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I got to see "Argo" over the weekend and was favorably impressed, as many others have been. Obviously, the story was exaggerated to create more narrative tension, but it's a well-crafted movie. (That makes two out of two in terms of flicks directed by Ben Affleck, as I thought "Gone Baby Gone" was also really well-done.)
By coincidence, Tony Mendez's book Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA was on sale as the Kindle Daily Deal a few months ago, and I had bought it, so after the movie, I was able to go to the chapter where he described the CIA's underappreciated role in the Canadian caper. You really have to admire the courage of a guy who, in 1980, willingly flew into Tehran on a secret mission to rescue the six Americans holed up with the Canadians.
Seeing the movie did bring back the feelings of anger that I always feel when I think about the Iran hostage crisis. It's pretty well-summed up by the epilogue of the movie, where there's a scene with one of the Iranian hostage takers complaining that Canada violated Iran's sovereignty . . . . But even more, the movie reminded me that in those dark days, we had very few true friends. Canada, of course, took great risks in harboring the six escapees and then giving them forged passports to escape Iran. Great Britain and New Zealand also helped. But that was about it. And when it came to the rest of the hostages, no one lifted a finger to help us. Our "allies" wouldn't even impose economic sanctions in response to the grave violation of the international norms against holding diplomats hostage. (I recommend reading Mark Bowden's Guest of the Ayatollah if you want to get your blood pressure up.)
Anyway, one of the remarkable things about Argo is that it's a tense thriller even though (1) there's virtually no violence directed against the main characters; and (2) we already know how it turns out. That's a credit to Affleck's skills as a filmmaker.
Along a related note, I wonder if enough time has passed that someone could make a killer movie out of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed hostage rescue mission. It's long been a sore point for the United States because of how it ended, but there have been other well-regarded war movies that have had less than a happy ending ("Glory" and "Gallipilli" come to mind). Eagle Claw was stunningly audacious in planning, and Bowden's account of it in his book is gripping -- again, even though I knew the disastrous outcome.
Well, the jury rendered its verdict in the Portland bomb sting case today, convicting defendant Mohamed Mohamud of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The jury deliberated for about seven hours, or about a full day. It's been a hectic day for me since the verdict came out, with a lot of media interviews, so I'm just going to sketch some early thoughts that I hope to flesh out over the next few days.
1) Does 7 hours count as a short deliberation? Maybe, but then again, the OJ Simpson double homicide trial spanned nine months and yet the jury reached its decision in only four hours. Certainly the jury could've spent more time. But it also could've returned a guilty verdict in, say, 30 minutes if it was hellbent on rejecting the entrapment defense.
2) What's the implication for pending domestic terrorism cases involving undercover stings? By my count, there are at least three pending cases like this one -- Sami Osmakac in Tampa, Adel Daoud in Chicago, and Mohammad Nafis in New York -- and the defense lawyers there have got to be thinking harder about trying to get plea deals now.
3) Could it have made a difference if Mohamud had testified? I'm sure the defense team thought hard about this and they no doubt had very good reasons for resting without putting Mohamud on the stand. But you have to wonder, if he had been able to make a good impression, could he have sold the entrapment defense to the jury?
4) What's the likely sentence? I'll go through the Sentencing Guidelines later, but in a similar case in Baltimore, Antonio Martinez got 25 years.
5) Was I surprised? Not really. If he had been acquitted, I would've been surprised, but not shocked (even though it would've been the first time that an entrapment defense would've worked in a post-9/11 terrorism case). I think the key government evidence was that before the undercover agents got involved, Mohamud tried to get in touch with someone the government described as a suspected al Qaeda recruiter.
Anyway, I'll expand these thoughts in subsequent posts.
I'm sure that trial judges hate being second-guessed about their bail decisions, and with good reason. We can't realistically expect that judges will be 100% accurate in their assessments of whether particular defendants released on bail won't attempt to flee.
Still, I'm going to go out on a limb here (okay, not far at all) and suggest that the judge in the Logan Storm case really blew it. After being convicted of possession of child pornography, Storm was released on bail pending sentencing, but subject to electronic monitoring. Which he discarded today.
Now, imagine that you are the judge, trying to decide whether to grant bail to Storm. He's already been convicted, so the strongest argument one could otherwise make -- that an innocent person would be deprived of his liberty -- doesn't apply. True, he has the right to appeal so he might get that conviction overturned, but at this point, his legal status has changed from "innocent" to "guilty."
Given the typical two to three month period between conviction and sentencing, it's possible for minor crimes that one might receive a term of incarceration that would be shorter than what one would serve waiting to be sentenced. That might be an appropriate situation for bail, since credit for time served wouldn't exactly compensate for the extra amount of time one would spend in jail. With the likely sentencing range for child pornography, though, that seems not to be applicable here either.
But . . . here's the kicker: Storm previously fled the country:
In the days after the seizure of his computer and before he faced any charges in the case, he left the country, flying to London and eventually traveling to Ireland, France and Amsterdam, government filings state.
Now, his defense lawyers talked him into coming back, and hopefully they'll be able to talk him into turning himself in (again). But it's hard to see why a judge would release him on bail after conviction, knowing that he was skittish enough to flee before when there was just an investigation and not even any charges. Now that he's facing fairly certain prison time, it seems reasonable to conclude that he's an even greater flight risk than before.
I somewhat regret not getting into ABC's Count of Monte Cristo-inspired "Revenge," which is about a young woman who comes back to her hometown after years of being away, under a new identity, with the mission of destroying the rich family that drove her father to kill himself (I think that's the story).
When NBC debuted a similar show, "Deception," I decided to give it a try. In this show, the central mystery is the death by drug overdose of the older daughter of a rich family in New York. The FBI has been investigating the family related to its medical drug business but needs to get someone on the inside. How lucky for the lead FBI agent that his one-time paramour, now a San Francisco police detective, grew up in this family's house! You see, her mom worked for the family as a housekeeper/maid, and she was the same age as the now-dead older daughter, so not surprisingly, she became best friends with that girl.
(As an aside, the SF detective is African-American, as is the lead FBI agent, while the rich family is white. The show doesn't get in your face about the race relations, which I like, but I also don't think it's coincidental. There's a degree of subtlety here that works.)
Okay, so lead FBI agent talks SF detective into coming back to New York to go undercover and infiltrate the rich family. The dead daughter's funeral is the perfect entry point, and the detective's cover story is that she just got out of an abusive marriage and is looking for a new start. The dead daughter's dad shows warm feelings toward her and invites her to stay with the family for as long as she needs, and then hires her as an administrative assistant. However, some other family members are suspicious of her.
Haven't these people heard of Google? It's not like the SF detective can use a fake name; she has to be herself to be able to infiltrate the family. Yet, she was also using her real name with the SFPD. So if I were suspicious of her, after her 17 year absence, the first thing I would do is put her name in Google and see what pops up. I've got to think there would be some news stories/items about her as a police detective!!
For fairly obvious reasons, I've got Trevor Aaronson's The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism on my to-be-read list, notwithstanding this fairly withering review by Ali Soufan, a former FBI Special Agent and one of the primary interrogators of al Qaeda's Abu Zubaydah, among other detainees. The success that Soufan had in eliciting useful information through traditional FBI rapport-building interrogation is recounted in a number of sources, including his own book and Kurt Eichenwald's 500 Days.
An impartial review of the FBI's efforts to fight terrorism after 9/11 would give it high marks overall. It gets hundreds of leads daily, and it has a duty to check them all out, no matter how dismissible they appear. The Iranian regime's 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., which was uncovered thanks to a Drug Enforcement Administration informant, is a reminder of why. Unfortunately Mr. Aaronson fails to appreciate this, and instead uses most of his pages to accuse the FBI of entrapment. Tellingly, he notes toward the end that "I am frequently asked why entrapment has never been an effective defense in the terrorism cases. I've struggled with the answer to this question." The answer, of course, is that the evidence shows that these were real threats to the U.S., and we are fortunate that the FBI intercepted them.
I've got a new post up on the Huffington Post about the Parrish Bennette Jr. case here in Portland, and specifically, about how the defense lawyers kept the location of the victim's body secret for four months while representing their client.
The Wall Street Journal has a story about how some high school swim teams in the Denver area are having to compete against Regis Jesuit High, which happens to have 5-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin on its team:
In recent memory, no one as accomplished as Franklin has ever followed up on Olympic domination by returning to high school to lap ordinary 14-year-old freshmen. What made this possible was her decision last year to forgo an estimated $3 million a year in endorsements to remain amateur, a choice that suggested that no amount of money could corrupt her pursuit of an ordinary adolescence.
Well, I can imagine that, if I were a high school swimmer, it would kind of suck to have to swim against Franklin. But what struck me about the story is how the loudest complaints seem to be coming from Cherry Creek High School, which the WSJ described as the "New York Yankees of Colorado girls' swimming." One of the complainants who previously swam at Cherry Creek was Colorado's best female swimmer ever, after Franklin.
The story goes on to note:
Franklin also cost Cherry Creek a 27th title in 2011. "If they didn't have her, they had no chance of winning," said Cherry Creek coach Eric Craven.
I don't know, that just sounds pretty whiny to me. Basically, Cherry Creek has stomped on its opponents, and they haven't done well against Regis Jesuit these past few years because of Franklin. Why is that any more unfair than Cherry Creek's long history of dominance? I mean, it would be one thing if Regis Jesuit kept having Franklin swim against clearly inferior teams, just to run up the score, if you will. But in fact, Franklin is swimming the minimum number of meets to qualify for state championships. It just happens that one of those two meets is against Cherry Creek. Too bad for Cherry Creek, but don't we teach our kids to pick on someone their own size?
Here we are, more than ten years after the initial passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, and Hollywood keeps (inaccurately) flogging it as the source of authority for everything bad about the war on terrorism. I actually like ABC's "Scandal" quite a bit, but it falls into the same predictable trap of having bad government agents justify kidnapping, detaining, and torturing an American citizen under the PATRIOT Act.
Um, no. The PATRIOT Act does have a provision for detaining suspected terrorists without charges, but only aliens, not citizens; and it says nothing about torturing those detainees. Moreover, I don't think this provision has ever actually been used, since Guantanamo detention has been justified under the President's Commander-in-Chief powers.
Now, one of the government baddies does say that the citizen detainee is an "enemy combatant," which is closer to the mark, but that just raises the question of why the writers/producers felt it necessary to invoke the PATRIOT Act?
Jury selection started today in the Portland bomb sting plot. KGW (the local NBC affiliate) caught up with one juror who was dismissed for cause because he didn't think he could keep an open mind, not after a good friend of his was one of the four men killed in the Benghazi (Libya) attack last year.
KGW also ran a preview story last night, including a short soundbite from me about how this might be the best opportunity for the entrapment defense to work in a post-9/11 terrorism case.