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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.

Why Isn’t the Federal Government Treating the Maine OWS Attack as WMD Terrorism?

Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s alleged terrorist act was to take an inert bomb constructed by the FBI and attempt to detonate it in Portland, OR’s Courthouse Square; had he succeeded, a bomb would have gone off in a public space full of people and, possibly (as prosecution filings later emphasized), damaged the nearby federal courthouse as well.

Najibullah Zazi’s crime was to take common chemicals found in any kitchen or bathroom–acetone and hydrogen peroxide–in hopes of turning them into an explosive to deploy on NY’s subways.

On Sunday morning, someone threw a bottle containing household cleaning solvents–not dissimilar from Zazi’s raw materials–into the public square occupied by Occupy Maine. Like Courthouse Square in Portland, OR, Lincoln Park, in Portland ME, is within blocks of the federal courthouse. Mohamud’s target, like that of the unknown bomber in ME, was a square full of people. And in ME–unlike OR–that crowd of people was engaging in political speech.

In other words, the attack in ME–even if it was as pathetic as Mohamud’s alleged attack or that of any number of aspirational Muslim terrorists–was an attempt to use a WMD, since explosives qualify as a WMD. And even more than Mohamud’s alleged attack, this was an attempt to achieve political ends through violence. Terrorism.

And yet, according to anonymous police sources, the Feds don’t think any federal laws were violated when this unknown bomber engaged in WMD terrorism.

Federal investigators have been contacted, but as of Monday the incident did not appear to have violated any federal laws, police said.

[snip]

The city contacted federal authorities, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney for Maine.

The ATF said such devices do not violate federal law because they are less dangerous than more powerful explosives, such as dynamite or black powder, and don’t throw shrapnel as a pipe bomb would.

Police would have to determine the motive of the person who threw the device to decide whether civil rights or other federal charges are warranted. That would bring the U.S. Attorney’s Office into the investigation. [my emphasis]

This, in spite of the fact that the people in the car yelled “get a job” before throwing the bomb.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this attack equates to real terrorism, the kind of attack that Abdulmutallab tried or even that Faisal Shahzad tried. Nevertheless, it does equate to a lot of things the FBI has called attempted use of a WMD and terrorism.

And yet, somehow, in the absence of a young Muslim man goaded on and provided explosives by the FBI itself, the FBI doesn’t see it as terrorism.

CNN: Only Brown People Can Be Lone Wolves

Just in time for the 9/11 fearmongering season, CNN comes out with this ridiculous article on lone wolf terrorists.

It starts by correctly identifying Khalid Aldawsari as a lone wolf (at least as far as is publicly known thus far). Piggybacking on an Obama comment, it then raises the example of Anders Behring Breivik, which leads to the following passage.

The president told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “When you’ve got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it’s a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators.” He pointed to the case of Anders Breivik, who went on a bombing and shooting rampage in July in Norway, killing 77 people. No evidence has been uncovered linking Breivik to other conspirators.

A growing wave
The Norway attack and the Aldawsari case show how modern technological tools, especially the availability of vast amounts of information useful for bomb making and targeting, have made lone terrorists more dangerous than ever before.

In the last two years, eight of the 14 Islamist terrorist plots on U.S. soil involved individuals with no ties to terrorist organizations or other co-conspirators.

These included plans to blow up buildings in Illinois and Texas in September 2009, the November 2009 Fort Hood shootings allegedly carried out by U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, an alleged plot to bomb a tree-lighting ceremony in Portland in November 2010, and another aimed at blowing up an Army recruiting station near Baltimore the following month.

As a threshold matter, while “no evidence has been uncovered” thus far that ties Breivik to others, Norwegian investigators are just getting around to interviewing some of the people mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto and the prosecutor does “not rule out the possibility” he had accomplices.

But what’s more troubling about this passage is the way it mentions Breivik to support the claim that “lone terrorists [are] more dangerous than ever before,” but then completely ignores the problem of any right wing terrorism save Breivik’s! Given that Aldawsari was nowhere close to actually making a bomb, and given that the only actually executed attack mentioned in this passage (the article later mentions Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert who killed one soldier at an Army recruiting center) is that of Nidal Hasan, a man trained by the US Government who relied on nothing more than readily accessible guns, it’s not clear that technology is making these Islamic terrorists all that more dangerous.

Indeed, the article ignores that almost every single attack it describes here was solved–but also created in part–by the FBI. It was not the Internet that taught Mohamed Osman Mohamud how to make a bomb. It was the FBI.

Which supports the conclusion that the US Government–whether it be the Army or the FBI–is the thing making Islamic “lone wolves” more dangerous, not technology. Not that I believe that is or necessarily has to be the case (though while we’re talking our dangerous government I will mention the still unsolved anthrax attack), but it is what CNN’s evidence supports.

Yet, as the example of Breivik does show, apparent lone wolves can be dangerous. So why does CNN let this assertion stand?

A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official told CNN that lone assailants have been responsible for every deadly terrorist attack in the West since June 2009, when a U.S. servicemen was shot dead outside a recruiting station in Arkansas by a convert to Islam, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad.

The stat is almost meaningless in any case; what this counter-terrorism official spewing nonsense under cover of anonymity really means is that there have been exactly two “deadly terrorist attacks” committed by Muslims in the US since June 2009, Muhammad’s and Hasan’s, and both happened to be lone wolves.

But this senior counter-terrorism official appears to be ignorant of or ignoring other deadly terrorist attacks, such as Scott Roeder’s killing of George Tiller (the attack actually happened on May 31, 2009, and the DOJ investigated, but did not charge, Roeder’s accomplices in the anti-choice movement), James von Brunn’s attack on the Holocaust Museum, Jerry and Joseph Kane’s attack on a police station, or Jared Lee Loughner’s attack on Gabby Giffords. Sure, some of these count as lone wolves (others as organized members of right wing terrorist groups), but it seems these attacks–as well as the other right wing terrorist attacks that did not result in death–deserve to be part of this discussion, not least because it in part supports CNN’s discussion of how reading extremist materials online may radicalize potential terrorists.

And then, finally, there’s CNN’s uncritical invocation of informants.

Counter-terrorism analysts say that outreach by U.S. law enforcement into Muslim communities is key in providing early warnings of threats. U.S. law enforcement agencies have also kept a watchful eye over individuals who may be moving toward violent extremism. Warning signs include ties individuals may have developed with known Islamist radicals or online interaction through jihadist websites.

Undercover agents and informants have also played a key role in helping the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies uncover threats. The New York Police Department has developed the most extensive informant network in the country and has the largest number of undercover police officers assigned to terrorism cases. It has also developed a Cyber Intelligence Unit in which undercover “cyber agents” track the online activities of suspected violent extremists and interact with them online to gauge the potential threat they pose.

I’ll respond to CNN’s approving mention of the NYPD’s spy system by reminding, again, that it failed to find the two most dangerous terrorists, Faisal Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi, in spite of ties to Zazi’s imam.

But I’ll also suggest that if this effort remains focused primarily on Muslims it will continue to miss the MLK Day bombers, the George Roeders, and indeed, the Breiviks of the world.

CNN’s biggest piece of evidence that apparent lone wolf terrorists can be dangerous is the lethality of Breivik’s attack. But the entire article takes the example of a right wing terrorist as justification to otherwise ignore the problem of right wing terrorism.

Report on Entrapment Describes Pattern of Informant-Created “Terrorism”

We’ve been writing a bit about Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the young Oregon man charged on WMD charges for allegedly trying to detonate an inert bomb the FBI helped him get. His attorneys are preparing an aggressive entrapment defense (those defenses almost never work, but there are some interesting factors in his case), arguing that Mohamud refused early entreaties to engage in violence yet the FBI kept pressing him to do so.

NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice has just released a report mapping out the pattern of such cases. The report focuses on three NY-area cases–the Newburgh Four, the Fort Dix Five, and Shahawar Matin Siraj cases–to contextualize what is going on. It focuses on the role that informants play in these cases.

In the cases this Report examines, 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 United States. In two of the three cases, the government relied on the defendants’ vulnerabilities—poverty and youth, for example—in its inducement methods. 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.

Most powerfully, the report explains how these cases have affected the mens’ families. For example, in the case of the Duka brothers, in which the informant testified on the stand that the Duka brothers had no knowledge of the alleged Fort Dix plot, their extended family has had their classic immigrant success story lives upended.

The same night that the FBI arrested his sons, Ferik Duka was arrested and held in immigration detention for a month.187

Amidst everything else, Dritan’s family was summarily evicted from the apartment they had rented. Zurata recalls,

“They [the landlord] said ‘get out of the apartment these are terrorists.’ They gave us three days’ time to get our clothes. We had to get clothes from the apartment and bring them to our house, which was surrounded by news people. I had the truck, but nobody to drive, nobody to help.”188

After the eviction, Dritan’s five children moved in with their grandparents and uncle Burim, where they’ve lived ever since. Without his brothers to run the roofing Burim dropped out of high school to support his remaining family members. Noting that his nieces and nephews are “like orphans now,” Burim said, “it’s me who supports them now… I basically support four families.”189 Shouldering a heavy burden for a 20-year old, Burim now runs one of the Dukas’ roofing companies; Ferik came out of retirement to run the other business.

At the time of the arrests, the Dukas’ roofing companies had over $400,000 in contracts. These dried up almost immediately after the brothers were arrested. People who had worked with Ferik for more than a decade took their business elsewhere. Their biggest customer, the local fire department, called to say they had been warned by the government not to do business with the Dukas. Internet sites labeled their businesses as being “run by terrorists,”190 and they received harassing phone calls at their businesses. While they once dreamt of building four neighboring houses, one for each brother, today they are barely able to make ends meet.

And perhaps the most stunning detail is this description of the incitement a cop, Osama Eldawoody, used to get Shahawar Matin Siraj to accept his invitation to violence: Abu Ghraib.

In April 2004, when the abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib216 first became public, Eldawoody seized on the opportunity to take things to the next level. Shahina explains that Eldawoody started showing Shahawar “awful, awful scary photos of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. If you show these pictures even to a non-Muslim, it’ll make them crazy. No one can bear these photos, Eldawoody showed Shahawar these photos and said, ‘it’s your duty as a Muslim to do jihad in response.’”217

After months of Eldawoody’s campaign, Shahawar finally crumbled when he was shown pictures of young Iraqi girls being threatened and raped; he told Eldawoody that they had to do something.218 Eldawoody then told him about a group called “The Brotherhood,” with operatives in upstate New York who could help them.219 Then, in May 2004, Eldawoody told his handlers, “I believe it’s time to record.”220

Oh, okay. Use evidence of American crimes as a way to induce others to commit fake crimes. Only unlike all but a “few bad apples” convicted in those real crimes, the government will actually indict and convict in the fake crimes.

Do they not see how this is perverting the entire concept of justice?

The Feds Now Complaining about Thin Terrorist Indictments

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve got a long undercover investigation of a young Muslim man. It ends in the man acting to get what turns out to be an inert bomb. And there seem to be problems with the undercover work in the investigation.

It sounds like the case of Mohamed Mohamud, right?

Well, in many respects it is just like the case of Mohamed Mohamud. Except, unlike the Mohamud investigation, the FBI suggests this one–of Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh for allegedly conspiring to target synagogues–is flimsy.

WNYC has learned the lack of Federal participation in the high-profile case of two Queens men allegedly involved in a plot to blow up New York City synagogues and churches was related to concerns it was not a bona fide terrorism case.

Two Federal law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the FBI did not take the case of the two alleged Queens terrorists because the undercover operation was problematic and the end result was being over-hyped. They also expressed concern the case would ultimately not hold up in court as terrorism case. “Should guys that want to buy guns be off the street, absolutely,” one of the Federal officials said.

[snip]

At the press conference announcing the arrests of Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, local officials said the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force had the right of first refusal on all terrorism cases, but had opted out of this one. Officials characterized the case as one involving a “pair of lone wolves” who were not part of a broader global terrorism conspiracy.

This is the same FBI that tried to hide its first contacts with an accused attempted bomber, set up all the details of his alleged plot, and made darn sure he never had a real bomb. In other words, the FBI that insists its Mohamud indictment is completely legitimate. But I guess when you’re in a pissing match with the NYPD, standards for serious investigations or not suddenly change?

More on the Year-Long Pursuit of Mohamed Mohamud

Teddy did a diary this morning on a newly-reported detail in the case of Mohamed Mohamud–the Portland man accused of attempting to set off a bomb. The FBI had contacted him a year earlier than originally disclosed. The first contact with Mohamud the complaint describes took place in June 2010, after Mohamud was prevented from boarding a flight to Alaska.

On June 14, 2010, MOHAMUD was contacted at Portland, Oregon International Airport after he attempted to board a flight to Kodiak, Alaska. MOHAMUD was not allowed to board the aircraft. Shortly thereafter, MOHAMUD was interviewed by the FBI.

Shortly thereafter, an undercover agent contacted Mohamud, leading up to the July 30, 2010 meeting that was not taped.

An FBI Undercover Employee (UCE1) contacted MOHAMUD in June 2010 under the guise of being affiliated with UA1 and UA1’s associates. MOHAMUD and UCE1 ultimately agreed to meet in Portland on July 30,2010.

But a filing submitted yesterday shows that the Oregon State Police got a report on him in November 2009, after which an FBI agent named Bill Smith started contacting Mohamud.

As noted above, the government seeks to characterize a November 2009 interaction withMohamed as “an unrelated matter.” Resp. at 17. While the direct contact with Mohamed appeared to involve only the Oregon State Police (OSP), the FBI was clearly involved behind the scene. As the government has only provided minimal discovery related to the FBI’s involvement, with much of it redacted, Mohamed cannot assess the extent of the information the FBI gathered andsubsequently used in crafting its sting operation.

What the discovery does show is that the OSP immediately notified the FBI upon receiving a complaint about Mohamed, despite the fact that the substance of the report would ordinarily not result in FBI involvement. Although the redactions in the FBI report prevent the defense from understanding the full scope of the FBI’s role, it appears that agents met with OSP officers prior to contact with Mohamed and were involved with the subsequent interview. OSP then requested consent to image Mohamed’s computer, which was provided to an FBI analyst within hours. Seven days later, agent Bill Smith began contacting Mohamed and soliciting his participation in violence against the West. A short time later, the FBI analyst copied specific information from Mohamed’scomputer and provided it to a fellow agent. The analyst did not write a report of his actions until ayear later.

Other filings make it clear that the OSP polygraphed Mohamud at this point and suggests the search of his computer was consensual.

At first, the government didn’t admit that “Bill Smith” worked for the government (and it remains unclear who he works for). Only after the defense confronted them with that fact did they concede he was, but they claimed these earlier contacts have no connection to this case.

The discovery provided up to [the discovery deadline of February 15] and after included no indication that Bill Smith was a government agent. The government must possess the paperwork and reports that are necessarily generated by a government agent who contacts a citizen for such investigative purposes. If not for fortunate defense work, this exculpatory fact would have continued to be suppressed. It was only by backtracking through voluminous emails, and clearing out hundreds of lines of distracting code, that the defense was able to understand Bill Smith’s apparent connection to the government. Once confronted with the defense conclusions,the government admitted Bill Smith acted as a government agent. However, the conscious determination by the agency that Bill Smith should not be disclosed to the defense as an agent,purportedly because the government does not believe the information is helpful to the defense,establishes that the government alone should not be permitted to determine what is exculpatory without this Court’s supervision and instruction.

While the government claims this contact was discontinued in May 2010 (a month before the contact they claim started this investigation), Mohamud continued to email “Smith” until August 2010.

Bill Smith had e-mail contact with defendant beginning in late 2009 and continuing through May 2010. The contact with Smith did not relate to the facts of this case, and was discontinued by the government. Defendant, however, on his own continued to contact Smith through August 2010, after the government had ceased contact with him, by forwarding Smith e-mails, including one that supported violent jihad.

The fact that the government delayed admission of these earlier contacts also means the government has not disclosed the extent to which this earlier contact was used to tailor conversations with Mohamud.

[T]he undercover agents clearly used information from surveillance activities in approaching Mohamed. One obvious example is that agent Bill Smith attempted to ingratiate himself with Mohamed by recommending an online publication based on the government’s belief that Mohamed had connections to the publication.

While it appears that Mohamud was under surveillance before the first contact with the OSP (the complaint cites some emails he had with someone in Yemen August 2009), the earlier contact raises a whole bunch of questions about what led the government to pretend to follow-up on his emails in June 2010.

Jakubec Indicted in Federal Charges, Still No WMD Charge

As TPM reported, yesterday the federal government indicted George Djura Jakubec–the guy who had so many terrorist-favored explosives at his house they’ve decided to burn down the house rather than collect it all. But just two of the charges focus on those explosives. The other six charges focus on four alleged bank robberies, two of them armed.

In other words, in spite of the fact that he had what might, depending on the use for which he intended them, be classified as WMD and Mohamed Osman Mohamud never had an active explosive, unlike Mohamud, Jakubec was still not charged with the possession of a WMD.

Now, as I discussed, the charging difference likely has everything to do with the fact that the Feds knew what Mohamud intended to do with the explosives he never had (largely because they helped him plot out his plan for them). Whereas they appear to not yet know why Jakubec was creating a massive stockpile in his Escondido home. That is, the charging difference does seem to accord with the crime (if you ignore the fact that Mohamud never had an active explosive).

But it seems worth tracking the different fates of these two men, if only to see how much more severely the Feds prosecute the crimes the FBI creates for them than those created by alleged criminals themselves.