Security agents in the United States are currently posing as members of al-Qaeda and are actively recruiting foreigners to carry out terror bombings. The goal is to orchestrate a terror attack and then stop it before it can be carried out, arresting those who have been lured into the plot.
The ethical concern is that there is a distinction between an undercover agent infiltrating a criminal group already intent on domestic terrorism (so they can be stopped), and an undercover agent inciting a distraught person toward domestic terrorism, just so that person can be publicly thwarted. As will be explained, the current tactics of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in smashing imaginary terror plots, appears more geared toward generating self-congratulatory headlines which aid domestic politics. As such, they may be crossing the lines of propriety.
The latest episode occurred last week. The FBI announced that it had arrested a Pakistani national named Farooque Ahmed on charges that he planned to bomb four Washington, D.C. subway stations. That would seem to be a serious offense, but a close examination of the facts suggests otherwise. Mr. Ahmed apparently had no prior record of violence. He had allegedly spoken about possibly traveling to Afghanistan to fight NATO forces. This loose talk (which is not illegal under U.S. law) reached the FBI which assigned a team of undercover agents to the case. These agents, pretending to be members of an al-Qaeda cell, met with Mr. Ahmed and apparently convinced him that it would be better if he attacked targets in the United States. As a result of this urging, Mr. Ahmed allegedly took some video photos of four subway stations and then was arrested on charges of planning to bomb those stations. If convicted he could face up to fifty (50) years in jail.
Last year, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was approached by undercover FBI agents in Dallas who were posing as members of an al-Qaeda cell. They eventually gave Mr. Smadi a vehicle with an inert “bomb” inside. As he took “possession” of the vehicle, he was arrested and absurdly charged with attempting to use a “Weapon of Mass Destruction.”
In Pakistan, radical mullahs in madrassah schools are often accused of using their sinister powers of persuasion to convince the weak-willed to commit terror attacks. The FBI’s tactics appear dangerously similar to those of the radical mullahs.
On September 24, 2009, U.S. Attorney for Dallas, James T. Jacks, commented on Mr. Smadi arrest:
“It is the job of the FBI to locate and identify individuals intent upon carrying out any attack upon this country.”
The issue that Mr. Jacks seems to overlook is that thinking about a crime is not illegal. The FBI is not empowered to be thought-police. The issue is whether these are hardened terrorists (caught early) or whether they are hapless individuals (who are not a threat) but who can be easily lured into a plot and then coaxed into committing at least nonviolent preparatory acts.
Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Smadi may, in reality, represent legitimate and imminent threats to the American people. This reporter cannot tell one way or the other. What is apparent is that these undercover operations give the appearance of injustice, which can be just as damaging to the image of the United States as an actual injustice.
In 1921, Chinese censors permitted the publication of a short literary work called: “The True Story of Ah Q” by Lu Hsun. It was a literary masterpiece. Set in 1911, China, Ah Q was a bumbling fool who noticed that people around him were becoming famous after they announced that they were “revolutionaries” opposed to the Emperor. He had no real idea what a revolutionary was but got caught up in the excitement and wanted also to be famous. He therefore publicly announced that he was a “revolutionary.” Shortly after, he was arrested, tried and executed. The censors in China allowed this short story to be published because it seemed to show that revolutionaries are always caught and punished, but astute Chinese citizens were able to read between the lines. The story revealed a heartless and reactionary government that could not tell the difference between a real enemy and a silly bumpkin.
In the United States, the person who is supposed to be ensuring that silly bumpkins are not targeted by the FBI and the other internal security forces is Assistant Attorney General for National Security David S. Kris. He is seemingly the only check and balance on internal security abuses as U.S. Federal judges have, since 2001, almost uniformly washed their hands of responsibility for overseeing U.S. security practices. The only other potential oversight is conducted by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office. But, historically, it tends to wait years before commencing and completing its investigations. Its findings are usually old news and its recommendations for accountability (if any), are usually ignored.
Mr. Kris, since his appointment in March 2009, has been a disappointment. Last week, regarding the Ahmed arrest, he stated:
“A coordinated law enforcement and intelligence effort was able to thwart
(Mr. Ahmed’s) plans.”
This self-praise was just spin. There was nothing to “thwart” as the terror plot had been devised by the FBI itself.
If Mr. Kris wanted to combat actual terror, instead of helping to create imaginary plots, he would move his office from Washington, D.C. to El Paso, Texas. Today the real terror war in America is being waged and currently lost along the U.S./Mexico border.
The timing of Mr. Ahmed’s arrest is also troubling as it seemed to coincide with the November 2, national elections. White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs used the arrest for political purposes when he stated that the Department of Justice, FBI and national security officials had been:
“on top of this case from the beginning.”
Mr. Gibbs’ argument that Obama Administration officials acted effectively in uncovering this terror plot was misleading because the FBI created the terror plot.
Finally and most disturbingly, there is an October 19, 2010, press release on the U.S. Department of Justice’s website. It reads in part:
“The security of the American people is the highest priority of the Department of Justice.”
That should not be the case. Justice Department officials, when they take their oath of office, do not swear to this maxim. They swear before God that they will first and foremost uphold the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the Nation. The pursuit of “security” (whatever that means) is not supposed to trump the rule of law. If it turns out that this Justice Department quote has become the guiding principal of the U.S. Government, then Usama bin Laden has achieved far more than he ever dreamed.