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Scientists in Anthrax Case Still Have Doubts and Questions

One of the real anthrax letters in 2001/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Like the JFK assassination, the mystery and the persistent questions about anthrax killings in 2001, won’t go away.

The latest is a detailed article in the magazine WIRED, by Noah Shactman, who writes that scientists involved in helping the FBI crack the deadly mystery still have lingering doubts and questions about the probe that concluded that civilian government scientist Bruce Ivins mailed the letters that killed five people and sickened 17 others.  Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 before prosecutors could file charges.

Schactman writes that Clair Fraser-Liggett, a  genetic specialist in Maryland who led the team that sequenced the DNA of the anthrax in the letters,  has reservations.  “There are still some holes,” she told the author.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, scientist Paul Keim, who first identified the anthrax strain in the case, told WIRED: “I don’t know if Ivins sent the letters.” The author also spoke to FBI agent Edward Montooth, who headed up the investigation, who said he’s convinced Ivins mailed the letters but he’s uncertain about the motivation and when he concocted the deadly anthrax.

“We still have a difficult time nailing down the time frame,” he says. “We don’t know when he made or dried the spores.”

The WIRED article was posted on the website on Thursday, just days after the FBI got some welcoming news from a report by the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel, which concluded Ivins’  psychiatric records “does support the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s)determination that he was responsible.”  A federal judge had ordered the panel to review the case and Ivins.

The FBI and Justice Department have faced a wave of skepticism from politicians on Capitol Hill, Ivins’ attorney and Ivins fellow scientists at Ft. Detrick in Maryland, who question whether Ivins was actually the culprit.

Their skepticism was bolstered in February by  a 170-page report by the National Research Council, which  found that the Justice Department overstated its case when it definitively concluded that the anthrax used in the deadly mailings came from a flask from Ivins’ laboratory at Fort Detrick labeled RMR-1029. The report, which was commissioned by the FBI,  said it did not rule out other possible sources.

“The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” the report said.

However, Lehigh University President Alice P. Gast, who led the 16-member National Research Council Committee that reviewed the cutting-edge science used in the investigation, said: “We find the scientific evidence to be consistent with their conclusions but not as definitive as stated.

To read the full WIRED story click here.

More Than 100 Ex-FBI Agents Try to Spring Convicted Ex-Boston Agent John Connolly

John Connolly

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Imprisoned ex-Boston FBI agent John Connolly, who was convicted of helping some mobsters murder a South Florida gambling exec, is getting some support from some former colleagues.

The Associated Press reports that more than  100 ex- FBI agents, including the one whose undercover work inspired the movie “Donnie Brasco,” have filed two petitions with Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. “demanding appointment of a special counsel to investigate the 70-year-old Connolly’s prosecution, raising a grab-bag of claims spanning many years, some of which have been previously rejected by courts and aired in congressional hearings. They include allegations of questionable tactics by prosecutors, evidence that a key witness lied during Connolly’s 2002 federal corruption trial and contentions there was a rigged result in his 2008 Florida murder case.”

Boston Mobster Whitey Bulger remains on the list

“I’ve never seen them go after a gangster like they have John,”  former agent Joseph Pistone of “Donnie Brasco” fame told the AP. “He was dedicated as an FBI agent. He got all kinds of commendations. All of a sudden he goes wrong? That’s kind of hard to believe.”

Authorities alleged that Connolly let Boston mobsters like “Whitey” Bulger, who was an informant, run amuck and commit crimes while he accepted tens of thousands of dollars and other favors from them. Connolly was also accused of passing them sensitive info.

In Miami, Connolly  was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1982 hit of John Callahan, who had mob ties and was president of World Jai-Alai, AP reported. Authorities charged Connolly told mobsters Bulger and Stephen Flemmi that Callahan was going to rat on them, which resulted in the mob hit. Connolly is finishing up a 10-year federal prison term for racketeering and obstruction of justice,  and will soon begin serving a 40-year term for the Florida murder.

AP reported that the Justice Department has declined to  act on the ex-agents’ request, citing Connolly’s ongoing appeals of his Florida murder conviction.

“I feel John was wrongfully convicted,” ex-FBI agent William Reagan told AP. “I don’t think it amounted to a malicious prosecution. I simply think he was screwed over.”

Prosecutors disagree.

“Connolly had his trial. He got convicted. They attacked it with new evidence, and they lost that one, too,”  Michael Von Zamft, an assistant state attorney in Miami, told AP. “The concept that he is this innocent guy is just ridiculous.”

Entering Fingerprints in ICE Database Could Have Prevented Rape of 8-Year-Old Girl

ice photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It may have been a minor oversight the time — but the misstep could have prevented the rape of an 8-year-old girl.

Tom Jackman of the Washington Post reports that immigration authorities failed to enter in a national data base the fingerprints of Salvador Portillo-Saravia before they deported him to  El Salvador in 2003.  So seven years later, because his fingerprints were not in a data base, Portillo-Saravia, who had sneaked back into the U.S., was released from the Loudoun County Jail in Virginia. A month later, Jackman reports, Fairfax County police say he raped an 8-year-old girl.

In a letter to  Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) , Elliot Williams, Immigration and Customs Enforcement  assistant director for congressional relations, wrote that “the agency policy to enroll the fingerprints in IDENT was not followed, thereby reducing ICE’s ability to thwart this terrible and tragic event.” according to the Post. The paper wrote that ” ICE officials could not say why the prints weren’t entered in 2003.”

The paper reported Portillo-Saravia was captured last month in Houston and is now facing the rape charges.

To read more click here.

Column: Fed Prosecutors Wasting Time Making a Criminal of Barry Bonds

By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Columnist

Barry Bonds is a lot of things, leading off with obnoxious, but he doesn’t meet my definition of a criminal.

There is a growing school of legal thought that says we have a dangerous tendency to “overcriminalize,” using criminal law to try to solve every single social problem in America. Some things are mistakes and not crimes. And some people are jerks, but not jail-worthy.

Just because Bonds used steroids, and might be unethical or morally blameworthy, doesn’t mean he deserves to be hounded by prosecutors for almost a decade. Criminal law should be reserved for our very worst offenders, and to use it on anyone else doesn’t actually strengthen respect for the law, but weakens it.

To read full column click here.

FBI Arrests Mi. Man Who Placed Bomb at Fed Building in Downtown Detroit

McNamara Building

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A 42-year old engineering grad student from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was arrested Thursday morning for allegedly placing a metal cash box with explosives outside the McNamara federal building in downtown Detroit on Feb. 26, which houses the FBI. The bomb never went off.

The FBI said suspect Gary John Mikulich of Kingsford, Mi., a student at Michigan Tech University,  had “long complained about the FBI generally, and the Detroit in particular.”

Authorities alleged that Mikulich and his vehicle matched the description of an individual who purchased a Husky brand tool bag and a GE timer used in the crime.

Authorities said he purchased the items at a Home Depot store in the rustic town of Iron Mountain, Mi., in the Upper Peninsula.

He was scheduled to make a court appearance on Friday in Marquette, Mi.

Read criminal complaint

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

FBI Memo Says Interrogators Can Delay Reading Miranda Warning to Terrorist Suspects

Faisal Shahzad

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — An FBI memo issued in December says investigators can interrogate domestic-terror suspects longer without giving them a Miranda warning, according to a  Wall Street Journal report by Evan Perez.

The FBI memo  said the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat,” the Journal reported. Interrogators would still need prior approval from FBI and Justice officials.

The controversy over the Miranda warning in domestic terrorism cases surfaced in December 2009 with the “underwear bomber” in Detroit and later the Times Square Bomber.

Both were initially questioned for a period of time before the Miranda warning was read.  The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdumtallab, was questioned for less than an hour before the Miranda warning was read and Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, was questioned for about three hours before the warning was read, the Journal reported.

Some  Republican and Democrats felt the suspects should have been sent to military detentions where the Miranda rules don’t apply, the Journal reported. Other critics felt the Miranda warning was issued too soon, jeopardizing chances of getting more valuable information.

But at the time, the Obama administration countered by saying the suspects continued to cooperate after the Miranda warnings were read and provided value information.

On the other side, some feel the government has no right to take the Miranda warning away from domestic terrorists.

The FBI memo seems follow to some degree a 1984 amendment to the  1966 Miranda ruling which allows questioning of suspects for a limited time before issuing the warning.

Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, told the Journal that  “law enforcement has the ability to question suspected terrorists without immediately providing Miranda warnings when the interrogation is reasonably prompted by immediate concern for the safety of the public or the agents.” He said “the threat posed by terrorist organizations and the nature of their attacks—which can include multiple accomplices and interconnected plots—creates fundamentally different public safety concerns than traditional criminal cases.”

Calif. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Dem on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that the administration’s tweaking of the law could have a downside.

“I don’t think the administration can accomplish what I think needs to be done by policy guidance alone,” he said.  “It may not withstand the scrutiny of the courts in the absence of legislation.”

Muslims in Metro Detroit Upset About Treatment by Border Patrol

Big-Time Boston Lawyer Robert A. George Charged With Money Laundering

Atty. Robert A. George (right)/law firm photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethwire.com

A high-profile Boston attorney who has represented mobsters and some big name clients was charged Wednesday with money laundering that included taking payments from an undercover DEA agent posing as a drug dealer from the Dominican Republic.

Authorities charged that attorney Robert A. George, 56, of Westwood, Mass., helped conceal $225,000 in drug proceeds over a period of time.

According to a government  affidavit, a cooperating witness told George and a co-conspirator that he had large amounts of cash from drug trafficking.

Authorities alleged that  on two separate occasions, George’s co-conspirator took the cash from the government informant in exchange for a check made payable to a fictitious undercover company.  George’s co-conspirator then charged the government informant a substantial fee.

On another occasion, George allegedly took $25,000 in cash from an undercover DEA agent posing as a drug dealer client. George then made two separate deposits of that money, in amounts under $10,000 in order to avoid a reporting requirement, authorities said.

“Defense counsel play a critical role in the criminal justice system, protecting important constitutional rights upon which we all depend,” Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement. “But when an attorney assists in the criminal concealment and laundering of drug money — as is alleged in this case — it impedes the administration of justice and is an affront to all ethical and law abiding members of the bar.”

” If convicted, Mr. George is no better than those who distribute illegal drugs,” Special Agent in Charge of the  Boston DEA, Steven Derr added.