DOJ Investigating FBI Handling of Nassar Sex Case

The Justice Department’s Inspector General is probing how the FBI handed sexual-abuse allegations by gymnasts against national team doc tor Larry Nassar in 2015. Gymnasts’ complaints languished for at least nine months before an FBI office opened a formal investigation.

The Justice Department is investigating how the FBI handled sexual-abuse allegations against former U.S. gymnastics national-team doctor Larry Nassar, amid claims agents failed to respond to complaints from gymnasts in 2015, reports the Wall Street Journal. The move by the department’s Inspector General follows an internal Federal Bureau of Investigation review into the bureau’s handling of the Nassar allegations. The gymnasts’ complaints languished for at least nine months before an FBI office opened a formal investigation. Nassar pleaded guilty last year to federal child-pornography charges and state sexual-abuse charges in Michigan, none of which stemmed from national-team gymnasts’ 2015 allegations. In January, he was sentenced to a 60-year sentence in federal prison.

The Justice Department investigation comes as USA Gymnastics continues to reel from the Nassar scandal and from what critics have called its sluggish response to sexual-abuse allegations. The chief executive of the embattled organization, Kerry Perry, resigned on Tuesday after just nine months on the job. The FBI’s role in the Nassar scandal is also under scrutiny by Congress, including the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, which in July wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking information and materials related to the FBI’s handling of the matter. Investigators are interested in the Indianapolis FBI office’s 2015 dealings with the gymnasts. Around September 2015, an agent in the field office spoke with former Olympian McKayla Maroney over the phone to discuss her allegations of abuse by Nassar. That conversation didn’t lead to an investigation.


Official Didn’t Disclose Trump Role in FBI Building Change

The inspector general of the General Services Administration says the agency’s administrator didn’t say at a congressional hearing that she had met with President Trump about the decision to scrap a longstanding plan for a new FBI headquarters in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) may have misled Congress about the White House’s role in canceling a decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters campus in the Washington suburbs last year, says the GSA’s inspector general. GSA officials also misrepresented the costs of their replacement plan — to build a new downtown headquarters — making it seem as though it would cost less than the original plan when it would actually cost more, said the IG, the Washington Post reports. GSA administrtor Emily Murphy met with President Trump, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and budget director Mick Mulvaney on Jan. 24. In a hearing three months later, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Il.) asked Murphy, “To your knowledge, was the president or anyone else at the White House involved in those discussions, either with your predecessors, people you’re working with now, or yourself?”

Murphy responded, “The direction that we got came from the FBI. It was the FBI that directed to GSA as to what its requirements would be.” The GSA says Murphy was referring to where the FBI would be located, not the larger discussions about the project. The agency disputed the findings of GSA Inspector General Carol Ochoa. The report offers a look at the internal machinations behind a decision to dump a decade of work toward building a $3-billion-plus secure campus in the Washington suburbs. Murphy told the investigators that the downtown location was not her agency’s “preferred site and that a lot of work had gone into the campus concept.” Still, FBI Director Christopher Wray persisted to support a downtown Washington, D.C., location, and in the GSA’s telling, by the time two White House meetings took place it had been all but decided that the FBI would remain downtown.


Wray Seeks ‘Normalcy’ in an FBI Under Fire

At the end of his first year in office, FBI director Christopher Wray says he is “trying to bring calm [and] stability” to an agency under fire from the president.

In his first year as FBI director, Christopher Wray has focused his agents on the nitty-gritty of their jobs and avoided the distractions from controversies buffeting the agency. “My big point of emphasis has been that even though we live in tumultuous, turbulent times, I’m trying to bring calm, stability—dare I say it—normalcy, in an environment where I think there’s an appetite for that,” Wray tells the Wall Street Journal. Wray’s leadership style is a sharp departure from how his predecessor, James Comey, ran the 37,000-employee FBI. Some agents say Wray’s style is so low-key that employees aren’t always sure of his expectations.

Of his relationship with the president, Wray said, “It’s professional,” and declined to address Trump’s tweets savaging special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and the Justice Department. “Social media commentary has its place, but that’s not what drives our work,” said Wray, who expressed support for Mueller and has declared  the special counsel investigation isn’t a witch hunt. Wray, 51, begins his day with a briefing on threats, such as Russian interference in U.S. elections, and Chinese efforts to steal government and business secrets. FBI agents are tracking thousands of potential terrorists. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a frequent FBI critic, applauded Wray for working to change the bureau culture, calling him part of the “cleanup squad” rather than the “coverup squad.” Some agents pointed to a survey of bureau employees last year finding that morale remained high but confidence in the vision and ideas of Wray and his leadership team were lower than recorded a year earlier under Comey. Wray said the survey painted an incomplete picture, citing employees’ “commitment to the mission, success in the mission, desire to work here.” He pointed to an attrition rate of 0.6%.


FBI Agent Strzok Fired Over Anti-Trump Texts

The attorney for FBI agent Peter Strzok, who had helped lead the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, says he was dismissed on Friday. The FBI discipline unit had said he should be demoted and suspended for 60 days.

The FBI fired agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts, the Washington Post reports. Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday even though the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s assurances that Strzok would be handled in the normal disciplinary process.

The termination marks a remarkable downfall for Strzok, a 22-year FBI veteran who investigated Russian spies, defense officials accused of selling secrets to China and other important cases. Strzok was integral to two of the bureau’s most high-profile investigations: the Russia case, and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. When the Justice Department inspector general uncovered politically charged messages that Strzok had exchanged with another FBI official, he was relegated to a position in human resources. Conservatives made Strzok the face of their attacks against the special counsel investigation into the president’s campaign. Strzok’s job had been precarious since last summer, when Inspector General Michael Horowitz told Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the lead agent on his team had been exchanging anti-Trump messages with an FBI lawyer. The next day, Mueller expelled Strzok from the group.


Jury Acquits FBI Agent in Oregon Refuge Case

W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, was cleared of lying to conceal that he fired two shots at the truck of Oregon refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum in 2016. It was the latest prosecution loss in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation.

A federal jury returned not guilty verdicts for FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, accused of lying to conceal that he fired two shots at the truck of Oregon refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum in 2016, The Oregonian reports. The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for about six hours over two days after a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones in Portland. Astarita was acquitted on Friday on two counts of making a false statement and one count of obstruction of justice. Astarita, 41, is a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team.

The verdict marks the latest in a series of daunting losses for prosecutors trying people involved in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Astarita had been on the Hostage Rescue Team for only eight months at the time of the shooting at a highway roadblock. He spent hours on the witness stand over two days and testified that he’s never fired his weapon in the line of duty during his 13 years with the FBI. He said he heard no gunshots that day, though investigators found eight were fired at the roadblock. With Astarita’s acquittal, the mystery remains as to who fired twice after Finicum swerved into a snowbank at the roadblock, stepped from his truck with his hands in the air and shouted, “Go ahead and shoot me.” Later, two state police SWAT officers shot and killed Finicum after he had walked away from his truck and was seen reaching into his inner left jacket pocket, where police said he had a loaded 9mm Ruger pistol.


Trump Interest in FBI Building Leaves Project in Limbo

President Trump’s interest in keeping the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington has left a proposal to move the bureau to the capital’s suburbs in limbo and leaves the FBI in a deteriorating structure.

President Trump has become personally involved in plotting a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, an interest that for now has left the project in limbo and the agency stranded in a building that no longer suits its needs, the Washington Post reports. For years, FBI officials have raised alarms that decrepit conditions at its current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, are serious security concerns. A year ago, federal officials finally decided on three finalist locations in Maryland and Virginia, and Congress appropriated $913 million toward a project expected to cost more than $3 billion. Six months after Trump entered the White House, his administration abandoned the plan. It proposed in February that the government build a smaller headquarters to replace the Hoover building in downtown D.C. and move 2,300 other FBI staffers out of the Washington area altogether, to Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia.

Those decisions, by the General Services Administration and the FBI, were made after Trump took a personal interest in the project. Sources said Trump has frequently raised the issue of the FBI building and his desire for it to be torn down. The website Axios reported that Trump was obsessed with the project and was “dead opposed” to plans to move it out of D.C. Before entering politics, Trump was considering bidding on the project himself. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The President is interested in making sure taxpayer dollars spent on new buildings are being spent wisely and appropriately.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said Trump brought up the project with him in a meeting this spring and impressed upon him the importance of building the bureau a new headquarters downtown on what the president called a “beautiful” location. “I agreed with him. I told him I thought it was a good idea,” Shelby said.


Categories: FBI

New Report on Police Digital Forensics Techniques

According to a new CSIS report, "going dark" is not the most pressing problem facing law enforcement in the age of digital data: Over the past year, we conducted a series of interviews with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, attorneys, service providers, and civil society groups. We also commissioned a survey of law enforcement officers from across the…

According to a new CSIS report, "going dark" is not the most pressing problem facing law enforcement in the age of digital data:

Over the past year, we conducted a series of interviews with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, attorneys, service providers, and civil society groups. We also commissioned a survey of law enforcement officers from across the country to better understand the full range of difficulties they are facing in accessing and using digital evidence in their cases. Survey results indicate that accessing data from service providers -- much of which is not encrypted -- is the biggest problem that law enforcement currently faces in leveraging digital evidence.

This is a problem that has not received adequate attention or resources to date. An array of federal and state training centers, crime labs, and other efforts have arisen to help fill the gaps, but they are able to fill only a fraction of the need. And there is no central entity responsible for monitoring these efforts, taking stock of the demand, and providing the assistance needed. The key federal entity with an explicit mission to assist state and local law enforcement with their digital evidence needs­ -- the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center (NDCAC)­has a budget of $11.4 million, spread among several different programs designed to distribute knowledge about service providers' poli­cies and products, develop and share technical tools, and train law enforcement on new services and tech­nologies, among other initiatives.

From a news article:

In addition to bemoaning the lack of guidance and help from tech companies -- a quarter of survey respondents said their top issue was convincing companies to hand over suspects' data -- law enforcement officials also reported receiving barely any digital evidence training. Local police said they'd received only 10 hours of training in the past 12 months; state police received 13 and federal officials received 16. A plurality of respondents said they only received annual training. Only 16 percent said their organizations scheduled training sessions at least twice per year.

This is a point that Susan Landau has repeatedly made, and also one I make in my new book. The FBI needs technical expertise, not backdoors.

Here's the report.


FBI’s Wray Rejects Putin Ideas on Russia Probe

FBI director Christopher Wray dismisses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestions that U.S. investigators observe interviews of wanted suspects in Russia or that Russians observe FBI questioning of suspects in the U.S.

Amid a barrage of headlines about President Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, FBI director Christopher Wray told NBC that Russia “continues to engage in malign influence efforts to this day,” USA Today reports. Trump’s response to a similar question was criticized Wednesday after he appeared to say  that Russia was no longer targeting the U.S. Wray dismissed two ideas from Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Trump called “interesting.” The first was to have American investigators go to Russia to observe interviews of wanted suspects, including those indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the election.

“I never want to say never, but it’s certainly not high on our list of investigative techniques,” Wray said. He said Putin’s other idea, to have Russians come to the U.S. to observe questioning of suspects wanted there, was “even lower on our list of investigative techniques.” Wray also took on the blistering Inspector General’s report on the bureau’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, calling it “fair” and explaining the biggest lesson he learned was that no matter how big or small an investigation is, the bureau always has to stick to the same policies. He is “unwilling to budge” on protecting the FBI’s sources and methods in its investigations, even with mounting pressure from Congress to delve into details of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling. Wray called Mueller a “straight shooter” and said the Russia investigation he’s leading is “not a witch hunt,” a term Trump uses frequently.


FBI Have Less Confidence in Agency’s New Leaders

An internal survey of FBI employees further undercuts an explanation President Trump and his aides gave for firing director James Comey and replacing him with Christopher Wray. Trump said the bureau was in turmoil and agents had lost confidence in Comey.

One year after President Trump fired the FBI director James Comey, agents say they have less confidence in the ethics and vision of the bureau’s new leadership, according to internal survey data reported by the New York Times. The survey further undercuts an explanation President Trump and his aides gave for firing Comey and replacing him with Christopher Wray. Trump said the bureau was in turmoil and agents had lost confidence in Comey. The internal data suggest that Trump either misread those views or mischaracterized them. As a whole, FBI morale remains high, despite a barrage of attacks by the president and his allies. Agents said they are proud to work at the FBI, believe in the mission, look forward to going to work and believe their job makes a difference. Scores in those areas remained steady.

Wray was largely unknown to most agents when he came into office during one of the most tumultuous times in FBI history. He brought in a fresh leadership team and a more low-key style than his predecessor. He opted not to spar publicly with Trump, even as the president has attacked the bureau and accused agents of being part of a “witch hunt” against him. Neither the overall positive results nor the declining leadership scores back up Trump’s version of events, in which he brought in Wray to stabilize a wobbly, discredited agency. The figures were obtained through a public records request by the blog Lawfare, which conducted its own analysis and shared the raw data with the Times. FBI officials use the survey, collected around March each year, to identify problem areas.


FBI Agent Strzok Says He is ‘Notch in Putin’s Belt’

Peter Strzok, the FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias, told Congress on Thursday that his work has never been tainted by politics and that the intense scrutiny he is facing represents “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”

Peter Strzok, the FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias, told Congress on Thursday that his work has never been tainted by politics and that the intense scrutiny he is facing represents “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt,” the Associated Press reports. Strzok, who helped lead FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email use and potential coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign, testified publicly for the first time since being removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after discovery of the derogatory text messages last year. Strzok said he has never allowed personal opinions to infect his work, that he had information that had the potential to damage Trump but never leaked it and that the focus on him by Congress plays into “our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”

Republican members of the House judiciary and oversight committees were expected to grill Strzok for hours. They maintain that the text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page color the outcome of the Clinton email investigation and undercut the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Trump himself has launched personal attacks against the two FBI officials, including a Wednesday tweet that asked “how can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time” by Strzok. Strzok acknowledged that while his text message criticism was “blunt,” it was not directed at one person or political party and included jabs not only at Trump but also at Clinton as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders. Strzok said there was “simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions,” adding, “Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took.”