Justice focuses on “three high-profile terrorism prosecutions” where “government informants played a critical role in instigating and constructing the plots that were then prosecuted.”
Using informants and agent provocateurs was a tactic perfected by the FBI during the 1960s and 1970s when COINTELPRO (a program aimed at destabilizing New Left groups, and the Black and women’s liberation movements) became a household word, at least in movement households.
According to a report by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, also known as the Church Committee, the FBI relied on “secret informants…wiretaps, microphone ‘bugs,’ surreptitious mail opening, and break ins, [which gathered] vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views and associations of American citizens” and “conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”
After 9/11, the re-ignition and ramping up of the so-called “war on terrorism” has brought about an escalation of these methods by government agencies. While the tentacles of entrapment have stretched across political, religious, and ethnic lines, they have been primarily focused on Muslim communities and organizations. “Since September 11, 2001, the
The report, titled “Terror and Entrapment: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’ in the United States,” covers three high-profile terrorism prosecutions: the Newburgh Four with a focus on defendant David Williams; the Fort Dix Five with a focus on defendants Eljvir, Dritan, and Shain Duka; and the case of Shahawar Matin Siraj. According to the report, the FBI and/or the New York City Police Department “sent paid informants into Muslim communities or families without any particularized suspicion of criminal activity.”
As the report points out, the use of informants has always been a dicey proposition since they are often working in areas of law enforcement for which they have no particular training. Equally problematic is that informants receive personal benefits for their work: the reduction of charges in a pending case, the lessening of a pre-existing prison sentence, a “change in immigration status,” or payment in exchange for “providing useful information,” which creates “a dangerous incentive structure.”
In the cases examined by “Terror and Entrapment,” “the government’s informants held themselves out as Muslims and looked in particular to incite other Muslims to commit acts of violence. The government’s informants introduced and aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad and, moreover, actually encouraged the defendants to believe it was their duty to take action against the
Government agents preyed upon the “defendants’ vulnerabilities—youth and poverty,” in its methods. The government appears to have also taken full advantage of the lack of sophistication and street smarts of many of those lured into participating in the “concocted plots.”
The report’s authors found that, “In all three cases, the government selected or encouraged the proposed locations that the defendants would later be accused of targeting. In all three cases, the government also provided the defendants with, or encouraged the defendants to acquire, material evidence, such as weaponry or violent videos, which would later be used to convict them.” The report points out that those convicted, “are facing prison sentences of 25 years to life.”
Since 9/11, it has been documented that “there have been more instances of politically-motivated violence in the
Regardless of how much one believes that there is a palpable threat of terrorism from homegrown Muslims, white supremacists and/or Christian “patriots,” the government’s methodology used to uncover real or manufactured plots needs to be thoroughly examined.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.