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Manufacturing Terrorists

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://reason.com/archives/2013/01/15/manufacturing-terrorists Manufacturing
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2013
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:


      Manufacturing Terrorists
      Inside the FBI's terror sting operations.
      by Michael German
      January 15, 2013

      The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, by
      Trevor Aaronson, Ig Publishing, 256 pages, $24.95.

      Imagine a country in which the government pays convicted con artists and
      criminals to scour minority religious communities for disgruntled,
      financially desperate, or mentally ill patsies who can be talked into
      joining fake terror plots, even if only for money. Imagine that the
      country's government then busts its patsies with great fanfare to
      justify ever-increasing authority and ever-increasing funding. According
      to journalist Trevor Aaronson's The Terror Factory, this isn't the
      premise for a Kafka novel; it's reality in the post-9/11 United States.

      The Terror Factory is a well-researched and fast-paced exposé of the
      dubious tactics the FBI has used in targeting Muslim Americans with
      sting operations since 2001. The book updates and expands upon
      Aaronson's award-winning 2011 Mother Jones cover story, "The
      Informants." Most readers have likely heard about several alleged
      conspiracies to attack skyscrapers, synagogues, or subway stations,
      involving either individuals that the FBI calls "lone wolves" or small
      cells a credulous press tagged with such sinister appellations as the
      "Newburgh 4" or the "Liberty City 7." Many of these frightening plots
      were almost entirely concocted and engineered by the FBI itself, using
      corrupt agents provocateurs who often posed a far more serious criminal
      threat than the dim-witted saps the investigations targeted.

      Drawing on court records and on interviews with the defendants, their
      lawyers, their families, and the FBI officials and prosecutors who
      oversaw the investigations, Aaronson portrays an agency that has adopted
      an "any means necessary" approach to its terrorism prevention efforts,
      regardless of whether there are real terrorists being caught. To the
      FBI, this imperative justifies recruiting informants with extensive
      criminal records, including convictions for fraud, violent crimes, and
      even child molestation, that in an earlier era would have disqualified
      them except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

      In addition to providing leniency, if not forgiveness, for heinous
      crimes, the FBI pays these informants tens to hundreds of thousands of
      dollars, creating a perverse incentive for them to ensnare dupes into
      terror plots. Aaronson quotes an FBI official defending this practice:
      "To catch the devil you have to go to hell."

      Such an analysis might make sense when police leverage one criminal to
      gain information about more serious criminal conspiracies—in other
      words, to catch a real "devil." But Aaronson's research reveals that the
      targets in most of these sting operations clearly pose little real
      threat. They may have a history of angry anti-government rhetoric, but
      they take no steps toward terrorist acts until they receive
      encouragement and resources from government agents.

      Aaronson takes pains to avoid portraying those caught in the stings as
      completely innocent of malice. But he demonstrates that they almost
      universally lack violent criminal histories or connections to real
      terrorist groups. Most importantly, while they may have talked about
      committing violent acts, they rarely had weapons of their own and lacked
      the financial means to acquire them. Yet the government provides them
      with military hardware that would cost thousands of dollars and would be
      extremely difficult for even sophisticated criminal organizations to
      obtain, only to bust them in a staged finale.

      This aspect of Aaronson's narrative is most troubling to me, as a former
      FBI agent who worked undercover in domestic terrorism investigations
      before 9/11. My concern is partly that the artificially inflated scope
      of the threat in these cases appears to be specifically designed to
      overwhelm judges, jurors, and the general public, who might otherwise
      view these methods as illegal entrapment. Indeed, the judge in a case in
      which an informant offered a seemingly reluctant James Cromitie $250,000
      to participate in his plot, severely criticized the investigation,
      stating: "Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr.
      Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope." Yet
      she let the jury's conviction stand and sentenced Cromitie to 25 years
      in prison. Of 150 defendants charged in these schemes, Aaronson
      documents only two acquittals. The majority plead guilty to mitigate
      draconian penalties. Law enforcement has no business staging theatrical
      productions that intentionally exaggerate the seriousness of a
      defendant's criminal conduct.

      More unsettling is the flawed reasoning that drives the use of these
      methods. FBI agents have been inundated with bigoted training materials
      that falsely portray Arabs and Muslims as inherently violent. The FBI
      has also embraced an unfounded theory of "radicalization" that alleges a
      direct progression from adopting certain beliefs, or expressing
      opposition to U.S. policies, to becoming a terrorist. With such a skewed
      and biased view of the American Muslim community, the FBI's strategy of
      "preemption, prevention, and disruption" results in abusive
      surveillance, targeting, and exploitation of innocent people simply for
      exercising their First Amendment rights.

      One area where Aaronson is off the mark, however, is in failing to
      recognize these tactics are neither new to the FBI nor exclusively used
      against Muslims. The FBI's earliest documented use of agents
      provocateurs was revealed during congressional investigations of labor
      "radicals," pacifists, and socialists in 1918. And the Church
      Committee's investigation of the FBI's COINTELPRO investigations
      revealed covert operations that targeted groups for First
      Amendment–protected activities from the 1950s through the 1970s.

      In both cases, reform of these practices was implemented by restricting
      FBI intelligence activities and requiring a reasonable suspicion of
      criminal activity before initiating investigations. Conversely, the
      rapid increase in sting operations under the Obama administration is
      directly attributable to some 2008 amendments to the FBI's guidelines,
      which authorized the use of informants without requiring any factual
      predicate of wrongdoing.

      The FBI has also used these dubious tactics against aged anti-government
      militiamen and misfit anarchists, so it there's more than Muslims in the
      crosshairs: Without reforming the FBI guidelines, anyone holding
      unorthodox views or challenging government policies could be similarly

      Michael German is a former FBI agent who currently works for the
      American Civil Liberties Union. These opinions are his own.

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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