FBI Dismissive of 9/11 Commission Investigation into Terrorist Anwar Al-Aulaqi
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained 900 pages of newly released internal documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicating there may have been a serious rift between the agency’s 9/11 Commission Task Force (Task Force) and the National Commission on Terrorism (Commission) in tracking the activities of U.S.-born al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Aulaqi. Additionally, in an October 2003 email from al-Aulaqi to an FBI agent, the terrorist says he is “astonished” and “amazed” by the media coverage of him and hoped that “US authorities know better.”
The documents were released as a result of the court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigations (No. 1:12-cv-00893), which was filed on June 4, 2012. Judicial Watch first asked for the documents over three years ago, in September 2011.
The FBI emails obtained by Judicial Watch dating back to December 2003 suggest that agency personnel were bothered by the Commission’s “numerous and unrelenting requests” and were dismissive of the Commission’s work. The emails indicate that the FBI refused to set up interviews between the Commission and al-Aulaqi, and was surprised to learn of the Commission’s trip to Yemen, in what turned out to be a futile attempt to track down the terrorist. Quoting from the emails:
FBI email from December 15, 2003 – “SA [REDACTED] has had a conversation with Aulaqi and has tentatively set up an interview for mid March. With the Va. Jihad trial scheduled for early Feb. this is will be the earliest SA [REDACTED] can meet Aulaqi [REDACTED] With that said, we would not want to do the interview with the 9/11 commission. If the 9/11 commission needs to meet with Aulaqi, we will provide the contact information so they can set up their own interview.” [Emphasis added]
FBI email from December 21, 2003 – “… I would like copies of all e-mail contacts between [REDACTED] and Aulaqi as soon as possible. They [apparently the 9/11 Commission] have requested copies of these e-mails. I will discuss the content with the commission staff and determine what the course of action will be. This is a hot topic for them and they have been relentless in their desire to interview Aulaqi.” [Emphasis added]
FBI email apparently also on December 21, 2003 – “… the [FBI] 9/11 Commission Task Force (Task Force) has received numerous and unrelenting requests from the NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORISM (9/11 Commission) regarding closed WFO [Washington Field Office] subject Anwar Aulaqi. These requests stemmed from WFO’s revelation to 9/11 Commission staff member [REDACTED] that an individual representing himself as Aulaqi left several telephone messages on SA [REDACTED] office voice mail. WFO EC dated 11/25/03 provides explicit details regarding these voice messages, and 9/11Commission is aware of the same … Nonetheless, for reasons not clearly discernable to the Task Force, the 9/11 Commission reiterates the following Miscellaneous Request [REDACTED].” [Emphasis added]
FBI undated email, likely in 2004 after Al Aulaqi had moved to Yemen – “… Apparently the 9/11 Commission is interested in interviewing Anwar Al-Aulaqi and some members are en route to Yemen to try and do that … I was interviewed by the 09/11 Commission on 10/16 about Aulaqi … They were obviously interested but made no requests for assistance in setting up their potential interview with Aulaqi. According to [REDACTED] the 09/11 Commission that is enroute to Yemen is now trying to figure out how they’re going to arrange the interview of Aulaqi once they get there.”
On October 23, 2003, al-Aulaqi wrote (after first leaving a voice mail) to an unnamed official at the FBI Academy:
I was astonished by some of the talk circulating in the media about me. I was even more surprised to know that the congressional report on Sep 11 had alluded to me as being a “spiritual adviser” to the hijackers. The Guardian newspaper in the UK mentioned that the US authorities are looking for me in the UK while Time magazine mentions that they are looking for me in Yemen. Well in both countries I could be easily accessed. Even though I have nothing more to say than what I did at our previous meetings I just wanted to let you know that I am around and available. I am amazed at how absurd the media could be and I hope that the US authorities know better and realize that what was mentioned about me was nothing but lies.
Despite this email and an offer to speak with U.S. officials, the final report of the Commission notes that its members were unable to locate al-Aulaqi for an interview during the course of their investigation. The report describes al-Aulaqi’s prior relationship with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers as a “remarkable coincidence” and describes him as a “potentially significant San Diego contact” of the hijackers.
Al-Aulaqi’s email offering to meet with the FBI after being identified as a person of interest by the Commission is the latest in a series of events that have fueled speculation that he was an asset or an intelligence source for the U.S. government.
Indeed, one memo obtained by Judicial Watch from then-FBI Director Robert Mueller to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on October 3, 2002 — seven days before the imam suddenly re-entered the U.S., was detained and then released at JFK Airport – is marked “Secret” and titled “Anwar Aulaqi: IT-UBL/AL-QAEDA.” The FBI ordered al-Aulaqi’s release at JFK, even though an arrest warrant was still active at the time of his detention. On October 22, 2002, 12 days after the imam’s return, another FBI memo, also marked “Secret,” includes the subject line “Anwar Nasser Aulaqi” and “Synopsis: Asset reporting.”
In addition, documents previously obtained by Judicial Watch show that the FBI’s investigation detail that al-Aulaqi patronized prostitutes in the Washington, DC, area on at least seven occasions between November 5, 2001, and February 4, 2002, spending a total of $2,350 on the encounters. A detailed FBI investigative memorandum obtained by Judicial Watch last year shows that some agency officials sought to use that evidence to prosecute al-Aulaqi on prostitution-related charges; however, no such charges were ever brought.
Mueller refused to deny that al-Aulaqi was recruited to be an asset of the Bureau or another federal agency, telling Fox News, “I am not personally familiar with any effort to recruit Anwar al-Aulaqi as an asset – that does not mean to say there was not an effort at some level of the Bureau (FBI) or another agency to do so.”
The new FBI documents are just the latest in a continuing series of internal records Judicial Watch has obtained concerning the relationship between Anwar al-Aulaqi and the agency. In January 2014, Judicial Watch obtained 79 pages of previously unreleased surveillance reports and logs from the FBI providing evidence of ties between terrorist leaders Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Omar al Bayoumi, the government of Saudi Arabia, and FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) counter-terrorism investigations in the days leading up to the 9-11 terrorist attack.
On September 11, 2013, Judicial Watch released surveillance reports and logs it had obtained from the FBI revealing that its agents trailed al-Aulaqi to the front doors of the Pentagon on the day he spoke as an invited guest at a Department of Defense luncheon. The day before the surveillance and luncheon, al-Aulaqi had been identified as a “terrorist organization member,” and an FBI alert had been issued reading: “Warning – approach with caution . . . Do not alert the individual to the FBI’s interest and contact your local FBI field office at the earliest opportunity.” [Emphasis added] Judicial Watch had previously obtained documents from the U.S. State Department indicating that the FBI was aware on September 27, 2001, that al-Aulaqi had purchased airplane tickets for three of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, including mastermind Mohammed Atta. Subsequent to the FBI’s discovery, al-Aulaqi was detained and released by authorities at least twice.
Al-Aulaqi was assassinated by President Obama through a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, the first American ever acknowledged to have been subject to a targeted killing. His 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, was also killed by a U.S. drone attack, allegedly accidentally, two weeks later. In June, a federal appeals court ordered the release of a Department of Justice memorandum providing the legal justification for the targeting of U.S. citizens in such strikes.
“These new documents raise troubling questions about the FBI’s dealings with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a known terrorist that the FBI knew had facilitated the 9/11 attacks. The FBI’s refusal to assist the 9/11 Commission is an outright scandal that deserves further scrutiny. I have little doubt that President Obama assassinated a terrorist that was an asset of the U.S. government,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Was President Obama aware of al-Aulaqi’s connections to federal law enforcement? These unanswered questions cast President Obama’s decision to assassinate al-Aulaqi in a disturbingly different light.”
Can the president kill an American simply because the person is dangerous and his arrest would be impractical? Can the president be judge, jury and executioner of an American in a foreign country because he believes that would keep America safe? Can Congress authorize the president to do this?
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attempted to justify presidential killing in a speech at Northwestern University law school. In it, he recognized the requirement of the Fifth Amendment for due process. He argued that the president may substitute the traditionally understood due process — a public jury trial — with the president’s own novel version of it; that would be a secret deliberation about killing.
Without mentioning the name of the American the president recently ordered killed, Holder suggested that the president’s careful consideration of the case of New Mexico-born Anwar Al-Awlaki constituted a substituted form of due process.
Holder argued that the act of reviewing Al-Awlaki’s alleged crimes, what he was doing in Yemen and the imminent danger he posed provided Al-Awlaki with a substituted form of due process.
He did not mention how this substitution applied to Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son and a family friend, who were also executed by CIA drones. And he did not address the utter absence of any support in the Constitution or Supreme Court case law for his novel theory.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that the government may not take the life, liberty or property of any person without due process.
Due process has numerous components, too numerous to address here, but the essence of it is “substantive fairness” and a “settled fair procedure.” Under due process, when the government wants your life, liberty or property, the government must show that it is entitled to what it seeks by articulating the law it says you have violated and then proving its case in public to a neutral jury. And you may enjoy all the constitutional protections to defend yourself.
Without the requirement of due process, nothing would prevent the government from taking anything it coveted or killing anyone — American or foreign — it hated or feared.
The killing of Al-Awlaki and the others was without any due process whatsoever, and that should terrify all Americans.
The federal government has not claimed the lawful power to kill Americans without due process since the Civil War; even then, the power to kill was claimed only in actual combat.
Al-Awlaki and his son were killed while they were driving in a car in the desert.
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Constitution applies in war and in peace. Even the Nazi soldiers and sailors who were arrested in Amagansett, N.Y., and in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during World War II were entitled to a trial.
The legal authority in which Holder claimed to find support was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which was enacted by Congress in the days following 9/11. That statute permits the president to use force to repel those who planned and plotted 9/11 and who continue to plan and plot the use of terror tactics to assault the United States.
Holder argued in his speech that arresting Al-Awlaki — who has never been indicted or otherwise charged with a crime but who is believed to have encouraged terrorist attacks in the U.S. — would have been impractical, that killing him was the only option available to prevent him from committing more harm, and that Congress must have contemplated that when it enacted the AUMF.
Even if Holder is correct — that Congress contemplated presidential killing of Americans without due process when it enacted the AUMF — such a delegation of power is not Congress’ to give. Congress is governed by the same Constitution that restrains the president. It can no more authorize the president to avoid due process than it can authorize him to extend his term in office beyond four years.
Instead of presenting evidence of Al-Awlaki’s alleged crimes to a grand jury and seeking an indictment and an arrest and a trial, the president presented the evidence to a small group of unnamed advisers, and then he secretly decided that Al-Awlaki was such an imminent threat to America, even 10,000 miles away, that he had to be killed.
This is logic more worthy of Joseph Stalin than Thomas Jefferson. It effectively says that the president is above the Constitution and the rule of law, and that he can reject his oath to uphold both.
If the president can kill an American in Yemen, can he do so in Peoria? Even the British king, from whose tyrannical grasp the American colonists seceded, did not claim such powers. And we fought a Revolution against him.
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written six books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is “It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom.” This column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of al-Qaeda, once remarked: “We are in a media battle for hearts and minds.” It was a prescient comment.
The death of al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, marks one of the most significant blows yet to al-Qaeda’s global media campaign.
Awlaki was the quintessential modern-day terrorist, mixing an adroit use of social media with operational support for violence against the West.
He was “the magic bullet,” noted Johari Abdul-Malik, a spokesman for Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church in the US state of Virginia, where Awlaki once served as an imam. “He had everything all in a box.”
The US-born Awlaki indeed seemed to have it all.
His charismatic, soft-spoken style and stirring lectures earned him a growing corps of loyal internet followers across the globe.
In his lectures, he had a disarming aura, with an easy smile and a soothing, eloquent voice. Perhaps more importantly, he understood the intricacies of the internet and used it to broadcast his messages overseas.
His sermons were available on YouTube and other websites, and CDs of his speeches were sold in Islamic bookstores around the world.
Awlaki operated his own blog and was active on several social networking sites, and his supporters set up pages on Facebook and MySpace. Awlaki envisioned himself as a vanguard among English-speaking Muslims, and he was more successful in that role than any other al-Qaeda figure.
His moral support for terrorism made his command of social media and his appeal to an international group of internet followers dangerous.
Some of Awlaki’s online English lectures were non-violent and centerd on traditional religious themes. But others strongly supported violence. In his sermon 44 Ways to Support Jihad, for example, Awlaki encouraged his followers to conduct suicide operations against the West and to sponsor the families of suicide bombers.
Awlaki also supported terrorist operations from his base in Yemen. He was pivotal, for example, in providing strategic and operational guidance to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009 with a bomb in his underwear.
Propaganda and violence
In multiple email exchanges, he also encouraged a US Army psychiatrist, Maj Nidal Malik Hasan, to kill US soldiers, and in November 2009, Maj Hasan was accused of gunning down 13 people and wounded 43 others at Fort Hood, Texas.
Indeed, it was Awlaki’s mixture of propaganda and violence that made him so threatening.
“The internet has become a great medium for spreading the call of jihad and following the news of the mujahideen,” Awlaki once wrote.
He encouraged supporters to become “internet mujahideen” by establishing discussion forums, sending out email blasts, posting or emailing jihadi literature and news, and setting up websites to distribute information.
Still, Awlaki’s death will not be the end of al-Qaeda or its ideology.
The group’s support network, though weakened, persists in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.
Though Awlaki will be difficult to replace—since he effectively coupled both propaganda and operations—al-Qaeda will continue to plan attacks overseas against Western targets.
And despite Awlaki’s record of success in inspiring acts of violence against the West, al-Qaeda’s popularity has been weakened in parts of the Muslim world, according to Pew Research Center data.
Only 2% of Muslims in Lebanon and 5% in Turkey express favourable views of al-Qaeda. In Jordan, 15% have a positive opinion of al-Qaeda. The trend is unmistakable: al-Qaeda—and its ideology—have lost support.
Plummeting local support
In many ways, the loss of local support for al-Qaeda set the stage for Awlaki’s demise.
Local Yemenis had become increasingly willing to provide information on Awlaki’s movements in Yemen to Yemeni and US officials, unhappy that he was involved in terrorist plots. And in Pakistan, where US special forces in May killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, US intelligence efforts have been facilitated by plummeting local support for al-Qaeda.
The struggle against al-Qaeda will remain, in part, a battle of ideas.
Law enforcement, intelligence, and military efforts play an important role. But as Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader, acknowledged, the struggle will ultimately come down to winning hearts and minds.
Al-Qaeda and individuals like Awlaki may represent a fringe group of extremists, but their message must be more effectively countered. That is something drone strikes cannot do.