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[ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 5/2/03 ]

GBI agent appeals transfer over case
Agent disciplined over security disclosure

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Click here to find out more!

Jimmy Wynn fears the United Nations, a New World Order and government-implanted tracking devices.

Wynn, the commanding officer of the Militia of Georgia and a Lawrenceville resident, asks supporters to report to him specifics of large police activities such as roadblocks "or house-to-house search and seizures."

So when the leader of the paramilitary group started working last spring as a retail clerk at Southeastern Guns in Norcross, his position worried Gwinnett County police and set in motion a chain of events that shed a glimmer of light on the highly secretive state Department of Homeland Security.

The case illustrates the dilemmas that investigators wrestle with as the nation wages an ongoing war on terror: Who should police keep tabs on? What should they do with the intelligence they gather? And what is "imminent" danger?

The case started when a Gwinnett detective issued a classified "intelligence release" warning police of Wynn's new job, that he has "insinuat[ed] the use of violence against law enforcement officers" and often carries guns in his car. The report said the job would allow Wynn "to collect intelligence" on police, getting officers' home addresses when they complete federal paperwork when buying guns.

Wynn, 45, was not wanted on any criminal charges, the report advised -- just keep an eye on him.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent John Lang, who was assigned as a threat analyst to the Department of Homeland Security, saw the memo and decided making note of the information was not enough. He called the gun shop owner and told him about the memo concerning his employee. Wynn was fired.

Wynn, who has been mostly unemployed since he was laid off from Lucent Technologies in late 2001, did not know why he lost his job until last week when he was told by a reporter. He said he has never advocated violence against the police or government officials.

He was angry when he learned why he was fired. He said he "was done plain dirty and the system is still trying to set me up in order to make their blunders look as though they have some semblance of truth."

Wynn's former boss, David Simons, said Wynn was a probationary employee and set to be fired anyway because of job performance.

About a month later, Lang, a veteran and highly decorated agent who investigated the murders of Buckhead socialite Lita Sullivan and DeKalb County Sheriff Derwin Brown, was reprimanded and transferred to another job.

Superiors said Lang violated agency policy by sharing the information with a civilian. Furthermore, Lang "more than likely contributed to, if not caused, the termination of a subject's job because of his association with a particular group with no evidence of a crime being planned or committed, and without consulting a superior, might well be more than society is willing to accept," GBI legal director Mark Jackson wrote in a letter.

Lang sees the issue very differently and is appealing the decision.

Lang did not want to comment for this article. But, in a letter appealing his reprimand, he pointed to the FBI's inaction before the Sept. 11 attacks as his motivation.

"This delay and sitting on information is precisely why incidents like Sept. 11 occurred," Lang wrote. "What good is intelligence if it is not used to alert innocent victims and prevent violent behavior or incidents?

Reprimand's impact

The reprimand could set a precedent, Lang said, that "will likely dampen other agents' aggressiveness in making decisions in a timely manner when time is of the essence to prevent an act of terrorism."

Lang also stated that affording intelligence to nonpolice is common: "Traditionally, we have had no qualms about sharing intelligence information with private security departments such as Georgia Power, Delta Air Lines and the Anti-Defamation League regarding employees or others suspected of criminal activity."

Wynn, who has been with the militia since 1987, said police have investigated him in the past and he goes out of his way to avoid any appearance of illegality.

"I do not discuss acts of sedition, violence, or any kind of activity which may be deemed to be illegal -- not even in joking," he said. "Am I concerned about roadblocks? You're damn right I am. So, do I advocate attacking [police] at checkpoints? No. As a matter of fact, I don't even carry a firearm in my automobile because I fear it would give the overzealous [police] an excuse to shoot me."

Don English, attorney for the Police Benevolent Association of Georgia, said the organization is helping Lang fight the case because of its broad implications.

"This is something important for law enforcement in general," said English. "This could be a sign of the time to come -- any officer who is proactive and effective is subject to have things placed under a microscope."

'Imminent' undefined

The key to the case, now before a DeKalb County Superior Court judge, is the meaning of "imminent" danger.

"By failing to define the word 'imminent' within policy, the Bureau clearly left this determination to the individual agent's discretion," wrote Steven Wisebram, Lang's attorney.

The GBI acknowledged "imminent" is not defined in GBI protocol, but wrote the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "about to occur or impending, about to take place."

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the terms "imminent and inevitable often get interchanged.

"It's not irrational for this officer to do what he did," she said. "He interpreted this information like the president did on the war in Iraq."

She said police must make a showing in court to get a wire tap or a search warrant. But they are free to collect intelligence on people.

"In this country you don't need any showing to put someone under a microscope," Levenson said. "Because of people's fear and the need to make a difference in protecting them, [police] may be stepping over boundaries."

Robert Friedmann, a Georgia State University criminal justice professor who studies terrorism and security issues, said law enforcement agencies, most of whom are stretched for staffing, won't spend time collecting intelligence for the sake of doing it.

"You want to focus on leads that produce results," he said. "You don't want to be East Germany but you don't want to be fish bait waiting for the terrorists to strike. That's the dilemma of a democratic society."

About the question of how that information should be used or shared, Friedmann said: "My hunch is we're in virgin territory.

"It's not an easy call to make," he said. "It's not just a professional judgment. It's an art."






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