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Archive for April 9th, 2009

FBI Hostage Negotiators Join in Piracy Caper on the High-Seas

horn_of_africaThe FBI has entered the picture, hoping to solve this latest chapter in what has been a mind-boggling pattern of craziness on the high- seas. Nations around the world have to figure out a way to put a stop to this madness.

WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI hostage negotiators joined U.S. Navy efforts Thursday to free an American cargo ship captain held captive on a lifeboat by Somali pirates. A U.S. destroyer and a spy plane kept a close watch in the high-seas standoff near the Horn of Africa.

The pirates tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday, but Capt. Richard Phillips thwarted their takeover by telling his crew of about 20 to lock themselves in a room, the crew told stateside relatives.

The crew later overpowered some of the pirates, but Phillips surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his crew, and at least four of them fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said. It was the first such attack on American sailors in about 200 years.

For Full Story

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Career Prosecutor Mary Patrice Brown to Head Justice Dept. Office of Professional Responsibility

us-capitolBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — As part of a shake up in the Justice Department, career prosecutor Mary Patrice Brown will head up the Office of Professional Responsibilty, an internal unit first established in 1975 following the Watergate scandal to police ethical breaches.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. announced that Brown would serve as acting head on Wednesday at a time the Department is facing tough scruitiny and sharp criticism over the handling of the prosecution of ex-Sen. Ted Stevens.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dropped the Stevens conviction on Tuesday at the request of the Justice Department, which conceded that the prosecution had acted improperly.

Brown, who has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. since 1989, became the chief of the office’s criminal division in 2007. Over the years that office has handled a number of high profile cases.

From 2004 to 2007, Brown was the Executvie Assistant U.S. Attorney for Operations, where she oversaw civil and criminal cases, according to a Justice Department press release.

From 2002 to 2004, she was deputy of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section.

“She’s got great judgment, unimpeachable integrity and a tremendous reputation around town,” Kenneth L. Wainstein, who worked with Brown as U.S. Attorney during the Bush years, told the Washington Post. “She understands the stresses and strains in litigation, but also understands the importance of following the rules.”

James Cooper, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in the D.C. office told the Washington Post that Brown “is a person of utmost integrity, and I think she will be very effective in that position.”

She replaces H. Marshall Jarrett, who will head the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, the Justice Department said.

Kenneth Melson Named Acting Chief of ATF

Kenneth Melson/fbi photo

Kenneth Melson/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — Kenneth E. Melson, a federal prosecutor who headed the Justice Department’s Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys since 2007, has been named acting head of ATF.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. made the announcement Wednesday along with some other appointments including Mary Patrice Brown as acting head of the Office of Professional Responsibility.

Prior to heading the Executive Office for U.S. Attorney, Melson was the first assistant for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va.

On different occasions, betwtween 1991 and 2001, Melson served as acting and interim U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria office, the Justice Department said.

Melson started his federal career in 1983 as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Alexandria.

“Ken’s more than 25 years of career federal prosecutor service and his knowledge in forensic science will make him a valuable asset,” Holder said in a prepared statement. “I am pleased that he will provide his talents to such an important Department of Justice agency.”

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Shaking Up Justice to Restore Integrity

The pressure is on for the Justice Department to get its act together. That pressure was turned up this week when a federal judge not only dismissed the conviction of ex-Sen. Ted Stevens, but appointed an independent lawyer to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing on the part of the government in the case. 

 

justicelogo

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. began a series of personnel moves yesterday in one of the most sensitive and secretive sections of the Justice Department, part of his effort to restore public confidence in the nation’s highest law enforcement operation.

The department has attracted ferocious criticism from judges and defense lawyers who have sounded alarms about unprofessional conduct and raised allegations about political interference in prosecutions during the Bush administration.

Holder promised lawmakers at his confirmation hearing this year that he would remove the taint of politics from the department’s hiring practices and perform a “damage assessment” of its operations.

Yesterday he took a step in that direction, naming a longtime prosecutor to lead the Justice Department’s internal ethics unit, as well as making two other personnel switches. For Holder, who got his start as a young lawyer in the department more than three decades ago, the announcements put his stamp on a building still reeling from the dismissal this week of criminal charges against former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The department is also facing fresh calls to reopen the cases of other prominent political figures.

For Full Story

 

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Warns Fed Prosecutors of Increased Scrutiny in Wake of Stevens Case

Eric Holder/doj photo

Eric Holder/doj photo

The government screw ups in the ex-Sen. Ted Stevens case may be the magic tonic the Justice Department needed. Why? Because it gives the Obama Justice Department the green light to make broad, sweeping changes without fear of looking like it’s only trying to undo the Bush Justice Department’s actions for the sake of undoing them, or for political reasons. Clearly the Stevens case was a wake up call for the deparment and it appears Atty. Gen. Eric Holder plans to respond. 

By Nedra Pickler
Associated Press
WASHINGTON – US Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday warned federal prosecutors of increased scrutiny in the wake of mistakes in the corruption case against former senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Holder told assistant US attorneys for the District of Columbia that they must respond to negative perceptions of federal prosecutors by doing “the right thing.”

“Your job as assistant US attorneys is not to convict people,” Holder said. “Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that.”

Holder spoke at the swearing-in ceremony for 11 assistant US attorneys for the District of Columbia, an office he used to lead. His participation in the ceremony was not publicly announced by the Justice Department. An Associated Press reporter attended the open standing-room only ceremony in the federal courthouse’s ceremonial courtroom.

For Full Story

FBI Probe into Jesse Jackson Jr. Seems to be Heating Up

From the onset, Jesse Jackson Jr. has denied doing anything improper in connection with President Obama’s old senate seat. So far, it looks like he hasn’t convinced the FBI of that. The scandal involving ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is likely to grow.

 

jesse-jackson-jr-24

By Jeff Coen and John Chase
Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Federal authorities have questioned a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other cooperating witnesses about an attempt by friends of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to raise funds for Blagojevich to encourage him to pick Jackson for the U.S. Senate, sources said.

A federal grand jury investigating alleged corruption in the Blagojevich administration is expected to hear from witnesses about the fundraising effort in coming weeks, sources said.

Federal prosecutors allege Blagojevich, who was indicted last week on corruption charges, was considering awarding the seat to Jackson in return for a Jackson associate offering $1.5 million in campaign cash.

Covert recordings of Blagojevich last fall allegedly captured the then-governor suddenly going from cold to hot on naming Jackson to replace President Barack Obama in the Senate.

Prosecutors allege Blagojevich told aides he had been promised something tangible and immediate to name Jackson to the seat-namely money-and that he was leaning toward appointing Jackson.

For Full Story

Extremist Websites Passing on the Word Through U.S. Hosts

The Internet, which has become the wild west, is open to all including many we’d rather not see on there including the Taliban and al Qaeda. It’s a mixed blessing. In one way, authorities can get a better sense of what terrorists are up to. On the other hand, the Internet is a tool to spread the word to the true believers.

the-planet-internet
By Joby Warrick and Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — On March 25, a Taliban Web site claiming to be the voice of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” boasted of a deadly new attack on coalition forces in that country. Four soldiers were killed in an ambush, the site claimed, and the “mujahideen took the weapons and ammunition as booty.”

Most remarkable about the message was how it was delivered. The words were the Taliban’s, but they were flashed around the globe by an American-owned firm located in a leafy corner of downtown Houston.

The Texas company, a Web-hosting outfit called ThePlanet, says it simply rented cyberspace to the group and had no clue about its Taliban connections. For more than a year, the militant group used the site to rally its followers and keep a running tally of suicide bombings, rocket attacks and raids against U.S. and allied troops. The cost of the service: roughly $70 a month, payable by credit card.

The Taliban’s account was pulled last week when a blogger noticed the connection and called attention to it. But the odd pairing of violently anti-American extremists and U.S. technology companies continues elsewhere and appears to be growing. Intelligence officials and private experts cite dozens of instances in which Islamist militants sought out U.S. Internet firms — known for their reliable service and easy terms that allow virtual anonymity — and used them to incite attacks on Americans.

For Full Story