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With Patriot Act Deadline Near, Is U.S. Paralyzed By Too Much Intel?

As Congress struggles to agree on which surveillance programs to re-authorize before parts of the Patriot Act expire on Sunday, they might consider the unusual advice of an intelligence analyst at the National Security Agency who warned about the danger of collecting too much data, reports The Intercept. Imagine, an analyst wrote in a leaked document, that you are standing in a shopping aisle trying to decide between jam, jelly or fruit spread, which size, sugar-free or not, generic or Smucker’s. It can be paralyzing. “We in the agency are at risk of a similar, collective paralysis in the face of a dizzying array of choices every single day,” the analyst wrote. “’Analysis paralysis’ isn’t only a cute rhyme. It’s the term for what happens when you spend so much time analyzing a situation that you ultimately stymie any outcome …. It’s what happens in SIGINT [signals intelligence] when we have access to endless possibilities, but we struggle to prioritize, narrow, and exploit the best ones.”

The document is one of about a dozen in which NSA intelligence experts express concerns usually heard from the agency’s critics: that the U.S. “collect it all” strategy can undermine the effort to fight terrorism. The documents, provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, appear to contradict years of statements from senior officials who have claimed that pervasive surveillance of global communications helps identify terrorists before they strike or quickly find them after an attack. The Patriot Act has been used since 2001 to conduct a number of dragnet surveillance programs, including the bulk collection of phone metadata from U.S. companies. The documents suggest that NSA analysts NSA have drowned in data since 9/11, making it more difficult for them to find the real threats. The titles of the documents capture their overall message: “Data Is Not Intelligence,” “The Fallacies Behind the Scenes,” “Cognitive Overflow?” “Summit Fever” and “In Praise of Not Knowing.” Other titles include “Dealing With a ‘Tsunami’ of Intercept” and “Overcome by Overload?”

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Railroad Officers Have Police Powers, Little Oversight Despite Complaints

Police forces run by the nation’s railroads have the power to make arrests, issue warrants and perform undercover work. The New York Times says railroad police officers, licensed by states, have been accused of physical assaults, racial profiling and harassment of railroad employees. While police departments face increasing scrutiny and demand for reform after several cases of brutality, the railroad authorities appear to operate with near impunity. “There needs to be better oversight of these corporate police forces, because right now it is sorely lacking,” said Wyoming state Rep. Lloyd Larsen. Wyhoming and Minnesota are the only two states that do not allow the railroad police to have law enforcement authority; Minnesota is the other.

Since 2009, the railroad police have arrested more than 300 residents in Overtown, a predominantly black neighborhood in Miami, on charges of trespassing. Nearly 90 percent of those charges have been dismissed.In  Oklahoma in 2010, a Union Pacific railroad police officer was captured on video choking a woman he accused of trespassing and resisting arrest. A local court dropped the charges against the woman and she settled a lawsuit with the company earlier this year. Of the eight largest private railroads that were contacted by the Times, only two — Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific — would provide crime statistics. They gave information only on arrests on railroad property, not on complaints or disciplinary actions against their police officers.

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FIFA Indictment Assessment: "It's Not Just Sports. It's Business"

For months, American and Swiss investigators worked in secret to prepare for the raids that would shake the soccer world, reports the Associated Press. They knew that the moment to strike would come when FIFA, the sport's governing body, held its annual congress in Zurich, gathering all of its top officials, including the main suspects in a far-reaching U.S. corruption probe. Any leak could have given the game away, allowing international soccer officials to scramble out of Switzerland or time to destroy important evidence before authorities could seize it. "It was a months-long planning. It was quite intense to try to find out what is the best moment," said Andre Marty, spokesman for the Swiss attorney general's office. "It was exactly [yesterday] that most of the people of interest to the U.S. investigation and to the Swiss investigation are still in Switzerland."

The Los Angeles Times reported that the case involves many multiple inside informants and sophisticated financial tracking techniques first developed for drug transactions. Federal prosecutors in New York City have presented a powerful indictment of top FIFA officials that may reach even higher into the world’s most popular sport. The 165-page indictment is remarkably detailed, replete with inside accounts of brazen arrangements to make million-dollar payments in return for officials’ votes to hold soccer competitions in a particular city or country, or for approving marketing agreements to broadcast those tournaments. “We used to think of these things as just sports," said William Barry, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in cross-border investigations. "But it's not just sports. It's business. And now there’s an expectation that when allegations of impropriety arise, they are going to be handled independently and with impartiality.”

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Six Baltimore Officers Seek To Move Case, Say They Can't Get Fair Trial

Defense attorneys for six police officers facing criminal charges in Baltimore's Freddie Gray case are seeking to have the case tried elsewhere in Maryland, saying their clients can't get a "fair and impartial trial" in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reports. The lawyers argued that a "presumption of prejudice" exists in the city. Gray, 25, was arrested April 12 after running from officers and suffered a severed spinal cord and other injuries in police custody. His death a week later led to widespread protests and rioting that prompted a curfew and a National Guard deployment.

 

 

 

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Illegal Immigration Into U.S. Lowest In 20 Years, Affecting Politics

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades, reports the Washington Post. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, say demographers at the Pew Research Center. A key and largely overlooked sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border seeking work. Data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the U.S. for a decade or more.

Homeland security officials in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, who have more than doubled the Border Patrol’s size and spent billions on drones, sensors and other technology at the border, say enhanced security is driving the new trends. “We have seen tremendous progress,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The border is much more secure than in times past.” The issue of border security is central to the broader debate over immigration reform that has roiled Washington and is emerging as a flash point in the 2016 presidential campaign. Congressional Republicans have insisted on greater border security before they consider legalizing immigrants who came to the U.S. without proper documents.

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Nebraska Becomes Seventh State In Decade To Repeal Death Penalty

Nebraska, after a debate rife with quotes from the Bible, Pontius Pilate and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has become the first predominantly Republican state in more than 40 years to repeal the death penalty, the National Law Journal reports. State lawmakers, voting 30-19, overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of repeal legislation approved last week primarily with the help of their conservative colleagues. Republicans made the difference during the override vote. Nebraska was the seventh state in the past 10 years and the 19th, plus the District of Columbia, to repeal the death penalty, says the Death Penalty Information Center. The most recent states to act were Maryland (2013); Connecticut (2012); Illinois (2011); New Mexico (2009); New Jersey (2007); and New York (2007).  

"Today we're doing something that transcends me, that transcends this Legislature, that transcends this state. We're talking about human dignity," said Sen. Ernie Chambers, the repeal's sponsor. Chambers, the longest serving state senator, has tried to repeal the death penalty 37 times. A repeal bill passed the unicameral body in 1979 but was vetoed by Governor Charles Thone. Ricketts said, “My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.” Sen. Dave Bloomfield warned, "No matter what we do here today, this debate will not be done. I'm virtually certain there will be a bill next year to take [the issue] to a vote of the people. This debate is not going to end today."

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Colorado Theater Shooter's Notebook Playing Big Role In Insanity Defense

The notebook that James Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist shortly before he opened fire in a sold-out Colorado movie theater has been one of the most important pieces of evidence in the murder case against him. It has been stored under seal, and the murderous fantasies and rambling writings inside have been shielded from public view. This week, reports the New York Times, prosecutors entered the notebook into evidence and passed out copies in the courtroom, giving jurors one of the darkest, most direct glimpses yet into the mind of Holmes, the former neuroscience student who killed 12 people and wounded 70 others in Aurora, Co., in 2012.

The notebook offered a prism for Holmes’s mental state, and each side in the case tried to point jurors toward sections that underscored its view of his mind-set. Prosecutors emphasized pages in which he pondered the most ruthless way to kill people and sketched out which theater to attack. Defense lawyers, who argue that he is not guilty by reason of insanity, highlighted pages of runic symbols; nonsensical equations about life and death, infinity and “negative infinity”; and pages covered with the word “Why?” Holmes debated whether to attack an airport, but decided against it, saying that security would be too tight and that his actions might be misconstrued as terrorism. “Terrorism isn’t the message,” he wrote. “The message is there is no message.” “Rarely is there a case, as we have here, where a defendant is giving the jury a journal of what is going on in his head in the months, weeks, and days before,” said David Beller, president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.

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TCR at a Glance

When Justice Wasn’t Blind

q & a May 25, 2015

A unique encyclopedia documents the painful and often tragic history of African Americans and the law since the colonial era.

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