The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

The FBI gave its informants permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, according to newly disclosed documents that show just how often the nation’s top law enforcement agency enlists criminals to help it battle crime. … Agents authorized 15 crimes a day, on average, including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies. FBI officials have said in the past that permitting their informants — who are often criminals themselves — to break the law is an indispensable, if sometimes distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations. Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes

President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the FBI forcefully argued to the Senate that the oversight mechanisms on the government’s widespread surveillance of phone records and online habits sufficiently protect Americans’ privacy.

James Comey defends US surveillance practices at FBI confirmation hearing

And that’s about all you need to know about Obama’s new head of the FBI.

There is this part where Comey tells us that, as a Father of course, he felt that waterboarding (which he signed off on when he worked in the Bush DOJ) might be torture, but it all sounded so legal that he was helpless in doing anything to prevent it. Apparently the resignation tactic he’s so famous for didn’t come to mind. Some of the Democrats teased him about it, but “none expressed opposition to Comey’s nomination.”

As Ackerman notes:

Instead, Comey’s hearing, nearly three hours long, occasionally seemed like a coronation. [Senator] Blumenthal said Comey enjoyed “very solid support” on the committee. Comey made self-deprecating jokes and slipped into colloquialisms. Queried about the FBI’s current practice of reading emails older than 180 days without a warrant, Comey said: “I don’t think the fourth amendment has, like your yogurt, an expiration date.”

FBI sharply increases use of Patriot Act provision to collect US citizens' records - Open Channel

The Patriot Act provision, known as Section 215, allows the FBI to require the production of business records and any other “tangible things” — including “books, records, papers, documents and other items,” for an authorized terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation. The Patriot Act was a broad expansion of law enforcement powers enacted by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition to Section 215, other provisions expanded the FBI’s power to issue so-called “national security letters,” requiring individuals and business to turn over a more limited set of records without any court order at all.

In contrast to standard grand jury subpoenas, material obtained under both Section 215 orders and national security letters must be turned over under so-called “gag orders” that forbid the business or institution that receives the order from notifying its customers or publicly referring to the matter.

From the earliest days of the Patriot Act, Section 215 was among the most hotly disputed of its provisions. Critics charged the language – “tangible things” — was so broad that it would even permit the FBI to obtain library and bookstore records to inspect what citizens were reading.

Largely to tamp down those concerns, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft declassified information about the FBI’s use of the provision in September 2003, saying in a statement that “the number of times Section 215 has been used to date is zero.” Ashcroft added that he was releasing the information “to counter the troubling amount of public distortion and misinformation” about Section 215.

But in the years since, the FBI’s use of Section 215 quietly exploded, with virtually no public notice or debate. In 2009, as part of an annual report to Congress, the Justice Department reported there had been 21 applications for business records to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) under Section 215 – all of which were granted, though nine were modified by the court. (The reports do not explain how or why the orders were modified.)

In 2010, the number of requests jumped to 205 (all again granted, with 176 modified.) In the latest report filed on April 30, the department reported there had been 212 such requests in 2012 – all approved by the court, but 200 of them modified.

These sharp increase in the use of Section 215 has drawn little attention until now because the number of national security letters (NSLs) issued by the bureau has been so much greater — 15,229 in 2012. But FBI Director Mueller, in little-noticed written responses to Congress two years ago, explained that the bureau was encountering resistance from telecommunications companies in turning over “electronic communication transaction” records in response to national security letters.

“Beginning in late 2009, certain electronic communications service providers no longer honored NSLs to obtain” records because of what their lawyers cited as “an ambiguity” in the law. (What Mueller didn’t say was this came at a time when all the major telecommunications companies were still facing lawsuits over their cooperation with the government on surveillance programs.) As a result, Mueller said, the FBI had switched over to demanding the same data under Section 215. “This change accounts for a significant increase in the volume of business records requests,” Mueller wrote.

What was not explained at the time, Chesney notes, is that the FBI was using the Section 215 requests to obtain a broad array of records. For example, a top-secret FISC order disclosed last week by the Guardian showed that the FBI had used a single Section 215 request to direct Verizon to turn over “all call detail records or telephony metadata’’ of its customers for a three month period, literally millions of records.

If – and it remains a big if – this was an extrajudicial execution, it was one of hundreds commissioned by US agencies since Barack Obama first took office. The difference in this case is that it took place on American soil. Elsewhere, suspects are bumped off without even the right to the lawyerless interview Ibragim Todashev was given. … As the process of decision-making [in the so-called ‘disposition matrix’] remains secret, as the US government refuses even to acknowledge – let alone to document or investigate – the killing by its drones of people who patently had nothing to do with terrorism or any other known crime, miscarriages of justice are not just a risk emerging from the deployment of the president’s kill list. They are an inevitable outcome. Under the Obama doctrine, innocent until proved guilty has mutated to innocent until proved dead. The shooting of Ibragim Todashev: is the lawlessness of Obama’s drone policy coming home?

HSBC money-laundering investigation letters spark questions over rushed fine | guardian.co.uk

After a decade of investigations, US authorities last September decided to move “as quickly as possible” to fine HSBC on money laundering charges that the Treasury Department concluded were the most “egregious” it had ever seen, according to newly released documents.

A series of emails and letters released to Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group, paint a partial picture of the Treasury Department trying to catch up after a hard-hitting Senate report had blasted the British bank and a New York regulator had threatened to revoke the license of another British institution, Standard Chartered.

Bart Naylor, a policy advocate at Public Citizen, said the documents posed questions about why the Treasury Department wanted a quick resolution to the HSBC scandal. “Why all of a sudden do they want a resolution after 10 years of investigation? Was Treasury pre-empting more vigorous action by the Justice Department? These are questions that need to be answered,” he said.

The documents, which were first reported in the New York Times, are the first of a series that Public Citizen is hoping to obtain from the Treasury Department, Justice Department and others, under the Freedom of Information Act.

HSBC and Standard Chartered were fined last year over allegations they had acted as banker for rogue states, terrorists and drug lords, channeling billions of dollars through the US financial system. The fines, especially HSBC’s record $1.9bn penalty, proved controversial with politicians and other critics, who demanded to know why the Justice Department had not pursued criminal actions against the banks and bankers and questioned whether some financial institutions had become too big to indict.

The newly released emails claim Treasury officials were caught unawares last August, by a New York prosecutor’s threat to revoke Standard Chartered’s banking license. The documents show that US officials were under pressure from their UK counterparts not to revoke Standard’s license, a move that would have been a potentially fatal blow for the bank.

Last September, treasury secretary Tim Geithner received a briefing note from an unnamed Treasury official ahead of a meeting with George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer. Osborne had written to the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, on 10 September, following the New York Department of Financial Services’ (NYDFS) scathing attack on Standard Chartered. Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the NYSDFS, said Standard Chartered had processed $250bn (£160bn) in illegal transactions over nearly a decade of business with US-sanctioned countries including Libya, Burma and Sudan. [++]

Bonus: James Comey, Barack Obama’s nominee to head the FBI, is a board member at HSBC. More specifically, “an independent non-executive Director and a member of the Financial System Vulnerabilities Committee.” He’ll be helpful.

[T]here was something the NSA was doing for years - that we still don’t know - even more extreme than the illegal NSA program revealed by the NYT in 2005. It was [former Deputy Attorney General James] Comey, along with Ashcroft, Mueller, and Goldsmith, who threatened to resign if it did not stop, and they deserve credit for that. But the reason they didn’t end up resigning was because Bush officials ‘modified’ that NSA program into something those lawyers could and did endorse: the still-illegal, still-radical NSA eavesdropping program that spied on the communications of Americans without warrants and in violation of the law. And this was accomplished by inventing a new legal theory to accompany the old one: that Congress, when it enacted the 2001 AUMF, silently and ‘implicitly’ authorized Bush to eavesdrop in exactly the ways the law expressly forbade. Thus, it was Comey who gave his legal approval to enable that NSA eavesdropping program to spy on Americans without warrants: the same program that produced so much outrage and scandal when revealed by the NYT. How can any progressive who spent the Bush years vehemently denouncing that domestic spying program as the symbol of Bush radicalism and lawlessness now cheer when the lawyer who approved it is about to be put in charge of the FBI? Obama’s new FBI chief approved Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping scheme

'We could care less about a criminal case when right before us is the need to protect American citizens and to save lives,' Comey told reporters, presumably grabbing his genitals. 'We’ll figure out down the road what we do with Jose Padilla.' His remarks mean he will do well at the FBI, that Comey, leading a department where protecting Americans has long served as justification for ignoring their rights.

Charles Davis, James Comey ain’t your homey

More: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I.

A Not-A-Drone-Strike Near Disney World | Marcy Wheeler

The FBI has been tracking a Chechen martial arts practitioner in FL, Ibragim Todashev, since the Boston Marathon attack. The guy knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Boston and reportedly had a phone conversation with him “more than a month ago” (which still would put it shortly before the attack). Todashev — who got in a serious fight in a parking lot earlier this month — had recently booked a flight to NY, with plans to travel on to Chechnya.

So, after having interviewed him yesterday, the FBI decided to interview him again around midnight last night.

It didn’t end well.

The FBI said Ibragim Todashev was shot and killed just after midnight at 6022 Peregrine Avenue in the Windhover Apartments near Universal Orlando.

“The agent encountered the suspect while conducting official duties. The suspect is deceased,” FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier told Local 6.

John Miller, the former FBI assistant director who now works for CBS News, said the FBI was trying to re-question Todashev at his apartment when “something went wrong.” Miller said the FBI agent fired shots, but details of the incident have not yet been released and it’s not known if Todashev had a gun.

This will bear watching.

The real reason the FBI doesn’t want to record interviews is Title 18 of the United States Code, section 1001, the so-called federal false statements law. Without recordings, the sole arbiter of what an interviewee says, is the FBI and its form 302. The threat of a charge if the interviewee is called to testify before a grand jury, or at trial, ensures testimony that is favorable to the prosecution. Why The FBI Doesn’t Record Interrogations

Support Assata Shakur, At Your Own Risk | Margaret Kimberly

The announcement that the FBI added Assata Shakur to the list of most wanted terrorists was initially mystifying, a real life example of the shock doctrine. Shakur has been a fugitive ever since 1979 and was granted asylum by Cuba in 1984. It seemed inexplicable that the government would reinitiate searching for a 65-year old woman who had already been at large for more than thirty years. Yet the FBI made a grand show of the announcement, complete with a black agent at the podium and a phalanx of New Jersey state troopers. Not only was Shakur added to the most wanted terrorist list but the government added $1 million to the $1 million bounty already in place.

Because of Barack Obama, Assata Shakur now faces the possibility of being kidnapped or murdered by the United States government. She may be held indefinitely without being charged or tried. Not only is she in danger, but because of Obama anyone who does as little as publicly defend her may potentially face the same fate.

It is the terrorist label which puts her and her supporters at greatest risk. The Patriot Act made giving “material support to terror” a federal offense which not only is punished very harshly, but is so amorphous as to mean anything the government chooses it to mean. In the Supreme Court decision which began the material support onslaught, a group attempting to teach peaceful activism was found nonetheless guilty because they had contact with the group designated as terrorist. The justices ruled that their intentions were of no consequence.

The only people safe in speaking of or contacting Shakur are those who mean her harm, and a bounty of $2 million will increase the number of persons who fall into that category. Not only is it important to resist the government and defend Shakur but also to name the villain in this story and that person is none other than Barack Obama.

One cannot be separated from the other. It is sad to see the continued effort to excuse Obama’s crimes and let him off the hook on so many occasions, but in the case of Assata Shakur the disingenuousness is particularly dangerous. Barack Obama has made manifest his predecessor’s desire to create a truly fascist machinery in this country. [++]

Obama May Back F.B.I. to Wiretap Web Users

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.

The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders.

(Source: thepeoplesrecord, via randomactsofchaos)