domestic spying

IRS purchased fake cell towers to spy on Americans’ mobile devices

What business could the Internal Revenue Service possibly have spying on Americans with fake cell phone towers? It seems like a ridiculous scenario, but a Freedom of Information Act document dump revealed that the IRS now possesses the technology to conduct dragnet spying operations on mobile devices.

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Most people would object to the government searching their homes without a warrant. If you were told that that while you are at work, the government is coming into your home every day and searching it without cause, you might be unsettled. You might even think it a violation of your rights specifically, and the bill of rights generally.

But what if the government, in its defense, said: “First of all, we’re searching everyone’s home, so you’re not being singled out. Second, we don’t connect your address to your name, so don’t worry about it. All we’re doing is searching every home in the United States, every day, without exception, and if we find something noteworthy, we’ll let you know.”

This is the essence of the NSA’s domestic spying program. They are collecting records of every call made in the US, and every call made from the US to recipients abroad. Any number of government agencies can access this data – about who you have called any day, any week, any year. And this information is being kept indefinitely.
AP: NYPD Secretly Designated Entire Mosques As Terrorism Organizations

The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.

In response to the news, the ACLU and two other organizations have filed lawsuits against the NYPD. saying the department’s practices leave Muslims in fear of practicing their religion.

EDIT: As pointed out below, this is an AP story that ran on HuffPo. This has been edited to clarify.
"You Might Get Hit by a Car": On Secret Tape, FBI Threatens American Muslim Refusing to be Informant

“The FBI’s network of paid informants has expanded rapidly since 9/11, and now includes more than 15,000, rivaling the scale of the J. Edgar Hoover era. A guy like Naji Mansour — an expatriate working in countries where terrorists operate — would be a real catch,” writes Mother Jones reporter. 

However, the FBI wasn’t happy when Mansour refused.

NSA bracing for another major Snowden-style leak of classified information.

There are reports today that the NSA is aware of another major breach in classified information about their domestic spying operations and expects those leaks to be published in the near future. 

from Free Beacon:

The National Security Agency, still reeling from massive leaks caused by Edward Snowden, is preparing to be hit with another major loss of secrets, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The leaks are expected to be published in the near future by a news outlet that was not further identified by the officials familiar with details of the compromise. The NSA is aware of the news outlet’s forthcoming disclosures and is taking steps to try and minimize any damage they will cause.
According to the officials, the latest NSA disclosure of secrets is not the result of an insider stealing documents, as occurred in the case of fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Instead, the leaks will reveal certain NSA technical cyber intelligence gathering capabilities. The officials did not provide details about the leaks.
Certain techniques used by the NSA in cyber operations became known to technicians at a non-U.S. cyber security firm operating from Mexico. The company then contacted a news outlet with the details it uncovered.
A report detailing the breach could be made public as early as this weekend.

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I’m curious to see what this new round of leaks entails.  We already know that the NSA pretty much scoops up everything.  What else is there?
The US Government Today Has More Data On The Average American Than The Stasi Did On East Germans | Techdirt

We’ve written plenty about how the US government has been quite aggressive in spying on Americans. It has been helped along by a court system that doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the 4th Amendment and by the growing ability of private companies to have our data and to then share it with the government at will. Either way, in a radio interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin (who’s been one of the best at covering the surveillance state in the US) made a simple observation that puts much of this into context: the US surveillance regime has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans. And, of course, as we’ve already seen, much of that data seems to be collected illegally with little oversight… and with absolutely no security benefit.

To be fair, part of the reason for why this is happening is purely technical/practical. While the Stasi likely wanted more info and would have loved to have been able to tap into a digitally connected world like we have today, that just wasn’t possible. The fact that we have so much data about us in connected computers makes it an entirely different world. So, from a practical level, there’s a big difference.

That said, it still should be terrifying. Even if there are legitimate technical reasons for why the government has so much more data on us, it doesn’t change the simple fact (true both then and now) that such data is wide open to abuse, which inevitably happens. The ability of government officials to abuse access to information about you for questionable purposes is something that we should all be worried about. Even those who sometimes have the best of intentions seem to fall prey to the temptation to use such access in ways that strip away civil liberties and basic expectations of privacy. Unfortunately, the courts seem to have very little recognition of the scope of the issue, and there’s almost no incentive for Congress (and certainly the executive branch) to do anything at all to fix this.

Supreme Court Terminates Case That Would Hold AT&T Liable For Allowing The Government To Spy on Americans Without Warrants

The Supreme Court closed a 6-year-old chapter Tuesday in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s bid to hold the nation’s telecoms liable for allegedly providing the National Security Agency with backdoors to eavesdrop, without warrants, on Americans’ electronic communications in violation of federal law.

The justices, without comment, declined to review a lower court’s December decision (.pdf) dismissing the EFF’s lawsuit challenging the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program. At the center of the dispute was 2008 congressional legislation retroactively immunizing the telcos from being sued for cooperating with the government in a program President George W. Bush adopted shortly after the September 2001 terror attacks.

After Bush signed the legislation and invoked its authority in 2008, a San Francisco federal judge tossed the case, and the EFF appealed. Among other things, the EFF claimed the legislation, which granted the president the discretion to invoke immunity, was an illegal abuse of power.

The New York Times first exposed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping of international phone calls to and from Americans in 2005. A former AT&T technician named Mark Klein later produced internal company documents suggesting that the NSA was surveilling internet backbone traffic from a secret room at an AT&T switching center in San Francisco, and similar facilities around the country. Klein’s evidence formed the basis of the now-dismissed suit, Hepting v. AT&T.

Cindy Cohn, the EFF’s legal director, said the group was “disappointed” with the outcome because “it lets the telecommunication companies off the hook for betraying their customers’ trust.

The Bush administration, and now the President Barack Obama administration, have neither admitted nor denied the spying allegations — though Bush did admit that the government warrantlessly listened in on some Americans’ overseas phone calls, which he said was legal.

After U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker tossed the case against the telcos, the EFF sued the government instead. Walker dismissed that case, too, ruling that it amounted to a “general grievance” from the public and not an actionable claim. But a federal appeals court reversed, and sent it down to a trial judge in December.

A hearing on that case is scheduled next month in San Francisco federal court.

The Obama administration is again seeking it to be tossed, claiming it threatens to expose state secrets and would be an affront to national security. When the state secrets doctrine is invoked, judges routinely dismiss cases amid fears of exposing national security secrets.

U.S. Postal Service is taking pictures of your mail. No, really
  • 160B pieces of mail were photographed for law enforcement by the United States Postal Service last year, as part of the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program revealed during the FBI’s investigation of ricin letters sent to President Obama. The program was apparently implemented in secret after the anthrax scare of 2001, and calls for photographs of the cover of any/every piece of paper mail processed by the United States Postal Service. Sure makes zip codes seem quaint, doesn’t it? source

Kentucky Judge: Yes, people can shoot down drones flying over their land

Just as you can’t legally trespass on someone’s land, there is now similar legal precedent for drones: if you fly them over someone else’s private property…you might get it shot down. From CNET: It was a case that gripped the nation. Or at least Kentucky. Should it have…

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The FBI, COINTELPRO, and the most important robbery you've never heard of | Kade Crockford

Most people in the United States have never heard of the 1971 event the Los Angeles Times describes as “one of the most lastingly consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political awareness in recent American history.” Nevertheless, you’ve probably heard about the political scandal that erupted in its wake: COINTELPRO.

In March, 1971, activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole more than a thousand documents. Then they released them — unredacted and in full — to the public.

Thirty-five years later, in 2008, the LA Times published a great piece on the break-in and the ensuing political firestorm:

Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up — mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers. When the Washington Post received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could “endanger the lives” of people involved in investigations on behalf of the United States.

Nevertheless, the Post broke the first story on March 24, 1971, after receiving an envelope with 14 FBI documents detailing how the bureau had enlisted a local police chief, letter carriers and a switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to spy on campus and black activist groups in the Philadelphia area.

More documents went to other reporters — Tom Wicker received copies at his New York Times office; so did reporters at the Los Angeles Times — and to politicians including Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland.

Despite a six year, 33,000 page investigation into the robbery, the FBI never uncovered the culprits, the LA Times reports. The activists never came forward to publicly claim their responsibility for the series of political changes they helped to unleash, including the passage of the landmark Privacy Act in 1974.

The revelations were astonishing to many Americans: the FBI was engaged in extensive political surveillance and disruption of activist groups. Though mostly directed at left-wing organizations and anti-war deserters, the Bureau also spied on a couple of right-wing groups.

Noam Chomsky summarized what the Citizens’ Committee reported about the FBI’s investigative priorities in the early 1970s:

According to [The Citizens’ Committee’s] analysis of the documents in this FBI office, 1 percent were devoted to organized crime, mostly gambling; 30 percent were “manuals, routine forms, and similar procedural matter”; 40 percent were devoted to political surveillance and the like, including two cases involving right-wing groups, ten concerning immigrants, and over 200 on left or liberal groups. Another 14 percent of the documents concerned draft resistance and “leaving the military without government permission.” The remainder concerned bank robberies, murder, rape, and interstate theft.

In other words, the documents revealed that a whopping 77% of the FBI’s investigative records in the Media, PA office concerned political surveillance, including inquiries directed at Vietnam war deserters.

From the LA Times:

Found among the Media documents was a new word, “COINTELPRO,” short for the FBI’s “secret counterintelligence program,” created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to “enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles,” as one COINTELPRO memo put it, “to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

The Media documents — along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed — made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups — many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups — that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

The public was shocked to learn what the FBI had been up to in secret. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After all, this was the same FBI director who called the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program the “greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.”

How much has changed since then within the ranks of the FBI? We can’t be sure unless we can see what’s really going on inside the institution, but you can imagine how little the institutional culture has changed by reading how the FBI describes Hoover’s tenure during COINTELPRO on its website:

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Bureau took on investigations in the field of civil rights and organized crime. The threat of political violence occupied many of the Bureau’s resources as did the threat of foreign espionage.

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. [++]
NY Times: Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing NSA's

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

You probably shouldn’t read this story, unless you feel like being at least a little bit angry this afternoon. If the report is true, AT&T has been providing decades worth of call logs to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and that includes all calls which passed through AT&T switches. Even if one or more parties wasn’t an AT&T customer. It’s estimated that four billion calls are saved to the Hemisphere Project database each day.

Illinois Passes New Bill Criminalizing The Recording Of Police And Other Gov't Officials

Illinois Passes New Bill Criminalizing The Recording Of Police And Other Gov’t Officials

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In an age with almost universal access to smart phones and other digital devices, the Illinois legislature has sent outgoing Governor Pat Quinn a bill that may criminalize the recording of confrontations with police and other government officials.

At the same time, the proposed law would give law enforcement officers license to record whatever conversations they want, without any prior judicial…

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Once again, the San Bernardino terror attack proved that mass surveillance doesn’t keep Americans safe

In the aftermath of the Islamic jihad attack in San Bernardino, we are learning again that the Federal Government’s mass surveillance programs do not work. Authorities now believe that before the attack, Syed Farook was in contact with multiple terror suspects abroad, including at least one person previously known to CIA and NSA authorities. Why didn’t the feds catch that connection? Perhaps it’s because instead of targeted surveillance on people who actually fit the profile of those who have attacked us in the past, the NSA has used an absurd dragnet approach to domestic surveillance, gobbling up communications from such a wide range people (namely, every American) that they’re unable to focus on actual threats.

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Interactive Graphic: The NSA’s Spy Catalog

The NSA’s ANT division develops implants for mobile phones and SIM cards. One of these is a spyware implant called “DROPOUTJEEP” – designed for the first generation of iPhones – which was still in development in 2008, shortly after the iPhone’s launch. This spyware was to make it possible to remotely download or upload files to a mobile phone. It would also, according to the catalog, allow the NSA to divert text messages, browse the user’s address book, intercept voicemails, activate the phone’s microphone and camera at will, determine the current cell site and the user’s current location, “etc.” ANT’s technicians also develop modified mobile phones, for use in special cases that look like normal, standard devices, but transmit various pieces of information to the NSA – that can be swapped undetected with a target’s own mobile phone or passed to informants and agents. In 2008, ANT had models from Eastcom and Samsung on offer, and it has likely developed additional models since.

DROPOUTJEEP is an implant for Apple’s iPhone iOS that allows remote access and control through SMS or data service. According to the NSA documents, it offers diverse possibilities: It would allow data to be downloaded from or uploaded to the smart phone, it can read SMS messages, browse the user’s address book, listen to voicemails, determine the phone’s location and turn the phone’s microphone and camera on at will, without the user noticing and determine the current cell site. At the beginning of 2008, it was still being developed.
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WashPo: NSA surveillance program reaches '€˜into the past' to retrieve, replay phone calls

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

When you say I don’t care about the right to privacy because I have nothing to hide, that is no different than saying I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say or freedom of the press because I have nothing to write.

Edward Snowden, Guardian interview published 22 May 2015, NSA reform in the US is only the beginning“

The interview came in the wake of a US federal appeals court ruling that the NSA programme of bulk collection of phone records revealed by Snowden is illegal.

The House of Representatives followed this by voting overwhelmingly to curb the programme and the the Senate is now deciding whether to go through with the generational reform.

“The recent activity in Congress is fairly extraordinary. We have for the first time since the 70s [seen] a narrowing of the privileges and authorities the intelligence communities enjoy rather than an expansion of them,” he said.

But he added it was important to remember that bulk collection of phone records represented only one of the surveillance programmes.

“This is only the bare beginning of reform. There are still many bulk collection programmes out there that affect other things – such as financial records, such as travel records – that are even more intrusive.

Whistleblower: NSA collects AUDIO from 80% of phone calls

According to NSA whistleblower William Binney, we have a lot more to worry about than the NSA’s collection of metadata.  

from Business Insider:

William Binney is one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War but resigned soon after September 11, disgusted by Washington’s move towards mass surveillance.
On 5 July he spoke at a conference in London organized by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and revealed the extent of the surveillance programs unleashed by the Bush and Obama administrations.

“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

The NSA will soon be able to collect 966 exabytes a year, the total of internet traffic annually. Former Google head Eric Schmidt once argued that the entire amount of knowledge from the beginning of humankind until 2003 amount to only five exabytes.

Binney, who featured in a 2012 short film by Oscar-nominated US film-maker Laura Poitras, described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.

“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”

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It’s time for a special investigation to be launched into the NSA.  No more secrets.  The American people have a right to know what their government is doing with their phone calls.
A break-in to end all break-ins In 1971, stolen FBI files exposed the government's domestic spying program.

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ago today, a group of anonymous activists broke into the small, two-man office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Media, Pa., and stole more than 1,000 FBI documents that revealed years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation designed to suppress dissent.

The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called itself, forced its way in at night with a crowbar while much of the country was watching the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. When agents arrived for work the next morning, they found the file cabinets virtually emptied.

Found among the Media documents was a new word, “COINTELPRO,” short for the FBI’s “secret counterintelligence program,” created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to “enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles,” as one COINTELPRO memo put it, “to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

The Media documents – along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed – made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups – many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups – that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

For instance, agents sought to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself just before he received the Nobel Prize. They sent him a composite tape made from bugs planted illegally in his hotel rooms when he was entertaining women other than his wife – and threatened to make it public. “King, there is one thing left for you to do. You know what it is,” FBI operatives wrote in their anonymous letter.

  • Back when this article first came out, we didn’t have the coverage, the power of the internet, or the growing movement we have now.    This is something that is not new to our government, look at how they handled the Occupy movement.  That makes this story worth repeating and spreading the word.  So go spread the word.