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The Myth of Godfather Journalism

A few hours after Carmine Galante was blown away in Bushwick with the cigar clenched in his mouth, a federal prosecutor began to reach out for his undercover informants in the mafia. No law enforcement agency had a tail on Galante the day he was shot, and the prosecutor wanted to know who arranged for the execution.

His informants didn’t know any­thing, either. But they all get money or immunity from law enforcement for providing information, and they were afraid to admit they knew no secrets. The informants feared they would lose status, or credibility, or even their jobs if they confessed their ignorance. So they all invented theo­ries for Lilo’s demise and attributed them to “word on the street” and other ephemeral sources.

Soon reporters were calling this federal prosecutor, demanding the in­side story of why Galante was hit. The prosecutor did not know, just as his informants did not know. But he could not confess his ignorance to the media, just as his undercovers could not confess their ignorance to him. One television reporter said to the prosecutor: “Just give me your rankest speculation.”

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The prosecutor is close to indicting a mafioso of unusual political in­fluence. He was tempted to anoint this targeted gangster as the next godfather, so that his indictment would receive more publicity, and he would get a bigger budget. He knew that Galante was not the godfather. He knew the mob hasn’t had a boss of bosses since Lucky Luciano, but that the media has a need to name new godfathers with the frequency of new Miss Subways. The prosecutor, unusually honorable, said “no comment” to the reporter. The disap­pointed reporter, who had never in­terviewed an actual working hoodlum in his life, announced he would just have to “work from the clips.”

The preceding anecdote is true and accurately reflects the state of the art of godfather journalism; most mafia report­ing is a consumer fraud.

For example, the headline in Sunday’s Daily News said: RIVALS FEASTED WHILE GALANTE DIED. The story reported that “20 mob bosses” celebrated Galante’s execution by having lunch at Bamonte’s Restaurant at 32 Withers Street in Brooklyn. The detailed account described “rented limousines” lined up outside the restaurant, and even reported that “a phone call to Bamonte’s­ — minutes after the execution — advised the chairman of the crime conference that the contract on Galante had been carried out.”

However, the New York City Police Department, the FBI, the Drug Enforce­ment Administration, the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, and the federal Organized Crime Strike Force all say they have no knowledge of such an event occurring. The proprietor of Bamonte’s denies the whole story, and his attorney promises he will sue the News. The idea of a lavish linguini feast of celebration by 20 mob bosses would have been a nice scene for a movie. But is it true?

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In fact, the public’s impression — and much of the media’s knowledge — about the mafia owes a large debt to the imagery of Hollywood. Most people think gangsters act like George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Richard Widmark, Al Pacino, and Marlon Brando.

The power of the film fantasy is so great that when Joey Gallo was growing up in Brooklyn he went to see Richard Widmark play Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death a dozen times. Gallo, then an aspiring thug, began to imitate Widmark’s posture, body language, slang, and style of dress. Years later, when Hollywood was preparing to make another syndicate movie, and Gallo was by then a chic mafia symbol, an actor asked Gallo if he could hang out with him to study some of his macho mannerisms, the same mannerisms that Gallo had borrowed from another actor a generation before.

This story suggests some of the difficulty in separating myth from reality, lore and legend from fact in understanding organized crime. Movies (and novels and Bob Dylan) have romanticized mafia dons. They are not immigrant populists, or outlaw philosophers with benevolent dignity, or tragic half-ethical super-dons who draw a fine moral distinction at pushing white powder.

Most mobsters would rather stick an icepick in your ear than work. Many are so cheap they won’t pay for their own cappuccino on Mulberry Street. Joey Gallo used to beat up his wife. Lucky Luciano was a pimp. Carmine Galante was an animal whose wealth came from import­ing, distributing, and selling the heroin that went into the veins of ghetto schoolchildren.

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The mafia is not a hierarchical corpo­ration. There is no single chief executive officer. There is no stenographer who takes shorthand minutes at board of directors’ meetings. There is no neat organization chart, no regular merit promotions. When Ed Kosner was fired as the editor of Newsweek, a press release went out saying he was being replaced by Lester Bernstein. When Lyman Hamilton was ousted as chief executive officer of ITT last week, it was announced that Rand Araskog, the senior executive vice-presi­dent, would replace Hamilton. But the mafia did not distribute a press release after Carlo Gambino died announcing that he was being replaced as godfather by Carmine Galante.

The fact is that Galante was nominated for godfather by the Unified Intelligence Division (UID) of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They knew him because he was into heroin. The UID had a “confidential” 59-page report done on Galante under the signature of a single investigator, Special Agent Michael Cun­niff. The report — completed in December of 1976 — was filled with contradictions, hedging qualifications, hearsay, gossip, raw surveillance anecdotes, and “investigative leads.”

The ambiguous nature of the report was captured by one sentence on page six: “Galante is allegedly now the de facto head of the Bonanno La Cosa Nostra family and, according to information from under­world sources, he is a strong candidate for the post of capo di tutti capi.” At another point the UID document observed, “Many Gambino family members believe that Galante is only a tool for Joe Bonnano.”

This classified document was im­mediately leaked to the press, possibly by the DEA, which was then in a bureau­cratic fight to avoid being brought under the jurisdiction of the FBI, because of its own reputation for corruption.

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On Sunday, February 20, 1977, The New York Times published a front-page story under the headline: AN OBSCURE GANGSTER IS EMERGING AS THE MAFIA CHIEFTAIN IN NEW YORK. The story launched the Galante-for-Godfather hype, and seemed clearly based on the UID report. The Times’s story, though it lacked the report’s cautious hedgings, was filled with echoes of undigested surveillance trivia: “If you went to Balducci’s in Greenwich Village, you might well see Carmine Galante… pick over artichokes and tomatoes… or near the L&T cleaners at 245 Elizabeth Street, where he re­portedly operates.”

The next day, New York hit the news­stands with a cover story called “Meet the New Godfather.” The story began with a detailed narrative description of DEA agents following Galante as he left his apartment on Waverly Place. The article flatly declared that Galante’s “peers of the Commission, a nine-member national panel of family bosses that is the supreme court and board of directors of the American Mafia, will soon name him capo di tutti capi (‘boss of all bosses’)… Galante already runs more rackets here and abroad than Don Carlo did. And at the rate his empire is expanding, it will soon surpass the worldwide holdings of the late Lucky Luciano.”

The DEA had done for Galante what the promotional talent of Jon Landau had done for Bruce Springsteen. And over­night, Carmine Galante joined Elliot Richardson and Bess Myerson as the three most overrated people in America. The fact was that Galante’s gang only had 200 street level members and was the fourth largest in New York City.

Eighteen months later (August 21, 1978), New York published another story, by another crime reporter, announcing that another crime boss, Funzi Tieri, “until now a shadowy figure, little known, has clearly emerged in New York City as its most powerful mobster. For the country too, because that is the way it has always been.”

Funzi probably had a more legitimate claim to the mythical title, but even this article was simplistic, exaggerated, and portrayed the mafia as a coherent, hierarchical corporation.

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This week, a wise FBI agent told me: “It’s all bullshit. We don’t really know what’s going on. It’s all tribal warfare with shifting alliances. We are not allowed to put a tail on any of these guys unless we have specific knowledge he has committed a crime.…”

“A few years ago we took movies of Galante at his summer house on Long Island. And we had guys making mafia charts based on these movies. If Galante helped a guy into his house with his suitcase, we decided it was a sign of respect, so the guy must be a big shot, a capo. If Galante didn’t help carry the guy’s bags, we decided he must be a button, or nothing. Maybe Galante just had a bad back one day. Or felt tired. And we were making serious charts based on meaningless gestures which newspapers printed as if it was definite…

“I once had an informant who told me all sorts of stories. Later I found out the guy was simultaneously an informant to the New York City Police Department, only I didn’t know it. What he was telling the police was completely different than what he was telling the bureau. And we were both paying him for his bullshit.”

The truth is that almost nobody has reliable information about the inner workings of the mafia. The mafia is not like a government agency, where a disgruntled bureaucrat will duplicate an embarrassing memo and leak it to a reporter. Serious gangsters don’t talk to anyone, much less journalists, about their last contract killing or kilo shipment of junk.

Most reporters who write about or­ganized crime must rely on law enforce­ment agencies for their information. (A few journalists have relatives who are connected, but they don’t put their bylines on stories.) Law enforcement agencies — many of whom know next to nothing themselves — have a built-in motive to exaggerate: bigger budgets derived from greater publicity. Since they have a near monopoly on the raw data, it’s impossible to independently verify the truth of what they’re leaking. So, at best, what appears in the papers now is “rank speculation.” At worst, it is imaginative writing based on clippings, puffery from informants, and the memory of movies.

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Law enforcement ignorance about the mafia is reflected by the fact that none of the publicized killings of godfathers has led to any trials or convictions for those crimes. No one was ever convicted for killing Albert Anastasia at the Park Sheraton Hotel in 1957, or Joey Gallo, or Tommy Eboli. The contract murder of mob lawyer Gino Gallina on Carmine Street has never been solved. No one has been prosecuted for shooting Sam Giancana.

Moreover, the local media mythology that whoever rules Mulberry Street is the capo di tutti capi is Old World romance. Power in the mafia, like power in the American economy, has shifted to the Sun Belt. Santo Trafficante in Miami and Carlos Marcello in New Orleans represent power much more serious and subtle than Carmine Galante ever dreamed of.

And at a totally different level there is a form of mega-mafia in America that flourishes on the elite margin, where busi­nessmen act like gangsters, and gangsters act like businessmen, and almost every company has access to a slush fund in the Bahamas or a Swiss bank account. These people and their companies don’t have ethnic rituals or “mob wars,” but they have tremendous economic and political power.

As Paul Du Brul and I noted in The Abuse of Power, this is the shadow realm of Sidney Korshak, Meyer Lansky, Richard Kleindienst, Adnan Khashoggi, John Cody, Congressman Dan Flood, Spiro Agnew, Alvin Malnick, Robert Vesco, Frank Fitzsimmons, Bebe Rebozo, Bert Lance, and the Shah of Iran and all his exiled bagmen. This is where crime, labor, and corporate power converge and become almost indistinguishable.

There is no one mafia godfather. There is no capo di tutti capi. There are just law enforcement agencies trying to arrest gangs of career criminals. And newspaper publishers trying to improve circulation.

The rest is hype, the rest is myth.

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Nunes Memo Gets Rightbloggers Even More Convinced FBI Is a Liberal Plot

As we discussed last week, the Mueller investigation has made conservatives so paranoid that trifles like the Strzok-Page texts have them convinced the FBI — which for decades has done the right’s bidding by menacing and sometimes murdering leftists like Jean Seberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam war protesters, the Black Panthers, et alia — had somehow turned into the Hillary Clinton Fan Club.

But last week, the right went full-tilt black-helicopter crazy over the Nunes memo, a formerly classified four-pager released by congressional Republicans and Trump. The memo repeats, under official color, old right-wing charges that the famous Steele dossier was the only relevant evidence presented to the FISA court to support a wiretap on Trump campaign advisor and admitted Kremlin contact Carter Page, and that the court wouldn’t have approved the tap if it had known the Clinton campaign had given Steele money.

Thus, the thinking goes, though the FISA court approves nearly all the warrant requests it receives, since this one was nudged into approval by deceit, the process was corrupted and Mueller should be fired. (There is a Democratic minority report that, Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff suggests, would refute these points, but the Republicans, big shock, have refused to allow its release.)

Trump claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him (though his on-camera yammerings indicate that he has no idea what it actually says); Republican congressmen pulled long faces about this alleged abuse of FISA; and Breitbart hadda Breitbart (“HOW THE NEW YORK TIMES SPINS THE MEMO TO DIVIDE AMERICA,” “STEVE KING’S MEMO WARNING: ‘WATCH CLOSELY FOR BARACK OBAMA’S FINGERPRINTS,’ ” etc.).

Right-wing shock troops demanded everyone be arrested, especially Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was targeted by an attack ad from — now here’s a blast from the past! — the Tea Party Patriots.

(One of Rosenstein’s lonely defenders on the right was City Journal racial obsessive Heather Mac Donald, who protested that the DAG’s loss would be “dispiriting to anyone who supports the police against the lies of the Black Lives Matter movement.… Rosenstein has unapologetically and forcefully rejected the Black Lives Matter narrative.” Comrades, don’t throw out the racist baby with the Lock-Her-Up bathwater!)

“I don’t think there is any more doubt that the candidacy of Donald Trump terrified top officials of the Obama DOJ and the FBI, James Comey especially,” wrote Victor Davis Hanson at National Review. “Those details seal the sordid legacy of former FBI Director James Comey,” agreed Michael Goodwin at the New York Post. Yes, they’re talking about the same James Comey whose oddly timed pre-election letter sank Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s gratitude for you!

“Gorka says FISA memo is 100 TIMES WORSE than what caused the American REVOLUTION!!” raved the Right Scoop. “It is now the most consequential — no question — political scandal in American history,” intoned Fox talking head Dan Bongino.

MAGA Twitter trolls refocused their view of American history through the Nunes lens (“The terror attacks of San Bernardino & Orlando night club might’ve been prevented if the counter intelligence unit of FBI paid more attention to the terrorists instead of busy spying on the candidate Trump”) and howled for blood (“Traitor Rosenstein should start packing for a long vacation at Gitmo or a very short one dangling from the end of a rope. #DrainTheSwamp #MAGA”).

A few conservatives dismissed the memo — not just the usual resisters like David Frum and Jennifer Rubin, but also garden variety wing nuts like the Cato Institute (“The FISA Follies: The Nunes Memo Edition”), whom your cynical correspondent suspects are just covering their asses for the day Trump flees to Moscow with a Cessna full of gold bullion.

But — as we saw last week and, really, every week since the Trumpification of the conservative movement — the most popular position among the brethren was a straddle: on the one hand trying not to associate themselves too closely with the deranged post-Nunes position, while on the other appeasing the mouth-breathers by finding some way to deflect some of this madness onto Democrats.

Some used the old MSM Lies shtick. “Mainstream Media Outlets Banish Contents Of Republican Memo From Front Page Coverage,” claimed Rachel Stoltzfoos at the Federalist — which will seem strange to anyone who has taken ten seconds to put “Read the Nunes memo” into Google and found the full text of the memo at the New York Times, the Huffington Post, CNN, the Washington Post, and — well, every “Mainstream Media Outlet” you can think of. Maybe Stoltzfoos meant they didn’t run the memo on the front page, like Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles.”

A popular assertion was that the memo was not proof of malfeasance but that the real crime was Democrats complaining about using classified information as a political tool too strenuously, and while being Democrats.

“Having read the memo twice, I’m still looking for the info that led to the hysteria from Democrats about the memo endangering national security,” harrumphed the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes.

“There’s a lot of talk about how much the Memo was oversold by Republicans,” tweeted National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. “There is not nearly enough scorn being heaped on Dems for their hyped claims that this would do irreparable and catastrophic harm to America as we know it.”

When Andrew Sullivan went into a long rant about the “tribal” behavior of conservatives over the memo, longtime readers who knew what to expect pulled up a chair, made themselves comfortable, and waited for the inevitable bothsiderism: “Meanwhile, the Democrats’ tribalism has also deepened,” Sullivan wrote in paragraph twelve (I know, I thought he’d get to it sooner, too — lost $5 on that bet!). Among Sullivan’s proof points was that Dems “picked an iconic tribal name to present their response to the SOTU, Joe Kennedy, and his speech had the failed theme that Hillary Clinton tried out last year: ‘stronger together.’ ” Yeah, that’s pretty much the same as sabotaging the FBI because you’re afraid they’ll arrest Donald Trump.

National Review editor Rich Lowry — whose journey from mastermind of the “Against Trump” issue to reliable Trump cheerleader would make a wonderful tragic opera — had this takeaway from the memo: “I’m a layman, but I find it difficult to see what in the Nunes memo could possibly endanger our national security. Here is Eric Holder in a good example of the over-wrought warnings of the catastrophic effects of the memo…” Later Lowry wrote: “James Comey might have the most self-righteous account on all of Twitter.… It’s difficult to see how Comey thinks any of this helps his reputation,” he went on, “but I guess he, like everyone else, needs to play to his base.” Haw, game recognize game!

While these guys were talking about how overboard Democrats went, Republican Paul Gosar, a sitting U.S. congressman, declared, “This full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason.” Apparently columnists aren’t the only conservatives sucking up to the trolls!

And the effect of these slurs, unlike tax cuts for the rich, actually trickles down. A new poll shows only 38 percent of Republicans approving of the FBI — which, you gotta admit, would have seemed counterintuitive from America’s Party of Authoritarianism, once upon a time. But these days extremism in the defense of Trump is no vice: Now that they’re dissing the FBI and throwing around classified documents like banana peels to keep Mueller off Trump’s tail, what institution won’t they wreck for him? Maybe that’s why top Republicans won’t condemn even Trump’s most egregious behavior — they’re afraid if they make him mad he’ll do to the party what he’s done to the FBI. Though some of us would argue he’s done that already.

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‘Secret Society’ Tzimmes Shows How Right’s Totally Trumpified

As I keep saying, despite the insistence of bothsider intellectuals, conservatism is now nothing but Trumpism. A clear sign of this is the brethren’s wholesale adoption of the conspiracy theories Trumpists roll out to defend him as special counsel Robert Mueller’s footsteps get nearer.

For instance, it has become settled doctrine among conservatives that the FBI — the same guys they loved over the years for hunting down Communists, labor leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., hippies, Black Panthers, et alia — are now plotting to overthrow Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

That’s what’s behind the recent #ReleaseTheMemo tzimmes — in which Donald Trump and GOP congress member David Nunes portrayed an alleged memo about FBI malfeasance as hot stuff, and even serious conservatives like National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy called for its release, until enough time passed that people began to wonder why none of these patriots was telling them what was actually in the damn thing.

That particular nonsense still persists — “Trump reportedly working to get Nunes memo released,” the New York Post assured its diehards. But you can get some idea of how little it takes to get these guys riled up from last week’s rapid rise and fall of the “Secret Society” story, in which a gag by two anti-Trump FBI employees about their status after his election briefly became a full-blown conspiracy theory.

In brief: FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page were on the Trump case and allegedly having an affair when they exchanged some salty messages on a variety of subjects including Trump. Though they both left Mueller’s investigation months ago, conservatives still take Strzok’s and Page’s negative attitude toward their Leader, and the fact that many of their messages briefly went missing, as further proof of the Great FBI-Hillary Conspiracy.

Top conservatives have fine-tooth-combed such Strzok-and-Page messages as they could find, and claimed sinister intent wherever it could be inferred. Take the pair’s line about preparing for the “risk” of Trump’s election being “like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Normal people recognize this as a feeling many people had about that ominous prospect, but to right-wing glamour boy Ben Shapiro it was the “One INSANE Text Message [That] May Have Just Fatally Wounded The Mueller Investigation.… And that means that there is now more of a smoking gun of FBI corruption against Trump than there is of Trump colluding with Russia.… The Mueller team is filled top-to-bottom with political activists who have a specific anti-Trump agenda,” etc.

Then last week GOP senator Ron Johnson came up with new magic words: As reported by the Washington Examiner, Johnson “said on Tuesday he had an ‘informant’ corroborate reports concerning the existence of an FBI ‘secret society’ working to undermine President Trump.”

Turns out Strzok and Page had referred to themselves as members of such a society. Wing nuts went wild.

“Senator Confirms Existence Of FBI ‘Secret Society,’ ” gushed Benny Johnson at the Daily Caller. “Is There a ‘Secret Society’ Inside the FBI?” gasped Truth Revolt. “Bret Baier is shocked by this revelation about the FBI ‘secret society’ against Trump,” intoned Glenn Beck’s the Blaze.

“Evidence suggests a massive scandal is brewing at the FBI,” wrote Michael Goodwin at the New York Post, citing “talk among agents of a ‘secret society’ and suddenly missing text messages” that “point to the existence both of a cabal dedicated to defeating Donald Trump in 2016 and of a plan to let Hillary Clinton skate free in the classified email probe. If either one is true — and I believe both probably are — it would mean FBI leaders betrayed the nation by abusing their powers in a bid to pick the president.”

Mainstream media outlets, as usual terrified of any accusation of liberal bias, had to treat this gibberish seriously; “FBI SECRET SOCIETY? RUSH LIMBAUGH, SOME REPUBLICANS, TROUBLED BY STRZOK-PAGE TEXT,” bothsided Newsweek. “For some on the right, the notion of a secret society within the U.S. intelligence community has become a serious concern.”

Conservatives, who are not so scrupulous, just blithely went with the story that the FBI had a secret society working to destroy Trump.

“BREAKING: Thousands of New Strzok-Page Text Messages Reference ‘SECRET SOCIETY’ Within DOJ and FBI WORKING AGAINST TRUMP (VIDEO),” babbled Cristina Laila of Gateway Pundit. Laila seemed to conflate the existence of thousands of Strzok-Page texts with the single secret society–related text, though I guess it’s possible she actually imagined the lovers used it as a customary sign-off, like “Hail Hydra.”

“GOP LAWMAKERS: FBI OFFICIALS PETER STRZOK AND LISA PAGE TEXTED ABOUT ‘SECRET SOCIETY’ AFTER ELECTION,” hollered Breitbart, which quickly instituted a “Secret Society” tag that, alas, will probably never have more than the five stories currently assigned to it.

“LIVE: DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENT SHOWED OBAMA ADMINISTRATION BROKE LAW TO SPY ON AMERICANS,” raved Infowars. “The downfall of the globalists is approaching.… A Bohemian Grove-style secret society within the FBI was conspiring against President Trump.”

Some of the classier conservatives tried to indulge the conspiracy-minded while leaving themselves some wiggle room for later, when it all went to shit.

“The ‘secret society’ thing could mean nothing,” said RedState, “or it could mean a lot.” Questions Remain! But, they assured readers, “in this case, the messenger is the message because [GOP congressman Trey] Gowdy does not have a reputation for running off half-cocked and eventually looking like a fool.” Gowdy’s endless Benghazi investigation proved that!

“We’ll say it again: the ‘secret society’ text might mean nothing,” said Twitchy. “The ‘insurance policy’ text might mean nothing. But speaking of Harry Potter: wasn’t there an anti-Trump group working inside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau calling itself ‘Dumbledore’s Army’?” AHA! Now the libtards are using magic against Trump!

Eventually everyone found out Strzok and Page were just having a giggle and it was reported Johnson “acknowledges not knowing what they meant — and says the focus now on his committee is the Clinton email scandal.” But Her Emails! Well, when in doubt always go with the classics.

The new right-wing rap became: Why’s everyone focusing on “secret society”?

Johnson only “picked up on” the secret society thing because “a whistleblower has informed Johnson’s office about offsite and secret meetings between FBI officials, possibly others, related to the ‘Russia investigation,’ ” wrote Willis L. Krumholz at the Federalist. “Although the text containing the ‘secret society’ language appears benign, Johnson’s point was always to highlight what he had heard from the whistleblower.” He was just saying it to fill space, like some people say “you know” or “I have here in my hand a list of 205 Communists.”

“Nevertheless,” sighed Krumholz, “the media has used the benign language in the text to attempt to show that Johnson was spinning conspiracy theories out of whole cloth.” It’s awful how the media report what conservatives say instead of what they mean.

Snopes memorialized this all-but-dead meme with “Do FBI Agents Have an Anti-Trump ‘Secret Society’?” But who cares what they think — nowadays conservatives claim the famously impartial Snopes is just more Fake News, probably because it is famously impartial; if it were real news, as they see it, it would be dispensed by rage queens with bulging neck veins, or nootropic pitchmen, or Sean Hannity, and would always make Trump look good and persecuted. So don’t expect this embarrassment to teach them anything. Next week, someone from the “Deep State” will be heard saying Trump’s a pain in the ass, and conservatives will claim it’s a plot to get doctors (who are totally in the tank for Hillary) to authorize Trump’s removal as a hemorrhoid.

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Three Members of Al-Shabaab, The Group Behind Nairobi Mall Attack, To Be Tried In N.Y.

When Ali Yasin Ahmen, Madhi Hashi, and Mohamed Yusef appeared in the Brooklyn courthouse last December, people were confused.

They were confused because the men were Somali; two of them had Swedish citizenship and the other held citizenship in the U.K. They were apprehended in Africa, en route to Yemen.

Under U.S. law, it turns out, someone suspected of providing “material support” to a terrorist organization targeting Americans, absent any other connection, can be indicted in the U.S.–which how three members of al-Shabaab ended up in federal custody in New York.

The three men have been charged with conspiring to provide money, guns, and manpower to the militant Islamist group before it gained international attention, claiming responsibility for the recent attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.

Even in custody in New York, prosecutors worried that the three men would attempt to assist Al-Shabaab with its terror activities.

Just three days before the siege in Kenya, prosecutors filed a motion requesting the men appear in court separately to prevent them from conspiring with one another.

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch enumerated her concerns in a letter dated September 18. They are all the more troubling in light of the carnage in Nairobi:

(1) the defendants are longstanding members of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist organization that has merged with al-Qaeda and has publicly stated its intent to harm the United States and its allies; (2) the defendants have extensive weapons and combat training and were formerly members of an elite al-Shabaab suicide bombing unit; (3) many of the defendants’ terrorist co-conspirators remain at large; and (4) the defendants are dangerous and influential foreign al-Shabaab fighters who have previously employed operational tradecraft and counter surveillance techniques to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.

If convicted, Ali Yasin Ahmen, Madhi Hashi, and Mohamed Yusef face 30 years to life in prision.

The indictment

Hashi Indictment

The motion

Hashi Filing

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JetBlue Refuses to Let Hindu Man Board Flight During Ramadan, Concerned About His “Disposition”

Air travel has become such a nightmare that it’s hard to muster any surprise about the hassles and indignities travelers face on a regular basis.

Excruciatingly long lines, invasive pat-downs, awkward luggage inspections, delays, cancelations–and, oh yeah, racial profiling–are all pretty much accepted as par for the course.

Aditya Mukerjee, who lives and works in New York and is Hindu, not Muslim, wrote about a particularly awful experience he had at JFK recently in blog post titled “Don’t Fly During Ramadan.”

Mukerjee was scheduled to fly out of JFK to meet his family in Los Angeles earlier this summer. The whole ordeal started, he writes, when he declined to go through the airport’s millimeter wave detectors. According to Mukerjee, he was ultimately detained for about four hours and questioned by the TSA, NYPD, FBI, and Homeland Security.

Incredibly, though, in the end it was the airline itself, JetBlue, that would not allow him to board the flight he had a ticket for, or any other flight to Los Angeles that day. From the questions he was asked, Mukerjee (who, again, is Hindu, not Muslim) got the impression he was being profiled because he was flying during the Muslim holiday Ramadan.

Here is Mukerjee’s exchange with JetBlue, in his own words:

As they patted me down for the fourth time, a female TSA agent asked me for my baggage claim ticket. I handed it to her, and she told me that a woman from JetBlue corporate security needed to ask me some questions as well. I was a bit surprised, but agreed. After the pat-down, the JetBlue representative walked in and cooly introduced herself by name.

She explained, “We have some questions for you to determine whether or not you’re permitted to fly today. Have you flown on JetBlue before?”

“Yes”

“How often?”

“Maybe about ten times,” I guessed.

“Ten what? Per month?”

“No, ten times total.”

She paused, then asked, “Will you have any trouble following the instructions of the crew and flight attendants on board the flight?”

“No.” I had no idea why this would even be in doubt.

“We have some female flight attendants. Would you be able to follow their instructions?”

I was almost insulted by the question, but I answered calmly, “Yes, I can do that.”

“Okay,” she continued, “and will you need any special treatment during your flight? Do you need a special place to pray on board the aircraft?”

Only here did it hit me.

“No,” I said with a light-hearted chuckle, trying to conceal any sign of how offensive her questions were. “Thank you for asking, but I don’t need any special treatment.”

She left the room, again, leaving me alone for another ten minutes or so. When she finally returned, she told me that I had passed the TSA’s inspection. “However, based on the responses you’ve given to questions, we’re not going to permit you to fly today.”

I was shocked. “What do you mean?” were the only words I could get out.

“If you’d like, we’ll rebook you for the flight tomorrow, but you can’t take the flight this afternoon, and we’re not permitting you to rebook for any flight today.”

I barely noticed the irony of the situation–that the TSA and NYPD were clearing me for takeoff, but JetBlue had decided to ground me.

Read his full blog post.

Mukerjee says JetBlue did eventually refund his ticket, but he had to rebook with another airline to get on a flight the same day. The whole awful experience cost him an extra $700.

Since his blogpost went up Thursday afternoon, JetBlue has fielded a barrage of questions on Twitter about its handling of the events.

We’ve reached out to the airline for further clarification about its policies, and will update with their response. (Update: JetBlue has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)

On Twitter, the company admitted that Mukerjee was prevented from boarding the flight, and said a judgment call was made based on his “disposition at the time.” JetBlue also said it stands by its decision.

Send story tips to the author, Tessa Stuart

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Boston Police Arrest Three More Suspects in Connection to Marathon Bombings

The AP has confirmed that Boston police have taken three more suspects into custody regarding the marathon bombings. Not much more is known at this point, but Boston police have issued a statement saying that the situation poses no threat to public safety. NBC’s Pete Williams, one of the few sources of accurate information throughout the series of events following the bombings, has reported that the three suspects were Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s college roommates at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

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Occupy Heavily Monitored for Potential Criminal Activity, HSBC Slapped on the Wrist for Actual Criminal Activity

Apparently non-violent demonstration against corrupt banking is subject to more criminal scrutiny than actual corrupt banking.

Documents released by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Saturday show that the FBI identified Occupy Wall Street as a “potential criminal and terrorist” threat as early as a month before the OWS movement burst on the international scene with its initial occupation of Zuccotti Park in September 2011.

“These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of PCJF, said in a release . “These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

The release of the documents comes a few weeks after federal and state authorities, including the Department of Justice and the New York East District Attorney’s Office, announced a $1.9 billion settlement agreements with British-based bank, HSBC, for allowing major drug cartels and entities with economic sanctions and terrorist ties to launder money through the bank.

“HSBC’s blatant failure to implement proper anti-money laundering controls facilitated the laundering of at least $881 million in drug proceeds through the U.S. financial system,” New York U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a release. “HSBC’s willful flouting of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in [Office of Foreign Assets Control]-prohibited transactions.”

For more than a decade, HSBC’s U.S. subsidiary, HSBC Bank USA, knowingly allowed money transactions coming from sanctioned countries such as Iran, Sudan and Libya. And, banking officials at HSBC knowingly altered documents to prevent them from being red-flagged.

A report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Investigations reveals that, at least as far back as 2006, HBUS allowed major drug-trafficking cartels, such as the infamous Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico, to funnel nearly $900 million in drug revenues through the bank.

HSBC engaged in money laundering schemes dating back to the 1990s but weren’t hit with any type of punishment for those schemes until earlier this month. OWS moved to speak out against that very type of corruption and were hounded by federal authorities before the movement was even launched.

The FBI actually went as far as to meet with officials at the New York Stock Exchange in August of 2011 to warn of the impending demonstration, according to the PCJF-obtained documents. Yet with the settlement reached, no one at HSBC will be criminally prosecuted for years of blatantly illegal practices involving billions of dollars.

Officials close to the investigation of HSBC told the New York Times that they ultimately decided not to prosecute the bank because it was essentially too big to fail. Lawrence White, a professor of economics at New York University, acknowledges that the $1.9 billion fine certainly won’t do major damage to HSBC, but believes that it is effective.

“HSBC is a big bank with literally trillions of dollars of assets. So, a penalty $1.9 billion it doesn’t cripple the bank but it stings. Nobody likes to write a check that has ten digits,” White told the Voice after the fine was announced. “It gets everybody’s attention. It certainly will focus the attention of HSBC. It will certainly focus the attention of other similarly situated banks.”

A member of the Occupy movement, who goes under the pseudonym Goldi Locks and is currently involved in the volunteer efforts of Occupy Sandy, believes the fine is merely a slap on the wrist.

“The fact that there is no criminal sort of prosecution is surprisingly on one level but not surprising on another… The banking industry is completely lawless – something we’ve been saying all along,” Goldi said. “These banks can do whatever they want with impunity. To level what for them is a small fine, even though it’s large in the history of fines, it’s just absurd.”

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FBI Agent Arrested For Driving Without Pants and Allegedly Trying to Seduce a Truck Driver

Some law enforcement officers like to unwind from a tough week on the job with a nice drink. Apparently one Buffalo, N.Y. FBI agent prefers to unwind by unzipping his pants and seducing truck drivers.

John A. Yervelli, a 48-year-old special agent for the FBI’s Buffalo office, allegedly pulled alongside a truck on an upstate thruway, signaled to the driver of the truck that he was not wearing any pants and proceeded to make lewd gestures, according to a Buffalo News report.

The alleged incident occurred around 9 p.m. Friday night — (you know, around the time when most agents might de-stress at the bar, relax at home with their families or generally not drive pants-less on a thruway.)

Not long after the truck driver alerted authorities, Yervelli was pulled over by a state trooper and arrested on misdemeanor public lewdness charges. He faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted, according to the report.

No word yet on whether Yervelli will keep his job or whether pants-less driving violates bureau protocol.

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Russian Spies Still Exist, Apparently

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced this morning the indictment of 11 members of a Russian “military procurement network” operating in the United States, who allegedly have been shipping U.S. military technology to the former Soviet Union since 2008.

See the full indictment — compliments of the U.S. Attorney’s Office — below.

According to the feds, the 11 people indicted illegally exported high-tech micro-electronics — used for things like radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems, and detonation triggers — to Russian military intelligence agencies on behalf of the Russian government.

In doing so, the Ruskies “spun an elaborate web of lies to evade the laws that protect our
national security,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said this morning.

]

The alleged ring-leader is 46-year-old Alexander Fishenko, a Russian national living in the U.S. since 1994. He became a naturalized citizen in 2003.

In 1998, Fishenko founded Arc Electronics, Inc. (ARC), which he based out of Houston. According to the feds, since 2002, ARC — using JFK Airport as its principal port of export — has shipped more than $50 million worth of military-grade micro-electronics to his Russian counterparts, who gave the technology to Russian intelligence agencies.

Because the materials can be used for military purposes, the micro-electronics are subject to strict government licensing restrictions. To get around the restrictions, the feds say Fishenko and his cronies would classify the items incorrectly to avoid getting hassled by the U.S. Commerce Department.

“For example, in order to obtain microelectronics containing controlled, sensitive technologies, Arc claimed to American suppliers that, rather than exporting goods to Russia, it merely manufactured benign products such as traffic lights,” authorities said. ‘Arc also falsely claimed to be a traffic light manufacturer on its Web site. In fact, Arc manufactured no goods and operated exclusively as an exporter.”

Each of the defendants have been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Arms Export Control Act.

Additionally, Fishenko’s been charged with acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.

See the indictment below.

Fishenko – Signed Indictment

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Bernie Madoff Wasn’t Alone in His Dirty Work, Five Former Employees Hit With New Charges

The Manhattan U.S. District Attorney and several other government agencies announced new and revised charges yesterday for five former employees who worked for infamous scam artist Bernie Madoff.

Daniel Bonventre, Annette Bongiorno, Joann Crupi, Jerome O’Hara, and George Perez were indicted back in November 2010 on charges relating to the conspiracy to defraud clients investing with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, dating back to 1992.

The revised indictment includes 33 total charges and dates some of their involvement back to the early 1970s.

“The charges in this indictment reinforce what we have known about the massive Madoff investment fraud for years. This largest-ever Ponzi scheme was not the work of one person,” FBI Assistant Director Mary Galligan said in a release.

]

“Each of the defendants in his or her way allegedly played a key role in designing, building, or maintaining the house of cards. The habitual doctoring of books and records, the fictitious trades, the phantom accounts, were the core of the charade. As alleged, they were the work of these defendants.”

On the most basic level, BLMIS operated as an investment company that didn’t actually invest in anything. When a client got ready to pull its investment from the company, BLMIS drew from one large bank account, in which Madoff deposited his clients’ money.

BLMIS had to create false investment reports, accounts, financial statements, and other documentation in order to maintain the scam. This operation allowed those investing with the company to believe they gained returns from actual investments, and not from the money of other clients. It also made it difficult for watchdog agencies to detect wrongdoing.

“As we have said repeatedly since this breathtaking fraud was first discovered four years ago, we will not rest until all the alleged participants and enablers are made to answer for their conduct,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release. “With the new charges we announce today against these five previously indicted defendants, the architecture of Madoff’s house of cards and each defendant’s alleged role in it becomes clearer.”

The indictment gives examples of the kinds of dirty deeds the employees would carry out. For instance, BLMIS got itself in a jam in 1992 when the Securities and Exchange Commission sued an investment fund called Avellino & Bienes, which invested heavily with BLMIS.

As a part of its investigation, the SEC required BLMIS to liquidate its account with the fund and provide account records. A&B was aware of the ways in which BLMIS operated, and for years knowingly reported false gains with BLMIS to its clients.

Bongiorno, Crupi, and other employees spent months creating “historical records and account statements to hide from the Receiver [on behalf of A&B customers] and the SEC the existence of, and transactions in, certain IA [Investor Advisor] accounts,” the indictment states.

A 1989 account statement revealed an illegal transaction between the A&B account and another BLMIS account. Bongiorno altered the statement to make it look like the transfer to the A&B account came from an investment gain through General Motors instead.

Because investments such as the General Motors one didn’t actually exist, BLMIS didn’t have the hundreds of millions of dollars due to the SEC. To cover their asses, Madoff took out loans using securities on investments from two non-related clients.

Aware of what the loans were used to pay for, Bonventre doctored books and records to make it appear as though the loans were used to acquire assets for the company, according to the indictment.

BLMIS operated in a similar manner for years, narrowly avoiding major crises through meticulous data manipulation.

O’Hara and Perez were primarily the technology guys. They created and maintained computer programs that allowed them to quickly generate fake business-investment data.

The FBI, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, and the U.S. Department of Labor collaborated to investigate the Madoff employees and deliver the indictment. The maximum sentence for each of the 33 charges ranges from three to 30 years in prison.

The trial has been set for October of next year.