How the FBI Deals with a Suicidal Entrapment Target

Over the last few days, we learned that even after Aaron Swartz’ prosecutors learned he was a suicide risk, they barreled ahead with their pursuit of a stiff sentence for downloading stuff he could get for free.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s trial has started. One of the details that came out today–I guess the government thinks it helps their case–is that Mohamud’s handlers believed he was suicidal and might attempt to set off a suicide bomb. So they enticed him with the hope of traveling overseas.

Under questioning by assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight, the agent said he and his colleague grew concerned at one point because they considered Mohamud to be “suicidal, and we don’t want him to take matters into his own hands.”

In a video clip of Mohamud and his FBI handlers sharing a meal in a hotel room, the two agents are heard convincing Mohamud that he could ultimately do more to help “the cause” by staying alive. “We want to keep you for awhile,” Hussein says in the video. “We think there’s some things you can do better than just one time.”

They also discussed sending Mohamud off to a Muslim country after November 26 in a move Youssef testified was aimed at giving Mohamud something to look forward to beyond the planned bombing.

Maybe it does help their case–they have to pretend that Mohamud would have tried to bomb Americans without the prodding of the FBI, after all.

But consider what they’re admitting to. This is a kid who had been under FBI pressure for 3 years by this point. He had once attempted to travel to Alaska for a summer job, but was stopped by the government because they had put him on a no-fly list; after that, the entrapment began in earnest.

So the kid wants to get away. The government prevents that. He gets suicidal which, because he’s a Muslim, the FBI presents as a heightened terrorist threat. And their solution to get him to stay alive long enough to play out their script is to have him imagine traveling overseas, which they themselves have prevented him from doing.

Then there’s this nice detail.

The agents also showed Mohamud a purported Islamist militant training video, which actually was produced by the FBI, depicting men with scarf-covered faces shooting guns, and one setting off a bomb with a cell-phone detonator. Youssef said Mohamud’s response to the video was that “it was beautiful.”

The FBI has started making their own Islamist training videos.

Think about that for a second: you and I pay for Islamist training videos with our tax dollars.

And it’s all the more rich given that Mohamud’s entrapment began–at least according to the FBI but they’ve been caught over and over in this case lying about this–when he was corresponding with Samir Khan. There’s reason to believe that wonder whether Samir Khan was once an FBI informant, if for no other reason than they let him travel overseas even though they considered his writing to be reason enough to start investigations into other kids, whereas they wouldn’t let someone like Mohamud travel overseas.

So this all started with Samir Khan, and it is fueled by Islamist training videos that the FBI makes.

They may be absolutely incompetent (or unwilling) to catch the biggest criminals in our society. But federal law enforcement sure seems to be good at making people want to kill themselves.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. Teddy says:

    I maintain that we will never have anything close to another Church Committee because Congresscritters don’t want any clips of them denouncing the FBI for its “anti-terror” actions when the next attack occurs. That’s one reason.

    The other reason is that no Congresscritter wants to be targeted, or have a loved one targeted, by the FBI’s wide-ranging entrapment enterprise. They know how easy it would be to entrap them or a loved one, and they are terrified of the Security State themselves.

  2. klynn says:


    Self-censorship is usually the last nail…

    Not to sound glib, trite or fail to join intelligent dialogue, but there is a scene in Bug’s Life which is a great lesson on standing against the fear created by those who take authority and abuse it.

    Hopper: Let this be a lesson to all you ants! Ideas are very dangerous things! You are mindless, soil-shoving losers, put on this Earth to serve us!
    Flik: You’re wrong, Hopper. Ants are not meant to serve grasshoppers. I’ve seen these ants do great things, and year after year they somehow manage to pick food for themselves *and* you. So-so who is the weaker species? Ants don’t serve grasshoppers! It’s *you* who need *us*! We’re a lot stronger than you say we are… And you know it, don’t you?”

    We are a lot stronger than the fear they drive into society.

  3. P J Evans says:

    They certainly don’t seem able to find real terrorists. Or do anything about white wanna-be terrorists. (Creating wanna-be terrorists is the one thing they seem to be good at.)

    How much are we paying them for this kind of illegal crap?

  4. lefty665 says:

    @klynn: From Marcy yesterday “…under DOJ’s current Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, they could use First Amendment activity as part of the predicate for an investigation.”

    Ask John Kiriakou how many individual resources one has to have to defend against the state. How brave can you afford to be?

  5. bmaz says:

    Hard to say Mohamud was any less driven to suicide than Swatrz. You have to wonder whether it might be more effective for the government to just help despairing Muslim youths instead of elaborately entrapping them.

  6. prostratedragon says:

    They could start by at least not sabotaging the chances that these young people do get, like the Alaska job. That was inexcusable, and maybe worth a hearing all on its own.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @Teddy: Agreed. We are unlikely ever to see another Church Committee or its House counterpart. The whole post-Nixon affair, Helms, Schorr, etc., scared the pants off Beltway powerbrokers, including the once-vaunted Washington Post. They concluded that this democracy thing had gotten totally out of hand. Thank goodness Mr. Obama has helped quarantined that problem so nicely.

  8. Jeffrey Kaye says:

    @Teddy: Agreed. They remember ABSCAM only too well.

    But really, what makes US society in the end anything other than a totalitarian state? Such states — and this will happen to the US sooner or later, as it has evinced an inability to pull back from going down this road — collapse under the social weight of the fear and cynicism engendered. Underneath all the patriotic hoopla, there is emptiness. Is this not the message of Zero Dark Thirty? After all is said and done, what is Maya but a soulless instrument of the State?

  9. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: Exactly. Their suicide concern was PRE-CRIME. But rather than getting the kid help they decided to ruin the rest of the life they would make sure he lived through.

    It’s like Gitmo in a way.

  10. guest says:

    @dubinsky: Lulz. You were making a joke, right? (you know, in the context of the government prosecution/persecution efforts having so sense of proportion either?)

  11. geoschmidt says:

    @Jeffrey Kaye:

    [” what makes US society in the end anything other than a totalitarian state? “]

    My answer, off the cuff is: People are too dumb to know anything about much of anything realating to what those… words/designations imply or mean. Usually the term, Is: ” what team are you rooting for?” That’s the depthe of that kind of stuff I wonder, well, it isn’t much, it is more like:… Let’s not talk about anything that is anything like anything that could ever be connected to anything that is even slightly close to reality…; Spelled: RE Al i Tee…. to a T!

    So in answer: I think it is worse than you think because the decades of psyoptical/ neurolingquistic programming… ala Edward Bernaysian stuff, well… the peeps, they just are about ready for to go up the ramp after that bell whether who ever…. walk the plank you poor fools!

  12. dubinsky says:

    @guest: it’s bizarre rather than funny that Jeffrey could take a case of a badly bloated bill of indictment and way further inflate it into his BizarroLand totalitarian comment

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