Witnesses testifying before a House panel Tuesday on how to combat Internet child pornography differed on how long Internet service providers and cell phone carriers should be required to retain data that could aid investigators.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein told the House Judiciary subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security said that a uniform standard on data retention is necessary. But while he and other witnesses agreed that Internet crimes involving minors should be a top priority, they did not agree on how long the ISPs and phone carriers should have to retain data.
Six to 18 months was the recommendation of John Douglass, the chief of police in Overland Park, Kan., who is chairman of the Mid-Sized Cities Section of the International Association of Chiefs. Douglass was responding to a question from freshman Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.).
Other witnesses included the Executive Director of the United States Internet Service Provider Association, Kate Dean, and the General Counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, John Morris Jr., whose organization focuses on law enforcement compliance and security issues of concern to ISPs.
Despite questioning from several subcommittee members, Weinstein didn’t offer any specific numbers on retention times or specific solutions on how to combat premature deleting of potentially useful phone and Internet records.
Morris concluded that such a mandate would raise a number of growing concerns about privacy, identity theft and the misuse of personal data, and that Congress should be very hesitant to require mandates involving day-to-day activity.”
The proposal would force law enforcement to retain any data from most Web sites and online services including all Web 2.0 sites, all social networking sites, all blogs and almost all modern news sites, he said.
The panel’s ranking Democrat, Bobby Scott of Virginia, pushed Morris on how costly it would be to create and maintain data retention databases, but Morris could not pinpoint dollar amounts.
Dean proposed data preservation, which is specific data-saving for a certain time in response to a law enforcement request, as more cost-effective than data retention, the automatic archiving of data. The Stored Communications Act of 1996 allows law enforcement to require service providers to preserve records or other electronic evidence. Once requested, the records are kept for 90 days and can be renewed.
The drawback, Weinstein said, is that investigators have to request the information on a case-by-case basis, assuming they know the records are relevant to their case before the provider deletes them. ISPs have also been inconsistent in their cooperation, making things more difficult for investigators, and there is no standard time requiring them to hold on to the records before destroying them.
Data retention, however, requires ISPs to automatically store information, allowing law enforcement to gain access to records without having to request them during a specific time window before the ISPs delete the data.
The panel Chairman, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), concluded the hearing directing his message to ISPs on behalf of Dean. Working voluntarily is preferred, but a mandatory solution is not out of the question, he said.
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NEW YORK — Two former Justice Department officials from the George W. Bush administration on Friday said both military commissions and civilian courts should be on the table as venues for the prosecution of terrorism suspects.
Former Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein of the National Security Division said as a prosecutor he would take a pragmatic approach to deciding the proper location for terrorism prosecutions, weighing each case individually. Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a military prosecutor who is handling cases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said the Obama administration does not have a “silver bullet” that would eliminate either military tribunals or civilian courts from use in all terrorism cases.
“Article III is a great tool, but it’s not the panacea,” said Iglesias, who was speaking at a panel discussion in New York. “Military commissions [are] another great option for the administration [but] it’s not the panacea.”
Iglesias, who was fired during the 2006 U.S. Attorney purge, said military tribunals are not in competition with civilian courts. He said military prosecutors are only looking to handle cases involving terrorism suspects who are captured close to U.S. military operations. There about 50 Guantanamo Bay detainees, who fit that profile, he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said he is in favor of having both options for terrorism cases at the Obama administration’s disposable. But his position has faced stiff criticism on Capitol Hill.
Holder came under fire last year from members of Congress when he announced his plan to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in a Manhattan federal court as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The cost of security for a trial in downtown New York, the possibility that the defendants might be able to use the courtroom as a public venue to spread propaganda and the prospect that the defendants might be found not guilty are among the chief concerns of critics.
The White House has since put the possibility of using military commissions back on the table and is reviewing other locations for a civilian trial.
This week, the Obama administration has seen the successes and challenges of terrorism prosecutions in civilian court.
Faisal Shahzad on Tuesday was sentenced in a Manhattan federal court to life in prison for attempting to bomb Times Square. But on Wednesday a federal judge did not allow prosecutors to use a star witness in a case involving the 1998 bombing of a U.S. embassy in Africa because the government employed harsh interrogation techniques against the defendant to learn the name of the key individual. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the defendant, is the first detainee from Guantanamo Bay to be prosecuted in civilian court.
Holder said after the ruling in the Ghailani case that the DOJ was not deterred by the ruling, and would proceed with the trial in civilian court.
Republicans have said the ruling in the Ghailani case shows that federal courts are not the proper venue for trying terrorism suspects. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday told Reuters that prosecuting terrorism suspects in civilian court is “contrary to all law, logic, and the will of the people.”
Wainstein said the positions in the debate over the venue for terrorism cases are valid, but added “principles only go so far.”
“I’m not going to stand on principle because I think if you stand on principle in this situation, you might end up standing in a corner … because you denied yourself the advantages of one system by solely adopting the other,” Wainstein said.
FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday told senators that he is worried about the potential for terrorists attacks at the hands of al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates and homegrown radicals.
He said the terrorist groups with ties to al Qaeda have transformed the way they work together over the last year. He noted various attempted terrorist attacks in the United States, including the alleged plan by Najibullah Zazi to bomb the New York subway in 2009. He said it was the first known time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that al Qaeda positioned one of its trained agents in the United States.
“The level of cooperation among al Qaeda and other terrorist groups has changed in the past year, suggesting that this collaboration and resulting threat to the homeland will increase,” Mueller told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “By sharing financial resources, training, tactical and operational expertise, and recruits, these groups have been able to withstand significant counterterrorism pressure from United States, coalition, and local government forces.”
Read a full write-up of Mueller’s testimony from the AFP here and a story from Tickle The Wire here.
An increasing number of individuals have been captivated by extremist ideology, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference Thursday announcing charges against 14 individuals for supporting a terrorist group operating in Somalia.
But those in the American Muslim community are strong partners in fighting the threat, Holder said, and there needs to be more recognition of their efforts.
“It’s a disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating in recent years and will continue to investigate and root out,” Holder said. “But we must also work to prevent this type of radicalization from ever taking hold.”
The Justice Department announced the charges against 14 individuals in Minnesota, California and Alabama at the mid-day news conference Thursday. The defendants are charged with providing material support for the terrorist group al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and has ties to al-Qaeda. Just two of those charged have been arrested as of Thursday.
Of the 14 individuals charged, 26-year-old Alabama native Omar Hamammi is the most well-known. He has appeared in videos for al-Shabab, including at least two which show him rapping in English, according to NBC.
Hamammi has taken on an operational role within the organization, Holder said. He declined to elaborate.
With the latest indictments, the Justice Department has charged 40 U.S. citizens with category 1 international terrorism violations — the most serious charges such as the use of weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to murder persons overseas or providing material support for terrorism — in 2009 and 2010. That number does not include any foreign citizens, permanent U.S. residents or visa holders.
Holder was joined at the news conference by Sean Joyce, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch; Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris; U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Kenyen R. Brown; and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy.
“Members of the American Muslim community have been – and continue to be – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out. And they have provided critical assistance to law enforcement in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization,” Holder said.
Holder said individuals in the American Muslim community have consistently expressed deep concern about the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. The community has taken proactive steps to stop the recruitment, Holder said, such as a video made by a group of American Muslims that repudiates the tactics used by radical terrorists to recruit young followers online.
That video was produced by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has taken on a prominent liaison role at the Justice Department and the FBI. At a speech in June, Holder said he found it “intolerable” that Arab and Muslim Americans feel uncomfortable about their relationship with law enforcement.
“There needs to be more recognition of these efforts and of the losses suffered in the Muslim community here and around the world,” Holder said Thursday. “Many of the victims of terror attacks by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups are innocent Muslims.”
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During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week on Sunday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) suggested the Obama administration won’t get very far with its proposal to expand the amount of time a terrorist suspect can be interrogated without being read a Miranda warning, The Huffington Post reported.
Last Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the DOJ is considering asking Congress to allow the government more flexibility in using the “public safety exception” — which allows law enforcement officials to question suspects before informing them of their so-called Miranda rights, which include the right not to talk to police. But Leahy said lawmakers are limited in their ability to change Miranda since the Supreme Court has ruled Miranda warnings to be a constitutional right.
“I sat down and talked with the president about this. The question is not so much whether I’m concerned about the civil rights one way or another, it is what a court will agree to. After all, it was the Supreme Court that set down the rules of Miranda. Whatever changes might be made, have to made within the confines of what the United States Supreme Court has already said,” Leahy said. “I think the president and Eric Holder understand that.”
Members of the House Judiciary Committee pressed Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday to outline how the administration will handle the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind and his alleged co-conspirators who were once destined to appear in a New York civilian court.
Republicans and Democrats have criticized Holder’s announced plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged accomplices in a Manhattan federal court. After the outcry from last year’s announcement, the Obama administration put the possibility of using military commissions back on the table and said they are considering other locations for a civilian trial.
“I, frankly, think that sooner or later you should stop the Kabuki dance and tell us where that trial is going to be held,” said Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)
Holder said the administration hasn’t reached a final decision on whether the alleged terrorists will be tried in a Manhattan civilian court. He said the DOJ is leaving all of its options open as it decides how to handle the terrorism suspects.
“We are not ruling anything in or ruling anything out at this point,” Holder said. “That review is still under way.”
Lamar Smith of Texas, the panel’s ranking Republican, said trying suspected terrorists in civilian court is a “dangerous proposal.”
“Once in the U.S., terrorists can argue for additional constitutional rights, making it harder for prosecutors to obtain convictions,” Smith said.
Panel members also pushed Holder on his interest in working with Congress on a bill that would establish a new exemption to Miranda for alleged terrorists. He said on Sunday he is interested in updating the public safety exception to Miranda to give federal law enforcement officials more flexibility about when to advise terrorism suspects of their right to remain silent.
The Miranda issue has come up in several recent terrorism cases. Federal agents questioned the suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing for a few hours before reading him his Miranda rights. FBI officials interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for about 50 minutes after he allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underwear on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airline flight.
Holder said there are a number of unanswered questions about how the public safety exception can be used in a suspected terrorist incident.
“Our view is that we would like to have a greater degree of clarity with regards to the public safety exception,” he said.
But Democrats expressed concern about changing the Miranda rule.
“Attempting to hastily alter an effective and constitutionally based system could actually undermine rather that enhance law enforcement measures,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said.
Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policies before a liberal-leaning legal group, The Constitution Project, Thursday. The group has been critical of the administration’s use of indefinite detention, military commissions and the state secrets doctrine.
Holder said that the Obama administration must use both military commissions and civilian courts to prosecute terrorism suspects, deciding each case on its individual merits.
“Just as on a battlefield, every arm of the government must use every appropriate weapon available to win this war. I know that some of those weapons may be unpopular. But when it comes to protecting the American people, the charge that we are ‘coddling terrorists’ is no more accurate than the equally vehement cry that we have ‘rubber-stamped the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies’,” Holder said.
In her introduction of Holder, Virginia Sloan, the president of the group, noted the criticism Holder faces on the other side of the political spectrum for the administration’s terrorism policies.
“You have to operate every moment of your day in a political climate that promotes fear and harsh partisanship,” Sloan said.
She also praised Holder’s appointment of Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe and the Justice Department’s work on indigent defense.
“Just yesterday I had the chance to discuss some of these challenges with my friends at the Senate Judiciary committee,” Holder said to laughs from the audience. “Now as I look around this room, I realized that just like yesterday, I’m speaking to some who may not always agree with the entirety of our approach when it comes to protecting our national security. In fact, one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last year is that it is simply not possible for the Attorney General to make everyone happy.”
But Holder said that everyone in the room shared the goal of protecting America by sticking to the rule of law. He said that the U.S. was facing a serious threat and was “a nation at war,” but that it is also a nation of laws.
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A Senate Judiciary Committee Republican and several panel Democrats on Wednesday urged Attorney General Eric Holder not to bow to pressure from conservatives who don’t support trying any terrorism suspects in civilian courts.
At a Justice Department oversight hearing Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he supports using civilian courts for some terrorism trials. But Graham — a key player in negotiations with the Obama administration on terrorism issues — agreed with his Republican colleagues that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators shouldn’t be tried in a Manhattan federal court.
The White House is considering whether to reverse Holder’s announced plan to try KSM and his alleged accomplices in the New York civilian court. Graham told the Attorney General that he should be “flexible, pragmatic, aggressive” in handling terrorism suspects.
“Hang firm, stand strong, be fair, be aggressive, be pragmatic but do not lose sight that we’re at war,” Graham said.
Most Republicans have slammed the Attorney General’s handling of terrorism issues, including the decision to try the alleged Christmas Day airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in federal court instead of before a military commission.
Sens. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, have called for Holder’s resignation. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Judiciary panel’s ranking Republican, said Holder’s actions have “shaken my confidence.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Senate Democrats pushed back at the criticism. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the dialogue over Holder’s handling of terrorism issues is “really very unhealthy.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the attacks are just to diminish you,” Feinstein told Holder. “I don’t think that you should buy into them at all. I think you should remain strong.”
Holder said the administration had not yet reached a final decision on whether KSM and his alleged accomplices will be tried in a civilian court or in a military commission, emphasizing that the DOJ will use “every tool available to fight terrorism.”
“As I’ve said from the outset, this is a close call,” Holder said. “It should be clear to everyone by now that there are many legal, national security and practical factors to be considered here. As a consequence, there are many perspectives on what the most appropriate and effective forum is.”
A Detroit federal judge on Tuesday scheduled a June 22 court date for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “Christmas Day bomber” who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Detroit-bound plane on Dec. 25, 2009, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Abdulmutallab did not attend the hearing before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. He is being held at the federal prison in Milan, Mich.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken, of the Eastern District of Michigan, said that federal prosecutors have already turned over hundreds of reports and some videotape evidence to defense lawyers and still have more to turn over.
Jill Price, an attorney from the Detroit federal defender’s office, told the Free Press it has been challenging to review evidence with Abdulmutallab.
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Attorney General Eric Holder signed a memorandum of understanding with Spain on Thursday aimed at strengthening cooperation between the two countries on combating terrorism and international crime.
Holder met on Thursday with Spanish Prosecutor General Cándido Conde-Pumpido to sign the agreement and will meet with Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Minister of Justice Francisco Caamano and Minster of Interior Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, later today.
Under the agreement, Spain and the United States will be “exchanging information on criminal trends; exchanging information on each country’s legal system and legislation, legislative activities, and specific law enforcement measures in the areas of authority of the two agencies; formalizing the cooperation of the Joint Task Force that was established informally in 2005 to collaborate in the fight against terrorism and organized crime; and, enhancing visits by experts from our two agencies to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, intelligence and expertise,” Holder said.
He also thanked Spain for accepting a detainee released from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said the country will accept four more detainees as part of the U.S. effort to close the facility.
Holder’s statement is below.
Attorney General Eric Holder Signs Agreement to Strengthen U.S.-Spanish Cooperation, Pushes for Terrorist Financing Tracking Program Agreement
Madrid ~ Thursday, April 8, 2022
Earlier today I met with Prosecutor General Conde-Pumpido to discuss the many ways in which the United States and Spain can continue the excellent partnership we have established on a range of issues. Whether it is in counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, money laundering, smuggling or combating international organized crime, Spain has long been and will continue to be a strong partner for the United States.
On behalf of the United States, I thanked the Prosecutor General for Spain’s commitment to that partnership. And in a sign of how we can deepen our relationship, Prosecutor General Conde-Pumpido and I just today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding between our two agencies. Under the terms of this agreement, we will enhance cooperation in the fight against terrorism and international crime by:
* Exchanging information on criminal trends;
* Exchanging information on each country’s legal system and legislation, legislative activities, and specific law enforcement measures in the areas of authority of the two agencies;
* Formalizing the cooperation of the Joint Task Force that was established informally in 2005 to collaborate in the fight against terrorism and organized crime; and,
* Enhancing visits by experts from our two agencies to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, intelligence and expertise.
Our two countries have forged a tremendous partnership in recent years, and this agreement will strengthen the ability of law enforcement officials in the United States and Spain to protect the security of both our nations.
Later today, I will also meet with Prime Minister Zapatero, Minister of Justice Francisco Caamano and Minster of Interior Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, before the beginning tomorrow of the European Union Ministerial Conference.
One of the important issues we will address at this conference is the Terrorist Financing Tracking Program, or TFTP. The European Commission has now formally proposed a new negotiation with the United States on this important program, and we are hopeful that this will set the stage for the United States and European Union to move forward quickly toward a long-term agreement on the TFTP.
We believe this program is essential to the security of both the United States and Europe. In the years since it was launched, the TFTP has supplied more than 1500 reports and countless leads to counter-terrorism investigators in Europe alone, as well as to other countries around the world. It has played a key role in many investigations, including the disrupted Al-Qaeda plot to attack flights between the EU and the United States. Three members of Al Qaeda were convicted in Great Britain last year for their role in that plot and are now serving sentences in excess of thirty years.
We recognize there have been questions raised about this program in Europe, and one of our goals during these meetings will be to outline the extensive privacy safeguards that we have put in place to govern the TFTP. The Obama Administration is deeply committed to protecting the privacy of individuals’ data, and the safeguards contained in the program are rooted both in that commitment and in the strongest traditions of European civil liberties. The TFTP contains multiple legal, technological and practical safeguards that prevent anyone from reviewing the records of ordinary citizens unconnected to terrorism suspects, and we will be steadfast in maintaining those important protections.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program helps our nations protect our citizens from terrorism, and it does so consistent with our laws, our values and our commitment to individual privacy. Spain has been an important advocate for this program, and I will thank the Prime Minister today for his government’s work to secure a durable framework that ensures we do not lose this important counterterrorism tool.
I will also thank the Prime Minister for his help in our ongoing work to close the Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay. Spain has already accepted one detainee, and has agreed to resettle four others. The cooperation of our allies is crucial to closing this facility, which has served as a recruiting tool for terrorists, and the United States greatly appreciates Spain’s assistance.
Our two nations have worked together closely on this and many other measures, and through the work we do this week, I hope we can strengthen that bond.