The family of a rancher who was shot by law enforcement during the Oregon standoff is calling the shooting death unjustified for a second time, accusing the FBI and Oregon State Police of a cover-up.
Rancher LaVoy Finicium was shot by Oregon State Police officers during an attempt to stop and arrest the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, then on its 25th day. Protesters took over the refuge’s federal building to protest the arson convictions of two other ranchers, as well as to express anger of federal land policy.
“At this point, based on additional information we have now received, it is our position that not only was the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum completely unjustified, but that the FBI and Oregon State Police may also be engaging in a cover-up, and seeking to manipulate and mislead the media and the American public about what really happened,” read a statement from Finicum’s family, obtained by the Oregonian.
The family said new information from eye witness accounts supplemented their previous accusation that the FBI and OSP could not show any justification for Finicum’s death. One of the passengers riding in the white Jeep driven by Finicum, Shawna Cox, allegedly gave a different account of what happened that day after she was released from custody.
“According to Shawna Cox, they were being fired upon right from the outset at the second stop, before LaVoy exited the vehicle. Bullets had already come through the front windshield…. there was no question that LaVoy was trying to draw gunfire away from the others in the vehicle,” read the statement.
Cox told the family that it was clear LaVoy had his hands in the air and meant to keep them there, not to pull out a firearm.
“[The] best explanation for LaVoy’s arguably furtive hand movements, and why he lowered his hands and reached for his side at one point is because he had already been shot, and he was reaching toward the area where he had been hit as an involuntary physical reflex… before being shot again and collapsing,” read the statement.
Cox told the family that after LaVoy was lying motionless in the snow, federal agents and police “unleashed a barrage of gunfire on LaVoy’s truck and its remaining occupants… Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox and Victoria Sharp, and shot it repeatedly.”
Cox said Ryan Bundy was wounded during the attack, and that in addition to the gunfire they were “terrorized by repeated smoke and pepper bombs.” She also said law enforcement did not make “any attempt to provide any meaningful or timely medical attention to LaVoy,” according to the statement.
In its previous statement, the family said they thought LaVoy’s movements were animated and said, “there are always at least two sides to every story…they didn’t know exactly what happened.” Now with Cox’s account, they are less convinced about the FBI account.
“After re-reviewing the extended video with better technology, we want to reiterate that we are not accepting at face value the FBI’s statement that LaVoy was actually armed,” the statement said.
Finicum’s family are demanding all applicable audio recordings and sound tracks from the FBI, a full-length unedited video of the operation and complete and close-up images of LaVoy’s truck “following the siege.”
The FBI released a 26-minute aerial video, without audio, of the tactical operation, including graphic footage of the shooting on January 28. The agency said they were releasing the video to counteract inaccurate and inflammatory accusations that the agency had been involved in killing Finicum in “cold blood.” The FBI also held a press conference and issued a formal statement interpreting the video.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, announced Tuesday that an investigation into the shooting won’t be released for another four to six weeks.
The war on encryption waged by the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies is unnecessary, because the data trails we voluntarily leak allow “Internet of Things” devices and social media networks to track us in ways the government can access.
That’s the short version of what’s in “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,” a study published today by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.
The title references the government’s argument that “encrypted communications are creating a ‘going dark’ crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers,” as David E. Sanger explains in his coverage at the New York Times.
From the Berkman study intro:
In the last year, conversations around surveillance have centered on the use of encryption in communications technologies. The decisions of Apple, Google, and other major providers of communications services and products to enable end-to-end encryption in certain applications, on smartphone operating systems, as well as default encryption of mobile devices, at the same time that terrorist groups seek to use encryption to conceal their communication from surveillance, has fueled this debate.
The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities view this trend with varying degrees of alarm, alleging that their interception capabilities are “going dark.” As they describe it, companies are increasingly adopting technological architectures that inhibit the government’s ability to obtain access to communications, even in circumstances that satisfy the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements. Encryption is the hallmark of these architectures. Government officials are concerned because, without access to communications, they fear they may not be able to prevent terrorist attacks and investigate and prosecute criminal activity. Their solution is to force companies to maintain access to user communications and data, and provide that access to law enforcement on demand, pursuant to the applicable legal process. However, the private sector has resisted. Critics fear that architectures geared to guarantee such access would compromise the security and privacy of users around the world, while also hurting the economic viability of U.S. companies. They also dispute the degree to which the proposed solutions would truly prevent terrorists and criminals from communicating in mediums resistant to surveillance.
Leading much of the debate on behalf of the U.S. government is the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose leaders have commented on the matter in numerous public statements, speeches, and Congressional testimony throughout 2014 and 2015. After nearly a year of discourse, which included numerous statements critical of the government’s position from former U.S. intelligence officials and security technologists, the White House declared in October 2015 it would not pursue a legislative fix in the near future.
However, this decision has not brought closure. The FBI has since focused its energy on encouraging companies to voluntarily find solutions that address the investigative concerns. Most recently, terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Paris, and elsewhere around the world, along with rising concern about the terrorist group ISIS, have focused increased attention on the issues of surveillance and encryption. These developments have led to renewed calls, including among U.S. Presidential candidates, for the government and private sector to work together on the going dark issue and for the Obama administration to reconsider its position.
You can read the whole report here, it’s offered in PDF.
The “findings” section is chilling. Basically, they’re saying the government won’t have any problem tracking us and surveilling our communications, because we’re freely sharing a lot of very revealing personal data and metadata to third parties, all day, every day, security be damned. “Internet of Things” connected devices, social media, and everywhere else you’re leaking data without encryption? All of those are accessible sources of data for intelligence agencies or law enforcement.
In short, our findings are:• End-to-end encryption and other technological architectures for obscuring user data are unlikely to be adopted ubiquitously by companies, because the majority of businesses that provide communications services rely on access to user data for revenue streams and product functionality, including user data recovery should a password be forgotten.
• Software ecosystems tend to be fragmented. In order for encryption to become both widespread and comprehensive, far more coordination and standardization than currently exists would be required.
• Networked sensors and the Internet of Things are projected to grow substantially, and this has the potential to drastically change surveillance. The still images, video, and audio captured by these devices may enable real-time intercept and recording with after-thefact access. Thus an inability to monitor an encrypted channel could be mitigated by the ability to monitor from afar a person through a different channel.
• Metadata is not encrypted, and the vast majority is likely to remain so. This is data that needs to stay unencrypted in order for the systems to operate: location data from cell phones and other devices, telephone calling records, header information in e-mail, and so on. This information provides an enormous amount of surveillance data that was unavailable before these systems became widespread.
• These trends raise novel questions about how we will protect individual privacy and security in the future. Today’s debate is important, but for all its efforts to take account of technological trends, it is largely taking place without reference to the full picture.
The structure of the study was pretty novel. From the New York Times :
The Harvard study, funded by the Hewlett Foundation, was unusual because it involved technical experts, civil libertarians and officials who are, or have been, on the forefront of counterterrorism. Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law School, who heads the foundation, noted Friday that until now “the policy debate has been impeded by gaps in trust — chasms, really — between academia, civil society, the private sector and the intelligence community” that have impeded the evolution of a “safe, open and resilient Internet.”
Among the chief authors of the report is Matthew G. Olsen, who was a director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Mr. Obama and a general counsel of the National Security Agency.
Two current senior officials of the N.S.A. — John DeLong, the head of the agency’s Commercial Solutions Center, and Anne Neuberger, the agency’s chief risk officer — are described in the report as “core members” of the group, but did not sign the report because they could not act on behalf of the agency or the United States government in endorsing its conclusions, government officials said.
Granting the ACLU and the public access to staffing, budgetary, and statistical information about the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and FBI would mean “the public would know where the FBI was putting its resources,” warned an Assistant US Attorney in oral argument in a Boston federal court last week. The government apparently doesn’t want the public to know anything about how the FBI and JTTF spend public money, staff its offices, or conduct investigations.
Heaven forbid the public “know where the FBI [puts] its resources.”
In December 2013 the ACLU of Massachusetts sent a FOIA request to the FBI, which sought basic information about the structure and operations of the Boston JTTF and the Boston FBI field office. Amid the information the FBI redacted from its responsive disclosures were all budget figures, the number of FBI and state and local officials tasked to work on the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the number of assessments, preliminary investigations, and full investigations the Boston FBI conducted over two years ago. (It’s odd that the government is putting up a fight, resisting disclosure of these records, given that in 2011, it gave Charlie Savage of the New York Times similar information.)
According to the government, this information is exempt from public disclosure under FOIA law pursuant to Exemption 7e, the part of the federal statute that says agencies do not have to disclose records that would reveal law enforcement “techniques” or “procedures.” But as ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Jessie Rossman argues, staffing, budgetary, and statistical information about caseloads do not reveal techniques or procedures.
The stakes for the public are high. If the court agrees with the government’s reasoning and denies the public access to this information, it would put the federal judiciary’s stamp of approval on what attorney Rossman rightfully argues the FBI is seeking in this case: “a categorical [FOIA] exemption for all law enforcement information.”
As Rossman said last week during oral argument, that’s not what congress intended when it wrote the Freedom of Information Act. If lawmakers intended to bar the public from accessing all law enforcement records, they would have written that into the FOIA statute—which they didn’t.
At issue in the ongoing litigation over FBI redactions is whether the public can hold law enforcement agencies accountable for how they spend our money and act in our names. If we don’t know anything about how law enforcement agencies operate, we can’t hold them accountable. Unaccountable law enforcement is not only bad for freedom; it also harms public safety. As history demonstrates, when the FBI is allowed to conduct its business in the dark, precious government resources are inevitably dedicated to spying on people who threaten the status quo, but who do not threaten their fellow Americans.
While antidemocratic in the extreme, it’s easy to understand why the FBI wants to keep budget, staffing, and investigations statistics secret from the public.
When the public learned about the FBI’s illegal and antidemocratic COINTELPRO operations in the 1970s, the attorney general imposed rules forbidding the FBI from spying on people unless agents could show the targets were likely violating the law. After 9/11, those rules were scrapped. The new guidelines allow FBI agents to open investigations (called “assessments”) against people absent any suspicion of wrongdoing. Since the 9/11 attacks the Bureau has been free to spy on people it doesn’t suspect of criminal activity, supposedly because suspicionless investigations are required during the permanent “war on terror.”
The ACLU is litigating for this information because we want to know what results from the FBI’s suspicionless investigations, known as assessments. If it’s true, as we suspect, that there are thousands of FBI assessments but comparatively few preliminary or full investigations—let alone arrests or successful prosecutions—it confirms what we and other civil libertarians have been saying for over a decade. Namely, allowing the FBI to spy on people absent criminal predicates isn’t just bad for civil liberties; it’s bad law enforcement. If agents are routinely chasing down leads that go nowhere, those agents are wasting their time spying on ordinary people on the public’s dime.
The FBI refuses to give us this information, which is part of the reason we sued. In essence, the government argues the information must remain secret because if disclosed, it will tip off terrorists to… the fact that the government wants to investigate crimes.
But hiding from the public records revealing how many assessments, preliminary investigations, and full investigations the Boston FBI office has conducted doesn’t protect public safety. Instead, it obstructs precisely the kind of public accountability that would make the FBI better at protecting the public from people who mean us harm. […]
Only when law enforcement agencies are subject to rigorous transparency can the public hold them accountable for their actions, thereby making them more effective at protecting public safety.
The FBI has a long and dirty history of spying on dissidents and activists, instead of investigating and building cases against people who do real harm to Americans, like the bankers who collapsed the US and world economy in 2008. So it’s easy to see why the government doesn’t want the public to learn any meaningful information about the inner workings of the Bureau. But government agencies can’t keep information secret from the public because it would reveal something embarrassing or unconstitutional. And the records at issue don’t reveal “techniques” or “procedures.”
Here’s to hoping the federal court agrees, and compels the FBI to release this basic information about how it spends our money and acts in our names. Only then will we have any meaningful access to judge how the Bureau is conducting itself, and so the opportunity to exert some democratic accountability over its operations.
The attorney for one Virginia resident accused of backing ISIS says the plot was manufactured by three government informants. He claims federal agents are targeting Muslim Americans for fake terror plots, so they could take credit for stopping them.
“They had three informants in this case that were looking for people to get in trouble,” Ashraf Nubani told reporters on Tuesday, after the preliminary court hearing for Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, arrested Friday on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism.
Elhassan, 25, is a US permanent resident of Sudanese origin. The government charges him of aiding Joseph Hassan Farrokh, 28, who allegedly wanted to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). The federal complaint against the men says that Farrokh planned to travel via Richmond International Airport, to Jordan and then to Syria.
Nubani argued that the entire plot was cooked up by federal law enforcement, eager to present itself as doing something to stop terrorism.
“They create cases, and then they prevent them from happening,” Nubani said.
According to the complaint against Farrokh and Elhassan, three government informants were involved in the plot. One of them, identified only as CHS#3, is a convicted felon who received a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation. He has worked for the FBI since 2012, receiving over $10,000 in compensation.
Another informant, CHS#1, posed as an “ISIL facilitator” who told Farrokh he could help him join the terror group overseas. The third informant, identified as CHS#2, was introduced as a trusted “brother,” member of the terror group.
At a meeting in November, the informants told Farrokh he would need to swear an oath of allegiance, known as the Bay’ah, to the self-proclaimed Caliphate. It was CHS#1 who read out the oath, with Farrokh repeating after him.
Farrokh was arrested on January 15 at the Richmond International Airport, and charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization. Elhassan, a taxi driver who took Farrokh to a nearby shopping center – from which Farrokh took another cab to the airport – was arrested in Woodbridge, Virginia later in the day. Federal agents said he lied to them about Farrokh’s intentions, and charged him with aiding and abetting, as well as lying to the government.
Elhassan came from a “regular family,” Nubani said, according to the Washington Post, adding that “some people are Islamophobic, and they’re whipping up fear against Muslims.”
Investigative reporters have been pointing out for years that the majority of alleged terrorist plots foiled by the FBI involve FBI’s own informants acting as masterminds, catalysts and facilitators, leading along or entrapping suspects who are often mentally ill or socially inept.
By M. David |Counter Current News | January 15, 2016
It took decades of protests and petitioning the government, but after being continuously ignored, African American activists took over a federal wildlife refuge.
While sites are drawn up in the debate over who is right or wrong in the Bundy militia stand off in Oregon today, it is worth noting that this group of activists did the same thing, decades ago, in a protest against what they considered an unjust land grab by the U.S. government.
The armed protesters today occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns was not the first of its kind, but it has had a very different response from law enforcement when compared to the very similar standoff 39 years ago in Harris Neck, Georgia.
The Harris Neck protesters were mostly displaced descendants of West African slaves. The FBI described them as “squatters” – even though they stated from the outset that their intentions were very much political in nature.
The group was called the People Organized for Equal Rights. They set up camp much like the Occupy Wall Street movement later would.
The encampment was on a patch of land stolen by the federal government south of Savannah, back on April 30, 1979.
The group of prominent civil rights leaders, and other activists brought concrete blocks and bags of mortar to build new homes, but they were unarmed.
The Oregonian summarizes that “following the Civil War, a white plantation owner deeded the land on the Georgia coast to a former slave. In the decades that followed, the descendants of slaves moved to Harris Neck to build houses, factories and boats. They fished, hunted for oysters and grazed cattle.”
In time, “Harris Neck evolved into a thriving community. Its members were recognized as a culturally unique group of African Americans called Gullah.”
Finally, in 1942, the U.S. military told Harris Neck residents that they had only three weeks to vacate the land. They cited eminent domain laws, and ordered residents to leave their property so they “could construct an airbase for training pilots and conducting anti-submarine flights.”
African American residents were given an insulting $26.90 per acre. Caucasian residents were given $37.31 for the same amount of land.
“Residents were paid only for the unimproved value of their land, receiving nothing more for houses, barns, or crops in the field, all of which were bulldozed or burned,” The New American reported in 2010.
After World War II, the government held onto the land – never giving it back. They eventually turned it into the 2,762-acre Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the Oregonian, on May 2, 1979, U.S. deputy marshals “forcibly removed” the men. “‘Their bodies taut and motionless,’ the men were dragged out of their tent, handcuffed and hoisted into a waiting van.”
The men were all sentenced to jail, and two years later, in 1981, “a fire destroyed county records with details on the original home sites.”
What do you think accounts for the difference between how both groups were treated when they took over federal wildlife sanctuaries? Is it racism? Or was the fact that the 1979 activists were unarmed the deciding factor law enforcement standing down?
“Ex-convict accused of planning ISIS attack in Rochester” It is funny how revealing these stories are if you read them carefully.
The FBI picked a mentally disturbed ‘self-professed Muslim convert’, described as ‘an aggressive panhandler‘, an ex-con who talked crazy violence, had their operative drive him to pick up terrorism supplies, in this case, knives, a machete, ski masks and plastic cable ties (and the operative paid for them as their patsy had no money), and then drive him by a target location – a place which he didn’t like as they apparently wouldn’t let him panhandle! – and got him to discuss it as a possible target, had another operative get him to pledge some kind of ‘allegiance’ to Baghdadi, and then, to emphasize the situation, after the plot was supposedly foiled by brave FBI work, had the fireworks show in Rochester canceled (note that only the fireworks was canceled, as I guess Muslims have a particular thing about fireworks).
People Are Waking Up to the Darkness in American Policing, and the Police Don’t Like It One Bit
If you’ve been listening to various police agencies and their supporters, then you know what the future holds: anarchy is coming — and it’s all the fault of activists.
In May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned of a “new nationwide crime wave” thanks to “intense agitation against American police departments” over the previous year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went further. Talking recently with the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, the Republican presidential hopeful asserted that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t about reform but something far more sinister. “They’ve been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers,” he insisted. Even the nation’s top cop, FBI Director James Comey, weighed in at the University of Chicago Law School, speaking of “a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”
According to these figures and others like them, lawlessness has been sweeping the nation as the so-called Ferguson effect spreads. Criminals have been emboldened as police officers are forced to think twice about doing their jobs for fear of the infamy of starring in the next viral video. The police have supposedly become the targets of assassins intoxicated by “anti-cop rhetoric,” just as departments are being stripped of the kind of high-powered equipment they need to protect officers and communities. Even their funding streams have, it’s claimed, come under attack as anti-cop bias has infected Washington, D.C. Senator Ted Cruz caught the spirit of that critique by convening a Senate subcommittee hearing to which he gave the title, “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” According to him, the federal government, including the president and attorney general, has been vilifying the police, who are now being treated as if they, not the criminals, were the enemy.
Beyond the storm of commentary and criticism, however, quite a different reality presents itself. In the simplest terms, there is no war on the police. Violent attacks against police officers remain at historic lows, even though approximately 1,000 people have been killed by the police this year nationwide. In just the past few weeks, videos have been released of problematic fatal police shootings in San Francisco and Chicago.
While it’s too soon to tell whether there has been an uptick in violent crime in the post-Ferguson period, no evidence connects any possible increase to the phenomenon of police violence being exposed to the nation. What is taking place and what the police and their supporters are largely reacting to is a modest push for sensible law enforcement reforms from groups as diverse as Campaign Zero, Koch Industries, the Cato Institute, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU (my employer). Unfortunately, as the rhetoric ratchets up, many police agencies and organizations are increasingly resistant to any reforms, forgetting whom they serve and ignoring constitutional limits on what they can do.
Indeed, a closer look at law enforcement arguments against commonsense reforms like independently investigating police violence, demilitarizing police forces, or ending “for-profit policing” reveals a striking disregard for concerns of just about any sort when it comes to brutality and abuse. What this “debate” has revealed, in fact, is a mainstream policing mindset ready to manufacture fear without evidence and promote the belief that American civil rights and liberties are actually an impediment to public safety. In the end, such law enforcement arguments subvert the very idea that the police are there to serve the community and should be under civilian control.
And that, when you come right down to it, is the logic of the police state.
Due Process Plus
It’s no mystery why so few police officers are investigated and prosecuted for using excessive force and violating someone’s rights. “Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals,” according to Campaign Zero . “This makes it hard for them to investigate and prosecute the same police officers in cases of police violence.”
Since 2005, according to an analysis by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University, only 54 officers have been prosecuted nationwide, despite the thousands of fatal shootings by police. As Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green, puts it, “To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way. It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”
For many in law enforcement, however, none of this should concern any of us. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing a special prosecutor to investigate police killings, for instance, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, insisted: “Given the many levels of oversight that already exist, both internally in the NYPD [New York Police Department] and externally in many forms, the appointment of a special prosecutor is unnecessary.” Even before Cuomo’s decision, the chairman of New York’s District Attorneys Association called plans to appoint a special prosecutor for police killings “deeply insulting.”
Such pushback against the very idea of independently investigating police actions has, post-Ferguson, become everyday fare, and some law enforcement leaders have staked out a position significantly beyond that. The police, they clearly believe, should get special treatment.
“By virtue of our dangerous vocation, we should expect to receive the benefit of the doubt in controversial incidents,” wrote Ed Mullins, the president of New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, in the organization’s magazine, Frontline. As if to drive home the point, its cover depicts Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby under the ominous headline “The Wolf That Lurks.” In May, Mosby had announced indictments of six officers in the case of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody the previous month. The message being sent to a prosecutor willing to indict cops was hardly subtle: you’re a traitor.
Mullins put forward a legal standard for officers accused of wrongdoing that he would never support for the average citizen — and in a situation in which cops already get what former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson calls “a super presumption of innocence.” In addition, police unions in many states have aggressively pushed for their own bills of rights, which make it nearly impossible for police officers to be fired, much less charged with crimes when they violate an individual’s civil rights and liberties.
In 14 states, versions of a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) have already been passed, while in 11 others they are under consideration. These provide an “extra layer of due process” in cases of alleged police misconduct, according to Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability. In many of the states without a LEOBR, the Marshall Project has discovered, police unions have directly negotiated the same rights and privileges with state governments.
LEOBRs are, in fact, amazingly un-American documents in the protections they afford officers accused of misconduct during internal investigations, rights that those officers are never required to extend to their suspects. Though the specific language of these laws varies from state to state, notes Mike Riggs in Reason, they are remarkably similar in their special considerations for the police.
“Unlike a member of the public, the officer gets a ‘cooling off’ period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated ‘at a reasonable hour,’ with a union member present. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated only ‘for reasonable periods,’ which ‘shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.’ Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation cannot be ‘threatened with disciplinary action’ at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.”
The Marshall Project refers to these laws as the “Blue Shield” and “the original Bill of Rights with an upgrade.’’ Police associations, naturally, don’t agree. “All this does is provide a very basic level of constitutional protections for our officers, so that they can make statements that will stand up later in court,” says Vince Canales, the president of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police.
Put another way, there are two kinds of due process in America — one for cops and another for the rest of us. This is the reason why the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights and civil liberties organizations regularly call on states to create a special prosecutor’s office to launch independent investigations when police seriously injure or kill someone.
The Demilitarized Blues
Since Americans first took in those images from Ferguson of police units outfitted like soldiers, riding in military vehicles, and pointing assault rifles at protesters, the militarization of the police and the way the Pentagon has been supplying them with equipment directly off this country’s distant battlefields have been top concerns for police reformers. In May, the Obama administration suggested modest changes to the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which, since 1990, has been redistributing weaponry and equipment to police departments nationwide — urban, suburban, and rural — in the name of fighting the war on drugs and protecting Americans from terrorism.
Even the idea that the police shouldn’t sport the look of an occupying army in local communities has, however, been met with fierce resistance. Read, for example, the online petition started by the National Sheriffs’ Association and you could be excused for thinking that the Obama administration was aggressively moving to stop the flow of military-grade equipment to local and state police agencies. (It isn’t.) The message that tops the petition is as simple as it is misleading: “Don’t strip law enforcement of the gear they need to keep us safe.”
The Obama administration has done no such thing. In May, the president announced that he was prohibiting certain military-grade equipment from being transferred to state and local law enforcement. “Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments,” he said. The list included tracked armored vehicles (essentially tanks), bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and guns and ammo of .50 caliber or higher. In reality, what use could a local police department have for bayonets, grenade launchers, or the kinds of bullets that resemble small missiles, pierce armor, and can blow people’s limbs off?
Yet the sheriffs’ association has no problem complaining that “the White House announced the government would no longer provide equipment like helicopters and MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles] to local law enforcement.” And it’s not even true. Police departments can still obtain both helicopters and MRAPs if they establish community policing practices, institute training protocols, and get community approval before the equipment transfer occurs.
“Helicopters rescue runaways and natural disaster victims,” the sheriff’s association adds gravely, “and MRAPs are used to respond to shooters who barricade themselves in neighborhoods and are one of the few vehicles able to navigate hurricane, snowstorm, and tornado-strewn areas to save survivors.”
As with our wars abroad, think mission creep at home. A program started to wage the war on drugs, and strengthened after 9/11, is now being justified on the grounds that certain equipment is useful during disasters or emergencies. In reality, the police have clearly become hooked on a militarized look. Many departments are ever more attached to their weapons of war and evidently don’t mind the appearance of being an occupying force in their communities, which leaves groups like the sheriffs’ association fighting fiercely for a militarized future.
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sued law enforcement in Pinal County, Arizona, on behalf of Rhonda Cox. Two years before, her son had stolen some truck accessories and, without her knowledge, fitted them on her truck. When the county sheriff’s department arrested him, it also seized the truck.
Arriving on the scene of her son’s arrest, Cox asked a deputy about getting her truck back. No way, he told her. After she protested, explaining that she had nothing to do with her son’s alleged crimes, he responded “too bad.” Under Arizona law, the truck could indeed be taken into custody and kept or sold off by the sheriff’s department even though she was never charged with a crime. It was guilty even if she wasn’t.
Welcome to America’s civil asset forfeiture laws, another product of law enforcement’s failed war on drugs, updated for the twenty-first century. Originally designed to deprive suspected real-life Scarfaces of the spoils of their illicit trade — houses, cars, boats — it now regularly deprives people unconnected to the war on drugs of their property without due process of law and in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Not surprisingly, corruption follows.
Federal and state law enforcement can now often keep property seized or sell it and retain a portion of the revenue generated. Some of this, in turn, can be repurposed and distributed as bonuses in police and other law enforcement departments. The only way the dispossessed stand a chance of getting such “forfeited” property back is if they are willing to take on the government in a process where the deck is stacked against them.
In such cases, for instance, property owners have no right to an attorney to defend them, which means that they must either pony up additional cash for a lawyer or contest the seizure themselves in court. “It is an upside-down world where,” says the libertarian Institute for Justice, “the government holds all the cards and has the financial incentive to play them to the hilt.”
In this century, civil asset forfeiture has mutated into what’s now called “for-profit policing” in which police departments and state and federal law enforcement agencies indiscriminately seize the property of citizens who aren’t drug kingpins. Sometimes, for instance, distinctly ordinary citizens suspected of driving drunk or soliciting prostitutes get their cars confiscated. Sometimes they simply get cash taken from them on suspicion of low-level drug dealing.
Like most criminal justice issues, race matters in civil asset forfeiture. This summer, the ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a report, Guilty Property, documenting how the Philadelphia Police Department and district attorney’s office abused state civil asset forfeiture by taking at least $1 million from innocent people within the city limits. Approximately 70% of the time, those people were black, even though the city’s population is almost evenly divided between whites and African-Americans.
Currently, only one state, New Mexico, has done away with civil asset forfeiture entirely, while also severely restricting state and local law enforcement from profiting off similar national laws when they work with the feds. (The police in Albuquerque are, however, actively defying the new law, demonstrating yet again the way in which police departments believe the rules don’t apply to them.) That no other state has done so is hardly surprising. Police departments have become so reliant on civil asset forfeiture to pad their budgets and acquire “little goodies” that reforming, much less repealing, such laws are a tough sell.
As with militarization, when police defend such policies, you sense their urgent desire to maintain what many of them now clearly think of as police rights. In August, for instance, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent a fundraising email to his supporters using the imagined peril of the ACLU lawsuit as clickbait. In justifying civil forfeiture, he failed to mention that a huge portion of the money goes to enrich his own department, but praised the program in this fashion:
“[O]ver the past seven years, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has donated $1.2 million of seized criminal money to support youth programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, YMCA, high school graduation night lock-in events, youth sports as well as veterans groups, local food banks, victims assistance programs, and Home of Home in Casa Grande.”
Under this logic, police officers can steal from people who haven’t even been charged with a crime as long as they share the wealth with community organizations — though, in fact, neither in Pinal County or elsewhere is that where most of the confiscated loot appears to go. Think of this as the development of a culture of thievery masquerading as Robin Hood in blue.
Contempt for Civilian Control
Post-Ferguson developments in policing are essentially a struggle over whether the police deserve special treatment and exceptions from the rules the rest of us must follow. For too long, they have avoided accountability for brutal misconduct, while in this century arming themselves for war on America’s streets and misusing laws to profit off the public trust, largely in secret. The events of the past two years have offered graphic evidence that police culture is dysfunctional and in need of a democratic reformation.
There are, of course, still examples of law enforcement leaders who see the police as part of American society, not exempt from it. But even then, the reformers face stiff resistance from the law enforcement communities they lead. In Minneapolis, for instance, Police Chief Janeé Harteau attempted to have state investigators look into incidents when her officers seriously hurt or killed someone in the line of duty. Police union opposition killed her plan. In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ordered his department to publicly release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours of any incident. The city’s police union promptly challenged his policy, while the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in November to stop the release of the names of officers who fire their weapon or use force when on the job unless criminal charges are filed. Not surprisingly, three powerful police unions in the state supported the legislation.
In the present atmosphere, many in the law enforcement community see the Harteaus and Ramseys of their profession as figures who don’t speak for them, and groups or individuals wanting even the most modest of police reforms as so many police haters. As former New York Police Department Commissioner Howard Safir told Fox News in May, “Similar to athletes on the playing field, sometimes it’s difficult to tune out the boos from the no-talents sipping their drinks, sitting comfortably in their seats. It’s demoralizing to read about the misguided anti-cop gibberish spewing from those who take their freedoms for granted.”
The disdain in such imagery, increasingly common in the world of policing, is striking. It smacks of a police-state, bunker mentality that sees democratic values and just about any limits on the power of law enforcement as threats. In other words, the Safirs want the public — particularly in communities of color and poor neighborhoods — to shut up and do as it’s told when a police officer says so. If the cops give the orders, compliance — so this line of thinking goes — isn’t optional, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how sensible the reforms. Obey or else.
The post-Ferguson public clamor demanding better policing continues to get louder, and yet too many police departments have this to say in response: Welcome to Cop Land. We make the rules around here.
Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor of the ACLU. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly. He is a TomDispatch regular.
Copyright 2015 Matthew Harwood
The Obama administration, by consistently refusing to turn over documents and information, has gone out of its way to make it more difficult for the inspectors general of executive branch agencies to do their jobs.
The concept of inspectors general investigating executive branch departments and agencies came into being in the late 1970s after the Watergate scandal. The idea was that inspectors general would have free rein to investigate wrongdoing in their departments and bring government abuse to light.
But thanks to an obsession with secrecy on the part of the Obama administration, inspectors general who previously had access to all documents, emails and other information have had to beg for evidence, which is often produced after months of requests and is sometimes heavily redacted.
“The bottom line is that we’re no longer independent,” Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, told The New York Times.
More than three decades of established federal policy that gave watchdogs unrestricted access to government records in their investigations is now at serious risk of being undone. That includes “at least 20 investigations across the government that have been slowed, stymied or sometimes closed because of a long-simmering dispute between the Obama administration and its own watchdogs over the shrinking access of inspectors general to confidential records,” according to the Times’ Eric Lichtblau.
Justice Department lawyers wrote an opinion last summer that stated grand jury transcripts, wiretap intercepts and financial credit reports and some other “protected records” could be withheld from inspectors general. As a result of that order, investigators who need to review government records are now required to get permission from the very agencies they are monitoring in order to do so.
“This is by far the most aggressive assault on the inspector general concept since the beginning,” Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied inspectors general, told the Times. “It’s the complete evisceration of the concept. You might as well fold them down. They’ve become defanged.”
Among the investigations being hindered are those involving FBI use of phone records collected by the NSA, the DEA’s role in the shooting of unarmed civilians in Honduras drug raids, international trade agreement enforcement at the Commerce Department, the “Fast and Furious” gun operation, intelligence relating to the Boston Marathon bombings, and additional cases at the Afghanistan reconstruction board, the EPA and the Postal Service.
Even the Peace Corps has worked to prevent access to records. The agency’s inspector general was denied information when looking into cases of sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers. This despite claims that the agency is in favor of “rigorous oversight” and that it cooperated with investigators.
The situation has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of a plan to give the Justice Department inspector general more access, but not those at other agencies, “It’s no fix at all.” His colleague on the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said at a hearing that the Obama administration has “blocked what was once a free flow of information” to investigators.
Justice IG Horowitz said the consequence of the watchdog clampdown may be an increase in cases of waste, fraud and abuse across the government.
To Learn More:
Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs (by Eric Lichtblau, New York Times )
Pentagon Stonewalls U.S. Watchdog’s Inquiries into $800 Million Afghanistan Program (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Justice Department Tries to Limit Inspectors General Access to Government Documents (by Steve Straehley, AllGov )
FBI Claims it Doesn’t Have to Share Records with Justice Dept. Inspector General (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov )
The High Cost of Secrecy to American Taxpayers (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )
Walmart hired global security giant Lockheed Martin a few years ago to monitor activism in its massive workforce, according to new documents. The defense contractor tracked employees’ social media and reported protest participation to the retail giant.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, provided Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, with intelligence-gathering and surveillance services in 2012, according to a lengthy report by Bloomberg Businessweek. The news has emerged just before Black Friday protests by a union-funded group called OUR Walmart, the report claims. Participants demand higher wages and reliable scheduling for Walmart employees.
While Walmart publicly dismissed the demonstrations as “just another union publicity stunt,” their subsequent actions indicate that they took it seriously. In addition to hiring Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on employees’ social media feeds, the companies ranked stores by labor activity and monitored employees who were known to be involved in labor activism, according to Bloomberg.
The defense contractor offers a product called LM Wisdom, which is marketed as a tool for fighting drug and human trafficking, but which Walmart used to track employees in 2012 and 2013. Lockheed Martin analysts would follow the Twitter and Facebook feeds of workers and then report information about labor activism back to the company’s corporate headquarters. The defense contractor also put together a map of likely routes for five “Ride for Respect” bus caravans that were sent to HQ to demonstrate.
In one of the documents obtained, when asked about the company’s relationship with Lockheed Martin, Walmart Senior Vice President of Labor Relations Karen Ann Cassey said that the company was even “partnering with the FBI/the Joint Terrorism Task Force” to monitor protesters that planned to go to the company’s headquarters, saying that similar protests have become violent.
Walmart didn’t comment on the specific allegations in the Bloomberg story, but sent a statement via email arguing that the measures had been taken to protect their shoppers, employees and business.
“Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly,” the statement reads.
Bloomberg retrieved the information on Lockheed Martin’s labor-monitoring services by acquiring documents ahead of a National Labor Relations Board hearing. The case concerns Walmart’s alleged history retaliation against employees who protested against the retailer.
Earlier this year, Walmart announced that its company-wide minimum wage would go from $9 in 2015 and [to] $10. While OUR Walmart touts this wage increase as a victory, they remain steadfast in their demand for a minimum of $15 an hour. The group will be protesting this Black Friday for the fourth year in a row.
A federal appeals court decision effectively grants FBI agents involved in terrorism investigations abroad immunity from lawsuits, which allege torture or other constitutional rights violations.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Amir Meshal, an American citizen who was detained and tortured by FBI agents in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and declined to permit Meshal to pursue damages for what he endured.
According to the federal appeals court [PDF], allowing Meshal to pursue damages would extend Bivens into a new context: the “extraterritorial application of constitutional protections.”
Bivens is a case that created precedent for bringing cases against federal government officials. However, courts have been extremely reluctant to allow plaintiffs to pursue damages when a case may set a precedent or lead to a court intruding upon national security and foreign policy matters.
In Meshal’s case, U.S. agents and foreign officials are accused of working together. A decision would pass judgment on officials working under a “foreign justice system.” Such “intrusion,” the appeals court claimed, could have diplomatic consequences.
The appeals court quoted prior cases and stated:
Allowing Bivens suits involving both national security and foreign policy areas will “subject the government to litigation and potential law declaration it will be unable to moot by conceding individual relief, and force courts to make difficult determinations about whether and how constitutional rights should apply abroad and outside the ordinary peacetime contexts for which they were developed.” Even if the expansion of Bivens would not impose “the sovereign will of the United States onto conduct by foreign officials in a foreign land,” the actual repercussions are impossible to parse. We cannot forecast how the spectre of litigation and the potential discovery of sensitive information might affect the enthusiasm of foreign states to cooperate in joint actions or the government’s ability to keep foreign policy commitments or protect intelligence. Just as the special needs of the military requires courts to leave the creation of damage remedies against military officers to Congress, so the special needs of foreign affairs combined with national security “must stay our hand in the creation of damage remedies. [emphasis added]
Or, more succinctly, the appeals court claims “special factors counsel hesitation” in allowing Meshal to pursue “money damages.”
The appeals court additionally determined Meshal’s citizenship did not override these “special factors.”
In issuing this decision, the appeals court leaves the issue of remedies for torture to Congress or the Supreme Court and makes it virtually impossible for torture survivors to pursue justice when their rights are supremely violated.
Meshal is Detained Incommunicado, Threatened with Transfer to Israel
Meshal was in the Horn of Africa when, on January 24, 2007, Kenyan soldiers captured and interrogated him. He was “hooded, handcuffed and flown to Nairobi, where he was taken to the Ruai Police Station and questioned by an officer of Kenya’s Criminal Investigation Department” and was told that the police had to “find out what the United States wanted to do with him before he could send him back to the United States.” He remained in detention without access to a telephone or his attorney for a week, according to the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia’s decision.
On February 3, “three Americans,” who turned out to be FBI agents, interrogated Meshal and told him he would be handed over to the Kenyans and remain stuck in a “lawless country” if he did not cooperate. The agents also accused him of “having received weapons and interrogation resistance training in an al Qaeda camp.” Supervising Special Agent Chris Higgenbotham, one of the officials sued, threatened Meshal with being transferred to Israel where the Israelis would “make him disappear.” Meshal was informed that another U.S. citizen he had met in Kenya, Daniel Maldonado, who was also seized by Kenyan soldiers, “had a lot to say about” him and his story “would have to match.”
Meshal was flown by Kenyan officials to Somalia with twelve others on February 9. He was “detained in handcuffs in an underground room with no windows or toilets,” which was referred to as “the cave.” This was allegedly to prevent pressure from Kenyan courts to halt his detention and interrogation by FBI agents.
About a week later, Meshal was transported in handcuffs and a blindfold to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was held there in incommunicado detention for a week before Ethiopian officials started regularly transporting him to a villa with other prisoners where he could be interrogated by FBI agents. He remained in detention for three months and was moved into solitary confinement twice.
Finally, on May 24, he was taken to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa and flown back to the U.S. He was detained for four months and lost eighty pounds. US officials never charged him with a crime.
Appeals Court Skeptical of US Secrecy Arguments (But That Didn’t Matter)
Although the U.S. government did not invoke the “state secrets privilege,” it put forward a “laundry list of sensitive issues” that would allegedly be implicated if Meshal was able to pursue a lawsuit against FBI agents.
The government claimed it would involve “inquiry” into “national security threats in the Horn of Africa region,” the “substance and sources of intelligence,” and whether procedures relating to counterterrorism investigations abroad “were correctly applied.” Also, the government insisted it would require discovery “from both foreign counterterrorism officials, and U.S. intelligence officials up and down the chain of command, as well as evidence concerning the conditions at alleged detention locations in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.”
The appeals court appropriately asked in their decision, “Why would an inquiry into whether the defendants threatened Meshal with torture or death require discovery from U.S. intelligence officials up and down the chain of command? Why would an inquiry into Meshal’s allegedly unlawful detention without a judicial hearing reveal the substance or source of intelligence gathered in the Horn of Africa?”
“What would make it necessary for the government to identify other national security threats?” the court additionally asked.
Despite recognizing the unfounded basis for claims about how the lawsuit would risk disclosure of sensitive information, the appeals court chose to be overly cautious and dismiss the case as the government urged.
Appeals Court Overlooks Affidavit from Former FBI Agent
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on behalf of Meshal, obtained an affidavit from former FBI Agent Donald Borelli, who unequivocally made clear FBI agents are expected to follow the U.S. Constitution when in territories abroad.
“The FBI’s longstanding commitment to respect the Constitution—including when it acts abroad in respect of U.S. citizens—reflects and implements the long established rule that the Constitution applies to and constrains U.S. government action against U.S. citizens abroad,” Borelli maintained.
In fact, Borelli cited a Supreme Court decision in 1957 involving two U.S. citizens, “who were tried and convicted by court-martial based on allegations they murdered service member spouses on U.S. military bases.”
From the Supreme Court’s ruling:
At the beginning we reject the idea that when the United States acts against citizens abroad it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government. It was recognized long before Paul successfully invoked his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in strict accordance with Roman law.
Citizens like Meshal are supposed to have protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, however, the lower courts are unwilling to check the power of the Executive Branch. They have chosen to wait until the Supreme Court or Congress acts and that gives someone like Meshal an exceedingly small chance of ever winning justice.
People sometimes wonder why is it important to investigate the alleged hijackers and others officially accused of committing the 9/11 crimes. After all, the accused 19 hijackers could not have accomplished most of what happened. The answer is that the official accounts are important because they are part of the crimes. Identifying and examining the people who created the official 9/11 myth helps to reveal the ones who were responsible overall.
The people who actually committed the crimes of September 11th didn’t intend to just hijack planes and take down the buildings—they intended to blame others. To accomplish that plan the real criminals needed to create a false account of what happened and undoubtedly that need was considered well in advance. In this light, the official reports can be seen to provide a link between the “blaming others” part of the crimes and the physical parts.
Pushing the concept of “Islamic Terrorism” was the beginning of the effort to blame others, although the exact 9/11 plan might not have been worked out at the time. This concept was largely a conversion of the existing Soviet threat, which by 1989 was rapidly losing its ability to frighten the public, into something that would serve more current policy needs. Paul Bremer and Brian Jenkins were at the forefront of this conversion of the Soviet threat into the threat of Islamic terrorism. Both Bremer and Jenkins were also intimately connected to the events at the World Trade Center.
The concerted effort to propagandize about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (OBL) seems to have begun in earnest in 1998. That’s when the African embassy bombings were attributed to OBL and the as-yet unreported group called Al Qaeda. The U.S. government responded with bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan and, with help from the New York Times, began to drum up an intense myth about the new enemy.
“This is, unfortunately, the war of the future,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. “The Osama bin Laden organization has basically declared war on Americans and has made very clear that these are all Americans, anywhere.”
In retrospect, it is surprising that this was the first reference to Al Qaeda in the New York Times, coming only three years before 9/11. More surprising is that The Washington Post did not report on Al Qaeda until June 1999, and its reporting was highly speculative about the power behind this new threat.
“But for all its claims about a worldwide conspiracy to murder Americans, the government’s case is, at present, largely circumstantial. The indictment never explains how bin Laden runs al Qaeda or how he may have masterminded the embassy bombings.”
Despite this skepticism from The Post, the reports about Al Qaeda continued in an odd mixture of propaganda and doubt. For example, The Times reported on the trial of the men accused of the African embassy attacks in May 2001. That article contradicted itself saying that “prosecutors never introduced evidence directly showing that Mr. bin Laden ordered the embassy attacks” and yet that a “former advisor” to Bin Laden, one Ali Mohamed, claimed that Bin Laden “pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber.” The fact that Mohamed had worked for the U.S. Army, the FBI, and the CIA was not mentioned.
Other facts were ignored as well. That OBL had worked with the CIA and that Al Qaeda was basically a creation of CIA programs like Operation Cyclone were realities that began to fade into the background. By the time 9/11 happened, those facts were apparently forgotten by a majority of U.S. leaders and media sources. Also overlooked were the histories of people like Frank Carlucci and Richard Armitage, who played major roles in Operation Cyclone and who remained powerful players at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
In the two years before 9/11, the alleged hijackers were very active within the United States. They traveled extensively and often seemed to be making an effort to be noticed. When they were not trying to be noticed, they engaged in distinctly non-Muslim behavior. Mohamed Atta’s actions were erratic, in ways that were similar to those of Lee Harvey Oswald, and Atta appeared to be protected by U.S. authorities.
Meanwhile, leading U.S. terrorism experts seemed to be facilitating Al Qaeda terrorism. Evidence suggests that U.S. intelligence agency leaders Louis Freeh and George Tenet facilitated and covered-up acts of terrorism in the years before 9/11. Both of their agencies, the CIA and FBI, later took extraordinary measures to hide evidence related to the 9/11 attacks. And both agencies have made a mockery of the trial of those officially accused of helping OBL and the alleged hijackers.
Counter-terrorism leader Richard Clarke inexplicably helped OBL stay out of trouble, protecting him on at least two occasions. Clarke blatantly failed to follow-up on known Al Qaeda cells operating within the United States. After 9/11, Clarke was among those who falsely pointed to Abu Zubaydah as a top leader of Al Qaeda. Zubaydah’s torture testimony was then used as the basis for the 9/11 Commission Report.
Former CIA operative Porter Goss created the first official account of what happened on 9/11, along with his mentor Bob Graham. This was the report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry, produced by the intelligence oversight committees of the U.S. Congress. It was greatly influenced by people who should have been prime suspects. For example, Richard Clarke was the one in charge of the secure video conference at the White House that failed miserably to connect leaders and respond to the attacks. In the Joint Inquiry’s report, Clarke was cited as an authoritative reference 46 times. CIA director George Tenet was cited 77 times, and Louis Freeh was cited 31 times.
Therefore it is imperative that the people who worked to create the background story behind OBL and the accused hijackers be investigated for their roles in the 9/11 crimes. This includes not only those who were figureheads behind the official reports, but more importantly the ones who provided the evidence and testimony upon which those reports were built. The alleged hijackers and their associates should also be of considerable interest to 9/11 investigators. That’s because what we know about them was provided by people who we can assume were connected to the crimes and what we don’t yet know about them can reveal more of the truth.
And demonizing Russia at the same time
A short-lived story appeared in the mainstream media two weeks ago describing how the United States government is working hard to keep everyone safe. The Associated Press (AP) original coverage was headlined “Smugglers busted trying to sell nuclear material to ISIS.” The Boston Herald’s version of the AP story reported it as “Nuclear Material Sellers Target U.S.: Nuclear Material Shopped to ISIS.” The article was also picked up worldwide including by the CNN and the BBC and was replayed in Israel as “ISIS Looking to Build Nuclear Weapons, Turning to Moldovan Gangs for Materials.”
The story is focused on Moldova, a relatively impoverished former Soviet republic, where the mainstream western media is unlikely to have a regular correspondent. The original AP version includes interviews with some of the participants in the police operation while also reviewing the documents and photos relating to the case. Nevertheless, one has to suspect that AP did not just happen to come across the story. The news agency might have been tipped off to pursue it through a leak arranged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or White House, intended to inform the public that there is a major threat coming from terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction but U.S. law enforcement is aware of the danger and is working effectively against it.
The media account of what took place goes something like this: Eastern European smugglers have somehow obtained access to nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union weapons arsenals and labs and have been trying to sell them to terrorists, most particularly to ISIS, for use against the United States. There have been multiple attempts in the past five years, all of which were thwarted though the key players were not arrested and the presumed stolen material was not recovered by the authorities. The FBI worked closely with the Moldovan authorities throughout, providing technical services and other support for an undercover sting operation that was instrumental in producing a relatively successful outcome.
As I read the story it occurred to me that something was not quite right. The various security and police organs of the United States government have long faced a public relations dilemma. On one hand, they have sought to exaggerate the threat coming from international terrorism because it is good for the morale of their employees to be seen fighting a formidable enemy while it also induces Congress and the public to support substantial increases in budgets and other funding. But, at the same time, too much cheerleading emphasizing the ability of the bad guys to innovate rather suggests that national security is being undermined or, worse still, that the police and intelligence agencies are not doing their jobs very well to “keep us safe.” This has meant in practice that a fine balance has to be obtained in reporting the threat while at the same time making clear that everyone in government is working hard and very effectively to counter it.
This article about Moldova might indeed be one such story floated to reassure the public but, as it was not current news, its appearance at the present time would seem to be somewhat contrived and possibly even agenda driven. According to the article, there have been four attempts to sell smuggled radioactive material in the past five years, none of them recent, the latest one dating to February. One clue to a possible secondary agenda was the linkage of the criminals in the story to Russia, a country very much seen in adversarial terms by Washington at the present time. The article states that some of the criminal gangs in Moldova have “ties to the Russian KGB’s successor agency,” that Russia has a “vast store of radioactive material – an unknown quantity of which has leached into the black market,” and that the goods were offered by a “shadowy Russian named Alexandr Agheenco, ‘the colonel’ to his cohorts, whom Moldovan authorities believe to be an officer with the Russian FSB, previously known as the KGB.”
So the story is possibly about casting Russia in a negative light as it is about bombs or terrorists. And the bombs themselves are somewhat elusive. The article states that there is a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in Moldova but it does not indicate where the contraband wound up and who bought it. One version of the AP story claims that a small amount of weapons grade enriched uranium was produced as bona fides prior to an attempt transaction in 2010 but that is contradicted by a Moldovan police assertion that only “one vial [of radioactive cesium was] ultimately recovered” from the smugglers. The article concedes that the cesium was not suitable for building a nuclear weapon and was not even radioactive enough to construct a so-called “dirty bomb.” Cesium, it should be noted, is used in its radioactive form in medical and laboratory applications. A dirty bomb uses nuclear waste or biological and chemical agents combined with conventional explosives to produce widespread contamination. It can be deadly and nasty, but it is not Hiroshima and it is not technically related to an atom bomb.
So the sting operation arrested some low level criminals who claimed to have access to weapons grade nuclear materials but the alleged materials were not actually found. Could it be that it was all a scam, seeking to sell something that the scammers assumed to be in demand but which they did not actually possess? And as for the final point that produced the alarming headlines, what was the role of ISIS in all of this? The article provides no evidence to indicate that ISIS was actually seeking nuclear materials, nor that it desires to do so linked to intentions to attack the United States. Constructing an actual nuclear weapon would be well beyond its engineering and technical capabilities in any event and if it wanted to build a dirty bomb it already has the nuclear waste from hospitals in the area that it controls to do so as well as chemical weapons stocks captured in Iraq.
The article states that “ISIS has made clear its ambition to use weapons of mass destruction” even though no evidence is presented confirming that to be the case. Nor is there any suggestion that the Moldovan smugglers actually contacted ISIS or that ISIS in any way sought to contact the Moldovans.
One smuggler, who allegedly repeatedly “ranted his hatred for America,” said in a wiretapped conversation that he “really want[ed] an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans.” But since the middleman smuggler was trying to sell his product to what he thought to be an ISIS buyer it would be a no brainer for him to express his anti-American animus. And that evidence, such as it is, is far from a solid case that ISIS was seeking a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb to use against Washington, presumably to be detonated within the United States which is what the article implies. In fact, it does not necessarily mean anything at all.
So the alarming story of ISIS’s seeking a nuclear weapons to attack America turns out to be something considerably less, a bit of propaganda to justify continuation and even expansion of the U.S. war on terror. And there is a bit of evil Russia thrown in to explain how it is all happening. In reality, the United States and Russia were cooperating quite well on securing the former Soviet nuclear arsenal until the U.S. Congress in a January 2015 fit of pique cut off funding for the program. As is often the case, if there is a problem developing anywhere in the world, in this case over possible nuclear proliferation to terrorist groups, it is because the woefully ignorant elected officials representing us Americans have consistently failed to act responsibly.