is a revised version of the original letter sent to the
editor of Rolling Stone magazine in response to their
article, The Fear Factory, which appeared in the
February 7, 2008 edition. Rolling Stone printed an
edited version to comport with their word limitations, in
the February 22, 2008 issue.)
is an old saying among reporters: The worst thing you
can do to a good story is check it out. Guy Lawson ("The
Fear Factory," Rolling Stone, February 7th)
brings hypothetical theory to new heights. After "checking
it out," Mr. Lawson simply tailored his story around
any compelling facts that did not fit his original premise.
Before coming to the FBI, I worked as a journalist for
over 25 years and won most of the major awards that they
give to a reporter. I feel I have standing to say that
a journalist has an obligation to tell at least two sides
of a story. Your readers only got one.
premise to which Mr. Lawson was married is his theory
that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) have
to justify their existence in the post 9/11 world by ginning
up thin cases against arguably docile suspects who have
neither the intent nor capability to cause real harm.
Mr. Lawson deftly skips over 27 years of the work of the
JTTFs capturing al Qaeda suspects from the first World
Trade Center bombing, preventing the attacks on New York
landmarks, the Embassy and USS Cole bombings, the Millennium
Plot and more. Instead, Mr. Lawson narrowed his focus
to cases involving small groups and "lone wolves"
that planned to murder American citizens on U.S. soil.
Shareef, the convicted terrorist at the center of the
story who Mr. Lawson frivolously described as being a
"wanna-be jihadi," possessed all of the traits
necessary to harm or kill innocent citizens. Investigators
were also keenly aware of Mr. Shareef's continuous contacts
with Hassan Abujihaad, another domestic terror suspect
being monitored by the FBI. Mr. Abujihaad was indicted
for sending classified e-mails while serving on a U.S.
Navy ship to pro-Taliban forces, divulging his naval battle
group's operational vulnerabilities. It was only after
the two had a falling out that Mr. Shareef accelerated
his plans to act independently and swiftly to launch an
attack. The JTTF took correct action to disrupt his plans
and arrest him.
Shareef, like scores of suicide bombers overseas, was
infused with a poisonous ideology, displayed a single-minded
desire to take action, regularly declared his intent to
kill, and sought to obtain weapons to commit an attack.
needs only to reflect on the example of Timothy McVeigh,
who murdered 168 U.S. citizens in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Mr. McVeigh could have been described as having little
money, working a dead end job as a security guard, dealing
with anger issues, and devoted to an extremist ideology.
Like Mr. Shareef, Mr. McVeigh discussed his plans with
others, cased potential targets, took action to secure
explosives for the operation, and tried to do it as cheaply
killers have started out with even less. Take John Allan
Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the "D.C. Snipers."
Two practically homeless men, living out of a car, filled
with hate and armed with a high-powered assault rifle.
As in the case of Mr. Shareef, you might be tempted to
call them "losers," but their actions paralyzed
greater Washington D.C. for three weeks in 2002. In the
end, 10 people died in the attacks and still others were
identified from earlier shootings in other states. None
of these men would have met Mr. Lawson's standard as being
a legitimate threat, yet had the FBI known about them
before they struck, we would have been severely criticized.
any point during his planning process, Mr. Shareef could
have stopped his actions, but he chose not to. There is
no evidence that he ever wavered in his desire to murder
holiday shoppers in the CherryVale Mall that day. Would
he have succeeded had it not been for the diligence of
the JTTF? Mr. Lawson's story suggests we should be willing
to take this gamble, but he is not responsible for the
outcome. No one will knock on the doors of Rolling
Stone and ask why people died that day.
every terrorist needs to be linked to an organized group
like al Qaeda to kill the innocent. What these lessons
have taught us is that if the motivation is strong enough,
challenges such as getting weapons or paying for the operation
can be overcome.
agents and officers abide by FBI procedures, Department
of Justice legal guidance, and the United States Constitution.
They must bring facts before a judge to get authorization
for a warrant or electronic surveillance. Since 9/11,
the JTTFs have broken a dozen plots targeting civilians
on U.S. soil. None of them have been well-financed, but
I cannot remember any victim of a terrorist attack lamenting
that they wished they'd been killed by a more expensive
Lawson's sweeping statement, "The defendants posed
little if any demonstrable threat to anyone or anything,"
seems to be his uneducated guess rather than an objective
summary of the legal outcomes or courtroom results. In
almost every case heard by a jury, the defendants were
found guilty, in spite of having some dedicated and talented
defense lawyers articulate the same claims Mr. Lawson
has swallowed. The Yassin Aref case in Albany, New York,
and the Hamid Hayat case in Lodi, California, are two
examples. In other cases such as the "Lackawanna
Six," and the Torrance cell, the defendants pled
guilty with the advice of counsel.
we have identified somebody with the intent to take lives
in the name of extremism and we fail to take the appropriate
action, we are ignoring our sworn mission to protect the
innocent. Regardless of criticism, it is our obligation
to err on the side of safety while continuing to adhere
to Constitutional protections.