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Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings By Peter Finn, Published: April 14
Days before his arrest in Pittsburgh last month, Khalifa Ali al-Akili posted a remarkable message on his Facebook page: A mysterious man who spoke often of jihad had tried to interest Akili in buying a gun, then later introduced him to a second man, whom Akili was assured was “all about the struggle.”
It smelled, Akili wrote on Facebook, like a setup.
“I had a feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a ‘terrorist’ sleeper cell,” Akili wrote.
When he googled a phone number provided by the second man, it turned out to be to Shahed Hussain, one of the FBI’s most prolific and controversial informants for terrorism cases. Soon the sting was off; Akili was subsequently arrested on gun — not terrorism — charges, which he has denied.
It was a rare miss for Hussain, 55, who has played a wealthy, dapper member of a Pakistani terrorist group in several FBI operations over nearly a decade.
This role has inflamed Muslim and civil rights activists, who describe Hussain as an “agent provocateur,” and prompted harsh comments from the presiding judge in a 2010 case, who questioned his honesty and the aggressiveness of the FBI’s tactics.
“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,” said U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon at the sentencing of four men from Newburgh, N.Y., convicted on terrorism charges. She added, “That does not mean there was no crime.”
Hussain declined to speak about his work for the FBI, saying in a brief phone interview, “I can’t say anything for security reasons.” The FBI declined to discuss Hussain or McMahon’s comments. But the blown Pittsburgh sting and the voluminous court records from the 2010 case have provided rare insight into a tactic used increasingly by the FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which suspects are monitored almost from the beginning of plots and provided with means to help them carry them out. The targets in such stings have included Washington’s Metro subway system, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.
There have been 138 terrorism or national security cases involving informants since 2001, and 51 of those have come over the past three years, according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York. The center said the government secured convictions in 91 percent of those cases.
Law enforcement officials say stings are a vital tactic for heading off terrorism. But civil rights activists and others say the FBI has been identifying individuals with radical views who, despite brash talk, might have little ability to launch attacks without the government’s help.
“It almost seems like the government is creating a theatrical event that produces more fear in the community,” said Michael German, a senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who worked undercover.
Yet in these terrorism stings, every attempted defense that has alleged entrapment by the government has failed, according to Fordham’s Center on National Security. The FBI said that record speaks volumes and rejected any suggestion that it has invented terrorist plots. “They present the idea,” FBI spokesman Kathleen Wright said of the targets of investigations. “It is not us coming up with these ideas.”
Officials said the subjects of these stings are the ones who first generate suspicion — by contacting terrorists overseas, attempting to secure weapons or speaking of a desire to commit violence.
One of the prosecutors in the 2010 case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin, said in court that confidential informants such as Hussain are an “important tool” for the FBI. “Mr. Hussain is Pakistani. He speaks Urdu. He speaks Pashto. He’s Muslim. He can read Arabic,” Halperin said. “All of these things make Mr. Hussain a very valuable asset for the FBI.”
The birth of an asset
In testimony for the 2010 terrorism case, for which Hussain appeared as a witness for the prosecution, he described himself as a member of a politically connected family in Pakistan who fled to the United States with his wife and children after he was falsely accused of murder during a government crackdown against the secular MQM party. He arrived on a fake British passport in 1994, Hussain testified.
In the years since, his relatives in Pakistan have transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to him, allowing him and his family to acquire gas stations, a beverage center and a motel in Upstate New York, according to financial records produced in court. He also testified that former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, during a trip to New York, gave his son $40,000 to buy a new car, but the judge, McMahon, questioned the veracity of the claim.
It was not the only time McMahon expressed doubts about Hussain’s honesty.
“By the end of the trial, the jury knew that Hussain had lied about his finances to at least two courts (the Northern District of New York and the Northern District Bankruptcy Court), lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, lied to the Town of Colonie and its school district about his residence, lied to potential customers of his motel, and lied to the IRS about his income at tax time,” wrote McMahon.
In late 2001, Hussain was arrested on federal fraud charges of helping immigrants illegally secure driver’s licenses. Hussain, who had been working as a translator for the Department of Motor Vehicles, faced a possible prison term and deportation to Pakistan. He pleaded guilty and, as part of his agreement with the government, cooperated with the FBI by going undercover to secure evidence against several former associates in the scheme, including his mistress.
Hussain excelled in this new role — a fact grudgingly accepted even by his detractors.
“Both his physical and emotional presence seemed impervious to chastisement, to exposure, to anything — nothing seemed to throw his casual defiance off course,” said Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham’s Center on National Security, who has observed Hussain in court.
The bureau also has sent Hussain to London and Pakistan, where he infiltrated a terrorist training camp, according to court testimony.
In the summer of 2003, Hussain first adopted the persona of the suave, moneyed terrorist at the direction of the FBI. The object of the sting was Yassin Aref, an Iraqi Kurd and the spiritual leader of an Albany mosque.
Aref was convicted of participating in a plot to launder funds from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile. Aref’s attorneys said he simply saw what he thought was a loan between Hussain and the owner of a struggling pizza parlor who was also convicted. Aref and the owner of the pizza parlor were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The informant at work
On another assignment for the FBI, Hussain went to Newburgh’s Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque 12 times before he met James Cromitie, a convert to Islam and a stocker at a Wal-Mart, in June 2008.
In a poor community, Hussain struck an odd figure, driving Hummers and BMWs and wearing designer clothes.
Salahuddin Muhammad, imam of the mosque, said in an interview that some people suspected that Hussain was an FBI informant. He was too eager to engage people in conversation about jihad, Muhammad said.
Cromitie, who attended the mosque infrequently, either didn’t hear of the suspicions of others or didn’t care.
Hussain later told the FBI that Cromitie said: “Look, brother, I might have done a lot of sin, but to die like a shaded (martyr), I will go to paradise . . . I want to do something to America.”
By July, Hussain had told Cromitie he was part of a Pakistani terrorist group. Cromitie, who had multiple drug convictions but no history of violence, said he wanted to join, according to the FBI’s debriefing of the informant.
During a November 2008 trip to Philadelphia with Hussain, which coincided with the terrorist attacks on several locations in Mumbai, India, Cromitie made some of his most incendiary statements.
Cromitie hadn’t heard of the attacks, but Hussain pointed out that one of the targets in Mumbai was a Jewish center, according to transcripts of conversations that were secretly recorded and later played in court.
“I’d like to get a synagogue,” Cromitie said.
The judge later noted in a finding of fact that “whenever Hussain asked Cromitie to act on those sentiments — make a plan, pick a target, find recruits, introduce the [confidential informant] to like-minded brothers, procure guns and conduct surveillance — Cromitie did none of the above.”
McMahon said that at this point Hussain began to add “more worldly inducements” to the “offer of paradise” beginning with a BMW “but only after Cromitie had completed a mission.”
Closing the net
Hussain left for Pakistan on Dec. 18, 2008, and didn’t return to the United States for two months. While he was away, the FBI briefed officials at Stewart International Airport in New York on the investigation but assured them that “Cromitie was unlikely to commit an act without the support of the FBI source.”
Indeed, Cromitie said, “I just dropped everything,” according to the transcript of the conversation. But when Hussain returned, Cromitie’s enthusiasm was rekindled.
McMahon later wrote that “the court believes and specifically finds that it was about this time when Hussain offered Cromitie as much as a quarter million dollars to participate in a mission.”
Such an offer was not authorized by the FBI, the prosecutor told the court. Hussain denied making it, saying the reference to a specific amount of money was not intended to be literal. McMahon, in her sentencing, said she did not believe him.
After a surveillance drive around Stewart Air National Guard Base on Feb. 24, 2009, Cromitie cut off communication with Hussain for six weeks, he later testified. Cromitie pretended to have left town, although he was still in Newburgh.
On April 5, Cromitie called Hussain. “I have to try to make some money, brother,” Cromitie said.
“I told you. I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you,” Hussain said.
Cromitie soon was back in.
On May 20, 2009, Hussain, Cromitie and three associates drove south from Newburgh carrying three duffel bags, each stuffed with nearly 40 pounds of explosives and 500 steel ball bearings to maximize casualties at a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx. After bombing them, the men planned to double back north to Stewart Air National Guard base near Newburgh to launch a stinger missile at parked military planes.
But the FBI had provided the bombs and the missile and had rendered them harmless.
All four Newburgh men were later convicted on terrorism charges in a jury trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison. They have appealed.
On the final drive to the Bronx, Hussain tried to get Cromitie to prime the bombs by following his instructions on which wires to connect, Hussain testified. But Cromitie and the others couldn’t figure it out, and Hussain had to stop the car and do it himself.
When they got to the Bronx, Hussain had to explain how to operate a car key fob so Cromitie could open the first of the pre-parked cars and plant the bomb.
Afterward, Hussain asked him if he had turned the bomb on. “I forgot,” Cromitie replied.
Hussain told him not to worry, it could still be detonated.
Cromitie then set off to plant the other two bombs, but he couldn’t open the trunk of the next car. Hussain told Cromitie by walkie-talkie to just put them in the back seat.
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Friday, Apr 13, 2012 12:40 PM UTC The real criminals in the Tarek Mehanna case By Glenn Greenwald
Tarek Mehanna is seen in this image from video footage taken in Boston in 2009. (Credit: Reuters/WHDH-TV)
By Glenn Greenwald
In one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seen in quite some time, Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim, was convicted this week in a federal court in Boston and then sentenced yesterday to 17 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Al Qaeda (by virtue of translating Terrorists’ documents into English and expressing “sympathetic views” to the group) as well as conspiring to “murder” U.S. soldiers in Iraq (i.e., to wage war against an invading army perpetrating an aggressive attack on a Muslim nation). I’m still traveling and don’t have much time today to write about the case itself — Adam Serwer several months ago wrote an excellent summary of why the prosecution of Mehanna is such an odious threat to free speech and more background on the case is here, and I’ve written before about the growing criminalization of free speech under the Bush and Obama DOJs, whereby Muslims are prosecuted for their plainly protected political views — but I urge everyone to read something quite amazing: Mehanna’s incredibly eloquent, thoughtful statement at his sentencing hearing, before being given a 17-year prison term.
At some point in the future, I believe history will be quite clear about who the actual criminals are in this case: not Mehanna, but rather the architects of the policies he felt compelled to battle and the entities that have conspired to consign him to a cage for two decades:
TAREK’S SENTENCING STATEMENT APRIL 12, 2012
Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12th 2012.
In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy ” way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard-and the government spent millions of tax dollars – to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell.
In the weeks leading up to this moment, many people have offered suggestions as to what I should say to you. Some said I should plead for mercy in hopes of a light sentence, while others suggested I would be hit hard either way. But what I want to do is just talk about myself for a few minutes.
When I refused to become an informant, the government responded by charging me with the “crime” of supporting the mujahideen fighting the occupation of Muslim countries around the world. Or as they like to call them, “terrorists.” I wasn’t born in a Muslim country, though. I was born and raised right here in America and this angers many people: how is it that I can be an American and believe the things I believe, take the positions I take? Everything a man is exposed to in his environment becomes an ingredient that shapes his outlook, and I’m no different. So, in more ways than one, it’s because of America that I am who I am.
When I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated towards any book that reflected that paradigm – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even saw an ehical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.
By the time I began high school and took a real history class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is in the world. I learned about the Native Americans and what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I learned about how the descendents of those European settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King George III.
I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, and how Americans began an armed insurgency against British forces – an insurgency we now celebrate as the American revolutionary war. As a kid I even went on school field trips just blocks away from where we sit now. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and the fight against slavery in this country. I learned about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor. I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and how they persecuted minorities and imprisoned dissidents. I learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights struggle.
I learned about Ho Chi Minh, and how the Vietnamese fought for decades to liberate themselves from one invader after another. I learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Everything I learned in those years confirmed what I was beginning to learn when I was six: that throughout history, there has been a constant struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I found myself consistently siding with the oppressed, and consistently respecting those who stepped up to defend them -regardless of nationality, regardless of religion. And I never threw my class notes away. As I stand here speaking, they are in a neat pile in my bedroom closet at home.
From all the historical figures I learned about, one stood out above the rest. I was impressed be many things about Malcolm X, but above all, I was fascinated by the idea of transformation, his transformation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “X” by Spike Lee, it’s over three and a half hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim performing the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a martyr. Malcolm’s life taught me that Islam is not something inherited; it’s not a culture or ethnicity. It’s a way of life, a state of mind anyone can choose no matter where they come from or how they were raised.
This led me to look deeper into Islam, and I was hooked. I was just a teenager, but Islam answered the question that the greatest scientific minds were clueless about, the question that drives the rich & famous to depression and suicide from being unable to answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we exist in this Universe? But it also answered the question of how we’re supposed to exist. And since there’s no hierarchy or priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin digging into the texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, to begin the journey of understanding what this was all about, the implications of Islam for me as a human being, as an individual, for the people around me, for the world; and the more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I stand here before you, and everyone else in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.
With that, my attention turned to what was happening to other Muslims in different parts of the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the powers that be trying to destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what the Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I learned what Israel had done in Lebanon – and what it continues to do in Palestine – with the full backing of the United States. And I learned what America itself was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War, and the depleted uranium bombs that killed thousands and caused cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq.
I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how – according to the United Nations – over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a ’60 Minutes‘ interview of Madeline Albright where she expressed her view that these dead children were “worth it.” I watched on September 11th as a group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings from their outrage at the deaths of these children. I watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. I saw the effects of ’Shock & Awe’ in the opening day of the invasion – the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking but of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown on CNN).
I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses. I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine this young girl from a conservative village with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by not one, not two, not three, not four, but five soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly mothers and their kids – shot to death by an American soldier, who also set fire to their corpses.
These are just the stories that make it to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and together, we are one large body who must protect each other. In other words, I couldn’t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters – including by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for the oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was my respect for those defending them.
I mentioned Paul Revere – when he went on his midnight ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that battle came the American Revolution. There’s an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was about.
All those videos and translations and childish bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph’ and ‘Oh, he edited that sentence,’ and all those exhibits revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were defending themselves against American soldiers doing to them exactly what the British did to America. It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.
So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s what the arrows on that seal above your head represent: defense of the homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say that you don’t have to agree with my beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your home.
But when that home is a Muslim land, and that invader is the US military, for some reason the standards suddenly change. Common sense is renamed ”terrorism” and the people defending themselves against those who come to kill them from across the ocean become “the terrorists” who are ”killing Americans.” The mentality that America was victimized with when British soldiers walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago is the same mentality Muslims are victimized by as American soldiers walk their streets today. It’s the mentality of colonialism.
When Sgt. Bales shot those Afghans to death last month, all of the focus in the media was on him-his life, his stress, his PTSD, the mortgage on his home-as if he was the victim. Very little sympathy was expressed for the people he actually killed, as if they’re not real, they’re not humans. Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to everyone in society, whether or not they realize it. Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two years of discussing, explaining, and clarifying before they were finally able to think outside the box and at least ostensibly accept the logic in what I was saying. Two years! If it took that long for people so intelligent, whose job it is to defend me, to de-program themselves, then to throw me in front of a randomly selected jury under the premise that they’re my “impartial peers,” I mean, come on. I wasn’t tried before a jury of my peers because with the mentality gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not because they needed to, but simply because they could.
I learned one more thing in history class: America has historically supported the most unjust policies against its minorities – practices that were even protected by the law – only to look back later and ask: ’what were we thinking?’ Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the Japanese during World War II – each was widely accepted by American society, each was defended by the Supreme Court. But as time passed and America changed, both people and courts looked back and asked ’What were we thinking?’ Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the South African government, and given a life sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they realized how oppressive their policies were, that it was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him from prison. He even became president. So, everything is subjective - even this whole business of “terrorism” and who is a “terrorist.” It all depends on the time and place and who the superpower happens to be at the moment.
In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a ”terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.
The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ”killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.
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 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.
David K. Shipler is the author of “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America.”
Five arrested in suspected bridge bombing plot near Cleveland By Jeff Stacklin | The Lookout – 58 mins ago
Five people, claiming to be anarchists, have been arrested in Cleveland for trying to blow up a four-lane bridge across the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The public was never in danger from the devices, according to Fox News. The explosive devices were inoperable and controlled by an undercover FBI agent. Charges were against the suspects were filed Tuesday morning in Cleveland.
Douglas Wright, 26, Brandon Baxter, 20, and Anthony Hayne, 35, were arrested Monday and charged with conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce, according to WEWS-NewsNet5 in Cleveland. Two other men, Connor Stevens, 20, and Joshua Stafford, 23, were also arrested, but not charged, the station reported.
The suspects were targeting the state Route 82 bridge that spans the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, according to WEWS. The suspects had bought fake explosives and placed them near the bridge Monday. The suspects were arrested after 9 p.m. Monday, the station reports.
The suspects had considered a series of plots over several months. Among the alternative targets was the Veteran's Memorial Bridge, according to WEWS. One of the suspects, Wright, had talked about driving a car into the Federal Reserve Bank to blow it up, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
The FBI's Cleveland office is displaying a photo of the apparent bridge in question, according to WEWS-NewsNet5 in Cleveland. The state Route 82 bridge is in Brecksville, south of Cleveland.
Tried and tested on Muslims, and now coming to a protest group in anytown:
Terror Suspects Claim 'Entrapment To The Highest Degree' By Undercover Cops
Brent Betterly, Brian Church and Jared Chase have been charged in an alleged NATO summit terror plot. CPD photos. Attorneys for the NATO 3 accused of creating Molotov cocktails and planning attacks across Chicago say it was the undercover police officers who brought the firebombs to their apartment, and the charges against them are the result of "entrapment to the highest degree."
"It is sensationalism by the police and the state to discredit the protesters that have come here to nonviolently protest," said defense attorney Michael Deutsch. He went on to say there were two police informants who infiltrated the group and "we believe they’re the ones who provoked this and they’re the ones who had the illegal activity and the illegal materials." Watch Deutsch's comments in the videos below.
The undercover officers, known to the defendants as "Mo" and "Gloves," say they were with the defendants when they made the explosives and discussed the attacks. They say the men bought fuel, poured it into beer bottles and cut up bandanas for fuses.
The NATO 3 are Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, NH; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla., and they have been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives. They could be sentenced to as many as 85 years in prison. Court documents show the arrests were the result of a weeks-long police investigation, authorities said, hinting that they had audio recordings of the defendants making threats.
The defendants were among those arrested Wednesday in a raid of a Bridgeport apartment by police that defense attorneys say was illegal. They were also in a car that was stopped by Chicago police last week. Video of that incident alleges police tried to intimidate and harass the men. The Sun-Times reports law enforcement officials asked a judge for the "no-knock" warrant because they were preparing to move the explosives to another location and feared they'd lose track. Authorities maintain the raid was just an effort to stop an "imminent threat."
"When someone was in the position (of having) Molotov cocktails — that's pretty imminent," said Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy. "It was not a completed investigation."
Authorities say the group had planned to first attack police stations and squad cars to divert attention while they attacked Obama’s national campaign headquarters in the Prudential Building, Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood and financial buildings. See our previous story for more details and to read the criminal complaint.
Policing experts say the undercover police tactics are similar to those used to arrest eight people before the Republican National Convention in 2008 in St. Paul, Minn., to arrest the man accused of planting a bomb at Wrigley Field, and to arrest the five men accused with plotting to blow up a bridge outside of Cleveland last month. Also, a policing expert told the AP that using terrorism charges for Molotov cocktails "kind of stretches the bounds to define that as terrorism."
In a piece titled "Whose Firebombs?" Newstips writes:
Chicago police have a long history of infiltrating peaceful protest groups and fomenting violence - it’s one reason the Red Squad was banned by a federal court order (later lifted at the request of Mayor Daley) - and infiltration of protest groups seems to be standard operating procedure for “national security events.” And nationally since 9/11, an embarrassing proportion of “anti-terrorism” cases have involved plots proposed, planned, and enabled by police agents.
Watch defense attorney Deutsch's comments on the arrests below.
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A week and a half ago, two young men plotted a terrorist attack outside a bar in Chicago - and it turns out the plot was mostly put out together by the FBI. The two men were reportedly encouraged for months and months by undercover agents, who eventually supplied them with a fake bomb. The 17 year old is now facing life in prison for pushing the trigger of the fake bomb. Trevor Aaronson, the author of "Terror Factory," joins us for the broader implications to the story.