The FBI is 'manufacturing terrorism cases' on a greater scale than ever before
Caroline Simon Jun. 9, 2016, 11:48 PM
http://uk.businessinsider.com/fbi-is-ma ... ses-2016-6
US Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates and FBI Director James B. Comey during a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington, DC, on July 8, 2015.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
The FBI has ramped up its use of sting operations in terrorism cases, dispatching undercover agents to pose as jihadists and ensnare Americans suspected of backing ISIS, aka the Islamic State, Daesh, or ISIL.
On Thursday, roughly 67% of prosecutions involving suspected ISIS supporters include evidence from undercover operations, according to The New York Times.
In many cases, agents will seek out people who have somehow demonstrated radical views, and then coax them into plotting an act of terrorism — often providing weapons and money. Before the suspects can carry out their plans, though, they're arrested.
But critics say that the FBI's tactics serve to entrap only individuals who would never have committed any violence without the government's instigation.
"They're manufacturing terrorism cases," Michael German, a former undercover agent with the FBI who now researches national-security law at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, told The Times. "These people are five steps away from being a danger to the United States."
'They target people who are genuinely psychotic'
Increasingly, experts are worried that undercover operations of this kind infringe on the rights of Americans.
Stephen Downs, an attorney and founding member of Project Salam, which gives legal support to Muslims, told Business Insider that "the government has developed a technique of engaging targets in conversations of a somewhat provocative nature, and then trying to pick up on things the target says, which might suggest illegal activity — and then trying to push them into pursuing those particular activities."
Downs also said that the FBI often targets particularly vulnerable people, such as those with mental disabilities.
"Very often, they [the FBI] target people who are genuinely psychotic, who are taking medication," he said.
Screen Shot 2016 06 09 at 6.40.02 PM
A screenshot from Sami Osmakac's martyrdom video, recorded on January 7, 2012, shortly before he was arrested in an FBI sting operation.Screenshot/YouTube
Last March, The Intercept profiled 25-year-old Sami Osmakac, who was "broke and struggling with mental illness" when he became the target of an FBI sting operation.
"The FBI provided all of the weapons seen in Osmakac's martyrdom video," The Intercept reported. "The bureau also gave Osmakac the car bomb he allegedly planned to detonate, and even money for a taxi so he could get to where the FBI needed him to go."
A recent study cited by BuzzFeed examined undercover operations for signs of entrapment by looking at terrorism prosecutions dating back to 9/11.
The study coded each case for up to 20 signals that an individual had been a victim of this kind of entrapment, such as whether the defendant had no previous involvement in terrorism or whether they had been given some kind of monetary incentive to commit a crime.
The vast majority of the 317 cases involving undercover operations contained signs of entrapment.
Countless legal challenges have been made against these prosecutions, and facts supporting an entrapment defense are "pretty widespread," Jesse Norris, a legal scholar at SUNY Fredonia and the study’s leader, told BuzzFeed.
'We're ... trying to figure out where the lines are'
While no case has ever been thrown out on the basis of this kind of entrapment, judges have taken notice and raised concerns over the danger of entrapping otherwise innocent individuals in sting operations.
"I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here, except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition," Judge Colleen McMahon of the US District Court in Manhattan said in 2011.
She was referring to the "Newburgh Four" case — a yearlong operation that began with an informant infiltrating a Newburgh, New York, mosque and ended with the arrest of four men who tried to launch a missile at an air base and two synagogues.
Comey (center) and Commissioners Edwin Meese III (left), and Timothy J. Roemer during a news conference on the release of the 9/11 Review Commission report in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2015. The FBI needs to strengthen its intelligence programs and information-sharing to counter the diverse and fast-moving national threats that have evolved since the September 11, 2001, attacks, a congressional commission said at the time.Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Three years later, Human Rights Watch released a report expressing concern over law enforcement's "discriminatory and overly aggressive investigations using informants," noting that targets for these operations are often chosen based on specific political or religious indicators, such as if they are Muslim.
Still, others believe that the entrapment method can ultimately make us safer.
Karen Greenberg, for example, author of "Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State," believes that the "tension between security and liberty" that can result from these tactics is a good thing.
"The amount of money, time, and resources that have been put into rethinking law enforcement since 9/11 has made us safer," she told Business Insider in an interview. "And now we're sort of trying to figure out where the lines are."
Michael Steinbach, who leads the National Security Branch of the FBI, wasn't immediately available for comment.
But he told The Times that "we're not just going to wait for the person to mobilize on his own time line," adding that the FBI couldn't "just sit and wait knowing the individual is actively plotting."
Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I.
DAVID K. SHIPLER APRIL 28, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opini ... e-fbi.html
THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.
But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.
When an Oregon college student, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, thought of using a car bomb to attack a festive Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Portland, the F.B.I. provided a van loaded with six 55-gallon drums of “inert material,” harmless blasting caps, a detonator cord and a gallon of diesel fuel to make the van smell flammable. An undercover F.B.I. agent even did the driving, with Mr. Mohamud in the passenger seat. To trigger the bomb the student punched a number into a cellphone and got no boom, only a bust.
This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.
Carefully orchestrated sting operations usually hold up in court. Defendants invariably claim entrapment and almost always lose, because the law requires that they show no predisposition to commit the crime, even when induced by government agents. To underscore their predisposition, many suspects are “warned about the seriousness of their plots and given opportunities to back out,” said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. But not always, recorded conversations show. Sometimes they are coaxed to continue.
Undercover operations, long practiced by the F.B.I., have become a mainstay of counterterrorism, and they have changed in response to the post-9/11 focus on prevention. “Prior to 9/11 it would be very unusual for the F.B.I. to present a crime opportunity that wasn’t in the scope of the activities that a person was already involved in,” said Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawyer and former F.B.I. agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups. An alleged drug dealer would be set up to sell drugs to an undercover agent, an arms trafficker to sell weapons. That still happens routinely, but less so in counterterrorism, and for good reason.
“There isn’t a business of terrorism in the United States, thank God,” a former federal prosecutor, David Raskin, explained.
“You’re not going to be able to go to a street corner and find somebody who’s already blown something up,” he said. Therefore, the usual goal is not “to find somebody who’s already engaged in terrorism but find somebody who would jump at the opportunity if a real terrorist showed up in town.”
And that’s the gray area. Who is susceptible? Anyone who plays along with the agents, apparently. Once the snare is set, law enforcement sees no choice. “Ignoring such threats is not an option,” Mr. Boyd argued, “given the possibility that the suspect could act alone at any time or find someone else willing to help him.”
Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.
Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk: for example, Waad Ramadan Alwan, an Iraqi in Kentucky, whose fingerprints were found on an unexploded roadside bomb near Bayji, Iraq, and Raja Khan of Chicago, who had sent funds to an Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan.
But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find. Take the Stinger missile defendant James Cromitie, a low-level drug dealer with a criminal record that included no violence or hate crime, despite his rants against Jews. “He was searching for answers within his Islamic faith,” said his lawyer, Clinton W. Calhoun III, who has appealed his conviction. “And this informant, I think, twisted that search in a really pretty awful way, sort of misdirected Cromitie in his search and turned him towards violence.”
THE informer, Shahed Hussain, had been charged with fraud, but avoided prison and deportation by working undercover in another investigation. He was being paid by the F.B.I. to pose as a wealthy Pakistani with ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group that Mr. Cromitie apparently had never heard of before they met by chance in the parking lot of a mosque.
“Brother, did you ever try to do anything for the cause of Islam?” Mr. Hussain asked at one point.
“O.K., brother,” Mr. Cromitie replied warily, “where you going with this, brother?”
Two days later, the informer told him, “Allah has more work for you to do,” and added, “Revelation is going to come in your dreams that you have to do this thing, O.K.?” About 15 minutes later, Mr. Hussain proposed the idea of using missiles, saying he could get them in a container from China. Mr. Cromitie laughed.
Reading hundreds of pages of transcripts of the recorded conversations is like looking at the inkblots of a Rorschach test. Patterns of willingness and hesitation overlap and merge. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Mr. Cromitie said, and then explained that he meant women and children. “I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.” It took 11 months of meandering discussion and a promise of $250,000 to lead him, with three co-conspirators he recruited, to plant fake bombs at two Riverdale synagogues.
“Only the government could have made a ‘terrorist’ out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope,” said Judge Colleen McMahon, sentencing him to 25 years. She branded it a “fantasy terror operation” but called his attempt “beyond despicable” and rejected his claim of entrapment.
The judge’s statement was unusual, but Mr. Cromitie’s characteristics were not. His incompetence and ambivalence could be found among other aspiring terrorists whose grandiose plans were nurtured by law enforcement. They included men who wanted to attack fuel lines at Kennedy International Airport; destroy the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago; carry out a suicide bombing near Tampa Bay, Fla., and bomb subways in New York and Washington. Of the 22 most frightening plans for attacks since 9/11 on American soil, 14 were developed in sting operations.
Another New York City subway plot, which recently went to trial, needed no help from government. Nor did a bombing attempt in Times Square, the abortive underwear bombing in a jetliner over Detroit, a planned attack on Fort Dix, N.J., and several smaller efforts. Some threats are real, others less so. In terrorism, it’s not easy to tell the difference.