Recordings Capture Brutal FBI Tactics to Recruit a Potential Informant


A bailiff pushed Jabar Ali Refaie’s wheelchair into a federal courtroom in Tampa, Florida, on September 20. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and looking weak from not having had the drugs he takes to treat his multiple sclerosis, the 37-year-old Refaie was here for a bond hearing after being indicted on felony charges that allege he sold counterfeit BMW logos and diagnostic software on eBay.

Source: Recordings Capture Brutal FBI Tactics to Recruit a Potential Informant

Civilian Death Toll From Coalition Airstrikes in Syria Could Be Single Largest in U.S.-Led War on ISIS


Scores of civilians trapped in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern Syria were reportedly killed Tuesday by airstrikes from Western coalition aircraft.

Source: Civilian Death Toll From Coalition Airstrikes in Syria Could Be Single Largest in U.S.-Led War on ISIS

Dad of student slain in Paris terror massacre sues Google, Twitter, Facebook for their ‘material support’ of ISIS • The Register

No tweets, no YouTube, no likes, no killings, court told

Source: Dad of student slain in Paris terror massacre sues Google, Twitter, Facebook for their ‘material support’ of ISIS • The Register

Defense Contractors Cite “Benefits” of Escalating Conflicts in the Middle East

Lockheed Martin tells investors it will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria. Raytheon notes “a significant uptick.”

Source: Defense Contractors Cite “Benefits” of Escalating Conflicts in the Middle East

Did You Hear About How ISIS Has A Sophisticated Training Manual For Encryption? Yeah, It Was Actually A Pamphlet For Journalists And Activists | Techdirt

The “manual” was “discovered” by analysts at the Combating Terrorism Center, based out of the US Military Academy at West Point. Thankfully, Buzzfeed has the details, noting that the guide, created by a cybersecurity firm in Kuwait, named Cyberkov, is actually a guide for journalists and activists to protect their communications from oppressive governments. And there’s nothing particularly secret about it, as apparently it’s basically just repurposed stuff from the EFF’s website

Source: Did You Hear About How ISIS Has A Sophisticated Training Manual For Encryption? Yeah, It Was Actually A Pamphlet For Journalists And Activists | Techdirt

Under President’s New Cybersecurity Executive Order… Is Wikileaks Now An Evil Cyberhacker For Releasing Trade Deal?

Yesterday we talked about the ridiculousness of President Obama’s new cybersecurity executive order, in which he declares a national emergency around “malicious cyber-enabled activities” and enables his own government to do mean things to anyone they think is responsible for cyber badness (that his own NSA is the primary instigator of serious cyberattacks gets left ignored, of course). One of the points we made is that the definitions in the executive agreement were really vague, meaning that it’s likely that they could be abused in all sorts of ways that we wouldn’t normally think of as malicious hacking.

Helpfully, the ever vigilant Marcey Wheeler has provided some examples of how the vague language can and likely will be twisted:

The EO targets not just the hackers themselves, but also those who benefit from or materially support hacks. The targeting of those who are “responsible for or complicit in … the receipt or use for commercial or competitive advantage … by a commercial entity, outside the United States of trade secrets misappropriated through cyber-enabled means, … where the misappropriation of such trade secrets is reasonably likely to result in, or has materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States” could be used to target journalism abroad. Does WikiLeaks’ publication of secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations qualify? Does Guardian’s publication of contractors’ involvement in NSA hacking?

And, that’s not all. How about encryption providers? Not too hard to see how they might qualify:

And the EO creates a “material support” category similar to the one that, in the terrorism context, has been ripe for abuse. Its targets include those who have “provided … material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of” such significant hacks. Does that include encryption providers? Does it include other privacy protections?And the EO creates a “material support” category similar to the one that, in the terrorism context, has been ripe for abuse. Its targets include those who have “provided … material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of” such significant hacks. Does that include encryption providers? Does it include other privacy protections?

We’ve already seen some — including government officials — argue that Twitter could be deemed to be providing “material support” to ISIS if it didn’t take down Twitter accounts that support ISIS. Twitter wouldn’t directly qualify under this executive order (which targets non-US actors), but it shows you how easy it is to stretch this kind of thinking in dangerous ways.

Making sure the technology we use every day is secure is important. But vaguely worded executive orders and an over-hyped “national emergency” isn’t the solution. Instead, it’s likely to be abused in serious ways that harm our freedoms.

Link (Techdirt)

USTR Pushes Congress To Approve Trade Deals… But Threatens Reps With Criminal Prosecution If They Tell The Public What’s In Them

For years now, we’ve been trying to understand why the US Trade Rep (USTR) is so anti-transparency with its trade negotiations. It insists that everything it’s negotiating be kept in near total secrecy until everything is settled, and the public can no longer give input to fix the problems in the agreement. It’s a highly questionable stance. Whenever this criticism is put to the USTR directly, it responds by saying that it will listen to anyone who wants to come and talk to the USTR. But, as we’ve explained multiple times, “listening” is about information going into the USTR. “Transparency” is about information coming out of the USTR. They’re not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.

As the fight over new trade agreements gets louder and louder, a key stumbling block is having Congress approve so-called “fast track authority” or “Trade Promotion Authority,” which basically means that Congress can’t even jump in to try to fix the problems in whatever the USTR negotiates — it can only give a straight “yes” or “no” vote on the entire package. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Congressional Republicans are all for this, even though it means directly giving up Congress’s Constitutional authority to a President that the Republicans appear to hate. Meanwhile, Democrats seem reasonably skeptical of these new trade deals.

So the White House and the USTR have been pushing a charm offensive on Congressional Democrats concerning these trade deals, but the charm offensive also comes with this rather startling statement: if you reveal what we’re telling you, you may go to jail:

As the Obama administration gives House Democrats a hard sell on a major controversial trade pact this week, it will be doing so under severe conditions: Any member of Congress who shares information with the public from a Wednesday briefing could be prosecuted for a crime.

Yes, the USTR has declared that the briefing is entirely classified. Why? Mainly to keep the details secret from the American public. As Rep. Alan Grayson notes:

“It is part of a multi-year campaign of deception and destruction. Why do we classify information? It’s to keep sensitive information out of the hands of foreign governments. In this case, foreign governments already have this information. They’re the people the administration is negotiating with. The only purpose of classifying this information is to keep it from the American people.”

The USTR’s lame response to all of this is that any member of Congerss is allowed to come to its office and see the text of the negotiating documents. But that’s misleading in the extreme. As we’ve discussed before, the USTR tells elected officials that they can’t copy anything, take any notes, or even bring staff experts on trade agreements (or related issues)… even when those staffers have security clearance.

We pointed out this was a problem back in 2012 and it appears to be ongoing. The Huffington Post article above quotes Rep. Rosa DeLauro who appears to be having the same problem:

“Even now, when they are finally beginning to share details of the proposed deal with Members of Congress, they are denying us the ability to consult with our staff or discuss details of the agreement with experts. This flies in the face of how past negotiations have been conducted and does not help the Administration’s credibility. If the TPP would be as good for American jobs as they claim, there should be nothing to hide.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett also seems amazed that his staffers with security clearance are blocked from getting information about the TPP agreement:

“I tried to find out what level of classification applies,” he said. “Can my top cleared staff read it? If he can hear about ISIS, is there something in here that prevents him from seeing these trade documents?”

It really does make you wonder, once again, just what is the USTR hiding here? There is simply no reason to keep these details secret — except if you know that the American public won’t approve of them.

Link (Techdirt)

How the FBI Created a Terrorist

Osmakac was 25 years old on January 7, 2012, when he filmed what the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice would later call a “martyrdom video.” He was also broke and struggling with mental illness.

After recording this video in a rundown Days Inn in Tampa, Florida, Osmakac prepared to deliver what he thought was a car bomb to a popular Irish bar. According to the government, Osmakac was a dangerous, lone-wolf terrorist who would have bombed the Tampa bar, then headed to a local casino where he would have taken hostages, before finally detonating his suicide vest once police arrived.

But if Osmakac was a terrorist, he was only one in his troubled mind and in the minds of ambitious federal agents. The government could not provide any evidence that he had connections to international terrorists. He didn’t have his own weapons. He didn’t even have enough money to replace the dead battery in his beat-up, green 1994 Honda Accord.

Osmakac was the target of an elaborately orchestrated FBI sting that involved a paid informant, as well as FBI agents and support staff working on the setup for more than three months. The FBI provided all of the weapons seen in Osmakac’s martyrdom video. The bureau also gave Osmakac the car bomb he allegedly planned to detonate, and even money for a taxi so he could get to where the FBI needed him to go. Osmakac was a deeply disturbed young man, according to several of the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him before trial. He became a “terrorist” only after the FBI provided the means, opportunity and final prodding necessary to make him one.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI has arrested dozens of young men like Osmakac in controversial counterterrorism stings. One recent case involved a rudderless 20-year-old in Cincinnati, Ohio, named Christopher Cornell, who conspired with an FBI informant — seeking “favorable treatment” for his own “criminal exposure” — in a harebrained plot to build pipe bombs and attack Capitol Hill. And just last month, on February 25, the FBI arrested and charged two Brooklyn men for plotting, with the aid of a paid informant, to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State. The likelihood that the men would have stepped foot in Syria of their own accord seems low; only after they met the informant, who helped with travel applications and other hurdles, did their planning take shape.

Link (The Intercept)

Let’s blame Iran (again)

US director of National Intelligence James Clapper has accused Iran of orchestrating a 2014 hack of the Las Vegas Sands casino. The attack crippled the magnificent cultural institution’s IT infrastructure.

Clapper told a US Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday (US time) that the hack of the US$14 billion casino was the handiwork of Iran rather than ordinary hacking groups, Bloomberg reports.

“While both of these nations (Iran and North Korea) have lesser technical capabilities in comparison to Russia and China, these destructive attacks demonstrate that Iran and North Korea are motivated and unpredictable cyber-actors,” Clapper says.

The attacks brought down the casino’s IT systems including email but not the most valuable components of the organisation.

Link (The Register)

Why Does the FBI Have to Manufacture its Own Plots if Terrorism and ISIS Are Such Grave Threats?

The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS (photo of joint FBI/NYPD press conference, above). As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”

In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade. As my colleague Andrew Fishman and I wrote last month — after the FBI manipulated a 20-year-old loner who lived with his parents into allegedly agreeing to join an FBI-created plot to attack the Capitol — these cases follow a very clear pattern:

The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked.

Link (The Intercept)