Slain FBI Agent Remembered More than 80 Years after his Murder

On November 27, 1934, FBI Special Agent Samuel P. Cowley was killed in a shootout with the infamous bank robber, George Baby Face Nelson. Cowley had been pursuing Nelson with fellow agent Herman Hollis when Nelson had the driver of his vehicle pull over to the side of the road. A shootout between the agents and Nelson ensued and was witnessed by at least a dozen people. Both Cowley and Hollis were killed during the shootout. Nelson, who was said to have suffered seventeen wounds in the gun fight, had his wife Helen, drive him to a safe house where he died later that same evening. Cowley survived his initial wounds long enough to speak to fellow agent Melvin Purvis and identify his shooter. He died about 10 hours after the shootout took place.

More than 80 years after his death, Special Agent Cowley was given a memorial service to recognize his sacrifice. On December 5, the Utah chapter of Former Special Agents of the FBI, conducted a memorial service which was attended by Cowley’s son, 82-year-old Samuel P. Cowley Jr.

Cowley was born in Franklin, Idaho on July 23, 1899. His father, Matthias F. Cowley was an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Cowley spent four years on a mission for the LDS church before attended the Agricultural College of Utah and George Washington University Law School. In 1929 Cowley joined the FBI and advanced to an inspector by 1934. He was sent to Chicago by J. Edgar Hoover to assist in the manhunt of John Dillinger. After Dillinger’s death, he was assigned to Baby Face Nelson’s case.

Cowley Jr., who was just eight months old when his father was murdered, said that family members and other FBI agents taught him about his father. He said that he was told by others that Hoover, himself, called his father honest and courageous.

The FBI Deploys Cyber Experts Around the Globe

Law enforcement, military, intelligence, and homeland security agencies across the highest levels of the US government view cybersecurity and stopping cyberattacks as “a top priority” according to FBI Director James Comey.

The FBI is responding to these global threats in a variety of ways including the presence of cyber task forces in all of the agency’s field offices—56 in total.

Another way to respond is with the new program of placing cybersecurity experts in the FBI’s legal attaché offices (legat) around the globe. These efforts are critical to national security, since nefarious cyber criminals operate across national borders with a few strokes of their keyboards.

The program using “cyber assistant legal attachés,” or cyber ALATs for short, began in 2011 in a handful of legat offices facing significant cyberthreats that affected US interests.

Now in 2016, eight permanent cyber ALATs are stationed around the globe with two in London and one each in these countries:

  • Australia (Canberra)
  • Canada (Ottawa)
  • Estonia (Tallinn)
  • Netherlands (The Hague)
  • Romania (Bucharest)
  • Ukraine (Kyiv)

In addition, nearly twelve temporary duty cyber ALAT positions work where they are needed.

The benefits for the FBI include:

  • Helping to eliminate jurisdictional issues between countries
  • Improved working relationships with other countries that help to further FBI initiatives and investigations
  • A deeper picture of particular cyberthreats

Host countries benefit greatly from the FBI’s cyber ALAT program. They get technical assistance in their cyber investigations as well as being able to share resources to investigate a particular cyberthreat. These professionals can also help provide cyber training to our foreign partners.

Obtaining a cyber ALAT position is a highly competitive endeavor since these positions require not only top-notch knowledge of computer intrusions, but extensive experience with liaison and task forces in addition to proven leadership skills.

It is heartening to know that the country’s best and brightest are hot on the trail of cyber criminals around the world.

Former FBI Agent Remembered for 30+ Years of Dedicated Service

Richard Gionnotti is being remembered by family, friends and colleagues for his many years of service as an FBI agent. Gionnotti, 71, passed away unexpectedly in early October.

More than 200 people gathered at Gionnotti’s funeral service to pay their respects and share stories of his long and respected career with the FBI. Gionnotti spent six years undercover in the Weather Underground, (WUO) an American militant group accused of staging a bombing campaign against the American government during the 1970’s. After a move to the FBI’s Miami field office, he became a leader in several important investigations and was a critical component in disbanding a spy network in South Florida that was directed by Fidel Castro. The network was involved in the downing of two exile group planes which killed four unarmed men in 1996.

Gionnotti, who was born in North Haven, Connecticut, was also remembered as being an “everyman.” “He could fit in with any group…He let people talk, and he was a good listener,” said fellow agent Bill Murphy.

From 1971 until 2002, Gionnotti served his country, receiving high honors for his work in the Weather Underground investigation. After he retired in 2002 he continued his passion for investigation by working as a private investigator and eventually went to work for the Florida Bar Association as a lead investigator of ethical violations amongst lawyers.

Colleagues spanning Gionnotti’s entire career came forward with stories of his service and the respect that everyone had for him. He was remembered for always supporting his fellow agents and ensuring that they received credit for their successes. Stephen B. Warner worked with Gionnotti for nine years with the FBI and said he often turned to him for advice and guidance with his investigations.

Gionnotti’s family remembered him as loving, kind and dedicated to his family. He is survived by his wife, son and stepdaughter.

Former FBI Agent Fights to Maintain Whistleblower Defense

Attorneys for former FBI agent John Parkinson recently filed a brief asking the U.S. Federal Circuit Court to allow him the rights to use the whistleblower defense in retaliation for his 2012 firing.

Eight years ago, Parkinson, who was in charge of an FBI special operations unit in Sacramento at the time, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging sexual misconduct against two coworkers. In the complaint Parkinson identified one coworker as having an obsession with pornography and viewing pornographic material while at work. Another coworker was singled out for “having a career-long pattern of soliciting prostitutes.”

Soon after the complaint was filed, Parkinson was given an unsatisfactory performance review and dismissed from his leadership position in what he viewed as retaliation to his complaints. Parkinson wrote to Rep. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, explaining his concerns and the letter was sent on to the inspector general of the Department of Justice. The DOJ reviewed his case and Parkinson found himself under investigation after the two coworkers he complained about alleged misconduct about him, including charges of obstructing an investigation and misleading investigators. He was fired by the FBI in 2012.

Parkinson was an Iraq War Veteran so he turned to the Merit System Protection Board which allows FBI personnel that are military veterans the ability to challenge such decisions. The U.S. Court of Appeals heard his case and agreed that Parkinson did not mislead investigators but held up the obstruction charge. In the decision, it was noted that Parkinson should not have been fired and at the most should have gotten a 30-day suspension.

The DOJ filed its own briefs claiming that the whistleblower defense should not be allowed by FBI personnel. Now the DOJ has asked for a hearing to reassess the whistleblower defense. The court’s decision could threaten FBI war veterans if it sides with the FBI.

“This is going to impact all future veteran FBI whistleblowers,” said Kathleen McClellan, one of Parkinson’s attorneys.

FBI Testifies Missing Myrtle Beach Teen’s Body was Likely Dumped in Alligator-Invested Swamp

Brittanee Drexel was just seventeen-years-old when she disappeared in Myrtle Beach in 2009. Drexel was kidnapped, gang-raped and shot, her body thrown into a swamp infested with alligators near McClellanville, according to FBI agent Gerrick Munoz.

The FBI had been investigating Drexel’s disappearance with no luck when a break in the case came earlier this year. Munoz recently gave a court testimony, detailing the newest developments in the case.

According to Munoz’s testimony, inmate Taquan Brown of Walterboro, spoke with investigators claiming to have witnessed Drexel being sexually abused by then 16-year-old Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor. Brown continued his account saying that there were at least two other men present during the rape. After Brown went to the backyard to meet with Taylor’s father, Brown said that Drexel ran out of the house but was “pistol-whipped” and dragged back into the home.

Investigators have still been unable to recover the teenager’s body, despite searching up to 40 alligator ponds in the area. Additional tips have continued to come into the FBI since a news conference was held by authorities in June, some of which have corroborated Brown’s account of events.

The FBI agent’s testimony was the result of a bond hearing against Da’Shaun Taylor for a separate indictment for robbing a Mount Pleasant McDonalds. Defense attorney David Aylor argued that Munoz’s testimony was a ploy to pressure his client into confessing his involvement in the robbery. Taylor confessed his involvement as the getaway driver in the robbery and was sentenced to probation and released on $10,000 bail. Taylor adamantly denies any involvement in Drexel’s death.

Taylor’s mother, Joan Taylor, was present during the bond hearing and called the FBI agent’s testimony “craziness.” She accused the government of unjustly trying to pin a crime on her son that he did not commit. FBI agents and federal prosecutors in the case declined to comment.

FBI Apprehends Murder Suspect after Nearly Four Decades

After nearly 40 years, a suspect in the murder of a former Florida immigration official has been apprehended for the second time. In 1980, William Claybourne Taylor was arrested in the crime, but he fled after being released on bond.

Taylor is accused of killing a former member of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the attempted murder of former Williston Mayor Eugene Bailey in 1977. He has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for both crimes since his disappearance in 1980.

Taylor’s older brother, Ray, and a third man were arrested for plotting the mayor’s assassination and then charging fees to represent the family in legal proceedings. At the time of his arrest in 1980, Ray Taylor was a successful Tennessee state prosecutor.

Ray Taylor was sentenced as the main administrator in the murder plot. The third man, whose identity was not reported, testified against Ray Taylor in exchange for a reduced sentence. The man received 15 years of probation.

William Taylor, who was indicted in the murder as the triggerman, was arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee and later released on a $20,000 bond. After failure to return to Ocala, Florida, the prosecution filed an additional charge of unlawful flight.

According to an FBI report, the shooting took place on U.S. 27, outside of Ocala, Florida. The immigration official, Walter Scott, died after shots were fired and the car careened into some trees. Bailey was shot three times by a man who approached the car after the car crashed, but survived.

The FBI has continued to search for Taylor since his disappearance 36 years ago. “William Claybourne Taylor thought he could avoid taking responsibility for this horrible crime, but our agents continued an exhaustive search year after year,” said Special Agent Michelle Klimt.

The FBI found Taylor living under a false identity in North Carolina.

FBI Agent Denies Using Best Buy Employee to Perform Illegal Searches

Multinational electronic corporation giant Best Buy employs a team of tech wizards known as the “Geek Squad” to provide problem-solving services for customers with computer issues. Given the nature of their job, Geek Squad workers can easily stumble upon private, and often times, sensitive material stored on clients’ computers and tablets. The FBI is now being accused of exploiting the Geek Squad’s privileged knowledge to conduct illegal searches on Best Buy customers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Geek Squad worker Justin Meade has allegedly been working in concert with the FBI for years, informing the agency whenever he encountered child pornography on electronic devices during maintenance checks. This relationship eventually led the November 2014 indictment of Dr. Mark Albert Rettenmaier on felony charges of child pornography possession.

As the case continues to unfold, Rettenmaier’s defense attorney James Reddit claims a majority of case evidence was gathered illegally and is therefore inadmissible.

Meade’s FBI contact, agent Tracey Riley, has responded to the accusation by stating “I never asked or ordered Mr. Meade or any Best Buy employee to search for child pornography or gather information on child pornography or any other crimes on my behalf or on behalf of the FBI.”

However, Riley admits that Meade was given $500 at some point but failed to explain what it was payment for.

For his part, Meade asserts he was only following Best Buy’s policy regarding suspicious electronic content when he notified Riley about the child pornography discovery. He also repudiates any memory of the $500 payout. Despite these denials, Riddet has uncovered public records proving that Meade has been informing for the FBI as far back as 2007.

While the court has not yet ruled whether the FBI violated the 4th Amendment by obtaining evidence through unlawful search and seizure, its decision will undoubtedly make or break the case against Rettenmaier. And the accusations against the FBI as well.

After 40 Days of Occupation, FBI Clears Out Final Remaining Occupiers At Oregon Refuge

Harney County, Oregon after almost 7 weeks of illegal occupation, can finally take a breath. The Malheir National Wildlife Refuge was taken by force by an armed militia on January 2, 2016, making a statement about the imprisonment of fellow anti-government protestors. After weeks of attempts by the FBI to keep this occupation from escalating into violence, the last four members of the anti-government militia surrendered, and the refuge returned to the FBI.

The history and context behind this occupation is long and detailed, but in a nutshell, it’s about a family of cattle ranchers, the Hammonds, who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law many times over the past two decades. The militants claim to have acted under the direction of God, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon church, which the Hammonds and occupation leaders are a part of, immediately and strongly condemned the occupation.

During the first three weeks of the occupation, the militants were allowed to leave and reenter the refuge as they pleased. At one point, the occupation leader, Ammon Bundy, attended a community meeting with other militia members, where they were told to leave the refuge by the community members.

On the fourth week, law enforcement arrested Ammon Bundy and other militia leaders as they traveled to a speaking engagement. At this point, the occupation began to fall apart. Bundy urged the remaining militia to leave the refuge and go home. Most of the militia members left, but four remained. Through a standoff livestreamed on YouTube, the FBI negotiated with the remaining occupiers. They were peacefully arrested the following morning, February 11.

Following the peaceful resolution, the FBI named the refuge as a crime scene. Bombs were scanned for, hiding members searched for, and the hunt for evidence began. The refuge is expected to be under FBI control for several weeks, but at this point, residents around the refuge can relax knowing the occupation has ended.

Hacker Dumps Contact Info of 29,000 FBI and Homeland Security Agents

One Sunday in February 2016, millions of people in America crowded around their TVs and into local bars to watch the Super Bowl. It was the perfect moment for an anonymous hacker to dump the emails, phone numbers, and names of 29,000 different FBI and Homeland Security Agents. The news broke during the Super Bowl, with Motherboard independently confirming they had seen the info dump themselves. They reported that the information had not yet been made public. The hacker claimed he had access to a wide range of data, up to 1 terabyte of data, including credit card numbers and classified military data. He did not release that information to the public.

That Monday, the list was released as an encrypted text dump, completing the dump with an additional 20,000 FBA agents. The hacker appeared to have a sense of humor as the password to the encrypted text dump was “lol,” and he initially contacted the press through a Department of Justice email he commandeered.

The hacker got access to the information by manipulating a department representative into handing over an access token. He gained access to a hidden portal with the token, and he opened and dumped as much information as he could. The hacker apparently accessed up to three different computers while in the system.

This news has sparked two different responses. First, an official statement from the Department of Justice claims that the information leaked out was not personally identifiable, even though it contained non-public email address and agent names. In response, a former security expert with US Special Operations claimed that such a security breach was unacceptable and demonstrated the federal government’s failure to keep such breaches from happening in the first place meant they were missing some fundamentals of information security. The investigation has not yielded any results different from the statement given by the Department of Justice.

Government Agents are Among Those Prosecuted when FBI Shuts Down Online Black Market, Silk Road

In 2013, the FBI shut down an online black market known as Silk Road. Silk Road was hidden on the Tor network, an encrypted network that allows users to browse websites in full anonymity. Tor is otherwise known as a darknet, and darknet black markets tend to thrive in illegal activity. Silk Road was a marketplace specifically designed for the sale of illegal drugs, making it an attractive target for the FBI and DEA.

When the FBI shut down Silk Road, they also arrested Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged founder of Silk Road. He was charged with money laundering and conspiracy to traffic narcotics, among other charges. Perhaps most interesting was the charge that Ulbricht paid for the murders of business rivals that he perceived to be a threat to his business.

The resulting trial concluded in February 2015, with the jury deciding that Ulbricht was guilty of all charges. He was served with two life sentences with no chance at parole.

Since Silk Road was shut down, a second version of Silk Road, simply called Silk Road 2.0, came online. It was brought online by administrators of the original Silk Road, but it too was shut down, exactly one year after it first appeared. Silk Road 2.0’s administrator was also arrested and faced charges similar to the ones Ulbricht faced.

However, the story of Silk Road does not end there. Silk Road 3.0 appeared in October 2015, although it is much smaller than previous editions of Silk Road. Even stranger, a former Secret Service agent pleaded guilty on charges of money laundering and obstruction of justice while he was part of a team investigating Silk Road. He allegedly stole over $820,000 worth of bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency used to purchase drugs on Silk Road, during the investigation.

Shortly after he was charged, it was found that a former DEA agent was charged similarly, having also taken money during the Silk Road investigation. It is not clear how much money he stole. For now, the Silk Road story is quiet, until the FBI is able to shut down the next illegal darknet marketplace.

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