Imagine How Future Parents Will Respond to Concerns about Their Son’s Radicalization

While it’s hard to tell from the reporting, it appears that the government tried to claim last week that it wasn’t Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s First Amendment protected but hateful speech that triggered their investigation and entrapment of the teenager, but was instead the subsequent warning Mohamud’s father gave the FBI about his radicalization.

Agents in Charlotte, N.C., picked up on Mohamud’s name in early 2009 while intercepting email traffic of then-U.S. based al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan.

That August, FBI Special Agent Isaac DeLong was assigned to interview Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, who feared Muslim extremists were radicalizing his son. Barre had read about Somali youths from Minnesota who were heading overseas to fight, and he worried his own son was trying to fly to Yemen to fight against the West, DeLong testified.

Barre agreed to speak to Mohamud and try to make sure he wouldn’t fly overseas. He took his son’s passport and reported back to the FBI that they had a chat.

Taking that as true (I don’t necessarily believe it, particularly given Hesham Abu Zubaydah’s claim the FBI had him tracking Mohamud even earlier than that), consider the message his father’s testimony now sends to Muslim families worried about their sons getting radicalized. (h/t Teddy, who is far more reliable at this point that Google’s increasingly useless alert system)

[Mohamud’s father] Osman Barre, meanwhile, had phoned the FBI. He told agents that brainwashed Somali kids were flying overseas, and he wanted the bureau’s help. He wanted agents to prevent his boy from getting on a plane.

The agents instead asked him questions about terrorism, which struck a nerve. Osman Barre told the agents he had nothing to hide and that he was grateful to have been given refuge in the U.S. after fleeing the civil war in Somalia.

“Even I say God bless America,” Barre told jurors.

[snip]

Mohamud told his parents he wanted to study at a mosque in Yemen, Osman Barre recalled, and he showed his dad an email about a school there that would teach him Arabic.

The Barres kept talking to their son until he agreed to stay in school. There would be time to study Arabic overseas when he was a grown man, Osman Barre said. He recalled telling his son, “I brought you here to give you a life of prosperity.”

The email Mohamud showed his dad that day was from a Saudi Arabian that he had met at a Portland mosque. Neither Osman nor Mariam Barre knew that the FBI suspected the writer of that email — now identified as Amro Alali — was an al-Qaida recruiter.

FBI agents didn’t share with the Barres that they suspected Mohamud was involved with dangerous extremists, Osman Barre said. Had he been told, he would have reached out to their tight-knit community for help and gotten counseling for their impressionable son.

Barre did exactly what the FBI would hope a father would do: alert the FBI. But rather than helping the father prevent his son from being sucked in, instead the FBI (it claims) used the father’s call as the predicate to suck Mohamud further in, even while they admitted repeatedly he was floundering.

Set aside Mohamud’s guilt or innocence. The message the FBI has sent with its treatment of Mohamud is if family members alert law enforcement to concerns about radicalization, the FBI will then use it as an excuse to entrap their family member.

Just about the least productive thing to do if you want to capture actual threats.

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.

6 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Guaranteed to make sure parents stop reporting suspicious contacts and behavior to law enforcement. (Can we describe our anti-terrorist activists as ‘certain to make things worse’?)

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    Col. Larry James, who led the rendition of three young teens from Afghanistan in 2003, never told the parents about where they were or who took them. The parents spent much of their money and searched fruitlessly for many months. Meanwhile the teens had been hooded, shackled, and likely drugged and kidnapped to Guantanamo, where they spent some horrific time, before being put into special quarters at Camp Iguana. They were subsequently released without apology or explanation.

    I suppose the government feels that children are fair game for the intelligence services.

    See http://truth-out.org/news/item/598:guantanamo-psychologist-led-rendition-and-imprisonment-of-afghan-boys-complaint-charges

    Meanwhile, James, who is Dean of a school of professional psychology in Ohio, is a finalist for a top position at the University of Missouri’s School of Education. See AP story on that: http://www.bnd.com/2013/01/24/2470179/mu-eyes-former-army-colonel-from.html

    (And, meanwhile, what was it that happened to KSM’s kids anyway, or Americans allowed to ask, much less think such questions?)

  3. klynn says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    Jeff, he’s at Wright State which is neighbor to Wright Pat AFB.

    But University of Missouri? Mizzou? Progressive, liberal Columbia, Missouri? What’s there?

  4. Scott Lazarowitz says:

    “Just about the least productive thing to do if you want to capture actual threats.”

    You’re talking about government bureaucrats, you know.

    Given that these government “security” agencies are a monopoly, funded through coercively-extracted wealth and with no competitive incentives to promote productivity, these bureaucrats are thus encouraged to increase (not decrease) the threats to justify their inherently non-productive jobs.

  5. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    @P J Evans: “Can we describe our anti-terrorist activists as ‘certain to make things worse’?”

    Not so difference from other interactions with law-enforcement. A relative goes off their meds and starts acting funny? Call the cops, and they’ll ignore your pleas and taser them to death.

    I guess you have to be in a “bad as Sandy Hook shooting” situation to be SURE that calling the cops won’t just make it worse.

  6. Teddy says:

    Now that he’s been convicted, I can’t help but wonder: Would you go to the FBI about your kid’s possible radicalization, knowing what the Feds did to this kid after his parents alerted them to him?

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