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FBI agent says Al-Arian was bugged, tapped for nine years

By Associated Press

06/27/05 "AP"
- - TAMPA, Fla. - The government tapped former university professor Sami Al-Arian's phones, planted microphones in his office and intercepted his faxes and computer conversations because they suspected him of terrorism ties, a retired FBI agent testified Monday.

Julian A. Koerner, who retired last year from the FBI after a long career in foreign counterintelligence and counterterrorism, testified he could not specifically recall the substance of the conversations the government overheard between Al-Arian and his co-defendants. They are on trial on federal terrorism charges for allegedly raising money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has killed more than 100 people in Israel and the West Bank.

Koerner said the wiretaps were not monitored "live," or while the conversations were taking place, but were recorded by machines, and evaluated, indexed and filed days or weeks later.

However, he did say that toward the end of the nine-year investigation, he thought the FBI was able to determine what was being typed on computers "on a very, very limited basis." Before that, the technology was not available, he said.

Defense attorneys questioned Koerner about how, with so much information coming in, it was determined what was pertinent.

For instance, Kevin Beck, who represents defendant Hatim Naji Fariz, wanted to know whether ordinary conversations among family members would have been captured by the surveillance.

"It depends upon what was being said," Koerner replied.

Beck asked whether conversations about "valid charitable organizations" would have been of interest to investigators, and Koerner replied that FBI employees were trained to filter such information, and discussion of a charity might be retained because it had intelligence implications.

Or, Koerner told him, it might be kept because it could be useful because some charitable organizations were used "as covers" to hide criminal activity.

Al-Arian, and three co-defendants face a 53-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Five other men have been indicted but are not in custody.

Prosecutors allege the men used a think tank Al-Arian founded at the University of South Florida and a Palestinian charity he also started as fundraising fronts for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Al-Arian and his co-defendants have denied the charges, saying that they are being persecuted for their unpopular views. They could get life in prison if convicted on charges that include racketeering, providing material support to terrorists and money laundering.

Their trial is expected to last six months.

Copyright: Associated Press

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