Armed and dangerous

Anonymous anon at
Sun Aug 17 10:15:39 PDT 1997

August 15, 1997

Armed and dangerous
Federal agencies expanding use of firepower

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By Sarah Foster

During the late morning of January 14, 1997, 20 heavily armed federal
agents and local sheriff's deputies descended from a military helicopter
onto rocky Santa Cruz Island off the California coast. As snipers moved
into position along the ridge tops to secure the perimeter of the attack
area, other agents staged dynamic entries into the buildings -- rousting
15-year-old Crystal Graybeel who was sleeping late in her cabin.

"They started screaming, 'Put your hands where we can see them.' They
unzipped my sleeping bag. I had to get face down on the floor and they
handcuffed me," the teenager said. She recalled the intruders wore ski
masks and carried machine guns. They kept her handcuffed for two hours.

The target of the raid? A 6,500-acre bow-and-arrow hunting ranch, the last
bastion of private property on the island. The raid resulted in three
arrests -- volunteer Rick Berg, 35, and caretakers Dave Mills, 34, and
Brian Krantz, 33 -- on suspicion of robbing Chumash Indian graves and
taking human remains and artifacts, charges they denied.

The agency responsible for all this was not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms, nor the FBI, nor any other agency typically associated with
such "dynamic entries." This raid was the work of the National Park

Surprised? So were local residents. Though no lives were lost, the raid
inspired a firestorm of protest. "It saddens me that the Park Service has
resorted to Ruby Ridge tactics," said Marla Daily, president of the Santa
Cruz Island Foundation, referring to the September 1992 standoff between
the FBI and Randy Weaver that resulted in the death of Weaver's wife. "This
incident clearly crosses the line," Daily said.

If the use of the Park Service in commando-style operations seems strange,
it shouldn't. At a time when elected legislative bodies from city councils
to Congress -- have been passing laws that restrict the rights of
law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, federal agencies within the
executive branch have been quietly authorizing dramatically increased
numbers of armed personnel -- often heavily armed with military-style
assault weapons.

Today, there are nearly 60,000 federal agents trained and authorized to
enforce the over 3,000 criminal laws Congress has passed over the years,
plus the hundreds of thousands of regulations which now carry criminal

"Good grief, that's a standing army," said Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of
America. "It's outrageous."

According to a recent report from the General Accounting Office, as of last
September, the number of law enforcement personnel stood at just under
50,000 -- distributed through 45 agencies -- an increase of about 12,000
agents in 10 years with 2,436 added in 1996 alone. These are full-time
agents, authorized to execute searches, make arrests, and/or carry firearms
"if necessary."

But that number is not complete. When some 7,145 Customs inspectors and 317
Customs Department pilots are added -- all of whom have the above listed
law enforcement powers -- the total is pushing 60,000. Why doesn't the GAO
count them? Not because they aren't armed and dangerous, but because they
have different retirement benefits.

Also, a GAO staff consultant explained that the report doesn't include
contract personnel or personnel from agencies with less than 25 officials
in law enforcement -- which is why some agencies, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, for example, aren't on the list.

The recent GAO report is the third and final in a series requested by Rep.
Bill McCollum, R-Florida, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, to
gather information on agencies charged with investigating violations of
federal law.

An earlier report, released last year and presenting figures through Sept.
30, 1995, dealt with the 13 biggest agencies -- those with 700 or more
investigative personnel. Not surprisingly, the FBI topped the list with
over 10,000 agents, followed by the INS, Drug Enforcement Administration,
and the U.S. Marshalls Service -- all in the Department of Justice.
Treasury agencies follow -- the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret
Service, Customs, BATF and the Postal Inspection Service. Then the National
Park Service, U.S. Capitol Police, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service
and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the State Department.

Some key findings of that report:

* Ten of the 13 agencies employ over 90 percent of all law enforcement
investigative personnel: 38,739.

* Between the end of fiscal years 1987 and 1995, there was a 19 percent
increase in law enforcement personnel in the 13 agencies.

* As of Sept. 30, 1995, the 13 agencies employed about 42,000 investigative
agents. A year later, according to the recent GAO report, it was over
45,000. The pace shows no sign of slackening.

The final report deals with the 32 agencies that employ about 9 percent of
the law enforcement personnel. It's among these 32 that you'll find the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife, EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and
Training, the Bureau of Land Management's Law Enforcement division and
other law enforcement bodies not usually traditionally with guns.

Yet, the proliferation of firearms is even greater in these agencies: from
a total of 2,471 law enforcement employees in 1987 to 4,204 as of Sept. 30
last year, a 70 percent increase.

But beyond the flat figures loom questions of how agencies are using, or
abusing, the powers they have in everyday law enforcement. Sting operations
and other entrapment tactics, hidden-camera surveillance, phone tapping --
these have become commonplace practices in the name of investigation. So,
too, has the use of dynamic entry teams -- the kind witnessed at Waco and
Ruby Ridge.

David Kopel, director of the free-market Independence Institute in Golden,
Colorado, is an outspoken critic of the usurpation of local and state
police authority by the federal government and the growing use of violence
in law enforcement. According to Kopel, the FBI has 56 SWAT teams that
"specialize in confrontation rather than investigation, even though
investigation is, after all, the very purpose of the bureau."

"Whereas (J. Edgar) Hoover's agents wore suits and typically had a
background in law or accounting, SWAT teams wear camouflage or black ninja
clothing and come from a military background," he said. "They are trained
killers, not trained investigators."

Even worse, other agencies are trying to match "FBI swashbucklers." BATF,
DEA, U.S. Marshalls Service, even the National Park Service and Department
of Health and Human Services -- all have their own SWAT teams.

Contacted by telephone, Kopel said he was "not shocked " at the growing
size of the community of federal law enforcement personnel as reported by
the GAO, "in light of the trends over the past 20 years." "Of course," he
added, "it would have astonished and frightened the authors of our

"There's a continuing imperative (for an agency) to get power, and they'll
come back again and again until they get it," says Eric Sterling, president
of the Washington-based Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and a counsel
for the House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s. Sterling, who describes
himself as a liberal, is particularly alarmed by the arming of agencies
with military weapons, such as machine-guns.

"The machine-gun is an indiscriminate weapon, and is singularly
inappropriate for the FBI and other agencies," he said. "Its use by a
government agency is a horrifying prospect."

In full agreement is Greg Lojein, legislative counsel for the American
Civil Liberties Union. He deplores not only the expansion of the federal
law enforcement, but the lack of constraining mechanisms.

"Local police are subjected to review (by civilian boards), but not federal
agents," he noted. "When the Department of Justice investigates (an agency
incident), the results are not nearly as trustworthy as when an independent
entity investigates. Just ask Richard Jewell about this."

Lojein called attention not only to the procurement of military weapons
themselves, but to the acquisition of heavy equipment such as military
helicopters and tanks as well -- "heavy equipment," he said, "more
characteristic of war than of law enforcement."

"The last thing people want to see is a tank on a city street," he said.
"That's what you expect to see in Bosnia, but not in Boston."

Kopel sees the federalization of law enforcement and the growth of the FBI
as parts of a larger effort to establish a national police force. He cites
in particular the involvement of the FBI in local law enforcement. "Besides
traffic tickets, there aren't many crimes where the FBI isn't involved in
the prosecution," he said.

Eventually, he predicts, federal law enforcement agencies will be merged
--beginning by moving the Treasury agencies under the control of the
Justice Department, as Al Gore has recommended. "But a separation of powers
is at least a small check on the movement towards total police power
consolidation and keeps them from going completely overboard," said Kopel.

Others are concerned that the militarization of the federal government has
already gone too far -- that once-benign agencies have been given
incentives to become armed and dangerous.

The raid at Santa Cruz, for instance, wasn't the first for the Park
Service. It wasn't even the most horrific in terms of outcome. Just one
month after the Weaver debacle at Ruby Ridge, Malibu millionaire Donald
Scott was gunned down in his home in a mid-morning assault involving 14
agencies, including NASA, Immigration and Naturalization Services and the
L.A. County Sheriff's Department. The alleged reason for the attack was
that Scott was suspected of growing marijuana. None was found. There, as at
Santa Cruz Island, the lead agency was the NPS; and there, too, the real
reason was to acquire Scott's estate for the Park Service.

At Santa Cruz, the National Park Service had been trying to obtain the
6,500-acre ranch -- which covers 10 percent of the island. The Nature
Conservancy owns the other 90 percent. The three arrests occurred as the
National Park Service had obtained orders from Congress to seize the ranch.

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