Gary Gygax’s FBI File

Reason crime reporter C.J. Ciaramella filed a FOIA request for any FBI files on TSR Hobbies, the creators of Dungeons & Dragons. The incident is largely forgotten now, but the FBI actually raided the TSR offices in 1980 because its agents thought that a scenario in the Top Secret RPG was actually a real assassination plot.

Along with records related to that 1980 raid, the FBI sent him what was essentially Gary Gygax’s FBI file (PDF).

As Ciaramella summarizes the file in Reason,

An FBI source in the report alleges that Gygax was “eccentric and frightening,” carried a weapon, proudly responded to every letter he received from an inmate, and had a Liberian holding company. It concludes: “He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.”

. . .

In short, Gary Gygax wasn’t a snitch and fought the power.


If the FBI Can’t Figure Out Word, The Terrorists Have Won

Via Reason Magazine comes a link to an audit PDF of the FBI’s lingering problems in upgrading its computer systems. The report betrays an agency that is plumbing new depths of government incompetence.

The short version is the FBI doesn’t know what it currently has and so doesn’t know what it wants. It relies on five separate invesigative computer systems, but has so little documentation about how those systems work that it is engaged in an expensive reverse engineering of its own software systems.

Communications problems between FBI headquarters, field offices and contractors have left agents without computers for weeks at a time.

To add insult to injury, the FBI has decided to jettison WordPerfect in favor of MS Word organization-wide. But numerous field offices complained that FBI Headquarters continues to drag its feet on converting the 1,000 or so FBI-specific WordPerfect macros to MS Word equivalents.


FBI under fire for IT slipups. Evan Hansen, CNet.Com, December 20, 2002.

Did the FBI Fire on the Branch Davidians, Round 2

I have no idea whether or not the FBI fired on members of the Branch Davidians during its final assault on the compound on April 19, 1993. Many people thought the issue would be settled by a re-enactment ordered by the judge to evaluate infrared video footage taken from an FBI plane.

That footage shows flashes that anti-government activists claim are shots being fired by FBI agents. The FBI, meanwhile, maintains that the flashes are not gun shots but essentially background noise. The re-enactment was supposed to resolve this. FBI agents went out and performed similar maneuvers in which they fired their weapons. Meanwhile a plane took infrared video of the action on the ground and compared it to the video taken in 1993.

The new video was site by Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) as proof that the FBI had not fired on the Davidians. But according to an article by James Bovard, that may not be the end of the story.

According to Bovard, Mike McNulty — who released the award winning but flawed documentary “Waco: Rules of Engagement” — has produced another film demonstrating that there were significant differences between the original assault on the Branch Davidian compound and the re-enactment.

The two main claims of the movie are that a) in 1993 agents in Waco were equipped with weapons that had only 14-inch barrels, but during the re-enactment used weapons with 20-inch barrels, and b) in 1993 agents were equipped with off-the-shelf standard ammunition, but for the re-enactment used military-issue ammunition that is designed, among other things, to minimize muzzle flash (to reduce the ability to be spotted during combat).

Of these claims are accurate it will be interesting to see how Danforth and others attempt to spin them. I have no idea if the difference in barrels and ammunition would make a significant difference in what the infrared video camera would detect, but on first blush it is difficult to imagine why the FBI would do a re-enactment that didn’t duplicate both the type of guns and ammunition its agents were using at the Waco siege except to rig the outcome.


The Latest Waco Fireball. James Bovard, The American Spectator, April 5, 2001.

The Best Thing to Come Out of Waco

    In an article for Salon.Com (“Hollering fire in a crowded theater”), Daryl Lindsey interviews Waco negotiator Byron Sage about the recent Danforth report and the controversy over the documentary, “Waco: The Rules of Engagement.”

    Sage dismisses the “conspiracy theories” of films like “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” who claim that the FBI fired assault weapons on the Branch Davidians during the final day of the standoff and then covered it up.

    Sage whines:

The point here is that the American public has now been conditioned (and I am hoping that we can reverse this) to start from a position of believing that anything that the government tells them — and I hate to use that term in such a broad sweeping fashion, and in fact I won’t — anything that the FBI tells them is immediately subject to question.

    I am very skeptical of some of the claims made in “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” and don’t think anyone has proven that the FBI a) started the fire or b) fired on the Branch Davidians. On the other hand, from beginning to end the U.S. government lied, lied, and then lied some more about what happened at Waco. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that government officials tried to hide and obfuscate their actions at Waco — their own words and the official state-sponsored reports of what happened at Waco confirm this.

    If people like Sage want Americans to think that the FBI and the government tell them the truth, perhaps they could start by simply stopping the interminable flood of lies.

    More darkly, regardless of whether or not you believe the scenario as outlined in “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” Sage’s own comments toward the end of his interview with Lindsey will only reinforce the view by some that the government is out to get them by any means necessary. This is what Sage unbelievably has to say about the film:

And they marketed that type of material, which comes very close in my mind of standing up in a crowded theater and hollering fire.

They have so inflamed elements of the American public that there has been irreversible damage done to the trust that the public has had in the past — and should have now — in the integrity and professionalism of law enforcement. I am referring to actions like Timothy McVeigh took on the second anniversary of the bombing of, I mean the fiery conclusion of Waco when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. That was before “The Rules of Engagement” came out, but it is still based on the same type of response to inaccuracies.

    Anyone who thinks there was a conspiracy at Waco is implicitly responsible for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building! A film that argues there was is very close, according to Sage, to inciting a riot or mayhem. Sage’s choice of metaphors is interesting since the “fire in a crowded theater” line was invented earlier in the century to cover another act of state repression. Antiwar activists handed out leaflets to those drafted to serve in World War I urging them not to go. The activists were arrested and jailed. Oliver Wendell Holmes, giving the opinion for the Supreme Court majority that upheld their jail sentences, wrote that giving drafted men pamphlets opposing World War I and urging them to listen to their consciences and not report for the draft was akin to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.

    Of course when government actions actually lead to real fires and the deaths of dozens of people, that’s just another day at the office for folks like Sage. If Americans treat what their government says with a healthy dose of skepticism, that’s probably one of the best things to come out of Waco.

The FBI’s Carnivorous Appetite

    At the same time that politicians have been complaining that e-commerce companies aren’t doing enough to respect the privacy of Internet users, along comes the revelation that the FBI has developed an electronic surveillance system called Carnivore which lets it monitor millions of e-mails.

    The system is as simple as it is insidious. First, the FBI obtains a court order to monitor the email of a particular person. These have become trivially easy to get thanks to the Clinton administration. Second, the FBI goes to the Internet Service Provider that the person uses and attaches its Carnivore system. Basically the Carnivore system intercepts every single e-mail message that is coming in through that system and is supposed to then filter out and capture only the e-mail from the person covered under the court order.

    But as former federal computer-crimes prosecutor Mark Rasch told the Wall Street Journal, this is “the electronic equivalent of listening to everybody’s phone calls to see if it’s the phone call you should be monitoring. You develop a tremendous amount of information.”

    The real problem being, of course, that there is no check on the system once it’s in place and based on its history only a fool would trust the FBI as far as you can throw Louis Freeh. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia), who has led the fight against other government monitoring systems such as Echelon, summed up the problem with Carnivore: “Once the software is applied to the ISP, there’s no check on the system. If there’s one word I would use to describe this, it would be ‘frightening.'”

    The Wall Street Journal tracked down an FBI flak, Marcus Thomas, to whine that “This is just a very specialized sniffer” and to point out that there are criminal and civil penalties that prohibit the FBI from conducting unauthorized wiretap and that evidence gleaned from such a wiretap would be inadmissible in court. Apparently Thomas thinks that Americans are stupid with a capital “S.”

    Sure the evidence is inadmissible in court, but that doesn’t prevent the FBI from developing criminal cases based on information they find in an unauthorized wiretap and simply forgetting to mention the origin of the original information. Besides, the FBI has in the past managed to put inadmissible evidence to very good use. Much of the information that the FBI collected on civil rights groups was clearly inadmissible in court, but agents still used it to try to destroy people’s reputations and lives.

    Fortunately, the FBI hasn’t yet succeeded in banning strong cryptography so anyone who wants to communicate securely over the Internet can still do so by using a program such as Pretty Good Privacy.

    Users concerned about eavesdropping by the Feds should treat the FBI as network damage and route around it.


‘Carnivore’ Eats Your Privacy. Wired News, July 11, 2000.

FBI’s system to covertly search e-mail raises privacy, legal issues. The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2000.