Is the FBI a Criminal Organization?

Last week, in a piece I wrote for The Huffington Post on the hypocrisy in the Bradley Manning trial, I argued that “The law is for the powerful to defy with impunity, and for the weak to be punished with.” As evidence, I mentioned several high crimes committed by the Bush and Obama administration, crimes for which they will never be prosecuted.

And then in yesterday’s USA Today I saw this remarkable article reporting that government documents show that the FBI committed 5,658 crimes in 2011 alone. That amounts to 15 crimes a day, on average, that FBI agents explicitly authorized. And far from being part of a rogue, covert program kept hidden from a judge, this is standard operating procedure on which the Department of Justice provides oversight.

The FBI gave its informants permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, according to newly disclosed documents that show just how often the nation’s top law enforcement agency enlists criminals to help it battle crime.

The U.S. Justice Department ordered the FBI to begin tracking crimes by its informants more than a decade ago, after the agency admitted that its agents had allowed Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to operate a brutal crime ring in exchange for information about the Mafia. The FBI submits that tally to top Justice Department officials each year, but has never before made it public.

Agents authorized 15 crimes a day, on average, including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies. FBI officials have said in the past that permitting their informants — who are often criminals themselves — to break the law is an indispensable, if sometimes distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations.

Let that last sentence sink in for a moment. The government must break the law in order to catch and punish lawbreakers. Does that not offend even the most superficial understanding of the rule of law this country was supposedly founded upon?

According to the USA Today report, this number of 5,658 crimes in one year barely scratches the surface:

USA TODAY obtained a copy of the FBI’s 2011 report under the Freedom of Information Act. The report does not spell out what types of crimes its agents authorized, or how serious they were. It also did not include any information about crimes the bureau’s sources were known to have committed without the government’s permission.

Crimes authorized by the FBI almost certainly make up a tiny fraction of the total number of offenses committed by informants for local, state and federal agencies each year. The FBI was responsible for only about 10% of the criminal cases prosecuted in federal court in 2011, and federal prosecutions are, in turn, vastly outnumbered by criminal cases filed by state and local authorities, who often rely on their own networks of sources.

“The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?” said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who has studied such issues. “I’m sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked.”

If you read Trevor Aaronson’s meticulously reported book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, you’ll get a glimpse into how the thuggery at the FBI works in the war on terror. Aaronson thoroughly documents all those “terror plots” that the FBI has “foiled.” By and large, the FBI uses untrustworthy delinquents as informants in order to entrap unsuspecting halfwits that never would have been able to carry out a terror attack without  FBI encouragement and facilitation.

By John Glaser

Far be it from me to prejudge, but Antiwar.com has been requesting FBI documents on this website through the Freedom of Information Act since 2011, to no avail. Thankfully, the ACLU is suing on our behalf. Requesting surveillance of this website and its founders, as the FBI did, and suspecting we may be an agent of a foreign power – all for exercising our First Amendment rights- seems like it fits perfectly within the Bureau’s modus operandi.

Most Americans see NSA leaker Snowden as whistle-blower, not traitor

More Americans see National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower (55 percent), than a traitor (34 percent), according to a poll released Thursday shortly after the former NSA contractor reportedly secured asylum in Russia.

The Quinnipiac University national poll, which had an error margin for plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, found the public mood unchanged from a similar survey on July 10.

“Most American voters think positively of Edward Snowden, but that was before he accepted asylum in Russia,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

By a 56 percent to 51 percent ratio, more Democrats than Republicans said Snowden was a whistle-blower. Slightly more Republicans than Democrats called him a traitor, 38 percent to 36 percent.

Thanks to NSA Surveillance, Americans Are More Worried About Civil Liberties Than Terrorism

Last week’s narrow House vote against the Amash Amendment, which was aimed at stopping the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records, reflects a narrow split among the general public. The vote was 217 to 205, meaning that 49 percent of the legislators who participated wanted to end the program, while 51 percent wanted it to continue. Similarly, the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted over the weekend, found that 44 percent of Americans oppose “the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts,” while 50 percent support it; the rest were undecided or declined to answer. A month ago in the same survey, 48 percent were in favor and 47 percent were opposed. While that shift suggests a slight increase in support for NSA surveillance, the new survey also found that 47 percent of Americans worry that counterterrorism policies “have gone too far in restricting civil liberties,” compared to 35 percent who worry that they “have not gone far enough to protect the country.” According to Pew, “This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004.”

It is no wonder that concern about civil liberties is rising when you consider some of the other opinions endorsed by respondents. For instance, 56 percent said the federal courts “do not provide adequate limits on what government can collect”; 70 percent said “the government uses [these] data for purposes other than terrorism investigations”; 63 percent thought the government is reading email and listening to calls, rather than just looking at metadata; and 56 percent said “the government keeps too much information about its anti-terrorism programs secret from the public.” Given the level of distrust reflected in these numbers, it is surprising that half the respondents still expressed overall support for “collection of telephone and internet data” in the name of fighting terrorism.

There was a sadly predictable partisan split in opinions about government encroachment on privacy, with 57 percent of Democrats supporting the surveillance programs, compared to just 44 percent of Republicans. Notably, Democrats in the House were less blindly loyal to President Obama in the vote on the Amash Amendment: 57 percent of those who voted supported the amendment, compared to 41 percent of Republicans, essentially the reverse of the pattern seen in the Pew poll.

Although the most recent Pew survey did not ask specifically about the indiscriminate collection of telephone metadata, a month ago 56 percent of respondents said they were OK with “secret court orders to track telephone call records of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism,” while 41 percent disapproved. I suspect the latter group will grow as it becomes clear that the government has greatly exaggerated the usefulness of the phone-record database in preventing terrorist attacks. “I have not seen any indication that the bulk phone records program yielded any unique intelligence that was not also available to the government through less intrusive means,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), said in a speech last week. “If this program is not effective,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said at a hearing yesterday, ” it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen.” He said Obama administration officials has shown him a classified list of “terrorist events” supposedly prevented by NSA surveillance, and it did not support claims that “dozens or even several terrorist plots” had been thwarted thanks to the phone record dragnet. The New York Times notes that the 54 successes intelligence officials originally attributed partly to the database have become 13 investigations to which the database “contributed.” That phrasing leaves open the possibility that the database was not actually necessary, especially since the same information could have been obtained through court orders aimed at particular targets.

Mexican cartels hiring US soldiers as hit men

Mexican cartels are recruiting hit men from the U.S. military, offering big money to highly-trained soldiers to carry out contract killings and potentially share their skills with gangsters south of the border, according to law enforcement experts.

The involvement of three American soldiers in separate incidents, including a 2009 murder that led to last week’s life sentence for a former Army private, underscore a problem the U.S. military has fought hard to address.

“We have seen examples over the past few years where American servicemen are becoming involved in this type of activity,” said Fred Burton, vice president for STRATFOR Global Intelligence. “It is quite worrisome to have individuals with specialized military training and combat experience being associated with the cartels.”

“It is quite worrisome to have individuals with specialized military training and combat experience being associated with the cartels.”

- Fred Burton, STRATFOR Global Intelligence.

The life sentence handed down in El Paso District court July 25 to an Army private hired by the Juarez Cartel to be the triggerman in a 2009 hit in this border city is the most recent case.

Michael Apodaca, 22, was a private first-class stationed at nearby Fort Bliss Army Base and was attached to the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade when he was recruited and paid $5,000 by the Juarez Cartel to shoot and kill Jose Daniel Gonzalez-Galeana, a cartel member who had been outed as an informant for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Apodaca, who was the triggerman in the May 15, 2009, hit, was sentenced in El Paso District Court July 25.

Last September, Kevin Corley, 29, a former active-duty Army first lieutenant from Fort Carson in Colorado, pleaded guilty in federal court in Laredo, Texas, to conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire for the Los Zetas Cartel after being arrested in a sting operation. Ironically, that cartel was itself founded by Special Forces deserters from the Mexican Army.

Arrested with Corley in connection with the case was former Army Sgt. Samuel Walker, 28. He was convicted of committing a murder-for-hire in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years in prison June 21.

Walker served in Afghanistan with Corley’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division platoon between 2010-2011. Shortly after their return, they made contact with the undercover DEA agent they thought was a member of Los Zetas.

According to his plea agreement, Corley was introduced to undercover agents posing as members of Los Zetas cartel in September 2011; he admitted to being an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army responsible for training soldiers. He told his contact he could provide tactical training for members of the cartel and purchase weapons for them. In later meetings, Corley discussed stealing weapons from military posts and military tactics. On Dec. 23, 2011, he agreed to perform a contract killing for the cartel in exchange for $50,000 and cocaine.

Burton said some soldiers become corrupted by gangs after joining, while others are gang members who enlist specifically for the training they can get.

“There has been a persistent gang problem in the military for the past six to eight years,” Burton said, adding that cartels greatly value trained soldiers from the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala as sicarios – hit men.

More recently, the May 22 murder of Juan Guerrero-Chapa, 43, a former lawyer for the Gulf Cartel, in a mall parking lot in an affluent suburb of Fort Worth has raised concerns due to the military precision with which it was carried out.

“Obviously, the nature of this homicide, the way it was carried out indicates –– and I said indicates –– an organization that is trained to do this type of activity,”  Southlake Police Chief Stephen Mylett said following the attack. “When you’re dealing with individuals that operate on such a professional level, certainly caution forces me to have to lean toward that this is an organized criminal activity act.”

While Mylett acknowledged the murder was a “targeted affair conducted by professional killers,” he would not confirm or deny suspicions that current or previous military was involved.

“The case is still being investigated,” Mylett said.

A task force consisting of the Southlake Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, FBI, DEA, and Department of Homeland Security is investigating the case.

But an expert on Mexican cartels, who declined to be identified, said the “operation was brilliant and disciplined.”

“I would be asking the question — if military was involved — if I was leading the investigation based on the MO, geography and precision,” said the expert. “I don’t have any information to confirm, but we know that a hit team came in and out and there was also a stand-alone recon team.”

Using American servicemen could make it easier to carry out a murder in the U.S. since they can more easily move across the border. And the lure of quick money has proven tempting for theses soldiers given the dismal military pay scale.

Apodaca’s fee for killing Galaena was nearly three times his monthly pay. A sergeant like Walker makes around $2,500 per month, and Corley $4,500. Both hoped for $50,000 each and drugs from their “Los Zetas” connection.

Growing ties between U.S.-based gangs, which have long infiltrated the military, and the Mexican cartels could be making American soldiers even more readily available to the cartels south of the border. The FBI National Gang Intelligence Center reports its concern with gang members with military training poses a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of their distinctive weapons and combat training skills and ability to transfer these skills to fellow gang members. As of April 2011, the NGIC has identified members of at least 53 gangs whose members have served in or are affiliated with U.S. military.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Hispanic prison gangs along the Southwest border region are strengthening their ties with cartels to acquire wholesale quantities of drugs. There are also strong indications that in exchange for a consistent drug supply, gangs smuggle and distribute drugs, collect drug proceeds, launder money, smuggle weapons, commit kidnappings, and serve as lookouts and enforcers on behalf of the cartels, according to law enforcement sources.

The NDIC has also found that gang-related activity and violence has increased along the Southwest border region, as U.S.-based gangs seek to prove their worth to the drug cartels, compete with other gangs for favor, and act as U.S.-based enforcers for cartels which involves home invasions, robbery, kidnapping and murder.

Army officials have sought to address the issue of gang and cartel influence within their ranks with tighter recruiting standards. A spokesman told FoxNews.com that current recruiting efforts are much more stringent than even four years ago, and that anyone sporting a gang-related tattoo is no longer accepted for enlistment.

“A person like Michael Apodaca would not even be allowed to enlist today,” Army Maj. Joe Buccino, spokesman for the Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, told FoxNews.com. “We’re more selective than during the height of Iraq.”

 

The sky darkens for American journalism

The future of the American media is being decided in a military court, writes Chase Madar.

Bradley Manning released hundreds of thousands of government documents and files to Wikileaks, most famous among them the unclassified video Wikileaks dubbed, “Collateral Murder”, a harrowing gun-sight view of an Apache helicopter slaughtering a couple of armed men and a much larger group of civilians on a Baghdad street in July, 2007.

The court-martial of Pfc. Manning, finally underway over three years after his arrest, is likely to cause a great deal of collateral destruction in its own right. In this case the victim will be American journalism.

Contrary to widespread panic, massive leaks of classified material tend to enhance national security as the new information can prevent the kind of reckless, poorly-informed decisions that have squandered so much blood and money, from Southeast Asia to Iraq

The most serious of the charges against Manning is the capital offense of “aiding the enemy.” (Team Obama has made it clear it won’t seek the death penalty, but a life sentence is possible.) The enemy that the prosecution has in mind is not Wikileaks or the global public but Al Qaeda; because this group had access to the internet, the logic goes, they could read Manning’s disclosures just like everyone else.

The government does not have to prove Manning’s conscious intent to help Al Qaeda, but must only meet the squishier standard of proving the defendant had “specific knowledge” that the terrorists might benefit from his cache of documents.

If this charge sticks, it will be a serious blow to American journalism, as it puts all kinds of confidential informants at risk of being capital cases. A soldier in Afghanistan who blogs about the lack of armoured vehicles – a common and very public complaint from the ranks in the Iraq War – could be prosecuted for tipping off the Taliban.

Whoever leaked Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s long cable on the futility of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan could also be conceivably be put away for life, even executed. As Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union has explained, the use of this charge against sources, leakers and whistleblowers – like Bradley Manning – will criminalise a great deal of essential journalism – and not just the kind practiced by Wikileaks and various bloggers.

The Manning prosecution has asserted more than once that they would have pressed the Aiding the Enemy charge even if the private had passed his cache to the New York Times or the Washington Post (as the leaker had attempted).

This jolted the editorial classes, who do not much like imagining themselves as being implicated, however hypothetically, in terrorist acts. Op-eds in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have blasted the Aiding the Enemy charges brought against Manning, explaining that they would not just “chill” but freeze a great deal of essential journalism.

The news media has always relied on leaks of classified material, from the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, to the preemptive disclosure of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate holding that Iran had no nuclear weapons program, a transparent attempt by the military brass to block Bush and Cheney from launching a third war.

And contrary to widespread panic, massive leaks of classified material tend to enhance national security as the new information can prevent the kind of reckless, poorly-informed decisions that have squandered so much blood and money, from Southeast Asia to Iraq.

Who is a journalist and who gets to decide?

Aiding the Enemy is of course not the only charge against Private Manning. One of the charges, “wanton publication,” hinges in part on whether Wikileaks is a bona fide journalistic entity. But who gets to decide who is and who isn’t a journalist, and how?

Defense witness Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and expert on press freedom and the internet, provided an answer earlier this month. Benkler, who has published penetrating studies of the 21st century media landscape, took the stand July 11th to address the matter of who is and who isn’t a journalist.

Wikileaks is absolutely a media organization, one perfectly emblematic of the “networked fourth estate”, in which traditional news outlets like the Guardian and Der Spiegel collaborate with smaller non-profit and for-profit entities to produce news coverage. Supporters of Manning found Benkler’s testimony to be lucid, supremely well-informed and compelling – but will it convince Judge Denise Lind?

As for traditional news media, they have been largely AWOL, with the New York Times sending a correspondent to a few hearings, only after a shaming by the newspaper’s public editor. But a handful of independent correspondents, notably Kevin Gostzola of FireDogLake, independent journalist Alexa O’Brien and Bradley Manning staffer Nathan Fuller, as well as court artist Clark Stoeckley – have covered every breath of the legal proceedings.

And even as more established media have leaned heavily on these reporters for all manner of factual and logistical assistance, gracious acknowledgement of the professional debt has not always been forthcoming. Last month the New York Times rather snottily described O’Brien as a mere “activist” before being embarrassed into a correction.

Although smug torpor is Big Media’s default setting, a recent barrage of sucker-punches has shaken the Fourth Estate’s generally cosy partnership with the political class. The Obama administration has named James Rosen of Fox News as a co-conspirator in its case against State Department leaker Stephen Jin-Woo Kim; the government has also announced that it had been sifting through two months of the Associated Press’s phone records to hunt down the source of a leak.

Obama’s poison gift to journalists

Affecting a chastened air, the Obama administration now says it wants to make nice with journalists.   To strike a finer “balance” between press freedom and security, Team Obama has offered to pass a Press Shield Law-a slightly revamped version of the same bill the White House threatened to veto back in 2009. (Senator Obama had been a liberal champion of just such a bill before). This Press Shield Law is intended as conciliatory basket of fruit, sent to the media as an apology for all those investigations.

If the Aiding the Enemy charge sticks, Pfc. Manning faces a possible life sentence – and the outcome might be only slightly less calamitous for American journalism

The government’s gift to journalists is poison, and should be rejected. The Press Shield Law would be more accurately titled the Media Prosecution Enhancement Bludgeon – as Trevor Timm of the Press Freedom Foundation has warned, the statute would override and erase many common-law protections currently enjoyed by reporters.

Just as with our whistleblower protection laws, the statute includes a cavernous carve-out for any leak-based reporting that affects “national security”, a term that is infinitely elastic in the hands of official Washington. (The law would not have “shielded” the Associated Press from the government’s investigation of their phone records, nor would it have protected Fox’s Rosen).

But wait: that’s not all that the new law won’t do! As the law’s primary author, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has crowed, the law would specifically exclude Wikileaks and other internet-based groups that he and his colleagues do not believe to be proper media organizations. (Bear in mind the average age in today’s United States Senate is 61). The language defining who is and who isn’t “a member of the media” is marvellously supple, to be loosened and tightened as the government sees fit.

Meanwhile, the State onslaught against American journalists continues: the dependably conservative Washington DC circuit court has ruled that James Risen of the New York Times must testify as to his sources in a story about CIA disruption of Iran’s nuclear program. (Risen has pledged he will go to jail first).

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden has casually called Glenn Greenwald a co-conspirator with NSA leaker Edward Snowden. With this roiling in the background, military judge Denise Lind announced on July 18 that she would not dismiss the Aiding the Enemy charge against Bradley Manning but will instead weigh that momentous accusation on its merits.

This is not necessarily a disaster for Manning or for American journalism: if Judge Lind rules against this charge, it will establish common law precedent protecting journalists from similar legal attacks, and Bradley Manning will likely serve (a little) less time in prison. (The Judge’s verdict is expected by next Tuesday, July 30th).

On the other hand, if the Aiding the Enemy charge sticks, Pfc. Manning faces a possible life sentence – and the outcome might be only slightly less calamitous for American journalism.

 

Chase Madar is a civil rights attorney in New York and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower.

Follow him on Twitter: @ChMadar

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