On Friday, former Washington D.C. Transit Police Officer Nicholas Young was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to ISIS.
In July 2016, Young purchased gift cards and sent their code numbers to someone that he believed had joined ISIS in Syria. According to the Justice Department, Young hoped that ISIS would use the money from the gift cards to pay for secure communications between ISIS officials and potential foreign recruits.
As it turned out, Young’s ISIS friend in Syria was actually an FBI informant who was part of a six-year long intelligence operation to nab the terrorist-sympathizing cop.
Young initially joined the Washington Metro Transit Police back in 2003. In 2010, FBI agents first began to surveil him because of his association with Zachary Chesser, a Muslim convert who was convicted just two years later on terrorism charges related to his attempt to join the Somali jihadi group al-Shabab and threats he made against the creators of “South Park” for depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed in an episode of their show.
In 2011, Young met with an FBI undercover agent and a man named Amine El Khalifi to discuss violent jihad. That same year, Young traveled twice to Libya to fight alongside Islamist militants against Muammar al-Qaddafi. In 2012, Khalifi was tried and convicted for planning a suicide bombing of the U.S. Capitol.
According to the same FBI undercover, Young had discussed his violent desires and intentions on several other occasions. Because he realized that the FBI was on his trail at some point, Young had threatened to set FBI agents’ cars on fire, kidnap and torture an agent who had interviewed his family members, and sneak weapons into a federal courthouse, ostensibly using his access as a member of law enforcement to do so.
In late 2014, Young mistakenly believed that one his friends, actually an FBI informant, had successfully traveled to Syria via Turkey and joined ISIS. Young then attempted to obstruct the FBI’s investigation of his “friend,” according to the Department of Justice:
“Between Dec. 3, 2015, and Dec. 5, 2015, Young attempted to obstruct and impede an official proceeding. Specifically, Young believed an associate of his, who was actually an FBI confidential human source (CHS), had successfully joined ISIS in late 2014. During an FBI interview, Young was told the FBI was investigating the attempt of his associate (the CHS) to join ISIS. Nevertheless, in an attempt to thwart the prosecution of the CHS and himself, Young attempted to deceive investigators as to the destination and purpose of the CHS’s travel.
“Additionally, in November 2014, Young attempted to obstruct, influence and impede an official proceeding of the Grand Jury by sending a text message to the CHS’s cell phone in order to make it falsely appear to the FBI that Young believed that the CHS had left the United States to go on vacation in Turkey. In actuality, Young believed the CHS had gone to Turkey and then to Syria in order to join and fight for ISIS.”
Young was arrested for his purchase of gift cards to support ISIS in August 2016, just a few weeks after making the buy, and was convicted in December 2017 for attempting to provide material support to ISIS and obstruction of justice.
Young’s successful apprehension and prosecution are good news for Americans who continue to be concerned by the threat of Islamic terrorism, but his hiring and long tenure of over a decade in the Washington Transit Police raises serious questions about America’s law enforcement hiring practices and whether enough is being done today to keep potential national security threats from being employed in places where they could wreak real havoc.