A Pakistani-born suburban father was trying to enlist in a terrorist organization in January and was eager to become a martyr when he unknowingly walked into an FBI sting and began helping plan a purported attack on the Washington subway system, according to court documents.
What followed was an elaborate ruse in which Farooque Ahmed was given intelligence-gathering duties and coded information in a Quran by two individuals posing as al-Qaida operatives as part of the supposed plot to kill commuters on the nation’s second-busiest subway system.
If I understand the story correctly, it sounds like the defendant, Farooque Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen, came to the attention of the feds when he sent e-mails trying to contact terrorist groups to offer his support. The feds took a closer look and found lots of suspicious activity indicating that he was serious, so they set up a sting, with Ahmed thinking he was working with co-conspirators in plotting terrorist attacks when he was really working with undercover agents or informants.
We may never know the precise details of how Ahmed came to the attention of the authorities, but it would be pretty interesting to know that — and from a standpoint of surveillance law and practice, potentially quite important to know that.
UPDATE: I would think the most likely way we’ll find out about the details would be if Ahmed’s lawyer files a motion to suppress the evidence against him on the grounds that it was the fruit of unlawful surveillance — that is, the initial obtaining of his e-mails. If that happens, I suspect DOJ will counter that even if the initial surveillance was unlawful, the evidence is admissible because Ahmed’s involvement in the sting is not a “fruit of the poisonous tree” given Ahmed’s involvement in the sting. To be clear, DOJ won’t be conceding the surveillance was unlawful: Rather, they’ll argue the evidence should come in even if the surveillance was unlawful so they don’t have to disclose any evidence about the initial surveillance. That’s my guess, at least. We’ll have to wait and see.