As a task force of US battleships steamed towards the Middle East in the spring of 2001 on a mission to patrol the Persian Gulf, a sailor aboard one of those vessels was pursuing an entirely different mission.
His name was Hassan Abu-Jihaad, and he was serving as a signalman aboard the USS Benfold. Little did anyone know at the time, he was also a homegrown radical who was secretly in touch with al Qaeda financiers, sharing classified details about the vulnerabilities and movements of the battleships just six months after al Qaeda operatives had killed 17 Americans aboard the USS Cole in the port of Yemen.
Abu-Jihaad’s traitorous actions were recently recounted in a Connecticut court, leading to his conviction last Wednesday on twin national security crimes: espionage and material terrorism support.
We learned about Abu-Jihaad in December 2003, when British authorities raided the apartment of Babar Ahmad, a Briton later charged with raising money for al Qaeda through a London-based organization called Azzam Publications. Its former website, www.azzam.com, was hosted on servers in Connecticut.
In Ahmad’s flat was a floppy disk with a password-protected document detailing what was then classified information about the travels and security weaknesses of the USS Benfold and the sister ships in its convoy. That document, it was proved at trial, was sent by Abu-Jihaad while aboard the Benfold, endangering the lives of his own shipmates and countless others.
The investigation—worked jointly by the New Haven Joint Terrorist Task Force and the Connecticut Department of Homeland Security in close cooperation with FBI offices in Phoenix and Chicago and a host of partners in the US and overseas—also uncovered a trail of e-mail messages sent by Abu-Jihaad expressing support for Osama bin Laden, praising the Cole attack, recounting a security briefing on his vessel, and ordering various jihadist videos and other materials from Azzam.
Using court-authorized wiretaps, we monitored Abu-Jihaad’s conversations following his honorable discharge from the Navy. Among what we learned:
In one conversation, Abu-Jihaad said that he hadn’t “been in the field of making meals” for more than four years; “meals” was his code word for his ability to provide inside information on US military targets. He also warned associates not to talk about jihad over the telephone or Internet because they were “tapped.”
In Chicago, Abu-Jihaad roomed with Derrick Shareef, who later pled guilty to plotting to attack a suburban mall using hand grenades during the 2006 holiday season. Our wiretaps revealed that Abu-Jihaad discussed attacking military targets in Phoenix and San Diego with Shareef. It was fortunate that the information Abu-Jihaad provided to terrorist supporters didn’t lead to the loss of any American lives. But it well could have…and Abu-Jihaad will now face up to 25 years in prison for his radically inspired actions.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.