FBI Informants Committed Over 9,000 Crimes in Early Trump Years

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.
Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Informants working for the FBI committed more than 9,600 crimes under the bureau’s supervision during President Trump’s first two years in office, according to unclassified government reports.

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The so-called “Otherwise Illegal Activity” reports, obtained first by Gizmodo, detail the number of crimes committed by what the bureau calls “confidential human sources.” The name of the report alludes to activities that would have been “illegal” had they not “otherwise” been committed with the bureau’s full knowledge and in furtherance of a federal investigation.

The most recent reports indicate that in 2017, the FBI authorized informants to commit at least 4,734 crimes, while in 2018 that number rose to 4,922. This represents a negligible decrease from recent, previous years.

It’s worth noting that any single authorized criminal activity may have otherwise resulted in multiple criminal charges, constituting multiple crimes.

The FBI relies heavily on the systematic recruitment and operation of human sources in nearly every facet of its wide-ranging investigatory purview, including counterintelligence activities conducted jointly with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence. The identities of informants, many of whom have criminal histories or face criminal charges, are tightly held secrets. Thus, negotiations around their cooperation, and any benefits they may receive—which can include financial compensation—take place largely off the record.

The FBI is required to report the crime figures annually to the Justice Department. When rendered publicly, however—to a reporter citing the Freedom of Information Act, for example—certain details are always omitted.

Redacted information always includes the number of times the FBI authorized informants to engage in serious criminal acts, known as “Tier I” activities. Tier I crimes include those that result in violence, significant financial loss, or corrupt acts by high-ranking public officials. The manufacture, possession, or international trade of narcotics in excessive quantities are also Tier I crimes.

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The FBI is able to hide the number of Tier I crimes committed by its informants by redacting from public documents all numbers except those that combine both lesser (“Tier II”) and serious criminal offenses (“Tier I”).

FBI informant crimes by year:

2011: 5,658 crimes
2012: 5,939 crimes
2013: 5,649 crimes
2014: 5,577 crimes
2015: 5,261 crimes
2016: 381 (likely “Tier I” crimes only — see below.)
2017: 4,734 crimes
2018: 4,922 crimes

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To wit, it is unclear how many of the 4,922 crimes committed by FBI informants in 2018 were considered Tier I. (Tier II crimes, while lesser, may also include felonies, up to and including the trafficking of anything less than 450 kilos of cocaine or 90 kilos of heroin.)

This is not to say there’s no indication of how often the FBI allows informants to commit major crimes.

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In 2017, Gizmodo discovered an FBI reporting error that resulted in only a single tier of crime being reported. Despite anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 annual crimes being routinely reported, in 2016 the FBI reported only 381 such activities. The FBI acknowledged the mistake in a statement to Gizmodo, saying “one tier of data accidentally was not submitted” to the Justice Department.

It is likely, though not confirmed, that it was the lesser Tier II crimes that went unreported that year. This would mean that in 2016, the FBI authorized informants on at least 381 occasions to commit major offenses that resulted in possible violence, acts of public corruption, or trade involving enormous quantities of illicit drugs.

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Man Who Swears He’s ‘Not a Dumbass’ Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Illustration for article titled Man Who Swears He's 'Not a Dumbass' Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentially facing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.

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Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday, after attempting to procure what he thought were explosives from an undercover agent in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal affidavit shows (the bombs were, in fact, fake). According to authorities, Pendley wanted to use C-4, a powerful plastic explosive, to target an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Ashburn, Virginia.

Pendley’s target, Ashburn, is home to over 100 data centers and is the site where a majority of the so-called “Cloud” exists. The arrestee allegedly stated in online chats that he wanted to “kill off about 70% of the internet” and, thereby, annoy “the oligarchy” and, naturally, the deep state.

An apparent Trump supporter who claims he was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 during the Capitol insurrection, Pendley recently implied in online chats that the ugly riot that killed five people hadn’t gone quite far enough. On MyMilitia.com, a rightwing website that ostensibly helps connect people to regional and local militias, Pendley used the screen name “Dionysus” to write a number of increasingly disturbing posts, the feds allege. In one, he wrote:

I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done. How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed. Let me tell you what I think (knowing going to touch some nerves.) For weeks I had prepared to show up at the capital [sic] as strapped as possible. The whole time I had high hopes that SOMEONE would understand.

In another post, he let it be known that he was not your run-of-the-mill terrorist:

I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots standing beside me I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.

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The posts aroused the suspicions of a “concerned citizen,” who later gave screenshots of his comments to the FBI.

Afterward, the feds ascertained Pendley’s email address and issued a search warrant for his Facebook while also subpoenaing the subscriber records connected to his Gmail account. From there, the government appears to have conducted surveillance of Pendley’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and also infiltrated his communications with an informant and, later, an undercover agent.

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During a conversation with both the informant and agent, Pendley laid out his masterful plans and nuanced political philosophy like so:

The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers. There’s 24 buildings that all this data runs through in America. Three of them are right next to each other, and those 24 run 70 percent of the Internet. And the government, especially the higher ups, CIA, FBI, special sh**, they have like an 8 billion dollar a year contract with Amazon to run through their servers. So we f*** those servers, and it’s gonna piss all the oligarchy off.

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In his apparent crusade to end the world wide web and thereby piss off the powers that be, Pendley has accrued a federal charge of maliciously attempting to destroy a building with an explosive. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.

Whistleblower Alleges AT&T Overcharged Underfunded Schools for Phone and Internet Service

A student walks past vacant row houses to a waiting school bus as school gets out for the day in Baltimore (April 9, 2013)

A student walks past vacant row houses to a waiting school bus as school gets out for the day in Baltimore (April 9, 2013)
Photo: Patrick Semansky (AP)

A former in-house lawyer for AT&T alleges the company systemically charged the nation’s most underfunded schools a higher rate for phone and internet service. In an interview with The Washington Post, Theodore Marcus said the telecom ignored federal E-Rate program rules, which offers schools and libraries in need of discounts on various telecommunications services anywhere from 20% to 90%.

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E-Rate funds come from a small fee on everyone’s phone bill, which gets put aside and distributed to the schools and libraries that need it most. In exchange for this extra revenue, telecoms are responsible for figuring out how much money should be given to each applicant based on what similar customers pay, or the lowest corresponding price (LCP). The problem is that this is often hard to calculate because no two contracts are alike, so it can make it difficult for companies to make sure they are in compliance with the program.

But Marcus, who spent 11 years working for AT&T and was the telecom’s FCC regulator representative, alleges AT&T purposefully did not train its employees on how to calculate the LCP, which lead to false E-Rate reporting.

All of this allegedly started back in 2008 when Todd Heath, a Wisconsin consultant who helped schools figure out if they were overpaying for phone and internet services, filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Bell, a division of AT&T. The lawsuit alleges that AT&T purposefully overcharged low-income schools from 1997 to 2009 and submitted false reports to the FCC; The Federal E-Rate program started in 1996 when just 14% of schools and libraries had internet access.

And perhaps an important side note: Marcus told the Post that when he attended a company meeting about the E-Rate program in 2008, the company gave E-Rate training documents to its employees that omitted any mention of the LCP requirements. But Fletcher Cook, a spokesman for AT&T, told the Post that the government did not provide guidance on how to comply with the E-Rate rules at the time, so it could not have ignored LCP requirements.

“We comply with the rules of the E-Rate program, and there is no evidence to support these absurd claims,” Cook said to the Post.

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After the lawsuit was filed, AT&T started training its employees on how to calculate the LCP in 2009, according to Cook. Before, the telecom was using Section 202(a) of the Telecommunications Act to figure out pricing for schools and libraries under the E-Rate program. Section 202(a) has rules about discriminatory pricing, but the LCP has stricter requirements and covers internet plan pricing where the Telecommunications Act does not.

In March 2010, David B. Cohen, then Vice President of Policy at the United States Telecom Association, submitted a letter to the FCC asking for the commission to better clarify when and how the LCP price obligation should be implemented. In it he notes E-Rate rules mandate that schools and libraries who want access to E-Rate funds need to solicit pricing bids from telecom providers, and argues telecoms should only be obligated to provide LCP pricing to schools and libraries that have actually solicited bids.

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“When a school or library decides to take service from a non-bidding provider based on publicly available service offerings (such as tariffs, state master contracts, or retail rates at wireless stores), that non-bidding provider often is not even aware that it has been selected to provide E-Rate service,” wrote Cohen.

A 2014 update to the E-Rate regulations clarified that if a provider is not aware a school or library should be receiving LCP pricing, then it must give that school or library LCP pricing. It’s also not necessary for a school or library to place a bid for E-Rate service under certain circumstances, such as institutions that wish to receive equipment from ISPs by entering a direct, master contract with them.

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Still, Marcus believes AT&T purposefully ignored the E-Rate program rules for 13 years, but when he initially brought his concerns to the company, he said they were brushed off. However, AT&T did hire an outside firm to conduct an internal investigation in 2011, based on allegations from Detroit Public Schools auditors; AT&T overcharged the district by at least $2.8 million over five years and hundreds of thousands more in taxes when the school district was actually tax-exempt.

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The outside firm found “no violation of law or attorney ethical obligations,” AT&T told the Post, but did not provide the publication with a copy of those findings.

Shortly before Marcus left AT&T in 2011, he gave those 2008 training documents to Scott Shepherd, Heath’s lawyer, since Heath’s lawsuit against the telecom in Wisconsin was still active. Later that same year, Heath filed a second suit against AT&T, but this time alleging the company ignored LCP requirements in 17 states, the District of Columbia, and two big cities. He used the training materials Marcus gave him as evidence, but ultimately the case was dismissed in 2014. Heath filed for an appeal in 2015 and that decision was reversed.

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The FCC did try to fine AT&T for violating the LCP in 2016, alleging the company overcharged two Orlando, FL public school districts, but the suit was ultimately dismissed; Former FCC chairman Ajit Pai dismissed the suit, saying the government didn’t file it within the statute of limitations.

Currently, AT&T is waiting to see if a judge will dismiss that case. It claims Heath unethically obtained those training documents, documents that Marcus should not have shared while he was still employed with the company.

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Lawmakers Are Worried ISPs Can’t Deliver on Their Rural Broadband Promises

A farmer drives a tractor down a rural road on Jan. 17, 2019 near Ottawa, Ill.

A farmer drives a tractor down a rural road on Jan. 17, 2019 near Ottawa, Ill.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

Last week, 160 members of Congress sent a letter to the FCC raising concerns about some Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) winners’ ability to provide rural America with the broadband access they promised. The letter did not call out individual internet service providers or organizations by name, but it did call on the FCC to “redouble its efforts to review the long-form applications” auction winners must provide as the last step to access their funds.

“Transparency and accountability must be part and parcel of the administration of any program, and we urge you to thoroughly vet the winning bidders to ensure that they are capable of deploying and delivering the services they committed to providing,” said the letter.

The Congressional letter-signers have asked the FCC to do a thorough review of all grant recipients to make sure every one has the “technical, financial, managerial, operational skills, capabilities, and resources” to roll out internet to under and unserved areas of rural America. Could a company like SpaceX or Frontier manage such an ambitious task?

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Lawmakers have also asked the FCC to better assess every single recipient of the RDOF Phase I auction, which the agency held last month. ISPs like Frontier and CenturyLink have missed FCC-mandated deadlines to roll out more broadband to rural America with money they received from the Connect America Fund Phase II grants in 2015. Both companies received a combined total of $633.3 million from the RDOF Phase I auction last month, which will be distributed over the next 10 years.

One of the fund recipients, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), supports the lawmakers’ call for a better and more transparent long-form application review process. Electric co-ops snatched a total of $1.6 billion in funds to expand broadband access in the communities they serve. The NRECA is national trade association representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives, with a focus on environmental protection and broadband access, among several other issues.

In fact, it was the NRECA that urged lawmakers to send that letter in the first place.

“Many of the winning applicants claim they will deliver levels of service with certain technologies that are only achievable in extremely limited conditions and terrain—or still not commercially available,” said Kelly Wismer, NRECA’s lobbyist on broadband issues.

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The letter also calls on the FCC to “make as public as possible the status of its review and consider opportunities for public input on the applications.”

If the FCC agrees to such a review process, that means the public would have a chance to weigh in on the likes of Frontier, CenturyLink, SpaceX, and other internet providers actually getting a piece of the RDOF.

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