November 26, 2020 / by 

 

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda: Billy Barr Goes Soft on Crime

Bill Barr just let a key cog in Mexican drug trafficking go free.

Yesterday, prosecutors in Brooklyn requested that Judge Carol Amon dismiss the prosecution of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s former Secretary of Defense indicted in August 2019 for narcotics trafficking and money laundering and arrested, while on a trip to Los Angeles, this October.

A detention memo from October described Cienfuegos’ role in protecting the H-2 cartel during the period he was Secretary of Defense.

Evidence obtained by law enforcement officials, including the interception of thousands of Blackberry Messenger communications, has revealed that, while he was the Secretary of National Defense in Mexico, the defendant, in exchange for bribe payments, assisted the H-2 Cartel in numerous ways, including by: (i) ensuring that military operations were not conducted against the H-2 Cartel; (ii) initiating military operations against its rival drug trafficking organizations; (iii) locating maritime transportation for drug shipments; (iv) acting to expand the territory controlled by the H-2 Cartel to Mazatlán and the rest of Sinaloa; (v) introducing senior leaders of the H-2 Cartel to other corrupt Mexican government officials willing to assist in exchange for bribes; and (vi) warning the H-2 Cartel about the ongoing U.S. law enforcement investigation into the H-2 Cartel and its use of cooperating witnesses and informants—which ultimately resulted in the murder of a member of the H-2 Cartel that the H-2 Cartel senior leadership incorrectly believed was assisting U.S. law enforcement authorities.

Among the many communications captured during the course of this investigation are numerous direct communications between the defendant and a senior leader of the H-2 Cartel, including communications in which the defendant discussed his historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization, as well as communications in which the defendant is identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official assisting the H-2 Cartel. Due in part to the defendant’s corrupt assistance, the H-2 Cartel conducted its criminal activity in Mexico without significant interference from the Mexican military and imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States.

These thousands of intercepted communications amongst the members of the H-2 Cartel are corroborated by numerous drug seizures of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, as well as the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds in the United States. In addition, witnesses have provided a wealth of information to the government about the operations of the H-2 Cartel, its regular employment of violence to further its drug trafficking, its use of bribery to ensure government protection, as well as the assistance of the defendant to the H-2 Cartel and other drug trafficking organizations.

The motion to dismiss explained that after Cienfuegos was arrested, Mexican government officials told the US that their own government had started an investigation. Purportedly, the US is dismissing this prosecution so Mexico can carry out its own investigation.

Following the arrest of the defendant, officials for the government of Mexico, which was not aware of the sealed indictment against the defendant at the time of the arrest, engaged in discussions with United States government officials concerning the pending charges against the defendant in the United States. During the course of those discussions, the United States was informed that the Fiscalia General de la Republica of Mexico had initiated its own investigation into the defendant’s alleged conduct. As a result of these discussions, the government of the United States concluded, with the concurrence of the government of Mexico, that the United States would seek to dismiss the indictment against the defendant without prejudice, so that Mexico could proceed first with investigating and potentially prosecuting the defendant under Mexican law for the alleged conduct at issue, which occurred in Mexico.

A joint statement from Barr and Mexico’s Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero yesterday spoke — among other things — of cooperation on all forms of criminality and “sovereignty.”

In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.

At the request of the Fiscalía General de la República, the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Treaty that governs the sharing of evidence, has provided Mexico evidence in this case and commits to continued cooperation, within that framework, to support the investigation by Mexican authorities.

Our two countries remain committed to cooperation on this matter, as well as all our bilateral law enforcement cooperation. As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions. This close partnership increases the security of the citizens of both our countries.

This morning, Judge Amon found no evidence of bad faith and so dismissed the indictment (without prejudice, so the US could refile it if Mexico does not prosecute him).

It’s a stunning turn of events, particularly given the slim likelihood that Mexico really will prosecute Cienfuegos (and they make no promises they will).

For the purposes of this post, I will assume this is all about Mexico’s displeasure at being surprised by this indictment, as NYT reported on the move, reflecting a justifiable sensitivity about the footprint that DEA has in the country.

Mexico’s anger at the charges stemmed from largely being kept out of the loop on the case, officials have said. Mr. López Obrador himself expressed some surprise at the detention of a military leader who had long commanded respect inside Mexico.

Mexican officials have said privately that they were angry at a lack of communication by Justice Department officials on a case that had clearly taken time to build, given how closely the two countries collaborate in fighting organized crime.

I will assume this is not why Billy Barr swapped in Seth DuCharme to oversee EDNY in July. I will assume there’s no deal for a Trump golf course in Cancun. I will assume this involved no call between Trump and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who, almost alone with Vladimir Putin, has not yet congratulated President-Elect Biden) on which Trump said, “I’d like to do us a favor, though.”

We can’t rule those things out, because twice before, with at least Turkey and Ukraine, Barr and other Trump AGs have intervened to facilitate Trump’s personal corruption with foreign leaders.

But for the moment, I will assume Barr made this move for precisely the reason his joint statement claimed he did, because Mexico views this as an issue of sovereignty and the US needed to make this concession in order for Mexico to continue partnering on law enforcement, including narcotics trafficking.

Even still, it is either a testament to an unbelievable fuck up by the Trump Administration, an abject failure at diplomacy to lay adequate groundwork to avoid shocking Mexico with this arrest. And/or it is a testament that Trump has squandered our privilege (for better and worse) of playing policeman of the world.

For decades, the United States has been able to find crimes that impact America and others — particularly drug trafficking — and reach overseas (or wait for a timely visit) to pluck citizens of other countries up and try them in our justice department. Other countries rarely complained, much less our weaker neighbors in the hemisphere.

Admittedly, Cienfuegos was very senior. But so, too, was Manuel Noriega, among others.

Yet, today, a DOJ that has almost never set limits on its reach, bowed down to Mexico and let a powerful alleged criminal go free.


Election Day Countdown: There’s Got to be An Afternoon After [UPDATE-1]

The American left — or at least those comfortable voting for and identifying with members of the Democratic Party — is in the throes of their predictable mortification, self-flagellating atop their hair shirts.

Why wasn’t the massive turnout an obvious and immediate repudiation of the deeply racist and misogynist Trump? Why weren’t the numbers evidence of a blue tsunami in spite of the massive push for increased voter participation?

~eye roll~

We do this. It’s a standing joke. I don’t how many variations of this I’ve seen in Twitter today. Here’s a couple examples:

We need to snap the fuck out of it. We didn’t get our heads on straight going into the count last night, and we weren’t ready for Trump’s fascist bullshit lie claiming victory.

We are winning the White House. We are going to take back the entire executive branch, including new cabinet members who aren’t wholly corrupt motherfuckers (Jesus, Wilbur Ross is still serving on the board of a Chinese bank even though he’s been called out in the media about it).

We’re going to have a new attorney general and a civil rights division which will do more than sit on its thumbs and spin.

Investigations which have been corruptly shuttered or squelched before they could launch will begin.

We might stand a chance at making traction against climate change; we might even rejoin the Paris Agreement from which the U.S. formally withdrew yesterday.

We won’t immediately regain the trust of allies and trading partners, let alone the rest of the world, but a new competent and ethical secretary of state will make letters like this one sent out yesterday look less like a fucking joke.

We know we are about to win once the votes have been counted. We’re just waiting for the pretty red bow on top.

Act like it.

~ ~ ~

The Senate doesn’t look good. This I have to admit. It will make the next two years hell especially while trying to stem a pandemic.

But there are some very bright spots, achievements worth celebrating.

Justice Democrats kept all their incumbents including The Squad. They also picked up three more seats for their organization:

Raúl Grijalva AZ-03
Ro Khanna CA-17
Ayanna Pressley MA-07
Rashida Tlaib MI-13
Ilhan Omar MN-05
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez NY-14
Pramila Jayapal WA-07

Cori Bush MO-01 (replaces Democrat William Lacy Clay Jr.)
Jamaal Bowman NY-16 (replaces Democrat Elliot Engel)
Marie Newman IL-03 (replaces Democrat Dan Lipinski)

Bush is the first woman of color to serve in Congress from her state.

Except for Newman, these Justice Democrats are all persons of color from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds. This is the future of the Democratic Party.

They are literally the future as they phased out more traditional, centrist Democrats.

Celebrate the arrival of more fresh faces, more new blood to the House of Representatives, bringing a more progressive perspective.

Also worth celebrating:

— Six indigenous Americans are now representatives elect;

— New Mexico’s congressional caucus is entirely women of color;

— 115 women of color ran for Congress this election, 82 of which were Democrats;

— Four Indian Americans won seats in Congress.

Change is coming. It’s not as fast as we’d like but some of that’s on us.

We should still celebrate it loudly, joyously. We should make it clear the changes are exactly what our government of, by, and for the people needs — it should represent us, it should look like us.

~ ~ ~

Lastly, drugs. All the drugs. Drugs won big last night.

I’ll admit I’m a bit hesitant to embrace decriminalizing every drug, but I haven’t read Oregon’s ballot initiative which does so. I’m good with the rest; we need to end the carceral state which in a large part is built upon drug-related convictions. We need to end the War on Drugs which has cost us a fortune we could spend on other public services while it both creates conflict in other nations and bolsters militarization of law enforcement.

Once again, change is coming.

~ ~ ~

What other good news do you have? Feel free to share it in comments.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 8:30 PM ET —

NBC and several other outlets called the Michigan Senate race for incumbent Democrat Gary Peters. The margin of votes flipped back and forth through the day and ended somewhere around 47,000 votes. In no small part was this a win for Black Michiganders who cast votes for Peters and then worked diligently to count the mail-in ballots yielding Peters’ win.

Change is coming.


The Father of the DEA Dragnet Sics It on Free Speech

BuzzFeed had an important scoop yesterday, revealing that Timothy Shea — the Billy Barr flunky who presided over the US Attorney’s Office in DC long enough to interfere in the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions who has since been put in charge of the DEA — requested authority to engage in domestic surveillance targeting George Floyd protestors.

On top of the problematic implications of the move, in the abstract, it’s worth considering what it might mean more specifically. It might be best understood as Barr deploying all the investigative tools he finds so inexcusable when used against Trump associates being cultivated by a hostile foreign government, using them against Americans exercising their Freedom of Speech and Assembly.

Using the DEA to surveil protestors gives Barr a number of things (in addition to more bodies to throw at the problem). While the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page revealed the FBI has a source with tentacles into all branches of society, the DEA’s informant network is understood to be even more extensive, and often more easily leveraged because of steep war on drug sentences.

There’s good reason to believe the DEA’s access to Stingrays used to track cell phone location escapes the close scrutiny of other agencies. As Kim Zetter noted on Twitter, that may include Dirtboxes, plane-based Stingray technology.

But the FBI and, especially, the US Marshals also have that technology.

What they don’t necessarily have, however, is access to a surveillance program the precursor to which Barr approved, with no legal review, the last time he was Attorney General.

In 1992, Barr authorized the DEA to use a drug related subpoena authority, 876(a), to start collecting the call records between certain foreign countries and the United States. Over time, the dragnet came to include every country the government could claim had any involvement in narcotics trafficking. That dragnet was the model for the phone dragnet that Edward Snowden revealed in 2013. While it was shut down in the wake of the Snowden revelations (and after it became clear DOJ was using it for entirely unrelated investigations), OLC had initiated the process of reauthorizing it in 2014. Given Barr’s fondness for surveillance, it would be unsurprising if he had gotten Trump’s supine OLC to reauthorize and possibly expand its use.

So one thing Barr may be using is the kind of dragnet civil libertarians are celebrating the cessation of in Section 215.

But there’s another DEA dragnet that would be more powerful in this circumstance, and would not need reauthorization: Hemisphere, which was first disclosed in 2013. That’s a program operated under the Drug Czar’s authorities (and therefore substantially hidden under White House authorities). Rather than collect a dragnet itself, the government instead relies on the dragnet AT&T has collected over decades. It asks AT&T to do analysis, not just of call or text records, but also co-location.

A DOJ IG Report on the DEA’s various dragnets released in March 2019 makes it clear (based on redactions) that Hemisphere is still active.

There are many reasons why Barr might want his flunky at DEA to get involved in surveilling Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. Chief among them probably include DEA’s extensive informant network and DEA’s practice of mapping out entire networks based solely on subpoenas served on AT&T.

Both of those are things that Barr has said were totally inappropriate surveillance techniques deployed against political activity.

Curiously, he no longer has any apparent concern about deploying invasive surveillance against sensitive political issues.


Thug, Mob, Rogue: Trump Organization’s Own Description of Its Panama Hotel

While Trump and his son-in-law (and a number of his cabinet members) have clearly been profiting personally from Trump’s presidency (see my NYT op-ed on Jared’s woes), thus far their pursuit of self-interest hasn’t caused any international incidents (moving the US embassy to Jerusalem has come closest).

The scuffle between the Trump organization and the majority owner of the Panama City Trump hotel might just change that.

The problems go back aways (I’ll lay out some of the timeline below). But the short version is that the majority owner of the property, Orestes Fintiklis, got the other owners to vote to fire the Trump Organization in October, claiming the diminished brand and (importantly) a bad sales strategy is part of why the property is at less than 30% occupancy. The Trump Organization (screaming RICO) tried to force the matter into arbitration in December. And Fintiklis has now sued in SDNY to prevent that.

Things started getting crazy a week ago Thursday, when Fintiklis tried to fire the Trump employees, then cut off power, and then got the Panamanian government to side with him and arrest a Trump employed security guard. Significantly, the two sides are fighting over the control room and Fintiklis alleges that Trump employees are shredding documents.

Two people familiar with Fintiklis’s account said that, after his arrival, hotel employees barricaded office doors with furniture, and they added that documents were shredded. The two people said Trump Organization employees — including an executive who flew down from New York City — also blocked access to a control room that houses servers and surveillance-camera monitors.

This room, the two people said, is shared by the hotel operation and the managers of the residential side of the building, which is no longer operated by the Trump Organization.

I find that interesting given the Reuters report, from last November, describing how Ivanka put a Brazilian money launderer with ties to Russian organized crime, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, in charge of many of the advanced sales in the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country.

He left behind a trail of people who claim he cheated them, including over apartments in the Trump project, resulting in at least four criminal cases that eight years later have still to be judged.

[snip]

When first approached by Reuters, Nogueira declined to answer questions. Writing on October 4, he said in an email: “Anything I would say could also damage a lot of important and powerful people. I am not sure I should do that.”

Later, Nogueira agreed to meet. In a lengthy interview, he described his contacts with the Trump family and his role in the Ocean Club project. He said he only learned after the Ocean Club project was almost complete that some of his partners and investors in the Trump project were criminals, including some with what he described as connections to the “Russian mafia.” He said he had not knowingly laundered any illicit money through the Trump project, although he did say he had laundered cash later in other schemes for corrupt Panamanian officials.

The role Nogueira played is similar to the one Sergey Millian played for a Trump property in LA, which basically amounts to artificially inflating the sales so as to be able to get the loans for the underlying property.

Two Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Norma Torres, have decided to take this opportunity to ask the Trump Organization if it knew the Panama facility was being used as a money laundering vehicle.

With the possibility that Fintiklis will gain control of the facility before any records of money laundering get shredded, I want to look at the timeline the Trump Organization lays out in their statement on the fracas.

Just before the 2016 election, Fintiklis, who is Cypriot though has a residence in Florida, bought into a majority share in the hotel from the original owners. The Trump Organization could have blocked that sale but, no, they could not, because otherwise the hotel would go under.

In October 2016, the original developer of the Hotel, Newland International Properties Corp., notified Trump Hotels that it was actively negotiating a bulk sale of its remaining 202 units to a company controlled by Mr. Fintiklis. Because the Co-Ownership Regulations for the Hotel preclude any one person from owning more than ten units without Trump Hotels’ consent, Trump Hotels could have blocked the sale as a matter of right. Concerned, however, about the future of the Hotel and the fate of the Hotel’s highly dedicated and loyal staff, Trump Hotels agreed to allow the sale to proceed on one condition: that Mr. Fintiklis agree that he would not in any way attempt to interfere with Trump’s management of the Hotel or take any other steps to terminate its management agreement.

So weeks after Trump became President, Fintiklis agreed to the terms of the sale and eventually finalized the purchase in August.

In February 2017, Mr. Fintiklis agreed, in writing, to these terms and, in August 2017, closed on the purchase of the units, becoming the owner of 202 of the 369 hotel units.

At that time, last August, Fintiklis spoke in rosy terms of the deal, including the hotel operator (that is, Trump).

We are excited to welcome such an iconic property to our investment portfolio and we look forward towards working with the local team, the hotel operator and the Panama community, to establish the Property as the premier hotel in the country and the entire region.

The Trump Organization accuses Fintiklis of orchestrating a conspiracy to remove Trump Hotels from the property.

Unfortunately, within weeks of the closing, it became apparent to Trump Hotels that Mr. Fintiklis had other motives. Rather than abide by the clear terms of the agreement he had signed, Mr. Fintiklis had been conspiring with others to remove Trump Hotels as manager and fire most, if not all, of its loyal and dedicated employees. Looking back, it is now apparent that Mr. Fintiklis, in flagrant violation of the commitments he had made, never had any intention of keeping his word and had been plotting a takeover and termination of Trump Hotels all along.

On October 14, 2017, Mr. Fintiklis furthered his fraudulent scheme, calling a meeting of the hotel condominium under the false pretense of a “meet and greet” and used that moment to hold unlawful votes and declare Trump Hotels in default of the management agreement. Within minutes of the meeting concluding Mr. Fintiklis sent Trump Hotels a default notice and filed for arbitration to terminate the management agreement. Clearly, Mr. Fintiklis had been concocting and planning this scheme for months.

The Trump folks, too, emphasize that part of this fight is over the facility’s computer system.

Together, Mr. Fintiklis and Mr. Lundgren, over the past several days, have resorted to thug-like, mob style tactics, repeatedly attempting to force their way into Trump Hotels’ offices, infiltrate and disrupt its computer systems and threatening and intimidating any employee of the Hotel that resisted.

Now, the Trump Organization made less than a million dollars off management fees for this facility in the last year or so.

In his most recent personal financial disclosure, Trump said his company had received $810,000 in management fees over the preceding 15 ½ months.

They are not getting rich off this facility, certainly not rich enough to sustain the legal fight already brewing over retaining the contract.

These people are all douchebags and the brawling side show is fairly amusing. But it does seem that Fintiklis bought into something far more than a mostly empty hotel, and he’s now using it as leverage against the Trump family business.

The fight over the Trump Panama hotel seems to be as much about the fight over records that may show whether Ivanka knew she was involved in money laundering with Russian mobsters and Colombia narcotics traffickers as it is over who gets to run the mostly empty hotel.

Which is a reminder that it’s not just Robert Mueller who has Trump by the nuts.


Which Came First, the Failed Ideology or the Spiking Mortality Rates?

One of the things that drives me nuts about the obsessive focus on Russia right now is the claim that Vladimir Putin is the biggest risk to America, to the EU, to western civilization. That claim ignores that — to the extent Putin is engaged in policies to maximize his advantage vis a vis American hegemony right now — the opportunity to do so has been created by the failure of American hegemony. The biggest threats to the EU, for example, stem from the idiotic policies “technocrats” enacted after America crashed the global economy and a refugee crisis caused, in part, by the chaos America has sown in the Middle East over the last 15 years (and to some degree manipulated by “allies” like Turkey). Sure, Putin is making the most of the American failures, but the underlying causes that make right wing populists popular, here and in Europe, can be significantly blamed on America. Significantly, that’s about a failure of the policies dictated by American ideology to deliver on what it promises — peace, democracy, prosperity.

Which brings me to this passage from a WSJ article on the latest installment of Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s documentation of a big spike in mortality among white people in America.

“For many Americans, America is starting to fail as a country,” said James Smith, chair in labor markets and demographic research at the Rand Corp., who wasn’t involved in the paper and said he was struck that mortality rates are rising for young working-class adults. “The bad things that are going on in America do not appear to be going on in Western European countries, and that’s a big deal.”

The spike in mortality, Case argues, is not about existing life conditions, but rather about “accumulating despair.”

The increase in mortality rate for working-class whites can’t be explained by declining income prospects alone. Blacks and Hispanics face many of the same income struggles but have experienced declines in mortality over the same period, the two economists argued, though their findings reveal more recent troubles for blacks, with gains stagnating the past couple of years amid an increase in drug overdoses and stalling progress against heart disease.

“This doesn’t seem to be about current income,” Ms. Case said in a call with reporters. “It seems to be about accumulating despair.”

The rising mortality of working-class white adults appears to be rooted both in worse job opportunities and increasing social dysfunction, following generations of relatively stable lives that involved job advancement and an expectation of living better than one’s parents, the researchers said.

As a number of people have noted, both today and after earlier releases of Case and Deaton’s data, one of the few precedents for such a spike is the rise in mortality in Russia leading up to and after the fall of the Soviet Union. Addiction and other despair-related health problems were significant in both.

Which got me wondering: to the extent this is driven by a failure in ideology — by the failure of the American dream — which comes first, the failed ideology or the rising mortality rates? That is, are people dying of despair in response to the recognition the American dream doesn’t deliver for people like them anymore (which, it should be said, has always involved white Americans benefitting from the unequal treatment of brown people both in the US and around the globe)? Or did a worsening lifestyle lead to a spike in mortality that has contributed to despair and the collapse of ideology?

I don’t know the answer — and admit it might be more closely tied to policy outcomes than ideology. But as we try to figure it out, we ought to be focusing at least as much on how to roll out life and meaning that can sustain Americans again as we are on blaming Putin for our recent failures to do that.


America’s War against Terror Drugs Justice

This line appears somewhere in the middle of a substantial story on the impunity the US gave right wing Colombian paramilitaries for cooperation in drug prosecutions:

On Sept. 10, 2001, a day before his attention turned elsewhere, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, a foreign terrorist organization, just like the FARC.

It’s a reminder that doesn’t get much attention elsewhere in the massive article that the US brought a bunch of (right wing) terrorists to the United States and effectively gave them shelter from justice in their own country.

One reason the terrorists were spirited away to the US — and thereby hidden from the Peace and Justice process in Colombia — is because they had ties to former President Álvaro Uribe, as well as the CIA. In the one war where the US declared both sides terrorists, it managed to find a way to avoid treating “our” terrorists like we do all others.

Compared to either the sentences your average low level drug dealer gets or your average young Muslim kid set up by the FBI, the sentences these key players in the drug and terror industry are remarkably light: 7.5 years on average for the paramilitaries and 10 for the drug lords, according to the NYT’s calculation.

As such, I think this is one of the most important articles for you to read today, on Never Forget day. It reveals a dramatically different model for a war on drugs and terror than the Foreverwar we’re marking today, one in which America’s favored terrorists get impunity and the victims of terrorism get shafted.

Meanwhile, Uribe’s successor has brought about a peace deal (one Uribe attacks) that, if it works, might finally bring peace to Colombia.

I don’t think the US protection for Uribe’s thugs had an effect on peace. Indeed, our ambassador claims in the story that agreeing not to extradite Colombian drug criminals to the US is our contribution to the peace process.

President Santos has said he hopes that one dividend of the peace accord will be a reduction in the drug trafficking that financed the internal armed conflict. Coca cultivation has been soaring in Colombia, with a significant increase over the last couple of years in acreage dedicated to drug crops.

Extradition as a panacea has fallen out of favor. Colombia extraditions to the United States were half as frequent in 2015 — 109 — as the year the paramilitary leaders were sent away. And the new accord, if approved by voters, would guarantee the guerrilla leaders protection against extradition for their drug smuggling — with the blessing of the Americans.

“If you want to see that as the U.S.’s contribution to the peace process, you’re welcome to do so,” Kevin Whitaker, the American ambassador to Colombia, told Radio Caracol.

What is certain, however, is that by sheltering these thugs, the US has short-circuited justice in Colombia.

The article focuses on the case of Julio Henríquez Santamaría, who was assassinated because he was trying to help farmers move away from farming coca. His family has successfully fought to testify at his sentencing, for the first time demanding that the US consider the impact on victims outside the US in crimes the US has bigfooted jurisdiction on as if the US is the primary or even only victim of them.

Skinny but imposing with aviator glasses, a bushy mustache and a toothy smile, Julio Henríquez Santamaría was leading a community meeting in this sylvan hamlet when he was abducted by paramilitary thugs, thrown into the back of a Toyota pickup and disappeared forever on Feb. 4, 2001.

Ahead of his time, Mr. Henríquez had been organizing farmers to substitute legal crops like cacao for coca, which the current Colombian government, on the verge of ending a civil war fueled by the narcotics trade, is promoting as an antidrug strategy.

But Hernán Giraldo Serna, or his men, didn’t like it, or him.

From his early days as a small-time marijuana farmer, Mr. Giraldo had grown into El Patrón, a narcotics kingpin and paramilitary commander whose anti-insurgent mission had devolved into a murderous criminal enterprise controlling much of Colombia’s mountain-draped northern coast.

Mr. Henríquez was hardly his only victim; Mr. Giraldo, whose secondary alias was the Drill because of his rapacious appetite for underage girls, had all kinds. But Mr. Henríquez became the emblematic one, with a family tenacious enough to pursue Mr. Giraldo even after he, along with 13 other paramilitary leaders, was whisked out of Colombia and into the United States on May 13, 2008, to face drug charges.

[snip]

Victims’ advocates howled that it was like exporting “14 Pinochets.” Mr. Henríquez’s family, meanwhile, quietly vowed to hold at least one of them accountable for the Colombian blood that stained the cocaine shipped to American shores.

“We hope that the effort we have made over all these years means that things won’t end with impunity,” said his daughter Bela Henríquez Chacín, 32, who was 16 when her father was murdered and hopes to speak at Mr. Giraldo’s sentencing in Washington next month. The Henríquezes will be the first foreign victims ever given a voice in an international drug smuggling case in the United States, experts believe.

Elsewhere the story talks about two women who were brought as 14 year olds to Giraldo in prison, after he had allegedly foresworn his crimes, in the guise of “conjugal visits.” Their testimony may expose Giraldo to a life sentence in Colombia.

This year, two young women cautiously approached the authorities in Santa Marta. They had decided to reveal that they had been victims of Mr. Giraldo’s sexual violence even after he surrendered and pledged to stop committing crimes.

When they were under 14, they said, they were taken to Mr. Giraldo for conjugal visits, both in a special detention zone for paramilitary members and later in a jail.

[snip]

If proved, the allegations would be grounds to deny Mr. Giraldo the eight-year alternative sentence he would get under Justice and Peace. He would face spending the rest of his life in a Colombian prison — if the United States sent him back.

Much of the rest of the article suggests Giraldo will avoid that fate here in an American prison, even while holding onto FARC members, like Simon Trinidad, who played a part on the peace process and had been thought might get released.

It’s an infuriating article: one that really underscores how fickle America’s opposition to drugs and terror really is.


Jim Comey Impugns Pot Smokers Again

Reason reports that the American Legion just passed a resolution calling on Congress to reclassify cannabis.

One of the potential medical values of medical marijuana is as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And in what must certainly at this point make it abundantly clear where the majority of Americans stand on marijuana use, the American Legion has just voted at its national convention to support a resolution calling on Congress to legislatively reclassify cannabis and place it in a category that recognizes its potential value.

The resolution, readable here at marijuana.com, highlights a number of important statistics that have helped push the Legion to support it. Across two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs have diagnosed thousands of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans as having PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). More than 1,300 veterans in fiscal year 2009 were hospitalized for brain injuries. And the resolution notes that systems in the brain can respond to 60 different chemicals found in cannabis.

Therefore, the American Legion wants the DEA to license privately-funded medical marijuana and research facilities and to reclassify marijuana away from being lumped in with drugs like cocaine and meth.

If veterans suffering from PTSD were able to use cannabis as treatment, we would have to add them to the list of people — like Malia Obama — whom Jim Comey thinks don’t have integrity.

For the second time in as many months, Comey last week used the example of people who smoke pot (on their way to an interview, at least) to describe a lack of integrity.

To have a cyber special agent, you need three buckets of attributes. You need integrity, which is non-negotiable. You need physicality. We’re going to give you a gun on behalf of the United States of America, you need to be able to run, fight, and shoot. So there’s a physicality required. And obviously there’s an intelligence we need for any special agent, but to be a cyber special agent, we need a highly sophisticated, specialized technical expertise.

Those three buckets are rare to find in the same human being in nature. We will find people of great integrity, who have technical talent, and can’t squeeze out more than two or three push-ups. We may find people of great technical talent who want to smoke weed on the way to the interview. So we’re staring at that, asking ourselves, “Are there other ways to find this talent, to equip this talent, to grow this talent?” One of the things we’re looking at is, if we find people of integrity and physicality and high intelligence, can we grow our own cyber expertise inside the organization? Or can we change the mix in cyber squads? A cyber squad today is normally eight special agents—gun-carrying people with integrity, physicality, high intelligence, and technical expertise. Ought the mix to be something else? A smaller group of this, and a group of high-integrity people with technical expertise who are called cyber investigators?

I get that this cute labeling of pot smokers as lacking integrity is part of his script (he used almost the same lines in both speeches), perhaps to avoid thinking about what it means that our nation can’t best fight the alleged biggest threat to it because of outdated laws. But either he has given no thought about the words that are falling out of his mouth (indeed, he also seems to have no understanding of the the words “adult” and “mature” mean, which are other words he tends to wield in profoundly troublesome fashion), or the nation’s top cop really can’t distinguish between law — and that, not even in all states anymore — and ethics.

 


Ben Wittes’ Delusion: FBI IS the Intelligence Community

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Ben Wittes has started a series of posts on how to tyrant-proof the presidency. His first post argues that Jennifer Granick’s worries about surveillance and Conor Friedersdorf’s worries about drone-killing are misplaced. The real risk, Wittes argues, comes from DOJ.

What would a president need to do to shift the Justice Department to the crimes or civil infractions committed—or suspected—by Trump critics and opponents? He would need to appoint and get confirmed by the Senate the right attorney general. That’s very doable. He’d want to keep his communications with that person limited. An unspoken understanding that the Justice Department’s new priorities include crimes by the right sort of people would be better than the sort of chortling communications Richard Nixon and John Mitchell used to have. Want to go after Jeff Bezos to retaliate for the Washington Post‘s coverage of the campaign? Develop a sudden trust-busting interest in retailers that are “too big”; half the country will be with you. Just make sure you state your non-neutral principles in neutral terms.

[snip]

There are other reasons to expect a politically abusive president to focus on the Justice Department and other domestic, civilian regulatory and law enforcement agencies: one is that the points of contact between these agencies and the American people are many, whereas the population’s points of contact with the intelligence community are few. The delusions of many civil libertarians aside, the intelligence community really does focus its activities overseas. To reorient it towards domestic oppression would take a lot of doing. It also has no legal authority to do things like arresting people, threatening them with long prison terms, fining them, or issuing subpoenas to everyone they have ever met. By contrast, the Justice Department has outposts all over the country. Its focus is primarily domestic. It issues authortitative legal guidance within the executive branch to every other agency that operates within the country. And it has the ability to order people to produce material and testify about whatever it wants to investigate.

What’s more, when it receives such material, it is subject to dramatically laxer rules as to its use than is the intelligence community. Unlike, say, when NSA collects material under Section 702, when the Justice Department gets material under a grand jury subpoena, there aren’t a lot of use restrictions (other than Rule 6(e)’s prohibition against leaking it); and there is no mandatory period after which DOJ has to destroy it. It has countless opportunities, in other words, to engage in oppressive activities, and it is largely not law but norms and human and institutional decency that constrain it.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise. Indeed, I’ve argued it for years — noting, for example, that a targeted killing in the US would look a lot more like the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah in 2009 (or the killing of Fred Hampton in 1969) than drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011 (given that Abdullah’s selling of stolen items got treated as terrorism in part because of his positive statements about Awlaki, it is not inconceivable FBI started infiltrating his mosque because of SIGINT).

My gripe (I have to have gripes because it is Wittes) is on two points. First, Wittes far overestimates how well the protections against abuse currently work. He seems to believe the Levi Guidelines remain in place unchanged, that the 2008 and 2011 and serial secret changes to the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide since then have not watered down limits on investigations for protected activities. He suggests it was a good thing to use prosecutorial discretion to chase drugs in the 1990s and terrorism in the 2000s, and doesn’t consider why the rich donors who’ve done as much damage as terrorists to the country — the banksters, even those that materially supported terrorists — have gotten away with wrist-slap fines. It was not a good thing to remain obsessed with terrorists while the banksters destroyed our economy through serial global fraud (a point made even by former FBI agents).

We already have a dramatically unequal treatment of homegrown extremists in this country based on religion (compare the treatment of the Malheur occupiers with that of any young Muslim guy tweeting about ISIS who then gets caught in an FBI sting). We already treat Muslims (and African Americans and — because we’re still chasing drugs more than we should — Latinos) differently in this country, even though the guy running for President on doing so as a campaign plank isn’t even in office yet!

The other critical point Wittes missed in his claim that “delusional” civil libertarians don’t know that “the intelligence community really does focus its activities overseas” is that DOJ, in the form of FBI and DEA, is the Intelligence Community, and their intelligence focus is not exclusively overseas (nor is the intelligence focus of other IC members DHS — which has already surveilled Black Lives Matter activists — and Treasury). The first dragnet was not NSA’s, but the DEA one set up under Bill Clinton. One big point of Stellar Wind (which is what Wittes mocked Granick for focusing on) was to feed FBI tips of people the Bureau should investigate, based solely on their associations. And while Wittes is correct that “when the Justice Department gets material under a grand jury subpoena, there aren’t a lot of use restrictions (other than Rule 6(e)’s prohibition against leaking it); and there is no mandatory period after which DOJ has to destroy it,” it is equally true of when FBI gets raw 702 data collected without grand jury scrutiny.

FBI can conduct an assessment to ID the racial profile of a community with raw 702 data, it can use it to find and coerce potential informants, and it can use it for non-national security crimes. That’s the surveillance Wittes says civil libertarians are delusional to be concerned about, being used with inadequate oversight in the agency Wittes himself says we need to worry about.

Four different times in his post, Wittes contrasts DOJ with the intelligence community, without ever considering what it means that DOJ’s components FBI and DEA are actually part of it, that part of it that takes data obtained from NSA’s surveillance and uses it (laundered through parallel construction) against Americans. You can’t contrast the FBI’s potential impact with that of the IC as Wittes does, because the FBI is (one of) the means by which IC activities impact Americans directly.

Yes, DOJ is where President Trump (and President Hillary) might abuse their power most directly. But in arguing that, Wittes is arguing that the President can use the intelligence community abusively.


The Chapo Secrets the Press Should Be Squealing About

Update: For those who haven’t already read it, this post, Sean Penn, Intelligence Dangle, will help explain this one. 

The frenzy among journalists about Sean Penn’s Chapo Guzmán story has continued over two days now. As is typical of press frenzies, it is largely divorced from the actual details involved.

So I’d like to revisit the question of what Penn may have withheld from his story — because the press is frenzying over the wrong thing.

The Rolling Stone says “Some names have had
 to be changed, locations not named.” As with the rest of the disclosure statement, the language here is notable, as the passive voice avoids saying not only whose names got withheld, but who made the decision to withhold them.

Subsequent reporting, handed over from Mexican intelligence, makes clear that authorities know those details pertaining to Chapo’s side. Kate del Castillo and Penn first went to Guadalajara, where they stayed in Villa Ganz. From there they were driven to an air strip in Tepic, Nayarait, where they were flown in a private plane to Cosalá, Sinaloa and then driven to a location on the border of Durango. Del Castillo’s primary interlocutor is named as Andrés Granados Flores, though she also met with Óscar Manuel Gómez Núñez (the latter of whom was arrested weeks after the Penn meeting as the mastermind of Chapo’s escape last year).

Penn’s own narrative makes it clear that both Alfredo and Iván Guzmán, Chapo’s sons, attended the meeting. The only Sinaloans whose names he may have changed were “Alonzo” (who is likely to be Granados)  and, possibly, some bodyguard type in Chapo’s presence, Rodrigo. He may have protected the identity of others, but not by changing their name, as the disclosure describes.

In other words, the key players in this story whose names were changed were not Chapo’s men, but the two men who linked him with del Castillo in the first place, Espinoza (whom I call Spiny) and El Alto. It is true Rolling Stone did not name locations; at it turns out, Mexican authorities were following so closely, with cameras, anyway, hiding the locations didn’t help Chapo much.

Curiously, those two men, Spiny and El Alto, don’t show up in the pictures released to the press, even though the caption on one describes them as del Castillo, Penn, and “their companions.”

So the Rolling Stone protected these mysterious interlocutors more religiously than they did Chapo’s family. As Jann Wenner described to the NYT (which, of course, played a complicit role in magnifying all this), Chapo didn’t actually have an interest in “editing” Penn’s work.

Mr. Guzmán, he said, did not speak English and seemed to have little interest in editing Mr. Penn’s work. “In this case, it was a small thing to do in exchange for what we got,” Mr. Wenner said.

But there is one detail, in addition to the locations, that Penn did withhold, purportedly at the request of Chapo, one which I haven’t seen any participant in the press frenzy complain about.

He cites (but asks me not to name in print) a host of corrupt major corporations, both within Mexico and abroad. He notes with delighted disdain several through which his money has been laundered, and who take their own cynical slice of the narco pie.

This is particularly odd, given that the complicity of Americans, including our banks, is one theme of Penn’s own framing of this adventure.

The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom.” —Montaigne

[snip]

Still, today, there are little boys in Sinaloa who draw play-money pesos, whose fathers and grandfathers before them harvested the only product they’d ever known to morph those play pesos into real dollars. They wonder at our outrage as we, our children, friends, neighbors, bosses, banks, brothers and sisters finance the whole damn thing.

If Penn is sincere in his stated desire to end the war on drugs, ending the profits for American banks tied to illicit trafficking would need to be one of the first steps.

But he doesn’t name those companies that are laundering Chapo’s money, which will continue to be laundering Sinaloa cartel money even as Guzmán gets removed from the network.

Of course, Spiny and El Alto probably share Chapo’s desire to keep those names out of print, in part because they’re part of the power structure that the banks bolster, in part because banks sometimes narc on their customers to save their own hides.

But it’s funny how the press, too, seems uninterested in learning the names of the banks that continue to prop up both our own country’s power structure as well as facilitate traffickers like Guzmán.


The Heroic IRS Agent Story Should Raise More Questions about Silk Road Investigation

“In these technical investigations, people think they are too good to do the stupid old-school stuff. But I’m like, ‘Well, that stuff still works.’ ”

The NYT got this and many other direct quotes from IRS agent Gary Alford for a complimentary profile of him that ran on Christmas day. According to the story, Alford IDed Ross Ulbricht as a possible suspect for the Dread Pirate Roberts — the operator of the Dark Web site Silk Road — in early June 2013, but it took until September for Alford to get the prosecutor and DEA and FBI Agents working the case to listen to him. The profile claims Alford’s tip was “crucial,” though a typo suggests NYT editors couldn’t decide whether it was the crucial tip or just crucial.

In his case, though, the information he had was the crucial [sic] to solving one of the most vexing criminal cases of the last few years.

On its face, the story (and Alford’s quote) suggests the FBI is so entranced with its hacking ability that it has neglected very, very basic investigative approaches like Google searches. Indeed, if the story is true, it serves as proof that encryption and anonymity don’t thwart FBI investigations as much as Jim Comey would like us to believe when he argues the Bureau needs to back door all our communications.

But I don’t think the story tells the complete truth about the Silk Road investigation. I say that, first of all, because of the timing of Alford’s efforts to get others to further investigate Ulbricht. As noted, the story describes Alford IDing Ulbricht as a potential suspect in early June 2013, after which he put Ulbricht’s name in a DEA database of potential suspects, which presumably should have alerted anyone else on the team that US citizen Ross Ulbricht was a potential suspect in the investigation.

Mr. Alford’s preferred tool was Google. He used the advanced search option to look for material posted within specific date ranges. That brought him, during the last weekend of May 2013, to a chat room posting made just before Silk Road had gone online, in early 2011, by someone with the screen name “altoid.”

“Has anyone seen Silk Road yet?” altoid asked. “It’s kind of like an anonymous Amazon.com.”

The early date of the posting suggested that altoid might have inside knowledge about Silk Road.

During the first weekend of June 2013, Mr. Alford went through everything altoid had written, the online equivalent of sifting through trash cans near the scene of a crime. Mr. Alford eventually turned up a message that altoid had apparently deleted — but that had been preserved in the response of another user.

In that post, altoid asked for some programming help and gave his email address: [email protected]. Doing a Google search for Ross Ulbricht, Mr. Alford found a young man from Texas who, just like Dread Pirate Roberts, admired the free-market economist Ludwig von Mises and the libertarian politician Ron Paul — the first of many striking parallels Mr. Alford discovered that weekend.

When Mr. Alford took his findings to his supervisors and failed to generate any interest, he initially assumed that other agents had already found Mr. Ulbricht and ruled him out.

But he continued accumulating evidence, which emboldened Mr. Alford to put Mr. Ulbricht’s name on the D.E.A. database of potential suspects, next to the aliases altoid and Dread Pirate Roberts.

At the same time, though, Mr. Alford realized that he was not being told by the prosecutors about other significant developments in the case — a reminder, to Mr. Alford, of the lower status that the I.R.S. had in the eyes of other agencies. And when Mr. Alford tried to get more resources to track down Mr. Ulbricht, he wasn’t able to get the surveillance and the subpoenas he wanted.

Alford went to the FBI and DOJ with Ulbricht’s ID in June 2013, but FBI and DOJ refused to issue even subpoenas, much less surveil Ulbricht.

But over the subsequent months, Alford continued to investigate. In “early September” he had a colleague do another search on Ulbricht, which revealed he had been interviewed by Homeland Security in July 2013 for obtaining fake IDs.

In early September, he asked a colleague to run another background check on Mr. Ulbricht, in case he had missed something.

The colleague typed in the name and immediately looked up from her computer: “Hey, there is a case on this guy from July.”

Agents with Homeland Security had seized a package with nine fake IDs at the Canadian border, addressed to Mr. Ulbricht’s apartment in San Francisco. When the agents visited the apartment in mid-July, Mr. Ulbricht answered the door, and the agents identified him as the face on the IDs, without having any idea of his potential links to Silk Road.

When Alford told prosecutor Serrin Turner of the connection (again, this is September 2013), the AUSA finally did his own search in yet another database, the story claims, only to discover Ulbricht lived in the immediate vicinity of where Dread Pirate Roberts was accessing Silk Road. And that led the Feds to bust Ulbricht.

I find the story — the claim that without Alford’s Google searches, FBI did not and would not have IDed Ulbricht — suspect for two reasons.

First, early June is the date that FBI Agent Christopher Tarbell’s declaration showed (but did not claim) FBI first hacked Silk Road. That early June date was itself suspect because Tarbell’s declaration really showed data from as early as February 2013 (which is, incidentally, when Alford was first assigned to the team). In other words, while it still seems likely FBI was always lying about when it hacked into Silk Road, the coincidence between when Alford says he went to DOJ and the FBI with Ulbricht’s ID and when the evidence they were willing to share with the defense claimed to have first gotten a lead on Silk Road is of interest. All the more so given that the FBI claimed it could legally hack the server because it did not yet know the server was run by an American, and so it treated the Iceland-based server as a foreigner for surveillance purposes.

One thing that means is that DOJ may not have wanted to file paperwork to surveil Ulbricht because admitting they had probable cause to suspect an American was running Silk Road would make their hack illegal (and/or would have required FBI to start treating Ulbricht as the primary target of the investigation; it seems FBI may have been trying to do something else with this investigation). By delaying the time when DOJ took notice of the fact that Silk Road was run by an American, they could continue to squat on Silk Road without explaining to a judge what they were doing there.

The other reason I find this so interesting is because several of the actions to which corrupt DEA agent Carl Force pled guilty — selling fake IDs and providing inside information — took place between June and September 2013, during the precise period when everyone was ignoring Alford’s evidence and the fact that he had entered Ulbricht’s name as a possible alias for the Dread Pirate Roberts into a DEA database. Of particular note, Force’s guilty plea only admitted to selling the fake IDs for 400 bitcoin, and provided comparatively few details about that action, but the original complaint against Force explained he had sold the IDs for 800 bitcoin but refunded Ulbricht 400 bitcoin because “the deal for the fraudulent identification documents allegedly fell through” [emphasis mine].

Were those fake IDs that Force sold Ulbricht the ones seized by Homeland Security and investigated in July 2013? Did the complaint say the deal “allegedly” fell through because it didn’t so much fall through as get thwarted? Did something — perhaps actions by Force — prevent other team members from tying that seizure to Ulbricht? Or did everyone know about it, but pretend not to, until Alford made them pay attention (perhaps with a communications trail that other Feds couldn’t suppress)? Was the ID sale part of the investigation, meant to ID Ulbricht’s identity and location, but Force covered it up?

In other words, given the record of Force’s actions, it seems more likely that at least some people on the investigative team already knew what Alford found in a Google search, but for both investigative (the illegal hack that FBI might have wanted to extend for other investigative reasons) and criminal (the money Force was making) reasons, no one wanted to admit that fact.

Now, I’m not questioning the truth of what Alford told the NYT. But even his story (which is corroborated by people “briefed on the investigation,” but only one person who actually attended any of the meetings for it; most of those people are silent about Alford’s claims) suggests there may be other explanations why no one acted on his tip, particularly given the fact that he appears to have been unable to do database searches himself and that they refused to do further investigation into Ulbricht. (I also wonder whether Alford’s role explains why the government had the IRS in San Francisco investigate Force and corrupt Secret Service Agent Shaun Bridges, rather than New York, where agents would have known these details.)

Indeed, I actually think this complimentary profile might have been a way for Alford to expose further cover-ups in the Silk Road investigation without seeming to do so for any but self-interested reasons. Bridges was sentenced on December 7. Ulbricht was originally supposed to have submitted his opening appellate brief — focusing on Fourth Amendment issues that may be implicated by these details — on December 11, but on December 2, the court extended that deadline until January 12.

I don’t know whether Ulbricht’s defense learned these details. I’m admittedly not familiar enough with the public record to know, though given the emphasis on Tarbell’s declaration as the explanation for how they discovered Ulbricht and the NYT’s assertion Alford’s role and the delay was “largely left out of the documents and proceedings that led to Mr. Ulbricht’s conviction and life sentence this year,” I don’t think it is public. But if they didn’t, then the fact that the investigative team went out of their way to avoid confirming Ulbricht’s readily accessible identity until at least three and probably seven months after they started hacking Silk Road, even while key team members were stealing money from the investigation, might provide important new details about the government’s actions.

And if Alford gets delayed credit for doing simple Google searches as a result, all the better!

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/drug-war/