Tuesday, April 23, 2013

FBI Fiddles While Boston Burns

The following statement appeared in an opinion piece on the Boston Marathon bombings in the Sydney Morning Herald of April 22:

"Twelve years after the September 11 attacks the US is a transformed nation, for better and for worse. This was the first terrorism attack on US soil targeting civilians since 2001, a record that is the result of hard work and good luck. More than 45 jihadist plots have been foiled." (Freedom means life without fear)

It was penned by John Avlon, a columnist for The Daily Beast, and is basically a recycling of his September 8, 2011 piece, Forty-five foiled terror plots since 9/11.

It's obvious that Avlon hasn't bothered reading investigative journalist Trevor Aaronson's timely book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism (2013), otherwise he wouldn't be quite so sure about either the number 45 or all that supposed "hard work," presumably a reference to the FBI.

You'll see why when you read the following Aaronson piece published today by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting: How the FBI in Boston may have pursued the wrong 'terrorist':

"Could the Boston attacks have been stopped? In the aftermath that question has gained urgency with the news that the FBI was on alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's trail more than 2 years ago. But it is further underscored by another FBI operation conducted in the Boston area during that same period - one focused on a different subject of dubious importance.

"In January 2011, when the FBI looked into the alleged Boston Marathon bomber and dismissed him as a potential threat, agents in the Boston field office pursued another person they suspected could be a terrorist. While they apparently decided to stop tracking Tsarnaev - whose 6-month trip to Russia at that time is now of prime interest to investigators - the FBI conducted a sting operation against an unrelated young Muslim man who had a fantastical plan for attacking the US Capitol with a remote-controlled airplane.

"The way in which the FBI investigated these two potential extremists may help begin to explain how the federal government failed to prevent Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhohkar from setting off lethal bombs in the streets of Boston. The task of anticipating and stopping a terrorist attack is exceedingly complicated and the full extent of what the FBI may have known about the Tsarnaev brothers remains unclear. Some congressional leaders are now seeking further explanation. But the contrast of the two cases undertaken in Boston in early 2011 raises questions about the effectiveness of the FBI's counterterrorism strategy.

"Since the devastating attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI's top priority has been to prevent a next act of terrorism. Every year the bureau spends $3.3 billion on counterterrorism, the largest portion of its $8.2 billion annual budget. (That's roughly $650 million more than it spends on investigating organized crime, its next greatest priority by funding.) A key component of the FBI's strategy has been running sting operations against would-be terrorists - in many cases going to great lengths to enable otherwise unlikely perpetrators, as I documented in my award-winning investigation published in 2011 in Mother Jones and in my subsequent book, The Terror Factory.

"The FBI has often targeted these suspects using informants and Internet surveillance. With the latter, federal agents analyze a suspect's online presence and history, looking for activity on extremist web forums, interest in militant jihadi videos, and other activity that might indicate sympathy for terrorist organizations.

"After the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI acknowledged that in 2011 agents had interviewd the 26-year-old Tsarnaev and scrutinized his Internet history, at the request of Russian officials. Yet, despite the Russians' concerns about Tsarnaev's potential links to militant separatist groups in Chechnya, the FBI determined he was not a threat.

"Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, the bureau vigorously pursued Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate who was born in Massachusetts and lived with his parents in a Boston suburb. Ferdaus came to the FBI's attention through an informant posing as an al Qaeda operative - a man who was paid $50,000 by the FBI for his efforts, while hiding a heroin addiction from his handlers.

"According to court records, Ferdaus told the informant that he wanted to destroy the golden dome of the US Capitol using a remote-controlled model airplane loaded with grenades. If that plot was far-fetched, so was the possibility that Ferdaus could even attempt it: He did not have weapons, and even if he had known where to buy explosives, Ferdaus was broke, according to court records.

"Through the informant, the FBI encouraged Ferdaus to move forward with his idea to attack the US Capitol. They dedicated significant resources to the operation, giving him $4,000 to purchase an F-86 Sabre remote-controlled model airplane and providing him with 'explosives' - 25 pounds of fake C-4 and 3 inert grenades. In May 2011, Ferdaus travelled to Washington, D.C., to scout out locations from which to launch his weapon - all while being secretly recorded by FBI agents. Finally, on Sept. 28, 2011, after a 9-month sting operation, FBI agents arrested Ferdaus, charging him with, among other offenses, attempting to destroy a federal building and providing material support to terrorists.

"Ferdaus pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, though no evidence indicated that he could have built and launched a weapon were it not for the FBI providing the money and materials.

"Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has arrested more than 175 alleged terrorists using operations like the one in Boston that nabbed Ferdaus. In these expensive and elaborate stings, the targets often are men on the fringes of Muslim communities; many are economically desperate and some are mentally ill, and they are easily manipulated by paid informants and undercover agents.

"But in the years since 9/11, several operational terrorists in the United States have gone unnoticed or have been overlooked by the FBI... And despite the FBI's initial interest in Tsarnaev, the same became true with him and his younger brother in Boston."

Now contrast Avlon's "45 foiled jihadist plots" with the following data from Aaronson's book:

"By August 2011, with nearly 10 years of terrorism prosecutions since 9/11, we had a database of 508 defendants whom the US government considered terrorists. The way the data broke down was illuminating. Of the 508 defendants, 243 had been targeted through an FBI informant, 158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting, and 49 had encountered an agent provocateur. Most of the people who didn't face off against an informant weren't directly involved with terrorism at all, but were instead Category II offenders, small-time criminals with distant links to terrorists overseas. Seventy-two of these Category II offenders had been charged with making false statements, while 121 had been prosecuted for immigration violations. Of the 508 cases, I could count on one hand the number of actual terrorists, such as failed New York City subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, who posed a direct and immediate threat to the United States." (The Terror Factory, p 15)

Finally, consider the use of sting operations against similar windbags and sadsacks here in Australia. The following item, for example, appeared in The Australian on 9 April:

"A man charged with terrorism-related offences engaged in 'jihadist chanting' and discussed how to make weapons and start bushfires with bombs, according to covert telephone recordings... He discussed making a bomb that would ignite a bushfire in Australia and said he had been trying unsuccessfully to buy a gun." (Accused terrorist faces court)

Now I know nothing of this case other than what is provided in this one brief report, including whether a paid informant was involved, but seriously, this particular boofhead sounds like he wouldn't even know which end of a match to strike on a matchbox.

[See my 25/2/12 post The Devil & David Irvine.]

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