Feds: Coast Guard lieutenant compiled hit list of lawmakers
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Thursday, February 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Coast Guard lieutenant who was arrested last week is a “domestic terrorist” who drafted an email discussing biological attacks and had what appeared to be a hit list that included prominent Democrats and media figures, prosecutors said in court papers.
Christopher Paul Hasson is due to appear Thursday in federal court in Maryland after his arrest on gun and drug offenses, but prosecutors say those charges are the “proverbial tip of the iceberg.”
“The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Hasson, who works at the Coast Guard’s headquarters in Washington, has espoused extremist views for years, according to prosecutors. Court papers detail a June 2017 draft email in which Hasson wrote that he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” and pondering how he might be able to acquire anthrax and toxins to create botulism or a deadly influenza.
In the same email, Hasson described an “interesting idea” that included “biological attacks followed by attack on food supply” as well as a bombing and sniper attacks, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.
In September 2017, Hasson sent himself a draft letter that he had written to a neo-Nazi leader and “identified himself as a White Nationalist for over 30 years and advocated for ‘focused violence’ in order to establish a white homeland,” prosecutors wrote.
Hasson routinely read portions of a manifesto written by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik that prosecutors said instructs would-be assailants to collect firearms, food, disguises and survival tools, court papers said. Breivik, a right-wing extremist, is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage.
Hasson also expressed admiration for Russia. “Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes or any land that despises the west’s liberalism,” he wrote in the draft email. Prosecutors say during the past two years he had regularly searched online for pro-Russian as well as neo-Nazi literature.
Prosecutors allege that Hasson visited thousands of websites that sold guns and researched military tactical manuals on improvised munitions.
Federal agents found 15 firearms — including several rifles — and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside Hasson’s basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. They also found a container with more than 30 bottles that were labeled as human growth hormone, court papers said.
Prosecutors wrote that Hasson “began the process of targeting specific victims,” including several prominent Democrats in Congress and 2020 presidential candidates. In February 2018, he searched the internet for the “most liberal senators,” as well as searching “do senators have ss (secret service) protection” and “are supreme court justices protected,” according to the court filing.
Hasson’s list of prominent Democrats included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
The list — created in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet — also included mentions of John Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maxine Waters, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones, according to the court filing.
Hasson appeared to be a chronic user of the opioid painkiller Tramadol and had purchased a flask filled with four ounces of “synthetic urine” online, prosecutors said. Authorities suspect Hasson had purchased fake urine to use in case he was randomly selected for a drug test.
The chief at the federal defender’s office in Maryland — which is representing Hasson — declined to comment on the allegations. The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hasson’s arrest. No one answered the door Wednesday at the home address for Hasson listed in public records.
Hasson’s arrest on Feb. 15 was first noted by Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Muslim group seeks congressional probe on terror watchlist
By MATTHEW BARAKAT
Thursday, February 21
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A Muslim civil rights group called for a congressional investigation Wednesday after its lawsuit revealed that the U.S. government has shared access to parts of its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Congress should look into why the FBI has given such wide access to the list, which CAIR believes is riddled with errors. Broad dissemination of the names makes life more difficult for those who are wrongly included, CAIR says. Many on the list are believed to be Muslim.
“This is a wholesale profiling of a religious minority community,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “To share private information of citizens and non-citizens with corporations is illegal and outrageous.”
The FBI said in a statement Wednesday night that private groups only receive a subset of the terrorist watchlist called the Known or Suspected Terrorist List. It is unclear how significantly that narrows the list from the watchlist, which is formally known as the Terrorist Screening Center Database and includes hundreds of thousands of names.
Gadeir Abbas, lawyer for CAIR, said there is no evidence that the list of Known or Suspected Terrorists, or KST, is in any meaningful way less broad than the overall watchlist. Indeed, the articulated standard for inclusion on the watchlist is a reasonable suspicion of being a known or suspected terrorist.
“The FBI is using the complexity of the list to portray it as less nefarious than it is,” Abbas said.
The FBI statement says that any private agency accessing the list “must comply with agreements to ensure the security and confidentiality of the information. A requestor can only ask for information about a specific individual and cannot access all the data available in the KST File.” Any private entity that comes into a contact with a match from the list is instructed to contact the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center for further instructions, the FBI said.
The council filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the list’s constitutionality and saying those wrongly placed on it routinely face difficulties in travel, financial transactions and their dealings with law enforcement.
In response to the lawsuit, a federal official recently acknowledged in a court filing that more than 1,400 private entities received access to the list.
For years, the government had insisted that it did not generally share the list with private organizations.
A hearing is scheduled in federal court for Friday on CAIR’s request that the government now detail exactly which entities have received access to the names. CAIR also wants to know what private organizations are doing with the watchlist information — whether, for example, it is influencing universities’ admissions decisions or is being used by hospitals to screen would-be visitors.
In depositions and in court hearings, government officials had denied until very recently that the watchlist compiled by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center is shared with private entities. At a hearing in September, government lawyer Dena Roth told U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga that the Terrorist Screening Center “does not work with private partners, and that watchlist status itself … is considered law enforcement sensitive information and is not shared with the public.”
Despite that assurance, the judge ordered the government to be more specific about how it disseminates the watchlist. Trenga said the plaintiffs are entitled to the information to try to prove their case that inclusion on the list causes them to suffer “real world consequences.”
In response to the judge’s order, TSC Deputy Director of Operations Timothy Groh filed a statement earlier this month acknowledging that 1,441 private entities have received permission to access the watchlist.
Groh said those entities must be in some way connected to the criminal justice system. He cited police forces at private universities, hospital security staff and private correctional facilities as examples.
He said private groups are expected to abide by a detailed set of rules designed to ensure the list is used properly. It is not clear what those restrictions are.
The exact number of people on the list is kept secret by the government, but it acknowledged in an earlier lawsuit that it adds hundreds of thousands of names every year. It also emphasized that names are routinely removed.
Faiza Patel, a director at the New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the government’s willingness to share the list with private organizations is problematic because the list has so many people who are wrongly included in the database.
“When you tag someone as a terrorist it can have serious consequences for people,” she said.
US: Alabama woman who joined Islamic State is not a citizen
By MATTHEW LEE and JOSHUA REPLOGLE
WASHINGTON (AP) — An Alabama woman who joined the Islamic State group in Syria won’t be allowed to return to the United States with her toddler son because she is not an American citizen, the U.S. said Wednesday. Her lawyer is challenging that claim.
In a brief statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave no details as to how the administration made their determination.
“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” he said. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport nor any visa to travel to the United States.”
But Hassan Shibly, a lawyer for the woman, insisted Muthana was born in the United States and had a valid passport before she joined the Islamic State in 2014. He says she has renounced the terrorist group and wants to come home to protect her 18-month-old son regardless of the legal consequences.
“She’s an American. Americans break the law,” said Shibly, a lawyer with the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “When people break the law, we have a legal system to handle those kinds of situations to hold people accountable, and that’s all she’s asking for.”
Muthana and her son are now in a refugee camp in Syria, along with others who fled the remnants of the Islamic State.
Shibly said that the administration argues that she didn’t qualify for citizenship because her father was a Yemeni diplomat. But the lawyer said her father had not had diplomatic status at the time of her birth in Hackensack, New Jersey.
He released a copy of the woman’s birth certificate, issued two months after her birth on Oct. 28, 1994, to support his claim.
The lawyer also provided to The Associated Press a letter from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to what was then known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services attesting to the fact that the woman’s father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, was a member of the Yemeni diplomatic mission to the U.N. from Oct. 15, 1990 to Sept. 1, 1994.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday on Twitter that he was behind the decision to deny her entry, tweeting that “I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!”
The announcement came a day after Britain said that it was stripping the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old who left the country in 2015 with two friends to join the Islamic State and recently gave birth in a refugee camp.
It also comes as the U.S. has urged allies to back citizens who joined IS but are now in the custody of the American-backed forces fighting the remnants of the brutally extremist group that once controlled a vast area spanning parts of Syria and Iraq.
Muthana’s lawyer said she was “just a stupid, naive, young dumb woman,” when she became enamored of Islamic State, believing it was an organization that protected Muslims.
Shibly said she fled her family in Alabama and made her way to Syria, where she was “brainwashed” by IS and compelled to marry one of the group’s soldiers. After he was killed, she married another, the father of her son.
After her second husband was also killed she married a third IS fighter but she “became disenchanted with the marriage,” and decided to escape, the lawyer said.
Shibly, based in Tampa, Florida, said he intends to file a legal challenge to the government’s decision to deny her entry to the country.
Muthana’s status had been considered by lawyers from the departments of State and Justice since her case arose, according to one U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official would not elaborate but said Pompeo’s statement was based on the lawyers’ conclusions.
The State Department declined to disclose details about her father or Muthana’s case, citing privacy law.
Most people born in the United States are accorded so-called birthright citizenship, but there are exceptions. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a person born in the U.S. to an accredited foreign diplomatic officer is not subject to U.S. law and is not automatically considered a U.S. citizen at birth.
However, Muthana’s case is unusual, if not unprecedented in that she once held a U.S. passport. Passports are only issued to citizens by birth or naturalization, according to Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who has studied the phenomenon of foreign Islamic State fighters and families.
Hughes said the decision is also unusual because it comes just days after the Trump administration urged European nations to repatriate extremists from Syria as the Islamic State nears collapse.
“If you are trying to make the case that others should take back their people, it stands to reason that you would do that, too,” he said.
Muthana, who says she dodged sniper fire and roadside bombs to escape, is ready to pay the penalty for her actions but wants freedom and safety for the son, her lawyer said.
In a letter released by Shibly, Muthana wrote that she made “a big mistake” by rejecting her family and friends in the United States to join the Islamic State.
“During my years in Syria I would see and experience a way of life and the terrible effects of war which changed me,” she wrote.
“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly.”
Shibly said Muthana was brainwashed online before she left Alabama and now could have valuable intelligence for U.S. forces, but he said the FBI didn’t seem interested in retrieving her from the refugee camp where she is living with her son.
Muthana’s father would welcome the woman back, Shibly said, but she is not on speaking terms with her mother.
Ashfaq Taufique, who knows Muthana’s family and is president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said the woman could be a valuable resource for teaching young people about the dangers of online radicalization were she allowed to return to the United States.
“Her coming back could be a very positive thing for our community and our country,” Taufique said.
Replogle reported from Tampa, Florida. Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.
Ex-diplomat says North Korean leader won’t give up nukes
Tuesday, February 19
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A former North Korean diplomat says leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons and sees his upcoming second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump as a chance to cement his country’s status as a nuclear weapons state.
Thae Yong Ho, who defected to South Korea in 2016, said in a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday that next week’s meeting in Vietnam will be a failure if Trump can’t get Kim to declare he will abandon all of his nuclear facilities and weapons and return North Korea to the nuclear non-proliferation agreement.
Thae worked as a minster at the North Korean Embassy in London before fleeing to South Korea. He is the highest-level North Korean diplomat to defect to the South.
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
If you can’t humble yourself to consider the feelings of those you’ve harmed, you can’t remain in office.
By Tracey L. Rogers | February 20, 2019
In the 400th year since chattel slavery began in the colony of Virginia in 1619, the Commonwealth has been under severe duress, with its heads of state embroiled in controversies descended from the colony’s founding sin.
For weeks, Democrats and Republicans statewide — and nationwide — have called for the resignations of Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, for the racist act of wearing blackface as young adults (a claim Northam denied after initially admitting to being in a photo that surfaced weeks ago).
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax also drew demands for resignation, after sexual assault and rape allegations were brought against him by two different women. (Fairfax denies the allegations.)
Virginia constituents (including myself) have been vocal in the debate over whether the men should step down. Complicating matters, next-in-line GOP House Leader Kirk Vox would take office if all three stepped down, restoring Republican control of the state after the party lost badly in the last elections.
The firestorm in Richmond has since calmed. Out of fear of being branded a “racist for life,” Northam announced a “Racial Reconciliation Tour” as a way to save face and remain governor.
In a recent poll, 58 percent of Black voters believed Northam shouldn’t step down, as they considered a worse fate for marginalized communities if he resigned. Meanwhile, a Virginia delegate that threatened articles of impeachment against Fairfax has walked back his plans (even as Fairfax’s accusers have criticized lawmakers for failing to act on their behalf).
Where this leaves the Commonwealth is up in the air; it seems no one is stepping down. But it leads one to wonder why delegates threatened to impeach Fairfax and not Northam.
Are acts of sexual violence worse than posing in photos that mock the racial terror suffered by Black Virginians? Will a “Toxic-Masculinity Reconciliation Tour” also be announced?
The answer, of course, is that one act is no more atrocious than the other. This isn’t a game of Oppression Olympics, where those in power decide which marginalized group deserves to be avenged.
We must hold all elected officials to a standard of accountability that affirms all people. And those directly affected by the scandals that rocked Virginia — particularly Black people and women — should be the ones to determine the fate of their elected leaders.
In an activist listening session alongside other women activists of color, I gave my opinion that it was time for a new precedent in government — a standard that would change the scope of politics in Virginia and throughout the country. A precedent that holds politicians to a standard set by current social change movements.
It goes like this: Morally speaking, if you hurt people, and you can’t humble yourself to consider the feelings of those you’ve harmed, you have to step down. Practically speaking, you can’t remain in office after crossing a line that harms the majority of your base.
This was the kind of precedent that saw prominent former Senator Al Franken (D-MN) resign for sexual misconduct in the era of “Me Too.” But it’s not just about resignations — this standard also enabled the most diverse House of Representatives ever to be sworn into office this year, a true reflection of the melting pot that is the United States of America.
Of the top three officials, Mark Herring was the only one to humbly admit guilt and offer a confession. “Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process,” he said, “one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directly affected by the transgressor.”
I believe Herring gets it. But Northam and Fairfax?
As a black woman and Virginia resident, I believe they should resign. Forgiveness may be possible, but remaining in office only compounds wounds rooted in this country’s unforgivable past.
Tracey L. Rogers is an entrepreneur and activist living in Northern Virginia. Distributed by OtherWords.org.