Law enforcement justifies its employment of criminals as "snitches" with the claim that frequently there's no other way to solve a crime, which is true enough. But in some instances, informants themselves may generate more crime than they're stopping. The latest example of that phenomenon comes from the "War on Terror," where an FBI informant recruited and trained alleged terrorists for the Justice Department to prosecute. According to an AP report in the International Herald Tribune ("Defense attorney says FBI informant manipulated meetings with 3 charged in US terrorism plot," June 10):
Having not heard the other facts in the case, I can't judge the defendants' guilt or innocence from afar and don't mean to second-guess the jury. But one can certainly judge the wisdom, or the lack thereof, of a paid FBI informant recruiting and training people not otherwise involved in any ongoing criminal enterprise to plan to commit violence.
Three men accused of plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq never would have met if it were not for an FBI informant who lied to create the illusion of a conspiracy, an attorney for one of the defendants said Tuesday during closing arguments in the men's trial.
The informant, former U.S. Army soldier Darren Griffin, initiated conversations about training for a holy war and arranged meetings between the defendants, attorney Stephen Hartman told jurors.
"He admitted he brought these men together," Hartman said. "It was his idea."
Griffin was the key witness against the three — Mohammad Amawi, Marwan El-Hindi and Wassim Mazloum — who have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill or maim people outside the United States. They face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Jurors on Wednesday will begin deciding the case that began on April 1.
Griffin testified that he won the trust of the men by posing as a disgruntled soldier who converted to Islam. He secretly recorded his conversations with them for about two years until they were arrested in 2006.
At one point, Griffin told an FBI agent that he would meet with the men and "get them together to train," according to a transcript of the conversation.
Hartman said it was clear that Griffin manipulated the defendants and pointed out that investigators arrested them even though they found no guns, explosives or targets.
"He admitted he was fishing. Is that how we do things here now?" said Hartman, who represents El-Hindi. "This case is remarkable for what's not there."
The trial, he said, says a lot about how the government treats Muslims in America since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
All three defendants are Muslim and have ties to the Middle East. All are U.S. citizens except Mazloum, who came to the U.S. legally from Lebanon. El-Hindi was born in Jordan. Amawi was born in the United States but also has Jordanian citizenship.
Justice Department attorney Gregg Sofer scoffed at the notion that Griffin orchestrated the investigation and coerced the defendants. "Darren Griffin isn't that bright," Sofer said Tuesday.
Prosecutors said last week that the three men had been actively planning to recruit and train terrorists while also learning to shoot guns and make bombs. It should not matter that they did not carry out any attacks, Sofer said.
Mr. Griffin introduced the defendants, and he was the one who would "get them together to train." He wasn't informing on the group, by this account, he was leading it! Perhaps it's true he's "not that bright," as the prosecutor said, but it's a good bet his FBI handlers are.
The FBI, readers will recall, last year refused to reassure Congress that they do not tolerate "serious violent felonies" by their informants. That seemed like a surprising revelation at the time, but if the FBI is sending out informants who're charged with independently recruiting and training terrorists, the policy of tolerating "serious violent felonies" makes a certain perverse sense, though it's hard to see a valid public safety argument for the approach.
During the '60s and '70s the FBI used famously used spies and provocateurs to counter domestic anti-war and civil rights protesters, with informants even rising to relatively high-profile positions in the movement. The US Senate's Church Committee in 1976 studied the use of informants in counterintelligence and raised:
the issue of an informant's conduct and behavior. The Committee heard testimony on the difficulties inherent in an informant reporting on violent and criminal activity. To be in a position to report, the informant may have to participate in the unlawful activity to some degree. As one FBI handling agent testified of an informant in a violence-prone element of the Ku Klux Klan, "he couldn't be an angel and be a good informant." Where such an informant is paid and directed by the FBI, the Government may be placed in the at least unseemly posture of involvement through its agents in the activity it is seeking to prevent. At the extreme, the Government's informant may be held to have acted as an agent provocateur, that is, an agent of the Government who has provoked illegal or violent activity.That appears to be at least to some extent what happened in this case, with the informant instigating and encouraging illegal activity instead of merely ratting out others.
Most reasonable people would agree the world would be a better place if these three extremists had never met and never been trained in weapons and explosives. So why did the FBI pay an informant for two years to recruit and train them?