When Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik massacred 14 people in San Bernardino, California in 2015, newly retired Department of Homeland Security Officer Philip Haney was horrified to discover that a major case he spent years developing might have helped prevent the attack had it not been shut down by a branch of his own agency and Hillary Clinton's State Department.
Now, in his ongoing effort to help prevent future attacks by uncovering how the government quashed his case, three federal agencies either have flatly denied they have any communications or records related to the case, known as the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative, or refused to acknowledge whether or not the case ever existed.
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Haney is seeking the information with the help of the Washington watchdog Judicial Watch, which has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Customs and Border Protection, the division of DHS for which he worked.
Contrary to the federal government's responses, Haney already has in his possession a document showing the Tablighi Jamaat case was officially authorized by the DHS chief counsel. And he has a 2012 commendation letter from the head of the CPB's National Targeting Center along with a cache of DHS memos that not only verified the existence of the case but also confirmed it was shut down.
"I was astonished that my own agency would neither confirm or deny whether a case that was not only authorized by the DHS chief counsel but had also produced more than 1,200 law enforcement actions ever existed," Haney told WND.
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Judicial Watch previously obtained a cache of DHS memos verifying the Obama administration's opposition to the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative, a highly successful counter-terrorism operation that took more than six years to develop.
In 2006, Officer Haney began tracking the movements of individuals affiliated with a worldwide Islamic organization known as Tablighi Jamaat, which is part of the global Deobandi movement. He continued working on the case in 2011 and 2012 while he was assigned to one of the National Targeting Center's most specialized units, known as the Advanced Targeting Team.
By March 2012, according to a government document previously obtained by Judicial Watch, the case had drawn the “concern” of the State Department and DHS-CRCL, because the Obama administration believed the case unfairly focused on Muslims. DHS argued that since Tablighi Jamaat was not a designated terrorist organization, CBP officers could possibly be violating the civil rights and privacy rights of foreign nationals who were affiliated with the group.
However, the six years of intelligence gathered in the case had already been used to connect numerous members of the Tablighi Jamaat movement to several known terrorist organizations, including Hamas and al-Qaida, and to possible terrorist financing at the highest levels.
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Nevertheless, the chief enforcer of the Obama administration's effort to separate Islam from terrorism -- the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties -- teamed up with the State Department to effectively shut down the case, according to DHS memos.
The quashing of the case was all the more remarkable, said Haney, in light of the subsequent determination by federal oversight officials in 2017 that the U.S. government has failed to establish any method to determine if the Countering Violent Extremism policy -- based on the premise the religion of Islam has nothing to do with terrorism -- had any tangible impact on the U.S. effort to prevent terror attacks.
Feds respond to Judicial Watch
In a Feb. 3 letter replying to Judicial Watch's FOIA request, Patrick Howard, branch chief of the Customs and Border Protection's FOIA Division, said CBP could neither confirm nor deny the existence of National Targeting Center records on the Tablighi Jamaat case.
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Howard said the records are exempt from disclosure, citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(E), which guards law enforcement techniques and procedures.
"By this statement, CBP neither confirms nor denies that such records may or may not exist," he wrote.
The exemption, he explained, "protects records compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of which would disclose techniques and/or procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law."
In addition, in a Feb. 6 to Judicial Watch, Bradley E. White, the FOIA officer for the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties insisted his search for Tablighi Jamaat Initiative records had come up empty.
"We have conducted a comprehensive search of files within the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) for records that would be responsive to your request. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate or identify any responsive records regarding the existence of this initiative," he wrote.
Remarkably, the State Department's March 14 official response also insisted that "no responsive records were found."
"As a retired federal law enforcement officer who had detailed knowledge of the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative, I found it absolutely incredible that the three branches of the government that were involved in shutting down the initiative, would officially say -- in signed letters -- that the case essentially never existed," said Haney.
"I found it even more incredible that such an official answer would be given by active duty officials in the new Trump administration."
In June 2016, as WND reported, Haney also discovered that the mosque where Orlando killer Omar Mir Siddique Mateen worshiped several times a week also had a tie to the Tablighi Jamaat case.
He recalled that the FBI questioned Mateen three times but closed down the investigations. Haney also observed that CBP personnel would have encountered Mateen when he returned from at least two trips abroad. But they apparently were unaware he was not only the subject of an FBI investigation but was closely affiliated with the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, which suicide bomber Moner Mohammad Abusalha also attended.
Mateen, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding another 53 in what has been described as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Along with the State Department's and Department of Homeland Security's quashing of the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative in June 2012, an additional 67 records of individuals and organizations linked to the case that Haney had subsequently compiled were deleted in September 2012 by direct orders from "upper management."
But the Obama administration went even further. After effectively shutting down the case, it launched the sixth of what turned out to be nine investigations against Haney during his 12-year career in CBP.
The investigations, or "adverse actions," which were both criminal and administrative in nature, culminated with the Department of Justice convening a grand jury to conduct a criminal probe into Haney's alleged "misuse of a government computer" and possible violation of both the civil rights and civil liberties, and the privacy rights of a foreign national with suspected links to the Boston Marathon bombing.
Remarkably, five years later, a Feb. 20, 2017, directive signed by new DHS Secretary Kelly, titled "Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest," included a statement that the Obama administration's extraordinary efforts to protect the civil rights and civil liberties, and privacy rights of foreign nationals was not in alignment with existing law.
Another implication of the directive was that the Obama administration's decisions to delete valuable intelligence information from DHS record systems and then to use an array of federal agencies to investigate sworn law enforcement officers who were simply doing their duty to protect America also violated the law.
Haney also pointed out that the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative was initially prompted by an existing investigation of a known radical Madrassa in South Africa that was attracting young American Muslims.
Haney received a letter of commendation from the head of the National Targeting Center commending him for identifying 300 terrorists related to the case.
"Why would my own agency shut a case down with that much momentum?" Haney asked.
In June 2016, Haney testified of the Obama administration's “purge” of intelligence information before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Two days later, Cruz confronted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson with Haney's testimony, asking him if it was accurate.
"I have no idea," Johnson replied. "I don't know who Mr. Haney is. I wouldn't know him if he walked in the room."
"So, you have not investigated whether your department ordered documents to be modified?" Cruz followed up.
"No, I have not taken the time to investigate what Mr. Haney says. No." Johnson said.
Pressed further, Johnson essentially said it wouldn't matter whether or not Haney's claim was true, because if DHS admitted ISIS terrorism had something to do with Islam, the department wouldn't be able to cooperate with Muslim communities in the U.S.
However, Johnson's insistence that he had no knowledge of Haney and Haney's claims is refuted by the then-DHS chief's response to a question at a gathering of Muslim students at the University of Michigan at Dearborn in January 2016.
The Detroit Free Press reported Johnson said he not only knew about Haney’s claim, he had read an article the retired DHS officer wrote in the Hill, the influential Capitol Hill newspaper, titled "DHS ordered me to scrub records of Muslims with terror ties."
The Michigan event was held one month after Haney disclosed on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show that the Tablighi Jamaat case could have help prevent the San Bernardino attack.
The claim was based on the fact that Farook attended the Darul Uloom Al-Islamiya mosque in San Bernardino, California, and that other individuals and organizations already in the Tablighi Jamaat Initiative database were linked to the same mosque.
Haney's assertion was confirmed just one week later, when the FBI released the unredacted transcript of its Dec. 17, 2015 interview with Enrique Marquez, the person who supplied the guns to Farook and Malik. Paragraph 23 of the transcript states Marquez and Farook "discussed the Tablighi Jamaat movement and MARQUEZ began to pray more frequently at Farook's residence."
The cleric acting as spokesman for the San Bernardino mosque initially claimed he barely knew Farook and didn’t know his terrorist wife at all, but investigators discovered at least 38 text messages between the imam and Farook over a two-week span in June 2015, coinciding with the deadly Muslim terrorist attack on two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the New York Post reported.
The DHS to this day has not refuted any of Haney's claims.
At the June 2016 hearing chaired by Sen. Cruz, titled "Willful Blindness: Consequences of Agency Efforts to Deemphasize Radical Islam in Combating Terrorism," Cruz told Haney his testimony before the committee was "exceptionally important."
"I commend both members of the media and the American public to examine your testimony closely, because you have described a systematic policy, indeed of scrubbing, sanitizing, erasing references to radical Islam," Cruz said.
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