Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Home-grown" terrorists sprung from FBI snitch garden

A guilty verdict in Ohio this week is being hailed as the first successful prosecution by the feds of a "home grown" terrorist cell in the United States, and so it is. That observation begs the question, though: Who grew it?

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):

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.

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.

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?


jigmeister said...

While I don't know enough about the case to form an opinion about the outcome. Here is a little primer on entrapment: Would the defendants have engaged in criminal conduct but for the informant's conduct? If so it is not entrapment. For example: a general internet invitation, "all would be terrorists contact me" would probably not be entrapment anymore than than "anyone who has dope to sell, I am buying" isn't entrapment. The informant going to his completely innocent brother-in-law because he doesn't like him and offering him money to engage in illegal conduct would be entrapment. Further, entrapment is a mixed law/fact issue. Meaning that normally the defense has asked the judge to decide the issue and has lost and is now taking the facts to the jury for them to decide based on the law.

If the FBI was a reasonable belief that some societal elements are engaged in dangerously subversively behavior, use of informants is often the only way (legally) to get at them. I don't know that any of us will ever know what their beliefs are based on, unless and until something horrible happens.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

jig-man, just for the record, I'm not saying the cases were entrapment, and I know you're not specifically saying that I did, you're just clarifying the topic, and I agree with your assessment. I didn't follow this case and it's quite possible that over two years these three guys did things that merit the jury's judgment. I didn't hear the facts.

However, as a law enforcement policy matter (as opposed to a legal question regarding guilt/culpability of the Ds), using an informant to infiltrate an existing gang is a lot different from the FBI creating its own gang and then busting the participants with trumpets sounding and the agents' bosses giving quotes to CNN. This wasn't a classified ad that said "terrorists wanted," these guys were recruited and groomed for two years, and apparently trained in violence techniques by an instigating US agent (ex-soldier, FBI informant).

That creates pretty big risks. What if they'd disappeared in the middle of the "investigation"? It makes me think of Los Zetas, trained by US Green Berets at Fort Benning, GA and now using US commando tactics to undermine Mexican law enforcement on behalf of a drug cartel. To a certain extent, when you're in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. The US first armed and trained the modern mujahadeen that spawned the 9/11 attackers in the '80s to fight the Russians (since dubbed "Charlie Wilson's war"); let's at least not train any more anti-American Muslim jihadists in terror tactics now that they've turned around and attacked us! Is that too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

You mean like what the FBI did with Tim McVeigh, et al. in botched incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco? Somtimes the feds don't need to pay an informant to "create home grown" terrorism.

And these are the same guys YOU want to investigate all the 'roid head cops in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex.....

-John in Houston

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"same guys YOU want to investigate all the 'roid head cops in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex"

True enough, I've suggested them or some other independent agency, perhaps the TX Rangers. But I'm not suggesting they go out and recruit fresh dealers to launch a steroid ring to bust, just follow the investigative trail left by the dead guy.

We have to trust and rely on law enforcement, and at the same try to hold them accountable when they're out of line. I don't think that's a contradiction; there's really little other choice.

Anonymous said...

"Home grown"? Sounds like they were heavily fertilized and kept under a grow-light by the FBI.

When I see "home-gown terrorists" -- who should be prosecuted -- I tend to think of the Klan or Minutemen or various neo-Nazi groups. Aren't there enough criminal gangs running around to keep the FBI busy? They sure don't need to grown their own.

Anonymous said...

This is a good example of the misue of the phrase "begs the question." Indeed it does not. BTQ does NOT mean "raises the question" or "Brings up the question." It is a term used in classical rhetoric that basically means the question is framed so that it is assumed to have already been proven. Avoid this misuse, it makes one look uneducated and eager to impress without any understanding.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, my use wasn't that it "raises" a question, it was that the assumptions behind the statement rely on not asking the question identified, which IMO is closer to the traditional use. Outside a handful of logicians, though, it's a pretty meaningless linguistic debate that ignores how the phrase has evolved in common usage.

Perhaps next you'll travel from blog to blog looking for slip ups on there, their and they're.

Anonymous said...

The government has a problem. There aren't any home grown terrorists, as such, so they need to grow some in their garden plot in order to justify their existence. They will expand from this to try and entrap blue eyed blonds or they will manufacture evidence against some 911Truthers before the truth of 911 gets too well known. Or they will join 911Truth and then do an Oklahoma City bombing in order to arrest all 911truthers. Garden plots start small and expand. They also find Ron Paulites "dangerous" because they spread the word about the Constitution...which was actually discussed at a Bilderberg meeting.