There is something delicious about reading secret wiretaps. It’s like, well, all of a sudden looking out your bedroom window and seeing that the neighbors have forgotten to draw down the bedroom shades in the late evening. It’s more than you ever wanted to know or see. On the other hand, it can also be boring and stupid and inane. (Have you ever taped your own phone calls and then had the painful experience of having to listen to yourself going on and on and on…)
But thanks to the FBI wiretaps I’ve found – well, not exactly heart pounding secrets but some uncovered or realized information. (Competition is the soul of investigative and interpretative journalism and soul food, the “exclusive.”)
The government, in the spirit of openness and transparency, has to provide transcripts of the wiretapped phone conversations of the co-conspirators to the defense teams. It’s the law of discovery. The defense gets to “know” what evidence, what “cards” the prosecution is holding. In this case part (the most important part of the government’s case against Padilla and his two co-conspirators, Adham Hossoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi) is wiretaps, and the alleged criminal plans the accused were drawing up over the phone.
The cover page of each phone call intercept has detailed information about the call: the day (in this case September 9, 2000, one of 300,000 phone conversations recorded,) time, phone number calling from. Next the phone call number calling to. After that, the, language spoken, e.g. English, Arabic, transcript file name (they are using Word Perfect.) That is followed by, translated by, transcript date, reviewed by/on, case file #, followed by key to abbreviations, and the participants in the conversation, in this case:
AD: Adham Hassoun (one two other co-conspirators along with Jose Padilla,)
MY: Mohamed Youssef, (who the AP’s Curt Anderson describe as another “Hassoun recruit who helped Padilla make his way to Afghanistan.”] and
UF: Unidentified Female.
Here’s what’s very strange:
The target telephone number is obviously in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl – long time home of Adham Hassoun (who’s wife I told you Friday was caught on tape complaining about how even though she and her husband knew the phones were taped, that he’d talk and talk and talk.)
On the day in question, September 9,2002, Hassoun receives a call from Mohammed Youssef . Youssef’s phone, however, is located in Southwestern Washington D.C. from a location close to the Capitol. The phone is operated by Verizon Washington DC which describes itself as “one of the world’s leading providers of high growth communications services, serving more than 300,000 customers in Washington, D.C. (Not to be confused with VERIZON WIRELESS.)
The target of the wiretaps was in Ft. Lauderdale –Hassoun’s phone. Hausson was the suspect. The person calling him (from Washington, D.C.) – Youssef – was not a target. He did not have a wiretap on the phone he was using.
However the CLLI data of the caller, Youssef, is very significant. Follow me:
Tracing the phone that Youssef used – the calling phone – reveals “CLLI=WASHDCESWDSA.” Translation: “CLLI” stands for Common Language Location Identification. It is a telephone industry acronym – a total of an 11 letters or “character descriptor” that identifies switches, connection points, multiplexers, interconnections and other parts of the phone network. The first four letters of the code —WASH – is the geographic area., Washington. The next two letters refers to the geopolitical code –in this case DC. The SW part of the code after WASH DC means the phone is in the Southwest section of DC. The final three characters, DSA, tell us the network site code, in this case, the phone line or switch that Hassoun was using was serviced by Verizon via the Verizon operated central office for the South West Section of Washington, DC.
In this instance, the specific block of phone numbers – the first three numbers (not including the DC area code 202) Youssef was calling from – were (202) 878, as (202). 878. Those numbers as in 878-xxxx, –are allocated to VERIZON DC customers But other phone users are also within that same 878-xxxx block as well, including US government office phones belonging to the Department of Energy, the House of Representatives, the State Department and FBI.
What was Mohammed Youssef doing, calling a terrorist suspect from a phone perhaps a thousand yards from the Capitol Building?
While the phone conversation was in Arabic and translated by “M.S.”sixteen days later on September 25, 2002, it isn’t until February 13, 2006, three and a half years later, that the “review of the transcriptions” begins.
What is more astonishing is that the review was conducted by “M.S.” – the person who did the original translation. Professional espionage trade craft calls for two independent translators to review the interpretation of the first translator and, if there inconsistencies or differences, a third independent translator would be used to resolve the differences. “M.S.” was sole judge and jury of the correctness of his/her translations and interpretations since the FBI agent testifying about the tapes neither speaks nor reads Arabic.
Still, the jury cannot avoid the the “heart” (or rather left ventricle) of the what appears to be the prosecution’s case against Padilla? Here’s how the AP’s Curt Anderson heard the government’s case:
In the July 1997 intercepted phone call, [where] co defendant Adham Amin Hassoun tells Padilla in English that “the most important thing is that you tell me you’re ready.” The FBI’s lead investigator in the case claims that Hassoun was talking about going to an area of jihad, or Islamic holy war.
“God willing … it’s going to happen soon,” Padilla responds. He later adds: “Believe me, brother, it’s going to happen soon.”
Padilla also tells Hassoun that he is prepared to obey an emir, or commander, wherever he is sent, even if that person is younger.
“You have to have a lot of discipline too, brother,” Padilla says on the tape. “You have to have discipline and obedience….”
On other calls, Youssef mentions a “partner” whom the FBI identified as Padilla, who was using the alias “Ibrahim” at the time. “Does he intend to go through with it?” Youssef asks Hassoun.
“Yes, he had reservations about the price, but then he said all right, if this is the only price, we will buy,” Hassoun replies..
So, maybe two sides to the heart of the case, The “right ventricle” phone conversations and the left ventricle, calls from someone deep within the conspiracy plot from a phone a thousand yards from the United States Capitol.
The phone number listed in the officials document was 202-878-XXXX. I didn’t try the number since I was loath to talking on the phone lest an FBI agent, or CIA, or NSA or someone perhaps from Blackwater, CIAC or a dozen other government contractors might be listening in. But hey, you know, it wouldn’t be the first time I was on a tapped phone.
(With Rachel M. Koch)
Lew can be reached at lew dot koch at gmail dot com.