Google to push for law enforcement to have more access to overseas data

FILE PHOTO: A Google logo is seen in a store in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> Google will press U.S. lawmakers on Thursday to update laws on how governments access customer data stored on servers located in other countries, hoping to address a mounting concern for both law enforcement officials and Silicon Valley.

The push comes amid growing legal uncertainty, both in the United States and across the globe, about how technology firms must comply with government requests for foreign-held data. That has raised alarm that criminal and terrorism investigations are being hindered by outdated laws that make the current process for sharing information slow and burdensome.

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president and general counsel, will announce the company’s framework during a speech in Washington, D.C., at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that wields influence in the Trump White House and Republican-controlled Congress.

The speech urges Congress to update a decades-old electronic communications law and follows similar efforts by Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>.

Both companies had previously objected in court to U.S. law enforcement efforts to use domestic search warrants for data held overseas because the practice could erode user privacy. But the tech industry and privacy advocates have also admitted the current rules for appropriate cross-border data requests are untenable.

The Mountain View, California-based company calls for allowing countries that commit to baseline privacy, human rights and due process principles to directly request data from U.S. providers without the need to consult the U.S. government as an intermediary. It is intended to be reciprocal.

Countries that do not adhere to the standards, such as an oppressive regime, would not be eligible.

Google did not detail specific baseline principles in its framework.

“This couldn’t be a more urgent set of issues,” Walker said in an interview, noting that recent acts of terrorism in Europe underscored the need to move quickly.

Current agreements that allow law enforcement access to data stored overseas, known as mutual legal assistance treaties, involve a formal diplomatic request for data and require the host country obtain a warrant on behalf of the requesting country. That can often take several months.

In January, a divided federal appeals court refused to reconsider its decision from last year that said the U.S. government could not force Microsoft or other companies to hand over customer data stored abroad under a domestic warrant.

The U.S. Justice Department has until midnight on Friday to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. It did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. judges have ruled against Google in similar recent cases, however, elevating the potential for Supreme Court review.

Companies, privacy advocates and judges themselves have urged Congress to address the problem rather than leave it to courts.

Google will also ask Congress to codify warrant requirements for data requests that involve content, such as the actual message found within an email.

Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said Google’s framework was “broadly correct” but urged caution about the process for letting countries make direct requests to providers.

“We need to make sure the people in the club are the right people,” he said.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

FBI says probing Michigan airport stabbing as ‘act of terrorism’

Police investigators talk outside the home of Amor Ftouhi, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, June 21, 2017. Ftouhi has been identified as a suspect by the FBI in the stabbing of a police officer inside the main terminal of a small airport in Flint, Michigan. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

By Ben Klayman and Christinne Muschi

DETROIT/MONTREAL (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Wednesday it was investigating as an act of terrorism the stabbing of a police officer inside the main terminal of a small airport in Flint, Michigan.

“I will tell you that we are investigating this incident today that happened at about 9:45 this morning as an act of terrorism,” David Gelios, special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, told reporters outside Bishop International Airport.

The U.S. Department of Justice identified the suspect as Amor M. Ftouhi, 49, of Quebec, Canada. Ftouhi legally entered the United States from Lake Champlain, New York, on June 16 before making his way to Flint, Gelios said.

According to a criminal complaint, Ftouhi yelled in Arabic “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before stabbing Lieutenant Jeff Neville of the airport’s Department of Public Safety.

Neville was in satisfactory condition after undergoing surgery and expected to fully recover, police said.

“When the subject went up to the officer and stabbed him, he continued to exclaim ‘Allah’ and made a statement, something to the effect of ‘You have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and we are all going to die,” Gelios said.

Ftouhi has been charged with violence at an international airport, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Gelios said other charges could be lodged against Ftouhi.

U.S. officials, who have questioned Ftouhi, currently believe he acted alone and was not part of a larger plot, Gelios said.

“Suffice it to say, he has a hatred for the United States,” Gelios said of Ftouhi.

Gelios described the weapon as a 12-inch knife with an 8-inch serrated blade. Ftouhi was a “lone wolf attacker,” he said.

It took four people to subdue Ftouhi, including the officer he stabbed and a nearby maintenance worker, said Chris Miller, the airport’s director of public safety. Miller and another officer also assisted.

According to the criminal complaint, after he was subdued Ftouhi asked why he had not been killed.

The airport was evacuated and there were no other injuries. It reopened on Wednesday evening.

A small regional airport, it has, on average, 16 commercial flights arriving or departing each day, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service.

Officials in the United States and Canada condemned the attack and said that agencies in both countries would work together to investigate the incident.

“Any attack on someone who serves and protects our citizens will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement, adding that he had spoken with FBI officials about the attack.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the attack “heinous and cowardly.”

“We will do everything we possibly can to assist in this matter,” Goodale told reporters.

Police in Montreal went to an apartment building in the city’s Saint Michel area on Wednesday in connection with the stabbing, according to Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of Canada’s public broadcaster.

Radio-Canada reported that police questioned three people but did not search the apartment.

Police were guarding the entrance and rear doorway of the four-story building in Saint Michel, a lower income neighborhood with a large immigrant population, according to a Reuters eyewitness. A small crowd had gathered across the street.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not immediately return Reuters requests for comment.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, Erich Beech in Washington and Anna Mehler Paperny and Amran Abocar in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Toni Reinhold)

Exclusive – U.S. investigators in Russia probe look at role of Flynn partner

FILE PHOTO - U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn walks along the West Wing colonnade at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Picture

By Nathan Layne and Julia Edwards Ainsley

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal investigators probing the lobbying work of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn are focused in part on the role of Bijan Kian, Flynn’s former business partner, according to a person interviewed by the FBI.

Investigators are also looking at whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn and his company, the now-inactive Flynn Intel Group, were lawful, according to two separate sources with knowledge of the broad inquiry into Flynn’s business activities. That includes payments by three Russian companies and a Netherlands-based company, Inovo, controlled by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, they said.

The FBI’s interest in Kian has not been previously reported. Kian played a central role in securing and overseeing the Inovo contract, two people with knowledge of that project said.

It is not clear whether Kian is a target of the criminal investigation or whether investigators are trying to build a fuller understanding of how Flynn’s company operated.

A person recently interviewed by the FBI in connection with the Flynn investigation said agents from the bureau’s criminal division had asked as much about Kian and his work on the project with Alptekin as they had about Flynn.

Kian did not respond to repeated requests for comment, nor did the lawyer he recently hired, Robert Trout. The FBI declined to comment.

Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not respond to requests for comment. Alptekin declined to comment for this story but last month told Reuters that he was satisfied with the work done by Flynn Intel Group and denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI has been investigating whether Flynn’s consulting firm lobbied on behalf of Turkey – after being paid $530,000 by Inovo – without making the proper disclosure, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The federal investigation is being run by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller has a mandate to investigate contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 election campaign team and any related matters. Flynn was fired by the Trump administration in February after officials said he mischaracterized a series of phone calls with Russia’s ambassador last December.

The top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has separately been looking into whether Flynn made false statements in applying for security clearance, said he was also scrutinizing Kian.

“I have an interest in Bijan Kian and his interactions with General Flynn based on specific documents already obtained by the Committee,” Elijah Cummings told Reuters in an email.

Kelner has sought immunity for Flynn in exchange for his testimony, saying his client “certainly has a story to tell.”

FAILED COUP OPENS A DOOR

In private conversations with potential clients, Kian portrayed himself as a rainmaker for Flynn, tapping into connections cultivated during a five-year tenure as a director at the U.S. Export-Import Bank, according to one person who worked with the firm.

Alptekin told Reuters in May that his firm hired Flynn Intel Group to research Gulen’s activities in the United States, which he suspected were “poisoning” relations between the United States and Turkey. Like Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan, Alptekin blamed the coup on followers of Gulen.

Gulen has denied any role in the coup and dismisses Turkey’s allegations that he heads a terrorist organization.

Kian oversaw key elements of the project that emerged, including a still-unfinished documentary on Gulen, according to two people involved in the project.

Inovo paid Flynn Intel Group a total of $530,000, starting in September, according to a Justice Department filing by the company in March. Flynn Intel Group paid $80,000 to Inovo in “consultancy fees,” according to the filing, which does not provide more detail on why payments were made in both directions.

On Sept. 19, Kian and Flynn met in New York with Turkey’s foreign minister and energy minister, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.

In late October Kian invited staff of the House Homeland Security Committee to Flynn Intel Group’s headquarters in Virginia. The meeting was called to show off new mobile phone security technology, but Kian also used the opportunity to try to get a congressional hearing on Gulen, according to a person at the meeting.

At that point, the Flynn Intel Group had only disclosed its work for Alptekin’s Inovo in a filing with Congress. It had not mentioned Inovo’s ties to Turkey.

When Justice Department officials became aware months later that Kian and other Flynn Intel Group officials had met with Turkish officials they insisted on a fuller disclosure, people involved in those discussions said.

The Flynn Intel Group made the more detailed disclosure in its March filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act that said the work that Flynn and Kian did for Inovo “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by John Walcott, Julia Harte and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)

Comey says Trump fired him to undermine FBI Russia investigation

Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former FBI director James Comey on Thursday accused President Donald Trump on Thursday of firing him to try to undermine the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign team and Russia.

Trump dismissed Comey on May 9 and the administration gave differing reasons for the action. Trump later contradicted his own staff and acknowledged on May 11 that he fired Comey because of the Russia probe.

Asked at a U.S. congressional hearing why he was fired, Comey said he did not know for sure. But he added: “Again, I take the president’s words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that.”

Comey earlier told the Senate Intelligence Committee in the most eagerly anticipated U.S. congressional hearing in years that he believed Trump had directed him to drop an FBI probe into the Republican president’s former national security adviser as part of the Russia investigation.

But Comey would not say whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice.

“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning,” Comey told the committee.

Trump critics say that any efforts by the president to hinder an FBI probe could amount to obstruction of justice. Such an offense potentially could lead to Trump being impeached by Congress, although the Republicans who control the Senate and House of Representatives have shown little appetite to make such a move against him.

Dressed in a dark suit and giving short, deliberative answers, Comey painted a picture of an overbearing president who pressured him to stop the FBI looking into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In more than two hours of testimony, Comey did not make any mayor new revelations about alleged links between Trump or his associates and Russia, an issue that has dogged Trump’s first months in office and distracted from his policy goals such as overhauling the U.S. healthcare system and making tax cuts.

Trump, in a speech across town, told supporters their movement was “under siege” and vowed to fight on.

“We’re under siege … but we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever,” he said. “We will not back down from doing what is right.”

“We know how to fight and we will never give up,” the president added.

U.S. stocks were higher in early afternoon trading on Thursday after investors concluded Comey’s testimony would not in itself bring down Trump’s presidency.

(Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe in New York, Doina Chiacu, Eric Walsh, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump to ask former Justice Dept official Wray to lead FBI

FILE PHOTO: Assistant U.S. Attorney General Christopher Wray pauses during a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S. November 4, 2003. REUTERS/Molly Riley/File Photo

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he plans to nominate Christopher Wray, a former U.S. assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush now in private practice, to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow,” Trump said in a statement on Twitter.

The U.S. Senate must approve Trump’s choice to replace former FBI Director James Comey, whom the president fired last month amid the agency’s ongoing probe into alleged Russian meddling into the U.S. election.

Trump’s announcement comes the day before Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Moscow’s alleged interference and any potential ties to Trump’s campaign or associates.

The president met last week with candidates for the FBI director post, including Wray, according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

Wray currently works for King & Spalding’s Washington and Atlanta offices where he handles various white-collar criminal and regulatory enforcement cases, according to the firm.

He served as assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division from 2003 to 2005, working on corporate fraud scandals and cases involving U.S. financial markets, according to his biography on the law firm’s website.

Many lawmakers have said Trump should pick a career law enforcement professional.

One former FBI official questioned whether Wray had the management experience to run an agency with more than 35,000 people, given the small size of the division he ran at the Justice Department.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alden Bentley and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Trump will not block ex-FBI chief Comey’s testimony: White House

A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) in the House of Representatives in Washington, U.S., on February 28, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey in Washington U.S

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will not invoke executive privilege to block former FBI Director James Comey’s scheduled testimony before Congress this week, the White House said on Monday.

“In order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James Comey’s scheduled testimony,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

Comey was leading a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign when the president fired him last month.

Presidents can assert executive privilege to prevent government employees from sharing information.

If Trump had asserted executive privilege over Comey, it would have likely created the perception that the administration was seeking to hide information about the FBI’s Russia investigation.

It has been reported that Comey plans to talk about conversations in which Trump pressured him to drop his investigation into former national security advisor Mike Flynn, who was fired for failing to disclose conversations with Russian officials.

Comey is scheduled to testify for the first time since his firing before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of the committee’s Russia-related investigation.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

Following advice, potential FBI chiefs steer clear of job under Trump

FILE PHOTO: People protest against President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, on Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s search for a new FBI director hit roadblocks on Tuesday when two high-profile potential candidates, a moderate judge and a conservative senator, signaled they did not want the job.

Advisers to Judge Merrick Garland and U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told Reuters they discouraged them from leading the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cautioning that they would be leaving important, secure jobs for one fraught with politics and controversy.

The advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the new FBI director would have little job security and heightened scrutiny by political observers following President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey on May 9.

Garland and Cornyn distancing themselves from the selection process just three days before Trump has said he may make a decision, points to the difficulties the White House has in filling the FBI post amid turmoil in the administration.

Trump’s firing of Comey, the man in charge of an investigation into possible collusion between 2016 election campaign associates and the Russian government, outraged many lawmakers, including some Republicans.

Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “loves his job and is not interested in leaving the judiciary,” said one source familiar with the judge’s thinking.

Cornyn said in a statement that he had informed the White House that “the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday that an announcement on FBI director was still possible before Trump leaves on his first foreign trip on Friday. He said the U.S. Department of Justice was still interviewing candidates.

Several Republican senators had promoted Garland even though they had refused to give him a hearing when Republican Trump’s predecessor President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Garland last year for a then-vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans’ reasoning appeared to be that Garland would be accepted by Democrats and help restore faith in the FBI as a nonpartisan agency.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to Garland, a former federal prosecutor, as “an apolitical professional.”

A second Garland acquaintance who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Garland sought advice from those who told him he would be leaving his life-long position on the federal bench to take a job that could be terminated by Trump overnight.

A Republican Senate aide said Cornyn’s staff also worried that the third-term Texas Senator could cut his- and their own- careers short by going to the FBI.

An adviser to another candidate on the White House short-list, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, 75, said Kelly is also being persuaded to step out of the running.

Kelly has not said that he would not consider the job, but so far he has not been interviewed.

Republican Representative Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor whose name had been floated, said on Monday he was not interested in the director position.

The difficulty in filling key administration jobs is not just limited to the FBI director post.

Trump’s habits of contradicting his top aides, demanding personal loyalty and punishing officials who contradict him in public has discouraged a number of experienced people from pursuing jobs, said three people who declined to discuss possible positions with administration officials.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract good people to work in this administration,” said one senior official. “In other cases, veteran people with expertise are leaving or seeking posts overseas and away from this White House.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Mark Hosenball, Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; editing by Grant McCool)

Trump, in tweets, defends his sharing of information with Russians

FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos showing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attending a news conference in Moscow, Russia, November 18, 2015, and U.S. President Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/Lucas Jackson/File Photos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to disclose information to Russian officials during a White House meeting last week, saying he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

The president took to Twitter to counter a torrent of criticism, including from his fellow Republicans, after reports that he had revealed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation.

Two U.S. officials said Trump shared the intelligence, supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting last Wednesday.

The disclosures late on Monday roiled the administration as it struggled to move past the backlash over Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating the president’s ties to Russia.

The turmoil overshadowed Republican legislative priorities such as healthcare and tax reform and laid bare sharp divisions between the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded late last year that Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Russia has denied such meddling, and Trump bristles at any suggestion he owed his Nov. 8 victory to Moscow.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump said on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump weighed in personally the morning after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, issued statements saying no sources, methods or military operations were discussed at the Russian meeting.

McMaster said the story, initially reported by the Washington Post, was false.

The U.S. officials told Reuters that while the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement.

Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling.”

“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now,” he said on Monday, “and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason, Mark Hosenball; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)