Eighteen states sue Betsy DeVos for suspending rules on for-profit colleges

Democratic attorneys general target Donald Trump’s education secretary over her plan to rewrite Obama-era measures to protect students

Democratic attorneys general in 18 states and the District of Columbia on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s controversial choice for education secretary, over her decision to suspend rules meant to protect students from abuses by for-profit colleges.

Related: Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt forgiveness. Surprised? | Jamie Peck

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Facebook’s Tough-on-Terror Talk Overlooks White Extremists

Publicly-traded companies don’t typically need to issue statements saying that they do not support terrorism. But Facebook is no ordinary company; its sheer scale means it is credited as a force capable of swaying elections, commerce, and, yes, violent radicalization. In June, the social network published an article outlining its counter-terrorism policy, stating unequivocally that “There’s no place on Facebook for terrorism.” Bad news for foreign plotters and jihadis, maybe, but what about Americans who want violence in America?

In its post, Facebook said it will use a combination of artificial-intelligence-enabled scanning and “human expertise” to “keep terrorist content off Facebook, something we have not talked about publicly before.” The detailed article takes what seems to be a zero-tolerance stance on terrorism-related content:

We remove terrorists and posts that support terrorism whenever we become aware of them. When we receive reports of potential terrorism posts, we review those reports urgently and with scrutiny. And in the rare cases when we uncover evidence of imminent harm, we promptly inform authorities. Although academic research finds that the radicalization of members of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda primarily occurs offline, we know that the internet does play a role — and we don’t want Facebook to be used for any terrorist activity whatsoever.

Keeping the (to put it mildly) highly-motivated membership of ISIS and Al Qaeda off any site is no small feat; replacing a banned account or deleted post with a new one is a cinch. But if Facebook is serious about refusing violent radicals a seat at the table, it’s only doing half its job, as the site remains a cozy home for domestic — let’s be frank: white — extremists in the United States, whose views and hopes are often no less heinous and gory than those of the Islamic State.

In Facebook’s post, ISIS and Al Qaeda are mentioned by name 11 times, while the word “domestic” doesn’t appear once, nor are U.S.-based terror networks referenced in any other way. That gap in the company’s counter-extremism policy is curious.

In January 2016, a band of armed militants led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy entered and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. Members of the group, with ties to armed, extremist “patriot” groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, said they wanted to shift federal land to local control, and at one point Ryan Bundy told a reporter the group was willing to kill or die if necessary. It would take little work to draw a clear through line from the movement that spawned Timothy McVeigh to the loose confederation around the Bundy family. One of the radicals posted a “goodbye” video to YouTube, taking as a given that he would be slain by the government during the occupation. Between their assault rifles and their implicitly violent rhetoric, opinion pieces at Newsweek, the Washington Post, and CNN all argued that the occupiers were domestic terrorists.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy had earned extremist cachet prior to the Oregon takeover, when, in 2014, they joined with supporters (many of them armed) and their father Cliven Bundy to chase off agents of the Bureau of Land Management who were trying to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s cattle in connection with delinquent grazing fees. Senator Harry Reid at the time denounced the ideologues as “nothing more than domestic terrorists” who do “not recognize the United States.”

And indeed, many in the “Patriot Movement” also consider themselves “sovereign citizens,” a logically bankrupt (and sometimes violent) strain of anti-government anger in which you simply declares yourself exempt from American laws and, in particular, the payment of taxes. At MSNBC, a former ATF agent described his work with homegrown extremists like those at Malheur:

“We worked them under the classification of domestic terrorism. There is the umbrella federal crime of terrorism, and domestic terrorism is a classification we used against any homegrown group which intends to coerce or intimidate through threats or acts of violence.”

It’s worth noting that Ammon Bundy and five of his followers were, surprisingly, acquitted of federal charges stemming from their occupation of the reserve, while federal charges in connection with the Nevada case remain tied up in court following a mistrial. Still, had the group’s members been born in Pakistan or Syria, Harney County would probably resemble the surface of the moon right now. American radicals like the Bundy clan are cuter about their fantasies of destroying the federal government than, say, ISIS, who of course won’t hesitate to explicitly call for violent attacks using every medium at their disposal. Domestic extremists are sometimes more careful about their words, and rely on insinuations and dog whistles rather than overt threats, and American gun culture makes it easy to camouflage violent speech within political speech. But what is an online call for armed reinforcements and a willingness to shed blood (or die) if confronted by police if not a threat?

 

Throughout the entire ordeal, the occupiers (and their sympathizers nationwide) made extensive use of the social web (including Facebook) to coordinate and spread their message  (the Bundy Ranch Facebook group has nearly 200,000 followers today). Federal prosecutors and investigators with the FBI’s Domestic Terorrism Operations Unit zeroed in on the occupiers’ use of Facebook, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported at the time. Since the occupation, finding anti-government extremism on Facebook remains easy. This seems at odds with Facebook’s zero-tolerance policy.

Asked whether the company is as committed to combating white extremists as jihadists, a Facebook spokersperson reiterated that the company’s policy was to refuse a presence to any person or group who supports a violent agenda. When asked about specific entities like the Bundy family, the spokesperson replied “I can’t speak to the specific groups you cited, but, again, if a group has engaged in acts of violence, we don’t want to give them a voice on Facebook.” So what’s violence, then? “Does Facebook,” I asked, “consider the armed takeover of a federal building to be an act of violence?” The company’s reply: “I don’t have an answer on that.” Brian Fishman, a co-author of the Facebook company post on terrorism, did not answer a request for comment.

Daryl Johnson is a former Homeland Security analyst who spent years studying domestic threats to the United States. Johnson told The Intercept that although “not all extremists are violent,” treating domestic threats as something distinct from the likes of ISIS for policy purposes “on the surface makes sense, but if you start comparing and contrasting, it doesn’t.” Domestic extremists “are using social media sites as platforms to put forth their extreme ideas and a violent agenda, enabling people to recruit and spread” their ideology—an ideology that Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center said is as dangerous as any threat from the Middle East. “It’s as though terrorism can’t be white,” Beirich told The Intercept after reviewing the Facebook post. “They’re willing to go hardcore against ISIS and Al Qaeda, but where’s the response to white supremacism and its role in domestic terrorism or anti-government crazies?” To Beirich, “What this article is saying is how we counter Islamic terrorism,” not terrorism per se:

My position is this is outrageous. Terrorism from the Dylan Roofs of the world is as much of a problem here in the United States as it is from the Tsarnaev brothers. The bodies stacked on both sides is about the same since 9/11. I  don’t understand why they can’t see that. It’s worrying to me because it plays into the narrative as though all terrorism is coming from radical Islam, which is a false narrative. This adds to that, and it takes our eye off the ball in terms of where terrorism comes from..a large chunk of our domestic terrorism is committed by folks with beliefs like those at the Bundy Ranch or Malheur occupation.

Without further comment from Facebook, one can only speculate about why ISIS gets top billing and Bundy supporters do not—but little speculation is needed. A beheading video or pipe bomb instruction image are no-brainers for content moderators, while posts about armed anti-government sedition are perhaps murkier (especially if Facebook is going to let algorithms do the heavy lifting). Labeling right-wing extremism as terrorism would also likely cause a public relations migraine Facebook doesn’t care for, particularly after reports of how it filters out bogus right-wing news sources have already tarnished its image on the right.

All of this is to say that the work ahead of Facebook, if it really does want to be serious about combating terrorism, is extremely difficult, and given the company’s track record, may well be fumbled. Preventing Facebook from being a place where anti-government radicals can comfortably spread an ideology of implicit violence feels reasonable, while blocking discussions about these figures and ideologies — in everything from academic or journalistic contexts to your dad’s News Feed — would not. When does sympathy for an armed radical group become support? When (if ever) does Facebook-cheering a violent group become complicity in the violence? This is deeply complex and horribly fraught, whether you’re looking at Mosul or Montana. Facebook knows this, which is why its article on moderating extremist content is titled “Hard Questions.” Facebook also knows that an overly broad crackdown on foreign terrorism would provoke the tiniest fraction of backlash compared to clamping down on right-wing white America, where love of assault rifle ownership and hatred for government are shared in polite society. But hard questions deserve better than cop outs, which is exactly what ignoring white, domestic terrorism amounts to: a cop out. If the company wants to live up to its commitments here, it will require even harder work, harder thinking, harder scrutiny, and harder debates. Yes, it might require sometimes banning extremists in cowboy hats.

The post Facebook’s Tough-on-Terror Talk Overlooks White Extremists appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump v CNN: what conservative writers are saying about an epic wrestling match

Rightwing writers offer some uncomfortable questions about the channel’s behavior following the president’s much-discussed tweet

This week was marked by a spiralling conflict between the president and his least favorite cable news outlet, CNN.

Last week, a Reddit user posted a meme featuring Trump appearing to wrestle CNN. The meme was then tweeted by the president himself.

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Paid FBI Informant Leading Counterterror Case Ran Wire Fraud Scams on the Side

A confidential informant who helped ensnare three Florida men as ISIS supporters in an FBI sting was simultaneously running wire fraud scams on the side.

Gregory HubbardDayne Antani Christian, and Darren Arness Jackson all lived in or near West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s unclear how they first met the FBI’s informant, Mohammed Agbareia, but according to FBI documents, Hubbard and Agbareia were friendly enough by April 2015 that Hubbard felt comfortable emailing him a 100-page e-book published by ISIS.

Hubbard had told Agbareia that he wanted to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group. “You do not want to get busted on the way there,” Hubbard told him.

Hubbard introduced Agbareia to Christian and Jackson. For months, they talked about jihad, schemed about ways to join ISIS, and fired guns at targets. Christian, a convicted felon who had made false statements on paperwork to buy guns and was not permitted to possess firearms, sold an AK-47 to Agbareia.

In July 2016, Hubbard and Agbareia purchased plane tickets to Germany, ostensibly the first leg of their journey to Syria. Jackson drove Hubbard and Agbareia to Miami International Airport, at which point Jackson, Hubbard, and Christian were arrested and charged with providing material support to ISIS. Christian was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Jackson and Christian have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Hubbard has elected to go to trial.

The government has stonewalled efforts by defense lawyers to acquire the identity of and information about Agbareia under rules of evidence that require prosecutors to disclose information that would be helpful to a defendant’s case.

According to court records, Agbareia began working for the FBI only after being convicted in U.S. District Court in Alabama for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

In 2004, Agbareia, who was then in Canada, called the Islamic Society of Mobile claiming to be a man named Dr. Mohammed Salem Al-Saleh from the Islamic Bank of Development in Saudi Arabia. Agbareia told Husam Omar, the vice president of the Mobile religious organization, that the Islamic Bank of Development was offering financial support and that an associate named Zouhair Hissy would be in Alabama soon to finalize a payment. The next day, Agbareia called again, this time claiming to be Hissy. He told Omar that he and his wife were stranded in Canada and needed money to purchase tickets to continue the journey to Alabama. Omar sent Agbareia $1,500 by Western Union. Of course, no one came to Alabama. It was a scam.

After pleading guilty to the wire fraud case in March 2006, Agbareia was ordered to report to immigration authorities for possible deportation. But instead of being removed from the United States, Agbareia signed up with the FBI.

Even while working for federal law enforcement — and while leading a counterterrorism sting against Hubbard, Christian, and Jackson — Agbareia continued his scamming ways. According to a new wire fraud indictment handed down in Florida on June 27, Agbareia has continued to swindle people with his stranded traveler scheme. He received six Western Union wire transfers from 2012 to 2017 from victims in Texas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, and Germany. Two of the wire transfers — one for $1,414.26 from Berlin and another for $1,000 from Brooklyn — occurred around the time he was working undercover in the FBI’s ISIS sting.

Agbareia could not be reached. His lawyer, Donnie Murrell, did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that there are intersections between Agbareia’s scams and his undercover work for the FBI. In a filing, federal prosecutor Jared M. Strauss has asked that evidence against Agbareia be placed under a protective order because “certain portions of the case relate to a matter of national security.”

That should be news to the defense lawyers who represent Hubbard, Christian, and Jackson. Despite two of the defendants already having pleaded guilty, federal prosecutors have yet to come clean about Agbareia.

In a March 14 hearing, Hubbard’s defense lawyer, Vanessa Chen, explained that she and her co-counsel had been requesting information about Agbareia since the fall of 2016. “Because this is a proactive prosecution on the part of the FBI, as opposed to a reactive one, that underscores the importance of the information regarding the confidential informant,” Chen told the judge. “In essence, this is the catalyst and crux of their case.”

Federal prosecutors’ position has been that they do not have an obligation to provide information about the FBI’s informant so far in advance of a trial, since Hubbard’s is not scheduled until October 30. “In a national security case at this point, I mean, we understand our obligations to turn it over, but the trial is in late October,” federal prosecutor Edward Nucci said in the March 14 hearing. The judge in the case has since set a July 31 deadline for prosecutors to turn over information about Agbareia.

Federal prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment. Anthony J. Natale, who is Chen’s co-counsel in defending Hubbard, also declined to comment. “Anything we have to say on this matter we will say in our pleadings or in our court hearings,” Natale added. Lawyers representing Christian and Jackson did not respond to a request for comment.

This is the latest in a long list of cases in which the FBI has struggled to curb the criminal activity of its more than 15,000 informants. An FBI report disclosed in 2011 found that agents permitted informants to break the law 5,658 times in a single year. In counterterrorism cases, informants violating the law without the FBI’s permission — as was the case here with Agbareia — is not an uncommon occurrence. Elie Assaad, who worked the Liberty City Seven case in Miami and at least one other counterterrorism sting, was arrested for choking his pregnant wife around the time he was undercover with the FBI. The charges were dropped after Assaad’s wife changed her mind about prosecuting. In another example, the informant who led a counterterrorism sting against a Massachusetts man named Rezwan Ferdaus purchased heroin while on FBI video.

In Agbareia’s case, federal prosecutors are asking the judge to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act to protect some evidence, including testimony from the defendant’s wife and son, from public release. Agbareia’s lawyer, Murrell, noted in a June 30 filing that federal prosecutors haven’t specified the level of classification — top secret, secret or confidential — the evidence involves, raising questions that the information “is not ‘classified’ simply because it might embarrass law enforcement or in some way hinder prosecution of this or other cases.”

Federal prosecutors have requested Agbareia’s witnesses disclose upfront the testimony they intend to offer, giving the U.S. Attorney’s Office an opportunity to agree to the release of “a stipulated, declassified summary of that information.” In other words, federal prosecutors want to use claims of classified evidence to control the information Agbareia can use in his defense.

Top photo: A pedestrian walks past American Flags hanging on display outside the FBI headquarters in Washington on Thursday, May 11, 2017.

The post Paid FBI Informant Leading Counterterror Case Ran Wire Fraud Scams on the Side appeared first on The Intercept.

An arms race has engulfed the West, but the Warriors are still kings of the NBA

It’s been less than a week since the free agency period began, but there have already been seismic shifts in the Western Conference

Free agency isn’t even a week old and we may have already seen the smartest decision of the offseason, at least from a player’s perspective. Being successful in the NBA, and pretty much all sports really, involves putting yourself in the best possible position to win. Case in point: the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward making the wise decision to hightail it out of the Western Conference and signing with the Boston Celtics on a four-year, $128m contract.

While Hayward was mulling over whether to stay with the Jazz or sign with the Celtics or Heat, there was a flurry of activity in the Western Conference. Starting with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ surprise trade for the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, teams in the West have been making moves as if this were some escalating arms race. It’s been a wild stretch of signings, speculation and instant-analysis as teams attempt to put together a roster that might not get their butts completely kicked if they have to face Golden State.

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Greg Gianforte: Trump’s CNN ‘body-slam’ tweet just a ‘distraction’

Congressman who assaulted Guardian reporter says Trump administration is ‘doing good work’ after tweet shows president attacking CNN proxy

The Montana congressman Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to the assault of a Guardian reporter, has said Donald Trump’s tweet of himself body-slamming a CNN proxy was only a “distraction” from “good work” being done by the president.

Related: Trump accused of encouraging attacks on journalists with CNN body-slam tweet

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