Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Najibullah Zazi’

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

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI CASE GETS SPOOKIER — FEDS GIVE NOTICE OF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE PROTECTIONS

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Never Forget

Never Forget

Enigmatic Quote for Today

The native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Prosecutors in the case of the suspected transit-bomber Najibullah Zazi have served notice in the federal court in Denver that they intend to use provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) that will protect sensitive information from public disclosure.  [See later post here with more filings.]

What follows is an overview of some of the relevant filings, law, and controversies around FISA.

The Government’s Notice

The United States of America … hereby provides notice to defendant Najibullah Zazi and to the Court , that pursuant to Title 50, United States Code, Section 1806(c) and 1825 (d), that [sic] the United States intends to offer into evidence, or otherwise use or disclose in any proceedings in the above-captioned matter [United States v. Najibullah Zazi], information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance and physical search conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”), as amended, 50 U.S.C. SS 1801-1812 and 1821-1829.

“Notice of Intent To Use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Information,” United States v. Najibullah Zazi, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Docket No. 09-cr-03001-CBS, September 21, 2009.

Different Views of FISA

Law enforcement, intelligence community view:

Virtually all counter-terror and counter-intelligence agents in the United States regard FISA and its various amendments as essential to their work:

FISA has since its enactment been a bold and productive tool in this country’s fight against the efforts of foreign governments and their agents to engage in intelligence-gathering aimed at the U.S. government, either to ascertain its future policy or to effect its current policy, to acquire proprietary information not publicly available, or to engage in disinformation efforts. With the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act FISA has been expanded and broadened to make it a useful tool in exposing and combating foreign terrorist groups’ efforts to target the United States.

James G. McAdams, III, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): An Overview,” Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 2007.

ACLU View

The American Civil Liberties Union — not surprisingly — has a much different view of FISA:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), born after the Watergate scandal, establishes how the government can secretly eavesdrop on Americans in their own country in intelligence investigations. It was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information involving communications with “agents of foreign powers.”

On July 10, 2008, President Bush signed the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), supposedly aimed at “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Unfortunately, the law meant to “update” FISA instead gutted the original law by eviscerating the role of the judicial oversight in government surveillance. The law also gave sweeping immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program by handing over access to our communications without a warrant. On the same day the FAA was signed into law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

This is not the first time that Congress has undermined FISA. The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001 and re-authorized in 2006, amended FISA to make it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, even when they are not suspected of having connections to terrorism.

Congressional leadership has promised to address the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act before it sunsets in 2012 during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. Until then, the ACLU will fight in the courts to block the law from taking effect.

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit to block the FAA is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/fisa.html.

How Often Is FISA Used?

An annual report to Congress from the Justice Department contains statistics about FISA use, as well as discussion of some of the topical issues surrounding it. Here are the statistics:

During calendar year 2008, the Government made 2,082 applications to the Foreign Surveillance Court (hereinafter “FISC”) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search for foreign intelligence purposes. The 2,082 applications include applications made solely for electronic surveillance, applications made solely for physical search, and combined applications requesting authority for electronic surveillance and physical search.

During calendar year 2008, the FISC approved 2,083 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search (two applications filed in calendar-year 2007 were not approved until calendar-year 2008). The FISC made substantive modifications to the Government’s proposed orders in two of those applications. The FISC denied one application filed by the Government during calendar year 2008.

Letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, Office of Legislative Affairs, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, May 14, 2009.

Some of the Statutory Provisions

For the wonks still with us, here are excerpts from the basic law.  There are many more provisions that should be reviewed to get a complete understanding, which eludes even the most nimble legal minds in Washington and Kabul, but these seem most relevant to the moment:

50 U.S. Code 1806

(c) Notification by United States

Whenever the Government intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from an electronic surveillance of that aggrieved person pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the Government shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the Government intends to so disclose or so use such information.

50 U.S. Code 1825

(d) Notification by United States

Whenever the United States intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from a physical search pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the United States shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or the other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the United States intends to so disclose or so use such information.

§ 1801. Definitions

As used in this subchapter:

(a) “Foreign power” means—

….

(4) a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor;

(b) “Agent of a foreign power” means—

(1) any person other than a United States person, who—

(C) engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore…

(f) “Electronic surveillance” means—

(1) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States, if the contents are acquired by intentionally targeting that United States person, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes;

(2) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States, but does not include the acquisition of those communications of computer trespassers that would be permissible under section 2511 (2)(i) of title 18;

(3) the intentional acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, and if both the sender and all intended recipients are located within the United States; or

(4) the installation or use of an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device in the United States for monitoring to acquire information, other than from a wire or radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes.

§ 1821. Definitions

(5) “Physical search” means any physical intrusion within the United States into premises or property (including examination of the interior of property by technical means) that is intended to result in a seizure, reproduction, inspection, or alteration of information, material, or property, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, but does not include

(A) “electronic surveillance”, as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title, or

(B) the acquisition by the United States Government of foreign intelligence information from international or foreign communications, or foreign intelligence activities conducted in accordance with otherwise applicable Federal law involving a foreign electronic communications system, utilizing a means other than electronic surveillance as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title.

Excerpts from Title 50, Chapter 36 — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance at Cornell University Law School website.

Alas, Poor Yorick

Alas, Poor Yorick

THE CASE AGAINST TERROR SUSPECT NAJIBULLAH ZAZI–FBI AFFIDAVIT REVEALS ELEGANT WORK

In bad manners, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm
Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Najibullah Zazi just learned a golden rule.

Never, ever lie to the FBI.

Zazi, the principal local suspect in the ongoing and unfolding international terrorism investigation that came into public view with raids in New York last week, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.  So has his father and another person. The thrust of the alleged plot seems to be that Zazi and others may have been cooking up a transit bombing somewhere in the United States similar to those in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

A few self-critical kumbaya speeches have not and cannot erase the threat from radical forces who hate the United States and want to make things go bang here.

A careful reading of the affidavits filed in support of criminal complaints and arrest warrants reveals that — as usual in such cases — the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and without a scintilla of doubt, the U.S. intelligence community know a lot more about Mr. Zazi than has been publicly revealed. The U.S. Department of Justice is spooling out just enough rope to arrest and detain Zazi and his alleged co-conspirators.

The government is, of course, not going to reveal all of its sources and methods, but it is pretty clear that we have come a long way from September 11, 2001.  Our counter-terrorism investigators are reading the labels on some of the bad guys’ underwear. [See details of later government filings in posts here and here.]

Zazi’s pitiful attempt to lie his way out of his possession of handwritten notes about bomb-making — in the context of a mother lode of backpacks and a scale useful for mixing bang-bang chemicals –are central to the false statement charge.  In brief, Zazi claimed in interviews with the FBI that he unintentionally downloaded the instructions from a “religious book” [must be an interesting religion, what?] and immediately erased the book when he saw that it discussed jihad.  But various means of intelligence revealed that he actually emailed the damning instructions to himself.

Oops.

London Transit Bombing 2005

London Transit Bombing 2005

What follows is an excerpt from the FBI affidavit filed in Colorado.  Keep in mind that Zazi is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence at law, and that the evidence the government refers to in this affidavit is certainly not all of the evidence in its possession.  Moreover, this is no doubt a holding action as the investigation continues. [The complete affidavits can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website here.]

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT OF FBI AGENT IN SUPPORT OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINT AND ARREST WARRANT IN UNITED STATES V. NAJIBULLAH ZAZI

United States District Court for the District of Colorado, September 19, 2009

15. On or about September 11, 2009, FBI agents conducted a legally-authorized search of the defendant ZAZI’s rental car, which was parked near the Queens residence. During the search of the car, a laptop computer was found containing a jpeg image of nine-pages of handwritten notes (the “handwritten notes”). The handwritten notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.

16. Rental records reflect that the defendant ZAZI was supposed to return his rental car in New York on September 14, 2009. However, on September 12, 2009, the defendant ZAZI flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York to Denver, Colorado.

17. On or about September 14, 2009, FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Queens residence. Among other items, the FBI seized a black scale containing several double A batteries. Fingerprint testing revealed that the defendant ZAZI’s fingerprints were found on both the scale and the batteries.

ZAZI’s FALSE STATEMENTS

18. On or about September 16, 2009, the defendant ZAZI was interviewed by members of the JTTF at the FBI [sic] in Denver, Colorado. The defendant ZAZI had voluntarily appeared at the offices of the FBI and agreed to answer questions. During this interview, the defendant ZAZI was questioned about, among several other topics, the handwritten notes found on his computer. During the interview, the defendant was show the handwritten notes. The defendant stated that he had never seen the document before. He further stated that if the handwritten notes was [sic] found on his computer, he must have unintentionally downloaded it as part of a religious book he had downloaded in August 2009. He stated that he had immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad. He stated that he had not handwritten the notes.

19. During the same interview, the defendant was asked about his email accounts, and listed three accounts, including an account known to law enforcement (“Account A”). The investigation has determined that the password for Account A is a nine-digit number.  The investigation has revealed the existence of two email accounts known to law enforcement (“Account B” and “Account C”). A search of Account B registered to a “Kado Khan,” reveals that another email account known to law enforcement (“the originating account”) sent a message to Account B with the handwritten notes included as an attachment on or about December 2, 2008. The password for the email account is the same nine-digit password at [sic, probably "as"] the password for Account A. A search of the Account C, registered to a “kado gul” in Peshawar, Pakistan, reveals the originating account also sent an email with the handwritten notes as an attachment to Account C on or about December 3, 2008. Account C can be opened with a six-digit password that has the same first six digits of the passwords for Accounts A and B. Based on the similarity of addresses and identity of passwords, I believe that the defendant controlled Account A as well as Accounts B and C, both of which received the handwritten notes by email on early December 2008.

20. The document was analyzed by a handwriting expert from the FBI who said that, although a final conclusion could not be made until the expert examines the original document, the expert was able to assert that there were characteristics common to both the document found on the defendant ZAZI’s computer and the defendant’s handwriting exemplars. An FBI agent without training as a handwriting expert, who was able to compare the handwriting notes with the original handwriting exemplars stated that it appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document.

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

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