On October 31, 2019, Fox News aired a short segment where Tucker Carlson spoke with Chris Ganci and Brett Eagleson who both lost their fathers in the attacks of September 11, 2001. They discussed the US government’s decision to continue to keep information secret, 18 years after the attacks. On September 12, 2019 the Department of Justice blocked the release of a 2012 FBI summary report about possible Saudi Arabian ties to the attackers.
Family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks sought the information as part of a long-running lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over allegations of the Kingdom’s involvement in the attacks.
Eagleson states in the interview that the Department of Justice invoked State Secrets Privilege in order to block the public release of the information. The DOJ cites a reasonable danger that releasing the report risks significant harm to national security as justification for the rare invocation of the privilege.
When asked why he thought the DOJ blocked the release of information, Ganci says he thinks it is about one of two things. Either they are “covering up their own malfeasance, or they are covering up the complicity of a foreign nation state. Both of them are equally terrible.”
Saudi Arabia’s possible complicity in the attacks has been reported on numerous times in the years since the attacks. But the reports are usually provided in a vacuum, with little to no connections that tie the information together into a complete picture. This makes it all too easy to overlook these individual reports, or to miss their significance.
Similarly, the lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gets little attention in the news. Unfortunately, it seems to get most attention when it is an issue that can be trotted out for political purposes. However, Dan Christensen at the Florida Bulldog has done a great job keeping up with the case, as has the website 28pages.org.
On January 26, 2016, Oregon State Police SWAT and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) deployed together for the planned arrest of leaders of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The plan called for an initial traffic stop on Oregon highway 395, with a road block farther down the highway in case either of the two vehicles the leaders were traveling in did not comply at the initial stop.
The driver of the vehicle Ammon Bundy was riding in complied at the initial stop and all occupants were taken into custody. Robert Lavoy Finicum, who was driving the other vehicle, initially stopped, then, after Ryan Payne got out of the truck, took off towards the road block. When he reached the road block, Finicum crashed his truck into the snow bank to avoid it. After he exited his vehicle, Finicum was shot three times by OSP officers.
There have long been rumors that police and FBI involved in the shooting death of Finicum were ordered to turn off dash and body cameras. It has now been confirmed that these rumors have some basis in fact.
In the investigation into the shooting death of Finicum, investigators determined that there were two shots fired that were unaccounted for. FBI HRT operator W. Joseph Astarita has since been charged with lying about firing his rifle twice at Finicum at the road block. Astarita has requested the charges be dismissed.
According to court documents filed February 2, 2018 by the prosecution in response to W. Joseph Astarita’s motion to dismiss the charges against him, Oregon State Police (OSP) officers, at the request of the FBI, did not wear body cameras on January 26, 2016 during the attempt to arrest occupation leaders.
“OSP SWAT troopers are ordinarily required to wear body cameras while deployed. However, they did not wear the cameras while deployed with HRT–at HRT’s request.”
After the two shots that were unaccounted for were discovered, and it was also discovered that shell casings from those two shots as well as some of the shots fired by OSP officers were missing, a new investigation of the FBI HRT operators involved was opened. The FBI operators were interviewed for a second time by OSP detectives, as described by the prosecution’s response to Astarita’s dismissal motion.
According to the document, “on February 6, 2016, two OSP detectives re-interviewed defendant, [Astarita], B.M., [Astarita’s immediate supervisor] and the HRT operative who was nearly struck by Finicum’s truck at the roadblock. By then, the detectives knew that there were unaccounted-for shots and missing shell casings. The HRT operators knew it as well. The HRT operators set conditions for the interview. They were only willing to be interviewed if: 1) they were interviewed as a group, not individually; 2) the interview was not recorded; and 3) their lawyer could be present by speakerphone. In addition, they would not answer any questions previously asked without being able to reference statements from prior interviews.” (Emphasis mine).
The response also argues that though Astarita has claimed he didn’t speak at this second interview, the OSP detectives have stated that he did. The document states, “he spoke less than others who were present, and considerably less than he did during the first interview. He did nothing to correct statements made on his behalf…These sorts of factual disagreements can only be resolved at trial, not in a pretrial motion to dismiss.”
It is inexplicable that the FBI would request that no body cameras be used during the arrest attempt, and it is also odd that OSP agreed to the request. This only serves to raise suspicion as to the intentions of the officers involved. The reasons behind this decision need to be made clear.
That a member of any law enforcement agency would lie about, and actively work to cover up, shots fired during an arrest attempt harms the credibility of, and trust in, all law enforcement. Although it comes as no surprise that the FBI would attempt to cover up the shooting as they have a track record of such activity, when something like this happens, they must be held accountable.
Two years after Robert “Lavoy” Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police officers on Highway 395 in Harney County on January 26, 2016, the Finicum family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a slew of defendants. These include the United States, FBI, BLM, Oregon State Police, Harney County, a number of officials from those agencies, the Center for Biological Diversity, and 100 ‘John Does,’ among others.
The lawsuit was filed Friday, January 26, 2018 by lawyers Lisa Ludwig and J. Morgan Philpot in US District court in Pendleton, Oregon.
The 48-page complaint states, “the murder of LaVoy was plainly unlawful under rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and also…unlawful under other laws of the United States and the laws of the State of Oregon. It was the result of a brutally deliberate course of action willfully set in place and caused by a small selection of county, state, and federal officials who are named as defendants in this lawsuit. These defendants were mentally predisposed and committed to using excessive lethal force, to solve a political dispute.”
It goes on to describe the events that led to the shooting of Finicum on January 26, 2016, beginning with the Bunkerville, Nevada standoff in April, 2014. It claims that Finicum was intentionally targeted because of his association with Cliven Bundy and family, his membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints, and his “political views and statements regarding land rights and federal government overreach—specifically, his consistent political activism and statements that were critical of the BLM.”
The complaint claims that law enforcement and the BLM deliberately mischaracterized Finicum as being a threat to law enforcement and government employees by willfully participating in the “spreading of false and maliciously inaccurate information.” It goes on to state the BLM and FBI kept an active file on Finicum, and that “Defendant Love [Former BLM employee, Daniel P. Love] and other John Doe defendants fabricated information, edited, omitted, or reported misleading information from this file, and added misleading information to this file, for the purpose of intentionally creating the false impression that LaVoy Finicum was associated with militia and presented a risk of violence to law enforcement…”
This misinformation, according to the lawsuit, “contributed directly to the subsequent shooting death of LaVoy Finicum.”
Also in the complaint are details about the January 2, 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon by Finicum and others. It states a meeting took place on January 2, 2016, between Ammon Bundy and others, discussing Bundy’s plan to move the protest to the Refuge in an attempt at “adverse possession.” According to the complaint, this meeting was openly attended by a Harney County deputy sheriff.
The complaint alleges that the defendants worked to control the narrative in order to keep the adverse possession claim out of public discourse. It states, “these defendants ignored legal advice and counsel that suggested that the appropriate course of action would be legal notice and possible trespass charge—by local law enforcement and local civil court actions. These same defendants also ignored advice from local legal authorities, that no law had been broken by the attempted adverse possession.”
“Instead, Defendants…willfully decided to fight a public political battle, and demanded that the FBI, BLM, and DOJ take the lead and bring the occupation to a close by force.”
It goes on to point out that there were never any eviction notices or complaints of trespass during the occupation of the Refuge. Also, that as of January 26, 2016, “there was no criminal complaint, no probable cause affidavit, no federal indictments, or any other formal proceeding to inform—let alone argue—that LaVoy Finicum or any other occupier was being accused of breaking the law.” This includes the time of the initial January 26, 2016 traffic stop and subsequent roadblock, where Finicum was shot and killed.
The lawsuit claims that Oregon State Police and FBI agents executed a “deadman’s roadblock” in violation of police procedure and the Constitution on January 26, 2016. It states, “the roadblock had been strategically placed so as to prevent it from being visible until impact was a near certainty for any vehicle traveling at posted speeds.”
The complaint also discusses the actions of FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita during the roadblock, who is currently facing charges for his alleged attempt to cover up the fact that he allegedly fired his weapon twice after Finicum crashed into the snowbank to avoid the roadblock. It claims that one of these shots resulted in the wounding of Ryan Bundy, who still has a piece of metal in his shoulder that may or may not be a bullet or bullet fragment.
The shooting of Lavoy Finicum was ruled as justified by Oregon officials. The officers involved stated that Finicum was reaching into his jacket pocket which they say they later found held a loaded pistol. Video of the shooting shows Finicum exit his truck with his arms up, however, as he moves away from the truck he drops his arms twice, and before he is shot three times, he appears to reach for his side.
Early in the occupation of the Refuge, in an interview, Finicum had said, “I’m not going to end up in prison. I would rather die than be caged. And I’ve lived a good life.”
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Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial Wednesday morning in the Bundy trial in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a result of her concerns about Brady violations by the prosecution. Judge Navarro described the violations as “willful” failure to turn six key pieces of evidence over to the defense that would be helpful to their case.
The withheld evidence includes verification of several things the defense has argued contributed to the actions of the defendants during the 2014 armed standoff between the Bundys, their supporters, and Bureau of Land Management and law enforcement officers. The prosecution has repeatedly denied these things occurred.
One example was documentation of the presence of snipers near the Bundy ranch in the days leading up to the standoff. The Bundys repeatedly claimed that snipers were there, and this was one reason people, including militia members, came to Bunkerville to support them. Many claim that when they heard about the snipers, they feared violent action against the Bundys by law enforcement, and came to protect them.
The Bundys themselves have argued that they felt threatened because of the snipers and the aggressive posture of the authorities. They have said the Bureau of Land Management provoked them and their supporters into the armed standoff that occurred April 12, 2014 in Nevada. However, according to the judge, the prosecution has insisted there were no snipers present in previous trials.
Judge Navarro cited an “FBI log with entries that said ‘snipers were inserted’ and on standby outside the Bundy home. Three entries in the log mentioned snipers present, Navarro noted. Prosecutors claimed they were unaware of the log at first because it was kept on a thumb drive in a tactical vehicle.”
“The government is still responsible for information from the investigating agency. The FBI chose not to disclose it,” Navarro said.
Another example, an FBI report about a security camera, trained on the Bundy family home in Bunkerville, that was put up and monitored by the FBI. “The government falsely represented the camera that was on the Bundy house was incidental, not purposeful,” the judge said.
Also included were threat assessments of the Bundys that stated they weren’t considered violent, and documents from the Bureau of Land Management that show the Bundy’s trespassing cattle had caused no harm to the endangered desert tortoises.
As a result of these developments, “a mistrial in this case is the most suitable and only remedy available,” Judge Navarro said. A new trial may be held in February, but in the meantime, Judge Navarro will decide if it is a mistrial with or without prejudice. If she rules it is with prejudice, there won’t be another trial for the current charges against Cliven, Ryan, and Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne.
The long-rumored and quietly discussed Longbow Productions came out of the shadows this week with the release of the Frontline documentary American Patriot which showed some clips of footage filmed by the Longbow team. Longbow Productions was a fake documentary film crew, created by the FBI to gather evidence against the people involved in the 2014 confrontation between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and supporters of rancher, Cliven Bundy.
Longbow Productions was the creation of the Las Vegas FBI office after the Bunkerville standoff in 2014. It was led by an undercover agent who went by the name of Charles Johnson, and who has since been arrested in an unrelated case where he posed as an “investigative consultant for a journalist.” A fake website was set up and the crew obtained professional recording equipment, and then approached the Bundy family and supporters requesting interviews.
A motion to exclude Longbow evidence from Cliven Bundy’s trial, filed in February 2017, states, “the FBI created a fake film production company designed to trick defendants into making boastful, false, and potentially incriminating statements that could be used against Defendants.” It also claims that the FBI “delayed filing of any criminal accusations in this case in order to launch a wide-reaching deceptive undercover operation known as ‘Longbow Productions.'”
The film crew traveled to five states, possibly more, and interviewed at least 20 different people in an effort to gather evidence. According to the Intercept article America Reloaded (named for the working title of Longbow’s supposed documentary) by Ryan Devereaux and Trevor Aaronson, there were over 100 hours of video and audio recordings from the Longbow team.
That article goes on to call into question the usefulness of such an undercover operation, pointing out that the majority of what was said in the Longbow interviews was already well-documented in many ways, by many different sources. The article states, “despite a clear risk that considerable resources would be expended to gather publically available information, incurring a guaranteed backlash from legitimate members of the news media along the way, Johnson and the FBI pressed on.”
Rick Rowley, Frontline producer of American Patriot, also questioned the operation in an interview with Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud. Rowley states, “it seems like it must be part of the case because it’s an embarrassing thing that you wouldn’t want to reveal unless you needed the evidence from it, but to my ears, it’s difficult for me to see what the logic is behind it.” He describes the questions asked in the Longbow interviews as leading, and that they “seem to be about trying to build a conspiracy.”
The effectiveness of evidence gathered using this undercover film crew is also worth questioning. In a February 7, 2017 Guardian article by Sam Levin, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Daniel Hill, is quoted as saying, “when the jury finds out this tactic they used, none of them will think it’s okay. It shows the lows the government was willing to go to.” Indeed, after Longbow evidence was presented in the first trial of defendants in the Bunkerville case, it’s been reported that jurors did in fact think that it was not okay. According to the Intercept article, Eric Parker’s attorney, Jess Marchese, “said a number of jurors he spoke to were turned off by the government’s presentation of the Longbow evidence.”
The Longbow operation undoubtedly had a high price tag as well. Cliven Bundy’s motion to exclude the Longbow evidence states, “the FBI’s Longbow operation spent taxpayer money extravagantly and with wild abandon.” It goes on to describe how the agents conducted many interviews in expensive hotels, plied some interviewees with alcohol, and paid for the interviews. Charles Johnson even offered to buy the rights to the Bundy’s story, and his assistant, known as Anna, offered to buy tickets to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to entice the Bundy’s to Las Vegas for interviews, according to the Intercept article.
What is perhaps most disturbing about the entire undercover operation, is the effect it has on journalism and news gathering. From Levin’s February 2017 Guardian article, “‘if you think every reporter you meet could be an agent of law enforcement, it really has an immediate impact on any journalist coming to try and cover that story,’ said Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.”
Daniel Hill, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, is quoted in this Frontline article by the producers of American Patriot as saying “they impersonated journalists so they could interrogate people the FBI fully intended on charging with serious crimes, without any lawyers present. We should not have to fear that our government is infiltrating America’s sacred press and media institutions in order to try to gain prosecutorial advantages against its own people.”
In 2015 the Associated Press (AP) along with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press sued the Department of Justice. The lawsuit was the result of unanswered Freedom of Information requests made by the organizations seeking information about a 2007 sting operation in which an undercover FBI agent posed as an AP reporter.
“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists,” Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated.”
And of course, there is Rick Rowley’s perspective, from his Think Out Loud interview about the Longbow operation. “For people that are reporting on other stories, it puts their lives in danger. If criminal organizations in the world know that the FBI is willing to pose as journalists in order to try to infiltrate groups then it puts us all in danger.”
The use of a fake documentary film crew is just one more thing to question about the way the FBI handled this entire investigation, from Bunkerville to Malheur.
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According to testimony given by FBI Agent Chadd Lapp in the ongoing trial of seven defendants charged with conspiring to impede federal officers from fulfilling their duties as a result of their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that began January 2, 2016, the FBI received advanced warning of the plan on January 1, 2016. It has been acknowledged during the trial that there were informants at the refuge during the occupation.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, Agent Lapp testified that on January 1, one day before the planned rally supporting the Hammonds, FBI agents learned there was a plan to take over the refuge. Maxine Bernstein wrote in the Oregonian on September 29, 2016:
“Lapp said he heard the information from another agent. Ammon Bundy’s lawyer Marcus Mumford referred to an email sent to the chief regional refuge law enforcement office that he said made mention of ‘intelligence from four people within the militia about a plan to take the refuge.’
‘I remember telling him there was intelligence. It was a potential target,’ Lapp said. ‘It was really basic words…Malheur…wildlife refuge, and there may be a plan to take it.’
Under questioning from Mumford, Lapp said he conveyed the intelligence to several people in his office, but didn’t do anything further with the information.”
That nothing was done to prevent this plan, even with the short notice, is surprising given the testimonies made previously by Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and Chad Karges, the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, who both spoke of taking preventative measures prior to the January 2 rally.
Sheriff Ward testified earlier in the trial that after several meetings with Ammon Bundy prior to the January 2 rally and numerous emails, warnings, and his own research into what had happened at Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014, he prepared by moving the inmates from his jail in Burns, Oregon to the next county. He added that he moved all of the weapons and ammunition to the jail, which could serve as a fortified bunker should something happen during the January 2 rally.
Chad Karges testified that “he made the decision to keep employees away after New Year’s Day because of the ‘continued intimidation and threats towards federal employees,’ ‘type of arms that they had,’ and the ‘type of stand they were taking.'” Defense Attorney Lisa Maxfield asked Karges why no security was placed at the refuge before the rally, Karges answered, “at that time, federal agencies were being told the threat was towards the BLM, and the refuge hadn’t entered into the conversation.”
If the FBI had received information a day in advance of the takeover of the refuge, as Agent Lapp testified yesterday, why indeed weren’t steps taken to increase security at the refuge? Clearly law enforcement and federal employees were concerned in the months leading up to the Hammonds returning to prison and the January 2 support rally. Considering that, and the stand off that had occurred in Nevada nearly two years before, why would such a warning not be taken seriously?
With the well-known presence of the Bundys and the others who joined them in taking the refuge, as well as that of the Pacific Patriots Network and other “militia” groups in Burns, Oregon, for the support rally for the Hammonds, I find it difficult to believe there was a shortage of law enforcement in Harney County on January 1, 2016. Why then was there no law enforcement presence placed at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 2, 2016 after the FBI received warning of the planned occupation?
Yesterday, June 22, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested William Keebler in Nephi, Utah, after he allegedly attempted to detonate a fake bomb they had provided him with. Keebler was present in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014, at the Bundy ranch and apparently at the stand off between Bundy supporters and the BLM on April 12, 2014. He is described as the leader of a citizen militia group, the Patriots Defense Force.
The felony complaint document states that Keebler was an associate of Lavoy Finicum, the Arizona rancher killed by law enforcement at a roadblock in Oregon during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.
According to the felony complaint, the FBI had had undercover officers inside the Patriots Defense Force, acting as members and participating in various training exercises with the militia group, for several months. The felony complaint describes several meetings over that time period in which Keebler discussed “going on the offensive” and “gathering intelligence on potential targets.” One such meeting is described as follows:
On March 19, 2016, Keebler organized and led an FTX [field training exercise] for the PDF militia group. Keebler described the direction the PDF was going to focus on. Keebler said the government had been allowed to harass people, but the repercussions were going to start. Keebler had previously said the BLM was overreaching their authority to implement grazing restrictions on ranchers. Keebler had opined the land belonged to “the people” and could be used responsibly at the American people’s discretion. Keebler said the PDF was going to target BLM facilities in the “middle of nowhere.” Keebler stated the PDF was going to sneak in and severely damage vehicles or buildings. Keebler requested a PDF member/UCE [FBI undercover employees] who has explosive materials expertise, to build an explosive device that could disable a BLM vehicle or damage a building. Keebler made it clear he didn’t plan on blowing people up for now, but he wanted his group to be prepared to escalate things, and take people out if necessary.
On May 14, 2016, Keebler announced to the group that they would target a BLM facility at Mount Trumbull, Arizona and requested two bombs be built by the UCE, one to place at the facility to be remotely detonated, and the other for use in case they were stopped by law enforcement on the way to or from the BLM facility.
According to the felony complaint, Keebler had previously scouted the Mount Trumbull facility in October, 2015, with Lavoy Finicum, accompanied by an FBI undercover employee who took pictures of the facility.
On June 21, 2016, one of these devices was “placed against the door of one of the BLM cabins in Mount Trumbull [Arizona]. After the device was placed against the door, Keebler was handed a remote detonation device. Keebler then pushed the detonator button multiple times in order to remotely detonate the inert explosive.” Keebler was arrested the following morning after he had returned to Utah.
This calls several things into question for me. First of all, who placed the bomb next to the door of the BLM cabin? Who handed the detonator to Keebler? Was it entirely Keebler’s idea and decision to bomb a BLM facility? It wouldn’t be the first time the FBI has stopped a crime that they helped to plan.
One example that most of my fellow Oregonians probably remember is the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud who was arrested in Portland, Oregon, in 2010 for attempting to detonate a fake car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The FBI had provided him the bomb after encouraging the plot.
In a September 18, 2011 Los Angeles Times Op ed, Petra Bartosiewicz writes:
The government’s marquee post-9/11 terrorism investigations, including cases such as the Miami Seven, the Ft. Dix Six and last year’s Portland Christmas Tree Bomber, have not involved real attacks but, rather, have been sting operations involving plots invented by law enforcement. New York University’s Center on Law and Security, which tracks federal terrorism prosecutions, reports that since 2009, the FBI has escalated its use of stings in which a confidential informant or undercover officer approaches a suspect and “assists him in the planning of an attempted terror crime.”
The defendants in these plots, most of them male Muslim immigrants with no history of terrorism or violence, have become unwitting actors in a disturbing theatrical performance: The FBI scripts the plot and provides the weapons, along with money, cars and any other logistical support needed to carry out the “attack.”
She goes on to discuss the argument that only the “true bad guys will take the bait” in such sting operations by stating, “terrorism stings go much further than presenting a likely bad guy with a passing criminal opportunity. The operations last for months and sometimes years, with suspects offered all manner of enticements to participate in a plot they probably would never have come up with on their own.”
I suppose that we should all feel so much safer as the FBI is so effective at stopping their own plots. Even though they were unable to stop Omar Mateen from killing 49 people in Orlando, Florida in spite of the fact that the gun dealership where Mateen requested a thousand rounds of ammunition and body armor reported concern about him to the FBI weeks before the shooting. And this after Mateen had previously been on the terrorist watch list and under intense investigation in 2013-2014.
Even though they seem unable to stop armed wildlife refuge “take overs” in spite of their success, as demonstrated in this case with Keebler, at infiltrating groups associated with those who did occupy the Malheur refuge. Clearly all the surveillance and infiltrating works wonders.
UPDATE, June 29th, 2016: According to this Salt Lake Tribune article published today, “Lavoy Finicum did not accompany Keebler when he scouted the BLM cabins in October 2015, as was alleged in the charging documents.” The article also states that Keebler’s federal defender said in court:
“…undercover agents proposed the explosive types, drove Keebler to the location, placed the bomb, handed Keebler a remote trigger and told him to press the button three times.”