The Austin Chronicle

Keystone Kops Hunt Killer D's

By Michael King, July 11, 2003, News

Those of us entirely paranoid about the powers of government spooks may gain some small comfort from a U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security memo concerning a Texas state representative known as "Lon Aurman." That is the name repeatedly given Fort Worth Democrat Lon Burnam in a briefly legible portion of the report now posted in full -- more or less -- on the agency's own Office of Inspector General Web site ( In a manner reminiscent of the heavily redacted FBI files of the COINTELPRO era, the department hand-edited its official report of agency involvement in the May search for the missing Texas House Democrats. The reports hide the identities -- including deleting all personal pronouns -- of most every Homeland Security staffer who may have had anything to do with the Texas Dept. of Public Safety's request for help finding Rep. Pete Laney's airplane, as well as the personnel conducting the OIG probe itself. The OIG claims the deletions were done to protect "personal privacy" -- although why a government official should not expect his or her name to appear in an official government report is more than a little mysterious.

Unsurprisingly, the self-justifying report concludes that since the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center's involvement was confined to only a "nominal use of [agency] assets," there is no need for further review. U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay immediately began demanding that Democrats apologize for saying bad things about Republicans.

But Texas Democrats in Congress have likewise only been allowed to see the redacted public reports -- despite their repeated official requests for full disclosure of tapes and transcripts of all conversations between DPS and federal agencies, including not just Homeland Security but the Dept. of Justice and the FBI. Austin's Rep. Lloyd Doggett only discovered after a month of phone calls that DOJ has since June 4 been conducting an inquiry into its involvement in the Killer D hunt. That probe, like Homeland Security's, is entirely confined to whether too much time and money had been spent. You might think DeLay would care that executive agencies are determining on their own what they care to disclose to members of Congress -- but then, it was DeLay who wanted to "federalize" the House search in the first place, hoping to convert it into a criminal investigation.

The content of the Homeland Security report is in itself both misleading and occasionally ludicrous. The deletions turn much into empty gobbledygook, e.g.: "[BLANK] briefed [BLANK] and [BLANK BLANK BLANK] of [BLANK's] attempts to locate the aircraft." The only time the report gets serious is when an administrator runs afoul of the press. Also included in the file is an (unredacted) copy of a lengthy June 7 Washington Post article that embarrassed the agency by confirming that Homeland Security staff knew they were searching not for a "downed plane" but for missing Texas Democrats; the agency's Joseph Bendig told the reporter that the DPS request was unusual. Bendig wanted his superiors to know he only meant that a law-enforcement search for missing politicians is unusual. That memo suggests the real reason for all the deletions -- too many reporters were already asking too many embarrassing questions.

The OIG investigators, on the other hand, asked very few questions of any kind. In their summary of the agency's interview of Lt. William Crais of the DPS (Crais' name is duly deleted, but from details widely published elsewhere it's readily apparent he's the subject), the investigators recount that other DPS personnel (names deleted) "consistently interrupted and challenged" the OIG investigators' questions. Not that the investigators themselves were overly curious -- when they asked Crais who told him to look for the airplane, because that information was "pertinent to the investigation," they also assured him that they "could not compel [BLANK] to answer." Unsurprisingly, "[BLANK] declined to answer the question."

Last month Secretary Tom Ridge announced a garish, militaristic new seal for Homeland Security. Maybe he can try a new motto, too: "Ask Us No Questions and We'll Tell You No Lies."

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