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Archive for March, 2021

Stejskal: Why J. Edgar Hoover’s Name Should Remain on FBI Headquarters

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.

By Greg Stejskal

The so called “cancel culture” movement has championed efforts to remove statues and the names of certain historical figures from public areas and buildings.

J. Edgar Hoover

I have never understood why military bases and schools are named for Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States to maintain the institution of slavery. I don’t think anyone ever proposed naming anything for Benedict Arnold.

But the movement has gone beyond Confederate generals. There is apparently strong support, including on Capitol Hill,  for removing J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Some of Hoover’s actions during his 48 years as director of the FBI are difficult to defend. It brings to mind, Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The good that Hoover did was not interred with his bones. Upon his death in 1972, he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, an unprecedented honor for a civil servant. When the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue was finally built in 1975, it was named for him.

From the time Hoover became director of the FBI in 1924, he built it into arguably the best investigative agency in the world. Hoover embraced forensic/scientific crime-fighting tools and established the FBI laboratory. He championed a national fingerprint repository and matched with the fingerprints, a repository of criminal records. This would become the National Crime Information Center.

The FBI developed a reputation for professionalism and incorruptibility that has seldom been breached. That incorruptibility was demonstrated in 1925, soon after Hoover became director, when he committed the bureau to investigate the Osage Indian murders in Oklahoma. The murders involved a conspiracy of community leaders, local and state officials, and the collusion of law enforcement. (The story is well-told in David Gann’s 2017 book, Killers of the Flower Moon.) Using undercover agents, the FBI identified and prosecuted many of those involved the conspiracy.

During Hoover’s tenure he directed the bureau to do some extralegal activities. Many of these initiatives were done at the request of various presidents under whom he served. Prior to World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Hoover to have the FBI monitor the activities of various isolationists, some of whom were German sympathizers, including Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin.

Hoover complied with the monitoring request. But when President Roosevelt was contemplating the detention of Japanese Americans, Hoover voiced his opposition to the detention, saying he did not believe they posed a threat to national security.

The author, Greg Stejskal

But the good that Hoover did seems to be largely forgotten or overshadowed by the bad acts that were committed by the bureau at his direction. Those bad acts principally involve the Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO began in the mid-1950s by surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting the American Communist Party that acted as a surrogate of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin referred to American communists as “useful idiots.”

This was in the midst of the Cold War. To say that Hoover had an obsession regarding the threat of communism and the Soviet Union would be an understatement.

Hoover was privy to the Venona project, a secret counterintelligence operation begun by crypto analysts in the Army Signal Corps (forerunner of the National Security Agency) during WWII and for several years, thereafter. The analysts were able to decipher some of encrypted telegraph traffic between the Soviet embassy in the US and Moscow.

These communications revealed that Soviet intelligence officers operating in the U.S, had recruited numerous communists and communist sympathizers as spies or coopetes, people willing to help the Soviet Union.

It was the Venona that revealed that the Soviet Union had infiltrated the Manhattan Project which helped produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

Investigation by the FBI and British intelligence led to the identification of British physicist, Klaus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as spies. (Information from the Venona intercepts was never revealed at the Rosenberg trial.) The decrypted messages also indicated that a significant number of Americans in the government, entertainment and scientific research had been recruited by the Soviets.

Many of these recruits were never identified. Some were only identified after the fall of the Soviet Union. The existence of Venona and the deciphered messages was not declassified and revealed until the 1990s.

Monitoring Civil Rights Movement

Hoover and others involved in counterintelligence were understandably concerned about the possibility of Soviet influence in the media, entertainment and some political movements.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI began to target some organizations within the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements that were believed to be influenced or controlled by the Soviet Union. There were people in leadership in these groups that were avowed communists. (Ironically, some of techniques that were used by the FBI were learned and honed successfully combating the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s ideology was more akin to the Nazis than the communists. In fact, the Klan was vehemently anti-communist.)

These targeted groups and leaders were monitored with electronic surveillance, wiretaps and hidden microphones. Robert Kennedy, attorney general from 1961-64, authorized electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other principals in the civil rights movement ostensibly because of the possibility of Soviet influence. President John Kennedy was also aware of the bugging.

None of this justifies some of the egregious acts by the FBI at the direction of Hoover like threats of blackmail, false stories planted in the media, “black bag jobs” (burglaries). It does put COINTELPRO activity in context. There were national security concerns that at least in part explain why the groups were targeted, although the threat of Soviet influence in hindsight was exaggerated.

For all the good that Hoover did it’s hard to get past the bad things that were done to disrupt and discredit the civil rights movement, and specifically Martin Luther King Jr.  He’s been characterized by critics as racist, a trait that can’t be condoned by anyone.  

But COINTELPRO should not be Hoover’s legacy, nor should it be forgotten. His legacy should be the FBI – its successes, failures and transgressions.

Maybe we shouldn’t name anything for anyone. After all,  It’s said that not even the saints were saints.

CBP Officer Under Investigation for Allegedly Smuggling Drugs into Prison

Photo via Border Patrol

A CBP officer is accused of sneaking drugs into a Washington State prison for her boyfriend, a gang member who was convicted of murder. 

The FBI is investigating Officer Melissa Mesa on allegations she smuggled methamphetamine and suboxone into into the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, The Daily Beat reports, citing an FBI search warrant application.

The drugs were allegedly for Say Keodara, who was sentenced in 2011 to 69 years in the shooting death of a homeless man during a botched robbery attempt at a Seattle bus stop. 

A CBP spokesperson said Mesa is no longer working at the agency. 

“Melissa Mesa’s employment with CBP has been terminated. CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP officers/agents perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe,” the spokesperson said. “CBP fully cooperates with all criminal and administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, whether it occurs on or off duty. The investigation is ongoing and we have nothing further to add at this time.”

A confidential source tipped off state investigators about Mesa in May 2020. Correctional officials informed the FBI after learning that Keodara and Mesa were romantically involved. 

“During their relationship, Keodara asked Mesa to meet with individuals in the community in order to obtain illegal drugs and illegally obtained prescription drugs for the purpose of passing the drugs to others for introduction into CBCC,” the warrant application states. “Keodara also asked Mesa to conduct financial transactions on his behalf in furtherance of the drug conspiracy.”

Mesa has not yet been charged. The case is still under investigation. 

U.S. Marshals Rescue 16 Missing Children in Philadelphia Area

U.S. Marshals prepare to make an arrest. (Stock photo via USMS)

By Steve Neavling

The U.S. Marshals Service in Philadelphia rescued 16 missing children during a four-week operation dubbed “Safeguard.”

At least four of the children were connected to child sex trafficking, officials said in a news release. 

The multi-agency operation began on Feb. 15. 

The children were considered to be “some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases” because they had been victims of abuse or had medical or mental health issues. 

“I applaud the exceptional cooperation among our respective agencies in combating this most abhorrent affront to society,” U.S. Marshal Eric Gartner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Our hope is for a better future for the 16 children we recovered; our resolve remains steadfast in finding other children in peril.”

Over the past five years, the U.S. Marshals Service has recovered three-quarters of the missing children it has investigated. Of those, 72% were found within seven days. Since 2015, U.S. Marshals have recovered more than 1,700 missing children. 

Weekend Series on Crime: Sammy the Bull in Arizona

GoFundMe Campaign Launched for Family of Border Patrol Agent Killed While Helping Motorist

Alejandro Flores-Bañuelos (courtesy of Border Patrol)

By Steve Neavling

A fundraising campaign was launched for the family of a Border Patrol agent who was killed Monday while trying to help a motorists involved in a crash in Southern California. 

The GoFundMe campaign raised more than $67,000 as of Friday morning for the family of Alejandro Flores-Bañuelos, a 12-year Border Patrol veteran who was fatally stuck by a car. 

Flores-Bañuelos left behind a wife and three children. 

“All funds will be going directly to his family to assist them with their loss and to help with future expenses,” the campaign states. 

Flores-Bañuelos, 35, was called to a report of a collision on state Route 86 near Salton City at about 4:20 p.m. Monday. When he arrived, he began helping a 75-year-old woman whose car had become disabled in the road during a dust storm. A car stuck both the agent and the woman’s car. Flores-Bañuelos, who was assigned to the Indio Station, was pronounced dead at Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley. 

The elderly driver was injured and sent to a hospital. 

FBI Releases Graphic Videos of Most Violent Assaults on Officers During Jan. 6 Riot

Screenshot of attack on officers at U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI on Thursday released 10 videos showing the most egregious assaults on police officers during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and is asking for the public’s help identifying the attackers. 

The FBI has arrested more than 300 people in connection with the riot, including 65 who assaulted law enforcement officers. But as the videos show, some of the most violent offenders have not yet been identified. 

“The FBI is asking for the public’s help in identifying 10 individuals suspected of being involved in some of the most violent attacks on officers who were protecting the U.S. Capitol and our democratic process on January 6,” Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said in a statement. “These individuals are seen on video committing egregious crimes against those who have devoted their lives to protecting the American people.”

Anyone with information about the suspects in the videos is asked to call (800) CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.

Secret Service Arrests Texas Man Near Vice President’s Residence on Weapons Charges

By Steve Neavling

A San Antonio man was arrested near Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington D.C. on Wednesday and charged with weapons and ammunition charges. 

The Secret Service arrested Paul Murray, 31, after receiving an intelligence bulletin from Texas that indicated Murray was experiencing “paranoid delusions” and believed the government or military wanted to kill him. According to the bulletin, he told his mother via a text message that he was in Washington and would “take care of his problem.”

Murray was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon, carrying a rifle or shotgun outside of a business, possession of unregistered ammunition and possession of a large-capacity ammunition-feeding device.

A rifle and ammunition were found in his car. 

Mayorkas Defends Administration’s Handling of Border in First House Hearing As Secretary

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Screen shot via U.S. House.

By Steve Neavling

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas clashed with Republicans Wednesday on how the Biden administration is handling the boarder amid an influx of migrants. 

In his first appearance before lawmakers as the Homeland Security secretary, Mayorkas said the border situation was a challenge but not a crisis as depicted by Republicans. 

“I’m not spending any time on the language that we use. I am spending time on operational response to the situation at the border,” Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mayorkas described former President Trump’s policy of separating children as a humanitarian crisis. 

“The situation at the southwest border is difficult,” Mayorkas said. “We are working around the clock to manage it.”

Since last spring, illegal border crossings have sharply increased as poverty, hunger and gang violence grip Central America. In February, Border Patrol agents arrested 97,000 migrants for crossing the border illegally, a two-year high. 

Watch the committee hearing here: