> "Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled."
This new article does not disclose who that subscriber was, but the article, and the earlier op-ed, seem to imply that the subscriber's identity alone is enough to suspect an abuse of power. We'll probably hear more about that in the near future, but I'd like to make a prediction. The most likely interpretation is that this was a critic of the FBI or of the US government as a whole, and that the subpoena - which seeks to unmask the subject's identity - would be a prelude to retaliation.
The article goes on to describe how the FBI has materially misrepresented its use of National Security Letters to Congress, and that the practice of sending them has twice been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. By all appearances, a significant chunk of the US law enforcement apparatus has simply gone rogue, stopped respecting Congress and the courts and is instead focused on increasing its own power.
I truly don't understand why nothing is done about that. Why doesn't anyone lose their job over this, let alone go to jail? I mean, I've gotten used to such indifference in Russia, but US seemed like the country that shouldn't tolerate shit like this.
My suspicion is that the FBI and various three-letter-agencies have dirt on most of the elected representatives. The mass surveillance apparatus is the perfect tool for collecting blackmail material on current and future leaders.
A simpler explanation might just be that Congress broadly supports what DOJ is doing, and cares a lot less about the integrity of specific online services than they do about DOJ's role in combating terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and foreign intelligence services.
"The FBI is run by the modern equivalent of J. Edgar Hoover" is also an amusing and dramatic interpretation of the facts we have now. But they don't square well with other facts we know, such as Ashcroft's hospital-bed refusal to reauthorize STELLARWIND. And that was John Ashcroft, who is not exactly a cuddly Sesame Street muppet on these issues.
In case I need to make this clear:
I don't think sacrificing the integrity of online services for DOJ goals is a good tradeoff. The wins seem very marginal, and the long-term costs are huge. But I'm a technologist with a security/privacy concentration, and Congress is composed mostly of lawyers.
Most likely today such direct blackmail of (domestic) politicians and other officials is not the case but you can't really rule it out completely.
The bad thing is that the reputation of the FBI and other such agencies is now such that an analogy with the Hoover days can no longer be rejected out of hand 'because they'd never do such a thing'.
They did in the past, for many years with many people, we know that for sure, and they quite possibly still do, see the thread linked here, after all what use could a decade old gag order have and do you actually believe that 100's of thousands of gag orders and NSLs can actually have a legitimate foundation?
That's to me beyond belief, that there are 100's of thousands of instances where the authorities issue permanent gag orders with respect to information gathering on individuals and that this is all somehow both legal and proportional use of powers vested in these agencies.
Not only that but when someone's life is as public as a politician - and their career dependent on that credibility - it takes far less than Hoover-era style blackmail to ruin such a person.
So even if the FBI is no longer acting like the Hoover era agents there are significant careers risks in standing up to the three-letter agencies, (and their similarily-powerful network of friends and former employees). Those risks have only grown as the power of the NSA/FBI have grown with the spread of technology/internet.
The bar for making such a claim is much lower than in the 1950s, especially in the context of a politician.
For example, those being blackmailed might not know or have any proof that it's FBI who's blackmailing them. The FBI of course has endless opportunities of plausible deniability, starting with "rogue contractor".
It all boils down to incentives: what exactly do you have to win from disclosing? What is the chance that people will believe you given that you have no evidence? And what would you even expect your audience to do about it? And how does that scenario compare to the worst that your blackmailer is willing to do?
It would be fairly easy for someone with the power of the FBI to rig the subject's incentives heavily in their favor, and to only pursue blackmail on subjects where they are fairly certain of success. At some point of proficiency a casual observer might not be able to distinguish it from lobbying!
We don't know if these things happen or not, but they're entirely possible. Stranger things have been leaked and declassified over the years.
In terms of incentives, blackmail is generally a lower tier crime in terms of likelihood of success. Think about if someone tried to blackmail you. There's a good chance you'd think "Sure I can give in to their demands now, but they'll just ask for something else later and they never have to stop asking". Unless the crime being covered up involves significant jail time, most people would rather face the consequences than live the rest of their lives under someone else's control. Many former politicians have successful careers even after mundane scandals (Weiner and Spitzer come to mind).
And depending on the nature of the secret, most politicians would get some slack from the public for having the courage to standup to FBI blackmail. They might even be able to spin themselves as a flawed hero. In fact, having a three letter agency try to blackmail you right now is kind of a get out of jail free card.
As tptacek said, this is really fascinating fiction but it's just wildly impractical in real life. Blackmail is messy and has a lot of moving parts that are difficult to control. The FBI is better off doing exactly what they do now: asking Congress for money and getting it.
Any crimes that the politicians are involved with probably do carry significant jail times, given how corruption and pedophilia apparently still exist.
> depending on the nature of the secret, most politicians would get some slack from the public for having the courage to standup to FBI blackmail
I don't really see this playing out in the politician's favor.
Politician: FBI is blackmailing me!
Press: with what?
Press: do you have any proof it's FBI?
FBI: We're not doing anything
FBI: (anonymously releasing some info)
Politician: resigns / get jailed
Press: boo bad politician!
Politician: FBI is blackmailing me!
Press: with what?
Politician: They say I stole a billion dollars
FBI: we're not doing anything, but we should investigate this
FBI: wow this guy really did steal a billion dollars, we can't ignore this
Press: politician announces he stole $1 billion dollars, gets jailed
I don't get one thing: if politicians' decisions can be purchased by campaign donations and lobbying, why would they be any more resistant to something more persuasive? Again, to reiterate, blackmail does not need to be letters with threats compiled from newspaper cutouts. There's a whole range of methods they could be using that rely on the information they collect.
I'm not taking a concrete position on the question, but given the secrets that plain ordinary people keep, I would not be surprised if the data available on people is used for coercion and nobody talks about it.
Were you surprised by the Snowden leaks? Even after AT&T and Room 641a?
Some smoke, but no fire.
"President Obama’s recently convened executive review of the NSA admitted: “In light of the lessons of our own history… at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking.”"
Why can I only find references to that allegation on sites like LewRockwell.com, and not on WaPo or the NYT?
> [...] information was being collected for blackmail purposes, and her lesbian relationship, and they, the Turkish entities, wanted both congressional related favoritism from her, but also her husband was in a high position in the area in the state she was elected from, and these Turkish entities ran certain illegal operations, and they wanted her husband's help. But I don't know if she provided them with those. I left. I was terminated.
Edit: upon further reading it appears to not be an allegation against the FBI but rather Turkish agents which makes this much less news-worthy:
> Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. [ ... ] I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman. http://www.bradblog.com/?p=7429
In March 2004, the Justice Department under Ashcroft ruled that the Stellar Wind domestic intelligence program was illegal. The day after the ruling, Ashcroft became critically ill with acute pancreatitis. President Bush sent his White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. to Ashcroft's hospital bed. They wanted him to sign a document reversing the Justice Department's ruling. But the semi-conscious Ashcroft refused to sign; Acting Attorney General James Comey and Jack Goldsmith, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for DOJ, were there to back him up.
Original Source: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/09072007/transcript2.html
I think things are certainly not as bad as when the FBI was literally commanded (founded, really) by a criminal and a traitor (the Ashcroft event was quite encouraging) but I'm not so sure many people in LE consider him so evil and much of his culture lives on.
Though I agree with you it seems like quite a stretch to blame blackmail for any of this. More likely well-meaning people making short-sighted decisions, as it always is.
As someone who lives in the south, it's nice to see things such as the confederate flags _finally_ getting removed.
A large statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, master military tactician and a founder of the KKK, stands tall over I-65 nearby. It probably would be removed if it was not privately-owned.
Technology has made it a lot easier to discredit and disrupt political activists. An obvious example of how to map relationships to find potential organizers that might bring together a larger political movement is the NSA programs COTRAVELER, but the methods are not that different from "targeted advertising" or any Facebook-style social network.
Occupy terrified a lot of people in power specifically because it didn't have an obvious minimum spanning tree to target.
We even have documents from Snowden about GCHQ's version. JTRIG even has a wide assortment of tools available for disrupting and discrediting their targets. Their tool for "amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)" doesn't seem particularly useful for national defense or catching terrorists - they have other tools for feeding a specific target false information. On the other hand, amplifying the popularity of a video would be very useful for propaganda.
Obviously very little of this is proof. It was already frightening what J. Edgar Hoover was able to do decades ago. How would the same thing be done with the benefit of modern technology? Would you even notice it?
A even better question might be: given how eagerly the advertising industry used tracking technology and data mining, would you consider it likely that a government agency with little restraint or oversight would refrain from doing the same thing?
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRzYJullFOs (14 seconds of Max Headroom)
Consensus decision making has hamstrung progressive causes since the 70s (http://berkeleyjournal.org/2015/05/the-theology-of-consensus...), predating the technological toolkit which nominally justified not having a targetable leadership.
It is right, fitting, and appropriate to consider how governments abuse technology. One the other hand, to descend into a fearful state about data making it "a lot easier to discredit and disrupt political activists" is both unbalanced and fundamentally disrespectful to our forebearers who faced lynching, Pinkerton detectives, the Raj's army, etc.
Yes, I'm familiar with history. This is somewhat off topic.
> fundamentally disrespectful
I never made the comparison to lynchings/etc. If anything, modern technology has made these tactics safer. Really, this was my point - you are thinking about tactics as they were used decades ago. You might want to actually read those JTRIG links, as they describe a very different sort of tactic.
I think the case of Jane Harman is the creepiest example of this -- a case where the DoJ withheld prosecution of a surveillance "friend", derived from NSA surveillance, so that she could continue to support an NSA surveillance program.
It seems to me that the "simpler" explanation is that these programs, whose existence and scope are no longer in dispute, have indeed generated intelligence about questionable conduct of members of / leadership of one or both houses of congress.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It's shocking how rarely you hear this angle on things, but it's easily the most sinister aspect of these programs.
Of course this person would face even more risk than Snowden ever did.
See also: military industrial complex, corporate lobbying, the blue line, security theater, budget in-fighting
The central dynamic internal to government is, and always
has been, that the only way for either the Executive or the Legislature
to control the many sub-units of government is by way of how much
money they can hand out. [...]
Suppose, however, that surveillance becomes too cheap to meter,
that is to say too cheap to limit through budgetary processes. Does
that lessen the power of the Legislature more, or the power of the
Executive more? I think that ever-cheaper surveillance substantially
changes the balance of power in favor of the Executive and away
from the Legislature. While President Obama was referring to
something else when he said "I've Got A Pen And I've Got A Phone,"
he was speaking to exactly this idea -- things that need no
appropriations are outside the system of checks and balances.
While Congress has been occupied with infighting and stupid political theater, the Executive branch has been taking a lot of their power.
Is it "making war" when Congress is clearly abdicating their responsibilities? It has certainly done more damage to the country than any army has ever accomplished.
Mostly, what the President can do in reality is fire the AG. But if Obama does that, he'll have to find and get confirmed a new AG. If you're outraged by NSLs, the new AG Obama could confirm in this climate is unlikely to be an improvement.
But there are statutes that delegate powers directly to agency heads and cabinet members, and not to the President, others that expressly limit the President's authority over agencies, and there are independent agencies that the President can appoint people to but cannot directly control --- despite residing in the Executive Branch.
Also, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to vest the appointment of "public ministers, consuls, and all other officers of the United States" directly to the heads of departments, explicitly bypassing the President, who is mentioned earlier in that sentence of the text.
Ultimately I think you're mostly right in one sense, and the President has so much authority over the DOJ that resignation is the only real authority the AG has --- which explains things like the Saturday Night Massacre --- but that the day-to-day authority of the AG and the leverage they have over the President by threatening to resign makes the balance of power here tricky.
Again: John Ashcroft thwarted not just Bush but the real President at the time, Dick Cheney; so far as we know, he didn't threaten to resign in protest, but rather just refused to authorize STELLARWIND. And, unlike the Saturday Night Massacre, Bush's party controlled Congress, and was not hostile to what he was trying to do.
Few politicians has hitherto had privacy as their personal favorite value and therefore few politicians has been willing to put his political life on the line for privacy. Anyway, it's not a very inspiring thing to care about - some security hawk is probably going to just reverse everything you've done afterwards.
For some reason, I am regularly downvoted when I make comments like this. The key thing is that people don't think about how something in the media affects them directly. It's like shark attacks. The risks are negligible, yet they captivate the imagination. The mental images and pictures that they are exposed to on a regular basis by the media, both news and fictional tv shows and movies, are specifically chosen to get a response out of them, like a bully getting a rise out of taunting his victim. People don't think they can be manipulated, because they don't like to think they are that stupid, yet it ridiculously common.
This is not a problem that can be solved through evolutionary way but would require some real drastic moves by some courageous political leader. We could find one Snowden among several Fed employees I am pretty sure we will find more.
What I can't understand is why judges tolerate it.
This is one of my specific concerns about these programs. I worry that in order to correct the current state we will have to eventually disband some of these agencies and that this will leave a gap in our countries' ability to prosecute serious crimes.
All agencies in government focus on increasing their own power, just like businesses focus on making money. The ‘War on Terror’ allowed the executive branch and national security related agencies to take on too much power. We the people, congress, and the courts need to curtail this power. Making permanent gag orders illegal would be a small start.
And if agents were using their powers to investigate critics, heads should roll with jail time for all involved. We don’t need a rehash of Hoover’s FBI and the crimes it committed.
(I have no affiliation with the ACLU other than having been a member for some years now.)
Which is good. He deserves his privacy, and only he should decide if to reveal himself. (Unless he's actually charged with something in court.)
This reminds me of the Lavabit case, wonder why the one shut down their service and the other managed to simply reject the requests:
On the other hand the story above does not relate whether or not there were previous requests there is a passage that indicates that the operator of the service had knowledge of the person involved.
"Nick wasn’t sure why the FBI was demanding the information, but he knew a little about the subscriber the FBI was apparently investigating, and he doubted that the investigation was a legitimate one. "
He also wondered why the FBI did not involve a judge and in the Lavabit case a judge clearly was involved.
The real problem with Lavabit is that it was incompetently designed and made security promises it was flatly and obviously unable to keep. From the transcripts, it seems like Levison tried to represent to the DOJ that his system was stronger than it was, when it was clear to anyone technical that he could easily comply with DOJ's demands.
Regarding judges: it may be that Levison happened after reform of the national security letter laws, so that simply as a result of timing, Levison's predicament had to involve a judge. However: even if that hadn't been the case, a judge would have been involved as soon as Levison (or Calyx) refused to comply.
Still, in spite of the damage done and the technical flaws that was quite the holding action and I think quite a few companies would have folded and much earlier.
To me, there's a difference between a "hero" and "not the worst person in a particular conflict".
All in all, nothing but good intentions and with a bit more foresight it would have ended quite differently. I sincerely hope that if I'm ever the subject of such pressure that I'll do half as good, hopefully better but definitely no guarantees there.
And trying to protect Edward Snowden was - especially at that moment in time - something that was a very hot issue as an American citizen well within reach of the arm of the law.
And that's his mistake. He should not have cared at all about which users the DOJ wanted info about, he should have realized that if he was capable of complying with their demands at all that his system should be fixed rather than kept that way.
I can see how this happens though. Imagine your average TOR exit node operator. This person may have noble intentions and dreams about supporting dissidents. Then finds out the exit node is used to peddle all kinds of gore. The temptation to become involved in determining what is and what is not supported use of 'your' exit node must be tremendously strong. Especially if some of that traffic is personally revolting, offensive or in some other way against your own personal philosophies.
So Levison may have thought that doing his bit, aiding the DOJ and purposefully having these holes was a net positive for society. But looking back I think he'd be the first to agree that that was a very bad mistake.
The Internet is littered with broken attempts at providing government-resistant messaging systems. They're a plague. There experts trying to deliver the same systems, but securely; they get drowned out because their UX isn't as smooth as that of Lavabit's --- which took full advantage of the UX benefits of total insecurity to get more users.
It is very hard to find someone who knows what he does not know. Much more capable people than Levinson have been bitten by that particular failure.
> There (are) experts trying to deliver the same systems, but securely; they get drowned out because their UX isn't as smooth as that of Lavabit's --- which took full advantage of the UX benefits of total insecurity to get more users.
Agreed. Conclusion: user experience counts. What I wonder is why those experts in crypto can't get their act together and deliver a user experience that's at least good enough not to get in the way of acceptance. Wherever there is a conflict between 'good crypto' and 'user experience' the crypto wins out in one product and the user experience wins out in another. Users overwhelmingly choose the packages with the good user experience and the bad crypto.
This may not be fixable in the case of conflicts but for many of the issues they may in fact be simply a matter of attention to detail, after all if the effort can be expended to make good crypto then a similar effort should go into the user experience since in the eyes of the users both are important. Delivering great crypto in an impractical package is a non-contribution.
That is going to be an uphill battle if the past is anything to go by.
"According to the Justice Department’s inspector general, the FBI issued a staggering 143,074 NSLs between 2003 and 2005. And every NSL was accompanied by a categorical and permanent gag order."
That's almost one per 2000 americans. I wonder how does this number compare to actual court orders.
> I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.
I'm not sure of the rules today, but 10 years ago clearances in some agencies/departments didn't even transfer to other agencies due to differing requirements.
(I'm not saying that this system is good, just describing how it works.)
Nevertheless, I feel like there should be some recourse in the system to appeal to a branch of government other than the secret judicial branch in circumstances like this...
AFAIK, this is still true. Compartmentalized clearances can have all sorts of fun and exciting restrictions.
> ACLU, EFF and NRA
Edit: I really should have taken note of your spelling of "neighbour". This post was written under the assumption that both of you have a constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
Although admittedly I wouldn't know until she gets raided by the CDC or accidentally the whole nearby biosphere.
Do you feel the same way when they buy a new car? Is this "keeping up with the Joneses"?
Perhaps you should buy an assault rifle for yourself (and another for the wee wifie)!
I don't, personally own a firearm. I have gone hunting, and done target shooting with friends, and feel the right to own as such is an essential right. I don't feel that the ACLU defends this right, which is why I put the NRA.. if the ACLU or another org was less obtuse in terms of defending gun rights, I'd probably prefer them.
I'm not a nut.
> have a superior constitution that protects our rights
 The article, innit?
> the right to bear arms is key to even being able to rebel
Every successful armed regime change has had state military sponsorship. But most regime changes are brought about peacefully, and then the army changes sides.
At the same time, Britain's main forces were across the other side of the world, fighting battles that were more important to them at the time. They were a superpower with global concerns.
Just looking at Iraq and Afghanistan it's rough. The rifts in that entire region are problematic. Even with superior technology and training, there's no clear victory... the same could be said of domestic rebellion if it ever came to that in the U.S.A.
One could damage your person, family or property just as easily with a motor vehicle or household chemicals as they could with an assault rifle. Even then, most hunting rifles are more powerful than the "assault" rifles that are typically used as reference for banning.
Found the link, at the bottom of the article, hidden in the last sentence....... https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/merrill-v-lynch-unredact...
More could be found at: https://www.accessnow.org/pages/transparency-reporting-index
Pretty sure she doesn't give a shit about the privacy of the average schmo in the street.
I'm still puzzled why so few people cared. In today's techno-social climate, it should go like hot cakes.
2) Ten years later, all legal restrictions are removed
3) The identity of the person, which was supposed to prove that FBI's actions were abuse of power, is still not released
this is a pointless victory unless we use it for accountability.
It seems to me that only that person themself should reveal that, or not, as they choose.
Based on the redacted latter, it appears the subscriber's email address is about 23 or fewer characters.
However, the LE attitude to the terrorism problem is "we can't wait until crimes have been committed to start making arrests; we have to identify and neutralize potential terrorists before they do something awful". And, absent a Minority Report pre-crime unit, this is where we end up: with the FBI aggressively and warrantlessly sniffing around, looking for a terrorist under every rock, and even falling on the wrong side of the sting/entrapment divide and goading people it thinks might be terrorists into participating in fake terror schemes to round them up.
I don't have any ready solutions to the terrorism problem, but it seems as if leaving it to the military, intelligence community, or law enforcement each comes with its own set of severe drawbacks which undermine human rights.