Transcript of Press Conference Announcing Indictment of U.S. Citizen for Treason and
Material Support Charges for Providing Aid and Comfort to al Qaeda
October 11, 2006
4:10 P.M. EDT
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Good afternoon. I'm Paul McNulty, Deputy Attorney General. With me on stage are Willie Hulon, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI for National Security; Debra Wong Yang, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California; and Joe D. Morton, Director of Diplomatic Security Services for the U.S. Department of State.
Today in Santa Ana, California, a federal grand jury issued an indictment against Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, on charges of treason and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely, al Qaeda.
A charge of treason is exceptionally severe, and it is not one we bring lightly. In fact, Mr. Gadahn is the first person to be charged with treason against the United States since the World War II era. But this is the right case for this charge. I want to put his actions into context to be perfectly clear on why we have decided to make this extremely serious charge.
Adam Gadahn is an American citizen who made a choice. He chose to join our enemy and to provide it with aid and comfort by acting as a propagandist for al Qaeda. Terrorists create fear and intimidation through extreme violence. They want Americans to live and walk in fear. They want to demoralize us. That's why propaganda is so important to them, and why facilitating that propaganda is such an egregious crime.
According to the indictment, Mr. Gadahn appeared in a series of al Qaeda videos broadcast in the United States and elsewhere between October 2004 and September 2006, just last month. In these videos, Mr. Gadahn acknowledged that he had joined al Qaeda and declared that "the streets of America shall run red with blood. Casualties will be too many to count, and the next wave of attacks may come at any moment."
The videotaped messages praised the terror attacks of September 11, threatened violence against the families of American soldiers and other civilians, and called on American soldiers to join al Qaeda. In one message, Mr. Gadahn described the September 11 attacks as "the blessed raids on New York and Washington." And he said of his terrorist confederates, "We love nothing better than the heart of battle, the echo of explosions, and the slitting of throats of the infidels."
Adam Gadahn is 28 years old, and his last known address was Orange County, California. He is now a fugitive, and is believed to be living overseas.
We are also announcing today that Mr. Gadahn is being added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorist list, and a reward is being issued for information leading to his arrest. Joe Morton will have more information on that for you in just a moment.
Now, this investigation is a collaboration between the United States Attorney's Office in the Central District of California, led by Debra Yang, and the Justice Department's Criminal Division under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher. Responsibility for the Criminal Division's work in this prosecution has now been transferred to the Department's newly created National Security Division. I'd like to acknowledge the outstanding work and deduction of the FBI in this case..
The crime of treason is perhaps the most serious offense for which any person can be tried under our constitution. It is not a crime only against the American people, but against America itself. Today's indictment should serve as notice that the United States will protect itself against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Department of Justice will use every tool at our disposal in our mission to protect Americans. Betrayal of our country will bring severe consequences.
I'd now like to call on the individuals on this stage to make a brief statement, beginning with U.S. Attorney Debra Yang.
MS. YANG: Good afternoon. The charges returned by the federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California today reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed by Adam Gadahn and the commitment with which the United States of America will pursue any individual who actively endorses terrorism.
As demonstrated in the series of five videotapes that are described in the indictment, Gadahn has become the trusted ally and associate of al Qaeda's leaders, serving as the terrorist group's spokesperson and advocate. By aligning himself with al Qaeda, by moving overseas to be closer to al Qaeda's base and leadership, and by joining and advocating al Qaeda's terrorist agenda, an agenda that includes the overthrow of the United States government and the murder of American citizens, Adam Gadahn has committed treason against the United States of America.
The charges returned today by a federal grand jury demonstrate that the criminal justice system will not sit passively while a United States citizen engages in such activities. Thank you.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Thank you, Debra.
Will Hulon is the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI for National Security.
MR. HULON: Thank you, Paul. Good afternoon. Following Adam Gadahn's indictment for treason and material support to terrorism, he was added today to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list. Gadahn is considered a high value target which puts him high on the FBI's radar screen. This intense exposure limits Gadahn's operational ability, but he still poses a different kind of threat as a communicator for al Qaeda.
The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and intelligence partners, sharing information and coordinating investigations, as well as investigating all leads provided by the public, to locate Gadahn and to prevent future terrorist attacks.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: And finally, Director Joe Morton from the Diplomatic Security Service.
MR. MORTON: Thank you, Paul. Today the State Department announces that our Rewards for Justice program will pay up to $1 million for information leading to the apprehension of Adam Gadahn, an American believed to be a prominent member of the al Qaeda organization.
Secretary Rice said recently, "We face an enemy that wantonly kills civilians, not as collateral damage but as target of their attacks. We as a civilized world have an obligation to work on how we are going to fight the war on terrorism and to come up with solutions." Rewards for Justice is part of that solution.
The Rewards program has been and will continue to be one of the most valuable U.S. government assets in the fight against international terrorism. Rewards for Justice has paid more than $62 million to over 40 individuals whose information led to the prevention of terrorist attacks against the United States or conviction of terrorists attempting to carry out such acts. The Rewards program has led directly to the capture of Ramsey Yousef, as well the location of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Iraq. It has also been an effective tool in combating drug traffickers in Colombia and terrorists in the Philippines.
Terrorism continues to threaten the security of all people, and our determination to fight it is greater than ever. We ask for your assistance. We encourage anyone with information that may lead to Gadahn's apprehension to contact the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I'll now be happy to answer any questions you might have. Yes?
QUESTION: The indictment says that in a 2005 video, he makes some that L.A. and Melbourne will be next. How credible do you consider these threats?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I'm not in a position to assess the credibility of those threats. I don't have any information on that point.
QUESTION: Is there any evidence that Gadahn was involved in actual plotting or execution of attacks, or do you believe he was solely on the propaganda videos?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: To the best of my knowledge, it's propaganda. I don't have any evidence, or information, I should say, regarding involvement in planning other attacks. If we did have that information, I probably would not be able to provide it in this way in this setting. But I'm not aware of that investigation.
QUESTION: The constitution has quite a high threshold of how to prove treason. It includes two witnesses against the person. Do you have such witnesses? And what other information do you have that these statements that were made on these videotapes were not coerced or were other people's words, or what other witnesses do you have?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, you're right. The charges of treason are very serious, and it is a significant bar to get over in terms of bringing those charges. We wouldn't be here announcing these charges today if we weren't confident that we had the evidence to support the elements of the offense that are associated with the charge of treason. And as you mentioned, the two-witness rule is one of the critical elements of that charge.
It is our practice not to discuss at great length our evidence at the time we announce charges. But I will say that we are very confident about the satisfaction of the standard of the two-witness rule, the least of which the fact that these messages have been broadcast into the United States on video repeatedly, and that a number of individuals would be in a position to be able to identify Adam Gadahn.
But again, we understand our burden. We have to meet a burden that includes a number of elements in addition to the two-witness rule to show that there has been aid and comfort given to the enemy and adherence to the enemy. And the elements will be met if and when we have the opportunity to present our case in court.
QUESTION: Previous indictments against him have remained sealed. This one obviously is not. I wonder if you could explain to us your thinking in keeping the previous indictments against him sealed and making this one public.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, this case involves a building of information and evidence against the defendant. We had a videotape in October of 2004; then one on September 11, 2005; then July 7, 2006, the anniversary of the London bombings; another one in September; and then another one in September. So there is a pattern here of more videos, and it has been building up. We've had three this year.
In addition to that, the evidence has been getting stronger. In the most recent videos, we have had unmasking of the defendant, revealing identity, strengthening the government's case. This has also strengthened our ability in considering the treason charge. In each video, we find ourselves in a position of going back to the indictment and having to essentially rewrite the indictment to add the additional evidence that supports the treason charge.
When you take all of that and the building case of the evidence coming in and the more recent videos, combined with now in the last 30 days the decision to have an up to $1 million award, and to put him on the Most Wanted list, it creates a circumstance where it's time now to get the message out in order to get this person in our custody, perhaps to find the assistance that we need, and also to send a message that this kind of conduct will be met with the toughest charges that we can bring to discourage anybody else who might be tempted to respond to his invitation to betray America and to join al Qaeda.
QUESTION: Do you believe every video leads you closer to finding him if there are all kinds of things you can look into background in his messages? And do you believe he's in Pakistan?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I didn't mean to suggest, if you heard anything in that way, that something about the video leads us to understanding more about him. I'm not in a position to say anything about that. And I'm not sure -- let me check -- we believe he's in Pakistan, but we're not positive of it.
QUESTION: When the Agency and the FBI analyze these videos, usually there's things that they see that maybe, you know, the general public doesn't see. Do you believe that every video may lead you a little closer to finding him?
MR. HULON: Yes. Actually, any time we have an opportunity to examine evidence or information, we're looking for clues there. And as we look at these, we do look for clues that would identify where this person might be or give us some indications of, you know, more evidence that would lead us to his location.
QUESTION: The sealing of the earlier indictments and the unsealing of the current indictment now is undoubtedly going to fuel suspicions that the announcement here was timed to influence an election less than four weeks away in which national security is going to be a big issue. I was wondering if you can address that.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, I'll go back to what I was saying to Terry, that the timing of this case fits the circumstances we face. There would be no good justification to delay this indictment when we have seen the building nature of these videos, and the fact that we have the award now. The award would not do us much good if this was kept secret.
We felt that once we had the most recent video and now a broader base of evidence, we had thoroughly analyzed the nature of the treason charge, applied all the facts in this case to the law in this area, we were in a position to go to the grand jury and seek an indictment. Once we went to the grand jury to seek that indictment, and again having some incentive for cooperation, that we wanted to get this word out as soon as possible. That's in the best interests of the American people to do that.
QUESTION: When exactly was the original indictment?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I'll come back to you in a second.
QUESTION: If you don't have any information that he's been involved in actual plots or actual attacks, what kind of threat does this person actually represent? I mean, you've had people who have actually been involved in attacks in the past but have not faced what he's facing now with this indictment. Can you explain what kind of threat he represents?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: We have an American citizen here, and that's a distinction from other cases where you might talk about individuals who have been involved in attacks. We have an American citizen, and element of the offense for treason.
The significance of the propaganda part should not be underestimated. If you look at the cases in this area going back to the World War II era, the broadcast cases, which was a category of cases in itself, about five of them, this is a very significant piece of the way an enemy does business, to demoralize the troops, to encourage the spread of fear. And in fact, when you add terrorism to this equation, in contrast to the World War II enemy, where terrorism by its nature seeks to intimidate in order to affect government policy, the propaganda portion is especially significant. And the fact again we have a U.S. citizen who has betrayed the country, according to the charges, the allegations, and joined up with this enemy to communicate that fear, it brings a lot of different factors together and makes it suitable for treason.
Did you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: Can you just clarify, when was the original indictment? When was that first sealed indictment?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: We're going to have to get that for you. I don't think I know that off the top of my head.
QUESTION: Do you believe he has no value for intelligence, and is that why you're not considering him an enemy combatant but instead a treasonous criminal?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, I can't comment on what value he might have in one setting or another. But from the Department of Justice perspective, we have enough evidence to bring the charges that we're bringing today, and that's the consideration that this represents. Yes?
QUESTION: When Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller announced this, they said that he was involved in translations for al Qaeda. Is there information that this was propaganda work, or was this documents that they were seeking to translate for an attack plan? Is there anything anybody can provide us?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I don't have any more information on that. Do you have something on that?
MR. HULON: Actually, the original reporting that was reported was that he was doing translations for al Qaeda, which were the translations that he did for the videos. And you could see that some of the text was in Arabic and then some of the language was English. So that's the explanation for the translations. It's actually for the communications network.
QUESTION: How? Were there documents recovered overseas in safe house or something?
MR. HULON: That was in regards to the videotapes that were broadcast.
QUESTION: Are the videotapes the only evidence that you have at this point?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, I will refer you to the indictment, which lays out essentially where we are on this. And it focuses on all the information in the videotapes, yes.
QUESTION: Right. There's nothing other?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Nothing other than those videotapes. That's right.
QUESTION: You mentioned this evidence as building over a period of time. What was the tipping point in your mind?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, right. I think the fact that we had two broadcasts in September, so within the past month, just over the past month. We're one month today from the last video. We had two of those videos. And the investigation took a real turn with that because we again had the unveiling. We had stronger support for the analysis that we were doing in this case. And we came to a point where we could make a final decision on whether or not we believe that treason would be an appropriate charge. So these last two videos combined, and in that frequency, led us to believe that we need to move on this at this point.
MODERATOR: We'lltake one more question.
QUESTION: Paul, would you address the question of what's going on in New York City before you leave, you or Mr. Hulon? What evidence, if any, do you have that there's any possible connection to terrorism? How much deaths do you know about? What can you tell us about what's going on?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, based upon the information I received just before I walked into this room, we still have no evidence to suggest that this is connected to an act of terrorism. It appears to be at this point, again based upon the evidence that we're aware of, a very tragic aviation incident. And there are investigators, including the FBI's JTTF and the New York City police, on the scene gathering evidence. And we'll continue to monitor the situation.