Uncovering the FBI Bomb School
Was Judi Bari the Victim of a Police-FBI Conspiracy?
On May 24, 1990, Earth First! nonviolent organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were the victims of a motion-triggered car bomb explosion as they drove through Oakland, California. Moments after the blast, the FBI and Oakland Police Department (OPD) arrived on the scene and arrested the wounded activists on a charge of “transporting explosives.” The Alameda County District Attorney ultimately refused to file charges against them. No real investigation of the bombing was ever done and the bomber (or bombers) remains at large.
In 1991, Bari and Cherney sued the FBI and OPD for false arrest, illegal search and seizure and–by falsely associating the activists with terrorism–conspiracy to violate their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit charges the FBI with using the tactics of J. Edgar Hoover’s notorious counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) which was used to disrupt and “neutralize” anti-war and political dissidents during the 1960s and 1970s.
Judi died of breast cancer in 1997 but the case survives. It was to have gone before a jury on October 1. Because of the September terrorist bombings, the trial has been rescheduled to April 8, 2002.
October 19, 1994–For the past ten months, I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting across the table from Oakland cops and FBI agents, questioning them under oath in depositions to gather testimony for our false arrest lawsuit against them. This has been, to say the least, an interesting experience. These guys are professional liars, who have raised selective memory loss to an art form.
There is a draconian set of rules about what we’re allowed to ask and how we’re allowed to ask it. Nonetheless, between the police photos and written reports, the FBI files, and the sworn testimony of these cops and FBI agents, we have managed to gather quite a bit of information to begin to piece together what really happened when I was bombed on May 24, 1990.
The most dramatic of the information we have uncovered is the FBI Bomb School. Four weeks before I was car-bombed, according to both the testimony and the written files, the FBI sponsored a Bomb Investigators’ training course at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, in the heart of the redwood region, on the eve of the “Redwood Summer” anti-logging protests.
During this weeklong course, which was open to law enforcement only, the FBI actually blew up cars with pipe bombs to practice responding. The place where they blew up these cars was at a Louisiana-Pacific logging site north of Eureka.
The teacher at Bomb School was Special Agent Frank Doyle, the FBI Terrorist Squad bomb expert who showed up at the scene when I was bombed and directed the collection of evidence. It was Frank Doyle who concocted the lie that the bomb was on the back seat floorboard, where we would have seen it.
Among the students at Bomb School were several of the responding Oakland Police officers and FBI agents who collected the evidence under Frank Doyle’s supervision. The FBI claims that they have lost the roster of students in the class, although the FBI Bomb School memo that we received from them refers to this roster and says it is attached.
But even without this roster, from the documents that we have, I have been able to place at least four 1990 Bomb School participants as being among the first responding to the Oakland bombing. They were: Special Agent (SA) Frank Doyle, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Patrick Webb, SA John F. Holford and Oakland Police Sergeant Myron Hanson. In addition, SA Stockton Buck, who played a key role at the Oakland bombing scene, has testified that he attended Bomb School in Eureka, where they blew up cars with Frank Doyle, but he doesn’t recall if it was 1990 or one of the years before.
Of course the FBI claims that Bomb School is merely routine police training and this is all just a bizarre coincidence. But the more we have learned about Bomb School, the more bizarre the coincidence has become.
Oakland Police Sgt. Hanson has testified that they were told at Bomb School that it is unusual for a car-bomber to place the bomb inside the passenger compartment of his victim’s car, because of the supposed difficulty of breaking into a locked car. Instead, he said, they were told that bombers normally place their bombs under the car frame or in the engine compartment. However, Hanson also testified that “several” of the cars that were blown up in Bomb School (according to the FBI memo, there were only three cars in all) did indeed have the bomb placed in the passenger compartment.
In other words, at the 1990 Bomb School, they created virtually the same crime scene that was about to happen in Oakland, and practiced responding to it. Sergeant Hanson testified that one of the reasons he says he believed the bomb in my car belonged to me was that it was in the passenger compartment.
Make what you will out of Bomb School. I’m drawing no conclusions at this point. But Bomb School is certainly not all we have gotten out of the depositions.
Our lawsuit charges that the police and FBI knew from the outset that Darryl and I were victims of a brutal assassination attempt. Yet they arrested us for the bombing and conducted their slanderous campaign against us in the press, as part of a plan to discredit Earth First! (EF!) and disrupt Redwood Summer. The courts have ruled in our favor three times now on these issues.
Normally, a car bombing in Oakland would fall under the jurisdiction of the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), not the FBI. So it was uncanny how fast the FBI arrived on the scene when the bomb went off. The bomb exploded at 11:55 a.m. According to his written log, Oakland Police Sgt. Sitterud, one of the first responding officers, got there at 12:20. By that time, Sitterud testified, some FBI agents were already on the scene and more were arriving, until soon there were 12 to 15 FBI agents there.
At the scene, a discussion was held between the Oakland police, the FBI, and the lone ATF agent who had shown up, to decide who would take the case. These days, the FBI claims that they did not and do not consider EF! a terrorist group, and that they had never even heard of Darryl and me before the bombing. Yet the Oakland Police have testified that the FBI briefed them on Darryl, EF, and me as soon as they arrived on the scene, before they even looked at the car.
“They said that these were the type of individuals who would be involved in transporting explosives,” testified Sgt. Sitterud. “They said that these people, in fact, qualified as terrorists.” Ten minutes after he arrived on the scene, based on the information he got from the FBI, Sgt. Sitterud made an entry in his police log describing Darryl and me as “apparent radical activists” and as “Earth First! leaders suspected of Santa Cruz power pole sabotage, linked with a federal case of attempted destruction of nuclear powerplant lines in Arizona.” [See “Operation THERMCON” in sidebar below.]
Meanwhile, SA Doyle, a 20-year veteran bomb expert with the FBI Terrorist Squad, had taken over examining my car. The damage was obvious. A hole was blown in the driver’s seat. The back seat, in contrast, was virtually unscathed. When they unbolted the front seat and removed it from the car, there was a 2’ by 4’ blast hole in the floor, with the metal curled back from an obvious epicenter under the driver’s seat (see police photos). Any honest observer would have concluded that this was a case of attempted murder.
In defiance of all the evidence, Doyle claimed that the bomb was located in clear view on the back seat floorboard.
Much was also made of the statements Darryl and I made immediately after the blast. I told the paramedics that a bomb had exploded inside the car. Lt. Sims testified that this implied guilty knowledge, since I was critically injured but still knew it was a bomb, as opposed to a traffic accident. I had felt it rip through my body. But I was considered guilty because I was right about it being a bomb.
In addition to the cops and agents at the scene, we have also deposed SSA David R. Williams, the FBI bomb expert who analyzed the bomb at the lab in Washington DC. Williams is one of the FBI’s six top bomb experts. His testimony convicted the World Trade Center bombers. His testimony in our case confirms what we thought about the bomb scene: The bomb was hidden under the car seat and was meant to kill.
SSA Williams was impressed that I had survived the bomb, which he described as “an inferno mixture.” But he would have been equally impressed if I had made it. Williams considered the bomb complex, well-designed and assembled with good craftsmanship. The bomb itself was an 11” by 2” pipe wrapped with finishing nails for shrapnel effect. The triggering device consisted of a wind-up pocket watch with the minute hand broken off, with a screw drilled into the clock face connected to a wire, so that when the hour hand moved around and made contact with the screw it would complete a circuit.
But the clock itself did not trigger the bomb. It was merely a delay mechanism to allow the bomber to safely get out of the way. The real trigger was a motion device, consisting of a half-inch diameter ball bearing, which had to roll to connect two looped wires and complete a circuit. In other words, the bomb was triggered by the motion of my car.
The presence of the ball bearing, according to Williams, meant that the bomb was a booby trap device. Doyle and the other bomb technicians at the scene certainly knew this, because they found the ball bearing and one of the looped wires among the bomb debris. But you never heard anything about the motion device in any of the press accounts that were leaked by police sources.
On my original arrest warrant, I was charged with violating code section 12355(b)–possession of a booby trap device. This was crossed out, and in its place is written code 123032–possession of an explosive device. The OPD testified that this was a clerical error.
Besides the clock and motion device, the bomb also contained a light switch as an overall safety mechanism. So in order for the bomb to explode, the light switch had to be turned to ON, the clock had to be wound and tick down until it made contact with the screw, and the ball bearing had to roll and connect the wires.
SSA Williams was eventually brought out to Oakland to look at the car and determine the placement of the bomb, to see if it was visible on the back seat floorboard as Doyle said it was. The back seat area contained no impact points and the back door was hardly even damaged by the bomb. We wondered why Doyle, who is also a bomb expert, didn’t notice this.
Based on the end cap impact points, Williams determined that the bomb was indeed completely hidden under my car seat. He noted that the bomb fitted snugly in the space under the seat, as if it had been custom made. He also noted that the bomb had been further hidden by being covered with a blue towel. He said they found pieces of burned towel covered with the bomb debris embedded in the car seat, and embedded in my jeans.
Of course, these were crucial findings, since Darryl and I were still being accused of knowingly transporting the bomb. But SSA Williams wrote no reports of these exonerating results. When we asked why, he replied, “It wasn’t important to document that.”
The evidence of a hidden booby trap bomb was pretty overwhelming, even at the scene, yet every witness we have interviewed said that Frank Doyle told them the bomb was on the back seat floorboard. And every one of them, having also been told that we were terrorists, ignored the evidence right in front of them and went along with Doyle’s lie.
It took four or five hours for the FBI and police to finish picking up and bagging all the bomb pieces and other evidence at the scene. I was placed under arrest while still in surgery, only three hours after the bomb went off.
Later that evening, the FBI held a briefing for the Oakland Police. There were 20 to 30 people there, about half from the FBI and half OPD, many of whom had been at the crime scene that afternoon. SSA John Reikes, supervisor of the FBI Terrorist Squad, addressed the meeting. According to the Oakland cops we deposed, Reikes told the meeting that Earth First! was, in fact, a terrorist group, and that we were under investigation by the Terrorist Squad. He mentioned tree-spiking, Arizona powerlines, and threats to nuclear powerplants. He also said that Darryl and I in particular were suspects in the Santa Cruz powerline downing that had happened four weeks earlier.
Of course, Darryl and I are not really linked to any of these incidents and EF! is not a terrorist group. We were on a concert tour to promote Redwood Summer, a nonviolent protest movement. But the FBI was on a roll, and if anybody had any doubts that we were the bombers, they kept it to themselves.
SA Doyle also addressed the briefing meeting and described, in Sitterud’s words, “the known components of the bomb, including the fact that the bomb had been on the floor behind the driver’s seat.”
In the moments after the bomb went off, Darryl and I had both told the cops at the scene about the death threats we had been receiving. Although copies of these death threats were among the papers the FBI and Oakland Police confiscated from my car, the death threats were not discussed at the briefing meeting. Lt. Sims told us the papers seized from my car were just viewed as “a group of papers,” and were not read individually. He also said the death threats were not relevant because they didn’t mention bombs and because we offered “no specifics about who made them.” Sitterud went even further. He said he thought the death threats were all phony, “just a seeming publicity ploy, insincerely made.”
Representatives of the District Attorney’s office were called in to help the OPD write the affidavit for a search warrant. OPD Sgt. Chenault, who signed the affidavit, has testified that he sat at the computer and typed while SA Doyle dictated to him what to say. “Your affiant viewed the white Subaru along with agents from the FBI,” wrote Chenault and Doyle, using a masterful grammatical construction that gave both of them deniability. “Your affiant was advised by these FBI agents that the bomb was on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat when it detonated.”
Sgt. Chenault also wrote in the search warrant affidavit (based on what he was told by FBI Terrorist Squad Supervisor Reikes and Special Agents Sena and Doyle) that: “Affiant believes that Bari and Cherney are members of a violent terrorist group involved in the manufacture and placing of explosive devices. Affiant also believes that Bari and Cherney were transporting an explosive device in their vehicle when the device exploded.”
We have charged in our lawsuit that the FBI and Oakland Police ignored the physical evidence and relied on their false assessment of us as terrorists. When we asked Lt. Sims if the background information from the FBI’s briefing meeting influenced his decision to arrest Darryl and me, he replied, “Well, this wasn’t a carload of nuns that were carrying the bomb.”
This case will be pretty interesting if it ever gets to trial. No matter how right we are, this case can still be thrown out of court. The Black Panthers (who certainly had plenty of evidence) filed a civil suit against the FBI for COINTELPRO in the 1970s and it was thrown out of court after 13 years.
So for all you detractors out there who say I’m doing this for the money, think again. I have no expectations of justice from the same government that arrested me for the bombing. I’d be satisfied with a little truth.
A longer version of this article first appeared in the October 19, 1994 Anderson Valley Advertiser, a weekly newspaper in Mendocino County, California.
For more information, contact the Redwood Summer Justice Project [PO Box 14720, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, (707) 887-0262, (707) 887-0865, firstname.lastname@example.org]. Tax-deductible donations may be directed to the Redwood Justice Fund.
Dave Brower on Judi Bari
Judi Bari’s life ended much too soon. Seeing her work evolve over the years brought me continued hope and inspiration. Judi’s small stature belied her powers of influence. Consistently an ardent defender of all remaining old-growth redwoods, Judi’s mantra remains the heart of the current Headwaters Forest debate.
Headwaters is a battle we can not afford to lose. If we let those who are intent upon felling the remaining unprotected redwood groves, the movement will have lost a historic opportunity to disable the forces threatening our natural heritage.
We must continue to strengthen those alliances and demand an unconditional sanctuary for all the remaining old-growth redwood forest ecosystems.
Life on Earth is a precious and tenuous experience and times like
these remind us of the importance to remain committed to that which is
most meaningful in our lives. Judi always projected an unwavering
commitment to her values. We will miss her commitment and compassion,
her strength, courage and conviction. We can honor hers by sharing it.
—David R. Brower–March 11, 1997
Repression in America
On April 22, 1970, while millions of Americans celebrated the first Earth Day, FBI agents fanned out through 40 cities with orders to infiltrate and spy on the proceedings. Senator Edwin Muskie called the FBI’s behavior “a dangerous threat to fundamental constitutional rights.”
The FBI is rarely put on trial for its misdeeds, but a lawsuit set for a court hearing in Oakland, California, promises to renew concerns about the bureau’s darkest secrets. Judi Bari’s and Darryl Cherney’s defamation lawsuit against the FBI has uncovered evidence that the bureau’s discredited COINTELPRO operations are still in effect.
COINTELPRO (short for Counterintelligence Program) was a secret FBI plan to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize” individuals and organizations targeted by the FBI. Among the groups targeted: the civil rights movement, anti-war activists, environmentalists, Native Americans, feminists, the American Jewish Congress, the League of Women Voters and the PTA.
Death Squads in the US
Among the individuals “neutralized” were two Chicago Black Panther leaders, Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, who were murdered in their beds on December 4, 1969, in a Chicago Police raid set up by FBI infiltrator William O’Neal. Police covered up the murders with false statements and fabricated photos. The truth emerged only after Clark’s family sued and won a $1.85 million wrongful death suit.
In 1987, the FBI embarked on Operation THERMCOM–a three-year, $3 million conspiracy to “pop [Earth First! founder] Dave Foreman to send a message” to the radical green movement. After FBI infiltrator Michael Fain tried and failed to convince the Earth First!ers to use explosives to damage a powerline, he pursuaded them to disable a transmission tower with a blowtorch. On May 30, 1989, FBI agents “caught” four activists in the act.
The media falsely reported that Earth First! activists had attempted to blow up a nuclear powerplant. What the press didn’t know was that it was FBI agents that picked the target, drove the truck and taught the activists how to use the acetylene torch. FBI Special Agent John Conway, one of the main case agents in Bari’s car bombing case, was heavily involved in the “THERMCON” sting.
On January 11, 2001, the Seventh US Court of Appeals lifted restrictions on Chicago’s “Red Squad” and allowed it to resume spying on peaceful demonstrators. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) fears this marks “a return to the time of the ’60s, when police were, in fact, spying on American citizens.”
Resources: War at Home, by Brian Glick (South End Press). The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret War Against Domestic Dissent, by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall (South End Press). Public Eye [www.publiceye.org]. The Redwood Summer Justice Project [www.judibari.org].
The Police Raid on the Seeds of Peace House
The evening after the arrests of car bomb victims Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Oakland Police officers stormed a two-story house on a quiet residential street in Oakland. The house was occupied by Seeds of Peace, a collective of nonviolent activists who had organized to provide meals to anti-logging protesters during the summer.
The police apparently had been briefed by the FBI and had been led to believe that this collective of soft-spoken cooks was, in fact, a coven of dangerous, armed terrorists. The cops crashed through the doors, overturned furniture, pulled drawers out of cabinets and strewed the contents across the carpets.
“What are those holes in the plaster walls?” I asked one traumatized resident shortly after the raid. “The police yelled something about looking for drugs or hidden weapons,” he replied. A young boy hovering in the driveway tells me in a trembling voice about his encounter with these peace officers: “They said they were going to shoot my dog.”
Before they left, one officer yelled that he had discovered a suspicious box in Darryl’s van, parked across the street.
The box was lifted gingerly from the back of the car and placed in the street. The bomb squad was called in and an explosive charge set next to the box was detonated. The concussion of the police bomb rocked the neighborhood, frightening older residents, scaring children, scattering dogs and cats.
A week later, the results of the blast could still be seen. Hanging from treelimbs and dangling from overhead powerlines, hundreds of tangled, shiny brown streamers drifted in the breeze: The remains of a box filled with audio tapes of Darryl’s protest songs, blasted into the sky and turned into tinsel.
Darryl’s songs had never been more eloquent than they were that night, hanging in silent testimony to the carefully conditioned fear of society’s peacekeepers.
Kneeling by a curb, I gathered some fragments of a plastic tape cassette, a burned portion of a label, some scraps of lyrics and a handful of audio tape.
None of this was reported in the daily papers. Except for those of us on the street that night, it may as well never have happened.