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News :: Police and Prisons
The Murders Before the Marathon
26 Feb 2014
Modified: 06:48:12 AM
Waltham, September 11, 2011: Three men, throats slit, cash and drugs left on the bodies. Two years later, two dead suspects: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and a friend who the FBI says was about to confess before they shot him in the head. One haunting question: Could solving this case have prevented the Boston Marathon bombings?
Click on image for a larger version

waltham-triple-homocide1.jpg
It’s nearly midnight in a nondescript condo complex a few blocks from Universal Studios in Orlando, and Tatiana Gruzdeva has been crying all day. Though neither of us knows it yet, as she sits on the corner of her bed and sobs in tiny convulsions, the fact that she’s talking to me will lead to her being arrested by federal agents, placed in solitary confinement, and deported back to Russia.

Next to us on the bed are nine teddy bears. Eight of them came with her from Tiraspol, Moldova. The ninth was a gift from her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev. Today would have been Ibragim’s 28th birthday, but he is not here to see it, because in the early hours of May 22, 2013, a Boston FBI agent shot and killed him in this very apartment, under circumstances so strange that a Florida state prosecutor has opened an independent investigation. According to the FBI, just before Ibragim was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.

I’m sitting awkwardly at one end of the twin bed. She’s crying quietly, cross-legged at the other end, wearing shorts and a white shirt with sequins. Most of her outfits have sequins or rhinestones. She’s 19. I’m 26. We both have long blond hair. We’ve both been close to men who were in trouble with the law, and lost them violently. We’ve been talking for about an hour, mostly about men, and parties, and moving forward after a tragedy. Ibragim was a good man, she says. He could never have committed a murder.

“I’m here alone,” she cries. “I hope it never can be worse than this.”

I try to comfort her, but it’s complicated. We both want to know why Ibragim Todashev was killed. She wants to clear his name. For me, and for the families of the Waltham murder victims, Ibragim’s shooting may have snuffed out the last chance at finding out what really happened that night. In the back of my mind is this question: Did her dead boyfriend kill my friend Erik?



September 11, 2011 was a Sunday, and at twilight Erik Weissman was looking for somewhere to spend the night. That afternoon he’d visited his younger sister Aria at a diner down the street from their parents’ home, but he didn’t have a place of his own—he’d been couch-surfing since the cops busted him on drug charges back in January. He kept his belongings at his friend Brendan Mess’s apartment on a dead-end street in Waltham, and that’s where he usually stayed. Erik and Brendan were established pot dealers who occasionally worked together and shared an interest in sports, personal fitness, and designer weed. But Erik had cleared out of the apartment while Brendan was going through a dramatic breakup with his live-in girlfriend, Hiba Eltilib. He had recently been staying with a friend in Newton. “That chick is crazy,” Erik had repeatedly told the friend.

That night his friend in Newton was busy, so around 7:30 p.m. Erik drove his Mercedes SUV back to Brendan’s place in Waltham. It was a warm night, cloudless. Brendan and Hiba had finally broken up, and Hiba had split for Florida, so the coast was clear. Brendan had invited another friend, Rafi Teken, to come over, too. Like Erik, Rafi had been avoiding Brendan’s place while Hiba was there. Rafi and Hiba were known to get into arguments of their own.

At 7:30, Erik sent a text to his friend in Newton. Shortly thereafter, all three men stopped answering their phones.

The bodies were found the next day. Erik was 31. Brendan was 25. Rafi was 37.

It was Hiba who found them, of all people. On September 12, she returned unexpectedly from Florida—most of Brendan’s friends were under the impression that she wasn’t coming back—and after she couldn’t reach Brendan on her cell phone, she showed up at the apartment and asked the landlord to open the door. The bodies were inside. One news report says that Hiba left the house and screamed, “They’re all dead!” Another says she went outside, crying, with blood on her feet, and calmly asked for a cigarette.

Their throats had been slashed with such force that their heads were nearly decapitated. A veteran Waltham investigator called it “the worst bloodbath I have ever seen,” and compared the victims’ wounds to “an Al-Qaeda training video.” About a pound and a half of high-grade marijuana covered two of the corpses. Rafi Teken’s face was left untouched. Erik Weissman had a bloody lip. But Brendan Mess, an experienced mixed martial artist who trained in jujitsu, had real fighting wounds. His arms were covered in scratch marks. He had puncture marks on his temple and the top of his head, another mark by his ear, and he was bruised around the lips. It didn’t scan like a robbery: There were eight and a half pounds of pot left in bags and glass jars, and $5,000 dollars left on the bodies—enough for a cheap funeral, for one of them.

Hours later, Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone stood amid a scrum of reporters on the dead-end street outside Brendan’s home at 12 Harding Avenue. State police had found a “very graphic crime scene” in the second-floor apartment, he said. “It does not appear to be a random act.” He told reporters that there was no evidence of a break-in—that it was likely the assailants and dead men knew one another. Assailants, plural? a reporter asked. Leone replied that there were “at least two people who are not in the apartment now, who were there earlier.”

“This is a fluid, ongoing investigation,” he said. “We will have information as we develop the facts.”

From the beginning, investigators failed to follow up on seemingly obvious leads. They didn’t visit the gym where Brendan trained, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of Brendan’s best friends, was never questioned—even though several of Brendan’s friends say they gave his name to the police. Ten days after the murders, a state police detective essentially told one victim’s mother that investigators were waiting for the case to solve itself.

It would take 18 months and two homemade bombs before FBI investigators exhumed the case—and once they did, they were able to move with uncanny speed. It took them mere hours to link Tamerlan to the Waltham triple homicide. The day after Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with Watertown police, plainclothes FBI agents detained his friend, Ibragim Todashev, at gunpoint. Although the FBI seems to have initially been looking for evidence of a wider terrorist cell in connection with the marathon bombings, within weeks its agents were questioning Ibragim about the Waltham murders. According to the FBI, agents were able to bring Ibragim to the brink of a written confession by pressuring him with circumstantial evidence.

If you believe the FBI’s account, then you must also believe this: If Waltham police had figured out who hacked three men to death on September 11, 2011, there’s a good chance we would not be talking about the Boston Marathon bombings. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev might be alive and in jail. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might be just another mop-headed, no-name stoner at UMass Dartmouth. There would be no One Fund. Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard would still be alive. Sean Collier would have graduated from the MIT police department to the Somerville Police Department by now. And for the friends and family of the three men who died in Waltham, perhaps their grief would not still be paired with such haunting questions.



I met Erik Weissman in the summer of 2006, after my freshman year of college. I was 19. He was 26. He’d come to sell us some high-end weed. I was with my friends from high school in a Newton attic, and it felt less like a drug deal than a Tupperware party. Erik had spotless sneakers, wire-rimmed nerd glasses, and a contagious smile. He produced a series of glass jars from a black duffel bag, each filled with a different strain of headies: Blue Dream, Grand Daddy, Alaskan Thunder Fuck. My friends were easily impressed; I teased him for talking game. My father, Norman Zalkind, is a criminal defense lawyer, and I grew up discussing his cases and clients at the kitchen table.

A few days later, Erik picked me up and we drove around in his blue Audi, taking turns playing Lil Wayne and Buju Banton on our iPods and smoking Erik’s Sour Diesel. We did that a few times that summer: driving aimlessly, talking, smoking. He was one of the few friends who encouraged my cheesy freshman-year poetry. He thought of himself as an entrepreneur and a connoisseur of pot; he would fly to Amsterdam regularly to buy seeds of a particular variety that interested him. He talked about selling pot as if it were a community service, and told me repeatedly that he didn’t operate in violent circles. I told him about my father and his clients. I told him his line of work always ends badly. He laughed.

Over time I stopped smoking pot, and we grew apart. The last I heard from him was sometime in January or February of 2011. He wanted my father’s number. He’d been busted when his landlord went into his apartment, saw his stash, and called the cops. Boston police had seized more than $20,000 in cash and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana from his Roslindale home. He had always told me that he sold only pot, but in the raid police also seized cocaine, Vicodin, and OxyContin.

I gave him the number for my dad’s law firm. He sounded scared.

Soon after my dad took me out for oysters to thank me for the referral. He told me there was a problem with Erik’s warrant, and he didn’t think the case would go to trial.

I never spoke to Erik again.

There was a lot about him I learned only after his death. The drugs and money he lost when he was arrested left him $50,000 in debt to his Sour Diesel connection in California, his friends told me. He’d invested in a California bong company called Hitman Glass, but his money woes kept him from moving out West. In the months before they died, Erik and Brendan were working together to expand their pot business, trying to buy in larger quantities and purchasing equipment to grow marijuana on their own, according to another dealer who sometimes worked with them.

Waltham is often described as a small, quiet, suburban town, but in 2011 it was teeming with much bigger drug operations. A few months before the murders, federal investigators indicted a steroid-popping Syrian national named Safwan Madarati, the Waltham-based head of a violent international drug ring. Madarati, the indictment revealed, hired thugs to assault and intimidate his enemies, and maintained “personal connections with members of the Watertown police department.” A former Watertown officer was among those charged in the case. In an unrelated case only a few months later, police arrested a former Watertown council member after they found $2 million worth of hydroponic pot in his Waltham warehouse. They were all convicted.

Police quickly seized on Erik and Brendan’s pot dealing, and theorized that the murders must have been connected to a drug dispute or robbery. “Whose toes were they stepping on in Waltham?” one friend remembers being asked. Investigators grilled the victims’ friends about Erik and Brendan’s drug sources, and asked with whom they had financial disputes. “They were telling us that it could’ve been a drug deal that had gone wrong,” recalled Bellie Hacker, Erik’s mother. “But then it didn’t make sense because there was money left behind, and the marijuana.”

For Bellie, the aftermath of the murder was excruciating. In addition to the cops’ theory about a drug deal gone wrong, there were other dark rumors circulating, some of them concerning Brendan’s ex-girlfriend, Hiba. “One of the theories was that Hiba hired someone to kill Brendan and just Erik and Rafi were there and they got killed, too,” Bellie said. According to news reports, police questioned Hiba on several occasions. Before dropping out of sight, she gave anonymous interviews to the New York Times and the Boston Globe disavowing any involvement in the crime. Bellie didn’t know what to believe. “Nothing really made sense,” she said.

t didn’t help that police seemed to save their toughest questions for the victims’ families and friends. A few days after the murders, Erik’s sister, Aria, learned that her brother had kept a storage unit, and called the company to ask if she could get access to Erik’s belongings. They didn’t call back, and instead she got a hostile phone call from a detective, State Trooper Erik Gagnon, assigned to the Middlesex County DA’s office. What did she think she was going to find in that box? Gagnon asked. Drugs? Money? She remembers that Gagnon called her “deceitful” and threatened to prosecute her for interfering with the investigation. “How many murders have you solved?” he barked. (When I asked Gagnon about the conversation, he wouldn’t comment on it directly, but said, “If someone said I was being accusatory, maybe ask them why.”)

Friends of Erik’s who spoke to the police after his murder had similar experiences. One friend, who did not have a police record, told me he was questioned by detectives just hours after carrying Erik’s casket at his funeral. “They were treating us less like friends and more like drug dealers,” he said.

Then there were leads that the detectives seemed to ignore. They never visited the Wai Kru gym in Allston, where Brendan practiced mixed martial arts several times a week, according to gym owner John Allan. They never spoke to his training partner and best friend, Golden Gloves champion Tamerlan Tsarnaev, even though several friends gave the police his name in a list of Brendan’s closest contacts. Meanwhile, detectives called Aria into the police station and accused her of knowing who killed her brother. She broke down in tears as her mother defended her.

Ten days after the bodies were found, detectives told Bellie that they were not actively pursuing leads in her son’s murder. Instead, she remembers state police detectives explaining, they were waiting for a suspect to shake loose. “They were basically waiting for someone to come forward and say who did it,” Bellie recalled. “They said, ‘Someday down the line, someone is going to need a plea bargain.’”

It was September 22, 2011. The case would go cold for 582 days.



There was a time, just after the bombs went off on Boylston Street, when it looked like the families might finally get some answers about who killed Rafi, Brendan, and Erik. On April 19, media outlets made the connection between Tamerlan and Brendan. Friends recalled that Tamerlan had acted differently after Brendan’s death, and hadn’t attended his memorial service. John Allan, the owner of Wai Kru gym, recalled approaching Tamerlan to offer his condolences, only to have Tamerlan laugh him off.

Bellie was hopeful that the renewed attention would stir something up. “It got international news, everyone found out about it, the whole world knew about it, and someone will get the fire under their tush, and we’ll start really getting some answers,” she remembers thinking.

A few days after the Watertown manhunt, Aria says, she spoke to Gagnon for the first time since 2011. He asked for her brother’s cell-phone number and the name of the gym Brendan Mess went to. The Middlesex County DA’s office had Boston cops send over the files from Erik Weissman’s previous arrests.For the first time, Brendan Mess’s younger brother Dylan and his friends were questioned about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI agents wanted to know if either Brendan or Tamerlan was involved in organized crime. If Tamerlan had guns. Who else he sparred with. If Tamerlan prayed, if he preached. The agents asked if the auto shops where Tamerlan and his father sometimes worked were part of an organized-crime ring.

A few weeks later, in mid-May, FBI agents called on Dylan again. He and a friend met them at Dwelltime, a café near Inman Square. The agents, who were in plainclothes, took them into the back of a van and showed them a series of photo lineups. Dylan and his friend looked at each other, and told the agents that the man in the last photo looked vaguely familiar.

The man in the photo, they would later learn, was Ibragim Todashev.



No one who knew Ibragim Todashev seemed to have a complete picture of who he was. Even his own father, with whom he spoke regularly, did not know he had a wife in America, let alone a girlfriend. Ibragim was a womanizer. He was kind to children. He had a sweet tooth, and a temper. He was a trained MMA fighter who liked to hang out with a close-knit group of Chechnyan friends; he didn’t socialize outside of that circle. He was an erratic driver—he’ d been in several car accidents. He and his friends liked to drive luxury cars, but they’d buy old, broken-down ones and fix them up. He liked to listen to a Russian singer called Mr. Credo, who sings in a fake North Caucasus accent about buying drugs from the Taliban.

Ibragim was the eldest of 12 children—his father, Abdulbaki Todashev, had two wives. The family was on the move constantly in the chaos of war-torn Chechnya. After the wars, Ibragim attended college in Russia for three years before leaving in 2008. He arrived in Boston with a student visa (though he would never attend school here), and shortly thereafter received asylum.

Ibragim was welcomed into Boston’s insular Chechnyan community. Tamerlan was one of his first friends. They worked out together, and went clubbing. But it seems he never socialized with Tamerlan’s many American friends. He most likely knew Tamerlan’s friend Brendan, though, because the three of them once lived within a few blocks of one another around Inman Square, and they all trained at the Wai Kru gym.

According to owner John Allan, Tamerlan introduced Ibragim to the gym shortly after Ibragim first arrived in Boston in 2008. Allan remembers them praying together before training. “[Ibragim’s] English was horrific, and it was really hard to communicate with him,” Allan recalled. “In the beginning I assumed the fights and problems were related to language. But later I learned he was just very hotheaded.” For some reason, Allan said, the word “motherfucker” would incite in Ibragim an inconsolable rage. “He would lose it. He would just lose it. He would be ready to fight 17 people and not care if he would win or lose. Sometimes it wouldn’t even be directed to him.”

In 2010 Ibragim was working for a medical-transport company when he got into a verbal argument with another driver in traffic on Tremont Street. By the time police arrived, he was out of the car, being held back by several bystanders as he screamed, “You say something about my mother! I will kill you!”

Ibragim met his wife, Reni Manukyan, when she came to visit his roommate in May 2010. He was 24; she was 20. They exchanged phone numbers, and when she went home to suburban Atlanta, they began a courtship via text message. The relationship moved fast. By July, Reni, an Armenian Christian, had converted to Islam and married Ibragim; a few months later Ibragim moved in with her in Georgia. But he had trouble finding work, and came back to Boston in the summer of 2011 to work at another medical-transport company. Reni came to visit that July to watch him fight a match (he lost). She remembered that his friend Tamerlan called frequently during that visit. Reni told reporters that Ibragim left Boston in August; she told me she had a bank statement that proves he was in Atlanta the day after the murders, but she said her lawyers advised her not to show it to me.

By early 2012, Ibragim had moved to Orlando alone. A year later, when the bombs went off in Boston, he was living with a girlfriend in a condo complex located between Universal Studios and a swamp. A month later, the FBI shot him dead.

Anonymous FBI sources gave numerous accounts of Ibragim’s death to the press, managing to be both vague and contradictory. The agency claimed that, just before being shot, Ibragim had been sitting at a table, about to write a statement that would implicate both himself and Tamerlan in the Waltham murders. In some reports, he lunged at an FBI agent with a knife, while others said he used a pole or a broomstick. It was an agonizing development: The FBI claimed he had been killed at precisely the moment he was about to give the answers so many of us had been waiting for.

Whatever occurred in Ibragim’s apartment the night he was shot dead, his death put the FBI on the defensive. The agency quashed the coroner’s report, leading media outlets and the American Civil Liberties Union to call for an independent investigation. On its editorial page, the Globe declared that “the agency’s credibility is on the line” due to its lack of accountability in Ibragim’s death. Ibragim’s father accused the agency of “premeditated murder” and released photos of his son’s bullet-ridden corpse, showing that he’d been shot in the top of the head—even though the FBI contended that one of its agents had fired in self-defense. Instead of providing answers, the FBI’s investigation of Ibragim had turned into a sudden dead end.

Bellie was infuriated. “Oh, I was so angry,” she said. “That was just horrible, because here we had an opportunity, they were starting to make connections and tie people and find out more information… and the man that could’ve given us answers is no longer available to us.”

She added, “Where is there for us to go?”

But there was at least one person who might know more about Ibragim. At the time of his death, he had been living with a woman named Tatiana Gruzdeva. I found her on Facebook: a slight 19-year-old with bleached blond hair and huge green eyes. She posted a lot of selfies. I sent her a friend request. On the night of September 18, she accepted it.

We corresponded for a few minutes, and then she sent me her number. When I dialed, she picked up right away. Her voice sounded small, but she talked rapid-fire, her Russian accent thick but understandable. I told her I was a reporter, and that I wanted to hear her story.

Two days later, I flew to Orlando to meet her.



By the front door of 6022 Peregrine Avenue, a wire statue of a cow held a pink sign with the word “Welcome.” The apartment was all one room, with a lofted bed surrounded by a waist-high wall. Tatiana invited me in, and I looked around, taking in the sliver of a linoleum kitchen, distinguished from the carpeted living room by a small island. Tatiana slept in an upstairs loft, in a bed covered in stuffed animals, watched over by a poster of Muhammad Ali. The back wall was all windows, looking out on a black pond a few yards off, where a bale of turtles broke the surface to take in the evening air. Tatiana pointed out the place in the living room where the carpet had been cut out, because it had been stained with Ibragim’s blood.

She had met Ibragim through a mutual friend, Khusen Taramov. Then she moved in. “First it was just friends,” she said, “and after, we starting having relationship and we were sleeping together like boyfriend and girlfriend.” She cooked him meals. Together they adopted a cat, Masia. “It was like a small family, me and him and the cat, he was like a little baby for us.”

Tatiana knew that Ibragim had been married to Reni. She believed they were divorced.

After the Boston bombings, Tatiana recalled, Ibragim seemed upset. “He didn’t tell me it was his friend, he just was so sad. I said, ‘What happen with you?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ Long time he don’t want to tell me. And after, he tell me, ‘My friend is dead.’”

The day after Tamerlan was identified as a marathon bombing suspect, Tatiana was washing the dishes when Ibragim stepped outside. Then she heard shouts outside the house: Get down! Get down! She saw Ibragim on the ground, surrounded by six or seven men. She didn’t know who they were, because they weren’t wearing uniforms. She says they told her they were FBI agents.

They handcuffed Ibragim and made him sit in the middle of the room, and began questioning him about the Boston bombings, asking him what he knew and where he was on the day of the attack. Tatiana spoke up: “He was with me, he was in the house, we didn’t do anything wrong,” she told the agents.

“They just kept asking again and again, the same questions,” she said. They asked if he knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He replied that the two of them had been friends. Tatiana said this was the first time she had heard the name.

Eventually the FBI left with Ibragim, confiscating his phones and computers. About six hours later, Tatiana said, Ibragim came home, reassuring her that everything was okay. The next day, she said, agents returned their electronics.

As best as I can tell, the FBI arrived on Ibragim’s doorstep looking for a terrorist. The marathon bombings had been the largest act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11, and if there were any chance that the Tsarnaevs had ties to a terrorist organization, federal agents had to find it. Wrapping up a drug murder was not their top priority.

For the next month, Ibragim and Tatiana were under intense surveillance. Agents intercepted Ibragim’s wife, Reni, in an airport and questioned her for five hours; she was later interviewed several more times. They even tracked down his old Boston roommate.

Meanwhile, Tatiana said, agents contacted the couple regularly on the phone, visited their home, and on several occasions called them into the local field office for more questioning. They asked Ibragim about a call from Tamerlan a month before the bombings, just after Ibragim had undergone knee surgery. “He asked how he feels after surgery and Ibragim tells him, ‘I’m better, what about you? How is your family?’ So they would talk just a little bit and that’s it,” Tatiana said. At some point, Ibragim deleted the call from his phone’s memory. “FBI asked him, ‘Why did you delete this phone call?’” Tatiana said. “And he said, ‘I was scared.’”

When Ibragim and Tatiana left the house, he would point out cars to her. “When we go to the workplace or we go hang out with him, he show me in the street, ‘Look, look, they’re following us,’” Tatiana recalled.

On May 4, according to an arrest report, Ibragim got into a fistfight over a parking space, beating a man unconscious. He fled the scene in his white Mercedes, pursued by Orange County Sheriff’s deputies. When they caught him, Officer Anthony Riccaboni got out of the car and drew his gun. Ibragim put his hands up, and Riccaboni got a good look at him.

“I could see the features of the suspect’s ears. I immediately recognized the marks on his ears as a cage fighter/jujitsu fighter,” Riccaboni later wrote in his report. “I told this suspect if he tried to fight with us I would shoot him.”

He made the suspect lie on the ground, but when he got up, he told Riccaboni something unexpected.

“Once on his feet, the suspect commented that the vehicles behind us are FBI agents that have been following him,” Riccaboni wrote. “I noticed 3 (three) vehicles with dark tint. These vehicles began to leave the area. I noticed one vehicle was driven by a male, had a computer stand and appeared to be talking on a radio.”

If Ibragim was right, FBI agents had just watched him beat a man bloody without intervening.

Then they turned the pressure up higher.

About two and a half weeks after Ibragim was first interrogated, the FBI called him back to their office yet again. While he was being interviewed, Tatiana said, two agents took her into an office, where they questioned her for three hours. At first they continued to ask her about the Boston bombings. The agents wanted to know if Ibragim was planning another attack.

“They asked me, ‘Can you tell us when he will do something?’” Tatiana recalled. “I said, ‘No! I can’t!’ Because he wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t know anything.”

Then they brought up a new topic: a triple murder.

“They said, ‘We think he did something else, before.’ They said he killed three people in Boston 2011 with a knife. I said, ‘It’s not true! I can’t believe it.’ You know, I was living with him seven months, and we have a cat.”

Throughout the course of my reporting, Tatiana is the only one of Ibragim’s associates who recalled being questioned about the Waltham murders before Ibragim’s death.

When agents didn’t get the answers they wanted, Tatiana said, they told her they would call immigration officials to detain her. Her visa had expired weeks before. “I said, ‘Come on guys, you cannot do this! Because all this two and a half weeks, you know my visa was expired and you didn’t do anything. And [now] because you need me and I say I don’t want to help you, you just call to immigration?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ And they called immigration and immigration came and they took me and they put me in the jail.”

For a week, she said, she was kept in an immigration detention facility. She was allowed to talk to Ibragim every day on the phone. She said he told her that when he had come to find her in the lobby the day she was detained, FBI agents mocked him, saying, “Where’s your girlfriend?”

He told her he was so angry, he felt like hitting them for lying to him and stealing her away.

Later that week, the facility had a visiting day, she said. Ibragim came to see her.

“He kissed me, he hugged me like never, it was so sweet, like always. And he tell me, ‘I will marry you when you get out of here, or in the jail, whatever. If we can marry in the jail, we will marry in the jail.’”



On May 21, the last night of his life, Ibragim was hanging out with friends when the FBI called him again. It was an agent Ibragim’s friends were by now familiar with, but knew only by his first name: Chris. The agent told Ibragim that men from Boston were here to ask him a few questions. Ibragim got nervous. He was afraid of a setup, he told his friend Khusen Taramov.

“And I said, ‘All right, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you don’t do it, they’re not gonna leave you alone. They’re gonna get more suspicious.’ And so he decided to go, and he wanted me to go with him,” Khusen told reporters later. Despite his temper and proclivity toward violence, Ibragim had stayed relatively calm under weeks of questioning and scrutiny. But now, heading to meet the “men from Boston,” his demeanor changed. Ibragim gave Khusen his family’s phone number back in Chechnya, and told him about the $4,000 he had in his apartment, inside his jacket pocket. In case he got locked up, Khusen thought. Then Ibragim said something strange: “Worst-case scenario,” he told Khusen cryptically, “forgive me.”

When Khusen and Ibragim got to the apartment, Chris was with three other officers—an FBI agent from Boston, and two Massachusetts state troopers. Orlando police were on the scene as well.

The officers took Ibragim into the apartment and Chris said he needed to interview Khusen outside.

It was 7:30 p.m. At the same time, at two different locations in Georgia, agents were interviewing Reni yet again, and questioning Reni’s mother, Elena Teyer, for the first time.

Agent Chris asked Khusen a few questions, “Like what do you think about bombings, or do you know these guys, blah blah blah, or what is my views on certain stuff. You know what I mean, lotta stuff, different questions,” Khusen said. Chris didn’t mention a triple murder.

Khusen waited outside the house for four hours. Then at 11:30 p.m., he was told to leave, and that the agents would drop off Ibragim back at the plaza where the friends often hung out.

What happened next inside the condo is known only to the officers who were there.

Pictures later released by Ibragim’s family, of his inert body, show that he was shot four times in the chest, twice in the arm, and once in the top of the head.

Neighbors remember hearing shots a little after midnight. One of them looked out the window to see the parking lot filled with police cruisers. Then he heard an ambulance coming.

At Glades County Detention Center, in Moore Haven, corrections officers were suddenly hustling Tatiana from an immigration jail to a cell in solitary confinement.

She didn’t know why they had moved her. When she asked, they said, “We’ll tell you tomorrow in the morning.”



The next morning immigration officers came to her cell. They told her Ibragim was dead.

“They said, ‘He’s gone.’

“I said, ‘Come on, what do you mean? That’s not true.’

“They said, ‘He died yesterday.’

“I said, ‘No! I just talked with him.’

“They said, ‘We have a paper, and it says that he’s dead, and you can make a phone call.’”

She called Khusen. He told her it was true: Ibragim was dead. “And I’m screaming. I have panic attack. I realize, I realize, he is really dead. And it’s true, you know, it’s true. And I will not see him anymore. It’s not like a movie, it’s not like we broke up or something, I will not see him anymore, for all my life. And everything is flush in my heart, my heart was broken, because me and Ibragim, we had a plan, we had a plan to be together, we had a plan to have a family…. And now he’s not here and we’re not going to be together anymore.”

She told me she was given a sedative, and was kept in solitary confinement for four more days before being returned to an immigration jail. Her detainment stretched for months longer. Finally, on August 9, she was released. Ibragim’s friend Ashurmamad Miraliev came to pick her up, along with Ibragim’s father, who had flown to Florida from Chechnya.

They drove her back to the apartment she had shared with Ibragim, where he had been killed. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, the house is clean, and we cleaned everything.’”

But the cat, Masia, was gone. With Ibragim dead, and Tatiana in jail, there was no one to feed it, and it had run away into the swamp.

When FBI agents came to tell Reni Manukyan that her husband was dead, they claimed they had hard evidence of his guilt in the Waltham murders. “We have DNA that proves he was involved in that triple murder,” she remembered them saying. “The only thing I was telling them is, ‘This is not true, this cannot be true.’”

With the exception of Ibragim’s alleged confession, no agency has ever offered an official explanation of how it connected either him or Tamerlan to the Waltham murders. Reni’s account is the only one that even suggests the FBI has physical evidence linking her husband to the crime. Last July, the New York Times quoted an anonymous official suggesting that DNA evidence may have linked Tamerlan to the crime scene. But as for Ibragim, the official said, they made their case based merely on “a lot of circumstantial pieces.”

If, in fact, the FBI had only circumstantial evidence against Ibragim at the time they shot him, it might explain what happened next. Investigators who had previously asked Ibragim’s friends only about the bombings suddenly returned to ask them about the murders. Even though their suspects were both dead, the case remained open. After Ibragim’s death, the FBI continued its take-no-prisoners approach: Several of Ibragim’s friends found themselves detained, interrogated, and ultimately deported.



The first to go was Tatiana. On October 1, after I’d published an account of my interview with her, she called me collect from Glades County Detention Center. She’d been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and placed back in solitary confinement—and, she says, immigration agents told her repeatedly that she was about to be deported for talking to Boston magazine. By October 11, she was on a plane back to Russia. An official from ICE confirmed that Tatiana had been in the country legally on what’s called a “deferred action” extension of her expired visa. The official could not tell me why she had been deported.

Others felt the scrutiny of the FBI as well. Several of Ibragim’s Orlando friends worked in a pizza shop; the owner told me that after the FBI came to question him, he fired them. Reni’s mother, Elena—a noncommissioned officer with the U.S. Army—says she was told that she would be flagged as a security risk, preventing a promotion. Khusen left the United States in mid-June, to attend Ibragim’s funeral in Chechnya, but when he attempted to return to the U.S. in December, according to several sources, he was blocked from boarding a plane, despite having a green card.

In one case, I was able to catch a glimpse of how the agency was maneuvering behind the scenes—and how, after Ibragim’s death, its focus seemed to shift from looking for a terror cell to investigating the Waltham murders. When it came to Ibragim’s friend Ashurmamad Miraliev, the agency worked clandestinely with local, state, and federal agencies to manufacture a charge against him, interrogate him without a lawyer present, and ultimately get him out of the country.

After Ibragim’s death, Ashurmamad had come to live with Tatiana, supporting them both with pizza-delivery work. On September 18, while Ashurmamad was driving Tatiana to an appointment with her immigration officer, he was pulled over on an expired driver’s license. But this was no ordinary traffic stop. Between five and seven unmarked law-enforcement vehicles were present; Ashurmamad says FBI agents and local police took him out of his car and escorted him to the Orlando police headquarters. Tatiana never saw him again.

Contacted later, Orlando Police Sergeant Jim Young looked up the arrest record and said it looked like a routine traffic stop—with no mention of FBI involvement. But Ashurmamad says he was questioned by the FBI for hours—he’s not sure exactly how long—and was denied requests to speak to his attorney. (The FBI has declined to comment on this case, but a Tampa Field Bureau public-affairs official told me it is their policy to question individuals “with their consent, or in the presence of their attorney.”)

Agents had previously interviewed Ashurmamad and two of his roommates two days before Ibragim died. They questioned him about his own religious beliefs, the Boston Marathon bombings, and about Ibragim. Now, four months later, the interrogation was different. This time, agents were mostly interested in Ibragim and his involvement in the triple murder in Waltham. They wanted to know if there was someone else who might have been involved in the killings, and who else might have information.

But after hours of questioning, when Ashurmamad asked to leave, the agents told him he was going to jail—on a state charge they claimed to have nothing to do with. That turned out to be an outstanding warrant for a witness-tampering charge. It was the first Ashurmamad had heard of it—but the next thing he knew, he was behind bars.

The trumped-up charge stemmed from an incident the previous summer, when his friend Ibragim had gotten into a fight at a hookah bar with a manager named Youness Dammou. The next day, Youness walked into the pizza shop next door, where Ashurmamad worked. A screaming match ensued; Ashurmamad was angry that Youness had called police after the fight. At the time, police weren’t able to identify Ibragim as the assailant, and Youness never mentioned his confrontation with Ashurmamad, so the case was closed. Then almost a year later, on May 17—five days before Ibragim was shot—the case was suddenly reopened. I wanted to know why.

I found Youness working in an Orlando strip mall. He told me it hadn’t been his idea to reopen the case. Instead, he had been approached by an FBI agent in May, who took him to meet with an Osceola County Sheriff’s Department detective in an unmarked cruiser in a Burger King parking lot. The agent sat in the front seat, Youness sat in the passenger seat, and the detective sat in the back. They showed him a picture of Ibragim. They told him about another fight Ibragim had been in recently—the incident in which agents apparently watched him beat up a man over a parking space without intervening. When he heard about the other assault, Youness was eager to press charges.

The law-enforcement officers did not mention that Ibragim was involved in a larger investigation. A few days later, however, Youness saw Ibragim’s face on the news and learned his aggressor was a murder suspect—and dead.

That was the last he heard about it until the end of August, when the detective came back with another request: The last time they’d met, Youness had recounted the incident with the man who’d screamed at him in the pizza shop, Ashurmamad Miraliev. (Youness hadn’t actually known the man’s name; in the case file the detective wrote that an “Agent Sykes” provided the identification.) The detective said Ashurmamad could be charged with a crime. Would Youness like to pursue charges against him? At first Youness said he wasn’t so sure, but then he agreed.

So the FBI had been matchmaking: They had helped the sheriff’s department go fishing on a long-closed case to find a victim and a charge with which they could pressure or detain first Ibragim, and later Ashurmamad. The witness-tampering charge the FBI brought against Ashurmamad was so flimsy that it was dropped in just a month.

And yet it didn’t matter. Although he had never been to Boston and never met the Tsarnaevs, Ashurmamad was nonetheless flagged—according to a note on the booking sheet—“ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST/PLACED PROTECTIVE CUSTODY AND HIGH RISK. HOUSE ALONE.” Ashurmamad was taken from the Orlando Police Department to the Osceola County jail, where he was kept alone in an 8-by-10 room. To meet with his lawyers, he had to have his hands and wrists shackled and be chained to the ground. Ashurmamad told me there were no windows, the light was always on, and he was always cold. He was there for a month until the tampering case was dropped. But he wasn’t released. His student visa had expired, and he’d missed a court date while he was in jail. So he was moved directly to an immigration detention facility, and on November 4, he was ordered to be deported back to Tajikistan.

Nine months after Ibragim’s death, the FBI still hasn’t put the Waltham case to rest—or offered any further insight into the death of the man who might have closed it. Back in January, FBI director James Comey claimed the agency had completed its report on Ibragim’s shooting and was “eager” to share it—but almost two months later, the report somehow still hadn’t been released. The Florida prosecutor’s office was also investigating the shooting—but at the end of 2013, shortly after speaking with the Department of Justice, it announced the report would be delayed.

When I spoke to Ibragim’s father in February, he said he was waiting to hear the FBI’s findings before deciding whether to file a wrongful-death lawsuit. But that account is unlikely to shed significant new light on Ibragim’s death: The FBI has a long, unbroken history of clearing its agents of wrongdoing in shooting incidents, the New York Times found in a review of 150 such cases over the past two decades. And according to WBUR’s David Boeri—quoting unnamed “law-enforcement sources familiar with accounts of what happened” that night—the FBI has little to add to the story it peddled to reporters on background shortly after the killing. Boeri’s sources told him that during the interrogation, Ibragim admitted to being present at the crime scene but “blamed Tsarnaev for the murders.” He also quoted law-enforcement sources saying that Ibragim had knocked over a table and come at the FBI agent with a pipe.

According to a statement by the Middlesex County DA’s office, the triple-homicide case is “open and active” and state police, Waltham police, and the FBI are conducting a “thorough, far-reaching” investigation. “This investigation has not concluded and is by no means closed,” it said.

They have not updated the statement in nine months.



In late September, Aria Weissman and Dylan Mess invited me to accompany them to the annual Garden of Peace ceremony, which is held beside a dry, stone-lined riverbed near the State House to honor Massachusetts homicide victims. As she does every year, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley presided over the event. “We have more people who are here to listen and to find some peace tonight,” she said to the crowd that evening.

Afterward, Aria, Dylan, and I approached Coakley and asked her why there hadn’t been any progress in the Waltham case. “We haven’t been getting any answers,” Aria told Coakley.

Coakley was calm and respectful. “I know how frustrating and how difficult it is for you,” she told us. The triple murder, Coakley explained, was not her investigation—it was the Middlesex County DA’s concern. She said that she could and would follow up to make sure state police were working with Waltham police on the murder case. “The Waltham PD and the state police should be working together,” she told us.

But two weeks later, Detective Patrick Hart of the Waltham police, who has been investigating the murders since before the Boston Marathon bombings, told me his department had not been contacted by Coakley’s office. “No one here knows,” he said at the time. “I think I would have been told.”

Two days after I reported on Coakley’s exchange with Aria and Dylan, a victims’ advocate from the Middlesex County DA’s office reached out to Aria. The advocate said officials from the DA’s office were looking to sit down with the victims’ families and provide more information soon. But they never did.



After Ibragim was killed, Bellie Hacker’s friends congratulated her. The case had been solved—she must be so relieved!

“I’d say, ‘Don’t pay any attention, nothing is solved,’” she said.

She’s still waiting to be shown evidence—to know, finally, what truly happened to Erik. “I was told that once they knew something, someone would knock on my door in the middle of the night,” she said. “I was told that I would be contacted even in the middle of the night.”

State officials once told Bellie that they were waiting for a lead to shake loose, maybe from another case.

They were right. But by then it was too late.

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2014/02/25/waltham-murders-bo/
See also:
https://vimeo.com/64656421
https://vimeo.com/64867935

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Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
27 Feb 2014
00 3w.gif
BI’s Curious Silence about the Waltham Murders
Posted on February 26, 2014 by emptywheel http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/02/26/fbis-curious-silence-about-the-walt/

Susan Zalkind, who has relentlessly followed the story of Ibragim Todashev, the friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev whom FBI killed back in May, has a long story in Boston Magazine. The whole thing is worthwhile (though beware the disturbing pictures of Todashev’s corpse). But I’m particularly fascinated by the way Zalkind chronicles when the FBI started asking people about Todashev’s possible involvement in the Waltham triple murder.

She notes that the only person the FBI questioned about Todashev’s potential role in the murders while he was still alive (aside, presumably, from Todashev himself) was his girlfriend, Tatiana Gruzdeva.

While he was being interviewed, Tatiana said, two agents took her into an office, where they questioned her for three hours. At first they continued to ask her about the Boston bombings. The agents wanted to know if Ibragim was planning another attack.

“They asked me, ‘Can you tell us when he will do something?’” Tatiana recalled. “I said, ‘No! I can’t!’ Because he wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t know anything.”

Then they brought up a new topic: a triple murder.

“They said, ‘We think he did something else, before.’ They said he killed three people in Boston 2011 with a knife. I said, ‘It’s not true! I can’t believe it.’ You know, I was living with him seven months, and we have a cat.”

Throughout the course of my reporting, Tatiana is the only one of Ibragim’s associates who recalled being questioned about the Waltham murders before Ibragim’s death.

But after asking her about Waltham, they immediately jailed her on an immigration violation which, Zalkind suggests, FBI used to pressure Todashev. A week later, with Gruzdeva still in immigration detention, they killed him.

In the interview an FBI agent did with Todashev’s friend Khusen Taramov just before they killed Todashev, they didn’t ask about Waltham.

Agent Chris asked Khusen a few questions, “Like what do you think about bombings, or do you know these guys, blah blah blah, or what is my views on certain stuff. You know what I mean, lotta stuff, different questions,” Khusen said. Chris didn’t mention a triple murder.

But then immediately after Todashev’s death, FBI started asking — or telling — a number of people about his alleged role int he murders. They told his wife they had DNA evidence implicating him.

When FBI agents came to tell Reni Manukyan that her husband was dead, they claimed they had hard evidence of his guilt in the Waltham murders. “We have DNA that proves he was involved in that triple murder,” she remembered them saying. “The only thing I was telling them is, ‘This is not true, this cannot be true.’”

They set up a crime so they could question Ashurmamad Miraliev about it, in an extended interrogation, without a lawyer, in which he claims he was subjected to what sounds like classic “separation” interrogation technique.

Ashurmamad says he was questioned by the FBI for hours—he’s not sure exactly how long—and was denied requests to speak to his attorney. (The FBI has declined to comment on this case, but a Tampa Field Bureau public-affairs official told me it is their policy to question individuals “with their consent, or in the presence of their attorney.”)

Agents had previously interviewed Ashurmamad and two of his roommates two days before Ibragim died. They questioned him about his own religious beliefs, the Boston Marathon bombings, and about Ibragim. Now, four months later, the interrogation was different. This time, agents were mostly interested in Ibragim and his involvement in the triple murder in Waltham. They wanted to know if there was someone else who might have been involved in the killings, and who else might have information.

[snip]

Although he had never been to Boston and never met the Tsarnaevs, Ashurmamad was nonetheless flagged—according to a note on the booking sheet—“ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST/PLACED PROTECTIVE CUSTODY AND HIGH RISK. HOUSE ALONE.” Ashurmamad was taken from the Orlando Police Department to the Osceola County jail, where he was kept alone in an 8-by-10 room. To meet with his lawyers, he had to have his hands and wrists shackled and be chained to the ground. Ashurmamad told me there were no windows, the light was always on, and he was always cold. He was there for a month until the tampering case was dropped. But he wasn’t released. His student visa had expired, and he’d missed a court date while he was in jail. So he was moved directly to an immigration detention facility, and on November 4, he was ordered to be deported back to Tajikistan.

It’s as if they didn’t want anyone to know about the potential connection until Todashev was killed, at which point they want everyone to know (but also want any immigrant with ties to Todashev barred from the country).

And in spite of the FBI setting up all these curiously timed interviews about Waltham, officially the investigation remains a Middlesex County matter.

The triple murder, Coakley explained, was not her investigation—it was the Middlesex County DA’s concern. She said that she could and would follow up to make sure state police were working with Waltham police on the murder case. “The Waltham PD and the state police should be working together,” she told us.

I find all this interesting given what has happened with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the FBI has interrogated, then deported or in some other fashion kicked out of the country, Todashev’s buddies in FL.

At roughly the same time as the FL investigation heated up, on August 27, Carmen Ortiz slapped Special Administrative Measures on Dzhokhar, nudging him closer to solitary treatment but also giving FBI control over what information he learns.

The following month, the government refused to give Dzhokhar any information on the involvement of his brother, Todashev, or himself in the Waltham murders, citing an ongoing investigation. In an October government motion following up on this request, they said the following.

Defense Request #9. This request is patently overbroad insofar as it seeks “all documents” concerning the investigation of the triple homicide that occurred in Waltham on September 11, 2011, regardless of whether those documents relate to Tsarnaev or his brother. It should be denied on that basis alone.

To the extent this request seeks documents that relate to Ibragim Todashev’s involvement in the triple homicide, it should be denied on the ground that such documents are not discoverable under the Federal or Local Rules of Criminal Procedure or Brady. To the extent this request seeks documents that relate to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s involvement in the triple homicide, it is premature. As Tsarnaev concedes, information about his brother’s criminal history will be relevant, if at all, only in a future sentencing hearing to determine whether Tsarnaev himself should receive the death penalty. As noted earlier, such a hearing may never occur, in which case Tsarnaev will never have a right to the information. And even if such a hearing does occur, many other phases of this case must first be completed.

Without intending to waive any of these arguments, the government has declined to produce all documents relating to the triple homicide investigation pursuant to Local Rule 116.6. It is well-settled that “’[f]ederal common law recognizes a qualified privilege protecting investigative files in an ongoing criminal investigation.’” In re Department of Homeland Security, 459 F.3d 565, 569 (5 th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted) (collecting cases). That privilege can be overcome only if “the harm to the government if the privilege is lifted” is outweighed by the “need of the litigant who is seeking privileged investigative materials.” Id. That test is not met here. The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is engaged in an active, ongoing investigation into the Waltham triple homicide. Disclosure of the details of that investigation could jeopardize it. Tsarnaev, in contrast, has no urgent need for the privileged investigative materials he seeks. Even assuming, as Tsarnaev claims, that “the nature and extent of Tamerlan’s alleged involvement” in the Waltham triple homicide is “critical mitigation information,” Tsarnaev Mot. at 16, this case has not yet even been set down for a trial date, let alone sentencing.

In any event, the government has already disclosed to Tsarnaev that, according to Todashev, Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in the Waltham triple homicide. Any benefit to Tsarnaev of knowing more about the precise “nature and extent” of his brother’s involvement does not outweigh the potential harm of exposing details of an ongoing investigation into an extremely serious crime, especially at this stage of the proceedings. [my emphasis]

In November, Judge George O’Toole denied that and most other discovery requests, stating that Dzhokhar’s lawyers hadn’t shown any need that would overcome investigative privilege.

Meanwhile, after the decision to try for the death penalty in this case — at which point, even the government seems to suggest, such evidence might have become relevant — the FBI has started monitoring Dzhokhar’s defense team in some fashion that remains entirely redacted in a recent request such monitoring stop.

Now don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why the FBI might want to prevent Dzhokhar from learning details of their investigation into Waltham, especially if they believe he may have had a role.

But if it’s true that FBI only asks questions about Waltham as it kills people (and didn’t show much interest in investigating back in 2011), it seems this latest monitoring may be tied to their curious silences about the murders.

See Youtube - She is Watching The Detectives - Elvis Costello (acoustic cover) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWnnuZ5biXM
See also:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWnnuZ5biXM
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
28 Feb 2014
court sketch NSA.jpg
Ex-Watertown Town Councilor Sentenced For Marijuana Operation - by Bruce Gellerman February 28, 2014 http://www.wbur.org/2014/02/28/former-watertown-town-councilor-sentenced

BOSTON — A former Watertown town councilor and his ex-wife have been sentenced in federal court for running a large-scale marijuana operation. For more than a decade, even while serving as a town councilor, Gus Bailey was growing hundreds of pounds of marijuana in a warehouse in Waltham, right down the block from the police department. When he was busted in 2011, Bailey had a thousand plants.

Because of federal sentencing guidelines, Bailey could have received life in prison. Instead, Judge Rya Zobel on Thursday sentenced him to seven years, citing a “changing landscape” in attitudes toward marijuana and pending legislation in Congress that would change penalties for drug offenses Bailey pleaded guilty, and in court acknowledged breaking the law but disagreed with it. His wife was sentenced to six months for money laundering. She’ll go to prison first, so Bailey can stay home to take care of their four children.
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
28 Feb 2014
The Peculiar Reasoning of Judge Martini in the Hassan Case
How to Get Away With Spying on Muslims
by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

One of the first questions law students are taught to ask is: what does the case stand for? The case of Hassan v. City of New York stands for the proposition that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Therefore, we learn, you cannot collect damages from a bad actor of whose bad acts you were unaware even though they affected you. But if someone else discloses what a bad actor is doing that affects your rights, the person who let the cat out of the bag may be responsible to you for any injury that bad actor caused you. Since we now live in a time where we are learning on a daily basis of the unwarranted intrusion of the government in our private lives, it is useful to keep relevant court decisions in mind and to understand this legal precept. The other thing the Hassan case teaches is that some judges reason in peculiar ways.

The Hassan case was brought by assorted Muslims and Muslim groups who learned, through a story published by the Associated Press, that ever since 9/11 they have been the subject of surveillance by the New York City police department because of their religious affiliation. Following 9/11 the police department thought Muslims might be planning to do more bad things even though only a very few were involved in the events of 9/11. People who were targeted by the department and became plaintiffs in the lawsuit included a decorated Iraqi war veteran, the owners of a grade school for Muslim girls and a coalition of Muslim mosques. Because they were Muslims and those involved in the 9/11 attack were Muslims the police department thought it made sense to keep an eye on them.

In the complaint that was filed by the plaintiffs, several examples were given of the harm that the plaintiffs had sustained once news of the tactics of the New York City police department’s surveillance operations became public. Among the losses were diminution in property value of the property that was identified as a Muslim school for girls, loss of revenue by businesses that were identified as having been targeted and diminished employment opportunities for individuals who were identified as being monitored by the police.

New York City asked Judge William J. Martini to dismiss the complaint and on February 20, 2014 he did so. The only part of his decision that is of interest to us is his conclusion that the harm, if any (and he declined to say whether or not the plaintiffs had suffered any harm) was not the actions of the police department in conducting what many would say was the clearly illegal surveillance of the Muslims, but rather the disclosure of the surveillance by the Associated Press. It is a brilliant piece of sophistry.

Judge Martini observed, quite correctly, that so long as no one knew of the police department’s illegal activities no harm was suffered by the objects of its surveillance. That is the sort of logic that would immediately appeal to the NSA but had little appeal, as we now know, to people like Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. At the UN General Assembly, President Rousseff accused the NSA of violating international law by collecting personal information on Brazilian citizens and the Brazilian diplomatic missions.

Chancellor Merkel was equally upset. She told President Obama that the tapping of her cell hone was “like the Stasi,” the East German secret police. Neither woman expressed any anger at Mr. Snowden although as Judge Martini would have told them had they asked, it was he and not the NSA at whom they should be angry. But for Mr. Snowden’s disclosures they’d have been unaware of the fact that they were being spied on and, therefore, would have had no reason to be upset. In dismissing the Muslims’ claims Judge Martini said: “None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press.” When they didn’t know they were being illegally targeted, the Muslims suffered no harm he concluded.

Applying his logic to the facts of the case, he apparently thinks the Muslims could sue the Associated Press and allege that its disclosure of the illegal acts of the government rather than the acts themselves were the evil for which the plaintiffs should be compensated. President Yousseff and Chancellor Merkel should be mollified by the judge’s reasoning and should join those in Congress who vilify Mr. Snowden and call him a traitor for having disclosed what many would consider felonious activity by a government agency.

Like the Muslims, however, a few of us will still be puzzled by the reasoning of those in Congress and the reasoning of Judge Martini.
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
01 Mar 2014
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Click on image for a larger version

FBI 0011.png
http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/2014/02/26/will-fbis-win-streak-stop-at-150-0-or-does-their-cheating-continue/
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
07 Mar 2014
Modified: 09:26:17 AM
CIA 3.jpg
The CIA uncle will not be at the trial.

The Brothers Tsarnaev uncle Ruslan Tsarni was such good friends with CIA agent Graham Fuller, who was organizing Islamists in Russia, that he married his daughter.

When the CIA was provided with documents linking the Tsarnaev's with Russian Islamist the CIA shrugged. They knew the family. In 1995, Uncle Tsarni incorporated in the US a group called the Congress of Chechen International Organizations, which helped supply Islamist insurgents in Chechnya with items like mine-resistant combat boots. The organization was registered at Whisperwood Ln in Rockville MD, the home of Graham Fuller, the one-time vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA under President Reagan.

Fuller retired from the CIA in 1988, after stints in Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, North Yemen, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong, including station chief in Kabul. Fuller was propelled into retirement by the Iran-Contra scandal, since he was widely identified during the political uproar of 1986-87 as the CIA official who first proposed a back-channel approach to Iran, which led to the arms sales whose proceeds ultimately were used to finance the Nicaraguan Contras. Fuller was working at the RAND Corporation, a well-known CIA and Pentagon contractor, when Ruslan Tsarni incorporated his Chechen group at Fuller’s home.

When the FBI was tipped off by the Russians about the Tsarnaev brothers, they were a known quantity, people connected by blood and marriage to the highest levels of the intelligence apparatus. Graham Fuller mentions his daughter’s marriage to Tsarni in his memoir, "Three Truths and a Lie", published in paperback last year. He confirmed this connection to the uncle of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers in a recent interview with Laura Rozen on a Mideast-oriented news service with links to such pillars of US foreign policy as the Institute for Strategic and International Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations. Fuller told Rozen that it was “absurd” to suggest any link between Ruslan Tsarni and the CIA, based on these connections. As for any link to the bombers, he said, “I for one was astonished at the events, and to find myself at two degrees of separation from them.”

On June 13, 2013 the "New YorkTimes" published an op-ed column on “Turkey’s Growing Pains,” portraying protests as a healthy sign of “the further maturing of Turkish politics.” The author was Graham E. Fuller, described as “a former vice chairman of the C.I.A.’s National Intelligence Council.” The Times was discreetly silent on Fuller’s and the CIA's connection to Tsarni, and the Brothers Tsarnaev. A minor point of interest to them. The explanation - "All the News that fits, we print."

Don't expect any CIA agents to be called as character witnesses, or to explain why the Brothers Tsarnaev were able to carry out the biggest terrorist attack on the US since 911. The NSA did nothing with the warning about the Chechen Islamists. The vast spy system is not concerned with real Islamic attackers.
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
12 Mar 2014
Click on image for a larger version

NSA a 035.jpg
How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware
By Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald 12 Mar 2014, 9:19 AM

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/03/12/nsa-plans-infect-m/

Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.

The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans. The automated system – codenamed TURBINE – is designed to “allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually.”

In a top-secret presentation, dated August 2009, the NSA describes a pre-programmed part of the covert infrastructure called the “Expert System,” which is designed to operate “like the brain.” The system manages the applications and functions of the implants and “decides” what tools they need to best extract data from infected machines.

Mikko Hypponen, an expert in malware who serves as chief research officer at the Finnish security firm F-Secure, calls the revelations “disturbing.” The NSA’s surveillance techniques, he warns, could inadvertently be undermining the security of the Internet.

“When they deploy malware on systems,” Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”

Hypponen believes that governments could arguably justify using malware in a small number of targeted cases against adversaries. But millions of malware implants being deployed by the NSA as part of an automated process, he says, would be “out of control.”

“That would definitely not be proportionate,” Hypponen says. “It couldn’t possibly be targeted and named. It sounds like wholesale infection and wholesale surveillance.”

The NSA declined to answer questions about its deployment of implants, pointing to a new presidential policy directive announced by President Obama. “As the president made clear on 17 January,” the agency said in a statement, “signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions, and not for any other purposes.”


“Owning the Net”

The NSA began rapidly escalating its hacking efforts a decade ago. In 2004, according to secret internal records, the agency was managing a small network of only 100 to 150 implants. But over the next six to eight years, as an elite unit called Tailored Access Operations (TAO) recruited new hackers and developed new malware tools, the number of implants soared to tens of thousands.

To penetrate foreign computer networks and monitor communications that it did not have access to through other means, the NSA wanted to go beyond the limits of traditional signals intelligence, or SIGINT, the agency’s term for the interception of electronic communications. Instead, it sought to broaden “active” surveillance methods – tactics designed to directly infiltrate a target’s computers or network devices.

In the documents, the agency describes such techniques as “a more aggressive approach to SIGINT” and says that the TAO unit’s mission is to “aggressively scale” these operations.

But the NSA recognized that managing a massive network of implants is too big a job for humans alone.

“One of the greatest challenges for active SIGINT/attack is scale,” explains the top-secret presentation from 2009. “Human ‘drivers’ limit ability for large-scale exploitation (humans tend to operate within their own environment, not taking into account the bigger picture).”

The agency’s solution was TURBINE. Developed as part of TAO unit, it is described in the leaked documents as an “intelligent command and control capability” that enables “industrial-scale exploitation.”

TURBINE was designed to make deploying malware much easier for the NSA’s hackers by reducing their role in overseeing its functions. The system would “relieve the user from needing to know/care about the details,” the NSA’s Technology Directorate notes in one secret document from 2009. “For example, a user should be able to ask for ‘all details about application X’ and not need to know how and where the application keeps files, registry entries, user application data, etc.”

In practice, this meant that TURBINE would automate crucial processes that previously had to be performed manually – including the configuration of the implants as well as surveillance collection, or “tasking,” of data from infected systems. But automating these processes was about much more than a simple technicality. The move represented a major tactical shift within the NSA that was expected to have a profound impact – allowing the agency to push forward into a new frontier of surveillance operations.

The ramifications are starkly illustrated in one undated top-secret NSA document, which describes how the agency planned for TURBINE to “increase the current capability to deploy and manage hundreds of Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) and Computer Network Attack (CNA) implants to potentially millions of implants.” (CNE mines intelligence from computers and networks; CNA seeks to disrupt, damage or destroy them.)

Eventually, the secret files indicate, the NSA’s plans for TURBINE came to fruition. The system has been operational in some capacity since at least July 2010, and its role has become increasingly central to NSA hacking operations.

Earlier reports based on the Snowden files indicate that the NSA has already deployed between 85,000 and 100,000 of its implants against computers and networks across the world, with plans to keep on scaling up those numbers.

The intelligence community’s top-secret “Black Budget” for 2013, obtained by Snowden, lists TURBINE as part of a broader NSA surveillance initiative named “Owning the Net.”

The agency sought $67.6 million in taxpayer funding for its Owning the Net program last year. Some of the money was earmarked for TURBINE, expanding the system to encompass “a wider variety” of networks and “enabling greater automation of computer network exploitation.”


Circumventing Encryption

The NSA has a diverse arsenal of malware tools, each highly sophisticated and customizable for different purposes.

One implant, codenamed UNITEDRAKE, can be used with a variety of “plug-ins” that enable the agency to gain total control of an infected computer.

An implant plug-in named CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE, for example, is used to take over a targeted computer’s microphone and record conversations taking place near the device. Another, GUMFISH, can covertly take over a computer’s webcam and snap photographs. FOGGYBOTTOM records logs of Internet browsing histories and collects login details and passwords used to access websites and email accounts. GROK is used to log keystrokes. And SALVAGERABBIT exfiltrates data from removable flash drives that connect to an infected computer.

The implants can enable the NSA to circumvent privacy-enhancing encryption tools that are used to browse the Internet anonymously or scramble the contents of emails as they are being sent across networks. That’s because the NSA’s malware gives the agency unfettered access to a target’s computer before the user protects their communications with encryption.

It is unclear how many of the implants are being deployed on an annual basis or which variants of them are currently active in computer systems across the world.

Previous reports have alleged that the NSA worked with Israel to develop the Stuxnet malware, which was used to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities. The agency also reportedly worked with Israel to deploy malware called Flame to infiltrate computers and spy on communications in countries across the Middle East.

According to the Snowden files, the technology has been used to seek out terror suspects as well as individuals regarded by the NSA as “extremist.” But the mandate of the NSA’s hackers is not limited to invading the systems of those who pose a threat to national security.

In one secret post on an internal message board, an operative from the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate describes using malware attacks against systems administrators who work at foreign phone and Internet service providers. By hacking an administrator’s computer, the agency can gain covert access to communications that are processed by his company. “Sys admins are a means to an end,” the NSA operative writes.

The internal post – titled “I hunt sys admins” – makes clear that terrorists aren’t the only targets of such NSA attacks. Compromising a systems administrator, the operative notes, makes it easier to get to other targets of interest, including any “government official that happens to be using the network some admin takes care of.”

Similar tactics have been adopted by Government Communications Headquarters, the NSA’s British counterpart. As the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported in September, GCHQ hacked computers belonging to network engineers at Belgacom, the Belgian telecommunications provider.

The mission, codenamed “Operation Socialist,” was designed to enable GCHQ to monitor mobile phones connected to Belgacom’s network. The secret files deem the mission a “success,” and indicate that the agency had the ability to covertly access Belgacom’s systems since at least 2010.

Infiltrating cellphone networks, however, is not all that the malware can be used to accomplish. The NSA has specifically tailored some of its implants to infect large-scale network routers used by Internet service providers in foreign countries. By compromising routers – the devices that connect computer networks and transport data packets across the Internet – the agency can gain covert access to monitor Internet traffic, record the browsing sessions of users, and intercept communications.

Two implants the NSA injects into network routers, HAMMERCHANT and HAMMERSTEIN, help the agency to intercept and perform “exploitation attacks” against data that is sent through a Virtual Private Network, a tool that uses encrypted “tunnels” to enhance the security and privacy of an Internet session.

The implants also track phone calls sent across the network via Skype and other Voice Over IP software, revealing the username of the person making the call. If the audio of the VOIP conversation is sent over the Internet using unencrypted “Real-time Transport Protocol” packets, the implants can covertly record the audio data and then return it to the NSA for analysis.

But not all of the NSA’s implants are used to gather intelligence, the secret files show. Sometimes, the agency’s aim is disruption rather than surveillance. QUANTUMSKY, a piece of NSA malware developed in 2004, is used to block targets from accessing certain websites. QUANTUMCOPPER, first tested in 2008, corrupts a target’s file downloads. These two “attack” techniques are revealed on a classified list that features nine NSA hacking tools, six of which are used for intelligence gathering. Just one is used for “defensive” purposes – to protect U.S. government networks against intrusions.


“Mass exploitation potential”

Before it can extract data from an implant or use it to attack a system, the NSA must first install the malware on a targeted computer or network.

According to one top-secret document from 2012, the agency can deploy malware by sending out spam emails that trick targets into clicking a malicious link. Once activated, a “back-door implant” infects their computers within eight seconds.

There’s only one problem with this tactic, codenamed WILLOWVIXEN: According to the documents, the spam method has become less successful in recent years, as Internet users have become wary of unsolicited emails and less likely to click on anything that looks suspicious.

Consequently, the NSA has turned to new and more advanced hacking techniques. These include performing so-called “man-in-the-middle” and “man-on-the-side” attacks, which covertly force a user’s internet browser to route to NSA computer servers that try to infect them with an implant.

To perform a man-on-the-side attack, the NSA observes a target’s Internet traffic using its global network of covert “accesses” to data as it flows over fiber optic cables or satellites. When the target visits a website that the NSA is able to exploit, the agency’s surveillance sensors alert the TURBINE system, which then “shoots” data packets at the targeted computer’s IP address within a fraction of a second.

In one man-on-the-side technique, codenamed QUANTUMHAND, the agency disguises itself as a fake Facebook server. When a target attempts to log in to the social media site, the NSA transmits malicious data packets that trick the target’s computer into thinking they are being sent from the real Facebook. By concealing its malware within what looks like an ordinary Facebook page, the NSA is able to hack into the targeted computer and covertly siphon out data from its hard drive. A top-secret animation demonstrates the tactic in action.

The documents show that QUANTUMHAND became operational in October 2010, after being successfully tested by the NSA against about a dozen targets.

According to Matt Blaze, a surveillance and cryptography expert at the University of Pennsylvania, it appears that the QUANTUMHAND technique is aimed at targeting specific individuals. But he expresses concerns about how it has been covertly integrated within Internet networks as part of the NSA’s automated TURBINE system.

“As soon as you put this capability in the backbone infrastructure, the software and security engineer in me says that’s terrifying,” Blaze says.

“Forget about how the NSA is intending to use it. How do we know it is working correctly and only targeting who the NSA wants? And even if it does work correctly, which is itself a really dubious assumption, how is it controlled?”

In an email statement to The Intercept, Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow said the company had “no evidence of this alleged activity.” He added that Facebook implemented HTTPS encryption for users last year, making browsing sessions less vulnerable to malware attacks.

Nancarrow also pointed out that other services besides Facebook could have been compromised by the NSA. “If government agencies indeed have privileged access to network service providers,” he said, “any site running only [unencrypted] HTTP could conceivably have its traffic misdirected.”

A man-in-the-middle attack is a similar but slightly more aggressive method that can be used by the NSA to deploy its malware. It refers to a hacking technique in which the agency covertly places itself between computers as they are communicating with each other.

This allows the NSA not only to observe and redirect browsing sessions, but to modify the content of data packets that are passing between computers.

The man-in-the-middle tactic can be used, for instance, to covertly change the content of a message as it is being sent between two people, without either knowing that any change has been made by a third party. The same technique is sometimes used by criminal hackers to defraud people.

A top-secret NSA presentation from 2012 reveals that the agency developed a man-in-the-middle capability called SECONDDATE to “influence real-time communications between client and server” and to “quietly redirect web-browsers” to NSA malware servers called FOXACID. In October, details about the FOXACID system were reported by the Guardian, which revealed its links to attacks against users of the Internet anonymity service Tor.

But SECONDDATE is tailored not only for “surgical” surveillance attacks on individual suspects. It can also be used to launch bulk malware attacks against computers.

According to the 2012 presentation, the tactic has “mass exploitation potential for clients passing through network choke points.”

Blaze, the University of Pennsylvania surveillance expert, says the potential use of man-in-the-middle attacks on such a scale “seems very disturbing.” Such an approach would involve indiscriminately monitoring entire networks as opposed to targeting individual suspects.

“The thing that raises a red flag for me is the reference to ‘network choke points,’” he says. “That’s the last place that we should be allowing intelligence agencies to compromise the infrastructure – because that is by definition a mass surveillance technique.”

To deploy some of its malware implants, the NSA exploits security vulnerabilities in commonly used Internet browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.

The agency’s hackers also exploit security weaknesses in network routers and in popular software plugins such as Flash and Java to deliver malicious code onto targeted machines.

The implants can circumvent anti-virus programs, and the NSA has gone to extreme lengths to ensure that its clandestine technology is extremely difficult to detect. An implant named VALIDATOR, used by the NSA to upload and download data to and from an infected machine, can be set to self-destruct – deleting itself from an infected computer after a set time expires.

In many cases, firewalls and other security measures do not appear to pose much of an obstacle to the NSA. Indeed, the agency’s hackers appear confident in their ability to circumvent any security mechanism that stands between them and compromising a computer or network. “If we can get the target to visit us in some sort of web browser, we can probably own them,” an agency hacker boasts in one secret document. “The only limitation is the ‘how.’”


Covert Infrastructure

The TURBINE implants system does not operate in isolation.

It is linked to, and relies upon, a large network of clandestine surveillance “sensors” that the agency has installed at locations across the world.

The NSA’s headquarters in Maryland are part of this network, as are eavesdropping bases used by the agency in Misawa, Japan and Menwith Hill, England.

The sensors, codenamed TURMOIL, operate as a sort of high-tech surveillance dragnet, monitoring packets of data as they are sent across the Internet.

When TURBINE implants exfiltrate data from infected computer systems, the TURMOIL sensors automatically identify the data and return it to the NSA for analysis. And when targets are communicating, the TURMOIL system can be used to send alerts or “tips” to TURBINE, enabling the initiation of a malware attack.

The NSA identifies surveillance targets based on a series of data “selectors” as they flow across Internet cables. These selectors, according to internal documents, can include email addresses, IP addresses, or the unique “cookies” containing a username or other identifying information that are sent to a user’s computer by websites such as Google, Facebook, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Twitter.

Other selectors the NSA uses can be gleaned from unique Google advertising cookies that track browsing habits, unique encryption key fingerprints that can be traced to a specific user, and computer IDs that are sent across the Internet when a Windows computer crashes or updates.

What’s more, the TURBINE system operates with the knowledge and support of other governments, some of which have participated in the malware attacks.

Classification markings on the Snowden documents indicate that NSA has shared many of its files on the use of implants with its counterparts in the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance – the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

GCHQ, the British agency, has taken on a particularly important role in helping to develop the malware tactics. The Menwith Hill satellite eavesdropping base that is part of the TURMOIL network, located in a rural part of Northern England, is operated by the NSA in close cooperation with GCHQ.

Top-secret documents show that the British base – referred to by the NSA as “MHS” for Menwith Hill Station – is an integral component of the TURBINE malware infrastructure and has been used to experiment with implant “exploitation” attacks against users of Yahoo and Hotmail.

In one document dated 2010, at least five variants of the QUANTUM hacking method were listed as being “operational” at Menwith Hill. The same document also reveals that GCHQ helped integrate three of the QUANTUM malware capabilities – and test two others – as part of a surveillance system it operates codenamed INSENSER.

GCHQ cooperated with the hacking attacks despite having reservations about their legality. One of the Snowden files, previously disclosed by Swedish broadcaster SVT, revealed that as recently as April 2013, GCHQ was apparently reluctant to get involved in deploying the QUANTUM malware due to “legal/policy restrictions.” A representative from a unit of the British surveillance agency, meeting with an obscure telecommunications standards committee in 2010, separately voiced concerns that performing “active” hacking attacks for surveillance “may be illegal” under British law.

In response to questions from The Intercept, GCHQ refused to comment on its involvement in the covert hacking operations. Citing its boilerplate response to inquiries, the agency said in a statement that “all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight.”

Whatever the legalities of the United Kingdom and United States infiltrating computer networks, the Snowden files bring into sharp focus the broader implications. Under cover of secrecy and without public debate, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of aggressive surveillance techniques. One of the NSA’s primary concerns, in fact, appears to be that its clandestine tactics are now being adopted by foreign rivals, too.

“Hacking routers has been good business for us and our 5-eyes partners for some time,” notes one NSA analyst in a top-secret document dated December 2012. “But it is becoming more apparent that other nation states are honing their skillz [sic] and joining the scene.”

———

Documents published with this article:

Menwith Hill Station Leverages XKeyscore for Quantum Against Yahoo and Hotmail
Five Eyes Hacking Large Routers
NSA Technology Directorate Analysis of Converged Data
Selector Types
There Is More Than One Way to Quantum
NSA Phishing Tactics and Man in the Middle Attacks
Quantum Insert Diagrams
The NSA and GCHQ’s QUANTUMTHEORY Hacking Tactics
TURBINE and TURMOIL
VPN and VOIP Exploitation With HAMMERCHANT and HAMMERSTEIN
Industrial-Scale Exploitation
Thousands of Implants
Re: The Murders Before the Marathon
13 Mar 2014
eye black and white.bmp
Volunteers in metadata study called gun stores, strip clubs, and more http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/03/volunteers-in-metadata-study-/

Since November 2013, researchers at Stanford University have been asking: What’s in your metadata?

Specifically, the study encouraged volunteers who also used Facebook to install an app called MetaPhone on their Android phones. The app was designed to act as a sort of slimmed-down version of the National Security Agency by attempting to gather the same metadata collected by telecom firms, and in turn, intelligence agencies. Volunteers who chose to participate allowed the researchers access to their calling and texting data, the date and time, and the duration of the call.

Since late last year, the team has been releasing interim results from the 546 people that chose to participate. On Wednesday, the team released its latest and most complete findings and was startled by what it found.

“At the outset of this study, we shared the same hypothesis as our computer science colleagues—we thought phone metadata could be very sensitive,” Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student leading the project, wrote on Wednesday.

“We did not anticipate finding much evidence one way or the other, however, since the MetaPhone participant population is small, and participants only provide a few months of phone activity on average. We were wrong. We found that phone metadata is unambiguously sensitive, even in a small population and over a short time window. We were able to infer medical conditions, firearm ownership, and more, using solely phone metadata.”

Mayer explained to Ars by phone that given the small sample size and the study duration of only a few months, the team had originally hypothesized that the information gathered would not be as revealing.

“I think it's very certainly strongly suggestive that a larger pool that spans more time would have remarkably more sensitive information in it,” he added.

The new results provide a strong, research-based analytical counterweight to the government assertion that metadata is somehow less revelatory than capturing actual call data.
A likely abortion?

So what was revealed, precisely? Mayer and his team showed that participants called public numbers of “Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more.”

The researchers were even surprised that they had real-world results to support a classic nightmare scenario feared by many civil libertarians and privacy activists.

Participant A communicated with multiple local neurology groups, a specialty pharmacy, a rare condition management service, and a hotline for a pharmaceutical used solely to treat relapsing multiple sclerosis.

Participant B spoke at length with cardiologists at a major medical center, talked briefly with a medical laboratory, received calls from a pharmacy, and placed short calls to a home reporting hotline for a medical device used to monitor cardiac arrhythmia.

Participant C made a number of calls to a firearm store that specializes in the AR semiautomatic rifle platform. They also spoke at length with customer service for a firearm manufacturer that produces an AR line.

In a span of three weeks, Participant D contacted a home improvement store, locksmiths, a hydroponics dealer, and a head shop.

Participant E had a long, early morning call with her sister. Two days later, she placed a series of calls to the local Planned Parenthood location. She placed brief additional calls two weeks later, and made a final call a month after.

And the most surprising second step was the fact that these privacy researchers decided not to follow up with some of these willing voluntary participants.

“We were able to corroborate Participant B’s medical condition and Participant C’s firearm ownership using public information sources,” the team added. “Owing to the sensitivity of these matters, we elected to not contact Participants A, D, or E for confirmation.”
“Metadata surveillance endangers privacy”

Privacy activists and lawyers immediately lauded the Stanford findings.

Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society where Mayer is affiliated, concluded that this study “adds important empirical evidence to support what is now a growing consensus. Metadata surveillance endangers privacy.”

Meanwhile, Brian Pascal, who is a non-resident fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told Ars that it’s surprising that even those who knew they were being monitored appeared to not “skew calling habits towards the bland.”

“However, this does not appear to be the case,” he added. “For example, 2 percent of participants called ‘adult establishments,’ knowing that their calling metadata was being recorded. It’s not difficult to imagine that some users, knowing that MetaPhone gathers this information, might change their calling habits. Without a control group, though, it’s impossible to know just how much MetaPhone (or surveillance in general) changes behavior. Admittedly, MetaPhone focuses more on illustrating just how powerful metadata can be, rather than on the impact of surveillance on personal choice, but it’s an interesting implication nonetheless.”

Others drew a clear line between this work and the NSA’s rationale for collect-it-all.

“This just confirms what everyone's intuition suggested—phone metadata is incredibly revealing. It's great to have some empirical evidence to back up that intuition, and it only reinforces the intrusiveness of the NSA's mass collection of Americans' call records.”

“This is striking,” Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, told Ars by e-mail.

“It highlights three key points. First, that the key part of the NSA’s argument—we weren’t collecting sensitive information so what is the bother?—is factually wrong. Second, that the NSA and the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court failed to think this through; after all, it only takes a little common sense to realize that sweeping up all numbers called will inevitably reveal sensitive information. Of course the record of every call made and received is going to implicate privacy. And third, it lays bare the fallacy of the Supreme Court’s mind-numbingly broad wording of the third-party doctrine in an age of big data: just because I reveal data for one purpose—to make a phone call—does not mean that I have no legitimate interest in that information, especially when combined with other data points about me.”