How The US Gov't Destroyed The Lives Of A Muslim American Man's Entire Family After He Refused To Become An Informant

from the disgusting dept

We recently wrote about a new lawsuit from some Muslim men, suing the US government after they were all placed on the no-fly list for refusing to become informants. Some of the stories were ridiculous, displaying just how aggressive and coercive the FBI has been in trying to force totally innocent people into becoming informants, even when they lack any actual connection to any terrorists or terrorist organizations. But those disgusting stories pale in comparison to a story reported by Nick Baumann at Mother Jones, in which it becomes quite clear that the US government wrecked the lives of multiple family members (mostly US citizens) after one American muslim man refused to become an informant.

You should read the full story of how it all came about, but through a series of events, the FBI came into contact with Naji Mansour, after his (perhaps naive) abundant display of hospitality resulted in two men associated with terror staying in his mother's house in Nairobi. His mother, an American woman from Rhode Island, worked for the US government (as a part of USAID). Eventually, the FBI appears to have realized that Naji had no real connection to the two men, but then they focused on doing everything possible to force him to become an informant. And when he refused, they basically set about to wreck his life, and then his family's lives. After refusing to become an informant, the family suddenly found it difficult to travel:
...the Mansour family headed to the Nairobi airport to fly to Uganda for a visit with Naji's ex-wife and their children. When Naji handed his passport to a security officer, she glanced at her computer screen, stared at him, and asked, "What did you do?" Kenyan security officers detained the family for several hours, releasing them just before their flight took off.

When the family returned five days later, Kenyan airport police questioned Naji again. "The deputy immigration officer said, 'We have nothing wrong with you, but we have a directive not to let you in,'" Naji recalled. Soon, Fogarty and Jones showed up at the airport. The FBI agent reiterated the US government's desire that Naji become an informant. Naji once again declined.
Another time, his mother stopped by the US Embassy in Kenya to add more pages to her passport -- only to have her passport seized. She was told it would only be returned if she met with the FBI agent who had been pushing to turn Naji into an informant. He asked her where Naji had moved to, because they had apparently lost track of him. The very next day, Naji, who had moved to Sudan, and his wife found themselves detained by Sudanese law enforcement:
So on Monday, June 29, Sandra sat down with FBI agent Mike Jones. "He asked, 'Where's Naji now?'" she recalled. "I said, 'He's with me in Juba.'"

The next morning, June 30, Naji and Nasreen—who had come to visit her husband in Juba while Sandra was in Nairobi looking after their children—were about to go out for breakfast when they noticed a man peering through the window. Naji opened the door to find two men in suits, sweating in the heat, with guns on their hips. "One of them looked like African James Bond," Naji told me. "And I say, 'Yes, hello?' And they're like, 'Naji Mansour?' and I'm like, 'Yes.' And they just came in." The agents of the South Sudan Security Bureau asked Naji to bring Nasreen out, and then they took the couple's phones and laptops and hustled them into separate unmarked cars.
His wife was detained for over a week -- never charged with anything and then finally released. Naji was held for over a month. In the middle of his detention, a US State Department official suddenly showed up and told him he should meet with the same FBI agent, Mike Jones, who had been trying to recruit him as an informant. When Naji agreed, Jones immediately walked in with another FBI agent. They demanded some "useful info" to help him get released. He tried to come up with any information he could think of, but the agents told him it was not enough, and then said "All right, Naji, good luck... I hope everything works out for you, buddy" and left.

After a month he was released. No explanation, no charges. A few months later, Jones asked to meet again, and Naji said he wanted to talk by phone first, leading to some calls that Naji recorded, in which Jones appears to directly threaten Naji's family while denying having anything to do with his detention.
There's a lot in there (you can read the transcript at the link above), but it becomes clear that they're dragging his mother into this towards the end of the conversations:
Mike Jones [FBI]: As I said, Naji, you know, there's scrutiny on you, and that's not going to go away. There's scrutiny on your mom, she's a contractor with the embassy, that's not going to go away unless we sit down and get down to business. You don't want to come into the embassy, for good– you say for good reason, but meanwhile your mom is employed at the US consulate. So for you to say as an American, "I don't want to go into the embassy to meet with you, and there's a good reason for that." It's just, to us, it should have been done there. We did you a favor by agreeing to do it outside of the embassy, here, in this city. So, you know, Naji, there's really just not more I can say right now.

Naji Mansour: I'm even trying to decipher what you're trying to say right now.

MJ: What I'm trying to say is, you don't want to come into the embassy to do it. Fine. You know, I- we said we'd do it outside of the embassy. This isn't a, meeting hasn't been a priority to you. In fact, you haven't wanted to sit with us, since we've talked, since I've been back in country. Okay. You say you want to get things resolved. I say there's scrutiny on you. There's scrutiny on your mom. She's employed by the consulate, and yet you don't want, or she's employed at the consulate, through a contractor, and you're saying you don't want to come to the embassy, and there's a good reason for that. So I said meet us.

NM: Exactly. My position hasn’t changed. My position hasn't changed. The scrutiny on my mother has nothing to do with anything, unless you you're making a threat. And currently I told you the situation here, [Mike], that in this country I'm kind of like, have you heard of the expression that beggars are not choosers? I'm on contract. I'm on contract, so I'm not giving you any illegitimate excuse. While you're here, I've bent over backwards. And I really don't like your tone. I don't like your tone, [Mike]. I don't like your tone.

MJ: Naji–

NM: You have scrutiny on me for what? What do you have on me? You have nothing on me. I've done nothing. You cannot tell me…

MJ: Then let's sit down and talk about it.
Later in the call, Jones hands the phone over to another FBI agent (who also showed up in the Sudanese prison earlier), Peter Stone (a pseudonym), and Stone is much more direct about the threat:
PS: A series of events is going to be put into motion. And once you put it into motion, and honestly I, I'm out of it. I honestly do not care. I'm going home, you know I got a vacation to plan, I got this [inaudible] other kinda stuff, my life goes on. Yours might change. And it's not going, it might not be necessarily to your liking. But, this is what's going on, but the whole dodging, you're telling, oh, no, this time, that time, all that kind of stuff, frankly I don't believe it. And again, I really don't care. I'm getting ready to pack my bags and go. But when I go, when [Mike] goes, you know, that door closed on ya. A new chapter will open up for ya, and it's going to be a new chapter of your life, but you’re going to remember that this was the day where I could walked through that door, and ya didn't. But that's all I'm going to say, and I'm going to give you back to [Mike], and…

NM: No wait, hold up [Peter], you can't just…

PS: ...and you guys can say nah nah nah nah…

[crosstalk]

NM: That's a blatant threat, and you're going to put in your report that I, how are you? [crosstalk] That I don’t have an excuse to come, when I'm trying to frickin accommodate.

PS: Dude, dude, dude, no let me tell ya, I was not born yesterday. I haven't been doing this job since yesterday, okay? I know when somebody is yanking my chain. Okay? And I'm seeing...

NM: This ain't the states! This ain't the states!

PS: ... a major chain yank. Okay, this is not the first time, believe me. I've dealt with guys who've done that, and all that kind of stuff, and I've just learned, you know I've got a callus built up. I walk away. And then, whatever happens then, honestly, all I know is I can sleep at night knowing that every opportunity was given, you know, the guy decided not. I've helped people out, on the opposite side, people have been helped out tremendously, and that's something that I'm very proud of. People that were in deep shit, who are no longer in shit, and are living a good live, because I was there for them, and they took that door, they took the opportunity and walked through that door, man. And seriously, honestly, it's the same thing that's available to you. But again, you will remember this day, and you're gonna say, "Shit, I shoulda talked to these guys. And I shouldn't have been doing all excuses." If you didn't have any business going on today, or any kind of a things like that, you're gonna find how minuscule and worthless it was compared to this fork in the road, that you're about to take.

NM: What are you talking about? No, why don’t you come out and say it? Why'n't you come out and say what fork in the road are you talking about?

PS: Dude, I honestly don't care. I'm getting out of here. I don't care. Okay? And, you know, when I tell somebody, hey, you know what, if you cross the street without looking you're gonna get run over, that's not a threat. You know, that's advice. [crosstalk] You're about to cross the street without looking both ways...

NM: No.

PS: And I'm telling you, you know what You might get hit by a car—that is not a threat. That is a solid piece of advice. But you don't want to take it. But seriously I'm done, here's [Mike].
It's not too surprising (though no less disgusting) to see what happened next:
Four days later, on November 17, a State Department security officer visited the offices of Management Systems International in Juba. Sandra was fired the same day—less than a week after the company had renewed her contract for another year. She was told her position had been eliminated, but MSI posted the same job a month later. Stefanie Frease, one of Sandra's supervisors, told me the dismissal came at the behest of the US government.

"We all thought she was blackballed," said Inez Andrews, a former foreign-service officer working in the US compound in Juba at the time. "It's awful she hasn't been able to clear this up, that she's being held hostage to a system that was trying to extract information."
Later, his mother was blocked from returning to her own home in Nairobi, and told by an immigration official that it was because of the US government: "If the Americans don't want you here, you ain't coming in." And, then, of course, the US went after other members of Naji's family, including his siblings who are in the US military.
Other members of Naji's family have been targeted, too. In 2011, Naji's sister, Tahani, was detained at the Nairobi airport for three days. "I've heard, 'It's your people'"—that the US is behind her family's troubles with customs officials—"more times than I can count," she told me. "I go to airports now and there's this constant sense of trepidation. Am I gonna make it? Am I gonna get locked up again?"

"As a family we have always been mobile and traveling our whole lives, and as a result completely took it for granted," she told me. "The removal of the liberty to travel was crippling."

One of Naji's brothers says he is frequently questioned about Naji when he crosses an international border. The other, a Marine veteran based in Virginia, was visited by members of the Navy's criminal investigative service, who grilled him about Naji. The FBI even interviewed Naji's uncle and aging grandmother in Rhode Island in 2009.

"They didn't get to me, so they had to target my family," says Naji.
The story is horrific, but chillingly consistent with similar stories that we've heard about the way the FBI operates. Yes, it's important for the FBI to try to find out information about possible terrorists, but they seem to have no concern at all for wrecking the lives of totally innocent people in their pursuit of anyone. These are the kinds of activities that you hear about from authoritarian police states. It's the kind of thing that we were always taught the US doesn't do. Whether or not it was always a lie, it's clearly not the case today.

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  1. identicon
    Zonker, 7 May 2014 @ 4:43pm

    Q: When is a terrorist cell not a terrorist cell?

    A: When they are an FBI team who uses terrorism in the name of fighting "terrorists".

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