A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

Just a Few Bad Apples

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Chicago is an interesting case study. In addition to being proof that gun control laws don’t reduce gun violence, the city also manages to having increasing levels of violent crime at a time when violent crime as a whole is going down. But wait, there’s more! Not only is violence performed by nongovernmental entities up in Chicago, but violence performed by government entities is also up:

CHICAGO ― The Chicago Police Department regularly violates citizens’ civil rights, routinely fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct and poorly trained officers at all levels, according to a sweeping Justice Department probe of the nation’s second-largest police department.

The findings echo those of an April 2016 report released by Chicago’s then-new Police Accountability Task Force, which emphasized that the police department must face a “painful but necessary reckoning” that includes acknowledging its racist history and its consequent legacy of corruption and mistrust ― particularly between the department and the minority communities it polices.

What else could we expect from a police department that operates its own black sites?

Chicago may have the honors of being the first city with a police department that is so corrupt that even the Department of Justice can cover it up anymore. There’s also a good chance that it will enjoy the honors of being the second city to join Detroit in complete collapse.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 18th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Liability Shield

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I’ve discussed the redundant layers that the State has put into place to protect itself from meaningful change. One such layer is police unions. Last year we saw how police unions managed to get violent officers reinstated in both November and December.

Cities sign contracts with police unions that often shield officers from liability. Reuters looked at 82 police union contracts and found some interesting clauses:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Law enforcement is the idea that a handful of trusted individuals can be given power over everybody else. Theoretically this idea could work if the trusted individuals are held to a higher standard that everybody else. In practice those individuals are almost always held to a lower standard. Handing out authority without accountability is a recipe for disaster.

Consider the first point in the above excerpt. If an officer has a history of violent behavior it might not show up because records of previous incidents were purged. This seems rather odd when you consider how permanent criminal records are for you and me. A criminal record for an average individual can haunt them for the rest of their life. And we’re told that such records are necessary because recidivism is a very real threat. I guess badges guard against liability and recidivism.

The second point is also an interest double standard. If you’re arrested you will be interrogated before you’re allowed to see any of the evidence collected against you. In fact, you generally only get to see the evidence against you after you’ve been charged and your lawyer demands it from the prosecutor. But in many cities officers accused of wrongdoing are allowed to view all of the evidence against them before they are interrogated.

Police union contracts are giant double standards that give law enforcers a significant advantage when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing. This makes it difficult to holding bad cops accountable. The fact that holding bad cops accountable is difficult encourages unsavory sorts to pursue a career in law enforcement. I think you can see where this road ends.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

It’s Good to be the King’s Men

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Life can be difficult down here in the trenches. For example, when somebody dies due to our misdeeds or negligence we usually end up facing criminal charges and being sentences to rot in a cage for years. Not so for the king’s men. The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of protecting police from their negligence:

The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers’ home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to “get his side of the story,” to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn’t identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.

That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell “we have guns.” He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn’t hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.

The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.

This is an example of police negligence leading to death. The police didn’t announce themselves but threatened Mr. Paulie. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see to see why Mr. Paulie might think his home was being invaded by a nongovernmental gang. Office White arrived on the scene after his cohorts had already made a mess of things but he didn’t bother alerting Mr. Paulie that he was in office either. Apparently the department doesn’t train its office to say, “We’re the police.”

Some people will likely side with Officer White by claiming he acting in self-defense. But such a defense generally requires that one demonstrate that they didn’t create the situation. In Minnesota we call this being a reluctant participant. If you created the situation then you generally can’t claim self-defense. Unless, of course, you have a badge.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Winning the Battles Just to Lose the War

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What happens when you’re winning battles but end up losing the war? I’m not sure. Perhaps somebody should ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):

Rather than disclose the source code that the FBI used to target a child porn suspect, federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Washington recently dropped their appeal in United States v. Michaud.

The case is just one of 135 federal prosecutions nationwide involving the Tor-hidden child porn website Playpen. The vast effort to bust Playpen has raised significant questions about the ethics, oversight, capabilities, and limitations of the government’s ability to hack criminal suspects.

For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Playpen was a child pornography site hosted using a Tor hidden service. The FBI managed to identify the server the site was being hosted on and take over the job of hosting and improving the site. Why would the FBI host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The agency’s justification was that it was using the site to distribute malware that revealed the identity of individuals accessing the site. Using this tactic it managed to bring charges against 135 individuals.

However, the FBI has been unwilling to reveal the exploit it used to reveal the users’ identities. Its obsession with secrecy is so strong that it’s letting suspected child pornographers walk rather than reveal the exploit, i.e. the evidence, to their defense attorneys. The FBI won the battle to identify individuals who accessed the site but is losing the war.

The FBI’s unwillingness to follow through to prosecute these suspects raises a lot of questions. The most obvious one, I believe, is if the FBI was unwilling to prosecute these individuals, why did it use government funds to host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The fact that the agency even utilized that tactic raised significant moral questions but its failure to follow through just makes the act even more despicable. Another question I have is, why do people still look at the FBI has anything other than a criminal organization? Between manufacturing cases of terrorism and distributing child pornography the agency stands guilty of significant crimes.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am

To Serve and Protect

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It’s winter, which means Mother Nature is doing her best to kill us in even more brutal ways than normal. One of her favorite weapons is snow. Snow can turn a smoothly operating highway into a parking lot. Some brave humans attempt to defend us against her frozen water by removing it from our roads. However, their job is rather difficult to do when America’s heroes are out punishing them:

Whenever it snows, Mitch Fisher is ready to help his neighbors, whether it’s clearing the sidewalks or trying to clear the street. When the area’s Christmas storm hit, he was out plowing his street with his ATV.

“I take care of the neighbors. They’re all elderly and I like to help them out,” Fisher said.

On Wednesday, however, a Pocatello police officer cited Fisher for an infraction — placing or depositing material on a public right of way. It carries a cost of more than $200.

As usual, the police are claiming it was a safety issue. Either snow on the road isn’t a safety issue or the police are trying to justify extortion. Take your pick.

I’m quite familiar with what Mr. Fisher was doing because my father does the same thing whenever it snows. Since he has a tractor with a bucket on the front he can move a lot of snow quickly. Because of that he often plows his driveway and the neighbors’ driveways. All of the snow is dumped on his or the neighbors’ lawns so it’s out of the way. By doing this his neighbor’s are happy. However, it’s an example of somebody voluntarily acting to make lives better and we know that the State doesn’t want that.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Double Edged Sword of Body Cameras

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As the public’s trust in law enforcers diminished demands were made to monitor working police officers. These demands resulted in calls for making officers wear body cameras that recorded their actions while they worked. In response many law enforcement agencies started buying body cameras and issuing them to the police. This satiated many peoples’ demands for police monitoring but some of us pointed out the limited utility of body cameras due to the fact that the departments usually controlled the footage. So long as body camera footage isn’t made available to the public in some manner it’s far too easy for departments to make any footage that incriminates their officers disappear down a memory hole.

Since no standards exist regarding the availability of police body camera footage states, counties, and cities are making up their own rules as they go. Locally a Hennepin County judge recently ruled that police body camera footage is off limits to the public:

So Hennepin prosecutors met with the chief judge and representatives of the Hennepin Public Defender’s Office, which handles 45,000 cases a year. The result was Bernhardson’s order, which asserts that prosecutors and defense attorneys have to follow the guidelines of the law, which save for “certain narrow exceptions,” classifies body camera video as off-limits to the public.

As the article points out, there are some difficult privacy questions regarding police body camera footage. However, body cameras are of limited use if such footage is classified as off-limits to the public. Under such a system body cameras allow law enforcers to use the footage as evidence against the people they arrest but don’t allow the public to use the footage to hold bad law enforcers accountable.

This lopsided policy shouldn’t surprise anybody. Law enforcement departments wouldn’t willingly adopt body cameras if they could realistically be used to hold officers accountable. But they would jump at the chance to use such devices to prosecute more people because then body cameras are a revenue generator instead of a liability. The State, having an interest in appeasing its revenue generators, has been more than happy to give law enforcers a ruleset that gives them the benefits of body cameras without the pesky downsides.

What does this mean for the general public? It means everybody should record, and preferably livestream, every police encounter they are either a party to or come across.

Another Violent Cop Reinstated

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The State has many redundancies to protect its people from justice. Take police unions, for example. When a police officer steps out of line so egregiously that their department actually fires them the police unions are quick to move in and get the officer reinstated:

A Richfield police officer who was seen on video striking a Somali-American teenager in the fall of 2015 must be reinstated to the force, an independent arbitrator said Wednesday, and police officials in the first-ring suburb aren’t happy about that.

Officer Nate Kinsey had been fired by the city of Richfield. Instead, the arbitrator said, he will serve a three-day suspension and again be a member of the department.

And what was the union’s justification for pushing for the officer’s reinstatement? Well, you see, he was such a good boy:

“[He] is held in high regard by his fellow officers and supervisors and is known for his honesty, commitment, and dedication,” said Sean Gormley, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services. “The incident in question demonstrates the challenges officers face on a regular basis. [It] also illustrates the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions based on partial video and audio recordings.

Challenges officers face on a regular basis, like having to ask the union to get them reinstated after getting caught on camera striking somebody without cause.

The people of Richfield can look forward to this officer protecting and serving the shit out of them again.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 30th, 2016 at 10:00 am

The Planes Have Ears

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While a bunch of nationalists continue to call Snowden a traitor and demand he return to the United States for execution the rest of us are looking at the material he provided about the criminal organization he worked for as a contractor. Through the information he provided we’ve learned a great deal about how the National Security Agency (NSA) has been abusing its power to surveil the American public. Whether on the ground, on the sea, or in the air the NSA is spying on you:

IN THE TROVE of documents provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a treasure. It begins with a riddle: “What do the President of Pakistan, a cigar smuggler, an arms dealer, a counterterrorism target, and a combatting proliferation target have in common? They all used their everyday GSM phone during a flight.”

This riddle appeared in 2010 in SIDtoday, the internal newsletter of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, or SID, and it was classified “top secret.” It announced the emergence of a new field of espionage that had not yet been explored: the interception of data from phone calls made on board civil aircraft. In a separate internal document from a year earlier, the NSA reported that 50,000 people had already used their mobile phones in flight as of December 2008, a figure that rose to 100,000 by February 2009. The NSA attributed the increase to “more planes equipped with in-flight GSM capability, less fear that a plane will crash due to making/receiving a call, not as expensive as people thought.” The sky seemed to belong to the agency.

In a 2012 presentation, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, in turn disclosed a program called “Southwinds,” which was used to gather all the cellular activity, voice communication, data, metadata, and content of calls on board commercial aircraft. The document, designated “top secret strap,” one of the highest British classification levels, said the program was still restricted to the regions covered by satellites from British telecommunications provider Inmarsat: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

I vaguely remember something about some bill listing some supposed rights. If I remember correctly one of the items on that list mentioned something about a right to being protected from unwarranted searches.

Anybody who is even moderately well read on history knows that national surveillance apparatuses are generally developed under the guise of surveilling external threats but always end up being used to surveil the nation’s own people. This is why privacy advocates tend to have a zero tolerance policy in regards to national surveillance efforts. It is also why only a fool would support such efforts.

What Snowden did wasn’t traitorous, it was an attempt to bring some accountability to the unaccountable. The NSA has been performing untargeted searches. Untargeted searches necessarily means no warrants have been issued, which means these searches of the American people are in violation of the language of the Fourth Amendment. This is why it amuses me when self-proclaimed constitutionalists call for Snowden’s head. It is also why I’m amused by people who claim that the Constitution is a protection against the government’s power. To quote Lysander Spooner, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Everything Old is New Again

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During the Cold War Senator Joe McCarthy believed that the Soviets had infiltrated every branch of the United States government. Unhappy by the prospect of evil communists infiltrating his beloved fascist government, McCarthy decided to do the only thing he knew how to do, perform witch hunts. He made the lives of many people miserable all because he didn’t want international socialists in his national socialist government.

Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do remember history are doomed to watch everybody else repeat it:

On Tuesday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and six ranking members of major House committees sent President Obama a letter declaring, “We are deeply concerned by Russian efforts to undermine, interfere with, and even influence the outcome of our recent election.”

A prominent signer of the letter — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — is among the Democrats most eager to denounce Russian subversion.

A week ago, when the House approved by a 390-30 margin and sent to the Senate the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2017, Schiff praised “important provisions aimed at countering Russia’s destabilizing efforts — including those targeting our elections.” One of those “important provisions,” Section 501, sets up in the executive branch “an interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence.”

The only difference between the beginning of this story and the beginning of McCarthy’s story is that in this revision Russia isn’t a communist nation anymore.

If you read the document you’ll see that it tasks the committee with nebulous responsibilities that are vague enough to mean anything. My favorite responsibility is probably dealing with media manipulation. It must be noted that the document is tasking the committee with specifically countering Russian media manipulation, not manipulation performed by the United States government because that form of manipulation is doubleplusgood. What this requirement will boil down to is any media reports that aren’t favorable to the interests of the United States will likely be called Russian influence and dealt with accordingly. I’m sure there are a lot of journalists out there that will find themselves under federal investigation, probably of the secret variety, because they reported the wrong side of a story.

After the conclusion of the Cold War you might have expected the United States to chill the fuck out. With its only credible adversary out of the picture the United States could stop living in a constant state of fear. Instead it sought high and low for a new threat. Many were tried; Iran, al Qaeda, Iraq, etc.; but it quickly became obvious that the hole in the United States’ heart could only be filled by Russia. So here we are, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, still looking to hold witch trails on account of Russia.

Nothing changes.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 9th, 2016 at 11:00 am

Using Data Classification to Hide the Truth

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Continuing on my theme of the State having many layers of protection that hinder any meaningful change, I came across a story about how the Department of Defense used data classification to protect itself from possible budget cuts:

In January of 2015, as the US Department of Defense was chafing under the sequestration of its budget, the Pentagon leadership got some great news. A study prepared by the Defense Business Board (DBB) and a team from the global management consulting giant McKinsey and Company found that even with “moderate” changes to business practices, the DOD could save $125 billion over five years.

[…]

That good news, however, did not fall upon welcoming ears. DOD officials had no real idea how much bureaucratic overhead was costing them, as the costs were never accurately measured. When they saw the numbers from the DBB, the Washington Post reports, some of the Pentagon’s leadership was afraid of a legislative backlash. After DOD officials had complained for years about not having enough money to Congress, the department feared findings would trigger further cuts to the DOD’s budget. So the data for the study was designated as sensitive, and an overview of the report that had already been published to the Defense Business Board website was pulled.

You will never find a department within the State that will willingly submit to a budget cut. In fact, departments will go to great lengths to justify expanding their budgets. Different departments have different strategies to argue against cuts but they all work together to ensure that the State always has a justification to keep cranking up taxes.

I would have liked to see the looks on the faces of those Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucrats when they saw that they could cut $125 billion for their budget. I’m sure they made more than a few implied threats to the people who created the report to discourage them from performing such an investigation in the future. And if the DoD didn’t have a policy to mark any reports arguing in favor of a budget cut as sensitive before, I’m sure it does now.

People talk about changing the system from the inside but that’s not possible when every component of the system has hundreds or thousands of roadblocks preventing changes. Concealing information is one such roadblock. How can somebody make an accurate budget when the information they need is inaccurate or missing? So long as every department only reveals information arguing for the need to increase their budget there is no way anybody within the system is going to be able to make a valid (to the State, not to the people) argument for decreasing taxes.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 7th, 2016 at 10:30 am