Tag Archives: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Covert Operations Inside the United States

Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone magazine leaked a document of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which detailed the agency's surveillance of Occupy Wall Street protesters, Jan. 2104

The federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, records and interviews show.  At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice.

At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers, accountants drug dealers or yacht buyers and more, court records show.  At the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud, officials said…But outside public view, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents….

“Done right, undercover work can be a very effective law enforcement method, but it carries serious risks and should only be undertaken with proper training, supervision and oversight,” said Michael German, a former F.B.I. undercover agent who is a fellow at New York University’s law school. “Ultimately it is government deceitfulness and participation in criminal activity, which is only justifiable when it is used to resolve the most serious crimes.”…

the Drug Enforcement Administration stoked controversy after disclosures that an undercover agent had created a fake Facebook page from the photos of a young woman in Watertown, N.Y. — without her knowledge — to lure drug suspects.  And in what became a major political scandal for the Obama administration, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed guns to slip into Mexico in 2011 in an operation known as Fast and Furious that involved undercover operations.  In response to that episode, the Justice Department issued new guidelines to prosecutors: …Before prosecutors approve such tactics, the previously undisclosed guidelines require that they consider whether an operation identifies a “clearly defined” objective, whether it is truly necessary, whether it targets “significant criminal actors or entities,” and other factors, the officials said.

Those guidelines apply only to the law enforcement agencies overseen by the Justice Department. Within the Treasury Department, undercover agents at the I.R.S., for example, appear to have far more latitude than do those at many other agencies. I.R.S. rules say that, with prior approval, “an undercover employee or cooperating private individual may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman or member of the news media.”…

Oversight, though, can be minimal…Detailed reviews of the money spent by IRS in some of its undercover operations took as long as four and a half years to complete, according to a 2012 review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general.  Across the federal government, undercover work has become common enough that undercover agents sometimes find themselves investigating a supposed criminal who turns out to be someone from a different agency, law enforcement officials said. In a few situations, agents have even drawn their weapons on each other before realizing that both worked for the federal government…

It is impossible to tell how effective the government’s operations are or evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the costs, since little information about them is publicly disclosed. Most federal agencies declined to discuss the number of undercover agents they employed or the types of investigations they handled. The numbers are considered confidential and are not listed in public budget documents, and even Justice Department officials say they are uncertain how many agents work undercover….

At the Supreme Court, all of the court’s more than 150 police officers are trained in undercover tactics, according to a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because it involved internal security measures. At large protests over issues like abortion, small teams of undercover officers mill about — usually behind the crowd — to look for potential disturbances.The agents, often youthful looking, will typically “dress down” and wear backpacks to blend inconspicuously into the crowd, the official said…. The use of undercover officers is seen as a more effective way of monitoring large crowds.

A Supreme Court spokesman, citing a policy of not discussing security practices, declined to talk about the use of undercover officers. Mr. German, the former F.B.I. undercover agent, said he was troubled to learn that the Supreme Court routinely used undercover officers to pose as demonstrators and monitor large protests.  “There is a danger to democracy,” he said, “in having police infiltrate protests when there isn’t a reasonable basis to suspect criminality

Excerpt from ERIC LICHTBLAU and WILLIAM M. ARKINNOV,  More Federal Agencies Are Using Undercover Operations, NY Times, Nov 15, 2014

Habeas Grab: the FBI as a paramilitary force

image from wikipedia

With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.

The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT)

The team’s mission was largely domestic, although it did participate in select operations to arrest fugitives overseas, known in FBI slang as a “habeas grab.” In 1987, for instance, along with the CIA, agents lured a man suspected in an airline hijacking to a yacht off the coast of Lebanon and arrested him.  In 1989, a large HRT flew to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to reestablish order after Hurricane Hugo. That same year, at the military’s request, it briefly deployed to Panama before the U.S. invasion…

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces…Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids…In 2005, all of the HRT members in Iraq began to work under JSOC. At one point, up to 12 agents were operating in the country, nearly a tenth of the unit’s shooters..But the FBI’s alliance with JSOC continued to deepen. HRT members didn’t have to get approval to go on raids, and FBI agents saw combat night after night in the hunt for targets…

FBI-JSOC operations continue in other parts of the world. When Navy SEALs raided a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that Somali pirates had hijacked in 2011, an HRT agent followed behind them. After a brief shootout, the SEALs managed to take control of the yacht.  Two years later, in October 2013, an FBI agent with the HRT was with the SEALs when they stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack that had killed dozens.  That same weekend, U.S. commandos sneaked into Tripoli, Libya, and apprehended a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist named Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai as he returned home in his car after morning prayers. He was whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean and eventually to New York City for prosecution in federal court.  Word quickly leaked that Delta Force had conducted the operation. But the six Delta operators had help. Two FBI agents were part of the team that morning on the streets of Tripoli.

Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations, The Washington Post, Apr. 10, 2014

The Pipeline Cyberwar

The vast U.S. network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines is integral to U.S. energy supply and has vital links to other critical infrastructure. While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, this network is vulnerable to cyber attacks. In particular, cyberinfiltration of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems could allow successful “hackers” to disrupt pipeline service and cause spills, explosions, or fires—all from remote locations.

In March 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported ongoing cyber intrusions among U.S. natural gas pipeline operators. These intrusions have heightened congressional concern about cybersecurity in the U.S. pipelines sector. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is authorized by federal statute to promulgate pipeline physical security and cybersecurity regulations, if necessary, but the agency has not issued such regulations. TSA officials assert that security regulations could be counterproductive because they could establish a general standard below the level of security already in place for many pipelines…. While the pipelines sector has many cybersecurity issues in common with other critical infrastructure sectors, it is somewhat distinct in several ways:

• Pipelines in the United States have been the target of several confirmed terrorist plots and attempted physical attacks since September 11, 2001.

• Changes to pipeline computer networks over the past 20 years, more sophisticated hackers, and the emergence of specialized malicious software have made pipeline SCADA operations increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

• There recently has been a coordinated series of cyber intrusions specifically targeting U.S. pipeline computer systems.

• TSA already has statutory authority to issue cybersecurity regulations for pipelines if the agency chooses to do so, but it may not have the resources to develop, implement, and enforce such regulations if they are mandated….

In March 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported ongoing cyber intrusions among U.S. natural gas pipeline operators. The incidents drew new attention to an Al Qaeda video obtained in 2011 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly calling for “electronic jihad” against U.S. critical infrastructure.  These cybersecurity events coupled with serious consequences from recent pipeline accidents have heightened congressional concern about cybersecurity measures in the U.S. pipelines sector.

Excerpt, Paul W. Parfomak, Pipeline Cybersecurity: Federal Policy, CRS Report for Congress, Aug. 16, 2012