U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.
Think you know who's behind that "friend" request? Think again. Your new "friend" just might be the FBI.
The document, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, makes clear that U.S. agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips.
Among other purposes: Investigators can check suspects' alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, obtained the Justice Department document when it sued the agency and five others in federal court. The 33-page document underscores the importance of social networking sites to U.S. authorities. The foundation said it would publish the document on its Web site on Tuesday.
With agents going undercover, state and local police coordinate their online activities with the Secret Service, FBI and other federal agencies in a strategy known as "deconfliction" to keep out of each other's way.
"You could really mess up someone's investigation because you're investigating the same person and maybe doing things that are counterproductive to what another agency is doing," said Detective Frank Dannahey of the Rocky Hill, Conn., Police Department, a veteran of dozens of undercover cases.
A decade ago, agents kept watch over AOL and MSN chat rooms to nab sexual predators. But those text-only chat services are old-school compared with today's social media, which contain mountains of personal data, photographs, videos and audio clips — a potential treasure trove of evidence for cases of violent crime, financial fraud and much more.
The Justice Department document, part of a presentation given in August by top cybercrime officials, describes the value of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other services to government investigators. It does not describe in detail the boundaries for using them.
"It doesn't really discuss any mechanisms for accountability or ensuring that government agents use those tools responsibly," said Marcia Hoffman, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The group sued in Washington to force the government to disclose its policies for using social networking sites in investigations, data collection and surveillance.
The foundation also obtained an Internal Revenue Service document that instructs employees on how to use to use Internet tools — including social networking sites — to investigate taxpayers. The document states that IRS employees are barred from using deception or creating fake accounts to get information, a directive the group says is commendable.
Covert investigations on social-networking services are legal and governed by internal rules, according to Justice Department officials. But they would not say what those rules are.
The Justice Department document raises a legal question about a social-media bullying case in which U.S. prosecutors charged a Missouri woman with computer fraud for creating a fake MySpace account — effectively the same activity that undercover agents are doing, although for different purposes.
The woman, Lori Drew, helped create an account for a fictitious teen boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages to a 13-year-old neighborhood girl in his name. The girl hanged herself in October 2006, in a St. Louis suburb, after she received a message saying the world would be better without her.
A jury in California, where MySpace has its servers, convicted Drew of three misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization because she was accused of violating MySpace's rules against creating fake accounts. But last year a judge overturned the verdicts, citing the vagueness of the law.
"If agents violate terms of service, is that 'otherwise illegal activity'?" the document asks. It doesn't provide an answer.
Facebook's rules, for example, specify that users "will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission." Twitter's rules prohibit its users from sending deceptive or false information. MySpace requires that information for accounts be "truthful and accurate."
A former U.S. cybersecurity prosecutor, Marc Zwillinger, said investigators should be able to go undercover in the online world the same way they do in the real world, even if such conduct is barred by a company's rules. But there have to be limits, he said.
In the face-to-face world, agents can't impersonate a suspect's spouse, child, parent or best friend. But online, behind the guise of a social-networking account, they can.
"This new situation presents a need for careful oversight so that law enforcement does not use social networking to intrude on some of our most personal relationships," said Zwillinger, whose firm does legal work for Yahoo and MySpace.
Undercover operations aren't necessary if the suspect is reckless. Federal authorities nabbed a man wanted on bank fraud charges after he started posting Facebook updates about the fun he was having in Mexico.
Maxi Sopo, a native of Cameroon living in the Seattle area, apparently slipped across the border into Mexico in a rented car last year after learning that federal agents were investigating the alleged scheme. The agents initially could find no trace of him on social media sites, and they were unable to pin down his exact location in Mexico. But they kept checking and eventually found Sopo on Facebook.
While Sopo's online profile was private, his list of friends was not. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Scoville began going through the list and was able to learn where Sopo was living. Mexican authorities arrested Sopo in September. He is awaiting extradition to the U.S.
The Justice document describes how Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have interacted with federal investigators: Facebook is "often cooperative with emergency requests," the government said. MySpace preserves information about its users indefinitely and even stores data from deleted accounts for one year. But Twitter's lawyers tell prosecutors they need a warrant or subpoena before the company turns over customer information, the document says.
"Will not preserve data without legal process," the document says under the heading, "Getting Info From Twitter ... the bad news."
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The chief security officer for MySpace, Hemanshu Nigam, said MySpace doesn't want to be the company that stands in the way of an investigation. "That said, we also want to make sure that our users' privacy is protected and any data that's disclosed is done under proper legal process," Nigam said.
MySpace requires a search warrant for private messages less than six months old, according to the company.
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company has put together a handbook to help law enforcement officials understand "the proper ways to request information from Facebook to aid investigations."
The Justice document includes sections about its own lawyers. For government attorneys taking cases to trial, social networks are a "valuable source of info on defense witnesses," they said. "Knowledge is power. ... Research all witnesses on social networking sites."
But the government warned prosecutors to advise their own witnesses not to discuss cases on social media sites and to "think carefully about what they post."
It also cautioned federal law enforcement officials to think prudently before adding judges or defense counsel as "friends" on these services.
"Social networking and the courtroom can be a dangerous combination," the government said.
On the Net:
Link to Justice Department document: http://tinyurl.com/yjc6mql
By RICHARD LARDNER, AP
Confrontation versus Harmony
Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
International Association of Educators for World Peace
NGO, Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education,
Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University
Confrontation is described as meeting in hostility or taking an opposite stand. This always implies conflicts of one kind or another. Harmony deals with the ability to adapt oneself to the needs of others as to make an operation or relationship move on smoothly. These two basic cultures have been observed in every era of history. In this presentation we will try to get a clear concept of these two basic cultures in order to realize and know where we stand.
Culture of Confrontation
Over the past century, the culture of confrontation on a global scale has mostly originated from big industries whose motto is generally: The sky is not the limit. This means their purpose is to accumulate wealth and money with no end in sight. To achieve this end they are ready to do just anything based on the Machiavellian philosophy: The end justifies the means. We may understand why both the colonial and capitalistic industries have exploited the resources of so many nations where the natives, as a result, had to endure so much suffering.
In recent decades, the military industrial complex has emerged to become perhaps the most lucrative business around the world. Its ultimate goal remains the same, namely, the accumulation of wealth and money by all means and to this end nothing stands in the way. Politicians are coaxed into putting more money into the manufacture and sales of weapons, even at the cost of the people’s welfare like that in health care and education. In fact, in countries where top priority is put on wars people suffer from several vital deprivations.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the world took a sigh of relief because communism was then viewed as a thing of the past. Organizations everywhere were talking openly of the so called “peace dividend.” This means that all those billions of dollars that used to be spent for the preparation of wars would now be used for the eventual implementation of peace. Within a short time the weapons industry got into panic, fearing for loss of revenue.
Some of those who worked for a long time for the weapons industry and made themselves very rich were quick to say among themselves: “Peace is our enemy” in the sense that without some kind of war threats they may eventually go out of business. Confrontation is better known as the culture of war, which is characterized by litigation, animosity, fear, machismo and paranoia in addition to a few other negative traits. Once we are haunted with paranoia nothing will stop us in our resolve to destroy the infrastructure of as many cities as possible.
Struggles and Wars
Since World War II ended in 1945 there has been conflicts one after another. There was not one year when the whole world was at peace. Struggles and wars developed across all continents covering Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe. Instead of having politicians searching everywhere for healthy dialogues as well as the elimination of landmines and nuclear weapons, we had politicians who caved in to accommodate the continued profits of the war industries. The world continued to suffer as a result to this day.
Unfortunately, we all have been born and raised in the culture of war. Our mindset has developed in a way that we instinctively assume that struggles and wars are a part of life in planet earth. Many of us believe that times of this nature are not likely to change easily, if ever. In order to understand and realize where we stand with ourselves in particular, let us illustrate this by example. This way we may be in a better position to assess the events of our time after which we may perhaps take the initiative to help reverse the trend.
Let us assume we were born and raised in central China with no contact whatsoever with the outside world. We would all then speak and communicate in Chinese, the only language we happen to know. We surely would not dream even remotely of communicating ever in, say, Russian, German, Swahili, English, Hindi, Spanish or French especially if we never heard of such languages, and especially if we were to really believe that Chinese is the only language of communication that is existent on earth.
We have been born and raised in a culture of war that is characterized by fear, deprivation, struggles, conflicts and wars. We have witnessed in a number of instances people hating each other to the point of resorting to periodical violence revealed in the destruction of the infrastructure of cities and the brutal killing of tens of thousands, amounting to millions, of innocent people. We are at least lucky as to have a variety of news media – radio, press and television – that enable us to figure out what it going on. This way we may be inspired to develop plans that are positive and constructive in an effort to reverse the trend.
It is never late for us to develop a new generation that is imbued in a culture of peace. Our greatest challenge would be in dealing with the present generation since we know that we cannot teach old dog new tricks. Hence, while doing our best to help present political figures see things into better and truer perspective, we need, at the same time, to prepare for their replacement as to enable all people everywhere to have finally what they always wanted, harmony among themselves through serenity and peace of mind and heart.
Harmony at Work
As it was stated in the opening of this presentation, harmony deals with the ability to adapt oneself to the needs of others as to make an operation or relationship move on smoothly. While in confrontation we have everything to lose and hardly anything to gain, in harmony we have everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose. While in confrontation we have always a lose-lose situation, in harmony we have always a win-win outcome. People who develop the habit of living in harmony with themselves and others are spared from manifold worries in life.
As a result, harmony instills in an individual peace and joy in one’s mind and heart. These are elements that will enable us to concentrate more on everything positive and constructive we choose to do. Success of our efforts is constantly visible, which becomes a source of encouragement not only to each one of us individually but also to those who happen to be collaborating with us. Ascetical writers tell us that heaven is a state, which is characterized by perpetual joy in an atmosphere of eternal happiness.
Heaven is said to be a place where worries do not exist, where everyone is saturated with genuine love for others and where we could share God’s infinite virtues that enable us to experience the height of perfection and satisfaction. These same ascetical writers state clearly that living in harmony in our earthly society is fully possible as long as we really want it and simply work for it. To this end, we need to learn what to eliminate from our midst that is preventing us from leading a life of harmony and sharing it with others.
During the time of the Roman Empire, some Latin writers told us si vis pacem para pacem, si vis bellum para bellum – if you want peace prepare for peace, if you want war prepare for war. Unfortunately, our culture of war mindset changed this dictum to run as follows: Si vis pacem para bellum! – If you want peace prepare for war! This has become the motto of many of our leading politicians around the world, in particular in the United States. This explains why so many billions of dollars are taken from the vital needs of people for purpose of manufacturing more weapons and waging never-ending wars.
Can we take drastic steps toward creating in the world serenity, peace and harmony? The answer is a qualitative yes. How are we going to start? There are many ways where we could begin our journey toward procuring the best legacy we possibly can for our posterity. We may start, for example, with the prayer of St. Francis, which has emerged to be so popular and effective that one may find many websites on it that may carry also the picture of St. Francis himself. This prayer represents the essence of harmony that could be implanted among all people not only within the same country but among all nations as well.
Prayer of Inspiration
The said prayer, which we may meditate on and recite as often as we wish, runs as follows: Lord, make me instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis was born in Italy in 1182. As a young man he inherited enormous wealth but could not find serenity, peace and harmony within himself until he gave away all of his inheritance and distributed it among the poor. He lived a very simple life and was remarkably known for his kindness, even with animals. He died young at the age of 44. Today he is highly revered in many parts of the world. This great gentleman was a human being like the rest of us. He had the same identical feelings, concerns and needs. He became spiritually powerful only after he gave his life for the complete service to others.
If our politicians were to replace confrontations with healthy dialogues, pride and machismo with humility and willingness to serve, threats of war with a genuine search for mutual benefits, we will soon be on the way to harmony with permanent peace shining on the horizon. Let us keep in mind that in this world nothing happens out of nothing. If we want harmony to be our goal as to give our posterity the best legacy we can, we simply have to work toward this end. We have to become involved in order to procure our nations with the best people we can to serve in our respective governments.
The question often raised is this: Can we find a way to prevent big industries and corporations from continuing to exploit the vast majority of people on our planet? The answer is definitely in the affirmative and, by the way, if was provided to us by Socrates some 2,500 years ago.
This Greek philosopher said: “We can solve every problem we encounter by simply taking the first step.” What was this first step? Socrates stated: “The first step is to bring into the open the involved problem, because unless people know that it exists they will do nothing about it. But once they discover that it exists, they will immediately begin to figure out how such a problem may affect them. Then steps are definitely taken and the problem is solved.” Maybe this explains why so many governments try to leave their people in ignorance as to what is really going on. This may explain why so many governments are most fearful of their own people!
Although what has been stated so far about the culture of war versus the culture of peace seems to be clear theoretically, in practice things are somewhat different. When it comes to the solution of problems that are ruining us, we seem to turn to our government officials to use all their power to help us solve such problems. Most of the time, people remain very frustrated and disappointment when they realize they are not getting much help and benefit. In a number of instances our government officials constitute a part of an involved problem.
Let us illustrate this by example. Suppose we are trying to bring under full control mafia type of crimes in our society. Now let us imagine that, without our awareness and knowledge, some or most of our government officials happen to be an integral part of the mafia behind the scenes. Under the circumstance, is there any chance that we could possibly get a positive and constructive reaction to our raised concerns? As long as we have some kind of corruption in the government there is not much that we could do or expect. Our only hope would in finding ways to replace such government officials with people we may trust.
This explains why the achievement of harmony is not something that comes to us or just happens. We have to work hard for it until we do achieve it. No matter what it may entail it is surely worth to work for the purpose of securing the much needed peace of our mind and heart. Let us keep in mind that harmony in society is a priceless gift. It could not be purchased, in any way whatsoever, by all the money and wealth in the world.
During the decade of the eighties, Pope John Paul II was asked in Mexico as to whether or not world peace is possible. His answer was quick: “Yes, world peace will come only after two of the greatest evils of the 20th century are gone: Communism and Capitalism because they both try to achieve their objectives through the exploitation of people.” Some three years later communism collapsed and the world took a sigh of relief. Shortly afterwards, the evil of capitalism became more conspicuous as it could no longer hide behind the evil of communism.
Instead of embarking on an international program of disarmament and arms control, the United States, the seat of capitalism, embarked on the greatest military build-up in history. The manufacture and sales of weapons and the eventual numerous conflicts that began to pop up everywhere, made the military industrial complex emerge to become a very lucrative business. And we know the rest of the story. When all the nations voted for the abolition nuclear weapons and landmines, the USA refused to vote for this measure. As a result, the billions of dollars that could have been used for the health care and education of millions of people, was used to make more weapons and wage more wars.
Foundation of Global Harmony
When we consider the numerous organizations we have in the world, which are working wholeheartedly to create global harmony, we need to feel highly encouraged. That unity will one day replace divisions on a global scale is only a matter of time. The Global Harmony Association (GHA), which is headquartered in St. Petersburg Russia under the leadership of Dr. Leo Semashko, has already taken gigantic steps in this direction. Today there are quite a number of websites on GHA, which are highly informative and inspiring. They also carry several articles on a variety of topics of social concern.
It is quite encouraging for us to learn that the shift from confrontation to harmony is on the increase at all levels of society. The nations of the world are beginning to realize and understand that confrontation leads to nowhere except to deterioration with surmountable tragic results. On the other hand, through healthy dialogues and mutual respect we find ourselves already moving on the road to harmony where everyone involved will benefit immensely. Those that study the cosmos are often amazed at the great harmony they notice in the universe with all the galaxies and the millions of start in them.
When we have harmony we achieve the maximum of happiness and satisfaction, we do not have any worries that may distract us ever from the positive and constructive things we can possibly do in life. In this regard, we may confidently state that our greatest achievement in life, individually and collectively, lies in our ability to make harmony a tangible reality of our life and of the life of others in our household, the community, the nation and the world.
Having struggles and wars for an entire 6,000 years of recorded history should be enough. We should now start to do our utmost in balancing this negative and destructive trend by replacing it with a positive and constructive trend for the next 6,000 years of civilization by replacing struggles and wars with healthy dialogues and mutual respect. This is, in essence, harmony in operation.
The Great Debate
Burning borrowed money in America’s wars
Bernd Debusmann, Reuters columnist. December 17, 2009
The Pentagon has an evocative term for the level of spending on a war: burn rate. In Afghanistan, it has been running at around $5 million every hour for much of the year. The burn rate will begin going up next week when the first of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops arrive.
Governmental Abuse and Irresponsibility
Once they are all in place, the burn rate is estimated to exceed $10 million an hour, or more than $8 billion a month. Much of that is literally burned — in the engines of American jeeps, trucks, tanks, aircraft and power generators. On average, each of the 183,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq requires 22 gallons of fuel a day, according to a study by the international accounting firm Deloitte.
Because of a difficult and dangerous supply line that runs more than 1,200 miles through Pakistan, fuel for the troops in Afghanistan is considerably more expensive than for those in Iraq: an average of $48 per gallon counting the cost of transport and protection. Flown by helicopter to positions on remote Afghan front lines, the cost can reach $400 per gallon.
Which helps explain why Afghanistan “is one of the most expensive, perhaps the most expensive, war in U.S. history,” says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. His estimate of the cost per year of a soldier deployed in Afghanistan this year matches the number used by the White House – around $1 million. (The Pentagon says that it is less.)
In comparison, a soldier in Iraq costs less than half. Again in comparison, an Afghan soldier costs $12,500 a year, a recent congressional hearing was told.
The staggering cost of the war highlights an aspect of asymmetric warfare which is worth noting: the insurgent has a huge advantage on the financial front. While a Marine Corps combat brigade, for example, burns up around 500,000 gallons of fuel a day (or $24 million, at an average of $48 per gallon); the marines’ insurgent enemies use a tiny fraction of that. They ride around in pickup trucks, or walk. They do not move in Humvees that average four miles per gallon.
The cost-benefit advantage the insurgents enjoy in combat occasionally features on jihadist websites. One video clip makes the point that an improvised explosives device that costs $30 to make can knock out a $3.2 million Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle.
Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far been financed with borrowed money that makes up part of the country’s deficit. The 2009 budget year, which ended in September, set an all-time high with $1.42 trillion. In 2010, it is expected to reach close to $1.5 trillion.
Overstretch and Indebtedness
When President Barack Obama announced on December 1 that he would be sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, swelling the strength of the U.S. forces to more than 100,000, he said: “All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.”
His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said in mid-December that the cost of the Afghanistan escalation would be part of the administration’s regular budget request for 2011, a departure from the practice of the Bush administration to request emergency funds in “supplemental” bills.
One way or the other, it’s difficult to see how the administration could balance the books in the absence of a war tax – an idea pushed by several influential Democrats – or painful cuts elsewhere at a time of high unemployment (10 percent) and economic hardship for millions of Americans. Does that mean the United States is drawing closer to a tipping point, a level of military overstretch and indebtedness that sapped empires in the past?
In an essay at the beginning of the year, a few days before Obama took office, the Harvard historian Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, commented that no country on earth had “anywhere like the staggering array of overseas military commitments and deployments” as the U.S.
That is more true today than it was at the beginning of the year. Along with more troops, there is more reason to wonder how right Kennedy was in saying in his essay that U.S. dependency on foreign investors resembled “more and more that state of international indebtedness historians associate with the reigns of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France”
If Obama read that, he should have been worried. Under the reign of Philip II from 1556 to 1598, Spain reached the peak of its power, a global empire controlling territories from Europe and the Americas to Asia. It sank to second-rate status through a combination of factors that included wars and massive foreign debt. Louis XIV was involved in four big wars and on his death in 1715, left France deep in debt.
Note: We often hear US politicians talking of military solution. This means resorting to the destruction of the infrastructure of nations, the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people amounting to millions, while using fear as a tool to bring Americans under tight control. The US culture of war has become a threat to the whole world. Like the Master Teacher of Nazareth said: Homo hominis lupus – Man is his own worst enemy. The US war policies have now become the nightmare of Americans and their assured deadliest enemy in the long range.