SEATTLE – A federal judge is expected to decide Thursday whether a Washington state man accused of mailing explosive devices to government agencies in the Washington D.C. area is competent to participate in his court case and help in his defense.
Eleven packages containing explosive materials were mailed to the agencies on March 16, according to an indictment against Thanh Cong Phan of Everett, north of Seattle. The agencies — the Secret Service, Dahlgreen Naval Base and FBI headquarters — received the packages on March 26.
The devices were glass vials or bottles containing a smokeless powder and a fuse, the indictment said.
The FBI traced the packages to a post office in Mill Creek, Washington, and surveillance photos connected the packages to Phan, the FBI said. None of the devices ignited and no one was injured.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ordered a competency evaluation for Phan, 44, in April just before his arraignment. A competency report was filed under seal with the court on June 15. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a sealed memorandum on competency last week. Coughenour called a hearing for Thursday morning to discuss the competency question.
Included in the package sent to the FBI was a “typed written letter with incoherent ramblings.”
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office had a history with Phan, according to police reports and 911 dispatch tapes acquired by The Associated Press.
Phan had sent similar letters to the sheriff’s office, and often called 911 or texted messages detailing conspiracy theories about government mind-control programs, according to the reports.
“This is no emergency,” he told the dispatch operator in one of many calls. “I have a problem with high-tech terrorists cyber. You understand the word cyber, right?”
He said this cyber terrorist was able to read his mind and “the FBI’s mind” through a wireless communication. They also had an invisible camera, he said, that was “on the sky and they can see inside a house.”
Phan claimed this device could be used as a weapon. The cell towers were really microwave towers that could burn his body, he said.
“Keep in mind I can talk but I can’t hear very well because neuro-science terror control my hearing,” he told dispatch. “It’s called synthetic telepathy. Control my body wireless.”
He had made dozens of similar calls since 2016.
His letters said the terrorists used his photo ID and broke into his mail and email to send fake information to authorities. Phan warned that the terrorist was trying to infiltrate the U.S. military, including the Navel stations in Bethesda and Everett.
A sheriff’s deputy who helped the FBI arrest Phan in March said he was familiar with Phan because of his many calls to law enforcement.
During one encounter, “Thanh came across as a potential mental health subject and no criminal behavior was identified,” Deputy Nathan Smith said. Smith also interviewed Phan’s neighbor, who said he “suffered from obvious mental health issues,” but he “generally was a good neighbor.”
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Phan’s behavior leading up to the mailings was not enough to take him into custody.
“If he threatened violence, the FBI could take action,” Winkler said. “You can’t arrest someone because they have crazy ideas.”