Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another third rate burglary

The FBI Affidavit provides some very interesting information on what Democrats are now referring to as the 'Louisiana Watergate'. Conservative propagandist James O'Keefe and three accomplices were caught allegedly attempting to tap the phones of Senator Landrieu.

As the Senator's office is on Federal property, the holding charge of attempting to gain entry to Federal property for the purpose of committing a crime carries a maximum ten year jail sentence.

The affidavit itself reads like a bad script for an episode of the A-Team. Two members of the group dressed up as telephone repairmen and attempted to gain access to the telephone closet. They headed for the Senator's office, attempted pretexting and were directed to the GSA office down the hall where the plot was uncovered when the pair were asked for identification and claimed to have left it in their van.

Now it is quite possible that a GSA employee would have been trained to recognize a telephone company ID badge, but I don't know what one looks like and the typical security guard at a non-government facility wouldn't either. For a few hundred bucks the conspirators could have bought a second hand badge printer on EBay to create their own badges and greatly reduced the chance of getting caught.

Using fake ID reduces the risk of being caught but increases the penalties if caught. Possession of a fraudulent access device is a federal crime, as is possession of means to create fraudulent access devices. Using real identification greatly increases the risk of being caught, but some do so anyway.

So how does a facility protect itself against this type of attack?

At this point we do not know where the conspirators first aroused suspicion, it is quite likely that they were considered suspect from the minute they walked in the door. A well designed security process has multiple layers and multiple checks:


  • Check Government ID
  • Confirm Corporate ID
  • Check contact name
  • Confirm with contact
  • Escort visitor
  • Defined process


The first line of defense is to ask for government issued ID. With fifty states, there is considerable variation in driving licenses, but they are at least a closed set and a telephone repairman handing over a New York drivers license in Louisiana should be asked for an explanation. Most state driving licenses have anti-counterfeiting measures built in and are printed on distinctive stock.

Corporate ID provides an additional check but is not a substitute for government issued ID. Corporate ID should of course match the government ID.

My experience of government buildings is that government issued ID is required to enter the building. This alone would make the conspirator's claim that they left their ID in their van very suspicious.

Another thing that is required to enter a government building is a contact person. It is quite likely that the conspirators bypassed this requirement by giving the Senator's Office as the contact. 'Walk-ins' are a common occurrence at politician's offices of course, but a tradesman coming to perform work without a specific contact name should be a red flag.

In most government buildings, visitors require an escort unless they are visiting a separate area that is specifically designated as public access. Most of the newer corporate offices in Silicon Valley now have meeting rooms that connect directly to the lobby. This allows employees to meet visitors without bringing them into the part of the building where company confidential material might be on display.

Security procedures of this sort have become standard practice in most US companies in the wake of 9/11, at least with regard to the form which is easily copied. What is not easily copied are the less visible parts of the system such as what should happen when work needs to be done on the telephone system.

The most important security control is to have a defined procedure so that the person responsible for implementing it knows what to do. In the case of a GSA facility, there will be a written policy describing precisely which individuals should have access to the telephone system and under what circumstances. That process will anticipate the possibility that a bogus telephone repairman would turn up attempting to place a wiretap, not least because the process will have been extensively reviewed and quite possibly red-teamed by CIA teams responsible for attempting similar operations against foreign powers.

34 comments:

graydon said...

What is also strange is the lack of long-term thinking here. Not only was a criminal act being undertaken, their goal was to create useful video -- i.e. document their activities. So, when they came out with their new expose on Landreau, they would have exposed themselves than and there as having broken the law. The claim that this is somehow "journalism" is completely bogus, as would be any post-hoc claim for journalistic protection. Journalists, for example, shouldn't be bugging sources or sites. If anything, the early arrest of these bozos probably limited their criminal liability which would have been far greater had they succeeded withtheir plan.

marya said...

I am a bleeding-heart liberal and this is what I think. The young men who, allegedly, decided to enter a Federal building and bug the phones in a United State's senator's office, are not hardened criminals. They are 20somethings whose heads have been swollen by the celebrity among the Republican right-wing given them by their earlier "prank" involving Acorn. This, along with startling immaturity and poor judgment, capped by the most grievous of youthful illusions, invinciblility, have gotten them into a world of hurt. If found guilty I do not think they should go unpunished. However, I don't think they should serve any time, at least not more than, say, 3 weeks. I do not think their records should ever be expunged. Entering a Federal building with the intent to do harm is trouble with a capital T, as it should be and living with a Federal felony conviction is a heavy-enough cross to bear. If they were Democrats and I a Republican I am reasonably sure I would be demanding life in prison without the possibility of parole. And so it goes.

dp said...

Being young and stupid is no excuse for violating Federal law, and they should be punished accordingly. Leniency should not be applied because they are immature.

PR said...

A few months in Gitmo getting the full treatment might help these poor twenty somethings mature into useful members of society.

Max Power said...

They are terrorists and christofascists, and should be labeled and treated as such.

David said...

I beg to differ. This wasn't a bad A Team attempt, it was a faithful homage to Jacques Clouseau, who unsuccessfully tried the telephone repairman trick but managed only to glue his pants to a chair. These guys were fortunate to get caught before driving their fake telephone company van into a swimming pool.

Carl Nyberg said...

I'd like to see Sen. Mary Landrieu file a civil suit against the perpetrators and get them under oath about the details of their support network.

People who pay 20-somethings to commit crimes need to be squeezed financially. There needs to be accountability.

Giving the perps a pass b/c they used young publicity hounds for their criminal scheme makes no more sense than ignoring people who recruit minors to distribute drugs.

jfield said...

I think you may underestimate the power of the "phone guy badge" (which is what we used to call our buttset (the phone guy tool that looks like a phone for toning lines and such).

I worked for a local agency and it was always surprising how often we would be escorted around security or not asked any questions if we knew where we were going.

Once I was at the courthouse on personal business (I think rescheduling jury duty) and when they saw my tools I had forgotten to leave in my car they stopped and asked if I was there for work. I have no doubt if I had said yes they would have waived me right through. Now this was county and not federal and the security is much tighter at the federal courthouse/federal building.

blombard said...

*Follow The Money* They are not operating on their own.

Steve said...

@graydon:when they came out with their new expose on Landreau, they would have exposed themselves than and there as having broken the law.

True. Which is why I think it was more Watergate-y and less ACORN-y. They (or the people hiring them) might have planned on using the intelligence gathered, without actually coming out with an exposé.

Jasen said...

One of these adults (18 and over, folks, really) is the son of a Federal District Attorney in Louisiana. Now, I know for all the pablum about family values the GOP likes to push they're not always up to their own hype, but really... there must of been at least a little dinner table conversation from William J. Flanagan that could have clued in Robert Flanagan as to how something like this stunt would have terrible consequences. These mini G. Gordon Liddy's should get the maximum penalty if they're found guilty.

Moses said...

Like Marya, I'm a bleeding heart liberal, too. And I think these young men should stand fast with their black brothers and demand disproportional sentencing!

That's right. They should demand the right to be incarcerated instead of getting paroled and serve a sentence at least twice as long as the average white criminal. And they should demand their sentences be conducted in a maximum security prison instead of some low-security facility!

Further, they should eschew receiving any support from friends or family and have to rely on an under-funded, frequently inept Public Defender, like the ones so common in Texas Death Penalty cases....!

After, solidarity bros! Let's show the man!

rynato said...

These guys were rank amateurs. They clearly did not think this through AT ALL. Like most right-wingers caught up in their right-wing fantasy world - where they get all their 'facts' from Fox News and Conservapedia and Rush Limbaugh - they deluded themselves into some kind of reality distortion sphere. They spent too much time watching movies and reading right-wing blogs and fantasizing about being some kind of 'radical activists'.

If they had given any thought to what they were talking about doing, they would have thought of many of the issues you and your commenters mentioned. They would have had fake badges done up, those would have gone a long way towards helping them pull off their scheme. They would have thought through every angle of the operation. They would have 'tested' security at the building. They would have thought far enough in advance to consider what they would do with any 'intelligence' their bugging would have gotten them.

But, as usual with right-wing morons, they can only exist in their bubble for so long. Just like Bush/Cheney and the neo-cons with Iraq, reality is about to give them a huge bitch-slap.

cfaller96 said...

The young men who, allegedly, decided to enter a Federal building and bug the phones in a United State's senator's office, are not hardened criminals.

I'm curious as to why someone thinks their uninformed judgment of the inherent "goodness" of a person who committed a very serious crime matters. Thank God it doesn't.

And this bears repeating, a LOT- illegally wiretapping a public official (or even a fellow citizen) is a VERY SERIOUS CRIME, regardless of who does it. There is NO GOOD INTENT behind that action. None. So the idea that these guys are not "hardened criminals" (whatever that means) is just absurd.

Again- illegal wiretapping is a belligerent and malicious act, by definition undertaken by "hardened criminal" minds. This isn't a joke, this isn't funny, and these guys deserve no sympathy.

Egypt Steve said...

PR is right on target. I'm not sure how we can be sure of what they were trying to do, and who was behind them, without waterboarding them, at the very least. I say, handcuff them naked in stress positions and leave them on the concrete floor of a cell air-conditioned down to about 50F for a few weeks. 24-year-old white Americans claiming to be Republicans -- hah. Sounds like an absolutely dream Al-Qaida cover.

Mama Lam said...

They are not young, O'Keefe is 25 years old.

Rheinhard said...

The young men who, allegedly, decided to enter a Federal building and bug the phones in a United State's senator's office, are not hardened criminals. They are 20somethings whose heads have been swollen ... If found guilty I do not think they should go unpunished. However, I don't think they should serve any time, at least not more than, say, 3 weeks.

I don't consider myself a "bleeding heart" (in actuality I consider myself a pretty callous bastard in a lot of ways), but I am a liberal and ABSOLUTELY DISAGREE. Not for reasons of petty sadism or revenge (as fun as that is), but out of pure pragmatism.

If you give these wankers a slap on the wrist, the message you send to the legions of other young wingnut wankers out there is: "Hey, it's fairly OK to try to wiretap people whom you disagree with politically - you'll get your mug on FOX News and nothing really serious will happen to you if you're caught." If you give them a light sentence, expect to see FOX News bugs being planted in every Democratic Party office and in the offices of any left-leaning advocacy group from the ACLU to MoveOn.org. These clowns must be sent up the river for the whole way, maximum possible terms to be served sequentially, and maximum fines and penalties levied. I want these young men's lives to be utterly destroyed.

I want this not out of malice, but out of the need to protect our Republic! For if we let them off, no one who is of any left-leaning bent will effectively have any Constituional protection against unreasonable search & seizure, or any expectation that they can be secure in their homes and their persons! If protecting the most basic meaning of the 1st and 4th Amendments means that these guys must be ruined utterly and their families humiliated, that is a price I'm happy to pay.

Jack Duluoz said...

If they wanted to play spy, then they should see what happens to spys who get caught.

Lucky for them in this country that only means a term in a SuperMax prison in Colorado.

In most other countries... "O'keefe who? Never heard of him"

These are big-boys playing with big-boy toys. Espionage is not a game.

Watchout5 said...

I don't think people who aspire to wiretap other people, for whatever reason, deserve any sympathy. What these boys did was malicious, and their actions only suggest they have no idea how privacy works in this country. The guy from the previous acorn schemes should know better after questions were raised regarding how he obtained his last video, without the permission of the person he's recording. Something is seriously disturbed with this boy, and he's obviously crying out for attention, the kind of attention a cold dark cell can provide. I dunno if locking him up would do much good, he may just become a martyr, but the idea that any part of his actions can be explained in a way that doesn't leave you with the impession that this person should unpunished, or some kind of leanency, is absolutely absurd. If someone attempted to wiretap me...oh wait...

Matt jones said...

@marya: It's really not that simple - what they did was attempted espionage against a member of the Homeland Security Committee. If we caught J. Random Arab doing it, he'd probably be looking at 10-20 years in the federal pen. The only way I'd like to see these idiots get less is if they account for who exactly put them up to this plan.

ubulujaja said...

My guess is one of these guys is going to flip and reveal the whole plot. Mr. O'Keefe is about to find out who his real friends in the Republican party are. I hope he serves at least 3-5 years for his trouble.

murph said...

Reading the affidavit, I'm noticing that there is no specific mention of wiretapping or wiretapping equipment.

It would seem to me that unless they had the equipment required to tap the senator's phones - all this wiretapping talk may be a bit premature.

I'd agree that their plan seems amazingly short sighted if wiretapping was their actual intention. If all they intended to do was to gain access and then embarras the senator with how easy it was to gain access - then their videotape makes a little more sense. (Not a lot more, mind you - because it would still show them committing a crime - but not in the same ballpark as videotaping a federal crime.)

Presumably the video of the phone would not have been able to show the fake phone techs doing whatever they were planning on doing to the phones - so you wonder what their plan for the video was.

Very strange.

merlallen said...

Why did the idiots go after a DINO in the first place? She's only a Democrat because a Repub can't get elected in her district.

tavella said...

I think they should serve exactly the same amount of time as if they were young, brown, had a muslim name and tried to tap a senator's phone system. Somehow I don't think that would be "three weeks".

Leonard S said...

This should be treated as a case of espionage, absolutely no different than Watergate. There is no reason to discount a larger criminal conspiracy to either compromise a US Senator or the security of the United States. This was a very serious crime, and I believe warrants a widespread investigation. Congress passed a law against ACORN based on these guys' fishing party. They should be rigorously investigated by Congress, just as ACORN was investigated. It seems they were looking for bigger fish.

Leonard S said...
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Chris said...
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Chris said...

Amateurs. Their loafer tassles and hair gel gave them away.

Bear said...

I suspect that they can't grasp how much trouble they're in. The prosecutors just have it in for them since it's a democratic senator, see, and if they had any real evidence they wouldn't have to go through with an actual arraignment and mock prosecution. If the prosecutors really had evidence of a real crime then they would have to let them go since the necessity of their actions would be self-evident!

Logic? What's that?

BTW put me in the camp of saying that they need to spend some serious time in prison. Even if they're as clueless as they seem that doesn't change 1) the fact that they tried to commit espionage against a sitting senator and 2) you don't want to establish any sort of precedence for the next guy who's much more serious. They were incredibly sloppy but they did go to the effort of finding 'appropriate' clothing, etc., so it's clearly premeditated. They need felony convictions and to spend at least 5 years in prison.

Oh yeah, and sense thirty-odd Republicans thought Congress needed to issue a proclamation on their behalf after ACORN I think it's only fitting that there be another proclamation (after conviction, to avoid tainting the prosecution) condemning this cowardly and irresponsible act.

marya said...

O.K.,O.K. I was too easy on these little jerks. Thanks to all for being so civil and not calling me an idiot,

The Barry Family said...

Like many posters here, I am delighted that these tactics have been exposed and, perhaps, discredited. I also believe that these smug clowns deserve to be appropriately punished for what they've done. However, I'm really uncomfortable with calls for "their lives to be destroyed, their families' lives to be destroyed". That's just vicious. Aren't we better than that?
One more thing: Let's not jump to conclusions about wiretapping. It seems pretty clear they illegally entered a federal building under false pretenses and attempted access to, or got access to, phone lines. It is not clear that they were seeking to tap the phones. If we go nuts on the phone tapping thing and it turns out there is nothing there, the right will claim this as a victory--that the MSM and all us liberals jumped to inappropriate conclusions. And it's very possible they will be right.

Trey said...

I know marya has already apologized, but I would like to bring up three points. 1. Yes, they are young twenty-somethings, kids really, and they are older than many of our young troops who join the military and put themselves in harm's way/ die for us. 2. (This has been mentioned, but should be reiterated) if this was a person who looked middle eastern, no matter how innocuous the facts, Fox news would be blaring on with conspiracies about what they were trying to do. 3. Terrance. No one should be trying to get inappropriate access to a government building, whether it be in Mississippi, Oklahoma, or any where else.

Trey said...

Terrance = Deterrence (sorry)

PHB said...

What sort of sentence would these people have been demanding if a Republican had been targeted in similar circumstances? I think it is rather hard to believe that they would be satisfied with a slap on the wrist. In recent years the GOP has been rather keen on the idea of charging teenagers as adults. So now we have a bunch of mid-twenties trust fund babies and they think they should be let off because they were kids?