Tom Diaz

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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

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

LOS ZETAS COULD BE PLANNING TO MURDER MULTIPLE U.S. LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS, DHS WARNS

In Crime, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mexico, Transnational crime on September 15, 2009 at 11:44 am

prefillable-syringes

According to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin, the Mexican narco group Los Zetas may be planning to kill U.S. law enforcement officers in some numbers.

An open question is when and if Mexican drug traffickers will decide to go after U.S. law enforcement personnel — within the United States — in an organized way.  Conventional wisdom is that Mexicans have restrained any attacks because they do not want to spark more intensive U.S. investigations and pressure.  (At least one knowledgeable law enforcement source in the Southwest believes law enforcement has already been targeted.)

If there is one constant in the world of cartels and gangs it is change.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

People, structures, operational methods, routes, the criminals’ risk assessments, and value judgments are all different now than they were even five years ago.  The following bulletin to law enforcement warns of an obviously serious — although uncorroborated — threat from Los Zetas to murder U.S. law enforcement personnel from a variety of agencies.

Briefly put, Los Zetas are rogue Mexican special forces soldiers who were first hired as muscle and then transformed into a cartel-like drug trafficking organization.  According to a DEA official quoted by CNN in a piece about Los Zetas, the group are responsible for a great part of the public violence in Mexico:

“The Zetas have obviously assumed the role of being the No. 1 organization responsible for the majority of the homicides, the narcotic-related homicides, the beheadings, the kidnappings, the extortions that take place in Mexico,” said Ralph Reyes, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s chief for Mexico and Central America.

The following bulletin is genuine.  The open question is whether the original source report was accurate:

Department of Homeland Security

Yuma Sector Border Intelligence Center

Officer Safety Alert

August 28, 2009

OSA-09-072

August 28, 2009

Yuma Sector Border Intelligence Center received information regarding synchronized attacks on law enforcement officers.

This information is uncorroborated; intelligence gathering is presently being conducted to verify the validity of this information.

Information received indicates that Los Zetas are planning a synchronized attack on law enforcement officers in the United States. Los Zetas have been planning to retaliate against American law enforcement personnel for several years. Los Zetas plan to kill American law enforcement officers by using potassium chloride.

Los Zetas have been targeting specific American law enforcement personnel on the Arizona, New Mexico and Texas borders who they want to kill simultaneously by injecting those individuals with potassium chloride: the third drug used in death penalty lethal injections. The Source learned that a high-ranking Cartel family member (Cartel was not identified) was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection in a Texas Court. Therefore, to retaliate for that death, Los Zetas have decided to do the same to American law enforcement officers.

The exact number of law enforcement officers targeted for the mass attack or who those law enforcement officers are, is unknown. Los Zetas have not provided an exact date for the murders to be conducted but the information received indicates it will be carried out soon.

According to the information received, Los Zetas have been identifying personnel from the DEA, U.S. Border Patrol, ICE and other federal, state and local agencies. They have been taking photographs, conducting surveillance, and studying specific targets on the Southwestern United States border.

All personnel and their families should be vigilant of their homes as well as remain cognizant of their surroundings at all times. It is recommended to change the times and routes of travel coming and going to and from your residence and place of employment. Agents should be alert for suspicious activity and if possible obtain license plate numbers and descriptions of suspicious persons or suspicious vehicles.

It would, of course, be foolish to ignore such a warning.  As noted above, some law enforcement officials already see increased engagement north of the border.  A reported instruction by the Sinaloa cartel’s Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman to fight back with force against U.S. law enforcement set off a flurry of such reporting, exemplified by these quotes from an article in the Los Angeles Times, “Sinaloa cartel may resort to deadly force in U.S.,” by reporter Josh Meyer (May 6, 2009):

The reputed head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel is threatening a more aggressive stance against competitors and law enforcement north of the border, instructing associates to use deadly force, if needed, to protect increasingly contested trafficking operations, authorities said.

Such a move by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, would mark a turn from the cartel’s previous position of largely avoiding violent confrontations in the U.S. — either with law enforcement officers or rival traffickers.

But near the Mexico-Arizona border, Robert W. Gilbert, chief patrol agent for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector, said confrontations between law enforcement and suspected traffickers — and among traffickers themselves — had grown more violent.

On the other hand, the lack of a named cartel death penalty “victim” undermines the supposed rationale for the supposed plan.  A quick search of Mexicans executed in the United States in recent years did not reveal a likely candidate.  It is possible that the original informant has conflated the Guzman story.

The alleged operational plan also seems odd, as it would require the perpetrators to kidnap their targets or get close enough to overwhelm them and do the injection.  Armed attacks would seem on the face of it to be simpler and cleaner.  On the other hand, the perversity of the narco mentality is difficult to overstate.

MORE EXPLAINING TO DO — IS THROWING A GANG SIGN EVER JUST A JOKE?

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde"), Left, Throwing Devil's Horns Gang Sign in 1999

The two men in the picture above could be fans of the University of Texas Longhorns.

Like the two men in the picture below — former President George W. Bush and University of Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden —  they could be expressing support for the University of Texas Longhorns football team by flashing the famous “hook ‘em horns” sign.

George_W._Bush_and_Jeff_Mad_Dog_Madden

President George W. Bush and University of Texas Coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden Flash "Hook 'Em Horns" Sign

Or not.

DR.JEKYLL_AND_MR.HYDE___31_The man on the left in the photo at the top of this post, Alexander (“Alex”) Sanchez, also known as “Rebelde” according to the government, is accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of  being a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — saintly “anti-gang activist” by day, foul-mouthed, murder-conspiring boss (shot-caller) of the transnational MS-13 gang by night.  (“Rebelde” means “rebellious” when used as an adjective, and “rebel” when used as a noun.)

Here is how a government pleading in the criminal case sums up this aspect of the charges against Sanchez:

Sanchez is alleged to have been an influential leader, known as a shotcaller, of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha since the mid-1990s. In that role, which he never abandoned despite working at the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos, he profited from the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets.

But what about the photo of Sanchez at the Golden Gate Bridge?  The following paragraphs come right after the same government pleading’s discussion of the contents of international wiretaps of Sanchez that were described in the last posting of Fairly Civil:

The government has also recovered photographic evidence of Sanchez’s double life during the execution of search warrants in 2001 and 2003.  For example, FBI agents executing a search warrant at the home of Rebecca Quezada, aka “Laughing Girl,” in February 2001 recovered two photographs of Sanchez that provide further physical evidence of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in MS-13 while working at Homies Unidos. (A copy of the two photographs are attached as Exhibit C).

In the first photograph, which was found on a 2000 calendar that featured a poem by Sanchez, Sanchez is depicted in his public role, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with two other men at an anti-gang conference in San Francisco in 1999.  In the second photograph agents recovered [the one posted above], however, Sanchez is standing in the same spot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same clothing with one of the same men on what is clearly the same occasion.  In the second photo, however, Sanchez and the other man are displaying the hand sign for MS-13.  This hand gesture, which is frequently encountered by law enforcement in photographs of and drawing and graffiti by MS-13 members, is universally recognized as the gang sign for MS-13 and is never made in peace.  This photograph, along with numerous other photographs showing Sanchez at parties with leaders of MS-13, are physical evidence that Sanchez has never renounced his membership in MS-13.

Government’s Response to Defendant Alex Sanchez’s Motion for Pretrial Release, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-MLR.

This photograph of the “anti-gang worker” throwing the MS-13 gang sign long after his supposed “conversion” suggests that Alex Sanchez has more explaining to do.  Is he is is, is was, or is ain’t? (Or, for another version of the same old song, try this link.)

Here, for example, are MS-13 gang members in Central America “throwing” the infamous gang sign, which is known as the devil’s horns:

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Here are some other instances of the MS-13 gang sign being recorded in public.  (“Fool’s names and dog’s faces often appear in public places.”)

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez and the other man (who appears to be identified as “Laughing Boy” in an inscription that accompanies the second photo) are flashing the gang sign right in the heart of Norteno country, the Northern California territory over which the prison gang Nuestra Familia claims sovereignty.  Most Latino street gangs in Northern California acknowledge fealty to Nuestra Familia, describe themselves as generically “Nortenos,” and affect the number “14” (for “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet) — or combinations of numbers totaling 14 — in clothing and graffiti.

Southern California gangs like MS-13 are with few exceptions loyal to EME (Spanish for the letter “M”), the Mexican Mafia.  (The 13 in MS-13 signifies the gang’s public expression of fealty to EME, the 13th letter of the alphabet.)

Nuestra Familia and EME have been at war for decades after a failed attempt at union.  Likewise, Sureno gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia (EME) are at ceaseless war with Nuestra Familia’s Norteno gangs.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Depending on the planet upon which one spends most of one’s time, one might argue that (a) Sanchez and his friend are not throwing a gang sign but are UT fans like George W. Bush,  (b) are just horsing around, mocking the old life, or (c) the FBI created the picture in a laboratory in Area 51.

But “just goofing around” with their hand sign is not something gangsters are likely to tolerate.  FBI analyst Don Lyddane wrote about the following cautionary incident in an edition of the United States Attorneys’ Bulletin devoted to gang prosecutions:

Several years ago, a young lady attended a dance-concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoyed the band so much that she leaped onto the stage to dance with the band. While dancing she gestured in sign language, “I love you,” over and over. She did not realize that her gestures were almost identical to the Latin King hand sign. Several Latin King members who were on the dance floor observed her “I love you” gesture and perceived it as a blatant disrespect to the Latin King and Queen Nation. She surely did not realize that they planned to kill her. Her innocent gestures cost this woman her life. Her murder was subsequently solved as part of a gang conspiracy investigation of the Latin Kings by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Donald Lyddane, Intelligence Analyst, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, FBI Headquarters, “Gangs and Gang Mentality: Acquiring Evidence of the Gang Conspiracy,” in United States Attorneys’ Bulletin, May 2006.

HOW COULD THIS BE?

Sanchez’s supporters flatly reject the government’s claim that he has been a secret shot-caller.

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

This is to be expected.  Revelations of double lives understandably evoke responses from those who have been gulled along the lines of, “There must be a mistake (or a plot) because this just can’t be true.  I’ve known so-and-so for X-number of years, and I never saw any sign of anything like that.  I know his good works and they show he is a good man — he would never do a bad thing.”

And yet recent history offers numerous examples of persons who led truly shocking double lives, including double agent spies, con men in the financial world, and even other boldly duplicitous “anti-gang workers” in Los Angeles.  They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to fool others, even in cases in which exacting mechanisms to detect precisely such duplicity are in place.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Ryan Jenkins. If you can stand “reality TV” and pop crime, take the case of “Reality TV Star” Ryan Jenkins, who was suspected of murdering his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore. After a few days of flight and an international manhunt, Jenkins apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in a motel closet. Unless he was doing a David Carradine, this is not a sign of innocence. Flight in and of itself is generally evidence of a guilty mind.

But these bits from the UK’s Telegraph sum up the understandable resistance of Jenkins’s parents to the awful implications of the totality of facts — i.e., that their son was a murderous monster:

Fiore’s dismembered body was found 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on August 15. Her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off, apparently to impede her identification. Investigators identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Jenkins’ mother, who lives in Vancouver, refused to accept he killed Fiore. Nada Jenkins said in a brief telephone interview Monday that she’s sure the evidence will eventually prove his innocence.

“He was good, he’s kind and we need to clear his name,” she said, weeping.

Okay, perhaps citing the credulity of grieving parents is not fair.  How about cold-eyed intelligence professionals who are precisely and regularly warned to be on the alert for double agents?  Can they be fooled?

Mon00 Spy Nat KRT

Funny, She Didn't Look Like a Double Agent

Ana Belen Montes. You may have never heard of Ana Montes, but her career as a double agent for the intelligence service of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was breathtaking.  Montes rose to the top of the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  When she was finally taken down, Montes was within hours of receiving a full briefing on the U.S. war plans for the attack on Afghanistan after the 9/11 disaster.  It’s not hard to figure out where that information would have gone if it had got into the hands of the Cubans.  Fairly Civil highly recommends True Believer (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2007) a slim volume by Scott W. Carmichael, the DIA counter-intelligence officer whose keen suspicions finally brought Montes down.

What is striking is that Carmichael had to work feverishly against the assumptions of Montes’s peers and superiors alike, not to mention the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  They at first refused to believe that a long-term, outstanding career employee like Ana Montes, with no ties to Cuba (her family was Puerto Rican), could be such a treacherous spy.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few salient quotes from the work:

Ana Montes … operated for sixteen years with impunity, becoming the U.S. government’s top intelligence analyst on Cuba at the same time she was reporting to the Cuban government.  She not only passed on U.S. secrets to Cuba but also helped influence what we thought we knew about Cuba. (p. viii.)

Ana’s supervisors at the DOJ [her previous employer] offered glowing recommendations…One called her an absolutely outstanding employee.  Another said she was one of the best employees their office ever had.  She was described as diligent, conscientious, highly productive, creative, and professional in her behavior and attitude. (p. 55)

There was also the matter of her security clearance.  Only 15 percent of Americans prosecuted for espionage during the modern era held the highest level of security clearance when they began spying.  That level is Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information…That meant she had been screened, vetted, investigated, and judged by competent federal authorities to be a responsible U.S. citizen worthy of the government’s trust…[she] routinely accessed a great deal of sensitive compartmented information throughout her normal workday. (p. 41)

I do wish that spies would paint great big glowing, gooey globs on their foreheads for easy identification.  Green ones, perhaps.  It would certainly make my job much easier.  But spies do not do that.  Ana Montes certainly didn’t.  She simply slipped through the fog, never calling attention to herself for a moment.  And so she got away with espionage for a long time.  (p. 155)

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

The shock was so great for Montes’s loyal co-workers and friends that special counselors were brought in to help them work through the emotional trauma, the psychological wounds inflicted by her deep betrayal.  “Their initial reaction to the news was predictable and universal:  shock and disbelief.” (p. 131)

Of course, Ana Montes is not the only such spy eventually winkled out of the country’s most secret enterprises.  For informed summaries of more such stories, go to this link.  But the point here is that cold-blooded double agents — whose work costs the lives of truly loyal and faithful men and women — can evade even the most sophisticated screening and vetting.   The loyal followers of Alex Sanchez, to put it bluntly, have only a rudimentary “vetting” process to rely on.

There is another point worth learning from the Ana Montes case.   She was able not only to steal secrets but to influence the views of the U.S. government about Cuba.  If Alex Sanchez was truly a secret shot-caller, from his perch as saintlike “anti-gang worker” he too was able to influence a vast community’s views about Latino gangs, MS-13 in particular, and gangsters.

Okay, Maybe Hector Marroquin (In  Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Okay, Maybe Hector ("Big Weasel") Marroquin (In Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Hector Marroquin. Finally, there is the precedent of the case of Hector Marroquin, in outline an analog of the Sanchez case.  “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster, successfully milking the city of “gang intervention and prevention funding.”

Here is a summary from The New York Times, a newspaper of record that actually writes from time to time the details of the peculations (as opposed to the adulation) of Los Angeles’s violent Latino gangsters:

The director of an antigang organization here that sought to reduce gun violence and received $1.5 million from the City of Los Angeles pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he sold illegal assault weapons to a federal undercover agent.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested the director, Hector Marroquin, in May after video surveillance showed him selling weapons and silencers to an agent and an informant. The weapons included a MAK-90 and a Ewbank, both semiautomatic assault rifles, and a M-11, a smaller assault weapon that is like an Uzi, said Eric Harmon, who prosecuted the case.

“Here is a guy who represented himself to the city as being a former gang member helping others to get out of gangs,” said Gary Hearnsberger, head of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “and he is convicted of selling illegal weapons as a side business.”

Mr. Marroquin, 51, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and selling assault weapons and was sentenced to eight years in prison. His companion, Sylvia Arellano, 26, was named as an accomplice in the sales and also pleaded guilty. She is to be sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison.

Rebecca Cathcart, “Director of Antigang Group Sold Illegal Assault Weapons,” The New York Times, January 19, 2008.

This is the cue for an acolyte of Sanchez to exclaim to the Los Angeles Times, “Wait a minute!  I knew Hector Marroquin, and Alex Sanchez is no Hector Marroquin.”

Possibly.

That’s why we have criminal trials.

Here is my very favorite observation on Marroquin, from the authoritative blog “In the Hat,” summing up the effect of “Big Weasel” Marroquin’s post-reformation career (go to the link for more detail about the “Big Weasel”):

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

ALEX SANCHEZ HAS GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm
Supporters' View of Alex Sanchez, Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public "Anti-Gang Worker" and Secret MS-13 "Shot-Caller"
Supporters View Alex Sanchez as a “Peacemaker,” Even Though He has Been Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public “Anti-Gang Worker” and Secret MS-13 “Shot-Caller”

“And we have said it, we go to war.”

Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde”

Transcript of May 6, 2006 Recorded Conversation, “Government’s Supplemental Submission Re: Intercepted Telephone Conversations of Defendant Alex Sanchez,” Exhibit D, p. 24, filed in United States v. Jose Alfaro, U.S. District Court, Central District, California, Docket No.: CR-09-00466-R.

“When the facts are against you, pound the law.  When the law is against you, pound the facts.  When both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table.”

Trial lawyer maxim.

The United States dealt a Royal Flush from its deck of evidence against Alex Sanchez the other day at a continued federal bail hearing.  The  executive director of the transnational anti-gang group “Homies Unidos” has been charged in a sweeping indictment with racketeering, including conspiracy to murder.

The government’s brief on the bail question makes it clear that prosecutors are doling out only the minimum necessary to keep Sanchez locked up.  There are more aces in the government’s deck.  They will be played before Sanchez’s trial is done.

Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Has Some Explaining to Do
Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Some Explaining to Do

At a minimum,  the latest hand — four wiretap transcripts and the accompanying explanatory affidavit of LAPD Detective Frank Flores, a nationally recognized expert on MS-13 — has shifted the case heavily against the putative “peacemaker.”

Alex Sanchez is now in the position of a man with some explaining to do.

On its face, the record of these calls shows Sanchez to have been a man very much in charge during  a series of angry, profanity-laced international conversations among MS-13 gangsters.  He repeatedly identified himself as among the gang’s members.  He was also so identified by other gangsters during the calls.  Sanchez acted like a leader, not least because he treated other gang members with flashes of imperial and sometimes physically expressed anger that would likely get anybody but a shot-caller promptly whacked for showing disrespect.

The blow-back from Sanchez’s credulous supporters has been fierce.

An exercise in agitated table-pounding — what advocates do when the facts and the law are against them — is taking shape in a series of thinly-veiled collateral media attacks on key players and components of the law enforcement and judicial system that brought Sanchez and his alleged homies before the federal bar.

The Background

O that once more you knew but what you are!
These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.

Wm. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

No one disputes that Alex Sanchez was once a member of MS-13 and is a convicted criminal.  According to the government’s “response” to Sanchez’s motion for pretrial release (bail):

Sanchez has a lengthy criminal history, with convictions that demonstrate his propensity to violence, his capacity for deception, and his disregard for the law.  Defendant has sustained felony convictions for grand theft, witness intimidation, and felon in possession of a firearm; misdemeanor convictions for DUI, vehicle theft, and vandalism; and juvenile convictions for possession of a firearm by a juvenile felon, assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury, and petty theft.

Okay, so nobody’s perfect.

And that was then, this is now — according to the Sanchez hagiography.  Supposedly, the admittedly violent gangster turned his back on the past.  After his felonious re-entry into the United States following deportation in 1995, Sanchez won asylum with the backing of  radical activist and aging enfant terrible, Tom Hayden.   He assumed his public role as iconic anti-gang worker and eventually became executive director of Homies Unidos.

That redemption was called called into question when a federal grand jury named Sanchez as one of two dozen defendants in a racketeering (RICO) indictment unsealed on June 24, 2009.  The grand jury charged Sanchez with — among other things — being a secret leader (“shot-caller”) of the Normandie Locos, one of the earliest and most virulent “cliques” of the transnational criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mothere Teresa
In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mother Teresa

The shock was palpable.  Sanchez has achieved a rank only a hair short of Mother Teresa’s on the sainthood scale, at least in the universe of Latino gang good works:  intervention, prevention, and rehabilitation.  (See earlier posts here and here for more background on the indictments and the charges against Sanchez.)

Yet, in spite of scores of supporting letters, demonstrations like the one pictured above, and exertions of his counsel, Alex Sanchez remains in the federal lockup.  After reviewing the latest evidence and hearing the arguments of both sides, on August 11th U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real continued the earlier decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg denying Sanchez bail and set a new hearing for October 19th.

WHY?

Alex Sanchez Arrested: Dear FBI, WTF???!

From the blog WitnessLA, “the online source for daily coverage of social justice news.”

Indeed.  What is going on here?

Supporters’ Charge:  A Conspiracy So Vast

“Today we experienced disappointment,” said Homies Unidos board member Monica Novoa, stepping up to the microphone with a quivering voice after Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg’s decision to deny Sanchez bail. “But we are not defeated. We know this affects all of us because we are all Alex Sanchez.”

“Supporters stand behind activist with alleged ties to MS-13 gang,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2009.

What’s going on is clear to Sanchez’s dead-end supporters — a government lynch mob the likes of which have not been seen since the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of the 1940s has trumped up a scandalously weak case against Sanchez.

Lashing out in a classic example of argument by mere assertion (i.e., without specific factual underpinning), the likes of Hayden have not only dug the Sleepy Lagoon murder out of its moldering grave, but reached back to the notorious LAPD Rampart scandal.  And because this case was investigated by a task force led by the FBI, it has also become necessary to go beyond the local cops and darkly infer that somehow that premier federal agency (and all other agencies involved in the task force) has gone into the tank.  The conspiracy is so vast that it must now involve not only these law enforcement agencies, but the federal grand jury, Chief of Police William Bratton, the United States Attorney, Thomas O’Brien, federal attorneys from his office and Washington, a federal magistrate and a federal district court judge. Just for starters.  Like The Truman Show, this conspiracy involves pretty much everybody but the central actor.

The purveyors of this conspiratorial view have been aided by an oddly passive “main stream media” in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has virtually ignored the numerous details of the allegations against Sanchez, in spite of a crush of documentary material easily available in the Sanchez docket at the Federal Court house.  One would think that — given the depredations of MS-13 and the rock star admiration of Sanchez — the home town newspaper would be all over this story like ink on print.

One would be wrong.  Since the original story of Sanchez’s bail denial in June, the Los Angeles Times has restricted its coverage to:

  • a fulminating op-ed attack on Chief William Bratton written by Tom Hayden (“Bratton’s exit opens the door to questions of conflict of interest,” August 13, 2009), and
  • a curiously timed news-like attack on Judge Manuel L. Real (“Critics want to bench Judge Manuel L. Real: He is 85 and has sat on the U.S. District Court bench in L.A. since 1966,” August 16, 2009.)  In addition to being in the age range of several sitting Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Real is apparently a man who brooks no foolishness, having once shut down a lawyer by stating, “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”

barney_frank1It might be understandable if someone in authority simply quoted Rep. Barney Frank in response to these darkly paranoid rumblings, to wit, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” (Please understand, this question of defense by impugning assertions is a different question than Sanchez’s factual guilt or innocence of the charges.  That’s why we have criminal trials, not opinion polls or kumbaya love-ins to resolve these cases.)

In fact, the government has taken the high road.  It argues that Sanchez’s deception of his acolytes makes the matter especially insidious:

Those who support defendant cannot be faulted for doing so with the fervor they have shown; defendant has operated in support of Mara Salvatrucha all along, without their knowledge, while accepting their support.  This makes him the worst possible danger to the community — a person in a position of trust who has abused that trust, and whose loyalty to MS-13 will assure that he continues to do so.

The Government’s Case

Unlike the poetic scribblings of Sanchez’s supporters on placards, conveniently timed newspaper “thumb-suckers,” and the pages of The Nation magazine, the federal government has to produce actual evidence to support its arguments.

I doubt that many of Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez’s supporters have actually read the 93 pages of transcripts of the four international wiretaps involving him that were filed with the court.  No doubt his lawyers and inner circle would prefer that they not be too widely circulated.  The substance of these conversations (beyond a stunning command of profanity) is a lengthy argument among the leaders of the Normandie Locos clique about the grounds to murder a gang member named Walter Lacinos — who actually turned up dead in El Salvador shortly after these discussions reached their obvious conclusion.

I have indeed read them and — taking care to assert once again that Sanchez is entitled to a presumption of innocence at law — am  compelled to these several points:

  • The dog that does not bark. Sanchez does not talk or act like a “peacemaker” during these calls.  Whatever innocent interpretation his lawyers will no doubt attempt to hang on his words, what is strikingly absent is any attempt by Sanchez at reconciliation, at discouraging the “homeboys” from continuing along the path of discussions that quite obviously can only end in a decision to “green light” Lacinos (authorize his murder).  There is no turning of the other cheek here.
  • The “What is the meaning of ‘is’?” problem. What benign interpretation of Sanchez’s statement “We go to war” is anything short of laughable in the context of these calls?  The conversations are full of angry, profane, violent talk about assassins and hit men allegedly sent by Lacinos to whack Sanchez and his home boys.  Sanchez and others repeatedly  express their need and willingness to defend themselves against Lacinos, and indeed, toward the terrible end of these talks, it is apparent that their purpose is to take the fight to him in El Salvador.
  • The other sleeping dog. At no point in any of these extended phone calls does Sanchez distance himself from characterizations by others of his being there as part of the “clique,” i.e., as a gangster.  On the contrary, at several points he describes himself as part of the clique.  Wouldn’t one reasonably expect (to use the folksy example by assertion that Hayden likes) Sanchez to speak up and say something like, “Well, now, hold on, guys, you know I have left the gang life.  I am now trying to discourage you men from acting like a bunch of foul-mouthed murderous thugs!  Can we all get along?”
  • The command presence. In marked contrast to the silence of the sleeping dogs, Sanchez’s firm and purposeful voice weaves through these calls like that of an experienced commander.  Time and again, when others wander off to gather wool in anecdotal recollection or befuddled irrelevancies, Sanchez forces the conversation back to the subject at hand, resolutely pushing forward his agenda against Lacinos.  The others repeatedly defer to him, even when he snatches things from their hands and yells at them.

The expert affidavit of LAPD Det. Frank Flores ties the transcripts of these conversations together into a coherent picture of an extended corporate decision-making meeting, the purpose and end result of which was murder.

More to Come

As noted at the top, the government makes clear that it has a good deal more evidence to present when appropriate in its case-in-chief.

It would be astonishing if it did not.  One does not indict Mother Teresa — or Alexander Sanchez — without a lot of confidence that one can prove one’s case.

In this instance, it is certain that the government has the cooperation of erstwhile MS-13 insiders — flipped “rats” and others.  According to its pleading, “the government will also present the testimony of multiple witnesses, not all of whom are cooperating witnesses testifying in hopes of a reduced sentence.  These witnesses will testify to their personal knowledge of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in the affairs of MS-13.”

Perhaps Sanchez has a good answer to this mounting evidence.  If so, he better start explaining.

The good plea bargains tend to dry up fast.

New FBI Central American Gang Intelligence Program

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, Transnational crime on August 11, 2009 at 9:15 pm

gang_members12_6_07

This is a description of CAIP, a new FBI gang intelligence initiative, ripped from the pages of the FBI’s public affairs release program.  Considering the tempo of indictments in the U.S., this can only help:

The members of a new international group formed to help fight the violent MS-13 and 18th Street gangs were meeting for the first time last month at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia when the reason for the group’s existence became perfectly clear: representatives from El Salvador and Mexico realized they had been tracking the activities of the same MS-13 suspect. Now both countries could benefit from their collective intelligence efforts.

“These gangs are transnational, and right now they pretty much cross our borders for criminal activity at will,” said L.T. Chu, an FBI intelligence analyst with our MS-13 National Gang Task Force and the program manager for the new group—the Central American Intelligence Program (CAIP).

The FBI is involved in investigative partnerships to battle transnational gangs, but CAIP, whose members are primarily from Central America, is the first organization to focus exclusively on intelligence.

At the annual Policia Nacional Civil Anti-Gang conference last spring in El Salvador, Chu said, “We determined that one of our weaknesses was exchange of intelligence. We realized that it was crucial that we set up a forum and a mechanism to exchange this information.”

That thinking is very much in keeping with the Bureau’s overall post 9/11 efforts to become a proactive, intelligence-gathering organization that prevents criminal activity rather than responding to crimes after the fact.

A joint initiative of the FBI and the State Department, CAIP consists of veteran criminal intelligence analysts from the U.S., El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and Canada who work gang-related matters. Besides intelligence sharing, the objective is to standardize reports and other intelligence products and to minimize the communication gaps between countries—gaps that currently allow gang members to operate across borders.

At its first meeting—the group will meet three times a year at rotating host countries—interpreters assisted participants who spoke little English or Spanish. But even with the language barrier, everyone understands the significance of CAIP’s mission.

“Gangs are a huge problem in Guatemala,” said Heber Ramirez, chief of intelligence analysis for Policia Nacional Civil de Guatemala. Through an interpreter he explained, “It is very important that we have established relationships with these countries so that we can track gang activities across borders.” And as CAIP works toward standardizing how intelligence products are produced, he added, “We will be reporting very specific information in very specific ways that everyone can understand.”

Douglas Funes, who heads the transnational gang unit for the Policia Nacional Civil in El Salvador—which includes two embedded FBI agents working gang-related investigations—agreed that CAIP will be a vital weapon in fighting gangs.

El Salvador is “contaminated” by violent gangs, Funes said, and MS-13 alone has some 15,000 members in the country, including many members in the prison population. “Perhaps the most serious problem with MS-13,” he added, “is that they are constantly recruiting new members.”

“MS-13 and 18th Street are developing constantly and changing their methods,” Chu said. “The only way to fight them is to understand their organizations from the top down. And the only way to accomplish that is through cooperative intelligence sharing across borders. That is why CAIP is so important.”

A COUNTERINTELLIGENCE APPROACH TO CONTROLLING CARTEL CORRUPTION — AN ESSAY FROM STRATFOR

In Corruption, Crime, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mexico, Transnational crime on June 2, 2009 at 11:08 am
Axis of Corruption: U.S. - Mexico Border

Axis of Corruption: U.S. - Mexico Border

[For background on corruption of U.S. officials at the border, see Mexico: Crimes at the Border, PBS Frontline / New York Times Report.]

In addition to the complexity brought about by the multiple jurisdictions, agencies and levels of government involved, there simply is not one single agency that can be tasked with taking care of the corruption problem. It is just too big and too wide. Even the FBI, which has national jurisdiction and a mandate to investigate public corruption cases, cannot step in and clean up all the corruption.

from

A Counterintelligence Approach to Controlling Cartel Corruption

May 20, 2009

Global Security and Intelligence Report

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Rey Guerra

Rey Guerra

Rey Guerra, the former sheriff of Starr County, Texas, pleaded guilty May 1 to a narcotics conspiracy charge in federal district court in McAllen, Texas. Guerra admitted to using information obtained in his official capacity to help a friend (a Mexican drug trafficker allegedly associated with Los Zetas) evade U.S. counternarcotics efforts. On at least one occasion, Guerra also attempted to learn the identity of a confidential informant who had provided authorities with information regarding cartel operations so he could pass it to his cartel contact.

In addition to providing intelligence to Los Zetas, Guerra also reportedly helped steer investigations away from people and facilities associated with Los Zetas. He also sought to block progress on investigations into arrested individuals associated with Los Zetas to protect other members associated with the organization. Guerra is scheduled for sentencing July 29; he faces 10 years to life imprisonment, fines of up to $4 million and five years of supervised release.

Guerra is just one of a growing number of officials on the U.S. side of the border who have been recruited as agents for Mexico’s powerful and sophisticated drug cartels. Indeed, when one examines the reach and scope of the Mexican cartels’ efforts to recruit agents inside the United States to provide intelligence and act on the cartels’ behalf, it becomes apparent that the cartels have demonstrated the ability to operate more like a foreign intelligence service than a traditional criminal organization.

Fluidity and Flexibility

For many years now, STRATFOR has followed developments along the U.S.-Mexican border and has studied the dynamics of the cross-border illicit flow of people, drugs, weapons and cash.

One of the most notable characteristics about this flow of contraband is its flexibility. When smugglers encounter an obstacle to the flow of their product, they find ways to avoid it. For example, as we’ve previously discussed in the case of the extensive border fence in the San Diego sector, drug traffickers and human smugglers diverted a good portion of their volume around the wall to the Tucson sector; they even created an extensive network of tunnels under the fence to keep their contraband (and profits) flowing.

Likewise, as maritime and air interdiction efforts between South America and Mexico have become more successful, Central America has become increasingly important to the flow of narcotics from South America to the United States. This reflects how the drug-trafficking organizations have adjusted their method of shipment and their trafficking routes to avoid interdiction efforts and maintain the northward flow of narcotics.

Over the past few years, a great deal of public and government attention has focused on the U.S.-Mexican border. In response to this attention, the federal and border state governments in the United States have erected more barriers, installed an array of cameras and sensors and increased the manpower committed to securing the border. While these efforts certainly have not hermetically sealed the border, they do appear to be having some impact — an impact magnified by the effectiveness of interdiction efforts elsewhere along the narcotics supply chain.

According to the most recent statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration, from January 2007 through September 2008 the price per pure gram of cocaine increased 89.1 percent, or from $96.61 to $182.73, while the purity of cocaine seized on the street decreased 31.3 percent, dropping from 67 percent pure cocaine to 46 percent pure cocaine. Recent anecdotal reports from law enforcement sources indicate that cocaine prices have remained high, and that the purity of cocaine on the street has remained poor.

Overcoming Human Obstacles

Customs Agents at Work Checking Cars from Mexico

Customs Agents at Work Checking Cars from Mexico

In another interesting trend that has emerged over the past few years, as border security has tightened and as the flow of narcotics has been impeded, the number of U.S. border enforcement officers arrested on charges of corruption has increased notably. This increased corruption represents a logical outcome of the fluidity of the flow of contraband. As the obstacles posed by border enforcement have become more daunting, people have become the weak link in the enforcement system. In some ways, people are like tunnels under the border wall — i.e., channels employed by the traffickers to help their goods get to market.

From the Mexican cartels’ point of view, it is cheaper to pay an official several thousand dollars to allow a load of narcotics to pass by than it is to risk having the shipment seized. Such bribes are simply part of the cost of doing business — and in the big picture, even a low-level local agent can be an incredible bargain.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 21 CBP officers were arrested on corruption charges during the fiscal year that ended in September 2008, as opposed to only 4 in the preceding fiscal year. In the current fiscal year (since Oct. 1), 14 have been arrested. And the problem with corruption extends further than just customs or border patrol officers. In recent years, police officers, state troopers, county sheriffs, National Guard members, judges, prosecutors, deputy U.S. marshals and even the FBI special agent in charge of the El Paso office have been linked to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Significantly, the cases being prosecuted against these public officials of all stripes are just the tip of the iceberg. The underlying problem of corruption is much greater.

A major challenge to addressing the issue of border corruption is the large number of jurisdictions along the border, along with the reality that corruption occurs at the local, state and federal levels across those jurisdictions. Though this makes it very difficult to gather data relating to the total number of corruption investigations conducted, sources tell us that while corruption has always been a problem along the border, the problem has ballooned in recent years — and the number of corruption cases has increased dramatically.

In addition to the complexity brought about by the multiple jurisdictions, agencies and levels of government involved, there simply is not one single agency that can be tasked with taking care of the corruption problem. It is just too big and too wide. Even the FBI, which has national jurisdiction and a mandate to investigate public corruption cases, cannot step in and clean up all the corruption. The FBI already is being stretched thin with its other responsibilities, like counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence, financial fraud and bank robbery. The FBI thus does not even have the capacity to investigate every allegation of corruption at the federal level, much less at the state and local levels. Limited resources require the agency to be very selective about the cases it decides to investigate. Given that there is no real central clearinghouse for corruption cases, most allegations of corruption are investigated by a wide array of internal affairs units and other agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Any time there is such a mixture of agencies involved in the investigation of a specific type of crime, there is often bureaucratic friction, and there are almost always problems with information sharing. This means that pieces of information and investigative leads developed in the investigation of some of these cases are not shared with the appropriate agencies. To overcome this information sharing problem, the FBI has established six Border Corruption Task Forces designed to bring local, state and federal officers together to focus on corruption tied to the U.S.-Mexican border, but these task forces have not yet been able to solve the complex problem of coordination.

Sophisticated Spotting

Efforts to corrupt officials along the U.S.-Mexican border are very organized and very focused, something that is critical to understanding the public corruption issue along the border. Some of the Mexican cartels have a long history of successfully corrupting public officials on both sides of the border. Groups like the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) have successfully recruited scores of intelligence assets and agents of influence at the local, state and even federal levels of the Mexican government. They even have enjoyed significant success in recruiting agents in elite units such as the anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) of the Office of the Mexican Attorney General (PGR). The BLO also has recruited Mexican employees working for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and even allegedly owned Mexico’s former drug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who reportedly was receiving $450,000 a month from the organization.

In fact, the sophistication of these groups means they use methods more akin to the intelligence recruitment processes used by foreign intelligence services than those normally associated with a criminal organization. The cartels are known to conduct extensive surveillance and background checks on potential targets to determine how to best pitch to them. Like the spotting methods used by intelligence agencies, the surveillance conducted by the cartels on potential targets is designed to glean as many details about the target as possible, including where they live, what vehicles they drive, who their family members are, their financial needs and their peccadilloes.

Historically, many foreign intelligence services are known to use ethnicity in their favor, heavily targeting persons sharing an ethnic background found in the foreign country. Foreign services also are known to use relatives of the target living in the foreign country to their advantage. Mexican cartels use these same tools. They tend to target Hispanic officers and often use family members living in Mexico as recruiting levers. For example, Luis Francisco Alarid, who had been a CBP officer at the Otay Mesa, Calif., port of entry, was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison in February for his participation in a conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens and marijuana into the United States. One of the people Alarid admitted to conspiring with was his uncle, who drove a van loaded with marijuana and illegal aliens through a border checkpoint manned by Alarid.

Like family spy rings (such as the Cold War spy ring run by John Walker), there also have been family border corruption rings. Raul Villarreal and his brother, Fidel, both former CBP agents in San Diego, were arraigned March 16 after fleeing the United States in 2006 after learning they were being investigated for corruption. The pair was captured in Mexico in October 2008 and extradited back to the United States.

‘Plata o Sexo’

When discussing human intelligence recruiting, it is not uncommon to refer to the old cold war acronym MICE (money, ideology, compromise and ego) to explain the approach used to recruit an agent. When discussing corruption in Mexico, people often repeat the phrase “plata o plomo,” Spanish for “money or lead” — meaning “take the money or we’ll kill you.” However, in most border corruption cases involving American officials, the threat of plomo is not as powerful as it is inside Mexico. Although some officials charged with corruption have claimed as a defense that they were intimidated into behaving corruptly, juries have rejected these arguments. This dynamic could change if the Mexican cartels begin to target officers in the United States for assassination as they have in Mexico.

With plomo an empty threat north of the border, plata has become the primary motivation for corruption along the Mexican border. In fact, good old greed — the M in MICE — has always been the most common motivation for Americans recruited by foreign intelligence services. The runner-up, which supplants plomo in the recruitment equation inside the United Sates, is “sexo,” aka “sex.” Sex, an age-old espionage recruitment tool that fits under the compromise section of MICE, has been seen in high-profile espionage cases, including the one involving the Marine security guards at the U.S Embassy in Moscow. Using sex to recruit an agent is often referred to as setting a “honey trap.” Sex can be used in two ways. First, it can be used as a simple payment for services rendered. Second, it can be used as a means to blackmail the agent. (The two techniques can be used in tandem.)

It is not at all uncommon for border officials to be offered sex in return for allowing illegal aliens or drugs to enter the country, or for drug-trafficking organizations to use attractive agents to seduce and then recruit officers. Several officials have been convicted in such cases. For example, in March 2007, CBP inspection officer Richard Elizalda, who had worked at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry, was sentenced to 57 months in prison for conspiring with his lover, alien smuggler Raquel Arin, to let the organization she worked for bring illegal aliens through his inspection lane. Elizalda also accepted cash for his efforts — much of which he allegedly spent on gifts for Arin — so in reality, Elizalda was a case of “plata y sexo” rather than an either-or deal.

Corruption Cases Handled Differently

When the U.S. government hires an employee who has family members living in a place like Beijing or Moscow, the background investigation for that employee is pursued with far more interest than if the employee has relatives in Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana. Mexico traditionally has not been seen as a foreign counterintelligence threat, even though it has long been recognized that many countries, like Russia, are very active in their efforts to target the United States from Mexico. Indeed, during the Cold War, the KGB’s largest rezidentura (the equivalent of a CIA station) was located in Mexico City.

Employees with connections to Mexico frequently have not been that well vetted, period. In one well-publicized incident, the Border Patrol hired an illegal immigrant who was later arrested for alien smuggling. In July 2006, U.S. Border Patrol agent Oscar Ortiz was sentenced to 60 months in prison after admitting to smuggling more than 100 illegal immigrants into the United States. After his arrest, investigators learned that Ortiz was an illegal immigrant himself who had used a counterfeit birth certificate when he was hired. Ironically, Ortiz also had been arrested for attempting to smuggle two illegal immigrants into the United States shortly before being hired by the Border Patrol. (He was never charged for that attempt.)

From an investigative perspective, corruption cases tend to be handled more as one-off cases, and they do not normally receive the same sort of extensive investigation into the suspect’s friends and associates that would be conducted in a foreign counterintelligence case. In other words, if a U.S. government employee is recruited by the Chinese or Russian intelligence service, the investigation receives far more energy — and the suspect’s circle of friends, relatives and associates receives far more scrutiny — than if he is recruited by a Mexican cartel.

In espionage cases, there is also an extensive damage assessment investigation conducted to ensure that all the information the suspect could have divulged is identified, along with the identities of any other people the suspect could have helped his handler recruit. Additionally, after-action reviews are conducted to determine how the suspect was recruited, how he was handled and how he could have been uncovered earlier. The results of these reviews are then used to help shape future counterintelligence investigative efforts. They are also used in the preparation of defensive counterintelligence briefings to educate other employees and help protect them from being recruited.

This differences in urgency and scope between the two types of investigations is driven by the perception that the damage to national security is greater if an official is recruited by a foreign intelligence agency than if he is recruited by a criminal organization. That assessment may need to be re-examined, given that the Mexican cartels are criminal organizations with the proven sophistication to recruit U.S. officials at all levels of government — and that this has allowed them to move whomever and whatever they wish into the United States.

The problem of public corruption is very widespread, and to approach corruption cases in a manner similar to foreign counterintelligence cases would require a large commitment of investigative, prosecutorial and defensive resources. But the threat posed by the Mexican cartels is different than that posed by traditional criminal organizations, meaning that countering it will require a nontraditional approach.

DID GLOBAL FORCE HEZBOLLAH SCAM THE INS, FBI, AND CIA? CONNECT THE DOTS…

In Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on May 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm

“I’m beginning to think it’s possible that Hizbollah put a mole in our government. It’s mind-blowing.”

Richard Clarke, former NSC official, comment posted on website of  The Centre [sic] for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.

The latest edition of the Transnational Threats Update from the Center for Strategic and International Studies devotes a section to the expanding global reach of the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.  Here is the introduction:

Hezbollah, founded in 1982 following the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon, has expanded into a global organization spanning several continents. Although Hezbollah is concerned primarily with domestic Lebanese affairs, it has been tied to international acts of terror and is now said to be operating throughout the globe, including in the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East.

“Hezbollah’s Global Reach,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,  Transnational Threats Update, April 2009

There is more of interest from this report — especially about Hezbollah’s operations in the Western Hemisphere — to be read below, but at the outset the CSIS update sets the stage for a review of the intriguing case of FBI special agent and CIA operative Nada Nadim Prouty:

On June 24, 2003, NADA NADIM PROUTY, while employed as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, intentionally accessed the FBI Automated Case Support (ACS) computer system to obtain information from a national security investigation being conducted by the FBI’s Detroit, Michigan field office. The case number was DE-74791. The subject matter of the investigation was the designated foreign terrorist organization, Hizballah. Defendant was not assigned to work on Hizballah cases as part of her FBI duties, and she was not authorized by her supervisor, the case agent assigned to the case, or anyone else to access information from the investigation in question. At the time, defendant PROUTY knew that she was permitted to access information from the ACS system for official business only and that the information was available only to persons having a legitimate need to know.

“Factual Basis for Guilty Plea” in Rule 11 Plea Agreement filed on November 13, 2007 in the case of United States of America vs. Nada Nadim Prouty, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Michigan, Docket No. 07-20156

The criminal case of former FBI Special Agent and CIA employee Nada Nadim Prouty is intriguing — to say the least.

Nada Nadim Prouty

Nada Nadim Prouty

The excerpt from her plea agreement (above) describes what some observers suspect was the ultimate act of  a breath-taking penetration of the most sensitive areas of the U.S. government by the Lebanese Shiite terrorist para-state Hezbollah. Anyone who thinks that Prouty’s plea agreement is all there was (or is) to this case might reflect on the stakes here — for both sides.  By copping to three counts (conspiracy, immigration fraud, and unauthorized computer access), Prouty saved herself the inconvenience of a jury trial on all counts and a potentially harsher judgment and sentence.  Her plea also saved the government the embarrassment of airing in public how Hezbollah — through this otherwise obscure Lebanese illegal immigrant — appears to have eaten the lunches of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service watchdogs, and the counterintelligence arms of the CIA and the FBI.  Trying a case on more serious charges quite likely also would have involved the risks of using classified information that might expose intelligence sources, the methods used, and the information they have yielded about Hezbollah and its leaders. But, it wasn’t just Prouty who was part of the alleged conspiracy.  Here is a relevant excerpt from a short article in Newsweek (“A Tale of Two Women,” November 17, 2007):

The story has a familiar ring: a Lebanese woman arrives in the United States on a student visa, obtains citizenship through a fake marriage, lands a security job with access to government secrets and ends up in court. In November, it was Nada Prouty, who worked for the FBI and CIA and illegally tapped into computer files detailing investigations into Hizbullah activities (her brother-in-law was a suspected Hizbullah fund-raiser) until she was arrested. Last week, in almost identical circumstances, Samar Spinelli, 39, was brought before a Michigan judge for marriage fraud. She joined the Marines after arriving from Lebanon in 1989 and served two tours in Iraq. Coincidence? According to court papers and Justice Department sources, the two women studied together in Lebanon, came to the United States and paid two Detroit brothers, Chris and Jean Paul Deladurantaye, to marry them for citizenship. When agents began investigating Prouty, they contacted her FBI employment references. One was Spinelli.

In other words, two illegal immigrants, exploiting marriage fraud, were backstopping each other’s penetration of — or innocent employment by — U.S. military and government agencies.  Nothing on the public record confirms that Prouty was a Hezbollah mole.  And, of course, it must be said that it is possible that when Prouty peeked into those highly classified and ultra-sensitive files she was merely acting to satisfy her own passing curiosity.  Okay, maybe she admittedly did enter into a fake marriage, did conspire with others to conceal her illegal status, did lie to the INS, did lie to the CIA, and did lie to the FBI.  But being a serial liar who sneak peeks into secret national security investigation files doesn’t necessarily make her a spy for Hezbollah.

On the other hand, there is a series of dots that, if connected, draw at the least a disturbing picture.

Some Dots to Connect

1.  Hezbollah has a world class counterintelligence service. Hezbollah’s apologists like to emphasize the social good works it undoubtedly does in Lebanon for its Shiite constituency.  They either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that Hezbollah is also one of the best and most feared terrorist organizations in history — in addition to having fashioned a formidable paramilitary force with which to confront not only its sworn enemy, Israel, but anyone else who gets in its way.  Its operatives have bloodied their hands in Iraq helping to kill U.S. military personnel by means of improvised explosive devices, one of Hezbollah’s strong points.  Some observers have opined that Hezbollah has the best light infantry in the world.  Hezbollah’s deep and singular relationships with Syria — which historically sees Lebanon as part of Greater Syria — and Iran, whose militant mullahs created Hezbollah in the early 1980s and of whose terrorist force Hezbollah is an elite appendage, add more layers of potential to its sinister designs.  It is in and through Iran that Hezbollah is killing American soldiers today in Iraq. A blood-stained organization like Hezbollah has lots of enemies.  It is thus in need of good counterintelligence.  The classic functions of counterintelligence are (1) to keep enemy intelligence agents and infiltrators out of one’s business, using both physical and intellectual means, and (2) to penetrate one’s enemies to learn their secret plans, using both infiltration and technological methods. “Hezbollah has a very robust counterintelligence capability,” retired FBI agent Ken Piernik — who was once in charge of the unit monitoring Hezbollah in the United States — told me when I was researching Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil with my co-author, television producer Barbara Newman. We cited in the book the example of the secret visit of a small team of counterterrorism agents from the FBI’s New York field office to the Tri-Border Region of South America (recounted to us by one of the agents who is now a senior counterterrorism official):

There was no official welcoming party for the FBI agents. Only the minimum advance notice had been given to the host country’s officials. This was to be a quiet surveillance of Hezbollah operatives in the region, done with a level of discretion only one notch above undercover work. Before the agents could complete the short walk across the tarmac to the terminal building, however, the chirping of their pagers joined the drone of the buzzing insects. Someone in New York urgently needed to talk to them.

The news was sobering. A fax had just arrived at the New York field office. It contained only a picture of the agents–as they left their plane minutes before. The implicit message was clear: We know you’re here. We’re watching. It was a classic example of Hezbollah’s superb counterintelligence, another reason why American officials consider the group to be so dangerous.

Lightning Out of Lebanon, Pages 93-94

Hezbollah’s counterintelligence program is backed up by the worldwide service of the Iranian diplomatic and intelligence services.  Their diplomats provide in-country points of contact, expertise, and use of the diplomatic pouch privilege, and constantly seeks to exploit or enlist the aid of the Lebanese diaspora.

2.  “Friends of Theirs” — A Connected Gang of Three

Friends of Theirs Number One: Nasrallah and Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number One: Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Holocaust-denier-in-Chief Mahmoud Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number Two:  Ahmedinijad and Syria's Assad

Friends of Theirs Number Two: M. Ahmedinijad and Syria's Bashar al-Assad

3.  Nasrallah has personally directed a wave of Hezbollah infiltrators into the United States in the past. No later than the early 1990s, Nasrallah and other Hezbollah shot-callers decided to flood the United States with operatives.  Their primary mission would be to raise funds — principally through criminal schemes — and to obtain “dual use technology” — technology that has  both military and civilian uses and is restricted for export. These operatives would use or manipulate members of the Lebanese diaspora.  The cells they created would also be available as infrastructure in place should the day come when Hezbollah and its friends, Iran and Syria, decide to unleash a terrorist attack within the United States.

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

It appears that Nasrallah was personally involved in the decision and with the operatives selected to go to the United States.  The leader of the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mohammaed Hammoud, about whom we wrote in Lighting Out of Lebanon, personally knew Nasrallah since his early teens at least.  Hammoud placed direct calls to Nasrallah from the United States. Among the items that the FBI seized when it took down the cell (on charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization) were apparently “dual use” photographs.  These were pictures taken at such sites as the White House — useful as mementos and as surveillance tools for attack planning.

Souvenir or Surveillance?  Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

Souvenir or Surveillance? Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

The CSIS Transnational Threats Update summarizes another infiltration that we wrote about at length in Lightning Out of Lebanon:

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of terrorists transiting the U.S.-Mexican border to carry out attacks within the United States. Hezbollah members and supporters are known, however, to have entered the United States via Mexico, including Salim Boughader Mucharrafille and Moahmoud Youssef Kourani.  Mucharrafille was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, including some suspected Hezbollah supporters, into the United States, while Kourani illegally crossed the border in 2001 and was later charged with and convicted of providing “material support and resources…to Hezbollah.”

Please note the qualifying phrase “to carry out attacks within the United States.”  If and when the Hezbollah-Syria-Iran terrorist consortium decides to attack within the United States, it will have at least some infrastructure and long experience in penetrating our borders through a variety of means.

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent.  (Caption and photo from Centre

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent. (Caption and photo from Centre for Counterinelligence and Security Studies)

4. Nada Nadim Prouty also had family connections to Hezbollah. According to the criminal information filed in Prouty’s case, her sister and brother-in-law (a fugitive) not only appeared at a Hezbollah fund-raiser in Lebanon, but her brother-in-law spoke at the event:

In August 2002, Elfat El Aouar and Talal Khalil Chahine … attended a fund raising event in Lebanon. The keynote speakers for the event were Chahine and Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah…Sheikh Fadlallah had previosuly been designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist based upon his status as a leading ideological figure with Hizballah.

We wrote in considerable detail about Fadlallah in Lightning Out of Lebanon. Suffice it to say that his fatwahs have meant death for many of Hezbollah’s enemies, including U.S. servicemen killed in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

Are these family connection mere coincidence?

5.  As European Union Dithers About Continuing to Fund Terrorist Para-state, Hezbollah’s Foreign Service Traffics in Drugs. Hezbollah seems poised to realize its long-held dream of dominating Lebanon’s “legitimate” government.  One would hope that the United States would cease sending aid to Lebanon should that happen.  After all, would we help New York City if La Cosa Nostra seized formal control?  But the European Union, on cue, can be expected to dither. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s “foreign service” continues to generate funding for the para-state, in large degree through global criminal enterprises.  Here is the CSIS report on Hezbollah’s ongoing operations in the Western Hemisphere:

Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America, particularly along the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The organization’s reach, however, appears to be spreading beyond the tri-border area and into Mexico. Evidence suggests that Hezbollah is developing ties to Mexican narcotics syndicates that control transit routes into the United States. These ties worry U.S. officials in light of the ongoing and increasingly violent war between Mexican authorities and narcotraffickers, which appears to be destabilizing Mexico. Current and former U.S. law enforcement, defense, and counterterrorism officials believe that Hezbollah is using narcotics trafficking routes to smuggle drugs and people into the United States — operations that not only finance the group’s activities but also threaten to increase Hezbollah’s ability to smuggle operatives and weapons into the United States.

Taking this all together, it seems apparent to many that Hezbollah has become a true terrorist para-state.  Not quite a national entity de jure nor recognized as a nation by the civilized world, but de facto operating as a dark state.  It can be expected to continue to position itself in the Western Hemisphere, trafficking drugs, “partnering” with cartels and other traffickers, piggy-backing on Iran’s tightening bonds with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and perhaps other leaders antithetical to democratic governance, and infiltrating the United States homeland — establishing clandestine infrastructure and perfecting means and channels of covert entry.

Other than that, dear readers, have a nice day.

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