Sting Operations Mislead US Public on Domestic Terrorism Threat
If you’ve heard news about a domestic terrorist plot in the United States, it’s more than likely the federal government had a hand in it.
A hand not just in arresting, prosecuting, and exposing the suspected masterminds of these so-called terrorist plots, but also in tricking and entrapping them to commit acts they otherwise wouldn’t.
That’s the claim contained in a new report from Project Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims (SALAM) and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), a 178-page analysis of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s extensive list of nabbed terrorists and perpetrators of terror-related crimes since 2001.
The authors follow up on the close to 400 cases deemed to be “terrorism-related convictions” by the FBI in the last decade. Their report concludes that the overwhelming majority were demonstratively sting operations, carried out by government informants or agent provocateurs directly employed by the FBI.
“Only 4 out of 399 people actually planned or attempted any acts of violence in the United States without the involvement of a government provocateur,” said Kathy Manley, legal director for NCPCF and a practicing constitutional lawyer in a press conference last month in Albany, New York.
The report claims this method of law enforcement is called “preemptive prosecution.” This strategy means suspects are pursued not on the basis of their merit or danger to public safety, but because the suspects fit a specific descriptive narrative that perpetuates the War on Terror at home.
In one third of the terrorism-related cases of the last decade, prosecutors charged suspects with providing “material support” to terrorist groups, even when no such terrorist group existed or when government agents deliberately misled suspects about their connections to terrorist organizations.
Close to 40 percent of all terrorism-related cases based their convictions on conspiracy charges, for friendships and associations with certain groups, even if the group had not been investigated for criminal activity. Over 21 percent of all cases were official sting operations, created and carried out by law enforcement authorities for the purpose of catching an individuals in a criminal act. The remaining suspects were charged with minor immigration or false statement charges, usually resulting from law enforcement’s own interrogations and background examinations.
This is reminiscent of similar tactics used by the FBI to prosecute suspected communists in post-World War II years, as revealed by the Church Committee, the special US Senate investigation conducted in 1975-1976. The committee brought scrutiny to the illegal tactics used by police and government intelligence organizations.
Trevor Aaronson, an investigative journalist for Mother Jones magazine and co-director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, goes even further in exposing the FBI’s tactics for rounding up suspected terrorists. For his book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, Aaronson filed hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover the case files on the hundreds of terrorism convictions and pieced together his observations.
“The people charged with terrorism were involved in these fantastical plots to bomb subway stations and downtown office buildings, but they never had the means on their own. They never had the ability to acquire weapons. And those weapons were provided by either an undercover agent or an FBI informant posing as an Al-Qaeda operative or affiliate of a terrorist organization,” he said on CSPAN’s Book TV in 2013.
One such attempted case was described in intimate detail in one episode of This American Life. The story featured Craig Monteilh, a convicted felon recruited by the FBI as an informant to spy on Muslims at the local mosque in Orange County, California, in 2006, dubbed “Operation Flex.” He was instructed to incite the young men to discuss jihad and the prospect of committing terrorism, and eventually provide them with the materials necessary to carry out such a plot.
Fortunately, Monteilh’s cohorts actually reported him to the FBI, based on their fears that he may himself commit acts of violence, and Monteilh went public about his work for the FBI. The exposure of the informant’s mission was used as the basis for a lawsuit against the FBI, which was eventually dismissed.
During my time as a journalist in Philadelphia, I remember covering such a case.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a used-car salesman originally from Iran, was busted for allegedly attempting to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. The problem? He was tricked into such a plot by what he thought to be Mexican gang members, who were actually government informants being supplied with funds, equipment, and planning from the FBI.
Arbabsiar ended up being branded across national media as a terrorist and aligned automatically with fighters from the sands of Afghanistan or Iraq. As part of my job, I had to interview a counter-terrorism “expert” and former Bush administration official who “made himself available” to Fox 29 TV, where I was working. He told me he had “deep knowledge” of the case, even though the charges had just been announced.
His conclusion? Iranian intelligence was directly involved in this case, and it was a deep conspiracy. This terrorist was hellbent on carrying out attacks on the homeland and had to be stopped. Thankfully, the FBI caught the suspect in the nick of time. Bizarrely, however, this was exactly the same narrative used to convict Arbabsiar more than two years later. Quite a coincidence.
There is no question the FBI is an important agency within government and for solving crimes. The question to ask now, is, what purpose do they serve if they’re concocting the crimes themselves?