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2003-12-05

U.S. Uncovers Weapons of Mass Destruction... In Texas

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A Texan man with ties to white supremacists has pleaded guilty to possessing chemical weapons in one of the most serious cases of domestic terrorism since Oklahoma City. But the media has all but ignored the story. We examine why. [Includes transcript]

This is a story of weapons of mass destruction. Chemical weapons. Domestic Terrorism. Forged Identifications. And media double standards.

In the Texan town of Tyler law enforcement officials found what hundreds of investigators in Iraq have been looking for months.

A Tyler man named William Krar with ties to white supramacists had built a sodium cynanide bomb. In the words of the Justice Department, the man had developed his own chemical weapons. In addition he had a well-stocked arsenal reportedly with 500,000 rounds of ammunition. He and his wife plead guilty two weeks ago to a series of weapons charges.

According to the Texas TV station CBS 11, this case lead federal officials to launch one of its most extensive investigations of domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing. Hundreds of subpoenas have been reportedly sent out. Documents seized indicated there may be other co-conspirators across the country. And the threat was deemed great enough to appear in the President’s daily briefing.

But strangely the story is mostly unknown to almost anyone outside of Texas because the national media has all but ignored the story.

  • Robert Riggs, chief investigative reporter for the Dallas TV station CBS 11.
  • Brit Featherstone, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Texas
  • * Robert Jensen*, Professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Robert Riggs, the chief investigative reporter for Dallas TV station CBS 11, and Brit Firestone, who is Assistant US Attorney in Texas and professor Robert Jensen, at the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Let’s start with Robert Riggs. Tell us the story.

ROBERT RIGGS: Amy, this is a story that law enforcement officials just accidentally stumbled on because a package of counterfeit documents was delivered to the wrong address. And the recipient up in Staten Island, Long Island, suddenly found confidential — what appeared to be confidential documents for the U.N. and for the Defense Intelligence Agency and called the police.

That set off an investigation that led to Tyler, which is about 100 miles east of Dallas, to a little tiny town called Noonday, that until now was best known for its sweet tasting onions.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Brit Featherstone, if you can talk about what the people involved have been charged with?

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: Amy, the subjects, William Krarr and Judith Brewy have been charged and have plead guilty to — let me first talk as to William Krarr.

He has plead guilty to knowingly receiving or obtaining the chemical weapon of sodium cyanide. In other words, he had it in the form that was activated — or able to be activated into a chemical weapon, which is a violation of federal law. His live-in girlfriend, Judith Brewy, has plead guilty to essentially conspiracy to possess illegal weapons. That’s what both subjects have plead guilty to.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you unravel all of this?

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: It was a long process. As Mr. Riggs has discussed, it started out with just a fraudulent document investigation that led to Texas. It actually came from the New Jersey area. We knew pretty quickly that it had some militia or white supremacy connections, because the subject who received the fraudulent documents in New Jersey was a member of a New Jersey militia, a white supremacy organization.

At that point in time, the investigation really kicked into gear in Texas where we started looking at the subjects where these documents were mailed from.

Upon looking at these subjects, we pretty quickly figured out they did have some white supremacy connections, militia type connections as well as we knew they had — for quite a while had been in the realm of weapons — military — military surplus that’s been discarded by the military, and that’s how the investigation began.

Once we started looking at the ones in Tyler, Texas, William Krarr and Brewy, as well as a couple of other subjects, we were eventually able to run a search warrant, which I think at that point in time, we — we had no idea that we were going to stumble into the arsenal that we did, as well as the chemical weapons.

There was — numerous recipes for making different types of chemical weapons, but he actually had the capacity to make a sodium cyanide gas explosive device. He had all of the component parts there as well as the recipe. It was essentially ready to go, if he had chosen to detonate it, or sell it to someone.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you have handled this differently if you felt these were foreign terrorists?

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: That’s an interesting question. You know, I don’t know if — if during the investigative stages of cases, I’m not sure you — you handle things differently.

I know that you — you know, in — in international terrorism as opposed to domestic terrorism, international terrorism is — has clearly been on the forefront of everybody’s desk, and in the news media as well, obviously it might have gotten maybe a little bit more attention early on, but once we realized we were dealing with potentially white supremacy organizations, the resources were dedicated to this investigation.

There were just hundreds and hundreds of investigators involved in it, as well as the investigative tools like subpoenas and looking at records and looking at phone records and looking at, you know, any type of business records we could, just to get the background to try to trace where these people were traveling, and try to piece together what exactly they had planned.

But as to what difference there would be on international terrorism, not much on the investigative stage. You know, obviously when it comes to charging instruments, like indictments or arrest warrants, we would maybe charge something different if it was on the international side.

AMY GOODMAN: Or maybe making it more public. I was just thinking about John Ashcroft recently holding a news conference when he indicted Lynn Stewart, the attorney, representing her client, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. He both held a news conference and went on the "David Letterman Show" that night.

Has he held a news conference on this, talking about in this case — investigators seizing at least 100 bombs, bomb components, machine guns, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and chemical agents?

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: I know this case hit the media shortly after the initial arrest, and the search warrants were run and the weapons were found. But I’m not sure as to exactly, you know, how much extensive coverage it received.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, or whether or not it got that coverage, John Ashcroft holding a news conference on it. We couldn’t find a record of that.

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: I’m not aware of any yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Jensen also with us, professor at the School of Journalism, University of Texas, author of the book, "Writing Dissent". Robert Jensen, your analysis of the lack of coverage of this story?

ROBERT JENSEN: Well there in fact Was virtually no media coverage; a couple of wire stories which at best ran as a brief until the CBS 11 story. Other than that, unless you live in Tyler and read the Morning Telegraph there, you’re likely to have not heard of this.

I think your point about the way in which the Justice Department can highlight some criminal activities, indictments, and investigations and ignore others — is very clear here.

I think the reason for that, if I were to speculate — not being in the brain of John Ashcroft — is that cases like this — of domestic terrorism, especially when they involve white supremacist and conservative Christian groups, don’t have any political value for an administration, especially this particular administration. Therefore, why — if one were going to be crass and cynical, why Would they highlight this?

On the other hand, foreign terrorism and things connected to Arab, South Asian and Muslim groups, well those have value because they can be used to whip up support for military interventions, which this administration is very keen on.

So I think the politics are very clear here. Prosecutors’ offices are always political. I mean, I have covered even small town prosecutors’ offices and there’s always a political element to them. But some are more political than others.

I think what we have to acknowledge here is that probably since the Nixon administration, we have never seen a Justice Department so completely and thoroughly politicized as this one.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Riggs, you’re chief investigative reporter for the Dallas TV station, CBS 11. Are you surprised by the lack of coverage, by the lack of pickup on your story?

ROBERT RIGGS: Well, I’m not. I have seen this kind of thing happen before. I do think you’ll begin to see that the way the internet has picked up this story, that you will start to see the nationals doing something with it.

We thought this was a very significant story. We covered the Branch Davidian siege. We covered the Oklahoma City bombing. I was the first reporter to go on the air shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing quoting sources that it was the work of domestic terrorists, while the networks were still on Speculating it had been done by Middle Eastern terrorists.

So, this is something that’s on our radar screen, the domestic terrorism issue, but really is not a major presence on the radar screen of the major news organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Brit Featherstone.

ROBERT RIGGS: And it’s in our backyard.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you respond to Robert Jensen saying this is the most politicized Justice Department.

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: I don’t — I’m not a politician. I don’t get involved in that. I’m a prosecutor. That’s what I do.

I will comment that a lot of times our press releases that are — that come out of our offices of course, and also out of Washington for that matter, are a lot of times very sensitive to the investigative nature of the cases. Sometimes they may not be hitting the mass media maybe by design because the — of the future of the investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you looking for more people?

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: I will tell that you the case is obviously still ongoing and will be for quite a while.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll continue to cover it.

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: Let me make one more comment.

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

BRIT FEATHERSTONE: I’ll say that this information was out there to the media, and they failed to pick it up. I don’t see how we blame other people because the media failed to actually put it on the air.

AMY GOODMAN: Brit Featherstone, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Texas, thanks for joining us, Robert Riggs, and Robert Jensen, University of Texas Austin.

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