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interview: gamal abdel-hafiz
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An agent from 1995 to 2003, Gamal Abdel-Hafiz says he was the first ever Muslim FBI agent. He was involved in the bureau's investigations of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, as well as the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. On Sept. 11, 2002, Abdel-Hafiz was sent to interview and obtain a confession from Mukhtar al-Bakri, one of the Lackawanna Six. He succeeded, and al-Bakri admitted to attending an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This interview broke the case, and led to the arrests of the remaining five members in Lackawanna, N.Y. In this interview, Abdel-Hafiz recounts his meetings with al-Bakri. He also criticizes the FBI for its lack of understanding of the Muslim community, and argues that for the two sides to build trust, the bureau needs to invest more resources in long-term sensitivity training for its agents. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on June 13, 2003.

Read more of Abdel-Hafiz's story and his criticisms of the FBI.

... Give me a little sense of your background in the counterterrorism area. You started out working as a translator with the FBI?

When we got on the plane on our way to the States, and he met the case agents from Buffalo, one of his biggest concerns [was], how are the Buffalo Bills doing?  That tells me he really likes what he has here.

Yes, I started out as a translator for the FBI, back in January 1994. I was heavily involved with the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other co-conspirators in New York,

That's the blind sheik? The man who's thought to be behind the first World Trade Center bombing?

Yes. And there was an attempt to bomb some tunnels and bridges, and landmarks in New York, in 1993. I believe about 11 individuals were arrested, and I testified in that trial 19 times.

You translated the tapes or the--

I translated all the audio and videotapes that were introduced into evidence, and I testified to them.

And you decided to join the FBI?

I decided to join the FBI. At the beginning, I was directed by someone to use my bilingual talent for the government, and I contacted several government agencies. The FBI responded, and I went through with it. I became a language specialist. While I was there in New York, some agents encouraged me to become an agent.

I understand you met with Louis Freeh, the director, and spent time with him.

Yes. Yes, he came and he asked to meet me while I was in the academy. He came on a tour on with my class. I met him and he thanked me for the work that I did for the trial in New York. ...

When did you first learn about the case in Lackawanna, and what happened?

Two weeks after my wife gave birth to my last child, I got a phone call and they asked me to travel to Bahrain, the kingdom of Bahrain ... to interview somebody there. We were not given any details. When I asked about questions to ask the person, what's he involved in, what I'm looking for, they said, "Just go there, and we'll get you the questions as soon as you get there." By that time, it was too late to travel that evening.

There was no military jet waiting for you?

No, no.

No U.S. government, no FBI plane?

No, there was not.


There was nothing.

Just a phone call, go to Bahrain.

Go there. That's one of the problems. People think that the Gulf countries are like the United States, you can have many flights a day from point A to point B; even if they are not direct flights, you can make it. Well, this is not the case there. If I want to go from Riyadh to Qatar, for example, I cannot find a direct flight every day.

Just so I understand -- you know it's almost the anniversary of Sept. 11 when this happened.

Yes. It was exactly Sept. 10 when I got the first phone call, in the evening.

No indication to you that this was a very top priority case in the United States?


It's routine, get the next commercial flight to Bahrain.

Not totally, not really a routine call. It had some urgency in it. But there's no details. ...

Anyone who received training in training camps in Afghanistan carries some kind of danger inside of them, because you never know what they have on their mind, what they're planning on doing.

The very next morning, I got to the office, and they told me that you just received a phone call from our embassy in Bahrain, saying that the Bahrainian authorities want to release the individual, because he's been arrested for 48 hours. The laws there prevent them from keeping anyone under arrest for more than 48 hours without charging him with something.

I just want to make sure I understand. You have to wait for the next commercial flight, so you go in the office the next day. And you're told that he's going to get released?

Yes, that the Bahrainian authorities contacted the U.S. embassy, and they told them that they're going to release him within a couple hours if we don't do something about it.

So what did you do?

I contacted the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain. I requested his interference with the Bahrainian authorities, to ask them to keep him until that evening, until I get there. The first flight out was about 3:00 in the afternoon, and the ambassador was very eager to help. I was grateful for his efforts, and he kept the person in custody. I asked headquarters, I woke people up, because of the difference in time, and I asked for the questions, because I'm headed to Bahrain. He said, "By the time you get there, the questions will be there." They weren't. When I got there, the questions were not there.

When you got to the U.S. embassy in Bahrain?

In Bahrain, yes.

No questions. Anything else?

No. No. There were no questions to ask. At the same time, I did not have any background about the case. I didn't know why am I interviewing this individual or who he is. I got a hold of the legate office in Riyadh, and they send me on the secure fax a couple documents that just gave me a vague idea.

Did you have his name?

I had his name.

His name was?

Mukhtar al-Bakri.

From Lackawanna, New York.

Mukhtar al-Bakri from Lackawanna, New York. He's in Bahrain and he's been arrested. ...

Did you know why the Bahrain authorities had picked him up?

I was told that the U.S. government requested that the Bahrainian authorities pick him up.

The U.S. government.

The U.S. government, yes. I then got some issues, and he said the main thing we want to know [is] if he went to Afghanistan. And everything was classified, and you need to know this, but don't tell him that. If you have a background, it would be difficult not to ask from that background.

So they gave you some background information at that point, but it was all classified.

It was all classified.

But they told you at the same time that you couldn't use it?

No. I can read it for my background, but I cannot use it while I'm talking to him or give him any of this information, because it's classified.

So that puts you in a Catch-22.

Yes. Yes.

So what did you do?

I glanced over it, and when I found that I'm not supposed to reveal any of this to him, I put it down. I didn't want to read it before I go to the interview. The interview atmosphere will be tense, will be quick, will be very upbeat. If you have a lot of classified information fresh in your head, 30 minutes or an hour before the interview, something may slip up. So I chose not to read the classified material at that time. I knew who he was. I knew what they wanted to ask him.

They wanted to know if he had gone to Afghanistan,

To Afghanistan.

That was the key question.

Yes, yes. I went to interview him, and luckily for me, he had given his e-mail address and password to Bahrainian authorities. They downloaded his e-mails. ... The Bahrainian authorities gave me a copy of his e-mail, and I asked him if he voluntarily gave them. He said, "Yes, I gave them my e-mail address and password."

So you had a stack of e-mails that you he had sent.

I had a stack of e-mail sent and received. Sent and received.

Now, where do you do the interview?

In the headquarters of the Bahraini police.

Are you alone when you do it?

No, I had another agent, a female agent, who was ... on temporary duty in the Riyadh. I asked her to go along with me. While I was interviewing him, his Bahrainian interrogating officer was there in the room, too.

So there were four of you?

Four of us.

Sitting around a table.

Sitting around a table.

You introduced yourself?

I introduced myself as an FBI agent who's stationed in Saudi Arabia. I asked if anyone harmed him, if anyone beat him up, if anyone roughed him up. He said no, he hasn't been beaten up, he hasn't been abused. I told him why I'm there. I said, "I'm here just to ask you questions, I heard that you were detained by the Bahraini police, and I'm here to ask you questions." I started to ask the regular questions first, then after that, I got into his trip to Pakistan.

Was this in English, or?

In English. In English.

Was he surprised that you were a Muslim FBI agent?

I believe he was, but he did not make it show. He did not make it obvious that he was surprised. But again, he was relieved to speak to someone from the U.S. government, believe it or not.

He's 21 years old, right?

He's 21 years old. He's 21 years old. ...

What was your assessment of him? What was he like?

He was in a daze. He was so scared.

In a daze.

Yes. He was so scared, and he didn't know why is he arrested in Bahrain. ...

I talked to him, I explained to him the danger of lying to hide something small, and get[ting] accused of something much bigger; that the truth is always easier, and cheaper at the cost on the long run. I told him, "I want you just to go back, take a rest, think about what I've told you." That was after an hour and a half of conversation.

I used his own e-mails to ask him questions, and he lied to me while I was asking him. I told him, "It's obvious that you're lying, because here's your own e-mails. I'm not showing you anything that I brought with me." He said, "OK, I'm not going to give you the runaround about this." I said, "I want you to think about it. If you're going to tell me the whole truth, come back. Not half of it, just the whole truth." We took a break. I needed the break to connect my thoughts.

He came back, and he admitted that he went to Afghanistan along with the other five individuals. He named them for me. He told me that he went along with the group because they said we are going to Afghanistan, to the training camp, and he was embarrassed to say, "No, I'm afraid," or "I'm scared."

He said that in Karachi, is that correct?

Yes, he said while he was in Karachi, he felt like it would look like he's a child if he says, "No, I don't want to go with you to Afghanistan." He went along with them. He told me that about a week into it, he knew that he made a big mistake, and he didn't want to be there.


Because he felt like it's dangerous. The place is not what he thought it will be. Especially when he saw Osama bin Laden a week after he got there. When Osama bin Laden came into the camp, he knew that this is dangerous.

The wrong place to be.

The wrong place to be.

For a young man from Lackawanna.

Yes. And he wanted to leave. He used an excuse that his parents don't know that he's there, and they would be worried about him. They told him, "If you come here, you have to finish the training."

In for a dime, in for a dollar.

Yes. He was held a week after the whole camp was finished.


Yes, held in the camp for extra training. He thought it was extra training. Actually the way this is done, is you don't release the people who are not fully committed out of the camp with everybody else who is committed, so they wouldn't get to know much about them. So they hold the non-committed people back, say, for extra training, until the people who are committed and did show commitment leave, and get dispersed.

It's a tactic.

It's a tactic, just so he wouldn't mix with anybody else.

Was he relieved when he admitted that he went?

Yes, yes. I asked him, did his parents really know that he was going? He said no. I said, "What do you think your father will do if he found out now that you went to Afghanistan?" He said, "He will kill me."

Was his father in Bahrain at the time?

His father was in Bahrain. He was going to the American embassy and calling them several times a day, trying to find out where is his son, what happened to his son, what's his son accused of.

Because [Mukhtar] had just been married.

He just got married. They arrested him on his wedding night. ...

Did he talk about these five friends who went with him?

He mentioned them by name, that they went with him. He mentioned one of them, that he wanted to leave, too; he was not too happy. Both of them decided that they want to leave the camp. His friend succeeded, because he faked a leg injury. He did not succeed.

That's Alwan.

Alwan succeeded to leave, because he faked a leg injury, but Mukhtar al-Bakri couldn't make it out.

They didn't believe him.

Well, they felt like, if his parents don't know, that's not an excuse. ...

How long was that first interview? Do you remember?

I believe it was about four or five hours.

So you left the interrogation room, telling him that you would see about his returning to the U.S?

Yes, after the first interview.

You realized you had gotten a confession?

Yes, I got a confession from him, and at that time, I didn't realize how valuable this confession is. ...

So did you go run to the telephone to call [headquarters]?

... We went to the hotel. It was about 1:00 in the morning by that time. ... I called them and they asked me if he said anything. I said that I got a confession, he confessed that he went to Afghanistan. They said, "How about the other people?" I said he confessed that he went with other people, but I didn't ask names. So the SAC [Special Agent in Charge of] Buffalo and the prosecutors, the case agents, and a lot of people were on the phone. ...

What was their reaction?

They were very happy, and they were just beside themselves. That's when I realized the magnitude of this interview.

They don't start shouting at the other end of the phone when you usually call headquarters?

No, they don't shout, but they were very happy. They said that Buffalo would be pleased to know that. I said, "It's almost 1:00 in the morning. We'll do the 302 first thing in the morning and send it to you." That's our reporting form. They said, "No, please, we want it now."

You were writing up the 302 at 1:00 in the morning?

At 1:00 in the morning. We finished the 302 around 4:30 in the morning, we sent it to them, and we went to the room. Thirty minutes later, I started to get phone calls again from headquarters, and I had an appointment with the ambassador in the embassy at 7:30 in the morning. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night.

I went, met with the ambassador, and I explained to him what al-Bakri confessed to. I asked him to please make me an appointment with the Bahraini authorities, so I can convince them to keep him longer until we arrange for his extradition to the United States.

He was pleased to help. He got me the appointment the same morning, I met with the head of the Bahraini intelligence. He was very cooperative, very understanding, and very helpful. I explained to him the magnitude of the case at that time.

What did you think the case was, now that you had talked to headquarters?

Now that I had talked to headquarters, I understood that these individuals went as a group to train in Afghanistan, and of course--

A group of American citizens.

A group of American citizens went to train in Afghanistan, and returned back to the U.S. That's a big, big deal. He was very understanding. He asked me how long it might take to get him back to the U.S., and I asked him to give me about 48 hours, maybe a little longer. He asked me if I can put him on a commercial flight back to the U.S. I told him, you find me a commercial flight that will accept taking somebody in handcuffs--

And shackles.

And shackles, back to the U.S.

He was a terrorism suspect.

Yes -- and I'll take him. Then he realized that this is not going to work. I requested headquarters to arrange for a flight back, and they sent me an airplane to Bahrain. We took him from Bahrain, and he requested that I fly back with him.

I know that more happens, so let me just take you through it. So you've met with the Bahrainis. They're going to keep him until you can arrange transportation.


But you go back and talk to him again.

Yes. The same day, headquarters called me and they asked me to go and talk to him again, and ask him some more questions. So I made the arrangements, and I met him on the Sept. 13 in the morning. ...

They wanted to know about e-mails, any existent threats to the U.S. as a country, U.S. persons, U.S. interests. I asked them, and he told me things that he heard. He was not sure of any of it. We relayed that to headquarters and some other countries to take precautions.

Say that again?

We relayed that information to the United States government, and that was relayed to some other countries to take some precautions, just in case there's a threat.

Based on some of the things he said?


I mean, I have the 302 from that interview here. He told you about "the big meal."


You asked him about the e-mail.

I asked him about the e-mail.

Because that caused almost panic back in the United States when they intercepted that.

That was the source of the panic, yes.

What did he tell you "the big meal" was all about? Do you remember?

I remember he said that someone told someone else in front of him ... that there would be a huge attack that would take a lot of lives, and he wanted to tell a friend about it. He didn't want to say "attacks," so he referred to it as "the big meal."

That was his code word?

I believe that was his code word, yes.

So Washington wanted you that second day to ask about the e-mails.

Yes, and threats in particular.

They wanted to know what did "the big meal" mean?

Yes, if there are any known or imminent threats against the United States or United States persons or products, or United States interests globally.

They were concerned about, what did these e-mails mean that he sent?

Yes, because they were written in codes.

Did he say why he wrote them in codes?

Yes, he said just in case somebody looks at the e-mail.

Did he know that the FBI or that people had been looking at him in Lackawanna?

I believe he didn't know, but most Arabs after Sept. 11, they felt like they were being looked at. Most Arabs -- maybe I wouldn't put it this way -- that know that maybe they have contacts with somebody, or have something to worry about; they felt like they were looked at.

He and his friends had been to Afghanistan.

Of course.

So they knew they had something to worry about.

Exactly. Exactly.

So he said "the big meal" was really just something he had heard from somebody else?

He had heard from somebody else while they were having dinner at the park.

He didn't know any more than that?

He didn't know any details.

He knew about a watermelon?

Yes, the word "haphap."


"Haphap" is an Arabic or Yemeni word for "watermelon." He explained to me that the word haphap is used when two people have a fight, they say they have a haphap. That means they have something broke out between them.

A dispute of some kind.

A dispute of some kind, they call it "haphap."

That's all there was?

That's all he explained to me it was.

Nothing more?

Nothing more.

But headquarters and Buffalo really wanted to know what it meant.

Of course, of course. You cannot ignore that.

He tells you now that he went to Afghanistan via Pakistan, and he tells you about Kamal Derwish?


Who met him there.


Who did he think he was?

He knew Kamal Derwish from the community, as one of the leaders of his community. But he was gone for a while before he met him again in Pakistan.

Was he the recruiter?

He doesn't believe that he was his recruiter. He believes that he recruited other people who sent him there.

So, in other words, Derwish got other people to recruit him.

To take the group into Pakistan; then while they were in Pakistan, [they] were told they were going to Afghanistan.

Did Mr. al-Bakri know when he left Lackawanna that he was going to go to Afghanistan?

He told me no, he didn't know.

Did he think he was going for religious training to Pakistan?

Yes, yes, that's what he said. He knew that he was going for religious training to Pakistan, and that's why his father approved of it.

He had no clue that he might have some military training?

He had no clue, as he told me.

He thought he could pass a polygraph, if he were polygraphed about what he was saying to you?

Yes, about what he admitted? Yes.

He provided you with a long list of names of people who were in the camps?


In addition to the Lackawanna group?

In addition to the Lackawanna group.

Other people from the United States?

No. People from other countries.

Were you surprised that a group of American citizens would go to an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan?

Yes, yes. It's a surprise. It's a shock. Especially of that young age, especially of someone when we got on the plane on our way to the States, and he met the case agents from Buffalo, one of his biggest concerns [was], how are the Buffalo Bills doing? That tells me that he really likes what he has here. I mean, someone else wouldn't really care about a football team, what's their progress. ...

Did you think of Mr. al-Bakri as being a committed member of Al Qaeda, or is he just somebody who got trapped in a situation he couldn't get out of?

Really, it's difficult for me to make this determination, because I was not privy to the whole case file. It would be unfair to say either/or. All I can tell you, my feelings, that he was young, inexperienced, and he got involved in something he didn't know how to get out of it.

Again, going back to the Arab culture, he would be despised by the whole community if he goes, if he comes back and says, "I think the right thing to do is to go and tell the authorities that's what we did." Every family that will have a son or a relative would be arrested because of his open confession, or voluntarily confession -- it will cause a lot of problems within the community in the United States, and among their relatives in their country.

In Yemen.

In Yemen.

So the reason he didn't tell the FBI when he got back, or anyone, or the reason Mr. Alwan, for instance, was also approached by the FBI, and didn't say anything, is because of what it would have meant for them in their community?

It would have been a big problem in the Yemen community there, that one of them caused a lot of people to get arrested.

Did he meet Osama bin Laden?

Yes, he did.

Personally met him?

Personally he met him.

And he was introduced to him?

He was introduced to him.

Did he know who Osama bin Laden was?


He knew about Nairobi, he knew about the Cole, he knew about Al Qaeda.

I'm sure he knew about all of them, yes, and he met Osama bin Laden. He told me that the concern on his mind when he met Osama bin Laden that he told him, "I'm here without my parents knowing."

He told bin Laden this?

Yes. And Osama bin Laden, according to him, told him, "That's no problem, just send them a letter and let them know that you're here."

Just write them a letter from my training camp and tell them you're here for the summer?

"And tell them that you're here." I believe that he was telling Osama bin Laden this so he can tell him, "If your parents don't know that you are here, you should leave." But that didn't happen, because at that time, he's been trying to leave for a couple weeks.

Doesn't sound like a committed warrior for the jihad.

I didn't see him as a committed warrior. Again, whatever evidence the Buffalo office has, that's the final word. ...

The fact that you were a Muslim -- do you think in any way helped him confess to you?

I believe it put him at ease, that if I'm convincing him that that's the right thing to do,

He didn't feel threatened.

He didn't feel threatened. I don't use a threatening tone in any of my interrogations, because that's very counterproductive with the Middle Easterners. That's what they fear of the FBI counterparts in their countries, that they're always using threatening tones if they are asking them questions. ...

When you got on the plane [to return to the U.S.], did he understand that a private aircraft, the [FBI] director's plane, had come to pick him up from the United States?

He told me he understands that that's something big, but I don't believe he really absorbed the whole thing.

He didn't have a clue, really, did he?

Yes, he did not absorb the whole situation. ...

How big a deal was it that in fact these U.S. citizens went to an Al Qaeda camp as a group, and returned as a group?

It's a huge deal. It's a huge deal. If you know that Al Qaeda is against your country, then you go and join their training camps, that means that you're against your country, too. It's a very big deal.

Did it surprise you?

It's a shock. Especially from young people who either were born in the U.S. or came to the U.S. at a young age. ...

Did he say why he lied about going to Afghanistan at the beginning of your conversations?

He felt like he made a mistake and he didn't want to admit to it.

He knew it was wrong.

He knew. He knew it was wrong.

Did he say his friends told him never to admit to it?

He didn't tell him anyone told him not to admit to it, but I'm sure there was a promise, and again, he was so afraid of his father to know about it.

He was really afraid of his father.

He was really afraid of his father, that if he knew that he went to Afghanistan, it will be a big issue. This is a man who demanded that all his children are at home before 10:00 in the evening.

No matter how old they were.

No matter how old they were.

So if you were to think of Mr. al-Bakri as associated with a terrorist organization, should we think of him as being really dangerous?

His danger should be assessed by the agents who really studied the whole case. But anyone who received training in training camps in Afghanistan carries some kind of danger inside of them, because you never know what they have on their mind, what they're planning on doing.

What kind of training did he get in these camps?

He received some military training on how to use rifles and arms, the basic training.



But nothing, no weapons of mass destruction, no--

No, no, he's never seen anything like that, and he was never introduced to anything of that sort.

Did they ask him if he would be a suicide bomber?

No, they never asked them, and I was not surprised. Anyone who wanted to leave the camp after one week, he will not be asked that question. ...

Anybody ever say to you how important this interview was that you did?

Yes, they told me after the interview that this interview is the one that really broke the whole case.

Did Alwan confess when confronted?

Yes, others started to confess when they were confronted, and it went from there.

What makes this case different for you?

I think it was different because I went into a situation where I'm not aware of the importance of it, and I was successful. I learned of the importance after the success, not before the success.

When you talked to bureau headquarters for the first time, after you told them, their reaction probably was a little unusual.

Yes, it was a little unusual. They were happy, even they had someone from counterterrorism went to the legate unit and spoke to my section chief and told them what I have done. And I received an e-mail.


Well, actually, I didn't receive it. My legate, she received it, saying that counterterrorism were very happy with the results of the interview, and "Tell Gamal 'Good job.'" ...

From his understanding, as he imparted it to you, did he have an understanding, for instance, of what a jihad meant, do you think?

I believe he had an understanding of what jihad meant. This is an individual who attended the mosque regularly. But again, once he was put on the spot, in Afghanistan, he felt like this is not the place he wants to be at.

It's not the kind of jihad that he was interested in.


Explain, maybe, if you could, because now the word jihad to most Americans has a connotation of "holy war" against America. What is jihad in your sense, if you were to explain it to a general audience? What is it, and what are its various meanings?

Jihad is a struggle. As any other religion, people can take words or verses from their religion and just interpret it to their liking to further their own cause or their own ideas or their own goals in life. Jihad is a struggle. A person will struggle against someone who is oppressing him. A person will struggle against his own soul, so he wouldn't commit sins. A person will struggle against his own bodily needs, to control his own desires. The struggle is just an open word. Jihad is only a struggle, as it is in the religion, to struggle against someone or some entity that's oppressing you, and causing you harm in your own home.

You never call it jihad when you go to somebody's home and throw rocks at them. That's never a jihad. So when you go and you just attack someone in his own home, that's far away from the word jihad. ...

The argument has been made to us that, had this case been handled by an intelligence agent just interested in developing information, and they had spent time and had patience, and had knowledge of the community, understood Islam and Yemen, that they might have been able to turn these gentlemen into sources of information, possibly informants or operatives, to help the U.S. government.

That argument is accurate. That argument is accurate.

And that because it was approached in a law enforcement way, badges, where the FBI -- exactly what you said before, that it was a fear that they would all go to jail, that they would, that their friends would go to jail for something they knew was wrong, but they were sorry they did [it].

You have different entities in the judicial system. You have FBI agents who want to make a case, and want to develop information and develop intelligence to protect national security internally and abroad. You have prosecutors who are only interested in prosecuting anyone who violated the law. They really don't care about developing information or developing intelligence, or if you're going to have this person as a source, if you are law enforcement agent. That struggle -- the prosecutors will not commit to any leniency, and the law enforcement personnel will not be able to make any promises that they cannot keep on being lenient on somebody.

When you joined the FBI, how many Muslims were in the FBI?

As agents? Zero. I was the first.

And since then there are?

A handful.

How many agents in the FBI that you've met in the counterterrorism area could have developed these young men as sources?

Not more than four or five. If they could. ...

Is there an understanding in the FBI of what's needed in order to recruit people in the Muslim community, in order to understand how an investigation should be done?

There is not a clear understanding within the FBI. ... Some people within the FBI, they felt like we don't need to understand this culture, we don't need to understand these people, all we need to do is, when they violated the law, we'll put them in jail. The word "recruitment" hits hard, because they look at it as a traitor.

In the Muslim community?

In the Muslim community. The best way to put this is someone who's assisting law enforcement in catching bad guys, and that should be the job of every citizen in the United States.

There is respect within the community for law enforcement, didn't you say?


So you'd say if you're helping in law enforcement--

Catching bad guys, catching people who are violating the law, instead of saying, "I'm going to recruit you as an informant, and you come and tell me every time that you think somebody's doing something wrong."

But what about getting people inside the community to reveal who has gone to the camps, who is sending money, who is sympathetic with the Al Qaeda version of jihad?

That could happen, but there is another problem. Some people don't trust that their identity will always be kept hidden. There is some history with law enforcement of sometimes exposing the identities of some of their informants, if you will, the identities of some of the people that assist them in fighting crimes. Especially when someone is willing to write a book, and he will start using names that he or she came across during performing their duties. Then these people will be put on the spot, and it will cause them a great deal of danger, and security concerns for them and safety concerns for them and their families.

But if someone were to suggest to you that what the United States needs is in a sense a special division of the FBI, or a new agency that's focused on domestic counterterrorism, isn't strictly law enforcement, doesn't have to make cases in order to feel like it's doing its job.

I think I will turn the question to you, to ask the FBI how often do they hold a training conference, or a training class for agents to understand the Arab culture, the Muslim religion, on how to fight fundamentalist groups? It's not very much. And when they do it, there's a handful of agents who attend, and half of them are reassigned to something else a few months later. So there is a waste in training effort, and there is not enough training.

The FBI needs a lot of [resources], still, to be able to afford training -- long-term training, not a one-day training. It should be a long-term training to be taken seriously, and to have people who are committed to it, to understanding the culture.

That's not happening today?

That's not happening today.

Do you think people who understood the Muslim culture, who understood the Yemeni community, could have convinced, let's say, one of the Lackawanna Six, for example, or others in the community to go back to Pakistan or Afghanistan to spy on our behalf?

I'm not sure if that could happen, especially for the young age.

Of this group?

Of this group. But everything is possible if you work on it hard, and you train enough in doing it. But training, training, training, and we're not taking time for training. Even we hardly send people to language schools anymore. I met a lot of agents who are interested in learning Arabic and they tried to do it on their own. I met some agents who had some Arabic language, and they were told that they would work white-collar crimes, or drugs, or violent crimes for years.

So you can't just transfer agents in who have worked organized crime, or white-collar crime, or bank robberies, into counterterrorism related to fundamentalism and expect them to understand what they're doing.

Exactly. Especially for times we have a program that you get certain points for how many arrests your office made this year, and get like a score sheet, how many arrests, how many search warrants, how many cases, how many money forfeited. If that was the goal before 9/11, a lot of offices were not interested in putting agents on counterterrorism who are not producing these numbers, because you are gathering intelligence, and they want to put them on the drug squad or violent crime squad, or bank robbery squad.

But the FBI, you say, is trying to change that.

I'm sure they are. I'm sure they are. But not fast enough, and not effectively enough. I know they have moved a lot of people into counterterrorism. How long is that going to last? We don't know. ...

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posted october 16, 2003

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