March 5, 2000 – Billy Cox - FLORIDA TODAY
NO CRUELER TYRANNY
Last December, on the day President Clinton swung into Orlando for a fund-raiser, a man convicted of threatening to gun him down was getting a more dubious red-carpet treatment.
Escorted by four federal suits, 52 year old Ronald Barbour spent an all expense paid evening in a downtown Holiday Inn, with supper and breakfast billed to Uncle Sam. Talk about VIP privacy – Barbour's hosts blocked off the entire fifth floor, just for him.
But there were a few nonnegotiable strings attached. Barbour couldn't go anywhere. He couldn't make long distance phone calls. He was required to sleep with his bedroom door open. Furthermore, the Army veteran had to watch his mouth about the man he loathes.
"What did I say?" repeats Barbour, when asked to retrieve the exact words that put him in prison for four years. "Well, after all these years I can't recall my exact words concerning Clinton, but they were to the effect that he was a draft dodger and whoremonger. I would note that I was merely repeating what was said about Clinton by a high-ranking military officer who was forced out of the service for saying them."
Barbour's words coupled with a trip to Washington, D.C. in 1994 with an allegedly loaded gun have earned him an active file in the Secret Service's list of potential assassins. As a consequence, the former retired Army career soldier and right wing political activist is being watched by the Treasury Department's crypto-agency, which knows virtually every move he makes.
The Secret Service won't say how many people like Barbour it tracks: This much is certain: If all the world is a stage, the former Army Intelligence officer has the role of a lifetime. "In terms of Shakespeare, I feel like Hamlet, being stalked by the King and his men."
Now living in Orlando, about two years into a three-year probation, Ronald Gene Barbour's rendezvous with infamy has a number of potential origins. Maybe it started when he was a kid, growing up in Huntington, W..Va., reading books such as THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, THE FIRST CIRCLE, FAHRENHEIT 451 and NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Maybe it started with his Cold War under cover intelligence duties in Berlin.
So far as the government cares, it started on January 29, 1994, when a neighbor secretly and illegally tape recorded a conversation Barbour and his brother was having over beers. The neighbor, Stacy Harris, said he did it after hearing Barbour allegedly talking about an attempt to assassinate President Clinton.
Harris was later given a $100,000 reward by the Federal Government for his tape recording. In May 1994, a federal jury in Orlando heard excerpts from the tape. Barbour later challenged the admissibly of this recording on the fact that it lacked a chain of custody (The recording was made on January 29, 1994 - Yet it was not turned over to the Secret Service until a week later) and that it had been edited. Barbour notes that anyone can be made to say anything after a tape recording has been modified.
Hence, the jury heard Barbour's alleged graphic antipathy toward Bill and Hillary Clinton: "And Hillary," the tape has Barbour saying, "You know, I never thought about beating a woman before, but I had this vision, of just stomping her to death. I'd go for her throat and try to break her neck real quick because she's a little thing, and then finish the job by stomping her body with hobnail boots." A few moments later, Barbour allegedly told Harris to get his autograph, because "I'll be the guy who shot Clinton."
Barbour thinks that this portion of the nearly three hours taping by Harris (Only several minutes were turned over to the Secret Service) related to a joke to his brother concerning the punishment of his pet dog (a female) who had a problem with making messes in the house. In regards to the alleged threat about Clinton was a "cut and paste" job done by the Secret Service, because in the original recording transcript no threat against President Clinton is recorded.
Secret Service agents who interrogated Barbour without reading him the Miranda Warning said that Barbour was allegedly drinking heavily and depressed in the winter of 1994. At that point, feeling that life was slipping away and that he had nothing to lose and that he had a political score to settle, Barbour drove north to Alexandria, Virginia from Orlando, Florida and checked into a motel. The Secret Service agents said that Barbour was armed with a Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol and more than 100 rounds of hollow point ammunition. While at the motel for a week, the Secret Service thinks that Barbour made at least six trips into Washington, D.C. looking for President Clinton's jogging routes, so that he could set up an ambush. After learning that the president was in Russia, Barbour returned to Florida without the accomplishment of his "mission."
Barbour relates a different account of his January 1994 trip to Washington, D.C. "Bill Clinton was the last thing on my mind. At that time I was a limo driver for Mears Transportation. I took a week's vacation to visit Washington, D.C. to check out the job opportunities for a person in my line of work. I also wanted to visit the memorial to those who died in service of their country during the Vietnam War. I have a few friends named on that memorial. Yes, I did have a weapon with me for personal protection, but it remained locked in the trunk of my car and unloaded. In regards to me not knowing that Clinton was in Russia during the week I spent in the Washington, D.C. area, all I can say is that I'm a news hound – Of course, I knew he was in Russia! However, as I've said before, I was not interested in harming the president."
Despite the obvious weaknesses in the Government's case against Barbour, a federal jury in May 1994 convicted him of 18 U.S.C. 871, formally known as "Threatening the Life of the President of the United States," a felony that carries a five-year sentence with a possible $250,000 fine, although rejecting 18 USC 1751 known as "The Attempted Assassination of the President" which would have carried life.
Barbour points out that the Government committed major constitutional violations in his case: Perjury, suborning perjury, deception, falsification of official documents, unlawful modification of an audio tape used as evidence in court, intimidation of witnesses by federal agents, obstruction of justice, violation of Writ of Habeas Corpus and other criminal violations. Also, no witnesses observed him on the Mall or near the White House.
When asked in reason for the jury's decision against him Barbour thinks that it was based on emotion, "The U.S. Attorney's attitude, and one that he was successful in selling to the jury, was so what if the case against Barbour was far from perfect, he was going to assassinate the President. In other words, he couldn't prove it, he just said it and that was good enough for the jury."
Barbour spent four years and three months in various federal prisons. He walked out on June 26, 1998, unchastened and insisting that his conviction was politically motivated. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and denied his appeal in 1995.
STAR CHAMBER JUSTICE
"Our system of justice has many ominous parallels with the star chamber of yesteryear: Decisions are made behind closed doors and the average citizen isn't entitled to know anything about the process," Barbour charges, "For instance, after numerous Freedom of Information requests I cannot find out anything on how the Secret Service determines who constitutes a threat against the presidency. If you're able to discover anything will you let me know? I've been trying to find out for years."
Replies Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin in Washington: "That not something we share. We don't talk a lot about protective intelligence."
But on February 9, 1994, an inadvertent glimpse of insight came from agency psychologist Margaret Coggins.
Lecturing at the University of South Florida's Mental Health Institute, Coggins told listeners the Secret Service had three classifications for threat assessment. Those in Class I, she said, are discarded as no threat. Class II involved suspects who were investigated and determined not to pose a threat. Class III types, Coggins said, are considered legitimately dangerous.
At that time, there were 120 Class III suspects in America. Ronald Barbour was not one of them. Coggins didn't mention Barbour's name in her lecture, but she spoke of a Florida man who had been questioned by Secret Service agents on February 3, 1994 — the same day that Barbour was contacted by the authorities.
"The subject went to the Mall every day for six days waiting to shoot the president," Coggins told the audience. "He hoped that if he shot the president, he would be shot dead himself. Fortunately, the president was overseas at the time."
Coggins, whose remarks were printed in the St. Petersburg Times, informed listeners the suspect had been interviewed and eliminated from Class III consideration. So, what happened between then and February 17, 1994, when Barbour was indicted on federal charges by a Grand Jury?
Mackin said Coggins wouldn't be available for comment, "We're, uh, well aware of that article," he says, "I'm not sure she knew members of the news media were at the Conference."
Furthermore, threat assessment evaluations are privileged information. "It goes to our methods and means," he says. "We receive cases involving threats on a rather consistent basis, and we investigate them all to the fullest. If a defendant knows how it's done, they might be able to manipulate the process."
Barbour thinks that President Clinton got directly involved with his case. He cites a reference in the Government's Sentencing Memorandum to a meeting Clinton had prior to the indictment with then Secret Service Director Ron Noble.
"Well, what else could it be but political?" says Barbour who has requested the minutes of that meeting under the Freedom of Information Act, so far, to no avail. "The State of Maryland prosecutes Linda Tripp for illegally taping Monica Lewinsky, but the guy who does the same thing to me gets off scot-free. Come on – give me a break."
Clarence Counts, who represented Barbour at the District court trial and Appeals to the Federal District Court and the United States Supreme Court, states that Stacy Harris' taping was a felony under the Florida Statutes, which mandate a five-year prison sentence for a violation.
The prosecutor of Barbour, former U.S. Attorney James Glazebrook, appointed by President Clinton to the office of U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Middle District Court in Orlando recalls prosecuting Barbour and doesn't dispute Count's point concerning the Harris tape. "It was a very interesting case," he says.
"I remember, at that time, feeling 100 percent confident that no state attorney would think of prosecuting Harris for turning over a tape that might have saved the life of President Clinton," Glazebrook says. "The court completely and properly rejected the defense arguments, because Harris was a Patriot."
Barbour thinks that both Harris and Glazebrook are about as patriotic as Benedict Arnold.
Barbour says that the Secret Service investigators were unable to produce eyewitness accounts to build a case of presidential stalking. Therefore, they tricked him into incriminating himself, in an interview done without benefit of the Miranda Warning, by walking him through a series of hypothetical questions like, "What advice could you give the Secret Service to enable it to better protect the president?" He says that never in the course of the five-hour interrogation did he tell investigators that he planned to assassinate President Clinton.
Without knowing the particulars of the case, ACLU executive director Greg Nojeim in Washington, D.C. says that it's difficult to know where Barbour crossed the line from First Amendment rights to a deadly threat.
As for the Secret Service's classification procedures, Nojeim says: "Good luck. Your only hope of finding out how he went from Class II to Class III is to file under the Freedom of Information Act and wait a few years and hope you're satisfied with the results, because they're usually not satisfying."
With the Linda Tripp analogy in mind, Tim Lynch, spokesman for the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. says, "Prosecutors have an extraordinary amount of discretion. You can take any two cases in the country and say, ‘Why this and not that?' And because there is so much discretion, cases like these do raise legitimate questions of oversight involving the legislative branch over the executive."
Having exhausted all legal recourse, those discussions are a moot point for Barbour, now, but given his background in military intelligence, Barbour wonders whether he'll be on the government's "Watch List" for the rest of his life, "Can you believe it? The Secret Service considers my military career a negative factor in my case."
MILITARY CONNECTIONThe adopted son of a World War II veteran who landed in France at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, Barbour joined the Army after high school in 1966. He served tours of duty in Europe, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia and Alaska before being assigned covert "spy duty" in West Berlin working a cover electronic surveillance mission against Russian forces in East Germany from a radio tower.
In the late 1970s, Barbour was assigned to the very secret National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland where he worked the ELINT mission, which was the intercept and analysis of Russian and Chinese telemetry and radar systems. In the early 1980s, Barbour was assigned to the Canal Zone in Panama to monitor Cuban and Russian signal traffic to and from Central America. Barbour retired from the Army in 1986, after his last assignment at Patrick USAF Base, Florida.
THE FEDERAL PRISON SYSTEM
Barbour says he pulled time at four federal prisons. The most memorable was a year spent at Butner, North Carolina, in 1994 where he meet Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel and Keith Idema, convicted of fraud and a self styled "Soldier of Fortune" who alleged that his conviction was a frame up by the federal government who wanted his information concerning portable nuclear weapons. Barbour's impression of Pollard was that he was an honest man sorry for his offense against national security. In contrast, Barbour thought Idema was a liar and phony who had puffed up his resume in Special Forces and lied about his experiences in the former Soviet Union. Barbour notes that Idema spent most of his time at Butner in Segregation because of his many problems interacting with guards and fellow inmates.
Barbour says that he was assaulted twice by fellow inmates while incarcerated, but says that his injuries weren't serious. Barbour also states that he was closely monitored by prison authorities, subjected to endless interrogations by Secret Service agents, and that prison authorities encouraged fellow inmates to spy on him.
When freed in 1998, Barbour says that, "I had always been a free man in my mind, so a readjustment to life outside prison was extremely easy for me."
THE BARBOUR CASE: IMPORTANT QUESTIONS NOT ANSWERED
"In the present case, Barbour "was not just making idle threats." Hines, 26 F.3d at 1474. Less than two weeks prior to his threats, Barbour was in Washington, D.C., with one hundred rounds of ammunition, waiting to assassinate the President. He failed to carry out his plan only because the President never arrived where Barbour was waiting, and he returned home only after discovering the President was out of the country. Barbour never deviated from his plan to kill the President; he was just denied the opportunity. Thus, when Barbour made his threats after returning home, there was every reason to conclude that he intended to act on those threats and that he was likely to do so. Because the record supports the district court's determination that Barbour had evidenced an intent to carry out his threat, the six- level enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2A6.1(b)(1) was properly applied." - Federal Curcuit Court Judge Kravitch.
This reporter would like to ask the following questions to Judge Kravitch after careful examination of more than 1,000 pages of pictures, tapes and court records relating to this case:
1. If indeed this account is true then why was Barbour not tried in Washington, D.C., the site of the alleged assassination plot?
2. Why the Government could produce no witnesses or pictures to place Barbour anywhere near Clinton's jogging routes where the alleged assassination was to take place?
3. Why does Judge cite "100 rounds" of ammunition and gun ownership come from when it was proven in court that Barbour owned no guns or ammunition at the time of his arrest?
4. Finally, Clinton was not in Washington, D.C. and on a tour of Russia during the alleged assassination attempt, so how could have he been harmed by Barbour in Washington, D.C.?
NO CRUELER TYRANNY: THE INJUSTICE OF THE BARBOUR CASE
This reporter thinks that a great injustice was done to Barbour. Please consider the facts of the case that were exposed in court:
1. The information that Barbour had attempted to assassinate came from a confidential informant not trusted by law enforcement agencies because the information he provided to authorities was not reliable and used to settle personal disputes with others.
2. The agents discovered in the course of their investigation that Harris had produced a recording that was clearly illegal under federal and state statutes and should not have been admitted in court, because it lacked a chain of custody, but was allowed by the District Court based only on the testimony of Harris of its accuracy.
3. President Clinton was briefed by Ronald Noble, the current Director of the Secret Service, on or about February 4, 1994 concerning the arrest of Barbour for an assassination attempt. The repeated attempts made by Barbour to secure the minutes of his meeting between Clinton and Noble from the White House have been denied the citing National Security.
4. Barbour was denied his right to WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS for a period of two weeks --February 3, 1994 to February 17, 1994-- despite several attempts by Barbour to secure the attention of the federal judiciary.
5. The District Court ignored perjury on the part of Secret Service agent John McKenna who first interviewed Barbour at the VA Clinic in Orlando. Barbour has testified that he was not read his Miranda right to remain silent, and Barbour’s testimony is supported by the Director of the VA Clinic in Orlando who overheard the conversation from another room. The agents also failed to record Barbour's alleged permission to answer questions or to obtain his signature on a waiver; yet both agents testified that they had these items available in their government vehicle.
6. The decision of the District Court should have been reversed by the majority Circuit Court of Appeals on any of these grounds, which are gross violations by the government of a citizen's rights under the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments, violation of Writ of Habeas Corpus, and indications of a conspiracy to convict an innocent man that may reach into the highest office in the land.This reporter can only conclude from his study of the facts of the case that the federal justice system underwent a meltdown in the Barbour case. In the words of Montesquieu, "There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." It is chilling that some of those individuals responsible for this injustice still occupy positions of authority in the federal criminal justice system.
A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT
"I was there at the party where Ron was taped by that Stacy Harris character and I heard the tape in court, and I can tell you my brother never said those things about killing Clinton and an assassination attempt," says Jack Barbour. "And I told that to the court. My brother got screwed big time by Bill Clinton. Everyone knows he uses the courts to get people who don’t like him! Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives back in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice. There is not a doubt in my mind that either Bill Clinton or one of the lackeys got my brother sent up the river. Did Ron tell you he lost everything: his military pension, his apartment, his car, his bank account...EVERYTHING? And for what? Telling the truth about that degenerate and traitor, Bill Clinton. I detest Bill Clinton. I hate Hillary Clinton. I think the Democrats are filthy lying leftist elitist scum and the main enemies of the Republic. So send me to prison for four years too!”
"Ron is not a physical threat to anyone, says Scott Ellis, Brevard County Commissioner, I’ve known Ron Barbour for years. He helped out in my Congressional campaign in 1986. Barbour is politically astute enough to know that shooting the president doesn't effect political change. I think this injustice shows how a corrupt president can bend the federal court system and the Secret Service to do his will. Did a conspiracy exist between Ron Noble, the Director of the Secret Service and Senior Special Agent John McKenna to put Ron Barbour in prison at the orders of President Clinton? I understand that while Clinton was Governor of Arkansas his enemies were sometimes hauled into court on bogus charges. I well recall that in 1995 or 1996 that Rush Limbaugh’s radio studio was raided by the Secret Service because Limbaugh was alleged to have threatened Clinton and they were looking for an audiotape to prove it. The Secret Service found nothing and Limbaugh was not charged.”
“I was a juror in Barbour’s trial at the Federal Courthouse in Orlando in late May 1994,” said Shelly Jackson of Altamonte Springs, “There were two counts on his indictment: The first was U.S.C. 1751 – the attempted assassination of the president; the second was U.S.C. 851 – threat against the president. We found Barbour guilty of the second charge, which carried a five-year sentence. This happened because one juror – the Foreman – wanted to find Barbour guilty of both counts and the rest of us thought he was innocent, so this was a compromise. The deliberations went on for nearly three days and the best reason the Foreman who thought Barbour was guilty could come up with was that Barbour would not have been charged by the government with this crime if he was not guilty. At least Barbour was spared the worst fate in our verdict because conviction on U.S.C. 1751 would have carried life in prison.”
“I was Ron Barbour’s attorney in the trial and wrote both his appeals,”says Clarence Counts,” I have been an attorney for more than 20 years and handled dozens of clients and have forgotten most of them; however, the USA v. Barbour is one case I’ll never forget because of arrogant abuse of power and obstruction of justice on the part of the U.S. Secret Service which resulted in sending an innocent man and honorable decorated professional soldier to prison for more than four years. I remember thinking several times during the trial of Barbour that what was happening to him had an ominous parallel with the oppression of political opponents of the Communist regime in Soviet Russia like Nobel Prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Did Ron Barbour attempt to assassinate President Clinton? The facts of the case indicate he did not; therefore, the Circuit Court majority opinion by the very liberal and Democratic appointed Judge Kravitch in the denial of Barbour’s Appeal is a tale told by an idiot.”