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Archive for December, 2020

FBI: Iran Behind Website Inciting Violence Against Officials Who Defended Election Integrity

FBI Director Christopher Wray, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI says Iran is responsible for a website that incited violence against the bureau’s Director Chris Wray and other federal and state officials who discredited baseless fraud allegations leveled by President Trump and his allies. 

The website titled “Enemies of the People” listed images, home addresses and other personal information about Wray, ousted Homeland Security official Christopher Krebs, and roughly a dozen other officials, accusing them of engaging in treason because they “aided and abetted the fraudulent election against Trump,” The Washington Post reports.

Their photos were superimposed with crosshairs. 

Iran, which also has been accused of trying to interfere in the 2020 election, denied responsibility. 

The website, which is no longer online, accused governors in swing-states, voting systems executives, Wray and Krebs of “changing votes and working against the President” in a plot to “overthrow our democracy.” The website made the rounds on social media with the hashtags #remembertheirfaces and #NoQuarterForTraitors.

The FBI notified some of the targeted officials with the following statement: “The FBI is in possession of highly credible information indicating Iranian advanced persistent threat actors were almost certainly responsible for the creation of a website, called ‘Enemies of the People’ containing death threats aimed at U.S. election officials in mid-December 2020.”

Border Patrol Agents in Texas Collect Christmas Gifts for Foster Children

Photo via Border Patrol

By Steve Neavling

Border Patrol agents from the station in Falfurrias, Texas, are preparing to spread holiday cheer to foster children. 

Agents collected nearly 200 Christmas gifts for about 70 children in the care of Child Protective Services in Brooks County as part of the Green Santa Operation, KVEO reports.

The collaboration with Child Protective Services is in its fourth year. 

Ex-Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Pleads Guilty to Stealing FBI Funds

Allen Scott Pillow

By Steve Neavling

A former Green County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant in Arkansas pleaded guilty Monday to stealing more than $30,000 in FBI money that was part of a fake drug operation. 

Allen Scott Pillow, 56, was convicted on one count of theft of government funds and faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced at a later date. 

Acting on a tip that Pillow was abusing his role with the sheriff’s office, FBI agents conducted a ruse narcotic investigation and asked Pillow for help. In November 2019, the FBI staged a glass drug pipe in a vehicle rented by the FBI, along with $76,000 in cash in a red backpack. 

Pillow searched the car and found the glass pipe and backpack full of cash. He told the FBI that he recovered $45,600, which was $30,400 less than was in the car. 

During a search of Pillow’s home, the FBI found all but $280 of the stolen funds.       

“The vast majority of law enforcement officers are honorable men and women who put their lives on the line every day to preserve our liberty and safety,” United States Attorney Cody Hiland said in a statement. “On the very rare occasion that we encounter corruption within law enforcement, we will take every action necessary to root it out. Our office will hold accountable any officer who violates the public trust so that we may uphold the integrity of a profession that deserves our gratitude and respect.”

Diane Upchurch, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office, added, “The appalling criminal actions of former Lt. Scott Pillow revealed his lack of integrity and greed. “Quite simply, he betrayed his brothers and sisters in law enforcement. Officers who are sworn to protect and serve are held to a higher standard, and FBI Little Rock will continue to uphold Arkansans’ trust in law enforcement.”

Border Patrol Report Spike in Drug-Smuggling Drones Because of New Border Wall

Construction of new border wall, via CBP.

By Steve Neavling

The construction of a new wall near the U.S.-Mexico border has forced drug smugglers to find other ways to get narcotics into the U.S. 

So many drug smugglers are resorting to drones that that Border Patrol is urging residents in southwest Arizona to help spot and report the flying objects, The Washington Times reports

It’s not easy for Border Patrol agents to detect drones. 

“We are reaching out to the public to help us out should they see anything suspicious that may be a drone being used illicitly,” Agent Benjamin Rodriguez, Border Patrol liaison for the Yuma region said. 

Since it’s difficult to detect drones, it’s impossible to say how many drug-smuggling drones are in use. But one thing is for certain: The Yuma Sector is seeing an increase. 

There were no drone detections in the last three months of 2019. By contrast, agents detected seven from October to last week, according to Macario Mora, a spokesman for the sector .

DOJ to Announce New Charges in Connection with 1988 Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

Crashed Pan Am Flight 103/Wikipedia.

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department is expected to announce new criminal charges Monday against a former Libyan intelligence officer in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

U.S. authorities are speaking with Libyan official to take Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bombmaker, into custody, CNN reports.

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the attack, which killed 270 people, most of whom were Americans, who were aboard a Pan Am Boeing 747 that was traveling from London to New York.  

The case is significant to Attorney General William Barr, who was attorney general in the 1990s when the U.S. first charged two Libyan men in the bombing. 

Barr spoke of the case at a memorial for the victims in 2019. 

“I must say that, to this day, I am not satisfied with our country’s overall response to the attack. I never thought that putting two Libyan intelligence officers on trial should be the sum and substance of our response,” Barr said at the Arlington Cemetery ceremony last year.

Trump and the Anatomy of a Con

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln Law School.

By Greg Stejeskal

During my time in the FBI, I investigated several frauds involving cons or grifts of varying sophistication. One relatively savvy con artist told me the first step is to convince yourself the scam is true. It is easier to sell if on some level you believe it’s real. (I’m guessing it’s easier to convince yourself if you are narcissist.)

The Set Up

President Trump has some history of running cons like Trump University, his former charitable foundation, etc. In effect his whole attack on the presidential election has been a con. Since the beginning of his campaign for reelection, Trump has said the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged.

President Donald Trump

He elaborated that absentee ballots were inherently fraudulent, although significant fraud hasn’t occuyrred in states where they’re used regularly.

Covid made mail and dropoff voting options prevalent in most states, endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats. But they was embraced more by the Democrats than Republicans at least in part because of Trump’s attacks.

I don’t know if Trump convinced himself that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged, but he did manage to convince millions of his supporters. Part of the con was that Trump was predictably ahead early in the counting on election day. This was because more Republicans voted in person at the polls than Democrats who used mail balloting. Another factor was that many Republican-controlled legislatures prohibit absentee ballots from being validated or processed until Election Day. That means they’re not counted until well after in-person ballots are tabulated.

As the counting continued into the next few days, it became clear that Trump was losing. Trump even called for the counting to stop in the early morning hours after Election Day. Despite rigorous oversight by both parties and no credible evidence of widespread fraud, Trump railed that there were numerous incidents of shenanigans, but never produced any credible evidence.

Ultimately all the counting was finished, and Joe Biden was declared the winner. By Trump’s own standard it was a landslide, 306-232 electoral votes. Trump’s appointed Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray reported there was no evidence of significant fraud that would have affected the outcome.

Greg Stejskal

The director of cybersecurity, Christopher Krebs, also a Trump appointee said it was a clean election with no evidence of cyber interference or fraud. (Because Krebs contradicted Trump’s claims, the president fired him. Trump also criticized Barr, leading to his resignation effective next Wednesday.)There is some speculation that Trump is challenging the results at least partly as a fund-raising scheme. Donations are solicited to pay for legal expenses and supporters have given over $200 million so far. Little of the money raised is going for legal challenges to the election. It is going into a “campaign fund” that’s use is indeterminate – a slush fund.

This seems reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ movie and musical, “The Producers,” where Broadway producer Max Blalystock and his accountant figure out that they can make more money on a failed play than a successful one. The intended flop is titled “Springtime for Hitler.” Apparently, Trump has figured out a way to make money on a failed campaign, “Springtime for Trump.”

But Trump’s challenge to the result and refusal to concede his defeat has far more dire consequences. His millions of fervent supporters believe his baseless claims of election fraud and that the election was stolen from him.

This is further exacerbated by many in the leadership of the Republican Party enabling Trump’s con to continue by supporting his claims and over 50 failed legal challenges.

Court challenges reached a crescendo with a lawsuit filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, backed by 17 other Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives. The lawsuit challenged the election procedures of four states — Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania nd Wisconsin and asked the court to nullify about 20 million votes. The Supreme Court summarily rejected the suit in a one-page order.

Featured_lincoln-on-the-verge-9781476739458_lg_46411

A recent book, “Lincoln On The Verge by Ted Widmer, follows Lincoln’s circuitous 13-day train trip from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration on March 4, 1861. (The Constitution prescribed that inauguration date until it was changed to Jan. 20 by the 20th Amendment in 1933.) I was struck by some of the similarities between that presidential transition and our present one.

Lincoln won with a plurality of only about 40 percent of the vote, but got a majority of electoral votes. The Democratic Party had split into Southern and Northern factions. Stephen Douglas was the Northern candidate and John Breckinridge; the sitting vice president, was the Southern candidate. Southern Democrats vilified Lincoln and when he won, some of states began to secede, starting with South Carolina.

This time, after the Supreme Court on Dec. 11 rejected the Texas suit brought on Trump’s behalf, some of the Texas Republican leadership suggested: “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” That implies secession, an act of insurrection and this statement has been characterized as seditious. (Sedition is the inciting of an insurrectionary movement tending towards treason.)

Final Act in Election Drama 

Last Monday, Electoral College members in each state and cast 306 votes for Biden and 232 for Trump. That will be formally accepted by Congress on Jan. 6 unless challenged by at least one House member of the House and one senator.

A movement is afoot by some Republican members of the House to interfere with Congress’ formal acceptance by objecting to some states’ electoral votes. Vice President Mike Pence will preside. This would probably be a futile effort, and certainly foment more discord and disunity.

When Lincoln made his first inaugural address, he closed with the following:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over the broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, where again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

It was not to be.

Despite Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen, he’s the one who’s trying to steal the election by any means from a duly elected Joe Biden. Maybe Trump will come to realize, like the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas, that despite all his efforts to overturn the election, the inauguration of new president will come just as Christmas will.

Weekend Series on Crime: Digital Ransom

Grand Jury Indicts 6 Men Accused of Plotting to Kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer

Six suspects accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer.

By Steve Neavling

A federal grand jury has indicted six men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The indictment comes more than two months after the FBI arrested the suspects, who face up to life in prison on one count of kidnapping conspiracy. 

No trial date has been set. 

The indictment sheds new light on the case. One of the suspects, Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township, instructed his co-conspirators in an encrypted video message that “if they encountered police during reconnaissance, they should give the officers one opportunity to leave, and kill them if they did not comply,” according to a court filing. 

The other indicted men are Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville; Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township; Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford Township; Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Barry Croft, 44, of Delaware. An additional six suspects in the kidnapping plot were charged in state court. 

According to new filings, investigators raided sites in multiple states, including a firing range in northern Michigan and homes in metro Detroit. 

Federal prosecutors say the men were anti-government extremists who were incensed over Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions.