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The headlines are growing alarming, with CBS reporting “Mysterious Men Dropping from Helicopters to Chop Down NorCal Marijuana Grows” and Time reporting “Californians Turn to Private Security to Police Pot Country.”

As CBS reports, citing witness accounts: “These mystery men are clothed in combat camouflage, outfitted for what appears to be battle – armed with the likes of knives, machetes and saws.”

Who are they and what are they doing?

Shockingly enough, they’re on an environmental cleanup mission.

According to CBS and Time, they’re privately contracted law-enforcement agents with Logistical Environmental Asset Remediation, or Lear Asset Management, who simply drop onto people’s properties without a warrant and start chopping down marijuana plants that are being legally grown in California for medicinal reasons.

One permitted marijuana grower, Susan Schindler of Mendocino County, who was subjected to the surprise air assault recounted her experience to CBS.

“They took hand saws and just cut the trunks,” she said. “There was no paperwork, no copies of any warrants, they didn’t leave any inventory of what they took.”

Lear Asset Management chief Paul Trouette denied his company had anything to do with the raid on Schindler’s property. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said the same to CBS. Allman admitted his deputies conducted raids on properties near Schindler’s home the same day she was targeted, but he insisted his agents always display their badges and openly identify themselves.

Schindler isn’t the only pot grower, however, who’s complained of an unwarranted, unjustified raid.

Several other residents of Laytonville, California – where between 50 percent and 90 percent of the 1,227 residents are reportedly tied to the cannabis industry – told local law enforcement that they’d either seen or heard about men in military-type gear rappelling onto privately owned properties from unmarked helicopters and tearing down the medicinally grown pot gardens, Time reported.

The threats to your privacy are exposed in “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality.”

Once again, they fingered the private security firm, Lear Asset Management, as the culprit. And once again, Trouette denied any involvement, saying his 15 or so agents don’t do “any kind of vigilante, blacks ops, Blackwater stuff,” the magazine reported. He also clarified that his group is privately contracted, meaning, the agents who work for him don’t need warrants to do their jobs.

Trouette, Fish and Game commissioner for the county, is a leading advocate of the preservation of blacktail deer. His firm specializes in environmental investigations and reclamations, and hazardous materials cleanups for privately contracted individuals.

At the same time, the county is a big draw for illegal marijuana growers, and Lear Asset Management’s path often crosses with that of law enforcement.

In 2011, for example, local, state and federal anti-drug agents participated in Operation Full Court Press, a three-week mission that rooted out a reported 632,000 illegally grown marijuana plants in the area of Mendocino National Forest with an estimated street value of $1 billion.

Trouette’s firm is called to the scene of such forestry crimes to help mitigate the pollution and environmental hazards caused by the illegal growers. But he responds, he said, only when contracted by local property owners or local timber companies.

Undercutting all this is the fact that Mendocino County allows residents to grow up to 25 pot plants per parcel,  far more than neighboring jurisdictions. It’s yet another addendum law enforcement must remember in what’s proving a massive disparity among federal, state and local marijuana laws.

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In other words, confusion sometimes reigns among the various responding police forces about which marijuana grows are legal and which are not.

Still, Lear insists it’s not dropping in on legal pot growers and wrecking their legal businesses. And yet the rumor persists.

Part of the problem could be Lear environmental agents could be mistaken for military troops. As Time reported: “The company employs about 15 people, who are mostly former military: ex-U.S. Special Forces, Army Rangers and other combat veterans. They fly out on rented helicopters, wearing camouflage fatigues, body armor and keffiyehs hanging around their necks. … They carry AR-15 rifles, lest they meet armed watchmen bent on defending their plots.”

All that for forest reclamation.

The Mendocino Beacon said some of Lear’s agents have served in a military capacity in Baghdad and Tora Bora and are trained in interrogation.

In addition, Lear missions are sometimes funded by grant dollars from the taxpayer, as reported by Time, and the Blackwater comparison is hard to dismiss.

The media have been focused on the militarization of police of late, mostly in the wake of the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of 18-year-old Michael Brown that led to widespread community protests and local law enforcement’s deployment of an armored vehicle.

Media reports also have raised issues, albeit quietly, about some school districts snapping up military gear, including an armored vehicle and weaponry, from the Pentagon’s 1033 program, all in the name of student safety.

But Lear’s background, mission and modus operandi – in full battle dress, armed with military weaponry – poses another puzzler: Is the environmental movement the next to go militarized?

The threats to your privacy are exposed in “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality.”

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