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Obamacare, Judge Hudson & FCC

Monday’s decision by Federal Judge Henry Hudson to declare part of “Obamacare” unconstitutional brought back a name from the past with a little known connection to FCC. In the late 1980s, having been exiled from the Office of Engineering and Technology for the sin of creating what became Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and offending traditionalists both inside and outside FCC, you blogger was spending his exile in the former Field Operations Bureau, predecessor of today’s Enforcement Bureau.

On Labor Day weekend 1987, the Playboy satellite channel’s uplink was jammed by an unknown source for a minute or so with an image containing biblical text. The previous year, after the Captain Midnight HBO satellite jamming incident, Congress had passed 18 USC 1367 criminalizing satellite jamming (but not any other types of jamming). The Playboy incident was the first case after the new law was enacted. The same team that solved the Captain Midnight case in about a week went to work on this case also. George Dillon headed the overall investigation and I handled the technical side. In a little over a week, we verified that the jamming came from Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in Virginia Beach, VA and through great detective work and initiative by the late J. J. Freeman, Engineer-in-Charge of the FCC’s Norfolk Office at the time, we had a key piece of CBN’s equipment we could soon match with recordings of the jamming signal and proof that the only person working at the time was one Thomas Haney.

FCC, following normal procedure for criminal violations of laws relating to its jurisdiction referred the case for possible prosecution to the appropriate U. S. Attorney - Henry Hudson in the Eastern District of Virginia. Then ... nothing happened.

We found out that Mr. Hudson had 2 dilemmas: first, he had recently lead Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (“Meese Commission”) and had pressured mainstream media outlets from stocking magazines like Playboy; second, at that time Pat Robertson was a viable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination (later won by Bush 41) and was the darling of the Republican right wing establishment. There was probably fear that prosecution of Haney might uncover wrongdoing by Robertson himself. (In retrospect, there was never any evidence that anyone at CBN other than Mr. Haney had any a priori involvement with the jamming, but there was evidence that after the event CBN managers, not necessarily Mr. Robertson, were involved in a coverup and destruction of evidence.)

It was reported to FCC that Mr. Hudson ultimately met with Attorney General Meese to discuss this relatively obscure case and recused himself from it based on some undisclosed conflict relating to Playboy. Meese let Hudson recuse himself and assigned a career prosecutor from the DOJ Criminal Division to prosecute the case successfully and convict Mr. Haney of a felony. I think the FCC team was ultimately happier with the seasoned pro we got than it would have been dealing with Mr. Hudson’s ambivalent staff. However, Congress had recently passed 18 USC 1367 and Mr. Hudson’s ambivalence to congressional intent always surprised me.

(It is ironic that today CBN’s Washington Bureau is located at ... 1919 M St., NW - the FCC’s former headquarters!)
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