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Archive for April 30th, 2009

al-Qaida Sleeper Agent Pleads Guilty in Illinois

perioria-map

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PEORIA, Ill.—- An al-Qaida sleeper agent who was locked up without charge for years by the Bush administration pleaded guilty Thursday to supporting terrorism in the months before and immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ali al-Marri, 43, a married father of five who was attending college in this central Illinois city when he was arrested, admitted to one count of conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

He faces up to 15 years in prison at his July 30 sentencing.

“We thought (the plea) was the right approach to take based on the evidence the government allowed us to review over the last several weeks,” said al-Marri’s attorney, Andy Savage.

Plea negotiations have been going on since before al-Marri’s initial court appearance in Peoria in March, Savage said.

For Full Story

With All the Trouble at the Mexico Border, What’s the Holdup For a New DEA Chief?

Chris Battle

Chris Battle

By Chris Battle
Security DeBrief

WASHINGTON — There has been quite a bit of discussion about the surge of drug-related violence on the Mexican border, rightly so.

There has also been quite a bit of discussion lately, thanks to a recent GAO study and congressional hearings, about whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are allowing turf issues to interfere with an effective U.S. response to that increased violence. Also an appropriate topic of inquiry.

Is anyone else, though, wondering why – if the narco-violence on our southern border is indeed so important (and it is) – why the Administration has yet to announce a nominee to lead the DEA?

The DEA is a rare government bird; it has only one focus. That focus is to combat the large-scale trafficking of illegal narcotics. If you ask anyone at the FBI, he or she will inform you that The Bureau does it all. You got a crime? They got a jurisdiction. They do drugs. They do white collar. They do terrorism. They’d do circus clowns if circus clowning were a federal crime (which, by the way, I am actively lobbying for). Which is why they can sometimes come off as disorganized and thinly stretched.

Read more »

Ex-CIA Analyst Attacks FBI Dir. Mueller For Saying Torture Doesn’t Work

Homeland to Crack Down on Employers Who Hire Illegal Immigrants

This new policy should be more effective than focusing on the illegal immigrants. But can  ICE  pull this off effectively?  That is the real question.

Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano

Ginger Thompson
New York Times
WASHINGTON – In an effort to crack down on illegal labor, the Department of Homeland Security intends to step up enforcement efforts against employers who knowingly hire such workers.

Under guidelines to be issued Thursday to Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices, agents will be instructed to take aim at employers and supervisors for prosecution “through the use of carefully planned criminal investigations.”

Senior officials of the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday that illegal workers would continue to be detained in raids on workplaces. But the officials said they hoped to mark an abrupt departure from past practices by making those arrests as part of an effort to build criminal and civil cases against employers.

Under the Bush administration, the officials said, most raids were conducted largely on the basis of tips that an employer was hiring illegal workers, rather than on information gleaned from audits of employer records or undercover investigations. As a result, agents rounded up thousands of illegal immigrants but rarely developed the evidence necessary to show whether businesses were knowingly using illegal labor.

For Full Story

Calif. Man Faces Fed Prison Time For Pointing Laser at Commercial Jet Pilots Landing at Airport

JetBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A California man could get serious prison time after becoming the first person in the nation to be convicted at trial of pointing a laser at commercial planes as they were about to land.

Dana Christian Welch, 37, of Orange County, was convicted last week by a federal jury in Los Angeles of shooting a green laser at two commercial planes at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif. in May 2008, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

He was convicted on two counts, each which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Sept. 15.

Evidence during trial showed that Welch pointed a hand held laser at two Boeing 7-series jets,

In another instance, he pointed the laser at pilots of an Alaska Airline flight, “causing one pilot to duck under a glare shield…and the other pilot to delay a critical turn necessary to land the plane,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Several people have pleaded guilty to similar offenses, but Welch was the first to be convicted in a trial.

“This conviction should make clear to those contemplating the targeting of cockpits with lasers that such behavior is not only dangerous, but criminal, with serious consequences attached,” Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles FBI said in a prepared statement.

Read Indictment

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Miami Police Chief John Timoney Urges End to Fed Law Disparity Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

Chief John F. Timoney

Chief John F. Timoney

BY JOHN F. TIMONEY
Miami Police Chief
For the Miami Herald
MIAMI — Most people in the criminal-justice system are aware of a problem with the federal laws governing sentences for cocaine offenses — penalties for crack-cocaine offenses are much stiffer than sentences for powder cocaine. This undermines trust in the criminal-justice system, and it has strong racial effects unhealthy to our society.

The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created a mandatory five-year prison term for offenses involving five grams of crack. But an offender must have 100 times as much powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence.

If I grab a guy carrying five grams of crack, less than a fifth of an ounce, I figure this is a low-level drug dealer, or maybe someone with a lot for his own consumption. If I arrest a guy with 500 grams of powder cocaine, more than a pound, I figure this is a trafficker. Yet the federal law set the same penalty for both.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that Congress created in 1984 to write sentencing guidelines for federal judges to make sentences fairer and more uniform, for years urged Congress to amend cocaine laws to reduce that 100-to-1 disparity.

In 2007, the Commission took some limited action to decrease the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses and made the changes retroactive. The Commission said the sentencing system for cocaine offenses had come under ”almost universal criticism” from judges, criminal-justice officials, academics and community
groups.

To Read More

Washington Post Editorial Page Urges Confirmation of Dawn Johnsen to Head Justice Dept. Office of Legal Counsel

Dawn Johnsen

Dawn Johnsen

Washington Post Editorial Page
WASHINGTON — HERE ARE some facts about Dawn E. Johnsen, President Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC): She is a graduate of Yale Law School, spent roughly five years as legal director of the abortion rights group now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, worked for the next five in the Clinton administration’s OLC, has been a professor at the Indiana University School of Law since 1998 and has been an outspoken critic of the Bush Justice Department’s legal justification for harsh interrogation techniques. In other words, Ms. Johnsen is undoubtedly qualified for the position, and she should be confirmed.

Ms. Johnsen’s confirmation has been held up by Republicans concerned that she’s an “ideologue,” in the words of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Ms. Johnsen’s nomination squeaked by on a party-line vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been stalled for the past month amid filibuster threats from some Republicans.

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the fact that the Justice Department under President Bush was perhaps the most politicized in a generation — and that among the most warped sections of the Bush Justice Department was the OLC. It is nonetheless legitimate to ask whether Ms. Johnsen will behave as badly as some of her immediate predecessors.

To Read More

Justice Wants to End Disparity in Sentencing Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

crack-cocaine-dea

This change has been a long time coming. The disparity in sentencing was a simple minded approach to a complicated issue that has plagued America’s inner cities where crack cocaine sales are most prevalent. There has to be a smarter approach to dealing with this problem that has lead to the deterioration of so many inner city neighborhoods and resulted in so many young people going off to prison. If the tougher sentences had worked, that would have been another story. But they haven’t. Time for a smarter approach.

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials yesterday endorsed for the first time a plan that would eliminate vast sentencing disparities between possession of powdered cocaine and rock cocaine, an inequity that civil rights groups say has affected poor and minority defendants disproportionately.

Lanny A. Breuer, the new chief of the criminal division, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that the Obama administration would support bills to equalize punishment for offenders convicted of possessing the drug in either form, fulfilling one of the president’s campaign pledges.

Breuer explicitly called on Congress to act this term to “completely eliminate” the sentencing disparity.

The issue has received attention from both political parties, but until now, top law enforcement officials have not backed legislative reforms, according to drug control analysts.