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FBI Role in Terror Probe Questioned
Lawyers Point to Fine Line Between Sting and Entrapment
by Walter Pincus Washington Post September 2, 2006
Fascinating little snapshot of our FBI at work, giving stoner dingbats gov funds, arms and marching orders for terror-related sprees - and even inducting them into Al Qaeda, no less. Overall a creepy, retarded reminder of FBI facilitation in the '93 WTC bombing, except this crowd wanted to use bows and arrows so got outed rather fast. - Ed. Standing in an empty Miami warehouse on May 24 with a man he believed had ties to Osama bin Laden, a dejected Narseal Batiste talked of the setbacks to their terrorist plot and then uttered the words that helped put him in a federal prison cell. "I want to fight some jihad," he allegedly said. "That's all I live for."
What Batiste did not know was that the bin Laden representative was really an FBI informant. The warehouse in which they were meeting had been rented and wired for sound and video by bureau agents, who were monitoring his every word.
Within a month, Batiste, 32, and six of his compatriots were arrested and charged with conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization and bomb a federal building. On June 23, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales held a news conference to announce the destruction of a terrorist cell inside the United States, hailing "our commitment to preventing terrorism through energetic law enforcement efforts aimed at detecting and thwarting terrorist acts."
But court records released since then suggest that what Gonzales described as a "deadly plot" was virtually the pipe dream of a few men with almost no ability to pull it off on their own. The suspects have raised questions in court about the FBI informants' role in keeping the plan alive.
The plot featured self-proclaimed militant religious leaders who referred to themselves as kings, talked of establishing their own nation inside the United States, called their headquarters an embassy and discussed plans to train their recruits to use bows and arrows. One of their quixotic notions was to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower.
Batiste's father, a Christian preacher and former contractor who lives in Louisiana, told the news media after the indictment that his son was "not in his right mind" and needed psychiatric treatment.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, separating serious terrorist plotters from delusional dreamers has proved one of the FBI's most challenging tasks. The effort is complicated by the bureau's frequent use of informants who sometimes play active roles in the plotting.
U.S. law enforcement officials say they do not have the luxury of waiting for a terrorist plot to mature before they break it up. A delay, they say, could mean that a member of the plot they had not discovered might be able to pull off an attack.
At the news conference, Gonzales acknowledged that Batiste was nowhere near carrying out a terrorist act.
"Our philosophy here is that we try to identify plots in the earliest stages possible, because we don't know what we don't know about a terrorist plot," he said. It is dangerous to evaluate in advance that "this is a really dangerous group; this is not a dangerous group," he added.
But lawyers for the defendants have raised questions about where a government sting ends and entrapment begins. Not only did government informants provide money and a meeting place for Batiste and his followers, but they also gave them video cameras for conducting surveillance, as well as cellphones, and suggested that their first target be a Miami FBI office, court records show.
At the hearing, Batiste's attorney, John Wylie, showed that the FBI's investigation found no evidence that his client had met with any real terrorist, received e-mails or wire transfers from the Middle East, possessed any al-Qaeda literature, or had even a picture of bin Laden.
Asked for a response, a Justice Department spokesman referred a reporter to Gonzales's remarks about the case.
Court documents and testimony at hearings describe how the plot unfolded. Last October, Batiste allegedly contacted a Middle Eastern-born Miami resident who was about to travel to Yemen. The man dealt in fresh produce; Batiste was unaware that he was also a paid informant for the FBI.
The man -- known only as CW1 in court documents -- told his FBI handlers that Batiste had spoken of forming an army to wage jihad and overthrow the federal government. He said Batiste was "willing to work with al Qaeda to accomplish the mission and wanted to travel with [the informant] overseas to make appropriate connections," according to court documents.
The FBI would eventually pay the informant, who had previous arrests for assault and marijuana possession, $10,500 for his services in the Batiste investigation and reimburse him $8,815 for his expenses.
Over the next few weeks, the informant stayed in touch with Batiste and spent a night at the "embassy" where the group was headquartered. He reported seeing guns, karate practice and fighting drills that involved machetes.
By mid-November, the FBI decided to take a more active role. Agents introduced a more experienced Middle Eastern-born informant, CW2, to play the role of a potential financier to prevent Batiste from seeking money elsewhere. CW2, according to court papers, had worked for the FBI for six years and provided information that led to the arrests of two individuals on "terrorist-related charges."
But CW2 soon also took a key role in the plotting, suggesting targets and supplying videotaping equipment, according to the court papers. His reward was $17,000 the FBI paid for his services, and approval of his petition for political asylum in the United States.
At their initial meeting, the second informant said he was there to "evaluate" Batiste's operation and asked what help he needed to carry out his "mission." Batiste drew up a list that included "uniforms, boots, automatic hand pistols, communications equipment like Nextel cell phones, an SUV truck, black in color," according to court documents. Two days later, he asked for more equipment, including a "mini .223 Bushmaster" rifle.
Three days before Christmas, Batiste and CW2 met again, and Batiste talked for the first time about destroying Chicago's Sears Tower, a landmark in a city where he once worked as a FedEx delivery driver and still had associates. Batiste said he would take advantage of the ensuing chaos to liberate Muslims from a nearby jail. They would form an army powerful enough to force the U.S. government to recognize the "Sovereign Moors" -- an offshoot of a religious group, the Moorish Science Temple, to which Batiste claimed allegiance -- as an independent nation.
A week later, when he met with CW2 again, Batiste asked for more firearms, radios, binoculars, bulletproof vests, SUVs and $50,000 in cash. He also invited the informant to join him on a trip to Chicago to meet his "two top generals" and look at the Sears Tower. But the trip never took place.
By the beginning of January, CW2 had offered Batiste a rent-free warehouse large enough for training. In reality, the FBI wanted a new meeting spot because it could not carry out surveillance at the "embassy," which was located in a high-crime area where agents would be easily spotted. At the same time, however, Batiste began to mistrust CW2 because of his numerous questions and ended direct contact with him for a while.
In mid-January, the first informant contacted Batiste's closest associate in the group to report that approval for the plan had come from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. When bin Laden issued a public statement saying that al-Qaeda would soon strike in the United States, the informant passed word to Batiste that it was a reference to the missions he was planning.
CW2 soon informed Batiste that an explosives expert in Europe -- actually a Scotland Yard agent -- was ready to come and help.
On Feb. 19, Batiste met with CW2 in a videotaped session at the informant's Miami apartment, where he "outlined his plan to wage jihad in the United States," according to court records. Batiste said he would conduct a "full ground war" and "kill all the devils we can," beginning with "taking down the Sears Tower in Chicago and attacking a prison to free Muslim Brothers who are incarcerated."
When Batiste grew impatient for money early in March, CW2 placated him by formally swearing him into al-Qaeda. In a ceremony recorded by the FBI, the informant read an English translation of the al-Qaeda loyalty oath, "welcomed Batiste to al Qaeda and declared that al Qaeda and the Moors were officially united," according to court papers. The informant and Batiste also selected a two-story warehouse as their new headquarters and training site.
On March 15, the FBI wired the warehouse for sound and video. The next night, before a secret camera, CW2 administered an English translation of the al-Qaeda oath to six members of Batiste's group, four of whom called themselves "prince" and two who were addressed as "brother."
The men also face charges of conspiring to aid a terrorist group.
Acting on instructions from the FBI, CW2 told the group that his al-Qaeda bosses were planning to attack FBI buildings in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. He asked that Batiste and his group assist by providing video of the Miami FBI building, "which would be sent back to al Qaeda overseas," according to court papers. He also gave Batiste a video camera.
In late March, driving a van provided by the informant, Batiste and two associates videotaped and photographed the FBI building, as CW2 had requested. They also taped the federal courthouse and detention center, and the Miami police headquarters.
CW2 later expressed interest in meeting Batiste's Chicago associates and said al-Qaeda would pay to have them come to Miami. Batiste called Charles James Stewart, also known as Sultan Khan Bey, and his wife in Chicago, where Stewart leads his own branch of the Moorish Science Temple. With $3,500 in FBI money, Batiste paid for them to come to Miami.
Court papers show that Stewart is a convicted rapist with a long arrest record for other serious crimes. On April 11, with FBI cameras rolling, Stewart and Batiste sat in the Miami warehouse and discussed opening a shop to sell marijuana and drug pipes. They smoked marijuana as they talked, and Stewart revealed his plan to build a Moorish nation of 10,000 people.
Stewart wanted to make his wife, whom he called Queen Zakiyaah, an ambassador of the Moorish nation so she could not be detained by U.S. authorities. He said Moorish soldiers would wear green uniforms and become expert with bows and arrows. They would undergo night training that included jumping from a bridge into water 20 feet below.
But within days, Stewart and Batiste began to have differences over control of the organization and its mission. On April 17, the conflict broke into the open and Stewart tried Batiste under Moorish law on charges of treason and insubordination. He questioned "his relationship and association with the Arabian or Nigerian mafia," a reference to the second FBI informant.
Two days later, Stewart, now running what was left of Batiste's group, was arrested by Miami police after he fired a shot at one of Batiste's supporters.
On May 5, after a local hearing on the shooting, federal weapons charges were lodged against Stewart. Federal agents asked whether he knew of any plots against the United States, and Stewart began talking about Batiste's mission as one that was "starting to get serious," a phrase later cited in court by prosecutors. Stewart became a witness against Batiste and the others.
The defendants have signaled that they will contest the government's actions. At a July 5 detention hearing, Nathan Clark, an attorney for one member of the group, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted E. Bandstra that the ceremony at which the defendants took the al-Qaeda oath was "induced by the government themselves in an effort to set these people up."
"What we see is this entire organization, by the government's own admission, falling apart. . . . Nobody really believes that these people are capable of doing anything," he said.
In the end, Bandstra ruled that the seven would have to remain in jail because the allegations were "disturbing." But he added that "the plans appear to be beyond the present ability of these defendants" and said he expected their attorneys to argue the government's actions at trial.
Researchers Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
So - it happened in Canada, it's happened in the US, we know it happens here. When will this be more widely known?
I read today that about 75% of Americans are afraid of terrorism, about 5% more than last year!
New Terror: Cells With No Links to Al Qaeda By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball Newsweek
May 21, 2007 issue - The men who gathered inside the small Bronx apartment were tense, and they chatted nervously before the ceremony. The participants, among them a New York City musician and an emergency-room doctor from Florida, had allegedly gathered to meet a "brother" from Canada who called himself Ali. The brother had come with a message—from "Sheik Osama."
"You are in the belly of the enemy," the man from Canada warned, and cautioned his audience to be careful whom they spoke to. "The oppressors are everywhere." Once it was clear they all understood, the jazz musician bent to his knees, clutched the visitor's hand and took a solemn oath. He pledged to be "one of Islam's soldiers ... on the road to jihad." The doctor allegedly did the same. Then they each embraced the oath giver, the final step in Al Qaeda's sacred initiation ritual.
An audiotape of that extraordinary scene played in a federal courtroom last week as one of the initiates, Dr. Rafiq Sabir, a graduate of Columbia University Medical School, stood trial on federal charges that he provided material support to terrorists. What Sabir and the others didn't know when they attended the ceremony two years ago was that the man administering the oath was not really a jihadist, but Ali Soufan, an undercover FBI agent who had spent the better part of his career hunting Qaeda operatives.
Sabir's defense lawyer has cried entrapment. The accused himself later testified he had no idea that the Sheik Osama he was heard pledging his loyalty to was the Qaeda terror chief named bin Laden. But the musician, an accomplished jazz bassist named Tarik Shah who once played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, has already pleaded guilty to a terror-related charge. So have two other men in the case, a Washington, D.C., cabdriver and a Brooklyn bookstore owner. The FBI counts the case as one more victory in what it considers to be its top-priority mission: finding would-be terrorists before they can carry out their plans.
Federal officials say the case—along with a half dozen other recent investigations—is part of a worrisome trend: copycat jihadist cells that spring up inside the United States without any concrete connection to Qaeda central or other foreign terror organizations. Concerns were reinforced last week when the Justice Department announced it had busted a plot by six men—including four ethnic Albanians, three of whom had entered the country illegally more than 20 years ago—to attack Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. The Feds say the men undertook firearms training in the Pocono mountains and conducted surveillance of Fort Dix and other U.S. military facilities. But they weren't exactly professional conspirators. The men made a video of themselves shooting guns and shouting "God is great" in Arabic, and took it to a local Circuit City to have DVD copies made. A store employee, alarmed by the content, called the police. The group ended up talking to undercover federal informants about acquiring weapons, including fully automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. (The men were charged but not indicted last week.)
Homegrown groups lack the expertise of terrorists who undertake training in Qaeda camps, which probably makes them more prone to blunder. But terrorists overseas do aim to encourage such freelancers, who—in theory—are harder to identify and track because they can pop up anywhere. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are now using sophisticated English-language videos and Web sites to inspire followers in Europe and America to start their own jihadist cells. "We have seen an increase in the number of self-radicalized groups that use the Internet ... and are not organized by overseas groups," FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters last week.
Al Qaeda puts out a steady supply of videos to inspire the faithful; last year the group produced 48. And they are no longer the clumsy and amateurish productions of a few years ago. Many have English subtitles or are narrated in perfect English by a man who calls himself "Azzam the American"—a California expat, born Adam Gadahn—who converted to Islam and joined Al Qaeda. Law-enforcement officials compare this to a Madison Avenue ad campaign. "Al Qaeda is banking on the idea that if they pump up the volume and increase the number of messages, they'll be able to push fence-sitters over the edge," says a senior law-enforcement official who asked not to be named discussing intelligence issues.
How effective is the propaganda? It's impossible to quantify. The New Jersey case seems to show that at least some believers get inspiration from what they can download from the Web. According to the FBI complaint in the case, one of the key figures in the plot had DVD files of the last will and testament of two of the 9/11 hijackers on his laptop. He also had images of bin Laden and other jihadist leaders exhorting believers to join the cause. The FBI complaint describes defendants erupting in laughter when they watched a war video showing an American Marine's hand being blown off.
But some of the FBI's operations have rounded up disaffected losers who might have been looking for trouble anyway. Over the past two years, the FBI has brought a spate of domestic terrorism cases involving people who were allegedly plotting attacks. In August 2005, the Justice Department indicted four men on charges of planning to attack synagogues and U.S. military installations in southern California. The alleged ringleaders were two former inmates of California's Folsom prison who converted to Islam and formed a radical group dedicated to "killing infidels." (All of the defendants pleaded not guilty; their trial is scheduled for August.) In January the FBI arrested Derrick Shareef, of Rockford, Ill., on charges that he was allegedly planning to plant hand grenades in garbage cans in a local shopping mall. (He pleaded not guilty.) A law-enforcement official who asked not to be named talking about intel matters tells NEWSWEEK that the Feds discovered Shareef had downloaded a 48-minute video by Gadahn, with an intro by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In other cases, the Feds also arrested alleged plotters in Florida and Ohio.
A list like that can make it seem as though terrorists are all around us. But law-enforcement officials don't know whether any of the alleged conspirators had the will or means to carry out actual attacks. Critics have claimed that in some of the cases, including the one in New York, FBI informants, posing as radicals, encouraged defendants to say questionable things. "It's not like these were spontaneous plots," said Niwad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "What you have are informants who are going to disgruntled, totally messed-up people and trying to provoke them."
But FBI officials insist that they have to rely on undercover agents and informants to identify future terrorists before they strike. That's what they did in the New York case. The investigation began more than four years ago when a confidential informant reported to the FBI that Tarik Shah, the jazz musician, was trying to establish links to Al Qaeda. Shah, who at one time was associated with the Nation of Islam, was also a martial-arts instructor. He purportedly wanted to help train Qaeda members in hand-to-hand combat. Acting under instructions from the FBI, the informant set up a meeting between Shah and FBI agent Soufan, who was posing as a Qaeda operative.
Soufan was the rarest of G-men—a Muslim native of Lebanon, he spoke fluent Arabic and was regarded as one of the bureau's leading Qaeda experts. He had worked the FBI's biggest cases against the organization. Still, when he donned a wire and began meeting with Shah, Soufan was nervous. Shah would boast of his martial-arts expertise. "You really want to learn how to rip somebody's throat out?" Shah asks Soufan at one point on the FBI tape. Shah later introduced Soufan to his other friends, including Sabir, the Florida ER physician, who was also a former Nation of Islam follower. During the meeting in the Bronx apartment, he allegedly volunteered to help treat wounded Qaeda "brothers" during an upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia. Even though neither Shah nor Sabir ever had a real relationship with Al Qaeda, Soufan says the case is a classic example of how the FBI should work. During the course of their dealings, Shah had identified three associates—including one who had been to a training camp in Pakistan, and another who had offered to provide funding to mujahedin in Afghanistan and Chechnya. "It was a good catch," he says. "We got three guys. We got them cold and we got them by the book. I consider this a proactive counterterrorism operation."
The FBI says it is doing all it can to forge links with members of the Islamic community that will lead to tips about suspicious behavior. John Miller, the bureau's assistant director for public affairs, told a Senate panel last week that the FBI has been stepping up its recruitment programs in American Muslim communities—it even sponsored a "Children's Day" fair at Giants Stadium last year for the Muslim community in New Jersey.
But for all its efforts, the FBI still has only a handful of Muslim agents and only 40 who are "proficient" in Arabic despite incentive packages that include 25 percent pay hikes for Arabic speakers. (It has been unable to find any agents who are proficient in Urdu and Pashto, the key languages in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding.) The bureau and other agencies have been hampered in part by tight security restrictions against hiring Arabic and other foreign-language specialists who have traveled or have relatives overseas—a rule that makes it more difficult to recruit native speakers.
Hanging on to the ones they have isn't easy, either. Soufan himself has gone the way of many hardworking agents. After struggling against some of the government's tactics in the war on terror (he reportedly objected to the CIA's aggressive interrogation techniques), he left the agency. Now he's putting his expertise to work for Rudy Giuliani's private security firm. The pay is better, and it's a lot less dangerous. But it means there's one less gumshoe working the Qaeda beat.
This post has been edited by Bridget on May 23 2007, 10:12 AM
A Florida doctor was convicted of providing material support to terrorists by agreeing to treat injured al-Qaida fighters so they could return to Iraq to fight Americans.
Dr. Rafiq Abdus Sabir, 52, was convicted Monday in Manhattan federal court after a trial that featured testimony by an FBI agent who posed as an al-Qaida recruiter in a sting operation that led to four arrests.
The charges against the New York City-born Sabir carried a potential maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Sept. 12.
When the verdict was read, Sabir looked straight ahead. As he was escorted from the courtroom, he waved to supporters, who said, "Stay strong."
"We are deeply disappointed in the verdict," his lawyer, Ed Wilford, said. "It is another example of the erosion of constitutional rights we suffered post-9/11."
Jurors had heard audio tapes of a May 2005 ceremony in a New York apartment in which Sabir and his best friend, Tariq Shah, a martial arts expert and jazz musician, pledged loyalty to al-Qaida and, the government alleged, Osama bin Laden.
Shah pleaded guilty just before trial to providing material support to a terrorist organization and agreed to serve 15 years in prison, though he has not yet been formally sentenced. A New York bookstore owner who pleaded guilty was sentenced to 13 years in prison. A Washington, D.C., cab driver has pleaded guilty and agreed to serve 15 years in prison.
Sabir had testified that Shah never told him he was talking with an al-Qaida recruiter. At the pledge ceremony, Soufan mispronounced al-Qaida more than a dozen times, Sabir said.
He also said he did not know "sheik Osama" meant bin Laden.
Prosecutors had no immediate comment on the verdict.
Juror Jeffrey Ellsworth said he decided Sabir was guilty after he played Sabir in a jury room reenactment of Sabir's pledging ceremony.
"By the time I was done, I knew he was guilty," Ellsworth said.
He said it became clear to him when he realized Sabir said "al-Qaida" near the end of the transcript after others said it more than a dozen times.
Sabir had claimed he did not know he was pledging to al-Qaida because others had mispronounced it.
Group: J7 Forum Team
Member No.: 5
Joined: 4-December 05
1. In order to foil a terrorist plot, you must first find a terrorist plot. This is not easy.
2. Not just anyone can find and then foil a terrorist plot. You must have an incentive. The best incentive is to be an accused felon, looking at a long prison term. Under such circumstances, your lawyer will explain to you, you may be able to reduce your sentence by acting as an informant in a criminal case, preferably one involving terrorists.
3. The fact that you do not know any actual terrorists should not in any way deter you. Necessity is the mother of invention: if you can find the right raw material — a sad, sick, lonely, drunk, deranged, disgruntled or just plain anti-American Muslim somewhere in the United States — you can make your very own terrorist.
4. Now the good part begins. Money! The FBI will give you lots of money to take your very own terrorist out to lots of dinners where you, wearing a wire, can record yourself making recommendations to him about possible targets and weapons that might be used in the impending terrorist attack that your very own terrorist is going to mastermind, with your help. It will even buy you a computer so you can go to Google Earth in order to show your very own terrorist a "top secret" aerial image of the target you have suggested.
5. More money!! The FBI will give you even more money to travel to foreign countries with your very own terrorist, and it will make suggestions about terrorist groups you can meet while in said foreign countries.
6. Months and even years will pass in this fashion, while you essentially get the FBI to pay for everything you do. (Incidentally, be sure your lawyer negotiates your expense account well in advance, or you may be forced — as the informant was in the Buffalo terrorist case — to protest your inadequate remuneration by setting yourself on fire in front of the White House.)
7. At a certain point, something will go wrong. You may have trouble recruiting other people to collaborate with your very own terrorist, who is, as you yourself know, just an ordinary guy in a really bad mood. Or, alternatively, the terrorist cell you have carefully cobbled together may malfunction and fail to move forward — probably as a result of sheer incompetence or of simply not having been genuinely serious about the acts of terrorism you were urging it to commit. At this point, you may worry that the FBI is going to realize that there isn't much of a terrorist plot going on here at all, just a case of entrapment. Do not despair: the FBI is way ahead of you. The FBI knows perfectly well what's going on. The FBI has as much at stake as you do. So before it can be obvious to the world that there's no case, the FBI will arrest your very own terrorist, hold a press conference and announce that a huge terrorist plot has been foiled. It will of course be forced to admit that this plot did not proceed beyond the pre-planning stage, that no actual weapons or money were involved, and that the plot itself was "not technically feasible," but that will not stop the story from becoming a front-page episode all over America and, within hours, boilerplate for all the Republican politicians who believe that you need to arrest a "homegrown" terrorist now and then to justify the continuing war in Iraq. Everyone will be happy, except for the schmuck you shmikeled into becoming a terrorist, and no one really cares about him anyway.
So congratulations. You have foiled a terrorist plot. Way to go.
6. Months and even years will pass in this fashion, while you essentially get the FBI to pay for everything you do. (Incidentally, be sure your lawyer negotiates your expense account well in advance, or you may be forced — as the informant was in the Buffalo terrorist case — to protest your inadequate remuneration by setting yourself on fire in front of the White House.)
washingtonpost.com Terror Informant Ignites Himself Near White House Yemeni Was Upset at Treatment by FBI
By Caryle Murphy and Del Quentin Wilber Washington Post Staff Writers Tuesday, November 16, 2004; Page A01
A Falls Church man who worked as a federal informant on terrorism set himself on fire in front of the White House yesterday, hours after announcing his suicide attempt and citing his growing despondency over how the FBI managed his case.
Mohamed Alanssi, 52, approached the northwest guardhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue about 2:05 p.m. and asked the security detail to deliver a note to President Bush. When uniformed Secret Service officers turned him away, he stepped about 15 feet from the guard post and used a lighter to ignite his jacket, according to the U.S. Park Police.
Secret Service officers wrestled him to the ground and doused the flames with fire extinguishers. Alanssi was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he was listed in critical condition with burns over about 30 percent of his body, authorities said.
Alanssi, who is from Yemen and also uses the name Mohamed Alhadrami, recently discussed his work as a federal informant in a series of interviews with The Washington Post. Yesterday morning, he informed the newspaper by faxed letter and by telephone that he was going to "burn my body at unexpected place." He also sent a copy of a letter he said he had faxed to the FBI agent in New York who is handling his case. The Post alerted the agent and provided a copy of the letter.
In two telephone conversations yesterday, Alanssi told a Post reporter that he would provide 10 minutes' notice of his suicide attempt and that only then would he reveal the location. When he called a third time, Alanssi said he had poured gasoline and would be setting himself on fire in two minutes, not 10, and it would take place near the White House. The newspaper informed D.C. police, who notified the special operations unit and the U.S. Park Police, which has jurisdiction over Lafayette Square.
In the recent interviews, Alanssi expressed anguish over not being able to visit his family in Yemen. He said that he suffers from diabetes and heart problems and that his wife is seriously ill with stomach cancer. Alanssi said he could not travel to his native country because he has no money and because the FBI, which is expecting him to testify at a terrorism trial in New York, was keeping his Yemeni passport.
"I must travel to Yemen to see my sick wife (stomac cancer) and my family before I testify at the court or any other places," Alanssi wrote FBI agent Robert Fuller in New York, according to the copy he provided The Post yesterday. "Why you don't care about my life and my family's life? Once I testify my family will be killed in Yemen, me too I will be dead man."
The FBI declined to comment on Alanssi's identity or his claims of working with the bureau. "We don't have a policy on revealing who is a cooperator or informing witness," said Joe Valiquette, an FBI spokesman in New York. The U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of New York, which is prosecuting the terrorism-related trial in January, also declined to comment.
Alanssi, who described himself as a once-successful businessman in Yemen, also was upset with the FBI because he said agents had not kept promises they made to secure his cooperation. Those promises included a large, but unspecified, amount of money, eventual U.S. citizenship and protection of his identity, he said.
Alanssi said that he went to the FBI in New York shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and offered information on alleged financers of al Qaeda working in Yemen. He said he quickly became a major informant for the FBI, on occasion traveling to Yemen to gather intelligence.
He volunteered that the FBI paid him $100,000 in 2003. But he said he had been expecting much more because he said some agents told him he would "be a millionaire." And although he was promised permanent residency in this country, he said, he has not received it.
Alanssi said he did not have enough money to pay his medical bills or buy his prescription drugs. He said he recently underwent an operation at a Fairfax hospital to unclog his arteries.
"It is my big mistake that I have cooperated with FBI," he said in a recent interview. "The FBI have already destroyed my life and my family's life and made us in a very danger position . . . I am not crazy to destroy my life and my family's life to get $100,000," he said.
Alanssi also alleged that the FBI had failed to adequately protect his role in a sting operation conducted in Germany in January 2003. That led to the arrest of Mohammed Ali Hassan Al Moayad, a Yemeni cleric who is slated to go on trial Jan. 10 in New York on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2003 that Moayad had "boasted jihad was his field and trumpeted his involvement in providing money, recruits and supplies to al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist groups."
Alanssi said he played an important role in the success of that sting operation by persuading Moayad to travel from Yemen to Frankfurt, where the undercover investigation was carried out. Moayad allegedly boasted -- while U.S. and German agents taped the encounter -- of sending money and recruits to al Qaeda.
In a Jan. 5, 2003, affidavit supporting Moayad's arrest warrant, Fuller said that he had been working with an informant since November 2001. He described him as a Yemeni citizen who had provided reliable information and who had "contributed, in part, to the arrests of 20 individuals and the seizure of over $1 million."
Alanssi's identity was leaked, along with details of his role, and the case was the subject of a Washington Post story in 2003 and accounts in the Yemeni press. As a result, Alanssi said, his family had been harassed and threatened in Yemen, where Moayad, 55, is a prominent leader in Islamist circles.
A short, stocky man, Alanssi said that he was in the United States on a visitor's visa seeking business opportunities when the 2001 terrorist attacks took place. He said that he worked for the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in the mid-1970s and that he was angered by the attacks because he likes Americans.
He also saw an opportunity, he said, to pursue his dream of making it in business in this country.
In recent interviews with The Post, Alanssi, who has six children, sometimes was visibly upset, once breaking down in sobs.
In the letter faxed to The Post, Alanssi wrote: "I would like to tell all American People that I love them and I am proud to be a good friend for all American People, and I am asking them: Do you think what FBI did to me is it FARE or UNFAIR."
The incident rattled police officers and passersby outside the White House, where Pennsylvania Avenue was reopened to pedestrians recently. John and Beverly Beers, both 48, had just arrived from DeLand, Fla., and were out for a walk.
"I heard someone screaming," Beverly Beers said. "I saw flames, really quick, because they put them out. And then he was laying on the ground. . . . I just figured it was a person trying to get attention."
Staff writers David Cho, Maureen Fan and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
"So, what you wanna do?" the friend asked. "A target?" the wanna-be jihadi replied. "I want some type of city-hall-type stuff, federal courthouses."
It was late November 2006, and twenty-two-year-old Derrick Shareef and his friend Jameel were hanging out in Rockford, Illinois, dreaming about staging a terrorist attack on America. The two men weren't sure what kind of assault they could pull off. All Shareef knew was that he wanted to cause major damage, to wreak vengeance on the country he held responsible for oppressing Muslims worldwide. "Smoke a judge," Shareef said. Maybe firebomb a government building.
But while Shareef harbored violent fantasies, he was hardly a serious threat as a jihadi. An American-born convert to Islam, he had no military training and no weapons. He had less than $100 in the bank. He worked in a dead-end job as a clerk in a video-game store. He didn't own a car. So dire were his circumstances, Shareef had no place to live. Then one day, Jameel, a fellow Muslim, had shown up at EB Games and offered him shelter. Within hours of meeting his new brother, Shareef had moved in with Jameel and his three wives and nine children. Living together, the pair fantasized about targets in Rockford, a Midwestern city of 150,000, with a minuscule Muslim population and the lone claim to fame of being the hometown of Cheap Trick.
The fact that Shareef was a loser with no means of living out his imagination didn't stop his friend from encouraging his delusions of grandeur. On the contrary, Jameel continually pushed Shareef to escalate his plans. "When you wanna plan on doing this?" he asked Shareef, talking about the plot to go after a government building. "Because we have to make specific plans and dates."
"I wanna case one first," Shareef said. There was only one problem: Jameel's car was in the garage getting repaired. "We can case one when you get the car back."
"What about time frame?" Jameel prodded.
"I like the holiday season," Shareef said, displaying an ambivalence unusual in a suicide bomber hellbent on murdering civilians. "Hell, we ain't gotta hit nobody —just blow the place up."
Finding a meaningful target to blow up in Rockford isn't easy. A hardscrabble town in the middle of America, the place is not much more than an intersection of interstates and railway lines, with little of note that might attract the attention of terrorists. So Jameel suggested the main attraction in town: CherryVale Mall, a sad-sack collection of clothing stores and sneaker shops on the outskirts of Rockford. "The mall's good," he told Shareef.
"I swear by Allah, man, I'm down for it too," Shareef said. "I'm down for the cause. I'm down to live for the cause and die for the cause, man."
When Jameel got his car back from the garage, the two men went to case the mall.
"If you ever wanna back out . . . 'cause, you gotta let me know," Jameel said. "I'm checking your heart now."
"I'm down," Shareef said.
"We ain't gonna get caught," Jameel assured him. "Don't worry."
"I'm not worried about getting caught," Shareef replied. "Not alive."
For all his bluster, Shareef was, by any objective measure, a pathetic and hapless jihadist — one of a new breed of domestic terrorists the federal government has paraded before the media since 9/11. The FBI, in a sense, elevated Shareef, working to transform him from a boastful store clerk into a suicidal mall-bomber. Like many other alleged extremists who have been targeted by the authorities, Shareef didn't know that his brand-new friend —the eager co-conspirator drawing him ever further into a terror plot —was actually an informant for the FBI.
As Shareef cursed America and Jews, he was under almost constant surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the Northern District of Illinois. Since 9/11, the number of such outfits across the country has tripled. With more than 2,000 FBI agents now assigned to 102 task forces, the JTTFs have effectively become a vast, quasi-secret arm of the federal government, granted sweeping new powers that outstrip those of any other law-enforcement agency. The JTTFs consist not only of local police, FBI special agents and federal investigators from Immigration and the IRS, but covert operatives from the CIA. The task forces have thus effectively destroyed the "wall" that historically existed between law enforcement and intelligence-gathering. Under the Bush administration, the JTTFs have been turned into a domestic spy agency, like Britain's MI5 —one with the powers of arrest.
The expenditure of such massive resources to find would-be terrorists inevitably requires results. Plots must be uncovered. Sleeper cells must be infiltrated. Another attack must be prevented —or, at least, be seen to be prevented. But in backwaters like Rockford, the JTTFs don't have much to do. To find threats to thwart, the task forces have increasingly taken to using paid informants to cajole and inveigle targets like Shareef into pursuing their harebrained schemes. In the affidavit sworn by an FBI special agent in support of Shareef's indictment, the co-conspirator who called himself Jameel is known only as "CS" (Cooperating Source). In fact, CS was William Chrisman, a former crack dealer with a conviction for attempted robbery who was paid $8,500 by the JTTF and dispatched specifically to set up Shareef. Like other informants in terrorism cases, Chrisman had been "tasked" by federal agents to indulge and escalate Shareef's fantasies — while carefully ensuring that Shareef incriminated himself.
"The hope is that they will nab an actual terrorist or prevent a putative jihadi from becoming one," says David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University and co-author of Less Safe, Less Free, a new book detailing the ways 9/11 has transformed domestic law enforcement. "It makes sense in general —but when you're pressing people to undertake conduct they would have never undertaken without an informant pushing them along, there is a real question if you're creating crime, not preventing crime."
In Rockford, "Jameel" repeatedly urged Shareef to dream up gory details of the havoc they would cause at the mall. Chrisman had received a call, he told Shareef, from a man he called "Cap" —a contact willing to sell them weapons. They could buy "pineapples" —code for hand grenades —from Cap for fifty bucks each. Cap, of course, was an undercover agent. Eleven "pineapples" were available, Chrisman said. Walking around the mall —the Dippin' Dots, the Panda Express —Shareef suggested they toss the "pineapples" in garbage cans to create shrapnel. They would fast for three days beforehand. They would shave their bodies. They would meditate and pray.
"Don't forget, man, we should get the grenades sometime next week," Chrisman said. "So you should try to get as much flous [money] as you can get."
"I got a little change in the bank," Shareef said.
"All you need is, like, $100. That's two grenades."
But the resourceless Shareef couldn't even raise that much money. So with the JTTF determined to push the "plot" forward, Chrisman announced that Cap had agreed to exchange the grenades for some used stereo speakers Shareef owned. On the following Saturday, as snow blanketed Rockford, Chrisman and Shareef engaged in the ritual of suicide bombers, recording video statements of each other reciting their last wills and testaments. The JTTF's affidavit doesn't reveal whose idea it was to stare into the camera and swear vengeance against America, but the prejudicial impact it would have on a jury was huge.
"My name is Talib Abu Salam Ibn Shareef," Shareef said, using his self-created nom de guerre. "I am from America, and this tape is to let you guys know, who disbelieve in Allah, to let the enemies of Islam know, and to let the Muslims alike know that the time for jihad is now."
The next Wednesday, the two men met with Cap in a parking lot under the gaze of agents from the JTTF. As Shareef swapped the used speakers for four nonfunctioning grenades and a 9mm handgun with neutered ammunition, he was swarmed by law enforcement. News of the bust traveled the world over. "It had all the makings of a holiday bloodbath," Fox News breathlessly reported. Shareef was charged with the ultimate crime in the so-called War on Terror: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The arrest of Shareef was yet another JTTF success, with the homeland again saved from a savage attack, this time from a man the government branded a "lone wolf."
Or it was an illusion, a fictional plot developed in a self-fulfilling and self-serving cycle of chasing ghosts.
For law enforcement, fear and the politics of fear have entwined to create a radical new paradigm. Even the term "law enforcement" has been rendered quaint by the Bush administration. These days, the term of art is "lawfare" —the confluence of police work and military tactics. With Joint Terrorism Task Forces set up across the country to coordinate the work of federal agencies and local cops, the FBI now devotes nearly two-thirds of its resources —some $4 billion —to waging war on terrorism. The approach today is not the traditional police work of investigating actual crimes but the far more slippery goal of preventing terrorist attacks before they occur.
To hear the Bush administration tell it, the JTTFs have been an unqualified success. The task forces have been credited with uncovering and busting up homegrown terrorist cells in Oregon, Seattle, Detroit, Miami, Buffalo and New Jersey. All told, the Feds have accused 619 people of "terrorist activity" since 9/11 —a record that the FBI insists has made America safer. In 2005 alone, more than 10 million terror inquiries were checked against the JTTF's Investigative Data Warehouse, a central repository for "terrorism-related documents." Such numbers create the sense that America is indeed under siege —and that the government is on top of the threat. "These extremists are self-recruited, self-trained and self-executing," FBI Director Robert Mueller declared in 2006. "These homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like Al Qaeda, if not more so."
But a closer inspection of the cases brought by JTTFs reveals that most of the prosecutions had one thing in common: The defendants posed little if any demonstrable threat to anyone or anything. According to a study by the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, only ten percent of the 619 "terrorist" cases brought by the federal government have resulted in convictions on "terrorism-related" charges —a category so broad as to be meaningless. In the past year, none of the convictions involved jihadist terror plots targeting America. "The government releases selective figures," says Karen Greenberg, director of the center. "They have never even defined 'terrorism.' They keep us in the dark over statistics."
Indeed, Shareef is only one of many cases where the JTTFs have employed dubious means to reach even more dubious ends. In Buffalo, the FBI spent eighteen months tracking the "Lackawanna Six" —a half-dozen men from the city's large Muslim population who had been recruited by an Al Qaeda operative in early 2001 to undergo training in Afghanistan. Only two lasted the six-week course; the rest pretended to be hurt or left early. Despite extensive surveillance, the FBI found no evidence that the men ever discussed, let alone planned, an attack —but that didn't stop federal agents from arresting the suspects with great fanfare and accusing them of operating an "Al Qaeda-trained terrorist cell on American soil." Fearing they would be designated as "enemy combatants" and disappeared into the legal void created by the Patriot Act, all six pleaded guilty to aiding Al Qaeda and were sentenced to at least seven years in prison.
In other cases, the use of informants has led the government to flirt with outright entrapment. In Brooklyn, a Guyanese immigrant and former cargo handler named Russell Defreitas was arrested last spring for plotting to blow up fuel tanks at JFK International Airport. In fact, before he encountered the might of the JTTF, Defreitas was a vagrant who sold incense on the streets of Queens and spent his spare time checking pay phones for quarters. He had no hope of instigating a terrorist plot of the magnitude of the alleged attack on JFK —until he received the help of a federal informant known only as "Source," a convicted drug dealer who was cooperating with federal agents to get his sentence reduced. Backed by the JTTF, Defreitas suddenly obtained the means to travel to the Caribbean, conduct Google Earth searches of JFK's grounds and build a complex, multifaceted, international terror conspiracy —albeit one that was impossible to actually pull off. After Defreitas was arrested, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf called it "one of the most chilling plots imaginable."
Using informants to gin up terrorist conspiracies is a radical departure from the way the FBI has traditionally used cooperating sources against organized crime or drug dealers, where a pattern of crime is well established before the investigation begins. Now, in new-age terror cases, the JTTFs simply want to establish that suspects are predisposed to be terrorists —even if they are completely unable or ill-equipped to act on that predisposition. High-tech video and audio evidence, coupled with anti-terror hysteria, has made it effectively impossible for suspects to use the legal defense of entrapment. The result in many cases has been guilty pleas —and no scrutiny of government conduct.
In most cases, because no trial is ever held, few details emerge beyond the spare and slanted descriptions in the indictments. When facts do come to light during a trial, they cast doubt on the seriousness of the underlying case. The "Albany Pizza" case provides a stark example. Known as a "sting case," the investigation began in June 2003 when U.S. soldiers raided an "enemy camp" in Iraq and seized a notebook containing the name of an imam in Albany — one Yassin Aref. To snare Aref, the JTTF dispatched a Pakistani immigrant named Shahed "Malik" Hussain, who was facing years in prison for a driver's-license scam. Instead of approaching Aref directly, federal agents sent Malik to befriend Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who went to the same mosque as Aref. Hossain, an American citizen who ran a place called Little Italy Pizzeria in Albany, had no connections whatsoever to terrorism or any form of radical Islam. After the attacks on 9/11, he had been quoted in the local paper saying, "I am proud to be an American." But enticed by Malik, Hossain soon found himself caught up in a government-concocted terror plot. Posing as an arms dealer, Malik told Hossain that a surface-to-air missile was needed for an attack on a Pakistani diplomat in New York. He offered Hossain $5,000 in cash to help him launder $50,000 —a deal Hossain claims he never properly grasped. According to Muslim tradition, a witness is needed for significant financial transactions. Thus, the JTTF reached out for Hossain's imam and the true target of the sting —Aref.
At trial, the judge brushed aside questions about why the government was after Aref in the first place. "The FBI had certain suspicions, good and valid suspicions, for looking into Mr. Aref," he told the jury. "But why they did that is not to be any concern of yours." For their role in a conspiracy confected entirely by the FBI, both Aref and Hossain were convicted of attempting to provide material support to terrorists and sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison.
"I am just a pizza man," the bewildered Hossain said at his sentencing. "I make good pizza."
Despite the rapid and widespread proliferation of JTTFs, very little has been reported about what goes on inside the War on Terror's domestic front. The FBI building that houses the JTTF for the Northern District of Illinois has been moved from the middle of the city to a more spacious, fortresslike building on the industrial west side of Chicago, a place out of the city's Loop, literally and figuratively. The glass tower is surrounded by a tall metal fence, and layers upon layers of security inside and out add to the sense of siege. When Special Agent Robert Holley, who supervises the JTTF's Squad Counterterrorism 1, offers to escort me to his office on the eighth floor, we are stopped by his superior before we even reach the hallway. The entire floor, the supervisor declares, is considered secure — there are classified documents on desks —and therefore off-limits to outsiders.
Holley, an ex-military type who is built like a bullet, rolls his eyes but complies. There is no problem finding another room for a meeting. There are acres of empty offices and cubicles in the eerily futuristic building, the premises far larger than current requirements dictate but ready for expansion should the need arise with another terrorist attack.
Counterterrorism squads like the one overseen by Holley are assigned to monitor distant "Areas of Responsibility" —the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. The six CT squads in Chicago are also divided into two categories: Five "substantive" groups like Holley's, which gather intelligence and conduct long-term investigations of specific individuals, and another squad that is charged with chasing down leads and determining the "threat profile" of suspects to decide if an investigation is merited. Holley's squad currently has some seventy-five open investigations — he won't give the precise number —in nearly every country under his purview. "A lot of our successes you don't see," he says. "We don't measure our success by the number of prosecutions."
When I ask what kinds of cases his CT squad has made, Holley cites the example of a local cab driver who came up on the JTTF's radar some time back —he won't say how or why. The man was East African, Holley says, a suspected Islamic extremist "connected to known bad guys overseas." After being interviewed by the JTTF, the cabbie decided to leave the country. Nothing criminal had occurred, and no charges were laid. The cab driver had simply come to the attention of the JTTF, and that in itself was enough to dispose of the matter.
"Can we consider that a success because we didn't put him in jail?" Holley asks. "Absolutely. This guy is no longer here. He is not a threat to one person in the United States."
"Was he ever a threat?" I ask.
"We opened up an investigation."
"But isn't that a circular argument?"
"Was he a bomb-thrower?" Holley concedes. "Probably not. Did he want to go into a mall and attack? No."
The next morning, I meet with three members of the Field Intelligence Group. The FIGs are designed to create a centralized approach to intelligence, both domestic and foreign. In northern Illinois, the group analyzes information from around the world, as well as that supplied courtesy of Operation Virtual Shield, the surveillance initiative designed to make Chicago one of the most-watched cities in the world. Thousands of cameras deployed on street corners, train platforms and buses now provide a nearly comprehensive visual record of all public movement in Chicago.
The unexceptional-seeming trio from the FIG dodge most of my questions on the grounds of national security. Mike Delejewski, a soft-spoken intelligence analyst, says that every call that comes into the JTTF is passed along to the FIG, which runs down every lead, no matter how improbable. Delejewski mentions a call received regarding the Sears Tower and three suspicious-looking men seen in the vicinity. That was all the report said. The FIG and CT squads responded. The men turned out to be Mexican tourists.
"We get a lot of those calls," Delejewski says with a laugh.
Many of the callers who contact the JTTF are intentionally misleading, hoping to take revenge against a boyfriend, neighbor or co-worker. Such hoaxes are so routine, in fact, that the JTTF's public-relations officer keeps a separate file stuffed with press reports of invented pipe bombs and unattended suitcases and lunch trucks packed with explosives.
None of the three analysts in the FIG have Arabic-language skills or extensive experience in the countries they are supposed to monitor. To keep informed, they read newspapers and intelligence reports. They then issue bulletins to police departments about perceived threats.
"What is the biggest threat?" I ask.
There is a long pause.
"I think it's very dangerous if we start to identify that," an analyst named Julie Irvine says.
"The enemy is listening," Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gregory Fowler adds later. "I drill that into my people's heads every day. Foreign-intelligence agencies and terrorists are listening. The FBI is on a war footing."
When I express skepticism at the nature of the cases being brought by the JTTF, and the wild-goose chases that seem to occupy its time, Fowler says people don't understand the "threat stream" facing the nation. There are two reasons, he insists, that cases brought by the JTTF end up being discounted. First, defense attorneys manipulate the public to create the impression that the accused are hapless —but since very few cases actually go to trial, this explanation is unlikely at best. Second, Fowler says, the FBI itself minimizes threats to prevent panic. As an example, he cites the case of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. Reid, Fowler insists, was a much greater danger to America than is commonly appreciated —a refrain that requires the word of the JTTF be taken on faith.
"The public is never going to see the evidence we have," Fowler says. "We don't want to reveal our hand or tip our sources. You cannot judge the nature of the terrorist threat to the United States based on the public record."
"But with such strictures," I ask, "how does a citizen become informed about the threat?"
"I have access to the information," Fowler says. "I have a lot of faith in the judgment of the common citizen. A lot of people understand the nature of the threat."
To get a perspective on how the War on Terror is being waged by cops on the street, I meet with two local police officers assigned to the JTTF. Sgt. Paul DeRosa of the Chicago Police Department and Master Sgt. Carl Gutierrez of the Illinois State Police act as liaison officers for their respective forces. Both are on call 24/7 for 365 days of the year. Both are regularly summoned at three in the morning to investigate potential terrorist activity in Chicago.
"This weekend I had two calls," Gutierrez says.
When I ask what the calls were about, all Gutierrez will say is that they involved "suspicious incidents" which "could possibly have a terrorist nexus." An example: People traveling on a train see someone taking photographs and acting suspiciously, and phone the police. "You have to understand we take those sort of calls very seriously," Gutierrez says. "We have to. If we don't, and something happens, and it comes back to us and lives are lost, who's to blame?"
To illustrate the kinds of cases the JTTF generates, Sgt. DeRosa cites an incident from three years ago. Two Middle Eastern men boarded a bus on Lake Shore Drive. They were bearded, dressed in traditional Arabic garb and sitting next to each other. As they rode the bus, one man was clicking a counter — the kind used at nightclubs to keep track of the crowd size. A passenger on the bus called 911.
"A report was made, and our CT squad was notified," DeRosa says. "We went and got the film from that bus. We reviewed it. We could see them clicking. We ask ourselves, 'Are they clicking passengers? Are they clicking when they go past buildings? Are they clicking on how many cars?' We put out a 'Bolo' —Be on the Lookout. We found where they got on the bus, and we did a stakeout. Seven or eight cars set up on the bus stop. On the third day, we spotted the guy. We talked to him." No one was arrested. There was no crime alleged. But DeRosa says proudly that the JTTF succeeded in finding the Man With the Clicker.
"Why was the man clicking?" I ask.
"They had to say a Muslim prayer 50,000 times," DeRosa says. "At first, we thought that was nonsense. Since then we've had a few of these incidents. Are these guys terrorists? Probably not. But in three days, they were identified and interviewed by the power of the JTTF — city and state police, FBI, Secret Service. Does that send a message to their community?"
Chicago has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country —some 400,000, DeRosa estimates. "Experts say that between five and ten percent of Muslims are extremists. So you take it down to one percent. What's one percent of 400,000? Forty thousand? Technically there could be 40,000 —"
"You mean 4,000," I say.
DeRosa pauses. "Right," he says. "Four thousand." He forges on. "Most people who come to America who are Middle Eastern come for a good reason. But there's still a percentage that may be here that don't like us. They are with the extremists."
Gutierrez offers another instance of the JTTF at work. A man of apparent Middle Eastern background came into a Chicago police station and said he worked for the Department of Defense and he had top-secret documents in his truck, which had been stolen. He also said his roommate was a terrorist. The man appeared to be a kook. But an allegation had been made. The JTTF was contacted. Gutierrez was called out, and he interviewed the subject. He soon verified that the man was, in fact, nuts. But the matter didn't end there.
"We interviewed the roommate," Gutierrez says. "He was an Egyptian. We ran his name. He was here illegally. ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] was there within two hours. I've never seen ICE react the way they did. They came out and took physical custody of the guy. They kept him until his court hearing, and he was sent overseas."
"Was there any evidence or suggestion that the man was actually a terrorist?" I ask.
"You never know," DeRosa says.
"Have you ever found a terrorist cell?" I ask.
"That's kind of a vague question," Gutierrez says. "There are certain things we can't talk about, because it leads to more."
"Do I believe there's a cell in Chicago?" DeRosa asks. "I bet you there is. Do I have any direct physical knowledge? No. But I think there is one, and that's why we're here."
The two officers tell me about a close call at the Taste of Chicago food festival last year. Millions attend the annual street feast, with Chicago-style sausage and pizza and tamales on sale in booths along the lakefront. As with all major public events, the JTTF helped plan the security profile. A JHAT —a Joint Hazardous Assessment Team —set up at the festival, dotting the area with devices that detect signs of a chemical or biological or radiological attack. Suddenly, one of the devices went off: There was a radiological hit on one of the sniffers near a row of porta-potties. For an hour, the JHAT frantically tried to determine if Chicago had been struck by a "dirty bomb" —a weapon that spreads lethal radioactive material mixed with conventional explosives. Finally, after an anxious hour, the hit was traced to a particular outhouse —and the cause of the positive alert was determined.
"Someone who had chemotherapy had just done a poop," DeRosa says.
There is considerable skepticism in local police departments in northern Illinois about the nature and extent of the threat posed by terrorism. There are 415 local law-enforcement agencies in the district, many of which remain unconvinced that the threat is as dire as the JTTF maintains. Many departments refuse to allocate even one or two officers to spend four hours on basic terror training. Rather than consider the idea that the cops closest to the ground might have a better perspective on their communities, the JTTF addressed the problem by forming a TLOC —Terrorism Liaison Officer's Committee. The point is to merchandise the menace of terrorism to the police.
"It's a matter of marketing strategy," says Mark Lundgren, a special agent who oversees the TLOC. "These terrorism acts are trending toward the homegrown, self-activated, self-radicalized — the sort of thing that could literally pop up in your back yard. The typical things we would use to detect terrorism don't work, because these people are off the charts, so to speak. Nine times out of ten, for the next decade, it's going to be the local cop who stops the terror attacks."
Lundgren, who resembles a young Gary Busey, fairly glistens with certainty about the value of his work. "What are you trying to sell to the local police departments?" I ask.
"Awareness. Motivation," he says. "It's a very hard sell. You walk into a chief of police in a crime-ridden district. The first thing he's going to tell you is, 'The guys in this area are killing people. The guys you're telling me about —it's not make-believe, I understand that — but they haven't killed anyone lately in my district.' "
"Or ever," I say.
When Derrick Shareef was arrested by the JTTF, the police chief in Rockford complained that his force had been told very little about the investigation. The city has one of the highest murder rates in the state, as well as raging drug and juvenile delinquency woes. Dominic Iasparro is a senior investigator who is working the case of an addict found dead on the outskirts of town. He tells me he has no real leads. There is a small FBI outpost in Rockford, with ten or so agents, but it provides no assistance on a homicide. Local police have scant interaction with the JTTF, and Iasparro doesn't exactly see terrorism as a top priority in northern Illinois. "We're not a big enough target," he says.
A thirty-five-year veteran, Iasparro follows JTTF bulletins and updates online, and he doesn't doubt the good intentions of the agents involved in the task force. But he also understands that the pressure on the federal government to avoid another attack is enormous. To a local cop like Iasparro, the amount of resources the government devotes to the effort is staggering.
"Do you think the JTTF is jumping at ghosts?" I ask.
He shakes his head in wonder. "I have never seen anything like it in my career."
The attitude of local cops frustrates members of the TLOC. They want to train cops to watch out for "suspicious terroristlike behavior," without revealing what such behavior might look like. "We're teaching police how to approach a suspicious person in a public place," Lundgren tells me. "How to probe that person. How to look at the body language they exhibit, how they answer questions, to determine if they are a threat or not — in a way that doesn't leave that person feeling they've been ill-treated. There are detractors out there that think our cases are without merit. That's a philosophical question that's easy to ask until you're a body part.
"Without getting too philosophical, remember the whole Dick Cheney one percent solution," Lundgren continues. "If there is a one percent chance that a device can be constructed that will kill thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people, then we have to treat our response as if there were a 100 percent chance. That's a thing that gets lost in the view of the public when they see the intelligence-gathering of law enforcement. They get concerned about their civil liberties and the Constitution because of the way things are portrayed in the media."
In late November, Derrick Shareef pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Because of the video evidence against him, Shareef couldn't use a legal defense of entrapment. But in court, he said he had been "coerced into doing things and trapped into doing things." In Rockford, not long before his guilty plea, there was a "For Sale" sign on the small house where Shareef once lived. The house was empty, the furniture gone. Members of the JTTF told me that they wished they could reveal the rest of the story, to prove that Shareef was a true bad guy. According to the indictment of another accused terrorist, Hassan Abu-Jihaad, Shareef was involved in a larger conspiracy to attack a military base in San Diego. In pretrial proceedings, however, it emerged that Abu-Jihaad was egged on by none other than William "Jameel" Chrisman, the same informant who set up Shareef. Abu-Jihaad not only refused to participate in the alleged plot but on surveillance tapes can be heard dismissing Shareef as an idiot and a liar. "I ain't no jihadi," Abu-Jihaad told Jameel.
While real threats undoubtedly exist, what the Bush administration promotes as a nationwide pattern of terrorist activities is largely the result of its own policies in the age of lawfare. Last May, the FBI arrested the "Fort Dix Six," charging the men with conspiring to attack the New Jersey military base. The supposed terror cell was discovered when a clerk at Circuit City was asked to transfer to DVD a video of the men allegedly training for jihad in the Pocono Mountains and shouting, "Allahu Akbar!" [God is great!] As in other cases, the FBI itself proved to be the mastermind behind the plot. The men —who included three roofers, a taxi driver and a former delivery boy for Super Mario's Pizza — had little money and no connections to real extremists. All were in their twenties and spent their weekends playing paintball. Under the guidance of two informants for the JTTF, the men planned an assault on Fort Dix using rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s —none of which actually existed.
There are signs, however, that judges and jurors are getting fed up with such concocted "threats." In December, the prosecution of the "Liberty City Seven" ended in one acquittal and a hung jury for the rest of the accused. The supposed cell was accused of preparing a "full ground war" against America by bringing down the Sears Tower and other buildings. At trial, however, it emerged that the men had no operational abilities, that the plots were dreamed up at the exhortation of two paid FBI informants while smoking dope and that the group had been provided its camera, military boots and warehouse by the JTTF.
Despite 15,000 surveillance recordings of the men, including one in which they swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, the jury refused to convict. "This was all written, produced, directed, choreographed and stage-designed by the United States government," Albert Levin, an attorney for one of the accused, said in his closing argument.
Undeterred, the government is taking six of the men back to court. The retrial was scheduled to begin on January 22nd.
Year of the Rats How the FBI’s terror informants brought down a Bronx jazz musician by Jared Irmas February 12th, 2008 7:07 PM
Bronx jazz musician Tarik Shah told an undercover FBI agent that he wanted to teach karate moves to members of Al Qaeda. It wasn’t a smart move: Last April, he was sentenced to serve 15 years on charges of supporting terrorism.
Previous news stories have described Shah, a jazz bassist and martial artist with a propensity for big talk that eventually got him into serious trouble. But until now, there’s been little information about the two undercover informants that the FBI used to investigate a man it considered such a dangerous terrorist that the bureau surveilled him for four years and spent considerable resources to take him down.
Shah’s arrest came about thanks in part to an informant known in court documents as “CS-1” (shorthand for “Confidential Source No. 1”). Shah’s attorneys never made CS-1’s real identity or his role in the case an issue.
But informants—paid or otherwise—have been central to domestic counterterrorism operations in the war on terror. One paid informant told a group of six New Jersey Muslims that he could deliver an arsenal of weapons for a siege on the 7,000 armed personnel at Fort Dix. Another informant—this one a twice-convicted drug dealer working with the FBI—helped a group of Trinidadian immigrants dream up the unlikely plan of destroying John F. Kennedy International Airport by igniting a jet-fuel pipeline.
And then there was CS-1, a paid informant who, according to the FBI’s criminal complaint, walked into the Brooklyn Islamic bookstore House of Knowledge on December 7, 2001. He asked the shop’s owner, Abdulrahman Farhane, to wire money to jihadists overseas. Farhane was reluctant; he referred CS-1 to Shah, who told the informant in a tape-recorded conversation that he knew some “brothers” who could help. But Shah was all talk and no action, and not a penny was sent overseas. Undeterred, the FBI kept watching him for years, but took CS-1 off the case when it became clear that Shah didn’t trust him.
Despondent over his treatment by the FBI, CS-1 later blew his cover in a remarkable way. On November 15, 2004, hours after sending a fax to his handlers at the bureau berating them for not treating him better, CS-1 approached the northwest guard station at the White House to deliver a similarly themed letter to President Bush. When the Secret Service refused the envelope, CS-1 stepped back, pulled a lighter from his pocket, and set himself on fire. He was burned on more than 30 percent of his body before guards could put the flames out.
The next day, newspapers carried stories about the man, Mohamed Alanssi, documenting his history of erratic behavior, which included cheating people out of money from Yemen to Brooklyn. The stories also revealed that he’d received $100,000 to work with the FBI. At the time of his suicide attempt, Alanssi was set to testify against Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, a Yemeni financier he had helped the FBI lure to Frankfurt, Germany, in a January 2003 sting operation.
In February 2005, Alanssi testified at the al-Moayad trial, and described his self- immolation at the White House as a way to “put the government and the world on notice.” Alanssi then disappeared from the news until, two months later, he was sentenced to five years’ probation for writing thousands of dollars’ worth of bad checks.
By that time, however, the FBI had switched to a new informant in its ongoing obsession with Shah, and was close to an arrest. The new informant was a man who has been known up to this time only as “Saeed.”
Saeed, court documents show, turns out to be Theodore Shelby, a former Black Panther who’d made a career of holding up drug dealers and had been serving time for a string of tollbooth robberies when he cut a deal for early prison release by agreeing to work with the FBI. Shelby first earned his informant credentials while working alongside Alanssi in Germany, according to the testimony of FBI agent Brian Murphy. Shelby played the part of a former Black Panther with a pile of money for Sheikh al-Moayad’s charities.
In the Shah investigation, the FBI asked Shelby to attend Shah’s jazz gigs and to approach him for bass lessons. By the fall of 2003, Shelby was living with Shah and wearing a wire for the feds.
Murphy directed Shelby to tell Shah about a warehouse in Long Island that would make the perfect training facility for aspiring terrorists. Shah, who had taught karate workshops at mosques and Islamic centers throughout the state, took the bait with zeal, daydreaming out loud about slinging ninja stars and firing bows and arrows.
Murphy then recruited the bureau’s top counterterrorism investigator, Ali Soufan, for the final chapter of the sting operation. Soufan was a Lebanese-born agent who had spearheaded a number of high-profile national- security cases, including the investigations into the East Africa bombings by Al Qaeda in 1998 and the USS Cole attack in 2000. Soufan had received the bureau’s Excellence in Investigation award, the highest honor bestowed on an agent. In the Shah case, he volunteered to play Ali, an Al Qaeda recruiter spending the day in Plattsburgh, New York, to scope out new jihadi talent.
Shah and Shelby took a train to meet Soufan, where the agent told his new recruit that he was looking for an instructor in hand-to-hand combat for domestic operations. Shah said that he would rather work overseas, but, according to the agent’s testimony, Soufan offered the struggling musician $1,000 a week if he agreed to stay in the country. Shah signed on, and even volunteered the commitment of a friend in Boca Raton, Florida, a Columbia University–educated physician and Black Muslim convert by the name of Rafiq Sabir, who Shah said would provide medical assistance to injured jihadis. Soufan called the deception a “proactive counterterrorism operation,” designed, he told the court, “to reach out to individuals who wanted to be Al Qaeda members, make them believe that they actually get their goals in reaching Al Qaeda, and then we stop them before they hurt people.”
In the early-morning hours of May 28, 2005, after returning home from two late-night gigs, Shah was roused out of bed by seven federal agents, slapped in handcuffs, and driven down to the FBI’s Manhattan field office. Shah refused to sign a form waiving his rights, but after three hours of questioning and an offer of leniency, he agreed to go with federal agents to Baltimore and set up a former karate student, D.C. cab driver Mahmud Faruq Brent, in a wiretapped hotel room.
The FBI accused Brent of traveling to Pakistan in the months after 9/11 to train with an anti-Indian terrorist cell in Kashmir. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison last summer. Like Shah, Sabir (the physician) was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group: He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison last fall. Farhane, the bookstore owner, was charged with lying to a federal agent, as well as with the same conspiracy charge leveled against Sabir and Shah. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 13 years.
Shah initially pleaded not guilty, but at his trial, his attorneys never raised the troubled histories of the two men, Alanssi and Shelby, who helped to put him behind bars. He later changed his plea and received a 15-year sentence. He currently sits in the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Virginia.
The FBI wouldn’t disclose Alanssi’s or Shelby’s current whereabouts.
Agent Soufan, meanwhile, left the bureau after the close of the investigation to take a job at Giuliani Partners.