Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff on what we know about the Fort Dix six.
HH: Joined now by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek Magazine. He’s got a big story up on the web, The Terror Watch: The Jersey Plot. Michael, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, two weeks in a row, glad to have you.
MI: Good to be with you. I enjoy it. I’ve learned you’ve got a lot of listeners out there.
HH: Oh, well good. I hope they were kind to you.
MI: Not all of them, but they were listening.
HH: And they’re buying Hubris, I’m sure, that they went out to buy the book. More on that later. Great story on the Fort Dix six. I listened earlier today, I heard the U.S. Attorney on who said the brothers, the three brothers, were smuggled into the U.S. in 1994. Do we have any details on that yet, Michael Isikoff?
MI: We don’t, actually. That is…I don’t know about smuggled in. I know that some of them had overstayed their visas, but that’s a very good avenue of inquiry. In fact, I was just on the phone with somebody trying to get some more details on exactly the immigration route that they…but certainly, there are people who are going to jump on this and say look, this is a case for cracking down on immigration. But just remember, if you look closely at the FBI affidavit, to me, it looks if anybody was the ringleader of this plot, although they say there was nobody who was a single ringleader, but one of them is this guy, Mohammed Shnewer. He’s the one U.S. citizen in the bunch. He’s of Jordanian extraction, but he was a full-fledged U.S. citizen. So I don’t think we should be too quick to draw conclusions about immigration issues from this case.
HH: Now Michael Isikoff, I do have the complaint in front of me, and it all gets rolling on January 31st, 2006, when the Circuit City clerk, it’s been revealed it’s a Circuit City clerk…
HH: …tipped off the Bureau. What’s this tell you about whether or not Rove is manipulating the investigation?
HH: It certainly would have made a hell of an October surprise, wouldn’t it? Why didn’t we get our October surprise?
MI: Well, because the FBI had to do its job, and they did have to determine exactly what was going on here, did these guys have links to overseas groups, and that’s what they were most intently interested in. I mean, obviously, they penetrated the group fairly quickly, got some informants in there. They had a pretty good fix on what was going on, and what they were doing. But what they didn’t know is, are these guys talking to anybody overseas? Are they in contact, does this hook up with anything? And the answer that they finally came to is no, they weren’t. These were home grown guys who were radicalized by watching jihadi videos downloaded off the internet, and became disaffected right here in this country. And that’s probably the scariest thing about this. It means that there are people who are getting the messages from bin Laden, even when bin Laden isn’t getting operatives into the country.
MI: The messages are coming through.
HH: And I’m only just joking, but it clearly points out the administration does not manipulate the terror investigations for political ends. But I want to go to the…
MI: Well, I don’t know…I don’t want to draw too big conclusions from this.
HH: Well, if they had…
MI: I mean, certainly, everything we know about this case is it was played straight, no reason to suspect any political hanky-panky.
HH: Yeah, if they did do political hanky-panky, they’re pretty bad at it, because this would have been the one you drop off. Michael Isikoff, in terms of, there wasn’t one call into the show yesterday when I was talking about this, that someone said this is because we invaded Iraq. Now I don’t know the answer if they were radicalized by Iraq, but I’ve read through the complaint. I haven’t seen indication that this is other than the internet and al Qaeda working on young disaffected Muslims.
MI: Well, it seems to me you’re trying to draw some political conclusions from this. I don’t know. One of the big unanswered questions here is what turned these guys onto radical Islam?
HH: I agree with that.
MI: What was driving their hatred of America and the military? And look, we don’t know the answer on this. We do know that from other cases, from other intelligence reports, that Iraq is a driver, and you’ll find people in the FBI saying no question about it. It’s one of the sources of it. But that’s not this particular discussion, because we don’t know enough about these guys yet.
HH: Yeah, so my point is, no one can say yet, but it is quite possible that they were radicalized before March of 2003.
MI: It’s quite possible, but you know, they didn’t do anything before March of 2003. They were clearly trying to kill American soldiers after 2003. What’s the big difference? Where are American soldiers today, where they weren’t before March, 2003?
HH: Well, we don’t know. We don’t know that they weren’t doing anything. We just have evidence post…
HH: So we have to be careful about what we assume on both sides. Now Michael Isikoff, as you talk to FBI, and you’ve got lots of sources, how many other cells do they think operate like this one in the United States?
MI: Look, they don’t know. What they know, cases they’ve got going, they know…and there are a lot more than you’d think. Just closely reading the papers, you find that we’ve had terrorism cases being brought over the last couple of years alone in California, in Atlanta, in Chicago, in New York. And the running theme is there is no running theme. They’re disaffected angry Muslims, and very little evidence of them being in touch with people overseas. So all we can say from this is we know we’ve got a lot of angry people in this country who don’t like our values, and don’t like our government. And their hatred is palpable, and they are, some of them are prone to at least talk about doing a great deal of harm. Now the good thing is, because they’re not trained professional terrorist operatives, they make a lot of mistakes, they’re pretty stupid at times. In this case, it clearly was not very good operational security to take a video to a Circuit City store to have it downloaded and turned into a DVD, because the clerk gets to see it, and what happened? The clerk calls the cops, the cops call the FBI.
HH: I’m not sure I would have put that detail out, by the way. But Michael Isikoff, again, I’m a little concerned at the description out there, clearly not in touch with people abroad. While they’re not under the control of people abroad…
MI: I’m sorry.
HH: …they are receiving al Qaeda propaganda and responding to it.
MI: Right. No, no, yes. They are, like all of us, cruising the internet, and picking out what they want to see and what they want to hear, and then listening to the messages. No question about it. What were some of those…you read the complaint. What were some of the videos they had? One was the last will and testament of the 9/11 hijackers.
MI: Another was speeches by Osama bin Laden.
HH: Right. Let me read to you from the Economist this week. The former head of MI5 said there are 1,600 known active militants, up from 250 in 2001, and 100,000 sympathizers in Great Britain alone. Again, talking to your sources, do they put any kind of number on the active militants in the United States of which they are aware, and who they are tracking?
MI: You know, no….which they are tracking? There are numbers, and there are quite a few. I think there are, I don’t have it with me at my fingertips at the moment, but we do know that there’s some estimates of how many sort of active open terrorism investigations, and you know, all over the map. Now how many of them actually lead to anything? We don’t know. I mean, many of them often wash out. Many of them come from tips that turn out to be completely bum steers. And what everyone tells you is, what scares us most, is what we don’t know. And these guys, if it hadn’t been for the Circuit City clerk, they wouldn’t have known about these guys.
HH: Last question, Michael Isikoff. Do you have any sources in the Muslim community who routinely report to you about suspicious activity that concerns them?
MI: No, I don’t, but I’m not in law enforcement. I mean, you know, I wouldn’t want them to come to me, because I’m not a cop, and I’m not involved…I would want them to go to the appropriate authorities if they see something illegal.
HH: But no one routinely calls you up and says you know, I’m worried about this mosque, I’m worried about that imam?
MI: Every now and then, you get calls like that. You get calls about people who are suspicious about various players out in the community, and some of them have been identified publicly, you know, who are associated with radical causes. If often gets pretty controversial, because if they’re out in the open, they very often believe that they are being unfairly targeted, and you have to look at the controversy over CAIR. Remember the Council on American-Islamic Relations out there in California?
MI: Barbara Boxer had to rescind an award she had given to the CAIR representative in Sacramento after somebody called their attention to associations that some CAIR members may have had, and then CAIR, which advertises itself as a mainstream civil rights group, you know, created a big fuss about it. It becomes a very hard thing to pin down at some point.
HH: So is the most interesting thing, in closing up with Michael Isikoff with Newsweek, you can read his report online, of course, he’s co-author of the book Hubris, is the most important thing right now to you how they got into the country?
MI: No, the most important thing to me is what turned these guys onto radical Islam, when did they become radicalized, and why. I want to understand better about that, and right now, we don’t have the answer.
HH: And you’re not…but you are also interested into how they got into the country?
MI: Well, of course. I mean, I’m interested in learning everything about these guys, and that would be one question, but I don’t know that that’s the determined one. As I said, the most important player, it looks to me from reading the complaint, was a U.S. citizen. Not born here, but fully went through the naturalization and citizenship process.
HH: A very interesting investigation, Michael Isikoff. I look forward to checking back with you as you get more facts. Thanks for joining us today.
End of interview.