Saturday, November 30, 2019

On This Day In History America's Great Humorist And Author Mark Twain Was Born

As notes, Mark Twain was born on this date in 1835. 

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, was the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, and other American classics. 

You can read about his life and work via the below link:

Malcolm Muggeridge, the late British journalist, author and editor of Britain's late, great weekly satirical magazine, Punch, once said that he never tired of reading Mark Twain, or reading about him.

Although I don’t always agree with Mark Twain’s worldview, I share that notion. Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers.

So I was pleased to be able to review Richard Zacks' Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour for the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

You can read my review below:

Friday, November 29, 2019

Project Guardian Will Enforce Current Gun Laws To Combat Gun Crime: My Washington Times Piece On Strict Enforcement Of Existing Gun Laws Rather Than New Gun Control Laws

The Washington Times ran my piece on Project Guardian and the strict enforcement of existing gun laws rather than creating more gun control laws.

Like George Orwell’s “newspeak” from his brilliant novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the left has exchanged words and phrases they use in the public debate. They hope the euphemistic changes will better sell their ideas than the tired old ones. For example, liberals became progressives, global warming became climate change, quid pro quo became bribery, and gun control became gun safety.  

And with every horrific shooting incident, the left clamors for what they now call euphemistically gun safety, as gun control sounds too authoritarian, which of course it certainly is. Gun safety means passing new legislation that further restricts the gun rights of legal gun owners. That most shootings are committed by criminals who obtained the firearms illegally, or by mentally ill individuals, has not stopped the left’s clarion call for new strict gun control laws. 

Laws to stem gun violence already exist and the Trump administration is seeking to greater enforce those existing laws.  

Attorney General William P. Barr announced a new federal initiative to combat violent crime and gun violence, called Project Guardian, on Nov. 13th in Memphis, Tennessee.

Mr. Barr noted that the Trump administration, working with state and local authorities, pushed crime rates down in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, violent crime went down nearly 4 percent nationwide. But as crime remains far too high in cities and rural areas, the attorney general announced that the Justice Department will revive the triggerlock program, which he stated was not followed faithfully during the Obama years. Project Triggerlock targeted violent felons who illegally possessed guns. The program used strong federal gun laws to place the violent gut-toting criminals in prison.

“What we are trying to do is take those Triggerlock principles that were successful in the past and revamp this program, resuscitate it, and double down on it nationwide,” Mr. Barr stated in Memphis. “This is a national program. It will be in every district. The idea is to use our existing gun laws to incapacitate the most dangerous and violent offenders. As most of you know, with Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is one of the flagship programs of the Department of Justice, we do go after the armed felons. But that program is regionally based; we go after particular areas.”

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

From Page To Screen: My Washington Times Review Of 'The Big Book Of Reel Murders'

The Washington Times ran my review of The Big Book of Reel Murders: Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films.

Almost as much as I love novels and short stories, I love films, especially crime films. 

Throughout my life I’ve watched many good films that led me to read the novels or short stories that the films were based on. Likewise, I’ve also gone to see films that were based on novels and short stories I’ve read and enjoyed.

Delving behind the movie theater’s curtain, as it were, “The Big Book of Reel Murders: Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films” offers a collection of fine short stories that were later made into classic crime films. The book is edited by Otto Penzler, who previously edited other books in “The Big Book” series. Mr. Penzler knows crime stories. In addition to being an editor, he is the president of and the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.

In “The Big Book of Reel Murders” he has selected a good variety of stories from well-known writers, as well as some writers that are not as well-known by today’s readers. From Robert Louis Stevenson’s story that was the basis for “The Body Snatchers” film, to Aldous Huxley’s story that was the basis for “A Woman’s Vengeance,” Mr. Penzler offers notes on the film adaptations and the accompanying stories.

“The history of motion pictures is closely intertwined with mystery, crime, suspense, espionage, and detective fiction,” Mr. Penzler writes in his introduction to the stories. “Crime is a greater motivating factor in motion pictures than any other — even love — and audiences delight in seeing the criminal confronted and defeated on the silver screen.

“The detective, whether amateur sleuth, official crime fighter, private eye, or espionage agent, is a necessary component of these narratives. These (mostly) heroic figures have had a rich life in films, and this volume barely scratches the surface as it focuses on a single literary form, the short story.”

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

FBI: Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

The FBI released the below information:

‘Tis the season for holiday gifting, and many shoppers will go online this time of year to find the best deals on popular items. But the sellers you buy from may not be what they seem.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), thousands of people become victims of holiday scams every year. Scammers can rob you of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a festive mood. The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes.
In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received. Conversely, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid. In 2018 alone, the IC3 estimates that non-delivery and non-payment scams together affected more than 65,000 victims, causing almost $184 million in losses.
Similar scams to beware of this time of year are auction fraud, where a product is misrepresented on an auction site, and gift card fraud, when a seller asks you to pay with a pre-paid card.
The IC3 receives a large volume of complaints in the early months of the year, suggesting a correlation with the previous holiday season’s shopping scams.
Do your part to avoid becoming a victim. These simple tips from the IC3 can help you look out for scammers during the holiday season or any other time of year:
  • Always get a tracking number for items purchased online so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
  • Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
  • Avoid sellers who post an auction or advertisement under one name but ask that payment be sent to someone else.
  • Consider canceling your purchase if a seller requests funds be wired directly to them via a money transfer company, pre-paid card, or bank-to-bank wire transfer. Money sent in these ways is virtually impossible to recover, with no recourse for the victim. Always remember that anyone who asks you to use one of these forms of payment might be a scammer. A credit card is generally the safest way to pay for an online purchase.
  • Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such dealers.
  • Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
  • Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.
  • Be suspect of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.
  • Always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
If you do become the victim of a holiday scam, contact your bank immediately. You should also inform your local law enforcement agency, and file a complaint with the IC3 at

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Look Back At Director Don Siegel's Crime Thriller 'Madigan'

I’m a huge fan of Don Siegel’s films, especially Dirty Harry and Coogan’s Bluff, two crime thrillers he directed with actor Clint Eastwood. 

Don Siegel, who died in 1991, made several good crime films, including another two crime thrillers I like, Charley Varrick, with Walter Matthau, and Madigan, with Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Harry Guardino.      

Raymond Benson offers a review of the Blu-Ray Special Edition of Madigan at

The filmmaker who made the iconic Clint Eastwood vehicle, Dirty Harry in 1971 also made something of an early test-run three years earlier in the form of a crime picture called Madigan.

Starring Richard Widmark as a tough, cynical, and world-weary police detective in New York City, Madigan displays the same look, feel, and grit that the later Eastwood police procedural exhibits. And, like Harry Callahan, Dan Madigan doesn’t always follow the rules.

Don Siegel (credited here as “Donald” Siegel for some odd reason, for he had been “Don” in earlier films) had been a solid craftsman since the 1950s, responsible for such works as Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the admirable remake of The Killers (1964), and Coogan’s Bluff (1968). Likewise, Madigan is a well-made thriller with a hard-boiled plot and realistic characters portrayed by an excellent cast that includes Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, and James Whitmore.

The tale begins when Madigan (Widmark) and his partner Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino) screw up while attempting to bring in hoodlum Barney Benesch (Steve Inhat) for questioning, unaware that he is wanted for murder in Brooklyn. Benesch gets the upper hand on the pair and runs away with their guns. Police commissioner Russell (Fonda) isn’t happy about this, but he has other problems on his mind.

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Stolen Valor: Montgomery County Man Indicted For Faking A Military Career And Stealing From The Government

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of PA released the below information:
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Richard Meleski, 58, of Chalfont, PA, was arrested and charged by Indictment with healthcare fraud, mail fraud, Stolen Valor, creating fraudulent military discharge papers, and making false statements stemming from his scheme to defraud the Veterans’ Administration (VA) of hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.
The Indictment alleges that the defendant faked serving in the U.S. military, specifically the Navy SEALs, and even falsely represented that he had been a Prisoner of War, in order to secure healthcare benefits from the VA worth over $300,000. Due to these false representations, Meleski received healthcare from the VA in Priority Group 3, effectively receiving healthcare before deserving military service members. In reality, the defendant never served a single day in the U.S. military.
Meleski also allegedly filed for monetary compensation from the VA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he claimed to have suffered as a result of an armed conflict in Beirut in which he had supposedly rescued injured teammates. In his application for disability benefits for PTSD, Meleski also falsely represented that he had been awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions during his supposed time as a Navy SEAL. He also allegedly submitted another application to the VA for monetary compensation in which he used the obituaries of actual Navy SEALs, claiming that he had served alongside them.
Finally, Meleski also allegedly filed for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for injuries that were supposedly aggravated by his service in the U.S. military. He falsely testified under oath about these injuries in connection with a SSA Disability proceeding.
“These allegations are truly shocking and a huge insult to anybody who has worn our country’s uniform. If proven, Meleski deserves to face the consequences under the law. My Office will aggressively root out and prosecute this type of conduct with the seriousness of purpose that it deserves,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 68 years imprisonment, 3 years supervised release, a $2,250,000 fine, a $900 special assessment, and restitution of $302,121.21.
The case was investigated by Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of the Inspector General and Social Security Administration-Office of the Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Megan Curran.
An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Wartime Historical Spy Novel Set In Nazi-Occupated France: My Washington Times Review of Alan Furst's 'Under Occupation'

The Washington Times published my review of Alan Furst’s Under Occupation.

Alan Furst, author of the historical spy novel “Hero of France,” returns to France during the period the country was under Nazi occupation in World War II in his latest novel, “Under Occupation.”

As we see in the stories of the late, great spy novelist Eric Ambler, whom Mr. Furst references several times in “Under Occupation,” the hero of Mr. Furst's story is not a seasoned secret agent, but rather an “everyman” protagonist, a French Parisian detective novelist with zero experience in actual intrigue.

In 1942, Parisian writer Paul Ricard is comfortable physically and safe living in Paris under Nazi rule in France. The ruling Nazis allow Paul Ricard to continue writing his non-political detective novels (much like the real-life writer George Simenon, author of the Inspector Maigret stories). Detective novels are popular in occupied France.

“The French, cities blacked out, apartments frigid, rationed food hard to come by, soap a rare treasure, were intent on reading their way through the occupation, the detective novel by far the genre of choice because it took the reader away from the grim reality of daily life,” Mr. Furst tells us.

Yet, like many French citizens, Ricard seethes secretly at the brutal Nazis who occupy his country. While walking the streets of Paris, a man being pursued by the French police slams into Ricard. The fleeing man, who has been shot, handed the writer a slip of notebook paper and then dies as the French police officers, called the “flics” in French slang, surround the body.

The slip of paper handed to Ricard was an engineering schematic of a detonator. The schematic leads Ricard into the world of the French Resistance and he becomes an underground Resistance operative against the Nazis. He later comes into contact with brave, anti-Nazi Polish workers.

Based on actual history, as Mr. Furst notes, the German Occupation Authority rounded up Poles who were electricians, welders and machinists, and forced them into slave labor at the German U-Boats naval yards in Germany. The Poles fought back by stealing technical information about the U-Boats and smuggled the valuable information to Paris, where it was forwarded to the British Secret Intelligence Service.  

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

The Cacciatori: Secret Bunkers And Mountain Hideouts: Hunting Italy's Mafia Bosses

Lorenzo Tondo at the Guardian offers a piece on an Italian special military unit that hunts organized crime fugitives. 

On the slopes of the Aspromonte mountains, Pasquale Marando, a man known as the Pablo Escobar of the Calabrian mafia, the feared ’Ndrangheta, built a secret bunker whose entrance was the mouth of a pizza oven.

Less than 10 miles away, Ernesto Fazzalari, who allegedly enjoyed trap shooting with the heads of his decapitated victims, lived in a 10 square-metre hideout in the formidable southern Italian range. 

When authorities came for him in 2004, Fazzalari, then the second most-wanted mafia boss after Matteo Messina Denaro of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, had already escaped through a secret tunnel under the kitchen sink.

Before his eventual arrest in 2016, Fazzalari spent 20 years as a fugitive in the Calabrian mountains, where the wanted men of the ’Ndrangheta have for decades planned and built elaborate mirror cities underneath their villages. It is a literal underworld of bunkers located behind sliding staircases, hidden trapdoors and manholes linked by endless tunnels that merge and separate, leading to escape routes among the sewer system or amid the brambles of a dry river bed.

To smoke them out of their holes the Italian authorities formed a special military unit composed of elite and highly trained soldiers known as the Carabinieri Heliborne Squadron, or the Cacciatori, literally: the hunters.

The Cacciatori have in the last 25 years arrested almost 300 fugitives, whose mugshots are now displayed like trophies on a large bulletin board in a room in their headquarters. They have also uncovered over 400 bunkers, described by investigators as “works of superior engineering”.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Yemeni Man Detained On Charges Of Lying To Joint Terrorism Task Force About Supporting Anti-American And Anti-Semitic Armed Insurgency

The U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released the below information:
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Gaafar Muhammed Ebrahim Al-Wazer, 25, of Altoona, PA, was ordered detained in federal custody on three counts of making false statements to Task Force Officers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force. 
According to the Criminal Complaint filed against the defendant and the government’s motion to detain him, FBI counterterrorism investigators questioned Al-Wazer, a Yemeni citizen, on May 17, 2016 about his affiliation with the Houthi movement, known formally as Ansar Allah.  Ansar Allah is the armed rebel group that toppled Yemen’s government and fought in an ongoing civil war there for years.  Al-Wazer denied to the FBI that he was aligned with the Houthi movement, whose motto is “Allah is the greatest of all, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam,” and further denied that he had ever fired a weapon or participated in military or militia training. 
To the contrary, however, the Complaint alleges that a search of Al-Wazer’s Facebook account revealed numerous postings and photographs in which he extolled and praised Ansar Allah, its objectives and its fighters who were killed in battle against the Yemeni government and its Saudi and U.S.-backed forces, and in which Al-Wazer was armed with automatic weapons (including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher).  Al-Wazer’s Facebook account included a posting of a photograph of him and others bearing automatic assault rifles and pledging that they would stay on the path of jihad and wishing death to the United States and Israel and victory to Islam.  In another posting, Al-Wazer again bears a machine gun in a photograph, which is accompanied by a pledge to Ansar Allah to the death. 
FBI agents arrested Al-Wazer at his home in Altoona on November 7, 2019.  In federal court today, United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley found that the defendant posed a risk of flight and/or a danger to the community and therefore ordered him detained. 
“The defendant was admitted to this country on a student visa and has availed himself of the generosity and the educational opportunities that the United States offers to students from all across the world,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “Al-Wazer is, of course, entitled to hold and lawfully express his political and religious opinions as freely as anyone else in this country, no matter how hateful or odious they may be.  What he is not entitled to do, however, is lie about those beliefs when asked about them by counter-terrorism officers in the course of discharging their duties.  I want to thank our partners in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for their continued vigilance.” 
“Al-Wazer blatantly lied to federal agents and these charges are the consequence of his actions,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. “If people we speak to think there is no downside to deceiving FBI agents, critical lines of investigation will be compromised and our very justice system stalled. Our Joint Terrorism Task Force can't afford to be deterred in this way.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of five years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, a $100 special assessment, per count. 
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nelson S.T. Thayer, Jr.
An indictment, information or criminal complaint is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Former CIA Officer Sentenced For Conspiracy To Commit Espionage

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:
A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer was sentenced today to 19 years in prison for conspiring to communicate, deliver and transmit national defense information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
“In just over a year, we have convicted three Americans for committing espionage offenses on behalf of the Chinese government.  Each has now received a sentence of at least a decade,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Sadly, all three of them are former members of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  These convictions and sentences should send a strong message to current and former security clearance holders: be aware that the Chinese government targets you -- and if you betray us, be aware that the Department of Justice will hold you accountable.”
“As I stated at the time of the defendant’s admission of guilt, those Americans entrusted with our government’s most closely held secrets have a tremendous responsibility to safeguard that information,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “Instead of embracing that responsibility and honoring his commitment to not disclose national defense information, Lee sold out his country, conspired to become a spy for a foreign government, and then repeatedly lied to investigators about his conduct.  This prosecution and sentence should serve as a clear warning to others who are contemplating selling out to the highest bidder and capitalizing on their position of trust.  My thanks to the prosecutors, agents and our intelligence community partners for their terrific work on this important case.”
According to court documents, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 55, left the CIA in 2007 and began residing in Hong Kong.  In April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers (IOs) approached Lee and offered to pay him for national defense information he had acquired as a CIA case officer.  The IOs also told Lee they had prepared for him a gift of $100,000 cash, and they offered to take care of him “for life” in exchange for his cooperation.
Beginning sometime in May 2010 and continuing into at least 2011, Lee received requests for information, or taskings, from the Chinese IOs.  The majority of the taskings asked Lee to reveal sensitive information about the CIA, including national defense information.  On May 14, 2010, Lee made or caused to be made a cash deposit of $138,000 HKD (approximately $17,468 in USD) into his personal bank account in Hong Kong.  This would be the first of hundreds of thousands of dollars (USD equivalent) in cash deposits Lee made or caused to be made into his personal HSBC account from May 2010 through December 2013.
On May 26, 2010, Lee created on his laptop computer a document that described, among other things, certain locations to which the CIA would assign officers with certain identified experience, as well as the particular location and timeframe of a sensitive CIA operation.  After Lee created this document, he transferred it from his laptop to a thumb drive.  The document included national defense information of the United States that was classified at the Secret level.
In August 2012, the FBI conducted a court-authorized search of a hotel room in Honolulu, Hawaii, registered in Lee’s name.  The search revealed that Lee possessed the thumb drive within his personal luggage.  The FBI forensically imaged the thumb drive and later located the document in the unallocated space of the thumb drive, meaning that it had been deleted.  The search also revealed that Lee possessed a day planner and an address book that contained handwritten notes made by Lee that mostly related to his work as a CIA case officer prior to 2004.  These notes included, among other things, intelligence provided by CIA assets, true names of assets, operational meeting locations and phone numbers, and information about covert facilities.
“Mr. Lee served as a CIA officer and was entrusted with extremely sensitive national security information, and he broke that trust with no regard for the consequences,” said John Brown, Assistant Director of Counterintelligence for the FBI.  “His actions aided a foreign government, hurt our national security, and jeopardized the safety of his former intelligence colleagues.  The FBI takes such acts of betrayal very seriously and will be relentless in pursuing these cases.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who worked tirelessly to bring Mr. Lee to justice.”
“Lee betrayed his own country for greed and put his former colleagues at risk.  The seriousness of his betrayal and crime is demonstrated by today's sentencing,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office.  “The FBI and our partners will continue to aggressively pursue those who put our nation's security in danger to benefit our adversaries.  The U.S. government will not stand by while the Chinese intelligence service targets our government employees for their gain and to the detriment of U.S. national security.”
During 2012, Lee had a series of interviews with the CIA.  Throughout these interviews, in response to questions about what the IOs had wanted from him, Lee intentionally failed to disclose that he had received taskings from them.  In May 2013, the FBI conducted multiple interviews with Lee.  During one of those interviews, Lee admitted that he had received taskings but stated that he had not kept the written requests because they would tend to incriminate him.
The FBI interviewers also confronted Lee with the sensitive document discovered on the thumb drive.  Lee falsely denied that he possessed it, claimed not to know who created it, and denied knowing why it would have been on his computer.  He also denied deleting the document.  Approximately one week later, in another FBI interview, Lee admitted that he created the document in response to two taskings from the IOs and transferred it to a thumb drive.  He also said he thought about giving it to the IOs but never did.
In a January 2018 interview with the FBI, Lee falsely denied that he ever kept any work-related notes at home.  When shown a photocopy of the front covers of the day planner and address book described above, as well as a copy of his handwriting therein, Lee falsely denied that he possessed the notebooks while transiting through Hawaii in August 2012.  Lee also falsely denied that either of the books contained notes from asset meetings but conceded that any such notes would be classified.  Further, Lee falsely denied that he ever put the sensitive document on a thumb drive, notwithstanding the fact that he had admitted having done so when interviewed by FBI agents in May 2013.  Finally, Lee also falsely told the interviewing agents that in drafting this document he was writing down things “more [like] a diary thing,” notwithstanding the fact that in May 2013 he had told FBI agents that he had created the document in response to two taskings from the Chinese IOs.
Lee pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government on May 1.
John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement of the sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Hammerstrom and Trial Attorneys Patrick T. Murphy and Adam L. Small of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Inayat Delawala.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Chinese National Who Worked At Monsanto Indicted On Economic Espionage Charges

The US Justice Department released the below information:
Haitao Xiang, 42, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, was indicted today by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, three counts of economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets. 
According to the indictment, Xiang was employed by Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017, where he worked as an imaging scientist.  Monsanto and The Climate Corporation developed a digital, on-line farming software platform that was used by farmers to collect, store, and visualize critical agricultural field data and increase and improve agricultural productivity for farmers.  A critical component to the platform was a proprietary predictive algorithm referred to as the Nutrient Optimizer.  Monsanto and The Climate Corporation considered the Nutrient Optimizer a valuable trade secret and their intellectual property.
“The indictment alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their U.S. employers,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Xiang promoted himself to the Chinese government based on his experience at Monsanto.  Within a year of being selected as a Talent Plan recruit, he quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China, and was caught at the airport with a copy of the company's proprietary algorithm before he could spirit it away.” 
“The revolutionary technology at the core of this case represents both the best of American ingenuity and why the Chinese government is so desperate to steal it for themselves,” said Assistant Director John Brown.  “The FBI is committed to working with a host of partners to stop individuals, like the defendant in this case, from engaging in economic espionage to acquire information and technology for a foreign government that is either unable or unwilling to compete on a level playing field.  Our country’s economic security is our national security, and the FBI will always do everything in our power to protect it.”
“Stealing trade secrets can destroy a business,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division.  “When done at the behest of a foreign government, it threatens our nation’s economic security because it robs our companies of their market share and competitive advantage.”
In June 2017, the day after leaving employment with Monsanto and The Climate Corporation, Xiang bought a one-way plane ticket to China.  Before he could board his flight, Xiang was intercepted at the airport by federal officials who seized copies of the Nutrient Optimizer. 
If convicted, each espionage charge carries up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine.  Each theft of trade secrets charges carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI is investigating this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Drake and Trial Attorneys Heather Schmidt and Heather Alpino in the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division are handling this case. 
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

My Washington Times Review Of Martin Cruz Smith's 'The Siberian Dilemma'

The Washington Times published my review of Martin Cruz Smith’s The Siberian Dilemma.

Investigator Arkady Renko is a popular series character enjoyed by crime aficionados ever since readers were first introduced to the Moscow detective in Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 thriller “Gorky Park.” A fine film based on the novel and starring Lee Marvin and William Hurt as Arkady Renko came out in 1983.

Arkady Renko is an independent and somewhat insubordinate investigator with a dry wit and a strong sense of justice, as well as a strong sense of irony. Throughout the series he has faced dangers and difficulties not only from the criminals he investigates, but also from his superior officers and other apparatchiks in the service of the oppressive and corrupt Communist regime in the Soviet Union.

In “The Siberian Dilemma,” Renko is now an investigator serving under the oppressive and corrupt Vladimir Putin regime. He must contend with crooked politicians, bent cops, criminal gangs, criminal oligarchs — and bears.

At four in the morning, Renko and his partner, Victor, a good detective when he was sober, as Mr. Smith notes, were called to the zoo to help deal with two free and ferocious bears. The zoo director, Victor’s sister, had shot the two bears with tranquilizer darts, but they were still alert and still dangerous.

“Sasha’s eyes were set in a huge pan-shaped head and he studied Arkady as someone who might share his misery. The bear was a towering beast but his customary roar was weakened by alcohol. His mate, Masha, sat on her rump, a half-empty bottle of champagne pressed to her breast. A plaque on the zoo guardrail read ‘Sasha and Masha, American Brown Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis).’ That sounded about right, Arkady thought,” Martin Cruz Smith writes.

“The bears had been released by somebody who had left a poster that declared ‘We Are Animals Too.’ Arkady wasn’t going to dispute this.

“Arkady was an Investigator of Special Cases, and if a bear running loose in the heart of Moscow was not a special case, he didn’t know what was.”     

Renko later faces wild bears and other dangers in Siberia. Prosecutor Zurin, Renko’s boss, sent him to Siberia to deal with a Chechen terrorist held prisoner for attempting to murder the prosecutor in Moscow. Although he assumes that he is being shipped off to Siberia to be out of his boss’ hair, he’s thankful, as his part-time girlfriend, Tatiana Petrovna, a bold and fearless investigative journalist, is in Siberia working on a story for the news magazine Russia Now.

She’s working on a story about Mikhail Kuznetsov, known as the “hermit billionaire.” Russia Now’s editor tells Arkady Renko that Kuznetsov is an idealistic oligarch who spent five years in a Siberian prison for daring to criticize Mr. Putin and his cronies.

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

Beware Of Social Security Phone Scams

Mike Korby, the Social Security Administration’s deputy commissioner for communication, offers the below information:

Social Security phone scams are the #1 type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission and Social Security. Over the past year, these scams—misleading victims into making cash or gift card payments to avoid arrest for Social Security number problems—have skyrocketed. Social Security encourages you to use the new online form to report Social Security phone scams to disrupt the scammers and help us reduce this type of fraud, and reduce the number of victims.

“We are taking action to raise awareness and prevent scammers from harming Americans,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “I am deeply troubled that our country has not been able to stop these crooks from deceiving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Social Security employees will occasionally contact you by telephone or mail for business purposes if you have ongoing business with the agency. However, Social Security employees will not:  

Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.

Contact you to demand an immediate payment. 

Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. 

Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.

 Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

 Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money. 

Remember that Social Security employees will never threaten you. If there’s a problem with your Social Security record, Social Security will mail you a letter. If Social Security needs you to submit payments, the agency will provide instructions in the letter, including options to make those payments.

“Awareness is our best hope to thwart the scammers,” said Gail Ennis, Inspector General for Social Security. “Tell your friends and family about them and report them to us when you receive them, but most importantly, just hang up and ignore the calls.” 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

When Illegal Aliens Commit Crimes: My Washington Times Piece On California Governor Under Fire For Skipping Slain Deputy's Funeral

The Washington Times published my piece on California Governor Newsom skipping a slain cop’s funeral. 

In many ways, California is a fine place to live, work or visit. I lived in California for a year when I was in the Navy many years ago and I recently visited the Golden State. Unfortunately, the current governor is so unlike a previous resident of the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, Ronald Reagan.

Just ask California law enforcement.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom came under fire at a news conference held earlier this month for not attending the funeral of El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff Brian Ishmael, who had been killed in the line of duty in an incident that involved two illegal aliens from Mexico.

Deputy Ishmael and another officer arrived at a scene in response to a 911 call. The officers were told that someone was stealing marijuana plants from a garden. The officers ordered whoever was in the garden to come out, but gun shots came out of the garden and Deputy Ishmael and the other officer were hit. They returned fire, but Deputy Ishmael died soon after.

The press conference was held by McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini and El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson. The law enforcement officials were united in their condemnation of the governor for his failure to honor the murdered deputy, and for his liberal sanctuary policies, which the officials say impeded the murder investigation. The occasion of the press conference was to announce the federal indictments of the four men involved in the incident that caused the deputy to be shot and killed. Three of the men also face state charges and two of the men face state murder charges.

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

Note: The top photo is of Deputy Brian Ishmael’s widow at his funeral. The below photo is of Deputy Ishmael.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Little Humor: Nair And The Schnauzer

A woman discovered that her dog, a Schnauzer, could hardly hear, so she took the dog to the veterinarian. 

The vet found that the problem was hair in the dog’s ears. He cleaned both ears, and the dog could then hear fine. 

The vet told the woman that to keep this problem from recurring, she should go to the store and get some “Nair” hair remover and rub it in the dog’s ears once a month.

The woman went to the pharmacy and bought some “Nair” hair remover. 

At the register, the pharmacist told her, “If you’re going to use this under your arms, don’t use deodorant for a few days.”

The woman said, “I’m not using it under my arms.”

The pharmacist then said, “If you’re using it on your legs, don’t use body lotion for a couple of days.”

The woman replied, “I’m not using it on my legs either. If you must know, I’m using it on my Schnauzer.”

The pharmacist thought about this for a minute and then said, “Well, stay off your bicycle for about a week.”

Babylon Bee: Man In Critical Condition After Hearing Slightly Differing Viewpoint

The Babylon Bee offers a funny piece that mocks today’s "snowflakes."

GLENDALE, CA—A man was rushed to the hospital yesterday after encountering a slightly different viewpoint than his own.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., Glendale PD officers responded to a 911 call at the Java Lounge Coffee House in the 900 block of North Emerson Road. They found a person who had collapsed in shock and went to the station for help. Witnesses say the man was having a casual conversation about politics with another patron when the minutely opposing viewpoint was expressed. 

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Happy 77th Birthday To Martin Scorsese, The Director of 'Mean Streets,' 'Goodfellas,' 'Casino,' And The Upcoming 'The Irishman'

As notes, today is the 77th birthday of Martin Scorsese, the director of crime classic films, like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino, as well as the upcoming and highly anticipated film on Netflix, The Irishman.

Martin Scorsese is known for his gritty, meticulous filmmaking style and is widely considered one of the most important directors of all time. Scorsese's passion for films started at a young age, as he was an 8-year-old, pint-sized filmmaker. In 1968, he completed his first feature-length film, Who's That Knocking at My Door?, but it wasn't until he released Taxi Driver nearly 10 years later that he skyrocketed to fame for his raw formula of storytelling. He proved that the film wasn't a fluke with a lengthy string of successes that included Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, Hugo and The Irishman. 

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

You can also read my Crime Beat column on Martin Scorsese’s crime world via the below link:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Little Humor: An Ugly Man In A Bar

An ugly man walks into a bar and a beautiful woman approaches him the woman asks the man, “How would you like to get out of here?”

The man is stunned. He never thought a woman like her would ever approach him so he agrees. 

They both get into his car and drive really far. He stops at a cliff with the view of the whole city. 

Within seconds they start taking off their clothes. After 15 minutes of vigorous sex they finally finish. They both put their clothes on and they both just sit there awkwardly.

The woman speaks up first and says “I’m a prostitute and it’s going to be $100 for my service.”

The man is stunned and saddened that she didn’t really like him. 

He gives her the money and they both sit there awkwardly. The woman tells him that she is ready to go back to that bar.

The man starts his car, turns on his taxi meter and says: “It’s going to be $150 for the ride here and back.”

Note: The above photo is of Shemp Howard, who was once described as the “Ugliest Man in Hollywood.”  

You can read about why he was called that via the below link:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Who Were The Real ‘Peaky Blinders’? The Shelby Family Is Fictional, But A Real Street Gang Operated In Birmingham At The Turn Of The 20th Century

I’ve enjoyed watching the British crime drama Peaky Blinders on Netflix, although I know the show is historically inaccurate.

Meilan Sally at offers s piece on the real Birmingham street gang. 

The British screenwriter Steven Knight took inspiration from his father’s stories of “incredibly well dressed,” “incredibly powerful” gangsters active in turn-of-the-century England when he invented the Shelby clan—the family of razor blade-wielding mobsters at the heart of his BBC drama “Peaky Blinders.” But it turns out that the Birmingham gang that lends the series its name actually existed, albeit in a different form than the family-centered criminal enterprise.

The real-life Peaky Blinders weren’t quite as successful as the rags-to-riches Shelbys, whose criminal network evolves from a small local faction to a multi-country powerhouse over the course of the show’s five seasons. Still, the two share a number of core similarities: namely, savvy fashion sense, a brutal disregard for the law and a member base made up largely of young working-class men. These youths, hardened by the economic deprivation rampant in industrial England, created what Historic U.K.’s Jessica Brain deems a “violent, criminal and organized” subculture.

As historian Carl Chinn, author of “The Real Peaky Blinders” tells the Birmingham Mail’s Zoe Chamberlain, the main difference between the fictionalized Peaky Blinders and their historical counterparts is timing. Although the television drama is set during the 1920s and '30s, the actual Birmingham group rose to prominence closer to the 1890s. 

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