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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On The Texas Gang Threat Assessment


There are six fusion centers in Texas including the Dallas Fusion Center, the North Central Texas Fusion Center in McKinney, the El Paso Intelligence Center and the Southwest Texas Fusion Center in San Antonio. Those are in addition to the Border Security Operations Center in Austin and six Joint Operations and Intelligence Centers in the southern part of the Lone Star State.
The tangled web of federal, state and local law enforcement operations in Texas isn’t really that simple. For example, the El Paso Intelligence Center has stored information collected from automated license plate readers in all the states since 2009. That information is available to every police department in the nation. Sometime last year, or the year before – our government considers domestic spying to be none of the people’s business – that amounted to 343 million license plate location records. And actually, the El Paso Intelligence Center doesn’t mean what it would seem to mean. Those license plate location records aren’t physically stored in El Paso but in Merrifield, Virginia which is 14.9 miles from the White House and 20 miles from ATF headquarters in Northeast Washington, DC. Fusion Centers are the most obvious manifestation of the criminalization of almost everything and the federalization of all American policing since September 11, 2001. From time to time, fusion centers propagandize.
There are two fusion centers in Austin, Texas. From the outside they look like the same black box but they have two names. One of them, the “Recognized Fusion Center” is called the Austin Regional Intelligence Center. The other one, the “Primary Fusion Center” is called the Texas Joint Crime Information Center. Yesterday the Primary Fusion Center issued a 58 page report called Texas Gang Threat Assessment: A State Intelligence Estimate. The subtitle, the part about it being a “State Intelligence Estimate” is solely propaganda. Some people who do not work in television news might consider the whole thing to be propaganda.
No one will admit it, or report it, or talk about it but all of these sorts of reports are at least quasi-authored by and based on “intelligence” collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. And none of their observations are exactly immaculate.

So What

Yesterday’s very thin but already widely-quoted report credits every one horse sheriff’s department in Texas but hardly mentions the alphabet agencies. “Some information within this assessment was produced based on information of a sensitive nature, and is not referenced specifically,” the report explains about the omissions. But reading the report is not much different than listening to Jay Dobyns or Julian Sher on television. And, when taken together with a monograph issued last May by the Center for American Progress, yesterday’s report, with all its glaring omissions and unsubstantiated accusations, might begin to illuminate how attendees at a Texas Coalition of Clubs and Independents meeting in Waco, Texas last May came to be greeted by an unknown number of Waco Police, a Texas Rangers Swat Team, additional Texas Department of Public Safety gunmen, a Bearcat, an unknown number of ATF agents and an unknown number of police union lawyers. Waco police public information sergeant  W. Patrick Swanton chalked all that preparedness up to extensive “intelligence.” The Gang Threat Assessment doesn’t share much of that intelligence with the public.
The report identifies the Bandidos Motorcycle Club as a “Tier Two Gang” “responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime across urban, suburban, and rural areas of Texas.” It offers no empirical proof for this, just the naked accusation. It reiterates last year’s description of the big club in Texas almost word for word. “Formed in the 1960s, the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) tends to conduct its illegal activities as covertly as possible and has historically avoided high-profile activities, such as drive-by shootings, that many street gangs tend to commit. However, members are not covert about making their presence known, frequently wearing their gang colors, insignia, and riding in large groups. They have sought to turn public sentiment in their favor by organizing frequent charity runs. Bandidos are likely to focus on recruiting new members with no criminal history.”

Gang Gang Gang

The report mentions the Cossacks Motorcycle Club in a brief section titled “Ongoing Conflict Involving Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang in Texas.”
“On May 17, 2015,” the report says very carefully, “a violent confrontation involving the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang and members of other motorcycle clubs at a restaurant in Waco, Texas, resulted in the death of nine people and injuries to at least 20. Details of the incident remain under investigation, though the violent conflict occurred in the context of increasing tension between Bandidos and several other groups, most notably the Cossacks MC.
“The conflict between the Bandidos and the Cossacks appears to have originated from territorial disputes. Cossacks members have recently started wearing the Texas patch on the bottom of their vests without the approval of the Bandidos. Traditionally, the Bandidos have been the dominant motorcycle club in Texas, and thus no other club is allowed to wear the Texas patch without their consent. The incident in Waco was preceded by a series of violent incidents reportedly associated with the Bandidos. The majority of these incidents occurred in the northern half of the state.
“This conflict and the violent incident in Waco highlight the public safety threat posed by gangs and gang rivalries. Law enforcement continues to monitor the conflict involving these groups due to the potential for additional violence or further escalations.”
Not that most news outlets will catch it, but the report is at least as informative in what it doesn’t say as in what it does. Like, it doesn’t mention the 177 arrests or the million dollar bails. It also describes the Bandidos as a “gang” but not the Cossacks.
Gang is the magic word that can literally make lawful activities – like having a gun in your car, or wearing “gang colors,” or “riding in large groups” or eating brunch – illegal.

Anti-Gang Infrastructure

There has been a Texas Anti-Gang Center (or TAG Center) in Houston since 2012 and in February of this year a second TAG Center was founded in the mean streets of North Richland Hills, a Fort Worth suburb that Money Magazine once described as one of the “Top 100 Best Places to live in America.” Although the report issued yesterday is written coyly, Texas is not generally shy about acknowledging its partners in its war on “gangs.”
Public relations prose written on behalf of the Houston TAG Center calls the center “An essential tool in disrupting gang activity in Texas” and brags, “The establishment of the Houston TAG has achieved positive results, including multiple joint investigations and arrests. It comprises various law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FBI, DEA, ATF, Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, other county sheriffs and constable offices throughout the region, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, among others. The center serves as the unified headquarters for the region’s most knowledgeable and experienced federal, state, and local gang investigators, analysts, and prosecutors, with several noteworthy cases in 2014.”
These sorts of “partnerships” have become one of the ATF’s chief reasons for existing. The Bureau has long taken the lead in motorcycle club infiltrations, investigations and prosecutions. It has actively promoted and enriched various employees and former employees like William Queen, Jay Dobyns, “Charles Falco” and George Rowe. The ATF’s interjection of itself into what seem to normal people to be routine criminal matters provides a way for police to charge minor criminals with racketeering – to call molehills mountains.

Frontline Business Model

The ATF calls this it’s “Frontline Business Model.”
“Frontline is ATF’s collaborative and intelligence-driven approach to accomplishing its law enforcement and regulatory mission” the Bureau has explained many times. “Importantly, Frontline relies on ATF’s highly valued partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to be effective in fighting violent crime. Under this collaborative approach, ATF’s Frontline business model ensures ATF’s limited resources are focused on the most violent offenders in a community, where the strong penalties associated with federal violations represent the most appropriate sanctions. To ensure ATF’s resources are aligned to produce maximum impact, Frontline requires ATF field divisions to conduct annual domain assessments to identify the law enforcement and regulatory priorities specific to their respective areas of responsibility.”
“You know why we go after motorcycle clubs,” a very experienced ATF agent once asked rhetorically. And he did say “clubs. Because we can get into motorcycle clubs. We can’t get into MS13.” And in the current ATF, field divisions are required “to conduct annual domain assessments to identify the law enforcement and regulatory priorities specific to their respective areas of responsibility.” Or to put it more plainly, all modern cops have numbers to get and as a result of various circumstances the ATF has more trouble with its numbers than other federal police forces.
On May 19, two days after the Twin Peaks Massacre in Waco, a liberal think tank called the Center for American Progress released the results of a two-years-long investigation of the ATF’s “circumstances.” The Center’s report found the ATF to be fatally flawed from birth because the Bureau was “originally not designed to be a police agency and often lacks the internal management and oversight structure required for consistently effective federal law enforcement operations.”
In attempting to glamorize itself and justify its existence the Center found the ATF “has often channeled scarce resources away from the regulatory side of the house and has marginalized the regulatory personnel within the agency…. This lack of a clear focus on either enforcement or regulation has prevented ATF from fulfilling any part of its mission quite well enough.”
Most of the reporting on the Texas Gang Threat Assessment will ignore the circumstances that created it or what the document is intended to accomplish. You can download or read the complete report here.