Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The President's DNA Initiative

Today, it is unusual to read or listen to a news report of crime without also hearing something about forensic DNA testing in the report. The public's expectations for DNA testing in criminal investigations have multiplied significantly in the last decade. These expectations have compelled all participants in the criminal justice system to at least be aware if not knowledgeable about forensic DNA testing.

The President's DNA Initiative, announced in March 2003, calls for increased funding, training, and assistance -- to federal, state, and local forensic laboratories; to law enforcement; to medical officials; and to prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges.

One of the more interesting and valuable elements of the Initiative is a 15-module online training course for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. It was released on February 22, 2006. Though registration is required, it is free, and anyone can register. The course is entitled Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court. The course content includes:
  • Information on the biology of DNA
  • The history of forensic DNA analysis
  • How to understand a forensic DNA lab report
  • Factors in post conviction DNA testing requests
  • Information about forensic DNA databases
  • Issues involved in presenting DNA evidence in the courtroom
  • Information on the admissibility issues regarding the use of DNA evidence
  • An extensive glossary with basic definitions relating to forensic DNA analysis

In addition to better informing court officers, the training would be useful for journalists who do crime and court reporting and who may need to write about DNA evidence.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thanks, Coeur d'Alene City Council

Shortly after moving to Coeur d'Alene in 2000, I applied for and received a home occupation business license. It seemed like the right thing to do even though none of my consulting business clients are in Coeur d'Alene or even in Idaho. In other words, no one would have known had I not voluntarily complied with city ordinances.

I applied for the license first to comply with the presumed intent of the city's ordinances (protect citizens, neighbors, and residences) and second to give clients a vehicle for complaint if they were dissatisfied with my service.

I won't be renewing my home occupation license in December 2006. The reason is not that I wish to flaunt the law. Rather, I've learned that the Coeur d'Alene City Council doesn't really care what kinds of businesses we conduct out of our homes as long as no one complains. The Council expressed its position quite clearly in its January 17, 2006, meeting. In that meeting, the Council rejected a recommendation of the city's Planning Commission to require special use permits for home occupation businesses.

In its discussion prior to rejecting the Planning Commission's recommendation, the Council asked Deputy City Clerk Kathy Lewis to explain the home occupation permitting process. She outlined the process which includes completing a written application and a personal interview with her.

Having been through both the written application process and the personal interview, I can say without fear of contradiction that neither offers much, if any, protection to neighbors surrounding a home occupation business. It's not that Ms. Lewis isn't diligent in her duties; she is. She protects Coeur d'Alene citizens' interests as well as she can with the nearly nonexistent tools she's been given by the City.

Bluntly, I could lie to the Deputy City Clerk seven ways to Sunday to get the home occupation license, and neither she nor the City would know. That's because the City does not do any followup investigation on the representations made by an applicant for a home occupation permit. The City's failure to send a code enforcement officer to verify the information supplied by a home occupation license applicant is failure to exercise due diligence in municipal business licensing.

But surely no one intending to use a residence for an illegal business would even bother applying for a home occupation permit, right? If that's what our City Council thinks, it's wrong. If I were operating an illegal business out of my home and needed to plausibly explain why three or four different vehicles briefly stopped at my house daily, I would fabricate a home occupation that would explain the traffic, I would apply for and receive the home occupation permit knowing it would be granted without any investigation by the City, and then I would proudly show it to the neighbors so they wouldn't complain. The process is called "scrubbing" or "sanitizing" an illegal business premises.

I was extremely disappointed to see that no one from the Coeur d'Alene Police Department was at the January 17, 2006, Council Meeting to explain the value of home occupation permit applicant investigations in crime prevention. Other cities have acknowledged the contribution code enforcement, the enforcement of city ordinances, can make toward reducing community crime.

It was fascinating to read the council minutes linked above and to watch the meeting on CDA TV 19. Several council members felt that if no one complains, everything is just rosy. If they truly believe that a complaint-driven system is sufficient to ensure compliance with laws and ordinances, I'd suggest they consider reducing the size of the police department. Why bother having police officers initiate public contact? Why not keep them in the station until someone complains? That, of course, is an absurd proposition, but so is the City Council's myopic view of code enforcement.

It is astonishing to me that the City Council is so willing, even eager, to allow businesses to infiltrate residential neighborhoods without even so much as some sort of public hearing where applicant testimony is taken under oath and where neighbors have an opportunity to express support, opposition, or neutrality to the idea of a business operating next door. Our residential neighborhoods are zoned residential for good reasons. Our Council has lost sight of those reasons.

So I'd like to express my thanks to the Coeur d'Alene City Council. Its indifference toward enforcing city ordinances designed to protect our community has just saved me the annual license fee.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

White House Katrina Report

On February 23, 2006, Frances Fragos Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, released the White House's own Hurricane Katrina report entitled The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.

The report contains these sections:

Previously on Feburary 15, 2006, the US House of Representatives had released its report about Hurricane Katrina. The report was entitled A Failure of Initiative: The Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Evacuating Nursing Homes and Hospitals

"Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Some inpatient facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, evacuated due to the hurricane. Some facilities evacuated before the storm, while others evacuated after the storm because they were unable to sustain operations."

During hurricane Katrina federal officials used the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) to help evacuate patients. It didn't work as well as hoped, so the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has begun to study what needs to be done to improve hospital and nursing home evacuation processes.

On February 16, 2006, the GAO provided congressional committees with a briefing entitled Disaster Preparedness: Observations on the Evacuation of Hospitals and Nursing Homes Due to Hurricanes. The briefing addressed the following questions:
  • Who has responsibility for deciding to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes?
  • What issues do administrators consider when deciding to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes?
  • What are the federal response capabilities to support the evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes?

Though the GAO's research and briefing used Florida hurricanes as a backdrop for addressing these questions, it seems clear that the answers are adaptable to other natural or manmade emergencies that may force hospital and nursing home administrators to consider evacuation.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Public Corruption

On Thursday, Feburary 16, 2006, the "The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI announced...that there is insufficient proof to charge former Spokane Mayor Jim West under a 'very narrow' federal public corruption law," according to a Spokesman-Review article by staff writers Bill Morlin and Karen Dorn Steele.

Public corruption is somewhat like pornography: easily recognized but difficult to legally prove beyond reasonable doubt without significant physical evidence. To get an idea of what is prosecuted, how, and when, see the US Department of Justice Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 2004, the most recent report available.

See also my March 4, 2005, post Public Corruption - Who Investigates It.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

US House of Representatives Katrina Report

"On September 15, 2005, the House of Representatives approved H. Res. 437, which created the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert named Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, to serve as the Chairman of the Select Committee.

According to the legislation creating it, the Select Committee is charged with conducting “a full and complete investigation and study and to report its findings to the House not later than February 15, 2006, regarding-- (1) the development, coordination, and execution by local, State, and Federal authorities of emergency response plans and other activities in preparation for Hurricane Katrina; and (2) the local, State, and Federal government response to Hurricane Katrina.” "

The report is entitled "A Failure of Initiative: The Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina."

Here is the 379-page Main Report, and here are the Appendices.

Monday, February 13, 2006

That's Reasonable...or Probable...or Something

The National Security Agency (NSA) acknowledgement that it has engaged in nonconsensual electronic surveillances of telecommunications to which US citizens may be a party has elevated the terms "probable cause," "reasonable suspicion," and "reasonableness standard" to new public attention.

Because of the debate over the legality of the NSA's response to the President's direction, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence requested the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service (CRS), to prepare a memorandum clarifying the terms. That memorandum, subject: Probable Cause, Reasonable Suspicion, and Reasonableness Standards in the Context of the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was sent to the Committee on January 30, 2006.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Regionalizing Public Safety Functions

In my October 17, 2005, Whitecaps post entitled Why Not a Regional Criminal Justice Center, I led with the basic question, "Why don't Idaho and Washington, Kootenai County and Spokane County, join in creating one regional criminal justice center near the Idaho-Washington border?" The suggestion was for a regional justice campus incorporating elements of incarceration, corrections, and law enforcement training.

The idea of regionalizing some public safety functions is not new. Interagency mutual aid agreements have existed for decades. But expanding the concept imaginatively is getting closer attention because of the myriad issues uncovered by the events of September 11, 2001.

In 2004, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Police Foundation conducted "...a project to help position state, local, and tribal agencies to proactively manage a changed and continually changing police environment." The 62-page study this group produced and released in September 2005 is entitled Post 9-11 Policing - The Crime Control - Homeland Security Paradigm.

This study, in turn, resulted in the preparation of four promising practices briefs. They are:

As I noted in my blog post, there are very signficant social and political issues that would need to be resolved. Local governments are very territorial and possessive. But here's reality: Local governments will get more benefit than they will lose by sharing resources (multi-jurisdictional partnerships). Any major emergency in our area is almost automatically a regional emergency that will require interagency cooperation to mitigate and resolve. We in Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County are more likely to engage in mutual aid with Spokane County in Washington State than with Ada or Canyon Counties in Idaho. For governors, state and national representatives, and local government officials to reject multi-jurisdictional partnerships because of political boundaries makes no sense. The money for unnecessary, inefficient duplication is drying up.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Local Oprah Moment?

I suspect that anyone who owns a television is aware of the embarrassment claimed by television talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey after she promoted the book by author James Frey, only to find out much of the material in Frey's memoir was exaggerated.

Well, we may have our own "Oprah" moment right here in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Anyone who can stomach listening to The Mark Fuhrman Show on 1510 KGA The Big Talker out of Spokane, Washington, has heard Fuhrman do on-air interviews with author David Race Bannon. Bannon wrote Race Against Evil: The Secret Mission of the Interpol Agent Who Tracked the World's Most Sinister Criminals. In his KGA interviews with Bannon, Fuhrman touted and regaled Bannon's exploits on behalf of Interpol.

Unfortunately for Fuhrman and KGA, David Race Bannon inflated his credentials. According to Interpol, "David Race Bannon, who claims to have worked for Interpol as a 'hit man', was arrested on 27 January in Boulder, Colorado for criminal impersonation." Bannon's arrest for criminal impersonation was also reported by the US Department of Justice in a press release on January 31, 2006.

An Interpol press release disavowing any Interpol connection with Bannon was issued in 2004, long before Bannon's more recent interviews Fuhrman. That 2004 press release notes, "Interpol's General Secretariat in Lyon has no record of David Race Bannon having been employed and no knowledge of individuals mentioned in Mr Bannon's book. Interpol exists to facilitate the exchange of information between the world's law enforcement agencies and to provide analysis of criminal data and other services. Accordingly, the claims in Mr Bannon's book can only be seen as deceptive and irresponsible fantasy."

I wonder if Fuhrman will invite Bannon to come back to his show to explain what happened? If so, Fuhrman and his producer might want to first explain how they missed Interpol's renunciaton of Bannon and his book before they promoted it on KGA.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

And You Think Bloggers and Ham Radio Operators Are Weird...

If you think webloggers and ham radio operators are goofy (we are, but that's beside the point), read this article from the February 2006 issue 14.02 of Wired Magazine. The article is entitled "I Spy". The secondary headline reveals the topic: "Amateur satellite spotters can track everything government spymasters blast into orbit. Except the stealth bird codenamed Misty."

There is a valid teaching point in the article, though. The article reveals how distributed computing can be used to gather vast amounts of open source information that, after collation and analysis, is turned into open source intelligence. It is highly likely that some of the information available from the Heavens-Above website has been classified by someone, somewhere, sometime.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

San Jose Mercury News Series "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice"

The subject of this weblog post, "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice", was the overall title of a five-part series by the San Jose Mercury News from January 22 through January 26. It documented the criminal justice system failures of Santa Clara County (California) prosecutors, defense attorneys, trial judges, and appellate judges over a three year period.

The series segment's titles were:
  • Part One: Review of more than 700 appeals finds problems throughout the justice system
  • Part Two: Prosecutors over the line
  • Part Three: High cost of bad defense
  • Part Four: How judges favor the prosecution
  • Part Five: Last chance, little help

The Mercury News described its methodology and overall findings this way in Part One:

"The Mercury News began its investigation in late 2002, as concerns emerged about the quality of justice in a series of high-profile cases. To test how the system worked more broadly, the newspaper reviewed the records of five years of criminal jury trial appeals decided by the California 6th District Court of Appeal -- 727 cases in all. In addition, the newspaper uncovered about 200 cases of questionable conduct that were not part of the study period, by reviewing files and interviewing lawyers.

The review established that in 261 of the appellate cases reviewed -- more than one in every three of the total -- the criminal trial had been marred by questionable conduct that worked against the defendant. In only about one in 20 cases did the defendant win meaningful relief -- either a new trial or a significantly reduced sentence -- from higher courts."

Of course, that was in California. This could never happen in north Idaho.

Well, we hope not.