San Francisco sues Defense Department over gun background checks

GunThe cities of San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia filed a sweeping federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing the U.S. Department of Defense of failing to live up to its legal duty to notify the FBI when a member of the military is convicted of a crime that would bar them from buying or possessing firearms.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, accuses the defense department, the Army, Navy, Air Force and a host of high-ranking Pentagon officials — including Secretary of Defense James Mattis — of unevenly feeding reports about convictions and dishonorable discharges to the FBI’s criminal background check system for the past two decades.

In their joint complaint, the cities contend that these kinds of reporting lapses allowed Devin Kelley — a former member of the Air Force who was court-martialed and convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson in 2012 — to purchase the assault-style weapon that he’s accused of using to kill 26 people at a church in Texas last month. Kelley, who was discharged from the Air Force in 2014, killed himself shortly after the mass shooting. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

Clinton Allies Target Comey Over New Email Probe

As reported by Bloomberg Politics:

Hillary Clinton’s allies dramatically escalated attacks on FBI Director James Comey in a bid to stem political damage from his disclosure the agency is reviewing a new batch of files that may be related to an investigation of the former secretary of state’s e-mail practices.

Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, delivered an unusual rebuke to the FBI chief in a letter Sunday that said Comey may have broken the law by revealing the review so close to the election, and suggested the agency is sitting on potentially damaging information about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Reid’s scorching letter — typical of the combative Nevadan’s style — was one of the most confrontational messages being delivered by Clinton supporters, who took to talk shows, newspaper opinion pages and social media to question the propriety of Comey’s disclosure.

Late Sunday, one Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, called for Comey’s resignation. Judiciary is among the congressional committees that oversee the FBI, and Cohen is the top Democrat on a subcommittee with jurisdiction over matters involving ethics in government. …

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Hillary Clinton Put Herself Above the Law

hillary-clinton-biopics-cancelled-ftrIn August 2011, Hurricane Irene was threatening to disrupt communications on the eastern seaboard, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal Blackberry was malfunctioning.

State Department official Stephen D. Mull emailed Clinton aide Huma Abedin to offer a back-up. The government Blackberry would have “an operating State Department email account,” he wrote, and would “mask her identity,” but “would also be subject to FOIA requests.”

Abedin wrote back that it “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” for Clinton to have a State Department Blackberry.

Mull’s email is startling. He was alerting Clinton’s staff that messages sent on a State Department-issued Blackberry would be public records under the Freedom of Information Act, as required by law. Her private server, he implicitly acknowledged, was invisible to public records searches.

“It just boggles the mind that the State Department allowed this circumstance to arise in the first place,” said U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who recently held a hearing in Washington on a Freedom of Information Act request brought by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch. “It’s just very, very, very troubling,” he said.

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and it was expanded and strengthened in 1974 following the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

The public has the right to request access to records from any federal agency. The government is required to disclose information requested under the FOIA except for nine specific exemptions, which include personal privacy and national security, but not “running for president.”

Judge Sullivan may allow Judicial Watch to take testimony from Mrs. Clinton’s aides, State Department officials and perhaps the former secretary of state herself, starting in April.

Clinton also may be interviewed by the FBI, which is separately investigating whether anyone committed a crime by mishandling classified material. The State Department says 22 emails on Clinton’s private server contained “top secret” information. Another 65 have been classified “secret” and 2,028 more are “confidential.”

Now there are reports that the Justice Department has granted immunity from prosecution to the former State Department employee and campaign staffer who set up the private server at Clinton’s home in 2009. Bryan Pagliano invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when called before Congress last September. He will have to answer questions from the FBI.

This is not nothing.

At a minimum, this is a secretary of state who put herself above the law — a law that was signed by a Democratic president — and who handled sensitive information in a manner that ought to disqualify her from ever receiving a security clearance.

It is bizarre that the Clinton presidential campaign is rolling along as if none of this is happening. Hillary Clinton could become the next president of the United States, assuming she makes it to the November election and has still not been charged with a crime.

But the nation’s ethical standard for president of the United States should be higher than “has still not been charged with a crime.”

We need transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act so the public can hold the government accountable for its actions. When officials can operate in complete secrecy, there is no check on their actions or their ethics.

Using a private email server to evade the Freedom of Information Act is like taking the license plates off a car to evade a ticket from a red-light camera system.

Sooner or later, it’s going to end in a horrible wreck.

Susan Shelley is a San Fernando Valley author, a former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly.

FBI Overreach in Pursuit of Apple Compliance

appleThe Apple-FBI saga playing out in a very public way is a classic case of overreach by a law enforcement agency. The FBI is putting extraordinary (and unprecedented) pressure on Apple following the horrific San Bernadino shootings. The U.S. government has filed a motion in court to compel Apple to re-engineer its operating system so that the FCC can investigate whether the shooter used his iPhone to communicate or plan with other potential co-conspirators.

Forcing Apple to crack open its own code might appeal to some people clamoring for a quick fix for the ever-increasing threat of terrorism in our country. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes and the government’s move is an extraordinary threat to civil liberty. It also won’t solve the larger problem. A backdoor won’t stop terrorism, but it will weaken smartphone security systems with no likelihood of any real public benefit. The public, and policymakers, should support Apple’s public resistance to the FBI’s pressure tactics. The FBI’s proposal is dangerous for at least these four reasons:

It Won’t Stop Terrorism

The FBI wants Apple to build a post-incident forensic investigation tool to unpack what may have happened. But that will not actually deter or prevent terrorism. Terrorists will simply switch to using encrypted phones from other countries.

It Will Open Security Loopholes

If the government is allowed to force Apple to provide a backdoor to its operating system, it will weaken security for all U.S. consumers on a go-forward basis This will not force committed terrorists to think twice, but instead could make Apple’s operating system vulnerable to the hacking of consumer data on a large scale given the way this story is playing out publicly as the hacking community will be awaiting the court decision with baited breath.

It Sets A Terrible International Precedent

If the courts force this technology mandate on Apple, it’s also making this technology available to the rest of the world. That means rogue regimes and dictatorships interested in cracking down on the communications and online interests of its citizens will have access to the same security busting technology as the U.S. government. Limiting security on iPhones could put regular citizens, journalists or freedom fighters, who are often on the frontlines of fights against oppression, in peril.

It Encourages Malware

What the FBI is requesting is as akin to introducing a dangerous virus into Apple’s operating system. The FBI is demanding that Apple create malware by reformulating its software. Backdoor access not only creates access for the government but it creates a flaw that black hat hackers will attempt to exploit. There’s a good chance this will create unintended consequences for Apple and its operating system, which could create a myriad of issues for millions of iPhone users.

Terrorism is a serious problem and one we, as a country, must face head-on. But we need to approach the situation in a way that yields results without creating new vulnerabilities. Knee-jerk reactions, like the one we’re seeing from the FBI are certainly not the answer. They only harm civil liberties and create new problems down the line. We need to hold true to our societal principles, including a right to privacy or we risk handing the terrorists their first real victory by causing us to subvert our values for a gamble that evidence collected after this attack might prevent future attacks.

Tim Sparapani is founder of the consulting firm SPQR Strategies and senior policy counsel for CALinnovates. He was the first director of public policy at Facebook and was senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. He is on Twitter: @TimSparapani.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Phone Scammers Threaten Victims With Arrest, Collect Millions in ‘Fines’

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

The average American commits three felonies a day. That’s the estimate from Boston civil-liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate, who says the nation has so many vague laws, that honest people are constantly breaking them without even knowing it.

So when scammers posing as employees of the FBI, IRS or U.S. marshals call people on the phone and tell them they’ve broken some law, who knows, it may even be true.

However, regardless of whether the person receiving the phone call has actually broken a law, the real FBI, IRS and U.S. marshals don’t call people up and threaten to arrest them unless they immediately follow instructions to pay thousands of dollars with a prepaid debit card.

Law enforcement officials have described these calls as highly intimidating. The scammer typically begins by advising the targets that there are federal charges against them, and then threatening legal action and arrest. If questioned, the caller gets more aggressive, warning of frozen bank accounts and confiscated property.

Next, the fake government agent says it will cost thousands of dollars in fees, taxes or court costs to resolve the matter and avoid arrest. Specific instructions are given on how to buy a prepaid debit card and make a payment within the hour. Sometimes the scammer insists on staying on the phone until the victim returns with the card and reads the numbers, warning that if it takes too long, the fees will increase.

The U.S. Marshals Service recently issued a warning that phone scammers impersonating marshals were calling homes in Cincinnati, Ohio. Authorities in Tennessee and Michigan also reported a holiday season uptick in this particularly nasty telephone fraud. And it’s happening in Los Angeles, too.

Woodland Hills resident Lucy Silva said she first received one of these threatening calls on her cellphone about two years ago, and the most recent one within the last month.

“He said if I didn’t send them $3,000 immediately, they were going to come right over and arrest me,” Silva said. “I happened to be in New York at the time, so I just said to him, ‘Hey, bring it on.’”

Silva, a hair stylist, said one of her clients received a scam call from someone pretending to be her grandson, stating that he was in Peru and needed money right away.

“Her grandson really was in Peru,” Silva said, “and this guy knew it. He even knew how many siblings he had.”

The scam was foiled when the grandmother quizzed the scammer about the names of her other grandchildren. He hung up the phone.

Impersonation scams are made easier with social media sites like Facebook, which display the names of friends and family. Be cautious about accepting “friend requests” from total strangers who live in places like Nigeria.

Many of these con games are phoned in from Third World countries. The caller’s phone number is sometimes spoofed so that a real law enforcement agency phone number shows up on the Caller ID.

Internet technology has made scamming much easier and more profitable, and so has the growth in the use of prepaid debit cards.

Americans now spend about $80 billion a year on prepaid debit cards, an amount that has doubled since 2010. But at least one of these products was pulled from the market because of its popularity with online and telephone swindlers.

Green Dot, a Pasadena-based company, stopped selling its MoneyPak product in 2014. The popular green-and-white payment cards had a unique numerical code on the back that allowed anyone who obtained the code, anywhere in the world, to “unlock” the money and “reload” another debit card, in complete anonymity.

In 2013, consumers lost $30 million dollars to scams involving MoneyPak cards, by Green Dot’s estimate. The Federal Trade Commission says consumers reported losing $42.86 million to fraud involving prepaid debit products that year, but officials suspect that the total could be much higher because many victims do not report that they’ve been scammed.

If you get one of these calls, the FBI advises, resist the pressure to act quickly. Always be cautious when someone insists that you must use a specific payment method, which the government would not do. If you feel threatened, call the local police department.

Or you could tell the scammer that the National Security Agency is monitoring your calls and wants you to keep all callers on the line for at least two minutes so they can get their coordinates.

Who knows, it may even be true.