Najibullah Zazi just learned a golden rule.
Never, ever lie to the FBI.
Zazi, the principal local suspect in the ongoing and unfolding international terrorism investigation that came into public view with raids in New York last week, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI. So has his father and another person. The thrust of the alleged plot seems to be that Zazi and others may have been cooking up a transit bombing somewhere in the United States similar to those in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.
A few self-critical kumbaya speeches have not and cannot erase the threat from radical forces who hate the United States and want to make things go bang here.
A careful reading of the affidavits filed in support of criminal complaints and arrest warrants reveals that — as usual in such cases — the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and without a scintilla of doubt, the U.S. intelligence community know a lot more about Mr. Zazi than has been publicly revealed. The U.S. Department of Justice is spooling out just enough rope to arrest and detain Zazi and his alleged co-conspirators.
The government is, of course, not going to reveal all of its sources and methods, but it is pretty clear that we have come a long way from September 11, 2001. Our counter-terrorism investigators are reading the labels on some of the bad guys’ underwear. [See details of later government filings in posts here and here.]
Zazi’s pitiful attempt to lie his way out of his possession of handwritten notes about bomb-making — in the context of a mother lode of backpacks and a scale useful for mixing bang-bang chemicals –are central to the false statement charge. In brief, Zazi claimed in interviews with the FBI that he unintentionally downloaded the instructions from a “religious book” [must be an interesting religion, what?] and immediately erased the book when he saw that it discussed jihad. But various means of intelligence revealed that he actually emailed the damning instructions to himself.
What follows is an excerpt from the FBI affidavit filed in Colorado. Keep in mind that Zazi is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence at law, and that the evidence the government refers to in this affidavit is certainly not all of the evidence in its possession. Moreover, this is no doubt a holding action as the investigation continues. [The complete affidavits can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website here.]
EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT OF FBI AGENT IN SUPPORT OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINT AND ARREST WARRANT IN UNITED STATES V. NAJIBULLAH ZAZI
United States District Court for the District of Colorado, September 19, 2009
15. On or about September 11, 2009, FBI agents conducted a legally-authorized search of the defendant ZAZI’s rental car, which was parked near the Queens residence. During the search of the car, a laptop computer was found containing a jpeg image of nine-pages of handwritten notes (the “handwritten notes”). The handwritten notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.
16. Rental records reflect that the defendant ZAZI was supposed to return his rental car in New York on September 14, 2009. However, on September 12, 2009, the defendant ZAZI flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York to Denver, Colorado.
17. On or about September 14, 2009, FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Queens residence. Among other items, the FBI seized a black scale containing several double A batteries. Fingerprint testing revealed that the defendant ZAZI’s fingerprints were found on both the scale and the batteries.
ZAZI’s FALSE STATEMENTS
18. On or about September 16, 2009, the defendant ZAZI was interviewed by members of the JTTF at the FBI [sic] in Denver, Colorado. The defendant ZAZI had voluntarily appeared at the offices of the FBI and agreed to answer questions. During this interview, the defendant ZAZI was questioned about, among several other topics, the handwritten notes found on his computer. During the interview, the defendant was show the handwritten notes. The defendant stated that he had never seen the document before. He further stated that if the handwritten notes was [sic] found on his computer, he must have unintentionally downloaded it as part of a religious book he had downloaded in August 2009. He stated that he had immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad. He stated that he had not handwritten the notes.
19. During the same interview, the defendant was asked about his email accounts, and listed three accounts, including an account known to law enforcement (“Account A”). The investigation has determined that the password for Account A is a nine-digit number. The investigation has revealed the existence of two email accounts known to law enforcement (“Account B” and “Account C”). A search of Account B registered to a “Kado Khan,” reveals that another email account known to law enforcement (“the originating account”) sent a message to Account B with the handwritten notes included as an attachment on or about December 2, 2008. The password for the email account is the same nine-digit password at [sic, probably “as”] the password for Account A. A search of the Account C, registered to a “kado gul” in Peshawar, Pakistan, reveals the originating account also sent an email with the handwritten notes as an attachment to Account C on or about December 3, 2008. Account C can be opened with a six-digit password that has the same first six digits of the passwords for Accounts A and B. Based on the similarity of addresses and identity of passwords, I believe that the defendant controlled Account A as well as Accounts B and C, both of which received the handwritten notes by email on early December 2008.
20. The document was analyzed by a handwriting expert from the FBI who said that, although a final conclusion could not be made until the expert examines the original document, the expert was able to assert that there were characteristics common to both the document found on the defendant ZAZI’s computer and the defendant’s handwriting exemplars. An FBI agent without training as a handwriting expert, who was able to compare the handwriting notes with the original handwriting exemplars stated that it appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document.