2010 Entrapment or Foiling Terror?
FBI's Reliance on Paid Informants Raises Questions about
Validity of Terrorism Cases Entrapment Entrapment or
Investigative report by Democracy Now! producer Anjali
Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films.
Anjali Kamat, Democracy Now! producer.
Amy Goodman, Host.
Petra Bartosiewicz, independent journalist. She is
finishing a book on terrorism trials in the United
States called The Best Terrorists We Could Find.
October 06, 2010
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made their final
arguments this week in the trial of the Newburgh Four, a
high-profile case that has made national headlines as a
potent example of so-called "homegrown terror." The
defense has argued that the defendants were entrapped by
government agents and not predisposed to commit a
terrorist crime. For several months, Democracy Now!'s
Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films
traveled through Muslim communities in New York and New
Jersey to track the Newburgh case and two others. In all
three, Muslim men were arrested on terrorism charges. In
all three, no terrorist crime was actually committed.
And all three cases relied heavily on hundreds of hours
of surveillance recorded by a paid government informant.
Today, a Democracy Now! special investigation. [includes
AMY GOODMAN: Prosecutors and defense attorneys made
their final arguments this week in the trial of the
Newburgh Four, a high-profile case that has made
national headlines as a potent example of so-called
homegrown terror. The four men from Newburgh, New York,
are charged with plotting to bomb a synagogue and a
Jewish community center in the Bronx. US Assistant
Attorney David Raskin says the four are, quote,
"criminally minded" people who, quote, "wanted to do
something to America." But the defense argued they were
entrapped by government agents and not predisposed to
commit a terrorist crime.
The case of the Newburgh Four bears many of the same
characteristics of two other recent so-called homegrown
terror cases involving Muslim men: the case of the Fort
Dix Five, where five men from suburban New Jersey were
convicted last year of conspiring to kill American
soldiers at the Fort Dix Army base, and a case in
Albany, New York, where a pizzeria owner and the imam of
a local mosque were convicted of money laundering and
conspiracy to support terrorism. In all three cases,
Muslim men were arrested on terror charges. In all three
cases, no terrorist crime was actually committed. In
fact, no one was killed or injured. And all three cases
rely heavily on hundreds of hours of surveillance
secretly recorded by a paid government informant.
Well, Democracy Now!'s Anjali Kamat and Big Noise Films'
Jacquie Soohan spent months tracking these three
stories. Anjali Kamat files this report.
KRISTINE JOHNSON: Motivated by hate and bent on
killing their neighbors.
REPORTER: According to the FBI, this was a plot to
blow up two synagogues and a community center, all
in the Bronx.
ANJALI KAMAT: On May 20th, 2009, four African
American men from the city of Newburgh, New York,
were arrested outside a synagogue in the Bronx.
Known as the Newburgh Four, they made national
headlines as stark examples of "homegrown terror."
REPORTER: Prosecutors describe the suspects as
extremely violent men who embraced every
opportunity for terrorism.
ANJALI KAMAT: More than a year after their arrest,
the Newburgh Four are now facing trial in
Manhattan for conspiracy to use of weapons of mass
destruction and anti-aircraft missiles. But the
case has raised serious questions about the
government's role in creating and then foiling
fake terror plots.
REPORTER: The suspects were duped. The bombs and
missile were fake, supplied by the FBI and NYPD.
ANJALI KAMAT: Alicia McCollum is the aunt of David
Williams, one of the Newburgh Four. Since his
arrest, she has tried to mobilize support for her
nephew. Taking the train to the first day of the
trial in August, she is visibly upset.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: I was restless last
night. I couldn't even sleep. You know, it was
just so much. You know, you think about the family
and what you're getting ready to go through, and
it's like this whole year of fighting for the
case, and now it's like finally happening and
we're going to trial. And just worried, you know,
that the governemnt want to make a case so bad
that my nephew can go away for life, so it's just
been like heavy on my mind last night. Very heavy.
ANJALI KAMAT: Like the other members of the
Newburgh Four, twenty-nine-year-old David Williams
lived in the economically devastated city of
Newburgh and had served prison time on drug
charges and petty criminal offenses. All four men
were converts to Islam, and one of them, Laguerre
Payen, is a Haitian-born immigrant and a paranoid
Alicia says she was shocked when she heard that
these four men were being called terrorists.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: Well, I got a call at
3:00, 2009, in May, 3:00 at night, and my sister
said they kicked in Lissy house. I'm like, "Who
kicked in Lissy house?"
They was like, "The FBI."
I'm like, "The FBI? What are you talking about?"
She was like, "David. It got something to do with
David. It's on the news."
So I turned the news, and I'm looking at Bronx 12.
It kept saying "Bronx Terror."
NEWS ANCHOR: Federal agents moved in tonight and
say their suspects are homegrown would-be
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: I was cursing my TV
out. They kept showing David. They kept showing
David, I'm like, "Oh, my god!" It was horrible.
You know, I'm like, "Homeland Security? The FBI?
Bloomberg?" We did not turn from the news.
ANJALI KAMAT: Approaching the courthouse, Alicia,
a devout christian, says a prayer.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: Keep your hands on me,
Father. Guide me through these six weeks, Lord.
Give me strength. Give me strength.
ANJALI KAMAT: The Newburgh case is only one of
several high-profile terrorism cases in the New
York-New Jersey area. Less than a three-hour drive
from Newburgh is the quiet suburb of Cherry Hill,
New Jersey. In May of 2007, it was the center of
an FBI raid.
NEWS ANCHOR: Police arrested six men and charged
them with planning to attack the Fort Dix Army
REPORTER: Four of the six were of Albanian
descent, and they're suspected of being Islamic
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is a new kind of
terrorism. It is not only coming from outside the
United States in, but it is also growing inside
our own country.
FBI SPECIAL AGENT J.P. WEISS: These homegrown
terrorists can prove to be as dangerous as any
known group, if not more so.
BURIM DUKA: It all happened from when me and my
brothers and a couple of friends, we went to a
ANJALI KAMAT: Burim Duka is the younger brother of
three of the men convicted of conspiring to attack
the nearby Fort Dix Army base. He explains that
the FBI began following them after the family took
their annual vacation to the Pocono mountains in
northern Pennsylvania in 2006.
BURIM DUKA: We were going to the Poconos once a
year, around the beginning of the year, in
wintertime. We would go either in January or
February. For one week, we used to go.
Smile for the camera.
We went skiing. We were playing soccer in the
snow. We were doing a lot of stuff. And then me
and my brother, Eljvir Duka, we went to Circuit
City. We wanted everyone to have copies of how
much fun we had.
ANJALI KAMAT: Burim Duka and his brother Eljvir
had taken their home video to Circuit City to make
DVDs. Included in the footage are scenes of the
brothers and their friends firing guns in what
they claim was simply target practice. As they
shoot, the young men are heard to say, "Allahu
Akbar," an Arabic phrase that means "God is
great." When they're not shooting, they just seem
to be having fun, throwing snowballs and posing
for the camera.
BURIM DUKA: What's happening, brother?
BROTHER: What's up, man? Allahu Akbar.
ANJALI KAMAT: The clerk at Circuit City, however,
decided to turn the video over to the local
BURIM DUKA: That's how the case all started, from
the clerk at Circuit City. He turned it in to the
police. The police turned it in to the FBI, and
they started following us from then.
ANJALI KAMAT: When the men were arrested in 2007,
federal prosecutors said their trips to the
Poconos, as well as a later excursion to play
paintball, were all part of their training for
jihad. They said the group was plotting to attack
the Fort Dix Army base near their home. Two years
later, five of the men on the Poconos trip, all in
their twenties, were convicted of conspiring to
kill American soldiers at Fort Dix.
The Duka family are Albanians from the former
Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Ferik and Zurata
Duka came to the United States in 1984 and lived
in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, with their three sons,
Dritan, Shain, and Eljvir. As their family grew
larger, they moved to New Jersey, and the boys
joined their father in his roofing and
construction business. At the time of their
arrest, Dritan and Eljvir Duka were married with
six children. Now, with three of the brothers in
solitary confinement in the supermax prison in
Florence, Colorado, the children live with the
We visited the family in July and met Lejla Duka,
a twelve-year-old who insists her father, Dritan
Duka, is innocent.
LEJLA DUKA: I know they're innocent. We all do.
But people out there just don't want to look into
the evidence. Hopefully they'll come home.
ANJALI KAMAT: The three Duka brothers, along with
their Palestinian American friend Mohamad Shnewer,
are serving sentences of life plus thirty years.
Hanan Shnewer is the sister of Mohamad Shnewer.
She's also married to Eljvir Duka. She says the
men are not terrorists.
HANAN SHNEWER: They're not that kind of people.
They're normal people, not maniacs like the way
they made them seem. Mostly I think it's Muslims
are now a target for American government, and
that's mostly the purpose, I know.
ANJALI KAMAT: Two hundred miles from the Duka
house, Fatima Hossein, covered in a full veil, is
busy running a pizzeria in downtown Albany. While
caring for her six children, aged four to
eighteen, she works from morning to night making
pizza. She and her husband, Mohammed Hossein, are
Bangladeshi immigrants. Her husband was arrested
in 2004 along with the imam of the local mosque in
a money laundering scheme the FBI claims was
related to terrorism. Fatima still has trouble
explaining what happened to her family.
FATIMA HOSSEIN: This is not easy answer to tell
that, what happened. It still is, to me, look like
something like broke on your head. My husband,
he's really hardworking man. I think-I wish you
can have a chance to meet with him. Everybody know
him, all the local people, as he's delivery man,
fixing house, taking care of family. His life
turned different, like tragedy.
JAMES COMEY: Last night, FBI agents in Albany, New
York, arrested two men: thirty-four-year-old
Yassin Muhiddin Aref and forty-nine-year-old
Mohammed Mosharref Hossein.
ANJALI KAMAT: In August of 2004, Mohammed Hossein
and Yassin Aref, neither of whom had any criminal
record, were arrested and accused of being
terrorists. Two years later they were convicted of
money laundering and conspiracy to support
terrorism and sentenced to fifteen years in
REPORTER: The Muslim community is standing strong
and speaking out as two of their members learn
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: They are not terrorists. They had
no criminal record. They had no interest of any
violation of laws that are so. Simply, they were
ANJALI KAMAT: Supporters of the two men say
Mohammed Hossein thought he was just getting a
loan from a Pakistani man who had recently
befriended him. He enlisted the imam, Yassin Aref,
who was a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, to witness
the loan. What they didn't know at the time was
that the National Security Agency had been
secretly wiretapping Yassin Aref's phone calls,
and the loan was part of an FBI sting operation.
The generous Pakistani man was in fact an FBI
AMY GOODMAN: Homegrown terror or entrapment? We'll come
back to this documentary by Democracy Now!'s Anjali
Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films. Stay with
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to Anjali Kamat and Jacquie
Soohen's "Homegrown Terror or Entrapment?" This is
Democracy Now!, as we return to a report on the FBI's
use of undercover informants in domestic terror cases.
The report focuses on the Newburgh Four case, where jury
deliberations are set to begin today over whether four
African American men from Newburgh, New York, are guilty
of conspiring to attack a synagogue and Jewish community
center in the Bronx. The report also looks at two older
cases, that of the Fort Dix Five, five young men from
suburban New Jersey who were convicted last year of
conspiring to attack US soldiers at the Fort Dix Army
base, and a case in Albany, New York, where two men were
convicted in 2007 of money laundering and conspiring to
ANJALI KAMAT: Like the case of the Fort Dix Five
and the Newburgh Four, no terrorist crime was
actually committed in Albany. No bombs went off.
Nothing was blown up. No one was killed or even
injured. All three cases rest on fake plots
concocted by the FBI and rely heavily on hundreds
of hours of surveillance video and audio secretly
recorded by a paid government informant.
Karen Greenberg from New York University's Center
on Law and Security says informants have become a
crucial part of the post-9/11 domestic
KAREN GREENBERG: The use of informants in the
fifty most high-profile terrorism cases since 9/11
is 62 percent. The conviction rate for those cases
that involved informants is almost a hundred
percent; it's 97 percent. So that gives you a kind
of sense of how important they are and how useful
ANJALI KAMAT: The FBI did not respond to our
request for an interview, but we did speak to a
former FBI agent who worked with multiple
informants during his thirty-five years at the
bureau. James Wedick told us that informants are
JAMES WEDICK: Look, informants are the most
dangerous individuals on the planet. If you don't
monitor them, something can go wrong.
ANJALI KAMAT: A former street agent, Wedick says
the line between uncovering terrorist plots and
creating them has become increasingly blurry.
JAMES WEDICK: I'll venture to say in 90 percent-90
percent of the cases that you see that have
occurred in the last ten years are garbage.
ANJALI KAMAT: In Albany, the FBI used an informant
named Shahed Hussain. He was a Pakistani
businessman who fled his country after being
arrested three times on charges that included
murder. He wound up in Albany, New York, in 1994,
where he set up an illegal license scheme while
working as a translator at the Department of Motor
Vehicles. Shamshad Ahmad is the president of the
As-Salaam mosque in Albany.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: Living in a suburb where there are
other Pakistanis, he was known to them. And people
did not have a good opmnion about him. They knew
that he is cunning, he is deceptive, he cheats.
Later on, we found out that he was also known in
the community that he can arrange illegal
ANJALI KAMAT: The feds caught on to Shahed
Hussain's license scam, and in 2003 he was
arrested in a sting operation. But as Muslim
communities in America came under increased
scrutiny after 9/11, Shahed Hussain proved to be
very useful. He was a Muslim willing to spy on
fellow Muslims in exchange for amnesty. Instead of
sending him to jail or deporting him, he got off
on a plea deal, and the FBI hired him as an
KAREN GREENBERG: When you're dealing with
informants, you're dealing with people who have
been convicted of or threatened with conviction or
found in the act of some kind of criminality. And
there is everything in their interest to make sure
that they do what the FBI wants.
ANJALI KAMAT: In the summer of 2003, the informant
showed up at Mohammed Hossein's pizzeria in
Albany, posing as a wealthy businessman with ties
to militant groups in Pakistan. Mohammed Hossein's
wife Fatima recalls how persistent the informant
was in trying to befriend them.
FATIMA HOSSEIN: This person keeps coming to me,
coming to me. And after a couple time, I told my
husband, I says, "Look like he's keep coming, keep
coming. I don't know what is his intention or
ANJALI KAMAT: The informant drew Mohammed Hossein
into extended debates about jihad. Across hours of
secretly recorded conversations, the informant
repeatedly brought up American foreign policy and
the role of militant Islam.
KAREN GREENBERG: The defendant is recorded saying,
"Look, this is not-I'm not really into violent
jihad. That's not really what I'm about." And the
informant keeps coming back and saying, "Are you
sure? Are you sure?"
ANJALI KAMAT: Then, as Mohammed Hossein's pizza
business began to fail, the informant made him an
offer he couldn't refuse.
FATIMA HOSSEIN: Economically we was little bit
crisis situation, so we didn't go bank. And he was
saying, "Brother, I am your brother. If you need
some money, so I can be-maybe you can borrow from
me and give it to me."
ANJALI KAMAT: The informant offered Mohammed
Hossein a loan of $45,000 and a gift of $5,000.
The imam of the mosque, Yassin Aref, was brought
in to witness the loan. At a few points, the
informant told the men he was a member of the
Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad,
or JEM. On one occasion, he showed the pizzeria
owner Mohammed Hossein a part of a missile and
later made obscure references to a fictitious JEM
plot to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat in New
York with a missile.
KAREN GREENBERG: He did say it was for weaponry. I
think it was for a missile in this case. And he
did say that it was for a terrorist cause. And so,
you know, that part of it is very discomforting,
that, you know, preying upon people's
vulnerabilities and pushing them to this point is
ANJALI KAMAT: It's unclear from the recordings how
much the men understood that the money for the
loan had been allegedly laundered from weapon
sales to a terrorist group. But Mohammed Hossein's
acceptance of the loan and Yassin Aref's
witnessing of the loan formed the basis for the
government's case against the two men.
Promises of money played a key role in the
Newburgh case, as well. James Wedick says it's not
uncommon for the FBI to send informants into poor
JAMES WEDICK: What they're looking for is money,
because they're desperate. They're looking for a
job. They're looking for some way to feed their
family. And so, they're there because this
informant is flashing money around, driving a
fancy car, and maybe living in a fancy apartment.
And they, too, want part of that prize.
ANJALI KAMAT: By 2007, the informant in the Albany
case, Shahed Hussain, showed up in the
impoverished largely African American community of
Newburgh. He arrived at the Al-Ikhlas mosque one
day, flush with funds and driving a BMW.
IMAM SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD: We called him Maqsud,
because that's who he said he was.
ANJALI KAMAT: Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad is the
imam of the mosque in Newburgh. He remembers the
informant well. Posing again as a wealthy
Pakistani businessman with ties to the militant
group Jaish-e-Mohammad, Shahed Hussain followed a
remarkably similar script to the story he told in
IMAM SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD: I started hearing from
different members of the community that he was
talking stuff about jihad and something about a
group in Pakistan and telling the brothers they
should go over and help them in Pakistan because
he's a part of some group.
ANJALI KAMAT: The imam recalls that one man was
willing to listen to the informant's stories and
happy to be driven around in his car and treated
to free meals. James Cromitie is a forty-four-
year-old petty criminal who had been in and out of
prison numerous times.
The FBI began secretly recording conversations
between James Cromitie and the informant in
October 2008, after the informant reported that
James had made extremist anti-American statements.
The informant promised James $250,000 to help him
carry out a plot to bomb a synagogue and a Jewish
community center in the Bronx and attack military
planes at the Stewart International Airport near
Within a few months, the informant was urging
James to recruit more people to act as lookouts
while they carried out the plot. That's when
Alicia McCollum's nephew David Williams entered
the scene. At the time, his twenty-year-old
brother, Lord, had just been diagnosed with a
deadly liver disease. The doctors said he needed a
liver transplant to survive, but the family
couldn't afford the surgery.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: You know, I'm like,
OK, Lord was sick, OK. He needed money, alright.
I'm like, ooh, he got caught up in a bad
situation. Then I heard "informant." Informant?
ANJALI KAMAT: The informant had promised to give
David Williams at least $25,000 and drove him to
visit his brother in the hospital.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: He's a manipulator.
I'm from the streets. He's a manipulator. He's a
con artist. This is a damn bad motion picture.
They should be ashamed of theirself.
ANJALI KAMAT: In court, the government has
admitted that the FBI picked the targets and
supplied the men with the fake bombs and the
missile. But the government says the fact the men
actually planted the bombs near the Riverdale
synagogue is evidence of their willingness to
KAREN GREENBERG: The big story is who took the
lead here, who created the story of the crime that
was going to ensue, and who made it happen.
ANJALI KAMAT: Karen Greenberg says the way the
trial is going, it's the informant who's in the
KAREN GREENBERG: If we're ever going to have a
public debate on the use of informants in
terrorism cases, this is the case, more than any
of the other cases we've seen.
ANJALI KAMAT: Alicia McCollum believes her nephew
and the rest of the Newburgh Four were entrapped
by the FBI.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: This is entrapment.
You're going to send an informant into an
impoverished community, the most impoverished
county, to do your trickery. You ain't stumbled
upon a cell. Nobody ain't tell you that someone
was plotting to do anything. You created a crime!
ANJALI KAMAT: The government maintains this was a
sting operation and the four men were not
entrapped. They say the four are militant Muslims
who can be heard actively planning for the attack
in the recordings made by the informant. But James
Wedick says the recordings alone don't prove
JAMES WEDICK: You can get anyone to say anything
on any given day, if you just try long enough. And
that's what some of these informants do.
ANJALI KAMAT: He warns that the FBI's use of
unscrupulous informants in poor communities is a
JAMES WEDICK: You just can't continue to, you
know, to get a select group of people who are
responsible for petty crimes, give them huge
amounts of money, and send them into a small
minority community, desperate because of the
recession and work not being there, and suggesting
people commit crimes, and not expect an explosion
to happen, because they're desperate for money and
the informant is offering huge rewards.
ANJALI KAMAT: The imam of the Newburgh mosque
isn't surprised by what happened here. It's
happened before to the African American community,
he says. This just reminds him of COINTELPRO, the
FBI's Counter Intelligence Program.
IMAM SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD: I believe that what we
are seeing today with the FBI surveillance and the
FBI allowing for agent provocateurs to enter into
Muslim communities is the same thing that happened
in the '60s with a lot of the black nationalist
organizations. That's what I see happening today
in the Islamic community. The FBI, they are
sending these agent provocateurs into the
community, and they are cultivating and nurturing
and actually creating situations that would never
have occured if they didn't have their man in
there to do that.
ANJALI KAMAT: To what extent are informants
driving these cases? We spoke to one informant who
agreed to an on-camera interview on the condition
we don't show his face. His name is Mahmoud Omar,
and he was one of two informants the FBI used in
the Fort Dix case. He acknowledged that he was
central to the government's case against the Duka
brothers and Mohamad Shnewer.
MAHMOUD OMAR: I can say American government lucky
he have me this time, and if he don't have me, we
didn't know something can happen.
ANJALI KAMAT: Would it have been possible without
MAHMOUD OMAR: No, of course not. Somebody have to
do it, and I did it. Nobody can-I did. I'm the one
ANJALI KAMAT: Mahmoud Omar is an Egyptian national
who has lived in the United States since the
mid-1990s and was arrested and imprisoned for bank
fraud in 2001. He was facing possible deportation
when he agreed to work for the FBI as an informant
on this case.
Former FBI agent James Wedick acknowledges that
the FBI often has to resort to people with
criminal pasts to work as their informants. But
the well-established exception, he says, is lying.
JAMES WEDICK: If they are liars or they've got
something in their past that suggests they're
liars, like a bank fraud conviction, you can't use
ANJALI KAMAT: Wedick says that in addition to
dropping charges and helping with immigration
troubles, the FBI typically offers informants
large sums of money to work for them.
JAMES WEDICK: If you think he'll lie just because
he wants to tell you a lie, he'll lie easy for
ANJALI KAMAT: Mahmoud Omar was paid over $200,000
plus expenses for the three years that the FBI
hired him to befriend the young men who had gone
to the Poconos and record their conversations. At
the trial, the informant testified that the men
wanted to attack soldiers at Fort Dix. He said one
of the men, Mohamad Shnewer, spent most of his
time watching videos glorifying Islamist violence.
But Burim Duka says it was the informant who urged
them to download the videos onto Shnewer's
BURIM DUKA: Ninety-seven percent of the videos
that Mohamad Shnewer had on his computer were
downloaded from Mahmoud Omar. Mahmoud Omar was
telling Mohamad Shnewer, "Download this video.
Download this video." And I guess he was trying to
get Mohamad Shnewer's anger to build up. He used
to tell us, like, the older people overseas,
they're fighting against the people that are
attacking the Muslims. He goes, "Older people are
fighting. What about us? We're young. We're
strong. How come we're just sitting at Dunkin'
Donuts drinking coffee?"
ANJALI KAMAT: The informant denies he was the one
driving the plot forward and says twenty-one-year-
old Mohamad Shnewer was the ringleader.
MAHMOUD OMAR: I'm not taking Mohamad to anywhere.
Mohamad, he knew where we're going to go.
ANJALI KAMAT: So it was his idea.
MAHMOUD OMAR: I have nothing I do with that. I'm
just only recorder.
ANJALI KAMAT: Today, more than a year after the
sentencing, the informant defends his role in the
Fort Dix plot and says the five men got what they
deserved. But Mahmoud Omar now feels like he can't
show his face in the community.
MAHMOUD OMAR: When I face the Arab people and the
Muslim people, they think like I did that for
money. And this is people like Dukas family and
Shnewer family. He make it like government making
case. And this, of course, is not true. And he
make it like I'm the one that put his kids in
jail, and that's even not true. People being in
jail rest of his life, I can't do anything about.
You did that for yourself. I don't do anything to
you. I don't tell you do anything. You did that
ANJALI KAMAT: Mohamad Shnewer and the Duka
brothers were arrested soon after purchasing
machine guns from the FBI informant. But Karen
Greenberg says there's little evidence that they
would have used them to carry out a terrorist
KAREN GREENBERG: How do we draw the line between
young men who are willing to do violence, who talk
it up a lot, who get into a head that is not good-
and, you know, you'd like to stop them from what
they're doing-and then whether they were actually
going to commit terrorism? And I think what-in the
Fort Dix case, again, you know, the purchasing of
weapons and-is a difficult one. How much was this
going to be terrorism, how much they actually
identified with terrorism causes, we don't know.
ANJALI KAMAT: James Wedick believes it's a waste
of taxpayer dollars for the FBI to be
investigating terrorist plots it helped create,
whether in Fort Dix, Albany or Newburgh.
JAMES WEDICK: It's my opinion that while the
bureau busies itself with these nonsense cases,
they could have been expending these resources
catching real bad guys. And that's the problem.
ANJALI KAMAT: This strategy has led to growing
concerns that in its zeal to make the American
public feel safe from terrorism, the government is
racially profiling Muslims as potential
FARHANA KHERA: It's based on generalized suspicion
about an entire community and not based on actual
evidence of wrongdoing.
ANJALI KAMAT: Farhana Khera is the director of the
group Muslim Advocates. She's concerned that the
FBI surveillance of Muslims is on the rise.
FARHANA KHERA: I would say since the beginning of
2010 there seems to be almost a ratcheting up of
scrutiny of the community. We seem to be getting
even more reports of community members coming
forward saying they've gotten a surprise visit at
their home or their office from an FBI agent
ANJALI KAMAT: Back in Albany, we asked Shamshad
Ahmad if he thinks the FBI is still watching his
Do you believe that the mosque is still being
surveyed, that people in this community are still
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: I believe so, yes. I believe so. I
still see some people about whom I have doubts,
and I know certain peoples are being used by FBI.
Some of them said that they refused, but I suspect
that they refused in the beginning, but ultimately
they have to accept that offer. We are not taking
it lightly. We don't consider that FBI has become,
all of a sudden, angel. Reality is there that we
feel that they have not changed.
ANJALI KAMAT: The imam at Newburgh agrees that the
Muslim community is still being watched and
infiltrated. But next time, he says, they're not
going to be quiet if an informant comes in.
IMAM SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD: This time, that if we do
suspect someone, we're telling. We're not going to
allow some individuals to get caught in a web
again, because we believe that had we said
something this time, that those four men would
still be in the backyard somewhere. They would
just be right out there, frustrated, broke, just,
you know, feeling miserable and just talking. At
least that person, the agent provocateur, would
have had to go somewhere else, because they would
have probably told him that his cover was blown.
ANJALI KAMAT: In other places, too, people are
also speaking up against what they see is a wider
pattern of entrapment and preemptive prosecution
of Muslims. This is Albany Common Council member
DOMINICK CALSOLARO: It just doesn't seem right. I
mean, I just don't understand how our government,
you know, can take these actions.
ANJALI KAMAT: In April of this year, the Albany
Common Council passed a resolution calling on the
Justice Department to reexamine past terrorism
cases to assess whether the classified evidence
used by the government also contained material
that might have exonerated the men, if they had
been allowed to see and use this evidence. They
based the resolution on a July 2009 report by the
inspector general of the Department of Justice.
DOMINICK CALSOLARO: The inspector general's report
was really key, because when you come in and the
government, you know, does a study, and they
themselves says you should look at these cases
again, you know, it should be done. It seems like,
you know, they did this, these actions, because
they had to show that they were being-you know,
the federal government is trying to be tough on
terrorism. But the fact that if you have to send
in, you know, an agent provocateur, whatever you
want to call them, in order to entrap someone,
who's not doing anything illegal to begin with, I
mean, where is this going? And then, where does
ANJALI KAMAT: The families of the men are left
questioning whether it's possible for Muslims to
receive a fair trial in post-9/11 America.
FATIMA HOSSEIN: I didn't find out what kind of
terrorists we are, what we did, which part, the
part that require the terrorist. Still I don't
know. They broke our trust. And I saw when I get
married, my husband, he carry American flag all
the way from here as a proud citizen of this
country. And when he go back home, he say, "I am
ANJALI KAMAT: Even after twenty-six years of
living in this country, Fatima Hossein believes
she and her family will never be seen as
FATIMA HOSSEIN: Living that long this society,
still we are not part of here. I don't know. After
September 11, changed everything from everywhere.
ANJALI KAMAT: Ferik Duka, the father of the three
Duka brothers, says his faith in the American
justice system has been shattered.
FERIK DUKA: I'm surprised at the justice of this
country. I came here because I believed in
American justice and American freedom and American
democracy. I'm upset and disturbed. How could this
happen to America? Muslims, they don't raise their
voices, because they are scared. Everybody thinks,
who's going to be next? Because they can see
they're convicting people with no facts. They are
good fabricators. They are professionals of making
I lost three sons. And I'm losing everything else.
They destroyed me. There's no justice no more here
ANJALI KAMAT: NYU's Karen Greenberg warns that
increasing the perception that Muslims are being
unfairly or preemptively prosecuted is both wrong
and counterproductive to national security.
KAREN GREENBERG: To target Muslims in what we call
a democracy is not a place we want to be going.
What we need is a kind of leadership that is brave
enough to distinguish the issues, just like we
distinguish criminals from non-criminals in other
ANJALI KAMAT: Former FBI agent James Wedick
believes that the only way things can change is if
the Justice Department rethinks the role of
informants in terrorism investigations.
JAMES WEDICK: If the Obama administration is
interested in giving desperate people a fair
shake, he's got to make the Justice Department
look at this issue involving informants and do
ANJALI KAMAT: Meanwhile, families of the accused
and convicted men are not waiting for the Justice
Department to act. They are continuing to mobilize
and fight for justice, despite the pain of losing
their loved ones to prison.
LEJLA DUKA: I decided to start speaking out to
everyone because I saw many people wouldn't want
to do that, because they were scared. So I decided
to defend them and my family from the name
"terrorists," which they're not.
ALICIA McWILLIAMS-McCOLLUM: This wasn't no cell.
This wasn't no-"Oh, oh my god! They want to-" This
was bull! This is a plot and a skit directed by
the FBI. You know, we was the extras, and we
didn't get paid. Thank you very much. You know,
but you're going to use a family, and you think
nobody was going to speak up. Not one person's
speaking up. People telling me what my government
can do to me. Then bring it! Do what you want to
do. But we coming together for justice. We're
fighting for justice.
ANJALI KAMAT: For Democracy Now!, this is Anjali
Kamat and Jacquie Soohen. Special thanks to Hany
Massoud, Petra Bartosiewicz, John Hamilton, Nicole
Salazar, Ayesha Hoda, and Project SALAM.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
the War and Peace Report. When we come back, Democracy
Now!'s Anjali Kamat will join us. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, I'm joined now in studio by
Democracy Now!'s Anjali Kamat, with that superb
investigation she did with Jacquie Soohen. We're also
joined by independent journalist Petra Bartosiewicz.
She's the forthcoming author of a book on terror in the
United States since 9/11. It's called The Best
Terrorists We Could Find.
Welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, Anjali, you
have spent months in Muslim communities in the New York
area. Congratulations on this very important documentary
that brings out the voices of people at the grassroots.
What most surprised you in this investigation that you
did on these three cases?
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, thanks, Amy.
I think one of the things is, you know, today we're all
seeing in the newspaper, as Faisal Shahzad was just
sentenced to life in prison, the Times Square bomber,
the foiled Times Square bomber-we keep hearing of
threats of terrorism, homegrown terror. Last month, the
co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission released a report
singling out domestic terrorism as the largest threat
and something that we're not prepared for in this
country. And one of the things that I was interested in
was seeing news reports, when the Newburgh case started,
that the informant who was used in the case had been
used in a previous case. And I was like, here is an FBI
informant, an undercover informant with a criminal past,
coming in, and you see these communities are poor
communities, vulnerable communities, one of the most
impoverished areas in the country, Newburgh, New York,
and these are four young African American men who were
caught up in this case. How much can you call them-to
what degree can you call these men terrorists? Did they
commit a crime? Yes. Were they terrorists? Are these
terrorist crimes? And that's the question I wanted to
investigate and set out. And one of the things I found
is that you have over a thousand prosecutions since
9/11, terror-related prosecutions. Many of these cases
are based on the testimony of paid government
informants. Only a few of these cases are more serious,
like the Faisal Shahzad case. And Petra was in the
courtroom yesterday when he was sentenced.
AMY GOODMAN: Petra, we often find that one case paints
or taints another case. Talk about this case. Now,
here's a case where a man pled guilty. He said he was
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Yeah, I think you'll see in the
coverage, even though these two cases, the Newburgh case
and the Faisal Shahzad case, unfolded literally on the
same floor of a courthouse, in adjoining courtrooms, in
Faisal Shahzad's case, this is somebody who actually
attempted to do something. That's very rare. Almost no-
very, very few cases have unfolded like that. And he
pled guilty to that. And I think it's interesting to
look at this case as almost something that was resolved
not because of some new initiatives that have been
instituted since 9/11 in terms of security measures, but
despite that, because in fact he was thwarted only by
his own incompetence when the bomb failed to detonate.
Meanwhile, you have-
AMY GOODMAN: You were in the courtroom yesterday-
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: -when the sentencing happened.
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: That's right. And he was without
remorse. The proceeding took place very quickly. He was
sentenced to life in prison. And as far as it appears,
there's-you know, there may be an appeal, but he wasn't
interested in appealing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he's pled guilty. What does he say?
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: He sort of said this is the first
salvo in a long, you know, war of-that America is going
to, you know, go down. And he wasn't particularly
eloquent or original. I think he made his point at his
arraignment a while back. And I think the judge said,
you know, pretty accurately, "You're thirty years old.
You're going to have a long time to think about this. It
was a stupid thing to do."
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, right across the hallway, Petra?
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Right across the hallway, a case
that's going to be considered just another homegrown
terrorism case. But so different. Four defendants who
had no prior criminal records, no evidence of prior
terrorism involvement, no involvement with any groups-
they didn't attend any training camps. They were four
poor guys from Newburgh, New York, and they were
approached by an informant who worked on them for-at
least the lead defendant, for four months before the
tapes started rolling. And the other three defendants
were brought in in the very last month. And, you know,
it's-as Anjali says correctly, they are guilty perhaps
of criminal acts, but what is missing is that crucial
political motivation that would bring this to the level
of a crime of terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does "terrorism" mean, when you
lay terrorism on that? Is it like hate crime in the
sense it will just mean enhanced sentencing?
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: I think it does a number of things.
Number one, their sentences will be far longer. I think
in the Fort Dix case, they got thirty years plus life,
as we saw in the documentary. So they're going to go to
prison for much longer. But it also adds to the Justice
Department's sort of statistical scorecard in the war on
terrorism. These cases serve an incredibly important
purpose in that they kind of justify this terrorism
machinery that has come in in almost the last decade. It
involves a lot of money, a lot of new investigative
procedures, a lot of infringement of civil liberties.
And without these cases, we really don't have much to
show. So they are important in that respect alone.
AMY GOODMAN: Anjali?
ANJALI KAMAT: And if these are the cases, if this is
what we have to show, what we need to remember-I mean,
who were the four defendants in the Newburgh case? It's
quite striking. One if them is a paranoid schizophrenic.
An immigration judge earlier refused to deport him
because of mental instability. He lived in a one-room
occupancy in Newburgh's crack alley. When he was
arrested, there were open containers of urine his room,
because he was too afraid to walk down the hall to use
the restroom. This man, we're supposed to believe, is a
terrorist. Charge him with a crime, charge him with
stupidity-one of the family members said this-charge
these people with stupidity, with getting involved with
stupid, you know, informants and agreeing to do things,
but what actually happened? Nothing happened. No bombs
went off. No missiles were fired. The bombs were fake.
The missiles were fake. They were supplied by the
government. They were led into this by a government
informant. This is what the defense has been arguing.
AMY GOODMAN: And people would then say, "But if they
ANJALI KAMAT: And then, if they weren't fake-I mean,
this is what the government comes in and says, right?
Their argument is, these four men agreed to drive the
bombs up to the synagogue. They planted them there. They
did not know they were fake. They assumed they were
real. Now, the question is, would they-and this is what
the defense has been trying to argue, this sort of
entrapment defense-is, were they predisposed to commit
this crime? Would they have committed this crime, would
they have plotted to do this, if the government
informant hadn't put this idea into their head?
And there's actually evidence that came out during the
trial that shows that the handler, the FBI handler in
the case, Robert Fuller, sent a memo in January 2009 to
his colleagues, pointing out that he had told the guards
at Stewart Air Base, which is one of the places where
the attack was supposed to take place, telling them that
if the lead defendant, James Cromitie, came there on his
own, he was not a threat. He was only dangerous if he
comes with the informant. I wasn't able to get a copy of
this document, because it wasn't entered into evidence,
apparently, but it was something that was mentioned in
the first weeks of the trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, it's interesting, Anjali. The FBI, you
called them repeatedly, over and over, and they would
not grant an interview.
ANJALI KAMAT: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet you did have an interview with this
former FBI agent, who talked extremely critically about
ANJALI KAMAT: Yeah. James Wedick is a very interesting
figure. He was at the bureau for thirty-five years. He
was a street agent. And, you know, I mean, this is the
other thing. The use of informants, in its own, is not
something new for law enforcement. Something that's
happened for decades, and it's something that law
enforcement-it's a tactic that law enforcement relies on
to crack investigations. They're very important. The
difference is, he says, what happened after 9/11. One of
the things he told me is that after 9/11 the rule book
went out of the window. You weren't supposed to use
informants in cases where there was no evidence of
criminal activity. You're not supposed to use informants
when the informants have a history of lying, history of
bank fraud. I mean, this is something that Petra has
been working on for years.
AMY GOODMAN: Petra?
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Yeah, I think you see these
informants oftentimes have criminal records that they
want some assistance with from law enforcement, or
they're facing deportation for other reasons. They get
sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to-from the
FBI in expenses and, you know, basically, payment for
their services. There have been cases where informants
have been shown to be using marijuana during the course
of the investigation. So-
AMY GOODMAN: And this informant in the Newburgh case was
convicted of bank fraud.
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Yes, among many other things. And
so, any FBI agent, as Anjali is saying, will tell you
that once they're proven liars, you shouldn't be working
with them. And yet, there have been repeated cases where
these informants are proven liars and then they are
still used. And I think it goes to sort of a bigger
dilemma for the FBI, because the question is, really,
what is the FBI supposed to do in these cases when they
come across someone like a James Cromitie, who seems
suspicious? Should they investigate? Absolutely. Should
they watch them? Yes. But should they be in the business
of manufacturing plots, of manufacturing code words, of
providing weapons, of basically creating these
scenarios? I don't think so. I think that that starts to
stray into very dangerous territory.
And during the closing arguments of the Newburgh case
yesterday, or earlier this week, one of the prosecutors
was saying, "Are these defendants innocent-minded?" And
I think once we start thinking about defendants in terms
of "innocent-minded," we are straying into some very,
very dicey territory. And the problem is, when you're
relying heavily on informants who themselves have very
shaky credibility and have an agenda that is financially
motivated or legally motivated and you're dependent on
them to provide the bulk of the evidence, it's just a
recipe for disaster.
AMY GOODMAN: And you have this case, where Newburgh is
now going into jury deliberations, but in the context of
a man who said he was-he's a self-proclaimed terrorist-
he did try to blow up Times Square-that case happening
across the street. It's hard to imagine they don't know
that that was taking place, and that's the context
within which this very different case is taking place.
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: And you would think that we would be
putting our resources into preventing another Faisal
Shahzad from occurring, rather than spending the
enormous amount of time and manpower and money that it
takes to prepare a sting operation, which sometimes
ANJALI KAMAT: We just heard about the amount of money
the informants were paid. The amount of money that went
into each of these investigations runs into hundreds of
thousands of dollars. And when you think about the fact
that these are sting operations on people that you have
very little evidence of any wrongdoing or intent to kill
Americans or intent to carry out plots, where is our
focus? What are we doing?
AMY GOODMAN: We just saw the sentencing of the Pakistani
scientist Aafia Siddiqui to eighty-six years-she'll be
serving in Texas-a case, Petra, you've been following.
PETRA BARTOSIEWICZ: Yeah, a very complicated case. A lot
of questions remain-whether she was detained extra-
legally by Pakistanis or whether the US had any
involvement. None of that was answered during her
sentencing. Again, same courthouse as these other cases
we're talking about today. But during her sentencing,
she spoke, for the first time, extensively, to the
courtroom, and what emerged was somebody who seems
mentally ill, quite frankly, and the psychiatrists who
have examined her have said that she is potentially
schizophrenic. So, that is another very troubling case.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Anjali, we just have a few
seconds, but you spent months on this investigation,
traveling through communities, really bringing out the
voices of people in these communities, particularly, of
ANJALI KAMAT: I mean, I think the most important thing
to highlight is the sense of fear that is pervasive
across these communities. Muslim communities that I met
across New York and New Jersey are just getting more and
more paranoid about being watched, about being surveyed,
about every conversation being recorded. Any new person
they meet-is this an informant? Mosques are under
surveillance, as we heard in the piece. Farhana Khera,
the executive director of the group Muslim Advocates,
said that there's been a ratcheting up of surveillance
of Muslim Americans or Muslims, immigrant Muslims, in
this country. And that's something we need to pay
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Anjali, congratulations. Thank you
for this report. And thank you very much, Petra
Bartosiewicz, for being with us.
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