On Oct. 27, 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents Jason Cassidy, Travis McFarren and Robert Marten were awarded the Attorney General's Exceptional Service Award-the highest Department of Justice award-for their exemplary efforts in Operation High Rise.
As part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), they played integral roles in the disruption, apprehension and prosecution of individuals involved in the planned terrorist attack on New York City.
In September 2009, just days prior to the 9/11 anniversary date, intelligence analysts discovered from a monitored e-mail account that al-Qaeda trained operatives in Denver and New York were plotting to detonate explosives in the New York City subway system on or about Sept. 11.
With a terrorist attack imminent, JTTF special agents from Denver and New York worked nonstop knowing that every minute that passed was closer to the possible detonation of a ticking bomb. An interagency flourish of surveillance, emergency wiretap requests, warrants, interviews and undercover actions ensued in an effort to identify and locate the individual behind the incriminating e-mail messages. Investigators identified the mastermind of the plot, Najibullah Zazi, a cab driver of Afghani decent who worked at the Denver International Airport.
An exhaustive review of databases pinpointed two of Zazi's associates who were located in New York City. Further investigation, combined with in-depth analysis of information supplied by foreign and interagency partners, revealed that Zazi and his associates posed the most serious terrorist threat to our nation since September 11, 2001. In fact, Zazi and his New York co-conspirators had been planning their deadly strike against Americans ever since their return from a trip to Pakistan in 2008, where they attended an al-Qaeda training camp.
In a synchronized cross-country surveillance maneuver, JTTF agents, as well as detectives from the New York City Police Department tracked Zazi as he traveled from Denver to New York City. Exhaustive efforts continued until investigators confirmed Zazi was constructing an explosive device. Zazi was arrested and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. With Zazi in custody, investigators continued their search for evidence needed to seal a successful prosecution.
SAs Cassidy and McFarren talked with key Zazi family members and associates, raising questions about immigration status and travel-related matters. Many of these individuals voluntarily divulged information that helped investigators stitch together the terrorist plot.
"HSI's unique law enforcement authorities in investigating violations of criminal law, as well as immigration offenses, proved to be a critical advantage in building a case against the three conspirators in this case," said HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins. "HSI will continue to use our immigration enforcement authority to help prosecute those who threaten national security."
On Feb. 22, 2010, Zazi pleaded guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Zazi, who has not yet been sentenced, faces a possible life sentence without possibility of parole.