Feds monitor mail, calls of terror case inmates
Federal prison officials nationwide are conducting special monitoring of the mail and telephone calls of more than 300 inmates linked to terrorism in an effort to prevent contact with other terrorists and develop intelligence, according to law enforcement officials.
While Bureau of Prison officials routinely and legally open and inspect all prisoner mail for contraband and do spot checks of written contents, the inmates with ties to terrorism here and abroad are supposed to have all of their mail read.
Prison telephone calls, which are routinely taped, are also closely screened for those special inmates, according to law enforcement records.
Justice Department and Bureau of Prison officials told Newsday that there is a list of more than 300 prisoners across the country who have been connected to international or domestic terrorism whose communications are monitored. Officials at the Justice Department told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March about the number of terror inmates subjected to special monitoring.
However, the mail monitoring program has had problems as far back as 2006 when a probe by a Justice Department inspector general found that a lack of translators had prevented the reading of all terrorist mail.
Bureau of Prison officials won't disclose which inmates have been designated for monitoring but offered to show committee members a list of names under "conditions designed to protect security and operational equities," according to a letter sent by officials to Congress in March.
But the list apparently includes recently convicted defendants such as Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay who admitted plotting to set off homemade bombs in the New York City subway last year, as well as those convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Inmates are put on the list based on information from a variety of sources, "including sensitive law enforcement or intelligence information" about a prisoner's past behavior and associations.
A spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee wouldn't comment on whether committee members were subsequently shown the list.
Mail sent by terror prisoners sparked a controversy in 2005. It was then revealed that letters of some convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and housed in a maximum-security prison were sent to other terrorists with links to those involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Among those defendants were Mahmud Abouhalima and Nidal Ayyad, said federal officials.
According to a September 2006 investigative report by the Justice Department inspector general, a letter from defendant Mohammed Salameh was found in the possession of a man suspected of plotting to blow up Spain's national justice building in Madrid.
The Justice Department report found numerous problems with the Bureau of Prison system of monitoring mail for "high-risk" inmates. Among the problems were a lack of translators to screen mail and an inability to read all mail for terrorist and other high-risk inmates. The Justice Department didn't have procedures to identify those who should be put under special security measures.
In response, Bureau of Prison and Justice Department officials agreed to implement recommended changes to the mail surveillance and terrorist screening procedures.