Fake Bombs, Fake Plots: Were ‘Homegrown Terrorists’ Entrapped?
Four men now known as the “Newburgh Four” are awaiting their fate in a U.S. District Court in new York this week. The federal prosecution gave its final arguments on Tuesday; now the jury must decide whether the four new Yorkers are guilty of plotting to bomb a Bronx synagogue and Jewish community center, and to shoot down military planes.
But their attorneys and legal experts closely watching the case are wondering if the men, as well as others in the new York area charged with being “homegrown terrorists” since 9/11, weren’t actually just entrapped by the FBI.
“The big story is who took the lead here, who created the story for the the crime … and who made it happen? if we are going to have a public debate on informants in terrorism cases, this is the case,” said Karen Greenberg of new York University’s Center on Law and Security. she was interviewed for a special Democracy Now! report on FBI informants that was first broadcast on Wednesday morning.
Critics charge that the FBI used the same Pakistani informant, Shahed Hussein, to ferret out desperate and vulnerable individuals and to convince them, over time, to assist in fake terror plots in Newburgh, as well as Albany, where two Muslim men of Kurdish and Bangladeshi descent were convicted on money laundering and conspiracy to commit terrorism charges in 2006. According to family members in both cases, the men were not part of any terror operation or “cell” before Hussein came to town. Rather, after enticing them with promises of cash gifts and loans, he secretly taped their conversations in order to “catch” them in the act of plotting terror. (Read more after the jump.)
In the Albany case, Mohammed Hossein’s lawyers say he did not entirely understand that the $45,000 loan (plus a $5,000 gift) he was getting to keep his pizzeria business afloat was being laundered by a Pakistani terror group (this was, in fact, part of the FBI’s fake “plot”– there was no laundering).
“It’s unclear from the recordings how much the men understood that the money for the loan had been allegedly laundered from weapon sales to a terrorist group. but Mohammed Hossein’s acceptance of the loan and (Imam) Yassin Aref’s witnessing of the loan formed the basis for the government’s case against the two men,” said Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamet, who produced Wednesday’s report.
In the separate Newburgh case, the same informant — who has a criminal record and was wanted for murder in Pakistan — offered tens of thousands of dollars to the men in exchange for planting what we now know were fake bombs and missiles provided by the FBI. one of the accused, David Williams, who had a record of petty crimes and drug offenses, was offered $25,000 to help.
Williams’ family told Democracy Now! that he no doubt had his brother in mind when he took on his role in the “plot.” His brother was sick and in need of a liver transplant the family could not afford.
In fact, the four African American men on trial each came from desperate circumstances – ex-cons, with current and former drug habits, custody battles, low or no incomes, and histories of boasting and falling into trouble. one man, Laguerre Payen, was an unemployed paranoid schizophrenic, with a history of violence and strange behavior. but were they “terrorists”? Alicia McWilliams-McCollom, Williams’ aunt, says no way.
“This is entrapment,” she told Democracy Now! “You’re going to send an informant into an impoverished community, the most impoverished county, to do your trickery. you ain’t stumbled upon a cell. Nobody ain’t tell you that someone was plotting to do anything. you created a crime!”
Former FBI agent James Wedick, who spent 35 years working with informants, said the bureau was supposed to be using informants only when there was evidence of criminal activity – not to deliberately create the conditions for a crime to happen in the future. nor was the FBI supposed to be relying on criminals like Hussein — whose credibility was already in question, having once been convicted of fraud — to pursue surveillance in sensitive terror cases. but the rule book apparently went out the window after the 9/11 attacks.
“Look, informants are the most dangerous individuals on the planet. if you don’t monitor them, something can go wrong,” said Wedick, who charged that the line between uncovering plots and creating them has been blurred. “I’ll venture to say in 90 percent — 90 percent of the cases that you see that have occurred in the last 10 years are garbage.”
Tell that to the Newburgh four, who could get life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges they face — conspiracy to commit terrorism and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States. they would join another group of seemingly hapless “terrorists,” the five Muslim men of Albanian descent who were convicted in 2009 of plotting to attack the Fort Dix Army base in 2007. they were also “caught” plotting by two informants, an Albanian and Egyptian, both with criminal records.
“Nothing was blown up. no one was killed or even injured. all three cases rest on fake plots concocted by the FBI and rely heavily on hundreds of hours of surveillance video and audio secretly recorded by a paid government informant,” said Kamet.
Investigative journalist Petra Bartosiewicz told Democracy Now! that the stings involved to nab the suspects in each of the cases had been elaborate, involving much time and energy and lots of cash — hundreds of thousands of dollars — for the informants. in the meantime, real would-be terrorists like Faisal Shahzad, who left a carload of explosives burning in Times Square this year, are still out there. He was convicted in a new York federal court this week.
“You would think that we would be putting our resources into preventing another Faisal Shahzad from occurring, rather than spending the enormous amount of time and manpower and money that it takes to prepare a sting operation, which sometimes takes years,” said Bartosiewicz.
After 9/11, the government’s hot pursuit of domestic terrorism has created a climate in which longstanding “rules” have been ignored, according to critics. Federal law enforcement even seems willing to “create” domestic terrorism cases in order to prove they are doing their jobs. An honest debate on the use of informants in this way might at least set the brakes on what could become a real constitutional crisis.
Photo Credit: J. Ota
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