The Chicago Police Department started a secret drone program using untraceable money seized in drug raids and other criminal investigations, according to a bombshell new report from the Chicago Sun-Times.
The drone program is reportedly used for crime scene photos and terrorism-related issues, among other investigations, according to internal Chicago Police Department emails obtained by activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets and reviewed by the Sun-Times.
The emails, sent by Karen Conway, director of Chicago’s police research and development, indicate roughly $7.7 million was spent on operating expenses for various programs in the city using off-the-books cash, though it’s not clear how much of that money was invested in drones. The money, so-called “1505 funds,” is used on plenty of other shady police stuff like Stingrays for cellphone tracking.
Chicago’s police corruption and abuse of power was infamous in the 20th century, but reached new heights in the past decade after it was revealed the CPD operated a black site in the city where torture and extrajudicial interrogations were conducted. And revelations about how Chicago is funding a secret drone program through unaccountable funds is almost predictable, given the history of Chicago politics.
When asked about the drone program, Chicago Police told the Sun-Times that they investigate “every tool available” as well as any “innovative opportunities” for maintaining “public safety.”
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“CPD has strict guidelines for all tools and programs to ensure individual privacy, civil rights, civil liberties and other interests are protected,” a CPD spokesperson told the Sun-Times. “We also meet with community partners to make certain that all enforcement efforts meet the highest standards and have support among the individuals Chicago police officers are sworn to serve and protect.”
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.
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.
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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.
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”).
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.
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.
A police officer is a convicted murderer in America today because a teenager recorded that police officer murdering a man in broad daylight and shared the video with the world.
Derek Chauvin, imbued with the authority of the city of Minneapolis, murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a jury of his peers found on Tuesday. Charged with three counts—second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter—Chauvin is guilty of them all. The key to his conviction: A video, nine minutes long, horrific, and true.
Had that teenager not recorded that video, the world would likely not know George Floyd’s name, Chauvin would still be a police officer, and a swath of white America would still be able to believe that police violence is not a problem. People would, instead, have relied on the lies the Minnesota Police Department told about Floyd’s murder—that he died because he “physically resisted officers” and, once in handcuffs, “appeared to be suffering medical distress.” That those officers then, simply, “called for an ambulance,” which transported him to a hospital “where he died a short time later.”
We know now—because of that video and other surveillance footage—the abhorrentdisconnect between that initial statement and reality: Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck; two other officers, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane, held him down by the legs as Floyd pleaded, “Please, I can’t breathe”; a fourth officer, Tou Thao, was more focused on controlling the “hostile” crowd than on his partner killing a man.All this, even as a member of that crowd begged with the men to remember, “He is human, bro.”
The movement for Black lives, the protests against police violence, and Chauvin’s conviction renew the hope that your phone’s camera can bolster the potential for consequences when officers injure, kill, and violate the rights of people they have ostensibly sworn to protect. Of course, doing so carries its own dire risks—especially if you are Black or brown or Asian or anything but white in the eyes of the cops—and, as this country should know all too well, taking those risks often leads to more injustice.
The trick is that police have wide discretion to interpret your actions—your very presence—how they see fit. Because of this, it is important to know how to act to minimize the risk of exercising your rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a concise guide for what to do and what not to do when filming the police. Importantly, this includes not “interfering” with police officers by standing “at a safe distance from the scene you are recording,” understanding that police may ask you to move for “public safety reasons” but not “because you are filming,” and that they cannot search your phone without a warrant from a judge.
Police can and do get away with violating civil rights under the auspices of doing their jobs. They will use their state-backed power to fool you into stopping the tape, or to confiscate it from you, or to put you in handcuffs, or to arrest you and ruin your life. Ramsey Orta, whom police reportedly harassed, targeted, and arrested after he filmed then-NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo choke Eric Garner to death, knows this because it happened to him.
Even if the police don’t target you for attempting to hold them accountable, recording the cops can lead to other pitfalls, even in the best of cases. As the teenager who recorded the video of Floyd’s final, horrible moments surely knows, capturing police officers behaving illegally means your name may be thrust into the public eye, upending your life in unfathomable ways, exposing you and your loved ones to greater threats and harassment. (It is for this reason that we are excluding their name here, despite it being known the world over.) It can lead to nightmares that you did not do more.
Most importantly, there is the tragic reality that recording police wrongdoing rarely leads to justice of any type. Eric Garner’s family knows this, as do the families of countless other Black and brown people who died at the hands of police who faced little or no consequences for their violence.
Quite simply, recording the police is dangerous and more often than not leads to either further injustices or no justice at all. But it is one of the few options Americans have to counter a deadly imbalance of power between citizens and agents of the state. Not even police body cameras—which multiplestudies have shown are poor tools for holding police accountable—are a fully adequate alternative. The laws regarding the release of body camera footage differ across the country, meaning the release of footage is often at the discretion of authorities, and they can be used to instill empathy for police officers in ways that muddy the perception of right and wrong and further entrench the racism at the center of American policing. The families of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledoknow this now, too.
Of course, it is easy for me to say we should all be out there, recording the police at every opportunity. I am white, male, cis, straight, well employed, and in good health. The unearned power inherent to each of those traits—whether or not I am aware of these privileges at all times—makes me unqualified to give general advice. My experience is and will be different from others’in complex and unfair ways—the core of America’s cruel inequity.
It is precisely because of this inequity that it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of anyone who can take the risk, to turn the cameras on the police whenever possible, to give the world a perspective other than that of the police. It is a constitutional right to do so.
Chauvin’s conviction alone is not justice. It is an aberration in a system that criminalizes and subjugates and terrorizes marginalized people, and Black people most of all. And it is this system that needs greater exposure for what it is so that we may have a chance to replace it with something less horrific. Pressing record is an imperfect and fraught way to illuminate that system and the people who reinforce it.
A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentiallyfacing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find information about the disturbing, unhealthy, and inhumane conditions that immigrants face in ICE detention centers, many of which are privately-owned. It is, however, more complicated to find photos of these detention centers. Access to photographers is often not on the table.
David Taylor, an artist and professor at the University of Arizona, thought of an innovative way to get around the facilities’ iron grip on cameras: He decided to use a drone to photograph the ICE detention centers from the sky.
The result was a series of impactful photos of the centers from a perspective that’s normally not available to the public. Gizmodo spoke to Taylor about his photographs, which you can check out in the slides ahead, and asked him what his reaction was when he starting see the first ones coming in.
“That the for-profit prison system is an industrial landscape,” he said.
Shocker! The massive joint federal-state-local surveillance apparatus that supposedly keeps the nation safe from terrorism shrugged and gave up before the Jan 6. riots at the Capitol, which killed five people and sparked a national crisis.
Per the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed internal documents and interviewed current and former officials, offices called fusion centers—which handle joint federal-state-local intelligence-sharing arrangements—across the country dug up ample evidence of what was coming. They issued reports that right-wing extremists were increasingly using violent rhetoric regarding congressional certification of the 2020 election results, discussing arming themselves, and even openly sharing information about how best to storm the Capitol building during Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. Fusion center chiefs “convened a rare national call to discuss alarming information they were gathering” on Jan. 4, sources told the Journal.
Then senior officials in a position to do, like, anything about it promptly sent those warnings to their trash folders and went back to eating donuts or whatever. Per the Journal:
“Nothing significant to report,” read a Jan. 5 national summary from DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis that was sent to law enforcement across the country, according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The office is responsible for monitoring threats online and sharing them with federal, state and local law enforcement.
According to the Journal, an FBI field office specifically reported that rabid Trump supporters were circulating maps of the Capitol building, while the Department of Homeland Security issued bulletins that the risk of violence was elevated leading up to the rally. But when reached for comment by the paper, both agencies said they hadn’t issued official joint intelligence bulletins due to the lack of “specific” or “credible” threats. The FBI told the Journal said it discouraged specific individuals from attending and set up command posts and tactical teams near the Capitol, while DHS explained it had “nothing significant” to report on Jan. 5 because it didn’t anticipate Trump inciting the crowd.
The FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia office did post a warning on Jan. 5 of online message board traffic showing violent intent towards members of Congress, and this was circulated through a joint anti-terrorism task force in the DC region. But according to the Journal, it was never acted on.
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While the Journal characterized the systemic failure as stemming from a structure focused on foreign attacks rather than threats posed by U.S. citizens, that’s not really true. Fusion centers have played a huge role in domestic police crackdowns in recent years—so long as the targets of intelligence-gathering are protesters, left-wing activists, and minority groups.
In many of these cases, fusion center involvement was accompanied by massive and sometimes indiscriminate use of force by authorities. DHS intelligence documents leaked to the Nation showed that the agency discussed dealing with “violent opportunists” at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 as a counter-terrorism issue, and that it uses fusion centers as a way to blur jurisdictions. Sometimes when a particularly juicy rumor began floating through the fusion center network it sparked police training exercises and the creation of elaborate emergency plans, such as joint FBI-Iowa Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center drills in 2019 to prepare officers for the imaginary threat of environmentalists sabotaging windmills. Fusion centers also often devote extensive resources to completely useless monitoring of things like “Criminal and Violent Extremist Use of Emojis” or non-existent plots to break Tiger King’s Joe Exotic out of prison.
The Journal reported that then-acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf had declined to declare a “national special security event,” which would put the Secret Service in charge of coordinating security, before the Jan. 6 rally.
The head of the DHS Intelligence and Analysis office, Brian Murphy, was ousted in August 2020 amid congressional scrutiny of the agency’s tracking of journalists and activists involved in protests against the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. In response, sources told the Journal, DHS scaled back its night-shift analysis team and instituted rules that prohibited reporting of the kind of “veiled or indirect threats” that preceded the Jan. 6 rally. Wolf and other Trump-appointed goons at DHS also reportedly pressured the agency’s analysts that year to water down language on the growing threat of white supremacist terrorism and conflate right-wing extremists with the anti-fascist movement, a favorite bogeyman of the Trump administration.
“The issue here was not the lack of intelligence or the lack of information,” DC-area fusion center chief Christopher Rodriguez told members of Congress last week, according to the Journal. “The issue here was the inability, or the unwillingness, to act on the intelligence.”
Following the failed insurrection at the Capitol, many politicians and prominent figures in the national security community have been calling for the U.S. to implement a domestic terrorism statute. Some, such as Rodriguez, specifically called for an expansion of fusion centers. A draft bill titled the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act supported by some congressional Democrats would have the FBI, DHS, and Department of Justice create “dedicated offices” to “monitor, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism.”
Perhaps these agencies and their state and local police partners already have more than enough resources at their disposal, but simply decide threats aren’t “credible” when they’re draped in the flag. There’s no guarantee granting them any new, unnecessary powers will result in anything but these same agencies doubling down on targeting left-wing activists and protest movements.
“Who do we really think these high-tech tools are going to be used against?” MediaJustice campaign strategies director Myaisha Hayes told BuzzFeed. “Technology is not going to be a solution to take to address the years of brutality and years of state-sanctioned violence that communities of color have experienced at the hands of the police through technology.”