FBI Uses Drones in Domestic Surveillance, Mueller Says

The FBI uses drones in domestic surveillance operations in a “very, very minimal way,” Director Robert Mueller said.

Mueller, in Senate testimony today, acknowledged for the first time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation uses “very few” drones in a limited capacity for surveillance.

“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,” Mueller said when asked about the bureau’s use of pilotless aircraft with surveillance capabilities. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.”

Mueller’s remarks about the FBI’s use of drones — and the regular use of the vehicles by other law enforcement agencies — come as lawmakers and civil liberties groups are raising concerns about the reach of the government in the wake of the disclosure of two highly classified National Security Agency surveillance programs.

Leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to the Washington Post and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper exposed programs that sweep up telephone call data from millions of U.S. citizens as well as Internet traffic that the Obama administration says involves foreigners based outside the U.S. suspected of plotting terrorist attacks.

Privacy Concerns

The revelations about the surveillance programs have reignited a political debate that has repeatedly flared since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. about the balance between civil liberties and protection from terrorism.

Lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the impact on privacy of drones used by federal law enforcement agencies. The Homeland Security Department regularly deploys drones to oversee the southern border.

“This is a burgeoning concern for many of us,’ Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, said of drone use, by the government as well as by private companies or individuals.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates there may be about 10,000 active commercial drones in five years. Bills have been introduced in at least 18 states to limit or regulate such aircraft, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The FBI only uses unmanned aerial vehicles when there’s a specific operational need to conduct surveillance on stationary objects, said a U.S. law enforcement official briefed on their use. The bureau must first get FAA approval, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal procedures.

Drone Use

The FBI used a drone at a hostage standoff in Alabama earlier this year, when Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, took a five-year-old boy hostage and barricaded himself in an underground bunker. After almost a week, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the bunker, killing Dykes and rescuing the child.

Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said during a March hearing on drones that he was ‘‘convinced that the domestic use of drones to conduct surveillance and collect other information will have a broad and significant impact on the everyday lives of millions of Americans going forward.”

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, held the Senate floor for almost 13 hours in March over concerns that the U.S. could use armed drones to attack Americans on U.S. soil. Paul, who filibustered the nomination of eventual Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, was told in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder that the president didn’t have that authority.

FBI Guidelines

Mueller said the FBI is in “the initial stages” of formulating privacy guidelines related to its drone use.

“There are a number of issues related to drones that will need to be debated in the future,” Mueller said. “It’s still in its nascent stages, this debate.”

Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who has introduced a bill in Congress designed to set regulations and privacy protections for private use of unmanned aerial systems, said he was concerned that the FBI was using drone technology before finalizing privacy guidelines.

“Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties, but the American people expect the FBI and other government agencies to first and foremost protect their constitutional rights,” Udall said today in a statement.

Border Security

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a June 15 Bloomberg Television interview that the operation of unmanned aircraft makes “our forces on the ground more effective” and that privacy concerns are regularly weighed and addressed by an office embedded within the department.

“We are constantly making sure that we are abiding by restrictions and doing what we need to do from a border security perspective without invading
American’s rights,” Napolitano said in the interview for the program, “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

Annual spending on unmanned aerial vehicles worldwide will almost double to $11.4 billion in the next decade, according to an April 2012 report by Teal Group Corp., a defense industry consultancy based in Fairfax, Virginia. Major drone makers include Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), based in Falls Church, Virginia; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., in Poway, California; and AeroVironment Inc. (AVAV), in Monrovia, California, according to Teal.

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Google challenges U.S. gag order, citing First Amendment

Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests the court makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it is forced to give the government.

The legal filing, which invokes the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, is the latest move by the California-based tech giant to protect its reputation in the aftermath of news reports about broad National Security Agency surveillance of Internet traffic.

Revelations about the program, called PRISM, have opened fissures between U.S. officials and the involved companies, which have scrambled to reassure their users without violating strict rules against disclosing information that the government has classified as top secret.

A high-profile legal showdown might help Google’s efforts to portray itself as aggressively resisting government surveillance, and a victory could bolster the company’s campaign to portray government surveillance requests as targeted narrowly and affecting only a small number of users.

Tuesday’s unusual legal move came after days of intense talks between federal officials and several of the technology companies, including Google, over what details can be released. It also comes as the firms increasingly show signs of wanting to outdo each other in demonstrating their commitment to protecting user privacy.

In its petition, Google sought permission to publish information about how many government data requests the surveillance court approves and how many user accounts are affected. Google long has made regular reports with regard to other data demands from the U.S. government and other governments worldwide, but it has been forced to exclude requests from the surveillance court, which oversees an array of official monitoring efforts that target foreigners.

Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo in recent days have won federal government permission to include requests from the court as part of the overall number of data requests they receive from federal, state and local officials. Google has rejected that approach as too imprecise to help users understand the scope of its cooperation with federal surveillance.

“Google’s users are concerned about the allegations. Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities,” it said.

In a statement also issued Tuesday, the company said, “Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users.”

The Justice Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Surveillance court requests typically are known only to small numbers of a company’s employees. Discussing the requests openly, either within or beyond the walls of the company, can violate federal law.

Yet even if Google is permitted to say how many requests the surveillance court has made, the information may not shed much light on PRISM. The program does not require individual warrants from the surveillance court each time a search is made.

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Authorities hopeful new search will turn up Jimmy Hoffa

DETROIT — A steady stream of curious onlookers snapped photos of a rural Oakland Township, Mich., field lined with yellow caution tape and TV news vans clustered in a nearby parking lot.

“It’s national news,” said Marjorie DiLiddo, 64, holding up a camera as her husband, Ron DiLiddo, walked their English springer spaniel named Zack nearby. “It’s a big mystery for this area. I think it would be wonderful for the family if they could find closure.”

On Monday, investigators, a tipster and curious onlookers hoped for just that as the FBI led a search for Jimmy Hoffa’s body in the field. But their optimism was tempered, given that it is the latest in a series of digs since the Teamsters boss went missing, setting off one of the 20th century’s most vexing mysteries.

This property came under scrutiny in January after Tony Zerilli, 85, the son of reputed former Detroit mob boss Joseph Zerilli, told broadcast media that Hoffa, 62, was buried there. Zerilli claims Hoffa was struck with a shovel and then buried alive on the property, with a slab of concrete placed over the body.

Hoffa was kidnapped on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of what was then the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Mich.

“It’s my fondest hope that we can give … closure not just to the Hoffa family, but also to the community and stop tearing that scab off with every new lead and bring some conclusion,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said just after 11 a.m. Monday. “It’s long overdue.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Foley III of the Detroit office said the FBI was executing a search warrant in the grassy field.

“Because this investigation is an open investigation and the search warrant is sealed, I will not be able to provide any additional details regarding our activity here,” Foley said, as a truck carrying a backhoe arrived at the site behind him.

Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, a retired state judge in St. Louis, said the FBI called her Sunday to alert her of the search, and she’s closely following it online. She said she hadn’t heard Zerilli’s story until he came forward several months ago.

“We never get our hopes up,” Crancer said. “We’ll just let the FBI do their job, and we’ll see what happens. That’s all we can do. I want everybody to know that I appreciate the FBI following up on this.”

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Retail theft more organized, more costly

About 300 law-enforcement officers and retail leaders met yesterday to better coordinate efforts to combat organized retail crime, which results in an estimated $30 billion in losses nationwide every year.

The Ohio Regional Organized Crime Coalition held its second-annual symposium, featuring presentations from prosecutors, retail-loss-prevention professionals and police.

“Many people view shoplifting as simply a nuisance, but it has become very organized,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. The goal of the symposium, which was held at the James G. Jackson Columbus Police Academy, was to improve communication among retailers and between retailers and law enforcement. Chains such as Cabela’s, Home Depot, Kroger and Wal-Mart Stores sponsored the event.

For criminals, “this is an all-day, every-day business,” said Steve Shepard, president of the coalition. “But they haven’t learned anything. They’re still getting caught.” Retail crime leads to higher prices for customers because companies must offset the cost of the lost merchandise, said Lt. Robert Strausbaugh, who supervises the Columbus Police Division’s burglary unit and is vice chairman of the coalition.

In addition, “lost sales-tax revenue in Ohio is more than $30 million a year,” DeWine said.

Strausbaugh described an organized shoplifting operation: Someone loads a few big-ticket items, such as TVs, into a store cart, scoots out an emergency exit and loads the goods into a waiting car. The criminals sell the stolen items at flea markets or secondhand stores, or online through eBay or Craigslist, Strausbaugh said. The rings often move from city to city.

Strausbaugh didn’t have estimates of the losses to Columbus retailers but said the burglary unit investigates about 29,000 felony thefts each year — more than any other law-enforcement agency in the state.

Yesterday’s symposium was an example of how retailers and law enforcement share information about strategies to thwart crime and prevent losses. Police also offered updates. One investigation is homing in on a person who has stolen about $140,000 in merchandise from home-improvement stores over several years, Strausbaugh said.

Serial shoplifting can lead to more significant crime, DeWine said.“Someone may steal a few TVs to buy drugs, then get high and kill someone,” he said. “It’s more than lost dollars. This has a rippling effect across society.”

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Google Launches Internet Balloons

Google scientists have launched up to 30 helium-filled test balloons into the skies above New Zealand, with the dream of bringing the Internet to nearly five billion people across the globe without access to the World Wide Web.

The technology giant unveiled the project Saturday in Christchurch, where some 50 volunteer households have begun receiving Internet signals beamed from the balloons to their home computers. The wind-driven balloons are floating 20 kilometers above the earth and are designed to remain airborne for more than three months.

Project leader Mike Cassidy said engineers hope to provide much cheaper Internet connections in undeveloped and developing areas of the world. He cited current Internet costs in large parts of Africa, where monthly access costs are higher than monthly salaries.

Cassidy, speaking to reporters, called the project a “huge moonshot, a really big goal to go after.” But he also described the potential results as life-changing for billions of people across the globe.

The initiative, called “Project Loon,” was developed in the same top-secret Google X laboratories where scientists are developing the prototype driverless car and Google’s web-surfing eye glasses.

Google says the thin plastic, high-pressure balloons hovering over New Zealand carry navigational equipment, solar-powered panels, radios and transmitters. The balloons receive Internet signals from ground stations and then relay those signals to small specialized antennas on rooftops below.

Engineers are also touting the potential benefits of the balloon transmitters in areas that have lost communications because of violent storms and earthquakes.

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HUB Mall Shooting: Memorial To Honour Slain Armoured Car Guards

EDMONTON – A private memorial is planned for Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of three armoured car guards in Edmonton.

A red oak tree is to be planted in their honour during a service at the University of Alberta.

Relatives of the dead guards, city and university officials and representatives of the G4S security company have been invited to attend.

The three guards were working a night shift and were reloading ATM machines at the university’s HUB mall when they were gunned down.

Colleague Matthew Schuman miraculously survived after being shot in the head.

A fifth guard on the crew, Travis Baumgartner, was arrested the next day at a B.C. border crossing and is to stand trial in September on charges of first-degree and attempted murder.

The victims — newlywed Michelle Shegelski, 26; rookie guard Eddie Rejano, 39, and Brian Ilesic, 35 — died at the scene.

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Did Hipster Tech Really Save the Obama Campaign?

Obama field organizers, armed with the fruits of Big Data, could bring a presidential campaign to the front porch as never before. OFA’s aim was to use algorithms to enhance the human (and thus more persuasive) part of politics: face-to-face, friend-to-friend, or at least Facebook friend-to-Facebook friend.

The new analysts did something unheard of by profiling and targeting unlikely voters. That transformed registration from a passive activity — sitting at a folding table in a supermarket parking lot — into something active and much more efficient.

By 2011 the technology of the 2008 campaign was long obsolete. So Obama campaign manager Jim Messina set out for the West Coast, where Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, and executives from Apple, Facebook, Zynga, Microsoft, DreamWorks, and Salesforce all told him he should not just view the campaign as a start-up but hire much of his digital crew from start-ups that were outside of politics. The idea was that everything the geeks did should be a “force multiplier” for Field, Communications, Finance, and other departments, not an end in itself.

The digital team assembled in Chicago was in fact three teams — Digital, Tech, and Analytics — with interrelated and often competitive functions. All were headed by soon-to-be-legendary characters within the campaign. Teddy Goff said he wanted the young recruits in Digital to be so good they could be hired afterward by Nike or Coca-Cola and “not be seen as hippy dippys.” Michael Slaby and Harper Reed hired geeky geniuses from top tech companies ranging from Google to craigslist. Analytics ended up with a motley crew of mostly under-thirty data scientists and financial analysts, plus a biophysicist, a former child prodigy, and three professional poker players.

From the start, there was trouble in digital paradise — a culture clash between the engineers from tech companies and the more politically seasoned product managers and data analysts.

Harper Reed’s code writers, though lacking in campaign experience, were often paid $100,000 a year, twice as much as some of their colleagues in other sections of the campaign. Reed said Tech could afford the higher salaries because it held down head count by hiring fewer people than rival departments. The pay gap was exacerbated by the Tech team’s habit of routinely leaving the office at the ungodly hour of 6:30 p.m., five, six, even seven hours before Digital, Analytics, and other sections went home. This schedule was explained by the fact that they were older (meaning a few were in their mid-thirties) and, unlike most Chicago staffers, often had families.

A little humility would have gone a long way toward helping Tech blend in, but it wasn’t forthcoming. “Instead of ‘Listen and learn,’ they [Tech people] came in with a ‘Burn the place down’ attitude — real arrogant,” said one senior campaign official. “It was, ‘Fuck the vendors — we’ll build everything in-house.’ ” But the vendors, firms like NGP VAN that specialized in voter contact, knew politics, and Reed’s department did not. Tech team members used their fluency in tech jargon to their advantage, but they were often illiterate in basic political language.

And they often took their mandate for “disruption” too far. But all of this would have been minor if the products Tech developed were working.

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Child Abductions When Custody Issues Lead to Violence

An analysis of recent FBI child abduction investigations has revealed a disturbing trend: Non-custodial parents are increasingly abducting and threatening to harm their own kids to retaliate against parents who were granted legal custody of the children.

“Unfortunately, the threat of violence—and death—in these cases is all too real,” said Ashli-Jade Douglas, an FBI analyst in our Violent Crimes Against Children Intelligence Unit who specializes in child abduction matters. “ Most non-custodial parental abductors want retaliation. They feel that if they can’t have the child full time—or any amount of time—then the other parent shouldn’t have the child, either.”

An analysis of all FBI child abduction cases where a motivation was known shows that custodial-motivated abductions—in which a son or daughter is taken against the will of the child and the custodial parent—have increased from 9 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 50 percent in fiscal year 2012. Sometimes the motivation is to convince the custodial parent to stay in a relationship; more often it is to harm the child in an act of retaliation. This trend appears to be on the rise, Douglas said. At least 25 instances of such abductions have been reported to the FBI since October.

“Our analysis indicates that children age 3 years and younger of unwed or divorced parents are most at risk of being abducted by their non-custodial parent,” Douglas added. “And the timely reporting of the abduction by the custodial parent to law enforcement is crucial in increasing the likelihood of recovering the child unharmed and apprehending the offender.”

Some recent cases include:

-In 2009, a non-custodial mother abducted her 8-month-old son from his custodial father in Texas. She told the father she killed the boy to prevent the father from employing his custodial rights and in retaliation for his alleged involvement with other women.

-In 2011, a 2-year-old girl was abducted by her non-custodial father in California. A week later, both were found dead. The father committed suicide after shooting his daughter.

-In 2012, a non-custodial father in Utah abducted and killed his 7- and 5-year-old sons and then committed suicide. He was angry over not being afforded sole custody of the children.

“In contrast to international parental abductions, our analysis indicates that domestic custodial abductions are more likely to have violent outcomes for children,” Douglas explained, adding that a number of factors contribute to this trend. About 46 percent of American children are born to unwed parents, and 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. That usually leaves one parent with custody of the child.

Douglas offers a suggestion to help keep children safe: Custodial parents should inform schools, after-care facilities, babysitters, and others who may at times be responsible for their children about what custody agreements are in place so that kids are not mistakenly released to non-custodial parents.

“The other big takeaway from our analysis,” she added, “is that law enforcement must act quickly in non-custodial abductions to keep children from being harmed. It’s mind-boggling to think that a parent would hurt their child to retaliate against the other parent,” Douglas said, “but in that moment, they make themselves believe that it’s okay.”

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The National Security Agency leaks by Edward Snowden will easily go down as one of the biggest revelations of the year, if not the decade. But the episode also raises new questions about the risk that insiders pose to government and corporate cybersecurity, in spite of the attention lavished on foreign hackers.

Snowden’s case is unique in that it uncovered a previously unknown surveillance apparatus that’s massive in size and scope.The way the whistle-blower did his deed, however, is not unique. Two-thirds of all reported data breaches involve internal actors wittingly or unwittingly bringing sensitive information to outsiders, according to industry analysts.

“It’s not an either-or proposition,” said Mike DuBose, a former Justice Department official who led the agency’s efforts on trade-secret theft. “But amidst all the concern and discussion over foreign hacking, what gets lost is the fact that the vast majority of serious breaches involving trade secrets or other proprietary or classified information are still being committed by insiders.”

DuBose is now the head of the cyber investigations unit at the risk-management firm Kroll Advisory Solutions. In February, his team authored a report warning that contractors, information-technology personnel, and disgruntled employees—all descriptors that fit Snowden pretty well—pose a greater threat than hackers, “both in frequency and in damage caused.”

Not everyone agrees. Even though insiders generally play an outsized role across all reported data breaches, their role in confirmed data breaches is rather small, according to an annual study by Verizon. In 2012, specifically, internal actors accounted for 14 percent of confirmed data breaches. Of those, system administrators were responsible for 16 percent.

“Our findings consistently show,” the Verizon report read, “that external actors rule.”

However common they are, cases like Snowden’s show how devastating one insider can be. The extent of the damage depends on what’s being exfiltrated and from where, and there aren’t many standards for calculating losses. Most companies estimate the value of their trade secrets based on how much money they sank into the research and development of that knowledge. But for the government, it’s the potential security impact that takes precedence—and that turns the question into a matter of subjective debate.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that Chinese spies compromised the designs for some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive weapons systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship.

If true, the report could have major consequences for national security. But Snowden’s case is equally consequential, if for different reasons, and it bolsters DuBose’s point about the relevance of insiders. Snowden may have rightfully uncovered evidence of government overreach, but if a mid-level contractor can steal top-secret information about the NSA and give it to the public in a gesture of self-sacrifice, someone else could do the same—but hand the intelligence to more nefarious actors.

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Defense Department Orders Employees, Contractors to Steer Clear of Surveillance Stories

The Defense Department is instructing its employees and contractors not to seek out or download classified material from the public domain that was leaked last week to the Guardian and Washington Post — material detailing a massive, covert and government-run surveillance program.

According to a Friday memorandum from Timothy A. Davis, DOD security director:

Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites, disclosed to the media, or otherwise in the public domain remains classified and must be treated as such until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. government authority. It is the responsibility of every DoD employee and contractor to protect classified information and to follow established procedures for accessing classified information only through authorized means. Leadership must establish a vigilant command climate that underscores the critical importance of safeguarding classified material against compromise.

Accordingly, we request all DoD components send prompt notification to your employees and contractors reminding them of these obligations. Procedures for responding to classified information found in the public domain are attached. These procedures will be promulgated in future DoD issuances.

A similar edict came down in 2010, when the President Barack Obama administration cautioned federal employees from reading or downloading classified U.S. diplomatic cables WikiLeaks had disclosed.

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