Preemptive Prosecution: Iraqi American Arrested by FBI for Allegedly Lying About ‘Pledging Allegiance’ to ISIS Leader

J. Edgar Hoover Building - FBI Headquarters

An Iraqi-born US citizen in Mesquite, Texas, was arrested by the FBI for allegedly lying to agents about whether he had pledged allegiance to the “self-proclaimed” leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A federal judge ruled a day later that he is a “danger to the community” and must remain in jail.

One CNN report suggests this is an example of the government adopting a new and more aggressive stance in the aftermath of an attack on the Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Agents are taking “possible threats off the streets, instead of waiting longer to monitor and build an investigation against suspects.”

Yet, as in most FBI cases involving alleged terrorism suspects, this again seems like a preemptive prosecution, where an individual has been targeted because of his beliefs, ideology or religious affiliations that raise concerns for the government. It is a law enforcement practice that resembles practices that were relied upon by the FBI during the days of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO.

There is absolutely no evidence presented in a filed criminal complaint to suggest that Bilal Abood was plotting a terrorist attack. He is not accused of having weapons. The complaint lacks any evidence to suggest he was communicating with anyone in the Islamic State. However, he has been criminalized as if he is a terrorist.

The FBI appears to have started to spy on Abood as early as March 2013.

On March 29 of that year, the FBI claims he attempted to board a flight to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the Free Syrian Army. He was not allowed to travel, and, when FBI agents questioned him, he allegedly told agents he had only planned to visit family in Iraq.

What reasonable suspicion existed to stop Abood? That is not included in the criminal complaint.

On April 29, the FBI did not stop him when he traveled through Mexico and various other countries to get to Turkey.

Abood returned to the US on September 15. The FBI questioned him again. He allegedly admitted he traveled to Syria through Turkey and stated he had gone to Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in a Free Syrian Army camp. But he denied that he had provided any “financial support” to the al-Nusrah Front or the Islamic State.

The FBI had his computer seized months later. Agents reviewed the contents on July 9, 2014. It allegedly revealed that he had “pledged an oath” to al-Baghdadi and viewed videos of Islamic State “atrocities such as beheadings” on the internet, according to the complaint.

Abood also allegedly used his Twitter account to “tweet and retweet information on al-Baghdadi.”

“I pledge obedience to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Here we renew our pledge to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi come on supporter where is the pledger,” Abood allegedly tweeted on June 19, 2014

FBI agents arrived at his home on April 14, 2015, nearly nine months after a review of his computer was conducted. The agents allegedly asked Abood if he knew it was a crime to lie to an FBI agent. Abood answered yes. Abood was then asked if he had pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Abood denied ever pledging allegiance and, since agents have a tweet suggesting he has pledged allegiance, the agents knew they had managed to get Abood to commit a crime.

But what made Abood an FBI target in the first place?

About the time that the FBI was spying on Abood’s movements the CIA was reportedly sending shipments of arms to Syrian rebel groups, like the Free Syrian Army. It seems preposterous for the US government to criminalize someone for showing interest in a foreign militant group backed by the US government.

The complaint indicates there was an informant involved. The informant allegedly reported that Abood was watching “al Qaeda videos on social media, along with videos about the creation of [the Islamic State].” He allegedly wanted to “help build the Islamic State.”

How was Abood planning to do that from a small city in Texas?

There are clear implications for freedom of expression if these statements are going to be enough in this country to criminalize and prosecute someone like they are a terrorist.

Abood’s girlfriend, Barbara Strebeck, has spoken out since the FBI arrested him. She claims the FBI retaliated against him because they requested he become a “spy” for them when he was planning to travel to Syria. He refused to be their informant.

She told a local CBS affiliate that Abood traveled to Syria because he was “curious about what was going on.” She defended him saying she has been with him for five years and he loves her and her kids and grandkids.

Strebeck insists the FBI setup Abood and that the “laptops federal authorities seized were only used to play video games, not to recruit” for the Islamic State.

What Strebeck and the FBI might agree upon is that of the active “cases” the FBI file, Abood was one of the best cases available to get a quick arrest and make it seem like the FBI was being appropriately vigilant in the aftermath of the attempted attack in Garland.

The public has no exact quotes said by Abood during any of the encounters with FBI agents; just a summary included in the criminal complaint.

Although there is still much to be learned about Abood’s case and how he came to be an FBI target, it fits a pattern where Muslim Americans are asked to be government informants and if they refuse they are coerced by being put on the watchlists, like the No Fly List. They become surveillance targets and eventually may even become the target of a sting operation, where they are induced to plan a terrorist attack so the FBI can claim they are keeping Americans safe from terrorism.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo from Flickr by cliff1066

Hersh Tells CNN’s Chris Cuomo ‘Not Out on Limb’ with bin Laden Story

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh appeared on CNN’s “New Day” this morning and host Chris Cuomo had Hersh defend his major story in the London Review of Books on lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh told Cuomo he was not “out on a limb” with this one. That is just what Cuomo thinks.

“Look, I’m sorry this goes against the grain. I’ve been doing this all my life. All I can tell you is I understand the consequences. I’ve been a reporter for fifty years in this town. I have a lot of good stories,” Hersh explained.

Cuomo asked, “What is the main reason why this would be a lie? Why would it be covered up if it was really just a cooperative agreement with Pakistan? Where’s the motive?”

“Motive is very simple,” Hersh replied. A “walk-in,” an officer from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, wanted the $25 million reward money the CIA offered for information leading to the whereabouts of bin Laden. He was willing to betray his country for the reward.

The alternative to this story, Hersh suggested, is that you believe “what I call a Lewis Carroll fairy tale, that bin Laden, the most hunted man since 2002 in the wolrd, decided a safe place to live is in a compound forty miles from the main capital of Pakistan.”

On this point, Cuomo agreed that this had always been a “point of intrigue.”

Cuomo claimed on air that Hersh had leaned heavily on one anonymous source. Hersh took issue with that characterization.

On sources for his story, he argued, “It’s very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively. And there are other people—America uses an awful lot of retired CIA people, military people in the War on Terror. And there are other people, who have retired with a great deal of information. So, it’s much easier to quote some of them than somebody on active duty.”

Hersh’s interview happened before the White House described the claims in his investigative story as “baseless assertions.”

For more on media reaction to Hersh’s bin Laden story, go here.

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

(update below)

Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)