Yesterday’s declassified documents on the Section 215 (and Internet Trap and Trace) dragnets repeat something I observed about a James Clapper declaration submitted in several FOIA cases related to the program: they all redact parts of the description of what allows the government to search on an identifier. While the government is happy to tell us searches are limited to counterterrorism (and Iran), they’re still hiding some aspect of what constitutes an appropriate search.
Which is just one of the reasons I’m interested in something NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said in yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the NSA’s programs. At about 1:22, he described the selector they used to find Basaaly Moalin this way:
We knew a number that we had reasonable suspicion was affiliated with a terrorist group plotting against the homeland.
This claim — that the number was not just connected to a terrorist group, but a group “plotting against the homeland” — is new, as far as I’m aware.
Remember, the terrorist group in question is al-Shabaab. Other officials have said they got this number in October 2007 and court documents show the wiretap of Moalin began in December 2007. Yet al-Shabaab wasn’t listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization until February 2008. If they were plotting against the US in October 2007, why weren’t they listed at that point?
I’ve long assumed (though it is just an assumption) that the number in question was that of Aden Hashi Ayro, a Somali warlord whose calls with Moalin were submitted as evidence in his case. Ayro was killed by a US missile on May 1, 2008. And it’s possible the claim that the pre-FTO al-Shabaab was plotting against our “homeland” pertains to him and his alleged ties to al Qaeda.
Here’s how a June 2008 WikiLeaks cable celebrating Ayro’s death described him.
(S/NF) Senior Al-Shabaab leader and al-Qaida associate Aden Hashi Ayrow was killed May 1 during a U.S. strike. In the early 1990s, Ayrow joined the military wing of Al-Ittihad Al-Islamiya (AIAI) and traveled to Afghanistan in 1997 for unspecified training. Ayrow remained in Afghanistan for a year before returning to Somalia to participate in Jihadist activities, and returned to Afghanistan in 2001, reportedly meeting with Osama bin Laden. Ayrow emerged in the 2002/2003 timeframe as a firebrand extremist and he quickly became a rising figure in what eventually became the Shabaab. Mercurial and largely uncontrollable, he was feared for his ruthlessness and unpredictability.
(S/NF) Ayrow has been violently opposed to U.S. and western interests in East Africa. The Shabaab’s emergence as a terrorist threat in Somalia is closely linked to Ayrow’s rise to power. During the course of 2005, Ayrow’s jihadist group emerged in Mogadishu as a violent destabilizing force. He has been linked to the killing of foreign aid workers, dozens of Somalis, and BBC journalist Kate Peyton. He also was the figure largely responsible for the desecration of the Italian cemetery in Mogadishu. Ayrow’s al-Shabaab faction has also conducted suicide bombings and anti-aircraft attacks targeting Ethiopian and Somali forces in Somalia. Ayrow was closely associated with East Africa Al-Qaida (EAAQ) operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan, and now-deceased EAAQ cell leader Abu Talha Al-Sudani. [my emphasis]
The label “al Qaeda associate” and the visit to Osama bin Laden may have qualified Ayro (as ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did Ahmed Warsame) as something beyond al-Shabaab warlord in the US book. And Toronto Star’s Michele Shephard told me on Twitter that Ayro had global ambitions. Certainly, some of Ayro’s associates had ties to al Qaeda’s past and planned attacks on US embassies in Africa.
But Shephard and the WikiLeaks cable also both say that the immediate focus in 2007 was on Ethiopian troops who had invaded Somalia in 2006 with US backing. Read more