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Federal agents had devised plans to raid a white-supremacist compound whose members were involved in planning the bombing of government buildings in Oklahoma City prior to the April 19, 1995, attack, but decided against it weeks before the bombing occurred, WND has learned.
According to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms documents provided by Oklahoma City Bombing Investigation Committee head Charles Key, as well as court documents, informant Carol Howe told her handler, ATF Agent Angela Finley, about the Elohim City-based group’s plans.
Building a case
Howe, then just 23, told Finley that she and others belonging to the Elohim City community had even traveled to Oklahoma City to case government buildings, according to field reports and trial documents written by Finley in February 1995 — two months before the bombing.
In the course of her work for ATF, Howe met a German national, Andy Strassmeir, who at one time had been an officer in the West German army but who was then in charge of security for Elohim City.
According to the committee’s yet-to-be released 500-page report on the OKC bombing, the ATF had discovered Strassmeir’s identity and that his travel visa to the U.S. had expired. Not only was he a non-U.S. citizen, but his status had lapsed into that of an illegal alien.
Yet Strassmeir, according to Howe, was in possession of firearms and possibly explosives — the firearms charge alone would have been enough to warrant his arrest by the agency.
According to Key, Strassmeir had told Howe that the Elohim City group needed to “take their war against the U.S. government to a higher level” and begin attacks against government buildings and infrastructure.
Finley wrote in a Nov. 29, 1994, field report that Howe told her Strassmeir had said “his plans [were] to forcibly act to destroy the U.S. government with direct actions and operations, such as assassinations, bombings and mass shootings. …”
“Howe also informed the ATF and higher-ups that Strassmeir was a big weapons ‘dealer’ and what kinds of weapons he had, and he had some illegal weapons,” Key told WND in an interview yesterday.
As more damning evidence came in regarding Elohim City, Finley, on Feb. 7, 1995, along with other ATF officials, “flew with OHP [Oklahoma State Patrol] pilot Ken Stafford over Elohim City” to take photographs and video of the grounds and buildings, to gather intelligence that would assist in an eventual raid of the complex to arrest Strassmeir and others plotting government attacks.
“Finley was doing her job,” Key said. “She was documenting all of this to do a raid against Elohim City.”
Later that month, on Feb. 22, 1995, Stafford told Finley that the FBI also had an informant inside Elohim City with ATF’s Howe, though neither agency or informant knew of the existence or the operation of the other.
“Reading between the lines, you can imagine Finley’s response,” Key said.
After this discovery, Finley contacted her boss, ATF RAC (Resident Agent in Charge) Dave Roberts, who then called U.S. Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Oklahoma Steve Lewis. He then suggested contacting the FBI’s agent in charge in Oklahoma City, Bob Ricks. (Editor’s note: Ricks was implicated as allegedly acting improperly during the Waco incident two years earlier.)
On Feb. 23, Finley wrote in a field report that Roberts was contacted by FBI officials who said Ricks “would be available during the week of February 27 through March 03 … to meet with ATF Special Agent in Charge Lester Martz,” to discuss what to do about Elohim City and its suspects.
By the end of that week, on Feb. 27, Finley wrote that she met with Howe “to discuss future contact with members of Elohim City,” but her report did not say whether she told Howe the FBI also had an informant inside the group.
Key told WND that documents show the raid that the ATF was planning against Elohim City was called off after officials from that agency and the FBI met.
“It’s fair to speculate that the FBI got [the ATF] to call the raid off, or told them to, or someone with higher authority did,” Key said, “for whatever reason.”
“If they had not called that raid off, it alone may have stopped the bombing of the Murrah building,” Key said.
Howe, Key added, had told ATF and FBI officials that the Murrah building itself was “on a list of federal buildings being targeted for bombing.”
Feds charge Howe
In its report, the OKC bombing committee said that during the 1997 trial of then-chief bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh, the defense planned to call Howe to testify regarding information she had provided to the ATF showing prior government knowledge of the bombing.
However, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch granted the government prosecutors’ motion to prevent Howe from appearing. Justice Department lawyers said her testimony was “irrelevant.”
Shortly after McVeigh’s trial but before OKC co-conspirator Terry Nichols’ trial later that same year, Howe was then brought up on charges by federal prosecutors for possession of an illegal explosive device, conspiracy to make a bomb threat and making a bomb threat, the committee said.
Her attorney, Clark O. Brewster, argued that the federal government’s persecution of Howe for the very actions she had been employed to perform by the ATF “was reprehensible and retaliatory.”
During the July 1997 trial, Brewster questioned ATF Agent Finley about the agency’s use of Howe as an informant and about the assignments Finley had given to Howe.
Finley admitted to employing Howe as an informant for $25 a day and that she had asked Howe to perform a number of tasks. She testified that Howe had reported that she and others from Elohim City had made trips to Oklahoma City to reconnoiter the government building. She then said she had accompanied Howe the following day to OKC “so that Howe could identify the targeted buildings for her.”
Meanwhile, the committee’s report said an unnamed FBI informant, in May 1994, had met with “two Arabs and several others — one of whom looked like Terry Nichols.”
The same informant “reported the activities of the group” to the FBI between “January and April 1995,” the committee’s report said.
That information “included a meeting at which terrorists presented architectural drawings of the Murrah Building,” while the informant was assigned by the group “to obtain the names and addresses of federal judges.”
“He went to Oklahoma City to assess security and check out the fifth floor of the Murrah Building, and a few weeks later, a terrorist informed [him] that a federal building would be bombed within the next few weeks,” the report said.
During Howe’s trial, ATF Agent Finley testified that the FBI, as well as her agency, “had the information in advance of the bombing of the Murrah building.”
Howe was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Network drops Howe report
Shortly before Howe was charged by federal prosecutors, Key said, “some in the major media” became aware of who she was and what she was doing for the ATF.
NBC eventually ran a story about Howe and the Elohim City connection, as did ABC. But, Key said, ABC was planning to follow up with a more in-depth report focusing more on Howe’s activities for the ATF, but “were ‘encouraged’ not to run it.”
Key told WND that former ABC producer Roger Charles — who later went to work for Key’s OKC bombing committee as an investigator — said, “ABC had interviewed an assistant Justice Department official up in Denver (where McVeigh and Nichols were tried) by the name of Lisa Brown, who was working for the main prosecution’s team.”
According to Key, Charles “and a number of other media were asking questions about Howe.” Previously, Justice Department officials had denied knowing anything about Howe and said she had no role in the OKC investigation or events leading up to the bombing.
But ABC “eventually got Brown to make an admission” that government officials “did know about Howe,” but that “she had nothing to do with the case, that she wasn’t any big deal,” Key said.
“But they got this admission, so they [ABC] were going to put this second piece together, coupled with some other information, that was primarily about Carol Howe,” Key said. “But they got pressure put on them not to run it.”
Key stated that the “pressure included threats and intimidation,” but he did not elaborate.