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FBI recommended felony counts against Joe Arpaio's cronies


The FBI has turned over a redacted set of documents from its investigative archives related to Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious strong-man whose antics have cost the taxpayers millions in civil suit settlements for actions ranging from racial profiling to stealing a defendant's paperwork in open court to arresting newspaper owners who refused to turn over readers' identities to torching a house and killing a puppy in the process of investigating traffic citations.

The FBI archives, which go back to 2008, reveal that the Bureau recommended that some or all of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Arpaio and his officers be indicted for felony counts of "obstructing criminal investigations of prosecutions, theft by threats, tampering with witnesses, perjury and theft by extortion." This recommendation was ignored by federal prosecutors, who concluded that there was not enough evidence to proceed.

County officials who tried to rein in Arpaio have had their offices swept for bugs, believing that Arpaio's regime engages in dirty tricks and illegal wiretapping against local politicians that are hostile to his tactics. Arpaio's office filed several charges against hostile local politicians, none of which led to convictions (by contrast, Arpaio's friendly county attorney Andrew Thomas was unable to get reelected and was eventually barred from practicing law altogether).

Arpaio's bid to quash the FBI investigation and his campaign against local politicians have cost Arizona taxpayers over $44M to date.

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"A reason to hang him": how mass surveillance, secret courts, confirmation bias and the FBI can ruin your life


Brandon Mayfield was a US Army veteran and an attorney in Portland, OR. After the 2004 Madrid train bombing, his fingerprint was partially matched to one belonging to one of the suspected bombers, but the match was a poor one. But by this point, the FBI was already convinced they had their man, so they rationalized away the non-matching elements of the print, and set in motion a train of events that led to Mayfield being jailed without charge; his home and office burgled by the FBI; his client-attorney privilege violated; his life upended.

At every turn, the FBI treated evidence that contradicted their theory as evidence that confirmed it. Mayfield's passport had expired and he couldn't possibly have been in Madrid? Proof that he was a terrorist: he must be using his connections with Al Qaeda to get false papers so that his own passport isn't recorded as crossing any borders. Mayfield starts to freak out once he realizes he's under surveillance? Aha! Only the guilty worry about having their homes burgled by G-men!

The FBI was so sure of their theory that they lied to a judge during their campaign against him. His story is the perfect embodiment of "confirmation bias" -- the tendency of human beings to give undue weight to evidence that confirms their existing belief and to discount evidence that rebuts it. Confirmation bias is one of the underappreciated problems of mass surveillance: gather enough facts about anyone's life and you can find facts that confirm whatever theory you have about them.

Or, as Cardinal De Richelieu said: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." This line is the epitaph in my story Scroogled (here's Wil Wheaton's reading of it), about the risks of automated, unaccountable attributions of guilt based on algorithms that are not subject to scrutiny. But as bad as the automated attribution as guilt can be, it's nothing compared to the directed attribution of guilt from cops who are absolutely sure that they have their man.

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Guilty plea in Fox News leak case shows why Espionage Act prosecutions are unfair to reporters' sources


Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Image: Stephen Kim Legal Defense Trust.

Former State Department official Stephen Kim announced today he will plead guilty to leaking classified information to Fox News journalist James Rosen and will serve 13 months in jail.

The case sparked controversy last year when it was revealed the Justice Department named Rosen a “co-conspirator” in court documents for essentially doing his job as a journalist. But a largely ignored ruling in Kim’s case may have far broader impact on how sources interact with journalists in the future.

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Social-engineering the FBI in 1971


In The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, Betty Medsger reveals the long-secret details of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, an activist group that raided the FBI's offices, retrieving evidence of J Edgar Hoover's criminal program of secret spying. The book is a rollicking history of the confluence of protest, locksport, activism and amateur spycraft. One of its most hilarious moments is the description of the group's social engineering hack on an unpickable lock that they needed to get past in order to get to their target:

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US intel chief James Clapper: journalists reporting on leaked Snowden NSA docs “accomplices” to crime


U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In a Senate Judiciary Hearing on NSA surveillance today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insinuated dozens of journalists reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were “accomplices” to a crime. His spokesman further suggested Clapper was referring to journalists after the hearing had concluded.

If this is the official stance of the US government, it is downright chilling.

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Did you use TorMail? If so, 'the FBI Has Your Inbox'

Kevin Poulsen at Wired News: "While investigating a hosting company known for sheltering child porn last year the FBI incidentally seized the entire e-mail database of a popular anonymous webmail service called TorMail. Now the FBI is tapping that vast trove of e-mail in unrelated investigations." [Threat Level]

FBI to Students: Watch Out! Socialists Are TOTALLY Gay.

In 1971 the Young Socialist Alliance ended its policy of barring gays. The FBI's San Diego office seized on this announcement "to play on people's bigotries to dissuade them from joining a political organization" by creating these fliers, says Jesse Walker of the Hit & Run blog. The FBI also made another flier with women's names and said the organization was "now accepting 'les' membership."

FBI headquarters wholeheartedly approved of the smear campaign: "Bureau feels preparation of leaflets as requested in relet has merit, and you are authorized to duplicate sufficient copies on commercially obtained paper to have posted on various bulletin boards where they might be seen by majority of students at San Diego State College. It is hopeful this action will have desired effect of dissuading would-be new recruits from membership in YSA."

When the FBI asks you to weaken your security so it can spy on your users


Nico Sell is the CEO of Wickr, a privacy-oriented mobile messaging system that's been deliberately designed so that the company can't spy on its users, even if they're ordered to do so. As we know from the Snowden leaks, spooks hate this kind of thing, and spend $250M/year sabotaging security so that they can spy on everyone, all the time.

After a recent presentation, she was approached by an FBI agent who asked her if she'd put a back-door into Wickr.

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FBI no longer primarily a crime-fighting agency


A new info-sheet issued by the FBI redefines the bureau's primary mission, dropping "law enforcement" and replacing it with "national security." The bureau has not made any formal announcements regarding this change -- but it does signal that the bureau's leadership views its primary activity as spying on Americans, not catching bad guys, possibly because the budget for spying is effectively bottomless.

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Macbook webcams can be remotely activated without any sign

In a paper called iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED, security researchers Matthew Brocker and Stephen Checkoway explained a method for remotely operating the Isight webcam in Apple's Macbook laptops. Recent stories indicated that the FBI had this capability, but it's the first indication of how the trick is attained (the researchers reprogrammed the embedded controller in the webcam). They supplied the Washington Post with details and proof-of-concept software. The technique was applied to older model Macbooks, but there's no reason to suspect this wouldn't work against recent machines and machines made by other manufacturers.

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Punk Freedom of Information Access ninja learns how to beat FBI obfuscation, so they shut him out


Mike sez, "In Mother Jones, Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a punk rocker-turned-PhD student who wanted to study how the FBI monitors animal-rights activists. Through trial and error, and a lot of digging, he devised a perfectly legal, highly effective strategy to unearth sensitive documents from the bureau's 'byzantine' filing system.

In short, he got too smart for the feds, so they've cut him off. Now Shapiro has sued the FBI to release some 350,000 documents he's requested under FOIA. If the court buys the FBI's argument here, open-government groups say it could make it harder for scholars and journalists to keep tabs on federal agencies. Potter explains:"

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FBI: We know you're innocent, but you're not getting off the No-Fly list unless you rat out your friends

An ACLU report on the FBI called Unleashed and Unaccountable details how three ACLU clients were added to the no-fly list, and were told by FBI agents that though they were understood to be innocent of any wrongdoing, they would not be taken off the list unless they agreed to inform on their friends. In one case, the FBI waiting until their victim was in Yemen before sticking him on the no-fly list; they told him he would be stranded there until he agreed to act as an informant.

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Kim Dotcom sues New Zealand gov for USD $4.85 million over FBI-ordered raid

A lawsuit filed by technology entrepreneur and hacker Kim Dotcom against the government of New Zealand demands NZ $6 million (roughly USD $5 million) over an "excessively aggressive and invasive approach" by police who raided his mansion 18 months ago. The raid was ordered by the FBI, which sought to extradite him to the US on copyright violation charges. Xeni 6

Worth reading: NYT on jailed 'journalist-agitator' Barrett Brown, and silence surrounding his case

"Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim," writes David Carr in his recent profile of the Dallas-based journalist "obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms." Brown, 32 has been in jail for a year. He faces charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison. Why does the gag order on his case matter to all of us? Carr explains. Xeni 9

Secret spy spy court demands government transparency on surveillance programs

Over at Wired.com, David Kravets writes about an order by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge demanding that the US government begin to declassify its opinions related to the Patriot Act. The order "means the government likely will have to make public opinions surrounding the court’s legal interpretations of Section 215 of the Patriot Act," a controversial provision that allows FISC "to authorize broad warrants for most any type of 'tangible' records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies." Xeni 1