[Pnews] Informants Outed - FBI Targets Burning Books in Buffalo
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 6 15:58:08 EDT 2016
*Redux: Pickering vs. the USA*
by Geoff Kelly / Apr. 6, 2016 6am EST
On March 18, the Buffalo News ran a fine story by reporter Phil
Fairbanks, the details of which readers of the region’s alternative
press (both The Public and Artvoice) have known for some time. It’s the
story of how the FBI spent two years and as yet unnumbered resources
tracking the activities of the owners and habitués of Burning Books, a
shop on Connecticut Street on Buffalo’s West Side that specializes in
radical history, talks and films about radical movements, and workshops
on such treacherous subjects as Freedom of Information laws and how the
average citizen can apply them.
Excerpt from FBI files documenting the two-year investigation into
Burning Books and its owners.
Fairbanks covered the basics:
In February 2012, a confidential source told agents from the FBI’s
Buffalo office that the shop’s owners—Leslie James Pickering and his
wife, Theresa Baker, along with Nate Buckley, an activist who garnered
headlines in the News when he was pepper-sprayed and arrested by NFTA
police during a rally in front of M&T Bank’s downtown Buffalo Main
Street branch—were inciting violence in workshops and talks at Burning
Books. As a result, the FBI initiated regular surveillance of the shop
and Pickering and Baker’s home on Fargo.
At least one more confidential source eventually began to cooperate with
The FBI’s surveillance included regular drive-bys by agents at both the
shop and the Fargo residence of Pickering, Baker, and their daughter. It
included confidential sources sent by the FBI to attend events at the
shop. It included a “mail cover,” whereby the addresses on mail coming
to and from Pickering and and Baker’s house were recorded and presumably
investigated. It included interviews with an ex-girlfriend of Pickering,
who is a lightning rod for this kind of scrutiny because in the late
1990s he served as spokesman for (though he insists he was never a
member of) Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmentalist group that
made its name during that era with a series of dramatic arsons and other
actions in the Pacific Northwest. The surveillance ultimately embraced a
“cell” of nine locals: Pickering, Baker, Buckley, and six others still
unnamed, because only the three shop owners agreed to let their names go
unredacted in the files Pickering and his lawyers received from the
federal government after numerous requests and appeals.
Pickering and his family were placed on a travel watch list, resulting
in his detainment at airports.
The FBI dropped the investigation in January 2014, a full year after one
of the confidential sources recanted. The documentation of the
investigation Pickering and his lawyers have received so far also
suggests that the investigation was dropped because it yielded no
activity that warranted keeping it going.
There are several elements that the News’s article underplayed:
First, the article notes that the two easily indentifiable confidential
sources were disgruntled tenants in the apartment above the shop who had
an antagonistic relationship with their landlords. Their names are Amy
Upham and Selena K. Lloyd. Upham, who responded to inquiries by a
reporter following this story, has since moved out of town; the more
mercurial Lloyd’s whereabouts are unknown.
While the article includes Pickering’s suggestion that both sources
struggled with mental illness, it does not pursue that suggestion. As it
turns out, one tenant, Lloyd, likely the initial source, had been
hospitalized for mental illness; the other tenant, Upham, has written
about her struggles with mental illness. Upham has also described Lloyd
as mentally ill, abusive, and potentially dangerous.
Upham has told mutual friends that her relationship with Lloyd was
fraught with violence and threats of violence, and that she may have
felt compelled to cooperate with her partner’s vendetta against the
shop’s owners in order to keep her partner from more dangerous reactions
to their disagreements with their landlords. (Upham feared and perhaps
suffered violence herself.)
Indeed, Lloyd allegedly threatened to kill Nate Buckley—a threat that
Buckley duly reported to the Buffalo Police Department, and which was
reported to Buckley after Lloyd was released from ECMC’s mental health
unit, where she apparently reiterated the threat. That first death
threat occurred in November 2001, just three months before the FBI’s
confidential source—most likely Lloyd—came forward to impugn Pickering
Finally, the frequency with which the shop and its owners were
surveilled. Pickering and his lawyers, Mike Kuzma and Daire Irwin, are
waiting for new documents to be released by the end of this month. There
are 633 pages so far, but the FBI has suggested many times that number
remain to be vetted before they are released. After this month, the
lawyers have been told, the feds will clamp down on further releases.
But what Pickering and company have seen and read so far suggest that
cars came by more than once a week in the initial stages of the
investigation. Informants were sent to events at the shop, and Pickering
says that those informants could not have been Upham or Lloyd, as the
antagonism between landlords and tenants would have made their presence
All this raises three questions:
* Why would the FBI spend two years on an investigation spurred by
sources who were clearly compromised, both in terms of objectivity
and mental balance? Did they fail to investigate the credibility of
the sources? Or did they simply not care?
* What resources were expended on this fruitless investigation? How
many man-hours? What surveillance techniques were brought to bear,
and what did they cost?
* Who are the other six in the nine-person “cell”? To what degree were
they investigated or surveilled? Who else, locally and farther
afield, is subject to such scrutiny?
On Saturday, April 9, 7-10pm, there will be a fundraiser and talk at
1526 Main Street (at the corner of Ferry), where Pickering and others
will discuss the investigation and display some of the related documents
they’ve retrieved from federal authorities through Freedom of
Information requests. Proceeds will help pay continuing legal costs.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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