“I am Oz, the Great and Terrible!”
— The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Long ago, as a Special Attorney with the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, I participated in planning and — in a handful of instances — executing arrests of members of La Cosa Nostra and their associates. From personal observation, I early on concluded that, in apprehending mobsters, one of the primary threats to agent safety was the risk of fratricide, i.e., one amped-up, anxious and heavily armed agent accidentally shooting some other amped-up, anxious and heavily armed agent. The FBI, ATF, and other federal agents with whom I was privileged to work shared that concern. For that reason, they planned operations meticulously and kept the number of arresting agents to the absolute minimum in order to reduce the risk of injury or error.
To that end, I opted whenever possible to avoid arrests altogether by having defense counsel surrender their clients at the marshal’s lock up during regular business hours. From the media’s standpoint, the visuals must have been underwhelming. But then, we didn’t much care about meeting the needs of the news media. Having targets surrender was simple, held down costs, and reduced the risk of harm to one and all.
This is not to say that we never made arrests. Sometimes, we had no choice.
I recall one early morning arrest of a violence-prone mobster. The assigned agents were aware that the target was at a bar with his girlfriend. Since we wanted to take him at his home so that the premises could be searched incident to arrest, the agents parked outside his residence and waited for him to show up.
Around 6:00 A.M., the target arrived and went inside with his girlfriend. Two FBI agents (the total number needed to take down this dangerous felon and conduct the search) knocked on the door. A split second later, the target stepped outside, slammed the door behind him, and announced, “Okay, let’s go.”
By this tactic, he had cleverly defeated our plan to search his residence.
Despite the target’s extensive criminal record, one of the agents said to him, “Vinnie [not his real name], if you promise to behave, I won’t put you in cuffs.” The violent felon smiled and said, “Deal.” Thus, he was transported without handcuffs or incident to the federal building where he was processed.
That’s how the old Hoover era FBI rolled.
But today, with the example of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI’s recent daring dawn raid and arrest of serial false declarant Roger Stone, it is apparent that my ancient generation of federal law enforcement had it all wrong. Team Mueller’s use of 29 agents plus CNN video support elements were confronted with a challenging tactical problem. Despite the fact that Stone has no prior criminal record, he is nevertheless 66 years old. This is an age when people are sometimes cranky and disagreeable. Obviously, those 29 agents were necessary to establish tactical dominance and to quickly subdue this lawless false declarant. Hopefully, the overwhelming show of force prevented Stone from making any further false declarations during the course of his arrest.
And, equally important, the visuals of the assault broadcast by the CNN tactical elements undoubtedly will serve as a deterrent to others who may harbor thoughts of uttering untruths sworn or otherwise.
All of which leads me to shake my wooly gray head and wonder aloud if any of these two-fisted crime fighters who took down the cunning and dangerous Roger Stone are in any way embarrassed by their participation in this vaudeville act.
I mean, come on! 29 agents? Seriously? Once upon a time, you could have invaded a small country with that much firepower much less arrest a white haired gadfly who allegedly lied to the authorities. Is the wimp quotient really that high in today’s FBI?
Or was there some other reason for this televised silliness? Could it be that Mueller and his team of Hillary Clinton acolytes are trying to fool us with their comedy act? Is this ridiculous armed raid supposed to distract us from the humiliating fact that the Team Mueller elephant has once again given birth to a mouse? Is this an act of misdirection calculated to obscure the fact that Mueller’s Hillary Clinton fan club seems incapable of bringing nothing but process crime indictments devoid of any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion?
If so, they are sadly mistaken. After all these years of investigation, indictments of foreign nationals who will never appear in an American courtroom, and process crimes generated in large part by the investigators themselves, the mask is slipping and the act is wearing thin. Just like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Great and Terrible Mueller is slowly emerging as, in the words of Dorothy, the Great and Terrible humbug.
So what can Team Mueller do to prepare the public for what appears to be the inevitable and ignominious end of their sputtering investigation? Maybe for their next big arrest, the Team Mueller Clintonistas should use 100 FBI agents to surround the target’s luxury condo, land an assault force on the roof, lob some teargas canisters through the windows, kick in the front door and have NBC, ABC and CBS broadcast the event live.
After all, in show business, bigger is always better.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor who practices law in Philadelphia. He is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer and blogs at knowledgeisgood.net. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.