We now return readers to the case of alleged terrorist Hassan Abu-jihaad, the former US Navy signalman banged up for sending Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications information on when his surface action group was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in 2001. Another alleged crime was buying a few Chechen jihadi videos and tipping the web company five dollars in overpayment.
These actions eventually resulted in Abu-jihaad's arrest and indictment in 2006 on charges of materially aiding terrorists and disclosing information said to be of use to terrorists. However, it has now become plain that the US government has been nursing its case against Abu-jihaad. It had started running surveillance on him in 2004, employing wiretapping and an informant. The government accumulated as much talk as possible, coming up with a thirty-three page list of excerpts which the prosecution has submitted for consideration as further evidence in advance of the defendant's trial.
The FBI informant, known as William Chrisman, was many things: a former convicted armed robber, car thief and gang member who converted to Islam and claimed to be patriotically moved to help protect the nation against terror after 9/11. He has nine children by three wives - apparently a harem - in some type of ill-defined common law arrangement and was angling for a fourth, according the Associated Press, when the proposed new addition was apparently scared off by the size of the Chrisman stable.
Normally, one does not expect FBI informants to be model citizens. But increasingly in the war on terror, the government seems to have been employing individuals of extremely dubious quality, people looking for a payday while trolling for potential patsies.
In a twist of fate, Chrisman's future career as an FBI informant was scotched when the New Haven Independent, an on-line local news organization covering pre-trial maneuvering in the Abu-jihaad case, published his picture.
The Independent portrayed Chrisman as a "terrorist buster," then busted his days as a clandestine operative with the photo. Although the publication quickly yanked it, the WinterPatriot blog plastered a copy of Chrisman's mug all through its coverage of the informant, where it indelibly remains.
Chrisman's testimony in court, assembled in the FBI proffer, is an attempt to further indict Abu-jihaad by implication. While the affidavit is lengthy, it adds little of hard substance - and we'll get to this in a bit - to the original emails to Azzam which resulted in the terror complaint against him.
Prior to its filing on PACER, the on-line US criminal court case index, the government leaked the document to newspaper reporters. The Los Angeles Times appeared to be one leak recipient, reporting that an FBI affidavit had Abu-jihaad praising Osama bin Laden and that a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, had promised more evidence against him was in hand.
The original affidavit against Abu-jihaad and emails to Azzam, although annoying in a mealy-mouthed way, did not show the defendant praising Osama bin Laden.
Abu-jihaad's defense immediately filed a motion for disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications and orders by the US government. The defense claimed it did not have access to FISA court orders and prosecution affidavits on surveillance of Abu-jihaad and was therefore left to guess about the nature of them and what arguments might be made in his defense. In addition, the defense wanted any information on "the probable cause determination that the defendant was acting as 'an agent of a foreign power' when the FISA applications were made in 2006."
"The only criminal charges filed against the defendant relate to conduct which allegedly occurred in the Spring of 2001," wrote Abu-jihaad's defense. "The government has been actively investigating the defendant since 2004. Based upon the testimony... at the court hearing on November 28th, it is clear the government had been conducting physical surveillance and electronic surveillance against the defendant since the beginning of 2004 and has enlisted at least one cooperating witness to befriend the defendant in an effort to elicit incriminating statements from him. It is safe to assume that the government has probably used every investigative tool available to it in an effort to build a case against the defendant. The end result of the investigation... is the same set of email communications which the defendant sent to Azzam Publications in 2001 and which the government has known about since early 2004, and the uncorroborated hearsay ramblings of Derrick Shareef uttered in 2006 regarding some half-baked notion to attack military installations. There is absolutely no evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement with any 'foreign power' beyond the email communications sent to Azzam Publications in 2001, there is no credible evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement in any ongoing conspiracy in 2006 and Mr. Abu-Jihaad himself has been in custody since March 2007."
On December 12, the prosecution finally filed excerpts of its wiretapping of Abu-jihaad's conversations with William Chrisman and Derrick Shareef, a stupid man who once lived with the defendant and who appears to have been entrapped by an FBI sting. Shareef, who was an acquaintance of Abu-jihaad, pled guilty in December to a plot to throw grenades in a shopping mall even though he never obtained the materials to carry it out.
In the FBI's surveillance affidavit, Abu-jihaad refers to Osama bin Laden only three times, using the code "Under Black Leaves." These statements make very little sense - Abu-jihaad is virtually incoherent - although at one point he says "that's when you see our boy on-line... we call him 'Under Black Leaves'... if you use the first letter of each word, you'll know who I'm talking about..."
As praise for bin Laden, "our boy" is fairly weak and a good deal of transcript revolves around Abu-jihaad discussing miscellaneous materials he's seen on jihadi websites, his enjoyment of sniper video and his pursuit of a couple items published by organizations which have not formally been labeled as terrorist agencies.
Perusal of the excerpts also indicates the FBI has tape of Abu-jihaad repeatedly calling Derrick Shareef a liar and an idiot who exaggerated the former's activities to give the impression he was a big deal to the FBI's informant, Chrisman.
"I mean, I send, uh... you know, uh... corresponded with an email site [Azzam]... it wasn't nothin' top secret like these people are sayin'" says Abu-jihaad according to FBI tapes. "I was just talkin' about the Cole, what I thought about it. You know what I mean? Like this dude [Shareef] here, idiot... I mean he's an idiot."
During the wiretapped conversations Abu-jihaad says he's burned his videotapes from Azzam.
More transcript shows the FBI followed Abu-jihaad on-line. A PayPal-mediated purchase of an e-book entitled "Book of a Mujahideen: Jihad in the Name of Allah" from kavkazcenter.com is apparently supposed to be seditious, incriminating a terrorist in training. Kavkazcenter.com is a "Chechen independent international Islamic Internet news agency" in Grozny. It also has a mirror in the UK, featuring many neutral news stories along with pieces of the tone: "According to source from Dagestan, Avar village... [has] been sealed off by the Russian kafirs (infidels) for several days already."
Maktabah-al-Ansar, a bookstore in Sparkhill, Birmingham which has been raided by British counter-terror forces but never charged with anything, is given special notice by the FBI because Abu-jihaad mentions it once admiringly. "The Maktabah-al-Ansar bookshop is based in London and sells books, videos, tapes and other materials relating to violent jihad... Maktabah-al-Ansar became the exclusive distributor of the Azzam Publications books, videos, and tapes glorifying violent jihad..." write FBI agents.
One email intercept seems to show Abu-jihaad forwarded wretched poetry leavened with complete gibberish to Shareef. Containing crap even the FBI apparently could not make total sense of, it was entitled "Can You Imagine" by "Lyrical Terrorist ibn Abu Jihaad." "Could you imagine squeezing the trigger of 2 aks [sic]... tossing grenades..." it reads. "Could you imagine being strapped with a loud noise entering upon kufar convoys..." and so on ad nauseum. One wonders what is it with the "lyrical terrorist" sobriquet?
The picture that emerges, one the government is obviously keenly interested in painting, is that of Abu-jihaad as a man with contempt for his country, someone who reads seditious materials and tales of someone called "Juba," a sniper alleged to have learned his trade from a book sold by Amazon. Such things, while perhaps interesting to law enforcement, are not yet entirely illegal.
The FBI's extra material is querulous and nasty-toned, and a noticeable portion is devoted to attempts by Derrick Shareef to cajole Abu-jihaad into going forward with plans or hearsay from Shareef attesting that the defendant had related some desire to proceed with terrorism. The closer one scrutinizes what the FBI has made available, the more it looks like there is zero action with the transcript edited to provide only a selected view. The FBI's informant tries to get Abu-jihaad to send money to buy AR-15s. Abu-jihaad, attests the FBI, "says he will send money next week." Nothing ever occurs except for lengthy idiotic and mind-numbing circular chat and gossiping.
If there is an actual terror plot buried in it, realistically it's difficult if not impossible to find.
One cannot guess what impact such material would have if admitted as evidence in Abu-jihaad's upcoming trial. It's inflammatory but some American juries have begun to question the government's methods of pumping terror plots and bringing the alleged planners of them to book. When the trial of the Liberty City Seven, indigent African Americans alleged to be plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, ended in one acquittal and a mistrial for six others with jurors irreversibly split, it demonstrated that not all jurors are swayed by ugly material furnished by its informants. ®
George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.