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Profile: John Russell

John Russell was a participant or observer in the following events:

In the hours after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), some believe that the bombing was the work of Islamist terrorists. Televised news reports air theories of Islamist involvement, and say that eyewitnesses have reported seeing “Middle Eastern-looking men” fleeing the scene of the crime. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Fox News, 4/13/2005] One eyewitness describes a man running from the scene clad in a black jogging outfit; many both in US intelligence and in the media assume that the man is likely Middle Eastern. One source tells reporters that the FBI has received claims of responsibility from at least eight groups, seven of which seem to be of Middle Eastern origin. Some officials privately fear that the bombing is the work of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad, two violently militant Islamist organizations. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 185] Later in the day, Abdul Hakim Murad, an al-Qaeda operative in US custody, attempts to take credit for the bombing, but his associate Ramzi Yousef, also in US custody, does not (see April 19, 1995). In another instance, Jordanian-American Abraham Ahmad, attempting to fly to Jordan to visit relatives, is detained and questioned during a layover in Chicago. Ahmad, whom some sources describe as Palestinian-American, lives in Oklahoma City. A naturalized citizen who has lived in Oklahoma City since 1982, he has a background in computer science and is making a scheduled departure this morning to Jordan. His five suitcases contain, among other items, several car radios, large amounts of electrical wires, solder, a VCR, and a tool kit. He has packed a blue jogging suit and a pair of black sweatpants. Federal magistrates rush to serve him with a material warrant, moving so quickly that they misspell his name. He is stopped and questioned in Chicago before being allowed to continue his flight. He is stopped again in London, and this time is detained, strip-searched, and paraded in handcuffs through the crowded airport. He is photographed, fingerprinted, and returned to Washington before being transported to Oklahoma City. His name is leaked to the news media as a possible bombing suspect, creating a firestorm of interest; reporters crowd around his family’s home in Oklahoma City, and angry citizens vandalize his front yard. Authorities learn that Ahmad is going to Jordan for a family emergency. He will be released on April 21, will attend a memorial service for the bombing victims, and will file a $1.9 million lawsuit against the federal government. In later days, government officials such as counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the possibility of Islamist involvement on some level is difficult to disprove (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994 and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 185-186; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Justice Department spokesman John Russell says of Ahmad: “He cooperated. There is no reason for him to be held.” (The Washington Post, in reporting this, does not name Ahmad, and identifies him as “Palestinian-American.”) [Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Shortly after the bombing, senior FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who had worked with the FBI at the Branch Davidian siege outside Waco, concludes that the bomber is probably a white male with militia ties and not an Islamist terrorist (see April 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Murrah Federal Building, John Russell, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Abraham Ahmad, Abdul Hakim Murad, Richard A. Clarke, Timothy James McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI gives a $1 million reward to David Kaczynski, who identified his brother Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski as the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996). The FBI spent nearly 20 years in an ever-increasing and fruitless manhunt to catch the serial bomber. David Kaczynski works as a youth shelter social worker in Schenectady, New York. He has expressed his ambivalence over turning his brother over to the FBI. Kaczynski has said that if he receives the reward money, he will donate most of it to the families of his brother’s victims. The Kaczynski family feels that giving most of the money to the victims “might help us resolve our grief over what happened,” he says. Kaczynski family attorney Anthony Bisceglie says now that Kaczynski has actually received the money, “[t]hat certainly still is his intent.” Kaczynski notes that he has to use some of the money to pay off the family’s legal bills resulting from the Unabomber case. FBI spokesman John Russell says that the $1 million reward is one of the biggest rewards ever paid in a domestic terrorism case. Kaczynski says that while he does not claim the mantle of “hero” that lead prosecutor Robert J. Cleary labeled him, he believes that his choice to turn in his brother may have spared the lives of more innocent people. Kaczynski pressed federal prosecutors to consider his brother as not just guilty of heinous crimes, but deeply mentally ill (Ted Kaczynski has been diagnosed as suffering from acute paranoid schizophrenia). It is in part because of the diagnosis, and because of pressure from David Kaczynski, that the government ultimately chose not to seek the death penalty against his brother (see May 4, 1998). Until the government reversed itself and chose not to seek the death penalty, David Kaczynski was bitterly angry at the government and accused Justice Department officials of wanting to “kill my brother at any cost” (see December 30, 1997). Kaczynski and his mother, Wanda Kaczynski, also criticized the FBI and Unabom Task Force prosecutors for misleading them during the negotiations that led up to their identification of Theodore Kaczynski by suggesting they were interested in obtaining psychiatric help for him and not in pressing for capital punishment. During the entire trial, though David Kaczynski sat just 10 feet behind his brother in the courtroom, Ted Kaczynski never once acknowledged his brother’s presence or looked at him. [Washington Post, 8/21/1998]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Cleary, Anthony Bisceglie, David Kaczynski, John Russell, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Wanda Kaczynski, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum.A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum. [Source: Zeenaraqi (.com)]UPI columnist John Bloom delves into the mystery of the looted antiquties from Baghdad’s National Museum. Curators and archaologists report over 170,000 antiquties and artifacts either stolen or destroyed, and massive damage done to the building itself (see April 8-12, 2003 and April 13, 2003). On the other hand, General William Wallace has claimed that “as few as 17 items were unaccounted for” (see May 7, 2003). After some research, Bloom claims that virtually everyone involved in the affair is lying to some degree, and, he writes, “the reporters on the scene have been played for patsies.”
Mystery Man - Apparently, Bloom finds, the controversy centers on Donny George, who is officially the director general of research and study for the State Board of Antiquities. George is not the director of the museum; that position is filled by Dr. Jaber Khalil, who “is never quoted in Western news accounts,” Bloom reports. Instead, George became the museum spokesman early in the occupation. He is also a liar, according to Bloom. Reporters say that George gave them the 170,000 figure on or around April 13. George says he never made such a claim. There were 170,000 pieces in the entire collection, he says, but he has no idea how many were stolen or vandalized. The story has become politicized, Bloom writes, somewhat in the US and far more so in Britain, where war critics have seized on the story as evidence of the lack of respect the Pentagon has for the culture of a nation it has seized. The Pentagon calls the museum a military outpost for Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, and its pillaging an understandable reaction from the Iraqi people who hated Hussein and his Ba’athist thugs. After the April looting, archaeological expert Dan Cruikshank, who works for the BBC, attempted to piece together a picture of what exactly was and was not taken. He divided the museum into three main areas:
bullet The galleries themselves. Most of the looting and vandalism took place here. But the galleries had been cleared of much of their valuables. Curators had been planning for this months in advance, having gone through looting after the 1991 Gulf War. They feared both citizen thieves and vengeful Kuwaitis traveling with the US troops. They hid the smaller items, leaving behind only antiquities that could not be stolen without mechanical equipment. Somewhere between 17 and 50 major items were either stolen or vandalized; another 15 items sustained major damage.
bullet The museum offices and conservation rooms, where the safes, keys, and equipment are kept. These areas were heavily looted, but mostly of modern equipment such as computers, fax machines, and copiers.
bullet Five secret storerooms known only to the curators. These are reinforced, locked vaults located in various places throughout the museum. Here is where most of the museum’s treasures were hidden away. Experts who visited the museum after the April looting found that three had not been opened, including one room stuffed with tens of thousands of Greek and Roman gold coins. One had been opened with a key, indicating an inside job. The fifth had been broken into and some items stolen.
Squirreled Away - George was one of the first and loudest of lamenters on April 13, blaming US soldiers for their indifference and lamenting the museum that had been, in Bloom’s description, “overrun by a ravenous horde.” However, George kept a few facts to himself. One, he put the most prized possessions of the museum into a secret vault; only George himself knows where that vault is. Two, many museum staff members took items home to protect them. Three, most of the gold items, including 600 historically priceless pieces of jewelry from the Treasure of Nimrod, are safe in a vault underneath the Iraqi Central Bank. They have been there since the days of the Iran-Iraq war. Four, at least one of the secret storerooms was found to have housed not only antiquities, but parts of a machine gun, an unexploded hand grenade, and a rocket-propelled grenade. The room itself has slit windows giving an excellent field of fire for the street below. This discovery gives some truth to the Army’s contention that its soldiers had taken fire from the museum.
Playing Both Sides - Bloom moves into the realm of admitted speculation in trying to divine George’s underlying motivation. He believes George, who held high rank in the Ba’athist regime, wanted to play his cards close to his chest until he could be sure how everything was going to settle out, not offending either the US occupiers or the Ba’athists, who might, as happened in 1991, end up remaining in power. He also believes George wanted to protect valuable artifacts that had disappeared from the museum long before the war. He wonders if George was collaborating with Saddam Hussein, defending the museum against the depredations of the notoriously rapacious Hussein family (who had no compunctions about selling treasures on the international market), or perhaps both.
Planned Burglary - Bloom and Cruikshank both believe that during the April 12 looting, the same people who plundered the museum in years past came back to steal one more time. Five of the most valuable items were snatched, smuggled out of the country apparently through Damascus, Syria, and sold on the black market in Tehran and Paris. Bloom writes: “That’s what stolen-to-order means. They had lined up buyers in Europe long before the war broke out.” Bloom and Cruikshank also cannot figure out how two of the most valuable artifacts—a 4,500-year-old alabaster relief vase and a 4,250-year-old bronze statue—were stolen. “It would have taken, at the least, a block and tackle, a hoist, and a pickup to get them out of the museum.” Did no one see any of this? Bloom asks.
Real Losses - It seems clear that several thousand antiquities and valuables were indeed looted. The latest figure, from UNESCO and the US Customs Service, hovers around 2,000 to 3,000, notwithstanding the claims of General Wallace. Bloom notes, “Even if the losses are limited to 50 priceless items and 3,000 lesser items, that’s still the most significant robbery of antiquities in living memory.” John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art said in late May: “It’s only by comparison with the most dire initial reports that said everything was gone that it seems not so bad. Yes, not everything is gone, but major things are.” Other sites suffered worse depredations—the archaelogical digs at Larsa, Nineveh, Hatra, Mosul, Babylon, and the Sumerian city of Umma, among others. Bloom writes: “Lost in all the claims and counter-claims about who was responsible, who was lying, and what was done or not done, was the fact that the whole affair was based on a libel against the Iraqi people—that they would destroy their own citadel of history. It would be the equivalent of thousands of Americans rampaging through the Smithsonian Institution like cannibals.” Cruikshank says flatly, “It is simply not true that the people of Baghdad looted their own museum.” [New York Times, 6/1/2003; United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John Russell, John Bloom, Jaber Khalil, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities, Donny George, Dan Cruikshank, National Museum of Iraq, William Wallace

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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