A far different story is beginning to emerge from the federal trial of Tulsan Carol Howe concerning her "reliability" as a confidential informant, from what the government has been saying about the former ATF operative.
Since the public at large found out about Ms. Howes' work, the federal government has been telling reporters, "on background" that the former debutante turned infiltrator was "let go" because she had become unreliable or unstable. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms documents presented as evidence in her conspiracy trial today, tell a far different story.
During unrelenting cross-examination, defense attorney Clark Brewster managed to weave a picture today from testimony of several FBI agents, that showed Carol Howe was highly regarded by the ATF and by some FBI agents. After Ms. Howe learned that her work as an informant had been revealed by an FBI agent, her ATF handler Agent Angela Finley-Graham wrote a Threat Assessment.
In the assessment, Finley-Graham wrote that in the two years she had known Ms. Howe she never appeared to be overly paranoid or fearful and that her belief that she is in serious danger was likely real. Finley-Graham's advice to Howe was to take every precaution necessary to protect herself.
Finley went on to stress the importance of Howes' work by writing that she was "the key in identifying individuals at Elohim City which is tied to the Oklahoma City bomb case."
Probably the most riveting moment of the days court proceedings came, when FBI agent Chris Peters testified. Peters was part of the team of agents who searched Howes' residence in December of 1996. Peters testified that he had no knowledge of Carol Howes' work for the ATF at the time of the raid. He then testified, nervously, that ATF agent Angela Finley-Graham is his wife. There was no explanation offered for the different last names.
After a very long and dramatic pause, defense attorney Brewster asked Agent Peters if his wife had ever mentioned that she was very upset or angry that one of her informants had been revealed by the FBI, during the spring of 1996. Agent Peters said he did remember that his wife was very upset about the matter, but insisted that he never knew the informants name.
FBI agent Peter Rickel underwent nearly two hours of intense questioning from Brewster. Rickel admitted that in the spring of 1996, he had a telephone conversation with Carol Howe because he was interested in information on Elohim City. Rickel testified, however, that they never discussed Elohim City, because Ms. Howe wanted to talk about witness protection. Rickel stated that before he could begin the conversation about Elohim City, Ms. Howe advised him that the FBI had revealed to Timothy McVeigh's defense team that she had been an ATF informer.
"She was very concerned about her personal safety," said Rickel who admitted that her fears were probably real. His advise was to tell Howe that she should contact the ATF. Rickel admitted that he wrote no report, did not talk to his supervisors or even check to see why the ATF was telling one of its informants, to go to the FBI for help.
The testimony had the effect of showing that Ms. Howe was still an active ATF informant and highly thought of. So much so that even the FBI was calling her for information, long after the Oklahoma City bombing.
It also showed, that Ms. Howe was caught in a government run-around. The agency she worked for took her fears seriously but told her to go to the FBI. The FBI told her to go to the ATF. And no one did anything to protect her. Rickel then admitted, that given those facts it would have been an option for Ms. Howe to continue her work as a member of the white supremacist movement.
Rickel added that to do so and be believable, Ms. Howe would have had to use strong rhetoric, like that which was played for the jury, from tape recordings found in her home during the FBI raid. Rickel also admitted that several FBI agents were "angered" that her work had been disclosed and were very concerned about her safety.
Rickel offered no explanation for his in-action on the matter. Rickel also stated that he did not make the connection, until several hours into the raid on Ms. Howes' residence, who she was. Rickel also testified that no one else in the FBI ever mentioned or realized during preparations to raid the house who Ms. Howe was.
Again today, there were fireworks between defense attorney Brewster and Assistant US Attorney Neal Kirkpatrick. Repeatedly, Brewsters objections over leading questioning of witnesses by Kirkpatrick, were sustained by Federal Judge Michael Burrage. Numerous sessions were held at the bench to settle objections. During one meeting at the bench, the court reporter was told to stop typing.
During Brewsters cross-examination of FBI agent Peters, prosecutor Kirkpatrick jumped to his feet and heatedly objected claiming the information was privileged conversation between husband and wife. That too took a meeting at the bench. Kirkpatricks objection was over-ruled.
It appears that the prosecution may end its case late tomorrow or early Thursday. Brewster would then present his case, and major components of Ms. Howes' undercover work are expected to be revealed for the first time.
During his questioning, Brewster revealed that Ms. Howe gave the BATF over 70 briefings and made more than 47 undercover tape recordings of white supremacists. Only tidbits of her work have ever been revealed. Her entire BATF file remains under seal by order of Judge Burrage. That seal will be ripped away, once Brewster begins his case.
Other testimony from today's proceedings:
Bill Moreland, reporter for the Spokesman-Review from Spokane Washington, told the court that he had spent 6 months working on a story about white supremacists in America, when he discovered the phone message on Ms. Howes' telephone answering machine. He could not remember how he got her phone number. He stated that the message, alarmed him "a bit" and he decided to contact the FBI's number one man for domestic terrorism. Moreland riled when he was asked if he had ever before been a government informant. He told defense attorney Brewster he had never been an informant and he only called because he thought the bureau should know about the message.
FBI agent Ken Kaminski, a member of the December 1996 raid team. He testified about a black box that was found in Ms. Howes' converted garage, that contained a length of pipe with end caps, containers marked powder, cannon fuse, citric acid and hexamine tablets. On cross-examination, it was revealed that the citric acid was a retail item that is used to can vegetables and the hexamine tablets are used to start camp fires. The pipe with end caps turned out to be empty.
FBI agent Daniel Argo, testified that it was a .40 caliber handgun he found in Ms. Howes' purse at the beginning of the search of her residence. Brewster pointed out that it wasn't a .40 caliber but a .45 semi-automatic.
Argo also testified that the reason he found the gun in Ms. Howes' purse was because she asked for her medicine from the purse just after the FBI arrived on the scene. Earlier testimony from FBI agent Josh Nixon was that she didn't ask for her medicine until she had left the residence and was in the car with him and another FBI agent and he was the one who went and got her purse.
FBI para-legal specialist Bart Lowrance testified that he was the one operating the video camera during the raid on Howes' home. He explained that the time and date stamp on the video showed incorrect information because he didn't know how to reset them.
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