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ACLU Reveals FBI Hacking Contractors

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After spending a little over a year at Bimen Associates, Hemmila returned to her studies and graduated in 2012. A few months after she left, Mark Muller, who had an undergraduate degree in information technology from George Mason university, went to work for Bimen Associates in Quantico.

Muller says he wrote up the standard operating procedures for the FBI to us proprietary company software "we use to gain access to " criminal subject machines in the field."

He also conducted "pre-deployment meetings with the FBI agents and management to coordinate details of a case and implement an operational plan to track a subject(s)." After the agents completed monitoring of a target, Muller says he archived information on "previous implant(s) installed on subject's machine, if any, as a knowledge base for the field agents."

Bimen Associates does not appear to be a big or well known intelligence contractor - the only public contract that the company has been awarded lists zero income - but it is well connected.

Jerry Menchhoff, president of Bimen Associates, has been with the company since it was founded in 1998, after working for Booz Allen Hamilton, a company  famous for two other employees - James Clapper and Michael McConnell, both of whom have worked as U.S. Director of National Intelligence, the top spy job in the country.

(Booz also made into the news more recently when it Edward Snowden, another former employee, blew the whistle of the surveillance activities of the U.S. National Security Agency)

The other company that supplies tracking software to the FBI is Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corporation, which has been awarded almost $7 million in contracts by the agency since 2001, mostly for radio communication equipment. In 1999 Harris designed the software for the agency's National Crime Information Centre database that keeps track of criminal histories, fugitives, missing persons, and stolen property.

Harris made it into the news a couple of years ago when the Wall Street Journal revealed that the company was selling a gadget called a "Stingray" to the FBI that allows the agency to track cellphone locations of users without their knowledge.
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At the time Sherry Sabol, Chief of the Science & Technology Office for the FBI's Office of General Counsel, refused to provide any background on the subject because she said that information about Stingrays and related technology was "considered Law Enforcement Sensitive, since its public release could harm law enforcement efforts by compromising future use of the equipment."

However, legal depositions by FBI agents, together with contract data dating back to 2002, confirmed the existence of the Stingray.

The big question is whether or not the FBI obtains warrants before using tracking software. In the case of the Stingray, the agency claimed that it was OK to use such devices without obtaining a warrant, on the grounds that it was like tracking down phone numbers, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is permissible.

But privacy advocates say that tracking the "metadata" of a phones and computer communications and the information on it involves a far greater invasion of privacy, and should require a warrant from a judge. (This discussion is still ongoing in the courts, notably after the a senior U.S. court ruled it was OK for the government to track cell phone location data without a warrant)

Soghoian believes there needs to be a public debate on the use and potential misuse of these tools.
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"There hasn't been a (Congressional) debate about the FBI getting into the hacking business," Soghoian told attendees at DEFCON, an annual hacker convention that took place earlier this month in Las Vegas. "People should understand that local cops are going to be hacking into surveillance targets. Particularly for dragnet searches where they want to do a keyword search or a social network analysis, you need everyone's communications."

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