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Tag: Homeland Security

Fed Agents Going Undercover on Social Networks like Facebook

istock illustration

istock illustration

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department document asks the simple question: Why Go Undercover on Facebook, MySpace, etc.?

Then it goes on to explain: “Communicate with suspects/targets” … “gain access to non-public info” … “map social relationships/networks.”

The document, part of a Justice Department PowerPoint presentation, shows how some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals. The presentation recently surfaced in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court.

Some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals

“This is just the way people meet these days — electronically,” James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AOL News. “It wouldn’t be any different than calling someone on the phone, say, in an undercover capacity. If we can meet them on Facebook by creating a fictitious account, that’s great. ”

Even so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco filed the lawsuit in December against about a half a dozen federal agencies to create a public dialogue on the matter and make sure agencies have guidelines for agents, according to Marcia Hofmann, a senior staff attorney for the foundation. The Justice Department, Homeland Security, Treasury, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are included in the suit.

facebook-logo

Some agencies don’t readily appear to have guidelines and some have offered to produce them in coming months to satisfy the demands in the lawsuit, according to Hofmann.

“This on one hand is a very clever use of these tools, but it makes you wonder when enterprising agents come up with these ideas, what is appropriate and what is not,” she said. “I don’t want to speculate as to what they do and they don’t do. I do think there should be a public debate whether it’s ethically sound or not. There should be some transparency.”

Initially, social networks like MySpace, which first surfaced in 2003, and Facebook, which launched in 2004, and Twitter which arrived in 2006, were simply for hip high school and college-aged kids. As social media’s popularity soared, law enforcement began to realize that there was more to these networks than idle gossip and photos of cats, dogs, proms and beer parties.

Now, some federal agents privately talk, almost in amazement, about how much information is available on social networks and how careless criminals are. They say some information can be obtained without even going undercover.

In fact, they say some criminals — and noncriminals as well — fail to select the right security settings to block non-friends from seeing photos and other personal information on sites like Facebook. And besides, anyone can see a person’s friend list without “friending” the person.

twitter4

“It’s not like we have to dig very deep,” said one federal agent who has not created fictitious accounts but knows of others who have. “Facebook is the best. They videotape themselves. They have pictures with guns, posing with gang members. There’s addresses of homes. We tend to go after what’s there.”

Another federal agent says he’s amazed how freely some criminals post information on social networks.

“I’m surprised by the recklessness of it,” the agent said. “I would think they would be smarter. That’s why we only catch the stupid ones. ”

Still, even before the recent documents surfaced publicly about fictitious accounts, some federal law enforcement agencies readily admitted to being aware of criminals using the social networks.

On Jan. 27, for example, the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles issued a press release about the indictment of 20 suspected members of the Riverside Street Gang with ties to the Mexican Mafia. The release noted that the members use “MySpace.com to communicate about gang business, and they use rap music videos and recordings to deliver a message of violence and intimidation.”

myspace-images3

DEA Agent Sarah Pullen of the Los Angeles office said of the probe, “Any time you have visual evidence that is available, it is extremely helpful in conducting an investigation. It would be the same as a piece of mail or a photo; anything that shows evidence of a crime.”

In Washington, federal law enforcement agencies have responded to the issue of agents creating fictitious undercover accounts with carefully worded responses.

“The Department of Justice and our agents follow applicable laws, regulations and internal guidelines for investigations, regardless of whether those investigations occur online or on the street,” Laura Sweeney, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement to AOL News.

“Just as we’ve done successfully in identifying and prosecuting child predators online, we will continue to use publicly available information individuals post online about their illegal activities, or false statements to law enforcement officials, in our investigations. To do otherwise would be negligence on our part,” Sweeney said.

Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman, noted, “Simply said, law enforcement needs to be able to constantly adapt to the changing world around them while maintaining its ability to use all lawful and available tools at its disposal to gather potential leads to solve crimes.”

Interestingly, the Internal Revenue Service provided a document in the San Francisco lawsuit that states employee guidelines for the Internet. “You cannot obtain information from websites by registering … fictitious identities,” the document said.

“I think it’s interesting the IRS has drawn the line, and the Justice Department has not,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Hofmann said.

There has been limited public outcry about the prospects of agents creating undercover accounts since the Justice Department document surfaced.

But Hofmann mentioned the La Crosse, Wis., police department, which reportedly created a fake Facebook page using an attractive, blond-haired woman to lure students and find out about underage drinking. The department did not return a call for comment.

The La Crosse Tribune reported in November that Adam Bauer, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse sophomore, had nearly 400 friends on Facebook and added the attractive woman. Shortly after, police had Facebook photos of him drinking, and he was fined $227.

After his court appearance in November, Bauer told the paper, “I just can’t believe it. I feel like I’m in a science fiction movie, like they are always watching. When does it end?”

Ex-Homeland Security Official Convicted in Boston in Illegal Immigration Case

boston-map-istockBy Allan Lengel
tickletheiwire.com

A Boston federal jury on Monday convicted a former high ranking Homeland Security official in New England of encouraging her illegal immigrant housekeeper to stay in the country, the Boston Globe reported.

Lorraine Henderson, 52, Boston’s port director for Customs and Border Protection, who testified last week that she had done nothing wrong, was surprised by the verdict, the Globe reported.

“I’m stunned,” she said, according to the paper. Her attorney, Francis J. DiMento, added: “I’m sick.”

Henderson had earned $140,000 a year at her government job.

To read more click here.

FBI and Homeland Sec. Say Corruption of Federal Agents Along Border Rising

mexico-border-signBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — It’s all pretty simple. The Mexican drug cartels have lots of money. And some federal law enforcement agents who patrol the Mexican border can’t resist the cash.

Representatives from the FBI and Homeland Security testified before the subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee about the “rising corruption among the ranks of federal law enforcement officers who patrol the border and guard ports of entry,” the New York Times reported.

FBI agent Kevin Perkins, who helps supervise corruption investigations, testified that the problem “is significantly pervasive”, according to the Times.

To read more click here.

Commentary: Note to Janet Napolitano: Be Careful About Trying to Hoodwink the Public

Janet Napolitano/bill maher show
Janet Napolitano/bill maher show

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and the Obama administration learned a valuable public relations lesson in this latest incident involving the Detroit terror incident: Don’t try to hoodwink the public with positive spin– at least not on something so obvious.

Napolitano came out after the Christmas Day incident involving  a Northwest flight and said “the system worked”.  It seemed to have the same ring of credibility as Bill Clinton’s infamous remark:  “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Snow job. (Or in Clinton’s case, the other kind of job).  Both had a cost: a loss of credibility.

Sure, Napolitano backed off her statement and said it was taken out of context. She says she was referring to the response after the incident. And then President Obama stepped up to the plate on Tuesday and conceded that the system had failed.

But some damage was done. You only get so many chances in this unforgiving town. Be careful how you use up those credibility chips. In many instances, once they’re gone, so are you.

Column: Homeland Security Falling Behind By Resisting Social Media

Chris Battle

Chris Battle

By Chris Battle
Security DeBrief
WASHINGTON — I just returned from a fantastic briefing by Price Floyd, the principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Defense.

Under his guidance, DoD has recently launched a new website — Defense.gov — that integrates all of the latest social media tools into DoD’s website and overall communications strategies.

More on that insightful presentation soon, but I wanted to comment on something that really stood out — just how far behind the Department of Homeland Security is falling in the public affairs arena by resisting the inevitable need to engage the social media landscape.

To Read More

Is Our Homeland Any Safer With Homeland Security?

tom-ridge-2-book

Author Edward Alden talks about books by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and raises some legitimate questions about the direction of the sprawling agency. Is it working? Was it worth creating a whole new bureaucracy?

By Edward Alden
Washington Post Outlook Section

In a single week last month, the U.S. government broke up an alleged al- Qaeda cell in Colorado, rushed aid to flood victims in Georgia and opened fire on three vans filled with illegal immigrants trying to break through the nation’s busiest border crossing.

The incidents were all reminders, as if we needed any, of the many threats to what we now call “homeland security,” a big, sprawling idea that spawned a big, sprawling department to stop bad things from happening and clean up when they inevitably do.

Just over six years since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security is still too young for any definitive verdict on its success or failure.

michael-chertoff-book

With its component agencies scattered around D.C. and some of its operations outsourced to private companies in Virginia, it has yet to become a whole that adds up to more than its parts. Its first two secretaries, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, left no consistent legacy to guide what the government’s third-largest department should be doing — and more important, why. For Janet Napolitano, the secretary now sorting through that inheritance, the reflections of her predecessors leave more questions than answers.

To Read More

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Insp. General Report Says Homeland Security Computers Vulnerable to Hackers

Maybe it’s asking too much, but you’d expect that an agency called Homeland Security would have more secure web sites. The federal government still needs to do much more to safeguard its computers from hackers.

hacker-istock-photo

By Alice Lipowicz
Federal Computer Week
The Homeland Security Department’s most popular Web sites appear to be vulnerable to hackers and could put department data at risk of loss or unauthorized use, according to a new report from DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

An audit of cybersecurity for DHS’ nine most frequently visited Web sites found that although general security protocols were followed, there were still a number of vulnerabilities and gaps in security, including inconsistent management of security patching and security assessments.

“These vulnerabilities could put DHS data at risk,” Skinner wrote in the report issued Oct. 8.

For Full Story

Read Report

Homeland To Back Off Stimulus Funding Until It Reviews Priorities

The spending of stimulus funds should come under intense scrutiny. There’s going to be some misspending of stimulus funds, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep waste and misguided priorities to a minimum.

Janet Napolitano/bill maher show

Janet Napolitano/bill maher show

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Facing criticism for her handling of federal stimulus money, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she would not start any new border construction projects and would review how her department selected projects that would get money.

Napolitano has faced questions since The Associated Press reported last month that Homeland Security officials did not follow their internal priority lists when choosing which border checkpoints would be financed for renovations. Under a process that is secretive and susceptible to political influence, officials planned to spend millions at tiny checkpoints, passing over busier, higher-priority projects.

For Full Story