Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

But one former prosecutor noted, "there isn't a helluva lot of contact with the Eastern District of Virginia" charged in the indictment. That is, except for the attack on the Pentagon, all of the activity charged occurs elsewhere. Most of the defendant's activities took place in Oklahoma and Minnesota.

This former official predicted that the very first defense motion to be filed will be for a change of venue — although they'll probably lose, because, remember, the government always wins in Virginia.

If Moussaoui had been charged with a substantive crime it would have been more difficult to bring the indictment in Virginia. But instead he was charged with six different conspiracy counts — conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, conspiracy to destroy aircraft, conspiracy to murder U.S. employees, etc. — rather than the actual acts.

With conspiracy crimes the government need only prove the defendant was part of the scheme and that at least one conspirator committed an overt act in Virginia.

Counter-Terrorism Today

The way the FBI conducts terrorism investigations recently was attacked from two almost opposite directions. It's enough to make you think they must be doing something right.

First there was a long piece in the Washington Post that quoted quite a few former FBI senior officials expressing concern and even harsh criticism of the putative new push to prevent terrorist acts by rounding up suspects before they have a chance to act — as opposed to the traditional way of monitoring and infiltrating cells during long-term investigations that eventually result in the rolling up of an entire operation.

Because of the new emphasis on prevention, the supposition underlying the article is that long-term investigations are a thing of the past, replaced by an "aggressive FBI dragnet" championed by the Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The Post says the former officials worry "the Ashcroft plan will inevitably force the bureau to close terrorism investigations prematurely, before agents can identify all members of a terrorist cell. They said the Justice Department is resurrecting tactics the government rejected in the late 1970s because they did not prevent terrorism and led to abuses of civil liberties."

Former Executive Assistant Director Buck Revell is quoted saying, "Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau." Even former Director William Webster weighs in, saying the policy of preemptive detentions "carries a lot of risk with it. You may interrupt something, but you may not be able to bring it down. You may not be able to stop what is going on."

Several other former executives are quoted by name expressing reservations, although at least two of them, including Revell, later complained they had been (you guessed it) quoted out of context.

It's true Ashcroft has stated quite firmly several times since Sept. 11 that he will risk compromising an investigation or prosecution in order to prevent another act of terrorism. But some current FBI officials think the "formers" who spoke to the Post were either taken out of context or are too removed from the current scene to understand what's really going on.

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