May 2012, Week 3


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Mon, 21 May 2012 00:30:10 -0400
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How FBI Entrapment Is Inventing 'Terrorists' - 
and Letting Bad Guys Off the Hook
By Rick Perlstein
Rolling Stone
May 15, 2012

This past October, at an Occupy encampment in Cleveland,
Ohio, "suspicious males with walkie-talkies around their
necks" and "scarves or towels around their heads" were
heard grumbling at the protesters' unwillingness to act
violently. At meetings a few months later, one of them,
a 26-year-old with a black Mohawk known as "Cyco,"
explained to his anarchist colleagues how "you can make
plastic explosives with bleach," and the group of five
men fantasized about what they might blow up. Cyco
suggested a small bridge. One of the others thought
they'd have a better chance of not hurting people if
they blew up a cargo ship. A third, however, argued for
a big bridge - "Gotta slow the traffic that's going to
make them money" - and won. He then led them to a
connection who sold them C-4 explosives for $450. Then,
the night before the May Day Occupy protests, they
allegedly put the plan into motion - and just as the
would-be terrorists fiddled with the detonator they
hoped would blow to smithereens a scenic bridge in
Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park traversed by 13,610
vehicles every day, the FBI swooped in to arrest them.

Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies. The
authorities couldn't have more effectively made the
Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if
they had scripted it. Maybe that's because, more or
less, they did.

The guy who convinced the plotters to blow up a big
bridge, led them to the arms merchant, and drove the
team to the bomb site was an FBI informant. The merchant
was an FBI agent. The bomb, of course, was a dud. And
the arrest was part of a pattern of entrapment by
federal law enforcement since September 11, 2001, not of
terrorist suspects, but of young men federal agents have
had to talk into embracing violence in the first place.
One of the Cleveland arrestees, Connor Stevens,
complained to his sister of feeling "very pressured" by
the guy who turned out to be an informant and was
recorded in 2011 rejecting property destruction: "We're
in it for the long haul and those kind of tactics just
don't cut it," he said. "And it's actually harder to be
non-violent than it is to do stuff like that." Though
when Cleveland's NEWS Channel 5  broadcast that footage,
they headlined it "Accused Bomb Plot Suspect Caught on
Camera Talking Violence."

In all these law enforcement schemes the alleged
terrorists masterminds end up seeming, when the full
story comes out, unable to terrorize their way out of a
paper bag without law enforcement tutelage. ("They teach
you how to make all this stuff out of simple household
items," one of the kids says on a recording quoted in
the FBI affidavit about a book he has just discovered,
The Anarchist Cookbook. Someone asks him how much it
says explosives cost. "I'm not sure," he responds, "I
just downloaded it last night.") It's a perfect example
of how post-9/11 fear made law enforcement tactics seem
acceptable that were previously beyond the pale.
Previously, however, the targets have been Muslims; now
they're white kids from Ohio. And maybe you could argue
that this is acceptable, if the feds were actually
acting out of a good-faith assessment of what threats
are imminent and which are not. But that's not what
they're doing at all. Instead, they are arrogating to
themselves a downright Orwellian power - the power to
deploy the might of the State to shape a fundamental
narrative about which ideas Americans must be most
scared of, and which ones they should not fear much at
all, independent of the relative objective dangerousness
of the people who hold those ideas.

To see how, travel with me to rural Florida, and another
arrest that occurred at almost exactly the same time. On
April 28, members of American Front, a white-supremacist
group labeled "a known terrorist organization" in the
affidavit justifying the arrest, took a break from
training with machine guns for a race war in order to
fashion weapons out of fake "Occupy" signs which they
planned to use to assault May Day protesters in
Melbourne, Florida. No script, no choreography for
maximal impact on sensation-hungry news broadcasts, no
melodramatic press conference with a U.S. attorney and
FBI Special Agent in Charge; this arrest only went down
after an informant working with state law enforcement
fled in fear for his or her life after being threatened
by the group's leader Marcus Faella with a 9mm pistol.
And though the media reported the involvement of a
"joint terrorism task force of FBI and local law
enforcement" the arresting affidavit does not even
mention federal law enforcement; the charges filed were
state, not federal. A circuit court judge scrawled a
bail amount of $51,250; that was accidentally knocked
down to $500. The Cleveland anarchists were held without

The contrasts are extraordinarily instructive. When
federal law enforcement agencies take an affirmative
role in staging the crimes, the U.S. Justice Department
then prosecutes, leaving more clear-and-present dangers
relatively unbothered, the State is singling out
ideological enemies. Violent white supremacists are not
one of these enemies, apparently - because, as David
Neiwert, probably the nation's top journalist on the
subject, told me, the federal government has much less
often sought to entrap them, even though they are
actually the biggest home-grown terrorism threat.  That
is unconstitutional, because law enforcement's criterion
for attention has been revealed as the ideas the alleged
plotters hold - not their observed violent potential.

Who else are we supposed to be afraid of? Certainly
animal-rights and environmental radicals. In 2006, when
FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the indictments of
Animal Liberal Front activists who burned down a horse-
rendering plant in 1997, harming no humans, he called
such property destruction one of the agency's "highest
domestic terrorism priorities." We're supposed to be
afraid of Muslims, of course - though not even
necessarily Muslim militants. In a sting stunningly
anatomized on a Pulitzer-worthy This American Life
episode from 2005 the target, British citizen Hemant
Lakhami, known as "Habib," was an Indian-born Willy
Loman, so dumb he referred to night-vision goggles,
which he'd never heard of, as "sunglasses" and so broken
down and desperate for attention he told the federal
informant he had full-sized submarines to sell. He was
egged by the informant into selling him Stinger missiles
(Lakhami had approached him hoping to sell him mangoes).
Upon Lakhami's terrorism conviction then-U.S. Attorney
Chris Christie stepped up to the press conference
microphones to announce, "Today is a triumph for the
Justice Department in the war against terror. I don't
know that anyone can say that the state of New Jersey,
and this country, is not a safer place without Hemant
Lakhani trotting around the globe attempting to broker
arms deals."

But don't worry your pretty little heads over the
epidemic of far-right insurrectionism that followed the
election of Barack Obama: all told, according to a
forthcoming data analysis by Neiwert, there have been 55
cases of right-wing extremists being arrested for
plotting or committing alleged terrorists acts compared
to 26 by Islamic militants during the same period. The
right-wing plots include the bombing of a 2011 Martin
Luther King Day parade in Spokane and the assassination
of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009. Neither of
their perpetrators, it goes without saying, had been
arrested before they attempted their vile acts; neither
required law enforcement entrapment to conceive and
carry them out. It's just too bad for their victims they
did not fit the story federal law enforcement seeks to

I use the word "story" advisedly. Entrapment is the most
literary of abuses of power: Investigators and
prosecutors become as unto little Stephen Kings, feeding
into, and feeding, the fear centers of our lizard brains
in order to manipulate their audience. Unsurprisingly,
the tactic crops up whenever the powers that be are
themselves most frightened for their power, such as
during the 1960s, when instigation of criminal acts by
agents provacateurs infiltrating the anti-war movement
became extremely prevalent. When one of the accused
Chicago 7 left the courtroom just as a witness for the
prosecution left the stand, the other six became
horrified when it became clear that the guy who had just
got up (actually to go to the bathroom) was a plant
about to testify against them.

The antiwar movement soon learned whom to be afraid of:
people who don't quite fit in, who always seemed ready
to volunteer for anything (if you're on the FBI payroll,
you don't need a job), people pressing violence when
everyone else in the room preferred peace. In the 1972
"Camden 28" trial of Catholic left conspirators who
tried to steal and destroy registration records from a
local draft board, the star witness got his breaking-
and-entering training from the FBI and swore in court
that the accused never would have raided the building
absent his leadership.  Although the people the FBI
preferred to recruit were the sort who had trouble
keeping jobs anyway. They were frequently mentally
unstable: the agent provocateur whose recordings got
twenty-three members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War
indicted for supposedly conspiring to attack the 1972
Republican National Convention with "lead weights,
'fried' marbles, ball bearings, cherry bombs ... wrist
rockets, slingshots, and cross bows" had received a
psychological discharge from the Army. And they were
usually criminals. In the Harrisburg 7 trial of in 1972
(in which the feds fantastically claimed that a pacifist
priest, some nuns, and their confreres intended to blow
up the steam tunnels beneath Washington, D.C.) the
prosecution's star witness had offered himself to the
FBI as an undercover New Lefty from the jail cell where
he was serving time for so many crimes the U.S. Attorney
had classified him as a "menace to society."

The entrapment game still works the same. In the case
documented on This American Life, informant "Habib" was
such a notorious liar, thief, and con man that the feds
deactivated him - until after September 11, when
suddenly "different FBI bureaus were fighting" for his
services. The key informant in the Animal Liberation
Front arrests was a truck thief and heroin addict. The
dude in the Cleveland anarchist case, identified by
thesmokinggun.com as a Donald Trump fan named Shaqil
Azir, had convictions for cocaine possession, robbery,
and passing bad checks - and was also under a current
check-fraud indictment the FBI covered up in its
affidavit. They also neglected to mention his frequent
appearances in bankruptcy court.

Such choices are a feature, not a bug: Criminals with
cases pending are able to act more convincingly as,
well, criminals, and will do anything the government
asks to reduce their sentences; sociopaths are better
able to manipulate the emotions of macho young men. The
play's the thing. Although sometimes the play becomes
too convincing: In the Watergate hearings in 1973, some
of the witnesses testified that hearing about VVAW's
violent plans to disrupt the Republican convention were
what convinced them it was OK to break laws on behalf of
their president.

Not everything is the same since the 1970s, of course.
The media has changed: Newsday editorialized in 1972 of
the Camden case, "We have come to expect such tactics
from totalitarian nations that have no respect for
individual rights permitting dissent. They have no place
in American and those who advocate them have no place in
this government." You don't see that sort of language
much any more. Indeed, Newsday appears not to have
covered the arrest and trial of Hemant Lakhami at all.
"Such tactics" are just not a very big deal any more.

You know what else has changed? You and I - to our
shame. Entraptment is illegal  - but the question of
whether law enforcement set up a legal sting or illegal
entrapment is for a jury to decide. Entrapment was why
juries acquitted the defendants in the Camden, VVAW, and
Harrisburg cases. "How stupid did those people in
Washington think we were?" a Harrisburg juror told a
reporter. The feds don't have to worry about folks like
that any more. Not a single "terrorism" indictment has
been thrown out for entrapment since 9/11 - not the
Liberty City goofballs supposedly planning to blow up
the Sears Tower who had no weapons and refused them with
offered; not the Newburgh, New York outfit whose numbers
included a schizophrenic who saved his own urine in
bottles. (Even the judge who sentenced them said "the
government made them terrorists.")

The civil liberties of the Florida white supremacist
Marcus Faella, at least, have been honored. He was out
on bail the day he was arrested. There's no police
informant to monitor his activities any more, but not to
fear. His experiments in attempting to produce the
deadly toxin ricin, according to the Florida affidavit,
have not so far been successful. And Connor Stevens,
heard on the menacing video shown on Cleveland news
saying that his favorite part of Occupy protests " is
meeting people walking down the street, average people,
talking to them, hearing about how they're affected by
the economy, by the justice system, things like that"?
He is safely behind bars. So, for the rest of his life,
is Hemant Lakhami, the hapless Stinger missile salesman.
The man who put him there, Chris Christie, is now the
celebrated governor of New Jersey, and was all but
begged by his fellow to run for president. Republicans
think he tells a good story.


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