At yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dragnet, the government’s numbers supporting the value of the dragnet got even worse. At one point, Pat Leahy asserted that the phone dragnet had only been useful in one case (in the last hearing, there had been a debate over whether it had been critical in one or two cases).
Leahy (after 1:09:40): We’ve already established that Section 215 was uniquely valuable in just one terrorism case, not the 54 that have been talked about before.
In a follow up some minutes later, Keith Alexander laid out numbers that explain how the Administration had presented that 1 case as 12 in previous claims.
Alexander (at 1:21:30): As you correctly stated, there was one unique case under 215 where the metadata helped. There were 7 others where it contributed. And 4 where it didn’t find anything of value, and we were able to tell the FBI that.
That is, to publicly claim that the phone dragnet has been useful in 12 cases, the Administration included 7 cases where — as with the Najibullah Zazi case — it proved to be a tool that provided non-critical information available by other means, and 4 cases where it was useful only because it didn’t show any results.
To fluff their numbers, the Administration has been counting cases where the phone dragnet didn’t show results as showing results of no results.
With sketchy numbers like that, it’s high time for a closer examination of the details — and the timing — of the Basaaly Moalin prosecution, the only case (Alexander now agrees) where the phone dragnet has been critical.
As a reminder, Moalin was first identified via the dragnet — probably on a second hop away from Somali warlord Aden Ayro — in October 2007. They used that and probably whatever tip they used to investigate him in 2003 to get a FISA warrant by December 20, 2007. Only 2 months later, February 26, 2008, was al-Shabaab listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Ayro was killed on May 1, 2008, though the government kept the tap on Moalin through December 2008, during which period they collected evidence of Moalin donating money (maybe 3 times as much as he gave to al-Shabaab-related people) to a range of people who had nothing to do with al-Shabaab. A CIPA stipulation presented at the trial revealed that during this period after the inculpatory conversations, Moalin’s tribe and Shabaab split and Moalin’s collections supported other entities in Somalia.
1. Money collected for the Ayr sub-clan was given to individuals including Abukar Suyare (Abukar Mohamed) and Fare Yare, who were associated with the Ilays charity.
2. Money collected by the men in Guracewl on behalf of the Ayr sub-clan was given to a group that was not as-Shabaab. [sic]
3. There was a dispute between al-Shabaab, the Ayr clan and Ilays over the administration pf [sic] of Galgaduud regions.
4. Members of the Ilays charity and the Ayr sub-clan, including Abukar Suryare, were opposed to the al-Shabaab and were Ayrow’s enemies.
On April 8, 2009, FBI would search the hawala used to send money based entirely on Moalin’s case. Yet on April 23, 2009, according to a document referenced but not provided to Moalin’s defense, the FBI concluded that Moalin not only no longer expressed support for al-Shabaab, but that he had only ever supported it because of tribal loyalties, not support for terrorism.
The San Diego FIG assesses that Moalin, who belongs to the Hawiye tribe/Habr Gedir clan/Ayr subclan, is the most significant al-Shabaab fundraiser in the San Diego Area of Operations (AOR). Although Moalin has previously expressed support for al-Shabaab, he is likely more attentive to Ayr subclan issues and is not ideologically driven to support al-Shabaab. The San Deigo FIG assesses that Moalin likely supported now deceased senior al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayrow due to Ayrow’s tribal affiliation with the Hawiye tribe/Habr Gedir clan/Ayr subclan rather than his position in al-Shabaab. Moalin has also worked diligently to support Ayr issues to promote his own status with Habr Gedir elders. The San Diego FIG assesses, based on reporting that Moalin has provided direction regarding financial accounts to be used when transferring funds overseas that he also serves as a controller for the US-based al-Shabaab fundraising network.
The intercepts on which the prosecution was based support this. They show that Moalin’s conversations with Ayro and others focused on fighting the (American-backed) Ethiopian invaders of his region, not anything outside of Somalia.