Opinion

Felix Salmon

How the FBI puts researchers out of business

By Felix Salmon
November 22, 2010

Remember the rather wonderfully worded e-mail sent out to clients by John Kinnucan of Broadband Research in October?

Today two fresh faced eager beavers from the FBI showed up unannounced (obviously) on my doorstep thoroughly convinced that my clients have been trading on copious inside information,” the email said. “(They obviously have been recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time, with what motivation I have no idea.) We obviously beg to differ, so have therefore declined the young gentleman’s gracious offer to wear a wire and therefore ensnare you in their devious web.

Today Susan Pulliam reveals just how harmful that visit was:

At the age of 28, Mr. Kinnucan was hit by a bus while jogging in Florida, suffering four broken bones, two collapsed lungs, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding. When the FBI visited, he says, “I just thought about being under that bus and knowing you have to keep fighting.” …

He says that he hasn’t heard back from the FBI agents since their surprise visit, but that his business has imploded. Many of his clients, he says, won’t be able to use his services now that he is under investigation. “I’ll have to figure out something else to do,” Mr. Kinnucan says.

It’s pretty easy to see, here, how the FBI agent in question, David Makol, has developed a reputation for being able to “flip” the people he’s investigating. If they cooperate, they can continue to work. If they don’t, they’re put out of business—a harsh punishment indeed given that they have been convicted of absolutely nothing.

Comments
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also see
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Posted by fruhmenschen | Report as abusive
 

That’s a bit harsh, Felix, and I would normally tend to agree with you on these type of points (says the card-carrying ACLU member)

The FBI hasn’t gone out of their way to threaten or ruin the business of a person who refused to cooperate with them. No menacing “Nice business, be awful if something…happened…to it.” No publicity from the FBI to tarnish Kinnucan. They didn’t take the business’ core computer equipment for months/years pursuant to a warrant, and de-facto force a shutdown. No Orwellian police state that I see.

The FBI asked, business said no, and the after the business publicized this contact, the business’ customers went somewhere else.

I read nothing untoward in what the FBI did in this case – what would you have them do, what did they do wrong?

Posted by SteveHamlin | Report as abusive
 

I agree with SteveHamlin on this one, Felix. As he correctly asked: “what would you have them (the FBI) do, what did they do wrong?”

Posted by dbsmith1 | Report as abusive
 

You would think that Mr. Kinnucan might re-evaluate both his business judgement and the ethics of the services his research firm was performing if, upon voluntarily sending out his email (which, BTW, sounds very much like a warning to his clients), all of his clients immediately withdrew business from him.

Posted by HotPanini | Report as abusive
 

After reading the story and the cockiness of Kinnucan, it seems he knew he wasn’t doing anything (very) illegal by getting the information in his ‘research’… but what may have been illegal in HOW he got it and WHERE he got it. And being the FBI gave him a tip one of his clients was going down, it sounds as though his tip off makes him more guilty then he is admitting here. He also said he may have been wire tapped, which is a further tipoff to his clients.

He invited the FBI in, yet didn’t co-operate. Why not call a lawyer and ask for a warrant instead? Also, it is doubtful that the firms he does business with asked him for the email, but rather he offered it as an incentive to ‘sell’ his info and also to protect them…and take the fall. Is that normal business practice? (who knows what the hell is considered ethical anymore with you American Capitalists … seriously. It seems regulations are the only ethics and not being caught is the new innocent)

I can’t quite feel sorry for him (even though you both used the fact he was hit by a bus in the past as though the it should make us feel for him) Truthfully, it sounds as though there was very little intimidation and that no one acted in such a way that deserved newsworthiness. (or blogginess)

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

I’ve worked with the FBI before, and on the whole, they are pretty sharp cookies. Parts of Kinnucan’s story simply don’t add up. First, they don’t just show up at your door and ask you to wear a wire, it would put the entire investigation at risk. Next, these guys have a job to do that comes with a busy schedule, and don’t spend their idle time “recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time” just for fun and to study your dating practices.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive
 

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