Police union calls for WPB spokesman’s firing

FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. "My members are frustrated," he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. “My members are frustrated,” he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

The head of the county’s largest police union is calling for the firing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio’s spokesman in the wake of his accidental release of the names of undercover officers and confidential informants last week.

“If this happened by one of us, they’d be looking for our termination,” Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said today. “Putting this transparency thing out … that’s just not acceptable.”

In a press release, he said he expects the city will terminate Muoio’s spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who released the records to the city’s website.

“His release of personal confidential information about our members and their cooperating citizens has not only betrayed the trust of those citizens, but has jeopardized those citizens’ and our officers’ lives,” he wrote in a press release.

“We fear this breach is irreparable.”

Kazanjian said a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency has already been moved to a safe location after the names and addresses of informants and undercover officers were included in thousands of pages of emails the city released online last week.

The emails were part of an unrelated records request that Cohen, in a departure from normal city policy, released on the city’s website, under the heading “transparency.”

“Somebody needs to take responsibility,” Kazanjian said. “They circle around the wagons all the time and they come up with excuses. … To me, Elliot Cohen needs to go.”

The city isn’t backing away from Cohen, though.

“This incident revealed a flaw in our process, and it is not a personnel issue,” City Administrator Jeff Green said in a statement to the PBA. “Mr. Cohen remains a valued member of our leadership team here at the city. We understand your concern over this incident.”

However, Cohen played a central role in the release of the emails. Until yesterday, he handled all public records requests from the media. The city clerk handles all requests from the public, and Green said Tuesday that had the clerk handled the records request, the mistake probably wouldn’t have been made.

Cohen also posted the records on the city’s website, rather than sending them directly to the reporter who requested them. Muoio said the idea to post public records online was hers, but Cohen supported the idea.

Kazanjian said he wants to talk to the mayor about the problem. In the meantime, the release has damaged police relations with the community, he said.

“It’s going to be harder to do police work out there with the confidential informants,” Kazanjian said.

 

West Palm mayor: I’m to blame for sensitive emails posted online

(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city's public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)
(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city’s public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said in a press conference today that it was her idea to post records requests online, which resulted in the disclosure of sensitive police emails.

“All of us here in city hall … are very upset that these emails were out in the public,” she said. “They should not have been.”

Muoio said no one, including her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who posted them online, was to blame for the mistake. Instead, the “process” failed.

The result was the release of closely guarded police secrets, including the names of targets in ongoing criminal investigations, the names of undercover officers and the identities of undercover informants.

Multiple investigations have been compromised, and the disclosures put multiple people’s lives at risk. Some of the investigations involved the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

City Administrator Jeff Green said city police have reached out to the other agencies to try to contain the damage from the release.

“(Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen) did say it was certainly something that hurt us in some respects and that they are working with the other agencies to try to limit whatever damage was done,” Green said.

As Muoio and Green explained, nearly all public records requests are handled by the city clerk.

But records requests from the media were handled by Cohen, per “policy,” Muoio said. That included a WPTV NewsChannel 5’s request for emails about the city’s faulty surveillance cameras.

Cohen asked the department’s embattled Information Technology department to carry out the request.

The IT department did the request, but it “wasn’t clear” what the next step was, she said. Someone should have sent the records to each department, such as the police department, to redact the records, she said.

“It’s not IT’s job to sort out the departments, and that’s where the breakdown was,” Muoio said.

Instead, IT gave the records, which disclosed the names of confidential informants and undercover officers – some of the department’s most closely guarded secrets – to Cohen, who posted them online, under the heading “transparency.”

That was a departure from normal policy, which is to give public records to the requester alone. Muoio said it was her idea to post them on the city’s website – an idea that she said she’s reconsidering.

“It was something that I thought about and discussed with Elliot and Mr. Green, and we just decided to move forward with it,” she said. “Apparently that may not be the best idea for our community.”

She said the move was to provide the public more information about the problem camera system – not an act of retribution against reporters. That’s how many in the media perceived it, however, since by publishing the records requests for all, including competitors, to see, it effectively eliminated any chance that reporters could generate scoops from the requests.

She said that to prevent future mistakes, the city clerk will handle all records requests from the media. The department will also store all police emails on a separate server that only they have access to.

She stood by Cohen, who also made the news last week after he blamed police for problems with the city’s surveillance cameras. Muoio had to hold a press conference last week to correct the record and say that the city, not police, were responsible for the problems.

“Elliot continues to be a valued member of our leadership team and will continue to be,” she said.

City spokesman exposes sensitive police records, informants

City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Eliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Elliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

For three days last week, sensitive emails into local and federal criminal investigations were posted on the City of West Palm Beach’s website, exposing the targets of drug stings, the identities of detectives’ confidential informants and undercover officers.

The emails were taken down Friday, but they’ve left police scrambling to repair the damage.

On Monday, Mayor Jeri Muoio released a vague statement implying that her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, released the emails before they had a chance to be redacted. He wasn’t responsible for redacting them, she said.

“Elliott simply passes on the documents he receives from the departments,” she wrote in an email. “In this case, it appears the departments did not have the opportunity to review the information before it was released, as a result it is essential that we review our process to see if any changes need to be made.

 

The records, which were posted on a link from the city’s home page, included explosive details that seldom see the light of day.

Read the whole story

 

Greenlighting more NSA snooping, surveillance court judge gets…snippy

"Can you hear me now?" Photo courtesy of futurestreet
“Can you hear me now?” You bet they can. 
Photo courtesy of futurestreet/flickr

In the words of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Michael Mosman: “Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” –  for, as he cheerfully points out,  the next 180 days.

NSA’s very big ears are up and at it again, courtesy of Judge Mosman. Mosman has granted permission for the spy agency to collect phone call records of pretty much everyone, everywhere in the U.S. for the next six months.

This comes only weeks after Congress killed off this key part of the phone spying program and a federal appeals court ruled it unlawful.

Mosman concluded the 180-day grace period Congress gave NSA to wind things down specifically allows for continued phone spying.

That may or may not have been unexpected. (And what the NSA is apparently allowed to keep and use is much broader and more personal than even the billions of phone calls it has collected to date.)

But what was a surprise – certainly to the federal appeals court which last month took exception to the program’s legality- was Mosman’s emphasis on how his fellow jurists were dead wrong, just plain wrong, utterly wrong  and really, very totally wrong.

Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way.

“This Court respectfully disagrees with that Court’s analysis,” Mosman wrote.

In fact, Mosman’s respectful disagreement goes on for quite a few paragraphs, though was perhaps best summed up in a single sentence: “To a considerable extent, the Second Circuit’s analysis rests on mischaracterizations of how this program works.”

Translation: They just don’t get it.

Mosman countered virtually every argument made against the program: The NSA only has access to limited information, he said; it is necessary to gather up phone records of all innocent people in order to find the records of the guilty few;  the NSA is careful about privacy rules; people have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to phone call data.

As it happens, much criticism about the spying program also has involved whether FISC judges bent over backward to accommodate the NSA’s staggeringly broad requests.

It’s FISC that has to approve hoovering up phone records. Which Mosman has now done, again, for 180 days.

“Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” he noted: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Under the radar, secret NSA database open for business

phone-personThink the NSA is out of the phone record business?

Congress has forced the National Security Agency to begin winding down daily bulk of collection of billions of Americans’ phone call records, but that’s not the end of the line.

The NSA has sometimes used its daily dragnet of phone numbers in a way that links hundreds of thousands of innocent people to terrorist suspects.

That analysis has been placed  in a smaller database dubbed the “Corporate Store” – and there’s nothing in the new legislation forcing NSA to purge the records.

Once there, peoples’ call records, and ultimately, the course of their daily lives, can be charted by the NSA, the FBI, the IRS and even some foreign governments.

Here’s how it has worked. The NSA identified a number from its daily phone collection they believed was associated with a terrorist suspect. They collected and stored all phone calls made within five years to and from that number.

They also collected all phone calls  made by everyone who called the terrorist suspect’s number- and then everyone those people called as well.

A blue ribbon panel wrote that using this system, a single terrorism suspect could be quickly tied to 421,000 phone numbers.

Given that sweep, it is inevitable that people who had never so much as jaywalked would wind up “linked” to a terrorist- and their personal phone calling history tucked away for browsing.

If, for instance, you had the bad luck of ordering a pizza from  the same eatery a terrorism suspect did, then you could have  been linked to the suspect- and so would the family members and friends you called.

By one estimate, in 2012 alone, more than 100 million call records could have been collected and placed in the Store for further analysis.

Edward Snowden
Snowden

Those searches didn’t happen very often, and after the Edward Snowden revelations, the White House limited their scope.

But that did not affect previous searches already squirreled away. And even limited searches still would net thousands of people not involved in wrongdoing.

NSA isn’t commenting on its plans for retaining these phone call records.

But with nothing forcing the Corporate Store to close for business, ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey said, “This NSA database may grow even more quickly than ever before.”

And here’s a closer look – The Post story on what hasn’t changed very much at all.