|Front view of the Capitol dome and building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.|
Harrisburg is the state capital of Pennsylvania. Copyright 2016, Paul Hair.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced in December 2015 that it had arrested Aziz in Harrisburg on charges related to terrorism. The press release stated that a JTTF (part of the FBI) had participated in the investigation and arrest. The FBI website explains what JTTFs are.
The task forces are based in 104 cities nationwide, including at least one in each of our 56 field offices. A total of 71 of these JTTFs have been created since 9/11; the first was established in New York City in 1980.
Today, the JTTFs include approximately 4,000 members nationwide—more than four times the pre-9/11 total—hailing from over 500 state and local agencies and 55 federal agencies (the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration, to name a few).
The DOJ press release also revealed that the Pennsylvania State Police, Harrisburg Bureau of Police, and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) were part of the JTTF that participated in the surveillance, investigation, and arrest of Aziz.
The PFPA website explains its mission.
Pentagon Force Protection Agency is a civilian Defense Agency within the Department of Defense charged with protecting and safeguarding the occupants, visitors, and infrastructure of the Pentagon, Mark Center, Defense Health Headquarters and other delegated Pentagon facilities.
So the PFPA is a civilian organization tasked with protecting the Pentagon and its designated facilities. Yet there aren’t any such facilities in or near Harrisburg. (The closest one possibly is the RRMC in Adams County, Pa., which is over 50 miles away and almost in Maryland.)
So why would the PFPA be part of a JTTF investigating a potential terrorist in Harrisburg? (And the PFPA wasn’t some ancillary component either. The PFPA special agent assigned to the JTTF is listed as the complainant on the criminal complaint against Aziz.)
The DOJ alleges that Aziz threatened U.S. troops yet the PFPA mission doesn’t task it with investigating threats to troops unless those troops are assigned to a PFPA facility.
There’s a possibility Aziz threatened troops assigned to a PFPA facility or that he threatened upper level DOD officials (whom the PFPA is also responsible for protecting). But there doesn’t appear to be any authoritative list that verifies this—even when the DOJ filed a superseding indictment in May that brought new charges against him, including charges related to threatening U.S. troops.
So what’s another possibility for why the PFPA was involved with the JTTF that investigated Aziz?
JTTFs might be short of federal agents.
PFPA employs special agents—federal law enforcement officials. As such, it likely allows its special agents to volunteer to work for JTTFs. In fact, if the JTTF need for federal agents is so great, PFPA special agents might be assigned to work for a JTTF whether they volunteer or not.
And there is some evidence suggesting this is why a PFPA special agent was part of the JTTF that surveilled and investigated Aziz.
Fox News reported in November 2015 that the FBI has been doing a lot of surveillance of potential Islamic terrorists. The article stated that demands for surveillance are so high that they are straining FBI resources.
“There is a very significant number of people that are on suspicious watch lists, under surveillance,” Republican Sen. Dan Coats said.
Coats, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, would not comment on specifics, but said the around-the-clock surveillance is a major commitment for the bureau. “The FBI together with law enforcement agencies across the country are engaged in this. It takes enormous amount of manpower to do this on a 24-7 basis. It takes enormous amount of money to do this,” Coats explained. …
“It is a big resource drain. Yes it is. Almost overwhelming,” Coats said when asked about the demand placed on the FBI. “There will be a lot of people over the Thanksgiving weekend that will not be enjoying turkey with their family. They’ll be out there providing security for the American people and the threat is particularly high during this holiday period.”
The article also specified that, “These elite FBI teams are reserved for espionage, mob violence and high-priority terrorism cases, like a joint terrorism task force case last June, where a 26 year old suspect Usaama Rahim, was killed outside a Massachusetts CVS.”
Going back to the original press release announcing Aziz’s arrest, the DOJ noted that, “A prior search of a backpack located in Aziz’s closet identified five loaded M4-style high-capacity magazines, a modified kitchen knife, a thumb drive, medication, and a balaclava.”
That likely means the JTTF went into Aziz’s house—without him knowing it—before the government arrested him. This likely would have required careful surveillance of him and his parents (with whom he lived) in order to know when they would be gone from the house, where they would be going, how long they would be gone, and to ensure they wouldn’t return while JTTF personnel were there.
And if this is true, it means the JTTF likely used people trained in surveillance (a skill that requires specific training in order to be done correctly). And if this was the case, and if Sen. Coats is correct in stating that such resources are low, it might mean the JTTF took such people from other assignments, possibly even from other positions within one or more JTTFs. This, in turn, would have left voids it would have filled with other federal agents.
And this might be why a PFPA special agent was on the JTTF that investigated, surveilled, and helped arrest Aziz.
This isn’t a certain conclusion. Like I said above, there are possible other reasons for why the PFPA was part of this particular JTTF. But there is enough evidence to suggest that the FBI and federal government, including JTTFs across the nation, are now so stretched in surveilling and investigating potential Islamic terrorists that they are forced to bring in special agents and other federal law enforcement officials from government agencies which have unrelated missions.
And this might be the reason a PFPA special agent, who normally would have no duties in investigating terrorism threats unrelated to the PFPA mission, was part of the JTTF that investigated, surveilled, and helped arrest Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz in Harrisburg.