Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Terror Factory by Trevor Aaronson

The FBI currently spends $3 billion annually to hunt an enemy that is largely of its own creation. Evidence in dozens of terrorism cases – involving plots to blow up synagogues, skyscrapers, military recruiting stations, and bars and nightclubs – suggests that today’s terrorists in the United States are nothing more than FBI creations, impressionable men living on the edges of society who become bomb-triggering would-be killers only because of the actions of FBI informants. The FBI and the Justice Department then cite these sting cases as proof that the government is stopping terrorists before they strike. But the evidence available for review in these cases  shows that these “terrorists” never had the capability to launch an attack themselves.  Most of the targets in these stings were poor, uneducated,  and easily manipulated.  In many cases, it’s likely they wouldn’t have come up with the idea at all without prodding –often over the course of many months – by one of the FBI’s 15,000 registered informants ( many of whom have extensive criminal convictions). In sting after sting, from Miami to Seattle the FBI and its informants have provided the means for America’s would-be terrorists to carry out an attack, creating what one federal judge has called “fantasy terror operations.”

According to government and federal court records, the Justice Department has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism defendants since 9/11. Of these cases, only a few posed actual threats to people or property such as: Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who opened fired on the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002; Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing the New York City subway system in September 2009; and Faisal Shahzad, who failed to detonate a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 20010. Of the rest of the approximately 500 defendants, more than 150  were caught conspiring not with terrorists but with FBI informants in sting operations. The remainder of the Justice Department’s prosecutions involve crimes such as money laundering or immigration violations in which the link to terrorism was tangential or on another continent, and no evidence in these cases suggested credible safety threats to the United States.

The men the FBI and The Justice Department describe today as terrorists – among them Narseal Batiste, James Cromitie, Dritan Duka, Michael Finton, Hamid Hayay, Mohammad Osman Mohamud, Walli Mujahidh, Tark Shah and Derrick Shareff  [whose cases are described in this book]- may technically be terrorists under the law, as they have been convicted of terrorism-related charges in federal courts. But if they are indeed terrorists, the government has stretched the definition of a terrorist well beyond any reasonable limit. These men, some broke, others with mental problems, couldn’t have committed even small-time offenses on their own, and yet the FBI and Justice Department have convinced court and the public that they are terrorists, even though it was the government informants and agents who provided the plans and weapons that allowed them to become terrorists in the first place.

There’s a famous saying – first used in Gerald Seymour’s 1975 novel about the IRA, Harry’s Game – that alludes to how the definition of a terrorist can be so loose and imprecise as to be form-fitting for the user of the word: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This saying is used so often, it’s become a cliché. But I don’t think this well-worn maxim can be used any longer, once you take a close at the terrorism cases that have moved through the federal courts in the years after 9/11. No one would think former crack addict James Cromitie, lured into a terrorist plot by the prospect of money, was a freedom fighter, or the young and disgruntled Antonio Martinez, who had trouble driving a car, a revolutionary. Like all FBI terrorism sting targets Cromitie and Martinez were dupes. Today, we need a new saying. One man’s terrorist is another man’s fool.
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A Florida native whose Manhattan apartment walls are covered with pictures of terrorists, Evan Kohlman –once dubbed the ‘Doogie Howser of terrorism’-  is the government’s most prolific terrorism expert, having served as an expert witness in seventeen terrorism trials in the United States and in nine others abroad since 2002.  With most of his knowledge gleaned from the Internet – the type of information the CIA describes as “open source intelligence” – Kohlman has testified to juries about the history of Islamic terrorism, how terrorist organizations finance themselves, and how they spread propaganda and recruit others for terrorist acts. Since 9/11, Kohlman has made a living testifying for the prosecution in terrorism trials as well as appearing on cable news as a terrorism expert. Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, described Kohlman to New York magazine as having been “grown hydroponically in the basement of the Bush Justice Department.”  Several; defense lawyers, including those in the cases of “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla and the so-called Virginia jihad group, have tried to have Kohlman disqualified as an expert witness, arguing that his only qualifications as a terrorism expert are self-fashioned. However, because few experts with university credentials and social science backgrounds are willing to testify about terrorism, the Justice Department has had little trouble persuading judges to allow Kohlman to take the stand where, as one of his critics put it, he spews “junk science” by suggesting that anyone who watches jihadi videos has self-radicalized.

Kohlman is one of a cadre of self-appointed terrorism experts who today earn handsome paychecks pushing forward the idea that Islamic terrorism is a real and immediate threat in the United States. Among his peers is Rita Katz who finds a way to trace just about anything to Islamic terrorism. Many of these experts, including Kohlman and Katz, have worked under Steve Emerson, a former journalist who has earned millions of dollars while making such hyperbolic claims as that 80 percent of mosques in the United States are controlled by Islamic extremists.  In 2009 and 2010, Emerson’s nonprofit organization, Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, raised $5.4 million in grants and individual contributions. The nonprofit then paid Emerson’s corporation, SAE Productions, $3.4 million in management fees, allowing the tax-exempt Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation to act as a pass-through for  a for-profit company – a questionable but not illegal practice. Simply put, there is big money to be made in stoking terrorism fears.

1 comment:

  1. In many terrorism stings, while the target hasn’t demonstrated the slightest inclination towards criminal behavior, the FBI informant who leads the plot has a long and violent criminal history. A good example is that of Derick Shareef, a broke, twenty-two year old working in a video game store in Rockford, Illinois who didn’t even have a place to live when an FBI informant approached him in September 2006, offering the use of a car, a place to live and free meals. It was the day before Ramadan, and Shareef, who’d been ostracized by his family since converting to Islam at the age of fifteen, saw the offer as an act of God. The informant, whose name has never been revealed, had been convicted of armed robbery in 1991 and possession of a stolen vehicle in 1997, as well as being a former member of the Four Cone Hustlers, a mostly black street gang known for its brutality on Chicago’s West side. .. After months working this case, the FBI and their informant finally nabbed Shareef when he traded a set of stereo speakers valued at no more than one hundred dollars for four grenades and a nine-millimeter handgun supplied by the government.