NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
On a weekday afternoon in the spring of 2014, Affraz Mohammed looked across his newly purchased brown leather couch at the two men he had let into his apartment in Springfield.
He didn’t know their names.
But they knew his.
The men flashed their badges and identified themselves as agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
According to Mohammed and his sibling, who was listening from a room down the hall, the agents didn't fully explain why they were there.
They asked about Mohammed’s mosque and if he had seen or heard anything suspicious during his time there.
And then, they asked about Mohammed's medication and how often he sought mental health care.
“It scared me that they knew all these specifics about my doctors and my medicine,” Mohammed said.
Before leaving, Mohammed said one of the agents left his contact information. (The FBI would not confirm to NJ Advance Media the agent’s name or position in the bureau.)
Since that visit in 2014, Mohammed and his therapist at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have experienced a series of largely unexplained check-ins, including in-person visits and phone calls by the FBI, local police and homeland security, according to documents obtained by NJ Advance Media and interviews with law enforcement conducted over five months.
For years, Mohammed and his doctors have raised questions with authorities about the visits and phone calls. Why was the government so interested in tracking Mohammed? Would it ever stop?
Interviews with three former federal agents, including two who still work with the FBI on an ad-hoc basis, shed new light on Mohammed's story.
The former agents confirmed to NJ Advance Media the existence of a previously unreported national policy championed by the FBI, in coordination with the Department of Defense (DOD), that allows for the tracking of non-active military members it deems high risk.
The agents, who requested to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, described the policy as part of the intelligence community’s larger focuses on thwarting individuals who develop extremist ideologies in the U.S. over the past five years.
Two former FBI agents said thousands of former military members could be tracked as a result of the policy.
The FBI did not deny the existence of such a policy to NJ Advance Media. In an emailed statement, the bureau said it "investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security". "Our focus is on criminal activity, not personal status or membership in a group," the statement said. The DOD did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Mohammed and his doctors believe that federal agents obtained his VA medical information as part of its tracking efforts.