A probe by federal agents has reportedly found no evidence that American Idol judge Paula Abdul was part of a planned terrorist operation. Sources close to the investigation say that agents, who were monitoring voicemail messages left for Ms. Abdul by former 'Idol' contestant Corey Clark phone calls under a provision of the Patriot Act, may have confused Ms. Abdul with suspected Jordanian terrorist Buelah Abdul.
The Patriot Act snares a celebrity
By Deanna Swift
WASHINGTON, DC—A probe by federal agents has reportedly found no evidence that American Idol judge Paula Abdul was part of a planned terrorist operation. Sources close to the investigation say that agents, who were monitoring voicemail messages left for Ms. Abdul by former 'Idol' contestan Corey Clark phone calls under a provision of the Patriot Act, may have confused Ms. Abdul with suspected Jordanian terrorist Buelah Abdul.
"I can't give you a lot of details," says the intelligence source. "But I can confirm that Paula Abdul is no longer being investigated as a suspected terrorist, and the voicemail messages that she left for Mr. Clark have been returned to him."
Paula no friend of Patriot Act
The FBI agents who conducted the top-secret investigation apparently confused the Hollywood A-list Abdul with her similarly named counterpart on the US terror list. They reportedly relied on roving wiretaps to monitor the lovebirds' conversations as well as to tape numerous voicemails left by Ms. Abdul for the 22-year-old Clark. Under the Patriot Act, passed in the weeks after September 11, 2001, the federal government may monitor the phone calls of individuals "proximate" to the primary person being tapped, in this case, Ms. Abdul.
Talk of 'judges' raises alarm
The intelligence source says that FBI agents believed that they had correctly targeted suspect Buelah Abdul because of the content of the conversations overheard between Ms. Abdul and Mr. Clark. Agents reportedly heard talk of 'silencing the judges,' leading them to believe that Ms. Abdul and the American Idol hopeful planned to target federal judges as part of a terror operations. Suggestions that Mr. Clark 'trim his beard in order to look more mainstream' also raised a red flag, as did references to a person or persons being "the bomb" or "bombing."
The suspicious terms and phrases used by the Ms. Abdul and Mr. Clark were automatically picked up by the National Security Agency's ECHELON program, a global surveillance operation that listens for key words used by terror suspects.
Was Paula profiled?
But when Buelah turned up in Amman, Jordan in February and was detained by police there, the FBI realized that they'd been after the wrong Abdul. Agents reportedly removed the wiretap from Ms. Abdul's phone and inadvertently returned the voicemail messages to Mr. Clark, who then sold them to ABC.
A spokesperson for the ACLU quickly condemned the incident, charging that Ms. Abdul was singled out because she is a prominent Arab-American. Ms. Abdul was recently featured in a brochure created by another prominent Arab-American, Casey Kasum, entitled "Arab Americans Making a Difference." "You have to understand that to the Bush Administration all Abduls are the same," says ACLU spokeswoman Lucy Travis. "Paula Abdul epitomizes what's great about this country. She's the star of a show that features amazing talent, where everyone has a fair shot at becoming famous. Isn't that really what America is all about?"
What star on 'tap' next?
The number of court-authorized wiretaps in the US jumped by 19% in 2004, not counting the 1,754 court orders for terror-related investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, like the one that entrapped Ms. Abdul. Ms. Abdul is the first star to be snared under the Patriot Act, the federal law that greatly expands the US government's ability to conduct surveillance operations on its citizens.
If Paula Abdul had been found to be planning a terrorist operation, would you still watch American Idol? Talk back to firstname.lastname@example.org.