New Details Emerge In The Arrest Of ACORN Whistleblower James O’Keefe

James O’Keefe — the upstart investigative filmmaker whose undercover video work got ACORN’s federal funding stripped — has been arrested by the FBI in Louisiana for attempting to wiretap the offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, according to the Times-Picayune. The paper is reporting that the FBI arrested O’Keefe and three others — Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan — two of whom dressed as telephone company workers to tap the Landrieu’s office telephone system. O’Keefe was reportedly posted inside the office and claimed to be “waiting for someone to arrive.”

Politico has the FBI affidavit available here.

Mediaite first chronicled O’Keefe’s rise to prominence when he posed undercover as a pimp looking for ACORN financing to run his fake prostitution ring, which resulted in the U.S. Census stopping work with the group. He also wore a pimp costume on Fox News, prompting us to interview some of O’Keefe’s former classmates to learn more about the man who brought such attention to himself and the then-newly launched BigGovernment.com.

O’Keefe had given a speech last week to Libertarian Pelican Institute for Public Policy in New Orleans, where he discussed “the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting,” according to the paper. Now, it seems he took his undercover investigations too far. You could even say he got a little too big for his costume britches.



UPDATE — Andrew Breitbart provided Politico with the following comment:

“We have no knowledge about or connection to any alleged acts and events involving James O’Keefe at Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. We only just learned about the alleged incident this afternoon. We have no information other than what has been reported publicly by the press. Accordingly, we simply are not in a position to make any further comment.”

A Press Release from the US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Louisiana:

United States Attorney’s Office

Eastern District of Louisiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: KATHY ENGLISH

TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, 2010 PHONE: (504) 680-3068

WWW.USDOJ.GOV/USAO/LAE FAX: (504) 589-4978

FOUR MEN ARRESTED FOR ENTERING GOVERNMENT PROPERTY UNDER FALSE PRETENSES FOR THE PURPOSE OF

COMMITTING A FELONY

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JOSEPH BASEL, age 24, ROBERT FLANAGAN, age 24, JAMES O’KEEFE, age 25, and STAN DAI, age 24, were charged in a criminal complaint with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, announced the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

According to the complaint, which was unsealed earlier today, the arrest of FLANAGAN, BASEL, O’KEEFE, and DAI took place after BASEL and O’KEEFE attempted to gain access to the New Orleans office of United States Senator Mary Landrieu on January 25, 2010, while posing as telephone repairmen. According to the complaint, FLANAGAN and BASEL were each dressed in blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a light green fluorescent vest, a tool belt and a construction-style hard hat when they entered the Hale Boggs Federal Building, located at 500 Poydras Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130. Once in the building, FLANAGAN and BASEL sought access to the offices of Senator Landrieu. O’KEEFE was already present in the office, holding a cellular phone so as to record FLANAGAN and BASEL. Once inside Senator Landrieu’s reception area, FLANAGAN and BASEL told a member of Senator Landrieu’s staff that they were telephone repairmen, and they requested access to the main telephone at the reception desk. FLANAGAN and BASEL then manipulated the telephone system. FLANAGAN and BASEL next requested access to the telephone closet because they needed to perform work on the main telephone system. They were directed to the main office of the United

ineStates General Services Administration, also inside the Hale Boggs Federal Building, where they again represented themselves to be employees of the telephone company and stated that they needed to perform repair work in the telephone closet. Both FLANAGAN and BASEL stated that they had left their credentials in their vehicle. In addition, the complaint alleges that O’KEEFE and DAI assisted FLANAGAN and BASEL in the planning, coordination, and preparation of the operation. The men were apprehended by the United States Marshal’s Service soon thereafter.

If convicted, FLANAGAN, BASEL, O’KEEFE, and DAI each face a maximum term of ten years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three (3) years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.

The United States Attorney’s Office reiterated that the complaint is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation is being conducted by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Deputy Marshals with the United States Marshal’s Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jordan Ginsberg.

* * *


5 Journalists To Challenge Facebook, Twitter…Big Brother Style

On February 1st, five journalists will lock themselves in a farmhouse in the south of France to determine whether or not Facebook and Twitter are actually worth something.

Just kidding. With nearly 400 million combined users, Twitter and Facebook have proved their social power and established their longevity.

However, whether or not they can also serve as a reputable source of news remains to be seen. Twitter certainly functions as a rapid-fire newswire, and can also provide integral communications during times of disaster and distress, as demonstrated by recent events in Haiti. But is it reliable?

By organizing this Big Brother new media experiment, the RFP French-language public broadcasters association hopes to determine just that. They’ve rounded up five journalists–Benjamin Muller (France Info), Nour-Eddine Zidane (France Inter), Janic Tremblay (Première Chaîne de Radio-Canada), Anne-Paule Martin (RSR, Switzerland) and Nicolas Willems (RTBF, Belgium)–who have agreed to retreat into a farm house in France’s southern Perigord region for five days with data-less cell phones, computers with blank hard drives and access only to Facebook and Twitter. Their smart phones will be taken away. Web surfing, TV, radio and newspapers will be banned. You can track their progress on Twitter, though it looks as if it will help if you speak French.

The experiment sounds interesting. And deep down, I’m hoping someone will legally change their name to FacebookAndTwitterGuy. But ultimately, I wonder about its relevancy.

Let’s be honest: Facebook and Twitter do not exist in a world of isolated APIs and codes. If you’re on social networking services, you can probably also access other news sources to determine whether or not the latest tip on John Edwards is true. So why spend the time and money to lock these journalists on what sounds like a five-day vacation? Unless MTV steps in to provide some Jersey Shore drama, I’ll probably only be checking in for a 140-character summary.


Facebook Takes on Haiti Relief

In the largest effort to date to provide information on a major news event, Facebook has tried to mobilize users–often derided as “slacktivists“–to focus on Haiti relief efforts and has gotten some star power to help out.

Through its Global Disaster Relief fanpage, Facebook has spent the last week creating a portal of information on the Haiti disaster and recruited former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to make videos that specifically mentioned Facebook’s efforts.  The videos are classic Bill and George, but the real coup may have been in getting them to specifically mention Facebook’s efforts as they talked about the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund.

While the company is not disclosing how many hits/impressions the videos and fan page is getting, Facebook’s Andrew Noyes told Mediaite that “we’ve heard numerous reports from media, nonprofits and individual users about how Facebook has been a lifeline for the relief effort over the past week.” The effort is a coordination between Facebook’s new Washington, D.C. office and people at Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the week since the first earthquake, the fan page has gained over 146,500 fans and continues to add thousands a day. Two other related fan pages–for Clinton and for the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund–have over 283,770 fans and 13,500 fans respectively. While the fan page is not meant to be a fundraising tool, the tool Causes has raised over $400,000 for a number of non-profits doing disaster relief in Haiti, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Friends of the UN World Food Program, Compassion International, CARE and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

In addition to the former presidents, Facebook has also worked with Download to Donate for Haiti and uploaded a video by the band Linkin Park and Noyes, who heads public policy communications in Washington, D.C., says more videos are expected.  While the current efforts are focused on in Haiti, Noyes said that the fan page would remain active and used for the company’s future efforts as other global disasters occur. 

The uncertainty in any effort like this is whether providing information to people through Facebook or some other social media will result in action or greater education.  As Denis Hurley said last week in a Mediaite column, “[a] common criticism of Facebook is that the information shared is little more than a link to a cat playing a keyboard, but as we’ve seen these past few days, it can also be put to good use.”

Facebook has tapped into the power of its 350 million active users by directing attention to global relief, a significant evolution in Facebook’s mission.  While the fan page numbers may seem like a drop in the bucket, Facebook’s messaging tends to be viral and information doesn’t stay limited to just members of fan pages.

 

 


Feds to Facebook Privacy Critics: Let’s Talk

walken hopperMeaningful? Or meaningless? You make the call: The Federal Trade Commission has told the group that filed a grievance about Facebook’s recent privacy changes that its “complaint raises issues of particular interest at this time.”

And that means? Hard to say.

In a letter (pdf) to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, David Vladeck, the FTC’s director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, says his agency would be happy to talk to EPIC about its concerns. But that’s about all he’s promising for now.

Just as important, Vladeck points out that he can’t and won’t say whether the FTC is formally investigating EPIC’s complaint: “Please be advised, however, that any Commission investigation is non-public until the Commission decides to issue a formal complaint or investigation. As a result, we can neither confirm nor deny that we are conducting an investigation of the issues raised by your complaint.”

So there you go. Either the Feds are taking this very seriously or they’re not.

As I’ve said before, Facebook may face some regulatory blowback for its privacy overhaul–otherwise known as the “please share as much of yourself as you can” campaign–in the U.S., and more likely, in Europe. But unless the social networking service starts hearing from  advertisers, I’m not sure how much farther this goes.

Another Big Bet on Mobile Payments: Boku Raises $25 Million

bokuIs there big money in mobile payments–systems that let people buy stuff using their phones, charging purchases to their wireless bills? Not yet, perhaps. But investors are betting there will be.

Latest example: Boku, a mobile payment start-up that raised $13 million last June, has added another $25 million via a C round led by DAG Ventures. Benchmark Capital, Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures are all re-upping.

For now, Boku and competitors like Zong are focused on letting people use their phones to buy “virtual goods,” primarily on social games run by the likes of Zynga, Playdom, and Playfish from Electronic Arts (ERTS).

But even if you believe that the virtual goods business is not going the way of Pet Rocks, it is going to be somewhat limited–the most obvious users for this stuff are kids who don’t have their own credits cards–and competition will ratchet up if Facebook decides to finally offer its own payment platform, which seems very likely.

But the amount of money the start-ups are raising indicates that they have much bigger ambitions. They want to turn your phone into a payment system for “real” stuff. Easy enough to see how you could extend this to other digital purchases, like music, video, etc., but there’s no reason you couldn’t buy physical goods this way.

Could happen, too. Though we’ve been hearing about that scenario for more than a decade, and it hasn’t taken off yet.

One near-term obstacle, at least in the U.S., is carrier fees–AT&T (T), Sprint (S) et al generally take up to 50 percent of each transaction that happens on their networks. If the mobile payment business is going to go up, those numbers need to come down.