Virginia man robs bank, claims Feds recruited him for secret operation
April 19, 2013 6:17 PM   Subscribe

“If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me,” Torres said. He was crying as he told them an incredible story about being recruited by the Defense Intelligence Agency to participate in a secret operation testing the security of Washington-area banks. He said he’d been assigned to rob a half-dozen banks over four days. And he told them about Theo, the man who hired him and gave all the orders—even though Torres had never met him.
posted by pravit (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Something tells me that the library is never going to get their copy of Sneakers back.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:21 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Single page link.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:35 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's incredible to me how someone can have such complete control over their charisma, and such a deep understanding of people but yet not be able to interact with them face-to-face.
posted by pmv at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2013


DIA? Preposterous!

Sounds more like FBI's M.O.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I break into nervous sweats thinking about how to haggle down my office lease.

It is unfathomable to me how someone could convince complete strangers of such an elaborate web of lies just over the phone.
posted by pmv at 6:41 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is unfathomable to me how someone could convince complete strangers of such an elaborate web of lies just over the phone.

Gullible people are gullible, I think is the moral. Especially when there is an attractive person involved.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on April 19, 2013


I don't think it's gullible so much as the classic Milgram experiment where sounding or looking sufficiently authoritative will get a certain perecentage of people to go along with whatever you want. Remember the strip search prank calls?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:27 PM on April 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sounds kinda like the plot to the interesting 1987 crime film Extreme Prejudice, which is well worth viewing if you like this genre.
posted by ovvl at 7:29 PM on April 19, 2013


tough to believe. Why? Because in many banks "guards" no longer even carry guns. Why? Because tellers told to hand over money if robbery takes place.Why? Banks insured by the govt --FDIC--so no loss to the bank takes place and no customers get shot in the process of a robbery.
posted by Postroad at 7:32 PM on April 19, 2013


Remember the strip search prank calls?

WTMFF? Dang, people.
posted by resurrexit at 7:51 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]




Defalcation
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:27 PM on April 19, 2013


Alexandria SunTrust? Shit, that is likely my old branch. They were all super-nice people there.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is part of a fascist attempt at coup d'etat.

Just like this point in time.
posted by MisplaceDisgrace at 9:48 PM on April 19, 2013


On November 14 last year, I was contacted by someone claiming to be from the CIA. I was told to go to a particular restaurant, order the halibut, and wait for further instructions.

Since I didn't have anything better to do, I went to the restaurant. After eating the halibut, I waited for over an hour, sipping coffee and nibbling on a chocolate cheesecake. But nobody showed up.

Two days later the same person from the CIA contacted me again. "You didn't show up!" I said. "Something else more important came up," he said. "but I need you to file a report anyway. Describe your entire experience. Describe everything; what you ate, what you saw, the quality of the service at the restaurant. Everything."

I filed the report. On November 29 I was contacted again by this person from the CIA and told to go to another restaurant. I was instructed to request the braised lamb. Again, nobody arrived at the meeting and I had to send in another report for the CIA.

This continued several more times before I realized that the Culinary Institute of America was playing for keeps, and I left the country.

I can't tell you where I am now, but the pupusas are good.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:48 PM on April 19, 2013 [167 favorites]


I don't think it's gullible so much as the classic Milgram experiment where sounding or looking sufficiently authoritative will get a certain perecentage of people to go along with whatever you want.

As an aside, one of the control variables used by Milgram was the proximity between the authority figure and the research subject. Saying no to an authority figure is easier from a distance than in person: where participants received telephonic instructions from the experimenter, compliance decreased to 21 percent.

But I agree with your more general point, however. Much of the research in the field of social psychology reveals that otherwise ordinary people can be made to adopt ridiculous attitudes or engage in ridiculous behaviour under the right set of circimstances.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 10:24 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


He said his name was Theo, but I prefer to call him my blue fairy godmother.
posted by ubernostrum at 12:03 AM on April 20, 2013


Wait, that man is "skinny"?
posted by Halogenhat at 12:20 AM on April 20, 2013


I immediately thought of Sneakers.

Guys, that federal building's been scheduled for demolition since August. Housed the Federal Trade Commission, and Dept. Of Agriculture. Been vacant for a month. The NSA never had an office in San Francisco. Their West Coast operations are out of Los Angeles.
posted by dhartung at 12:49 AM on April 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm fascinated by this particular brand of tele-charisma. The first time I heard about this kind of thing was in a story about a man who'd convinced the employees of a fast food restaurant that he worked in law enforcement. Things eventually got quite out of hand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strip_search_prank_call_scam

I also recommend the movie "Compliance," which is based on some of these events: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDat96UyT5A
posted by scamper at 1:18 AM on April 20, 2013


Remember the strip search prank calls?

Not quite the same thing, but I just read this:

He got his unsuspecting victims to take their webcam enabled Macs into the shower. "Why would anyone take a computer into the shower?", I hear you ask. This is the part that's hard to believe - Trevor sent pop ups that claimed that their computer sensors were malfunctioning, and then followed them up with instructions that suggested that the computer needed to be put in a steamy place for a few minutes. And it worked!
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:01 AM on April 20, 2013


Why is Brady getting off so lightly?
posted by Area Man at 3:42 AM on April 20, 2013


Because he has a severe mental illness?
posted by fullerine at 4:32 AM on April 20, 2013


fullerine : Because he has a severe mental illness?

Screwing with other people's lives for kicks doesn't qualify as a mental illness. Well, okay, actually it might, but the kind that we lock people up preventatively for, not the kind that we feel bad for and let roam the streets with impunity.

"His lawyers argued he suffered from mental illnesses that made him unable to form the intent to commit the crimes he was charged with" - And yet, somehow he was able to plan far enough in advance to have an answer for everything, come up with reasonably convincing false documentation, and successfully come up with a team of prospective dupes?

No. He may count as sick, but not in a way that should exonerate him from punishment for risking people's lives: "Tuesday evening police entered Torres’s home and, mistaking the remote control in his hand for a gun, drew their weapons and brought him in". One wrong twitch at that point, and instead of laughing at Torres' naivete, we'd have a corpse to discuss (or possibly not even that, since we probably wouldn't even have heard about this if they closed the case with the "robbers" in custody and dead).
posted by pla at 5:33 AM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is Brady getting off so lightly?

Wake up, sheeple! Why do you think he got off so lightly? Maybe, just maybe, it's because he really is part of the DIA!
posted by Didymium at 6:04 AM on April 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is part of a fascist attempt at coup d'etat.

...what?


No. He may count as sick, but not in a way that should exonerate him from punishment for risking people's lives

Sounds like the government doesn't agree with you! Guess whose opinion actually counts in this case?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:59 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I can't even persuade my wife to make me a cup of coffee. That is some serious social engineering, still not sure how he got off with just probation.
posted by arcticseal at 7:48 AM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


How dare I or anyone else criticize the decisions made by prosecutors.
posted by Area Man at 7:52 AM on April 20, 2013


Why is Brady getting off so lightly?

From my reading of the story none of the robberies were successful. Not that a series of conspiracy or solicitation charges couldn't add up, but I think we're just talking attempt in all cases, so maybe that's why.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:25 AM on April 20, 2013


pla, there are specific legal standards for lack of criminal responsibility by reason of mental disease or defect. The most common rule in the US is the M'Naghten standard, which requires that one of two things be true of the person. The first possibility is the one you articulated, in which the accused literally couldn't understand "the nature and quality" of his actions because of his mental disease. That is, basically, a delusion that meant that he couldn't understand that he was robbing a bank.

But I don't think that's what's going on here. I think, instead, that Brady falls under the second possibility, which is that because of his mental illness, he didn't have the ability to understand that what he was doing was legally wrong. His delusion caused him to believe that he was a CIA operative and that he was legally authorized to plan sham bank robberies for the purpose of protecting national security. He still had the ability to make future plans and to interact with others, but he was hearing voices or seeing people who weren't there or remembering conversations with government officials that never happened. In fact, that would likely explain why his story had answers to some of the questions the police asked; the answers were part of the story that was the delusion.

In cases where the accused actually doesn't have the mental capacity to understand either what he is doing or that it is wrong and against the law, he's not responsible in the same way that you and I are. Think of it as a type of mistake: if you pick up my cell phone because it looks like yours and you honestly thought it was yours, that's not theft, because you had an honest and understandable belief that you were doing something you had every right to do. When, because of mental illness, someone is prone to make those sorts of mistakes, we don't hold them responsible because they had no intent to commit an act that was wrong. If the court is right, he didn't do it "for kicks." He did it because he was operating under a delusion that he had to do it in order to fulfill his role as a CIA operative attempting to stop the MS-13 gang.

I agree with you that it sounds as though Brady isn't getting the treatment he needs. It may even be true that because he's not getting that treatment, this could happen again, and he could pose a future risk. But that doesn't mean that putting him in prison is the right answer either. We've had many discussions on MeFi about how abusive prison is for mentally ill people, and about how they don't actually get the treatment they need in prison to make them able to live safely in society. Unless you're advocating that mentally ill people who commit crimes should be placed in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives (and that seems to me both terribly cruel and not cost-effective), we need to find some other solution for people who are suffer from mental illnesses that make them more likely to commit crimes. Releasing him to his mother's custody and keeping him under supervision (where, presumably, he'll be required to take medication and comply with other forms of treatment; that's generally how these things work) is the least worst option.
posted by decathecting at 10:56 AM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]



And I can't even persuade my wife to make me a cup of coffee. That is some serious social engineering, still not sure how he got off with just probation.

OK. You're out of the experiment.
posted by etaoin at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I break into nervous sweats thinking about how to haggle down my office lease.

It is unfathomable to me how someone could convince complete strangers of such an elaborate web of lies just over the phone.


I think Brady's M.O. took advantage of something similar to what you see on Facebook all the time in advertisements for absurd products like power generators or weight loss programs. "Power companies hate this" or "local mom discovers weight loss secret" - statements so absurd that anyone who clicks on them has to be incredibly gullible and can basically be treated as such without any real consequences.

It's not that Brady needs to be skilled at manipulating any given person, he just needs to be skilled enough to filter the gullible from the savvy, and to recognize social relationships in which a large amount of naivete has to be present in order for the relationship to function in the first place. (I'm sure desperation helps move things along.)

So, I guess what I'm saying is that by the time it's occurred to Villegas that Torres would be a good person to approach for what Brady wants, there's a really good chance that Torres is going to say yes, because there's something about him that's made him pop into Villegas's head as a good person to ask. There also has to be a pattern of poor judgment of Villegas's part for her to be on a sugar daddy site trusting people telling this kind of story, and for Torres to continue to be friends with her means he probably doesn't recognize it as poor judgment.
posted by alphanerd at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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