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The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism Hardcover – January 15, 2013
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"A real eye-opener that questions how well the country's security is being protected."-Kirkus Reviews
"This is investigative reporting at its best. For the first time, a documented investigation into the domestic terrorism program is available to the general public. And the story this dogged reporter tells has been garnering growing attention. Is it possible that we have in fact created the very threat we fear? Are we in danger of destroying the fabric of our freedom in our panic to preserve it? Read Aaronson's ground breaking report and make up your own mind."-Lowell Bergman, Pulitzer Prize-winning Professor of Investigative Reporting
"Aaronson explains just how misguided and often deceptive FBI terrorism sting operations have become. In case after case, he demonstrates how the money being spent is more about producing theater than about federal agents arresting suspected terrorists."-James J. Wedick, former FBI Supervisory Agent
"A disturbing window into America's war on terror. In story after story, Aaronson reveals in detail how the FBI and its informants are creating crime rather than solving it. This is an important piece of journalism."--Alexandra Natapoff, author, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
About the Author
Trevor Aaronson is an accomplished investigative journalist. He has written about the FBI for Mother Jones magazine and produced a documentary about informants for Al Jazeera Media Network. A two-time finalist for the Livingston Awards, Aaronson has won the Molly National Journalism Prize, the international Data Journalism Award and the John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award.
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Aaronson compiled a database, accessible online [...], of the characteristics of "terrorism" cases as identified by the United States Department of Justice. A frequent characteristic is the appearance of one or more confidential informants, and often these shadowy figures do more to further the crime than the convicted felons ever did. Through scrutiny of court documents and interviews with persons involved in the cases, Aaronson makes the following claims:
1. The vast majority of the convicted terrorists were no danger to the public.
2. The informants who are chiefly responsible for the convictions are themselves often criminals who have harmed public safety, even while they are on the payroll.
3. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) uses coercive tactics to recruit large numbers of Muslims into spying on their co-religionists and punishes those who refuse to do so.
4. The FBI may be violating terrorism suspsects' rights by tolerating illegal behavior of informants during investigations and failing to record or destroying recordings of conversations which would exonerate the suspects.
5. The focus on "Islamic" terrorism leads to less effective law enforcement in other areas, such as financial crimes [link to Frontline program on insider trading] and other ideological terrorism.
6. The FBI has a financial incentive to continue to use confidential informants to produce terrorism convictions. A steady stream of such convictions helps it justify its increasing budget to Congress.
The Department of Justice has scheduled a Hate Crime Prevention Forum in Augusta, GA. It has been canceled twice, the first time because of the Federal government shutdown and the second because of inclement weather. I propose that a major cause of hate crime against Muslims and those thought to be Muslim is the regular announcements from the FBI of thwarting of terrible Muslim terrorists. Muslims around the USA have called for reevaluation of cooperation with their local FBI offices, and I believe it is important for all board members of Muslim organizations to read this book to better prepare them for government spying. Moreover, it behooves Muslim organizations to organize programs to warn their members of FBI tactics the same way we educate children to avoid sexual predators.
The next time some real terrorists plot to blow something up in America, the FBI will no doubt miss it, being too busy tricking the slowest kid down at the Islamic bookstore into praising Osama for the promise of $20,000.
The courts have let them get away with it, so thank goodness there are a few decent reporters left willing to challenge the feds on their third-world ways.
Trevor Aaronson ably describes the FBI agent-informant entrapment business, tells the story of wholly innocent and mostly-innocent people who could-would never have become terrorists but for the provocateur sent to frame them up, the ruthless blackmail used by the feds to terrorize average Joe Muslims to become informants/provocateurs, the perverse incentives driving them to continue the same policy and the mass media credulity that helps make it all possible.
Imagine an incompetent bureaucrat. Now imagine a corrupt one. Now imagine both combined. You're starting to get at the image I take away of some of the FBI agents' actions recounted in this book.
Now imagine someone both dumb enough to be manipulated by one of those bureaucrats and hopelessly criminal, often sociopathic, and generally at the mercy of the criminal or immigration courts. Now you're down to the level of the FBI informant, of which we the Sacred-Taxpayers-Who-Shall-Defund-Our-Own-Retirement employ some 15,000 now, dramatically more than ever before. And we pay them very well.
Then try to picture someone so naive, incompetent, desperate, out-of-place, or deranged as to be manipulable by an FBI informant. Now you're at the level of the evil terrorist masterminds out to blow up our skyscrapers.
Well, not really. They're actually almost entirely bumbling morons who couldn't tie their own shoes or buy the laces without FBI instigation and support. The FBI plants the ideas, makes the plans, provides the fake weapons and money, creates the attempted act of terrorism, makes an arrest, and announces the salvation of the nation.
Over and over again. The procedure has become so regular that intended marks have spotted the sting being worked on them simply by googling the name or phone number of the bozo pretending to recruit them into the terrorist brotherhood, and discovering that he's a serial informant.
Between 911 and August, 2011, the U.S. government prosecuted 508 people for terrorism in the United States. 243 had been targeted using an FBI informant. 158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting. 49 (that we know of, FBI recording devices have completely unbelievable patterns of "malfunctioning") had encountered an agent provocateur. Most of the rest charged with "terrorism" had little or nothing to do with terrorism at all, most of them charged with more minor offenses like immigration offenses or making false statements. Three or four people out of the whole list appear to be men whom one would reasonably call terrorists in the commonly accepted sense of the word. They intended to and had something at least approaching the capacity to engage in acts of terrorism.
These figures are not far off the percentages of Guantanamo prisoners or drone strike victims believed to be guilty of anything resembling what they've been accused of. So, we shouldn't single out the FBI for criticism. But it should receive its share.
Here's how U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon understood a case that seems all too typical:
"The essence of what occurred here is that a government, understandably zealous to protect its citizens from terrorism, came upon a man both bigoted and suggestible, one who was incapable of committing an act of terrorism on his own. It created acts of terrorism out of his fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true. . . . I suspect that real terrorists would not have bothered themselves with a person who was so utterly inept."
When we hear on television that the FBI has prevented a plot to blow up a crowded area of a big U.S. city, we either grow terrified and grateful, or we wait for the inevitable revelation that the FBI created the plot from start to finish, manipulating some poor fool who had zero contact with foreign terrorists and more often than not participated unwittingly or for the money offered him. But even those of us who do the latter might find Aaronson's survey of this phenomenon stunning.
During some of its heretofore darkest days the FBI didn't use informants like it does now. J. Edgar Hoover's informants just observed and reported. They didn't instigate. That practice took off during the war on drugs in the 1980s. But the assumption that a drug dealer might have done the same thing without the FBI's sting operation is backed up by some statistics. There is no evidence to back up the idea that the unemployed grocery bagger and video game player who sees visions, has never heard of major Islamic terrorist groups, can't purchase a gun with thousands of dollars in cash and instructions on how to purchase a gun, understands terrorism entirely from the insights of Hollywood movies, and who has no relevant skills or resources, is going to blow up a building without help from the FBI.
(Which came first, the FBI's terror factory or Hollywood's is a moot question now that they feed off each other so well.)
Read this book, I'm telling you, we're looking at people who've been locked away for decades who couldn't have found their ass with two hands and a map. These cases more than anything else resemble those of mentally challenged innocent men sitting on death rows because they tried to please the police officer asking them to confess to a crime they clearly knew nothing about.
Of course the press conferences announcing the convictions of drug dealers and "terrorists" are equally successful. They also equally announce an ongoing campaign doomed to failure. The campaign for "terrorists" developed under President George W. Bush and expanded, like so much else, under President Barack Obama.
Aaronson spoke with J. Stephen Tidwell, former executive assistant director at the FBI. Tidwell argued that someone thinking about the general idea of committing crimes should be set up and then prosecuted, because as long as they're not in prison the possibility exists that someone other than the FBI could encourage them to, and assist them in, actually committing a crime. "You and I could sit here, go online, and by tonight have a decent bomb built. What do you do? Wait for him to figure it out himself?"
The answer, based on extensive data, is quite clearly that he will not figure it out himself and act on it. That the FBI has stopped 3 acts of terrorism is believable. But that the FBI has stopped 508 and there wasn't a 509th is just not possible. The explanation is that there haven't been 509 or even 243. The FBI has manufactured terrorist plots by the dozens, including most of the best known ones. (And if you watched John Brennan's confirmation hearing, you know that the underwear bomber and other "attacks" not under the FBI's jurisdiction have been no more real.)
Arthur Cummings, former executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, told Aaronson that the enemy was not Al Qaeda or Islamic Terrorism, but the idea of it. "We're at war with an idea," he said. But his strategy seems to be one of consciously attempting to lose hearts and minds. For the money spent on infiltrations and stings, the U.S. government could have given every targeted community free education from preschool to college, just as it could do for every community at home and many abroad by redirecting war spending. When you're making enemies of people rather than friends, to say that you're working against an idea is simply to admit that you're not targeting people based on a judicial review finding any probable cause to legally do so.
The drug war's failure can be calculated in the presence of drugs, although the profits for prisons and other profiteers aren't universally seen as failures. The FBI's counterterrorism can be calculated as a failure largely because of the waste of billions of dollars on nonexistent terrorism. But there's also the fact that the FBI's widespread use of informants, very disproportionately in Muslim communities, has made ordinary people who might provide tips hesitant to do so for fear of being recruited as informants. Thus "counter terrorism" may make it harder to counter terrorism. It may also feed into real terrorism by further enraging people already outraged by U.S. foreign policy. But it's no failure at all if measured by the dollars flowing into the FBI, or the dollars flowing into the pockets of informants who get paid by commission (that is, based on convictions in court of their marks). Nor do weapons makers, other war profiteers, or other backers of right wing politics in general seem to be objecting in any way to the production of widespread fear and bigotry.
Congressman Stephen Lynch has introduced a bill that would require federal law enforcement agencies to report to Congress twice a year on all serious crimes, authorized or unauthorized, committed by informants (who are often much more dangerous criminals than are those they're informing on). The bill picked up a grand total of zero cosponsors last Congress and has reached the same mark thus far in the current one.
The corporate media cartel has seen its ratings soar with each new phony incident. Opposition to current practice does not seem to be coming from that quarter.
And let's all be clear with each other: our society is tolerating this because the victims are Muslims. With many other minority groups we would all be leaping to their defense.
It may be time to try thinking of Muslims as Samaritans, as of course some of them are.