Datamining Finances, the Prosecutor’s Power and the FISA Cases
If you want to follow along, start here to read about the "inaccurate" information Bush’s dead-enders provided to the Court. Then go here, to read about the financial world and their search for immunity.I’ve taken the side thread and, at the suggestion of one of the other commenters, put it here because it’s interesting reading all by itself.
Datamining financial data. Could this be how they got Spitzer?
Maybe, maybe not.
From what I’m told (and as with all stuff one “is told”, there’s a chance of it containing some or a lot of bullcrap, but it seems plausible), it’s not that hard to find a prostitute in NYC. I’m told all one has to do is look in the classified ads of the various free papers, magazines, or whatever for ads for “escort services” and the like. And that, I’m told, does not encompass the business cards that get left, guerilla marketing style, in mens’ rooms and who knows where else.
Remember, Spitzer got his friendship from an “escort service”.
I would think it reasonable to assume that (a) the cops have a database of all the information on which entities are “escort services”, even the low-profile ones, and (b) probably have an “attaboy” program for cops and admin personnel who report new ones.
By way of an “attaboy” program, I remember from my time in the military stationed in Germany that you were supposed to report all instances when and where you saw a “SMLM” vehicle. “SMLM” (pronunced “smell-em”) was the Soviet Military Liason Mission to USAREUR – a holdover from WWII and Occupation. They were a bunch of Soviet intelligence officers whose official job was to liase – be in contact with, so as to reduce tensions or misunderstandings – with the US forces in Germany through a headquarters in Frankfurt. Their unofficial, real job was to spy on us and report all they could about what we were doing. The US had a similar mission in East Germany, USMLM. Someone I once knew had enlisted and wound up in a job with USMLM as a driver – I was told that before he was sent over they sent him to the most extensive, intensive course at the Bob Bondurant School of High-performance Driving, at government expense.
The SMLM cars had special, distinctive license plates. One of the first things you got when arriving in-country was a wallet card with a color copy of their plates and instructions on what to do if you saw one, including a 24/7/365 phone number to call and what to report.
All you would get, if you made a call in and reported a SMLM sighting, was a preprinted form postcard thanking you and telling you how important it was that you’d done that. It would go first to your CO, and then to you. That routing was for a reason – recognition.
Those frickin’ cards were, invariably, displayed in places of honor in wall lockers and over desks. They were both coveted and objects afforded a bundle of respect by others.
So, that’s how an attaboy program probably works for the feds tracking NYC hookers, too.
What the readers have to understand, from this disgression, is that an organization can engender a huge, enthusiastic effort to find and collect information for very little cost (How much did those SMLM postcards cost? Printed in bulk – maybe a penny each?) merely by making the reward for finding the information (and, FWIW, it didn’t have to be good information) something desired and respected. So, too, for money-moving activites associated with, say, NYC hookers.
Now, for a prosecutor, the power of that store of information (who’s paying for hookers, or whatever) is not in the actual prosecutions. The real power in that is in the threat of prosecutions. I don’t know how many of your schools made you read stuff like Jonathan Edwards and some of the fire-and-brimstone Puritan preachers of 17th century America. Mine did; part of our American history course, actually. This was before – well before – the so-called No Child Left Behind act made math and reading the only subjects of relevance (so you could pass Neil Bush’s testing company’s tests) and eliminated civics and history as required courses. Hell, I had three years of Latin and three of German, all but one of those six required. In a public school.
But, Edwards and his ilk were fond of that whole “sinner hanging by a thread” theme. It worked admirably to keep the passions and actions of their flock inside the bounds they set and under their thumbs – impose fear of divine retribution later, and they will conform now to whatever you want them to. The same thing works for prosecutors.
Remember, the madam of the organization that supplied Spitzer with his companionship recently concluded her criminal case and, as a part of her cooperation with the government, turned over her books and client list. She kept it on a computer. (Smart. Real f’g smart….) Not just names, dates, and amounts, but also preferences, predilictions, and personal characteristics. 3,500 (that’s three thousand five hundred) or so different clients in NYC and environs who could afford to pay $1,000 to $10,000 (or whatever their going rate was – it wasn’t cheap) for an evening of “services”. No one’s been prosecuted off that list for being a client of hers, yet. I don’t expect any to be prosecuted.
Every one of those clients knows quite well who Eliot Spitzer was, and now is. Some might even have known Spitzer personally or professionally. Some might have even recommended that particular service to Spitzer. Who knows? But, they all know quite well that there are two other things going on.
First, Spitzer got blown up for having the temerity to warn about the impending catastrophe that was (and still is) AIG and its CDOs, CSOs and whatever other financial chicanery they were pulling off. It Did Not Suit The Powers That Be that that catastrophe be exposed, at least not until they got their money out. He was not blown up for hiring a hooker. In Morgenthau’s DA office, johns rarely if ever were prosecuted unless the hookers were underage, and the hookers took only a slightly larger risk. It was pretty much his office’s practice to go after the madams and pimps. When they went after anyone.
But this was not Morgenthau – this was the feds. The feds also usually limit their counter-prostitution activity to cases involving kids. There was just a big bust in the news the other week about the feds taking down child prostitution and human trafficking on an interstate basis. That was the mill run of a federal sex offense case. Likewise, as to money-laundering cases, they will pick up small-time cases (and the amount of money here was, in the scheme of things, small-time) only when the case falls into their lap, when the defendant is really obnoxious (to the feds’, i.e., it’s personal) or when the charge is an easy way to make a case. When they go after an escort service that does not employ kids (and the one in Spitzer’s case did not), they are not going after it for any obvious reason other than “it’s personal”. Because they could go after every escort service in NY on the same basis as they went after this one. And they don’t.
So, these 3,500 clients “know” Spitzer got blown up in a very selective way.
Second, these 3,500 clients also saw that only Spitzer got calumny and professional ruin for hiring a hooker. They saw that one of the other clients (remember, Spitzer was “Client #9") was identified as some British duke who had a lot of interests in the financial community. And they saw that not only did the effort to identify the other clients cease pretty darn quickly, but also that all mentions of that British duke got quickly scrubbed from the press articles. Apologies were issued in private, and the matter was buried.
But, Ashley whatever-her-stage/trade-name-is keeps popping up in the press (Unarrested, I might add) and is identified as the Spitzer hooker. Time and again.
So, the only logical conclusion as to why they hit Spitzer was to get him out of the way and to keep the others in line. Because every one of those 3,500 clients knows that the feds know who he is, when he got friendship, how much he paid, how, and what happens when they cross TPTB. (Ironically, most if not all of these clients are so-called Masters of The Universe. They’re the only ones who can afford such diversions. Not so much power being a Master of The Universe, it would seem, when compared to some schlub making an FBI agent salary, or even a US Attorney salary….)
As to data-mining financials to find Spitzer?
No. They didn’t have to. Once they got the tip that Spitzer was seeing hookers (allegedly from Rethug operative Roger Stone), they watched Spitzer and his transactions. (Not that they weren’t watching Spitzer before, for a trip-up. Remember, he was seen by many as presidential timber in ‘12 or ‘16 before this happened.) The problem for the feds making a money laundering case against Spitzer is that it apparently was his own “clean” money that he was using to buy those services – and that is not money laundering. The money laundering was by the service, trying to clean up the way they got the money.
So, the discussion continues:
Great points. But (forgive me if this has been covered) how do you square your belief that “As to data-mining financials to find Spitzer? No. They didn’t have to” with Newsweek’s report that:
“The NSA, with the secret cooperation of U.S. telecommunications companies, had begun collecting vast amounts of information about the phone and e-mail records of American citizens. Separately, the NSA was also able to access, for the first time, massive volumes of personal financial records—such as credit-card transactions, wire transfers and bank withdrawals—that were being reported to the Treasury Department by financial institutions. These included millions of “suspicious-activity reports,” or SARS, according to two former Treasury officials who declined to be identified talking about sensitive programs. (It was one such report that tipped FBI agents to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes.) These records were fed into NSA supercomputers for the purpose of “data mining”—looking for links or patterns that might (or might not) suggest terrorist activity.”
This seems to imply that it was one of the “bank forms” EW describes in the new post, and not Stone, that led to Spitzer’s downfall. But perhaps you’re right and it was simply less damaging to frame the tip as coming from financial data than from someone who founded “Citizens United Not Timid,” against Hillary.
And, another commenter noted:
Catching up (off and on) through Monday, so I may be too late — but scribe, please consider putting this as an Oxdown Gazette. I’ll keep an eye out over there to recommend it. IMHO, this deserves wider readership at FDL.Especially this, which you’ve synopsized:
First, Spitzer got blown up for having the temerity to warn about the impending catastrophe that was (and still is) AIG and its CDOs, CSOs and whatever other financial chicanery they were pulling off. It Did Not Suit The Powers That Be that that catastrophe be exposed, at least not until they got their money out. He was not blown up for hiring a hooker.
Look at it this way.There’s a mountain of SARs filed for every conceivable reason. We know that. And yet the feds push for more. If you look at crime statistics, it’s not like there’s "more crime all the time". More likely, the push is to generate data to fill databases.The feds simply are not going to go through every one of the SARs. Too much work, and too much like work, and most if not almost all of the activity is innocent.
Along comes Roger Stone who, as he admitted in an interview somewhere (I can’t find it now, but I think it was in the New Yorker) that he heard about Spitzer using hookers from someone he met in a swingers’ club (Stone is pretty well known for an … um … interesting personal life). As I recall it, it was thought odd that Spitzer kept his socks on, so he stood out in the run of people one encounters. Stone passes the rumor along to a friend in the feds, figuring it’s good for future use to protect himself in the event he needs it.
Now the feds (whose loquacity about the investigation, including leaking grand jury material was extraordinary, and extraordinarily bad) know to look in that huge pile of SARs for the ones relating to Spitzer. Recall that, as a governor he’s already subject to some surveillance if only because he has to have a security clearance to enable him to be kept current by DHS (remember when Blago’s clearance was revoked and that added to the impeachment train’s momentum?). So, now the feds have something to hang an investigation on – a potential security threat: blackmail. (That a political operative like Roger Stone was the one tipping them off likely only made that blackmail potential more obvious.)
And they go after Spitzer “investigating” along those lines.
Had Spitzer kept his mouth shut about AIG, likely nothing ever would have been said. After all, Dusty Foggo got to be Executive Director of CIA and his sentencing documents revealed (publicly, last week) that counterintelligence knew he was sharing a girlfriend with a Soviet agent and protested he was a security risk before his appointment, to no avail.
But, Spitzer took that whole “responsibility” thing seriously and testified responsibly about the dangers AIG’s practices posed.
So, he had to go.
Or, as EW said:
One of the things Republicans have done going back at LEAST to the Lewinsky investigation (in which they used a go-between to officially deliver the Lewinsky allegations, even though it really came from Republican witchhunt) is to find a crime they want to go after then find a way to present it as if legally clean to DOJ. I suspect they did that in the Siegelman prosecution, the Feiger prosecution, and a number of others. So it would be normal for them to do the same with Spitzer.
In response, I only note that in the Seligman prosecution, it is known that the Feds hauled in a good ol’ boy (IIRC, he was the one who had to have about 70 meetings with the prosecutors pretrial so as to get and keep his story straight) who was supposed to have been corrupting Seligman with payments for something or other. This character noted that he’d made the same kind of payments to Seligman and to an Alabama senator (Sen. Sessions, IIRC). But the feds were wholly uninterested in the payments to the senator. Because he was a Republican. And, as I noted before, the power of a prosecutor is even greater when he knows you did wrong, but holds off prosecuting. If nothing else, it kept that Seantor in line, too.