Larry Flynt

Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

Making Enemies

Monday, September 23rd, 2013


Interview by Mark Johnson

In the wake of the Boston bombings, a disturbing fact is being obscured: The FBI actually creates more terror plots than it cracks.

You may not see it much on the news, but the FBI doesn’t only get involved in major terrorist events after they happen—in many cases it’s there at the very beginning. Government agents have been running sting operations, providing supposedly dangerous dupes with everything from motive to means. Investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, reveals that while the agency is busy collaborating with criminals and ensnaring innocent citizens to justify its budgets, real threats are being ignored.

HUSTLER: Your book came out just before the Boston Marathon bombings. Did that event damage your argument or vindicate it?

TREVOR AARONSON: The Boston case really gets at the question I answer in the book: What has the FBI been missing while it’s been so focused on sting operations? The Boston case suggests that real threats like the Tsarnaevs are going unnoticed.

Is there any likelihood that an FBI informant was involved in that case?

Anything I would say on that would be speculative, but the family has said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s contact with the FBI lasted for long periods of time. It’s not unusual for the FBI to approach a Muslim, realize that he is not a threat and then try to recruit him as an informant. Whether or not Tamerlan was ever an informant, the FBI claims publicly that they investigated him in January 2011, and he wasn’t a threat. That’s where they say officially that their tracking of him stopped.

In that same month they had Rezwan Ferdaus on their radar. This was a guy who came to their attention through a heroin-addicted informant paid by the FBI.

Ferdaus allegedly told him this story of how he had a plan to load a remotecontrolled airplane with explosives and fly it into the U.S. Capitol. Obviously the idea was pat ently ridiculous, but what was even worse was the fact that Ferdaus didn’t have any means of doing this plot on his own. He had no money. He had no access to weapons. He was just a loud-mouthed miscreant.

Instead of pursuing Tamerlan Tsarnaev in January 2011, the FBI decided to launch this sting operation against Ferdaus. They had the informant introduce two undercover agents to Ferdaus who were posing as al-Qaeda operatives. They said, “We can help you make your plan possible,” and gave him $4,000, which he used to purchase a remote-controlled airplane. They then paid for a trip to Washington, where he scouted out locations. Then in the final stage they gave him explosives and C4 for the bomb.

At that point they arrest Rezwan Ferdaus and charge him with conspiracy to destroy a federal building and material support for terrorism. He had no capacity for committing an act of terrorism on his own. It was the FBI informant and under cover agents that gave him everything he needed. This guy, in FBI parlance, was far “more aspirational than operational” and yet they spent all of these FBI resources investigating him.That same month they reportedly said of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “No, he’s not a threat; let’s not worry about him.”

The FBI also missed Faisal Shahzad, who delivered a bomb to Times Square in 2010. It didn’t go off, but what was amazing is the FBI didn’t know a thing about him until he delivered that bomb.

Why does the FBI operate this way when it’s not working?

One of the things they say is: If you’re an FBI agent, and you get a tip that this guy says he wants to commit an act of terrorism, you don’t want to be the FBI agent who says let’s let him mature out of it, then in six months discover that he actually found out a way to get a bomb, delivered it to a shopping mall and killed innocent people.

But this is really a bureaucratic problem. The FBI now gets $3 billion for its counterterrorism program. It’s the largest part of its budget. So the FBI has to find a way to say, “Hey, look at us. We’re spending your money and keeping you safe.” The evidence shows that the threat really isn’t there. The sting operations are really only netting these guys who never have the capacity, never have the weapons, never have the plan; in some cases they never even have the idea.

There’s a case, for example, in Newburgh, New York, right outside of New York City. They ran this sting operation on a man with a history of mental illness named James Cromitie and gave him the idea for the attack. He was going to plant bombs at a synagogue in the Bronx and use a Stinger missile that would take down airplanes taking off from the local airport. The FBI would provide everything he needed: the Stinger missiles, the transportation, the bombs, everything.

About halfway through the sting operation they became concerned that Cromitie would wise up and back out. If he backed out, they wouldn’t have any charges they could bring. They realized Cromitie was a felon. He’d gone to jail earlier in life for selling crack cocaine, and if they could get him with a gun, they’d have a backup felony gun charge if the sting fell apart.

The informant gives Cromitie $500 and says, “Go to New York City and buy a gun.” Cromitie spends the whole evening searching around for someone that he could buy a gun from and isn’t able to find anyone—isn’t able to buy a gun in New York City! He comes back to the informant and says, “Sorry. I couldn’t get a gun. Here’s your money back.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before Congress, describing what a great danger James Cromitie would have been had he been able to move forward in his terrorist plot. But the same man that the FBI director describes to Congress as being dangerous is the man who with $500 in his pocket couldn’t even buy a gun. How dangerous can a terrorist be when left to his own devices he can’t buy a Saturday Night Special in New York City?

Who are these informants?

Average people who live standup lives don’t make good informants, so the FBI ends up having to use people who have criminal records. Take Shahed Hussain. This was a man who fled Pakistan because he had been accused of murder and comes to the United States. He was running a number of scams, one of which was working with DMV employees to help illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses so they could become cabbies in New York City. When he got caught, they converted him into an informant. Most of the informants who act as agents provocateur for the FBI have some really colorful pasts, including drug-dealing, robbing tollbooths and very violent crimes.

There was a recent case in Seattle that targeted a man who had schizoaffective disorder, which meant he had trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy, which obviously made him very easy to be manipulated. The informant who targeted him was a five-time sex offender with a history of child molestation! The most odious man you could possibly imagine had then been hired by the FBI to move forward in the sting operation.

How many FBI terror plots do we know about?

Since 9/11 there have been approximately 175 defendants who have been caught in sting operations where the FBI provided the means and opportunity—and in some cases the idea—for the crime. When you compare that to people who actually pose a significant danger, it’s jawdroppingly low. There are about seven, if you count the Tsarnaev brothers, who posed a significant threat. Since 9/11 there are still far more people killed by lone gunmen like we saw in Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, than there have been people killed by Islamic terrorists.

If the FBI were to go into areas where there are groups of white supremacists and offered people the opportunity to commit violence in the same way it offers the people in the fringes of Muslim communities to commit violence, you would find those same people who would say yes. The problem is the FBI doesn’t do that.

Don’t the serious guys know what the game is by now so they can avoid it?

I’ve heard the joke a number of times from Muslims that when they pray on Friday, they just assume the guy next to them is an informant. The Tsarnaevs did appear to be bumblers, but they were sophisticated enough to put together a bomb. That means that they were smart enough not to go to the mosque and start talking about how they wanted to get involved in an act of terrorism and engage an informant who leads them along. The really dangerous guys aren’t likely to fall for a simple trap.

How much money does an informant make?

You can make six-figure paydays plus expenses and have your phone paid for. Shahed Hussain, the accused murderer from Pakistan, was paid $100,000 for his work in the Newburgh case. That’s in addition to a performance incentive, which is a set amount of money that an informant will make upon the successful prosecution of a defendant. Agents have told me those can be tens of thousands of dollars as well. So a good informant on an individual case that may last four to six months is making $100,000 plus maybe another $30,000 to $40,000 in performance incentives. You do that a couple of times a year, and you’re making serious money.

These are men that because of their backgrounds aren’t likely to make a lot of money in the free market. So the FBI gig is really about as good as it gets. What’s concerning from a justice perspective is that they have a direct financial incentive in prosecutions. They’re not looking for the person who is going to pose a danger; they’re looking for the next sucker that they can get in a terrorism sting operation because they know that means money for them.

How do these cases stand up in court? Isn’t it entrapment?

Any entrapment defense is hard to win because it requires you to go to the jury and say, “You know, I committed that crime, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it were it not for the government agent overpowering my will.” In terrorism cases 11 people have formally argued entrapment as a result of a sting, and none has been successful. The government has been very successful in putting on the stand government experts with dubious credentials who will testify about how “this defendant watched a militant jihadi video produced by al-Qaeda and known to help with the self-radicalization process, so this man was radicalized before the government agent was introduced.”

One government expert named Evan Kohlmann gets paid to testify about how people self-radicalize just by watching jihadi videos. What’s ridiculous is I’ve watched jihadi videos, you have, your readers probably have—they’re on the news. There isn’t this huge rash of terrorists who come out after watching jihadi videos.

The other issue is that because the government controls the whole sting, they could choose to make it a minor crime. They could give the guy a gun and say, “Shoot this man in the kneecap in the name of jihad,” but they don’t. They give him a huge sophisticated bomb that even an organized criminal organization would have trouble obtaining and get him to unleash it in a downtown area where if it were real, it would kill hundreds, if not thousands of people. The jury hears that, and it overwhelms whatever empathy they could have for the defendant.

The FBI measures its success through cases and prosecutions. If they can prosecute somebody and find him guilty, in the FBI’s view this is a successful policy. There was a case in Portland Oregon, that involved an impressionable 19-year-old man who got involved in a plot to bomb a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony. At his trial it came out that there was an email from inside the FBI where they talked about how because this guy was a loser and smoked marijuana, he was very susceptible to their advances, to getting involved in a plot. An email like that suggests that the FBI’s number-one focus isn’t so much on figuring out who’s dangerous and then going after those guys. The FBI is interested in making a case that can make careers and get you promoted.

What red flags should honest people look out for so they don’t get caught up in these stings?

Informants usually fit a pattern. They tend to be overly obsessed with talking about inflammatory subjects or U.S. foreign policy, and they’re always the first one to take the conversation beyond “this is messed up” to “what are you going to do about it?”

Everyone’s allowed to have extremist views in the United States. Nothing has stopped the First Amendment. But the FBI is using the First Amendment almost as a tip sheet. They will find people who post extremist things on Facebook and use an informant to target that person. There are actually very few people in this country going around advocating violence. So if someone comes up to you and is trying to incite you to try to get into some sort of violent act for a political cause, there’s a good chance that’s an FBI informant.

Homeland Security and FBI Getting Sneakier Than Ever

Monday, June 25th, 2012


Nat Hentoff

President Obama’s ever-suspicious Department of Homeland Security is, of course, “renowned” for earnestly probing the private parts of travelers at U.S. airports. But the range of its inquiries into likely disloyal Americans is growing wider and deeper. Dig this header for a dispatch from the international news agency Reuters: “Homeland Security watches Twitter, social media.” That’s just to start with.

Journalist Mark Hosenball reported that since June 2010, Secretary Janet Napolitano and her insatiable Homeland Security colleagues have been “operating a ‘Social Networking/Media Capability,’ which involves regular monitoring of ‘publicly available online forums, blogs, public Web sites and message boards.’”

Hosenball also wrote that “such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies,” including the Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

They may be looking at some of you on such Internet targets as YouTube and Facebook. And if you express opinions via Twitter or popular blogs, you may be databased for what you leave there. If you believe your government, then you’ll believe the DHS official who pledged that “the department would not keep permanent copies of the Internet traffic it monitors.” The DHS vows to hold it only “for no more than five years.” But whom will the Department of Homeland Security give it to then? The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency? That’s not for citizens to know. Aren’t you aware there’s a war on?

This rampant tracking of us, which is funded by our tax money, is conducted at the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC).What is surely going to more than casually interest many journalists looking into this massive surveillance operation is that they too are being monitored and cataloged even though there is barely a shred of evidence that those winding up in this dragnet have done anything illegal.

On January 7, 2012, RT (formerly Russia Today ) reported on a Department of Homeland Security announcement that the NOC’s Office of Operations Coordination “can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use ‘traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.’”

On what Constitutional grounds is the government digging into the personal lives of journalists doing their job? Now that I’ve asked this hostile question, I guess the Department of Homeland Security and its Big Brother cohorts will eventually find out I have an FBI file starting with my long and irreverent disrespect for J. Edgar Hoover. On one page, an FBI official instructed his field hands: “Watch Hentoff!” My favorite insertion in that file was a footnote in a report to Hoover about something I’d written questioning whether the bureau’s longtime director had ever read the Constitution.

Said footnote went beyond characterizing me as “a person of interest.” It also mentioned: “Besides, he’s a lousy writer.” I figured that if I were to ever sue that FBI agent for defamation and lose, the upholding of the FBI’s judgment on what I do for a living could have hurt my career. Meanwhile, Robert Mueller’s FBI—I guess he has that lifetime director job now—is going much further to discover not only what citizens have allegedly done to threaten national security but also what we’re supposedly thinking of doing.

On January 26, 2012, delivered a chilling preview of how the government can track our most speculative thoughts, not even dim intentions:“The FBI is looking into the creation of a new application that would allow them to not only monitor ongoing threats but also predict potential terrorist attacks and other crimes before they even happen. … If that sounds suspiciously like Minority Report, you’re not alone.”

This reference was a reminder that Minority Report , starring Tom Cruise, had scared me when I first viewed it. The 2002 film revolved around special cops in the year 2054 who could actually read the minds of people who looked law-abiding but would soon terrorize.

So what are we to make of today’s snooping? It is painfully clear that everything we post online is being watched. And if the FBI gets its new social media alert application—which seems inevitable— the eyes with which it scrutinizes our tweets and other messages will have superhuman vision. Less obvious is how the government’s quest to “protect” the public good will be abused by technology to further trample legitimate free speech.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Republican and Democratic majorities in Congress, as well as Presidents Bush and Obama, have shredded the U.S. Constitution. Keep and protect a copy of your own lest it be banned eventually.


Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America; Living the Bill of Rights ; and the forthcoming Is This Still America?

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