A Thursday article on the Time Magazine website reveals new perspective on the FBI's handling of Lubbock terror suspect Khalid Aldawsari, 21. Reporter Barton Gellman was allowed to shadow FBI Director Bob Mueller on February 17th, just days before Aldawsari's arrest on February 24th.
While Mueller's career and his efforts to revamp the FBI are the focus of the article, Gellman got a first-hand look at the FBI's planning on the Aldawsari case before he was arrested.
Aldawsari currently stands indicted in Lubbock federal court on a single charge of Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Court records say his intended targets included nuclear power plants, hydro-dams, and the home of former President George W. Bush. Court records say Aldawsari came to the United States specifically to commit one or more acts of terrorism. He studied chemical engineering at Texas Tech until December 2010 when he transferred to South Plains College.
Aldawsari Went Unnoticed Again And Again
The Time article reveals, "Aldawsari … dodged a student-visa review after flunking out of Texas Tech."
Time puts something into sharp focus that had already been reported but not emphasized; Court records say Aldawsari purchased sulfuric acid from Amazon.com and nitric acid from QualiChem Technologies without anyone contacting the FBI.
According to court records, only on February 1st when Aldawsari purchased phenol for his chemical bomb, did Carolina Biological Supply contact the FBI at roughly the same time that Con-Way Freight contacted Lubbock Police.
Had Aldawsari gone unnoticed for the third and final ingredient for his chemical bomb, the Time article indicates the FBI would not have known about him.
Don't Move In Too Soon
The Time article also puts the FBI's behavior into context. The FBI did not move in to arrest Aldawsari immediately but instead chose to watch him from the first week of February through the day of his arrest.
Gellman writes for Time, "Moving in too soon would tip the FBI's hand, risking the loss of valuable intelligence." Gellman asks rhetorically, "Were there opportunities to trace a network of support — financial, operational or ideological — that might lead to plotters of otherwise unrelated attacks?"
Aldawsari was using three email addresses. Was the FBI dealing with up to three co-conspirators? Court records say Aldawsari was sending notes to himself. The mystery was solved before Aldawsari's arrest.
Under Non-Stop Secret Surveillance
Time reports that, "… President Obama's team heard daily reports about Aldawsari's case…"
Time also reports, "Four shifts of agents watched the Saudi engineering student 24 hours a day. … Agents had slipped secretly into Aldawsari's apartment, armed with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They inventoried his chemicals, cloned his computer drive and copied a journal handwritten in Arabic."
But Time reveals that the FBI surveillance of Aldawsari was not 100% complete.
"In Lubbock, the team that searched Aldawsari's apartment had been interrupted and did not have time to learn whether he had unpacked his chemicals or whether he had the makings for a high explosive that required no phenol."
The FBI Director is quoted as telling his staff, "You're not getting it done. What are you going to do about it?"
On the same day that Time's reporter was able to shadow the FBI director, an FBI "sneak-and-peek squad" got back into Aldawsari's Central Lubbock apartment to find more information.
Aldawsari is scheduled for trial in October. If convicted, he faces a term of any number of years in prison.
(CLICK HERE) for to read Time's cover story about Director Mueller.
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