Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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What did the FBI Really Know before Terrorist Attack in Garland, Texas?

Apr 27, 2017

Recent Media Reports & Court Records Conflict with FBI Statements to Congress

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today is calling on the FBI to explain its advance knowledge and any plan to thwart a 2015 terrorist attack in Garland, Texas.  Grassley’s questions follow recent media reports revealing that an undercover FBI agent was not only in communication with the terrorists weeks before the attack, but the agent was also at the scene taking pictures of the terrorists seconds before the shooting began.  However, in 2015, FBI Director James Comey indicated that the Bureau was not aware of the perpetrator’s plans to travel to Garland or of any plans to carry out the attack.

According to news reports, an undercover FBI agent had been in communication over social media with one of the terrorists, Elton Simpson, in the weeks leading up to the terrorist attack.  In one of the communications with the undercover agent, Simpson shared a link to information about the “Draw Prophet Muhamad Contest,” to which the agent replied, “Tear up Texas.” Simpson replied, “Bro, you don’t have to say that,” and “No need to be direct,” and referenced a terrorist attack in Paris.  The day of the attack, the agent was in a car directly behind Simpson and his associate, Nadir Soofi, near a police checkpoint.  The agent was taking photos of the terrorists just before the shooting began. A local police officer fatally shot both terrorists.

Despite the communications between the agent and Simpson, as well as court filings and news reports that reveal the agent was present at the scene during the attack, Comey told reporters in the days following the attack that the FBI had no reason to believe that Simpson intended to attack the event and was unaware of any plans to travel to Garland. 

In a letter today to Comey, Grassley is seeking details on the circumstances surrounding the FBI’s investigation into Simpson, including when it became aware that the agent was traveling to Garland, whether it suspected Simpson of planning an attack and what plans were in place to intervene.

Comey is scheduled to testify at an FBI oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3.

Full text of Grassley’s letter follows:

April 27, 2017

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable James B. Comey, Jr.

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Comey:

I write regarding newly revealed information about the attempted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas.  A CBS 60 Minutes segment that aired on March 26, 2017, revealed that an undercover FBI agent who had been communicating with one of the terrorists just weeks before the attack, had travelled to Garland, was present at the scene of the attack, and took photos of the terrorists moments before the attack.[1]  This revelation appears to contradict your statement in 2015 that the FBI did not know that Simpson was travelling to Garland and did not have any indication that Simpson planned to attack the event.[2] 

This revelation also contradicts information you reportedly provided in 2015 to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson.[3]  The FBI allegedly continues to stonewall Chairman Johnson’s requests for information by refusing to provide a briefing to committee staff.[4]  The FBI’s complete lack of transparency to Congress on this issue is unacceptable.  Accordingly, I write today to request information about the FBI’s advance knowledge of and operational plans related to the attempted attack.

On May 3, 2015, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi pledged their allegiance to ISIS on Twitter and planned to attack an event at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, where participants were drawing the prophet Muhammad.[5]  When the terrorists opened fire at a police checkpoint outside of the event, police officer Greg Stevens fatally shot Simpson and Soofi, preventing what was evidently planned to be a large-scale attack.[6]  Apparently, an undercover FBI agent was in a car directly behind Simpson and Soofi and took pictures of the terrorists just seconds before the attack.[7] 

For years prior to the attack, the FBI had been investigating Simpson, who demonstrated an interest in radical Islam dating back to at least 2007.[8]  The FBI closed its case on Simpson in 2014, but reopened it “several weeks before the attack” because of statements that Simpson made on social media.[9]  Fewer than three weeks before the attack, an undercover FBI agent was communicating with Simpson over a social media application.  On April 24, 2015, Simpson sent the agent a link to the “Draw Prophet Muhammad Contest,” to which the agent replied, “Tear up Texas.”[10]  In response, Simpson cautioned the agents against discussing attacks in overt terms, writing: “Bro, you don’t have to say that. . . U know what happened in Paris . . . I think. . . Yes or no . . . ?” and “So that goes without saying. . . No need to be direct.”[11]

The undercover FBI agent was also in contact with Erick Jamal Hendricks, who had initially connected the agent to Simpson.  Hendricks urged the agent to go to the drawing contest with Simpson and “make your ‘voice’ heard,” which another agent interpreted as encouragement to commit an act of violence.[12]  The agent travelled to Garland and alerted Hendricks when he arrived at the contest event.  Hendricks asked the agent questions about the security posture surrounding the event and about whether the agent was armed.[13]  When the attack started, the agent fled the scene, but was stopped at gunpoint by Garland police.[14]

Please provide numbered written responses to the following questions and a briefing for Committee staff no later than May 12, 2017.

  1. When did the FBI know that the undercover FBI agent was travelling to Garland, Texas?
  2. Who within the FBI authorized the undercover FBI agent to travel to Garland, Texas, and why?
  3. Did the FBI suspect that Simpson and Soofi planned an attack at the drawing contest?
  4. If yes, what was the basis for the suspicion?
  5. Did the FBI share its suspicion with the Garland Police Department or any other law enforcement agency?  If not, why not?
  6. Did the undercover FBI agent meet with Simpson or Soofi in Garland prior to the attack?
  7. Did the FBI have any formal or informal operational plan to intervene to stop Simpson and Soofi from carrying out an attack?  If so, please provide all records related to the plan.  If not, please explain why not.

I anticipate that your written reply and any responsive documents will be unclassified.  Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee.  In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security.  Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions or instructions on unclassified information unilaterally asserted by the Executive Branch.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  If you have any questions, please contact Katherine Nikas or Samantha Brennan of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

Chairman

Committee on the Judiciary

 

cc:       The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

            Ranking Member

            Committee on the Judiciary

            The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz

            Inspector General

            U.S. Department of Justice

-30-

 

[1] 60 Minutes Investigates First ISIS-Claimed Attack in U.S. and What the FBI Knew (CBS television broadcast Mar. 26, 2017), available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/terrorism-in-garland-texas-what-the-fbi-knew-before-the-2015-attack/.

[2] Pete Williams, FBI Alerted Garland Police About Elton Simpson Hours Before Shooting, NBC News (May 8, 2015), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/fbi-says-it-alerted-garland-police-about-elton-simpson-n355526.

[3] See Malia Zimmerman & William Lajeunesse, Senate Leader Investigating Possible FBI Deception about Texas Terror Attack, Fox News (Apr. 20, 2017), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/20/senate-leader-investigating-possible-fbi-deception-about-texas-terror-attack.html.

[4] See Letter from Hon. Ron Johnson, Chairman, HSGAC, to Hon. James B. Comey, Jr., Director, FBI (Apr. 3, 2017).

[5] 60 Minutes Investigates First ISIS-Claimed Attack in U.S. and What the FBI Knew.

[6] Id.  The FBI’s review of the crime scene revealed that Simpson and Soofi had brought with them “six guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, bulletproof and tactical vests, and Xeroxed copies of the black flag of ISIS.”  Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.  The Phoenix FBI had a confidential informant, Dabla Deng, befriend Simpson at his mosque.  Deng spent three years posing at Simpson’s friend and was paid $132,000 by the FBI.  He recorded more than 1,500 hours of conversations with Simpson until he finally recorded Simpson talking about travelling overseas to wage jihad. 

[9] Id.

[10] Id.; Affidavit in Support of an Application for a Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant, at 28, United States v. Hendricks, Case No. 1:16 MJ 2128 (N.D. Oh. Aug. 8, 2016) [hereinafter Hendricks Case Affidavit].

[11] Hendricks Case Affidavit at 28 (ellipses in original).

[12] Id. at 29–30.

[13] Id. at 30.

[14] Id.