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Archive for October, 2020

Weekend Series on Crime History: The JFK Assassination

DOJ to Allow Local, State Police to Wear Body Cameras During Task Force Arrests

Body cams, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department has reversed its ban on body cameras, saying state and local law enforcement may wear the devices during some joint operations with federal law enforcement. 

The move comes after some police officials have said the ban violates their public accountability policies. The DOJ had worried body cams would reveal the identities of undercover agents.

Under the change announced Thursday, federally deputized officers may activate body cams while serving arrest warrants or making other planned arrest operations while on a federal task force. 

“After spending a substantial amount of time examining this issue, assessing the results of the pilot program, and taking into account the interests and priorities of all the law enforcement agencies involved, I am pleased to announce that the department will permit the use of body-worn cameras on our federal task forces in specific circumstances,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement.  “The Department of Justice has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and security of the American people and this policy will continue to help us fulfill that mission.”

The Justice Department’s task forces include the ATF, DEA, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service. 

The task forces launched a pilot in January 2020 to allow local police to use body cams. Those include the Houston Police Department, Detroit Police Department, Wichita Police Department, Salt Lake City Police Department and Park City Police Department. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke in favor of the ban reversal. 

“The FBI values the collaborative efforts of our state, local, and tribal partners, as they are integral to the success of our common mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution,” Wray said in a statement. “We hope this program will enable us to further expand these efforts and build upon deep-rooted relationships within our communities.”

FBI Agents Association Urges Trump, Biden to Allow Wray to Finish 10-year Term

Christopher Wray is sworn in as the new FBI director. Photo via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) is calling on the next president to ensure Christopher Wray is able finish his 10-year term for the stability, credibility, and integrity” of the bureau.  

In letters to President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the group that represents more than 14,000 active and retired special agents says Wray “operates indepdently from partisan activities.”

“He has not led the Bureau in a political manner, and politics should not determine his fate as Director,” FBIAA President Brian O’Hare writes. “While the President can remove an FBI Director, doing so could lead to instability and damage to the Bureau’s operations, which is why Congress intended to insulate the position of Director from political whims.”

The letters come amid speculation that Trump, in the event that he wins reelection in November, plans to dump Wray. Trump has lashed out at his FBI director for failing to announce an investigation into Biden and his family’s business activities. 

The FBI has a tradition of not intervening in presidential races.

“Unanticipated changes in Bureau leadership are challenging and can undermine stability, making it more difficult to effectively protect our country,” O’Hare writes. “Right now, the FBI is confronting an even more daunting threat environment than in 2011—with threats from both domestic and foreign terrorists, espionage, cyber-attacks, and traditional crimes. This country needs stability in leadership of the Bureau during these challenging times, and creating upheavals at the Bureau after the elections can only undermine the goal of protecting the safety and security of our country.”   

Trump appointed Wray in 2017 after firing then-Director James Comey. 

“Director Wray has led the FBI through a complex period, and is ensuring that FBI Special Agents remain focused on fighting the criminals and terrorists who threaten our safety,” O’Hare writes. “No matter the outcome of next week’s election, the men and women of the FBI are urging whomever becomes our next President to allow Director Wray to lead the Bureau and serve our country.” 

Ex-Justice Official Praises FBI-Ukraine Cooperation in Kidnapping Case but Blasts Trump

By Allan Lengel

A former Justice Department official on Thursday praised the cooperation between the FBI and Ukraine for the indictment and arrest of an Afghan national charged with kidnapping former New York Times reporter David Rohde in 2008.

At the same time, Steven Pelak, the former chief of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department, criticized President Donald Trump for putting such cooperation between the FBI and Ukraine in jeopardy. The suspect was arrested in Ukraine and transferred Tuesday to the U.S. where he made an initial federal court appearance in New York before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang on Wednesday.

David Rohde

“The President’s foreign bribery scheme and obstruction of justice put such efforts at risk,” Pelak tells ticklethewire.com. “By seeking to abuse the criminal justice system in Ukraine and the U.S. for personal gain, Mr Trump put the day-to-day good faith working relationships of U.S. and Ukrainian law enforcement at risk. 

“Over time, such relationships are built and persist only with honesty and the rule of law.  That is an important part of the story and lesson,” Pelak said, of the efforts to coerce Ukrainian officials to obtain false evidence against Biden.

According to authorities, in November 2008,  Haji Najibullah, 44, of Afghanistan and his co-conspirators, armed with machineguns, kidnapped the Rohde and two Afghan nationals who were assisting him.

Ex-DOJ official Steven Pelak

About five days later, Najibullah and others forced the three hostages to hike across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where they were held hostage for seven months.

During their captivity, Najibullah and others forced the victims to make numerous calls and videos seeking help. In one video, Rohde was forced to beg for his life while a guard pointed a machinegun at his face.

Rohde, who now works for the New Yorker, and one of the other captives escaped. The third person stayed behind.

“Whether someone commits a violent act against an American citizen here at home or overseas, we’ll never stop aggressively pursuing charges against them and, when necessary, seeking their transfer to U.S. custody,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI William F. Sweeney Jr said in a statement.  “Najibullah’s reprehensible actions over a decade ago earned him a flight to the U.S. yesterday. Today he arrived in U.S. federal court to face our justice system.”

Two other defendants in the case are still at large.

It was “great work by the FBI with an assist by Ukraine,” said Pelak, who also worked at one time as an assistant U.S Attorney in the D.C. office handling terrorism. He currently practices law in D.C. with the firm Holland & Hart.

Former DHS Chief of Staff Comes Out As Anonymous Trump Author

Miles Taylor, the former Homeland Security chief of staff.

By Steve Neavling

Miles Taylor, the former Homeland Security chief of staff, revealed himself as the anonymous author of a New York Times op-ed and a book that was heavily critical of President Trump. 

“To be clear, writing those works was not about eminence (they were published without attribution), not about money (I declined a hefty monetary advance and pledged to donate the bulk of the proceeds), and not about crafting a score-settling ‘tell all’ (my focus was on the President himself and his character, not denigrating former colleagues),” Taylor wrote in a Medium post.

Taylor, who denied being “Anonymous” as recently as August, said he struggled with the decision to attack the president and said he “wanted this President to succeed” when he first joined the administration with John Kelly, Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary and later the White House chief of staff. 

But, he wrote, someone had to hold Trump accountable. 

“Too often in times of crisis, I saw Donald Trump prove he is a man without character, and his personal defects have resulted in leadership failures so significant that they can be measured in lost American lives,” Taylor wrote. “I witnessed Trump’s inability to do his job over the course of two-and-a-half years.”

Taylor also was the chief of staff to Secretary Kirstjen, serving at DHS from 2017 to 2019. 

Ex-DEA Spokesman Sentenced to 7 years in prison for Posing As CIA Operative in Elaborate $4 Million Fraud Scheme

Garrison Kenneth Courtney. Photo via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.

By Steve Neavling

A former DEA spokesman to seven years in prison Wednesday to posing as an undercover CIA operative to defraud government contractors out of more than $4 million.

Garrison Kenneth Courtney, who served as a DEA spokesman between 2005 and 2009, pleaded guilty in June to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

Prosecutors said the 44-year-old Florida resident posed as a covert CIA officer serving on a highly classified task force, whose mission was to enhance the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the U.S. government.

No such task force existed, and Courtney had never worked for the CIA.

“Courtney’s brazen and salacious fraud was centered on the lie that he was involved in a highly-classified intelligence program and that he was a covered CIA officer engaged in significant national security work,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney in the Eastern of Virginia, said in a statement.

“In fact, Courtney never worked for the CIA, the supposed classified program did not exist, and Courtney invented the elaborate lie to cheat his victims out of over $4.4 million,” Terwilliger said.

As part of the scheme, Courtney convinced several public officials that he was a CIA operative and told them they had been chosen to participate in the program, using “those officials as unwitting props falsely to burnish his legitimacy,” prosecutors said. The government officials unwittingly repeated those claims to the companies, giving his scheme an air of legitimacy.

The investigation was carried out by multiple law enforcement agencies.

Terwilliger had faced up to 20 years in prison. 

Reagan FBI Director William Webster Endorses Biden, Along with 20 Other Former Republican Officials

William Webster (Wikimedia Commons)

By Steve Neavling

William H. Webster, who served as both FBI and CIA director under President Reagan, was among a group of 20 former Republican officials who endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

“The President has clearly conveyed that he expects his Justice Department appointees and prosecutors to serve his personal and political interests,” wrote the former US attorneys. “He has politicized the Justice Department, dictating its priorities along political lines and breaking down the barrier that prior administrations had maintained between political and prosecutorial decision-making.”

William Weld, who was a U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts from 1981 to 1986, also signed the letter. Others include appointees from a string of Republican presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

The letter lauded Biden’s leadership.  

“In contrast with President Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden has devoted his career to supporting law enforcement, protecting the independence of the Justice Department, and working to ensure that the federal government exercises its law enforcement powers fairly and impartially and in the interests of all Americans,” the attorneys continued in the letter. “Joe Biden understands that unity – and not division – is the key to meeting the challenges that our country is facing.”

Eugene Kowel Named Special Agent in charge of Omaha Field Office in Nebraska

Eugene Kowel, special agent in charge of the Omaha Field Office.

By Steve Neavling

Eugene Kowel has been named special agent in charge of the Omaha Field Office in Nebraska. 

Kowel began his career as a special agent with the FBI in 2005 in the New York Field Office, were he was assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. As part of the FBI’s counterterrorism mission, Kowel completed deployments to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009.

In 2010, Kowell was promoted to supervisory special agent, working in the International Terrorism Operations Section, Counterterrorism Division, at FBI headquarters. In 2011, Kowel was a unit chief in the International Terrorism Operations Section.

In 2013, Kowel became the supervisory senior resident agent in the Atlanta Field Office, leading the Savannah and Brunswick resident agencies in Georgia. In addition to overseeing criminal and counterterrorism investigations in 19 counties, he led the Southeast Georgia Violent Crime Task Force, the Child Exploitation Task Force, the Savannah Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Coastal Georgia Safe Streets Gang Task Force.

In 2016, Kowel began serving as an assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Office, where he led squads investigating violent gangs, transnational organized crime, violent crime, and crimes against children. 

In 2019, Kowell became the chief of staff to the FBI’s executive assistant director for the Intelligence Branch and as section chief of the Intelligence Branch’s Executive Staff Section at FBI headquarters.

A graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in political and social thought, Kowel received a law degree from the New York University School of Law. He  served as an assistant district attorney in New York City before joining the FBI.