Tamerlan’s Search on Remote Control Car Info

I want to do a quick post about details defense attorney Timothy Watkins snuck into today’s testimony at the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Edward Knapp testified at length about how he investigated the bombs used in the attacks. At the end of direct, the government had him show how closely the bombs — both the elbow pipe bombs used at Watertown and the pressure cooker bombs — resembled bomb instructions included in Inspire Magazine.

The effort was, as so much of this trial has been, a carefully scripted effort to tell a narrative that probably doesn’t reflect the full truth of how the brothers got or made the bombs using what propaganda. Judge George O’Toole had, earlier in the trial, prevented the defense from entering evidence about the Russian bomb making materials on Tamerlan’s hard drive. Knapp focused on the bombs that most closely resembled Inspire bombs (focusing on the elbow pipe bomb, for example, and not the straight one also used in Watertown). He didn’t get into really big detail about the trigger used for the bombs used at the race. Knapp even focused on a green Christmas light in one of the bombs to show it was just like the green Christmas light in the Inspire recipe.

Ultimately, it was about how the bombs could have been made from the recipes in Inspire magazine.

In addition to trying, unsuccessfully, to get Knapp to reveal what fingerprint evidence had shown about the bomb materials (they almost certainly show that Tamerlan handled the bombs, not Dzhokhar), Watkins asked,

Watkins: Inspire Magazine doesn’t mention RC cars as a bomb component, does it? Knapp: I don’t think so.

In the midst of an objection, Watkins sneaks in question…did u know Tamerlan searched internet for RC car info? Objection, sustained.

The question, if permitted as evidence, would have shown several things: that Tamerlan didn’t follow Inspire exactly for the bombs used at the race, that Tamerlan was the one putting them together, and — possibly — that Tamerlan was at least partly using a Russian model for the bomb, not Inspire’s model. (One detail defense revealed yesterday is that there was nitroglycerine at the Cambridge apartment which was stronger than the firecrackers used in the pressure cookers.)

That, by itself is notable: once again, the government’s pat narrative is almost certainly not a description of what actually happened.

But the detail also raised questions about why Tamerlan’s searches for what ultimately were bomb parts were not found by the FBI or NSA.

There are several answers.

1) These were searches for toy parts, not bomb parts. While FBI might now trigger on remote controllers, they probably didn’t then, even if they had a dragnet. FBI appears to keep expanding its dragnets as terrorists use certain tools.

2) While FBI should have done a back door search on Tamerlan when they did the assessment of him in 2011, nothing we know of would have triggered a new assessment in the interim, even if they did dragnet on remote controllers which I doubt.

3) I do strongly suspect that NSA had picked up the brothers’ downloads of Inspire, which I suspect is triggered to the encryption codes included in the magazine and not to any key word content of the magazines or even the URL. If I’m right (and that’s just a guess), then the NSA would have had data on the brothers. In fact, we know the NSA did have data on one or both of the brothers that didn’t get read until after the attack. If it was Inspire, I think they probably didn’t attract attention because they weren’t 2-degrees of someone interesting or hadn’t been found in one of the more targeted chat rooms. It would also mean that FBI didn’t then share Tamerlan’s identifiers they identified during their 2011 assessment of him with NSA for future mapping (I don’t necessarily think they should, but if they had, then NSA might have paid more attention to whatever data they did have on the brothers, potentially eliciting a second look once they collected it). Also remember, the brother may not even have been downloading Inspire until after the FBI stopped investigating Tamerlan.

4) While XKeyscore certainly has the ability to do searches on “remote car controllers” it’s not clear that would pull off content collected in the US, so it would only show up if the server Tamerlan went to was overseas; they were probably local and Amazon. Who knows? Maybe now FBI has also started an Amazon dragnet on remote controllers. But again, you’d need something else to trigger interest in Tamerlan’s identifier doing the search.

5) I suspect that what Watkins was referring to came from a subpoena to Tamerlan’s ISP for all his web searches. So that they had the searches are themselves unsurprising.

Update: Here’s the shipping bill for some of the remote control supplies he bought, from a site called NitroRCX which appears to be in the metro Los Angeles area. I believe the other one was from Amazon.

Correlations and FBI Claims in the Marathon Trial

Kevin Swindon, the FBI Supervisory Special Agent in charge of computer forensics for the Boston Marathon attack just finished testimony. His testimony raised more questions than it answered. That’s true, in part, because the government had him testify rather than some of the Agents who report to him who did the actual analysis on the many devices related to the investigation. So for key questions, he had to answer he didn’t know. He also dodged explaining who cherry picked the files to present to the jury that made Dzhokhar Tsarnaev look singularly focused on jihad when his computer showed he was more interested in pop music and something else — probably sexual? — that young men are often interested in.

On cross, Dzhokhar’s attorney William Fick tried to direct Swindon to describe more about a laptop found at Watertown that apparently belonged to Tamerlan. Swindon admitted the laptop — unlike all the computers Dzhokhar used — used strong encryption and also had a goodly number of Russian language documents on explosives. But over and over Swindon claimed he had only taken a “cursory” look at that computer.

I’m betting the person who did the more than cursory analysis of it would be a far more interesting witness and that’s why we didn’t hear from him or her. Not only will we not get to hear from that witness, apparently, but Judge George O’Toole upheld a prosecution objection to ask further questions about it.

Before that, prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty led Swindon through a very bizarre exercise. He had Swindon show how the same songs that were one one of Dzhokhar’s devices showed up on another. He showed continuity between an iPod, a Samsung phone, and the Sony found at his dorm room. In other words, the government used common songs as a means to correlate these computers, rather than actual forensic evidence that Swindon surely could have presented. I find that really problematic. Sure, the government probably wants to pretend it doesn’t do such correlations forensically, but to suggest that someone’s musical downloads shows common ownership seems really problematic.

All the more so given that for another of the computers (I’m not sure if this is Dzhokhar’s college computer or the HP at Tsarnaev house in Cambridge, but it may not matter as Dzhokhar’s computer dated to when he still lived at home) there was evidence of multiple Skype users, though Swindon claimed to be unaware of that fact. We know the government correlates using such things, and the fact that evidence of others users was deliberately not presented (probably through choice of witness more than through deceit) is really problematic.

The defense also showed that the thumb drive found in the computer that Dzhokhar’s buddies had thrown out had a rental application from his sister-in-law, showing that whether or not he used these devices in common, plenty of other people were using them as well.

In short, the government wanted to use really problematic correlations mapping to prove that Dzhokhar was accessing jihadist material (even though a question about whether one of the computers had ever searched on the term was not permitted), but they can’t even prove who was using any of the computers when, and pointedly avoided using real forensics means to do so.

DOJ Says You Can’t Know If They’ve Used the Dragnet Against You … But FISC Says They’re Wrong

As I noted the other day in yet another post showing why investigations into intelligence failures leading up to the Boston Marathon attack must include NSA, the government outright refuses to tell Dzhokhar Tsarnaev whether it will introduce evidence obtained using Section 215 at trial.

Tsarnaev’s further request that this Court order the government to provide notice of its intent to use information regarding the “. . . collection and examination of telephone and computer records pursuant to Section 215 . . .” that he speculates was obtained pursuant to FISA should also be rejected. Section 215 of Pub. L. 107-56, conventionally known as the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, is codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1861, and controls the acquisition of certain business records by the government for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. It does not contain a provision that requires notice to a defendant of the use of information obtained pursuant to that section or derived therefrom. Nor do the notice provisions of 50 U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d), and 1881e apply to 50 U.S.C § 1861. Therefore, even assuming for the sake of argument that the government possesses such evidence and intends to use it at trial, Tsarnaev is not entitled to receive the notice he requests.

This should concern every American whose call records are likely to be in that database, because the government can derive prosecutions — which may not even directly relate to terrorism — using the digital stop-and-frisk standard used in the dragnet, and never tell you they did so.

Note, too, Dzhokhar’s lawyers are  not just asking for phone records, but also computer records collected using Section 215, something Zoe Lofgren has made clear can be obtained under the provision.

And in the case in which Dzhokhar’s college buddies are accused of trying to hide his computer and some firecracker explosives, prosecutors profess to be unable to provide any of the text messages Dzhokhar sent after his last text to them. That stance seems to pretend they couldn’t get at least the metadata from those texts from the phone dragnet.

The government, then, claims that defendants can’t have access to data collected using Section 215. They base that claim on the absence of any language in the Section 215 statute, akin to that found in FISA content collection statutes, providing for formal notice to defendants.

But at least in the case of the phone dragnet, that stance appears to put them in violation of the dragnet minimization procedures. That’s because since at least September 3, 2009 and continuing through the last dragnet order released (note, ODNI seems to be taking their time on releasing the March 28 order),  the minimization procedures have explicitly provided a way to make the query results available for discovery. Here’s the language from 2009.

Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share information derived from the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch personnel in order to enable them to determine whether the information contains exculpatory or impeachment information or is otherwise discoverable in legal proceedings.

The government routinely points to these very same minimization procedures to explain why it can’t provide information to Congress or other entities. But if the minimization procedures trump other statutes to justify withholding information, surely they must have the weight of law for disclosure to criminal defendants. And all that’s before you consider the Brady and Constitutional reasons that should trump the government’s interpretation as well.

Using the formulation the government always uses when making claims about the dragnet’s legality, on at least 21 occasions, FISC judges have envisioned discovery to be part of the minimization procedures with which the government must comply. At least 7 judges have premised their approval of the dragnet, in part, on the possibility exculpatory information may be shared in discovery.

Now, there is a limit to the discovery envisioned by these 21 FISA orders; this discovery language, in the most recently published order, reads:

Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share results from intelligence analysis queries of the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch personnel (1) in order to enable them to determine whether the information contains exculpatory or impeachment information or is otherwise discoverable in legal proceedings …

That is, this discovery language only includes the “results from intelligence analysis queries.” It doesn’t permit new queries of the entire database, a point the government makes over and over. But in the case of the Marathon bombing, we know the queries have been run, because Executive Branch officials have been bragging about the queries they did after the bombing that gave them “peace of mind.”

Those query results are there, and the FISC judges explicitly envisioned the queries to be discoverable. And yet the government, in defiance of the minimization procedures they claim are sacred, refuse to comply.

The Day After Government Catalogs Data NSA Collected on Tsarnaevs, DOJ Refuses to Give Dzhokhar Notice

On Thursday, the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community, DOJ, CIA, and DHS (but not NSA) released their report on the Marathon Bombing. While the public release was just a very condensed summary, included the redaction of both classified and “sensitive” information, and made no attempt to reconstruct data government agencies had or could have had on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the report did show that the NSA had data on Tamerlan Tsarnaev and that the FBI found information on his computers that NSA might have gotten via other means.

On Friday, prosecutors in the case against Dzhokhar refused to tell him what they collected under FISA.

Before I get into the government’s refusal on FISA notice — some of which has repercussions for other cases — let’s go over what electronic communications the government did have or could have had.

First, the IG Report (which did not specifically involve NSA’s IG and did not include Dzhokhar in its scope) nevertheless points to information NSA collected in 2012 that was not turned over to FBI until after the attack.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 12.37.13 PM

The report also points to communications dating to January 2011, which is entirely redacted. This probably refers to communications the Russians intercepted, not the NSA (indeed, the report discusses NSA data, above, later in the same section, which indicates the earlier redaction doesn’t pertain to NSA). Though there’s no indication whether the NSA received notice of these communications, including the non-US person interlocutor located overseas involved in them, who would have been a legal NSA target.

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