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November 29th, 2010

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12:31 am - Musings on Local Terrorism
So, as most everyone in Portland knows, here was almost a serious terrorist incident, however, in reading over the details, I was struck by a few key points.
According to the FBI affidavit, the case began in August 2009 when Mohamud was in e-mail contact with an unindicted associate overseas who was believed to be involved in terrorist activities. In December 2009, while the unindicted associate was in a frontier province of Pakistan, Mohamud and the associate discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to participate in violent jihad.

The associate allegedly referred Mohamud to a second associate overseas and provided him with a name and e-mail address. In the months that followed, Mohamud made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the second associate.

Ultimately, an FBI undercover operative contacted Mohamud in a June 2010 e-mail under the guise of being an associate of the first unindicted associate.
So, clearly we don't have the world's most effective terrorist, and the fact that he was contacted by the FBI makes me wonder how much they encouraged him. The fact that there are serious questions about FBI entrapment in other cases of alleged terrorism makes this even more likely. I also wonder about the "unindicted associate was in a frontier province of Pakistan " - perhaps an actual terrorist whose emails the feds have tapped, but this person might just as easily be some Pakistani who's making a buck persuading especially gullible kids in the US to become terrorists, and then selling the info to US authorities.

When I talked about the case with friends in Portland, athenian_abroad compared the kid to the two kids who committed the Columbine school massacre, which strikes me as a very interesting comparison, because the question in my mind is which of these two was Mohamed Osman Mohamud. As this fascinating article describes, the two Columbine killers were very different people - Eric Harris seems to have been just the sort of stone-cold psychopath one would expect, while Dylan Klebold "was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for his problems", in short exactly the type of angry but undirected person who can be turned into a weapon by someone else. I wonder if Mohamed Osman Mohamud was a stone-cold would-be killer, or someone with well more anger than sense who was persuaded to take action by the FBI.

If the second is true, then the timing was very useful. Given information about just how unsafe the backscatter x-ray scanners are and how widely unpopular they are, a (seemingly) potentially deadly terrorist incident that was stopped in the nick of time provides people in favor of discarding civil rights with exactly the sort of ammunition they need to keep these vile and likely dangerous policies in place. I remain considerably more worried about the actions of both the government and the far right than about any potential threats by any potential Muslim terrorists

In any case, regardless of the actual facts of this case or the reasons behind it, the reaction to it is clearly keeping the cycle of violence going. So it goes…

Edit: I don't always agree with Glen Greenwald [[1]], but he has some truly excellent things to say about this case.
"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."
Greenwald also links to
an article about a very similar case from 2006. Finally, Greenwald provides us with this impressively suspicious coincidence:
"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.

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" "

[[1]] like his ludicrous defense of the vile Citizen's United decision
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(3 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
I don't know. I'm not sure that some lonely, angry, dispossessed kid that is willing and potentially eager to kill countless people with a little encouragement is that different from "a terrorist". I really think it comes down to you're willing to bomb civilians, or you're not. It sounds like this kid was campaigning to become a terrorist and we found him before someone else did.

To use one of the most common of entrapment scenarios, it's not like an undercover cop was selling drugs on the street corner and some kid decided to buy some on a lark, it's more like the kid was actively searching for tainted drugs to sell, kept asking people and finally asked a cop. If the story is correct his intent and involvement is pretty clear.
[User Picture]
Date:November 30th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, kids of that description always exist and have always existed. Why does one turn into "a terrorist" just exactly when it is convenient for the FBI? If it's really the FBI's design, then does that actually say we are in more danger than if they hadn't stepped in?

Edited at 2010-11-30 06:30 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:November 30th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
I need to find some time/spoons to post about this properly, but thank you for doing so. I'm finding the whole situation pretty deeply disquieting on so many levels.

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