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Context of 'January 2002: FBI Aborts Investigation into Suspected Al-Qaeda Sleeper Cell in California'

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Khalil Deek.Khalil Deek. [Source: Tawfiq Deek]Khalil Deek is arrested by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, and immediately extradited to Jordan. The Jordanian government requested the arrest after tying Deek to a millennium plot to blow up hotels in Jordan that had been broken up a few days ago (see November 30, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek is a naturalized US citizen who has been part of a California al-Qaeda sleeper cell for most of the 1990s. He had been investigated by US authorities since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, and December 14-25, 1999) but was never arrested. Deek’s computer is confiscated when he is arrested, and computer files reveal the targets of the Jordanian plot. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 33] According to contemporary press accounts, Deek, who was running a computer repair shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, had helped encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications and smuggled recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some reports identify him as a former mujaheddin fighter, a US Army veteran, and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Articles also claim he worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida on the Jordanian plot and other things (see May 2000, Late 1980s, and 1998-December 11, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] CNN says Deek “is believed to be the mastermind” of the Jordanian plot. [CNN, 12/17/1999] But, unlike the rest of the defendants in the Jordanian case, Deek is transferred from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security one. He alone is not charged. He will be released in May 2001 (see May 2001). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Jordan, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Khalil Deek, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, a US citizen accused of helping to plot an al-Qaeda linked millennium attack in Jordan, reportedly cooperates against al-Qaeda shortly after being deported to Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Journalist Jonathan Randal will later assert that “a highly placed American in [Jordan] did claim that early on Deek had sung,” meaning he revealed all that he knew. [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] The Los Angeles Times reports in March 2000 that Deek “reportedly has cooperated with US investigators in deciphering [al-Qaeda] computer disks.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] The London Times will later report the same thing. [London Times, 11/4/2001] Deek will be mysteriously released from Jordanian prison in mid-2001, fueling speculation about his cooperation (see May 2001). In 2003, journalist Jason Burke will claim in a book that Deek “was, in fact, an agent for the Jordanian secret services.” Burke mentions this in passing and does not explain how he would know this. [Burke, 2004, pp. 317] In 2005, Randal will echo Burke’s claim in a book, saying, “If [Deek] indeed did sing, one possible explanation is that Deek may have been a Jordanian intelligence mole all along and had tipped his masters off to the impending millennium plot and perhaps much more about al-Qaeda. That would elucidate why he was jailed, but never charged or tried.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] If true, it would suggest that Jordan had great insight into al-Qaeda for many years. Deek has been considered an important al-Qaeda leader with knowledge about many other al-Qaeda operatives. For instance, one US official calls him a “concierge” or “travel agent” for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/4/2000] He is also considered a close associate of high ranking al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. If Deek is a Jordanian mole, this might explain why it will later be reported that US intelligence has been investigating Zubaida and Deek since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It also might explain why US intelligence was seemingly uninterested in intelligence that Deek was running militant training camps in California in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s), running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in California for most of the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 25, 1999), and why the US never officially charged Deek with any crimes (see Spring 2004). But it would be harder to explain why Deek’s associates have yet to be been arrested or deported from the US (see January 2002) or why Deek apparently moved to remote areas of Pakistan dominated by al-Qaeda after it was reported he helped decipher al-Qaeda’s computer codes (see Spring 2004).

Entity Tags: Jordan General Intelligence Department, Khalil Deek, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. [Katz, 2003, pp. 156-174]

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Hisham Diab, Khalid Ashour, Tawfiq Deek, Rita Katz, National Security Council, Steven Emerson, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California, is mysteriously released in Jordan and allowed to go free. Deek had been arrested on suspicions that he masterminded a series of planned millennium attacks in Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Investigators believe he may have masterminded an attempted bombing of the Los Angeles airport as well (see December 15-31, 1999), and in fact US intelligence had been interested in him since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, December 14-25, 1999, and May 2000). But despite is the seemingly strong evidence against him, he is released this month after mounting a hunger strike. Relatives tell a US newspaper that US government officials pressured Jordan to let him go. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Despite the fact that US officials had previously labeled him a terrorist mastermind, they do not protest his release. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] The Jordanian government claims they lacked evidence Deek was aware of terrorist activities. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] The Los Angeles Times reports that he had cooperated with US investigators in deciphering al-Qaeda computer documents. [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] He is deported to the United Arab Emirates. He is rearrested there and held for several days, and then let go again. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] A few days later, Deek emerges at the US embassy in Pakistan with his wife and family. He approaches the embassy gates, asking staffers there help to bring his family back to the US. However, he is only able to speak to someone through an intercom and is not allowed in the building. He is told to come back in two weeks. A newspaper will later comment, “Given that the US government already considered him a dangerous man, it’s not surprising that embassy officials weren’t eager to provide him with travel visas. But it is weird that they didn’t let him inside the building and simply arrest him.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Jordan, Khalil Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Adam Gadahn, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hisham Diab, Rita Katz, Khalil Deek, Khalid Ashour, Tawfiq Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006.Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006. [Source: Public domain / Wikipedia]The Washington Post will report in May 2004, “US officials have continued investigating [Khalil] Deek’s whereabouts, a fact that is made clear since [his name has recently] appeared on US terrorist lookout lists.” Deek is a naturalized US citizen whom authorities believe was a member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California for most of the 1990s. He was arrested in Jordan for masterminding an al-Qaeda millennium bomb plot there (see December 11, 1999). Then he was let go, apparently with US approval (see May 2001). US intelligence has a record dating back to the late 1980s of investigating Deek for a variety of criminal activities but taking no action against him (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, December 14-25, 1999, November 30, 1999, May 2000, December 15-31, 1999). It is not known why Deek is finally watchlisted at this time, though it is likely connected to wide publicity about Adam Gadahn. Gadahn, a Caucasian American also known as “Azzam the American,” was a member of Deek’s Anaheim cell in the mid-1990s. He moved to Afghanistan where he has since become well-known as a top al-Qaeda media spokesman. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz, who investigated Deek for the US government in the late 1990s, says it’s “a mystery” law enforcement officials have not arrested or even charged Deek as a terrorist. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] A US newspaper reporter who closely followed Deek’s career will comment that Deek seemingly “couldn’t get arrested to save his life.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek has not been hard from since. There will be unconfirmed reports that he was killed somewhere in Pakistan in early 2005, but his body has not been found. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Adam Gadahn, United States, Khalil Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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