1972 - 2009
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Donald Trump Jr. / Natalia Veselnitskaya / Sergei Magnitsky / The U.S. Magnitsky Act / What’s all this about?
Unless you’ve been on vacation at the North Pole, you’ve been bombarded daily with news and opinions about Donald Trump Jr. (The President’s son) having a meeting (weeks before the Presidential Election) with a Russian Attorney (possible operative) representing (allegedly) the Russian Government and indirectly Vladimir Putin.
Well, let’s just say that Donald Trump Jr. kind of stepped in it when he agreed to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya. She apparently teased Junior with the claim that she and ‘the Russians’ had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. He reportedly responded in an email with “I love it.” Now, one would normally think that Junior would be smarter than that and, perhaps, considering the circumstances, use more grown-up terms in his emails, but…
Anyway, Natalia had nothing on Hillary other than what she might have read in the National Inquirer.
Nonetheless, Natalia did have a pitch to make to Junior; and it concerned the Magnitsky Act. I know you’ve heard this term bantered-about recently, but most have no idea who Magnitsky is/was or what he has to do with the ‘Act’; a law passed by the U.S. Congress. Apparently, Putin hates this law, and in particular the name. After the law passed, Putin retaliated by prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian orphans – even some children already in the pipeline for adoption.
The U.S. law (Magnitsky Act) bans numerous Russian officials and various Russian oligarchs from entering the U.S. Also, as I understand it, a lot of Russian money held in the American banking system was ‘frozen.’
The purpose of the law was in retaliation for the inhumane and barbaric treatment, and the ultimate death, of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison.
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian attorney and auditor who reportedly uncovered ‘State’ sponsored theft that benefited Vladimir Putin and some of his close associates. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.
Well, Putin et al took this unkindly – as you might imagine. Magnitsky was imprisoned and died under the most difficult and abusive conditions imaginable.
There is a longer story to all of this which was exposed in a very good book Red Notice; authored by Bill Browder. The book gives you some insight into Putin’s Russia and the Russian prison system. Not pretty – think North Korean not pretty.
Monday, July 10, 2017
FBI Special Agent Joseph Astarita indicted on federal charges related to the killing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum – Illegal Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Part 2 / Conclusion)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is the focal point, the head of the spear, for the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). CIRG was formed after I left the Bureau and I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of its inner-workings. However, said Group incorporates many different areas of expertise: hostage negotiations, demolitions, in addition to HRT.
HRT Training is extremely difficult. The process, a few years back, required potential applicants for HRT training to have at least three years as a ‘street Agent,’ involved in working cases, writing reports, and occasionally being participants in arrest situations. CIRG had difficulty getting the necessary numbers and applicant quality required for HRT. Now CIRG has changed (not lowered) the requirement to two years on the ‘street’ as an Agent – and they have begun to recruit military type individuals like Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and other Special Ops veterans.
Which brings me to W. Joseph Astarita, the FBI Agent under indictment. As far as I know, his background and experience is not known – but we can assume his HRT training has been extensive.
I will get right to the point. Agent Astarita might have violated some obscure element of the FBI’s ‘rules of engagement’ when he fired his weapon at the car containing Finicum and the others. But let us remember that the driver of the car (Finicum) was attempting to evade law enforcement and his vehicle was approaching; at a high speed, a roadblock – behind which law enforcement officers were standing.
Question: Why were law enforcement personnel standing behind a roadblock (consisting of parked vehicles) with a suspect vehicle barreling toward them at a high rate of speed? Why not stand off to the side? Or behind a tree? The video showed one Agent jumping from behind the road block as Finicum’s car appeared to be on course to crash into the road block. This Agent almost made a fatal mistake in that Finicum decided to plow his automobile through the snow attempting to go around the law enforcement vehicles. The snow stopped the car, whereupon Finicum jumped out.
Depending where Astarita was standing at the time, he could have well believed that his life or the lives of others were in danger – warranting efforts to stop the car. Yes, I know there were ‘innocent’ passengers in Finicum vehicle, but that doesn’t change the decision process.
Let’s just say that Astarita, with all of his extensive training, was a little ‘trigger happy.’ I don’t happen to believe that, but let’s consider it for the sake of argument. And, in shooting, in some way, he had violated an FBI rule.
Did he contribute to the ultimate death of Finicum? That’s really a stretch, but one could say that Astarita’s shots raised the tension among law enforcement personnel at the scene, which contributed to lethal action - when the OSP officer ultimately shot Finicum. I don’t buy this, but this concept will undoubtedly be trotted out in the civil suit.
After shots were fired, Astarita picked up his spent cartridges, apparently doubting his personal judgment in firing at the car driven by Finicum - and then attempted to conceal the fact. This defies common sense – not the picking up of spent cartridges part – he may not have wanted to litter. (Yes, yes, stated with tongue in cheek.) But the part where he lied about it. Why would he do that?
There are a couple of possible answers that come to mind. Members of HRT are allegedly trained to the point of perceived perfection. And, consequently I imagine they are inordinately sensitive about their image and reputations.
Astarita might have fired accidentally, which might explain why one bullet missed Finicum’s car completely, and one bullet creased the roof of the car. If he, in the throes of understandable stress, accidentally pulled the trigger and/or missed the target he intended to hit, he might have been embarrassed enough to attempt to conceal the fact. The FBI's administration would have subsequently asked: Why did you fire your weapon? And, if justified as you say, why did you miss your target after we’ve spent all this time training you?
Or perhaps: There was a Team Leader with the HRT, presumably not Astarita; and that said team leader told his men not to fire until he gave the word. Astarita jumped the gun (so to speak), and consequently felt he violated the Team Leader’s orders.
On a HRT, not following directives, would be a bigger offense than an outsider might first think. Following orders is absolutely imperative to a high-speed organization like HRT. No free-lancing is allowed under most circumstances.
Astarita’s big mistake, that will undoubtedly cost him his job, is that he lied. And, furthermore, continued to lie after being placed under ‘oath.’ The FBI has no place for personnel that lie under ‘oath.’ Said individual can no longer testify in court without their credibility being immediately challenged.
If convicted should Astarita be sentenced to jail or prison time? I don’t think so. His lie compromised or injured no one other than himself – and he will probably regret his decision for the rest of his life.
What remains unanswerable at this point is whether or not some of the other HRT members also lied to protect Astarita? I hope not.
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Saturday, July 8, 2017
FBI Special Agent Joseph Astarita indicted on federal charges related to the killing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum – Illegal Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s vaunted Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) has been indicted on multiple counts for ‘Making False Statements’ and ‘Obstruction of Justice,’ relevant to the killing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum.
The incident is beginning to fade from public memory, but occurred when Finicum attempted to evade a law enforcement roadblock. It’s been more than a year - the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Finicum was shot and killed by an Oregon State Police Officer when he (Finicum) exited his vehicle and attempted to reach for a holstered gun – as was alleged and seemed to be convincingly portrayed on a video.
Years back, when I was a young Agent, the FBI realized that they required a force of Agents better suited and trained to deal with particularly dangerous situations. I was one of the first Agents from my division to be selected for, what was called at the time, SWAT training.
As I recall initial preference in selection was given to former military types who volunteered; but additionally they would be required to pass a very intense physical test. It included, but was not limited to, a two mile run, shooting and what they called ‘gladiator skills.’
Gladiator Skills consisted of a large ring, maybe 25 feet in diameter, holding two teams of five each. The teams were required to sit back to back in the center of the ring. When the instructor gave the signal, the fight was on. The object was to continue fighting until one team had dragged or thrown every member of the opposing team out of the ring. There were no particular rules. However, for the most part, members on the opposing team were associates, even friends, so it was mostly wrestling and pushing.
As one of the bigger guys on my assigned team, I was back to back with a former collegiate football player. So, my thought was that this is not going to go well, and would almost certainly be over rather quickly. And, actually it was. They blew the whistle and we all jumped up. I backed away weighing my next incredibly inadequate move on this guy. He came at me as if to tackle me or push me out of the ring. Hitting me in the stomach with his shoulder, I was able to momentarily lift him off his feet and turn. Surprisingly during this process, he stepped out of bounds; and an instructor called him “out.” The instructor laughed like he couldn’t believe what had just happened. It couldn’t have been more than five or ten seconds.
I was selected for one of the SWAT teams and later sent to Quantico to endure two weeks of very difficult and demanding training – lots of running, obstacle courses, orienteering, shooting, as well as all manner of physical hell.
I did excel at one test – swimming. I had been on the swimming team in high school and always loved to swim. It was only 100 meters (a fifty meter pool, once up and once back) – not a big deal – I first thought. There were four or five teams from around the country. All team members would start at the same time. To win this particular contest, and everything was a competition between the SWAT teams, the entire team had to finish. My team leader, who had been raised in Texas was a heck of a guy, but not a very good swimmer – an understatement. He told me he had done all of his swimming in a ‘horse trough’ – jokingly of course; but I could see he was shaking. The instructor yelled, “If any of you sissies feel like you might drown during the swim, you can wear a life jacket.” Sissy or not, my team leader decided to wear the life jacket, as did maybe six or seven others.
There were a couple of additional little tweaks to the competition. We were required to put on a fatigue shirt and pants over our swim suits. Additionally we were required to swim the 100 meters with a shotgun attached to a strap around our necks. Surprisingly, if you kept your head down in the water, breathing with every other stroke, the shotgun didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The fatigues were another matter. Nonetheless, I managed to finish first.
I was then able to take off the shotgun and fatigues and dive back in the pool to assist my team leader who, at that point, reminded me of a wounded duck, thrashing away, and making little progress. I got a hold of him and pulled while he kicked. Dragging his exhausted body out of the pool, one of the instructors said, “Way to go big fella.” It made my day. The training mission, throughout the two weeks, was to act as a team; that together the team would be stronger than the sum of any five individuals. Team effort and spirit were often praised.
If you passed and most did, you went back to your division to continue your training; and to be utilized in the more dangerous assignments.
The point here is that, if SWAT training in my era was the equivalent of grade school or junior high, the modern HRT members are college graduates.
To be continued…
To visit my blog and many previous posts on various subjects, go to: TrueNelson
To visit my blog and many previous posts on various subjects, go to: TrueNelson
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Much has been written and reported about the Friday murders on a Portland MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) commuter train. I have some thoughts from a law enforcement perspective.
Let’s be clear, I was not on the train. I have no firsthand knowledge of how the incident evolved. As I understand it…
It was a busy commuter train loaded with passengers – about 4:30PM. Jeremy Christian was causing a disturbance. He was loud and erratic – screaming abusive language like: “colored people are ruining the city.” He then seemed to turn his wrath on two young women, who he perceived to be Muslim.
Passengers, three men, attempted to intervene, trying to calm Christian down, stating that he should sit down and leave the train at the next stop. The situation escalated quickly. Christian pulled a knife, slashing out, ultimately killing two of the men and injuring another. Christian then jumped off the train at the next station. He was quickly apprehended by law enforcement.
The citizens who confronted Christian are praised as heroes. And without doubt, their efforts to neutralize a bad situation were heroic. However, from a perspective of a former FBI Firearms and police instructor, their actions were perhaps ill-advised. This is not meant as criticism. The men showed bravery. Their intentions were noble. I will explain my reservations.
The men, probably due to the noise and confined space on the train, approached Christian too closely and attempted to reason with him. Christian was manic, apparently deranged and possibly under the influence of drugs. The men’s approach made him feel diminished and ‘trapped.’
Experienced law enforcement officers know that people like Christian are not easily ‘talked down,’ especially when they have an audience. Police recognize that someone like Christian is extremely dangerous, and they would give themselves space to maneuver – unless a situation demands otherwise. A uniformed officer probably would have talked to Christian from five to ten feet and encouraged him to step off the train at the next stop so that they could discuss it; being careful that Christian would not perceive the situation as ‘losing face.’ At that point, an arrest could be made without endangering other passengers.
As an FBI Agent, I carried a gun on duty and off duty for several years. If I had been on the MAX train during this incident, I would not have approached Christian. As any citizen should, I would have called 911 advised them of the situation, asked the police to meet us at the next stop.
What would Christian have done if I had approached him, showed my FBI credentials, and told him to sit down and be quiet? Probably, the situation would have gone from bad to worse. Now, if he had been brandishing a knife and threatening to harm other passengers that would be a very different situation and could have, probably would have, warranted lethal force.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
Before I leave the subject of my recent surgery, I’d like to express a word or two about religion and what role it plays in my life – more importantly what I believe.
This is an awkward subject in that I have had close friends and relatives who are, for lack of a better word, religious. On the other hand, I have had close friends and relatives who were atheists – at least I think that is how they would describe themselves.
There is a saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes.’ I tend to believe that, but can’t say with certainty. I’ve never been in a military operation where death seemed probable or imminent. Even if I had been, I’m convinced that would not be a priority topic for discussion among my comrades-in-arms. It’s just too personal.
On a bit of an aside, awhile back I was reading about D-Day (June 6, 1944). There were many dying young men on the beaches, many merely boys. Medics reported that dying soldiers did not, for the most part, call out to God. They often called for their mothers. I found that statement troubling and hard to forget.
The type of heart surgery I had can be a little scary. They, after all, cut/saw your chest open and stop your heart while they make repairs. That said, we are so lucky/blessed to have the expert medical care that actually accomplishes this type of surgery – as well as even more difficult surgeries – on a day to day basis, on hundreds if not thousands of people.
In my last meeting with the cardiac surgeon, before surgery, he was actually pretty upbeat – stating that he had done more than 30,000 similar surgeries. This was shocking – “30,000.” Then you start thinking maybe he will get bored with this particular operation, maybe lose focus and start thinking about playing golf later that day; or even worse – nod off during the procedure. He said that my surgery had a 99% chance of success and a complete recovery. I didn’t say it, but my immediate thought was: What about the other 1%? I did say “that sounds pretty good.” He smiled and went on his way.
What is odd, from my perspective, is that he never asked anything about me. My wife was there so he knew I had family; but he asked nothing about me personally: What do you do in life? Are you retired? Do you have kids, grandkids? Hobbies? A dog? I guess he knew everything about me that he cared to know from the various x-rays, blood tests, my DOB, and my overall physical appearance. I was just number 30,002 as far as he was concerned. A few weeks later I went to his office for a follow-up, but he had an emergency surgery so my wife and I just talked to his nurse – who, incidentally, was quite nice.
What does this have to do with religion? Well, I said a little prayer while they were wheeling me down to surgery. I did not ask for a successful surgery – too presumptuous. And what I did say (think) or ask from God is private.
In the way of full disclosure, I’m not what you would consider a religious person. I consider myself an agnostic. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know that there isn’t a God. Those who have an established religious faith – I say ‘good for you;’ but, as far as I’m concerned no one knows with absolute certainty there is a God. That said, no one, including self-avowed atheists, even those willing to shout their atheism from the roof tops, know there is not a God. It is the ultimate unknowable. Someday, that final day, we will know or we won’t know. But, in the future, I plan to focus on the Golden Rule. That might be adequate.
Memorial Day is this coming Monday. Let’s remember… the boys.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
In the future, maybe more than in my past blog posts, I plan to write about some of my life experiences, people I know and have known, events of note, and general experiences I’ve had thus far. Recently, I had one of those block-buster events that I must say knocked me back, and that’s an understatement. It caused me to reevaluate my priorities. Take a closer look at the meaning of life, and what’s important.
It came on rather suddenly. I was diagnosed with an aneurysm which was serious enough that I was routed immediately to the emergency room of a major hospital. As any doctor would tell you, if your aorta ruptures, it’s pretty much ‘lights out.’ Kind of funny now, but my initial emotion was anger – anger at no one in particular I guess, except perhaps myself.
I’m in my early 70s, but I lived a fairly healthy life. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m generally careful about what I eat. I was not what you might consider overweight. I exercise and belong to a gym. It’s silly to think that way, but my initial impression was ‘this just isn’t fair.’ Of course, I’m fully aware that one of the basic tenets of life is that life is never fair. Stupid of me to even think otherwise – even as a passing thought. Look around your local community. Look around the world. That I had such a thought, even momentarily, now embarrasses me.
Eight days in the hospital – replaced a portion of my aorta, a new heart valve, and one bypass. It’s been nearly eight weeks post-surgery. Recovery, at times, has been a bumpy road. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight. I now weigh what I did in high school; but look, of course, much worse than I did in high school. I now resemble a plucked, anorexic chicken. I won’t be prancing around the beach in my Speedo any time soon. (Actually I don’t have a Speedo, and haven’t had one since the HS swimming team. And my friends would surely opine ‘thank god for that.’)
I’m in a cardiac rehab program and making progress. The Doc said I could try golf again after three months. I’m a little worried about my golf game. But, friends have assured me not to worry, that my golf game never amounted to much anyway. It’s great to have friends willing to offer support when you’re really feeling down.
I’m going to write more about my life and how it has evolved. It’s been quite a ride. Some of you might enjoy reading this. Well, maybe not, but I plan to write about it anyway. It’s part of my therapy.
Friday, May 12, 2017
I have some comments regarding the sudden termination of James Comey, FBI Director. It seemed pretty clear that Director Comey had to go. I do not, however, agree with the manner in which he was given his walking papers. Ham-fisted. You just don’t treat people that way. But the President just doesn’t seem to get it.
I understand why a President, any President, under the given circumstances, would have ‘fired’ Comey. The Director seems to have let his ego overwhelm his judgement. I listened to all of his recent testimony before the Senate Committee; and it made me cringe. He was loving the limelight, basking in the attention. It was too obvious. His statement, in consideration that he might have influenced the Presidential election in some way, had made him “mildly nauseous,” well he made me mildly nauseous. An FBI Director simply does not talk that way. My opinion.
Now, I must say that Comey, as I understand it, was fairly well liked in the Bureau. Generally speaking, most who have worked with him consider him to be a good and decent man – intelligent, personable, and well versed in the law. But those qualities do not necessarily make a good Director of the FBI.
His inevitable downfall began with his ‘prosecutive opinion’ regarding Hillary Clinton. At that point, he apparently decided to assert his primacy over the Attorney General’s Office which is, theoretically at least, his superior. His determination that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted – after describing in some detail how she was undoubtedly in violation of Federal Law – was something of a shock to those who have worked in federal law enforcement. He stated that there was no indication of “intent.’ When the relevant statutes protecting classified information do not, for the most part, require establishing ‘intent.’ Hillary Clinton violated the law – pure and simple. Comey should have turned that information over to the Department of Justice for them to make the decision as to whether or not they were willing to prosecute, and if not why not.
Summation: Hillary Clinton was either ‘off the chart’ ignorant of how to handle classified information, or she purposely defied the law – feeling, I suppose, that she was above the mundanity of such laws. I believe the latter.
After exonerating her, Comey was later trapped attempting to explain to Congress and the American public why the FBI had to reopen the investigation of Hillary, and her errant emails, right before the Presidential election. The Weiner computer. Whoops. Last straw.
And, what was the genesis of all this? Well, of course, it was the private meeting of the Master Manipulator Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac where, according to Lynch, they discussed grandchildren and golf. How stupid do they think we are?
Sorry Mr. Comey but you allowed yourself to become collateral damage of that meeting. It’s best that you move on.