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THE NATION

Invisible Ink Got Gang's Deadly Note Past Guards

Aryan Brotherhood trial also uncovers the use of ancient ciphers and other ruses.

June 27, 2006|Christopher Goffard | Times Staff Writer

To get a message to gang member Kevin Roach in another part of the Supermax, McGinley used a pre-arranged method of circling letters in a library book that Roach would later check out. In this case, the book was "Napoleon Bonaparte," and the message included the information that the DC Blacks gang had put a "hit" on gang members in the Marion, Ill., prison:

"Order lethal counteraction," the assembled letters read. "Coordinating multiple simultaneous action. Your unit make preparations."

In the run-up to the Lewisburg slayings, McGinley testified, he was also responsible for encoding the "Bubba" letter to Mills, at Bingham's behest. Apart from the 187 reference, McGinley also embedded a bi-literal cipher that requested confirmation of the war against the DC Blacks.

Defense attorneys have suggested that the code master schemed to instigate the violence -- even writing the "Bubba" letter himself without Bingham's knowledge -- as a way of consolidating his own power.

"You wanted a war desperately, didn't you?" Michael White, Bingham's lawyer, asked McGinley on the stand.

"Not at all," McGinley said.

Still, McGinley acknowledged that he had plotted to murder Mills and Bingham, unhappy with their leadership. Disgruntled, McGinley defected from the gang in 1998 and became a government witness. Now, defense lawyers argue, he is abetting the government's effort to execute them by lying on the stand.

Defense lawyers acknowledge that McGinley coded documents using the Baconian cipher but say he did it on his own. When officials searched dozens of Brotherhood cells in 2002, the defense likes to point out, they found no code keys that would have unlocked the system.

"The problem is, you've got a bunch of hard-core convicts that have no desire to mess around with a complicated code to communicate," said H. Dean Steward, Mills' attorney. "You'd need an advance degree to cipher one up and to read it."

The ciphers represented "a device by McGinley, like these other rats, to hype up their testimony and to make it more valuable than it is," Steward said. "It made a sexy little piece of evidence that prosecutors wanted."

During the current trial in Santa Ana, prosecutors have not shied from cryptological drama. On a recent day, they called an FBI cryptanalyst, trained in code breaking by the National Security Agency, to describe how she used "frequency analysis" and "word pattern analysis" to break into the Brotherhood's messages.

On another day, the government asked Danine Adams, the prison agent who monitored gang mail at the Supermax, to demonstrate how Bingham allegedly slipped a secret letter past security.

Taking the witness stand, Adams held a blank piece of paper before the jury. The previous night in her hotel, she explained, she had written on it using a Q-tip dabbed in her own urine.

Then, amid the stately marble of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building, she flicked a lighter and waved it patiently under the paper. The judge had ordered the sprinklers turned off above jurors, to prevent them from being soaked should something catch fire. Finally, on the paper in Adams' hand, the word "URINE" magically began to materialize.

It was sheathed in plastic and passed among jurors, who solemnly examined it. The panel is expected to begin deliberating by the end of July.

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