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lodi: the fbi's response

FRONTLINE's producers made numerous requests for comment from the FBI office in Sacramento about the Lodi investigation. They were referred to the FBI's press office in Washington, D.C. Because of the specific charges made by former FBI agent James Wedick regarding the interrogations of Hamid and Umer Hayat, FRONTLINE tried a final time to obtain a response from the Sacramento FBI. They agreed, and on Oct. 5, 2006 Lowell Bergman and Scott Shane, who reported "The Enemy Within" for FRONTLINE and The New York Times, asked Drew Parenti, the special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI's Sacramento field office, to comment on several charges made in the FRONTLINE report. Parenti, a 22-year veteran of the FBI, joined the Sacramento office on June 20, 2005, just over two weeks after the Hayats were questioned by FBI agents. In the interview, he would not speak about the current state of the investigation, which he described as "ongoing." Unfortunately the interview occurred too late to be included in the broadcast, but FRONTLINE has prepared this summary of Parenti's response and called attention to it in the broadcast of "The Enemy Within."

The Hayat Interrogations

Parenti responded to charges by retired FBI agent James Wedick that FBI agents were leading Hamid Hayat, by explaining that "most of the questions that they characterize as leading questions were nothing more than clarification questions based on what Hamid had already provided before the interview was videotaped."

Editor's Note: What transpired prior to the videotaping of the Hayats as represented by Mr. Parenti has not been made part of the public record. The FBI did not tape record those conversation. And, according to sources, internal FBI reports do not contain any details of the conversations.

According to Parenti, Hamid and Umer Hayat were first interviewed at their home on June 3, 2005, where they both denied attending terrorist training camps. They were asked to come to the FBI's office the next day for a follow-up interview and to take a lie detector test. "He [Hamid Hayat] was polygraphed," Parenti said. "He failed the polygraph on the two key questions and following that he began to provide a confession."

Parenti did not know the precise wording of the "two key questions" that caused Hamid to fail the lie detector test, but he said that they were along the lines of "Did you attend the terrorist training camp?" and "Did you engage in training with the idea of returning to the United States to wage jihad?"

Parenti also strongly defended the use of leading questions in general in criminal investigations. "There is absolutely nothing illegal, immoral, unethical or disallowed about leading questions," he said. "There is no violation of law, and obviously the jury did not feel that there was any issue with regard to the leading questions."

Parenti said Hamid's father Umer was not subjected to lengthy interrogation. "We encouraged him to leave, get something to eat, come back. He wouldn't. He stayed around." It was only after agents showed Umer the videotape of his son's confession that he said, according to Parenti, "words to the effect of 'Okay, I lied. I'll tell you the truth now.'"

Parenti attributes the inconsistencies in the Hayats' accounts of the camp they attended -- and the FBI's failure to reconcile these differences -- to the possibility that the Hayats had been to more than one camp: "I think there's substantial reasons to believe, based on their own statements, that both Umer and Hamid had at times visited a multitude of camps -- not necessarily attended them or stayed there or trained there, but had seen them and had been there."

FBI Informant Naseem Khan

Although Parenti was not stationed in Sacramento when the FBI recruited Naseem Khan to work as an informant in Lodi, he defended Khan's work and compensation.

Calling the story that Khan had come to the FBI's attention for claiming to have seen Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Lodi "a classic red herring that got into the trial through the defense," Parenti said the FBI first spoke to Khan "about a variety of matters. He clearly was familiar with the Lodi area and had lived here before and knew of individuals down here."

"Bear in mind ... that Zawahiri had been in Lodi in the early to mid-1990s raising funds," Parenti said. "So for someone to say they saw him two, three years later, there's nothing startling about that."

Editor's Note: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the Hayat trial on March 14, 2006, al-Zawahiri "appears to have visited Bay Area mosques in the late 1980s or 1990s, raising money while traveling under a fake name. But he has not been linked to Lodi or to such recent visits."

As for the approximately $230,000 the FBI paid Khan, Parenti said, "The vast majority of that money you cite was simply expenses: hotel, food, car, maintenance of his life back home, etc. This was not something he did for a profit."

He also dismissed charges that FBI informant Khan was bullying Hamid Hayat into jihadist activities, saying such charges are based on "very small snippets taken, I would suggest, out of context. To understand the entire context of the interaction between Hamid and Naseem Khan, you have to listen to all the tapes." Even in the portion of the tapes played at Hamid's trial, Parenti said, "There's nothing in doubt about his knowledge of the process [of joining the jihadist movement] and his conviction to participate in it."

Working with Lodi Muslims, and the Nature of the Threat

Bergman and Shane also asked Parenti about other aspects of the case and about counterterror investigations generally. Regarding the FBI's interactions with the Muslims, Parenti felt the FBI has gotten a bum rap on the Lodi case: "I do not intend this as a criticism of you two gentlemen, but speaking more broadly about the media, it is in my view regrettable how the media here have portrayed this case, how the media has portrayed our stance in the community and has portrayed the Muslim community's view of the FBI with regard to this case."

Parenti said he and his colleagues "spend all the time we can within the Muslim community," and that the Muslims he has met with recently in Lodi "were 100 percent in confidence with the FBI's efforts to root out and remove from their community elements that were radicalizing their youth and radicalizing their community."

Several of these Lodi Muslims, he said, saw the two imams at the mosque as radical: "They don't want that in their community and they did have those concerns with regard to Mohammad Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed." As for the decision to deport the imams to Pakistan, Parenti said "that was an issue of great debate," and that such decisions are made on "a case-by-case basis."

"The conclusion we came to is that these probably are not healthy people for our community and having them here is probably not in the best interests of the national security of this country," he said.

Finally, when asked, given the outcome in Lodi, whether homegrown terrorism may not pose as much of a threat as some fear, Parenti responded cautiously.

"We caught it extremely early," he said of the Lodi case. "We were questioning the Hayats within a couple of days of Hamid returning from Pakistan and the terrorist training camp. So what may have been afoot we may never know."

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posted oct. 10, 2006

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