“There are several known instances in U.S. prisons of known or suspected terrorists communicating with terrorists overseas, or with their followers or other networks that share their ideologies and goals,” counterterrorism consultant Daveed Gartenstein-Ross said. “Probably the best example is the 14 letters that were exchanged between the convicted World Trade Center bombers and a Spanish terror cell.”
A February 2003 letter from convicted bomber Mohammed Salameh to the Spanish terror cell read in part: "Oh God! Make us live with happiness, make us die as martyrs, may we be united on the Day of Judgment."
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Michael Truman said all inmate phone calls are recorded and all incoming and outgoing letters are scanned or copied. He was not able to say what portion of correspondence of the 119 prisoners tied to Islamic terrorists is monitored promptly, if at all. Recorded phone calls not listened within six months are automatically deleted.
Although the agency does not employ full-time Arabic translators, Truman said, it uses outside contractors on an ad hoc basis. He did not provide specifics.
The congressional aide said the prison officials acknowledge not having a formal procedure for using translation services of other agencies.
The Justice Department inspector general also warned that federal prisoners were being “radicalized” during religious services conducted in Arabic, and that the prison agency lacked Arabic-speaking employees to monitor the sessions.
To address concerns raised in that audit, the Bureau of Prisons six months ago issued regulations saying that all “sermons, original oratory, teachings and admonitions must be delivered in English.”
Regulations allow each inmate five hours of phone calls per month and unlimited written correspondence, with some exceptions.
Three prisoners are barred from outside communication except with legal counsel. One is Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik and spiritual mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Another 16 inmates have limited outside contact.
The imprisoned World Trade Center bombers have had regular contact with other inmates in the general prison population, “where they radicalized inmates and told them that terrorism was part of Islam,” according to the audit.
The whistleblower who brought the lack of Arabic translators to public attention fears reprisal from inmates at the federal prison in Lee County, Va., where he is scheduled to return to work this month after an eight-month medical leave.
NBC interviewed Joe Mansour on camera in March and discussed his role in translating Arabic communications of prisoners, including in terror-related cases.
His attorney, Mathew Tully, said Mr. Mansour, who is Muslim, is seen as a traitor by the Muslim population at the prison and is in personal danger.
Despite repeated requests, Mr. Mansour has been denied a transfer to any other prison facility. Mr. Tully says transfer requests are commonplace. "It is extremely uncommon not to grant a transfer," he said.
When questioned by aides to Mr. Grassley, an ardent advocate of whistleblowers, Bureau of Prisons officials complained that Mr. Mansour was not a true whistleblower, a person in attendance said.
The officials suggested that Mr. Mansour was attempting to bootstrap the whistleblowing onto a 2004 discrimination complaint in which he charged harassment from other employees because of his Arab ethnicity.
Mansour is not seeking monetary damages. He first wrote a letter to supervisors in April 2003 saying that Arabic phone calls and letters from suspected and convicted terrorists were going “unmonitored due to a lack of Arabic speaking staff.”
When the BOP internally disseminated the new list of Arabic-speaking employees earlier this year, Mansour’s name was not on the list, which appears to be BOP’s attempt at retaliating against him for filing a discrimination complaint.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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