After several hours of questioning, federal authorities early Thursday released an American woman deported from Russia for allegedly encouraging Islamic extremists via the Internet to target the United States.
But after FBI and U.S. Customs Service agents released Megan McRee, they made it clear that they were continuing to investigate her activities. Officials would not confirm or deny reports that they had confiscated McRee’s laptop computer and were monitoring her whereabouts.
The 34-year-old Nebraska native was intercepted by federal agents about 9 p.m. Wednesday as she arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow. McRee, whose last U.S. address was Oklahoma City, had been put on the flight by Russian authorities for not having properly registered her visa after about two years in Moscow.
But it was McRee’s purported Internet contacts with Islamic militants that led Russia’s Federal Security Service to deport her. Those communications allegedly included encouragement for extremists to target Hollywood and film celebrities because they were easier to attack than other targets.
“McRee lived for a long time in one of the districts of Moscow without registration and on an expired visa,” the Federal Security Service’s press service said in reporting her deportation.
The Rossiya television station reported that McRee had told the security service officers that persecution by the CIA had forced her to leave the United States.
The station said McRee had tried to make contact with extremist organizations and had sent letters to them naming Hollywood studios and actors as potential targets. Almost none replied, but those who did said they did not need assistance from an American, the station reported.
Although U.S. counter-terrorism agents had not immediately corroborated any of the Russian accusations, Los Angeles FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley said authorities were continuing to investigate McRee.
“She didn’t pose a threat. We can safely say that,” Bosley said, in explaining McRee’s release. “But as far as the allegations made by Russian authorities, those will be investigated.”
Michael Fleming, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service in Los Angeles, said the agency was continuing to assist in the investigation.
“She has not been charged. She has not been arrested,” Fleming said. “But the investigation is continuing.”
Initially, some U.S. authorities voiced skepticism that the accusations against McRee would prove valid, in large part because Russia had not notified the United States that it was deporting a purported terrorist sympathizer.
But on Thursday, officials were cautious in dismissing the significance of the investigation. “We have to be thorough,” Fleming said. “In the event anyone -- U.S. citizen or not -- is capable of hurting Americans, you have to investigate.”
Although it was not immediately clear if McRee had had brushes with the law in the United States, she has said in a rambling six-page message on the Internet that she was targeted by federal authorities.
In that 1999 message, McRee said that the CIA and other agencies had “studied her like an animal” for years and had targeted her for harassment since she was a teenager because of her high IQ.
“I am not a criminal, a spy, government employee, nor am I someone who was trying to profit financially or satisfy any sort of personal vendettas,” she wrote.
“I wasn’t even someone who was anti-government,” she added.
She said she had tried to escape the United States several times, only to be tracked down by authorities.
U.S. officials first learned of McRee’s deportation Wednesday from the media rather than from Russian officials.
Times staff writer David Holley in Moscow contributed to this report.