2 years ago

UAB forensics team DarkTower leaves criminals with nowhere to hide

A portrait of Sherlock Holmes peers down as Sarah Newton works in the cyber forensics lab. The artwork is apropos. Because, as the world’s greatest fictional detective looks on, Newton, a student from outside Atlanta, is wrapping up her latest investigation.

A digital forensics major, Newton is part of the DarkTower team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Composed of undergrads and graduate students alike – and overseen by professionals with vast experience – the team assists with investigations for Fortune 500 companies and law enforcement agencies across the globe. Students routinely work 20 hours or more a week on investigations, supplementing their academics with real-world experience.

On Newton’s screen is a maze of a map covering nearly the entire nation. As she zooms in, hundreds of connections emerge – people, locations and businesses. It’s all part of a weeks-long inquiry into a network of massage parlors that Newton linked together through news articles, online advertisements, social media posts and public records, including business licenses and arrest records. The report she put together documents each connection in stark detail and totals more than 400 pages.

“Whenever I find something good, I get really excited and want to dig in right away just to see where it ends up,” Newton said.

In this case, all trails pointed to a business professional from out of state who’s accused of staffing massage parlors across the Southeast with victims of human trafficking, most of whom are Chinese immigrants. This hard work also pays off for Regions Bank, a DarkTower client. The bank works with Gary Warner, a UAB instructor and the Director of Threat Intelligence for DarkTower, to help ensure the company doesn’t open accounts for businesses that might look legitimate on the surface, but instead are part of criminal enterprises.

“This is Regions being proactive,” said Jim Phillips, Compliance Intelligence Officer at Regions. “To be honest, there’s no one that can provide this intel like DarkTower can.”

Regions has made fighting human trafficking a priority, working with national, state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits to fight a heinous crime that robs victims of their innocence and freedoms.

But as the investigations by Newton and the DarkTower team show, human trafficking is part of a deeper criminal culture.

“Human trafficking is bad enough, and the people involved in these crimes are usually involved in other financial crimes that impact not only Regions, but its customers,” Warner said. “They’re also involved in violent crimes. We can help protect the bank while also providing a template for a prosecutor to get these people off the streets.”

Newton turned down the prestigious Zell Miller Scholarship to any four-year college in Georgia to attend UAB. She made the decision after attending a Warner-led computer camp at the Birmingham campus prior to her senior year in high school.

“She gave up a full scholarship to come here because she was excited about computer forensics,” Warner said. “I told her she’d have the opportunity to do things here she couldn’t do anywhere else.”

Three semesters into her college career, Newton has investigated crimes across the globe – all from the UAB lab overlooking the football practice field. She has spent time embedded with the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. And she’s the youngest member of the Birmingham chapter of InfraGard, an FBI-sponsored, public/private intelligence-sharing network created to protect the United States from hostile acts.

Warner founded the Birmingham chapter of InfraGard. The head of UAB’s computer forensics research lab, he is recognized internationally for his expertise on intelligence operations focused on malware, financial cybercrimes, online fraud and social media use of criminals, including terrorists.

DarkTower Director of Investigations Heather McCalley earned an economics degree at Duke and had a successful career in banking before getting a graduate degree in computer science and a certificate in computer forensics under Warner at UAB. Before joining the DarkTower team, she had a decade of intelligence and cybersecurity leadership in private industry.

“Back when we first started out, Gary would give me a floppy disk, filled with websites, and say, ‘See if they’re phishing sites,’” McCalley said of her experience as a grad student.

The technology has advanced, and so has the criminal activity. But the intelligence gathering remains based on old-fashioned detective work.

On a big screen in a conference room, Warner, McCalley and Newton review recent investigations from around the world.

A  global scammer lives like royalty thanks to millions of dollars stolen from financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe. He routinely shares his love for the high life – while publicly feuding with a rival scammer online.

A criminal gang based in Memphis runs escorts across the region out of a suburban house next to a daycare center. Cellphone numbers in ads across the South, promoting services, all lead back to the group that traffics women from one city to the next.

In Cairo, ads for nannies to serve wealthy families in the Middle East lure girls from small African villages with promises of grand lifestyles, stable earnings and safe lives. But once the girls arrive, their passports are seized and all income earned is taken away. While many people automatically think “sex trafficking,” those at risk are actually labor trafficking victims — isolated by language barriers and remote work locations, and deprived of identity or travel paperwork.

Typically, everything DarkTower needs to link the crimes and the criminals is available on the web, if you know where to look. That’s why some of the world’s biggest companies – and a number of international banks – reach out to Birmingham for help.

“Regions is the only bank of its size, that I’m aware of, focusing on human trafficking ,” Warner said. “The global banks are all over it, but they have more people in cybercrime departments than smaller banks have tellers. Regions is also the only bank we work with that has a liaison assigned specifically to work with us.”

That liason is a full-time Corporate Security Investigator, with a long career in law enforcement and computer forensics. He reports to Don White, head of Corporate Security, and works closely with Phillips.

A former federal prosecutor, Phillips said using DarkTower is a common-sense move for Regions.

“Having an outside, third-party partner brings a different perspective,” Phillips said. “DarkTower has expertise from an international standpoint and a massive database that no bank has. They know what they’re doing, they’re thorough and they’re fast. And they help us protect our customers.”

This story originally appeared on Regions Bank’s Doing More Today website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Huntsville City Schools will go on with its vaccination clinic for minors without parental consent

Americans have been bombarded with requests, pleas, shaming and excoriations about how you must get vaccinated.

I bought in, and I think I may have even jumped the line accidentally. I also have a three-year-old, and I don’t envision a scenario where I rush him out to get a vaccine. If he were 14, 18 or 24, I wouldn’t pressure him to get vaccinated. If he were over 18, what could I do?

But if he were 14? That’s a no from me.

Schools in Alabama disagree, and at least one school system doesn’t care what you think.

Madison, Birmingham and Huntsville schools have all taken up the task of vaccinating your kids even though doctors, pharmacies and Wal-Mart have vaccines readily available.


In the coverage of the Huntsville vaccinations, the Alabama Media Group article specifically states that Huntsville City Schools will not require parental consent for those over 14.

Students under 14 must have a parent or guardian accompany them for the vaccine, according to the announcement on the Huntsville schools website. Everyone receiving the vaccine must present a legal form of identification including a driver’s license, passport, non-drivers ID, or a birth certificate. Participants must sign a consent form prior to receiving the vaccine and must register online in advance to receive the vaccine.

To put it simply — your 14-year-old can decide to take an experimental vaccine without your knowledge.

This is a betrayal of parents by Alabama schools.

They don’t care.

Keep in mind that this is happening as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still looking at the impact of the vaccine on young people.

Even the World Health Organization thinks this is a bad idea.

Some Alabama lawmakers are taking note.

State Senator Sam Givhan appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” and suggested the school systems should hit pause.

Explaining that just vaccinating everyone who shows up without parental consent is just a bad practice, Givhan said, “They don’t have everyone’s full medical history, and they don’t know the unique situations from certain kids. … And I just don’t think the high school should be giving these shots when, you know, you could actually cause someone to have medical problems from this, and then they’ll hide behind their state immunity shield and say you can’t sue them.”

Obviously, it is entirely possible that no children have been vaccinated without parental consent, but how would we know?

Huntsville City Schools seems hell-bent on continuing this. Attempts to speak to the school board we unsuccessful.

The board said in a statement, “We appreciate the invitation. Please see the information below surrounding the vaccine clinic. We have nothing more to add at this time.”

The gist is this: “Sorry, not sorry. We will vaccinate your kids without your permission. What are you going to do about it?”

The answer is people with means are going to either change these schools or flee American schools more than they already have.


Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

7 hours ago

Guest opinion: ‘For the People Act’ was always a bad idea

For months, we have been inundated with stories of a federal proposal named by the Democrat Party as the “For the People Act.” Upon closer examination of this mammoth piece of legislation, it should be renamed the “From the People Act” because this legislation clearly seeks to take the election process out of the hands of the American people. As a former probate judge, I see this for what it is – a federal attempt to take over our elections in violation of the United States Constitution.

The number of things wrong with this “Act” could fill a novel, but the most troubling aspects of this historical attempt to alter our elections and change the fabric of our nation include:


Automatic voter registration — The bill mandates that individuals who have interaction with certain government offices would be automatically registered to vote, but there is no mandate in the bill to only limit that registration to American citizens with the right to vote. Therefore, an individual who goes to the DMV for a driver’s license is automatically registered to vote, even if a felony has eliminated their right to vote or if they are not a citizen of the United States. The same holds true for those interacting with other government offices for assistance with a variety of services. Democrats argue that is not the intent of the provision but still refuse to establish any voter eligibility verification requirements in their proposal.

Funding of political campaigns — This act would divert money collected from fines of corporations from the nation’s general budget to a fund that would be specifically earmarked for the funding of political campaigns. This newly created “Freedom From Influence Fund” will serve as the exclusive source of funds for all federal public financing programs of political candidates. The idea that this bill increases funding for political campaigns from our government’s coffers is sickening. Our government has a gargantuan debt but this bill seeks to collect fines and, rather, than devote them to paying down that debt, diverts them to the accounts of political candidates. Absolutely mindboggling.

The list of problems with this proposal goes on and on and, although the proposal appears to be at a dead end now, it will rear its ugly head again. “We the People” must remain aware of attempts, such as these, to undermine our Democracy and we must oppose such measures at every turn.

Wes Allen currently represents Pike and Dale Counties in the State House of Representatives.

11 hours ago

Joia M. Johnson appointed to Regions board of directors

Regions has added Joia M. Johnson to its board of directors, according to a release from the company.

Johnson will serve on the boards of Regions Financial Corp. and its subsidiary, Regions Bank, beginning on July 20.

She arrives at her new responsibilities having recently retired as chief administrative officer, general counsel and corporate secretary for Hanesbrands Inc., a leading apparel manufacturer and marketer.

Charles McCrary, chairman of the Regions Financial Corp. and Regions Bank Boards, believes Johnson’s experience will be a valuable addition to the board.

“Joia’s leadership experience, both at the corporate level and in various board roles, will add greater depth and insights to the Regions Board of Directors as we advance policies and strategies to benefit our customers, associates, communities, and shareholders,” McCrary explained.


Johnson added that she sees that experience as an asset in assisting the company achieve its vision for growth.

“I believe the breadth of my corporate experience and civic engagement will complement the additional experience and skills reflected throughout Regions’ current directors,” she stated. “As the company focuses not just on continuous improvement but also on long-term, sustainable growth, I am thrilled to become a part of building on Regions’ history of success – while also defining a very bright future for the organization and the people and communities we serve.”

McCrary also noted the alignment between Johnson’s unique skill set and the company’s mission.

“The Regions mission is to make life better for the people we serve, and we accomplish that mission by creating shared value for all of our stakeholders,” he remarked. “With her passion for strong governance and strategic community engagement, Joia will help us build on our progress and reach new heights in the years to come.”

After receiving an undergraduate degree from Duke University, Johnson earned a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Johnson’s financial services experience includes on the board of Global Payments Inc., a Fortune 500 payments technology company and eight years as a board member for Crawford & Company, which specializes in insurance claims administration.

Upon her installment, Johnson will serve on Regions’ 13-member board which will consist of 12 independent outside directors.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

11 hours ago

State Rep. Oliver: Combatting Critical Race Theory in Alabama is ‘the way we stand up to woke-ism’

Republicans have made taking on so-called Critical Race Theory a priority in recent weeks claiming such philosophies are an effort to undermine cultural norms and indoctrinate in a way that benefits the Democratic Party.

Florida, Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma have banned the theory from their public school classrooms. Many would like to see Alabama follow suit, and there have been bills filed for the legislature’s 2022 regular session to do as much. One of those bills is being brought by State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), who takes it beyond the classroom and applies restrictions throughout state government.

Oliver discussed the bill during Tuesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show” on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5.


“[I]’ve got a bill that’s fairly unique, and we expect it to go through the state government committee,” he said. “My bill actually covers any state agency, its contractors and subcontractors, to include schools. We felt like it was important to address this issue with a holistic approach.”

“The first thing is deciding what you don’t want taught,” Oliver continued. “That’s the most important piece. And I would like to say, this bill, it absolutely describes what we don’t want taught — it doesn’t mean that you can’t teach inclusion or diversity. It means you can’t teach some things as fact and then we’re not going to teach our kids that one sex or race is better than another. And in a nutshell, that is the crux of it.”

The Tallapoosa County lawmaker said his effort could serve as a bulwark against a creeping effort to indoctrinate.

“[I]t’s the way we stand up to woke-ism,” Oliver declared. “If we’re ever going to draw a line in the sand, Critical Race Theory is it. I say that not because I’m the smartest guy in the world or this is something I’ve thought all my life, but I’ve got a child that goes to a major university in the state. And I am absolutely appalled by what I’ve witnessed there the last three years with my child. If you don’t think universities are indoctrinating your kids, everybody needs to wake up.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

12 hours ago

Manufacture Alabama backs Ainsworth for reelection

As Alabama maintains its status among the top states in the nation for manufacturing, the industry’s dedicated trade association has made its choice for lieutenant governor.

Manufacture Alabama has given its full support to Will Ainsworth in his bid for reelection to the office, according to a release from the group.

George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama, cited Ainsworth’s background in manufacturing and knowledge of its key issues in announcing the endorsement.

“Manufacture Alabama is endorsing Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth for reelection due to his commitment to maintaining a business-friendly environment in Alabama,” Clark said. “Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth grew up in the manufacturing industry and understands firsthand that our members are the backbone of the state and nation’s economy. He is a friend to our association and a tireless advocate for manufacturers across Alabama. In his leadership role, it is clear that he is dedicated to serving his home state with enthusiasm and integrity. We are proud to give him our full endorsement for the reelection of Lieutenant Governor.”


Ainsworth, who has now picked up a string of endorsements from trade associations, believes the state’s successes in manufacturing are something that can continue.

“I am proud to have the endorsement of Manufacture Alabama,” he stated. “Our tremendous manufacturers are sources of good-paying 21st century jobs for hardworking Alabamians, and the goods and materials they produce are integral across a broad range of sectors. Alabama is open for business, and I’m firmly committed to making our state the workforce engine of the Southeast so we can continue to grow jobs through expansion and recruitment. Working together, I am confident we will build an even stronger Alabama for our children and our children’s children.”

The manufacturing industry employs more than 250,000 people in Alabama, a figure which makes up a double-digit percentage of the state’s workforce.

Ainsworth announced his reelection campaign earlier this month.

Since that time, he has received the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association, the Petroleum and Convenience Marketers Association and U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

RELATED: Lt. Gov. Ainsworth: Huntsville preferred location for Space Command ‘based on merit and based on policies’

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia