Have Terror, Will Travel

How two FBI mercenaries cashed in on the Liberty City Seven terrorism case

Before the trial, al-Saidi flew from Yemen on the FBI's dime to testify. Once here, the FBI had to arrest him and bond him out of jail on a bench warrant for a traffic charge. The government paid his tickets.

"They helped me out," al-Saidi testified last month in his new government-purchased suit.

During his testimony, attorney Levin managed to get some of al-Saidi's unsavory past on the record. The lawyer managed to get in some questions about the $7,000 extortion in the rape case, prompting al-Saidi to admit it.


"I didn't receive not one dollar," al-Saidi testified on the stand. "[Stephanie] got that money, and two weeks later, I was here in Miami locked up because of her and she's gone with everything I had, including that money."

Not only did al-Saidi contradict himself about whose money it was but he also mentioned his battery arrest, which Lenard had barred the defense from bringing up. The following exchange ensued:

LEVIN: You were locked up because of her?

AL-SAIDI: Yes, sir.

LEVIN: So you take no responsibility with regard to your arrest in connection with her?

AL-SAIDI: I did take responsibility. And I did serve time. And I think, yes, I was wrong for standing there to argue with her...

LEVIN: So [Stephanie] received $7,000... so she would not show up to court, having been raped... in the apartment that you, sir, shared with her. Isn't that true, sir?

PROSECUTOR: Judge, I would object to the relevance of all of this.

JUDGE LENARD: Sustained.

So it went. Lenard has seemed intent throughout the trial to keep the jury in the dark about the nature of the government informants. And it got worse. The most damning revelation about the second informant, a Lebanese immigrant named Elie Assad, was barred from the jury altogether.

Agents flew Assad, who sometimes uses the last name Montana for the character he idolizes from Scarface, to Miami from Mexico to pose as an al Qaeda operative. The feds ultimately paid the career informant $80,000 for his efforts, but former FBI agent James Wedick, who was hired as an expert witness by the defense, says Assad never should have been authorized to work on the case at all.

Why? Because Assad, who like al-Saidi has a domestic battery charge on his record, had failed a polygraph test administered by his FBI handlers while working on a previous case in Chicago. That seemingly crucial fact came out during a federal hearing on the case in July, when FBI agents admitted during the hearing that Assad had failed the lie detector test.

While the credibility of a confidential informant might seem relevant, Lenard barred any mention of the polygraph during the trial.

"What I found to be startling was the fact that the bureau had used an informant who had been found to be deceptive in a prior operation," says Wedick, who worked for the FBI in California for 35 years. "I'm just shocked, because it appears to me they violated attorney general's guidelines. The single most important factor when evaluating an informant's suitability is truthfulness."

Wedick says that once an informant is known to have lied, it "knocks him out of the park." And he suspects that the information was withheld when Assad was approved by FBI headquarters in Washington.

"If you fail a bureau polygraph as an agent, you lose security clearance; you're done," he says. "And they use Assad knowing him to be dishonest? You can't do it... I'm shocked that this issue hasn't developed into a full-blown donnybrook. We've got to live up to some standards, and if you use a guy that is a known liar, you've got rocks in your head."

And Wedick should know about FBI standards. He spent several years as head of the corruption unit in the Sacramento field office. When he retired, then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote a letter commending his career and noting that other agents should "emulate" his work.

But Judge Lenard didn't see any value in his expertise; she granted the prosecution's motion to bar Wedick from testifying. And she refused to allow any testimony about Assad's failed polygraph test.

Lenard, however, did allow the prosecution to call a neocon professor named Raymond Tanter to the stand. The former Reagan administration official and longtime right-wing think-tanker testified that the Liberty City defendants were dangerous terrorists who, in part because of their extreme poverty, had reached the "jihadization" stage.

Although Tanter never interviewed any of the defendants, he should know something about terrorists. After all, he has been busy promoting a terrorist organi­zation called the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) that is opposed to the Iranian government. As a founding member of the Iran Policy Committee, he has urged the Bush administration to remove the MEK from the terrorist list and back it for "regime change" in Iran.

For McMahon, Tanter personifies the political nature of the entire case. The case, he says, is a sham by the Bush administration and the FBI to fool the American public into believing they are "winning" the amorphous war on terror.

"The real sham here is being perpetrated by the government," he says.

That's his opinion. You have to wonder if Lenard has allowed the jury to hear enough of the truth about the two men who made the case to make a reasoned one of their own.

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