Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Former high-ranking FBI official calls for new OKC bombing probe

McCurtain Daily Gazette

ÿþFormer high-ranking FBI official calls for new OKC bombing probe
11/28/2005J.D. Cash

Danny Coulson
A former deputy assistant director of the FBI with extensive experience in domestic terrorism cases is calling for additional investigation into the 1995 bombing of the A.P. Murrah Federal Building. Danny Coulson – a man who played a central role in the early stages of the original OKBOMB case – took time from his vacation with his wife in McCurtain County last weekend to review teletypes issued by former FBI director Louis Freeh after Coulson left the investigation. The legendary agent who created the FBI’s fabled Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and solved some of the nation’s toughest cases, Coulson says he now suspects some of Timothy McVeigh’s cohorts were not charged in the horrendous crime. New evidenceCentral to his call for additional investigation are FBI teletypes that were heavily redacted by the agency before their release some weeks ago. Although some sentences and many names are redacted, there was enough information contained in those documents to impress the former OKBOMB commander that more persons were involved in the attack. Referring to a January 4, 1996 teletype from former director Freeh to a select group of FBI offices, Coulson said that he believes a man he has long suspected should have been more thoroughly investigated in the crime, German National Andreas Strassmeir, is one of the names the bureau has blacked out of those documents. Coulson said he suspects Strassmeir may have been more involved with McVeigh than the agency has publicly admitted. After reviewing the teletypes at a cabin north of Pickens on Sunday, Coulson says he now wants to see a much more thorough investigation done of Strassmeir and the bank bandits the German lived with at Elohim City. “I have had significant experience conducting major investigations and in my view this case is not over,” Coulson said.“For many years, I’ve believed Elohim City was important to this case, and I think we now know Tim McVeigh had contacts there. That is the key to understanding this complicated case. Any future investigation should focus strictly on McVeigh’s associates within that group.” Source of new documentsThe plaintiff in a Freedom of Information Act case against the FBI – and making use of the teletypes – is Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue. He believes the FBI is hiding evidence that his brother was tortured and murdered in August 1995 during an interrogation at the Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center. For years, the FBI has said Kenneth Trentadue hanged himself, but his older brother believes FBI agents killed his ex-convict brother while seeking information about a group of bank bandits associated with McVeigh, Strassmeir and the bombing. Before McVeigh was executed, Trentadue says he was contacted by an intermediary at the prison where McVeigh was incarcerated and told that McVeigh believed the FBI mistakenly thought Kenneth Trentadue was a man associated with a bank robbery gang linked to the bombing conspiracy. Close to the bank robbery gang, Strassmeir is a former German military officer with extensive intelligence training. His name came to light after the bombing when this newspaper began interviewing people at Elohim City with ties to McVeigh. McVeigh’s phone records, discovered by the FBI after the bombing, indicate a call was placed to Elohim City on April 5, 1995 – just seconds after a call was made with the same calling card to a Ryder Truck establishment. People the FBI interviewed at the compound said McVeigh was seeking Strassmeir. A judge in the Salt Lake City federal court has ordered the FBI to turn over to Trentadue documents showing there were informants at Elohim City at the time of the bombing that worked for a private charity – the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). According to those teletypes, SPLC informants were present at Elohim City on April 17 when McVeigh contacted the compound, looking for additional help in the bomb plot.According to then-director Freeh, McVeigh was looking for extra help with his plans when he called the compound. However, the FBI blacked out much of the person’s name with whom Freeh said McVeigh was closely associated. In the past, the FBI has vehemently denied McVeigh had any close associates at the camp. Strassmeir was the compound’s paramilitary instructor from 1993 until August of 1995. And since the bombing, over a half-dozen of Strassmeir’s associates at Elohim City have gone to prison for bank robbery, conspiracy to overthrow the government and murder. None, however, were ever charged in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.Inexplicably, Strassmeir was allowed to the leave this country in early 1996. In one of the teletypes issued by Freeh, the director appears to know where Strassmeir is staying in the U.S. and of plans Strassmeir is making to return to Germany through Mexico. Days after Freeh’s memo was issued, Strassmeir did indeed cross the Mexican border and make his way to Berlin with the assistance of former CIA pilot Dave Holloway. Neither Dave Holloway nor his associate, attorney Kirk Lyons of North Carolina – who paid for the pair’s trip – were ever charged with aiding Strassmeir’s flight. At the time of Strassmeir’s escape, he was listed as an illegal overstay by the INS and wanted by the ATF for illegally carrying a firearm in the U.S. Believing him to be “armed and dangerous” at the time, the OKBOMB task force even contacted the INS and asked that Strassmeir be stopped at the border and held for questioning in the bombing case. Incredibly, this is the same week that Freeh told several offices that Strassmeir was staying in North Carolina with Lyons. Safely back in Germany for many weeks, it’s only after Strassmeir’s name was linked to McVeigh by this newspaper and others that two Justice Department lawyers in Denver called Strassmeir in Berlin, twice, to ask about any contacts he may have had with McVeigh and the bombing. During those brief interviews, Strassmeir admitted over the phone that he may have met McVeigh at a gun show in Tulsa once, but he also assured prosecutors he did not help with the bomb plot. In the wake of the tragedy, the FBI had available several well-qualified commanders with extensive experience in major case investigations to lead and complete the investigation. However, a man with much less investigative experience, Danny Defenbaugh, replaced the original five experienced FBI commanders’ initially assigned to head the case.With the original five commanders off the OKBOMB case, considerable criticism has since been leveled at the job Defenbaugh did while heading up the FBI’s most expensive investigation in U.S. history. In spite of two dozen eyewitnesses that placed McVeigh with others in downtown Oklahoma City that day and $85 million that was spent putting together a case that sent two men to jail and one to the death chamber, only McVeigh and army buddy Terry Nichols were charged. Also imprisoned, Michael Fortier admitted his involvement in the conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the FBI in return for a lighter sentence. Jurors in both cases in Denver, plus a grand jury in Oklahoma City, said they doubted the FBI had gotten all those involved.In 2001, over 4,000 pages of FBI interviews and other evidence never shown the defense teams for McVeigh or Nichols were discovered on the eve of McVeigh’s execution. The discovery caused McVeigh’s execution to be put on hold and the fiasco quickly led to the sudden resignation of Defenbaugh. Coulson believes the magnitude of the tragic attack that left 168 dead and 500 injured warrants the appointment of an experienced federal prosecutor to look into all of the evidence and the use of a federal grand jury to facilitate the investigation.“Based upon my investigation following the bombing of the Murrah building on April 19, 1995, and these new documents from the FBI turned up in the Utah case, it’s clear to me further investigation is required,” he said.Referring to the documents uncovered during the FOIA lawsuit and the large number of witnesses the FBI interviewed after the bombing that placed McVeigh in the company of others at key points in the conspiracy, Coulson observed, “The totality of this information very strongly indicates there are others involved and not charged who were involved at least in conspiratorial acts. “Families of victims and the American people deserve answers to many unanswered questions,” he said.“It is my opinion that a new investigation would only be successful if conducted through the auspices of a federal grand jury. It would be necessary to subpoena documents and some people would need to be given immunity to obtain the cooperation necessary to expose those guilty. This was the most heinous crime ever committed in the country at that time and we must be confident we did everything to find those responsible,” he added.

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