Both the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney in New York approved the FBI’s decision to decline investigating Jose Pimentel for alleged terrorism-related activities, government officials tell Newsmax.
With much fanfare, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced on Nov. 20 that Pimentel, 27, had been arrested in a terror plot. They said Pimentel, a Muslem convert, was planning to bomb police cars and a police station in Bayonne, N.J., and to kill U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pimentel allegedly assembled a bomb on his mother’s couch following directions in the article “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” It came from al-Qaida’s English-language on-line magazine “Inspire.”
Soon after the announcement, word leaked out that the FBI had declined to get involved and that the New York City District Attorney would proceed with prosecution under state laws. At issue was the question of how much an informant was involved in encouraging Pimentel or helping him gather the material to make a bomb.
“We have to make a decision about dedicating resources when we have a lot of cases working,” an FBI official tells me. “Not that it may turn out to be a serious case, but we just had questions about it. Hopefully the prosecution will go fine. It’s just not the kind of case we would have picked up.”
The question of whether the New York City Police Department’s informant had actually propelled the case was a factor in the decision to turn it down, the FBI official says.
“The history and capability of the informant are factored into these decisions,” he says. “How did the suspect come up on the radar of the law enforcement agency?”
The official noted other instances when a case was presented to the FBI or the local Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is dominated by the FBI, and the FBI has decided not to pursue it because of the need to allocate resources based on priorities.
“New York has a very large and capable investigative ability,” the official says. “We knew the case was not going to be dropped. We make these decisions with the U.S. attorney and Justice Department. We don’t do it blindly.”
While FBI officials think highly of the New York City police, periodic flare-ups have ignited between officials of the two agencies. In particular, while New York City Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Dave Cohen is highly capable, he is known to feel competitive with the FBI and to like to stick it to the bureau.
Previously, Cohen headed the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. In February 1995, six months before Cohen took over, France expelled a CIA officer after catching her trying to obtain secrets from a French government official. The Paris station had failed to take the usual precautions before the meetings in the suburbs of Paris to ensure that the officer was not under surveillance. The French Directorate of Surveillance of the Territory (DST) had recorded the meetings.
At the time, France was aggressively spying on American businessmen. Cohen thought the failure to take basic precautions was inexcusable.
“If you’re going to get caught, do it for the right reasons,” Cohen told me for my book, “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror
.” “We now live in a hostile environment. Make sure your protective socks are up.”
Cohen decided the standards of the CIA’s case officers had to be raised. In the process, he raised morale. At the time, case officers had been slashed 25 percent compared with 1991.
Cohen now heads the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division with more than 1,000 officers who aggressively pursue leads to possible terrorist plots and develop informants.
In handling informants used in sting operations, the FBI goes out of its way to make sure an entrapment defense cannot be raised successfully. In one example, the FBI arrested 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Oregon in November 2010. According to the FBI, the native of Somalia plotted to blow up crowds gathered for a Christmas tree lighting in Portland.
Several times an undercover FBI operative cautioned Mohamud about the implications of his plan, noting there would be many people at the event, including children, according to an FBI affidavit. But Mohamud responded that he was looking for a “huge mass that will . . . be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays,” according to the affidavit.
“There is always a bit of second-guessing that takes place when a city or state brings charges in one of these plots,” the FBI official observes. “The proceedings in the Pimentel case will play out, and then we’ll see where it leads.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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