An October, 2011 Department of Homeland Security memo on Occupy Wall Street warned of the potential for violence posed by the "leaderless resistance movement." (via @producermatthew).
Update: Looks like there's a larger Rolling Stone feature on this document:
As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street [PDF]," dated October of last year, opens with the observation that "mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas." While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that "large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement."
Two U.K. tourists landing in L.A. were detained and deported because of tweets joking about "diggin' up" Marilyn Monroe and "destroying" America.
According to DHS paperwork, Leigh Van Bryan was matched to a "One Day Lookout" list, placed under oath, and ultimately denied entry and put on a plane back to Europe.
"[He wrote] on his tweeter[sic] website account that he was coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe," DHS officials wrote on his charge sheet. "Also on his tweeter[sic] account Mr. Bryan posted that he was coming to destroy America."
Interviewed by highly-respected British newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, Leigh Van Bryan says that the tweet — "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America" — referred merely to partying. Added a friend: "He would not hurt anyone. He is gay."
Bryan has now made his Twitter account private, thereby ending the DHS's ability to track his terror plans.
"Boing Boing correctly points out (via Alkon) that this is silly—but the reason we know this is silly is because you and I and Boing Boing are racially profiling."
We know the deportation is silly not because of Van Bryan's innocuous whiteness—that's in your head, Ted—but because the methodology is dumb. It's silly because search alerts for keywords on Twitter will never catch a terrorist on his way to the airport; it will merely impose pointless burdens on travelers regardless of national origin.
This poses an interesting question: of all our posts on DHS shenanigans, why was it this one that got noticed today by some conservatives? Actually, it's a boring question: it's because it offered them an opportunity to project their inclination toward racial profiling onto others. It creates the impression that everyone is at it regardless of agenda, and that inconvenience to innocents is therefore the price of our collective failure to recognize that racial profiling is common sense. "We want [the] DHS to have the flexibility to detain hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist Mohammed Abbasi if he were to make a similar threat on the Internet that is less likely to be a joke," writes Frank.
On the contrary, I don't want the DHS wasting its time on any of this nonsense.
(Frank also mistakenly attributes the non-sequitur "He is gay" quote from Van Bryan's friend to us. Why? Perhaps, like the DHS, his attention is tuned in to the wrong things.)
Homeland Security Internet Watch List leaked; Boing Boing omitted from list of must-read sites for domestic spying
I am outraged that our blog once again failed to make it on to the list of websites the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's command center routinely monitors. The grandfather of all rogue leak sites, Cryptome, published a copy of the 2011 edition of the government document (PDF link to document copy). Apparently, there's a new 2012 version some have seen, on which a current round of news coverage is based.
A "privacy compliance review" issued by DHS last November says that since at least June 2010, its national operations center has been operating a "Social Networking/Media Capability" which involves regular monitoring of "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards." The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."
The document adds, using more plain language, that such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies, which include the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, to manage government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This is a representative list of sites that the NOC will start to monitor in order to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture under this Initiative," the document reads.
Oh fine, so, the imminent Yeti invasion isn't something that needs to be monitored? The anal probe menace posed by illegal Martian invaders? No concerns about the toxicity of homemade sauerkraut as a biological weapon?
I mean, fucking MySpace and Hulu are on the list! Really? I'm surprised Friendster was omitted. And they're watching Flickr and YouTube and Huffpo! But our hard-hitting coverage of steampunk watches and DIY spaceships doesn't merit a click? Whatever, DHS. We don't want those ill-gotten clicks.
But there's still hope. "Initial sites listed may link to other sites not listed. The NOC may also monitor those sites if they are within the scope of this Initiative."
On the TSA blog, a defense of the recent confiscation of a cupcake at Las Vegas International airport over concerns the tasty morsel was a terrorist threat. Cory blogged about the incident on Boing Boing, and pointed to a parody song about it here. The internet loves cupcakes and hates the TSA, so predictably, this one went very viral.
The federal agency's explanation for the incident focuses on the fact that the traveler's cupcake was transported in a jar:
I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake. If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the “gel” category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar.
In general, cakes and pies are allowed in carry-on luggage, however, the officer in this case used their discretion on whether or not to allow the newfangled modern take on a cupcake per 3-1-1 guidelines. They chose not to let it go.
Read the rest here. It all makes perfect sense now.
Update: Rebecca Hains, the woman whose cupcake-in-a-jar is the tasty center of this international terror emergency, is not impressed with the agency's response. She tells Boing Boing, "The TSA is stooping to misrepresenting the facts about my cupcake in their blog post! TSA response to losing face: misstatements."
Palantir is security software that helps CIA analysts take innocuous events (man comes to U.S. on temporary visa, man takes flight training classes, man buys one-way ticket from Boston to California) and put them into a context where potential threats can become more apparent (the one man is actually several, and they're all on the same flight).
The technology is based on a system developed by PayPal, and it's interesting because it's one of the few examples of counter-terrorism work that is actually proactive. Instead of adding increasingly elaborate airport security rules that are merely responses to the most recently exposed plot, a program like Palantir has the potential to spot plots in the making with less hassle to the general public. That could make it a good thing. On the other hand, Palantir comes with plenty of its own privacy and civil rights concerns. This Bloomberg BusinessWeek story is pretty "rah rah rah" in tone, ironically cheering on all the things that make Palantir seem rather creepy to me. But it is a great example of why countering terrorism is really just one long string of incredibly difficult choices. What matters more, who makes that call, and how do we balance a reasonable desire for safety with a reasonable desire to not be creeped the hell out by our own government?
In October, a foreign national named Mike Fikri purchased a one-way plane ticket from Cairo to Miami, where he rented a condo. Over the previous few weeks, he’d made a number of large withdrawals from a Russian bank account and placed repeated calls to a few people in Syria. More recently, he rented a truck, drove to Orlando, and visited Walt Disney World by himself. As numerous security videos indicate, he did not frolic at the happiest place on earth. He spent his day taking pictures of crowded plazas and gate areas.
None of Fikri’s individual actions would raise suspicions. Lots of people rent trucks or have relations in Syria, and no doubt there are harmless eccentrics out there fascinated by amusement park infrastructure. Taken together, though, they suggested that Fikri was up to something. And yet, until about four years ago, his pre-attack prep work would have gone unnoticed. A CIA analyst might have flagged the plane ticket purchase; an FBI agent might have seen the bank transfers. But there was nothing to connect the two. Lucky for counterterror agents, not to mention tourists in Orlando, the government now has software made by Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company that’s become the darling of the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
The day Fikri drives to Orlando, he gets a speeding ticket, which triggers an alert in the CIA’s Palantir system. An analyst types Fikri’s name into a search box and up pops a wealth of information pulled from every database at the government’s disposal. There’s fingerprint and DNA evidence for Fikri gathered by a CIA operative in Cairo; video of him going to an ATM in Miami; shots of his rental truck’s license plate at a tollbooth; phone records; and a map pinpointing his movements across the globe. All this information is then displayed on a clearly designed graphical interface that looks like something Tom Cruise would use in a Mission: Impossible movie.
As the CIA analyst starts poking around on Fikri’s file inside of Palantir, a story emerges. A mouse click shows that Fikri has wired money to the people he had been calling in Syria. Another click brings up CIA field reports on the Syrians and reveals they have been under investigation for suspicious behavior and meeting together every day over the past two weeks. Click: The Syrians bought plane tickets to Miami one day after receiving the money from Fikri. To aid even the dullest analyst, the software brings up a map that has a pulsing red light tracing the flow of money from Cairo and Syria to Fikri’s Miami condo. That provides local cops with the last piece of information they need to move in on their prey before he strikes.
Fikri isn’t real—he’s the John Doe example Palantir uses in product demonstrations that lay out such hypothetical examples. The demos let the company show off its technology without revealing the sensitive work of its clients.
Mexico: moderator of online discussion forum about narcos reported as tortured, decapitated by narcos (UPDATED)
UPDATE: One media outlet in Mexico reports that there is no proof that the man killed in Nuevo Laredo on Wednesday was a social media user. Police say they are still investigating. Unlike in previous cases involving administrators/contributors to the online message board in question, the newspaper affiliated with that forum has not come forward to confirm the identity of the dead.
UPDATE 2: Nuevo Laredo Live reports that the man killed is "not one of our collaborators," but "a scapegoat" whose murder serves to send a message of fear.
The moderator of an online discussion forum about local cartel-related crime is reported to have been killed in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Near the corpse, a "narco manta," or sign taking responsibility for the murder, was found and points to the ultraviolent cartel known as the Zetas.
Wired News reports that the victim was a 35-year-old man who went by the nickname “Rascatripas” or “Scraper” (literally, “Fiddler”) on the web-based chat network Nuevo Laredo en Vivo where he served as a community moderator. The body was handcuffed, with signs of torture, and was decapitated and was placed next to a monument for Christopher Columbus about a mile south of the Texas border. That same site has previously been used as a dumping ground for victims of this form of crime.
The discussion board in question is the same one at the center of the near-identical murder of two other Nuevo Laredo residents two months ago. They were outed as active participants in the site's crime-tip forum, and they were gruesomely murdered as "snitches." Their bodies were dumped in the same location, with a sign indicating that their killing should serve as a warning for others who share information about cartel activities on the internet.
Below the man’s body was a partially obscured and blood-stained blanket. Written on the blanket in black ink: “Hi I’m ‘Rascatripas’ and this happened to me because I didn’t understand I shouldn’t post things on social networks.”
The discovery of the body Wednesday morning brings the total number of bloggers and social media networkers apparently killed in the past three months by organized crime in Mexico — and in the border city of Nuevo Laredo — to four.
One important caveat: some who cover this news beat point out that there are insufficient confirmed details to report the identity of the victim as fact just yet. Neither the police, the family of the deceased, nor the operators of the web forum have validated early online reports. It is possible that the victim's actual identity is not what the sign next to the body states. It is possible that the killing was staged by the Zetas or some other individual or entity for any number of purposes.
Given the nature of cartel-related crime in the region, those facts may take time to confirm. But the message delivered seems clear.
[Video Link] Over the last few days, word has spread of a purported #antisec operation by Anonymous against the most brutal of all Mexican drug cartels, Los Zetas. One element in the story is this video, above. Weeks after it came out, George Friedman's Austin Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor issued this report, and media gobbled it up. A story was born: "Anonymous is taking on the most feared drug cartel in the world, for great justice."
What was unusual about the way this story spread was the speed at which it was amplified by credulous reports from larger media outlets, despite a dearth of confirmable facts. This op got lots of press, fast. Faster, in fact, than it got support from Anons.
Geraldine Juarez and Renata Avila were two of the earlier voices I read expressing doubt about the prevailing storyline—a report by Juarez is here. Some I spoke to within Mexico wondered if the Mexican government (no bastion of purity) might be involved.
Over at Wired News, a must-read piece by Quinn Norton that cinches the deal for me (and in it, she references the aforementioned Global Voices item). Quinn's been covering Anonymous extensively for some time, and I trust her spidey sense on this one.
We've blogged before about artist Hasan Elahi, who learned in 2008 that he was being tracked as a terror suspect by the U.S. for undisclosed reasons. He has never been charged with a crime, but that's hardly needed these days, thanks to the Patriot Act (which recently turned 10). The New York Times this weekend ran a sort of manifesto from Elahi, in which he describes how he transformed this extraordinary act of surveillance into an extraordinary work of art.
In an era in which everything is archived and tracked, the best way to maintain privacy may be to give it up. Information agencies operate in an industry that values data. Restricted access to information is what makes it valuable. If I cut out the middleman and flood the market with my information, the intelligence the F.B.I. has on me will be of no value. Making my private information public devalues the currency of the information the intelligence gatherers have collected.
Also: Clive Thompson wrote this feature about him in Wired back in 2008.
(IMAGE: Top, art by Elahi which incorporates surveillance data about his location and activities. Middle, one of the FBI surveillance images of his whereabouts. Bottom, Mr. Elahi, via Wikipedia.)
Glenn Greenwald rounds up a number of reports related to the killing of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son by an unmanned aerial drone from the US:
Initial US reports stated he was 21, but a birth certificate obtained by The Washington Post shows that he was born 16 years ago in Denver. According to the boy's grandfather, he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when they were killed.
Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people.
Photo: A relative reacts after his arrival at a crime scene where a man was shot dead in Acapulco two days ago. According to local media, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a DVD and music salesman. The next day, the charred and headless remains of five people were found in the same city. And today, five disembodied heads, presumably the same victims, were discovered near a primary school nearby. [REUTERS]
In the Mexican city of Acapulco, where violence related to drug cartels has been escalating in recent weeks, police today found five decomposing human heads outside the Benito Juarez primary school [Google Maps link]. Armed men placed a wooden box outside the school early Tuesday, with a white cloth sack inside containing the severed heads and four handwritten cards inside threatening local officials and drug traffickers. The earliest reports appeared at the Milenio news website.
Prensa Latina reports that teachers in Acapulco schools have increasingly become the target of extortion demands, prompting the closure of schools and causing many teachers and children to stay away in fear. Just 200 feet from where the gruesome discovery was made today, a group of Mexican federal troops are stationed. More from news.com.au:
The discovery occurred in full view of young students and pedestrians, sparking fear in the area. Soldiers and police removed the remains and cordoned off the location.
Yesterday in the same city - a major port and tourist resort on Mexico's Pacific coast - police found five decapitated bodies: three badly burned inside a pickup truck, and two others outside the vehicle.
(Photo: Javier Trujillo/Millenium; via Warren Ellis)
Yesterday, Craig Cormick—the public awareness manager at Australia's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and the person who invited me to the 6th Science Center World Congress—leaned over during a conference session and showed me this story on his blackberry. I had to double check and make sure it wasn't a sketchy email forward.
But the truth is that, sometimes, anti-science sentiment coalesces into violent attacks on scientists themselves. That's happened to researchers who work with animal models in the United States. And it's also happening to researchers around the world who are working with nanotechnology. The threat seems to be particularly prevalent in Mexico. In manifestos, the terrorists have said that they're attempting to prevent scientists from inventing self-replicating nanobots that could turn the entire world into "grey goo."
Nanotechnology was singled out as a target for the attacks in manifestos posted on the Web by the group behind the bombs, which calls itself "Individualities Tending Toward Savagery." It has been linked to attacks in France, Spain, and Chile, and to a bomb sent earlier this year to a scientist at another Mexican university who specializes in nanotech. An analyst who helped identify the Unabomber—who turned out to be a former professor—says the posts show signs of someone well-educated who could be affiliated with a college.
The new group's latest package exploded in an office on the campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, outside of Mexico City, in early August. The blast wounded its intended target, Armando Herrera Corral, director of a technology-transfer center, which the group's manifesto said is key to the university's plan to promote research projects that "are relevant for the progress of nanobioindustry within the country." The explosion also wounded a nearby colleague, Alejandro Aceves López, director of the university's graduate school of engineering and science.
In the group's online post (written in Spanish) claiming credit for the latest bombing, the terrorists complained about the growing number of nanotechnology experts in Mexico, which it estimated at 650. "The ever more rapid acceleration of this technology will lead to the creation of nanocyborgs that can self-replicate automatically without the help of a human," it said.
While it's entirely possible that this "group" is actually one dude (in the gender-neutral sense of "dude"), I still think it's appropriate to use the label of "terrorism." When you carry out violent acts against non-combatants in an effort to scare a broad category of people or political entities into doing what you want, I think that counts as terrorism. That's a bit of a broad definition, and imperfect. But you get the idea. This, to me, goes well beyond simple "violent crime."