He Did it, He Turned Over the Fast and Furious Documents

  Maybe the whistleblowers will receive some vindication like Sharyl Attkisson.

Obama relents in fight over Fast and Furious documents

Politico: Four years after asserting executive privilege to block Congress from obtaining documents relating to a controversial federal gun trafficking investigation, President Barack Obama relented Friday, turning over to lawmakers thousands of pages of records that led to unusual House votes holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012.

In January, a federal district court judge rejected Obama’s executive privilege claim over records detailing the Justice Department and White House’s response to Operation Fast and Furious, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation that may have allowed as many as 2,000 firearms to pass into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not turn down Obama’s privilege assertion on the merits. Instead, she said authorized public disclosures about the operation in a Justice Department inspector general report essentially mooted the administration’s drive to keep the records secret.

Both sides had until midnight Friday to file an appeal. Instead, the Obama administration turned over a set of documents to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“In light of the passage of time and other considerations, such as the Department’s interest 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,” Justice Deparment legislative liaison Peter Kadzik wrote in a letter Friday to House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush confirmed that the administration does not plan to appeal. He argued that Jackson’s ruling validated Obama’s initial claim of privilege.

“The Department of Justice is pleased that the district court … continued to recognize that the deliberative process component of the executive privilege exists and was a valid basis for the Department to withhold certain documents when requested by the House in 2011. Although the Department disagrees with the district court’s conclusion that the privilege was overcome in this particular case by disclosures and statements made in other contexts, the Department has decided not to appeal the court’s judgment and has provided a production of documents to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,” Rodenbush said in a statement.

While the House largely won in the January decision, it did file an appeal earlier Friday afternoon, apparently unaware of the administration’s plans to comply with the judge’s order. The appeal suggested that House leaders were dissatisfied with aspects of Jackson’s rulings that narrowed the set of documents the administration had to turn over.

“As we’ve long asserted, the Committee requires and is entitled to these documents,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “They are critical to the Committee’s efforts to complete meaningful oversight. The Committee has a duty to understand and shine light on what was happening inside DOJ during the time of this irresponsible operation. Yet DOJ has obstructed our investigative work for years.”

After getting word that the Justice Department was turning over records, Chaffetz updated his statement, indicating that the House plans to press its appeal to get records beyond the ones the administration is providing.

“Today, under court order, DOJ turned over some of the subpoenaed documents. The Committee, however, is entitled to the full range of documents for which it brought this lawsuit. Accordingly, we have appealed the District Court’s ruling in order to secure those additional documents,” Chaffetz said.

Guns sold by dealers or informants used in the ATF operation wound up at numerous crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S. In December 2010, two of the weapons were found at the scene of the murder of a Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

Obama’s privilege claim in the Fast and Furious fight was broad-ranging, seeking to cover not only internal deliberations about how to respond to congressional inquiries but also discussions about media strategy related to the congressional probes.

The June 2012 claim in the Fast and Furious case was the only formal assertion of executive privilege by Obama to try to defeat a congressional demand for records or testimony, though the administration has raised executive privilege concerns when declining to comply with other congressional inquiries. Most of those were resolved through negotiations. The administration has also asserted executive privilege in response to a variety of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.






Eyes in the Sky, Tracking Unstable Areas

BuzzFeed: Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on.

The government’s airborne surveillance has received little public scrutiny — until now. BuzzFeed News has assembled an unprecedented picture of the operation’s scale and sweep by analyzing aircraft location data collected by the flight-tracking website Flightradar24 from mid-August to the end of December last year, identifying about 200 federal aircraft. Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation.

Some graphics and images are interactive, click here to access.

Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation.

The FBI and the DHS would not discuss the reasons for individual flights but told BuzzFeed News that their planes are not conducting mass surveillance.

The DHS said that its aircraft were involved with securing the nation’s borders, as well as targeting drug smuggling and human trafficking, and may also be used to support investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The FBI said that its planes are only used to target suspects in specific investigations of serious crimes, pointing to a statement issued in June 2015, after reporters and lawmakers started asking questions about FBI surveillance flights.

“It should come as no surprise that the FBI uses planes to follow terrorists, spies, and serious criminals,” said FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, in that statement. “We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so.”

But most of these government planes took the weekends off. The BuzzFeed News analysis found that surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays.

“The fact that they are mostly not flying on weekends suggests these are relatively run-of-the-mill investigations,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told BuzzFeed News.

The government’s aerial surveillance programs deserve scrutiny by the Supreme Court, said Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s very difficult to know, because these are very secretive programs, exactly what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it,” Bates told BuzzFeed News.

View this embed ›

The BuzzFeed News analysis also revealed how the government responded to the mass shooting last December in San Bernardino, California.

Surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays.

In the weeks leading up to the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, nearby neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles were watched intensively by FBI aircraft. But San Bernardino itself was apparently ignored: Our data shows no FBI surveillance flights over the city.

That changed abruptly after the attack on the morning of Dec. 2. Within 90 minutes, two planes — one an FBI Cessna, the other a DHS Pilatus PC-12 surveillance aircraft — were circling the scene. Later that afternoon, the FBI plane flew around the home of the two shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

Farook attended the nearby Dar Al Uloom Al-Islamiyah of America mosque. And starting Dec. 3, FBI planes traced circles with the mosque near their center. Three different FBI planes flew around the mosque, some circling for more than three hours at a time. There were flights on each day in the week after the attack — except for Saturday and Sunday.


The FBI told BuzzFeed News that it cannot launch investigations based on race, ethnicity, or religion — surveillance means that individual criminal suspects are being watched, not groups of people.

But Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization representing the region’s mosques and Islamic centers, told BuzzFeed News that he is alarmed that the FBI’s knee-jerk reaction to the San Bernardino massacre seems to have been to send its planes to watch the Dar Al Uloom mosque.

“That is extremely troubling, and reconfirms the fears that we continue to talk about,” Syed said. “I don’t know that they have ever done surveillance of churches or synagogues when people of those traditions have committed acts of criminality.”

In the months before the San Bernardino attack, some of the government’s surveillance planes circled over other neighborhoods with large Muslim populations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, there was a clear circle above Little Kabul in Fremont, home to the largest concentration of ethnic Afghans in the nation. The main concentrations of surveillance in Minneapolis, meanwhile, were above an area known as Little Mogadishu for its large Somali population.

But these neighborhoods did not come under heightened aerial scrutiny after the terrorist mayhem in Paris on Nov. 13, nor after San Bernardino. And on Thanksgiving Day, less than two weeks after the Paris attacks, with the nation under a State Department–issued global terrorism alert, federal surveillance planes almost entirely stopped flying, only to resume once the holiday was over.

The BuzzFeed News analysis almost certainly underestimates the scope of surveillance by federal aircraft. Some two dozen planes operated by the FBI and more than 130 registered to the DHS never appeared on Flightradar24, suggesting that some surveillance planes may be hidden from public view on plane-tracking websites. (See here for details on the BuzzFeed News analysis.)

FBI planes have also on occasion been used to support local law enforcement. In April 2015, after riots broke out in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, FBI planes were sent to monitor the situation, documents obtained by the ACLU show. FBI Director James Comey told Congress that the agency’s aircraft also flew over Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014, after a local police officer shot Michael Brown.

Responding to the BuzzFeed News analysis, FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said that planes may circle over cities while waiting for a suspect to emerge from a building. In some cases, the BuzzFeed News analysis showed that FBI aircraft indeed seemed to be following a vehicle from place to place, pausing to circle at each stop. Other flights, however, circled a single location for several hours, and then returned to their airfields.

Left image shows plane likely following a suspect; right shows repeated circling

As to the big drop-off in flights on the weekends, Allen told BuzzFeed News that the agency’s surveillance depends on the needs of individual investigations.

“If we need it, it’s going to happen,” Allen said. The targets of surveillance may simply be less active on the weekends, he said. And because traffic is lighter, he added, it’s easier for the FBI to follow suspects on the ground instead of by air.

That explanation did not convince James Wedick, a former FBI agent based near Sacramento, California.

“That’s painful,” Wedick told BuzzFeed News. He suspects that the weekend dip reflects the controversial practice of using undercover agents and informants to entice suspects into joining fake terrorist plots devised by the FBI. “The FBI today is better able to control investigations, enabling agents to orchestrate events when more resources were available,” Wedick said.

US Customs and Border Patrol

US Customs and Border Patrol

Courtesy William Larkins

Left: Two DHS aircraft patrol the U.S. border; Center: DHS helicopter, with cameras beneath the cockpit door; Right: Cessna 208, operated by an FBI front company

In June of last year, the Associated Press reported that it had linked more than 50 planes, mostly small Cessna Skylane 182 aircraft, to 13 fake companies created as fronts for the FBI. Also using Flightradar24, AP reporters tracked more than 100 flights in 11 states over the course of a month.

BuzzFeed News extended the list of FBI front companies, drawing from other sources that have investigated the agency’s airborne operations. We then looked for planes registered to these front companies in data provided by Flightradar24. (Its data comes from radio signals broadcast by transponders that reveal planes’ locations and identifying information, picked up by receivers on the ground that are hosted by volunteers across the country.)

We detected nearly 100 FBI fixed-wing planes, mostly small Cessnas, plus about a dozen helicopters. Collectively, they made more than 1,950 flights over our four-month-plus observation period. The aircraft frequently circled or hovered around specific locations, often for several hours in the daytime over urban areas.

We also tracked more than 90 aircraft, about two-thirds of them helicopters, that were registered to the DHS, which is responsible for border protection, customs, and immigration. Not surprisingly, these planes were especially active around border towns such as McAllen, Texas, which faces the Mexican city of Reynosa across the Rio Grande.

But the DHS’s airborne operations also extended far into the U.S. interior. And over some cities, notably Los Angeles, its aircraft seemed to circle around particular locations, behaving like those in the FBI’s fleet.

View this embed ›

The DHS would not comment on flights over specific cities, but confirmed that its planes regularly support other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

DHS spokesman Carlos Lazo told BuzzFeed News by email that its planes are mainly used to combat the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, and violent crime. In 2015, he said, DHS aerial surveillance missions supported investigations that “resulted in 706 arrests including violent criminals and sex traffickers, the seizure of more than 10,000 lbs of cocaine, 342 lbs of heroin, more than 1,000 lbs of methamphetamine, 350 weapons, and $24 million in cash.”

BuzzFeed News

Regulations require that a plane’s owners submit documents to the Federal Aviation Administration describing modifications that might affect a plane’s airworthiness, and BuzzFeed News obtained this paperwork for about 130 of the planes identified in our analysis — giving a strong sense of what the aircraft are capable of.

Many FBI Cessnas, for example, are fitted with exhaust mufflers to reduce engine noise. FBI and DHS aircraft carry sophisticated camera systems in steerable mounts that can provide conventional video, night vision, and infrared thermal imaging. These include Talon devices, manufactured by FLIR Systems of Wilsonville, Oregon. The company’s website boasts that these devices “deliver high-resolution imagery day or night.”

On FBI planes, cameras are typically paired with augmented reality systems, which superimpose a variety of information over the video, and can embed the feed from a camera into a wider scene built up from stored satellite images.

This promotional video from Churchill Navigation of Boulder, Colorado, whose systems are installed on FBI surveillance aircraft, explains some of their capabilities.


Over the past few years, news organizations and advocacy groups have also accumulated evidence that some government surveillance planes can carry equipment to track cell phones on the ground.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies are known to use devices called cell-site simulators that mimic cell phone towers, emitting powerful signals that trick people’s phones into connecting to them as if they were the real thing. Sometimes called “Stingrays” for the brand name of one popular model, these devices read the unique identification codes of the cell phones that connect to them, and so can be used to track people — even if they are indoors, in dense crowds, or otherwise hidden from view.

Official records indicate that both the DHS and the FBI can connect to cell phones from the air. Documents obtained by Chris Soghoian, principal technologist with the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, show that in 2010 the DHS spent almost $190,000 under a contract that included the purchase of cell-site simulators and an “airborne flight kit” for a Stingray device — consisting of “specialized antennas, antenna mounts, cables and power connections.” The contract also covered training for up to four DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to be instructed on how to operate Stingrays from an aircraft.

Other government spending records, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, show that in 2008 the FBI purchased a Stingray airborne kit for $55,000.

And in March, the San Francisco–based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a series of documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit, in which FBI officials discussed the use of cell-site simulators from aircraft. The documents reveal that the agency was unsure how many times the devices had been used, when pressed for information by the Senate judiciary committee.

“I cannot say for certain that the mission numbers are 100% accurate,” one official wrote, noting that so far, five flights involving Stingrays had been identified.

The FBI told BuzzFeed News that cell-site simulators are used very rarely, and only to track suspects. Calls are not intercepted, and personal data is not captured, Allen said.

The DHS declined to comment on how often it used the devices from the air, but Lazo, the department’s spokesman, said the technology provides “invaluable assistance” in hunting down criminal suspects. “Cell-site simulators used by DHS are not used to collect the contents of any communication, including any data contained on the phone itself,” he added.

BuzzFeed News

Still, tracking the movements of specific criminal suspects may entail connecting to the phones of thousands of people who just happen to be nearby. And although government policies say that information about nontarget phones should be quickly discarded, privacy advocates remain concerned about cell-site simulators, which may not require a warrant in emergency situations.

“In our opinion, any time Stingrays or the like are used, they need to have a warrant based on probable cause,” Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney with the EFF, told BuzzFeed News.

One of the most sensitive questions surrounding the government’s surveillance flights is whether Muslims are being disproportionately targeted.

Even before San Bernardino, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was calling for surveillance of certain mosques. And in the wake of the bombings in Brussels in March, rival Ted Cruz said that surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods should be intensified.

BuzzFeed News mapped mosques and Islamic centers throughout the nation, as detailed in a database maintained by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut. Some mosques were at the center of the circles traced by FBI planes, but BuzzFeed News could see no clear pattern indicating widespread surveillance of mosques.

Privacy advocates argue that all of the flights should be subjected to greater official scrutiny, to ensure that a balance is being struck between effective law enforcement and privacy.

“When people think of surveillance, they think of the NSA, or of specific people being tracked, or mosques being infiltrated,” Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, told BuzzFeed News. “They aren’t necessarily thinking about planes circling overhead of American cities and doing god knows what. It’s important for people to be aware.”

Guzman, Miami Laundering Pesos: Operation Neymar

And so it continues the underworld of the cartels with money laundering through Miami.


22 face charges in Miami drug money-laundering ring involving ‘El Chapo’ cartel

Police say the sophisticated schemes moved millions of illegal profits to Colombia

The large-scale probe into the “black market peso exchange” is a first for state prosecutors

The arrests come amid global scrutiny on financial transactions, including in South Florida

MiamiHerald: A sophisticated ring of money launderers — with an array of pop cultural nicknames like “Tony Montana,” “Pitbull” and “Neymar” — has been busted on charges of sending untold millions in illegal cocaine profits to Colombia using nearly a dozen businesses in Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade authorities announced arrest warrants for 22 people believed to have worked in a scheme that included the suspected chief money launderer for the Mexican drug cartel headed by notorious kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The wide-reaching probe into the so-called “black market peso exchange” — which involved monitoring deals in 17 countries — is the first such case to be filed in Miami-Dade state court, and offers the most recent window into the drug-fueled underground lending system that law enforcement authorities believe props up hundreds of South Florida businesses.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle talks about the disruption of an international money-laundering ring during a press conference, Thursday on Operation Neymar.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle talks about the disruption of an international money-laundering ring during a press conference, Thursday on Operation Neymar. DANIEL BOCK FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
A chart from the press conference held by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle showing how an international money-laundering ring works.

A chart from the press conference held by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle showing how an international money-laundering ring works. DANIEL BOCK FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

“They use Miami’s strong international economy as the actual funnel of all of their international money-laundering operations,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. ‘We are surely the global hub for money laundering.”

Three people were arrested in Miami this week, while another major player has been jailed in Cali, Colombia, to await extradition to the United States. One more was arrested in Boston. In all, 18 people — most remain fugitives — will be tried in Miami-Dade, with the rest being tried in other U.S. cities.

The two-year probe — dubbed Operation Neymar because one suspect used the name of the Brazilian soccer star and other players as his aliases — was conducted by agents from the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, Miami-Dade police and state prosecutors. As part of the investigation, undercover agents laundered a “small fraction” of drug proceeds to build evidence against the group, prosecutors said.

The operation stands in stark contrast to the now disgraced and disbanded money-laundering sting unit run by Bal Harbour Police, which by 2012 had laundered millions for cartels but never made any arrests.

The arrests also come as the “Panama Papers” and other investigations have put intense scrutiny on financial shenanigans in South Florida real estate — leading the County Commission to pass a resolution this week asking the federal government to stop singling out Miami as a hub for money laundering.

Prosecutors say Operation Neymar — which netted more than $1 million in seized drug cash — proves that major drug money laundering is still thriving in Miami.

According to them, one of the major players in the group was Mexican Sinaloa Cartel member Juan Manuel Alvarez Inzunza, 34, who was arrested by Mexican authorities last month. He is suspected of laundering billions of dollars of drug proceeds.

He is now awaiting extradition to the United States, where he will first stand trial on federal charges in San Diego. For now, he has not been charged in the Miami-Dade case.

The two big players being charged are suspected money-laundering brokers for the cartel in Cali, Colombia: Ivan Alfredo Castro Santana and Ivan Andres Lizarazo Mendoza, who was nearly kidnapped and killed by the Colombian cartel after police in Miami seized $200,000 in drug money.

They are being charged with racketeering and money laundering. Lizarazo’s sister in Miami, Sidia Milady Lizarazo Mendoza, is also accused of money laundering and is now being held on a $1 million bond in a Miami-Dade jail.

Prosecutors say the group used throwaway Blackberry phones, employing ever-changing pass codes that, in English, seem nonsensical. One example: “Con mollo departe del panzon” – or “with the dark-skinned one, on behalf of the potbellied.”

To unravel the money-laundering operation — which was washing about $1 million a month — investigators used wiretaps, surveillance, reviews of thousands of financial transactions and cooperation from informants, according to an arrest warrant by HSI agent Charles Thomas, Miami-Dade Detective Jonathan Santana and prosecutor Jared Nixon.

Money laundering, of course, is nothing new in South Florida. And while drugs don’t flow into the United States through Florida in the volume they did in the 1980s, Miami remains the main hub for laundering the illicit profits.

The reason: So many businesses here, particularly in Doral, do business with Colombia. In April 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a warning to 700 Miami businesses believed to be involved in laundering drug money.

According to law enforcement, the black-market peso exchange requires a number of steps to launder drug proceeds.

The Mexican cartels use credit to buy loads of cocaine from their counterparts in Colombia. The drugs are smuggled into the United States, then routed to cities across the country where they are sold to dealers who peddle them to users.

The resulting millions in drug dollars, temporarily stored in “stash houses,” must then be converted to pesos for the Colombian cartel.

So the cartel employs a money broker know as the primera mano, or first hand, who arranges to buy U.S. dollars in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. He, in turn, puts out a “bid” — all arranged through covert Blackberry text messages — for sub-brokers willing to buy the dollars.

Sub-brokers then turn to Colombian businesses that need U.S. dollars to buy goods or services from the United States. For those businesses — say a Bogotá electronics store needing to buy U.S. cellphones — it’s way cheaper to buy dollars from the black market than through official Colombian channels that charge high exchange rates, plus hefty taxes and fees.

A Bogotá business might place an order with a Miami distributor for a load of phones, makeup or textiles, telling them their payment will arrive via a wire transfer from an unnamed “third party.”

“If as a business you are receiving funds or interacting with third parties that are alien to your business transaction, you’re in the middle of a black-market scheme,” said John Tobon, South Florida’s HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge.

Investigators believe most Miami companies involved in the black-market peso exchange have a general idea of what’s going on — but ask no questions. In Operation Neymar, prosecutors identified, but did not charge, 11 local businesses, including M2 Wireless of Doral, Dis Cells Corporation of Miami Beach and Hair and Accessories of Opa-locka.

“Pick-up crews” are hired to get the cash from couriers, always in mundane public spots, the money stuffed in shopping bags, backpacks or shoe boxes. In the newly charged case, some of the pick-up spots included a Starbucks in Doral, a  parking lot at the Dolphin Mall and a Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey, prosecutors said.

The next step: The pick-up crew begins depositing the cash into a “funnel” bank account, all in small increments to avoid attention from law enforcement. Those accounts then wire the money to the Miami business, which in turn sends its goods such as cellphones to the Colombian business.

Back in Colombia, that legitimate business pays back its pesos to the brokers, who can finally pass the money to the cartel.


Facebook’s Selective Censorship? Closed Groups….

Primer: Facebook owns WhatsApp.

Even more curious the New York Times did the study and provided the results to Facebook…Zuckerberg, what say you?

Facebook Groups Act as Weapons Bazaars for Militias

NYT: A terrorist hoping to buy an antiaircraft weapon in recent years needed to look no further than Facebook, which has been hosting sprawling online arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns and grenades to heavy machine guns and guided missiles.

The Facebook posts suggest evidence of large-scale efforts to sell military weapons coveted by terrorists and militants. The weapons include many distributed by the United States to security forces and their proxies in the Middle East. These online bazaars, which violate Facebook’s recent ban on the private sales of weapons, have been appearing in regions where the Islamic State has its strongest presence.

This week, after The New York Times provided Facebook with seven examples of suspicious groups, the company shut down six of them.

The findings were based on a study by the private consultancy Armament Research Services about arms trafficking on social media in Libya, along with reporting by The Times on similar trafficking in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A seller based in Tripoli, Libya, offered components of a man-portable antiaircraft defense system, or Manpads, in a closed Facebook group. Credit Armament Research Services

1. The Weapons Have Included Heavy Machine Guns and Heat-Seeking Missiles

Many sales are arranged after Facebook users post photographs in closed and secret groups; the posts act roughly like digital classified ads on weapons-specific boards. Among the weapons displayed have been heavy machine guns on mounts that are designed for antiaircraft roles and that can be bolted to pickup trucks, and more sophisticated and menacing systems, including guided anti-tank missiles and an early generation of shoulder-fired heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles.

Last year ARES said it had documented an offer on Facebook to sell an SA-7 gripstock (pictured above), the reusable centerpiece of a man-portable antiaircraft defense system, or Manpads, a weapon of the Stinger class. Many of these left Libyan state custody in 2011, as depots were raided by rebels and looters. ARES said it documented Libyan sellers claiming to have two complete SA-7s for sale, two additional missiles and three gripstocks. An old system, SA-7s are a greater threat to helicopters and commercial aircraft than to modern military jets.

Machine guns, rifles and a shotgun advertised on Facebook groups in Libya.

2. Others Are the Standard Arms of Militant and Terrorist Groups

Machine guns and missiles form a small fraction of the apparent arms trafficking on Facebook and other social media apps, according to Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of ARES and an author of the report. Examinations by The Times of Facebook groups in Libya dedicated to arms sales showed that sellers sought customers for a much larger assortment of handguns and infantry weapons. The rifles have predominantly been Kalashnikov assault rifles, which are used by many militants in the region, and many FN FAL rifles, which are common in Libya.

All of these solicitations violate Facebook’s policies, which since January has forbidden the facilitation of private sales of firearms and other weapons, according to Monika Bickert, a former federal prosecutor who is responsible for developing and enforcing the company’s content standards.

Images from Facebook groups selling weapons in Iraq.

3. Weapons Sales Greased by Social Media Sites Have Become a Feature of Many Conflicts

The use of social media for arms sales is relatively new to Libya. Until a Western-backed uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, which ended in his death at the hands of an armed mob, the country had a tightly restricted arms market and limited Internet access. But social media-based weapons markets in Libya are not unique. Similar markets exist in other countries plagued in recent years by conflict, militant groups and terrorism, including arms-sales Facebook groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

On Monday, The Times shared links for seven such groups with Facebook to check whether they violated the rules. By Tuesday, Facebook had taken down six of the groups. Ms. Bickert said that one Facebook group — which displayed photographs of weapons but only discussed them and expressly forbade sales — had survived the company’s scrutiny.


Online weapons markets in Iraq and Libya.

4. Facebook’s Rules on Arms Sales Are Related to Changes in How Facebook Is Used.

Ms. Bickert described the company’s policies as evolutionary, reflecting shifts in its social media ecosystem.

“When Facebook began, there was no way to really engage in commerce on Facebook,” she said. But in the past year, she noted, the company has allowed users to process payments through its Messenger service, and has added other features to aid sales. “Since we were offering features like that, we thought we wanted to make clear that this is not a site that wants to facilitate the private sales of firearms.”


A Facebook user in Syria shared an image of Islamic State fighters.

5. Facebook Relies on Users to Report the Arms Trafficking It Bans

Ms. Bickert said the most important part of Facebook’s effort “to keep people safe” was to make it easy for users to notify the company of suspected violations, which can be done with a click on the “Report” feature on every Facebook post.

In this way so-called Community Operations teams — Facebook employees who review the reports in dozens of languages — can examine and remove offending content. How effective the policy is, in practice, is unclear. Several groups from which the photographs for this article were downloaded operated on Facebook for two years or more, accumulating thousands of members before Facebook announced its ban on arms sales.

This trafficking occurred in countries where the Islamic State is at its most active and where armed militias or other designated terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, have a persistent presence. In all four countries, government forces do not control large areas of territory and civil society is under intense pressure. Christine Chen, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the company relied on the nearly 1.6 billion people who visit the site every month to flag offenders. “We urge everyone who sees violations to report them to us,” she said.

Pistols have been widely sold and sought on Facebook in Libya.

6. In Libya, Widespread Pistol Sales on Facebook

ARES has documented many types of buyers and sellers. These include private citizens seeking handguns as well as representatives of armed groups buying weapons that require crews to be operated effectively, or appearing to offload weapons that the militias no longer wanted. Different markets have different characteristics. In Libya, fear of crime seemed to drive many people to buy pistols, Mr. Jenzen-Jones said. “Handguns are disproportionately represented,” he said. “They are widely sought after — primarily for self-defense and particularly to protect against carjackings — with many prospective buyers placing ‘wanted’ posts.” They were also expensive, ranging from about $2,200 to more than $7,000 — a sign that demand outstrips supply.

Military weapons originating in the United States have been sold through Facebook groups in Iraq.

7. Weapons Provided to Allies in Iraq Have Filled Facebook Sales Pages

In Iraq, the Facebook arms bazaars can resemble inside looks at the failures of American train-and-equip programs, with sellers displaying a seemingly bottomless assortment of weapons provided to Iraq’s government forces by the Pentagon during the long American occupation. Those include M4 carbines, M16 rifles, M249 squad automatic weapons, MP5 submachine guns and Glock semiautomatic pistols. Many of the weapons shown still bear inventory stickers and aftermarket add-ons favored by American forces and troops.

Such weapons have long been available on black markets in Iraq, with or without advertising on social media. But Facebook and other social media companies seem to provide new opportunities for sellers and buyers to find one other easily; for sellers to display items to more customers; and for customers to peruse and haggle over a larger assortment of weapons than what is available in smaller, physical markets.

A TOW launcher, a wire-guided anti-tank missile system, was advertised on a Facebook group in Syria with this message: “There is a TOW launcher, brand new, whoever wants it should contact us via private messages or WhatsApp.”

8. In Syria, Weapons Identical to Those Distributed to Rebels by the United States Are Offered for Sale

Similarly, weapons identical to those provided by the United States to Syrian rebels have also been traded on Facebook and other social media or messaging apps. In one recent example, a seller in northern Syria — who identified himself as a student, photographer and sniper — offered a pristine-looking Kalashnikov assault rifle that he said came from the Hazm Movement, which received weapons from the United States before the movement was defeated by the Nusra Front, a Qaeda affiliate. He noted on Facebook that the rifle was new and had “never fired a shot,” and hinted of either a bonus gift or a discount.


Obama Claims a New Power, Illegals Benefit

Obama Claims Power to Make Illegal Immigrants Eligible for Social Security, Disability

Jeffrey/CNS: Does the president of the United States have the power to unilaterally tell millions of individuals who are violating federal law that he will not enforce that law against them now, that they may continue to violate that law in the future and that he will take action that makes them eligible for federal benefit programs for which they are not currently eligible due to their unlawful status?

Through Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, President Barack Obama is telling the Supreme Court exactly this right now.

The solicitor general calls what Obama is doing “prosecutorial discretion.”

He argues that under this particular type of “prosecutorial discretion,” the executive can make millions of people in this country illegally eligible for Social Security, disability and Medicare.

On April 18, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case. Entitled United States v. Texas, it pits President Obama against not only the Lone Star State, but also a majority of the states, which have joined in the litigation against the administration.

At issue is the policy the administration calls Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which would allow aliens in this country illegally who are parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents to stay in the United States.

“The Executive Branch unilaterally created a program — known as DAPA — that contravenes Congress’s complex statutory framework for determining when an alien may lawfully enter, remain in, and work in the country,” the attorney general and solicitor general of Texas explained in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the states seeking to block the policy.

“DAPA would deem over four million unlawfully present aliens as ‘lawfully present’ and eligible for work authorization,” says the Texas brief. “And ‘lawful presence’ is an immigration classification established by Congress that is necessary for valuable benefits, such as Medicare and Social Security.”

In the administration’s brief, the solicitor general admits that the president’s DAPA program does not convert people illegally in the United States into legal immigrants. He further asserts that the administration at any time can decide to go ahead and remove these aliens from the country.

“Deferred action does not confer lawful immigration status or provide any defense to removal,” he says. “An alien with deferred action remains removable at any time and DHS has absolute discretion to revoke deferred action unilaterally, without notice or process.”

Despite this, he argues, the administration can authorize aliens here illegally on “deferred action” to legally work in the United States.

“Without the ability to work lawfully, individuals with deferred action would have no way to lawfully make ends meet while present here,” says the administration’s brief.

Nonetheless, the solicitor general stresses that “deferred action” does not make an illegal immigrant eligible for federal welfare.

“In general,” he says, “only ‘qualified’ aliens are eligible to participate in federal public benefit programs, and deferred action does not make an alien ‘qualified.’… Aliens with deferred action thus cannot receive food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, temporary aid for needy families, and many other federal benefits.”

But, he says, aliens here illegally with deferred action will be eligible for “earned-benefit programs.”

“A non-qualified alien is not categorically barred, however, from participating in certain federal earned-benefit programs associated with lawfully working in the United States — the Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, and railroad-worker programs — so long as the alien is ‘lawfully present in the United States as determined by the (Secretary),'” says the solicitor general.

The “secretary” here is the secretary of Homeland Security.

“An alien with deferred action is considered ‘lawfully present’ for these purposes,” says the solicitor general.

So, as explained to the Supreme Court by Obama’s solicitor general, when DHS grants an alien here illegally “deferred action” under the president’s DAPA policy, that alien is not given “lawful immigration status” and can be removed from the country “at any time.” However, according to the solicitor general, that alien will be authorized to work in the United States and will be “considered ‘lawfully present'” for purposes of being eligible for “the Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, and railroad-worker programs.”

The U.S. Constitution imposes this straightforward mandate on the president: “(H)e shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

When the Supreme Court agreed in January to hear U.S. v. Texas, it made a telling request. It asked the parties to argue whether Obama’s DAPA policy “violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution.”

The Obama administration has taken care of just one thing here: It has constructed a convoluted — and unconvincing argument — it hopes will provide the activists on the Supreme Court with a cover story to explain why this president need not faithfully execute the nation’s immigration laws.