It took less than 12 hours from the time that the FBI arrested Cesar Sayoc and information about his past inclinations was being dug up and presented. We knew about his arrest record, the threats he’d already made, and people he’d made uncomfortable were chiming in about how they thought he might be a problem someday.
We can also be sure that the FBI had all of his tweets and Facebook activity, as well as his cell phone text messages and probably his locations over the last few months. All of that would be pulled from the retro-scope. And all of it would be useless. It’s worse than useless, it reveals the helplessness of law enforcement surveillance – it’s pretty good for determining, in retrospect, when someone did snap, but unless the person can be trapped into telling an FBI confidential informant that they’re doing their attack tomorrow, so what?
Robert Bowers posted “screw your optics, I’m going in” seventeen days before he “went in.” So much for the value of surveillance. Now that he’s killed 11 people, the retro-scope can dig through his past communications and location and clearly identify him as a threat, seventeen days too late. More than seventeen, really: Sayoc and Bowers had both been acting up for a long time; the way our society is set up that’s what people are allowed to do. We have a problem: we have 20/20 hindsight.
Sayoc was given probation after a 2002 threat against Florida Power and Light, “worse than September 11.” The court determined that he was not a real danger. Well, I don’t think that the bombs he sent were a real threat, either, but they did a great deal of damage anyway – in political terms, in stress, disruption, fear, and response costs.
Robert Bowers is another story: he was “unknown to law enforcement” prior to the morning when he killed people.
The official reason the retro-scope was put in place was to stop terrorism after 9/11. That was the excuse, I’m afraid, because anyone who thinks about surveillance systems knows that they are very seldom useful as alarms that alert us to an event in progress. All of the money spent was spent for a different purpose, and that’s figuring out who a guilty party’s associates were, or trolling through someone’s past for dirt. If I were one of the people Bowers regularly communicated with, I’d be pretty worried right about now.
It’s heading toward becoming an open secret: [mj]
In early January, Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and adviser to Donald Trump, sent a text message to an associate stating that he was actively seeking a presidential pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – and felt optimistic about his chances. “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon,” Stone wrote, in a January 6 exchange of text messages obtained by Mother Jones. “It’s very real and very possible. Don’t fuck it up.” Thirty-five minutes later, Stone added, “Something very big about to go down.”
So, the Mueller investigation was able to retrieve the exact contents of Stone’s texts, including send/read-times. Remember when they were trying to tell you that they were only capturing “meta-data”? Not only was the Mueller investigation able to retrieve that kind of information, someone selectively leaked it to the media.
You should assume that anything you send in a text or email, or post on an online forum, could be dug up and slapped down on a table in front of you.