The following was written in response to an article entitled, “Most Terrorist Plots in the US Aren’t Invented by Al Qaeda — They’re Manufactured by the FBI”. The article is published by Alternet at: http://www.alternet.org/books/most-terrorist-plots-us-arent-invented-al-qaeda-theyre-manufactured-fbi?paging=off
The article is an excerpt from the book “The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism” by Trevor Aaronson (Ig Publishing, 2012). I highly recommend reading the article and am looking forward to reading the book as the issues Aaronson is addressing have long been among my own primary areas of inquiry. However, after reading the article and with the admitted caveat of not having yet read Aaronson’s book, I caution against an oversimplified, over politicized view of the issue at hand.
I do not in any way intend the following commentary to be a critique of Aaronson’s book, which I have not yet read. Instead I intend to amplify Aaronson’s concerns while also, quite necessarily objecting to some reactions to Aaronson’s findings, which amount to what I can only describe as a continuation of an oversimplified, naive and dangerous demonization campaign against all things related to counterterrorism.
Trevor Aaronson has written a book entitled “The Terror Factory: Inside The FBI’s Manufactured War on Terror” in which he presents case after case of FBI entrapment of terror suspects in cases in which the FBI either created the specific “manufactured” terrorist act or helped it along and seized control of it. There are many angles to this story and each case is different.
The fact that most cases were not connected to Al Qaeda is irrelevant. Al Qaeda is only one of countless violent jihadist groups around the world, several of which have affiliates in the USA and that’s just the Islamic terrorists. There are also the white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, and other militant armed groups.
It has been pointed out rightfully, that it is a violation of the US Constitution to charge people with so-called “thought crimes”. Because of this it is the responsibility of agents and agencies tasked with public safety to assess threats and determine whether a person is making idle threats or actually waiting for an opportunity to strike.
If a threat were investigated and determined to be just “hot air” and later the one who had issued the threat or taken the steps that originally aroused suspicion were to go forward with an attack that claimed lives the agent or agency would be at fault and blamed for not doing their job, for knowing of a threat and not taking appropriate action. If however they were to arrest the one issuing the threat or taking suspicious actions and there was not enough evidence to prove anything more than an idle threat they would be reprimanded for wasting agency resources on a minor case that would only generate, at most a conviction for conspiracy.
In order to actually prevent terrorist attacks, which don’t only come from Al Qaeda or Islamists or foreign organizations or even groups at all, they are often the work of loners and small unorganized groups, agencies such as the FBI must rely on lengthy surveillance of suspects in order to determine the seriousness of their threats. This surveillance is most often done by confidential informants or what the criminal world refers to as “snitches” since it is sometimes easier and safer to get an associate to betray a suspected terrorist than to get have an undercover agent gain their trust.
There are many problems with the confidential informant system such as the fact that informants are often double agents who are actually engaged in spying on the activities of the law enforcement agency for the suspected criminals or terrorists, as was the case with Al Qaeda/FBI “double agent” Ali Mohamed. At other times they are only in it for the money and are lying to both sides or manufacturing evidence in order to build a case in order to keep receiving paychecks or other favors from the agency.
Yet another reoccurring problem is corrupt collusion between agents and informants who enter into mutually beneficial relationships where the informant is allowed to get away with his criminal activities in exchange for helping the agent or agency to secure a big bust in order to advance his or her career or to secure budget increases and accolades for the agency.
There was legislation introduced in 2007, if my memory serves me, which would have mandated that the FBI arrest informants if they knew that the informant had committed a serious felony such as murder. This bill was opposed by the FBI as they said it would prevent them from being able to gather the necessary evidence to secure serious convictions and lengthy sentences for dangerous criminals such as organized crime leaders and consequently the bill never made it out of committee.
If the public wants terrorist attacks prevented but they don’t want sting operations, then it should be said that they want the impossible. They want what never has been and never will be. Sting operations are often necessary and certain forms of “entrapment” are often necessary in order to ascertain the seriousness of a threat and take action before the threat becomes a real life tragedy. The alternative is often to wait and watch and hope the threatened act of terror doesn’t occur when you are looking the other way.
It is more logical and more responsible to control the act so that it will yield the necessary evidence to secure conviction of a person or persons determined to kill the innocent before they have a chance to do so. When a person states their intent to commit violent acts in no uncertain terms, it is the job of agencies like the FBI to take them seriously and do whatever is necessary and legal to protect the public from harm. Unfortunately sting operations are a dangerous game, “entrapment” is a legally problematic strategy, and the informant system is rife with corruption.
The following passage from ig publishing describing Aaronson’s book is worth examining more closely, “The book also offers unprecedented detail into how the FBI has transformed from a reactive law enforcement agency to a proactive counterterrorism organization that traps hapless individuals in manufactured terrorist plots in order to justify the $3 billion it spends every year fighting terrorism.”
It is correct of the publisher and author to want to prevent the exploitation of the “hapless” and to be concerned that a psychotic blowhard might just be ranting and raving until an FBI informant pushes them into an actual bombing which they may or may not be successful in thwarting thus putting the public in unnecessary danger. It is also absolutely correct to be concerned about artificially bloated budgets, entrapment, untrustworthy informants, and corrupt career driven or agenda driven agents “manufacturing” terrorism.
However the fact that the FBI has been transformed into a proactive organization instead of a reactive one should be applauded not frowned upon. It is largely because of the reactive nature of law enforcement that the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11th attacks were not prevented despite ample foreknowledge and opportunity to proactively thwart them. The job of law enforcement should be to protect the public from those with the intent to attack the public, not to wait until it is too late and arrest the terrorists after lives have been lost.