Mike Whalen and reporters sit, handcuffed, in his backyard. (Photos by Mary Turck)
According to I-Witness reporter Eileen Clancy, an FBI agent came to Mike Whalen’s house on Iglehart Avenue this morning, looking for an individual who was not present at the time. This afternoon, police broke into the house with guns drawn, detaining Whalen and the journalists for hours as dozens of reporters from all over the country stood outside, kept on the opposite side of the street by police orders. The six people inside the house—and one legal observer who came outside to try to talk to police—were handcuffed during the search of the house.
Legal observer Sarah Coffey answered reporters’ questions in front of the Iglehart residence, as police looked on.
Journalists inside the home included Clancy and Elizabeth Press, a news producer for Democracy Now. Journalists outside included Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now and a camera crew.
Kim, who lives next door, voiced her strong objections to the police proceedings, praising Mike Whalen as “a good neighbor, a very nice neighbor for ten years. He has never caused a problem.” She said anyone should be allowed to protest, though “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness so I don’t give a crap about Republicans or Democrats,” but said that anyone should be allowed to protest.
Eventually, she invited the crowd of journalists into her back yard, where they interviewed Mike Whalen and Eileen Clancy over the back fence, as police watched in obvious, mute discomfort.
“They look through materials and copy materials, but you are not arrested,” said Clancy. “If you sue later, the court thinks it wasn’t a big deal, because you were not held very long.
“They cannot raid a news office without a subpoena – but they did. This is journalists’ work product.”
Police eventually produced a subpoena, similar to the ones that have been used in all of the half-dozen raids during the past 18 hours.
“These are pre-emptive raids,” Clancy insisted. “Police are targeting people who are hear to protect free speech rights.”
Eventually, Amy Goodman and a camera crew climbed over the fence. Police tried to get them to leave, with no success. Police on the scene would make no comment, saying that a public relations officer would talk to reporters They were unable, however, to say who the public relations officer was, or where that person might be found.
In the end, the police released all of the people detained at the Iglehart address.
At the same time that the I-Witness reporters were being detained on Iglehart, police followed, stopped and detained two other I-Witness reporters and a friend as they biked down Marshall Avenue in St. Paul. They searched the trio’s belongings and detained them there until the raid at Iglehart ended.
2ND READAt the RNC: The FBI Agent, the Retired Colonel, and the Roomful of Anarchists I came to the town I went to high school in to mobile microblog the RNC, but it got a little crazier than I expected, much faster than anyone predicted. Follow me on Twitter for regular updates, or check codepink4peace.org/blog for photos and more--assuming I'm able to stay on top of these stories. What exactly does it take to get whistle-blower and former FBI agent Anne O'Hare McCormick, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, and a roomful of dirty anarchists together in an unkempt rec room that, until a few hours ago, was locked on specious charges of fire-code violation? Not much, it turns out. At about 9 p.m. on August 29th, several fully armed police officers used a battering ram to force their way into the re-worked institutional building now known as the RNC Welcoming Committee's Convergence Space, threw by some accounts 30, by others 60, activists of all ages--from the pee-in-their-pants-young to the health-issue old--to the floor, handcuffed them, and detained them for a couple hours or so, busting through doors on the way in and then confiscating their equipment on the way out. Rebekah, a 15-year old from Madison, WI, was there. She spent two and a half hours laying on the floor facedown before officers noticed her and released her--clearly having forgotten about her (and her status as a minor). It's actually not legal, she knows, to set her free her unless she's released into the custody of her parents, but they didn't care: there's some question too about whether or not they should have raided the building without a warrant, shoved loaded guns in the faces of minors, photographed everyone present, and handcuffed and intimidated young children in the first place, so there's some grey area here. What had she been dong when the raids hit? "I was coloring this," she gestures to a picture she's finishing up, a glittery pink and purple thing with elephants and flowery handwriting. "Reclaim the elephant," it says. There are also sunflowers. It's very cute. She's dedicating it to other survivors of the Convergence Space raids. Another woman perhaps in her 60s, a teacher, was cuffed for slightly less time, two hours, and describes the two waves of officials that stormed into the building: first sherrifs, then police. She and some friends--one a very young boy--were upstairs watching a movie. Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers. When the police confiscated the DVD player, they also stole her movie. Even the convenience store worker, Gina, that worked down the road was caught in the raid. Just driving the two blocks from the SuperAmerica past the Convergence Space to her home had a cop pulling her over and searching her vehicle. "I was wearing my uniform," she told me. She didn't look like an anarchist. No way. Just a SuperAmerica worker. "I told them, I'm graduating from the police academy in two weeks. So, where is your warrant for searching my vehicle? I don't consent to this." The former Colonel and FBI agent and all the scruffy losers I adore were all converging on the reopening of the Convergence Space, and activists of all sorts had gathered to rally press and support and bystanders. The press conference lasted about half an hour. As David Bickens, father of arrestee and RNC organizer Marjorie Bickens--still in detention as of publication--claimed, "My daughter war arrested for her commitment to peace and justice." A press conference organizers received updates as to new arrests and detainments--some police are claiming that, given the weekend and the holiday, arresting people now means they can be held for 36 hours without being charged, which would put us at, what, Tuesday night? Halfway through the conference--as they unfolded. By the end of the press conference, she'd received notice that 12 more activists had been detained. One group of activists, all employed by the extremely legit-sounding Organic Consumers Association on their way to the press conference, witnessed on the way a group of young people in a white van being pulled over by undercover cops, who forced the crew out of the van and demanded they walk backwards down the sidewalk. Alexis Baden-Mayer happened to be standing nearby. "Get out of the line of fire or we'll shoot you," the cops told her. (I'll put crazy pix up at: codepink4peace.org/blog in a minnit!) So what does it take to have an entire city--a traditionally progressive blue collar one, but drifting toward the conservative of late--and the majority its intellectuals, activists, attorneys, youth, and educators up in arms? Excessive, illegal police brutality, clearly intended to scare the masses away from their first amendment-guaranteed right to freedom of speech.
By Jason Lewis Last updated at 9:28 AM on 21st September 2008
Treasure hunt: Elite police went on a search for London landmarks to boost their investigative skills
Senior detectives charged with bringing Britain’s crime lords to justice have been sent on a tourist-style ‘treasure hunt’ to boost their investigative skills.
Officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) went looking for cryptic clues around London landmarks rather than pursuing gangland bosses.
Soca comprises highly experienced detectives, Customs investigators and MI5 officers.
But this year senior politicians called it an ‘agency in complete turmoil’ after its annual report revealed it had cut its work to combat drugs on Britain’s streets.
Yet last month in a ‘team-bonding’ task, several of the detectives approached uniformed policemen outside the Commons trying to find answers to trivia questions posed by their commanders.
The hunt involved officers under Jane Attwood, 52, Soca’s deputy director for prevention and alerts.
She also owns an Essex gastro-pub known for its quiz nights.
A senior Soca detective said: ‘It was ridiculous. You had some of the most experienced, highly paid investigators in Britain playing Trivial Pursuit around London rather than bringing criminals to justice.
'It sums up what is going on behind the scenes at what is supposed to be Britain’s answer to the FBI.’
by Tom Burghardt / September 27th, 2008
New documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) revealed that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sub-unit “reversed a two-decades-old policy that restricted customs agents from reading and copying the personal papers carried by travelers, including U.S. citizens.”
After suing DHS under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the civil liberties organizations received 661 pages of heavily redacted files from the department and will be seeking withheld documents as well as the blacked-out material in federal district court this fall.
Antifascist Calling has reviewed many of these files; in some cases 50% or more of the documents have been censored. One might call it DHS’ lame attempt at remaking the 1980 hit thriller Fade to Black!
In 2007, CBP quietly loosened 1986 federal guidelines restricting the examination of travelers’ documents and papers. More than 20 years earlier, a lawsuit, Heidy v. U.S. Customs Service, was filed by a group of solidarity activists targeted by the government after returning from Nicaragua. Their suit, charging the state with an illegal seizure of books, documents and personal papers led to the Reagan administration guidelines.
During the 1980s, Nicaragua was a target of U.S. destabilization programs and a “dirty war” waged by the CIA and their drug-dealing Contra allies against the leftist Sandinista government. Reagan-era Customs agents claimed they had a right to seize “subversive literature” at the border.
Based on dubious legal authority, agents confiscated diaries, datebooks and other personal papers and photocopied the files. U.S. Customs then shared the activists’ personal details with the FBI on the grounds that the government was engaged in a “counterintelligence operation” against a “hostile power.” According to The Washington Post,
“Essentially they were using that as a pretext to do intelligence gathering on critics of our policies on Nicaragua,” said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who was then a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing the activists suing the government in Heidy v. U.S. Customs Service. (Ellen Nakashima, “Expanded Powers to Search Travelers at Border Detailed,” The Washington Post, Tuesday, September 23, 2008; A02)
As the Center for Constitutional Rights documented, “Pretrial discovery revealed a broad pattern of Customs abuses, including the use of Customs authority to gather intelligence about returnees from Nicaragua and the entry of that information into a nationwide Customs computer.”
The Heidy decision, in other words, specifically barred Customs officials from rifling through travelers files in pursuit of so-called “actionable intelligence.” The state was specifically barred from sharing the spoils of these illegal searches with other federal agencies. Fast-forward 22 years. As EFF revealed,
The documents show that in 2007, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) loosened restrictions on the examination of travelers’ documents and papers that had existed since 1986. While CBP agents could previously read travelers’ documents only if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the documents would reveal violations of agency rules, in 2007 officers were given the power to “review and analyze” papers without any individualized suspicion. Furthermore, whereas CBP agents could previously copy materials only where they had “probable cause” to believe a law had been violated, in 2007 they were empowered to copy travelers’ papers without suspicion of wrongdoing and keep them for a “reasonable period of time” to conduct a border search. The new rules applied to physical documents as well as files on laptop computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. (”Internal DHS Documents Detail Expansion to Read and Copy Travelers’ Papers,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, September 23, 2008)
In keeping with an avalanche of rule changes governing the expansive reach of America’s intelligence agencies, the “quaint” notion of “probable cause”–that a targeted individual is suspected of a crime–is now a thing of the past, replaced by the Orwellian concept of “thought crimes” where everyone is miraculously transformed into a “suspect” by securocrats.
Under the guise of “keeping America safe,” counterterrorism is the new stand-in for what covert operators once referred to as countersubversive operations that targeted left-wing political groups for destruction. As America’s constitutional guarantees circle the drain awaiting only the final flush into oblivion, the religious and political beliefs of citizens and legal residents re-entering the country are now considered “fair game” by Bushist spooks.
ALC staff attorney Shirin Sinar denounced these patently illegal moves by the administration saying, “For more than 20 years, the government implicitly recognized that reading and copying the letters, diaries, and personal papers of travelers without reason would chill Americans’ rights to free speech and free expression. But now customs officials can probe into the thoughts and lives of ordinary travelers without any suspicion at all.”
It appears that simply attempting to legally cross the border constitutes “suspicious behavior” and is an occasion for state security agencies to have access to all our personal details, regardless of their relevance to an “ongoing terrorism investigation.” Or, as is more likely in America’s “new normal” regime, border crossings now serve as a pretext for future “terrorism investigations.”
In a further move to subvert the 1986 guidelines, ALC and EFF noted that “CBP’s wide latitude to collect this data attracted significant attention from other law enforcement agencies that sought to access it.” In other words, under cover of conducting “counterterrorist” border searches, dodgy outfits such as the CIA, FBI, and the NSA are now asserting a “right” to have access to data seized from travelers’ cell phone directories, laptops, financial data or confidential business records stored in CBP databases “available” for their perusal.
DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told the Post “the updating of policies reflects an effort to be more transparent.” Or cover DHS ass-ets since they were forced to release the files in the first place! The policy change according to Kudwa “reflects the realities of the post-9/11 environment,” that is, an unaccountable Executive branch that has assumed “plenary” (unlimited) powers “during a time of war” (of their own choosing).
All is not well in Homelandia, however.
As The Washington Post reported two weeks ago, “In the five years since it was created, the Department of Homeland Security has overseen roughly $15 billion worth of failed contracts for projects ranging from airport baggage-screening to trailers for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, according to congressional data.” Dana Hedgpeth wrote,
The contracts wound up over-budget, delayed or canceled after millions of dollars had already been spent, according to figures and documents prepared by the House Committee on Homeland Security. A panel of experts is to testify today before the House Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight on how to fix problems with the DHS acquisitions process. … The experts are to talk about a series of problem projects: About $351 million was wasted and not properly overseen in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater program after ships were built and then scrapped, according to Homeland Security committee staffers and oversight agency reports. A $1.5 billion Boeing program to help secure U.S. borders with electronic sensors and other equipment is being shelved after it was over-budget, late and had technology problems. (”Congress Says DHS Oversaw $15 Billion in Failed Contracts,” The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 17, 2008; D02)
The contracts wound up over-budget, delayed or canceled after millions of dollars had already been spent, according to figures and documents prepared by the House Committee on Homeland Security. A panel of experts is to testify today before the House Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight on how to fix problems with the DHS acquisitions process. …
The experts are to talk about a series of problem projects: About $351 million was wasted and not properly overseen in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater program after ships were built and then scrapped, according to Homeland Security committee staffers and oversight agency reports. A $1.5 billion Boeing program to help secure U.S. borders with electronic sensors and other equipment is being shelved after it was over-budget, late and had technology problems. (”Congress Says DHS Oversaw $15 Billion in Failed Contracts,” The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 17, 2008; D02)
While $15 billion may seem like chump change in today’s climate of trillion dollar financial bailouts for Washington’s favorite grifters in the banking and securities industry, neither Congress nor DHS have a “fix” for these wasteful programs, unless that is, the fix is already in and taxpayers not privy to information available to various “wise men” peacefully ensconced in their “secure, undisclosed locations” remains “classified.”
But I digress…
Documents revealed that a July 11, 2007 email originating from CBP’s New York office noted the “wide interest among other government agencies in CBP’s ability to collect information.” Indeed, the nameless CBP bureaucrat wrote, “As we all know, CBP’s data collection capabilities have been widely discussed in the law enforcement community and we have been asked by many various agencies to copy and transmit documentation being carried by travelers for legitimate law enforcement reasons.”
And under current rule changes enacted in July, DHS is allowed to share data obtained at the border with other agencies if there is a “suspicion” a law is being violated. Last year, documents revealed that the Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations wrote:
There may be situations where an agency or entity, in furtherance of its respective mission, wishes to retain or disseminate copies of the information provided to it by CBP for technical assistance. Any such retention and/or dissemination will be governed by that agency or entity’s existing legal authorities or policies, including periodic reviews of retained materials to evaluate and ensure continued relevance. (Memorandum for: Directors, Field Operations, Office of Field Operations. From: Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations. Subject: Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information, July 5, 2007)
What these “situations” are that might merit sharing personal information with the CIA, FBI or NSA (or the Main Core database for that matter) and what would constitute “continued relevance” is not specified by the Assistant Commissioner.
As the civil liberties groups noted, ALC received more than two dozen complaints from U.S. citizens, particularly those who were Muslim, South Asian, or Middle Eastern. Those illegally detained “were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad.”
Since “traveling while Arab” is apparently an enforceable offense, these individuals had their books, hand written notes, personal photos, laptop computer files and cell phone directories scrutinized and copied. Indeed, as EFF/ALC averred “CBP appears to have no policy constraining agents from questioning travelers on their religious practices or political views, in spite of the fact that many travelers have complained about being grilled on such First Amendment-protected activities.”
Nor will CBP agents be “constrained” from violating our constitutional rights. While some will chalk it up to America’s “enhanced security environment” where Bushist cronies reap the spoils of their ill-gotten wealth, “business as usual”–as always–is standard operating procedure in post-Constitutional America.
Oh, and by the way, Welcome to the United States!
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland yesterday demanded that the state police disclose under public information laws whether 32 grass-roots advocacy and political activist groups that have held large public protests in recent years have been targets of spying by undercover agents.
Yesterday's request follows revelations in July that state police officers posing as activists conducted surveillance in 2005 and 2006 on war protesters and death penalty opponents.
Information is being sought on behalf of groups ranging from Silver Spring-based Progressive Maryland, which promotes liberal causes, to Defend Life, a Washington area anti-abortion coalition. The organizations include immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland, PeaceAction Montgomery, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, the gay rights group Equality Maryland and a coalition formed to fight high electricity rates in the Washington-Baltimore area.
As a result of July's disclosures, Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and former state attorney general, was appointed to head an independent review of state police intelligence-gathering. Sachs and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) are scheduled to release the findings today.
Sachs is expected to explain why officers assigned to the Division of Homeland Security and Intelligence infiltrated organizational meetings, rallies and e-mail group lists when Robert L. Ehrlich (R) was governor and to comment on whether they broke any laws.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the spying for Tuesday.
More than 100 grass-roots groups contacted the ACLU out of concern that their protests have been targets. Two of the groups learned that they were under police surveillance, ACLU officials said.
State police leaders have said that death penalty opponents were monitored in response to a series of protests of a scheduled execution and that undercover work is an integral part of police intelligence-gathering. The ACLU and other civil liberties groups said the monitoring was not warranted because the protests were nonviolent.
"The police said they were spying because they were worried about disruptive or violent anti-death penalty protests," ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said. "If that worry was the true motive, it could exist with respect to any and all of the groups we are filing for. . . . All of these are pretty hot-button issues."
If police say they were not tracking other groups, "they will still have some explaining to do" as to why they chose to spy on some protesters and not others, Rocah said.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency "will address the requests and provide any information [the ACLU] is entitled to under the law."
ACLU officials also said yesterday that they are seeking a sponsor for state legislation to protect the activities of nonviolent protest groups from police surveillance.
Children First, a Baltimore group that has protested lead in the city's drinking water, is one of the organizations seeking information about possible surveillance. Director Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent, said Baltimore detectives visited his home before a rally outside school system headquarters in 2003 and asked him to call it off. He declined, and the officers told him that they had a file on him, he said.
Jack Ames, a founder of Defend Life, said the arrest of 18 group members at a protest in Harford County made him wonder whether police were monitoring him. Loitering and disorderly conduct charges against the members were later dropped by the state's attorney's office.
Rocah said ACLU found that state police conducted surveillance on a worker-owned Baltimore bookstore named Red Emma's, which had not been the site of a protest but which hosts lectures on politics.
When the ACLU released 46 pages of documents in July on surveillance of anti-death penalty and antiwar groups, Red Emma's workers looked back at e-mails they had received from one of the agents, who used the alias Lucy Shoup. Shoup inquired about a scheduled speech by Bernardine Dohrn, a law professor at Northwestern University and former member of the radical group Weather Underground.
Mayor Richard Daley is not solely to blame for Chicago's worst budget crisis in a generation.
The same doom-and-gloom scenario is playing out in cities and states across the nation.
But Daley's actions and inactions have contributed significantly to the roughly $470 million mess.
As the mayor prepares to lay off 929 city employees, raise amusement and parking taxes and order a partial shutdown of city government around the holidays, it's time to take stock of those mistakes:
• PROPERTY TAX PHOBIA: It might not seem like it after last year's record $83.4 million increase, but fear of political backlash has prompted Daley to keep Chicago's property tax levy unrealistically low. He should have raised the property tax a little every year to keep pace with rising labor, health and pension costs.
• UNION CONTRACTS: After his 2007 re-election campaign got the cold shoulder from all but one labor union, Daley cozied up to organized labor in a way that guaranteed labor peace through the 2016 Olympics. The 10-year contract with about 8,000 members of the building trades locked in the prevailing wage paid to their counterparts in private industry
• THE COST OF CORRUPTION: It's not easy to calculate the cost of what seems an endless stream of city hall corruption - including the Hired Truck, city hiring, minority contracting and police corruption scandals. But Chicagoans pay a heavy price for corruption, waste and fraud.
Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman has pegged the annual cost of government waste regarding trash collection at $20 million. In the last year, Chicago taxpayers also paid $19.8 million to four alleged torture victims of a former police commander; $12 million to compensate victims of the city's rigged hiring system; millions more to a federal hiring monitor and $2.5 million for a new Office of Compliance to monitor hiring.
• PENSION REFORM: Before the stock market crash, city employee pension funds had $10 billion in unfunded liabilities. Now, the problem is much worse. The longer Daley waits to create a two-tiered pension system that shifts newly hired employees to a defined-contribution plan (such as the 401(k) plans favored by private industry) the worse the problem will get.
• COUNTY SALES TAX: When the Cook County Board more than doubled the county's sales tax last spring, Daley didn't lift a finger to stop it, leaving Chicago with the nation's highest big-city sales tax.
Daley could've easily stopped it through his brother, John Daley, the chairman of the county board's finance committee. Now, Chicago is paying the price as residents go elsewhere to make big-ticket purchases and avoid downtown restaurants, where the sales tax is 11.25 percent.
• TIF FRENZY: Through its widespread use of special taxing districts to promote development, the city siphons roughly $400 million away from itself, the public schools, the park district and other local governments. Under Daley, Chicago has seen a boom in creating tax increment financing, or TIF, districts.
• TOO MANY DEPARTMENTS: Daley wants to save $5 million by consolidating city departments that handle consumer issues, human services, economic development and business affairs. But if the streamlining is such a good idea, why wasn't it done sooner?
• EXECUTIVE PAY: When career FBI agent Jody Weis was chosen to be Chicago's new police superintendent, Daley agreed to pay him $310,000 a year and gave him a contract that locks in that salary through the 2011 election. The mayor justified that huge salary by saying Weis would wear two hats: police superintendent and chief emergency officer.
By July, with violent crime on the rise, Daley stripped Weis of the second job and gave it to Ray Orozco, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Will Weis take a pay cut?
A federal appeals court in Oregon will hold a hearing next month on a government appeal of a 2007 judicial ruling that said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is unconstitutional.
The FISA is a statute that regulates domestic intelligence, and generally requires judicial authorization for intelligence search and surveillance within the United States. Critics of Bush Administration electronic surveillance activities such as the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” have argued that they unlawfully circumvented the provisions of the FISA.
But the FISA itself, as modified by the USA PATRIOT Act, is unconstitutional, a federal court ruled on September 26, 2007 (pdf).
That ruling came in response to a challenge by Brandon Mayfield, who was erroneously arrested in connection with the Madrid bombings in 2004 based on a false fingerprint match and subsequent surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FBI later apologized for his mistaken arrest and provided a financial settlement. But Mayfield continued to challenge the legal foundation of the arrest.
He successfully argued that FISA, as modified by the PATRIOT Act, violates the Fourth Amendment because it eroded the requirement of probable cause as a pre-condition for obtaining a search warrant, and because it permitted warrants to be issued under FISA without a showing that the “primary purpose” of the search is to obtain foreign intelligence information (as summarized by Judge Vaughn Walker in a July 2008 opinion [pdf], at pp. 39-41).
Judge Ann Aiken of the District Court of Oregon agreed with this assessment in her September 2007 order and declared FISA unconstitutional.
The government promptly appealed that ruling, but the case has been dormant since May 2008. A hearing on the appeal has now been scheduled for February 5, 2009 at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon.
It is not known whether the incoming Obama Administration will reconsider the pending appeal of the lower court ruling.
At seven o’clock on the morning of November 7, Syaed Ali and his family were awakened by a team of Buffalo police officers bearing a search warrant. The warrant, signed by Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah one week earlier, accused Ali of aggravated harassment and empowered police to search his home and seize any and all electronic equipment—computers, discs, cell phones, etc.—that might provide evidence of the charge. Police searched Ali’s home, carted away boxes of seized material, and took him downtown for questioning, without an arrest warrant, without reading him his rights, without allowing him to contact relatives or an attorney.
Two months later, Ali hasn’t been charged and he can’t get his possessions returned.
The person that Ali says he was accused of harassing: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
When Ali asked that morning if he was under arrest, Mike McCartney, an investigator with the New York State Attorney General’s office, told him that he was—for computer fraud. Later Buffalo Police Detective Anna Mydlarz told someone else in the house that he was under arrest for aggravated harassment.
Authorities later claimed he was never actually arrested, but Ali’s lawyer, Richard Grimm III of the firm of Magavern Magavern & Grimm, says Ali felt as if he was in custody and could not leave. “He certainly doesn’t feel as if it was voluntary,” Grimm said of Ali’s subsequent trip downtown for questioning. “He apparently asked, ‘Am I under arrest?’ and they said, ‘No.” And he asked, ‘Can I leave?’ and they said, ‘No.’ It certainly sounds like a custodial interrogation when they won’t let him go.”
Police gave Ali a receipt for 16 items that they had seized. Ali says he counted 42 items, including material not covered by the warrant: credit cards, bank statements, checks, business records—not just Ali’s but those of his brother and father—even personal effects, including deodorant.Buffalo police took Ali down to Buffalo branch office of the New York State Attorney General in the Main Place Tower, according to documents his lawyers filed in December. There he was questioned and accused of various crimes, including harassment. When that interrogation was over, he was taken to the local FBI office, where an agent asked him a few questions and then let him go. Ali was never read his rights. When he asked if he could talk to a lawyer, Ali says, he was told that if he spoke with a lawyer they’d charge him with a crime. He asked if he could talk to a relative, and he was told he could not. When he asked if he could leave, he was told that if he left they would arrest him and charge him with a crime.
Eventually, at about 2:30 that same afternoon, Ali was released from custody. He says he was told by authorities not to tell anyone about what had happened. He was told that if his family asked what had happened, to tell them it was a case of identity theft and they had the wrong guy. He says he was told that if he talked to a lawyer or the media, he’d be arrested and charged with aggravated harassment.
Two months later Ali still has not been charged with any crime and authorities still have all the property they seized from him and his family. He was told that his electronics remain in possession of Detective Mydlarz of the Buffalo Police Department and were being tested “off-site.”
Mydlarz did not return a call on the matter. Buffalo Police Department spokesman Mike DeGeorge said, “We would not comment on an ongoing investigation.” Asked if that meant there was an ongoing investigation, he said he would neither confirm nor deny that. When asked whether logic dictated that there must be an ongoing investigation if he was refusing to comment on it, DeGeorge said, “Listen again to my response” and repeated it. (Asked if he would comment if there was not an ongoing investigation, DeGeorge said, “I imagine our response would be the same.”)
Grimm says that his firm has been unable to find an affidavit on which the search warrant was based. Ordinarily, a judge needs some sort of sworn statement to justify issuing a warrant. If there is one, no one has been willing to provide it to Ali’s lawyers.
“From a criminal procedure standpoint, that’s critical, so we’re trying to figure that out,” Grimm said. “There’s clearly some peculiarity, something unusual about the way the search warrant was issued, and I haven’t figured out why or how or what it is exactly yet.”
Peter Cutler, the mayor’s communications director, declined to comment on the matter, saying it was a police issue. He would neither confirm nor deny that the mayor had made a complaint against Ali that led to the warrant signed by Hannah. But Ali has no doubt that’s what he’s been accused of. He just doesn’t know what he did to deserve the accusation.
The warrant itself is sloppily written, accusing Ali of “Aggravated harassment, in violation of Penal Law Section 240.31-1”—a section of the law that covers damage to premises used for religious purposes. For his part, Judge Hannah won’t say whether or not he signed the warrant, claiming he has no recollection of the event. He told AV he’d only look into his files to see if he’d signed the warrant if ordered by a court.
Grimm says his firm sent letters to authorities inquiring into the status of Ali’s possessions. He says the firm tried to contact Mydlarz, who he was told was in charge of the investigation. Grimm says neither Mydlarz nor any other representative of the Buffalo Police Department have returned those calls. He has asked for the name of a prosecuting attorney and received no response. Both the FBI and the New York State Attorney General’s office have told Ali’s lawyers that it is a city matter and they have no interest in the case, and that Ali’s possessions are in the custody of the Buffalo Police Department.
On December 10, Ali’s lawyers filed a notice of claim against the City of Buffalo seeking to recover his property. They’ve received no response to that filing, either.
“They came to my house, Ali said. “They made frivolous claims that are just not true. They’re making the accusations that I was harassing the mayor, and I did no such things. They used the cops, they filed false reports with the New York State Attorney General’s office and the FBI. I fully intend on suing them.”
So what did Syaed Ali do to precipitate this trampling of his rights? Who is Syaed Ali that someone, allegedly the mayor, should want to raid his house and take his computers?
Ali is a frequent email correspondent with city officials; most recently he sent a spate of emails criticizing the Brown administration for approving the JW Pitts Properties proposal for a waterfront hotel in the Erie Basin Marina. In those emails he used words like “sham,” “fraudulent,” “corruption,” and “malfunction of judgment.” Harsh, but hardly threats of the sort that constitute harassment. Others who have been copied on Ali’s emails tell AV that nothing they’d read rose to the level of a threat or of harassment. Ali calls his emails “informational” in nature.
Ali has also been active in Democratic politics: In 2007 he formed a committee to run for Erie County Legislature against incumbent Betty Jean Grant; the challenge was self-funded and ineffective—Grant successfully challenged his petitions and Ali did not make it on the primary ballot. Last summer he was a member of the Buffalo branch of the movement to draft New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for president. A couple local pols told AV that Ali was considering a challenge to State Senator Antoine Thompson last fall, at the behest of the Len Lenihan/Sam Hoyt faction of the local Democratic Party. Ali, too, says he was considering running against Thompson, but insists it was his own decision, and that he’d never done any serious political work for the Hoyt/Lenihan faction.
In any case, Ali did not run against Thompson, who maintains at least a nominal alliance with Mayor Byron Brown. (The widening breach between Thompson and Brown is grist for another mill, on another day.) So again: What did Ali do last fall to earn the mayor’s enmity?
Those same pols and their operatives suggested to AV that Ali may have been behind an anonymous August email campaign suggesting that the mayor led a secret gay life. Or perhaps Ali had run another anonymous email campaign, under the name “Save Buffalo,” demanding that Brown and Deputy Mayor Steve Casey resign by August 19 or face revelations that would prompt a common uprising against the administration. That, of course, did not happen, nor did the allegations that Brown is a closeted gay amount to anything.
Ali denies any part in those emails. He says that he’s done nothing wrong. (So, for the record, does his mother, who described the search of the family’s house as “armed robbery.”) “These are very bad people,” said Ali, whose reluctance to compromise any future legal action by talking to AV was undone somewhat by the aggravation of what has happened to him. “If they can do it to me, they’ll do it to anybody.”
By Ryan Paul | Published: January 15, 2009 - 06:15AM CT
The FBI, Alameda County, and the Regents of the University of California are named in a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of two activist groups near Berkeley who were recently the targets of a law enforcement raid. The organizations—the East Bay Prisoner Support Group (EBPS) and an independent bookstore and library called Long Haul—claim that their computers and records were wrongfully seized. They are asking the court for injunctive and declaratory relief.
The two organizations were raided in August last year after Detective William Kasiske obtained a warrant from the Alameda Superior Court. The EFF contends that the warrant, which authorized the search of Long Haul's offices, was granted improperly because the Detective failed to establish probable cause or produce evidence demonstrating specific wrongdoings by Long Haul. The raid of the EBPS offices on the first floor of the building were unlawful, the EFF says, because the warrant did not name EBPS at all or grant police the authority to search the group.
Officers from the University of California, Berkeley police department forcibly entered the premises when they were denied access by the landlord. Several members of the Long Haul organization arrived at the scene during the middle of the raid, but the police offers refused to show them the warrant.
The exact purpose of the raid has not been disclosed. Law enforcement agents believe that one of the computers that is accessible for use by the general public in Long Haul's library was used to perpetrate a crime of some kind. The police confiscated a large volume of records, including library book lending records, and took every computer in the building—not just the two computers that were publicly accessible. They also seized materials from Long Haul's private offices, where the organization stores the documents and research materials that they use for an independent publication that they produce and distribute to the public.
The EFF maintains that the seizure of documents that were being prepared for imminent publication is particularly egregious because it violates the federal Privacy Protection Act. And Long Haul contends that the private office in their facility that was used for the newspaper was unmistakably marked as such, and should not have been ransacked.
"The Slingshot and EBPS computers were clearly marked and kept behind locked doors," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick in a statement. "Yet the raid officers broke into the offices to take information these organizations collected and relied on to publish information to their readership. This is a blatant violation of federal law and the First and Fourth Amendments, interfering with the freedom of the press."
The equipment that was seized has been returned, but the members of Long Haul and EBPS fear that the police have retained copies of all the data. They seek a judicial declaration affirming that the raid was unconstitutional and a permanent injunction to block law enforcement agents from conducting further investigations with the collected data.
This case goes to the very heart of the EFF's values. The organization was founded in the aftermath of an infamous and outrageously misguided raid conducted by the Secret Service against Steve Jackson Games in the early 90s. The EFF has sought to protect citizens from unlawful raids and to set precedents that will raise the legal standards for search and seizure so that civil liberties won't crumble as technology becomes more pervasive. Much like the original SJG case, the EFF wants to make sure that a vague suspicion of wrongdoing isn't used to justify an unconstrained fishing expedition in private data.
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