Secret Service

Secret Service Claims It’s Still Investigating Now-Deceased Aaron Swartz

After Aaron Swartz died, Jason Leopold FOIAed Secret Service, since that’s the agency that was investigating Swartz when he died.

Curiously, contrary to the FBI — which at least claims to have treated Swartz as they would any other deceased person and turned over all but two pages of his PACER investigation file — Secret Service denied Leopold’s FOIA.

“Disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” they said.

Or, to translate from FOIA-speak, the investigation into Aaron Swartz, who died weeks and weeks ago, is an active investigation.

Most interesting came when USSS’s FOIA officer claimed there was nothing segregable from this “open case.”

We were then transferred to Latita Payne, the Secret Service’s FOIA disclosure officer, who explained to Truthout, “we did a search of our offices [for responsive records] and they responded that it’s an open case.”

Payne said there weren’t any segregable portions of records on Swartz that the Secret Service could release.

Secret Service doesn’t want to turn over Swartz’ file — any of it — because any little bit of it might reveal its investigation into … something. Someone. Presumably not Swartz, since he’s dead.

Now, since USSS first responded to Leopold, they seem to have decided that this answer — the claim they can’t release any files on an investigation into a deceased person — isn’t going to fly, so they’re going to reconsider that answer.

We’ll see how forthcoming that response is.

One other detail. Notice how FBI released its response to Swartz FOIA just long enough before this response so distracted people might think the FBI file is all there is (as if a huge indictment would leave no tracks)? Nice timing.

Two Days Before MIT and Cambridge Cops Arrested Aaron Swartz, Secret Service Took Over the Investigation

The public story of Aaron Swartz’ now-tragic two year fight with the Federal government usually starts with his July 19, 2011 arrest.

But that’s not when he was first arrested for accessing a closet at MIT in which he had a netbook downloading huge quantities of scholarly journals. He was first arrested on January 6, 2011 by MIT and Cambrige, MA cops.

According to a suppression motion in his case, however two days before Aaron was arrested, the Secret Service took over the investigation.

On the morning of January 4, 2011, at approximately 8:00 am, MIT personnel located the netbook being used for the downloads and decided to leave it in place and institute a packet capture of the network traffic to and from the netbook.4 Timeline at 6. This was accomplished using the laptop of Dave Newman, MIT Senior Network Engineer, which was connected to the netbook and intercepted the communications coming to and from it. Id. Later that day, beginning at 11:00 am, the Secret Service assumed control of the investigation. [my emphasis]

In fact, in one of the most recent developments in discovery in Aaron’s case, the government belatedly turned over an email showing Secret Service agent Michael Pickett offering to take possession of the hardware seized from Aaron “anytime after it has been processed for prints or whenever you [Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann] feel it is appropriate.” Another newly disclosed document shows the Pickett accompanied the local cops as they moved the hardware they had seized from Aaron around.

According to the Secret Service, they get involved in investigations with:

  • Significant economic or community impact
  • Participation of organized criminal groups involving multiple districts or transnational organizations
  • Use of schemes involving new technology

Downloading scholarly articles is none of those things.

A lot of people are justifiably furious with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and AUSA Heymann’s conduct on this case.

But the involvement of the Secret Service just as it evolved from a local breaking and entry case into the excessive charges ultimately charged makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz.

MIT’s President Rafael Reif has expressed sadness about Aaron’s death and promised an investigation into the university’s treatment of Aaron. I want to know whether MIT–which is dependent on federal grants for much of its funding–brought in the Secret Service.

Shorter DOJ: It’s No Big Deal if DEA Agents Destroy Evidence

DOJ’s Inspector General wrote Senators Collins and Lieberman a letter summarizing its investigation into DEA Agents involved in the Secret Service sex scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

What’s getting attention is that the DEA agents arranged a prostitute for a SS Agent. All three engaged sex workers the night in question.

But what should be getting attention is that the DEA agents, when they learned about the scope of the investigation, deleted incriminating information from their Blackberries. And DOJ–in part because it conducted compelled interviews it knew couldn’t be used in a prosecution–won’t charge them.

The OIG investigation found further that all three DEA agents had deleted data from their DEA issued Blackberry devices, and that DEA agents #1 and #2 did so after learning of the scope and nature of the OIG’s investigation. DEA agent #1 admitted to the OIG that he deleted relevant data from his Blackberry after being requested to surrender his device to the OIG. DEA agent #2 stated that he “wiped” all data from his Blackberry before providing it to the OIG, but denied that he intended to obstruct the OIG investigation. He stated that he wiped all data from his Blackberry in an effort to conceal embarrassing communications between him and his wife.

The investigation was an administrative review and all of the interviews of the DEA agents were compelled. Given all of those facts and circumstances, we did not view the matter to warrant criminal prosecution.

By compelling the interviews, the IG effectively immunized the DEA Agents, ensuring they could not be charged with obstruction. Not to mention, the Scott Bloch precedent–in which he deleted evidence and now DOJ is bending over backward to make sure he doesn’t pay any price for lying about doing so–makes it clear that DOJ will never prosecute one of its own for the kind of crime they prosecute others for all the time.

Still, let it be know that DOJ doesn’t give a shit that its DEA Agents obstruct justice and delete evidence.

The Secret Service Tamps Down at Home, Too

Remember US efforts to silence any potential sources about the Secret Service scandal in Cartagena? Well, they’ve finally decided they ought to do the same here in the states, too.

Retired agents have been instructed to stop talking to reporters. Secret Service agents are dismantling Facebook accounts, hanging up on reporters and notifying headquarters — even calling police — when journalists knock on their doors at home for interviews about the investigation.

[snip]

More than a dozen Secret Service agents contacted by The Associated Press have abruptly hung up or declined to return multiple messages to discuss their agency and former coworkers. One reported it to headquarters when an AP reporter visited his home in the evening; some retired officials who were interviewed quickly notified headquarters about what questions reporters were asking.

A police officer came to the Annapolis, Md., home of Greg Stokes — one of the employees who already has lost his job in the scandal — and directed an AP reporter to leave his property. At the home in Virginia of another employee who also lost his job, David Chaney, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office parked a patrol car — sometimes two of them. A deputy reprimanded reporters who came to the front door.

I wouldn’t much care one way or another if it weren’t for a detail in the new Secret Service Guidelines–designed to prevent future such scandals–that has gone little noticed.

In addition to prohibiting Secret Service agents from bringing foreigners to their hotel rooms or drinking within 10 hours of duty, the new guidelines require agents to adhere to US law. Maybe that’s an effort to prohibit the use of sex workers, except prostitution is not illegal in all of the US. So I’ve been wondering whether there was something more about the scandal. There were allegations, for example, that cocaine was being used.

There are a lot of very good reasons for the Agency to try to keep details of their work and this scandal secret. But I wonder if one of them relates to further details that have not yet been reported.

Spreading Free “Trade” To Colombia But Not Freedom of the Press

So the guys who were supposed to be scouting threats to the President got in trouble because they tried to shortchange a sex worker of her fair payment. I guess the lesson these men took from our trade deal with Colombia is that it’s okay to pay people there cut-rate wages.

That’s troubling enough, but I’m actually more interested in some details this scandal has revealed about our attitude towards the press. For example, apparently Colombia asked the Secret Service to prevent a left wing journalist from covering the summit. (h/t scribe)

The only specific security concern mentioned was that agents and officers were told to bar a left-wing journalist from events at the summit and were given a flier with the journalist’s photograph to keep him out, the law enforcement source said.

Then there’s the news that the US government instructed Cartagena’s cops not to talk about the events of that night.

The police have since been directed by U.S. authorities not to comment on that night or the scandal surrounding the Secret Service, according to a senior police official in Cartagena.

The story suggests–but does not affirm–that the instructions to hotel staffers to lie about whether they were present during the scandal was done at the behest of the US.

Like the police, the staff at the hotel have been instructed by their management not to comment on the men’s behavior. Workers at the hotel tell ABC News they have been told to say they were “off,” “on vacation,” or “working a different shift” when asked about what went on at the hotel.

Now I presume the government pretends that all these efforts to impede the press are about security. Can’t let a FARC-friendly journalist cover the President because she might learn details of the President’s schedule. Can’t let the true details about our security personnel’s debauchery out because it might make them target for blackmail.

But taken with other recent events, it increasingly seems that the folks running the American Empire consider full press coverage to be one of the biggest threats to its existence.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @mike_stark @AriMelber But, hey, there is nmo reason the media sou;d understand or cover that with real criminal trial experts.
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bmaz @mike_stark @AriMelber ... as ANY other GJ would get. Bet just leaves GJ w/a bunch of statute cites+says good luck. Which is NEVER done.
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bmaz @mike_stark @AriMelber ...for a vote as "draft indictment" by the GJ. This is months long+I bet McCulloch never submits a draft indictment..
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bmaz @mike_stark @AriMelber ...this would, with not much variance, be a 2-3 hr grand jury presentation, with definitive charges submitted...
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bmaz @mike_stark @AriMelber Here is what I DO know from 30 yrs crim law experience (27 trial level): in ANY other homicide under similar facts...
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bmaz @DavidSug @walterwkatz Yup on all fronts.
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bmaz @DavidSug @walterwkatz I am talking to you Sugerman! Honestly, from what I know, none of this is secure. But, still, sometimes stop+wonder
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bmaz @DavidSug @walterwkatz I separate ID's, but apparently things catching up to me.
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bmaz Whoa, just switched from the Dead Pirates game, and Law+Order SVU has an elevator video case! #SnatchedFromHeadlines
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bmaz @DavidSug @walterwkatz Yo, young, but in law school. Watched that commercial live and was mesmerized.
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bmaz @walterwkatz @DavidSug I don't use Chr or FFox
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bmaz @shenebraskan @DavidSug @walterwkatz Tried it long ago. Was too slow and worthless.
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