ALBANY -- A plot to design a radiation weapon that could fit in a small van and be used to silently kill humans was unraveled by an FBI task force that charged two men -- a General Electric Co. industrial mechanic from Saratoga County and a computer software expert from Columbia County -- with conspiring to sell the weapon to Jewish groups or a southern branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
A federal complaint unsealed Wednesday in Albany said the vehicle-mounted radiation gear was intended to be remotely controlled and capable of aiming a high-energy lethal beam of radioactivity at human targets. The concept was that victims would mysteriously die from radiation poisoning within days.
The FBI on Tuesday arrested Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, of Galway, and Eric J. Feight, 54, of Hudson, who are accused of developing "a radiation emitting device that could be placed in the back of a van to covertly emit ionizing radiation strong enough to bring about radiation sickness or death against Crawford's enemies," according to an FBI agent's sworn complaint.
Crawford, who was suspended from his job at GE in Schenectady this week, and Feight, who previously worked for an electronics company near Hudson, are acquaintances who over the past year had devised a plan to build and sell the weapon to a terrorist organization, according to the FBI. Crawford's role was to design and build the radiation device and its power supply, the complaint states.
Feight's role was to design and build the electronic triggering device that could be used to activate the weapon from a safe distance, the complaint states.
The men, both married, were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists for use of a weapon of mass destruction. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
They never actually obtained a radiation source and the device was not fully constructed, officials said.
Crawford was arrested Tuesday at an out-of-business auto body shop in Rensselaer County where he went to assemble and test the device, authorities said.
During the past year, the complaint indicates Crawford communicated and met regularly with an undercover FBI employee posing as a supplier of radiation equipment, such as X-ray tubes used in medical devices or construction test gear. Early-on, the undercover FBI employee sent an email to Crawford with pictures of different X-ray systems he could arrange to supply.
The FBI's investigation began in April 2012 when, the complaint says, Crawford went to a Capital Region synagogue and "asked to speak with a person who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies, specifically, by killing Israel's enemies while they slept."
Later that day, Crawford telephoned an Albany Jewish organization, using his cell phone, and made a similar offer, the complaint states. An FBI agent's affidavit indicates that someone at the unidentified synagogue contacted police, who relayed the information to the FBI. At that point the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Albany launched an investigation and began monitoring Crawford.
Rabbi Matthew Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady on Wednesday recounted that a "strange man" came to his synagogue in April 2012 and began discussing a device he developed that would protect the Jewish people, though he did not specify what it was. Cutler said that when he and colleagues told the man they were not interested, he asked for suggestions on what he could do with his creation and employees told him to contact the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York.
"They had a hard time getting rid of him," Cutler said. "He had this device, this plan on what to do."
The employees, who are secretaries, were so shaken by the interaction they notified Guilderland police, Cutler said. He said he believes police interviewed Crawford and the synagogue increased security after the troubling interaction.
It took the FBI less than a month to get informants and an undercover agent close to Crawford. Beginning in May 2012, the FBI began recording conversations between Crawford and the undercover sources. In December, after Feight had been enlisted in the plot by Crawford, the FBI obtained a search warrant that enabled them to monitor Crawford's and Feight's cellphone calls, emails and text messages, according to the complaint.
The FBI complaint states that on June 5, 2012, Crawford met at a Scotia restaurant with a person working as a confidential source for the FBI. Crawford allegedly talked about his enemies and of being "tired of getting 'raped,' that there are people out there who have decided that they don't get their fair share in life, and that (Crawford) wanted to stop these people."
In telephone calls recorded by the FBI, Crawford also identified himself as "a member of the Ku Klux Klan, specifically, the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."
Crawford is listed on several websites as a member of Americans Demanding Liberty and Freedom, a Galway-based tea party group.
Two months ago, in a five-part text message monitored by the FBI, Crawford discussed a battery power-supply for the weapon in messages laced with political anger. The text messages were sent on April 15, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.
"Well, tell it to your treasoness bedwetting maggot in chief," Crawford wrote, apparently referring to President Barack Obama, according to a transcript in the complaint. "He started bringing the scumbags (here) wholesale as he got in charge. He directed the ins (a former U.S. immigration agency) to start bringing the muzzies here without background checks."
In numerous conversations of Crawford's recounted in the complaint, he expresses awareness that the government may be monitoring his communications and purchases. He developed a system of code words, and said he planned to obtain fake identification listing his name as "Dimitri" in order to purchase items related to the alleged plot. Feight's code name was "Yoda," according to the complaint.
An FBI affidavit indicates that as many as eight unidentified people may have been assisting Crawford, including a fellow GE employee described as "Person C." The complaint implies that some of those individuals may have known at least elements of what Crawford was trying to do.
During the meeting at the Scotia restaurant a year ago, Crawford described his plan to an undercover informant to construct a powerful industrial X-ray machine that would be powered by a makeshift, 2,000-watt battery. The plan included an attempt by Crawford to find part-time work in a metal shop where he would have access to X-ray tubes containing radioactive materials, the complaint states.
"Crawford also told the (source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community," the complaint states. "Crawford described the device's capabilities as 'Hiroshima on a light switch' and that 'everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'"
Crawford ended the meeting by stating "how much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?"
According to federal authorities, Crawford recruited Feight, who had worked for a manufacturer of electronic control devices in Hudson, to assist him with the design and construction of the device. Feight, a GE vendor, met Crawford last year through their association at General Electric Co., according to the complaint.
Under the plot described by the FBI, Crawford set about building the radiation device while Feight conceived the electronic controls. The two men met May 20 in Albany and Feight gave a remote-transmission device to Crawford. They had planned a test to take place at an undisclosed hotel in the Albany area.
The suspects had successfully tested the remote triggering system that could work from a little less than a half mile away from the weapon, the complaint states. On June 12, they planned to have a dinner where Crawford would be provided with the radiation system, which was not finished. When the men were meeting, the FBI was monitoring their activities, including using undercover informants who posed as members of a South Carolina Ku Klux Klan group interested in purchasing the device and financing the project.
On Tuesday, the FBI seized a vehicle of Crawford's at Shorty's, an out-of-business auto body shop Schaghticoke, where Crawford had allegedly planned to conduct a test-run of the triggering system. A law enforcement official said the auto business had nothing to do with the plot.
Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan said Crawford was arrested at 3 p.m. Tuesday as he was "in the process of attempting to assemble various components of this device. Again, the entire operation was under very close control of the JTTF and, as a result he did not have the opportunity to do that. This device was never going to be capable the way it was set up of emitting any dangerous X-ray radiation."
Crawford and Feight, who was also arrested Tuesday, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Albany on Wednesday afternoon. U.S. Magistrate Christian Hummel told Crawford he would be assigned an attorney. "Is it going to be the right kind of attorney for this?" Crawford said to the judge.
The judge ordered both men held without bond pending detention hearings scheduled for Thursday. They each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, federal prosecutors said.
In a statement, General Electric said: "On Tuesday afternoon the FBI informed GE that Glendon Scott Crawford, a GE manufacturing employee, was arrested for a criminal act. We have no reason to believe the act took place on GE property nor is there any information indicating that our employees' safety was ever compromised. Since this incident, Mr. Crawford has been suspended. We are cooperating fully with the authorities on their investigation."
The complaint indicates that Crawford, who lives on Hinds Road in Galway, is married and has three children, although that information could not be independently verified. On LinkedIn, a social media website that caters to business professionals, Crawford describes himself in a personal profile as an "obedient drone at GE." Published reports also indicate that Crawford's son, Glendon, is a former Galway High School honor student and a member of the New York Army National Guard.
In March, Crawford was among hundreds of people across the state who were listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature challenging the constitutionality of the NY SAFE Act, which placed new restrictions on the sale and ownership of firearms.
Feight, who lives on Knitt Road in Hudson, formerly worked as a computer software expert and "project engineer" for Smith Control Systems, a Hudson company. A company official said Feight has not worked at the company since 2010. "We have no knowledge of his activities since that date," the official said.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said the investigation "demonstrates how we must remain vigilant to detect and stop potential terrorists, who so often harbor hatred toward people they deem undesirable. ... I also commend the members of the Albany FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force for their unwavering commitment over the past 14 months to uncover the details of this plot, before anyone could be harmed bringing about today's arrests."
Robert Gavin, Chris Churchill, Scott Waldman, Matt Hamilton, Bob Gardinier, Hannah Nesich, Sarah Hinman-Ryan and Eric Anderson contributed reporting.
Copyright 2013 - Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service