Essay: The “Perception of Cover-up”

The “Perception of Cover-up”
by Michael Levine

On April 1, 1992,  a House committee chaired by Congressman John Conyers Jr., declared that U.S. Customs and other Federal law enforcement agencies are poorly trained, badly supervised and that there is a “perception of cover-up” for their misdeeds.[1] (emphasis mine).  At about midnight,  August 25,  1992, just four months after those hearings, and a few days after the shooting of White Sepratist Randy Weaver’s wife and child by the FBI agents,    Customs, DEA, BATF and Border Patrol agents launched a joint, military style invasion of the San Diego home of Mr. Donald Carlson, a 41 year old, computer company executive.  The feds had a search warrant indicating that they expected to find 5,000 pounds of cocaine (having a street value of roughly $100 million),  and four heavily armed Colombian drug dealers hiding in Mr. Carlson’s garage.

The invasion was a two-pronged assault.    A squad of men crashed through the front door of the up-scale, suburban home tossing a stun grenade while another squad invaded the rear through a garage.   Mr. Carlson, awakened out of a sound sleep and believing his home was being invaded by a gang of armed thugs,  called 911 for help and then grabbed a legally owned pistol to defend himself.   One of the invading feds did a Rambo-roll across his foyer,  firing from 14 to 20 rounds from a sub-machine gun and hitting everything in the room but Mr. Carlson.  The evidence indicates that he fired before Mr. Carlson did.    Mr. Carlson then retreated to his bedroom where he was shot three times by a DEA agent and a Customs agent firing handguns—as the evidence indicates—after he had discarded his gun.

When the smoke cleared, not a nanogram of  an illegal drug was found.   An investigation that should have been done long before the raid quickly and easily revealed that Mr. Carlson was the prototypical good citizen.  A man who did not speak enough Spanish to order Arroz con Pollo without making it sound like the game played on horseback, no less be a member of a Colombian drug cartel.

Despite the best efforts of the Rambo-rolling, grenade tossing Feds,   Mr. Carlson survived life-threatening wounds to sue the government.  I was retained by his attorney, Jeremiah Coughlin,  as a consultant.   I was ideally qualified for the job having served, during my twenty-five year career in Federal law enforcement, with three of the agencies involved in the incident—DEA, Customs and BATF.   I served sixteen of my seventeen years in DEA in supervisory positions, including two years as an Inspector of Operations, doing for DEA exactly what I would be doing for Mr. Carlson and his attorneys—evaluating the performance of agents during a drug trafficking investigation.

As a consultant I was furnished with several thousand pages of government reports detailing the actions of the agents and prosecutors in their own words.  The reports revealed that for an incredible,  two month period of time leading up to Mr. Carlson’s shooting,  a street-level, criminal informant/conman with little or no money or resources,  a man who spoke little or no Spanish and had a difficult time putting together an intelligible sentence in English, a man whom even the telephone company refused to trust with a telephone—the agents had to lend him one of their cellular phones—had convinced the feds that he was a trusted member of a Colombian drug cartel smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine into the U.S.  each month and that, based on his almost comically unbelievable and uncorroborated story,  the agents had not only gunned down Mr. Carlson, but had implicated dozens of innocent citizens in government files and computers as “drug traffickers” associated with a Colombian drug ring that didn’t even exist.

In my continued review of the government’s own reports I noted numerous indications that the agents and prosecutors had either intentionally disregarded overwhelming evidence that the informant was a liar right from the git-go,  and described him as a “reliable informant” on 5 Federal search warrants, or were so inept,  poorly trained and/or badly supervised (as Congressman Conyers has already pointed out) that they didn’t recognize that evidence.  I noted numerous instances of directly contradictory statements made by agents, police and the prosecutor indicating false official statements—a felony violation of Title 18, Section 1001.   I also noted in excess of one hundred violations of DEA and Customs regulations by the investigating agents, their supervisors and top level Justice and Treasury Department managers,  regulations  the violation of which were tantamount to a reckless disregard of not only Federal law, state law and the Constitution, but a screaming affront to Common Sense.

What was even more damaging—if this is possible—were the numerous indications I found and noted in my reports,   that the subsequent internal affairs investigations were easily recognizable attempts at covering up the misdeeds and crimes committed by these agents and supervisors .

Since this shooting I have been contacted, personally,  by Federal law enforcement officers who feel that the perception of cover-up in this incident and others like it has adversely affected the public’s trust in Federal law enforcement.   In the government’s own reports a San Diego police officer who took part in the investigation was quoted as saying that the Federal agents involved should not be in law enforcement—an assessment I could not agree with more.

My findings were documented in two very detailed reports totaling some 170,000 words in which I recommended—as I would have done had I conducted the review as an Operations Inspector  for the government—that several of the agents and supervisors involved be fired, and that evidence indicating violation of several Federal and state felony laws against specific agents and prosecutors be heard by the appropriate grand juries.     I hoped my reports would be made public during the litigation of Mr. Carlson’s claim.  I also hoped, perhaps,  that this would be the proverbial straw that finally broke the camel’s back,  a beginning of public revelations of wide-spread criminality and disregard of the Constitution in Federal law enforcement that I have been observing for the past two decades and writing and speaking  about for the past five years.   This, however,  will never happen.  Once again the Federal cover-up has begun.

Recently, the newly appointed San Diego, U.S. Attorney, Alan Bersin, recommended that the government pay Mr. Carlson a $2.75 million dollar settlement for damages thereby eliminating a public trial.    He said that the Federal agents and prosecutors involved in this case, were to be lauded for doing their jobs;  that it was “the system” that had failed Mr. Carlson.   All the government reports were to be classified as part of that settlement.  I want to believe that Mr. Bersin acted in good faith without benefit of having seen my reports and/or making a personal review of the government’s reports, but I could not disagree with him more.  I spent most of my adult life working in that system and it works fine, as long as you follow its rules.   Donald Carlson wasn’t the victim of a system, he was victimized by men who don’t obey the very laws they took an oath to uphold.  And I think it is wrong to simply exonerate them without at least making all their actions known to the public that entrusts them with their safety and pays their salaries.

With the Political,  circus side-show atmosphere of the current Waco hearings, I doubt that anyone outside the inner circles of the Federal government will ever know the true facts surrounding the murder of more than 80 human beings and including the incinerating of more than 20 innocent children, nor will we ever know the true circumstances surrounding the shooting of the an unarmed woman and child by and FBI sharpshooter in Ruby Idaho—both acts clearly in contradiction to all the rules of engagement myself and other Federal law enforcement officers have had to abide by for decades— and past experience tells me that those facts will never be heard by a state grand jury of American citizens who reside in the communities where those acts took place.   But I am intimately aware of the events surrounding the Carlson shooting which, I say, have been covered up.    I also know that Congress has shown itself to be increasingly ineffectual in protecting our civil liberties from overzealous, inept and corrupt law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and that their  rush to give these agencies even more powers is like training a Rottweiler to attack before you’ve taught it obedience; it may be the biggest mistake in our history.

If my long career in law enforcement has taught me anything it is that the “perception of cover-up” (already documented in Congressman Conyers’ report)—whether it be for crimes committed by men with guns and badges or politicians hiding behind high office—has done more damage to our Constitution, our way of life and the trust the American people have in their Federal law enforcement agencies,  than any statement the NRA or any talk-show host could possibly make

[1]“Serious Mismanagement and Misconduct in the Treasury Department, Customs Service, and Other Federal Agencies, and the Adequacy of Efforts to Hold Agency Officials Accountable,” hearings heard before the Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, 3/26, 3/27 & 4/192 —issued April 1, 1992, chaired by Congressman John Conyers Jr.