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I: Inslaw “Justice” BY JAMES RIDGEWAY Washington, D.C. IF THE CONSERVATIVES who now control the Democratic. Party wanted to run on a good-government ticket \(as they did in the the Inslaw case. After all, much of this generation of Democratic congressional leaders first came to office from Republican suburban districts in the 1970s by running not as FDR liberals but as Common Cause, clean-out-thebums, post-Watergate good guys; this should be their meat. So where are they? Recently the House Judiciary Committee released a lengthy investigative report on Inslaw, the Washington computer software outfit that claims former Attorney General Edwin Meese and his associates, with the apparent complicity of the Justice Department, pirated their software. The report essentially backs two previous court decisions that found in favor of the company, and seeks the appointment of an independent prosecutor to carry on the investigation. The committee applied a subtle investigative filter to the case by tracing the activities of various individuals who figure in the Inslaw matter as well as several other scandals of the last decade, including the BCCI banking affair, the Justice Department’s abortive inquiry into entertainment industry giant MCA and its ties to the mob, the S&L scandal, Iran-contra, and even the pre-Desert Shield Iraq weapons trade. The theory is that the Meese Justice Department provides a central and continuing link among these various activities, leading in the end to journalist Danny Casolaro’s Octopus a stand-alone, off-the-shelf, covert apparatus of which Richard Secord’s Iran-Contra Enterprise was but a part. The report also recommends that Casolaro’s mysterious death should be more fully investigated, suggesting that the official ruling of suicide may have been premature. In fact, Casolaro’s ghost seems to animate the Judiciary Committee’s investigation. For in addition to tracking individuals, committee chair Jack Brooks, a Beaumont Democrat, and his staff compared the history of business activities involving Inslaw with that of firms previously involved in the arms trade, health care, and entertainment industries, looking for racketeering-style similarities. This is exactly what Casolaro and others had been trying to show that ultimately the Inslaw case is a kind of archeological dig into the garbage left behind by the 1980s. James Ridgeway is a reporter with the Village Voice, in which this originally appeared. Additional reporting by Tiarra Mukherjee. Inslaw was founded in the early 1970s by Bill and Nancy Hamilton as a nonprofit outfit financed with grants from the old Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, but after the LEAA was killed in the early years of the Reagan administration the Hamiltons changed it into a for-profit firm. Their main business was the development of the Promis software, which would help prosecutors keep up-to-theminute tabs on the status of defendants, lawyers, or witnesses in any given case in the court system at any time. Although Justice at first argued that Promis was in the public domain because of the LEAA grants, it eventually signed a $10 million contract for an enhanced version of Promis that the Hamiltons had developed after taking Inslaw private. That version was actually installed in 20 big-city U.S. Attorneys’ offices. But Justice refused to pay for the software, driving Inslaw to seek protection in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Inslaw sued the Justice Department for damages, and in 1988 the Bankruptcy Court awarded the company $6.8 million plus counsel fees. Justice appealed, and in 1989 a federal district court upheld the original Bankruptcy Court findings. Then the Court of Appeals threw the case out on technical grounds and the Supreme Court refused to hear the Hamiltons’ appeal. Meanwhile, the Hamiltons claimed they had been the victims of a conspiracy led by Reagan attorney general Ed Meese and his associates, in particular Earl Brian, who had served as Reagan’s California Health and Welfare secretary during the ’70s. When Reagan became president, Brian advised him on reducing the costs of health care. Brian later became the chair of Infotech, which owned the Financial News Network and United Press International. The Hamiltons say that when Brian and his associates were unsuccessful in their attempts to buy up Inslaw or force it out of business, they simply pirated Promis and sold it abroad to many different countries where, they suspect, it became a key part of an intelligence servicerun eavesdropping scheme. Brian has emphatically denied these charges in a letter to the Village Voice, and two weeks ago he filed suit against the Hamiltons’ lawyer, Elliot Richardson, charging that the former Nixon attorney general had libeled him in a Oct. 1, 1991, New York Times op-ed article that detailed the dispute. “Indeed, when viewed from Dr. Brian’s perspective,” a statement from Brian’s lawyers reads, “the entire Inslaw story resembles nothing so much as the drive-by shooting of an innocent person who happened to be in the vicinity of a drug deal.” All this had been suggested in the press, but the Judiciary Committee found that getting to the bottom of the disagreement was much more difficult despite their subpoena powers than anyone had imagined. “The department’s unwillingness to allow congressional oversight into its affairs, in spite of an alleged coverup of wrongdoing, greatly hindered the committee’s investigation of the INSLAW allegations,” the report states. “The department delayed and hindered congressional inquiries into the INSLAW matter over several years. This committee consumed almost two years and had to resort to a subpoena to obtain key information. Even then, key department files subpoenaed by the committee were reported lost and other key investigative files are still being denied on the basis that these files contain criminal investigative material.” For example, Michael Riconosciuto, a precocious scientific wiz who claims contacts with American intelligence agencies, had long been in contact with the Hamiltons and the committee staff, retailing stories of the alleged conspiracy by the Justice Department to steal Promis. When Riconosciuto was arrested in March 1991 by the Drug Enforcement Administration on narcotics charges, the committee staff sought to interview him. Arrangements were made to speak with him in jail in Kitsap County, Wash., but the Justice Department at first blocked the interview, then forced its venue to be changed to the U.S. Court House in Seattle, and ultimately refused to guarantee that the meeting would not be monitored or taped. Eventually Riconosciuto was interviewed by the committee, and he claimed he had a tape recording of a threatening conversation he had had with a Justice official on the Inslaw matter that the DEA had confiscated on his arrest. The committee staff, needless to say, wanted to find out whether this was so, and asked to interview the arresting DEA agents. But the department refused, claiming it was engaged in an ongoing investigation. Over the years the Hamiltons have run across bits and pieces of evidence that suggest their Promis software is being used by American intelligence agencies, including both the FBI and CIA, as well as being sold abroad, possibly as an intelligence tool. But this area, too, proved difficult for Brooks’ investigators. “The committee … encountered serious problems with obtaining cooperation from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the report says. “While some limited level of assistance was eventually provided from these groups, it often took months to arrange even minimum cooperation. The committee also encountered virtually no cooperation in its investigation of the INSLAW matter beyond U.S. borders.” The clearest evidence of the international use of Promis involved the Canadian Mounted 10 OCTOBER 16, 1992