Terrorism

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What Would It Take for the Government to Obtain Google’s Counter-Terror Ads Algos?

Some weeks ago, the government went to Silicon Valley to ask for new ways to counter ISIS’ propaganda. We’re now seeing the response to that request, with the report that Google will show positive ads when people search for extremist content.

In a new development, Google said it’s testing ways to counter extremist propaganda with positive messages on YouTube and in Google search results.

Google executive Anthony House told MPs that taking extremist videos down from YouTube isn’t enough, and people searching for that content should be presented with competing narratives:

We should get the bad stuff down, but it’s also extremely important that people are able to find good information, that when people are feeling isolated, that when they go online, they find a community of hope, not a community of harm.

There are two programs being tested by Google to make sure the positive messages are seen by people seeking out extremist content: one to make sure the “good” kind of videos are easily found on YouTube; and another to display positive messages when people search for extremist-related terms.

The second program involves giving grants to nonprofit organizations to use Google AdWords to display competing ads alongside the search results for those extremist-related terms.

If Google wants to do this, that’s fine.

But I’m wondering about the legal standard here. It’s unclear whether Google will only show these “positive” (whoever and however that gets defined) when people search for “extremist” content, or whether they’ll show Google ads to those whose email content reflects an interest in “extremist” material.

In both cases, however, Google will use material that counts as “content” to decide to show these ads.

And then what happens? That is, what happens to Google’s records determining that these users should get that content? Do the records, stripped of the content itself, count as a third party record that can be obtained with a subpoena? Or do they count as content?

Congress hasn’t passed legislation requiring tech companies to report their terrorist users. But does having Google use its algorithms to determine who is an extremist give the government a way to find out who Google thinks is an extremist?

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Yahoo Warrant

The government has started unsealing a bunch of previously sealed documents from the Boston Marathon investigation. In this post I wanted to comment on a motion to suppress the evidence from a Yahoo, Google, and computer search.

There are two interesting details in it. The FBI got a warrant for both Tsarnaev brothers’ Yahoo email on April 19, 2013, while Dzhokhar was still bleeding out in a boat in Watertown. The warrant basically got everything connected with the account, and then permitted the government to search both the contents and metadata for a list of things:

1. All communications between or among Tamerian [sic] Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev;

2. All communications pertaining to the Boston Marathon, explosives, bombs, the making of improvised explosive devices, firearms, and potential people and places against which to use firearms, explosives or other destructive devices.;

3. The identity of the person or persons who have owned or operated the [email protected] and [email protected] e-mail accounts or any associated e-mail accounts;

4. The data described in paragraphs II(A)(3)-(5), above [i.e., the contents of all electronic data files, whether word-processing, spreadsheet, image, video, or any other content, calendar data, and lists of friends, buddies, contacts, or other subscribers].

6. [sic] The existence and identity of any co-conspirators;

7. The travel or whereabouts of the person or persons who have owned or operated the [email protected] and [email protected] e-mail accounts or any associated email accounts;

8. The identity, location, and ownership of any computers used to access these e-mail accounts;

9. Other e-mail or Internet accounts providing Internet access or remote data storage or e-commerce accounts;

10.The existence or location of physical media storing electronic data, such as hard drives, CD- or DVD-ROMs, or thumb drives; and

11.The existence or location of paper print-outs of any data from any of the above.

The motion went on to explain that item 4, above, included the following:

3. The contents of all electronic data files, whether word-processing, spreadsheet, image, video, or any other content;

4. The contents of all calendar data;

5. Lists of friends, buddies, contacts, or other subscribers.

I’m interested in this because the full list — including whatever other items were included in item 4 and whatever was originally numbered 5 — probably resembles what the government would get from Yahoo under PRISM, and therefore answers questions I raised in this post about how the government requests under PRISM to Yahoo expanded between August 2007 and January 2008. The calendar and buddy lists are unsurprising (indeed, we know NSA used to steal that stuff in the clear). But I’m also interested in how many of the initial list address hardware, which suggests one thing they’re likely getting under PRISM is mapping of such hardware. Also note the location-data of both the person using the account and the hardware associated with its use.

The other interesting detail is that the government didn’t go after Dzhokhar’s other Internet accounts until July 3, 2013, after he’d already been indicted.

On July 3, 2013, after the grand jury had returned its indictment against Mr. Tsarnaev, the government sought search warrants for multiple providers, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Skype.

The motion doesn’t say whether or not the government had already obtained the call detail records from these accounts, which it could have gotten with an administrative subpoena. It also doesn’t include Vkontakte (which would have required an MLAT process), which both brothers used.

I’m most interested in this, however, because it means the government didn’t go after Skype until over two months into the investigation. Remember: Dzhokhar had relied entirely on Skype for his “calling” for several weeks leading up to the attack, between the time his iPhone got shut down and the time he got a burner for use in the attack. So I find the delay of interest.

Of course, these Internet communications platforms are all things we believe the government dragnets the metadata of overseas.  I assume they got call detail records using an Administrative subpoena, but technically it’s the kind of thing they might not have needed to do.

Update: Nick Weaver pulled the warrant itself. Here’s the section on connection logs.

User connection logs for any connections to or from these and any associated e-mail accounts, including:

a. Connection time and date;

b. Disconnect time and date;

c. The IP address that was used when the user connected to the service;

d. Source and destination of any e-mail messages sent from or received by the account, and the date, time, and length of the message; and

e. Any address to which e-mail was or is to be forwarded from the account or e-mail address.

Update: Here’s a list of what has been released so far. Fox says they’ll update as things get unsealed here.

In Response to Continued Resonance of Awlaki Videos, US Relaunched Social Media Propaganda Campaign

As far as we know, the perpetrators of the November attack on Paris were radicalized by each other, in specific neighborhoods in Europe.

According to the complaint filed against his Enrique Marquez, the friend who got him guns, Syed Rizwan Farook, adopted radical beliefs after consuming the lectures, videos, and magazine of Anwar al-Awlaki. In fact, Farook and Marquez moved towards planning an attack in 2011, in the immediate wake of the drone killing of Awlaki and his son. As to Tashfeen Malik, Farook’s wife, while she did some searches on ISIS just before Farook started an attack on his workplace, public reporting suggests that like the French terrorists, she adopted extreme beliefs through relationships formed in brick and mortar life.

Nevertheless, in response to the anxiety produced by these attacks, the Obama Administration is rolling out yet another propaganda campaign against ISIS. As part of it, it shifts the approach to funding NGOs to do the propaganda work, something I argued any such efforts should be doing in a piece for Vice this week. Though as I noted, any such effort needs to stop countering ISIS propaganda and offering a positive vision that will be meaningful to those with grievances. That was one of the things included in a briefing to Silicon Valley today.

There is also a need for more credible positive messaging and content that provides alternatives to young people concerned about many of the grievances ISIL highlights

The other part of the campaign is a bit sillier. The Administration asked for tech companies to do things like measuring resonance of ISIL messages.

Some have suggested that a measurement of level of radicalization could provide insights to measure levels of radicalization to violence. While it is unclear whether radicalization is measureable or could be measured, such a measurement would be extremely useful to help shape and target counter-messaging and efforts focused on countering violent extremism. This type of approach requires consideration of First Amendment protections and privacy and civil liberties concerns, additional front-end research on specific drivers of radicalization and themes among violent extremist populations, careful design of intervention tools, dedicated technical expertise, and the ability to iteratively improve the tools based on experience in deploying them. Industry certainly has a lot of expertise in measuring resonance in order to see how effective and broad a messaging campaign reaches an audience. A partnership to determine if resonance can be measured for both ISIL and counter-ISIL content in order to guide and improve and more effectively counter the ISIL narrative could be beneficial.

This seems to be a problematic approach both because this should be the intelligence community’s job and because they’re supposed to be pretending this isn’t about focusing on Muslims. Plus, as I noted, the recent big attacks weren’t primarily about social media. More importantly, Jim Comey has testified that the social media companies already are helpful.

Comey, apparently, only went along to demand encryption — and it showed up in the briefing document shared at the meeting.

In addition to using technology to recruit and radicalize, terrorists are using technology to mobilize supporters to attack and to plan, move money for, coordinate, and execute attacks. The roles played by terrorist leaders and attack plotters in this activity vary, ranging from providing general direction to small groups to undertake attacks of their own design wherever they are located to offering repeated and specific guidance on how to execute attacks. To avoid law enforcement and the intelligence community detecting their activities, terrorists are using encrypted forms of communications at various stages of attack plotting and execution. We expect terrorists will continue to use technology to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, including using encrypted communications where law enforcement cannot obtain the content of the communication even with court authorization. We would be happy to provide classified briefings in which we could share additional information.

While Apple was at this meeting, some of the other key players the government would have to address about encryption were not, making this appeal rather silly.

And note the seduction here: the government wants to tell the tech companies how extremists (they really mean only ISIS) are using encryption, but they’re only willing to do so in a classified setting. That would make it harder to counter the bogus claims the government has repeatedly been caught making.

Ultimately, the Administration seems to have no awareness of another of the key problems. They recognize that ISIS’ propaganda is splashy. But they accord no responsibility for mainstream media for magnifying it.

[T]here is a shortage of compelling credible alternative content; and this content is often not as effectively produced or distributed as pro-ISIL content and lacks the sensational quality that can capture the media’s attention.

If the government is going to ask the private sector to do their part, why aren’t they on a plane demanding that CNN stop fear-mongering all the time, both magnifying the effect of ISIS’ propaganda and increasing the polarization between Muslims and right wingers? If CNN can’t be asked to adjust its business model to stop empowering terrorists, why is Silicon Valley being asked to, when the latter are more central to baselines security?

 

Update: Here’s a list of participants.

Denis McDonough,White House Chief of Staff,

Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security & Counter Terrorism

Todd Park, White House Advisor for Technology

Megan Smith, White House Chief Technology Officer

Loretta Lynch, Attorney General

James Clapper, Director, National Intelligence

James Comey, Director, FBI

Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary, Department of State

Mike Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency

Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security

The 18-Minute Gap

The FBI had a press conference today to ask for help filling in the last 18 minutes of the 4-hour gap between the time  San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot up his holiday party and the time cops killed them in a shootout.

In the absence of any other evidence the couple worked with a more organized group, the FBI wants to make sure the couple didn’t do anything in that 18-minute window that would indicate some kind of cooperation.

[A]mid signs that the investigation is slowing down, they issued a public appeal for help from anyone who might have information on what the couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, did from 12:59 p.m. to 1:17 p.m. on Dec. 2, perhaps in the form of a witness sighting or an image by a stray surveillance camera.

[snip]

Officials said Mr. Farook left his home at 8:37 a.m. and arrived at the Inland Regional Center, where co-workers were attending a morning training session and a holiday party, at 8:47 a.m. They said he left at 10:37 a.m., leaving behind a knapsack filled with pipe bombs that were never detonated. He returned at 10:56 with Ms. Malik and opened fire, leaving 14 people dead and 22 injured.

From there, the couple went to Seccombe Lake, which is a short drive from the Inland Regional Center. F.B.I. divers searched the lake last month and found no items related to the investigation.

[snip]
Mr. Bowdich said the couple spent most of the four hours after the attack driving.

“A lot of zigzagging around, going back and forth on the highway, going up and down,” he said. “There is no rhyme or reason to it that we can find yet. Maybe that 18-minute gap closes that gap, maybe it doesn’t.”

Frankly, I’m more interested in why the FBI doesn’t have cell phone tracking data from this period, especially given that they clearly have it from after the 18 minute gap. I asked on Twitter today but none of the journalists who covered this presser seem to have asked that obvious question (though there seems to be a map indicating some kind of cell tracking).

If they shut off their phones or otherwise hid their tracks, it would suggest some importance to whatever they were doing in that 18 minute gap.

One thing the FBI didn’t say, nor any of the crack reports I saw covering the press conference, is that the 18 minute gap — from 12:59 p.m. to 1:17 — happens to coincide with a period when Farook’s now arrested buddy, Enrique Marquez, was not captured on his employers’ closed circuit video.

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Frankly, that’s not the most interesting possibility for the couple’s actions in that window (and I don’t know whether Marquez’ employer was in the geographical window where the couple may have been).

But as I noted, Marquez’ claims to have dissociated from Farook after they planned a terrorist attack in 2012 don’t accord with the fact that he fake-married Farook’s brother’s sister-in-law.

The San Bernardino Complaint

After some conflicting reports today about what would happen to Enrique Marquez — the long time friend of San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook, who purchased two guns used in the attack — DOJ charged Marquez on a 3-count complaint, including conspiring to materially support terrorism associated with a contemplated 2012 attack he and Farook started planning in the weeks after Anwar al-Awlaki got executed. Marquez had been cooperating for 10 days without a lawyer until yesterday (he almost demanded a lawyer part way into the first day, but was persuaded he didn’t need one). It’s unclear whether he stopped cooperating or the FBI just got bored interrogating him before charging him today.

Marquez’ apparent panic on December 2-3

In spite of the fact that Marquez supplied the gun and, the government says, the smokeless powder used in the couple’s pipe bomb, and in spite of the fact that he was raving about terrorist attacks on Facebook almost a month before the attack, the government claims to believe Marquez that he didn’t know about it beforehand.

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Given the timeline in the complaint, Marquez could not have been involved in the attack on the Christmas party, though he did take lunch during the period when the couple was on the run. The timeline after that is not provided: In a short period of time (though after midnight the day of the attack), he called 911, checked himself into the hospital (both times admitting he was Farook’s friend), and missed the immigration interview for his fake marriage, which will lead his fake wife (the sister of Farook’s brother’s wife) to be deported to Russia.

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Did Farook stop planning an attack between 2012 and 2015?

After Farook and Marquez called off the 2012 attack, Marquez claims he drifted apart from Farook (though how that’s consistent with fake-marrying his sister-in-law’s sister, I don’t know).

After having given extensive details of Farook, and through him, Marquez’ embrace of extremist culture up until 2012, the complaint goes silent about what Farook was consuming, raising questions for me about whether he continued to plan, or resumed plans after Tashfeen Malik came to the US.

One thing that raises questions for me is the powder allegedly used in pipe bomb intended to go off in the attack. Early on, the complaint claims the pipe bomb was “ready to detonate” ¶16. Later, it makes it clear the pipe bomb malfunctioned. Immediately after explaining that it had malfunctioned (without providing the details included in a report why it might have), the complaint ties the smokeless powder to Marquez’ purchase (for which no purchase record appears in the complaint) in 2012.

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One obvious explanation for why the pipe bombs didn’t go off (aside from the fact they used a really simple Inspire recipe) is that the powder was over 4 years old by the time of the attack. Given that they had considered using bombs for the 2012 attack, the container was likely opened. Which leaves open the possibility it had degraded.

If you’re planning a new attack — and spending money to train all through that period — why not buy new powder to ensure your bomb goes off?

But there’s a counter point having to do with Farook’s apparently meticulous accounting for the attack, which he called a wedding. Farook did a spreadsheet (FBI found it on a thumb drive) of his planned attack in 2011-2012, with the earliest date October 29 and the latest presumed to be January 2, 2012. The spread sheet tracks payments for a number of things, including one of the two guns Marquez bought, as well as gun range sessions and other equipment. It stops before the purchase of the second gun (which was purchased February 22, 2012) and doesn’t resume leading up to the 2015 attack.

So either Farook got bored playing terror accountant, or there’s a continuation of this spread sheet, but we don’t know how long. There have been reports that FBI is still looking for a hard drive missing from the house, so it’s quite possible a continuation of the spread sheet continued on, perhaps up to the present, track all the money spent on shooting practice. But why track this stuff? Was someone reimbursing him? And why put it on a thumb drive?

Malik’s ISIS surfing

Which brings me to the thing most outlets are focusing on, Malik’s statement of allegiance to ISIS. I have always thought this statement felt like an attempt to distract (which, if it was, it succeeded), and the description in the complaint only makes me wonder more.

The timeline in the complaint shows Malik searching for info on ISIS literally the minute before her husband arrived at the Christmas party.

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And it shows a post on a “Facebook page associated with Malik” (when the complaint talks about Marquez’ Facebook they described his verified account, though Malik is not the one being charged here) posting allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi just 16 minutes after the SUV returned to the county center.

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There’s no other mention of ISIS in the complaint (or, for that matter, what other radical Islamic propaganda the couple were consuming between 2012 and 2015).

How many involved in the shooting

Finally there’s a small but, given initial reports there were three people involved in the shooting at the county center, potentially significant discrepancy. Early in the complaint, the FBI describes two individuals conducting the shooting.

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Whereas later the complaint is not so sure how many people there were.

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There were reports that survivors recognized Farook when the shooting started, which says if there was just one shooter, it was him. But at least given what we know, there’d be no reason for Malik to stay in the SUV, as there’s no reason to believe she drove (she had no driver’s license mentioned, and of course lived much of her life in Saudi Arabia). Remember, too, there were four guns total used in the attack.

On Intent, Mental Health, and Terrorism

In thoroughly unsurprising news, Joshua Ryne Goldberg was declared unfit to stand trial yesterday.

Goldberg is the Jewish guy who pretended to be a lot of things online, many of them anti-Jewish, but who had a role in the incitement of the Garland, TX attack and got busted for sending an informant instructions on how to build a bomb and encouraging him to bomb Kansas City’s 9/11 commemoration.

Joshua Goldberg is a troll. But he has liaised with IS supporters and called for terrorist attacks against the West. Police who arrested him on Friday morning Australian time said he had recently instructed a confidential source on how to make a bomb.

And even before his recent exploits, Goldberg’s dangerous social media fantasies may have had real-world consequences. An Australi Witness tweet in the lead up to an exhibition of pictures of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas, in May, urged Muslims to go with “weapons, bombs or with knifes”. Two men answered the call, and were killed by police.

“Australi Witness” praised them as martyrs.

Since July he has fed out a series of bomb threats against various targets, including a synagogue in Melbourne and another in Perth. Most recently, he said he was working with others to direct a “pressure cooker bombing” in the United States.

[snip]

He has masqueraded as a neo-Nazi blogger called “Michael Slay” on the site Daily Stormer, and as a fictional Australian left-wing anti-free speech activist called “Tanya Cohen”. He’s caused significant harm to anti-sexploitation campaigner Caitlin Roper by setting up a fake account in her name and then defaming transsexuals.

According to a prison psychologist who testified at a hearing yesterday, Goldberg suffers from an illness on the schizophrenia spectrum.

After numerous interviews, Dr. Lisa Feldman, a forensic psychologist with the Federal Detention Center in Miami, found Goldberg not mentally sound enough for trial. She said Goldberg suffers from a mental disorder she described as on the “schizophrenia spectrum” and that he could not participate in his own defense.

[snip]

Goldberg exhibited “very paranoid, suspicious ideas and a feeling that other people wanted to harm him,” Feldman testified.

After his transfer to the detention center in Miami, Goldberg stopped bathing himself and was eventually put on suicide watch, Feldman said. She said he insisted constantly that he should be in a hospital, not a prison.

While she could not rule out that Goldman was exaggerating some of his mental health symptoms, Feldman said Goldman’s background materials and behavior at the facility made it clear to her that he was not able to understand his legal predicament.

Neither Kevin Frein, a national security prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, nor Goldman’s attorney Paul Shorstein, objected to her findings.

Let me be clear: I don’t doubt that Goldberg is incompetent to stand trial. You’d sort of have to be, to voice support for all these contradictory issues.

That said, I suspect it was a lot easier for the criminal justice system to find him incompetent than it would be to find the long list of young Muslim men with mental illnesses who get caught in stings.

That’s true, in part, because people are going to believe that bluster from a Jewish guy advocating attacks targeting Jews lacks real intent, whereas bluster from a Muslim harbors intent. It’s all bluster, often spurred by mental illness, but we believe the Muslims meant it.

But also because Goldberg’s claim of credit for the Garland attack might pose really uncomfortable questions for the government, given the conflicting reports on whether they had a warning of the attack (making it likely they were following Goldberg). If ISIS-inspired attacks are, in fact, inspired by Jewish kids living in their parents’ basement just talking shite, then what does that say about the war on terror?

Moreover, what does that say about FBI’s success prosecuting guys for “material support” because they retweet ISIS propaganda? Goldberg was producing ISIS propaganda, but it’s hard to believe he really “meant” it.

A whole lot of online trolling consists of individuals engaging in make-believe to see if they can get a response. But what if it becomes increasingly clear that some of it really is make-believe, even while that make-believe has real consequences?

Obama’s Terrorism Cancer Speech, Carter’s Malaise Speech

The right wingers who insist on calling any attack by a Muslim “terrorism” — who insist on tying the San Bernardino attack to ISIS, even in the absence of evidence — do it to prioritize the fight against Islamic terrorists over all the other ills facing America: over other gun violence, over climate change, over the persistent economic struggles of most Americans. Theirs is a profoundly unpatriotic effort to put war over every other policy priority, even far more pressing ones. That stance has led to a disinvestment in America, with real consequences for everyone not getting rich off of arms sales.

Last week, President Obama capitulated to these forces, giving a speech designed to give the attack in San Bernardino precedence over all the other mass killings of late, to give its 14 dead victims more importance over all the other dead victims. Most strikingly, Obama called attacks that aren’t, legally, terrorism, something his critics have long been demanding.

It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.

And he lectured Muslims to reject any interpretation of Islam that is “incompatible” with “religious tolerance.”

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

Not only does this give too little credit for the condemnation Muslims have long voiced against terrorist attacks, but it holds Muslims to a standard Obama doesn’t demand from Christians spewing intolerance.

It was a horrible speech. But this line struck me.

I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

In context, it was about terrorism.

I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris. And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

Well, here’s what I want you to know: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it

But, particularly coming as it did after invoking dead children, it shouldn’t have been. Aside from those whose own kids narrowly missed being in Paris, why should we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris, rather than in the faces of the young people killed in the Umpqua Community College attack or the over 60 people under the age of 25 shot in Chicago between the Paris attack and Obama’s speech? If we were to think of a cancer with no immediate cure, why wouldn’t we be thinking of the 20 6-year olds killed in Newtown?

We have a cancer, but it’s not terrorism. And it’s not just exhibited in all our shootings. It is equally exhibited in our growing addiction rates, in the increasing mortality in some groups. Obama gave the speech, surely, to quiet the calls from those who demand he address terrorism more aggressively than he address the underlying cancer.

Obama’s horrible, flatly delivered speech made me think — even as I was watching of it — of that far more famous malaise speech, delivered by Jimmy Carter, 36 years ago.

Carter’s malaise speech, after all, was offered at the moment so much of the current malaise, the cancer, started. Inflation-adjusted wages for the middle class had already peaked, 6 years earlier. That was the moment when the rich and the super-rich started running off with greater and greater portion of the benefits of America’s productivity.

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And the overthrow of our client dictator in Iran months earlier would set off our decades-long dance with Islamic extremists. Indeed, just 12 days before Carter delivered what would be dubbed the malaise speech, he authorized covert support for what would become the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Our entanglement with the Saudis — and with it our refusal to ditch our oil addiction — has disastrously governed much of our foreign policy since, even while the petrodollar delayed the recognition that our economy isn’t working anymore, not for average Americans.

Carter correctly diagnosed his moment. After making an effort to hear from Americans from all walks of life, he recognized that people believed — correctly, we now know — that the future might bring decline, not progress.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.

It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years.

He saw the gap growing between Washington’s policy wonks and the people they purportedly served.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

36 years ago, Carter saw that the nation was at a turning point, a moment where it could choose to continue down the path it was (and remains on) or come together again.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.

There are parts of Carter’s speech that grate, now. Given his singular focus on energy independence, he pushed hard for coal and shale oil exploitation. Carter’s endorsement of saying something nice about America dismisses the possibility some introspection about America’s mistakes was in order.

Moreover, some areas of strength, the areas where Carter believed America would endure, have not.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

We still have unmatched military might and the largest economy, but that hasn’t brought us peace or respect for civil liberties. Instead, the monster Carter and his advisor Zbignew Brzezinski first unleashed led us to double down on our own malaise, one which led, after many years, to Obama’s cancer speech.

And while the initial response to the speech was quite positive, Carter squandered the value of the speech.

Obama was, in my opinion, wrong to capitulate to those who want to focus singularly on terrorism rather than on America’s problems more generally. Because both here and abroad, our failure to address the malaise Carter identified decades ago remains the more critical problem.

 

“Is Our Congressmens Learning?

George Bush once famously asked whether “our children is learning,” demonstrating that those setting policy for education might be least suited for measuring the efficacy of education.

Two different members of Congress in the last day suggest the same is true of counterterrorism policy.

First there was IN Senator Dan Coats, who apparently attributed his understanding of terrorism tactics to 24 and Homeland yesterday. As Mia Bloom pointed out, they’re fiction (though probably supported by intelligence agencies). Experts have attacked the realism of both shows.

The worst part of Coats admitting he takes 24 and Homeland as true, though, is that he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He has — or should have — a way of getting factual details about terrorist tactics. He appears to turn to fiction instead.

Who knows what source CA Congresswoman (and Senate candidate) Loretta Sanchez relied on for her claim that 5 to 20% of Muslims want a Caliphate.

“There is a small group, and we don’t know how big that is—it can be anywhere between 5 and 20 percent, from the people that I speak to—that Islam is their religion and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in anyway possible, and in particular go after what they consider Western norms—our way of life,” she said.

But she, like Coats, is privy to intelligence briefings on both the Armed Services and — especially, in this context — Homeland Security Committees. Did some whackdoodle from Homeland Security tell Sanchez a significant chunk of Muslims are itching to set up an all-Muslim empire?

Something’s wrong with our congressional briefing process. Either these people aren’t attending, they’re not useful, or they’re being fed junk.

And it’s making America less safe.

Update: Dan Coats’ state corrected thanks to “mitch daniels.”

Yes, Calling Only Muslims Terrorists Does Result in Disparate Treatment of Muslims

Over at Salon, I’ve got a piece addressing the things we call terror in this country that mostly argues, “In the wake of the Planned Parenthood attack, both the right and the left should redouble our commitment to distinguishing speech from murder.” But I also start by laying out how various mass killings get labeled as terrorism.

Commentary on the deadly mass shootings over the past week — last Friday’s at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, and yesterday’s in San Bernardino, Calif. — has thus far has focused on whether the attacks were terroristic in nature.

Such a designation would suggest violence in support of political ends but also to a set of potential criminal charges. In both cases, there were at least initial reports the perpetrators tried to set off an explosive device, in Planned Parenthood shooter’s case a propane tank (though since initial reports, police have said nothing about whether this was his intent), in the alleged San Bernardino attackers’ case, several pipe bombs. If authorities do confirm these were bombs, both cases might be treated legally as domestic terrorism. Because of an asymmetry in our laws on terrorism and our collection of online communications, if the San Bernardino shooters can be shown to have been inspired by a foreign terrorist organization, like ISIS — as now appears to be the case — their attack would be treated as terrorism even without a bomb.

At Lawfare, former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey has a piece outlining at length much the same thing. If you want a detailed legal treatment of what I summarized in that Salon paragraph, written by an actual lawyer, hers is a decent piece to read.

But her piece is far more interesting as an artifact of a certain type of thinking, complete with some really important blind spots about how the law actually gets implemented. Those blind spots let Hennessey claim, falsely, that the different treatment of international and domestic terrorism does not result in disparate treatment for Muslims.

Hennessey lays out the law behind terrorism charges and argues (and I agree) that the distinction is mostly investigative.

The most consequential citation to the § 2331(5) domestic terrorism definition is in the Attorney General Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations which authorizes the FBI to conduct “enterprise investigations” for the purpose of establishing the factual basis that reasonably indicates a group has or intends to commit an act of “domestic terrorism as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5) involving a violation of federal criminal law”:

[snip]

As a consequence, labeling an act one of “domestic terrorism” is most important in the context of investigations, and not ultimately indictments.

She claims it’s okay to treat domestic “ideologically-motivated mass shootings” (which is a great term) as murder because states have the capacity to investigate them.

We don’t want to have a general federal murder statute, and the states are perfectly capable of prosecuting murders of American citizens within their borders, even those that are motivated by politics.

[snip]

States have no lack of capacity to investigate shootings, no lack of authorities to prosecute them, and mass shooters have tended to be very local in the past.

Of course, interest in investigating is very different from capacity to. And for many forms of right wing terrorism — the targeting of minorities and health clinics — there has been local disinterest in investigating the networks behind them. That problem has been addressed in both cases, though not by making these crimes terrorism, but rather by creating “hate crime” and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances laws that can give the Feds jurisdiction. But that jurisdiction does not, then, get those crimes that require Federal investigation or prosecution because localities are disinterested treated as terrorism crimes, especially not prospectively. That means the FBI will be bureaucratically less focused on and less rewarded for the investigation of them, and they’ll more often intervene after an attack than before, to prevent it. That bureaucratic focus shows up in Congressional tracking of terrorism cases and White House focus on them, which is another way of saying FBI’s bosses and purse-strings pay closer attention to the stuff that gets charged as terrorism.

Hennessey claims this doesn’t result in any disparate treatment of Muslims. To prove that there is no disparity arising out of the limitation of domestic terrorism mostly to crimes involving bombs, she lays out a list of Muslims who killed using guns that didn’t get charged with terrorism. Here’s just part of her discussion (in the later part, she presumes attackers who died would not have been charged as terrorists).

By and large, violent extremists of all stripes who use bombs are prosecuted as terrorists, while violent extremists of all stripes who use guns get prosecuted as simple murderers. Consider Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter who professed an agenda of radical Islam, yet was prosecuted by the military for simple murder. Despite overwhelming calls to categorize the act as terrorism, the Pentagon treated it as an act of workplace violence. Shortly before the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad killed two soldiers in front of a Little Rock, Arkansas recruiting station. Following the shooting, Muhammad expressed to investigators allegiance to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yet he was prosecuted by the state of Arkansas and ultimately pled guilty to capital murder charges, not terrorism. The most dramatic example may be that of Mir Aimal Kasi who, in 1993, shot two CIA employees dead outside the agency’s entrance in Langley, Virginia. Kasi’s stated motive was anger over the US treatment of people in the Middle East, particularly Palestinians. He fled to Pakistan, and following a four-year international manhunt and joint CIA-FBI capture operation in Pakistan, he was rendered back to the United States. How was he charged? Not with terrorism. Kasi was convicted by the state of Virginia on capital murder charges and executed in 2002.

But, even ignoring how she presumes certain charging decisions had some attackers not died, this is not enough to prove her claim. To prove it, she’d also have to prove that non-Muslims who use bombs in “ideologically-motivated” killings do get charged as terrorists, and that the ability to charge domestic crimes using bombs is not used by FBI to create terrorism prosecutions. With a few notable exceptions, those things aren’t true.

There are a number of cases of right wingers who could have gotten charged with a terrorist WMD charge but didn’t. Most notably, there’s Eric Rudolph — who not only serially bombed abortion clinics but bombed the Atlanta Olympics, then escaped across state lines. He was charged with explosives charges but not given a terrorism enhancement (he is serving multiple life sentences in any case). Indeed, his indictment — signed by current Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates when she was an AUSA — did not once call the series of bombings and threats Rudolph carried out terrorism, even though bombing the Olympics is a quintessential example of terrorism.

Then there’s another Sally Yates case (this time as US Attorney), the Waffle House plot, in which four geriatric right wingers plotted to use weapons and ricin dropped from a plane to overthrow the federal government. They actually bought what they thought was explosives from the FBI, but did not get charged with terrorism for either the ricin or the presumed explosives.

There’s Schaffer Cox, who got busted for conspiring to kill federal authorities; he talked about using grenades but did not get charged with a WMD count. There’s Benjamin Kuzelka, the guy with Nazi propaganda trying to make TATP. There’s William Krar, the white supremacist caught with massive explosives who eventually pled to one chemical weapons charge, but without exposing what was presumed to be a broader network.

Meanwhile, there are just three cases I know of where non-Muslims did get charged with bomb-related terrorism charges — and to some degree, these exceptions prove the rule (I’m not treating ACTA “animal terrorism” cases, which introduce another order of magnitude of absurdity into the issue).

There is the Spokane MLK bomber Kevin Harpham, whose sophisticated bomb got found before it went off.  Harpham’s plea deal retained a terrorism WMD charge, but his sentence was lighter than similarly situated Muslim terrorists.

There is the Hutaree group charged on multiple counts of trying to overthrow the government, including with bombs. The terrorism related charges against the Hutaree were thrown out entirely (in part because they were charged badly), and most of the 9 of them went free.

The only case I know of that is parallel to the way many Muslims get treated is that of the Occupy Cleveland participants whose discussion of vandalism got inflamed — and focused on a target that might merit federal charges — by an informant who also plied them with jobs and other enticements. After pressing buttons they thought would detonate a bomb, they got charged as terrorists.  The judge thought the punishments requested by the government “grotesque” and sentenced them much more lightly (though still to upwards from 6 years).

I say the Occupy Cleveland case is parallel because for the overwhelming number of cases charged as Islamic terrorism, the FBI supplies the bomb and often picks the target for a “wayward knucklehead” who then gets charged with terrorism (though judges almost never consider those charges “grotesque”). There were hundreds of them already by 2011. Often, the target would have not had the ability — in terms of money, experience, and other resources — to conduct the “bomb” plot by himself. So when Hennessey justifies charging bomb but not gun crimes as terrorism because “bombers tend to be more organized in interstate groups,” what she really means is that the FBI is an organized interstate group, because that’s the organizing force that provides the expertise in the overwhelming majority of terrorism cases.

Which brings me to the most alarming claim that Hennessey makes, in the midst of an argument that the civil liberties cost of treating domestic terrorism like international terrorism is too high: that what she calls “complex legal obligations” on using “incidental” collection reflects heightened privacy concerns.

The complex legal obligations generated by incidental or intentional focus on US persons reflects the heightened privacy and civil liberties concerns at stake when we use foreign intelligence tools domestically. And rightly so, as the process of investigating and prosecuting domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists risks infringing into areas of constitutionally protected speech, religion, and association.

To be fair, she was an NSA lawyer, not an FBI lawyer, which is why I consider this surprising claim a “blind spot.” The NSA does have to treat incidentally US person data carefully; they actually do very few back door searches of incidentally collected data.

But many (if not most) counterterrorism targets collected under Section 702 and all traditional FISA ones get shared directly with the FBI. And the FBI can access and use the incidentally collected data not only for formal investigations, but also for assessments, such as called in tips or even just to find stuff to use to coerce people to turn informant. For incidentally collected US person data that resides in FBI’s databases, in other words, there are no complex legal obligations on incidental collection. None. It just sits there for 30 years at potential risk of contributing to a prosecution. And that’s a big source of the stings the FBI starts, when it throws an informant at some kid downloading Inspire or talking in a chat room to try to take them off the street by inventing a bomb plot.

Update: In her response to this piece, Hennessey makes it clear she believes this passage is wrong–and with respect to whether unreviewed data sits in FBI servers for 30 years, it is; with respect to how much CT data FBI gets directly it may be. But as to its accessibility, per the PCLOB report on 702, it is not. So I’m replacing this paragraph with this language from PCLOB.

Because they are not identified as such in FBI systems, the FBI does not track the number of queries using U.S. person identifiers. The number of such queries, however, is substantial for two reasons.

First, the FBI stores electronic data obtained from traditional FISA electronic surveillance and physical searches, which often target U.S. persons, in the same repositories as the FBI stores Section 702–acquired data, which cannot be acquired through the intentional targeting of U.S. persons. As such, FBI agents and analysts who query data using the identifiers of their U.S. person traditional FISA targets will also simultaneously query Section 702–acquired data.

Second, whenever the FBI opens a new national security investigation or assessment, FBI personnel will query previously acquired information from a variety of sources, including Section 702, for information relevant to the investigation or assessment. With some frequency, FBI personnel will also query this data, including Section 702– acquired information, in the course of criminal investigations and assessments that are unrelated to national security efforts. In the case of an assessment, an assessment may be initiated “to detect, obtain information about, or prevent or protect against federal crimes or threats to the national security or to collect foreign intelligence information.”

[snip]

Section 702–acquired communications that have not been reviewed must be aged off FBI systems no later than five years after the expiration of the Section 702 certifications under which the data was acquired.

So if conducting network investigations of “domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists risks infringing into areas of constitutionally protected speech, religion, and association,” — and I absolutely agree it does — then it does for Muslims as well, except that because we’ve made the terrorism Muslims might engage in a different category of collection and thrown billions of dollars at it, they’re not accorded that protection.

Finally, there’s one other problem with the assumption that international terrorism requires enterprise investigations but domestic terrorism doesn’t (that’s not actually what happens; FBI does do enterprise investigations of domestic terrorism, just with a different focus and different SIGINT tools). People get killed as a result.

Consider Kevin Harpham’s case, the MLK bomber. The government used the correspondence Harpham had while in jail with known white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller (who was, I believe, then in North Carolina but would move to Kansas) to call for an enhanced sentence. Miller’s offer to raise money for Harpham might have been evidence of an interstate network worth tracking. But the FBI appears not to have done so, though, given that Miller went on to murder three people he believed (wrongly) to be Jewish two years later. Miller got charged at the state level and will be executed.

Similarly, supporters of the militant anti-choice group Army of God have corresponded with people who had been previously convicted for attacks before attacking others (in addition to publishing Rudolph’s memoir), and George Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, has issued threats while talking with Army of God supporters from prison as recently as two years ago. These things have happened across state boundaries, so would be tougher to investigate at the local level. Like ISIS or AQAP, Army of God makes how-to materials available to its supporters.

Indeed, the way in which Army of God fans have networked is particularly important given this claim from Hennessey:

[With the Planned Parenthood attack], there is no apparent evidence that the perpetrator was acting as part of a larger group, and thus no need for the federal government to pursue an enterprise investigation.

I presume she isn’t privy to the evidence discovered so far, so in fact has no basis to say this. But even the public reporting poses good reason to look for such connections. Six years ago, Dear considered the Army of God to be heroes for their actions.

In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.

As ISIS did with the San Bernardino attack, the Army of God hailed the Planned Parenthood attack.

 Robert Lewis Dear aside, Planned Parenthood murders helpless preborn children. These murderous pigs at Planned Parenthood are babykillers and they reap what they sow. In this case, Planned Parenthood selling of aborted baby parts came back to bite them.

Dear was very active online, so it is not unreasonable to wonder whether he had reached out in the interim period to the group or consulted their how-to resources. But you’re not going to find those ties unless you look for them, and series of localized murder trials are far less likely to do that than an FBI enterprise investigation.

The FBI doesn’t entirely ignore attacks on reproductive health clinics. Indeed, it issued a threat assessment predicting increased targeting of clinics in September. Would a more focused enterprise investigation into Army of God before the Planned Parenthood attack have prevented it?

Frankly, as Hennessey says, there’s a balancing of civil liberties that goes on. And it may be that the number of deaths we suffer from non-Islamic “ideologically-motivated mass shootings” hits that sweet spot of the number of deaths we’ll tolerate given the risks to civil liberties (or — as I argued at Salon — it may be that because we suffer so many non-Islamic “ideologically-motivated mass shootings” and non-Ideological mass shootings, we need to develop another approach to combat them).

But under the current system, the victims of Islamic “ideologically-motivated mass shootings” are treated as more important deaths than all the others (which almost certainly inflates the import of them and thereby feeds more terror). All American mass deaths, ideologically-motivated, Islamic or not, deserve the same access to justice (or chance of prevention). And all Americans, whether they worship in a church or a mosque or a library, deserve the same protection for their First Amendment rights.

Update: As I noted above, Hennessey has replied to my piece. She expands on this sentence:

It is also the case that Muslim populations have been disproportionately impacted by foreign-specific material support laws.

To this discussion, to make it far, far more clear that she recognizes there is a difference.

In fact, I actually do believe that Muslims are disparately impacted by terrorism laws. Indeed, in my piece I make this point expressly with respect to material support laws. Furthermore, whatever the legal distinctions between homegrown violent terrorists and domestic terrorists—domestic actors with no contact with foreign groups who may or may not be inspired by foreign terrorist ideology—the law certainly applies dramatically different consequences to foreign terrorist organizations and international terrorists who commit crimes in coordination with those organizations. The FBI can pose as Al Qaeda or ISIS operatives and trick a homegrown violent extremist into becoming an international terrorist based on contact with wholly fictitious terrorists. Walk that out to include crimes of attempt and material support, as Wheeler notes, and the disparate application is reflected in the prosecution numbers.

She then shows the results of her research to find several more white people charged as terrorists (notably McVeigh; I don’t contest that if we go back far enough in time before 9/11 we could find loads of white people charged as terrorists, and rightly so).

But her treatment of Rudolph reinforces my point.

Rudolph is a puzzling case, because the government declined to even indict on terrorism charges that would seem to have been clearly available. But while Rudolph was not charged as a terrorists, federal authorities had long publically referred to him as just that. In a statement following Rudolph’s arrest then Attorney General John Ashcroft called Rudolph’s crimes “terrorist attacks” outright.

First, the fact that Ashcroft calls Rudolph’s attacks terrorist attacks, but does not call him a terrorist, precisely stops short of calling a white man a terrorist. More importantly, Hennessey has spent two articles talking about terrorism being a legal distinction, specifically backing off what people get called.

There is an element of truth to this as a matter of media vocabulary, and certainly there are those in right-wing corners of the media who are quick to call terrorism any act of violence perpetrated by someone from an Arab or Muslim country.

But if we’re going to measure what people get called, then her gun/bomb distinction breaks down. Because many of the Muslims attacking with guns get called terrorists by the Feds (though they generally did not with Nidal Hasan, which adds the element of military targeting).

And all of this comes back to her initial point, with which I agree: this is about investigation. And the reality is, regardless of what it called him, the government treated Rudolph (and Harpham) as a lone wolf, not as a person in the network that he was in. One reason fewer white ideological terrorists get charged with terrorism is because until you do that investigation, you may not find the network, especially since the chances it will be sitting in an FBI server are much lower because of the different standards for collecting data. And, in the case of Frazier Glenn Miller, you may not prevent deaths you might have.

The FBI has dedicated 400 people to investigating what motivated the San Bernardino attackers because it is clear they were radicalized but their actual ties to foreign terrorists are not yet. That’s a focus on identifying foreign and US-based networks that rarely happens with white ideological violence, and as a result it doesn’t get approached systematically.

Correlations on Facebook Probably Key to ISIS Claim in San Bernardino

Authorities investigating the San Bernardino killing just told all the press that they found a posting from the wife in the attack, Tashfeen Malik, pledging allegiance to ISIS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. CNN’s report included the following interesting details:

Investigators think that as the San Bernardino, California, attack was happening, female shooter Tashfeen Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook, three U.S. officials familiar with the investigation told CNN.

Malik’s post was made on an account with a different name, one U.S. official said. The officials did not explain how they knew Malik made the post.

What this implies is that the FBI found this pledge by correlating the name under which she made it with her known identity as Tashfeen Malik.

At first, I assumed they did with this IP addresses (and that’s definitely possible).

But given the way they haven’t been releasing as many pictures of her, I wonder whether it wasn’t, instead, done via Facebook’s facial recognition technology, working first off her face and then backwards to her devices?

In any case, I have little reason to doubt this is a sound correlation. What I do find interesting is, after gagging Nicholas Merrill for 11 years to avoid revealing how they use such requests to correlate all of a person’s identities, they’ve hinted at that ability here almost immediately, presumably because there’s such a demand for answers (and, in reality, for some way to tag this as Islamic terrorism).

Update: On reflection, I think it virtually impossible Facebook correlated these accounts using facial recognition, because there are almost no public pictures of Malik (I’ve seen thus far reported).

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