Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 589, 590 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2002

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In this issue:

Don’t tell New York City, but the nationwide crime rate is going up.
Once again, it’s a year for serial killers.
Child-snatchings are big news, but are they a big problem?
Amber Alert is getting nationwide green light.
Police wipe a smile from mailbox bomber’s face.
Beltway snipers continue to confound police expectations.
Legislative probes point to FBI, CIA lapses.
Police catch terrorist “sleepers” napping.
Homeland security is demanding still more of local police agencies.
The courts are wrestling with anti-terror issues in various forms.
Is there a new federal perspective on consent decrees?
Agencies try harder to fill depleted ranks.
Bottom lines will get worse before getting better.
The Cabinet is about to get a new anti-terror look.
Justice by the Numbers: A numerical profile of criminal justice in the United States in 2002.
Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.

2002, the year in review:
Legislative fingers point to FBI, CIA lapses

     FBI agents initially suggested it, and in December a Congressional committee confirmed it: The nation’s intelligence agencies mishandled information suggesting that Muslim extremists were considering using jetliners in suicide attacks on American soil.

     In the 10 months since lawmakers began investigating the intelligence community’s response to the terrorist threat — and its failure to prepare for or prevent the Sept. 11 attacks — at least two points have become clear: the hoarding of information by agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, hurt counter-terrorism efforts prior to 9/11; and no plan was put into place for combating the threat posed by Osama bin Laden.

     Among the key findings of the 37-member Joint Investigative Committee, consisting of members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, were that intelligence agencies failed to give high priority to tracking Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, believed to have been the Al Qaeda leader who came up with the plan for flying jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

     Mohammad, who had been under indictment for an earlier plot to hijack and destroy airliners, is one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, with a $25-million reward for his capture. Considering how dangerous a threat he posed, the committee said, the intelligence community placed a low priority on him and focused mainly on arresting him for his past deeds rather than trying to penetrate his involvement in future plots.

     When it came to sanctioning individual agents or officials who failed to follow up on terrorist leads, however, lawmakers left the meting out of punishment to the discretion of the CIA, FBI and other agencies.

     Senator Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.) argued that the panel should have specified who did not perform, particularly those FBI supervisors who rejected requests for a national security warrant that would have authorized the search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings after his arrest on Aug. 16, 2001, for immigration violations. The same supervisors, he said, failed to link the arrest with a memo from the FBI’s Phoenix field office urging a canvass of Middle Eastern students attending flight schools.

     Shelby singled out CIA Director George Tenet, former FBI Director Louis Freeh and National Security Agency head Michael Hayden for criticism. In a minority report he issued, Shelby said that while they and others in the intelligence community are not responsible for the attacks, “these officials failed in significant ways to ensure that this country was as prepared as it could have been.”

     The panel recommended that the position of a national director of intelligence be established, with Cabinet-level rank and control of the intelligence community’s estimated $35-billion annual budget. Creation of such a post has been strongly opposed in the Pentagon and the CIA.

     The committee also suggested that intelligence-gathering priorities be revamped by the White House so that agencies do not become overburdened and can remain focused on terrorism. Other recommendations included the development of a government-wide strategy for combating the terrorist threat, the possibility of an MI-5 type intelligence agency separate from the FBI or CIA and a review of officials’ actions prior to Sept. 11 by the inspectors general at the CIA, FBI and other agencies.

     “Systematically, we concluded that the intelligence community was not properly postured to meet the threat of global terrorism against the people of the United States,” said the committee’s chairman, Senator Bob Graham (D.-Fla.).

     Throughout the year, other failures by government agencies were disclosed by investigating committees. These included:

     A report by the House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, released in July, said that the CIA did not sufficiently emphasize human intelligence-gathering and failed to penetrate the Al Qaeda network prior to Sept. 11. The agency also spent money on projects at headquarters earmarked for overseas spying. Turning its attention to the FBI, the subcommittee found the bureau had the worst problem of any of the agencies when it came to sharing intelligence data. The National Security Agency, for its part, was not devoting enough of its time to listening in on terrorists before the attacks. All three agencies, said lawmakers, did not upgrade their pool of language specialists with the addition of those who could speak Arabic, or Middle Eastern and South Asian dialects.

     An internal Justice Department review in May cited “widespread failures” within the Immigration and Naturalization Service that led the agency to grant student visas to two of the hijackers after Sept. 11. The inquiry focused on Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. It stated that INS was inconsistent in requiring documentation from foreign students, a problem that has undermined the government’s ability to track such individuals once they are in the U.S.

      In testimony before a Congressional committee, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said concerns about perceived racial profiling may have hampered agents from taking certain actions. A case in point, said Mueller, was the Phoenix-based agent’s memo urging a probe of Arab men training at U.S. flight schools.

     Law enforcement officials within the Department of the Interior were unprepared to provide accurate and timely information on the number and location of personnel who could respond and help investigate the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, according to a report released in May by the agency’s inspector general.

     In a seeming nod to the Amber Alert system, an expert panel of emergency managers in November called for the creation of a system that would allow the government to issue warnings of terrorist attacks through cell phone, television and radio, telephone and possibly through computer chips embedded in devices.

2002, the year in review:
High-profile busts try to catch terrorist “sleepers” napping

     Federal agents and prosecutors, often with local help, turned their attention to terrorist “sleepers,” sympathizers and supporters operating on U.S. soil this year, rounding up numerous individuals in high-profile busts from Portland, Ore., to Lackawanna, N.Y.

     In Portland, six suspects were indicted by a grand jury in October on charges of conspiring to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda, and conspiring to contribute services to the terrorist group and the Taliban.

     The defendants included a husband and wife, 32-year-old Jeffrey Leon Battle and October Martinique Lewis, 25; Patrice Lumumba Ford, 31, and Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, 22. The other two suspects, Bilal’s brother, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, 24, and 37-year-old Habis Abdullah al Saoub, were still at large when the others were brought into custody.

     “A group of Oregon residents, most of whom are U.S. citizens, after Sept. 11 decided to go to Afghanistan and fight for al Qaeda and Taliban against the United States military,” said Charles Gorder, an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland.

     The arrests capped a 10-month investigation by federal agents, who were alerted when a sheriff’s deputy spotted four of the suspects firing weapons at a gravel pit in Washougal, Wash. The incident was reported to the FBI.

     Five of the suspects allegedly left Portland for Afghanistan in October 2001, but were not able to cross over from China. Lewis wired Battle money eight times, totaling $2,130, with the knowledge that the funds would be used to fight U.S. forces, said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

      In Lackawanna, outside of Buffalo, indictments were handed up in October against six men of Yemeni descent accused of being a terrorist sleeper cell awaiting orders to attack. The “Lackawanna Six” were arrested on Sept. 13, charged with taking clandestine trips in 2001 to Afghanistan, where they heard lectures on suicide attacks and learned how to fire automatic weapons at an al Qaeda training camp. Attendance at the camp would constitute providing support to a terrorist organization, said prosecutors.

     Two of the defendants admitted to the training and to hearing a speech by Osama bin Laden, but all six deny providing any actual support to al Qaeda.

     Two other men were also charged, including one believed to be the ringleader. A U.S. citizen named Kamal Derwish is believed to have been killed in Yemen by an American missile. The name provided by Yemeni authorities, Ahmed Hijazi, was a known alias of Derwish. The evidence is not conclusive, however, one U.S. official told The New York Times.

     Authorities became interested in the men when three of the suspectswent through Kennedy Airport in New York on June 27, 2001, with Pakistani exit stamps on their passports. An e-mail message sent by one man to an alleged co-conspirator in western New York so disturbed agents that authorities increased security at military bases in Bahrain and closed the embassy there. It read: “Blessed is he who picks up a gun, for he is holy.” And, “The next meal will be very large, this thing will be very strong.”

     In August, a black Muslim activist in Seattle, James Ujaama, 36, was indicted with plotting to open a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., in 1999. He also led discussions about poisoning the public, firebombing vehicles and building underground storage bunkers for weapons, said authorities, who also contend that Ujaama traveled to Afghanistan that year. He had been held since July as a material witness in the continuing investigation.

     Another indictment was handed up in August involving five Detroit men accused of operating a sleeper cell for a group allied with al Qaeda. Four defendants — Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Youssef Hmimssa and Farouk Ali-Haimoud — have been in custody since authorities raided their apartment a week after the Sept. 11 attacks. Found there was a videotape with surveillance footage of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

     In November, authorities in North Carolina arrested a fifth man, Abel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 36, who is believed to be an expert in airport security.

     A Boston-area software firm, Ptech Inc., was raided by federal agents in December after a former employee suggested that the company was backed financially by a Saudi millionaire with suspected terrorist ties. Yasin al-Qadi, who once headed a charity believed to be a front for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, is listed by the Treasury Department as a “blocked person,” making it illegal for the company to do business with him.

     Ptech creates software that provides a type of blueprint for how an organization operates, allowing users to cull and analyze information in various databases, according to The Times. Its clients include the Navy, the FBI, the Air Force, the Department of Energy and NATO. Federal agencies seemed to disagree as to whether the software could be used to infiltrate federal databases. While the FBI described it as “off the shelf,” and posing no risk, other law enforcement agencies, including the Customs Service, said the inquiry “has the potential to be a big deal” both in terms of financing and software, said one law enforcement official.