So Much for the FBI’s $100,000 Informant
MoJo, which did a superb report on the FBI’s use of informants last year, reports that one of the guys they profiled in that package, Shahed Hussain, got sniffed out by a Pittsburgh area man, Khalifah Al-Akili, whom he was trying to ensnare in a sting.
Shahed Hussain, a long-time FBI terrorism informant Mother Jones profiled last year, has surfaced again—but this time, Google appears to have foiled his effort to identify a new target. Khalifah al-Akili, a 34-year-old Pittsburgh man who says he was approached by Hussain and another informant in January. Al Akili told the Albany Times-Union that after Hussain “repeatedly made attempts to get close” to him, he googled them. He found Trevor Aaronson’s August 2011 Mother Jones expose about the FBI’s massive network of undercover terrorism informants and confronted Hussain on the phone.
MoJo notes Akili is being held on gun charges, but it doesn’t really lay out what appears to have happened to him–which is that FBI was trying to build a terrorism charge against him, but then triggered the gun charge arrest after Akili publicized Hussain’s efforts to reach out to him.
Akili–formerly James Marvin Thomas Jr–was busted in 2001 on drug charges and sentenced to 2.5 to 5 years in prison. He says an informant tried to ensnare in him in 2005. The FBI Special Agent who testified in his bond hearing, Joseph Bieshelt, claimed that Akili expressed sympathy for the Taliban in 2005, which may be the same effort.
Mr. Akili is known to have expressed sympathy for the Afghan resistance movement in a 2005 conversation with a man he knew in prison, Agent Bieshelt said.
And both before and after his arrest and imprisonment, he had a history of fighting cops and ignoring warrants on minor infractions. He reportedly tried to run when the FBI came to arrest him on Thursday.
In December, according to Bieshelt, Akili was recorded saying, “that he was developing somebody to possibly strap a bomb on himself,”
Then, in January, Hussain and another informant, Shareef, tried to entrap Akili.
Al-Akili said he was approached by Hussain, who went by the name “Mohammed,” and another man, who used the name “Shareef,” in January when they turned up in his neighborhood and repeatedly made attempts to get close to Al-Akili. But Al-Akili said he quickly figured out Hussain’s identity as an FBI informant. He said the men were “too obvious” and requested receipts even for small items they purchased like coffee and donuts.
Al-Akili said Shareef also asked Al-Akili repeatedly if he could help him purchase a gun. Al-Akili said he told the man he could not help him.
Al-Akili said his suspicions the men were informants were confirmed when he saw a photograph of Hussain on the Internet. In addition, he said, a cell phone number Hussain had given him was the same number used by Hussain during a 2009 counterterrorism investigation against four Newburgh men in the small Orange County city. Al-Akili said he found the number and its connection to that case through a simple Internet search using Google.
Last week (so maybe around March 10), he called Hussain and asked if he was an FBI informant.
Al-Akili said the last time he spoke to Hussain was a week ago when Al-Akili said he called Hussain’s cell phone and asked him if he was an FBI informant. He said Hussain quickly ended the call. The other man, “Shareef,” vacated his apartment and vanished within a day, Al-Akili said.
He revealed all that to the Albany Times Union, which interviewed Al Akili on Sunday, March 11 (he also reportedly put it on his Facebook page, which I haven’t found yet). A US Marshall, Jonathan Neely, filed an affidavit for his arrest on March 14. And the FBI arrested him on Thursday–based primarily on a YouTube video from July 2010 showing him holding a gun at a gun range. On Friday, he was denied bail. On Saturday, the Times Union published their story revealing that Al Akili had identified and confronted Hussain.
Here’s what I find particularly interesting about all this.
First, as I noted, a Marshall, not the FBI Agent who appeared at his bond hearing, submitted the affidavit in this case. The evidence laid out in the affidavit focuses exclusively on a video–shot and sent to Akili on July 4, 2010–of Akili shooting a rifle at a target, as well as two conflicting interviews–on March 12 and 13, 2012, so after Akili publicized Hussain’s role as an informant–with the guy who sent that video.
In other words, Akili publicized that informants were trying to ensnare him, and only then, in just two day’s time, did the FBI put together this gun charge.
The press accounts on Thursday’s bond hearing don’t describe Bieshelt explaining the circumstances of Akili being recorded last December, nor the circumstances by which the FBI received that recording. The least suspicious scenario would have an independent tipster recording Akili, then informing the FBI, which led to the FBI sending Hussain in. But it’s equally possible that both the “recording” and the video came from FBI accessing archives of past calls and emails after the fact (that is, after Hussain tried, but failed, to entrap Akili).
And even that video raises questions about what led the FBI to send informants after Akili. The affidavit makes it clear that FBI didn’t get a copy of the video until February 13, 2012, so after Hussain had already targeted Akili. Is it possible that Hussain went after Akili because of something Homeland Security found (remember, they troll public statements on Facebook and Twitter), and only afterwards got that “recording” implicating Akili further–if it does–in sympathy for the Taliban.
In other words, this case raises interesting questions about when the FBI accessed archives of post communications of Akili, and how that relates to the effort to entrap Akili with an informant.
One thing is clear though: Akili’s outing of their crappy informants really spooked the FBI and got them to respond quickly.
Update: This story says that Akili’s Facebook message say the informants first came after him in October.
Apparently Sen. Joe McCarthy (WI) survived in the form of a zombie and is now working for the FBI. The MO is pretty much the same, targeting “Taliban sympathizers” instead of “commie sympathizers.” I’m just glad that the House, even though in Republican control, has not yet decided to resurrect McCarthy’s “House UnAmerican Activities Committee.”
Bob in AZ
It appears that some FBI agents need a long stint of Anger Management Therapy. Also, a US Marshall has some splain’in to do. Do we have any comments from the NRA yet? Those guys down at the shooting range would like to know if they are going to be caught in a dragnet.
As long as they aren’t brown people with a terrorist-sounding name like al-Akili they’re golden.
@liberalrob: Akili is white.
I was referring to the name being terrorist-sounding to your average redneck sheriff.
I wonder how the FBI just happened to come into possession of that email on February 13th?
Also wonder why an Air Marshall, of all people, served as the affiant for criminal complaint?
Since this is the same subject as Kevin G’s blog at FDL that’s based on the Guardian article. I’ll repost my comment here, if nobody minds
This actually happens a lot. Much more often than anyone thinks
Going off of memory so I might get a few things wrong
For instance the prosecution of Hamid Hayat. Full disclosure: I served on a nonprofit board with his attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi. Where I found out about this case the most was at a townhall featuring former FBI Agent James Wedick and noted author Mark Arax.
Prior to going after Hayat, the USG had spent $2 million trying to drum up some kind of dirt on the religious leaders of this one small Muslim community. So they found a dupe in Hayat, who at best, had a very limited understanding of English, and isn’t exactly a Mensa candidate. The informant was given (I forget exactly how much) several hundred thousand dollars in the course of the investigation and was pressured to “find something.”
The informant “found” something. He was read his Miranda Rights but an interpreter was not provided for him. The FBI interrogated Hayat – with his limited understanding of English – for five hours without an attorney present at which time he confessed.
According to well respected, and decorated, former agent Wedick, several investigative procedures were ignored or broken in the prosecution of this case
There was also controversy concerning the jury foreman using racist slurs and bullying the other jurors.
This is a genuine issue, and I’m glad someone’s covered it; the problem is, the main source is an English newspaper/website and there’s probably zero chance this sees the light of day in the American msm
@JohnT: Not sure how your comment got locked up, probably too many links freaked out our robots, but it is free now.
this is a most interesting story.
thanks for speaking out in detail.
thanks, bmaz, for having the concern and taking the time.
no doubt, this criminal lawyer knows the answer to his question.
but let me put in layman’s terms:
the doj was defrauding the court by implying, without saying (because doing so would have been a lie),
that there was a threat to airline passengers from this guy.
if you are smart enough to detect intended entrapment, as this guy was,
you are nonetheless entrapped by doj word trickery and evasion in pleadings.
always, of course, the doj and their little brother the fbi, count on the court’s trusting their good intentions, the good intentions of the prosecution/gov’t – a trust that, over and over again, has proved entirely unjustified in the case of the obama/holder doj.
Well, I just guess at least we all can feel safer knowing that we’re being so diligently protected. A fascinating study in forensic accounting might be to track back and quantify the number of governmental man-hours and associated expenses that have been incurred in the “ferreting out” of this nefarious target-shooting bad guy. Well, maybe “fascinating” is the wrong word, but like the military “study” which concluded we are spending $20.2 Billion per year to air condition the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (now there’s a number to ponder), at what point would somebody start to mind that our “protectors” think this kind of exercise somehow is contributing to keeping us “safe” in a manner that justifies its cost? Keeping coffee and donut receipts, sheesh. Somewhere there’s a file reflecting coffee and donuts reimbursed for “investigating” this guy.