By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
But Monteilh insists that such evidence does exist because he recorded Niazi and other Muslims—none of whom has been arrested nearly two years later—discussing a plot to blow up buildings in Orange County. “We talked about sites, places that were going to be targets: OC malls, Fashion Island, South Coast Plaza, the Spectrum, and the Superior Court and federal court buildings in OC,” he says. “Abandoned buildings in LA and military installations, including recruitment sites.”
It was at about this time that Monteilh typed up the surveillance report in which he claimed to have seen a group of young Middle Eastern-looking men carrying several barrels into the back door of a mosque in Tustin. After his handlers argued over whether he had made up the incident to justify the money they were paying him for three weeks, Monteilh says, the FBI finally sent a radiological team to snoop inside the mosque, using a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which allows agents to search homes or buildings without their owners’ permission or knowledge. The results of the radiation tests, he says, were inconclusive. While there’s no evidence other than Monteilh’s word that the barrels ever existed or that the FBI took his claim seriously, the FBI has acknowledged, in response to a 2005 U.S. News & World Report story, that since 9/11, it has conducted radiation tests at mosques in the United States.
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The FBI’s surveillance of Orange County Muslims hit a snag on May 14, 2007, when an agent who was trailing a member of the Muslim Student Union at UCI nearly ran over his target with his car after the student, who realized he was being watched, tried to take the agent’s picture. Monteilh says he learned of the incident through one of his handlers, who called him with the news and warned him that mosque officials would likely become suspicious of any recent converts. “I got a phone call saying they are suspicious of [me] because of what happened,” he says, adding that the agent told him that several mosque officials had discussed him at the Islamic Center. “Our youth are being openly surveilled,” one allegedly fumed. “What about that guy Farouk? How well do you really know him?”
In Monteilh’s telling, the UC Irvine incident led to his cover being blown, thus short-circuiting his spy operation. Assuming that Monteilh isn’t fabricating the conversation he says took place, the only way the FBI would know this dialogue had happened would be if the bureau wiretapped the center. Asked if that were the case, Monteilh nodded. “I don’t know,” he said. Asked if he had bugged the office himself, he nodded again. “You know, I really don’t know.”
But there is another explanation of how Monteilh was exposed. In early June 2007, Niazi and another member of the Irvine mosque told Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Southern California chapter, that they were riding to a mosque in Culver City with Monteilh when he began espousing jihad, saying he wanted to blow up buildings. “At that point, Niazi and the driver of the car realized the guy has gone crazy or is about to do something,” Ayloush says. “They were worried this guy was going to do something and they would be considered accomplices since they knew him.”
Ayloush, who’d been working with the FBI since 9/11, immediately called Tidwell, the official who a year earlier had promised the crowd at the Irvine mosque that the bureau would never spy on mosques. “I am calling to report a possible terrorist,” Ayloush told the assistant director. “He is a white convert in Irvine.” As soon as Ayloush uttered those words, he says Tidwell cut him off. “Okay,” he reportedly replied. “Thanks for letting us know.”
Ayloush offered to provide the FBI with the man’s name and address, but, he says, Tidwell told him to give the information to the Irvine P.D., which he promptly did. “Neither the FBI nor the Irvine P.D. ever bothered to talk to the guy after he was reported,” Ayloush says.
When the Irvine mosque sought and obtained a restraining order against him, Monteilh began sending angry e-mails to Niazi, Ayloush and others, blasting them for being “weak Muslims” and “traitors” for talking to the FBI—a ploy Monteilh says he used to try to maintain his cover.
In June 2008, Ayloush says, Niazi came to CAIR’s office in Anaheim and complained that the FBI had accused him of perjury when he testified for the restraining order against Monteilh and threatened to send him to prison for years if he refused to become an informant. Among other things, he says, the FBI confronted Niazi with their knowledge that his sister was married to Amin Al Haq, an Afghan mujahedin leader who went on to become involved with a militant Taliban faction allied with al-Qaeda, a fact that Niazi had failed to mention in his immigration paperwork. Niazi told Ayloush that he couldn’t pick his in-laws and he did not wish become an informant. “He started crying,” Ayloush recalls. “He said, ‘I don’t want anything to happen to me. I came to America thinking this was a free country and I’d be treated with dignity and humanity.’”