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“Fear City” Explores How Donald Trump Exploited the New York Debt Crisis To Boost His Own Fortune

13 hours 8 min ago

When I published “The Shock Doctrine” a decade ago, a few people told me that it was missing a key chapter in the evolution of the tactic I was reporting on. That tactic involved using periods of crisis to impose a radical pro-corporate agenda. They said that in the United States that story doesn’t start with Reagan in the 1980s, as I had told it, but rather in New York City in the mid-1970s. That’s when the city’s very near brush with all-out bankruptcy was used to dramatically remake the metropolis. Massive and brutal austerity, sweetheart deals for the rich, privatizations. In classic Shock Doctrine style, under cover of crisis, New York changed from being a place with some of the most generous public services in the country, engaged in some cutting-edge attempts at racial and economic integration, to the temple of nonstop commerce and gentrification that we all know and still love today.

Listen to Naomi Klein’s interview with Kim Phillips-Fein.

New York’s debt crisis is an incredibly important and little understood chapter in the evolution of what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls market fundamentalism, a process the Trump administration is in the process of rapidly accelerating, which is why I was so happy to receive Kim Phillips-Fein’s remarkable new book “Fear City.” In it, she meticulously documents how the remaking of New York City in the ‘70s was a prelude to what would become a global ideological tidal wave, one that has left the world brutally divided between the one percent and the rest. She helps us to understand many of the forces that Trump exploited to win the White House, from economic insecurity to crumbling public infrastructure to fear-mongering about black crime, all amidst previously unimaginable private wealth.

“Fear City” by Kim Phillips-Fein

But one of the things that really stood out for me in the book is what it reveals about Trump himself. “Fear City” tells the story of how a brash 29-year-old real estate developer seized on the city’s misfortune to boost his own fortune, extracting predatory terms from a community in crisis.

Reading this, it struck me how Trump’s entire career has been shaped by the exploitation of crisis. And that’s relevant stuff for what it tells us about what we can expect from his administration in the months and years to come. So I’m very happy to be joined by Kim Phillips-Fein, a historian of the first order, in The Intercept studios.

Naomi Klein: Before we get into Trump and what he was doing in the mid-1970s, can you set the scene for just how bad New York’s debt crisis was in this period? What did it look like? What was happening in the city?

Kim Philipps-Fein: For the context of the fiscal crisis, and for Trump’s emergence, I think the first thing that’s important to understand is that New York City in the post-war years was really an outlier in terms of what the city government did and was trying to do and was trying to provide to its citizens. New York City takes some of the elements of New Deal liberalism and pushes them further than they’ve been pushed anywhere else in the country. The city has a network of more than 20, at its peak, municipal hospitals, and many more primary care centers, child centers. It has a vast range of libraries and a free public university system, which is growing over the post-war years.

This is in addition to the kind of basic urban amenities that are far more developed in New York, such as mass transit, than in really any other American city. This network, this public sector, in certain ways becomes even more ambitious during the 1960s, during the War on Poverty years, when a lot of new federal money comes into the city to expand social services in a variety of different ways. In the early 1970s, the entire public sector enters into a period of crisis because — because of a slowed increase in the amount of money that’s coming from the federal and state governments, and also because of the recession of the early ‘70s, which throws the city’s economy into a spiral.

And the result is a growing gap between revenues and expenses, so that the city really isn’t bringing in the amount of money that it needs any longer to pay for these public services.

NK: It wasn’t just that New York was overspending. I mean, this was a global debt crisis. And there was this sense, reading your book, that there was a desire to really teach New York a lesson. And to set an example. Because if you’re willing to let the biggest city in the United States go bankrupt, you’re really willing to do anything. And there’s this famous headline in the Daily News, Ford — that being President Ford — “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Can you talk about this sense of setting an example?

KPF: The fiscal crisis was both real and ideological, and there were a variety of ways that it could have been approached. One example that I bring up in the book is that of Medicaid spending. New York City bore a quarter of its bill for Medicaid, which is higher than anywhere else in the country. That’s because of the way that New York State divides spending on Medicaid, and on welfare as well, and Aid for Families with Dependent Children, as it was then. Had that split been changed, the city’s financial picture would have looked very different. There were a variety of ways that the city’s fiscal crisis could have been approached.

However, President Gerald Ford, who counted among his advisers people like Alan Greenspan, the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, and William Simon, his Secretary of Treasury, who came out of the world of municipal bond trading in New York. These people were fiercely opposed to providing any kind of federal aid for the city that would have enabled it to ride out the crisis and get back on its feet.

Two New York City dailies and the New York Times are seen with headlines on President Ford’s refusal to aid the city during its fiscal crisis, on Oct. 30, 1975.

Photo: AP

NK: In this period, Alan Greenspan would have been at the height of his Ayn Randian obsession.

KPF: Yes, he was kind of moving into public life. This is obviously before he’s at the Federal Reserve. And he had just recently moved out of her real inner circle and into a broader public role.

And yeah, they have been opposed for a long time to the kind of public sector New York has. And they feel that there was nothing positive, nothing important, nothing to be respected or admired in what the city was trying to do.

NK: Were they worried about the model spreading beyond the city?

KPF: I’m not sure they were exactly worried about that at that moment, but certainly they feel that this kind of system is the problem that the entire Western world faces  — this broader public sector and a kind of mixed economy, which you might say New York embodied was a threat to freedom and prosperity the world over.

Whether or not they actually were worried about other cities or it moving out of New York in some immediate way, I think they thought the approach was fundamentally flawed. They were not surprised that New York was in crisis, and they thought that the only real solution was to force a set of cuts. And that would really prevent any other city from again going down the path New York had followed.

NK: But at the last minute, New York doesn’t go into full bankruptcy. The way this structure is set up reminds me of the emergency managers that in recent years have been imposed on Flint and Detroit, where a lot of power, local democracy, is lost. Can you talk about that structure?

KPF: Right. The city ultimately did not go bankrupt because the banks and the unions — and the city’s unions were very important here — were willing to buy enough of the city’s debt that it didn’t actually have to go bankrupt. And the federal government also did eventually come forward with the set of short-term loans. In return, they created this agency called the Emergency Financial Control Board, which I think is the model for the kinds of city managers that we see today, or what we see in Puerto Rico. And the Emergency Financial Control Board was a state agency that was granted final control over the city’s budget.

And this was important both because the Emergency Financial Control Board did occasionally come in to actually turn back contracts that it thought were too generous, but it also provided  — and I think this is very important for thinking about Trump  — a way for the mayor to say, listen, I have no choice but to make these cuts because the Emergency Financial Control Board is enforcing this plan that mandates the cuts. And the federal aid in turn was contingent upon the city making a set of cuts within a certain period of time, arriving at a balanced budget in a certain — in a three-year timeframe.

NK: So it’s 1976. Donald Trump is just 29 years old. This is not the Trump that we know from The Apprentice. He’s not even the Trump of the ‘80s when he was in the tabloids with his soap opera of Ivana versus Marla Maples. Who is he at this stage in his career?

KPF: Well, he’s really emerging out of the shadow of his father, who was a developer and landlord in the outer boroughs. He’s emerging out of a milieu of a kind of embittered lower middle class white ethnic population in the city’s outer boroughs. Not that Trump himself was lower middle class. He wasn’t. But those were the people who lived in his father’s buildings, and those were the people who I think really shaped his worldview.

And they’re also the people who really blame  — this is obviously not universally true of the city’s white working class at this time — African Americans and Latinos, especially Puerto Ricans, for bringing the city to the edge of bankruptcy; a sense that they were the people who were using the public services, and that they were the ones who kind of pushed things too far and brought it into the fiscal crisis.

NK: And that, by the way, is incredibly important in terms of understanding the intersection of racism, of racial politics, creating the justification for a tax on the public’s fear, which I think we’re seeing more and more of. That’s really key in this period. So how does Trump take advantage of the city’s desperation in this period? Tell me about the Commodore Hotel.

KPF: Well, so Trump is very ambitious, and he wants very much to break out of the outer boroughs and come into Manhattan and make it big there. A lot of people have observed this about Trump at this moment, but I think he views Manhattan as this aspirational space, and he is eager to transcend his Brooklyn-Queens past and get into what he sees as the big-time. And his idea is to redevelop the Commodore Hotel. So the Commodore Hotel was a previously very fancy hotel from the early 20th century. I think it opens in 1919 at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. And it’s owned by the Penn Central Railroad. And the Hotel kind of falls into disrepair and near collapse after Penn Central itself goes bankrupt in 1970. Its management has stopped paying property taxes and is very eager to unload the property. Trump sees this as an opportunity at the same time as the city government sees it as a potential disaster. The city is terrified that if the Commodore Hotel goes into collapse, the blight of Times Square will spread east and to the area around Grand Central Terminal. And so, the plan that they hatch is that Trump can purchase the Commodore Hotel.

What he actually wants to do is buy it and sell it to a state agency, the Urban Development Corporation, which has its own interesting story. And then the UDC will lease it back to Trump, working with the Hyatt organization. And I think it’s also important to remember, it’s not Trump acting alone. He’s actually working with this hotel chain.

NK: And this is before he has started splashing his name in gold on the fronts of buildings. But this is his first Manhattan jewel.

KPF: This is his first big Manhattan deal. They’ll lease it back to Trump and Hyatt. And this arrangement where they’re not actually owning the property will enable them to pay property taxes that are lower than the normal rate for many years to come. The New York Times reported that as of 2016, this tax arrangement with the Hyatt had cost New York City about $360 million in uncollected taxes in the years since the development.

NK: So I just want to pause there, because what you’re saying is Trump put down — or Trump and the Hyatt put down $9.5 million for this incredible property. They come up with this elaborate arrangement, that sweetheart deal, a tax dodge. And that 9.5 million outlay translates back into roughly $360 million in tax savings and money deprived from the city.

KPF: It was a very lucrative deal for them. You can make whatever arguments about how much revenue the economy activity associated with the Hyatt generated. But it is also the case that that is what the value of the tax is, had they developed it in some other way, that would have gone to the city and did not.

NK: So it’s a sweetheart deal, but the city has no choice. Beggars can’t be choosers, is the argument that’s being made. Is that true? I mean, was it necessary to give it away on this scale?

KPF: Well, who knows whether there would have been a different purchaser for the Commodore? The Railroad was very eager to sell it. Perhaps they would have done so on different terms had those been made available. I would just underscore that Trump viewed himself as a great genius for making this arrangement. And city government viewed this as a very positive development and an important one, and one that they wanted to make clear was a kind of way to the future for the business community.

I think it’s potentially the case that you could have found another way to develop the property. But this is not just a one-time thing for the city. The city government views this as a model for the future, and as a signal to the broader business community that there has been a change in the city government’s relationship to business. It’s not just Trump acting alone. There actually is a context in which this kind of development is promoted and a sort of enabling community that allows it to happen.

NK: So it sets the stage for the Helmsleys, and for a whole change in the city.

KPF: It sets the stage for the city’s new receptiveness to certain kinds of luxury developments, to using different kinds of tax breaks to stimulate the development of properties that are really dedicated to the very rich. And more generally, I think, the various different kinds of corporate subsidies that went to Disney around Times Square.

NK: And I think when we look at Trump’s career in the ‘80s, we see a continuation of him really enjoying this role as the guy who saves the city. And that very high profile battle he had with Koch, with Mayor Koch, over the Central Park skating rink. That was really the moment when he solidified his celebrity. But I think you can see the straight line, really, from the Commodore to this skating rink to the presidential bid, right? You know, I’m not a politician. Washington is corrupt. I know how to do this better, right?

KPF: I think that’s very important. These were the people who would be able to transcend the Democratic pressures that were pushing for more public services, a sense of businesspeople as the saviors of the city and of the country as a whole, ultimately. I think there, too, Trump really embodies that and takes that worldview and runs with it, and celebrates it, and exploits it in every possible way, but he’s far from the only person who has that sensibility. And in fact, many of the people within the city’s mainstream Democratic political establishment also share that perspective, to some extent.

A sense that the city has been too responsive to public pressure, and now has to buck up and ignore the protests that grow in response to the cutbacks of the era. And that ignoring protest is really a sign of your own integrity and courage. I think Trump also takes that a bit from the fiscal crisis momen — even the rhetoric about the paid protestors after the inauguration. I think that feeling owes much to the moment of the fiscal crisis and to the sense that even if people are angry, the only thing that anyone with any courage can do is ignore them.

NK: All right. Well, Kim, it’s been great to talk. Is there anything else you want to share about what you learned about studying this chapter and Donald Trump’s starring role in it?

KPF: I guess the last thing I would say is that the atmosphere of fear is incredibly important for understanding what happens in New York at this moment — that there’s this deep level of fear about bankruptcy, fear of the future. And it’s that kind of fear that really makes possible the cutbacks of the time, and also the sense that, you know, the city needs a savior in the first place. And I think that I’ve thought about that a lot over the past month and since November — the way that fear can make things that seem politically impossible suddenly feel as though they’re the only alternative. And so I think that is one of the things that we need to fight at this moment, and to find ways to resist that sense of overwhelming fear and chaos, and to find forms of solidarity that can counter it.

Because it really is that context that makes it possible to wreak havoc, and the kinds of cuts that happened in New York in the ‘70s, and the kind of broader reshaping of our country that we see taking place now.

NK: Thank you so much for that, Kim. I think it is a really important message to leave people with, because we know these are pretty bad managers. I think we can expect all kinds of shocks and crises in the years to come, which will then be used as the rationale for breaking election promises like protecting Social Security and so on. So we have to be very, very wary of the exploitation of fear, of an atmosphere of crisis. We know from your book that Donald Trump’s career and his fortune was really forged in a moment of exploiting economic crisis.

We know that he’s surrounded by men who have done the same, including Steven Mnuchin using the crisis of the 2008 financial collapse to launch a bank that would specialize in throwing people out of their homes. So thanks for this little lesson in shock resistance.

Top photo: People stand outside the People’s Firehouse, Engine Co. 212 in North Williamsburg, which was threatened with closure during the fiscal crisis. A neighborhood mobilization which included occupying and sleeping in the fire station for 16 months saved the fire service.

The post “Fear City” Explores How Donald Trump Exploited the New York Debt Crisis To Boost His Own Fortune appeared first on The Intercept.

Why They March: “Science and Scientists Are Now Under Attack”

22 April 2017 - 11:38am

The March for Science is a response to the Trump administration’s distaste for science — or at least the kind that gets in the way of profit — but it is also a celebration of those among us who have devoted their lives to understanding how the world works. The thousands descending on the National Mall, on the first Earth Day under a regime that has taken a sharp knife to government science budgets, study stars and butterflies, barrier reefs and hedgehog reproduction, viruses and bird flight patterns.

Most days, they make and test their hypotheses in laboratories or perhaps in the Arctic Circle or the Australian Outback, in an anti-gravity chamber or a deciduous forest. But on this warm April Saturday, they have come together in Washington, D.C, to make a point that feels more urgent than ever: Science matters, and we ignore its findings at our peril.

Michael Mann (shown above), a climatologist and geophysicist, has pioneered computational models based on patterns of the past 600 years of climate changes. Mann is perhaps best known for the “Hockey Stick graph,” which shows a sharp uptick in global temperatures starting around 1900. And he was one of the lead authors of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which helped establish the scientific consensus about the global phenomenon. But Mann may be proudest of his most recent work documenting the sometimes subtle impacts the climate is having on hurricane activity, extreme weather events, and phenomena like El Niño. “This is an area of the science where there is still legitimate debate and a lot of interesting work left to be done,” he said, “much of it steeped in basic physics where I got my start.”

Mann is marching because “Science and scientists are now under attack in this country.” He should know. Mann is one of the favorite targets of climate deniers, as evidenced most recently by a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology at which he was the only witness representing the mainstream view that climate change is the result of human activity.

“When congressional Republicans are denying basic science,” Mann said, “and the Trump administration — run largely by polluting interests — is trying to revoke policies to protect our health and our environment, more than ever we need to hear the voices of scientists, loudly and clearly.”

Mary Droser at Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., on Friday April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“Not all species are equal,” said Mary Droser, a paleontologist who uses fossils to study how ecosystems develop and change over time. “You take out a particular species, a keystone species, and the whole thing crashes. That’s why so many people are now worried about the Great Barrier Reef.”

Having studied the rise and fall of past species can make our current crisis particularly scary. “When people say save the earth, I think the earth will be fine. It’s humanity that I’m worried about. We know from the past that, in terms of extinctions, and in terms of environmental change, the tipping points come sooner than we think.”

Droser finds it absurd that the current administration “wants to pick and choose what science to believe.” Still, she considers herself an optimist. “You can’t just go into despair,” she said. “What am I going to do, tell my 16-year-old that I’m just going to sit this one out?”

David Guggenheim in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“We’re starting to realize how seriously our oceans are in trouble,” said David Guggenheim, a marine biologist who studies coral reefs. Since 1970, the Caribbean has lost about 50 percent of its reefs.

For the past 17 years, Guggenheim has been working in Cuba, which has some of the healthiest coral reefs left in the Caribbean. The Cuban reefs have thrived because the country has protected its coastal waters — and also hasn’t suffered the effects of large-scale tourism or agriculture. Also, said Guggenheim, “they actually listen to their scientists. There’s no climate debate there like we have here.”

Protecting fish is essential for protecting reefs, said Guggenheim. “We think of fish as something to eat, as crops that grow in the ocean. But they have jobs to do and one of them is keeping coral reefs healthy.”

Guggenheim is marching because he’s alarmed by the anti-science bent of the new administration. “I’m used to getting around the table with the opposition. I’m used to compromising. But this is different,” said Guggenheim. “It’s a throw-back to the dark ages. The problem is the voice of science is not being heard. The voice of Trump is being heard.”

Melanie Killen at her home in Bethesda, Md., on Friday, April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Melanie Killen is a developmental scientist who looks at the emergence of moral concepts from early childhood to adulthood. Theorists used to speculate that morality emerged in adolescence. But Killen and her team showed that a sense of right and wrong begins to form in children who are as young as 3, 4, and 5.

By age 5, Killen’s team showed, children can also understand and account for relative advantage. Asked to divide supplies between two schools that have unequal resources, for instance, children will often choose to give a larger share to that the one with less. “They start saying things like, ‘well you have to give them more because then it’ll all be fair,” she said.

Killen is marching to stand up for continued support for basic science. “The U.S. has been a leader in the world in terms of basic research funding for everything from child health to space exploration and cures for cancer,” she said. “The idea that we are reducing that funding is a terrible blow to progress.”

Jessica Ware at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Friday April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Jessica Ware is an evolutionary entomologist. Her work focuses on dragonflies, which were the first creatures to fly on earth and are also among the fastest of the animals responding to climate change. Ware has traced the evolution of the insects’ genes through fossils, which date as far back as 250 million years ago, and follows current dragonfly populations in the Yukon and the northern-most points of the world.

“Trying to understand how, when and why they evolved helps us understand where the planet is now and where it’ll be in the future,” said Ware. She is marching, in part, to highlight the importance of evolution. “The U.S. is lagging behind almost every single country in terms of the general public’s belief in evolution. But it’s not something to be believed. It’s a process that creates life and causes things to go extinct. It exists.”

Ware also wants all young people to know that they could be scientists, something she didn’t realize as a child. “I am an African American woman with LGBT family,” said Ware. “When people think of science, they don’t think of someone who looks like me.”

John Vadermeer and Ivette Perfecto, ecologists at the University of Michigan, at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“Most science gets done for the benefit of the powerful,” said John Vandermeer. “We feel it should be done for the benefit of everyone.” Vandermeer and his wife, Ivette Perfecto, have worked together for 37 years, using ecological principles to improve agriculture. For much of that time, they have focused on coffee production in Puerto Rico. They have also established a coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico, where they research interactions among pests and their natural enemies.

Agriculture is a major cause of both climate change and species extinctions. But Vandermeer and Perfecto have been studying more sustainable ways of growing, focusing on natural systems that control pests without pesticides. They’ve recently developed games that help farmers understand the complexity of ecosystems.

For Perfecto, the march is about more than science. “I feel like we’re losing democracy,” she said. “Science is just one of the casualties.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, outside her hotel in Rockville, Md., on Friday April 21, 2017.

Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Robin Kimmerer’s work as a botanist and professor of environmental and forest biology has largely focused on the ecology of mosses, the tiniest and most ancient plants. “They’ve been on the planet for 350 million years and have endured every climate change, every movement of continents,” said Kimmerer. “And they’re still flourishing!”

A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer has also worked to integrate indigenous knowledge with Western science. She combined the two in an effort to restore the sweetgrass plant, which had been disappearing from its native habitats throughout the Northeast several years ago. “We found, in order to restore it, it wasn’t enough to restore the plant and leave it alone. Sweetgrass flourished only when it was used.”

In Kimmerer’s view, it’s not just the land that’s broken, it’s the relationship to land that’s broken. She is marching in part to bring such indigenous views into the mainstream of science. “It’s not a matter of just marching for science. I’m marching for sciences. There are multiple ways of doing science.”

 

The post Why They March: “Science and Scientists Are Now Under Attack” appeared first on The Intercept.

At Border Security Expo, Officials Dismiss Trump’s Wall: “I’ve Got 200 Foot Bluffs on my Border”

22 April 2017 - 9:00am

There was an elephant in the room  — a big, beautiful, concrete elephant — at the Border Security Expo in Texas last week, a gathering of industry and immigration officials, where Trump’s border wall was discussed in tones of measured exasperation. While the conference attendees seemed largely pleased with the president and the public’s attention to their mission, the wisdom of a wall is a conversation that most of these people have been having for over a decade.

“We already have about 650 miles of various types of wall. We’ll put the wall where it makes sense,” said Randolph “Tex” Alles, the acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in his opening remarks, echoing comments by many former border officials. “It being a contiguous or continuous barrier across the entire border is not what the secretary [of Homeland Security] is talking about.”

“I don’t think my county needs a border wall. I’ve got 200 foot bluffs on my border,” Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County in Texas remarked on a panel with other local law enforcement. What’s more, local ranchers “don’t want the federal government on their property” to build a wall.

The chief of police in San Antonio, William McManus, refused to discuss the matter at all. “It’s all been beaten to death,” he said.

The man in charge of actually figuring out how to buy and build the wall, the CBP’s top procurement official, Mark Borkowski, spun the concrete prototypes that will be constructed in San Diego this summer as an option “in the toolkit.”

“Now look, I bet if we took a poll here, each of us would have an opinion of whether we think that’s a good idea or not,” Borkowski said. “Each of us would have an opinion of whether that’s the way the country should project itself to the world or not. There are pretty good arguments either way.” But the president had ordered them to “go get a wall,” and so something had to happen.

This is not the first time that political zeal for a barrier has overwhelmed even the aspirations of immigration hardliners at CBP. “When you listen to the big beautiful wall narrative … that plays well with the base,” said Jayson Ahern, who was a commissioner at the CBP during the George W. Bush Administration, when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which called for sealing off the southern border with double-layered fence. Ahern explained that his office “had to negotiate hard to dial that down to what is actually required.”

What is required, of course, depends on what you’re trying to do. Is it possible to arrest every person who puts a toe across the line on the map? For years, the idea was “persistent impedence,” in Borkowski’s coinage — in other words, just make it more difficult. Under Trump’s order, the goal has shifted to “total operational control,” meaning the prevention of all unauthorized crossings.

Even if a wall could be built, it wouldn’t automatically achieve that. Agents have got to be able to see when someone is attempting to cross it or tunnel under it — or vandalize it, as a vendor asked worriedly during one of the expo sessions. A wall, said Alles, “slows people down, it doesn’t stop them, without agents on the ground, without aircraft, without technology.”

Borkowski advised the company reps in the audience to “pay attention when you hear that word system, because that’s our way of saying there’s got to be technology and roads and lights and other stuff.”

The CBP already has some components of a “virtual fence.” The agency is proud of its radar blimps (inherited from the Air Force), its fixed towers equipped with various types of sensors and cameras across the edge of Arizona, and video surveillance systems.

Vendors on the expo floor offered more: Sensors to identify the vibrations of digging, gunshots, or footsteps; a variety of “hardened” fences, as well as drones, radar to catch drones, cameras, floodlights, hand-held fingerprint readers, facial-recognition software, license-plate readers, and rubber bullets.

A duo of border patrol agents from Arizona, who asked that I not use their names because they were not authorized to speak with the media, were there to look at the options and request demos for their office. The men claimed that in the past, the mostly Mexican immigrants that they encountered would quickly submit to arrest.

“They’d sit down when we tapped them on the shoulder. Now I grab two guys and the others take off. They don’t think we’re real cops,” one of the agents said. With more cameras and the like they can track and head off the others, they said. “Technology is helping with that. I can chase the other guys after I get these two.”

In another room, two consulting firms, DeLoitte and Black & Veatch, tried to pitch a techno-utopian vision of border control, with transnational “smart cities” where every shipment is tagged with RFID tags and travelers are quickly identified by biometrics. “It’s a global corridor, all secured, all tracked,” said a Deloitte consultant.

Antonio Trindade, associate chief of enforcement and technology at the Border Patrol, offered a contemporary and more unsettling take on such biopolitics. His agents have been collecting fingerprints since 1994, running “ten print rolls” against databases of criminal and immigration offenders from the FBI and DHS. Patrick Nemeth, head of the Identity Operations Division at DHS’ Office of Biometric Identity Management, noted that his agency’s IDENT is the second-largest biometric database in the world, after India’s controversial national identity system. Border Patrol agents also often collect eye scans. “We love iris,” Trindade said, adding that “a lot of the folks we’re apprehending are working in masonry and their fingerprints are very worn down.”

CBP, along with Northern Command and the Department of State, also supports a program to help Mexico collect biometrics at Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala. The program would allow U.S. authorities to track “trends of migration coming through Central America up to the border,” Trindade said. “So it’s a great time for biometrics.”

Despite the visiting officials asking “industry to help” with their newly invigorated mission, the vibe on the expo floor was not quite a bonanza. The wall, among its other drawbacks, is largely unfunded. The Border Patrol already struggles with new recruits, and it is supposed to conjure 5,000 more that will be needed to respond to whatever a new wall system trips.

A salesman with a local security firm from San Antonio said it had been quieter than he expected. “Waitin’ on the money,” he said. A representative from McQ, a company that makes ground sensors (one is called iScout, advertised as “the next scouting legend” with a painting of a Native American) was also not terribly impressed. “Everyone’s trying to get in on it, and it’s not a huge pot,” she said. Most of her contracts were with the military; with DHS, “these guys don’t quite know what they want yet.”

Borkowski, the CBP procurement official, suggested that it wasn’t really the technology or infrastructure that would change so drastically. He began his presentation with a chart showing the sharp drop in arrests on the Southwestern border since Trump took office. The only thing that explained that, he said, was “a change in the policy we advertise about how we’re going to handle border security and how we’re going to deal with people who came to the border.”

There are other signs that Trump’s rhetoric is doing border agents’ job for them: increased absences from border schools, a decrease in crime reporting in Latino neighborhoods linked to fears of being caught by immigration authorities, and undocumented families staying away from social programs. If the goal is to terrorize communities, you don’t necessarily need a wall.

Top photo: A U.S. Border Patrol agent walks along the U.S.-Mexico border at the Imperial Sand Dunes near Felicity, Calif. on Nov. 17, 2016.

The post At Border Security Expo, Officials Dismiss Trump’s Wall: “I’ve Got 200 Foot Bluffs on my Border” appeared first on The Intercept.

Portland Executive Covertly Donates $1 Million to Inauguration After Being Shamed Over Trump Support

21 April 2017 - 4:07pm

As soon as word got out that prominent Portland hotel executive Gordon Sondland’s name was on the list of hosts for a Donald Trump fundraiser last year, Sondland withdrew from the event, citing through his spokesperson irreconcilable differences between Trump’s anti-Muslim nativist politics, the Sondland family history of fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany, and the experience of his hotel company president Bashar Wali, “a Muslim American who emigrated to this country from Syria.”

“Historically, Mr. Sondland has been supportive of the Republican party’s nominees for President,” Kate Buska, the spokesperson for Sondland’s Provenance Hotels, told Willamette Week at the time. “However, in light of Mr. Trump’s treatment of the [Khizr and Ghazala] Khan family and the fact his constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels, neither Mr. Sondland or Mr. Wali can support his candidacy.”

So when Sondland decided to give a million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee, he didn’t use his own name.

He used four limited liability companies instead.

The donations were made through BV-2 LLC, Dunson Cornerstone LLC, Buena Vista Investments LLC, and Dunson Investments LLC — all companies registered to Sondland, according to public records. The address of the LLCs matches the address of a home owned by Sondland, which he has used in the past to host a Republican fundraiser.

A man who answered Sondland’s cell phone hung up when asked to explain the donation and apparent reversal. Buska, Sondland’s spokesperson, said, “I have no comment.”

The contributions were first flagged by the Center for Responsive Politics and a Twitter-crowdsourced investigation of Trump’s inauguration donors maintained by Huffington Post reporter Christina Wilkie.

Wow: Scores of donors to Trump's inauguration are phony records or front groups. Help us dig, spreadsheet is open! https://t.co/e7IVvIx8gB

— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) April 21, 2017

The list of donors to the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee is rife with apparently fictitious names and other attempts to conceal the identity of the donor. As we reported on Thursday, the committee’s filing listed a $25,000 donation falsely identified as a gift from Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA mathematician and physicist who was portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures.”

Another $1 million came from the American Action Network, a nonprofit Republican group set up for the precise purpose of concealing donor identities.

Sondland’s Provenance Hotels company owns and manages a number of luxury hotels and restaurants, mostly in Portland and Seattle, including The Roosevelt in Seattle and the Westin Portland.

The post Portland Executive Covertly Donates $1 Million to Inauguration After Being Shamed Over Trump Support appeared first on The Intercept.

Border Agency Under Investigation for Trying to Unmask Anonymous Twitter Account

21 April 2017 - 3:55pm

In the first week of April, Twitter revealed that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was trying to force the company to reveal the identity of @ALT_USCIS, an anonymous, deeply anti-Trump account claiming to be run from within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Department of Homeland Security is now formally investigating whether the attempted unmasking was an abuse of power.

Just one day after Twitter said that it had been targeted by a CBP summons demanding identifying information about @ALT_USCIS, Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat outspoken on privacy issues, wrote a letter to the agency’s acting commissioner asking for an explanation of what clearly appeared to be a politically motivated attempt to stifle speech critical of the Trump administration. In a response sent today, John Roth, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, the parent organization of both CBP and USCIS, said that “We have concluded that no classified information was released via the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account,” and that the summons itself is now the subject of an internal review:

I can confirm that DHS OIG is investigating whether the investigation conducted by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility relating to the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account was improper in any way, including whether CBP abused its authority in issuing the March 14, 2017 summons to Twitter. DHS OIG is also reviewing potential broader misuse of summons authority at the Department and/or its components.

Roth added that the Office of the Inspector General only learned of CBP’s attempt to reveal the Twitter critic’s identity “when it was reported in the media.”

Top photo: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer’s patch is seen as they unveil a new mobile app for international travelers arriving at Miami International Airport in Miami, on March 4, 2015.

The post Border Agency Under Investigation for Trying to Unmask Anonymous Twitter Account appeared first on The Intercept.

Cybersecurity for the People: How to Protect Your Privacy at a Protest

21 April 2017 - 2:17pm

Planning on going to a protest? You might not be aware that just by showing up, you can open yourself up to certain privacy risks — police often spy on protesters, and the smartphones they carry, and no matter how peaceful the demonstration, there’s always a chance that you could get detained or arrested, and your devices could get searched. Watch this video for tips on how to prepare your phone before you go to a protest, how to safely communicate with your friends and document the event, and what to do if you get detained or arrested.

This is the first in a new series of videos I’m hosting called Cybersecurity for the People. In future videos we’ll dive into topics such as encrypted messaging apps, password management, and how to become a whistleblower. If you have topics that you’d like to see covered in this series, please let me know. You can email me at micah.lee@theintercept.com or send me a Signal message at 415-964-1601.

The post Cybersecurity for the People: How to Protect Your Privacy at a Protest appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Administration Ramps Up Threat to Prosecute Immigrant Parents

21 April 2017 - 11:49am

The Trump administration is doubling down on a controversial plan to prosecute immigrant parents who pay to have their children smuggled into the U.S. Speaking at a press conference in El Paso, Texas, Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that when it comes to enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, “everything’s on the table.”

“That includes our approach of prosecuting anyone who pays traffickers to smuggle people into the country, especially those who smuggle in children, including family members who pay to have children smuggled into this country,” Kelly said. “Human smuggling across our border puts individuals, especially children, at great risk of assault, abuse and even death at the hands of the smugglers.”

Kelly delivered the warning in an appearance with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as part of a tour the pair are on to meet with federal officials along the border and spread the word about their joint-DOJ/DHS plans for immigration enforcement. Speaking Thursday, Sessions made an appeal to any would-be undocumented immigrants contemplating traveling to the U.S.

“Don’t come,” he said. “Please don’t come. When you are caught, you will be detained, adjudicated, and deported.”

Kelly had already signaled his desire to see immigration laws enforced “against any individual who — directly or indirectly facilitates the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the [U.S.]” when he signed off on a pair of executive order implementation memos in February, a move that stirred outrage among immigration advocates. Last week, Sessions issued his own memo directing U.S. attorneys across the country to prioritize prosecution of several federal laws relevant to undocumented immigrants, including a provision on “bringing in and harboring certain aliens” that he had previously pointed to as a means to target immigrant families.

Kelly’s comments Thursday offered further evidence that the chiefs of DHS and DOJ are increasingly on the same page in terms of immigration enforcement and that, despite an initial backlash, the Trump administration is open to arresting parents who bring their children to the country illegally.

The journey many undocumented immigrants take to reach the U.S. — particularly those coming from Central America — is extremely dangerous, with smuggling networks contributing significantly to the risks. But so too are the countries those migrants often flee. In recent years, countries such as El Salvador and Honduras have frequently rated among the most dangerous countries in the world outside active war zones. For those reasons, immigration attorneys and policy experts say, the notion of prosecuting immigrant parents trying to make a better life for their children constitutes an inhumane and simplistic solution to a real and complex problem.

“As a policy a matter it’s extremely troubling that Sessions and Kelly are even floating this idea that you would criminally prosecute and send to prison a parent who is trying to get their child to safety,” Cecillia Wang, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told The Intercept. “The more general direction that Sessions is going in — that we’re going increase criminal penalties and prosecute more immigration-related crimes — is completely backwards. It’s the exact opposite direction of where we should be going policy-wise.”

According to a senior U.S. immigration official, speaking to The Intercept on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the administration’s plan, the threat of prosecution for parents would make the already delicate work of asylum interviews with children more difficult. “It is important for asylum officers to maintain a safe, non-confrontational atmosphere to elicit effective testimony,” the official said. “Asylum officers can’t do that if children are afraid that their testimony will put their parents in jail.”

The official added that “the secretary’s remarks here will encourage asylum officers to limit what they include in their notes.”

Finding ways to criminally charge immigrant families who bring their loved ones to the U.S. illegally was one of Sessions’ priorities before he became attorney general.

In July, while he was still an Alabama senator, Sessions co-signed a letter to then-DHS secretary Jeh Johnson questioning why the Obama administration wasn’t deporting a higher number of unaccompanied children showing up at the U.S. border and pointing to a statute — the same one he has now directed his attorneys to more aggressively enforce — that could be used to prosecute individuals who pay smugglers in order to be reunited with their family members.

Now that he has secured the most powerful law enforcement post in the country, with a number of his former aides sprinkled across key positions at the highest levels of government, Sessions is apparently continuing the effort he began last summer — this time with Kelly’s support.

Kelly found himself at the center of a controversy earlier this year involving a separate but related proposal involving immigrant families, after he confirmed that DHS was planning to begin separating undocumented mothers from their children at the border. According to an account published by Reuters last week, the idea was concocted by a handful former Sessions staffers and other hardline anti-immigration advocates now steering immigration policy in Washington.

While Kelly walked back the proposal earlier this month during a contentious appearance on Capitol Hill, he also took a jab at lawmakers this week, saying that if they have problem with the laws DHS is enforcing they should either change them or “shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

Avideh Moussavian, a senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said that for advocates who had hoped that Kelly would provide a counter-balance to Session’s nativism, the last few months have been disappointing.

“We had been looking at Secretary Kelly’s early days of leadership to see if he might distinguish his agency’s position and approach and it seems that they have been unabashedly heavy-handed as well,” Moussavian said. “It’s been a very troubling start to this administration.”

Top photo: Lola Vargas and daughter Athena wait in their attorney’s office before the deportation hearing of her husband Mario Vargas, in Los Angeles, on Feb. 9, 2017.

The post Trump Administration Ramps Up Threat to Prosecute Immigrant Parents appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Hopes Paris Attack Boosts Le Pen, One Day After Obama Calls Macron

21 April 2017 - 9:46am

In the immediate aftermath of the attack in Paris on Thursday night, claimed by the Islamic State, several French commentators suggested that the presidential election could be swayed by the fatal shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Élysées.

That’s largely because opinion polls suggest that the electorate was still divided almost evenly between four leading candidates ahead of Sunday’s first round vote, with the potential for increased fear of terrorism boosting the far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon.

Macron up again, rest of the pack stable (daily IFOP) – but that was before tonight's terror attack… https://t.co/yxc0Bfgtl3 pic.twitter.com/fh6PPxESYq

— Pierre Briançon (@pierrebri) April 20, 2017

Among those apparently rooting for French voters to be terrorized into voting for the ultra-nationalist Le Pen is Donald Trump, who continues to see the presidency as a vehicle for his amateur political punditry.

Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2017

Trump’s barely concealed endorsement of Le Pen — who wants to deport or prosecute more than 10,000 people on a terrorism watchlist and take France out of the European Union — comes one day after his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, tried to boost the chances of the centrist, pro-European candidate, Emmanuel Macron, with a friendly phone call trumpeted by Macron’s campaign.

Let’s keep defending our progressive values. Thank you for this discussion @BarackObama. pic.twitter.com/8rhNdHkLo8

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) April 20, 2017

Despite the hopes of Trump, and his strategist Steve Bannon, who previously championed Le Pen through rapturous Breitbart News coverage, it remains unclear if the majority of French voters, who tell pollsters they will vote for anyone but Le Pen if she makes it to a second-round runoff, will be swayed by the shooting.

The morning after the attack, some commentators suggested that voters might agree with a comment by Macron initially described as a gaffe — that the threat of terrorism will be with the French people for many years — and now see such attacks as demanding increased security but not the revolutionary change Le Pen promises to deliver if elected.

In other words, it appears possible that the attack could prove pundits on both sides of the Atlantic wrong, with the race returning to its original dynamic, and Macron remaining narrowly favored to win.

Voilà. pic.twitter.com/KSd8XHgGtY

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) April 20, 2017

The post Trump Hopes Paris Attack Boosts Le Pen, One Day After Obama Calls Macron appeared first on The Intercept.

In Secret Court Hearing, Lawyer Objected to FBI Sifting Through NSA Data Like It Was Google

21 April 2017 - 7:01am

In her first appearance representing the American public before the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2015, Amy Jeffress argued that the FBI is violating the Fourth Amendment by giving agents “virtually unrestricted” access to data from one of the NSA’s largest surveillance programs, which includes an untold amount of communications involving innocent Americans.

The NSA harvests data from major Internet companies like Facebook and from huge fiber optic backbones in the U.S. without a warrant, because it is ostensibly “targeting” only foreigners. But the surveillance program sweeps up a large number of Americans’ communications as well. Then vast amounts of data from the program, including the domestic communications, are entered into a master database that a Justice Department lawyer at the 2015 hearing described as the “FBI’s ‘Google’ of its lawfully acquired information.”

The FBI routinely searches this database during ordinary criminal investigations — which gives them to access to Americans’ communications without a warrant.

Jeffress, a former federal prosecutor now serving as an independent “friend of the court,” expressed frustration over the casualness with which the FBI is allowed to look through the data. “There need be no connection to foreign intelligence or national security, and that is the purpose of the collection,” she told Thomas Hogan, then the chief judge of the court. “So they’re overstepping, really, the purpose for which the information is collected.”

The ACLU obtained the hearing transcript and other legal documents related to the secret court proceedings under the Freedom of Information Act, and released them to the public on Friday.

The FISA Court has been widely criticized for its secrecy, its extreme tendency to defer to the government, and the fact that until recently it only heard the government’s side of the case. In 2015, Congress passed a law establishing the position of “amicus curiae” to represent the interests of the public and civil liberties, and Jeffress is one of five amici now serving.

Jeffress, who is now a partner at the law firm Arnold and Porter, declined an interview request, citing the sensitivity of the FISA Court’s proceedings.

The NSA program in question operates under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is scheduled to sunset in December unless it is reauthorized by Congress. What critics call the FBI’s “backdoor search loophole” is likely to be a major topic of debate in the coming months.

The FBI’s backdoor searches are so controversial that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed measures in 2014 and 2015 requiring agents to get a warrant before conducting them, although the Senate refused to take up either proposal.

“Section 702 backdoor searches of Americans’ private communications are plainly unconstitutional, and the FBI’s warrantless searches are especially troubling,” said Ashley Gorski, a staff attorney with the ACLU.

The CIA and even the NSA itself have imposed a requirement that each query they run on 702 data involving a U.S. person be supported by a statement of facts that explains why the information being sought is relevant to foreign intelligence – as the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recommended in 2014.

But when Hogan asked if the FBI were willing to do the same thing, the lawyer representing the Department of Justice at the hearing – whose name the government redacted in the transcript – brushed him off.

The lawyer said that searches of the FBI’s “lawfully acquired data” are so common that requiring agents to document them would be impractical, and even dangerous.

“If we require our agents to write a full justification every time — think about if you wrote a full justification every time you used Google. Among other things, you would use Google a lot less,” the Justice Department attorney said. “We want the FBI to look and connect the dots in its lawfully acquired information.”

Throughout the court hearing, the government insisted that being able to routinely sift through the data during criminal investigations was essential to national security, arguing that the ordinary crimes the FBI investigates can be connected to terrorism, unbeknownst to the agent.  But when asked how often non-national security queries elicited such information from the NSA data, the lawyer conceded that “at the very least it would be extremely rare.”

Members of Congress have been trying to understand the scope of 702 surveillance for years. In 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., requested an estimate of how many Americans’ communications are caught up in that one NSA dragnet — and other members and committees have repeatedly asked — but the government has refused to provide even a ballpark figure.

Just last week, the House Judiciary Committee renewed that request, sending a bipartisan letter requesting an estimate. The government published a document Wednesday saying it would not provide the number, but called on Congress to reauthorize the program anyway.

In her brief to the court, Jeffress argued that the breadth of collection on U.S. citizens was enough to warrant additional Constitutional scrutiny. “Not all section 702 targets are international terrorists,” Jeffress wrote. The next several sections, presumably describing what other kind of things get caught up in the dragnet, were blacked out. She continued: “These scenarios suggest a potentially very large and broad scope of incidental collection of communications between lawful target and U.S. persons that are not the type of communications Section 702 was designed to collect,” she wrote.

Judge Hogan ultimately ruled in favor of the government, allowing the FBI to continue giving its agents virtually unlimited access to conduct backdoor searches. His 80-page opinion was declassified in April 2016.

That leaves the matter to Congress.

Jeffress told the court: “I don’t think that the FBI will voluntarily set limits on its querying procedures, because law enforcement agencies tend not to take steps to restrict or limit what they can do, for obvious reasons.”

Top Photo: The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone’s camera screen.

The post In Secret Court Hearing, Lawyer Objected to FBI Sifting Through NSA Data Like It Was Google appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Inaugural Committee Falsely Lists Big Donation From “Hidden Figures” Hero

20 April 2017 - 7:26pm

The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, the campaign entity used to fund Donald Trump’s inauguration and related festivities, claimed in its official filing with the Federal Election Commission that  it received a $25,000 donation from Katherine Johnson, the distinguished NASA mathematician and physicist. The filing listed her address at 1 NASA Drive in Hampton, Va., the location of NASA’s Langley Research Center. Johnson, who is retired at age 98, does not live at the research center.

Eugene Johnson, who described himself as a friend and power of attorney for Katherine Johnson, told The Intercept that the “donation is fake, she did not make that donation.”

Huffington Post investigative reporter Christina Wilkie noted on Twitter that other major donors do not appear to exist. The filing also lists an “Isabel T. John,” from Englewood, NJ who gave $400,000 for the inauguration. But, as Wilkie noted,  John does not appear in public records databases, and the address for the donor matches a corporate parking lot. Wilkie asked the public to help her dig through the disclosure for similar inconsistencies.

Does anyone know an "Isabel T. John," from Englewood, NJ? It appears she gave $400,000 to Trump's inaugural, but I can't find records of her pic.twitter.com/KIt1cjL27F

— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) April 20, 2017

The Johnson donation was flagged by Eric Schmeltzer, who posted it on his Facebook page.

The Federal Election Commission is notorious for failing to flag fictitious names in campaign finance reports. In 2008, fake names, including one from “Test Person” living in “Some Place, UT” were found in Barack Obama’s disclosure reports, though the amounts given were relatively small.

The Trump inaugural committee report also revealed other attempts to mask the identities of donors. The report lists a $1 million contribution from the “American Action Network,” a so-called dark money nonprofit group used by House Republicans to engage in elections without revealing donor names.

Johnson’s heroic work on multiple NASA space missions was recently depicted in the award-winning film “Hidden Figures.”

Top photo: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson appears onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at the Hollywood Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

The post Trump Inaugural Committee Falsely Lists Big Donation From “Hidden Figures” Hero appeared first on The Intercept.

Serra e Alckmin são os maiores beneficiários da Odebrecht em 22 anos de hegemonia tucana em São Paulo

20 April 2017 - 5:50pm

Fora do governo central por 14 anos, entre 2002 e 2016, o PSDB demorou a entrar na espiral da Operação Lava Jato. Acompanhou com algum grau de conforto o esfarelamento do PT e de seus principais líderes em meio aos desvios da Petrobras. Mas a operação agora tem todos os elementos para fazer, nos moldes do que está em curso no Rio de Janeiro, uma devassa no maior ninho dos tucanos em todo o país: São Paulo.

Os investigadores têm em mãos um novelo robusto, cheio de pontas soltas. Ao contrário das investigações sobre a Petrobras, já desembaraçadas, essas pontas somente agora começam a ser puxadas. São oito pedidos de abertura de inquérito sobre acusações relacionadas ao universo tucano de São Paulo.

Os relatos detalhados de ao menos cinco delatores do alto escalão da Odebrecht fazem referência às gestões de Geraldo Alckmin (2001-2006; 2011-2017) e José Serra (2007-2010). Eles são protagonistas de um período de hegemonia tucana de 22 anos à frente do governo de São Paulo, iniciada em 1995, com a eleição de Mário Covas. Até hoje, esse período foi interrompido por um breve intervalo de nove meses, em que Cláudio Lembo (antigo PFL) assumiu após Alckmin deixar o posto para concorrer ao Palácio do Planalto, em 2006.

Quando se fala em corrupção no governo de São Paulo, necessariamente os esquemas envolvem tucanos – e de plumagem nobre.

Essa continuidade de atores permitiu à Odebrecht construir relações baseadas em financiamentos por caixa 2 e desvios de contratos públicos, em troca de contrapartidas de interesse da empreiteira. Com isso, quando se fala em corrupção no governo de São Paulo, necessariamente os esquemas envolvem tucanos – e de plumagem nobre.

Serra e Alckmin encabeçam a lista de beneficiados pelas negociatas praticadas ao longo das duas últimas décadas. O que os delatores contam é que os pagamentos feitos a esses políticos – dois ex-candidatos à Presidência da República – envolveram entregas de milhões em dinheiro vivo a cunhado e transferências para contas de amigos no exterior.

A distribuição de propina e acordos para financiamento ilegal de campanha pela Odebrecht em São Paulo, supostamente, envolvia também integrantes da Assembleia Legislativa e membros do Tribunal de Contas do Estado.

Trecho sul do Rodoanel, uma das obras que foram alvo de desvio de dinheiro, segundo delatores da Odebrecht.

Foto: Milton Michida / Divulgação Governo de SP

O coração da Lava Jato no maior Estado do país está em duas grandes obras, presentes cotidianamente na vida dos paulistanos: a expansão do Metrô na capital (ainda com diversos atrasos) e a construção do Eixo Sul do Rodoanel.

“O doutor Paulo disse com clareza que era uma contribuição para campanhas futuras do PSDB.”

Aqui a peça-chave tem nome, sobrenome e apelido: Paulo Vieira de Souza, conhecido no meio político como Paulo Preto. Desde a campanha presidencial de 2010, ele vem sendo apontado como homem-bomba das administrações do PSDB em São Paulo. As delações da Odebrecht corroboram seu papel central no esquema de operacionalização do esquema de desvio de dinheiro público.

Paulo já responde a uma ação penal por suposto envolvimento num esquema de desvio de recursos nas desapropriações executadas pelo governo paulista para as obras do trecho sul do Rodoanel. Agora ele avalia com advogados uma possível delação premiada no âmbito da Lava Jato.

Ele foi nomeado em 2007, por José Serra, diretor da Dersa, a estatal responsável por gerenciar as rodovias de São Paulo. Mas sua principal ligação política era com Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, hoje chanceler e, à época, chefe da Casa Civil do governo Serra.

Com a nomeação, Paulo passou a atuar diretamente nas obras rodoviárias de responsabilidade do Estado. Dentre os grandes empreendimentos do governo, sua atuação mais específica está no Rodoanel. Somente o trecho Sul da rodovia, que circunda a capital, custou R$ 5 bilhões.

Segundo Benedicto Júnior, ex-diretor da Odebrecht, Paulo tinha acordado com a empresa o pagamento de 0,75% dos valores desviados das obras do trecho. E o dinheiro tinha destino certo:campanhas futuras do PSDB, como a de Serra e Aloysio Nunes.

Os desvios aqui, segundo os delatores, foram possibilitados por um decreto do recém-empossado governador José Serra que determinava a renegociação dos contratos com todos os consórcios de empreiteiras envolvidos na obra.

Apenas a cota que a Odebrecht deveria pagar no acerto foi de R$ 2,2 milhões. O montante foi pago, segundo documentos apresentados pelos delatores, para a offshore Circle Technical Company Inc, indicada por José Amaro Pinto Ramos. Ele é amigo de José Serra e apontado como lobista com forte ligação com os tucanos paulistas.

Outra acusação dos delatores ainda em relação ao Rodoanel envolve um outro amigo de Serra, o pecuarista Jonas Barcellos. Conforme o delator Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Soares, ele, Benedicto Júnior e Paulo Vieira de Souza acertaram numa reunião, em 2011, que a empresa iria ajudar a retirar R$ 4 milhões que estavam guardados na casa do diretor da Dersa.

Na campanha presidencial de 2010, a então candidata Dilma Rousseff afirmou, como forma de atacar seu adversário José Serra em um debate na televisão, que Paulo Vieira tinha “fugido” com R$ 4 milhões da campanha.

Soares afirmou que, depois da transferência para a conta no exterior, teve “conhecimento que o valor, embora estivesse na conta de Jonas, pertencia a José Serra”.

Barcellos já esteve envolvido com outro tucano poderoso. Ele foi apontado pela jornalista Miriam Dutra como o responsável por fazer pagamentos a ela por suposta ordem do ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso, com quem teve um relacionamento.

Geraldo Alckmin não queria passar novamente pelo processo burocrático das licitações.

Nas obras do Metrô, a expansão da Linha 2 aparece em destaque nas delações que envolvem os tucanos em São Paulo. Pela Odebrecht, o caso foi acompanhado de perto por Fábio Andreani Gandolfo, então diretor responsável por gerenciar esse contrato.

Ele explicou aos procuradores o contexto de um dos casos de desvio na obra. Visando cumprir promessas de campanha para acelerar a expansão do metrô, o governador Geraldo Alckmin não queria passar novamente pelo processo burocrático das licitações. O contrato original, da década de 90, tinha dez anos e já se tornara obsoleto. Com preços defasados e faltando apenas um ano para seu encerramento, o contrato já tinha recebido 20 aditivos prorrogando a sua validade.

A atualização contratual foi possibilitada, ainda segundo Gandolfo, por meio de um acerto de propina sobre o valor do contrato. Esses pagamentos respeitariam um teto de 4% sobre os R$ 200 milhões do contrato. O valor serviria para abastecer a cúpula dos funcionários públicos do metrô paulistano e políticos do PSDB e do PFL (atual DEM). São citados, especificamente, os deputados Rodrigo Garcia e Arnaldo Madeira.

Linha 2 do metrô de SP, cuja expansão aparece em destaque nas delações que envolvem os tucanos no estado.

Foto: Cris Castello Branco / Divulgação Governo de SP

A propina também teria outros destinatários importantes para facilitar a aprovação das obras. Outros 0,9% do valor do contrato foram para Luiz Carlos Ferreira, que estaria atuando em nome de “representantes do TCE paulista”.

Em seu depoimento aos procuradores da Lava Jato, Gandolfo relata uma reunião com o então presidente do Metrô na qual esse acordo teria sido fechado:

Relato de Fábio Andreani Gandolfo em sua delação à Procuradoria.

Foto: Reprodução

Entre 2004 e 2006, os pagamentos a Frayze David teriam chegado a R$ 10 milhões.

Além desse acerto, Gandolfo diz ter tomado conhecimento, por meio de outro executivo da Odebrecht, Romildo José dos Santos, de que 3% do contrato da Linha 2 também iriam para José Serra.  “Posteriormente, soube que estes recursos eram destinados a campanhas do PSDB e que foram alocados ao projeto para o atendimento de José Serra”.

As obras das linhas 4, 5 e 6 do metrô também foram objetos de pagamento de propina para funcionários públicos, com o repasse mais significativo somando R$ 8 milhões para o então diretor do metrô, Sergio Brasil. Ele teria aceitado alterações sugeridas pela empresa na proposta de parceria público privada referente à Linha 6.

R$10 milhões de contrapartida para Serra, R$10,3 para Alckmin

Os pagamentos ao hoje senador José Serra não se limitaram ao caso do metrô. O delator Luiz Eduardo Soares apresentou ao Ministério Público Federal recibos de 32 transferências feitas para contas indicadas pelo lobista Amaro Ramos – todas na Suíça.

O total repassado, equivalente a mais de R$ 10 milhões, era referente a contrapartidas a Serra, pelo fato de a Odebrecht ter levado os contratos da Linha 2 do Metrô, do Rodoanel e da rodovia que liga as rodovias Carvalho Pinto e Presidente Dutra.

As transferências, nas planilhas de controle da Odebrecht, tinham como beneficiário final o codinome “Vizinho” – uma referência, segundo os delatores, ao fato de Serra ser vizinho de um outro delator do esquema, o ex-presidente da Odebrecht Pedro Novis.

A Odebrecht acertou um pagamento de R$ 23 milhões, referente a 15% do valor da dívida consolidada.

Em outro caso, já às vésperas da campanha de 2010, Serra atuou, segundo delatores, para quitar uma dívida que a Dersa tinha com a Odebrecht desde 2002, àquela altura na casa dos R$ 190 milhões. O débito seria quitado pela Dersa em 23 parcelas. Em contrapartida, a Odebrecht acertou um pagamento de R$ 23 milhões, referente a 15% do valor da dívida consolidada, supostamente para financiar a candidatura do tucano ao Planalto.

Novamente, a Suíça foi um dos endereços escolhidos para os pagamentos. O repasse foi operacionalizado por um outro delator, Carlos Armando Paschoal. O ex-diretor da empreiteira afirma que Serra indicou Ronaldo Cesar Coelho e Marcio Fortes, que eram ligados ao PSDB à época, para tratar das doações. Enquanto R$ 9 milhões foram pagos no Brasil para Marcio Fortes, 6 milhões de euros foram para contas de Coelho na Suíça.

Naquele mesmo ano, o outro grão-tucano de São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, que concorria ao Palácio dos Bandeirantes, também teria recorrido aos cofres da Odebrecht. Foi beneficiário de R$ 10,3 milhões, segundo o relato dos delatores e das planilhas do “departamento de propinas” da empresa. Um dos emissários indicados por Alckmin em reunião com Carlos Paschoal foi o cunhado do tucano, Adhemar Cesar Ribeiro. Ao fim daquele encontro, ele pediu à secretária para passar a Paschoal o contato do cunhado.

“Nenhuma irregularidade”

O senador José Serra, em nota, “reitera que não cometeu nenhuma irregularidade e que suas campanhas foram conduzidas pelo partido, na forma da lei” e que, com a derrubada do sigilo das delações, terá a “oportunidade de demonstrar essas afirmações e a lisura de sua conduta”.

Em manifestações recentes, Geraldo Alckmin tem dito que os delatores “não apontam nenhum ato ilícito do então candidato” e que o relato referente aos repasses para Adhemar Ribeiro, seu cunhado, “deixa claro que ele não presenciou conversa, pedido ou sugestão para a prática de qualquer delito”.

Paulo Vieira de Souza, em nota, afirma que as delações se tratam de “fábulas, mentiras e calúnias”. Segundo ele, as alegações dos delatores são “absurdos com tramas tão frágeis, que desdenham da competência das autoridades e não sobrevivem a uma segunda leitura”. Ele aponta inconsistências referentes a valores e datas nos diversos depoimentos prestados pelos delatores sobre seu suposto envolvimento em desvios.

Representantes de Jonas Barcellos enviaram nota à imprensa afirmando que “as empresas Brasif não comentam processos sobre os quais não tiveram conhecimento”.

The post Serra e Alckmin são os maiores beneficiários da Odebrecht em 22 anos de hegemonia tucana em São Paulo appeared first on The Intercept.

Arkansas Fights to Execute Two Men Without Testing DNA Evidence That Could Exonerate Them

20 April 2017 - 4:54pm

Damien Echols never planned to come back to Arkansas. “These days, I try to look forward,” he wrote in his 2012 memoir, Life After Death. “I’m tired of looking back.” After spending half his life on Arkansas’s death row – he was finally released in 2011 – Echols was “sick to death” of his claim to fame as one of the West Memphis Three. “It’s a title I’d prefer never to hear again,” he wrote. “It does nothing but remind me of hell.”

Echols was wrongfully accused of murdering three 8-year-old boys whose bodies were discovered in the woods in rural Arkansas in 1993. It was the tail end of a bizarre era in American criminal justice, a wave of public hysteria known as the satanic ritual abuse panic, in which numerous people were wrongly sent to prison for lurid — and in some cases nonexistent — crimes against children. Echols, who grew up as a misfit in his small Arkansas town, was accused of being a member of a satanic cult, based on such proof as the fact that he listened to heavy metal, along with the coerced confession of one of his teenage co-defendents, who was mentally disabled. The case inspired multiple documentaries, which transformed Echols’s plight into a cause célèbre. He was grateful for the support, but even on death row the attention eventually took a toll. “My entire life had been exposed for anyone and everyone to examine,” he wrote. “Every day I received letters from people who did nothing but ask the most intimate aspects of my life.” There was one letter, though, that disarmed Echols, from a woman who “apologized for invading my privacy by seeking me out.” That woman, Lorri Davis, later became his wife.

Today Echols lives in New York City, a place that gives him the gift of anonymity. But on Friday, April 14, Echols stood on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol, with Lorri by his side. It was the first time that Echols had returned to the state where he was supposed to be executed, a place that filled him with fear. But he felt he had no choice: After nearly 12 years without an execution in the state, in late February Gov. Asa Hutchinson had signed death warrants for eight men, who were to die in pairs on four separate nights before the state’s supply of a key drug it planned to use as part of its lethal injection cocktail passed its expiration date. These were men Echols had lived with for almost 20 years. When the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty invited him to speak at a rally at the Capitol, planned for Good Friday, he struggled. “My first thought was ‘I can’t. I can’t do this,’” he told reporters. But he knew that if he did nothing, “I would have to live the rest of my life knowing that I didn’t raise a hand to help these people.”

Former Arkansas death row inmate Damien Echols, center, back to camera, speaks at a rally opposing the state’s upcoming executions, on the front steps of Arkansas’s Capitol, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock.

Photo: Stephen B. Thornton/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AP

Pale and tattooed up to his neck, Echols wore a black sleeveless shirt, a black Yankees cap, and sunglasses, which he wears around the clock. Echols spent much of his last decade of incarceration in solitary confinement, which he says destroyed his eyesight, making him acutely sensitive to light. Standing to the side as the rally kicked off, a huddle of press and onlookers crowded around Echols, shoving microphones and cameras in his face — and snapping photos of the actor Johnny Depp, a longtime friend and supporter who showed up with him. In the two days before he arrived in Little Rock, Echols told reporters, he’d slept no more than an hour. He was constantly on the verge of a panic attack, unable to breath, “just realizing that I’m about to come back here, where they tried to kill me.”

The afternoon was hot and muggy. Volunteers in blue T-shirts handed out water bottles. Some held signs over their heads to block the sun. In the crowd, a woman held a posterboard quoting former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who once commuted the sentences of every man on death row, saying, “What earthly mortal has the omnipotence to say who among us shall live and who shall die?” Another sign read “Governor Hutchinson: Don’t Do This.”

At the podium, Rizelle Aaron, president of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, decried the hypocrisy of “Bible-thumping” officials who call themselves pro-life. “We allow politicians to come into our churches for an opportunity to profess their faith and commitment to God in the hopes of gaining our votes,” he said. “They quote scripture from our pulpits and many of them honor God with their mouths. But their hearts are far from God.” Waiting for Echols to speak, a 19-year-old woman named Drew, from Fort Smith, Arkansas, held a sign with his name and a heart underneath. Today she is just one year older than Echols was when he was arrested. “I was young at the time, but I definitely remember [the case],” she said, recounting the details. Echols and his co-defendants were targeted because they were “outcasts,” she said, calling Echols a “living testament” to why the death penalty is so wrong.

Taking the mic, Echols described his fear upon returning to Arkansas and his disgust at the “bureaucratic labyrinth of corruption that passes for a justice system here.” Even after DNA evidence was found to exclude him and his co-defendants, Echols said, “they still kept trying to kill me,” keeping him on death row for two more years.

After the rally, a group of activists and reporters entered the Capitol to deliver boxes of petitions to Hutchinson’s office — 157,593 signatures, to be exact. Furonda Brasfield, head of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, gave the governor’s spokesperson, J.R. Davis, a copy of Echols’s book. And Paris Powell, an exoneree from Oklahoma — a state notorious for sloppy attempts to push through questionable executions — told Davis he spent many years on death row as an innocent man. “I came to this state just for this reason,” he said.

But the governor remained unmoved. Lawyers for the state spent Easter weekend scrambling to respond to subsequent legal rulings blocking his execution plans. On Easter Sunday, Davis took to Twitter to bicker with famed anti-death penalty nun Sister Helen Prejean, who has been relentlessly critical of his boss. Nonetheless, by the night of Monday, April 17, a stay of execution was in place for Bruce Ward, who had been set to die that evening. Don Davis was not as lucky. He had already been moved to a cell adjacent to the death chamber at the Cummins Unit, some 80 miles southeast of Little Rock.

Echols was back in New York on Monday knight, posting on Twitter and Facebook. In interviews, Echols repeatedly described how Don Davis, who was tormented by the crime he committed, brought him food and watched his back. “Without the following people I wouldn’t be here today,” Echols writes in the acknowledgment pages of his book, listing a handful of fellow death row prisoners. Davis is included, along with Marcel Williams, who faces execution on April 24.

J.R. Davis, spokesperson for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, speaks after the news that the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the scheduled April 17, 2017, execution of Don Davis.

Photo: John L. Mone/AP

The plan to kill Davis became embroiled in chaos and confusion. After the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a temporary restraining order earlier that day, his lawyer released a statement celebrating the fact that there would be “no executions tonight.” But state Attorney General Lesley Rutledge immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the stay, ushering in a new round of dread and anticipation. The death warrant for Davis expired at 11:59 Central time. Outside the prison, activists waited for news. As Davis waited to learn whether he would live or die, reporters tweeted about his last meal — fried chicken, strawberry cake — while noting that the state appeared to be operating on the assumption it would kill him. Just after 11 p.m., J.R. Davis told reporters they were moving witnesses into place, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet ruled.

On Twitter, Echols called Arkansas politicians “bloodthirsty.” He retweeted longtime Arkansas journalist John Brummett, who wrote, “I’ve never seen such a powerful official hankering to kill and kill now as is being seen in Arkansas’ political leadership tonight.” But officials failed in the end. Just before midnight, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of Arkansas, keeping the temporary stay in place. No one would die in the execution chamber that night.

ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar and others prepare to carry boxes containing petitions to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office, asking him to stay upcoming executions, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

Photo: Stephen B. Thornton/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AP

The state of Arkansas has not given up its execution plans. But every day they seem to unravel a little more. Tonight, on April 20, officials planned to kill Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, both of whom insist they are innocent. But late Wednesday afternoon, a circuit court judge imposed a temporary restraining order on the state’s planned use of vecuronium bromide, the second in Arkansas’s highly contested three-drug protocol. The provider of the drug, a pharmaceutical company called the McKesson Corporation, accused officials of misleading the company when it sought out the supply, concealing their intention to use it for executions.

The ruling put all executions on hold. Shortly afterward, a second ruling, by the Arkansas Supreme Court, granted a stay to Johnson, with lawyers for the Innocence Project successfully arguing that Johnson has the right to an evidentiary hearing in order to make the case for DNA testing. Lee, too, has the Innocence Project on his side, as well as lawyers with the ACLU. He, too, has fought for DNA testing, to no avail.

The cases of Johnson and Lee add yet another dimension to a system of capital punishment that has been exposed, again, to be profoundly and frighteningly flawed. Beyond the immediate chaos and legal wrangling sparked by Hutchinson’s planned killing spree, the cases of the eight men he originally set to die have exposed the many ugly sides of the death penalty in Arkansas, from the mental illness that pervades death row, to the failures of the clemency process, to a history of botched executions and experimental killing protocols disguised as science. It was only a matter of time, since the risk of executing an innocent person was sure to come up. “When you’re carrying out mass executions, it’s inevitable that innocent people are going to get caught in that net,” Echols tweeted on Wednesday.

Innocent or not, Lee and Johnson also represent a legacy of reserving the harshest punishments for black men accused of crimes against white women. Both were convicted of raping and murdering young white women in their 20s. Both crimes date back to the early 1990s, and both men were tried twice, in an era when Arkansas defense attorneys were woefully ill-equipped to represent defendants facing the death penalty. In 1990, the Arkansas Gazette surveyed 22 local trial lawyers, finding that “half had no capital-murder experience before they were appointed to cases that eventually put their clients on death row.”

In Lee’s case, the records show shocking failures of his defense attorneys, both at trial and post-conviction, which were compounded by egregious conflicts of interest. His trial judge was having an affair with the prosecutor; the two would later get married. The same judge later expressed his regret at appointing a lawyer to Lee’s state habeas proceeding who showed up to court obviously intoxicated. A state prosecutor raised concerns that the attorney was slurring his words, stumbling in the courtroom, and speaking incoherently, while “introducing the same items of evidence over and over again.” Later, the judge told the lawyer that he was unaware he had only recently been in rehab. “If I had known that, I would not have put you on this case,” he said.

Lee was convicted of murdering and sexually assaulting 26-year-old Debra Reese in 1993. Strangled and beaten to death in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas, Reese was struck 36 times with a tire thumper, which her husband, a truck driver, had given to her for protection when he was on the road, according to court records. Lee was arrested the same day. The state’s theory, as summarized by the Arkansas Supreme Court, was that Lee had set out to commit a robbery and “searched the victim’s neighborhood until he found the perfect target for his crime.”

Yet despite ample blood and fingerprints at the scene, virtually no physical evidence was found to match Lee. The case against him relied on eyewitness testimony — now known to be notoriously unreliable — along with two main pieces of forensic evidence. One was an apparent blood spot found on a pair of Converse sneakers Lee was wearing at the time of his arrest. According to the Arkansas Supreme Court, a state serologist “confirmed the presence of blood, but consumed the entire sample, thus removing the opportunity for independent analysis by the defense.” The second piece of evidence was a hair sample thought to come from a black man “and found to be ‘consistent’ with Lee’s based on microscopic examination — a forensic method that has since been discredited,” according to the Innocence Project.

Lawyers this week sought a stay of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court, arguing that the Converse sneakers and hair fibers should be subject to DNA testing, which has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1990s. But their argument was rejected. With Lee’s execution appearing imminent on Wednesday, attorneys moved to introduce evidence to the Arkansas Board of Parole that Lee suffers from “brain damage and significant intellectual disability,” which was never properly presented by previous attorneys. Instead, the temporary restraining order over the lethal injection drug is keeping Arkansas from taking his life.

Protesters rally against Arkansas’s planned execution spree.

Photo: Kristin L. P. Pearson

Until the stay of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court Wednesday, Stacey Johnson, too, had been unsuccessful in convincing the state to consider his requests for DNA testing, with his pleas of innocence falling on deaf ears among the parole board. In a letter to the board members in late March, his local defense attorney, Jeff Rosenszweig, wrote that Johnson “received a raw deal in his case. I believe him to be innocent. At the very least, there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt.”

Johnson was convicted twice, in 1994 and 1997, of raping and murdering 25-year-old Carol Jean Heath, in DeQueen, Arkansas. Her body was discovered at her home by a friend, Rose Cassady, in the early morning hours of April 2, 1993. Heath was in a pool of blood, naked except for a T-shirt. Her throat had been deeply cut. After calling the police, Cassady realized Heath’s two young children were at the house. According to Cassady, Heath’s 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, said, “A black man broke in last night.”

A police officer interviewed Ashley later that day. She told him that she had been sitting on the couch with her mother when “someone knocked on the door.” It was a “black male,” Ashley allegedly said, describing later how the two fought, while she and her 2-year-old brother, Jonathan, hid in the closet.

Johnson did not live in Arkansas at the time, but had returned to DeQueen to attend his father’s funeral. Although he was accused of sexual assault, no semen or other such evidence was found at the scene. As with Lee, the primary forensic evidence against Johnson was a “negroid hair.” It was tested for DNA, with results that could not exclude Johnson. Attorneys unsuccessfully argued that he had a consensual relationship with Heath. While witnesses conceded that Johnson had been at Heath’s home more than once before the crime, at his 1997 retrial, “three witnesses strenuously stated that Ms. Heath had not had a relationship with a black man,” according to a recent appeal.

At his clemency hearing in late March, Johnson argued that his conviction was rooted in racism, which led the state to overlook other leads. “There was a lot of evidence that could have shown that it wasn’t me, but they ignored it,” he told members of the parole board. “They just looked at me, they found the big black guy and the little white person that was a victim and that was enough that they needed.”

As in Lee’s case, the Innocence Project points to several untested pieces of evidence that could have significant probative value — as well as major scientific advances that could yield more accurate forensic results than possible in the 1990s. While hairs thought to belong to a white person were found at the scene, those were never tested. The evidence is important in addressing an alternate theory of the crime. Johnson’s attorneys unsuccessfully pointed to Heath’s boyfriend at the time, a white man named Branson Ramsey, who had a history of abuse. At Johnson’s 1997 retrial, Ramsey’s ex-wife testified that her husband “would punch me or slap me or kick me or bite me.” Particularly notable was her claim that he bit her “on my breast.” Heath, too, had apparent bite marks on her breasts. Ramsey died in 1998. In response to Johnson’s motion for DNA testing last week, the state dismissed the strategy as “a classic case of ‘blame-the-dead-guy.’”

But putting aside the DNA evidence, perhaps the biggest red flag in the case was the state’s reliance on Heath’s traumatized young daughter, Ashley. Though she was found incompetent to testify at Johnson’s first trial, in 1994, Ashley was deemed ready to take the stand for the retrial in 1997. The 10-year-old delivered testimony that seemed heavily influenced by relatives and prosecutors — a fact that alarmed members of the Arkansas Supreme Court who reviewed the case years later. In a 4-3 ruling leaving the conviction intact, the dissenting judges noted that Johnson’s defense attorneys had been denied access to therapist records that showed “Ashley’s stories were profoundly inconsistent and that she had been under considerable pressure from her family and the prosecutor to convict Stacey Johnson.” Among passages they quoted: “The DA says she’s the only one who can ‘keep him behind bars’”; “Her grandmother told Ashley that she ‘has to keep him behind bars,’ because if he gets out he’ll try to kill Ashley next.”

Ashley Heath is now in her 40s. In 2015, the last time Johnson was up for execution, she told the parole board that she no longer believes the death penalty brings justice. “I am tired of re-living [the crime],” she said. “I am ready to put it behind me and move on with my life.”

The sun sets over an Arkansas State Police command post outside the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction near Varner, Ark., on Monday evening, April 17, 2017.

Photo: Stephen B. Thornton/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AP

On Tuesday, April 18, two days before Lee and Johnson were set to be executed, a black man in Louisiana was officially exonerated. Rodricus Crawford was sent to death row in 2013 by Caddo Parish District Attorney Dale Cox, who later made headlines for saying that declining death sentences around the country were a bad sign. “I think we need to kill more people,” he said. Like Hutchison, who is fond of tweeting Bible verses on Sunday, Cox likes to invoke the Bible. In Crawford’s case, he insisted Jesus himself would have supported the death penalty.

Crawford is now the 158th death row exoneree in the country. He is fortunate that the state dropped the charges in his case. Damien Echols was not so lucky. He was only freed after he agreed to take an Alford plea, in which one can plead guilty while maintaining one’s innocence. “It makes no sense whatsoever,” Echols told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on Monday. “The entire reason that it exists is so that the state can’t be held responsible for what they’ve done to you.” As far as Arkansas is concerned, it has never sent an innocent person to death row. “The state still maintains that they are infallible,” Echols said. “They’ve never made a mistake, they’ve never killed an innocent person.”

Yet one case should still haunt the state. In August 1995, amid loud public outcry, Arkansas executed Barry Lee Fairchild, a black man accused in 1983 of raping and killing 22-year-old Marjorie “Greta” Mason, who worked as a nurse at Little Rock Air Force Base. It was, at the time, “the most publicized and contentious death penalty case in modern Arkansas history,” in the words of local columnist John Brummett, who described how, for once, the parole board was “deeply divided” over whether to recommend clemency for Fairchild. Members ultimately voted 4-2 not to do so, with a seventh member of the board recusing herself because of earlier dealings with the case. Still, she wrote a letter to Gov. Jim Guy Tucker saying there were too many “uncertainties” about Fairchild’s conviction.

The Fairchild case became famous outside Arkansas for embodying the enduring problems with capital punishment. A black man with IQ scores as low as 60, Fairchild had been accused of killing a white woman on highly questionable evidence. In an in-depth article revisiting the case before his 1995 execution, the Washington Post described how “in the absence of forensic evidence, the prosecution case hinged almost completely on Fairchild’s videotaped confession.” That statement, in which he admitted to being an accomplice to the crime, had been obtained by a notorious police sheriff named Tommy Robinson, who had a reputation for abuse, as well as for being openly, flamboyantly racist. “When a state prison refused to help relieve the county jail’s overcrowding, Robinson, to generate publicity, took a group of his prisoners to the state prison and chained them to a fence,” the Post reported. “Robinson once was quoted as joking that he treated his black prisoners well, fed them ‘watermelon and chicken,’ according to the National Journal.” With Robinson in charge, a manhunt ensued for the black man who allegedly killed Mason. In March 1983, several dozen police officers surrounded the house where Fairchild was staying. When he emerged, he was attacked by a German Shepherd belonging to Robinson.

Many of the questions about Fairchild’s guilt emerged after the conviction, with evidence pointing to his brother as the real perpetrator. Over the phone, the original prosecutor, Chris Raff, who is now retired, recalled that “at the time of the conviction, it was not controversial.” Raff did not believe the allegations of Fairchild’s mental disability, saying that the facts and players in the case made it “great fodder for media.” But Jeff Rosenzweig, who expresses great respect for Raff, recalls that law enforcement concealed evidence from Raff himself.

Fairchild faced seven execution dates before he died. Then-Gov. Bill Clinton set no fewer than five. At one point, he came within hours of execution, only for a judge to vacate his sentence, based on the conclusion that he never should have been sentenced to die in the first place. Yet Fairchild would die in the end. His numerous habeas petitions forestalling his execution later inspired political efforts to limit the appellate process for people on death row. By the time Fairchild was finally executed in 1995, Clinton had been elected president. In 1996, he signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, dramatically curtailing the habeas rights of people in prison.

The law has been particularly devastating for those claiming innocence while facing execution, including in Arkansas. Speaking to the board of parole at the clemency hearing for Stacey Johnson last month, Rosenzweig tried to explain how AEDPA prevented his client from getting his evidence heard. The “extremely tough standard” it imposed means “only a minuscule percentage of people are able to succeed in federal habeas corpus,” he explained. “That is why we lost.”

 

With its execution plans increasingly in doubt, the state of Arkansas remains undeterred — and a bit desperate. In a statement Wednesday evening, Hutchinson said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the stay imposed by the Arkansas Supreme Court, adding that he would be reviewing his options with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. In a less measured response, a few hours later a pro-death penalty state senator posted the cellphone number of the chief justice on Twitter.

Throughout it all, Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson remained in holding cells next to the execution chamber, awaiting the next decision about whether they will live or die. They are still there. In the meantime, Damien Echols continues to speak out, reminding people to stay vigilant. On Thursday, he tweeted: “The only reason a judge or politician would not allow DNA testing to be done in a case is because they want to kill no matter what.”

Update: April 20, 2017: Shortly after this story was published, the Arkansas Supreme Court lifted the order blocking the state from using vecuronium bromide, clearing the way for Ledell Lee to be executed tonight.

Top photo: Damien Echols, who was released from death row after he was released in 2011, at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., April 14, 2017.

The post Arkansas Fights to Execute Two Men Without Testing DNA Evidence That Could Exonerate Them appeared first on The Intercept.

Temer revela meandros do golpe, mas Jornal Nacional só fala em Lula

20 April 2017 - 4:47pm

Em setembro do ano passado, The Intercept Brasil publicou uma confissão de Michel Temer durante sua passagem por Nova York. O presidente não eleito revelou que os motivos que levaram ao impeachment não seriam as pedalas fiscais de Dilma, mas o fato de ela ter se recusado a adotar o plano de governo neoliberal dos tucanos, rejeitado nas urnas. Apesar da gravidade, ninguém na imprensa ficou escandalizado. Lembremos a confissão:

À época, a grande mídia brasileira fingiu que a declaração não existiu. Pior: teve uma jornalista do Estadão insinuando que The Intercept Brasil teria adulterado o vídeo acima. Para ela, Temer seria incapaz de dizer uma bobagem dessas, já que “ele é professor de Direito Constitucional”. Deve ser mesmo muito duro passar meses defendendo a legalidade do impeachment, debochando da “narrativa do golpe”, e depois ver um dos seus principais articuladores confessando, mesmo que indiretamente, que foi golpe, sim, e que as pedaladas fiscais foram um mero pretexto legal.

Nessa semana, Temer esteve muito à vontade em uma entrevista para seus colegas da Band e deixou escapar uma nova confissão. Dessa vez, o motivo para o impeachment seria outro:

“Em uma ocasião, ele (Eduardo Cunha) foi me procurar dizendo ‘hoje vou arquivar todos os pedidos de impeachment da presidente, porque prometeram-me os três votos do PT no Conselho de Ética’. Eu disse ‘ah, que bom! Muito bom! Porque assim acaba com essa história de que você estava na oposição. (…) naquele dia eu disse a ela (Dilma) ‘presidente, pode ficar tranquila, porque o Eduardo Cunha me disse que vai arquivar todos os processos de impedimento’. Ela ficou muito contente e foi bem tranquila para a reunião.

 No dia seguinte, eu vejo logo o noticiário dizendo que o presidente do PT e os três membros do partido se insurgiram contra aquela fala e votariam contra (Cunha no Conselho de Ética). Mais tarde, ele me ligou e disse ‘tudo aquilo que eu disse, não vale, vou chamar a imprensa e vou dar início ao processo de impedimento’.

Então veja que coisa curiosa! Se o PT tivesse votado nele naquele comitê de ética, seria muito provável que a senhora presidente continuasse.”

Sim, foi isso mesmo o que ele disse. Segundo Temer, quem derrubou Dilma não foi o cometimento de um crime de responsabilidade, mas a recusa dela em não ceder à chantagem de Cunha, cujo único objetivo era se livrar da cassação no Conselho de Ética. A história contada pelo não eleito é, aliás, a confirmação da versão de Dilma para a sua derrubada. Em sua defesa no processo de impeachment no Senado, a então presidenta disse aos senadores:

“A aceitação de meu pedido de impeachment tratava-se de uma chantagem explícita do senhor Eduardo Cunha, com a qual infelizmente vocês se aliaram. (…) As provas deixam claro que as acusações contra mim dirigidas não passam de pretextos, embasados por frágil retórica jurídica. Contrariei interesses. Por isso, paguei e pago um elevado preço pessoal pela postura que tive. Arquitetaram minha destituição, independentemente da existência de fatos que pudessem justificá-la perante a nossa Constituição.”

Ou seja, o atual presidente do país, atolado nas mais graves delações da Lava Jato, confessa em rede nacional que a presidenta anterior só foi derrubada por não ceder às chantagens do seu principal aliado político – um criminoso cujo único objetivo era manter o foro privilegiado para evitar a cadeia. Sem nem corar, o usurpador confirma a tese do golpe defendida por Dilma. E isso, meus amigos, não é a grande notícia do país dessa semana! Os jornalistas da Band aceitaram com tranquilidade, e a repercussão nos dias seguintes foi mínima, irrelevante, para não dizer inexistente.

Faltou espaço para esse escândalo, mas não para Lula no telejornal de maior audiência do país. Mais uma vez, o Jornal Nacional fez o seu recorte sapeca ao noticiar as intermináveis delações da Odebrecht. Na terça-feira (11/04), o dia em que a Lista de Fachin foi divulgada, a edição do jornal surpreendeu e me pareceu bastante equilibrada. Mas, no decorrer da semana, o jornal voltou para a sua programação normal. Enquanto Temer enfrenta uma das mais graves acusações da Lava Jato, quem foi apresentado como o grande vilão do país foi, claro, Lula – o único nome da esquerda com capital eleitoral e que lidera as pesquisas de intenções de voto para 2018.

O site Poder360 analisou o tempo dedicado pelo Jornal Nacional a cada citado na delação durante a semana da divulgação da lista:

Juntos, Dilma e Lula somaram 51 minutos de exposição, enquanto todos os outros somados chegaram a 54 minutos. Mesmo sem estar exercendo nenhum mandato há 7 anos, o Jornal Nacional falou mais tempo sobre Lula do que sobre todos os principais tucanos somados que ocupam cargos públicos importantes – dois senadores e o governador do estado mais rico do país. Mesmo com toda essa pesada artilharia, a rejeição de Lula despencou nas últimas semanas e ele lidera isoladamente as pesquisas.

Não se trata de separar bandidos e mocinhos, culpados e inocentes, mas de apontar de qual lado estão os oligopólios de mídia e quais são os escolhidos para apanhar mais no horário nobre. Não que houvesse dúvidas, mas nunca é demais registrar.

Podem confessar mais mil vezes. Cunha e Temer podem vir a público e assumir textualmente que comandaram um golpe parlamentar que nada irá acontecer.

O colunismo não irá se indignar, o Jornal Nacional não vai dedicar meia hora para o assunto, o Estadão não vai noticiar na capa. Até porque, assim como foram em 64, todos eles são coautores do golpe de 16. Com bem disse o ex-presidente da Câmara –  e atual presidiário – durante a leitura do seu voto a favor do impeachment, “que Deus tenha misericórdia dessa nação”.

The post Temer revela meandros do golpe, mas Jornal Nacional só fala em Lula appeared first on The Intercept.

Border Officials Float Big Ideas for Mining Social Media

20 April 2017 - 4:10pm

President Trump’s plan for “extreme vetting” of travelers coming to the United States puts a lot of emphasis on screening social media profiles. The administration has even floated the idea of asking visa applicants for the passwords to their online accounts, a possibility that drew swift condemnation from free speech and privacy advocates.

But border security officials on a panel at an industry conference in San Antonio last week described ambitions to aggressively mine social media accounts using technology that would work with or without passwords.

“I feel like its incumbent upon us to really do as much or more than we’re doing today in the social media space and in open-source research intelligence,” said Jim McLaughlin, Executive Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Targeting and Analysis Systems Programs Directorate.

The panelists honed in on some specific techniques they wanted the government to adopt, including an improved approach to analytics and artificial intelligence.

“One of the big ticket items is big data, how to automate the process [of]…taking selectors, emails, phone numbers, and mirroring them up to social media profiles quickly,” said Ted McNelis, a consultant with Deloitte who works on counterterrorism screening at CBP.

Albert Davis, who leads screening efforts at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, didn’t just want to be able to use Twitter or Facebook information as part of an extended background check. Really useful, he said, would be automated tools that could use object recognition to identify profiles with ISIS flags in them, or that were “able to characterize the sentiment” of a post.

“They’re using emojis, you know,” Davis said.

The point of the conference, known as the Border Security Expo, was for companies to hawk services to Homeland Security, and the event’s organizer, Thomas Winkowski, a former high-ranking official at CBP and at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who now runs a border security consultancy, reminded the audience that “extreme vetting” offered “lots of opportunities” for helping agencies scrape and sift data.

Social media, he said, was a “huge opportunity there that we need industry’s help with.”

The panelists were divided on how effective it would be to ask passengers outright for their handles or passwords. McNelis said that asking for social media handles on forms — which the CBP started doing last year — or requiring that travelers turn over their passwords was unlikely to thwart many terrorists, and could even be counterproductive.

“While you might get some short wins in the beginning,” he said, “I’m worried that if it becomes required for everybody to submit their social media on forms that they’ll just start deleting them, or they’ll get better at virtual tradecraft.”

McLaughlin defended the decision to ask for social media handles, though he said he would “sidestep the passwords” issue.

“It’s sort of silly for us not to ask for it,” McLaughlin said. “If you’re gonna have an online persona out there and you’re gonna be publishing things, we’re not doing our job if we don’t ask people to provide that information.”

On the Expo floor, companies offering social media analytics weren’t much in evidence, with the exception of Dataminr, which boasts of processing tweets into “actionable information” for government agencies and other users. Dataminr already has contracts with CBP; in 2015, the agency spent $250,000 on accounts for 50 users, and then renewed the software for $570,000 last year.

The Transportation Security Administration, FBI, and other intelligence agencies also use Dataminr, though last year, Twitter, which owns part of Dataminr, cut off the CIA’s access to the tool. And when the American Civil Liberties Union obtained documents showing that Dataminr provided a geospatial data analysis tool to the federally funded law enforcement hubs known as fusion centers, Twitter responded by limiting the data the fusion centers could access, and Dataminr pledged not to assist with “any form of surveillance.” The company also insisted that it did not provide law enforcement with direct access to the “firehose” of historical twitter data, despite the FBI’s contract containing language that suggests exactly that. A Dataminr spokesperson made similar statements to The Intercept, adding that the company’s only product for government agencies consists of “tailored breaking news alerts for first response.” CBP did not respond to a request for comment about how they use the product.

Top photo: Travelers speak to a CBP officer while using a mobile app at an entry point at Miami International Airport on March 4, 2015 in Miami.

The post Border Officials Float Big Ideas for Mining Social Media appeared first on The Intercept.

The Government’s Own Data Shows Country of Origin Is a Poor Predictor of Terrorist Threat

20 April 2017 - 1:15pm

While the Trump administration has struggled to provide evidence to support the need for a travel ban targeting Muslims, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been working since at least 2015 to limit Muslim immigration.

In November 2015, in a letter co-signed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, then-Alabama Sen. Sessions accused the Obama administration of refusing to provide immigration information about defendants who had been charged in U.S. District Court with international terrorism-related offenses.

“It is quite telling that this administration — which seems to have unlimited resources to circumvent our immigration laws and further its executive amnesties — cannot find the time or resources to provide timely answers to these simple questions,” Sessions and Cruz wrote.

So the two senators took matters into their own hands. Using a list of 580 terrorism-related defendants provided by the Justice Department, Sessions assigned the staff of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, which he chaired at the time, to research the country of origin and immigration status of each defendant. The committee staff found that of the 580 terrorism defendants they researched, 375 were born outside the United States. To Sessions and Cruz, this validated their view that terrorism was a largely foreign threat.

In another letter to the Obama administration in June 2016, Sessions and Cruz wrote that the information “makes clear that the United States lacks the ability to properly screen individuals prior to their arrival to the United States. It further makes clear that our nation has a serious assimilation problem.”

The Sessions data, which included country of origin and immigration data for some, but not all, of the defendants, was among the sources used by The Intercept to build a database of international terrorism prosecutions since the 9/11 attacks. (The Intercept intends to keep the database up to date and expand the fields regularly; at present, staff members are researching, among other data, the country of origin for approximately 350 international terrorism-related defendants not found by the subcommittee staff.)

A review of the Sessions data, however, suggests that neither country of origin nor immigration status is a clear indicator of heightened national security concern.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN NUMBER OF PEOPLE United States 73 Pakistan 61 Lebanon 27 Somalia 21 Colombia 20 Yemen 20 Iraq 19 Egypt 17 Jordan 16 Afghanistan 10 Palestine 9 Saudi Arabia 9 India 8 Gaza 7 Syria 7 Morocco 6 West Bank 6 Indonesia 5 Kuwait 5 Canada 4 El Salvador 4 Iran 4 Turkey 4 United Kingdom 4 Albania 3 Bangladesh 3 Guyana 3 Mali 3 Sri Lanka 3 Sudan 3 Tunisia 3 Algeria 2 Bosnia 2 Eritrea 2 Ethiopia 2 France 2 Haiti 2 Kazakhstan 2 Kosovo 2 Libya 2 Nigeria 2 Senegal 2 Singapore 2 South Africa 2 Tanzania 2 Angola 1 Australia 1 Brazil 1 Cambodia 1 Chile 1 Denmark 1 Djibouti 1 Dominican Republic 1 Germany 1 Greece 1 Guatemala 1 Israel 1 Ivory Coast 1 Kuwait – Citizen of Jordan 1 Lebanon – Canada 1 Malaysia 1 Mexico 1 Nicaragua 1 Pakistan – Canada 1 Panama 1 Paraguay 1 Peru 1 Philippines 1 Qatar 1 Russia 1 South Korea 1 Trinidad & Tobago 1 United Kingdom – India 1 Uzbekistan 1 Venezeula 2 Vietnam 1 Yugoslavia 1

In June 2016, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest chaired by Jeff Sessions released data on 580 terrorism defendants, including country of origin for 448, as part of his campaign to limit Muslim immigration. The data shows that national birthplace is a poor predictor of terrorist threat.

While at first blush the Sessions data may seem to suggest disproportionate numbers of terrorism defendants from countries affected by the travel ban, or by immigrants who came to the United States as refugees, the data is incomplete — country of origin is not known for 132 defendants, or 23 percent — and inherently biased by prosecutorial targeting. Following the 9/11 attacks, with the FBI increasing its number of informants in Muslim communities due to a presidential mandate, Muslims became the primary focus of terrorism investigations and, by extension, prosecutions for charges related to international terrorism. Many of these prosecutions were not for serious offenses such as material support or weapons of mass destruction, but instead for nonviolent crimes such as immigration violations or lying to FBI agents.

In addition, the U.S. government segregates terrorism prosecutions into two types — domestic and international. The Sessions data includes only prosecutions related to international terrorism and leaves out all prosecutions of domestic terrorists, who are in most cases born in the United States.

Of the 580 defendants in the list, Sessions’s committee staff found the country of birth for 448 based on open-source research. Of those, U.S.-born American citizens represented the single largest group, with 73 defendants. The second largest group, consisting of 61 defendants, was from Pakistan, which is not affected by the travel ban.

The numbers fall precipitously from there. The third-largest group, consisting of 21 defendants, was from Somalia, which is included in the travel ban. The other countries included in Trump’s travel ban were Iran (four), Libya (two), Sudan (three), Syria (seven), and Yemen (20). Iraq, which was in the first version of the travel ban but not the second, had 19 terrorism defendants in Sessions’s data.

For comparison, 20 of the terrorism defendants in the Sessions data were born in Colombia, the same number of defendants who were born in Yemen. If the travel ban were indeed about restricting travel from terror-prone nations, as the Trump administration has claimed, the Sessions data would in theory provide a compelling case for adding Colombia, a Catholic-majority nation, to the ban list.

The Trump administration’s travel ban, which was established by executive order and affected seven Muslim-majority nations in its first iteration and six in its second, also temporarily blocks refugees from entering the country. Of the 448 defendants for whom Sessions’s committee staffers could find information, 24 entered the United States as refugees. According to the Sessions data, not a single refugee from Syria has been charged with terrorism-related offenses in the United States. Trump’s first travel ban blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely. The current travel ban places a temporary halt on the entry of all refugees.

Neither version of Trump’s travel ban is in effect, following multiple successful court challenges arguing that the executive orders discriminate against Muslims. The Trump administration has filed notice to appeal at least one ruling that halted the second version of the travel ban.

Top photo: High school students protest policies affecting Muslim and immigrant students at Foley Square in New York City, Feb. 7, 2017.

The post The Government’s Own Data Shows Country of Origin Is a Poor Predictor of Terrorist Threat appeared first on The Intercept.

FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links.

20 April 2017 - 1:15pm

Boston Police Capt. Robert Ciccolo was one of the first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings. When his 23-year-old son, Alexander, who had converted to Islam and given himself the name Ali Al Amriki, began telling his father he was “not afraid to die for the cause,” Ciccolo became alarmed. Alexander had a history of mental illness, and his interest in Islam had become an obsession. In October 2014, Ciccolo contacted the FBI about his son.

The federal agents could have monitored Alexander, or perhaps confronted him. Instead, as the bureau does in most such cases, agents launched an investigation. They found Alexander’s Facebook page, listed under his nom de guerre. There was a photograph of a young man in a wooded area wearing a head covering and holding a machete. “Another day in the forest strengthening myself,” the caption read. Another photo on his Facebook page appeared to show a dead American soldier. “Thank you Islamic State!” read the caption.

As part of a sting, an FBI informant contacted Alexander and offered to provide him with guns for an attack. After Alexander collected the weapons on July 4, 2015, FBI agents arrested him and charged him with terrorism-related offenses. As he was being processed at a detention center, he stabbed a nurse with a pen, causing a minor injury. His case made national news, and FBI Director James Comey told reporters that Alexander Ciccolo’s was among several plots related to the Fourth of July holiday that were foiled by counterterrorism agents. “I do believe that our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4,” Comey told reporters during a July 7, 2015, briefing.

Alexander Ciccolo is among 63 men and women who have been arrested in FBI stings targeting ISIS sympathizers, according to an analysis of federal terrorism prosecutions by The Intercept.

Demonstrating the evolving threat of terrorism in the United States, alleged ISIS sympathizers are now the primary targets of FBI stings, upstaging Al Qaeda, the Shabab, and all other terrorist groups. The first ISIS case in the United States culminated in an arrest in March 2014, and the number quickly grew. Fifty-eight people were charged in 2015 for alleged ISIS affiliations. In 2016, 32 FBI cases involved ISIS sympathizers, compared to just one each that year involving Al Qaeda and Shabab sympathizers.

But as with earlier FBI stings that primarily targeted Al Qaeda sympathizers, most of the targets of the bureau’s ISIS stings are aspirational, not operational.

In the majority of ISIS stings, targets were not in direct contact with ISIS representatives and did not have weapons of their own, government evidence showed. Instead, these targets were inspired by online propaganda to join ISIS and either made arrangements on their own to travel to Syria or were aided by FBI informants or undercover agents in their attempts join ISIS or plot attacks inside the United States.

Boston cab drivers rallied before attending a hearing, chaired by Capt. Robert Ciccolo, with Boston Police Hackney Division at Roxbury Community College regarding a proposed fare increase.

Photo: George Rizer/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

After Alexander was arrested, FBI agents read him his Miranda rights. He then sat for an interview with FBI agents Paul Ambrogio and Julia Cowley.

Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, he refused to talk about the guns, but he defended ISIS as a just organization, even as he demonstrated his ignorance about the group. The FBI recorded the interview.

“ISIS claimed responsibility, right, for a lot of beheadings?” Ambrogio asked. “There’s someone who names himself Jihadi John and he beheads people, right? He does it in an online way so that people can see it. So what’s your feeling about that? They represent themselves as ISIS; they’re ISIS. What’s your feeling?”

“The people that you see being executed are criminals,” Alexander answered. “They’re criminals. They’re the lowest of the low.”

According to his family, Alexander, a high school dropout, had battled off and on with alcohol addiction. He was also admitted to a psychiatric institution when he was a teenager.

As a child, he went back and forth between the homes of his father, a stern cop who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and his mother, something of a free spirit. Alexander followed in his mother’s footsteps.

“I raised him Catholic; he was baptized Catholic,” said Shelley MacInnes, his mother. “He stayed with his Catholic beliefs for quite a long time. I would say he is a very religious person and very spiritual, but as he got older, I think he started searching.”

Alexander Ciccolo first gravitated toward Buddhism and spent time at the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburgh, New York. In 2012, he and other members of the Peace Pagoda walked around Lake Ontario to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear power. A photograph from the time shows him wearing a green V-neck T-shirt and holding a handwritten sign that reads: “Peace walk for no more Fukushima.”

Shortly after, he returned to Massachusetts and announced that he would become a Muslim. “One day we were out having dinner, and he went to the bathroom,” MacInnes recalled. “He ran into an imam. … He was so excited. ‘Mom, you’re aren’t going to believe what just happened.’”

Alexander became fixated on Islam and ISIS, and he would talk often with his parents about his newfound beliefs. “He’s always been an investigator, never takes anything at face value,” MacInnes said. “As far as ISIS goes, my personal opinion is that he was investigating the validity of that organization, rather than taking the media’s answer for it.”

Following its sting playbook, the FBI introduced to Alexander an informant posing as an ISIS sympathizer. The informant and Alexander met for the first time in person on June 24, 2015. The young man told the informant that he wanted to travel to another state and use pressure cooker bombs to attack two bars and a police station. Over the course of a week, his plan changed from bombing bars and a police station to attacking a university. He boasted that he knew how to use sniper rifles and had grown up with guns. “I know what I’m doing,” he said.

But Alexander didn’t have any weapons, aside from a couple of machetes. His only would-be bomb components were a pressure cooker purchased from Wal-Mart and some half-made Molotov cocktails.

That’s where the FBI stepped in again. The undercover informant provided Alexander with two assault rifles and two handguns. As soon as Alexander took possession of the guns, FBI agents arrested him, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. He was also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms, owing to an earlier state conviction of driving under the influence.

Alexander Ciccolo, right, along with Buddhist nun Jun Yasuda and Lauren Carlbon, on a peace walk through Brighton, Mass., July 26, 2012.

Photo: Dave Fraser/Metroland Media/The Independent

Whether out of mental illness, immaturity, or naiveté, Alexander Ciccolo professed support for ISIS, but it’s unclear whether he would have posed a threat had the FBI informant not encouraged him and provided him with weapons. In this way, Ciccolo’s case is prototypical of ISIS stings.

In these cases, the FBI provides encouragement and capacity to otherwise hapless individuals.

For example, in a similar case in April 2016, the FBI arrested a South Florida man who allegedly plotted to bomb a Jewish community center. An FBI informant gave James Medina, a homeless man with a history of making baseless threats of violence, the opportunity. It was in fact the FBI informant who first came up with the idea of crediting their attack to ISIS. Farther north, in upstate New York, Emanuel L. Lutchman, another homeless man, told an FBI informant that he had received directions from an overseas ISIS member and was planning an attack, using a machete and knives, on a New Year’s Eve celebration in Rochester. The FBI’s informant provided the $40 Lutchman needed to purchase the machete and knives.

In other ISIS stings, the FBI has encouraged and helped to facilitate the international travel of would-be ISIS recruits. An example is the case of Jason Michael Ludke, a Milwaukee man who made contact with an FBI undercover employee through social media. The FBI undercover employee, pretending to be affiliated with ISIS, encouraged Ludke and his friend Yosvany Padilla-Conde to join the terrorist group. The pair drove from Wisconsin to Texas, where they were arrested. According to Padilla-Conde’s statements after the arrest, they were under the impression that the FBI undercover employee was going to assist them in crossing the border into Mexico and then traveling to Iraq or Yemen. Ludke and Padilla-Conde are facing charges of material support for terrorists.

The analysis of terrorism prosecutions by The Intercept shows that federal judges have wrestled with appropriate punishments for those convicted of ISIS-related terrorism offenses.

Some defendants who were arrested before they had an opportunity to travel to Syria have received relatively lenient sentences. Mohammed Hamzah Khan, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Turkey at O’Hare International Airport. He received about three years in prison. Shannon Maureen Conley, who lived in Colorado, received about four years after she was arrested at the airport in Denver, on her way to Turkey.

At the same time, defendants whose support for ISIS consisted of online activity, such as distributing propaganda on social media, have received comparable sentences to, and in some cases more prison time than, defendants who tried to join ISIS on the battlefield. Heather Elizabeth Coffman, of Glen Allen, Virginia, used several social media accounts to communicate with FBI informants posing as ISIS agents. She was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Ali Shukri Amin, who also lived in Virginia, admitted that he operated a pro-ISIS Twitter account and blog and provided instructions to ISIS supporters on how to use Bitcoin to avoid currency transfer restrictions. He was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison.

But the most significant prison sentences await those who, like Alexander Ciccolo, moved forward with terrorist plots in the United States, even if it was the FBI making them possible. Christopher Cornell, of Cincinnati, Ohio, plotted with an FBI informant to travel to Washington, D.C., and attack the U.S. Capitol. He was arrested as he was leaving a gun store. After pleading guilty to terrorism-related charges, Cornell was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Lutchman, who was involved in the purported plans to attack a New Year’s Eve celebration in upstate New York, pleaded guilty to material support and received a 20-year prison sentence.

It’s still too early to establish conclusive trends about the sentencing of ISIS defendants in U.S. District Courts. Of the 110 ISIS defendants charged, only 45 have been sentenced.

Yet the arrests of ISIS sympathizers continue at a steady clip, even when the targets of stings have proven themselves to be incompetent ISIS recruits.

An example is Mohamed Rafik Naji, of New York, who attempted five times to travel to ISIS territory but never made it. That’s when an FBI informant, posing as an ISIS affiliate, contacted him through Facebook.

The informant told him that ISIS needed someone to attack Times Square with a garbage truck. “I was saying if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck, and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them,” Naji told the informant, repeating the idea. Naji was indicted in November 2016 on a charge of material support for terrorists, the 93rd person to be charged in federal court in an ISIS-related case.

Alexander Ciccolo is now undergoing psychological evaluation; his trial is pending. MacInnes, Ciccolo’s mother, believes he was an impressionable young man manipulated by the FBI and set up with weapons that he never could have obtained on his own. “I don’t think he even knew what his plan was,” MacInnes said.

Top photo: Alexander Ciccolo, 23, also known as Ali Al Amriki, had machetes, a knife, and partially made Molotov cocktails in his apartment when he was arrested in a counterterrorism sting operation.

The post FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links. appeared first on The Intercept.

Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison

20 April 2017 - 1:14pm

Since the 9/11 attacks, at least 30 people convicted of international terrorism-related offenses have become informants and/or cooperating witnesses in exchange for leniency in sentencing, according to an analysis by The Intercept of federal terrorism prosecutions.

Using the threat of criminal prosecution to encourage someone to cooperate is a well-worn tactic that long predates the war on terror. But this tactic has been used to great effect by federal prosecutors in the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. There’s a cruel irony in this system. The misguided men, and sometimes women, who are caught up in counterterrorism stings — where an undercover agent or informant encourages or facilitates plans for an attack — are often sentenced to decades in prison because they have no information to trade. Members of the so-called Liberty City Seven, a group of Miami men who discussed a bomb plot with an undercover informant posing as an Al Qaeda operative, spent six to 13 years behind bars; they couldn’t become cooperating witnesses, because they didn’t know any real terrorists. But the more dangerous a defendant, or the more extensive his contacts with terrorists, the more likely he can leverage his connections for leniency.

One early informant was Mohammed Junaid Babar, an Al Qaeda operative who provided material support to efforts against U.S. forces in Pakistan. In exchange for more than six years of cooperation, Babar received a sentence of time served and 10 years of supervised release. As part of his supervised release, Babar was required to continue to cooperate with the government. His whereabouts have never been disclosed publicly, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has no public record of Babar having entered custody at any point during his cooperation.

The case of Najibullah Zazi offers another example. Zazi trained with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and then mixed beauty-supply chemicals for backpack bombs in a motel outside Denver. He was arrested in September 2009, before he could drive to New York and place those bombs on the subway. Zazi, whose sentence has been pending since he pleaded guilty in February 2010, is currently working for the government as a cooperating witness.

Some of the government’s cooperating witnesses have been plucked from far-flung battlefields. Bryant Neal Vinas, who went by the name Bashir al-Ameriki, was captured in Pakistan. After admitting that he fired rockets on a U.S. military base in September 2008, Vinas turned informant. He provided information about a plot to blow up a Long Island Rail Road commuter train in New York’s Penn Station as well as information about Belgian and French men who attended the same training camp he did. Vinas pleaded guilty in January 2009 to an indictment charging him with, among other offenses, conspiracy to kill Americans and material support for terrorists. His sentence has been pending since then, and there is no record of him ever being turned over to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, suggesting he is in a witness security program.

One of the most colorful and revealing cases of a terrorism defendant-turned-cooperator is that of Earnest James Ujaama, perhaps the most prolific cooperating witness in the war on terror. A would-be entrepreneur with an explosive temper and a penchant for running minor scams, Ujaama became a close associate of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, whom a senior Justice Department official once called “an unrepentant all-purpose terrorist.” But while Abu Hamza is now serving a life prison sentence, Ujaama is free, living in idyllic Berkeley, California, collecting approximately $2,000 per month from the federal government, at least until recently, and looking to tell his story to a receptive audience.

I first heard from Ujaama on November 12, 2015, when he sent me an email. “I’m looking to tell the story of a case that I think you will be most interested in,” he wrote. Later that day, in another email, Ujaama disclosed the primary condition of his cooperation. He wanted me to write a book with him about his life. “I’ve listened to you speak,” he wrote. “I’ve watched your presentation. I like your work.”

In a series of phone and email conversations, Ujaama described how he also wanted compensation for his story. “I don’t pay for access to people,” I told Ujaama.

This sort of back-and-forth continued for months. Sometimes I initiated contact, because I was intrigued by Ujaama’s story. Sometimes he reached out to me, for reasons that were not always clear. Our exchanges always were short-lived. Ujaama is a chameleon-like man who has been many things: entrepreneur, author, college student, religious scholar, newsletter publisher, aspiring movie producer, website designer, even a mule carrying cash into Afghanistan. Now, it seemed, he was attempting to fashion a new career as a terrorism expert, but at his core, the slender 51-year-old with close-cropped hair and braces on his teeth is a hustler — someone who, in the words of one federal judge, always plays “fast and loose.”

During his 13-year cooperation as a witness for the government, Ujaama has testified in two terrorism trials — including that of Abu Hamza, who was also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa — and would have testified in a third had the defendant not pleaded guilty. In a court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Cronan called Ujaama’s cooperation with the government “extraordinary.”

Finally, in October 2016, Ujaama wrote me once again. He was irritated by a 60 Minutes story about Mary Quin, a New Zealander who was kidnapped in Yemen by an Al Qaeda-affiliated group and portrayed by CBS News as the U.S. Department of Justice’s star witness in Abu Hamza’s trial. This was outrageous to Ujaama, because in his view, he was the star witness against the religious cleric with connections to Al Qaeda. “You should come see me. I’m in the Bay Area until November,” Ujaama wrote. We agreed to meet the following month.

Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri addresses followers during Friday prayer near Finsbury Park Mosque in north London on March 26, 2004.

Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Born in Denver as James Earnest Thompson, Ujaama moved to Seattle as a boy. “I grew up under the Black Panthers,” he said in court testimony. By most accounts he was whip-smart, driven, and eager to make a mark on the world.

But Ujaama also had a fiery disposition. Once, when his girlfriend called police and reported that he had a gun, Ujaama got into a scuffle with a cop and broke the officer’s watch. Enacting revenge on his girlfriend for the incident, Ujaama poured a five-pound bag of sugar into her car’s gasoline tank.

In the mid-1980s, Ujaama moved to Pelican, Alaska, to take a job at a seafood company, where he said he struggled with a racist culture there. “I just got tired of being called nigger,” he recalled. One day, frustrated by the racism, Ujaama grabbed a .375 Winchester rifle and shot out the window of the housing unit where he was staying. He went to jail for the incident.

By the early 1990s, he’d returned to Seattle and joined the personal computer industry. Ujaama was a partner in Olympic Computers, which sold IBM clones at wholesale. But the company didn’t last; Ujaama began a scam, telling customers to send him checks so that he would get the money rather than his partner. In all, Ujaama raked in about $10,000 from the ploy.

Then Ujaama switched to writing books, positioning himself as a motivational speaker and community activist. One book, “The Young People’s Guide to Starting a Business Without Selling Drugs,” encouraged young black men to become entrepreneurs. “When a person lacks knowledge and vision,” Ujaama wrote in the foreword, “that person becomes a soldier in the wrong war, an enemy to others and to themselves.”

Ujaama followed these efforts with a work of fiction, “Coming Up,” a semi-autobiographical story about two friends — one becomes a drug dealer, the other a successful businessman. Ujaama moved to Los Angeles in the hopes of turning “Coming Up” into a movie. Although he claimed to have received a commitment for half of the money to produce the film adaptation, the promised funds were contingent on Ujaama raising the second half from other sources, which he couldn’t do. It was a flop, like most of Ujaama’s business ventures.

Despite characterizing himself as an entrepreneur, Ujaama has never run a successful business, at least not according to any measure the IRS would endorse. He has never paid taxes, and in some years did not file tax returns at all. “The understanding I had was that I did not owe taxes,” he said.

At a low point after failing to turn his book into a movie, Ujaama returned to Seattle and converted to Islam in late 1996. Ujaama devoted himself to Islam and moved to England to study under Abdullah El-Faisal, a Jamaican-born cleric who was imam of the Brixton Mosque in South London. Ujaama became something of an apostle for El-Faisal, traveling back and forth from London to Seattle, where he’d sell tapes of El-Faisal’s sermons. Yet rather than providing a portion of the sales to El-Faisal, Ujaama pocketed the proceeds.

While in London, Ujaama married a Muslim woman from Somalia, and they had a child. El-Faisal had taught Ujaama that jihad training was a Muslim’s obligation, so in late 1998, Ujaama traveled to Afghanistan for training. “I was looking to learn physical jihad training, which would include hand-to-hand combat, how to use weaponry, and live as a Muslim,” Ujaama explained later in court testimony. He made his way to a training camp run by a conservative Muslim missionary group. The camp used an aging Soviet-built military barracks, a soccer field, a large artillery gun, and some broken-down tanks. Ujaama received weapons training and learned how to recite the Quran. But he wasn’t much of a militant. One night, while in the bathroom, Ujaama accidentally fired his rifle. He soon fell ill and left the camp after just two weeks.

Ujaama returned to London and continued his studies under El-Faisal. At the time, El-Faisal was badmouthing Abu Hamza, the religious leader in London who would later be prosecuted in New York. Some of El-Faisal’s students asked Ujaama to meet with Abu Hamza and help mediate the dispute.

Abu Hamza commanded a mysterious aura because, well, he looked like a James Bond villain. He had one eye and was missing both of his hands, forcing him to use a prosthetic hook. Born in Egypt, Abu Hamza studied civil engineering before coming to the United Kingdom in 1979. Various stories have circulated about how Abu Hamza sustained his injuries, including one that alleged his hands were chopped off after he was caught stealing in Saudi Arabia. In truth, according to Abu Hamza, he lost his hands and an eye during an explosives accident while assisting the Pakistani military in a road-building project.

Ujaama recalled being “very impressed with Sheikh Abu Hamza” from that initial meeting. After listening to Abu Hamza’s taped lectures, Ujaama turned his back on El-Faisal. “I decided that he wasn’t a good person to follow,” Ujaama said. His spurned mentor began telling people that Ujaama had stolen money.

But it didn’t matter. Ujaama had his new teacher, Abu Hamza, who had a growing international following through the website of his organization, Supporters of Sharia. When Ujaama decided to return to the United States in 1999, Abu Hamza gave him about a dozen tapes of his lectures. The tapes bore Supporters of Sharia’s logo — a shackled man behind bars reaching out of the cell with a Quran in hand. The lectures were “very angry, but serious,” according to Ujaama, who distributed copies in Seattle’s Muslim community. As he did with El-Faisal’s tapes, Ujaama pocketed the profits.

It was during this return trip to Seattle that Ujaama heard about a ranch in southern Oregon. The entrepreneur in Ujaama saw an opportunity: He could build a training camp for Muslims and advertise it to Abu Hamza’s followers. Ujaama sent a fax to Abu Hamza describing his idea, but he also exaggerated the progress he’d made in turning the ranch into a training camp. He claimed he had secured weapons and recruits and had already started to build structures. He asked Abu Hamza to send two men from London to assist him.

Oussama Kassir, center, a Lebanese national and Swedish citizen wanted in the United States on suspicion of plotting to set up a terrorist camp, is escorted by armed police officers to the courtroom in Prague on April 25, 2007.

Photo: CTK/AP

The men Abu Hamza sent were Oussama Kassir, a Lebanese national and Swedish citizen who claimed to have been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, and Haroon Aswat, a slender British man. The brawny Kassir was to be a physical trainer at the camp, while the studious Aswat would act as a religious and Arabic tutor there. They flew to New York on November 26, 1999, and then took a Greyhound bus across the country to Seattle.

After they arrived, Ujaama drove the two men for eight hours to southern Oregon, where Ujaama showed them the ranch. Instead of having the makings of a training camp, it was desolate. There were no stockpiles of weapons. There were no recruits. The only structures were dilapidated trailers.

Ujaama, true to his roots, had been running a hustle. He just needed Abu Hamza’s stamp of approval and support, and he figured if he could get a couple of Abu Hamza’s guys on site, he could line up investments to get the weapons he claimed he already had and start the construction he said was already underway.

But Kassir, realizing that Ujaama had lied about the camp, became angry. “He got in my face and began to point his finger at me,” Ujaama later testified.

His training camp scheme dashed following the argument with Kassir, Ujaama fled back to Seattle, leaving behind the two men Abu Hamza had sent. Ujaama never returned to the ranch.

Instead, Ujaama moved back to London in the spring of 2000 and returned to his studies under Abu Hamza. If the religious cleric was irritated by Ujaama’s overselling of the training camp, or his dispute with Kassir, he didn’t seem to show it. He took in Ujaama as a close aide, and Ujaama began to work on the Supporters of Sharia website, expanding the English-language portion in order to reach non-Arabic speakers.

Eventually Abu Hamza had a mission for Ujaama. He asked him to travel to Afghanistan to deliver money and escort a member of the London mosque, a Ugandan-born British man named Feroz Abbasi. Abu Hamza gave Ujaama a letter addressed to the foreign minister of the Taliban government to guarantee safe passage into Afghanistan.

Ujaama and Abbasi purchased plane tickets and traveled to Pakistan. After checking into a hotel in Quetta, Ujaama snuck away without telling Abbasi and headed to the Taliban embassy. “I decided that because he would interfere with what I was doing,” Ujaama said. At the embassy, Ujaama handed the Taliban representative the letter from Abu Hamza.

The Taliban escorted Ujaama in an SUV across the border and to the Kandahar compound of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan who ran a training camp in Afghanistan. Following Abu Hamza’s instruction, he gave al-Libi an envelope containing 500 British pounds. Ujaama then traveled to Khost to find a girls’ school to deliver another envelope of money, but wasn’t able to locate it. Instead, he encountered a man who wanted to send Ujaama to the front lines in the Taliban’s war against the Northern Alliance. Ujaama called Abu Hamza in London to intercede. “I’m not here for that purpose,” he said.

The call prevented Ujaama’s military conscription, but Abu Hamza asked him about Abbasi. “I left him behind,” Ujaama said. Angry, Abu Hamza demanded that Ujaama go back to Pakistan and bring Abbasi to Afghanistan. Ujaama told Abu Hamza that he would collect Abbasi, even though he had no intention of doing so.

Back at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, Ujaama continued to assist Abu Hamza and work on the Supporters of Sharia website. In early September 2001, Ujaama agreed to travel once more to Afghanistan to deliver money.

On September 11, 2001, on his way to Afghanistan, Ujaama was awoken to the Pakistani military police knocking on his hotel door. “They asked me if I needed protection,” Ujaama recalled. He learned that hijacked airplanes had been turned into weapons in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Abu Hamza wanted Ujaama to continue into Afghanistan and deliver the money, but Ujaama refused. The U.S. military had begun bombing the country. Instead, Ujaama made his way to the United States, with 1,000 pounds of Abu Hamza’s cash in hand.

Ujaama was arrested in July 2002 at his grandmother’s former home in Denver, Colorado. “The government is conducting a witch hunt,” Ujaama said in a public statement at the time. The federal government first held Ujaama on a material witness warrant, then indicted him on material support charges related to the supposed training camp in Oregon.

Though he seemed destined for a lengthy prison sentence, Ujaama’s life was about to take a new turn.

After his arrest, Ujaama followed a path similar to those of other post-9/11 terrorism defendants. As part of a plea deal, Ujaama admitted that he conspired to aid the Taliban. In exchange for a sentence of two years in prison, Ujaama agreed to be a witness in the U.S. government’s prosecutions of Abu Hamza and the two other men who collaborated with Ujaama on the purported training camp in Oregon — Oussama Kassir and Haroon Aswat. In 2004, prosecutors in Manhattan charged Abu Hamza, Kassir, and Aswat with terrorism-related charges.

When they were indicted, Abu Hamza was in the United Kingdom, Kassir in the Czech Republic, and Aswat in Zambia. All three fought extradition to the United States, creating a prolonged legal battle that meant Ujaama would wait years to fulfill his obligation to testify in their cases.

By December 2006, Ujaama grew impatient and frustrated by what he viewed as the government forcing him to testify against Abu Hamza. He fled to Belize, where he hoped he could be reunited with his wife and child, but he was arrested by local authorities. Since he violated his plea deal in Washington, federal prosecutors indicted Ujaama again in Manhattan, this time with additional charges. As part of a second cooperating agreement, Ujaama pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related counts, including a conspiracy to build the training camp in Oregon. He served an additional four years in prison.

Ujaama testified against Kassir in 2009, helping the government to win a conviction and ensuring that the man he’d argued with on the ranch received a sentence of life in prison.

Five years after Kassir’s trial, federal prosecutors finally put Abu Hamza on trial in Manhattan. Ujaama testified for four days in the spring of 2014, describing in detail how he helped his former mentor with the Supporters of Sharia website and newsletter, how he asked him to send two men to the ranch in Oregon, and how he delivered money to Afghanistan.

Abu Hamza was convicted on May 19, 2014, and sentenced to life in prison. He is reportedly in solitary confinement and without his prosthetic limbs.

Haroon Aswat pleaded guilty in March 2015 following the successful convictions of Kassir and Abu Hamza. He received a sentence of 30 years in prison.

On October 23, 2015, Ujaama was sentenced, for the final time, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. “I wish I would have never gotten involved with Abu Hamza,” Ujaama said at his sentencing. “And I think he’s a bad man.”

Judge Katherine B. Forrest said she did not believe Ujaama posed a terrorist threat. If he posed any threat to society, she said, it was “petty fraud or something like that.” She sentenced Ujaama to time served, and in recognition of Ujaama’s years of cooperation with the government, she declined to give him any term of supervised release.

For the first time since 2002, Ujaama was free.

Earnest James Ujaama poses for a photograph at the University of Washington, where he became a graduate student while serving as a government witness in terrorism prosecutions.

Photo: Wikipedia

Ujaama now divides his time between Berkeley and Seattle. He’s collected at least $100,000 in payments from the government for his cooperation and has amassed student loan debt, which, as of late 2015, had reached $86,000. He expects to finish his doctoral studies at the University of Washington.

Following my year of on-and-off exchanges with Ujaama, we met for the first time in Berkeley in December 2016. I agreed to one condition: We’d keep the first day off the record, and then once we’d gotten acquainted, our conversations thereafter would be on the record.

But after speaking with me over coffee and lunch in Berkeley, Ujaama still wasn’t willing to participate in an interview for an article he couldn’t control. After several hours, I told him it was now his choice. I walked toward the Berkeley BART station. Ujaama followed. We chatted for another hour, standing in the train station lobby. I finally told him that if he wanted to be interviewed, he could come see me in San Francisco the next day.

That evening, I emailed Ujaama to give him one last chance to talk, and to let him know I’d be writing about him, regardless of his cooperation.

“Have a safe return home, bro,” was his only reply.

The next week, I sent Ujaama a list of questions for this story. “I’m in the middle of a research project for my doctoral studies and am very busy,” he wrote. He didn’t respond to any of the questions.

Ujaama doesn’t want to be seen as just another snitch in the ongoing war on terror. He clings to a personal brand of exceptionalism that paints him as both a victim of overzealous prosecution and a star actor on the larger stage of U.S. terrorism prosecutions. And while he insists he wants to spark reform, his case best illustrates the injustice of a system that gives light sentences to those who trade terrorist contacts and cooperation for leniency, while sending those with no such connections to prison for decades.

In the meantime, during my discussions with Ujaama, his Wikipedia entry was being updated almost daily with granular detail about his life.

The entry at one point refers directly to the editor responsible for the frequent updates: “This author is in possession of all court transcripts, sentencing memorandums, and primary documents related to United States vs. Earnest James Ujaama,” the entry read, noting that many of the documents are filed under seal. “Most of what is found on the Internet is piece-meal journalism, speculation or theory, and is outdated,” the entry continued.

I sent Ujaama one final question. “Are you the one writing your Wikipedia entry?” I asked. Ujaama never responded.

Top photo: Earnest James Ujaama, a former follower of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, exits the Manhattan U.S. District Court in New York on October 23, 2015.

The post Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison appeared first on The Intercept.

More Than 400 People Convicted of Terrorism in the U.S. Have Been Released Since 9/11

20 April 2017 - 1:12pm

Over the last 15 years, the U.S. government has quietly released more than 400 people convicted on international terrorism-related charges, according to a data analysis of federal terrorism prosecutions by The Intercept. Some were deported to other countries following their prison terms, but a large number of convicted terrorists are living in the United States. They could be your neighbors.

The release of people convicted on terrorism-related charges with little if any monitoring by law enforcement might suggest U.S. government officials believe they can be fully rehabilitated following minor prison terms. A more likely explanation is that many of these so-called terrorists weren’t particularly dangerous in the first place.

Among them is one of the Herald Square bombers, who plotted to attack the New York subway in 2004. Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay, egged on by informant Osama Eldawoody, conspired to plant bombs at the Herald Square station. They drew rough plans on napkins, surveilled the station, and discussed how they might acquire explosives. It was all talk. The two alleged bombers took different paths after their arrests. Siraj fought the charges and went to trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He won’t be released until 2030. Elshafay pleaded guilty and received a comparably modest sentence of five years in prison and three years of supervised release. He’s been a free man since January 28, 2009.

Or consider the case of Wassim I. Mazloum, who was part of an alleged terror cell in Toledo, Ohio, with Mohammad Zaki Amawi and Marwan Othman El-Hindi. The group’s leader was Darren Griffin, a former U.S. Army Special Forces member who became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI following a drug arrest. As part of a sting, Griffin trained the three men to use firearms, watched jihadi videos online with them, and conspired with Amawi in a half-baked plot to smuggle laptops from Jordan to Iraq. Mazloum, who was convicted at trial for his role, was released in April 2014.

Others convicted on terrorism-related charges were more blustery than dangerous. Two of the men who operated the website RevolutionMuslim.com — Jesse Curtis Morton and Joseph Cohen — were released. Morton and Cohen (who went by Younus Abdullah Muhammad and Yousef Mohamid Al-Khattab, respectively) were converts to Islam and encouraged violence against various people, including Jewish-American community leaders and the creators of “South Park.” Cohen was released in August 2016. Morton became an FBI informant and was released in February 2015. He was a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, which described him as a “reformed” extremist, until December 2016, when local police in Virginia arrested him for bringing crack cocaine to meet a prostitute. Because the drug and prostitution arrest violated his parole terms, Morton went back to prison — but he’s scheduled to be released again on April 23.

Some of the more than 400 people convicted on terrorism-related charges and freed since 9/11 appear from government evidence to have been involved in genuine plots or to have been connected to dangerous actors. For example, Hassan Abu-Jihaad was a Navy signalman who was convicted at trial of providing material support to Al Qaeda by disclosing the location of the USS Benfold in an online forum. Using coded language, he also provided an FBI informant with information about the movements of U.S. Navy ships. He was released in January 2016.

Still others are quietly reintegrating into society through halfway houses, or “residential re-entry management centers,” in the language of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, for instance, was once in the national spotlight as the co-conspirator of Colleen LaRose, better known by her online moniker, “JihadJane.” LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez were part of a small group that went to Ireland and plotted to murder Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist best known for his drawing of the Prophet Mohammed’s head on the body of a dog. In Ireland, Paulin-Ramirez married Ali Charaf Damache, who was arrested in Spain in December 2015 on a U.S. warrant alleging he was a terrorist recruiter. While Damache was fighting extradition from Spain, Paulin-Ramirez was finishing her prison term in a halfway house in Philadelphia, where she was released on March 21.

In the war on terror, U.S. District Courts have represented the primary stage of what can fairly be described as national security theater. With a near-perfect record of conviction, the Justice Department since the 9/11 attacks has hauled into court nearly 800 people on terrorism-related charges. While Justice Department and FBI news releases and press conferences heralded the arrests of such defendants, the U.S. government has said precious little about the hundreds of people convicted on terrorism-related charges who have been released back into the United States or deported to their home countries. During the remainder of President Donald Trump’s first term in office, for example, 67 people convicted on terrorism-related charges are scheduled to be released, according to The Intercept’s data analysis.

Those being released today, and the ones who will be released tomorrow, were yesterday examples the U.S. government held up as thwarted enemies caught by newly aggressive counterterrorism agents. One-fourth of those so far released were targets of FBI sting operations, in which an informant or undercover agent, posing as a terrorist operative, provided the means and opportunity for otherwise incapable individuals to move forward in terrorist plots. In congressional testimony, FBI Director James Comey and his predecessor, Robert Mueller, have specifically mentioned foiled plots from sting operations as examples of jobs well done, all part of a larger, ongoing pitch to justify to Congress and the public the more than $3 billion the FBI spends every year on counterterrorism efforts.

The FBI declined to answer specific questions about the release of people convicted on terrorism-related charges and did not provide any information about programs or policies to monitor those who have been released. “The FBI’s mission is to stay ahead of threats to the U.S. and its interests in order to protect the American people and uphold the U.S. Constitution,” FBI spokesperson Carol Cratty said, offering instead a blanket statement. “It is our duty to follow up on information we receive by using all lawful investigative techniques and methods to ensure public safety.”

The so-called Liberty City Seven case is indicative of how the U.S. government plays up the dangers of terrorism defendants when they are arrested but then never acknowledges that such purportedly dangerous individuals are routinely returned to their homes in the United States, in some cases just a few years after their arrests. As in other stings, the defendants in the Liberty City Seven case had no connection to terrorists. An undercover FBI informant, pretending to be an Al Qaeda agent, was the only alleged connection to terrorism. The case, one of the earliest of the FBI’s informant stings, was sloppier than most as well, because much of the bureau’s evidence seemed to support the men’s steadfast assertion that they were street hustlers trying to scam a big-talking Middle Easterner out of his money, not terrorists on the make. In fact, despite the government’s efforts to obfuscate this inconvenient fact, the seven men weren’t even Muslim; they considered themselves members of the Moorish Science Temple, blending together elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in their belief system.

“The Liberty City case was a bellwether for the FBI and the Justice Department,” said James J. Wedick, a former FBI supervisory agent who was hired by the defense team to review the evidence. “If they could get convictions based on a thin case like this, they had a green light to be even more aggressive with terrorism stings.”

Members of the media stand outside the warehouse raided by the FBI in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Florida, June 23, 2006.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 2004, the brothers Burson and Rothschild Augustin lived in a Miami apartment above Narseal Batiste. Batiste, a former Chicago street preacher, operated a small drywall and construction business and considered himself a student of Western religions, studying the Old Testament, New Testament, and Quran. Inspired by the Guardian Angels he had seen patrolling in Chicago, Batiste also fashioned himself something of a community activist and guardian.

The Augustin brothers joined up with Batiste and, along with a half-dozen others, worked in his drywall business and together rented a warehouse in the Miami neighborhood known as Liberty City, where they offered martial arts training and religious studies to neighborhood kids. They called themselves the “Seas of David” and would sometimes wear military-style uniforms as they marched through the streets. The group was largely Batiste’s personality cult. He described himself as the “divine leader” and suggested once that “man has the authority to, on a certain level, be God.”

A Yemeni man named Abbas al-Saidi ran a convenience store in Miami that Batiste and his guys frequented. Al-Saidi, who had worked as an informant for the New York Police Department, got in touch with the FBI and reported a suspicious group of men from Liberty City, who he claimed had sent him to Yemen to make connections with Al Qaeda. FBI agents turned al-Saidi into a paid informant, and on instructions from the bureau, he introduced Batiste to a second informant, Elie Assaad, who was posing as a representative of Osama bin Laden. Assaad was a seasoned hand for the FBI, having conducted another terrorism sting in South Florida that lured a young man named Imran Mandhai into a bomb plot. (Mandhai was released from prison in March 2015 and deported to Pakistan.)

For Batiste, who is now incarcerated in a low-security facility in Texas, what happened next was nothing more than a street hustle; according to the U.S. government, the interaction between Batiste and Assaad was far more sinister.

“Al-Saidi made it perfectly clear that he was dealing with the police, and if we played the game the way he would lay it out, we’d be able to get a certain amount [of money] and then just basically break off and just go about our business and do all the things that we wanted to do,” Batiste said in a phone interview from prison.

FBI video footage of a meeting between Narseal Batiste and Elie Assaad, an informant posing as a representative of Osama bin Laden.

Batiste and Assaad met in a hotel room to discuss their future together. A hidden FBI video camera recorded their meeting. Following al-Saidi’s advice to dress the part of a Muslim extremist, Batiste wore what appeared to be a turban and carried a walking staff. He looked more like a Halloween partygoer than an Al Qaeda operative. “I’ve never met someone like you,” Batiste confessed to Assaad. “Someone on a mission.” They both sat at a table, where Assaad was eating a room service meal.

“I am a man that is determined. Whether I get any help from you or not, I’m going to do what needs to be done,” Batiste continued in the video, being as vague as possible. “And I’m well on my way of accomplishing that. I’m not far right now.”

“You’re not far? So I’m not wasting my time,” Assaad said, holding a french fry. He then added: “They didn’t bring me from over there just to hear words. I will see some action, or no?”

“Yeah, you’re not wasting your time,” Batiste said. “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Inside the Liberty City warehouse rented by the FBI for Narseal Batiste and his friends, viewed through a hole in the door, June 23, 2006, Miami, Florida.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But the Liberty City Seven plot consisted mainly of words. Assaad kept promising to transfer $25,000 to Batiste, who in turn said what he needed to say to string along Assaad. They talked about a harebrained plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago. Batiste even boasted he could raise an army in Chicago. As time went by and no money arrived from Assaad, however, Batiste and his group became frustrated. So the FBI, through Assaad, rented them a newer, larger warehouse, complete with a refrigerator stocked with food and a new van they could use — all to keep them on the hook and to keep them plotting.

“At that time, we were just thinking, OK, we got the warehouse, and then inside the warehouse, they had food and everything,” Rothschild Augustin remembered. “Like frozen food, fish and stuff. So we were thinking, wow, the money is coming. Then they had a van in there. So we were thinking that all that was ours, so we just kept going along with it.”

The FBI had wired the new warehouse with cameras. Once they were in the warehouse, Assaad asked Batiste and his guys to swear a “bay’at,” or oath of allegiance, to Al Qaeda.

“It was kind of like we got blindsided. We just show up and, ‘Hey, you are going to take this oath.’ What? What oath? Whatever, we just went through it, uncomfortable,” Rothschild Augustin said.

Batiste was still trying to do whatever was necessary to sucker Assaad out of his money. Here was a guy giving them a warehouse, a van, and a promise to provide $25,000. So what if they had to pledge an oath like Boy Scouts? Each of the men stood before Assaad, gave his name, and then pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. The hustle was finally working, everyone thought.

“The so-called bay’at, oath thing, that was placed upon us — all that was basically acting, just making up stuff,” Batiste recalled.

After the oath, Assaad asked Batiste to do one more thing: take pictures of the FBI office and federal courthouse in Miami. So Batiste and two of the guys gamely drove around Miami taking photographs from their van, with a camera provided by the FBI.

FBI video footage of Elie Assaad administering an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda.

At this point, Batiste’s spiritual adviser, a Chicago preacher named Sultan Khan Bey of the Moorish Science Temple, arrived in Miami and the case transformed into theater of the bizarre. An FBI surveillance vehicle recorded Batiste and his guys picking up Khan Bey and his wife, both dressed in colorful flowing African-inspired garb, from the airport in Fort Lauderdale.

When Batiste explained to Khan Bey what had been happening — the generous Arab guy who gave them a warehouse with a refrigerator full of food in exchange for the oath and taking a few pictures — Khan Bey told the group what should have been obvious all along: They were fools being played by the feds. Khan Bey then held a trial of sorts for Batiste, banished him, and took possession of the warehouse and control of the small group. Another of Batiste’s spiritual advisers, Master G.J.G. Atheea, who unbeknownst to the others had agreed to wear a wire for the FBI, confronted Khan Bey at the warehouse and advocated for Batiste’s return as leader of the group. An argument erupted, and Khan Bey grabbed a gun and shot at Atheea, narrowly missing him.

The gun was legal and registered to Lyglenson Lemorin, a Haitian-born member of the group who had carried it for security detail work in the past. Lemorin had mistakenly left the gun at the warehouse, where Khan Bey found it.

Miami police arrested Khan Bey for the shooting, and federal prosecutors took over the case. Khan Bey cooperated by talking to agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It wasn’t his first run-in with the law. Khan Bey had been convicted of rape in 1977 and attempted murder in 1973. He pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a sentence of 14 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, with the stipulation that his sentence be served at a facility near his home in Chicago.

During the madness in Miami, the group was falling apart. Lemorin, frustrated by Batiste and his ill-conceived scam, moved to Atlanta. Some of the other guys began to distance themselves from Batiste after the oath, believing he’d pushed the hustle too far. Patrick Abraham ignored all the folly around him by focusing on jobs with the drywall company.

Patrick Abraham now lives in Haiti, where he teaches English at a school in Port-au-Prince.

Photo: Trevor Aaronson

On June 22, 2006, Abraham was driving to a worksite when he saw a Chevrolet Suburban accelerate past his van and then quickly stop in front of him. “I see people come out of everywhere and pull out guns, aiming at my window,” Abraham remembered. After the FBI agents rushed the car, one asked Abraham a question that perplexed him: “Do you have a bomb in the car?”

“What?” Abraham asked, confused.

“Do you have a bomb in the car?” the agent repeated.

Abraham shook his head, exasperated. “Go ahead with the bullshit, man,” Abraham said, giving the agents permission to search his vehicle.

The others were arrested in similarly dramatic ways. Seven agents, for example, arrested Rothschild Augustin while he was shopping for clothes.

After their arrests, the FBI brought each of the Liberty City Seven individually into interrogation rooms at the bureau’s Miami office. Stanley Phanor, one of the guys who had remained loyal to Batiste throughout, didn’t understand why he had been arrested when he wound up in an interrogation room. A slender, soft-spoken man of Haitian descent, Phanor had gone by the nickname Sonny since he was a child. In the indictment, prosecutors listed him as “Brother Sunni,” perhaps as a way of making him seem more menacing and Islamic.

None of the men accepted a plea deal, and they all stood trial together. The case was bullshit, they agreed. The first trial resulted in a hung jury for six of the seven defendants. Because he’d abandoned the group during the sting, Lemorin was acquitted — but was immediately detained by immigration officials for deportation.

“On the one hand, they just seemed like a hapless group of guys and their defense all along was that they were just going along with it because they were going to rip off [the FBI informant],” said Jeffrey Agron, who was the jury foreman. “There were a fair number of people on the jury who believed that it was a scam. … On the other hand, when asked to pledge an allegiance to Al Qaeda, they did it. When asked to take pictures for the plot, they did take the pictures.”

Family members of the Liberty City Seven look on during a news conference on June 29, 2006, at the warehouse in Miami where the FBI arrested most of the men.

Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP

It took three trials to convict five of the seven men. While Lemorin was acquitted in the first trial, Naudimar Herrera, a bit player in the group, was acquitted following the third trial. But five others — Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Phanor, Burson Augustin, and Rothschild Augustin — were convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, among other charges, and sent to prison. Following their convictions, Jeffrey Sloman, who was then the acting U.S. attorney in Miami, said the prosecution “helped make our community safer by rooting out nascent terrorists before they could carry out their threats.” The convicted men received sentences ranging from six to 13 years. If the Justice Department thought the men were dangerous, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons seemed to disagree. The Liberty City Seven members were incarcerated in medium and minimum security facilities once in BOP custody. The FBI paid Assaad $85,000 and al-Saidi $21,000 for their work on the sting.

Burson Augustin was the first of the convicted Liberty City Seven defendants to be released, on September 21, 2012, after serving six years in prison. Instead of returning to Miami, he chose to move to Fort Myers, where he had an aunt and where no one else knew him. “I thought my best bet is to go to a place I don’t know,” Augustin said. “To get a fresh start.”

A well-built man who wears thick dreadlocks pulled back into a ponytail, Augustin tried to make an honest living in Fort Myers, but he found it impossible to land a job with a terrorism conviction on his record. So Augustin went back to his old trade, hustling, and was soon busted for dealing cocaine. Because he was on supervised release at the time of the drug deal, his case went to federal court and he was sentenced to another four years in prison.

Lemorin, a Haitian national who had fathered two children in Miami, fell victim to a unique kind of double jeopardy. After being acquitted in the first trial, the evidence from that trial was used against him in immigration court. It proved enough to justify his deportation order.

His deportation was delayed because of the 2010 earthquake, which devastated Haiti. But one year after the earthquake, with the island still recovering from the destruction, Lemorin was on one of the first deportee planes to Port-au-Prince. In some ways, despite being acquitted, his punishment was in line with that of the other defendants: Between the time he was in a holding cell awaiting trial and his time in an immigration detention center, Lemorin spent nearly six years behind bars.

When he arrived in Haiti, he found himself detained yet again. Not knowing who among the deportees was a violent criminal and who wasn’t, Haitian officials threw everyone into detention cells. Those whose families had money could offer bribes to get loved ones released. The ones without family or means were at the mercy of Haitian officials in a filthy prison where cholera was spreading and some detainees had already died.

“There’s feces everywhere,” Lemorin remembered. “Feces on the wall, feces on everything, feces on the place where you take a shower.”

When Lemorin finally got out of detention, his relatives in Leogane gave him a small plot of land on which to live. His mother in Miami collected old cellphones and other electronics and shipped them to Lemorin, who sold them to buy the concrete and rebar to build his new home. He only has walls around the bedroom, but the foundation is laid. In time, he hopes to build up the walls around a small living room and kitchen.

In the United States, he was not only forced to leave behind his mother, but also his son and daughter. In April 2011, Lemorin learned that his 15-year-old son, Lukenson Lemorin, had been killed in a car accident in Miami. U.S. authorities denied Lemorin’s visa application to attend the funeral, he said, and he was forced to observe the service through a grainy Skype connection.

“I got robbed of my son’s life because I beat the case,” Lemorin said, tears welling in his eyes. “Twelve jurors found me not guilty. … And when I’m supposed to be home with my son, I’m in Haiti, deported, sent back for the same trial I beat.”

Two years after arriving in Haiti, Lemorin learned that his old friend Patrick Abraham had also been deported. Patrick had only distant relatives to help him in Haiti. But he had Lemorin, who offered to share his one-bedroom home. On a recent evening, Abraham brought home a watermelon from Port-au-Prince. They sliced up and ate the watermelon together as they watched the kids from the village playing soccer with a deflated ball. Impoverished and isolated from the rest of the world, the pair seemed the world’s least probable terrorists.

For his part, Lemorin isn’t bitter about his circumstances. He doesn’t blame the United States. “I love America,” he said. “America is a great country. But what happened to us, it’s not America that did it. It’s not America — it’s a few people in America that others put their trust in.”

Burson Augustin is now back in South Florida, where he is trying to rebuild his life after serving a decade in prison.

Photo: Trevor Aaronson

About 700 miles away, in Miami, the rest of the Liberty City Seven are mostly together. Burson and Rothschild Augustin live in a small studio apartment in Broward County, north of Miami. Burson landed a job as a valet on Miami Beach; these days, having learned from his experience in Fort Myers, when he fills out job applications, he just leaves the question about felony convictions blank. It’s best not to try to explain. Rothschild has bounced from job to job; he’s done stints sewing body armor in a factory in an industrial part of town and working in a juice bar in a trendy section of Miami.

Stanley Phanor was released on June 28, 2016, after a short stay at a halfway house. He’s living with his mother in Little Haiti, where Burson and Rothschild Augustin sometimes visit. If the FBI is at all concerned with members of an alleged terror cell associating again in the city of their crime, the three are unaware of it. The Bureau of Prisons does not treat the release of people convicted on terrorism-related charges any differently than that of other criminals, and the FBI does not have a program to track and monitor released terrorists, at least not that it has acknowledged publicly. Phanor and the Augustin brothers haven’t been prohibited from seeing each other, and none of them have seen anything to suggest they are under physical surveillance. As far as they can tell, no one is paying any attention to them at all.

They’ll have a new addition soon. The Liberty City Seven’s alleged ringleader, Narseal Batiste, will be released to a halfway house this summer, a little more than a decade after he purportedly tried to wage a ground war against the U.S. government.

Reporting for this story was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Top photo: A search by the FBI of what it called a terror group’s headquarters in Miami, pictured on June 27, 2006, did not yield explosives or attack blueprints.

The post More Than 400 People Convicted of Terrorism in the U.S. Have Been Released Since 9/11 appeared first on The Intercept.

Luislinda Valois, Michel Temer e o beija-mão para ser esquecido

20 April 2017 - 12:41pm

Circulou pelas redes sociais, há algumas semanas,  a hashtag #meuprofessorracista, com depoimentos estarrecedores sobre casos de racismo vivenciados por estudantes negros e negras de todo o Brasil. Do nível fundamental ao superior, foi interessante perceber o quanto ainda está presente o pensamento higienista e eugênico que norteou a política de implantação da escola pública brasileira que, em vez de profissionais da educação, teve médicos como seus principais articuladores.

Sofrer racismo na escola, entre outras coisas, é a causa de evasão e baixo rendimento escolar, mas, em alguns casos que considero mais exceção do que exemplo, serve como impulsionador de uma “vingança” contra o/a educador/a racista. Provar que ela/a estava errado/a pode se combinar com outros elementos e levar ainda mais além a trajetória de vida daqueles que não se conformam com o lugar predestinado do subalterno.

Isso pode ter acontecido, por exemplo, com a ministra dos Direitos Humanos, Luislinda Valois. Aos  9 anos, ela passou por uma situação que poderia ter feito parte do meme. Neta de escravos, filha de mãe lavadeira e costureira e de pai motorneiro, ela conta que, certa vez, ao não ter dinheiro para comprar material, um professor disse que deveria então parar de estudar e ir aprender a fazer feijoada na casa de brancos. Em um primeiro momento, chorou, mas enfrentou o professor e disse que um dia se tornaria juíza para poder mandar prendê-lo.

 A educação dos pobres brasileiros sempre esteve ligada à vontade das elites.

Continuou estudando e prestando concursos, tornou-se advogada, juíza, desembargadora, e é dela a primeira sentença condenatória de racismo no Brasil. Em 1993, deu ganho de causa à empregada doméstica Aíla de Jesus em uma ação contra o supermercado Olhe Preço que, injustamente, a acusou de roubo.

Analisando a trajetória de vida e o histórico profissional de Luislinda Valois, fica muito difícil compreender a declaração que deu na semana passada, conferindo a Michel Temer o título de padrinho das mulheres negras brasileiras. Para entender o que a garota inteligente e inquieta deve ter passado durante o período escolar, e que pode ter influenciado no episódio, quero falar um pouco da implantação da escola pública brasileira.

A educação dos pobres brasileiros sempre esteve ligada à vontade das elites de instaurar o que chamavam de “ordem civilizatória nos trópicos”, contaminada pelas teorias raciais que tentavam explicar as desigualdades sociais através das diferenças biológicas entre as raças. Os objetivos do higienismo escolar eram: regenerar o caráter, combater os vícios, transformar os interesses individuais em coletivos, incutir o cumprimento do dever e o amor ao trabalho, criar o sentimento nacional e aperfeiçoar a raça. Alunos e alunas negras, independentemente da capacidade de aprendizado, eram considerados, de antemão, inaptos a terem o mesmo rendimento dos alunos brancos, independentes de sua classe social.

O estilo próprio dos pioneiros da educação no Brasil transformou o sistema público emergente em espaços nos quais séculos de supremacia branca europeia foram reescritos nas linguagens da ciência, do mérito e da modernidade. As escolas que eles criaram foram desenhadas para imprimir a visão de uma elite branca de uma nação brasileira ideal em crianças negras e pobres, que era a substância desse ideal.”, escreveu Jerry D’Ávila, no livro Diploma of Whiteness – Race and Social Policy in Brazil(sem tradução no Brasil).

Não por acaso, esse sistema de ensino público foi desenvolvido pelo Ministério da Saúde e da Educação, coordenado por médicos e cientistas sociais, como Arthur Ramos e Bastos D’Ávila. No departamento de Ortofrenologia e Higiene Mental e do de Antropometria, usando teorias que combinavam psicologia freudiana, criminologia e antropologia italianas, a partir das ideias de Lombroso, os alunos eram submetidos a testes que visavam “provar” sua inferioridade através de uma suposta degeneração racial, como o Terman Group Test, o Dubois Cephalization Index ou um sistema de medidas chamado de Lapicque Index, que visava detectar características africanas latentes em alunos brancos.

Luislinda Valois “se vingou” e chegou lá. É por isto que, mais do que revolta, sua fala provocou em mim um certo constrangimento.

Esse contexto é importante para entender o que continua acontecendo nos dias atuais. Quem der uma busca na hashtag #meuprofessorracista vai perceber que a maioria dos relatos falam de professores que continuam duvidando da capacidade intelectual de alunos e alunas negras. E, infelizmente, acredito que tal comportamento continuará existindo por mais um bom tempo, à revelia da presença e das histórias de vida de vários negras e negras que, apesar de vários obstáculos, “chegaram lá”.

Luislinda Valois “se vingou” e chegou lá. É por isto que, mais do que revolta, sua fala provocou em mim um certo constrangimento. Ela disse que as mulheres negras, mães e avós, teriam-na incumbido de conceder a Michel Temer o título de padrinho das mulheres negras brasileiras. Dentre as que conheço, a revolta foi generalizada, inclusive com manifestações públicas e contundentes de coletivos e associações de mulheres negras.

O meu constrangimento fica por conta de ver ali uma mulher negra que, independentemente de seu posicionamento político, parece ter se esquecido da menina que não se curvou frente ao professor que a condenava. Diante de uma plateia indiferente e totalmente branca, Luislinda se emocionou e chorou. Curvou-se, agradecida, para um político que nem mesmo teve a decência de convidá-la pessoalmente para ocupar o cargo de titular da Secretaria tratada como Ministério, deixando a comunicação a cargo do porta-voz.

Luislinda Valois está onde está a despeito das políticas eugenistas do governo brasileiro e, principalmente, a despeito – e não por causa – de homens como Michel Temer, que em diversas ocasiões já se provou machista e desenvolve atualmente políticas públicas nas quais as maiores prejudicadas serão as mesmas de sempre: as mulheres negras.

Um beijão-mão equivocado e desnecessário, um momento constrangedor que só encontra explicação no racismo estrutural que de vez em quando pode afetar mesmo os mais bem preparados para enfrentá-lo. O que vemos ali naquele vídeo é uma mulher negra, ativista, vencedora, pedindo o apadrinhamento de um homem branco com uma trajetória muito menor e menos digna do que a dela. Não precisava. Nunca precisou.

The post Luislinda Valois, Michel Temer e o beija-mão para ser esquecido appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Should Let Us See Alleged Documents Showing Russian Plans to Sway the U.S. Election

20 April 2017 - 11:56am

According to a new Reuters story, the U.S. government possesses two documents produced by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow that lay out “a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system.”

Reuters states the Russian think tank “is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office” and that the documents “circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government.”

Because Reuters says that its knowledge of the alleged documents is based on descriptions by seven anonymous U.S. officials, and that the documents are classified, the story will inevitably become a political football with furious claims and counterclaims on all sides based on no public evidence.

But there’s a simple solution to this problem: Donald Trump can use his power as president to order the government’s intelligence agencies to declassify any such documents and let Americans judge for themselves.

Curiously enough, almost none of the government’s labyrinthine classification system has any basis in laws passed by Congress. Instead, it’s all based on presidential executive orders and, as the Supreme Court has held, “the constitutional investment of power in the president.”

This means that Trump — and only Trump — can declassify anything he wants at any time. In theory he could obtain any documents like those described by Reuters and immediately put them on the White House website.

To date, however, Trump has declined to use his power to make any evidence on this general subject public. During an April 5 interview, the New York Times asked whether he would “declassify some of the information” regarding his claims that former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice improperly obtained surveillance involving Trump campaign and transition officials. Trump responded, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was also asked last month why Trump had not declassified any evidence supporting his Twitter claims that Trump Tower was surveilled during the presidential campaign. Spicer responded that “we want Congress, the intelligence committees to do their job in terms of making sure that there’s a separation of powers.”

White House officials have ignored my repeated questions asking whether Trump will use his declassification authority to clear up various aspect of the Russia issue, including this one. Here’s a list of my failed attempts:

Wednesday, February 15: Email to Lindsay Walters, White House deputy press secretary, asking for comment for this article. Walters did not respond.

Friday, February 17: Phone call to White House press assistant Giovanna Coia, who directed me to email Walters and principal deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Friday, February 17: Email to Walters and Sanders specifically requesting an interview with Trump or anyone else available. Sanders responded with email cc’ing senior assistant press secretary Michael Short and asking him “to handle.” Short did not respond.

Sunday, February 19: Follow-up email to Short. He did not respond.

Tuesday, February 21: Follow-up email, call, and text to Short. He did not respond.

Friday, February 24: Follow-up email to Short. He did not respond.

Saturday, March 4: Text to Short and email to Walters, Sanders, and Short requesting comment for this article specifically about Trump’s ability to prove his Twitter claims. No response.

Friday, March 10: Text to Short and email to Walters, Sanders, and Short requesting clarification of Sean Spicer’s statement. No response.

Wednesday, April 19: Text to Short and email to Walters, Sanders, and Short asking whether Trump will declassify any documents matching those described by Reuters. No immediate response.

Top photo: President Donald Trump walks out to greet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi upon his arrival at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, on April 3, 2017.

The post Trump Should Let Us See Alleged Documents Showing Russian Plans to Sway the U.S. Election appeared first on The Intercept.

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