Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New novel and old passion for cop-turned-writer Joe Wambaugh

Peter Rowe at The San Diego Union-Tribune offers an interesting piece on Joseph Wambaugh, the Los Angeles Police Department detective who went on to become a best-selling author.

Wambaugh, who has written classic police novels like The Choirboys and classic true crime books like The Onion Field, has written a new novel called Hollywood Hills.

You can read the newspaper story via the below link:


You can also read my review of Joe Wambaugh's last novel, Hollywood Moon, and link to my interview with him, via the below link:


Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Q & A with Mark D. Clookie, Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)

Counterterrorism magazine published my interview with Mark D. Clookie, the Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

I first met Mark Clookie a while back when he was the NCIS Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge in the Northeast.

Mark Clookie was my guest on Inside Government, a public affairs radio program that aired on Sunday mornings on WMGK FM and WPEN AM in the Philadelphia area.

He and another NCIS Special Agent came on the radio program to discuss military procurement fraud.

You can read my Q&A with the NCIS director below:

Note: You can click on the above to enlarge.

My Piece On The Rise Of Chinese Espionage In The United States

Counterterrorism magazine published my article on the rise of Chinese espionage in the United States.

As I noted in the magazine piece, the U.S. Justice Department has prosecuted more than 40 espionage cases involving the Communist Chinese, including the case that was profiled on 60 Minutes a while back.

In that case, a Chinese spy handed a Defense Department official cash for classified information and the feds caught the transaction on video.

You can read my magazine piece via the below and below:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mob Talk: A Look Back at the Murder of Raymond "Long John" Martorano

Fox News Channel 29 in Philadelphia offers another Mob Talk piece with their reporter Dave Schratwieser and The Philadelphia Inquirer's George Anastasia.

This piece looks back at the murder of Raymond "Long John" Martorano.

You can watch the Fox News video via the below link:


You can also read my Philadelphia Inquirer review of George Anastasia's true crime book The Last Gangster via the below links:



Friday, November 26, 2010

Pirates Of the Horn Of Africa: Five Somalis Convicted of Piracy Against USS Nicholas

The U.S. Justice Department announced on November 24th that a federal jury in Norfolk, Va., convicted five men from Somalia of engaging in piracy and related offenses in their attack on the USS Nicholas marking what is believed to be the first piracy trial conviction in the United States since 1820.

Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's New York Field Office; Alex J. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Norfolk Field Office; and Mark Russ, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Norfolk, made the announcement after the verdict was accepted by United States District Judge Mark S. Davis.

"Today marks the first jury conviction of piracy in more than 190 years," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "These five Somali pirates were convicted of an armed assault on the high seas against what they thought was a merchant vessel, but turned out to be a U.S. Navy frigate engaged in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Modern-day pirates not only threaten human lives but also disrupt international commerce by extorting hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments. Today's conviction demonstrates that armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels are crimes against the international community and that pirates will face severe consequences in U.S. courts."

"Ensuring maritime security on the world's seas continues to be a high priority for NCIS as part of the international law enforcement community," said NCIS Special Agent in Charge Russ. "NCIS is forward deployed with U.S. naval forces and is able to deliver a unique blend of capabilities to help deter and prosecute pirates."

After nine days of trial, the jury convicted the five men—Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher, and Abdi Mohammed Umar, all from Somalia—of piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, act of violence against persons on a vessel, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees, conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence, and multiple firearm counts, including the use of a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). They face a mandatory penalty of life in prison when they are sentenced on March 14, 2011.

The Somalis were indicted on April 21, 2010, and were later charged with additional crimes in a 14-count superseding indictment on July 7, 2010.

According to evidence and trial testimony, the five men left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They used a larger ship full of supplies, along with two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that served as attack boats.

On April 1, 2010, Hasan, Ali, and Dire boarded one of these smaller vessels and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship, while Gurewardher and Umar remained onboard the large ship to maintain that ship during the attack.

Ali and Dire each carried an assault weapon, and Hasan carried an RPG. They opened fire on a ship, which they later discovered was the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk, Va.

The piracy conviction and the conviction for the use of a destructive device (an RPG) in relation to a crime of violence both carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison. In addition, they are facing a maximum of 10 years in prison for attack to plunder a vessel; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy and an act of violence against persons on a vessel; a maximum of 10 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon in the special maritime jurisdiction; a maximum of 20 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence; a maximum of 10 years in prison for one count of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, a second firearm count carries an additional 25 years—to equal 35 years—in prison.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph DePadilla, John Davis, and Benjamin L. Hatch from the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Jerome Teresinski from the Department of Justice's National Security Division prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.

The above artist impression is by Alba Bagoli/AP.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Look Back at Ian Fleming's Iconic Character: The 45th Anniversary of the Airing of The Incredible World of James Bond On Television

The HMSS web log offers a piece on the 45th anniversary of the TV program (which HMSS called an infomercial) The Incredible World of James Bond.

You can read about the program and view part one of the Youtube.com video via the below link:


You can view part two via the below link:


You can view part three via the below link:


You can watch part four via the below link:

You can watch part five via the below link:

You can watch part six via the below link:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Elmore Leonard On John Steinbeck's Influence

Elmore Leonard recently spoke about John Steinbeck's influence on him.

You can read Leonard's remark's via the below link


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Russian Spy Agencies Under Fire for Their Rank Amateur Peformance

Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB officer and current Prime Minister of Russia, is suffering criticism of his spy agencies, according to the Scottish newspaper The Herald.

The FBI's round up of the Russian spy ring in the United States and other intelligence failures have made the once powerful Soviet spy agencies look like rank amateurs.

You can read the newspaper story via the link below:


You can also read an earlier post on the Russian spy ring via the below link:


Mark Twain's Autobiography Flying Off the Shelves

Julie Bosman at The New York Times tells us that Mark Twain's Autobiography, Volume 1, is flying off the shelves.

The autobiography, which Mark Twain wanted to be published 100 years after his death, is fast becoming a best seller.

Although I don't agree with all of Twain's views, I think he was a wonderful writer - and he was funny.

You can read the Bosman piece via the below link:


You can also visit the book's web site via the below link:


Lastly, you can visit an earlier post, where Twain is noted to be America's first blogger:


Colonel Roosevelt: Edmund Morris' Third and Final Volume of his Biography of Theodore Roosevelt

I look forward to reading Edmund Morris' third and final volume in his fine biography of one of our most fascinating, if not greatest presidents. Theodore Roosevelt led a full and wonderful life.

Colonel Roosevelt covers his post-presidency. The former president, who preferred to be called Colonel (from his Rough Rider days), rather than Mr. President, was a prolific writer, went on an African safari, won the Nobel Peace prize, formed a third political party (Bull Moose) and ran for president again, and survived an assassination attempt.

I thoroughly enjoyed Morris' first two volumes, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, and I'm sure I'll thoroughly enjoy Colonel Roosevelt as well.

Below is a link to a review of Morris' book by Nicholas Basbanes in The Los Angeles Times:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

First Look At the Russian Defector Who Blew the Cover of the Russian Spy Ring

The New York Post offers the name, background and a photo of the Russian defector who blew the covers of the Russian spy ring to the FBI.

The newspaper reports that the defector was a Russian Colonel named Alexander Poteyev (seen on the right in the above photo).

Poteyev defected to the United States and gave the names of the Russian sleeper agents in America, including Anna Chapman (seen on the left in the above photo).

You can read the newspaper story via the below link:


You can also read an earlier post on the Russian spy ring via the below link:


Friday, November 19, 2010

Russian Arms Dealer Known As "The Merchant of Death" Prefered Clients Who Murdered Americans

A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official stated that Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer who bragged that he was the "Merchant of Death," liked clients who'd use his weapons to murder Americans.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in a clever DEA sting two years ago. On November 16th, after two years of legal proceedings, Bout was extradited to the Southern District of New York from Thailand to stand trial on terrorism charges, the Justice Department announced.

Bout arrived on a DEA charter plane and was brought to a high-security prison in Manhattan, where he will be held pending trial.

Bout, who also goes by many other names, including “Boris,” “Victor Anatoliyevich Bout,” “Victor But,” “Viktor Budd,” “Viktor Butt,” “Viktor Bulakin,” and “Vadim Markovich Aminov,” is scheduled to be presented in Manhattan federal court tomorrow afternoon before U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, to whom the case has been assigned.

“Viktor Bout has been indicted in the United States, but his alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa has been a cause of concern around the world. His extradition is a victory for the rule of law worldwide,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “Long considered one of the world’s most prolific arms traffickers, Mr. Bout will now appear in federal court in Manhattan to answer to charges of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to a terrorist organization for use in trying to kill Americans.”

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Viktor Bout allegedly jumped at the chance to arm narco-terrorists bent on killing Americans with an arsenal of military grade weapons. Today’s successful extradition underscores our commitment to protect Americans on our own soil and throughout the world. The historic operation culminating in today’s extradition would not have been possible without the courageous and groundbreaking work of our partners at the DEA.”

“With Viktor Bout now behind bars in the United States, this defendant will finally face his most feared consequence: accountability for his alleged crimes in a court of law,” said Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator of the DEA. “For more than a decade, Mr. Bout is alleged to have plied a deadly trade in surface-to-air missiles, land mines, bullets, death and destruction. Fortunately, with his arrest, extradition, and pending prosecution in the Southern District of New York, his last alleged attempt to deal in death means that he will finally face justice.”

According to the indictment and other court documents:

Until his arrest in March 2008, Bout was an alleged international weapons trafficker. To carry out his weapons trafficking business, Bout assembled a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.

In 2004, as a result of his weapons trafficking activities in Liberia, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) placed Bout on the Specially Designated Nationals list, which prohibits any transactions between Bout and any U.S. nationals, and freezes any of Bout’s assets that are within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout agreed to sell to the Colombian narco-terrorist organization, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), millions of dollars worth of weapons -- including surface-to-air missile systems; armor piercing rocket launchers; AK-47 firearms; millions of rounds of ammunition; Russian spare parts for rifles; anti-personnel land mines; C-4 plastic explosives; night-vision equipment; “ultralight” aircraft that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles; and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The FARC is dedicated to the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Colombia and is also the world’s largest supplier of cocaine. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the “CSs”), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC, with the specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia.

During a covertly-recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6, 2008, Bout stated to the CSs that he could arrange to airdrop the arms to the FARC in Colombia, and offered to sell two cargo planes to the FARC that could be used for arms deliveries. Bout also provided a map of South America, and asked the CSs to show him American radar locations in Colombia.

Bout indicated that he understood that the CSs wanted the arms for use against American personnel in Colombia, and advised that the United States was also his enemy, stating that the FARC’s fight against the United States was also his fight. During the meeting, Bout also offered to provide people to train the FARC in the use of the arms. Following this meeting, Bout was arrested by Thai law enforcement authorities.

The indictment charges Bout with four separate terrorism offenses:

Count one: conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals,

Count two: conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees,

Count three: conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, and

Count four: conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization

If convicted of all counts, Bout faces a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

This investigation was conducted by the DEA and its success is the result of international law enforcement cooperation efforts spanning the globe. The case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anjan Sahni and Brendan R. McGuire are in charge of the prosecution. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and National Security Division, as well as the U.S. State Department, also provided substantial assistance.

Communist Chinese Spy Pleds Guilty To Stealing Ford Secrets

A former Ford employee, Xiang Dong Yu, aka Mike Yu, 49, of Beijing, China, pleaded guilty today in federal court to two counts of theft of trade secrets, announced Barbara L. McQuade, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

McQuade was joined in the announcement by Andrew G. Arena, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement in this case, Yu was a product engineer for the Ford Motor Company from 1997 to 2007 and had access to Ford trade secrets, including Ford design documents.

In December 2006, Yu accepted a job at the China branch of a U.S. company. On the eve of his departure from Ford and before he told Ford of his new job, Yu copied some 4,000 Ford documents onto an external hard drive, including sensitive Ford design documents.

Included in those documents were system design specifications for the engine/transmission mounting subsystem, electrical distribution system, electric power supply, electrical subsystem and generic body module, among others.

Ford spent millions of dollars and decades on research, development, and testing to develop and continuously improve the design specifications set forth in these documents. The majority of the design documents copied by the defendant did not relate to his work at Ford.

On December 20, 2006, the defendant traveled to the location of his new employer in Shenzhen, China, taking the Ford trade secrets with him. On January 2, 2007, Yu e-mailed his Ford supervisor from China and informed him that he was leaving Ford’s employ.

The plea agreement further states that in November 2008, the defendant began working for Beijing Automotive Company, a direct competitor of Ford. On October 19, 2009, the defendant returned to the United States, flying into Chicago from China.

Upon his arrival, the defendant was arrested on a warrant issued upon the indictment in this case. At that time, the defendant had in his possession his Beijing Automotive Company laptop computer.

Upon examination of that computer, the FBI discovered that 41 Ford system design specifications documents had been copied to the defendant’s Beijing Automotive Company work computer.

The FBI also discovered that each of those design documents had been accessed by the defendant during the time of his employment with Beijing Automotive Company.

Under the plea agreement, Yu faces a sentence of between 63-78 months’ imprisonment based on an agreed loss amount of more than $50 million and less than $100 million and a fine of up to $150,000. The agreement also provides that Yu will be deported from the United States after completing any term of incarceration.

"We will vigilantly protect the intellectual property of our U.S. automakers, who invest millions of dollars and decades of time in research and development to compete in a global economy," McQuade said. "Those who do not play by the rules will be brought to justice."

Special Agent Arena stated, “Michigan, as well as the rest of the United States, is significantly impacted by the auto industry. Theft of trade secrets is a threat to national security and investigating allegations involving theft of trade secrets is a priority for the FBI. The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue these cases.”

Yu remains in federal custody and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 23, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.

The investigation of this case had been conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My On Crime & Security Column: Indiana Police Officer Explains the Benefits of a Business Crime Watch

The online small business magazine Businessknowhow.com published my On Crime & Security column today.

My column covers my interview with an Indiana police officer who explained the benefits of a Business Crime Watch.

You can read my column via the below link:


John Wayne's Winchester and Other Favorite Movie Guns

As The American Rifleman notes, guns have been part of the movies since The Great Train Robbery  in 1903.

The magazine's web page has complied a list of the 10 most favorite movie guns, which includes John Wayne's Winchester Model 1892 (seen in the above photo), which appeared in the film True Grit.

You can see the rest of the favorite movie guns via the below link:


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Crime Beat Column: Martin Scorsese's Film World of Crime

In the opening scene of The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-Winning film, Jack Nicholson gives a speech to his young criminal aspirants. With facial expressions and motions perhaps more suited to a warlock than a South Boston hoodlum, Nicholson tells his students that when he was a kid he was told that he could become a cop or a criminal. He then asks them, when someone is facing you with a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Well, Scorsese himself noted the difference in his 1990 film Goodfellas. When Ray Liotta, portraying small-time hood Henry Hill, is backing out of his driveway, a loaded gun is placed behind his head and a man yells for him not to move or he’ll get his head blown off.

In the voice-over narration, Hill relaxes and says it must be a cop, because if it were a criminal – a Goodfella - he would not have heard a thing. He would be dead.

That, Mr. Nicholson, is the difference between a cop and a criminal with a loaded gun. The cop arrested Hill, whereas the criminal would have given Mr. Hill the proverbial two behind the ear.

It is insulting to believe that working class kids from neighborhoods like Irish South Boston, or South Philly’s Little Italy, where I grew up, have only the two choices in life. Although it’s true that most of the mob guys as well as many cops come from South Philly - including one who went on to become the police commissioner and mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo - there were and are many other job paths available.

Including, I might remind The Departed's screenwriter, Bill Monahan, writing and filmmaking.

The stereotype, I suppose, is that cops and criminals are both violent and gun-crazy, but that notion is pure nonsense. I grew up with guys who went on to become criminals and guys who went on to be cops (as well as electricians, doctors and postal workers). Those who became criminals never stood at a fork in the road asking themselves if they should apply for the police department or rob a warehouse. Usually, they already had criminal records that would preclude them from becoming cops. But beyond that, the criminal, unlike a cop, has a bent mind. They are generally sociopaths who have no empathy for their victims.

Cops, on the other hand, generally have a sense of justice and duty, and/or they like the idea of a good job with benefits and a pension. Cops rarely use their guns and when they do, they are buried in an investigation that will determine their future as a police officer. Cops and criminals may come from the same working class neighborhoods (as well as from the suburbs) and there have been aberrant cases of bent cops, to be sure, but the two groups are as different as night and day.

That criticism aside, I’m genuinely happy that Martin Scorsese finally received an Oscar for one of his films. But I don’t think The Departed is in the same league as Goodfellas, which I rank as one of the greatest crime films ever made. Scorsese’s Casino (1996) and Raging Bull (1980) are also superior films in my view.
I enjoyed The Departed when it came out last year and I recently watched it again on cable TV. I think it is a good film. Scorsese offered a grand showcase for some fine acting from Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Mark Walberg. Ray Winstone (who was also brilliant in Sexy Beast) energizes the film as a criminal henchman and Martin Sheen gave a fine, understated performance as the police captain who oversees the undercover cop portrayed by DiCaprio. His calm demeanor is a counterpoint to Walberg’s angry young police Sgt.

Understated is not exactly the word I’d use to describe Nicholson’s performance, although to be fair, he was portraying a flamboyant crime boss based in part, I’m sure, on Boston’s own Whitey Bulger, a vicious murderer and FBI informant who is now one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted.

James "Whitey" Bulger was a notorious Boston criminal that ruled in the 1980s and early 1990s. He went on the lam in 1994 after he was tipped off to an arrest warrant for a variety of crimes including murder. Bulger, who is suspected of 21 murders, was the leader of the Winter Hill gang. The gang included a cold-blooded killer named Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi and an assortment of demented and violent criminals.

Bulger’s Irish-American gang competed with the Italian-American Patriarca crime family. In this joust, Bulger was aided by his brother, William "Billy" Bulger, who was president of the Massachusetts State Senate, and an FBI agent named John Connolly.

Although Billy Bulger was never convicted of a crime in connection to his brother, local observers believe that the brothers used each other’s power and influence to get ahead. Connolly, who grew up in South Boston and had a long connection to Whitey Bulger, placed him on the FBI’s payroll.

The FBI was hot to bring down the Patriarca crime family and Bulger, despite the "Southie Code," became an informant – a rat, in criminal parlance – for Connolly and the FBI. Bulger cleverly used the FBI to wipe out his competitors and to shield him from prosecution from federal and commonwealth authorities.

As the Italian mob guys were rolled up thanks to Bulger’s inside information, Bulger assumed their criminal enterprises. Connolly, thanks to Bulger, looked good to his FBI bosses.

Eventually, Bulger’s murders, narcotics dealing, extortion and other crimes became so vast and violent that he went beyond the protection of his brother and the FBI. Connolly was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for crossing the line in aiding Bulger.

I’ve visited Boston many times and I know the city fairly well. Boston reminds me in many ways of my own city, Philadelphia.

If you would like to know more about Boston crime and Bulger, there are several good books on the subject and I recommend Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century by Howie Carr.

Although the Bulger/FBI storyline is an added twist to the story, Scorsese's film is based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, which in a way, I wish I had not seen before I saw The Departed.

Infernal Affairs, which I saw in Chinese with English subtitles, was an interesting film. I visited Hong Kong many years ago when I was in the Navy and I vividly recall the crowded streets, the neon lights with Chinese symbols and the hustle of the people. When I read that Scorsese was filming a remake, I wondered what his vision of this story would be.

Like the original film, The Departed tells the tale of two young men who go undercover. The story is very similar, merely exchanging Chinese gangs in Hong Kong for Irish-American gangs in Boston. One of the undercover cops is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, who goes undercover to infiltrate Nicholson’s Irish mob and the second, portrayed by Matt Damon, is a criminal protégé of Nicholson’s who becomes a cop and infiltrates the Massachusetts State Police.

I’m not too crazy about DiCaprio. I did not buy him as a street tough in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and although I loved the film and the otherwise stellar cast of Daniel Day Lewis (who was also brilliant in The Last of the Mohicans) Liam Neelson (also brilliant in Batman Begins), Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson and John C. Reilly, DiCaprio’s unbelievable performance lessened my enjoyment of the film. I also think DiCaprio stunk up Scorsese’s The Aviator. I just could not buy him as Howard Hughes.

DiCaprio, thankfully, was not nearly as front and center in The Departed, and I have to admit that he gave a good performance. His performance sucking up to former Vice President Al Gore at the Academy Awards ceremony is another matter.

I’ve been a Scorsese fan since Mean Streets came out in 1973. I was a young aspiring writer at the time, hanging out at a bar in South Philly that was the same type of bar that Scorsese portrayed in Mean Streets.

The characters in the film, based on people he knew from the Lower East Side of New York, had their counterparts in South Philly. Replace New York’s tenements with South Philly’s row homes, and you had the same type of neighborhood and people.

One weeknight at the bar, the bar’s owner called me over. He had seen Mean Streets and knowing that I was a film buff as well, asked me if I had seen the film. I said that I had and that I loved it. We laughed as we pointed out our own "Johnny Boy," "Michael" and the other characters from the film.

Inspired by our conversation, he promptly closed the bar, told customers to come to the movies or go home. About a dozen of us went to see Mean Streets.

I later read The Playboy Interview with Scorsese and he mentioned a story about another crew that had flocked to see Mean Streets. He said that while filming Goodfellas, Henry Hill told him that he and Paul Vario’s son had seen Mean Streets and loved it. They saw Paul Vario, who was a capo in the Lucchese crime family, and urged him to see the film. Vario, who rarely went to the movies, gave in and saw the film.

Vario, who would years later be portrayed by Paul Sorvino in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, called his crew together and instructed them to see Mean Streets. Vario, a man of few words, simply told his astonished crew, "It’s about us."

If you have not caught The Departed yet, I recommend that you see the film on DVD or on cable. It is not Goodfellas, but it is still a pretty good crime film. You might also want to revisit Scorsese’s other great crime films.

Bulger is still at large today, walking around with his millions. There have been sightings of Bulger leaving movie theaters showing The Departed.

Note: The column originally appeared in the Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2007.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not So Fair Game: The Valerie Plame Blame Game

Mark Hemingway's column quotes a retired CIA officer who debunks some of the outrageous assertions in the new film Fair Game.

As Hemingway notes, there are those who believe that CIA officer Valerie Plame's cover was "blown" by the White House for political reasons and her agents were killed due to her being "outed' as a CIA officer.

You can read Hemingway's column via the below link:

The late, great journalist Robert Novak covered this saga in his autobiography, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington.

In the two columns below he names his sources in identifying Plame, after the two men came out and admitted they were the sources.

In the first column, Novak reveals that the CIA spokesperson was the secondary source.

In the second column, Novak reveals that Richard Armitage, a State Department official who opposed to the Iraq War, was the primary source.

Although I've not seen the film, I'm sure it is deceitful due to the political views of the film makers, and I'm sure it is simplistic.

But like all of the other recent left wing, anti-war films, I'm also sure this film will bomb at the box office.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bernard Cornwell Discusses The Fort, His Latest Historical Novel

Bernard Cornwell, the author of the terrific Richard Sharpe series, discusses his new historical novel, The Fort, with Sarah Crown from the British newspaper The Guardian.

Cornwell (seen in the above photo) tells how he learned about a "forgotten story" from the American War of Independence, and how he came to debunk legendary hero Paul Revere.

You can view the video interview via the below link:


You can also go to an earlier post and read about the novel and listen to an audio interview with Cornwell via the below link:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Lessons of the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

George Mason University's History News Network offers an interesting piece by James S. Robbins on the lessons of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War for our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robbins, the author of This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, sets the record straight on one of the commonly held misconceptions from the Vietnam War.

You can read the piece via the below link:


You can also read a review of the book in The Washington Times by Gary L. Larson via the below link:


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Forman in Convicted Cop-Killer Mumia Abu Jamal's Trial Speaks Out

Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist, interviewed the foreman of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal's trial from 30 years ago.

Abu Jamal (seen in the above photo) was convicted of murdering 25-year-old Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner (seen in the below photo), three decades ago, and he is now going through yeat another judicial appeal in a long series of appeals.

You can read the Smerconish column via the below link:


You can also read my GreatHistory.com piece about the book Michael Smerconish wrote with Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Officer Faulkner, via the below link:


You can also read my 2003 Crime Beat column on the Abu Jamal case via the below link:


Friday, November 12, 2010

Mark Twain: America's First Blogger

In her Los Angeles Times review of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Laura Skandera Trombley calls Twain "America's first blogger."

Trombley bestows that title to Twain because she sees his autobiography as "a freewheeling record of his thoughts, unrestricted and unfiltered except by the King - himself."

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 will be published on Twain's birthday, November 30th.

You can read Trombley's piece via the below link:


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy 90th Birthday, Mr. Bond

The web site MI6.co.uk reports that today is James Bond's 90th birthday.

The birth date of Ian Fleming's fictional iconic character comes from Ian Fleming's biographer, John Pearson, who also wrote a "biography" of James Bond.

You can read the piece via the below link:


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dashiell Hammett: The Bull of Baltimore

Lauren Weiner at The Weekly Standard states the case for Baltimore's claim to crime writer Dashiell Hammett.

Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man and other crime classics, was a private detective before he became a writer, and he did much of his detective work in Baltimore.

Baltimore, Weiner notes, shaped Hammett's art and his worldview.

Hammett is one of my favorite writers, despite his foolish admiration of mass murderer Stalin and his foolish attachment to the American Communist Party.

You can read Laurn Weiner's piece via the below link:


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veterans Honored During Navy UDT-SEAL Muster XXV

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Andersen, Naval Special Warfare Group 2 Public Affairs

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (NNS) -- The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum hosted its annual Veterans Day ceremony and Muster XXV Nov. 6-7 at Fort Pierce, Fla.

The two-day celebration featured several events open to the public, including a 5K run, a memorial ceremony in honor of Veterans Day, and a live capabilities demonstration performed by East Coast-based Navy SEALs.

The Veterans Day ceremony included remarks from Adm. Eric Olson, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command; Tom Norris, former SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient; and Chris Cassidy, a NASA astronaut and SEAL, who presented a challenge coin he carried with him on his recent space missions.

Retired SEAL Capt. Michael R. Howard, executive director of the museum, began the ceremony by recognizing naval special warfare personnel in attendance from every era of Navy special operations, beginning with World War II scouts and raiders, from underwater demolition teams, to present-day SEALs.

"This is a celebration of Veterans Day, first and foremost," said Howard. "I feel privileged to be part of the team that created a museum worthy of the great men it represents."

Fort Pierce has a significant place in the history and heritage of naval special warfare. Established in 1943 by Lt. Draper Kaufman, who is considered the father of naval combat demolition, the installation served as the very first training site for Navy frogmen.

"All SEALs, one way or another, can trace their lineage to Draper Kaufman and the training he established here," said Olson.

The festivities continued with a live capabilities demonstration by East Coast-based Navy SEALs, which showcased the specialized training and unique skills of naval special warfare operators. The SEALs demonstrated a fast rope insertion from a hovering helicopter, and performed a simulated fire-fight with role players.

Veterans and family members gathered at the beach just outside of the museum Nov. 7 to honor 82 members of the naval special warfare community, active duty and Retired, who have passed since last year.

At sunrise, retired chaplain, Capt. Robert Bedingfield, who currently serves as the museum's chaplain, read the names of all the 82 frogmen and led the crowd in prayer. A detail of SEAL swimmers then delivered the ashes of ten of the fallen to their final resting place at sea, in accordance with their wishes.

Following the muster, the museum board of directors hosted a dedication ceremony for the new UDT-SEAL memorial that took two years to research and build on the grounds of the museum.

The memorial featured a wall with the names of all 252 naval special warfare personnel who have died in the line of duty since WWII and a bronze statue of a UDT diver.

"Never has the country asked so much from so few, for so long," said Olson. "This memorial recognizes the human cost of extraordinary service."

Below is an earlier post on the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum:


Monday, November 8, 2010

Imprisoned Spy Harold James Nicholson Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy To Act As A Russian Agent - Again!

Harold James Nicholson (seen in the above photo), a former CIA officer already imprisoned for spying for the Russians, plead guilty today to conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government.

The U.S. Justice Department announced today that Nicholson, 59, appeared before U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown and pleaded guilty to the crimes of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy to commit international money laundering, David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Dwight C. Holton, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, announced today.

The maximum penalties for those crimes are five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 and 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000, respectively. The plea agreement states both parties will ask the court at sentencing to impose an eight year prison sentence to be served consecutive to the sentence the defendant is currently serving. Judge Brown has scheduled sentencing on Jan. 18, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.

Nicholson, a former CIA employee, is serving a 283-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Sheridan, Ore., for a 1997 conviction of conspiracy to commit espionage. At the plea hearing, Nicholson admitted that from 2006 to December 2008, with the assistance of his son Nathaniel, he acted on behalf of the Russian Federation, passed information to the Russian Federation, and received cash proceeds for his past espionage activities.

Nicholson admitted that during the course of the conspiracy he met with his son Nathaniel on several occasions at FCI Sheridan and provided Nathaniel information intended for the Russian Federation. Defendant admitted that it was part of the conspiracy that Nathaniel would travel to several locations including San Francisco; Mexico City; Lima, Peru; and Nicosia, Cyprus, to meet with agents of the Russian Federation.

At these meetings, Nathaniel provided the Russian Federation information from the defendant and collected money for defendant’s past espionage activities. Defendant followed the instructions of the Russian Federation and provided information requested by the Russians to Nathaniel to deliver to Russian agents at the overseas locations. Defendant directed Nathaniel on how to covertly travel with the funds from the Russian Federation and how to disperse the funds to family members.

"Harold Nicholson, one of the highest-ranking CIA officials ever convicted of espionage, dispatched his son around the globe to collect on past espionage debts from Russian agents. Today, he admitted using this scheme to continue to profit from his spying activities while in prison. The many agents, analysts and prosecutors who worked on this matter deserve our thanks," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Dwight C. Holton stated, "Harold Nicholson has admitted not only betraying his country – again -- but also betraying his family by involving his son Nathaniel in his corrupt scheme to get more money for his past espionage activities. We applaud the outstanding work of the FBI on this criminal investigation and the extraordinary cooperation of the Bureau of Prisons."

"When he was hired by the CIA, Harold Nicholson took an oath to protect our nation’s security. He violated this oath," said Sean Joyce, Executive Assistant Director FBI National Security Division. "The FBI will relentlessly pursue those who breach the trust our country places in them."

"During his career with the CIA, this country entrusted Harold ‘Jim’ Nicholson with some of its most sensitive secrets," said Arthur Balizan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. "Not once - but twice - he betrayed his oath, our nation and his family. Unfortunately, this is a legacy he and his children will live with from now on."

The FBI and the Federal Bureau of Prisons investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Pamala Holsinger and Ethan Knight are prosecuting this case. Trial Attorney Patrick Murphy of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division is also assisting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Unmasking of a Spy and Traitor: Harold Evans On How He and the London Sunday Times Exposed Kim Philby

A while back I read Harold Evans' book about his life working for newspapers and book publishers, My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times.

I was especially interested in his time as the editor of the London Sunday Times and how the Sunday Times' investigative team under Evans exposed "The Third Man," the notorious spy and traitor Kim Philby.

While searching for something else, I came across an excerpt of Evans' book that dealt with Philby (seen in the below photo).

You can read the excerpt via the below link:


Friday, November 5, 2010

Terrorism Back On the Big Screen

Richard B. Woodward wrote an interesting piece for The Wall Street Journal about the recent film biographies of noted and notorious 20th Century terrorists.

I truly liked Carlos and The Baader-Meinhof Complex. I was stationed in Europe while serving in the U.S. Navy in the mid-1970s and I vividly recall the incidents depicted in these films.

I didn't care much for Che.

I thought director Steven Soderbergh was too enamored with his subject, communist revolutionary Che Guevara.

Guevara, in my view, was not a tragic and romantic figure. He was a communist thug and murderer.

You can read the newspaper story via the below link:


You can also read my comments on Che via the below link:


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Convicted Spy Harry Gold Was Philadelphia's Benedict Arnold

I'm reading Allen M. Hornblum's The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atomic Bomb (Yale University Press).

The interesting book is about a man who gave the world's most devastating weapon to the world's most evil empire.

Hornblum wrote about Gold in a piece for The Philadelphia Daily News. You can read the piece via the below link:


Ian Fleming's James Bond Novels Go Digital, Cutting Out Penguin, the Print Publisher of the Novels

The British newspaper The Telegraph reports that the family of the late Ian Fleming are planning to offer Fleming's James Bond novels as e-books, independent of the novel's print publisher, Penguin.

You can read the newspaper story via the below link:


Monday, November 1, 2010

Yemen-Based Terrorist Suspected of Being the Parcel Bomb Maker

The British newspaper The Telegraph reports that U.S. intelligence officials have identified the parcel bomb maker.

The suspect is an al Qaeda terrorist named Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri (seen in the above photo).

You can read the newspaper story via the below link: