Feds Still Refusing to Say Why They Shut Down Backpage or What's In 93-Count Indictment: Reason Roundup

Plus: Paying taxes on cryptocurrency, Trump's delusional trade talk, and how the FBI is abusing FOIA to go after whistleblowers


Mirrorpix / MEGA / Newscom

Still no charges unveiled in Backpage case. As of Monday morning, the indictment that led to a federal shutdown of the classified-ads site, the seizure of its servers, and raids on the founders' homes was still unavailable for public consumption. No entry exists on the site (a clearinghouse of federal case data), and there's no indication from the Department of Justice (DOJ) when it will be available.

As Scott Shackford reported, a DOJ spokesperson said late Friday that a federal court had ruled that case documents would remain sealed for now. The FBI also confirmed that agents had raided the Sedona, Arizona, home of Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey (reporters also witnessed a raid on co-founder James Larkin's house) and that the website was seized because it was used to facilitate crime.

Notably, nothing so far has directly indicated that the charges relate to sex trafficking. It is possible that the feds built a case around money laundering or some other unrelated charge. The effort was a joint effort of the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Some have attributed the raid and seizure to FOSTA, the new "sex trafficking bill" passed by Congress in March. But it has not yet been signed into law by President Trump.

So far, social media posts from myriad sex workers indicate that the shutdown of Backpage is having the exact opposite of keeping those in the sex trade safe and free from exploitation.


FBI using "freedom of information" law to crack down on freedom of information. The classified documents released to The Intercept by former FBI agent Terry James Albury "should concern anyone who cares about civil liberties, " writes Zack Kopplin, an investigator with the Government Accountability Project, in The Washington Post. The documents

…outline how the FBI can access journalists' phone records without search warrants or subpoenas approved by a judge. This is despite a 2013 promise by former attorney general Eric Holder to reform rules about spying on reporters […] The documents also identify loopholes in FBI rules allowing undercover agents and informants to infiltrate and spy on members of churches, political organizations and universities — something, the Intercept said, even the FBI acknowledged was a "risk to civil liberties." Additionally, they reveal the FBI was targeting surveillance based on race and religion.

But this isn't the extent of the civil-liberties abuses revealed by Albury's leak and subsequent arrest, asserts Kopplin. The way the FBI went after the whistleblowing agent is itself chilling: They used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Since the FBI can see FOIA requests and who accesses documents on its network, it looked up when the Intercept had originally submitted a FOIA for the documents (a request that the FBI had not fulfilled when The Intercept published the leaked documents) and who had accessed those documents within the FBI around that time.

The Government Accountability Project "suggests news organizations protect sources when making FOIA requests by disguising insider knowledge as part of broader requests for data and documents that aren't specifically tied to the source's work or job responsibilities."


How the IRS handles cryptocurrency. As the 2018 deadline for filing income taxes looms, here's a handy guide to how federal tax collectors will be handling cryptocurrency (which it considers property, not currency).

"If you made some money off bitcoin, ethereum, or another cryptocurrency, you need to declare your wallet," reports QZ. "In the past, the IRS has mainly relied on the honor system for people to report their crypto earnings."


After a summons was issued in 2016, earlier this year Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange on the internet, was forced to hand over the details of around 13,000 users, including their taxpayer ID, name, birth date, address, and transaction records. These were some of the top-earning users from 2013 to 2015 who traded over $20,000 on the exchange in a single year.

Those whose crypto gains come post-2015 are off the hook for now, but that could change. "When US president Donald Trump signed his monumental tax bill into effect late last year, it more clearly defined cryptocurrency as a taxable entity," explains QZ's Georgia Frances King.

It included an amendment to section 1031 (a)(1), which concerns "like kind exchanges," meaning any crypto being traded for another is now legally taxable. So even if you have never converted your crypto into fiat currency (i.e. the US dollar), but you have traded between two cryptos (like buying ethereum using your bitcoin), then you need to declare it. If you unintentionally earned money through one of your currencies forking, even though you didn't have control over it, then that's also a taxable event.


Syrians see chemical weapons attack and airstrike. Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the Monday-morning bombs were dropped by Israeli fighter jets, after first calling them part of "American aggression"—a charge the U.S. Department of Defense denied. Over the weekend, Syrian forces set off toxic-gas bombs outside the city of Damascus, killing civilians including multiple children.

The attack—which produced ghastly images that quickly spread all over TV and social media—may change President Trump's mind about pulling U.S. troops out of Syria entirely, suggests The New York Times:

Within hours, images of dead families sprawled in their homes threatened to change Mr. Trump's calculus on Syria, possibly drawing him deeper into an intractable Middle Eastern war that he hoped to leave.

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday. He blamed Iran and Russia—even singling out President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by name—for their support of the Syrian government.

"Big price to pay," he wrote, without providing details.