Confirmed: Wacky Biz Deals in CLT
As predicted a week ago, the local arm of North Carolina’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency was deeply involved in tipping off the FBI in the corruption case the Bureau lodged against Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon. And since Cannon’s resignation, the extent of the federal investigation has begun to become apparent.
Already we have an interesting cameo in the person of NYC hotelier and self-promotion master George Dfouni. Dfouni is part of the ownership group of a Charlotte hotel that badly needed an alcohol permit. Cannon’s parking company has a contract with the hotel to manage parking at the site. A hotel rep, Larry Parks, contributed $1250 to Cannon’s city council campaign and, according to an ALE agent, claimed he could get the hotel’s alcohol permit approved via his influence over the local alcohol licensing board.
Dfouni is cutting Parks loose on that one:
Hotel co-owner Dfouni said he knows Cannon and has met him several times, but never sought influence from him. He said he dealt with Jeff Feemster, E-Z Parking’s co-president, when dealing with parking, not Cannon.
“I didn’t ask for favors,” he said. “What do I need the mayor for, with all due respect to the mayor?” …
Dfouni said he was surprised to hear that Parks allegedly told people he could influence the ABC. He said Parks was an architectural consultant.
“This is news to me,” he said. “I’m actually surprised by this. … He was introduced to me as somebody local who knows a lot of architects. He was like a middleman between me and contractors. I really don’t deal with Larry that much.”
Dfouni has much better things to do, you see — like dabble with running for president of Lebanon after a whirlwind trip to Beirut, London, and Europe. But instead of running himself Dfouni, whom the Lebanese press describes as “known for his friendship with President Barack Obama,” has thrown his support behind former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud.
Dfouni, recall, became involved with the Charlotte property following the spectacular flame out of another NYC hotel magnate, Charles Dayan and his ownership group.
Charlotte is finally truly world-class.
Charlotte’s Web of Corruption
As I have said previously, any honest observer of Charlotte politics and culture over the past 25 years was surprised by the federal arrest of Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on bribery charges — but not shocked. Not given the way the city operated for decades via wink-and-nod, bait-and-switch, and insider self-dealing.
In a way, you almost feel sorry for Cannon. He was a lowly parking lot operator and as such without easy access to connected windfalls available to CLT pols who had law firms, construction companies, or other professional service cut-outs. Maybe a bribe-funded feminine hygiene product really was the best get-rich quick scheme he could come up with. But to the question of the day: What comes next?
First, let’s backfill some sloppy assumptions afoot in the matter. Because the indictment sources the investigation to a tip from “local law enforcement” operating undercover in 2010, some outlets have taken that to mean Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Not so fast.
By “local law enforcement” the feds could mean any local arm of law enforcement. And the designation of “undercover” is slippery as well. It could just mean an entity that sometimes operates undercover, so as to wall-off the source from disclosure. Also, the more you know about how law enforcement typically works in Charlotte, the less it seems like CMPD provided the initial tip.
For one, the only undercover ops I ever knew CMPD to undertake involved either drugs or prostitution. Now it is possible one of those operations stumbled on an elaborate development and permitting corruption scheme located at the GovCenter, but that suggests truly epic Sharky’s Machine scale illegality that is just not reflected in the Cannon criminal complaint.
Besides, the mention of alcohol permits in the complaint should direct our attention to the local arm of the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency. While CMPD conducts background checks on permit applicants on behalf of city officials who then recommend up or down on permits to the county arm of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control commission — North Carolina has deliberately made the distribution and sale of alcohol as complicated as possible — it is ALE that is charged with the day-to-day enforcement of liquor laws at licensed operators. What’s more, ALE does deploy plain-clothes “undercover” agents in a variety of sting ops, from underage sales to over-serving to after-hours operation.
Further, CMPD and ALE have not always had the best working relationship, with CMPD more interested in tracking down the sale of heroin and other drugs at bars and restaurants than in policing every dot of the state’s arcane alcohol code. This conflict reached its zenith several years ago with ALE attempting to shut down bars in which CMPD had carefully placed informants among the kitchen staff in an attempt to get a handle on the city’s rampant black tar heroin trade.
Given the division of labor and history between the two institutions, this scenario suggests itself: ALE operatives get wind of a current or prospective permit holder boasting of having an in with city officials and/or CMPD due to bribes. Without any jurisdiction to investigate such a claim, ALE must turn it over to another investigative agency. Presumably the initial allegation involved an out-of-state, multi-state current or possible permit holder, making it a federal matter.
This scenario also comports with the language in the FBI complaint stating that “other individuals” were probed prior to the investigation landing on Cannon. Had CMPD initiated the investigation, it would have done both an internal clearance of its own officers and that of any non-elected city personnel. Instead, it certainly sounds like the FBI was on the case from the start. And that suggests to me ALE called them in. We may never know.
Meanwhile, only insular, proud Charlotte could have produced a legitimately shocking follow-up to Cannon’s arrest — a serial attempt at witness tampering by Charlotte City manager Ron Carlee.
…Carlee said he met with city executives Thursday morning, including those in the planning and zoning departments. He said they told him the city wasn’t a “pay-to-play environment” and Carlee said Charlotte is “doing things right.” …
In a news conference Thursday, Carlee tried to downplay Cannon’s ability to corrupt city government, saying much of the mayor’s job is ceremonial and that there are enough checks and balances to limit one person’s power.
Carlee said Cannon’s arrest wouldn’t impact the city’s quest to secure federal funding to build a streetcar or keep control of the airport.
“(The mayor) doesn’t have operational responsibility for the airport or transit,” Carlee said. “It can’t be done by the mayor, it’s done by the council. The mayor is an important position, has a bully pulpit, but he doesn’t have operational control.” …
The city’s zoning process has several steps that would make it difficult for one person to advance a project, Carlee said.
Just brazen. If anyone asks, just say the mayor had no influence and you did things by the book.
But that is how Charlotte rolls. Has rolled. Straight into a ditch. What comes next?
More of the same.
The Tsarnaevs and the CIA (Part II)
In Part I we looked at domestic anomalies in the official account of the Tsarnaevs’ activities pre-bombing. Now we turn to overseas.
The Globe duplicates reports that immediately after the Waltham murders, Tamerlan announced to friends he was going to Dagestan.
Think about this for a minute. A man who before bloody murders in his close circle of friends had casually mentioned the FBI had him on a terror-watch list, weeks after the crime says that heading to a foreign hotspot of strife is next on his to-do list.
Then Tamerlan does it. By January 2012 he is in Dagestan. How did he pay for it? An unemployed father of a young daughter, his wife working as an in-home aide to be able to afford an 800-square foot apartment, up and decamps half a world away. The Globe does not wonder about this.
Here we must conjecture that the paper was told off-the-record by US investigators that they believe Tamerlan paid for the trip with proceeds from robbing the Waltham victims — even though $5000 in cash was left in the apartment, but that the claim could not be reported. Presumably if the Globe had been told or turned up evidence that Jahar’s own drug-dealing proceeds funded his brother’s trip to Dagestan, the paper would have reported that. But in either case, our thesis that — at the time — the Tsarnaevs were operating under a federal halo remains intact.
More so by the simple fact that Tamerlan was allowed to go to Dagestan. Knowing what we now know about federal spying programs in the wake of Snowden documents, it is simply inconceivable that the US security state did not know that FBI-interviewee Tamerlan was on his way to a locale inflamed with Islamic radicalism.
From here the Globe narrative becomes fascinating:
Tamerlan fell in with members of the Union of the Just, a group that campaigns against human rights violations against Muslims, and is led by a third cousin on his mother’s side, Magomed Kartashov. Some of its members follow a strict interpretation of Islam, and believe in the establishment of an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia religious law that would span the Caucasus. They are sharply critical of US interventions in Muslim countries, believe the US government condones the burning of Korans, and have had run-ins with Russian authorities — but they do not openly espouse violence. Tamerlan, they say, arrived with a lot of questions about Islam and wanted to learn how to better express his faith.
“He was at the beginning of his path. He was mostly a listener, a searcher, he was looking for answers,” said Mukhamad Magomedov, deputy leader of the group.
Tamerlan spent a lot of time hanging with the Union of the Just members, praying with them and studying the Koran. Also, playing soccer and fooling around. Some of his new friends have pictures of Tamerlan at a Caspian Sea beach, playfully buried in the sand, and attending a wedding. They gave him a second name, Muaz, after an early Islamic scholar, a name he would later use for his YouTube account.
But if Tamerlan was hoping to fit in with Muslims in Dagestan, he did not succeed. Part of it was, yet again, his curious appearance. He wore a long shirt of the type favored by Pakistanis, according to his friends there. He combed his hair with olive oil and darkened his eyes with kohl shadow, practices followed by devout Sunnis in some cultures, but not in Dagestan. Local young Muslims wear track suits and T-shirts and are distinguishable only by their long beards.
Tamerlan’s demeanor differed in other ways as well. Speaking in English-inflected Russian, he would smile broadly and chat up strangers, neither of which are common acts on the streets of Dagestan. He also made a show of giving money to beggars on the street, something rarely done by locals.
“What gave him away was his appearance,” Magomedov said. “He didn’t try to adapt.”
Tamerlan also began praying at a mosque attended by Salafi Muslims, a strict, orthodox Sunni sect whose members, authorities believe, often aid the armed insurgency.
There, Russian authorities say, he met with members of the insurgency.
Such contact, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, was Tamerlan’s real motive in coming to Dagestan. The FSB account has it that Tamerlan’s name came up during the interrogation of a Canadian national named William Plotnikov, who was suspected of being a member of the underground. Investigators also maintain that Plotnikov and Tamerlan communicated via an Internet site for Muslims. This version of events has it that the bombings could have been prevented had US intelligence heeded warnings the Russians sent US authorities about Tamerlan in 2011 and 2012.
Russian authorities have said that Tamerlan, possibly through Plotnikov, made contact in Dagestan with an alleged recruiter for the underground named Makhmud Mansur Nidal, who was killed in a firefight with security forces in May 2012. Plotnikov was killed in a counterterrorist raid in July, days before Tamerlan left Dagestan and returned to the United States.
The common-sense reading of this account supports the theory that a clumsy, unschooled Tamerlan was sent to Dagestan by the US security state to infiltrate radical Islamic groups — and that the Russians cleaned up behind him as he went. Then, either because his mission was over, or because he feared he was next — he bolted back to the US. And was allowed back in.
Yet the Globe takes pains to shoot down its own reporting which supports this theory. Instead of ruminating on what this series of events suggests, the paper calls the timeline’s veracity into question:
But several observers have raised doubts about the FSB version. They say it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Tamerlan to have met with members of the underground without drawing attention. And if the FSB already suspected Tamerlan of seeking such contacts, they would ordinarily have been watching him very closely, said Andrei Soldatov, a leading Russian analyst of the FSB.
“Knowing of Tamerlan’s suspicious contacts in Dagestan in 2012 and having suspected him as early as 2011, it is unclear what prevented the FSB from seizing him when he was leaving Russia,” Soldatov said.
Andrei Soldatov is an interesting choice to question this narrative. Soldatov is an implacable foe of Russian security services, no doubt. Pre-Snowden Soldatov warned of Russia’s cyberwar capabilities, but post-Snowden flipped to downplaying the threat posed by the NSA doing the exact same thing.
And in April, Soldatov penned a column for the The Moscow Times that was an odd split-the-difference account of the Boston bombing which accused the FSB of doing nothing in response to Tamerlan’s trip to Dagestan — without mentioning the Islamic radicals who were dropping dead as Tamerlan tried to meet them!
The column concluded with:
But for some reason, the FBI did not pick up on any of these signals and failed to place the Tsarnaev brothers under close surveillance during the two years before they committed the Boston attack. Hopefully, the U.S. investigation into the FBI’s failures will shed more light on why it dropped the ball.
Oh, well. For some reason.
But back to Soldatov’s assertion that the FSB account of events in Dagestan is suspect because the Russians did not pick up Tamerlan. Here is what Soldatov told the NYT about the Ryan Fogle incident in May 2013, involving a US embassy employee caught in an apparent FSB spy sting:
Had the Russians viewed Mr. Fogle as a serious threat, Mr. Soldatov and other intelligence experts said, they most likely would have stepped back and let his apparent recruitment effort continue, and perhaps even led him to believe that he had successfully enlisted a double agent, pocketing the money while trying to learn more about the Americans’ interests.
Here in the case of Fogle, Soldatov argues that serious threats are not picked up by the FSB, but are given run to gather additional intelligence — and presumably roll up threatening networks. Or, precisely what it appears the FSB did in response to Tamerlan’s Dagestan adventure the year prior.
But impeaching Soldatov’s indictment of the FSB account of Tamerlan is not enough to show that US security services knew about and to some extent directed Tamerlan’s movements during his Dagestan excursion. The following passage comes very close, however:
If US investigators suspected that Tamerlan had actually met with insurgents, Magomedov and other members of the Union of the Just said, they never brought it up when they interviewed Tamerlan’s friends in Dagestan in June. The friends said they were never asked about Nidal or Plotnikov. This claim is supported by a three-hour recording of an interview by two FBI agents with one of Tamerlan’s friends in June, which the Globe was able to listen to. The names never come up.
Perhaps the names did not come up because the US already knew who Tamerlan had met with — and why. And asking about these meetings may have spun out in uncontrollable and unwanted ways. With this credulous sidestep the Globe pushes the theory that the Tsarnaevs were a wholly disconnected and domestic phenomenon — a theory that is totally at odds with the American state’s de facto stance in its Global War on Terror.
Virtually everything the US security state does today is based on the theory that there exists a global conspiracy to do harm to American citizens. Yet when confronted with the reality of a deadly attack on US soil, the official narrative becomes – with a big assist from the Globe — just a couple of misfit brothers out to do bad. Pay no attention to that trip to Dagestan — we didn’t even ask questions about potential radical associates there — might as well have been an interview session in Omaha or Detroit.
What would make these guys go bad? We have no idea.
Here is an idea.
Following the FSB tip-off, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan in January 2011. In addition, a deep probe of his online activities was doubtless undertaken. His family’s financial struggles would have been noted, as well as his high-performing high school student younger brother who, unlike Tamerlan possessed a green card. Although both brothers had been granted asylum in the US, they had different immigration status. Tamerlan still traveled on his Russian passport and would renew it during his trip to Dagestan, making him potentially a valuable asset going forward. Jahar, on the other hand, would be granted his citizenship in September 2012, making the brothers a very flexible yet vulnerable combo in terms of intelligence potential.
Both brothers applied for citizenship, Tamerlan doing so shortly after he returned from Dagestan and almost immediately after Jahar got his application approved after a standard Department of Homeland Security background check – and interesting flurry of activity to say the least. However, DHS flagged Tamerlan’s application for precisely that FBI interview with him in January 2011 that found him to be no threat. Tamerlan was in limbo. And perhaps feeling double-crossed.
If he had undertaken the trip to Dagestan at the behest of federal operatives, with the implication being that his US citizenship would be his reward upon his return, Tamerlan would be furious over this turn of events. Perhaps more so if it was relayed to him that his federal contacts wanted him to make another foray overseas, with his freshly renewed Russian passport providing the means.
By November 2012 Tamerlan was making himself known by loudly denouncing the West in Muslim circles in Cambridge. Perhaps these outbursts were an honest reflection of his feelings – or an attempt to generate sufficient backstory for another foreign adventure. Meanwhile, Jahar was failing out of school and not even his drug profits could keep him from falling thousands of dollars in debt, putting him squarely in the category of desperate as well. The consensus reportage is that by February 2013 the brothers had started down their bomb plot path.
The key period then becomes December 2012 into January 2013. Were the two Chechen brothers presented with final recruitment offer – or demand – from US security services? Conversely, were they simply ignored – all contact dropped after Tamerlan’s return from his Dagestan misadventure in August 2012, with a final snub being the arrest of their sister Bella in New Jersey on marijuana distribution charges – in December 2012?
Jahar’s trial might begin to answer some of these questions. But the first step is knowing the definitive history of the House of Tsarnaev has yet to be written.
Post-Script will examine some other odd aspects of the official account, which taken together, do not seem to point in any particular direction, but suggest much is still being kept secret by government officials.
The Tsarnaevs and the CIA (Part I)
Last weekend The Boston Globe published an exhaustive and definitive backgrounder on the Tsarnaev brothers. Unfortunately, instead of dispelling the notion that one or both of the brothers had been in heretofore unknown contact with elements of the US national security state prior to the Boston bombing, the detailed reporting of “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev” only makes it seem more likely that the Tsarnaevs were indeed targets for recruitment by US intelligence.
At the outset, let me be clear that I am not making a “false flag” claim. Such a thing strikes me as offensively stupid given the available evidence. What I am suggesting is that the official narrative is full of massive gaps that can only be satisfactorily explained by either gross incompetence — or the existence of an embarrassing prior relationship between the Tsarnaevs and the federal government that federal officials are actively trying to keep secret.
Central to the lingering mystery around the Tsarnaevs is the September 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass. that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was posthumously tied to by federal prosecutors. Friends of the victims have reported a strange reluctance on the part of local police to interview Tsarnaev in connection with the killings in the immediate aftermath of the crime, despite prompts from them to explore him as a suspect. Oddly, the new Globe account does not mention this, despite being the source of some of the reporting on this fact.
Instead what the Globe gives us is this:
Prosecutors, in a recent court filing, said that a friend of Tamerlan had implicated him even more directly, though they offered little detail about what his role or motive might have been. The friend, Ibrahim Todashev, was shot dead by the FBI in Florida in May. Nothing else has been revealed to date, or turned up during the Globe examination of the case, to associate Tamerlan, at this time, with violent crime or drug dealers. It is a black hole in his biography.
All right — what can account for this black hole? More precisely, what can account for police disinterest in a person of interest, as described by the victims’ friends, in the wake of a brutal murder, then the implication of Tamerlan’s involvement in that crime in the most bizarre circumstances imaginable (a complete mystery in its own right), and then the complete absence of additional information on the subject despite a five-month investigation by a dedicated group of reporters?
If Tamerlan had been ID’d by the FBI and/or the CIA as a potential counter-terror asset following the FBI’s interview of him and his supposed placement on a “terror watch” list earlier in 2011, we would have an answer that fits all these circumstances.
Local police would have been waved off from Tamerlan as either a confidential informant in place or a potential one for the feds. In short, the FBI would have indicated that Tamerlan is “good” by some informal means, an absolutely routine practice in an American law enforcement system heavily dependent on informants for convictions. Waltham investigators, in turn, would have welcomed information that removed another name from their investigative hopper, particularly if the victims’ friends had unilaterally dropped that name on their desks.
This supposition requires no speculation on Tamerlan’s level of involvement in the murders — if any. We merely must understand that had he been an asset or a potential one, the federal security apparatus would have moved to protect him after the murders.
But after the Boston bombings and Tamerlan’s death, the needs of state actors would have flipped vis-a-vis Tamerlan. Then it would be expedient to blame the Waltham murders on Tamerlan, particularly if federal officials had waved locals off of him and the feds believed that he might have had some knowledge of the crime, if not involvement. If as a federal official you can source Tamerlan’s connection to a friend you are threatening with deportation, that can work to hide your embarrassing association. However, whether the alleged connection to those murders can withstand the death of that friend at the hands of an alleged FBI agent, remains to be seen. Presumably that is why the FBI has gone completely dark on the Todashev incident after seven months of promising a full account.
And once that lightning bolt strikes during an interrogation in Orlando, the next move is obvious: sanitation. Clean up everything around the Waltham case with interviews, threats, deportations, threats of deportations, plea deals — whatever it takes. Create a black hole around the topic for anyone who comes looking.
However, these events can also be explained by serial incompetence, not exactly unheard of in the world of government work. Does anything else illuminated by the Globe’s report suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers were operating with federal forbearance?
From the Globe’s account of the younger brother’s life in 2011 and early 2012:
Such confrontations with local and campus police were hardly rare. Friends said such close calls happened as often as twice a month over issues such as speeding, raucous partying, and possession of alcohol or drugs.
With Jahar as the designated spokesman with police, however, they never got into trouble, according to several friends.
“He’s articulate. He can look like a privileged white kid from the west,” said a longtime friend, referring to the more-affluent west side of Cambridge compared to the more working-class east side where Jahar lived.
Steve said Jahar was similarly spared punishment after he got into a physical altercation at an upper-class dorm party at UMass Dartmouth, which sent the male victim to the hospital for treatment. He said Jahar was questioned by someone at the school, but never got written up. Indeed, campus officials told the Globe Jahar had a clean record with them.
And despite his daring driving habits, Jahar was only cited once, in 2011, for ignoring a traffic sign. He later went to a Cambridge court to appeal the ticket. The official waived the $20 fine and checked the box for “NR” — meaning “not responsible.” A college kid headed for trouble, bigger trouble than anyone could imagine, he was never held to account. If he acted at times like he never would be, he had reason.
And with that florid language the Globe walks away from exploring exactly why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev behaved like he was untouchable. This after documenting a couple years Jahar spent not just using drugs, but dealing drugs out in the open, funding a lavish lifestyle, and seeming to friends to be without a care in the world. And he got away with it because he was a handsome, Western-looking guy? Or because his big brother — and possibly Jahar himself — were viewed as potential intelligence assets by federal authorities?
Still, we have to admit that Jahar’s legal Teflon, like Tamerlan’s invisibility after the Waltham murders, could also be the product of overworked and incompetent law enforcement. However, it is a third confounding response to the Brothers Tsarnaev on the part of security officials in the US — this time twined with a curious reaction from Russia — that I believe tips the scales to strongly suggest that the US government did more than close the book on Tamerlan as a possible terrorist in 2011.
We will examine that aspect of the story in Part II.
The trouble with an all powerful secret police in the hands of fanatics, or of anybody, is that once it gets started there’s no stopping it until it has corrupted the whole body politic.