The FBI must explain why it withheld records from a graduate student about an alleged assassination plot against the leaders of Occupy Houston, a federal judge ruled.
Ryan Noah Shapiro is a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose research includes “the policing of dissent, especially in the name of national security” and “exploring FBI and other intelligence agency efforts to subvert the Freedom of Information Act,” according to his profile on MIT’s website.
Shapiro sent three FOIA requests to the FBI in early 2013, asking for records about Occupy Houston.
Specifically Shapiro asked for FBI records about “a potential plan to gather intelligence against the leaders of [Occupy Wall Street-related protests in Houston, Texas] and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership [of the protests] via suppressed sniper rifles.”
The Houston group is an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in New York City in 2011 and focused on the widening income gap between America’s top earners, the so-called 1 percent, and the rest of the country.
Shapiro said he wanted the records for his doctorate work, and that he intended to release urgent info about Occupy Houston to the public.
The FBI found 17 pages of pertinent records, gave Shapiro five of them, with some information redacted, and withheld 12.
Shapiro filed suit in April 2013, alleging the FBI had violated the FOIA by failing to adequately search for, and produce, records responsive to his requests, and had improperly invoked FOIA exemptions.
The FBI filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the case is moot because it conducted thorough searches and released all its non-exempt records to Shapiro.
The agency also alleged that Shapiro failed to state an FOIA claim because it released all records it can legally disclose.
To justify its actions the FBI cited several exemptions under the FOIA.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer found the FBI had properly withheld some records, but she was unconvinced by the agency’s explanation for its use of Exemption 7, which protectsfrom disclosure “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes.”
Collyer wrote: “(Shapiro) argues that FBI has not established that it actually conducted an investigation into criminal acts, specified the particular individual or incident that was the object of its investigation, adequately described the documents it is withholding under Exemption 7, or sufficiently connected the withheld documents to a specific statute that permits FBI to collect information and investigate crimes.
“Mr. Shapiro further alleges that FBI has failed to state a rational basis for its investigation or connection to the withheld documents, which he describes as overly-generalized and not particular.
On the latter point, the Court agrees.”
Judge Collyer added: “FBI will be directed to explain its basis for withholding information pursuant to Exemption 7. To the extent that FBI believes it cannot be more specific without revealing the very information it wishes to protect, it may request an in camera review of the documents.”
IRS employs a former cop convicted of illegal FBI spying:
The Internal Revenue Service, already facing accusations that its workers improperly snooped through tax files, has hired a former police officer convicted just a few years ago of illegally accessing FBIrecords and providing information to a subject of a counterterrorism investigation involving an infamousal Qaeda figure.
Mohammad Weiss Rasool, or Weiss Russell as he is known at the IRS, was sentenced to two years of probation in 2008 after pleading guilty in federal court to illegally accessing the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database to run license tag numbers for a friend he thought was being followed. That friend, it turned out, was the subject of an undercover FBI operation and a close associate of the al Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Islamist militant who preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers and inspired the Fort Hood shootings, according to court records and interviews.
Government watchdogs told The Washington Times that Mr. Rasool’s hiring by the IRS raises red flags about the quality of the federal government’s background checks and is alarming given his previous admission that he misused a police database.
At the IRS, Mr. Rasool serves as a financial management analyst — three rungs away from the highest-level career position — working audit-related issues and matters. He was hired by the IRSafter he served his probationary period.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Chris Farrell, director of investigations at Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group. “Rasool has already demonstrated he’s not worthy of a position of trust within the government — he’s already broken one public oath — the last place you’d want him is at the IRS.”
Judicial Watch has started its own investigation into the matter, demanding that the IRS explain howMr. Rasool got his job and who at the agency, or within the Obama administration, made the final call on his employment.
NJ State Police ordered to stop taking photos of protestors:
Gov. Chris Christie has another town hall today, but if someone protests this time, they won’t get their photos taken by the State Police.
Amid mounting criticism that their tactics violated civil liberties, the state attorney general Wednesday ordered the State Police to stop taking pictures of protesters at Christie’s town hall meetings — for any reason.
The order came a day after a man who identified himself as a member of the State Police photographed people who disrupted one of the governor’s usually highly orchestrated events.
In a statement issued to The Star-Ledger, acting Attorney General John Hoffman said he and State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes had “instructed the State Police to no longer photograph at these events for security or any other purposes.”
A spokesman for Hoffman did not respond to questions after issuing the statement, including who came up with the idea of taking the photographs. (We know who it is, its DHS’s Fusion Center )
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey urged the State Police to destroy any records of the photographs and to release its policies on taking pictures of protesters, and Capt. Stephen Jones, a spokesman for the State Police, said the photographs would be destroyed.
“Any photographs taken during town hall meetings were taken strictly for the purposes of enhancing security,” Jones said.
Udi Ofer, executive director of the state’s ACLU, said in a statement that it was up to the State Police to “come clean and explain to New Jerseyans whether it has a practice or policy of photographing people engaged in First Amendment protected speech.”
“New Jerseyans must be able to express their viewpoints without having to fear police officers photographing them and creating political dossiers on them,” Ofer said.
NSA atty. claims it would be impractical for them to turn over FOIA requests about surveilling every citizen:
A senior government lawyer said Wednesday that the high volume of searches that the National Security Agency makes of a database that holds Americans’ and foreigners’ communications would make court approval for queries involving Americans impractical.
Appearing before the government’s civil liberties watchdog panel, Robert S. Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said “the number of times we query” the database for information “is considerably larger” than 288. That’s the number of queries made for a different type of data in a separate NSA program that Litt used as a comparison.
Requiring court sign-off for queries of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls had been the suggestion of a White House review panel on government surveillance activities as well as a number of lawmakers who are seeking changes to intelligence programs.
But Litt told the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog agency, that “the operational burden” would be so great that he suspects the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the program, “would be extremely unhappy if they were required to approve every such query.”
Replied board member and former federal judge Patricia Wald: “I suppose the ultimate question for us is whether or not the inconvenience to the agencies or even the unhappiness of the [surveillance] court would be the ultimate criteria.”
At issue is a 2008 law known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which authorized the government to target foreigners reasonably believed to be located overseas. But officials say there are “minimization” rules to protect the privacy of Americans and there are reviews done to ensure that the agency is targeting foreigners.
NSA General Counsel Rajesh De said, for instance, that determining who is a foreigner is based on the “totality” of the circumstances and not on a percentage, as has been reported. “There is no 51 percent rule,” he said.
He also said that the communications that are collected “upstream” at the switches of telecommunications providers are held for only two years, in contrast to the five-year retention period for e-mails gathered from companies such as Google and Yahoo.
One reason for that shorter retention period, he said, is that the government makes a controversial type of query on the upstream communications in which they attempt to pluck out a foreign target’s e-mail address or phone number from the body of the communication, and not the “to” or “from” line.
The nature of the “about” queries — or queries about a target — means that “there is a greater likelihood of [picking up Americans’] communications or wholly domestic communications,” De said.
Those queries do not include general search terms, or even the person’s name, De said. They are made on the e-mail address or phone number, he said. Such queries are conducted only upstream and not at the e-mail companies, he said.
But experts who testified in a second panel said they did not believe that Congress intended to allow the government to make such queries. “To the contrary, when legislators discussed surveillance, they discussed surveillance of the target,” not “about” the target, said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “So I think this is an entirely foreign concept.”
In general, Jaffer argued, the agency’s “about” queries and the privacy and targeting procedures approved by the court exceed the law’s bounds.
Judge blasts ATF stings declaring tactics “outrageous” and unconstitutional:
A federal judge in Los Angeles blasted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for sting operations that he said unfairly enlist people in a “made-up crime” by offering them a huge payday for robbing a non-existent drug stash house.
Declaring those tactics “outrageous” and unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright took the unusual step last week of throwing out charges against a man arrested by ATF agents after one such sting.
“Society does not win when the Government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute — especially when the Government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a made-up crime,” Wright wrote. He said the stings have done little to deter crime and instead are “ensnaring chronically unemployed individuals from poverty-ridden areas.”
The ATF has quietly made those fictional stash-house robbery cases a central feature of its efforts to target violent criminals, more than quadrupling the number of stings it conducted over the past decade. Although the stings are meant to target some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals, a USA TODAY investigation last year found they routinely ensnare small-time crooks who jump at the chance to score a small fortune from a few hours of work.
“The time has come to remind the Executive Branch that the Constitution charges it with law enforcement — not crime creation. A reverse-sting operation like this one transcends the bounds of due process and makes the Government the oppressor of its people,” Wright wrote in a scathing 24-page order.
Wright’s order, filed March 10, instructed federal officials to release Antuan Dunlap, who was arrested during an ATF sting in Los Angeles last year. Wright said agents had no evidence that Dunlap had been involved in drug house robberies in the past or that he would have participated in one had an undercover ATF agent not offered him the chance to steal as much as 25 kilograms of non-existent cocaine. He criticized the government for basing the severity of the charges Dunlap faced on the “whims” of federal agents and questioned whether the ATF’s investigations have done anything to benefit public safety.
“Zero. That’s the amount of drugs that the Government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country. That’s the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs,” Wright wrote.