WASHINGTON -- Two of the three men arrested on Monday along with "ACORN pimp" James O'Keefe for "maliciously tampering" with Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) phones in her New Orleans office have ties to the United States intelligence community.
The three accused by the FBI of "aiding and abetting" O'Keefe are Stan Dai, Robert Flanagan and Joseph Basel. O'Keefe is 25, and the other three are 24.
Dai's links to the intelligence community appear to be particularly strong. He was a speaker at Georgetown University's Central Intelligence Agency summer school program in June 2009, and is also listed as an Assistant Director at the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity in D.C.
The university's president Patricia McGuiretold The Associated Press that it promoted careers in intelligence but denied that it trains students to be spies.
The Trinity program received a "$250,000 renewable grant from the U.S. Intelligence Community" upon launching in 2004, according to its Web site. The program's goals are stated:
The IC CAE in National Security Studies Program was established during 2005 in response to the nation's increasing need for IC professionals who are educated and trained with the unique knowledge, skills and capabilities to carry out America's national security objectives.
The CIA summer school packet also notes that Dai "served as the Operations Officer of a Department of Defense irregular warfare fellowship program."
Dai has been an undergraduate fellow with the Washington-based national security think tank Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies (FDD), according to his College Leadership Program award biography at the Phillips Foundation -- as Lindsay Beyerstein first reported.
FDD claims that it's partly funded by the US State Department. Its Leadership Council and Board of Advisers comprise many high-profile conservative politicians and public figures -- including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), former Bush official Richard Perle and columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Dai traveled to Israel for two weeks in 2004 on an FDD-sponsored trip, the Daily Herald reported. "All expenses (room, board and travel) will be assumed by FDD," FDD's Web site said of its Israel program.
A host of FDD testimonials from Academic Fellows reveal that many fellows have traveled to Israel for training and field trips. The Foundation says the course includes "lectures by academics, diplomats, military and intelligence officials, and politicians from Israel, Jordan, India, Turkey and the United States."
FDD proclaims that "Like America, Israel is at the forefront in the war on terrorism." Further explaining its interest in Israel, FDD declares:
Both the United States and Israel are democracies, and both face the same enemy. It is this connection between Israel's experience and the future of the United States that is the essence of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
One FDD testimonial, by 2004-2005 fellow Dr. Cathal J. Nolan, highlighted the group's bond with high-level intelligence and government officials in Israel:
The access which FDD provided to top government officials--and to academic, police, security service, and intelligence experts at the highest levels--was truly remarkable. I know of no other foundation or fellowship program which is able to provide so much top-level access and first-hand intelligence and security service information in so compact a form, or in such an intellectually stimulating environment.
The CIA and Office of Director of National Intelligence have both told Politico that despite Dai's evident connections to the intelligence community, he never officially worked for them.
Dai's co-conspirator Robert Flanagan is currently seeking a Master of Science degree from the Missouri State University's (Fairfax, Virginia) Defense and Strategic Studies program, according to his LinkedIn profile (which was captured by Beyerstein before it was taken down Tuesday.)
The DSS Web site description affirms its connections to "the intelligence community":
The program’s location also provides DSS with the opportunity to draw adjunct faculty members from the top ranks of government, the defense industry, and the intelligence community.
The program also appears to have a close relationship with the conservative establishment. Inside Higher Ed reported in 2007 that the program's "full-time faculty of three and its nine affiliated lecturers tend to come mainly from positions in Republican administrations and conservative-leaning institutions."
It appears to be an elite program and one Facebook group bills it as ardently conservative on national security and foreign policy issues. "We Do Defense (far) Right!" it proclaims:
Are you preparing for the inevitable U.S. v. ChiCom War? Are you praying every night for the employment of Ballistic Missile Defense? Do you think nuclear weapons are important for American security? Do you think MAD is a trashy liberal theory? Are you educated by great professors with real life experience?
Then this is the place for you.
Flanagan has also blogged for the conservative Pelican Institute until as recently as this month. In one post last month, he highlighted criticisms directed at Landrieu.
Flanagan's father, William Flanagan, is currently the acting US Attorney for Louisiana's western district. But because Flanagan was arrested in the state's eastern district, his father will not oversee his prosecution.
The New Orleans newspaper NOLA.com, which first broke the news, reported that "one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator's offices." The FBI's affidavit noted that Flanagan and Basel were in the building with O'Keefe, and a federal law enforcement official confirmed to AP that Dai was the one in the car.
The New York Times pointed out that "[t]he [FBI] affidavit did not accuse the men of trying to tap the phones, or describe in detail what they did to the equipment." But the optics of the situation have led to suspicions that bugging Landrieu's phones was their intention.
Although Robert Flanagan's Facebook page has been removed, the other three all list each other as "friends" on the social networking site.
All four of the men arrested in the plotMonday have well-documented conservative ties, The Associated Press revealed. Three of the suspects wrote for conservative publications while in college, and Flanagan has written for the national Pelican Institute.
Flanagan's blog, flanaganreport.com, has also been deleted, but some of its content can still be found in Google's archives. In one post, Flanagan criticized former vice president Dick Cheney.
Joseph Basel was listed by the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2005 as one of its fifteen "College Republicans."
The publications O'Keefe and Basel wrote for while in college allegedly received money from the nonprofit education foundation The Leadership Institute.
"Leadership Institute Vice President David Fenner said in a phone interview this morning that the group had 'informal, above-board relationships' with both James O'Keefe and Joseph Basel when they were college students," Talking Points Memo reported Wednesday.
Landrieu's office released the following statement on the incident, according to NPR:
Because the details of yesterday's incident are part of an ongoing investigation by federal authorities, our office cannot comment at this time.
The community activist group ACORN slammed O'Keefe, who angered them after unveiling their ostensibly dodgy practices. "Couldn't have happened to a more deserving soul," the group posted on its Twitter feed.
The incident "is further evidence of his disregard for the law in pursuit of his extremist agenda," ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis told AP in a statement.
Additional research provided by Ron Brynaert