Antonio Martinez was a punk. The twenty-two-year-old from Baltimore was chunky, with a wide nose and jet-black hair pulled back close to his scalp and tied into long braids that hung past his shoulders. He preferred to be called Muhammad Hussain, the name he gave himself following his conversion to Islam. But his mother still called him Tony, and she couldn’t understand her son’s burning desire to be the Maryland Mujahideen.
As a young man, Martinez had been angry and lost. He’d dropped out of Laurel High School, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and spent his teens as a small-time thief in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. By the age of sixteen, he’d been charged with armed robbery. In February 2008, at the age of eighteen, he tried to steal a car. Catholic University doctoral student Daniel Tobin was looking out of the window of his apartment one day when he saw a man driving off in his car. Tobin gave chase, running between apartment buildings and finally catching up to the stolen vehicle. He opened the passenger-side door and got in. Martinez, in the driver’s seat, dashed out and ran away on foot. Jumping behind the wheel, Tobin followed the would-be car thief. “You may as well give up running,” he yelled at Martinez. Martinez was apprehended and charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle—he had stolen the vehicle using an extra set of car keys which had gone missing when someone had broken into Tobin’s apartment earlier. However, prosecutors dropped the charges against Martinez after Tobin failed to appear in court.
Despite the close call, Martinez’s petty crimes continued. One month after the car theft, he and a friend approached a cashier at a Safeway grocery store, acting as if they wanted to buy potato chips. When the cashier opened the register, Martinez and his friend grabbed as much money as they could and ran out of the store. The cashier and store manager chased after them, and later identified the pair to police. Martinez pleaded guilty to theft of one hundred dollars and received a ninety-day suspended sentence, plus six months of probation.
Searching for greater meaning in his life, Martinez was baptized and became a Christian when he was twenty-one years old, but he didn’t stick with the religion. “He said he tried the Christian thing. He just really didn’t understand it,” said Alisha Legrand, a former girlfriend. Martinez chose Islam instead. On his Facebook page, Martinez wrote that he was “just a yung brotha from the wrong side of the tracks who embraced Islam.” But for reasons that have never been clear to his family and friends, Martinez drifted toward a violent, extremist brand of Islam. When the FBI discovered him, Martinez was an angry extremist mouthing off on Facebook about violence, with misspelled posts such as, “The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah.” Based on the Facebook postings alone, an FBI agent gave an informant the “green light” to get to know Martinez and determine if he had a propensity for violence. In other words, to see if he was dangerous.
The government was setting the trap.
On the evening of December 2, 2010, Martinez was in another Muslim’s car as they drove through Baltimore. A hidden device recorded their conversation. His mother had called, and Martinez had just finished talking to her on his cell phone. He was aggravated. “She wants me to be like everybody else, being in school, working,” he told his friend. “For me, it’s different. I have this zeal for deen and she doesn’t understand that.” Martinez’s mother didn’t know that her son had just left a meeting with a purported Afghan-born terrorist who had agreed to provide him with a car bomb. But she wasn’t the only one in the dark that night. Martinez himself didn’t know his new terrorist friend was an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that the man driving the car—a man he’d met only a few weeks earlier—was a paid informant for federal law enforcement.
Five days later, Martinez met again with the man he believed to be a terrorist. The informant was there, too. They were all, Martinez believed, brothers in arms and in Islam. In a parking lot near the Armed Forces Career Center on Baltimore National Pike, Martinez, the informant, and the undercover FBI agent piled into an SUV, where the undercover agent showed Martinez the device that would detonate the car bomb and how to use it. He then unveiled to the twenty-two-year-old the bomb in the back of the SUV and demonstrated what he’d need to do to activate it. “I’m ready, man,” Martinez said. “It ain’t like you seein’ it on the news. You gonna be there. You gonna hear the bomb go off. You gonna be, uh, shooting, gettin’ shot at. It’s gonna be real. … I’m excited, man.”
That night, Martinez, who had little experience behind the wheel of a car, needed to practice driving the SUV around the empty parking lot. Once he felt comfortable doing what most teenagers can do easily, Martinez and his associates devised a plan: Martinez would park the bomb-on-wheels in the parking lot outside the military recruiting center. One of his associates would then pick him up, and they’d drive together to a vantage point where Martinez could detonate the bomb and delight in the resulting chaos and carnage.
The next morning, the three men put their plan into action. Martinez hopped into the SUV and activated the bomb, as he’d been instructed, and then drove to the military recruiting station. He parked right in front. The informant, trailing in another car, picked up Martinez and drove him to the vantage point, just as planned. Everything was falling into place, and Martinez was about to launch his first attack in what he hoped would be for him a lifetime of jihad against the only nation he had ever known.
Looking out at the military recruiting station, Martinez lifted the detonation device and triggered the bomb. Smiling, he watched expectantly. Nothing happened. Suddenly, FBI agents rushed in and arrested the man they’d later identify in court records as “Antonio Martinez a/k/a Muhammad Hussain.” Federal prosecutors in Maryland charged Martinez with attempted murder of federal officers and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faced at least thirty-five years in prison if convicted at trial.
“This is not Tony,” a woman identifying herself as Martinez’s mother told a reporter after the arrest. “I think he was brainwashed with that Islam crap.” Joseph Balter, a federal public defender, told the court during a detention hearing that FBI agents had entrapped Martinez, whom he referred to by his chosen name. The terrorist plot was, Balter said, “the creation of the government—a creation which was implanted into Mr. Hussain’s mind.” He added: “There was nothing provided which showed that Mr. Hussain had any ability whatsoever to carry out any kind of plan.”
Despite Balter’s claims, a little more than a year after his indictment, Martinez chose not to challenge the government’s charges in court. On January 26, 2012, Martinez dropped his entrapment defense and pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction under a deal that will require him to serve twenty-five years in prison—more years than he’s been alive. Neither Martinez nor Balter would comment on the reasons they chose a plea agreement, though in a sentencing hearing, Balter told the judge he believed the entire case could have been avoided had the FBI counseled, rather than encouraged, Martinez.
The U.S. Department of Justice touted the conviction as another example of the government keeping citizens safe from terrorists. “We are catching dangerous suspects before they strike, and we are investigating them in a way that maximizes the liberty and security of law-abiding citizens,” U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement announcing Martinez’s plea agreement. “That is what the American people expect of the Justice Department, and that is what we aim to deliver.”
Indeed, that is exactly what the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been delivering throughout the decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001. But whether it’s what the American people expect is questionable, because most Americans today have no idea that since 9/11, one single organization has been responsible for hatching and financing more terrorist plots in the United States than any other. That organization isn’t Al Qaeda, the terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the spectacular 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And it isn’t Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Shabaab, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any of the other more than forty U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. No, the organization responsible for more terrorist plots over the last decade than any other is the FBI. Through elaborate and expensive sting operations involving informants and undercover agents posing as terrorists, the FBI has arrested and the Justice Department has prosecuted dozens of men government officials say posed direct—but by no means immediate or credible—threats to the United States.
But untangling the Islamophobic thread woven into the FBI’s counterterrorism training culture won’t be easy. In addition to inflammatory seminars which likened Islam to the Death Star and Mohammed to a “cult leader,” Danger Room has obtained more material showing just how wide the anti-Islam meme has spread throughout the Bureau.
The FBI library at Quantico currently stacks books from authors who claim that “Islam and democracy are totally incompatible.” The Bureau’s private intranet recently featured presentations that claimed to demonstrate the “inherently violent nature of Islam,” according to multiple sources. Earlier this year, the Bureau’s Washington Field Office welcomed a speaker who claimed Islamic law prevents Muslims from being truly loyal Americans. And as recently as last week, the online orientation material for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces included claims that Sunni Islam seeks “domination of the world,” according to a law enforcement source.
“I don’t think anyone with half a brain would paint 1.2 billion people of any ethnic or religious persuasion with a single brushstroke,” Mike Rolince, an FBI counterterrorism veteran who started Boston’s JTTF, tells Danger Room. “Who did they run that curriculum by — either an internal or outside expert — to get some balance?”
The FBI declined to respond directly to such questions from Danger Room. But what’s clear is that the anti-Islam sentiment in the FBI’s training and orientation isn’t the marginal problem that the Bureau portrayed in its previous public statements and press releases. It’s not a historical problem, it’s ongoing. And it will require substantial effort to root out. Not even a July warning from the office of a powerful senator was able to spur the Bureau to purge itself of its anti-Islam material.
One example is found in the mandatory orientation material for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs. Those task forces are a nationwide partnership between the FBI, intelligence analysts and state and local police. As of late last week, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the program, new members or those needing a belated orientation saw this description of Sunnism — the largest branch of Islam — as part of their online training course:
Sunni Muslims have been prolific in spawning numerous and varied fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations. Sunni core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.
That paragraph is contained in orientation material, known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force Orientation v2 course, distributed online through a secure intranet for every member of the JTTFs. That’s approximately 4,400 officials, according to FBI figures, all charged with stopping terrorism. The orientation course is mandatory for every member of the task force.
The passage is especially odd because most of the orientation consists of practical, mundane information, such as the proper forms to fill out during an inquiry or FBI standards for investigations, according to the source. It consists of five sections, one of which is about Islam, Muslims and Arab culture. The supervisor of each JTTF has to certify that all his or her personnel have completed the online orientation course, and then must pass that certification up to FBI Headquarters’ Counterterrorism Division.
The FBI would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the JTTF orientation material.
The excerpt from the JTTF orientation material was provided to Danger Room by a concerned law enforcement official, who says the material contains 20 paragraphs about Islam in a similar vein. Several Bureau and law enforcement officials who spoke to Danger Room on condition of anonymity believe that such instructions are detrimental to uncovering and thwarting terrorist plots, and that the FBI continues to be less than forthright with the press and the public about the extent of its teaching that Islam is at the root of the menace of terrorism. Evidence for this continuing belief can be found in Quantico, Virginia, at the FBI’s elite training academy.
Within the sprawling campus of that academy, Quantico maintains a library befitting the FBI’s status as America’s most important law enforcement agency. It stacks thousands of books, from heavy tomes containing the U.S. criminal code to forensics reference material that could be out of CSI, across three unclassified floors. The library is open to all FBI agents, plus intelligence officials and police from across the country, for a single purpose: to provide background material for cases, guidance material for intelligence analysis and other tools meant directly to aid law enforcement. In other words, it’s not your public library.
There’s a section on religion — in which Islam, perhaps understandably, predominates. A law enforcement source provided Danger Room with a photographic catalog, compiled in late August, of approximately 100 books on Islam out of around 150 stacked at Quantico. Many of them are innocuous or contain unquestioned scholarship, ranging from authors like Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.
But, significantly, the library also contains books by anti-Islam authors that portray the religion as devoted to murder and world domination.
The FBI’s dalliance with Robert Spencer is not limited to the stacks of Quantico. In July 2010, Spencer presented what he described as “two two-hour seminars on the belief-system of Islamic jihadists” to the JTTF in Tidewater, Virginia. He presented a similar lecture to the U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, which is co-hosted by the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office. When a coalition of civil rights groups sent a letter protesting the FBI’s embrace of Spencer, the Special Agent in Charge of the Norfolk FBI, Alex J. Turner, replied, “Seeking broad knowledge on a wide range of topics is essential in understanding today’s terrorist environment, and helps us to defeat ignorance and strengthen relationships with the diverse communities we serve.”
Spencer was only one of an array of self-anointed experts delivering similar messages about Islam to Bureau audiences.
On January 11, the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office held a seminar on Islamic extremism. In the conference room of its Judiciary Square offices, about 60 of the Field Office’s agents and intelligence analysts spent the morning hearing two presentations — one from terrorism expert Sebastian Gorka, a fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and another from a self-identified expert on Islamic law, Stephen Coughlin, a former consultant to the military’s Joint Staff. The takeaway of Coughlin’s presentation, according to an attendee: Islam is out to take over the world and there is no such thing as a loyal American Muslim.
Coughlin was described to Danger Room as presenting a far more extreme take on Islam than Gorka, who spoke separately on the subject of “Core Texts of Salafi Jihad.” But Coughlin allegedly told the agents that Muslims believe Islamic law to be all-encompassing, preventing an either/or choice to U.S. Muslims: either reject the U.S. Constitution or fall into apostasy. Sharia law, Coughlin instructed in the tone of a neutral reporter, was a threat to the agents in the room. He explored an obscure Islamic concept known as “abrogation,” the supposition that some Koranic verses supersede others, to argue that the Koran’s non-violent passages are overtaken in Muslim eyes by commands to wage war against “non-believers.”
It’s a line Coughlin has long pushed. During a presentation at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 — in which he shared a stage with Spencer and Geller — Coughlin asserted that the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the geopolitical organization of Muslim nations, has a “ten-year plan” to make “defamation of Islam a crime” worldwide. One of his briefing slides read, “The SILENCE in the mainstream media on this DIRECT ASSAULT is DEAFENING! — not just on speech — but on thought itself!!” Coughlin’s 2007 master’s thesis at the National Defense Intelligence College claimed that President George W. Bush’s reassurance that the U.S. was not at war with Islam had a “a chilling effect on those tasked to define the enemy’s doctrine by effectively placing a policy bar on the unconstrained analysis of Islamic doctrine as a basis for this threat.” (.pdf) In 2008, his Joint Staff contract wasn’t renewed after a staffer for Gordon England, then the deputy secretary of defense, raised concerns about his work. (Through a spokesman, England declined to comment.)
Coughlin did not respond to requests for comment.
The presentation to the Washington Field Office wasn’t mandated by FBI Headquarters. It was set up on the initiative of a well-intentioned agent. But not everyone was comfortable with the presentation. Some walked out in boredom or disgust, according to the source. Others made fun of it.
But some voiced worries that the presentation sent an implicit message to agents that they should be targeting Muslims in the name of stopping terrorism. And in the past few years, the FBI hasaccelerated its monitoring of mosques, community centers, businesses and other organizations run by Muslims. Several observers suspect that the persistence of training materials that casts Islam in a threatening light helps explain the increased surveillance. Others — including many counterterrorism professionals within the FBI who say they are disgusted by the bigoted material they’ve received — fear that the presentations will drive a wedge between the Bureau and the U.S. Muslim communities whose assistance it needs to prevent terrorism.
“Inappropriately enlarging the characterization of the threat to include all of Islam,” says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a former official with the National Counterterrorism Center, “may inadvertently increase al Qaida’s ideological resonance and could facilitate recruitment of would-be terrorists.”
Books in a library and presentations in a field office will only reach the agents who visit the library or work in the field office. A Joint Terrorism Task Force orientation will only reach JTTF members. But every FBI agent can access the bureau’s intranet. And until Danger Room’s expose, that network hosted material purporting to demonstrate “the inherently violent nature of Islam.”
Two law enforcement sources with access to the intranet — sections of which are classified — described to Danger Room its page on “Islamic Law.” FBI intranet users type in “Islamic Law” or “Islam” into a Google-like search function. Up pops what’s called a Subject Matter Expert page, or SME, pronounced “Smee.” Usually, an agent seeking a SME will be searching for material directly relevant to an ongoing investigation or a timely intelligence product. But the SME for “Islamic Law” recently featured uploaded documents stretching all the way back to the 19th century, with titles like “The Personal Law of The Mahommedans.”
One such document is a text from 1915, titled “Mohammed Or Christ: An Account Of The Rapid Spread of Islam In All Parts of The Globe, The Methods Employed to Obtain Proselytes, Its Immense Press, Its Strongholds, & Suggested Means to be Adopted to Counteract the Evil.” That explicitly religious and archaic tome instructs that its purpose is “to set forth the appeal of that [Muslim] world for the Gospel. It is a decisive hour!”
Another is a Regent University master’s thesis called “Devoutly Violent or Nominally Peaceful? The Justification for Violence in Islam.” It asks: “[S]eeing as the foremost goal of Islam (which literally means ’submission’) is to subject the entire world to Shari’a law and Allah’s guidance, can a devout Muslim who witnesses to a Christian (who rejects his invitation to Islam) really not become violent? … In conclusion, this thesis demonstrates the inherently violent nature of Islam.”
In the image above, formerly available on the FBI’s “Islamic Law” SME, a thermometer represents a correlation between the Muslim population of a country and its “violence level.” As Muslims accumulate in a given place, they incline toward “grievance fabrication,” then “chronic terror attacks,” and even “state-run ethnic cleansing.” The final stage is “peace” — in an all-Muslim state.
Two law enforcement sources told Danger Room that after our coverage of the FBI’s training materials ran, the “Islamic Law” SME and similar FBI intranet sites were scrubbed of such material. Danger Room was able to acquire some of these documents before they were removed.
Asked to reconcile that statement with the 2006 assessment, FBI spokesman Christopher Allen replied, “The assessment you cite includes a series of indicators of radicalization. These indicators do not conflict with our statement that strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism.”
The FBI is now in damage-control mode. On Thursday afternoon, the FBI held a conference call with Muslim civil rights groups to apologize for its offensive training materials and admit that they were more extensive than it previously acknowledged. The FBI did not make any commitments on which outside experts or organizations it would consult for an updated training curriculum. But according to one participant, the FBI representative on the call said that many people within the Bureau disapproved of the anti-Islamic rhetoric. The FBI’s Allen declined to comment.
“We are glad that this very serious issue has finally received the attention of FBI leadership,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates, “but an internal review is insufficient at this stage. In the last year, the FBI has either defended its use of bigoted trainers or emphatically assured the public that the various trainings were one-time, isolated incidents. Each time those assurances were later revealed to be false.”
Muslim Advocates sent a letter to the Justice Department Inspector General last week seeking an investigation. It has yet to receive a reply. However, the chairs of the Senate’s homeland security and intelligence committees have separately told Danger Room they will subject the FBI’s counterterrorism training to scrutiny.
For months, in fact, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), has raised concerns that law enforcement at all levels lacks “meaningful standards” for counterterrorism training. In the course of his ongoing inquiry on the subject, Lieberman’s staff became aware of a particularly problematic individual: an FBI intelligence analyst named William Gawthrop.
In April, Gawthrop presented a three-day briefing at the FBI’s Quantico training facility to counterterrorism agents in which he equated “mainstream” Islam with terrorism. In earlier interviews, he mused about triggering a “deteriorating cascade effect” upon Islam, convincing Muslims to abandon their religion by attacking “soft spots” in the Islamic faith. And he has lectured widely about the “threat” of Islam, ostensibly as a private citizen.
Lieberman staffers were appalled by the “inappropriate materials being used by Mr. Gawthrop and notified the FBI in mid-July of their concerns,” says Leslie Phillips, Communications Director of the Homeland Security Committee.
The FBI wouldn’t directly comment on the committee’s warning, instead reiterating the Bureau’s new commitment to a wide-ranging review — one that will stretch from Quantico to the FBI’s many field offices to the J. Edgar Hoover Building, its Washington headquarters.
“The senator hopes the FBI will take appropriate action to prohibit these and any other inaccurate training materials from being used in the future,” Phillips adds.
In the meantime, Gawthrop is, as of this writing, still an FBI counterterrorism analyst. And the message he helped inculcate in the Bureau lingers.
Recently a case regarding a 19 year old Somali-American accused of attempting to blow up a Christmas event in Oregon has garnered national attention. The arrest fits a familiar pattern in which individuals are encouraged, supported and financed by the FBI to detonate bombs. Did the FBI stay within their limits when pursuing the Somali-American, or did they cross over the boundary into entrapment?
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece that questions this arrest and highlights for the umpteenth time the motive behind these “attacks,” a motive that is obfuscated quite often by politicians, the media and anti-Muslim activists.
These individuals aren’t, (as the Robert Spencer’s of the world proclaim) randomly convinced to blow up things because of some religious prescription/motivation, they are motivated by “occupations” and aggression against Muslims and Muslim countries! (Note to the FBI: Spencer is not going to tell you that when he is training your gumshoe detectives)
Time and time again the statements of these misguided individuals speak towards the reality that “It’s the occupation stupid!” but the Cassandra cries of Glenn Greenwald and those like him are willfully ignored and marginalized and so the fear-mongering, exploitation and violence against innocents continues unabated.
The FBI is obviously quite pleased with itself over its arrest of a 19-year-old Somali-American, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who — with months of encouragement, support and money from the FBI’s own undercover agents — allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon. Media accounts are almost uniformly trumpeting this event exactly as the FBI describes it. Loyalists of both parties are doing the same, with Democratic Party commentators proclaiming that this proves how great and effective Democrats are at stopping The Evil Terrorists, while right-wing polemicists point to this arrest as yet more proof that those menacing Muslims sure are violent and dangerous.
What’s missing from all of these celebrations is an iota of questioning or skepticism. All of the information about this episode — all of it — comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud. As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims — as here — are uncorroborated and unexamined. That’s why we have what we call “trials” before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened: because the government doesn’t always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things often look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government’s claims to scrutiny. The FBI affidavit — as well as whatever its agents are whispering into the ears of reporters — contains only those facts the FBI chose to include, but omits the ones it chose to exclude. And even the “facts” that are included are merely assertions at this point and thus may not be facts at all.
It may very well be that the FBI successfully and within legal limits arrested a dangerous criminal intent on carrying out a serious Terrorist plot that would have killed many innocent people, in which case they deserve praise. Court-approved surveillance and use of undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist plots are legitimate tactics when used in accordance with the law.
But it may also just as easily be the case that the FBI — as they’ve done many times in the past — found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner; created a plot it then persuaded/manipulated/entrapped him to join, essentially turning him into a Terrorist; and then patted itself on the back once it arrested him for having thwarted a “Terrorist plot” which, from start to finish, was entirely the FBI’s own concoction. Having stopped a plot which it itself manufactured, the FBI then publicly touts — and an uncritical media amplifies — its “success” to the world, thus proving both that domestic Terrorism from Muslims is a serious threat and the Government’s vast surveillance powers — current and future new ones — are necessary.
There are numerous claims here that merit further scrutiny and questioning. First, the FBI was monitoring the email communications of this American citizen on U.S. soil for months (at least) with what appears to be the flimsiest basis: namely, that he was in email communication with someone in Northwest Pakistan, “an area known to harbor terrorists” (para. 5 of the FBI Affidavit). Is that enough to obtain court approval to eavesdrop on someone’s calls and emails? I’m glad the FBI is only eavesdropping with court approval, if that’s true, but certainly more should be required for judicial authorization than that. Communicating with someone in Northwest Pakistan is hardly reasonable grounds for suspicion.
Second, in order not to be found to have entrapped someone into committing a crime, law enforcement agents want to be able to prove that, in the 1992 words of the Supreme Court, the accused was “was independently predisposed to commit the crime for which he was arrested.” To prove that, undercover agents are often careful to stress that the accused has multiple choices, and they then induce him into choosing with his own volition to commit the crime. In this case, that was achieved by the undercover FBI agent’s allegedly advising Mohamud that there were at least five ways he could serve the cause of Islam (including by praying, studying engineering, raising funds to send overseas, or becoming “operational”), and Mohamud replied he wanted to “be operational” by using exploding a bomb (para. 35-37).
But strangely, while all other conversations with Mohamud which the FBI summarizes were (according to the affidavit) recorded by numerous recording devices, this conversation — the crucial one for negating Mohamud’s entrapment defense — was not. That’s because, according to the FBI, the undercover agent “was equipped with audio equipment to record the meeting. However, due to technical problems, the meeting was not recorded” (para. 37).
Thus, we have only the FBI’s word, and only its version, for what was said during this crucial — potentially dispositive — conversation. Also strangely: the original New York Times article on this story described this conversation at some length and reported the fact that “that meeting was not recorded due to a technical difficulty,” but the final version omitted that, instead simply repeating the FBI’s story as though it were fact: “undercover agents in Mr. Mohamud’s case offered him several nonfatal ways to serve his cause, including mere prayer. But he told the agents he wanted to be ‘operational,’ and perhaps execute a car bombing.”
Third, there are ample facts that call into question whether Mohamud’s actions were driven by the FBI’s manipulation and pressure rather than his own predisposition to commit a crime. In June, he attempted to fly to Alaska in order to work on a fishing job he obtained through a friend, but he was on the Government’s no-fly list. That caused the FBI to question him at the airport and then bar him from flying to Alaska, and thus prevented him from earning income with this job (para. 25). Having prevented him from working, the money the FBI then pumped him with — including almost $3,000 in cash for him to rent his own apartment (para. 61) — surely helped make him receptive to their suggestions and influence. And every other step taken to perpetrate this plot — from planning its placement to assembling the materials to constructing the bomb — was all done at the FBI’s behest and with its indispensable support and direction.
It’s impossible to conceive of Mohamud having achieved anything on his own. Before being ensnared by the FBI, the only tangible action he had taken was to write three articles on “fitness and jihad” for the online magazine Jihad Recollections. At least based on what is known, he had no history of violence, no apparent criminal record, had never been to a training camp in Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere else, and — before meeting the FBI — had never taken a single step toward harming anyone. Does that sound like some menacing sleeper Terrorist to you?
Finally, there is, as usual, no discussion whatsoever in media accounts of motive. There are several statements attributed to Mohamud by the Affidavit that should be repellent to any decent person, including complete apathy — even delight — at the prospect that this bomb would kill innocent people, including children. What would drive a 19-year-old American citizen — living in the U.S. since the age of 3 — to that level of sociopathic indifference? He explained it himself in several passages quoted by the FBI, and — if it weren’t for the virtual media blackout of this issue — this line of reasoning would be extremely familiar to Americans by now (para. 45):
Undercover FBI Agent: You know there’s gonna be a lot of children there?
Mohamud: Yeah, I know, that’s what I’m looking for.
Undercover FBI Agent: For kids?
Mohamud: No, just for, in general a huge mass that will, like for them you know to be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays. And then for later to be saying, this was them for you to refrain from killing our children, women . . . . so when they hear all these families were killed in such a city, they’ll say you know what your actions, you know they will stop, you know. And it’s not fair that they should do that to people and not feeling it.
And here’s what he allegedly said in a video he made shortly before he thought he would be detonating the bomb (para. 80):
We hear the same exact thing over and over and over from accused Terrorists — that they are attempting to carry out plots in retaliation for past and ongoing American violence against Muslim civilians and to deter such future acts. Here we find one of the great mysteries in American political culture: that the U.S. Government dispatches its military all over the world — invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries — torturing them, imprisoning them without charges, shooting them up at checkpoints, sending remote-controlled drones to explode their homes, imposing sanctions that starve hundreds of thousands of children to death — and Americans are then baffled when some Muslims — an amazingly small percentage — harbor anger and vengeance toward them and want to return the violence. And here we also find the greatest myth in American political discourse: that engaging in all of that military aggression somehow constitutes Staying Safe and combating Terrorism — rather than doing more than any single other cause to provoke, sustain and fuel Terrorism.
UPDATE: A very similar thing happened last month when the FBI announced that it had arrested someone who was planning to bomb the DC Metro system when, in reality, “the only plotting he did was in response to instructions from federal agents he thought were accomplices.” That concocted FBI plot then led to the Metro Police announcing a new policy of random searches of passengers’ bags.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, the mosque sometimes attended by Mohamud was victimized today by arson. So the FBI did not stop any actual Terrorist plots, but they may have helped inspire one.