Those 33 terrorist groups in Ramsey County? It was "a very big lie"

Just weeks into the new Ramsey County Sheriff administration, we finally know why former sheriff Bob Fletcher ignored Minnesota Data Practices requests for the 78 Terrorism Information Briefs he boasted about preparing and disseminating since 2005.

"They never existed," Randy Gustafson, the new public information officer for Sheriff Matt Bostrom, said in a telephone interview on January 19. "It is a very big lie."

But that's not the only thing Fletcher falsified in this 2009 budget report to the Ramsey County Board, according to Gustafson.

 

The story is the product of months of work by TC Daily Planet reporter Karen Hollish, made possible by contributions from 57 people through Spot.Us.

Follow the early progress of the story here:
Hey, Sheriff Fletcher—I've got a question

Three emails, five voice mails and 23 days later, I finally heard back from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office about our Data Practices Act request. ...

Something smells fishy, Sheriff Fletcher
I'd hoped to savor a stack of Terrorism Information Briefs last holiday weekend, but the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department is still ignoring my Data Practices Act request. ...

There's a new sheriff in town
After 16 years of secrecy under the reign of Bob Fletcher, a new sheriff is serving the citizens Ramsey County, Minnesota. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 4, Matt Bostrom was sworn into the county's top law enforcement position. ...

While Gustafson was looking for answers to the Daily Planet's October 20 Data Practices Act request, he discovered that some of Fletcher's most shocking figures, such as his claims that Ramsey County citizens were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups in 2009, had been made up, too.

"I think that they came from an active imagination," Gustafson said.

"I think the number," he added, "just kind of sounded like a good number."

Gustafson, whose official response to the Daily Planet's request can be read here, said he had to prod some of his new colleagues to get this information. He speculated that Fletcher, as well as Fletcher's employees who supposedly did this anti-terrorism work, had a self-serving reason to stretch the truth.

"What they told the county board was a little bit exaggerated," Gustafson said, "but if they hadn't worded it that way it wouldn't have justified the thousands of dollars of salaries they were getting."

Bob's "secret little army"

Sources within the department said Fletcher's anti-terrorism unit was shrouded in secrecy.

One of the few descriptions of it can be found on this contentious 2005 e-democracy thread, in which Gary Olding, who identified himself as the leader of the department's Weapons of Mass Destruction - Prevention, Research, and Preparedness Unit, stepped in to describe his work.

"We conduct investigations, surveillance, and develop informants to preempt and solve crimes involving weapons of mass destruction and terrorism before they occur," Olding wrote.

But if one of the unit's crowning achievements was supposedly the creation and distribution of dozens of Terrorism Information Briefs -- which never existed -- just how did Olding and his team members spend their time?

Olding, who left his post a week after Fletcher was gone, didn't respond to the Daily Planet's requests for an interview.  His 2009 salary, according to this searchable database on the Pioneer Press website, was $92,380.52.

Just how that public money was spent, and exactly how many people worked underneath Olding, remains unknown.

One deputy who's been with the department for more than ten years described Olding's WMD unit as "Bob's secret little army." At least a half-dozen deputies worked in it, said the deputy, who asked that his name not be printed for fear of retaliation. (City Pages' Matt Snyders documented some of that retaliation in a 2009 article.)

 

Fletcher and the RNC 

"Bob's secret little army" did get around in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention. His office spent hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing anarchists in the year before the convention, culminating in a middle-of-the-night raid on the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee before the convention, and raids on private homes, in collaboration with the FBI.

Fletcher's investigation started after he viewed a satirical video by the RNC Welcoming Committee, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting published in MinnPost:

"Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and his team would cite the video among other things in later warrant affidavits as a basis for his probe into the Welcoming Committee when police stormed the group's headquarters just before the convention began as thousands of reporters and more Republican delegates converged on St. Paul.

"But court affidavits ignored something crucial. The Molotov cocktail in the video is phony and lands in a barbecue grill lighting charcoals ablaze as an outdoor chef smiles thankfully. The bolt cutters are passed to another individual beyond the fence who uses them harmlessly as hedge clippers. ...

"The film was a juvenile satire of popular anarchist imagery, but police allowed their fear and enthusiasm for fighting terrorism to prevail."

Fletcher's anti-terrorism crusade led him to clash repeatedly with St. Paul police over RNC security, according to MPR reports.

"They existed because they carried out Bob's little secret war," he said, "and his secret war was to create a story, get him in the paper and get him reelected."

An example of the "secret war," he said, was the department's infiltration into activist groups that planned to protest the 2008 RNC convention.

The day-to-day work of the unit's members may have been more mundane, according to what Gustafson has already learned in his short time on the job. Much of the unit's "research" into groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Animal Liberation Front happened through virtual channels, he said.

"They sat around watching CNN and they went to the websites of these different groups," Gustafson reported. "That was how they spent their days."

More to come

The Daily Planet wasn't the only media outlet whose Data Practices Act requests, calls and emails were completely ignored during Fletcher's 16-year tenure.

Within days of his arrival, Gustafson received no fewer than five Data Practices Act requests from reporters whose earlier attempts had likely ended up in Fletcher's garbage can.

The previous administration didn't exactly make it easy for Gustafson to transition into his work with the public. When he got to his new office, there were no files, papers or outstanding records requests left for him to learn from. 

"Inside of the office there were zero pieces of paper," he said.

As the days go on, the suspicious history they're unearthing is a bit of shock, Gustafson said.

"It's just amazing," he said. "We're right now in this discovery phase, and this first quarter is trying to find things out like this."

With a more responsive administration in place, the coming months are sure to bring to light more information about how Fletcher ran his department and how taxpayer money was spent.

It's not just media outlets who are interested in learning the truth: "The questions you raise in terms of the scope, personnel and costs of these past investigations are questions that the new Sheriff is also interested in learning answers to," Gustafson said in his official response. "Upon the conclusion of an internal investigation process now underway we will be able provide pertinent information to you."

Former Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who was on leave from the St. Paul Police Department during his 16 years as sheriff, returned to the St. Paul Police Department as a night watch commander.

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Typical Government Waste

I wonder how much of this is going on in our State?  I'm sure for the larger Counties and Cities there is alot more of the same.  It's easy to figure out why our Country and state are in the fiscal mess that they are in.  This type of behavior is being replicated throughout thousands of various departments and commiittes across the Country. 

Bob Fletcher

Thank goodness for democracy and the ability to non violently change elected officials.

Imagine if Mr. Fletcher would have been allowed to continue his secret police force unhindered by protest out of fear of his "secret army"

I want to thank Mr. Bostrom and his people for their courage in bringing the misdeeds of this tyrant to light.

 

I also want to thank the Daily Planet for reporting this. I am a reader from now on.

Protest = Terrorism

What a surprise! You say cops lie and exploit fears of terrorism for personal gain? You mean The War on Terror is mainly used as an excuse to investigate political organizations and crush dissent? Shocking!

Anti-terrorism dollars

Karen,

Too bad you don't have more comments here. This is great work. I have been saying for awhile that the resources funneled to local jurisdictions for anti-terrorism are a huge waste of tax dollars and a source of potential suppression of legal political rights. Keep it up.

Fletcher was a thug

Glad to see it's finally coming to light.  It's a pity it took so many years and so many infringements upon the rights of others.  I'm confident the investigations will discover that his entire tenure was one of rampant corruption and criminal abuse of power.

Fraud

Isn't that fraud, lieing about the use of taxpayers dollars. People are arrested and prosecuted for that. The County personal dept knew what was going on but looked the other way. 

Incredible but not surprising article

thank you for this great article.  

What is hard for me is that hundreds of us wrote our city council members, and our state Reps to call for an investigation into Sheriff Fletcher's rogue shenanigans.  Many of us also talked directly to Mayor Coleman and City Council members is dismissed us. 
None of them called for investigation.   I think they should also be held accountable. 

If I was a tax payer of Ramsey Co I would be especially upset.  

The lies continue.

In his Daily Show interview Tim Pawlenty claimed dangerous left wing elements “forced them to spend millions” to arm St. Paul during the RNC. 

Military helicopters buzzed the Minnesota Capitol lawn.  Snipers with automatic weapons hung out the open doors.  They had swat teams atop Mickey’s Diner for God’s sake.

Grandmas, families and military veterans, participating peacefully in the political process, were matched through chain link pens. Eight hundred arrested during the week, 300 just for being in a park below the Science Center. Biggest crime? A window broken in a quiet part of town, completely removed from any political activity. 

Needing a terrorist come hell or high water, piles of taxpayer’s money went to prosecuting the RNC 8 for conspiracy. The charges were reduced from terrorism to conspiracy to knocking over a newspaper vending box.

Nice reporting Daily Planet.  

 

Ramsey County crime must have been very dull

Apart from the Fraud and all.  Fletcher and company  created out of whole cloth windmills for their ignoble efforts. Duty days for the secret army were to sit around the table and   set up false flags and then ride  out  sirens blasting to "get them terrorists/terroristas."  No, they had nothing better to do. They were paid to make up these tales, AND in addition, they got to wear uniforms, folks. We smugly smile at southern folks setting up speed traps for for unwary travelers in the 50's.  What other comparison do we have for the 16 years of Fletcher?  He should get an award of some kind for his record of imaginative field play.  In the future he and his minions could write TV scripts of daring do.

Ramsey County crime must have been very dull

Apart from the Fraud and all.  Fletcher and company  created out of whole cloth windmills for their ignoble efforts. Duty days for the secret army were to sit around the table and   set up false flags and then ride  out  sirens blasting to "get them terrorists/terroristas."  No, they had nothing better to do. They were paid to make up these tales, AND in addition, they got to wear uniforms, folks. We smugly smile at southern folks setting up speed traps for for unwary travelers in the 50's.  What other comparison do we have for the 16 years of Fletcher?  He should get an award of some kind for his record of imaginative field play.  In the future he and his minions could write TV scripts of daring do.

hush hush

Thank you for your diligent work in reporting this story and thanks to the new Sheriff's administration for attempting to be transparent in how they are dealing with this matter.  Will Fletcher keep his job with the police as a night watch commander after all of this?  Accountability/responsibiity?  or will it remain entitlement...  Thanks again for your efforts in revealing this information!

Hoogster

Nice work

Great article and nice work.  I knew Bob Fletcher was bad news.  I am a tax payer in Ramsey County and I am angry!!

Massa Gov'ment

Big government using lies to instill fear and promote its evil-doing agenda? Say it ain't so...

Like this is something new

Why is it you think there always trying to point fingers at motorcycle clubs... Its to create fear in the people so they get funding for overtime and special toys that go bang. And what better way to shift the focus away from yourself when doing bad things, then blaming others.  Lets face it, bikers look scarry, and were an easy target with patches on our back.


If the clubs were really doing all the bad things, dont you think we would all be rich? And if we were doing all these bad things, do you really think we would make ourself and our club stand out? Think about it.


now just today, i read about 44 cops getting "looked at" for doing crimes, all from the same town. now who is the real gangs here?

Makes me glad

I am glad to know that the hours I spent knocking on doors, encouraging people to vote for Matt Bostrom, were worth something.  Now, how can we put pressure on to have Fletcher and his thugs indicted?  Seems like there was lots of criminal behavior going on....

Waiting for the other shoe....

I commend Bostrom's office for investigating and finding out what the public has known forever. (damning with almost inaudible praise)  What I will wait in vain for is the prosecution of Fletcher and his cohorts.  What has happened with the Gang Strike Task Force?  Oh, whines Mike Freeman, we can't prosecute them because they shredded the evidence!  Where'd he get his law degree, out of  a Cracker Jacks box? I imagine Fletcher, in addition to not being tried,  will also keep his job with the St Paul Police.  The job of night commander is perfect for a "vampiric" guy like Fletcher.  I agree with other responders.  This corruption is not just in St Paul, but in Minneapolis and everywhere there is big money to be made while holding a prestigious job.  My advice, keep your eye on Bostrom.

Fletcher's comments?

I would like to have read Bob Fletcher's response in this article. A lot of strong allegations against Fletcher in this story; where is the reporter's news balance?

Nice work

And when are all eyes going to turn to the other side of the river where the sheriff is trying to build his own private army?

Great article :)

Thanks for reporting on this. Fletcher's removal was an answer to my prayers, especially after the task force shenanigans.

Please add a FB "like" button :)

NORNC2008

Because of Bob Fletcher's overly- aggressive use of the law, and seeking enemies where there are none, we have people on trial for terrorism crimes, people locked up. Sure it's a "waste of taxpayer dollars" but it's also a travesty of justice. Bob Fletcher did bad things, and we're going to have to see what bad impacts his actions had on people he had targeted due to the political thoughts they were accused of having, rather than criminal behavior. This is the sort of stuff Colleen Rowley has been warning us about for years. Colleen Rowley has told us there are some people in certain reaches of government that are targeting those who dissent, those who protest peacefully, those who have unpopular politics. Bob Fletcher is clearly an example of this, and his motive seems to perhaps be that he can get his buddies high- paying jobs. It's time to turn this sort of stuff around. Obviously massive reforms are needed. Watchdogs and whistleblowers like Colleen Rowley and Karen Hollish of the Daily Planet are the true heroes here.

not just bad apples

None of this is surprising, except that it's being officially acknowledged (to make the new administration look good, credible, and legitimate). I do hope more details follow and that this gets media attention.

Fletcher and the officers who worked for him are not just bad apples. A 16 year reign and not anyone who worked for Fletcher - from the those who were 'investigating weapons of mass destruction," to those who were not in his private army but knew of it's existence, to the secretaries, the I.T. department and on and on, to the attorneys prosecuting people for b.s. charges- leaked any of this to the public. If you are knowingly acting as a cog in a machine of oppression, If you don't do anything to stop something that's wrong, then you are not only complicit but an active participant who is responsible for what you have done and for what you let happen. "Just following orders" "just doing my job" and "just trying to make a living" are not excuses. Being afraid of being reprimanded or even losing your job is not an excuse. You can find another job. I don't care if you feared for your own safety and that of your loved ones (though I doubt anyone had that excuse), there are no excuses for doing terrible things. If we accept excuses where do you draw the line? Do you not find fault with those who operated Nazi extermination camps? I'm not trying to suggest that those who worked for Fletcher are like Nazis; it's a point about the role and culpability of minions. Speaking up AFTER THE FACT -as one anonymous officer quoted in this article did- does not make up for what you have done and allowed to happen, although it's better to speak up after the fact than not at all.

Bob did not just have "an active imagination." That's how police states operate. Some are worse than others, but they all abuse their power and use fear and repression of dissent to consolidate and legitimize and increase their power over our lives. Sure some cops have good intentions and are not power-hungry thugs, in fact I wanted to be one (even an FBI agent I'm sad to say) when I was a kid due to being bombarded with movies and tv shows glorifying police and prosecutors as "the good guys" and did not realize the way the system actually works. But their social function systemically is to consolidate state power and provide it's primary reason d'etre. To justify an armed state there must be crime and criminals, more and more and more of them to the point that we now have the world's largest prison population that has increased exponentially to the point that 1 in 31 adults were in prison, on probation, or parole at any given moment as of 2009, for a total of over 7.3 million two years ago, now undoubtably over 8 million and sentences are getting longer and longer DESPITE LOWER CRIME RATES. That total is more than that of the USSR and China at the height of their authoritarian Communist states COMBINED. Are Americans really that evil and predatory and are we becoming more so at an increasing rate? Of course not, in fact the vast majority of the U.S. prison population have not committed a violent crime. It is certain people who end up in jail, are more likely to be convicted when charged, and receive longer sentences; over 70% of the U.S. prison population consists of people of color despite the fact that they make up only a quarter of the U.S. population. African Americans are only 11% of the U.S. population and they only commit 9% of reported crimes, yet they make up over half the prison population! They have the highest rate of conviction and incarceration regardless of the crime. One out of every four black men will end up in prison at least once during their lifetime. Do people ever stop to think about the damage this does to families and communities? I know most people who may have begun reading my comment will have stopped by now, so I will not go into the causes of crime.

The role of the police is to "serve and protect" the interests of those with power and in the U.S., this means protecting and furthering a white supremacist capitalist "democracy" while instilling fear in the rest of us and repressing those who challenge the interests of the powerful. Most prisoners in the U.S. are political prisoners, but not as many are politically conscious prisoners who regard themselves as political prisoners.

We do not live in a democratic society. Yes, there are significant differences, but reading about Fletcher's regime did make me think of the KGB and the SS. There are definite similarities. Whether it's the Ramsey County Sheriff's office, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, COINTELPRO, or the Metro Gang Strike Force that was finally exposed and shut down, my comments apply to all of them. A police state is a police state is a police state.

Other Shoe Dropping

Other Shoe

Could not agree more. The corruption is evident everywhere.

Question is, what do we do about it? As onne person already pointed out, people called "their elected" officials in St Paul and Minneapolis.

We got nowhere..

Time to organize. Get them all out.

Sweep them out with a New Broom.

DR from the grave

google bob fletcher and city pages great article about this scum-bag