The Wire

  • Treasure hunters and FBI search for lost Civil War gold in Pennsylvania — NBC Nightly News

    A story that $55 million in Union gold was lost during the Civil War has long been dismissed as a myth — but this week, a team of FBI agents joined the search in rural Pennsylvania.

  • New law can send Alabama owners of vicious dogs to prison —


    In addition to new penalties for owners of dogs that cause injuries, the law sets up a process for people to file a sworn statement that a dog is dangerous, prompting an investigation by an animal control or law enforcement officer. If the investigator finds that the dog is dangerous, the dog will be impounded pending a decision by a municipal or district court.

    If a court determines that a dog is dangerous and has seriously injured or killed a person, the dog will be euthanized. If a court determines that a dog that has not seriously injured a person but is still dangerous, the court could order the dog to be euthanized or to be returned to its owner under strict conditions, including that the dog is microchipped, spayed or neutered and that the owner pay a $100 annual fee, post a $100,000 surety bond and keep the dog in a secure enclosure.

    If a dog that has been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, the owner could be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison. If a dog that has not been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, and the owner knew the dog had a propensity to be dangerous and recklessly disregarded that, the owner could be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years.

  • Decatur man pleads guilty to kidnapping and child sex-trafficking charges — Justice Dept.

    A Decatur man pleaded guilty today in federal court to kidnapping and child sex-trafficking charges as part of a detailed plan to hire someone to kidnap a woman and her 14-year-old daughter, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr.

    BRIAN DAVID “Blaze” BOERSMA, 48, entered his guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor to attempted kidnapping of a minor, attempted kidnapping, attempted sex trafficking of a child, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime. A sentencing date has not been set.

    Boersma worked at the Alabama Farmers’ Cooperative in Decatur shuttling trailers from the storage yard to the warehouse where they would be loaded with merchandise for shipment to other locations. His plea agreement with the government lays out his efforts in the fall of 2017 to encourage a co-worker at the co-op to find someone willing to kidnap a woman and her daughter for payment. Boersma, in installments, gave the co-worker $3,440 to hold for a kidnapping payment. The co-worker alerted the FBI to Boersma’s plan in mid-September and the bureau sent two undercover employees to pose as willing kidnappers.


9 months ago

Feds Relent on Extending Alabama’s Red Snapper Season

Photo by Flickr user Florida Fish and Wildlife

After intensive appeals from the state of Alabama over its hyper-brief red snapper season, the U.S. Department of Commerce relented last week, announcing an extension to the season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced earlier that Alabama would only have a three-day red snapper season this year, understandably frustrating those who look forward to and rely on a longer season.

Under this new extension, the season for recreational fishermen has been reopened on weekends (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) up until Labor Day, adding a whopping 39 days of fishing for Alabama anglers.

Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne was among those advocating for the longer season—calls that got the attention of President Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross. In his press release, Congressman Byrne expressed his appreciation for Alabama officials who provided.

Many people helped make this extension possible, and they deserve to be acknowledged.  I appreciate President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for paying attention to our concerns and working to address this issue.  The staff at the Department of Commerce was easy to work with as we put this extension together. I also cannot say enough about the help from Chris Blankenship, the acting commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Chris has always been a joy to work with on Red Snapper issues, and he played a critical role in helping get the other Gulf states on board with this agreement. I also want to thank the local and state officials, as well as the grassroots supporters and fishermen, who helped bring attention to this issue. I firmly believe your efforts made a difference. Ultimately, it was a total team effort to make this emergency extension a reality. This is a real victory for all our recreational fishermen as well as our coastal communities.

Senator Richard Shelby agreed:

I am pleased the Department of Commerce is listening to states and local anglers to provide immediate relief to this problem. Adding 39 days to the recreational fishing season for red snapper is great news. Ultimately, a long-term solution is needed that benefits all Gulf fishermen.  I will continue to work with Secretary Ross and my Gulf State colleagues to allow further access to this abundant resource.

It’s important to note that this extension is not permanent; it only applies to the 2017 season.  As Congressman Byrne noted, “We must continue our efforts to find a permanent legislative solution that gives more authority over setting Red Snapper seasons to the five Gulf states,” adding that he’s currently pursuing such measures.

10 months ago

The Ultimate Red Herring: Making Sense of the Hysteria Following Comey’s Removal from the FBI (opinion)

Sometimes the substance of a position is so flimsy the only path forward is to divert attention from it—in other words, create a red herring.

That’s precisely what the Democrats have done in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s termination two days ago. In short, they’ve seized the moment, launching a well-coordinated campaign to resurrect the cry that Russia gave Trump the Presidency.

More specifically, the idea they’re now peddling is that President Trump fired Comey simply to avoid scrutiny over alleged collusion with Russia to throw the election last fall. This, despite the fact that former President Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in sworn testimony Monday that there’s no evidence to support such claims.

Nevertheless, with Comey gone, if Democrats can create enough of a fuss to get a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s influence on the campaign, the nation’s attention may once again shift to the White House and away from their party’s colossal political and policy failures.

Ironically, for this to happen the problem the Democrats must overcome is the same one that led to James Comey’s firing and Hillary Clinton’s defeat: a credibility problem.
Let’s start with the Democrats. As recently as last week, they were the ones demanding Comey’s head, but now that he’s gone, they’re declaring his termination the greatest miscarriage of justice since Watergate.

As Rush Limbaugh pointed out yesterday:

• Business Insider ran an article entitled “‘Comey Acted in an Outrageous Way During the Campaign, Bernie Sanders Suggests FBI Director Should Resign”
• The liberal website ThinkProgress published a piece entitled “The Case for Firing Comey”
• Democrat operative John Podesta said the American people “are getting nauseous at the sound of Comey’s voice”

The list goes on, yet despite these contradictions and their obvious hypocrisy, the central question remains: did the President have grounds to fire Comey? Once again, the answer to this question is centered around his loss of credibility.

While Comey’s credulity problems started long before 2016, his clumsy actions during last fall’s presidential campaign are too questionable to ignore. After his boss at the time, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton on a private tarmac, Comey concluded that Hillary Clinton never intended to do anything wrong. Not only was his rationale highly suspect, this determination wasn’t his to make—the FBI’s job is to investigate, not prosecute. Reeling from the backlash of this now infamous July declaration, Comey pivoted in October and reopened the investigation, citing new emails not previously seen.

Continuing to give the nation little reason to trust him, FBI officials also acknowledged that, in his recent Senate testimony, Comey inaccurately stated the number of Hillary Clinton’s emails to her aide Huma Abedin, which were forwarded to her ex-husband Anthony Weiner’s computer. Whether an honest mistake or not, the FBI Director simply cannot make this kind of error.

It’s hard to tell how this whole mess will turn out, but in the wake of Comey’s firing, one thing is clear: as much as Democrats want to make this about Russia’s influence on the campaign, credibility is the currency of relationships and James Comey squandered his.

2 years ago

Alabama moves to protect election systems after FBI discovers hacks in other states

Voting Booths

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama elections officials are moving to ensure the state’s voting systems are secure in the wake of revelations that the voter databases in at least two other states have been breached in recent months.

According to a Reuters report, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found breaches in Illinois and Arizona’s voter registration databases and is urging states to increase computer security ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.”

The database breaches do not “necessarily suggest an effort to manipulate the votes themselves,” but raise concerns at a time when cyber security is already playing a significant role in the presidential election. The Democratic National Committee was hacked last month, with embarrassing emails showing coordination between the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign being released publicly. The hack, which intelligence officials have pinned on Russian operatives, led to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

David Kennedy, the CEO of TrustedSec, a firm specializing in information security, told Reuters the latest attacks on voter databases were “largely exploratory and not especially sophisticated.” He added, however, that “it could be a precursor to a larger attack.”

The Alabama Secretary of State’s office told Yellowhammer they are working with federal authorities and the state’s election system vendor to ensure security.

“Secretary [John] Merrill participated in a conference call with several other secretaries of state regarding this issue,” said John Bennett, Secretary Merrill’s communications director. “During the call the Department of Homeland Security advised that they would be willing to have members of their team deployed to states to help set-up significant protections against hacking. Secretary Merrill was a part of bipartisan support requesting that the power to secure and properly maintain elections should remain in the hands of the states. This was followed by similar support for the complex systems that states have in place to protect our elections systems.

“We did, however, [complete] an internal review of our systems and have verified that no breaches have taken place at this time. We are also currently working with Election Systems & Software, our election systems vendor, to ensure that no breaches have occurred to their system.”

Statewide elections are scheduled to take place Tuesday, Nov. 8.

2 years ago

40 years ago Alabama’s AG sent a legendary, three-word response to KKK threats

(Photo: Flickr User Arete13)
(Photo: Flickr User Arete13)

Exactly 40 years ago this week, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) dubbed Alabama’s then-attorney general an “honorary nigger” and basically threatened to kill him. 29-year-old AG Billy Baxley promptly issued his response on official State of Alabama letterhead: “kiss my ass.”

So what led to this exchange?

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the KKK planted over a dozen sticks of dynamite below the steps of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church. In what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” the dynamite exploded and killed four young black girls and injured 22 other churchgoers.

The four girls killed in the bombing. Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. (Photo: Wiki)
The four girls killed in the bombing. Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. (Photo: Wiki)

In 1965, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover identified five men as suspects in the bombing. However, the investigation was closed in 1968 without any charges being filed.

It later came to light that Hoover had blocked some of the evidence in the case from being made public and subsequently shut down the investigation.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley chose to reopen the case in 1971. In spite of the FBI’s lack of cooperation and limited evidence, Baxley successfully prosecuted Robert Edward Chambliss, one of the initial suspects named by the FBI. Chambliss was convicted and sentenced to multiple life terms in prison.

“I wanted to try to solve that case and do something about the people who killed the little girls,” Baxley later told PBS. “It took us a couple of years to really get on the trail of the right people… (Chambliss) was the ringleader. He was responsible for 30 or 40 bombings over a two or three-decade period in Birmingham. His nickname was dynamite Bob and he was very proud of it.”

The KKK was furious the Baxley chose to reopen the case. Infamous white supremacist leader Edward R. Fields, the Grand Dragon of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, made their displeasure known in a scathing letter.

We would like to congratulate you, you are now and honorary nigger. We hope that you are proud of yourself now, you WHITE NIGGER. We hope you are soon blessed with the same condition that the nigger lover Kennedy contracted, which is dead……. a long time dead…

“I took it as a threat,” recalls Baxley. “He called me a traitor to my race and how dare I prosecute or investigate these white Christian patriots and blah, blah, blah, blah. And so they demanded a response. So I sat down and wrote them a response.


February 20, 1976

“Dr.” Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061

Dear “Dr.” Fields:

My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.


Attorney General

“Well, that’s the way I felt — then and now,” says Baxley, now a private attorney. “I think the ironic thing about the letter, the way it got public was the Klan released it. I never would’ve released it. I would’ve been afraid that my mother would’ve thought it was terrible of me using bad language, so I didn’t tell anybody that I wrote it – just a couple of people in the office knew. But they went nuts when they got it. And they published it in their hate publication that came out every week or so.”

Four decades later, Baxley’s letter lives on as another fascinating moment in Alabama’s long and complex civil rights history.

2 years ago

‘We’re at war’ — Alabama mosque reports jihadist messages to FBI

(Photo: Edward Musiak)
(Photo: Edward Musiak)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A local Muslim leader has informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that members of his mosque have received “suspicious messages” on their social media accounts, including at least one message that mentioned “war,” according to an Associated Press report.

Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, told the AP that an unknown individual sent friend requests to members of his mosque, followed by messages. One of the messages said, “We are at war and we must stick together.”

Taufique says he informed the FBI out of fear that his mosque would be incorrectly associated with extremists.

“(I reported the messages) because of the special time we are in we didn’t want to take a chance,” he said.

One of the Birmingham Islamic Society’s former members left the United States to join ISIS last year, although the mosque’s leaders say she had withdrawn from the community long before radicalizing.

The girl, Hoda Muthana, a 20-year-old former college student from Hoover, was radicalized through social media and ultimately abandoned her family to move to ISIS-controlled Syria.

A recent study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism identified Muthana as one of ISIS’s most active recruiters online.

Here’s how the group operates on the Internet, according to the study:

ISIS Activists and sympathizers are active on a variety of platforms — open forums, private messaging apps, and the dark web — but Twitter is by far the platform of choice. The Program on Extremism identified and monitored approximately 300 American supporters of ISIS on Twitter, including some individuals now in Syria and Iraq. These accounts can be divided into three categories: noes, amplifiers and shout-outs.

Nodes are the leading voices in the ISIS Twittersphere. They enjoy a prominent status and are the primary content creators for the network. A group of two or three clustered users will often swap comedic memes, news articles and official ISIS tweets, allowing them to pool followers and more easily spread content both to new audiences and throughout their network.

Amplifiers largely do not generate new content but rather retweet and “favorite” material from popular users. Ultimately, because they post little, if any, original content, it is often unclear whether these accounts correspond to real-life ISIS sympathizers or are programmed to post automatically.

Shout-out accounts primarily introduce new, pro-ISIS accounts to the community and promote newly created accounts of previously suspended users, allowing them to quickly regain their pre-suspension status. A unique innovation of the online ISIS scene, they tend to have the largest followings in the Twitter landscape and play a pivotal role in the community’s resilience, despite frequent account suspensions.

— Nearly 1/3 of the tracked accounts are purportedly operated by women.
— Most American ISIS supporters online communicate in English.
— Many accounts use avatars of black flags, lions and green birds (a symbol of martyrs).
— Increasingly avatars feature Americans arrested on terrorism charges, killed waging jihad abroad, or committing attacks in the U.S.

Muthana is reportedly one of the Islamic State’s “nodes.”

Her father, Mohammed, and his wife moved to the United States from Yemen in 1992. All of his children were born here and are American citizens. He told Buzzfeed in an in-depth report that he “controls his kids” like “every family,” but that ISIS “found somehow, some way to (get) through” to his daughter.

More details on their story can be found here.

4 years ago

Shelby pushes for Department of Justice to investigate Veterans Affairs scandal

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are coming together to push for the United States Department of Justice to address recent revelations that veterans have died after being placed on secret waiting lists at VA hospitals.

A recent report by The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office confirmed that VA hospitals concealed treatment delays for veterans and “boosted performance measures that help determine whether bonuses are deserved.” In total, the report found that 1,700 veterans using the VA hospital in Phoenix were placed on secret wait lists.

The Obama Administration is also looking into the matter and earlier this week announced that veterans will be allowed to seek care at private hospitals in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on backlogged VA facilities.

But Sen. Shelby believes the issues at the VA are serious enough and of such magnitude that the Department of Justice and FBI need to get involved and launch criminal and civil investigations into the allegations.

Sens. Shelby and Mikulski, who are Vice Chair and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, plan to insert language into a bill funding the departments of Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies that will make it clear that ample resources are available to the DoJ and FBI to conduct a serious investigation into the VA.

“These allegations are deeply ‎troubling,” Sen. Shelby told Yellowhammer today. “The victims, their families, and the American people deserve answers and accountability. I’m pleased to work with Chairman Mikulski to ensure that the Department of Justice has the full resources to do just that.”

During an Appropriations Committee hearing last week to mark up a bill funding all programs under the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ jurisdiction, Shelby slammed the Obama Administration for ignoring multiple signs of veterans abuse. The committee appropriated $5 million in additional funding for the VA’s Inspector General to investigate what happened with veterans being denied benefits. But Shelby was already working behind the scenes to escalate the investigation to include the Department of Justice.

“While I commend the Committee’s support for an additional $5 million in funding to the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the VA’s scheduling practices, I also recognize that this is just a starting point,” Shelby said at the time.

Today’s move by Shelby and Mikulski is the next step.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims