. “Presidential communications privilege” successfully asserted.
Given the lack of answers, it seems pretty ridiculous for the Pentagon to hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner and declare everything to be above-board. But that’s what has happened because that’s the the kind of government we have. Here’s the Pentagon’s spokesperson pretending there’s nothing to see here.
“This report should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much needed JEDI cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers.”
Everything is over except its eventual fading into obscurity, washed under the flotsam that is the day-to-day horror of living in an ongoing pandemic. The Pentagon has cleared itself of any wrongdoing by refusing to answer questions related to alleged wrongdoing. The overseers were neutralized by presidential privilege, resulting in the Inspector General drawing inconclusions the Pentagon has declared to be exculpatory with one comment to the press. The IG’s office decided to release the incomplete report anyway, stating it did not want to further delay any reporting on its non-findings since it was apparent no amount of waiting things out was going to get these officials to discuss things they didn’t want to discuss.
As for Amazon, it must be refreshing to be on the other side of impropriety accusations for once. The run-up to the awarding of the contract saw a few DoD officials becoming far too friendly with the cloud service provider.
The inspector general substantiated allegations of ethical misconduct against Deap Ubhi, a Pentagon employee who worked on the early stages of crafting the JEDI program before leaving the department to work for Amazon.
Investigators did not, however, find evidence of ethical misconduct by other senior defense officials, including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who attended a dinner with Amazon officials organized by his former aide Sally Donnelly.
Ah. Well, at least the IG found out something about somebody. The President’s dislike for Amazon and Bezos remains under “presidential privilege” wraps and the swamp will continue draining at its current rate of 0 liters/flush.
We’ve highlighted in the past that there are large parts of the federal government that recognize that strong encryption is actually very, very important for national security, and that the framing by Attorney General William Barr, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and even President Trump — that there need to be back doors to encryption for “security” reasons — is utter nonsense. The intelligence community has long recognized the importance of strong encryption. Even many people within the FBI think their bosses’ position on this issue is bonkers. Late last year, we were pleasantly surprised to see the Defense Department step up as well, with a letter to Congress talking about just how important encryption is for national security.
Over at Cyberscoop, former National Security Council cybersecurity expert Ari Schwartz has a nice article explaining just how important encryption is to protecting the military. It won’t tread any new ground for anyone who understands the basics here, but it’s nice to see more and more people highlighting this.
Last month, a brigade of U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East received instructions from their superiors to use two commercial encrypted messaging applications, Signal and Wickr, on their government issued cell phones. These leadership cues trickled down from the Department of Defense?s (DoD) position that strong encryption is critical to national security. While U.S. Attorney General William Barr continues to push for a broad mandate for backdoors for law enforcement, those on the front lines of protecting America have notably decided on a different approach. Simply put, weakening encryption means putting our military service members at risk.
The key point — and one that many of us have made for years is that the framing by Wray/Barr (and, for what it’s worth, James Comey before them) is that there’s some sort of conflict here between “security” and “privacy.” But that’s always been bullshit. The issue has always been between having both security and privacy vs. giving law enforcement easier access to data and information they can almost always get elsewhere with a little more effort. In short, it’s a debate between having security and privacy widely available against a bit of convenience for law enforcement. As such, this should be no debate at all.
Let?s stop wasting time suggesting that we need universal solutions that may solve law enforcement?s short-term needs, but then put consumers and our military at risk.
Somehow, I don’t think the time wasting is going to go away any time soon, unfortunately.