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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.”

TSA Workers to Receive Full Collective Bargaining Rights, Better Pay

By Steve Neavling

The TSA’s 46,000 officers are set to receive full collective bargaining rights and better pay, the Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued an order that boosts the rights of TSA officers.

“TSA employees are outstanding public servants who work on the frontlines, including throughout the pandemic, to keep the traveling American public safe,”  Mayorkas said in a news release.  “They deserve the empowerment of collective bargaining and a compensation structure that recognizes and rewards them for their contributions to our safety and security.”

The directive is aimed at improving the morale and retention of TSA employees. 

For a decade, TSA officers have lacked the same protections that are afforded to other unionized government employees. 

President Biden’s administration has called for extending workers’ rights to unionize. 

FBI Investigating Postmaster General DeJoy Over Campaign Fundraising Activity

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

By Steve Neavling

The FBI has launched an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s campaign fundraising activity while he was working in the private sector. 

The Washington Post first reported that FBI agents have interviewed current and former DeJoy and New Breed Logistics employees about their political contributions and have issued a subpoena to DeJoy.

“Mr. DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector,” DeJoy spokesman Mark Corallo told The Post. “He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to the campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them.”

DeJoy is a prominent GOP fundraiser who was selected by former President Trump to lead the U.S. Postal Service last May.

The Post reported in September that DeJoy, when he led New Breed Logistics from 2000 to 2014, was accused of pressuring employees to donate or attend fundraisers for Republican candidates and then reimbursing the employees using company bonuses.

Trump’s DOJ Secretly Seized Phone Records from New York Times Reporters

court

By Steve Neavling

President Trump’s Justice Department admitted it secretly seized phone records from four reporters for The New York Times as part of a leak investigation.  

It’s the third time in the past month that federal authorities disclosed they had surveilled journalists in an attempt to identify sources for national security stories during Trump’s presidency.

The Times reported Wednesday that the Justice Department had informed the newspaper of the seizure of phone records and secured a court order to take logs of the reporters’ emails.

The leak investigation occurred over a nearly four-month period in 2017. 

The Justice Department also disclosed that it had seized the phone logs of reporters for The Washington Post and the phone and email logs for a CNN reporter. 

“Seizing the phone records of journalists profoundly undermines press freedom,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement. “It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing.”

The Justice Department did not identify the stories that were being investigated. But based on the reporters and timing of the investigation, The Times believes the probe was related to an April 22, 2017 article about then FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the 2016 presidential election investigation.