The Washington Post has a long article detailing how the FBI held onto their original suspect in the case of letters laced with ricin sent to various political figures long after they knew that he was innocent and had obtained evidence pointing to James Everett Dutschke, who now has been jailed for the crime. The article did a very good job of drawing the parallel of the FBI’s arrest and mistreatment of Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis in this case with the Amerithrax investigation that falsely targeted Steven Hatfill after the anthrax attacks of 2001:
After keeping Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis in jail for a week, interrogating him while he was chained to a chair and turning his house upside down, federal authorities had no confession or physical evidence tying him to the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and other public officials.
“They wanted to keep Mr. Curtis in custody while they built a case,” said Hal Neilson, a former FBI agent who is Curtis’s attorney. “They knew early on he wasn’t the right guy, but they fought to hold on to him anyway.”
Criminal justice experts say the arrest of Curtis without any physical evidence to tie him to the crime harks back to the investigation of bioweapons expert Steven J. Hatfill, who was falsely accused of the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks that killed five people. Like Curtis, Hatfill had an unpublished novel that seemed to tie him to the crime.
With Curtis, however, experts said the FBI’s leap was larger.
“Hatfill had technical qualifications and a background that also led the FBI to zero in on him, but this guy is an Elvis impersonator with an apparent history of mental instability and a Facebook page with some distinctive and curious language on it,” said Amy E. Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies biological weapons.
The circumstantial case against Dutschke appears quite strong on its own, given the ongoing feud he was known to have with Curtis. One bit that somewhat supports Dutshcke possibly being capable of acting on his own to produce the ricin found in the letters comes from the widespread knowledge that Dutschke is quite intelligent, although his membership in Mensa was used by Curtis as part of the ongoing feud.
But what is the nature of the evidence that is known at the current time linking Dutschke to the crime? Unlike the Georgia wanna-be ricin terrorists, where the FBI only found the criminals to be in possession of intact castor beans and an unworkable plan, the ricin in this case was actually processed somewhat. From the criminal complaint (pdf): Continue reading
Yesterday, charges against Paul Kevin Curtis that he sent letters testing positive for ricin to Senator Lowell Wicker and the White House were dropped. It is quite encouraging that the FBI would this time choose not to continue harassing Curtis once they realized they had no evidence against him, unlike their behavior in the Amerithrax case where they pursued Steven Hatfill for years (until paying out a $2.8 million dollar settlement) and drove Bruce Ivins to his grave on the basis of evidence that couldn’t withstand scrutiny.
Curtis was true to his quirky and colorful character yesterday after being released, and the New York Times reported how he explained at a subsequent press conference that he had no idea what ricin is:
Mr. Curtis, a party entertainer who dresses and sings as Elvis, Prince, Johnny Cash, Bon Jovi and others, had been in jail since Wednesday. He said he had never even heard of ricin. “I thought they said rice,” he said. “I said I don’t even eat rice.”
Curtis was already known to local officials when the tainted letters surfaced and most press coverage of his arrest provided details about why he wrote so many letters before the tainted ones emerged. From a Washington Post article on his arrest:
But a darker world apparently also existed for Curtis, according to frequent writings on social media Web sites, legal records and a lengthy trail of letters sent previously to lawmakers from Mississippi to Capitol Hill.
The man the FBI says unnerved much of official Washington this week, leaving mail handlers, staffers and aides seeing danger in any crinkled or unmarked envelope, was also a well-practiced conspiracy theorist. He wrote online that Elvis-impersonating contests had become rigged and politicized.
Many of his diatribes revolved around conspiracy theories, on which he blamed many of the malignancies in his life. The broken relationships, the financial duress, the increasing isolation he perceived — all grew out of an episode when he was working in a morgue as a contract cleaner, according to an online post on ripoffreport.com, which was signed, “I am Kevin Curtis and I approve this message.”
According to the long, detailed post, Curtis accidentally discovered bags of body parts in the morgue and reported his finding to authorities, who immediately made him a “person of interest where my every move was watched and video taped.” He described cameras zooming in on him and said he was followed by agents.
So the picture painted when he was arrested and charged was that Curtis was a disturbed person who was so crazy he believed that there is a black market in human body parts and that he was being persecuted for exposing a portion of that market. Interestingly, now that the charges against him have been dropped, the New York Times piece linked above makes no mention of the conspiracy theory while today’s Washington Post story makes only a very brief reference to it in a list of other portions of his life story:
Curtis is known for detailed Internet diatribes, his long-held conspiracy theory about underground trafficking in human body parts — which he has turned into a novel-in-progress called “Missing Pieces” — and his work as an Elvis impersonator. The Corinth, Miss., man has been arrested four times since 2000 on charges that include cyber-harassment.
Curtis’ account of discovering evidence of illegal body part trafficking stood out to me because I knew that such illegal trafficking in fact exists. A local firm here in Gainesville has been in the middle of an ugly story unfolding around the difficult legal and ethical issues relating to how tremendous advances in medical science have driven a huge demand for human tissue and bone.
Most people are quite aware of the process of organ transplantation and how organ donation either through advance planning or by surviving family members signing off on donation saves many lives. But there also are many medical procedures that rely on human bone or tissue that has been processed.
Back in July of 2012, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists posted a long article that goes into the details of the black market for human tissue and bones and how this market is driven by the huge profits to be made: Continue reading
The pattern is so old that it would be boring if not for the damage done. The FBI latches onto a loser who faces significant charges and gets them to work for the government, “infiltrating” a group to incite grand plans of domestic terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. Then, the FBI arrests those entrapped and pats themselves on the back in the subsequent press release informing us that the public never had been in danger because the bad guys were under surveillance the entire time. Detailed reading of the indictment almost always shows that the “perpetrators” were nothing close to real terrorists, had zero chance of producing a real weapon of mass destruction and never even would have made the attempt without the prodding of the FBI infiltrator.
Future historians likely will point to the Waffle House Four plot as the archetype of this pattern. These poor schmucks were hangers-on with a poorly organized “militia” in north Georgia who, without FBI intervention, would never have done anything more dangerous than sit around Waffle House grousing about the government. But the FBI had Joseph Harold Sims in their grasp and he offered to bring evidence against the group in return for reduced charges in the massive child sex case against him. In the end, these “terrorists” were arrested while in possession of a few castor beans. The deadly toxin ricin is made from castor beans, but the beans themselves are weapons of mass destruction in much the same way that a lump of uranium ore is a nuclear bomb.
In addition to ruining the lives of the entrapped “terrorists”, though, we now have evidence of just how depraved this process of WMD theater has become. The sentence for infiltrator Sims was announced Thursday, and the ridiculously light sentence he has received is jaw-dropping:
More than 100 sex-related charges have been dropped against an FBI informant in a case involving four Georgia militia members accused of plotting terrorist attacks.
As part of a plea deal reached Thursday in Anderson, Joseph Harold Sims will serve less than five months in prison for possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty to 21 counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. According to indictments, Sims had stored images on a computer showing minors engaging in sexual activity.
But the 47-year-old Iva man will not stand trial on charges of incest, indecent exposure and disseminating obscene material to a person under 18 years of age. He also had been charged with two counts of attempting or committing a lewd act on a child under 16 years of age and dozens of additional counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, court records show.
I guess they just couldn’t drop those child pornography charges since that is one of the most important areas for prosecution for the Department of Justice. But dropping over 100 charges? Really? And dropping the incest charges, along with lewd act on a minor charges? Only because he had been on the government’s side in WMD theater did Sims get all those charges dropped. And that five month sentence, well the judge had to know how ridiculous that is, so there were a few maneuvers involved in getting it that low:
At a hearing Thursday in the Anderson County Courthouse, Sims received a 10 year suspended sentence from Judge Alex Macaulay. He also was ordered to spend one year behind bars, with credit for 219 days of time served in jail, according to court records.
Boy, that ten year suspended sentence is really going to sting.
Compare Sims’ sentence with that of Scott Ritter, who played for the other team in a much earlier version of WMD theater. Continue reading
Almost as if in response to Marcy’s noting less than two weeks ago that at least in Detroit the FBI overlooks white terrorists when profiling, the FBI yesterday announced the arrests of four individuals in Georgia accused of planning attacks using explosives, a silencer and the biological agent ricin:
Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, Ga.; Dan Roberts, 67, of Toccoa, Ga.; Ray H. Adams, 65, of Toccoa; and Samuel J. Crump, 68, of Toccoa, were arrested today relating to plans to obtain an unregistered explosive device and silencer and to manufacture the biological toxin ricin for use in attacks against other U.S. citizens and government personnel and officials.
The “attack” planned with ricin is laughable on its face:
The complaints charge that during the investigation of Thomas and Roberts, Roberts described another individual named “Sammy” who, according to Roberts, had manufactured the biological toxin, ricin, and had access to the beans used to make ricin. During one of the group’s meetings in September, which was recorded by the confidential source, Crump arrived and said that he would like to make 10 pounds of ricin and disperse it in various United States cities, including Atlanta. Crump described a scenario for dispersing the ricin in Atlanta in which the toxin would be blown from a car traveling on the interstates. Crump allegedly also said that he possessed the ingredient used to make the toxin and cautioned the source about the dangers of handling it.
Ricin is indeed highly toxic and can be deadly in very small amounts. However, the prospect of delivering a lethal dose of the toxin to anyone by releasing it while driving along an interstate seems extremely unlikely to be effective. As described in the CDC document, ricin powder, which was the planned form to be used, is not particularly toxic on contact with skin and does not transport readily across skin despite many references to keeping it off skin in the conversations reported in an affidavit from the case posted by MSNBC (pdf). Instead, ricin has to be eaten or inhaled to be toxic:
- Inhalation: Within a few hours of inhaling significant amounts of ricin, the likely symptoms would be respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may follow as well as fluid building up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This would make breathing even more difficult, and the skin might turn blue. Excess fluid in the lungs would be diagnosed by x-ray or by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Finally, low blood pressure and respiratory failure may occur, leading to death. In cases of known exposure to ricin, people having respiratory symptoms that started within 12 hours of inhaling ricin should seek medical care.
- Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would develop vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. Severe dehydration may be the result, followed by low blood pressure. Other signs or symptoms may include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, the person’s liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and the person could die.
- Skin and eye exposure: Ricin is unlikely to be absorbed through normal skin. Contact with ricin powders or products may cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes.
And how would a real terrorist go about using ricin as a WMD? Well, al Qaeda knows:
Intelligence officials say they have collected evidence that Qaeda operatives are trying to move castor beans and processing agents to a hideaway in Shabwa Province, in one of Yemen’s rugged tribal areas controlled by insurgents. The officials say the evidence points to efforts to secretly concoct batches of the poison, pack them around small explosives, and then try to explode them in contained spaces, like a shopping mall, an airport or a subway station.
To carry out a significant attack with ricin, it would be necessary to suspend the ricin in air (hence the explosives) in an enclosed area where people are likely to inhale the powder. Dispersing it instead along an interstate highway where people are driving up to 80 mph is almost the opposite of the scenario planned by al Qaeda, and yet the FBI devotes significant space to the freeway part of the plan in the affidavit.
Following the pattern seen in recent FBI busts of “terrorists”, this group also was infiltrated by a “confidential human source”, referred to as CHS1 in the affidavit. Remarkably, even the first meeting discussed in this affidavit was recorded. A bit of nomenclature stood out to me in the discussion of the recording; the affidavit described the meeting as “consensually recorded”. After a bit of digging, I found an IRS description of terms where I learned that this means that the meeting was recorded with the “consent of at least one, but not all, of the participants”. This means, of course, that CHS1 “consented” to the recording, but the other participants in the meeting almost certainly did not.
As usual, CHS1 is an informant facing other charges from the government. From the affidavit:
CHS1 is currently on bond for pending felony state charges. The FBI administered a polygraph test to CHS1 during the investigation of a militia group. The FBI polygrapher determined that CHS1 gave less than truthful responses concerning the activities of the militia group.
It’s good that these clowns are off the streets, as it does sound like they had intentions of doing as much harm as they could. However, from what I can see so far in the one affidavit I have read, they hadn’t gotten much farther than showing off a few castor beans after a meeting at the local Waffle House. Oh, and the FBI breathlessly tells us that a castor bean obtained from the plotters “tested positive for ricin”. Sheesh, I would hope so, since castor beans are the source of ricin. And yes, they even carried out a DNA test to prove the bean was a castor bean.
It will be very informative to read the rest of the documents in this case as they become available in order to determine the extent to which these guys intended violence on their own or if they were pushed in that direction by infiltration.