TBR News June 24, 2016

Jun 23 2016


The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. June 24, 2016: “I put up a web posting every day.

To achieve this, I scan legitimate news sites (no blogs) for several hours a day and select news stories I think are both important and interesting.

Doing this daily, coupled with bits and pieces of information gleaned from other sources, one can get a very clear overview of reality (as opposed to manifestations of ignorance coupled with official disinformation one sees daily)

Reality is never attractive so most people ignore it, preferring instead exciting, inaccurate but comforting, pap.

And if, and when, you mention the dread word, “reality,” you are not popular.

When readers complain about incidents of violence that seem to be growing, I suggest they read Calhoun’s study of rat populations.

If one reads Calhoun and Malthus, the violence and threats of more violence we see daily are totally understandable.

Of all the people I have given this suggestion to, only one has read both of these studies.

The rest?

Why they text message frantically and Visit New Friends on Facebook, Twitter, Grope and Glimmer.

The so-called ‘Social Media’ is a gathering place for the dim of wit to display their total lack of intelligence and on a daily basis.

Denial seems to be the hallmark of the twitties.

‘Oh, it will get better!’ they squeal but in reality, it won’t.

In older days, the frustrated screamed that Jesus was coming back to save them from the fertilizer factory of reality but Jesus never came because Jesus never existed.

But if Jesus did exist, he was an Essene and if he were a member of this Jewish sect, Jesus was gay. Historians know this but the masses do not.

More fictional concepts:

‘The US-Led Coalition…!’

‘Housing Market Surges up…!’

‘Hillary is a Goddess come to save us all….!’

‘FBI Arrests 6 year old Muslim terrorist…!’

‘Save Darfur…!’

‘Save the Bulgarian Three-Eyed Goats….!’

‘Trump microwaves kittens…!.’

‘Israel is perfection…!’

To all of this grot I have a thoughtful suggestion:

If you will bend over, I’ll drive you home.”

The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951

At the beginning of December, 1948, a German national arrived in Washington, D.C. to take up an important position with the newly-formed CIA. He was a specialist on almost every aspect of Soviet intelligence and had actively fought them, both in his native Bavaria where he was head of the political police in Munich and later in Berlin as head of Amt IV of the State Security Office, also known as the Gestapo.

His name was Heinrich Müller.

Even as a young man, Heini Müller had kept daily journals of his activities, journals that covered his military service as a pilot in the Imperial German air arm and an apprentice policeman in Munich. He continued these journals throughout the war and while employed by the top CIA leadership in Washington, continued his daily notations.

This work is a translation of his complete journals from December of 1948 through September of 1951.

When Heinrich Müller was hired by the CIA¹s station chief in Bern, Switzerland, James Kronthal in 1948, he had misgivings about working for his former enemies but pragmatism and the lure of large amounts of money won him over to what he considered to be merely an extension of his life-work against the agents of the Comintern. What he discovered after living and working in official Washington for four years was that the nation¹s capital was, in truth, what he once humorously claimed sounded like a cross between a zoo and a lunatic asylum. His journals, in addition to personal letters, various reports and other personal material, give a very clear, but not particularly flattering, view of the inmates of both the zoo and the asylum.

Müller moved, albeit very carefully, in the rarefied atmosphere of senior policy personnel, military leaders, heads of various intelligence agencies and the White House itself. He was a very observant, quick-witted person who took copious notes of what he saw. This was not a departure from his earlier habits because Heinrich Müller had always kept a journal, even when he was a lowly Bavarian police officer, and his comments about personalities and events in the Third Reich are just as pungent and entertaining as the ones he made while in America.

The reason for publishing this phase of his eventful life is that so many agencies in the United States and their supporters do not want to believe that a man of Müller¹s position could ever have been employed by their country in general or their agency in specific.

Saturday, 27, January 1951.

In Korea, the Eighth Army is starting its long promised counter-attack. The field commander, General (Matthew, ed.) Ridgeway, is a very competent officer and no doubt there will be clashes between himself and MacArthur. Well, many people have suffered from the effects of the Korean campaign. Hillenkoether has gone back to active naval service and if MacArthur isn’t careful, he will be relieved of his command. At this point, no decision has been made but Truman does not like him. Also, he does not want to fire him because of public opinion so here MacArthur should be careful what he does.

The CIA people are unhappy that they do not have more to say about running things in Korea and are trying to get a bureau in Tokyo but MacArthur (like so many others) despises them and I expect that they will have a difficult time. The CIA has organized European trade union people to attack known communists in unions there. This is being paid for through the AFL and already a million dollars has been sent over.

This seems to be the way now. Bribery is used, pouring millions of dollars into destabilizing fragile governments, fomenting labor strife and paying assassins their fees for killing off this or that menace to American business interests.

Dulles is now claiming that Smith will have to keep him on permanently (he was only hired as a “specialist” for a brief period) because Dulles is so brilliant that he should have been given Smith’s job. Truman dislikes him, calls him a pompous ass and certainly knows that Dulles is a Republican who backed Dewey in the last election.

All of them are completely unaware that their “very own” mini-CIA, the Gehlen Organization, is filled either with former SS and Gestapo agents or with communist agents. There is no point in illuminating these blockheads about this: They will find out soon enough.

And then there is Dulles, boasting all over the place about his brilliant activities in Switzerland during the war as head of the OSS office there.

Every time I hear his chattering, I want to laugh in his face. I suppose if the idiot found out who I am, he would fill his pants on the spot. And of course I know that I, and to a lesser degree, Schellenberg, completely penetrated his Swiss organization. All of his so-called “top German agents” were either Schellenberg’s or mine. We both used Kolbe to feed all kinds of ingenious disinformation to the great man and he swallowed all of it entirely whole. We knew all of his people in Switzerland and were reading all of his mail. Last week, someone showed me an OSS secret file of reports Dulles made about what was going on in Germany and I had to pretend to be having a bad coughing spell. I do have good control but after all, some things are so entertaining that one cannot help but laugh out loud.

If Dulles is as incompetent in America as he was in Switzerland, Stalin will be roasting chestnuts in the White House come next spring.

Saturday, 3. February, 1951.

We have excellent news from Germany. (John J., ed.) McCloy, the High Commissioner in Germany, has commuted the sentences of 54 Germans, many under sentence of death!

This is, of course, not unexpected here and is causing some anguish in certain circles but then these people are really of no importance. Unfortunately, Pohl and Ohlendorf will not be spared. Pohl knows far too much about American business activities with Germany during the war to be let go and Ohlendorf has to pay for all the SD and Einsatzgruppen people the U.S. has already knowingly hired. The younger Krupp, whom the Americans decided would have to be tried instead of his totally senile father, is to be let go as this country needs his company to produce military goods again. And he gets all of his property back as well. Also, all the other businessmen are to be let go as well. I wrote to Willi (Krichbaum, ed.) that this Korean business would be very good for Germany after all.

Viktor met me for lunch at the Pentagon and expressed some displeasure at the decision but I merely advised him on what kinds of American stock to buy and he made notes.

The business with his wife is coming along nicely. After all was said and done, we decided against the boating accident. Too many things could go wrong and I do not want my colleagues to get wind of what I am up to. What we did was to give Viktor some very valuable information, suitably doctored, and have him send it on to Moscow. Once Stalin had accepted it, we had him make a request to have his wife sent over (with the children) so she could help him entertain “very important” intelligence people. A week later and it was approved! How fortunate he is. Elena speaks excellent English but with an accent so we are passing her off as a Czech refugee! Viktor is very happy and we managed to get that one through with a minimum of trouble. https://www.amazon.com/DC-Diaries-Translated-Heinrich-Chronicals-ebook/dp/B00SQDU3GE?ie=UTF8&keywords=The%20DC%20Diaries&qid=1462467839&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Venezuela’s worsening economic crisis – the Guardian briefing

The shadow of hunger, desperation of crowds queueing for food and the spread of unrest are threatening the government of Nicolás Maduro

June 22, 2016

by Julian Borger

The Guardian

What is the story?

Venezuela is suffering the worst economic crisis in its history. Ordinary people in the oil-rich country are regularly going without food. Three-quarter empty supermarkets are being ransacked by angry, hungry mobs. The government has declared a state of emergency, food is now being transported under armed guard, and basic necessities are being rationed. People have to queue for hours and sometimes overnight on their assigned days to receive staples like rice and cooking oil.

By IMF figures, it has the world’s worst negative growth rate (-8%), and the worst inflation rate (482%). The unemployment rate is 17% but is expected to climb to near 30% in the coming few years.

The shadow of hunger, the desperation of the crowds and the spread of unrest and criminality threaten the government of Nicolás Maduro, three years after he was bequeathed power by the dying revolutionary strongman, Hugo Chávez. The opposition has launched a drive to canvas signatures for a petition for him to step down. That will be a difficult task in the face of a state-run electoral system determined to thwart it, but the state may implode even if the recall referendum fails.

How did such an oil-rich state collapse so catastrophically?

The Maduro government has blamed the crisis on the US and rightwing business owners who it accuses of cutting production to sabotage the economy, but Maduro has inherited a ruinous state-run system from Chávez to which economists say he has added some damaging mistakes of his own. Chávez build his popularity on oil money and foreign debt, using both to fund consumption, while nationalising more than 1,200 private companies deemed not to be functioning in the public interest. But in 2015 the oil price was cut in half and Venezuela’s reckless public finances helped make it a high-risk debtor, cutting the country’s access to international capital.

The Maduro government has responded to the consequent hole in public finances by printing money, fuelling inflation. It’s estimated that the cost of basic groceries that would keep a family going through a week increased by more than 25% between March and April, and now costs 22 times the state minimum salary.

The state has tried to ration basic foodstuffs and set their prices, but the consequence is they have simply disappeared from the shops into the black market. The opposition says the direct distribution of food has been politicised by being channeled through local committees run by Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

According to Transparency International, Venezuela is the ninth most corrupt country in the world. Member’s of Maduro’s family and immediate entourage have been implicated in drug smuggling and hundreds of billions of dollars are believed to have been syphoned out of the economy.

The crisis is likely to get even worse in the near future.

The government has been running through the country’s gold reserves to pay its international debt service and finance at least some basic imports, but those reserves are now dwindling, and Maduro will either have to default or stop importing food. Both options are potentially catastrophic.

Will Maduro be brought down by the recall referendum?

The opposition have put high hopes in a referendum, and launched a signature drive in April but Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has imposed a set of high hurdles for a petition to pass before the choice can be presented to the general population. Roughly 1.3 million people signed a petition for a recall vote – far more than the 200,000 required by law, but 600,000 of the signatures have already been rejected by the CNE, and people have been queueing for hours to validate the rest of the signatures by having their fingerprints scanned. Even if they are found to have passed the required threshold of 1% of voters, that just allows them to go forward to a second petition, in which opponents would have to amass close to 4 million votes to trigger a recall vote.

The Maduro camp argues the opposition have left the petition too late for a referendum this year, a claim his opponents vehemently contest. The issue of timing is critical. If Maduro is ousted after January 2017, his place can be passed to his vice-president, keeping power in Socialist party hands.

How has the rest of the region responded?

The Maduro government has regional allies that have protected it from external pressure. Recently the secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro told the Guardian that Argentina had been working behind the scenes to obstruct an OAS assembly to discuss the economic crisis and human rights crises in Caracas, amid reports that the two governments had done a deal involving guaranteed Venezuelan support for Argentina’s candidate for UN secretary general, Susan Malcorra. Venezuela’s other neighbours have also been accused of standing on the sidelines – for either economic or ideological reasons – while the country slides into chaos.

The crisis may be forcing a thaw in relations with the US, long presented as a bogeyman by Chávez and then Maduro. The US under secretary of state, Thomas Shannon, flew to Caracas this week, following a meeting at the OAS between John Kerry and his counterpart, the Venezuelan foreign minister, Delcy Rodríguez.

Poland doesn’t want Nord Stream-2 pipeline, but wants the gas

June 23, 2016


Despite being one of the main opponents of Russia’s Nord Stream-2, Poland is interested in pumping 11 billion cubic meters of gas per year from the pipeline, Gazprom said on Thursday.

According to Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Medvedev, Warsaw has bid for 11 billion cubic meters of Russian gas coming through the projected Nord Stream-2 pipeline.

Medvedev added that even though Nord Stream-2 will significantly increase gas reverse supplies through Poland, its antitrust authorities will delay the decision to ratify the pipeline and “send new demands that have nothing to do with the matter.”

The contract to deliver Russian gas to Poland expires in 2022. Medvedev said Gazprom offered to extend it by 25-30 years, but has received no reply. He added that Poland is harming itself and annoying Europe.

Poland is pumping 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas per year, and Gazprom has offered the same volume in the new contract, said the deputy chairman. However, the new contract can’t be signed under the old conditions as EU laws have changed.

A gas contract auction for the pipeline’s future capacity will be held next year, according to Medvedev. Besides Poland, there are other bidders, but he refused to name them.

The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline is expected to provide an additional direct route for Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea bypassing Ukraine. It will deliver up to 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year, doubling the supplies through the existing Nord Stream pipeline.

Russia’s Gazprom holds a 50 percent stake in the project. The other 50 percent is divided equally between Royal Dutch Shell, Germany’s E.ON and BASF, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.

In March, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic sent a letter to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, saying Nord Stream-2 could pose risks to energy security in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Numbers Racket

AFRICOM Clams Up After Commander Peddles Contradictory Statements to Congress

by Nick Turse


General David Rodriguez might be a modern military celebrity — if he hadn’t spent his career ducking the spotlight. After graduating from West Point in 1976, he began his long march up the chain of command, serving in Operation Just Cause (the U.S. invasion of Panama) and Operation Desert Storm (Iraq War 1.0) before becoming deputy commander of United States Forces, Afghanistan, and commander of the International Security Assistance Force-Joint Command in 2009.

In 2011, the 6’5” former paratrooper received his fourth star and two years later the coveted helm of one of the Defense Department’s six geographic combatant commands, becoming the third chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Rodriguez has held that post ever since, overseeing a colossal American military expansion on that continent.  During his tenure, AFRICOM has grown in every conceivable way, from outposts to manpower. In the process, Africa has become a key hub for shadowy U.S. missions against terror groups from Yemen, Iraq, and Syria to Somalia and Libya. But even as he now prepares to turn over his post to Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, Rodriguez continues to downplay the scope of U.S. operations on the continent, insisting that his has been a kinder, gentler combatant command.

As he prepares to retire, Rodriguez has an additional reason for avoiding attention.  His tenure has not only also been marked by an increasing number of terror attacks from Mali and Burkina Faso to, most recently, Côte d’Ivoire, but questions have arisen about his recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Did the outgoing AFRICOM chief lie to the senators about the number of missions being carried out on the continent? Is AFRICOM maintaining two sets of books in an effort to obscure the size and scope of its expanding operations?  Is the command relying on a redefinition of terms and massaging its numbers to buck potential oversight?

If Rodriguez knowingly deceived the Senate Armed Services Committee in an effort to downplay the size and scope of his command’s operations, that act would be criminal and punishable by law, experts say.  That’s a big “if.”  But U.S. Africa Command’s response hardly inspires confidence.  AFRICOM has refused to comment on the subject, stonewalling TomDispatch on questions about why Rodriguez has been peddling contradictory figures about his command’s activities to Congress.  And this rejection of transparency and accountability is only the latest incident in a long history of AFRICOM personnel ducking questions, rebuffing press inquiries, and preventing Americans from understanding what’s being done in their name and with their tax dollars in Africa.

Numbers Game

In March 2015, General David Rodriguez appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to report on the previous year’s military missions in Africa.  “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities,” he told the senators.  The U.S. had, in other words, carried out a total of 674 military missions across Africa, nearly two per day, up from 546 the year before.  Those 674 missions amounted to an almost 300% jump in the number of annual operations, exercises, and military-to-military trainings since U.S. Africa Command was established in 2008.

These missions form the backbone of U.S. military engagement on the continent.  “The command’s operations, exercises, and security cooperation assistance programs support U.S. Government foreign policy and do so primarily through military-to-military activities and assistance programs,” according to AFRICOM.  “These activities build strong, enduring partnerships with African nations, regional and international organizations, and other states that are committed to improving security in Africa.”

Very little is known about most of these missions due to AFRICOM’s secretive nature.  Only a small fraction of them are reported in the command’s press releases with little of substance chronicled.  An even tinier number are covered by independent journalists.  “Congress and the public need to know about U.S. military operations overseas, regardless of what euphemism is used to describe them,” says William Hartung, a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor which tracks American military aid around the globe. “Calling something a ‘security cooperation activity’ doesn’t change the fact that U.S. troops are working directly with foreign military forces.”

This spring, at his annual appearance before the SASC, Rodriguez provided the senators with an update on these programs.  “In fiscal year 2015,” he announced, “we conducted 75 joint operations, 12 major joint exercises, and 400 security cooperation activities.”  For the first time ever, it seemed that AFRICOM had carried out fewer missions than the year before — just 487.  This 28% drop was noteworthy, if little noticed.

But was it true?

Things started getting hazy when Rodriguez went on to offer a new version of the number of missions AFRICOM had carried out in 2014.  To hear him tell it, 2015 hadn’t represented a drop in those missions but a banner year for them.  After all, its 75 joint operations, he told the senators, topped the 68 of 2014.  Twelve major joint exercises one-upped the 11 of a year earlier.  And 400 security cooperation activities beat the 363 of the year before.

I did a double take and reread his 2015 statement.  The discrepancy couldn’t have been plainer.  His exact words last year: “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities.”  And this year he said: “[W]e conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 363 security cooperation activities in fiscal year 2014.” Somehow, between 2015 and 2016, more than 200 missions from 2014 had simply vanished and, months later, AFRICOM has still failed to offer an explanation for what happened, while the Senate Armed Services Committee has, apparently, not even bothered to ask for any clarification.

A discrepancy of 232 security cooperation activities can’t be chalked up to a mere miscount.  And since both numbers were presented to the SASC in written statements, the AFRICOM chief can’t simply have misspoken.

Such a discrepancy in the total number of “security cooperation activities” conducted by his command raises questions about what AFRICOM is actually doing on the continent (or whether it even knows what it’s doing).  The figure Rodriguez offered this year also contradicts projections laid out in U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) documents obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act in 2014.  These refer to more than 400 activities scheduled for Army troops alone in Africa that year.

Despite numerous requests over several weeks, AFRICOM has failed to provide any comment or clarification to TomDispatch.  It also failed to respond to requests to interview Rodriguez.  A Pentagon spokesperson was able to coax a reply out of the command as to the correct number of security cooperation activities in 2014.  According to AFRICOM, that number is indeed 363, directly contradicting Rodriguez’s 2015 testimony and suggesting that, whether purposely or not, the general misled members of Congress.  Messages seeking comment from the SASC staff, including Dustin Walker and Chip Unruh — spokespeople, respectively, for U.S. Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, the chairman and the ranking member of the committee — were not returned.“The fact that General Rodriguez gave such wildly conflicting figures, and that members of Congress aren’t pressing him for an explanation, is just one more example of how U.S. military activities in Africa and beyond have spun out of control,” says Hartung.

Bending the Law — or Breaking It?

With Rodriguez, Africa Command, and the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee staying silent, it’s impossible to know what motives — if any — lay behind the bogus numbers offered by the AFRICOM chief.

The command may, without public announcement, have redefined “security cooperation activities” thanks to an as-yet-unreleased 2014 Defense Department memorandum meant to provide guidance on the so-called Leahy Law, which prohibits the U.S from providing assistance to foreign security forces implicated in human rights abuses.  Reclassifying certain types of training missions makes it more difficult than ever to track both the dollars spent by AFRICOM and the number of activities it conducted on that continent.

Africa Command, its subordinate units, and partners also have a long history of being unable to effectively track and manage their own efforts.  A 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office noted that AFRICOM “identifies and synchronizes security cooperation activities through various planning processes, but the brigades allocated to AFRICOM sometimes lack key information about these activities.”  According to officials involved in the process, “the increasing number of activities being conducted in Africa… challenges the ability of the Offices of Security Cooperation to fully coordinate individual activities with the host nation, AFRICOM, USARAF, the other service components, and DOD executing units.”

A 2013 report by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General on AFRICOM’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa found recordkeeping so abysmal that its officials “did not have an effective system to manage or report community relations and low-cost activities.”  A spreadsheet supposedly tracking such missions during 2012 and 2013 was, for example, so incomplete that 43% of such efforts went unmentioned.

New definitions, poor recordkeeping, ineffective management, and incompetence aren’t, however, the only possible explanations for the discrepancies.  AFRICOM has a history of working to thwart efforts aimed at transparency and accountability and has long been criticized for its atmosphere of secrecy.  Beyond spin, the highly selective release of information, the cherry-picking of reporters to cover a tiny fraction of its undertakings, and the issuing of news releases that tell a very limited story about the command, AFRICOM has taken steps to thwart press coverage of its footprint and missions.

After I started asking the command questions about the shifting count of security cooperation activities, Rodriguez told Stars and Stripes that the command had carried out “roughly 430 annual ‘theater security cooperation’ activities” last year, a difference of 30 from the figure he provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March.  Why he has continued to peddle different numbers at different times is unclear.

Under Section 1623 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, knowingly making contradictory statements in court or a grand jury while under oath can get you five years in prison.  While that statute doesn’t cover Rodriguez’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, experts point to Section 1621 of Title 18, which prohibits lying to Congress while under oath and Section 1001 covering testimony given while not under oath, as the operative portions of the U.S. Code.  A person convicted of the former faces up to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000.  There is, however, a high burden of proof when it comes to perjury, including clear evidence of intent.

Rodriguez could, for example, have been provided with faulty numbers by subordinates or the command might have altered the way it tracks missions.  If, however, Rodriguez intentionally manipulated the numbers to deceive Congress, he broke the law, according to Andrew McBride, who served in the Department of Justice for a decade and is now a partner with the Washington D.C.-based law firm of Wiley Rein.  “If he has a reason to do it and he knows what he’s doing, that is perjury.  That is willfully lying under oath,” says McBride.  And under Section 1001, a person does not even have to be under oath for the federal government to bring a false statements charge.  It’s enough for an individual to provide false information with an intent to deceive a federal agent or entity.

There is, as yet, no evidence that Rodriguez violated the law, but should he find himself in hot water, it would not be a first for an AFRICOM chief.  Just after Rodriguez was nominated to take the helm of AFRICOM back in 2012, its first commander, General William Ward, was demoted as he was retiring from the military and ordered to repay the government $82,000 for lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime.

On the eve of his own retirement, Rodriguez now finds himself the subject of scrutiny, with his subordinates stonewalling requests for comment.  Numerous emails sent to AFRICOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Anthony Falvo — including those with a subject line indicating a request to interview the AFRICOM chief — were, according to automatic return receipts, “deleted without being read.”

At a time when the number of U.S. troops, bases, and — perhaps — missions in Africa are increasing, along with the number of terrorist groups and terror attacks on the continent, hundreds of already murky missions have apparently been disappeared, purged from the command’s rolls and the historical record.  As troubling as this may be, the stakes go far beyond numbers, says the Security Assistance Monitor’s William Hartung.  Precise figures about foreign military engagements are essential in a world where blowback from military operations is an ever-present reality, but they are only a first step.

“Providing accurate public information on what U.S. troops are doing would at least provide early warning of what might be to come, and allow for scrutiny and accountability,” he points out.   “Not only should AFRICOM report the number of activities, but there should be some description of what these activities entail.  Arming and training missions can escalate into more substantial military involvement.”

Money for Nothing

Confessions of a Payday Lender: “I Felt Like a Modern-Day Gangster”

June 23, 2016

by Gary Rivlin

The Intercept

Federal regulators earlier this month unveiled new rules aimed at reining in payday lenders and the exorbitant fees they charge. Now expect to hear a lot of what one payday lender named Phil Locke calls “the lies we would tell whenever we were under attack.”

The new rules announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are relatively straightforward, if not also a disappointment to some consumer advocates. A payday loan is typically a two-week advance against a borrower’s next paycheck (or monthly social security allotment, for that matter); lenders commonly charge $15 on every $100 borrowed, which works out to an annual interest rate of almost 400 percent. Under the CFPB’s proposal, lenders would have a choice. One option would require them to perform the underwriting necessary to ensure that a borrower, based on his or her income and expenses, can afford a loan. Another option requires them to limit the customer to no more than six of these loans per year (and no more than three in a row).

But floating new regulations is only one step in a drawn-out process. The CFPB’s announcement in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 2, at what it advertised as a “field hearing on small-dollar lending” (the agency also offered rules governing auto-title loans — loans using a car as collateral), begins a three-month comment period, which could lead to a congressional review phase challenging the rules. Payday and other small-dollar lenders spent more than $15 million on lobbyists and campaign contributions in 2013-14, according to a report by Americans for Financial Reform, “and I fully expect them to spend at least that much in the current election cycle,” said the group’s executive director, Lisa Donner. Already the House Appropriations Committee on June 9 approved an amendment that would delay implementation of any new rules that restrict payday loans. The coming months will offer lenders plenty of opportunity to try and derail the CFPB’s efforts.

Which is why the voice of Phil Locke is so critical at this moment, as policymakers debate the future of short-term lending in the U.S. Locke, who opened the first of his 40-plus payday stores in Michigan in 1999, figured he and his investors cleared $10 million in profits in his first 13 years as a payday lender. He built a $1.6 million home in a leafy suburb of Detroit and showered his wife with $250,000 worth of jewelry. For five years, he served as president of the Michigan Financial Service Centers Association, the statewide association formed to defend payday lending there. But by September 2012, he was calling himself “a Consumer and Anti-Predatory Lending Activist,” which is how he described himself in an email he sent to me that month. He had experienced a change of heart, he said, and had turned his back on the industry. He had sold everything to move into an RV with his wife and two young children, bouncing between mobile home parks in Florida. “I really feel my mission in life is to educate lawmakers on what predatory loans do to the working poor,” Locke told me at the time.

Locke’s speaking style is recursive — and he certainly harbors his share of grudges — but the details I was able to confirm almost always checked out. A stocky man with the lumpy face of an ex-boxer, Locke had tried out any number of businesses before turning to payday. He and a friend had opened a bar in Flint, where he grew up, but that only left him with a lot of credit card debt. He had tried — twice — to make it in what he demurely called the “adult entertainment industry.” He had then moved to Florida, where he tried getting into the reading-glasses business, but his first attempt, opening a mall kiosk, proved a failure. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a copy of Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal — the only book he had ever read as an adult, he told me — but didn’t have the patience to finish it. In 1999, he declared bankruptcy, which meant using a local check casher in Orlando as his bank. Someone behind the counter at a shop offered to sell him a payday loan — and he started noticing these storefronts everywhere he looked.

Neither Locke nor his wife, Stephanie, had any money. But the ubiquity of payday in the Sunshine State made him wonder why they weren’t yet everywhere in a Rust Belt state like Michigan. Locke was soon back in Flint, where he says he convinced his in-laws to borrow $150,000 against their home. That would be the grubstake that let him build his payday business.

Locke was in his mid-30s when he opened his first store, which he called Cash Now, in a small strip mall across the street from a massive Delphi plant in Flint. He wasn’t the first payday lender in town — a check casher was already selling the loans, and one of the big national chains had gotten there first — but he had little competition in the early days. His rates were high — $16.50 on every $100 a person borrowed, which works out to an APR of 429 percent. His advertising campaign was nothing more than the hundred “Need Cash Now” lawn signs that he and a friend put up around town the night before the store’s grand opening. He figured it would take months before he reached $10,000 per week in loans, but he reached that goal after three weeks. Within the year, he was lending out $100,000 on a good week and generating roughly $50,000 a month in fees. Occasionally a customer failed to pay back a loan, but most did and the profits more than covered the few who didn’t.

“Payday was like the perfect business,” Locke said.

In the spring of 2000, Locke flew to Washington, D.C., to join one hundred or so other payday lenders for the inaugural gathering of the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA, the Alexandria, Virginia-based trade group the payday lenders created to fight any reform efforts. “I was there when they were making policy,” Locke said. “I was there at the strategy meetings where we talked about fighting back against people who said payday loans were a bad thing.”

Locke learned how payday had come about at that first meeting of the CFSA. Allan Jones, one of the gathering’s chief organizers, took credit for inventing the modern payday lending industry. Another organizer, Billy Webster, who had worked in the Clinton White House, helped give the business legitimacy. Together, the stories of Jones and Webster explain the extraordinary rise of payday — an industry with virtually no stores at the start of the 1990s that reached a count of 24,000 by the mid-2000s.

Allan Jones opened his first payday store in 1993. Back then, Jones, who had bought a debt collection agency from his father, charged $20 for every $100 someone borrowed — an annualized rate exceeding 500 percent. After opening a second store, he consulted with a big law firm in Chattanooga, where a lawyer told him that he saw nothing in Tennessee law expressly forbidding Jones from making the loans. He opened seven more stores around the state in 1994. That year, his stores generated nearly $1 million in fees. “It was like we was filling this giant void,” Jones told me back in 2009. Over time, Jones grew Check Into Cash into a 1,300-store chain. (Jones was unhappy with my characterization of him in a book I wrote called Broke, USA and refused to participate in the writing of this article.)

Deregulation proved critical to the spread of payday lending around the country. Most states have in place a usury cap, a limit on the interest rate a lender can charge, typically under 20 percent. So Jones placed lobbyists on retainer, as did the competition that invariably followed him into the business. Their generous campaign contributions to the right politicians secured them sit-downs with governors and meetings with key legislators. These were once-in-a-blue-moon emergency loans, the lenders claimed, for those who can’t just borrow from their Uncle Joe or put a surprise charge on a credit card; certainly interest caps weren’t put in place to prevent a working stiff from borrowing a few hundred dollars until the next payday. Throughout the second half of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, state after state granted them their carve-outs, exempting payday loans from local usury laws. At its peak, the payday industry operated legally in 44 states plus the District of Columbia.

Billy Webster brought clout and connections to the industry. In 1997, Webster had teamed up with George Johnson, a former state legislator, to create Advance America. Where Allan Jones relied on subprime loans from an Ohio-based bank to grow his chain, Webster and Johnson used their connections to secure lines of credit at some of the country’s largest banks, including Wells Fargo and Wachovia. “We basically borrowed 40 or 50 million dollars before we made anything,” Webster told me in 2009. “We had an infrastructure for 500 stores before we had a dozen.” Advance America was operating around 2,000 stores around the country when, in 2004, the investment bank Morgan Stanley took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange. (Advance America was sold in 2012 for $780 million to Grupo Elektra, a Mexico-based conglomerate.)

It wasn’t too long after Locke opened that first store in Flint that he started eyeing locales for a second or third. The problem was that since his bankruptcy a couple of years earlier, “no bank would give me even a dollar to grow my chain,” he said. He was making good money, but he also figured he would need somewhere around $150,000 in cash per store just to keep up with demand. The answer, he decided, was to find investors.

“Cash Cow, Working Partners Needed”: That’s how Locke began the classified ad that he says he ran multiple times in the Detroit Free Press starting in mid-1999. The agreement he offered potential partners had them working together to find a suitable site for a new Cash Now store — no difficult task in the customer-rich southeastern corner of Michigan, a stand-in for the bleak state of the working class in post-industrial America. He would take on building out the store and the initial advertising, which he admitted meant basically buying a decent sign. The partner would be responsible for the cash a store would need to start making loans. Under the agreement, Locke said he collected 27 percent of a store’s revenues into perpetuity.

Locke spoke with dozens of would-be partners about the wonders of a business that let people earn more than 400 percent interest while their money was out on the street. He heard from any number of trust funders and also father-and-son teams, which basically meant a father setting up a ne’er-do-well son in business and not incidentally padding his own bottom line. Then there were the random people who had come into a large chunk of money, including a forklift driver and a former bartender. One older couple, a pair of empty nesters he met at a Starbucks just outside Flint, had qualms about the business. “They ask me, ‘How can you take advantage of people like that?’” Locke said. “I thought they were weird.”

Locke ended up going into business with around 30 partners. Together, they opened more than 40 stores, all of them in southeastern Michigan. Five were in Flint and five were in Detroit. Most of the rest were scattered around the Detroit suburbs. “That’s where we made most of our money,” Locke said.

By the mid-2000s, Locke claims he was clearing around $1 million a year in profits. He began collecting watches, including a Cartier, and also vintage motorcycles. His fleet of cars included a pair of Range Rovers, a Cadillac Escalade, a Lexus, a BMW, and a Mercedes. He and Stephanie bought land in Bloomfield Hills, one of Detroit’s tonier suburbs, and hired an architect to design a house for them. Locke initially figured they’d need no more than 4,500 square feet but approved plans for a house twice that size.

“I felt like a modern-day gangster,” Locke said.

Payday lenders have long denied that their product is what critics (and, in 2015, the president) call a debt trap. Even before the start of the CFPB’s Kansas City field hearing, Dennis Shaul, currently CEO of the CFSA, denounced the “staggering blow to consumers” the bureau was about to deliver. In the industry’s telling, the typical customer is a hard-pressed mom (the archetypal payday customer, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a white woman between the ages of 25 and 44) who needs a quick bridge loan to get through the occasional emergency — an unexpected medical bill or to fix a car she needs to get to work.

But the researchers at Pew, who have been studying the payday industry since 2011 as part of the organization’s small-dollar loans project, believe the CFPB proposal doesn’t go far enough. “Proposed Payday Loan Rule Misses Historic Opportunity,” read the headline over a Pew press statement released on the morning of CFPB’s big announcement. Under the agency’s proposed underwriting provision, it would be hard to justify a $500 loan to someone taking home $1,200 a month if two weeks later the person would have to pay it back with a check for $575. Yet if the repayment terms required biweekly payments of $75 over 11 months, is that $500 loan really any more affordable?

“All these new rules are going to do is shift the market from 400 percent single-payment loans to 400 percent installment payday loans,” said Alex Horowitz, a senior officer at Pew. “We don’t see that as a consumer-friendly outcome.” According to Pew, an estimated 12 million Americans borrow money from a payday lender each year. In 2014, payday customers paid $8.7 billion in fees on $45 billion of loans.

Locke told me that a good store had between 400 and 500 customers at any given time — nearly all of them trapped in a loan they couldn’t repay. Eighty percent of his customers, he estimated, were in for a year or longer. “The cycle of debt is what makes these stores so profitable,” he said. There was Bobby, for instance, from a Detroit suburb. There was nothing special about Bobby; his file was in a batch Locke said he had grabbed randomly from a box of old records. (Locke let me browse through these records so long as I didn’t include anyone’s last name.) Bobby took out 113 loans between 2002 and 2004. A Detroit woman named Magdalene first showed up at one of Locke’s stores at the start of 2002. She paid $1,700 in fees over the next 12 months on the same $400 loan. Soon she was borrowing $500 every other week and eventually $800. In 2005 alone, she paid fees of more than $3,000 — and then several months later, she declared bankruptcy.

“I’ve had lots of customers go bankrupt,” Locke said —“hundreds” just at the two stores that he ran without a partner. These days, the dreams of millions hinge on a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Based on a 40-hour week, that works out to about $30,000 a year — the annual earnings, Locke said, of his average customer.

“I ruined a lot of lives,” Locke said. “I know I made life harder for a lot of my customers.”

Even in his earliest days in the business, Locke recognized what he was doing was wrong. That was obvious when he told the story of a childhood friend who was a regular at his first store. The friend, who worked as a prison guard, was good for $500 every other week. He was a terrific customer, but Locke used to hide whenever he saw his friend coming in. “I’m embarrassed that I own this place,” Locke explained. “I’m embarrassed he’s paying me $82.50 every other week.” One day Locke confronted his old friend, telling him, “You can’t keep doing this. You’re a family man, you have kids.” Locke let him pay him back in small installments until he was all caught up.

Locke didn’t end up joining the CFSA, the payday trade group that Allan Jones and Billy Webster helped found. He was all in favor of its mission of fighting “any bills from Washington that put restrictions on what we could charge,” Locke said. But the dues were too steep in this organization dominated by the big chains. Like a lot of other smaller industry players, Locke joined the Check Cashers Association, which in 2000 renamed itself the Financial Service Centers of America, or FiSCA.

FiSCA encouraged its members to give $500 per store per year — for Locke, more than $20,000 a year. These contributions helped the group maintain a lobbying presence in Washington, among other activities. Locke was pleased when he was asked to join FiSCA’s board of directors but then realized the honor was an expensive one. “We’d get lists of PACs and individuals,” Locke said, and he was expected to write checks to all of them. They included the political action committees started by top names in Congress and also members of key legislative committees like House Financial Services. Locke told me he donated maybe $20,000 that first time, but he said he never gave anywhere near that amount again. (Records from the Center for Responsive Politics show he and his wife have given less than $10,000 total to members of Congress or FiSCA.) “I was much more focused on giving locally” to elected officials in Michigan, Locke said.

Locke took over as president of his state trade association in 2001, with his top priority to place payday on firmer legal footing. His five-year tenure was marked by a pair of bruising legislative battles in Lansing, the state capital. “I told a lot of lies in Lansing,” he said.

Michigan’s payday-loan trade existed then in a kind of netherworld. In other states, legislation had enabled payday lenders to operate legally within their borders, typically in exchange for a rate cap. In Michigan, though, Locke and every other payday lender operated via regulatory loopholes. State regulators looked the other way, and Michigan lenders were free to charge what they wanted. Locke’s rate was $16.50 per $100, but competitors were charging as much as $20 on every $100 loaned.

Locke and his allies hatched a plan in which they would trade enabling legislation for a rate cap of $15.27 per $100 (an APR of 397 percent) — or what he called the “27th strictest payday law in the country.” (Stated differently, by Locke’s calculation, 23 states allowed lenders to charge more than 400 percent.) They found a friendly legislator to introduce the bill in the state Senate in 2003.

Locke had always been a sweatshirt-and-jeans guy, even on the job. But he bought several suits in anticipation of the meetings he figured payday’s money would buy with members of the Michigan House and Senate. He told me he donated money to Jennifer Granholm, the state’s new Democratic governor, and also to Michigan’s new attorney general. (The Michigan secretary of state appears to have no record of these contributions.) Locke also encouraged his members to donate to key legislators. Both the House and Senate approved the bill, but Granholm, who had only recently taken office, vetoed it.

They tried again in 2005. In May of that year, Locke and others held a strategy session with several legislators, including a committee chair Locke described as a “friend.” “The thing we asked is, ‘What can we tweak to make sure she signs it this time?’” Locke said. They kept the same rate but made small changes in the bill’s language. Locke claimed his group also raised an extra $300,000 to help ensure passage. They already had a lobbyist on retainer, but the extra money allowed them to add five more, including the firms of former Attorney General Frank J. Kelley and an ex-speaker of the House, and hire a PR firm to help them hone their message.

Locke’s nemesis that legislative session proved to be not a consumer advocate or an ambitious liberal but Billy Webster, the Advance America co-founder. Several years earlier, Webster had helped champion a bill in Florida that capped payday lenders’ rates at $10 per $100 — and for his troubles, he had been slammed by his fellow payday moguls. But Webster didn’t care. Lenders could still make money in Florida on loans earning more than 250 percent interest — and maybe even quell a growing backlash among consumer groups. “The industry’s worst instinct is to confuse reform with prohibition,” Webster told me. “We should reform the industry where it’s necessary.” On behalf of the CFSA, he negotiated a slightly more consumer-friendly deal in Michigan than the one Locke was proposing.

The bill Webster backed allowed stores to charge customers $15 on the first $100 borrowed but $14 on the second $100, $13 on the third, down to $11 for every $100 above $500. That would mean Locke’s Cash Now, which once could charge $82.50 on a two-week $500 loan, now would earn only $65, which works out to an APR of about 340 percent. For Webster, a 20 percent drop in revenue would be the cost of doing business in Michigan. The smaller local players, however, felt betrayed, none seemingly more than Locke. “The CFSA came in and tried to force this law down my throat,” he said. The lower rate would translate into lost jobs, Locke complained in sit-downs with legislators. It would mean more boarded-up storefronts around a state that already had too many of them. “‘We need higher rates’ — that’s what we were all brainwashed to say,” he told me.

The ensuing battle, which took place in the second half of 2005, was like Godzilla versus King Kong. Like Locke’s organization, the CFSA had a battalion of lobbyists in its employ, as did several of the big out-of-state chains. “It was a nasty, nasty, ugly battle of politics and our state association didn’t have the deep pockets to keep donating money,” Locke said. Night after night, Locke claims he watched as the CFSA picked up the tab at yet another fancy restaurant in Lansing for any legislator wanting to eat and drink. A couple of legislators he says he knew well told him about the private jet the CFSA had sent to ferry them and their wives to Palm Springs for a CFSA conference.

Locke tried to fight back. He told me one of his lobbyists set up a dinner with an influential legislator from Detroit. The legislator chose five appetizers and then, for his main course, ordered the “most expensive fucking thing on the menu.” The legislator also chose a $300 bottle of wine that he barely touched and then, because he said he had to run, asked for a pair of crème brulées to go. During the meal, it became obvious that his guest had already sided with the CFSA. “The guy burned me for an $800 dinner when he knew there was nothing he was willing to do to help us,” Locke said.

Predictably, the legislature backed the slightly more consumer friendly CFSA bill, which Granholm signed into law at the end of 2005. Soon thereafter, Locke stepped down as head of his statewide association.

Despite his dire warnings, Locke and his partners continued to thrive in Michigan. But partners who were once clearing $100,000 or $120,000 per store were now worried about making even $75,000 a year, and they came to resent sharing their profits with the man who was seemingly in a position to protect them but didn’t. A group sued Locke, alleging “unfair and oppressive” conduct. The case eventually settled, but other suits followed.

“I took a forklift driver making $16 an hour to $300,000 a year,” Locke said, but the man sued him. The childhood friend he brought into the business didn’t take him to court, but the two no longer speak. Through it all, Locke blamed his woes on Granholm, who had refused to sign the 2003 bill he had worked so hard to pass. “I was lying in bed till 3 p.m. every day,” Locke said, “dreaming of killing Jennifer Granholm.” Eventually, he went to a psychologist. Mainly that meant talking, he said, about “my hatred for Jennifer Granholm.”

By the spring of 2012, Locke was fighting with his business partners, more than one of whom he suspected of stealing from him, and feeling more than fed up with an industry populated, he said, by the “greediest bunch of bastards I’ve ever seen.” He spoke, too, of the role religion played in his decision, in 2012, to turn on his old colleagues. He decided to become a whistleblower — a former insider who goes rogue to let the world know that rather than helping people, he was peddling a toxic product that left most of them decidedly worse off.

Locke not only abandoned the business, but he also sold most of his possessions, including his house and most of the jewelry. “We sold our grand piano,” he said. “We sold a lot of our artwork.” He even got rid of the suits he had bought to lobby in Lansing. “I said, ‘We’re freaking selling it all,’” Locke said. “I just wanted to rid myself of it.”

Locke wrote to Oprah Winfrey. He reached out to Howard Stern, Ellen DeGeneres, Nightline, and 60 Minutes. He contacted the Today Show and stressed his Flint roots when trying to contact fellow native Michael Moore. He flew to Hollywood in the hopes that someone would want to turn his life story into a movie or television show. But rather than fame and attention, he got a taste of life as a public-interest advocate. “Nobody cares about the poor,” he concluded. Locke wrote a short book he called Greed: The Dark Side of Predatory Lending that no one read. He claims he spent around $25,000 producing a hip-hop-style documentary few people watched. “It really was a waste of time. And money,” Locke said. “This whole effort has been … It’s got me back in depression.”

By the time Locke and I got together for a couple of days in early 2013, around a year after he had launched what he sometimes called his “crusade,” he was already feeling discouraged. He had imagined regular trips to Washington, D.C., where he would serve as a witness whenever his expertise was needed by members of Congress and others pursuing reform. His first trip to the nation’s capital, however, had proven a bust. He had contacted more than two dozen members of Congress, but only one agreed to meet with him: a Detroit-area Democrat who would serve a single term before being voted out of office. Locke spent $3,000 on a full-page ad in Politico. The idea was to draw the attention of legislative staffers, advocacy groups, journalists, and maybe even the White House with a promise to tell “the truth” about predatory lending. But the ad, Locke said, failed to elicit a single phone call or email message. He spent several thousand dollars attending the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, only to be ignored.

Spending time with Locke in Michigan often meant listening to long rants about the lack of gratitude among the partners he had brought into the payday business, despite all the money he had made them. “Friends screwing me over,” Locke said. “Business partners screwing me over. People who begged me to get them into the business — screwing me over.” He’s kind of a human Eeyore who wears his disappointment as an outer garment. Of his customers, Locke said, “I feel bad for these people.” But he seemed to feel sorry mainly for himself.

From the start, the payday industry recognized that a new financial protection agency posed an existential threat. Locke spoke of the “constant” warnings FiSCA and the CFSA sent out while Congress was debating Dodd-Frank, the financial reform package that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFSA’s annual lobbying bills underscore those fears. The CFSA spent $2.6 million on lobbyists in 2009 and another $2.4 million in 2010. It spent another $2.3 million on lobbyists in 2011, when the CFPB was still taking shape, and $2.6 million in 2012. Even so, in 2012 the CFPB announced its intention to investigate the payday lending industry. The bureau didn’t have the authority to set a nationwide rate cap, which would require congressional action, but under Dodd-Frank, it has broad powers to stop practices it deems “unfair, deceptive, or abusive.”

The payday lenders have turned to Congress for relief, as have the banks, subprime auto lenders, and other financial players now in the sights of the CFPB. Every year, more bills are introduced in Congress that either would weaken the bureau or thwart one of its rulings. For a while, Americans for Financial Reform kept a running tally of the industry-friendly bills, “but we stopped counting at 160,” said the group’s Lisa Donner.

The focus now, however, is on the proposed CFPB rules and the comment period. Between now and then, both the payday lenders and their opponents will share their disappointment. “Everyone wants the CFPB to be the savior,” said Nick Bourke, who directs Pew’s small-dollar loans project. “But while they’re improving the situation in some ways, without changes there will still be a lot of bad things happening in this market to the tune of billions of dollars of costs to consumers.”

That’s good news for Phil Locke. At the end of 2013, more than a year after dramatically switching sides in the fight over payday, Locke got back into the business. His wife missed the trappings of their old life. So did he. He was a working-class kid from Flint who had dropped out after a semester or two of college. He had only so much money in the bank and two young children. What else was someone like him supposed to do? And — despite his harsh words about the industry — it turned out he had been hedging his bets all along: He hadn’t actually sold or walked away from his stake in Cash Now but only had transferred ownership to his mother.

“I gave it a shot just to see what I could do,” Locke told me. “It didn’t work out. I had to return home.”

Bundy supporter attempts to bomb Bureau of Land Management

June 23, 2016


The head of a Utah-based militia was caught trying to use an explosive device at a Bureau of Land Management facility. He had hoped to bomb a remote location in Arizona, but the plan fell apart when he tasked an undercover FBI agent to build the weapon.

William Keebler, 57, of Stockton, Utah, is being held in the Salt Lake County jail after his arrest on Wednesday. Keebler is the commander of a militia group in Stockton known as the ‘Patriots Defense Force’, and had scouted for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) location to attack with the late anti-federal government militia icon Robert LaVoy Finicum. He had also spent nearly two weeks participating in an armed standoff in Nevada with the Bundy family against the BLM in 2014.

Undercover FBI employees infiltrated the group and participated in training for an “anti-government action” that Keebler told them would mean “going on the offensive,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The agents participated with Keebler’s “field training exercises,” which involved firearms training and target practice. Keebler also provided instruction on military and survival techniques.

Preparation for the offensive began in October 2015, when the government says he and Finicum scouted a BLM building in Arizona. The charging documents claim that Keebler had asked one of the FBI employees to build an explosive device in March with the intent of using it on the BLM facility.

In April, militia members showed Keebler a video of a six-inch pipe bomb blowing up office furniture in southern Utah. However, the maker of that pipe bomb remains unknown. KUTV reported that Keebler had made it clear that he was not planning to attack any people and was more interesting in disabling a BLM vehicle or damaging the building.

Keebler asked the FBI agent to build two 12-inch pipe bombs to use on the Arizona BLM facility. One would be used to damage a cabin belonging to the BLM facility, while the second was to be used if law enforcement agents stopped the Patriots Defense Force members while they were going to or from the location.

Keebler and his group traveled to Arizona over Father’s Day weekend and the faux explosive was placed against the door of one of the BLM’s cabins. Using a remote detonation device, Keebler pushed the button to set off the bomb and left the area to return to Utah.

When he got back to Utah, he was arrested on Wednesday by FBI agents and faces between five and 20 years behind bars.

FBI and Police are Knocking on Activists’ Doors Ahead of Republican National Convention

June 23 2016

by Alice Speri

The Intercept

Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have been knocking on the doors of activists and community organizers in Cleveland, Ohio, asking about their plans for the Republican National Convention in July.

As the city gears up to welcome an estimated 50,000 visitors, and an unknown number of protesters, some of the preparations and restrictions put in place by officials have angered civil rights activists. But the latest string of unannounced home visits by local and federal police mark a significant escalation in officials’ efforts to stifle protest, they say.

“The purpose of these door knocks is simple: to intimidate the target and others in efforts to discourage people from engaging in lawful First Amendment activities,” Jocelyn Rosnick, a coordinator with the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, wrote in a statement denouncing the home visits.

More than a dozen people in the Cleveland area have reported being visited this week by local police, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Secret Service.

Michael Nelson, an attorney and the president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP, said that police officers visited the parents of one of his clients, a young woman who was among 71 people arrested in May 2015 following the acquittal of a police officer in the deaths of two unarmed people.

When the parents asked whether their daughter was in trouble and why they wanted to speak with her, the officers replied that they wanted to ask “about any information she might have about anybody engaging in violence, planning violence for the RNC.” Nelson and others have asked for a meeting with the agencies involved in the door knocks.

“Maybe we need to have a discussion about the Constitution,” he told The Intercept. “Last time we heard of anything like this was when Dr. King and J. Edgar Hoover were around.”

The FBI confirmed that visits have taken place. “In preparation for the upcoming RNC the FBI along with our federal, state, and local partners has been working collaboratively with members of the community,” a spokesperson for the FBI’s Cleveland field office told The Intercept. “As part of this preparation law enforcement is reaching out to individuals known in the community who may have information that could help ensure a safe and secure environment during the RNC.” Cleveland’s police department did not respond to requests for comment.

Maggie Rice, an organizer with Food Not Bombs, said that members of her group were visited by police but felt too “rattled” to speak to a reporter. The group is not planning to stage protests but has applied for permits to be in the RNC event zone in order to feed both protesters and Cleveland residents dealing with disruptions to public transportation and services like Meals on Wheels.

“A lot of Cleveland’s most vulnerable residents will be at risk,” Rice said. “The idea that the FBI would be coming in, knocking on our doors and asking questions of people that they know are not involved in organizing any protests and that are basically a humanitarian organization is completely unacceptable and very disturbing.”

“One FBI agent and one plainclothes Cleveland police officer, both white men, showed up and started asking questions about other Food Not Bombs members and our activities,” Rice said. “I personally believe that this is an attempt to intimidate because they know we play a vital role in helping people stay out longer and have their voices heard.”

In other visits, officers asked about people’s previous addresses, political and social affiliation, and convention plans, according to the NLG. “We are concerned these visits will chill the free speech activities of individuals wishing to lawfully protest,” said Rosnick. “And that individuals who are not planning to be involved in the RNC are being harassed due to their associations.”

The group is holding free legal training sessions for local activists and residents and has been monitoring law enforcement preparations ahead of the convention. To Cleveland organizers, the recent door knocks are just a reminder that they are being watched.

“Cleveland is no stranger to FBI interference and FBI entrapment,” said Rice. “I’d say most Cleveland activists and support organizations like ours are aware that every room we’re in probably has an FBI agent in it. And we act accordingly.

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