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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When to Step Forward

Whitecaps' post titled FBI Confidential Human Source Guidelines on September 19, 2007, revealed the internal administrative controls it exercises and the protections the FBI offers to confidential human sources.

That's all well and good if you're an FBI special agent. But what if you're the prospective confidential human source?

For example, what if you're a fundamentally honest city, county, or state employee, maybe a department head, with information about public corruption inside your own agency or another one? Maybe you're getting close to retirement age. You're too old to be changing jobs, because yes, age discrimination does exist. Maybe you've looked at what your fellow department managers have done. You've seen the financial and career rewards they've been given even while engaging in illegal misconduct. You know what they've done is illegal, yet they're still on the job, and no one seems to be paying any attention. Why should you step forward, stick your neck out, blow the whistle, jeopardize your retirement, and subject yourself to public ridicule in the media?

There are two reasons.

First, the ethical reason. You are honest, and they are not. You listen to your conscience; they do not. They may rationalize illegal behavior by saying the positive results for the community override the law. Look at how much better off we all are (or at least appear to be) because we "visionary" public officials and business leaders chose to disregard the laws. Look at all the big, shiny new buildings and nice parks. We wouldn't have them if we had obeyed the law. That's what they'll say. They did it for the good of the community.

The flaw in their logic, however, is that what they are doing is still illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. That the elected county prosecuting attorney is unwilling to prosecute does not and cannot make their acts legal. Their apparently benevolent motives for illegal conduct may mitigate their sentence if they are tried and convicted, but benevolent motives do not justify illegal conduct. And you should not believe for one moment that corrupt public officials with "benevolent motives" do not profit personally. Profit comes in many forms. Regardless, if they are found out, they will be disgraced even if they're not prosecuted. Why? Because the vast majority of people in the community want honest public officials whom they can trust. They do not want public officials who will betray their trust and confidence.

Second, the practical reason for your stepping forward. You are fundamentally honest, one of the good guys caught up in a mess not of your own creation. Corrupt public officials conspiring with dishonest business people are the bad guys. The bad guys know that you are honest, that you would prefer to not be involved in criminal behavior. They do not trust you. They never will trust you. Your honesty, integrity, and insider knowledge will always remain a very real threat to their criminal enterprise.

Their concern is that someday you will reveal the details of their criminal misconduct. They will try to co-opt you to become one of them, to turn you into a criminal co-conspirator. They will use a carrot if that will work and a stick if it won't. The carrot may be public acclaim and financial rewards. The stick may be your being demoted or fired from your job. In extreme cases, the stick may also be physical intimidation or violence to you, your family, or others meaningful to you.

So when do you step forward? Do it now. If you've been ensnared involuntarily in public corruption, you gain nothing by waiting. Confidential human sources are validated by the agency to whom they go to seek help. One of the steps in validating a source is to examine the source's motivation to become a confidential human source. The longer you wait between the criminal actions and your reporting of them, the more an investigator wonders, "Why did s/he wait so long?" It's never too late, but sooner rather than later is the guiding rule.

Consider this possibility: Suppose you have put off coming forward and doing the right thing. You decide to wait, but before you can come forward, you're fired. You've just added another credibility barrier you must overcome. Now that you've been fired, your allegations of misconduct by superiors begin to sound more like sour grapes or retaliation against them than genuine concern for the public well-being. Bluntly, as an insider you are far more credible and valuable than you would be as a terminated outsider.

It is never easy for even an honest public employee to come forward and provide insider information about the criminal conduct of fellow workers and superiors. There is risk involved, because the criminal justice system is far from perfect. A prospective confidential human source may believe he can trust city, county, or state law enforcement. He may believe he can trust the county prosecuting attorney. In both cases, he may be wrong. If they betray him, he is alone and out in the cold.

Generally a public employee with insider information about public corruption will be better off going to a federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI or IRS Criminal Investigation. The federal agencies will be less influenced by local political machinations and personalities. Public corruption investigations must be done quietly and carefully. They will proceed methodically. Federal agencies do not want their investigations to be used as a bludgeon for some local political agenda. But it is the federal agencies who have the resources to proceed with public corruption investigations and prosecutions. The federal agencies are in a better position to help and protect a confidential human source who wants to step forward and do the right thing for his community.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Update: Regional Law Enforcement Training

On October 17, 2005, Whitecaps posted Why Not a Regional Criminal Justice Center?. It suggested the creation of a regional (eastern Washington - northern Idaho) criminal justice center for a regional justice campus incorporating elements of incarceration, corrections, and law enforcement training.

Then in my February 8, 2006, post titled Regionalizing Public Safety Functions, I elaborated on why such a regional partnership would be beneficial.

Whitecaps' March 15, 2006, post titled That Would Never Work...Would It? provided the federal model for a coordinated multi-agency, inter-jurisdictional training program.

Now, September 25, 2007, in today's Coeur d'Alene Press we learn from Maureen Dolan's story headlined Officer training may come to North Idaho that "Support for regional police training academy (is) gaining momentum."

Idaho's law enforcement (especially in the northern counties) has lots of room for improvement, and a training facility in Coeur d'Alene would be a good start.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Crime Statistics: View With Healthy Skepticism

Law enforcement agencies submit statistical information about crimes. No matter how uniform or standardized the submission procedure, there will always be some departments who choose to deceive their employers (the citizens of their communities) about criminal behavior and their department's response to it.

On January 19, 2005, Whitecaps posted Evaluating Crime Statistics. It included an explanation of the ways departments can "clear" crimes and how those clearances are reported. It alluded to but did not discuss in detail the ways departments report clearances deceptively.

In its Sunday, September 23, 2007, online edition The Miami Herald had an article authored by Dan Christensen. It was about the Broward County Sheriff's Office (BSO) and was headlined Probe: BSO closed out violent cases wrongly -- A long-running crime statistics investigation at BSO includes accusations that deputies also wrongly closed out cases of violence.

And that's an example of why every law enforcement agency's crime statistics should be reviewed with a healthy skepticism. Some will be honest; some will be deceptive.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

FBI Confidential Human Source Guidelines

Suppose you are a public employee and you see evidence of public corruption or other criminal behavior in superiors, maybe even in elected officials. Perhaps you've been told to drop an investigation or shred documents that you know would be evidence.

But you are honest. You have integrity. You don't want your agency corrupted by their dishonesty. At the same time, you are concerned. If you come forward with your information, will your identity be revealed? Will your job, or worse, your own or your family's safety be jeopardized by your doing the right thing?

Your concerns are reasonable, particularly if you're considering taking your information to local, county, or state police agencies. Its hard to know what standards, if any, these agencies have for handling confidential human sources, particularly if potential offenders are superiors of or supervisors in these agencies.

Most federal agencies that routinely use confidential human sources have developed guidelines to protect the source and the information s/he has and wants to share. One example is The Attorney General's Guidelines Regarding the Use of FBI Confidential Human Sources.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jail Data Collection and Analysis

Jails throughout the United States are reported to be overcrowded, but many sheriffs and jail administrators know very little about how to effectively collect and analyze jail data and present it meaningfully to the public. Without verifiable data and analysis, claims of jail overcrowding become hyperbole.

To assist sheriffs and jail administrators, the US Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, funded the 3rd edition of How to Collect and Analyze Data: A Manual for Sheriffs and Jail Administrators. The 220-page manual was released in July 2007.

If sheriffs and jail administrators expect taxpayers to foot the bill for new jails that meet realistic social and custodial needs of the community, they need to do a much better job of jail data collection, analysis, and presentation. They also need to adopt some form of strategic planning that projects future jail and special custodial needs.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bribery - How Will I Know? What Should I Do?

Whitecaps was contacted by a person running for public office in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Presuming that s/he will win, the person asked some very good questions: How will I know if someone is trying to bribe me or is setting me up to be corrupted? What should I do if I think I'm being bribed or being set up?

What impressed me most about the candidate's questions is s/he realized that public corruption has already surfaced in Coeur d'Alene. Many people choose to deny that, either because they don't think it could ever happen here or because they know it has happened and wish they had done more to prevent it.

Whitecaps has put up several posts going back as far as December 7, 2004. They may help answer the candidate's questions.

The processes for spotting, assessing, recruiting, and controlling a public official in Coeur d'Alene are barely different from those used by an intelligence service to recruit a spy in another country. Generally the process identifies a person with placement and access, a person who can deliver whatever results the handler wants. It identifies that person's vulnerabilities. What motivates him or her? How can s/he best be manipulated and controlled? How can I as the handler get that person to trust me enough to want to be willing to violate the law or overcome moral objections to my requests? If I can't ideologically motivate the official to willingly want to work for me, then how can I gradually and subtly obligate that person so that s/he can't refuse?

Public corruption is not pretty. The people who use it may have lived in the community for years, maybe decades, maybe their entire lives. They may appear to be "respected" members of the community. But people deserving of the community's respect do not corruptly and illegally exploit the community's public officials for personal gain or reputational enhancement.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Unbalanced Criminal Justice Equation

The criminal justice equation, simplified, is:

Investigation + Prosecution + Defense + Courts = Justice.

The equation becomes unbalanced if one of the elements is removed. Thus:

Investigation - Prosecution ≠ Justice.

Investigation minus prosecution eliminates the need for defense and courts, therefore justice is not served. Reducing or eliminating prosecution does not equal justice for anyone.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal online nonsubscriber edition story dated August 31, 2007, written by Scot J. Paltrow, and headlined Budget Crunch Hits U.S. Attorneys' Offices, budget reductions have forced US attorneys to reduce the number of criminal prosecutions and delay major investigations.

While the US attorneys' offices use other federal agencies to conduct criminal investigations, the investigators rely heavily on their local US attorney's office for legal guidance and counsel. That is especially true in complex white collar crime and public corruption investigations. The investigations could proceed without the investigators consulting an Assistant US Attorney, but that may well make the case more difficult to prosecute at trial. It is less costly and time consuming to avoid making errors than trying to fix them later.

One of the major challenges facing whoever replaces former Attorney General Gonzales will be to improve the funding and enable the US attorneys' offices throughout the country to reinsert "prosecution" in the criminal justice equation. If that doesn't happen, the public will be poorly served in those major cases best handled by federal prosecutors.