Hi Reddit, I’m Mara Hvistendahl, an investigative reporter for The Intercept focusing on national security and technology — and I’m Micah Lee, Director of Information Security at The Intercept. We’re answering questions about BlueLeaks:

Last month, the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets published 269 gigabytes of law enforcement data. In all, the archive contains more than 16 million rows of data: not just personal information of officers, but descriptions of alleged crimes, website logs, and more. It also contains hundreds of thousands of documents, thousands of videos, and millions of images.⁠

Among those documents is a Homeland Security intelligence note which expresses the anxiety that mask-wearing is breaking facial recognition technology, as public health wisdom clashes with the prerogatives of local and federal police.


UPDATE: Thanks for joining, we're going to wrap up now. You can follow the rest of The Intercept's ongoing BlueLeaks coverage here, including one of our latest pieces: Leaked Documents Show Police Knew Far-Right Extremists Were the Real Threat at Protests, Not “Antifa”

Comments: 252 • Responses: 25  • Date: 


Have you been surprised by the government's response to the leaks, for example having German police seizing the servers that hosted the data?

theintercept678 karma

I have been surprised. The actions against DDoSecrets publishing BlueLeaks data are a lot more aggressive than anything we've seen before in past data leaks. I think it's because American police have an incredible amount of political power and feel very threatened by this data being out there.
- Micah

bluntdogcamelman217 karma

DDoSecrets was banned from Twitter, r/BlueLeaks was banned from reddit, where can people go to share and discuss things they find within the blueleaks archive?

theintercept275 karma

Good question! At the moment there is no central discussion area that I'm aware of.

It's a shame that reddit banned the BlueLeaks subreddit -- it was definitely a bad choice, and I think points to the immense power that police have in the US.

It looks like twitter has maybe calmed down on their censorship, and I think it's definitely worth continuing to post findings there, and pressuring twitter to not censor anything that's within the public interest.

- Micah

konrad-iturbe145 karma

Is any agency of the US government expressing interest to purchase systems that have the ability to match faces even with a face covering? specifically to combat flaws in existing systems. Not too long ago there was a Recode article saying SenseTime, a leader in the field, was looking at selling a solution to this. Panasonic also had a demo.

theintercept166 karma

I haven't heard of any agencies trying to purchase anything of that sort, though NIST is looking into the issue. A lot of companies have made claims about their technologies' capacity to identify faces, but the evidence that they can actually do so is lacking. This report from IPVM is pretty telling. And there's a difference between identifying faces for building access or at border checkpoints (cases where people are looking at the camera straight on) and identifying individuals who are walking or running by a camera.

-- Mara

Proud_Regular166130 karma

269 GB is quite a bit, but when I looked through it, I found much of the data seemed to be extraneous files or images. What documents or communications do you think are the "must be studied" and what percentage of the leak comprise those?

theintercept165 karma

The data includes tons of Office documents and PDFs, but personally I think the most interesting information starts out in the CSV files, which are exported database tables. These include the content of bulk emails that fusion centers send out and who receives them, suspicious activity reports, and support requests from local police to fusion centers, often for things like help breaking into a locked phone or help spying on an upcoming protest.

- Micah

theintercept121 karma

That's a good question. The dispatches from fusion centers are revealing. We've reported on many of them, but there is much more to be done. Beyond that, the documents show communications that give insight into the day-to-day operations of law enforcement agencies. Some of these might be hard for the average user to dig into on their own, though. Technical skills definitely help.

-- Mara

LooseAlbatross113 karma

I agree that more transparency into police departments is needed, but I am uneasy about hacker vigilantism and especially the doxxing present in the leaked files. How do you think about the ethics of these operations, and do you consider the motives of those behind the leaks?

theintercept108 karma

I, too, am somewhat uneasy about the fact that so much personal information has been made public in this leak. I personally like the Panama Papers model, where the massive data set is made available to a team of hundreds of journalists, and only the newsworthy (or at least not PII) parts are published.

But there's no question that there's also a massive amount of newsworthy info in BlueLeaks, and without really knowing anything about the source (who identified with the nebulous hacktivist group Anonymous), I think the motives are fairly obvious: Police won't stop murdering Black people.

- Micah

theintercept107 karma

I would add that while we are publishing some of the documents, we are quite careful to redact personal information.

-- Mara


In Blueleaks, a lot of the intel about activist groups seems to be pretty low-effort and based on media reports rather than law enforcement investigations. Do you suspect there are other law enforcement databases and files pertaining to current investigations of such groups that are not included in Blueleaks?

theintercept116 karma

Definitely there is intelligence on activist groups that is not included in this leak. But what makes this leak interesting is that it provides a window into the operations of fusion centers, which are post-9/11 agencies that conduct domestic intelligence. The BlueLeaks docs also give a lot of insight into the way law enforcement agencies reacted to the George Floyd protests. In reporting on the documents I've learned a lot about the police response in my own city of Minneapolis, for example.

-- Mara

theintercept99 karma

Yes there definitely are. Like Mara said, BlueLeaks is mostly a leak of fusion centers. There are thousands upon thousands of police departments out there not included, and investigations into specific activist groups most likely would happen by local police departments or the FBI.

- Micah

ToshiroMifunesManbun54 karma

Hey guys,

What kind of changes do you think these leaks will bring about, if any?

With other large data leaks in the past it seems that they tend to be forgotten about in a relatively short amount of time. Do you believe this leak will be any different in that regard?

theintercept110 karma

I can't predict the future, but I hope that the revelations in these leaks bring about serious reforms across the country. I think there is plenty of misconduct that will be covered, particularly related to unconstitutional spying on anti-fascist and Black activists, and distributing right-wing misinformation to police across the country.

I think there is most likely to be changes at specific fusion centers or police departments when specific instances of misconduct get reported on.

- Micah

ToshiroMifunesManbun37 karma

Thanks for the reply.

Even though this is a recent leak, historically we know that law enforcement agencies specifically target and surveil black and leftist leaders and groups. What about this leak is different in your opinion?

theintercept73 karma

I think what's different about this leak is that it really opens a window into the inner workings police intelligence agencies and how they spend their time and resources, something that the public has never had access to before.

- Micah

theintercept79 karma

It's hard to say at this point because we're still digging through the documents, and obviously the news cycle is really volatile right now. But what makes the BlueLeaks docs so interesting is that they shed light on a crucial moment for the United States, by showing how law enforcement responded to the most widespread protests against police violence in recent history. I do think that has immense value as we consider how to rethink policing in America.

-- Mara

ToshiroMifunesManbun24 karma

Also do you fear any reprisals from LEO for bringing this more to the forefront?

theintercept97 karma

I don't think many cops are particularly happy that a lot of information from their intelligence centers is getting written about in the media. They're definitely attempting to censor this information where they can, but the acts of publicizing crimes or systemic bias with police is completely legal and protected by the First Amendment. So we'll see what their response is.

- Micah

Backpack_fetish25 karma

what is the most important takeaway for this when it comes to informing our friends and neighbors? while this is obviously bigger than a nutshell, whats the short version for the people who can’t be assed?

i’m asking because most of my friends roll their eyes at me when i talk about the news and current events, and i want to bring this to their attention

theintercept39 karma

The short version is that there is a lot of junk intelligence that is collected on Americans every day, and in particular on Americans who exercise their right to protest. I suspect we'll have other takeaways in the months to come, but right now that seems like the most critical one.

-- Mara

theintercept33 karma

I think as news articles come up specifically about police in your local city or region your friends and neighbors might get more interested. If you don't see any journalists working on it, maybe contact local journalists and let them know about BlueLeaks and see if they'd be interested in researching what police are up to in your area.

- Micah

mpluss25 karma

What is the most shocking conclusion you had about blue leaks?

theintercept131 karma

What is the most shocking conclusion you had about blue leaks?

There is just so much to go through that I think the most shocking conclusions are yet to be found.

But personally I'm very surprised at the technical incompetence of US police intelligence agencies. The websites that were hacked were very poorly secured, and I read an article that showed that at least one major fusion center didn't even realize their data was published on the internet until they were contacted by a journalist about it.

Also looking through it so far, it confirms suspicions that fusion centers are used to distribute a lot of poorly-sourced right-wing conspiracy theories, and a lot of local police believe it without question because it's coming from DHS.

- Micah

dreadpirateSNOBerts39 karma

Can you be more detailed regarding fusion centres spreading right-wing conspiracy theories? Would / could spreading knowingly false and dangerous Iformation be considered a tactic of controlling officers to act a certain way?

01burner6 karma

Fusion center employee here. We are well aware that they are poorly sourced and often conspiracy theories--but we have to say something sometimes.

If you had seen a report last year about Hawaiian shirts at protests, you'd be pretty dismissive of it. Well, guess what.

theintercept58 karma

Hi u/01burner! I'll definitely do a search of the data for Hawaiian shirts at protests, thanks for the tip.

Do you think local cops who receive bulk emails from fusion centers might confuse the stream of poorly-sourced right-wing internet rumors with actual intelligence product? Is there a danger here?

- Micah

machinegunlaserfist-38 karma

But personally I'm very surprised at the technical incompetence of US police intelligence agencies.

Micah, here in the US we've been compromising our PDs and releasing their data publicly for the last 15+ years, the data being distributed thru chan sites and peer to peer technologies. It really shouldn't be a surprise that governments in general have lagged so far behind emerging technologies, especially to someone who's supposed to be an authority on the topic

I guess when you're not from here and don't actually have anything to do with the internal struggle here or know much about it, it's easy to come off as having no idea what you're talking about

theintercept27 karma

I'm from the US. I was just surprised at the incompetence of *police intelligence agencies*.

- Micah

theintercept51 karma

I am based in Minneapolis and covered the George Floyd protests, so when we got access to BlueLeaks the first thing I did was search for documents from fusion centers and law enforcement agencies in Minnesota. Those showed a lot of fear-mongering about antifa, "black racially motivated violent extremists,” and random social media users. They also revealed that authorities monitored the Facebook RSVPS for even peaceful protests. That kind of junk intelligence is not unique to the Minnesota agencies, as other stories we published have shown.

-- Mara


Do you have any tips for looking through the massive number of files in search of interesting documents or revelations, especially given that the DDoSecrets search app is offline?

theintercept51 karma

At The Intercept we've been developing internal tools to help look through the data. If you know a bit of python, you can write simple scripts to open the CSV files, read data, and relate it to data in other CSV files. I hear this is a good book for learning these types of skills: https://automatetheboringstuff.com/

- Micah

zmann13 karma

How are police actually responding to far-right activist violence? For example, the boogaloo killings this year

Are they engaging in the same level of surveillance towards far-right groups as they are against "antifa"?

theintercept49 karma

4 minutes ago

How are police actually responding to far-right activist violence? For example, the boogaloo killings this yearAre they engaging in the same level of surveillance towards far-right groups as they are against "antifa"?

There are a number of dispatches on far-right violence in BlueLeaks. But as my colleague Ryan Devereaux has shown, that intelligence is muddled by a simultaneous focus on antifa, “black racially motivated violent extremists,” and other supposed threats. And when you look at the actual police response on the ground, there have been several cases in which police appeared to condone violent far-right counter-protests. Philly and Albuquerque are the two examples that really stand out, but this has been an issue in the Pacific Northwest as well.

-- Mara

zmann-7 karma

Yikes, not the answer I was hoping for

theintercept16 karma

Sorry to disappoint!

-- Mara

viennastrong1 karma

Are you associated with those heroes over at Wikileaks?

theintercept12 karma

Yup. In 2018 we published internal twitter DMs from WikiLeaks that an internal whistleblower leaked to us: https://theintercept.com/2018/02/14/julian-assange-wikileaks-election-clinton-trump/

- Micah

TheD1v1s1on50 karma

Which camera is best for facial recognition? I've heard the Chinese one is the best of the best.

theintercept44 karma

There are a number of Chinese companies that excel at facial recognition. But tech companies around the world tend to inflate their capabilities, and that’s especially true in China. After the outbreak of Covid earlier this year, a number of companies claimed that their algorithms could identify people even with masks covering their faces. But the evidence just doesn’t bear out those claims. And I think it's telling that authorities in Hong Kong grew concerned after protesters there started wearing masks. -- Mara