Saturday Reads: Why Should We Trust the FBI?

It has been more than ten years since September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, our elected selected leaders have chosen to trash the U.S. Constitution, attack several other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and more), build secret military bases and prisons around the world, and spy on and even assassinate American citizens.

For a concise summary of many of the Constitutional abuses that have taken place since that awful day ten years ago, I highly recommend reading this essay by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here’s a sample:

In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush shredded the U.S. Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, none of us has any desire to play down the horrors of that day, but two wrongs do not make a right, and, in response to the attacks, the Bush administration engineered and presided over the most sustained period of constitutional decay in our history.

Moreover, although George W. Bush entered the first decade of the 21st century by dismantling the rights that are fundamental to the identity of the United States and the security of its people, Barack Obama ended the decade by failing to fully reinstate those rights. Through his own indecision, or through ferocious opposition in Congress, he has been unable to close the infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay, as promised, and has also refused to even contemplate holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for their crimes.

As a result, the democratic principles which we hold dear have suffered a massive blow in the first ten years of the 21st century, although that is not the main problem. The deep erosion of our civil liberties is to be lamented, and should be resisted, however difficult the political climate, but the most painful truth about the last decade is that it marks an undoing of democracy so severe that without concerted and deliberate action by the people in this country — and, one hopes, by their elected leaders — the values which defined us, before the events of 9/11 allowed the Bush administration to reshape our perception of executive power, may never be regained.

The Bush and Obama administrations and Congress by supporting and passing the Patriot Act and other clearly unconstitutional laws, have also given free rein to the FBI to spy on and persecute American citizens–usually peace activists or Muslim-Americans.

Today I want to focus on the FBI’s “investigations” of “homegrown terrorism.” I use those quotes because I don’t consider sting operations in which the FBI seeks out vuknerable Muslim-Americans and suggests methods by which they could attack the U.S., provides weapons and funds, and then arrests people who haven’t yet taken any action to be real “investigations.”

Rezwan Ferdaus

I’m really getting sick and tired of reading stories like the one that broke on Wednesday about a young Ashland, MA man named Rezwan Ferdaus. Ferdaus is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. He was indicted yesterday for

attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive, attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises, receiving firearms and explosive materials, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and a terrorist organization.

“With the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center,’ and killing as many ‘kafirs’ [an Arabic term meaning nonbelievers] as possible, Ferdaus extensively planned and took substantial steps to bomb the United States Pentagon and United State Capitol Building using remote controlled aircraft filled with explosives,”

Read the indictment here (PDF).

Please keep in mind that the “investigation” of Ferdaus was done by the FBI. This is the same FBI that can’t get their 80-year-old definition of rape changed without being pressured for years, after which they finally decide to form a committee to consider proposed changes. This is the same FBI that couldn’t catch Whitey Bulger for 16 years even though he hiding in plain sight. Never mind that, this is the same FBI that tried to use Whitey Bulger as an “informant” while he was murdering people right and left. This is the same FBI whose agents enabled Bulger to go on the lam instead of being prosecuted. By 1994, the FBI was “considered compromised” and so the DEA joined with Massachusetts law enforcement to investigate Bulger, and chose not to inform the FBI of their task force.

This is just a bit of the history of FBI incompetence in the Boston area. Imagine if we looked at the agency’s failures in every major city and state!

I want to begin my recommended reads on the Ferdaus case with a piece by a Boston writer who knows the local background of FBI “investigations” well. Here’s Charlie Pierce, writing at Esquire Magazine. He suggests that the FBI is “busting its own conspiracies.”

Up until now, “homegrown terrorism” has been a phrase reserved for people like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, and Kevin Harpham, who tried to do the same to the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane last January. In other words, “homegrown terrorism” meant rightwing violence either in fact, or in actual attempt…Now…what is being called “homegrown terrorism” is being applied to Ferdaus, an America citizen who is a Muslim. And certainly, if the FBI is to be believed — which is always a very big if, especially in Boston, as history has taught us — Ferdaus had it in him to be a very bad actor. If the FBI is to be believed, he had every intention of carrying out his plans. If the FBI is to be believed, he spouted off extensively to FBI agents whom Ferdaus believed were recruiters for Al Qaeda. He bought cellphones to be used as detonators. On Wednesday, he took delivery of what he believed to be weapons and explosives, which is when the FBI busted him. The Justice Department even helpfully supplied a photo of a model of a Sabre jet of the type it says Ferdaus planned to use to deliver his explosives.

If the FBI is to be believed, that is.

But why should we believe them? Look at their history. Just think about what the FBI did back in the ’60s and ’70s–spying on the Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Vietnam Veterans who spoke out against the war, and of course peace activists of every stripe. This is their history: enabling criminals and persecuting anyone who questions the government. And since 9/11, they have almost no brakes on their activities. Back to Charlie Pierce:

Ferdaus is only the latest person arrested by the FBI for being part of what they believed to be an enterprise — terrorist or otherwise — in which his “partners” actually were FBI agents themselves. (There is no evidence yet presented that Ferdaus did anything except run his mouth prior to meeting the two counterfeit jihadis who worked for Uncle Sam.) The pattern is now familiar. There is an announcement at maximum volume. The suspect is usually described as being fully dedicated — and fully capable — of carrying out the plans he is charged with making. And, as a bonus, all the psychological alarms that the country has been carrying around since 9/11 begin to rattle to life again. The problems arise when the cases fall part, as several of them have, or when the question arises as to whether or not the FBI is simply busting its own conspiracies. When the cases fall apart, or when they turn out to be rather less serious than the original blare of publicity would have had the nation believe, the news is often buried, but the fear and the political utility of the original announcement remain.

Again, why should we believe them this time? Will Ferdaus get a fair trial? Will he be tortured? Who knows? But I do not trust these people. Anyway, I’ve collected some interesting reads on this subject to share with you today. Please feel free to discuss any other stories you wish in the comments.

First, Mother Jones had a great series awhile back on the FBI, and they have posted an update on the Ferdaus case.

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

From the Aaronson article on the FBI’s use of informants:

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

I find that very frightening. Please read the whole article if you can find the time. Talking Points Memo has more information on the supposed “plot,” along with photos provided by the FBI. But check this out: a guy who knows a lot about the model planes in question says the plan wouldn’t work.

As hobbyist Bill DiRenzo warms up the real jet engine of his remote control airplane, he said the alleged plot to use jets like his to blow up the U.S. Capitol or the Pentagon sounds a little far-fetched.

[....]

DiRenzo said the suspect most likely didn’t even have the skills needed to make his alleged plot succeed.

“If you’ve never flown one, there’s no way, especially these turbine powered ones where there are the safety issues. I mean there’s so many things in the sophistication in the electronics in it. You have to be in the hobby to even think about doing what that kid did,” DiRenzo said.

DiRenzo also said from what he’s seen and read, the planes the suspect allegedly tried to use in his plot were simply not large enough to carry the explosives and the guidance system needed to be successful.

“They’re pretty close to their wing load when they take off, so to put 40 pounds of explosives on it, even some of these huge jets I have seen, they wouldn’t fly,” DiRenzo said.

The FBI is clearly targeting young Muslim-American men for their terror sting operations, so I’d like to call your attention to this scary story by Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room blog about the FBI’s blatantly bigoted attitudes toward Muslim-Americans.

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.

Read it and weep. This is what we’ve come to as a country. At the UK Guardian, there are some questions being asked: FBI faces entrapment questions over Rezwan Ferdaus bomb plot arrest

The dramatic arrest of a man in Massachusetts accused of plotting to crash explosive-filled miniature airplanes into the US Capitol and the Pentagon has sparked fresh concerns that the FBI might be using entrapment techniques aimed at Muslims in America.

[....]

some legal organisations and Muslim groups have questioned whether Ferdaus, whose activities were carried out with two undercover FBI agents posing as terrorists, would have been able to carry out such a sophisticated plot if left to his own devices. In numerous previous cases in the US, the FBI has been accused of over-zealousness in its investigations and of entrapping people into terror plots who might otherwise not have carried out an attack.

“It deeply concerns us. It is another in a pattern of high-profile cases. Would this person have conceived or executed this plot without the influence of the FBI?” said Heidi Boghosian, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also expressed its concern and wondered if more details would later emerge at trial that showed the full scale of the FBI involvement in setting up the sting. “There is a big, big difference between a plot initiated by the FBI and a plot initiated by a suspect, and it seems this might have been initiated by the FBI,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s director of communications.

There lots more in the article. Finally, here’s an excellent blog post by Stephen Lendman, “Entrapping Muslims in America,” and a scare story in the Christian Science Monitor about how we’re going to be attacked by terrorists with drones. In actuality, it is the U.S. who is attacking other countries (and U.S. citizens abroad) with drones. Talk about projection!

Those are my offerings for today. What are you reading and blogging about?