We Don't Need No Stinkin' Probable Cause!
Miranda Devine has a long and thorough article (actually from two days ago) on how the FBI maintains full employment for its agents:
I know what you’re thinking—What does Facebook have to do with the FBI? Devine explains:
Facebook has been spying on the private messages and data of American users and reporting them to the FBI if they express anti-government or anti-authority sentiments — or question the 2020 election — according to sources within the Department of Justice.
Under the FBI collaboration operation, somebody at Facebook red-flagged these supposedly subversive private messages over the past 19 months and transmitted them in redacted form to the domestic terrorism operational unit at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, without a subpoena.
“It was done outside the legal process and without probable cause,” alleged one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On condition of anonymity? Probably a good move, although one does wonder whether it’s possible to maintain anonymity any longer, the way things are going.
“Facebook provides the FBI with private conversations which are protected by the First Amendment without any subpoena.”
These private messages then have been farmed out as “leads” to FBI field offices around the country, which subsequently requested subpoenas from the partner US Attorney’s Office in their district to officially obtain the private conversations that Facebook already had shown them.
But when the targeted Facebook users were investigated by agents in a local FBI field office, sometimes using covert surveillance techniques, nothing criminal or violent turned up.
Well, it kept them busy. Nevertheless, one source complained that “it was a waste of our time.” Not to mention, highly illegal—which no longer appears to be a consideration for the FBI. My question is, What did the AUSA’s in local US Attorney’s offices say when FBI agents came to them asking for subpoenas? Surely they wanted to know about the predication for the full investigation? Please don’t anyone tell me that DoJ didn’t know about this.
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Now, read the Facebook denial—wait, make that plural: denials—of these shenanigans and tell me Facebook wasn’t coached on how to do a non-denial denial:
Facebook denied the allegations yesterday.
In two contrasting statements sent one hour apart, Erica Sackin, a spokesperson at Facebook’s parent company, Meta, claimed Facebook’s interactions with the FBI were designed to “protect people from harm.”
In her first statement, she said: “These claims are *false* because they reflect a misunderstanding of how our systems protect people from harm and how we engage with law enforcement. We carefully scrutinize all government requests for user information to make sure they’re legally valid and narrowly tailored and we often push back. We respond to legal requests for information in accordance with applicable law and our terms and we provide notice to users whenever permitted.”
Which sounds good, but was apparently untrue—which makes a difference.
In a second, unprompted “updated statement,” sent 64 minutes later, Sackin altered her language to say the claims are “wrong,” not “false.”
“These claims are just wrong. The suggestion we seek out peoples’ private messages for anti-government language or questions about the validity of past elections and then proactively supply those to the FBI is plainly inaccurate and *there is zero evidence to support it,”* said Sackin, a DC-based crisis response expert who previously worked for Planned Parenthood and “Obama for America” and now leads Facebook’s communications on “counterterrorism and dangerous organizations and individuals.”
Which sounds like she’s daring questioners: Prove it! Sounds like DoJ is counting on those sources to stay anonymous, and even if they do come out Facebook can almost certainly point to something that’s arguably “inaccurate”. Like the meaning of “is”. And don’t you luv that “dangerous organizations and individuals”? Danger is in the eye of the beholder these days. People who use the “wrong” pronouns are “violent”, right? At least they are in Newspeak.
The FBI is in CYA mode, neither confirming nor denying, although information regarding cooperation with Facebook would not be classified. This is usually a bad sign for a government agency, when it’s accused of criminal misconduct. However, what the FBI did say was, how shall we say this? Troubling? Yeah, that’s it. Or maybe, disturbing.
“The FBI maintains relationships with U.S. private sector entities, including social media providers. The FBI has provided companies with foreign threat indicators to help them protect their platforms and customers from abuse by foreign malign influence actors. U.S. companies have also referred information to the FBI with investigative value relating to foreign malign influence. The FBI works closely with interagency partners, as well as state and local partners, to ensure we’re sharing information as it becomes available. This can include threat information, actionable leads, or indicators. The FBI has also established relationships with a variety of social media and technology companies and maintains an ongoing dialogue to enable a quick exchange of threat information.”
Right. But if this was all about “foreign threat indicators”, why was it being run by the domestic terrorism program? And why were the agents going for subpoenas, rather than National Security Letters? Huh. Not getting past the sniff test. And, of course, “indicators” are very much a matter of what’s in the eye of the beholder. Sure, there’s a manual or a set of guidelines telling agents what the indicators are, so their asses will be covered, but we’ve seen some of those “indicators” and they don’t pass the sniff test, either. Sharing with “interagency partners”? Why? Could we have a list of three letter entities? This is obviously all about scooping up as much information as possible and preserving it forever.
Devine has a good source, someone with a suspicious mind and knowledge of how government agencies work—with a wink and a nod:
Facebook’s denial that it proactively provides the FBI with private user data without a subpoena or search warrant, if true, would indicate that the initial transfer has been done by a person (or persons) at the company designated as a “confidential human source” by the FBI, someone with the authority to access and search users’ private messages.
In this way, Facebook would have “plausible deniability” if questions arose about misuse of users’ data and its employee’s confidentiality would be protected by the FBI.
I’m trying to imagine doing something like that when I was working fraud cases. Developing an informant at financial or telecom institutions who would give me information that I would otherwise need a subpoena to obtain. It’s not clicking.
OK, are you sitting down? Because what the DoJ source has to say may shock you so much that you could fall down and hurt yourself. And here at Meaning in History we’re all about preventing harm and danger to individuals. Here goes:
“They [Facebook and the FBI] were looking for conservative right-wing individuals. None were Antifa types.”
OMG! What will Bluto Barr say when he hears this—will he still tell us to shut up about criticizing the FBI? Which raises another interesting question: How long has this been going on?
It’s a great read.