Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings

April 16, 2012

The Washington Post on April 13, 2012 released the following:

“By Peter Finn

Days before his arrest in Pittsburgh last month, Khalifa Ali al-Akili posted a remarkable message on his Facebook page: A mysterious man who spoke often of jihad had tried to interest Akili in buying a gun, then later introduced him to a second man, whom Akili was assured was “all about the struggle.”

It smelled, Akili wrote on Facebook, like a setup.

“I had a feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a ‘terrorist’ sleeper cell,” Akili wrote.

When he googled a phone number provided by the second man, it turned out to be to Shahed Hussain, one of the FBI’s most prolific and controversial informants for terrorism cases. Soon the sting was off; Akili was subsequently arrested on gun — not terrorism — charges, which he has denied.

It was a rare miss for Hussain, 55, who has played a wealthy, dapper member of a Pakistani terrorist group in several FBI operations over nearly a decade.

This role has inflamed Muslim and civil rights activists, who describe Hussain as an “agent provocateur,” and prompted harsh comments from the presiding judge in a 2010 case, who questioned his honesty and the aggressiveness of the FBI’s tactics.

“I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition,” said U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon at the sentencing of four men from Newburgh, N.Y., convicted on terrorism charges. She added, “That does not mean there was no crime.”

Hussain declined to speak about his work for the FBI, saying in a brief phone interview, “I can’t say anything for security reasons.” The FBI declined to discuss Hussain or McMahon’s comments.

But the blown Pittsburgh sting and the voluminous court records from the 2010 case have provided rare insight into a tactic used increasingly by the FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which suspects are monitored almost from the beginning of plots and provided with means to help them carry them out. The targets in such stings have included Washington’s Metro subway system, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

There have been 138 terrorism or national security cases involving informants since 2001, and 51 of those have come over the past three years, according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York. The center said the government secured convictions in 91 percent of those cases.

Law enforcement officials say stings are a vital tactic for heading off terrorism. But civil rights activists and others say the FBI has been identifying individuals with radical views who, despite brash talk, might have little ability to launch attacks without the government’s help.

“It almost seems like the government is creating a theatrical event that produces more fear in the community,” said Michael German, a senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who worked undercover.

Yet in these terrorism stings, every attempted defense that has alleged entrapment by the government has failed, according to Fordham’s Center on National Security. The FBI said that record speaks volumes and rejected any suggestion that it has invented terrorist plots. “They present the idea,” FBI spokesman Kathleen Wright said of the targets of investigations. “It is not us coming up with these ideas.”

Officials said the subjects of these stings are the ones who first generate suspicion — by contacting terrorists overseas, attempting to secure weapons or speaking of a desire to commit violence.

One of the prosecutors in the 2010 case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin, said in court that confidential informants such as Hussain are an “important tool” for the FBI. “Mr. Hussain is Pakistani. He speaks Urdu. He speaks Pashto. He’s Muslim. He can read Arabic,” Halperin said. “All of these things make Mr. Hussain a very valuable asset for the FBI.”

The birth of an asset

In testimony for the 2010 terrorism case, for which Hussain appeared as a witness for the prosecution, he described himself as a member of a politically connected family in Pakistan who fled to the United States with his wife and children after he was falsely accused of murder during a government crackdown against the secular MQM party. He arrived on a fake British passport in 1994, Hussain testified.

In the years since, his relatives in Pakistan have transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to him, allowing him and his family to acquire gas stations, a beverage center and a motel in Upstate New York, according to financial records produced in court. He also testified that former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, during a trip to New York, gave his son $40,000 to buy a new car, but the judge, McMahon, questioned the veracity of the claim.

It was not the only time McMahon expressed doubts about Hussain’s honesty.

“By the end of the trial, the jury knew that Hussain had lied about his finances to at least two courts (the Northern District of New York and the Northern District Bankruptcy Court), lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, lied to the Town of Colonie and its school district about his residence, lied to potential customers of his motel, and lied to the IRS about his income at tax time,” wrote McMahon.

In late 2001, Hussain was arrested on federal fraud charges of helping immigrants illegally secure driver’s licenses. Hussain, who had been working as a translator for the Department of Motor Vehicles, faced a possible prison term and deportation to Pakistan. He pleaded guilty and, as part of his agreement with the government, cooperated with the FBI by going undercover to secure evidence against several former associates in the scheme, including his mistress.

Hussain excelled in this new role — a fact grudgingly accepted even by his detractors.

“Both his physical and emotional presence seemed impervious to chastisement, to exposure, to anything — nothing seemed to throw his casual defiance off course,” said Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham’s Center on National Security, who has observed Hussain in court.

The bureau also has sent Hussain to London and Pakistan, where he infiltrated a terrorist training camp, according to court testimony.

In the summer of 2003, Hussain first adopted the persona of the suave, moneyed terrorist at the direction of the FBI. The object of the sting was Yassin Aref, an Iraqi Kurd and the spiritual leader of an Albany mosque.

Aref was convicted of participating in a plot to launder funds from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile. Aref’s attorneys said he simply saw what he thought was a loan between Hussain and the owner of a struggling pizza parlor who was also convicted. Aref and the owner of the pizza parlor were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The informant at work

On another assignment for the FBI, Hussain went to Newburgh’s Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque 12 times before he met James Cromitie, a convert to Islam and a stocker at a Wal-Mart, in June 2008.

In a poor community, Hussain struck an odd figure, driving Hummers and BMWs and wearing designer clothes.

Salahuddin Muhammad, imam of the mosque, said in an interview that some people suspected that Hussain was an FBI informant. He was too eager to engage people in conversation about jihad, Muhammad said.

Cromitie, who attended the mosque infrequently, either didn’t hear of the suspicions of others or didn’t care.

Hussain later told the FBI that Cromitie said: “Look, brother, I might have done a lot of sin, but to die like a shaded (martyr), I will go to paradise . . . I want to do something to America.”

By July, Hussain had told Cromitie he was part of a Pakistani terrorist group. Cromitie, who had multiple drug convictions but no history of violence, said he wanted to join, according to the FBI’s debriefing of the informant.

During a November 2008 trip to Philadelphia with Hussain, which coincided with the terrorist attacks on several locations in Mumbai, India, Cromitie made some of his most incendiary statements.

Cromitie hadn’t heard of the attacks, but Hussain pointed out that one of the targets in Mumbai was a Jewish center, according to transcripts of conversations that were secretly recorded and later played in court.

“I’d like to get a synagogue,” Cromitie said.

The judge later noted in a finding of fact that “whenever Hussain asked Cromitie to act on those sentiments — make a plan, pick a target, find recruits, introduce the [confidential informant] to like-minded brothers, procure guns and conduct surveillance — Cromitie did none of the above.”

McMahon said that at this point Hussain began to add “more worldly inducements” to the “offer of paradise” beginning with a BMW “but only after Cromitie had completed a mission.”

Closing the net

Hussain left for Pakistan on Dec. 18, 2008, and didn’t return to the United States for two months. While he was away, the FBI briefed officials at Stewart International Airport in New York on the investigation but assured them that “Cromitie was unlikely to commit an act without the support of the FBI source.”

Indeed, Cromitie said, “I just dropped everything,” according to the transcript of the conversation. But when Hussain returned, Cromitie’s enthusiasm was rekindled.

McMahon later wrote that “the court believes and specifically finds that it was about this time when Hussain offered Cromitie as much as a quarter million dollars to participate in a mission.”

Such an offer was not authorized by the FBI, the prosecutor told the court. Hussain denied making it, saying the reference to a specific amount of money was not intended to be literal. McMahon, in her sentencing, said she did not believe him.

After a surveillance drive around Stewart Air National Guard Base on Feb. 24, 2009, Cromitie cut off communication with Hussain for six weeks, he later testified. Cromitie pretended to have left town, although he was still in Newburgh.

On April 5, Cromitie called Hussain. “I have to try to make some money, brother,” Cromitie said.

“I told you. I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you,” Hussain said.

Cromitie soon was back in.

On May 20, 2009, Hussain, Cromitie and three associates drove south from Newburgh carrying three duffel bags, each stuffed with nearly 40 pounds of explosives and 500 steel ball bearings to maximize casualties at a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx. After bombing them, the men planned to double back north to Stewart Air National Guard base near Newburgh to launch a stinger missile at parked military planes.

But the FBI had provided the bombs and the missile and had rendered them harmless.

All four Newburgh men were later convicted on terrorism charges in a jury trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison. They have appealed.

On the final drive to the Bronx, Hussain tried to get Cromitie to prime the bombs by following his instructions on which wires to connect, Hussain testified. But Cromitie and the others couldn’t figure it out, and Hussain had to stop the car and do it himself.

When they got to the Bronx, Hussain had to explain how to operate a car key fob so Cromitie could open the first of the pre-parked cars and plant the bomb.

Afterward, Hussain asked him if he had turned the bomb on. “I forgot,” Cromitie replied.

Hussain told him not to worry, it could still be detonated.

Cromitie then set off to plant the other two bombs, but he couldn’t open the trunk of the next car. Hussain told Cromitie by walkie-talkie to just put them in the back seat.

Hussain then signaled for the FBI to move in.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Charges 20 Members and Associates of Newburgh-Based Bloods Gang with Racketeering, Murder, Assault, Robbery, and Narcotics Trafficking

September 14, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on September 13, 2011 released the following:

Third Coordinated Multi-Agency Law Enforcement Strike in 16 Months Further Weakens Newburgh Gangs

PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; JANICE K. FEDARCYK, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”); MAJ. EDWARD RASO, Troop “F” Commander for the New York State Police (“NYSP”); MICHAEL FERRARA, the Chief of Police for the City of Newburgh Police Department; FRANK PHILLIPS, the District Attorney for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office; and CARL E. DuBOIS, the Sheriff for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, announced today the unsealing of a 32-count superseding indictment charging 20 members and associates of the Bloods gang in Newburgh, New York, (the “Newburgh Bloods”), including members of a related crack-cocaine dealing conspiracy, with racketeering, narcotics, robbery, and firearms offenses. The superseding indictment charges members and associates of the gang with, among other crimes, two murders; six armed assaults and/or attempted murders; and the use, carrying, and possession of firearms.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA stated: “The elimination of the Bloods, Latin Kings, and other violent gangs is an absolute precondition to the sustainable prosperity and sustainable justice that residents of every American city deserve. Our work is not finished, but our work to date has been significant. We are holding people accountable; we are gutting the gangs that once roamed free; and we are bringing back the rule of law in Newburgh. Wherever you live in America, you have a right to live in peace and in safety.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge JANICE K. FEDARCYK stated: “The FBI’s Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force made a commitment several years ago to address the problem of gang violence in Newburgh. Today’s charges and arrests are a significant step, but in no way do they mark the end of our commitment. They should be taken as a sign of our continuing commitment to the law-abiding people of Newburgh.”

New York State Police Troop “F” Commander MAJ. EDWARD RASO stated: “This operation is another example of the outstanding work being conducted by the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force. It is law enforcement at its finest; working as a team to take violent criminals off our streets.”

City of Newburgh Police Chief MICHAEL FERRARA stated: “I want to thank the supporting law enforcement agencies for their tremendous assistance in this comprehensive, criminal investigation, led by the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force. These arrests have focused on the street violence that is associated with the narcotics trafficking that stifles every day life and is a major driving force in the abnormal crime rate of the City of Newburgh. Unless gang related criminal activity is confronted with a relentless, persistent and effective enforcement such as this, a heightened crime rate in every category will continue in Newburgh. Because the City of Newburgh Police Department’s sworn officer count was stretched very thin in 2011, this investigation and its resulting charges are imperative to the public safety of the neighborhoods in the City of Newburgh.”

Orange County District Attorney’s FRANK PHILLIPS stated: “I want to thank the U.S. Attorney for his continued commitment to fighting crime in Orange County. Today’s arrests and indictments have solved at least two more homicides. These cases could not be prosecuted under New York law. I also want to thank the many members of local, state, and federal law enforcement for their work in making our community a safer place.”

Orange County Sheriff CARL E. DuBOIS stated: “This office remains committed to partnering with the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force, with an emphasis on the Sheriff’s Office Gang Intelligence Unit, which is one of the largest repositories of gang intelligence files in the region. Compiling and sharing this information with other law enforcement agencies, especially the FBI, is a critical component in past, present, and future enforcement efforts.”

According to the original and superseding indictments filed in Manhattan federal court:

The original indictment, United States v. Anthony Boykin, et al., 10 Cr. 391 (CM), unsealed on May 13, 2010, charged 60 defendants with drug distribution offenses, many of whom were part of the Newburgh Bloods. The superseding indictment includes charges against 20 individuals–-11 new defendants and nine defendants from the original indictment. All of these defendants were either members of the Newburgh Bloods or associated with the gang through their participation in a crack cocaine trafficking conspiracy. The superseding indictment is the latest result of a long-term investigation, dubbed “Operation Blood Drive,” conducted by federal and local law enforcement officers working with the United States Attorney’s Office. The operation used confidential informants, undercover officers, and surreptitious surveillance to infiltrate the Newburgh Bloods’ violent and drug trafficking activities in Newburgh, New York.

The Superseding Indictment

Specifically, at all times relevant to the indictment, a criminal organization known as the “Bloods” was operating in Newburgh, New York. The Bloods is a nationwide criminal organization that is organized into sub-groups known as “sets.” Among the sets operating in Newburgh, New York, were the “Bounty Hunter Bloods,” “G-Shine,” “5-9 Brim,” “Stone,” and the “9 Trey Bloods.” Members often further identified themselves by the street on which they grew up or lived. Although members of the Newburgh Bloods belonged to different sets, these individuals and sets often coordinated, collaborated, and worked together and with each other as a single organization.

Within sets of the Newburgh Bloods, certain individuals had “rank,” which meant that they were among the leaders of their sets. For example, ANTHONY BOYKIN had rank in the Bounty Hunter Bloods set. Any member of the Newburgh Bloods with rank had certain authority over any other member of the gang, irrespective of set. For example, Newburgh Bloods with rank could call meetings of all the Newburgh Bloods for which attendance was mandatory. At these meetings, members discussed, among other things, their criminal activities. Members of the Newburgh Bloods with rank could also direct punishments against other members or against non-members. Some of these punishments required individuals to be assaulted or killed.

The superseding indictment charges that the Newburgh Bloods Gang was a racketeering enterprise, pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act, the purposes of which included the distribution and sale of crack cocaine, and preserving and protecting the power, territory, and profits of the Newburgh Bloods through murder, attempted murder, other acts of violence, and threats of violence. Fifteen defendants are charged with participating in the racketeering enterprise. The Indictment alleges that members of the Newburgh Bloods committed and attempted to commit violent acts in aid of the enterprise, including:

• ANTHONY BOYKIN, CHARLES BYRD, and MAURICE HAGAN are charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a victim in the vicinity of 25 Lutheran Street in Newburgh, New York, on August 24, 2008.

• ANTHONY BOYKIN, CHARLES CORBIN, TAYLOR FIELDS, MAURICE HAGAN, ROBERT HERRING, and RAHSAAN MELVIN are charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a second victim in the vicinity of 191 Chambers Street in Newburgh, New York, on September 20, 2008.

• MARCO BOYKIN, CHARLES BYRD, CHARLES CORBIN, ROBERT HERRING, and DAVID JACKLYN are charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a third victim in the vicinity of 52 Benkard Avenue in Newburgh, New York, on October 5, 2008.

• JOHN NELSON and DANIELLE WILLIAMS are charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a fourth victim in Newburgh, New York, York, on January 31, 2009.

• ANTHONY BOYKIN, MARCO BOYKIN, and ANTWAN ROBINSON are charged with conspiracy to murder and murder of Lamont Young in the vicinity of Lander Street and First Street in Newburgh, New York, on March 4, 2009.

• ANTHONY BOYKIN, MARCO BOYKIN, JOHN CANADAY, CHARLES CORBIN, TAYLOR FIELDS, MAURICE HAGAN, ROBERT HERRING, JOSEPH McLEAN, and JUSTIN SIMMONS are charged with conspiracy to murder and murder of Tyrik Legette in the vicinity of 156 Lander Street in Newburgh, New York, on April 30, 2009.

• JOHN CANADAY, TAYLOR FIELDS, and ANTWAN ROBINSON are charged with conspiracy to rob and robbery of a suspected narcotics dealer in the vicinity of Chambers Street and First Street, Newburgh, New York, on June 2, 2009.

• JUSTIN SIMMONS is charged with committing an assault in aid of racketeering by shooting a victim in the vicinity of 146 Lander Street in Newburgh, New York, on July 17, 2009.

• JOSEPH McLEAN and RAHSAAN MELVIN are charged with committing an assault in aid of racketeering by shooting a victim in the vicinity of Lander Street between Farrington and South Streets in Newburgh, New York, on March 10, 2010.

All 20 defendants are also charged with conspiring to distribute narcotics, and 17 are charged with using, carrying, and possessing firearms during and in relation to the narcotics conspiracy.

The Newburgh Bloods operated drug markets at certain locations in Newburgh, from which they distributed cocaine base, commonly known as “crack,” among other drugs. In particular, the gang controlled drug markets in the vicinity of the following locations, among others, in Newburgh: South Miller Street, Lander Street (a portion of which is known as “Blood Alley”), Farrington Street, Lutheran Street, and Van Ness Street. All of these locations were within approximately ten blocks of one another. During and in relation to the drug distribution conspiracy, members of the Newburgh Bloods used, carried, and possessed firearms.

* * *

In a coordinated strike earlier today, officers and agents from the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force arrested 12 defendants. Eight additional defendants were previously arrested. The defendants who were taken into custody today are expected to be presented in Manhattan federal court later this afternoon. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge COLLEEN McMAHON.

Mr. BHARARA praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI, the New York State Police, Newburgh Police Department, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. He also thanked the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Police Department for the Town of Newburgh, and the Port Jervis Police Department for their assistance with this case. Mr. BHARARA added that the investigation is continuing.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Violent Crimes Unit Assistant United States Attorneys MICHAEL D. MAIMIN, AMIE N. ELY, and HARRIS FISCHMAN are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

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 or at one of the offices listed above.

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