Accused Christmas Tree Bomber Fights for FBI Info


     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Attorneys for a 21-year old man accused of planning to bomb a Christmas tree ceremony continue to fight for information related to the investigation of their client.
     A federal judge also denied the defense’s request for the identity of an undercover FBI agent who established email contact with defendant Mohamed Mohamud, who pleaded not guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
     Mohamed Mohamud, from Corvallis, was arrested in November 2010 after allegedly detonating a fake bomb set up by undercover agents in a sting operation.
     The then-19-year-old had been under police surveillance in the months leading up to his arrest, and had been working with an undercover informant.
     In the months leading up to the trial, Mohamud’s public defenders have been trying to access more information about the identity of the informants, as well as more communications regarding the case.
     The attorneys appear to be building a case that Mohamud was entrapped by government agents who groomed him and exploited his vulnerabilities, and are piecing together the timeline of the investigation.
     Prosecutors contend that the man picked the time and date of the alleged attack, and was prepared to detonate the fake bomb.
     In a blow to the defense strategy, U.S. District Judge Garr King ruled Wednesday that the government does not have to disclose the identity of an undercover agent Mohamud knew as “Bill Smith.”
     “Smith” exchanged emails with Mohamud starting in November 2009, just 10 days after being placed on the no-fly list, the defense argued.
     Judge King held an in camera hearing with “Bill Smith” on Monday, and wrote that the undercover agent had no part in the plot to bomb the tree lighting ceremony.
     “Since all of Bill Smith’s contacts are through email, and the government produced all the emails to the defense, I do not see how Bill Smith’s identity or testimony at trial would be helpful to Mohamud, including regarding his entrapment defense,” Judge King wrote.
     He added: “Whatever effect the emails had on Mohamud, the words in them are not in dispute.”
     At a hearing on Wednesday, public defender Steven Wax said the government has provided more than 10,000 pages of information, but not nearly enough about the events leading up to Mohamud’s interview at the Portland airport.
     The arguments this week have centered around the events of June 14, 2010, when Mohamud and his parents found out the man had been placed on a no-fly list.
     Mohamud had planned to work on a fishing boat in Alaska for the summer, and his parents drove him to the Portland airport, where he was told he was not allowed to fly.
     After being turned away from his flight, Mohamud and his parents were approached by FBI agents Brad Petrie and Chris Henderson.
     The defense argued Monday that any statements Mohamud made at that time should not be admissible at trial, because the questioning was not voluntary.
     The attorneys first questioned retired FBI agent Brad Petrie, who had interviewed Mohamud at the airport.
     Petrie testified Monday that Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, had previously contacted the FBI with concerns that his son was being recruited by Islamic radicals.
     On Wednesday, the attorneys questioned former FBI agent Chris Henderson, who worked on the investigation of Mohamud in the months leading up to the airport incident.
     Henderson, who now works as an attorney in Las Vegas, started with the FBI in Eugene in 2009, and was a “case agent” in the investigation of Mohamud.
     Before the questioning, Judge Garr M. King said he did not know what was in the “case file” requested by the defense, and limited the inquiry to what Henderson knows and can recall.
     Henderson, it turned out, could not recall many specific details about the initial investigation of Mohamud.
     With little information provided, attorney Wax shifted questions to the interview of Mohamud in June 2010.
     Henderson testified that he did not have any specific memory of memos, notes, or electronic communications leading up to the FBI’s interview of Mohamud.
     The former agent admitted that he knew Mohamud planned to fly to Alaska, but did not recall any discussion about putting him on a no-fly list, or the specific intent in the plan to question Mohamud.
     Prosecutor Ethan Knight noted that Henderson was not in a position to know what information is or is not classified, and reminded the court that Wax was free to show Henderson documents “to refresh his memory.”
     On cross-examination, prosecutor Pamala Holsinger asked Henderson who was in charge of interviewing Mohamud. Henderson said Brad Petrie, who was a “very experienced agent,” led the interview, while Henderson was “brand-new” to the agency.
     Wax reiterated in closing that only 10 pages of the 10,000 provided by the prosecution mention Henderson before the day agents interviewed Mohamud at the airport.
     “At the very least, the court’s review of this material is needed,” Wax said, noting that there are 11,634 texts, and the government has only provided 1,954.
     “We have concerns about that type of disparity,” Wax said.
     The defense requested access to the portion of Mohamud’s FBI case file that goes through June 14, 2010.
     But prosecutor Knight countered that the defense is “essentially asking the court for another discovery order” and noted that Wax made no effort to refresh Henderson’s memory with available material.
     Judge King called this a “good point,” and ordered the defense to submit a reply brief within three days.
     Mohamud’s trial is currently scheduled to begin January 15th. A status conference is scheduled for December 6.

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