Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Hackers expose Texas police chief emails

This is pretty wild stuff. From the New York Daily News:
The hackers collective known as Anonymous claims it broke into the email of dozens of law enforcement agencies - and released racist and offensive correspondence between cops.

London's Daily Mail reported that in one email to a police official in Texas, an officer commented that someone who started a car chase got "what she deserved."

"I'll bet she was fat and black too," the email added.

The email then continued "Same with that pervert that got shot by the county. F*** that guy, see ya. That all sounds like good police work to me."

There is also an email chain in one police department regarding "Muslim inbreeding," gizmodo.com reported. Another requested police investigate an officer's rendezvous with a married woman.

The group also hacked the website of the Texas Police Chiefs [Association], and posted the email addresses that had been hacked.

In a statement on the website, the Daily Mail reported, the hackers wrote: "Having a slow day behind the desk, filing papers, staring at your colleague's fine posterior?"

"What have you been up to since our last visit? Don't answer that. We already know."
See the statement from Anonymous on the attack and all the files they accessed here. (Grits may have more to say on this topic after reviewing details of the Anonymous document dump.)

Back in the good old days before the Texas Supreme Court and the Legislature gutted access to law-enforcement information under the Public Information Act ('96-'97), one saw frank discussions like these in response to open records requests fairly frequently, up to and including expressions of racial prejudice, etc.. But the state has so diminished the public's access to law-enforcement records that now departments can usually screen such embarrassing tidbits by claiming they don't exist, pretending they're part of an ongoing investigation, or simply dropping charges in a particular case, since the public now only has access to information in cases resulting in a conviction. In that environment, a hacker group like Anonymous is probably the only way to expose such dirty little secrets. Twenty years ago virtually all this information would be public under what was then called the Texas Open Records Act.

So two cheers for Anonymous! Yes, they committed a crime (which disqualifies them for a third cheer). But I view this as a form of civil disobedience - little different, though perhaps more effective, than getting arrested at a demonstration - and I'm glad they put the information out there. The public has more to fear from law enforcement concealing racism and misconduct than it does from a bunch of libertarian computer nerds.

MORE/OFF TOPIC: Did you know there was a minor earthquake (2.6)  in North Texas on August 7? Saw it reading through one of the chiefs' emails: "The earthquake was located approximately 6 miles west-southwest of Dallas." I mention it because after the East Coast earthquakes last month, I recall reading at the Dalllas News a story by Mike Drago titled "Earthquake in Dallas? It could happen, but not likely" (Aug. 24) which mentioned only that, "The largest earthquake within 100 miles of Dallas, Texas was a 3.4 Magnitude in 1997."  At least one local reporter got the story, though. Searching on Bing (nothing showed up on Google News), I found a TV news reference from the night before Drago's story was published, Aug 23, that somehow detected the earthquake the Morning News missed. Reported Charles Bassett at KDAF-TV, "The last earthquake here was on August 7th, about 6 miles west southwest of Dallas with a magnitude of 2.6." Ouch. Checking the USGS site, there's little doubt which reporter was right. Here's a Google map showing the location of the epicenter, near the convergence of Grand Prairie and Irving.

Interestingly, there has been speculation that recent, so-far minor earthquake activity in the DFW area is related to saltwater fracking, a new process of extracting natural gas. I also hadn't heard reported before, though clearly it's been out there in some form or fashion, that Cleburne, TX, experienced more than one hundred small, measurable earthquakes over a two-year period. Correlation is not causation, but SMU researchers found there "is a correlation between seismicity, and the time and location of saltwater injection." These tremors are being closely studied, as it turns out, and if they're linked to gas extraction, the enviro-politics of fracking and earthquakes could be the next big enviro war in North Texas.

Anyway, that's another reason to make such documents open records: So the government doesn't keep an earthquake secret! ;)


Audrey said...

These email comments are not surprising really. These are the statements that underly the frightening actions we do see and hear about from time to time (daily if you read alot). How could the thinking, supporting those actions, be any different.

Swede said...

Pretty tame. Look at your own email history over the last five ten years and imagine if that was leaked - then pick only the worst parts of your emails.

Oh wait - you probably don't have a high-pressure job where you deal with violence and death and killing on a daily basis.

That said, I'd still like to see a Grits column on videotaping police.

Oh, and racism sucks, but this stuff is pretty tame compared to what I would expect given how blacks/latinos are treated in Texas.

Prison Doc said...

I think it is all pretty tame too, and I can't support hacking or any other illegal diversion of info. The facts about false arrests, being "set up", "sting operations", and the rogue antics of renegade "task forces" have to come out into the public eye, but I don't think hacking or other illegal disclosures should be the modality.

There is no justification for praising the actions of "Anonymous" or similar groups.

Anonymous said...

IMHO -While th epolice deal with death on a routine basis, they knew what they were getting into and have to maintain a higher standard. some of the comments in the emails were pretty disturbing to me. Especially considering the police are the first line of justice in our system.

some of these officials are very biased to say the least. Hateful might be a better label...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, the only justification I'd offer is that articulated in the (much abused) Preamble to the Public Information Act:

"Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

Anonymous said...

Yes, the hackers committed a crime but we can forgive them for that.

doran said...

"Steal a little and they send you to jail. Steal a lot and they make you King."

Hackers can get sent to prison and deprived of access to computers for the rest of their lifes, for stealing the racist emails of public servants, while American War Criminals still roam free and maybe one of them will be King of America some day.

I think it inaccurate to say, as Swede and Anon 6:56 claim, that all police/law enforcement people "...deal with violence and death and killing on a daily basis...."

Anonymous said...

Sorry Grits, but Chapter 552, Government Code, does not have a short title. You can call it the public information act if you wish, just as you can call your aunt your uncle, but that doesn't make it so.

doran said...

Hey, Anon 5:38----It is not Grits calling Chap. 552 The Public Information Act which makes it that, but the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Appellate Courts calling it The Public Information Act. Those same courts previously called it the Texas Open Records Act.

Anonymous said...

I wish Anonymous would tap into TDCJ's emails and websites, like classification and records, parole department... Oh and the Director of TDCJ's emails ought to be VERY interesting! Maybe next? lol

Anonymous said...

Swede, I don't type anything in my emails that I would be embarrassed to see printed in the newspaper. Such is the nature of electronic messages.

As far as the "high pressure" job and dealing with death and violence (an overstatement on your part), that is why they are "supposed" to be held to a higher standard.

If they can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. For the amount of power and responsibility these people wield, there is simply NO EXCUSE for the content of some of those messages.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:38, what would you like to call it? I'm with Doran and I really don't know what you're talking about. FWIW, I much preferred "Open Records Act," as an homage to its establishment after the Sharpstown scandal. But the Lege changed (and weakened) it and Public Information Act is now the common reference. To be clear, here's the law we're talking about, whatever you want to call it.

The Texas Supreme Court dramatically expanded the law enforcement exception in Holmes v. Morales, then the following year (in the issue that actually first dragged me, unsuccessfully, to the Legislature), the Lege unwisely adopted the court decision language instead of affirming the historic AG opinions going back to the creation of the Act. That gutted public access and increased the number of appeals sent to the AG by orders of magnitude over the next 15 years.

The last few sessions Harold Dutton has carried a bill to change the law enforcement exception (552.108) back to the language from pre-Holmes AG interpretations, which I think would be one of the most important accountability reforms they could possibly enact. I was an active filer of open records requests at the time, before and after, and the public really lost a ton of access after Holmes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:20, did I say forgive them? Heavens no! I deducted a cheer, after all! Should they be flogged? :)

More to the point, civil disobedience implies a willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions. Dr. King did his time in the Birmingham jail, and I'd have no quibble if these folks are caught and prosecuted, too. They decided it was worth breaking the law to make a point, and must accept the consequences of their actions if caught.

That said, I'm glad the information was put out there. And it's true, as crimes go, exposing government secrets to promote a political agenda, however misguided, strikes me as less objectionable than, say, taking bribes and revealing information for pay. Though the issues are complex, I generally think favorably of the whole Wikileaks/whistleblower phenomenon because I consider openness the best prophylactic against corruption and misconduct. As Swede and Prison Doc say, and it's true of the Wikileaks doc dumps, too, for the most part the information being hidden is pretty tame, filling out a picture we might have guessed at, anyway. Then why conceal it, and what's the great harm in making it public?

The truth is, Anonymous just gave Texas police chiefs a free, high-value security check at no cost but a little public humiliation. Now they can identify and fix security gaps they'd have never found without Anonymous' help, and which others might have used for more nefarious purposes. Heaven knows what they'd have had to pay a security consultant to peform that service, assuming they even understood their systems were at risk. Crime or no, law-enforcement IT departments around the state owe Anonymous a thank-you note!

inthedoghouse said...

When the ends justify the means you have anarchy. Irrespective of what you feel Julian Assange, Anonymous, and all the other hackers collectives accomplish, they are criminals because they brake the law.

john said...

It's certainly not just Texas. Is it a valid window into the system?
Do we/should we hold gov workers to a high standard? Do they have the humility to serve the public, or is it just the grab for more power? Are they so like-minded they collude against us? Why shouldn't the bad apples be picked and crushed to sauce?
A police state demands those in power stop protecting the citizens, in order to protect themselves FROM the citizens. We see that a lot, and it is going to increase. It's doubtful elections can affect it, especially with the increasing number of appointed & direct-hired gov workers.
Crimes will be continually re-defined as anything impeding those already in power.
The more people working FOR the gov--due to lack of decent private-sector jobs--the more folks resist change to the status quo. This is a communitarian effect. Those in power AND servitude want to keep their jobs, when they perceive nothing better.
Some in power like it, not because it beats working--but because they like power.
It takes all kinds, yet for years, the kind it takes to oversee those in power have been blindsided and overridden by those who took power. WHAT checks & balances?? The USA PATRIOT Act eliminated certain warrants, etc. WHAT rights? We're about down to filming each other in hopes of protecting yourself in case of attack, that a public outcry might watch the video and come to your aid. The NRA, et al., stand down. The camera may be your new representative.
At some point, those in power may decide to switch off the now-all-digital comms, in order to protect themselves from THAT check. They're already hiding the videos the police take OF US at traffic stops, etc. Then we won't even be able to talk amongst ourselves. Those in power explore every high-tech advantage. We must do the same. AND we must replace everyone in power--evidently, time after time--until we get elected officials who will change out the appointed officials.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

inthedoghouse, MLK was also a "criminal" for what he did, which is why he was convicted and did his time in the Birmingham jail. And fwiw, it wouldn't surprise me if some of the folks involved with this hack job consider themselves "anarchists," such as it is. Who knows?

Be that as it may, if these guys are caught they should and I'm sure will be prosecuted. Accepting that risk was a price of entry in this endeavor. But I also respect that this is civil disobedience - the hackers' equivalent of Earth First!ers chaining themselves to construction equipment or holding sit-ins in the Redwoods. These guys are Daniel Ellsberg meets Abbie Hoffman. You've got to admit, it's kind of a funny (and a bit random) project to undertake. So I'm not saying they're not "criminals," just as you can say that of lots of other nonviolent offenders. I can grant you that word and still say I'm amused, and see little quantifiable harm from the information released.

Some of the folks arrested with Anonymous were as young as 16. For them, I'd put this prank in the category of the Paul Newman character "Cool Hand Luke," who was incarcerated for cutting off the tops of all the brand new parking meters installed around the square in his hometown. You know the guy has to be punished, but when you hear the story you still have to chuckle.

Be honest, who'd you root for: Smokey, or the Bandit? :)

Anonymous said...

About the hackers:
PC Magazine reports that the latest dump was also part of a campaign by the group against states with tough immigration laws.

From the hackers:
For more than a month we have been lurking their emails, law enforcement portals, and records and reporting systems. We leaked a few teasers including access to FBI fbivirtualacademy.edu, several classified documents, voicemail
recordings, live passwords, and even some dirty pictures. To continue the fighting spirit of WikiLeaks, we want to share the full Texas collection and expose these bumbling fools and all their secrets to the world.

Thousands of documents are available on tor hidden services / bittorrent and include several dozen FBI, Border Patrol, and counter-terrorism documents
classified as "law enforcement sensitive" and "for official use only". The emails also included police records, internal affairs investigations, meeting notes, training materials, officer rosters, security audits, and live password information to government systems.

Anonymous said...

It looks like they cast a wide net and brought in some dirt for us to see.

Anonymous said...

I think if you read some of the stuff they posted you withdraw one or even both of your cheers.

Perhaps a little bit of effort on their part to redact the stuff that might get someone hurt was in order.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:05, of the stuff I've read so far (admittedly, having skimmed just a couple of files) I haven't seen anything that would get anyone hurt. If you've a specific reference let me know, but the ones I looked through seemed pretty workaday.

The only exception I noticed was posting password information to government systems, but then they'd already hacked those systems, so the passwords had to be changed anyway - part of that free security check I mentioned.

I doubt releasing this informatin posed a serious risk, and as mentioned before 1996 almost all of it would have been public. It's not like police chiefs are out in the field. These are mostly emails to and from desk jockeys.

Anonymous said...

TOKYO — Japanese officials moved to control diplomatic damage after an air traffic controller was questioned here for posting secret American flight information on his blog, including the detailed flight plans of Air Force One last November.