Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories

 + THE VANISHING   Of the approximately 750 news items that appeared in the Monitor last year, there's no question of our pick for the most important: The September genocide of East Timor.

Before their historic August 30 vote for independence from Indonesia, East Timor was bursting with hope; UN officials were in place to ensure an orderly election. Yes, there were scars: every family still remembered the 1975 genocide, when the Indonesian army occupied the country with the tacit approval of the Ford administration, killing one-quarter of the population. And in the months leading to the 1999 election, there were scattered attacks by the pro-Indonesia militias. But as described in the first of two Monitor digests of eyewitness accounts, people were optimistic. David Shanks of The Irish Times wrote:

...Charging through the night to catch the opening of the polls in Maliana at 6.30AM, we found them walking the road in their Sunday best. Young, craggy or crippled, many had been on the move for 10 hours and more... Many had been there for hours clutching their laminated UN registration cards and ID. They were in great form, waving and smiling at the international community that came to help them express themselves. One little old man shook hands and kissed my hand...

When it became clear that the people voted overwhelmingly for freedom, their dream turned to nightmare. UN election headquarters were attacked and election monitors narrowly escaped with their lives. Most Timorese were not so lucky. Indonesia-supported militias laid waste to the nation, literally destroying every city, every town worth noting. Heads were chopped off and pinned on spikes leading to the capitol city of Dili. For three weeks, every dawn in East Timor brought new unimaginable horrors, and people fled toward the distant hills.

Now more than three months later, still about 80,000 people are missing -- one-tenth of the population of East Timor. Are they dead? Still in hiding? Have they been forcibly resettled elsewhere in Indonesia? No one knows.

And certainly, the American press has not asked these questions. The genocide story was front page news in the European and Asian press for weeks, yet was only a blip on the U.S. media radar, as we explored in a October 404 report. That shameful situation continues into the new year. In January, hundreds of stories still appear in newspapers like the Irish Times, the London Independent, and The Australian. But even in the major U.S. papers like The New York Times, this and other news about East Timor story is dumped into the one-paragraph "world in brief" ghetto or mentioned only as a footnote to other news or opinion pieces.

So what's the news that you're missing about East Timor? As covered in our last issue, Indonesian generals have threatened a coup if they are held responsible for the East Timor violence. Most recently, a UN agency has expressed fears of a coverup as Indonesia fights the creation of a UN tribunal to investigate atrocities committed by the Indonesia-backed militias. There still have been almost no investigations into the mass murders -- only a few dozen UN-backed investigators have been assigned to research the slaughter, and many of them were military police not qualified in documenting crimes against humanity. While more than 1,650 grave sites identified as of early January, evidence is disappearing. Australian reporter Carmel Egan wrote:

Although some mass graves and massacre sites have been identified at Liquica, Oecussi, Los Palos, Ermera, Atauro and in Dili itself, most bodies have been lying scattered -- sometimes in the open air, sometimes buried in shallow graves. In many cases, all that remains is bones and body parts and rags. And the fetid humidity of East Timor's wet season is a forensic investigator's nightmare.

It is particularly important that the U.S. pay attention to what has happened there -- the United States bears no small degree of blame for the genocide. With its close and long-standing relationship with the Indonesian military, many believe that the State Department could have demanded an end to the slaughter in the first week; instead, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made only tepid diplomatic protests. Military force could also have been used as it was in the Kosovo War. And then there was the promise of the "Clinton Doctrine:" Six months before the East Timor nightmare began, the president promised, "Whether you live in Africa, Central Europe or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion -- and it is within our power to stop it -- we will stop it." When it came time to do The Right Thing he forgot all that, of course, and with astonishing gall, even claimed credit for American good works in his final State of the Union speech: "We should be proud of our role in ... working for peace in East Timor and Africa..."

Clinton wasn't the only world leader that shrank from taking action. Also glaring was the silence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who East Timorese independence leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta termed "Europe's most hypocritical leader," as England-made military jets sold to Indonesia terrorized the Timorese. Horta also blasted the UN, World Bank, and IMF for failing to pressure Indonesia as the butchering continued. There is plenty of guilt to go around.

Coming so near the end of the century and millenium, the genocide of East Timor also served as a reminder of how little we've progressed. Once again, the world saw the innocent were butchered wholesale. And those who could have helped, didn't. (January 30, 2000)

 + BIRTH OF A CRIME   Let's play... Federal Prosecution Jeopardy! Here's the answer: "Nobody can define it, but it's a crime to reveal it." Give up? You win if you reply, "What is 'sensitive information?'"

As reported widely, Wen Ho Lee, a former physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is being held without bail on suspicion of leaking America's nuclear weapon secrets to China. He has not, however, been accused of espionage; there's no evidence whatsoever that he gave information to the Chinese or any other foreign nationals. Lee even scored high marks for honesty on an FBI polygraph (although agents later interrogating him told Lee that he had failed the lie detector test, and must confess or he would be executed as a spy).

Despite the complete lack of even circumstantial evidence, there seems to be enormous political will to prosecute Lee, a Taiwan-born U.S. citizen. Finally in December he was charged with 59 counts of mishandling nuclear weapon computer files. Lee has admitted downloading the files, but said he was only making backup copies. Congress has also jumped on the bandwagon, passing a new law with fines up to $100 thousand for violating any Department of Energy (DOE) rule, regulation, or order relating to the "safeguarding or security of Restricted Data or other classified or sensitive information." There was a loophole, however; legally, there's no such thing as "sensitive information."

"The term is not defined in the new law, in the Atomic Energy Act, or in existing DOE regulations," notes Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "So in order to justify the new penalty, a new crime will have to be created."

Aftergood has posted a January 5 DOE memo written by DOE General Counsel Mary Anne Weaver. The Department is working on "a clear definition of the term 'sensitive information,'" she advises nervous contractors, worried that they might be also prosecuted for the violating an undefined crime. "A process is underway to develop such regulations." Aftergood wirily commented that all this means, "out of congressional ignorance, it appears that a new classification category will have emerged."

The terrific irony is that this new crime is being defined just as China cracks down on the Internet (see story elsewhere in this issue), making it a crime to reveal vague "state secrets." (January 27, 2000)

 + PSYCHIC STOOGE   Here's an ugly little historical footnote: famed "psychic" Jeanne Dixon was working secretly for the FBI in the 1960s, telling the public that the Soviet Union was behind the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Discovered by APBnews through the Freedom of Information Act, reporter Joe Beaird described how Dixon joined Hoover's merry crew:

After casually meeting an FBI special agent at a social function, Dixon asked him for materials to include in her speeches that would undermine support for left-wing groups, according to a bureau memo. She pledged to use the information in her speeches "in such a manner that it cannot be attributed to the FBI," the memo reads. "Thus, the 'left-wing' groups could not claim she was a mouthpiece for the FBI."

The feds ultimately sent Dixon background information on groups orchestrating the Vietnam War and civil rights protests that the FBI deemed "campus turbulence."

And Dixon, in turn, told the public that saw her as an oracle that the country's "real enemy is Russia."

In her files it was found that Hoover personally approved her covert actions, writing "OK. She is a very reputable person." Hoover also backed her up when others in the Bureau disputed her 1969 National Enquirer article claiming that four unnamed Soviet leaders "instigated, financed, and controlled" student protests and race riots.

Dixon's relationship may have soured in 1970, when the Bureau turned down her request for personal protection at a speech she was to give in Greenwood, Mississippi. Nor did the Bureau seem to give much credibility to her 1971 claim that there was an unnamed top U.S. government official was a Russian spy.

Dixon, who died in 1997, went on to write a popular annual list of predictions for the supermarket tabloid The Star, and also served as an advisor to First Lady Nancy Reagan. (January 27, 2000)

 + THE FBI'S DRUG PROBLEM   Although the item above about celebrity soothsayer Jeanne Dixon working for the FBI was an eye-opener, only one newspaper in the nation, The New York Daily News, reported on the discovery. Nor is that surprising; as we noted in last month's 404 report, only a handful of newspapers even printed the astonishing news that the Agency had given massive powers to a new Counterrorism Division -- even though this sounds uncomfortably like the illegal covert activities of the "preventitive" COINTELPRO program.

In truth, the American media reports little about the Bureau that doesn't fit the cartoonish image of heroic G-Men stopping villains from dastardly deeds. On just December 16, for example, almost two hundred newspaper stories mentioned the FBI. Agents arrested a pro football player suspected in the death of his pregnant girlfriend; an FBI SWAT team was at the scene of a hostage situation at a Lousiana jail; agents arrested three young men for a Kansas City bank robbery; and Director Louis Freeh asked Congress not to hold hearings on possible nuclear weapon espionage because it might interfere with the Bureau's ongoing investigation (see item above). Of all the ink spent gladhanding the FBI that day, not a single mention was made of a critical GAO report that found the Bureau routinely mishandles evidence.

The General Accounting Office report (GAO/AIMD-00-18) began as a continuation of their investigation of problems in the Asset Forfeiture Program. Last January, investigators found that the Justice and Treasury departments were having problems keeping track of the $1. 8 billion in property seized (and that was just the loot taken as of September 30, 1997). As the FBI is responsible for safeguarding and accounting for drugs and guns taken in the Program, it became the focus of the investigation.

What the auditors found was astonishing. The New York Field Office drug vaults were stuffed to overflowing. About one out of 20 randomly-selected items listed on the inventory couldn't be found at all; others were so damaged as to be leaking and lose their value as evidence: "...boxes appeared to have been broken open from the weight of other stacked evidence boxes."

In the Miami office, the situation was even worse. Over half of the drug samples didn't match the official evidence records. "Although many of the weight variances involved only several grams, larger discrepancies included a shortage of 269 grams of heroin and an overage of 3.9 kilograms of cocaine."

Asked to explain the missing (and sometimes, extra) drug quantities, the GAO found the FBI had no policies or procedures to reconcile these problems. What the FBI did have, however, were lots of excuses.

First the Bureau claimed that the discrepancies didn't matter: "The FBI further states that in the cases cited from the internal inspection findings, there was no indication that (1) evidence had been lost, stolen, or misused; (2) any case was jeopardized because of chain of custody issues..." In polite bureaucrat-ese, the GAO called them liars: "We believe these statements are not accurate or are misleading."

The FBI also tried to blame their pals over at the DEA:

For one drug item at the Miami Field Office, the DEA recorded weight on the evidence package was 541. 8 grams, while the weight we observed was 273 grams. During our visit, we asked the field office officials to explain this discrepancy. Their written response included that the weight variance was the difference of the weight of the drug item sealed and the weight of the item without packaging as recorded by DEA. However, during a subsequent meeting involving these officials, we pointed out that the DEA recorded weight on the drug item included packaging, so the explanation provided was not reasonable. We were then told by an FBI official that the weight of 541.8 grams may have been recorded in error by DEA. However, other than the statement in the FBI's comments to the report, we had not been provided any additional explanation or documentation pertaining to this weight discrepancy...

And finally, the FBI tried to blame the GAO itself, charging that the investigators screwed up while weighing the drugs. Not so, the audit explained: "We did not weigh the drug items ourselves. Instead, we observed FBI personnel weigh the evidence and recorded the results of their weighing activity."

But the FBI had no glib answer for the possibly the most damning charge: That they sometimes can't prove that drugs were destroyed. Wrote the GAO, "we identified two instances at one field office that involved a total of about 770 kilograms [1,700 pounds] of cocaine for which there was no signed certification by any of the FBI personnel who purportedly witnessed the destructions of most of these drugs." (January 12, 2000)

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