Manufacturing Terror: How the FBI Invents Some Plots, and Ignores Others, In the War on Freedom

by Derek Royden, OCCUPY

After Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI was forced to re-prioritize, making counter-terrorism the Bureau’s main focus. More than 1,800 agents, almost a third of the total dealing with criminal cases from organized crime to insurance fraud, were transferred to terrorism and intelligence duties in the aftermath of the attacks. What 9/11 did, among other things, was to create a need for proof, via arrests, that the new State focus on terrorism was showing results.

We’ve all seen the headlines from mainstream media sources after arrests were made and press conferences were given by high level officials announcing another disrupted “terror plot.” Yet, when one investigates these cases, as many journalists and writers in the alternative press have done, we see the score isn’t as it all appears – and when compared with similar cases where terror charges were not brought, a disturbing picture emerges.

The Seas of David and the Redefinition of Entrapment

In criminal law, a person is “entrapped” when s/he is induced or persuaded by law enforcement officers, or their agents, to commit a crime that s/he had no previous intent to commit.

Most Americans know there have been some dubious prosecutions in the FBI’s ongoing effort to thwart terror attacks on American soil. Unfortunately, it seems many Americans are too scared to care. The vast majority of these cases have involved Muslim Americans, a group that has never had much power in terms of American politics and less so in the wake of 9/11 and two wars in majority Muslim countries. My purpose isn’t to dismiss these cases, but to show the slippery slope they represent: when one group gets targeted successfully, other marginalized groups usually follow.

A story that illustrates this slide is the group the media dubbed the Liberty City 7. Arrested in June 2006, this group, we were told, had taken an oath to Al Qaeda and planned a series of attacks to rival or even surpass 9/11. There were just a few problems with the narrative: five African-American and two Haitian men taken into custody were not Muslims, were facing dire economic circumstances (most were homeless), and the ostensible leader of the group, a colorful character named Narseal Batiste, seemed willing to say just about anything to get money out of the FBI informant who had created the plot out of whole cloth.

Almost all FBI stings have one thing in common: the use of informants who are themselves trying to get out of criminal charges, and are doing the job for cash, or both. The main informant in the Liberty City case, Elie Assad, courted the men who practiced their own religion based on elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and who called themselves “The Seas of David.” The informants’ motivations seem obvious today; in all, Assad and another informant, Abbas al-Saidi, got more than $130,000 for their work helping FBI handlers build a case against the seven men.

Another interesting note about the Seas of David: they never actually engaged in anything resembling violence, and even refused to receive weapons when they were offered them. James J. Wedick, a former agent with the Bureau, said of the group: “These guys couldn’t find their way down the end of the street. They were homeless types. And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking an oath to Al Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only cared about the money. When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them.”

One of the men was acquitted in the first trial, while the other six were tried three times, with the first two proceedings ending in mistrials due to hung juries. Eventually, five of the six remaining men were sentenced to between five and 12 years behind bars, while the last was acquitted. Because the legal process took so long, and the mainstream media has proven itself incapable of accurately and fairly following stories like this one, most people only remember that a group of “terrorists” were targeting the Sears Tower in Chicago – a place that none of the men ever actually visited. Few, by contrast, remember any actual details about the case, specifically the entrapment of a group of hapless individuals known as Seas of David.

The Strange Plot Against Occupy Houston

There has also been a strange selectivity when it comes to who gets charged under terror laws. The Southern Poverty Law Center has for years publicized cases of white supremacist and militia groups plotting actions that don’t result in terrorism charges, even though they seem to meet the legal requirements. At the same time, animal rights activists, who have filmed animal abuses or committed some form of property damage, but never harmed people, have been charged with the gravest of offenses: terrorism.

Now let’s jump to Houston where, several years ago, heavily redacted documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request showed that at the height of the Occupy movement, in October 2011, a group was planning to target “leaders” of the Occupy Houston encampment using sniper rifles. One might think the FBI could investigate the person or persons planning to assassinate American protesters peacefully exercising their Constitutional rights.

Sadly, the Bureau wasn’t interested and couldn’t even be bothered to forward the sniper plot information to state or local authorities so that they could pursue it themselves. A few competing theories as to who may have been involved in the plot have since emerged – from the FBI itself authorizing the plan as part of a modern-era COINTELPRO program, to a mercenary company called Craft International planning the attack at the direction of unknown bosses. Or, after all, it could have just been a small right-wing group that decided not to take action after receiving a visit from federal law enforcement – an opportunity to avoid decades in prison that groups like the Animal Liberation Front rarely, if ever, receive.

When we really look at terrorism in the post-9/11 era, we begin to see clearly something that the police and intelligence communities have tried to obscure. Almost every real foiled plot was stopped by ordinary bystanders, whether passengers on a plane or a street vendor selling food in Times Square. Federal law enforcement groups have budgetary and political incentives to make us believe we stand somehow powerless against the dark forces bent on our destruction, and that we must give up more of our rights for our own safety. While this may still be true in a war-torn country like Afghanistan, it’s not true in the U.S. or anywhere else in the Western world where people are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a terrorist attack. After the financial crisis of 2008 put so many working people out of their homes, at least some of the money spent creating terrorism where none existed before could have been spent investigating the bankers who tanked the economy. Entrapment, then, might take on a whole new meaning.

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