Wiretaps helped foil Portland bombing, feds say

PORTLAND, Ore. — Warrantless overseas wiretaps helped make the federal government’s case against a young Somali-American man convicted of plotting to bomb a 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland’s town square, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The government formally disclosed that information for the first time in a two-page document filed in federal court in Portland, The Oregonian reported.

Prosecutors wrote that at Mohamed Mohamud’s trial in January they offered evidence that was derived from warrantless surveillance of a foreign target outside the United States.

The information comes less than a month before Mohamud’s scheduled Dec. 18 sentencing for attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction.

Mohamud was arrested Nov. 26, 2010, after pressing a button on a cellphone that he believed would detonate a 1,800-pound diesel-and-fertilizer bomb near thousands of people at the annual holiday gathering.

The bomb was a fake supplied by undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaida recruiters.

The newspaper said Mohamud’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday.

In their notice, prosecutors said they had offered evidence or disclosed in court proceedings — including Mohamud’s trial —information that had been derived under an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, better known as FISA.

The law was amended in 2008 to allow the U.S. to electronically eavesdrop on foreign targets even when the surveillance happens to pick up the emails or phone calls of Americans, the newspaper said.

Tuesday’s notice was the first formal indication that the government had used that amendment, known as Section 702, to intercept communications overseas that ultimately helped the FBI make its case against Mohamud.

In a statement, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman told the newspaper that “In keeping with the department’s ongoing, publicly confirmed review, the government has given notice that evidence derived from Title VII of FISA was used in this case.”

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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