How DHS Ineptitude Facilitates Terrorist Operations

A chilling case-in-point from Ohio.

On April 16, 2015 Fox News posted an Associated Press report, “Ohio man accused of traveling to Syria, plotting terror act.”

My focus today will be on the way that the alleged terrorist was provided with United States citizenship and consequently, a United States passport. The adjudications process failed to uncover material facts that would have barred the individual, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, from becoming a naturalized citizen and hence receive that highly valuable United States passport.

The immigration component of this story and similar stories, has been largely ignored by the media, although the issue about his having immigrated to the United States from Somalia and then becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen was raised in some news reports.

The complete immigration component of this case is extremely important, as you will see – indeed, this element, had it worked as it should have, could have thwarted the ability of this alleged terrorist to have traveled to Syria to join his brother who was killed in combat while fighting on the side of terrorists. This is why I frequently make the point that our borders and our immigration laws are our first and last line of defense against international terrorists and transnational criminals.

While the Fox News headline simply identified Mohamud as being an “Ohio man” the body of the article did provide solid information about his country of birth and his having become a naturalized citizen, unlike many other news reports that were content to simply describe the alleged terrorist as simply being “An Ohio Man.”

Here is how the Fox News news report began:

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio man traveled to Syria and trained alongside terrorists, then returned to the U.S. with plans to attack a military base or a prison, according to a federal indictment announced Thursday.

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, a U.S. citizen originally from Somalia, wanted to “kill three or four American soldiers execution style,” according to the indictment. Attacking the prison was part of a backup plan if that didn’t work, the charges said.

The indictment also says Mohamud’s brother, Abdifatah Aden, fought with Jabhat al-Nusrah, a State Department-designated terrorist group, until he was killed in battle in Syria in June 2014.

Mohamud, 23, of Columbus was charged with supporting terrorism, supporting the same terrorist group and making a false statement involving international terrorism when he allegedly lied to an Ohio FBI agent by saying he was in Istanbul when authorities say he was in Syria.

Here is critical bit information contained in the report:

Mohamud became a U.S. citizen in February 2014, according to the government.

The government didn’t say how it learned of the plot, but the indictment mentions two “unnamed” associates of Mohamud in the U.S. to whom he gave information about his activities, including a video of Mohamud carrying an AK-47.

One of them said he believed Mohamud was trying to recruit him to participate in the plot, according to the indictment. The government also said Mohamud made terrorism-related Facebook posts in 2013.

An April 16, 2015 New York Post article. “ISIS-trained Ohio man was ordered to attack US: feds” pinned down the nexus between Mohamud becoming a United States citizen and his departure for the Middle East in these paragraphs:

An Ohio man who left the US a year ago to train with Islamic State jihadists was nabbed by the feds Thursday for allegedly plotting to unleash terror in the country, authorities said.

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, 23, of Columbus, left in April 2014 — two months after becoming a naturalized citizen —to train and fight with the extremists in Syria, the Justice Department said, ABC News reported.

Islamic State wannabe Mohamud — who has posted the group’s propaganda online — was charged with providing material support to al Nusrah, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, according to the feds.

The jihadists trained him in shooting, home break-ins, explosives and hand-to-hand combat, authorities said. He was then ordered to return to the US and commit a terror act, an indictment said.

He returned in June 2014.

A review of his indictment will dispel any doubts (should any exist) as to whether or not Mohamud made acquiring United States citizenship and a U.S. passport an integral part of his plans, you need to review in which it is alleged that he had communicated with his brother Aden who asked him how his “papers” were coming along. He responded by saying that, having obtained his U.S. citizenship, he was waiting to receive his U.S. passport before traveling to meet Aden. The indictment states that Aden was killed in combat in Syria in June 2014.

When disclosures were made about the NSA spying on Americans the argument was made that this was done to protect our citizens and our nation. I am cautiously supportive of appropriate measures, within reason, being taken to protect us, however, for the NSA to scrutinize U.S. citizens, yet apparently failing to uncover the postings of the alleged terrorist in this case, raises many serious questions.

If the NSA did have this information, was it shared with the DHS?

The indictment states that Mohamud was posting material online about his desire to carry out terror attacks in 2013. How did USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), an agency that is under the aegis of the DHS, conduct its investigation into his application to become a naturalized American citizen at least six months later and then approve that application?

Back when I was an INS Special Agent, applications for naturalization required that a GMC (Good Moral Conduct) investigation was conducted to determine that the alien not only had no criminal convictions but also met other, more stringent standards. Today our government makes a big deal about running fingerprints to verify criminal histories.

A critical question is whether or not any GMC field investigations are still being conducted by USCIS. Indeed, how are applications for citizenship vetted? The likelihood is that there are no such field investigations being conducted. Even without knowing about the FaceBook postings noted in the indictment, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that individuals who know Mohamud would have potentially raised some questions about his hostility to the United States.

Let’s in fact consider the obvious in this specific case: Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud immigrated to the United States from Somalia, a country that has a strong association with terrorist organizations. In point of fact, there have been a succession of reports of young members of the Somali community, from Minnesota and elsewhere, abruptly leaving the United States to join terror groups in the Middle East. At the time he applied for naturalization Mohamud was in his early twenties, an age often shared by terrorists. USCIS adjudicates hundreds of thousands of applications for naturalization each and every year and consequently there is an abject lack of resources available to thoroughly screen each application.

However given the ongoing concerns about terrorism, it would certainly seem that applications filed by those who may be prone to involvement with terrorism should come under extra scrutiny including an actual field investigation.

There is ample justification for such investigation. The USCIS Policy Manual, contains specific guidelines about how the naturalization process is to be conducted. The obvious question hopefully that will be asked at a hearing that should be conducted by Congress is whether or not USCIS is meeting these standards. The consequences can, as we have seen, be of grave significance.

This is the relevant material concerning the naturalization process found on the USCIS website.

One of the requirements for naturalization is good moral character (GMC). An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been, and continues to be, a person of good moral character. In general, the applicant must show GMC during the five-year period immediately preceding his or her application for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. Conduct prior to the five-year period may also impact whether the applicant meets the requirement. [2]

​It is more than difficult to believe that the defendant in this case would have passed “muster” if a proper field investigation had been conducted.

The final additional question that has not been considered in the media is why was Mohamud not charged with committing fraud in his application for United States citizenship? Part 11 of the Application For Naturalization (Form N-400) that he had to fill out and submit contains a list of questions that ask about whether or not the applicant had ever been arrested, been involved with any foreign organizations and then goes on to questions that relate specifically to any involvements with terrorist organizations.

This is an important issue because if Mohamud was to be successfully prosecuted for lying on his application for naturalization, thereby committing fraud, he could, upon conviction, be stripped of his United States citizenship and deported from the United States. If this action is not taken, he will retain his United States citizenship and be able to remain in the United States as long as he lives, even after he serves his prison sentence, presuming he is convicted for the violations of law with which he is charged.

We have seen other immigrants from Middle Eastern countries acquire United States citizenship as a means of embedding themselves in the United States and also as a means of obtaining U.S. passports. U.S. passports are considered among the best for international travel because they raise far fewer concerns when these individuals travel across international borders than would the passports from their countries of birth, especially when those countries are known to be heavily involved with terrorism.

Mr. Mohamud was not unique in his desire to obtain U.S. citizenship to enable him to then receive a United States passport. This tactic has been used by a number of terrorists seeking to faciliatate their travel around the world as they go about their deadly preparations.

This statement is contained in Chapter 12 of the 911 Commission Report:

_For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points._In their travels, terrorists use evasive methods, such as altered and counterfeit passports and visas, specific travel methods and routes, liaisons with corrupt government officials, human smuggling networks, supportive travel agencies, and immigration and identity fraud. These can sometimes be detected.

That chapter of the 911 Commission Report also contained the following statement:

All but one of the 911 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities.

The significance of that assessment of the 911 Commission caused me to cite that statement in my article for my March 9, 2015 article for the Daily Caller, “Congress Has Fully Funded The DHS — America’s Biggest Document Mill.”

Examples of those problematic countries include, among others, Somalia, Yemen or, as was the case with the so-called “Times Square Bomber” Faisal Shahzad, Pakistan. (Shahzad became a naturalized United States citizen in April 2009, slightly more than one year before he attempted to kill large numbers of passersby in Times Square by setting off a bomb concealed in his Nissan Pathfinder SUV that was parked at the “Cross-Roads of the World” on May 1, 2010.)

The Washington Post article that focused on the case of Shahzad, “Pakistan native arrested in Times Square bomb case” reported on Shahzad’s arrest, on May 3, 2010 at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board an airliner heading to Dubai. The fact that he boarded that airliner just two days after his thankfully unsuccessful attempt to carry out a mass-casualty terror attack, in what is arguably the most famous intersection of all of the United States, made it clear that his goal of obtaining a United States passport constituted a critical component of his planned “exit strategy.”

My recent article for Progressives For Immigration Reform, entitled “The Immigration Factor –Naturalized U.S. Citizen Added to FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List” was predicated on the January 29, 2015 FBI press release entitled, “Naturalized U.S. Citizen Born in Somalia Added to FBI List.”

Here are three brief paragraphs from that FBI press release:

Liban Haji Mohamed, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Somalia, has been named to the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and a reward of up to $50,000 is being offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mohamed is charged with providing material support and resources to al Qaeda and al Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist organization.

Traveling with his U.S. passport, Mohamed is thought to have left the United States on or about July 5, 2012. Before his departure, the 29-year-old lived in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. where he worked as a cab driver.

It is important for us to locate Mohamed because he has knowledge of the Washington, D.C. area’s infrastructure such as shopping areas, Metro, airports, and government buildings. This makes him an asset to his terrorist associates who might plot attacks on U.S. soil.

The last paragraph is particularly chilling. This alleged terrorist lived in the United States for many years, driving countless people around our nation’s Capitol while possibly engaging in seemingly pleasant banter- with his passenger all the while planning to join a terror organization determined to kill as many Americans as possible. At the same time, his many years behind the wheel of that cab providing him with an intricate familiarity and understanding of the layout of the Capitol of the United States of America- his ultimate target.

This goes to the rhetorical question worth asking and answering, yet again. That question is, “What does a terrorist do the day before he/she participates in a savage terrorist attack?” The answer is that the terrorist goes to his/her job, hiding in plain sight while awaiting that phone call, text message or tap on the shoulder notifying our enemy to carry out a violent, deadly attack. I have also often noted that the best possible job for a terrorist involves driving some sort of commercial vehicle to provide mobility and camouflage. Indeed, a cab driver could easily conduct clandestine meetings with his cohorts by simply driving them from one location to another. A surveillance team woule be hard-pressed to know if the passenger was a passenger or a confederate exchanging information or instructions to one another.

I have continually recommended that we must, at every opportunity question our elected representatives, especially members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as candidates for the United States Presidency, why they don’t make the findings and recommendations of the 911 Commission the starting point for any discussion about immigration enforcement.

I will end my commentary with these paragraphs, found at the end of Chapter 12 of the 911 Commission Report. Think of them as intellectual ammunition in our battle to make politicians accountable. I strongly suggest that you use this in pinning our political leaders down – even when they make this endeavor as difficult as attempting to nail Jello to the wall!

When politicians falsely claim that immigration has nothing to do with terrorism- these paragraphs provide clear evidence that you are being lied to.

The best weapon we have is incontrovertible information to prove to the politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

Please use these paragraphs frequently and effectively at town hall meetings and other opportunities that present themselves. John Adams was correct, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Before 911, no agency of the U.S. government systematically analyzed terrorists’ travel strategies. Had they done so, they could have discovered the ways in which the terrorist predecessors to al Qaeda had been systematically but detectably exploiting weaknesses in our border security since the early 1990s.

We found that as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers were potentially vulnerable to interception by border authorities. Analyzing their characteristic travel documents and travel patterns could have allowed authorities to intercept 4 to 15 hijackers and more effective use of information available in U.S. government databases could have identified up to 3 hijackers.32

Looking back, we can also see that the routine operations of our immigration laws-that is, aspects of those laws not specifically aimed at protecting against terrorism-inevitably shaped al Qaeda’s planning and opportunities. Because they were deemed not to be bona fide tourists or students as they claimed, five conspirators that we know of tried to get visas and failed, and one was denied entry by an inspector. We also found that had the immigration system set a higher bar for determining whether individuals are who or what they claim to be-and ensuring routine consequences for violations-it could potentially have excluded, removed, or come into further contact with several hijackers who did not appear to meet the terms for admitting short-term visitors.33

Our investigation showed that two systemic weaknesses came together in our border system’s inability to contribute to an effective defense against the 911 attacks: a lack of well-developed counterterrorism measures as a part of border security and an immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism. These weaknesses have been reduced but are far from being overcome.

Recommendation: Targeting travel is at least as powerful a weapon against terrorists as targeting their money. The United States should combine terrorist travel intelligence, operations, and law enforcement in a strategy to intercept terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators, and constrain terrorist mobility.