Judge orders detention of National Guardsman suspected of ID theft
An FBI agent acknowledged Monday that two undercover employees posing as members of a militia group came up with the idea of buying a secret list of names from a Minnesota Army National Guard member, and not vice versa.
But Special Agent Chris Crowe said that the soldier, Keith Michael Novak, self-styled commander of a Minnesota militia named the 44th Spatha Libertas ("Swords of Freedom") knew his list was valuable "prior to any dollar value being put on those names."
Crowe said that list of service members' names, Social Security numbers and other data could be used to make fake IDs to get on military bases or even get into the Utah Data Center, the facility operated by the National Security Agency. The undercover FBI employees had posed as members of a Utah-based militia.
While Novak, 25, of Maplewood, allegedly knew the value of his list, he also knew that letting others have it was illegal, Crowe told U.S. Magistrate Franklin Noel during a probable cause and detention hearing in Minneapolis.
As the two undercover men made copies of the list at Novak's home, he allegedly told them, "That's life in prison."
After an hour's worth of testimony and argument, Noel decided there was enough probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. He also ruled Novak must remain jailed while he awaits trial. The magistrate said the fact Novak was armed when he was arrested and had allegedly made statements to the undercover men about shooting government agents who might arrest him made him too dangerous to let out.
"If the defendant were to be released, there is a high likelihood that he would flee," Noel said.
Novak's father, Michael Novak, of Orono, declined to comment.
The man's arrest was the result of a nearly eight-month investigation by the FBI. Crowe described some of that investigation, repeating details contained in a 23-page search warrant affidavit that was unsealed last Wednesday.
But under questioning by defense attorney W. Anders Folk -- himself a former federal prosecutor who had prosecuted terrorism cases -- Crowe said it was Novak who placed a dollar value on the lists of names.
He also acknowledged the FBI hasn't been able to find any evidence corroborating Novak's alleged claim to the two undercover men that he had hidden caches of weapons all over Minnesota.
Folk had argued that there was no reason to keep Novak in jail. He has no previous criminal record, has ties to the community and wouldn't flee, he told Noel.
He also noted the crime that Novak was charged with was basically identity theft, and it "doesn't justify detention."
At the time the affidavit was unsealed, the government charged Novak with fraud involving identification documents. The section of the U.S. Code he's accused of violating makes it illegal for any person who "knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law."
Novak has not been charged with possession of classified material. And while federal agents found several weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home, he has not been accused of plotting any violent act.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter, Crowe detailed how two undercover employees -- known as "UCEs" in FBI parlance, for "undercover confidential employees" -- approached Novak about secret documents he might have.
Novak had originally come to the attention of the FBI after another undercover employee had encountered him in Utah, where Novak had attended a military intelligence school.
When Novak left active duty military service in September 2012, he joined the Minnesota Army National Guard. But the Guard didn't have any openings for the intelligence job Novak had held with the 82nd Airborne, so he had to go to school at Camp Williams in Riverton, Utah, to train for another intelligence position.
While at Camp Williams, the two undercover men introduced themselves to Novak as members of a militia, and Novak allegedly told them he could train them in various military intelligence techniques.
The two men came to Minnesota in July to meet Novak. They met for breakfast and then bought a digital camera to be used to photograph the documents Novak possessed.
There was another secret document Novak allegedly showed them; the FBI affidavit doesn't say what it was, nor did Crowe testify about what was in it. But he said it was classified material.
The agent said that at a later meeting, Novak showed the men a personnel roster of soldiers he'd served with at Fort Bragg, N.C., and names from that list was what the undercover men wound up buying.
In all, they bought 92 names and identifying information for $4,000.
"It was very clear that the sale of these names was to be used for criminal purposes," Crowe told Noel.
"He stated that this was a document you could use to disappear with," the agent claimed Novak told the undercover men. "He was looking to get false identification for the members of his militia."
But under questioning by Folk, Crowe said the idea for buying the lists of names came from the undercover men.
When agents raided Novak's Maplewood apartment, they found five weapons, 1,000 rounds of loaded ammunition and another 4,000 rounds of loose ammunition, Crowe said.
The FBI affidavit included draft transcriptions of secretly recorded conversations between Novak and the undercover men in which Novak said he slept with at least two guns and that he had plans for how to blast his way out of the apartment if federal agents ever came calling.
"It's an expendable place to me," he said of his apartment in one of the conversations. "I get what I need and I get out. The only thing that matters is the ruck on my back and the rifle in my hands at that point."