This week brings an amazing milestone: Johnny Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” who was captured in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and Northern Alliance allies shortly after 9/11, is scheduled to be released from prison Thursday. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison but he is getting an early release for good behavior.
Last month, a federal judge in Virginia ordered that Lindh, 38, can’t have an internet-capable device without permission from his probation office, can’t view or access extremist or terrorism videos, and must allow the probation office to monitor his internet use.
But there are some ominous signs that Lindh hasn’t changed his tune much at all. Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2017 that the National Counterterrorism Center concluded, “As of May 2016, John Walker Lindh (USPER) — who is scheduled to be released in May 2019 after being convicted of supporting the Taliban — continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
One NCC document claimed Lindh “told a television news producer that he would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release.” The television news producer is not identified, no specific statements are quoted, and there is no public record that Lindh has participated in media interviews.
In the petition filed Monday, Johnny Spann, the father of slain CIA officer Mike Spann, asked the court to order “a thorough investigation of the actions of John Walker Lindh that have been reported by the National Counterterrorism Center.”
There is one angle that hasn’t gotten much discussion. While the conditions of Lindh’s release require him to stay off the Internet without permission, the NSA and other government agencies have considerable ability to monitor all kinds of electronic communications.
Through PRISM and other surveillance programs, under which the National Security Agency and other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies could gather and search through Lindh’s e-mails, Skype video and voice chats, stored data, file transfers, and social-network accounts and messaging. They will be able to monitor his phone calls, text messaging, and smartphone app data. This is in addition to any other surveillance activities. (None of this information is secret, or it’s been out there since Edward Snowden let the world know about the NSA’s abilities in 2013.)
We’ll probably never know the government’s game plan for Lindh; if we ever do learn, it won’t be for a long while. But how likely is it that someone in the government is curious about who Lindh would want to reach out to once he’s outside of prison?