Monday, January 27, 2020

Cold War Spying In The Spy Capitol Of The World: My Washington Times Review Of 'Betrayal In Berlin'

The Washington Times ran published my review of Betrayal in Berlin:

As a teenager in the 1960s, I was a devoted reader of spy thrillers by Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Donald Hamilton, John le Carre and others. The spy thrillers led me to read about the Cold War and true espionage stories. 

Later, while serving in the U.S. Navy in Scotland in the mid-1970s, I went on leave and visited Berlin. As a student of espionage, I was drawn to Berlin, as the German city was the spy capital of the world at the time. I visited the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the bars where criminals and spies gathered to drink, eat and swap secrets.

Steve Vogel’s “Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War’s Most Audacious Espionage Operation” took me back to Berlin, although the historical events of this story take place in 1955-56.

Mr. Vogel opens his book with what was known in intelligence lore as “Black Friday,” when the Soviets changed their cryptographic systems in 1948.

Since 1943, Mr. Vogel explains, the U.S. had been intercepting and decrypting secret Soviet radio communications, which gave American officials a comprehensive understanding of the Soviet military and intelligence agencies.

The U.S. Army Security Agency was producing valuable intelligence in a program call VENONA. VENONA exposed Soviet spies such as Klaus Fuchs, who gave up atomic secrets to the Soviets, and Donald Maclean, the first of the British Cambridge spy ring to be suspected. But then the Soviets stopped using UHF radio and began to communicate with Moscow via landlines.

American investigators believed it was a routine systems upgrade, but they later learned that VENONA had been betrayed by two Soviet spies. One was William Weisland, a Russian linguist working for the Army Security Agency. The second spy was Harold “Kim” Philby, a British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer who was the liaison to the CIA and FBI in Washington.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link: 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

FBI: The Bureau And The Great Experiment: How Prohibition Fueled Bootleggers, Mobsters, And Corruption

The FBI provided a look back at Prohibition:
For some, it was the start of a “great experiment” that would free society from the ills of demon alcohol. For other Americans, it was a time to mourn the loss of an integral part of their lives and social cultures.
For another group—those willing to violate the law—Prohibition was a chance to grow rich and live the high life at the expense of law and order. 
A century ago this January, the Volstead Act authorized the federal government to ban the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages.
The Bureau of Investigation (BOI)—the FBI’s predecessor—had already been investigating certain liquor-related matters. During World War I, the Bureau helped enforce the Selective Service Act, which included sections aimed at keeping American soldiers dry so they would be fit for fighting. In the Alaskan territories, the BOI worked with Canadian law enforcement to intercept smuggled booze. And as the Volstead Act started to go into effect, it pursued these new criminal violations as well.
As Prohibition really kicked off, the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue took over enforcement duties, supported by BOI where the Bureau of Internal Revenue was stretched thin.
By the end of the first six months of Prohibition, BOI special agents had conducted investigations that led to the arrests of 269 people for violations of federal prohibition laws and reported an additional 334 possible violators to the Bureau of Internal Revenue for further investigation.
Over the next several years, the BOI found that prohibition violations often involved other crimes. In one case, the Detroit Field Office investigated a Michigan sheriff’s office where four deputies and two former deputies participated in a fake raid to steal bootlegged alcohol for themselves. Bureau agents secured their arrest—and a large supply of contraband booze smuggled in from Canada. All the deputies received fines and jail time.
The Bureau’s emergency role in enforcing the Volstead Act also led to significant cases. In Savannah, over the course of 1922, more than 50 agents were called in to investigate a large-scale conspiracy to violate prohibition laws. By the summer of 1924, 142 people had been sentenced for criminal violations related to the case.
The BOI also found that when they investigated the ownership of cars seized in bootlegging operations, some of the cars had been stolen. And of all the criminal matters linked to prohibition, fugitives were the most significant concern as the Bureau worked with the U.S. Marshals and others to track bootleggers who went on the lam.
Impersonation of a federal officer was another problem as criminals would sometimes represent themselves as federal officers to extort money or otherwise threaten their fellow-criminals or members of the general public. A few deeply corrupt individuals, like Gaston Means, used their legitimate connections to the federal government to conduct criminal work.
Means had a long record of unsavory and unlawful actions even before Prohibition—he was accused of spying for Germany, he was suspected of murdering a widow and forging her will (which left him a sizable inheritance), and he was a close and shady confidant of U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty.
With this connection, Means became a Bureau agent in 1921 and was soon using his position to extort significant sums of cash from bootleggers in return for promises of using his influence to get them out of jail. When J. Edgar Hoover took over in the Bureau in 1924, Means was shown the door. He came back to the Bureau’s attention in 1932, though, when he swindled a wealthy Florida woman. His false promise to her to find Charles Lindbergh’s son, who was kidnapped in March of that year, landed him in to jail.  
In 1927, Congress moved prohibition enforcement to the Department of Justice, creating a Bureau of Prohibition that stood apart from the Bureau of Investigation. Although better organized, this new law enforcement body struggled to keep up. Too many people wanted a drink, too many people were willing to supply that drink, and too much violence and corruption followed.
Prohibition agents like Eliot Ness sought to bring down the bootleggers but had limited success. Despite Ness’ famed hunt for Al Capone, it was the IRS that arrested the notorious bootleg king of Chicago. The Bureau played a minor, but important, role in the matter, too.
At the end of 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal prohibition. The Bureau of Prohibition, with its more than a thousand investigators, was no longer needed. The attorney general considered integrating them into the Bureau of Investigation, but Hoover convinced him that such a move would destroy the BOI and the work it had made to reform itself since the problematic days of the mid-1920s.
And Ness? Like his fellow prohibition agents, Ness was offered the chance to apply to Hoover’s Bureau. And, like his fellow-agents, he was told that he would have to start as a new agent and complete the extensive required training.
Ness, understandably, wanted to enter BOI in a leadership role, but when he was overheard trying to see if political supporters in Washington would back his plea, Hoover marked his application "unacceptable." 

You can also read my Washington Times review of a book about Prohibition and Eliot Ness via the below link:  

A Little Humor: I'm A "Seenager"

It just occurred to me.

I’m a “Seenager,” as in senior teenager.

I have everything I ever wanted as a teenager, only some 60 years later.

I don’t have to go to school. 

I don’t have to work. 

I go to bed when I want. 

I get up when I want. 

I get an allowance, be it Social Security or a federal, city or corporate pension. 

I have my own pad. 

I don’t have a curfew. 

I own a car. 

I have ID that gets me in bars. 

I have a beautiful woman on my arm. 

I have regular sex. 

Who knew life would be so good when we grew old?

Note: The above photo is of the late comedian George Burns.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Former FBI Agent And Podcaster Jerri Williams Interviews Former FBI Agent Q. John Williams About 'The Irishman,' Frank Sheeran

Jerri Williams (seen in the above photo), a former FBI special agent and author of crime fiction, produces a true crime podcast. 
In her latest podcast she interviews Q. John Tamm (seen in the below photo), a retired FBI special agent who worked in the Philadelphia FBI office on the labor racketeering squad.
He investigated Frank Sheeran, the subject of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and doubts that Frank Sheeran murdered Jimmy Hoffa and Crazy Joe Gallo.  
You can listen to the podcast via the below link:
You can also read my Washington Times On Crime column on Frank Sheeran via the below link:

Former NYPD Detective Sonny Grosso, Whose Work Inspired ‘The French Connection,’ Dead At 89

The New York Post reports that former NYPD detective and TV and film producer Sonny Grosso has died.

Former NYPD detective Sonny Grosso, whose police work with partner Eddie Egan was used as the plot for the classic 1971 cop flick “The French Connection,” died Wednesday. He was 89.
Grosso’s death was confirmed by his longtime friend, and former NYPD captain, Ernie Naspretto.
Grosso died in Manhattan after battling a long illness, Naspretto said.
“He had a good run,” Naspretto said of his friend.
Grosso’s foray into Hollywood began with “The French Connection”, as he and Egan consulted on the film and served as the real-life inspiration for fictional detectives Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo.
He went on to become a prolific producer and consultant for television and movies, working on shows such as “Kojak,” “Night Heat” and “Baretta.” 
You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My Washington Times On Crime Column: A Look Back At Joseph Wambaugh's 'The Onion Field'

The Washington Times ran my On Crime column that offered a look back at Joseph Wambaugh’s classic true crime book, The Onion Field. 

Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective sergeant and the author of classic police novels such as “The New Centurions,” “The Blue Knight” and “The Choir Boys,” turns 83 on Jan. 22.

Mr. Wambaugh has also written classic true crime books such as “Echoes in the Darkness” and “The Blooding,” but he said he was born to write one true crime book in particular, “The Onion Field.”

Mr. Wambaugh had published two novels prior to “The Onion Field.” Still a working cop, he took a three-month leave of absence to write “The Onion Field.” He read thousands of pages of court transcripts, and he interviewed more than 60 people involved with the case.

The 1973 book tells the tragic true story of an LAPD officer named Ian Campbell who was murdered in an onion field in 1963, as well as the sad aftermath of Karl Hettinger, his surviving partner who suffered psychologically from the ordeal. The book also covers the arrest, trial and conviction of Gregory Powell and Jimmy Smith, the two criminals who kidnapped and murdered the young officer.

The two plainclothes officers pulled over Powell and Smith, who were committing armed robberies. Powell got the drop on Ian Campbell and placed a gun in his back. He ordered Karl Hettinger to hand over his gun, and the officer did so reluctantly. The two criminals then drove the two officers to an onion field in Bakersfield, where Ian Campbell was shot and killed. Karl Hettinger escaped by running through the onion field.

The LAPD brass released a memorandum that essentially branded Hettinger a coward for giving up his gun. They made him attend roll calls and repeatedly tell his story to the assembled cops. 

I asked Mr. Wambaugh what compelled him to write a non-fiction book about the case?

“This case always fascinated me because I was on the job when it happened,” Joseph Wambaugh told me. “I’d seen Karl Hettinger around police headquarters, and he looked like such a sad guy. When he got fired from the police department for shoplifting, I thought it must have some relationship to the kidnapping. So I had it in the back of mind and after my success with the first two books, I started talking to people and I was off and running with it.”

You can read the rest of the column via the below link:

Note: Below are photos of Karl Hettinger, Ian Campbell and Jimmy Smith and Gregory Powell:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The FBI released the below information:

Preliminary statistics show overall declines in both violent and property crime in the first half of 2019 compared to the same time frame the previous year, according to FBI crime statistics released today.
The Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report covers January through June 2019. It contains data from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that voluntarily submitted information to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
According to the report, all categories of violent crime offenses decreased between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2019, including:
  • Robbery (-7.4 percent)
  • Rape (-7.3 percent)
  • Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (-3.9 percent)
  • Aggravated assault (-0.3 percent)

Property crime also declined during the same period, specifically:
  • Burglary (-11.1 percent)
  • Motor vehicle theft (-6.7 percent)
  • Larceny-theft (-4.2 percent)

The full Crime in the United States, 2019 report will be released later this year.

Full Report