“In New York counterterrorism sting, a setback for federal law enforcement”

August 15, 2014

The Washington Post on August 14, 2014 released the following:

“By Adam Goldman

When Ahmed Abassi arrived in the United States for the first time in March 2013, the Tunisian student settled into a historic, neo-Gothic apartment building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

Unknown to him, the apartment was wired with audio recording devices, and Abassi’s American host was an undercover FBI agent. Abassi, then 26 and suspected of terrorism ties, had landed in an FBI sting, part of an elaborate operation that stretched from New York to Quebec City to a small town in Tunisia.

Abassi was caught on tape discussing “the principle that America should be wiped off the face of the earth,” with people he believed to be co-conspirators, one of whom was the FBI agent, according to court records. At one point, Abassi suggested “putting bacteria in the air or in a water supply.”

But last month, Abassi, who declined to be interviewed, pleaded guilty to relatively minor charges that did not include any terrorism enhancements that could have sent him to prison for years, and he is not contesting a deportation order.

The case was a rare setback for the FBI and federal prosecutors, which have successfully targeted suspected terrorists using sting operations, typically ending with the defendants about to embark on what they believe is a terrorist attack with fake weapons or bombs supplied by the bureau. Guilty verdicts and long prison sentences follow.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have “resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.”

Among the more prominent prosecutions, a Moroccan man was convicted for planning a suicide bombing at the Capitol. Amine Mohamed El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant who lived in Alexandria, was arrested wearing a suicide vest that he believed to be real and had been provided by undercover FBI agents. In Portland, a Somali-American was convicted of planning to remotely detonate an 1,800 pound bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The device was, in fact, inert and had been supplied by the bureau. In one 2009 case, the FBI arrested a group of men in New York state — the “Newburgh Four” — and charged them with plotting to blow up a pair of synagogues in the Bronx with fake bombs provided by an informant.

Human rights groups allege that the government is making terrorists out of people who otherwise would not have the ability or the will to move forward with an attack. “The government pursues people with mental or intellectual disabilities or people who are desperately poor with an aggressive informant or undercover agent to get them to agree to commit terrorist acts,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office.

And the use of sting operations has also drawn some criticism from the bench. In the Newburgh case, the federal judge said the government “made them terrorists” and said the “buffoonery” of one of the defendants was “positively Shakespearean in scope.”

But no defendant, including in the Newburgh case, has successfully claimed in court that he was entrapped by overzealous investigators.

At a recent security forum in Aspen, Colo., former FBI director Robert Mueller defended the bureau’s tactics against charges of entrapment. Mueller said agents and prosecutors go to great lengths to make sure they do not cross that line.

“We know at the outset that anytime we do this that the defense is going to be entrapment and there has to be substantial predication to get over that hurdle,” he said. “It’s been the defense in probably dozens of terrorism cases that have been tried since Sept. 11. And I challenge you to find one of those cases in which the defendant has been acquitted asserting that defense. I don’t believe there is one out there.”

Abassi was arrested last year and charged with two counts of fraud and misuse of visas to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Federal prosectuors in the Southern District of New York withdrew the terrorism enhancements against Abassi before they could be adjudicated, and some activists said an entrapment defense might have tested the government’s winning record.

An FBI spokesman in New York declined to comment.

Abassi was more talker than terrorist and resisted attempts to move beyond words to direct action, according to his attorney, Sabrina P. Shroff, a federal public defender. She described the case against her client as a failed entrapment in which the government attempted to prey on Abassi’s “bad thoughts and bad speech.”

Fateful meeting

Abassi first came to the attention of the FBI in Canada, where he was studying for an engineering degree at Laval University in Quebec City, according to court records. His family said his sister followed him to Canada, where he also met and married a Tunisian woman.

Among Abassi’s new circle of friends was Chiheb Esseghaier, a doctoral student. The FBI and Canadian authorities began to suspect that Esseghaier and Abassi were part of a terrorist cell, according to court records.

Esseghaier introduced Abassi to a man from New York, Tamer El Noury, who said he was born in Egypt and had immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He looked like one of Abassi’s favorite performers, a Syrian singer named George Wassouf. The two got along famously. When in Quebec, Noury came to Abassi’s house to eat.

Neither Abassi nor his wife, Yousra, ever suspected that Noury was an FBI agent.

“We had no idea,” his wife said in an interview.

The New Yorker appeared wealthy and said he ran a successful real estate company in the city. As a wedding gift, he said he would pay for Abassi and Yousra to visit Manhattan, she said.

Abassi declined the invitation, and instead he and his wife flew to Tunisia in December 2012 to renew their wedding vows. “We danced, we invited all our relatives and friends and we enjoyed together,” his wife said.

The euphoria didn’t last. That month, the Canadians revoked Abassi’s visa without explanation. Officials decided to test Abassi’s willingness to conduct an act of terrorism.

Noury began what Abassi’s attorney described as an aggressive campaign to get her client to come to New York from Tunisia. Cut off from his wife, who was able to return to Canada to finish her education, Abassi seemed determined to secure a new visa so he could return to her side. He wanted to finish his master’s degree, and he had a job offer with a major mining company. But no Canadian visa was forthcoming.

Noury called Abassi’s wife in February 2013.

“We can get him in New York where he can stay with me in the apartment, or he will have his own apartment, and if, God willing, you can take some time off from work, we can bring you here to stay with him so that you can spend some time together,” said Noury, according to a transcript of the call.

Abassi agreed to fly to New York after U.S. law enforcement arranged a visa for the “sole purpose of advancing the investigation,” according to court records.

Move to New York

In March 2013, Abassi flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was briefly questioned by immigration authorities. Noury met him at the airport.

The two drove to the downtown apartment, where the call to prayer sounded electronically five times a day to highlight Noury’s piety. The undercover agent provided Abassi with a cellphone and laptop. The rent was free.

An unexpected visitor soon arrived: Esseghaier, who said he was attending a scientific conference in New York.

The three men met frequently. Authorities say Esseghaier told Abassi about his plans for a terrorist attack. But Abassi did not want any part of them, frustrating the conspirator, who urged Noury to throw him out of the apartment. Esseghaier called Abassi “useless” and not a “true brother.”

Abassi continued to make inflammatory statements, however. He argued that the Koran allowed “Muslims to attack Americans in the same ways Americans had attacked Muslims, including the killing of women and children,” according to court records.

On April 22, 2013, Abassi was questioned by the FBI. Prosecutors said he lied repeatedly about his relationship with Esseghaier and whether he knew the Tunisian planned to engage in terrorism. The FBI arrested Abassi. That same day, Canadian authorities took Esseghaier and another man into custody, charging them with conspiracy to attack an Amtrak train traveling from New York to Toronto.

U.S. prosecutors said Abassi acknowledged possibly radicalizing Esseghaier, and that the two had talked about committing terrorist acts, according to court records. They said Abassi did not want to participate in Esseghaier’s plans only because “the number of American casualties from such an operation would be too few.”

Shroff said her client did not radicalize Esseghaier.

“If you actually listen to the conversations between Chiheb [Esseghaier] and Ahmed, you’ll realize Ahmed is talking about words and verses from the Koran,” his attorney said. “He’s telling Chiheb what’s in the Koran. That is not radicalizing.”

Authorities also said the men had received guidance from members of al-Qaeda.

A U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the case, said the FBI had to end the U.S. operation against Abassi prematurely because the Canadians were concerned about the threat Esseghaier posed and arrested him.

The official said more will come out about the men, including Abassi, when Esseghaier goes on trial in Canada. The official said the men were part of a cell and presented a serious threat, one the FBI helped eliminate.

“It was a good case,” the official said.

Abassi spent months in jail, part of that time in a segregated housing unit, before his attorney received transcripts of the FBI recordings. Shroff said it was apparent to her that Abassi had not provided the evidence the FBI needed to make its case, that he had not stepped over the line into active participation in a plot.

Prosecutors seemed to reach a similar conclusion. They told Shroff they would drop the terrorism enhancements if Abassi agreed to plead guilty to the charges that included putting false information on an application for a green card — the same one the undercover agent helped him complete — and making a false statement to immigration officials.

“Mr. Abassi would not be asked at the time of the plea, if he accepted this offer, to in any way admit that either of these crimes touched on a crime of international terrorism,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara told the judge during a hearing in April.

Ferrara would not discuss the case, but another U.S. law enforcement official said there were considerations if the case went to trial, including revealing the true identity of the FBI undercover agent.

“There were strategic discussions,” the official said. “We had a good undercover who would then be exposed. Was it worth it to get a couple of extra years in prison? It’s not clear the judge would have given him more time.”

The official added that Abassi pleaded guilty to a felony and “will never again be in the U.S. That’s much better than letting him float around out there and never be charged at all.”

For Shroff, the reason prosecutors backed off is clear: “He was entrapped,” she said.

At sentencing, prosecutors called for a longer prison term than the six months suggested by the guidelines, arguing that Abassi was far more dangerous than “simply an immigration fraudster” and had “dangerous, extremist views.”

In a phone interview, his sister Amira Abassi said: “My brother is not a monster. That is the reality. He is not evil.”

On July 16, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum waved away government calls for a stern sentence. The 84-year-old judge told Abassi to stay clear of trouble.

“I hope that you will think very seriously about the events of the last year and will decide to always abide by the laws of the United States,” she said. “And if you do that, I wish you good luck.”

Abassi is being held in an immigration detention facility in New Jersey, where he awaits deportation to Tunisia.”

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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

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal

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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.


“FBI searches ex-Reagan aide Robert McFarlane’s apartment for evidence he lobbied for Sudan”

March 21, 2013

The Washington Post on March 21, 2013 released the following:

“By Associated Press,

WASHINGTON — The FBI has searched the apartment of former Reagan administration national security adviser Robert McFarlane for evidence of whether he lobbied on behalf of the government of Sudan in violation of federal law.

A search warrant on file in U.S. District Court in Washington shows agents seized items this month including handwritten notes about Sudan and White House documents with classification markings up to Top Secret.

It is against the law for Americans to do business with Sudan because of its alleged support for international terrorism and human rights violations, among other things. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide and other crimes during the deadly conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

In an accompanying affidavit, FBI agent Grayden R. Ridd cited a host of emails between McFarlane and Sudanese government officials obtained prior to the search.

“I believe that these emails are evidence that McFarlane was entering into an agreement with the government of Sudan to lobby the U.S. government officials on behalf of Sudan and to provide it advice during negotiations with the United States,” Ridd wrote. He said he believed the emails are also evidence of an attempt by McFarlane and a Sudanese government official “to hide McFarlane’s relationship with Sudan by construing the agreement to make it appear that his contractual relationship was with Qatar, when in fact it was not.”

The affidavit said that the FBI investigation has established that in February 2009, McFarlane entered into a one-year agreement with the government of Sudan to act as its consultant and to lobby the U.S. government on its behalf.

Ridd wrote that the source of the emails to McFarlane appeared to be someone from the Sudanese intelligence service.

The affidavit is listed as “under seal” but is viewable online.

The FBI is also investigating whether McFarlane violated a law that requires anyone working as a foreign agent of another country to disclose that to the Foreign Agent Registration Act Unit of the Justice Department.

The investigation into McFarlane was first reported by The Washington Post.

McFarlane has not been charged with a crime. The case is being handled by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia. A spokesman for the office, Peter Carr, said McFarlane is cooperating with the ongoing investigation and, through his counsel, has asserted his innocence.

McFarlane’s lawyer, Barry Levine, did not immediately return telephone and email messages Thursday. Levine told The Post that McFarlane didn’t violate any laws.

“He has devoted his entire adult life to the interests of this country, and he cares deeply about the people of Darfur,” Levine told the newspaper.”

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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

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

————————————————————–

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.


FBI Arrests Five Men Allegedly Wanting to Blow Up an Ohio Bridge

May 1, 2012

Associated Press on May 1, 2012 released the following:

“FBI: 5 men arrested, wanted to blow up Ohio bridge

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN
Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — Five men, at least three of them anarchists, plotted to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, but there was no danger to the public because the explosives were inoperable and were controlled by an undercover FBI employee, the agency said Tuesday in announcing the men’s arrests.

The target of the plot was a bridge that carries a four-lane highway over part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Brecksville area, about 15 miles south of downtown Cleveland, the FBI said.

Authorities said three of the men were arrested Monday and are self-described anarchists, not tied to international terrorism.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the men had attorneys. All of the suspects, ranging in age from 20 to 35, were expected to appear in federal court Tuesday afternoon.

The FBI said three were arrested on charges of conspiracy and trying to use explosives to damage property affecting interstate commerce. They were identified as Brandon L. Baxter, 20; Douglas L. Wright, 26; and Anthony Hayne, 35. Their hometowns were not provided.

Charges were pending against the other two men.

Baxter, Wright and Hayne considered different plots over several months, including distracting law enforcement with smoke grenades while trying to bring down financial institution signs in downtown Cleveland, federal authorities alleged. The defendants’ finally settled on blowing up the bridge, authorities said.

“The individuals charged in this plot were intent on using violence to express their ideological views,” Special Agent Stephen D. Anthony, who oversees the FBI’s Cleveland division, said in a statement. “The Joint Terrorism Task Force will continue to be vigilant in its efforts to detect and disrupt any terrorism threat, domestic or international.””

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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

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

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.


Robert J. Holley Named Special Agent in Charge of Indianapolis Division

October 17, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on October 17, 2011 released the following:

“Director Robert S. Mueller, III has named Robert J. Holley special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. Mr. Holley most recently served as a section chief in the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters, where he was involved in the management of the FBI’s U.S. based international terrorism investigations.

Mr. Holley began his career as a special agent in 1995, and reported to the Chicago Division after graduation from New Agents Training in Quantico, Virginia.

While in Chicago, he was assigned to investigate domestic and international terrorism matters. He also served as a member of the Chicago Division’s SWAT team and a special agent bomb technician. During his time in the division, he was promoted to supervisory special agent and supervised an international terrorism squad.

In November 2005, Mr. Holley was promoted and assigned to FBI Headquarters as a unit chief in the Counterterrorism Division. He was deployed to Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Tanzania, and Israel in support of the FBI’s number one priority, counterterrorism.

Mr. Holley transferred back to the Chicago Division, where he served as assistant special agent in charge of the National Security Branch from 2008-2010.

Prior to his FBI career, he served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer.

Mr. Holley is a native of Indiana. He graduated from Peru High School in 1977, and from Ball State University in 1981. He and his wife Toni have one son, Dakota.”

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 McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Prosecutors: Women talk of jihad in recorded calls

October 12, 2011

CBS News on October 12, 2011 released the following:

“(AP) MINNEAPOLIS — Two Minnesota women accused of funneling money to a terror group in Somalia talked about collecting money for al-Shabab, supporting fighters instead of other charities and the possibility that FBI was listening in on their conversations, according to hours of recorded phone calls played for jurors.

Prosecutors have built the bulk of their case by playing more than 80 phone calls recorded during a 10-month wiretap on the home and cellphones of Amina Farah Ali, 35. In those calls, prosecutors allege, Ali is heard talking to her co-defendant, 64-year-old Hawo Mohamed Hassan, as well as leaders of al-Shabab in Somalia. The calls include recordings of teleconferences in which the women gave religious lectures and collected donations.

Ali and Hassan are accused of being part of a “deadly pipeline” that routed money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia. The women, U.S. citizens of Somali descent, are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The women have said they were raising money for needy refugees in Somalia.

The recorded calls are all in Somali. Jurors are following along with written transcripts that have been translated into English by the government.

In one October 2008 call between Ali and Hassan, prosecutors allege that as the two women were discussing where the money should go, Ali said the priority be those who stand up for Islam. “Let the civilians die,” she said. In a Feb. 10, 2009, teleconference, Ali told others, “Let’s forget about the other charities — how about the jihad?”

Ali and Hassan are among 20 people charged in Minnesota’s long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab, which the U.S. considers a terror group with ties to al-Qaida. Investigators believe at least 21 men left Minnesota — home to the country’s largest Somali community — to join al-Shabab. Though others have pleaded guilty to related charges, the women are the first to go on trial.

Ali faces 12 counts of providing such support — for allegedly sending more than $8,600 to the group from September 2008 through July 2009. Hassan faces three counts of lying to the FBI.

Since last week, prosecutors have been methodically presenting evidence to connect Ali’s phone conversations to the counts against her, matching dollar figures mentioned in calls to phone numbers or accounts of al-Shabab members, and to receipts from hawalas, or money transfer businesses.

According to some of the wide-ranging calls, Ali gets updates from an al-Shabab member about the fighting in Somalia. In many, she tells others how to send funds to Somalia. She gives fictitious names and the numbers of al-Shabab accounts to those who will be sending the money, and talks about sending it in small amounts to avoid detection, prosecutors said.

In one call, Ali explains she will not get a license for her charity because she doesn’t want to report where the money is going. “I don’t want to lie to God,” she said.

Ali’s attorney, Dan Scott, noted during cross-examination of FBI Special Agent Michael Wilson that his client took steps to ensure the money people donated specifically for orphans went to the orphans — and nowhere else. In one call that took place in November 2008, Scott notes, Ali ticks off a list of donations, totaling $7,000, that went to a variety of causes including the wounded, mentally ill, poor people — and al-Shabab.

Scott also noted that after the U.S. declared al-Shabab a terror group in February 2008, the FBI made no attempt to “inform her that she should not be sending money to this newly declared foreign terrorist organization.”

In one call between Ali and Hassan, dated May 6, 2009, Hassan and Ali talk about sending girls out to collect money in Seattle, North Carolina, and elsewhere. In that call, Hassan says others should “forget about the families at this moment, because the frontline is empty.”

In another call between Ali and Hassan, on April 3, 2009, the two women talk about how anyone could be listening in to the teleconferences, including “all troublemakers, FBI and people sent by them and filth.”

In a teleconference on Feb. 10, 2009, an unidentified man asks who the fundraising is for. Ali replies: “Brother, whom do you want to give it to? The orphans, the poor … the Mujahidin (holy warriors)? Actually, jihad is your duty brother. What are you going to pledge?””

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 McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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F.B.I. Focusing on Security Over Ordinary Crime

August 25, 2011

The New York Times on August 23, 2011 released the following:

“By CHARLIE SAVAGE

WASHINGTON — Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been more likely to be hunting for potential threats to national security than for ordinary criminals in recent years, but much of the time found neither, according to newly disclosed internal information.

Data from a recent two-year period showed that the bureau opened 82,325 assessments of people and groups in search for signs of wrongdoing. Agents closed out most of the assessments, the lowest-level of F.B.I. investigation, without finding information that justified a more intensive inquiry.

Separately, the bureau also initiated 1,819 assessments during the period to identify any possible threats within particular geographic districts. That activity ranged from looking for the presence of particular organizations, like gangs or terrorist groups with definable characteristics, to evaluating other potential vulnerabilities, like a university with classified research and many foreign students.

The data, obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, offers a panoramic view of the bureau’s activities toward the end of a decade-long effort to transform the F.B.I. from a law-enforcement agency focused on solving crimes to a domestic intelligence agency whose mission is to detect potential threats before they can reach fruition.

The disclosure, covering March 25, 2009, to March 31, 2011, focused on assessments, which an agent may open “proactively or in response to investigative leads” and without first having a particular factual basis for suspecting a target of wrongdoing, according to the F.B.I. manual. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued guidelines for the bureau creating that category in 2008.

During an assessment, agents may use a limited set of techniques, including searching databases about targets, conducting surveillance of their movements and sending a confidential informant to an organization’s meetings. But to use more intrusive techniques, like secretly reading e-mail, agents must open a more traditional “preliminary” or “full” investigation. Such inquiries require agents to first have a greater reason to start scrutinizing someone: either an “information or allegation” or an “articulable factual basis” indicating possible wrongdoing.

According to the data, during the 2009-11 period agents opened 42,888 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were terrorists or spies. A database search in May 2011 showed that 41,056 of the assessments had been closed. Information gathered by agents during those assessments had led to 1,986 preliminary or full investigations.

The data also showed that agents initiated 39,437 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were engaged in ordinary crime. Of those, 36,044 had been closed, while 1,329 preliminary or full investigations had been opened based on the information gathered.

Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the high number of assessments relative to the number that developed into more intensive investigations was cause for concern. He noted that the F.B.I. retained the data it collects about a target, even if the person or group turns out to be innocent.

“It’s clear the F.B.I. is casting its investigative net too broadly,” Mr. German said. “And remember that only a small proportion of ‘preliminary’ investigations become ‘full’ investigations, and only a small percentage of full investigations result in criminal charges. This data makes it clear that the ‘assessment’ authority granted in the attorney general guidelines is far too broad.”

But Valerie E. Caproni, the F.B.I. general counsel, said that the data showed that agents had been able to dispose of about 96 percent of the low-grade reasons they might have had for suspecting someone of wrongdoing, like a vague tip or some other ambiguous lead, using “low intrusion techniques” rather than by opening a potentially more invasive preliminary investigation.

The new investigation standards, Ms. Caproni said, “end up being privacy protective because previously, without a well-developed, robust assessment category, many if not most of those would have been opened as preliminary investigations.”

The newly disclosed data roughly matched a far more limited disclosure earlier this year about assessments of people and groups generated in late 2008 and early 2009, but the latest data covered a longer period and included additional detail. The data also bolsters the F.B.I.’s assertion that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the bureau has taken low-grade tips about national security threats more seriously than similarly vague and seemingly implausible leads about possible criminal activity. The 39,437 criminal assessments were based on 73,303 complaints received by the F.B.I., indicating that about half of the time, agents merely filled out a complaint form but saw nothing worth following up on.

In contrast, the disclosure did not offer a separate number of national security complaints, suggesting that some were not followed up with an assessment. The bureau says its policy calls for every national security-related tip, no matter how dubious, to be investigated. Still, Ms. Caproni cautioned that the assessment data did not offer a complete view of the F.B.I.’s activities. For example, she said, if the Central Intelligence Agency told the bureau that an overseas source had provided a specific claim about a terrorist cell operating inside the United States, agents would immediately open a more intensive investigation rather than starting with an assessment.

She also cautioned that some details about the numbers might be fuzzy. In the past, for example, the F.B.I. has noted that one assessment may uncover information that leads to more than one preliminary investigation. At the same time, agents may occasionally have neglected, when opening a preliminary investigation, to record the fact that it developed out of an assessment.

The new data also showed that while the agency has opened fewer assessments looking for broader intelligence about possible threats and vulnerabilities within a district, a category it calls Type 3 assessments, it has been slower to close them. Of the 1,819 it had opened during the period, 1,056 were open by May.

Those figures covered Type 3 assessments generated both by national security programs — like domestic and international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and counterintelligence — and criminal programs, like civil rights, gangs, organized crime, violent crime and white-collar crime. The F.B.I. censored the specific breakdown for each category. The data release comes as the F.B.I. is preparing to issue agents a new version of its manual, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, that will relax some rules about the techniques allowed at the assessment stage. Ms. Caproni said the new rulebook is at the printer now, and a partly redacted version is likely to be released to the public at the same time it takes effect around mid-October.”

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 extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

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

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