Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘counter-terrorism’

MAJOR NIDAL MALIK HASAN’S RAMPAGE SPELLS “CAREER-ENDER” AS SEARCH FOR FALL GUYS TO PIN TAIL ON GRINDS ON

In bad manners, Ethics in Washington, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on November 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm
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Admiral James O. Richardson Testifies Before Congress On His Career-Ending Opposition to Forward Basing of U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor

As Congress, civilian leaders, and the public demand more accountability from service members and our military leaders, the Washington politics can involve cannibalistic witch-hunting at the highest levels. The pressure to be perfect, the one-mistake service, can take its toll on all members of the armed forces; from the airman and seaman to the service chief himself.

John J. Sproul, Major, USAF, Research Report, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, CSAF V. CNO: Core Values and  Their Career Ending Impact (April 1998).

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Admiral Richardson in Better Days

The summary of the career of Admiral James O. Richardson at the Naval Historical Center’s photo page is crisp and about as scrubbed of controversy as one can get:  “Beginning in January 1940, he was Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, holding that position during a stressful period marked by the fleet’s forward deployment to Pearl Harbor. Relieved by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel in February 1941, he served at the Navy Department into 1942.”

What it leaves out is one salient detail of that “stressful period” and its impact on Admiral Richardson’s career.  In October 1940 Richardson told President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that continued deployment of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor was a bad idea for a number of reasons.  This military advice did not go down well with the Commander-in-Chief, who had his own plan and his own impression of himself as a naval strategist.  With months, Admiral Richardson was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, on whose watch the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Day of Infamy,  occurred on December 7, 1941.

Adm. Kimmel is said also to have not been enthusiastic about the fleet’s basing, but having got the message, he saluted and sailed on.

The rest is history.

One is sure that the matter was infinitely more complicated than that tiny summary.  But what is not complicated is that — as is the case in all publicly known government disasters — the final stage of every project is the hunt for someone to blame.  This involves a lot of perfect hindsight mixed with the bowel-chilling perception of participants (think the 3:00 a.m. phone call) that this could be their own personal career-ender.

Thus, one is sure that some very angry arguments have been going on — at the “highest levels” — of Washington’s military and civilian establishment.  Cynics would say that the risk of summary beheading is usually in inverse proportion to one’s rank.  Agents and investigators are expendable.  Generals and directors are not.

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What Kind of Innocent Contact Could a U.S. Army Officer Have With This Man, Anwar al Awlaki, Who Is LInked to Numerous Home Grown Terror Plots?

In that context, the following post from Strategypage.com about the case of Ft. Hood’s apparent-jihadist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, seems to combine just the right film-noir-like mix of real-world experience and knowing resignation.  The full text is about the use of statistical techniques for predicting terrorism, but the excerpt here deals (speculatively, to be sure) with the problems inherent in Major Hasan’s case for everyone involved:

Ignoring The Threat Does Not Make It Go Away

November 11, 2009: Even before September 11, 2001, counter-terrorism experts sought to use statistical techniques to predict where the next big terror attack would occur….

In the United States, these techniques still suffer from a shortage of data (terrorists.) With enough data, you can test your model by successfully predicting the past, and then turn it on the future. But with insufficient data, you have to rely on human judgment. This is subject to other factors, like the political atmosphere. An example of this was the recent terror attack in Fort Hood, Texas. There, a Moslem army officer, shouting “God Is Great”, murdered 13 soldiers and civilians, and wounded over thirty others. The major had previously been detected by the counter-terror intelligence system (both via emails to known terrorists and his public calls for attacks on non-Moslems.) When the FBI (which handles counter-terror intelligence inside the U.S.) urged the army to do something, the army declined. The FBI did not press the matter. One can imagine army commanders, confronting what the FBI described as a “potential” terrorist, realizing that in the current political climate, disciplining (or discharging) a Moslem army officer would endanger the careers of the generals involved in such a decision. So nothing was done, until the terrorist made his move.

It should be noted that at this writing the Department of Defense denies that anyone in the military establishment above the grade of an investigator detailed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (sound effect here: chop, chop) was ever informed of the information that had been developed about Hasan.

The buck is thus in furious circulation now.

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent piece today (Thursday, November 12, 2009)(“Fort Hood suspect’s contact with cleric spelled trouble, experts say,” by Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer).  Here are relevant excerpts:

The radical cleric contacted by accused Ft. Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan has such unmistakable connections to past terrorist plots that his e-mail exchanges with the American should have triggered an all-out investigation, a number of officials and experts now believe

….

Awlaki has left a well-documented trail of influence in a string of recent terrorism cases in North America and Europe.

“It seems that the American investigators had difficulties detecting signs of worrisome conduct,” Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a veteran French anti-terrorism judge, said in a telephone interview. “It may also be that, because of the respect for religion, and the excesses by the U.S. services in recent years, that today there’s a tendency to be too prudent — perhaps less vigilant.”

Bruguiere is a giant in counter-terrorism, having been instrumental in the cases — among many others — of Carlos the Jackal and the Libyan mid-air bombing of UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara Desert in 1989 with the loss of 170 lives.

Stratfor.com has a thoughtful and informed analysis here. This is a relevant excerpt, but the whole piece covers many more angles:

So far, the Hasan shooting investigation is being run by the Army CID, and the FBI has been noticeably — and uncharacteristically — absent from the scene. As the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, the FBI will often assume authority over investigations where there is even a hint of terrorism. Since 9/11, the number of FBI/JTTF offices across the country has been dramatically increased, and the JTTFs are specifically charged with investigating cases that may involve terrorism. Therefore, we find the FBI’s absence in this case to be quite out of the ordinary.

However, with Hasan being a member of the armed forces, the victims being soldiers or army civilian employees and the incident occurring at Fort Hood, the case would seem to fall squarely under the mantle of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). From a prosecutorial perspective, a homicide trial under the UCMJ should be very tidy and could be quickly concluded. It will not involve all the potential loose ends that could pop up in a federal terrorism trial, especially when those loose ends involve what the FBI and CIA knew about Hasan, when they learned it and who they told. Also, politically, there are some who would like to see the Hasan case remain a criminal matter rather than a case of terrorism. Following the shooting death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah and considering the delicate relationship between Muslim advocacy groups and the U.S. government, some people would rather see Hasan portrayed as a mentally disturbed criminal than as an ideologically driven lone wolf.

Despite the CID taking the lead in prosecuting the case, the classified national security investigation by the CIA and FBI into Hasan and his possible connections to jihadist elements is undoubtedly continuing. Senior members of the government will certainly demand to know if Hasan had any confederates, if he was part of a bigger plot and if there are more attacks to come. Several congressmen and senators are also calling for hearings into the case, and if such hearings occur, they will certainly produce an abundance of interesting information pertaining to Hasan and the national security investigation of his activities.

Round and round it goes.  Where it will stop, nobody knows.

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TIMELY STRATFOR ANALYSIS ON HOW TO DETECT GRASSROOTS JIHADISTS

In Afghanistan, bad manners, Guns, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on November 10, 2009 at 5:24 pm

From Stratfor.com

Counterterrorism: Shifting from ‘Who’ to ‘How’

November 4, 2009

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Stratfor.com

In the 11th edition of the online magazine Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battle), which was released to jihadist Web sites last week, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wahayshi wrote an article that called for jihadists to conduct simple attacks against a variety of targets. The targets included “any tyrant, intelligence den, prince” or “minister” (referring to the governments in the Muslim world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen), and “any crusaders whenever you find one of them, like at the airports of the crusader Western countries that participate in the wars against Islam, or their living compounds, trains etc.,” (an obvious reference to the United States and Europe and Westerners living in Muslim countries).

Al-Wahayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan serving as a lieutenant under Osama bin Laden, noted these simple attacks could be conducted with readily available weapons such as knives, clubs or small improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to al-Wahayshi, jihadists “don’t need to conduct a big effort or spend a lot of money to manufacture 10 grams of explosive material” and that they should not “waste a long time finding the materials, because you can find all these in your mother’s kitchen, or readily at hand or in any city you are in.”

That al-Wahayshi gave these instructions in an Internet magazine distributed via jihadist chat rooms, not in some secret meeting with his operational staff, demonstrates that they are clearly intended to reach grassroots jihadists — and are not intended as some sort of internal guidance for AQAP members. In fact, al-Wahayshi was encouraging grassroots jihadists to “do what Abu al-Khair did” referring to AQAP member Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, the Saudi suicide bomber who attempted to kill Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with a small IED on Aug. 28.

The most concerning aspect of al-Wahayshi’s statement is that it is largely true. Improvised explosive mixtures are in fact relatively easy to make from readily available chemicals — if a person has the proper training — and attacks using small IEDs or other readily attainable weapons such as knives or clubs (or firearms in the United States) are indeed quite simple to conduct.

As STRATFOR has noted for several years now, with al Qaeda’s structure under continual attack and no regional al Qaeda franchise groups in the Western Hemisphere, the most pressing jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland at present stems from grassroots jihadists, not the al Qaeda core. This trend has been borne out by the large number of plots and arrests over the past several years, to include several so far in 2009. The grassroots have likewise proven to pose a critical threat to Europe (although it is important to note that the threat posed by grassroots operatives is more widespread, but normally involves smaller, less strategic attacks than those conducted by the al Qaeda core).

From a counterterrorism perspective, the problem posed by grassroots operatives is that unless they somehow self-identify by contacting a government informant or another person who reports them to authorities, attend a militant training camp, or conduct electronic correspondence with a person or organization under government scrutiny, they are very difficult to detect.

The threat posed by grassroots operatives, and the difficulty identifying them, highlight the need for counterterrorism programs to adopt a proactive, protective intelligence approach to the problem — an approach that focuses on “the how” of militant attacks instead of just “the who.”

The How

In the traditional, reactive approach to counterterrorism, where authorities respond to a crime scene after a terrorist attack to find and arrest the militants responsible for the attack, it is customary to focus on the who, or on the individual or group behind the attack. Indeed, in this approach, the only time much emphasis is placed on the how is either in an effort to identify a suspect when an unknown actor carried out the attack, or to prove that a particular suspect was responsible for the attack during a trial. Beyond these limited purposes, not much attention is paid to the how.

In large part, this focus on the who is a legacy of the fact that for many years, the primary philosophy of the U.S. government was to treat counterterrorism as a law-enforcement program, with a focus on prosecution rather than on disrupting plots.

Certainly, catching and prosecuting those who commit terrorist attacks is necessary, but from our perspective, preventing attacks is more important, and prevention requires a proactive approach. To pursue such a proactive approach to counterterrorism, the how becomes a critical question. By studying and understanding how attacks are conducted — i.e., the exact steps and actions required for a successful attack — authorities can establish systems to proactively identify early indicators that planning for an attack is under way. People involved in planning the attack can then be focused on, identified, and action can be taken prevent them from conducting the attack or attacks they are plotting. This means that focusing on the how can lead to previously unidentified suspects, e.g., those who do not self-identify.

“How was the attack conducted?” is the primary question addressed by protective intelligence, which is, at its core, a process for proactively identifying and assessing potential threats. Focusing on the how, then, requires protective intelligence practitioners to carefully study the tactics, tradecraft and behavior associated with militant actors involved in terrorist attacks. This allows them to search for and identify those behaviors before an attack takes place. Many of these behaviors are not by themselves criminal in nature; visiting a public building and observing security measures or standing on the street to watch the arrival of a VIP at their office are not illegal, but they can be indicators that an attack is being plotted. Such legal activities ultimately could be overt actions in furtherance of an illegal conspiracy to conduct the attack, but even where conspiracy cannot be proved, steps can still be taken to identify possible assailants and prevent a potential attack — or at the very least, to mitigate the risk posed by the people involved.

Protective intelligence is based on the fact that successful attacks don’t just happen out of the blue. Rather, terrorist attacks follow a discernable attack cycle. There are critical points during that cycle where a plot is most likely to be detected by an outside observer. Some of the points during the attack cycle when potential attackers are most vulnerable to detection are while surveillance is being conducted and weapons are being acquired. However, there are other, less obvious points where people on the lookout can spot preparations for an attack.

It is true that sometimes individuals do conduct ill-conceived, poorly executed attacks that involve shortcuts in the planning process. But this type of spur-of-the-moment attack is usually associated with mentally disturbed individuals and it is extremely rare for a militant actor to conduct a spontaneous terrorist attack without first following the steps of the attack cycle.

To really understand the how, protective intelligence practitioners cannot simply acknowledge that something like surveillance occurs. Rather, they must turn a powerful lens on steps like preoperational surveillance to gain an in-depth understanding of them. Dissecting an activity like preoperational surveillance requires not only examining subjects such as the demeanor demonstrated by those conducting surveillance prior to an attack and the specific methods and cover for action and status used. It also requires identifying particular times where surveillance is most likely and certain optimal vantage points (called perches in surveillance jargon) from where a surveillant is most likely to operate when seeking to surveil a specific facility or event. This type of complex understanding of surveillance can then be used to help focus human or technological countersurveillance efforts where they can be most effective.

Unfortunately, many counterterrorism investigators are so focused on the who that they do not focus on collecting this type of granular how information. When we have spoken with law enforcement officers responsible for investigating recent grassroots plots, they gave us blank stares in response to questions about how the suspects had conducted surveillance on the intended targets. They simply had not paid attention to this type of detail — but this oversight is not really the investigators’ fault. No one had ever explained to them why paying attention to, and recording, this type of detail was important. Moreover, it takes specific training and a practiced eye to observe and record these details without glossing over them. For example, it is quite useful if a protective intelligence officer has first conducted a lot of surveillance, because conducting surveillance allows one to understand what a surveillant must do and where he must be in order to effectively observe surveillance of a specific person or place.

Similarly, to truly understand the tradecraft required to build an IED and the specific steps a militant needs to complete to do so, it helps to go to an IED school where the investigator learns the tradecraft firsthand. Militant actors can and do change over time. New groups, causes and ideologies emerge, and specific militants can be killed, captured or retire. But the tactical steps a militant must complete to conduct a successful attack are constant. It doesn’t matter if the person planning an attack is a radical environmentalist, a grassroots jihadist or a member of the al Qaeda core, for while these diverse actors will exhibit different levels of professionalism in regard to terrorist tradecraft, they still must follow essentially the same steps, accomplish the same tasks and operate in the same areas. Knowing this allows protective intelligence to guard against different levels of threats.

Of course, tactics can be changed and perfected and new tactics can be developed (often in response to changes in security and law enforcement operations). Additionally, new technologies can emerge (like cell phones and Google Earth) — which can alter the way some of these activities are conducted, or reduce the time it takes to complete them. Studying the tradecraft and behaviors needed to execute evolving tactics, however, allows protective intelligence practitioners to respond to such changes and even alter how they operate in order to more effectively search for potential hostile activity.

Technology does not only aid those seeking to conduct attacks. There are a variety of new tools, such as Trapwire, a software system designed to work with camera systems to help detect patterns of preoperational surveillance, that can be focused on critical areas to help cut through the fog of noise and activity and draw attention to potential threats. These technological tools can help turn the tables on unknown plotters because they are designed to focus on the how. They will likely never replace human observation and experience, but they can serve as valuable aids to human perception.

Of course, protective intelligence does not have to be the sole responsibility of federal authorities specifically charged with counterterrorism. Corporate security managers and private security contractors should also apply these principles to protecting the people and facilities in their charge, as should local and state police agencies. In a world full of soft targets — and limited resources to protect those targets from attack — the more eyes looking for such activity the better. Even the general public has an important role to play in practicing situational awareness and spotting potential terrorist activity.

Keeping it Simple?

Al-Wahayshi is right that it is not difficult to construct improvised explosives from a wide range of household chemicals like peroxide and acetone or chlorine and brake fluid. He is also correct that some of those explosive mixtures can be concealed in objects ranging from electronic items to picture frames, or can be employed in forms ranging from hand grenades to suicide vests. Likewise, low-level attacks can also be conducted using knives, clubs and guns.

Furthermore, when grassroots jihadists plan and carry out attacks acting as lone wolves or in small compartmentalized cells without inadvertently betraying their mission by conspiring with people known to the authorities, they are not able to be detected by the who-focused systems, and it becomes far more difficult to discover and thwart these plots. This focus on the how absolutely does not mean that who-centered programs must be abandoned. Surveillance on known militants, their associates and communications should continue, efforts to identify people attending militant training camps or fighting in places like Afghanistan or Somalia must be increased, and people who conduct terrorist attacks should be identified and prosecuted.

However — and this is an important however — if an unknown militant is going to conduct even a simple attack against some of the targets al-Wahayshi suggests, such as an airport, train, or specific leader or media personality, complexity creeps into the picture, and the planning cycle must be followed if an attack is going to be successful. The prospective attacker must observe and quantify the target, construct a plan for the attack and then execute that plan. The demands of this process will force even an attacker previously unknown to the authorities into a position where he is vulnerable to discovery. If the attacker does this while there are people watching for such activity, he will likely be seen. But if he does this while there are no watchers, there is little chance that he will become a who until after the attack has been completed.

MAJOR MALIK NIDAL HASAN INVESTIGATION CREEPS ON — FBI DOES NOT FIND ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

In Afghanistan, bad manners, Crime, Cultural assassination, Guns, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on November 10, 2009 at 4:02 am
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Major Malik Nidal Hasan Shops at Local Convenience Store

An FBI press release (reproduced in full below) provides an update: government investigators cannot find an elephant in this room.

Passing strange.

Please suspend common sense and do not jump to any unwarranted conclusions — about political correctness, for example — while experts examine the obvious.  Even if it strikes one as more than a bit like children pushing Brussels sprouts under other food on their plates.

For another approach, check out this story about the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s more . . . umm . . . aggressive analysis.  Or the hard-core opinion (“Sometimes an Extremist Really Is an Extremist’) of Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg here.

Investigation Continues Into Fort Hood Shooting

The FBI continues to work closely with the Department of the Army in the joint, ongoing investigation into the tragic events that occurred last Thursday at Fort Hood. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.

With respect to the investigation—the Army Criminal Investigative Division is leading a coordinated criminal investigation with the support of the FBI and other components of the Department of Justice and the Texas Rangers. The investigation is in its early stages and the information we can provide now is limited.

With respect to what the FBI is doing—personnel from the Counterterrorism Division, Laboratory Division, and the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) are on site in support of the tragedy. The personnel deployed by the Laboratory and CIRG are specialists in crime scene analysis, evidence collection, and shooting incident reconstruction. Our victim assistance teams are working closely with their counterpart Department of Defense specialists, and we will continue to provide whatever resources are necessary to support the investigation.

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Experts at Work: "The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration."

At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Malik Nidal Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot. The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration. We are working with the military to obtain, review, and analyze all information relating to Major Hasan in order to allow for a better understanding of the facts and circumstances that led to the Fort Hood shooting. Understandably, there is a large volume of information in various forms and it will take us some time to complete this work.

There has been and continues to be a great deal of reported information about what was or might have been known to the government about Major Hasan prior to the shooting.

Major Hasan came to the attention of the FBI in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by one of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are FBI-led, multi-agency teams made up of FBI agents, other federal investigators—including those from the Department of Defense—and state and local law enforcement officers.

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"Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center."

Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning. Other communications of which the FBI was aware were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF.

Our top priority is to ensure that the person responsible for the Fort Hood shooting is held accountable. The ongoing investigation includes forensic examinations of Major Hasan’s computers and any Internet activity in hopes of gaining insight into his motivation. But the investigation to date indicates that the alleged gunman acted alone and was not part of a broader terrorist plot.

After meeting with the president, FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered a review of this matter to determine all of the facts and circumstances related to this tragedy and whether, with the benefit of hindsight, any policies or practices should change based on what we learn.

Again, this is a joint, ongoing criminal investigation that continues to move forward on many fronts. There is still much to learn. As a pending criminal case, the government remains limited in what information can be disclosed publicly about a United States citizen under investigation. As with any criminal investigation, all suspects are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty of a crime in a court of law.

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At the Gates of Vienna

LESSON FROM MAJOR NIDAL MALIK HASAN, CHO SEUNG-HUI, AND JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD TO MS-13 HIT MEN AND BOSTON TERROR CELL: IT’S A POOR WORKMAN THAT BLAMES HIS TOOLS

In Afghanistan, bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on November 10, 2009 at 12:14 am
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Virginia Tech Shooter Cho Seung-Hui, Like Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Ft. Hood, Used a Killing Tool Widely and Easily Available on the U.S. Civilian Market to Decimate Virginia Tech Campus -- The High-Capacity Semi-Automatic Pistol

Fairly Civil‘s last post on the alleged plot by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) leaders in El Salvador to assassinate an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent (“John Doe”) in Queens, New York, brought a skeptical response from some law enforcement quarters.  Here is the core of the post, which includes excerpts from an affidivait accompanying a request for an arrest warrant:

According to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant, an MS-13 member specifically tasked to kill the ICE agent described the plot to federal agents. The gangsters were looking for an AK-47 or M-16 assault rifle to do the job.

The post also referred to a similar alleged MS-13 plot to kill LAPD gang detective Frank Flores, described in “The Plot to Whack a Cop,” which can be found here.

But retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department gang Sergeant Richard Valdemar questions in a private communication to the author whether these two incidents show a pattern, much less a shift, in MS-13’s abilities and intent regarding attacks on law enforcement officers:

Funny how in the many years (1993-2004) working with the FBI Task Force with numerous agents and agencies on the MS they would now fix on one LAPD Officer Flores in Los Angeles and one “John Doe” the ICE man in New York, and they can’t seem to find a AR-15 or AK-47 to do the dastardly deed. I think there have been a lot more effective cases and cops doing serious damage to the gang over the years than these two.

More likely …an informant, or couple of informants, got twisted in Los Angeles and New York, and gave up their own clique homeboys with information that they knew the cops would value (“they plan to kill a cop”). This kind of talk goes on a lot in the gang world, but the gang members don’t always go beyond the talking stage. And you, who has studied the trafficking in weapons associated with gangs (transnational gangs especially), can’t seriously buy the …”we can’t find an assault rifle to use” excuse.

At least one mid-level ICE official active in anti-gang operations in the Southwest agrees that one case does not make a pattern shift for MS-13 (the depredations and history of which are detailed in my book No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.)

Be that as it may, the cases raise an interesting question.  What kind of gangster or would-be terrorist can’t find the tools to do the job in the United States?

The gangsters in the ICE case allegedly were having problems finding their weapons of choice, i.e. a “fully automatic” M-16 or AK clone.  This echoed the case of would-be terrorists in Boston, posted here, who gave up a plot to shoot up shopping centers because they also could not obtain machine guns:

Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted – to do the job. They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns. However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.

Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”

One might conclude that both of these cases simply reflect fortuitous ignorance on the part of would-be plotters.  Knowledge of firearms is not — as too many voices active in public fora apparently assume — easily received wisdom.  There is a stunning array of gun and ammunition types, with diverse capabilities, pros and cons, easily and widely available on the U.S. civilian gun market — not to mention the widespread criminal traffic in guns.  Any terrorist or gangster who complains about not being able to find the right tool for the job at hand is either a pea-brain or a poseur.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  But how long can we count on stupidity?

On the other hand, three successful mass shooters demonstrated that with firearms easily obtainable on the U.S. civilian market, a little bit of knowledge, premeditation, criminal intent, mental imbalance, and/or jihadist inspiration can be easily transformed into mass blood and carnage on … one wants to say “soft targets,” but how does one classify a U.S. Army fort?

Cho Seung-Hui committed suicide after killing 32 and wounding 25 in his infamous “Virginia Tech Massacre.” Washington Beltway sniper John Muhammad is scheduled to meet his maker after execution by lethal injection Tuesday, November 10. 1009, the U.S. Supreme Court having rejected his last-ditch appeal. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is alive at this writing, while government agencies try to figure out whether he was “merely” a jihadist gone nuts or a globally linked-in jihadist.

Major Hasan’s Choice for Killing Soldiers — The FN FiveseveN High Capacity Semiautomatic Pistol

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Major Hasan's Pick for Soldier-Killing Machine -- FN's FiveseveN -- is Known in Mexico as the Matapolicia, or "Cop-Killer."

FN Herstal’s FiveseveN (cute name, eh?) semiautomatic pistol fires a small caliber round at very high velocity.  It is plain and simply a “vest-buster.”  The proprietary round-handgun combination is one of the most popular firearms smuggled by firearms traffickers into Mexico, where it is known as the matapolicia, or “cop killer.”

FN originally created the 5.7X28mm cartridge as the ammunition for the P-90 submachine gun.  The P-90 SMG was designed at the invitation of NATO and in response to military needs for a weapon to be used by “troops who needed both hands for other tasks, such as officers, NCOs and technical troops,” and that would be effective against the body armor that has become standard on the battlefield.

In the mid-1990s FNH set out to design a handgun to accompany the P90 SMG. This would not have been an issue if FN had stuck to its original profession that it would restrict the sale of its new armor-piercing ammunition and pistol.

The company clearly recognized the dangerous genie it was releasing. For example, a spokesman for the company told the Sunday Times in 1996 that the pistol was “too potent” for normal police duties and was designed for anti-terrorist and hostage rescue operations. The NRA’s American Rifleman claimed in 1999 that: “Law enforcement and military markets are the target groups of FN’s new FiveseveN pistol,” and told its readers, “Don’t expect to see this cartridge sold over the counter in the United States. In this incarnation, it is strictly a law enforcement or military round.” In 2000, American Handgunner magazine assured the public, “For reasons that will become obvious, neither the gun nor the ammunition will ever be sold to civilians or even to individual officers.”

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High Capacity of the Fiveseven Adds to Its Mass Killing Power

In fact, however, the gun is being freely sold to civilians today, along with clearly problematic ammunition, through a variety of channels. What changed was precisely nothing.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan most likely gave some serious thought to his choice of weapons. With its high capacity magazine, extremely high velocity round, and cop-killing notoriety in Mexico, the FN FiveseveN was quite demonstrably an effective choice.

The reasons that American Handgunner referred to in 2000 became “obvious” last Thursday as Hasan efficiently murdered soldiers at Fort Hood in cold blood.

Beltway Snipers Chose Bushmaster AR -15 Clone

John Allen Muhammad was the senior member of the infamous Beltway sniper duo. His minor sidekick, Lee Boyd Malvo, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the shootings, which took place over three weeks in October 2002 in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Ten people were killed and three others critically injured, as well as three other crime-related deaths attributed to the pair in Louisiana and Alabama.

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2002 Washington Beltway Snipers Used a Bushmaster AR-15 Clone Like This Rifle

Muhammad, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, picked a type of firearm with which he was undoubtedly familiar — a Bushmaster AR-15 type clone of the military’s M-16 assault rifle.  Bushmaster made its mark and fortune by cranking out AR-15 clones that beat the impossibly porous 1994 Semiautomatic Assault Weapons “Ban.”

AR-15 rifles of this type are as common in America as weed-whackers in spring at a suburban hardware store.  Here’s the point for slow-readers in this context:  Any gangster or would-be terrorist who can’t get his hands on one of these guns — whether you call it a “semiautomatic assault rifle” or a “thunder-stick” — or one of the the AK clones that have been dumped in the country latterly by Eastern European manufacturers and U.S. import-whores is simply in the wrong game.

Cho’s Choice — Ex-Lockmaker Gaston Glock’s High Capacity Model 19

Virginia Tech shooter Cho chose as his lead weapon the Glock Model 19, perhaps the archetype of the modern high-capacity semiautomatic pistol.  Easy to shoot, quick to reload, and demanding neither skill nor experience when shooting down unsuspecting innocents, the Glock Model 19 is also a favorite of gangsters and assorted thugs from Vancouver to the Yucatan.

800px-GLOCK_19

Cho's Choice for Mass Murder -- Glock Model 19

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

THE UNITED NATIONS (GANG) — DRUG-TRAFFICKING ACROSS CANADA-UNITED STATES BORDER

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Marijuana Debate, Mexico, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on November 2, 2009 at 11:27 am
SUN0611 Gangstas

Members and Associates of the United Nations (UN) Gang. Clayton Roueche is in First Row Center. (Vancouver Sun Photo)

Around 11:30 p.m. on April 2 [2008] in suburban Vancouver, B.C., Clayton Roueche’s cell phone rang. It was his friend Pam Lee, who was looking for a ride down to Bellingham [Washington] International Airport, where she hoped to catch a flight to a concert in California.

“I know I can’t ask you,” Lee said.

“Yeah,” replied Roueche, as Canadian federal authorities quietly listened in with recording equipment. “I’ll never come back.”

“Do you know anybody that could?” Lee asked.

“Drive you to the States?” asked Roueche.

“Yeah,” Lee replied.

Well, said Roueche, “I wouldn’t even get down [to Bellingham]; they’d throw me in jail.”

Seattle Weekly, “The Last King of Potland,” September 09, 2008

Think of drug lords, drug trafficking organizations, and cross-border drug-trafficking and one naturally thinks of the U.S.-Mexican border, the Mexican Mafia, and Latino street gangs.  But the United Nations Gang in Vancouver, British Columbia has become a major criminal force in the U.S.-Canadian criminal traffic.  In a sentence, the gang has smuggled marijuana and people south across the border, and cocaine and guns north.

This Thursday (November 5, 2009), Clayton (Clay) Roueche, said to be the gang’s founder, will face sentencing in the federal district court in Seattle, Washington.  Federal prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Roueche to 30 years in prison.

bc_rcmp_gang2

One Doubts UN Gang Leader Clay Roueche Will Be Laughing at His Sentencing

In spite of his well-founded suspicion and caution, Rouche was arrested last year.  The collar is described in the government’s sentencing memorandum. (United States v. Roueche, “Government’s Sentencing Memorandum,” U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Docket No. CR-07-0344 RSL.):

On May 19, 2008, Clay Roueche flew from Canada to Mexico, ostensibly to attend the wedding of a UN Gang member.  Mexican law enforcement learned that Roueche was wanted in connection with drug trafficking crimes and rejected his application for entry into their country.  When Roueche’s return flight to Canada landed in Houston, Texas on a layover, he was arrested on the outstanding warrant [from a sealed indictment] and brought to this district.

Court records demonstrate that, although marijuana enthusiasts may perceive toking a bit of “BC Bud” to be a “harmless” indulgence, akin to drinking a glass of fine champagne, the proceeds of trafficking in the Canadian weed finance cocaine trafficking by the same criminal organizations.  Of course, this marijuana is also pouring into the ersatz “medical marijuana” compassionate use market.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Background

The Seattle Weekly described Roueche and the UN Gang in its September 2008 article, “The Last King of Potland,” as follows:

[The] British Columbia’s “United Nations” drug gang, [was] founded by Roueche and some of his high-school buddies in the 1990s. Now comprising as many as 300 white, Asian, and Persian members fond of dragon tattoos and designer hoodies, the gang has its own monogrammed tombstones, jewelry, and kilos of cocaine, as well as its own motto-“Honor, Loyalty, Respect”-and trail of alleged murders.

Canadian court documents describe United Nations members as “involved in marijuana grows and cross-border trafficking, extortion, threatening, and kidnappings and…linked to numerous homicides.” Based in the Fraser River Valley south of Vancouver, the organization is connected to the international Chinese crime syndicate Triad, according to investigators.

With help from local associates, the UN’s money and drugs move through Puget Sound or eastern Washington, then along the West Coast, according to U.S. and Canadian court documents. Cocaine flows north from Mexico, marijuana heads south to California, and cash goes both ways as payment and profit. The gang also deals in Ecstasy-but bud is #1.

The Economist recently estimated that historically low-crime Canada now has 950 major gangs, with Vancouver as ground zero. This decade, the B.C. drug trade has spiked to a now-estimated $7 billion annually. All that money creates a glitzy gang culture in which, a Vancouver policeman observes, “handguns are as ubiquitous as cell phones.”

The Federal Case

Pot Farmers

BC Bud Confiscated in Washington State in 2008. Smuggling of Similar High Grade BC Weed Financed the UN Gang's Cocaine Operations.

Last April Roueche pleaded guilty, and according to the government’s sentencing memorandum,  “[admitted] to conspiring with others to export more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.  He also admitted to arranging for the collection and transportation of marijuana proceeds in an attempt to conceal or disguise the sources of those funds.” The sentencing memorandum calls this a merely “legalistic description,” and fills in the details, buttressed by an affidavit and other exhibits from the investigation.

Here is how the federal prosecutors summed up Roueche and the UN Gang’s criminal operations:

In this era, where federal law enforcement agents have focused intensely on stopping the international drug trade, the phrases “drug lord” and “international drug-trafficking organization” can be misused and overstated.  But not in this case.  Defendant Clay Roueche oversaw the movement of tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana, thousands of kilograms of cocaine, and millions of U.S. dollars through several states and at least three North American countries.  He used private airplanes, float planes, helicopters, cars, semi-trucks and coded Blackberry telephones to create a secret and successful organization that he planned to extend into the Far East and South America. He employed pilots, drug couriers and money transporters to carry out the objectives of his organization.  His organization was equal parts corporate and violent.  Clay Roueche worked hard, with laudable organizational skills coupled with an attention to detail, to achieve the moniker “drug lord.”  Similarly, his organization deserves the descriptor of “international drug trafficking organization.”

Three separate drug and money laundering investigations dovetailed in 2005 and 2006, and each led to Roueche’s Canadian-based, multi-national, multi-ethnic drug trafficking organization known as the United Nations Gang (hereinafter “UN Gang”). Defendant Clay Roueche was the public face of this violent, quasi-corporate group, and led its drug trafficking endeavors.  The group used guns, threats and violence to keep its contracted workers and gang members in line and to ensure that no one informed on the group’s activities.  The UN Gang is the type of organized, sophisticated drug trading group that presents a significant danger to the safety, peace and security of the United States.

Gang Guns in Vancouver -- Guns Imported from US Civilian Market Empower Criminals Throughout Western Hemisphere

Vancouver Gang Guns -- Firerams from US Civilian Gun Market Empower DTO Throughout Western Hemisphere

In one of the attached exhibits, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Peter Ostrovsky described one of the “dovetailed” investigations that led to Roueche’s indictment, arrest, and ultimately guilty plea (United States v. Roueche, “Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, Exhibit 3, Affidavit of Peter Ostrovsky,” U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Docket No. CR-07-0344 RSL.):

3. …most prolific Canadian DTO are involved in the smuggling of Canadian marijuana into the United States in order to generate illicit proceeds which are subsequently used to purchase multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine in the United States for subsequent export and trafficking into Canada. This sort of criminality dramatically increases the United States’ illicit drug supply by causing Mexican and Colombian DTO to smuggle more cocaine, which is subsequently trafficked in the United States and sold to Canadian DTO.

4.  In the fall of 2004, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Border Integrity Program relayed information to ICE that they heard helicopters were being used for the smuggling of drug contraband across the United States–Canada border. The RCMP had no specific information about where the smuggling activity was occurring along the border….”

5.  Based on the information that ICE collected, I conceived Operation Frozen Timber as an ICE-led investigative operation with criminal investigative and homeland security purposes…By conducting such an investigative operation, ICE would also be able to ultimately prevent others from using smuggling via helicopter as a means to conduct National Security-related offenses.

6.  During January 2005, ICE agents began extensive follow-up investigation to positively identify the persons, aircraft and locations that were being used during suspected smuggling via helicopter activities.  Ultimately, ICE investigation determined that the majority of the persons that were involved in smuggling via helicopter activities were working under the direction of Roueche and his subordinates in the UN GANG.

2003095061

Canadian Helicopters Brought Weed Into US

[ICE deployed motion-triggered video monitors in remote locations, and working with informants and other sophisticated investigative techniques, observed and filmed a number of occasions when helicopters from Canada brought in large loads of marijuana, dumping them off in duffle bags to gang members on the ground.  Working through an informant, ICE agents in May 2005 sold “suspected Canadian drug smugglers” Trevor Schoueten and Brian Fews a pickup truck which had been covertly fitted out with a GPS monitor and a “kill switch.”  In June, the kill switch was activated during a run and the investigators gathered further intelligence when “Roueche subsequently contacted the informant and requested that the informant assist Schoueten in recovering the vehicle and marijuana load from the Washington State Patrol.”  Several subjects of the investigation admitted that they had been smuggled across the border in the helicopters.]

16…. Unfortunately on that same date, a RCMP member who was requested to identify the pilot of the helicopter, inadvertently advised the pilot Henry Rosenau that the U.S. Government was aware of his smuggling activities along with the locations from where Rosenau was operating the helicopters in British Columbia, Canada.…

21.  During December, 2005, during telephone conversations with the informant, Roueche solicited the informant to transport the illicit proceeds from narcotics sales in Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California in a vehicle with a hidden compartment.  During the conversations, Roueche stated that the transportation of the proceeds to California would enable him “to get what I need.”  Roueche’s statement was a reference to cocaine for the purpose of exporting it to Canada.

23.  Between January and March 2006, on multiple occasions, Roueche and his subordinate [defendant] Daniel Russell, directed the informant to have undercover ICE agents pick up, transport and deliver a total of $748,460 to persons in the Los Angeles area.

26.  During 2006, follow up investigation by ICE agents and local police investigators and the conduct of multiple search warrants resulted in the seizure of over $2,000,000 in U.S. currency and approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine in the Los Angeles area.

30.  As a result of Operation Frozen Timber, ICE agents identified at least 15 helicopter landing sites on federal and state lands in Washington State that were being used by the UN GANG for drug and human smuggling activities.  ICE agents further determined that the smuggling via helicopters was as follows:  there were multiple Canadian-registered helicopters operating from Canada away from traditional airports in rural locations, the helicopters were being loaded with drug contraband in uninhabited, forested mountainous terrain near the border, the helicopters were evading civil aviation radar detection and authorities by flying through cross border mountainous terrain where there is no radar coverage, the helicopters were flying eight to 40 miles south of the border and exploiting uninhabited federal and state lands where they could offload their drug contraband in 43 seconds to 3 minutes and then return to Canada.  Based upon the aforementioned technical data alone, this sort of smuggling activity poses a significant threat to U.S. border and homeland security.

31.  Also as a result of Operation Frozen Timber and its focus on Roueche and the activities of the UN GANG in multiple judicial districts in the Western United States, ICE agents and their law enforcement partners were able to seize approximately 2,169 pounds of Canadian marijuana, 335 kilograms of cocaine, $2,033,388 in U.S. currency, two pounds of crack cocaine, four pounds of methamphetamine, five firearms and conduct the undercover delivery of $748,460 in U.S. currency at the direction of Roueche and Russell.  ICE agents also documented through motion-activated video surveillance systems, that approximately 3,500 pounds of Canadian marijuana was smuggled into the United States by Roueche and the UN GANG which was not seized by the U.S. Government.  Based on the aforementioned seizures, information and proffers by convicted UN GANG members and criminal associates…it is estimated that Roueche and the UN GANG were responsible for importing at least 2,000 pounds of Canadian marijuana into Washington State from British Columbia, Canada and exporting at least 200 pounds of cocaine from California into British Columbia, Canada, per month.

Unrepentant Gang Boss

Roueche may be brilliant as a gang boss and drug lord.  But he did himself no favors as a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.  According to the sentencing memorandum, he painted himself as unrepentant and down with the hoods he met in several lockups:

None of Roueche’s post-arrest actions or writings evinces any desire to change his lifestyle or move in a different direction.  He simply wishes to continue supporting his organization until he can get out and pick up where he left off.  In a letter addressed to “Mrs. Roueche” but which begins, “To my Bro’s [sic],” Roueche spends two handwritten pages re-dedicating himself to his gang.  He muses about the  “hella cool” cellmates he had in the Federal Detention Center, commenting that he closely listened to their stories because he has, “a big thirst for knowledge.”  The first person he described had, “crazy tatts and bullet wounds everywhere as well as stacks of charges LOL.”

Roueche spoke reverentially of this inmate, as well as two others with criminal pasts, and describes that they all “seemed solid.”  He put himself on equal footing with these criminals, explaining, “it seems real men can usually tell what others are real.” Roueche also appears to hold those who refuse to talk to the authorities as more upstanding than those who do not.  He described that the inmates in state prisons are more “solid” than those in the federal system because those in the state system must “show paperwork.”  He described his stay in a Texas jail as “interesting” and noted that he “met a cool crew there too.”

Roueche simply shows no desire to walk away from the very people with whom he surrounded himself during his crimes.  His behavior and his letters evince a continuing need to lead his “crew” and return to the drug trafficking he has lived for the past several years.  He does not show a need or an inclination to change.  When released, Roueche will undoubtedly go back to trafficking in narcotics, or whatever illegal goods make the most money for him.

This, of course, will do him no good when he stands before the bar of justice and gets what’s coming to him.  Meanwhile, local media in Vancouver reports that the UN Gang has recovered from its loss and is still up to its elbows in criminality.

p007_1_1

Here's a Good Idea: Smoke BC Bud and Finance Another Crack Cocaine Addict's Supply!

SHOPPING MALL TERROR PLAN — SAVED FROM CARNAGE BY PLOTTERS’ IGNORANCE OF FIREARMS

In bad manners, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on October 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm
Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

Would-Be Shopping Mall Terrorist Apparently a Pea Brain When It Comes to Firearms

“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Note left for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Terrorist Group IRA After She Narrowly Avoided Injury in Brighton Hotel Bombing on October 12, 1984.

An affidavit filed by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agent in support of an application for search warrants in the Boston jihad terror case demonstrates once again how luck, incompetence, and poor training sometimes frustrate terrorists’ ideas.

Without taking an iota away from the investigative success in the case (read the full affidavit and other filings in the case to see how investigators were onto these characters like ink on print fairly early on), it is clear that the plotters could have wreaked horrific damage had they had a bit more knowledge about the potential lethality of firearms that are widely and easily available on the U.S. civilian market — even in Massachusetts.

An excerpt from the affidavit follows, setting out the would-be terrorists’ idea of attacking a shopping mall in the United States.  They even gave thought to how to deal with first responders.

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Washington Beltway Snipers Used Semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 Rifle Like This One

Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted —  to do the job.  They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns.  However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.

Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”

BACKGROUND ON THE THREAT OF SMALL ARMS TERROR ATTACKS

The private intelligence and analytical service Stratfor has written about the potential for small arms terror attacks in several postings.  These follow with links as background:

Observation on threat of armed attacks generally [note: this link may not work for non-subscribers.  Sorry!:

STRATFOR has long held that the United States and Europe are vulnerable to armed attacks against soft targets. In an open society, it is impossible to protect everything. Moreover, conducting attacks against soft targets such as hotels or malls can be done with ease, and can prove quite effective at creating carnage.

In fact, as we’ve previously pointed out,Cho Seung Hui killed more people with handguns in his attack at Virginia Tech than Jemaah Islamiyah was able to kill in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the August 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel and the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy combined. Clearly, armed assaults pose a threat.

Observation on automatic versus semiautomatic weapons specifically from a Stratfor discussion of “lone wolf attacks”:

Immaturity and lack of common sense also are significant hurdles for some would-be lone-wolf attackers. For instance, a person who attempts to buy an illicit fully automatic weapon when he could easily — and legally — obtain a less expensive semiautomatic version of the same weapon clearly is influenced by Hollywood and does not understand the effectiveness of controlled, sustained fire versus the spray-and-pray shooting he sees in the movies or on TV. As [Joseph Paul] Franklin and several mentally disturbed shooters have demonstrated, automatic weapons are not needed to inflict carnage.

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT

Given the above context, the following excerpts from the affidavit pretty much speak for themselves and demonstrate how we got lucky this time.

Excerpts from Exhibit A, Affidavit of Heidi L. Williams in Support of Application for Search and Seizure Warrant, United District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Case No. 09-120-LTS

46. Because they believed, based on ABOUSAMRA’s experiences there, that Pakistan was not feasible, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA, and CW2 began exploring other options, including committing terrorist attacks in the United States.  For example, in 2003, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed the feasibility of shooting and killing a specific member of the executive branch of the United States government.  In another conversation around the same time, ABOUSAMRA and CW2 discussed targeting a second member of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

47.  While some of these plans involved no more than one or two conversations, at least one involved multiple conversations, discussions, and preparations.  For example, in the latter half of 2003, ABAOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed a plan to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people.  They were inspired by the success of the Washington, D.C. area snipers who were successful in terrorizing the public. [Footnote 15: In the fall of 2002, there were a series of sniper shootings in the area of Washington, D.C. (Maryland and Northern Virginia), that received a great deal of media attention and "terrorized" residents of those areas because of the apparent randomness of the attacks.  Ultimately, two men, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested and convicted of some of the shootings.]  ABOUSAMRA justified attacks on civilians, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks; ABOUSAMRA stated that civilians were not innocent because they paid taxes to support the government, and because they were Kufar (non-believers).

48.  The three men discussed the logistics of a mall attack, including the types of weapons needed, the number of people who would be involved, and how to coordinate the attack from different entrances.  They considered the emergency responses and the attack of those responders.

49.  In furtherance of the plan, CW2 traveled to new Hampshire to meet with Daniel Maldonado, in an attempt to acquire the necessary weapons.  According to CW2, Maldonado was a convert to Islam who, prior to his conversion, had contacts with gang members.  Therefore, CW2 believed that Maldonado would have access to the weapons they needed.  According to CW2, Maldonado told CW2 that he would be able to obtain handguns, but would be unable to obtain automatic weapons.  CW2 told Maldonado not to ask the reason he needed the weapons.  CW2 described Maldonado as someone with extreme beliefs, like ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA.

50.  After returning to Massachusetts, CW2 told ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA that Maldonado would only  be able to provide handguns.  Because of the logistical problems of executing the operations with just handguns, the plan was abandoned.

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

Virginia Tech Mass Shooter Cho Used Handguns

EVIL STALKS THE WORLD — NO COUNTRY FOR WEAK MEN OR WOMEN

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm
"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.

The book and film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men ought to have scared the hell out of you.

If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.

The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer.  It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.

Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.

When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.

Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death.  He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent.  He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by  supervisory agent Michael Braun.

Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States.  But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.

Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:

Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.

The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.

“All the support he needs” seems to be working.  Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:

An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.

Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.

His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”

Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.

Read the entire article here.

Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department.  The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.

Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it.  Bout is not just some guy who sells guns.  He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world:  drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.

The question may be this for the Attorney General:  Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?

When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.

"Call it!"

"Call it!"

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI — A CLASSIC CASE OF THE MEDIA’S TERRORISM “NEWS” CYCLE

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 25, 2009 at 2:03 pm
London Bus Bombing

Zazi Was Cooking Up Same Explosive Used in 2005 London Bus Bombing

“Those who talk don’t know.  And those who know don’t talk.”

Highly-Classified Aphorism.

It turns out that Inspector Clouseau might not have been in charge of the Zazi transit bombing plot investigation after all.

In fact — as Fairly Civil noted in the first posting on this case — there was every evidence for those with eyes to see and ears to listen that this was going to be a case of good investigation and timely preemption.  [Extended excerpts from court documents follow below in this posting.]

You would never have known that from the news media, which followed a by-now check-the-box predictable pattern.

PART ONE — MEDIA MOCK, MOCK

Since in intelligence matters, people who actually know what’s going on don’t talk, and the people who do talk, usually don’t know, the media is reduced to flailing about, looking for a “hook” to “advance” the story.

The general direction — with a few notable and commendable exceptions, such as J.J. Green of Washington’s WTOP radio station — is to treat the counter-terrorism forces as overzealous, and the suspects as innocent folk (just like you and me) being viciously “profiled” and “eavesdropped” on.

Bewildered head-scratching. Early on in every disrupted plot, the news media raise their collective eyebrows over the fact that the authorities didn’t actually catch anybody with a lit fuse

Harrumph!! Nothing actually went bang!

The unspoken premise is that these Keystone Cops, these clowns, are seeing phantoms.  Usually, some marginal or has-been politician can be found who will indiscreetly weigh in with a sound-bite.

The Denver Post, for example, ran with this bit from former Sen. Gary Hart:

Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart said a Tuesday meeting with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly left him doubtful that authorities have uncovered an al-Qaeda terrorist cell that was planning a major terrorist attack.

“He works very closely with the FBI. If he had just uncovered any major terror conspiracy I believe he would have told me,” Hart told The Denver Post on Wednesday. He met with Kelly in his role as vice chairman of the Homeland Security Council.

“We were talking about what we could do to better protect New York City,” Hart said.

Gosh, I know if I were police commissioner, I would just tell every random guy who had an appointment with me that terrorists were plotting to blow my city up. Especially former senators who as a general rule are real good at keeping their lips sealed.

Or not.

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

People, Can We All Get Along? The “human interest” angle usually pops up fairly early, too.  This is the part where the alleged terrorists are portrayed as brothers of all mankind, just trying to get along, being hassled by the profiler man.  Ode to Joy comes to mind.

The Denver Post, no doubt feeling the weight of having an actual accused terrorist right here in the mile-high city [!!], sent a byte-stained wretch into the field to dig out this stolidly obtuse bit of gullible local color:

The 24-year-old Aurora man at the heart of a national terrorism investigation is a hard-working cabdriver who regularly attends prayer services and is working to put down roots in the United States.

In interviews on the phone and at his condominium Tuesday, Najibullah Zazi denied any terrorist ties.

“Calling me an extremist. What does that mean?” Zazi asked. “I’m just normal. I pray five times a day. I observe Ramadan.”

Oh, well, pardon us for interrupting your busy day, sir.

Not to be outdone, The New York Times scrambled to follow the Denver paper and made it official with this late edition bit of sensitive reporting:

“I have nothing to do with this,” said the man, Najibullah Zazi, 25, who was reached by telephone in Colorado on Monday and Tuesday. “This looks like it’s going toward me, which is more shocking every hour.”

Well, I know I was shocked.  The Times’ “kicker” (ending bit) in the same story left us fairly sobbing with outrage at the horrid conditions those mean old profiling, rights-abusing agents left in the wake of their outrageous Queens raid:

At one raid site, a fifth-floor apartment on 41st Avenue, a tenant, Naiz Khan, spoke of Mr. Zazi, who stayed overnight there on Thursday. He said that he had barely spoken with Mr. Zazi on his recent visit but that they had been closer when they were students at Flushing High School. He said he was committed to helping the F.B.I.

“Anything they need, I will help them out,” Mr. Khan said on Tuesday, standing amid a messy jumble of belongings. “It’s my responsibility.”

That a man can rise to such selflessness, “standing amid a messy jumble” … well, it touches one’s heart.

News desk, get me a pissing match! The oldest, greasiest card in the journaliste pack-o-tricks is the [excuse my French] “pissing match.”

It’s a great way to fill a factual void.

Any beat reporter worth his or her salt knows how to start one of these.  Find an anonymous “source” from the party of the first part who will likely criticize the party of the second part.  Ask that person a clever question ["Say, what do you really think about the way the Second Department handled that search?"].  Take the answer ["Those idiots from 2D couldn't find their ass in the dark with a flashlight in both hands!"] to another “source” in the party of the second part for “reaction” ["Hate to bother you, but I think it's only fair to get your reaction to something I heard today from an official over in 1D"].

This is good for several days worth of “reportage.”

The New York Daily News sent the first hack out to stir this angle up:

Raids on three Queens apartments may have derailed a terror plot, but they caused a rift between the NYPD and FBI officials who wanted to get more evidence, sources said Tuesday.

Although the NYPD’s top spokesman denied a rift, sources said the FBI wanted to hold off to determine exactly what a Denver-based terror cell was planning.

A frenzy followed.

Look, maybe mistakes were made, but my experience has been after having interviewed many, many agents and officials who work in this area is that one can always find those who will criticize other agencies, but over the long run those working at the point of the spear pull together and put their differences aside.  I personally doubt very much that the JTTF is riven with “fissiparous tendencies.”

And by the way, if you want to see a snake pit of back-biting rifts, just visit any newsroom.  Talk about pissing matches.

And further by the way, precisely when would the journalistes — the editors and reporters — have moved against such a plot?  When would they interrupt bomb-makers?  And would they turn their backs on “aspirational” bombers, hoping that they would never become “operational” and actually blow something up?

Hmm, Maybe — But Just Maybe — They Have A Little Something Here. As more evidence emerges , the media fall back on ponderous ruminations that the plot was disrupted before the bumbling plotters were able to create a serious threat.  Curiously, that is not a good thing.  A popular variant is that the FBI (or other agency) undercover agents who infiltrated the cell of would-be terrorists were the true “motivating” force who pushed a bunch of innocent clowns along the road to perdition.

Thus, The New York Times reported that authorities, possibly, maybe, kinda-sorta had some proof:

The central figure in what authorities describe as a widening inquiry into a possible plot to detonate explosives in the United States had been trained in weapons and explosives in Pakistan and, according to court papers released Sunday, had made nine pages of handwritten notes on how to make and handle bombs.

But the paper-of-record felt compelled to add a bit more wee-wee match “tension” to the brew, and insert the ritual “the plot had not taken shape” clause:

In a sense, the case reflects the tension that has grown between intelligence and law enforcement agencies since the September 2001 attacks. Some intelligence officials are prepared to disrupt a group as soon as its activities are discovered, while more case-oriented law enforcement agencies seek to surreptitiously track or infiltrate a suspect group, uncovering all of its members, until there is compelling evidence to charge the plotters with a crime.

In this case, officials say, Mr. Zazi and his confederates were apparently deterred before any plot had a chance to take shape and before investigators were able to clearly understand what the men were planning. That left prosecutors to charge the three men with proxy offenses of making false statements rather than crimes directly involving terrorism.

This is wool-gathering pabulum.  If you think that there have been tensions between law enforcement and intelligence agencies “since the September 2001 attacks,” you should recall the real “Chinese Wall” that existed between them before that infamous date.

Holy S**t, Batman, This was real! Finally, comes acceptance.

Bad people really do want to hurt us.

Our counter-terrorism agencies really do catch many (one would hope most and wish all) of them before they can do us harm.

So, today, The New York Times grudgingly leads with the news that the case of Najibullah Zazi “may” be different.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, senior government officials have announced dozens of terrorism cases that on closer examination seemed to diminish as legitimate threats. The accumulating evidence against a Denver airport shuttle driver suggests he may be different, with some investigators calling his case the most serious in years.

Gosh, authorities must be gratified that the experts in the media now agree that this is serious!

Still, the paper can’t resist pulling lint out of the navel of so-called “aspirational” cases, those where nothing went boom because undercover agents defused the plot.  Buried at the very end of this pompous fugue of faux journalistic “expertise” in terrorism investigations is a typical media “J’accuse!” format: an agency’s “admission” with a “but” qualifier.

What could be more fair?

F.B.I. officials have admitted that such cases are “aspirational” rather than operational. But they note that if the Sept. 11 hijackers — some of whom were unsophisticated recent arrivals to the United States — had been interrupted early on, they might have looked amateurish and the notion that they could turn jetliners into missiles far-fetched.

PART TWO — FOR THE RECORD

So, what evidence does the government have?  Well, keeping in mind that prosecutors are not going to put on the table more than they need to, and using a bit of common sense and understanding about how real investigations (as opposed to media imaginings) actually work, the following is a bare minimum.  And chilling.

On the point of competence, if you read these filings (and others quoted in other posts) carefully, you will see several junctures at which judicial authorization was obtained.  These indicate that at those points the investigators had other evidence not cited here which persuaded a judge to approve the investigative steps.  In other words, 1 + 1 = 3.

These excerpts come from the indictment and a memorandum of law opposing release of bail in the case of United States v. Najibullah Zazi in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Docket No. 09-CR-663:

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI, together with others, did knowingly, intentionally, and without lawful authority conspire to use one or more weapons of mass destruction, to wit: explosive bombs and other similar explosive devices, against persons and property within the United States…

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans….

A. Trip to Pakistan

Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) records show that on August 28, 2008, Zazi and others flew from Newark Liberty International Airport to Peshawar, Pakistan via Geneva, Switzerland and Doha, Qatar.  They traveled on Qatar Airlines Flight Number 84.

Zazi is associated with three email accounts (“Email Account 1,” “Email Account 2,” and “Email Account 3″) that were active during his time in Pakistan.  One of the accounts is directly subscribed to Zazi, and all three accounts contain slight variations of the same password.  The government will establish at trial that these accounts were used in furtherance of Zazi’s efforts to manufacture explosive devices.  Among other things, during a consent search of two of three of the accounts, agents found jpeg images of nine pages of handwritten notes containing formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of different kinds of explosives.  Based on email header information, these images had been emailed to Email Accounts 2 and 3 in early December 2008, while Zazi was in Pakistan.  As discussed below, the same notes were transferred onto ZAZI’s laptop computer in June 2009.

The notes contained specifications for, among other explosives, the explosive Triacetone Triperoxide (“TATP”), which is the explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and intended to be used in the 2001 “shoe bomb” plot by Richard Reid.  The three components of TATP are hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid (such as hydrochloric acid).  The handwritten notes mention that acetone is found in nail polish remover and that hydrogen peroxide can be found in “Hair Salon – 29-30%.”  The notes discuss formulations for mixing hydrogen peroxide with flour, and list ghee oil as a type of fuel that can be used to help initiate the explosive device.

Zazi flew from Peshawar back to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York (“JFK”) on January 15, 2009 aboard Qatar Airlines Flight Number 83.

B.  Research and Purchase of Explosive Device Components

Prior to traveling to Pakistan, Zazi lived in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  Within days of returning from Pakistan, Zazi moved to Aurora, Colorado.  Zazi resided with family members on East Ontario Drive in Aurora from January 2009 until the end of July 2009.  Zazi’s father, Mohamed Wali Zazi (“Wali”) moved from New York to Aurora in July 2009, and the two ultimately moved into a residence on East Smoky Hill Road in Aurora on or about July 31.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that Zazi transferred the bomb-making instruction notes onto his laptop and/or accessed the notes on his laptop in June and July 2009.  The FBI’s search of the laptop also reflects that Zazi conducted several internet searches for hydrochloric acid during the summer of 2009, and “bookmarked” a site on two different browsers for “Lab Safety for Hydrochloric Acid.”  Zazi also searched a beauty salon website for hydrocide and peroxide.

During July and August 2009, Zazi and others associated with Zazi purchased unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area.  Surveillance videos and receipts reflect that on July 25, 2009, Zazi purchased six bottles of “Liquid Developer Clairoxide” from a beauty supply store in Aurora.  This product contains high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.  The videos and receipts also establish that on August 28, 2009, Zazi purchased 12 32-oz bottles of “Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume” — another hydrogen peroxide based product — from the same store.  Records from a nearby hotel in Aurora reflect that Zazi checked into a suite in the hotel on the same day.  The suite included a stove.

The evidence will further establish that individuals associated with Zazi purchased unusual quantities of hydrogen and acetone products in July, August and September 2009 from three different beauty supply stores in and around Aurora.  One person purchased a one-gallon container of a product containing 20% hydrogen peroxide, as well as an eight ounce bottle of acetone.  A second person purchased an acetone product in approximately the first week of September.  A third person purchased 32-ounce bottles of Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer, a product containing high levels of hydrogen peroxide, on approximately three occasions during the summer of 2009.

C.  Travel to New York

On September 6 and 7, 2009, Zazi rented the same suite at the same hotel in Aurora where he had stayed on August 28.  The hotel surveillance camera captured Zazi checking-in to the hotel at 2:32 p.m. on September 6.  Subsequent FBI testing for explosives and chemical residue in the suite revealed the presence of acetone residue in the vent above the stove.  Importantly, the bomb-making notes contemplate heating the components in order to make them highly concentrated.

Also on September 6 and 7, Zazi attempted to communicate on multiple occasions  with another individual — each communication more urgent in tone than the last — seeking to correct [sic, probably "seeking correct"]  mixtures of ingredients to make explosives.  Included in the communications were requests related to flour and ghee oil, which are two ingredients listed in the bomb-making instructions.  Zazi repeatedly emphasized in the communications that he needed the answers right away.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that the next day, September 8, Zazi searched the internet for locations of a home improvement store within zip code 11354, the zip code for the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  He then searched the home improvement store’s website for muriatic acid, which is a diluted version of hydrochloric acid and, as discussed, could constitute the third component of TATP, which is comprised of hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid like hydrochloric acid.  Zazi viewed four different types of muriatic acid.  He viewed one particular type — Klean Green Safer Muriatic Acid — multiple times.  This product claims to have lower fumes and is safer to handle than standard muriatic acid.

The same day as the home improvement store internet searches, Zazi rented a car.  The next day, September 9, Zazi started driving from Colorado to New York City, taking with him the laptop computer (which, as noted, contained the bomb-making instructions).  The car rental contract reflects that Zazi was supposed to return the car in New York on September 14, 2009.

Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10 and traveled to Flushing, Queens.  Lawfully-authorized intercepts of Zazi’s cell phone reflect that Zazi became suspicious, and then learned directly, that law enforcement officers were tracking his activities.  Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on September 12.

Zazi spent the night of September 10 at a residence in Queens.  During the execution of a search warrant at the Queens residence, agents found, among several other items, an electronic weight scale in the closet.  The scale and batteries both contained Zazi’s fingerprints.  In addition, during a lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop, agents found the images of the handwritten bomb-making instructions discussed above.  Experts in the FBI’s explosives unit have opined that the scale would be suitable for performing several of the procedures outline in the instructions.  With respect to TATP, a scale such as the one recovered would be required to weigh the hydrogen peroxide and other precursor chemicals in determining the proper concentrations and ratios.  These procedures are outlined in the bomb-making notes.

After Zazi’s laptop was searched in New York, and after Zazi returned to Colorado with his laptop, agents executed a search warrant at his Aurora address.  Agents recovered the same laptop that had previously been searched and found that the hard drive had since been removed.

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

JACK BE NIMBLE — TERRORIST AND DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS DEFY STEREOTYPES

In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on April 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

Instead of being run by a handful of massive, price-fixing ‘cartels’, the Colombian drug trade, then and now, was characterized by a fluid social system where flexible exchange networks expanded and retracted according to market opportunities and regulatory constraints.

Abstract, “The Architecture of Drug Trafficking: Network Forms of Organisation in the Colombian Cocaine Trade,” in journal Global Crime, by Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Kenney,  author of From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation.

American officials attributed the delays to cumbersome U.S. government contracting requirements, negotiations over exactly what equipment is needed, and the challenges of creating an infrastructure to deliver an aid package that spans four dozen programs and several U.S. agencies.

“U.S. Aid Delays in Drug War Criticized; Mexicans Seek ‘True Solidarity’,” Washington Post, April 5, 2009.

Look at almost any law enforcement organization — from local police to the U.S. Department of Justice — and you will see a classic bureaucratic structure not overly different from that of the Social Security Administration, the Postal Service, or the Boy Scouts.  Responsibility, authority, and funds flow downward through a series of boxes.  The bureaucracy’s being branches from the head of the agency or department at the top of a vertical pyramid down to the unit or squad at the bottom.

Add in the invisible external forces of the executive (president, governor, mayor) and legislative (council, legislature, Congress) decision-making process and you have a cumbersome beast.  That beast then has to coordinate what it does with the other beasts thrashing around in the law enforcement underbrush, all of whom have historically been reluctant to share their turf.

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice

A case in point is the implementation of the Merida Initiative, under which the United States is supposed to be helping Mexico fight its drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to the two countries’ mutual benefit.

Last June, Congress appropriated $400 million.  According to the Washington Post (April 5, 2009), the State Department announced in December 2008 that $197 million of that funding had been “released.” But the paper’s close examination “shows that just two small projects under Merida — the delivery of high-speed computer servers in December and an arms-trafficking workshop attended by senior U.S. officials at a Mexican resort last week — have been completed.”

Here’s one bureaucrat’s explanation quoted by the Post:

“We are moving as fast as we can, but we also have to do this right,” said Roberta S. Jacobson, who, as deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, helped negotiate the Merida Initiative. “We are creating a $1 billion program essentially from scratch, and if we try and move faster than our own procedures — and those of Mexico — can manage, we risk the careful oversight and monitoring that we and Congress expect.”

Agility and speed are not strong points of such bureaucracies.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Drug Traffickers Cash and GunsSeized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

Drug Traffickers Cash and Guns Seized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

Contrast the speed and agility with which the DTOs operate.  These guys move this kind of money — and more — around in suitcases.  The $400 million Congress appropriated is chump change to drug barons.  A former senior official of a federal law enforcement agency told me last week about a case in which the agency seized a suitcase with $250 million in cash.  Monitoring of drug bosses’ conversation later revealed that they didn’t blink an eye–they took it as just a cost of doing a much bigger business.

Part of the difference between transnational criminals and bureaucracies is ruthlessness.  Any DTO underling who took this long to deliver the proceeds would get a terminal headache — from a couple of bullets in the back of the head.

But the more important difference in the view of many experts is the way drug trafficking organizations — and many other transnational criminal organizations — are…well, organized.

West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

Here, for example, is a description of drug trafficking organizations in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez plaza, “a principal smuggling corridor and staging area for drug transportation to markets throughout the United States,” according to the April 2007 West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis, published by the National Drug Intelligence Center:

Over the past few years, the structure of Mexican DTOs operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza has changed from traditional hierarchical organizations to much more efficient organizations composed of decentralized networks of interdependent, task-oriented cells. For example, one cell may be responsible for transporting drug shipments across the U.S.-Mexico border, another for transporting drugs to U.S. markets, and another for laundering drug funds. The variety of relationships that these individual cells can have with one another as well as their insular nature, particularly for organizational heads, renders these DTOs more difficult for law enforcement to dismantle than DTOs with a traditional hierarchical structure. In addition, if the head of the DTO or cell leaders are identified and arrested, the decentralized, interdependent nature of these DTOs ensures that they can continue to operate unimpeded.

Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's Wordpess blog)

Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's WordPress blog)

This segmented but integrated network is “flat,” compared to the Christmas tree bureaucratic structure.  Yet, it still lends itself to the severely authoritarian rule of the narco bosses.  “The leaders of these organizations…give the orders and expect them to be followed.” (Gregory D. Lee, Global Drug Enforcement: Practical Investigative Techniques, p. 288.)   It’s like a giant, global LEGO factory set — the pieces can be custom designed, moved around, plugged in, and shifted to different shapes to meet different needs and respond to law enforcement pressures, all the while preserving operational security.

Here is how Michael A. Braun — former assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — described it in his March 12, 2009 statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

The Mexican cartels’ ‘corporate’ headquarters are set up South of our border, and thanks to  corruption, cartel leaders often times carry out their work in palatial surroundings. The cartel leaders manage and direct the daily activities of ‘command and control cells’ that are typically located just across the border in our Country. Those command and control cells manage and direct the daily activities of ‘distribution, transportation and money laundering cells’ all across our Nation.

The cartels operate just like terrorist organizations, with extremely complex organizational structures, consisting of highly compartmentalized cells: distribution cells, transportation cells, money laundering cells, and in some cases assassination cells or ‘hit squads.’ Many experts believe Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations are far more sophisticated, operationally and structurally, then Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. In fact, some experts   believe that Middle Eastern terrorist organizations actually copied the drug trafficking cartels’ sophisticated organizational model for their advantage. This sophisticated organizational model continues to thwart law enforcement and security services around the globe. Cell members are so compartmentalized that they possess little, if any knowledge of the greater organizational model that encircles and supports their nodes; therefore, they can share little of value when apprehended.

The DEA has long noted the intersection of terrorist organizations and drug trafficking:

For many years the…DEA special agents have recognized that terrorist organizations rely on drug traffickers as a straightforward, easy source of income to finance their political agendas.  Drug traffickers, in turn, rely on terrorists to provide protection for their laboratory and drug distribution endeavors.  Through protection rackets, extortion, or “taxation” of drug traffickers, terrorists receive the funds necessary to carry out their violent acts.  (Lee, p. 287)

Nimble, quick, deadly — and aimed at you.

TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS LIKE HEZBOLLAH FINDING BIG MONEY IN DRUG-TRAFFICKING

In Corruption, Crime, Guns, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on March 25, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Snort Coke, Kill Babies:  World-Class Terrorist Group Hezbollah Has Been Linked To Drug Traffickers in Latin America

Snort Coke, Kill Babies: World-Class Terrorist Group Hezbollah Has Been Linked To Drug Traffickers in Latin America

Terrorist groups like Lebanon’s blood-drenched Hezbollah are exploiting the wretched of the earth — whom they claim to represent — through drug-trafficking for three main reasons:

  • The decline of state sponsorship for terrorist groups — the Soviet Union has collapsed, smaller players like Libya have been whipped into line (although Iran still deals blood cards to its friends like Hezbollah).
  • The success of government agencies — like the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence — in disrupting private funding for terrorist groups.
  • The fact that nothing brings in the cash like drug trafficking. It is simply the most lucrative criminal trade in the world.
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, right, U.S. DEA regional director David Gaddis, center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations Michael Braun, speak during a meeting in Managua, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008.

Odd Fellows: Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, right, U.S. DEA regional director David Gaddis, center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations Michael Braun, met in Managua, Feb. 4, 2008.

Michael Braun ought to know.  Then assistant administrator for operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Braun spoke at length last year on the relationship between terrorist groups and drug trafficking.  You can listen to his fascinating presentation here.  Among other interesting points, Braun told his audience that terrorist operations per se cost relatively little — the September 11th attacks, he said, are estimated to have cost about $500,000, which is less than the one year’s bonus of a middling officer in a failed financial insitution these days.  The big ticket is the quotidian daily cost of any group’s clandestine operations:  e.g., recruiting, training, procuring arms, corrupting public officals, obtaining documents, and transportation.

Braun — now a principal at the private security group Spectre Group International — more recently touched on the similarities and affinities of terrorist groups and drug-trafficking organizations in testimony before the Subcommittee on The Western Hemisphere of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee:

The cartels operate just like terrorist organizations, with extremely complex organizational structures, consisting of highly compartmentalized cells: distribution cells, transportation cells, money laundering cells, and in some cases assassination cells or ‘hit squads.’ Many experts believe Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations are far more sophisticated, operationally and organizationally, then Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. In fact, some experts believe that Middle Eastern terrorist organizations actually copied the drug trafficking cartels’ sophisticated organizational model for their advantage. This sophisticated organizational model continues to thwart law enforcement and security services around the globe. Cell members are so compartmentalized that they possess little, if any knowledge of the greater organizations that encircle and support their nodes; therefore, they can share little of value with law enforcement when apprehended.

The Mexican cartels rely heavily on three of their most important tradecraft tools to maintain power: corruption, intimidation and violence the ‘hallmarks of organized crime.’ If they can’t corrupt you, they will intimidate you; if that doesn’t work, they will turn to brutal violence. Without the hallmarks of organized crime, the cartels simply cannot effectively operate. The Mexican cartels spend hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt each year, and they have succeeded in corrupting virtually every level of the Mexican government. If anyone believes for one minute that these powerful syndicates are not looking north into the United States to corrupt they’re obviously blind. We are already experiencing a spillover of drug related violence, and it’s not just in communities along our SWB. It’s also playing out in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Omaha, Seattle, Maui and Anchorage.

That’s a lot of information packed into two paragraphs.

Terrorist Attacks on September 11th Said to Cost About $500,000 -- Chump Change in the Wall Street Bonus World

Terrorist Attacks on September 11th Said to Cost About $500,000 -- Chump Change in the Wall Street Bonus World

Terrorist Bombing of Trains in Madrid Said to Have Been Financed By Sale of Hashish and MDMA

Terrorist Bombing of Trains in Madrid Said to Have Been Financed By Sale of Hashish and MDMA

Terrorist Groups in Criminal Enterprises Generally

Here is what terrorism-financing expert and former Treasury official Matt Levitt has written recently about the nexus between terrorist groups and drug trafficking in general:

While terrorist groups are involved in a wide variety of criminal activity, ranging from cigarette smuggling to selling counterfeit products, the nexus between drugs and terror is particularly strong. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 19 of the 43 U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations are definitively linked to the global drug trade, and up to 60 percent of terror organizations are suspected of having some ties with the illegal narcotics trade.

Terrorist groups are particularly attracted to the drug trade because of the potential profits. The United Nations estimates that the international drug trade generates $322 billion per year in revenue, making drugs by far the most lucrative illicit activity. Beyond just selling the product, drugs provide many different avenues of revenue, including taxing farmers and local cartels, and providing security needs for all aspects of production, trade, and distribution. Groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Columbian FARC, and the Lebanese Hezbollah generate significant resources from the extortion fees they collect from drug cartels and poppy or coca farmers operating in their “territory.”

Hezbollah and Other Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups Active in Latin American Drug Traffic

The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has a long record of engaging in criminal enterprises to raise funds.  Barbara Newman and I wrote at length about this history of Hezbollah in our book Lightning Out of Lebanon:  Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.  We focused on the cigarette-trafficking operations of one cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, but also addressed the history of Hezbollah and its criminal and terror operations, including those in Latin America.

Wild West Tri-Border Region Is Ideal Interface for Terrorist Groups and Criminal Schemes, Including Drug Trafficking

Wild West Tri-Border Region Is Ideal Interface for Terrorist Groups and Criminal Schemes, Including Drug Trafficking

Hezbollah is among other terror groups on the bloody terror tit of Iran.  In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in April 2008 then-Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey stated, “we have an estimate that Iran provides between $100 million and $200 million a year to Hezbollah alone.”  But $200 million doesn’t nearly meet Hezbollah’s needs.  So it operates as vast, world-wide criminal enterprise to raise funds.  One obvious place is the wild-west Tri-Border Region where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina come together.  Notorious for its lawlessness, the region has become a major interface between Andean cocaine Land and Middle Eastern Terror Land.

Here is Levitt on the point [he prefers the official spelling of Hizballah, I like Hezbollah.  You say, "tomato" . . . etc.]:

In South America, Hizballah operatives engage in a wide range of criminal enterprises, including mafia-style shakedowns of local Arab communities, sophisticated import-export scams involving traders from India and Hong Kong, and small companies that engage in only a few thousand dollars worth of actual business but help transfer tens of thousands of dollars around the globe. The Tri-Border Area is especially important to Hizballah; according to the U.S. Naval War College, the group raises nearly $10 million per year there.

And on the broader point of terrorists and drug traffickers, here is an excerpt from the “Posture Statement 2009″ of Admiral James G. Stavridis, United States Navy Commander, United States Southern Command, given before House and Senate Armed Services Committees:

One specific area of increasing concern is the nexus of illicit drug trafficking — including routes, profits, and corruptive influence — and terrorism.  In the Western Hemisphere, the illicit drug trade historically has contributed, and continues to contribute, significant financial resources to known terrorist groups like the FARC in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru.  Another threat to the United States is the nexus within Islamic radical terrorism.  In August of last year, U.S. Southern Command supported a Drug Enforcement Administration operation, in coordination with host countries, that targeted a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking organization in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.  Last October, we supported another interagency operation that resulted in the arrests of a several dozen individuals in Colombia associated with a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking and money laundering ring.  Identifying, monitoring, and dismantling the financial, logistical, and communication linkages between the illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security.

Kumbaya?

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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