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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"Culture of Misconduct"

No, this post is not about a few Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, elected and appointed officials in and around City Hall.

It's about the Atlanta Police Department and the federal investigation resulting from the "culture of misconduct" that encouraged officers to falsify information for search warrants.

The key word in the US Attorney's phrase is "culture." This was not one or two officers gone bad. This was an agency whose supervisors have tacitly approved their subordinates' use of federal civil rights violations to produce crime suppression. This was a practice approved for use in the narcotics law enforcement subculture inside the Atlanta Police Department.

"So what," some will say. "The cops are the good guys and the drug dealers are the bad guys. So the cops fudge a little information to catch the bad guys. What harm can that do?"

The lede in The Atlanta Journal Constitution story headlined Pleas won't end probe of Atlanta police answers that:

What started with a few bags of marijuana being planted near a suspected street dealer quickly spiraled out of control. Narcotics officers lied to a judge, illegally broke into 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston's house, fired 39 shots at her — and then one handcuffed her as she lay bleeding before he planted drugs in her basement.
The April 27, 2007, article was by AJC reporter Bill Torpy.

Torpy's article headlined Feds: Atlanta police often lie to obtain search warrants on April 26, 2007, had reported:

Atlanta police narcotics officers often falsified search warrants to make busts and pad their arrests records hoping to satisfy goals set for them by upper brass, federal investigators said.
The Atlanta Police Department does not have exclusive ownership of the "culture of misconduct." The strong, moral leadership lacking in Atlanta is found in other departments as well. Where the leadership lacks courage and integrity, misconduct will exist.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"The Bishop"

Has "The Bishop" been caught?

"The Bishop" is a pseudonym used by the suspect in a series of mail bombs and threats directed at the financial industry according to the Chicago Sun-Times in an online story headlined Suspect nabbed in 'Bishop' mail bomb cases. The article dated April 25, 2007, and written by staff reporters Natasha Korecki and Stefano Esposito, offers some insight into suspect John P. Tomkins' motives and techniques.

As noted in the April 25, 2007, press release by Patrick Fitzgerald, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Tomkins was arrested by Inspectors from the US Postal Inspection Service.

The US Postal Inspection Service is yet another relatively low-profile federal investigative agency. Its mission "...is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees and its customers from criminal attack, and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse." When crimes involve the US mail, Postal Inspectors have jurisdiction and authority to investigate. Just as the IRS CI's special agents are experts in investigating violations of the Internal Revenue Code, so are Postal Inspectors the best qualified to investigate crimes against or using the US mail.

Anyone interested in the application of science and technology to investigations would enjoy checking out the US Postal Inspection Service's Forensic Laboratory Services and Technical Services Division webpage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bribery 101

So you have a multimillion dollar project that needs the approval of one or more government officials. Or maybe you have a business that wants to secure lucrative contracts either issued or steered by government officials.

Who ya gonna call? Bribe-makers. (Apologies to Elmer Bernstein for shamelessly paraphrasing the line from the music he wrote for the 1984 movie Ghostbusters.)

Most people understand obvious bribery as money in an envelope passed in the dark of an alley. But bribery is so much more than that.

To have a better understanding of the techniques used to bribe public officials, read the OECD Bribery Awareness Handbook for Tax Examiners. OECD is an acronym for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The United States is one of the thirty member countries.

The interesting material starts on page 7 and over the next five pages lists several indicators of bribery. It also shows how investigators detect evidence of bribery.

Yes, this could be a how-to tutorial for government officials on the take, but they already know the bribery game is played. It's posted here as an eye-opener for honest citizens so they can look at some of their elected and appointed officials' dealings with a better-informed eye.

Monday, April 23, 2007

One Face of Northern Idaho Organized Crime

Whitecaps' April 7, 2007, post titled The (non)Faces of Organized Crime in Northern Idaho observed:

Organized crime is not a caricature of some real or fictional man or woman. Organized crime is patterns of behavior designed to accumulate huge amounts of money and other valuable assets, legally when possible, illegally when necessary or when it would be more profitable, violently when subtlety fails or is inconvenient.
That doesn't mean organized crime in northern Idaho doesn't have a face. It means it can have many faces.

In an online article dated April 23, 2007, and headlined Cigarette smuggling case winds down, The Spokesman-Review staff writer Bill Morlin puts a "face" on one lucrative northern Idaho criminal enterprise.

Morlin's article reveals something else, something that should send a jolt of paralyzing fear through the veins of other north Idaho residents and public officials whose greed has seduced them into criminal enterprise: The feds know northern Idaho is fertile ground for organized crime, and they're paying attention. Very close attention.

There were many details in Morlin's story that make that last point.

  • The cases didn't go to trial. The defendants pleaded guilty. If you're guilty, your best hope is to become a cooperating witness before being arrested. If you're guilty and are arrested, guilty pleas almost always yield a better outcome than going to trial against overwhelming evidence.
  • Washington State estimates it lost approximately $56 million in tax revenue in the criminal enterprise. This was not small potatoes crime.
  • The criminal enterprise was run out of a home near Plummer, Idaho, population fewer than 1,000 people. Organized crime is not a big-city phenomenon. It's in rural areas, too.
  • The predicate crimes: Trafficking in contraband cigarettes; money laundering; mail fraud; interstate transportation in aid of racketeering; cigarette record-keeping violations.

It was especially significant to see that the guilty pleas were also for conspiracy to violate the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The predicate crimes noted can be investigated and prosecuted by the appropriate US Attorney's office in their respective judicial districts, however a RICO prosecution requires oversight and approval from an Assistant Attorney General in the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Prosecution under RICO clearly demonstrates to all who care to see that organized crime in northern Idaho is on a very large radar screen.

It may also surprise some people to note the Federal Bureau of Investigation was not named as one of the investigating agencies. This organized crime enterprise was very successfully investigated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Has Idaho Hit the Big Time?

Has Idaho finally hit the big time when it comes to public corruption? Is it now a "pay-for-play" state?

Could be.

Suppose a developer wants to do a major project that requires state, county, or local approvals. In its simplest form, the developer would simply bribe key decision-makers in the government. Voila! Approvals granted, almost no questions asked, no particularly pesky on-site compliance inspections.

Or suppose a contractor wants a very lucrative contract but doesn't want to risk losing out to a competitor? Again, no problem. Simply bribe those same key decision-makers in the government. Poof! A no-bid contract (known in federal procurement circles as a sole-source contract) is awarded. Sole-source contracts can be in the public interest. Often, they are not. The competitive bidding process helps identify contractors who are capable of doing the job and meeting the statement of work requirements. It should eliminate unqualified bidders, and it allows the government to reject bidders who have defaulted on previous contracts. No honest government decision-maker would even think of awarding a sole-source contract to an applicant who had "stiffed" the agency on a previous agreement. Competitive bidding helps keep cost to taxpayers down and quality up.

Even in Idaho outright bribery is illegal, so some cleverness and subterfuge is necessary. Bribery is such a nasty word. Incidentally, if the influence payment is made before the decision, its a bribe for future service. If the influence payment comes after the decision, it's a gratuity for services rendered. Either way, it's illegal.

The influence payment need not be cash, though that is by far the easiest way to pay off dirty public officials. It can be more subtle. It may mean hiring the decision-maker to use his or her own business to deliver a product or service to the bribe or gratuity grantor. It may mean hiring a close relative of the decision-maker. Regardless, it's a payoff at the front end or the back end for having made a decision with a positive financial outcome for both parties guaranteed.

In the vernacular of contract kickbacks, it's known euphemistically as "pay-for-play" or "play-to-pay." If you or your company want to receive big, government-controlled or government-influenced contracts, cough up those campaign donations to sympathetic incumbents or candidates. Make sure your company's employees donate to your selected candidate as well. Don't worry if the employees can't afford it; you're going to reimbuse them through such vehicles as inflated salaries or wages, year-end bonuses, performance awards, etc. The use of campaign contributions as payoffs are often called "legal bribery" because it is difficult, though by no means impossible, to associate the otherwise legal contributions with specific criminal intent.

There's an even more subtle and lucrative way to pay off a decision-maker. Make a "voluntary donation" to the decision-maker's favorite charity, foundation, or other public cause.

Suppose a key decision-maker or body of decision-makers has publicly endorsed a very high visibility public project, one that will assure the decision-makers' names are prominently displayed on the bronze plaque at the project's front door. The agreement between the offerer and the acceptor is made, and the approvals are granted or contracts awarded to the pre-determined winner(s).

Then after the project is underway and after a suitable amount of time has passed, the pre-determined winner(s) make a ceremonial donation back to the decision-maker's identified cause. This has an additional benefit for the donor. If the decision-maker's "favorite cause" is a charitable organization, some or all of the kickback donation is tax-deductible. Thus part of the bribe or gratuity is returned to the payor by the governments (federal and state) in the form of a tax refund. Illegal? Sure, but only after the scheme is unmasked.

In these contract kickback schemes, the general public loses because its tax dollars or donations it made to what it believed was a legitimately good cause may have been spent on a substandard project. The public officials did not fulfill their obligation to represent all constituents equally or fairly. Neither did those officials ensure that public projects were built safely and in compliance with all public safety laws and regulations.

The general public loses in other ways.

First, those contractors and developers who pay-to-play will have a competitive advantage over honest competitors. This inevitably discourages the honest ones from bidding when competitive bidding is actually used. They know the fix is in. It discourages honest developers, because the dishonest ones get benefits not available to the honest ones, benefits that increase profitability. This ultimately drives up the cost of publicly-funded projects. Taxpayers pay more and get less.

Second, the public eventually realizes it can no longer trust the decision-makers to make decisions in the public interest. This recognition discourages honest citizens from running for public office. It encourages dishonest candidates to run for office. Those candidates are the ones willing to "buy" their office with the tainted money of their benefactors. In return, they do their benefactor's bidding once they are in office.

There is no simple solution to curing the pay-to-play malignancy. As long as public officials are willing to sell out their personal integrity for money or public acclaim, pay-for-play will go on. As long as traditional watchdogs such as the newspapers are unwilling to spend the very considerable time and effort necessary to dig out and report the varieties of pay-to-play, as long as local agencies are unwilling to aggresively investigate and prosecute the criminal side of pay-for-play, and as long as legislators are the recipients of the largesse, the condition will worsen rather than improve.

Welcome to Idaho.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Is the War Over? Did We Win? Are You Sure?

In January 2006 Whitecaps blogged We're At War ... Or Something. That blog post mentioned several "wars" including the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Illiteracy, and of course the war du jour, the War on Terrorism.

How will we know if we've won (or lost) the War on Terrorism? For that matter, how will we know when it ends? Who will sign the treaty on behalf of the terrorists?

The Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, gives us a hint of just how difficult answering those questions is. On March 12, 2007, it released an updated report titled Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness. The report doesn't answer the questions in a way that will satisfy most of us, but it does provide some useful insight into terrorism as process.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Put Up or ...

A few people who read this blog realize I write it mainly to provide information for some students at Eastern Washington University (EWU). I am an unpaid volunteer guest lecturer, not an employee or a contractor at EWU. Neither the school nor any instructor who invites me should be held accountable for anything I post on this web log. I should.

I've received a comment critical of my Saturday blog post titled The (non)Faces of Organized Crime in Northern Idaho. The commenter asked why I didn't include examples of some of the points I raised. Since the questioner wasn't specific about what s/he sought, I'll give two examples from the news.

One example is nearly twenty years old, but it demonstrates the point that organized crime is willing and able to compromise reputable and distinguished news organizations. The news media compromise was reported by Los Angeles Business Journal reporter Benjamin Mark Cole in his July 13, 1987, story titled Barry Minkow's favorable treatment in press exposes reporters' own vulnerability to fraud - ZZZZ Best Company Inc. Cole reported how various Los Angeles news media, identified in the link, had been so predisposed to report good news about whiz-kid Minkow, they failed to ask the right questions that would have revealed the organized crime financing behind Minkow's business. The reputed organized crime figure was Jack Catain.

The second example comes from a Sunday, April 8, 2007, Washington Post newspaper article by John Solomon and Peter Barker. The article was headlined White House Looked Past Alarms on Kerik. The article reports that former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and now US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged President Bush to appoint Bernard Kerik to the Cabinet-level post of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The Washington Post story reports that during Kerik's vetting process

They (the White House) learned about questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption. Most disturbing, according to people close to the process, was Kerik's friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime. The businessman had told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.
This example is not intended to prove that Bernard Kerik was co-opted by organized crime. It does show, however, that organized crime is willing and able to reach out for and maybe influence public officials, including a (former) top law enforcement officer in the New York City Police Department. To loosely paraphrase a line from the theme song of the 1977 Martin Scorsese film New York, New York: If they can do it there, they can do it anywhere.

"Anywhere" includes northern Idaho. Anywhere.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The (non)Faces of Organized Crime in Northern Idaho

Even today, April 7, 2007, the mention of organized crime generates thoughts of the Kefauver Committee (1951), the Apalachin meetings (1957), Joe Valachi (1963), and more recently such colorful characters as Sam "the Odd Father" Gigante and John "Teflon Don" Gotti. Our caricature of an organized crime gangster is often an Italian or Sicilian Mafioso or member of the La Cosa Nostra (LCN).

The LCN was and is a good example of a criminal enterprise, a group of individuals with an identified hierarchy or comparable structure who are engaged in significant criminal activity. That definition does not stop with LCN. In today's world of organized crime, it includes Eurasian organized crime, Asian criminal enterprises, African criminal enterprises, and sports bribery.

But we live in northern Idaho. We don't see Mafioso running around on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d'Alene. We don't see Chinese tongs extorting money from merchants in Spirit Lake or Sandpoint. We don't see Nigerians living in Hayden and scamming folks from Athol. We don't see the caricatures with our eyes, so we ignore the possibilities with our minds. We don't want to even think, let alone acknowledge, that organized crime could exist in our area.

We're wrong.

Organized crime is not a caricature of some real or fictional man or woman. Organized crime is patterns of behavior designed to accumulate huge amounts of money and other valuable assets, legally when possible, illegally when necessary or when it would be more profitable, violently when subtlety fails or is inconvenient.

The accumulation of wealth is not inherently illegal. The free and open accumulation of honestly-acquired and properly reported wealth remains a cornerstone of the US economy. But where there's wealth to be acquired, organized crime will try to work its way into the wealth chain.

Wherever possible, organized crime will try to operate with as little public scrutiny and attention as possible. It will try to integrate itself into lawful businesses and corporate vehicles so it can acquire "clean" assets and launder the "dirty" ones (currency is not the only asset that needs to be laundered). And it will try, very hard and very patiently, to insinuate itself into the legal and regulatory processes and institutions to internally sabotage those processes' and institutions' effectiveness against organized crime. It will "groom" future elected and appointed officials, sometimes without the future officials' awareness. By the time the targeted official realizes s/he's been manipulated, s/he's already on the hook.

Organized crime in norhtern Idaho will not be a caricature of Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in Coppola's 1972 movie The Godfather. It isn't that easily spotted. Indeed, if we wait to act until we can recognize its face, we will have already overlooked the fully developed body.

"Oh, come on! This is nonsense," some of you are saying. "It won't happen here. This is just little ol' northern Idaho, not New York or Chicago or Philly or Miami or Los Angeles. 'They' wouldn't be interested in moving in here."

Yes, "they" would. The social, political, and economic environment is right for organized crime to exist and thrive here.

  • There's money here. Lot's of it. Greed is growing like milfoil and is just as difficult to eradicate. Greed among community members and public officials is the nutrient that feeds organized crime.
  • There's little support for official regulation and oversight here. The "live and let live" philosophy that discourages the strict and consistent enforcement of federal regulations as well as city and county ordinances provides a safe harbor for organized crime.
  • Our state, county, and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are simply no match for organized crime. Welcome to northern Idaho. Set your criminal justice system watches back 30 years.
  • The federal agencies, including the US Attorney's Office, are most able to effectively deal with white collar criminal enterprises, but Idaho's federal agencies are underresourced. Blame that partly on the people Idaho sends to Congress. Their campaign contributors are the same people who fear federal law enforcement and regulatory intervention.
  • Local and regional news media are barely aware of organized crime, perhaps because their owners, station managers, and publishers don't want to risk loss of social status and advertising dollars. Or maybe they fear learning the truth: Their own journalistic independence may have already been compromised by "them".

Northern Idaho is a fertile field, not a hostile environment, for organized crime. Once it is allowed to take root, it will remain here as long as there are valuable assets to be exploited.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security

The US Department of Homeland Security has released its long-awaited rule for securing high-risk chemical facilities.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Interim Rule and its Proposed Appendix A: DHS Chemicals of Interest are available online.

Public Safety Communications Interoperability

"As the first to respond to natural disasters, domestic terrorism, and other emergencies, public safety agencies rely on timely communications across multiple disciplines and jurisdictions. It is vital to the safety and effectiveness of first responders that their electronic communications systems enable them to communicate with whomever they need to, when they need to, and when they are authorized to do so."

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to determine the extent to which Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding and technical assistance has helped to improve interoperable communications in selected states. GAO was also asked to determine the progress that has been made in the development and implementation of interoperable communications standards. To address those two objectives, GAO reviewed grant information, documentation of selected states' and localities' interoperability projects, and standards documents.

What the GAO found is available in its April 2007 study titled First Responders - Much Work Remains to Improve Communications Interoperability.

Idaho was not one of the states studied, however some information about what Idaho is doing to work toward interoperability is available on Idaho's Statewide Interoperability Executive Council website.

Why should we care? Well, aside from the improvement in service that interoperabilty should present, communications systems cost a great deal of money to design, install, and maintain. That money comes from taxpayer dollars. And no, it doesn't matter if the money comes from a DHS grant. Federal, state, and local grant dollars are taxpayer dollars. There's no such thing as free money.