Category Archives: Cybersecurity

Trump, Congress and the case for Treason

What happens when a sitting president kicks the legs of Democracy’s stool?

Written by Carol Benedict

President Donald Trump delivered his 2018 State of the Union address on January 20, 2018. Since that time, the consequences and ramifications put forth in that speech are still being discussed after having set new precedents to the tone, nature and policies spelled out to the American people.

Congress has always held the tradition that when the sitting president delivers these speeches, the opposing party withholds applause and ovations for most the speech, and only the most basic and inarguable points receive unanimous approval. Like all traditions in Washington since Trump’s inauguration, this too has now changed.

Agreeing with a critic who called the actions of the democrats “treasonous” and “un-American” for not applauding policies they disagree with, Trump has taken a step into an entirely new territory that should have caused alarm bells to go for all.

“You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild—they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news—really positive news, like that—they were like death and un-American. Un-American,” the president said. “Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

The White House quickly defended Trump’s words, saying it was meant as a joke. When the President of the United States makes a JOKE of calling for the DEATHS of the opposing party’s members of Congress, we have entered a perception and introduction to authoritarian rule and dictatorship. Opposing the president is not punishable by death in the US, and to suggest otherwise demonstrates total ignorance or self-absorption. In fact, the 1st Amendment to the Constitution provides for the right of every American to not only disagree with the government or even the President, but to also assemble together to make their grievances known. Most people know this concept as “protest” or “dissent.”

In service to our country, we have put together a short refresher course about the history of Treason charges in the US since World War II. Let’s begin with what the law states as the punishment for Treason.

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(2)(J), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2148.)

One person convicted of treason was Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese-American sentenced to death in 1952 for tormenting American prisoners of war during World War II. Even such a clear-cut case created qualms; Kawakita was commuted to a life sentence and was eventually deported to Japan and barred from ever entering the United States again.

On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after being convicted of committing espionage for the Soviet Union. They were accused of transmitting nuclear weapon designs to the Soviet Union; at that time the United States was the only country with nuclear weapons. They were also accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, and jet propulsion engines to the USSR. Espionage is considered a treasonable act.

Treason is a serious, non-jokable charge with very unfunny consequences. But don’t overlook this as just another benign statement from an overly-vociferous president. What he is actually demanding here is a One Party System that does not allow dissent or protest, that prevents a press from publishing negative articles and results in job losses of federal employees who oppose his authority.

His latest claim is that if he does not get his way on immigration, he will shut down the government. This holds the American people hostage and in economic jeopardy and is questionably illegal.

The irony in all of this is that for all intents and purposes, this president has walked up to the line of committing Treason himself, and is so close in reality that only legal experts can parse out if or why he has not actually committed that crime. In psychology, this is called “Projectionalism;” to accuse others of what you are carry inside yourself.

Since taking office, Trump has assembled quite a laundry list of things he has done for the benefit of the Russian government.

* Shortly after his inauguration, Russian officials were invited to an Oval Office meeting, in which Trump revealed to Foreign Minister Lavrov secrets that compromised the coordination of intelligence gathering with Israeli operatives, jeopardizing Israeli and the U.S. ability to track down terrorists and proliferates.
* Following the events in the Ukraine in 2014 and Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Congress imposed sanctions against Russia and individual operatives of the Russian government. Since taking office, Trump has refused to take actions to impose these sanctions, despite the fact the law requires him to do so.
* The recent meeting in the United States dealing with cybersecurity and counterterrorism between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the heads of Russia’s intelligence agencies, one of which is included in the above mentioned sanctions and not allowed travel to the US.
* The Gasleys, a tanker carrying Russian LPG, docked in Boston and unloaded its cargo recently. Russia’s gas and oil industry is currently under sanctions, or is supposed to be at any rate.
* The Nunes memo and the Republican efforts to discredit the FBI and other intelligence services as a way to slow or stop Robert Mueller’s investigation has weakened the trust between Congress and the intelligence community, and has shown sources that their identities may not be protected.
* On April 7, 2017, the Trump administration launched a cruise missile strike against Shayrat airbase in Syria. The US launched 58 cruise missiles at the base, yet the base was operational within two days of the attack. Why? Because Trump had warned the Russians about the attack, so most of the planes, etc. had been moved before the missiles were even launched.

Moreover, words in the State of the Union address called for extending presidential powers and other non-restrictive measures which, in effect, abolish the Rule of Law for the President and his Administration’s activities.

America is now teetering on the balance between being ruled, not governed; in complete spineless fear, the GOP clenches their power at the cost of democracy and nation, shredding the ideals of the Constitution as fast as this administration has shed regulations protecting the American people, environment, public lands and diverse society.

At the fulcrum, we wait for something – anything – to prevent further decay of the country once known as a shining example of democracy.

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an independent researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

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Citing Poor Care for Mental Health in US Prisons, UK Court Refuses Extradition Request

For a second time in six years, the U.K. has declined to send an accused hacker to the U.S. out of concern for his safety in the care of the Department of Justice

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 4-6-2018 

Lauri Love. Photo: HackRead

An accused hacker will not be extradited to the United States after a British appeals court ruled that detaining the man in U.S. prisons would be harmful to his health and safety.

Lauri Love, who is accused to stealing information from U.S. military agencies and private companies in 2012 and 2013, had argued that his medical and mental health conditions—including severe depression and Asperger’s syndrome—would likely be mistreated in the U.S. prison system, putting him at risk for suicide. Continue reading

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Extreme Digital Vetting of Visitors to the U.S. Moves Forward Under a New Name

ICE officials have invited tech companies, including Microsoft, to develop algorithms that will track visa holders’ social media activity.

By George Joseph. Published by ProPublica 11-22-2017

The door of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehicle.. Photo: ICE

The Department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement is taking new steps in its plans for monitoring the social media accounts of applicants and holders of U.S. visas. At a tech industry conference last Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, ICE officials explained to software providers what they are seeking: algorithms that would assess potential threats posed by visa holders in the United States and conduct ongoing social media surveillance of those deemed high risk.

The comments provide the first clear blueprint for ICE’s proposed augmentation of its visa-vetting program. The initial announcement of the plans this summer, viewed as part of President Donald Trump’s calls for the “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim countries, stoked a public outcry from immigrants and civil liberties advocates. They argued that such a plan would discriminate against Muslim visitors and potentially place a huge number of individuals under watch. Continue reading

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Senate Votes to Give Trump Vast Domestic Spying Powers “No President Should Have”

“Instead of instituting much needed reforms, lawmakers voted to give the Trump administration broad powers to spy on Americans and foreigners at home and abroad without a warrant.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-18-2018

Photo: YouTube

Defenders of civil liberties and privacy advocates expressed their discontent on Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed a bill that reauthorizes and expands the ability of the goverment to spy on the digital communications without a warrant.

With a final vote of 65-34 vote in favor, the passage of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017—now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature—will extend for six years a provision known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which allows for call the “unconstitutional spying” on emails, text messages, and other digital communications of both Americans and foreign nationals without a warrant. Continue reading

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Taking Short Break From Denouncing Trump Authoritarianism, House Dems Join With GOP to ‘Violate the Privacy Rights of Everyone in United States’

“Democratic leadership in the House—who say that Trump is currently abusing his power to go after his political enemies—just helped him pass dangerous domestic surveillance powers.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-11-2018

“It seems rather odd, to put that mildly,” wrote journalist Glenn Greenwald, “to simultaneously insist that Trump is a traitorous agent or enslaved tool of an adversarial foreign power to whom he reports back, and then vote to give Trump extremely invasive, largely unchecked domestic spying power.” (Image: EFF)

Despite spending much of the last twelve months denouncing the legitimate threat posed by President Donald Trump’s penchant for authoritarian policies and behavior, 65 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday joined with 191 Republicans in passing a bill that advocates of civil liberties warn will lead to the wholesale violation ‘of privacy rights for everyone in the United States.’

While the final vote on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (or S.139)—which included renewal of the controversial Section 702 which allows government agencies to spy on the emails, text messages, and other electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant—was 256 to 164 in favor of passage, the partisan breakdown revealed that Republicans in the majority needed a great deal of Democratic support in order to have it pass. Continue reading

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Victory for Civil Liberties as GOP Push to Expand NSA Spying Declared Dead—For Now

“Just like that, in less than 12 hours, last-ditch efforts to cram an NSA surveillance expansion bill were delayed—and possibly derailed. Your voices are heard. Keep it up.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-20-2017

“Like with the tax bill and healthcare, House Republicans are now trying to pass an awful NSA surveillance expansion bill within hours of releasing the text and with zero debate,” Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm warned in a tweet on Tuesday. (Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr/cc)

Civil libertarians and internet freedom groups declared tentative victory on Wednesday after House Republicans announced that they have—at least for now—abandoned efforts to sneak through a measure that would have reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and vastly expanded NSA spying powers.

A number of prominent groups and public figures—including Fight for the Future, the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), and Edward Snowden—have been working to call attention to the legislation in recent days amid the flurry of tax and budget developments. Continue reading

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The StingRay Spy Device Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

At least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays.

By Olivia Donaldson

Photo: The Desk

Imagine you are in the middle of your typical day-to-day activities. Maybe you are driving, spending time with family, or working. If you are like most people, your phone is at your side on a daily basis. Little do you know that, at any time, police and law enforcement could be looking at information stored on your phone. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t been asked for permission. You aren’t suspected of any crime.

The StingRay

Police have the power to collect your location along with the numbers of your incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the content of call and text communication. They can do all of this without you ever knowing about it.

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren’t in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Quietly, StingRay use is growing throughout local and federal law enforcement with little to no oversight. The ACLU has discovered that at least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays, but says that this “dramatically underrepresents the actual use of StingRays by law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

The Violation

Information from potentially thousands of phones is being collected every time a StingRay is used. Signals are sent into the homes, bags, and pockets of innocent individuals. The Electronic Frontier Foundation likens this to the Pre-Revolutionary War practice of soldiers going door-to-door, searching without suspicion.

Richard Tynan, a technologist with Privacy International notes that, “there really isn’t any place for innocent people to hide from a device such as this.”

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The StingRay clearly violates these standards. The drafters of the Constitution recognized that restricting the government from violating privacy is essential for a free society. That’s why the Fourth Amendment exists. The StingRay is creating a dangerous precedent that tells the government that it’s okay for them to violate our rights. Because of this, freedom is quietly slipping out the window.

Little Regulation

Law Enforcement is using StingRays without a warrant in most cases. For example, the San Bernardino Police Department used their StingRay 300 times without a warrant in a little over a year.

In 2010, the Tallahassee Police Department used a StingRay in a warrantless search to track down the suspect of a crime. A testimony from an unsealed hearing transcript talks about how police went about finding their target. The ACLU sums it up well:

“Police drove through the area using the vehicle-based device until they found the apartment complex in which the target phone was located, and then they walked around with the handheld device and stood ‘at every door and every window in that complex’ until they figured out which apartment the phone was located in. In other words, police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within.”

A handful of states have passed laws requiring police and federal agents to get a warrant before using a StingRay. They must show probable cause for one of the thousands of phones that they are actually searching. This is far from enough.

Additionally, there are many concerns that agents are withholding information from federal judges to monitor subjects without approval – bypassing the probable cause standard laid out in the Constitution. They even go as far as to let criminals go to avoid disclosing information about these devices to the courts.

If the public doesn’t become aware of this issue, the police will continue to use StingRays to infringe on our rights in secret and with impunity.

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson is a recent high school graduate that is currently opting out of college and participating in an entrepreneurial program called Praxis.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Editorial note: If you’d like to read about the current use of StingRays by the Trump administration, we ran an article on the subject back in May.

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Future of Free Speech at Risk as Supreme Court Hears Critical Digital Privacy Case

“No constitutional doctrine should presume that consumers assume the risk of warrantless government surveillance simply by using technologies that are increasingly integrated into modern life.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-29-2017

In a Supreme Court case beginning Wednesday, the ACLU is arguing that Americans should not be expected to give up privacy rights every time they use a cell phone that pings phone towers nearby, as analog-era legal arguments would hold. (Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr/cc)

The Supreme Court will hear the first arguments in a landmark case regarding digital privacy rights on Wednesday as civil liberties advocates, joined by tech companies and journalists, argue the court must acknowledge that privacy rights and free speech protections should align with the reality of 21st century technology.

The case, known as Carpenter vs. United States centers around Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2011 of several robberies after the police, without a probable cause warrant, gathered data from his cell phone company. Months of records were turned over, showing that he had been near cell towers close to the sites of the robberies when they took place. Continue reading

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‘Chilling’ New Rule Allows DHS to Monitor All Immigrants’ Social Media Activity

Freedom of speech advocates denounce DHS’s new “collect-it-all” approach

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-27-2017

Freedom of speech advocates are calling a new Department of Homeland Security rule “chilling,” as the department will begin collecting social media communications and data of all immigrants.

The rule, added last week to the Privacy Act of 1974, would allow the DHS to gather “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” of people with immigration files, as well as “publicly available information from the internet.”

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement on the new rule on Tuesday. Continue reading

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Happy Birthday CIA: 7 Truly Terrible Things the Agency Has Done in 70 Years

By Carey Wedler. Published 9-18-2017 by The Anti-Media

The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency inlaid in the floor of the main lobby of the Original Headquarters Building. Photo by user:Duffman (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, President Trump tweeted birthday wishes to the Air Force and the CIA. Both became official organizations 70 years ago on September 18, 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.

After spending years as a wartime intelligence agency called the Office of Strategic Services, the agency was solidified as a key player in the federal government’s operations with then-President Harry Truman’s authorization. Continue reading

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