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56 posts categorized "New Orleans"

February 02, 2010

O'Keefe prosecutor recused himself/Lindsay on GRITtv today

Interesting news from the WSJ's law blog:

The plot thickens a bit down in the Big Easy over the arrest of James O’Keefe and three other activist arrested last week while trying to capture secret footage in the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D. La.). On Monday, the U.S. attorney in New Orleans recused himself from O’Keefe’s case, citing, well, not very much.

A DOJ news release said simply that Jim Letten, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, recused himself from the case a day after the Jan. 25 arrests. Letten’s top lieutenant, assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, has taken over.

No official reason has been offered for the recusal, but WSJ blogger Ashby Jones speculates that it might have to do with the fact that one of James O'Keefe's co-accuseds is Robert Flanagan, the son of an acting U.S. Attorney in Louisiana. 

By the way, I'm going to be on GRITtv this afternoon to talk about the phone tampering scandal, probably shortly after 1:30 EST. I'll post the video as soon as I can.

January 30, 2010

Ladies, meet your new gender diversity coordinator, Mr. Angry Penis

Stan Dai, one of the four Republican operatives arrested this week for allegedly plotting to tamper with Sen. Mary Landrieu's telephones, is a bit of a self-styled spook, at least in his own mind. His resume features some relatively junior administrative gigs with programs sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense. He also liked to publicly hold forth on terrorism, intelligence, and surveillance in videos and in before the Junior Statesmen of America.

You can rest easy, Laura Rozen was able to confirm that Dai never worked directly for a U.S. intelligence agency. Rather, he worked for programs supported by grants from these organizations. As far as we know, he never claimed otherwise. But he certainly got a lot of mileage out of his job titles including Assistant Director for the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence at Trinity Washington University and Operations Officer for a DOD fellowship on irregular warfare. Dai's resume also lists him as having been an undergraduate fellow at the right wing Center for the Defense of Democracies. I called the Center to confirm this claim. A spokeswoman explained that the fellowship was a summer enrichment program for college students, which Dai completed in 2004. 

So, what is an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence? Mark Hosenball of Newsweek reports that the ODNI gives grants to universities to attract more women and minority students to intelligence work. 

Stan Dai, as you will recall is the author of the Penis Monologues, a satire of the Vagina Monologues in which Dai's penis reacts with fury at being invited to a performance of the VM. (Quoth Dai: "MY PENIS IS ANGRY!!!!!!! You want to know what happened to my penis? Joan [the 5-foot-tall hairy vagina] happened to my penis!")

The irony is not lost on Marcy Wheeler: "As Hosenball points out, it’s ironic that a movement conservative like Dai was involved in what was basically a program to encourage diversity. But I’m a little more shocked that ODNI, under Mike McConnell, was funding Mr. Angry Penis to help recruit women into the field of intelligence."

January 26, 2010

ACORN pimp's co-accused is the son of an acting U.S. Attorney (updated)

This just gets better and better. Main Justice reports that one of the men arrested along with conservative activist/pimp impersonator James O'Keefe in connection with the attempted bugging of Sen. Mary Landrieu's office is the son of an acting U.S. Attorney:

The son of acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana William J. Flanagan was arrested and charged with trying to interfere with phones at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans.

Robert Flanagan, 24, along with conservative activist James O’Keefe, 25, and Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24 were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony.

According to the Associated Press and The Hill, Flanagan is the son of William J. Flanagan, who is the acting head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport. O’Keefe was in the news last year for his part in making secret videos in several offices of the community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

Update: Beltway Confidential republished the affidavit of an FBI agent summarizing the evidence against Flanagan, Basel, O'Keefe, and Dai.

Update II: An unnamed federal official told the Associated Press that one of the suspects was picked up in a car full of listening equipment:

A federal law enforcement official said one of the suspects was picked up in a car a couple of blocks away with a listening device that could pick up transmissions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not part of an FBI affidavit that described the circumstances of the case.

Anti-ACORN "pimp" O'Keefe arrested in attempted bugging of senator's office

James O'Keefe, the conservative filmmaker who dressed as a pimp to sting the activist group ACORN, has been arrested for allegedly assisting in the attempted wiretapping of the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu:

The FBI, alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in downtown New Orleans, arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes alleges that O'Keefe aided and abetted two others, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system. [Times-Picayune]

April 01, 2008

New photog blog: Morgan and Owens

Good news: Brooklyn photographic power couple Morgan & Owens have launched a blog to keep fans abreast of their peripatetic shooting schedule.

September 22, 2007


Blackwater has been in the news again lately. Of course, they aren't getting kicked out of Iraq. Some Blackwater employees are being investigated for allegedly trafficking arms.  

Just the word "Blackwater" makes me feel slightly queasy.

The scariest people I've ever met were the Blackwater guys I found clustered around a van behind a New Orleans hotel shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

I saw a lot of disconcerting things during those two weeks, but the one experience that haunts me two years later was a five-minute conversation that crew.

We'd already encountered a few other Blackwater guys during our trip. One juiced up freak in mirrored sunglasses and a Blackwater bearclaw t-shirt actually lunged at our car when my colleague tried to take a picture of the hotel he was guarding. He didn't point his weapon or yell, or do anything a rational person in a defensive posture might have done. He just grunted really loudly and tried to stick his head in our window.

Mind you, he wasn't holding a position in an emergency. We were driving in broad daylight through downtown New Orleans with a bunch of other traffic (military and civilian).

The Blackwater dude was acting as a glorified rent-a-cop on the sidewalk, about two blocks from the main media staging area for New Orleans, which was already amply secured by US military and law enforcement.

What I didn't realize at the time was that these Blackwater guys thought of themselves as frontline soldiers in a literal war zone, ready to use deadly force at the slightest provocation. That was an unfounded estimate, in the middle of the day in downtown New Orleans several days after the city had been secured by the legitimate authorities.

We certainly weren't seeing that level of aggression or anxiety from the 82nd Airborne or the NOLA police, or the National Guard, or anyone else in the vicinity.

The real public servants greeted journalists warmly and told us proudly about all the things they were doing to help.

Some bored guys from the 82nd Airborne even agreed to watch our car for us for a few minutes when we got out to photograph the abandoned convention center.  A Louisiana sheriff offered us a ride when we really needed one. A California fire chief approached us on the Interstate and proudly gave us a grand tour of his department's joint recovery operations with US soldiers.

In retrospect, it seems like the Blackwater guys were inhabiting their own violent fantasy world. A more cynical person would say they were looking for an excuse to hurt someone.

A couple days after our initial encounter with the lunger, I set out to talk to some Blackwater guys in person. This was the last picture I snapped before I found them.

When I looked in their eyes, I felt something entirely new to me--a basic mammalian sense of dread. It was as if some part of my brainstem came alive and said: "These people are predators. They would kill you."

These mercenaries were nothing like the lunger. In fact, they weren't overtly threatening, or outwardly aggressive. Actually, some of them were friendly in their own twitchy dead-eyed way.

One guy lit up when I mentioned I was from Brooklyn.

His buddies wanted to know what kind of weapon I was carrying, as if this were standard bar chitchat.

I tried to interview them, but I couldn't get anything more than vague allusions to Iraq. One silent guy seemed to be getting more and more agitated as I asked questions of his friends. I figured it was a good time to go.

As soon as I got out of sight and back to the rental car, I started shivering and didn't stop for almost an hour.

In retrospect, I realize that I only dared to approach these guys because of a naive faith that I was an unarmed US journalist in the USA.

I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a society where these guys were around every corner, unbound by the rule of law.

July 29, 2007

Just deserts for Louisiana attorney general

Finally, some good news...

John Protevi reports that the Louisiana Attorney General who pursued baseless charges of mercy killing by medics after Katrina is now in hot water for giving lucrative consulting gigs to some of his more eccentric and disreputable buddies.

AG Charles Foi is also facing a civil suit from one of the doctors whom he tried to railroad on baseless charges of mercy killing in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Suffice it to say that he's not in very good shape for the upcoming election.

May 07, 2007

Engineering expert: NOLA levee repairs flawed

On a recent fact-finding tour, civil engineering expert Bob Bea observed serious flaws in the repairs on New Orleans' levees:

The most troubling, Dr. Bea said, was erosion on a levee by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation canal that helped channel water into New Orleans during the storm.

Breaches in that 13-mile levee devastated communities in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, and the rapid reconstruction of the barrier was hailed as one of the corps’ most significant rebuilding achievements in the months after the storm.

But Dr. Bea, an author of a blistering 2006 report on the levee failures paid for by the National Science Foundation, said erosion furrows, or rills, suggest that “the risks are still high.” Heavy storms, he said, may cause “tear-on-the-dotted-line levees.” [NYT]

After being informed of the safety concerns raised by Bea and other independent experts, Sen. Mary Landrieu sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking whether the repairs were sufficient to protect the levee system.

The Corps stands by its work.

National Geographic sponsored Bea's tour as part of its ongoing coverage of levee-related issues.

April 22, 2007

Corps rebuilding floodwall weaker than pre-Katrina

Harry Shearer points to some disquieting news out of New Orleans: According to the Times Picayune, The Army Corps of Engineers is restoring the 17th Street Canal floodwall with steel pilings 13 feet shorter than the originals.

Read the whole Picayune article, it's some great science journalism.

The Corps insists that the shorter pilings pose no threat to the public because concurrent adjustments are being made elsewhere in the system to keep the water level from rising as high as it did in 2005.

However, professor Bob Bea of UC Berkeley, the marine engineer who lead the NSF's post-Katrina flooding investigation, remains skeptical. He worries that the shorter pilings could be the "fatal flaw" that dooms the flood control system. (Bea was interviewed extensively for Spike Lee's 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke.)

Bea and other experts are calling on the Corps to submit to more outside scrutiny and independent review of their flood-control strategy.

April 13, 2007

Danziger bridge shooting case

NPR has the latest on the case against the NOPD officers accused of shooting unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina. According to the article, prosecutors made a major tactical blunder when the promised three officers immunity for grand jury testimony only to indict them afterwards.

Do prosecutors go back on promises of immunity regularly?

It's not certain that a judge and jury will get to decide who was guilty and who was innocent on the Danziger Bridge that morning. Legal experts say prosecutors have already made a serious misstep. They offered immunity to three of the officers to testify before the grand jury, then turned around and got indictments against them.

Defense attorneys argued strenuously that immunized testimony cannot be used to incriminate a defendant. Last week, a judge gave the lawyers for the police a tactical victory and let them review the entire grand jury testimony.

Loyola professor Ciolino says that's invaluable for the defense. Prosecution of the Danziger Bridge case has, so far, provided him several "teachable moments." [NPR]

The defense attorneys for the officers are claiming that the prosecution used the grand jury testimony against their clients, and a judge gave them the right to review the grand jury testimony to search for evidence that officers' immunized testimony was used against them. However, news reports seem to be talking about the alleged misuse of testimony as if it were an established fact. Am I missing something?