This article was originally published at the Madison Independent Examiner. You can view a slideshow and video there.
New York, NY, October 17: Police stand in front of the Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty street after an alleged plot to blow it up. Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Last Wednesday, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi national, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, was arrested and accused of traveling to the U.S. to establish an al Qaeda cell and bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in Lower Manhattan.
Buried beneath the headlines and opening paragraphs of the major news outlet reports, however, is the fact that Nafis would have been unable to execute his plot without substantial assistance from the FBI. Authorities assured several news agencies that "the public was never in danger."
This case is yet another instance, among hundreds, of federal agencies creating terrorist plots so they can take credit for stopping them, instill fear in Americans and justify the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on wars and "homeland security." This practice earned the number four rank on the list of the 2012 Project Censored most underreported stories in the U.S. media.
Last year, Trevor Aronson, with the aid of the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California-Berkley, completed a yearlong investigation of every case of terrorism that the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted since 9/11 that was published in Mother Jones monthly . Out of 508 defendants at the time, 248 were targeted via an informant, 158 were nabbed via a sting operation, and 49 were lured via an informant who led the plot. Only three cases did not involve an informant and/or a FBI sting operation. In 53 percent of the cases, the charges the defendants were convicted of did not involve terrorism. (See charts here).
One former high-level FBI official speaking to Mother Jones said that, for every informant officially employed by the bureau, up to three unofficial agents are working undercover. There are upward of 15,000 undercover agents today, ten times what the FBI had on the roster back in 1975, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.
According to the New York Times, "both FBI leaders and federal prosecutors have defended the approach as valuable in finding and stopping people predisposed to commit terrorism." There are doubts, however, as to whether these individuals would have had the will or capability to act on their own without being led along by FBI informants.
While this practice is legal under legislation passed since 9/11, its legitimacy is questionable. In many cases it is borderline entrapment under the strict legal definition, but defense attorneys have had difficulty making that argument because important meetings between informants and the unknowing participants are left purposely unrecorded in order to avoid any entrapment charges that could cause the case to be dismissed.
At issue is the word "entrapment", which has two definitions. There is the common usage, where a citizen might see FBI operations as deliberate traps manipulating unwary people who otherwise were unlikely to become terrorists. Then there is the legal definition of entrapment, where the prosecution merely has to show a subject was predisposed to carry out the actions they later are accused of.
In the most recent case of the Federal Reserve bomb plot, Nafis was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to al Qaeda. According to the criminal complaint, he initially spoke of a desire to kill a "high-ranking government official" and tried to make contacts in order to recruit a terrorist cell. A senior law enforcement official told the New York Times that the official was President Obama, but that Nafis's desire never got past the talking stage. FBI agents posing as al Qaeda contacts provided him with encouragement and guidance, redirecting him to the bombing idea and providing him with the material means to carry out the plot.
This case reveals several issues. Firstly, Nafis was never in contact with any real terrorists. If terrorists are scattered all about the country in cells, why was he unable to contact a single one of them? Secondly, he was never able to procure any real explosives. Thirdly, if he came in contact with FBI agents, that means he was blindly recruiting anyone for his "terrorist cell." He even asked a contact over Facebook, an FBI informant, if it was permissible to blow up a country that granted him a student visa. What real terrorist would be naïve enough to do that?
This case makes Nafis sound more like a loner with wild ideas that was led along by the FBI rather than a real terrorist. It also sounds like hundreds of other cases. In fact, some of the most highly publicized "terrorist plots" since 9/11 were "thwarted" under similar circumstances.
In 2009, several men, urged by an unusually persistent government informer, planted what they believed to be homemade bombs in front of synagogues in NYC. Four men were convicted, but the judge who oversaw the trial also criticized the law enforcement agents who helped push the plot forward: "The government made them terrorists."
In the case of the infamous underwear bomber on Christmas Day 2009, a Detroit lawyer, Kurt Haskell, was on the plane and called as a witness in the trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Haskell maintains that Abdulmutallab was carrying a fake bomb and was the unwitting dupe in a case of government entrapment. Haskell also witnessed a well-dressed man help Abdulmutallab clear security before the incident, despite the fact that the bomber had no passport and that U.S. intelligence officials were warned by his own father of the threat posed by him a month before the attempted attack.
In the case of the Cleveland bridge bombers last May, the plot was hatched at an Occupy Cleveland protest last October by an FBI informant who persuaded the defendants to blow up a large bridge. He led them to another FBI agent posing as a merchant who charged them $450 for a fake bomb.
One of the Cleveland arrestees, Connor Stevens, complained to his sister of feeling "very pressured" by the guy who turned out to be an informant and was recorded in 2011 rejecting property destruction: "We're in it for the long haul and those kind of tactics just don't cut it," he said. "And it's actually harder to be non-violent than it is to do stuff like that."