NEW YORK -- An FBI agent testified Thursday that she deleted potentially sensitive emails covering several months when she was helping spearhead an investigation of a terror suspect.
Defense attorneys have sought to examine FBI emails to see if they reveal agents skirted interrogation rules in the case of Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, an Eritrean man charged in Manhattan federal court with supporting terrorism.
Ahmed's lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel to bar statements made by Ahmed while he was detained in Nigeria in 2009 before being turned over to U.S. authorities. The defendant is charged with receiving explosives training, buying an assault rifle and raising money for al-Shabaab, an extremist group in Somalia.
An ongoing suppression hearing in the case has provided insight into how U.S. authorities attempt a balancing act intended to both head off immediate terror threats in the field and preserve evidence for use later in civilian trials.
FBI agent Jennifer Dent was a member of a so-called "dirty" team that did an initial intelligence-gathering interview of Ahmed without reading him his Miranda rights while he was still in Nigerian custody in December 2009.
"We were very concerned about plots and plans against the United States and national security," she said.
Details from the initial, three-hour interrogation haven't been made public. But Dent suggested Ahmed was forthcoming about his "travels to various locations." She also insisted he was never under duress.
"He was very comfortable and relaxed," she said.
A second "clean" team assigned to interview Ahmed read him his rights before questioning him so that his responses could be used against him in a federal court, another agent who was on that team has testified.
Dent testified that she followed strict rules prohibiting her from sharing any details from the earlier, un-Mirandized interrogation with fellow agents on the clean team – a precaution against tainting the process. But when asked on cross-examination about email communications from a five-month period at the outset of the FBI investigation, the agent said she had deleted them to deal with a "storage issue."
"All of the emails are gone," she said. Pressed by the judge on when she deleted them, she responded, "I have no idea."
Earlier, a prosecutor had told the judge that FBI computer technicians had been unsuccessful at trying to recover the emails. He directed the FBI to try again and report back to him.
One email previously read into the record suggested agents contemplated how to go forward if Ahmed, also known as Talha, refused to waive his rights to remain silent and have an attorney.
"We've planned that in the event that T does not waive his rights, we could continue as another `dirty' interview," an agent wrote.