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FBI Director Comey: Fight with Apple Is Not about Setting Legal Precedent

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director James Comey insisted Wednesday that the case against Apple is not about setting a legal precedent to require tech companies to open encrypted software.

Comey said the case was only about Apple helping unlock a phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists, the USA Today reports.

“You are simply wrong to assert that the FBI and the Justice Department lied about our ability to access the San Bernardino killer’s phone,” Comey wrote in response to a Tuesday Wall Street Journal editorial. “I would have thought that you, as advocates of market forces, would realize the impact of the San Bernardino litigation.”

Comey said the case prompted “creative people around the world to see what they might be able to do” to solve the problem.

“And I’m not embarrassed to admit that all technical creativity does not reside in government,” the director said in a Wednesday letter to the newspaper. “Lots of folks came to us with ideas. It looks like one of those ideas may work and that is a very good thing, because the San Bernardino case was not about trying to send a message or set a precedent; it was and is about fully investigating a terrorist attack.”

The case involving Apple was postponed Wednesday after the FBI said it may have found a way to open the phone without the company’s help.

They are due back in court on April 5.

FBI Sends Special Teams of Agents to Help Investigate Terror Attack in Brussels

Flag_of_Belgium.svgBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is helping Belgian officials investigate the terror attacks in Brussels, Fox News reports. 

A team of agents from the New York field office will help conduct interviews to gather intelligence on the bombings.

The FBI’s Evidence Response Team from the FBI Lab in Virginia also are being dispatched.

Agents also will share intelligence from U.S. databases.

The special teams have some of the best forensic experts in the world.

Justice Department Defends Legally Questionable Eavesdropping Program

courtroomBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department is defending the DEA’s legally questionable, disbanded eavesdropping program that often was used by drug officials in the Los Angeles suburbs.

The USA Today reports that the Justice Department implored a judge not to toss out the wiretaps that were used in a marijuana trafficking case, despite earlier objections from government lawyers who believed the practice may have been illegal.

The Justice Department aid the wiretaps were “authorized in accordance with state and federal law.”

The surveillance was used so often that it once counted for nearly a fifth of all U.S. wiretaps.

The surveillance allowed federal authorities to intercept millions of calls and text messages with a single state court’s approval.

Defense lawyers in the marijuana case said the prosecutors approved “illegal wiretaps with astounding frequency” and urged a judge to dismiss the surveillance.

Border Patrol Agents Uncover Massive Drug-Running Tunnel Between Mexico and California

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Border Patrol agents discovered a large tunnel that stretches about three football fields from a restaurant in Mexico to a house in California.

The Daily Mail reports that the tunnel is the 75th that has been uncovered between Mexico and the U.S. in the past decade.

Agents found more than a ton of marijuana in the house in Calexico, Calif.

The tunnel started at a popular restaurant in Mexicali.

The California house was purchased in 2015, when authorities believe the tunnel was started.

Other Stories of Interest

April Supreme Court Cases Include Conviction of Ex-Virginia Governor

By Ross Parker
ticklehthewire.com

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four difficult criminal cases on the April docket. All without the incisive, biting and entertaining interrogation of Justice Scalia. But last month Justice Thomas asked his first question in more than a decade. That must have raised some eyebrows.

One of the highest profile cases of the term, McDonnell v. United States, will be among those argued. Bob McDonnell was the popular governor of Virginia, and his name had been mentioned as a Vice Presidential running mate. Probably not any more since his prosecution for bribery.

Gov. Bob McDonnell

Gov. Bob McDonnell

His financial problems led him and his wife to seek various loans and gifts valued at over $175,000 from a businessman who was promoting a dietary supplement under review by the FDA. The gifts included a $20,000 shopping spree by Mrs. McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. Not that I hold anything against former cheerleaders (some of my best friends…), but she does seem to be at the center of both the “quid” and the “quo” of this sordid affair.

The issue before the Court is whether the Hobbs Act felony of agreeing to take “official action” in exchange for something of value by exercising actual government power (i.e. bribery) was proven in the case, as opposed to merely providing routine political courtesies, benefits and access to others.

The evidence at trial included the following “official acts” by the governor, all around the time that the McDonnells were receiving their goodies: asking the Secretary of Health to send an aide to a meeting where Mrs. McDonnell and the businessman could pitch the product; attending a luncheon arranged by Mrs. McDonnell where  the businessman gave two state medical schools $200,000 to research the product; sending an ambiguous email (at Mrs McDonnell’s request) to a staffer regarding the medical school’s lack of responsiveness; inviting the businessman to a reception for the “Health Care Leaders”; and finally suggesting a meeting to discuss whether the product could be included in the state employee health plan. Note the First Lady’s involvement. Cherchez la femme

None of these actions by the governor resulted in any specific benefit to the businessman. Nor did the governor make any request or order that a government official do anything other than exercise his/her independent judgment. McDonnell said that he was doing nothing more than helping a state business and extending political courtesies.

The Solicitor General argues that at least some of the actions amounted to personal benefits conferred in exchange for an agreement to influence government matters. But McDonnell’s supporters filed more than a dozen briefs which warn that the expansion of the statute to include this kind of conduct will create an ill-defined situation where aggressive federal prosecutors could criminalize what has been merely political custom.

Read more »

Parker: April Supreme Court Cases Include Conviction of Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklehthewire.com

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four difficult criminal cases on the April docket. All without the incisive, biting and entertaining interrogation of Justice Scalia. But last month Justice Thomas asked his first question in more than a decade. That must have raised some eyebrows.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

One of the highest profile cases of the term, McDonnell v. United States, will be among those argued. Bob McDonnell was the popular governor of Virginia, and his name had been mentioned as a Vice Presidential running mate. Probably not any more since his prosecution for bribery.

His financial problems led him and his wife to seek various loans and gifts valued at over $175,000 from a businessman who was promoting a dietary supplement under review by the FDA. The gifts included a $20,000 shopping spree by Mrs. McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. Not that I hold anything against former cheerleaders (some of my best friends…), but she does seem to be at the center of both the “quid” and the “quo” of this sordid affair.

The issue before the Court is whether the Hobbs Act felony of agreeing to take “official action” in exchange for something of value by exercising actual government power (i.e. bribery) was proven in the case, as opposed to merely providing routine political courtesies, benefits and access to others.

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

The evidence at trial included the following “official acts” by the governor, all around the time that the McDonnells were receiving their goodies: asking the Secretary of Health to send an aide to a meeting where Mrs. McDonnell and the businessman could pitch the product; attending a luncheon arranged by Mrs. McDonnell where  the businessman gave two state medical schools $200,000 to research the product; sending an ambiguous email (at Mrs McDonnell’s request) to a staffer regarding the medical school’s lack of responsiveness; inviting the businessman to a reception for the “Health Care Leaders”; and finally suggesting a meeting to discuss whether the product could be included in the state employee health plan. Note the First Lady’s involvement. Cherchez la femme

None of these actions by the governor resulted in any specific benefit to the businessman. Nor did the governor make any request or order that a government official do anything other than exercise his/her independent judgment. McDonnell said that he was doing nothing more than helping a state business and extending political courtesies.

The Solicitor General argues that at least some of the actions amounted to personal benefits conferred in exchange for an agreement to influence government matters. But McDonnell’s supporters filed more than a dozen briefs which warn that the expansion of the statute to include this kind of conduct will create an ill-defined situation where aggressive federal prosecutors could criminalize what has been merely political custom.

Read more »

3 Theories About How the FBI May Open a Locked iPhone of a San Bernardino Shooter

Apple logoBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

There are several theories about how the FBI will unlock an iPhone without the help of Apple.

What we know is, the FBI canceled a court hearing on the case Monday after saying an “outside party” may be able to help access the iPhone’s information.

Fortune reports three theories.

Digital forensic researcher Jonathan Zdziarski said the FBI might be using a technique known as NAND mirroring, which would make copies of the phone’s memory chip. That would make it possible for the FBI to try enter the password as many times as it takes to unlock the phone.

“This technique is kind of like cheating at Super Mario Bros. with a save-game, allowing you to play the same level over and over after you keep dying,” Zdziarski writes. “Only instead of playing a game, they’re trying different pin combinations.”

Zdziarski said the FBI may also block the phone’ system that counts failed password attempts.

A third option requires removing the casing on the phones processor chip using lasers or acid, enabling officials to pull the password off the chip with probes.

The FBI said it needs about two weeks to try to open the phone.

Justice Department Files Charges Against Syrian Electronic Army Hackers

Syria mapBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The so-called Syrian Electronic Army has launched a series of cyber attacks targeting U.S. companies and government systems since 2011.

Now the Justice Department has filed charges against three of the group’s members, CNN reports.

The cyber-attackers targeted companies that they believe are oppose to Syria’s Assad regime, defacing websites, seizing social media accounts and penetrating computer systems from 2011 to 2014.

Among the targets were CNN, The Washington Post, NASA, the White House, Microsoft and Harvard University.

Charges filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., allege the hackers are based in Germany and Syria.