January 16, 2009
My name is Richard Hahn. I am a retired FBI Special Agent. I spent thirteen years of my life, from January 1975 to January 1988 intimately involved in the investigation of the FALN and related terrorist groups. I note that I am but one among scores of investigators who spent countless hours trying to resolve these terrorism cases.
Let me start by saying that the FALN and the Macheteros were no less terrorists than today's al Qaeda or any other terror organization recognized by this Government. In terms of willingness to terrorize, intimidate with threats of violence, violence, and to kill, there is no difference.
Both the FALN and the Macheteros were far-flung conspiracies with ties extending not only to each other, but to other Puerto Rican terror organizations and even to the remnants of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army. The FALN placed and claimed credit for over one hundred explosive and incendiary bombs in American cities over the span of thirteen years. In the process they killed five and maimed scores of others. Their claimed bombings included a booby-trap set for officers of the New York Police Department that maimed one officer, ironically a Puerto Rican himself, and the daytime bombing of Fraunces Tavern in which four were killed and more than sixty injured. They also engaged in armed takeovers of political campaign offices of both Democrat and Republican candidates and sent threat letters to delegates to the national conventions. They shared stolen explosives and money between themselves and other domestic terror groups of their day.
The Macheteros likewise engaged in a protracted campaign of violence and terror. They ambushed the Police of Puerto Rico to steal uniforms and vehicles, attacked a U.S. Navy bus carrying sailors to their everyday jobs in Puerto Rico, fired rockets at the FBI offices and U.S. Courthouse in Puerto Rico, conducted numerous bombings on the island (including the bombing of fighter aircraft of the Puerto Rican National Guard in Puerto Rico, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage,) and engaged in what remains one of the largest single robberies in U.S. history, the theft of more than seven million dollars from a Wells Fargo truck in West Hartford, Connecticut. Through all of this they killed five and injured many others.
These organizations were truly clandestine, with cellular structure, safe houses and other measures taken to prevent members from knowing exactly who was involved in what acts. Consequently, what is known about the activities of specific individuals in each of these organizations is limited. Nonetheless, under the laws of the United States in joining these conspiracies the individuals who were ultimately arrested and charged took responsibility for all acts of the conspiracy. They share the guilt for all of the terror conducted in the organization's name.
Through the nearly decade and a half of investigation of the FALN only one member ever stepped forward to cooperate with the government, a new recruit named Freddie Mendez. With only six months in the "underground" Mendez could offer little insight as to who had done what in the various crimes committed before he became a member. The only other window into the FALN was through penetration of safe houses with court authorized wiretap and microphone coverage by law enforcement. Unfortunately, in these cases the evidence regarding exactly who did what specific acts was clouded by code names, cryptic conversation and the limited locations of the microphone penetration. Still, despite these barriers to understanding the specifics of the conspiracy, law enforcement was able to discern some things. Here are some of the facts known about the FALN.
Eleven members of the FALN were captured on April 4, 1980 in Evanston, Illinois, as a result of a call of suspicious activity by a resident and, separately, a report of an armed robbery that had occurred that day. Those arrested were armed to the teeth, wore disguises, and were gathered to conduct an armored car robbery, as was later learned from FALN member Freddie Mendez who was among them. One of the arrests that day involved the recovery of a truck stolen just hours before in the armed takeover of a nearby rental agency in which employees and patrons were terrorized at gunpoint and personally robbed. The stolen truck was spotted in a parking lot shortly after the robbery and police established a surveillance. When two suspects were seen moving the vehicle, arrests were made. Both subjects were armed and struggled to get out their weapons when confronted, but were successfully subdued without incident. The stolen truck was found to contain several weapons. Separately, a suspicious van parked in a residential neighborhood was checked by police and found to have nine persons in disguise and carrying a variety of weapons. Among those in the van was FALN leader Carlos Torres who had operated a well equipped FALN bomb factory in Chicago.
These arrests led to the Federal prosecution of Carlos Torres, Elizam Escobar, Ricardo Jimenez, Adolfo Matos, Dylcia Noemi Pagan, Alicia Rodriguez, Ida Luz Rodriguez, Luis Rosa, Carmen Valentin and Alfredo Mendez. FALN leader Oscar Lopez was arrested separately nearly a year later and convicted of charges in the same indictment. Of these individuals, all except Mendez and Carlos Torres were offered clemency.
Repentant FALN member Freddie Mendez became a Government witness. He told investigators that under the tutelage of Oscar Lopez he had participated in training in how to build bombs, had seen bombs being constructed in FALN safe houses, and, with Ricardo Jimenez, carried a bomb to be placed in the Democratic Party Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois in October, 1979. On that occasion Mendez was told the bombings were being coordinated with explosive attacks being conducted by related groups in Puerto Rico, a fact verified not only by the events themselves, but by a communiqué issued immediately thereafter bearing the names and logos of the FALN and Macheteros, jointly claiming of credit for the attacks.
Mendez also told investigators he participated with several of the Evanston arrestees in an armed takeover of a National Guard Armory in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in an attempt to steal weapons and explosives, and the armed takeover of Carter-Mondale campaign headquarters in Chicago for the purpose of intimidating delegates to the national convention. In both cases Mendez and others carried guns, threatening and intimidating their victims. Mr. Mendez identified his co-conspirators that participated with him in these acts. Many are among those who were granted clemency. He also identified FALN Leader Oscar Lopez (also offered clemency) as his mentor in the clandestine organization.
Following his conviction with other members Mendez chose to cooperate with the Government. He told of plans afoot to effect the escape of the jailed FALN members. Mendez said he was told by outside operatives of the FALN that a number of options were being considered including hijacking an airliner or kidnapping Ronald Reagan Jr., son of then President Ronald Reagan, to compel their release. It should be noted that Mr. Mendez was subjected to repetitive polygraph examinations specifically about these statements and was never found to be deceptive.
While Mr. Mendez' information was limited by his short tenure as a terrorist, the FBI with its partners in law enforcement did subsequently succeed in penetrating FALN safe houses with microphones and video coverage. Through these technical penetrations further evidence of violent plans were discovered and thwarted. In the spring of 1983 FALN members Edwin Cortes, Alejandrina Torres and a third unidentified man from Puerto Rico traveled from Chicago to Kansas with weapons and explosives (which had been neutralized by the FBI) to effect the escape of FALN leader Oscar Lopez. Intercepted conversations made it clear that they were prepared to shoot it out with whoever got in the way of their escape plans. This plot was foiled by FBI intervention. This same cell subsequently planned other prison escapes, an armed robbery, movement of FALN leader William Morales, and ultimately a series of bombings. The bomb plans included yet another conspirator, Alberto Rodriguez. These plans were also intercepted by FBI wiretaps and microphones, and prevented. It is noted that through this investigation it was evident that the conspirators were in contact with and utilized the assistance of co-conspirators in New York and Puerto Rico, some of whom have never been identified.
In yet another FALN investigation terrorist leader Oscar Lopez conspired with others both inside and outside Leavenworth Prison to escape from prison with several fellow inmates. This plot called for procuring weapons, explosives, and hijacking a helicopter to effect the escape. This conspiracy was compromised early on by a prison informant, George Lebosky, who had been recruited into the escape plan. The investigation led to FALN members negotiating for and purchasing what they believed was a large quantity of military explosives from an undercover agent. Pointing up the relations with other groups, the actual sale was not transacted with the Puerto Rican subjects who negotiated the purchase, but rather with non-Hispanics who appeared to make the purchase and thereafter transported the materials cross-country to California on behalf of the FALN.
All of these plots reveal in detail the murky nature of the FALN conspiracy. Violent and reckless, these individuals engaged in acts which only by chance did not result in more injuries and deaths of innocent persons. The intercepted conversations in the FALN investigations reflect a willingness to shoot if necessary and use explosives without consideration of consequences. It should be noted that on some occasions the intent of the organization was clearly to cause injury or death. The FALN claimed daytime bombing of a New York restaurant, packed with patrons is one example. The targeting of New York Police with a booby-trapped bomb in 1974 is another.
Examination of the Machetero investigation yields very much the same results. Little is known which defines exactly who did what within the conspiracy. Intercepted conversations clearly identify Machetreo leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios and others as being involved in the robbery of over seven million dollars from Wells Fargo in 1983. They also reveal that a large portion of the stolen funds were smuggled into Mexico and turned over to representatives of the Cuban Government. But as is the case in the FALN investigation the intercepted conversations are coded and cryptic, making it difficult if not impossible to discern who and what is being talked about.
Immediately following the 1985 arrest of many of the Macheteros one of the conspirators cooperated to some degree with the Government and verified identities of persons referred to in intercepts by code names. These statements were relied upon in prosecution to identify the subjects in the intercepted conversations. Still, even with this information discerning the specifics of who did what in many of the acts of the conspiracy remain unknown. It should be noted that Filiberto Ojeda Rios, leader of the Macheteros, was a known Cuban trained operative.
The structure and discipline of these groups served them well to cloud the specifics of individual actions within the conspiracies. Nonetheless, the intercepts and few statements of cooperative witnesses showed that these persons collectively were members of the FALN and Macheteros and therefore bear responsibility for all of their claimed actions under U.S. law.
I would like to point out that in both the various FALN prosecutions and the Machetero prosecution these persons were charged in singular Federal Judicial Districts, when in fact, the acts of the conspiracy occurred in multiple jurisdictions. Any of these individuals could have faced multiple prosecutions in the different venues. In addition to Chicago where they were captured, the FALN members could have been prosecuted in New York, where the most heinous of their crimes occurred. The Macheteros could likewise have been prosecuted for bombings and other attacks in Puerto Rico where they conducted several terrorist acts, in addition to the Hartford, Connecticut prosecution for the Wells Fargo robbery. It is only the economy of law enforcement that precluded this from happening. Being convicted and sentenced to lengthy terms in one district served as a disincentive to prosecution in another district for different crimes as there was no expectation of any greater punishment than that already meted out. Hence, the prosecutions in these cases do not fully illustrate the scope of the conspiracies, nor their impact on the public. Consequently, it is fair to say that these individuals were beneficiaries of the legal system by virtue of the fact that they were only prosecuted for some of the crimes committed by the conspiracies.
It has been suggested that the individuals granted this clemency were not "personally involved" in crimes of violence. That statement is a complete misrepresentation of fact. In the cases of the FALN and of the Macheteros the individuals were charged and convicted of being part of the conspiracy that engaged in the acts of violence which they proudly claimed credit for through written communiqués and phone calls to the press. In the case of the FALN most who were charged and convicted were shown to have gathered en-masse with disguises and illegal weapons, to have and engaged in armed takeovers and robberies and to have attempted more than once to engineer armed jailbreaks. In the case of the Macheteros the indictment charges the defendants as members of the "Macheteros," hence directly implicating them in all the acts claimed in the name of that terror organization.
This misrepresentation has been advanced by the Clinton White House through then National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. Speaking on behalf of the Clinton administration Berger stated on national television that the FALN and Macheteros were not "personally involved" in crimes of violence. This is an intentionally deceptive and specious statement. As noted above, some of those offered clemency were shown to have engaged in crimes of violence. The Government clearly showed, for example, the organization of and participation in violent attacks by Oscar Lopez through the testimony of Freddie Mendez at Lopez trial. Through electronic and physical surveillance Edwin Cortes and Alejandrina Torres were shown to have attempted an armed jailbreak, demonstrating that they were "personally involved" in planned violence which would have been carried out except for law enforcement intervention. Clearly Mr. Berger's statement is more than misleading, it is wrong. Moreover, his statement undermines the objective of conspiracy law. Because conspiracies are secretive in nature, the law casts a wide net over them, making all responsible for the acts committed in furtherance of the conspiriacy. If one were to carry Mr. Berger's premise forward, basing guilt for conspiracies of violence solely on the ability of showing each individual conspirator's specific acts, then current terrorist leaders Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed would also be exonerated for the events of September 11, 2001, for it is clear they did not fly planes into buildings on that day. Just as bin Laden and other facilitators of the September 11 plot all share responsibility for the horrendous events of that day, in the same way the FALN and Machetero members share in each act committed and claimed by those organizations. The fact that the actions of individuals in a conspiracy are clouded by the clandestine and secretive nature of the conspiracy does not and should not alleviate individual responsibility.
What is most disturbing about these cases is the fact that there are so many unresolved questions. To this day no one knows who was involved in the bombing of Fraunces Tavern where four died and sixty were injured. No one has been called to answer for that attack or the attack on a U.S. Navy bus in December, 1979 in which two were killed and several others wounded. None of those granted clemency were even asked to provide the scantest bit of information regarding their knowledge of the organizations, or who may have committed what acts. The fact is that today there still remain unindicted co-conspirators in these cases who have never been identified. There still remain outstanding fugitives. There still remain unsolved crimes of homicide and attempted homicide in which the clear intent of the organizations was to kill. (I refer specifically to the bomb that injured NYPD officer Angel Poggi, the bombing of Fraunces Tavern and the attack on the Navy bus in Sebana Seca, Puerto Rico.)
Equally disturbing to all of this is the fact that these individuals did not request clemency themselves. The requests were rather carried by ostensibly religious, charitable organizations on their behalf. There is not a shred of evidence to indicate that these proponents of the clemency had any knowledge of either the facts in these cases or any understanding of the law. Yet their voices were heard by the Clinton administration while the voices of the victims and law enforcement were either not consulted or disregarded.
Ironically, the identities of the Government employees who proactively worked to secure the clemencies and what their individual roles were has also been clouded from view by a claim of Executive Privilege. Like the terrorists themselves, it seems that the Government actors and the actions are something which the Clinton White House was not willing to reveal to the American public. It can only be said that the clemencies, with no quid-pro-quo, no requirement of cooperation from the conspirators to solve outstanding crimes and no requirement of contrition, made a mockery of the American jurisprudence. The granting of clemency in these cases stands out as one of the greatest compromises of the American Justice System in history. It is my view that anyone in this government who proactively worked to bring about the clemencies betrayed their office, the victims and the American people.