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June 2021


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Special Report

Movie Depicting Hoover as Having Gay Affair Rankles Some in FBI

J. Edgar Hoover/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

The bulldog-like mug of J. Edgar Hoover has long been synonymous with the FBI, a world-renowned law enforcement agency forever hyper-sensitive about its public image. Still, Hoover’s legend has taken its lumps over the years.

Now comes the latest: an upcoming movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, in which the iconic G-man reportedly has a romantic affair with FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson, his constant companion and alter ego.

Word of the movie — with the working title “J. Edgar” and slated for release later this year — is already stirring feelings among current and former FBI agents and employees, and raises the question: What does the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover mean to today’s FBI?

“Obviously it upsets me when he’s commonly portrayed wearing a dress or having an alleged relationship with Clyde Tolson,” says Terry Booth, a retired FBI agent who works for the bureau as a contract employee for its Law Enforcement Online program. “There are those who choose to believe it and those who choose not to. I think 99 percent of the agents don’t believe it.”

Some agents don’t care how Hoover is sexually portrayed in the movie. But there are plenty of others who do, who admire Hoover and feel his reputation is being unfairly besmirched as head of an agency that is still considered conservative and male dominated.

Whatever the case, there are those who say the FBI has moved on.

Leonardo DiCaprio/photo from his website

“There are certainly people who are protective of his image,” says former FBI official Mike Mason, who left the bureau in 2007 as executive assistant director at headquarters. “As to his entire legacy, I don’t know how much time agents today think about it. I think the FBI has grown beyond the shadow of Mr. Hoover.”

It is certainly not the first time agents have seen Hoover portrayed in a fashion they find less than flattering. There have been articles and books and YouTube videos portraying him as a sexist and carrying on an affair with Tolson — and yes, even being a cross-dresser. In his later years, he was accused of overstepping his bounds, harassing political dissidents, building files on enemies and becoming far too powerful.

But a movie — which can sometimes have broader impact these days than print in shaping public opinion — has some current and former agents and employees uneasy.

Greg Stejskal, a retired 31-year veteran of the FBI and a columnist for the website, says Hoover should get credit for creating a first-rate law enforcement agency that lives on today.

“I think most of my generation and prior to that think Hoover has been done a disservice,” said Stejskal, who concedes that Hoover was far from perfect.

“He’s been vilified in the media, in Hollywood,” Stejskal said. “Unfortunately, he’s not around to defend himself. I think he’s blamed for a lot of things. But people forget things like the wiretaps on Martin Luther King were signed off by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the Kennedy brothers sat around and listened to some of the tapes, and they didn’t complain then.

“If in fact the reports are based on fact and he’s going to be portrayed as having a sexual relation with Clyde Tolson — or alluding to it — I don’t think that’s fair. There’s no evidence. I suspect Hoover was asexual and married to the bureau. I hate to see the new generation take this as fact.”

Hoover first became director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924 and 11 years later helped found the FBI, which he headed up until his death on May 2, 1972, at age 77.

Some agents and former agents referred to him as a trail blazer in law enforcement, a man who created a sophisticated machinery that relied on science and a world-class fingerprint collection and electronic listening devices.

“The guy was probably the founding father of modern law enforcement,” Stejskal said. “Did he do some things wrong? Probably. But there were a lot of good things. I think the FBI is what it is because of Hoover. I think we owe him. The American citizens owe him a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices he made. The worst crime is that he stuck around too long.”

Most agents agreed that the tactics Hoover used early on in his career did not play well, particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the time he left, the FBI had no female employees and relatively few African-Americans.

Former agent Terry Booth says that even though he arrived at the FBI in 1983 after Hoover had long passed, his presence was felt.

“He was a legendary figure we heard about during our entire career,” Booth recalled. “When I was a new agent, I would see an older agent who worked under Hoover and had an autographed picture of him or a letter of commendation signed by Hoover; I was in awe.”

But some agents dismiss concerns about the new movie.

Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry

“First off, who cares?” said one veteran FBI agent who asked not to be named. “I thought a little higher of Mr. Eastwood than that. But I don’t think it hurts the FBI. To me it’s just silliness. Why do it? The guy has been dead since 1972.”

Another agent simply said: “I think the bureau takes the good part of what he did. Without him we don’t have an FBI. He was kind of a visionary. That’s the backbone of how we got started. I think certainly some of the people still in the FBI who worked for him (support staff) drank the Kool-Aid and support him to the end. But I don’t care what he did in his free time. I could care less.”

Added another fellow agent said, “If he were gay today, everyone would applaud it.”

“Is he important? Yes, as the founding father. Is he George Washington? No,” said William M. Baker, who worked under Hoover, was former assistant director of the FBI at headquarters and is a director of the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation.

As for the movie, Baker said: “I think it could do damage to his reputation more than the FBI.”

But he dismisses suggestions that Hoover had a romantic tie to Tolson.

“It would be wrong I think if (Clint Eastwood) goes in that direction in any explicit detail. It would be imagination. I worked with agents who protected him and many who were close to him, and no one ever saw anything between the two men that one could use to jump off to depict a sexual relationship. I believe he was truly married to the FBI.”

FBI’s John Perren Talks Terrorism, the Internet and the Endless Battle photo

WASHINGTON — Earlier this month, on the 5th floor of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, in the shadow the nation’s Capitol, John G. Perren, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Branch, talked to editor Allan Lengel about lessons learned since Sept. 11, about the challenges the Internet has posed for terrorism investigations and the dedication he expects from his agents who work the endless leads and reports of suspicious activities that flow into the office.

He also expressed concerns about the potential links between terrorists and drug and human traffickers in Mexico.

“What concerns me is the infrastructure that’s already in place at the Mexican border. You have human traffic lanes already established. You have tunnels for transporting drugs. What’s to say they can’t be contacted by some terrorist organization who wants to use those human trafficking lanes to bring in operatives, to bring in people under the radar?”

Perren is no stranger to counterterrorism. He was supervisor of  the Washington Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and then assistant special agent in charge. In 2005, he  spent a half year in Iraq as the FBI’s on-scene commander before returning home to headquarters to become section chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction/Domestic Terrorism Operations Section. In 2007, the former D.C. cop was named special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Branch at the Washington Field Office. He has twice filled in as acting head of the field office.

The following is a condensed version of the conversation. The questions have been edited for clarity.

You’ve been dealing with terrorism for along time. How do you see the bureau evolving since 9/11? Does it seems like a different FBI than it was than in 2001?

I really believe it has changed. When I started with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with the Washington Field Office, we only had 9 agencies on board the task force. On the morning of Sept. 11, we had 17 agencies on board. When I left in 2005, we had 34 agencies on board. And when I came back three or four years later, we still had 34 which told me any agency that was in the Capital region that could bring something to the fight, we had on the JTTF. It’s a perfect venue to share information, to share intelligence. What I’ve seen the bureau do is not just to respond to an event. The bureau has matured. How we’ve come along, is we prevent events from happening. If we’re responding we’ve messed up that part of our job. We’ve made a mistake.

What we’re doing now is we’re using intel, we’re sharing information, we’re digging to prevent, to detect, to dismantle these organizations. We’re intelligence driven.

Can you be more specific?

We’re part of the intelligence community. My day for example starts out, I come in, I look at all the intel cables that are coming in. I look at all the intelligence reports, then the SACs (special agents in charge) go for a morning briefing about 8 o’clock. We get an intel brief from our analyst who sits at the table and tells us what’s happening not only here in our area of responsibility, but in the Middle East. We’re responsible for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq. And part of Europe. Whatever happens over there, whatever is developing over there intel wise, that has an impact on us here. We have to cull through all that intelligence to see what is affecting the homeland and what is about to affect American interests or citizens over there.

Have you seen any difference in terms of the focus, some of the intel showing terrorists focusing more on Europe or the U.S.?

We work with our partners in Europe and they are also on the radar for this terrorist activity, but we know when they talk about the west it’s the U.S. and their allies. We take that very seriously.

What’s going on here that concerns you?

Self radicalization. What concerns me are individuals living here who have the ability to utilize the Internet. They go on the Internet and they go on websites , they’re radicalized through these websites. They may have limited travel or not traveled at all overseas. But because of the advantages of the Internet, they may be able to share recipes; When I talk about recipes, how to make bombs, what components to use. Where to purchase them from, how to get them, how to test them , what works best. They can get it through Google, through Earthnet.

What does that all mean for you?

The pre-op surveillance portion of it where they have a chance of getting caught; It’s limited now because they can do all that on the Internet, which limits our ability to disrupt them during the  pre-op surveillance. When I say pre-op surveillance, not just casing out the place, but casing out where to buy the precursors, where to transport whatever they’re going to need to make something bad or nefarious. They can do all that on the Internet, do it in their house, and right when they’re ready to execute, just walk on out. It’s the new battle ground. It’s something that we’re very concerned about.

How are you dealing with that?

We recognize that we have to work and be aware of what’s happening over the Internet and form disruption and prevention plans on that plateau, that new fighting ground. We must understand at the FBI or any U.S. government agency that this technology is out there, this technology is going to grow. We need to grow with it.

And how do you go about doing that?

I can’t really discuss without  exposing techniques.  And when we do disrupt and prevent some sort of nefarious act,  we’re also looking at what this person is doing over Internet, who he’s been communicating with. We know there’s a bigger picture.

You had the subway sting case recently where a man was charged with plotting to blow up the Metro system. How do you make a determination in these types of cases as to how far you play it out before you pull the plug and make the arrest?

The key word is predisposition. Is this person predisposed to do this? The question always is, at what point and how far do we go before we let this person get too far in what he wants to do? It’s a fine line. If we wait too long, we may miss something. So we have to find the sweet spot.

Does it bother you to hear criticism? I saw a column in the Pittsburgh paper the other day where the columnist said the FBI should go after real terrorists. He was referring to the Portland FBI sting involving the guy who wanted to detonate a bomb during a Christmas lighting ceremony. How do you respond to criticism that the FBI is turning some lost souls into big terrorists?

That’s what the terrorists want to do. The terrorist want to do is get people who are westernized , they want to get to people that live in this country, who are very familiar with certain neighborhoods, certain cities, and again that cuts out on pre-op surveillance, the pre-op opportunities to catch these individuals  because this person already knows the  neighborhood. So what they do is they’re reaching out through these jihadist websites, they reaching out on the Internet, they’re trying to focus on this particular type of person. And that’s where all their propaganda is going toward so they can hopefully recruit someone. That person may never have been on our radar for anything.

Do you get a sense that groups like al Qaeda and al Shabaab have representatives in the Washington area and elsewhere in the U.S.?

Not to talk about specific cases. We cannot rule out that operations out there may have contacts here. There may be people here that they go to for direction, people here who are doing the recruiting and possibly trying to send them overseas for training. And then we can’t rule out the fact they can do it over the Internet also.

In terms of the nexus with drugs and terrorism, what type of things are you seeing?

I’m not seeing that in the National Capitol Region. What concerns me is the infrastructure that’s already in place at the Mexican border. You have human traffic lanes already established. You have tunnels for transporting drugs. What’s to say they can’t be contacted by some terrorist organization who wants to use those human trafficking lanes to bring in operatives, to bring in people under the radar?

Whatever ways they bring in drugs, how do we know they’re not going to bring some sort of precursor, some sort of components, some sort of device already constructed over the border and brought here, and again using the established infrastructure . That really concerns me.

Is there indication that’s happening?

I haven’t seen it but it’s something that concerns me.

Overseas, in Iraq, what is the FBI Washington Field Office’s role?

Afghanistan and Iraq are our areas of responsibility. I send agents through Afghanistan and Iraq on 60 to 90 day TDYs (tours). And they work hand and hand with the military. They conduct interviews of high value detainees. It’s a mission I personally was on in 2005 and it’s still going strong . I think the military recognizes how they can use us. It’s a necessary mission. To get that intelligence, to get that knowledge, not just not the tactical intel, what’s going to happen to coalition forces, which is very important.

Any tactical information we immediately give it to the military. But we’re looking for the big picture as far as what threats are against the homeland, that’s why wer’e there. Any sort of threats, any sort of intelligence that we get from these interviews we make sure we share with the entire intelligence community. We just don’t just keep it in house.

In the past you saw the criticism that we got information but we kept that information to ourselves. Now we immediately send it out to the community and the community does the same with us.



Is there a trust with all countries involved in terms of sharing information?

With the allied countries, sure there is.

In terms of the intelligence coming out of Iraq, I assume there was an abundance of intelligence you came across in the very beginning . Has that changed in terms of the quality of intelligence, the amount of intelligence?

I think the intelligence has always been there. But we’re able to harvest it, bring all that intelligence in. Now the next challenge is how to we analyze all that information.

Has the bureau become more sophisticated in sorting it out?

Our intelligence division, for example, used to be one squad around the year 2000. Now it’s an entire division. We have embedded analysts in all the operational squads.  I talk everyday with the special agent in charge of the Intelligence Division. We  talk about better ways to share, better ways to work, better ways to embed our folks with each other. Is this intelligence we’re getting good? Are we putting it out there in a timely manner? Is counterterrorism and intelligence working together?

It is and we’re working it real well together. A lot that’s personality driven. What we need to do is get beyond personality driven. We need to get to a point where no matter who’s at the helm, this interaction is going to occur.

In terms of tips since Sept. 11, like people standing in front of government buildings in D.C. taking photos. How has that changed as to how you respond to those things?

Any sort of terrorist tip, suspicious activity, any lead call in goes to the Guardian Squad, which has agents and task force officers. So you’ve got a lot of experience there. They take these and run them into the ground. If it pans out to be something, and if it’s something that’s going to be long term or something that’s affiliated with another case, that’s what they have to take into account. They talk to all the other counterterrorism squads. They give them information. I have staff meetings three times a week. One of the things we do, maybe once a week, the Guardian Squad goes over what they had, what calls came in, what rises to the top, so everybody can hear it.

Information is out there. When there’s a heightened sense of security or there’s a heightened sense of awareness, yes, the calls spike. But we’re ready for that, we’re used to that. In the nation’s capital you’re going to find at every corner somebody with a camera taking a picture. So that’s the price of operating in a free society, they’re allowed to do that.

Has that changed much? I know some people feel paranoid about taking a picture in certain parts of Washington. Has the bureau lightened up a little about that type of thing?

Again, we’re not going to personally go out there and if you’re taking a picture, talk to you. We’ll start an investigation because of a call, because of suspicious activity. We look at each report, each fact, and we weigh it on its own. Bottom line is we’ll end up usually interviewing a person and if the person gives us a good reason why they were doing something, we’re fine with that, and that ends it.

But if we start investigating this and all of a sudden other tentacles start going out to other areas and we start getting concerned, we do an assessment and after an assessment we go into an investigation if necessary or we just park it, and we’re done with it.

This was a big phrase a few years ago “ no lead goes unaddressed.” We still operate on that. Every lead that comes in, we document it, we track it.

What have you learned from doing that?

Anything that comes in we’re accountable for. What I tell new agents when they come in here I tell them about due diligence. I talk about a sense of urgency. I don’t care how mundane or what time in the afternoon you get this call or what time at night, we will work it all the way through. That’s the kind of people I want. I want passionate people who will give 110 percent.

I’ve spoken to some veteran agents about the new agents and the veterans who think some of the new agents have a different attitude, less of a dedication to the FBI than the veterans. Do you see a difference in commitment to the bureau?

I’m going to go on personal experience. I meet every new agent that comes into my counterterrorism division. I give them about two or three days to be able to find their way around the office. Then they’re in my office and I talk to them about Sept. 11 and the counterterrorism world what happened. That how I believe in this , that we’re in war, this war is going to go on for decades, you’re going to be away from your families or your significant others or your loved ones quite a bit, you will be sacrificing time, and be away from other things you want to do. This just doesn’t end at 9 to 5. It’s not the Federal Bank of Investigations, it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigations. I haven’t been disappointed in any of these new agents or analysts, they’re eager to do it, they can’t wait to do it. The busier they are the happier they are. And the report I get from the supervisors is that these are outstanding young men and woman. They come into the bureau and they really want to do their part.

When you tell them the war on terrorism is going to go on for decades, is that depressing?

It’s reality. This fight started pre-Sept. 11. Obviously if you want to use a milestone or a benchmark of Sept. 11, we’re not even done with the first 10 years yet. This is going to take time. This is going to go on and on. Those who wish to cause us harm are not going to let up, they’re very persistent, they’re very smart. And they want to do harm to us. And we have to stop them from doing that.

In the 10 years since Sept. 11, is there one thing that stands out as a lesson?

Anything you’re working, always keep in mind, any case, any investigation, any lead, any person, there’s a bigger picture, there’s a global picture. That’s why you need to talk to your analysts, that’s why you need to share the information because you need to know what the bigger picture is. If you think you’re saving the day by stopping something now, you need to coordinate with  headquarters, you need to coordinate with  the intelligence community, you need to get the global picture. How is this going to impact the rest of the world? I think that’s what we’re seeing, that’s where we’ve really improved. That’s what we’re doing ,even here in the Washington field office, before we take down an operation, we’re not going to headquarters for a mother may I, we’re going to headquarters so they can ensure us we’re not having a negative impact on any of our sister agencies, we’re not having a negative impact on any other operation going on. That’s how I think the bureau and actually the entire intelligence piece has really grown since Sept. 11.

This office has had meetings with the Islamic community. Are you still doing that and has that relationship been challenging?

When you reach out into the community, number one, it’s always a question of trust. We have to remember the fight against terrorism is multi-dimensional in approach. It’s not just your law enforcement approach.

Sometimes the Islamic community has been very critical of the FBI.

That will happen with any community until we establish trust. We have to establish trust and build relationships. That’s a constant effort on both sides. I think the more we work with each other, the more we understand each other, the more we explain to each other what are roles are, what the cultures are, where the clashes are. We have to constantly work at it.

What do you say to people in the Islamic community who complain the FBI is spying on them, planting informants in mosques?

Again, what we do, we go visit the community, we’ll address those questions. Again, what we have to do is develop trust. We’re not here to spy on you. We’re here to elicit your help.

What about informants in the community?

If you’re worth your salt, anything you’re working, whether its drugs, whether it’s crime, whether it’s terrorism, you’re going to use human sources. I’ll leave it at that. We’re looking for the bad. What we’re looking at is those who wish to cause us harm. We’re looking at someone which the community itself  would identify as a terrorist, not just us.

In terms recruiting for agents, it seems still 10 years later there’s still a dearth of agents who speak Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and other languages.

It’s something we have to work at, I don’t think we have nearly enough. We are really making an effort.

Do you have Arab agents in the Washington Field Office?

My assistant special agent in charge,  he’s Lebanese, he speaks Arabic. My other ASAC is Egyptian.

Is it tough?

Sure. But I know in the last two or three years I’ve see an uptick, a lot my agents here on my side of the house, a lot of the younger ones do speak Farsi, do speak Urdu. It’s going up but it’s not enough. We’re working it. A lot of times we lose out to the highest bidder, which is the private sector. That’s a reality, that’s a challenge.

Domestic groups. What’s your sense on how they’re doing these days?

I just gave a speech or welcoming remarks at Northern Virginia College before I think about 350 state, local, federal officers and analysts. I talked to them about domestic terrorism. I describe what I call the perfect storm: the economy is down. We have an African American who is president. We have a lot things going wrong that feeds into that hate, that feeds into that rhetoric. They’re looking for a scapegoat. We have a domestic terrorism squad, that we have to be just as aggressive and try to get sources, try to cover all the investigative bases, try to make sure we’re not missing anything. The perfect example is the Holocaust museum shooting. He was a supremacist, he was a lone wolf and flew under the radar. So domestic terrorism is alive and well.

Have you noticed more activity, have you seen more things on the chats and more websites popping up?

Yes, I think we are seeing an uptick in all of that.

In this area or all around the country?

I’d say all around the country. That would include us. I know I’ve tasked my domestic terrorism squad, I want to see our source base built. I want to make sure we don’t have another Holocaust shooting. He was a supremacist, he ranted and raved but in this country you have the right to rant and rave on the Internet. You may not like what he has to say but he has that right, so we need to find out when do you go beyond that right and you’re planning something to harm the public.

Off on another subject. The Justice Department’s Inspector General found that agents around the country cheated on a test on the guidelines involving domestic terrorism surveillance. Three former top officials in this office were implicated. Has that scandal impacted moral?

Without speaking directly to that what I can say is anything negative in the paper that has to do with the FBI, I think yes, it’s going to have an impact on the agents. All the agents I know come in here and work a long hard day and they put their heart and soul in it and things like that do have an impact.

Fed Agents Misbehavin in 2010

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

Thousands of federal law enforcement agents work their tails off to put crooks behind bars. But on occasion, some of the very same folks who carry a gun and a badge and slap the cuffs on the bad guys end up stepping over the line. Way over the line.

AOL News thought it was worth looking back at some of the more notable of these incidents from 2010:

Temper, Temper: Dallas FBI agent Carlos Ortiz let his temper get the best of him. He pleaded guilty Dec. 15 to charges that he plotted to kill his estranged wife, an FBI analyst and his boss. Earlier in the year, Ortiz was placed on leave after his wife accused him of domestic violence. Then in August he was fired after investigators learned that he had called a friend about buying a sniper-type rifle and talked about killing his wife and his boss, Robert Casey Jr. The friend, a former law enforcement type, called the FBI.

Pump You Up: It’s good to be stronger than the bad guys. But at what cost? Three FBI agents and one FBI analyst in the Washington, D.C., area were arrested on charges of failing to mention on their FBI health disclosure forms that they were taking steroids. One agent is a former body builder. Last month, the charges were dropped because prosecutors had far too many documents to go through before trial. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it has reserved the right to refile charges at a later date.

Hold the Pickle: Dallas FBI agent Ann Cox found herself in a pickle when she was busted this summer for hiring illegal immigrants for a deli she owned in suburban Dallas. She pleaded guilty in September. On Dec. 15 a federal judge in Dallas sentenced her to two years’ probation and ordered her to pay an $18,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

50 caliber barrett rifle

Not a Great Idea: John Thomas Shipley, an FBI agent in El Paso, Texas, was trying to make a little extra dough on the side. Bad idea. A federal judge in August hit him with a two-year prison term for selling guns illegally. ATF agents had traced back to him a .50-caliber rifle that was used in a drug cartel shootout in Chihuahua, Mexico. Court records show that between 2005 and 2008, he posted at least 280 firearms for sale on just one website alone,

An Even Worse Idea: Darren Argento, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in New York, was busted in August on charges of having child pornography on a laptop he used for work. The 14-year DEA veteran allegedly had images and videos of girls between the ages of 7 and 14, according to the New York Daily News. He reportedly was caught after he asked a co-worker, a computer specialist, to help him with some computer problems.

Pick on Someone Your Own Size: U.S. Border Patrol agent Victor Manuel Gutierrez, 39, allegedly lost it in May when some teens at a park in El Paso were tossing around a water bottle that accidentally hit him. Gutierrez allegedly pushed and kicked a 13-year-old boy. He was charged with causing injury to a child.

An incident report, according to KFOX News, said Gutierrez told the boy, “You think it’s funny until someone comes and kicks your expletive.” Chances are he probably didn’t use the word “expletive.” That’s not how they talk in Texas.

Outsmarted: U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Devon “Romey” Samuel thought he was being clever. He used his badge at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to bypass security so he could smuggle through loads of cash and guns for people he thought were drug dealers.

Only problem was the drug dealers ended up being undercover law enforcement people. His investigation led to authorities busting up a large scale ecstasy trafficking ring this week.

$100K Down the Toilet; Scandal Rocks D.C. Suburb as FBI Investigates

Jack Johnson/wusa

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

The former school superintendent is behind bars. County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife are whisked away in handcuffs by FBI agents, after authorities say she flushed evidence in the form of a $100,000 check down the toilet. And a few days later, three county cops are indicted in an FBI probe linked to the county executive — a probe that has all the markings of a much bigger scandal to come.

This is no obscure county in the middle of Nowheresville, U.S.A. It’s Prince George’s County, 498 square miles with more than 800,000 residents, long considered one of the most affluent African-American majority counties in the nation. It’s home to the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field and the University of Maryland. And it borders Washington, D.C.

Still, for all the good in the county, including some first-rate neighborhoods and a major new hotel, shopping and entertainment complex on the Potomac River, it has long fought hard in the public relations game and often come up short, battling nagging negatives.

Over the years, the police department was plagued by allegations of excessive force. The crime rate spiked a few years ago, with homicides hitting a record 173 in 2005, just 21 short of Washington’s tally. In 2008, Schools Superintendent Andre Hornsby was convicted of steering contracts to a girlfriend and a business associate in exchange for money. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

And now this.

“I think this situation has been extremely embarrassing for Prince George’s County, ” said Mel Franklin, a newly elected County Council member who will take office Dec. 6, the same day new County Executive Rushern L. Baker III replaces Johnson, who was prevented from running again because of term limits. “It worsens the perception that we have a pay-to-play leadership, particularly when it comes to development. And it comes at a particularly bad time when we have a change in leadership. This is really an unfair distraction.”

Still, those like Jim Keary, a former reporter and current press spokesman for Johnson, think the PR battle for the county has always been played on an uneven field.

“The only time the media shows up in Prince George’s County is for something negative,” says Keary, who will leave the job when Johnson departs. “There was never any balance. We have the lowest crime rate in 35 years right now. Have you seen any banner headlines on that?”

Keary is not alone.

Phil Lee, a self-described community activist and advocate, said, “I’ll tell you, strange enough, honestly I find people appear to be more upset or aggravated with the press to some degree, because I think what people say is everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The reality is, the county executive has always had a very good relationship with the community.

“You find people who believe he [Johnson] is going to be vindicated. And people who think there will be a long, ugly, drawn-out trial and that does not serve us well. Nobody really likes this.”

The latest development took many by surprise. Johnson, 61, a former state’s attorney for the county, was elected county executive in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006.

He pledged to make the county more livable and cleaner. He also worked hard to change the image of the police department, which some residents saw as overly aggressive. Additionally, under his tenure, the county got an impressive AAA credit rating and attracted the massive National Harbor development on the Potomac.

But Johnson had his share of detractors, and for years there had been rumors of federal and state investigations into the hiring of friends and questionable relationships between Johnson and developers.

Then, late last week, FBI agents took away Johnson and his wife, Leslie, in handcuffs. The arrest capped a drama the FBI captured on a wiretapped phone conversation between Johnson and his wife on the day of the arrest, just as FBI agents stood outside their door waiting for someone to answer. Johnson’s wife was home.

According to the FBI affidavit, Johnson had on different occasions allegedly taken a $100,000 check, $5,000 in cash and $15,000 in cash from a developer. So as FBI agents waited outside, according to police, Johnson told his wife to flush a check from a developer down the toilet and hide the cash in her underwear. She told him it was in her bra. Agents finally came in and found it in her underwear — more than $79,000, according to the affidavit.

As if the county needed another blemish, three days later, nine people — including three county policemen — were indicted in an FBI sting in which the cops allegedly helped protect and sell untaxed cigarettes and liquor. One cop was indicted on drug trafficking charges. Federal authorities said publicly the investigation was linked to the Johnson probe, but didn’t elaborate.

A federal law enforcement source told AOL News that Johnson’s name came up during the FBI investigation into police corruption and the sale of untaxed cigarettes and liquor. A liquor store owner, who was one of the nine people indicted, told an undercover FBI agent in the case that he had given Johnson $40,000 to take care of a problem he had getting a permit for a property he owned, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the case’s sensitivity.

And one of the officers indicted, who worked off-duty as a security guard for the liquor store, told the undercover agent during the sting that Johnson was on the payroll of the store and was all about the money, the law enforcement source said.

As for Johnson, Keary, his press spokesman, says his boss insists he’s innocent and wants to finish up his term. In fact, on Monday, a few days after getting arrested, Johnson showed up for work.

“He and his family are doing well,” Keary said. “He received visits and messages from hundreds of people who told him to remain strong and faithful and finish what he started.”

Keary said he wished the media would report on such things as the county’s AAA bond rating. “The image of this county would be much better,” he said.

County Council member Franklin says of the Johnson affair, “I’m very disturbed by the circumstances that arose last Friday. They’re very difficult for anyone to just explain away.

“That’s why it’s very important that our [new] leadership be adamant that corruption in Prince George’s County cannot be tolerated,” he said.

Following the Trail of the Mumbai Attack

David Coleman Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.

He opened the office of an immigration consulting firm. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.

But it was all a front. The tall, fast-talking Pakistani American with the slicked-back hair was a fierce extremist, a former drug dealer, a onetime Drug Enforcement Administration informant who became a double agent. He had spent three years refining his clandestine skills in the terrorist training camps of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. As Headley confessed in a guilty plea in U.S. federal court this year, he was in Mumbai to begin undercover reconnaissance for a sophisticated attack that would take two years to plan.

In 2006, U.S. counterterrorism agencies still viewed Lashkar primarily as a threat to India. But Headley’s mentor, Sajid Mir, had widened his sights to Western targets years earlier. Mir, a mysterious Lashkar chief with close ties to Pakistani security forces, had deployed operatives who had completed missions and attempted plots in Virginia, Europe and Australia before being captured, according to investigators and court documents.

Now Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits were about to pay off. Lashkar had chosen him as project manager of its most ambitious, highly choreographed strike to date.

Mir’s ally in the plot was a man known to Headley only as Maj. Iqbal, who investigators suspect was an officer of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and a liaison to the Lashkar terrorist group. Iqbal is a common Pakistani last name, and investigators have not been able to fully identify him. Maj. Iqbal and Mir worked as handlers for Headley, their lead scout, during his missions in India, according to investigators and court documents.

The iconic Taj hotel was the centerpiece of the plan. When Headley returned to Pakistan after his first scouting trip to Mumbai, Mir told him he needed more images and also schedules for the hotel’s conference rooms and ballroom, which often hosted high-powered events, according to investigators and court documents.

“They thought it would be a good place to get valuable hostages,” an Indian anti-terrorism official said.

ProPublica has tracked the rise of Lashkar through Mir’s career as a holy warrior. It is a story of a militant group that used political clout and support from Pakistani security forces to develop global reach and formidable tradecraft, according to investigators and court documents. It is also a story of how, despite a series of warning signs, anti-terrorism agencies were caught off-guard when Lashkar escalated its war on the West with a 2008 attack on Mumbai that targeted Americans, Europeans and Jews as well as Indians.

Mir convicted in Paris

As Mir and Headley plotted in 2006, French investigators were confronting the potential dimensions of the threat posed by Lashkar, a longtime al-Qaeda ally founded in the late 1980s and used by Pakistan as a proxy army in the fight against India for the Kashmir region.

France’s top counterterrorism magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, had spent three years investigating Mir after one of Mir’s French operatives, Willie Brigitte, was arrested in a foiled bomb plot in Australia. Brigitte gave a long confession identifying Mir as his Lashkar handler, describing him as a figure whose influential connections made him “untouchable in Pakistan.” With the help of foreign investigators, Bruguiere built a case that Mir was a kingpin leading terrorist operations on four continents.

The evidence also convinced Bruguiere that Mir was an officer in the Pakistani army or the ISI, a branch of the military. This point is murky: Senior European and U.S. counterterrorism officials concur with the French judge, but some U.S. investigators do not think Mir was in the military. Pakistani officials say they have no information on Mir or Maj. Iqbal and deny any role of the security forces in terrorism.

In October 2006, two years before the Mumbai attacks, Bruguiere issued an arrest warrant for Mir that was circulated worldwide by Interpol. There was no response from Pakistan.

A Paris court convicted Mir in absentia and sentenced him to 10 years in prison in 2007. Nonetheless, Bruguiere says most Western investigators he dealt with continued to view Lashkar as a regional actor confined to South Asia.

“For me it was a crucial case, a turning point,” Bruguiere said, “because of what it revealed about the role played by Pakistani groups in the global jihad and about the role of the Pakistani security forces in terrorism. We had the impression that Mir was protected at the highest levels of the state.”

In summer 2007, Bruguiere met at the White House with a top security adviser to President George W. Bush. The French judge shared his fears about Lashkar and his suspicion that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was playing a “double game.” (Musharraf has asserted publicly that he was a staunch ally in the fight against terrorism.)

Bruguiere said the White House official, whom he declined to identify publicly, did not seem convinced.

“The U.S. government is a huge machine,” said Bruguiere, who is now the European Union’s envoy to Washington in efforts against terrorism financing. “It’s difficult to make it change course.”

Warning signs

In 2007, Headley carried out two more reconnaissance missions.

Before and after each trip, he met with Mir and Maj. Iqbal in Pakistani safe houses, turning over photos, videos and notes, according to investigators and U.S. court documents. At one point, Mir showed Headley a plastic-foam model of the Taj that had been built using the information Headley had gathered, according to investigators and documents.

Mir focused Headley on terrorism targets around India. Maj. Iqbal directed him to also collect military intelligence, according to officials and documents.

Headley’s work was complicated by a tangled personal life that got him in trouble again in December 2007. His estranged fourth wife, a Moroccan, told officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad that she believed he was a terrorist. She made references to training and suicide bombings and described his frequent travel to Mumbai, including her stays with him at the Taj hotel, U.S. law enforcement officials say.

But U.S. agents at the embassy decided the woman’s account lacked specifics. Headley continued to roam free.

As the plot took shape in 2008, the FBI and CIA began hearing chatter about Lashkar. The agencies warned India at least three times about threats to Mumbai. The intelligence may have come from communications intercepts or sources in Pakistan. But privately, some U.S and Indian anti-terrorism officials express suspicion that U.S. agencies were tracking Headley’s movements and picking up bits and pieces about the plot without realizing he was deeply involved.

U.S. intelligence officials say they did not warn the Indians about Headley because they did not connect him to terrorism until months after the attacks. Although they say Headley was no longer working as a DEA informant by early 2008, it isn’t clear when that relationship ended or whether it evolved into intelligence-gathering. The CIA and the FBI say Headley never worked for them.

In April 2008, Headley’s Moroccan wife returned to the embassy in Islamabad with another tip. She warned that her husband was on “a special mission.” She also linked him to a 2007 train bombing in India that had killed 68 people and that India and the United States blamed on Lashkar, U.S. officials say. Authorities have not implicated Headley in that still-unsolved attack, however.

It is not known how the U.S. Embassy personnel responded to the wife’s allegations, but a federal official said the FBI did not receive the information until after the attack. Headley returned to Mumbai on a fourth scouting mission in May. He went on boat tours, using a GPS device that Mir gave him to assess landing sites for an amphibious attack, court documents say.

That same month, U.S. agencies alerted India that intelligence suggested Lashkar was planning to attack the Taj and other sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to U.S. and Indian anti-terrorism officials.

The group also considered hitting the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai. Indian and U.S. investigators say another accused Lashkar scout had a map identifying the consulate along with other targets that were ultimately attacked.

Mir and the other Pakistani masterminds decided on a classic Lashkar “fedayeen raid” in which fighters take hostages to inflict maximum chaos and casualties. (Fedayeen is an Arabic word for guerrilla fighters and means “one who sacrifices himself.”) Mir oversaw a veteran Lashkar trainer who prepared 32 recruits during months of drills in mountain camps and at the group’s headquarters outside Lahore, according to investigators and court documents.

The plan called for a team of fighters to infiltrate Mumbai by boat. Fifteen candidates were sent to Karachi for swimming and nautical instruction. But the youthful country boys had little experience with water. Some got seasick. Some ran away from swim training. Trainers had to bring in eight replacements, Indian and U.S. anti-terrorism officials say.

In July, Headley began his final scouting trip. In September, the anti-terrorism chief of the Mumbai police visited the Taj hotel to discuss new U.S. warnings. Hotel management beefed up security, Indian officials say.

The plotters isolated the 10-man attack team in a safe house in Karachi in mid-September and outlined their mission, using videos, photos and maps. In November Headley also headed for Karachi, where he met again with Mir but had no contact with the attack team, according to documents and officials.

On Nov. 18, eight days before the attacks, American officials told Indian intelligence that a suspicious ship might be en route to Mumbai. The Indians requested more information, the Indian anti-terrorism official said.

The strike

The attack squad left Karachi at 8 a.m. on Nov. 22.

The gunmen hijacked an Indian fishing trawler, killed the crew and sailed to about five miles off the shores of Mumbai. On the evening of Nov. 26, the squad transferred to an 11-seat dinghy and landed in a slum where lights, phones and police were scarce.

Lashkar had set up a remote command post in a safe house or a hotel that U.S. and Indian officials believe was in Lahore or Karachi. The room was stocked with computers, televisions, voice-over-Internet phones from a New Jersey company and satellite phones that were manned by Mir and five other handlers, according to U.S. and Indian officials and a report prepared by Indian intelligence.

The assault began about 9:30 p.m. Two-man teams hit four of the targets within a half-hour. Assault rifles chattered; time bombs exploded in taxis; panic engulfed the city. Despite the U.S. warnings, Indian security forces were caught off-guard. Elite National Security Guard commandos did not fly in from Delhi until the next morning, according to the Indian intelligence report.

Indian intelligence officers frantically checked known phone numbers associated with Lashkar and were able to intercept and record nearly 300 calls. Mir’s voice dominated the conversations, according to officials and documents. Thanks to Headley, he knew the targets inside-out.

Using the alias Wassi, Mir oversaw the assault on the Taj hotel, the prime target, where 32 people died. The phone hand lers in Pakistan made the attack interactive, relaying reports about television coverage to the gunmen and even searching the Internet for the name of a banker they had taken hostage. After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj.

“They wanted to see the Taj Mahal burn,” a senior U.S. law enforcement official said. “It was all choreographed with the media in mind.”

Mir chided a gunman who grew distracted by the luxuries of a suite instead of setting the hotel ablaze, according to one intercepted call.

“We can’t watch if there aren’t any flames,” said Mir, who was viewing the action on live television. “Where are they?”

“It’s amazing,” the gunman exclaimed. “The windows are huge. It’s got two kitchens, a bath and a little shop.”

“Start the fire, my brother,” Mir insisted. “Start a proper fire, that’s the important thing.”

At the nearby Oberoi Hotel, two attackers hunted Americans and Britons, demanding passports at gunpoint, according to U.S. investigators. They stormed the restaurant and shot Sandeep “Sam” Jeswani, 43, an Indian American customer relations director for a radiation therapy company in Wisconsin. At another table, they executed Alan Scherr, 58, and his daughter Naomi, 13. The former art professor from Virginia had taken his daughter on a spiritual pilgrimage to India.

The gunmen killed 33 people at the Oberoi, then took refuge in Room 1856. Their handlers instructed them to divide ammunition magazines and keep their weapons on burst mode to conserve bullets. After one gunman was killed, Mir encouraged the other to go out in a blaze of glory.

“For your mission to end successfully, you must be killed,” Mir said in one of the intercepted calls. “God is waiting for you in heaven. . . . Fight bravely, and put your phone in your pocket, but leave it on. We like to know what’s going on.”

Another team rampaged through Mumbai’s central train station, killing 58 and wounding 104. Their tactics reflected Lashkar’s expert training. They avoided running, which is tiring and churns up emotions. They stayed within arm’s length in a “buddy pair” combat formation, a Lashkar signature technique that enabled them to support one another psychologically, sustain fire and exchange ammunition.

Unlike the others, however, the duo at the train station failed to call the command post. Instead of barricading themselves with hostages as ordered, they left the station. It was a dramatic error that underscored the crucial role of the hand lers’ round-the-clock phone instructions, their ingenious method of compensating for the limitations of their fighters.

In the running gunfights that followed, the chief of Mumbai’s anti-terrorist unit was killed along with an attacker. The other gunman, a diminutive 21-year-old with a fourth-grade education, was captured. The confession of the lone surviving attacker proved vital to the investigation.

Death calls at Chabad House

The six-story Jewish center known as the Chabad House was attacked about an hour after the assault began.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the red-bearded, 29-year-old director, and his pregnant wife, Rivka, 28, had entertained visitors in the second-floor dining room that night. Two rabbis from New York, Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Ben-Zion Chroman, had stopped in to say goodbye as they wrapped up a trip to India to certify kosher food products.

When Holtzberg heard shots and screams, he grabbed his cellphone and called a security officer at the Israeli consulate.

“The situation is bad,” he said.

Then the line went dead.

The gunmen shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis. The Holtzbergs’ son, 2-year-old Moishele, wandered among corpses and debris until the next day, when his Indian nanny crept upstairs, grabbed him and escaped.

News that one of his men had been captured reached Mir in the command post. Mir decided to try to win his release by using the two female hostages who were still alive at Chabad House: Yocheved Orpaz, an Israeli grandmother, and Norma Rabinovich, a Mexican tourist.

Mir told a gunman to hand Rabinovich the phone. He ordered her to propose a prisoner exchange to Israeli diplomats. She reported back to him after her conversation with the Israelis, addressing him as “sir.”

“I was talking to the consulate a few minutes ago,” she said, her voice shaking. “They are calling the prime minister and the army in India from the embassy in Delhi.”

Mir’s serene tone made him sound like a helpful bureaucrat.

“Don’t worry then, ah, just sit back and relax and don’t worry and just wait for them to make contact,” he told her.

Hours later, Mir gave the order to kill her. A gunman named Akasha sounded reluctant. Mir turned icy when he learned the two women were still alive. He demanded: “Have you done the job or not?”

Akasha executed the women as Mir listened, according to the transcript. The gunfire echoed over the phone.

The next morning, helicopter-borne commandos swooped onto the roof. Mir gave real-time orders as he watched the gunfight on television. Akasha reported in a hoarse, strangled voice that he had been wounded in the arm and leg.

“God protect you,” Mir said. “Did you manage to hit any of their guys?”

“We got one commando. Pray that God will accept my martyrdom.”

“Praise God. Praise God. God keep you.”

The aftermath

The three-day siege of Mumbai triggered international outrage.

The United Nations put Lashkar chiefs on a blacklist. Pakistan detained Hafiz Saeed, the group’s founder, for another in a series of short-lived house arrests. Western authorities scrambled to reassess the threat from Lashkar.

Unruffled, Mir and Headley were already at work on their next target: a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In November, Mir gave his scout a thumb drive with information about Denmark and the Jyllands Posten newspaper, according to documents and officials. They christened the new plot “The Mickey Mouse Project.”

In December, Mir met Headley again, even though the other handler, Maj. Iqbal, had cut off contact with the American. Headley suggested narrowing the scope of the newspaper plot and killing only the cartoonist and an editor. Mir disagreed. Despite the uproar over Mumbai, he seemed eager to take an audacious terrorism campaign into Europe, according to documents and investigators.

“All Danes are responsible,” Mir declared, according to U.S. officials and documents.

About the same time, the FBI was pursuing yet another tip about Headley. A friend of his mother in Philadelphia had come forward after seeing the news about the Mumbai attacks. She told agents that she believed Headley had been fighting alongside Pakistani militants for years. Agents conducted an inquiry but then put it on hold because they thought he was out of the country, U.S. officials said.

In January 2009, Headley traveled from Chicago to Denmark. Using his business cover, he visited the newspaper’s offices and inquired about advertising his immigration firm. He shot video of the area and — because Mir mistakenly believed the editor was Jewish — of a nearby synagogue, documents say.

But a few weeks later, Mir put the plan on hold, according to documents and investigators. Pakistani authorities had finally arrested a big fish: Lashkar’s military chief. They also arrested a Lashkar boss who had allegedly worked the phones with Mir at the command post for the Mumbai attacks, and some low-level henchmen.

In March, Mir sent Headley to India to scout more targets. But Headley was fixated on Denmark. For help, he turned to IIyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda boss. Kashmiri offered to provide Headley with militants in Europe for the attack. He envisioned attackers decapitating hostages and throwing heads out of the newspaper office windows, documents say.

Headley accepted the offer. Still, he kept urging Mir to return to the Mickey Mouse Project, according to documents and officials. In an e-mail in August, Headley described another reconnaissance trip to Copenhagen. He jokingly complimented Mir about his “music videos” — code for a TV program about Mumbai that had featured Mir’s voice directing the attacks.

With affectionate exasperation, Mir warned his operative to be careful, according to documents and officials.

“Your skin is dear to me, more than my own,” Mir wrote.

In September 2009, documents show, Headley again discussed joining forces with Mir for the Denmark attack, a sign that Mir was operating freely. But Headley wasn’t so lucky. His contact with two known al-Qaeda suspects in Britain had put him on the radar of British intelligence, who alerted their U.S. counterparts. In October, the FBI arrested Headley in Chicago, where he had a Pakistani wife and children.

The FBI had been working the Mumbai case ever since a team of agents from Los Angeles rushed to India after the attacks. Their leads — phone analysis, forensics, money trails — had been instrumental to the Indian and Pakistani investigations.

Headley’s cooperation gave the FBI a treasure trove of evidence and intelligence. In March he pleaded guilty to helping organize the Mumbai attacks and the Denmark plot. His confession and the contents of his computer showed he had scouted scores of targets, including American ones, around the world, officials say. Investigators say he did not do reconnaissance in the United States, but they noted a chilling detail: His immigration consulting firm had offices in the Empire State Building.

Headley helped U.S. investigators overcome a basic problem they had run into on the Mumbai case. American agencies lacked data on Lashkar: photo books, organizational charts, profiles.

“The intelligence was very thin before Mumbai,” said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), whose House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held hearings on Lashkar this year.

Charles Faddis, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, contends the intelligence community did not dedicate enough resources to Lashkar.

“It’s a classic problem in the U.S. intelligence community: failing to anticipate new threats and focusing completely on the one that already hit us,” Faddis said.

A U.S. counterterrorism official disagreed, saying: “It’s simply wrong to suggest that we’ve underestimated [Lashkar].”

It seems clear the government did underestimate Headley. A review this month by the director of national intelligence found that U.S. agencies had received six warnings about Headley from his wives and associates from October 2001 to December 2008. Yet federal agents didn’t place him on a terrorist watch list or open a full investigation until July 2009, eight months after the Mumbai attacks. The office of the intelligence director has said nothing publicly about Headley’s work as a U.S. informant.

Quest for justice

The Mumbai case could put Washington and Islamabad on a collision course. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has vowed to prosecute the killings of the six Americans as required by law. The prosecutions of the Mumbai and Denmark plots are being led by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago. But it’s unlikely Pakistan would extradite the suspects to the United States, officials say. And Pakistani courts tend not to convict accused radical Islamists.

The evidence against at least half a dozen suspected masterminds of Mumbai who are still at large includes Headley’s statements implicating officers in Pakistan’s ISI along with Lashkar, officials say. There are also physical clues. The FBI identified a phone number that is believed to connect Mir, Headley and Pakistani intelligence officials. Headley called Pakistani military officers at the number while working for Lashkar; the number was also called by an accused ISI spy who went on a secret mission with Mir in India in 2005, investigators say.

The Pakistani government publicly denies any official link to the 2008 attacks.

“Why should there have been involvement of the Pakistani government in the Mumbai attacks at a time when Pakistan and India were dealing seriously with issues between them?” said a senior Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “The Mumbai incident provided a pretext for India to shy away from settling the contentious issues between the two countries.”

The question of Pakistani government involvement drives a high-stakes debate. Some Western anti-terrorism officials think that, at most, Pakistani officials provided limited state support for the Mumbai attacks. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official believes a few mid-level Pakistani officials had an inkling of the plot but that its dimensions surprised them. Others speculate that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari may even have been a secondary target because of his overtures to India and his opposition to extremism.

“Perhaps it was done by people who didn’t like the way the ISI and the army were moving, particularly in Kashmir,” a European official said. “Maybe it was a rogue operation destabilizing the Pakistanis as well as the Indians.”

In contrast, a number of Western and Indian anti-terrorism officials cite the in-depth scouting, amphibious landing and sophisticated communications as signs of Pakistan’s involvement. Headley’s disclosures and Lashkar’s history make it hard to believe that military leaders were unaware of the plan, they say. Indian leaders go as far as accusing the ISI of planning and executing the attacks alongside Lashkar.

“It was not just a peripheral role,” Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said publicly in July. “They were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning till the end.”

Mir and Maj. Iqbal are keys to the mystery because they allegedly connect Lashkar and the government. Western and Indian investigators suspect that Mir is a former military or ISI officer, or at least had close links to the security forces. They believe that Maj. Iqbal was an ISI officer using a code name. A recent Interpol notice of an Indian arrest warrant gives only his rank and last name.

It remains to be seen whether Mir, Maj. Iqbal and other suspected plotters will be successfully prosecuted. An Indian court convicted the lone surviving gunman in June. But U.S. officials say the Pakistani trial of the Lashkar military chief and six lower-level suspects captured last year seems hopelessly stalled.

Pakistani leaders say they have gotten tougher on Lashkar, freezing its assets and appointing an administrator at its headquarters.

“The government is working to prevent the preaching of extremism, bring them into the mainstream and implement curriculum changes,” the senior Pakistani official said.

Critics call the crackdown largely symbolic, however. Lashkar camps, a longtime magnet for Western extremists attracted by slick English-language propaganda, still train aspiring fighters, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said last week. And Pakistani leaders seem reluctant to confront the group and risk backlash from its trained fighters and the vast support base it has built through its charities and social programs.

Unlike al-Qaeda and other militant groups, Lashkar has not attacked the Pakistani government. But its professionalism, global networks and increasing focus on Western targets have made it one of the most dangerous forces in terrorism, many investigators say. Recent warnings of Mumbai-style plots by al-Qaeda in Europe reflect Lashkar’s influence in the convergence of militant groups that a British official calls “the jihadist soup in Pakistan.”

“The American side is telling us that Lashkar is as much of a threat as al-Qaeda or the Taliban,” the senior Pakistani official said.

As the second anniversary of Mumbai approaches, the families of the victims are waiting for authorities to keep their promises of justice.

“We are not going to give up,” said Moshe Holtzberg, a brother of the slain rabbi. “The families want to see full justice being done for all those organizations and individuals involved in the Mumbai attacks.”

ProPublica reporter Sharona Coutts and researchers Lisa Schwartz and Nicholas Kusnetz contributed to this report.

Fed Judges Gone Wild

Judge Jack Camp/daily report

Judge Jack Camp/daily report

By Zack Cohen

WASHINGTON — Federal judges are considered among the elite in the judiciary world, appointed by the president for a lifetime, regarded as being beyond reproach. But in recent times there has been a crack in the almost king-like facade.

One judge, G. Thomas Porteous of New Orleans, was just convicted in the Senate on articles of impeachment  on a variety of  allegations including taking gifts and meals from lawyers and bail bondsmen.  Another, Samuel Kent of Texas is behind bars for lying to investigators about sexually assaulting his staff. And Jack T. Camp, 67, of Atlanta was busted in early October for buying drugs from an undercover agent to share with a stripper he was carrying on affair. On Friday, Nov. 19, Camp pleaded guilty to drug charges and to providing a government issued  laptop to the stripper.

“They are human just like everyone else,” said Alan M. Gershel, a professor  at the Thomas  M. Cooley Law School in Michigan, who added that these isolated incidents do not reflect on the integrity of the entire judicial system.

Still, it’s an embarrassment.

Judge Kent

The latest case involving Judge Jack T. Camp has all the makings of the sleazy movie.

Camp,who is on senior status,  was arrested on a recent Friday night near Sandy Springs, Ga., after he bought $160 worth of cocaine and Roxycodone, a narcotic pain killer, from an undercover agent, according to authorities.

The Reagan appointee planned to use the drugs with an exotic stripper, who had told authorities that the judge used illegal drugs with her, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  The paper said the judge had bought a private dance from the stripper and eventually paid for sex and started a relationship.

Authorities said they also found two guns in the front seat of his car.

Porteous, 63, was just ousted by the Senate, which convicted him on articles of impeachment on a variety of allegations that included taking cash, expensive meals and other gifts from lawyers and bail bondsmen, filing for bankruptcy under a false name and lying to Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who headed the five-member House team,  prosecuted  the Louisiana judge for violating public trust and “making a mockery of the court system.”

Porteous’s defense team  argued that his actions reflected how things are done in the judicial system in New Orleans and said that if Porteous was impeached then the rest of the judges deserved the same fate.

Judge Thomas Porteous

Kent, 61, is behind bars, serving a 33-month sentence for obstruction of justice after he was caught lying about allegations involving groping and sexual assault of two female court employees.

Randolph Mclaughlin, a professor at Pace University of Law, agrees with Professor Gershel,  and says these isolated incidents aren’t reflective of the federal judiciary and don’t raise any real questions about the selection process for federal judges.

“I don’t think that overall the judges on the federal bench lack integrity,” said Mclaughlin. “While some corrupt judges slip through, if you were to examine the percentage of judges who have been impeached with the number of politicians who have been convicted of crimes, you would see that many more politicians are convicts.”

Did the Prez Really Say That About U.S. Atty and U.S. Marshals Nominees?

The President in Louisiana/white house photo

The President in Louisiana/white house photo

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — While Washington may be our nation’s capital, it’s not likely to be mistaken for the capital of sincerity.

Which brings us to the endless stream of press releases the White House  issues when announcing the nominations of U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals.

Take, for example, on June 9, when the White House issued a press release announcing the nomination of six U.S. Marshals, President Obama was quoted as saying: “Throughout their careers these individuals have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to justice.”

On the same day,when the White House announced the nomination of Robert O’Neill for U.S. Attorney in Florida, President Obama said: “Robert O’Neill has shown an unwavering commitment to justice throughout his career.”

On July 14, in nominating four U.S. Marshals, the President said in a press release: “These individuals have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to public service throughout their careers.”

On July 21, the White House issued another press release announcing the nomination of three more U.S. Marshals and President Obama was quoted as saying: “Throughout their careers these individuals have shown a deep commitment to public service.” On Aug. 4, in announcing three more U.S. Marshals, the President said: “Throughout their careers, these dedicated law enforcement professionals have shown an unwavering commitment to public service.”

Get the point?

In other words, the White House just loads the press releases with boilerplate quotes that are in all likelihood written by someone else. In fact, don’t be surprised if the president never saw — let alone uttered those words before they went into the release, media experts say.

Reporters see the quotes as nothing more than boilerplate quotes, quotes to be ignored. They seldom end up in print or on the air unless there’s a need to fill some space.

NBC's Michael Isikoff/ meet the press photo

NBC's Michael Isikoff/ meet the press photo

“These are pretty much assembly line press releases churned out by some junior staffer toiling in the white house boiler room,” says Washington investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, formerly of Newsweek and now of NBC News.

The quotes, he said,  “generally go to the delete pile.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Don Goldberg, a former Clinton White House staff member and former investigative reporter for the late columnist Jack Anderson, said the boiler plate language is meant more for the families and relatives  to see.

Goldberg, a partner in Qorvis, a Washington corporate communications firm, said it’s likely someone on a lower level makes up some of the quotes and gets approval from someone higher up in the communication department.

After that, he said, ” they probably have a standard quote they use over and over again. The notion that they would spend time with the president or even the chief of staff on this, it’s just not what they do.”

Fed Prosecutor (WAS) in Hot Water After Jumping in Pool with Boxers

Boiling Water on GasUPDATE: The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office decided Tuesday (10-18) not to press formal charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to show  he `intentionally exposed his genitals in a lewd or lascivious manner,” according to the Miami Herald.

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

Depending how you look at it, Miami federal prosecutor Sean Cronin landed in hot water when his privates went public. Or when he first plunged into a cool pool at a watering hole wearing just his boxer shorts.

Whatever the case, one thing led to another on Sunday afternoon at a beer, chicken wings and sushi joint overlooking the Miami River. A mother covered her daughter’s eyes. Then the Miami cops showed up and arrested Cronin, 35, on a felony charge of lewd and lascivious exhibition and a misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer without violence.

Federal prosecutor Sean Cronin was arrested Sunday on suspicion of lewd and lascivious conduct after jumping into a restaurant pool in his boxer shorts.

Now it’s in the hands of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which is trying to figure out whether to move forward or drop the whole matter.

“It’s too early to tell if any charges are going to be filed,” Terry Chavez, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, told AOL News. “We have to bring witnesses in and see if [Cronin] and his lawyer want to make statements. It’s a brand-new case. Our lawyers are looking into it like any other case.”

Sean Cronin/miami-dade corrections

Sean Cronin/miami-dade corrections

Cronin’s lawyer, Joel Denaro, told The Miami Herald the charges are “beyond absurd. He went swimming in his boxer shorts, for God’s sake. He did nothing wrong.” Attempts to reach Denaro and Cronin, who works in the U.S. Attorney’s Appellate Division, were unsuccessful. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return calls for comment.

The incident happened Sunday afternoon at Finnegan’s River, a restaurant and bar on Southwest Third Avenue in Miami. The New England Patriots football game was on the big screen, and Cronin, a Boston native, was watching. At some point, the 5-foot-5, 160-pound Cronin jumped into the pool at the bar, wearing only his boxer shorts. A woman and her young daughter were at the pool.

Then, according to a police report obtained by AOL News, when Cronin “came out of the pool, his penis was exposed and appeared to be erect.”

The mother “covered her daughter’s eyes,” then alerted pool staff members, who tried to detain Cronin until police arrived, the report said.

“While trying to detain the defendant, he tried escaping through a back exit,” the report said. “At this time Officer Arzola … arrived on the scene in a marked police vehicle wearing full uniform [and] observed the defendant running out the back of the establishment … and [he] continued fleeing southbound, jumping over multiple fences.” The officer apprehended him.

The bar where it all happened isn’t commenting — at least not to the media. “We’re not able to release any information,” a Finnegan’s River employee said over the phone.

Still, that hasn’t kept people from offering up opinions and talking about the matter, particularly in the law enforcement community.

“I do believe, however, that our society has overcriminalized people’s behavior and actions to the point of absurdity,” Tony Riggio, a former high-ranking FBI official, told AOL News. “We have all been guilty of stupidness at various times in our life. That a mother and daughter were offended is too bad, but wouldn’t it have been more human to just laugh it off as a silly stunt or an act of a man being ‘boy.’ It seems we take our lives too seriously and fail to enjoy life.”

A Miami federal agent, who asked not to be named, told AOL News that some people in Miami law enforcement circles think the whole thing has gone too far and that Cronin has a reputation as a good prosecutor and a decent guy.

“He shouldn’t have run,” the agent said. “But it’s been blown out of proportion. Should the guy be ruined and destroyed over one act of indiscretion? His indiscretion was drinking and jumping into the pool with loose-fitting boxer shorts on.”