A new report has revealed a disturbing set of tactics used in the pursuit of domestic terrorism in the USA. Among the findings was the fact that the FBI directly and repeatedly involves itself in planning a large percentage of foiled terror plots — often by convincing impressionable or mentally disabled people to join FBI plots, then arresting them.
Human Rights Watch published the 214-page report, titled “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions.” It documents a number of cases which the group describes as being marred by overly-aggressive prosecution, entrapment, and draconian treatment of prisoners.
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the U.S.,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “But take a closer look, and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Post-9/11 anti-terrorism investigations have often utilized secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial incarceration, and reached convictions for allegations significantly removed from actual plots, the report shows.
While noting that some terror plots are genuine, the report contends that “in some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act.”
This startling phenomenon occurs when the FBI uses its confidential informants — paid assets of the bureau — to incubate fake terror plots and lead individuals to act in ways that will lead to their arrest. There are about 15,000 paid informants employed by the FBI (2008 estimate). These assets played an “active role” in setting up sting operations to arrest suspects in fake terror plots in roughly 30% of terrorism investigations since 2001.
When approaching designated individuals, FBI actors would often make comments on “politically sensitive” subjects “that appeared designed to inflame the targets.” If the targets’ “opinions were deemed sufficiently troubling,” the FBI would often move forward with staging an event and enticing the target to play a role.
One such operative joined a mosque in a downtrodden community in Bronx County, NY. Bearing expensive gifts and touting radical opinions, he stood out amongst other locals; many living in boarded-up houses, and suffering from addictions, poverty, and high rates of crime. In the months that followed, the FBI operative meticulously planned every aspect of a completely fake scheme, promoting it to several black Muslim men he met at the mosque. The FBI operative even went so far as to offer one man $250,000 to participate. Ultimately, the sting operation netted 4 “terrorists” who each received 25-year prison sentences.
But without the persuasion and incentives, it is unlikely the so-called “Newburgh Four” posed any threat to national security. “One had mental issues so severe his apartment contained bottles of his own urine. He also believed Florida was a foreign country,” the Guardian reported.
In fact, numerous other cases were also found to have involved mentally ill or disabled individuals. One suffered from seizures and had a full-time caretaker.
“In many of the cases we documented, there was no threat until the FBI showed up and helped turn people into terrorists,” HRW director Prasow said to the Washington Post.
The Human Rights Watch report found that 18% of the terrorism-related convictions since 9/11 — stemming from 494 cases — were for charges of “material support of terrorism,” not actual participation in any plots of violence. Following the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act, it became criminal to have even mild associations or exchanges with individuals deemed to be part of blacklisted groups. Under this law, people have been charged with material support for donations of things like cash, calling cards, watches, socks, and sleeping bags. The same charge also allows the government to criminalize things like translating documents or providing web services for the wrong people. All of this is allowed to happen regardless of the existence of any plotting or malicious intent.
“The report clearly shows, in many respects, the American public is being sold a false bill of goods,” remarked Ms. Prasow, on the illusion of safety and justice created by this brand of crime-fighting. “Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” she said.
The report also found numerous perversions of due process, including excessive delays before holding trials, lengthy periods of solitary confinement, and secrecy regarding the evidence used to convict suspects.