Claremont Insider: The Spies That Bind

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Spies That Bind

You may remember that arms trafficking case involving retired U.S. Air Force colonel and Claremont resident Joseph O'Toole. It's been several weeks since the news of his arrest broke on June 28, but we haven't heard anything else since then.

We checked back in with the federal court in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and found that an August 16 date has been set for the trial in Courtroom 203E with judge James I. Cohn presiding. Make no mistake, the feds sure do take that speedy trial stuff seriously.

If O'Toole's name sounds familiar, it's probably because he was active in Citizens for the American Dream, the group that supported the soon-to-be-built affordable housing project on College Ave. over the failed Claremonster-backed project at Base Line Rd. and Towne Ave.

When he was arrested, the news media reported that this was the second arms deal to land O'Toole in hot water. A website called noted on July 6 that:

In 1989, he [O'Toole] was charged of working with fellow-American Richard St. Francis and Israeli alleged ex-Mossad operative Ari Ben-Menashe, to sell several US C-130 cargo airplanes to the Iranian government. Remarkably, the US government dropped all charges against O’Toole in 1991. But the former US Air Force colonel appears to have failed to learn from that experience.

This time O'Toole and an Israeli man named Chanoch (or Hanoch) Miller were caught after O'Toole allegedly contacted a government informant in April to see about chartering a Soviet-era Antonov transport plane to move a couple thousand AK-47 assault rifles from Bosnia to Bandera (in the indictment seen below, "Banderal") in Somalilland, an autonomous separatist region of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.

Insider Surveillance Pic
Part of the evidence against O'Toole (pixilated, left) and Miller are emails from Miller to the government's informant discussing the proposed transaction. As Claremont Courier reporter Tony Krickl noted, this makes O'Toole the second Claremonter in 2010 to be arrested by federal officials. Recall that Pixie Donut owner Moun Chau was arrested in January and later pleaded guilty after he illegally purchased elephant ivory on eBay. Both arrests were based at least in part on Internet usage.

A few days after O'Toole's arrest, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had an opinion piece by journalist Yossi Melman, who bemoaned the frequency with which Israelis seem to get arrested for illegal sales of arms. Of even more interest to us was the seemingly false information Melman found in the feds' indictment:
European sources - security and insurance personnel working in Somalia, who are well acquainted with the area - told Haaretz that this story does not make sense, and that the official version put out by the U.S. authorities may conceal a different story. For instance, the indictment stated that the arms were to have been sent to a city called Bandera in northern Somalia. But a look at a map of Somalia reveals that this name is fictitious: No such place exists in Somalia.

Moreover, the shipping documents stated that the cargo was for "the Ministry of Defense of the Somali Republic." But the government of the separatist area known as Somaliland does not refer to itself as the "Somali Republic." Ever since the military coup in 1969 that sent the country down the sewer, its official name has been the Democratic Republic of Somalia.

And above all, there is the question of why the government of Somaliland would need to hire the services of Hanoch Miller, an Israeli arms dealer, when it could easily obtain the arms it needs from the United States or Ethiopia, which both support it. There are several possible answers.
Melman speculates that one explanation for the incongruities is that the actual destination of the AK-47s was not Somaliland but Somalia itself, which Israel and the U.S. would have objected to because of the presence there of jihadi training camps. Melman also intimates that arms sale might have been a cover story and that another possible purpose of the chartered flights could have been to fly contraband to Europe. He doesn't say what exactly that contraband might be.

On the other hand, rather than providing a smoke screen, it's also possible that some of the information in the indictment is simply incorrect. If we've learned anything in watching our local City Hall, it's that government entities are quite fallible and that fallibility applies at every level. So, by the transitive property of institutional incompetence, the federal courts can err just as much as our own City Hall.
Click to Enlarge Image

The version of the O'Toole-Miller indictment we obtained (thanks, frequent-flying Insider Copy Service) had O'Toole's name redacted and was filed on June 17. The redactions were needed because Defendant Miller was arrested about 10 days before O'Toole, and the U.S. Justice Department probably didn't want to tip O'Toole to the fact that he was a target of the investigation and otherwise risk his avoiding arrest.

Yet check out paragraph 11, page 8, of said indictment. The federal redactor in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, missed one "O'Toole." Good thing he wasn't a hardened criminal and apparently didn't have access to the public court records. They might still be looking for O'Toole today.

In any event, we submit the following for your reading pleasure: