Last week The Guardian reported the shocking story of ex-FBI informant Craig Monteilh and his participation in undercover assignments to draw out radical Muslims as part of the FBI’s attempt to prevent terrorist attacks before they occur. The FBI “confidential informant” program often uses people with previous criminal records, such as Monteilh, coaching them on how to carry out their operations. With compensation of $11,000 a month, it’s plain to see why informants like Monteilh would jump at this opportunity.
Monteilh received a fake identity of Farouk Aziz and was instructed by his FBI handlers to visit several mosques in Southern California with high tech video and audio recording equipment, which he used to secretly record his conversations with Muslims and feed them back to the FBI. As part of his cover, Monteilh pretended to convert to Islam and then slowly began to ask questions about access to weapons, the injustice of the West, and so on.
The FBI also approved Monteilh to sleep with several Muslim women recording their pillow talk if he believed it would increase the quality of information the FBI was receiving. The FBI used the information Monteilh provided to identify potential Muslims militants as well as to uncover information about individuals who could potentially be co-opted as a confidential informants. In an ironic twist, Monteilh’s comments and behaviors unnerved the Muslims in Orange County so much that they reported him to the FBI, unaware that he was working for the agency at the time. When the Islamic Center of Irvine filed a restraining order against Monteilh, the operation was a bust and the FBI had no further use for Monteilh. The Guardian story goes on to explain Monteilh’s assignments and background in greater detail and his decision to join the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) lawsuit against the FBI over this controversial tactics of this program. Like the Newburgh Four case, wherein four impoverished African-American men were convicted as terrorists, Monteilh’s testimony presents great concerns over FBI entrapment and the targeting of Muslim communities. The FBI’s official website claims that these types of programs are necessary in the post-9/11 US stating:
Terrorist recruits susceptible to undercover agents also will be susceptible to real terrorists. This shows the importance of undercover agents recruiting these individuals first. Executed properly, undercover operations—even those in which law enforcement provides both the means and the opportunity for an individual to succeed in committing a “terrorist act”—are entrapment proof.
One caveat in the judicial precedent, which the FBI also notes on their website, is that the government must prove that the defendant had a predisposition to commit the crime for which they are being accused. In cases such as the Newburgh Four, where the four men were offered the access to weapons, new cars, free vacations, and $250,000, the degree of certainty regarding the defendants’ predisposition to commit the crime is murky at best, and usually based on First Amendment-protected speech.
But in addition to the issues surrounding entrapment, these tactics raise questions over the profiling of Muslims as well as the unwarranted surveillance the FBI uses to obtain information. Such actions have led Muslims and civil rights groups to conclude that their communities are being unfairly targeted by the FBI in a spying game that is rigged against them. Monteilh stated that “they [the FBI] don’t have the humility to admit a mistake.” He continues to say that the FBI has unfairly targeted a vulnerable Muslim community and trampled over civil liberties in the pursuit of national security. While the battle between civil rights groups and the FBI has yet to be resolved, it is clear that Muslims, and indeed the rest of the country as well, will think twice before deciding to trust the FBI again.