[Pnews] Informants Outed - FBI Targets Burning Books in Buffalo

Prisoner News 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 investigation.

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 
and Buckley.

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 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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