Tag Archives: American Civil Liberties Union

​FBI ‘intentionally and unlawfully’ used No Fly List to recruit Muslims as informers

The FBI used a no-fly list to recruit four US Muslims as informants, violating their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association and religion. That’s the claim being made by four US Muslims in a New York federal court Tuesday.

Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari and Awais Sajjad, who are between them either US residents or permanent US residents, are demanding that the FBI remove them from the no-fly list which contains the names of people who are not permitted to board a commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the United States, according to threat and intelligence reporting.

“This impermissible abuse of the No Fly List has forced Plaintiffs to choose between their constitutionally-protected right to travel, on the one hand, and their First Amendment rights on the other,” says the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Awais Sajjad, a lawful permanent US resident, learned that he was on a No Fly List in 2012 when he tried to board a flight to Pakistan. The FBI agents questioned Sajjad at the airport before releasing him. Soon they returned with an offer: he could work as an FBI informer and in return the agency would give him citizenship and compensation, the Washington Post reported.

When he refused, the bureau “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” says the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, three other complainants – Tanvir, Algibhah and Shinwari – said they were added to the list immediately after they refused to work as FBI informants for religious reasons.

Shinwari, a legal US resident from Omaha, Nebraska, said that after his arrival from his native country, Afghanistan, in 2012, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents who wanted to know if he knew anything about national security threats. He was soon put on the No Fly List, though he has never been convicted of a crime or posed a threat to national security, according to his lawyers.

In one of their visits, FBI agents wanted to know about the “local Omaha community, did I know anyone who’s a threat?” he says.

“I’m just very frustrated, [and I said] what can I do to clear my name?” says Shinwari. “And that’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money,” The Guardian reported him as saying.

Though Shinwari was allowed to fly within the United States in March, he still fears that if he flies to Afghanistan to see his wife and family, whom he hasn’t seen for at least two years, he might not be able to return.

“Defendants’ unlawful actions are imposing an immediate and ongoing harm on Plaintiffs and have caused Plaintiffs deprivation of their constitutional rights, emotional distress, damage to their reputation, and material and economic loss,” adds the lawsuit.

According to Jameel Algibhah, from the Bronx, New York, the FBI asked him to get access to a Queens mosque and even pose as an extremist in online forums.

“We’re the only ones who can take you off the list,” an unnamed FBI agent told him, Algibhah told The Guardian.

The fourth plaintiff, Muhammad Tanvir, started taking action against the FBI in October 2013, after he refused to spy on his local Pakistani community. Now he can’t visit his ailing mother.

Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, told the Washington Post that “the no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.

“This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect over-policing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.

The FBI has not commented on the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, this is not the first No Fly List-related lawsuit against the FBI. In 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attempted to sue US Department of Justice and the FBI over their barring of American citizens, including several veterans of the US military, who ended up on the No Fly List and have been denied entry to their own country.

The No Fly List was created by the US government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In 2012, the list was extended to around 21,000 individuals.

The list, including US citizens and residents as well as foreigners, has been repeatedly criticized on civil liberties grounds, due to ethnic, religious, economic, political and racial discrimination. It has also raised concerns about privacy and government secrecy.

The ACLU called inclusion on a list a potentially “life-altering” experience, adding that “it is not at all clear what separates a ‘reasonable-suspicion-based-on-a-reasonable-suspicion’ from a simple hunch.”

Until March, no one had successfully convinced a court to force authorities to take them off the No Fly List. Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, became the first person ever removed from the notorious list after the managed to force officials to admit she had been placed on the list due to an error by the agency.

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Obama admin to propose end to NSA bulk phone data collection – report


The Obama administration will introduce legislation to overhaul the National Security Agency’s bulk telephony metadata collection program, senior administration officials told The New York Times.

The proposal would end the agency’s bulk collection program, a systematic dragnet that gathers the telephone records of millions of Americans each day. The Times’ anonymous sources said the records would, rather, stay in the possession of phone companies, which would be required to retain the information for a legally required period of 18 months. The NSA currently holds data for up to five years.

In addition, the legislation, should Congress approve, would allow the NSA to access specific records only through a newly established court order.

The new court order, crafted by Department of Justice and intelligence officials, would require phone companies to provide the US government records “in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received,” the Times reported.

The revamped orders would also allow the government to look for related records for callers up to two “hops” away from the number that is being surveilled.

The current authorization for the bulk records collection – Section 215 of the Patriot Act – expires on Friday. The administration’s proposal calls on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which approves US surveillance requests, to renew the program as is for at least another 90-day cycle, administration officials said, then the administration’s proposal would later institute new practices.

Section 215 allows the NSA to analyze associations between callers, if possible. The collection program was launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001 by the George W. Bush administration as a secret spying program that eventually received more solid legal footing from the FISA court in 2006. The Justice Department claimed that Section 215 could be interpreted as allowing the NSA to collect domestic call information that is “relevant” to an investigation.

The administration’s proposal would only pertain to telephony data and would not impact other forms of bulk collection under Section 215.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the administration’s new proposal was a “sensible outcome, given that the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.”

President Obama announced in January a desire to reform the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone data, though without significantly weakening the agency’s surveillance capabilities. Thus, critics of bulk collection are hesitant to celebrate the proposal just yet.

“We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of call records should end,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”

The administration’s proposal would join various bills in Congress that range from applying minor tweaks to the metadata program to those that would end it completely.

One bill crafted by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee calls for the court to issue an “overarching order authorizing the program” while allowing the NSA to ask for specific phone records from companies without judicial approval.

Critics of the Intelligence Committee’s bill say it is a Trojan horse for the NSA to actually expand its surveillance scope.

The bill is “not a ‘fix’ of the phone dragnet at all, except insofar as NSA appears to be bidding to use it to do all the things they want to do with domestic dragnets but haven’t been able to do legally. Rather, it appears to be an attempt to outsource to telecoms some of the things the NSA hasn’t been able to do legally since 2009,” wrote independent journalist Marcy Wheeler.

The administration’s plan, meanwhile, would also come with a provision that defines more clearly whether Section 215 could, in the future, be legitimately interpreted as sanctioning bulk data collection. Section 215 is set to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it.

The bulk telephony data collection program was first disclosed in June via classified documents supplied to news outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The US government calls the program a useful tool in its anti-terrorism operations, yet has offered few specifics on how the program has helped thwart any attacks.

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NSA records, stores for 30 days 100% of foreign countries’ telephone calls

The US National Security Agency has created a surveillance system that allows it to record and review other countries’ telephone calls. Then, the information is stored up to 30 days. This data is provided by the documents, disclosed by the NSA former contractor Edward Snowden.

The program is called MYSTIC and it was launched in 2009. Its RETRO tool reached its full capacity against the first target country in 2011. The system gathers “every single” telephone call nationwide and store it in a 30-day rolling buffer. The oldest call is then replaced by the newest one. This allows specialist to retrieve a necessary audio, analyze it and send its fragment for a long-term storage.

No other NSA program disclosed to date has swallowed a nation’s telephone network whole. In his January speech President Obama claimed that this bulk method of capturing data flows doesn’t use discriminants. Thus, the most of the collected information is irrelevant for the US. In fact, the capability of the method is highly valuable.

Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said that this is a necessary method of providing the national security. “New or emerging threats are often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats,” she said.

The documents, provided by Snowden say that the program may be extended to other countries, if it hasn’t been already. Last year’s secret intelligence budget showed more countries for which the MYSTIC system provides “comprehensive metadata access and content.”

The program gathers data of those American, who leave in the target countries as well. The fact denies Obama’s statement “that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security,” regardless of nationality, “and that we take their privacy concerns into account.”

President Obama instructed the NSA and other agencies that bulk acquisition may be used only to gather information on one of six specified threats, including nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The directive, however, also noted that limits on bulk collection “do not apply to signals intelligence data that is temporarily acquired to facilitate targeted collection.”

In order “to cope with the vast increases in digital data that have accompanied the rise of the global network” the US has build a new repository in Utah. Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, thinks that in the upcoming years the NSA will retain data longer.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines assures that MYSTIC is strictly conducted under Executive Order 12333, the traditional grant of presidential authority to intelligence agencies for operations outside the United States.

Some legislators are now considering whether Congress should draft new laws to govern intelligence operations. Experts agree with them, saying that there is not much legislation that governs overseas intelligence work.

Beginning in 2007, Congress loosened 40-year-old restrictions on domestic surveillance because so much foreign data crossed US territory. There were no comparable changes to protect the privacy of US citizens and residents whose calls and e-mails now routinely cross international borders.

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CIA watchdog reportedly asks DOJ to probe allegations of spying on Senate staffers

Feb. 7, 2013: CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

Feb. 7, 2013: CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

The CIA Inspector General’s Office reportedly has asked the Justice Department to review allegations that the spy agency monitored the computers of Senate staffers who were preparing a report on the detention and interrogation of terror suspects.

The New York Times and McClatchy reported on the details of the mysterious case. Lawmakers have until now said little on the record, other than a vague allegation from a senator that the CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”

But, in response to published reports, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Wednesday that the alleged spying, if true, “would be an extremely serious matter” and could “violate federal law.”

CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday said he was “deeply dismayed” that some Senate members made the allegations that “are wholly unsupported by the facts.”

“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan said in a statement. “Until then, I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday also flagged the allegations as a potentially serious breach. “If it turns out that the CIA was spying on the Senate committee that oversees the agency, it would be an outrageous violation of separation of powers,” Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

The Times reported Wednesday that CIA officers gained access to the computer networks used by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that an initial investigation by the agency’s inspector general was begun in response to complaints by members of Congress that the staffers were being improperly monitored.

The Times also reported that CIA officials began the alleged monitoring after suspecting that the Senate staffers had unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of their investigation, which has been ongoing for four years and cost approximately $40 million.

McClatchy reported Wednesday that the yet-to-be-released Senate report is expected to harshly criticize the detention and interrogation program, with special attention on how the CIA reportedly misled the Bush White House and Congress about the specific interrogation tactics used. The report is also expected to conclude that the techniques did not provide intelligence that led to the Pakistan compound where Usama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011.

The report has not been declassified, but Brennan challenged several facts in the report as well as the intelligence value conclusion in a rebuttal published last June. This past December, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said that the committee was aware of an internal CIA study that largely agreed with the report and contradicted Brennan’s rebuttal.

The Times reported that Udall’s statement set in motion the agency’s monitoring and prompted a letter from Udall to President Obama Tuesday.

“The CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review,” the letter reportedly said, “and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy.”

via CIA watchdog reportedly asks DOJ to probe allegations of spying on Senate staffers | Fox News.

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Snowden, Assange and Greenwald scheduled to address Texas tech conference from abroad

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange.

Three of the top presenters scheduled to speak at a technology conference in Texas next week will deliver their remarks remotely due to leak investigations that have left them all unable or unwilling to come to the United States.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden will discuss the impact of the National Security Agency’s spy efforts at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas next Monday, organizers announced this week.

Planners for SXSW said on Tuesday that Snowden, the 30-year-old ex-systems analyst who leaked secret NSA documents to the media last year, will participate in a live discussion at the festival via teleconference from Russia. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and journalist Glenn Greenwald have both previously agreed to speak at this year’s event as well.

“Hear directly from Snowden about his beliefs on what the tech community can and must do to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build,” festival organizers said in a statement.

Ben Wizner — the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project and a legal advisor to Snowden — will moderate the conversation between Snowden and the ACLU’s chief technologist, Christopher Soghoian. The event will be broadcast online courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Previously unpublished documents disclosed to the media by Snowden since last summer have exposed an array of NSA programs involving the United States spy agency’s efforts to acquire seemingly all digital communications across the world. He’s been accused of espionage and theft by the US Department of Justice for leaking that information, but the approval by Moscow last August of an asylum request there has allowed him to so far deter being prosecuted in America.

Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks who is also under investigation for disclosing classified documents, previously agreed to speak at the conference remotely for an event scheduled for this Saturday morning. The 42-year-old Australian publisher has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over a year, and cannot leave the facility without facing immediate arrest at the hands of British authorities. He’s wanted for questioning in Sweden.

On Monday, American journalist Glenn Greenwald will also speak about the ongoing NSA controversy at the festival, but from Brazil. He’s a confidant of Snowden and has worked closely with the former systems analyst on the NSA documents, but on advice of counsel has avoided returning to the US since the first stories involving the intelligence leaks were published last June.

“Surveillance and online privacy look to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival,” reads a statement released this week by individuals involved in the event.. “As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem.”

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Warrantless surveillance evidence to be used in US terrorist case — RT USA

In an unprecedented move for the US legal system, the federal government has notified a suspect in a terrorist case that it is going to use information intercepted through warrantless surveillance as evidence against him.

In a court filing, the US Justice Department informed the legal team of terrorist suspect Jamshid Muhtorov of its plans to use communications obtained without a warrant as evidence against him.

In the filing, the government plans to use as evidence “information obtained or derived from acquisition of foreign intelligence information conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978“.

The introduction of such evidence for the first time in a criminal case in the US comes amid the escalating NSA spying scandal and ongoing debate about notifying defendants about existing evidence against them, collected by illegal surveillance.

Uzbeki-born Muhtorov was arrested by the FBI last year for allegedly providing aid to the Uzbek terror group known as Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). He is suspected of engaging NATO and US forces in Afghanistan in 2008. It is alleged that the 35-year-old was heading overseas to fight on behalf of the IJU.

During the course of the investigation which started last March, agents recorded communications between Muhtorov and the administrator of an extremist website that they obtained from the suspect’s two accounts.  In collaborating with the group, Muhtorov allegedly used code words, claiming that he was “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying”.

The FBI also has communications data from Muhtorov’s phone lines. In one call it is alleged that the suspect said that the Islamic Jihad Union needed support. The affidavit filed in the case by an FBI agent also said that the person on the other line warned Muhtorov not mention the founder of the book during the conversation. In another call with his daughter last July, Muhtorov told her that he would not see her again “but if she was a good Muslim girl he will see her in heaven,” the affidavit said.

The evidence also suggests that Muhtorov and another suspect Bakhtiyor Jumaev plotted to carry out terrorist acts.  The affidavit claims that Islamic Jihad Union opposes the Uzbek government and has been placed on a foreign terrorist organization by the US following attacks on US and Israeli embassies in 2004 in the capital, Tashkent.

Muhtorov, a human rights worker, was arrested on 21 January 2012. If convicted Muhtorov faces up to 15 years in prison.

Earlier this year the US Supreme court has dismissed a case challenging the 2008 expansion of FISA which allows legal authority to warrantless surveillance on American soil. The lawsuit has accused the Department of Justice of avoiding judicial review of its surveillance programs by withholding such evidence.

The Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 that the plaintiffs, namely Amnesty International had no legal ground because there was no proof of the fact of surveillance.

But in Muhtorov’s case the Department of Justice has now officially confirmed the suspect was under warrantless surveillance, clearing the road for a possible legal battle in the US Supreme Court.

“We welcome the government’s belated recognition that it must give notice to criminal defendants who it has monitored under the most sweeping surveillance law ever passed by Congress,” said Patrick Toomey, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Amnesty in that case.

Warrantless surveillance evidence to be used in US terrorist case — RT USA.