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Latest Russian cyberattack targeting hundreds of U.S. networks -Microsoft – Reuters

FBI incompetence let Anwar al Awlaki slip away, say retired investigators

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More than 20 years after 9/11, two key investigators who made the case their lives’ work have revealed they are still haunted by the fact that the FBI let the terrorists’ spiritual adviser slip away, only to inspire more deadly attacks in the name of Islam.

In an exclusive interview, New Jersey criminal investigator Jim Bush and FBI agent Bob Bukowski, who are both retired, told the Washington Examiner never-revealed details about how they pieced together some of the players behind the plot to hijack four commercial planes and kill 2,977 people. But the case that capped the careers of two seasoned investigators brought both triumph and disappointment, and they are only now learning why Imam Anwar al-Awlaki eluded them in the months after the attack.

“I feel Awlaki was the most important figure in the 9/11 investigation,” Bush said recently, his words tinged with both nostalgia and regret.

Awlaki was a charismatic radical cleric with a passion for prostitutes and whose fiery sermons could turn peaceful Muslims into cold-blooded killers. Bush and Bukowski were working on a branch of the 9/11 investigation code-named PENTTBOM and based in Paterson, New Jersey. Eleven of the 19 hijackers passed through the Garden State, and the gritty, densely populated city 20 miles west of Manhattan was a hot spot.

Jim Bush’s and Bob Bukowski’s FBI identification badges. (Jim Bush and Bob Bukowski)

By June 10, 2002, Bush and Bukowski were confident they had enough to nab al-Awlaki, but they were inexplicably told to stand down by the FBI. Between that time and Sept. 30, 2011, when a U.S. drone killed al-Awlaki in Yemen, the imam helped direct some of the world’s most high-profile acts of terrorism. He referred in a video to the so-called “underwear bomber” and Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan as his “students,” and a New York subway bombing plot, the thwarted attacks of the “Fort Dix Six,” and multiple attacks in England all bore al-Awlaki’s dastardly fingerprints.

Years later, Bush and Bukowski finally know the reasons they were prevented from bringing al-Awlaki to justice before he could inspire more followers to kill infidels: incompetence and paintball.

In the days following 9/11, the PENTTBOM team worked out of Paterson, New Jersey. Its mission was to focus on the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77, which was slammed into the Pentagon, killing 189. They knew early on that a shadowy cleric had played a key role in the plot, but his identity had been elusive. Nine months after the attack, they showed the American-born al-Awlaki’s photo to Eyad Rababah, who was in a Charlottesville, Virginia, jail, suspected of helping two hijackers get IDs and apartments at the behest of the mysterious imam.

“We showed the picture, and he sighs, and he looks at it, and he looks at it, and he goes, ‘That’s the guy. That’s the imam,’” Bush recalled the Jordanian-born Rababah saying after seeing a grainy picture provided by the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office. “It was a 100% identification.”

“I’m like, ‘Wow, this is it. We‘ve got it,’” Bush recalled. “We had him identified by Eyad. We knew that there was enough to hold Awlaki.”

AL QAEDA SUCCESSFULLY PLAYED ‘LONG GAME’ IN AFGHANISTAN, FBI AND UN OFFICIALS SAY

Rababah was a star witness early on, “the first live person that met hijackers,” Bush said. In working backward to find out who helped the 19 dead terrorists, his help was critical. Rababah had turned himself in at the New Haven, Connecticut, FBI field office after learning that Bush and Bukowski were on his trail after tracing him to a forged ID found in one of the hijacker’s cars.

Eyad Rababah. (Albermarle/Charlottesville Regional Jail)

“I know the FBI is looking for me, and I just want to let you know I did meet two of the hijackers,” he told the FBI. It was just 17 days after the 9/11 attacks.

In the ensuing months, Rababah would be tied directly to aiding four of the five hijackers from American Airlines Flight 77: Hani Hanjour, who piloted the hijacked plane, Nawaf al Hazmi, Majed Moqued, and Salem Hazmi. While they were the martyrs who died in the name of their twisted cause, the detectives knew they couldn’t have done it alone.

“You have to look as a detective,” Bush said. “You’ve got to say, ‘How did these guys move around?’ They didn’t speak English. They had to have a network.”

The investigators first established that the hijackers had stayed in safehouses the detectives traced to Rababah and his Syrian roommate, Daoud Chehazeh. Chehazeh had been arrested just before the Rababah turned himself in. Under questioning over several weeks while he was held on charges of ID fraud, Rababah’s claim of innocence began to unravel. One of the apartments he and Chehazeh shared was near a Falls Church, Virginia, mosque where al-Awlaki preached.

Despite claiming they “were not religious,” Chehazeh acknowledged sending Rababah to ask the mosque’s imam for work. Confronted by that admission, Rababah confirmed he met with the imam at the mosque where two future hijackers asked for his help finding them a place to stay.

Daoud Chehazeh. (Alexandria Detention Center)

“Wow, wow, wow, this is going good,” Bush recalled thinking. “We got Rababah at the mosque. We got him talking to Awlaki. We got him to talking to the hijackers after the prayer service.“

The next step was getting Rababah to confirm that the imam he’d met was al-Awlaki. On June 10, 2002, while awaiting deportation to Jordan, Rababah made the jailhouse identification of al-Awlaki. Bush and Bukowski knew they had moved beyond the lower-level layer of logistical support and one ring closer to the senior leadership of al Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was a major player in the plot, and bringing him in could lead even further up the terror chain.

But al-Awlaki was not arrested, and the reasons would not be known to Bush and Bukowski for years. The pushback from the FBI started as Bush and Bukowski began their long drive back to New Jersey from Charlottesville. Bukowski knew another FBI agent was working on a different case involving al-Awlaki, but he didn’t know much more than that.

“I’m not going to step on anybody’s toes,” Bukowski recalled. “I don’t know what they are doing, and they don’t know what I’m doing. But at least we figure, ‘Let’s give him a call and tell him what has happened.’”

Bukowski told FBI Special Agent Wade Ammerman they had gotten a major break in the terror investigation, and that they had enough to arrest al-Awlaki. Ammerman said he wanted to meet Rababah to verify the account but would get back to them.

He never did. When an exasperated Bukowski called his bureau colleague back, he was stunned to hear Ammerman question their evidence.

“He goes, ‘I don’t know, I don’t believe he’s really identifying him,’” Bukowski said.

What the investigators did not know was that Ammerman was overseeing a separate terror investigation into what became known as the “Virginia Paintball” case. A cancer researcher and self-described Muslim scholar named Dr. Ali al-Timimi had allegedly inspired a group of young men from Virginia who used paintball to train for holy war to go to Pakistan to join the terror organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. Al-Awlaki was working as an informant for the FBI in that case, and nabbing him for 9/11 would blow his cover, the two investigators later discovered.

“We knew that there was enough to hold Awlaki,” Bush said ruefully. “They didn’t want to for the reasons we know now.”

“The Washington field office did not want Awlaki identified so they could use him as an asset for the paintball case in which Awlaki didn’t know the players,” he said.

Still, a week after Rababah positively identified al-Awlaki to Bush and Bukowski, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego issued a warrant for his arrest for falsely stating on his passport that he was born in Yemen when in fact he was born in New Mexico. Al-Awlaki had been in Yemen since March 2002, but he was nabbed at New York’s JFK Airport on Oct. 10. Bush and Bukowski suspect Ammerman summoned him back to help with the paintball case.

Ammerman allegedly told customs agents to let al-Awlaki go. Days later, the cleric visited al-Timimi’s Virginia home asking for help recruiting men for jihad. Al-Timimi’s defense attorneys insist their client declined to help and unsuccessfully sought evidence showing al-Awlaki was wearing a wire and trying to entrap al-Timimi.

Al-Timimi was convicted of 10 felonies and received a life sentence in 2005. He was sent to the federal supermax prison in Colorado. A decade later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded al-Timimi’s case on the grounds that the FBI withheld evidence that it used al-Awlaki as an informant.

His case is still under appeal. Al-Timimi was released from prison in September 2020 and is now under home confinement in Virginia awaiting resolution of his case. Jonathan Turley, al-Timimi’s appellate attorney, declined to comment on the new revelations from Bush and Bukowski.

“We are obviously concerned by such reports but, given the ongoing litigation before in the federal courts, we do not feel that it would be appropriate to comment on such new evidence or allegations at this time,” Turley said.

Documents obtained by Judicial Watch suggest that Ammerman had not gone rogue. Senior FBI leadership, including then-FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft, were aware of the decision to pull back al-Awlaki’s arrest warrant.

When reached by phone, Ammerman said he recently retired from the FBI office in Covington, Kentucky, and was contemplating writing a “non-fiction book that would have to be cleared through FBI channels.” He declined further comment.

“It is not wise for me to discuss these matters as I am bound by [nondisclosure agreements],” he said.

The handling of al-Awlaki by the FBI has never been fully explained.

As for Bush and Bukowski, they still wonder why they were left in the dark while carrying out the most important investigation of their careers. Not only have they since learned the FBI had crystal clear images of al-Awlaki that would have made Rababah’s identification even more conclusive, they now know the FBI surveilled the cleric as he consorted with prostitutes and as he attended a Department of Defense luncheon at the still damaged Pentagon during a Muslim outreach event in February 2002.

FBI surveillance footage of Anwar al-Awlaki in Virginia on Feb. 5, 2002. (Judicial Watch)

“Knowing Awlaki’s involvement with the hijackers and their support network, it would logically seem to me more important to understand, disrupt, and hold accountable the people involved that perpetrated the largest terrorist attack and murder on U.S. soil instead of assisting in an investigation that he didn’t have a connection with,” Bush said.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Ten years and 19 days after 9/11, the 6-foot-1, 135-pound al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a U.S. Hellfire missile launched from a drone. In the intervening decade, he had emerged as one of the world’s most wanted men and most feared terrorists. Bush and Bukowski don’t mourn al-Awlaki, but they wish they had been the ones to bring him to justice.

“Why did we not have probable cause to arrest Awlaki,” Bukowski recently wondered, “but we had probable cause to drone him?”

Washington Examiner Videos

Tags: NewsFBIDepartment of JusticeTerrorism9/11September 11 Terrorist AttacksAnwar al Awlaki

Original Author: Pamela K. Browne

Original Location: FBI incompetence let Anwar al Awlaki slip away, say retired investigators

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The Global War on Chechnya: What Does 9/11 Teach Us About Counterterrorism Cooperation With Russia?

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The Orthodox Church’s top patriarch will visit the United States this week.

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The spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians brings an agenda spanning religious, political and environmental issues to a 12-day U.S. visit beginning Saturday that includes a meeting with President Joe Biden and various ceremonial and interfaith gatherings.

Making the latest of several trips to the country during his 30 years in office, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is expected to address concerns ranging from a pending restructuring of the American church to his church’s status in his homeland, Turkey.

Bartholomew’s title, patriarch of Constantinople, reflects the ancient imperial name of the city now known as Istanbul in a country where Orthodox Christians, who are mostly ethnically Greek, are a small minority.

Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said the patriarch is expected to renew calls for the reopening of a school of theology closed by the Turkish government 50 years ago.

“Religious freedom in Turkey is vital for the ecumenical patriarchate in Turkey,” Elpidophoros said.

Bartholomew will receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 28 in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy.

Repairing that breach has “been a longstanding commitment of the patriarch,” said the Rev. Alexis Torrance, a professor of Byzantine theology at Notre Dame and an Orthodox priest.

The gathering will also include a talk on environmental stewardship, underscoring Bartholomew’s reputation as the “green patriarch.”

The patriarch is considered first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope.

Just as his influence is limited in Turkey, it is also limited in the Eastern Orthodox communion, rooted in Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a worldwide diaspora. Large portions of the communion are in national churches that are independently governed, with the ecumenical patriarch having only symbolic prominence, though he does directly oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions.

The Russian Orthodox Church, with about 100 million adherents, has in particular asserted its independence and influence and rejected Bartholomew’s 2019 recognition of the independence of Orthodox churches in Ukraine, where Moscow’s patriarch still claims sovereignty.

For an ecumenical patriarch with primarily soft-power tools such as diplomacy at his disposal, the high profile of the U.S. visit has symbolic value for Bartholomew, said Andrew Walsh, associate director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Connecticut.

It will “demonstrate that he’s a respected leader,” said Walsh, a layman who has long written about contemporary issues in Orthodoxy. “It is useful and desirable for him to show that presidents of the United States will talk with him.”

Bartholomew is set to meet with Biden and other top U.S. officials in the coming days, though exact times have not been announced.

Bartholomew will also hold a ceremonial door-opening at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City, built to replace a parish church destroyed during the 9/11 attacks, and to memorialize those killed at the nearby World Trade Center.

Bartholomew will meet, too, with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and various other Orthodox leaders.

Last year his office suspended the Greek Orthodox archdiocese’s governing charter, and discussions are expected to yield a new one by 2022, according to Elpidophoros.

“What Greek (Orthodox) are waiting for is what he says about the charter” during the visit, Walsh said, particularly on the patriarch’s vision for how much authority will be centralized or decentralized in the American church.

The American Jewish Committee is recognizing Bartholomew with its Human Dignity Award for his environmental and interfaith work.

“He is not only the ‘green patriarch,’ but also he’s the patriarch of promoting dialogue,” Elpidophoros said.

A 2017 Pew Research Center report found that there were about 200 million Eastern Orthodox worldwide. It reported about 1.8 million Orthodox in the United States, with nearly half of those Greek Orthodox.

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NATO Agrees On Plan To Caution Russia Against Increasing Hostilities

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Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The Epoch Times,

NATO agreed on a new master plan on Thursday to deter Russian advances on multiple fronts amidst a new low in the relationship following the ouster of NATO-accredited Moscow envoys and reduction in the number of Russian positions within the alliance.

The confidential strategy, Concept for Deterrence and Defence in the Euro-Atlantic Area, aims to prepare NATO members for attacks from the Baltic and Black Sea regions. The plan has incorporated measures for nuclear, space, and cyber attacks. As for cyber warfare, the meeting concluded with $1 billion in seed funding for developing digital technologies.

“We continue to strengthen our alliance with better and modernised plans,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said following the Thursday meeting.

The defense ministers are in Brussels for the two-day event before the NATO summit next June.

NATO diplomats say such measures do not imply that there is an upcoming Russian attack.

“This is the way of deterrence,” German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said of the master plan, according to Reuters.

And this is being adapted to the current behaviour of Russia – and we are seeing violations particularly of the airspace over the Baltic states, but also increasing incursions over the Black Sea,” she told German radio Deutschlandfunk.

Even as Moscow complains about NATO destabilizing Europe through such initiatives, Russia has been holding military drills and amassing almost 100,000 troops near Ukraine borders, sending military aircraft that intrudes into NATO airspace, and developing nuclear-capable missiles.

Alongside ally Belarus, Russia has deployed combat robots in extensive military drills in September that have not gone well with the Baltic countries.

Russia is also developing “super weapons,” including nuclear-capable hypersonic cruise missiles that the United States has no defense against, reported rfe/rl.

The relationship with NATO had soured after Russian forces annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula back in 2014.

Earlier in the month, NATO expelled eight Russian envoys who were suspected to be intelligence officers. This was combined with halving of the number of seats from 20 to 10 given to Moscow in Brussels headquarters “in response to suspected malign Russian activities, including killings and espionage,” a NATO official said, Sky News reported. In retaliation, Moscow announced that its mission to NATO would be ending.

The assumption up until now has been that Russia is a nuisance but not an imminent threat. But the Russians are doing some worrying things. They’re practising with robotics, and hypersonic cruise missiles could be very disruptive indeed,” Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official, said to Reuters.

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Russia’s Putin hosts Israeli PM Bennett

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope on Friday that new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would continue in the footsteps of his predecessor in maintaining close and “trusting” relations with his country.

Welcoming Bennett at the start of their first meeting in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin hailed Russian-Israeli ties as “unique,” saying that “our dialogue, our relations rely on a very deep connection between our peoples.”

Putin kept close personal ties with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly visited Russia. On Friday, Putin pointed to Russia’s “business-like and trusting relationship” with Netanyahu’s government and expressed hope that Bennett’s government would pursue a “policy of continuity” in Russian-Israeli ties.

Bennett extolled the contribution made by his country’s 1 million Russian speakers and emphasized “the deep connection between the two countries,” praising Putin for bringing them closer during his 20-year rule.

“I can tell you on behalf of the citizens of Israel that we consider you a true friend of the Jewish people,” Bennett said.

Bennett hailed the Soviet role in defeating the Nazis in World War II and talked about a new museum in Israel that honors Jewish soldiers who fought in allied armies, primarily the Red Army. The remark likely resonated with Putin who cherishes his country’s decisive contribution to victory in that war.

Russia and Israel have developed close political, economic and cultural ties that have helped the two countries tackle delicate and divisive issues, such as the situation in Syria where Moscow has teamed up with Tehran to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule.

“We will also talk about the situation in Syria, and the efforts to halt the Iranian military nuclear program,” Bennett said at the start of his talks with Putin.

Putin said that Russia has been “making efforts to help restore Syria’s statehood and to strengthen it.” He noted that despite some problems regarding the situation in Syria, “there is also common ground and opportunities for cooperation, especially in terms of the fight against terrorism.”

Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck what it says are Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanese Hezbollah. The Iran-backed militant group has fought alongside Syrian government forces in the country’s civil war.

Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria since 2015, helping Assad’s government reclaim control over most of the country. Moscow also has helped modernize Syria’s military, including providing Assad with air defense systems, and trained its personnel.

Russia and Israel established a military hotline to coordinate air force operations over Syria to avoid clashes. Israel often attacks Iranian-linked targets in Syria, while Russia has provided support to the Syrian government.

In 2018, Russia-Israeli ties were severely tested by the downing of a Russian warplane by Syrian forces that responded to an Israeli air raid and mistook a Russian reconnaissance plane for Israeli jets. All 15 members of the Russian crew died.

Moscow also has played a delicate diplomatic game of maintaining friendly ties with both Israel and Iran. In 2018, Moscow struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters away from the Golan Heights to accommodate Israeli concerns about the Iranian presence in Syria.

Russia is one of the international parties that negotiated a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The deal fell apart after then-President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. But the new U.S. administration is now trying to revive the deal with other international powers — a step that Israel opposes.

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Jack Jeffery contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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