Since the time the Patriot Act sunset at the end of May, the media has reportedly widely on two allegedly lethal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil thwarted by the FBI. The first involved the killing of a 26 year old man in Boston who was under surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI says Usaama Rahim and two other men allegedly planned to commit attacks inside the U.S. – including a purported plot to behead Pamela Geller. Three young “co-consiprators” who had been under FBI surveillance were arrested in New York/New Jersey over the past five days, accused of supporting ISIL and plotting a terror attack together. According to court papers, one of the men, Munther Omar Saleh (“c0-conspirator 1”), a 20 year old student, was “making efforts to prepare an explosive device for detonation in the New York metropolitan area on behalf of ISIL.” Those “efforts” involved internet searches, but not the purchase of any materials for explosives. Samuel Rahamin Topaz (“co-consiprator 3”), 21, was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. According to a Department of Justice press release, Topaz “discussed his desire to travel to Syria to join ISIL,” but had no money to implement his “plan.”
Feel safer? Or feeling Déjà vu?
In both cases, the “plot” had not progressed beyond talk, and both follow a familiar pattern. Nearly every major terrorism-related prosecution over the past decade has involved an FBI sting operation targeting young Muslim men for their political speech and online activity. “Preemptive prosecution” is common strategy law enforcement uses to identify people who have not committed a crime but are alleged to possess an ideology that might dispose them to commit acts of “terrorism”. This practice bears a striking (and disturbing) resemblance to tactics used by the FBI to track activists as part of COINTELPRO decades ago and even today.
Identifying vulnerable young Muslims-Americans by their likes on social media and comments on online videos, the FBI treats these clicks and rants as something akin to declarations of war, transforming hundreds of American Muslims (and their families, friends and whoever they text) into terror suspects. The FBI then monitors their online activity, tracks their cell phones and follows them in the real world. They also employ an army of informants incentivized by money (upwards of $100,000) or the promise of leniency on their own charges to wheedle themselves into the lives of these men to provoke or encourage outlandish terror plots that the news media sensationalizes for the public with little or no scrutiny.
In both the shooting in Boston and the arrest in New York, the suspects’ online activity was cited by law enforcement as a major reason for them being under suspicion and followed. Rahim allegedly “liked” on Facebook ISIS and a controversial Islamic scholar. Saleh, who the FBI says tweeted his concern that al Qaeda was becoming “too moderate” in 2014 also had expressed support for ISIS in online postings. None of this should come as a surprise. The FBI is like any other government bureaucracy in that it is continually tasked with justifying its bloated ($8 billion) budget. It manufactures drama to sow fear among a paranoid public and advance support for the widely discredited surveillance apparatus used by government agencies that know what you had for lunch yesterday but hasn’t stopped many legitimate domestic threats to our security. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes said so in the The Newburgh Sting, a recent documentary about the FBI’s operation to ensnare four naive New York residents into an informant-driven fake terror plot. Fuentes said:
“If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that ‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.”
“Keep fear alive.” That’s right, Fuentes. When it comes to the FBI’s fake terror plots, that about sums it up.