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Archive for June, 2021

TSA Scrambling to Hire New Officers As Air Travel Reaches New Pandemic Records

By Steve Neavling

The TSA is so understaffed that it’s asking office employees to work at airports for up to 45 days. 

Acting TSA Administrator Darby LaJoye is urging office employees to voluntarily take up non-screening duties such as management of security lines, ABC News reports

“TSA is experiencing an increase in passenger volumes at checkpoints, and anticipating a significant summer surge in travel,” Darby wrote in a memo. 

Nearly 2 million people were screened on Sunday, setting a new pandemic record for air travel. 

The TSA’s goal is to hire 6,000 new officers as summer travel increases. But so far, the TSA has only hired 3,100 new officers. 

Officers who accept employment are being officered incentives such as $1,000. 

“We have been averaging over 5,000 Transportation Security Officer applications per week,” a TSA spokesperson said.

Unknown Substance Prompts Scare at FBI’s Baltimore Field Office

FBI’s Baltimore Division.

By Steve Neavling

Two people were taken to a hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance found inside a package at the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. 

An FBI spokesperson told Fox 45 News that the two people were treated “out of an abundance of caution.”

Several people were also evacuated. 

The Baltimore County Fire Department later determined the substance was not hazardous. 

An investigation is ongoing. 

3 Sheriff’s Departments Removed Deputies from U.S. Marshals Task Force over Body Cam Policy

U.S. Marshals prepare to make an arrest. (Stock photo via USMS)

By Steve Neavling

Three county sheriff’s departments in Minnesota are removing deputies from a U.S. Marshals task force until they are allowed to wear body cameras. 

The move by Ramsey, Anoka and Hennepin counties comes after two sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a Black man last week while serving on a U.S. Marshals fugitive task force. There was no video footage of the shooting because the deputies had been prevented from wearing body cameras, despite a change in Justice Department policy in October to allow local law enforcement to wear cameras. 

Ramsey County became the latest sheriff department to pull deputies from the U.S. Marshal’s North Star Fugitive Task Force until cameras are allowed. 

“Neither the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office nor the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office was offered the opportunity to use body cameras until last Friday in the wake of Winston Smith’s death,” Sheriff Fletcher said in a statement issued to KARE 11.

In a new Justice Department memo, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said earlier this week that ATF, FBI and U.S. Marshals agents will soon be required to wear body cameras.

FBI Secretly Ran Encrypted Communications Platform, Leading to Hundreds of Arrests Worldwide

Photo: FBI

By Steve Neavling

The FBI secretly ran an encrypted communications platform that led to the arrests of hundreds of suspected members of criminal networks in a global sting dubbed “Operation Trojan Shield.”

The suspects believed they were communicating with total secrecy using the platform Anom. But it turns out, the FBI created the platform and supplied more than 12,000 devices to hundreds of criminal organizations around the globe, the bureau reveled Tuesday.

Each message generated a carbon copy that was sent to the FBI to assess and analyze. 

“Encrypted devices have been and continue to be a safe haven for criminal organizations, in particular the leadership of these organizations – providing them a platform for their communications that we have not had access to,” FBI San Diego Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jamie Arnold said in a news release. “For the agents on the investigative team and our federal and international partners, this was a creative and innovative way for us to get behind that firewall and see what was happening among the leadership of these criminal organizations.” 

More than 800 suspects were arrested, and authorized seized thousands of kilograms of narcotics and millions of dollars in proceeds from criminal activity.

“Criminal groups using encrypted communications to thwart law enforcement should no longer feel safe in that space,” Arnold said. “We hope criminals worldwide will fear that the FBI or another law enforcement organization may, in fact, be running their platform.” 

DOJ to Require Federal Agents to Wear Body Cams When Executing Raids, Serving Warrants

Body cams, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling

Federal agents serving arrest warrants or executing raids will soon be required to wear body cameras, according to a new Justice Department memo.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco says in the memo that the new policy applies to ATF, FBI and U.S. Marshals, which have 30 days to submit plans governing the use of body cams. 

“Although the Department’s law enforcement components do not regularly conduct patrols or routinely engage with the public in response to emergency calls, there are circumstances where the Department’s agents encounter the public during pre-planned law enforcement operations,” Monaco wrote in the memo. “The Department is committed to the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by the Department’s law enforcement agents in such circumstances.

In October, the Justice Department began allowing local police to wear body cams while serving on federal task forces. 

The memo also states that U.S. attorneys should train prosecutors in the use of body cams as evidence. 

“I am proud of the job performed by the Department’s law enforcement agents, and I am confident that these policies will continue to engender the trust and confidence of the American people in the work of the Department of Justice,” Monaco wrote. 

DOJ Recovers $2.3M Worth of Cryptocurrency Paid in Ransom in Pipeline Hack

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department seized more than $2.3 million worth of cryptocurrency that was used as a ransom payment to hackers who targeted the Colonial Pipeline in a cyber attack last month. 

The ransomeware attack forced the nation’s largest pipeline to shut down its operations on May 7. 

Pipeline officials paid a hacker group known as DarkSide nearly 64 bitcoins in ransom. 

The DOJ’s newly created Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force  recovered the cryptocurrency, a rare feat. 

“Following the money remains one of the most basic, yet powerful tools we have,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement. “Ransom payments are the fuel that propels the digital extortion engine, and today’s announcement demonstrates that the United States will use all available tools to make these attacks more costly and less profitable for criminal enterprises. We will continue to target the entire ransomware ecosystem to disrupt and deter these attacks. Today’s announcements also demonstrate the value of early notification to law enforcement; we thank Colonial Pipeline for quickly notifying the FBI when they learned that they were targeted by DarkSide.”

The task force managed to identify a virtual currency wallet used by the hackers and obtained a “private key” for the specific address. 

“There is no place beyond the reach of the FBI to conceal illicit funds that will prevent us from imposing risk and consequences upon malicious cyber actors,” FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said. “We will continue to use all of our available resources and leverage our domestic and international partnerships to disrupt ransomware attacks and protect our private sector partners and the American public.” 

150 Days Later: FBI Arrests More than 465 People in Deadly U.S. Capitol Riot

Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

By Steve Neavling

The FBI has arrested more than 465 people in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department announced over the weekend. 

Saturday marked the 150th day since the insurrection, which led to the deaths of five people. About 140 officers were injured. 

“Under the continued leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack continues to move forward at an unprecedented speed and scale,” the DOJ said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on January 6th has not, and will not, wane.”

More than 130 people have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees, and more than 40 people charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer. 

About 30 people have been charged with conspiracy. They include members of the right-wing groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. 

The FBI has received more than 200,000 digital media tips, and the bureau continues to search for the identities of rioters seen in videos. 

Click here to see a database of charges.

Street Named After FBI agent Fatally Shot While Serving a Warrant in Florida

FBI Agent Laura Schwartzenberger. Photo via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

A street in Miami-Dade County has been renamed in honor of Laura Schwartzenberger, one of two FBI agents killed while serving a search warrant at a home in Florida in February. 

The street is outside Rockway Middle School in Westchester, where Schwartzenberger taught students about the dangers of social media.

The school proposed that a portion of Southwest 93rd Court be called “Laura Schwartzenberger Way,” and Miami-Dade County commissioners approved the change.

“She loved children and she wanted to protect children,”Rockaway Middle School Principal Josephine Otero told Local 10. “She wanted to make sure that they knew about the dangers that are out there and that they wouldn’t be a victim of those dangers.”

Schwartzenberger and fellow agent Daniel Alfin were fatally shot outside the Sunrise, Fla., apartment of David Lee Huber, a 55-year-old systems engineer who was suspected of possessing child pornography. Three other FBI agents were shot and have since recovered. The shooting was one of the deadliest in FBI history. 

Schwartzenberger, 43, joined the FBI’s Albuquerque Field Office in 2005 and was transferred to Miami in 2010. She tracked suspects accused of exploiting children online. She had a husband and two children. 

“She was very much a part of this community,” Stedman Stahl, president of the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, said. “This is just a very fitting place to name a street after her, and in this location here.”