Every year, the U.S. government allocates $3 billion to the FBI to prevent terrorism, more money than it receives to fight organized crime. To justify the expenditures, the Bureau has made a habit of entrapping individuals in sting operations in which paid FBI informants pose as Islamic terrorists: Their modus operandi is to present their mark with an idea for an attack; then they offer to provide the weapons, money, and transportation needed to carry it out. At that point the FBI swoops in and arrests the mark, so it can claim to have prevented a terrorist attack.
This is the important national security story that investigative journalist Trevor Aaronson tells in the forthcoming book “The Terror Factor” (Jan. 2013), which looks back at ten years of terrorism prosecutions since 9/11. “Of the 508 defendants, 243 had been targeted through an FBI informant, 158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting, and 49 had encountered an agent provocateur,” writes Aaronson. “Of the 508 cases, I [can] count on one hand the number of actual terrorists — such as failed New York City subway bomber Najibullah Zazi — who posed a direct and immediate threat to the United States.”
It turns out that the overwhelming majority of the men prosecuted on terrorism-related charges can be described as sad sack individuals living on the margins of society, many of whom were targeted after mouthing off about violence — especially violence in the name of Islam — on Facebook or in chat rooms. Others, like Mohammed Hossain (a real estate entrepreneur who operated a pizzeria in Albany, New York, and served as the sole breadwinner for his family), hardly fit the profile of a terrorist. In an interview with the author, Hossain says he believes his appearance played a role in his conviction: “Look at me,” he said, “My beard, my face, my taqiyah — I look like Osama bin Laden.”
Aaronson also relates the stories of the Lackawanna Six (a half-dozen Yemeni-American men who lived outside of Buffalo and made the mistake of attending a training camp near Kandahar, only to realize that “they had romanticized Al Qaeda … and wanted nothing more than to return to the comforts of home”), as well the Liberty Seven (seven alleged Al Qaeda operatives who supposedly planned to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago — arrested a day before the New York Times broke a story about a secret Bush administration program that permitted the CIA and Treasury Department to review, without warrants or subpoenas, the financial transactions of people living in the United States). The Lackawanna Six are all out of prison now; tellingly, the government provided three of the men with new identities after their release. As for the Liberty Seven, five were convicted of crimes that landed them in prison, yet “the government was never able to show … that [they] had the ability to commit an act of terrorism were it not for the FBI informants providing them with the means.”
According to Aaronson, we can expect to see many more individuals arrested and convicted in connection with phony terror plots. Not only is there a lot of institutional momentum within the FBI, the Bureau now has upwards of 15,000 informants trolling Muslim communities, and too many so-called terror experts are making healthy incomes by exaggerating the threat of Islamic terrorism in the United States. The FBI also has a powerful ally — the mainstream news media — which is either unwilling or unable to question the government’s narratives, thereby reinforcing the perception that numerous threats exist.
Unfortunately, the FBI’s misplaced priorities may have resulted in the failure to prevent or prosecute some of the financial fraud of the past decade. And it could lead to the failure to preempt future attacks by domestic right-wing extremists — including the sovereign citizen movement — arguably the greatest threat to our national security. Concludes Aaronson: “[I]t’s conceivable that the Bureau will not notice or arrive too late to address the real crimes and threats of tomorrow.”