Abdulelah Haider Shaye and Anwar al-Awlaki’s Emails

Al-Jazeera did another long piece on the imprisonment of Abdulelah Haider Shaye, whose story Jeremy Scahill first covered here. There are two details worth note. First, just after 15:40, AJE describes the White House’s non-denial denial of their involvement with Shaye’s continued imprisonment.

Well, we got in touch with the White House on this last week, and this is what we were told: “The President’s comments have absolutely nothing to do with Shaye’s reporting or his criticism of Yemen or the United States. A Yemeni court, not a US court, convicted him.”

It’s an odd comment because if, as alleged, Shaye’s imprisonment has something to do with being an AQAP propagandist, then it would have to do with his journalism. Furthermore, given the language the White House itself included in its readout of the February 2, 2011 conversation between President Obama and Ali Abdullah Saleh…

President Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen on February 2 to welcome the significant reform measures that President Saleh had announced earlier that day, and to stress that President Saleh now needs to follow-up his pledge with concrete actions.  President Obama asked that Yemeni security forces show restraint and refrain from violence against Yemeni demonstrators who are exercising their right to free association, assembly, and speech.  The President also told President Saleh that it is imperative that Yemen take forceful action against Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to protect innocent lives in Yemen as well as abroad.  Finally, President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP.  President Saleh thanked the President for U.S. support and committed to continuing and strengthening relations with the United States. [my emphasis]

… It’s quite clear that regardless of whose courts convicted Shaye, Obama’s comments played a key role in his continued imprisonment.

The irony? In the same conversation Obama pressured Saleh to show restraint with Yemenis exercising their right to speech. So now the White House is issuing non-denial denials about a conversation in which they criticized Saleh for his violent repression by attributing responsibility to Yemen’s legal system?

Nevertheless, I find it significant that, rather than offer some explanation for Obama’s pressure to keep Shaye imprisoned, the White House is now dodging the issue.

Particularly given this detail Scahill reveals just after 20:00.

What I’m going to say right now about it is the extent of what I can say about any specific media organization. My understanding from sources within one of those media organizations [ABC, WaPo, and NYT] that you cited, and a major American media organization, was that they were approached by the US government earlier on, before Shaye was actually locked up and put in prison and sentenced by this court, that a major US media organization that had done work with him was approached and told that they should stop working with him, suggesting that his relationship to Al Qaeda was more than just journalist source relationship and that organization stopped working with Abdulelah Haider. To my knowledge, none of those organizations have take an editorial stance calling for his release or even or even condemning the sham nature of his trial.

That is, presumably around the time ABC and WaPo and NYT were all relying on Shaye to get reporting from Yemen, the government approached at least one of them and told them to stop, which they did.

I find that particularly interesting given some reporting I reviewed yesterday while working on posts assessing whether the new NCTC data-sharing guidelines would have prevented the Nidal Hasan and Undiebomber attacks.

On November 16, 2009, 11 days after Nidal Hasan’s attack and about a week after Pete Hoekstra revealed the email exchanges, the WaPo published a story based on a Shaye interview with Anwar al-Awlaki which provides far more information about the emails Awlaki exchanged with Hasan before the attack.

Shaea allowed a Post reporter to view a video recording of a man who closely resembles pictures of Aulaqi sitting in front of his laptop computer reading the e-mails, and to hear an audiotape in which a man, who like Aulaqi speaks English with an American accent, discusses his e-mail correspondence with Hasan.

The quotes in this article are based on Shaea’s handwritten notes. Shaea said he was allowed to review the e-mails between Hasan and Aulaqi, but they were not provided to The Post.


Aulaqi told Shaea that Hasan first reached out to him in an e-mail dated Dec. 17, 2008. He described Hasan introducing himself and writing: “Do you remember me? I used to pray with you at the Virginia mosque.”

Initially, Aulaqi said he did not recall Hasan and did not reply to the e-mail. But after Hasan sent two or three more e-mails, the cleric said he “started to remember who he was,” according to Shaea.

Aulaqi said Hasan viewed him as a confidant. “It was clear from his e-mails that Nidal trusted me. Nidal told me: ‘I speak with you about issues that I never speak with anyone else,’ ” he told Shaea.

The cleric said Hasan informed him that he had become a devout Muslim around the time Aulaqi was preaching at Dar al-Hijrah, in 2001 and 2002. “Anwar said, ‘Maybe Nidal was affected by one of my lectures,'” said Shaea.

Of the dozen or so e-mails, said Shaea, Aulaqi replied to Hasan two or three times. Aulaqi declined to comment on what he told Hasan. Asked whether Hasan mentioned Fort Hood as a target in his e-mails, Shaea declined to comment.

Five days later, the WaPo published another big scoop about the emails, this time relying on two sources (one of whom may have had immediate proximity to Carl Levin) who were briefed on–but appear not to have seen personally–the emails. In addition to explaining the bureaucratic details of how SD FBI got the emails but DOD did not get the later, more incriminating ones, the WaPo’s sources also revealed what looks like Hasan’s attempt to send money to AQAP.

Hasan’s contacts with extremist imam Anwar al-Aulaqi began as religious queries but took on a more specific and concrete tone before he moved to Texas, where he allegedly unleashed the Nov. 5 attack that killed 13 people and wounded nearly three dozen, said the sources who were briefed on the e-mails, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the case is sensitive and unfolding. One of those sources said the two discussed in “cryptic and coded exchanges” the transfer of money overseas in ways that would not attract law enforcement attention.

“He [Hasan] clearly became more radicalized toward the end, and was having discussions related to the transfer of money and finances . . .,” said the source, who spoke at length in part because he was concerned the public accounting of the events has been incomplete. “It became very clear toward the end of those e-mails he was interested in taking action.”


Bits and pieces of Hasan’s communications with Aulaqi have become public since the Fort Hood massacre, but the sources provided the most detailed description yet of the messages. The e-mails will help investigators determine whether Hasan’s alleged actions were motivated by psychological deterioration or inspired by radical religious views he found online and through e-mail exchanges with Aulaqi. [my emphasis]

Two days earlier, ABC–which was also working with Shaye in this periodprovided the exact language Hasan used to talk about money, while revealing he had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Muslim charities (note this story is sourced to a US official with access to the emails).

Major Hasan also wrote, “My strength is my financial capabilities.”

Federal investigators have found that Hasan donated $20,000 to $30,000 a year to overseas Islamic “charities.” As an Army major, his yearly salary, including housing and food allowances, was approximately $92,000.

And spoke about looking forward to meeting Awlaki in the afterlife.

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

A month later, Shaye did another interview with Awlaki. In it, Awlaki taunted the US for not responding to Hasan’s emails.


“What did he say?”


“He asked whether killing American soldiers and officers is lawful or not?”


“He asked you this question more than a year before he executed the operation?”


“Yes, and I wonder where were the American security forces that one day claimed they can read the numbers of any license plate, anywhere in the world, from space.”

Awlaki himself provided spin on their discussion about donating money to charity (though he doesn’t seem to deny the money would support AQAP).


“What did Nidal want from you in most of his messages?”


“Of course, as I mentioned to you, his first message was about the ruling of a Muslim soldier serving the American Army, killing his colleagues. And, via a group of letters Nidal explained his point of view about killing Israeli civilians and he supported that, and through these letters he mentioned Sharia-based and realistic excuses for targeting the Jews with rockets. Also, there were some messages through which he asked about a method of transferring some money to us in contributions for charity works.”

The interview ended with Awlaki suggesting that Shaye publish the emails.

“You previously spoke with me about your correspondence with Nidal, and you gave me the original copies of it, and throughout looking them over I found that he trusts and respects you, and now you say that you don’t have a direct or strong relation with him?”

“I spoke with you about it [correspondence] and I explained it, and I gave it to you to publish it because the American Administration has prohibited publishing it. Why do they not want it out? What is the reason? Do they want to cover their security failure? Or, do they not want to confess that Nidal Hasan was a man of principle and that he did what he did as a service to Islam? Do they pose to show it as a sudden, individual act with no relation to the actions of the criminal American Army?” [my emphasis]

Awlaki would again call for the release of those emails three months later.

Now, in addition to the report on civilian casualties in the December 17, 2009 strike, there are other reports that surely led the US to want to shut him up. After Yemen claimed to be negotiating for Awlaki’s capture, Awlaki denied it through Shaye. Shaye also provided confirmation on Said Ali al-Shihri’s role in AQAP, which means he may also have been aware of Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi, now suspected to have been a double agent infiltrated into AQAP.

Nidal Hasan will go on trial in June. I have no idea whether the government will finally declassify the emails for use in the trial (it’s not like the government needs the emails as evidence of Hasan’s actions, and they would also show how the government’s own surveillance proved useless in preventing this attack). But Shaye’s apparent one-time possession of a set of the emails–along with the government’s squeamishness about their release–makes me wonder whether that’s one of the many reasons why the government wanted to shut down his access to Western journalists.

10 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I can see where the US government would not want them available: they show that our wonderful security overlords can’t do the job they’re charged with, and that all their surveillance capabilities (hi, NSA guy!) can’t find people who will do stuff before they act (except when they have FBI agents providing them with money, material, and plans).

  2. rg says:

    The historical myth is that the newspaper Provda (a word meaning “Truth”) was a source of Soviet propaganda. Here the word “propaganda” is used to convey the notion of political lies. Trying to get a story out that is contrary to the interests of the USG could be interpreted as propagandizing, and possibly doing so on behalf of an enemy if the “story” is sympathetic to that of one that is supported by an enemy. That is if A and B both think the same bad stuff about me, they must be in cahoots, thus A is an operational propagandist for B.
    Your interesting article provides some background for possibly understanding the “operationality” justification for Awlaki’s non-judicial due process.

  3. thatvisionthing says:

    Airhead altzone comment here. Going around site to site today checking the stories. Naked Capitalism reports on Detroit News story that says the (Virginia) Roberts court has ruled that Fannie and Freddie are not eligible for tax exemption, which is great news for Michigan counties who can now sue for millions in unpaid deed recording fees. Separation of corporation and state!

    Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson issued a statement Friday applauding the decision.

    “We contended from the beginning that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are private corporations, not government entities. Judge Roberts affirmed that today,” Patterson said.

    Meisner said elected officials throughout the country have been following this case closely and he expects they will be following suit.

    Meanwhile, Ingham County filed a similar lawsuit and Genesee County is heading up a class-action suit. Macomb County is the first in the state to deny the lenders the exemption. Clerk/Register of Deeds Carmella Sabaugh and Treasurer Ted Wahby have partnered on that approach, which was implemented with the guidance of county attorneys.

    Sabaugh previously told The Detroit News that the companies have made the payments “under protest,” meaning they could challenge the fees in court. But if the taxes aren’t paid, the deeds will not be recorded.

    Hello, ew? Any Curtis Hertel (Ingham County) news for us?

    Then on UK’s Craig Murray, he’s off in India doing research, but his commenters are buzzing about 800-page report (PDF) just published by the Herald Scotland about the Lockerbie bombing. Guy could have been cleared? I wish I could read 800-page reports but I can’t.

    Learned new word: godbotherer. When I went to look it up, the quote of the day on the dictionary page says:

    Quote Of The Day
    “There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”
    -Flannery O’Connor

    Which seems a perfectly fine moral for this post. USG is all about storytelling and the tools of fiction. (I like that better than “attorney general”: Tool of Fiction Eric Holder. Or “president”: Tool of Fiction Barack Obama. Or “CEO” or “Mayor” or “Editor” or…: Tool of Fiction fill in the blank). And story says that those who question the story are enemies of the state = foreign or domestic terrorists. And the story sucks, and the box around the story sucks, and I expect time will tell its own story.

    Best of all, outside the box, Iranian and Israeli people are reaching out to each other, bypassing Tools of Fiction I hope, and millions of people are being friendly and going for a walk with Michael Moore. Hey!

  4. mzchief says:

    From http://forum.uyghuramerican.org/forum/showthread.php?27689-Uyghur-Uighur-Linquist-Neeeded-for-GITMO&s=325d373268e28bf5223960cb0f7315ad&p=111666#post111666 :

    Uyghur/Uighur Linquist Neeeded for GITMO

    Uyghur Linguist Position Overview:

    Provide language interpretation, translation, and transcription services needed to support high priority tasks supporting real world operations.

    Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

    * Provide accurate, complete, and trusted interpretation and/or translation of data from a variety of sources.
    * Support missions by covering a wide range of styles and subjects to include: contracts and laws; treaties and international agreements on military, economic and cultural subjects; training manuals; court documents; political speeches and position papers.
    * Provide on-site support for meetings or conferences, summarizing documents, reviewing translations, and ascertaining the substantive conformity of texts written in two or more languages (comparisons).
    * Scan research and analyze foreign language documents for key information.
    * Submit intelligence information reports and supporting graphics derived from translation activities to the customer in a timely manner.
    * Maintain an awareness of all pertinent intelligence requirements levied by United States Army Southern Command and other agencies.
    * Other duties may be assigned to meet mission needs.

    Education and/or Experience:
    Linguists shall have proficiency in Uyghur of an ILR level 3/3 and a working proficiency in English (ILR level 2 ).

    Location :

    Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Computer Skills:
    Must have knowledge of a variety of computer software applications and ability to prepare and transmit correspondence to Headquarters. Create and maintain administrative databases.


    Founded in 2002, CSMI is a Services-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) which provides Worldwide Support to the DoD, DoS, DHS and IC. Headquartered in Lawrence, Massachusetts, CSMI is a leading provider of Mission Support Solutions, Seaport Security and Integrated Logistics Support ofC4ISR, ESS & Force Protection Systems and other mission-critical security technologies. CSMI professionals provide solutions which support the full lifecycle of preparing for, protecting against, detecting, reacting to and actively responding to the full range of threats facing US interests here and abroad. CSMI’s expertise includes: Cyber Security, Software/Hardware/Network Engineering and Administration, Concept of Operations (CONOPS) Development, Human Factors Engineering, New Equipment Training (NET), Integrated Logistics Support, ongoing Field Sustainment and Pre-deployment Site Surveys and Assessments, Language Services, and Intelligence Analysis Support. Over the past 10 years, CSMI has deployed close to 500 personnel to support large Defense Contractors and Government Customers. With personnel on three continents, CSMI is one of the fastest growing companies to provide Mission Support and Technical services while maintaining the rapid response and customer centric focus that small businesses can best provide.

    Below is an overview of CSMI’s Support capabilities:

    Mission Support:
    Cyber Security: Certification & Accreditation; Forensic Media Analysis; Information Assurance, Counter-Intrusion Support Services; Penetration Testing and Network Simulation; Digital Encryption/Decryption Analysis, Continuity of Operations;
    Intelligence Support: HUMINT, Counterintelligence, Counterterrorism, Counternarcotics, All-Source, Open Source, CBRN;
    Human Factors Engineering;
    Language Services: DOCEX, DOMEX, Translation and Interpretation;
    IT: Network Solutions – CONUS & OCONUS

    Integrated Logistics Support:
    Ø C4ISR, ESS & Force Protection Systems;
    Ø Nonintrusive Imaging X-ray and Gamma Ray Screening Systems / Data Acquisition Systems;
    Ø Mobile Command and Control Communications Centers;
    Ø IT Networks & Infrastructure and Telecommunications Equipment;
    Ø RF Based Systems;
    Ø Ground Penetrating Radar Systems;
    Ø Robot Mounted Electromagnetic Gradiometer Receivers/Transmitters (Counter IED);
    Ø High Energy X-ray Gantry Civil Works, Commissioning and Sustainment; and
    Ø Electromechanical and Optoelectronic systems – including Imaging and Data Storage Systems.

    Additionally, CSMI owns and operates Pan American Technical Services (PATS) http://www.panamtech.net which provides Seaport Security ScreeningSolutions. Through PATS, CSMI runs the only SFI certified MEGAPORT in Central America. Below is an overview of those capabilities:

    Seaport Security:
    Ø Surveys and Assessments;
    Ø Development of Technical Requirements;
    Ø Equipment Installation and Technical Support;
    Ø Systems Operator Training;
    Ø Program and Operations Management.

    In August 2011, CSMI was named one of the Fastest Growing Small Businesses in the country by Inc. Magazine’s prestigious Inc. 500 / 5000 list.

    Frank ODonnell | CSMI
    Vice President | Mission Support
    Ofc: 978.989.9460 | BB: 703.283.7892

    A Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business

  5. Bob Schacht says:

    Thanks for this report, which makes me wonder what is in the emails that the US doesn’t want published. It can’t be for the stuff that has already, in effect, been published. Must be something else.

    Bob in AZ

  6. emptywheel says:

    @emptywheel: Alternately, remember that they seem not to have found Abdulmutallab’s text to Awlaki until after his attack. So Awlaki may have been testing whether FISA had all of his accounts. Which woudl be moot now, unless AQAP had some bigger trick we don’t want them to know we know.

  7. greengiant says:

    Could be mad magazine spy vs. spy game theory. Consider the worst case attacks against CONUS would be biological or radioactive short of an EMP air burst, ( ignoring computer attacks, financial fraud and Wahhabi black pools )
    Would the powers that be reveal sources and methods to stop 9/11 much less a single fanatic Army doctor or an underwear bomber?
    Only when the printer cartridges caper did they raise the alarm with planes loaded. And that arguably because the human intelligence was already blown.

    All signs are that the ex-military private sector has captured the US intelligence community, budget, and government wholesale, including the mortgage electronic recording system headed by ex special forces officer. My limited understanding is that while the gamesmanship was dominant even 30 to 40 years ago, there were still civil servants with integrity. Now we can count the ones with integrity by the court cases brought against them.

    Somewhere in the US system they may be saving their methods for the more sophisticated attacks that would seem to be sure to come.

Comments are closed.