Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Witness Killing, Prosecutors Point to a Lawyer


United States Attorney’s Office

Deshawn McCray was fatally shot on a Newark street before he could testify for the prosecution in a cocaine-selling trial.

Published: December 21, 2007

NEWARK — For prosecutors in New Jersey, much about the 2004 murder of Deshawn McCray was all too familiar: Yet another key witness in a major drug case had been shot dead before he could testify in court.

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Scared Silent

Disturbing Twist

This is the seventh article in a series examining the problem of witness intimidation in New Jersey.

Previous Articles

Keeping Witnesses Off Stand to Keep Them Safe (Nov. 19, 2007)

Few Choices in Shielding of Witnesses (Oct 28, 2007

In Prosecution of Gang, a Chilling Adversary: The Code of the Streets (Sep 19, 2007

Fearful Witness Faces Trial for a Murder Seen, Then Unseen (July 29, 2007)

A Little Girl Shot, and a Crowd That Didn’t See (July 9, 2007)

With Witnesses at Risk, Murder Suspects Go Free (March 1, 2007)

Ronald Wittek/European Pressphoto Agency

Prosecutors claim that Paul Bergrin, a defense lawyer, facilitated the murder of Mr. McCray.

Mr. McCray was expected to testify against Mr. Bergrin's client William Baskerville, who was accused of selling cocaine.

Hakeem Curry, top, and William Baskerville.

But there was one aspect of the killing that especially alarmed and infuriated prosecutors. They believed that a defense lawyer — a former prosecutor — had played a role in facilitating the murder.

The United States attorney has said that that lawyer, Paul Bergrin, relayed Mr. McCray’s identity to friends of one of his clients, a gang member who was facing life in prison on drug charges. The prosecutors said he had even met with members of his client’s gang in person to make clear what was at stake.

“No Kemo, no case,” Mr. Bergrin told the gang members, using Mr. McCray’s nickname, according to testimony in federal court this year.

Three months later, Mr. McCray was shot in the head by one of the gang members on a Newark street.

“Paul Bergrin was a pivotal part of the conspiracy to kill Kemo McCray,” an assistant United States attorney, Joseph Minish, said in court. “Without him, it would not have taken place.”

Prosecutors will not speak publicly now about Mr. Bergrin. They have never charged him in connection with the killing or in any other case in which witnesses might have been intimidated or harmed. They have indicated that problems with safeguarding key evidence — including a wiretapped conversation involving Mr. Bergrin — have left them unable to pursue a prosecution.

But for law enforcement officials in New Jersey who have struggled to combat the widespread problem of witness intimidation, the claims about Mr. Bergrin amount to a particularly disturbing twist on a growing threat.

Mr. Bergrin, in an interview, denied any involvement in knowingly endangering a witness. He said that he had never met with gang members, and that anyone who claimed that he conspired to harm a witness was lying.

“I had nothing to do with the homicide of any witnesses whatsoever,” said Mr. Bergrin, who continues to practice criminal defense law in New Jersey. “I would never partake in any kind of action related to that kind of conduct.”

Law enforcement officials in New Jersey, though, have long been concerned about cases involving Mr. Bergrin’s clients, many of them gang members.

In one case, murder charges against Mr. Bergrin’s client were dropped after a prosecution witnesses was killed. In another murder case and a shooting case, charges were reduced after witnesses were intimidated and recanted their previous statements. And in 2005, a witness against one of Mr. Bergrin’s clients in a murder case changed his story after the defendant’s relatives gave him $1,050 in Mr. Bergrin’s office — and later pleaded guilty to making the payment.

Mr. Bergrin was not present in the office at the time, and he said he had no knowledge of any such payment. “There was never any allegation that I was involved,” he said.

The only legal or professional scrutiny Mr. Bergrin is currently known to face, in fact, is in New York City, where prosecutors have charged him with running New York Confidential, a brothel that charged $1,000 an hour.

The office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, has accused Mr. Bergrin of taking over the business from a former client and using it to offer sexual favors to unnamed New Jersey law enforcement officers and jail guards — people who were in a position to keep him informed about what inmates might be planning to cooperate against his clients.

Mr. Bergrin has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Gerald Shargel, called the charges “nonsense.”

The possible role of defense lawyers in the intimidation of witnesses has angered prosecutors in New Jersey for years, and has recently attracted the interest of state legislators.

For their part, prosecutors say they have grown weary of a familiar sequence of events: Shortly after they provide defense lawyers with copies of a witness’s statement, as they are required by law to do, the threats, warnings and outright attacks begin.

In gang cases prosecuted in cities including Trenton, Newark and Camden, it is not unusual for a witness’s statement to be photocopied within days of being turned over to the defendant’s lawyer, and then be posted on telephone poles or circulated throughout the neighborhood.

State officials are hoping to offer witnesses greater protection, state officials are pushing for laws to restrict the information released to lawyers for certain criminal defendants.

A bill now being considered by the State Legislature and supported by the state attorney general would require that prosecutors handling gang cases turn over only a witness’s name, and make it a felony for defense lawyers to provide their clients with addresses or other identifying information.

“The defendants have a right to know the evidence against them,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a sponsor of the bill. “But witnesses have a right not to be harassed.”

But even supporters of that measure concede that it will be of limited value because many gang crimes occur in neighborhoods or drug organizations so tightknit that all it takes to locate a witness is a name — or a nickname.

Mr. Bergrin, 52, built a reputation as something of a legal maverick as he moved from prosecutor to defense lawyer.

After a decorated career in the Army infantry, he was a prosecutor for the United States attorney’s office in New Jersey and the Essex County prosecutor’s office, preparing his cases with a ferocity that impressed his colleagues and intimidated his opponents. Mr. Bergrin — the son of a Brooklyn police officer and a graduate of law school at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — bragged that as a prosecutor he won convictions on every homicide case he handled.

He entered private practice sometime before 1990, and since then, Mr. Bergrin’s client list has allowed him to move through divergent worlds. He has represented celebrities like Queen Latifah; soldiers accused of murdering Iraqi detainees; Angelo Prisco, a Genovese crime family boss; and a former Mrs. New Jersey, who was accused of passing $70,000 in bad checks.

And he has won acquittals in more than a dozen murder trials, a track record that has made his name familiar along Newark’s streets and cellblocks.

Mr. Bergrin’s dealings with those clients has provoked criticism from prosecutors and police officials who say he has become far too close to the accused drug dealers and gangsters he represents.

Mr. Bergrin defends his work.

“When you represent thousands of individuals, have had hundreds of homicides and violent crimes, you can’t be held responsible for every time a witness gets talked to or intimidated or threatened,” he said.

In Mr. McCray’s case, the events leading to his slaying began in November 2003, prosecutors have said, when Mr. Bergrin met with a client named William Baskerville, who had just been arrested on charges of selling more than 50 grams of cocaine.

The prosecutors’ charges about Mr. Bergrin emerged at Mr. Baskerville’s trial. Mr. Bergrin had been removed as his lawyer, but he was a central character in the story prosecutors told in court.

Court records and telephone logs show that shortly after visiting Mr. Baskerville in jail, Mr. Bergrin called Hakeem Curry — Mr. Baskerville’s cousin and Newark’s most powerful heroin distributor — and told him the identity of the prosecution’s star witness.

“I got a chance to speak to William, and he said the informant is a guy by the name of K-Mo,” Mr. Bergrin told Mr. Curry, according to a transcript of the conversation, which was taped.

Later that week, according to prosecutors, Mr. Bergrin met with Mr. Curry and two other relatives of Mr. Baskerville’s to discuss the case. One of the gang members who prosecutors said was present at the meeting was Anthony Young.

Mr. Young testified that Mr. Bergrin had warned everyone at the meeting that if Mr. McCray were to take the stand, Mr. Baskerville would almost certainly be convicted of charges that would bring a mandatory life sentence. Based on Mr. Bergrin’s statement, Mr. Young testified, Mr. Curry’s organization paid him $15,000 to kill Mr. McCray because “he has to be pushed, he has to be handled, we have to knock him off.”

In the weeks that followed, Mr. Baskerville bragged to fellow inmates that he had sent word to have his witness killed, they testified. On March 3, 2004, as Mr. McCray and his stepfather were walking back from a Newark convenience store, Mr. Young ambushed them.

Three bullets struck Mr. McCray in the head. Mr. Young, who confessed and cooperated in Mr. Baskerville’s prosecution, was sentenced to life and avoided a possible death sentence. At Mr. Baskerville’s trial, the prosecutor, in his summation, said of Mr. Bergrin, “Don’t think, ‘How could a lawyer do this?’ I hope you’re not thinking that. He was in on it, ladies and gentlemen. There is no doubt about it.”

Mr. Bergrin said that he was bewildered by the United States attorney’s assertion that he had sought to have Mr. McCray killed. He said he had spoken to Mr. Curry about the case only at the request of his client’s mother, who had informed him that Mr. Curry was her son’s cousin.

“I was just relaying the strengths and the weaknesses of the case with my client’s relative because of his close relationship,” Mr. Bergrin said.

But federal officials have described Mr. Bergrin in open court as the “house counsel” of Mr. Curry’s drug organization, which they said was responsible for more than 80 percent of the heroin distributed in Newark. Dealers who worked for Mr. Curry have testified that Mr. Bergrin was equal part lawyer and friend whose main duty was to monitor all the cases to be certain that no one cooperated with prosecutors.

The United States attorney for New Jersey, Christopher Christie Jr., has not brought charges against Mr. Bergrin, partly because an assistant prosecutor did not properly safeguard the tapes of wiretapped conversation involving him, meaning that they may not be admissible as evidence in court.

“Any suggestion that I tried to prevent people from cooperating or had other motives is absolutely false,” Mr. Bergrin said. “I work incredibly hard on all of my cases and am available at all hours of the night to represent my clients.”

Should witness lists be withheld in gang related cases?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry

Published: December 16, 2007

This article is by Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane.

WASHINGTON — For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. But in 2004, one major phone carrier balked at turning over its customers’ records. Worried about possible privacy violations or public relations problems, company executives declined to help the operation, which has not been previously disclosed.

In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.

The federal government’s reliance on private industry has been driven by changes in technology. Two decades ago, telephone calls and other communications traveled mostly through the air, relayed along microwave towers or bounced off satellites. The N.S.A. could vacuum up phone, fax and data traffic merely by erecting its own satellite dishes. But the fiber optics revolution has sent more and more international communications by land and undersea cable, forcing the agency to seek company cooperation to get access.

After the disclosure two years ago that the N.S.A. was eavesdropping on the international communications of terrorism suspects inside the United States without warrants, more than 40 lawsuits were filed against the government and phone carriers. As a result, skittish companies and their lawyers have been demanding stricter safeguards before they provide access to the government and, in some cases, are refusing outright to cooperate, officials said.

“It’s a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that’s not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe,” said an industry official who believes that immunity is critical for the phone carriers. “This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways.”

With a vote in the Senate on the issue expected as early as Monday, the Bush administration has intensified its efforts to win retroactive immunity for companies cooperating with counterterrorism operations.

“The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article Monday urging Congress to pass the immunity provision. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.”

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey echoed that theme in an op-ed article of his own in The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, saying private companies would be reluctant to provide their “full-hearted help” if they were not given legal protections.

The government’s dependence on the phone industry, driven by the changes in technology and the Bush administration’s desire to expand surveillance capabilities inside the United States, has grown significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks. The N.S.A., though, wanted to extend its reach even earlier. In December 2000, agency officials wrote a transition report to the incoming Bush administration, saying the agency must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications network, a goal that they acknowledged would raise legal and privacy issues.

While the N.S.A. operates under restrictions on domestic spying, the companies have broader concerns — customers’ demands for privacy and shareholders’ worries about bad publicity.

In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years.

Officials say the government has not listened to the communications, but has instead used phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze links between people in the United States and overseas. Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records.

At least one major phone carrier — whose identity could not be confirmed — refused to cooperate, citing concerns in 2004 that the subpoenas were overly broad, government and industry officials said. The executives also worried that if the program were exposed, the company would face a public-relations backlash.

The D.E.A. declined to comment on the call-tracing program, except to say that it “exercises its legal authority” to issue administrative subpoenas. The N.S.A. also declined to comment on it.

In a separate program, N.S.A. officials met with the Qwest executives in February 2001 and asked for more access to their phone system for surveillance operations, according to people familiar with the episode. The company declined, expressing concerns that the request was illegal without a court order.

While Qwest’s refusal was disclosed two months ago in court papers, the details of the N.S.A.’s request were not. The agency, those knowledgeable about the incident said, wanted to install monitoring equipment on Qwest’s “Class 5” switching facilities, which transmit the most localized calls. Limited international traffic also passes through the switches.

A government official said the N.S.A. intended to single out only foreigners on Qwest’s network, and added that the agency believed Joseph Nacchio, then the chief executive of Qwest, and other company officials misunderstood the agency’s proposal. Bob Toevs, a Qwest spokesman, said the company did not comment on matters of national security.

Other N.S.A. initiatives have stirred concerns among phone company workers. A lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Jersey challenging the agency’s wiretapping operations. It claims that in February 2001, just days before agency officials met with Qwest officials, the N.S.A. met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating a network center in Bedminster, N.J., to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it.

The accusations rely in large part on the assertions of a former engineer on the project. The engineer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that he participated in numerous discussions with N.S.A. officials about the proposal. The officials, he said, discussed ways to duplicate the Bedminster system in Maryland so the agency “could listen in” with unfettered access to communications that it believed had intelligence value and store them for later review. There was no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, he said.

“At some point,” he said, “I started feeling something isn’t right.”

Two other AT&T employees who worked on the proposal discounted his claims, saying in interviews that the project had simply sought to improve the N.S.A.’s internal communications systems and was never designed to allow the agency access to outside communications. Michael Coe, a company spokesman, said: “AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security.”

But lawyers for the plaintiffs say that if the suit were allowed to proceed, internal AT&T documents would verify the engineer’s account.

“What he saw,” said Bruce Afran, a New Jersey lawyer representing the plaintiffs along with Carl Mayer, “was decisive evidence that within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans’ phone usage.”

The same lawsuit accuses Verizon of setting up a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to Quantico, Va., home to a large military base, allowing government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. In an interview, a former consultant who worked on internal security said he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but his ideas were rejected by a senior security official.

The facts behind a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco are also shrouded in government secrecy. The case relies on disclosures by a former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, who says he stumbled upon a secret room at an company facility in San Francisco that was reserved for the N.S.A. Company documents he obtained and other former AT&T employees have lent some support to his claim that the facility gave the agency access to a range of domestic and international Internet traffic.

The telecommunications companies that gave the government access are pushing hard for legal protection from Congress. As part of a broader plan to restructure the N.S.A.’s wiretapping authority, the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed to give immunity to the telecommunications companies, but the Judiciary Committee refused to do so. The White House has threatened to veto any plan that left out immunity, as the House bill does.

“Congress shouldn’t grant amnesty to companies that broke the law by conspiring to illegally spy on Americans” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

But Bobby R. Inman, a retired admiral and former N.S.A. director who has publicly criticized the agency’s domestic eavesdropping program, says he still supports immunity for the companies that cooperated.

“The responsibility ought to be on the government, not on the companies that are trying to help with national security requirements,” Admiral Inman said. If the companies decided to stop cooperating, he added, “it would have a huge impact on both the timeliness and availability of critical intelligence.”



SHOULD immunity be granted to companies who broke the law in the past to "help fight terrorism"?

SHOULD the government take full responsibility for the leak of information?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lockdown Disscussion


How is our school being treated in the eyes of the media? What suggestions do you have to prevent something like this from happening again? Should both the 15yrd old and the 16yr old be treated the same way in the eyes of the law? Why are they being treated differently?



CBS report

Video

NY1 REPORT

NEWSDAY

Daily News

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aliens, Elvis and the FBI


Today we had a special guest speaker from the Federal Bureau of Investigation talk to us about the importance of completing college. The one thing that stuck out most to me was when special investigator Robert Lally explained that "The choices we make now academically could be forgiven when seeking employment, but the personal choices we make (behavior and drug use) are not so easily forgiven. "

What is something that surprised you about our talk today?

What is something you would like to know more about?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Retroactively, Panel Reduces Drug Sentences



Published: December 12, 2007

WASHINGTON — The agency that sets guidelines for federal prison sentences voted unanimously on Tuesday to lighten punishments retroactively for some crimes related to crack cocaine, a decision that could eventually affect about 19,500 inmates and mean freedom for some within months.

The 7-to-0 vote by the United States Sentencing Commission was intended to help narrow the stark disparity that has existed for two decades between sentences for crack cocaine and those linked to the powder form of the drug, a disparity written into law two decades ago when it was widely assumed that crack was more dangerous than the powdered drug.

Since then, experts have concluded that there are more similarities than differences, and many people involved in sentencing have lamented the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by crack-related sentences. Statistics show that about 85 percent of the federal inmates behind bars for crack offenses are black.

“At its core, this question is one of fairness,” said one commission member, Judge William K. Sessions III of the United States District Court in Vermont. “This is an historic day. This system of justice is, and must always be, colorblind.”

The decision — which does not affect mandatory minimum sentences imposed by Congress — will become effective on March 3, at which point many inmates will be eligible to petition a judge to be resentenced under the new guidelines. The delay will give prison administrators and other correctional administrators time to prepare for a surge of applications.

Hard numbers are elusive, but statistics kept by the commission suggest that, on average, an eligible prisoner might have his sentence reduced by 17 percent, and that about 3,800 inmates would be eligible but not assured of release in the next year. But, addressing concerns about public safety, commission members emphasized that judges, newly empowered by a pair of Supreme Court decisions on Monday, will have wide discretion over which inmates will be granted leniency.

Notwithstanding his own remark about the commission making history, Judge Sessions suggested, and the other commission members agreed, that it was up to Congress to rewrite what it did two decades ago. Reacting to images — or perhaps anecdotes — about the evils of crack, and the street crime it was presumed to stoke, the lawmakers enacted penalties that many have called draconian, treating crack-cocaine offenses far more harshly than ones involving powdered cocaine.

Several commission members said the perception over the years that crack-related prosecutions had affected black defendants and their relatives far more than white people was having a corrosive effect on the criminal justice system, influencing juries, potential witnesses and law enforcement officers as well as defendants.

The vote was followed by applause by relatives of prisoners who attended the session. But the decision to apply retroactivity does not mean a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” as one panel member put it.

In addition to the 19,500 prisoners who may become eligible for early release sooner or later, there are 16,000 to 17,000 people incarcerated for crack-related crimes who have virtually no hope of a break. Some of them were given the absolute minimum term in the first place, and so have nothing to gain. Other were arrested with huge amounts of crack, or deemed career offenders, and sentenced to long terms with no hope of leniency.

The Bush administration restated its opposition to making the lighter sentences retroactive. “Our position is clear,” Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Tuesday at a news conference.

That stance was repeated at the commission meeting by Kelli Ferry, an assistant United States attorney in Virginia who is an ex-officio member of the panel, asserting that the prospect of a large number of prisoners being released posed “significant safety risks for the communities to which they will be returned.”

Drug offenders make up a high percentage of the roughly 200,000 federal inmates. About 60,000 prisoners are released in a typical year, and some 63,000 new inmates take their place.

Cocaine-related offenses are covered under state as well as federal law. A typical prisoner in the federal system was a street-level trafficker — not a kingpin — who dealt in crack when there was little or no public tolerance for drug peddlers, even those with previously clean records.

Iralee Johnson of Orange, N.J., and the 16-year-old granddaughter she is raising, Secoya Jenkins, attended the hearing in the hope that the commission would give a break to Secoya’s mother, Nerika. She was convicted of conspiring to distribute crack in Philadelphia and has been in prison more than a decade.

Ms. Johnson blamed her daughter’s fall on “bad company” and said she had “learned her lesson,” after serving nearly 11 years. Her relatives said she was a first-time nonviolent offender who had just earned an associate college degree.

Because Congress has declined to take up legislation that would reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum prison terms for drug offenses, the sentencing commission can only offer leniency administratively, without setting aside the mandatory minimum terms imposed by Congress.

The commission put new guidelines into effect on Nov. 1, after a 180-day waiting period expired without Congress doing anything to stop them. But the effects were relatively modest: reducing the average sentence for crack possession to 8 years 10 months from 10 years 1 month, for instance.

One commission member, Judge Ruben Castillo of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, reminded the audience that the commission first recommended in 1995 that the sentencing disparity involving crack and powdered cocaine be erased in the absence of any data that it made sense.

“No one has come before us to justify the 100-to-1 ratio,” Judge Castillo said, referring to a provision of federal law that imposes the same 10-year minimum sentence for possessing 50 grams of crack and for possessing 5,000 grams of powder cocaine.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he was pleased with the commission’s action.

“Nearly 20,000 nonviolent, low-level drug offenders will be eligible for a reduction in the excessive prison terms they received in the past because of the unacceptable disparity in the sentencing guidelines between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Those who break the law deserve to be punished, but our system says that punishment must be proportionate and fair. The current sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is neither.”

The commission chairman, Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, reflected at Tuesday’s meeting on the perspective he has acquired in 25 years on the bench. “I didn’t think sentencing would be as difficult as it is when you actually have to do it,” he said.

Monday, December 10, 2007

C.I.A. Chief Cites Agency Lapse on Tape

Published: December 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, acknowledged on Wednesday that the C.I.A. had failed to keep members of Congress fully informed that the agency had videotaped the interrogations of suspected operatives of Al Qaeda and destroyed the tapes three years later.


Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, after appearing before members of a House committee on Wednesday.

General Hayden’s comments struck a different tone from a message he sent to C.I.A. employees last Thursday, when he said that Congressional leaders had been informed about the tapes and of the “agency’s intention to dispose of the material.”

Emerging from a closed session with members of the House Intelligence Committee, General Hayden said Wednesday that “particularly at the time of the destruction, we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alert and informed.”

After a hearing that lasted nearly four hours, Representative Silvestre P. Reyes of Texas, the committee’s chairman, called parts of General Hayden’s testimony “stunning” and said lawmakers were just at the beginning of what would probably be a “long-term investigation.”

Government officials said Wednesday’s session was far more contentious than General Hayden’s classified briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee a day earlier. They said lawmakers had grilled the C.I.A. director about the accuracy of the statement he sent to agency employees after learning that The New York Times was preparing to publish an article about the tapes. As General Hayden noted publicly after the Senate hearing on Tuesday, the tapes were destroyed before he arrived at the C.I.A. in May 2006.

The Senate and House committees are expected now to turn their focus to officials said to be directly involved in the decision, including Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who has been described by intelligence officials as having authorized the destruction of the tapes while he was head of the agency’s clandestine branch in 2005. One Congressional official said the House panel was likely to call Mr. Rodriguez as a witness next week.

Congressional investigators are particularly interested in advice the C.I.A. received from White House lawyers over a two-year period, from 2003 to 2005. Government officials have said that White House aides advised the C.I.A. to preserve the tapes, but the exact guidance they gave remains murky.

Some in Congress are curious to know why, if Mr. Rodriguez had really ignored White House advice not to destroy the tapes, he was apparently never reprimanded.

Also on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in a federal court in New York asking a judge to hold the C.I.A. in contempt for flouting a 2004 court order that it said required that the agency retain and identify all material related to the treatment of detainees in C.I.A. custody.

Intelligence officials have said that the tapes, documenting the interrogations of the suspected Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were made in 2002 and destroyed in November 2005.

In the A.C.L.U. case, the court ruled in September 2004 that several government agencies, including the C.I.A, must produce all detainee documents. Those documents that are classified, the court ruled, must be identified in a written log and the log must be submitted to the judge for review.

Some legal experts said that the C.I.A. would have great difficulty defending what seemed to be a decision not to identify the tapes to the judge, and the subsequent decision to destroy the tapes.

“Where the court ordered them to search and enumerate the records at issue, they had a clear duty to do so,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research group in Washington that frequently files Freedom of Information Act requests for national security documents.

On Wednesday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, General Hayden and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to expand the inquiry to examine whether security services in other countries might have taped interrogations of terrorism suspects sent abroad by the C.I.A.

David Johnston contributed reporting.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges


By CHRISTOPHER MAAG
Published: November 28, 2007


DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo., Nov. 21 — Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.


Peter Newcomb for The New York Times
Tina and Ron Meier with a photo of their daughter Megan, 13,
who killed herself last year after an online romance ended.


Josh contacted Megan through her page on MySpace.com, the social networking Web site, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier. They flirted for weeks, but only online — Josh said his family had no phone. On Oct. 15, 2006, Josh suddenly turned mean. He called Megan names, and later they traded insults for an hour.


The next day, in his final message, said Megan’s father, Ron Meier, Josh wrote, “The world would be a better place without you.”


Sobbing, Megan ran into her bedroom closet. Her mother found her there, hanging from a belt. She was 13.


Six weeks after Megan’s death, her parents learned that Josh Evans never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, then 47, who lived four houses down the street in this rapidly growing community 35 miles northwest of St. Louis.


That an adult would plot such a cruel hoax against a 13-year-old girl has drawn outraged phone calls, e-mail messages and blog posts from around the world. Many people expressed anger because St. Charles County officials did not charge Ms. Drew with a crime.


But a St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”


In response to the events, the local Board of Aldermen on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure making Internet harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.


“Give me a break; that’s nothing,” Mayor Pam Fogarty said of the penalties. “But it’s the most we could do. People are saying to me, ‘Let’s go burn down their house.’”


St. Charles County’s prosecuting attorney, Jack Banas, said he was reviewing the case to determine whether anyone could be charged with a crime. State Representative Doug Funderburk, whose district includes Dardenne Prairie, said he was looking into the feasibility of introducing legislation to tighten restrictions against online harassment and fraud.


In seventh grade, Megan Meier had tried desperately to join the popular crowd at Fort Zumwalt West Middle School, only to be teased about her weight, her mother said. At the beginning of eighth grade last year, she transferred to Immaculate Conception, a nearby Catholic school. Within three months, Ms. Meier said, her daughter had a new group of friends, lost 20 pounds and joined the volleyball team.


At one time, Lori Drew’s daughter and Megan had been “joined at the hip,” said Megan’s great-aunt Vicki Dunn. But the two drifted apart, and when Megan changed schools she told the other girl that she no longer wanted to be friends, Ms. Meier said.


In a report filed with the Sheriff’s Department, Lori Drew said she created the MySpace profile of “Josh Evans” to win Megan’s trust and learn how Megan felt about her daughter. Reached at home, Lori’s husband, Curt Drew, said only that the family had no comment.


Because Ms. Drew had taken Megan on family vacations, she knew the girl had been prescribed antidepression medication, Ms. Meier said. She also knew that Megan had a MySpace page.
Ms. Drew had told a girl across the street about the hoax, said the girl’s mother, who requested anonymity to protect her daughter, a minor.


“Lori laughed about it,” the mother said, adding that Ms. Drew and Ms. Drew’s daughter “said they were going to mess with Megan.”


After a month of innocent flirtation between Megan and Josh, Ms. Meier said, Megan suddenly received a message from him saying, “I don’t like the way you treat your friends, and I don’t know if I want to be friends with you.”


They argued online. The next day other youngsters who had linked to Josh’s MySpace profile joined the increasingly bitter exchange and began sending profanity-laden messages to Megan, who retreated to her bedroom. No more than 15 minutes had passed, Ms. Meier recalled, when she suddenly felt something was terribly wrong. She rushed to the bedroom and found her daughter’s body hanging in the closet.


As paramedics worked to revive Megan, the neighbor who insisted on anonymity said, Lori Drew called the neighbor’s daughter and told her to “keep her mouth shut” about the MySpace page.


Six weeks later, at a meeting with the Meiers, mediated by grief counselors, the neighbor told them that “Josh” was a hoax. The Drews were not present.


“I just sat there in shock,” Mr. Meier said.


Shortly before Megan’s death, the Meiers had agreed to store a foosball table the Drews had bought as a Christmas surprise for their children. When the Meiers learned about the MySpace hoax, they attacked the table with a sledgehammer and an ax, Ms. Meier said, and threw the pieces onto the Drews’ driveway.


“I felt like such a fool,” Mr. Meier said. “I’m supposed to protect my family, and here I allowed these people to inject themselves into our lives.”


The police learned about the hoax when Ms. Drew filed a complaint about the damage to the foosball table. In the report, she stated that she felt the hoax “contributed to Megan’s suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty’ because at the funeral she found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”


Megan had mentioned suicide several times, her mother said, but had never attempted it, and no one who knew her, including her doctors, felt she was suicidal.


On the advice of F.B.I. agents who did not want the Drews to learn of their investigation of the hoax, Ms. Meier said, her family said nothing publicly about the case for a year. Today, the Meier and the Drew families continue to live four houses from one another on a winding suburban street.


“There are no words to explain my rage,” Ms. Meier said. “These people were supposed to be our friends.”



Is justice being served here? What recourse does the family have? What lesson is to be learned from this incident?

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Effort to Limit Junk Food in Schools Faces Hurdles


By KIM SEVERSON
Published: December 2, 2007

Whether the measure, an amendment to the farm bill, can survive the convoluted politics that have bogged down that legislation in the Senate is one issue. Whether it can survive the battle among factions in the fight to improve school food is another.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has twice introduced bills to deal with foods other than the standard school lunch, which is regulated by Department of Agriculture.

Several lawmakers and advocates for changes in school food believe that an amendment to the $286 billion farm bill is the best chance to get control of the mountain of high-calorie snacks and sodas available to schoolchildren. Even if the farm bill does not pass, Mr. Harkin and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, a sponsor of the amendment, vow to keep reintroducing it in other forms until it sticks.

They are optimistic about their chances because there is more public interest than ever in improving school food and because leaders in the food and beverage industry have had a hand in creating the new standards.

But that intense corporate involvement, along with exemptions that would allow sales of chocolate milk, sports drinks and diet soda, has caused a rift among food activists who usually find themselves on the same side of school food battles.

“This pits ideals about what children should eat at school against the political reality of large food corporations insisting their foods be available to children at all times,” said Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University and the author of two recent books on food politics and diet. “The activists want vending machines out of schools completely.” Dr. Nestle has taken no public stand on the measure.

The nutrition standards would allow only plain bottled water and eight-ounce servings of fruit juice or plain or flavored low-fat milk with up to 170 calories to be sold in elementary and middle schools. High school students could also buy diet soda or, in places like school gyms, sports drinks. Other drinks with as many as 66 calories per eight ounces could be sold in high schools, but that threshold would drop to 25 calories per eight-ounce serving in five years.

Food for sale would have to be limited in saturated and trans fat and have less than 35 percent sugar. Sodium would be limited, and snacks must have no more than 180 calories per serving for middle and elementary schools and 200 calories for high schools.

The standards would not affect occasional fund-raising projects, like Girl Scout cookie sales.
Although states would not be able to pass stronger restrictions, individual school districts could.
The rules have the support of food and drink manufacturers, including the American Beverage Association, which worked closely on the amendment with Mr. Harkin’s office and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has been critical of the food industry.

“This whole effort has momentum because of the variety of interests that have come together who do not usually find agreement,” said Susan Neely, president of the beverage association.
Some parents and nutritionists are angry that states will not be able to enact even tougher limits.

“My little fights in school districts are just going to be harder and harder because they’ll say, Well, here are the federal guidelines,” said Dr. Susan Rubin of Chappaqua, N.Y., a nutritionist who helped found the Better School Food advocacy group.

“It’s crazy to think we are going to fix children’s health just by letting companies sell schoolchildren smaller portions of Gatorade and baked chips,” she said.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has long been a critic of companies that produce food that she considers unhealthy and of government policy toward them.

That is why some of the center’s allies were surprised that Ms. Wootan had worked so closely with manufacturers on the standards. Conversely, she was surprised to find herself on the defensive for finally arranging food limits that actually have a good chance at becoming law.

“I do not understand why some groups would try to stand in the way of legislation that is going to get soda, snack cakes and other high-fat, high-salt food out of virtually all schools,” she said.

Who is responsible for this problem? What is Ms. Margo Wootan not understanding?

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