DOJ Deems Plan to Attack Military Targets with a Drone, Terrorism

Last year, I tracked how TSA head (and former FBI Deputy Director) John Pistole used an FBI entrapment plot targeted at the Metro to justify increased TSA surveillance of the Metro.

Which is why I’m intrigued that the FBI’s latest entrapment product, Rezwan Ferdaus, is alleged to have wanted to strike the Pentagon with, effectively, a drone (with what Julian Sanchez, in a great post, calls a comic book plot). I wondered whether Ferdaus came up with his comic book plot himself, whether this was projection, or whether the FBI wanted us to fear being struck via the same means we’re striking others.

In the affidavit supporting Ferdaus’ arrest, the FBI emphasizes that Ferdaus came up with the idea of a drone himself (if you can call replicating our own tactics an original idea). They describe, for example, a March 29, 2011 meeting with two FBI undercover officers at which Ferdaus,

explained that he had this idea of attacking the Pentagon long before he met the [cooperating witness] (and by implication before he met the [FBI undercover officers–UCEs]). FERDAUS advised the UCEs that he had initially discussed his remote controlled aircraft plans with a friend from Dorchester. FERDAUS told the UCEs that his Dorchester friend had a “less complicated idea” — his friend’s idea was to “just get weapons and go after … a recruitment center.” The UCEs asked FERDAUS what was wrong with that idea, to which FERDAUS responded: “nothing.” FERDAUS indicated, however, that he wanted “to go bigger.”

But they don’t say how the FBI–rather, their cooperating witness–came to find Ferdaus.

Particularly given the FBI’s past misrepresentations about when one of their entrapments began, this seems relevant. All the more so in this case, given that the affidavit appears to support its claim that “FERDAUS told the UCEs that he realized more than a year ago from viewing jihadi websites and videos ‘how evil’ America is” based on an August 1, 2011 conversation with the UCEs (but again, not the cooperating witness) that his jihad,

started last year. I realized I should try to do something to attack them here. I should try to go down to Washington or something like that. I should try to get them here. That is the best thing.

There’s nothing in this quote that says it happened more than a year ago–only that it happened before January 2011. Given that the cooperating witness shows up in the narrative “last year” (in December), the seemingly unsupported claim about how long Ferdaus has been pursuing his comic book plot seems relevant–or perhaps an indication the FBI has reason to know his surfing on jihadi sites happened more than a year ago.

So what about that cooperating witness, who, the affidavit admits, “has a criminal record and has served time in prison”? The affidavit describes his involvement this way:

Initially, FERDAUS met and engaged in conversations with an FBI CW regarding his planned attacks against the United States. These conversations occurred between December 2010 and April 2011; the majority of them were consensually recorded. [my emphasis]

Yet the affidavit doesn’t say anything about what transpired between Ferdaus and the CW in December, neither how they met nor how many times they conversed or met before January 7, 2011, the first meeting described in the affidavit.

Nor do they tell us the circumstances surrounding that minority of conversations that weren’t recorded. There always seems to be a conversation that doesn’t get recorded, doesn’t there?

Nor does the affidavit explain how long they were monitoring Ferdaus’ participation in jihad chat rooms. They describe him saying that’s what radicalized him. But they don’t admit the obvious, that that’s probably what led them to send an informant out to cultivate him to the point where trained FBI agents would take over (assuming, of course, that Ferdaus’ friend from Dorchester wasn’t another informant, but who knows?).

One more point. The only times the affidavit describes Ferdaus accessing the Internet, he does so via public computers, at a library and internet cafe, though the affidavit also describes him using his own computer to show the UCEs his plan.

It looks very tidy, wrapped up in this affidavit, if you ignore the fact that when the FBI told Ferdaus not to play with chemicals he complied. But this is yet another entrapment that seems to obscure where the plot came from.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. jerryy says:

    It seems odd that a Physics grad would think you could mess up the Pentagon enough with a remote controlled toy airplane, ehh, okay drone loaded with C4 that you would then lead an assault into the building. After all, it survived a far worse attack on 9/11.

    Probably there is going to be a humdinger of a sanity hearing for this guy.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Gallup Poll:

    Eighty-one percent are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed

    We commonly assume that while most people don’t like the government, none of them want to do what the government does and blow stuff up. The FBI apparently disagrees. They know they’re out there, and they find them, one way or another.

  3. EH says:

    Seems like it might be easy to rope some FBI agents into an investigation like this intentionally, perhaps all recorded and sent to an enterprising journalist. An educated troll might even be aware of entrapment techniques and exacerbate them on purpose.

  4. rosalind says:

    right on schedule. my mechanical engineer pilot brother and i had this conversation a few weeks ago, that the introduction of military/law enforcement/Keep America Safe drones into US airspace is gonna require some new draconian restrictions on citizen aviation. i told him that next up was gonna be some “foiled terrorist plot” centered on a remote controlled airplane.

    *sigh*

  5. jerryy says:

    @emptywheel: Yup, while there are a lot of private colleges in the Boston area, NE, is supposed to be one of the premier schools.

  6. jerryy says:

    @Don Bacon: I must ask, why is the FBI only coming up with some of the apparently insane, that are wanting to attack the government with these almost laughable plots but missing the very determined actually insane that are attacking US residents? I am not going to post yet another depressing list of these killer’s names, but anyone paying even partial attention can make one up for you.

    This guy seems like one of those that back in the old days would have been receiving treatment in a facility. The Feds cut the funds to the states, the states booted the mentally helpless out into the streets and here we are.

  7. jo6pac says:

    @rosalind:
    Oh come on the tin foil in your hat is getting old. The fbi would never lie, because trust us we are from the govt. I love this story and the sad thing is most of the New Amerika will believe the lieing mass media.

  8. MadDog says:

    Totally OT (or not) – Strongly suggest caveat emptor, but the AP is reporting:

    Yemen says al-Qaida-linked cleric al-Awlaki killed

    Yemen’s Defense Ministry said Friday that the U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed.

    The Yemeni ministry provided no details in the statement, which appeared on one of its website.

    Yemeni security and tribal officials said an airstrike thought to have been carried out by U.S. aircraft on Friday targeted a convoy of cars traveling in the eastern province of Marib but could not say whether al-Awlaki was in the convoy…”

  9. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: From Laura’s tweets, a jdavidgoodman reporting from the foreign rewrite desk and @thelede blog of The New York Times has this tweet:

    “NYT: A senior Obama administration official confirmed on Friday morning that #Awlaki has been killed in #Yemen”

  10. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: How does the Obama administration confirm the death of al-Awlaki?

    The only ways that the US government does this these days that I know of are DNA, fingerprints or facial recognition.

    This tells us that either US or Yemini (or both) forces were on scene. As the new CIA drone airfield is not supposed to be finished until the end of the year, it would seem likely that this operation was done by the US military. Likely JSOC, and if the actual attack was by manned aircraft, the US Navy.

    In the case of US forces, JSOC did something similar in Somalia with JSOC helicopters landing troops to gather bodies (and parts) for identification.

  11. MickSteers says:

    Here’s the new doctrine for convicting suspected terrorists:

    You supply the mens rea, and we’ll supply the actus reus.

    Military tribunals, or in a pinch, criminal courts will take care of the rest.

    God, I feel safe.

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