Marathon Bomber’s Appeal Based on Venue, Juror Bias

In a more than 1,100-page court filing, lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev challenged his conviction on grounds including the judge’s refusal to move the trial from a still-traumatized Boston and for seating two jurors who allegedly lied about their preconceived views of the defendant.

In a more than 1,100-page court filing, lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev challenged his conviction on grounds including the judge’s refusal to move the trial from a still-traumatized Boston and for seating two jurors who allegedly lied about their preconceived views of the defendant, NBC reports. Tsarnaev was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260 during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Now 25, he is being held at the most secure prison in the U.S., ADMAX Florence in Colorado.

Among many claimed errors in the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers led with the venue complaint, writing that “a jury drawn from the Boston metropolitan area was uniquely incapable of impartially deciding this case.” Their complaints about the jurors centered on two members of the panel. The jury foreperson said she had not made any online comments prior to the trial, but she had in fact published 24 Twitter posts about the bombings including one that called Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage,” according to the court papers. Another juror had told a judge that he hadn’t spoken to anybody about the case, but Tsarnaev’s lawyers said they found a Facebook discussion in which a friend urged him to “get on the jury” and send Tsarnaev to jail where “he will be taken care of.” Federal prosecutors will file their response and oral arguments will be scheduled for some time next year.

from https://thecrimereport.org

What Happened to Cyber 9/11?

A recent article in the Atlantic asks why we haven’t seen a"cyber 9/11" in the past fifteen or so years. (I, too, remember the increasingly frantic and fearful warnings of a "cyber Peal Harbor," "cyber Katrina" — when that was a thing — or "cyber 9/11." I made fun of those warnings back then.) The author’s answer: Three main barriers…

A recent article in the Atlantic asks why we haven't seen a"cyber 9/11" in the past fifteen or so years. (I, too, remember the increasingly frantic and fearful warnings of a "cyber Peal Harbor," "cyber Katrina" -- when that was a thing -- or "cyber 9/11." I made fun of those warnings back then.) The author's answer:

Three main barriers are likely preventing this. For one, cyberattacks can lack the kind of drama and immediate physical carnage that terrorists seek. Identifying the specific perpetrator of a cyberattack can also be difficult, meaning terrorists might have trouble reaping the propaganda benefits of clear attribution. Finally, and most simply, it's possible that they just can't pull it off.

Commenting on the article, Rob Graham adds:

I think there are lots of warning from so-called "experts" who aren't qualified to make such warnings, that the press errs on the side of giving such warnings credibility instead of challenging them.

I think mostly the reason why cyberterrorism doesn't happen is that which motivates violent people is different than what which motivates technical people, pulling apart the groups who would want to commit cyberterrorism from those who can.

These are all good reasons, but I think both authors missed the most important one: there simply aren't a lot of terrorists out there. Let's ask the question more generally: why hasn't there been another 9/11 since 2001? I also remember dire predictions that large-scale terrorism was the new normal, and that we would see 9/11-scale attacks regularly. But since then, nothing. We could credit the fantastic counterterrorism work of the US and other countries, but a more reasonable explanation is that there are very few terrorists and even fewer organized ones. Our fear of terrorism is far greater than the actual risk.

This isn't to say that cyberterrorism can never happen. Of course it will, sooner or later. But I don't foresee it becoming a preferred terrorism method anytime soon. Graham again:

In the end, if your goal is to cause major power blackouts, your best bet is to bomb power lines and distribution centers, rather than hack them.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

U.S. Trails Europe in Security Against Terror

An expert at the European Jewish Congress said it would take more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars before U.S. houses of worship and private firms, including nightclubs, could match Europe’s security arrangements. 

The attack on the dance floor of a California nightclub last week that left 13 dead, the 11 worshipers killed by a gunman Oct. 27 at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Oct. 26 pipe bomb suspect’s arrest for targeting prominent Democrats raise questions about what can be learned from other countries that are used to dealing with radical domestic terror and violence, reports USA Today. In Israel, it’s hard to enter a supermarket or a bus station without passing through a metal detector. Britain responded to years of politically motivated bombing campaigns by Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries by installing closed-circuit television cameras on every street corner. Today, the country has a CCTV camera for every 11 people.

Armed guards, police security patrols, safe rooms and sophisticated surveillance systems are now routine measures deployed by Jewish synagogues, schools and restaurants in France after a wave of anti-Semitic attacks that began decades ago. Hungarian synagogues are linked by a centralized, rapid “early warning system” that alerts Jewish prayer houses in the rest of the eastern European nation of an attack. Japan removed trash cans from subway stations and local parks after a Sarin gas attack by one of its citizens killed 13 people and sickened thousands. Australia enacted sweeping gun control measures after a man killed 35 people with a semi-automatic weapon in a popular tourist area in 1996. It also banned rapid-fire guns and offered to buy prohibited firearms. Research suggests it’s worked. Ophir Revach, CEO of a security center attached to the European Jewish Congress, said it would take more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars before U.S. houses of worship — synagogues, mosques, churches — and private firms, including nightclubs, would be able to match the security arrangements in Europe.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Bangladeshi Immigrant Guilty in Pipe Bomb Case

A federal jury in New York City convicted Akayed Ullah, who said he was inspired by the Islamic State to set off a pipe bomb last year in one of the city’s busiest transit hubs. On Dec. 11, Ullah, 28, detonated a low-tech device inside the passageway that connects the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Manhattan’s crowded Times Square subway station, injuring four people.

A federal jury in New York City convicted Akayed Ullah, who said he was inspired by  the Islamic State to set off a pipe bomb last year in one of the city’s busiest transit hubs, the Wall Street Journal reports. On Dec. 11, Ullah, 28, detonated a low-tech device inside the passageway that connects the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Manhattan’s crowded Times Square subway station. The explosion created chaos during the morning commute, alarming commuters and disrupting the city’s transit system. Four people, including Ullah, were injured.

The jury convicted Ullah of all criminal counts, including providing material support to a terrorist organization and use of a weapon of mass destruction. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan set sentencing for April 5. “Ullah’s sinister purpose was to harm and terrorize as many innocent people in his path as possible, by using deadly violence to make a political statement,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Ullah’s attorney said he had set off the bomb but only intended to kill himself. Prosecutors said Ullah constructed the bomb, which included Christmas tree lights, wires, screws and a nine-volt battery, at his apartment. Beginning in 2014, Bangladeshi immigrant Ullah viewed pro-Islamic State materials on the internet and began researching how to build a bomb about a year before the attack, prosecutors said. “I did it for the Islamic State,” Ullah told investigators.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Hate Crimes Terrorism?

No, argues the founding director of the John Jay College Center on Terrorism. The FBI definition of terrorism is already “slippery,” and stretching the definition further might threaten  civil liberties, he writes.

Last weekend’s attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was horrendous as well as startling, in large part because most observers thought antisemitism was on the wane in America.  Jews have enjoyed a large measure of success and acceptance here, especially in comparison with the fierce antisemitism that reigned in Europe for centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, and which thrives today in the Middle East.

A tragedy like the bombing of the synagogue, however, also sadly reminds us of the many acts of violence in this country that are racist in character.  No group is potentially free from racially motivated violence, and African Americans especially have long been familiar with such violence.

By my recent count, between 1991 and 2016 there were 45 acts of arson, bombings, mass murder, hate crimes, and other violence committed against Black churches. In 2013, the most recent year for which  federal data  is available, the FBI identified 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crimes. Black victims constituted 66 percent of the total.

There are many relevant questions to ask about hate crimes.  One is whether their nomenclature within the criminal justice system should be escalated so that such crimes are considered terrorism.  There’s an argument to be made for such an escalation.  The target is civilians; the violence is carried out by nonstate actors, indeed usually by individuals; the act itself is meant to instill fear and dread beyond the event itself; and media coverage amplifies the effects of the violence itself.

The one missing criterion in this list is that hate crimes are not political in the way that idea serves as one of the central meanings of terrorism, as opposed to all other forms of violence.

What we mean by “political,” of course, can be tricky. For Aristotle, politics related to the structure, organization, or administration of the state.  Most now would extend those ideas to the more general exercise of power, as well as the institutions and arenas in which such struggles occur.

Those engaged in terrorism, as an asymmetrical form of violence, generally seek to redress what they experience as a radical imbalance of power.  Their military inadequacies are compensated by a willingness to attack “soft” targets of innocent civilians.  That is the point.

Terrorist violence in fact by definition has a political point, that is, a specific political objective or set of political objectives.

The violence is not random.  A Palestinian may well hate Jews in general and as a people, or may not, but will bomb a busload of Israelis primarily to alter the fundamental power relations in the land.  Osama bin Laden attacked America on 9/11 to drive us out of the Middle East, among other objectives.

The Unabomber killed selected academic targets because he sought to awaken Americans to what he felt were the deadly, and apocalyptic, dangers of technology.  And so on.

Hate crimes don’t really fit into that larger sense of political objectives.  They stem from irrational hatreds and often flow from very disturbed, even psychotic, minds.  Often the motivation is parochial and sometimes personal.

Hate crimes are heinous, deeply offensive, and spiritually objectionable, but they seem not to fit into a strict definition of terrorism.

So what? If hate crimes and terrorism are like two overlapping circles that still leave a substantial empty space, won’t we mobilize our resources better against such vile acts by treating them as terrorism?

Here I would strongly disagree.

Since 9/11, America has developed a vast and, I would argue, rather terrifyingly large counter-terrorism infrastructure.  Our wars in the Middle East alone—fought to deal with terrorism–have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, created millions of refugees, and cost our economy between two and three trillion dollars; and we are more, rather than less, vulnerable to terrorism.

We have militarized society in the process with profound cultural, political, and spiritual meanings.  Police officers now often look more like soldiers than your friendly cop on the beat.  The eavesdropping ability of the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, and probably local police now exceed anything that was even imaginable before 9/11.  The dangers to our civil rights are real and tangible.

They do not need enhancement.

There is another issue to consider.  The FBI works with a very bad, even quirky, definition of terrorism that includes within it a phrase that makes destruction of property with a political motivation an act of terrorism.

Charles Strozier

Charles Strozier. Photo by Donnelly Marks

That means if someone—and it could include myself—were involved in a demonstration against global warming and in a momentary fit of frustration threw a brick through a McDonald’s window, he or she—I, in the example–could be arrested and tried for carrying out, not a criminal act of vandalism, but an act of terror.

There are unforeseen consequences, in other words, in escalating the definition of what we consider terrorism. The FBI definition, especially, is already inadequate, and slippery. We don’t need the categories of violence which fall under its jurisdiction indiscriminately extended.

Charles Strozier is professor of history at John Jay College and founding director, Emeritus, of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Terror Bomber Researched Victims on Internet, U.S. Says

Cesar Altieri Sayoc was arrested in Florida last week and charged with five federal crimes. The charges are likely to be enlarged now that 15 bombs have been found.

The Florida man accused of mailing bombs to prominent Democrats started planning what prosecutors call a domestic terrorist attack as early as July and kept lists on his laptop with the addresses of his intended victims, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 56, was arrested in Florida last week and charged with five federal crimes.Prosecutors said the bombs, sent in manila envelopes to at least 15 intended victims, including two former presidents, were clearly dangerous and intended to maximize harm. The FBI seized electronic devices from Sayoc’s white van, which the letter said had stickers showing crosshairs over images of some of the defendant’s intended victims.

The devices included a laptop with lists of addresses that match the labels on the packages that contained the bombs, prosecutors said. The laptop showed that Sayoc researched his targets. They said he searched online for phrases including “hilary clinton and family”; “james clapper wife and kids”; and “george soros and family.”  Sayoc’s phone also showed searches for phrases including  “michelle obama mailing address.” Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for Senate, received threatening Facebook messages from Sayoc in April. The messages were reported to Capitol Police and turned over to the FBI in July. Sayoc is likely to face additional criminal counts. While the complaint describes 13 bombs, two more have been intercepted since prosecutors filed charges.  One, intercepted by law enforcement on Friday, was addressed to Thomas Steyer, a Democratic donor and critic of President Trump, in San Francisco. Another, discovered on Monday, was addressed to CNN in Atlanta.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Focus on Islamic Terror Took Resources from Far-Right Surveillance: Report

The recent serial bombing plot and synagogue attack serve as reminders that the federal government’s strategy to prevent homegrown terrorism underwent a major shift in the Trump administration. The white supremacist threat no longer ranked as a prevention priority.

Over the past 17 years, deadly attacks in the U.S. by the far right have outnumbered those by radicalized Muslims by a ratio of 3-to-1, NPR reports, based on government and private groups’ analyses. The most recent attacks by white men on ideological and racist grounds serve as a reminder that the Trump administration’s “Islamo-centric view of terrorism” gutted a program aimed at preventing both white nationalists and homegrown Islamists from committing violence, The Atlantic reports. The former program, Countering Violent Extremism, was an interagency task force of officials from the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. Today the task force exists in name only.

In President Obama’s last year, according to the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships, George Selim, the office boasted 16 full-time employees, roughly 25 contractors, and a budget of more than $21 million. The Trump administration has renamed it the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships, and cut its staff to eight full-time employees and its budget to less than $3 million. The office “committed the sin” of focusing not just on Islamists but also on white supremacists, and so resources went elsewhere to emphasize law enforcement and Islamist terror over crime prevention and a broader array of threats, the magazine reports. In 2017, the FBI concluded that white supremacists killed more Americans from 2000 to 2016 than “any other domestic extremist movement.” But a White House aide at the time, Sebastian Gorka, dismissed such findings in advocating the shift in federal strategies, The Atlantic writes.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Attacks Prompt New Calls for Domestic Terrorism Law

Should the federal code make domestic terrorism a distinct crime? The Department of Justice responded to the latest attacks by announcing new efforts to track and study hate crimes, but experts debate whether that’s enough to counter the threat.

Both Cesar Sayoc, accused of sending more than a dozen explosive packages to high-profile critics of President Donald Trump, and Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, could face decades in prison. But neither will face charges of domestic terrorism because the federal code does not punish it as a separate crime, a point of sharp contention, the Associated Press reports. In the absence of domestic terrorism laws, the Justice Department relies on other statutes to prosecute ideologically motivated violence by people with no international ties. That makes it hard to track how often extremists driven by religious, racial or anti-government bias commit violence in the U.S, although NBC and others reported that the Department of Justice announced it will create a website to track hate-crime reports and commission a study on hate crimes.

Opponents of domestic terrorism laws told the AP that prosecutors already have enough tools. They worry about using tools like secret warrants to monitor communications in domestic cases and contend that increased powers could run afoul of civil liberties protection. “You want to be really careful given the current political context about who would be put on that list because you don’t want them put on there for purely punitive reasons,” said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University law school’s Center on National Security. Mary McCord, a former top Justice Department official in the Obama administration, favors a law that puts domestic terrorism on “the same moral plain” as international terrorism. “Terrorism offenses are done purposely to send a much broader message, and so having that be the charged crime puts that label on that and says, ‘This is someone who committed a terrorism act,’” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Attacks Prompt New Calls for Domestic Terrorism Law

Should the federal code make domestic terrorism a distinct crime? The Department of Justice responded to the latest attacks by announcing new efforts to track and study hate crimes, but experts debate whether that’s enough to counter the threat.

Both Cesar Sayoc, accused of sending more than a dozen explosive packages to high-profile critics of President Donald Trump, and Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, could face decades in prison. But neither will face charges of domestic terrorism because the federal code does not punish it as a separate crime, a point of sharp contention, the Associated Press reports. In the absence of domestic terrorism laws, the Justice Department relies on other statutes to prosecute ideologically motivated violence by people with no international ties. That makes it hard to track how often extremists driven by religious, racial or anti-government bias commit violence in the U.S, although NBC and others reported that the Department of Justice announced it will create a website to track hate-crime reports and commission a study on hate crimes.

Opponents of domestic terrorism laws told the AP that prosecutors already have enough tools. They worry about using tools like secret warrants to monitor communications in domestic cases and contend that increased powers could run afoul of civil liberties protection. “You want to be really careful given the current political context about who would be put on that list because you don’t want them put on there for purely punitive reasons,” said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University law school’s Center on National Security. Mary McCord, a former top Justice Department official in the Obama administration, favors a law that puts domestic terrorism on “the same moral plain” as international terrorism. “Terrorism offenses are done purposely to send a much broader message, and so having that be the charged crime puts that label on that and says, ‘This is someone who committed a terrorism act,’” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Mail-Bomb Defendant Called ‘Very, Very Disturbed’ Man

“The family has always from a young age encouraged [Cesar Savoc] to get treatment and mental health counseling,” said hisformer layer, Ronald Lowy said. “He refuses. He gets angry. He says, ‘I hate you, you think I’m abnormal.’ He just won’t see reality.”

As a young man, Cesar Sayoc struggled with mental health problems, but his family could not persuade him to seek help. Sayoc, facing federal charges for mailing bomb-like devices to top Democrats and media personalities, would get angry when his relatives asked him to seek help, said Ronald Lowy, a Miami lawyer who has represented Sayoc and his family, reports USA Today. “The family has always from a young age encouraged him to get treatment and mental health counseling,” Lowy said. “He refuses. He gets angry. He says, ‘I hate you, you think I’m abnormal.’ He just won’t see reality.” Sayoc, 56, was arrested Friday. The former strip club worker and pizza parlor employee listed his mother’s Aventura, Fl., condo as his residence, but he has lived for as many as six years in a van. He was identified by authorities as the man who put pipe bombs in small manila envelopes, affixed six stamps and sent them to some of President Trump’s most prominent critics.

A lawyer who deposed him was stunned by his outlandish, and untrue, claims on a resume that included being a professional soccer player, an aspiring veterinarian and a financial wizard able to raise struggling businesses from near collapse. Mostly, Sayoc lived a troubled life, unable to hold a job, and unlikely to maintain friendships. Sayoc’s aunt, Theresa Sharp-Russell of Boca Raton, described her nephew as a “very, very disturbed” man who struggled to stay out of trouble and lost touch with family. Sharp-Russell sold Sayoc a home in 2006. The home later went into foreclosure, and he lost it in 2009. He led for bankruptcy in 2012. Sharp-Russell said her nephew is not a terrorist. She described Sayoc as a “kid who wanted attention. He was looking for a father figure. He found it in Trump.”

from https://thecrimereport.org