J. Edgar Hoover is appointed first Director of the FBI (1924)

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10 May 2018 | Various Sources | Hawkins Bay Dispatch – This Day

This Day – 07 May 1718

“The FBI? The FBI? “The FBI couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice” David Mamet, Homicide


 

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was an American detective and the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. He was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Investigation — the FBI’s predecessor — in 1924 and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 at the age of 77.

Hoover has been credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency than it was at its inception and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI,and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting presidents.[5]

One of his biographers, Kenneth Ackerman, writes that the allegation that Hoover’s secret files kept presidents from firing him is “a myth”.However, Richard Nixon was recorded in 1971 stating that one of the reasons he did not fire Hoover was that he was afraid of reprisals against him from Hoover. U.S. President Harry S. Truman said that Hoover transformed the FBI into his private secret police force: … we want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him. U.S. President Harry S. Truman


 

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Image: DC Comics

The FBI Redacted the Names of DC Comic Book Characters to Protect Their Non-Existent Privacy

30 April 2018 | Dell Cameron | Gizmodo

Superman can sleep soundly tonight. The FBI, which is apparently aware of his secret identity, has decided to keep things under wraps, acknowledging the Kryptonian’s right to privacy ultimately outweighs the public’s need-to-know.

Seriously.

Proving the old FBI proverb, “when in doubt, cross it out,” still permeates the bureau’s hallowed halls, the agency decided to redact the names of reporters from The Daily Planet—the fictional newspaper of record for the City of Metropolis in the DC universe—in records disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

The records, which pertain to the Church of Scientology, contain the names of fictional DC comic book characters, which the FBI withheld citing two exemptions to the federal FOIA statute. The exemptions allow federal agencies to withhold information from the public if they believe disclosing it would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (For some reason, ace Planet photojournalist Jimmy Olsen’s name was not redacted.)

Emma Best, an investigative journalist at MuckRock, sued the FBI last year after it denied her access to the bureau’s investigative files related to the Church of Scientology. In response to Best’s complaint, the FBI began releasing non-exempt records in June 2017.

Best said the redactions signify the typical lack of due diligence on the FBI part when it comes to processing public records requests. “It’s easy to laugh at this, and it is laughable, but it also highlights how bad the FBI is when it comes to FOIA,” she said. “There are no explanations for this aside from gross incompetence, negligence, and/or bad faith.”

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Previous records obtained by Best revealed that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was himself eager to become an FBI informant in the early 1950s. Letters show that Hubbard wrote then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to provide the FBI with a list of members of the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation—a precursor to the Church of Scientology—whom he believed were communists. He also sent copies of the member’s fingerprints.

Hoover responded by thanking Hubbard and informing him that the FBI had “no authority to handle fingerprints” unless they were received from “bona fide law enforcement” sources.

In a more recent release, a batch of FBI files reveals that the Church of Scientology once drafted what it called a one-act “play” featuring characters from the DC comic Superman, set in the “busy newsroom of The Daily Planet.” (A full copy of the FBI record is below.)

The sole purpose of the sketch was to play out an imaginary conversation between “the greatest reporter of them all” (Lois Lane, presumably) and a former Scientology member, whom the organization sought to quietly discredit.

The former member, whose name was also withheld by the FBI, is the author of an 88-page anti-Scientology paper, which the organization had reason to believe had fallen into the hands of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

With the help of Google and some context clues provided by the FBI, Gizmodo found the paper online; it was authored by California resident Lawrence Wollersheim, who previously sued the Church of Scientology claiming that while a member he was subjected to mental abuse that nearly caused his suicide.

The Church of Scientology paid Wollersheim $8.6 million in 2002, ending a case The Washington Post called “one of the longest-running in California history.”

Best’s attorney, Dan Novack, who litigated the FOIA case against the FBI pro bono, said the bureau’s FOIA staff probably wouldn’t have redacted the names of the fictional DC character if they’d bothered to examine the records more closely. (Disclosure: Novack represents Gizmodo in an unrelated but ongoing lawsuit against the FBI.)

“Though to be fair,” he said, “Kryptonians are entitled to just as much privacy as other Americans.”


 

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The Informants

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots—or leading them?

October 2011 | Trevor Aaronson | Mother Jones

James Cromitie was a man of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once said.

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine, Cromitie had lots of worries—convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real big,” he’d say. “I just feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood asked.

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?” he offered. “Two Stingers, rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed Hussain, and he was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a franchise model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry out attacks in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference announcing another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

  • Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see our charts page and searchable database.)
  • Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
  • With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.)
  • In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded—making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.
  • Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented a man caught in a 2004 sting involving New York’s Herald Square subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly is willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna Six, an alleged terror cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say, ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 2010 speech to Muslim lawyers and civil rights activists. President Obama’s Department of Justice has announced sting-related prosecutions at an even faster clip than the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since January 2009. With the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous conflict, the FBI doesn’t have an exit strategy.

Read more of this article


FBI monitored Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s phones before raid and intercepted White House call, report says

04 May 2018 | Reuters | South China Morning Post

US federal investigators monitored the phone lines of US President Donald Trump’s long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, before the FBI seized records and documents in a raid last month on his offices, hotel room and home, NBC News reported on Thursday.

At least one of the calls was made between Cohen and the White House, NBC said, citing an unnamed source and adding that it was unclear how long the monitoring had been authorised, but that it was in place in the weeks before the lawyer’s offices and home were raided on April 9 and documents seized.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a news briefing she could not verify the NBC report and said she had not talked to Trump about the phone monitoring issue.

The initial NBC report said Cohen’s phones had been wiretapped, but later corrected that to say that the FBI was only monitoring the source of calls and weren’t listening in.

The raids were part of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen in New York in part over a US$130,000 payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels a month before the 2016 US presidential election to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006.

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The FBI Is in Crisis. It’s Worse Than You Think

03 May 2018  | Eric Lightblau | Time

In normal times, the televisions are humming at the FBI’s 56 field offices nationwide, piping in the latest news as agents work their investigations. But these days, some agents say, the TVs are often off to avoid the crush of bad stories about the FBI itself. The bureau, which is used to making headlines for nabbing crooks, has been grabbing the spotlight for unwanted reasons: fired leaders, texts between lovers and, most of all, attacks by President Trump. “I don’t care what channel it’s on,” says Tom O’Connor, a veteran investigator in Washington who leads the FBI Agents Association. “All you hear is negative stuff about the FBI … It gets depressing.”

Many view Trump’s attacks as self-serving: he has called the renowned agency an “embarrassment to our country” and its investigations of his business and political dealings a “witch hunt.” But as much as the bureau’s roughly 14,000 special agents might like to tune out the news, internal and external reports have found lapses throughout the agency, and longtime observers, looking past the partisan haze, see a troubling picture: something really is wrong at the FBI.

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