Tag Archives: Anwar al-Awlaki

Radioactive Speech

“Congress wants these organizations to be radioactive.”

– DoJ attorney Douglas N. Letter to the Ninth Circuit, oral arguments in Humanitarian Law v. Gonzales, May 1, 2007 (quoted by Adam Liptak in “Right to Free Speech Collides With Fight Against Terror,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 2010)

“The culture of suspicion’s most dangerous feature is the termination of due process after an agency declares a question to be settled by a particular institution’s reading of the security imperative. The fundamental dangers include imprisoning people without recourse to a court and excluding information from a trial that might be important in the creation of a defense.”

– Todd Gitlin, CLS’s “Privacy in the Age of National Security” conference, Nov. 14, 2007

The Obama administration and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle appear to be gearing up to change the course of free speech law as we know it. Under this rapidly emerging paradigm, speech is a potential weapon, and improper use of it can be a crime or even an act of war. They follow their predecessors in wanting the public to see national security as a radioactive zone – one in which the government not only has the exclusive ability to operate in but that the rest of the country dare not enter into. Prosecutions, military decisions, and increasingly pointed rhetoric are being used to mark the limits of this territory.

In June, the Supreme Court, deciding a case that began during the Clinton administration, agreed with the government in finding that advocacy work can be criminal. The Court held that human rights advocates would be committing a crime – material support of terrorism – by providing legal or lobbying advice to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations, even if that advice is intended to “promot[e] peaceable, lawful conduct.”

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Today’s Terrorism News

NCTC Head Discusses Al Qaeda

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, on Wednesday asserted that “the U.S. government has that same right of self-defense internationally” as a police officer who has a gun pulled on him – neither has to wait for a court order to respond. The remarks came during a question-and-answer session at the Aspen Security Forum, where Leiter defended the possibility that U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki – believed to be in Yemen – and other U.S. citizens could be targeted by U.S. drones in Pakistan and elsewhere, if they were involved in terrorist plots. Leiter affirmed that al-Awlaki had “a direct operational role” in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, and that it would be “irresponsible” for him and other senior intelligence and defense officials to not consider him and other U.S. citizens involved in plots to kill Americans as potential targets. Leiter stressed that while drone strikes have proven effective in weakening al Qaeda, there are still 50-100 operatives in Afghanistan and over 300 in Pakistan, specifying that “weaker does not mean harmless.” AP, CNN, Freep.com, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times.

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Today’s Terrorism News

U.S. Citizen Arrested in Paraguay for Conspiring to Support Hezbollah

An American-Lebanese man suspected of smuggling merchandise to foreign countries in order to provide material support to Hezbollah was arrested in Paraguay yesterday, confirming suspicions of some officials that the Tri-Border area of Paraguay is becoming a “haven” for Islamic groups. The suspect faces extradition to America for prosecution in a Philadelphia federal court. AP, Newsweek‘s Declassified blog, Philly.com.

Police in Kosovo have arrested a man believed to be connected to a terrorist plot with a North Carolina target.

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Today’s Terrorism News

New Jersey al Shabaab Suspect Said to Be Engaged, Has “Anger Management Issues”

The two young men in last week’s terrorism arrest in North Bergen, New Jersey – one the son of Palestinian immigrants, the other from a Dominican family – showed signs of angry, disruptive behavior in their teens. According to the New York Times, “Their stories began like many others: troubled teenagers who scare and mystify their neighbors; run-ins with the police while still in high school; parents who cannot compete with the sense of belonging or purpose their boys find elsewhere.” Nadia Alessa, mother of defendant Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, said that her son is “stupid” but not a “terrorist” and had seen “16 or 17 psychiatrists for what she called ‘anger management issues,’” according to CNN. Meanwhile Siham Abedar, 19, has come forward to claim that Alessa was traveling to Egypt to marry her as part of an arranged marriage.  His desire to marry her and have children belies any believed terrorist intent, she claims. CNN, NJ.com.

Intelligence and Secrecy

Newsweek reports the newest draft of a bill that would authorize increased congressional oversight of intelligence agencies is likely to pass without a presidential veto and may lessen objections to the nomination of James Clapper as DNI. Foreign Policy notes that inherent to the debate over Clapper’s nomination is a concern with the effectiveness and supervisory competence of both the current nominee and the DNI itself.

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Today’s Terrorism News

Twelve Americans Detained in Yemen

The State Department said yesterday that 12 Americans are being detained in Yemen, although the reasons they are being detained aren’t known, according to the New York Times.

Other U.S. Citizens Held Abroad

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry says the country has no intention of trading the three American hikers detained there for an Iranian scientist the country believes to be held in the U.S., says the AP. The hikers have been charged with spying.

A judge in Rwanda has refused bail to Peter Erlinder, lead defense counsel for top genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Erlinder is charged with denying the 1994 genocide and publishing articles threatening Rwanda’s security. The U.S. has called on the Rwandan authorities to release Erlinder, a U.S. attorney, who has denied all charges.

The Center on Law and Security wonders how many American citizens are being held abroad on terrorism-related charges.

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Today’s Terrorism News

Texas Man Indicted for Funding AQAP, Ohio Couple Arrested for Supporting Hezbollah

Following e-mail correspondence with Anwar al-Awlaki, Barry Walter Bujol Jr. of Hempstead, Texas, was arrested Sunday on a ship to the Middle East with GPS equipment and other material allegedly intended for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He received the equipment from an undercover F.B.I. informant. He was indicted yesterday in Houston.

Hor and Amera Akl, a Lebanese-American couple, were arrested yesterday in Toledo. They allegedly conspired with an undercover F.B.I. informant “to conceal some 500,000 dollars in the hollow sections of a vehicle and to ship the vehicle to Lebanon,” according to AFP. The money was intended for Hezbollah, officials say.

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The Longstanding – and Ongoing – History of al Qaeda in Yemen

by Robert Windrem

Yemen has been in the news a lot lately.

There were the December 17th and 24th attacks by U.S. and Yemeni forces on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that killed more than 40 people , including a few high-ranking leaders.  Although they didn’t get much media attention, those attacks featured roles for Harrier “jump jets” and missiles fired from ships offshore.

Then, the day after the second attack, America’s Christmas reverie was broken by news that an AQAP-trained fighter had come perilously close to blowing up a Northwest flight on final approach to Detroit. More than 300 people would have died in the air and on the ground just as America was sitting down for a holiday dinner.

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Today’s Terrorism News

“Yemeni cleric calls for killing U.S. civilians” (MSNBC)

“Tribesmen kidnap U.S. couple in Yemen” (MSNBC)

“Iran spy chief says 3 jailed Americans are spies” (AP)

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Killing Anwar al-Awlaki?

by Roger Cressey

Wednesday’s story in The New York Times about the Obama administration authorizing the use of deadly force against radical cleric and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki should have received more attention.  What is significant is the conclusion that al-Awlaki is now an operational leader inside al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Since last summer, there has been growing suspicion in the U.S. Intelligence Community that al-Awlaki has been moving from a proselytizer for the jihad cause into an operational role. The first true indication of this transition was in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shooting, when a review of Maj. Nidal Hasan’s e-mail communication with al-Awlaki led intelligence analysts to conclude that his role within AQAP was growing.  Their suspicions were confirmed after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, when another review of current information left no doubt that al-Awlaki was working directly with the leadership of AQAP and doing so in a manner that revealed his knowledge of operational plans.

Al-Awlaki is important to AQAP for several reasons.  As an American, he can give authoritative insights (at least from his perspective) on American politics and society that would be valuable to AQAP’s Yemeni leadership.  Second, he can describe his own experiences with U.S. security operations at airports and other transportation sites.  Third, and most importantly, he is a talented speaker and can be a compelling voice on the internet for jihadi recruitment.  His most recent audio tape was a thoughtful and sophisticated message.

How will the U.S. target him?  I believe the preference for the White House is still to see Yemeni authorities arrest him and deport him to the U.S., where he could be charged, at a minimum, with providing material support for terrorism.  But no one in Washington is under the illusion that Yemen’s security forces will undertake the type of risky operation that could lead to al-Awlaki’s capture, as he resides in a de facto safe haven inside Yemen that has proved difficult, if not impossible, for Yemen forces to successfully operate in.   Certainly President Ali Abdullah Saleh now accepts that AQAP poses a threat to his survival – a point he did not believe until recently – but he has told U.S. officials repeatedly that domestic opposition to an overt U.S. military ground presence in Yemen is too strong to overcome.  While that might be a curious statement coming from the leader of an authoritarian regime, the reality is that the deployment of U.S. Special Forces (beyond the joint training that has already occurred) or Predator drone operations over Yemen will not occur anytime soon.  Cruise missiles from U.S. warships will continue to be the weapon that Saleh can accept.

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Today’s Terrorism News

Just as The Washington Post was publishing its interview with CIA Director Leon Panetta, word came that another al Qaeda leader had been killed last week. According to U.S. officials, Hussein al Yemeni was a “top al-Qaida planner, facilitator and bomb maker.” The Hellfire missile strike took place in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, Pakistan.

This brings to 20 the number of drone attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan this year, compared to 40 in all of 2009, according to officials quoted by NBC News.

As Panetta told the Post, “Those operations are seriously disrupting al-Qaeda. It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run.”

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