Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
Location
New England, USA
Title
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
Bio
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.

MY RECENT POSTS

FEBRUARY 19, 2010 8:01AM

FBI—Why?

Rate: 20 Flag

Everyone is talking about Joe Stack. He left a web site full of thoughts.

But right now I'm more interested in the fact that his web site became quickly unavailable, and I'm wondering why. Perhaps it's unimportant. This might just be a conspiracy theory. But I think it warrants at least a moment's thought.

Just before I posted this post, on Friday, February 19, 2010, around 5am EST, the website content was this:

This website has been taken offline due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas. Although the customer exceeded their bandwidth limits earlier today, due to numerous requests, we have added credit to this account to keep this site live for informational purposes. To see an archived version of the original letter, please go here: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2010/0218102stack1.html. Please visit our forum if you wish to discuss anything related to this incident: Texas crash pilot left suicide note on Web site - embeddedart.com (please don't send us emails as we can't respond to all of them).

Regards,
T35 Hosting - www.T35.com

But there was an intermediate time (February 18, 2010 at 2:56pm EST) when it said this*:

This website has been taken offline due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas this morning and in compliance with a request from the FBI.

*There was also a signature line, but I didn't record it at the time. It was probably the same as above, and it probably doesn't matter, but I mention it anyway just because a major point here is about accuracy of the public record, and I want to do my part. I'm quite sure the main body of the text is correctly quoted. It was contemporaneously cross-checked by Bonnie Russell when I quoted it in a comment on her post Austin's Joe Stack blows same: Read the Wrong Book on IRS, and she updated her blog to say:

Joe Stack's website was here Embedded Art.

Kent Pitman accurately reported it was taken down, but you can now see it, here.

But here's a thing that's nagging at me: I could understand a family member making a request to take down the site because they thought it was a sensitive matter. I wouldn't like that, but I could understand it. A web site, however, is not a physical crime scene that is somehow going to get fingerprints all over it. And it's not like it was the guy's private machine where you were going to find personal data that might get disturbed. So why does the FBI want it offline?

I was going to write about that anyway. But when I went back to the site and found the new, friendlier message, with no hint of the FBI ever having been there, I find myself wondering why suddenly it's ok to see the message, just somewhere else.

You see, I'm all for having the FBI protect us. But it's not obvious how keeping us from knowing what this guy said protects us. It actually disturbs the state of things for them to take it offline. It risks error. It makes things less transparent.

We are a government of, by, and for The People. We oversee the government. The government does not oversee us. But increasingly, that is hard to do. In the name of protecting us, our freedoms are removed.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in its document EFF Analysis of "Patriot II," Provisions of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 that Impact the Internet and Surveillance writes (highlighting and bold mine):

3. Gag Orders and Increased Governmental Secrecy. The "sunshine of public review" is a key check on abuses of governmental power. But USAPA II makes it even harder for the public to evaluate what the government is doing with its broad new powers. USAPA II allows gag orders for subpoenas that force third parties to turn over information about their friends, loved ones or customers while making it unlawful for them to tell anyone except their lawyers about the subpoena. In a similar vein, the law creates broad new exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act for terrorism detainee information, prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from warning the public about environmental dangers from chemical releases and reduces the ability of judges to force the government to present its evidence in open court.

I want to emphasize that it might be that this act is not even in play at this time. But the corrosive effect of having laws like this is that one is forced to wonder anyway whether it might be, because this says that if the government were involved, we would not be allowed to know.

Yes, it's not a good thing what this guy did with the plane. I'll write more on that another time. But right now I want to know what the FBI's reason was for doing this kneejerk action to suppress his site. I'm not even worried about his freedom to speak, I'm worried about our freedom to hear.

And yes, I don't have it for sure that it was the FBI. The hosting company could have just been confused. That seems unlikely to me since the nature of the mention of the FBI didn't seem to me to be the intent of the writing. It was just an attempt to explain off an otherwise-confusing action and would surely have gotten the person authoring that text in trouble if it later turned out not to be the real reason. So I choose to believe it, but I note that this is a subjective assessment on my part.

What is not subjective is that the original site was moved, and apparently for a reason. I'm curious how that helped things—what it was intended to protect. Just in case it happens again.

And, yes, there's some risk that being able to read why he did this will inspire others. But we are an information society, and we've taken that risk. All manner of persuasive text is already freely allowed. This one item could not possibly make a difference.

Nor is it likely to be a secret signal to others that they should do some coordinated action. Once you admit possibilities like that, there can be no end to such paranoia. After all, if anyone was working with him, they probably got the signal when they turned on CNN and saw the plane had crashed. Or if he had wanted to send a message earlier, a simple email saying “It's time.” would have sufficed. It's just not plausible that he obfuscated what really didn't need to be obfuscated.

So let's hear some discussion about what the government action was in this case, not to protect us (which I appreciate) but to cover things up. That might even have been intended to protect us, but I would argue it's something we should discuss fully so we can tell whether this is the kind of thing we want our government doing, because I really don't think it is.

We probably won't get any more clear-cut case than this one around which to build a public dialog. It's our duty to oversee the actions of the government, after all. If not now, when?


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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) describes itself on its web site as “the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world,” and I concur with that bold claim. They are a really fine organization, working all the time to protect your rights. Their analysis in complex matters is generally thorough and very forward-thinking in the deep kind of way that is essential for the future of democracy. They do a lot of litigation on behalf of public interests. Take a moment to join them, or send a donation, or buy a t-shirt.

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For argument's sake, let me ask you this. If this were a real life real world crime scene, would you still feel that the FBI or local police investigators were responsible for releasing a suicide victim's note? And if not, what is the difference? Isn't a crime scene a crime scene, and if the police, FBI or local, is going to treat a crime scene equally whether it's in the real world or the online world, then they have to treat all crime scenes the same. Now, if you are advocating that all real life suicide investigations release the suicide note, then I can see your argument, but I see the police treating an online crime scene the same as a real world crime scene as a good thing.

It may have simply been a case of confiscating the note online until proper next of kin is alerted, and when the next of kin is alerted and asked permission, then the note can be resubmitted to the public, under another site because the original site was taken down. We don't know what ELSE was on that site, and there may be other (other letters, screeds, who knows) sensitive matters on that site leading up to the suicide, that will be discovered during investigation and released when the police deem appropriate. Just like a real crime scene
Placebo, the difference is that he published the note. It's a First Amendment issue. He had the right to speak publicly (one does not lose free speech even for committing a crime) and others have the right to read it (we committed no crime). This is an issue of unpublishing something, not an issue of keeping something private that was already private.

A suicide note may be left for whoever happens upon it, but is presumably usually assumed to be something where you can't control the dispersion. This person went to pains to do something intentionally public.

Even if there might have been other issues, that comes under both prior restraint and probable cause. Prior restraint is out the window, and as to probable cause, the mere fact that someone has committed one crime doesn't imply everything they own is part of that crime. These are really basic aspects of ordinary police procedure, I thought. If we're losing those these days, I want to know.

I want to understand the policy and the rationale. I don't want to be told that because there is a rationale you hypothesize, then this doesn't deserve any questions. Questions cannot hurt.
Well, first things first, suicide IS illegal and is considered a crime, even if the victim is not prosecuted for attempted murder when the suicide fails, they are strongly encouraged, sometimes strong armed into therapy. Secondly, I debate whether a suicidal person can or can't as you claim control the dispursion of the note. If he posted the note on a personal blog, then he is controlling the content and its distribution. If I post a screed, or were to commit suicide and left a note here (and I'm nowhere near thinking of doing that so don't worry this is hypothetical), then I would do so with the knowledge that my parents would not find this site, because they do not know this site nor do they know how to access this site. So by posting it here, rather than, say on CNN.com, the control of the message IS being controlled. We don't know what kind of site he posted the note on (do we?), and considering he is suicidal, it is LIKELY that he would have written the note and posted it on a specific site for a specific audience.

I still think, given these circumstances, that and rationale are clear. They are treating this crime like every other crime. Now, if you want to claim that this is a higher level of crime because it was an attack against a government agency, or because it was a DHS matter, then we have another topic. But the logic for releasing containing the distribution of the note is pretty clear to me with my knowledge of how suicides are often managed
Placebo, asking the question doesn't have to presuppose ill motives on their part. They may be right. They may be well-meaning but wrong. It may be a political question. But you're defending the idea that we shouldn't have to know, and I'm not comfortable with that. When and how would you say we should find out? Or are you just comfortable with us forever speculating? Do you think they have any obligation to identify that they have intervened?

I found myself wondering that the second note no longer mentioned the FBI. This could be pure coincidence or a request from the FBI to not be named. This is the kind of thing that nags at me.

I wish I thought the government didn't think everyone was a potential spy. That leads to justifications for very bad things and zero opportunity to scrutinized policy. Once the public cannot scrutinize the action, it's irrational to think we can vote in better government if we don't like what we had, so we might as well not have a vote. Democracy only works when people can make informed choices about how they are governed.
I think we just look at the situation differently. You're looking at this from a legal standpoint of this being a terrorist attack, I'm looking at this as the random act of a mentally ill, or at least major depression suffering man who was pushed over the edge. Would the FBI even be involved if the man had flown his plane into a building that didn't house government offices? Doubtful. This one action isn't going to change how I view the government, and certainly isn't going to change how I vote. And yes I suppose I am defending the idea that we don't have to know, because, if we take my theory that this was an isolated incident by a mad man, then in essence, so what?

Now, if there begins a rash of anti-IRS violence and a pattern can be surmised, then I might change my mind, but for right now I don't see how this is any different than the Va Tech kid, or any of the other random one off acts of people who would have been thrown over the edge by one thing or another.

In essence you care about the WHAT happened, I care about the WHY, as in, why didn't this guy get psychological help before resorting to this tragic event?
This guy does not sound even slightly mentally ill. He sounds politically motivated, to be sure. He sounds like the inevitable consequence of people running around remarking about refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and other non-democratic forms of change. Things are getting hot under the collar around the nation, and we dare not assume this is just a nut. The founders of the nation might well have been thought such nuts had they not succeeded.
Also, I'll worry about why he did it another day. I'm not trying to have that argument here and perhaps should not have even responded to the extent I did just now, only because it distracts. It's relevant to this discussion only in that I think this is absolutely not an issue of some mentally ill person who had a private problem that he just happened to show in public. His note does not read that way. He may not have taken a choice of action that we wish people would take, but the act of publishing his rationale was quite organized and I don't think the government should, as a matter of policy, be able to classify anything it doesn't like as insanity and then quietly wiping it up. That's a very, very dangerous precedent. That's about due process. And you're basically saying there is no process due. That worries me awfully.
again, perspective. He sounds like the kind of guy who, because of mental illness, is pushed and pulled in a million different directions, by the government and the people. He may have simply been desperate and looking for acceptance in an uncaring cruel world, and be one of the millions of people who has fallen through the cracks into the sewers of life, and this is the only way he can imagine being powerful enough to pull himself back up again. Was he paranoid schitzophrenic? No. Clinically depressed and confused and downtrodden? Quite possibly
I'm saying that due process, like justice itself, should not be absolute. It has to be looked upon by a case-by-case basis. There are potential extenuating circumstances that may come out in the investigation that may change the story completely in a few days or weeks. I'll be interested to see if any friends or family members are interviewed to get a sense of his mental state
I have been pondering government cover-ups of everything, trivial and not, since reading Lamar Waldron's "Legacy of Secrecy" about the impact of covering up what was known regarding the Kennedy assassination. And to be honest, I dont like the alleyways those thoughts take me to. So to your discussion point Kent, about the propriety of the FBI asking to take down this site, I can only say it is one more piece of an increasingly disturbing puzzle for me.

I cannot think of one good reason to remove Stack's screed other than to limit the potential for copycats. Clearly that's a possibility; there were several high profile school attacks after Columbine for instance. But to make it a policy to limit access to disturbing ideas because they might influence disturbed people is not something I want my government to do. Most of us are not disturbed, in the sense that we would self-immolate to make a point. Protecting us from those who are and those that might follow them is a hopeless waste of resources.

As an aside, I've been thinking about Mr. Stack ~ who was he reading and who influenced his actions? These kinds of things could come out if there isn't a clamp down on his writings and access to his friends and family, which good journalists should be looking at today. Remember that just a short time ago Homeland Security issued a warning about homegrown terrorists being influenced by increasingly strident rightwing pronouncements against the government. I think Mr. Stack may be a good example.

Yet I've yet to hear him labeled as a "terrorist" and I wonder why? He certainly was every bit as much as the darker-skinned men who stole planes and flew them into commercial and government buildings. Could it be because Mr Stack's influences were not residents of caves in other countries but instead residents of the public airways of this country? I am thing Limbaugh, Palin, and most especially Beck here.

Perhaps the reason to hide his commentary then is really to hide his influences. This country is not ready to admit that the aforementioned people are really inciting terrorism, which is a terrorist act itself.
I suspect that one good reason for removing the writing from the Web was that they were investigating the possibility that he was perhaps working with others, rather than alone. It seems that once that was cleared as unlikely, the information was made available again.

Of course, had he been working with others, they would most likely have been fully aware of his actions before the fact, but not necessarily. So, perhaps on the possibility that his (possible) accomplices were uncertain about where things stood, they thought it wise to remove the info, at least until that aspect was investigated more thoroughly.
I admit, I'm no expert in these things, but there's a slightly scarier scenario to me: that the FBI would have kept the site up and recorded the IP addresses of all who visited. This is more what I would have expected than for them to request it be removed.

Beyond that -- I, like you, can't understand why they requested it be taken down. They must understand that erasing a Web site rarely ever erases the presence of its information, so -- what would be the point?
Excellent question. Taking down published suicide notes does not seem to be in the realm of the FBI and I find it questionable behavior for sure. Especially compared to Major Hasan's obvious terrorist attack at Ft. Hood, shooting 50, killing 13 while yelling Allah Akbar and we were told to this day: that was not a terrorist attack. Although it was the worst one on American soil since 911. So Stacks suicide note is taken down and Hasan gets physical therapy in a Texas hospital.

I believe we are living in 1984.
Tim, I can imagine a casual person on the street thinking that would limit copycats, but I can't imagine the US government thinking that would be an effective way to block such things. I mean, if there were no note, people could still copycat the thing. And, incidentally, the notion that someone would need the note to be a copycat is the clue that this is not about rationality, since if what you're saying is that someone would be convinced by the note to do something they would not otherwise do, then you're saying the note contains something pretty persuasive. The idea that something can be both persuasive and irrational is an interesting one. Anyone want to try to defend that one? I will take up the general issue of the act in another post. But you'd expect whatever spin one puts on this for there to at least be a self-consistency requirement.

Rick, I think it more likely that they quickly realized that it had been massively replicated and that they hadn't a hope of covering it up. I don't see any particular attempt to restore it done by the government, since there was not government statement accompanying the act, declaring a stand-down, or whatever. That would have been newsworthy. Rather, I think there were so many places you could get the data that they stopped trying. But that's just a guess.

Saturn, I think you're right in observing that it's pretty hard to unpublish something on the web. Between search engine spidering and caching, reddit, digg, etc. ... it's just hard.

Deborah, it might be called spin control or 1984, but I suppose that's the point of 1984, which is that the wording is the game.
That was interesting, and fair to point out.
Maybe they wanted to make sure about anyone else making similar statements? although you are right about the cat being out of the bag, but there may well be SOP in the event you call something "terrorist," which to me seem way more like a workplace killing.
Dear KP:

Not only did grab my thunder but you beat me to the punch in addition to that. The importance to the latter point that I make, is that while I was in the process of drafting my new post, (sometime between the time of February 19, 2010 at 9:.m. and February 19, 2010 at 2:p.m.), not only did I have to re-start my new post on that very issue three (3) times due to unexplained difficulties in the systen which completly wiped out the new post each time it happened; but also during that same period, my access to the OS forum was totally shut down for about two (2) hours; and in addition to that, I was unable to access my other websites on the Internet. Couple to that, there are some other very curious happenings that I am noticing after I have experienced those lost opportunities.

Anyway, to keep this comment short, suffice to say that in my opinion, for what that is worth, you have certainly begun to as some very important questions about this whole episode. In addition, if anyone is curious as to why that access to our Website, or Blogspot were interupted for that period of time, then please check out those sites and the content of the information that is there, and that may shed some light on the situation.

Keep up the good work, but please be careful in the meantime. I will also rate the article.

Thank You,

Tar-Paper Shacks
Kent, maybe I didnt say it clearly enough, but when I said I cannot think of a reason I wasn't thinking that this would be the FBIs reasoning. After all, going back to the book I mentioned, would anyone have considered at the time that the reason to keep information on the Kennedy assassination quiet would have included reasons like we still had an exposed agent at the right hand of Fidel, or that Nixon was concerned about what was known about his involvement and that led to Watergate?
Really, its just my lack of intimate knowledge of how they operate that leads me to a simplistic wondering regarding why they would want the site down, coupled with a dark fear of something much more nefarious.
In fact, if I think of any reason other than to limit the copycats, its more what I said at the end of my comment ~ in some way are the Limbaughs of the world being protected so that people dont start to think about the impact he and his ilk are having on the country. There are many people that have advocated anti-governmental actions (Beck et al) but these people seem to enjoy immunity from being called out when loose cannons like Stack play out their fantasies for them.
I posed that question to those, that were placing media spin on it early yesterday... Good question, thanx... RRR
I have been following this very issue closely Kent.
I continue to be somewhat perplexed as to the why of this man's post being taken down.
Besides arguing about what he did or why, It sure has the appearance of a cover up of something and what the something is is
not clear to me. I don't like the cover up and the implications doing so has here.
It has me worried about the future of blogging for one. If hitting 'publish' right here on OS someone does this very same thing, do we have to worry about Bog Brother coming here and deleting what probably many had already seen, commented on and read?? I have seen some pretty defamatory stuff written right here in the comment lines.
I think this has wider circles in it than just this Joe Stack is what I am getting at here.
One distinct possibility is the FBI feared the website might contain coded information or instructions to a co-conspirator, and until that possibility could be eliminated, it was wise to take down the site.
I think it's also worth repeating what I said on another post:

I find some of the commentary about the govt and the IRS almost as troubling as Stack's terrorist act -- and let's not shit each other, that's what it was -- an act of symbolic violence intended to strike fear in govt workers all around this country.

But if you want anyone to heed your cause, you can't come off as a greedy, tax-dodging, wife and child-murdering, mass murdering terrorist who wants to take others with him on his pity party. That makes you no better than assholes who thinks it okay to blow-up a bus filled with women an kids in exchange for a $25,000 payoff to your family and 72 virgins in the afterlife.

I think we can all agree there's a great deal wrong with the system, but snide remarks about the IRS or the govt in general, at least in this context, are tacitly (at least)condoning this terrorist's violent protest.

And before I start hearing all the rtwingnut drivel about blood and the tree of liberty, let me say I have no problem with protest -- tho those who advocate violent overthrow of the govt need to keep in mind that has a pretty lousy record of success.

But if a misguided fool like Stack wants to off himself to protest taxes, let him -- that's chlorine in the gene-pool as far as I can see. Let me hasten to add that as is the case with most of his kind, his cause doesn't strike me as noble. His rant reveals him to be just another greedy bastard, another pseudo-conservative, another false patriot who doesn't want to pay for what he takes from this country.

Be that as it may, I'm all for Joe doing us all a favor. But if he wants to make his point, let him do it like a real man instead of an angry, pouting adolescent. Let him go sit in the middle of the street in front of the IRS building, douse himself with gasoline, and set himself on fire. That's what protesters who truly believe in their cause do instead of killing innocent people just to make a point.

Nope. Joe wasn't a protester, and he sure as hell ought not be made into a hero. He was a terrorist, pain and simple, and those who conflate his senseless act with the govt are terrorists, too, because they're encouraging others to do the same.
Don, you mention it's standard operating procedure (SOP) in the case of terrorism. Indeed. And part of what I'm doing is questioning both the efficacy and the propriety of that procedure. But also, I've been combing the net for an official government statement about this being terrorism. I don't think I'm going to find it. So I guess part of my point is that I expect this to be labeled as the act of a sick person, and consequently the notion that it hides behind the terrorism statute is part of the scary thing about the terrorism statute.

If terrorism statutes allow broad powers, and if those powers can be applied with no probable cause, and if later mistake is not even cause for review, such that it's acceptable to continue to apply the broad powers (or forgive their application) with not so much as a hearing, then in what sense is there anything other than a system-wide breakdown in checks and balances.

Frankly, I don't like the idea that the government might have to act quickly outside of the normal law to contain a volatile situation, but that's not me disliking the government, that's just me disliking reality. It seems quite plausible that something could unfold fast enough that approvals might be difficult. But those are the things for which I want the greatest degree of sunlight when time permits. A review of the general procedures, where possible, that govern such special actions. A review of specific cases especially where mistake occurred.

It's like where a cop might pull a gun and shoot someone. That can happen, and we forgive it in reasonable circumstances, even to include some situations where the victim was innocent, because we know that in the heat of the moment, good people make reasonable but sometimes wrong judgments. But there is still due that review of the facts once time permits is still warranted, just to assure that all reasonable efforts were taken, and to establish that there is a law that we are at least trying to stand by.

Either it's the case that they acted under the authority of terrorism provisions or not. If they did, then if they later say terrorism was not involved, that seems occasion for some review. If terrorism was involved, that would seem to occasion a need to say so. But this feel slippery, like for some purposes it is and for some it is not, and that has the bad feel like when government agencies classify literally everything not so that we're safer but so they can operate without scrutiny.
Tar Paper, I didn't mean to steal anyone's thunder. I'm sure whatever you're writing could still be written.

Tim, I don't know if anyone is deliberately protecting the “Limbaughs of the world,” though I think there could be some of that effect. I do think there is considerable negative effect of someone like Limbaugh, but it's largely protected speech (First Amendment, which of course intends to protect some pretty ugly stuff), so I'm not sure he needs additional protection.
Patrick, thanks for the supportive words.

Mission, as to wider implications, I wouldn't be talking about this if I thought it had no application further than today. It's common in business to do a “post mortem” after an event to make sure the necessary lessons were learned. Sometimes the results is “this went as well as it could have” and sometimes something is learned. Asking questions does not imply anything was wrong. But you're right that when questions are dodged, well, let's just say that doesn't make people feel reassured. Transparency in government, to the extent practical, is a good thing because people know what to expect and in times of crisis can feel comfortable that standard procedure is followed. Human beings have ritual procedures for all manner of things that get them through hard times when the emotions of the moment would lead to bad judgment. Asking for good, well thought out, transparent public policy is little more than asking for such rituals “in the large.”
Tom, I've heard that idea about coded messages in conjunction with the Bin Laden messages, which are apparently scrutinized for such things. But in those cases, we have privately delivered messages where the government, through its announcement of such a message, is at risk of becoming the instrument of communication. The reason I'm encouraging some careful thought here is to analyze whether such reasoning holds, and I don't see that it does on the Internet. If one were going to send coded messages, wouldn't one just get a hotmail account and say to their compatriots, “When it's time to go, I'll send mail to you at your hotmail account saying to go.” The internet is too full of ways to get info between conspirators for me to think that the FBI could rationally suggest that by taking down this one site, they were materially improving the chances that this guy had not communicated with people.

As to your question of what the right means of making a statement, I completely agree with you that he should not have done what he did. But, you know, we create penalties for crimes in order to deter people from rational acts, not irrational ones. Irrational acts are hard to deter because they aren't based on reasoning. This guy wasn't sick, he made a choice. A bad choice. It was hurtful and inconsiderate and wrong. It's not a choice I recommend to anyone. The irony of it all is that we have a nation full of laws exactly to encourage deliberation in order to avoid the need for bloody revolutions. Every four years we have a bloodless revolution, or at least the opportunity for one, which creates major political change. It's a good system in that regard, and makes many of us proud that we can talk our way through some fairly bad stuff. And it does no one any good, no matter how bad things get, to think that somehow good will come of what Stack did. So I agree with you on that matter completely. None of my statements should be taken to endorse his ultimate action. But he did have some legitimate gripes (that he handled in a counterproductive way, as you note) and the actions done in response to him might still have been done better (which is what I'm discussing here). I'm not at all trying to make him a hero, and I apologize if there's anything I said that suggested that.

But I have used the word “rational” to describe him, and by that I mean something very specific. I'm not a doctor or lawyer, so I don't mean to invoke some specific definition somewhere. Rather, common sense: If someone, just to take a nuetral example, kills someone, there are those who immediately say “It's irrational to do that, this person is insane.” But if you think it through, that means all murderers should just be automatically covered under an insanity defense, and then what would be the point of a trial? We have to assume that some of them are rational and just making bad choices, or else deterrance and punishment has no place. Same with a bank robber. We can't say that it's irrational to rob a bank; it's rational, just wrong. We must be careful about our terminology. If bank robbers belong in a mental institution, it will miss the point. And so when I say Joe did something rational, I am not endorsing his action. I'm just saying he isn't relieved of accountability for it. He doesn't seem to have been sick so much as at a point of making bad choices.

So some part of this has to be getting people to focus on better choices, though some part has to be making sure there really are better choices to focus on.
It's simple. The posting of Joe Stack was not a rambling, incoherent diatribe, as they are attempting to portray it. It was taken down because they feared people would read it, that people would agree, that it just might become a battle cry. They're plan was foiled though, as it was all over the net, copied and pasted, and added to hundreds if not thousands of blogs. You won't hear much about a plane being flown into the IRS building, at least not like the 9/11 coverage, or even close. The building just didn't "pancake."
A semantic discussion is probably of little use, but words like "sane" and "insane" have a variety of meanings depending on context. Was this an insane act -- I'd say most people would think yes -- regardless of his perceived justification.

On the other hand, if he had somehow survived the crash, he would most certainly have been judged "sane" by legal standards. If the atrocities of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were deemed the acts of "sane" men, than Stack was surely legally "sane".

The scary thing is our streets are filled with insane sane people, all you need do is observe a TeaParty gathering to see that ... or talk to a Palin supporter or a Truther or a Birther, ad infinitum. All the animals ain't in the zoo.
RonnieRay,

You might well be right in suggesting that they might have taken it down out of fear it was inciting imminent lawless action. And indeed Joe Stack might have intended to incite. And yet, I'm not sure that either of those two reasons is a valid reason to have taken the action they did.

I'll explain why I think this, but I must disclaim that I am not a lawyer. I have read more than probably the average person about some laws, and have taken some seminars on civil liberties and the Constitution. That doesn't mean I'm trying to pull rank on anyone—I have no formal credential to offer for that purpose. But it does mean that I'm not 100% guessing here. I know enough to sketch my reasons for believing what I do and I'm hoping that someone with an actual legal credential in Constitutional Law will chime in here to fill gaps or outright correct me if I've goofed this up or if my knowledge has been superseded...

My recollection is that I've been told that printed matter generally doesn't qualify as inciting. That is, as I recall, the bar for culpability for that is very high and usually does not include anything that permits time for reflection. In effect, as I understand it, if there is time for personal reflection, the person doing the alleged inciting is off the hook legally. I believe that means that if I am with you in a mob and say “let's club him” about someone, I'm inciting. But if I say “let's come back tonight and club him,” I'm allowing you time to reflect and not really inciting. And I think all books, by their nature, and by the nature of reading, allow time for you to absorb the words and to reflect, so they are by some objectively agreed upon test not inciting. That supposedly makes it very hard for a book author, for example, to be found liable for any urgings contained in their text.

And if that's true, I don't know that the FBI would be justified in shutting down text that, even if someone acted on it, couldn't be held to be responsible.

But as I say, this is just my personal conjecture based on my non-lawyerly recollection of a bunch of details. I've tried to outline those details so my assumptions can be checked. If I'm wrong on some assumption, of course my conclusion might be different (depending on how I'm wrong, I guess).
Tom, I'll give you multiple uses. I'm not clinging to the “sane” or “rational” annotation because I like what he did or endorse it in any way. He would have been on cleaner legal and ethical grounds if he'd just done a suicide (eitehr passively by hunger strike or actively in some non-intrusive way), without damaging the property or certainly the lives of others. I'd like to have seen him do something less drastic even than that, of course. But he chose to die, and though I'm pretty sure suicide is illegal in most places, one can make a moral case that in some cases people should be allowed to do this without being called criminals. It's much, much, much harder to make any moral case that the taking of innocent lives is warranted. (He might claim these people were not innocent, but I'd not buy that.) So I absolutely agree with you this is an intensely bad choice, an illegal choice even, and something that if he had survived himself he should still be prosecuted for. It's more akin to the murder of George Tiller, and the jury took really no time to find him guilty.

And you're absolutely right that the mood of the time is not good, so if there were more of these cases, that would be unfortunately not surprising. See, for example, this failed humor on the topic at a right wing get-together.

But saying that because there's such a risk, we must give up our freedoms is the only thing I'm questioning. I don't see the FBI's apparent action as helpful here, even though I don't doubt for a second it was well-meaning. I just want us to have rules that we all understand and I don't understand the rule that was applied here.
Er... “the jury took really no time to find Scott Roeder guilty” My pronoun reference was kind of messy there in that prior comment.
I'm guessing it was removed for several valid reasons.
To prevent a denial of service to others using the same ISP.
To prevent his innocent friends and related persons from revenge, disturbance, etc.
To discourage hackers who might make it their own political statement.

My take is that folks like Stack were suicidal for reasons other than the IRS or politics. Once the decision was made to off himself, he figured to piggyback his "cause." He certainly threatened his wife and child by setting the house afire - a huge suggestion that it wasn't political and his motivation was far darker than his "angry patriot" rationalization.
I think he killed himself and almost his family for "routine" reasons.
The act, of course, was spectacular.
Hi, Paul. Thanks for weighing in. I'll take your suggestions one by one...

The observation about potential denial of service is a completely valid reason, but would not require the FBI to suggest it—the ISP could almost certainly do that for its own reasons. Yet it cited an FBI request. So I agree with you that was a valid reason, but it doesn't explain the FBI aspect. The FBI does not concern itself with DoS attacks generally, I think.

I don't quite get the issue of innocent friends, etc. Did you mean that people, being mad, might retaliate against some hypothetical Mrs. Joe, Joe Jr., Joe's next-door-neighbor, etc.? If it's that, I don't think they normally withhold suspect names for such a reason. Is that what you meant or did you mean something else?

I agree it might be a target of hackers. But aren't there many such places? Does the FBI go around asking ISPs to take such sites offline out of such a fear? That would surprise me.

Your observation about him being less than a patriot seems well-reasoned and interesting. However, I don't know that it speaks to the FBI involvement question. The FBI response would need to be the same in either case.
Kent,
I think the general rule would be that political attacks shouldn't be rewarded with an immediate and wide distribution of the departing manifesto. While that is closing the barn door after the cow has taken off, it seems sort of a SOP. A pre-internet holdover policy.

I mean those relations shouldn't be disturbed any more than they will be by journalists coming after the story. There could be some business associations that could suffer from an innocent association. That information is not needed by the public anyway.

The hacker issue falls under the same thought. If the perp is to be denied his immediate political gratification, they might as well prevent others from piling on.

The FBI is involved for obvious reasons. When they engage, they don't step lightly. Anything less than a full-out response would be criticized. The snuffing of the manifesto, already cached as it was, seems to fit that level of response, even if ineffective.

I was speaking to Stack's motivation, not the FBI. The FBI would be involved at any level of attack on a Federal agency. Stack would have seen the FBI if all he did was throw eggs all over the IRS office, then moon them.

I'm just saying I don't buy the angry patriot disguise. I wouldn't have bought it if he didn't try to kill his family. I seldom buy it. Maybe that's just me. He made the decision to die and take his family with him. I'm saying that was independent of his rage at the IRS, even if that contributed.
His manifesto, viewed in the light of his presumably dead family, seems like more a device to excuse his act by adding their lives to the IRS kill list. He probably, in some twisted manner, thought that would grant him some level of absolution.
Those are guesses, of course, but it is obvious the guy was mentally imbalanced. We shouldn't expect rational thoughts to have driven his actions.
To the overall issue of censorship and our right to know what our gov does, I'm 99% in the we should know camp. I just don't think that applies well here.
Damn, this is frustratingly thought-provoking! (And I like that you put your own 'ad' at the end.)

Here's to freedom to hear! (Don't get me started on the consolidation of media etc. - damn, I'm drowning in parentheses.)
Paul, you wrote “I think the general rule would be that political attacks shouldn't be rewarded with an immediate and wide distribution of the departing manifesto.” You know, I even agree with that at some level. Where I don't agree is that the FBI has the charter to find good ideas and general rules to drive them; rather, I think they have to work by the law and I don't see what law is relevant. I also agree with you about the angry patriot issue, but again I don't find it relevant to the FBI thing—if anything, it means the item isn't terrorism and so the terrorism rules don't apply.

Julianne, I'm always thrilled when people say anything in my writings made them think. I feel like there's too little of that running around these days. And I'm glad you liked the ‘ad.’
I may have several reasons why the FBI acted the way it did regarding Stacks's website based on my studies of the intel community.

1. Government security agencies always classify far more than real secrets. They do so because they are bureaucracies, and bureaucracies obtain power through their secrecy. In this respect, Don Rich is right. There may have been no reason for it. It was just policy.

2. In addition to SOP for SOP's sake, the government has a variety of tracing programs that establish links based on a person's social network, internet connections past and present, and collations of that information with the person's bank records, phone records, and ATM or credit card purchases. It's possible that in order to do a complete analysis, it may have been necessary to isolate the website and then do reverse analysis.

3. The suicide note (even though published on the net) may be regarded as criminal evidence as such, and criminal evidence is impounded as a matter of law.

I believe that from an FBI/Homeland Security perspective, these reasons would be sufficient to make the government do what it did.

You are right to look askance at the powers that the US government has in the 21st Century, but this is a very unfortunate legacy of 9/11. Everyone needs to support the work not only of the Electronic Frontier Foundation but the ACLU.