Cross-posted from The 10,000 Things

In the first formal challenge of the Bush administrations domestic spying practices the Albany Times Union reports:

“Attorneys for the Muslim men, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, recently filed motions in U.S. District Court asking the government to disclose whether the pair were subjected to the domestic surveillance measures, which triggered a national debate when the activity was first exposed last month in a report by The New York Times.”

Aref and Hossain were arrested Aug 5, 2004 as part of an elaborate FBI sting operation in which they were accused of helping to launder money to be used in the purchase of a SAM (surface-to-air) missile to be used in a terrorist attack.
While headlines were sensational…

“At a news conference, Deputy Attorney General James Comey acknowledged there never was a real threat of any attack. “This is not the case of the century,” he said.”

A key component of the sting was the infiltration of Masjid As Salam mosque where Araf taught by Shahed Hussain. Hussain had been arrested earlier in an unrelated scam to get illegal driver’s licenses for other immigrants.

Almost immediately questions and criticisms of the sting operation arose. And an error in translation put the whole case in question.

Today the lawyers for the two men are questioning whether they were subject to illegal domestic surveillance through the recently revealed NSA spying program.

“Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak, who is prosecuting the case, declined comment. Hossain’s attorney, Kevin Luibrand, and Aref’s attorney, Terence L. Kindlon, also declined to discuss their motions, citing judge’s orders not to discus the case.”

It is unclear whether they will be successful in their request for the highly sensitive and secret information.

“But the Albany investigation is a sting case, which means the government will likely be compelled at trial to show the men were predisposed to take part in a terrorism plot without any urging from an FBI informant. However, if it turns out they were targeted because of information secretly gleaned from their e-mails or telephone calls, the entire case could be jeopardized if its foundation was based on an unlawful act, according to their attorneys.”

However, previous attempts to gain access to classified information in the governments case have been unsuccessful.

“Even if Aref and Hossain were secretly monitored by the NSA, it’s not clear whether their attorneys, or, the public, will ever know. So far, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, who is presiding over their case, has not granted any requests by defense attorneys for access to classified information gathered by the government.

Much of the material has been reviewed by McAvoy under seal, and not turned over to the defense teams.”

Both men are long time residents of the area.

“Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who has lived in Albany for more than two decades, claims he was lured into the plot by an overzealous FBI informant.

Aref, 35, is an Iraqi-born religious scholar who was hired as imam at the Masjid As Salam mosque on Central Avenue soon after he arrived in the United States seven years ago. Aref and Hossain had been free on bond while their case is pending, but Aref’s freedom was revoked by a federal judge on Sept. 30 when federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment that contained allegations of Aref’s past ties to terrorist organizations.

The case is expected to go to trial in the coming months.”

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