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In a statement made this past Friday, The F.B.I. revealed that they responded to a request by a foreign government [later identified as the Russians] for background information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 by "[using] U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history."

I get most of that - i.e., that most of that information could be culled from digital records generated by the normal processes/mechanics of business. Where I get more than a little concerned is with the phrase "derogatory telephone communications."

[more over the bad Jackson Pollock imitation ...]

How can you go back in time and see if an individual has engaged in such communication without first having already recorded his phone calls? It would seem to me that this capability implies that the F.B.I. has access to recordings of everyone's past phone conversations.

Relevant text from the F.B.I. Statement, dated Friday, April 19, 2013:
"Once the FBI learned the identities of the two brothers today, the FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.

"In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government." — (emphasis added)

One might argue that the ability to determine what he had said in the past was due to some ongoing investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was seeking U.S. citizenship at that time, but that does not appear to be the case. He does not appear to have been "a person of interest" at the time the request was made by the Russians or subsequent to that request.

It would appear from what I've seen in the news that MSM will be pursuing the question of "why the F.B.I. didn't keep tabs on him, especially after he went out of the country for 6 months and then returned?" That's a reasonable question given the events of the past week, but I'd hate to see it pursued at the expense of finding out how the F.B.I. could know whether or not a person they had no interest in had already engaged in "derogatory telephone communications."

Since when did that capability become okay?

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar (23+ / 0-)

    Is this the new 4th Amendment? "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated [...] but the Federal Government can keep recordings of everyone's private phone conversations to use at any time and in any way they damn well please."

  •  re: 4th amendment ... (6+ / 0-)

    seems like in some ways, it's totally shredded by all the new laws of the security state--and we already have seen how these laws designed for the GWOT have been used for the War on Drugs.

    There are moments when the body is as numinous as words, days that are the good flesh continuing. -- Robert Hass

    by srkp23 on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 07:49:08 AM PDT

  •  If they checked their logs for phone calls (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    between the person in question and law enforcement officers ...

    Drop the name-calling MB 2/4/11 + Please try to use ratings properly! Kos 9/9/11

    by indycam on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 07:51:22 AM PDT

  •  Naive Me (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlyoshaKaramazov, Gary Norton

    Maybe I'm being naive here.  But if someone requests information, they would check for any information they may have on a given individual.

    That doesn't mean such information exists.

    According to the quote, the FBI agreed "to look for such things".

    It doesn't say which of the listed things it found or which were supplied.  It's a basic list of the things the FBI keeps, records, and indexes when they have them.

    One assumes that if they'd not had a warrant to obtain some of these items, they wouldn't have them in their database.

    •  it doesn't say they agreed to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it says they did:

      "the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications" — (emphasis added)
      The issue isn't what they did or didn't find. The issue is that they include in that "basic list of things the FBI keeps, records, and indexes" the ability to discern whether or not the content of someone's past communications have been derogatory in nature.

      Again, at the time the Russians requested background information on him, the F.B.I. didn't appear to have had any particular interest in him — nothing that would indicate they would be recording the content of his telephone communications (presumably meaning both voice and text messages).

      So, again, how do you discern past communications were derogatory in nature unless you've recorded the content of those communications? And how would you know to record them if, at the time, you had no investigative interest in them? It seems logical to me that the only way you do that is by recording everything ...

  •  Chicken and egg question here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Agathena, Tomtech, jayden

    Given that the brothers had undergone some sort of trauma during their early years, ranging from either being uprooted several times due to political events as the least traumatic to witnessing atrocities as the most (since no one has dug out the family history in Chechnya yet to any depth), it would appear to someone growing up in one of the former USSR republics would view a visit from the FBI on request of a foreign country possibly as a prelude to deportation at the least or secret rendition at the worst.

    If this is a given (and I know this is longwinded and I apologize), and given what we know about PTSD today, could the FBI visit have been an inadvertent trigger for the older brother's radicalization?  I ask this as part of the information MSM presents is that he was asked to leave a mosque 3 months ago and it appears his growing radicalization dates to the FBI visit.  After all, he did marry a US citizen and got along well with his Christian in-laws according to reports.

    Any ideas?

  •  I Think it Became OK Jan. 2001 When Bush Admin (9+ / 0-)

    talked to the telecom companies to begin setting up total information awareness.

    I wouldn't be surprised if a big fraction of phone calls since then, for example, is in permanent storage for searching. There've been reports of mind boggling sized data centers set up for NSA.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:07:45 AM PDT

    •  international calls (0+ / 0-)

      have been monitored for some time, scanned with speech recognition software and flagged for keywords suggesting drug or "terrorism" activity.  It is all warrantless ("national security") and while seldom discussed the scope and capability is revealed by the equipment purchased.  Those "data centers" do not sit idle waiting for "authorization".

      Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

      by Deward Hastings on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 10:59:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It could just mean ... (10+ / 0-)

    ... looking at the call logs for calls to other suspicious persons, calls abroad, etc.  Might not include the contents of communications as well.  

    •  "Derogatory" Phone Calls Seems to Imply Some (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Icarus Diving, mint julep, KenBee, jayden

      percent of content is included. I don't see how the mere fact of a phone contact can carry that kind of implication.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:10:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Really? (4+ / 0-)

        If there's a lot of calls to other suspected radicals, here or abroad, that's not helpful?

      •  I don't agree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        If they said "derogatory phone conversations", I might.  But, it said communications.  For example, if my phone records show me calling up UBL or the blind cleric, I think I could see that being categorized as a derogatory phone communication by its simple fact of having taken place.

        That said, your perspective is not that unreasonable.  I think I'm maybe 60/40 in disagreement.  In any case, it would seem that whatever was done was particularly unhelpful.  So the "we do this because it keeps us safe" argument is getting weaker and weaker regardless of what "this" was.

        Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum -- when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes. - PJ Crowley

        by nsfbr on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:19:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It does not imply that in the parlance (0+ / 0-)

        of federal regulations or FBI/State usage. The premise of the diary and comments that communication content was necessarily considered is inaccurate. It could be simply call patterns or numbers called. If he called a number associated with Bin Laden, say, that would be enough -- and probably enough to get the content monitored as well.

        That doesn't mean content wasn't considered in this case, but it didn't have to be.

    •  I thought I'd read something about tracking of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      particular words in international calls.  Am I remembering wrong?

      "Don't Bet Against Us" - President Barack Obama

      by MRA NY on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:18:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I don't see how you could characterize contact or attempted contact as derogatory. The word derogatory applies to the content of the communication, not the act of communicating.

      derogatory |diˈrägəˌtôrē|
      showing a critical or disrespectful attitude.
      I think they are using the word communications to include both voice calls and text messaging. I don't really understand why they would choose to use the word derogatory to describe those communications, though. It's ambiguous as used there in their statement, begging the questions, "Critical of what? Disrespectful towards what?"

      Regardless, it speaks to the content of the communication, not the communication itself. I'd think if they found he was contacting known radicals here or abroad they would have characterized those communications as suspicious. If someone came up to you and called you a rabid Tea Party Member, you would say what they said was derogatory, not "your saying that was derogatory."

  •  "why the FBI didn't keep tabs on him" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Interesting question, I have been wondering about since there are so many people on no-fly lists who do not deserve to be there. There should have been some kind of follow up on the Russian tip.

    •  There was follow-up. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Adam B

      The FBI personally interviewed Tamerlan, but said they found nothing indicating he was dangerous.

      •  Follow up after the interview (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        •  That is my question as well. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Did they just close the file on him? Was he even questioned upon his return from his trip to Russia? This man was on someone's radar; what got him off the radar that he felt confident/comfortable enough to delve deeper into radicalism? Did someone in the intelligence industry drop the ball or is the multi-billion dollar security apparatus still incapable of connecting dots?

          I recently bought a puzzle but the pieces of this one are far more intriguing.

          Not this mind and not this heart, I won't rot • Mumford & Sons

          by jayden on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 11:17:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They sure followed up on Aaron Swartz who (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            wouldn't hurt a soul, just downloaded too many scholarly papers.

            Books will be written about this. I'm wondering if the FBI were dismissive of the information because of its source. We'll find out the truth one day.

          •  Apparently there was no real "tip" (0+ / 0-)

            According to this report at TPM, that sort of inquiry from the Russian government is practically routine when anyone of Chechen ancestry is applying for a visa to visit Russia (as Tamerlan would have been doing at the time) and the stuff about possible terrorist connections is also pretty routine, not indicating any actual suspicion beyond the applicant's ethnic background.

            So the mere fact that the inquiry was made wouldn't raise any suspicion and there would be no need for any followup.

            Writing in all lower-case letters should be a capital offense

            by ebohlman on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 04:12:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  not sure about that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        From what I've read their contact with him was prior to his 6 month trip to Russia. Following his return, his Youtube account indicates he had an interest in jihadist media (which I assume wasn't the case before he left because the F.B.I. took no interest in him ...)

  •  or, they could have just meant (9+ / 0-)

    recordings of conversations that had been cataloged from people they already had warrants against.

    Just because there's a database, is no reason to expect it includes your calls to grandma.  No matter how derogatory they may be.

    "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." - Nietzsche

    by AlyoshaKaramazov on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:44:12 AM PDT

  •  "Derogatory" to Russian security interests (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Villanova Rhodes

    It's safe to assume the Russian FSB, and maybe also the US FBI, keeps databases as to phone calls made to Dokka Umarov; and if the database shows Tamerlan had made a phone call to Dokka Umarov, that would probably be considered potentially derogatory-- regardless of whether the substance of the call was known.

    The FBI turned up no record of such contacts; Tamerlan had not yet committed any crime; he had not yet traveled back to Chechnya; so how could one say the FBI "dropped the ball"?  

  •  People who travel (0+ / 0-)

    to the "old country" often go for months at a time.  The boy's parents had returned there, so I wouldn't think an extended visit was unusual.  

    The Pakistani bothers who live in my building never go for less than 6 weeks.  It's prohibitively expensive to go for only a week or two.  One goes home for a couple of months while the other tends the store.  Then they switch.   They do this every year or 18 months.

    I do find the "derogatory statements" thing a little creepy, though.

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 11:57:06 AM PDT

  •  "Derogatory" as used here means (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icarus Diving

    derogatory about the person under some sort of review -- here, Tsarnaev in an FBI interview for another country, but could also be an application for naturalization, a request for visa, etc. It is not necessarily (or even likely) derogatory statements by the person. Note: I'm not asserting that the content of communications isn't monitored, just that this language doesn't tell you anything about whether it has been. If it is, of course, derogatory information could be gleaned from those conversations. But it wouldn't have to be statements of a critical, insulting, or threatening nature -- it could be just something that reveals that answers on an application were false, for example.

    I can't find a clear definition to link to, but you can see examples of the usage of "derogatory" by searching the term on the FBI's website, and throughout federal regulations & publications such as this from a GAO report:

    According to State officials, nearly 1.7 million sets of visa applicant prints had been processed by August 19, 2004, and of those, 1,197 were identified as watch list hits—having derogatory criminal or immigration information on file.

    Or this regarding naturalization:

    § 335.5   Receipt of derogatory information after grant.

    In the event that USCIS receives derogatory information concerning an applicant whose application has already been granted as provided in §335.3(a) of this chapter, but who has not yet taken the oath of allegiance as provided in part 337 of this chapter, USCIS shall remove the applicant's name from any list of granted applications or of applicants scheduled for administration of the oath of allegiance, until such time as the matter can be resolved. . . .

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