Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Random notes, philosophical asides, bookmarks, endorsements, and other things.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Some things I think are interesting, some I want to bookmark, some I want to plug, something for everyone, a comedy tonight! I am going to try to put these in some kind of rough topic order…

“Introduction to GPU Password Cracking: Owning the LinkedIn Password Dump”.

I Sea, “a mobile app that claimed to help users locate refugees adrift at sea”, appears to be a complete fraud.

The developers swapped information, including screen shots of a static image and a weather tool that one person claimed was used to mislead users into thinking they were looking at live images of the sea. Others noted that the app had been coded to tell users that their login credentials were invalid.

Bonus: the NYT mentions my third favorite security blogger, @SwiftOnSecurity. (Sorry, SecuriTay, but I’ve had my photo taken with the Krebster, and I know Borepatch. Third is still good enough for a medal, if this was the Olympics.)

And it isn’t just that the coding is screwy: PopSci makes a pretty strong argument that what I Sea claims to do is physically and logistically impossible.

To provide images of 1 percent of the total area of the Mediterranean would run over $1 million. And that’s just for one set of still photos. If the app were to provide up-to-date imaging, as it claims, the images would need to be refreshed regularly, at $1 million each time. And that cost is for unprocessed data, Romeijn says. Processing will cost more, as will the licensing fees required to make those images available to the public.

And those satellites make one pass a day, so you’re not getting “real-time” imaging, no way, no how.

The Oakland PD mess, summarized. Yes, I’m linking to an anonymous person on Facebook, but much of the information in this summary has already been reported in the media: this is more of a handy round-up if you haven’t been following this mess from the start. (Hattip: Popehat on the Twitter.)

And speaking of Popehat: the guys get shirts! Women, too. I just ordered mine: not only is $23 very reasonable for a shirt these days, and not only do I like Popehat, but I think Cotton Bureau does good stuff. (You may remember them from the BatLabels “Henchman” shirts, which are back in print! Hoorah!)

Flaming hyena #32: Democratic congressman Chaka Fattah.

In addition to racketeering conspiracy, Fattah was found guilty of bribery, bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements to a financial institution, and falsification of records.

A bunch of other folks took the fall with him, including Herbert Vederman:

Through cash payments to the congressman’s children, college tuition payments for his au pair and $18,000 given to help purchase a vacation home in the Poconos, prosecutors said, Vederman bought Fattah’s support in seeking appointment by the Obama White House to an ambassadorship.

(Hattip on this one to Mike the Musicologist.)

Prominent (well, in Chicago, anyway) Chicago journalist Neil Steinberg decides to pull the old “look how easy it is to buy an assault rifle” trick. So he goes to a gun store…

…and they deny his purchase because he’s a drunken wife-beater. (I have seen other versions of this story that state BATF first issued a “delay”, then a “deny” (BATF doesn’t have to give a reason for “deny”), Steinberg threatened to write that they were “denying” his purchase because he was a journalist, and the gun shop then decided to point out that he was a drunken wife-beater. However, this version seems to me to be to be the best sourced, and it doesn’t mention any BATF verdict.)

But at least he had the good taste to go with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#31 in a series)

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the Bill de Blasio scandal continues to grow.

A while back, I wrote about the suspension of three NYPD deputy chiefs and a deputy inspector, apparently because of their links to two of Di Blasio’s fundraisers.

The other shoe dropped today:

Three New York Police Department commanders, including a deputy chief, were arrested early Monday, along with a Brooklyn businessman, on federal corruption charges stemming from one of several continuing investigations into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising, according to court papers.

The NYPD officers are:

  • Deputy Chief Michael J. Harrington
  • Deputy Inspector James M. Grant
  • and Sgt. David Villanueva

This is a little confusing for me: the NYT consistently refers to “three commanders”, but one of these guys appears to be a sergeant. Is that a commander rank in the NYPD?

Of these three, Harrington and Grant were among the officers suspended in April. Also arrested: Jeremiah Reichberg, one of the “businessmen” who has been a “generous supporter” of the mayor. Jona Rechnitz, also a “businessman”, “generous supporter”, and apparently Reichberg’s partner in the deal, has taken a plea on corruption charges and now appears to be rolling on the others involved.

The court papers in the case detail lavish gifts the two senior police officials are accused of receiving in exchange for taking official action, including expensive meals, free overseas and domestic trips, and the referral of business to a security company associated with one of the officials. The deputy inspector was also accused of receiving a trip on a private jet to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl weekend in 2013, and was said to be accompanied by a prostitute.

Hookers. Always with the hookers.

The official action taken by the senior officers included closing a traffic lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to provide a police escort for a businessman visiting the United States, dispatching police officers to the area near a jewelry business run by associates of Mr. Reichberg to disperse people handing out fliers for a rival business, and sending officers to disperse protesters in front of the business of an associate of Mr. Reichberg, according to the court papers. One of the officials also helped the men with their applications to get Police Department pistol licenses.

I’m not sure which “official” is being referenced here, but it makes a nice segue anyway: Sgt. Villanueva’s arrest appears to be related to the pistol license scheme.

Court papers unsealed on Monday also disclosed that a police officer who was involved in that scheme had previously pleaded guilty to bribery charges and was cooperating with federal authorities. In that scheme, bribes — as much as $18,000 per gun license — factored into between 100 and 150 gun licenses in recent years, according to the court papers.

$18K for a gun license. Come to Texas, guys: here there’s no license required just to own one, and it’s $140 (plus about another $140 for the required training course) for a license to carry either open or concealed. Of course, it is hot as hell here, but the upside to that is never having to shovel snow.

Adult supervision needed. Inquire within.

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

This one got past me earlier in the week: I was sort of avoiding media because Orlando and stupids, and the Oakland/SF papers aren’t part of my usual daily media diet anyway. And as it turns out, Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man beat me to this as well…

So, followup, for the historical record and folks who don’t read BRM: remember the Oakland PD fired their chief, Sean Whent? So of course they appointed an interim chief.

The interim chief lasted five days.

“I have just received information that has caused me to lose confidence in Ben Fairow’s ability to lead the Oakland Police Department at this particular moment in time,” the mayor said in a statement on Wednesday, announcing Mr. Fairow’s departure. She did not elaborate on specific reasons for her decision.

I’m not trying to seem like Judgy McJudgerson here, but this might potentially be relevant to the mayor’s “loss of confidence”: Fairow apparently had “an affair with a consenting adult while married more than a decade ago”, according to the BART chief (who, by the way, has also “welcomed back” Fairow to the BART PD).

The interim chief was previously a deputy chief for BART. So they brought in a new interim chief, who was currently an Oakland PD assistant chief.

He lasted two days.

Mr. Figueroa said in a statement on Friday that he was taking leave and would return to the department as a captain.

More from SFGate:

In a move in which the mayor indicated she had lost faith in police leaders to run the department, she disclosed that she would not appoint another interim or acting chief to the top post. Instead, the department will have no chief, and for the time being command staff will report to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth as Oakland conducts a national search for a new chief.

“a national search for a new chief”. Hmmmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmm. Gee, is there anyone we can think of that’s from California originally, has experience running a police department that’s even larger than Oakland’s, in a city much larger than Oakland, has been going through some friction with local politicians, and might be interested in a change?

Nope. Can’t think of anyone.

(Sarcasm aside, would Art, dammit, Art even be willing to take over this dumpster fire of a department?)

Followups.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Lawrence’s backlink for my DNA lab post reminded me that I intended to link to this Grits For Breakfast post on the same subject.

More on MP Jo Cox: NYT. The Guardian (current live blog, historical live blog). Express.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr. Mair sent about $620 to the National Alliance for items from its publishing imprint, National Vanguard Books, including works that instructed readers on the chemistry of powder and explosives. Also purchased was a copy of “Ich Kampfe,” a book published by the Nazi Party in the early 1940s.
Heidi Beirich, the director of the center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks and produces reports on extremist groups, said in an interview that it had found the invoices in a database of records it maintains.
When Mr. Mair’s name surfaced on Thursday, Ms. Beirich said, the Intelligence Project matched it with invoices in its possession. She said those records were authentic because they had been leaked by members of the National Alliance. Further, she said, she was confident the records were linked to Mr. Mair because the address on the invoices matched his home address.

You know, I dislike Nazis as much as the next guy or gal, but: does this bother anyone else? The SLPC apparently has a database of people’s book orders that was “leaked” to them? And they, in turn, are providing those records to the press?

Setting aside our individual lack of love for the Nazis, isn’t it possible that there are people on that list – students of modern day extremism, university libraries with collections of extremist literature for reference purposes, etc. – that would object to having their purchases revealed to unrelated third parties?

And where does this stop? Anyone remember the Tattered Cover case?

You know what Travis County needs?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Strict dog control.

A pack of dogs killed a 36-year-old woman in North Travis County, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Thursday.

More:

Animal Protection officers impounded six dogs that were on the property, most of which appeared to be Labrador/Great Pyrenees mixes, the release said. They also found 14 puppies. Fraga said city records show no prior animal complaints at the property.

I come from a family of dog owners. My mother currently owns a Corgi, and my sister owns a German Short-haired Pointer. But nobody except maybe the police and military needs these large deadly high capacity assault dogs that are capable of maiming or killing dozens of people with one bite of their jaws. No private citizen needs 20 dogs.

And do you realize that just anyone can walk into a pet store and purchase one of these deadly assault dogs with no background check?

Sensible dog control now!

Quote of the day 2.

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Because it is my blog, dammit, and I can have more than one if I want. Especially if the second one is from a new Ken White post:

Urging vague and unconstrained government power is not how responsible citizens of a free society ought to act. It’s a bad habit and it’s dangerous and irresponsible to promote it.

This is not an abstract or hypothetical point. We live in a country in which arbitrary power is routinely abused, usually to the detriment of the least powerful and the most abused among us. We live in a country in which we have been panicked into giving the government more and more power to protect us from harm, and that power is most often not used for the things we were told, but to solidify and expand previously existing government power. We live in a country where the government uses the power we’ve already given it as a rationale for giving it more: “how can we not ban x when we’ve already banned y?” We live in a country where vague laws are used arbitrarily and capriciously.

You know what Great Britain needs?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Oh, yeah. That’s right. Never mind.

LONDON — British Labour lawmaker Jo Cox has been injured in a shooting near Leeds, the Press Association reported Thursday.

Edited to add: more from The Express by way of Popehat on the Twitter.

“…The man pulled a gun – it was a makeshift gun, not like something you see on television.”

Edited to add: The Express is now reporting that MP Cox has succumbed to her injuries. Sincere condolences to her family and friends.

He added the weapon “was probably an old gun, a sawn-off shotgun.

Eyewitness Clarke Rothwell, who runs a cafe nearby told the Telegraph: “He was stabbing her with a foot-long knife multiple times while shouting ‘Britain first, Britain first, Britain first’

Edited to add: I’m now seeing reports on Twitter that the whole “Britain first” thing is wrong. It is worth keeping in mind that this story, like so many other recent stories, is emerging, and early details may be mistaken.

Edited to add: I was trying to find something very similar to this on Popehat’s Twitter feed earlier today, but I couldn’t. Fortunately, he retweeted almost exactly what I was looking for:

Random notes: June 13, 2016.

Monday, June 13th, 2016

I was busy all day yesterday, and I have nothing profound or interesting to say about Orlando. Go look at the smarter people on my blogroll if you’re looking for that: I’d suggest Tam and Lawrence as good starting points.

In other news: there’s now an official lawsuit pending to remove Williamson Count District Attorney Jana Duty from office. And I’m thinking I need a WCDA tag.

I missed this until Lawrence sent me a link to a Daily Mail story: Sean Whent, the police chief in Oakland, resigned on Thursday.

Chief Anthony Batts quit in 2011 after receiving a scathing report from Robert Warshaw, the court monitor assigned to ensure that the Police Department was implementing reforms ordered by a federal judge. Batts’ successor, Howard Jordan, left suddenly in 2013 amid a spike in violent crime and a wave of anger over how police were handling Occupy protests. Interim Chief Anthony Toribio, who came in after Jordan, lasted only two days.

The general belief seems to be that Whent was working to stabilize and clean up the department, but there were a whole host of recent scandals on his watch:

Officer Cullen Faeth was charged with misdemeanor battery, public intoxication and trespassing after he allegedly tried to break into a home in Oakland’s Redwood Heights neighborhood in December and attacked a woman who lived there. In February, Officer Matthew Santos was arrested for allegedly pulling his gun on a man painting Santos’ apartment in Emeryville. Santos was fired shortly thereafter.

But the biggest issue is a messy sex scandal. Five officers have been placed on administrative leave so far.

The woman at the center of the sex scandal is claiming she had sex with two dozen current and former officers in five cities, a newspaper investigation published Sunday found.

More from the Mercury News:

…she slept with three of the 24 officers — all from Oakland’s police department — before she turned 18 last August.

She also said that two Oakland officers provided her confidential police information, including tips on scheduled anti-prostitution stings…

Random notes: June 11, 2016.

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

This is shaping up to be a busy weekend, but I have a little bit of time this morning and wanted to make note of one major and one minor story.

Major story: the Austin Police Department has temporarily suspended DNA testing at their lab.

This is the same lab that RoadRich and I toured as part of our CPA class; they may have been blowing smoke, but one of the things that stood out to us was how seriously the APD lab took their certifications, and how much effort they put into getting things right.

So what’s going on? It looks like three things:

1) Unspecified concerns raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Police officials, who were working Friday to determine how best to proceed, said the commission raised concerns about calculations and formulas the lab was using in conducting DNA analysis, but said they didn’t know specifics.

Officials had already scaled back lab operations in recent weeks — its staff were only screening evidence for DNA but were no longer doing analysis — and asked state forensic experts to evaluate the lab’s operation amid concerns about its operations.
Gay said Friday that he hasn’t received a formal notification from the state about the outcome of the experts’ inquiry, but that, based on phone conversations, “there are some challenges in front of us”.

2) There’s also a leadership gap. Apparently, the civilian lab supervisor (who goes unnamed in the Statesman) recently passed away, and had been out on leave for a while before that.

3) I’m a little confused by this part, and would love to find an “explain like I’m 5” piece on it: apparently, the Feds have issued new standards for doing DNA probability calculations, and a lot of labs – not just Austin – are struggling to implement them. This is something that was specifically mentioned as an issue on our tour:

FBI officials last year notified crime labs across the country that they were using outdated methods to examine samples containing genetic material from multiple people — methods that often led expert witnesses to greatly overstate the reliability of that evidence in court.
The use of outdated protocols to interpret test results means an expert witness might have told jurors that the chances are 1 in more than a billion that the genetic material in question belonged to someone other than the defendant, when those odds are more like 1 in 100.

So the lab has to go through and do a bunch of recalculation on a bunch of existing cases (around 1,300). And that apparently requires things like software updates (which I gather aren’t as simple as “download a .ZIPed EXE file and run it” when you’re dealing with forensic gear) and additional new training for the people doing the work.

All of this is going to take time: they’re speculating four to six months. In the meantime, DNA samples are going to be sent either to private labs or the Texas DPS lab for analysis.

…the lab’s backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis has risen to about 1,300, the most in the past five years.

Minor story:

First reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, posted a “sources sought” solicitation for non-standard weapons on a federal contracting site early last month. In April, the command posted a similar notice for non-standard weapon ammunition. The term “non standard” is used for weapons not frequently employed by the United States or its NATO allies.

What kind of “non-standard” weapons and ammo? AK-47s. Yes, WP, yes, journalist’s guide to firearm identification, but it seems like this is for real AK-47s:

SOCOM’s solicitation includes weapons such as the iconic “AK-47″ rifle, a catchall designator for Kalashnikov-variant rifles designed to fire a certain type of ammunition and often identified by their distinctive curved magazines. Other weapons include the SVD, a unique looking sniper rifle that has likely killed thousands of U.S. troops since it was first introduced in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Additionally, Russian medium and heavy machine guns as well as 14.5mm aircraft guns are included in the notice.

This makes sense, in a way. As the article explains, we’re arming foreign troops, but giving them distinctively US-made weapons (like the M4) puts a target on their back: “Although likely more accurate than their Soviet-style counterparts, U.S. weapons can make the fighters carrying them targets for other factions.” Plus: “U.S. weapons can also be difficult to maintain,” (Really?!) “prompting Special Operations Command and the CIA to procure and supply weapons that their allies are used to fighting with, such as Kalashnikovs.”

The thing that makes me wonder about this story: I’m sure we’ve all heard (I’ve even linked to) stories about secret CIA/SOCOM warehouses filled to the rafters with captured AK-47s intended to arm foreign troops while maintaining plausible deniability. So why does SOCOM need contracts to produce new ones? Are the warehouses running low? Are the ones in the warehouses poorly made or shot to heck, and SOCOM thinks they’re better off getting new ones that are assembled to tighter tolerances? (Sort of a Smith and Wesson vs. Taurus comparison, but for AK’s? Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#Z of a series)

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

I was hoping to have something else to put here. Maybe that will be #AA, or #AB.

But I digress. Remember a few weeks ago, when I commented, “…in my experience so far with the Citizen’s Police Academy, the rank-and-file seem to love the guy.”

Here’s the flip side of that:

A total of 883 police officers — representing more than half of the department’s officers — participated in the survey released Thursday. Four hundred and eighty respondents — or 54.5 percent — described morale at the department as “poor.”

I quibble slightly with the Statesman‘s headline, “Survey: More than half of Austin police officers say morale is poor”. If memory serves, the authorized strength of the APD is just over 1,800 officers, and they told our CPA class they were about 100 officers short. They did give an exact figure: it was in the 1,700 range, but I don’t remember exactly what, and it has certainly fluctuated some since then. Point being: 883 officers is just over half of the department, and that’s just the number that responded to the survey. The actual number that described morale as “poor” – 480 – is more like 28% of the department, not half.

Continuing:

…90 percent of officers surveyed said that staffing shortages are affecting the department’s “ability to do its job effectively.” To make up for a shortage of patrol officers, the Austin police command instituted a rotation that is pulling detectives and nonpatrol officers away from their typical duties to fill vacant patrol shifts.

With all due respect to the fine men and women of the APD, and with the understanding that police work is different from technical support, this doesn’t sound too much different from my job. I’d prefer to have time to work on my existing cases instead of taking new phone calls. But if we’re shorthanded and there’s not enough people in the phone queue, guess what? My preferences don’t matter. And the city has some major issues right now, including a serial sexual assaulter and rock throwers on the interstate. I don’t blame the chief for wanting butts in the field.

Lower-ranking officers feel shut out of the decision-making process, Austin police union President Ken Casaday said, adding that there have been some recent improvements since the survey was conducted May 11-13.

See. Above. And yes, there probably are times when higher-ranking officers make stupid hasty decisions: I can’t think of ones from the APD, but The Onion Field is a classic example.

The survey also indicated that more than half of the officers surveyed believe Police Chief Art Acevedo is often politically driven in high-profile disciplinary cases, isn’t honest and relies on fear and retaliation in managing the department.

Note that it was the APD police union that ran the survey.

Followups.

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Theresa Saldana: NYT. A/V Club.

Lawrence was kind enough to throw me a backlink and add some additional context to the Jana Duty story. Latest update: even though Duty will be out after the election, “Williamson County business leaders” are demanding that she resign now. In addition to her troubles with the State Bar, the people demanding her resignation are claiming she’s pretty much stopped showing up for work:

Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell also spoke at the news conference and said that Duty “has largely been absent from her post.”
“This makes doing my job as a judge in the community more challenging and very difficult to serve the people of Williamson County effectively,” Gravell said.

And Mike the Musicologist sent me a link to a CNN story about Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau pleading guilty to one count of “making a false statement to investigators”.

Two things about that story:

1) Rear Admiral Gilbeau’s plea is related to the ongoing investigation into the “Fat Leonard” scandal.

2) Linked it before, I’ll link it again: “Really, seriously, just shut the fuck up.”

Annals of law (#10 in a series)

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Two sort of random notes:

1. Jana Duty, the elected district attorney of Williamson County (Williamson County is just up the road from Austin/Travis County: it covers Round Rock and Georgetown) has been placed “on probation” by the State Bar of Texas for 18 months.

Duty will still be able to practice law but will have to comply with the terms of her probation.

Why? “Professional misconduct”. Specifically, Ms. Duty was accused of withholding evidence in a murder case.

“It is unknown to the court why Ms. Duty intentionally and willfully withheld the means to view time stamps on the Walmart Surveillance video other than from Ms. Duty’s statement that “(defense counsel) acted so horribly to me during the first trial, that I just — I didn’t want to speak to them,’” the court document said.

Here’s the Wilco DA’s website. I find that quote from Article 2.01 deeply ironic.

2. On Monday, a judge for the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals ruled that Sonia Cacy was innocent of murder.

Ms. Cacy was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1993: she allegedly doused her uncle with “an accelerant” and set him on fire.

Except there were problems with the evidence.

During at punishment retrial in 1996, her new attorney enlisted Dr. Gerald Hurst, the late Cambridge-educated chemist from Austin, to evaluate the forensic evidence that clinched conviction against her. Hurst discovered that the original tests, conducted by Joe Castorena of the Bexar County Forensics Lab, had been completely misread. The results didn’t find the indicators of an accelerant as he claimed. Castorena, a toxicologist by training, had in fact identified the products of pyrolysis—compounds created by burning plastic, which in many ways are similar to those of an accelerant.

Lots of problems:

…Castorena, the toxicologist, admitted in a letter to her [Cacy’s – DB] counsel, Dallas lawyer Gary Udashen, that the clothing samples he’d tested had been contaminated in either the morgue or the lab. Thus, his baffling reasoning went, anyone who didn’t know about the contamination couldn’t accurately interpret the results. Asked why he never reported this, Castorena replied, “nobody asked me.”

The full court has to concur before Ms. Cacy is officially exonerated, but as the TM article notes, that almost seems to be a formality now.