Bloggers, TV, Go Nuts Over Misleading ‘Patriot Act’ Arrest Claim

  • By Kevin Poulsen
  • It’s the false TV news report heard ’round the world. Raleigh, North Carolina’s WRAL-5 reported last week that a 16-year-old bomb hoax suspect was hauled out of his mother’s home by federal agents, and is now being held without any legal rights on the authority of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, which “supersedes the Constitution.”
  • This tale of injustice has since shown up on Drudge, Digg, Reddit, and a thousand blogs and shoot-from-the-hip mailing lists. The boy’s name is rising on the Google Trends index. Radio show host Alex Jones interviewed the boy’s mother on Tuesday, and pundits on the left and right are seizing on the story to rail against the government’s unfettered power to make an innocent citizen disappear at will. Some outraged reports are claiming the teenager hasn’t even been charged with a crime

    The arrest of the teenager is real enough. FBI agents investigating a February 15 bomb hoax that evacuated the mechanical engineering building at Purdue University traced the phone call to the juvenile’s Oxford, North Carolina home, served his mother with a search warrant and arrested the teen. They issued a press release about it, omitting the suspect’s name. That was on March 5, and he’s been held without bail in Indiana ever since.

    The claim that the boy is a victim of USA PATRIOT, though, appears to have been cut from whole cloth. While there’s plenty to criticize in that post-9/11 law, it doesn’t contain any provision that abrogates a defendant’s right to a trial. It’s also not responsible for making it illegal to phone in a bomb threat. That’s been a federal crime since 1939.

    The boy’s mother, Annette Lundeby, has even acknowledged in interviews that her son has been formally charged, has a court-appointed attorney, and has already made appearances in front of a judge. No military tribunals here. On Alex Jones, Lundeby seemed to more-or-less admit that the USA PATRIOT connection was something she dreamed up on her own.

    Jones: And they said they are charging him under the Patriot Act, so –

    Lundeby: They’re not saying that, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.

    Jones: Well, it’s in the newspaper.

    Lundeby: All their actions point towards that. But they don’t deny it either.

    It’s impossible not to empathize with this woman — a widow who saw her boy taken by rough federal agents and whisked to another state. Lundeby didn’t return a call from Threat Level, but she’s said she believes her son is innocent, and that he was with her, in church, at the time of the hoax. She says hackers framed her son by hijacking his internet IP address for a VOIP phone call to Purdue.

    Caller ID spoofing seems more likely, if he really was framed. We’re not in a position to weigh the feds’ case, because — as in every federal prosecution of a minor — the file is under seal. That, too, has nothing to do with USA PATRIOT: It’s a provision of federal law intended to give juvenile defendants a clean slate when they reach adulthood.

    And that’s the potential irony of the bogus reporting around this case. If the boy has the airtight alibi his mother describes, we’ll eventually know it: no prosecutor will take a case like that to trial, and some federal agents will rightfully find themselves in hot water. The feds have had the teenager’s computer for months, and they certainly know by now whether they have the right guy or not.

    But if he’s guilty, he’ll cop a plea or lose at trial. And then everyone whose been spinning this case into a tale of federal storm troopers abusing a draconian anti-terror law will have succeeded only in denying a 16-year-old boy the fresh start that the justice system would have given him.

    Either way, the USA PATRIOT Act still won’t trump the Constitution


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