Aug 102010

Ellen Nakashima reports:

For six years, Nicholas Merrill has lived in a surreal world of half-truths, where he could not tell even his fiancee, his closest friends or his mother that he is “John Doe” — the man who filed the first-ever court challenge to the FBI’s ability to obtain personal data on Americans without judicial approval.


On a cold February day in 2004, an FBI agent pulled an envelope out of his trench coat and handed it to Merrill, who ran an Internet startup called Calyx in New York. At the time, like most Americans, he had no idea what a national security letter was.

The letter requested that Merrill provide 16 categories of “electronic communication transactional records,” including e-mail address, account number and billing information. Most of the other categories remain redacted by the FBI.

Read more in the Washington Post. Kim Zetter of Threat Level also reports on an interview they obtained with Merrill.

Aug 092010

The FBI and DEA are now making extensive use of Google Earth, according to federal spending records. Consumer Watchdog is filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the agencies today to determine how the Internet giant’s digital mapping technology is being used for domestic surveillance, including whether it is used for racial profiling or other abuses of civil liberties.

“The public needs to know how law enforcement is using Google’s technologies,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group. “We call on the FBI and the DEA to expeditiously respond to our requests for information.”

Congress should also investigate how the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities are using technologies that Google provides, Simpson added.

Federal contracting records reviewed by Consumer Watchdog show that the FBI has spent more than $600,000 on Google Earth since 2007. The Drug Enforcement Administration, meanwhile, has spent more than $67,000.

The DEA’s contracting records say that Google Earth is being used in connection with the agency’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which targets specific geographic domestic regions of the United States.

The FBI has not disclosed exactly how it is using Google Earth. However, the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide encourages agents to use digital mapping technologies like Google Earth for assembling dossiers on local communities.

“As a general rule, if information about community demographics may be collected, it may be ‘mapped,'” the Manual states. “Sophisticated computer geo-mapping technology visually depicts lawfully collected information and can assist in showing relationships among disparate data.”

If the FBI merges ethnic data it has gathered onto Google Earth maps, it raises the possibility of unfair racial profiling.

Google Earth provides users with satellite-produced geographic images on a delayed basis and therefore cannot be used for real-time surveillance. However, the detailed information it provides can be used by police and intelligence agencies to analyze homes and communities in unprecedented ways.

On May 5 of this year, records identified by Consumer Watchdog show, the FBI awarded a $320,999.61 contract to DLT Solutions Inc. for five perpetual licenses of “Google Earth Fusion Pro with imagery, terrain and vector support,” along with 12 months of tech support and two computer processors.

The deal was the largest yet for Google Earth by the FBI, which is mainly investing in Google’s Fusion product. That allows organizations which already possess their own data to input this information into Google Earth and display it in geospatial form.

Meanwhile, a national poll released by Consumer Watchdog found that a significant majority of Americans are troubled by recent revelations  that Google’s Street View cars gathered communications from home WiFi  networks, and they want stronger legal protection to preserve their  online privacy.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled (65%) say the Wi-Spy scandal is one of the things that “worries them most” or a “great deal” with another 20% saying it “raises some concern” when considering Internet issues.

The poll, conducted for Consumer Watchdog by Grove Insight, Ltd., found a  solid majority (55%) is also bothered (“one of the most” or “great  deal”) by Google’s cooperation with the National Security Agency without saying what information is being shared. Even more voters call for  Congressional hearings on “Google’s gathering data from home WiFi  networks and its sharing of information with U.S. spy agencies like the National Security Administration, the NSA” (69% favor, 19% oppose).

— Read Grove Ltd.’s poll analysis here:

— Read the poll’s topline results here:

Source:  Consumer Watchdog

Dec 022009

Michael Garcia reports:

A federal judge denied a motion Monday to dismiss the FBI from a lawsuit filed by two Berkeley community organizations whose computers and storage devices were seized in an August 2008 raid.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that plaintiffs Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support can sue the investigative bureau for its role in the raid, which was conducted by the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in coordination with UCPD and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.


On Aug. 27, 2008, officers raided the Long Haul Infoshop, located at 3124 Shattuck Ave., as part of an investigation into a series of threatening e-mails that were allegedly sent to nine UC Berkeley faculty members from the shop…… During the raid, officers removed all computers from the building, including those located in the locked Slingshot and East Bay Prison Support offices, according to the documents.

In a complaint filed on Jan. 14, the plaintiffs alleged that the FBI and two agents working for the bureau violated the groups’ First Amendment U.S. Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and Fourth Amendment rights protecting unreasonable search and seizure.

Read more in The Daily Californian.

Oct 292009

Charlie Savage reports:

After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.

Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.

The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.


Related: Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide via the New York Times.

 Posted by at 9:32 am  Tagged with:
Sep 232009

Ryan Singel reports:

A fast-growing FBI data-mining system billed as a tool for hunting terrorists is being used in hacker and domestic criminal investigations, and now contains tens of thousands of records from private corporate databases, including car-rental companies, large hotel chains and at least one national department store, declassified documents obtained by show.

Headquartered in Crystal City, Virginia, just outside Washington, the FBI’s National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) maintains a hodgepodge of data sets packed with more than 1.5 billion government and private-sector records about citizens and foreigners, the documents show, bringing the government closer than ever to implementing the “Total Information Awareness” system first dreamed up by the Pentagon in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.


Among the data in its coffers, the NSAC houses more than 55,000 entries on customers of the Cendant Hotel chain, now known as Wyndham Worldwide, which includes Ramada Inn, Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson and Hawthorn Suites. The entries are for hotel customers whose names matched those on a long list the FBI provided to the company. Like much of the data used by NSAC, the records were likely retained at the conclusion of an investigation, and added to NSAC for future data mining.

Another 730 records come from the rental car company Avis, which used to be owned by Cendant. Those records were derived from a one-time search of Avis’s database against the State Department’s old terrorist watch list. An additional 165 entries are credit card transaction histories from the Sears department store chain.

Read more on Threat Level.

Jul 222009

Lawsuit Seeks Public Disclosure of Oversight Records Amidst New Questions About Accountability

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a half-dozen other federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, demanding the immediate release of reports about potential misconduct. EFF filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requesting records of intelligence agencies’ reporting of activities since 2001 that might have been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.

“By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” said EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Nate Cardozo. “Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they’re required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch’s internal checks operate.”

The members of the Intelligence Oversight Board were appointed by the president to advise on intelligence
matters. Until last year, all intelligence agencies were required to report to the board “any intelligence
activities of their organizations that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive.” The board was tasked with reviewing those reports, summarizing them, and forwarding to the president those that it believed described violations of the law. Last year, President Bush
reassigned many of these responsibilities, including reviewing agency reports, to the Director of National

A storm of media coverage following this month’s disclosure that the CIA chose to keep Congress in the dark about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams has brought the lack of transparency in intelligence reporting to a head. Lawmakers have accused the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and are calling for an investigation into officials’ conduct. The reports the agencies have provided to the Intelligence Oversight Board undoubtedly contain information that will shed some light on incidents such as this — information that is necessary in order to provide appropriate oversight.

In addition to the CIA, EFF’s lawsuit names the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State — all of which failed to comply with FOIA requests seeking records and reports of concerns about intelligence activity that might have stepped over the bounds of the law.

“The CIA is not the only agency that has faced questions about the legality of its intelligence programs,” said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. “Electronic surveillance and other intelligence activities have come under increasing scrutiny during the past several years. We’re seeking information that will shed light on incidents of intelligence misconduct, how often they happen, and how effective oversight is for controversial programs. The agencies must follow the law and release these records to the public.”

For the full complaint:

Source: EFF

Jul 222009

The CIA and other agencies are sitting on a trove of documentary evidence of actual and suspected wrongdoing under the Bush administration, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation plans to file a lawsuit Wednesday to force the intelligence community to come clean, the group says.

At issue are the misconduct reports the spy agencies are required to file with the Intelligence Oversight Board, a board of private citizens with security clearances who oversee the spy agencies and report to the president. The board is tasked with evaluating the self-reported malfeasances of intelligence agencies, looking at the agencies’ responses, and forwarding on the worst to the attorney general when it believes criminal prosecution is called for.

Read more on Threat Level.