Tag: FBI

Parkland

As is the case with recent mass shootings, I will not talk about the shooter. He’s garbage. Instead, we should be thinking about the victims: 17 amazing kids and their teachers who should be still be alive today but were cut down by a monster.

We are in the midst of the usual cries to “do something”, which translates to “pass the gun control laws desired by Democrats, whether they would have stopped this or not”. I’ve been over this many times on these pages — how America leads the civilized world in non-gun murders as well as gun murders, how the evidence that gun control would work is thin to nonexistent. A lot of attention has focused on the AR-15 — falsely called a “weapon of war”. But we’ve been down this road before. In the 90’s, we tried to ban the TEC-9, the weapon of choice of 90’s mass shooters, including the Columbine murderers. It didn’t stop anything, just changed their weapon of choice. And I’m not sure what the point is here: to make the massacres slightly less deadly? One of the deadliest shootings in our history was Virginia Tech, which involved two pistols. And the deadliest massacres in American history — the Bath School disaster, Oklahoma City — involved bombs.

The simple truth is that these mass shootings are of a character that is more similar to terrorism than anything else (as indeed, the San Bernadino and Charleston shootings were). These aren’t the actions of people who “snapped” and grabbed a weapon. They involved months of planning and preparation. Note especially how they’ve been picking their target for maximum carnage, where escape is almost impossible: a night club, a theater, a school, an open-air concert. Each shooter is learning from his predecessors, imitating them. We are witnessing a social contagion the likes of which we have not seen.

So can we do nothing? As I said about Sandy Hook, the main thing we need to do is to keep our eyes open, to identify these killers before they strike. Taking away a killer’s AR-15 might save a life or two. Preventing him from acting in the first place would save all of them.

In that vein, the most disturbing discovery in the last few days is that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were alerted to the Florida killer on many occasions. And not, “this guy’s a bit weird”. These were clear warnings that he was going to kill a bunch of people. They failed to follow up on it.

So if you want to do something, here’s a suggestion everyone could agree to. How about we take the FBI agents involved in garbage “anti-terror” stings or playing vice cop with local police and put them on the shooting beat? Mass shootings are rare; you’re looking for needles in haystacks. But if putting FBI agents on needle duty means we prevent one massacre, it will benefit the country way more than another round of “sex trafficking” busts that consist of arresting consenting adults or “anti-terror ops” that consist of building a terror plot around some gullible idiot.

Let’s treat this like it’s a terror issue. Only let’s be smart about it this time. More eyes on the street, more follow-up of tips, more vigilance. That crosses me as far more constructive and beneficial than taking away millions of guns that will never be used for anything more violent than target shooting.

The Memo

So yesterday the GOP released the long-awaited Nunes Memo about supposed malfeasance in the FBI and their attempts to tip the election or undermine Trump. The memo is about six pages long and you can read it very quickly.

I must say, for all the hype, this landed with a resounding thud. It didn’t say much that we hadn’t already heard. Partisans will claim vindication for whatever it is they believe. But it’s not the game-changer it was cracked up to be. Most of the commentators appear not to have read the bloody thing, even though it’s a few pages long. A few notes:

  • The hysterical claims from Democrats like Pelosi that the release of this memo endangered national security are indeed hysterical. While the memo was classified, nothing in it reveals intelligence methods or reveals anything the Russians didn’t already know. If anything, it highlights our government’s reflexive tendency to classify everything, regardless of its importance.
  • The hysterical claims that this reveals a vast conspiracy to throw the election to Clinton or undermine Trump are also hysterical. The primary complaint is about the process by which the Carter Page FISA warrant was obtained. But Page was no longer a member of the Trump team in October 2016, when the FISA warrant was issued. And Page had been on the FBI’s radar for years before this. The warrant was also renewed, which indicates additional information was coming to light.
  • Conservatives are harping on the use of the partisan Steele Dossier to obtain the warrant. But there are several points to untangle. First, the report that the warrant would not have been obtained without the Steele Dossier is second-hand. A number of people are already disputing this. Second, there is no requirement in the law that potential biases in information need to be revealed. And it’s not clear that there should be. What matters is if the information is accurate, not where it comes from. If I report someone to the police for dealing drugs, it doesn’t matter if I have a personal vendetta against him and the police are not required to tell a judge if I do (and indeed don’t, when they are tipped off by rival drug dealers).
  • In addition, not all of the material in the Dossier was “salacious and unverified”. The Nunes memo misquotes Comey, who said that some of the information was salacious and unverified. What matters is if that unverified stuff was material to the warrant. The memo doesn’t reveal whether it was or not.
  • The memo does not the FBI used a news report to confirm the Steele Dossier; a news report that was based on … Steele himself. But it’s not clear if this was the only confirmation they used.
  • Indeed, there is a lot of important information the memo does not reveal: what other confirming evidence the FBI had, what specific information from the Steele Dossier was used for the warrant, what information came to light that justified future warrants. Nunes is not a stupid man. It’s my experience than when not-stupid people ask the wrong questions, it’s because the right ones aren’t giving them the answers they want.
  • The memo reveals that a couple of people involved in the Page investigation did not want Trump elected. That’s hardly a giant conspiracy. And that’s hardly damaging since FBI agents are allowed to have opinions. The questions is whether their opinion affected their work and … this doesn’t make the case for that. I’m further unimpressed because, a week ago, we saw hysterical claims about a “secret society” in the FBI that turned out to be … a one-line joke in a text message. We’ve heard a lot of hysteria on this subject with little to back it up.
  • This is especially true now that we know that Strzok was one of those pushing to re-open the Clinton e-mail investigation days before the election, an event that may have tipped the election to Trump.

In short, the memo is not nothing but it’s not the game-changer we were promised. At worst, it reveals some sloppiness by the FBI and possibly some bia. It’s hardly a revelation to those even vaguely familiar with the bureau’s methods that they are occasionally sloppy and biased.

Look, if the Republicans want to make the case that the FISA process is opaque, canted against the civil liberties of Americans and open to misdirection and misleading claims, I’m not going to argue against that. But … where the fuck have they been for the last 15 years?! People have been complaining about this for a long time. Some Republicans — Justin Amash, Rand Paul — have some credibility on this. But hearing this from Trump supporters, from Republicans who voted to expand FISA surveillance just a few weeks ago — reeks of partisanship.

No. No, it’s worse. It reeks of elitism.

You may remember last year I wrote about the Comet Ping Pong incident where Right Wing idiots conjured a sex trafficking conspiracy in a pizzeria out of thing air, culminating in some guy taking shots at the owner.

As my friend Maggie McNeill said, here is the real story: our national hysteria over sex trafficking finally hurt a friend of the powerful. This war is damaging the lives of thousands of consenting adults every day. But they don’t matter because they’re not politically connected. The owner of this pizzeria is a friend and fund-raiser for Clinton. So suddenly, miraculously, it’s a national crisis.

So yeah, let’s talk about conspiracy theorists and the people who pass on their crazy conspiracy theories. Let’s talk about Alex Jones and 4Chan and all that. Let’s acknowledge that this pizzagate business if a fabrication that is making life hell for an innocent person. But let’s also talk about the trafficking hysteria that fed into this and that results in guns being pointed in the faces of consenting adults every day.

Because until we talk about that, this Comet Ping Pong business is just another example of how crushing people’s freedom is fine … until it happens to the elites or their friends.

Every day in this country, hundred of violent no-knock SWAT raids are launched against our citizens, mostly for drugs. Some are justified. But many of these fail to recover drugs or weapons. Occasionally, they result in tragedies like a flash-bang grenade mutilating a toddler. And many of them are based on warrants that have a much more tenuous basis than the Page FISA warrant. Every day, boilerplate language is fed to judges. Every day, false or misleading claims are made. Every day, criminals accused of crimes and trying to get off are used as the basis of warrants, arrests or court testimony. And this happens without a peep from the Republicans.

I’ll believe that Republicans care about the FISA process when they care about it for someone not connected to the Trump campaign. I’ll believe they care about raids and biased warrants when they care about it for everyone else. Until that day, I see this for what it is: an attempt to muddy the waters and deflect attention away from the serious accusations against Carter Page and possible related allegations against Trump.

Wither the FBI

What?

Suddenly renewed activity on an FBI Twitter account publicizing Freedom of Information Act releases has prompted an internal bureau review of the propriety of such activity so close to the Nov. 8 election, according to a source involved in the matter.

In emails obtained by Government Executive sent to an ex-investigative reporter who filed complaints, the deputy at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility on Tuesday revealed that the complaint about possible political favoritism in tweeting has been referred to the FBI’s Inspection Division.

Here’s the story. Last week, the FBI’s FOIA account, which had been silent for over a year, started tweeting out documents relating to investigations of Donald Trump’s father, the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s pardons. I admit that I was a bit bumfuzzled by why they would suddenly do this. And a lot of people felt, especially in the wake of the Comey letter, that the FBI was trying to influence the election by dishing dirt on Clinton.

In fact, the FBI has become a focal point of controversy over the last week, with wild and frequently anonymous claims that the FBI is massively pro-Trump, is trying to tip the election and despises Clinton along with counter-claims that the FBI is favoring Clinton by not recommending charges, holding back on critical documents that implicate her and dragging its heels on the e-mail investigation. My impression — and this is just me spitballing — is that there are politicized factions within the FBI right now, vying to craft a narrative. And journalists, eager for access, are lapping up whatever they’re saying.

This would be not be the first time the FBI has played politics. Under Hoover, the COINTELPRO program infiltrated and disrupted political groups they didn’t like. This culminating in spying on MLK, discovering he was cheating on his wife and sending him a letter urging him to kill himself. They’ve also played politics on a smaller scale, famously tarring Richard Jewell as a terrorist so that people wouldn’t be afraid of further attacks at the ’96 games (an accusation that almost certainly contributed to his death at a young age).

But this is the first time I’ve seen both side making credible accusations that the Bureau is trying to influence an election. This is … not good. This indicates Comey is either doing this on purpose or has lost control of his own bureau. I would say there should be an investigation, but, given the time constraint, that would mean either Clinton or Trump doing it, neither of whom can be trusted. Probably the best thing would be for Obama to appoint a bipartisan investigation team (comprised of former FBI officials or, better yet, former officials from another federal law enforcement agency) to figure out what’s going on here. Because the FBI should not be playing politics. They should be doing their damned job.

Of Course Not

The FBI has recommended that the DOJ not seek charges for Clinton’s e-mail scandal. Here is Comey’s statement. I expected this, as did most people. Law are for plebs, not monarchs. Although I expected maybe a few low-level grunts to be the fall guys.

Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

Now maybe this would be acceptable if it came from someone who was not James Comey, who has pressed felony charges in far less clear circumstances. Comey admits that Clinton deliberately set up her own e-mail servers to shield her e-mails from FOIA. He admits she mishandled classified evidence, enormous amounts of it, including at least seven piece of Top Secret information and that there is no way she couldn’t have known this information was classified. He admits she tried to conceal what she did. But he focuses heavily on intent, which is something the FBI never focuses on with the rest of us.

Inadvertently breaking the law can get you indicted. Covering up what you did, even if you didn’t break the law, can get you indicted. But Clinton, who deliberately broke the rules and tried to cover it up, won’t even get a wrist slap. And people wonder why Trump is so popular.

FBI Better At Keeping CIA Director’s Affair Secret Than He Is

In my initial post on l’Affaire Petraeus, I expressed skepticism about whether there was something more sinister surrounding his resignation for broadening the well, if you will.  The timing, I did question, but I didn’t read much more into it than a guy getting stupid and certainly didn’t see or expect a Benghazi connection.

Well, here’s the twist: He didn’t get stupid and spill the beans.  The woman he was nailing did and went full bunny-boiler on another woman, which set off an FBI investigation.  USA Today reports that the FBI found Petraeus didn’t violate any confidentiality rules, though they did notify him of what they found out shortly before the election.  Or the political class is just protecting itself, as usual.   Either way, Petraeus now gets to do the Schwarzenegger to his family but he’s off the hook for any legal issues.

Is this a scandal?  I suppose so, but that was never in question.  It just further darkens Petraeus in my eyes, who didn’t come clean about what he had done and didn’t resign immediately when the jig was up.   Does the FBI deserve any criticism here?  I don’t think so.  Petraeus broke no laws, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the agents got to explain to a sitting CIA director that they knew what he was up to. 

Obama?  Yeah, I’m sure he was aware of this before the election and he probably begged Petraeus to keep his mouth shut until after Super Tuesday.   I’m not sure where you go with it from here.  This will be just one of many scandals that I expect are already piling up within the Administration, given how undisciplined and opportunistic everyone in it is. 

Shit, if even Petraeus went bad…