Government-Assisted Terrorists

Salim Muwakkil

On May 20, fed­er­al and New York City author­i­ties arrest­ed four men on charges of plot­ting domes­tic ter­ror­ist attacks. Assis­tant U.S. Attor­ney Eric Sny­der described the men as being eager to bring death to Jews.”

The FBI informant allegedly gave the four men cash, food, rent money and drugs. And he agreed to pay for a sick brother’s liver transplant.

This sto­ry is depress­ing­ly famil­iar. With apoc­a­lyp­tic rhetoric, the author­i­ties her­ald an arrest, boast­ing that their efforts, with the aid of con­fi­den­tial infor­mants, have foiled anoth­er home­grown ter­ror­ist plot. How­ev­er, it soon becomes clear the alleged plot­ters were inca­pable of com­mit­ting these ter­ror­ist acts with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion and provo­ca­tion of the informants.

This agent-provo­ca­teur sce­nario has played out in two oth­er cas­es. One of them was the so-called Lib­er­ty City 7” case, in which sev­en men of Hait­ian descent liv­ing in Miami’s impov­er­ished Lib­er­ty City neigh­bor­hood were charged in June 2006 with con­spir­a­cy to com­mit terrorism.

In that case, an under­cov­er infor­mant, expe­ri­enc­ing legal trou­ble and flush with $140,000 in FBI cash, struck up a friend­ship with the men and helped to con­ceive the plot. He sug­gest­ed the tar­gets and sup­plied much of the financ­ing and equip­ment. Their high-pro­file arrests received media atten­tion when for­mer Attor­ney Gen­er­al Alber­to Gon­za­les announced the sev­en men plot­ted to cre­ate an Islam­ic army” bent on killing dev­ils.” None of them turned out to be Muslims.

After two mis­tri­als and the acquit­tals of two sus­pects, jurors con­vict­ed five of the orig­i­nal sev­en men on May 12. In a May 16 edi­to­r­i­al, the Mia­mi Her­ald con­clud­ed, This wasn’t so much a case of the FBI inter­rupt­ing an ongo­ing ter­ror plot, but of the agency pro­vid­ing a blue­print for it.” The five men face sen­tences between 30 and 70 years.

The sec­ond case, revealed in June 2007, con­cerns an alleged con­spir­a­cy to blow up fuel tanks, ter­mi­nal build­ings and the web of fuel pipes run­ning under­neath Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Airport.

A con­fi­den­tial infor­mant also set this case in motion. The infor­mant was a con­vict­ed drug deal­er whose sen­tence, accord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint, is pend­ing as part of his coop­er­a­tion agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment.” The equa­tion is clear: the big­ger the bust, the lighter his sentence.

In the most recent New York case, the infor­mant iden­ti­fied by the New York Post as Sha­hed Hus­sain, became an FBI mole in 2003, after he was bust­ed for iden­ti­ty fraud. He tar­get­ed four finan­cial­ly strapped ex-cons (David Cromi­tie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen) who occa­sion­al­ly attend­ed a mosque in New­burgh, N.Y. – about 70 miles north of New York City. 

Hus­sain helped the four men con­spire to det­o­nate explo­sives out­side the Riverdale Tem­ple and near­by Riverdale Jew­ish Cen­ter and also to shoot down mil­i­tary air­craft at the Air Nation­al Guard Base in New­burgh with sur­face-to-air mis­siles. He pur­chased cell phones and a cam­era in order to plan the attack, and the FBI pro­vid­ed the infor­mant with dis­abled explo­sive devices, as well as a bum Stinger missile.

Accord­ing to rel­a­tives of the arrest­ed men, Hus­sain also sup­plied them with cash, food, rent mon­ey and drugs. Eliz­a­beth McWilliams, the moth­er of sus­pect David Williams, told the New York Dai­ly News that the infor­mant even offered to pay for his sick brother’s liv­er transplant. 

Law enforce­ment offi­cials first said the men con­vert­ed to Islam while incar­cer­at­ed and had reli­gious motives for the plot, but none of the men turned out to be prac­tic­ing Mus­lims. It seems more like­ly they were lured by finan­cial incentives.

Con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tors have pounced on the New­burgh sto­ry as proof that relo­cat­ing hard­core ter­ror­ists to U.S. pris­ons would endan­ger nation­al secu­ri­ty. Writ­ing for the Nation­al Review Online, Peter Kir­sanow argues the arrest of the New­burgh sus­pects should be an obvi­ous cau­tion to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma regard­ing his plan to close Guan­tanamo and pos­si­bly relo­cate the inmates to U.S. prisons.”

In New York City, where most of the men lived, the unem­ploy­ment rate for black men is about 50 per­cent, accord­ing to a two-year-old study by the Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vice Soci­ety, and most experts believe the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened. In such com­mu­ni­ties, there is an increas­ing sense of eco­nom­ic des­per­a­tion that can eas­i­ly be exploit­ed by unscrupu­lous actors.

Employ­ing cash-dis­pens­ing FBI infor­mants to troll for impov­er­ished mal­con­tents is an inef­fi­cient and tawdry way to com­bat inter­na­tion­al terrorism.

Sal­im Muwakkil is a senior edi­tor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983. He is the host of The Sal­im Muwakkil show on WVON, Chicago’s his­toric black radio sta­tion, and he wrote the text for the book HAROLD: Pho­tographs from the Harold Wash­ing­ton Years.
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