FBI Stings Net One Would-Be Terrorist After Another
Washington. Time and again, the FBI offered a way out. And each time, officials said, the 19-year-old college dropout persisted. He wanted to kill people, he said. Lots of people. He just needed help to do it.
At a hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon, in July, two undercover FBI agents listened as Mohamed Mohamud explained his dream of detonating a car bomb during the city’s Christmas celebration.
They offered to help, if Mohamud was sure he wanted to go through with it.
“You always have a choice,” one of the agents said, according to court documents.
“You understand? With us, you always have a choice.”
It was not an offhand remark. It was part of a carefully scripted routine the FBI has been perfecting since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sting operations, choreographed by FBI and Justice Department officials in Washington, have included plots against Dallas skyscrapers, Washington subways, a Chicago nightclub and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The plots have all been fictional. The intent, the FBI says, has been real. And the government has a string of convictions to back that up, a track record that has made undercover stings one of the government’s go-to strategies in terrorism cases.
But each arrest has been followed by allegations of entrapment and claims that the government is enticing Muslims to become terrorists, selling them fake explosives, then arresting them.
No terrorism case since 9/11 has been thrown out because of entrapment.
And the tactic passed its latest court test last month when a New York jury convicted four men of trying to blow up synagogues.
Jurors rejected the argument that the FBI enticed the men into a plot they never would have come up with otherwise.
“When the government supplies a fake bomb and then thwarts the plot, this is insanity. This is grandstanding,” Susanne Brody, one of the defense attorneys in that case, said when asked about the FBI’s undercover stings.
Brody added that the tactic required extraordinary amounts of time and money and can ensnare only hapless people, not hardened terrorists.
In the Oregon case, even the government’s own documents paint Mohamud as something of a piddling terrorist: He tried to connect with a jihadist in Pakistan, but kept typing the e-mail address incorrectly.
He claimed that, because he had been a rapper, he could get an AK-47.
Counterterrorism officials do not buy the argument that a wannabe terrorist is less of a concern.
They say the only difference between someone like Mohamud and someone like Faisal Shahzad, who admitted trying to set off a bomb in Times Square this spring, is that the FBI got to Mohamud before he could be trained to pull off an actual attack.
In Oregon, the FBI went so far as to load a van full of phony explosives and let Mohamud try to activate them during the Christmas tree lighting celebration, according to court documents.