All posts by Robert M. Chesney

Robert M. Chesney is Charles I. Francis Professor in Law at UT-Austin School of Law. Chesney is a national security law specialist, with a particular interest in problems associated with terrorism. Professor Chesney recently served in the Justice Department in connection with the Detainee Policy Task Force created by Executive Order 13493. He is a member of the Advisory Committee of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security, a senior editor for the Journal of National Security Law & Policy, an associate member of the Intelligence Science Board, a non-resident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the American Law Institute. Professor Chesney has published extensively on topics ranging from detention and prosecution in the counterterrorism context to the states secrets privilege. He served previously as chair of the Section on National Security Law of the Association of American Law Schools and as editor of the National Security Law Report (published by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security). His upcoming projects include two books under contract with Oxford University Press, one concerning the evolution of detention law and policy and the other examining the judicial role in national security affairs.

nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Aldawsari (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2011)

* United States v. Aldawsari (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2011) (arrest of would-be bomber)

The complaint underlying the arrest is here, and details from the press release follow.

Note that this does not appear to be a “sting” case, but rather a conventional investigation stemming from tips. Also note that this is not, at least for now, framed as a conspiracy. This could be consequential, for absent a conspiracy the prosecutors are instead relying on attempt as the inchoate charge (under 18 USC 2332a, the WMD statute; recall that “WMD” is defined very loosely to encompass more or less all bombs). The interesting question is whether the facts alleged below suffice to trigger “attempt” liability. It does not sound as if he had yet assembled a bomb, which would have made for a much easier case. On the other hand, the many substantial steps that he had actually taken, if one credits the allegations below, leave no room for doubt as to what was going on. In any event, we can expect some interesting and important debate about the anticipatory scope of the attempt concept. If this proves problematic, and if this turns out to be a truly solo operation, it will serve to highlight a critical point about inchoate criminal law: criminal liability attaches far earlier in the planning process for groups than for individuals.

In any event, here is the press release:

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, a citizen of Saudi Arabia and resident of Lubbock, Texas, was arrested late yesterday by FBI agents in Texas on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in connection with his alleged purchase of chemicals and equipment necessary to make an improvised explosive device (IED) and his research of potential U.S. targets.

Aldawsari is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Lubbock at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Aldawsari, who was lawfully admitted into the United States in 2008 on a student visa and is enrolled at South Plains College near Lubbock, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, Aldawsari has been researching online how to construct an IED using several chemicals as ingredients. He has also acquired or taken a substantial step toward acquiring most of the ingredients and equipment necessary to construct an IED and he has conducted online research of several potential U.S. targets, the affidavit alleges. In addition, he has allegedly described his desire for violent jihad and martyrdomin blog postings and a personal journal.

Purchases of Chemical Ingredients and Other Equipment

The affidavit alleges that on Feb. 1, 2011, a chemical supplier reported to the FBI a suspicious attempted purchase of concentrated phenol by a man identifying himself as Khalid Aldawsari. According to the affidavit, phenol is a toxic chemical with legitimate uses, but can also be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as T.N.P., or picric acid. The affidavit alleges that other ingredients typically used with phenol to make picric acid, or T.N.P., are concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids.

Aldawsari allegedly attempted to have the phenol order shipped to a freight company so it could be held for him there, but the freight company returned the order to the supplier and called the police. Later, Aldawsari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for “off-campus, personal research.” Frustrated by questions being asked over his phenol order, Aldawsari cancelled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol. The affidavit alleges that in December 2010, he successfully purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids.

According to the affidavit, legally authorized electronic surveillance revealed that Aldawsari used various e-mail accounts in researching explosives and targets, and often sent emails to himself as part of this process. On Feb. 11, 2011, for instance, he allegedly e-mailed himself a recipe for picric acid, which the e-mail describes as a “military explosive.” He also allegedly sent himself an e-mail on Oct. 19, 2010 that contained information on the material required for Nitro Urea, how to prepare it, and the advantages of using it.

The affidavit alleges that Aldawsari also e-mailed himself instructions on how to convert a cellular phone into a remote detonator and how to prepare a booby-trapped vehicle using items available in every home. One e-mail allegedly contained a message stating that “one operation in the land of the infidels is equal to ten operations against occupying forces in the land of the Muslims.” During December 2010 and January 2011, Aldawsari allegedly purchased many other items, including a gas mask, a Hazmat suit, a soldering iron kit, glass beakers and flasks, wiring, a stun gun, clocks and a battery tester.

Searches of Aldawsari’s Residence

Two legally authorized searches of Aldawsari’s apartment conducted by the FBI in February 2011 indicated that the concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids; the beakers and flasks; wiring; Hazmat suit; and clocks were present in Aldawsari’s residence.

FBI agents also found a notebook at Aldawsari’s residence that appeared to be a diary or journal. According to the affidavit, excerpts from the journal indicate that Aldawsari had been planning to commit a terrorist attack in the United States for years. One entry describes how Aldawsari sought and obtained a particular scholarship because it allowed him to come directly to the United State and helped him financially, which he said “will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad.” The entry continues: “And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.”

In another entry, Aldawsari allegedly wrote that he was near to reaching his goal and near to getting weapons to use against infidels and their helpers. He also listed a “synopsis of important steps” that included obtaining a forged U.S. birth certificate; renting a car; using different driver’s licenses for each car rented; putting bombs in cars and taking them to different places during rush hour; and leaving the city for a safe place.

Research on Potential Targets

According to the affidavit, Aldawsari conducted research on various targets and e-mailed himself information on these locations and people. One of the documents he sent himself, with the subject line listed as “Targets,” allegedly contained the names and home addresses of three American citizens who had previously served in the U.S. military and had been stationed for a time at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In another e-mail titled “NICE TARGETS 01,” Aldawsari allegedly sent himself the names of 12 reservoir dams in Colorado and California. In another e-mail to himself, titled “NICE TARGETS,” he listed two categories of targets: hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants. On Feb. 6, 2011, the affidavit alleges, Aldawsari sent himself an e-mail titled “Tyrant’s House,” in which he listed the Dallas address for former President George W. Bush. The affidavit also alleges that Aldawsari conducted research that could indicate his consideration of the use of infant dolls to conceal explosives and possible targeting of a nightclub with an explosive concealed in a backpack.

The affidavit also alleges that Aldawsari created a blog in which he posted extremist messages. In one posting, he expressed dissatisfaction with current conditions of Muslims and vowed jihad and martyrdom. “You who created mankind….grant me martyrdom for Your sake and make jihad easy for me only in Your path,” he wrote.

Complaint Affidavit.pdf

nationalsecuritylaw forthcoming scholarship

* Forthcoming Scholarship

Drone Warfare and the Law of Armed Conflict

Ryan J. Vogel
Government of the United States of America – Department of Defense
Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2011

The United States has increasingly relied upon unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or "drones," to target and kill enemies in its current armed conflicts. Drone strikes have proven to be spectacularly successful – both in terms of finding and killing targeted enemies and in avoiding most of the challenges and controversies that accompany using traditional forces. However, critics have begun to challenge on a number of grounds the legality and morality of using drones to kill belligerents in the non-traditional conflicts in which the United States continues to fight. As drones become a growing fixture in the application of modern military force, it bears examining whether their use for lethal targeting operations violates the letter or spirit of the law of armed conflict. In this article I identify the legal framework and sources of law applicable to the current conflicts in which drones are employed; examine whether, and if so in what circumstances, using drones for targeting operations violates the jus in bello principles of proportionality, military necessity, distinction, and humanity; and determine what legal boundaries or limitations apply to the seemingly limitless capabilities of drone warfare. I then evaluate whether the law of armed conflict is adequate for dealing with the use of drones to target belligerents and terrorists in this nontraditional armed conflict and ascertain whether new rules or laws are needed to govern their use. I conclude by proposing legal and policy guidelines for the lawful use of drones in armed conflict.

Working Toward a Legally Enforceable Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime

Ronald J. Sievert

34 Fordham Int’l L. J. 93 (2010)

The article notes that the current Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty is not legally enforceable in part because the US cannot ever completely disarm in compliance with its part of the treaty “bargain” with the non-nuclear states. It proposes an enforceable treaty that recognizes existing nuclear powers, creates International Criminal violations for proliferation of nuclear weapons materials and first use of WMD absent an existential threat to the nation, and employs the ICJ and PCA to insure that non-nuclear states will receive the long promised benefits of peaceful nuclear energy.

The National Security Enterprise: Navigating the Labyrinth

Harvey Rishikof and Roger Z. George, eds.

(Georgetown University Press)

Recent breakdowns in American national security have exposed the weaknesses of the nation’s vast overlapping security and foreign policy bureaucracy and the often dysfunctional interagency process. In the literature of national security studies, however, surprisingly little attention is given to the specific dynamics or underlying organizational cultures that often drive the bureaucratic politics of U.S. security policy.

The National Security Enterprise offers a broad overview and analysis of the many government agencies involved in national security issues, the interagency process, Congressional checks and balances, and the influence of private sector organizations. The chapters cover the National Security Council, the Departments of Defense and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget. The book also focuses on the roles of Congress, the Supreme Court, and outside players in the national security process like the media, think tanks, and lobbyists. Each chapter details the organizational culture and personality of these institutions so that readers can better understand the mindsets that drive these organizations and their roles in the policy process.

Many of the contributors to this volume are long-time practitioners who have spent most of their careers working for these organizations. As such, they offer unique insights into how diplomats, military officers, civilian analysts, spies, and law enforcement officials are distinct breeds of policymakers and political actors. To illustrate how different agencies can behave in the face of a common challenge, contributors reflect in detail on their respective agency’s behavior during the Iraq War.

This impressive volume is suitable for academic studies at both the undergraduate and graduate level; ideal for U.S. government, military, and national security training programs; and useful for practitioners and specialists in national security studies.

Careful Thinking About Counterterrorism Policy

Reviewing Terrorism, Freedom, and Security: Winning Without War, by Philip B. Heymann

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, shortly after Air Force One touched down at Offutt Air Force Base, President Bush began a teleconference with senior national security officials by proclaiming, “We’re at war.” The war, the President elaborated, would be “global in nature.” During a meeting of the National Security Council the next day, the principals labored to flesh out the parameters of the conflict. In particular, they discussed a proposal to frame America’s objective not merely as the destruction of al Qaeda but as the “‘elimination of terrorism as a threat to our way of life,’ an aim that would include pursuing other international terrorist organizations in the Middle East.”