Washington Post, By Christopher Ingraham, November 23
Here’s an interesting factoid about contemporary policing: In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. Martin Armstrong pointed this out at his blog, Armstrong Economics, last week.
Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime — yes, really! — through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.
Armstrong claims that “the police are now taking more assets than the criminals,” but this isn’t exactly right: The FBI also tracks property losses from larceny and theft, in addition to plain ol’ burglary. If you add up all the property stolen in 2014, from burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and other means, you arrive at roughly $12.3 billion, according to the FBI. That’s more than double the federal asset forfeiture haul.
AFP, By Hashim Safi, November 5
Medical charity MSF Thursday released chilling details from a devastating US bombing of an Afghan hospital, saying staff and patients had been decapitated and lost their limbs with some gunned down from the air.
The raid on October 3 in the northern city in Kunduz killed at least 30 people, sparking an avalanche of global condemnation and forcing the French-founded charity to close the trauma centre.
An AC-130 gunship repeatedly bombed the hospital for around an hour even as MSF staff sent out harrowing messages to officials in Kabul and Washington, informing them of heavy casualties, the charity said in an internal review of the strike.
Médecins Sans Frontières: Afghanistan: MSF releases internal review of the Kunduz hospital attack
Reuters, October 27
Car owners and security experts can tinker with automobile software without incurring US copyright liability, according to newly issued guidelines that were opposed by the auto industry.
The Library of Congress, which oversees the US Copyright Office, agreed with fair use advocates who argued that vehicle owners are entitled to modify their cars, which often involves altering software.
What it was like to have Tesla’s autopilot robot drive me hundreds of miles
Automakers including General Motors and other vehicle manufacturers such as Deere & Co opposed the rules. They said vehicle owners could visit authorized repair shops for changes they may need to undertake.
However US copyright officials decided that altering computer programs for vehicle repair or modification may not infringe a manufacturer’s software copyright.
Senate votes in favor of bill critics including Edward Snowden say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked
The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 27
The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.
The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.
Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
Washington Post, By Missy Ryan & Greg Jaffe, October 27
President Obama’s most senior national security advisers have recommended measures that would move U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria, officials said, a sign of mounting White House dissatisfaction with progress against the Islamic State and a renewed Pentagon push to expand military involvement in long-running conflicts overseas.
The debate over the proposed steps, which would for the first time position a limited number of Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria and put U.S. advisers closer to the firefights in Iraq, comes as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter presses the military to deliver new options for greater military involvement in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The changes would represent a significant escalation of the American role in Iraq and Syria. They still require formal approval from Obama, who could make a decision as soon as this week and could decide not to alter the current course, said U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are still ongoing. It’s unclear how many additional troops would be required to implement the changes being considered by the president, but the number for now is likely to be relatively small, these officials said.
CBS, October 27
The FBI has issued an alert to law enforcement about a possible “Halloween Revolt” by a dangerous anarchist group, an official has confirmed to CBS News.
Federal officials issued a bulletin to local police departments about the potential for attacks against their officers, CBS News has learned.
As first reported by the New York Post, a group known as the National Liberation Militia may be planning to dress in costume, cause a disturbance, and then ambush police who come to help. The Post reports the group has recommended members wear typical holiday masks and bring weapons like bricks and firearms.
RT, October 26
Two more documents from CIA Director John Brennan’s private email account have been released by transparency organization WikiLeaks, offering glimpses into the world of revolving-door government contracting.
While Brennan worked for the CIA between 1980 and 2005, all the documents in the cache date to 2008, when he was running a private intelligence and analysis company, The Analysis Corp (TAC). WikiLeaks notes that in 2008, Brennan donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, which hired TAC as a security adviser.
One of the documents in Monday’s release is an October 2008 dossier on Supervisory Special Agent Donovan J. Leighton, listed as “Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Program Manager for the Arabian Peninsula in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division based at the National Counterterrorism Center (CTD).”
Leighton later parlayed his FBI experience in jobs for Lockheed Martin and NBC Universal. There is nothing to explain why his biography ended up in Brennan’s personal email, though.
Addition to controversial cybersecurity bill, which passed key Senate hurdle on Thursday, would lower barrier for US to pursue foreign nationals for cybercrime.
The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 22
An amendment to a controversial cybersecurity bill will allow US courts to pursue and jail foreign nationals even if the crimes they commit are against other foreigners and on foreign soil.
The main aim of the amendment to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (Cisa), which passed a key Senate hurdle on Thursday, is to lower the barrier for prosecuting crimes committed abroad. But the amended law would make it a crime punishable by US prison time not merely to clone the credit card or steal the Netflix password of an American citizen, but to take unauthorized information from any American company, no matter where it happens.
In other words, if a French national hacks a Spanish national’s MasterCard, she could be subject to 10 years in US prison under laws changed by the bill.
The law has already attracted heavy criticism from American privacy advocates. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that the computer fraud laws that would be broadened by Cisa were used to prosecute the late founder of Demand Progress, Aaron Swartz, for downloading articles from JSTOR, the digital library of academic journals.
The Intercept just published a huge expose of the Pentagon’s drone program.
Mother Jones, By AJ Vicens and Max J. Rosenthal, October 15
On Thursday, the Intercept published a major package of stories that reveals the inner workings of the US military’s drone program, including how and why people are targeted for assassination on the amorphous battlefields of Yemen, Somalia, and other countries. “The Drone Papers,” according to the Intercept, is based on a trove of a classified documents leaked by a whistleblower who grew concerned by the government’s methods of targeting individuals for lethal action.
“This outrageous explosion of watchlisting—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.
The package is a deep look into how the US military has conducted its counterterrorism operations around the world, and it comes on the same day that President Barack Obama cited the counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda as one of the two reasons to keep nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for at least another year.
Amnesty International called for an immediate congressional inquiry into the drone program, saying the leaked documents “raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as ‘combatants’ to justify their killings.”
ProPublica: Drone Papers: Leaked Military Documents Expose US ‘Assassination Complex’
The Intercept: The Drone Papers
CNN, By Evan Perez and Wesley Bruer, October 13