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Federal report clears FBI of coercion claim by Egyptian student

From CNN's Phil Hirschkorn
and Deborah Feyerick

Abdullah Higazy
Abdullah Higazy

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Federal report clears the FBI of coercing confession from Egyptian student (November 26)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A report unsealed by a federal judge Monday found no support for accusations that the FBI coerced a confession from an Egyptian exchange student who was detained last year in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

During a December 27 FBI lie detector test, the student, Abdallah Higazy, 31, admitted possessing a hand-held pilots' radio allegedly found in his hotel room across the street from the World Trade Center.

The radio, known as a transceiver, allows for pilots to communicate with other pilots in the air or with people on the ground. It later was determined to belong to another hotel guest.

According to the report unsealed by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, Higazy's denials that he had participated in the September 11 attacks registered as lies, leading federal prosecutors to charge him with one count of lying to federal agents and to keep him locked up for a month.

"Higazy's allegations that he was threatened or coerced by the polygrapher during the course of the polygraph examination remain uncorroborated," concludes the report, prepared by the staff of Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey, "No further action concerning this matter is warranted at this time."

Rakoff said he considered the case closed.

"I'm very proud of the way our office and the FBI conducted themselves in the Higazy case," Comey said at a Monday news conference. "A very thorough investigation was done; and it speaks for itself."

Higazy attorney Robert Dunn said he believed there was a threat made to his client.

"We now know, he didn't have anything to do with the device. He didn't have anything to do with the attack. So what does that say about the quality of whatever the polygrapher was doing?," Dunn said.

Student alleges family was threatened

The judge, who ordered the investigation, agreed to release the report at the request of media organizations including CNN, but only after crossing out the names of government officials involved in the case. The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation.

Higazy claimed, both to the inspector general and in a videotaped interview with CNN, that the polygrapher threatened him during the course of their session.

Higazy told CNN that the polygrapher mentioned his brother, living in upstate New York, and said, "we'll make sure Egyptian security gives your family hell."

"I was 100 percent convinced he could do something to my brother," he said. "As for my family I thought, if whoever is setting me up is setting me up here, what could happen in Egypt?"

A security guard told FBI agents he found the aviation radio inside a locked safe in Higazy's room on the 51st floor of the Millennium Hotel, across the street from where the Twin Towers stood.

Guard admits evidence was planted

Higazy, who began a computer engineering graduate program at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn September 4, had been assigned by the school to the hotel until he found housing.

He evacuated the hotel with the rest of the guests after the second hijacked plane slammed into the towers. He was arrested December 17, 2001, when he returned to the hotel to retrieve belongings, including his passport.

The security guard, Ronald Ferry, later confessed that the aviation radio had been planted in the room. The radio belonged to an American private pilot who was staying in a room one floor below Higazy's.

Charges against Higazy were dropped and he was released from custody in mid-January. Ferry was convicted in March for lying to federal agents and sentenced to six months worth of weekends in prison.

Higazy, who had volunteered for the polygraph exam, told the inspector general that in addition to the threats against his family, the polygraph examiner "repeatedly raised his voice and pounded on the table," according to the report. Neither of the two FBI agents or Higazy attorney Dunn, sitting outside the room heard such noise, the report says. Under FBI protocol, only the polygrapher and the suspect are allowed in the room.

Report: Student's responses 'were indicative of deception'

Higazy did not tell Dunn of the alleged threats until "several days later," the report says.

Higazy stated that he was "upset and overwhelmed" and forgot he could stop the exam to consult with his attorney, the report says.

It says Higazy's "physiological responses" to two questions about September 11 "were indicative of deception."

The questions were: "Did you take part in those attacks?" and "Were you involved in those attacks." To both, Higazy answered, "No."

The inspector general has yet to obtain the original polygraph charts, according to the report.

Higazy told the polygrapher, whose name was not released, first that he found the radio on the subway, then that he found it under the Brooklyn Bridge, and finally that he stole it from the Egyptian Air Force. He declined to sign a written statement attesting to that statement.

The accused polygrapher, who denied Higazy's accusation, has worked for the FBI since 1976 and was trained as a polygrapher in 1995. His past polygraph work has not come under scrutiny, according to the report.

Polygraphs are not admissible as trial evidence, and have been called worthless by many scientists.

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