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Former FBI Official: Trip Wires Are Foiling Plots

Ronald Kessler By Tuesday, 21 August 2012 01:22 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. — Trip wires developed by the FBI to warn of threats are rolling up terrorist plots and saving lives, Dr. Vahid Majidi, the former assistant FBI director in charge of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, tells Newsmax.

To devise trip wires, the FBI in effect reverse-engineered a terrorist operation. It looked at a potential terrorist incident and then worked backwards to pinpoint all the elements a terrorist might require to achieve his goal. The FBI then had a roadmap of possible clues to an impending plot.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari allegedly was planning to blow up the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush.
(AP Photo)
As an example, the FBI asked companies or laboratories that supply certain chemicals or biological materials to report any suspicious purchases to the FBI or police.

Trip wires led to the arrest of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old college student from Saudi Arabia who allegedly was planning to blow up the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush. In another case, a nursery notified the FBI of large purchases of castor plants. The FBI found that the purchaser was planning to make ricin from castor beans and send it to a judge.

“We have a complete set of trip wires for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats,” Majidi says.
The WMD Directorate was established to coordinate all elements of the FBI that deal with WMD cases. When FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III hired him in 2006 to head the WMD Directorate, he said to Majidi, “Your mission is prevention. I want you to think 24/7 prevention.”

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Majidi was previously the chemistry division leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is now director of the Energy and Technology Center at the University of Oklahoma’s University Multispectral Laboratory.

As noted in my book “The Secrets of the FBI,” Arthur M. “Art” Cummings II, who headed counterterrorism at the FBI and became executive assistant director for national security, led the effort to develop trip wires, which number in the hundreds. Besides uncovering possible clues to WMD plots, they allow the FBI to ping on a range of other indicators of terrorist activity.

To be a terrorist, “You need communications strategy, you need to be able to raise money, you need to be able to move money, you need an organizational structure that allows for that to happen, and you need communications that go back to the mother ship,” Cummings says.

For instance, he says, the FBI looks at people caught by Customs with cash in excess of $10,000.

“I’m going to correlate this person, who is leaving the country with money, with his communications,” Cummings says. “If he is raising money for Hamas and is communicating with the occupied territories, that is of interest.”

Cummings initiated a companion $350,000 project to, in effect, reverse-engineer a terrorist operation. In imagining terrorist scenarios, the FBI has devised trip wires for such esoteric items as synthetic DNA.

“If somebody who wants to create an organism that’s pathogenic in nature from a benign organism, they have to buy the DNA snippets from one of the synthetic DNA houses,” Majidi says. “We worked with the White House to make sure that there was a policy in place and then worked with the synthetic DNA manufacturers to make sure that there is a screening mechanism that would recognize what to look for and recognize who was buying it.”

In addition, “At a lot of retail stores, if you buy certain quantities of certain things, they have cards from the FBI that tell them that maybe this is something that I should be notifying the FBI about,” Majidi says.

If the FBI finds that an outlet overseas is selling material that could be used for a weapon of mass destruction, it will work with foreign governments to close down the outlet.

“People don't realize that the FBI works with the entire U.S. government, including the CIA and Department of Defense, to identify things of concern anywhere in the world,” Majidi says. “Let’s say that you see a front company in a foreign country that is selling material to one of your adversaries, such as Iran. We notify the intelligence community, the Department of State. In some instances, if we give them clear evidence, the host country physically goes and shuts the company down.”

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When combined with other forms of intelligence, trip wires have been a secret to why the FBI has successfully rolled up all foreign terrorist plots since 9/11.

“We look at all of these things as a multi-tier program,” Majidi says. “Every time you want to develop a weapon, you have to go through a series of processes, and if you have a trip wire at every level of those steps, if any of them identifies something suspicious, that is good enough,” Majidi says. “That’s actually what really works most of the time.”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012 01:22 PM
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