Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Informants and other sophisticated means’ Category

SHOPPING MALL TERROR PLAN — SAVED FROM CARNAGE BY PLOTTERS’ IGNORANCE OF FIREARMS

In bad manners, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on October 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm
Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Note left for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Terrorist Group IRA After She Narrowly Avoided Injury in Brighton Hotel Bombing on October 12, 1984.

An affidavit filed by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agent in support of an application for search warrants in the Boston jihad terror case demonstrates once again how luck, incompetence, and poor training sometimes frustrate terrorists’ ideas.

Without taking an iota away from the investigative success in the case (read the full affidavit and other filings in the case to see how investigators were onto these characters like ink on print fairly early on), it is clear that the plotters could have wreaked horrific damage had they had a bit more knowledge about the potential lethality of firearms that are widely and easily available on the U.S. civilian market — even in Massachusetts.

An excerpt from the affidavit follows, setting out the would-be terrorists’ idea of attacking a shopping mall in the United States.  They even gave thought to how to deal with first responders.

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted —  to do the job.  They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns.  However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.

Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”

BACKGROUND ON THE THREAT OF SMALL ARMS TERROR ATTACKS

The private intelligence and analytical service Stratfor has written about the potential for small arms terror attacks in several postings.  These follow with links as background:

Observation on threat of armed attacks generally [note: this link may not work for non-subscribers.  Sorry!:

STRATFOR has long held that the United States and Europe are vulnerable to armed attacks against soft targets. In an open society, it is impossible to protect everything. Moreover, conducting attacks against soft targets such as hotels or malls can be done with ease, and can prove quite effective at creating carnage.

In fact, as we’ve previously pointed out,Cho Seung Hui killed more people with handguns in his attack at Virginia Tech than Jemaah Islamiyah was able to kill in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the August 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel and the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy combined. Clearly, armed assaults pose a threat.

Observation on automatic versus semiautomatic weapons specifically from a Stratfor discussion of “lone wolf attacks”:

Immaturity and lack of common sense also are significant hurdles for some would-be lone-wolf attackers. For instance, a person who attempts to buy an illicit fully automatic weapon when he could easily — and legally — obtain a less expensive semiautomatic version of the same weapon clearly is influenced by Hollywood and does not understand the effectiveness of controlled, sustained fire versus the spray-and-pray shooting he sees in the movies or on TV. As [Joseph Paul] Franklin and several mentally disturbed shooters have demonstrated, automatic weapons are not needed to inflict carnage.

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT

Given the above context, the following excerpts from the affidavit pretty much speak for themselves and demonstrate how we got lucky this time.

Excerpts from Exhibit A, Affidavit of Heidi L. Williams in Support of Application for Search and Seizure Warrant, United District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Case No. 09-120-LTS

46. Because they believed, based on ABOUSAMRA’s experiences there, that Pakistan was not feasible, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA, and CW2 began exploring other options, including committing terrorist attacks in the United States.  For example, in 2003, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed the feasibility of shooting and killing a specific member of the executive branch of the United States government.  In another conversation around the same time, ABOUSAMRA and CW2 discussed targeting a second member of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

47.  While some of these plans involved no more than one or two conversations, at least one involved multiple conversations, discussions, and preparations.  For example, in the latter half of 2003, ABAOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed a plan to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people.  They were inspired by the success of the Washington, D.C. area snipers who were successful in terrorizing the public. [Footnote 15: In the fall of 2002, there were a series of sniper shootings in the area of Washington, D.C. (Maryland and Northern Virginia), that received a great deal of media attention and “terrorized” residents of those areas because of the apparent randomness of the attacks.  Ultimately, two men, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested and convicted of some of the shootings.]  ABOUSAMRA justified attacks on civilians, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks; ABOUSAMRA stated that civilians were not innocent because they paid taxes to support the government, and because they were Kufar (non-believers).

48.  The three men discussed the logistics of a mall attack, including the types of weapons needed, the number of people who would be involved, and how to coordinate the attack from different entrances.  They considered the emergency responses and the attack of those responders.

49.  In furtherance of the plan, CW2 traveled to new Hampshire to meet with Daniel Maldonado, in an attempt to acquire the necessary weapons.  According to CW2, Maldonado was a convert to Islam who, prior to his conversion, had contacts with gang members.  Therefore, CW2 believed that Maldonado would have access to the weapons they needed.  According to CW2, Maldonado told CW2 that he would be able to obtain handguns, but would be unable to obtain automatic weapons.  CW2 told Maldonado not to ask the reason he needed the weapons.  CW2 described Maldonado as someone with extreme beliefs, like ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA.

50.  After returning to Massachusetts, CW2 told ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA that Maldonado would only  be able to provide handguns.  Because of the logistical problems of executing the operations with just handguns, the plan was abandoned.

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

Y QUE? ALEX SANCHEZ DENIED BAIL AGAIN

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Details are not only sketchy, they are non-existent, but two close sources confirm that Alex Sanchez was again denied bail at his hearing in federal court yesterday.  Don’t bother searching the Los Angeles Times, to whom this case is apparently not a story in spite of its drama and implications for administration of justice, gangs, and organized crime.

For background on the story of this former gangster, ostensibly turned anti-gang activist, but now accused in a federal RICO indictment of being a secret “shot-caller” or gang boss, go here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most that can be said until the trial and verdict is this.

Whatever the prosecutors served up yesterday, it apparently was sizzling enough to convince federal judge Manuel Real to keep Sanchez locked up.

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?”  Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Point taken, but Fairly Civil remains amazed at the virtual news blackout on this case.

Lindsay Lohan grabs more media time? Any media time?

Pathetic.

Newsworthy in L.A.

Newsworthy in L.A.

A Gang Cop’s Reply to Latest Post On the Alex Sanchez Case

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

As Fairly Civil expected, the previous post on Father Greg Boyle’s filing for the defense in the Alex Sanchez MS-13 case (see here) provoked …um… strong reaction from some members of the Southern California law enforcement community.

[Update: Sanchez was again denied bail on October 19, 2009 by Judge Manuel Real.]

One of the more outspoken was the following communication from retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar:

I worked the Metropolitan FBI Gang Task Force which targeted the Mara Salvatrucha gang (1994-2004). Father Boyle may yet be a Catholic priest, but he has no credibility with this Catholic. His actions in the past have been very anti-police in nature and I believe this comes from his own personal issues and prejudices. I believe his conduct in the past in protecting wanted gang members was immoral and unethical. I believe that he was sanctioned in the past by the Catholic Church. He has a political agenda and his support of Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos has become an embarrassment, which can be corrected if Alex Sanchez is somehow acquitted.

There could be several valid explanations for the conversation and they do not necessarily mean that Sanchez is not a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or a Shot Caller;

The Los Angeles Mara Salvatrucha gang is made up of sub-groups or cliques. Each of these cliques supposedly operates with some autonomy from the gang in general, while at the same time holding to the identity and goals of the whole gang. These cliques have de-facto charismatic leaders and vote within the clique in matters that do not necessarily involve the whole Mara Salvatrucha. If a MS member, no matter how influential, tried to interfere in the activity of a clique which he was not a member of, he would be rebuked by clique members and leadership that were members of the particular clique who held voting power. Thus you might hear…

CAMARON: Listen man! And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man! You see? Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see? [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

But I believe the best explanation is that Alex Sanchez (a MS shot caller), by becoming a leader of Homies Unidos, the “respectable” political arm of the Mara Salvatrucha, and associating with the likes of LA Sheriff Leroy Baca, California Senator Tom Hayden and radical political Catholic Priest Greg Boyle, Sanchez insolated himself from the MS cliques and gang street soldiers who now consider him “inactive” in the daily criminal business of the gang. Alex Sanchez was a MS shot caller when I retired in 2004, and I am sure he has not been “jumped out” of the gang or Camaron’s words would have been much more threatening. What Camaron is telling him is, you take care of the Politics and we will handle the dirty business of killing. But they are still part of the same criminal gang.

By the way, did Alex Sanchez (the supposed ex-gang member) upon learning of Camaron’s evil plot, run and inform his mentor, the good Father Boyle, who of course contacted the police so that the crimes could have been prevented? …Never Happened did it?

Sergeant Richard Valdemar

LASD Major Crimes Bureau (retired)

Power serve.

Alex Sanchez Case Boyles Over — Priest Pours Cold Water on Government Case Against “Secret Shot Caller”

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Are the men in this picture two gangsters, as the federal government claims?

Or are they one gangster and a dedicated anti-gang worker bonding with an ex-homie as part of his work in steering gangsters toward redemption?

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real is scheduled to to slice this baby Monday afternoon, October 19th.  [Update:  Judge Real again denied bail.]

That’s when the judge will hear again the application of the man on the left — Alex Sanchez — for bail.   Sanchez was charged in June with living a double life as a secret “shot caller” while pretending to be an anti-gang worker as executive director of Homies Unidos.

The shock was palpable.

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

Sanchez is right up there with Mother Teresa in the hagiography of good works.  An unyielding corps of his fans have absolutely insisted that that there is no way Sanchez could have been anything other than the selfless man he presented himself to be.

As an earlier post of Fairly Civil enthusiastically noted (here), the government’s case against Sanchez’s release pending trial rested primarily on what appeared to be a damning series of four wiretap transcripts and the expert opinion of Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores interpreting the transcripts of those calls.

But a statement filed Wednesday by Father Greg Boyle on behalf of Sanchez raises the bar considerably.  Father Boyle points out a troubling omission from the transcript in the government’s case — namely, the statement of one of the gangster’s that pretty clearly appears to say (in so many words) “butt out, Alex, you are no longer one of us.”

To quote an L.A. news website, WitnessLA: “WTF?”

If you indict Mother Teresa, you better be able to prove her guilt slam dunk style.

(It’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Times appears to be — nay, is — sleeping soundly through this case, as it does so many other gang cases.  That is scandalous either way this case goes, because either an innocent man is being railroaded or he pulled off the greatest scam in the history of do-goodism!)

Excerpt from Father Boyle’s Filing

Here is an excerpt from the gut of Father Boyle’s court filing.  [Declaration of Father Greg Boyle Filed in Support of Defendant Sanchez’s Application for Review of Detention Order, United States v. Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-00466-R-22.]

(Note:  Sanchez is called by his gang moniker “Rebelde” in this filing.  Camaro is the late gangster whose murder Sanchez is accused of plotting as a secret shot-caller.)

No doubt, the government will have an answer (not filed as of this posting).  If it does not have a zippy and persuasive reply to the following, you won’t be able to count the ruined careers on all your hands and toes.  [For a reply to this post, and to Father Boyle’s filing, from a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s gang sergeant, go here.]

12.  I am fluent in Spanish and I have listened to the tapes of the four recorded calls.  I have read and considered the government’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities as well as the Declaration of Detective Flores.  Based upon my experience, history and qualifications as a gang expert, I believe the government’s conclusions and Detective Frank Flores’s opinions are mistaken and are based upon a misinterpretation of the language and meaning of these four calls.  Similarly, the government and Detective Flores have misconstrued Alex Sanchez’s role in these calls, his purpose in participating in these calls and the import of his statements.

13.   Before I discuss my review of each of the calls, it is important to highlight the fact the government and Detective Flores completely omit and ignore one of the most important — if not the most important — sections in these calls:  the clear and unequivocal statements by participants in the calls that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member.  This omission, in and of itself, raises concerns in my mind about the balance and fairness of the government’s and Detective Flores’s presentation.  It is unlikely, if not impossible, the government and Detective Flores overlooked this part of the calls.  More likely, they did not make mention of these statement because the recorded statements undermine their conclusions.

14.  Unlike many of the potentially ambiguous statements lifted from the calls by Detective Flores, there is no ambiguity in the statement made by Camaron, during the third call, that Alex Sanchez is not an active member of the MS-13 gang.  Camaron states:

CAMARON:        Listen man!  And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man!  You see?  Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see?  [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

REBELDE:        If you told him — If you told Boxer that I’m working with the FBI, then you know what, you are getting me involved!

15.  Camaron does not mince words.  He says Mr. Sanchez should have no voice in the conversation because he is not part of the gang.  From Camaron’s perspective, Mr. Sanchez is an outsider and should not get involved in “our things” because he is “no longer active.”  There is no way to reconcile this statement — that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member — with the government’s and Detective Flores’s position; in fact, it turns their argument on its head. If Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member, he is certainly not a “shot caller.”  No one can be a shot caller if they are not an active gang members.  It is that simple.”

Whatever else Fr. Boyle writes in his filing, he puts his pen here right on a camel the government will have to get through the needle:  “You are no longer active.”

Match point.  Serve.  Better be a zinger.

EVIL STALKS THE WORLD — NO COUNTRY FOR WEAK MEN OR WOMEN

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm
"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.

The book and film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men ought to have scared the hell out of you.

If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.

The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer.  It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.

Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.

When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.

Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death.  He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent.  He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by  supervisory agent Michael Braun.

Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States.  But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.

Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:

Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.

The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.

“All the support he needs” seems to be working.  Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:

An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.

Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.

His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”

Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.

Read the entire article here.

Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department.  The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.

Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it.  Bout is not just some guy who sells guns.  He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world:  drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.

The question may be this for the Attorney General:  Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?

When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.

"Call it!"

"Call it!"

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI — A CLASSIC CASE OF THE MEDIA’S TERRORISM “NEWS” CYCLE

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 25, 2009 at 2:03 pm
London Bus Bombing

Zazi Was Cooking Up Same Explosive Used in 2005 London Bus Bombing

“Those who talk don’t know.  And those who know don’t talk.”

Highly-Classified Aphorism.

It turns out that Inspector Clouseau might not have been in charge of the Zazi transit bombing plot investigation after all.

In fact — as Fairly Civil noted in the first posting on this case — there was every evidence for those with eyes to see and ears to listen that this was going to be a case of good investigation and timely preemption.  [Extended excerpts from court documents follow below in this posting.]

You would never have known that from the news media, which followed a by-now check-the-box predictable pattern.

PART ONE — MEDIA MOCK, MOCK

Since in intelligence matters, people who actually know what’s going on don’t talk, and the people who do talk, usually don’t know, the media is reduced to flailing about, looking for a “hook” to “advance” the story.

The general direction — with a few notable and commendable exceptions, such as J.J. Green of Washington’s WTOP radio station — is to treat the counter-terrorism forces as overzealous, and the suspects as innocent folk (just like you and me) being viciously “profiled” and “eavesdropped” on.

Bewildered head-scratching. Early on in every disrupted plot, the news media raise their collective eyebrows over the fact that the authorities didn’t actually catch anybody with a lit fuse

Harrumph!! Nothing actually went bang!

The unspoken premise is that these Keystone Cops, these clowns, are seeing phantoms.  Usually, some marginal or has-been politician can be found who will indiscreetly weigh in with a sound-bite.

The Denver Post, for example, ran with this bit from former Sen. Gary Hart:

Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart said a Tuesday meeting with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly left him doubtful that authorities have uncovered an al-Qaeda terrorist cell that was planning a major terrorist attack.

“He works very closely with the FBI. If he had just uncovered any major terror conspiracy I believe he would have told me,” Hart told The Denver Post on Wednesday. He met with Kelly in his role as vice chairman of the Homeland Security Council.

“We were talking about what we could do to better protect New York City,” Hart said.

Gosh, I know if I were police commissioner, I would just tell every random guy who had an appointment with me that terrorists were plotting to blow my city up. Especially former senators who as a general rule are real good at keeping their lips sealed.

Or not.

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

People, Can We All Get Along? The “human interest” angle usually pops up fairly early, too.  This is the part where the alleged terrorists are portrayed as brothers of all mankind, just trying to get along, being hassled by the profiler man.  Ode to Joy comes to mind.

The Denver Post, no doubt feeling the weight of having an actual accused terrorist right here in the mile-high city [!!], sent a byte-stained wretch into the field to dig out this stolidly obtuse bit of gullible local color:

The 24-year-old Aurora man at the heart of a national terrorism investigation is a hard-working cabdriver who regularly attends prayer services and is working to put down roots in the United States.

In interviews on the phone and at his condominium Tuesday, Najibullah Zazi denied any terrorist ties.

“Calling me an extremist. What does that mean?” Zazi asked. “I’m just normal. I pray five times a day. I observe Ramadan.”

Oh, well, pardon us for interrupting your busy day, sir.

Not to be outdone, The New York Times scrambled to follow the Denver paper and made it official with this late edition bit of sensitive reporting:

“I have nothing to do with this,” said the man, Najibullah Zazi, 25, who was reached by telephone in Colorado on Monday and Tuesday. “This looks like it’s going toward me, which is more shocking every hour.”

Well, I know I was shocked.  The Times’ “kicker” (ending bit) in the same story left us fairly sobbing with outrage at the horrid conditions those mean old profiling, rights-abusing agents left in the wake of their outrageous Queens raid:

At one raid site, a fifth-floor apartment on 41st Avenue, a tenant, Naiz Khan, spoke of Mr. Zazi, who stayed overnight there on Thursday. He said that he had barely spoken with Mr. Zazi on his recent visit but that they had been closer when they were students at Flushing High School. He said he was committed to helping the F.B.I.

“Anything they need, I will help them out,” Mr. Khan said on Tuesday, standing amid a messy jumble of belongings. “It’s my responsibility.”

That a man can rise to such selflessness, “standing amid a messy jumble” … well, it touches one’s heart.

News desk, get me a pissing match! The oldest, greasiest card in the journaliste pack-o-tricks is the [excuse my French] “pissing match.”

It’s a great way to fill a factual void.

Any beat reporter worth his or her salt knows how to start one of these.  Find an anonymous “source” from the party of the first part who will likely criticize the party of the second part.  Ask that person a clever question [“Say, what do you really think about the way the Second Department handled that search?”].  Take the answer [“Those idiots from 2D couldn’t find their ass in the dark with a flashlight in both hands!”] to another “source” in the party of the second part for “reaction” [“Hate to bother you, but I think it’s only fair to get your reaction to something I heard today from an official over in 1D”].

This is good for several days worth of “reportage.”

The New York Daily News sent the first hack out to stir this angle up:

Raids on three Queens apartments may have derailed a terror plot, but they caused a rift between the NYPD and FBI officials who wanted to get more evidence, sources said Tuesday.

Although the NYPD’s top spokesman denied a rift, sources said the FBI wanted to hold off to determine exactly what a Denver-based terror cell was planning.

A frenzy followed.

Look, maybe mistakes were made, but my experience has been after having interviewed many, many agents and officials who work in this area is that one can always find those who will criticize other agencies, but over the long run those working at the point of the spear pull together and put their differences aside.  I personally doubt very much that the JTTF is riven with “fissiparous tendencies.”

And by the way, if you want to see a snake pit of back-biting rifts, just visit any newsroom.  Talk about pissing matches.

And further by the way, precisely when would the journalistes — the editors and reporters — have moved against such a plot?  When would they interrupt bomb-makers?  And would they turn their backs on “aspirational” bombers, hoping that they would never become “operational” and actually blow something up?

Hmm, Maybe — But Just Maybe — They Have A Little Something Here. As more evidence emerges , the media fall back on ponderous ruminations that the plot was disrupted before the bumbling plotters were able to create a serious threat.  Curiously, that is not a good thing.  A popular variant is that the FBI (or other agency) undercover agents who infiltrated the cell of would-be terrorists were the true “motivating” force who pushed a bunch of innocent clowns along the road to perdition.

Thus, The New York Times reported that authorities, possibly, maybe, kinda-sorta had some proof:

The central figure in what authorities describe as a widening inquiry into a possible plot to detonate explosives in the United States had been trained in weapons and explosives in Pakistan and, according to court papers released Sunday, had made nine pages of handwritten notes on how to make and handle bombs.

But the paper-of-record felt compelled to add a bit more wee-wee match “tension” to the brew, and insert the ritual “the plot had not taken shape” clause:

In a sense, the case reflects the tension that has grown between intelligence and law enforcement agencies since the September 2001 attacks. Some intelligence officials are prepared to disrupt a group as soon as its activities are discovered, while more case-oriented law enforcement agencies seek to surreptitiously track or infiltrate a suspect group, uncovering all of its members, until there is compelling evidence to charge the plotters with a crime.

In this case, officials say, Mr. Zazi and his confederates were apparently deterred before any plot had a chance to take shape and before investigators were able to clearly understand what the men were planning. That left prosecutors to charge the three men with proxy offenses of making false statements rather than crimes directly involving terrorism.

This is wool-gathering pabulum.  If you think that there have been tensions between law enforcement and intelligence agencies “since the September 2001 attacks,” you should recall the real “Chinese Wall” that existed between them before that infamous date.

Holy S**t, Batman, This was real! Finally, comes acceptance.

Bad people really do want to hurt us.

Our counter-terrorism agencies really do catch many (one would hope most and wish all) of them before they can do us harm.

So, today, The New York Times grudgingly leads with the news that the case of Najibullah Zazi “may” be different.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, senior government officials have announced dozens of terrorism cases that on closer examination seemed to diminish as legitimate threats. The accumulating evidence against a Denver airport shuttle driver suggests he may be different, with some investigators calling his case the most serious in years.

Gosh, authorities must be gratified that the experts in the media now agree that this is serious!

Still, the paper can’t resist pulling lint out of the navel of so-called “aspirational” cases, those where nothing went boom because undercover agents defused the plot.  Buried at the very end of this pompous fugue of faux journalistic “expertise” in terrorism investigations is a typical media “J’accuse!” format: an agency’s “admission” with a “but” qualifier.

What could be more fair?

F.B.I. officials have admitted that such cases are “aspirational” rather than operational. But they note that if the Sept. 11 hijackers — some of whom were unsophisticated recent arrivals to the United States — had been interrupted early on, they might have looked amateurish and the notion that they could turn jetliners into missiles far-fetched.

PART TWO — FOR THE RECORD

So, what evidence does the government have?  Well, keeping in mind that prosecutors are not going to put on the table more than they need to, and using a bit of common sense and understanding about how real investigations (as opposed to media imaginings) actually work, the following is a bare minimum.  And chilling.

On the point of competence, if you read these filings (and others quoted in other posts) carefully, you will see several junctures at which judicial authorization was obtained.  These indicate that at those points the investigators had other evidence not cited here which persuaded a judge to approve the investigative steps.  In other words, 1 + 1 = 3.

These excerpts come from the indictment and a memorandum of law opposing release of bail in the case of United States v. Najibullah Zazi in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Docket No. 09-CR-663:

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI, together with others, did knowingly, intentionally, and without lawful authority conspire to use one or more weapons of mass destruction, to wit: explosive bombs and other similar explosive devices, against persons and property within the United States…

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans….

A. Trip to Pakistan

Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) records show that on August 28, 2008, Zazi and others flew from Newark Liberty International Airport to Peshawar, Pakistan via Geneva, Switzerland and Doha, Qatar.  They traveled on Qatar Airlines Flight Number 84.

Zazi is associated with three email accounts (“Email Account 1,” “Email Account 2,” and “Email Account 3″) that were active during his time in Pakistan.  One of the accounts is directly subscribed to Zazi, and all three accounts contain slight variations of the same password.  The government will establish at trial that these accounts were used in furtherance of Zazi’s efforts to manufacture explosive devices.  Among other things, during a consent search of two of three of the accounts, agents found jpeg images of nine pages of handwritten notes containing formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of different kinds of explosives.  Based on email header information, these images had been emailed to Email Accounts 2 and 3 in early December 2008, while Zazi was in Pakistan.  As discussed below, the same notes were transferred onto ZAZI’s laptop computer in June 2009.

The notes contained specifications for, among other explosives, the explosive Triacetone Triperoxide (“TATP”), which is the explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and intended to be used in the 2001 “shoe bomb” plot by Richard Reid.  The three components of TATP are hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid (such as hydrochloric acid).  The handwritten notes mention that acetone is found in nail polish remover and that hydrogen peroxide can be found in “Hair Salon – 29-30%.”  The notes discuss formulations for mixing hydrogen peroxide with flour, and list ghee oil as a type of fuel that can be used to help initiate the explosive device.

Zazi flew from Peshawar back to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York (“JFK”) on January 15, 2009 aboard Qatar Airlines Flight Number 83.

B.  Research and Purchase of Explosive Device Components

Prior to traveling to Pakistan, Zazi lived in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  Within days of returning from Pakistan, Zazi moved to Aurora, Colorado.  Zazi resided with family members on East Ontario Drive in Aurora from January 2009 until the end of July 2009.  Zazi’s father, Mohamed Wali Zazi (“Wali”) moved from New York to Aurora in July 2009, and the two ultimately moved into a residence on East Smoky Hill Road in Aurora on or about July 31.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that Zazi transferred the bomb-making instruction notes onto his laptop and/or accessed the notes on his laptop in June and July 2009.  The FBI’s search of the laptop also reflects that Zazi conducted several internet searches for hydrochloric acid during the summer of 2009, and “bookmarked” a site on two different browsers for “Lab Safety for Hydrochloric Acid.”  Zazi also searched a beauty salon website for hydrocide and peroxide.

During July and August 2009, Zazi and others associated with Zazi purchased unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area.  Surveillance videos and receipts reflect that on July 25, 2009, Zazi purchased six bottles of “Liquid Developer Clairoxide” from a beauty supply store in Aurora.  This product contains high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.  The videos and receipts also establish that on August 28, 2009, Zazi purchased 12 32-oz bottles of “Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume” — another hydrogen peroxide based product — from the same store.  Records from a nearby hotel in Aurora reflect that Zazi checked into a suite in the hotel on the same day.  The suite included a stove.

The evidence will further establish that individuals associated with Zazi purchased unusual quantities of hydrogen and acetone products in July, August and September 2009 from three different beauty supply stores in and around Aurora.  One person purchased a one-gallon container of a product containing 20% hydrogen peroxide, as well as an eight ounce bottle of acetone.  A second person purchased an acetone product in approximately the first week of September.  A third person purchased 32-ounce bottles of Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer, a product containing high levels of hydrogen peroxide, on approximately three occasions during the summer of 2009.

C.  Travel to New York

On September 6 and 7, 2009, Zazi rented the same suite at the same hotel in Aurora where he had stayed on August 28.  The hotel surveillance camera captured Zazi checking-in to the hotel at 2:32 p.m. on September 6.  Subsequent FBI testing for explosives and chemical residue in the suite revealed the presence of acetone residue in the vent above the stove.  Importantly, the bomb-making notes contemplate heating the components in order to make them highly concentrated.

Also on September 6 and 7, Zazi attempted to communicate on multiple occasions  with another individual — each communication more urgent in tone than the last — seeking to correct [sic, probably “seeking correct”]  mixtures of ingredients to make explosives.  Included in the communications were requests related to flour and ghee oil, which are two ingredients listed in the bomb-making instructions.  Zazi repeatedly emphasized in the communications that he needed the answers right away.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that the next day, September 8, Zazi searched the internet for locations of a home improvement store within zip code 11354, the zip code for the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  He then searched the home improvement store’s website for muriatic acid, which is a diluted version of hydrochloric acid and, as discussed, could constitute the third component of TATP, which is comprised of hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid like hydrochloric acid.  Zazi viewed four different types of muriatic acid.  He viewed one particular type — Klean Green Safer Muriatic Acid — multiple times.  This product claims to have lower fumes and is safer to handle than standard muriatic acid.

The same day as the home improvement store internet searches, Zazi rented a car.  The next day, September 9, Zazi started driving from Colorado to New York City, taking with him the laptop computer (which, as noted, contained the bomb-making instructions).  The car rental contract reflects that Zazi was supposed to return the car in New York on September 14, 2009.

Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10 and traveled to Flushing, Queens.  Lawfully-authorized intercepts of Zazi’s cell phone reflect that Zazi became suspicious, and then learned directly, that law enforcement officers were tracking his activities.  Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on September 12.

Zazi spent the night of September 10 at a residence in Queens.  During the execution of a search warrant at the Queens residence, agents found, among several other items, an electronic weight scale in the closet.  The scale and batteries both contained Zazi’s fingerprints.  In addition, during a lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop, agents found the images of the handwritten bomb-making instructions discussed above.  Experts in the FBI’s explosives unit have opined that the scale would be suitable for performing several of the procedures outline in the instructions.  With respect to TATP, a scale such as the one recovered would be required to weigh the hydrogen peroxide and other precursor chemicals in determining the proper concentrations and ratios.  These procedures are outlined in the bomb-making notes.

After Zazi’s laptop was searched in New York, and after Zazi returned to Colorado with his laptop, agents executed a search warrant at his Aurora address.  Agents recovered the same laptop that had previously been searched and found that the hard drive had since been removed.

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

SUNSET BOULEVARD FOR AVENUES GANG — FEDS AND LA CITY ATTORNEY KEEP HAMMERING

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on September 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Gloria Swanson as Faded Silent Movie Queen Norma Desmond (1950)

Joe Gillis (William Holden): You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson): I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The notorious Avenues gang in Los Angeles is finding itself caught in a giant gang compactor.  The screen is not getting smaller.  The gang is.

A federal RICO (racketeering) indictment — handed up Thursday, September 17th and sealed until a massive raid was carried out Tuesday, September 22nd — named 88 members of the gang, which has an estimated 400 members in total.  That’s 22 percent of the gang in this round alone.

Among the crimes alleged in the current indictment is the August 2008 murder of 27-year old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Juan Abel Escalante.  Wholly aside from the moral degradation apparent in that tragic and ruthless murder of a father of three, it was a serious mistake by the gang’s genius bar.

The latest in a series of coordinated attacks on this violent criminal entity by federal law enforcement agencies and the City of Los Angeles have demonstrably affected the gang and its overlords, the “big homies” of the Mexican Mafia (EME) prison gang.  Although some of the faces have changed on the side of civil society, the new players are sticking to a well-honed game plan and putting unrelenting pressure of the worst of the gangs.  [The history of how that game plan developed is laid out in my latest book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).]

“THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED”

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

In concert with the federal indictment, the new Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has also filed 3 new civil abatement actions against the Avenues, under his office’s Project T.O.U.G.H. (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters).  These civil lawsuits ask for injunctions against owners of property in notorious use by gangsters, and demand that the properties undergo physical and managerial improvements.  The court is also asked for “stay-away” orders against known gang members named in the lawsuits.  These filings bring to 15 the total of such actions against the gang since an injunction was won in 2002 by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

On the federal side, Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona is continuing to use the gang-busting RICO hammer that former USA Thomas O’Brien used to great effect.

Earlier posts of Fairly Civil laid out some of this civil action history in the context of the Drew Street clique (of which more below).  You can read those posts here and here.

Another excellent source on the history of the Avenues gang and its relationship to the Mexican Mafia can be found in Tony Rafael’s book, The Mexican Mafia.  Rafael (a non de plume) is reported to have a “green light” on him because of his research.  Here is what the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report wrote about him in 2006:

Whenever Tony Rafael leaves home, he carries a .45-caliber handgun nestled in a holster just below his armpit. A Cold Steel Recon-1 knife is stashed elsewhere on his person. Concealed weapons permits are hard to come by in Los Angeles County, but Rafael is a special case.

Okay, to each his own.  Other good sources are Chris Blatchford’s engaging profile of former (“flipped”) EME member Rene Enriquez, The Black Hand, and Mundo Mendoza’s Mexican Mafia: From Altar Boy to Hitman, available only in Word format on a CD-ROM.

But several things distinguish Rafael’s book in the context of this case.

First, as the SPLC Intelligence Report describes, Rafael was all over the EME-policy driven anti-Black murders by the Avenues gang and some other Latino gangs — at a time when the Los Angeles Times and other “main stream media” simply refused to admit that such things as local “ethnic cleansing” were happening and simply would not report on them (until federal indictments put the elephant on the news conference table).

Second, Rafael puts a well-informed finger right on the astoundingly obtuse Los Angeles media coverage in general about the Mexican Mafia and its suzerainty over Southern California Latino gangs, a dominance that is being consolidated and extended elsewhere in the United States (see this Fairly Civil post for an example).

In Yogi Berra’s inimitable words, “This is like deja vu all over again.”  In two lead stories in the Los Angeles Times on the law enforcement action, here and here, the Mexican Mafia was mentioned in one sentence! Moreover, the paper appears oblivious to the significance of the RICO law as a gang-fighting tool, instead focusing its coverage on “style section” type gangster and cop profiles, like a film noir script.  The federal investigative effort was key in this case — primarily from agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration working on the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, using Title III wiretaps among other sophisticated tools.

Given the media grey-out in Los Angeles, of all places, about the nature of gangsters and organized crime, it is no wonder that many probably well-intentioned activists still insist on seeing the gang problem only as the “disorganized crime” of marginalized youth.  (Of course, some less-than-well-intentioned are in the mix, and Fairly Civil will not need smelling salts if and when the public corruption indictments start coming down).

Of course, intervention, prevention, and spiritual redemption all have their place.

But nothing stops a violent criminal conspiracy like a RICO indictment.

Speaking of which, here are relevant and extremely informative excerpts from United States v. Aguirre, the case at hand.

The first section not only describes the history of the Avenues, but articulates the relationship between the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia, and the impact of the hammering the Drew Street clique took:

BACKGROUND OF THE AVENUES STREET GANG

2. The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims the area roughly between Colorado Boulevard to the north, the 3200 Block of Griffin Street to the east, San Fernando Road to the south, and Drew Street to the west as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles. The Avenues gang has been divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang. The original Avenues cliques were the Cypress Avenues, the Avenues Assassins, Avenues 43rds, and most recently the Drew Street clique. After its formation was formally authorized by the Mexican Mafia in August 2007, the Drew Street clique became the most active and violent clique within the Avenues gang and produced the most significant revenues for the Mexican Mafia from narcotics trafficking, robbery, the extortion of local business owners, “staged” car accidents, identity theft, and other crimes. Revenues in the form of “taxed” proceeds from the crimes of the organization were collected by Avenues leaders and paid to Mexican Mafia leaders who directed, and continue to direct, the activities of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system, in particular the California State Prison at Pelican Bay, California. In June 2008, the federal investigation and prosecution of the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang dismantled the Drew Street clique and removed its leadership, in particular Francisco “Pancho” Real, Maria “Chata” Leon, and the Real/Leon family. After the federal indictment, Mexican Mafia leaders have attempted to re-organize and re-establish the  Avenues presence in Northeast Los Angeles by ending the “clique” divisions within the gang and naming new leaders of the Avenues gang, specifically defendants VELASQUEZ, RODRIGUEZ, and, later, SOLIS. Mexican Mafia leaders meet with Avenues gang leaders at California State Prison facilities and speak by telephone in order to instruct and direct the crimes of the Avenues gang, and to coordinate the collection of illegal proceeds from gang activity.

Following sections illuminate gang “culture,” including the key role of “tagging,” which some probably well-intentioned people prefer to see as the creative expressions of frustrated youngsters:

3. Avenues gang members generally identify one another through the use of hand gestures, or gang “signs.” They typically display the letter “A” for Avenues or the interlocking “L-A” for “Los Avenidas.” Members refer to one another as “skulls” and frequently wear the “Skull Camp” or “Skull Wear” brand clothing to identify themselves as members and associates of the Avenues gang. The clothing depicts images of human skulls in various forms, such as a human skull depicted as part of the logo for the Oakland Raiders football team and, oftentimes, the depiction of a human skull wearing a fedora hat, with a bullet hole in the side of the skull. Gang members also frequently wear baseball caps for teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Los Angeles Dodgers, whose team insignia includes an “A” or “L-A,” for Avenues and Los Avenidas. Gang tattoos, gang names, and slogans are also used to identify members and territory controlled by the gang.

4. The Avenues gang also uses spray-painted “tagging” to demonstrate its control of its neighborhoods to rival gang members and the local community. Gang “tagging” frequently appears on street signs, walls, buildings, and portions of the 110 Freeway, Interstate 5, and Highway 2 in the areas controlled by the gang. Members will also often use the number 13 in various forms (i.e., 13, X3, or XIII) to demonstrate loyalty to the Mexican Mafia (“m” being the 13th letter in the alphabet) and to signal that the gang has “sureno” (Southern California) loyalty. The letters “NELA” are used to identify Northeast Los Angeles gang members, and the number 187 is frequently used by the gang to take “credit” for a murder that has been committed by the gang. “Tagging” is used in this way to issue challenges to rival gang members and to communicate among Avenues gang members. More importantly, it is a public demonstration of the authority of the gang, because it not only identifies territory claimed by the Avenues gang to rival gang members, but also serves as a warning or means to terrorize members of the public and law-abiding residents of the neighborhoods with threats that the neighborhood is under the control of the Avenues gang.

Of course, the most innocent victims are the ordinary people who live in gang-infested neighborhoods.  It’s odd that “activists” often seem less concerned about these boringly “straight” people than the thugs who terrorize them:

5. Persons living in the neighborhoods controlled and “tagged” by the Avenues gang have had to live with the knowledge that they may be subject to violent retaliation, even death, if they try to remove or clean the gang’s marks from their buildings and homes or try to remove pairs of sneakers that are frequently thrown across telephone and power lines as a display of gang control of the neighborhood. Those actions would be seen as defying the gang’s authority and its control over the neighborhoods it has claimed. The gang’s tactics, which include wearing “Skull Camp” clothing, shaved heads, display of weapons, tattoos, “tagging,” and even posting items on websites, are designed to intimidate and terrorize the residents of the neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang. In addition, residents in the neighborhood have been attacked by Avenues gang members for maintaining security systems and cameras in the neighborhoods.

Confronting and murdering law enforcement personnel is not just an expression of “la vida loca.”  It is a violent manifestation of the gangs’ imperative to control territory, gauzily recalled by gangster advocates as barrio-love.

6. As part of the gang’s control over neighborhoods, Avenues gang members direct violent attacks against law enforcement officers and brag about those attacks in Internet communications. In particular, Avenues gang members and leaders post antagonistic attacks directed at law enforcement on Internet websites, such as “Fuck the police,” and mottos, including “Avenidas don’t get chased by the cops. We chase them.” As to the general public, Avenues gang members warn, “Avenidas don’t just hurt people. We kill them.” Threats of violence against law enforcement have been repeatedly demonstrated in armed attacks by Avenues gang members on law enforcement officers, including a February 21, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members opened fire on Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) officers with handguns and an assault rifle, and an August 2, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members murdered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante in front of his home in Cypress Park.

Here follows reference to the gang’s campaign against Africa-Americans, the subject Tony Rafael convincingly demonstrates in his book was … um … whited-out by the news media in Los Angeles:

7. The organization is also hostile to the presence ofAfrican-Americans in Avenues gang territory. Neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang are frequently “tagged” with racist threats directed against African-Americans that are intended to intimidate African-Americans and prevent African-Americans from living in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also confront African Americans with threats of violence and murder in order to intimidate and prevent African-Americans from residing in or entering neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang.

Oh, yeah, did we mention drug-trafficking?  This is the core of the organized criminal enterprises that gangs have morphed into since the sepia-toned days gang “advocates” are stuck in. Most gangsters today are workers inthe drug sweat shops, while the “big homies,” “shot callers,” and drug lords” live lives of filthy wealth.

8. The Avenues gang is continually engaged in the distribution of cocaine base in the form of cocaine, crack cocaine (“crack cocaine”), methamphetamine, heroin and other narcotic drugs. In particular, Avenues gang leaders obtain narcotic drugs and control the distribution of narcotic drugs by providing “street-level” distribution amounts (typically a few grams of crack cocaine at a time) to numerous gang members and associates in the area controlled by the gang. Avenues gang leaders, in turn, collect extortion payments, referred to as “taxes” or “rent,” from drug traffickers in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also extort payment from persons who live and maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang under threat of physical violence, including the threat that individuals who do not adhere to the gang’s demands will be “green-lighted” by the Mexican Mafia, that is, they will be targeted for murder. The authority to collect “taxes” represents an elevated position within the gang, one that is authorized by the Mexican Mafia leaders as a “shot-caller.” The “shot-caller” who has authority to collect “taxes” may then delegate the responsibility for collections to other gang members under his authority.

What makes this all work?  Guns.  The militarization of the U.S. civilian firearms market in the 1980s (assault weapons) and the rise of high-capacity semi-automatic pistols was the wind under the wings of the criminally consolidating gangster empires.

9. Avenues gang members maintain a ready supply of firearms, including handguns, shotguns, automatic assault rifles, and machineguns, in order to enforce the authority of the gang. Such weapons typically are stolen or unregistered, so that their use cannot be readily connected to the gang member who either used the weapon or maintained it. Weapons often are discarded or destroyed after having been used to commit acts of violence on behalf of the organization. Therefore, gang leaders frequently need to maintain a source of supply for additional unregistered or non-traceable firearms. The Avenues gang also controls the activities of its members and enforces its authority and internal discipline by killing, attempting to kill, conspiring to kill, assaulting, and threatening its own members or others who would present a threat to the enterprise. Avenues gang members and associates typically continue to plan and execute crimes even after arrests and during periods of incarceration, by telephone calls from inside detention facilities, prison notes (known as “kites”) and meetings among inmates within an institution, where they coordinate offenses to be carried out within the institutions and upon their release from custody.

More on gang “culture” — youth programs, activities for women, and neighborhood “work”:

10. Leaders of the Avenues gang recruit and initiate juveniles to join the gang and direct them to commit acts of violence and drug-trafficking crimes on behalf of the gang. New members frequently are recruited through their participation in a younger “tagging” unit or from a different sect of the larger organization. New members ordinarily are then “jumped in” to the gang. This initiation process ordinarily requires that the new member is physically beaten by senior, established members of the gang and must demonstrate his resilience during the beating. The new member is then expected to put in “work” for the gang, which includes the distribution of narcotics, “hunting” rival gang members,  posting up” in the neighborhood (acting as a “look-out”to alert members to the presence of law enforcement), and “tagging” in the neighborhood.

11. Females are commonly disparaged and addressed derisively in the gang. However, female members and associates play a vital role in the operation of the Avenues gang and its relationship with the Mexican Mafia. Female associates are frequently active in narcotics trafficking, weapons distribution, the maintenance of cellular telephones, and the collection and transfer of “tax” payments and narcotics proceeds. Female associates are frequently relied on to smuggle narcotics into the state penitentiaries and provide cellular telephones to gang members in and out of custody. Female associates also play an integral role in directing and maintaining communications within the organization, in particular, communications with incarcerated gang members and leaders of the organization, as well as the distribution of collected drug proceeds and “taxed” payments from the neighborhood.

12. Avenues gang members enforce the authority of the gang to commit its crimes by directing acts of violence and retaliation against non-compliant drug-traffickers and rival gang members, as well as non-compliant members. Gang members frequently destroy surveillance cameras installed in the neighborhood pursuant to court orders and to protect the neighborhood from the crimes of the Avenues gang. Avenues gang members also commonly threaten witnesses whom they suspect might testify or provide information to law enforcement about the crimes committed by the gang, or other public officers, such as school teachers or fire department officers who might come into conflict with the goal of the Avenues gang to control and terrorize the neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles.

Here is a tutorial on the relationships between EME and the Avenues:

MEXICAN MAFIA AUTHORITY FOR THE AVENUES

13. The Avenues gang is loyal and committed to the “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.” The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that was organized within the California State Prison system in order to control and direct the activities of Southern California street gangs. “Made” members of the Mexican Mafia have assumed authority for different regions in Southern California. Typically, a “made” member is an inmate within the California State Prison system and exercises his control and direction over the region from within the state prison facility where he is housed. The Mexican Mafia leaders issue directions and orders, including orders to kill rival gang members, members of law enforcement, and members of the public, which are referred to as “green-lights.” Those orders are to be executed by Avenues gang members and are understood by Avenues gang members as opportunities to gain elevated status within the organization or potentially become a “made” member of the organization.

14. The Mexican Mafia has established rules to govern acts of violence committed by local street gang members, including Avenues gang members. The Mexican Mafia thus requires Avenues gang members to adhere to protocols for the conduct of violent attacks, narcotics trafficking, and murders, including the issuance of “green light” authorizations for murder. Failure to adhere to Mexican Mafia rules can lead to the issuance of a “green light,” directing an attack on the offending member, or the requirement that money be paid. “Green lights” are also frequently issued in retaliation for a perceived “disrespect” to a Mexican Mafia leader, to punish the unauthorized collection of “tax” payments in a neighborhood controlled by the Avenues gang, or to sanction individuals who traffic in narcotics without the gang’s authorization or without paying the required tax to the Avenues and Mexican Mafia.

15. Mexican Mafia and Avenues gang members and associates regularly exploit prison visits, telephone calls, policies concerning letter-communications with attorneys, and prison monetary accounts in order to generate income from narcotics trafficking and other crimes of the enterprise, so as to promote the criminal enterprise and direct the operation of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system. Mexican Mafia leaders also require weekly payments from prisoners incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail system.

16. Avenues gang leaders extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang. A portion of the “taxes” collected by the Avenues gang leaders is then paid to the Mexican Mafia leadership incarcerated within the California State Prison system. Avenues gang members also raise funds for the organization by conducting armed home invasion robberies, in which they target individuals believed to maintain large sums of cash or valuables in their homes.

LEADERSHIP OF THE MEXICAN MAFIA

17. Currently three Avenues gang members are also validated Mexican Mafia members. They are Mexican Mafia Member #1, Mexican Mafia Member #3, and Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, and they have authority over Northeast Los Angeles, which is the territory controlled by the Avenues gang. The Mexican Mafia members use Mexican Mafia leaders and associates, including defendants RUDY AGUIRRE, JR., RICHIE AGUIRRE, RUDY AGUIRRE, SR., and P. CORDERO, to communicate orders and authorizations to Avenues gang leaders and members, and to receive information about the activities of the Avenues gang.

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI CASE GETS SPOOKIER — FEDS GIVE NOTICE OF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE PROTECTIONS

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Never Forget

Never Forget

Enigmatic Quote for Today

The native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Prosecutors in the case of the suspected transit-bomber Najibullah Zazi have served notice in the federal court in Denver that they intend to use provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) that will protect sensitive information from public disclosure.  [See later post here with more filings.]

What follows is an overview of some of the relevant filings, law, and controversies around FISA.

The Government’s Notice

The United States of America … hereby provides notice to defendant Najibullah Zazi and to the Court , that pursuant to Title 50, United States Code, Section 1806(c) and 1825 (d), that [sic] the United States intends to offer into evidence, or otherwise use or disclose in any proceedings in the above-captioned matter [United States v. Najibullah Zazi], information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance and physical search conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”), as amended, 50 U.S.C. SS 1801-1812 and 1821-1829.

“Notice of Intent To Use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Information,” United States v. Najibullah Zazi, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Docket No. 09-cr-03001-CBS, September 21, 2009.

Different Views of FISA

Law enforcement, intelligence community view:

Virtually all counter-terror and counter-intelligence agents in the United States regard FISA and its various amendments as essential to their work:

FISA has since its enactment been a bold and productive tool in this country’s fight against the efforts of foreign governments and their agents to engage in intelligence-gathering aimed at the U.S. government, either to ascertain its future policy or to effect its current policy, to acquire proprietary information not publicly available, or to engage in disinformation efforts. With the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act FISA has been expanded and broadened to make it a useful tool in exposing and combating foreign terrorist groups’ efforts to target the United States.

James G. McAdams, III, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): An Overview,” Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 2007.

ACLU View

The American Civil Liberties Union — not surprisingly — has a much different view of FISA:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), born after the Watergate scandal, establishes how the government can secretly eavesdrop on Americans in their own country in intelligence investigations. It was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information involving communications with “agents of foreign powers.”

On July 10, 2008, President Bush signed the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), supposedly aimed at “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Unfortunately, the law meant to “update” FISA instead gutted the original law by eviscerating the role of the judicial oversight in government surveillance. The law also gave sweeping immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program by handing over access to our communications without a warrant. On the same day the FAA was signed into law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

This is not the first time that Congress has undermined FISA. The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001 and re-authorized in 2006, amended FISA to make it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, even when they are not suspected of having connections to terrorism.

Congressional leadership has promised to address the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act before it sunsets in 2012 during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. Until then, the ACLU will fight in the courts to block the law from taking effect.

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit to block the FAA is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/fisa.html.

How Often Is FISA Used?

An annual report to Congress from the Justice Department contains statistics about FISA use, as well as discussion of some of the topical issues surrounding it. Here are the statistics:

During calendar year 2008, the Government made 2,082 applications to the Foreign Surveillance Court (hereinafter “FISC”) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search for foreign intelligence purposes. The 2,082 applications include applications made solely for electronic surveillance, applications made solely for physical search, and combined applications requesting authority for electronic surveillance and physical search.

During calendar year 2008, the FISC approved 2,083 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search (two applications filed in calendar-year 2007 were not approved until calendar-year 2008). The FISC made substantive modifications to the Government’s proposed orders in two of those applications. The FISC denied one application filed by the Government during calendar year 2008.

Letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, Office of Legislative Affairs, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, May 14, 2009.

Some of the Statutory Provisions

For the wonks still with us, here are excerpts from the basic law.  There are many more provisions that should be reviewed to get a complete understanding, which eludes even the most nimble legal minds in Washington and Kabul, but these seem most relevant to the moment:

50 U.S. Code 1806

(c) Notification by United States

Whenever the Government intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from an electronic surveillance of that aggrieved person pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the Government shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the Government intends to so disclose or so use such information.

50 U.S. Code 1825

(d) Notification by United States

Whenever the United States intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from a physical search pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the United States shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or the other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the United States intends to so disclose or so use such information.

§ 1801. Definitions

As used in this subchapter:

(a) “Foreign power” means—

….

(4) a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor;

(b) “Agent of a foreign power” means—

(1) any person other than a United States person, who—

(C) engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore…

(f) “Electronic surveillance” means—

(1) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States, if the contents are acquired by intentionally targeting that United States person, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes;

(2) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States, but does not include the acquisition of those communications of computer trespassers that would be permissible under section 2511 (2)(i) of title 18;

(3) the intentional acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, and if both the sender and all intended recipients are located within the United States; or

(4) the installation or use of an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device in the United States for monitoring to acquire information, other than from a wire or radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes.

§ 1821. Definitions

(5) “Physical search” means any physical intrusion within the United States into premises or property (including examination of the interior of property by technical means) that is intended to result in a seizure, reproduction, inspection, or alteration of information, material, or property, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, but does not include

(A) “electronic surveillance”, as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title, or

(B) the acquisition by the United States Government of foreign intelligence information from international or foreign communications, or foreign intelligence activities conducted in accordance with otherwise applicable Federal law involving a foreign electronic communications system, utilizing a means other than electronic surveillance as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title.

Excerpts from Title 50, Chapter 36 — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance at Cornell University Law School website.

Alas, Poor Yorick

Alas, Poor Yorick

THE CASE AGAINST TERROR SUSPECT NAJIBULLAH ZAZI–FBI AFFIDAVIT REVEALS ELEGANT WORK

In bad manners, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm
Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Najibullah Zazi just learned a golden rule.

Never, ever lie to the FBI.

Zazi, the principal local suspect in the ongoing and unfolding international terrorism investigation that came into public view with raids in New York last week, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.  So has his father and another person. The thrust of the alleged plot seems to be that Zazi and others may have been cooking up a transit bombing somewhere in the United States similar to those in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

A few self-critical kumbaya speeches have not and cannot erase the threat from radical forces who hate the United States and want to make things go bang here.

A careful reading of the affidavits filed in support of criminal complaints and arrest warrants reveals that — as usual in such cases — the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and without a scintilla of doubt, the U.S. intelligence community know a lot more about Mr. Zazi than has been publicly revealed. The U.S. Department of Justice is spooling out just enough rope to arrest and detain Zazi and his alleged co-conspirators.

The government is, of course, not going to reveal all of its sources and methods, but it is pretty clear that we have come a long way from September 11, 2001.  Our counter-terrorism investigators are reading the labels on some of the bad guys’ underwear. [See details of later government filings in posts here and here.]

Zazi’s pitiful attempt to lie his way out of his possession of handwritten notes about bomb-making — in the context of a mother lode of backpacks and a scale useful for mixing bang-bang chemicals –are central to the false statement charge.  In brief, Zazi claimed in interviews with the FBI that he unintentionally downloaded the instructions from a “religious book” [must be an interesting religion, what?] and immediately erased the book when he saw that it discussed jihad.  But various means of intelligence revealed that he actually emailed the damning instructions to himself.

Oops.

London Transit Bombing 2005

London Transit Bombing 2005

What follows is an excerpt from the FBI affidavit filed in Colorado.  Keep in mind that Zazi is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence at law, and that the evidence the government refers to in this affidavit is certainly not all of the evidence in its possession.  Moreover, this is no doubt a holding action as the investigation continues. [The complete affidavits can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website here.]

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT OF FBI AGENT IN SUPPORT OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINT AND ARREST WARRANT IN UNITED STATES V. NAJIBULLAH ZAZI

United States District Court for the District of Colorado, September 19, 2009

15. On or about September 11, 2009, FBI agents conducted a legally-authorized search of the defendant ZAZI’s rental car, which was parked near the Queens residence. During the search of the car, a laptop computer was found containing a jpeg image of nine-pages of handwritten notes (the “handwritten notes”). The handwritten notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.

16. Rental records reflect that the defendant ZAZI was supposed to return his rental car in New York on September 14, 2009. However, on September 12, 2009, the defendant ZAZI flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York to Denver, Colorado.

17. On or about September 14, 2009, FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Queens residence. Among other items, the FBI seized a black scale containing several double A batteries. Fingerprint testing revealed that the defendant ZAZI’s fingerprints were found on both the scale and the batteries.

ZAZI’s FALSE STATEMENTS

18. On or about September 16, 2009, the defendant ZAZI was interviewed by members of the JTTF at the FBI [sic] in Denver, Colorado. The defendant ZAZI had voluntarily appeared at the offices of the FBI and agreed to answer questions. During this interview, the defendant ZAZI was questioned about, among several other topics, the handwritten notes found on his computer. During the interview, the defendant was show the handwritten notes. The defendant stated that he had never seen the document before. He further stated that if the handwritten notes was [sic] found on his computer, he must have unintentionally downloaded it as part of a religious book he had downloaded in August 2009. He stated that he had immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad. He stated that he had not handwritten the notes.

19. During the same interview, the defendant was asked about his email accounts, and listed three accounts, including an account known to law enforcement (“Account A”). The investigation has determined that the password for Account A is a nine-digit number.  The investigation has revealed the existence of two email accounts known to law enforcement (“Account B” and “Account C”). A search of Account B registered to a “Kado Khan,” reveals that another email account known to law enforcement (“the originating account”) sent a message to Account B with the handwritten notes included as an attachment on or about December 2, 2008. The password for the email account is the same nine-digit password at [sic, probably “as”] the password for Account A. A search of the Account C, registered to a “kado gul” in Peshawar, Pakistan, reveals the originating account also sent an email with the handwritten notes as an attachment to Account C on or about December 3, 2008. Account C can be opened with a six-digit password that has the same first six digits of the passwords for Accounts A and B. Based on the similarity of addresses and identity of passwords, I believe that the defendant controlled Account A as well as Accounts B and C, both of which received the handwritten notes by email on early December 2008.

20. The document was analyzed by a handwriting expert from the FBI who said that, although a final conclusion could not be made until the expert examines the original document, the expert was able to assert that there were characteristics common to both the document found on the defendant ZAZI’s computer and the defendant’s handwriting exemplars. An FBI agent without training as a handwriting expert, who was able to compare the handwriting notes with the original handwriting exemplars stated that it appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document.

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

“SNITCH” MANAGEMENT — LOOKING AT INFORMANTS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PART ONE

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on September 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

neighborhoodwatchgrafitti

Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system.

Ellen Yashefsky, Benjamin Cardozo Law School, quoted in Aubrey Fox, “Delving the Murky World of Police Informants,” Gotham Gazette, February 20, 2008.

It is rarely possible to guess accurately from what corner the informer will emerge.  For this reason, a delicate relationship, little understood by the public, exists between law enforcement officials and individual members of the underworld.  These men we hunt down are always possible allies who may come over to our side for some consideration of sentence, for some promise to protect their wife or family.  My attitude has been to use any means available to cut narcotic violations to a minimum, and where criminals or addicts will cooperate with us to that end I will deal with them…Whether he comes voluntarily or because he is shown that it is his best way out, whether it is a one-time deal or a source of inside information that may continue for months, the informer provides the solution for ninety-five percent not only of narcotic offenses but of all types of crime.

Harry J. Anslinger and Will Orsler, The Murderers (New York: Avon Books, 1961), pp. 121-122.

Informants are more than mere witnesses to crime and are less than law enforcement officers.

John Madinger, Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement’s Most Valuable Tool (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 2000), p. 12.

“No informant, no case.”

That aphorism has become almost universally accepted among investigators of racketeering and drug crimes.  But some doubt it.

Harry J. Anslinger believed in the value of informants, as the quote above demonstrates.

Harry J. Anslinger

Harry J. Anslinger

Anslinger — the other J. Edgar Hoover — was the first Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Although the rap is variously pinned on Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, Anslinger was the original architect of the American war on drugs.  Some of his prose on the evils of marijuana is … entertaining … to say the least.  (“Google” him if you are interested.  This is a more or less family-friendly blog.)

Every street cop, federal agent, and prosecutor battling the toxic corrosion of the illegal drug trade–and its local retailers, street gangs–also knows the value of the informant.

‘’The big secret of detective work is that you’ve got to get somebody else to tell you what happened,’’ NYPD Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times in 2006.

However, some federal investigators suggest that the brutal discipline, cellular structure, and tightly held core of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has diminished the value of “flipping” lower level criminals and — through them — working the investigation up to the bosses.  These people suggest that the interception of communications — wiretaps and other techniques — has become more important in the law enforcement tool box of “sophisticated techniques of investigation.”

Here is the central problem of informants against the Mexican DTOS, according to this view:  Lower level members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the United States (i.e., your quiet Latino neighbor in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Conshohocken, whose well-trimmed lawn and unexceptional home is a stash house, packed with dope for redistribution to local gangs and thence up the nose of America’s addicts) typically clam up tightly when busted.  After all, they have family members who can be easily whacked or tortured back in Mexico.  Moreover, they generally are isolated in specialized cells, and know little to nothing about the rest of the organization.  Flipping them is difficult and usually yields little useful information, some seasoned agents say.

Be that as it may, court records and news reports teach that the use of informants is still central to the investigation of many criminal enterprises, including transnational gangs.  And although communications intercepts may be the key to making cases against the Mexican DTOS, informants here and in Mexico are still important.

Fairly Civil will wander through this world of informants over a series of posts, beginning with this one.  These posts will examine the value of informants in actual criminal cases, and some of the issues that critics consistently raise.

The Long History of Informants

Modern civil libertarians and the criminal defense bar tend to criticize the use of informants as an insidious and relatively new creature of the war on drugs.

In fact, informants have been used since at least Biblical times.  The transactional equation (“you give me information, I give you special treatment”) is the same now as it was then:

The House of Joseph, for their part, advanced against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  While the House of Joseph were scouting at Bethel … their patrols saw a man leaving the town.  They said to him, “Just show us how to get into the town, and we will treat you kindly.”  He showed them how to get into the town; they put the town to the sword, but they let the man and his relatives go free.

Judges (Shofetim) 1: 22-26, Tanakh (Philadelphia:  The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).

Recent court filings — e.g., a corruption case involving a senior ICE official, federal racketeering (RICO) cases against MS-13 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the pursuit of an injunction by police officers in St. Louis — illustrate the vast range of differences in the uses and abuses of snitch management within the American law enforcement system.

Given the utility of informants — and the fair assumption that most law enforcement officers and prosecutors want to use informants to fight crime and put criminals in jail — the use of informants raises three classes of interesting issues:

  • Keeping informants alive.
  • Managing informants and their information to ensure that they are reliably transmitting valid information and not wrongfully implicating innocent persons.
  • Law enforcement policy management issues about the impact of informants on the administration of justice, particularly in communities where they are heavily used.

This post will focus on the problem of keeping informants alive.

Keeping Informants Alive

If you decide to embark on a life of crime, there’s one very important thing that you should know, and that thing is everyone is a potential informant against you — your wife, your mother, your brother, your lawyer, anyone you’ve ever worked for or worked with and anyone who has ever worked for you.

Chris Mather, Crime School: Money Laundering (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2004), p. 101.

Gangsters know the value of the informant — an endangered species also known in the underworld as the “rat,” the “stool pigeon,” and the “snitch,” among other epithets.   The thought that one’s homey or carnal may be cooperating with law enforcement is a tiny live wire wound through the brains of the “shot callers” and “big homeys” of every  Latino gang.  That little wire carries a buzzing current of paranoia and suspicion.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” Prince Hamlet observed upon learning of his own mother’s duplicity.

Not infrequently, paranoia overcomes reality.  Gangsters innocent of cooperation have nevertheless suffered the misfortune of being whacked without proof, much less probable cause.  Call it intuition gone awry.

Some who suffer unjust accusation from their fellow gangsters are driven into the  arms of law enforcement.  [I write about several such cases in No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).]

To give the devil his due, however, it is also true that gang leaders often seek what they call “paperwork” — some kind of official evidence — corroborating that a suspected homey has in fact “flipped” before giving a “green light” to have him (or her, as in the case, e.g., of notorious MS-13 informant Brenda Paz) murdered.

“They usually try and get paperwork on people that they say that they’re snitching or they said something to incriminate somebody,” a member of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang explained in testimony during a federal racketeering trial described in No Boundaries. “And once they get the paperwork, they place a green light on the person.”

One of the better places to find such evidence is in the files of the “discovery” material that our system of justice requires be given to persons accused of crime.  Gangsters and their lawyers comb through this material in search of the identity of informants.

“The homeboys know the legal system better than most lawyers,” FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford told we when I was researching No Boundaries. “They use the rules of discovery and evidence in criminal cases to get ‘paperwork’ concerning who the rats are.”

In fact, the murder conspiracy in which Los Angeles anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez is accused of participating as a secret MS-13 shot-caller revolves about the accusation of one gangster — Walter Lacinos —  that another was a rat.  Lacinos provided “paperwork” to document his accusation.  But, according to transcripts of a government wiretap in the case, MS-13 shot-callers submitted the paperwork [apparently some kind of court document] to the Mexican Mafia for the gangster version of forensic analysis.  The decision came down that Lacinos’s “paperwork”  was fake (it included at least one forged page).  This led to considerable intra-gang ill will and Lacinos was eventually whacked in El Salvador.

A Working Example:  United States v. Cerna

A current example of how this cat and mouse game of sussing out informants might work is provided in the ongoing RICO case brought against a number of MS-13 gangsters in San Francisco, United States v. Cerna.

The trial court recently ruled on a number of pre-trial motions.  The following excerpt describes one of the defendant’s attempts to find out the names of certain informants:

[One of the defendants] argues that defendants have a need for disclosure because the informants were participants in ‘critical events’ at issue in this case.  He lists several ways in which the informants are referenced in discovery or the indictment. Informants 1211 and 1218 provided law enforcement with information about MS-13’s operations, leaders and members. Informants 1211 and 1218 attended MS-13 meetings with defendants which support the RICO conspiracy counts against them. Informant 1211 told the authorities about meetings with [certain] defendants … where various crimes were discussed. Informant 1218 attended meetings with [certain] defendants … [and] also discussed the buying and selling of narcotics with [another] defendant and provided authorities with information about a violent crime allegedly committed by [other] defendants…[etc., etc.]

“Omnibus Order Re Stage Two Motions,” United States v. Cerna, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Docket No. CR 08-0730 WHA, filed September 16, 2009.

The court ruled that the defendant had shown enough to require the government to come into a closed conference in the court’s chamber [in camera] — without the defendants or their lawyers — as described in this part of the ruling:

An in camera hearing is therefore justified. The hearing will be held ex parte, with only judicial staff, prosecutors and witnesses present, in order to protect the identity of the informants. A defendant for whom the threshold showing has been made as to a particular informant … may submit written questions regarding that informant to the Court and opposing counsel three days before the hearing.

The Court orders an in camera evidentiary hearing to determine whether to allow disclosure of the confidential informants’ identities. The government is ORDERED to produce at the hearing one or more witnesses with knowledge of the relevant informant’s identity and role in the investigations of this action.

This all sounds tidy, secure, and appropriately solicitous of the informants’ well-being.

Gangsters and cartels have their own ways of doing things, however.  For example, corrupting law enforcement officials who can provide them with the names of informants by accessing law enforcement databases.

The Case of Richard Padilla Cramer

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint in the case of United States v. Cramer alleges that a recently retired senior ICE agent stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico was selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers while he was an ICE agent.  It is charged that Cramer also became a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine.  In fact, he was supposedly urged by his DTO pals to retire so as to become an investor in dope.

According to court documents, erstwhile-Agent Cramer was exposed when a  DTO operative [“CS–2″] “flipped”:

After being arrested, CS-2 provided the law enforcement officers with copies of printouts of the results of database run in several law enforcement databases, including four DEA database queries, two criminal history queries, one ICE database query, and two State of California law enforcement database queries … CS-2 also stated that these law enforcement inquiries were from a U.S. Federal Agent stationed in Mexico named “Richard.”  CS-2 also stated that the DTO utilizes Richard to make inquiries into members of the DTO to confirm that they (the members of the DTO) are not working as informants for various law enforcement agencies.  Richard was later identified through this investigation as Richard Padilla CRAMER, a former ICE agent stationed in Mexico until his retirement in or about December 2006 or January 2007 … It was later learned that CRAMER utilized his law enforcement position to persuade DEA agents to run DEA database queries under the guise of an active drug investigation.  Further investigation with DEA agents who were stationed in Mexico revealed that CRAMER was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and was known to ask to have database checks run on various subjects … CRAMER was responsible for advising the DTO how U.S. Law Enforcement works with warrants and record checks as well as how DEA conducts investigations to include “flipping subjects” and making records checks.

Affidavit in support of Criminal Complaint in United States v. Cramer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Docket No: 09-3178-White, filed August 28, 2009.

This would be a shocking case if it were not for the fact that it is only the latest in a string of cases in which square-jawed minions of law and order on “our side” of the border have been shown to be just as rotten as all those contemptible “corrupt officials” on the other side.

It reminds one of the lyrics of the old cowboy music song by Jim Ed Brown: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me.”

The difference, of course, is that an outed informant is a dead man walking.  And not for long.

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