Monday, October 22, 2018

Social Security Administration Inspector General Warns Public About Caller-ID “Spoofing” Scheme Misusing SSA Customer Service Number


Andrew Cannarsa, the OIG communications director, offers the below:

 The Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone, is warning citizens about an ongoing caller-ID “spoofing” scheme misusing the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) national customer service phone number. SSA has received numerous reports of questionable phone calls displaying SSA’s 1-800 number on a caller-ID screen. This is a scam; citizens should not engage with those calls or provide any personal information.

These reports indicate the calls display the 1-800-772-1213, SSA’s national customer service number, as the incoming number on caller ID. People who have accepted the calls said the caller identifies as an SSA employee. In some cases, the caller states that SSA does not have all of the person’s personal information, such as their Social Security number (SSN), on file. Other callers claim SSA needs additional information so the agency can increase the person’s benefit payment, or that SSA will terminate the person’s benefits if they do not confirm their information. This appears to be a widespread issue, as reports have come from citizens across the country.
SSA employees do not contact citizens by telephone for customer-service purposes, and in some situations, an SSA employee may request the citizen confirm personal information over the phone. However, SSA employees will never threaten you for information or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent, and you should just hang up.
“This caller-ID spoofing scheme exploits SSA’s trusted reputation, and it shows that scammers will try anything to mislead and harm innocent people,” Stone said. “I  encourage everyone to remain watchful of these schemes and to alert family members and friends of their prevalence. We will continue to track these scams and warn citizens, so that they can stay several steps ahead of these thieves.”
The Acting Inspector General urges citizens to be extremely cautious, and to avoid providing information such as your SSN or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or internet unless you are certain of who is receiving it. If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from SSA, you should report that information to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Skripal Files: The Life And Near Death Of A Russian Spy


Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden offers a review in the Washington Times of Mark Urban’s The Skripal Files. 

Speaking to reporters in December 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that his spy agencies had assassination squads that targeted defectors. But he voiced an ominous warning. “Whatever thirty pieces of silver those people may have gotten, they will stick in their throat.”

Despite his shortcomings as a decent human, give Mr. Putin credit: He carries out his threats. Any person unfortunate enough to cross him is a step removed from the grave.

The civilized world was shocked in March when a defected Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were stricken with a mysterious poison in the quiet British town of Salisbury. They were in critical condition for weeks but survived. Scientific tests identified the poison involved as Novichok, developed by Russia for germ warfare. It had been smeared on the door knob of the Skripal home.

The attack matched earlier Russian murder operations, notably the poisoning death of defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Mr. Skripal, a onetime Red Army airborne colonel, had shifted to the GRU, the military’s intelligence arm. Disillusioned with the Communist regime, he tried to resign, but was refused. (As Mr. Putin himself once said, “There is no such thing as an ex-KGB man.”

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Russian National Charged With Interfering In U.S. Political System


The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:
A criminal complaint was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, today charging a Russian national for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2018 midterm election. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, and FBI Director Christopher Wray made the announcement after the charges were unsealed.
“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”
“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined work on this case.”
“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” said Director Wray. “We take all threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations. Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”
According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others.
Khusyaynova allegedly managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting news postings on social networks.” Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million. 
The alleged conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements. 
The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers.
The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate. Members of the conspiracy took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.
The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view; they wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the conspiracy were directed, among other things, to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages.
The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.

The investigative team received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay V. Prabhu and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Iftimie are prosecuting the case, with assistance of Trial Attorneys Matthew Y. Chang and Patrick T. Murphy of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:18-mj-464.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Former U.S. Navy Commander Sentenced to Prison for Bribery Conspiracy With Foreign Defense Contractor in Massive U.S. Navy Corruption And Fraud Case


The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

A former U.S. Navy Commander was sentenced today to 30 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, a $10,000 fine and $21,625.60 in restitution by the Honorable Janis L. Sammartino of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.  The case relates to a wide-ranging corruption and fraud investigation involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman for the Southern District of California, made the announcement.
Earlier this year, Troy Amundson, 51, of Ramsey, Minnesota pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, admitting that he conspired with Francis and others to receive things of value in exchange for taking official acts for the benefit of GDMA and violating his official duties to the U.S. Navy.  Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges.
According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, from May 2005 to May 2013, Amundson served as the officer responsible for coordinating the U.S. Navy’s joint military exercises with its foreign navy counterparts.  As part of his duties, Amundson was responsible for building and maintaining cooperative relationships with the U.S. Navy’s foreign navy exercise partners.  Amundson admitted that from September 2012 through October 2013, Francis paid for dinner, drinks, transportation, other entertainment expenses, and the services of prostitutes for Amundson and other U.S. Navy officers, in return for sensitive information, such as U.S. Navy ship schedules, and for taking other actions in favor of GDMA and in violation of his official duties.   Amundson further admitted that after being interviewed by federal criminal investigators in October 2013, he deleted e-mail correspondence with Francis. 

So far, 33 defendants have been charged and 21 have pleaded guilty, many admitting to accepting things of value from Francis in exchange for helping the contractor win and maintain contracts and overbill the Navy by millions of dollars.
The investigation is being conducted by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Contract Audit Agency.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California.        

You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on the Fat Leonard case via the below link:

Friday, October 19, 2018

'Gosnell' Film Strikes Nerve With Moviegoers Despite Shoestring Budget, Lack Of Media Attention


Christian Toto at the Washington Times offers a piece on the film Gosnell.

It was a movie destined for failure — relying on crowdfunding for its shoestring budget, garnering little to no attention among liberal media outlets and opening in only 673 theaters around the country.

Still, “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” succeeded in its opening weekend at the box office, becoming the No. 12 film release last week. Its $1.16 million in ticket sales placed the film just behind “A Simple Favor” ($1.3 million) and just ahead of “Crazy Rich Asians” ($1 million), according to the Box Office Mojo website.

What’s more, “Gosnell” enjoys a 67 percent “fresh” rating among critics and a 99 percent audience “like” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

The film, which chronicles the crimes and conviction of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, owes part of its success to its 29,000+ donors in its 2014 Indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:



You can also read my Washington Times review of Gosnell: The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer, the book the film was based on, via the below link:

Former FBI Agent Sentenced For Leaking Classified Information


The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Terry J. Albury, 39, a former Special Agent of the FBI, was sentenced today to 48 months in the District of Minnesota in connection with his unauthorized disclosure and retention of classified national defense information.

The announcement was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Chris Wray, Assistant Director in Charge of the Washington Field Office Nancy McNamara, and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia, after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright.

"We are conducting perhaps the most aggressive campaign against leaks in Department history," said Attorney General Sessions. "Crimes like the one committed by the defendant in this case will not be tolerated—they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and punished. I want to thank Assistant Attorney General Demers, U.S. Attorney Terwilliger, and their attorneys for their hard work in prosecuting this important case. Today's sentence should be a warning to every would-be leaker in the federal government that if they disclose classified information, they will pay a high price."

"Every FBI agent has a solemn obligation to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure to safeguard our national security. Terry Albury betrayed that responsibility, and he betrayed the trust bestowed on him by the American people," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "His sentencing today demonstrates those who violate the law by disclosing classified information will be held responsible for their reckless and illegal actions."

“Leaking classified national defense information to the media is a crime that damages our national security,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “Albury transmitted classified information not just to one hostile foreign power, but to every hostile foreign power with the ability to pick up a newspaper or access the Internet. To be clear, this was not whistleblower activity. Albury made no attempts to engage in any of the legitimate whistleblower processes available to him, and instead chose to betray his oath and his colleagues by leaking classified national defense information to the press. This case should send a message to anyone considering violating the public’s trust and compromising our national security by disclosing classified information. We will remain steadfast and dogged in pursuit of these challenging but critical national security cases.”

"Terry Albury willingly disclosed classified information that he had taken an oath to protect, for his own purposes," said Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara. "He violated the trust that was placed in him by willfully providing information that could endanger national security to individuals not authorized to receive it and lied to the FBI about his actions. Albury violated the trust that was placed in him and his attempt to leverage national security information for his own reasons brought him to this sentence today. The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position, who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators."

According to court documents, Albury worked as an FBI Special Agent in the Minneapolis field office at the time of the disclosures, held a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, and his daily duties provided him access to sensitive and classified FBI and other U.S. government information.

According to court documents, beginning in 2016 and continuing through August 2017, Albury knowingly and willfully disclosed national defense information, classified at the Secret level, to a reporter. Albury employed methods to avoid detection, including printing documents that he created by cutting and pasting portions of an original document into a new document so as to avoid leaving a record of having printed the original, classified document. Albury also accessed documents on a classified computer and took pictures of the computer screen in order to photograph certain classified documents. Those additional classified documents were recovered on an electronic storage device found during a search of his home.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Danya E. Atiyeh of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Trial Attorneys Patrick T. Murphy and David C. Recker of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

2-Year Sentence For 'Skinny Joey' Merlino, Reputed Longtime Philly Mob Boss


Chris Palmer at the Philadelphia Inquirer offers a piece on the two year prison sentence given to Joseph Merlino, the reputed boss of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra organized crime family.

You can read the piece via the below link:

www2.philly.com/philly/news/crime/joey-merlino-philadelphia-mob-boss-sentenced-federal-prison-gambling-20181017.html