say goodnight to Joshua ..."
8 June 2001
"On the stand, Joshua�s distraught mother captivated the sympathetic jury, buttressing the attempt to forge emotional links between home, homeland and defense which would become the absorbing narrative of the Jim Bell prosecution."
A sparsely attended trial which unfolded in Tacoma�s US district courthouse the first week of April 2001 hardly seemed an event that might open a small but revealing view onto the shifting national security apparatus. But to outside observers following the criminal prosecution of Washington State resident Jim Bell, accused of stalking and intimidating local agents of the IRS, Treasury Department and BATF, the defendant was a symptomatic target, and the government�s stated case against him only a fragment of a more complex campaign linked to the evolving landscape of national and homeland defense.
In the government�s estimation,
Bell had placed its Pacific Northwest agents "in reasonable fear
of death or serious bodily injury"
Jim Bell was a man of letters,
an electronics engineer and essayist who had authored a ten-part political
tract with the combative title Assassination Politics
The government�s campaign to rein in AP's insubordinate author reflected a fundamental realignment in the wake of the bombing of Oklahoma City's Federal Building and the Unabomber�s 17-year terror campaign, which saw a new domestic paradigm supplementing the classic model of the offshore national security threat and the enemy Other presumed to be operating beyond the sanctity of US borders and culture. For all the defensive paraphernalia available to the US� overseas warfighter, the national boundary�s mystique as a deterrent frontier and metaphor had been eroded by shifting power dynamics that were replacing the Cold War�s clear bipolar demarcations.
AP was the kind of
rogue pamphleteer�s digital handbill that confirmed that the new enemy
of the state might be among us, indeed, might be one of us, a homeboy
gone bad, a citizen versed in homegrown genres of dissident literature,
a local student or author of radical texts such as the Turner Diaries
The authorities' focus on Assassination Politics and its electronic mode of mass dissemination was evidence that �information� has been designated the hot new threat regime in contemporary battlespace, not least of which in infowar scenarios circumscribed by Homeland Defense, the national security policy being launched as a coordinated domestic response to the perceived growing threat of direct attack against the US mainland, including cyber threats that target the nation�s critical information infrastructures.
Homeland Defense (HD) gives
�information� equal billing with other hard-core weapon systems � biological,
chemical, nuclear, and radiological � elements of the elite "changing
spectrum of threat regimes" targeted by coordinating committees like
the Defense Science Board Task Force on Intelligence Needs for Homeland
Homeland Defense is a slyly
nuanced term with peculiar associations. The nationalist turn of phrase
�homeland� seems a coyly anachronistic representation of a superpower
who, after all, jangles the keys to the world�s premier war machine. The
locution manages to collapse the geopolitics of lebensraum onto
the realpolitik of the suburban gated community, in a style both
disingenuously naïve and jingoistic at the same time, appealing to
an era when government posters issued strident calls-to-arms, like the
WWII classic: "Warning! Our Homes Are in Danger Now!"
The new domestic threat subverts military cartography�s WWII-era diagram for hemisphere defense, which was predicated on an impregnable coastal perimeter and continental geography assumed to be unassailably buffered between oceanic expanse. Even in peacetime, the inviolable border shielded the nation-state�s psychic and political state of mind, consolidating the public�s common faith in reassuring myths of national cohesion, continuity and destiny.
During WWII, no segment of the venerable mainland perimeter sustained aggression as distinctive as did that erstwhile colonial hinterland, the rugged Pacific Northwest Coast, where the breaching of open dunes and volcanic outcrops struck a blow at the aura surrounding hemispheric impregnability. Sixty years later, the Northwest frontier�s unique wartime experience provides a cautionary backdrop for the Bell case, which in its own way is helping define new limits of infowarfare�s diffuse network of incountry boundaries.
During the �40s, the Northwest�s strategic physiography was charted in defense cartography�s classic topographic maps, but today, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) softwares have introduced the omniscient database landscape, whose digital maps are constructed of myriad layers linked to databases that catalogue each and every exploitable feature of the economies of nature and culture. As the Bell case would demonstrate, new definitions of public, private and restricted space are emerging out of clashes over access to such spatial information infrastructures.
In 1942, the Northwest�s impervious coast was shattered when a Japanese submarine lurking in cold Pacific waters off Washington State shelled the Civil War era gun battery at Fort Stevens on the mouth of the Columbia River, accomplishing little more than to disturb downriver habitats of cormorants, shearwaters, storm petrels and gulls -- but shocking nonetheless, the only instance of a foreign enemy firing on a mainland military installation since the War of 1812. The same year, further south on the Oregon coast, forests of spruce, pine, hemlock and cedar were firebombed by float planes launched from Japan�s I-25 sub, igniting trees near Port Orford and Mt. Emily.
The incidents produced no
fatalities, but another domestic casualty had already succumbed to the
campaign to shore up the coastal bulwark. In early 1942, Executive Order
Ethnic cleansing tactics deployed to cauterize the coastal perimeter did not seal the border to all hostile infiltrations. In fall of 1944, thousands of 35-ft.diameter balloons engineered from mulberry paper and persimmon glue were launched into the jetstream above Japan, from where the unmanned spheres drifted eastward, migrating in dense flocks high above the Pacific Ocean with clustered payloads dangling below. Some eventually reached the crashing surf and black basalt headlands that marked the jagged Northwest coastline, where the paper flotillas penetrated misty airspace above the canopy of old growth forests and disappeared into lush green fragrances of cypress, juniper, redwood and yew.
Of the balloons that continued drifting inland, one would eventually touch ground 100 miles east of the coast, in a forest of lodgepole pine and white fir near the Oregon town of Bly, where the metallic payload settled onto the forest floor�s cushion of moss and pine needles and hibernated over the raw winter season. The following spring, the glittering cache, nestled among new ferns like semiprecious mineral treasure, would be discovered by five children out on a Sunday picnic in the company of a minister�s pregnant wife, who attempted to haul the mysterious object out from its forest seclusion, disturbing dormant mechanisms long enough to detonate a deadly explosion of incendiary and antipersonnel devices.
That is how, in May 1945, on Oregon�s Gearhart Mountain, Elsie Mitchell and her five young wards came to earn the unhappy distinction of being the mainland�s only known fatalities at the hands of enemy action during WWII, victims of the failure of coastal defenses to repel unanticipated stealth technology -- Japan�s Fu-Go balloon bombs.
The death of noncombatants at Bly and widespread suppression of constitutional rights up and down the Pacific Coast provide a compelling context for current events scripting new chapters in the Northwest�s history of national defense. A half century ago, race was designated an efficient signifier of incountry enmity, helping establish the strategic calculus� distinctions between Us and Them. Today�s mainland campaigns confront new ambiguities, including the banality of an undistinguished physiognomy -- the highly effective camouflage of stealth citizens McVeigh and Kaczynski.
The ambiguities of the domestic
menace have provoked indiscriminant counteroffensives. The largesse displayed
by Executive Order 9066 when it cast a too-wide net in 1942 also brought
opprobrium to the FBI in the late 90s when Carnivore
Tens of thousands of discussants are using distributed e-mail to construct complex, discourse-based online culture, and among them, the Cypherpunks public forum has distinguished itself since its launching in 1992, with a prodigiously freewheeling style of politicized argumentation by turns inflammatory, playful, brilliant and sophomoric. The highly skilled technologists who are list subscribers have evolved a robust forensic mode well suited to anarchic and libertarian philosophies that underpin often-substantive debates on cutting-edge issues relating to the science, practice and politics of cryptography, privacy, anonymity, and reduced government.
Beginning in 1997, Cypherpunks and its electronic text trail were subjected to a confrontational open stakeout by an agent of the Internal Revenue Service, Jeff Gordon, a veteran inspector in the Seattle office's security detail, who by early 2001 was still engaged in conspicuous monitoring of e-mails that might be excised and crafted into exhibits for ongoing criminal investigations relating to the alleged stalking of Pacific Northwest agents of the IRS, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and Treasury Department.
The alleged stalker in the case was a Cypherpunks subscriber, Washington State resident James Dalton Bell, Assassination Politics' apostate author. And Bell�s alleged stalking victim was none other than the eponymous Special Agent Jeff Gordon himself, who was openly surveilling the public mailing list and acting as chief investigator on his own behalf. The investigator�s voyeurism drew fire from list members, who showered him with their unique brand of inflammatory condemnation until, in a flame to end all flame wars, Gordon successfully used selected excerpts from Bell�s online postings to help land a stalking conviction at the defendant�s trial in April 2001 � events which, despite the First Amendment's sanctuary, would have a chilling effect on the forum�s debates, which would become cautiously self-censorious.
It was not the first time
Special Agent Gordon had gone after the Cypherpunks. In fact, Jim Bell
had just been released from jail in April 2000 after Gordon had put him
away in 1997
A second Cypherpunks subscriber,
Carl Johnson, 52, aka "Toto" (Tension of the Opposites), a computer-savvy
musician and peripatetic lyricist of an unlikely genre best described
as country-and-western porn, had also been targeted by the diligent Agent
Gordon when the songwriter�s online creative output expanded to include
The prosecution proved equally
tone-deaf, enlisting psychiatry and not musicology to classify dissent
deemed cacophonous, in court papers that reported Johnson had been diagnosed
in the past with a variety of clinical disorders, including: "Schizophrenia,
Tourette's Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Personality Disorder
(not otherwise specified), Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,
Substance Abuse, Tic Disorder, and Intermittent Alcohol Abuse"
By the time Toto was convicted
in April 1999 of disseminating three threatening e-mail messages via the
Cypherpunks list, the assembly line machinery for adjudicating the Cypherpunks
menace was well in place in Washington State�s Western District, with
Inspector Jeff Gordon and Assistant US Attorney Robb London increasingly
familiar collaborators at the prosecution table, where Bell would be welcomed
back for a second run-in with the justice system in 2001. Jim Bell would
not be the sole Cypherpunk present in the courtroom on that occasion.
Journalist Declan McCullagh
Notwithstanding the 2001 trial�s stated focus on Jim Bell, the government�s broader interest in the Cypherpunks was unmistakable. After all, some readers of Assassination Politics had recognized it to be derivative of scenarios first articulated by other members of the list. Moreover, the Cypherpunks were ardent supporters of technologies that law enforcement had fought to suppress, like strong encryption and online anonymity that protected civil liberties, which authorities instead argued facilitated criminal enterprise in areas like drug trade and child pornography. The prosecution took advantage of an unchallenged opportunity to alarm the jury about the hazards of vigorous online speech, citing the Cypherpunks from voir dire all the way to conviction, and all but indicting them in absentia as a virtual conspiratorial cabal.
The offensive against Bell and the Cypherpunks may have been pursued in Pacific Northwest district court, but it was getting its ideological bearings from the kinds of national grade infowargames being scripted by Homeland Defense�s avid strategists and tacticians, in which the First Amendment is emerging as a leading casualty of collateral damage, a looming constitutional conflict troubling journalists, scholars, librarians and authors as well as freedom of information activists.
At the 2001 trial, District
Judge Jack E. Tanner denied defense efforts to introduce First Amendment
dimensions of the political essayist�s case, despite the prosecution�s
prominent condemnation of Assassination Politics, rejecting the
notion that Bell�s actions relating to the IRS were constitutive of political
The US courts may well end
up the last refuge for constitutional ambiguities surrounding information�s
status in the new threat landscape, as has been the case with the Digitial
Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
Jim Bell appeared to satisfy two of Homeland Defense�s core threat regimes � information and, as it would turn out, chemical � and as such had much to recommend himself as a poster boy for the Treasury Department�s retaliation against ideological opponents as well as their no less important institutional battle for attention, turf and resources.
Bell was not only an inflammatory author, rhetorician, and participant in online cultures populated by radical technologists. He was also an MIT� educated chemist who had displayed the disruptive potential of his scientific expertise. In March 1997, Bell had launched a putrid stinkbomb of propanethiol at the carpet in front of a local IRS office, more an act of childish mischief than chemical warfare, to be sure, but a stunt which in conjunction with obstruction offenses relating to misuse of his social security number and purported tax evasion, was enough to help get him put away for his first jail term.
Twenty armed agents from two
agencies had raided on the Bell home on April 1 and 3, 1997, seizing three
semiautomatic assault rifles and a handgun. According to court papers,
they also discovered "a variety of dangerous and deadly chemicals,
including cyanide, acids, and Diisopropyl Fluorophosphate"
At Bell�s 2001 trial, the prosecution�s prize was even more sensational: evidence he had bragged of having produced the precursors to deadly Sarin nerve gas, whose proven WMD (weapons of mass destruction) attributes were demonstrated in March 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in their attack on the Tokyo subway. The defendant�s MIT pedigree was a source of consternation, and it was demonized during proceedings as if to underscore the inherent dangers of elite scientific education. After all, according to the trial�s unspoken subtext, Ted Kaczynski�s prestigious Harvard mathematics training must have contributed to his cunning, helping him elude authorities for almost two decades.
By all appearances, Jim Bell
relished his status as a provocateur, overtly taunting authorities and
encouraging media attention surrounding his case, condemning local journalists
who failed to cover the proceedings as boycotters, holding court with
the few national journalists present at the 2001 trial, which included
a producer from 60 Minutes. In November 1997, following his first
conviction, Bell had been prominently featured in a US News and World
Report cover story on "The Next Unabomber"
But for all his bravura posturing, Jim Bell�s relationship to the violence advocated in Assassination Politics differed from McVeigh�s link to Turner Diaries or Kaczynski�s to The Industrial Society and its Future in one significant regard. By all accounts, Bell had never demonstrated a propensity towards violence or been known to actually cause anyone any physical harm. Furthermore, he and others pointed out that AP's controversial killing machine was not yet technologically feasible, if ever it would be.
The prosecution�s task would be to convince the jury from Washington�s Western District that the essayist�s crime resided in his intent -- an immanence, a potentiality, a latency, a possibility of threat to the community by a "cyberterrorist wannabe" that overrided his civil liberties. As had been the case with Cypherpunk Carl Johnson, psychiatry would be enlisted to undermine political dissent. Bell�s mental competence was a pretrial issue, a point underscored during closing arguments by his public defender, Robert Leen, whom the judge had prohibited Bell from dismissing. In the prosecution�s eyes, the jury�s condemnation of the defendant would be a judicious act of proactive deterrence, safeguarding the future integrity of Northwest homes and homeland � not unlike claims the government had made some sixty years earlier when the mainland's Japanese-American population was summarily stripped of its constitutional rights.
"So, Say Goodnight to Joshua..."
In the trial�s undertow of
meanings, one phrase culled from the Cypherpunks list and presented as
a government exhibit would take on emblematic significance. "So,
say goodnight to Joshua..."
On the stand, Joshua�s distraught mother captivated the sympathetic jury, buttressing the attempt to forge emotional links between home, homeland and defense which would become the absorbing narrative of the Jim Bell prosecution. The nationalist rhetoric that gave vintage war posters their persuasive power, "Warning! Our Homes Are in Danger Now!", seemed to have renewed potential in back yards all across the contemporary Pacific Northwest, where the government appeared to be making progress reconnoitering new battlescapes for the prospective homeland war.
On a mild spring morning the first week of April 2001, just before the weekend of Tacoma�s celebrated Junior Daffodil Parade, 14 jurors and a handful of out-of-state observers inside the Western District federal courthouse listened as the prosecutor began enumerating threats allegedly made against US Government agents.
Earlier that morning, jurors were initiated into their upcoming public service with scenographic flair as they entered the Pacific Avenue entrance of the District courthouse through its newly restored foyer, historic Union Station, completed in 1911 as western terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad, a monumental domed space in Romanesque revival style flooded with natural light whose symbolism unambiguously deferred to the regional ethos. The wheels of justice would now be turning at a site where transcontinental locomotives were once the driving force mobilizing Northwest urbanization and the development of its abundant resources of ore, wheat, timber and fish.
To the southeast, snowcapped Mount Rainier soared above the cloudline into Washington�s brilliant sunshine, heroic testimony that seemed to argue on behalf of a robust defense of the nation�s icons and patrimony. At 14,400 ft., Rainier dominated the Cascade Mountain Range, the eastern margin of the Federal Court system�s Western District, which drew its jury pool from coastal counties nestled between the volcanic range and the Pacific Ocean�s frigid surf.
The Cascade skyline was recapitulated in the domed and barrel-vaulted roofs of Tacoma�s revitalized urban center, a virtuous architectural tableaux of red brick structures located east of Puget Sound�s Commencement Bay, which linked the halls of justice with a cluster of old railroad warehouse buildings across Pacific Avenue, newly retrofitted as a local campus of the state university. The urban composition embraced three ambitious museums under various phases of construction, including the recently completed Washington State History Museum which was physically attached to the courthouse complex, an architectural connection which unabashedly fostered ideals of reciprocity and transparency between justice and state history.
It was not yet clear whether architecture�s civic optimism could be extended to the justice being negotiated inside District Judge Jack E. Tanner�s sanctum in Courtroom E, one of the only spaces seeing action that week in a new courthouse whose deserted main hallways and spotless, vacant restrooms projected a distinct feeling of underutilization. Inside Courtroom E, Assistant US attorney Robb London was doing his best to pack the courthouse�s unoccupied witness boxes and complement its award-winning architectural design, making his appearance in smartly slim cuts of suit and sporting a chic shaved pate, taking stock of his jury through fashionably serious eyewear as he began an earnest account of how Jim Bell�s criminality had provoked the government�s armed raid on Corregidor that previous fall.
The Corregidor woven into
the prosecution narrative was far from the fortified limestone island
at the entrance of Manila Bay, site of the WWII battle of that name. Instead,
it was a peaceful residential street tucked within domestic borders of
the Pacific Northwest, in the sleepy suburban heights of Vancouver, Washington
On 6 November 2000, a chilly Monday morning with fall temperatures hovering in the low 40s, government agents from multiple agencies began the work week by descending on Vancouver�s Corregidor, launching an armed raid against No. 7214 under a search warrant that authorized the seizure of any evidence its occupant had obstructed, threatened, and intimidated or interfered with federal agents, and proceeded to remove some 38 items, including computers, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, e-mail addresses, hardcopy documents, maps and photographs.22
No. 7214 was a modest, one-story blue and white wood-frame home that, like its neighbors, sat on a small, tidily landscaped lot in Vancouver�s McLoughlin Heights district, a vestige of WWII era housing built with FHA loans to accommodate the huge influx of laborers who had poured into the area to work in the Kaiser shipyards manufacturing Liberty ships, tank landing craft and escort carriers � the �baby flattops� � that would help achieve victory in the Pacific.
The practice of naming local roads in tribute to landmark battles seemed right for a defense workers� neighborhood, in this instance memorializing the grim surrender of the Pacific stronghold to the Japanese in 1942, but also celebrating its subsequent retaking in 1945 � clearly, with the collaboration of patriotic defense workers back home. The strategic reversal would make good on General Douglas MacArthur�s defiant declaration: "I shall return!", and the battle of Corregidor, along with the campaign for Bataan and the Death March that followed, would become etched in the nation�s moral landscape as well as some of its neighborhood streets. When the placename 'Corregidor' was cited during the Bell trial's extended narrative and testimony, it leveraged deeply rooted memories of the past enemy threat, helping to legitimate No. 7214 as a deserving target of the government�s most vigorous exertions.
Shipyards like Vancouver�s Kaiser and aeronautical plants like Seattle�s Boeing formed the bulwark of Northwest defense industry infrastructure, bedrock foundation for high-tech companies that would follow in postwar years � "clean" electronics and computer software firms like Intel and Microsoft that would supplant the region�s declining natural-resource based economy, increasingly being curbed by environmental restrictions.
As a recent graduate of one of the country�s elite technology research institutions, Jim Bell would have enjoyed all the benefits of an impressive postwar legacy. Though not a Vancouver native, he had come to the area in 1980 to work for Intel � a move that coincided with the spectacular eruption at nearby Mount St. Helens, he recalled with bemusement and wonder while on the stand. Bell was an MIT graduate armed with a chemistry degree and exceptional electronics skills, technology he said had fascinated him from the time he was a child and had learned to dismantle and reassemble computers. The Intel culture Bell was initiated into had been established by another chemist, legendary co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who as a young scientist enjoyed a few years of incomparable access to the Cold War ethos, as Inspector of Nuclear Explosions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), before embarking on his successful entrepreneurial venture in the private sector microprocessor field.
By 1982, Bell himself fell
in with entrepreneurial tradition, departing to launch his own small company,
Over the years, Bell had lived on the Heights above the Columbia River with his now aging parents -- his father Sam, a retired veteran of the Midwest�s rust belt who had worked in tire factories of Akron, Ohio where Jim was born, and mother Lou, a homemaker who championed her son�s innocence, and once regretfully insisted she was to blame for his current troubles, having raised her son and daughter to be independent thinkers.
As had been the case with the Corregidor that overlooked Manila Bay, Corregidor on the Heights enjoyed a spectacular prospect onto a waterway which was a crucial resource in the region�s history and fortunes. Below the Heights flowed currents and navigation channels of the majestic Columbia River, site of Lewis and Clark�s final river passage in 1805 on their momentous trek seeking a continuous water route to the Pacific. The Columbia River basin, the nation�s fourth largest, was once the world�s greatest source of salmon, providing an astonishing bounty of chinook, coho, chum, sockeye and pink.
The ancient waterway�s impact also extended to matters of contemporary jurisprudence, as the Bell family would discover during the most current phase of Jim�s ongoing "troubles". The Columbia formed a natural state boundary along much of Washington and Oregon, and as the Seattle magistrate judge who signed the warrant for the November 6 search of their home was well aware, crossing the river from Washington to Oregon during the commission of alleged misdeeds had escalated local charges against Jim Bell into the serious domain of federal interstate crime.
Jurisdictional boundaries that helped define criminality were just a recent phase of the ongoing succession of power structures that had tried to dominate the river. The indigenous Chinook and Clatsop peoples who had tended seasonal salmon fisheries on the Columbia for thousands of years had been diminished by disease imported by Euro-American traders, early biological weapons of mass destruction like smallpox, malaria, measles, influenza, dysentery, whooping cough, typhus and typhoid, whose predominant disease vector was that monopolistic juggernaut, the Hudson�s Bay Company.
Fort Vancouver had been established as headquarters of the HBC�s lucrative Columbia Department fur trading operations in the early 19th century, satisfying the European hat-making industry�s demand for fashionable beaver pelts with resources from an immense swath of wilderness that stretched from Russian Alaska in the north, all the way south to Mexico. With monopoly powers granted by British Royal Charter, Fort Vancouver, under the leadership of Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin, would have the imperial clout required to become a dominant center of commercial, cultural, and political influence.
Just up the road from the Bell home on McLoughlin Heights' appropriately commanding overlook, the timber palisade and bastion that stood guard over Vancouver�s military heyday had been reconstructed and designated a national historic site. There, the National Park Service�s apologetic history of HBC hegemony is tempered with archeological collections and �living history� demonstrations that make a case for the ethnic and cultural diversity of the original population, extolling the self-sufficiency and rugged individualism of the area�s native trappers, indigenous women, French Canadian voyageurs, and Métis of mixed heritage.
On the Tacoma witness stand, Jim Bell presented to his Western District peers his own �living history�, which seemed consistent with local themes of entrepreneurial self-sufficiency that had originated with the voyageurs, and continued through the Northwest�s reformist populist traditions and into the present with Bell�s own avowed anarcho-libertarian politics, which advocated individual freedoms and constitutionally-limited government.
Libertarian activism included arguments for curtailing IRS power, sentiments echoed by Bell in testimony where he insisted he was no stalker but an engaged citizen well within his legal rights to collect evidence of a powerful tax agency�s wrongdoings in the wake of his high-tech company�s demise. After his demands for a refund from the tax agency had been rebuffed, Bell alerted the IRS he would be seeking justice in Portland�s "common-law court", which convicted government personnel of crimes in absentia, and meted out sentences that sometimes included death.
The defendant explained to the jury his 1998 conviction on obstruction charges was the result of the tax agency's retaliation against his investigations, and in 2001, current interstate stalking charges confirmed the IRS� unrelenting campaign against efforts by which he had hoped to collect evidence to exonerate himself and prove the agency had illegally plotted to coerce his 1998 guilty plea.
If Bell had once been a successful entrepreneur, the soft, overgrown individual in aviator glasses seated alone with counsel at the defense table seemed to have lost his edge, filling a baby-blue jailhouse shirt with shapeless contours of advancing middle-age girth, his unkempt dark hair clinging to a postgraduate shag long after the camaraderie of college days. No friends or family were present in Courtroom E when the jury heard the five counts against the younger resident of No. 7214. Sam and Lou Bell were kept from their son�s side after the couple�s names were placed on the government witness list, though, as might be expected of the prosecutorial ploy, the parents were never called to testify.
But if Jim Bell�s family was not present in Judge Tanner�s court, his doppelganger was, in the form of his nemesis US Treasury Agent and Investigator Jeff Gordon, who had conducted the open stakeout of the Cypherpunks list, and who was looking for yet a second conviction against his unrepentant target. The Jim Bell affair had been good to Jeff Gordon. Just as IRS prestige and funding were on the decline nationwide, Gordon�s career as a veteran investigator was gaining momentum with his eager pursuit of the newsworthy defendant, having received commendations and promotions for putting Bell away on the 1998 obstruction charge, when he succeeded in temporarily muzzling a vocal adversary whose Assassination Politics had brazenly declared open hunting season against his kind.
It was clear to the authorities that Bell remained uncowed following his release from prison in April 2000, when he declared he would continue his investigation of the tax agency, and Bell and Gordon found themselves at it again, each the other�s target in a role-reversing sport of hunter and hunted, a cat-and-mouse game in which � notwithstanding Bell�s voyageur bravado � Treasury Agent Jeff Gordon, with the majesty and resources of the US Government at his disposal, seemed for the moment at least, to be enjoying the distinct advantage of the latter-day Royal Charter.
Jeff Gordon�s stakeout of the Cypherpunks mail list and earlier successes securing convictions against Bell and Carl Johnson had made it clear he was no hapless victim, but had been operating within a broader mandate to rein in troublesome online opponents. His aggressive role continued during the Tacoma trial, a prominence that was not without controversy when courtroom proceedings got under way in April 2001.
On the witness stand, Gordon seemed eager to validate the charge of his "reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury", as he described his family�s state of mind in the face of allegedly menacing behaviors. Observers noted Gordon appeared apprehensive, as if concerned he was outmatched by his highly intelligent target, distress that seemed to crush the investigator�s peevish face and small inset eyes, features already compromised by the weight of an overly-ambitious mustache.
But the Treasury Agent�s brief assignment as victim was overshadowed by his more expansive performance throughout the balance of the trial, during which he was clearly an integral member of the prosecution team, sitting at the US Attorney's side, conferring with him, maintaining eye contact with jury members from the chair closest to them, preparing government exhibits and running digital projections off the prosecution�s laptop.
Some legal scholars criticized
Gordon�s involvement within the prosecutorial apparatus, pointing that
out that, while not illegal, his convergent identities as victim, investigator
and prosecutor presented an unseemly conflict and the appearance of abuse
of power. "It creates the impression that the prosecution is motivated
by a personal grievance, rather than a search for the truth," Barry
Steinhardt, the ACLU's associate director, told Wired News.
Such conflicts of interest are a symptom of looming jurisdictional problems facing Homeland Defense�s domestic tactics. The risk is evident in a report by a Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), when it advocates inclusion of local authorities like police, firefighters and federal civilian officials as "new actors" in Homeland Defense scenarios � presumably to be granted quasi-military or paramilitary powers and support apparatus -- training, equipment, technology and resources:
"It will take unprecedented
efforts by military, federal civilian, state, and local officials, as
well as elements of the private sector, to meet them [these threats].
Adding to the complexity, neither the federal government nor the US military
will usually be the lead actor in meeting these threats. Today, the "first
to fight" may well be a police officer, a firefighter, or an information
security technician. New actors must become part of the national security
equation". "Homeland Defense: A Strategic Approach"
Joseph J.Collins, Michael Horowitz, December 2000, Homeland
Defense Working Group, CSIS
Investigator Gordon appears
to have been given wide berth for his "first to fight" duties
in pursuing a target who fell within HD�s working classification of information
and chemical threat. Even before Bell�s 1998 conviction, Gordon had stated
to The Oregonian: "We chose not to wait until he followed
through on what we believe were plans to assassinate government employees".
The conflation of quasi-military powers being granted "first to fight" actors may challenge firewalls established by the Posse Commitatus Act of 1878, which was designed to limit direct active use of federal troops by civil law enforcement officers to enforce laws. Federal troops had been called in to stamp out Northwest activism in the past, as was the case in the 1890s, during labor unrest that accompanied efforts to unionize the Idaho mining industry before collective bargaining became federally protected. Data-mining is the technology provoking today's debates about jurisdiction and conflict with the Act, in incidents having to do with information assault, subject of speculations of the likes of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee On Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information.
During the 1980s, drug trafficking was declared a national security threat so that the Posse Commitatus Act could be amended accordingly. Notwithstanding First Amendment guarantees, the same national security case may someday be made against information trafficking in the form of online dissemination of political essays like Assassination Politics or the Cyperpunks� irreverent debates -- a case against information trafficking for which the Bell precedent may in fact be a bell-wether.
The Bell case made clear that the American suburb might well turn out to be the ultimate psychological battlespace for Homeland Defense. If the First Amendment offered a refuge to Assassination Politics� advocacy of violence, that privileged sanctuary could be exploded by a provocative geography of spatialized acts. Tacoma jurors would learn that authorities were determined to prove just such a geographic threshold had been met with the help of precision geopositioning technology, which was enlisted to demonstrate that in 2000, the suburbs were ground zero of the Jim Bell threat.
Prior to his arrest, Bell had been placed under surveillance and a GPS sensor surreptitiously attached to his car by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. At trial, proof the defendant had driven from Corregidor Road to what he assumed to be his targets� homes was played back in the form of an animated blip moving in real time across a digital map of the area -- data whose reliability was presumably assured when the GPS sensor was characterized as "military grade".
The vaunting of military grade hardware used to track a citizen�s drive through exurban neighborhoods suggests that regional planning might soon become a valuable asset of the working apparatus of incountry defense. The GPS sensor had seamlessly converted Bell�s navigation along local community byways into data points uplinked to an orbiting satellite, then downlinked and processed by the equivalent of battlefield visualization softwares that would draw little qualitative distinction between the American suburb and a Balkan sniper�s lair.
Bell's suburban maneuvres were initiated with the purchase of motor vehicle and voter registration databases, which were legally available, in an attempt to uncover home addresses of those "first-to-fight actors", Jeff Gordon and a second BATF agent. The incursions continued with drives through neighboring communities in search of the listed homes, with the taking photographs of likely domiciles, and driving onto suspected private property.
Bell�s database searches implicitly recognized that suburban space had been reconstructed in toto onto a new spatialized grid, the 'virtual suburbia' of GIS's pervasive databanks containing multiple layers of information that profiled and catalogued each and every distinguishing feature of landscape, infrastructure and inhabitant. In the information age, the homeowner�s delusions of freedom and autonomy were corroded by privacy lost � the result of encroachments on personal information by government and commerce that even subverted the ostensibly democratic premise of the voter registration database.
But data-gathering that would have been applauded as a feature of sensible corporate marketing or municipal administration was diagnosed as a criminal symptom when conducted by an individual who had expressed exceptional political dissent. Jim Bell�s mix of politics and information practices threatened the fundamental unit measure of mortgaged individualism and ownership, the discreet single-family house on a virtual lot that comprised the landscaped building block of new Northwestern expansion. As with his "So, say goodnight to Joshua" posting to the Cypherpunks list, he toyed with powerful emotions that linked home and homeland, unleashing new technologies to lance the mythology of suburban security -- just as the Bell home itself had been raided -- compounding his transgression by flouting the tacit immunity deal enjoyed by human shields: those government families presumably protected from official acts of their "first-to-fight" breadwinners. Where coastal headlands once delimited clear-cut margins of the Northwest�s wartime vigilance, the suburbs� widely distributed internal network of diffuse landscapes and databank mirror-images were being rediscovered as new tactical terrain.
Bell�s games exposed the suburbs� historic ties to the US defense machine, coming full circle with suburbia's full-blown emergence in years following WWII along with the national highway system and other critical postwar infrastructures. In the 1940s, faux suburban landscapes fashioned of chicken-wire lawns and burlap houses had helped camouflage the rooftops of Seattle�s Boeing Plant 2, where B-17 "Flying Fortress" bombers were manufactured. After the war, housing programs had been a peaceable reward mechanism that successfully helped demilitarize, absorb and regularize large numbers of veteran returning home after years of dislocation and debilitating offshore conflict. Military barracks and defense housing such as the Bell family�s McLoughlin Heights neighborhood would be the prototypes that provided postwar subdivisions with efficient new military-based technologies of planning, prefabrication, infrastructure and communications.27 The Corregidors of Manila Bay and Vancouver were linked by more than just memories and a shared placename.
Conclusion: The Holdout
On Tuesday, 10 April 2001, after four hours of deliberating interstate stalking charges pending against James Dalton Bell, Tacoma�s Western District jurors returned a verdict of guilty on two of five counts. In court, the foreman announced that the jury had deadlocked on the remaing three counts, 11 to 1. The identity of the sole holdout juror, who had not been persuaded by three counts of the government�s case and whose dissent did not budge in the face of 11 peers -- was not revealed.
During the course of the six-day trial, every time jurors had exited the courtroom for breaks, lunch or at day�s end, the judge issued his standard admonition that they refrain from discussing the case. It�s not clear whether judicial prohibitions would have also precluded visits to the Washington State History Museum next door, a red brick building attached to the Federal Courthouse Complex that paid homage to the restored depot�s monumental design with its own dramatic 56-foot high arches and vaulted roofs, completed in 1996 to designs of renown late West Coast architect Charles Moore.
During planning phases for Tacoma�s new civic center, municipal leaders signed-off on urban designers' optimistic proposals for the adjacency between a working courthouse and the state historical society�s archival collections. But Judge Tanner may have thought twice about letting jurors from the Western District's strategic coastal counties wander through the museum�s compelling full-scale recreations and interactive multimedia exhibits, which conveyed graphic accounts of the state�s shame as well as its glory, including civil liberties abuses perpetrated by the government against populations who in the past had been declared threats to state or national security -- historiography that some Homeland Defense propagandist might have chosen to censure as information threat.
In one film testimonial, a grandson described scars that marked his elderly grandmother�s body, traces of punishments inflicted in her youth when she defied white teachers and spoke her encrypted tribal tongue. Archival photographs from the 19th century document the solemn gaze of indigenous children costumed in European garb -- Nisqually, Puyallup, Swinomish and Yakima forcibly taken from extended clans and relocated to boarding schools that were the government's tools for suppression of native identity.
Another series of black and white photographs from the 1930s captures a large group of cheerful elementary school children standing in front of a local Japanese-American cultural center just a few years before Issei and Nisei properties were confiscated without compensation, and the children joined 13,400 other state residents deported to wartime internment camps.
An exhibit about the Columbia
River charted the extensive hydroelectrification that powered the region�s
wartime defense industries, preeminent among these, the Hanford Engineering
Works in the eastern part of the state, which had produced plutonium for
the Manhattan Project and Nagasaki bomb. Hanford Site was famous for its
contribution to the demolition of the imperial enemy�s city, but it also
rained illness and death on local workers and unsuspecting �downwinders�
The Columbia basin�s far-reaching dam systems had diminished once inexhaustible salmon supplies, but swift moving waters provided an efficient dump for Hanford�s plant processes for decades, a private sewer for disposal of thermal discharges and fluid pathway of radionuclide wastes � including sodium-24, phosphorus-32, neptunium-239, zinc-65, chromium-51, ruthenium-103, ruthenium-106, cerium-144, cesium-137, and arsenic -- that would be be absorbed by non-migratory fish species consumed by unwary locals, just as iodine-131 would become embedded in their thyroid glands, and strontium-90 and plutonium-239 deposited in ailing bones.
In one of the museum's cathedral-height exhibition spaces, a giant wall sized relief-mural of the state tracked the Columbia basin�s vast scope, including the downstream spot where, before cleanup measures were legislated, currents saturated with condemned toxins flowed past McLoughlin Heights and Vancouver. Projected onto the map�s monumental scale, the Bell residence and its three inhabitants would have appeared as mere specks, and the chemicals confiscated from No.7214 -- negligible drops along the Columbia�s malignant pathway, its government-sponsored chemical and radiological effluvium.
During the course of the trial, District Judge Tanner had refused each of Jim Bell�s subpoenas for defense witnesses, and the defendant alone appeared on the stand to testify in his own behalf. It is not known whether, in the interim, any of Bell's 12 peers had wandered next door to take in the State History Museum�s collections, or if the lone holdout juror had ever contemplated the curators� displays. Installed as just another exhibit in the museum's cautionary continuum, the government�s case against the essayist and new enemy-of-the-state would have been informed by the unexpected testimony of history�s many witnesses.
On 10 April 2001, Jim Bell was confined to SeaTac Federal Detention Center, awaiting sentencing scheduled for 6 July. He faces a prison term ranging from six to ten years.
� 2001 Deborah Natsios
9 June 2001
10 June 2001, Addenda, renumbered
11 June 2001, Add., renumber
Return-Path: X-Sender: email@example.com Date: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 14:36:08 -0400 To: "carlk" , From: Declan McCullagh Subject: Re: Jim Bell, homeland defense, and the national security state References: <20010816013418.A7689@cluebot.com> Actually the Feds' for-idiot-juror presentation made it sound, believe it or not, like the GPS bug uplinked to a sat. I agree this is unlikely. -Declan