Operation Choke Point 2.0 is Emerging

I was just thinking about this old Obama administration program this week as it is a web tag it used years ago. Additionally, there was a time that Congressman Darryl Issa came to Clearwater to speak, an event I attended and he spoke on this disgusting program among other topics.

Well, Kelsy Bolar is on the case and a big hat tip to her for the alarm she is sounding. Let’s keep in mind the moves that Bank of America made in partnership with the FBI to report their own customers’ banking records for that they asserted went to Washington DC to begin a revolution at the Capitol on January 6. You can imagine that this program is quite the top in the halls of Congress by progressives.

Operation Choke Point: The Government's Covert War on ...

Here goes:

Amongst the record-breaking number of executive actions taken by President Joe Biden was one related to a little-known, frightening Obama-era program called Operation Choke Point. The program, dubbed so under former Attorney General Eric Holder, uses the power of the federal government to target legal yet leftist-disfavored businesses. These include gun sellers, pawnshops, and short-term money lenders.

The Trump administration did its best to end this blatantly unconstitutional program that sought to discriminate against legal industries. In 2017, the Justice Department declared the program “formally over.” At the end of Trump’s term, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency established the Fair Access rule to solidify its culmination.

Operation Choke Point... DOJ Cuts Businesses From Banks

But on Jan. 28, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency under President Biden announced it would pause the Trump-era rule intended to prevent another Operation Choke Point from happening again.

The Backstory of Operation Choke Point

The Trump administration rule appeared innocuous enough, instructing banks to “conduct risk assessments of individual customers, rather than make broad-based decisions affecting whole categories or classes of customers when providing access to services, capital, and credit.”

Under Operation Choke Point, federal regulators instructed banks to do the opposite — to openly discriminate against entire industries the Obama administration found objectionable. Weaponizing the power of banking regulators at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, the Obama administration realized it could block entire industries from the banking system that it didn’t like. This made it difficult — if not impossible — for politically unfavored businesses such as gun sellers and short-term lenders to operate.

Essentially, by using the power of federal banking regulators to intimidate banks from providing their services to these industries, the administration choked off their access to the financial system, leaving them paying more for essential banking services, or unable to use a bank at all.

The Obama administration claimed the program was intended to root out fraud by cutting off “high risk” industries from the banking system. But the administration didn’t make any differentiation between legal and illegal “high risk” industries, intentionally grouping lawful industries such as firearms sellers with patently illegal activities like Ponzi and credit-card schemes.

Different agencies within the Obama administration denied wrongdoing in various ways. At least one bank, however, admitted to choking off three legal enterprises at the government’s behest. Dozens of business owners — many of them gun sellers and short-term lenders — said their bank accounts and access to credit card processing platforms were suddenly stymied or shut down with no explanation and no opportunity for recourse.

Given its stained reputation, we shouldn’t expect the Biden administration to bring back Operation Choke Point under the same shameless name. But the return of the larger strategy behind Operation Choke Point appears here to stay.

Whereas seven years ago the idea of using the powers of the federal government to choke certain Americans from public life was controversial enough for the Obama administration to deny wrongdoing, in today’s era of social justice and cancel culture, it’s applauded.

Build Your Own Banks

Within corporate America, an employee was run out of Boeing over an article he published 33 years beforehand arguing women shouldn’t serve in combat (a position many Americans hold today). In the media, a Jewish, pro-Israel, pro-choice, bisexual writer was choked from The New York Times for not being leftist enough.

In Hollywood, a conservative actress was choked from Disney for expressing politically incorrect views on her private social media account. In the beauty blogging world, a conservative blogger was ousted from her role as a Sephora representative.

For all intents and purposes, Operation Choke Point is happening every day on a massive scale. Yet instead of “just” choking off access to capital and banking services, we’re witnessing a stranglehold on information, speech, and the broader marketplace of ideas. Concerningly, the government is now playing an active role.

As exemplified by Parler and the recent Twitter purge, Big Tech is choking conservatives off their social media platforms while Democrats cheer it on. In an attempt to choke conservatives out of entire industries of employment, critical race theory training and pledges are being forced on schools, government workplaces, and the armed forces.

This Dynamic Is Now Worse

Signs of Operation Choke Point’s formal resurrection are symbolic of the larger attempt by government actors to choke politically disfavored industries and individuals from the mainstream. While cancel culture has led to a politicized economy, the federal government’s arbitrarily targeting of individuals, groups, and entire companies will increase the politicization of the country, where the only acceptable views are from those in power.

Operating in the dark corners of the federal bureaucracy, Operation Choke Point bypasses public input and the legislative process, leaving politically unpopular individuals and businesses to fend for themselves. If the Biden administration’s rule reversal is any sign, the next four years won’t be about unifying the country to “Build Back Better.”

After being choked from essential services in the economy, conservatives and right-of-center businesses will have no choice but to Build Your Own — if that’s even still tolerated or allowed. Build your own banks, build your own credit card processing companies, build your own web hosting platforms, build your own social media platforms, build your own companies, build your own media, build your own schools, and build your own country — because you’re choked from “ours.”

Of course, all this will do nothing to further the causes of bipartisanship, unity, and healing President Biden claims to desire. Capitalizing on the trend of cancel culture, a return of Operation Choke Point would devastate an already damaged country. By abusing the powers of federal regulators, Operation Choke Point 2.0 would solidify what most right-of-center Americans already know: Instead of unity, Democrats want you choked from everyday life.

Three years ago, former President Obama infamously claimed his administration “didn’t have a scandal that embarrassed us.” While it’s tempting to point to Operation Choke Point to refute this, perhaps Obama was right. With Biden sitting by Obama’s side, the Obama administration wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about using its powers to choke legal businesses from existence. Indeed, it was the entire goal and they appear poised to do it again.

That $1.3 Billion to Iran was Paid, How? Classified…

How was it delivered? Classified. How do you put $1.3 billion on pallets and shrink wrap it and get it to Iran? Classified. We thought the $400 million was for ransom but now it appears it was ALL of it, $1.7 billion and Iran along with Russia coupled with the Iranian militia and Hezbollah will enjoy it all.

Related reading: United States is Buying Nuclear Material from Iran

US paid Iran $1.3 billion in cash to settle old dispute

NYP: WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s $400 million payoff to Iran was followed by a second transfer of $1.3 billion, it was reported Tuesday.

President Obama took considerable flak for the first payment, which coincided with the release in January of four Americans being held by Tehran.

Critics charged that the move smacked of ransom, which the US has pledged never to pay.

The $400 million was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement with Iran to resolve a dispute over a failed arms deal signed before the 1979 fall of the shah.

But there was no word about what happened to the rest of the debt — $1.3 billion.

On Tuesday, The Weekly Standard reported that the second payment was also quietly delivered.

Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield sent a letter to Congress on March 17, 2016, stating, “Iran received the balance of $400 million in the Trust Fund as well as roughly $1.3 billion representing a compromise on the interest,” according to the magazine.

This payment was likely made in cash, since the US has no banking relationship with Tehran.

Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran in an unmarked cargo plane to cover the first $400 million.

“The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions — and we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran — that we couldn’t send them a check,” Obama said in an Aug. 4 press conference.

Although he insisted there was no connection to the hostages, one of them described waiting for “another plane” to land before being freed from Iran.

“I just remember the night at the airport sitting for hours and hours there, and I asked police, ‘Why are you not letting us go?’” former hostage Pastor Saeed Abedini told Fox Business.

“He said, ‘We are waiting for another plane, so if that plane doesn’t come, we never let [you] go.’”

In part from Reuters:

The White House announced on Jan. 17, a day after the prisoner exchange, it was releasing $400 million in funds frozen since 1981, plus $1.3 billion in interest owed to Iran. The remaining interest has since been fully paid from the U.S. Treasury-administered Judgment Fund, according to a U.S. official.

The funds were part of a trust fund Iran used before its 1979 Islamic Revolution to buy U.S. military equipment that was tied up for decades in litigation at the tribunal.

The Treasury Judgment Fund?

The Judgment Fund was established to pay court judgments and Justice Department compromise settlements of actual or imminent lawsuits against the government.

It is administered by the Judgment Fund Branch, which is a part of the United States Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service. The Judgment Fund Internet Claims System (JFICS) is the application used to process all Judgment Fund claims.

The Judgment Fund is a permanent, indefinite appropriation available to pay judicially and administratively ordered monetary awards against the United States. The Judgment Fund is also available to pay amounts owed under compromise agreements negotiated by the U.S. Department of Justice in settlement of claims arising under actual or imminent litigation, if a judgment on the merits would be payable from the Judgment Fund. The statutory authority for the Judgment Fund is 31 U.S.C. 1304.

If funds for paying an award are otherwise provided for in the appropriations of the defendant agency, the Judgment Fund may not pay an award. A federal agency may request that payment of an award be made on its behalf from the Judgment Fund only in those instances where funds are not legally available to pay the award from the agency’s own appropriations.

Amounts paid vary significantly from year-to-year. Federal agencies are not required to reimburse the Judgment Fund except when cases are filed under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA) or the No FEAR Act (Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act).


F&F Per the 20,000 Pages, Impeach Lisa Monaco for Starters

Fast and Furious, from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee




April 14, 2016

To: Republican Members

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

From: Chairman Jason Chaffetz

Re: Preliminary Update—The Fast and Furious Papers

Executive Summary

On January 19, 2016, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the Justice Department to produce documents to the Committee related to Operation Fast and Furious. The documents—previously withheld pursuant to the President’s executive privilege claim—detail the Department’s internal deliberations with respect to denying, and eventually admitting, that firearms were trafficked into the hands of Mexican cartel associates during Fast and Furious.

On April 8, 2016, the Department produced 20,500 pages of documents in response to Judge Jackson’s Order.

More than previously understood, the documents show the lengths to which senior Department officials went to keep information from Congress. Further, the documents reveal how senior Justice Department officials—including Attorney General Eric Holder—intensely followed and managed an effort to carefully limit and obstruct the information produced to Congress. Justice Department officials in Washington impeded the congressional investigation in several ways, including:

Presuming that allegations about gunwalking in Arizona were false and refusing to adjust when documents and evidence showed otherwise.

Politicizing decisions about how and whether to comply with the congressional investigation.

Devising strategies to redact or otherwise withhold relevant information from Congress and the public.



Isolating the fallout from the Fast and Furious scandal to ATF leadership and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona.

Creating a culture of animosity towards congressional oversight.

Factual Background

On December 14, 2010, Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, a United States Marine veteran, was killed while on patrol near Nogales, Arizona, just miles from the Mexican border. The only two firearms found at the scene were semi-automatic rifles that were allowed to walk as part of a firearms trafficking case named Operation Fast and Furious. The deadly Fast and Furious operation ultimately was responsible for allowing approximately 2,000 firearms to illegally flow into the hands of Mexican cartel associates.

The case was started by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Phoenix Field Division in 2009. In January 2010, ATF and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona secured funding through the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. The OCDETF designation and the use of numerous wiretaps opened the door for significant oversight and supervision by Washington, D.C.-based Justice Department officials.

Congressional Republicans have investigated Fast and Furious since January 2011. Over the course of the investigation, the Justice Department has provided false information, stonewalled document requests, produced scores of blacked-out pages and duplicate documents in order to bolster its page count for public relations purposes, and refused to comply with two congressional subpoenas.

Litigation Background

On February 4, 2011, the Justice Department wrote to Congress and denied that law enforcement officers allowed straw purchasers to buy firearms illegally in the United States with the intent to traffic them without apprehension. On December 2, 2011—nearly ten months later—the Justice Department retracted that letter and confirmed federal investigators let weapons walk away in the hands of straw purchasers, many of whom entered Mexico during Operation Fast and Furious.

On October 12, 2011, the Committee issued a subpoena to then Attorney General Eric Holder to obtain documents and communications related to the Fast and Furious operation. As the investigation proceeded, understanding why, how, and when Justice Department officials determined the February 4 letter was false, and why it took so long for them to correct the record, became a primary focus. The Attorney General refused to produce the documents covered by the subpoena, and the President asserted executive privilege over the documents on June 20, 2012.

On June 28, 2012, the House of Representatives voted to hold the Attorney General in contempt because the President’s assertion of executive privilege was inappropriate and legally deficient. Concurrently, the House passed a civil contempt resolution authorizing a lawsuit 3

against the Justice Department to obtain the documents. The House of Representatives Office of General Counsel filed the lawsuit against the Justice Department on August 13, 2012.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued her opinion on January 19, 2016.

January 19, 2016 Order and Opinion

The Committee’s motion to compel the Justice Department to produce all the documents and communications it withheld pursuant to the President’s executive privilege claim asserted that: (1) those records are not deliberative, and therefore not eligible to be withheld under an executive privilege claim; and (2) even if they were, the privilege is outweighed in this instance by the Committee’s compelling need for the material.

Judge Jackson ruled executive branch communications regarding how to respond to congressional inquiries and other public relations communications are indeed eligible for executive privilege protection. However, Judge Jackson determined the privilege is outweighed in cases where Congress has a compelling need for the documents.

In this case, Judge Jackson decided the Committee’s need for the documents outweighed the Department’s need to protect itself from the limited harm that could come from releasing them.

Judge Jackson ordered the Justice Department to produce all documents and communications previously withheld as deliberative, among other things. Judge Jackson’s Order stated:

For the reasons stated above, it is ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion to compel [Dkt. # 103] is GRANTED insofar as it calls for the production of documents responsive to the October 11, 2011 subpoena that concern the Department of Justice’s response to congressional and media inquiries into Operation Fast and Furious which were withheld on deliberative process privilege grounds . . . . In all other respects, it is DENIED. Records subject to this order shall be produced to plaintiff by February 2, 2016.

It is further ORDERED that by February 2, 2016, defendant shall produce to plaintiff all segregable portions of any records withheld in full or in part on the grounds that they contain attorney-client privileged material, attorney work product, private information, law enforcement sensitive material, or foreign policy sensitive material. Whether any additional records or portions of records are to be produced is a matter to be resolved between the parties themselves.1

1 Order and Opinion of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, Comm. on Oversight and Gov’t Reform v. Loretta E. Lynch, Atty. Gen. of the U.S., Civil Action No. 12-1332 (ABJ) (Jan. 19, 2016). 4

The Committee’s Appeal

The House General Counsel filed a notice of appeal of Judge Jackson’s decision on behalf of the Committee on April 8, 2016. The Committee is seeking the remaining documents responsive to the lawsuit and subpoena that are still being inappropriately withheld by the Justice Department for other reasons.

The Justice Department’s Production

Within hours of the notice of appeal being filed, the Justice Department released thousands of documents to the Committee. Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote an accompanying letter to the Committee. It stated:

[I]n light of the passage of time and other considerations, such as the department’s interests in moving past this litigation and building upon our cooperative working relationship with the committee and other congressional committees, the department has decided that it is not in the executive branch’s interest to continue litigating this issue at this time. The Department believes that the information provided to the Committee in the referenced production . . . obviates any need for further litigation on this matter.2

2 Letter from Peter Kadzik, Ass’t Atty. Gen., to Hon. Jason E. Chaffetz, Chairman, H. Comm. on Oversight and Gov’t Reform (Apr. 8, 2016).

3 Julian Hattem, Feds hand over ‘Fast and Furious’ docs as House appeals for more, THE HILL, Apr. 8, 2016.

4 DOJ-FF-04906.

In a story about the document production, The Hill wrote: “The decision to hand over documents amounts to an admission of failure for the administration, which had long insisted that many of the records were not eligible for Congress’s oversight.”3 This is true. It is also true, however, that the Justice Department continues to withhold thousands of documents covered by the Committee’s subpoena.

Preliminary Findings

Top Justice Department officials did not take questions from Congress about Fast and Furious seriously. In fact, in response to questions from Congress in January 2011, they presumed gunwalking did not occur and proceeded from there. That pattern persisted throughout the congressional investigation.

On January 31, 2011, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke wrote to Justice Department officials in Washington to share his concerns about a letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley to ATF Director Kenneth Melson raising questions about whether guns were allowed to traffic into Mexico. Burke wrote: “Grassley’s assertions regarding the Arizona investigation and the weapons recovered at the BP agent Terry murder scene are based on categorical falsehoods. I worry that ATF will take 8 months to answer this when they should be refuting its underlying accusations right now.4



Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein agreed: “This is a really important briefing for ATF – they need to nail it. . . . I’d be happy to work with ATF on the prep for this if it would be helpful.”5

5 DOJ-FF-04906.

6 DOJ-FF-04906.

7 DOJ-FF-04905.

8 DOJ-FF-44015—44018.

9 DOJ-FF-44015—44018.

10 DOJ-FF-44015—44018.

11 DOJ-FF-44015—44018.

12 DOJ-FF-11134.

Weinstein then suggested to Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer that he email Melson “offering any assistance they need for the Grassley briefing.”6 Weinstein further advised that “ATF can and should strongly refute” that a Fast and Furious weapon was involved in the Brian Terry attack.7

 On Friday, June 17, 2011, in response to news reports that firearms used in a high-profile kidnapping and murder were linked to Fast and Furious, Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod emailed ATF, asking: “Were two F&F guns actually traced to the scene of this kidnapping? Can you run that down for us?”8 ATF dismissed the connection by responding that day: “[T]o suggest the guns are linked is like saying there was a murder in southeast three weeks ago. Tonight a car load of guys g[o]t caught with guns in southeast. Ergo the guns are linked to the murder.”9

Only after Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Grassley wrote to the Ambassador of Mexico on June 21, 2011 to ask for further details did Axelrod ask more probing questions of ATF.10 Subsequently, on June 22, 2011, Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod emailed senior officials, including Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole: “I just heard from ATF. Their initial reporting on this was incorrect. Evidently, when MX law enforcement arrested the kidnappers at their hideout, they seized a number of firearms, two of which tie back to Fast and Furious. I’ll double check Issa’s letter in the morning, but it appears that the allegations in it (and in the Fox News report) are accurate.”11

Top Justice Department officials viewed the congressional investigation through a highly political lens. They constantly made decisions about whether and when to turn over documents based on political and public relations considerations.

 On March 9, 2011, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ron Weich forwarded a letter from the National Rifle Association to a group of senior Justice Department officials. The letter urged the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on ATF firearms trafficking enforcement tactics. Weich stated: “Chutzpah. The NRA’s now-public involvement in this may be useful in convincing reporters that this is part of the overall effort to discredit ATF.”12



 On May 4, 2011, Attorney General Holder weighed in on the topic of how to respond to a Wall Street Journal article about Lanny Breuer’s role in Fast and Furious. He asked a group of top Justice Department officials: “If we go out with something do we make it worse?”13 In response to a subsequent email from a Criminal Division lawyer providing additional details about how wiretap applications are reviewed, Holder responded: “Ok- but everyone get ready- this isn’t about facts.”14

13 DOJ-FF-00657.

14 DOJ-FF-00656.

15 DOJ-FF-43037.

16 DOJ-FF-43037.

17 DOJ-FF-43037.

18 DOJ-FF-60096.

19 DOJ-FF-60096.

 On June 15, 2011, Stephen Kelly, the top legislative affairs official for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, emailed top Justice Department officials about whether to provide certain material responsive to the Committee’s subpoena:

[T]his is a very bad idea. This will become precedent for Sen. Grassley’s office to seek actual documents from DoJ and the FBI in pending criminal investigations, and there’s a better than 50/50 chance that Sen. Grassley will become Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the next cycle. If the documents are provided here, we can expect to see specific requests to DoJ and the FBI for documents in pending criminal investigations as a routine matter from Committee chairs, potentially including Sen. Grassley.15

The FBI’s General Counsel, Valerie Caproni, weighed in on Kelly’s assessment with “I agree.”16 Lisa Monaco responded to the group, “I have spoken with folks here on this and think for now we will not be providing this[.]”17

In determining how the Department would describe in a letter to Chairman Issa the information being withheld, on September 19, 2011, DOJ lawyer Paul Colborn suggested “deleting the sentence giving a page count on our memos on memos withholding.”18 He went on to reason, “I think giving a page count is an inappropriate accommodation at this point. They have no legitimate oversight interest in that information.”19

 On October 5, 2011, DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Matthew Miller emailed Attorney General Eric Holder:

If I were you, I would want answers from the entire team ([Deputy Attorney General Jim] Cole, [Associate Deputy Attorney General Steven] Reich, on down), on why the Department let Issa decide what to do with these memos. The whole point of the review is to find things like this and come up with plans for dealing with them. It should have been obvious that these memos were going to be a huge target, and instead of 7

just handing them over, the Department should have put them out to reporters on its own terms, instead of letting Issa do it. Give them to Issa at the same time you give them to the press with an explanation that takes the air out of the balloon. And if the answer is we owe it to Issa to give him this stuff first – well, that’s obviously ridiculous.20

20 DOJ-FF-61875.

21 DOJ-FF-61875.

22 DOJ-FF-12213—12214.

23 DOJ-FF-21337.

24 DOJ-FF-21335.

Holder forwarded the email to his chief of staff, Gary Grindler, with the comment, “I agree.”21

Top Justice Department officials in Washington wanted Congress and the public to have as little information as possible. They carefully chose language to minimize Congress’s and the public’s understanding of the role of the Department’s political staff in Fast and Furious.

 On March 16, 2011, an ATF official weighed in on the Justice Department’s response to a letter from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. Chairman Smith’s letter asked several questions about Operation Fast and Furious, including “How many weapons have been allowed to pass to Mexico under the program known as ‘Fast and Furious’”? The ATF official advised senior Justice Department officials to exclude key information from their response. He wrote: “We would suggest that you pull the sentence that notes how many weapons we’ve recovered. It squares poorly with how many we haven’t.”22

 On March 31, 2011, senior Justice Department officials in Washington were discussing an imminent subpoena from Chairman Issa. Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco asked the group: “[W]hat’s the status of the response to [I]ssa that had been discussed to try to buy time?”23 DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Matthew Miller subsequently drafted a letter to Chairman Issa. Regarding that draft, DOJ lawyer Paul Colborn wrote to Ron Weich: “Ron, Matt’s draft is not a good letter. Much too weak on the open investigation point and suggesting we’ll provide a ‘substantial’ number of documents while withholding only ‘some’ relating to the investigation into the death of the agent. Much more likely, it’s the reverse: we’ll provide only some and withhold a substantial number, and they concern not just the murder investigation but also the longstanding Fast and Furious investigation.”24

 On May 3, 2011, top Justice Department officials were discussing whether to give a statement to the Wall Street Journal for an impending story on the Fast and Furious investigation. The Wall Street Journal was preparing to report that Lanny Breuer’s office approved wiretaps which described questionable investigative techniques in March 2010. DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Matthew Miller recommended against issuing a statement. In an email to Breuer and other top DOJ officials, he wrote: “I think people will accuse us of playing with semantics when we say that you did not authorize Fast and



Furious, but they find out that CRM [DOJ’s Criminal Division] did authorize wiretaps.”25

25 DOJ-FF-28895.

26 DOJ-FF-28985.

27 Evan Perez, Lawmakers Step Up Probe of Gun Trafficking Operation, WALL ST. J., May 4, 2011.

28 DOJ-FF-48038.

29 DOJ-FF-00002.

30 DOJ-FF-00002.

 Later on May 3, 2011, top officials from DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs and other top DOJ officials were discussing how to respond to press inquiries about Lanny Breuer’s role in authorizing Fast and Furious. Officials from the Criminal Division wanted to issue a definitive denial that Breuer authorized the ATF operation. Office of Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler warned her colleagues: “. . . we run the risk of seeming disingenuous to some who will not take our explanation that aspects of the operation are not the same as authorizing the operation.”26 DOJ’s statement to the Wall Street Journal wound up being misleading and minimized Breuer’s role in Fast and Furious: “[The wiretap approvals are] a narrow assessment of whether a legal basis exists to support a surveillance request that ultimately goes before a judge for decision. These reviews are not approval of the underlying investigations or operations.”27

 On July 6, 2011, a draft letter to Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings was circulated to senior Justice Department officials. In response, Department official Faith Burton wrote, “I’d stay away from the representation that we’ll fully cooperate in the future . . .” and removed language from the draft letter.28

 On August 17, 2011, Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod wrote an email to ATF Assistant Deputy Director of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs Chris Shaefer. In the email, Axelrod provided feedback in response to a draft external communication related to Fast and Furious. Axelrod advised Shaefer the draft “wades further than the last version into details and conclusions about Fast and Furious, which strikes us as unwise given the evolving nature of what we’re still learning about the underlying facts and the risk that what you say will be twisted and taken out of context by agency critics.”29

Axelrod further instructed Shaefer to keep his communications about Fast and Furious “high level.”30

The Justice Department’s political staff in Washington took steps to isolate the fallout from Fast and Furious to ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona.

 On August 28, 2011, Attorney General Holder was strategizing with top officials in Washington about how to announce ATF Director Ken Melson and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke would resign due to their roles in Fast and Furious. Holder was concerned the news would leak early because Melson had already cleaned out his office. He instructed his staff



to have someone at ATF “close the door to his office.”31 Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole worried announcing Melson’s resignation would create the appearance Melson was the only official being removed. He wrote to Holder: “The problem with going earlier than Tuesday is that we won’t have Dennis in the package.32

31 DOJ-FF-01272.

32 DOJ-FF-01310.

33 DOJ-FF-01310.

34 DOJ-FF-01310.

35 DOJ-FF-01268-69.

36 DOJ-FF-01268.

37 DOJ-FF-01267.

38 DOJ-FF-57853.

39 DOJ-FF-57852.

Holder responded: “Let’s hold all until Tuesday as planned.”33 He replied to his own email: “We have to make known the breadth of the changes- at the top in USAO and ATF. At worker level at USAO and ATF. No one is a fall guy here.”34

Further proof of the coordination by main Justice of the Melson and Burke staff changes occurred when Melson emailed a proposed “draft press release” he “would like to issue from ATF.”35 David O’Neil responded to the chain (with Holder cc’ed):

Ken’s message below reads like he may think he’s giving us a heads-up on the message he plans to send on Monday as opposed to asking for clearance. If we haven’t made clear to him that we want to approve/coordinate any messaging about this, we probably should say that OPA is going to revise the first draft he shared and we’ll get back to him with a new one.36

Stuart Goldberg alerted the email chain: “the DAG [Jim Cole] did tell him the change would be announced on Tuesday,” to which Holder questioned “Did Jim say it in Spanish?” Cole responded, “Further proof of the need for a change.”37

Talking points drafted by Ron Weich to communicate to congressional staff made clear both Melson and Burke were intended to be the scapegoats, noting: “These changes will help us move past the controversy that has surrounded Fast and Furious. Ken Melson and Dennis Burke have both acknowledged mistakes in that area, and it will be useful to turn the page from those mistakes.”38

According to Weich, Holder expected to “have these conversations personally,” but Weich believed “there may be a value in keeping the AG a step removed.”39 10

Top Justice Department officials disingenuously relied on the ongoing investigation by the Inspector General to ward off outside investigations.

On March 15, 2011, Justice Department officials in Washington and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona discussed “noises that they [the Mexican government] are opening a criminal investigation of ATF for Fast and Furious . . . .”40 DOJ Criminal Division Office of International Affairs Director Molly Warlow advised that the Inspector General’s review “shouldn’t have any interplay at all [with the Mexican government’s investigation], unless we wanted to (or needed to) invoke that as reason (even if disingenuously) to shelve the Mexican inquiry. I can see nothing but mischief (and headaches for us) in the mexicans pursuing this, so I would like to see if there is a way we can turn it off, and the sooner the better.”41

40 DOJ-FF-12160.

41 DOJ-FF-12160.

Going Forward

On April 8, 2016, the Committee filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. House General Counsel will file the appeal on behalf of the Committee, pursuant to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The purpose of the appeal is to obtain the full range of documents for which the Committee issued a subpoena in 2011 and brought this lawsuit in 2012. We expect those documents—which are still being withheld for inappropriate reasons by the Justice Department—will answer some of the outstanding questions about Operation Fast and Furious.

The emails and other internal Justice Department communications described in this memorandum represent a small subset of the 20,500 pages that the Committee received on April 8, 2016. Committee staff are working vigorously to review the entire set of documents that the Justice Department turned over to piece together how and why senior political officials in Washington obstructed the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious. The Committee will supplement the preliminary findings contained in this memorandum with a more complete report as soon as practicable. 11


December 14, 2010: Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was fatally shot.

January 27, 2011: Sen. Charles Grassley wrote a letter to ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson requesting information about the ATF-sanctioned sale of hundreds of firearms to straw purchasers. The letter mentioned a number of allegations that walked guns were found at the scene of the fire fight that killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

February 4, 2011: The Justice Department responded to Sen. Grassley and denied that law enforcement officers allowed straw purchasers to buy firearms illegally in the United States and take them into Mexico without being apprehended.

March 16, 2011: Chairman Issa wrote to then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth E. Melson requesting documents and information regarding Fast and Furious.

March 22, 2011: President Obama appeared on Univision and spoke about the “gunwalking” controversy. The President said neither he nor Attorney General Holder authorized Fast and Furious. He also stated, “There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made, and if that’s the case then we’ll find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.”

March 31, 2011: The Committee issued a subpoena to Melson. The Department produced zero pages of non-public documents pursuant to that subpoena until June 10, 2011, on the eve of the Committee’s first Fast and Furious hearing.

October 12, 2011: Chairman Issa issued a subpoena for documents to the Justice Department. That subpoena, and its successors, is the subject of the ongoing litigation between the Committee and the Justice Department.

November 8, 2011: Holder stated for the first time in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that “gunwalking” occurred in Fast and Furious.

December 2, 2011: The Justice Department retracted the February 4 letter and confirmed that federal investigators did in fact permit weapons to enter Mexico during Operation Fast and Furious.

June 20, 2012: The President asserted executive privilege over some of the documents being withheld by the Attorney General.

June 28, 2012: The House of Representatives voted (255-67) to hold the Attorney General in contempt because the President’s assertion of executive privilege was invalid, among other reasons. The House also passed (258-95) a civil contempt resolution that authorized a lawsuit against the Justice Department to obtain the documents. 12

August 13, 2012: The House of Representatives Office of General Counsel filed the lawsuit against the Justice Department.

January 19, 2016: Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued her order and opinion.

April 8, 2016: The House General Counsel filed a notice of appeal of Judge Jackson’s order so the Committee can secure the full range of documents for which it brought the lawsuit.

The Justice Department provided 20,500 pages of documents in response to Judge Jackson’s order.


U.S. Govt Cyber Attacks in 2015 Spike

In his annual budget request, President Barack Obama asked for $19bn for cyber security funding, $5bn more than last year.

Last year, a study from Juniper Research, ‘The Future of Cybercrime & Security: Financial and Corporate Threats and Mitigation’, estimated that by 2019 the cost of data breaches will reach $2.1 trillion – four times the total expected for 2015. The average cost of a data breach is expected to exceed $150 million by 2020 as more business infrastructure is connected.

Number of U.S. government ‘cyber incidents’ jumps in 2015

Reuters: The U.S. government was hit by more than 77,000 “cyber incidents” like data thefts or other security breaches in fiscal year 2015, a 10 percent increase over the previous year, according to a White House audit.

Part of the uptick stems from federal agencies improving their ability to identify and detect incidents, the annual performance review from the Office and Management and Budget said.

The report, released on Friday, defines cyber incidents broadly as “a violation or imminent threat of violation of computer security policies, acceptable use policies, or standard computer security practices.” Only a small number of the incidents would be considered as significant data breaches.

National security and intelligence officials have long warned that cyber attacks are among the most serious threats facing the United States. President Barack Obama asked Congress last month for $19 billion for cyber security funding across the government in his annual budget request, an increase of $5 billion over the previous year.

The government’s Office of Personnel Management was victim of a massive hack that began in 2014 and was detected last year. Some 22 million current and former federal employees and contractors in addition to family members had their Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses and other personal data pilfered in the breach.

That event prompted the government to launch a 30-day “cyber security sprint” to boost cyber security within each federal agency by encouraging adoption of multiple-factor authentication and addressing other vulnerabilities.

“Despite unprecedented improvements in securing federal information resources … malicious actors continue to gain unauthorized access to, and compromise, federal networks, information systems, and data,” the report said.

***** Depth of hacking illustration:

U.S. Charges 3 As It Chases Syrian Electronic Army — $100,000 Bounties On Hackers’ Heads

Firas Dardar Syrian Electronic Army FBI Most Wanted

Firas Dardar, now on the FBI’s Cyber Most Wanted list for his part in the Syrian Electronic Army. He is also accused of extorting targets.

Forbes: Syrian Electronic Army has caused all sorts of trouble since its emergence at the turn of this decade (including an attack on FORBES, amongst many other major publications). Having largely operated under the radar, the U.S. today filed official charges against three individuals it believes were key in perpetrating SEA’s attacks. Two of the three men – Ahmad Umar Agha (commonly known as Th3 Pr0) and Firas Dardar (also known as The Shadow) – have also been placed on the FBI’s Cyber Most Wanted list with $100,000 rewards on offer for anyone who helps catch them. The third suspect is German-based Peter Romar.

The three have been charged with a range of offences, from hacking, to engaging in a hoax regarding a terrorist attack, to attempting to cause a mutiny within the U.S. armed forces. Throughout the last five years, the SEA were proficient in tricking organization – often media bodies such as the BBC, the Guardian, CNN and FORBES – into handing over login details to Facebook FB +0.38% and Twitter TWTR -0.18% accounts. They would then use that access to send out messages in support of Bashar al-Assad, who remains the Syrian president, despite the chaos of civil war that has engulfed the country.

Its most effective attack came after a compromise of the Associated Press Twitter account. After a tweet that claimed a bomb had exploded at the White House and injured President Obama, $90 billion was wiped off the U.S. stock market. In other successful campaign, the hackers defaced a recruiting website for the U.S. Marine Corps, using the site to urge marines to “refuse [their] orders.”

Ahmed Al charged Syrian Electronic Army hacker

Accused Syrian Electronic Army hacker Ahmad Umar Agha.

According to one of two complaints released today, other victims included Harvard University, the Washington Post, the White House, Reuters, Human Rights Watch, NPR, CNN, The Onion, NBC Universal, USA Today, the New York Post, NASA (which assisted on the investigation), and Microsoft. FORBES was not named as one of the victims of the trio’s attacks.

All three alleged SEA operatives were using Google Gmail and Facebook to coordinate and pass around stolen data. U.S. law enforcement were able to track their activity after acquiring court orders to search their online accounts.

Nation state hackers demanding ransom

According to the Department of Justice, Dardar and Romar (also known as Pierre Romar) have also been accused of typical cybercrime, hacking into target’s machines and demanding a ransom be paid, threatening to delete data or sell personal information. Dardar was thought to be operating out of Homs, Syria, Romar from Waltershausen, Germany. The ransoms would then be handed to SEA members in Syria, a complaint read. Dardar demanded in total more than $500,000 from 14 victims, though the filings did not specify how much they actually received.

“While some of the activity sought to harm the economic and national security of the United States in the name of Syria, these detailed allegations reveal that the members also used extortion to try to line their own pockets at the expense of law-abiding people all over the world,” said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin. “The allegations in the complaint demonstrate that the line between ordinary criminal hackers and potential national security threats is increasingly blurry.”

If the complaints released by the U.S. are accurate, Dardar and Romar are two of a handful of hackers known to be working for their government and carrying out extortion. Suspicions of governments using ransomware – malware that locks users’ files by encrypting them, only decrypting when the victim hands the hackers money – have proven unfounded. But researchers from security firm FireEye told FORBES they have seen a handful of examples where nation states have perpetrated extortion campaigns like the SEA suspects. But, the researchers said, it’s unlikely they ever want funds.

“We don’t believe that their intention was to get a ransom,” said Charles Carmakal, managing director of Mandiant, a FireEye-owned firm, speaking with FORBES last week. “I can say we’ve seen it but our case load isn’t that high.”

The hack of Sony Pictures, which the U.S. accused the North Korean government of sponsoring, included such a ransom demand once hackers had broken in. Sony didn’t pay and the hackers wiped the film studio’s machines before publishing vast tranches of company emails and files for all and sundry to pick through.



Top Paris Attacker Arrested in Belgium, Alive but Wounded

Fingerprints and DNA led to clues and there is perhaps yet another Paris attacker still at large. Update, it appears all have been captured as of evening time in Belgium.

 Shot in the knee.

For a photo essay go here.


(CNN) Belgian police conducted a raid Friday in Brussels that ended with two suspects in custody — one of whom may be wanted Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam, a senior counter-terrorism official said.

Earlier in the day, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office revealed the 26-year-old’s fingerprints and DNA were found in a Brussels apartment raided two days earlier. One person was killed and two people escaped that operation, according to authorities.

The man killed by a special forces sniper was Mohamed Belkaid, an Algerian who used the name Samir Bouzid, is believed to have directed the November 13 Paris attackers via calls from Belgium, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Belkaid is believed to have helped Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam travel prior to the attacks and transferred money to a female cousin of Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud following the attack, the Belgian senior counter-terrorism official told CNN in January.

Authorities believe the 26-year-old Abdeslam was using the apartment as a hideout following the November 13 Paris attacks that left at least 130 people dead, according to the Belgian counter-terrorism official.

Salah Abdeslam is wanted after allegedly taking part in last fall's Paris terror attacks.

Up until Friday evening, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office has only said that “the investigation continues day and night.

“It is currently not possible to give any additional information to avoid causing any damage to the investigation,” the agency said.

Belgian authorities are “not happy” that French media leaked evidence showing Abdeslam was in the Brussels apartment raided this week, Belgium Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sijpt said Friday.

Investigators think Abdeslam may have been the driver of a black Renault Clio that dropped off three suicide bombers near the Stade de France, one of the attack sites. They also believe he had worn a suicide belt found on a Paris street after the attacks.

He is believed to have called friends to take him to Belgium after the attacks. They passed through police checkpoints, but Abdeslam had not yet been identified as a suspect and they were allowed to continue on their way.

Surveillance video emerged of him and another man at a gas station near the Belgian border the day after the attacks.

He has eluded authorities ever since.

In January, authorities found traces of explosives and Abdeslam’s fingerprints in another Brussels apartment.

Some theories have suggested he had returned to Syria following the attacks.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen, is the brother of another attacker, Ibrahim Abdeslam. He was a French citizen believed to have been the suicide bomber who detonated explosives outside a cafe on Boulevard Voltaire.