Monday, June 01, 2009

These are the things that you can't talk about

The man was about 50 and wore an easy smile that betrayed the intensity of the things he has seen.

"Nobody knows my face. Nobody knows where I live," said the man, Shahed "Malik" Hussain, as he sat on an easy chair in his living room while the world passed by his window.

Hussain lives and works in Saratoga County, where he operates a motel that is close enough to Saratoga Springs that the trappings of the horse racing industry are on display outside.

His wife, who has a polite and welcoming demeanor equal to that of her husband, said she has grave concerns about the well-being of her family if people were to find out where they live. Her husband is an easy conversationalist who will talk about everything from basketball to living in Saratoga County. But he draws the line at discussions about his work as an informer for the FBI.

"These are things that I can't talk about," he said.

Others have.

In 2004, the man known as "Malik" posed as an arms dealer and asked two Albany-based mosque leaders to launder money from the phony sale of a shoulder-fired missile that would be used to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat in New York City.

The two men are serving 15 years in prison.

Last year, he began working on a case that involved four downstate men. They were arrested earlier this month in the Bronx, accused of plotting to bomb synagogues in New York City and planning to shoot down military airplanes in Newburgh using Stinger surface-to-air missiles.

The FBI, as it has done since its formation in 1908, would confirm nothing on the record.

Terence L. Kindlon, an attorney who has had dealings with the accused in both terrorism-plot cases involving Hussain, fills in the blanks. He calls Hussain an unreliable snitch who exploits the vulnerabilities of unsavory characters to give the FBI what it wants.

Earlier this decade, Hussain ran into legal problems after being caught illegally helping immigrants get driver's licenses. Subject to prosecution and deportation, desperation drove Hussain to do whatever was necessary to ease his troubles, Kindlon said.

In the 2004 case, during which Kindlon represented one of the men who would later be convicted, Kindlon said there were incidents of sudden and mysteriously failing wire taps, as well as recorded conversations in a rare dialect that required Hussain to translate what was said for the FBI, often with major inaccuracies.

In the more recent case, Kindlon said he talked to the mother of David Williams, one of the accused, and learned Hussain made promises to deliver enough money to Williams that he would be able to pay for doctors who could help treat his brother, who was stricken with cancer.

The Newburgh case is a "far-fetched plot" made up by the FBI, Kindlon said.

"That's a story that was invented out of thin air by the FBI, and they utilized the considerable dark talents of 'Malik' to beguile these drug-addicted, uneducated, perpetually down-on-their-luck ex-convicts into this crazy, made-up scheme," Kindlon said. "This is not the America I grew up in. This is how the KGB used to act."

Hussain refused to reply to Kindlon's accusations.

"Let them say whatever they want," he said with a smile. "These are things I can't talk about."

Then he sat back on the easy chair, as the world continued past his window.

-- Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Post-Star, May 30, 2009