What type of investigation did the FBI conduct into Ahmad Khan Rahami?

As news breaks that Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami’s father contacted the FBI two years ago to report that he feared his son was a “terrorist” (as did the father of the “underwear bomber” to the CIA), a slight discrepancy has surfaced between reports published by The New York Times and The Guardian. While the Times reports that the FBI conducted an “assessment” of Rahami after his father’s warning, The Guardian uses the phrase “preliminary investigation.”

Although The Guardian quotes the FBI as stating, “In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami” (emphasis added), the paper uses the term “preliminary investigation.”

The FBI conducted a preliminary investigation into Rahami after his father contacted them following a 2014 stabbing to express concerns that his son was a terrorist.

…The FBI did not clarify if it interviewed Rahami, who was captured in a shootout with police yesterday, in 2014, but confirmed it conducted a preliminary investigation.

The Times, however, consistently uses the word “assessment” throughout its story:

The information was passed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force led by F.B.I. in Newark. Officers opened what is known as an assessment, the most basic of F.B.I. investigations, and interviewed the father multiple times.

…The assessment of Mr. Rahami illustrates the challenges the F.B.I. faces as it solicits information from the public about people who might pose a threat and then must sort through what is credible, while balancing the need to protect the country without overstepping its authority.

…Like Mr. Rahami, one of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the subject of an assessment in 2011.

…While the federal assessment of Mr. Rahami was closed weeks after it began…

While this discrepancy between The New York Times and The Guardian may appear to the average reader as simply a difference in word choice, there’s actually a legal or operational difference between an FBI “assessment” and a “preliminary investigation.” According to the Times:

Depending on the intensity and urgency of an inquiry, there are three types of investigations the F.B.I. can undertake with varying levels of intrusive techniques.

The first is an assessment, in which agents use basic techniques like conducting interviews, talking to confidential informers, using physical surveillance and checking databases and public records.

Next come preliminary and full investigations, which can be initiated if agents believe a federal crime has been committed or there is a threat to national security. Those investigations can involve polygraphs, undercover agents and mail searches.

Both assessments and preliminary inquiries have time limits.

A full investigation has no such time limits, but does eventually require review and employs powerful electronic surveillance tools, requiring the approval of a court warrant. Among other things, it allows for the secret interception of international communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a law and policy institute that closely monitors the FBI’s tactics, adds a fourth category:

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According to the FBI’s own Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), assessments and preliminary investigations are indeed separate entities. The DIOG defines yet another category, “enterprise investigation,” which “may only be opened and operated as a Full Investigation and is subject to the same requirements that apply to a Full Investigation… although there are addition approval requirements that affect Enterprise Investigations.” An enterprise investigation can only be used on “the most serious criminal or national security threats.” Its purpose is to “examine the structure, scope, and nature of the group or organization.”

Unless The Guardian knows something I don’t, it’s likely that it simply didn’t consider the real differences between “assessment” and “preliminary investigation.” The distinction seems rather harmless, but nonetheless important to point out.

 

Marginalizing the Momentum of the BDS Movement

Originally published at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted by In These Times.

Despite increasingly frequent victories for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement confronting the state of Israel, and the heightened panic expressed by its critics, the New York Times virtually ignores the movement’s momentum. When attention is paid to BDS, coverage doesn’t focus on the role of the movement in the struggle for Palestinian rights, but instead amplifies critics of BDS and focuses on charges that the movement is a form of antisemitism.

The BDS movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian intellectuals and activists, is a nonviolent resistance movement that calls for economic pressure on the state of Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinians.

In a New York Times article (7/2/15) about two failed divestment efforts that, according to the story’s lead, “dealt a blow” to “a pro-Palestinian economic campaign against Israel,” reporter Rick Gladstone acknowledged that BDS “has been gaining traction in the United States.” That throwaway line is the end of the story for readers, since the Times rarely covers successful BDS efforts, either in the US or abroad.

Although the Times did cover both the United Church of Christ’s vote (6/30/15) and the Presbyterian Church’s vote (6/20/14) to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, here are seven recent BDS victories that were ignored by the Times:

  • September 2015: The Icelandic capital Reykjavík’s vote to boycott Israeli goods and the backlash from pro-Israel groups that led the city to severely limit the boycott.
  • August 2015: The Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine that “wholeheartedly endorse[d]” BDS, signed by over 1,100 black scholars, activists, artists, students and organizations, including Cornel West (mentioned by the Times 34 times in the last two years), Angela Davis (14 times), Mumia Abu-Jamal (nine times) and Talib Kweli (19 times).
  • June 2015: The United Nations’ annual World Investment Report, which found that foreign direct investment in Israel plummeted by half after Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza in 2014.
  • April 2015: French multinational Veolia’s decision to sell most of its business assets in Israel after seven years of pressure from BDS activists.
  • February 2015: Stanford University student government’s vote to support divestment (though see below).
  • January 2015: University of California/Davis student government’s vote to support divestment, making it the seventh of ten UC schools to do so.
  • October 2014: Anthropologists’ statement to boycott Israeli institutions, signed by over 1,000 scholars.

When the Times does cover campus activism on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it opts to focus on the debate about antisemitism instead of focusing on the role of divestment and boycott resolutions in the campaign for Palestinian rights.

A May 2015 front-page article by Jennifer Medina and Tamar Lewin, “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities” (5/9/15), centered on the idea that Jewish students are threatened and marginalized by BDS activism. Ali Abunimah later reported in the Electronic Intifada (5/12/15) that Medina only asked Safwan Ibrahim, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA, questions about claims of antisemitism—ignoring the BDS movement’s tactics or motivations.

David McCleary, a Jewish member of SJP at UC Berkeley, said he felt like he was being given a Jewish “litmus test” by contributing reporter Ronnie Cohen, who apparently questioned McCleary’s Judaism in light of his involvement with SJP. “For them to find out that SJP at UC Berkeley is disproportionately Jewish interferes with that narrative that they are trying to invent,” McCleary told the Electronic Intifada.

NYTBDS

An earlier story by Medina, “Student Coalition at Stanford Confronts Allegations of Antisemitism” (4/15/15), also focused on the “debate over what constitutes antisemitism” in light of the Stanford student government’s vote to support divestment—an event that the Times did not cover in its own right, but only as an opportunity to run a piece about a Jewish student’s experience of being asked about divestment.

Times reporter Adam Nagourney ended an article (3/5/15) with a quote from Natalie Charney, student president of the UCLA chapter of the Jewish student organization Hillel:

People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being antisemitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it’s OK to single out Jewish students.

Despite the reference to “the Jewish state,” the territory controlled by the government of Israel contains more Arabs than Jew –– though most of the Arabs are excluded from political participation. Why does only activism in support of Israel’s disenfranchised majority, and not the defenders of Israel’s system of ethnic apartheid, prompt questions of campus bias in the New York Times?