How The FBI Invents Terror Plots To Catch Wannabe Jihadis
Terrorism prosecutions are rife with signs of entrapment by law enforcement, according to a new study provided to BuzzFeed News. FBI critics say the bureau is trampling civil liberties based on flawed ideas about radicalization.
Nobody would describe James Cromitie as a terrorist mastermind. Certainly not U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon, who in June 2011 sentenced him to 25 years for his part in a plot to attack Jewish targets and shoot down military aircraft.
Cromitie was “bigoted and suggestible,” with a profound hatred of Jews, McMahon told the court in New York City. But she believed that he would have posed no serious threat if left to his own devices: “Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearian in its scope.”
By the time they were arrested in May 2009, Cromitie and his three fellow plotters from Newburgh, New York, thought they had planted car bombs outside two synagogues in the Bronx, and were in possession of what they had been told were Stinger surface-to-air missiles.
But the bombs and missiles were fake, provided by the FBI. The entire plot was driven by Cromitie’s accomplice, Shahed Hussain, a criminal-turned-informant who went to great lengths to entice the four others — all impoverished black Muslim converts — to take part. Among other inducements, Hussain offered Cromitie $250,000 and a BMW.
It sounds like a classic case of cunning entrapment by law enforcement. But under federal law, it’s a legitimate strategy so long as a suspect is already “predisposed” to commit a similar crime — which means that courts must judge suspects’ intentions. And since 9/11, juries have seemed unwilling to accept that anyone could get involved with a terrorist plot if they were not already motivated to do so. Cromitie’s lawyers mounted an entrapment defense, to no avail — despite the judge’s comments about the way in which the FBI had acted.
The Newburgh Four case is just one of several high-profile prosecutions that critics claim involve entrapment of Muslims who posed little independent threat. In his 2011 book The Terror Factory, journalist Trevor Aaronson accused the FBI of waging a “manufactured” war on terror using some 15,000 paid informants. Among 158 defendants charged after FBI sting operations, Aaronson found that 49 were snared in plots instigated by an agent provocateur controlled by the FBI.