A jailed Egyptian immigrant plots murder, bombings and a prison break with members of his jihad terrorist group during regular visiting hours.
A Palestinian arrested after entering the United States with bomb-making manuals uses his jailhouse phone privileges to call a friend who patches him through to a partner in New Jersey plotting to blow up the World Trade Center.
As authorities investigating the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks choke off funding of terrorist groups and detain or arrest potential suspects, a disturbing reality has emerged: Even after terrorists are investigated, captured and locked up, they may still plot mayhem and communicate with fellow devotees from behind bars.
With that in mind, the Justice Department on Oct. 30 dramatically extended its powers over jailed terrorists and suspects, including a controversial order authorizing eavesdropping on attorney-client communications.
That move was made, in part, because of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind spiritual leader of Egypt's largest terrorist organization who was sentenced to life in prison for several violent plots, according to Justice Department sources.
Rahman allegedly has issued several statements from prison despite scrutiny by authorities. They included two last summer in which he withdrew support for his terrorist group's cease-fire in Egypt.
According to court testimony, Rahman, who also is a key figure for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, issued a fatwa, or holy decree, from prison approving strikes against Americans. The decree reportedly was given to an Al Qaeda member training at a camp in Afghanistan in late 1998.
In addition to the new rules allowing officials to eavesdrop on lawyer-client communications, President Bush last week took what could be an even more drastic step by authorizing military tribunals for foreign terrorists--a move that even supporters acknowledge would severely limit the rights and freedoms of those accused and convicted.
"They don't deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that we use for an American citizen," Vice President Dick Cheney said last week.
Whether a gang leader is running a drug operation from behind bars or a con man uses jailhouse pay phones to rip off the elderly, the walls of America's penitentiaries echo a rich history of criminal acts perpetrated by those imprisoned.
Exploiting jail privileges easy
While jailed criminals can easily exploit phone, mail, visiting and other privileges, the Justice Department recognized five years ago how dangerous such abuses could be in the case of Rahman. The department implemented special restrictions in May 1996. Those regulations allow an intelligence agency chief, the attorney general or the head of a federal law-enforcement agency to severely limit a federal prisoner's reach into the world if "there is a substantial risk that a prisoner's communications or contacts" could result in further acts of "violence or terrorism."
Specific limitations are not detailed in the regulations, but are decided on a case-by-case basis. They can include solitary confinement to keep terrorists from relaying messages through other inmates, mail restrictions as well as elimination of visitation and phone privileges.
Currently, the Justice Department says a small number of inmates--far below 1 percent--are subject to the special national security and anti-terrorism restrictions.
The Oct. 30 rules on the monitoring of lawyer-client communications also allow the 1996 anti-terrorism restrictions to be extended to those in federal detention, including those not yet convicted or even charged.
Civil libertarians and defense lawyers have criticized the new powers. The Justice Department says safeguards barring prosecutors or investigators from reviewing legitimate attorney-client communications will be protected.
Rahman's 1995 conviction as the leader of a terrorist group centered not on the sheik's actions, but on his words. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy, bombing conspiracy, soliciting the murder of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and soliciting an attack on an U.S. military installation.
His followers were preparing to bomb bridges, tunnels and landmarks in New York and, prosecutors allege, Rahman gave them important blessings for the deeds. He was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 17, 1996.