Practical Issues > Politics
Those 33 terrorist groups in Ramsey County? It was "a very big lie"

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By Karen Hollish, TC Daily Planet January 21, 2011

Just weeks into the new Ramsey County Sheriff administration, we finally know why former sheriff Bob Fletcher ignored Minnesota Data Practices requests for the 78 Terrorism Information Briefs he boasted about preparing and disseminating since 2005.

"They never existed," Randy Gustafson, the new public information officer for Sheriff Matt Bostrom, said in a telephone interview on January 19. "It is a very big lie."

But that's not the only thing Fletcher falsified in this 2009 budget report to the Ramsey County Board, according to Gustafson.

While Gustafson was looking for answers to the Daily Planet's October 20 Data Practices Act request, he discovered that some of Fletcher's most shocking figures, such as his claims that Ramsey County citizens were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups in 2009, had been made up, too.
"I think that they came from an active imagination," Gustafson said.

"I think the number," he added, "just kind of sounded like a good number."
Gustafson, whose official response to the Daily Planet's request can be read here, said he had to prod some of his new colleagues to get this information. He speculated that Fletcher, as well as Fletcher's employees who supposedly did this anti-terrorism work, had a self-serving reason to stretch the truth.

"What they told the county board was a little bit exaggerated," Gustafson said, "but if they hadn't worded it that way it wouldn't have justified the thousands of dollars of salaries they were getting."

Bob's "secret little army"

Sources within the department said Fletcher's anti-terrorism unit was shrouded in secrecy.

One of the few descriptions of it can be found on this contentious 2005 e-democracy thread, in which Gary Olding, who identified himself as the leader of the department's Weapons of Mass Destruction - Prevention, Research, and Preparedness Unit, stepped in to describe his work.


Just how that public money was spent, and exactly how many people worked underneath Olding, remains unknown.


"They existed because they carried out Bob's little secret war," he said, "and his secret war was to create a story, get him in the paper and get him reelected."

An example of the "secret war," he said, was the department's infiltration into activist groups that planned to protest the 2008 RNC convention.

The day-to-day work of the unit's members may have been more mundane, according to what Gustafson has already learned in his short time on the job. Much of the unit's "research" into groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Animal Liberation Front happened through virtual channels, he said.

"They sat around watching CNN and they went to the websites of these different groups," Gustafson reported. "That was how they spent their days."


"It's just amazing," he said. "We're right now in this discovery phase, and this first quarter is trying to find things out like this."

With a more responsive administration in place, the coming months are sure to bring to light more information about how Fletcher ran his department and how taxpayer money was spent.

It's not just media outlets who are interested in learning the truth: "The questions you raise in terms of the scope, personnel and costs of these past investigations are questions that the new Sheriff is also interested in learning answers to," Gustafson said in his official response. "Upon the conclusion of an internal investigation process now underway we will be able provide pertinent information to you."


Copyright:  2011 Karen Hollish

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