Opponents of the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency program that targets al-Qaida-linked communications in and out of the United States should consider the Portland Seven terrorists, one of whom blamed their failure on President Bush.
Homegrown terrorist Jeffrey Leon Battle called America a "land of the kaffirs," or unbelievers. Before Sept. 11, 2001, he and others began forming a terrorist group and pondering mass murder.
"During the criminal investigation of the Portland Seven case, we learned through an undercover informant that, according to one defendant (Jeffrey Battle) ... the group allegedly contemplated attacking Jewish schools or synagogues," Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder, a prosecutor in the case, told me in a statement responding to my questions.
After 9-11, six of the gang decided instead to travel via China and Pakistan to Afghanistan, intending to join with al-Qaida in killing American troops. They made it as far as Kashgar on the Chinese side of the China-Pakistan frontier. When their efforts to cross over failed, two immediately went home, while three disbursed to other points in Asia, with Battle, at least, continuing his futile efforts to reach Afghanistan. One eventually did reach Afghanistan.
All along the way, they left an electronic trail, emailing and telephoning the United States, and receiving money wires.
Timely intercepts might have raised timely suspicions. Consider Habis al Saoub's call to Maher "Mike" Hawash.
Al Saoub, a Jordanian who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets, became the Portland Seven's leader -- and one member who reached Afghanistan. The Portland Oregonian reported he was killed with other al-Qaida terrorists by Pakistani forces in an October 2003 skirmish.
"Law enforcement officials suspected al Saoub had direct ties to al-Qaida even before he reached Portland, but they say any information about those ties remains classified," the Oregonian said.
Hawash, a naturalized American born in the West Bank, eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to aid the Taliban. According to an affidavit filed in federal court by Oregon State Police officer Thomas McCartney, Hawash and his wife made $357,668 in 2000 "primarily from Hawash's salary at Intel," where he was an engineer. He went to Kashgar, but returned home.
"After Hawash returned to the United States, he received a phone call from Al Saoub asking for money," prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum. "Hawash arranged for $2,000 to be sent by someone in Nablus in the West Bank area of Palestine to defendant Al Saoub in China."