The Center for Security Policy - How Secure is the Department of Homeland Security?

How Secure is the Department of Homeland Security?
By Mary Jacoby, Salon.com, 22 June 2004

Gill's placement in the sensitive intelligence job has alarmed government officials because it fits the operating theory of prosecutors and investigators that Alamoudi was part of a long-term scheme by Islamic extremists to place friendly, if perhaps unwitting, associates in key U.S. government positions.

A document seized in a 1995 raid of a close Alamoudi friend and political ally, former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, outlined a plan to "infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information and build close relationships with the people in charge of these establishments." The unsigned document, which authorities believe was authored by Al-Arian in part because it was found among his papers, added: "We are in the center which leads the conspiracy against our Islamic world ... Our presence in North America gives us a unique opportunity to monitor, explore and follow up." It instructed members of the "center," thought to refer to an Islamic think tank that Al-Arian founded, to "collect information from those relatives and friends who work in sensitive positions in government."

Al-Arian is in a Florida prison awaiting trial next year on charges he was the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has targeted Israel with suicide bombings. He denies all the charges. But investigators believe Al-Arian and Alamoudi were part of a broader political Islamic movement in the United States that connects sympathizers of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida.

This movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, is the umbrella under which terror groups have forged "a significant degree of cooperation and coordination within our borders," former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke told the Senate Banking Committee last year. "The common link here is the extremist Muslim Brotherhood -- all of these organizations are descendants of the membership and ideology of the Muslim Brothers." Alamoudi, for example, has spoken openly of his admiration for the anti-Israeli Hamas, which evolved from a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Arian's circle of associates, meanwhile, overlaps with members of the Brooklyn, N.Y., precursor to al-Qaida that was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The ties among Alamoudi, the Muslim Brotherhood and Gill help explain why officials are concerned about whether Gill was adequately vetted. These relationships are difficult to understand without immersion in the indictments, court transcripts and case exhibits; the concerned officials said they fear that busy political operatives in the administration simply do not grasp the national-security issues at stake.

"There's an overall denial in the administration that the agenda being pushed by Norquist might be a problem," one official said. "It's so absurd that a Grover Norquist person could even be close to something like this. That's really what's so insidious."

last August, a man with a Libyan accent left a suitcase with $340,000 in cash for Alamoudi outside his hotel room in London, according to the October 2003 indictment of the American Muslim leader. Alamoudi was then arrested upon his return to the United States, the indictment said. The Alamoudi mystery deepened on June 10, when the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported that he had told authorities he was part of an alleged plot by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah, the Saudi leader. Now, the U.S. Justice Department is examining whether Alamoudi was conspiring with a London group the Saudi government says is linked to Osama bin Laden.

"Who is Abdurahman Alamoudi? We really don't know," one of the concerned government officials said. "So how can we say there is not a problem with his former aide? He [Gill] has access to information about all our vulnerabilities -- aviation, ports. He knows what is protected and what is not."

The Homeland Security spokeswoman, Petrovich, declined to discuss these issues. Instead, she released this statement: "Prior to Faisal Gill's employment with the department, the [internal] Office of Security went to great lengths to investigate his background and ensure there were no potential conflicts or inappropriate activities in relation to Mr. Gill. Following a thorough investigation, we found that Mr. Gill exceeded all requirements set forth by the department's Office of Security for access to classified information, as prescribed by the intelligence community, that allows him to conduct his day-to-day duties for the department."

Yet some officials remain concerned that Gill apparently enjoys the political protection of Norquist, the architect of the 1994 Republican election sweep that brought Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich to power as House speaker. Norquist speaks of "crushing" his political opponents and dismisses those who don't agree with his anti-tax, anti-government agenda as "Bolsheviks." His power derives from a formidable coalition of evangelical, business and other conservative groups that he controls to push favored GOP issues, as well as from his close relationship with White House political chief Karl Rove.

In 1998, Norquist and a former deputy to Alamoudi at the AMC co-founded the nonprofit Islamic Institute as part of a drive to win Muslim voters for Bush in 2000. Alamoudi donated $35,000 to the institute, records show. Soon, the Islamic Institute, the AMC and Al-Arian were all working together on a top priority for American Muslims: an end to the use of classified intelligence to jail noncitizens as national-security threats. Al-Arian's brother-in-law had been jailed on the basis of such secret evidence linking him to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Al-Arian lobbied heavily on Capitol Hill to end the practice. In October 2000, through the efforts of Norquist and Rove, Bush came out against secret evidence in a debate with Al Gore, and the AMC endorsed Bush for president. Al-Arian would later claim that the Muslim votes he rounded up for Bush in Florida helped decide the election.

Gill was in the middle of these advocacy efforts. As director of government affairs at Norquist's Islamic Institute, Gill lobbied against the use of secret evidence, according to a May 2001 release on the institute's Web site. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gill was quoted in news articles as a spokesman for the AMC. A Washington Post article from May 2001, meanwhile, identified Gill as a spokesman for the "fledgling" Taxpayers Alliance of Prince William County, Va., which is affiliated with Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to the Post article, Norquist was slated to appear with Gill at an anti-tax rally.

Gill is one of several former Alamoudi associates who have shuffled in recent years among Norquist's operations, the AMC, and government and politics. They include Abdulwahab Alkebsi, a former executive director of the Islamic Institute and a spokesman for the AMC who is now a program director for the National Endowment for Democracy, where he is responsible for administering millions of dollars in grant money for Iraq. What's more, in 2003 Norquist held a fundraiser at his Capitol Hill home for Alamoudi's former lawyer, Kamal Nawash, who was running for a Virginia state Senate seat. And Norquist's co-founder of the Islamic Institute, former AMC deputy director Khaled Saffuri, works closely with the White House on Muslim outreach issues.

These outreach efforts have put Norquist in an unusual defensive position. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, conservative investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman, and Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, among others, have criticized Norquist's alliances.

The Center for Security Policy


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