Some Data Points on Minh Qhang Pham, AQAP’s Graphic Artist of Mass Destruction

On Friday, the government indicted Minh Quang Pham for material support of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The indictment and the press release make it clear (though don’t say explicitly–though this report confirms it) that Pham’s primary alleged crime was helping Samir Khan produce Inspire magazine.

In or about April 2011, PHAM worked with a United States citizen (“American CC-1”) to create online propaganda for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.


[Pham] facilitated communications between al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and supporters; and provided expert advice and assistance in photography and graphic design of media for al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Meaning CC-2 is Anwar al-Awlaki.

In or about April 2011, PHAM met with a United States citizen (“American CC-2”) in Yemen.

Given the centrality of Pham’s alleged association with Khan and Awlaki, consider the following chronology and the additional details below.

December 2010: Pham travels from the UK to Yemen.

March and April 2011: Pham carries a Kalashnikov.

April 2011: Pham works with Samir Khan and meets Anwar al-Awlaki.

“About” May 2011: UndieBomb infiltrator travels from UK to Yemen.

September 27, 2011: AQAP releases Inspire, Issue 7.

September 30, 2011: Khan and Awlaki killed in drone strike

December 2011: Pham returns to the UK; “Prior to his arrest [June 29, 2012], PHAM was held by British authorities in immigration custody.”

Around April 20, 2012: UndieBomb 2.0 and his handler removed from Yemen.

May 3, 2012: AQAP releases Inspire Issues 8 and 9.

May 7, 2012: UndieBomb 2.0 revealed.

May 11, 2012: British role in recruiting UndieBomb 2.0 revealed.

May 26, 2012: False AQAP statement released.

June 29, 2012: Pham arrested (presumably in Britain); indicted in US.

First, note that some of alleged acts–notably carrying a Kalashnikov–might require an inside source to learn.

Then consider you had someone coming from the UK to Yemen not long before the UndieBomb 2.0 infiltrator. Unlike UndieBomb 2.0, Pham appears to have decided to leave after his partner in propaganda, Khan, got killed. But then he appears to have been held in immigration custody for 6 months–which happens to cover the time UndieBomb 2.0 infiltrator and his handler were still in Yemen.

How interesting, too, that Pham is being tried here in the US, not in the UK (where the crimes are slightly different but where terrorist propaganda is even more criminalized than here, if I understand the law correctly). Why do you suppose they’re trying him here and not in the UK, where he has just been held for 6 months?

Meanwhile, I’ve always been intrigued that the latest versions of Inspire were released between the time when UndieBomb 2.0 was whisked out of Yemen and the time first the purported plot, then UndieBomb 2.0’s role it, was revealed. Then, several weeks later, someone released a false AQAP announcement claiming AQAP had been infiltrated. Pham would have been in British custody during this period.

Finally, there’s this rather interesting language. As a lot of indictments that fall under the federal terrorism statute do, this one has language on forfeiture under 18 USC 981. But note the way it phases this language on forfeiture.

As a result of planning and perpetuating Federal crimes of terrorism against the United States … defendant [] shall forfeit … all right, title, and interest in all assets, foreign and domestic, affording a source of influence over al Shabaab and AQAP.

This guy, presumably, doesn’t have a whole lot of financial goods to forfeit. Nevertheless, the government is going to the trouble of seizing all his interest in assets affording Pham influence over al Shabaab and AQAP.

Those are, mind you, just data points. But some fairly intriguing ones.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Nice sleuthing EW!

    Btw, your first 2 links “The indictment and the press release” are hosed. Both go over to NakedCapitalism.

    Anyways, it sure seems like the Brits kept Minh Quang Pham on ice until UndieBomber 2.0 and his handler got successfully out of Dodge.

    Which reminds me that I had been recently reading the Wiki entry for the Cargo Planes Bomb Plot trying to see what its timing had to do with all of this.

    One thing I noticed in the section on Locating the bombs was the following:

    “…Saudi Arabia had reportedly learned of the plot through Jaber al-Faifi, a former Guantánamo Bay detention camp inmate who had been handed over to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation in 2006. Al-Faifi escaped in 2008, and re-joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but on October 16, 2010, turned himself in to Saudi Arabia and provided it with information.[10][11][12] Yemen officials suspected al-Faifi had actually been a double agent for Saudi Arabia ever since he rejoined al-Qaeda.[12] Security professionals said the Saudi tip appeared to be based on far more recent, specific, up-to-the-minute intelligence than al-Faifi could provide, and that a Saudi double agent in AQAP was the source of the tip-off.[13]…”

    (My Bold)

    This curious tidbit got me thinking about UndieBomber 2.0’s handler and whether he was one and the same “Saudi double agent in AQAP” who did the tip-off on the Cargo Plane Bomb Plot. Particularly since your earlier post had a snippet from the Sunday Times that included this:

    “…About a year ago [UndieBomber 2.0] moved to Yemen and, like Abdulmutallab before him, enrolled at an Islamic or Arabic language school in Sana’a, the capital, in the hope of being “talent-spotted” by AQAP. He was accompanied by a handler at the school, who briefed Saudi intelligence on a daily basis…”

    (My Bold again)

    Unless the Saudis have been both very productive and exceedingly lucky, just how many deep penetration agents can they have in AQAP?

    The question comes to mind whether the big US (and both Brit and Saudi) brouhaha over the AP getting the story on UndieBomber 2.0 had more to do with getting the “handler” safely out of Dodge rather than that of UndieBomber 2.0.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Links should be fixed, thanks. My keyboard is dying, starting w/the “C” key.

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking the handler may be the guy–and the reason for the whole witch hunt, if they weren’t planning on withdrawing this guy in any case (in which case the possibility that Saudi or Yemeni leaks ruined a long time infiltrator is all the more interesting). That’s why I did the post on the handler.

    In any case, if the chronology on UndieBomb 2.0 is right–which I have no reason to believe one way or another–then there’d have to be someone else to get the details about the Kalashnikov bf UndieBomb 2.0 showed up.

  3. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: A long-term deep penetration double agent. If so, the Saudis had to be royally pissed about his potential exposure since it would give the AQAP far deeper concerns about their organization’s integrity going back years than just the UndieBomb 2.0 plot.

    Regarding keyboards, for some reason the letter D on my keyboard is almost entirely rubbed off. No other key shows that kind of wear and I can’t for the life of me figure why.

  4. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Ta for fixing those links! The press release info and the indictment lead me to wonder about your point regarding Minh Quang Pham carrying a Kalashnikov.

    I wonder if that charge is to be proved by an eyewitness, and whether that eyewitness is none other than the deep penetration handler?

    I mean, why and how else could such a charge be in the indictment unless the US had every intention of proving it?

  5. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: The Saudis … or the Brits? UndieBomb 2.0 was a Brit, managed by Brits.

    And yeah, that was my point on the Kalashnikov. It’s possible they have drone footage, but I can’t believe they’d rely on that–or let that be entered as evidence–for trial.

  6. Chris Woods says:

    ‘Note that some of alleged acts–notably carrying a Kalashnikov–might require an inside source to learn.’

    Maybe – though perhaps the US simply stumbled upon images of him, either in captured/ posted video or stills, or even in Inspire/ Ansar materials?

    AQAP propaganda is stuffed full with guys posing with guns.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @Chris Woods: Ah, good point. I was thinking of drone footage, which they’d never enter into evidence in a court bc it would show people just how detailed this stuff is.

    But you’re right–it could be videos captured somewhere.

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