The al Qaeda terrorist that President Obama ordered assassinated by drone was closely monitored by the FBI and even followed to the Pentagon’s front door years before his murder, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
The files, more than 250 pages of FBI surveillance logs, illustrate alarming incompetence by the U.S. national security establishment involving American-born al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Aulaqi. In late 2011 al-Aulaqi was killed in Yemen by a CIA-led drone strike. President Obama called it a major “milestone” in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates, saying that al-Aulaqi took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans.
But years earlier it appears that he was considered an asset protected by the U.S. government, according to the documents obtained by JW through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. At the very least the files raise serious questions about the nature of the relationship between the al Qaeda operative and the U.S. government. For instance, the files indicate that the U.S. may have tried to recruit the radical Islamic cleric as an intelligence source in 2002.
That year al-Aulaqi spoke as an invited guest at a Department of Defense (DOD) luncheon that included top Pentagon officials, according to a Fox news report. Incredibly, the FBI had already identified him as a “terrorist organization member,” the files obtained by JW show, and the agency had issued an alert warning to approach al-Aulaqi with caution.
The reports and logs show that agents from the FBI’s elite Special Surveillance Group (SSG) trailed al- Aulaqi to the front door of the Pentagon on the day he broke bread with DOD brass. Here’s a sampling from the government files: “Aulaqi boarded the Metro train, blue line north for the Pentagon.” At 11:32 am, “Aulaqi exited the Metro train, walked through the turnstyle [sic] and greeted two unidentified white females.” At 11:40 am, “Aulaqi and the two unidentified females walked through the train station, onto the escalator, walked southwest and west adjacent to the Pentagon, up the steps and walked northeast towards the entrance to the Pentagon.” And at 12:00 pm, “Surveillance discontinued at the Pentagon.”
It’s beyond comprehension that the FBI, charged with protecting the United States against terrorism and foreign intelligence threats, followed a known terrorist to the Pentagon for his high-level meeting with top officials. This certainly seems to indicate that the Obama administration is not telling the American people the whole story.
If you recall, Judicial Watch previously obtained separate FBI documents showing that the agency was aware as far back as September 27, 2001, that al-Aulaqi may have purchased airplane tickets for three of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, including mastermind Mohammed Atta. On October 10, 2002, al-Aulaqi was detained at New York’s JFK airport under a warrant for passport fraud, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the FBI ordered al-Aulaqi’s release, even though the arrest warrant was still active the time of his detention.
Database records on al-Aulaqi include FBI alert: “Warning – approach with caution … Do not alert the individual to the FBI’s interest and contact your local FBI field office at earliest opportunity.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealing that the agency had warned agents who spotted U.S.-born al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Aulaqi to “approach with caution” the day before he spoke as an invited guest at a Pentagon luncheon. The documents also reveal that the FBI proposed prosecuting al-Aulaqi in 2001 and 2002 on charges stemming from the Imam’s spending a total of $2,320 for seven documented encounters with high-priced Washington, D.C., prostitutes.
The documents were obtained by Judicial Watch pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of State seeking records related to the al-Qaeda leader killed in a CIA-led U.S. drone attack.
Specific revelations contained in the newly released documents include the following:
- The FBI had already identified al-Aulaqi as a dangerous terrorist when he was invited to speak at a Pentagon luncheon.
The documents obtained from the FBI include a computer database record showing that an FBI employee searching for al-Aulaqi’s criminal history on February 4, 2002 – the day before al-Aulaqi spoke as an invited guest at a Pentagon luncheon – retrieved information identifying al-Aulaqi as a “terrorist organization member” and containing the following alert: “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.]
- Al-Aulaqi spent thousands of dollars patronizing prostitutes on several occasions in 2001 and 2002, and the FBI proposed prosecuting him on charges related to that activity.
The FBI records include a June 4, 2002, memorandum from Assistant FBI Director Pasquale D’Amuro to Office of Intelligence Policy and Review Counsel James A. Baker documenting al-Aulaqi’s use of prostitutes in the Washington, DC area on at least 7 occasions between November 5, 2001 and February 4, 2002 (the day before his speech at the Pentagon). The detailed memorandum seeks Bureau approval for the prosecution of al-Aulaqi for prostitution-related charges and notes that al-Aulaqi spent a total of $2,320 for the encounters. [Emphasis added.] In addition, FBI surveillance reports indicate that al-Aulaqi sought and/or engaged the services of a prostitute on at least four more occasions in January 2002.
- Al-Aulaqi’s doctoral education was financed by the World Bank and supported by the Government of Yemen.
The documents include a July 12, 2000 letter from the Center for International Programs at New Mexico State University (where al-Aulaqi received his Master’s degree) confirming that he was, “sponsored for a Ph.D. degree under the auspices of a World Bank Community College Project in Yemen. This project will pay for Mr. al-Aulaqi’s tuition and fees, books, health insurance, and living costs while he is pursuing a Ph.D. degree program.”
- The FBI was investigating al-Aulaqi’s links to terrorism as early as 1999.
The records include a previously Secret memorandum dated June 15, 1999 from the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Diego office to the FBI Director requesting that the Bureau open a counterterrorism investigation into al-Aulaqi. As part of this investigation, agents conducted surveillance of his home and at the al-Ribat mosque in San Diego where he served as Imam more than two years before the 9/11 attacks.
- FBI records include Special Surveillance Group operator notes of close physical surveillance of Aulaqi from November 6, 2001, to January 2002 – including: following Aulaqi to class at George Washington University; at a November 11, 2001, meeting of the Islamic Society of Baltimore; and during a November 15, 2001, radio appearance on National Public Radio.
According to FOIA documents previously obtained from the FBI by Judicial Watch, the FBI was aware as far back as September 27, 2001, that al-Aulaqi may have purchased airplane tickets for three of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, including mastermind Mohammed Atta. On October 10, 2002, al-Aulaqi was detained at New York’s JFK airport under a warrant for passport fraud, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the FBI ordered al-Aulaqi’s release, even though the arrest warrant was still active at the time of his detention.
To date, Judicial Watch’s litigation has resulted in the release of more than 1,600 pages of responsive records, many of which were previously classified. The documents pertain to the FBI’s investigation of al-Aulaqi’s role as “spiritual advisor” to two of the 9/11 hijackers, his suspected involvement with terrorism as early as 1999, his banking activities, his frequent patronizing of prostitutes, and the State Department’s revocation of his passport approximately six months before his death.
“The preferential treatment accorded Anwar al-Aulaqi raises serious questions about the unique relationship between the terrorist leader and our own government. One can fairly conclude that the al-Qaeda mastermind had some type of ‘protected status’ with our government – despite his terrorist and criminal activities,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We knew from days after the attacks on the World Trade Centers that al-Aulaqi was a dangerous character, so why did it take the government ten years to bring him to justice? We intend to continue searching for the answers to this burgeoning scandal.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it received documents on March 4, 2013 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that raise new questions about close ties between Anwar al Aulaqi, the U.S.-born terrorist assassinated by a U.S. drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011, and Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, two of the five hijackers who attacked the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In the documents the FBI describes al Aulaqi as “The Spiritual Leader of the Hijackers.”
Judicial Watch received the documents in response to a June, 2012, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigations (No. 1:12-cv-00893). They are part of Judicial Watch’s ongoing investigation of al Qaeda in the United States, including its current operations and support network.
Materials received by Judicial Watch reveal the following information the FBI regarded as worthy of investigation in its probe of ties between al Aulaqi and the 9/11 hijackers:
- An FBI report dated 9/20/2011 notes that al Aulaqi made purchases at a Texaco in La Mesa, California, “several times a month” over the preceding two years. Reportedly this is the station where hijacker Nawaf al Hazmi worked, as did probable 9/11 co-conspirator Mohdar Abdullah (whose close association with and material assistance to al Hazmi and al Mihdhar is well-documented in the 9/11 Commission’s report).
- An undated FBI report indicates an individual received a check for $281.50 from al Aulaqi and wrote a check for $175 to al Hazmi on July 7, 2001. There is no additional information about the transactions. The FBI apparently found the transaction to be of investigative interest because, depending on the identity of the intermediary party, it could indicate direct assistance from al Aulaqi to al Hazmi.
- On 9/13/2001, FBI agents took possession of and searched the vehicle al Aulaqi rented in San Diego on 9/8/2001 (which he kept for one day and drove only 37 miles). While there is no report regarding the results of the search, the action highlights the FBI’s interest in al Aulaqi and suspicions about his trip to San Diego, home to both al Hazmi and al Mihdhar leading up to the attacks.
- An FBI report dated 10/24/2001 indicates that the Bureau became aware three days after the 9/11 attacks (9/14/2001) that al Aulaqi had rented a Mailboxes Etc. mail drop in Falls Church, VA. The mail box was the subject of a federal grand jury subpoena.
“The more we learn about Anwar al Aulaqi, the more questions arise not only about his activities before and after 9/11, but also about the al Qaeda operational and support network still active in the United States,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is now even more concerning that al Aulaqi was invited to the Pentagon after 9/11 and then let go by the FBI despite warrants for his arrest.”
An earlier release of FBI documents obtained by a Judicial Watch FOIA and reported by Fox News suggest 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 and had been invited to dine at the Pentagon.
In 2010, President Obama reportedly authorized the assassination of al Aulaqi, the first American citizen added to the government’s “capture or kill” list, describing the radical Muslim Cleric as “chief of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).” The Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department has reportedly determined that targeting and killing of U.S. citizens overseas was legal under domestic and international law.