FBI won, but they’re still fighting
The View from Here (column) by Carl Strock
Schenectady Daily Gazette, published April 1, 2007
I guess I should feel flattered. On Friday afternoon Glenn Suddaby, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of New York; William Pericak, an assistant U.S. attorney; John Pikus, the agent in charge of the Albany FBI office; and Timothy Coll, a special FBI agent, all convened at the Gazette building on Maxon Road in Schenectady for an editorial board meeting for the sole purpose of debunking and exposing ME.
Yes, me. Or more specifically, I should say, debunking and exposing my coverage of the case they mounted against the two Muslim men, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, whom they succeeded in getting convicted and sent to prison for supposedly supporting terrorism.
I don’t know when I have received such attention. Certainly I never got it from Patricia D’Angelis, another prosecutor I have written about, nor from Mike Geraci, another law enforcement person I have favored with my prose.
But here were these distinguished gentlemen, gathered around a conference table up on the second floor of the Gazette, just to focus on the journalistic efforts of me, your humble servant. I admit it turned my head.
Of course what they actually had to say was not all that flattering. They said that my reportage of the Hossain-Aref trial had been twisted, distorted, slanted and incomplete, and that in sum I had been “intellectually dishonest,” which I thought was really hilarious, coming from them. I practically fell out of my chair with it.
I mean, I sat through three weeks of their presentation to a jury, involving more twisting, more distorting, more slanting, and more intellectual dishonesty than I would hope to see in a lifetime—not to mention more old-time Mc-Carthyism and more anti-Muslim fearmongering—and here they were with perfectly straight faces and in full solemnity calling ME intellectually dishonest.
It was a distinction I had dared not hope for, to be so labeled by someone who has no more idea of honesty than to send a low-level cheat in danger of deportation in to offer money and friendship to a struggling pizza-shop owner with a view to getting him to take the money so it could later be portrayed as support for terrorism.
If I had to rely on the FBI and the U.S. attorney for an understanding of honesty, I would have been cashiered from journalism many, many years ago.
Still, I enjoyed it after a fashion. I enjoyed being told that I had driven a wedge between the FBI and the local Muslim community, making the FBI’s work more difficult, as if local Muslims needed me to tell them that the FBI had railroaded those two men. I enjoyed the suggestion that I had such far-reaching influence.
At first I wasn’t sure why they had honored me with their attentions, since the trial is obviously over and they won. I thought, so what if my reportage was unfavorable to them?
But apparently it has been eating at them, and maybe that’s part of the reason. Maybe all doors are now closed to them in the Muslim community, and they would like someone to blame besides themselves. Sort of like Bush enthusiasts blaming the media for the mess in Iraq.
So they came over to Schenectady and endeavored to argue the case all over again, almost retry it, offering the same arguments they offered in the trial, the same selective quotations from secretly recorded conversations, the same snippets from old diaries, the same strained interpretations that had worked with the jury as if I might be more receptive to them the second time than the first.
I half expected them to pull out the same surface-to-air missile they pulled out in the courtroom last October and demonstrate how it is aimed, how it is loaded, how it is triggered and so forth, like they did with the jury.
I would certainly have run for cover then. I could almost see the headline: FBI Annihilates Strock: Agent Claims SAM Misfired.
But let’s be honest, ladies and gentlemen: The sting operation against Hossain and Aref was a way for the local FBI and U.S. attorney to make their bones in the War on Terror, that’s all.
After 9/11 their job became to find terrorists and stop them before they could strike again, and this is what they did. They followed a feeble lead (an address book found in Iraq) back to the imam of an Albany mosque, Yassin Aref, and rather than simply check the guy out, they mounted an elaborate operation to deceive him and a friend of his, Hossain, so they could portray them as terrorists, which those two guys were not, not by any stretch of the imagination. It was to be a feather in their cap: They caught a couple of terrorists.
It worked to the extent that Aref and Hossain are now in prison, but it backfired to the extent that a great many people in the Capital District, including Christians, Jews and infidels, were indignant about the whole thing and rallied to support the men and their wounded families.
It also backfired to the extent that, I guess, Muslims in general will no longer cooperate with them. (I wonder why.)
And it further backfired to the extent that they got some lousy press out of it, including, I’m proud to say, from me.
They did get me on one thing, which I should have owned up to earlier. During jury selection for the Aref-Hossain trial one prospective juror, a former merchant marine who had seen a bit of the world, acknowledged having read a little of the Koran, out of curiosity, and thus stood out from the other candidates, who admitted to no knowledge of Islam whatsoever.
He got disqualified. I assumed that was the prosecution’s doing, and I so implied in this column. (The procedure is such that onlookers can’t tell which side does the disqualifying.)
I later learned it was actually the defense that had nixed him, but as I got caught up in the larger issues of the trial I never got around to rectifying the mistake. I do so now.
Carl Strock can be reached at 395-3085 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org