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Archive for April 2nd, 2013

Obama’s Crackdown on Whistleblowers

Haskell was upset about Obama's election

white house photo

By Tim Shorrock
The Nation

In the annals of national security, the Obama administration will long be remembered for its unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers. Since 2009, it has employed the World War I–era Espionage Act a record six times to prosecute government officials suspected of leaking classified information. The latest example is John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer serving a thirty-month term in federal prison for publicly identifying an intelligence operative involved in torture. It’s a pattern: the whistleblowers are punished, sometimes severely, while the perpetrators of the crimes they expose remain free.

The hypocrisy is best illustrated in the case of four whistleblowers from the National Security Agency: Thomas Drake, William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe and Edward Loomis. Falsely accused of leaking in 2007, they have endured years of legal harassment for exposing the waste and fraud behind a multibillion-dollar contract for a system called Trailblazer, which was supposed to “revolutionize” the way the NSA produced signals intelligence (SIGINT) in the digital age. Instead, it was canceled in 2006 and remains one of the worst failures in US intelligence history. But the money spent on this privatization scheme, like so much at the NSA, remains a state secret.

To read the full story click here.

 

China Exporting Dangerous Designer Drugs for U.S. Teens


By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Cyber information is not the only thing the Chinese are stealing from the United States. A new generation of synthetic designer drugs is robbing the physical and mental health of thousands of American teenagers. In the last two years enterprising rogue Chinese chemists have introduced hundreds of these new chemical combinations into the American market.

Although the motive is crassly profit-oriented rather than something even more sinister, the effect is sadly the same. Emergency room admissions and law enforcement reports reveal a looming public health crisis unlike that caused by any preceding class of drugs.

And there is often little either group can do about it as they struggle to react to the problem.

A dizzying variety of medical and psychological problems are listed in recent reports.

A Hawaii man tried to throw his girlfriend off the 11th floor balcony of their apartment building.

A Kentucky woman threw her two-year old son from her car onto the highway because she believed him to be a demon.

A Mississippi man stabbed himself repeatedly in the abdomen with a hunting knife to remove wires he thought were inside his body.

The list of bizarre and tragic stories of behavior caused by the psychoactive drugs goes on and on and on.

Just when the public and law enforcement were beginning to grab a hold on the problems caused by cathinones (“bath salts”) and cannabinoids (“spice,” incorrectly referred to as synthetic marijuana), Chinese laboratories have unleashed modified chemical compounds beyond the practical and legal reach of all but the most sophisticated law enforcement authorities. The public, parents, and teachers, are almost completely unaware of the new drug problem that is unfolding. Medical professionals who treat these kids in hospitals are just becoming aware of the problem.

Drug analogues and chemical compounds altered to avoid enforcement are not a new phenomenon. Since heroin was made illegal in the 1920s, amoral profiteers have developed related and uncontrolled substances whose effects mimic, or even exceed, those of the illegal substance.

Efforts to modify illegal drugs are unwittingly assisted by legitimate, academic researchers studying psychoactive drugs for medical purposes who then publish the results of their research. A current example is a Purdue University professor studying the effect such compounds have on brain receptors in animals. His scientific publications are immediately co-opted by renegade chemists who use the knowledge to create new “legal” drugs to sell to their customers.

About a decade ago rogue chemists from China and elsewhere started using similar research to develop drugs such as bath salts and spice. The market developed in a generally westerly direction into Russia, then Europe, and finally to the United States.

These drugs were cheap. They were beyond law enforcement, and easily accessible through the internet. Middlemen wholesalers sold them in gas stations, convenience and liquor stores, and smoke shops. They were advertised as plant food, incense, and other purposes for which they had no actual utility. In fact, the substances have no legitimate medical or industrial application. For example, “bath salts” is just a street name and has nothing in common with those colorful little granules you put in your bathtub to make it bubbly. The sellers side-stepped even a misdemeanor FDA violation by printing “not for human consumption” on the brightly colored packaging–sometimes adding a cartoon character to appeal to youthful customers.

Read more »

ProPublica Presents, Criminal Injustice: The Best Reporting on Wrongful Convictions

By Theodoric Meyer and Christie Thompson
ProPublica

In 1991, an unemployed printer named David Ranta was convicted of killing a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn.

Last week, Ranta was released from the maximum-security prison in which he’d spent nearly 22 years, after almost every piece of evidence used to convict him fell away. The New York Times reported that the lead detectives on the case “broke rule after rule” — they “kept few written records, coached a witness and took Mr. Ranta’s confession under what a judge described as highly dubious circumstances.”

 Last Friday, just a day after he was released, Ranta suffered a serious heart attack.

With Ranta’s case in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the best reporting on wrongful convictions.

CASE FLAWS

Trial By Fire, The New Yorker, September 2009
In 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an unemployed mechanic from Corsicana who had been convicted of killing his three children 12 years earlier by setting fire to his house. But as The New Yorker’s David Grann reports, the arson investigation findings that the prosecutors used to convict Willingham were based on “junk science,” according to a highly acclaimed fire investigator. The jailhouse informant who testified against him was unstable and had a history of addiction and mental illness. The year after Willingham’s execution, a fire scientist hired by a state commission concurred that the original investigators had no scientific basis for claiming the fire was arson.

Are Memphis Prosecutors Trying to Send an Innocent Man Back to Death Row?, The Nation, March 2013
Timothy Terrell McKinney is facing his third trial for the murder of an off-duty police officer in Memphis. His first case was overturned after the prosecution suppressed evidence that questioned McKinney’s guilt. Multiple testimonies now suggest it would be near impossible for McKinney to have committed the murder. But as one local put it, “when it’s a police officer killed here in Memphis, you know, they quick to nail somebody.”

Defendants Left Unaware of Flaws Found in Cases, The Washington Post, April 2012
In the 1990s, reviews by the Justice Department found shoddy testing in FBI labs was producing unreliable evidence. But that news failed to make its way to defendants who may have been wrongfully convicted based on flawed forensics. “Hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration [or] a retrial,” the Washington Post found.

The Hardest Cases: When Children Die, Justice Can Be Elusive, ProPublica, June 2011
Our 2011 investigation with Frontline and NPR found mistakes made by coroners and medical examiners led to the wrongful conviction of numerous babysitters, parents and others for murdering children. Ernie Lopez may be one such case: he was convicted for murdering a 6-month-old girl, despite evidence that later suggested she may have died from a rare blood disease. (Lopez later agreed to a plea deal for a reduced charge.)

Death Row Justice Derailed, The Chicago Tribune, November 1999
The first part of an epic investigation by Ken Armstrong and Steve Mills of how Illinois had sent innocent men to death row. “Capital punishment in Illinois,” Armstrong and Mills reported, “is a system so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken, a Tribune investigation has found.” The series helped convince Gov. George Ryan to put a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois the next year, which remains in effect today.

House of Screams, The Chicago Reader, 1990
Over 20 years ago, journalist John Conroy broke a story that shook the foundation of Chicago’s criminal justice system. Conroy unearthed the routine torture tactics used by then-police commander Jon Burge — from suffocation to electric shocks — that resulted in numerous false confessions and wrongful convictions.

DNA EVIDENCE

 

The Innocent Man, Parts 1 and 2, Texas Monthly, November 2012
Michael Morton spent a quarter-century wrongfully behind bars for the brutal murder of his wife, Christine. In a two-part investigation, journalist Pamela Colloff reconstructs the exhausting years spent fighting for his innocence: from the fight for DNA testing to his battered relationship with his son.

Who Shot Valerie Finley?, Boston Review, March 2013
An examination of convictions overturned by DNA testing found three-quarters involved mistaken eyewitness identification. The Boston Review examines the case against Rodney Stanberry, accused of shooting 29-year-old Valerie Finley. Finley identified Stanberry as her shooter after awaking in the hospital from a coma. Stanberry was convicted, despite an alibi corroborated by at least six other testimonies. But without DNA evidence, his innocence has been nearly impossible to prove.

A Blind Faith in Eyewitnesses, The Dallas Morning News, October 2008
Wiley Fountain spent 15 years in prison after his rape conviction before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2002. The Dallas Morning News examined his case and those of 18 other exonerated men in Dallas County — which led the nation in DNA exonerations. Of the 19 cases, 18 of them were based on eyewitness testimony, which frequently convinces juries but is often fatally flawed.

DNA Evidence Exonerates Louisiana Death Row Inmate, The Washington Post, September 2012
Damon Thibodeaux, a deckhand on a Mississippi River workboat, spent more than 15 years in solitary confinement on death row in Louisiana, convicted of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old cousin. In September, Douglas A. Blackmon reports, he “became the 300th wrongly convicted person and 18th death-row inmate exonerated in the United States substantially on the basis of DNA evidence.”

AFTER INCARCERATION

Freed Prisoners Lose Their Innocence, The Wisconsin State Journal, December 2011
Prisoners who are exonerated typically don’t receive the same support — a parole officer, mental health treatment, help finding employment — after they’re released that other inmates do, which can make for a hard readjustment. Take Forest Shomberg, The Wisconsin State Journal reports spent six years in jail before a judge overturned his sexual assault conviction on the basis of DNA evidence. But two years later, he was back in prison with a yearlong sentence after a suicide attempt.

The Exonerated, Texas Monthly, November 2008
By 2008, Texas had exonerated 37 men — who had served a combined 525 years in prison — on the basis of DNA evidence. Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall tracked down 32 of them: One has tried to kill himself three time since being released. Half a dozen of them spent more than two decades in prison. One man, James Waller, works in counseling now. “Send me the worst people they got,” he told Hall, “and I can give them a story where they will want to live again.”

Larry Peterson: Beyond Exoneration, NPR, June 2007
NPR’s Robert Siegel spent two years following the case of Larry Peterson, who was convicted of raping and murdering 25-year-old Jacqueline Harrison in 1989. Peterson spent almost 18 years in jail before being freed on the basis of DNA evidence. But two years after his release, Peterson was unemployed and was only beginning the long battle for restitution for his time in prison. And Patricia Harrison, Jacqueline’s sister, still believes he did it. “If I had my way, he’d be dead,” she told Siegel.

ProPublica is a non-profit, investigative journalism website.

China Exports Dangerous Designer Drugs for U.S. Teens

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Cyber information is not the only thing the Chinese are stealing from the United States. A new generation of synthetic designer drugs is robbing the physical and mental health of thousands of American teenagers. In the last two years enterprising rogue Chinese chemists have introduced hundreds of these new chemical combinations into the American market.

Although the motive is crassly profit-oriented rather than something even more sinister, the effect is sadly the same. Emergency room admissions and law enforcement reports reveal a looming public health crisis unlike that caused by any preceding class of drugs.

And there is often little either group can do about it as they struggle to react to the problem.

A dizzying variety of medical and psychological problems are listed in recent reports.

A Hawaii man tried to throw his girlfriend off the 11th floor balcony of their apartment building.

A Kentucky woman threw her two-year old son from her car onto the highway because she believed him to be a demon.

A Mississippi man stabbed himself repeatedly in the abdomen with a hunting knife to remove wires he thought were inside his body.

The list of bizarre and tragic stories of behavior caused by the psychoactive drugs goes on and on and on.

Just when the public and law enforcement were beginning to grab a hold on the problems caused by cathinones (“bath salts”) and cannabinoids (“spice,” incorrectly referred to as synthetic marijuana), Chinese laboratories have unleashed modified chemical compounds beyond the practical and legal reach of all but the most sophisticated law enforcement authorities. The public, parents, and teachers, are almost completely unaware of the new drug problem that is unfolding. Medical professionals who treat these kids in hospitals are just becoming aware of the problem.

Drug analogues and chemical compounds altered to avoid enforcement are not a new phenomenon. Since heroin was made illegal in the 1920s, amoral profiteers have developed related and uncontrolled substances whose effects mimic, or even exceed, those of the illegal substance.

Efforts to modify illegal drugs are unwittingly assisted by legitimate, academic researchers studying psychoactive drugs for medical purposes who then publish the results of their research. A current example is a Purdue University professor studying the effect such compounds have on brain receptors in animals. His scientific publications are immediately co-opted by renegade chemists who use the knowledge to create new “legal” drugs to sell to their customers.

About a decade ago rogue chemists from China and elsewhere started using similar research to develop drugs such as bath salts and spice. The market developed in a generally westerly direction into Russia, then Europe, and finally to the United States.

These drugs were cheap. They were beyond law enforcement, and easily accessible through the internet. Middlemen wholesalers sold them in gas stations, convenience and liquor stores, and smoke shops. They were advertised as plant food, incense, and other purposes for which they had no actual utility. In fact, the substances have no legitimate medical or industrial application. For example, “bath salts” is just a street name and has nothing in common with those colorful little granules you put in your bathtub to make it bubbly. The sellers side-stepped even a misdemeanor FDA violation by printing “not for human consumption” on the brightly colored packaging–sometimes adding a cartoon character to appeal to youthful customers.

Read more »

Special Agent in Charge of FBI Office in Buffalo Headed to Terrorists Screening Center

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Christopher M. Piehota, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo, will leave soon to become director of the Terrorists Screening Center in Washington D.C. , the Buffalo News reports.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first lines of defense in our national security,” he said of the screening center, a multiagency organization known for the “Terrorist Watchlist.”

The center was created a few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Piehota worked at the center before and helped develop and maintain a database of suspected terrorists and the no-fly list.

Victor Manuel Genera Has Eluded Authorities Despite Nearly 30 Years on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Victor Manuel Genera has been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for nearly 30 years – longer than anyone in history.

Who is he?

Genera is accused of committing one of the largest cash robberies in U.S. history. In September 1983, Gerena allegedly stole $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car depot, Slate.com reports.

He has eluded authorities ever since. 

Slate.com reported that Genera likely is hiding in Cuba.

Local Residents Groups Help Family of Deceased Border Patrol Agent

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The family of a Border Patrol agent who was killed in a car crash on his way to work March 22 is getting help from residents in the Imperial Valley of California.

The two-car collision, which is under investigation, killed Agent Francisco Puga, 26, a Calexico native who had been recently married.

The Imperial Valley Press reports that local people and groups are raising money for Puga’s family, which will not receive insurance benefits because the agent wasn’t considered on-duty at the time.

“He was a young man that decided to put on the uniform and defend the constitution with his life,” Lombardo Amaya, union president of National Border Patrol Council Local 2554, said. “He was coming to work to fulfill that commitment that he served, and he was a person that was willing to die for our way of life anytime,” Amaya said. “It’s really sad that someone at that young age is gone. We’re a family and as a family, we feel love for each other, and while we can’t do a lot to make him come back, we can support his family.”

Column: The History of April 19th: American Revolution, Waco, Oklahoma Bombing

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.
 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy Five….

Longfellow’s poem forever immortalized Paul Revere’s ride. What the poem does not say is that Revere’s mission that night was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British soldiers were coming to Lexington to arrest them. It was after midnight, April 19th, when Revere arrived in Lexington and warned Adams and Hancock. Revere also aroused the country side, and that morning the “Minute Men” met the British regulars on Lexington green. No one knows who fired the first shot- “the shot heard around the world”. But on that morning, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began.

Paul Revere/istock photo

Paul Revere/istock photo

In a perverse twist of fate, on April 19, 1993, it is the 51st day of a siege at the Branch Davidian compound, also known as Mt Carmel, outside of Waco, Texas. It is to be the last day of the siege, a culmination of a series of bad decisions and missed opportunities.

The siege began on February 28th. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had gone to the Davidian compound to execute search warrants. The warrants were based on affidavits stating the Davidians possessed certain illegal weapons to include fully automatic weapons and components to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic. Some of the Davidians were known to have a propensity for violence including their leader, David Koresh, who had changed his name from Vernon Howell. There had been a power struggle a few years earlier within the Branch Davidians and a gun fight had ensued. The history of the Branch Davidians and how they ended up here, led by Koresh is a long story and won’t be told here. Suffice it to say, Koresh became the leader and subsequently claimed to be a messiah, who could procreate with any women followers irrespective of their age or marital status. The group embraced an apocalyptic philosophy, which relied heavily on the Book of Revelation.

The ATF had been surveilling the compound for several weeks prior to the raid from a home across the road. They had also placed an undercover (UC) agent within the Davidians. However, the surveillance was compromised, and at some point Koresh learned of the UC agent. In addition one of the Davidians was the local postman. On the morning of the ATF raid, a TV crew asked the postman for directions to the compound as they had learned there was to be a raid. The postman gave them directions and took the news of the impending raid back to the compound.

Read more »