Archive for March, 2017

Wiretaps: Don’t Drink the Government’s Kool-Aid

by Charles Henderson

Here’s a screenshot of the front page of The New York Times, Friday, January 20, 2017 edition. Look at the headline to the left of the photograph of Trump arriving in Washington, DC for the inauguration. It reads: “Wiretapped Data Used In Inquiry Of Trump Aides.”

The article says in its lead paragraph that investigators while conducting surveillance operations intercepted telephone conversations and data (email) of the Trump presidential campaign, his staff and his associates talking with the Russians. This is how they got the goods on General Michael T. Flynn.  If the Obama White House did not authorize this surveillance and wiretapping, then who did? And why? What was their “Reasonable Cause” to justify a wiretap?

While we listen to the spin from every sector and side, one warning comes to mind: Don’t drink the government’s Kool-Aid.

Here’s the facts, Jack. Since the passage of the Patriot Act, after 9-11, most wiretaps are initiated and conducted without the benefit of a warrant. Investigators just go snooping, tap a line and then when they smell a skunk, they go for a warrant using evidence for reasonable cause to which they were led by their illegally gained information. Quite often they use the umbrella of the Patriot Act, all in the name of seeking out enemies of the American people. Yes the 4th and 5th amendments are pretty much out the window, along with the 1st Amendment and the 14th Amendment.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency/Central Security Service, Defense Intelligence Agency and even the Central Intelligence Agency (albeit illegal as it may be for the CIA to operate within US borders) spend thousands of man hours daily monitoring wiretaps, most of them dubiously conducted under the Patriot Act, and often conducted by private security contractors. Private contractors are handy when you want to deny an activity and cover up crimes, especially when the stuff you’ve done is illegal. Are you watching the HBO TV series, HOMELAND? Yes, very scary.

I know  a lot about the subject because in 2006 I was a victim of illegal wiretaps and ruthless throat cutting by a US government security contractor. And it cost me nearly everything I had, and very nearly cost me my writing career.

In 2006, I was under contract with a major New York publisher to write a nonfiction book about the war in Iraq. I had assembled a good deal of research, and had a multitude of sources, many of whom provided me information under my promise to never reveal who they are. Overall, the book was fairly benign, it just examined the war from specific operational standpoints. However, during the research, I came to know about the wanton murder of two Iraqi civilians by an American contractor. One of their supervisors simply shot the two individuals for sport. He just wanted to kill some people. He had told the three security agents with him that he was heading home the next day, and had not killed anyone on this tour. So he sport shot a man in a sedan in Baghdad, and later killed a man in a delivery van near the airport.

As I began to peel back layers in this disgusting story, I found that a reporter from The New York Times and a reporter from The Washington Post were also investigating the story. So, I contacted them and we shared information, getting to the truth of the story. At the time, American contractors in a war zone did not fall under any United States legal jurisdiction, but only faced prosecution by a host nation government, if one existed. In Iraq, the government was not interested in such prosecution, nor capable of even investigating these murders. Death lived on the streets of Baghdad then, daily. Thus the contractors operated with no legal oversight. They could sling guns and kill people, and faced no consequences. For justice sake, that needed to change, and this might help.

As I worked on my book, one day I was surprised to learn that a federal court in Herndon, Virginia had issued a subpoena to me and ordered me to surrender to the court all my computers and similar devices, all of my notes and notebooks, all recordings and notes, provide the court a complete list of all of my sources, and that I was to be deposed to answer all that I knew about the matter of the killing of the two civilians in Baghdad. I was to surrender all of this and be deposed by the attorneys for the private security contractor for whom the man who had committed the murders worked.

It was not the government investigating the murders, but the federal court helping the private security contractor put a sock in my investigation, stop me from writing my book, and silence me about the killings. The private security contractor, along with State Department had covered up the murders, and they needed everything I knew or would say buried. So they came after me.

I countered the attack with my attorneys, citing my First Amendment Rights as a journalist, and Colorado Shield Laws protecting journalists, and I refused to comply with the federal court order. This cost me a hunk of money, everything I had received in book advance, and then once it went to trial it would cost a whole lot more money that I did not have, nor had hope of having. Of courses, the private security contractor’s lawyers were going to render me dead by a thousand cuts. Drain me dry so that I couldn’t fight back. They had lots more money than I had, and they knew it.

During this time that I came under assault by the contractor, I was carrying on almost daily conversations and exchanging email with the Times and Post reporters, and with United States Senator James H. Webb.

Senator Webb was carrying out his own inquiry in relation with investigating the very dubious and questionable activities of American contractors in Iraq, and the fact that at the time they fell under no legal jurisdiction except the Iraqi government (and similarly in Afghanistan), which was in no position to pursue any murder cases. The Iraqi government was in shambles, and people were getting shot on the streets of Baghdad daily. Therefore, an American contractor in Iraq could commit cold-blooded murder and never face prosecution.

In this case, the State Department paid off the Iraqi people that needed to be paid for silence, the government contractor fired the supervisor that committed the murders, and fired the three employees who witnessed the murders. Coverup complete.

Except, one of the fired employees was angry about what he had witnessed, the cold-blooded murder, and for getting fired for seeing it happen and reporting the events up the chain of command, as he should. He wanted justice and he was talking. The man was a Marine who left active service to work for the contractor, and he knew me. So, he called me and told me every dirty detail, including their use of alcohol, illegal drugs and steroids, and how that made them all a little crazy.

After the contractor had come after me, many of my sources suddenly became distant, reluctant to answer my calls or email. I suspected that the security contractor was reaching out to everyone that might know me. My sources came to know by the grapevine that I was in the contractor’s crosshairs. So, to head off the rumor mill, I called everyone involved in my book and told them that for the time being, I would not be talking to them. Not until this nightmare had run its course.

Then the one eyewitness who was sounding off about the killings ended up dead. Hit by a car and no witnesses. Small town sheriff investigation open and shut in a day. This man had gone back on active duty with the Marine Corps, had gone home on leave with his wife, and ended up splattered afoot and alone on dark highway in the Wisconsin back country. That pretty much put an end to anyone ever saying another word. The other two eyewitnesses suddenly suffered from memory loss. If the contractor hadn’t arranged the deadly accident, it looked awfully convenient for them.

At the time that I was subpoenaed and ordered to give up my research and sources and be deposed, my colleagues at the Post and the Times went dark. Too much heat and not enough corroborating evidence for them to publish their stories. And now no witnesses. They didn’t want to be caught up in a costly lawsuit and have nothing to show for it. Also, my publisher disappeared off the horizon as soon as the word, “lawyers,” was mentioned. Good luck pal. You’re on your own. And I don’t fault anyone here. It was a lost cause now.

As we were preparing for trial, and were in the last days of discovery, where the opposing side had to reveal their evidence to me, my lawyer showed me a number of interesting documents. Private emails about the Baghdad killings exchanged back and forth between me and Senator Webb, discussing details of the events of the murders, and other information about the contractors, such as their use of narcotics, meth amphetamines, steroids and alcohol while on the job. A lot of very disturbing facts that gave us greater understanding of how reckless some of these gunslingers operated.

Now, let me be clear, I have a number of friends who worked for security contractors in Iraq, and they did outstanding work. Very much above board. We are talking about a minority of individuals, some reckless dirtbags and a company that operated at a level below the bottom of a sludge pond.

The opposing council had a whole raft of documents, and a number of items of information obtained only from telephone conversations between Senator Webb and me that were strictly private. The only way they could have obtained these documents and this information was through illegal surveillance and illegal wiretaps of my computer data streams and telephone lines.

It was hardly a day after my attorney had confronted the contractor’s lawyers with this evidence that strongly revealed that they had illegally wiretapped me, that they dropped the entire case. They signed a document that said they would leave me alone, and I was free to do anything I wanted with all the information that I had.

By then, however, the contractor knew that my sources were silent, and that I would not be writing the book, because they had succeeded in torpedoing the entire project. So they went away, their mission accomplished.

On the plus side, I never revealed my sources, and I never was deposed, nor did I ever turn over a shred of paper or a note to anyone. But I didn’t write the book either. My gracious publisher, thanks to a very caring editor, gave me a new contract for another book, and took the prior advance that I owed them for the failed book project out of the new book, which I delivered.

Meanwhile, Senator Jim Webb was furious about the obvious illegal wiretaps, and wanted serious blood. Then karma, providence and probably God stepped up. As Webb went after the government contractors in Iraq, one day a crew from Blackwater was leading a convoy out of the US Embassy in Baghdad. For some unexplainable reason, one of the Blackwater crew opened fire on a crowd of people. Hearing his shots fired the crew accompanying him lit up the whole neighborhood with gunfire. The sidewalks teamed with civilians that day, and when the smoke cleared 31 of them lay dead.

It wasn’t long after that happened that Congress passed a law that brought all American contractors operating in any combat area with US forces under the legal jurisdiction of the United States Government. We didn’t need to publish the story after all, because some reckless contractors had cut all their own throats. But to this day, the murderer of the two Iraqi civilians still walks free, and the Marine eyewitness who demanded justice is still dead.

But the moral of this story is simple: The Government can say that they didn’t tap anyone’s data streams or telephones, and no one may have ever gotten a warrant. But that doesn’t make their denials true. Especially if they hire a contractor to do the dirty work.

Wiretaps by the government, too often illegal, or under the cloudy guise of the umbrella authorizations of the Patriot Act, are a fact of life today in America. Our 4th and 5th, as well as our 1st, 2nd and 14th amendment rights have been badly eroded all in the name of public safety. And even presidential candidates are not immune to the invasive nature of our government, all in the name of national security.

Ask yourself this: If there were not wiretaps, no government agents listening in, then how did they know about the Trump campaign’s conversations with the Russians? How do they know many specific details, and how do they know the right questions to ask?

This is not to defend Donald Trump, but to say don’t drink anyone’s Kool-Aid. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was just as likely surveilled as was the Trump campaign, Bernie Sanders’ campaign and others.

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