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Archive for June 14th, 2011

Chicago U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald Defends Plea With American Terrorist

Patrick Fitzgerald/doj photo

By Sebastian Rotella
ProPublica

The chief prosecutor in a landmark terrorism trial that ended last week in Chicago says a plea bargain with a confessed American terrorist was justified because of his value as a source of intelligence and as a key witness in any future prosecutions.

Jurors last Thursday convicted Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago businessman, after a trial that revealed unprecedented details about the alliance between Pakistani militant groups and that country’s intelligence service. In addition to investigative work by the FBI in the United States, Pakistan, India and Denmark, the case centered on five days of testimony of David Coleman Headley, who confessed to doing reconnaissance for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and a failed plot in Denmark.

Jurors convicted Rana on two of three counts of support of terrorism for letting Headley, a childhood friend, use his immigration consulting business as a cover for his plotting overseas. Headley described the Mumbai attacks as a joint operation directed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. He testified as part of a plea agreement that enabled him to escape the death penalty for his role in the killings of 166 people, including six Americans, in Mumbai.

Defense attorneys argued that using Headley, a former drug dealer and DEA informant, to go after Rana was comparable to using a whale to catch a minnow.

But in a telephone interview Friday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois said the information that Headley provided about the inner workings of terrorist groups and the ISI was unprecedented in its scope and detail.

Headley will testify in any future prosecutions of fugitive masterminds such as al-Qaida chief Ilyas Kashmiri and Lashkar’s Sajir Mir, who is charged with a lead role in the Mumbai plot, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald declined to discuss details of the case such as the politically sensitive decision to indict a suspected ISI officer who served as Headley’s handler and is known only as Major Iqbal.

“In addition to Rana, what we got from Headley was a lot of intelligence,” Fitzgerald said. “There is no doubt in my mind that we would have been derelict in our duty if we didn’t go after a deal with someone who had sat down with Kashmiri, with Sajid Mir, with Major Iqbal, someone who knew so much about these groups and these plots. He gave us 34 more targets in India. It was a no-brainer to me.”

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Rep. Issa’s Committee Probing ATF Released Sealed Document in Criminal Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In their apparent zest to learn the truth about a controversial ATF program “Operation Fast and Furious”, and generate public pressure,  staffers working for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may have gone too far — at least according to committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The website Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported that Cummings fired off a letter Monday to Rep. Issa saying the committee improperly disclosed a sealed document which could have compromised a criminal investigation.

Cummings letter said Justice Department officials met with committee staffers on May 5 and told them they had wrongly released the document sealed by a federal judge.

“Your staff stated that they were unaware that the document was under seal when they disclosed it to the press, but they discovered the breach soon afterwards,” Cummings wrote in the letter to Issa, according to the website.

“At the conclusion of that meeting, and at the request of the Department, your staff seemed to agree that consultation would help avoid such mistakes in the future.”

TPM said an Issa spokeswoman did not respond for comment. TPM noted that the letter came after Cummings warned at a hearing on Monday that there was a “dangerous potential to compromise criminal prosecutions” when congressional committees looked into active investigations.

“Some committees have conducted investigations during open federal prosecutions, but in these relatively rare cases, committees have consulted meticulously with the Department to ensure that their actions do not negatively affect ongoing prosecutions,” Cummings said.

“For example, they have reached agreements to consult with the Department before publicly releasing documents or reports, to refrain from obtaining documents relating to certain sensitive sources or methodologies, and to secure limited information against public release.”

Interestingly, TPM noted that back in 2007 Issa argued that the Oversight Committee should hold off investigating Blackwater until the State Dept. finished its probe. The Dems had pushed for the investigation.

“We’re supposed to allow the administration to do its investigation and then we do oversight,” Issa said at the time, according to TPM. “We’re not investigators.”

FBI Forensic Team sent to Yemen to Investigate Attack on Prez Compound

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

An FBI forensic team has been sent to Yemen to investigate the attack on the presidential compound that wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the website Global Post reported.

“The FBI is aiding Yemeni law enforcement in their investigation in the attack on the presidential compound. The FBI team arrived in Sanaa last Wednesday,” said a senior Yemeni government official, according to the website.

The website said that the request underscores the close relationship between Yemen and the U.S.

News reports had initially said that the attack might have been the work of a rival tribal group. But some reports say the FBI will be looking at whether al Qaeda was involved, or someone within the presidential circles.

“They are concerned about how the attack was carried out. Everyone is a suspect,” the Yemeni official said, according to the website.