Four Army National Guardsmen Indicted

   5/28/2016 - Greenbelt, Maryland – Three guardsmen from the District of Columbia Army National Guard have been indicted on charges arising from a scheme to use Bitcoin to buy stolen credit and debit card numbers from foreign websites, re-encode cards issued in their names with those stolen numbers, and then fraudulently purchase items at Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) stores on military bases and elsewhere for use and resale (Shelton Stewart Indictment). Those indicted included Derrick K. Shelton, II, 28, of Washington, D.C.; James C. Stewart, III, (J. Stewart) 25, of District Heights, Maryland; and Quentin T. Stewart, 28, of Parkville, Maryland.
   A fourth national guardsman, Vincent Anthony Grant, 27, of Laurel, Maryland was also indicted in a separate case involving a similar fraud scheme (Grant Indictment). The indictments were returned on May 9 and unsealed on May 20 following the arrests of the defendants.
   The indictments were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, Special Agent in Charge Robert Craig of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service - Mid-Atlantic Field Office (DCIS); and Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.
   Shelton, J. Stewart and Grant were specialists, and Q. Stewart was a former sergeant, all in the District of Columbia Army National Guard.
   “Bitcoin” is a digital currency that operates through an online, decentralized ledger system. Bitcoin is not issued by any government, bank, or company, but rather is generated and controlled through computer software operating through a decentralized network. Bitcoin can be exchanged for other currencies, products, or services.
   The Shelton Stewart Indictment alleges that from July 2014 to May 2015, Shelton, J. Stewart and Q. Stewart, along with co-conspirator Jamal Moody and others, used Bitcoin to purchase stolen credit and debit card numbers of individuals and businesses from foreign internet websites. They selected and purchased stolen credit and debit card numbers of individuals and businesses holding federal credit union accounts, and those with billing addresses in or near Maryland. They bought magnetic strip card-encoding devices and software to re-encode credit, debit and other cards with the stolen credit and debit card numbers.
   According to the Shelton Stewart Indictment, the defendants used the cards they fraudulently re-encoded to buy merchandise, including gift cards, electronic items, and luxury goods, from AAFES stores on U.S. military bases, and other locations in Maryland and elsewhere. They used the merchandise themselves or resold the merchandise.
   The Grant Indictment alleges that from July 2014 to April 2015, Grant, along with co-conspirator Moody and others, engaged in a scheme similar to the one described above.
   Shelton, J. Stewart and Q. Stewart face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud. Grant faces a maximum sentence of seven and half in prison for conspiring to commit access device fraud. All four defendants also face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft, consecutive to any other sentence imposed. The defendants had their initial appearances last week and were released under pretrial supervision, except for Quentin Stewart who is scheduled to have a detention hearing tomorrow, May 24, 2016, at noon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
   An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
   In a separate proceeding, Jamal Alexander Moody, age 28, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, who was also a specialist in the District of Columbia Army National Guard, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Moody admitted that from July 2014 to April 2015, he purchased a magnetic-strip card-encoding device which he used to re-encode credit and debit cards issued in his name with more than 100 stolen credit and debit card numbers of other individuals that he purchased through Bitcoin transactions. Moody used the fraudulently re-encoded cards to purchase – often from AAFES stores - gift cards or electronic and luxury goods for resale. Moody is awaiting sentencing.
   The Maryland Identity Theft Working Group has been working since 2006 to foster cooperation among local, state, federal, and institutional fraud investigators and to promote effective prosecution of identity theft schemes by both state and federal prosecutors. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Working Group, demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies to work with financial institutions and businesses to address identity fraud, identify those who compromise personal identity information, and protect citizens from identity theft.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Lawsuit Seeks Data On BOP, CIA Detention Site

By Steve Rensberry
   (RPC) - 4/28/2016 - Although it has received scant attention in the news, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this past month against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, citing the bureau's failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request involving documents pertaining to a 2002 visit to a CIA detention site in Afghanistan, code-named COBALT. The operation and site, also known as “the Salt Pit,” was used to confine and torture terrorism suspects, according to the declassified torture report provided to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014. Although the practices described in the report were referred to as “not inhumane,” it nevertheless was a shock to the senses for many of those who read it.
   The ACLU's initial Freedom of Information Act request, filed in 2015, was brushed aside by prisons officials, who claimed that “no records exist" -- a response which the civil rights organization has questions.
   “What business did the Bureau of Prisons have with a torture site in Afghanistan?” ACLU National Prison Project Staff Attorney Carl Takei stated in a recent news release. “The bureau controls conditions for the 200,000 federal prisoners in the United States while teaching its methods to jails and state prisons around the country. We have to wonder why a team from that institution would give its approval to a place where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement in near-total darkness 24-7, shackled to the wall standing up, and with a bucket for human waste.”
   The ACLU's suit was filed on April 14, 2016. A link to an executive summary of the report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, given to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on December 9, 2014, is available here:
   The executive summary is 525 pages long, and the full committee study is 6,700 pages in length.
   As stated in the forward to the summary, written by Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein: “The full report has been provided to the White House, the CIA, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the hopes that it will prevent further coercive interrogation practices and inform the management of covert action programs.”
   Recalling the days after 9-11, when political leaders and the public felt the impulse to do whatever it could to stop another attack, Feinstein said that such pressure and fear did no “justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.”
   Feinstein referred to the lessons of history and the need to subject decisions to internal and external review, then lambasted those who oversaw the COBALT operation.
   “Instead, CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values,” Feinstein wrote.
    Her statement begs the question: If such techniques were in violation of U.S. law and treaty obligations, why has no one connected with such abuse been prosecuted?
   The short answer is because those doing the prosecuting, that is, the Justice Department, would indirectly be prosecuting themselves. The Justice Department cited in its investigation the advice given by the Office of Legal Council, which itself is part of the U.S. Justice Department. Both are part of the executive branch of the U.S. government. Together with the attorney general, both groups provide advice and guidance to the president and all other executive branch agencies, including the C.I.A.
   Following the release of the 2014 report, justice department spokespersons and the administration have remained unified and steadfast in their redirection of the subject, not surprisingly, with President Obama citing a desire to "look forward, not backward," and the justice department citing the fact that such interrogation techniques had been fully reviewed and considered legal under the previous administration. In other words, it goes all the way to the top.
   One of the most damning assessments of the administration's failure to prosecute those responsible has come from the organization Human Rights Watch, and from UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism Ben Emmerson.
   The Human Rights Watch report can be found here:
   To quote: “As set out in this report, Human Rights Watch concludes there is substantial evidence to support the opening of new investigations into allegations of criminal offenses by numerous US officials and agents in connection with the CIA program. These include torture, assault, sexual abuse, war crimes, and conspiracy to commit such crimes. In reaching this conclusion, we have drawn on our own investigations, media and other public reports, and the declassified information in the Senate Summary. But more evidence exists that has yet to be made public. . . . US officials who played a role in the process of creating, authorizing, and implementing the CIA program should be among those investigated for conspiracy to torture as well as other crimes. They include: Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General for Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) Jay Bybee, OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, an individual identified as “CTC Legal” in the Senate Summary, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Legal Advisor John Bellinger, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Legal Advisor Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice President David Addington, Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes II, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. In addition, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, CIA psychologist contractors who devised the program, proposed it to the CIA, and helped carry it out, should also be investigated for their role in the initial conspiracy.”
   In a surprise ruling, Federal Judge Justin L. Quackenbush denied on April 22, 2016, a motion to dismiss a suit brought against psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who aided in the CIA's torture practices and COBALT operation, and for which they were paid $81 million. More about the case and ruling can be found here:

Report: Medical Errors Injure Upwards Of 488,900

By Steve Rensberry
   (RPC) - 2/19/2016 - A recent report by the Heartland Health Research Institute estimates that between 281,000 and 488,900 patients in Illinois hospitals are injured each year to do preventable medical errors or events. The estimate nationally is between 6.6 million and 11.5 million patients.
Preventable injuries occurring in Illinois hospitals.
    “If the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were to include preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals as a category, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer,” an HHRI press release about the report states.
   Fatalities occur in Illinois hospitals due to preventable adverse events (PAE) at an estimated rate of about 1 death for every 139 hospital admissions. By comparison, 11 patients die in hospitals from such errors for every vehicle fatality, 15 patients die for every murder committed in the state, and altogether nearly 3 percent of the state's entire population is harmed each year by PAEs. The frequency and volume translates into about one fatality every 50 minutes in the state due to such errors.
   The annual cost of such errors? The HHRI report estimates that in Illinois the annual social cost of such fatalities is about $5.2 billion. Nationally the cost is estimated between $23.1 billion and $103.4 billion. The number of injured patients annually in Illinois, based on the most common types of preventable medical errors, is as follows: adverse drug events (72,600 patients); venous thromboembolisms/, VTEs – blood clots that form within a vein (48,800); decubitus ulcers, bed soars (36,400); catheter-related urinary tract infections (17,500); falls in the hospital (16,200); nosocomial pneumonia (12,600); catheter, related bloodstream infections (6,300).  
   "Preventable medical errors in our hospitals is clearly alarming, both in the number of lives affected and in cost." Heartland Health Research Institute President David Lind stated. "Is Illinois making progress on preventable medical errors? The quick answer is, we don't really know because reporting yields a healthy dose of under-counting and under-reporting of medical errors. Without having stringently-coordinated regulations and policies that effectively hold providers accountable through transparent reporting, medical errors will continue and the public will remain in the dark. The Federal Aviation Administration has such regulations - shouldn't our safety be just as important when we enter a hospital as it is when we board an airplane? The public deserves transparency and accountability on this issue."
   A study by USA Today in 2013, using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank and other sources, point to an additional worry for potential patients – unnecessary surgeries, which the article states might account for as much as 10-20 percent of all operations in some specialties. Cites are cardiac procedures such as stents, angioplasty and pacemaker implants, spinal surgeries, hysterectomies, cesarean sections, and knee replacements.
   “Tens of thousands of times each year, patients are wheeled into the nation's operating rooms for surgery that isn't necessary,” authors Peter Eisler and Barbara Hensen write.
   What makes the size of the problem difficult to calculate is that only the worse cases are likely to become public knowledge, and if a surgery by chance takes care of a problem that could have been alleviated with lesser therapy or a non-surgical procedure, little suspicion is raised because the problem is gone.
   “Hospitals around the country do not report PAEs accurately and consistently - if at all,” the HHRI report states. “National experts acknowledge that most PAEs are either under reported or unreported. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued a report in 2012 stating, 'Hospital staff did not report 86 percent of [patient harm] events to incident reporting systems, partly because of staff misperceptions about what constitutes patient harm.' This behavior reflects our culture of silence.”
   An October 27, 2015 Harvard Business Review report, written by Rebecca Wentraub, Yannis K. Valtis and Peter Bonis, claims there are many as 44,000 deaths in the Unites States each year due to preventable medical errors, with a price tag of roughly $17 billion.

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014