Police Nationwide Are Secretly Exploiting Intrusive Technologies With the Feds’ Complicity
Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.
With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.
In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”
Indeed, the report emphasized ways in which the police could engage communities, work collaboratively, and practice transparency in the use of those new technologies. Perhaps it won’t shock you to learn, however, that the on-the-ground reality of twenty-first-century policing looks nothing like what the task force was promoting. Police departments nationwide have been adopting powerful new technologies that are remarkably capable of intruding on people’s privacy, and much of the time these are being deployed in secret, without public notice or discussion, let alone permission.
And while the task force’s report says all the right things, a little digging reveals that the feds not only aren’t putting the brakes on improper police use of technology, but are encouraging it — even subsidizing the misuse of the very technology the task force believes will keep cops honest. To put it bluntly, a techno-utopia isn’t remotely on the horizon, but its flipside may be.
Getting Stung and Not Even Knowing It
Shemar Taylor was charged with robbing a pizza delivery driver at gunpoint. The police got a warrant to search his home and arrested him after learning that the cell phone used to order the pizza was located in his house. How the police tracked down the location of that cell phone is what Taylor’s attorney wanted to know.
The Baltimore police detective called to the stand in Taylor’s trial was evasive. “There’s equipment we would use that I’m not going to discuss,” he said. When Judge Barry Williams ordered him to discuss it, he still refused, insisting that his department had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.
“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” replied the judge, threatening to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer. And yet he refused again. In the end, rather than reveal the technology that had located Taylor’s cell phone to the court, prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence, jeopardizing their case.
And don’t imagine that this courtroom scene was unique or even out of the ordinary these days. In fact, it was just one sign of a striking nationwide attempt to keep an invasive, constitutionally questionable technology from being scrutinized, whether by courts or communities.
The technology at issue is known as a “Stingray,” a brand name for what’s generically called a cell site simulator or IMSI catcher. By mimicking a cell phone tower, this device, developed for overseas battlefields, gets nearby cell phones to connect to it. It operates a bit like the children’s game Marco Polo. “Marco,” the cell-site simulator shouts out and every cell phone on that network in the vicinity replies, “Polo, and here’s my ID!”
Thanks to this call-and-response process, the Stingray knows both what cell phones are in the area and where they are. In other words, it gathers information not only about a specific suspect, but any bystanders in the area as well. While the police may indeed use this technology to pinpoint a suspect’s location, by casting such a wide net there is also the potential for many kinds of constitutional abuses — for instance, sweeping up the identities of every person attending a demonstration or a political meeting. Some Stingrays are capable of collecting not only cell phone ID numbers but also numbers those phones have dialed and even phone conversations. In other words, the Stingray is a technology that potentially opens the door for law enforcement to sweep up information that not so long ago wouldn’t have been available to them.
All of this raises the sorts of constitutional issues that might normally be settled through the courts and public debate… unless, of course, the technology is kept largely secret, which is exactly what’s been happening.
After the use of Stingrays was first reported in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other activist groups attempted to find out more about how the technology was being used, only to quickly run into heavy resistance from police departments nationwide. Served with “open-records requests” under Freedom of Information Act-like state laws, they almost uniformly resisted disclosing information about the devices and their uses. In doing so, they regularly cited nondisclosure agreements they had signed with the Harris Corporation, maker of the Stingray, and with the FBI, prohibiting them from telling anyone (including other government outfits) about how — or even that — they use the devices.
Sometimes such evasiveness reaches near-comical levels. For example, police in the city of Sunrise, Florida, served with an open-records request, refused to confirm or deny that they had any Stingray records at all. Under cover of a controversial national security court ruling, the CIA and the NSA sometimes resort to just this evasive tactic (known as a “Glomar response“). The Sunrise Police Department, however, is not the CIA, and no provision in Florida law would allow it to take such a tack. When the ACLU pointed out that the department had already posted purchase records for Stingrays on its public website, it generously provided duplicate copies of those very documents and then tried to charge the ACLU $20,000 for additional records.
In a no-less-bizarre incident, the Sarasota Police Department was about to turn some Stingray records over to the ACLU in accordance with Florida’s open-records law, when the U.S. Marshals Service swooped in and seized the records first, claiming ownership because it had deputized one local officer. And excessive efforts at secrecy are not unique to Florida, as those charged with enforcing the law commit themselves to Stingray secrecy in a way that makes them lawbreakers.
And it’s not just the public that’s being denied information about the devices and their uses; so are judges. Often, the police get a judge’s sign-off for surveillance without even bothering to mention that they will be using a Stingray. In fact, officers regularly avoid describing the technology to judges, claiming that they simply can’t violate those FBI nondisclosure agreements.
More often than not, police use Stingrays without bothering to get a warrant, instead seeking a court order on a more permissive legal standard. This is part of the charm of a new technology for the authorities: nothing is settled on how to use it. Appellate judges in Tallahassee, Florida, for instance, revealed that local police had used the tool more than 200 times without a warrant. In Sacramento, California, police admitted in court that they had, in more than 500 investigations, used Stingrays without telling judges or prosecutors. That was “an estimated guess,” since they had no way of knowing the exact number because they had conveniently deleted records of Stingray use after passing evidence discovered by the devices on to detectives.
Much of this blanket of secrecy, spreading nationwide, has indeed been orchestrated by the FBI, which has required local departments eager for the hottest new technology around to sign those nondisclosure agreements. One agreement, unearthed in Oklahoma, explicitly instructs the local police to find “additional and independent investigative means” to corroborate Stingray evidence. In short, they are to cover up the use of Stingrays by pretending their information was obtained some other way — the sort of dangerous constitutional runaround that is known euphemistically in law enforcement circles as a “parallel construction.” Now that information about the widespread use of this new technology is coming out — as in the Shemar Taylor trial in Baltimore — judges are beginning to rule that Stingray use does indeed require a warrant. They are also insisting that police must accurately inform judges when they intend to use a Stingray and disclose its privacy implications.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
And it’s not just the Stingray that’s taking local police forces into new and unknown realms of constitutionally questionable but deeply seductive technology. Consider the hot new trend of “predictive policing.” Its products couldn’t be high-techier. They go by a variety of names like PredPol (yep, short for predictive policing) and HunchLab (and there’s nothing wrong with a hunch, is there?). What they all promise, however, is the same thing: supposedly bias-free policing built on the latest in computer software and capable of leveraging big data in ways that — so their salesmen will tell you — can coolly determine where crime is most likely to occur next.
Such technology holds out the promise of allowing law enforcement agencies to deploy their resources to areas that need them most without that nasty element of human prejudice getting involved. “Predictive methods allow police to work more proactively with limited resources,” reports the RAND Corporation. But the new software offers something just as potentially alluring as efficient policing — exactly what the president’s task force called for. According to market leader PredPol, its technology “provides officers an opportunity to interact with residents, aiding in relationship building and strengthening community ties.”
How idyllic! In post-Ferguson America, that’s a winning sales pitch for decision-makers in blue. Not so surprisingly, then, PredPol is now used by nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and investment capital just keeps pouring into the company. In 2013, SF Weekly reported that over 150 departments across the nation were already using predictive policing software, and those numbers can only have risen as the potential for cashing in on the craze has attracted tech heavy hitters like IBM, Microsoft, and Palantir, the co-creation of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Like the Stingray, the software for predictive policing is yet another spillover from the country’s distant wars. PredPol was, according to SF Weekly, initially designed for “tracking insurgents and forecasting casualties in Iraq,” and was financed by the Pentagon. One of the company’s advisors, Harsh Patel, used to work for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm.
Civil libertarians and civil rights activists, however, are less than impressed with what’s being hailed as breakthrough police technology. We tend to view it instead as a set of potential new ways for the police to continue a long history of profiling and pre-convicting poor and minority youth. We also question whether the technology even performs as advertised. As we see it, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is likely to best describe how the new software will operate, or as the RAND Corporation puts it, “predictions are only as good as the underlying data used to make them.”
If, for instance, the software depends on historical crime data from a racially biased police force, then it’s just going to send a flood of officers into the very same neighborhoods they’ve always over-policed. And if that happens, of course, more personnel will find more crime — and presto, you have the potential for a perfect feedback loop of prejudice, arrests, and high-tech “success.” To understand what that means, keep in mind that, without a computer in sight, nearly four times as many blacks as whites are arrested for marijuana possession, even though usage among the two groups is about the same.
If you leave aside issues of bias, there’s still a fundamental question to answer about the new technology: Does the software actually work or, for that matter, reduce crime? Of course, the companies peddling such products insist that it does, but no independent analyses or reviews had yet verified its effectiveness until last year — or so it seemed at first.
In December 2015, the Journal of the American Statistical Association published a study that brought joy to the predictive crime-fighting industry. The study’s researchers concluded that a predictive policing algorithm outperformed human analysts in indicating where crime would occur, which in turn led to real crime reductions after officers were dispatched to the flagged areas. Only one problem: five of the seven authors held PredPol stock, and two were co-founders of the company. On its website, PredPol identifies the research as a “UCLA study,” but only because PredPol co-founder Jeffery Brantingham is an anthropology professor there.
Predictive policing is a brand new area where question marks abound. Transparency should be vital in assessing this technology, but the companies generally won’t allow communities targeted by it to examine the code behind it. “We wanted a greater explanation for how this all worked, and we were told it was all proprietary,” Kim Harris, a spokeswoman for Bellingham, Washington’s Racial Justice Coalition, told the Marshall Project after the city purchased such software last August. “We haven’t been comforted by the process.”
The Bellingham Police Department, which bought predictive software made by Bair Analytics with a $21,200 Justice Department grant, didn’t need to go to the city council for approval and didn’t hold community meetings to discuss the development or explain how the software worked. Because the code is proprietary, the public is unable to independently verify that it doesn’t have serious problems.
Even if the data underlying most predictive policing software accurately anticipates where crime will indeed occur — and that’s a gigantic if — questions of fundamental fairness still arise. Innocent people living in or passing through identified high crime areas will have to deal with an increased police presence, which, given recent history, will likely mean more questioning or stopping and frisking — and arrests for things like marijuana possession for which more affluent citizens are rarely brought in. Moreover, the potential inequality of all this may only worsen as police departments bring online other new technologies like facial recognition.
We’re on the verge of “big data policing,” suggests law professor Andrew Ferguson, which will “turn any unknown suspect into a known suspect,” allowing an officer to “search for information that might justify reasonable suspicion” and lead to stop-and-frisk incidents and aggressive questioning. Just imagine having a decades-old criminal record and facing police armed with such powerful, invasive technology.
This could lead to “the tyranny of the algorithm” and a Faustian bargain in which the public increasingly forfeits its freedoms in certain areas out of fears for its safety. “The Soviet Union had remarkably little street crime when they were at their worst of their totalitarian, authoritarian controls,” MIT sociologist Gary Marx observed. “But, my god, at what price?”
To Record and Serve… Those in Blue
On a June night in 2013, Augustin Reynoso discovered that his bicycle had been stolen from a CVS in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. A store security guard called the police while Reynoso’s brother Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and two friends tried to find the missing bike in the neighborhood. When the police arrived, they promptly ordered his two friends to put their hands up. Zeferino ran over, protesting that the police had the wrong men. At that point, they told him to raise his hands, too. He then lowered and raised his hands as the police yelled at him. When he removed his baseball hat, lowered his hands, and began to raise them again, he was shot to death.
The police insisted that Zeferino’s actions were “threatening” and so their shooting justified. They had two videos of it taken by police car cameras — but refused to release them.
Although police departments nationwide have been fighting any spirit of new openness, car and body cameras have at least offered the promise of bringing new transparency to the actions of officers on the beat. That’s why the ACLU and many civil rights groups, as well as President Obama, have spoken out in favor of the technology’s potential to improve police-community relations — but only, of course, if the police are obliged to release videos in situations involving allegations of abuse. And many departments are fighting that fiercely.
In Chicago, for instance, the police notoriously opposed the release of dashcam video in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, citing the supposed imperative of an “ongoing investigation.” After more than a year of such resistance, a judge finally ordered the video made public. Only then did the scandal of seeing Officer Jason Van Dyke unnecessarily pump 16 bullets into the 17-year-old’s body explode into national consciousness.
In Zeferino’s case, the police settled a lawsuit with his family for $4.7 million and yet continued to refuse to release the videos. It took two years before a judge finally ordered their release, allowing the public to see the shooting for itself.
Despite this, in April 2015 the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved a body-camera policy that failed to ensure future transparency, while protecting and serving the needs of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In doing so, it ignored the sort of best practices advocated by the White House, the president’s task force on policing, and even the Police Executive Research Forum, one of the profession’s most respected think tanks.
On the possibility of releasing videos of alleged police misconduct and abuse, the new policy remained silent, but LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, didn’t. They made it clear that such videos would generally be exempt from California’s public records law and wouldn’t be released without a judge’s orders. Essentially, the police reserved the right to release video when and how they saw fit. This self-serving policy comes from the most lethal large police department in the country, whose officers shot and killed 21 people last year.
Other departments around the country have made similar moves to ensure control over body camera videos. Texas and South Carolina, among other states, have even changed their open-records laws to give the police power over when such footage should (or should not) be released. In other words, when a heroic cop saves a drowning child, you’ll see the video; when that same cop guns down a fleeing suspect, don’t count on it.
Curiously, given the stated positions of the president and his task force, the federal government seems to have no fundamental problem with that. In May 2015, for example, the Justice Department announced competitive grants for the purchase of police body cameras, officially tying funding to good body-cam-use policies. The LAPD applied. Despite letters from groups like the ACLU pointing out just how poor its version of body-cam policy was, the Justice Department awarded it $1 million to purchase approximately 700 cameras — accountability and transparency be damned.
To receive public money for a tool theoretically meant for transparency and accountability and turn it into one of secrecy and impunity, with the feds’ complicity and financial backing, sends an unmistakable message on how new technology is likely to affect America’s future policing practices. Think of it as a door slowly opening onto a potential policing dystopia.
Hello Darkness, Power’s Old Friend
Keep in mind that this article barely scratches the surface when it comes to the increasing numbers of ways in which the police’s use of technology has infiltrated our everyday lives.
In states and cities across America, some public bus and train systems have begun to add to video surveillance, the surreptitious recording of the conversations of passengers, a potential body blow to the concept of a private conversation in public space. And whether or not the earliest versions of predictive policing actually work, the law enforcement community is already moving to technology that will try to predict who will commit crimes in the future. In Chicago, the police are using social networking analysis and prediction technology to draw up “heat lists” of those who might perpetuate violent crimes someday and pay them visits now. You won’t be shocked to learn which side of the tracks such future perpetrators live on. The rationale behind all this, as always, is “public safety.”
Nor can anyone begin to predict how law enforcement will avail itself of science-fiction-like technology in the decade to come, much less decades from now, though cops on patrol may very soon know a lot about you and your past. They will be able to cull such information from a multitude of databases at their fingertips, while you will know little or nothing about them — a striking power imbalance in a situation in which one person can deprive the other of liberty or even life itself.
With little public debate, often in almost total secrecy, increasing numbers of police departments are wielding technology to empower themselves rather than the communities they protect and serve. At a time when trust in law enforcement is dangerously low, police departments should be embracing technology’s democratizing potential rather than its ability to give them almost superhuman powers at the expense of the public trust.
Unfortunately, power loves the dark.
Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor with the American Civil Liberties Union. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly.
Jay Stanley is senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He is the editor of the ACLU’s Free Future blog and has authored and co-authored a variety of ACLU reports on privacy and technology topics.
Copyright 2016 Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley
The FBI says it caught a terrorist trying to blow up a synagogue on the outskirts of Miami.
But the FBI supplied the bomb.
The device was fake, part of an undercover FBI sting operation that, like hundreds of controversial investigations before it, used an undercover informant to target an alleged terrorist.
In the Miami case, federal authorities accuse 40-year-old James Medina of planning to bomb the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center north of the city.
The FBI started their investigation of Medina in March 2015 “based on his suspected desire to attack” the Jewish center, according to an affidavit filed in federal court and a statement released by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.
Medina, who said he converted to Islam four years ago and referred to his alias “James Muhammad” in court, has been charged with “attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.” He pleaded not guilty on Monday morning.
Apart from the fact that the FBI supplied Medina with the weapon that he intended to use against the Jewish center, rights activists and legal experts are troubled by the facts presented by the FBI and Justice Department. Their concern includes instances where the informant, or “confidential human source” in bureau parlance, offered to assist Medina in attacking the center, and even suggested that he link the attack to the Islamic State.
The FBI’s affidavit — which reveals only enough information to justify the criminal complaint against Medina, and does not include all of the evidence against him — says that an informant met with Medina in March and secretly recorded conversations with him after he expressed a desire to attack the Jewish center.
But the affidavit does not say how the FBI learned of Medina’s “suspected desire” to attack the Jewish center, or what initial remarks or actions led agents to believe that Medina was willing to use violence before he devised his plans with the informant.
David Shapiro, a former New Jersey prosecutor and FBI special agent who is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the affidavit makes it appear that the FBI did more than a little pushing to get Medina to develop the synagogue bombing plan.
“It seems this desire was developed,” he said. “It was watered with very potent fertilizer.”
The affidavit lays out how the FBI informant took an active part in helping Medina cook up the bombing plot. It recounts how the informant drove Medina to the Jewish center and suggested that he launch the attack on a Jewish holiday.
When the two later discussed a claim of responsibility, the affidavit says that the informant “indicated that they should leave a ‘clue’ as to who was responsible and Medina concurred.” It’s the informant, rather than Medina, who suggests linking the bombing to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or the East African al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.
“You can, you can do all that,” the affidavit quotes Medina as saying. “Yeah, we can print up or something and make it look like it’s ISIS here in America. Just like that.”
The informant later suggested that Medina could use “untraceable” firearms instead of AK-47s that an acquaintance of Medina’s said he could provide. At another meeting, the informant “addressed the concerns of entering the synagogue with firearms and then getting shot and instead proposed leaving an unspecified object behind and leaving the scene.” The informant suggested that Medina could use a bomb with a timer, and then introduced Medina to a man described as having “explosives expertise and access.” The bomb expert was really an undercover FBI agent.
Medina didn’t do himself any favors by repeatedly telling both the FBI informant and undercover agent that he was willing to leave the bomb at the synagogue, then escape with the informant and watch as they remotely detonated it. He also repeatedly assured the undercover agent that he was willing to go forward with the plot, according to the affidavit.
When asked why, Medina answers, “Because I realize that I have a lot of love for Allah. And I know that all these, all these wars that are going on, it hurts me, too. You know? It’s my call of duty. I gotta get back, when I’m doing this, I feel that I’m doing it for a good cause for Allah.”
In a subsequent conversation, the agent asked Medina if he was okay with killing women and children. Medina appeared to say yes, but he also seemed hesitant.
Medina: I think so. I think I’m fine, Urn hmm.
Agent: You need to be sure brother.
Medina: I am pretty sure. I think so. I believe so. I’m ready bro!
Agent: Ok. Cause you know you don’t have to do any of this.
Medina: What do you mean doing it?
Agent: No, you don’t have to do it if you’re not comfortable with it.
Medina: What? I’m ready.
Agent: It’s Allah’s will but you know…
Medina: I’m up for it. I really am. This is no joke. This is serious dog. If I have the equipment, believe me, in the time is, is that day and we doin’ it, I’m up for it bro. Just like I said.
The FBI says Medina and the undercover agent decided to bomb the synagogue on Friday, April 29. Medina made three videos on the informant’s phone: One as a goodbye to his family in case he was killed, and the other two to explain why he conducted the attack.
“I am a Muslim and I don’t like what is going on in this world. I’m going to handle business here in America. Aventura, watch your back. ISIS is in the house,” he said in one video. In another, he said, “Today is gonna be a day where Muslims attack America. I’m going to set a bomb in Aventura.”
On the appointed day, the agent met with Medina, gave him the fake bomb, instructed him how to use it, and then drove him to the synagogue. Medina exited the vehicle and began to walk toward the synagogue, at which point the authorities arrested him.
The US government has convicted more than 200 people on terrorism-related charges using similar methods, according to Trevor Aaronson, executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and author of The FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. He said that the FBI “isn’t finding people with a bomb in their garage. They’re finding people who are loudmouths and they say, “Oh, we can help you in the name of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.”
“These are sting operations where the FBI provides the means and opportunities for people to commit crimes,” Aaronson said. “And the most disturbing part is that most of these people seem to be mentally ill and do not have connections to overseas terrorists on their own.”
Medina fits this profile. The 40-year-old is divorced, single, and unemployed. He was arrested previously for behavior consistent with mental illness, including sending more than 50 text messages, some threatening violence, to his estranged family and then telling a cop about it.
Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, said the quoted conversations in the affidavit that are supposed to damn Medina instead make it look like he can “barely seem to string a sentence together.”
And while it appears to be clear that Medina is a bigot who harbors anti-Jewish feelings, neither of those two things is illegal. Of course, plotting to blow up a synagogue is illegal. Retired FBI counterterrorism executive David Gomez says the FBI’s investigative techniques were legitimate, even if Medina does have mental or cognitive issues.
“Just because you’re dumb doesn’t mean you’re not dangerous,” he said. “Just because you have some mental incapacitation doesn’t mean you’re not capable of murder.”
Gomez said he’s seen other cases where lonely, fringe suspects join gangs or right-wing extremist groups to gain approval, and then peer pressure or other factors leads them to commit violent acts. In cases such as Medina’s, he argued, the FBI is just getting to these suspects before other malicious actors.
“Let’s say we didn’t get a source on this person, and somebody else talks to them and says, ‘Wanna blow up some Jews?’ It doesn’t matter if you blow them up for the KKK or ISIS. Some guy says, ‘I’ll drive you there,’ and there are plenty of people out there who would do that,” Gomez said. “The FBI and others are worried about a guy who gets in with the wrong crowd.”
Greenberg questioned where the rationale for this type of investigation ends.
“If you want to look for individuals who are susceptible to some kind of inducement to violence, and who have to be told whose name the violence is in, there are countless people and countless extremist groups you could identify them with,” she said.
Gomez said that the FBI’s informants and undercover agents set up the suspect for the “next proactive move,” but don’t make them take it.
“At some point he has to have an overt act,” he said — such as taking what he thinks is a bomb onto the grounds of a synagogue with the intent to detonate it.
Under the law, this act essentially closes the door to an entrapment defense.
“Those are hard to assert in this situation,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “That’s the situation that the FBI and DOJ are taking advantage of.”
According to Greenberg, the FBI has been using these types of investigations to send a message: “If someone approaches you and asks you if want help with a terrorist attack, you’re supposed to say no.”
Gomez notes that since 9/11, the bureau has been tasked with preventing another terrorist attack on US soil.
“The attitude is, do what you have to legally do to prevent a Paris-style attack in the US,” he said, “and I think there are a lot of prosecutors out there who would say, ‘I would rather prosecute a case and take the chance on losing on technicality or jury nullification than take a chance to not prosecute on terrorism charges.”
But most terrorism cases do not go to trial, meaning prosecutors rarely lose. Most defense lawyers encourage their clients to enter into a plea agreement in order to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
“The threat of long-term incarceration compels people to cut their losses,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who worked on undercover domestic terrorism investigations. “Part of reason they’re encouraged to cut losses is that when these cases go to trial, despite the judges expressing concerns about FBI methodology, the political and social climate is such that fear actually compels them to not acquit people based on entrapment or other government misconduct.”
The FBI declined to comment on the Medina case or other counterterrorism investigations like it, but said in a statement that there are “strict guidelines governing the use of undercover operations which involve extensive legal reviews and senior-level approvals.”
The bureau’s director, James B. Comey, told Congress in February that “preventing terrorist attacks remains the FBI’s top priority” as he requested more than $9 billion to fund the bureau’s operations in 2017.
Nearly half of the FBI’s 2016 budget was committed to “counterterrorism and counterintelligence” operations, along with more than 13,000 members of the bureau’s 35,000 employees.
According to German, the funding means the FBI is under pressure to show Congress that it’s using its resources to stop terror attacks.
“Is there actually a threat being resolved, or is the FBI manufacturing these terrorism cases to make its counterterrorism efforts look worthwhile?” he asked. “Knowing that there are real threats out there, are they wasting resources when the people they’re targeting don’t present an immediate threat?”
Handeyside said counterterrorism cases like Medina’s are not only a waste of resources, they might actually be making America less safe.
“It’s not only that they’re manufacturing terror plots, but also sowing fear and distrust within minority communities in ways that I think are damaging to counterterrorism efforts,” he said. “So there are not only constitutional issues, but also effectiveness issues.”
Follow Benjamin Gilbert on Twitter: @
The FBI is expanding their operation and looking to enlist religious leaders, social workers, mental health professionals, and leaders in local communities in order to prevent terrorism, North Jersey’s The Record reports.
The plan is to establish a network of Shared Responsibility Committees (or SRCs) across America that would keep an eye out for potential rabble-rousers, a 4 page FBI letter acquired by the Intercept implies.
The document states “the primary goal of an SRC intervention is disengagement,” and the “FBI’s primary objectives in referring an individual to the SRC are to enable community partners to develop community-led multidisciplinary solutions and to build community resilience and foster greater community trust, while also fulfilling the FBI’s national security and public safety responsibilities.”
Some of these solutions decided by the committee may include “mentoring support, life skills, anger management, cognitive or behavioral therapies, constructive pursuits, education skills, career building and support, family support, health awareness, housing support, drug and alcohol awareness and treatment, engagement and exposure with perceived adversaries, and mental health care.”
Civil-liberties groups and Muslims are upset over the FBI’s connection to the committee, predicting that SRCs will become “government informants,” and that “private conversations could become part of criminal investigations.”
Law enforcement officials believe the organization is justified, claiming, “it targets not just Muslim extremists but also people influenced by U.S.-based extremist groups, and it seeks to help people before they turn to violence.”
How does the FBI intend to identify individuals who need rehabilitation? Local police forces across America are acquiring Real Time Crime Centers (RTCC) which use a “citizen ranking” system that compiles data from social media, smartphones and even pizza deliveries to compute your threat score.
The FBI has adopted a similar style of policing using a “$1 billion Next Generation Identification project, which is creating a trove of fingerprints, iris scans, data from facial recognition software and other sources that aid local departments in identifying suspects,” The Washington Post reports.
The FBI does not consider these community groups a form of “government spying,” since they may not see every incident. An FBI official interviewed by The Record stated, “I don’t think it’s spying by the government because some of this stuff may never arise to us.”
The FBI document claims that these committees will not be used “as a means to gather intelligence,” however, it also makes a few clear contradictions to this claim throughout the rest of the document.
For example, the letter explains, “the SRC can, but will not be required to, inform the FBI of an individual’s progress throughout the course of the program.” So what happens to the information that is voluntarily given up? The FBI document forewarns that, “the FBI may share any information the SRC provides with other law enforcement agencies, members of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and foreign government agencies as needed.”
SRC members are required to “immediately notify the FBI of any civil, administrative, or criminal claim, complaint, discovery request, or other request for information of which the SRC member receives notice, concerning or arising from any FBI referral or otherwise relating to any FBI referral,” indulging the FBI with intelligence they’ve gathered.
“The community sees problems first. When the FBI sees it, it’s too late. If the community can be empowered to take over, it will save us time in the end [instead of] having to arrest people,” an FBI official told North Jersey‘s The Record. Justifying the pre-crime tactics by SRCs, the agent said, “We want to get to him when he’s 16 and not 20 and shooting up a place.”
On April 2, 1969, twenty-one members of the Harlem Chapter of the Black Panther Party were formally indicted and charged with 156 counts of “conspiracy” to blow up subway and police stations, five local department stores, six railroads, and the Bronx based New York Botanical Garden.
By the early morning hours of April 3, mass sweeps were conducted city wide by combat squads of armed police. Law enforcement agencies ranging from the CIA, FBI, U.S. Marshalls and NY state police worked simultaneously to coordinate assaults on panther homes and community-based offices. After numerous raids, ten panther men and two panther women were formally arrested, processed and quickly jailed. To anyone who supported radical politics of the 1960’s, there was no doubt that the indictment of the Panther ‘New York 21’ was a political and racist frame-up to not only “disrupt, discredit and destroy,” but to utterly dismantle the Black Panther Party from the inside out.
The absurd and excessive nature of such charges were clearly mounted as a federal effort to pit chapters and regions against each other, in a manner that would totally paralyze panther party leadership. What these charges represented was a form of unprecedented legal repression, created as a structural alternative to break their stronghold, reputation and community base. For the panthers who fortunately weren’t murdered or assassinated, exiled or imprisoned, the courts became a convenient and effective form of legal lynching, a straight-jacket beyond the walls—a robbery of valuable time and resources.
Each member of the ‘New York 21’ was held on $100,000 bail, totaling over $2.1 million. It was not until January of 1970 that the first panther was able to post bail. That panther was 22 year old Alice Faye Williams, better known as Afeni Shakur.
Self-Appointed, Black Anointed
In a grueling and tedious trial, Afeni Shakur (facing 300 years of prison time) daringly chose to be her own attorney in court, partly because financial resources were already razor-thin. Afeni, however, meticulously conducted her own legal research, her own interviews, as well as in-court cross examinations – fully realizing that “she would be the one serving, not the lawyers.” She was the only panther who served as their own counsel.
Here was a small-framed impoverished black girl from the backwoods of Lumberton, North Carolina, staring down a full team of New York state prosecutors – outwitting a full cast of establishment-owned media outlets. Here was a single mother with no formal degree, going legally toe to toe with COINTELPRO.
Despite the odds, after all the surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, infiltration and frame-ups, not one shred of state’s evidence stood in court. In their undying efforts to “discredit,” it was revealed during the trial that the FBI had actually planted undercover infiltrators who, under oath, admitted their role as provocateurs.
Though the case of the Black Panther ‘New York 21’ was the longest trial in New York state history, on her own guts and wit, Afeni Shakur would successfully secure her freedom. No money. No attorney. No privilege. Pregnant with her second child, Tupac Amaru Shakur, what Afeni was able to do in that courtroom was nothing short of miraculous. Magical. Mind blowing.
On May 12 1971, after 2 years of legal proceedings, all 21 panthers were acquitted of their charges. The jury needed just a mere 45 minutes to see the truth.
Sister Soldier, Woman Warrior
Afeni Shakur may have hailed from the Black Panther Party’s, esteemed Harlem Chapter, but her roots were originally from the Black Belt South. Viciously poor, but still mobile, her family moved to the Bronx when she was 11 years. Her inquisitive affection toward the Black Nationalist scene fit right in there.
Afeni first learned of the Black Panther Party at the corner of 125th and 7th Avenue while listening to party co-founder, Bobby Seale deliver a speech. A dedicated soldier from the very beginning, Afeni always placed principle over profit, the people above her own individual desire. Black Panther Party member and ‘New York 21’ co-defendant, Dhoruba Bin Wahad very warmly remembers Afeni as, “the type of person that worked hard, who would stay up all night to get leaflets done.”
Afeni was the kind of comrade who garnered respect from both the women and the men. As former Black Panther, Jamal Joseph stated, “Afeni taught me more about being a man, more than any other man or woman.” As the only high school member of the New York 21, Joseph very often, looked to Afeni for guidance and leadership.
The name Afeni was given to her by a community elder from South Carolina, a descendant of the Yoruba tradition who chose the name Afeni meaning, “lover of the people.” And love the people is exactly what Afeni did. A dedicated community organizer, fearless warrior, activist, scholar, teacher, and real-life revolutionary, Afeni Shakur gave her life to the people, to the full embodiment of Black Power, people power, (and as the sisters say today) Black Girl Magic!
As we commemorate the mother of Hip Hop’s “Black Jesus,” let us not forget the Black woman general who indubitably blazed her own legacy, who literally offered her life as a gift to the people, who taught her son, Tupac Amaru to do the same. Farewell to the Black woman general who just joined Malcolm, Harriet, Ida. All power to the people! Black Power!
Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and Human Rights Delegate with Witness for Peace and organizer with Workers World Socialist Party. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In February 2015, he traveled to both Syria and Lebanon with Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney. Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.
How do you spell chutzpah? I submit an alternate spelling: O-B-A-M-A D-O-J.
How the Obama administration interprets the phrase “government transparency,” in three acts.
Act One: Secret Law
The Obama administration is trying to keep secret a 2003 Office of Legal Counsel memo outlining how federal intelligence agencies interpret “commercial services agreements” between telecoms and their customers. The memo, which the ACLU seeks in a FOIA lawsuit, likely outlines the government’s legal position on how intelligence agencies can access information held by telecommunications companies. Senator Ron Wyden, who from his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee has routinely warned Americans of unconstitutional intelligence activities, has said the government’s “opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law, and should be withdrawn.”
Wyden has also publicly stated that the DOJ misled a federal court during its legal fight to keep the memo secret. In a March 2016 letter, Wyden wrote that a DOJ memorandum of law filed in the case contains a “key assertion” that is false. “This assertion appears to be central to the DOJ’s legal arguments,” Wyden wrote.
Now the DOJ has fired back at Wyden, asserting in a brief in the ACLU lawsuit that the Senator’s claims about this “key assertion” were “wholly erroneous” and “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law.” The Justice Department claims the administration can keep the legal memo secret because it is not “working law,” but rather confidential legal advice. According to the DOJ, even though an agency may rely on an Office of Legal Counsel memo “by acting in a manner that is consistent with the advice,” the memo doesn’t necessarily “establish agency policy,” meaning it’s not “working law”—which is subject to public disclosure—but instead confidential legal advice.
(As Wyden noted, the DOJ “isn’t denying that this opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law”; instead, it’s arguing that the legal memo at issue doesn’t constitute law.)
To repeat: The government is arguing that even if agencies “rely” on an OLC memo and act “in a manner consistent” with its advice, it isn’t law. Instead, it’s private legal advice, which just so happens to be something the government can keep secret from the public.
Act Two: Limitless Surveillance
In April 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released parts of a November 2015 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion about how the FBI, NSA, and CIA use information collected pursuant to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. (The FISA Amendments Act, signed into law in 2008, put congress’ stamp of approval on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.) Section 702 of that statute allows the intelligence agencies to warrantlessly wiretap Americans’ international communications, as long as Americans or people within the United States are not “targeted.” Part of that statute requires that the Attorney General and ODNI prepare annual reports, called “certifications,” to be reviewed by FISC judges. These certifications include information about how, why, and under what circumstances intelligence agencies “minimize” information about non-targets or US persons caught up in its dragnets.
The recently released November 2015 FISC opinion describes some of these minimization procedures in detail. Among them are procedures related to the capture, dissemination, and use of attorney-client privileged communications. The opinion reveals that the FBI can disseminate attorney-client privileged communications as long as the FBI’s lawyers approve it. The rules require the FBI to “advise recipients that the dissemination contains information subject to attorney-client privilege, that the information is being disseminated ‘solely for intelligence or lead purposes,’ and that it may not be further disseminated or used in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding without the approval of the AG or the Assistant AG for National Security.”
In other words: The US government allows itself to warrantlessly wiretap our international communications and even use our attorney-client privileged communications for intelligence purposes, as long as it doesn’t disclose to criminal defendants or courts that it has done so.
Act Three: Upside Down World
The US government refuses to disclose a legal memo that likely describes how intelligence agencies spy on our communications, claiming that the memo isn’t “working law” but instead constitutes “private” legal advice. Secret law is thereby justified by attorney-client privilege. In this case, the attorney and the client are one in the same: the executive branch.
At the same time, the government gives itself the power to warrantlessly wiretap, retain, disseminate, and use for intelligence purposes our attorney-client privileged communications—so long as the fact of agencies doing so never becomes public. Surveillance of attorney-client privileged communications is justified, as long as it remains secret.
Secret law, secret surveillance. Attorney-client privilege for government lawyers advising government agencies about government policy. No attorney-client privilege for ordinary people, who will likely never learn that the FBI or NSA has warrantlessly obtained their confidential communications.
Only in an upside down world could this administration choose this path, having called itself the “most transparent administration” in history.
“Some people think they can lie and get away with it,” said former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with feigned outrage. And, of course, he has never been held accountable for his lies, proving his dictum true.
The question today is: Will former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Teflon coat be as impermeable to deep scratches as Rumsfeld’s has proven to be?
With the “mainstream media” by and large giving Hillary Clinton a pass on her past, few Americans realize how many Pinocchio faces need to be tacked onto many of her statements. Clinton is said to be “unquestionably” the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, essentially the presumptive nominee. That is unquestionably true – but only because she has not been questioned with much rigor at all. And on those few occasions when she has been asked hard questions, she has often ducked them.
For example, at the March 9 debate in Miami, Jorge Ramos, the longtime anchor for Noticiero Univision, asked Secretary Clinton whether she would quit the presidential race if she were indicted for putting classified information on her private email server.
She replied: “Oh, for goodness sake, it’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Is Hillary Clinton Above the Law?”]
Not so fast, Madame Secretary. It is looking more and more as if you will, after all, have to answer that question.
Those “Damn Emails” Again
On Wednesday in Washington, DC, a federal judge issued an order that may eventually require Clinton to testify under oath in a lawsuit related to the private email server she used while Secretary of State.
The judge gave Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, permission to take sworn testimony from close Clinton aide Huma Abedin and others over the next eight weeks. It is possible that Clinton herself will have to testify under oath on the serious email issue before arriving at the Democratic convention in July.
One key issue in question is whether all relevant documents have been provided to Judicial Watch. My guess is that – given lawyers’ propensity, and often their incentive, to secure delay after delay in such proceedings – there may not be much likelihood of all this happening that quickly.
More precarious for Secretary Clinton, in my view, is the possibility that FBI Director James Comey will be allowed to perform a serious investigation and pursue Clinton on sworn testimony she has already given; for example, on whether she was aware of an operation run out of Benghazi to deliver Libyan weapons to rebels in Syria.
During her marathon testimony on Oct. 22, 2015, to the House Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, was very specific in his questioning, leaving Clinton little wiggle-room:
Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any U.S. efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to provide any weapons, directly or indirectly, or through a cutout, to any Syrian rebels or militias or opposition to Syrian forces?
Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to facilitate or support the provision of weapons to any opposition of Gadhafi’s forces, Libyan rebels or militias through a third party or country?
Did Secretary Clinton think we were “born yesterday,” as Harry Truman used to say? From what is already known about the activities of the U.S. “mission” and “annex” in Benghazi and the role played by the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens there, it seems quite likely that Clinton perjured herself in answering No.
And I believe this will become quite clear, if the FBI is allowed to pursue an unfettered investigation – and even clearer if the National Security Agency shares the take from its dragnet surveillance.
But those are big IFs. If I read President Barack Obama correctly, he will be more inclined to tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch to call off the FBI, just as he told former Attorney General Eric Holder to let retired General (and CIA Director) David Petraeus off with a slap on the wrist for giving his mistress intelligence of the highest classification and then lying about it to the FBI.
As for Clinton, perjury is not the kind of rap that she would welcome as she pursues the presidency. Trouble is, not only FBI investigators but also NSA collect-it-all snoopers almost certainly have the goods on whatever the truth is, with their easy access to the content of emails both classified and unclassified. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s Damning Emails.”]
Sadly, Comey and his counterparts at NSA are likely to cave in if the President tells them to cease and desist. Indeed, like legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, they may relish the prospect of being able to hold their knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s possible perjury and other misdeeds like a sword of Damocles over her head if she becomes president.
Thus, unless another patriot with the courage of an Edward Snowden or a Daniel Ellsberg recognizes that his primary duty is to honor his/her oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” and acts accordingly, the country could end up with a compromised President beholden to Hoover’s successors and the NSA sleuths who “collect everything,” including the emails of the Secretary of State – and those of the President.
Those at the FBI and NSA with the courage to consider whistleblowing need to be aware of the proud tradition they would be joining. The first recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence (2002) was Coleen Rowley of the FBI, and in 2004 the award was given to FBI analyst and translator Sibel Edmonds.
As for signals intelligence, no fewer than four Sam Adams whistleblower awardees have come from NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ: the UK’s Katharine Gun (2003), and three from NSA itself – Thomas Drake (2011), Edward Snowden (2013), and William Binney (2015).
More distinguished company among people of integrity would be difficult – if not impossible – to find. In a few months, we will be considering nominations for the award to be given in 2017.
In the mid-1960s, amid growing skepticism about the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman findings on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there was a struggle inside CBS News about whether to allow the critics a fair public hearing at the then-dominant news network. Some CBS producers pushed for a debate between believers and doubters and one even submitted a proposal to put the Warren Report “on trial,” according to internal CBS documents.
But CBS executives, who were staunch supporters of the Warren findings and had personal ties to some commission members, spiked those plans and instead insisted on presenting a defense of the lone-gunman theory while dismissing doubts as baseless conspiracy theories, the documents show.
Though it may be hard to remember – amid today’s proliferation of cable channels and Internet sites – CBS, along with NBC and ABC, wielded powerful control over what the American people got to see, hear and take seriously in the 1960s. By slapping down any criticism of the Warren Commission, CBS executives effectively prevented the case surrounding the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy from ever receiving the full airing that it deserved.
Beyond that historical significance, the internal documents – compiled by onetime CBS News assistant producer Roger Feinman – show how a major mainstream news organization green-lights one approach to presenting sensitive national security news while blocking another. The documents also shed light on how senior news executives, who have bought into one interpretation of the facts, are highly resistant to revisit the evidence.
CBS News jumped onboard the blue-ribbon Warren Commission’s findings as soon as they were released on Sept. 27, 1964, just over 10 months after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. In a special report, CBS and its anchor Walter Cronkite preempted regular programming and, with the assistance of reporter Dan Rather, devoted two commercial-free hours to endorsing the main tenets of that report.
However, despite Cronkite and Rather giving the Warren Report their public embrace, other people, who were not in the employ of the mainstream media, examined critically the report and the accompanying 26 volumes. Some of these citizens were lawyers and others were professors, the likes of Vincent Salandria and Richard Popkin. They came to the conclusion that CBS had been less than rigorous in its examination.
By 1967, the analyses challenging the Warren Report’s conclusions had become widespread, including popular books by Edward Epstein, Mark Lane, Sylvia Meagher and Josiah Thompson. Thompson’s book, Six Seconds in Dallas, was excerpted and placed on the cover of the wide-circulation magazine Saturday Evening Post. Lane was appearing on talk shows. Prosecutor Jim Garrison had announced a reopening of the JFK case in New Orleans. The dam was threatening to break.
The doubts about the Warren Report had even spread into the ranks at CBS News, where correspondent Daniel Schorr and Washington Bureau chief Bill Small recommended a fair and critical look at the report’s methodology and findings. Top prime-time producer Les Midgley later joined the effort.
CBS News vice president Gordon Manning sent the proposal on to CBS News president Richard Salant in August 1966, but it was declined. Manning tried again in October, suggesting an open debate between the critics of the Warren Report and former Commission counsels, moderated by a law school dean or the president of the American Bar Association. The idea was to give the two sides a chance to make their best points before the viewing public.
One month after Manning’s debate proposal, Life Magazine published a front-page story in which the Warren Commission’s verdict was questioned by photographic evidence from the Zapruder film (which the magazine owned). Life also interviewed Texas Gov. John Connally who disagreed that he and Kennedy had been hit by the same shot, a claim that undercut the “single bullet theory” at the heart of the Warren Report.
Without the assertion that a single bullet inflicted multiple wounds on Kennedy and Connally, who was riding in front of the President, the commission’s verdict collapses. The magazine story ended with a call to reopen the case. Indeed, Life had put together a small journalistic team to do its own internal investigation.
A few days after this issue appeared, Manning again pressed for a CBS special. This time he suggested the title “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald,” with a panel of law school deans reviewing the evidence against Oswald in a mock trial, including evidence that the Warren Commission had not included. In other words, there would be a chance for American “jurors” to weigh the evidence that might have been presented against Oswald if he had lived and to make a judgment on his guilt. Again, this approach offered the potential for a reasonably balanced examination of the Kennedy assassination.
At this point, Manning was joined by producer Midgley, who had produced the two-hour 1964 CBS special. Midgley’s suggestion differed from Manning’s in that he wanted to title the show “The Warren Report on Trial.” Midgley suggested a three-night, three-hour series with one night given over to the commission defenders, one night including all the witnesses that the commission overlooked or discounted, and the last night including a verdict produced by legal experts. But the title itself suggested a level of skepticism that had not been part of the earlier proposals.
The Higher-ups Intervene
However, then CBS senior executives began to intervene. On Dec. 1, 1966, Salant wrote a memo to John Schneider, president of CBS Broadcast Group, telling him that he might refer the proposal to the CBS News Executive Committee (CNEC). According to information that a former CBS assistant producer Roger Feinman obtained during a legal hearing against CBS, plus secondary sources, CNEC was a secretive group that was created in the wake of Edward R. Murrow’s departure from CBS.
Murrow was a true investigative reporter who became famous through his reports on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s abuses and the mistreatment of migrant farm workers. The upper management at CBS did not like the controversies that these reports generated among influential segments of the American power structure. There was a perceived need to tamp down on such wide-ranging and independent-minded investigations. After all, the CBS executives were part of that power structure.
CBS News president Salant epitomized that blurring of high-level corporate journalism and America’s ruling class. Salant had gone to Exeter Academy, Harvard, and then Harvard Law School. He was handpicked from the network’s Manhattan legal firm by CBS President Frank Stanton to join his management team.
During World War II, Stanton had worked in the Office of War Information, the psychological warfare branch. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower had appointed Stanton to a small committee to organize how the United States would survive a nuclear attack. From 1961-67, Stanton was chairman of Rand Corporation, a CIA-associated think tank.
The other two members of CNEC were Sig Mickelson, who had preceded Salant as CBS News president and then became a director of Time-Life Broadcasting, and CBS founder Bill Paley, who had also served in the World War II psy-war branch of the Office of War Information and – after the war – let CIA Director Allen Dulles have the spy agency informally debrief CBS overseas correspondents.
When Salant turned the Warren Commission issue over to CNEC, the prospects for any objective or skeptical treatment of the JFK case faded. “The establishment of CNEC effectively curtailed the news division’s independence,” Feinman later wrote about his discoveries.
Further, Salant had no journalistic experience and was in almost daily communication with Stanton, whose background was in government propaganda.
The day after Salant informed CNEC about the proposed JFK assassination special, Salant told CBS News vice president Manning that he was wavering on the mock trial concept. Salant’s next move was even more ominous. He sent both Manning and prime-time news producer Midgley to California to talk to two lawyers about the project.
One of the attorneys was Edwin Huddleson, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Cooley, Godward, Castro and Huddleson. Huddleson attended Harvard Law with Salant and, like Stanton, was on the board of the Rand Corporation. The other lawyer was Bayless Manning, Dean of Stanford Law School. They told the CBS representatives that they were against the network undertaking the project on the grounds of “the national interest” and because of the topic’s “political implications.”
CBS News vice president Manning reported that both attorneys advised the CBS team to ignore the critics of the Warren Commission or to appoint a special panel to critique their books, in other words, to put the critics on trial. Huddleson also steered the CBS team to cooperative scientists who would counter the critics.
On his return to CBS headquarters, Manning saw the writing on the wall. He knew what his CBS superiors really wanted and it wasn’t some no-holds-barred examination of the Warren Commission’s flaws. So, he suggested a new title for the series, “In Defense of the Warren Report,” and wrote that CBS should dismiss “the inane, irresponsible, and hare-brained challenges of Mark Lane and others of that stripe.”
Out on a Limb
Manning’s defection from an open-minded treatment of the evidence to a one-sided Warren Commission defense left producer Midgley out on a limb. However, unaware of what Salant was up to, on Dec. 14, 1966, Midgley circulated a memo about how he planned on approaching the Warren Report project. He proposed running experiments that were more scientific than “the ridiculous ones run by the FBI.” He still wanted a mock trial to show how the operation of the Commission was “almost incredibly inadequate.”
In response, Salant circulated an anonymous, undated, paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal to Midgley’s plan, which Feinman’s later investigation determined was written by Warren Commissioner John McCloy, then Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and the father of Ellen McCloy, Salant’s administrative assistant.
In this memo, McCloy wrote that “the chief evidence that Oswald acted alone and shot alone is not to be found in the ballistics and pathology of the assassination, but in the fact of his loner life.” As many Warren Commission critics have noted, it was this approach – discounting or ignoring the medical and ballistics evidence, but concentrating on Oswald’s alleged social life – that was a fatal flaw of the Warren Report.
Despite the familial conflict of interest, Ellen McCloy was added to the distribution list for almost all memos related to the Kennedy assassination project and thus could serve as a secret back-channel between CBS and her father.
A Stonewall Defense
Clearly, the original idea for a fresh examination of the Warren Commission and the evidence that had arisen since its report was published in 1964 had been turned on its head. The CBS brass wanted a defense, not a critique.
Salant asked producer Midgley, “Is the question whether Oswald was a CIA or FBI informant really so substantial that we have to deal with it?” Midgley, increasingly alone out on the limb, replied, “Yes, we must treat it.”
As the initial plan for a forthright examination of the Warren Commission’s shortcomings was transformed into a stonewall defense of the official findings, there was still the problem of Midgley, the last holdout. But eventually his head was turned, too.
While the four-night special was in production, Midgley became engaged to Betty Furness, a former actress-turned-television-commercial pitchwoman whom President Lyndon Johnson appointed as his special assistant for consumer affairs, even though her only experience in the field had been selling Westinghouse appliances for 11 years on television. She was sworn in on April 27, 1967, which was about two months before the CBS production aired. Two weeks after it was broadcast, Midgley and Furness were married.
As Kai Bird’s biography of McCloy, The Chairman, makes clear, Johnson and McCloy were friends and colleagues. But there is another point about how Midgley was convinced to go along with McCloy’s view of the Warren Commission. Around the same time he married Furness, he received a significant promotion, elevated to executive editor of the network’s flagship news program, “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.” This made him, in essence, the top news editor at CBS, a decision that required the consultation and approval of Salant, Cronkite and Stanton – and very likely the CNEC.
So, instead of a serious investigation into the murder of President Kennedy – at a time when there was the possibility of effective national action to get at the truth – CBS News delivered a stalwart defense of the Warren Commission’s conclusions and heaped ridicule on anyone who dared question those findings.
Shaping that approach was not only the influence of Warren Commission member John McCloy, an icon of the Establishment, but the carrots and sticks applied to senior CBS producers, such as Gordon Manning and Les Midgley, who initially favored a more skeptical approach but were convinced to abandon that goal.
Once McCloy was brought onboard, the complexion of CBS’s treatment of the JFK assassination changed. CBS hired consultants who were rabidly pro-Warren Report to appear as on-air experts while others would be hidden in the shadows. In addition to the clandestine role of McCloy, some of these consultants included Dallas police officer Gerald Hill, physicist Luis Alvarez and reporter Lawrence Schiller.
Officer Hill was just about everywhere in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He was at the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald worked and allegedly shot the President from the sixth floor; Hill was at the murder scene of Officer J. D Tippit, who was allegedly shot by Oswald after he fled Dealey Plaza; and he was at the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested.
Hill appeared in the CBS 1967 program show as a speaker. But Roger Feinman found out that Hill also was paid for six weeks work on the show as a consultant. During his consulting, Hill revealed that the police did a “fast frisk” on Oswald while in the theater. They found nothing in his pockets at the time, which begs the question of where the bullets the police said they found in his pockets later at the station came from. That question did not arise during the program since CBS never revealed the contradiction. (Click here and go to page 20 of the transcript.)
Physicist Luis Alvarez, who had a served as an adviser to the CIA and to the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, spent a considerable amount of time lending his name to articles supporting the Warren Report and conducting questionable experiments supporting its findings. As demonstrated by authors Josiah Thompson (in 2013) and Gary Aguilar (in 2014), Alvarez misrepresented some data in some of his JFK experiments. (Click here and go to the 37:00 mark for Aguilar’s presentation.)
The same year of the 1967 CBS broadcast, reporter Lawrence Schiller had co-written a book entitled The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report, a picaresque journey through America where Schiller interviewed some of the prominent – and not so prominent – critics of the report and caricatured them hideously.
Secretly, he had been an informant for the FBI for many years keeping an eye on people like Mark Lane and Jim Garrison, whom Schiller attacked despite discovering witnesses who attested to Garrison’s suspect Clay Shaw using the alias Clay Bertrand, a key point in Garrison’s case. The relevant documents were not declassified until the Assassination Records and Reviews Board was set up in the 1990s. [See Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by James DiEugenio, p. 388]
This cast of consultants – along with McCloy – influenced the direction of the 1967 CBS Special Report. The last thing these consultants wanted to do was to expose the faulty methodology that the Warren Commission had employed.
As in 1964, Walter Cronkite manned the anchor desk and Dan Rather was the main field reporter. Again, CBS could find no serious problems with the Warren Report. The critics were misguided, CBS said. After all, Cronkite and Rather had done a seven-month inquiry.
In the broadcast, Cronkite names the men on the Warren Commission as their pictures appear on screen. He calls them “men of unimpeachable credentials” but left out the fact that President Kennedy fired Commissioner Allen Dulles from the CIA in 1961 for lying to him about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
When Cronkite got to the crux of the program, he said the Warren Commission assured the American people that they would get the most searching investigation in history. Then, Cronkite showed books and articles critical of the commission and mentioned that polls showed that a majority of Americans had lost faith in the Warren Report.
At that point, the network special revealed its purpose, to discredit the critics and reassure the public that these people could not be trusted.
Cronkite went through a list of points that the critics had raised, including key issues such as how many shots were fired and how quickly they could be discharged from the suspect rifle. On each point, Cronkite took the Warren Commission’s side, saying Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor with the rifle attributed to him by the Warren Commission. Two of three were direct hits – to Kennedy’s head and shoulder area – within six seconds.
One way that CBS fortified the case for just three shots was Alvarez’s examination of the Zapruder film, Abraham Zapruder’s 26-second film of Kennedy’s assassination taken from Zapruder’s position in Dealey Plaza, a sequence that CBS did not actually show.
Alvarez proclaimed that by doing something called a “jiggle analysis,” he computed that there were three shots fired during the film. What the jiggle amounted to was a blurring of frames on the film (presumably because Zapruder would have flinched at the sound of gunshots).
Dan Rather took this Alvarez idea to Charles Wyckoff, a professional photo analyst in Massachusetts. Agreeing with Alvarez, at least on camera, Wyckoff mapped out the three areas of “jiggles.” The Alvarez/Wyckoff formula was simple: three jiggles, three shots.
But as Feinman found out through his legal discovery and hearings, there was a big problem with this declaration. Wyckoff had actually discovered four jiggles, not three. Therefore, by the Alvarez formula, there was a second gunman and thus a conspiracy.
Wyckoff’s on-camera discussion of this was cut out and not included in the official transcript. But it is interesting to note just how committed Wyckoff was to the CBS agenda, for he tried to explain the fourth jiggle as Zapruder’s reaction to a siren. As Feinman noted, how Wyckoff could determine this from a silent 8 mm film is puzzling. But the point is, this analysis did not support the commission. It undermined the Warren Report and was left on the cutting-room floor.
There were other problems with the Alverez-Wyckoff “jiggle” theory, since the first jiggle was at around Zapruder frame 190, or a few frames previous to that, which would have meant that Oswald would have had to be firing through the branches of an oak tree, which is why the Warren Commission moved this shot up to frame 210.
But CBS left itself an out, claiming there was an opening in the tree branches at frame 186 and Oswald could have fired at that point. But that is patently ridiculous, since the opening at frame 186 lasted for 1/18th of a second. To say that Oswald anticipated a less than split-second opening, and then steeled himself in a flash to align the target, aim, and fire is all stuff from the realm of comic book super heroes. Yet, in its blind obeisance to the Warren Report, this is what CBS had reduced itself to.
Another way that CBS tried to bolster the Warren Report was to have Wyckoff purchase other Bell and Howell movie cameras (since CBS was not allowed to handle the actual Zapruder camera.) After winding up these cameras, CBS hypothesized that Zapruder’s camera might have been running a little slow, giving Oswald a longer firing sequence.
The problem with this theory, however, was that both the FBI and Bell and Howell had tested the speed of Zapruder’s actual camera. Even Dick Salant commented that this was “logically inconclusive and unpersuasive,” but it stayed in the program.
The Shot Sequence
But why did Rather and Wyckoff have to stoop this low? The answer is because of the results of their rifle firing tests. As the critics of the Warren Report had pointed out, the commission had used two tests to see if Oswald could have gotten off three shots in the allotted 5.6 seconds indicated by the Zapruder film.
These tests ended up as failing to prove Oswald could have performed this feat of marksmanship. What made it worse is that the commission had used very proficient riflemen to try and duplicate what the commission said Oswald had done. [See Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 108]
So CBS tried again. This time they set up a track with a sled on it to simulate the back of Kennedy’s head. They then elevated a firing point to simulate the sixth floor “sniper’s nest,” though there were differences from Dealey Plaza including the oak tree and a rise in the street in the real crime scene. Nevertheless, the CBS experimenters released the target on its sled and had a marksman named Ed Crossman fire his three shots.
Crossman had a considerable reputation in the field, but – even though he was given a week to practice with a version of the Mannlicher Carcano rifle – his results were not up to snuff. According to a report by producer Midgley, Crossman never broke 6.25 seconds (longer than Oswald’s purported 5.6 seconds) and – even with an enlarged target – he got only two of three hits in about 50 percent of his attempts.
Crossman explained that the rifle had a sticky bolt action and a faulty viewing scope. But what the professional sniper did not know is that the actual rifle in evidence was even harder to work. Crossman said that to perform such a feat on the first time out would require a lot of luck.
However, since that evidence did not fit the show’s agenda, it was discarded, both the test and the comments. To resolve that problem, CBS called in 11 professional marksmen who first went to an indoor firing range and practiced to their heart’s content, though the Warren Commission could find no evidence that Oswald practiced.
The 11 men then took 37 runs at duplicating what Oswald was supposed to have done. There were three instances where two out of three hits were recorded in 5.6 seconds. The best time was achieved by Howard Donahue on his third attempt after his first two attempts were complete failures.
But CBS claimed that the average recorded time was 5.6 seconds, without including the 17 attempts that were thrown out because of mechanical failure. CBS also didn’t tell the public the surviving average was 1.2 hits out of three with an enlarged target.
The truly striking characteristic of these trials was the number of instances where the shooter could not get any result at all. More often than not, once the clip was loaded, the bolt action jammed. The sniper had to realign the target and fire again. According to the Warren Report, that could not have happened with Oswald.
There is also the anomaly of James Tague, who was struck by one bullet that the Warren Commission said had ricocheted off the curb of a different street, about 260 feet away from the limousine. But how could Oswald have missed by that much if he was so accurate on his other two shots? That was another discrepancy deleted by the CBS editors.
The Autopsy Disputes
CBS also obscured what was said by the two chief medical witnesses after the assassination; by Dr. Malcolm Perry from Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where Kennedy was taken after he was hit, and James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy examination at Bethesda Medical Center that evening.
In their research for the series, CBS had discovered a transcript of Dr. Perry’s press conference that the Warren Commission did not have. But CBS camouflaged what Perry said on Nov. 22, 1963, specifically about Kennedy’s anterior neck wound. Perry said it had the appearance to him of being an entrance wound, and he said this three times.
Cronkite tried to characterize the conference as Perry being rushed out to the press and badgered. But that wasn’t true, since the press conference was about two hours after Perry had done a tracheotomy over the front neck wound. The performance of that incision had given Perry the closest and most deliberate look at that wound.
Perry therefore had the time to recover from the pressure of the operation and there was no badgering of Perry. Newsmen were simply asking him questions about the wounds he saw. Perry had the opportunity to answer the questions on his own terms. Again, CBS seemed intent on concealing evidence of a possible second assassin — because Oswald could not have fired at Kennedy from the front.
Commander James Humes, the pathologist, did not want to appear on the program, but was pressured by Attorney General Ramsey Clark, possibly with McCloy’s assistance. As Feinman discovered, the preliminary talks with Humes were done through a friend of his at the church he attended.
There were two things that Humes said in these early discussions that were bracing. First, he said that he recalled an x-ray of the President, which showed a malleable probe connecting the rear back wound with the front neck wound. Second, he said that he had orders not to do a complete autopsy. He would not reveal who gave him these orders, except to say that it was not Robert Kennedy. [Charles Crenshaw, Trauma Room One, p. 182]
The significance of the malleable probe is that, if Humes was correct, the front and back wounds would have come from the same bullet. However, we learned almost 30 years later from the Assassination Records Review Board that other witnesses also saw a malleable probe go through Kennedy’s back, but said the probe did not go through the body since the wounds did not connect. However, x-rays that might confirm the presence of the probe are missing. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 116-18]
Location of the Wounds
On camera, Humes also said the posterior body wound was at the base of the neck. Dan Rather then showed Humes the drawings made of the wound in the back as depicted by medical illustrator Harold Rydberg for the Warren Commission, also depicting the wound as being in the neck, which Humes agreed with on camera. He added that they had reviewed the photos and referred to measurements and this all indicated the wound was in the neck.
Even for CBS — and Warren Commissioner John McCloy — this must have been surprising since the autopsy photos do not reveal the wound to be at the base of the neck but clearly in the back. (Click here and scroll down.) CBS should have sent its own independent expert to the archive because Humes clearly had a vested interest in seeing his autopsy report bolstered, especially since it was under attack by more than one critic.
The second point that makes Humes’s interview curious is his comments on the Rydberg drawings’ accuracy. These do not coincide with what Rydberg said later, not understanding why he was chosen to make these drawings for the Warren Commission since he was only 22 and had been drawing for only one year. There were many other veteran illustrators in the area the Warren Commission could have called upon, but Rydberg came to believe that it was his inexperience that caused the commission to pick him.
When Humes and Dr. Thornton Boswell appeared before him, they had nothing with them: no photos, no x-rays, no official measurements, speaking only from memory, nearly four months after the autopsy, Rydberg said. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 119-22] The Rydberg drawings have become infamous for not corresponding to the pictures, measurements, or the Zapruder film.
For Humes to endorse these on national television – and for CBS to allow this without any fact-checking – shows what a case of false journalism the special had become.
CBS also knew that Humes said he had been limited in what he was allowed to do in the Kennedy autopsy, a potentially big scoop if CBS had followed it. Instead, the public had to wait another two years for the story to surface at Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw when autopsy doctor Pierre Finck took the stand in Shaw’s defense. Finck said the same thing: that Dr. Humes was limited in his autopsy practice on Kennedy. [ibid, p. 115]
The difference was that this disclosure would have had much more exposure, impact and vibrancy if CBS had broken it in 1967 rather than having the fact come up during Garrison’s prosecution, in part, because the press corps’ hostility toward Garrison distorted the trial coverage.
So, in the summer of 1967, CBS again had come to the defense of the official story with a four-hour, four-night extravaganza that again endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission.
At the time of broadcast, it was the most expensive documentary CBS ever produced. It concluded: Acting alone, Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy. Acting alone, Jack Ruby killed Oswald. And Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. All the controversy was Much Ado about Nothing.
Unwinding the Back Story
In 1967, the clandestine relationship between CBS News President Salant and Warren Commissioner McCloy was known to very few people. In fact, as assistant producer Roger Feinman later deduced, it was likely known only to the very small circle in the memo distribution chain. That Salant deliberately wished to keep it hidden is indicated by the fact that he allowed McCloy to write these early memos anonymously.
As Feinman concluded, McCloy’s influence over the program was almost certainly a violation of the network’s own guidelines, which prohibit conflicts of interest in the news production, probably another reason Salant kept McCloy’s connection hidden.
In the 1970s, after Feinman was fired over a later dispute regarding another example of CBS News’ highhanded handling of the JFK assassination – and then obtained internal documents as part of a legal hearing on his dismissal – he briefly thought of publicizing the whole affair (which he eventually decided against doing).
But Feinman wrote to Warren Commissioner McCloy in March 1977 about the ex-commissioner’s clandestine role in the four-night special a decade earlier. McCloy declined to be interviewed on the subject, but added that he did not recall any contribution he made to the special.
But Feinman persisted. On April 4, 1977, he wrote McCloy again. This time he revealed that he had written evidence that McCloy had participated extensively in the production of the four-night series. Very quickly, McCloy got in contact with Salant and wrote that he did not recall any such back-channel relationship.
In turn, Salant contacted Midgley and told the producer to check his files to see if there was any evidence that would reveal a CBS secret collaboration with McCloy. Salant then wrote back to McCloy saying that at no time did Ellen McCloy ever act as a conduit between CBS News and her father.
However, in 1992 in an article for The Village Voice, both Ellen McCloy and Salant were confronted with memos that revealed Salant was lying in 1977. McCloy’s daughter admitted to the clandestine courier relationship. Salant finally admitted it also, but he tried to say there was nothing unusual about it.
So, in 1967, CBS News had again reassured the American people that there was no conspiracy in President Kennedy’s murder, just a misguided lone gunman who had done it all by himself. Anyone who thought otherwise was confused, deceptive or delusional.
However, in 1975, eight years after the broadcast, two events revived interest in the JFK case again. First, the Church Committee was formed in Congress to explore the crimes of the CIA and FBI, revealing that before Kennedy was killed, the CIA had farmed out the assassination of Fidel Castro to the Mafia, a fact that was kept from the Warren Commission even though one of its members, Allen Dulles, had been CIA director when the plots were formulated.
Secondly, in the summer of 1975, in prime time, ABC broadcast the Zapruder film, the first time that the American public had seen the shocking image of President Kennedy’s head being knocked back and to the left by what appeared to be a shot from his front and right, a shot Oswald could not have fired.
The confluence of these two events caused a furor in Washington and the creation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to reopen the JFK case.
Having become a chief defender of the original Warren Commission findings, CBS News moved preemptively to influence the new investigation by planning another special about the JFK case.
CBS’s Sixty Minutes decided to do a story on whether or not Jack Ruby and Lee Oswald knew each other. After several months of research, Salant killed the project with the investigative files turned over to senior producer Les Midgley before becoming the basis for the 1975 CBS special, which was entitled The American Assassins.
Originally this was planned as a four-night special. One night each on the JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King and the George Wallace shootings. But at the last moment, in a very late press release, CBS announced that the first two nights would be devoted to the JFK case. Midgley was the producer, but this time Cronkite was absent. Rather took his place behind the desk.
In general terms, it was more of the same. The photographic consultant was Itek Corporation, a company that was very close to the CIA, having helped build the CORONA spy satellite system. Itek’s CEO in the mid-1960s, Franklin Lindsay, was a former CIA officer. With Itek’s help, CBS did everything they could to move their Magic Bullet shot from about frame 190 to about frames 223-226.
Yet, Josiah Thompson, who appeared on the show, had written there was no evidence Gov. Connally was hit before frames 230-236. Further, there are indications that President Kennedy is clearly hit as he disappears behind the Stemmons Freeway sign at about frame 190, e.g., his head seems to collapse both sideways and forward in a buckling motion.
But with Itek in hand, this became the scenario for the CBS version of the “single bullet theory.” It differed from the Warren Commission’s in that it did not rely upon a “delayed reaction” on Connally’s part to the same bullet.
CBS also employed Alfred Olivier, a research veterinarian who worked for Army wound ballistics branch and did tests with the alleged rifle used in the assassination. He was a chief witness for junior counsel Arlen Specter before the Warren Commission. [See Warren Commission, Volume V, pgs. 74ff]
For CBS in 1975, Olivier said that the Magic Bullet, CE 399, was not actually “pristine.” For CBS and Dan Rather, this made the “single bullet theory” not impossible, just hard to believe.
Apparently, no one explained to Rather that the only deformation on the bullet is a slight flattening at the base, which would occur as the bullet is blasted through the barrel of a rifle. There is no deformation at its tip where it would have struck its multiple targets. There is only a tiny amount of mass missing from the bullet.
In other words, as more than one author has written, it has all the indications of being fired into a carton of water or a bale of cotton. If CBS had interviewed the legendary medical examiner Milton Helpern of New York — not far from CBS headquarters — that is pretty much what he would have said. [Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 69.]
Rather realized, without being explicit, that something was wrong with Kennedy’s autopsy. He called the autopsy below par and reversed field on his opinion about pathologist Humes, whose experience Rather had praised in 1967. In the 1975 broadcast, Rather said that neither Humes nor Boswell were qualified to perform Kennedy’s autopsy and that parts of it were botched.
But let us make no mistake about what CBS was up to here. The entire corporate upper structure — Salant, Stanton, Paley — had overrun the working producers and journalists, including Midgley, Manning and Schorr. And those subordinates decided not to utter a peep to the outside world about what had happened.
Not only Cronkite and Rather participated in this appalling exercise, so too did Eric Sevareid, appearing at the end of the last show and saying that there are always those who believe in conspiracies, whether it be about Yalta, China or Pearl Harbor. He then poured it on by saying some people still think Hitler is alive and concluding that it would be impossible to cover up the assassination of a President.
But simply in examining how a major news outlet like CBS handled the evidence shows precisely how something as dreadful and significant as the murder of a President could be covered up.
Much of this history also would have remained unknown, except that Roger Feinman, an assistant producer at CBS News, had become a friend and follower of the estimable Warren Commission critic Sylvia Meagher. So, Feinman knew that the Warren Commission was a deeply flawed report and that CBS had employed some very questionable methods in the 1967 special in order to conceal those flaws.
When the assassination issue returned in the mid-1970s, Feinman began to write some memoranda to those in charge of the renewed CBS investigation warning that they shouldn’t repeat their 1967 performance. His first memo went to CBS president Dick Salant. Many of the other memos were directed to the Office of Standards and Practices.
In preparing these memos, Feinman researched some of the odd methodologies that CBS used in 1967. Since he had been at CBS for three years, he got to know some of the people who had worked on that series. They supplied him with documents and information which revealed that what Cronkite and Rather were telling the audience had been arrived at through a process that was as flawed as the one the Warren Commission had used.
Feinman requested a formal review of the process by which CBS had arrived at its forensic conclusions. He felt the documentary had violated company guidelines in doing so.
Establishment Strikes Back
As Feinman’s memos began to circulate through the executive and management suites – including Salant’s and Vice-President Bill Small’s – it was made clear to him that he should cease and desist from his one-man campaign. When he wouldn’t let up, CBS moved to terminate its dissident employee.
But since Feinman was working under a union contract, he had certain administrative rights to a fair hearing, including the process of discovery through which he could request certain documents to make his case. His research allowed him to pinpoint where these documents would be and who prepared them.
On Sept. 7, 1976, CBS succeeded in terminating Feinman. But the collection of documents he secured through his hearing was extraordinary, allowing outsiders for the first time to see how the 1967 series was conceived and executed. Further, the documents took us into the group psychology of a large media corporation when it collides with controversial matters involving national security.
Only Roger Feinman, who was not at the top of CBS or anywhere near it, had the guts to try to get to the bottom of the whole internal scandal.
And Feinman paid a high personal price for doing so. Feinman’s contribution to American history did not help him get his journalistic career back on track. When he passed away in the fall of 2011, he was freelancing as a computer programmer.
[This article is largely based on the script for the documentary film Roger Feinman was in the process of reediting at the time of his death in 2011. The reader can view that here.]
James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.
FBI informants acted as ‘honeypots’ to trap a 21-year-old man, posing as love interests to glean information, audio obtained by the Intercept reveals. One woman lured him into making a false claim that he’d tried to go to Syria to fight with Islamic State.
The target of the FBI’s operation was Khalil Abu Rayyan, a Michigan resident. When he met an undercover informant by the name of ‘Ghaada’ online, he quickly became enamored with her. A relationship began, and the two even talked about marriage, children and the future.
But the online relationship ended when Ghaada called it off. Rayyan was heartbroken, but the FBI soon sent another woman, known as ‘Jannah Bride,’ to heal his wounds.
Rayyan opened up to Jannah Bride, even disclosing that he had thought about suicide. He claimed to have bought a rope which he could use to hang himself.
“I bought a rope this morning… it’s not that hard,” he said in the 14-minute audio footage obtained by the Intercept. “In only a minute or two, it would be over.”
Seeing an open opportunity to prey on Rayyan’s vulnerable state, Jannah Bride decided to steer the conversation in the direction of hurting other people.
“Which thought is greater to you right now – hurting yourself or somebody else?” the FBI informant asked.
But despite the FBI’s intentions, Rayyan’s response proved no violent thoughts towards others.
“Well, I mean, I would not like to hurt somebody else… but at the same time, if I did it to myself, it’d be easier. I wouldn’t get in trouble,” he said.
In another attempt to try to trap Rayyan into admitting he was violent, Jannah Bride appeared to take a deep interest in jihad.
To impress her, Rayyan said he had an AK-47, claiming it was purchased for a plan to “shoot up a church,” which was later foiled. He also claimed to have attempted to travel to Syria. However, both stories appeared to be false. He didn’t own the assault weapon, and there is no evidence that he ever bought a ticket to war-torn Syria.
But the claims were enough to prompt the US government to search Rayyan’s home and business a couple of months later. And although they couldn’t find the apparently fictional AK-47, they managed to charge him with unlawful possession of a handgun, which his lawyer says was obtained for self-defense reasons while delivering pizzas in Detroit.
And despite there being no record of a purchased ticket to Syria (or anywhere nearby), the US government now alleges that Rayyan is an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) sympathizer, the Intercept reported.
What’s more is that the FBI is aiming to keep details of the exchanges with Rayyan completely private. However, Rayyan’s lawyers have asked the court to force the government to turn over all communications between their client and the FBI informants.
According to a filing by the defense, the government has proposed a “limited protective order” that “would have kept sealed anything that even summarized material the government deemed sensitive.” Unsurprisingly, the defense has refused to accept the proposal.
In a motion filed April 15, Rayyan’s lawyers wrote: “The government clearly exploited Rayyan, and blatantly attempted to steer him toward terrorism as an acceptable form of suicide before God.”
The FBI uses more than 15,000 informants in counter-terrorism investigations, according to the Intercept. Recent investigations have focused on alleged IS sympathizers.
Two members of the House Oversight Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, have asked the director of the National Security Agency to halt a plan to expand the list of agencies that the NSA shares information with.
Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Ted Lieu (D-California) wrote in a letter to NSA Director Michael Rogers on Monday that the reported plan would violate privacy protections in the Fourth Amendment, since domestic law enforcement wouldn’t need a warrant to use the data acquired from the agency.
“We are alarmed by press reports that state National Security Agency (NSA) data may soon routinely be used for domestic policing,” the two lawmakers wrote. “If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was working with the NSA to create new protocols for sharing intercepted private communications with domestic law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Currently, the secretive spy agency says that its analysts remove certain personal information before giving it to other agencies. Under the new rules, however, domestic law enforcement would have access to the surveillance data without it being scrubbed of personally identifiable information.
The FBI currently has the ability to use phone-based data, but it must request the NSA’s permission to access information from digital communications. The planned loosening of these restrictions would have to be approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Our country has always drawn a line between our military and intelligence services, and domestic policing and spying,” the congressmen wrote. “We do not — and should not — use US Army Apache helicopters to quell domestic riots; Navy Seal teams to take down counterfeiting rings; or the NSA to conduct surveillance on domestic street gangs.”
The Obama administration has said it had leeway to change procedures for certain surveillance programs, thanks to executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which curbed certain surveillance activities by ending bulk collection of phone records. Private telecom companies are now required to hold onto such information, so that it can be handed over to law enforcement if a warrant is obtained.
Photo credit: FBI
Heavily redacted notes from the hospital bed interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were released at the end of February. Most media reports about the documents focus on portions that portray Dzhokhar as having played an active role in building and detonating the bombs that exploded on Boylston St.
But a closer read of the FBI’s summary of Tsarnaev’s statements to his interrogators raises questions about key details of the bombing and its execution.
First off, it is important to note that the interview notes are heavily redacted and therefore incomplete. But some of the things the FBI says Dzhokhar told his interrogators indicate a level of confusion or ignorance, or both, about important facts. They also raise questions about why the FBI has been selectively vague about key details of the case.
According to the interrogation notes, “Jahar carried a brown backpack [emphasis added] while his brother’s backpack was black. After parking, they walked…”
Now the backpack is brown?
The indictment, which was written a month and a half after the bombing, states that both bombs were concealed in black backpacks.
In a photograph of the shredded backpack lying in Boylston Street released by the FBI, it does indeed look black.
Boston Bombing black shredded backpack – Photo credit: FBI
However, many observers have pointed out that, in surveillance photos, the backpack Dzhokhar can be seen carrying does not look black — or brown for that matter — but mostly white or light gray.
Photo credit: FBI
Why the discrepancy? Did the interviewing agent challenge him on this detail? Why is there so much ambiguity around such an important detail?
And there’s another problem: The “smoking gun” video that supposedly proves Tsarnaev placed an explosive laden backpack on Boylston Street. It actually shows very little. His actions are obscured by the crowd of people.
Shouldn’t the government be obliged to prove unequivocally that the exploded backpack found at the scene was at least the same color as the one Dzhokhar was carrying that day?
Strange Redaction Regarding Explosive Powder
Also according to the FBI agent’s notes, Tsarnaev ”stated that he and his brother Tamerlan built two explosive devices in his brother’s home at 410 Norfolk…”
This implies that Dzhokhar took a more active role in constructing the bombs than has been previously described.
But, Dzhokhar’s lawyers showed at trial that none of his fingerprints were found on any of the bomb or bomb-making materials. Tamerlan’s fingerprints were, however.
Dzhokhar also told agents, apparently, that the powder came from $200 worth of fireworks that he and Tamerlan had purchased in New Hampshire about a year prior. But that’s when Tamerlan was in Russia — January to July 2012. Considering Tsarnaev was being interrogated April 21 and 22 , 2013, the time-line can’t be accurate.
Fireworks found in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dormitory room – Photo credit: FBI
At which store, or exactly when these particular fireworks were purchased, is not clear. But since the bombing, law-enforcement and media reports have consistently referenced a $200 purchase made by Tamerlan at Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, New Hampshire two months before the bombing. Nothing about Dzhokhar buying fireworks was ever made public.
Most notably, that particular purchase would only constitute a small fraction of the amount of explosive powder needed to produce all the bombs the Tsarnaevs are accused of making and detonating.
According to the owner of Phantom Fireworks, the brothers would have been able to harvest, at most, 1.5 pounds of explosive powder from the $200 purchase.
On the other hand, each pressure cooker bomb that exploded on Boylston Street probably contained anywhere from 8 to 16 pounds of explosive powder, according to testimony from Special Agent Edward Knapp.
The pressure cooker that exploded in Watertown probably contained another 4 to 8 pounds. And in Watertown, three more pounds of powder were found in a Tupperware container, along with a number of pipe bombs each containing yet more powder. That means the Tsarnaevs would have had to collect between 23 and 43 pounds of explosive powder — or more.
Either they made numerous purchases of fireworks or they got explosive powder from another source.
At the very least, Tsarnaev’s statement that they got the explosive powder from $200 worth of fireworks shows his ignorance regarding what it actually took to make them. Either that or he did discuss the provenance of the rest of the explosive powder with his interrogators — was that information in a redacted part?
Why does the FBI continue to withhold information on where the explosives came from?
All of this reveals either a marked level of ignorance or confusion by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about details of the bombs’ construction — even the color of the backpack. Or, it reveals that the government is still withholding key details about how the bombs came to be. Why is anyone’s guess.
But why do any of these small details matter? Because, as we all know, the devil can be found in the details. And the outcome of a life-and-death prosecution can sometimes hinge almost entirely on such seemingly small details.
Painting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an equal partner in the planning, preparation and execution of the violence that erupted in Boston was critical to the government’s goal of winning the death penalty against the sole surviving brother.
But when close scrutiny has been applied to the government’s case, we continually find troubling inconsistencies that hint at a prosecution hell-bent on winning the case — damn the specifics of who did exactly what and when.
Why Details Matter: See for Yourself with One Click
For instance: in our past reporting we showed how the government claimed Tamerlan drove as Dzhokhar was sitting menacingly behind Dun Meng, the carjacking victim, as they circled around greater Boston in Meng’s stolen Mercedes SUV. But when we see the Mercedes pull up to the gas pump where Meng ultimately gets away, Dzhokhar appears to get out of the front seat — not the back.
As we reported previously:
Officially, by the time the Mercedes SUV can be seen pulling into the Shell station on the video in question, Tamerlan was driving, Danny was in the passenger seat, and Dzhokhar was sitting in the backseat.
In the video, we see the SUV pull up to one of the gas pumps and stop. Strangely, we see Dzhokhar emerge from behind the gas pump, obscuring the front passenger door before he makes his way into the store.
Strange because we were told he was sitting in the backseat. Yet we don’t see Dzhokhar get out of the rear door. Neither do we see him walk from the other side of the SUV.
Did they edit that out? Why?
Was the “escape” story embellished? After all, what cold-blooded criminals would allow a carjacking victim to sit in the back seat to make an easy escape? Or did they let him go? In fact, the carjacking victim’s account changed significantly early on until it finally solidified into what sounded most damning.
Other Little “Details”
And the government’s glossing over of its pre-bombing relationship with the Tsarnaevs, who hail from a geopolitical hotspot on Russia’s southern flank, strongly hints that Tamerlan in particular may have been a pawn in some tangled international intrigue with Russia.
We still don’t know why the family was granted asylum and yet freely returned to the Caucasus region — a reality that has experts scratching their heads.
Instead, what we witnessed was a theatrical effort on the part of the government to portray Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a cartoonish fanatical monster — the enemy of you and me and our way of life. Whipped up into a vengeful frenzy, the public is far less likely to ask questions.
Notably, the caricature of Dzhokhar as a crazed Jihadi fell apart under a mild cross-examination of his twitter feed. The government’s examples of Islamic religious fanaticism turned out to be run-of-the-mill song lyrics that any 19-year-old would be familiar with.
The no-holds-barred prosecution of Tsarnaev looked more like an effort to disguise the backstory of how and why this happened, than an effort to find the truth.
For an intriguing, sinister, and even likely explanation for what that backstory was really about — please go here.
High school students and teachers across the US are being encouraged to watch their peers for any telltale signs that might indicate they are about to commit an act of terror.
In an advice booklet entitled ‘Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools’, the FBI says students are “ideal targets” for terrorist recruiters aiming to carry out violent attacks on US soil.
While not as blatant as the ‘Red Scare’ US loyalty review boards or the neighborly snooping fueled by McCarthyism in the 1950s, the 28-page intelligence pamphlet does suggest young US citizens keep a close eye on one another’s activities – even to the extent of monitoring student artwork and essays.
“Many times, fellow students or educators observe behaviors or are privy to another student’s communications and commitment to a violent ideology that may be indicative of future intentions,” the document states.
The booklet advises educators and students on the importance of identifying “leakage”, which it explains as “clues prefacing a violent act”. The phrase “leakage” was previously used in an FBI study called ‘The School Shooter’, which sought to instruct people on how to identify a future assailant.
These clues include “boasts, innuendos, predictions or ultimatums” conveyed in diary entries, drawings and even essays that could point to a criminal or violent activity before it has even been committed.
The guide also recommends high schools incorporate two-hour blocks of “violent extremism awareness training” into curricula.
The booklet follows other recently published FBI guidelines on teenage surveillance. A new FBI website, designed to stop teenagers from being radicalized, urges people to inform on peers using several private messaging apps; talking about traveling to places that “sound suspicious”, or engaging in “unusual language”.
It also suggests that taking pictures of a government building might be a sign that a terrorist plot is underway.
The FBI has been databasing suspicious memes and their creators for five years to silence political dissent
Blacklisted News | March 1, 2016
News has been making rounds across the internet that the FBI in collusion with the National Science Foundation has sunk nearly one million dollars into a program at the University of Indiana:
“The project is aimed at modeling the diffusion of information online and empirically discriminating among models of mechanisms driving the spread of memes. We explore why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten. Our analysis goes beyond the traditional approach of applied epidemic diffusion processes and focuses on cascade size distributions and popularity time series in order to model the agents and processes driving the online diffusion of information, including: users and their topical interests, competition for user attention, and the chronological age of information. Completion of our project will result in a better understanding of information flow and could assist in elucidating the complex mechanisms that underlie a variety of human dynamics and organizations. The analysis will involve studying meme diffusion in large-scale social media by collecting and analyzing massive streams of public micro-blogging data.
The project stands to benefit both the research community and the public significantly. Our data will be made available via APIs and include information on meme propagation networks, statistical data, and relevant user and content features. The open-source platform we develop will be made publicly available and will be extensible to ever more research areas as a greater preponderance of human activities are replicated online. Additionally, we will create a web service open to the public for monitoring trends, bursts, and suspicious memes. This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.
Using their system, dubbed Truthy, the group intends to track and differentiate memetic content made by normal everyday users and that of ‘professional political activists’ with the goal of eliminating false or misleading political information from social media ecosystems. Other research carried out by the project varies from analyses of meme propagation in specific geographical areas to understanding the viral nature of politically secular world affairs like the ongoing migrant crisis or the Occupy Wall Street movement when the average attention span of users is lower than that of a goldfish.
Even more suspiciously, one of the stated endgame goals of the project is to share the machine learning techniques gained from Truthy with future mass social media studies carried out by government and academia.
Curiously missing though from Truthy’s online dating profile is that she’s married to the FBI and LOVES sharing your dirty online secrets with her husband and his friends in Washington. Beginning in the Fall of 2014 Truthy began databasing not only suspicious memes but also the identity of their creators where the information will remain “forever, regardless of their innocence or guilt, or their intentions.” said lead FBI agent Paul Horner. “This database will be shared with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies.”
“forever, regardless of their innocence or guilt, or their intentions. This database will be shared with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies.”
Are we having fun yet?