A South Florida imam says U.S. officials pressured him to give up his immigration appeals and leave the country voluntarily. A Muslim group says the imam's case is part of a troubling trend in which religious leaders are compelled to become informants or risk being deported.
Foad Farahi, 33, of the Shamsuddin Islamic Center in North Miami Beach, says a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutor offered him a deal: leave the country within 30 days, or face arrest for ''support of terrorist groups,'' he said. Three years ago, he said, the FBI sought him out to be an informant and he refused.
ICE officials said there was no coercion. ''These claims have no basis in fact,'' said Sean Teeling, ICE assistant field office director for detention and removal. ``Mr. Farahi was represented by an attorney when he requested and was granted the benefit of voluntary departure.''
Farahi, an Iranian national, wants political asylum. He was born in Kuwait, but has an Iranian passport, based on his father's birthplace. A Sunni, Farahi said he fears being sent to Iran, where Shiites are the majority.
The imam said Wednesday that he first accepted the voluntary departure offer out of fear. He has since hired a new lawyer in an attempt to overturn that decision. He was detained by ICE on Nov. 26 for more than a week and released on bond.
Farahi has a hearing in Miami federal court Thursday to reopen his asylum petition. Ira Kurzban, a national authority on immigration law, is now representing him.
The Muslim American Society maintains that Farahi's case is part of an ''emerging pattern'' affecting Muslim religious leaders offered voluntary departure. The group has confirmed four cases in the past two months and received 10 other complaints.
''They tried to recruit these people as spies and snitches and all of the sudden find themselves being pushed into voluntary departure, and I can't help but believe there is a connection between the two,'' said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the society's Freedom Foundation.
''We are not opposed to standing up for this country and passing on information about acts of criminality,'' Bray said, ``but law enforcement is not acting in the best way.''
Farahi's case highlights the growing frustration among Muslim groups since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, even as the FBI and other federal authorities say they continue to reach out to U.S. Muslim leaders.
Teeling said ``if they give us specific cases, we'll be glad to investigate.''
In 2004, Farahi said, FBI agents asked him to provide information on the community, offering him a ''stay of deportation'' if he cooperated.
''His claims are not accurate,'' said FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela. ``Immigration [enforcement] is a totally separate issue that we have nothing to do with.''
Farahi says that in the years since the offer he has helped the FBI build good relations with Muslims.
Farahi, who was born in Kuwait to a Syrian mother and an Iranian father, concedes his background might raise flags.
'Even though I haven't done anything wrong, I can see how these things might make people uncomfortable because I have [one-third] of the `axis of evil' in my background,'' he said. ``Here, most of the cases are Cuban refugees. . . . they're not used to dealing with someone from the Middle East.''
Farahi has never been to Iran and does not speak Farsi. Under Kuwaiti laws, he is not entitled to citizenship and lost his residency status after coming to the U.S. to attend college in 1993. He was raised in his mother's Sunni religion.
''I'm considered Americanized, so if I go back to Iran they may think I am an American agent,'' said Farahi. ``There have been a lot of people in my situation who have been harassed.''
Deportations to Iran dropped from 60 in 2003 to 28 in 2005, according to the Homeland Security Department. The number of Iranians granted asylum also dropped during that time, from 322 to 140.
Farahi has a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology from Barry University and a master's in public health. He lost his student visa in 1999 after failing to take enough credits. His efforts to reinstate that status were complicated by 9/11, he said. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in public health at Florida international University. His father, who owns a money-exchange business in Kuwait, has financed his education.
Farahi became the imam at Shamsuddin in 2001. The storefront mosque, with about 200 congregants, serves a diverse Muslim community.
''It would be very difficult for us to find another imam who serves us so well, because we have such a wide cultural range,'' said Una Mohammed-Khan, the president of the center's board.
Shamsuddin members have organized benefit dinners to raise funds for his legal defense.
Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout, local director of the American Muslim Association of North America, praised Farahi. ''This guy has been good for our American community,'' Zakkout said. ``He deserves all of our support.''
Though partially raised in Japan, Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, educated in New York City, and assisted sculptor Constantin Brancusi in Paris. During World War II Noguchi was investigated by the FBI for the crime of having Japanese blood, and after a fallacious deportation order was dispelled by the ACLU, Noguchi worked on projects for Herman Miller and sets for Martha Graham in the late '40s.
On a trip to Japan in the '50s, Noguchi met interior designer Isamu Kenmochi, who worked for Tokyo's Industrial Arts Research Institute. Together the two began collaborating on a range of furniture, creating some of the first true east/west design hybrids and launching the style known as "Japanese Modern."
In a country where most people sat on the floor, chairs were not exactly a must-have item, but Noguchi and Kenmochi gave the object their full attention. Kenmochi used some of the techniques from his iconic Round Rattan Chair (picture at left) to fashion the seat and back of the Bamboo Basket Chair (center), with Noguchi fashioning the legs and support from iron rods. Kenmochi later went on to design the currently-very-hard-to-find Kashiwado Chair (right), inspired by the spirit of a sumo wrestler.
All of these objects and more are currently on display in a show entitled "Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi" at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York. The show runs through May of '08.
No weapons, computers or credentials were taken during the Dec. 13 break-ins near Iron City Brewing Co. on Sassafras Way, said FBI Special Agent Jeff Killeen.
The FBI is working with Pittsburgh police to find the burglars, who broke into three FBI vehicles and one Secret Service vehicle at the bureau's annual holiday "liaison" event attended by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
"The right thing to do for the crew who did this is to step up and turn themselves in," Killeen said.
Pittsburgh police say a bulletproof vest was stolen from the car used by the Secret Service agent. But Jim Gehr, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Pittsburgh field office, said it was a training vest with ceramic plates used by agents during target-practice at firing ranges.
"It's not what we call accountable property. It was a training vest, the kind worn for safety reasons," Gehr said.
We now return readers to the case of alleged terrorist Hassan Abu-jihaad, the former US Navy signalman banged up for sending Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications information on when his surface action group was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in 2001. Another alleged crime was buying a few Chechen jihadi videos and tipping the web company five dollars in overpayment.
These actions eventually resulted in Abu-jihaad's arrest and indictment in 2006 on charges of materially aiding terrorists and disclosing information said to be of use to terrorists. However, it has now become plain that the US government has been nursing its case against Abu-jihaad. It had started running surveillance on him in 2004, employing wiretapping and an informant. The government accumulated as much talk as possible, coming up with a thirty-three page list of excerpts which the prosecution has submitted for consideration as further evidence in advance of the defendant's trial.
The FBI informant, known as William Chrisman, was many things: a former convicted armed robber, car thief and gang member who converted to Islam and claimed to be patriotically moved to help protect the nation against terror after 9/11. He has nine children by three wives - apparently a harem - in some type of ill-defined common law arrangement and was angling for a fourth, according the Associated Press, when the proposed new addition was apparently scared off by the size of the Chrisman stable.
Normally, one does not expect FBI informants to be model citizens. But increasingly in the war on terror, the government seems to have been employing individuals of extremely dubious quality, people looking for a payday while trolling for potential patsies.
In a twist of fate, Chrisman's future career as an FBI informant was scotched when the New Haven Independent, an on-line local news organization covering pre-trial maneuvering in the Abu-jihaad case, published his picture.
The Independent portrayed Chrisman as a "terrorist buster," then busted his days as a clandestine operative with the photo. Although the publication quickly yanked it, the WinterPatriot blog plastered a copy of Chrisman's mug all through its coverage of the informant, where it indelibly remains.
Chrisman's testimony in court, assembled in the FBI proffer, is an attempt to further indict Abu-jihaad by implication. While the affidavit is lengthy, it adds little of hard substance - and we'll get to this in a bit - to the original emails to Azzam which resulted in the terror complaint against him.
Prior to its filing on PACER, the on-line US criminal court case index, the government leaked the document to newspaper reporters. The Los Angeles Times appeared to be one leak recipient, reporting that an FBI affidavit had Abu-jihaad praising Osama bin Laden and that a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, had promised more evidence against him was in hand.
The original affidavit against Abu-jihaad and emails to Azzam, although annoying in a mealy-mouthed way, did not show the defendant praising Osama bin Laden.
Abu-jihaad's defense immediately filed a motion for disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications and orders by the US government. The defense claimed it did not have access to FISA court orders and prosecution affidavits on surveillance of Abu-jihaad and was therefore left to guess about the nature of them and what arguments might be made in his defense. In addition, the defense wanted any information on "the probable cause determination that the defendant was acting as 'an agent of a foreign power' when the FISA applications were made in 2006."
"The only criminal charges filed against the defendant relate to conduct which allegedly occurred in the Spring of 2001," wrote Abu-jihaad's defense. "The government has been actively investigating the defendant since 2004. Based upon the testimony... at the court hearing on November 28th, it is clear the government had been conducting physical surveillance and electronic surveillance against the defendant since the beginning of 2004 and has enlisted at least one cooperating witness to befriend the defendant in an effort to elicit incriminating statements from him. It is safe to assume that the government has probably used every investigative tool available to it in an effort to build a case against the defendant. The end result of the investigation... is the same set of email communications which the defendant sent to Azzam Publications in 2001 and which the government has known about since early 2004, and the uncorroborated hearsay ramblings of Derrick Shareef uttered in 2006 regarding some half-baked notion to attack military installations. There is absolutely no evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement with any 'foreign power' beyond the email communications sent to Azzam Publications in 2001, there is no credible evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement in any ongoing conspiracy in 2006 and Mr. Abu-Jihaad himself has been in custody since March 2007."
On December 12, the prosecution finally filed excerpts of its wiretapping of Abu-jihaad's conversations with William Chrisman and Derrick Shareef, a stupid man who once lived with the defendant and who appears to have been entrapped by an FBI sting. Shareef, who was an acquaintance of Abu-jihaad, pled guilty in December to a plot to throw grenades in a shopping mall even though he never obtained the materials to carry it out.
In the FBI's surveillance affidavit, Abu-jihaad refers to Osama bin Laden only three times, using the code "Under Black Leaves." These statements make very little sense - Abu-jihaad is virtually incoherent - although at one point he says "that's when you see our boy on-line... we call him 'Under Black Leaves'... if you use the first letter of each word, you'll know who I'm talking about..."
As praise for bin Laden, "our boy" is fairly weak and a good deal of transcript revolves around Abu-jihaad discussing miscellaneous materials he's seen on jihadi websites, his enjoyment of sniper video and his pursuit of a couple items published by organizations which have not formally been labeled as terrorist agencies.
Perusal of the excerpts also indicates the FBI has tape of Abu-jihaad repeatedly calling Derrick Shareef a liar and an idiot who exaggerated the former's activities to give the impression he was a big deal to the FBI's informant, Chrisman.
"I mean, I send, uh... you know, uh... corresponded with an email site [Azzam]... it wasn't nothin' top secret like these people are sayin'" says Abu-jihaad according to FBI tapes. "I was just talkin' about the Cole, what I thought about it. You know what I mean? Like this dude [Shareef] here, idiot... I mean he's an idiot."
During the wiretapped conversations Abu-jihaad says he's burned his videotapes from Azzam.
More transcript shows the FBI followed Abu-jihaad on-line. A PayPal-mediated purchase of an e-book entitled "Book of a Mujahideen: Jihad in the Name of Allah" from kavkazcenter.com is apparently supposed to be seditious, incriminating a terrorist in training. Kavkazcenter.com is a "Chechen independent international Islamic Internet news agency" in Grozny. It also has a mirror in the UK, featuring many neutral news stories along with pieces of the tone: "According to source from Dagestan, Avar village... [has] been sealed off by the Russian kafirs (infidels) for several days already."
Maktabah-al-Ansar, a bookstore in Sparkhill, Birmingham which has been raided by British counter-terror forces but never charged with anything, is given special notice by the FBI because Abu-jihaad mentions it once admiringly. "The Maktabah-al-Ansar bookshop is based in London and sells books, videos, tapes and other materials relating to violent jihad... Maktabah-al-Ansar became the exclusive distributor of the Azzam Publications books, videos, and tapes glorifying violent jihad..." write FBI agents.
One email intercept seems to show Abu-jihaad forwarded wretched poetry leavened with complete gibberish to Shareef. Containing crap even the FBI apparently could not make total sense of, it was entitled "Can You Imagine" by "Lyrical Terrorist ibn Abu Jihaad." "Could you imagine squeezing the trigger of 2 aks [sic]... tossing grenades..." it reads. "Could you imagine being strapped with a loud noise entering upon kufar convoys..." and so on ad nauseum. One wonders what is it with the "lyrical terrorist" sobriquet?
The picture that emerges, one the government is obviously keenly interested in painting, is that of Abu-jihaad as a man with contempt for his country, someone who reads seditious materials and tales of someone called "Juba," a sniper alleged to have learned his trade from a book sold by Amazon. Such things, while perhaps interesting to law enforcement, are not yet entirely illegal.
The FBI's extra material is querulous and nasty-toned, and a noticeable portion is devoted to attempts by Derrick Shareef to cajole Abu-jihaad into going forward with plans or hearsay from Shareef attesting that the defendant had related some desire to proceed with terrorism. The closer one scrutinizes what the FBI has made available, the more it looks like there is zero action with the transcript edited to provide only a selected view. The FBI's informant tries to get Abu-jihaad to send money to buy AR-15s. Abu-jihaad, attests the FBI, "says he will send money next week." Nothing ever occurs except for lengthy idiotic and mind-numbing circular chat and gossiping.
If there is an actual terror plot buried in it, realistically it's difficult if not impossible to find.
One cannot guess what impact such material would have if admitted as evidence in Abu-jihaad's upcoming trial. It's inflammatory but some American juries have begun to question the government's methods of pumping terror plots and bringing the alleged planners of them to book. When the trial of the Liberty City Seven, indigent African Americans alleged to be plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, ended in one acquittal and a mistrial for six others with jurors irreversibly split, it demonstrated that not all jurors are swayed by ugly material furnished by its informants.
Wednesday, January 9th 2008, 4:00 AM
A few days before Christmas, two men walked into Julio Pabon's sports memorabilia store on E.149th St. in the South Bronx.
One of them identified himself as an FBI agent; the other was from the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the NYPD.
"We're looking for Julio Pabon," one said.
"Which one, father or son?" replied the store's employee.
They wanted to ask the younger Pabon "some questions," the men said before leaving a business card.
A few days later, Julio Antonio Pabon, a 27-year-old budding filmmaker and graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, called the phone number on the card and arranged a meeting. He was accompanied by his mother.
This time there was one detective and two FBI agents, including one from San Juan. They showed the young man 20 photos of Hispanic-looking individuals and asked if he knew any of them.
Pabon told them he recognized only one, a poet named Hector Rivera. Years ago, when Pabon was president of the Latino club at Wesleyan, he asked Pedro Pietri, the celebrated New York poet who has since died, to arrange a performance for the students. Pietri sent Rivera and a group called Welfare Poets up to the school. That was the first and last time Pabon met Rivera.
The agents immediately handed the young man a subpoena to appear in federal court on Jan. 11.
He is one of at least three young Puerto Ricans in this city who have been subpoenaed to appear Friday before a Brooklyn federal grand jury investigating local links to the Macheteros, the three-decade-old violent Puerto Rican independence group.
"There must be some mistake," the elder Pabon told me this week. "My son has never been a member of any political group, unless you're counting the Yankees' traveling fan group."
Sure, more than 30 years ago, Pabon the father was a well-known Bronx community organizer and fervent advocate of Puerto Rican independence, but he never advocated terrorism.
For the past few decades, he has been a respected businessman and promoter of Latino sports events and is known by virtually everyone of influence in the Bronx.
"I've known Julito the son since he was born," said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx). "What could he and these other young people possibly know that helps the FBI?"
In addition to the young Pabon, Tania Frontera, a graphic designer, and Christopher Torres, a social worker, have been subpoenaed.
Frontera and Torres were active several years ago in the successful movement to end the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range, acquaintances say. Protests over the grand jury investigation are expected Friday here and in Puerto Rico.
Serrano fears the federal government is once again using grand juries and law enforcement surveillance to intimidate Puerto Ricans engaged in legitimate dissent.
Back in 2000, at the congressman's request, former FBI Director Louis Freeh declassified and released thousands of internal agency documents about the FBI's activities in Puerto Rico.
Those documents revealed a massive campaign by the agency to disrupt and persecute independence groups from the 1930s to the late 1970s. The surveillance even targeted longtime governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marin.
Spokesmen for the FBI and the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office refused to confirm or deny any new grand jury investigation.
REPORTS in Puerto Rico and this city's Spanish-language El Diario-La Prensa have claimed for weeks that the grand jury is part of a new probe of the Macheteros, the underground Puerto Rican group best known for a $7 million Wells Fargo robbery in West Hartford, Conn., in 1983.
In September 2005, the legendary founder of the group, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in a shootout with the FBI on a small farm in the hills of Puerto Rico.
His death sparked a huge controversy on the island because Ojeda Rios, who was gravely injured in the shootout, bled to death when agents waited until the next morning to rush his farmhouse.
Puerto Rico's Justice Department has tried ever since to obtain FBI records of the incident and the identities of the agents involved, but has been rebuffed and is suing the agency in federal court.
By LARA JAKES JORDAN – 1 hour ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — Telephone companies cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time, according to a Justice Department audit released Thursday.
The faulty bookkeeping is part of what the audit, by the Justice Department's inspector general, described as the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. Poor supervision of the program also allowed one agent to steal $25,000, the audit said.
More than half of 990 bills to pay for telecommunication surveillance in five unidentified FBI field offices were not paid on time, the report shows. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.
And at least once, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation — the highly secretive and sensitive cases that allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies — "was halted due to untimely payment."
"We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.
BOSTON -- A cab driver claims that a FBI agent attacked him and used a racial slur.
Robert Sell, a FBI agent from Detroit, was arraigned in Boston Municipal Court Thursday where he was charged with assault and battery. The Boston Police Disorders Unit has also filed felony civil rights violations as well.
The cab driver dropped off Sell and his wife, who is in a wheelchair, outside of the Westin Hotel in Copley Square when the cab driver reportedly commented that it was a pain to pick up someone who was handicapped.
A verbal dispute erupted, and according to a police report, Sell reportedly told the cab driver to "go back where you came from."
"It simply never happened," Timothy Bardl, Sell's lawyer, said. "He think's that there's a shakedown, they're looking for $25,000 to settle these allegations and I think they're trying to push the criminal system to shake him down."
At a hearing after Sell's arraignment, the cab driver was charged with assault and battery for allegedly slamming the trunk of his car on Sell's arms.
Sell is on leave from his position. He is facing serious felony civil rights violations that could send him to prison if he's convicted.
By LARA JAKES JORDAN – 10 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — An FBI employee was indicted Tuesday for allegedly accepting an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise for his family's vacation after helping a shredding machine company win a $2 million contract.
As an equipment program manager at the FBI's headquarters in Washington, Curtis Jones of Annapolis, Md., was responsible for overseeing the $2 million shredders purchased from the unnamed company. The shredders were bought as part of an FBI equipment upgrade to comply with new national security regulations for destroying classified documents.
Shortly after the deal went through, Jones accepted an offer to take his family on the cruise with company executives and sales executives over the 2004 New Year's holiday, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors valued the trip — including lodging and airfare — at $7,500.
The FBI's internal investigations unit was reviewing Jones's employment status following Tuesday's indictment, FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said.
Jones was charged with accepting an illegal gratuity for the performance of his official duties. If convicted, he faces two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
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We've written extensively about the telecom immunity provisions in the FISA debate out of a belief in good corporate citizenship, a principle certainly not limited to just telecommunications companies. If Verizon or AT&T can be sued for assisting in good faith in the surveillance of America's murderous enemies, then any company can be sued, legally harassed and discouraged from ever helping again.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), a former FBI agent, made the case on the House floor on Wednesday. From page H891 of the Congressional Record:
This is about white hats and black hats. It's about good guys and bad guys. It's about Good Samaritans. You know, there are ads on TV today where they go into high crime neighborhoods and say, It's okay for you to tell on criminal behavior. Please call the police. Please call the FBI. Please make a difference in your community. Think of the confusing message we are sending today because we're hooked up on the size of the company. So if I go in as an FBI agent to find the address that a pizza delivery company has for a fugitive, should we go after them, too? Should we go after that pizza delivery guy for, out of the goodness of his heart, telling us where there is a fugitive who may have committed murder or have committed child pornography or been selling drugs and is in violation of the safety and security of his neighborhood, his community? No, of course not. And we shouldn't punish people who say, listen, I want to help the United States catch terrorists and murderers, and if you ask me and I'm in lawful possession of it, I'll share it with you. We do it in banks. We do it in small businesses. We knock on neighbors' doors every day in this country and say, Help us help protect your neighborhood, your kids and your family. Will you tell us what you saw? Will you tell us what you know? Will you tell us where this information leads us to? It happens every day. This is about black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys. Let's make sure we stand up today for every courageous American who stands up for the safety of the community of this United States. I don't care how big or how small they are, we ought to stand with them and not make them the enemy.
Think of the confusing message we are sending today because we're hooked up on the size of the company. So if I go in as an FBI agent to find the address that a pizza delivery company has for a fugitive, should we go after them, too? Should we go after that pizza delivery guy for, out of the goodness of his heart, telling us where there is a fugitive who may have committed murder or have committed child pornography or been selling drugs and is in violation of the safety and security of his neighborhood, his community? No, of course not. And we shouldn't punish people who say, listen, I want to help the United States catch terrorists and murderers, and if you ask me and I'm in lawful possession of it, I'll share it with you. We do it in banks. We do it in small businesses. We knock on neighbors' doors every day in this country and say, Help us help protect your neighborhood, your kids and your family. Will you tell us what you saw? Will you tell us what you know? Will you tell us where this information leads us to? It happens every day.
This is about black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys. Let's make sure we stand up today for every courageous American who stands up for the safety of the community of this United States. I don't care how big or how small they are, we ought to stand with them and not make them the enemy.
WASHINGTON — A technical glitch gave the F.B.I. access to the e-mail messages from an entire computer network — perhaps hundreds of accounts or more — instead of simply the lone e-mail address that was approved by a secret intelligence court as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal report of the 2006 episode.
F.B.I. officials blamed an “apparent miscommunication” with the unnamed Internet provider, which mistakenly turned over all the e-mail from a small e-mail domain for which it served as host. The records were ultimately destroyed, officials said.
Bureau officials noticed a “surge” in the e-mail activity they were monitoring and realized that the provider had mistakenly set its filtering equipment to trap far more data than a judge had actually authorized.
The episode is an unusual example of what has become a regular if little-noticed occurrence, as American officials have expanded their technological tools: government officials, or the private companies they rely on for surveillance operations, sometimes foul up their instructions about what they can and cannot collect.
The problem has received no discussion as part of the fierce debate in Congress about whether to expand the government’s wiretapping authorities and give legal immunity to private telecommunications companies that have helped in those operations.
But an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because surveillance operations are classified, said: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen. It’s not weekly, but it’s common.”
A report in 2006 by the Justice Department inspector general found more than 100 violations of federal wiretap law in the two prior years by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, many of them considered technical and inadvertent.
Bureau officials said they did not have updated public figures but were preparing them as part of a wider-ranging review by the inspector general into misuses of the bureau’s authority to use so-called national security letters in gathering phone records and financial documents in intelligence investigations.
In the warrantless wiretapping program approved by President Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, technical errors led officials at the National Security Agency on some occasions to monitor communications entirely within the United States — in apparent violation of the program’s protocols — because communications problems made it difficult to tell initially whether the targets were in the country or not.
Past violations by the government have also included continuing a wiretap for days or weeks beyond what was authorized by a court, or seeking records beyond what were authorized. The 2006 case appears to be a particularly egregious example of what intelligence officials refer to as “overproduction” — in which a telecommunications provider gives the government more data than it was ordered to provide.
The episode was disclosed as part of a new batch of internal documents that the F.B.I. turned over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that advocates for greater digital privacy protections, as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the group has brought. The group provided the documents on the 2006 episode to The New York Times.
Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the privacy foundation, said the episode raised troubling questions about the technical and policy controls that the F.B.I. had in place to guard against civil liberties abuses.
“How do we know what the F.B.I. does with all these documents when a problem like this comes up?” Ms. Hofmann asked.
In the cyber era, the incident is the equivalent of law enforcement officials getting a subpoena to search a single apartment, but instead having the landlord give them the keys to every apartment in the building. In February 2006, an F.B.I. technical unit noticed “a surge in data being collected” as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal bureau report. An Internet provider was supposed to be providing access to the e-mail of a single target of that investigation, but the F.B.I. soon realized that the filtering controls used by the company “were improperly set and appeared to be collecting data on the entire e-mail domain” used by the individual, according to the report.
The bureau had first gotten authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the e-mail of the individual target 10 months earlier, in April 2005, according to the internal F.B.I. document. But Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, said in an interview that the problem with the unfiltered e-mail went on for just a few days before it was discovered and fixed. “It was unintentional on their part,” he said.
Mr. Kortan would not disclose the name of the Internet provider or the network domain because the national security investigation, which is classified, is continuing. The improperly collected e-mail was first segregated from the court-authorized data and later was destroyed through unspecified means. The individuals whose e-mail was collected apparently were never informed of the problem. Mr. Kortan said he could not say how much e-mail was mistakenly collected as a result of the error, but he said the volume “was enough to get our attention.” Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who reviewed the documents, said it would most likely have taken hundreds or perhaps thousands of extra messages to produce the type of “surge” described in the F.B.I.’s internal reports.
Mr. Kortan said that once the problem was detected the foreign intelligence court was notified, along with the Intelligence Oversight Board, which receives reports of possible wiretapping violations.
“This was a technical glitch in an area of evolving tools and technology and fast-paced investigations,” Mr. Kortan said. “We moved quickly to resolve it and stop it. The system worked exactly the way it’s designed.”
A woman who was the key to a federal drug case against a Zanesville police officer has been charged with lying to investigators.
The Cincinnati Division of the FBI released a statement today saying that Amanda Novaria, 26, of Roseville, is in custody of the Guernsey County sheriff’s office on other charges, and is to go before a judge in U.S. District Court in Columbus this afternoon to face the federal charges.
Novaria had previously said she exchanged phone calls and text messages with Donald Peterson, 33, who was then a Zanesville police officer. Peterson, his wife and three others were, as a result of Novaria’s statements, all federally charged with distributing a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
Peterson, who subsequently lost his job as an officer, was accused of distributing crack cocaine, morphine and painkillers.
But prosecutors dropped all of the charges earlier this month.
Today, the FBI said Novaria admitted that she sent the text messages about the drug deals to herself, and that the phone calls were exchanged with someone else.
If Novaria is convicted, she could face up to five years in prison for each false statement that she made.
— Holly Zachariah
A former EMT grimly testified yesterday that the pincushion holes serial slayer James “Whitey” Bulger vented Edward Brian Halloran’s body with during a machine-gun slaughter on Boston’s waterfront were “probably the worst I’d seen, before or since.”
“He was struggling quite a bit,” George “Rick” O’Brien, now a lieutenant with the Boston Fire Department, vividly recalled on opening day of a federal bench trial to financially comfort the families of Halloran and Michael Donahue, both murdered by Bulger on May 11, 1982.
As Halloran, 41, a gangland hanger-on, writhed and bled out in the back of O’Brien’s ambulance, Donahue - the son of a decorated Boston police officer who made the fatal decision to offer Halloran a lift home from a Northern Avenue bar - was slumped at the wheel of his father Thomas “Pop” Donahue’s borrowed car.
“He had what appeared to be a bullet wound through the back of his head,” Boston police Detective Robert McClain Jr. told U.S. District Court Judge Reginald C. Lindsay. McClain said Donahue could not speak.
Lindsay made the stunning announcement in November that he believed the U.S. Department of Justice was liable for the two men’s deaths because a rogue Boston FBI agent, John Connolly, had leaked to Bulger that Halloran was going to rat him out for the 1981 mob hit on World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler.
Lindsay is now hearing testimony that will help him decide what damages are owed the families for their losses. The families’ attorneys squandered no opportunity yesterday to show Lindsay that Halloran and Donahue suffered mightily in the realization death was upon them.
But for all the lurid details, Donahue’s widow, Patricia, 62, kept a stiff upper lip, surrounded by her three grown sons Thomas, Michael Jr. and Shawn. Perhaps the saddest detail was her own memory of the simple joy of cooking her husband pork chops being interrupted when she looked up to see her father-in-law’s crashed car on a TV news bulletin.
The church-going couple had just leased a storefront on Dorchester Avenue to open a bakery.
“I miss him not being able to see how big and wonderful his children turned out to be, his grandchildren,” she said with a bittersweet smile. “The things anyone would miss.”
By Kirstin DowneyWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, March 13, 2008; B06
In a courtroom crowded with his friends from law enforcement, a former FBI official was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison for torturing his girlfriend at knifepoint and gunpoint during a six-hour ordeal in her Crystal City high-rise apartment.
Carl L. Spicocchi, 55, a 19-year FBI veteran who had run the Toledo office and was on temporary assignment in Washington, pleaded guilty in Arlington County Circuit Court last year to two felony counts of abduction and using a firearm in the Aug. 23 attack.
"This obviously was a horrific crime," Circuit Court Judge James F. Almand said. "It requires a substantial sentence and a substantial amount of time."
Almand sentenced Spicocchi to 10 years in prison, suspending four of them.
Spicocchi, who is married, believed his girlfriend was dating another man and attacked her in a jealous rage, according to court records. But the girlfriend, who said she was too fearful of Spicocchi to appear in court yesterday, said in a statement that she was not unfaithful.
"He thought she was cheating on him, but she wasn't," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lisa Bergman. The attack "came completely out of the blue," Bergman said.
In the statement, read by Bergman, the woman gave this account: When she came home that day, she found Spicocchi hiding in a closet, armed with a gun and a 10-inch knife. He stripped her and wrapped her in tape, then dragged her around the apartment by her hair. He forced the gun into her mouth and held the knife to her throat. He beat her repeatedly. He told her that he would cut open her veins and that, because of his training, he knew how long it would take the blood to drain from her body.
"He said I had met my match," she said in the statement.
He told her that he planned to kill her and that she would soon join her father, who had died 10 months earlier. He said that he would write a check for $100,000 from her account and flee to South America after she was dead and that he had a plane ticket for a 6 a.m. flight.
Finally, the woman said, she escaped by running into the hall and screaming for help. "The attack on me was unprovoked," she said in her statement. "I feel lucky to have escaped the monster."
She said Spicocchi had told her he had been divorced for four years.
Defense attorney Thomas Abbenante said that his client had a serious drinking problem and that Spicocchi had also stopped taking his medications, including Klonopin, used to treat panic disorder, and Celexa, an antidepressant. He was drinking heavily before the attack, Abbenante said.
"He's a good man who did a very bad thing," Abbenante said.
But Bergman said that Spicocchi confessed only after he realized that police had enough evidence to convict him, and that he had asked the police officer to let him go, as a favor, "cop to cop."
Spicocchi's former FBI colleagues declined to comment at the sentencing, but more than a dozen sent letters to the judge telling him that they believed this act was an aberration in an otherwise upstanding life.
"Carl was not only a premier law enforcement agent but a fine and conscientious gentleman," wrote Lou J. Ronca, a supervisory special agent with the FBI.
Spicocchi resigned from the FBI, giving up the right to any pension. He cried at the hearing, saying he was sorry for what he had done to the victim and to his family.
"I offer my sincere apologies," he said, giving no further explanation for his actions.
Spicocchi's wife, who attended yesterday's hearing, wiped away tears as she discussed the verdict with Abbenante. She declined to comment.
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