ROCKPORT — The part-time emergency medical technician facing charges for storing an anti-tank rocket launcher among a cache of other weapons, has been cited by Forbes.com, Business Week and other publications as a telecommunications expert focused on global intelligence and "surveillance countermeasures."
Records also show that, in April 2007, James M. Atkinson, of 31R Broadway, provided written testimony for a U.S. House committee for an investigation into the U.S. Coast Guard's Deepwater program to replace or upgrade virtually all of its ships, planes and helicopters.
And David Rome, who owns the Easy Ship & Pack shop in the Cape Ann Marketplace, verified yesterday that — contrary to initial police reports — mailbox (Suite) 291 is a business address registered to Granite Island Group, Atkinson's security consulting firm.
But there is no record of Granite Island Group registered with the state's Corporation Division and several links listed on the group's Web site to government Web sites, such as the CIA and National Security Administration, don't work.
Attempts to verify Atkinson's claims with the NSA were unsuccessful yesterday.
A number of links on his Web site send people to the correct Web pages for the FBI, CIA and U.S. Department of Justice, but Rockport Police, who've been unable to find any past criminal record for Atkinson, are awaiting word from various federal agencies pertaining to Atkinson's claims.
Atkinson has been suspended without pay from Rockport's Ambulance Department pending the outcome of the charges.
The 47-year-old was arrested Dec. 1 on charges of larceny over $250 by a single scheme and obstruction of justice after he promised to deliver over $32,000 in surveillance equipment to a Switzerland-based gas turbine business but never delivered the goods even after the money was deposited into his account.
Atkinson's license to carry firearms was suspended and he was required to turn over his guns. Police said he turned in three guns, two of which were unregistered, and over 2,000 rounds of more than 16 types of ammunition.
But when police noticed he handed in ammunition for guns he hadn't turned over, they obtained a search warrant for his apartment.
According to police reports, officers discovered firearms that included two .22-caliber pistols, a .357-caliber handgun, a rifle; hundreds of rounds of ammunition for a wide range of firearms, including a Glock handgun; Mace; military-grade smoke bombs; more than 1,000 pills without corresponding prescriptions; a tear gas launcher; a "U.S. Army" M190 rocket launcher; and what police estimated to be millions of dollars worth of surveillance equipment.
Most of the weapons and ammunition were found inside a locked closet. The rocket launcher is described in a U.S. Army manual as a 35mm, light, anti-tank practice rocket launcher.
Atkinson pleaded not guilty to 16 charges — 13 misdemeanors and three felonies — in Gloucester District Court on Monday; Judge Joseph Jennings reduced Atkinson's bail to $3,500 despite a request from the district attorney's office that bail be increased to $100,000, police said.
Atkinson was released from Middleton Jail yesterday after posting bail. But police yesterday said nearly two dozen handguns and rifles registered to Atkinson are still not accounted for and investigations are ongoing.
Tracing his claims
Various documentation indicates many of Atkinson's statements about his background and qualifications, as expressed on the Granite Island Group's Web site (www.tscm.com), are true. Atkinson claims to have been trained by the U.S. government in intelligence, covert operations, technical surveillance and cryptanalysis.
The former U.S. Air Force officer also said he is one of a few people working in the private sector who have graduated from the National Security Association's (NSA) Tempest School at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
In an Aug. 10, 2000, article from Forbes.com, Atkinson is quoted as saying "Tempest is not a spying technology" but rather a "classified government standard meant to prevent spying on computer monitors and other equipment from afar."
A Business Week article from June 2000 features Atkinson and explains how he sweeps offices for "technical surveillance" devices. Atkinson told the publication about one client, a small East Coast medical company, who called on Atkinson's services after noticing a videoconferencing camera turned itself on and began recording a meeting of its board.
In the Business Week story, Atkinson said he traced the culprit to a rival company in Asia where someone who had visited the small company months earlier had found a way to activate the camera remotely.
When he was first charged in Rockport, Atkinson told police that agents from the FBI and U.S. Customs were looking into the matter because the Swiss company was trying to have the equipment delivered to "Kabistan;" police later determined Atkinson was trying to remember Uzbekistan.
Atkinson said he wouldn't sell the equipment until the company produced an export document. However, e-mails obtained by police show the export documentation was attached and sent to Atkinson on Oct. 16. Atkinson also said he did not believe Uzbekistan was authorized to receive such equipment.
However, when police contacted the FBI, agents said Atkinson never contacted the Bureau regarding the transaction, and Uzbekistan does indeed have the authority to receive the type of surveillance equipment in question.
In their Sunday raid of his apartment, police charged Atkinson with four counts of possession of firearms without a firearm identification card (FID) (three guns, one rifle); possession of an infernal machine (rocket launcher); possession of ammunition without a license; two counts of possession of a large capacity device (four fully loaded magazines); unlawful possession of fireworks; possession of mace without a license; and six counts of possession of class E drugs without a prescription.
Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.