Welcome Trevor Aaronson (Florida Center for Investigative Reporting) (Brandeis Univ – Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism) and Host Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel.net)

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

In the days before Thursday’s start to the trial for alleged Portland Christmas Tree bomber Mohamed Osman Mohamud, pre-trial hearings revealed two new details. First, the government failed to reveal to the defense an effort to “pitch” Mohamud on October 27, 2009, 13 months before they arrested him in an FBI-created plot. This comes on top of earlier revelations about a key meeting the FBI failed to tape, another failure to reveal FBI contacts, and Abu Zubaydah’s brother’s claim that, as an FBI informant, he was asked to track the then-16 year old Mohamud as early as 2008.

In addition, the defense revealed that,

… banter between FBI employees (when Mohamud was not present) includes comments about whether superiors at FBI headquarters will find the case “sexy enough”; mention of a possible book deal; and what [Mohamud's lawyer] described as a gleeful statement that their suspect was “done for.”

The FBI’s efforts to hide its years-long cultivation of Mohamud as a “terrorist,” juxtaposed with its banter about looking for “sexy” cases to please FBI superiors, demonstrates the importance of Trevor Aaronson’s The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism.

As Aaronson explains, the book arose out of his effort to categorize all of DOJ’s self-claimed terrorist prosecutions, to figure out how many involved real terrorists.

How many so-called terrorists prosecuted in U.S. courts since 9/11 were real terrorists?

That effort–first published as a database as part of a larger Mother Jones project–provided real numbers to what close watchers know anecdotally. The overwhelming majority of the people being prosecuted as terrorists are vulnerable young men set up by the FBI.

The FBI’s thousands of informants and billions of dollars have not resulted in the capture of dozens of killers ready and able to bomb a crowded building or gun down people in a suburban shopping mall. Instead, the FBI’s trawling in Muslim communities has resulted largely in sting operations that target easily susceptible men on the margins of society…

While we have captured a few terrorists since 9/11, we have manufactured many more.

Aaronson’s book collects these young men’s troubling stories, including Mohamud’s, in one volume. He describes the problems with the way the FBI uses informants to manufacture terrorist plots. He documents the frequency with which the FBI “mistakenly” fails to record key conversations.

And he adds a critical component to it: a description of the bureaucratic imperative within the FBI that has led it to go into the terrorist-creation business.

With $3 billion directed at counterterrorism, the FBI can’t come back to Congress and say, “We spent all the money, and the good news is that we didn’t find any terrorists.” Having a well-financed counterterrorism program means that the FBI must find terrorists to justify the program’s existence, and terrorism sting prosecutions provide a convenient and efficient means to show that a threat exists.

There’s a dangerous flip side to FBI’s focus on creating terrorists, of course. As an FBI agent’s email he quotes explains, it means finding public corruption or money laundering is not rewarded.

The truth is, they could waterboard me and I still would not say that … the whole intel-based model of how the Bureau is expected to operate is anything more than smoke and poorly aligned mirrors. Yet another irony is that after struggling for twenty years to develop quality sources, I finally succeeded, only to be told that I’m still a failure, because although my sources provide timely, pertinent, actionable information about ongoing public corruption and money laundering, they know nothing of Somali pirates or Chinese hackers.

Or, as the last story Aaronson recounts warns, the disproportionate focus on creating Muslim “terrorists” leads the FBI to ignore domestic terrorists who may be far more dangerous.

Muslim community and human rights groups have been complaining about these tactics for years. Aaronson’s book provides an important addition, both because the meticulous data analysis that went into his book validates their complaints, and because his interviews with FBI sources provides the bureaucratic understanding we need to try to change this.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

138 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism”

BevW January 12th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Trevor, Welcome to the Lake.

Marcy, Welcome back to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Thanks for having me, Bev and Marcy.

dakine01 January 12th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Trevor and welcome to FDL this afternoon. Good afternoon Marcy!

Trevor, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but did you/have you received any feedback/spin from the FBI? (Although, as we have long known anecdotally, there are massive amounts of white collar crime such as Public Corruption and the Banksters that have been ignored in both the current administration as well as the previous)

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Trevor welcome.

While we wait for people to show up, I’d love for you to review the kinds of people the government is using as informants. Why do they do it, and what does that say about these manufactured cases?

Elliott January 12th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hi Trevor , Hi Marcy

Sounds like the FBI is the terrorist

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Trevor will add to this,but as I said in my post, one of the real values of this book is the effort Trevor made to understand why FBI Agents are spending so much time (and money) manufacturing terrorists.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:04 pm
In response to Elliott @ 5

I think the system is. I think there are a lot of FBI Agents who are doing what Congress has dictated their job should be. The FBI loves to boast about how successful it has been in turning into an intelligence organization. And the almost exclusive focus of that intelligence network (in addition to drugs, really) is so-called terrorism.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Thanks for joining us, dakine01. Yes, as part of research for this book, I interviewed the FBI officials who reshaped the bureau’s counterterrorism program after 9/11 and also worked hard to fairly and accurately articulate the FBI’s view of why these sting operations are necessary. I also viewed some former agents who are critical of the program, such as James Wedick and Myron Fuller. The FBI’s belief is that the greatest threat to us today is not an organized Al Qaeda cell, but instead a “lone wolf” terrorist who, inspired by Al Qaeda, unleashes some sort of attack. Sting operations are intended to find these so-called lone wolves before they strike — and also to create an inhospitable environment for terrorists to operate. However, as I discuss in my book, there is little evidence in FBI sting cases to suggest that the alleged terrorists could have committed their crimes were it not for the FBI undercover agent or informant providing the means. Obviously, that raises a question: Are these real terrorists?

BevW January 12th, 2013 at 2:06 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 7

Is any other agency picking up the slack in the corruption / crime investigations that the FBI are failing to do as chartered?

dakine01 January 12th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 6

It sounds almost like the FBI looks on these types of cases as “freebies” (i.e., rather like the cops from back when who would always try to bust the person with a Dead Head sticker on the car – they figure it is almost a self creating case – even when the FBI is manufacturing the creation)

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 4

Marcy, informants aren’t the most reliable of people, to say the least. In terrorism stings I’ve documented, the FBI has used accused murders, a child molester, a drug dealer (who dealt drugs while working for the FBI), and everything in between. Some informants do it for the money — you can make $100,000 or more per case — while others work for the FBI because they have been coerced, either with the threat of deportation or criminal prosecution.

DWBartoo January 12th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thank you Trevor and Marcy for joining us, this evening, at FDL.

Isn’t the primary endeavor, now, of agencies such as the FBI and the CIA to, as you say, “manufacture” what we are pleased to call “terrorists”?

Is that a secret, or openly acknowledged, “looking forward”, as necessary to justify the militarization of the “Homeland”?

Does “limiting” dissent, in that “Homeland” have, or is it intended to have, a similar or different effect?

Did the FBI protect Occupy from persons or groups, unknown, who were understood, by the FBI, to have the intent of assassinating the “leaders” of Occupy?

If so, will the FBI ever identify those who contemplated such assassinations?

DW

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to Trevor Aaronson @ 8

I found this exchange with former FBI National Security Branch exec Cummings to be chilling:

“We’re at war with an idea,” Cummings told me emphatically.
“But you can’t kill an idea, can you?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied.
“So that means this indefinite war, with terrorism stings, is something we’ll live with for decades?”
“That’s right,” Cummings said.

Kit OConnell January 12th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for this book. I think so many of us have watched this happening the last few years, but did not have the ability to document it as clearly and precisely as you did. To say ‘it seems like the FBI is manufacturing terrorism’ is one thing, but to have the numbers and documentation of your book is impressive.

Do you have any comments on the recent shift to include Occupy and non-Muslim activism groups in these terrorism stings? can we expect to see more of this?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to BevW @ 9

Prior to 9/11, public corruption was one of the FBI’s top priorities. We’ve seen a decline in these prosecutions on the federal level. However, public corruption can be prosecuted on the state level, and we’re seeing more state prosecution. That’s particularly true in Florida, where I am. A question is: Is this increase state prosecutions a direct result of FBI’s deemphasis on public corruption?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to BevW @ 9

Hahaha!

I sort of wonder whether the distraction is the point. That way the banksters don’t get tried.

Though of course, even with HSBC, which the govt had cold, providing cash to a key terrorist bank, HSBC got off.

eCAHNomics January 12th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I’m interested in how the current (since 9/11 anyhow) situation factors in to the lifelong incompetence of the FBI. One could write a seriatim story about the FBI, starting with JEddy, and how he was too busy blackmailing with his 3X5 card file, to prosecute mafia. Then one could go thru the rest of the cast of characters, and posit leaders’ individual flaws as reasons for incompetence during those regimes. (Could do same for CIA but that’s another topic for another day.)

Trevor, have you thought about the FBI’s incompetence (only cases they can get plea agreements on are perps who are too incompetent to tie their own shoes), in a unified field theory of how the FBI has ALWAYS operated. And the FBI has taken few cases to jury verdicts, despite the public being willing to convict on mere mention of terriss, terriss, terriss.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 13

Unless we see greater public scrutiny of FBI terrorism stings — and perhaps some Congressional inquiry — there is little incentive for the FBI to stop these operations. The bureau believes it is at war with an idea — Al Qaedaism, not so much Al Qaeda. And is an idea something you can ever defeat? So this is an indefinite war in the FBI’s view.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 10

When you look at FBI documentation (the recent document release on FBI OWS surveillance is a good example), you really get a sense of how closely various kinds of metrics are measured: each informant recruited, each meeting on potential crime, each potential pre-crime. It’s true of any job–you do what you’re measured on. So they’re really forced to produce these numbers if they want to advance.

Teddy Partridge January 12th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Trevor Aaronson @ 2

Thank you for writing this book.

I’m in Portland; the “Christmas terror bombing” was our first holiday season here. While most civilians seem to have accepted the government’s characterization of the defendant, I was heartened by two recent developments I have noticed:

1. The local mainstream media describes the ‘entrapment defense planned by his attorneys’ without their previous smirking.

2. There appears to be only one charge leveled. This seems to entail significant risk on the part of the federal government and sounds different from their previous (and roundly mocked) kitchen-sink approach to their cultivated terrorism defendants.

I pass these observations along and would be interested in your, or our host’s, comment.

EdwardTeller January 12th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Trevor,

Reading reviews indicate your book concentrates mostly on the FBI’s targeting of Muslim groups, individuals and programs. Recently, more information is coming out on the FBI going after OWS in similar ways. I attended the biggest Idle No More event in Alaska yet yesterday, and found myself looking at people there I didn’t know and who didn’t really look like they should be there, thinking to myself, “Are YOU the FBI (or DHS or whatever) plant?”

Is part of the reason the FBI and others are manufacturing fake terrorists just to raise the level of mutual mistrust among activists?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

One of the other things you demonstrate is the importance of secrecy in all this: hiding precisely who these informants are (which is particularly easy if the accused settles to limit prison time), hiding key meetings and some of the tactics used, hiding how much money the informants get. Even (in the case of Mohamud’s trial) giving the FBI agents anonymity when they testify, I guess so they can go onto trap more kids.

I asked you to do this the other day, but I think the al Akili story is really instructive on this point. Can you share it?

Jeff Connaughton January 12th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Why compare to a decline in public corruption cases rather than high level financial fraud? I guess the FBI could sting local elected officials all day with schemes to entice them to accept bribes. But what about good old fashion probable cause that a white collar crime has been committed? That capability has been decimated after 9/11.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 14

I think I saw, as others did, that these FBI sting operations were suspicious — that is, the so-called terrorists were empowered, and even entrapped, by government agents. But the reporting that was done in this subject was always anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence is weak, of course, and as a data guy, I saw a great opportunity to systematically look at the post-9/11 prosecution data and determine, with hard numbers, what was going on. That’s what I documented in the book and earlier in the Mother Jones/UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program project that came before it.

And you’re right, Kit. We are seeing this type of sting operation applied to leftwing groups, so-called anarchists and eco-terrorists, but we are not really seeing this applied to rightwing groups, including the very dangerous sovereign citizen movement. I don’t want to make a blanket statement here, because there have been some sting operations on domestic terrorists (see Stephen Jordi in Florida). But not on the same level we see these tactics used against perceived Islamic terrorists and leftwing groups.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 12

On Occupy, I’m not sure we can conclude precisely what that was.

As far as the entire point of this, I waver from day to day, and think that while some people have terrible motives here, in general politicians are just terrified not to be tough on terror, and no one has yet found a way to demonstrate how much bigger threats the things they’re NOT watching: domestic terrorists and banks.

eCAHNomics January 12th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Next Q, following from my 17, how can you get anyone competent to work for FBI, if all they are “good” for is mfg bogus cases? Does that explain why FBI computer, lab, other systems are flawed?

Or are other FBI systems flawed bc it is easier to get plea bargains or convictions with faulty evidence & FBI knows defendants it hand picks for greater incompetence, can’t afford to question FBI “expertise”?

BTW, I’ve lost track. Can FBI computers hook up to internet in 2013? If so when did that great breakthru occur.

Teddy Partridge January 12th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Are any federal public officials interested in highlighting the comprehensive data you’ve gathered? Do you find a sympathetic ear anywhere in Washington?

chicago dyke January 12th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

in the bad old days, they called us “homosexuals.” who were selling out the USofA because communists knew how to press all our buttons and offered us hawt boi/grrl tail we just couldn’t refuse and would sell nukular secrets for in return.

today, it’s “islamofascist.” or “terrust.”

the game hasn’t changed since Smedley Butler. $$$ for contractors. always. only. forever.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Teddy,

1. I think most people, including me, look at the Mohamed Mohamud case as the most interesting test yet of the entrapment defense — because of the circumstances (Mohamud’s young age, for one) and the jury pool (Portland, more socially liberal, more skeptical of government than the rest of the country on average). There has also been a shift in media conversation in the last 18 months. The media has begun to report more aggressively, to be more skeptical when these stings are announced. I would like to think my reporting on this subject has played some part here, but whatever the reason, I find it very encouraging that the media are taking a more skeptical view.

2. You’re right. In previous stings, the government has brought a laundry list of charges, hoping some will stick. In the Mohamud trial, it’s just the one — which gets back to the point above and why this is such an interesting case to watch. The jury doesn’t have a lower-level charge to cop out with, so to speak, if the government doesn’t fully make its case.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 14

Bingo: that’s why it is so important that Trevor took the DOJ’s own list of claimed terrorist prosecutions and analyzed what they really were.

Incidentally, I think one of the reasons they have used these techniques w/OWS and other groups is because they’ve grown so reliant on the investigative techniques they can only use if there’s a foreign terror tie to. The foreign terror tie can be downright ludicrous, but it does get them those super power techniques.

FWIW, when Holder announced Assange was being investigated as an Epsionage case, that gave that investigation those same powers. We can’t tell if they used them, of course, because they keep everything secret (and often will find the proof they want, then use other warrants and whatnot to get them via means they’re willing to disclose in a trial.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

LOL–our comments crossed. I did find that “at war with an idea” quote really chilling.

Kit OConnell January 12th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Thanks for answering my first question. I’m also interested in the spread of terrorism stings from the FBI into local police forces. Do you have any comments on the NATO 5 arrests, or whether you’re seeing more of this at the state or local level?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

On 9/11, FBI computers weren’t connected to the Internet, due to ridiculous security concerns. Former Director Louis Freeh, to be put it nicely, was a Luddite. But things have changed. FBI agents can now Google!

To answer your question, counterterrorism has never been an area of the FBI agents wanted. Many agents who are in CT do their time and hope to transfer out, to organized crime or public corruption, etc. There are many flaws at the FBI and some agents who are not so good, as with any agency. But there are also very talented agents at the bureau. I think it’s important to remember that too.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I still think it very likely that Mohamud will be convicted. People with far less evidence against them, in cities that are just as liberal, have been convicted.

Still, until people start going to trial, we don’t get to see a lot of what the govt is doing. And even here, the govt has gotten pretty extreme efforts to keep this all secret approved by the judge.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

No one on Capitol Hill has asked for my data. But if anyone did, I’d be happy to provide it.

Teddy Partridge January 12th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Well, don’t pin your hopes on socially liberal Portland — the local news told us last night that the jury was selected from “several different Oregon counties” which I’ve never heard done before here. This may mean there are no Portlanders on the jury (five men, seven women). And the rest of Oregon is not so liberal or government-skeptical.

Portland ain’t Austin, because Oregon ain’t Texas. But it’s similar.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Yeah, that’s the one I keep harping on.

As I noted, even when the big banks are caught dead to rights funding terrorists, they get off. So it’s obviously not just distraction.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Were you living in FL for the Liberty City Seven? Or NY?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 30

I want to add to Marcy’s point here — about my data. When I started my analysis, I really wanted to make sure I was working with the same data set of terrorists that DOJ had. For example, if I included someone in the data as a terrorist that the DOJ didn’t, then the whole data set is flawed, right? So the seed of my data set is a list of more than 400 terrorist defendants, as prosecuted by the DOJ, that Holder provided to Congress in 2009. That list also include the criteria by which the DOJ defines a terrorist. A research assistant at Berkeley and I then used this criteria to update the database to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Here’s a video we put together for the MoJo project that explains the data in a fun way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HyV2yWJsPsQ

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 38

Marcy, yes, I was in Miami when the LC7 case was announced. I’d written about FBI informants before, but that case was the one that began my thinking about this project.

Teddy Partridge January 12th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

We hear about these cases because we’re a little better tuned in, thanks to Marcy and others who cover these cases nationally. Nevertheless, pulling all these cases together is a tremendous service.

For those of us who haven’t read your book yet, can you provide a hint about your conclusions, please? Are there any real convicted terrorists? Are these young men recruited by the FBI and provided the means/method/motive all the FBI has to show for its radical transformation?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

One very interesting development here in MI is the Hutaree trial, which was very similar to the Muslim stings. Those of us who followed both cases were waiting for the UndieBomber to be in the same jail or prison as the Hutaree. But of course, the judge in the Hutaree case threw out most of the charges, arguing the govt had not sufficiently proven conspiracy.

The govt appealed, and lost. Which means for our circuit–MI has the highest proportion of Arabs of any state–we have heightened standards for conspiracy cases.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

Don’t know exactly what year FBI got hooked into the web for real. But even then, they weren’t always competently hooked in. (One of the findings that came out o fhte Nidal Hasan investigation is that their software stunk).

I think there are competent FBI guys. And incompetent ones. The bigger problem is that the govt fiercely protects its own, even when they fuck up. So the bad guys aren’t weeded out.

eCAHNomics January 12th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

How much has TV (Criminal Minds (CBS), Numb3rs (CBS), Without A Trace (CBS), Bones (Fox), 24 (Fox), The X-Files (Sci-Fi Channel)) created a falsely competent impression of the FBI? What is the FBI budget to buy such laudatory propaganda?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Though it’s still the WMD charge, which I think impresses juries.

DWBartoo January 12th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 31

Not to mention the notion of “indefinite” war, EW, that might mean “endless” or endlessly available terrorists, who could be anywhere or anyone, or even everywhere and everyone …

What better means to assure an agency’s long-term existence than an endless, everywhere, threat?

Jedgar would be jealous … (why didn’t he think of it, commies and homosexuals will only take you just so far …)

DW

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

One more point on connecting to the Internet.

The FBI doesn’t need to be as much. Because they’re getting so much data from private companies. Why google your phone number when they can just demand your phone records from the telecoms?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Teddy: There have been what I consider real terrorists prosecuted since 9/11 — Zazi and Shahzad, for example. But the number of dangerous terrorists prosecuted since 9/11 amounts to a handful. Many of the 508 defendants during the 10 years after 9/11 had no connections to international terrorism — their connection was an FBI informant posing as a terrorist — and for those that did have a connection, it was often distant.

A simple breakdown of my data, for the decade after 9/11, is:

508 defendants
243 targeted through the use of an informant
158 involved in sting operations

These numbers have increased since the tenth anniversary of 9/11. We’re at about 171 sting defendants currently today. And let me clarify — this data is for international terrorism charges and does not include domestic terrorism.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Have you at least shared it with Keith Ellison? He speaks on this issue so bravely, given all the harassment he has gotten for being Muslim.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I assume you saw they DQed two jurors because they believe the govt entraps people?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 47

I do discuss in the book at length the FBI’s data mining efforts since 9/11 — specifically a program called Domain Management. So even though the bureau’s agents couldn’t email pictures of the hijackers on 9/11 because they weren’t connected to the Internet — no joke — the FBI today does use sophisticated technology. It’s also worth noting that, as Marcy mentioned, warrantless wiretaps and electronic surveillance has exploded in recent years under the Obama administration.

eCAHNomics January 12th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 43

I have a diff model of bad guys/good guys in bureaucracies. Some of each, to be sure. Some bad guys develop enemies in the bureaucracy and get drummed out. Ditto good guys. Protection is for those who have bureaucratic skills, rather than other skills.

I’m trying to step back & figure out why the FBI has always been more incompetent than competent.

Any bureaucracy can be either. Agree fully with your point on what gets measured gets done.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I don’t remember: was that database able to track the claimed terror groups over time?

Because when I’ve looked at the list, it always seems like we’ve focused a lot less on non-Muslim terrorist groups. Partly, I think it’s bc Obama’s Admin decided to deal with Colombia’s AUC differently (they brought the terrorists here on drug charges and made plea deals, thereby keeping the AUC’s ties to Uribe, one of Colombia’s intell orgs, and through them the CIA, secret).

But even at the level of hunting terrorists, that list at least showed a drop of of non-Muslim terror prosecutions.

I expect the numbers will go back up, now that the govt is claiming that Latino cartels have ties to AQ or Iran. Still.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 44

You’re getting at a large problems in our justice system — the so-called CSI Effect. Jurors often believe that law enforcement agents, like those on TV, have sophisticated equipment that allows them always to get the bad guy. While the FBI does sophisticated equipment, it’s not like on TV.

Kelly Canfield January 12th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 49

Speaking of which, I think that’s the other side of the coin for harassing Muslims, i.e. that it is an Islamic value to confront power for its abuses.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 53

Yes, my database tracks by affiliation, and we have prosecuted a lot of AUC/FARC cases. But the people involved in these cases, evidence showed, often had much more capability than the ones in Islamic terrorism cases. The database allows you to search by terrorist affiliation:

http://www.motherjones.com/fbi-terrorist

We also addressed this, though in less detail by comparing non-Islamic to Islamic, in the charts:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/terror-trials-numbers

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Trevor:

While I agree that within FBI, the imperative to find terrorists is what drives this.

But have you compared to what happens w/DHS terror grant goodies?

As the recent Tom Coburn report made clear–though again, those of us who have been watching closely, knew this–much of that grant $$ supports stuff that has nothing to do with terrorism in places that face no real (Islamic) terrorist threat. And yet it has taken 11 years for anyone to complain about that.

Is that just because of the earmark effect–Congress doesn’t care about that because they’re getting their share. (FWIW, much as I loathe much of what Coburn does, he hit on stupid projects in OK, as well as other states).

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 55

It’s been well documented that the FBI has not understood Islam very well, and this has exacerbated some of the problems in my view. As I discuss in the book, the CT director on 9/11 couldn’t describe the difference in beliefs between Sunni and Shia while under deposition. FBI training material up until a couple of years ago described Islam as an inherently violent religion and charity among Muslims as a front for terrorism funding.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Trevor:

I also want to ask about your assertion that the FBI has twice the informants now than it had under JEH. I’ve seen some of how you come up with this (backing out from the budgets). But can you explain more about how you did this analysis.

Also, your current numbers would also include the vast number of informants used in drug cases, right (and admittedly informants are increasingly moving from one field to another, and the govt is increasingly claiming drugs and terror are tied).

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 57

That’s only the beginning of it. Millions flow to local law enforcement for the purpose of ferreting out Islamic terrorism. Much of that money has been used for surveillance technology whose stated purpose is counterterrorism. But the net effect is that this technology is being used against you and me. There’s a lot of money to be made in “training” local law enforcement on how to spot terrorists, and much of this federal money pays for this. It also funds so-called Fusion Centers in every state whose purpose is to hire analysts to review “suspicious activities reports” filed by local cops.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I remember when the LC7 came out there was such skepticism bc they were so obviously no competent to be terrorists.

But I think the press got complacent again. THey were much more skeptical of the Scary Iran Plot (Manssor Arbabsiar), in part bc the journos from different beats were covering it. And maybe the guy who wanted to bomb the Fed but had no plans to take the gold.

But still, mostly complacency.

You talk briefly about the press’ complicity in your book. Care to expand on that?

DWBartoo January 12th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 59

Which makes one wonder, EW, about the Big Banks which have laundered drug money, might that be construed as support of terrorism, or is it to be the means by which legalizing marijuana, at the state level, for example, will be countered by the Federal government … (not that there is any real or demonstrable connection, merely the suggestion of possible linkage?

DW

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 59

The FBI doesn’t disclose, unless it has to, how many informants it has. So we have no year by year historical record. What we do know is that, thanks to a Congressional report on COINTELPRO, the FBI had 1,500 informants under Hoover. After the FBI got jurisdiction of drugs, that went up to 6,000. After 9/11, the FBI asked for a few extra millions to build a software system to help manage its informants. In a footnote to that budget request, the FBI disclosed it had 15,000 informants, and the increase was due to a post-9/11 Bush directive to increase human intel.

How exactly these 15,000 are assigned is difficult to document from the outside. Some informants, as you note, work multiple areas. In fact, any informant worth his federal cash under the table does. But given the importance of informants in the CT program, and the fact that the majority of the FBI budget goes to CT, it’s not unreasonable to believe a healthy portion of those 15,000 informants, if not a majority, are used for CT purposes in Muslim communities today.

phred January 12th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Hi Trevor, I’m late, so I need to catch up on the discussion thus far, but I wanted to ask a quick question before things wrap up… In Marcy’s introduction she talks about the financial incentive Congress put in place for the FBI to manufacture terrorists.

In your book do you discuss the technologies that underpin that effort? Basically, I’m curious what companies have a profit motive to lobby for the shift at FBI. Is there anything equivalent to the naked scanner companies foisting that technology upon us at airports or is the financial incentive simply a larger part of Congress’ desire to prosecute and justify its War on Terror?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:54 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 62

You don’t even HAVE to make that leap. Both HSBC and JPMC have been found to violate sanctions against providing money to terrorist regimes. If they were a charity, they would be shut down and their President’s sent to jail for the rest of their lives.

But, um, that hasn’t happened.

eCAHNomics January 12th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 59

Not sure it’s been duly noted, but informants are valuable only to the extent they provide the info the FBI wants to hear.

Like false confessions out of torture victims.

DWBartoo January 12th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Does the political class, which includes the media, as a whole, evidence any concerns about this “you and me” reality, or is it simply politically expedient, that is “pragmatic”, for the political class to “go along” with this erosion of trust as, inevitably, for many of the political class, the revolving door beckons and their fortunes are not especially tied to the fate of you and I?

DW

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 61

The media have largely abdicated the role of defining who is a terrorist to the government. It’s only been recently that the media have begun to challenge the government’s early assertions in sting operations. When Quazi Nafis, the man accused of plotting to bomb the NY Federal Reserve Building, was indicted, the NY Times noted the criticism of these cases in the story’s fifth paragraph. That was striking to me, because that was happening in earlier year. In an excerpt of my book published by Mother Jones yesterday, I discuss some of this. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

But in late 2011, the conversation began to shift. A couple of months after my story in Mother Jones and following the announcement of a far-fetched sting in which a Massachusetts man believed he’d been poised to destroy the US Capitol building using grenade-laden, remote-controlled airplanes, TPM Muckraker published a story headlined: “The Five Most Bizarre Terror Plots Hatched Under the FBI’s Watch.” Author David K. Shipler, in an April 2012 New York Times editorial, questioned the legitimacy of terrorism stings involving people who appeared to have no wherewithal to commit acts of terror: “Some threats are real, others less so. In terrorism, it’s not easy to tell the difference.” Stories in other major news outlets followed suit, and by October 2012, a post in Foreign Policy was asking: “How many idiot jihadis can the FBI fool?”

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/terror-factory-fbi-trevor-aaronson-book

Teddy Partridge January 12th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 50

Well, we can’t permit citizens with a holistic view of the government’s use of its own powers to judge the guilt or innocence of another, can we? Especially when that OTHER claims the government used its powers wrongly.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to phred @ 64

I don’t get into the software vendors and contractors at the FBI, phred. But that plays a role, not so much in the FBI specifically but in DHS contracts generally. I do, however, discuss at length the FBI’s use of data mining and surveillance technology.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 2:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 66

And lots of “recording misfunctions” from informants.

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I also did a fairly quick scan of comments, Trevor, and I want to thank you for the work you have done.

I am curious about the degree of difficulty you encountered in your efforts to track this, because I am fairly surprised that this information is accessible, still. It seems to me that our opportunities for sustaining this aspect of democracy have numbered days.

Peterr January 12th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 37

Trevor, does your book get into the issue raised here — banks funding or washing funds for terrorist groups — as compared with manufactured terrorists?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 72

That’s another aspect of the work behind this book. Indictments generally have to say if a key witness is an informant. They sometimes say if the informant has a criminal record and/or failed lie detector test. But usually you only get to learn about the bio of the informant if it goes to trial.

And you still only get to learn about THAT informant. If you click through my links on Mohamud, you’ll see that over the course of discovery it came out that there was an earlier attempt to entrap him.

But they STILL didn’t tell Mohamud that Abu Zubaydah’s brother Hesham had been instructed to track him. And we don’t know how many other informants were, too (he attended a VERY closely surveillance mosque).

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 71

I have an chapter devoted to FBI recorder malfunctions in terrorism stings, because I think they make up one of the most important aspects of these cases. In nearly every case, including the Mohamed Mohamud case now on trial in Portland, the first encounter between an informant or undercover agent and the FBI sting target is not recorded. This is an essential meeting — one critical in providing inducements or entrapment. Yet it’s often either not recorded willfully by the FBI or due to “recorder malfunction.” Willamette Week, the alt weekly in Portland, published an excerpt from my book about these record malfunctions and how they affect the trial of Mohamud:

http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-20114-mohamed_and_%E2%80%9Cthe_terror_factory%E2%80%9D.html

Kelly Canfield January 12th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I think someone needs to do an analysis of the tech vendors to FBI, and an analysis of the FBI combined systems themselves, at that tech and system vendor level.

Because it is so easy to screw up. I work in tech, managing database calls for a company, and the API )Appllication Protocol Interfaces) manage to be in the millions per month against an Oracle database.

The amount of errors, on a percentage basis is low, say 1, 1.5%. But in the aggregate, that work out to be thousands and thousands of shitty returned results.

Managing speed and quality is a whole database vendor niche unto itself, and man, the results really count in he case of the FBI, who has notoriously poor systems.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 72

This type of research isn’t easy, which is why I think no one did it before me. It’s a pain! Building the database required going through thousands of pages of court records. A research assistant and I spent months doing this. Then, in addition to the database, I needed to get access to FBI officials, and the FBI is notoriously secretive. I spent months working my way from one person to another, building contacts among current and former agents, trying to get them to help me understand what was going in inside the Bureau as these cases were going on that I was including in the database. But this type of work is extremely difficult and expensive, and I could not have done it without the financial support of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Yeah, as I mentioned to you the other day, when I was covering the Arbabsiar case and interacting w/NatSec and Iran experts–who haven’t followed terrorism prosecutions–they didn’t believe me about how frequently there were “recording misfunctions.” (In Arbabsiar’s case, they didn’t record a series of conversations, the ones that describe how what Arbabsiar had been ordered to arrange–a kidnapping, and not necessarily in the US–turning into an assassination attempt in the US.)

So I’ll be grateful to have your book to point to to validate my case in similar situations in the future.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to Peterr @ 73

Peterr, the book focuses pretty specifically on terrorism sting operations after 9/11. But I have research prosecutions of money laundering and terrorism fundraising cases as part of the database I built. You can search through these cases and read their descriptions here:

http://www.motherjones.com/fbi-terrorist

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Is my guess that you timed the publication of this to coincide w/Mohamud’s trial correct?

It may help to educate the press on this, which I agree is an important case.

yellowsnapdragon January 12th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Wow. That’s fascinating.

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

In a case I am aware of, they grabbed up a person who had been IDd as “breakable.” I believe that the purported purpose of the grab was to get information about people who were entirely visible in the community, and have remained so. The result was to break down the trust amongst a group that was targeted. That seems to have been the best they did, but there are still people in jail who they have not released. I don’t even think a crime was ever committed. But this is the level of terror they are inflicting on citizens who dare to organize.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Marcy, we got lucky with the timing of the Mohamud trial. We knew it was a possibility, but the trial had been delayed so many times, we knew we couldn’t count on that. Ig Publishing chose the January 2013 publication date back in 2011. The main scheduling concern was making sure the book didn’t come out in the fall, when the media would be obsessed with the presidential election.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Ah, just karma then. May it help people understand this trial, then!

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Wow, it is hard to schedule that sort of thing, you worked with a good publisher.

Thank you so very much for your diligence. It is fantastic you had funding for it.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Can I nudge you again to tell the Akili story?

Between that and Monteilh’s case–and now Hesham Abu Zubaydah–I think the FBI is very paranoid about their methods being exposed.

Not that it’ll get through to the kinds of kids they target, but still.

phred January 12th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for the reply. I’m a data person myself, so I’m very much looking forward to reading your book… So much of what the government is doing is predicated on corruption, fraud, and a real inability (or unwillingness) to understand risk statistics, it drives me crazy. The more of this sort of analysis that makes it into the hands of the public the better. Thanks for doing the work!

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 84

The Mohamud trial has certainly helped with media interest in the book. CBS This Morning, for example, had me on Friday to talk about the larger issues documented in the book by using the Mohamud case as the news hook:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50138832n

John Miller, the former FBI assistant director, talks about the book as well as part of the segment.

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

the kinds of kids they target, but still.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Do you have any plans to attend the trial? Or will you be doing the book signing thing?

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Trevor, a little later than had hoped to the discussion. Saw you and Marcy discussing Arbabsiar, the Scary Iranian Plot Guy, earlier. Arbabsiar is a fascinating microcosm in a way. For the moment, I would point out the convergence of DEA and FBI action. I know from experience this is far from unique. Can you discuss the implications of that interaction generally?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 86

Khalifah al-Akili was a 34-year-old Pittsburgh man who was targeted by the FBI through two of its best terrorism informants. One of the informants was Shahed Hussain, whose life story I talk about in the book. The sting operation against Al-Akili came after my Mother Jones story, and for some reason, the FBI never changed Shahed Hussain’s phone number. Al-Akili Googled Hussain’s phone number, came across my article, which included a photo of the informant, and the FBI sting fell apart. My colleague at MoJo, Hamed Aleaziz, who also was my fact-checker, wrote an item about this as it went down:

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/03/shahed-hussain-khalifah-al-akili

I also wrote about it in my book. Proof that the FBI and its informants aren’t immune to the truth that Google can bring.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to phred @ 87

I’d love to see you develop that into a full post–after you’ve read Trevor’s book and nosed through his database.

Keep in mind that the “n” here is small. Just 500 people.

Because we only know about the people they succeed in indicting.

A lot of the people they target they then flip and turn into informants.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:23 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 90

I also have about 36 hours in Portland, but I do expect to attend the trial for a day, January 21. I’ll also be at Powell’s that evening for an event. If anyone here is in Portland, San Francisco, DC or New York, I’ll be doing several events over the next few weeks and would love to meet you. Information on the events can be found here:

http://trevoraaronson.com/appearances/

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:23 pm
In response to bmaz @ 91

Piggy backing on this: Your numbers for informants are JUST FBI, right, not DEA?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:27 pm
In response to bmaz @ 91

The Arbabsiar case is an outlier in my opinion for a number of reasons. But you have a couple of things going on generally right now — both cooperation and competition between agencies, such as FBI and DEA. The JTTFs have increased cooperations, but we’re also seeing agencies wanting to scoop others. Look at the Jose Pimentel case in New York. This was a sting so questionable even the FBI didn’t want to touch it — but NYPD gladly took it.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 95

Right. 15,000 is just for the FBI. I do not know how many informants the DEA has, though I believe it’s significantly fewer. Many FBI informants start their snitch careers with the DEA.

eblair January 12th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Trevor,
I find it interesting that you haven’t mentioned Robert Mueller’s name once, despite the fact that he has been the head of the FBI for over a decade. What’s your assessment of him? Is he the person most responsible for this “manufactured war on terrororism”?

BevW January 12th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Interesting use of words – “snitch careers”

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:32 pm
In response to BevW @ 99

Some of these guys are making unbelievable money. The guy who brought in Viktor Bout made 7 figures. And I’d be willing to bet Arbabsiar’s narc did too.

And even these Muslim terrorist creators are making 6 figures, in some cases.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:33 pm
In response to eblair @ 98

Trevor talks about how the FBI repurposed the approach already used in drug (and organized crime) enforcement in his book.

So it’s not like Mueller invented the use of the informant. They just redirected an existing tactic against Muslim men.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Yes! There used to be that kind of infighting (also CIA didn’t play well and NOBODY liked ATF). But the JTTFs present new, and kind of troubling leverage opportunities regarding informants being dual purposed between DEA and FBI, especially from Latin America. And the “War On Drugs” in Mexico and Latin America has all appearances of being the next frontier for the war/security complex. Do you not think there are important implications here?

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
In response to eblair @ 98

Mueller came into his position only days before 9/11, and his directive from Bush was never again. His job was to prevent another attack. He also successfully fended off an early attempt after 9/11 to create a new, separate agency that would be a kind of MI5, a domestic intelligence agency. He made sure the FBI retained its domain and he’s responsible for overseeing the transition from an organization that investigates crime after it occurs to an organization that tries to prevent crimes (notably terrorism).

Mueller is at the heart of this sting program, and I discuss the FBI director at length in my book. It’s worth noting that, when Mueller testifies before Congress, he specifically states these terrorism sting operations — often elaborating on the details of the supposed plot — as evidence that the FBI is able to stop terrorists.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 100

In addition to six- and seven-figure paydays for an informants, there are also “performance incentives” — cash paid upon the success of a trial — that are never disclosed. These can amount to hundreds of thousands more. Being a high-level FBI informant can be a lucrative profession. You’ve just got to be a great liar who has no trouble turning against people you’ve spent months or even years becoming close to.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

That’s what Mohmud’s lawyer is dealing with in the Pete Seda case: they discovered the only witness tying him to terror was going to be paid an incentive. She didn’t get anywhere near that kind of money. But still.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:40 pm
In response to bmaz @ 102

I agree with you about the JTTFs and how troubling they can be. I’d also say don’t underestimate ICE’s role in JTTFs, especially as you discuss the drug war and the border. ICE plays a big part in the recruitment of informants via JTTF, by providing FBI and DEA agents with information on who’s deportable, and then those agents use that information as leverage to recruit these immigrants as informants. We see this a lot in Muslim communities — but also along the border.

Peterr January 12th, 2013 at 3:40 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 100

Of course, there is a certain amount of job instability and potential for injury while on the job, and you’re not exactly covered by Workers Compensation.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 105

For reasons like this, such as informants who have a financial incentive in a prosecution, I really think my book is as much about terrorism as it is about the administration and fairness of justice in the United States today.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Or, in MI’s case, both at once. A lot of the ICE guys are being brought in to “translate” with Muslims.

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Yikes.

bgrothus January 12th, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Good point.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I’ll apologize in advance for the shameless marketing. But if anyone in this chat is interested in staying on top of news about The Terror Factory and news about related cases, such as Mohamed Mohamud’s, I post this information on a Facebook page for the book. You can find it here:

http://www.facebook.com/TheTerrorFactory

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Yes, I agree.

I think one thing I actually disagreed with you is your suggestion that African American and Latino communities wouldn’t/haven’t complained about these same tactics used in drug cases. There, it’s usually secondary to the long double standard on crack and the larger question of the legal framework there generally (though I think Three Strikes is equivalent to WMD terror enhancements–they provide the leverage to get people to plea and, in many cases, to turn informant).

But I think w/terrorism there are so many more cases of people being forced to inform for really bogus reasons and there are so much greater resources to just cultivate someone, as they did w/Mohamud.

All that said I DO think that the few cases directed against white people (particularly the ridiculous Waffle House plot) will being to get white people (and therefore more of hte press) concerned about this.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Great point about ICE. Honestly, at least from what I’ve seen here in AZ, that did not used to be as much a factor as it may be growing to today. Border Patrol rarely worked their own assets other than maybe coyotes, but when integrated into JTTF’s, they are a bigger player now.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

We’re drawing to a close, here, so I’d like to ask Trevor just one more question.

Map out how this changes.

Will it be a big case against a white person that raises attention to these tactics? Or more Fed bombers and LC7 cases? Or will it be fatigue on the whole WOT?

Kirk Murphy January 12th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Trevor, thank you for your research and for shining light on this dark corner. I am looking forward to reading your book!

If you have already addressed this, apologies for the redundancy….

In the 90′s the non-violent forest / enviro activists on the West Coast noticed their open encampments / campaigns were attracting very buff young men with no visible means of support who would travel from region to region, advocating violence/major property destruction and thoroughly disrupting the social cohesion of what were fairly well functioning groups. My protoypical example was “Turqoise” aks John Glass aka Jason Farquahar. He first materialized at the 1997 Headwaters Protests, where he volunteered as a “medic”, in which capacity he advocated using pot for every malady to the point that it bothered the locals…in Humboldt County. He later popped up in the Wild Rockies camp, ad high tech radios there started disappearing. After he “borrowed” a core medics car and trashed her ride, leaving it in a field, the camp tld him he had to go. They drove him to the local Greyhond – and stayed around to observe men in suits and shiny late model car(s) pick him up.

After he left, the activists found very sophisticated high frequency monitoring gear had appeared at that site.

He next showed up at the August 2000 DNC protests, which we were organzing from a five story building we’d rented for the ocasion. We were able to keep it open because of a Federal Judge’s court order forbidding pre-emptive shut downs (as had happened at the April 2000 IMF/WB protests in DC- our puppet ans med supplies were polcie property until just after the protests ended).

Turqoise showed up and asked for me. (our security knew who he was from postings at that time…) He said he had some really great radios for the medics – and he needed a ride from downtown LA to Pomona to pick ups “really good weed for everyone” . Pounds of it, he said.

Of course, anyone who got in the car with him and headed east would immediately have been participating in multiple Federal felonies – immediately satisfying the Federal Judge’s stringent criteria for shutdown. We’d already gone to great lengths to make sure there was no illegal substance use in the building: having LAPD copters spotlighting you at night while units deploy in near blockade tends to concentrate even stoners’ minds.

As planned, once he gave his pitch we kicked him out and permanently excluded him. IIRC, he found ways to make trouble n the streets for the next few days, but didn’t have the opportunity to do major damage.

Headwaters is not on Federal (or State) property. [It wasn't hen - the part we saved is now BLM, but htat was later]. The Wild Rockies campaign was on USFS, but then and now even teh worst excesses of the USFS LEO’s never featured this sort of entrapment. And the DNC convergence space was in LA, with the nearest USFS land being in the Angeles FOrest atop LA’s mountains.

Only Fed agency with the scope to be moving Turqoise around from Humboldt to the Rockies to Pico Union would be the FBI.

Since this sort of thing was going on before 911 – and before some eco-activits hived off as “the Family” and began to do overt property destruction – , I’d love to know if in your book or your future research you may be looking at the history of the FBI’s pre 911 campaigns against mass non violent civil disobedience.

Apologies for long question.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:51 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 113

The Waffle House Four! Yes, I agree it was a ridiculous plot. But it was notable to me because they were associated with a dangerous movement — sovereign citizens — even if they were part of geriatric wing. The FBI has come very late to the game in paying attention to sovereign citizens, partially, I argue, because the bureau has been so focused on Islamic terrorism.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Heh, here is another place where, if not a progenitor, DEA is a harbinger. FBI never used to have particularly big paydays for CIs. But DEA could act differently, especially out of continental US, and played with the drug money as incentive. Wasn’t such much as what they gave, but what they did not take. It counts.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to bmaz @ 114

I’ll have to look for it, but it is unsurprisingly especially pernicious here. I’ll have to look, but there was a joint effort to crack down on certain practices, including the use of ICE officials as “translators”–and therefore more pressure on certain issues. And I do think ICE uses informants (and definitely officials) in places like Dearborn.

All that said, the FBI has been remarkably quiet here on trumped up terror cases, much more than you’d think. That may be a combo of Cosentino’s problems and McQuade’s practicality and the Undie Bomber (we had a genuine terrorist to check off!). So while you’d THINK we’d have as much pressure here–and while FBI HAS done Domain Management here in the same way NYPD has done profiling–it’s not as bad as you might think.

BevW January 12th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Trevor, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the FBI’s manufactured war on terrorism.

Marcy, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Trevor’s website and book (The Terror Factory)
Follow Trevor – Facebook

Marcy’s website (Emptywheel.net)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Leigh Ann Wheeler / How Sex Became a Civil Liberty; Hosted by Nancy L. Cohen, author of Delirium.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 115

I think two things are possible:

1) A major acquittal, such as in the Mohamud case, may emboldened the media to be more aggressive and cause a a slow FBI pullback from these tactics;

2) Slowly we’ll see more skepticism of these cases, even without a major acquittal, and with that, the FBI will slowly deemphasize them. I think the pendulum needs to swing back from counterterrorism to public corruption and organized crime, and from talking to people inside the FBI, I know there is a lot support among agents for that swing.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

And yet, that was another egregious double standard. THey charged ricin–ridiculously, not least bc in that case the only incriminating ricin convos were not recorded and the informant there was REALLY easily impeachable. But they didn’t charge it as a WMD.

Though even with the Schaffer Cox case there were some really big questions about how the informants worked. At his sentencing they did suggest there would be follow-up, though Ryan Reilly has one of their informants blabbing his mouth off.

Peterr January 12th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

No need to apologize.

The great trade-off of these book salons is that you get to hawk your books while we get to pick your brains. I hope it’s an equal transaction.

Thanks for coming!

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 122

Of course. There has been an unwillingness by DOJ to call rightwing groups, such as white supremacist and sovereign citizens, terrorists. But Muslims and environmental activists often get the label.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 3:58 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 119

Wait, Covertino?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Perhaps. I’m still shocked things like the HSBC non-charge for funding terror hasn’t attracted more attention.

In any case, thanks for an important addition to this field! Good luck with the book tour.

And thanks for joining us here today.

Kirk Murphy January 12th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 120

Bev, thank you once again for creating yet another excellent Book Salon!

And thanks to Trevor for his labore and taking the time to be here and to Marcy for hosting and bringing her steel trap mind to this issue.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 120

It’s been great fun. I really appreciate everyone’s time and interest in The Terror Factory. I’ll check back over the next day or so for more questions and will be happy to write more. In the meantime, as I mentioned, you can follow updates for The Terror Factory on Facebook.

Peterr January 12th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 120

Leigh Ann Wheeler? Sex? Civil liberties?

Is she any relation to a certain foul-mouthed blogger who has apparently been put on the MSNBC blacklist for a certain on-air comment about certain activities in the Oval Office between 1993-2000?

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to bmaz @ 125

Yeah, Covertino. What you said.

emptywheel January 12th, 2013 at 3:59 pm
In response to Peterr @ 129

No relation. At least not as far as I know.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 4:00 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 126

Thanks so much for having me, Bev and Marcy.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

The problem is, like child molestation in state courts, once the boogeyman of “terrorism” is announced to the jury, it is usually game over.

Trevor Aaronson January 12th, 2013 at 4:02 pm
In response to bmaz @ 133

The data certainly supports that. DOJ has a near flawless record in prosecuting terrorism.

bmaz January 12th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Have your book, it’s a great resource (hey people BUY it). Trevor, thank you for spending some time with us here at the FDL Book Salon today.

Phoenix Woman January 12th, 2013 at 4:39 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 14

Not to mention the fact that right-wing groups aren’t given anywhere near the same amount of focus or attention, even though they produce far more actual incidents that don’t need to be manufactured or embellished by the FBI or anyone else.

Phoenix Woman January 12th, 2013 at 4:40 pm
In response to bmaz @ 135

Seconded!

Phoenix Woman January 12th, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Ah, I see you’ve addressed this already. My bad for being late to the party.

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