Tag Archives: freedom of information act

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Washington, DC — On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Property of the People filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.

Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information online identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” about a previously unknown FBI surveillance platform named Gravestone. The metadata was posted on the DOJ’s website data.gov [screencaptures 1, 2].

The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”

The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader DOJ data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems. While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.

In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. The FBI failed to comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working day deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, earlier today, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance with its FOIA requests.

Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, and security incidents and misuse.

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online. While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems. Not only has the DOJ now purged all information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have failed to make public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.

According to Property of the People Co-Founder, Ryan Shapiro:

“The FBI has a long, dark history of utilizing new surveillance technologies to facilitate violations of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the public requires access to documents about this cyber-enabled FBI surveillance platform.”

Shapiro continues:

“The FBI has failed to make public, and possibly even to conduct, the legally mandated Privacy Impact Assessment for its Gravestone surveillance system, and also failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about Gravestone. True to form, the FBI appears intent on conducting surveillance with abandon on Americans while simultaneously refusing to comply with even the most basic requirements of transparency about this surveillance.”

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.

FOIA Litigation Produces Letter from Senators Feinstein and Cardin Urging President Obama to Directly Respond to Russian Cyberattacks

FOIA Litigation Produces Letter from Senators Feinstein and Cardin Urging President Obama to Directly Respond to Russian Cyberattacks

Washington, DC —  Today, as a result of ongoing FOIA litigation, the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security released four (4) documents to the newly formed transparency project Operation 45.  Among the documents released Friday afternoon were records responsive to a November 1, 2016 letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Benjamin Cardin wherein the Senators call on then President Barack Obama to take immediate action against Russia for intrusions into the 2016 election, which was at the moment of their letter just over a week away.

Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Washington, DC — The nonprofit transparency organization Property of the People has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking the release of Donald J. Trump’s FBI file.  The records requested, which cover a period from June 14, 1946 through June 15, 2015, will shed new light on already known investigations linking Trump to organized crime and will provide new information about Trump’s engagements with the bureau.

The effort is part of Property of the People’s Operation 45, a project dedicated to seeking transparency and accountability from the Trump administration. Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate, and investigative reporter Jason Leopold, are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

It has been nearly three months since Property of the People first filed their request to the FBI seeking, among other things, as the request states: “[a]ny and all records mentioning or referring to the living person Donald John Trump.”

Though the FBI has previously released multiple documents with Trump’s name on them from the period stated to Shapiro and Leopold, they have improperly withheld records from this most recent request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would infringe on Trump’s privacy. However, Operation 45 argues that the enormous public interest in obtaining this information clearly outweighs any embarrassment Trump might suffer. Additionally Trump’s own tweets acknowledging the FBI’s investigation of him negate any arguments that such records may not exist.

Moreover, the FBI has improperly withheld records from this request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would “risk circumvention of Federal law enforcement efforts.”  As stated in the complaint:

“Confirming that the FBI maintains files numbered 137-NY-19967 and 137-22152 would not disclose techniques, procedures, or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. Additionally, documents referencing file numbers 137-22152 and 137-NY-19967 in connection with the FBI’s contact with Mr. Trump are already available to the public. The disclosure of the mere existence or nonexistence of responsive records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. The FBI has not only unreasonably withheld the responsive records, but has unreasonably refused to even confirm the existence of responsive records.”

Plaintiff Shapiro asserts: “Given the profound gravity of the FBI’s past and ongoing investigations involving Donald J. Trump, the public interest in the release of the requested documents is immense. The American public absolutely deserves to know the full truth about the FBI’s historical and current operations involving the President.”

Property of the People vs. Department of Justice, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The complaint can be read in it’s entirety HERE.

Property of the People is anew government transparency non-profit. Their project, Operation 45, dedicated to uncovering records relevant to the public interest concerning the current Presidential administration has been described by The Nation as “a ray of hope in these dark political times.” Operation 45 is on twitter @opfortyfive

Ryan Shapiro is the director of Operation 45 and the co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” He is a historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Buzzfeed News, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices. Leopold is on twitter @JasonLeopold.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist, Jeffrey Light.

The FBI is Investigating Donald Trump’s Call for Russian Hacking and Espionage

The FBI is Investigating Donald Trump’s Call for Russian Hacking and Espionage

President Trump’s May 9, 2017 letter firing now-former FBI Director James Comey in part reads, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation[.]”

However, a recent court filing by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FBI in an ongoing FOIA lawsuit plainly indicates the FBI has an active investigation pertaining to Donald Trump’s actions related to actual or potential election-related hacking and espionage by Russia.

The lawsuit is filed by Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University research affiliate, and Jason Leopold, Senior Investigative Journalist at BuzzFeed News.

An excerpt from Donald Trump’s termination letter to James Comey.  You can read Donald Trump’s full letter along with accompanying letters from AG Jeff Sessions, and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein HERE

On August 18, 2016, Shapiro and Leopold submitted a FOIA request to the FBI seeking “disclosure of any and all records, including investigative records, mentioning or referring to Donald J. Trump’s statement on 27 July, 2016 [regarding Secretary Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails], ‘Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,’ and ‘I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.’”

When the FBI did not respond in a timely manner to the FOIA request, Shapiro and Leopold sued. During the lawsuit, the FBI initially asserted that it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents responsive to this FOIA request.

Excerpt from the Joint Status Report that indicates that there is an active FBI investigation.  Read the full status report HERE

However, the FBI subsequently withdrew this position and agreed to search for the requested documents. Again, the documents requested by Shapiro and Leopold are records, including investigative records, mentioning or referring to a public statement made personally by Donald J. Trump, not his advisors, surrogates, or campaign staff.

Excerpt from the Joint Status Report that indicates that there is an active FBI investigation. Read the full status report HERE

In a court filing in this case on April 6, 2017, a Justice Department attorney representing the FBI informed the Court that there is an “active, ongoing investigation” pertaining to this matter and claimed that disclosing the “records that are responsive to the Russia Request” could reasonably be expected to interfere with “enforcement proceedings.” (As noted elsewhere in the DOJ/FBI’s new filing, the term “Russia Request” refers explicitly to Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request quoted above.) The DOJ/FBI’s new court filing acknowledges the existence of records responsive to Shapiro and Leopold’s “Russia Request”, and claimed that all, or virtually all, of these documents cannot be released because of the potential to interfere with active law enforcement proceedings.

On April 7, 2017, the Court set a deadline of July 25, 2017 for the FBI to file a motion explaining the basis for its claim that release of documents responsive to “the Russia Request” would interfere with an ongoing law enforcement operation.

The lawsuit is Case 1:16-cv-01827-KBJ. It is being heard in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Documents

  1. Read the Joint Status Report in 1:16-cv-01827-KBJ HERE 
  2. Read Comey’s termination letter from Trump, Sessions & Rosenstein HERE

About Operation 45

Ryan Shapiro, referred to by Politico as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”, is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, as well as a Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Shapiro is also the co-founder and president of the new transparency organization Operation 45. The Nation has described Operation 45 as “a ray of hope in these dark political times.”

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Buzzfeed News, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices.

Shapiro and Leopold are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light.

You can follow Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro, and Jason Leopold on twitter at @JasonLeopold.

You can support Operation 45’s efforts HERE

Lawyer Representing Investors Told to Stop ‘Fucking with Mr. Trump’

Lawyer Representing Investors Told to Stop ‘Fucking with Mr. Trump’

Newly released documents reveal that the FBI investigated an extortion threat related to a menacing phone call made to bankruptcy attorney Kristopher Hansen on February 18, 2009, wherein a Trump associate using the name “Carmine” threatened Hansen’s wife and children.   Redactions within FBI documents initially indicated that the bureau’s extortion investigation was ongoing as of March 9, 2017. However, in an unusual step the FBI backtracked and claimed that the redaction marking was inadvertent.

According to the Holmdel Township Police the threat specifically stated:

“My name is ‘Carmine’ I don’t know why you are fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.”

The threat came as Donald Trump’s casino business went into bankruptcy and Trump Entertainment Resorts had defaulted on payments owed to investors in excess of $1.25 billion.  Kristopher Hansen, whose law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan represented the investors, received the threatening call on his blackberry from 212-399-5686, a number the FBI later identifies as a pay phone on 54th Street diagonally across from the Ed Sullivan Theater.  Donald Trump and his entourage were at the Ed Sullivan Theater that day for a taping of the Tonight Show with David Letterman.

 

The first set of FBI documents (1 & 2) were produced in March as a result of a FOIA lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News Senior Investigative journalist Jason Leopold, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD candidate and Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro.  Shapiro’s effort is part of #Operation45, a constellation of FOIA lawsuits demanding accountability and transparency from the Trump administration.  

“Donald Trump has long been in bed with gangsters and thugs at home and abroad,” said Shapiro. “He has also long sought to intimidate and silence those who seek to hold him to his obligations and to account.  As a private citizen, this contempt for basic decency is dangerous.  As President of the United States, it could prove catastrophic.”

Additional investigation by Leopold and Buzzfeed News returned the Holmdel Township Police report detailing the content of the threatening call.

Documents

  1. Read the complaint filed against the Department of Justice HERE
  2. Read Trump Entertainment Resort’s Bankruptcy Filing HERE
  3. Read the FBI’s case notes on ‘Carmine’ (part 1) HERE
  4. Read the FBI’s case notes on ‘Carmine’ (part 2) HERE
  5. Read the 2/18/2009 Holmdel Township Police Report HERE