History > 2009 > USA > F.B.I. / N.S.A. (I)
Muslims Say F.B.I. Tactics
Sow Anger and Fear
December 18, 2009
The New York Times
By PAUL VITELLO and KIRK SEMPLE
The anxiety and anger have been building all year. In March, a national
coalition of Islamic organizations warned that it would cease cooperating with
the F.B.I. unless the agency stopped infiltrating mosques and using “agents
provocateurs to trap unsuspecting Muslim youth.”
In September, a cleric in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, sued the government, claiming
that the F.B.I. had threatened to scuttle his application for a green card
unless he agreed to spy on relatives overseas — echoing similar claims made in
recent court cases in California, Florida and Massachusetts.
And last month, after an imam in Queens was charged with aiding what the
authorities called a bomb-making plot, a group of South Asian Muslims there
began compiling a database of complaints about their brushes with
Since the terror attacks of 2001, the F.B.I. and Muslim and Arab-American
leaders across the country have worked to build a relationship of trust, sharing
information both to fight terrorism and to protect the interests of mosques and
But those relations have reached a low point in recent months, many Muslim
leaders say. Several high-profile cases in which informers have infiltrated
mosques and helped promote plots, they say, have sown a corrosive fear among
their people that F.B.I. informers are everywhere, listening.
“There is a sense that law enforcement is viewing our communities not as
partners but as objects of suspicion,” said Ingrid Mattson, president of the
Islamic Society of North America, who represented Muslims at the national prayer
service a day after President Obama’s inauguration. “A lot of people are really,
really alarmed about this.”
There is little doubt that a spate of recent cases — from the alleged bomb plot
by a former Manhattan coffee vendor, Najibullah Zazi, to the shootings at Fort
Hood, in Texas — has heightened Americans’ concerns about homegrown terrorism.
Muslim leaders have promised to redouble efforts to combat extremism in their
Yet they also worry about the fallout for the vast numbers of the innocent. Some
Muslims, Ms. Mattson said, have canceled trips abroad to avoid arousing
suspicion. People are wary of whom they speak to. Community groups say it is
harder to find volunteers. Many Muslim charities are hobbled.
And some law enforcement experts warn of a farther-reaching consequence: the
loss of a critical early-warning system against domestic terrorism.
“This is a national security issue,” said David Schanzer, who heads the Triangle
Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. “It’s absolutely
vital that the F.B.I. and the Muslim-American community clear the air and figure
out how to work together.”
Even in better times, the relationship has been a challenge to maintain, given
that counterterrorism agents operate on multiple levels — holding open meetings
at a mosque, say, and seeding it with informers.
The F.B.I. has defended its practices, saying it must pursue suspects wherever
they go. Paul Bresson, an F.B.I. spokesman, said in an interview that it tries
to resolve anxieties by giving community leaders “explanations, where the
circumstances permit, and resolving concerns where possible.”
In October, agents met privately in Queens with more than 40 Muslim and
Arab-American leaders to hear their grievances, and agency officials said they
anticipated more sessions in New York and other cities. In July, Attorney
General Eric H. Holder Jr. took questions about counterterrorism tactics from
200 young Muslims at a Los Angeles mosque.
Mr. Bresson said that no group is spotlighted because of its members’ religion
or ethnicity. “The F.B.I. investigates people, not places, and only when we have
information or allegations that persons are or may be committing crimes or
posing a risk to national security,” he said.
Yet the Justice Department has in the last two years loosened some restrictions
on agents’ ability to start and conduct terrorism investigations. The new
guidelines, which the F.B.I. confirmed in October in response to a suit filed by
the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, make it easier to plant informers and
allow agents to include ethnicity and religion in the assessment of targets, as
long as those are not the only factors considered.
After four members of a mosque in Newburgh, N.Y., were charged in May with
plotting to bomb two Bronx synagogues, the authorities acknowledged that the
investigation had begun with an informer who became a linchpin in the scheme.
Congregation members said he had frequented the mosque, offering young men money
The Queens imam arrested in September as investigators pursued the coffee vendor
was an informer who had helped authorities. Last month, federal prosecutors
moved to seize several buildings across the country that house mosques, saying
they were owned by a nonprofit group with links to Iran. As a rare federal
investigation that has ensnared houses of worship, the case stoked apprehensions
that the government sees Arab-Americans and Muslims as a people apart.
“We are citizens who care about our country as much as everyone,” said Wael
Mousfar, president of the Arab Muslim American Federation, a New York umbrella
group. “But people don’t know what to expect — who might report them for
speaking about Middle East politics, what someone might get your teenage son to
His community’s relations with law enforcement were rocky in the weeks after
9/11, when the authorities began detaining hundreds of Muslim and Arab
noncitizens, most of whom were cleared of links to terrorism and deported. But
F.B.I. officials and leaders of Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American groups
eventually forged an understanding, maintaining communication channels.
Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab-American Association of New York, a
social-services agency, said that even then, the connection felt tentative. She
was baffled when bonds that she and other leaders established with a New York
F.B.I. chief evaporated upon the arrival of his successor.
Experts say that complaint partly reflects high turnover.
It also attests to differing views within the bureau about the effectiveness of
community outreach, said Michael Rolince, a former director of counterterrorism
in the F.B.I.’s Washington field office. Some factions within the agency, he
said, have always been leery of Islamic and Arab-American organizations,
considering their loyalties to be divided.
“There are some people in the bureau who believe, as I do, that the relationship
with the Muslim community is crucial and must be developed with consistency,”
Mr. Rolince said. “And there are those who don’t.”
The American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, which threatened
to cease cooperating with the F.B.I., has not yet done so.
But by most accounts, the unraveling of ties between the F.B.I. and
Muslim-Americans began two years ago, with the F.B.I.’s decision to stop sharing
information with the nation’s most prominent Muslim civil rights organization,
the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The F.B.I. said it was motivated by
council executives’ failure to answer questions about links with the Palestinian
militant group Hamas. The executives denied any such connection, and accused the
F.B.I. of staining the council’s reputation without due process.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union made a similar complaint about
Justice Department decisions to shut down six Muslim charities without filing
charges. The moves, which froze billions of dollars in assets, have instilled
among Muslims “a pervasive fear that they may be arrested, prosecuted, targeted
for law enforcement interviews” if they give to any Islamic charity, the
Imam Mohammad Shamsi Ali, chief cleric at the Islamic Cultural Center of New
York, in Manhattan, said that his organization had suffered a 30 to 40 percent
decline in contributions since 2001, in part because of that fear. He said the
center no longer solicits donations from individuals living abroad ”because of
the possibility that we could be misunderstood.”
Still, the specter looming largest among immigrant Arabs and Muslims is fear of
deportation. And some say the F.B.I. has used that threat forcefully.
Sheik Tarek Saleh, the Bay Ridge cleric who is suing the government, said he
welcomed F.B.I. agents at his storefront mosque after 9/11 when they asked about
his kinship with Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a high-ranking Al Qaeda militant and his
Sheik Saleh, 46, said he repeatedly discussed Mr. Yazid as well as his own
former membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, a sometimes-violent political
movement he joined as a teenager in Egypt and disavowed years later. But when he
refused to travel overseas to spy on Mr. Yazid, he said, agents told him to
forget his pending application for permanent residence.
In February, immigration officials told Sheik Saleh that the application had
been rejected because he failed to fill in a section about ties to political
groups. He contends that was a minor oversight. F.B.I. and immigration officials
would not discuss his case.
Sheik Saleh said that he faced deportation because he resisted F.B.I. pressure.
“Your dignity is bigger than the green card,” he said.
Zein Rimawi, a pet store owner and a founder of the Al-Noor School, a private
school in Bay Ridge, said anxiety made people cautious about transactions with
individuals and institutions — even his school, which he said was $700,000 in
debt as a result.
Mr. Rolince, the former F.B.I. agent, said he understood the worries, but felt
they were overblown. “The F.B.I. has 12,500 agents,” he said. “Believe me,
there’s not enough of them to waste time looking at you unless they have a good
Ali Adeeb and Majeed Babar contributed reporting.
Muslims Say F.B.I.
Tactics Sow Anger and Fear, NYT, 18.12.2009,
F.B.I. Raid Kills Islamic Group Leader in Michigan
October 29, 2009
The New York Times
By NICK BUNKLEY
Federal agents on Wednesday fatally shot a man they described as the leader
of a violent Sunni Muslim separatist group in Detroit.
The 53-year-old man, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was killed in one of three raids
conducted in and around the city, in which six followers of his were taken into
Mr. Abdullah, whom the agents were trying to arrest in Dearborn on charges that
included illegal possession and sale of firearms and conspiracy to sell stolen
goods, refused to surrender and began firing at them from a warehouse, according
to a statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States
attorney’s office in Detroit. He was shot in the return fire, the statement
Mr. Abdullah, the authorities said, led a faction of a group called the Ummah,
meaning the Brotherhood, which advocates the establishment of a separate nation
within the United States governed by Islamic laws. He was one of 11 men from
Detroit and Ontario whom the authorities had charged with conspiracy to commit
Though none of the men were charged with terrorism, the statement said, “The 11
defendants are members of a group that is alleged to have engaged in violent
activity over a period of many years, and known to be armed.”
Seven of those charged, one of whom was already in prison, appeared in the
Federal District Court in Detroit after the raids; four had given up without
resistance at the warehouse where Mr. Abdullah was shot, the authorities said.
Three men remained at large.
A 45-page complaint says that Mr. Abdullah trained his followers in the use of
firearms, martial arts and sword fighting, and that he directed them to conduct
an “offensive jihad” against the United States government and law enforcement.
Mr. Abdullah was the imam of a mosque called Masjid al-Haqq, which was evicted
by city officials in January for failure to pay property taxes. During the
eviction, the police said, they found two guns and about 40 other weapons in Mr.
Abdullah’s apartment. As a felon previously convicted of assault and carrying a
concealed weapon, Mr. Abdullah was forbidden to possess firearms.
On Wednesday evening, The Detroit News reported on its Web site that one of its
photographers was assaulted after the raids by a group of men outside the home
where the mosque had relocated. The men attacked the photographer, Ricardo
Thomas, for about 30 seconds and damaged his camera equipment before going back
inside the home but left before the police arrived, said the paper, which
indicated that Mr. Thomas had not been seriously injured.
The Ummah’s top leader nationally is Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, formerly known as
H. Rap Brown, the black-power activist, who is serving a life sentence for
murdering a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia in 2000.
Federal authorities spent three years investigating the faction in Detroit,
according to the complaint. During that time, Mr. Abdullah told informants that
“America must fall” and that if the police ever tried to apprehend him, he would
“just strap a bomb on and blow up everybody.” To obtain bulletproof vests for
protection, he told followers, they should “shoot a cop in the head, and take
their vest,” the complaint states.
F.B.I. Raid Kills
Islamic Group Leader in Michigan, NYT, 29.10.2009,
Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns
October 29, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a
suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United
Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or
links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities,
including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush
administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.
The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it
released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic
Investigations and Operations Guide.”; The disclosure of the manual has opened
the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the
post-Sept. 11 era.
In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it needed greater flexibility to
hunt for would-be terrorists inside the United States. But the manual’s details
have alarmed privacy advocates.
One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as
a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion
as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for
“It raises fundamental questions about whether a domestic intelligence agency
can protect civil liberties if they feel they have a right to collect broad
personal information about people they don’t even suspect of wrongdoing,” said
Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for the American Civil
But Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.’s general counsel, said the bureau has adequate
safeguards to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a
“Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group
unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good
seriously miss the mark,” Ms. Caproni said. “The F.B.I. has been told that we
need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to
investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.”
The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek
information about whether people or organizations are involved in national
Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual
justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless
speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”
Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending
confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and
photographing targets in public.
F.B.I. agents previously had similar powers when looking for potential criminal
activity. But until the recent changes, greater justification was required to
use the powers in national security investigations because they receive less
If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a
“preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like
wiretapping. But even if agents find nothing, the personal information they
collect during assessments can be retained in F.B.I. databases, the manual says.
When selecting targets, agents are permitted to consider political speech or
religion as one criterion. The manual tells agents not to engage in racial
profiling, but it authorizes them to take into account “specific and relevant
ethnic behavior” and to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities.”
Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, said the F.B.I. was harassing
Muslim-Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. Her group was among those
that sued the bureau to release the manual.
“We have seen even in recent months the revelation of the F.B.I. going into
mosques — not where they have a specific reason to believe there is criminal
activity, but as ‘agent provocateurs’ who are trying to incite young individuals
to join a purported terror plot,” Ms. Khera said. “We think the F.B.I. should be
focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under
Ms. Caproni, the F.B.I. lawyer, denied that the bureau engages in racial
profiling. She cited the search for signs of the Somali group, Al Shabaab,
linked to the Minneapolis teenager to illustrate why the manual allows agents to
consider ethnicity when deciding where to look. In that case, the bureau worried
that other such teenagers might return from Somalia to carry out domestic
Agents are trained to ignore ethnicity when looking for groups that have no
ethnic tie, like environmental extremists, she said, but “if you are looking for
Al Shabaab, you are looking for Somalis.”
Among the manual’s safeguards, agents must use the “least intrusive
investigative method that effectively accomplishes the operational objective.”
When infiltrating an organization, agents cannot sabotage its “legitimate social
or political agenda,” nor lead it “into criminal activity that otherwise
probably would not have occurred.”
Portions of the manual were redacted, including pages about “undisclosed
participation” in an organization’s activities by agents or informants,
“requesting information without revealing F.B.I. affiliation or the true purpose
of a request,” and using “ethnic/racial demographics.”
The attorney general guidelines for F.B.I. operations date back to 1976, when a
Congressional investigation by the so-called Church Committee uncovered decades
of illegal domestic spying by the bureau on groups perceived to be subversive —
including civil rights, women’s rights and antiwar groups — under the bureau’s
longtime former director, J. Edgar Hoover, who died in 1972.
The Church Committee proposed that rules for the F.B.I.’s domestic security
investigations be written into federal law. To forestall legislation, the
attorney general in the Ford administration, Edward Levi, issued his own
guidelines that established such limits internally.
Since then, administrations of both parties have repeatedly adjusted the
In September 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey signed the new F.B.I.
guidelines that expanded changes begun under his predecessor, John Ashcroft,
after the Sept. 11 attacks. The guidelines went into effect and the F.B.I.
completed the manual putting them into place last December.
There are no signs that the current attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., plans
to roll back the changes. A spokeswoman said Mr. Holder was monitoring them “to
see how well they work” and would make refinements if necessary.
The F.B.I., however, is revising the manual. Ms. Caproni said she was taking
part in weekly high-level meetings to evaluate suggestions from agents and
expected about 20 changes.
Many proposals have been requests for greater flexibility. For example, some
agents said requirements that they record in F.B.I. computers every assessment,
no matter how minor, were too time consuming. But Ms. Caproni said the rule
aided oversight and would not be changed.
She also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its duty to protect freedom while
preventing terrorist attacks. “I don’t like to think of us as a spy agency
because that makes me really nervous,” she said. “We don’t want to live in an
environment where people in the United States think the government is spying on
them. That’s an oppressive environment to live in and we don’t want to live that
What the public should understand, she continued, is that the F.B.I. is seeking
to become a more intelligence-driven agency that can figure out how best to
deploy its agents to get ahead of potential threats.
“And to do that,” she said, “you need information.”
Loosening of F.B.I.
Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns, NYT, 29.10.2009,
F.B.I. Is Slow to Translate Intelligence, Report Says
October 27, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The F.B.I.’s collection of wiretapped phone calls and
intercepted e-mail has been soaring in recent years, but the bureau is failing
to review “significant amounts” of such material partly for lack of translators,
according to a Justice Department report released Monday.
“Not reviewing such material increases the risk that the F.B.I. will not detect
information in its possession that may be important to its counterterrorism and
counterintelligence efforts,” said the report, which was issued by the office of
the department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine.
In a statement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that it was working to
reduce its backlog of unreviewed audio recordings and electronic documents, and
that it continued seeking to hire or contract with more linguists.
“The F.B.I. remains committed to reviewing all foreign language material in a
timely manner and setting priorities to ensure that the most important material
receives the most immediate attention,” the agency said in a statement.
The government’s ability to review and translate materials quickly has been a
subject of concern since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Two previous inspector
general reports also faulted the bureau for significant backlogs in reviewing
information in other languages.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has pressed the F.B.I. to
improve its translation abilities, praised the bureau for its recent arrest of
several terrorism suspects inside the United States but said that its linguist
department remained “a big hole.”
“Today’s report appears to point to more of the same by the F.B.I. with its
translation department,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement. “The F.B.I. needs
their feet held to the fire in order to make substantive changes in the
The inspector general report consisted largely of numbers — some of which were
disputed by the bureau — and did not contain any specific examples of cases in
which the bureau failed to detect a potential terrorist as quickly as possible
because of a delay in reviewing material.
The report also contains new information about the bureau’s efforts to hire more
translators. It showed that the number of the bureau’s linguists — both staff
members and contractors — had fallen slightly to 1,298 as of September 2008,
from a peak in 2005. It met its hiring targets in 2008 for only 2 of 14 targeted
The process of hiring linguists has been slowed because of lengthy security
vetting and competition with other intelligence agencies that are also trying to
hire more translators, the report said.
The report did find “significant improvements” in some F.B.I. practices. In
particular, for the past three years the bureau has reviewed every text — a fax
or paper document — its agents have collected for top-priority counterterrorism
But the inspector general found that there were backlogs in reviewing audio
recordings, including telephone calls, and electronic files, like e-mail
messages and Web pages.
The F.B.I. and the inspector general disagreed over how to measure those
backlogs. Mr. Fine’s office found that the F.B.I. had failed to review 7.2
million electronic files collected by counterterrorism investigators. Nearly all
of that backlog dates from 2008, when the bureau’s intake of such materials for
all types of investigations nearly tripled, to 46 million files, the audit said.
But the F.B.I. argued that as the volume of such files had increased, its
analysts increasingly used sophisticated computer searches of databases to find
high-priority files rather than opening each individual file by hand.
The inspector general report, citing field office reports, also said there might
be as many as 47,000 hours of counterterrorism audio recordings that were not
reviewed as of September 2008, which would be a more than fivefold increase in
the backlog since 2003.
But the F.B.I. argued that the inspector general report was double-counting
duplicate recordings. The bureau said that its primary system for storing
counterterrorism recordings had only about 4,470 hours waiting for review, and
that it had reduced its backlog in that system by about 40 percent since 2003.
But the F.B.I. also acknowledged that some counterterrorism materials were
stored in other systems, and that it could not say what their status was. It
agreed to overhaul its tracking of such materials as well as act on 23 related
recommendations in the report.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, which oversees the F.B.I., called the report “troubling.”
“While the F.B.I. has made progress in this area,” Mr. Leahy said in a
statement, “I remain concerned that the bureau’s ability to adequately review
this material is still seriously deficient.”
“The ability to quickly and thoroughly translate and review these materials is
essential to our national security,” he added.
F.B.I. Is Slow to
Translate Intelligence, Report Says, NYT, 27.10.2009,
U.S. Arrests Hundreds in Drug Raids
October 22, 2009
Filed at 12:17 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder calls it the largest single
strike at a Mexican drug cartel operating in the U.S. -- the arrest of more than
300 people in a series of drug raids across the country.
Holder said at a news conference that the arrests over the past two days were
aimed at the U.S. operations of the La Familia cartel. Holder said La Familia is
the newest and most violent of Mexico's five drug cartels.
More than 3,000 federal agents and police officers made the arrests in more than
a dozen states. The raids are part of a long-running anti-drug operation that
has led to nearly 1,200 arrests over almost four years.
A New York grand jury has indicted alleged cartel leader Servando
On the Net:
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov/
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's
earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder calls it largest single strike
at a Mexican drug cartel operating in the U.S. -- the arrest of more than 300
people in a series of drug raids across the country.
Holder said at a news conference that the arrests over the past two days were
aimed at the U.S. operations of the La Familia cartel. Holder said La Familia is
the newest and most violent of Mexico's five drug cartels.
More than 3,000 federal agents and police officers made the arrests in more than
a dozen states. The raids are part of a long-running anti-drug operation that
has led to nearly 1,200 arrests over almost four years.
A New York grand jury has indicted alleged cartel leader Servando
U.S. Arrests Hundreds in
Drug Raids, NYT, 22.10.2009,
Feds: Zazi Trips, Shopping Led to NY Terror Threat
September 27, 2009
Filed at 3:00 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
NEW YORK (AP) -- It was midsummer in suburban Denver when an unassuming,
bearded man pushed a red shopping cart between shelves stacked with hair
coloring and nail polish remover.
By the time Najibullah Zazi checked into a nearby hotel suite with a kitchen in
September, he had at least 18 bottles of peroxide-based hair lighteners and
pages of notes for how to turn the beauty products into bombs, authorities say.
Prosecutors say the otherwise mundane movements of the 24-year-old airport
shuttle driver -- who sold Wall Streeters coffee for years from his cart in
downtown Manhattan and returned to the spot, not far from ground zero, on his
recent two-day trip to the city -- masked a dire terrorist threat.
The peroxide purchases, Zazi's prayer at a local mosque on the eve of his
planned attack and a cross-country trip back to his Queens neighborhood,
authorities say, are steps in his evolution from a struggling immigrant who was
a teenager on Sept. 11, 2001, to a full-blown terrorist plotting to bomb the
city on the attacks' eighth anniversary.
Many questions about charges that Zazi became a terrorist over the past year --
and who was helping him -- remain unanswered. Prosecutors refer to ''others''
who accompanied him on an August 2008 flight to Pakistan for terrorism training,
by which time he had come to authorities' attention, and who shopped with him in
Aurora, Colo., for chemicals that could be turned into bombs. But neither
accomplices nor explosives has turned up; Zazi's father and a Queens imam face
charges only of lying to terrorism investigators, and they deny the allegations.
Zazi, jailed on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction,
publicly proclaimed his innocence in recent days to anyone who asked. His
plainspoken defense to The Associated Press outside his Colorado home days
before his arrest: ''I'm an airport driver, and that's all I can say.''
Zazi ''maintains that he was not part of a terrorist cell,'' his attorney Arthur
Folsom said Friday.
But information from court papers, interviews with friends and relatives and an
e-mail trail stretching from Pakistan to Colorado portray a terrorism suspect
who until last year had led an unremarkable, working-class immigrant's life.
Zazi was born in Afghanistan in 1985, moving with his parents and siblings to
neighboring Pakistan at age 7, his family said. At 14 -- two years before the
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center -- he moved to America, settling in
Queens to join family members who made livings as cab drivers and operators of
curbside coffee stands.
He lived in a six-story, red-brick apartment building around the corner from a
mosque, where friends said he was a fixture before and after leaving public high
school. His classmate Naiz Khan said they played football and pool a few times
there. They prayed at the mosque and worked as coffee cart vendors.
Zazi used to make fun of Khan for being ''cheap,'' he said, and said he wasn't
spending enough money.
Over a few months in early 2008, Zazi opened dozens of credit card accounts and
racked up thousands of dollars in debt, according to court records, making
purchases at Macy's, Radio Shack and Best Buy, among others. He filed for
bankruptcy with more than $50,000 in debt in March, a couple of months after
leaving the city for Denver.
He spent several months of the past year in the Peshawar region of Pakistan,
where his aunt said he had a bride whom he married several years ago.
Papers filed in federal court in Brooklyn say that Zazi and unidentified
associates took Qatar Airlines Flight 84 out of Newark, N.J., to Pakistan a year
ago in August; while he was there, prosecutors say, he e-mailed himself
handwritten notes on how to make and handle bombs.
Authorities say Zazi told the FBI in Colorado that instead of bonding with his
family, he went to a training camp and learned about explosives -- specifically
the homemade bombs used on the mass transit attack in London in 2005 and by shoe
bomber Richard Reid, who tried to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with
explosives hidden in his shoes.
The instructions specifically noted that two key ingredients -- acetone and
hydrogen peroxide -- were found in nail polish remover and hair salon products.
Shortly after returning from Pakistan in January, Zazi moved in with relatives
in Aurora. He later moved into another Aurora home with his father and got his
license to drive the airport van.
Khan said Zazi called him and happily talked about a hassle-free life, that he
had no trouble finding parking.
''He was happy there,'' said Khan, who was questioned for hours by the FBI after
Zazi stayed with him.
Between shuttling passengers to and from the airport, Zazi continued his
self-education in terrorism, papers said.
He bookmarked a Web site on his computer for ''lab safety for hydrochloric
acid,'' one of three ingredients that make up triacetone triperoxide, or TATP,
the explosive used in London, court papers said, and searched a beauty salon Web
site for peroxide.
Zazi and at least three others scoured the Aurora shops for an unusually high
number of peroxide and acetone products, prosecutors said. In July and August,
the dark-haired man bought six bottles of Liquid Developer Clairoxide and
several more of Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume, peroxide-based hair dye products.
On Sept. 6, Zazi took some of his products into a Colorado hotel room, outfitted
with a stove on which he later left acetone residue, authorities said. He
repeatedly sought another person's help cooking up the bomb, ''each
communication more urgent in tone than the last,'' the papers said.
The FBI was listening to Zazi and becoming increasingly concerned as the
attacks' anniversary, and a scheduled visit by President Barack Obama to New
York, approached, officials said.
Their concern grew on Sept. 8 when Zazi got back on his computer, court papers
say, located a Web site for a home improvement store in Queens and clicked
repeatedly on a listing for Kleen Strip Green Safer Muriatic Acid, another name
for hydrochloric acid.
Agents were tracking Zazi the next day when he rented a car and drove 1,800
miles to the city, where Khan said he met him praying at the mosque and learned
he had come to fix a permit problem with his coffee cart. Zazi spent the night
at Khan's house, blocks from where he grew up.
Zazi, while under heavy surveillance, was pulled over on the George Washington
Bridge as he crossed from New Jersey to Manhattan and agreed to what he was told
was a random drug search. Investigators who later towed Zazi's car captured his
laptop's hard drive and bomb-making notes, prosecutors said.
At Khan's house, a scale that authorities said could have measured the chemicals
was found with Zazi's fingerprints on it, court papers said.
The FBI was listening when Zazi told a Queens imam -- a police source in the
community -- that his car's disappearance made him fear he was being watched.
The imam later tipped Zazi off, saying police had come around and asked
questions, a criminal complaint says.
''Trust me, that is a good sign,'' said the imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, according
to the recording. ''The bad sign is for them coming to you guys and picking you
Zazi was already back in Denver -- cutting a five-day trip short and flying back
on Sept. 12, after making a quick visit to old customers at the coffee cart
around the corner from Wall Street, and less than a mile from the trade center
Three days later, he posed for pictures in his doorway in Aurora and said he
wasn't a terrorist. He had spent Sept. 11 in New York City and flew back home,
''And,'' he added, ''I have nothing else to say.''
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Colleen Long and David
B. Caruso in New York, AP writer P. Solomon Banda in Denver and AP Television
reporter Bonny Ghosh in New York.
Feds: Zazi Trips,
Shopping Led to NY Terror Threat, NYT, 27.9.2009,
Colo. Man, Father in Custody in Fed Terror Probe
September 20, 2009
Filed at 1:49 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DENVER (AP) -- A spokeswoman for a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver says
that the man and his father have been taken into custody as part of a terrorism
probe in New York and Colorado.
Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed Zazi, were taken into custody at his
suburban Denver apartment by FBI agents at 9:55 p.m. on Saturday.
Zazi's spokeswoman, Wendy Aiello, says the two were then taken to FBI
headquarters in Denver. Zazi's attorney, Art Folsom, was meeting the father and
son at FBI headquarters.
It's not clear what charges the men may face.
FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright could not immediately be reached for comment.
Zazi had been questioned this week by the FBI, and was scheduled for more
interviews Saturday. But the meeting was so Zazi could meet with his attorney.
Colo. Man, Father in
Custody in Fed Terror Probe, NYT, 21.9.2009,
2 N.J. Mayors Arrested in Broad Inquiry on Corruption
July 24, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
The mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus, a state assemblyman and dozens of others
were rounded up early Thursday as the F.B.I. swept across four counties in New
Jersey as part of a two-year corruption and money-laundering investigation that
ranged from the Jersey Shore to Brooklyn and has even reached into the State
House in Trenton.
Agents raided the home of Joseph V. Doria Jr., commissioner of the state
Department of Community Affairs, who also is the former mayor of Bayonne, an
official confirmed Thursday morning.
Among the roughly 30 people arrested by mid-morning were Hoboken Mayor Peter J.
Cammarano III and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, both Democrats, and Assemblyman
Daniel M. Van Pelt, a Republican from Forked River, in Ocean County. Mr.
Cammarano, who turned 32 on Wednesday, was elected mayor June 9 and sworn in
July 1, after serving as councilman-at-large since 2005.
Also brought to the Newark office of the F.B.I. were the president of the city
council in Jersey City, Mariano Vega, and that city’s deputy mayor, Leona
Federal prosecutors said the arrests included several rabbis from enclaves of
Syrian Jews in Brooklyn and from Deal and Elberon, communities along the Jersey
Shore in Ocean County.
The Asbury Park Press reported that the investigation involved the Deal Yeshiva,
a religious school which teaches children in the Sephardic Jewish tradition. The
United States Attorney’s office in Newark scheduled a noon news conference.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has fought corruption in New Jersey’s largest
city, told The Star-Ledger it’s "an unbelievable morning so far."
2 N.J. Mayors Arrested
in Broad Inquiry on Corruption, NYT, 24.7.2009,
E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress
June 17, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the
extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its
recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of
Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials
The agency’s monitoring of domestic e-mail messages, in particular, has posed
longstanding legal and logistical difficulties, the officials said.
Since April, when it was disclosed that the intercepts of some private
communications of Americans went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early
2009, several Congressional committees have been investigating. Those inquiries
have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read
domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said.
Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a
series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the
agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without
court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still
Both the former analyst’s account and the rising concern among some members of
Congress about the N.S.A.’s recent operation are raising fresh questions about
the spy agency.
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House
Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and
said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic
In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national
security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.
“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.
Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be
quoted for the record.
Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements
because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance
operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the
The inquiries and analyst’s account underscore how e-mail messages, more so than
telephone calls, have proved to be a particularly vexing problem for the agency
because of technological difficulties in distinguishing between e-mail messages
by foreigners and by Americans. A new law enacted by Congress last year gave the
N.S.A. greater legal leeway to collect the private communications of Americans
so long as it was done only as the incidental byproduct of investigating
individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
But after closed-door hearings by three Congressional panels, some lawmakers are
asking what the tolerable limits are for such incidental collection and whether
the privacy of Americans is being adequately protected.
“For the Hill, the issue is a sense of scale, about how much domestic e-mail
collection is acceptable,” a former intelligence official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity because N.S.A. operations are classified. “It’s a
question of how many mistakes they can allow.”
While the extent of Congressional concerns about the N.S.A. has not been shared
publicly, such concerns are among national security issues that the Obama
administration has inherited from the Bush administration, including the use of
brutal interrogation tactics, the fate of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,
and whether to block the release of photographs and documents that show abuse of
In each case, the administration has had to navigate the politics of continuing
an aggressive intelligence operation while placating supporters who want an end
to what they see as flagrant abuses of the Bush era.
The N.S.A. declined to comment for this article. Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for
Dennis C. Blair, the national intelligence director, said that because of the
complex nature of surveillance and the need to adhere to the rules of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees
surveillance operation, and “other relevant laws and procedures, technical or
inadvertent errors can occur.”
“When such errors are identified,” Ms. Morigi said, “they are reported to the
appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken.”
In April, the Obama administration said it had taken comprehensive steps to
bring the security agency into compliance with the law after a periodic review
turned up problems with “overcollection” of domestic communications. The Justice
Department also said it had installed new safeguards.
Under the surveillance program, before the N.S.A. can target and monitor the
e-mail messages or telephone calls of Americans suspected of having links to
international terrorism, it must get permission from the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court. Supporters of the agency say that in using computers to
sweep up millions of electronic messages, it is unavoidable that some innocent
discussions of Americans will be examined. Intelligence operators are supposed
to filter those out, but critics say the agency is not rigorous enough in doing
The N.S.A. is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries designed to protect
Americans in about 8 to 10 separate court orders issued by the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to three intelligence officials who
spoke anonymously because disclosing such information is illegal. Because each
court order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or
e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly
collected could number in the millions, officials said. (It is not clear what
portion of total court orders or communications that would represent.)
“Say you get an order to monitor a block of 1,000 e-mail addresses at a big
corporation, and instead of just monitoring those, the N.S.A. also monitors
another block of 1,000 e-mail addresses at that corporation,” one senior
intelligence official said. “That is the kind of problem they had.”
Overcollection on that scale could lead to a significant number of privacy
invasions of American citizens, officials acknowledge, setting off the concerns
among lawmakers and on the secret FISA court.
“The court was not happy” when it learned of the overcollection, said an
administration official involved in the matter.
Defenders of the agency say it faces daunting obstacles in trying to avoid the
improper gathering or reading of Americans’ e-mail as part of counterterrorism
efforts aimed at foreigners.
Several former intelligence officials said that e-mail traffic from all over the
world often flows through Internet service providers based in the United States.
And when the N.S.A. monitors a foreign e-mail address, it has no idea when the
person using that address will send messages to someone inside the United
States, the officials said.
The difficulty of distinguishing between e-mail messages involving foreigners
from those involving Americans was “one of the main things that drove” the Bush
administration to push for a more flexible law in 2008, said Kenneth L.
Wainstein, the homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush. That
measure, which also resolved the long controversy over N.S.A.’s program of
wiretapping without warrants by offering immunity to telecommunications
companies, tacitly acknowledged that some amount of Americans’ e-mail would
inevitably be captured by the N.S.A.
But even before that, the agency appears to have tolerated significant
collection and examination of domestic e-mail messages without warrants,
according to the former analyst, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
He said he and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named
Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. He said
Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and
from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits — no more than 30
percent of any database search, he recalled being told — and Americans were not
explicitly singled out in the searches.
The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any
abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he
had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.
Other intelligence officials confirmed the existence of the Pinwale e-mail
database, but declined to provide further details.
The recent concerns about N.S.A.’s domestic e-mail collection follow years of
unresolved legal and operational concerns within the government over the issue.
Current and former officials now say that the tracing of vast amounts of
American e-mail traffic was at the heart of a crisis in 2004 at the hospital
bedside of John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, as top Justice Department
aides staged a near revolt over what they viewed as possibly illegal aspects of
the N.S.A.’s surveillance operations.
James Comey, then the deputy attorney general, and his aides were concerned
about the collection of “meta-data” of American e-mail messages, which show
broad patterns of e-mail traffic by identifying who is e-mailing whom, current
and former officials say. Lawyers at the Justice Department believed that the
tracing of e-mail messages appeared to violate federal law.
“The controversy was mostly about that issue,” said a former administration
official involved in the dispute.
Renews Concerns in Congress, NYT, 17.6.2009,
4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
By AL BAKER and JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ
Four men were arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a
plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an
Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y.
The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City,
were arrested around 9 p.m. after planting what they believed to be bombs in
cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center,
officials said. But the men did not know the bombs, obtained with the help of an
informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.
The arrests capped what officials described as a “painstaking investigation”
that began in June 2008 involving an F.B.I. agent who had been told by a federal
informant of the men’s desire to attack targets in America. As part of the plot,
the men intended to fire Stinger missiles at military aircraft at the base,
which is at Stewart International Airport, officials said.
“This latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security
threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must
remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
said in a statement. The mayor was expected to appear at 6:45 a.m. Thursday at
the Riverdale Jewish Center morning services, joined by Police Commissioner
Raymond W. Kelly.
The charges against the four men represent some of the most significant
allegations of domestic terrorism in some time, and come months into a new
presidential administration, as President Obama grapples with the question of
how to handle detainees at the Guantánamo Bay camp in Cuba.
Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt, the senior rabbi at the Riverdale Jewish Center, a
modern Orthodox congregation, said the police informed him on Wednesday evening
that his synagogue was a target of the plot, as well as the Riverdale Temple, a
Reform synagogue that is a short distance away, on Independence Avenue. The two
buildings are about six blocks apart, each with a brick facade. Outside the
synagogues on Wednesday night, the streets were eerily quiet.
Rabbi Rosenblatt said in a phone interview that he took the news with “shock,
surprise — a sense of disbelief that something which is supposed to belong to
the world of front pages and the evening news had invaded the quiet world of our
Jonathan Mark, associate editor of The Jewish Week newspaper who grew up in
Riverdale, said it would have been the third plot in the past decade against the
synagogues in Riverdale.
Law enforcement officials identified the four men arrested as James Cromitie,
David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh. Some of the
men were of Arabic descent, and one is of Haitian descent, according to law
enforcement officials. At least three were United States citizens, according to
officials. They are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.
Mr. Cromitie, who is of Afghan descent, had told the informant that he was upset
about the war in Afghanistan and that that he wanted to “do something to
America.” Mr. Cromitie stated “the best target” — the World Trade Center — “was
hit already,” according to the complaint.
In April, Mr. Cromitie and the three other men selected the synagogues as their
targets, the statement said. The informant soon helped them get the weapons,
which were incapable of being fired or detonated, according to the authorities.
Mr. Kelly told Jewish leaders Wednesday evening that the attackers planned
simultaneous attacks, and the men planned to leave the bombs in the cars in
front of the two synagogues, drive back to Newburgh and retrieve
cellphone-detonating devices and then proceed with the attack on the air base —
simultaneously shooting down aircraft while remotely setting off the devices in
On Wednesday night, they planted one of the mock improvised explosive devices in
a trunk of a car outside the temple and two mock bombs in the back seat of a car
outside the Jewish center, the authorities said. Shortly thereafter, police
officers swooped in and broke the windows on the suspects’ black sport utility
vehicle and charged them with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction
within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use antiaircraft
Around 9 p.m., a law enforcement official said an 18-wheel New York New
Yorkepartment vehicle blocked the suspects’ black sport utility vehicle at 237th
Street and Riverdale Avenue. Another armored vehicle arrived and officers from
the department’s Emergency Service Unit took the men out of the truck and
After the plot was broken up, the team of uniformed officers took the suspects
Three of the four men were escorted by federal agents from Federal Plaza in
Lower Manhattan around 1 a.m. Thursday. They were handcuffed and did not respond
to reporters’ questions as they were loaded into the back of vehicles to be
taken to the nearby Metropolitan Correctional Center. There, they emerged one by
Mr. Cromitie, who was wearing a dark blue shirt and jeans, gazed at the
assembled reporters and photographers but again did not respond to questions.
David Williams and Onta Williams also did not answer questions as they quickly
walked by, staring at the ground. The four defendants were to be taken to White
Plains later on Thursday morning, where they were to appear in federal court.
A federal law enforcement official described the plot as “aspirational” —
meaning that the suspects wanted to do something but had no weapons or
explosives — and described the operation as a sting with a cooperator within the
“It was fully controlled at all times,” a law enforcement official said.
Stewart International Airport is used by the New York Air National Guard and
United States Air Force, according to the complaint, and it stores aircraft used
to transport military supplies and personnel to the military in Iraq and
Political leaders responded to the news of the arrests with statements
“This was a very serious threat that could have cost many, many lives if it had
gone through,” Representative Peter T. King, Republican from Long Island, said
in an interview with WPIX-TV. “It would have been a horrible, damaging tragedy.
There’s a real threat from homegrown terrorists and also from jailhouse
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a statement: “If there
can be any good news from this terror scare it’s that this group was relatively
unsophisticated, infiltrated early, and not connected to another terrorist
group. This incident shows that we must always be vigilant against terrorism —
foreign or domestic.”
Reporting was contributed by Sewell Chan, David Johnston, Angela Macropoulos,
Jennifer Mascia, Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser.
4 Accused of Bombing
Plot at Bronx Synagogues, NYT, 21.5.2009,
Portrait Emerges of Anthrax Suspect’s Troubled Life
January 4, 2009
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
FREDERICK, Md. — Inside the Army laboratory at Fort Detrick, the government’s
brain for biological defense, Bruce Edwards Ivins paused to memorialize his
moment in the spotlight as the anthrax panic of 2001 reached its peak.
Dr. Ivins titled his e-mail message “In the lab” and attached photographs: the
gaunt microbiologist bending over Petri dishes of anthrax, and colonies of the
deadly bacteria, white commas against blood-red nutrient.
Outside, on that morning of Nov. 14, 2001, five people were dead or dying, a
dozen more were sick and fearful thousands were flooding emergency rooms. The
postal system was crippled; senators and Supreme Court justices had fled
contaminated offices. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation was struggling
with a microbe for a murder weapon and a crime scene that stretched from New
York to Florida.
But Dr. Ivins was chipper — the anonymous scientist finally at the center of
great events. “Hi, all,” he began the e-mail message. “We were taking some
photos today of blood agar cultures of the now infamous ‘Ames’ strain of
Bacillus anthracis. Here are a few.” He sent the message to those who ordinarily
received his corny jokes and dour news commentaries: his wife and two teenage
children, former colleagues and high school classmates. He even included an
F.B.I. agent working on the case.
Dr. Ivins, who had helped develop an anthrax vaccine to protect American troops,
had spent his career waiting for a biological attack. Suddenly, at 55, he was
advising the F.B.I. and regaling friends with scary descriptions of the deadly
powder, his expertise in demand.
One recipient of his e-mail message, however, a graduate-school colleague,
looked at the photograph of Dr. Ivins and leapt to a shocking conclusion.
“I read that e-mail, and I thought, He did it,” the fellow scientist, Nancy
Haigwood, said in a recent interview.
Nearly seven years and many millions of dollars later, after an investigation
that included both path-breaking science and costly bungling, the F.B.I.
concluded that Dr. Haigwood had been right: the anthrax killer had been at the
investigators’ side all along. Prosecutors said they believed they had the
evidence to prove that Dr. Ivins alone carried out the attacks, but their
assertions immediately met with skepticism among some scientists, lawmakers and
co-workers of Dr. Ivins.
With the F.B.I. preparing to close the case, The New York Times has taken the
deepest look so far at the investigation, speaking to dozens of Dr. Ivins’s
colleagues and friends, reading hundreds of his e-mail messages, interviewing
former bureau investigators and anthrax experts, reviewing court records, and
obtaining, for the first time, police reports on his suicide in July, including
a lengthy recorded interview with his wife.
That examination found that unless new evidence were to surface, the enormous
public investment in the case would appear to have yielded nothing more
persuasive than a strong hunch, based on a pattern of damning circumstances,
that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator.
Focused for years on the wrong man, the bureau missed ample clues that Dr. Ivins
deserved a closer look. Only after a change of leadership nearly five years
after the attacks did the bureau more fully look into Dr. Ivins’s activities.
That delay, and his death, may have put a more definitive outcome out of reach.
Brad Garrett, a respected F.B.I. veteran who helped early in the case before his
retirement, said logic and evidence point to Dr. Ivins as the most likely
“Does that absolutely prove he did it? No,” Mr. Garrett said. With no confession
and no trial, he said, “you’re going to be left not getting over the top of the
The Times review found that the F.B.I. had disproved the assertion, widespread
among scientists who believe Dr. Ivins was innocent, that the anthrax might have
come from military and intelligence research programs in Utah or Ohio. By 2004,
secret scientific testing established that the mailed anthrax had been grown
somewhere near Fort Detrick. And anthrax specialists who have not spoken out
previously said that, contrary to some skeptics’ claims, Dr. Ivins had the
equipment and expertise to make the powder in his laboratory.
F.B.I. agents, moreover, have shown that Dr. Ivins, a church musician and
amateur juggler whom colleagues cherished, hid from them a shadow side of mental
illness, alcoholism, secret obsessions and hints of violence.
Still, doubts persist. The case will be reviewed this year by the National
Academy of Sciences and by Congress. If the F.B.I. is wrong, then a troubled man
was hounded to death and the anthrax perpetrator is still at large, as many of
Dr. Ivins’s colleagues at Fort Detrick believe. When institute scientists began
their own review of the evidence, nervous Army officials ordered the inquiry
In November, four of Dr. Ivins’s closest co-workers wrote a glowing obituary of
their “valued collaborator” for Microbe, the leading microbiology journal. It
did not mention the anthrax accusations and was a singular protest by the four
scientists against the F.B.I.’s conclusion.
“His colleagues and friends will remember him not only for his dedication to his
work,” the obituary said, “but also for his humor, curiosity and great
Fearing an Attack
The Sunday night after the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. D. A. Henderson, who led the
global campaign to eradicate smallpox and had long been a lonely Cassandra
warning of the bioterrorism threat, was summoned to an emergency meeting with
the secretary of health and human services, Tommy Thompson.
Fearing a germ attack, officials had grounded crop dusters. Apocalyptic warnings
were all over the news media: one study said 100 kilograms of anthrax released
over Washington could kill 1 million to 3 million people.
Now, Dr. Henderson was told, intelligence reports indicated that there might be
a second attack by Al Qaeda, most likely biological. Dr. Henderson gave Mr.
Thompson and his aides a disturbing tutorial on anthrax and smallpox. As the
meeting ended, an aide thanked him.
“I just hope we’re not too late,” Dr. Henderson replied.
Days later came word of the anthrax letters. First, the death of a tabloid photo
editor in Florida, Robert Stevens. Then the poison letters mailed to NBC News
and The New York Post with notes declaring “Death to America! Death to Israel!”
And finally the letters to Senators Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, and
Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, spewing deadly spores through the postal
system and across official Washington.
Whoever had ignited panic with a tablespoon of anthrax powder, officials
assumed, would not stop there. Dr. Henderson wondered if the powder came from
the tons of anthrax weaponized by the Soviet Union. Some assumed Al Qaeda was
behind the letters; others suspected Iraq.
“My fear was that this first mailing was the tip of the iceberg,” said Bill
Raub, a senior official at the Health and Human Services Department. “We feared
we would be at their mercy.”
Then — nothing. Within days, investigators were piecing together clues pointing
to a domestic source.
First, there were the notes. One warned, “We have this anthrax,” and advised the
recipients to take penicillin. Al Qaeda, F.B.I. agents reasoned, would hardly
reduce the death toll with an alert that might have saved lives.
Then there was the strain of anthrax. Dr. Paul S. Keim, an anthrax geneticist at
Northern Arizona University, identified the spores as Ames, a lethal strain most
common in United States research. “It was chilling,” Dr. Keim recalled, but also
puzzling. “How in the world did Stevens get a lab strain?”
An alternative theory of a possible perpetrator took shape: the bioevangelist.
An American obsessed by the bioterrorism threat — maybe a biodefense insider who
might gain in pay or prestige from an attack — had decided to alert the nation.
That meant the potential suspects included the very Army scientists now working
so closely with the F.B.I. And at the core of that group was Bruce Ivins.
In 21 years at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Dr.
Ivins supplied Hershey’s Kisses to office visitors and always showed concern
when a colleague was ill. He toasted departing colleagues with humorous poems.
He livened up parties with his juggling act and led songs from a portable
keyboard at his Catholic church.
Colleagues knew Dr. Ivins, whose e-mail Christmas card one year spelled out
“Happy Holidays” in anthrax spores, was an oddball, wearing outmoded bellbottoms
and lunching on concoctions of tuna, peas and yogurt. But in a place where red
tape and petty rivalry often darkened spirits, he was a bright spot.
“He actually thought of other people,” said Melanie Ulrich, who worked with him
on an anthrax project and invited him to the house she shared with her husband,
Ricky Ulrich, also an Army scientist. “He was fun.”
Arthur O. Anderson, the top ethicist at the institute, bonded with Dr. Ivins in
the 1980s over their shared experience of adopting children. After that, every
corridor encounter led to a long, probing talk on adoption or the ethical
conundrums of biodefense.
Dr. Anderson said Dr. Ivins had relished provocative conversation. “If you
didn’t bite at one of his emotionally laden questions, he’d find another way to
shock you,” he said.
They often discussed what they considered groundless criticism of the anthrax
vaccine Dr. Ivins had helped produce, which some soldiers blamed for their
illnesses. “Bruce was thin-skinned,” Dr. Anderson said.
In the emotional days after Sept. 11, friends were not surprised when Dr. Ivins
signed up as a Red Cross volunteer. On Sept. 22, 2001 — a date, it would turn
out, between the two anthrax mailings — he attended a Red Cross class,
Introduction to Disaster Services. He liked the atmosphere, he told friends, and
three months later, as the crushing workload created by the anthrax letters
began to ease, he applied for more training.
Noting that he worked at the Army institute, he wrote in his December 2001
application, “Perhaps I could help in case of a disaster related to biological
Odd and Pressing
There was more to Bruce Ivins than his Army colleagues imagined, and Nancy
Haigwood knew it.
She met him in 1976 in the biology department at the University of North
Carolina, where he was a post-doctoral fellow and she was a graduate student.
She found him odd and tried gently to disengage, but he kept in touch, pressing
her with questions about her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Dr. Ivins’s boss at U.N.C., Dr. Priscilla B. Wyrick, received similar queries
about her sorority, Chi Omega. “He’d say, ‘What’s your secret password? What’s
your secret handshake?’ ” she recalled. “I thought he was intellectually
interested in secret things.”
Dr. Wyrick said she thought of him then as “a goody-two-shoes, aggressive about
his science but very sensitive about how he was portrayed by other people.” She
kept up a correspondence with him, and after the letter attack, arranged for him
to give a talk at her current university, East Tennessee State.
Dr. Haigwood’s experience with Dr. Ivins was not so benign. Outside her home in
Maryland in 1982, a vandal spray-painted her sorority’s Greek initials, “KKG,”
on her fence, sidewalk and fiancé’s car window. A year later a letter she had
not written appeared under her name in The Frederick News-Post, defending Kappa
Kappa Gamma and the hazing of recruits. She was certain Dr. Ivins was
She said she had found Dr. Ivins’s attentions creepy. She never told him her
Maryland address, but he found it anyway. Later, in e-mail messages, he
mentioned details about her sons that she had not shared with him.
“He damaged my property, he impersonated me and he stalked me,” said Dr.
Haigwood, now director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center.
In November 2001, when she got the e-mailed photograph of Dr. Ivins working with
anthrax in the laboratory, she noticed that he was not wearing gloves — a safety
breach she thought showed an unnerving “hubris.” That fed her hunch that he had
sent the deadly letters.
Knowing her suspicion was an extraordinary leap, she kept it to herself. But
three months later, the American Society for Microbiology sent an appeal from
the F.B.I. to its 40,000 members.
“It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual,” the message
said. F.B.I. profilers thought the killer might have made the anthrax during
“off-hours in a laboratory.”
Dr. Haigwood called the bureau, and two agents visited her. After that, they
called periodically but gave no hint that they had tried to confirm the
vandalism and stalking.
Soon after Dr. Haigwood’s call, there was another reason for investigators to
scrutinize Dr. Ivins. The Army found that in December 2001 he had secretly
swabbed for anthrax spores outside his secure laboratory space.
Suspecting a technician’s desk was contaminated, he later told an Army
investigator, he had tested and found a bacillus, the class of bacteria that
includes anthrax. He scrubbed the desk with bleach but did not report the spill,
though he mentioned it several weeks later to Dr. Anderson, his ethicist friend.
“I had no desire to cry ‘Wolf!’ ” Dr. Ivins wrote to Army investigators in April
2002. “I would have been agitating many people for no real reason.” Yet Dr.
Ivins wrote that he could not recall whether he had retested the desk for
anthrax after his cleanup, as regulations required.
His conduct was a flagrant violation of biosafety standards. Anthrax spores
outside containment areas could endanger anyone who was not vaccinated. When the
spill was properly investigated, three strains of anthrax were found outside the
laboratory, including the Ames strain on Dr. Ivins’s desk.
By then, too, the bureau had detailed records showing when scientists entered
and left the secure laboratories. The documents showed that Dr. Ivins had worked
unusually late hours in his laboratory for several nights before each of the
anthrax mailings, a pattern that stood out even at an institute where night
hours were common.
Yet neither the spill nor the night hours sparked the suspicions of the anthrax
investigators. They were intently focused on another suspect.
Focus on Hatfill
Dr. Ivins’s modest bungalow was across the street from Fort Detrick, and he
often walked to work. If he did so on June 25, 2002, a sunny Tuesday, he would
have noticed the hubbub as he passed by the Detrick Plaza apartments.
F.B.I. agents and postal inspectors trudged in and out of one unit, toting away
items for inspection. A horde of reporters milled around nearby; television
helicopters circled overhead. It was one of the most heavily publicized searches
in the history of criminal investigations.
Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, who had given permission for the search, never imagined
this media circus. It was just the beginning of an intrusion into his life by
the F.B.I. and the news media that would show just how tantalizing a case could
be built against a man the government would, six years later, officially clear.
For months, agents had been growing more focused on Dr. Hatfill, a physician and
virologist who had worked from 1997 to 1999 at the Fort Detrick institute.
He had earned a medical degree but had forged his Ph.D. diploma, written an
unpublished novel about a covert bioattack on Washington and bragged on his
résumé of a “working knowledge” of biowarfare pathogens. In his apartment,
agents found a harmless bacteria commonly used as an anthrax simulant and a
notebook on anthrax dissemination.
Then there was the timing. One month before the anthrax attacks, the government
suspended Dr. Hatfill’s security clearance after questionable results on a
polygraph test, and he told friends he expected to be fired from his job as a
bioterrorism consultant. Two days before each of the two anthrax mailings, Dr.
Hatfill filled a prescription for Cipro, an antibiotic that protected against
Could it all be a coincidence? F.B.I. officials did not think so.
Desperate to find something more definitive against Dr. Hatfill, lead
investigators — who had to brief the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on
their progress every week — ordered round-the-clock surveillance. Meticulous
study of tiny brown fibers found stuck to the envelopes led nowhere. Handwriting
comparisons proved useless because the perpetrator had printed in block letters.
DNA found on the outside of the Leahy anthrax envelope turned out to be
inadvertent contamination by a laboratory worker.
Ignoring the grave doubts of some F.B.I. scientists, agents used bloodhounds to
try to link the letters by scent to Dr. Hatfill. They sent divers into a pond
outside Frederick, and when that did not turn up anything, they drained two
ponds hunting for discarded anthrax-making equipment.
Agents were excited when they dredged from the mud a plastic box that they
thought might have been a homemade biological “glove box,” built to work safely
on dangerous germs. The excitement lasted only until a Fort Detrick scientist
with a rural Southern upbringing took one look and recognized what the
$20,000-a-day pond-draining had turned up: a turtle trap.
Soon after the pond debacle, Dr. Hatfill began fighting back, filing lawsuits
and dragging F.B.I. officials to all-day depositions. But investigators did not
want to give up on him as a suspect — in part because overwhelming scientific
evidence was tying the mailed anthrax to Fort Detrick.
By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and
foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical
signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.
By late 2005, genetic analysis by top outside experts had matched the spores to
a flask of anthrax at the Army institute. Dr. Ivins had custody of the flask,
but some agents were still convinced Dr. Hatfill was the culprit.
The science alone could not close the case. “We could get to a lab, to a
refrigerator, to a flask,” said Dwight E. Adams, the F.B.I. laboratory director
until 2006. “But that didn’t put the letters in anyone’s hand.”
Early in 2006, with the investigation largely stalled, Nancy Haigwood heard from
two different F.B.I. agents. Four years after she had reported her suspicions of
Dr. Ivins, the bureau suddenly seemed interested.
“They said, ‘We need your help,’ ” Dr. Haigwood recalled. She was frustrated by
the delay, but when the agents asked her to strike up a new correspondence with
Dr. Ivins, she reluctantly complied. “I was afraid of this man,” she said. “I
was convinced he had done it, and I was afraid he’d send me an anthrax letter.”
Some agents believed that their bosses were stuck on Dr. Hatfill, and an
internal F.B.I. investigation confirmed their complaint. In mid-2006, Mr.
Mueller, the F.B.I. director, quietly moved Richard Lambert Jr., who had led the
anthrax investigation since 2002, to a new job running the bureau’s office in
Knoxville, Tenn. His replacement, Edward Montooth, a veteran of security and
intelligence cases who had worked overseas in places from the Balkans to
Indonesia, ordered a fresh look at the evidence.
For four years, Dr. Ivins, like others at Fort Detrick, had simultaneously been
a trusted F.B.I. technical consultant and a possible suspect. Now the balance
As the bureau’s undercover informant, Dr. Haigwood struck up a breezy e-mail
correspondence about scientific grants, pets and travel. Dr. Ivins complained
about psychological screening and other “rather obnoxious and invasive measures”
imposed at Fort Detrick since the anthrax attacks.
“I got so tired of the endless questions that I finally got a lawyer, after
almost three dozen interviews,” he wrote in late 2006, referring to interviews
by the F.B.I. agents. One session, he said, was “virtually an interrogation.”
In another message, Dr. Ivins complained about feeling “thoroughly beaten down”
but said his volunteer work with the Red Cross had provided welcome relief. “The
Red Cross is my fraternity/sorority,” he said.
For Dr. Haigwood, the reference carried disturbing overtones, reflecting the old
obsession with sororities, and with certain women, that Dr. Ivins had hidden
from family and colleagues.
Dr. Ivins still carried resentment from four decades earlier at Lebanon High
School in Ohio, where he had been a nerdy, awkward teenager devoted to
photography and, even then, to the study of bacteria.
In recent years, said Rick Sams, a pharmacologist who had been among Bruce
Ivins’s few school friends, Dr. Ivins “shared with me feelings about how he’d
been treated in high school. He was bitter about being excluded.”
When Dr. Sams urged him to attend their 40th class reunion, Dr. Ivins refused.
“He said, ‘Why should I go? Look how they treated me,’ ” Dr. Sams said.
The agents learned, in part from Dr. Ivins himself, that he had in his
post-college years made uninvited visits to Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses at
U.N.C., the University of Maryland and West Virginia University, once making off
with a sorority’s ritual book and cipher device.
That was more than 20 years ago. But more recently, agents discovered, Dr. Ivins
had left a long trail of online postings about Kappa Kappa Gamma. There were
inquiries about arcane details of sorority rituals and a bitter editing battle
over the KKG entry on Wikipedia.
Dr. Ivins hid behind the online handles he used for his proliferating e-mail
addresses — KingBadger, Jimmyflathead, goldenphoenix. Once, on GreekChat.com, he
described what he said was a family history of mental illness, calling his
mother “an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.”
The agents learned that Dr. Ivins had long maintained a post office box to
receive mail without his family’s knowledge and took long walks or drives on
sleepless nights. Once, he admitted, he drove all night to Ithaca, N.Y., and
back to leave gifts for a young woman who had left her job in his laboratory to
attend Cornell University.
The agents also found e-mail messages in which Dr. Ivins confessed to alarming
psychiatric problems. During paranoid episodes, he wrote, he felt like “a
passenger on a ride.” Even as he worked at his desk, he wrote, “I’m also a few
feet away watching me do it.”
Of his group therapy program, he wrote on Sept. 26, 2001, between the two
anthrax mailings, “I’m really the only scary one in the group.”
On the face of it, Dr. Ivins’s strange secret life seemed less relevant to the
case than Dr. Hatfill’s boasts about his bioweapons expertise. But anthrax was
the core of Dr. Ivins’s working life.
“He was in charge of producing large quantities of wet spores for research,”
said John W. Ezzell, a Fort Detrick colleague whose anthrax expertise rivaled
that of Dr. Ivins. “So if anybody could have produced a lot of spores without
arousing suspicion, it was him.”
Though a public debate had raged for years over whether the mailed anthrax had
been “weaponized” with sophisticated chemical additives, the F.B.I. had
concluded early on that it was not. Dr. Ezzell agreed, as did Jeff Mohr, an
expert on anthrax and other pathogens at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in
Without giving an opinion of Dr. Ivins’s guilt or innocence, both Dr. Ezzell and
Dr. Mohr said they believed that any experienced microbiologist could have grown
and dried the anthrax using equipment Dr. Ivins had in his laboratory. The
trickiest step, they said, was producing anthrax with the letters’ high
concentration of spores per gram, a skill Dr. Ivins had mastered.
But even if Dr. Ivins could have made the anthrax, did he? “It’s been difficult
for a lot of us to accept this,” Dr. Ezzell said. “He was a loyal friend. He was
a diligent worker.”
The agents were building what they thought was a prosecutable case against Dr.
Ivins, but gaping holes remained. No evidence placed him in Princeton, N.J.,
where the letters were mailed. No receipt showed that he had bought the same
type of envelopes. No security camera had caught him photocopying the notes.
Nor, in his e-mail messages and conversations with confidants, could agents find
any hint of a confession. One colleague who knew Dr. Ivins well told them, “If
Bruce had done this, he never would have been able to keep quiet about it.”
Yet the agents knew he led a compartmentalized life. He went on vacation with
his brother, Charles, each year, but Charles had no idea Bruce had a drinking
problem for which he had been in residential treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dr. Ivins spent hours in online exchanges about sororities, but his family knew
nothing about it.
Some F.B.I. agents were haunted by the Hatfill precedent. Dr. Hatfill, too, was
eccentric. He, too, had begun drinking heavily as he came under scrutiny. He,
too, had grown depressed and erratic under the F.B.I.’s relentless gaze.
What if Dr. Hatfill had committed suicide in 2002, as friends feared he might?
Would the investigators have released their evidence and announced that the
perpetrator was dead?
In May 2007, Dr. Ivins — assured by prosecutors that he was not a target of the
investigation — testified under oath to a grand jury on two consecutive days. He
answered all the questions about anthrax. Only once did he plead his Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination, when he was asked about his secret
interest in sororities.
A Life Coming Apart
Starting with the search of his house on Nov. 1, 2007, Bruce Ivins’s life began
to come irrevocably apart. While some agents carted files, computers and guns
from the house, others questioned his wife and children, intimating that they
knew he was the killer. Fort Detrick officials banned him from working with
anthrax. His career was over.
Last March, after drinking the fruit juice and vodka mix that he had come to
rely on and adding a big dose of Valium, he passed out and was discovered by his
wife, Diane. Despite his denials, she was convinced it was a suicide attempt.
“You know, he’s been incredibly, incredibly stressed, because of the way he’s
been hounded by the F.B.I.,” Mrs. Ivins would later tell Frederick police
officers in a recorded interview. “They’ve always treated him as if he was
guilty, and I just felt that he couldn’t take it anymore.”
Dr. Ivins spent much of the spring in residential alcohol treatment outside
Washington and in western Maryland. But when he returned, the F.B.I. agents were
still there, watching his house and trailing him around Frederick.
On July 10, Dr. Ivins reached a breaking point. With a strange smile, he told
his therapy group that he expected to be charged with five murders and rambled
on about killing himself and taking others with him, using his .22-caliber
rifle, Glock handgun and bulletproof vest.
Tipped off by the therapist, Frederick police officers removed Dr. Ivins from
the Army laboratory that day. He voluntarily checked himself in at the Sheppard
Pratt psychiatric hospital in Baltimore.
After a two-week stay, Dr. Ivins was brought home by his wife. She had left a
heartfelt note in his bedroom, saying she hoped that he could turn his life
around and that they could enjoy life together.
“He didn’t understand that so many people in the treatment program with him had
lost their families because of their alcoholism,” Mrs. Ivins later told the
police. “So I wanted to write down how I felt because I loved him — you know, I
wanted him to come back and get healthy again so we could continue. He was
retiring in September, and we were going to travel and enjoy our adult children
Her note was blunt. “I’m hurt, concerned, confused and angry about your actions
the last few weeks,” she wrote. “You tell me you love me but you have been rude
and sarcastic and nasty many times when you talk to me. You tell me you aren’t
going to get any more guns, then you fill out an online application for a gun
Mrs. Ivins wrote to her husband that he was paying his lawyers a lot of money
but ignoring their advice by contacting two former female laboratory assistants
he was preoccupied with. He was keeping odd hours, walking the neighborhood late
at night and drinking so much caffeine that he was “jumpy and agitated,” she
But Mrs. Ivins’s note also expressed support. “I had written on the bottom of
the paper that I knew he had not been involved in the anthrax letters in any way
and I never doubted his innocence,” said the woman who thought she knew him
Even as Mrs. Ivins picked up her husband at the Baltimore hospital last July 24,
his group therapist, Jean C. Duley, was in a Frederick courtroom, testifying
about threats he had left on her answering machine. A judge signed an order at
10:37 a.m. directing Dr. Ivins to stay away from her.
The order would not be necessary. At 12:31 p.m., according to records checked by
the Frederick police, Dr. Ivins stopped in at the Giant Eagle grocery store near
his house and bought Tylenol PM, acetaminophen and an antihistamine. He bought a
few groceries and filled three prescriptions for his psychiatric illness,
possibly a sign that he was thinking about the future.
Then, at 1:21 p.m., evidently concerned that he did not have enough medication
for the purpose he was contemplating, he bought a second container of Tylenol
Over the next two days, Mrs. Ivins worked her lunchtime shift at a nearby cafe,
went for a swim at Fort Detrick and ran her regular Friday bingo game. In and
out of the house, she saw that her husband was sleeping but had risen at least a
few times, bringing in the mail and eating breakfast.
She did not worry much; depressed, banned from his laboratory, he had been
spending many days in bed. And on the back of her note, he had scribbled that he
had a terrible headache and was going to rest.
“Please let me sleep,” he wrote. “Please.”
When she found him on the bathroom floor in the middle of a Saturday night, her
voice on the 911 tape was calm and methodical: “He’s unconscious. He’s breathing
rapidly. He’s clammy.”
She had been through this before. The dispatcher offered to stay on the line
until the ambulance arrived. “I’m O.K.,” Mrs. Ivins said.
One Last Message
Bruce Ivins, the connoisseur of secrets, took with him any knowledge he had of
the anthrax attacks. But he left one more surprise for his family: a clause in
his will intended to enforce his wish to be cremated and have his ashes
scattered. If his demands were not met, $50,000 from his estate would go not to
the family but to Planned Parenthood of Maryland, whose abortion services Mrs.
It was one last, devious step for a man whose oddities, for many people, made
the F.B.I.’s anthrax accusation more plausible.
But like so much about Dr. Ivins, it cut the other way, too. The F.B.I.
theorized that Dr. Ivins had sent anthrax letters to Senators Leahy and Daschle
because they were pro-choice Catholics, offending his anti-abortion views. Would
an anti-abortion absolutist have flirted with a donation to a cause he despised?
On Oct. 6, a lawyer for the Ivins family filed with the Orphans’ Court of
Frederick County certification that Planned Parenthood would not receive the
money. His ashes, the document said, “were scattered or spread on the ground, as
Portrait Emerges of
Anthrax Suspect’s Troubled Life, NYT, 4.1.2009,