You've probably already heard about the NY cop
named Gilberto Valle
who stands accused of offering to kidnap women
for money. The man who allegedly offered to pay for that service was a fetishist named Michael Vanhise, who wanted to cook the women alive and then eat them.
Here's the question everyone is asking: Was this plot serious, or was it just an online fantasy?
Here's the question everyone should
be asking: How did the government find out about a matter discussed in private emails and private messages?
One good way to make the citizenry tolerate the government's continuing assaults on our right to privacy is to build a well-publicized case against a person who seems truly despicable. If Americans accept warrant-free intrusion in a case involving a possible plot to kidnap women, precedent is established. The government will be then be free to stick its nose into other
private mailboxes, in situations that are far less outre.
If we sacrifice our rights in order to catch a potential cannibal kidnapper, then we will no longer possess those rights when the government wants to shut us down for political dissent.
Of course, the more sheep-like Americans will respond with their usual sheepish mantra: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."
Those are the precise words people used in Nazi Germany.
The actual complaint is here
. FBI agent Anthony Foto is far too vague about how he learned about this alleged plot:
6. In or about September 2012, the FBI learned that GILBERTO VALLE, the defendant, a New York City Police Office, was sending electronic mail ("e-mail") and instant messages from a home computer (the "Computer"), discussing plans to kidnap, rape torutre, kill, cook and eat body parts of a number of women.
7. Pursuant to a Court-authorized search warrant, the FBI performed a search of the Computer and discovered that GILBERTO VALLE, the defendant, had created files pertaining to at least 100 women and containing at least one photograph of each woman, the majority of whom are listed by their first and last name (the "Individual Files")....
The story told here leaves out the
most crucial piece of information. Yes, the FBI got a search warrant -- eventually. They did so after the fact, because they already knew
the nature of Valle's private email and private chats. How did the FBI discover the contents of those emails and chats in the period before the warrant was issued?
That's the part they're not telling you.
That's the part that should matter dearly to all politically-engaged people, no matter how repellent you may find the accusations against Valle. If all you can talk about or think about is the "ick" factor of this story, you've been distracted.
The sheer outrageous spectacle of the Grand Guignol activities described here has blinded most people to the more important question: By what right does the FBI -- without a warrant -- learn the content of a citizen's private email?
We've all seen the pattern. Ever since the passage of the Patriot act, government agents have cried "Terrorists and pedophiles! Terrorists and pedophiles!"
as their grand excuse for snooping without a warrant. Now we have a third scarecrow to frighten the gullible. "Terrorists and pedophiles and cannibals
-- oh my!"
I hope it goes without saying that nobody should interpret this post as a plea for the toleration of terrorism, pedophilia and cannibalism. In the past, Cannonfire has never had a kind word for cannibal kidnappers, and you should not expect that policy to change any time soon. I am every bit as anti-cannibal-kidnapper as you
But this blog has repeatedly warned that the government uses extreme cases as a way to justify the erosion of rights we all used to hold dear.
How not to write a news story.
The tale of Michael Vanhise took an odd turn yesterday. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what that turn was
, because this report
lacks basic comprehensibility.
A lawyer claims that the arrest of a man accused of trying to pay a police officer to kidnap a Manhattan woman was done to prevent him from testifying about Internet sexual fantasies at the officer's cannibalism-tinged trial.
Attorney Julia Gatto spoke after Vanhise, 22, of Trenton, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he was ordered held pending a bail hearing Monday on a conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge.
"Mr. Vanhise is being used as a pawn by the government to bolster a very weak case," Gatto said outside court. She represents Valle, 28, of Queens, who is scheduled to go to trial later this month after he was charged in October with one count of kidnapping conspiracy and one count of accessing a computer without authorization.
She said Vanhise "would have exonerated our client" with testimony about his own participation in a world of Internet sexual fantasies where people could speak of unspeakable acts they would never commit. She said the arrest Friday appeared to be a tactical move by authorities to prevent testimony by Vanhise or others about Internet fantasies.
"He definitely could have been a defense witness, yes. We believe he would certainly support the defense," Gatto said.
The lawyer said the government appeared to be pressuring potential defense witnesses not to take the witness stand by saying in court documents filed against Vanhise that there were other co-conspirators who had not been charged in the case.
Again, I think that the concepts being discussed here -- Kidnap! Torture! Cannibalism! Conspiracy!
-- are so bizarre and emotionally-charged that many people reading this report won't notice that it doesn't make much sense. I can't see how the arrest of Vanhise could prevent his being called to testify in the Valle case. Moreover, I can't see how the other (unnamed) witnesses can be so prevented.
Is Julia Gatto trying to tell us that people who are placed under arrest do not testify in court cases? I was under a very different impression.