If there’s a precise moment when the FBI first began to have a sinking feeling about Craig Monteilh, it likely occurred sometime in the spring of 2007, when his handlers read a small detail buried in one of his surveillance reports. Monteilh had been spying on the Islamic Center of Irvine and other mosques for several months.
He’d earned the friendship and trust of a small group of Muslims, all of whom, he claims, were actually terrorists bent on carrying out violent attacks in Orange County. Their targets included shopping malls such as Fashion Island, South Coast Plaza and the Irvine Spectrum and, somewhat improbably, abandoned buildings in downtown Los Angeles.
According to his report, Monteilh was walking into a mosque in Tustin with a couple of the terrorists whose cell he’d infiltrated when he noticed a group of young Middle Eastern-looking men unloading several barrels from a van and hauling them into the mosque. At the time, Monteilh insists, he didn’t really think too much about what he saw. He was too busy focusing on the terror plot that he and the terrorists planned to discuss at the mosque that day.
“I looked at them like this, really quick, ‘Salaam aleikum,’” Monteilh recalls two years later in an interview at his house in Irvine, re-enacting the casual sideways glance and standard Islamic greeting—“Peace be unto you”—that he says he uttered that spring day. “I kept walking because we had other business. But I put it in my report that I observed six to eight young Middle Eastern Muslims loading barrels in the back of the mosque.”
But when Monteilh’s FBI handlers read his report, he claims, they began arguing about whether or not he was a liar. “They went, ‘What the hell is this?’” Monteilh recalls. “‘He’s lying.’” The FBI refuses to comment on anything Monteilh says, so assuming any of this happened the way Monteilh says it did, one could easily imagine what went through his handlers’ minds when they read his report: Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to hire a convicted felon and con artist to spy on Orange County’s Muslim community after all. (More)