Feds drop terrorism charges against Miami cab driver accused of aiding Taliban

June 14, 2012

The Miami Herald on June 13, 2012 released the following:

“Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against a member of a South Florida family accused of supporting the Pakistani Taliban, a designated terrorist group.

BY JAY WEAVER
JWEAVER@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A one-time Miami cab driver who was detained for nearly a year on charges alleging that he provided aid to Pakistani Taliban terrorists won’t face trial, after federal prosecutors dropped the case against him, according to a dismissal order filed Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney’s office provided no reason for dismissing charges against Irfan Khan, 39, a U.S. citizen who is married with two children. The one-paragraph dismissal order was signed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

“We are unable to comment on the internal deliberations that led to our decision,” said Alicia Valle, special counsel to U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. “However, the charges against his co-defendants remain in place and trial is pending for those defendants in U.S. custody.”

Khan was arrested in May 2011 in Los Angeles, where he was working part-time in a software computer job. He was indicted on charges of conspiring with his father and brother, imams who led two mosques in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and three others to provide financial support to the Pakistani Taliban, a designated terrorist organization.

Khan had been detained in the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami until April, when he was granted a bond by a federal magistrate judge.

“Irfan is obviously pleased that the government has recognized what we’ve long known — that he did not send any money to Pakistan to aid the Taliban,” said his attorney, Miami acting federal public defender Michael Caruso. “His happiness is tempered by his father and brother’s continued imprisonment, but he looks forward to rebuilding his life with his wife and two young children.”

Last year, Irfan Khan; his father, Hafiz Khan, 77, the former leader of a Miami mosque; his brother, Izhar Khan, 25, the one-time head of a Margate mosque; and three others were charged with conspiring to collect and send at least $50,000 from South Florida to the Taliban between 2008 and 2010. The other defendants — all believed to be living in Pakistan — are Irfan Khan’s sister, Amina Khan; her son, Alam Zeb; and Ali Rehman.

Irfan Khan, in particular, was accused of making four wire transfers — for $990, $980, $980, and $500 — to Pakistan, including one to his sister.

The FBI used a confidential informant, bank transfer records and more than 1,000 wiretapped phone calls to build the case, which made national headlines.

The Taliban has been accused of attacking both U.S. and Pakistani interests. It has been linked to al-Qaida, and is suspected of playing a role in the failed May 2010 attempt to bomb New York’s Times Square.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ordered that Hafiz Khan, the elderly Muslim cleric, and both of his sons remain in custody until trial. Jordan said evidence against the two younger Khans was less compelling than that against their father. But the judge decided the case was still strong enough to warrant detention, citing their danger to the community and risk of flight.

In April, however, Magistrate Judge Patrick White released Irfan Khan from detention to home confinement on a combined bond package totaling about $700,000. White granted the bond after prosecutors agreed to the terms proposed by Khan’s lawyers in exchange for their dropping his appeal.

His father and brother are still locked up and prohibited from having contact with each other in the federal detention center.

Their trial, a complex case built on wiretaps authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is set for early November.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Attorney: Terror suspect isolated for a year

June 12, 2012

CBS News on June 11, 2012 released the following:

“LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Iraqi man facing terrorism charged in Kentucky has been held in solitary confinement for more than a year with no contact with other inmates or access, television, radio or outdoor recreation during the daytime, his attorney said.

The conditions under which 24-year-old Mohanad Shareef Hammadi have been held violate his constitutional rights, defense lawyer Jim Earhart said.

“It’s horrendous,” Earhart told The Associated Press on Monday. “He’s doing about as well as could be expected if you put someone in a room by himself for a year.”

Earhart has asked U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell to release Hammadi on bail until his Aug. 27 trial in Bowling Green. Russell has postponed the trial from the original date of July 30 because of a scheduling conflict.

Hammadi faces 12 charges, including attempting to send material support such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers, sniper rifles, machine guns and explosives to al-Qaida. A co-defendant in the case, 30-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing Oct. 2.

Prosecutors said Alwan and Hammadi lied to gain refugee status and enter the U.S. Prosecutors also said the pair took part in insurgent activities near Baiji, Iraq, including planting improvised explosive devices targeting U.S. troops.

In search warrants in the case, the FBI said the pair talked about attacking American soldiers and building homemade bombs. The two were caught in an FBI sting involving a confidential informant.

Earhart is due in federal court Wednesday in Louisville for a hearing on the bail request. The motion does not specify where Hammadi would spend his home detention if he is released. Federal authorities use several detention centers in Kentucky to hold inmates. Court records do not reveal where Hammadi is being held under an assumed name. Federal prosecutors had not responded to a request for comment nor filed a response in court as of midday Monday.

Charles Rose, a former Army intelligence officer and military attorney, said there may be intelligence or national security reasons for keeping Hammadi under an assumed name and in isolation.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to do it if they’ve got a valid reason to believe this individual might be a danger to himself or others or if others might be a danger to him,” said Rose, who teaches at Stetson College of Law in Gulfport, Fla. “Is it uncommon? Absolutely, it’s uncommon.”

Since pleading guilty, Alwan has been moved to the general population at an undisclosed jail and given the freedoms of other inmates, including the ability to socialize, watch television and have recreation time during the day, Earhart said.

When asked if federal authorities were trying to coerce a guilty plea from Hammadi by putting him in solitary confinement, Earhart said he wasn’t sure, but found the differing circumstances of Alwan and Hammadi curious.

“It seems more than coincidental,” Earhart said. “The only difference I can see between them is one pleaded guilty and one hasn’t.”

Earhart said he’s discussed a plea deal with prosecutors, but so far they have not reached an agreement.

Rose said to show that Hammadi is being mistreated, Earhart will have to present evidence that there’s no legitimate reason for holding his client in isolation.

“His detention has to be above board and not behind somebody’s back,” Rose said.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Eric Holder appoints 2 US attorneys to lead leaks probe

June 9, 2012

Boston Herald on June 9, 2012 released the following:

“By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two U.S. attorneys are taking over separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information that critics have accused the White House of orchestrating to improve President Barack Obama’s re-election chances, a claim Obama calls “offensive” and “wrong.”

Recent news articles contained details of U.S. involvement in a partially successful computer virus attack on Iran’s nuclear program and on the selection of targets for counterterrorism assassination plots. The leaked information generally painted Obama as a decisive and hands-on commander in chief.

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong,” Obama told reporters at a news conference Friday. “And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.”

Obama promised investigations into the source of leaks about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and drone strikes on suspected terrorists.

“We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families or our military personnel or our allies, and so we don’t play with that,” he said.

Hours later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that two U.S. attorneys will lead a pair of criminal investigations already under way into possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information within the executive and legislative branches of government.

Holder said he was confident the prosecutors would follow the facts and evidence wherever they led.

“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” he said.

Holder assigned Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, to direct separate probes that are already being conducted by the FBI.

Three weeks ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau had launched an investigation into who leaked information about an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound airline flight. Separately, calls from Capitol Hill have mounted urging a leak probe into a New York Times [NYT] story a week ago about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran.

Obama said his administration has “zero tolerance” for such leaks and that there would be an internal administration probe.

“We have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences,” the president said. “In some cases, it’s criminal. These are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.”

Leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees said Thursday they were drafting legislation to further limit access to highly classified information and possibly impose new penalties for revealing it. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said he will investigate recent leaks.

Lawmakers have pointed to recent stories by The New York Times, The Associated Press and other news organizations that contain previously secret information and cite anonymous U.S. officials.

The strongest claims came Tuesday from Obama’s 2008 election opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“They’re intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections,” McCain said after taking to the Senate floor to list some of the alleged breaches. “That is unconscionable.”

McCain called on the administration to appoint an outside special counsel to investigate.

In a statement Friday, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Holder’s decision “falls far short of what is needed” and repeated McCain’s call for a special counsel.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said his committee would formally investigate the leaks but that he was concerned about the level of cooperation he would get from two government agencies.

“Just today, the CIA informed the (committee) that it cannot respond to our request for information regarding the leaks, a very troubling event indeed,” Rogers said.

The CIA has come under fire for allegedly sharing with Hollywood filmmakers classified details of last year’s U.S. raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

A Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said that some officials in the department’s national security division recused themselves from one of the leak probes but that the department overall was investigating.

There are at least three investigations ongoing into disclosures of classified information.

Before becoming U.S. attorney, Machen helped lead the white-collar and internal investigation practices at the prominent Washington law firm of WilmerHale. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1997 to 2001.

Machen is leading a high-profile political corruption probe of officials in the District of Columbia. The latest development in that investigation came this week when District of Columbia Council chairman Kwame Brown resigned after being charged with lying about his income on bank loan applications and violating a city campaign law.

Brown pleaded guilty Friday.

Rosenstein was an associate independent counsel who worked for Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr from 1995 to 1997. He was co-counsel in the fraud trial of Jim and Susan McDougal, the former real estate partners of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both of the McDougals were convicted in a trial that also resulted in the conviction of then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he hopes that the Justice Department brings “the full force of the law against these criminals.”

“We need to send a clear message to anyone who considers leaking sensitive information and putting Americans at risk: If you leak classified information, you will face jail time,” Smith said in a statement.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Machen and Rosenstein “strong, capable, independent prosecutors” and said the Justice Department’s consultation with the Judiciary and Intelligence committees was an aid to congressional oversight.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


New FBI Probe of Bomb Plot Highlights Administration’s Tough Stance on Leaks

May 18, 2012

National Journal on May 16, 2012 released the following:

“By Yochi J. Dreazen and Olga Belogolova

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Associated Press had first reported that a recent bomb plot had been foiled by an undercover Saudi Arabian intelligence operative. That was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The FBI has launched a criminal probe designed to identify the government officials who leaked key details of a foiled al-Qaida bomb plot, the latest indication of the Obama administration’s unrelenting push to find and punish those sharing classified information with the media.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said that the agency was trying to identify which officials had spoken to reporters about the foiled attack, helping the Associated Press report that the scheme was part of an al-Qaida plot to down a U.S.-bound airliner with an sophisticated underwear bomb. The agency is also looking for who told media outlets that the plot was broken up with the help of an undercover agent working for the Saudi Arabian intelligence service, a detail first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The Saudi assistance doubtlessly saved significant numbers of American lives, and Mueller — like other Obama administration officials — warned that future cooperation could be hampered by the disclosure of the Saudi role.

“Leaks such as this threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners,” Mueller said. “And consequently, a leak like this is taken exceptionally seriously, and we will investigate thoroughly.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed Mueller on whether the information had been leaked by the administration for political gain, likening the details on the bomb plot to what he described as the “authorized leaks from the White House about the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.” The FBI director declined to answer the question.

The hearing offered an unusually vivid illustration of the Obama administration’s hard-line approach to the news media.

The administration took office with a promise of unprecedented transparency, including – in a sharp change from the Bush administration — posting the names of those visiting the White House onto its website. The White House also offered strong support for a so-called shield law preventing reporters working national-security stories from being forced to identify confidential sources.

But those moves have been increasingly outweighed by the administration’s aggressive effort to crack down on those responsible for sharing classified information with the news media.

The White House’s main tool has been the Espionage Act, a 1917 law passed during the height of World War I as a way of finding and punishing officials passing useful information to enemy countries. The legislation had been used to bring cases against suspected leakers a grand total of three times in the previous 91 years; the Obama administration has invoked it to prosecute six such cases in the past three years alone. If the FBI believes it has found the official or officials who spoke to the AP, that tally will increase to seven.

The first case brought under the Espionage Act targeted Thomas Drake, a whistle blower from the National Security Agency who was indicated for giving a reporter information detailing massive waste, fraud, and inefficiencies at the secretive agency. The Justice Department’s case against Drake fell apart days before the trial was set to begin last summer, highlighting the difficulties of winning convictions in such cases.

That hasn’t stopped the administration from trying. In January, the Justice Department indicted John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of providing classified information about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation methods to journalists and misleading the agency while trying to get permission to publish a memoir about his time there. The case is ongoing.

The others facing potential prison time for their dealings with the media are former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz, State Department contractor and analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking thousands of classified military and State Department documents to online whistle-blower WikiLeaks. Leibowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2010 for leaking classified information to a blogger regarding Israel’s efforts to influence Congress and public opinion; the other cases are continuing.

The new investigation began earlier this month when news leaked that the CIA had helped to foil a Yemeni-based attempt to use a sophisticated underwear bomb to bring down a Western airliner. The Los Angeles Times soon reported that an undercover Saudi agent had penetrated the al-Qaida affiliate there, volunteered for the supposed suicide mission, and then secreted the bomb safely into the hands of other intelligence operatives.

The leak infuriated the Saudis, who said it put the agent at risk and endangered other undercover operatives elsewhere in the field. The unnamed agent and his family were subsequently placed into protective custody. The anger was felt just as fiercely in Washington, where an array of powerful lawmakers warned that disclosing the source and method of the information would make the Saudis less likely to work with the U.S. in the future and make it harder to foil new plots.

The AP has defended its reporting, with spokesman Paul Colford saying in a written statement that the news service “acted carefully and with extreme deliberation in its reporting on the underwear bomb plot and its subsequent decision to publish.”

That argument fell on deaf ears on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with Mueller saying that he didn’t want to say the leak would have a “devastating” impact on U.S. intelligence gathering efforts — but then effectively saying just that.

“The relationship with your counterparts overseas are damaged and which means that an inhibition in the willingness of others to share information with us where they don’t think that information will remain secure,” he said. “So it also has some long-term effects which is why it is so important to make certain that the persons who are responsible for the leak are brought to justice.”

Those who leaked the new information may or may not be caught. But the ferocity of Mueller’s comments mean that the administration’s war against those who disclose such information won’t wind down anytime soon.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Mueller: Plot shows need for surveillance power

May 9, 2012

Associated Press on May 9, 2012 released the following:

“PETE YOST
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director Robert Mueller urged Congress on Wednesday to renew wide-ranging surveillance authority to thwart terrorism plots like the latest one in which an al-Qaida-engineered explosive device was to have been detonated on a U.S.-bound airline flight.

Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee the FBI is examining the device and said the scheme hatched in Yemen demonstrates that it’s essential for Congress to reauthorize counter-terrorism tools enacted in 2008. Some of these programs expire at year-end.

The provisions allow the government to target electronic surveillance on foreign persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.

The amendments up for reauthorization this year “are essential in our efforts to address” the terrorism threat, said Mueller.

The FBI director said the law allows the FBI to identify those both within the United States and outside the United States “who would hurt us.”

Mueller told the panel that “we’ve seen over the last several days” that terrorism should be “our No. 1 priority.”

The FBI director’s comments follow revelations that al-Qaida completed a sophisticated new, non-metallic underwear bomb last month and that the would-be suicide bomber actually was a double agent working with the CIA and Saudi intelligence agencies.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Adis Medunjanin’s Federal Criminal Trial in Federal Court in Brooklyn is Set to Begin

April 16, 2012

Associated Press on April 16, 2012 released the following:

“NYC Man Faces Terror Trial

By TOM HAYS

There’s no dispute that Adis Medunjanin and two of his former high school classmates from Queens packed up and traveled together to Pakistan in 2008.

But federal prosecutors say the three were homegrown Muslim extremists who, under al-Qaida’s tutelage, came back to the United States and hatched a foiled plot to attack the New York City subways as suicide bombers. Lawyers for Medunjanin claim he never was a threat.

A jury is set to hear both sides Monday in opening statements at Medunjanin’s trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

Medunjanin, 27, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, providing material support to a terrorist organization and other charges in what U.S. officials have described as one of the most chilling terror conspiracies since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Childhood friends Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay have admitted in guilty pleas that they wanted to avenge U.S. aggression in the Arab world by becoming martyrs. Both could be called by the government to testify against Medunjanin.

Another possible witness is Bryant Neal Vinas, a Long Island man who joined al-Qaida around the same time as the other men. Officials have credited Vinas with providing key intelligence about the terror group since his capture in 2008.

Jurors also are expected to hear evidence that following his arrest, Medunjanin told the FBI he had become a more devout Muslim about four years before the plot was exposed after he and Zazi began spending time together at a local mosque, FBI reports say. He also recalled being influenced by tapes of U.S.-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, they say.

In 2008, Medunjanin and his friends decided to join the Taliban and fight U.S. soldiers in retaliation for the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, the FBI reports say. The three instead were recruited by al-Qaida operatives, who gave them weapons training in their Pakistan camp and asked them to become suicide bombers, they say.

Medunjanin told his al-Qaida handlers “he had prayed but still wasn’t sure if he was ready to be a martyr,” the reports say. He later was sent home on his own, the reports add, after he told them “the best thing for him to do … was to return to the U.S. and provide financial support” for the terror network.

Zazi, after relocating to the Denver area, got as far as cooking up explosives and setting out by car for New York City in September 2009 to carry out the attack. He was arrested after abandoning the plan and fleeing back to Colorado.

The FBI reports say Medunjanin denied knowing what Zazi was up to. And the defense has claimed he spoke to the FBI under duress.

In a sworn statement, the defendant accused agents of making veiled threats against his family and denying him access to his attorney for 36 hours. Federal authorities insist his statements were voluntary.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Secret evidence at issue in South Seattle terrorism plot

February 27, 2012
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif
“Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, aka Joseph Anthony Davis, 33, of Seattle.
Photo: State Department Of Corrections”

SeattlePI.com on February 26, 2012 released the following:

“Classified surveillance conducted prior to arrest

By LEVI PULKKINEN

Federal authorities with a secret warrant were intercepting phone calls related to a planned terrorist attack on a South Seattle military induction center well before the alleged plotters were arrested.

While details remain sparse, court filings in the case against Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif – a SeaTac man accused of plotting to kill dozens of Department of Defense employees at the East Marginal Way South center – show federal agents had been conducting electronic surveillance of Abdul-Latif in the weeks or months before his arrest.

Jailed since June and facing a potential life sentence if convicted of terrorism-related charges, Abdul-Latif is accused of preparing to storm the Military Entrance Processing Station with two other men and open fire there with automatic weapons and grenades. One of his alleged conspirators was actually a government informant who purportedly turned to Seattle police after Abdul-Latif came to him searching for weapons.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and others were quick to praise the informant in the days after Abdul-Latif and Los Angeles resident Walli Mujahidh were arrested. Mujahidh has since pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

The informant’s actions – going to police, then working, in essence, as an undercover agent – were presented publicly as the essential break in the case.

Now, though, court documents indicate Abdul-Latif had been under investigation for months before the informant came forward in May.

Abdul-Latif appears to have himself been the target of a wiretap warrant obtained through a secret federal court operating under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

Prosecutors have filed notice that they intend to use “information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance” conducted with a warrant issued by the FISA court. What evidence prompted that warrant to be issued remains classified, and almost certainly will not be provided to Abdul-Latif’s defense attorneys or the public.

Created in the late 1970s in an attempt to curtail unjustified surveillance of Americans, the FISA system is a classified forum through which law enforcement agents – chiefly the FBI – can obtain search warrants that will never be fully disclosed to their targets or the public.

Under the FISA process, agents present the closed court with statements asserting they have probable cause to believe their target is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist organization, and receive a warrant to tap the target’s phone or search their property. That probable cause statement remains classified, though it must be provided to the U.S. District Court judge hearing the criminal case if prosecutors hope to present evidence obtained through the FISA warrant at trial.

Some aspects of the FISA system have drawn criticism in recent years, largely because the number of FISA warrants has increased dramatically since the Sept. 11 attacks. Congress has repeatedly expanded the wiretapping authority available through FISA – notably through the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 – but the warrant acquired against Abdul-Latif was most likely a traditional FISA action in line with those initially considered under the law.

Neither the Justice Department nor Abdul-Latif’s attorneys would speak about the case with regard to the secret evidence apparently now in play. Still, there’s reason to believe transcripts of Abdul-Latif’s tapped phone calls may be declassified if the case proceeds to trial.

It also remains unclear whether information obtained through a secret warrant may be introduced in the state criminal case against Michael McCright – a Lynnwood man accused of running two Marines off of Interstate 5 in North Seattle. McCright, a convicted felon also known as Mikhial Jihad, is alleged to have spoken with Abdul-Latif by phone at least three times; prosecutors have not divulged how or when those phone calls were intercepted.

Extent of surveillance unclear

Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh were arrested Jan. 24, less than a month after the informant went to Seattle police and claimed Abdul-Latif was scheming to kill Western Washington soldiers.

The man who would become key to the government’s case against Abdul-Latif met Abdul-Latif several years before. Abdul-Latif, a failed janitor and ex-con who adopted a Muslim name in 2007, had come to believe the man shared his views and willingness to turn to violence, according to charging documents.

“Abdul-Latif said that ‘jihad’ in America should be a ‘physical jihad,’ and not just ‘media jihad,’ expressing his view that it was necessary to take action rather than just talk,” an FBI agent told the court. “Abdul-Latif referred to the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, when a single gunman killed 13 people … (and) said that if one person could kill so many people, three attackers could kill many more.”

Writing the court, the agent said Abdul-Latif was recorded expressing his anger about United States activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, and saying that he believed killing American soldiers was justified.

The men had initially aimed at attacking Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but later changed their target to the South Seattle intake center. The facility is next to a day care.

The informant met with Seattle detectives on June 3 and said he’d met with Abdul-Latif four days prior. He then began to divulge details of the purported plot, including that Abdul-Latif had intended to attack the Tacoma base.

In early June, Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh spoke with the informant, offering details on the planned attack, according to charging documents. They met outside the recruiting station and conducted reconnaissance inside the center.

Despite a short stint in the Navy, Abdul-Latif knew little about firearms but believed the informant could assist him in acquiring automatic weapons, according to charging documents.

“Abdul-Latif told the source that he wanted to acquire, for use in the attack, AK-47 assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade, grenades, and bulletproof vests,” the FBI agent told the court.

According to charging documents, Abdul-Latif told Mujahidh and the informant their objective was to “take out anybody wearing green or a badge.”

Law enforcement provided the informant with weapons – a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, an M-16-style rifle and a fragmentation grenade – prior to a June 14 meeting. All had been rendered inoperable before the meeting.

Abdul-Latif examined the weapons later that day, according to charging documents. The men then reviewed a map of the center, and Abdul-Latif suggested a plan of attack.

In the days that followed, Abdul-Latif provided the informant with money to buy the weapons, the FBI agent continued. Mujahidh arrived in Seattle on two days before his arrest.

Planning continued through the evening of June 22, when the guns were delivered and the plotters were arrested at a Seattle warehouse, the FBI agent alleged. Mujahidh pleaded guilty in December and may testify against Abdul-Latif if the case goes to trial, which is scheduled to start in early May.

Defense faults prosecutors for secrecy

Following the arrests, the informant drew praise from Durkan and Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. Then as now, authorities contended the informant’s tip to police sparked the sting operation.

“This attack was foiled because of the trust and relationships the men and women of the Seattle Police Department enjoy with our community,” Diaz said at the time. The informant, he continued, “ended the plot intended to take innocent lives.”

Speaking shortly after the arrests, Durkan declined to answer when asked whether Abdul-Latif was being investigated before the informant came to police.

Now, though, attorneys for Abdul-Latif contend investigators were already at work for some time before the informant contacted authorities. They noted that the investigation appears to have begun “months” before the informant became involved.

Contacted for comment, Abdul-Latif’s attorneys declined to expand on the allegation or say whether their client’s phone had been tapped.

Abdul-Latif had for some time been posting videos to Youtube discussing his views on his adopted faith. He praised Anwar al-Awalki – a New Mexico-born recruiter for al-Qaida killed in Yemen by a U.S. missile strike in September – in one of several rambling speeches recorded in his apartment.

In October, federal prosecutors in Seattle filed a single-paragraph notice stating they would be using evidence obtained through electronic monitoring conducted under a FISA warrant. Going forward, it will likely fall to U.S. District Court Judge James Robart to determine what classified material, if any, will be made available to Abdul-Latif’s attorneys.

Without arguing that the government’s claims should be made public, Abdul-Latif’s attorneys have asked that the sealed pleadings be routed to Seattle defense attorney Jeff Robinson, who has been cleared by the Department of Defense to review top secret material.

Prosecutors on the case have endeavored to have their legal arguments heard by Robart privately. Abdul-Latif’s attorneys argue the move violates federal law and, ultimately, endangers their client’s constitutional rights.

“Barring the security-cleared member of the defense team from participating in discovery determinations cripples the adversary process without any commensurate benefit to national security,” Abdul-Latif’s attorneys told the court, noting that Robinson previously reviewed “extremely sensitive” classified information while involved in a military commission trial in Guantanamo Bay.

“Moreover, defense counsel are not clairvoyant,” they continued. “Without access to either the classified evidence or the government’s arguments for non-production, Mr. Abdul-Latif will be deprived of his right to counsel at this stage, and of the other fair trial rights to which he is constitutionally entitled.”

Disclosure requirements still demand prosecutors produce any exculpatory information to Abdul-Latif’s defense. But the court – in this case Judge Robart – may allow the government to delete or redact portions that pose a “reasonable danger” to national security.

Robart has also been tasked with reviewing the propriety of the FISA warrant apparently obtained by investigators. Unlike a standard search or wiretap warrant, though, the defense won’t have an opportunity to review the warrant application.

‘There could be boldface lies’

The law that will govern the court’s handling of classified information in Adbul-Latif’s case – the Classified Information Procedures Act – directs that defendants facing secret evidence “should not stand in a worse position, because of the fact that classified information is involved.” But, as a practical matter, the restrictions make a defense team’s work more difficult.

Robart could order that prosecutors release summaries of classified evidence. Were he to order the government to release the investigator’s statements in full, he’d be the first federal judge to do so.

Josh Dratel, a New York defense attorney with a long record of cases involving secret evidence, said there has been an “explosion” in the number of FISA warrants issued since Sept. 11.

Prosecutors benefit from the secrecy, in part because the defense is unable to challenge the claims that prompted the warrant in the first place, Dratel said.

“It’s not an adversarial process,” Dratel said. “We never see the warrant. …

“There could be just boldface lies, and we’d never get any of that information.”

It’s not yet clear what defense Abdul-Latif will put if the case proceeds to trial.

Abdul-Latif may claim he’s innocent of the allegations against him, or that he was entrapped by the government informant. In court documents, the prosecution has also suggested Abdul-Latif may offer a “mental” defense – that he is either less-culpable or not guilty because of a mental illness.

When all is said and done, Abdul-Latif’s defense attorneys will likely get to see transcripts of the recorded calls at issue in the prosecution. That’s the case in most prosecutions involving warrants issued through the FISA process, said Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“What they’ll normally get at the end of all this is transcripts of the intercepts,” Abdo said. “Those will usually be classified at first. … Sometimes those transcripts are declassified shortly before trial.”

Abdo said the secrecy involved leaves the defense at a disadvantage, chiefly by limiting the opportunities to challenge the prosecution’s claims. He also asserted there has been an erosion of the wall between the national security functions envisioned when the FISA process was created and criminal law enforcement.

State defendant also faces life

What impact, if any, the FISA-obtained evidence could have on McCright’s prosecution in state court also remains unclear.

McCright is accused of swerving at a government-owned sedan carrying a uniformed Marine sergeant and another noncommissioned officer on July 12. Prosecutors also claim McCright had been in contact with Abdul-Latif, a Des Moines man accused of plotting to attack a South Seattle military processing station.

Writing the court, attorneys for McCright characterized the connection put forward by King County prosecutors as “tenuous” and said they have not received any evidence backing the claim. They also noted that McCright, unlike Abdul-Latif and a second man, is not accused of terrorism.

Outlining the allegations related to the July 12 incident, FBI Special Agent Len Carver III said the Marine sergeants left the South Seattle Military Entrance Processing Station – Abdul-Latif’s alleged target – at 4:45 p.m. While the staff sergeant driving the car remained in uniform, the other man had changed into civilian clothing.

The Marines were headed north on Interstate 5 near Northgate when a small blue car sped toward them, Carver told the court. They saw a bearded man with a skull cap behind the wheel, and subsequently identified him as McCright.

Without warning, McCright swerved at the government car, forcing it into the emergency lane, the FBI agent said in court documents. McCright then allegedly pulled in front of the Marines’ vehicle and slammed on his brakes, nearly causing a collision.

The gunnery sergeant riding in the sedan’s passenger seat called 911 and reported the Geo Metro’s license plate number to the police. McCright was arrested on Sept. 8 in Seattle.

What connection McCright had to Abdul-Latif has not been outlined in court documents. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff has said only that McCright’s cell phone was used to call Abdul-Latif prior to Latif’s arrest.

“Investigators have confirmed that the cell phone used by the defendant … was used on at least three occasions to contact Abdul-Latif prior to Latif’s arrest by federal authorities,” Ernsdorff said in court documents. “The FBI is continuing to investigate defendant McCright’s possible connection to domestic terrorism.”

On at least one occasion, FISA-obtained information has been used in state prosecution. No one has suggested it will be in McCright’s case.

McCright faces life in prison if convicted on the second-degree assault charge filed against him. His previous convictions make him eligible for the sentence under Washington’s “three-strikes” law.

Abdul-Latif remains jailed, as does McCright. Both men have pleaded not guilty.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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