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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on the Homeland Security and DOJ case

I want to follow-up on the post from yesterday regarding the complicity of Homeland Security and Justice Department officials -- including several very high level administration officials -- in the multiple murders committed by one of their paid informants. Radley Balko has some observations about this story here and here:

If true, this ought to be a scandal on par with Abu Ghraib. But in the three years since Luis Padilla's death, the Guardian reports that not a single American media outlet has spoken to his widow, and only the Dallas Morning News has given the case any coverage at all. It's certainly the first I've heard of it, and I follow drug war stories pretty closely.

Added to the facts from yesterday is this letter (.pdf) from the DEA's Sandy Gonazlez (the now-fired whistleblower and former Agent in Charge of the DEA's El Paso Office) to the El Paso Director of Homeland Security's ICE. That letter provides even greater detail and documentation as to the extent not only of the DOJ and Homeland Security's knowledge of the multiple murders committed by their paid informant, but, worse still, their efforts to actively shield the murderer from prosecution and to prevent the Mexican Government from arresting him and his associates for these murders.

Beyond that, this article from The San Antonio Current (h/t sysprog) details the attempts by the U.S. Attorney in Texas who played a central role in all of this -- George Bush and Alberto Gonzales associate Johnny Sutton -- to intimidate and threaten the independent journalist from Narco News who obtained the DEA memorandum which brought all of this to light:

When federal agents knock on your door, chances are they're not bringing you a Publisher's Clearinghouse check. Just ask San Antonio freelance journalist Bill Conroy: Federal agents visited his home and workplace trying to squeeze him for the source of a leaked Department of Homeland Security memo.

Conroy freelances investigative pieces about the drug war, border issues, and national security for Narco News, an online magazine covering Mexico and Central and South America. He is also the editor of the San Antonio Business Journal, but his work for Narco News is unrelated. . . .

According to Conroy's lawyer, Ron Tonkin, a former assistant U.S. attorney specializing in drug cases, around 6 p.m. on May 23, a man and woman identifying themselves as internal affairs agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited Conroy's home. Conroy was still at work and his wife answered the door.

At the behest of Conroy's wife, Agent Carlos Salazar gave her a phone number for Conroy to call him, then he and the unidentified agent left.

After receiving a call at work from his wife, Conroy phoned the number Salazar provided and left a voicemail, Tonkin said.

The Current called Salazar's number several times over the course of four days, but no one answered, nor was there voicemail.

Salazar didn't call Conroy back, but the next day, he and a male agent showed up at the Business Journal. Conroy escorted them to a conference room, where Salazar reportedly said, "I want to know your source" of a leaked, yet unclassified DHS memo that had been the centerpiece of one of Conroy's Narco News stories. Tonkin said Conroy refused to give up his source and told Salazar that if they planned on continuing to question him, he would record the conversation.

The agents left the conference room, reportedly asking Conroy, "Does your boss know you write for Narcosphere?"

The agents then took Conroy's boss into a conference room,
where, according to Tonkin, he told them Conroy had done the work on his own time for another publication and there was nothing he could do for them.

As is always true for the Bush administration, they are not interested in investigating severe government wrongdoing. But they are very vigilant about investigating -- and trying to ferret out and punish -- those who bring the wrongdoing to light (the classic case being their eagerness to punish the whistleblowers and journalists who informed Americans that the President was illegally eavesdropping on them, while doing everything possible to protect the lawbreakers themselves).

The context of this "visit" by federal agents to Conroy's home and office, as well as the accompanying threats issued to him, must be emphasized: the story which Conroy had reported on for Narco News involved the complicity in multiple murders on the part of federal DHS agents as well as the U.S. attorney who sent the agents to Conroy's home and business. Under the circumstances, receiving a "visit" to one's home and business by federal agents sent by the Bush associate at the heart of this matter would be seen by any reasonable person as quite intimidating, just as intended.

The specific DHS memo which the agents claimed to be interested in was a DHS memo obtained by Conroy in which "ICE supervisors were ordered to purge terrorism records from the computer system and reclassify them as unrelated to terrorism." That order, by itself, seems corrupt on its face: "Mark Conrad, a retired supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs, told the Current that this order contradicts any protocol he knew of while an agent and violates federal law."

But there is little doubt that this unbelievably threatening behavior towards this reporter was motivated by the reporter's exposure of the complicity of ICE and Sutton's office in the Lalo murders:

"The agents would not do this on their own," Conrad said, adding that in his experience as a supervisor, "we could not interview a reporter especially about sources or anything they had written without Washington approval, including the Department of Justice."

Tonkin and Conrad speculated that the visits were "payback" for Conroy's stories that were embarrassing to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Johnny Sutton. On April 1, Conroy reported on an alleged cover-up regarding ICE agents who were reportedly protecting a criminal informant accused of multiple drug-related murders in Ciudad Juárez. The case fell under Sutton's jurisdiction.

Ordinarily -- meaning when our Republic works the way it is supposed to -- grave misconduct of this sort is investigated by Congress, which has as one of its principal functions the duty of oversight. It is the responsibility of Congress -- and, really, only Congress can fulfill the responsibility -- to ensure that the vast law enforcement powers under the control of the Executive branch [in order (theoretically) to execute our laws] are not abused.

But, needless to say, our Republic hasn't been functioning the way it is supposed to, in large part because the Congress has been ruled by authoritarian followers of the President who believe that the Leader does not err. Therefore -- outside of Narco News and a couple of isolated, ignored reporters -- nothing relating to any of these events has been investigated, neither by the media nor the Congress. And that is really as pure of a microcosm of the last five years as anything I can think of.

There just must be a Congressional investigation into this entire matter. The extent of wrongdoing here is staggering. It would be one thing if it were just some rogue law enforcement officers engaging in excessive, criminal and/or violent behavior. By itself, that would compel all sorts of investigations and corrective actions, but that would be a more commonplace outrage.

This case goes far beyond that. Agents of our government worked with, paid and recorded a serial murderer who repeatedly tortured and slaughtered people with the knowledge of high-level DOJ and DHS officials. The 30-year DEA agent in charge of the El Paso office who complained about this and brought it to light was threatened and then fired. The independent reporter who reported on it was harassed, intimidated and threatened by agents who, with pure malice, went to his boss in an unrelated job in order to disclose information about him that they thought would be damaging, if not get him fired -- all done to force the reporter to disclose his sources.

This is lawless, thug behavior of the most extreme type. And it resulted in the deaths of numerous people, including the brutal torture and murder of a completely innocent life-long resident of the United States (and husband and father of three), and at least 12 Mexicans, including at least some who were completely innocent of wrongdoing. Homeland Security's conduct also came close to resulting in the slaughter of a DEA agent and his wife and daughters. And those who objected and tried to bring all of this to light were threatened, intimidated and punished.

And all of it was done with the knowledge and consent of very high-ranking Homeland Security and Justice Department officials -- possibly including the Attorney General and others -- with at least the partial intent to protect a close associate of the President and Alberto Gonzales, an individual who continues to serve as a U.S. Attorney today. And the still-serving DEA administration herself appears to have actively sought to punish the DEA whistleblower.

I believe (without being certain) that it is the House Judiciary Committee (Chairman John Conyers), and specifically the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Reform, and Claims, which has oversight responsibilities for ICE. In the Senate, it would seem that oversight responsibility is within the jurisdiction of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (Chairman Joe Lieberman), and specifically the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. I'm sure other Committees and Subcommittees have overlapping jursidiction as well.

I think some sort of campaign is in order to demand a Congressional investigation into all of these events. It is a modest and focused enough objective such that an effectively designed campaign could succeed. I would think all that would be necessary is to find one new Chair of a House or Senate Subcommittee with some possible jurisdiction who would find this matter worthy of investigation. That shouldn't be too difficult.

As I said yesterday, the primary reason that this is all so worth investigating (beyond the heinous conduct that drove all of this) is because (a) the sheer lawlessness and thugishness is how the administration operates generally, (b) it involves political officials at very high levels of the administration, and (c) it removes terrorism manipulation and national security excuses from the equation.

And all of the issues here -- political, legal and moral -- are very straightforward and clear. Our Government really shouldn't be standing idly by and, worse, paying, actively protecting and assisting a homicidal psychopath while he continues with his torture and killing spree (that he records with our Government's equipment). Nor should it threaten and intimidate career DEA agents and investigative journalists who object all because high-level administration officials were directly responsible for the misconduct.

Pervasive, systematic criminality plagues our federal government. Investigating this most egregious matter seems to be a manageable and modest way -- not to mention, for Democrats, a politically risk-free way -- to expose and punish at least some of it.

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