A recently released 9/11 Commission memo highlights the role of government “minders” who accompanied witnesses interviewed by the commission. It was added to the National Archives’ files at the start of the year and discovered there by History Commons contributor paxvector.
The memo, entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses,” complains that:
- Minders “answer[ed] questions directed at witnesses;”
- Minders acted as “monitors, reporting to their respective agencies on Commission staffs lines of inquiry and witnesses’ verbatim responses.” The staff thought this “conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review their statements and may engage in retribution;” and
- Minders “positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses to our questions.”
The memo was drafted by three staffers on the commission’s Team 2, which reviewed the overall structure of the US intelligence community. One of the drafters was Kevin Scheid, a senior staffer who led the team. His co-writers were Lorry Fenner, an air force intelligence officer, and lawyer Gordon Lederman. The complaint was sent to the commission’s counsels, Daniel Marcus and Steve Dunne, in October 2003, about halfway through the commission’s 19-month life.
According to the memo, some minders merely policed prior agreements between the commission and their parent agency about what the commission could ask witnesses, and others were simply there to make a list of documents the commission might want based on a witness’ testimony. However, some minders saw their role differently.
Intimidation through Physical Positioning
The three staffers argued minders should not answer questions for witnesses because they needed to understand not how the intelligence community was supposed to function, but “how the Intelligence Community functions in actuality.” However: “When we have asked witnesses about certain roles and responsibilities within the Intelligence Community, minders have preempted witnesses’ responses by referencing formal polices and procedures. As a result, witnesses have not responded to our questions and have deprived us from understanding the Intelligence Community’s actual functioning and witnesses’ view of their roles and responsibilities.”
The memo also describes the minders’ conduct in detail: “… [M]inders have positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses to our questions. Minders generally have sat next to witnesses at the table and across from Commission staff, conveying to witnesses that minders are participants in interviews and are of equal status to witnesses.”
The staffers also worried about minders taking “verbatim notes of witnesses’ statements,” as they thought this “conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review their statements and may engage in retribution.” They believed that “the net effect of minders’ conduct, whether intentionally or not, is to intimidate witnesses and to interfere with witnesses providing full and candid responses.”
Another problem with the verbatim notetaking was that it “facilitates agencies in alerting future witnesses to the Commission’s lines of inquiry and permits agencies to prepare future witnesses either explicitly or implicitly.”
In response to this, the three staffers proposed not that minders be banned from interviews, but a set of rules governing minders’ conduct. For example, minders were to keep a “low profile,” sit out of witnesses’ sight, not take verbatim notes and not answer any questions directed at the witnesses.
Perhaps the most remarkable proposal is that the number of minders be limited to one per witness. The memo indicates that where an interviewee had served in multiple agencies, more than one minder would accompany the witness. The memo therefore requests, “Only one minder may attend an interview even if the witness served in multiple agencies,” meaning a witness would at least not be outnumbered by his minders.
False Statement by Chairman Kean
Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, first raised the issue of minders in a press briefing in early July 2003 . He said, “I think the commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would.”
He was asked about the minders again on September 23 at another press briefing. Instead of saying the minders represented “intimidation,” he commented: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers. … I’m glad to hear that it’s — from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.”
The commission’s Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, commented, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He added that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but, “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds.”
However, the Team 2 memo, sent a mere nine days after Kean and Hamilton’s remarks, shows Kean’s statements to have been untrue. The memo even referenced “Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” in the title, contained unusually strong language and was co-drafted by a leader of one of the commission’s teams.
Nevertheless, it is unclear whether Kean and Hamilton made the false statements knowingly. One of the criticisms at the commission was that the ten commissioners were cut off from the body of the staff, and all information that flowed from the staff to the commissioners went through the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow.
Author Philip Shenon, who wrote a history of the commission, found that at the start of the commission’s work Zelikow drafted a welcome memo containing ground rules for staffers, such as not talking to journalists. One of the rules was that the staff should not talk freely to the commissioners. If a staffer were contacted by a commissioner, he should not deal with the commissioner himself, but contact Zelikow or his deputy, who would then “be sure that the appropriate members of the commission’s staff are responsive.”
This rule was rescinded after complaints from some of the commissioners, including former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. Nevertheless, Zelikow’s control of information continued. When the commission’s counterterrorism team found a draft of the final report to be overly deferential to the FBI, they did not launch a formal objection to the draft’s language through the commission’s bureaucracy, but a female staffer cornered Gorelick “where Zelikow would not see it”–in the ladies room.
Diana Durand, a Texas woman who apparently has been romantically involved with Congressman Michael Grimm, has been arrested and charged with illegally funneling money into the New York congressman’s 2010 campaign.
She is also accused of steering “straw donations” into the campaign of yet another congress member, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), according to the New York Daily News.
A straw donation is a donation to a political campaign made by one person, though under another person’s name. It is a way of getting around legal limits on the amount of money that can be contributed to political candidates.
Schock, like Grimm, is an avid supporter of Israel.
Durand is 47-years old and was arraigned in federal court in Houston on Wednesday. She has hired an attorney, Stuart Kaplan, who is a longtime associate of Grimm, both having served in the FBI.
Grimm left the FBI in 2006, was elected to Congress in 2010, and in 2012 the FBI opened an investigation into him over possible illegal campaign donations to his 2010 congressional campaign made by supporters of Israeli Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto.
Durand is free on $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on January 30. The following is from the New York Daily News account:
The single mother of one worked with Grimm before his election when he launched a trucking company near Houston. Records list her brother and sister-in-law as executives at the firm.
Sources said Durand and Grimm, 43, who is divorced, were involved romantically, and that she visited him in Washington after his election.
Durand was busted Friday, nearly five months after a Brooklyn judge first ordered her arrest. Feds spent the intervening months in an unsuccessful bid to win her cooperation in an ongoing probe into allegations that Grimm and supporters encouraged donors to make illegal contributions to his 2010 campaign, people with knowledge of the case said.
As I reported previously, campaign donations totaling more than $500,000 were reportedly solicited on Grimm’s behalf by a top Pinto aide, Ofer Biton, who was arrested in 2012 for immigration fraud and who pled guilty to that charge last August.
The FBI had sought to have Biton turn state’s evidence against Grimm, but he has refused, and apparently Durand intends doing likewise. Also as I repoted before, Grimm has friends in high places—Israel—where he reportedly maintains close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and according to reports, the Israeli police have done their best to sabotage the FBI’s investigation.
Schock would appear to be the second congress member implicated in what seems to be a widening investigation. According to the Chicago Tribune:
Schock, 32, is a prolific fundraiser serving his third term in Congress. He had more than $2.9 million in his war chest in September, when the most recent campaign-finance reports were filed.
The House Ethics Committee has been examining Schock’s fundraising after reports that in 2012, he solicited $25,000 for a super PAC, in excess of a $5,000 limit for lawmakers asking for money for that kind of independent-expenditure group.
The Tribune also reports on a statement issued by Schock’s office in which a spokesperson said, “This literally is the first our office has heard of this issue.”
In March of 2010, Schock and 326 other members of Congress signed onto a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirming their “commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension.”
The “recent tension” referred to by the signatories of the letter is an incident I referred to in my first article on the Grimm investigation. On March 9, 2010 the Israeli government announced the construction of 1,600 new homes, for Jews only, to be built in East Jerusalem. The announcement coincided with a state visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden, and was viewed by many as insulting to America. Clinton referred to it as “deeply negative” for US-Israeli relations.
And as I also noted:
Coincidentally, simultaneous to the slight against Biden, the parents of Rachel Corrie were in Israel for the start of their civil trial charging the Israeli military in the wrongful death of their daughter.
Biden’s response to the announcement of the 1,600 new homes was to issue a servile statement in which he declared that “there is no space between the United States and Israel,” whereupon he boarded a plane and jetted home to America without offering any words of support to the Corrie family.
Schock and the other signers of the letter went on to state:
Our valuable bilateral relationship with Israel needs and deserves constant reinforcement. As the Vice-President said during his recent visit to Israel: “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the U.S. and Israel when it comes to security, none. No space.” Steadfast American backing has helped lead to Israeli peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. And American involvement continues to be critical to the effort to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
We recognize that, despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and Israel, there will be differences over issues both large and small. Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies. We hope and expect that, with mutual effort and good faith, the United States and Israel will move beyond this disruption quickly, to the lasting benefit of both nations.
Born of Morrocon Jews, Pinto is one of the richest rabbis in Israel and is viewed by some as a religious and financial “guru” and a “wonder rabbi.” His adherents in the past have included some of the wealthiest oligarchs in the world and also Israeli political leaders:
In Israel, the list of those seeking Rabbi Pinto’s advice reads like a high-society gossip column: Multi-millionaires Lev Leviev and Nochi Danker, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and former Industry Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, who the rabbi supposedly brought out of a coma earlier this year. It is even rumoured that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults him.
Now, however, he seems to be in hotwater with Israeli police, who have charged him with attempting to bribe a police official—apparently in a bid to sabotage the FBI’s investigation of Grimm. The FBI is hoping to have Pinto testify against Grimm, and reportedly is in possession of a wiretap audio in which Israeli police can be heard threatening the rabbi.
And finally, as I reported yesterday, Grimm apparently isn’t the only Congress member who has accepted donations from Pinto’s wealthy followers. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is reported to have as well.
Cantor’s ties to Pinto have also been commented upon by blogger Richard Silverstein, who has written extensively on the FBI’s investigation of Grimm:
The key question is whether the techniques and solicitors used in Grimm’s campaign match those used by Cantor. If so, then the FBI is very interested in Cantor. If Cantor was smarter than Grimm and didn’t use mafiosi to collect cash as Grimm did, then he may not get into trouble. But the very fact that Cantor dipped into Grimm’s cookie jar so heavily is mighty suspicious. Who knows where it will lead?
Grimm, by the way, is not Jewish but of Italian descent, which makes us wonder why the Israelis are apparently so keen to protect him—and after all, there are plenty of Israel supporters in Congress. But as Silverstein notes, it’s insurance:
To be clear, I don’t have a smoking gun that points to Netanyahu involvement in sabotaging the FBI investigation. But I do have a series of strong circumstantial evidence that leads in that direction. But why would Bibi or Sara care about this enough to take such risky actions as agitating the FBI? Let’s return to that grand strategy of electing even more Israel-friendly GOP members of Congress. If Michael Grimm was their model to see whether Pinto was a new source of campaign cash, they needed to protect him if he might be going down. Rather than lose their investment and shut down this conduit for millions in new campaign funding, they’d go to the mat to help Grimm.
More background on Bibi’s strategy in dealing with the U.S. political process: he’s found that presidents may not like him because they are slightly more independent than members of Congress. But Congress is in his back pocket due to that campaign largess I mentioned earlier. Bibi is hated in the White House but loved (or feared) in Congress. When he can’t get an invitation to the White House, he goes over the president’s head and gets to address a Joint Session of Congress.
This is the same strategy he and the Lobby are following regarding the Iran sanctions legislation. The president doesn’t want new sanctions. Most sane members of Congress don’t want them either. But the Lobby and Israel do. They want a war with Iran. So they want to sabotage Obama’s strategy of negotiating his way out of the impasse. How best to do this? Don’t confront Obama head-on because he’s an immovable object on this matter. But do an end-around. Activate all those pro-Israel IOUs in Congress.
So the more Michael Grimms there are in Congress, the more Israel has its own interests guaranteed in the halls of Congress.
And of course, there’s no shortage of money. In fact, in a manner of speaking, there’s money to burn:
Leaks coming out of the Obama administration suggest that the President is preparing mostly cosmetic changes to the intelligence community, following the recommendations from the intelligence task force — which were much stronger than many expected. The reports suggest things like putting a public advocate to represent the public’s views in certain cases before the FISC. This has been talked about for a while, and was the main concession plenty of people had been expecting anyway. That’s hardly anything big.
The article talks about two other potential reforms. The first is shifting the holding of phone call metadata from the NSA to the phone companies, allowing the NSA to still search through it after getting a court order. While this may be a marginal improvement, it still has tremendous problems. It will almost certainly come with some sort of data retention law — something that the feds have wanted for ages, and which civil liberties activists have been fighting against for years. Companies shouldn’t be required to hang on to data they don’t need, especially if getting rid of it can better protect their users’ privacy. Furthermore, while not letting the NSA hang onto the data is a good thing, there is a reasonable concern that if the telcos are hanging onto the data themselves, that they, too, might do bad things with it, with little to no oversight.
However, most of the article from the LA Times focuses on National Security Letter (NSL) reform. We’ve written about those for years. NSLs are the way that the FBI can demand information from companies without any judicial review at all and, even more insane, with a complete gag order that prevents the recipient from telling anyone (including, at times, your lawyer). The FBI has an incredibly long history of “serious misuse” of NSLs, and has shown little to no interest in fixing the process. Nearly a year ago, a court actually ruled them unconstitutional, but there’s an ongoing appeals process that will take quite a bit of time.
However, as the article notes, the DOJ/FBI and other surveillance maximalists are all horrified by the idea that Obama might actually require judicial approval of NSLs, for all but “emergency” situations. What this sounds like is that the President may suggest something along those lines, there will be a well coordinated press attack from surveillance hawks freaking out about the danger this puts us all in… and then he’ll back down on that one point. And we’ll be left with… basically nothing, but the President will go around insisting that he reformed the intelligence community, while everything more or less stays the same.
The “most transparent administration” received another win for continued secrecy, thanks to an appeals court decision that allowed it to continue to withhold a DOJ memo that created an exploitable loophole in consumer data privacy protections.
The document at issue is a classified memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel on Jan. 8, 2010. A report later that year by the Justice Department’s inspector general at the time, Glenn A. Fine, disclosed the memo’s existence and its broad conclusion that telephone companies may voluntarily provide records to the government “without legal process or a qualifying emergency,” notwithstanding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The EFF has been engaged with the government over the release of this document since 2011, when a district court judge ruled the document was exempt from FOIA requests because it was part of executive branch “internal deliberations.” In other words, despite the fact that the OLC memos can be considered legally binding (and exempt those following the memos’ advice or instructions from legal repercussions), the memo is not considered “working law.” The EFF has argued that these memos are not “deliberative,” but are rather secret laws deployed in such a fashion as to avoid being exposed by FOIA requests.
The presiding judge explained his decision with this reasoning.
“Even if the O.L.C. opinion describes the legal parameters of what the F.B.I. is permitted to do, it does not state or determine the F.B.I.’s policy,” Judge Harry T. Edwards wrote in the decision on Friday. “The F.B.I. was free to decline to adopt the investigative tactics deemed legally permissible in the O.L.C. opinion.”
According to the FBI, it did decline to follow the memo’s parameters.
The bureau, which has abandoned exigent letters, said that it did not employ the legal theory outlined in the memo when using the letters, and that it had no plans to use it in the future.
But the DOJ’s arguments for keeping the memo secret calls the FBI’s assertion into question.
During the litigation, the Justice Department also told the court that parts of the memo contained classified information, “highly specific in nature and known to very few individuals,” about a secret intelligence-gathering technique that the F.B.I. is using against “hostile entities.”
Either the FBI is utilizing the memo’s legal theories or the memo covers so much ground that the FBI is using something entirely unrelated, making the first statement truthful as far as it extends to exigent letters only.
Judge Edwards’ rationale gives the government every reason to utilize the Office of Legal Counsel to provide it with the legal justification it needs to deploy questionable tactics and programs. (Previous OLC memos were used to justify warrantless wiretaps and “brutal questioning of detainees.”) The ruling makes it easier for any OLC memo to be exempted from FOIA requests, providing for even more government secrecy.
David Sobel, a lawyer for the EFF, called the ruling “troubling,” describing the office’s memos as a body of “secret law” that the public has a right to know about. He said he hoped the ruling would reinvigorate efforts among some lawmakers to enact a law opening such memos to greater scrutiny outside the executive branch.
“It’s kind of hard to imagine how a different case in the D.C. Circuit is likely to have a different outcome in light of this opinion,” he said.
Because the document remains a secret, its true significance remains a source of speculation. The New York Times says the memo is most likely the legal basis for the CIA’s voluntary agreement with AT&T, which allows the agency to search its massive database of international calls (and tip local numbers to the FBI for further investigation). And it’s not as if this secret memo is the only tool the government has for demanding data. The FBI may have abandoned “exigent letters” but it’s still using National Security Letters to obtain data without a court order. (No mention is made of the FBI’s exigent Post-It notes or over-the-shoulder database searches.)
The DOJ is understandably pleased with this decision as it plays to its obfuscatory tendencies. This is also a dubious win for this administration — and those that follow. Having an in-house agency on tap that can create new laws and interpretations of existing statutes without having to risk having its legally-binding memos scrutinized by the public will be a tool too powerful for many to ignore.
FBI Admits It’s Not Really About Law Enforcement Any More; Ignores Lots Of Crimes To Focus On Creating Fake Terror Plots
A couple years ago, it was revealed that the FBI noted in one of its “counterterrorism training manuals” that FBI agents could “bend or suspend the law and impinge upon the freedoms of others,” which seemed kind of odd for a government agency who claimed its “primary function” was “law enforcement.” You’d think that playing by the rules would be kind of important. However, as John Hudson at Foreign Policy has noted, at some point last summer, the FBI quietly changed its fact sheet, so that it no longer says that “law enforcement” is its primary function, replacing it with “national security.”
Of course, I thought we already had a “national security” agency — known as the “National Security Agency.” Of course, while this may seem like a minor change, as the article notes, it is the reality behind the scenes. The FBI massively beefed up resources focused on “counterterrorism” and… then let all sorts of other crimes slide. Including crimes much more likely to impact Americans, like financial/white collar fraud.
Between 2001 and 2009, the FBI doubled the amount of agents dedicated to counterterrorism, according to a 2010 Inspector’s General report. That period coincided with a steady decline in the overall number of criminal cases investigated nationally and a steep decline in the number of white-collar crime investigations.
“Violent crime, property crime and white-collar crime: All those things had reductions in the number of people available to investigate them,” former FBI agent Brad Garrett told Foreign Policy. “Are there cases they missed? Probably.”
The article correctly notes that this has had a big impact:
The reductions in white-collar crime investigations became obvious. Back in 2000, the FBI sent prosecutors 10,000 cases. That fell to a paltry 3,500 cases by 2005. “Had the FBI continued investigating financial crimes at the same rate as it had before the terror attacks, about 2,000 more white-collar criminals would be behind bars,” the report concluded. As a result, the agency fielded criticism for failing to crack down on financial crimes ahead of the Great Recession and losing sight of real-estate fraud ahead of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.
… So… what has the FBI been doing? Well, every time we hear anything about the FBI and counterterrorism, it seems to be a case where the FBI has been spending a ton of resources to concoct completely made up terrorism plots, duping some hapless, totally unconnected person into taking part in this “plot” then arresting him with big bogus headlines about how they “stopped” a terrorist plot that wouldn’t have even existed if the FBI hadn’t set it up in the first place. And this is not something that the FBI has just done a couple times. It’s happened over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And those are just the stories that we wrote about that I can find in a quick search. I’m pretty sure there are a bunch more stories that we wrote about, let alone that have happened.
All of these efforts to stop their own damn “plots” screams of an agency that feels it needs to “do something” when there’s really nothing to be done. Thousands of agents were reassigned from stopping real criminals to “counterterrorism” and when they found there were basically no terrorists around, they just started making their own in order to feel like they were doing something… and to have headlines to appease people upstairs. The government seems to have gone collectively insane when it comes to anything related to “terrorism.
This weekend I ran across a random copy of The Wall Street Journal and decided to see what passes for mainstream news these days. Reading it reminded me of the striking amount of terrorism propaganda being foisted upon the U.S. public. The numerous terrorism-related stories in that weekend edition of The Journal painted a confused and contradictory picture that reflects a difficulty in keeping the American public focused on terrorist threats and increasingly suspicious of their fellow citizens.
The weekend edition included five major stories about terrorism, including a shooting at a Colorado high school, the release of video from a hospital massacre in Yemen, and a review of how the Sandy Hook victims’ families are coping. In the most prominent spot, at the top left of the front page, readers found an alert for a major expose covering the Boston bombers. The fifth story was about the arrest of a Wichita man for plotting to blow up aircraft with a homemade bomb at the airport.
The new, Wichita story provides a good example of the challenges facing the FBI and corporate media in ongoing efforts to stoke the public fear. The suspect, like others in the last few years, had no previous history of terrorist activity and the FBI did everything for him.
Terry Lee Loewen was an avionics specialist at a private company working at the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. Allegedly, he tried to drive his car, loaded with explosives that the FBI had helped him make, onto the tarmac to cause “maximum carnage and death.” This man, whom neighbors called quiet and “normal” was supposedly working for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The emerging story of Loewen includes a significant number of contradictory reports and unbelievable aspects. The official account is that Loewen decided to become a Muslim about six months ago and he immediately began devoting all his time to preparations for becoming a “lone wolf” suicide bomber. FBI-produced documents allegedly provide this 58-year old white man’s reasoning for his radical change of life course—“My only explanation is that I believe in jihad for the sake of Allah + for the sake of my Muslim brothers + sisters.”
Although Loewen did not enter a plea and his public defender and current wife would not comment, his ex-wife and son were contacted for interviews and neither of them had any idea about his new commitment to jihad and martyrdom. The son had spoken to his father in the last month yet, according to The Journal, “didn’t detect anything amiss” and “didn’t know about any turn toward Islam by his father.”
Although Loewen is being portrayed as a serious, jihadist Muslim, he had no known connection to any Muslim organization in Wichita or elsewhere. Apparently he was only an online Muslim and the FBI caught him making comments about his desire to wage jihad against his own country on behalf of the members of his new faith.
His neighbors couldn’t believe it and never saw anything suspicious about him or his current wife. And although his own son had no idea about it, and his ex-wife would never have predicted it, in his last six months he must have devoted every spare moment to his new mission. One might think that a new convert would take time to learn about his new religion and interact with at least one or two Muslims in his community. After all, doesn’t becoming a Muslim require more than just making a few online comments?
Not for Loewen, according to the FBI. Instead, one day he was just a solitary, radical Muslim and he immediately began spending all his free time “studying subjects like jihad, martyrdom operations, and Sharia law.” He also “studied the airport layout and took photos of access points, researched flight schedules and acquired components to make car bombs.” He was obviously very busy and totally committed.
FOX News reported that Loewen was inspired by Usama bin Laden. Investigators from the Wichita Joint Terrorism Task Force further claimed that Loewen “frequently expressed admiration for Anwar Al-Awlaki.” Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas said that Loewen’s action reminded us that we must “reaffirm our commitment” to the War on Terror.
There are certainly suspicious things about Loewen. For one thing, he had another name—Terry L. Lane. How many readers of The Wall Street Journal just happen to have other names? And Loewen was cited in 2009 for a “a concealed-carry violation at the airport.”
Nonetheless, according to his ex-wife of 10-years, Loewen/Lane was “peaceful, easy-going, quiet man” who “didn’t like confrontation; he was never one to start a fight.” She said he had left his job at Hawker Beechcraft Air Services for a time, to work at Learjet across town. She didn’t know when he returned to Beechcraft. “He was happy. He was a normal human being,” she said. And although The Journal reported that the son had no idea about Loewen’s conversion to Islam, The Wichita Eagle reported that the son told his mother that Loewen had recently become a Muslim.
Other news sources report that the son said his dad was “always really calm and a loving man” and that he “had no idea how his father came to be the main suspect in a foiled terror plot.”
Therefore the news about Loewen/Lane and this alleged new terrorist plot includes many confusing reports and makes little or no sense. A 58-year old man with no connection to any Muslim organization just decided on his own to give up his entire life to become a jihadist. He forsook all other commitments to make a martyr of himself for the benefit of “brothers and sisters” who he had never met. His family and neighbors apparently knew nothing about it.
If we can learn anything from the incident it is that the next terrorist could be anybody—you, your father, your neighbor—anyone at all. And there won’t necessarily be any signs at all other than what the FBI provides about internet activity.
This brings us to the big expose that The Journal published on the Boston bombers. Readers might wonder about the coincidence of the reporter from The Journal just happening to be a relatively close friend of the Tsarnaev family, whose two sons were accused of the marathon attack. Ostensibly, that relationship was initiated because both the reporter and the family spoke Russian and the reporter was doing research on Chechens and “Russia’s Islamist insurgency.” But the friendship was clearly much more than that. Who could have predicted that chance relationship would come in so handy for a terrorism reporter from a major U.S. news source?
Anyway, the story about the Tsarnaevs presents more contradictions. For instance, the mother of the accused bombers is portrayed quite differently than we have seen before. The woman who suddenly became a terrorist suspect herself a week after she began claiming that her sons were controlled by the FBI has most often been seen as a strict Muslim woman dressed in very traditional garb. In The Journal’s new story, however, she is “a wide-eyed rapid talker with a low-cut dress and high heels who waved her arms and teased her black hair like the pop singer Cyndi Lauper.” And she ran a business on the side giving facials.
In this new light, mother Tsarnaev could be an office girl from Jersey, or the girl next door.
But those who read the whole story realize that there is a bigger purpose behind this spread on the Tsarnaevs and it is not to describe their dress habits. It is, in fact, to reveal that the Boston bombers were conspiracy theorists. Specifically, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother were “filled with thoughts of conspiracy” including that “the Sept.11 attacks were organized by shadowy financial elites.”
We have seen this tactic before with other terrorism stories but never this blatantly. We are being told that not only can anyone be a terrorist, but it is more likely that anyone who questions the official accounts of terrorism is more likely to be a terrorist. How convenient for the military-terrorism-industrial complex. If such an approach takes hold in the minds of fearful citizens, there would be no stopping the architects of the War on Terror and no shortage of suspects to keep the whole thing rolling along.
Witness In No Fly List Trial, Who Was Blocked From Flying To The Trial, Shows That DOJ Flat Out Lied In Court
On Friday the case against the US government, brought by Rahinah Ibrahim over her being placed on the “no fly list,” officially concluded with closing arguments, but that may have been the least interesting part of everything. Apparently, the day got off to a rocky start, after Ibrahim’s lawyers informed the DOJ that they intended to file bar complaints against some of the DOJ legal team for their actions in court, specifically concerning “misrepresentations” made to the court. It seems clear that this was mainly about the DOJ denying that the US government (mainly DHS) had done anything to prevent Ibrahim’s daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal, an American citizen, from coming to the US to be a witness in the trial. As you may recall, on Monday it had come out that she had been denied in her attempt to board her flight in Malaysia, and the DOJ claimed, flat out, that Kamal had merely missed her flight and rebooked on another flight.
It appears that none of that was true.
Instead, while Kamal had been rebooked by her travel agent earlier in the week to a different flight (because Expedia informed her that her original flight was full and she wouldn’t be able to travel on it), she arrived at the airport with nearly 3 hours to spare for her own flight, and was then denied the ability to board. There was a lot of back and forth, but eventually she obtained the email that had first been sent to Philippines Airlines (she was flying from Malaysia to the Philippines and then on to San Francisco), warning that Kamal was “a possible no board request.”
While that’s not a full on “denial” it was enough to have the airline deny her passage, and clearly shows that, contrary to the DOJ’s claims, DHS specifically had targeted Kamal and was hinting very strongly to airlines not to let her fly. It seems unlikely that they ever expected that email to get out. Either way, Kamal had spent nearly $2,000 of her own money on the original flight, and noted in her own deposition that she was unable to afford another immediate flight to the US (especially given that it’s holiday travel season).
Judge Alsup held a closed hearing about all of this, so it’s not entirely clear what he’s going to do, though from the public statements he has made to date, he did not appear to be happy about all of this. During the closing arguments — some of which involved kicking the public out — he even noted how ridiculous it was that they had to have a closed session since he didn’t think any of the “sensitive security information” was really that sensitive. He also challenged the government’s argument that they can properly review people who “appeal” their status without ever letting anyone know if or why they’re on the list. From Edward Hasbrouck’s transcript of the exchange:
JUDGE ALSUP: That’s just going back to the same sources that were wrong in the first place, and of course they are going to say, “We were right the first time.”
That troubles me.
Do you know what happened to Robert Oppenheimer?
He was denied his clearance. It was totally unjust. The information was bogus. They suspected him of being a Communist, but that was wrong.
It was a low point for America, to do that wrongly to an American hero.
You’re not seeing the other side of what can happen.
DEFENDANTS’ COUNSEL: TRIP is a continually improving process…
JUDGE ALSUP: We know that there’s going to be mistakes in your system, in any system, and people are going to get hurt.
What do we need? Should there be some sort of follow-up FBI interview to find out if there is contrary evidence?
DEFENDANTS’ COUNSEL: When a TRIP letter is sent, the recipient is offered the possibility of review by a Court of Appeals. Review by a Court of Appeals would reveal any improper basis for the decision.
JUDGE ALSUP: How could the Court of Appeals tell that from the file it is handed up by the agency?
Even if it includes the derogatory information, how is the Court of Appeals going to know from looking at the face of the document whether it’s true?
Couldn’t there be some process where you tell the person the nature of the allegations (”You contributed money to Al Qaeda”) without revealing the specific sources or methods for the information containing those allegations?
DEFENDANTS’ COUNSEL: We can say more in closed session, but we can’t do that.
The government also appeared to admit in its closing that the original no fly determination on Dr. Ibrahim was a mistake, but then seems to bend over backwards not to take responsibility for all the additional fallout from that incorrect designation — including the repeated denial of a visa to go back to the US (even for this very trial).
Case Over No-Fly List Takes Bizarre Turn As Gov’t Puts Witness On No Fly List, Then Denies Having Done So
As you my have heard, there’s a trial going on here in San Francisco about the legality of the complete lack of any sort of due process concerning the US’s “no fly” list. The NY Times has a good background article on the case, which notes that somewhere around 700,000 people appear to be on the list, where there’s basically no oversight of the list and no recourse if you happen to be placed on the list. This lawsuit, by Rahinah Ibrahim (who had been a Stanford PhD student) is challenging that.
In that case, a Stanford University Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim was prevented from boarding a flight at San Francisco International Airport in 2005, and was handcuffed and detained by the police. Ultimately, she was allowed to fly to Malaysia, her home country, but she has been unable to return to the United States because the State Department revoked her student visa.
According to court filings, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Ms. Ibrahim a week before her trip and asked about her religious activities (she is Muslim), her husband and what she might know of a Southeast Asian terrorist organization. A summary of that interview obtained by Ms. Ibrahim’s lawyer includes a code indicating that the visit was related to an international terrorism investigation, but it is not clear what other evidence — like email or phone records — was part of that inquiry.
The Identity Project blog is covering the trial, which kicked off earlier this week with a ridiculous situation, highlighted by BoingBoing. Apparently, one of the people set to testify in the case, Ibrahim’s oldest daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal (an American citizen, born in the US), was blocked from boarding her flight to the US to appear at the trial, and told that she was on the no fly list as well. Kamal, a lawyer, was an eye witness to her mother being blocked from boarding her flight. The US knew that Kamal was set to testify and from all indications, in a move that appears extremely petty, appears to have purposely blocked her from flying to the US. Kamal was directly told by the airline that DHS had ordered them not to let Kamal to board. The airline even gave her a phone number for a Customs and Border Patrol office in Miami, telling her to call that concerning her not being able to board.
Judge William Alsup, who is known for his rather no-nonsense approach in court (and his willingness to dig very deep into understanding the issues), quickly noted that this apparent blocking of Kamal was ridiculous, and demanded that the government explain what happened. When they insisted they knew nothing about it, Alsup wasn’t satisfied. Nor was he satisfied with the story they eventually came back with. As Edward Hasbrouck at the Identity Project reports:
Judge Alsup ordered the government defendants’ lawyers to investigate and report back. “You’ve got ten lawyers over there on your side of the courtroom. You can send one of them out in the hall to make a phone call and find out what’s going on.”
At the end of the first day’s session of the trial (more on that below), the governments’ lawyers told Judge Alsup that they had made inquiries and had been told that “the plaintiff’s daughter just missed her flight” and was rebooked on a flight tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.
Needless to say, that story strains credulity. If Ms. Mustafa Kamal had merely missed her flight, why would she have been given a CBP phone number in Miami to call for information about what had happened? The governments’ lawyers insisted that, “That’s what we have been told”, but Judge Alsup wasn’t satisfied.
“We may have to have a separate evidentiary hearing about this,” Judge Alsup said, and ordered the defendants to provide further information tomorrow… “I want to know whether the government did something to obstruct a witness, a U.S. citizen.”
That was Monday. Tuesday morning, Ibrahim’s lawyer proved that the DOJ was flat out lying the day before by presenting the “no-board” instructions that DHS had sent to Malaysia Airlines to the court:
“None of that was true,” Ms. Pipkin told the court this morning. “She didn’t miss the flight. She was there in time to check in. She has not been rebooked on another flight.” And most importantly, it was because of actions by the DHS — one of the defendants in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit — that Ms. Mustafa Kamal was not allowed to board her flight to SFO to attend and testify at her mother’s trial.
Ms. Pipkin said that Ms. Mustafa Kamal had sent her a copy of the “no-board” instructions which the DHS gave to Malaysia Airlines, and which the airline gave to Ms. Mustafa Kamal to explain as much as it knew about why it was not being allowed to transport her. Ms. Pipkin handed Judge William Alsup a copy of the DHS “no-board” instructions to Malaysia Airlines regarding Ms. Mustafa Kamal.
As Hasbrouck notes, the airline deserves kudos for handing over that info. Many airlines would simply keep it a secret. Judge Alsup, however, will not consider the document yet, noting that there isn’t evidence to its authenticity and it’s not part of a sworn record. Thus, he said that when Kamal arrives in SF to testify, that can be a part of her testimony. While the lawyer pointed out that Kamal was hesitant to buy another ticket if she wouldn’t be able to board again, Judge Alsup made it clear that she needs to come, and also appears to have made it quite clear to the DHS that if she is blocked again, there will be consequences:
“Get her on an airplane and get her here,” Judge Alsup responded. “She’s a U.S. citizen. She doesn’t need a visa. I’m not going to believe that she can’t get on a plane until she tries again. ” And Mr Freeborne, with disingenuous faux-solicitude, claimed that the government is “willing to do whatever we can to facilitate” Ms. Mustafa Kamal’s ability to board a flight to the U.S.
Judge Alsup wasn’t willing to take any action today on unproven allegations or unverified documents. But he made clear that, “I am disturbed by this…. We’ll hear from her [Ms. Mustafa Kamal] when she gets here. If it turns out that the DHS has sabotaged a witness, that will go against the government’s case. I want a witness from Homeland Security who can testify to what has happened. You find a witness and get them here.”
The report from Monday also describes other ridiculous claims by the DOJ, including trying to argue that information that was publicly available could not be included in the case because it was “sensitive security information” (SSI). Once again, Judge Alsup saw through the DOJ’s bullshit and called them out on it:
That’s ridiculous. Are you saying that if the president makes a speech, TSA can retroactively make it a secret what he said? It cannot be the law that something that is publicly known later becomes hidden…
Here’s my ruling: If it’s in a document that’s SSI, but it’s also available from some other publicly available source, it’s public information, and cannot be withheld from the public in this courtroom…. The government is taking such an unreasonable position on how to run a trial. If it’s been in the public domain for years, you’re barred from making the argument that the plaintiff’s counsel cannot “disclose” it….
Trials are important. Trials are supposed to be public.
I want to categorically reject one thing: If information is publicly available in some other way, the government does not have the right to retroactively clamp it down and remove it from the public record. Even if it could have been protected as SSI within the government, if the plaintiff obtains this information independently, the government can’t clamp that down.
The plaintiff has the right to prove her case. If she can prove it through publicly available admissible evidence, she can do so even if that information is also included in internal government documents designated as SSI.
That’s the way I feel. That’s the law, that ought to be the law, and that’s the only way to run this country. That’s my ruling, and if the government disagrees, I invite you to take an emergency writ to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
It would be an understatement to suggest that Judge Alsup is not impressed with the US government’s actions so far. The notes from day two in the trial provide a lot more background on what happened. It would appear that the lawyers for Ibrahim are making a (rather compelling, from the evidence) case that bumbling US law enforcement officials confused two very different Malaysian organizations with similar names: Jamaah Islamiyah Malaysia, which is a terrorist organization, and Jamaah Islah Malaysia, “a non-profit professional networking group for Muslims who have returned to Malaysia after post-secondary schooling in the U.S. and Europe.” The two organizations are, as you would imagine, quite different. Ibrahim is involved in the latter, and has no connection to the former, but it sounds like the FBI agents who interviewed her were unaware of the difference.
The further details of Ibrahim’s life, her arrest and treatment, all suggest a situation where US law enforcement totally screwed up, and seriously mucked up someone’s life — and now they seem to be doing everything possible to avoid taking responsibility for it.
On Friday, we wrote about Jeremy Hammond’s 10-year prison sentence, mentioning that the judge had required part of Hammond’s statement be redacted from any reports as his discussion of the list of targets he was asked to hack by FBI informant Sabu (Hector Xavier Monsegur) was considered classified. Of course, it will come as little surprise that the unredacted/uncensored text of his original statement is alleged to have leaked soon after the sentencing. Someone posted it to Pastebin. While it’s entirely possible that this is fake, there are at least some indications that it’s accurate.
Sabu also supplied lists of targets that were vulnerable to “zero day exploits” used to break into systems, including a powerful remote root vulnerability effecting the popular Plesk software. At his request, these websites were broken into, their emails and databases were uploaded to Sabu’s FBI server, and the password information and the location of root backdoors were supplied. These intrusions took place in January/February of 2012 and affected over 2000 domains, including numerous foreign government websites in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nigeria, Iran, Slovenia, Greece, Pakistan, and others. A few of the compromised websites that I recollect include the official website of the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Internal Affairs Division of the Military Police of Brazil, the Official Website of the Crown Prince of Kuwait, the Tax Department of Turkey, the Iranian Academic Center for Education and Cultural Research, the Polish Embassy in the UK, and the Ministry of Electricity of Iraq.
Sabu also infiltrated a group of hackers that had access to hundreds of Syrian systems including government institutions, banks, and ISPs. He logged several relevant IRC channels persistently asking for live access to mail systems and bank transfer details. The FBI took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems, undoubtedly supplying useful intelligence to the military and their buildup for war.
All of this happened under the control and supervision of the FBI and can be easily confirmed by chat logs the government provided to us pursuant to the government’s discovery obligations in the case against me. However, the full extent of the FBI’s abuses remains hidden. Because I pled guilty, I do not have access to many documents that might have been provided to me in advance of trial, such as Sabu’s communications with the FBI. In addition, the majority of the documents provided to me are under a “protective order” which insulates this material from public scrutiny. As government transparency is an issue at the heart of my case, I ask that this evidence be made public. I believe the documents will show that the government’s actions go way beyond catching hackers and stopping computer crimes.
Again, while Hammond is responsible for actually carrying out the activity of breaking into these sites, it still seems incredibly questionable that the targets may have been suggested by the FBI, which then basically got to take advantage of Hammond’s activities, and then when that wasn’t useful any more, to throw him in jail for a decade.
The United States intelligence community’s research arm is set to launch a program that will thoroughly broaden the capabilities of biometric facial recognition software in order to establish an individual’s identity.
The Janus program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) will begin in April 2014 in an effort to “radically expand the range of conditions under which automated face recognition can establish identity,” according to documents released by the agency over the weekend.
Janus “seeks to improve face recognition performance using representations developed from real-world video and images instead of from calibrated and constrained collections. During daily activities, people laugh, smile, frown, yawn and morph their faces into a broad variety of expressions. For each face, these expressions are formed from unique skeletal and musculature features that are similar through one’s lifetime. Janus representations will exploit the full morphological dynamics of the face to enable better matching and faster retrieval.”
Current facial recognition relies mostly on full-frontal, aligned facial views. But, in the words of Military & Aerospace Electronics, Janus will fuse “the rich spatial, temporal, and contextual information available from the multiple views captured by security cameras, cell phone cameras, news video, and other sources referred to as ‘media in the wild.’”
In addition, Janus will take into account aging and incomplete or ambiguous data for its recognition assessment goals.
IARPA was created in 2006 and is a division of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The intelligence agency is modeled after DARPA, the Pentagon’s notorious research arm that fosters technology for future military utilization.
In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm run by the Central Intelligence Agency, invests in companies that develop facial recognition software.
In an age of ubiquitous surveillance video amid a severe lag of legal protections for privacy, civil liberties advocates are expressing concern.
IARPA’s effort to significantly boost facial recognition capabilities “represents a quantum leap in the amount of surveillance taking place in public places,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, as quoted by USA Today.
Stanley noted that law enforcement and the like could easily run random facial recognition programs over surveillance video to assess the identities of crowds in public places without oversight.
IARPA gave industry representatives a solicitation briefing on the program in June, according to media reports.
Late last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation published a request for information in developing “a roadmap for the FBI’s future video analytics architecture” as the agency prepares to make its high-tech surveillance abilities all the more powerful.
In September, the Department of Homeland Security tested its Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) at a junior hockey game in Washington state. When it’s fully operational, BOSS could be used to identify a person of interest among a massive crowd in just seconds.
Over the summer, the state of Ohio admitted it had access to a facial recognition database that included all state-wide driver’s license photos and mug shots without the public’s knowledge.
Committee to Stop FBI Repression | October 23, 2013
She is charged with immigration fraud. Allegedly, in her application for citizenship, she didn’t mention that she was arrested in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court that detains Palestinians without charge – a court that has over 200 children in prison today and does not recognize the rights of Palestinians to due process.
The arrest today appears to be related to the case of the 23 anti-war activists subpoenaed to a grand jury in 2010. Well-known labor, community and international solidarity activists around the Midwest had their homes raided by the FBI when the U.S. attorney alleged that they had provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations in Palestine and Colombia.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas is leading the investigation against the 23. He was at the courtroom in Chicago this morning, consulting with the assistant U.S. attorney who was presenting the indictment to the judge. Jonas was also the prosecutor in the case of the Holy Land Five, the heads of the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. before 9/11. He was successful in getting prison sentences for as long as 65 years for the five men, who provided charity to children in Gaza.
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) denounces this attack as another example of the continuing repression of Palestinians and people who stand in solidarity with them. Homeland Security, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s office now are carrying out enforcement of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Odeh will appear in court in Detroit on Nov. 1, where she will be represented by Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyers Guild. CSFR urges people to attend the proceedings at the Federal Court in Detroit in her defense.
MANHATTAN – A Muslim man says he has been unable to visit his ailing mother for over two years because he refused to spy for the FBI and is now on the no-fly list.
Muhammad Tanvir says he is not the only one who the FBI unlawfully placed on the no-fly list “in retaliation for their refusal to work as informants against their communities and submit to questioning.”
The Queens man says his predicament has left him unable to visit his ailing mother in Pakistan for over two years, and that it has burdened his practice of Islam.
He notes that he is a lawful permanent resident employed at a 99-cent store in the Bronx who has “never been convicted of a crime nor does he pose any threat to aviation safety.”
The FBI declined to comment.
Though the no-fly list is supposed to represent a list of suspected terrorists, the American Civil Liberties Union calls it “a draconian tool to coerce Americans into spying on their communities.” In this case, Tanvir is represented by Shayana Kadidal with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
After refusing FBI agents’ request that he serve as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community and landing on the no-fly list, Tanvir says he reached out to the FBI to clear things up. Instead of helping, FBI agents offered to take him off the list in exchange for information.
Tanvir, who has lived in the United States since 2002, again refused.
“Mr. Tanvir has been prevented from flying despite the fact that he does not present any threat to aviation security,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, defendants sought to exploit the draconian burden posed by the No Fly List – including the inability to travel for work, or to visit family overseas – in order to coerce him into serving the FBI as a spy with American Muslim communities and places of worship.”
Named as defendants are FBI Director James Comey; Terrorist Screening Center Director Christopher Piehota; Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers; and Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole.
The FBI agencies are responsible maintaining the Terrorist Screening Database, which includes the no-fly list.
Tanvir wants the court to declare as unconstitutional the FBI’s alleged practice of placing people on the no-fly list for not cooperating, then using an offer to remove them as a bribe for information.
He also wants off the list, along with damages.