A Case Study In FBI Investigations

These are the costs of being labeled a suspect, or, almost as bad, a person of interest by the FBI:

When Perry Mikesell, a microbiologist in Ohio, came under suspicion as the anthrax attacker, he began drinking heavily, family members say, and soon died. After a doctor in New York drew the interest of the F.B.I., his marriage fell apart and his practice suffered, his lawyer says. And after two Pakistani brothers in Pennsylvania were briefly under scrutiny, they eventually had to leave the country to find work.

Not to mention Steven Hatfill. Maybe Bruce Ivins had something to do with the mailing of anthrax, although the lack of evidence that he was in Princeton when the letters were mailed is a glaring hole in the FBI's theory. [more ...]

[A]long the way, scores of others — terrorists, foreigners, academic researchers, biowarfare specialists and an elite group of Army scientists working behind high fences and barbed wire — drew the interest of the investigators. For some of them the cost was high: lost jobs, canceled visas, broken marriages, frayed friendships.

The director of the FBI's section on domestic terrorism says that investigations are "not always pretty."

"You try not to step on people’s toes, but sometimes it happens.”

It happens when you care more about solving the crime than about the lives you destroy in the process. Here's an example:

Early on, with more zeal than solid information, agents turned on three Pakistani-born city officials in Chester, Pa. One, Dr. Irshad Shaikh, was the health commissioner; his brother, Dr. Masood Shaikh, ran the lead-abatement program. The third, Asif Kazi, was then an accountant in the finance department.

Mr. Kazi was sitting in his City Hall office one day in November 2001 when F.B.I. agents burst in and began a barrage of questions. “It was really scary,” Mr. Kazi recalled in an interview last week. “It was: ‘What do you think of 9/11? What do know about anthrax?’"

Across town, an agent pointed a gun through an open window at Mr. Kazi’s home while others knocked down the front door as his wife was cooking in the kitchen. At the Shaikh brothers’ house, agents in bioprotection suits began hunting for germ-making equipment and carted away computers.

None of the three men had ever worked with anthrax. But for days, they were on national television as footage of the searches ran on a video loop and news announcers wondered aloud if they were the killers.

The result of the FBI's heavy-handed investigation:

The Shaikhs’ path to citizenship was disrupted, their visas ran out and both had to find work abroad, Mr. Kazi said. Mr. Kazi, already a citizen, was searched and interrogated for as long as two hours every time he traveled back from visiting his brother in Canada. Only about a year ago was his name removed from a watch list, allowing him to travel freely.

And then there's this:

Another casualty was Kenneth M. Berry, an emergency room physician with a strong interest in bioterrorism threats. In August 2004, agents raided his colonial-style home and his former apartment in Wellsville, a village in western New York, as well as his parents’ beach house on the Jersey Shore. ... “He was devastated,” Dr. Berry’s lawyer at the time, Clifford E. Lazzaro, said in an interview. “They destroyed his marriage and destroyed him professionally for a time.”

If Ivins' suicide is proof of his guilt, what should we make of Mikesell's reaction to being regarded as a suspect?

In 2002, Mr. Mikesell came under F.B.I. scrutiny, officials familiar with the case said. He began drinking heavily — a fifth of hard liquor a day toward the end, a family member said. “It was a shock that all of a sudden he’s a raging alcoholic,” recalled the relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of family sensitivities.

This is the FBI's response to the agency's heavy-handed tactics:

[T]hey reject criticism from lawmakers and others about the conduct of the investigation and express no regret about those who were caught up in it.

FBI director Robert Mueller said Friday:

“I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation,” he told reporters. It is erroneous, he added, “to say there were mistakes.”

Of course not. Because the FBI cares about clearing the case, not about whether they got the right guy, or destroy innocent lives in the process.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Isn't this the kind of problem (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 12:12:54 AM EST
    one expects to find in a police state? Look at what we've done to ourselves.

    stasi (none / 0) (#4)
    by wendymae on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 09:09:53 AM EST
    last night i was watching the german film, The Lives of Others,  which takes place in 1984 east germany, and i just kept thinking about this case and our surveillance society.  we have our own stasi now, and i fear it's not going away.

    I wonder.... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by kdog on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 10:05:24 AM EST
    if it's possible to analyze how many lives have been destroyed by the FBI in their history, or innocent men harassed vs. how many lives saved or "real" criminals caught.

    I have a hunch we'd be none too pleased with the results of such a study.

    And there's some little jerk in the FBI
    Keepin' papers on me six feet high
    It gets me down

    Fingerprint File, Rolling Stones

    merely another glaring example (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 12:15:38 AM EST
    of "law enforcement gone wild!". it's time director meuller was replaced, by someone with at least a passing awareness of the constitution.

    Tchris, nobody (none / 0) (#3)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 08:52:13 AM EST
    that I'm aware of, even in comments, has said that Dr. Ivins's suicide is "proof" of his guilt.

    And if there's no evidence he was in NJ the day the letters were mailed, there's apparently also no proof that he wasn't, unlike a number of other top suspects.

    Don't we have the concept of alibi in our system?  Dr. Ivins apparently had no alibi.  Lots of people have been convicted of lots of things without evidence they were at the scene of the crime but had no alibi to prove that they couldn't have been.

    Let's not go overboard here.

    Let's remember (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by TChris on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 12:33:38 PM EST
    that the burden of proof is on the government, not the defense.  If the case had gone to trial, Ivins had no obligation to present alibi evidence, and every right to point to the absence of proof that he mailed the letters.  The argument that "he can't prove he wasn't there" shifts the burden of proof to Ivins.  No defendant has to prove innocence in this country.

    I'd appreciate it if (none / 0) (#8)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 01:03:32 PM EST
    you wouldn't put words in my mouth, TChris.

    Obviously, there needs to be a whole lot more evidence than we've seen so far to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ivins did the deed.

    But the fact that the government can't "prove" he was in NJ means absolutely nothing, either legally or informally here, since he can't prove he was somewhere else.  The case would have to rest on other factors.

    In no way does that observation "shift the burden of proof" to Ivins.


    The MCM and the FBI both seem to be regarding (none / 0) (#7)
    by jawbone on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 01:03:24 PM EST
    his suicide as part of the circumstantial evidence of his guilt. It has a part in the overall narrative the FBI is building, with the aid of the nonskeptical MCM*, of a mad scientist.

    This is pretty scary stuff, seen all together. I knew in detail about Hatfill, recall reading about the ER physician, but did not know about he three brothers.  Oh, my.

    What hath BuchCo wrought? BushCo needed OBL's terror attack to do this kind of thing--if OBL hadn't existed, maybe Cheney would have done a Northwoods type thing to create the conditions for our own form of a police state.

    I feel certain this is part of a coverup--it's just too pat and the certainty the FBI expresses about Ivins is kind of mindboggling to me, after all the same certainty expressed about Hatfill.

    Maybe it was a Northwoods type thing....

    *MCM--Mainstream Corporate Media