Scoop Report: Government Must Explain The Detail Of Why Security Agency Advised s.72 Deportation
By Selwyn Manning – Scoop co-editor
Summary Of The 911 Commission Report
What can be evaluated from what we know
Scoop Audio Prime Minister answers questions re deportation.
Update: NZ Herald reports agencies were tipped off by Ardmore Flying School
Speculation and unease factored in this weekend's newspapers after a New Zealand Herald'senior writer, Geoff Cumming, broke an amazing story, that the Government had deported a man residing in New Zealand on a Yemeni passport for possible links to Al Qaeda's 911 attacks on the United States.
Rayed Mohammad Abdullah Ali (pictured left) arrived in New Zealand in February, based himself in Auckland where he attended an English language school and later moved to the Manawatu to begin flight training for a commercial pilot's license.
On Monday May 29, immigration officials accompanied by police arrested Rayed Mohammad Abdullah Ali in Palmerston North. He was deported to Saudi Arabia the next day.
Scoop has examined the case and has found more questions than answers.
This weekend, Scoop columnist, Paul Buchanan, was the subject of the Sunday Star Times' lead front-page item stating concerns that New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was "clueless" that Rayed Abdullah had entered New Zealand.
Paul Buchanan is a United States citizen, the director of the working group on alternative security perspectives at the University of Auckland, a former adviser to the Pentagon, has expertise in Latin American geo-politics, and oversaw training of security agents in the United States.
The Sunday Star Times report asserted that New Zealand's border controls were inadequate, failing to detect the name of an individual, Rayed Mohammad Abdullah Ali, who had been investigated by the USA's FBI for connections to those involved in the 9-11 attacks on the Pentagon.
Paul Buchanan evaluated that Rayed Abdullah's presence became know to New Zealand authorities by way of a tip-off – possibly due to Mosque surveillance operations or more embarrassingly, from a concerned member of the public.
We know from a statement issued by Immigration Minister David Cunliffe that the man did indeed slip through new Zealand's security net: "The individual's identity became apparent only after he arrived in New Zealand he used a variation of his name in applying for entry to New Zealand. Once his real identity became known, he was identified as having close connections to people involved with the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, and had been named in the 9/11 Commission Report," David Cunliffe said.
Also, Paul Buchanan raised three possible scenarios in the Herald On Sunday newspaper:
"First, the New Zealand authorities were aware of who he was when he arrived, monitored him closely, ascertained that he was up to no good, and sent him packing.
"A second scenario is that New Zealand had no clue as to his past when he it issued him a student visa. The authorities were only alerted to his presence after he arrived here - which is what the Immigration Minister claims to be the case. They then acted expeditiously to remove him.
"Or, could he be an innocent man looking to upgrade his English language and flying skills to secure a commercial pilot's license for use back in the Middle East? In which case, his only crime is to have shared space with a terrorist more than five years ago," Paul Buchanan wrote.
This entire issue raises a number of aspects that demand explanation. But first, let's recount what the FBI found out about Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali when it interrogated him in 2001 through to 2004 during a bureau-investigative-sweep that netted thousands of Muslims in America for questioning.
The 911 Commission Report stated Rayed Abdullah knew Saudi Hani Hanjour, who piloted the American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The pair had friends in common, met occasionally and had trained at the same flying school. However, in the 18 months following the 911 attacks, Rayed Abdullah was not detained even though he was interviewed at least a dozen times by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Washington Post also reported that he was put through five lie detector tests in a bid to find links with Al Qaeda. Is it no surprise then, that the FBI informed New Zealand journalists that it had "no current interest" in Rayed Abdullah? – a fact that has intensified calls for the Government to make public its reasons for deporting this student.
Let's examine the background and detail of this case.
Four days after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Rayed Abdullah was brought in by the FBI for questioning. Ken Williams, an FBI agent who authored what is referred to as the "Phoenix memo" in the 911 Commission Report, led the interrogation.
Rayed Abdullah told Williams he had earlier been to Florida and knew an individual named Bandar al Hazmi from high school. Rayed Abdullah said he had decided to move to Florida to become a commercial pilot after speaking with Bandar al Hazmi. While the FBI found there was no "familiar" connection between Bandar al Hazmi and the 911 hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi, Rayed Abdullah said he had met Hani Hanjour (who is believed to have piloted the airliner into the Pentagon) upon arriving in Florida - presumably through Bandar al Hazmi who claimed to have met Hanjour in Florida while they were both studying at the same English-language institute.
Hanjour had successfully obtained his pilot’s license in three months, despite an initial flying instructor stating he was a terrible pilot.
Following Agent Williams' interview with Rayed Abdullah on May 11 2004 he wrote: "The Phoenix FBI office remains suspicious of Abdullah and Hazmi and their association with Hanjour."
The FBI was not convinced that testimony given by Rayed Abdullah was correct, rather believing that Rayed Abdullah, Bandar al Hazmi and Hani Hanjour all knew each other prior to arriving in the United States: "This account (Rayed Abdullah's testimony) is not credible, because Abdullah arrived in the United States on November 15, 1997, the day before Hanjour arrived," Agent Williams wrote, "The three of them did attend language school together but not until after all three had arrived in the United States.
In early 1998, Rayed Abdullah returned to Arizona and began flight training at Arizona Aviation and obtained a private pilot’s license in December 1998. Abdullah then worked as a computer programmer in Arizona before resuming flight training during the mid-year of 2001.
Rayed Abdullah's high school friend, Bandar al Hazmi, continued his training at Arizona Aviation with "intermittent trips home to Saudi Arabia, before departing the United States for the last time in January 2000," the 911 Commission Report stated.
Rayed Abdullah, who lived and trained with Hanjour, was a leader at the Islamic Cultural Center in Phoenix - FBI Agent Williams reported that Rayed Abdullah "gave extremist speeches at the mosque".
The FBI reports cite documents from Sawyer Aviation in Phoenix, Arizona, showing Hanjour joining the flight simulator club on June 23, 2001, with Faisal al Salmi, Rayed Abdullah, and Lotfi Raissi. But the documents were inconclusive "as there are no invoices or payment records for Hanjour, while such documents do exist for the other three", the FBI reports stated.
One Sawyer employee, Tina Arnold, identified Hanjour as being there during the time period, though she was less than 100 percent sure. Another witness identified Hanjour as being with Salmi in the Phoenix area during the summer of 2001.
Documentary evidence for Hanjour, however, shows that he was in New Jersey for most of June, and no travel records have been recovered showing that he returned to Arizona after leaving with Hazmi in March: "Nevertheless, the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it plausible that Hanjour returned to Arizona for additional training."
The FBI reported it had evidence of Al Qaeda activity in Arizona, particularly with Al Qaeda "directing individuals in the Phoenix area to enroll in flight training without telling them why."
Two individuals were identified: Ghassan al Sharbi and Abu Zubaydah who were captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. Both studied at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott,Arizona.
The Los Angeles Times reported while Sharbi had not been tied to the 911 attacks, the FBI believed he had attended Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and swore bayat to Bin Ladin during the mid-year 2001.
After he left the camps, Sharbi looked for his friend Hamdan al Shalawi, another student in Arizona, for a secret project. Shalawi reportedly trained in the camps in November 2000, learning how to conduct “Khobar Towers” - type attacks that he and a colleague planned to execute in Saudi Arabia.
The FBI report states Shalawi denied the allegation, claiming to have been studying in Arizona at the time, which neither the FBI nor the 911 Commission were able to confirm.
Shalawi was involved in a widely publicized incident in November 1999, when he and his friend Muhammed al Qudhaieen were detained because the crew of a cross-country America West flight reported that Qudhaieen had attempted to open the cockpit door on two occasions – the FBI consider it possible this act was a "dry run" for the 911 attacks.
When the 911 Commission interviewed Shalawi and Qudhaieen, they both claimed that "Qudhaieen was only looking for the lavatory on the plane". Shalawi admits having gone to Afghanistan, but only once in the late 1980s after the war with the Soviet Union.
Another admitted Arizona associate of Hani Hanjour, Hamed al Sulami, had had telephone contact with Sulayman al Alwan, a radical Saudi cleric from Qassim Province who was reported to be Abu Zubaydah’s spiritual advisor and may have had a role in recruiting one or more of the muscle hijackers for the 911 attacks.
Another Hanjour associate, Faisal al Salmi, took flight training with Rayed Abdullah but wanted to keep his training secret and when the FBI polygraphed al-Salmi on whether he had taken flight training at the behest of an organization, al Salmi’s negative response was deemed by the FBI to be "deceptive".
At the time, Al Qaeda had operatives in Tucson. A joint CIA and FBI report stated: "Al Qaeda figures at the university or in Tucson included Mubarak al Duri, reportedly Bin Ladin’s principal procurement agent for weapons of mass destruction; Muhammad Bayazid, an al Qaeda arms procurer and trainer; Wadi al Hage, an operative convicted for the East Africa bombings; and Wail Julaidan, a Saudi extremist with ties to al Qaeda."
UPDATE: The New Zealand Herald has reported (June 13 2006) it most likely New Zealand's security agencies discovered the identity of Rayed Mohammad Abdullah Ali by way of a tip off from Ardmore Flying School. Ardmore is one of New Zealand's busiest aerodromes approximately 20 kilometres south of Auckland City.
The New Zealand Herald reported: "A month later, on April 12, Ali visited Ardmore Flying School and attempted to enrol in a flying course - an action which school general manager Craig Hunter believes may have been the beginning of the end of Ali's time in New Zealand. The school would not let Ali fly as he did not want to follow rules established to protect overseas students…
"He was not the least bit interested in complying with the rules, in terms of we would have made him pay a third of his total fee and he would have been granted an eight-month visa and we would have made him reapply for a student visa with the Ardmore Flying School as his training provider," said Mr Hunter," the Herald reported.
This weekend, the Herald on Sunday suggested New Zealand's security agencies had Rayed Abdullah under surveillance and that U.S. agents were also involved. The newspaper suggested the U.S. agents has requested New Zealand keep the operation under wraps to see what Rayed Abdullah was up to – Was the HoS subjected to spook-spin in this case, designed to suggest New Zealand's SIS and EAB (External Assessments Bureau) is within the USA-led 'intel camp'?
The HoS reported: "The Herald on Sunday understands New Zealand intelligence operatives were joined by their United States counterparts. It is believed a decision was made to allow Mr Ali to stay here for months - apparently prompted by United States intelligence desires to monitor and follow the 29-year-old. The paper has been told that his presence became too much for New Zealand officials. His connection to a 9/11 hijacker and the time he was spending at the controls of a plane were behind the decision to deport Mr Ali, possibly against US wishes," the HoS reported stated.
If that is accurate, a reasonably minded person could assume, New Zealand authorities tolerated Rayed Abdullah's presence here until he or his actions threatened New Zealand's national security or those of its citizens or neighbours. The balancing act would have been to help the Americans for as long as the target posed no threat against any perceived or actual threat.
However this Herald on Sunday theory appears to be hogwash as even Immigration Minister, David Cunliffe, stated on Radio New Zealand: " What I will say is that we don’t have any evidence of a specific terrorist threat by the gentleman in New Zealand nor are we saying he was undertaking terrorist activities."
The statement almost contradicts the section 72 requirements to deport, namely:
Section 72 provides that where the Immigration Minister certifies that the continued presence in New Zealand of a person constitutes a threat to national security, the Governor-General may, by order in council, order that person's deportation.
Were the Act's requirements met?
David Cunliffe's comment to RNZ fuels the assumption that New Zealand's security agencies advised Cunliffe as Immigration Minister to seek the Governor General's nod, under section 72 of the Immigration Act on national security grounds – even though his actions were not raising imminent concerns. The agency's decision was made, to kick the student out of the country and back to the Persian Gulf states – advice the Government clearly agreed with.
Most probably due to two factors:
One, the SIS simply did not know if it had a bad guy or good guy in its sights but that the weight of guilt by association with those involved in, or on the periphery of, the 911 attacks suggested the individual ought to be deported.
And two, the SIS did not have the confidence in its own operative evaluation that would normally result in it issuing a security risk certificate and be lumbered with justifying another Ahmed Zaoui styled case.
David Cunliffe said: "Acting on advice, the government considered that the man's continued presence in New Zealand posed a threat to national security because:
he was directly associated with persons responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001,
of the nature of his activities in the United States prior to and at that time;
and because of the nature of his activities in New Zealand.
David Cunliffe is certainly one of the Labour-led Government's brightest and more promising ministers. Cunliffe's personality is one where he would question, evaluate, and determine his own position based on the information offered him from his Ministry and security agency officials. He is also a political pragmatist.
He would well know, the Government certainly would not want another Muslim banged up indefinitely in a New Zealand prison, stretching its political tolerance toward agonising lengths, preventing it from initiating long-needed reform of the currently outdated and grossly inefficient sections of the Immigration Act relevant to security risk holders. The solution: deport the target before his presence slips above the radar and becomes public knowledge.
In conclusion: David Cunliffe, the Minister, must be forthcoming with detail pertaining to how section 72 of the Act was enacted. For example, was Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali offered opportunity to explain his situation, interviewed, interrogated, or permitted to offer a defence against the claims held against him? Was he aware of the detail of why New Zealand had decided to deport him back to the Persian Gulf?
And operationally, did the SIS's investigations reveal whether Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali was wanted by Interpol, the United States, or any other jurisdiction?
One would expect it had checked as part of a first-course formality. If so, this is hardly classified information and information the public ought to be privy to. If he wasn't wanted, then that too must be laid on the table and an explanation given.
It is also fair to determine that a warrant for his arrest did not exist, or New Zealand would have held him pending extradition procedures to be completed. It appears certain that Rayed Abdullah was permitted by United States authorities to continue to abide in the USA, to enjoy his liberty from at least from September 15 2001 (the date the FBI reported it first interviewed him) until 2004.
Again, it appears clear that what was charged against Rayed Abdullah was at best guilt-by-association and at worst that New Zealand's Government just did not know what it had so employed the Joseph Stalin tactic of 'remove the man, remove the problem'. And that, is simply, what the New Zealand public is left to evaluate amplified by the Minister's plea to trust that the Government got it right in this case. Sorry, but that degree of trust does not cut it in this democratic society while informed opinion remains a quality valued and integral to the New Zealand way.
It would be fair to suggest, that the great shroud cloaking this wonderful mysterious concept of western intelligence ought to be unfurled with an intent of disclosing competence – after all even the United States has gone to extraordinary lengths to repair inefficiencies, corruption, incompetence that evidently was rife in its security agency network.
However, in New Zealand's case, it may be that to demystify what lay behind the Government's decision to deport Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali may be an act in itself that would endanger national security due to a public realisation that our security apparatus is poorly resourced (from an international operational objective viewpoint), misdirected, and virtually unplugged from what was the 'tight five' nations within the western intelligence alliance.