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The FBI's pre-Christmas sting operation targeting Everitt Jameson also resembled the typical script for a counterterrorism case. FBI agents first noticed Jameson on social media after an informant said he allegedly made statements in support of ISIS. Undercover agents later met with him and offered to provide ammunition and bomb making materials.
His family members said the allegations took them by surprise and that Jameson had been suffering from depression related to his recent divorce and the loss of his children in a custody battle.
Just before Jameson was arrested, he told undercover JTTF agents posing as ISIS leaders, "I don't think I can do this after all. I've reconsidered."
But the FBI says they recovered firearms and a notarized will from his home.
Jameson's arrest, and the unsealing of his indictment in Fresno, became a major news story with headlines like "Pier 39 Christmas terror plot defused by undercover sting" and "Man planned Christmas attack on San Francisco's Pier 39, was inspired by Islamic State."
And like other terrorism cases, much of the evidence in Jameson's case will likely be sealed. His case has entered the dark phase where things move slowly, and new information is scarce.
At his last court hearing on Dec. 14, Shafi was escorted by federal marshals into a San Francisco federal courtroom wearing a red and white striped jumpsuit. Sitting in the audience were his parents, brother, and sister, along with several family friends and supporters. The hearing was short. Shafi had already lost his motion to dismiss and motions challenging evidence obtained through the FISA warrant, as well as a motion against his solitary confinement and denial of bail that was appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
But those failed legal motions had done more to shine light on the FBI's investigatory tactics than virtually anything else in recent years. And his defense attorneys have provided a record that, when compared to his initial media portrayal as an insidious terrorist, has at least resulted in a more balanced account of a shy, if troubled, young Muslim man.
The hearing lasted just a few minutes while his attorneys and prosecutors talked about a trial timeline. Shafi was only able to glance at his family on the way into and out of the court before heading back to solitary.
Alhaggagi's last hearing in October was similar. He was led into court in shackles. About a dozen of his family members were present. The defense and prosecution talked about a possible trial timeline. Alhaggagi's attorney, Mary McNamara, told U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer that the case presents many of the same problems as that of Shafi, and Alhaggagi intends to go through with a trial, if necessary, to defend himself.
Unlike suspects in many other terrorism cases, Shafi and Alhaggagi haven't pled guilty. Both men maintain that the government has taken their emails, texts, and statements and then pieced these intercepts together to imply guilt where there is only, at worst, what one of Alhaggagi's previous attorneys, Assistant Federal Public Defender Hanni Meena Fakhoury, called "very stupid, inappropriate, and disturbing puffery" that is not criminal.
But mounting a criminal defense against FBI accusations of terrorism is expensive and complex.
It's also one of the only ways that previously secret or rarely disclosed details about the JTTF's methods — whether they're nick-of-time prevention tools or webs of entrapment — can be examined by the broader public.