Radio station broadcast Washtenaw Sheriff's Department communications during Hutaree raids
A militia radio station broadcast Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department radio communications as the FBI was still looking for at least one wanted Hutaree member, according to an e-mail circulated March 28 among sheriff’s department employees.
That prompted concerns among law enforcement officials who were in the midst of arresting members of a militia group accused of plotting to kill cops.
The e-mail, sent at about 10 a.m. March 28, says the FBI “called today to advise that www.militiaradio.com has started to broadcast our radio traffic.”
“Please take this into consideration as it is a serious officer safety concern,” the e-mail says.
The e-mail was circulated the morning after the FBI began raids on the Christian militia group in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties and in Ohio and Indiana. In Washtenaw County, five Hutaree members were arrested during a raid in the Ann Arbor area, and a Manchester Township home also was raided.
At the time the e-mail was circulated, FBI agents were still looking for 21-year-old Joshua Stone, who wasn't arrested until the following night in Hillsdale County. He was the last of nine people to be arrested during the raids.
Representatives at militiaradio.com could not be reached for comment Monday. The Internet radio station is registered to a web hosting company based in Utah. Local militia leader Mark Koernke of Dexter, who has a show on the station, also could not be reached for comment Monday.
The FBI confirmed Tuesday it notified the sheriff's department about the broadcast on militiaradio.com.
“They were being monitored,” said Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, a bureau spokeswoman in Detroit. “We wanted to let them know for security and officer safety.”
Nine Hutaree members are in federal custody after being indicted on charges that accuse them of conspiring to levy war against the United States. Investigators say members discussed killing a law enforcement officer, then attacking law enforcement officers at the funeral with homemade bombs. Among the allegations is that Hutaree discussed luring a law enforcement officer with a false 911 call, then killing him or her.
While deputies are well aware the public can monitor the department's radio communication over a scanner or live feed on the Internet, it was a reminder to be vigilant, said Marc Breckenridge, emergency services director for Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
The sheriff's department did not have to make any adjustments as a result of the broadcast, other than putting officers on alert, Breckenridge said. The department wasn't involved in the raids and ensured no mention of them was made over the radio, he said.
The sheriff's department dispatches for its own agency and others, including the Michigan State Police and Northfield Township police, Breckenridge said.
A dispatcher was aware the radio station broadcast the radio communication prior to the FBI notifying the department, Breckenridge said. He could not be more specific on the timing.
Breckenridge said there was no indication Hutaree was targeting any deputies. Nonetheless, the concern was that people listening to the radio traffic during the raids could determine the location of deputies if they were seeking to harm them, he said.
“In an ambush, the more intelligence you have about the person being ambushed, the more successful your ambush could be,” he said.
If a situation warrants, deputies have "secure" communications, he said.
Militiaradio.com is one of “several right-wing extremist” Internet radio stations, said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, who studies the militia movement.
The sheriff's department radio communications may have been broadcast for various reasons, he said, including to warn people of the raids or simply because "it's a breaking story" related to the militia movement.
"Obviously, it can have officer safety implications," he said.
Mike Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, has five scanners and said it's not uncommon for militia members to monitor communications of police agencies. Lackomar said he wants to know what's going on in his neighborhood and elsewhere.
Lackomar pointed to one discussion board where a link was posted to a live scanner feed for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department the night the raids began. In many cases, people were simply trying to spread the news, Lackomar said.
"I think it's more of a case of people trying to tell people what's going on and not necessarily tip off the Hutaree."
News Director Amalie Nash and Lead Blogger Ed Vielmetti contributed to this report. Lee Higgins is a reporter for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 10 a.m.
Which one of these Hutaree "militiamen" was a federal undercover operative? Watch and see, in a few months when no one is paying attention to this story, it's going to come out that one of those arrested was a provocateur, by then who'll care? Wake up people, can't you see that this is coming at a time when the Tea Party movement is being painted with the extremist brush. Watch out for the "false flag" terrorist attacks in the next few months. And whats with the scanner story? How about we outlaw those too? And why cover the crime beat? They are the AUTHORITIES we can trust them, why the need to check for ourselves? WAKE UP!!!!!
John of Saline
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 6:07 p.m.
Well, that's assuming a need for military-level encryption. Only more sophisticated criminals would be able to even consider trying to hack the police radio in real time. For stuff like this raid, anything that delays interpretation is a success, since I'd think the value in hearing the police traffic is lost if it isn't close to real-time. You can't plan an escape--or an ambush--using hour-old dispatches.
John of Saline
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.
I wonder if law enforcement will start encrypting some of their radio traffic. Maybe a particular channel, only used in cases like this.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.
CosmicHam....read on. The next paragraph quotes the spokesperson for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer militia. So does that now make AA.com a righty-uptighty source?
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.
How is this any different than the news media broadcasting live about a State Police Armored vehicle moving out during the raids showing the street and direction of travel, with overhead shots from the helicopter. Both WXYZ and WDIV did this during the Hutaree raids. It isn't any different. Those live, real-time, broadcasts by those news stations put officers lives at risk and had the bad guys been watching TV, that info could have provided valuable intelligence for the bad guy. The airwaves are free for anyone to listen. that is part of living in a free society. The FBI, State Police, Sheriff, even your local police all have secured encrypted radios they can use that anyone without a supercomputer is going to find very difficult to break the encryption in real time. Remember this is immediate threat. Joe six-pack with 5 quad-proc Zeon workstations can probably take a 5 minute snapshot of an encypted radio message and after several hours to a week of computer processing time, break the encryption, but that only unencrypts that 5 min snippet. It doesn't give you the keys to then listen to all encypted traffic in real time. You have to brute force the attack again for the next 5 minutes, and take another week. In our society of 24 hour news, it is far easier to buy a TV or a radio to see what the police are doing then use a $500 trunking scanner to listen to unencrypted public communications. - Steve
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.
Ladies and Gents, I present http://www.radioreference.com Thousands of live feeds of radio chatter nationwide. This includes our very own Washtenaw County radio chatter. This has existed for a LONG time. Not to mention, anyone can go to radio shack and listen in whenever they want anyway.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.
Um. Cash? The folks that perpetrated the actual crime? the ambush-y folks? they are in the pokey awaiting trial. I'm pretty sure that if it had been muslims using a police scanner, and broadcasting over a muslim website, they would not be in any lock-up. Not to say that profiling of Muslims / Arabs isn't taking place on a grand scale. It is. But when you start to throw weak hypotheticals at the problem, you only succeed in minimizing the problem by making people trying to ensure equal protection of all under the law seem overly Cassandra-ish.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.
jondhall - I'm sure that's not what Cash was suggesting. He makes a good point that we all need to see the whole picture, not just one part of it. But, hey, if you have lots of room under your bed - go for it!
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.
Cash, should we hide under the beds or on top of them? To live in fear is to not live!
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:21 a.m.
Just imagine if this was happening but in place of the "Christian" militia you say "Muslim militia" expressing a plan to kill police and the police movements were being monitored by a Muslim radio station. They whole lot of them, including the broadcasters, would be in Milan Federal Prison right now pending trial. It's time to start recognizing the threat from extremists is real from all sides of the spectrum.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.
I guess this makes good news. Considering "secure" channels were available, this is a non-issue.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.
@scooter it's not the listening to the dispatches that is the problem. It's the broadcasting of that information that is dangerous. This is part of the reason we have entities like the FCC.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 7:26 a.m.
So,why be alarmed,its nothing new.Buy a police/fire scanner and you can moniter ALL radio traffic.Radio shack or amazon sells them.Tiis has been going on for eons.