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Law Enforcement Theatre
June 4, 2012 5:56 AM   Subscribe

The FBI has orchestrated "14 out of the 22 most frightening plans for attacks [on U.S. soil] since 9/11" according to the NY Times' counting. As noted previously though, Mother Jones' investigative report found that "all [but three] of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings" and one third of terrorist defendants were actually led by an FBI agent provocateur, often outside contractors. A Rolling Stone blogger has now called out the FBI for "singling out ideological enemies [of the State]", including the FBI's recent Ohio bridge plot, while ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists.

In Cleveland, the FBI had apparently repeatedly failed to inspire other Occupy protestors before finally selecting several mentally ill people for the bridge plot.

"The way the FBI conducts their operations, It is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It's such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It's fixed." - Ex-FBI informant Craig Monteilh

As a bonus, there have been several interesting pieces by This American Life around the FBI's anti-activists efforts and methods bordering on entrapment as well :
Arms Trader 2009 - How the FBI made an arms dealer out of Hemant Lakhani.
Turncoat - Brandon Darby's efforts spying on activists for the FBI.
The Prosecutor - Richard Convertino's prosecution of the Detroit Sleeper Cell case.
posted by jeffburdges (134 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
So has the focus of the FBI from Hoover onward been terror fabrication and setting up political enemies of the state, or is that just a side gig for them?
posted by NathanBoy at 6:04 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Business as usual for the US government, in other words. Just add the US to the list of nations engaging in state terrorism against its own people.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:08 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Just add the US to the list of nations engaging in state terrorism against its own people.

Good comment. There's basically no difference between how the US treats its people and places like Syria, Sudan and North Korea.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:14 AM on June 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


It is all about entrapment

This word gets misused a lot. Entrapment is not any sting opreation. Granted, knowingly setting up mentally-ill people, if this indeed happened, is quite possibly entrapment and a waste of resources. But using this sort of tactic to root out actual threats is, in of itself, not entrapment and not a sign of a "police state". There's a difference between the pretty awful way the FBI has used this tactic and the concept of it at all. Using it against Occupy is despicable and should be investigated, but that doesn't mean there should never been terrorism stings, but the article seems to make that connection.

Just add the US to the list of nations engaging in state terrorism against its own people.

I thought this was about sting operations and the efficacy thereof. Are you indicating the FBI actually carried out some attacks in this piece? Because that's what you are saying here; but it also reads as kind of a lazy knee-jerk sort of response one gets used to seeing in these threads. But, if there is some actual false-flag operation you are referring to, I am interested in hearing about.
posted by spaltavian at 6:16 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Glad to see that our government is keeping up with the times... poststructuralist, postmodern... Ron Suskind:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
posted by snaparapans at 6:20 AM on June 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


I believe Hoover originally set the FBI after stolen cars, NathanBoy. You see, stolen cars cases got solved eventually, meaning they could pump up their numbers. I suppose his underlying motivations were routing out people he personally considered enemies though, yes. I'd imagine the ATF and DEA exist mostly because the FBI refused those jobs, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2012


There's basically no difference between how the US treats its people and places like Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Um, no. There are still differences. The use of state terrorism and fear-mongering as a means of population control is sadly not among them. I presume that the kind and degree of that use is different as well. That doesn't mean that this is a line the FBI shouldn't cross.
posted by gauche at 6:22 AM on June 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


While some of these operations are regrettable, especially the publicity, they are not entrapment, which is a defense mainly known form tv and movies.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2012


To quote Lexica, "There is no terrorism anymore; there is only the FBI playing multi-dimensional Chess against itself."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2012 [20 favorites]


There's basically no difference between how the US treats its people and places like Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Congratulations, America! You're not among the bottom 3 nations! Keep staying above that low bar and you will have the full support of Right Thinking Americans!

And entrapment is only a successful defense in TV and the movies. In real life, when they gotcha, it doesn't matter who was pulling your strings.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


My big fear is that one of the entrapped 'terrorists' is going to realize that the undercover agent gave them fake explosives, think it's an innocent mistake, and swap them out for real ones.

This seems like a really dangerous game to be playing, and I don't think it's making us any safer.
posted by schmod at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


While some of these operations are regrettable...

Governmental abuses of power are always "regrettable" or a "waste of resources".

They need to become "dangerous", "immoral", and "unacceptable".
posted by Trurl at 6:40 AM on June 4, 2012 [60 favorites]


There are (at least) two ways of looking at this - one, that our Terrorism Problem is largely created of whole cloth by a government agency that gets a large portion of its funding due to said problem, and two, that the government agency is purposely taking the individuals most likely to be a part of the Terrorism Problem and routing them into controlled settings where they can do as little harm as possible while simulatneously implicating as many of their associates as possible.

My guess is it's a mixture of the two (with a dash of several things of which we have no knowlege at all), since things are never as black and white as they first appear.
posted by Mooski at 6:41 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd consider it entrapment any time a state actor engages in emotional manipulation to bring about an illegal activity. Imagine if police officers acted like pimps to recruit prostitutes and johns to arrest both. Isn't that exactly what we're talking about here when an operation is being led by an FBI agent/contractor?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


My big fear is that one of the entrapped 'terrorists' is going to realize that the undercover agent gave them fake explosives, think it's an innocent mistake, and swap them out for real ones.

I'm pretty sure that anyone involved in a plot with explosives is not going to dismiss anything as an "innocent mistake" though. A discovery like that would more likely lead to the death of the undercover agent, no?
posted by elizardbits at 6:47 AM on June 4, 2012


...while ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists.
This statement makes no sense, if they were "much more dangerous" and being ignored wouldn't they be killing people all the time? It can't be both.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:49 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Terrorism is pretty hard, when you draw the venn diagram of 'people intelligent enough to pull off a successful attack' and 'people fanatical enough to carry out an attack' the crossover point is a tiny blip.

There are plenty of people stupid enough in the world to dream about carrying out an attack, but lack the intelligence, connections, materials and general wherewithal needed to carry it out. In cases such as these, the FBI is providing that major missing piece of the puzzle, but in doing so, they're turning someone who isn't a real danger into cheap press win. If the people targeted could have been judged as 'idiots with dreams' at an early stage, then clearly that money could be spent improving real security.

Of course, then they wouldn't have the press attention.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [28 favorites]


That doesn't mean that this is a line the FBI shouldn't cross.

Well, the double-negative fairy certainly didn't not hit me with her wand this morning. What I meant was, the FBI shouldn't cross the line into recruiting disturbed civilians for domestic terrorism. Even if it's not entrapment, this is something that ought to be curtailed.
posted by gauche at 6:51 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe they should change their motto to: Keeping You Safe From Ourselves
posted by Trurl at 6:53 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Confess, Fletch: "...while ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists."
This statement makes no sense, if they were "much more dangerous" and being ignored wouldn't they be killing people all the time? It can't be both.


Much more dangerous than utterly harmless (unless actively encouraged otherwise) starts at a much lower level than killing people all the time. Walking on the pavement is much more dangerous than staying at home, but I still don't get killed every time I go for a walk...
posted by Dysk at 6:57 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


...the government agency is purposely taking the individuals most likely to be a part of the Terrorism Problem and routing them into controlled settings where they can do as little harm as possible while simulatneously implicating as many of their associates as possible.

This assumes that the resources used in these containment-type strategies aren't diminishing the government's ability to investigate potential terrorism threats. In other words, how do we know that the government is tracking those "most likely to be" terrorists and not those most easily ensnared in FBI fabricated plots?
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


What are the three exceptions from the Mother Jones report? I didn't see them listed in the linked article or in the 30 seconds I spent fiddling with their database.
posted by Copronymus at 7:01 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


> ...while ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists.
>> This statement makes no sense, if they were "much more dangerous" and being ignored wouldn't they be killing people all the time? It can't be both.

I took that to mean "actual organized groups that you know, currently exist, rather than a bunch of delusional guys cherry-picked by the FBI."
posted by Panjandrum at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


And entrapment is only a successful defense in TV and the movies.

Well .... 'cept for Keith Jacobson, you mean, I assume.

one of the entrapped 'terrorists' is going to realize that the undercover agent gave them fake explosives

Seems like this is only one of the ways it could go wrong. What if they made two suicide vests, for instance? Etc.

two, that the government agency is purposely taking the individuals most likely to be a part of the Terrorism Problem and routing them into controlled settings where they can do as little harm as possible

I think there's a three here as well, which is "creating as many publicly busted terrorism plots as possible to signal to al Qaeda and Qaeda wannabes that the likelihood of getting caught is very high", when in reality a properly walled-off terror cell has limited means of being detected. In which case, security theater is actually the ... point. But maybe that's just the John Le Carré in me.
posted by dhartung at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I loved The Prosecutor! It was great. I wanted to read the book, The Best Terrorist They Could Find. I forgot all about it. Thanks!
posted by discopolo at 7:10 AM on June 4, 2012


So how long will we have to wait before some dude an FBI agent told to blow up a bridge says "great idea sir!" and goes off on his own and does it?
posted by crayz at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other words, how do we know that the government is tracking those "most likely to be" terrorists and not those most easily ensnared in FBI fabricated plots?

Well, frankly, we don't. It's a pretty secret squirrel business, tracking/catching/neutralizing terrorism. You figure it's human beings doing it, so there's going to be some pretty spectacular screw ups here and there, and since it is such a hush-hush business, you're going to have bad actors here and there that intentionally screw the process up or use it for their own ends.

Add to that the fact that those not in the loop have a strong tendency to fill in the blanks with whatever biases they possess, and it's really, really hard to have a clear picture of what's actually going on.
posted by Mooski at 7:31 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Add to that the fact that those not in the loop have a strong tendency to fill in the blanks with whatever biases they possess...

Yes, people's judgments are informed in part by their biases. But we also judge based on experience. I grant the need for operational security, but I don't believe the government makes the best use of it based on its history of abusing power and not managing security issues as effectively as it could.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:53 AM on June 4, 2012


In which case, security theater is actually the ... point. But maybe that's just the John Le Carré in me.

Yep. Theater is exactly what the FBI is good for in this situation. It's a win-win, if you hold your nose and look at it the right way.

Always keep in mind that the feebs are a marketing firm that just happen to have powers of arrest. An old joke is: "The FBI is where CI/CT operations go to die."

Without going into secret details, let's say you're the "Responsible Adult" security apparatus in the US handling "counter-terrorism". You come across some people of interest for one reason or another. As the responsible adults, you make an assessment of the situation. Here's an oversimplified breakdown:
  • You found a real, honest-to-god plot that's about to happen. You're going to shut this down with extreme prejudice, and extremely quietly. You don't want their friends and associates and support network to figure out how these people got caught and you don't want the populace on your side to hear and worry about a real near-miss. As you can imagine, this is extremely rare. Maybe even count-it-on-one-hand rare.
  • You found a group of capable people who have a real chance of pulling off a plot. This is a gold mine -- a valuable fucking thing. Once you're on to them, you can find out who their pals are, who they're using for finance and support, maybe even turn one of them and use them to drag down even more real-life terror cells. You don't want these people to find out what gave them away, and you certainly don't want the New York Freaking Times to find out. Capable people are rare in general, as is this situation.
  • You found some chest-thumping shit-talking idiots. This is the vast majority of what worldwide surveillance and CT operations will find. You may mess with them to keep the real players paranoid. You may even, in the spirit of "inter-agency cooperation", toss 'em to the FBI for hilarity to ensue.
Every time the FBI has a crowing press conference over how they managed to trick some sad-sack chumps into Doing Teh Terrorizm, the rest of the chumps get needlessly paranoid and even less effective. The real players wake up and spend more time and effort culling out their chumps so they don't accidentally bring the heat down.

Everyone wins! Responsible Adults get to keep the FBI busy, reducing the impact those Fine Agents have on real CT work. The FBI gets to pat themselves on the back again for being so awesome at investigating and stuff! The US populace gets to read True Tales of Terror, where in this issue some chumps were going to blow up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they would have gotten away with it if the whole thing wasn't orchestrated by those meddling FBI kids.

In the long run, the chumps win as well, because if they somehow actually hooked up with Serious People, they wouldn't be in jail -- they'd be dead.

Of course, all that's just me editorializing. Many would say I'm unfairly biased against the FBI. My apologies to any agents reading this. You're alright: I'm talking about those other agents...you know the ones!
posted by graftole at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2012 [37 favorites]


It's exceedingly unlikely the FBI contractors hired for these plots just happen to ensnare particularly likely candidates, given that they're paid for simply delivering anything, Mooski. Read the Guardian pice on Craig Monteilh. I doubt the CIA fed the mentally retarded guys in Cleveland to the FBI, graftole.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:16 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 1993 WTC bombing was an example of what happens when one of these stings go wrong.
posted by euphorb at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's basically no difference between how the US treats its people and places like Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Oh, come on. That's a pretty darn lazy comeback. Toss in Iran and "the old Soviet Union" and you'd have a good old fashioned neocon "enemies foreign and domestic" orgy.
posted by blucevalo at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2012


Hey, jeffburdges, I never said the FBI lacked initiative. They've proven themselves entirely capable of trying to discredit the dissidents-du-jour all by their lonesome over the last sixty-plus years.

On the flipside, I would doubt that the CIA, any imagery/surveillance entities, or the joint special operations command is spending effort keeping track of "Occupy".
posted by graftole at 8:29 AM on June 4, 2012


It's funny how moral terminology is captured by the law. The reason it's called "entrapment" in the first place is because there was a pre-existing moral sense that certain types of (so-called) law enforcement were inherent unjust. The fact that the US legal system has given "entrapment" an official definition does not mean that that is what the word means forever after, or even that the current legal meaning is the only legal meaning the word should have. If I call something "entrapment" (or "a violation of my civil liberties,") I may be using those terms in the official US-legal-system-approved sense, but I may also be using them in the pre-existing and more fundamental senses from which they were born. And it's not the user's job to specify to every legally-trained listener that he or she means the word in its common, justice-based sense rather than the sense that the legal system has defined for it. It's unfortunate that this sometimes causes confusion, but that's language for you, and the legal prescriptivists no more own the definitions of these very important words than do any other prescriptivists.

So yes, I'd say this is definitely entrapment, in a fairly straightforward way. It may be the case that the word means something else in US law, or that no one actually successfully defends themselves in the US by claiming entrapment, but the injustices of one country have nothing whatsoever to do with the applicability of the word and the fundamental concepts of justice that underly it.
posted by chortly at 8:43 AM on June 4, 2012 [11 favorites]




Not that I dispute the unwholesome nature of domestic surveillance in the USA, but anyone who's familiar with the venality and incompetence of our intelligence services (particularly pre-9/11) should be hard-pressed to believe that the FBI and CIA are capable of creating this vast illusion of terrorist activity and selling it to the populace and world media.

Damn the Partiot Act and Homeland Security. But let's keep our wits about us, okay, folks?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:46 AM on June 4, 2012


They need to become "dangerous", "immoral", and "unacceptable".

Which ones? You're not being specific in your objections here. If they are going to Occupy people and seeing if they're interested in being violent; that is in fact a waste of resources; but not exactly immoral? Arresting blithering idiots who are willing to conspire to violently hurt people is a waste in sources specifically because it's time that could be better spent doing this to people who are actually dangerous.

The Bridge plot was used to smear all of Occupy, which is a despicable act; but that was after the fact. The actual people charged in the "attack" were willing to resort to violence. The tactic of the sting wasn't the immoral part; (though it may have been a waste of resources), but what was done later in a PR move would be.

COINTELPRO, on the other hand, actually involved false flag operations and planting evidence and the like.

The FBI is trolling here; going after the low hanging fruit is a waste of time, but you have mroe fundamental issues with this, and it would be helpful, for me at least, for you to point to some of the specific issues you are talking about.
posted by spaltavian at 8:49 AM on June 4, 2012


You found a real, honest-to-god plot that's about to happen. You're going to shut this down with extreme prejudice, and extremely quietly. You don't want their friends and associates and support network to figure out how these people got caught and you don't want the populace on your side to hear and worry about a real near-miss.

That should never happen, though, because 'shutting it down with extreme prejudice' should always end with the defendants' constitutionally-guaranteed speedy, fair, and public trial before a jury of their peers. Once we decide that there is a class of (alleged) crimes so terrible that they must be kept secret from the public, then we open ourselves up to modern-day star chambers and unaccountable political prosecutions.
posted by jedicus at 8:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


So yes, I'd say this is definitely entrapment, in a fairly straightforward way. It may be the case that the word means something else in US law,

Okay, but if your'e knowingly going to use the word in a idiosyncratic way, then you need to explain exactly how you mean it and you are applying it to a situation. That hasn't been happening so far.
posted by spaltavian at 8:52 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


false flag operations

The millenial equivalent of demon possessions.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:54 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's one thing to be entrapped into selling drugs or soliciting a prostitute. It's quite another to be "entrapped" into agreeing to participate in a scheme to kill innocent people. I don't have much sympathy for anyone who gets swept up in a plan to murder civilians.

That said, there ought to be more oversight and scrutiny of paid informants, who have an obvious incentive to deliver the goods to their masters, regardless of the actual threat level. For instance, it seems like Brandon Darby drew a couple of impressionable kids under his spell and pointed them in a more militant direction as part of a set-up. The sentences the kids ultimately received seemed appropriate (not the 30 years the govt was threatening), but the whole Darby-angle was extremely fishy.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what if a terrorist joined the FBI or an FBI agent was radicalized?!? Imagine what they could get away with! SCAAAARY!
posted by fuq at 9:05 AM on June 4, 2012


the FBI .. ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists.

Law enforcement is not ignoring these people. Some recent news:

Dec. 22: Mass fed judge sentences Michael F. Jacques to 14 years prison for arson of a black church on the night of Obama's election.

Dec. 29: Danny Lee Warner arrested in connection with plot to murder Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jan. 27: Jason Walter Barnwell, sentenced to 20 years for firebombing an interracial couple's home in AK.

Feb. 6: Jeffrey Harbin, neo-Nazi, sentenced 2 years prison for transporting explosives designed to make a bomb.

Feb. 23: Bobby Joe Rogers indicted for firebombing an abortion clinic in FL

Feb. 23: Jeremiah Barnum, armed skinhead and murderer, shot and killed by police.

Feb. 24: Dennis Mahon, white supremacist, found guilty of 2004 mail bombing in AZ.

Mar. 16: David Pedersen, sentenced to life in prison for racially motivated killings.
posted by stbalbach at 9:10 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Law enforcement is not ignoring these people. "

True, that. The WS organizations and hangers-on tend to do real crimes that can be investigated. They aren't sexy crimes that make careers, so they don't get the same national front-page press release treatment.
posted by graftole at 9:17 AM on June 4, 2012


The differential incentives for the FBI contractor and an actual terrorist are quite different. A real terrorist needs someone with a strong sense of shut the hell up, substantial autonomy so that you don't have to constantly communicate, and no red flags to get them monitored / hassled randomly. The FBI wants to get this over with and have solid evidence, so they need someone with a significant lack of discretion in terms of choosing contacts, someone who lays out everything in recordable communications and doesn't check anything their 'handler' gives them, and someone in a group they can find with a high rate of return. It seems doubtful that they are reliably simulating what real terror recruiters do, given that real recruiters have a long time to work and a stronger sense of the constraints.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to see this issue gaining traction with a number of news sources. Maybe something will finally be done about it?
posted by JHarris at 9:31 AM on June 4, 2012


BobbyVan: It's quite another to be "entrapped" into agreeing to participate in a scheme to kill innocent people. I don't have much sympathy for anyone who gets swept up in a plan to murder civilians.


Well, ordinary people who are not law enforcement would go to jail for inciting people to commit violent acts.. in fact one notable american was recently assassinated for the very same thing.

It seems problematic to give a pass to those inciting violence because they are working for the State because you believe they are culling society of hapless weak or mentally unstable people who could be persuaded to murder civilians, while condemning others as for doing the same thing.

Personally I have a problem with the State inciting violence, as it self serving. The police are like an organism which unfettered, would continually expand. Scaring people about terrorists, has exponentially increased police power in the US and continues to do so. In this light actively creating terrorists appears to function only to justify more expansion, and should be illegal.

Given the state of fear generated by the Police on a daily basis, I do not see that happening very soon.
posted by snaparapans at 9:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Okay, but if your'e knowingly going to use the word in a idiosyncratic way, then you need to explain exactly how you mean it and you are applying it to a situation. That hasn't been happening so far.

My point is that common usage is no more idiosyncratic than legal usage. The fact that the law has a specific meaning for the word, whereas common usage has a medley of potential definitions, in no way means that the latter is idiosyncratic and the former is not. Yes, I may mean a number of different things by "entrapment," but that is the way language works. We should certainly work to figure out which scenarios and concepts of justice underly our usages of this word, but to do so is not a necessary requirement for using the word, and the fact that the legal definition is more specific doesn't mean that those using the word in the legal sense are prima facie less idiosyncratic in their usage.

Regarding this specific word, I think the common usage is pretty straightforward. It may run into problems -- like most concepts of justice do -- when you try to unpack it any apply it, but again, that's a second-order issue for when you get into an argument about what ought to be (and not just what current US law says is). For instance, wikipedia's first sentence is "In criminal law, entrapment is conduct by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit." That seems like a pretty good start (though by no means unproblematic); pretty close to what people commonly mean by the word; and probably pretty close to the concept that gave birth to the legal term.
posted by chortly at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW I would not trust Rolling Stone for objective reporting, they are more about entertainment. The source is The Southern Poverty Law Center for this type of stuff.
posted by stbalbach at 9:44 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW I would not trust Rolling Stone for objective reporting, they are more about entertainment.

I dunno, Rick Perlstein is a top notch journalist, and this area is his speciality. SPLC is a great source for information as well, although their focus seems more to combating hate and bigotry, and not so much challenging police tactics related to combatting terrorism.
posted by snaparapans at 9:52 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


false flag operations: The millenial equivalent of demon possessions

Except that demon possessions are not documented in a memo by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Bridge plot was used to smear all of Occupy, which is a despicable act; but that was after the fact.

I believe that was the intention from the very beginning. And I believe it is immoral to quash dissent with smear tactics. YMMV.
posted by Trurl at 9:56 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Law enforcement is not ignoring these people. Some recent news:

Note that the majority of those are 'trial following being caught AFTER setting a clinic on fire or trying to murder someone'. The investigations aren't being focused on catching these savages before they try to kill a doctor or people's advocate; they're following up on the normal police investigation AFTER the crime is committed.

Also note - if you try to work out the proportion of 'actualized radical right-wing terrorist attacks in the US' vs 'actualized radical islamic attacks in the US' across the last ten years, you get a divide by zero error.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:01 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


It seems problematic to give a pass to those inciting violence because they are working for the State because you believe they are culling society of hapless weak or mentally unstable people who could be persuaded to murder civilians, while condemning others as for doing the same thing.

I think you're begging the question when you reference a state policy of inciting violence. And when you compare the "egging on" by a rogue paid informant to Anwar al-Awlaki, you invite more laughter than agreement.

And a side note: we can do better in our FPP's than linking to Infowars.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Except that demon possessions are not documented in a memo by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Neither is any false-flag op that ever went down. Kennedy and McNamara either thought it was too nefarious or too risky or both. I know Operation Northwoods is the Sacred Shroud of Tinhattery, but at least admit that it was a non-operation, okay?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


BobbyVan: It's one thing to be entrapped into selling drugs or soliciting a prostitute. It's quite another to be "entrapped" into agreeing to participate in a scheme to kill innocent people. I don't have much sympathy for anyone who gets swept up in a plan to murder civilians.

That is because you are victim of a fallacy, the idea that a person somehow "is," secretly, someone who will or would do something or isn't, when in fact these notions are malleable. Without the plan, a person who "would" do something is a person who never will -- and what people would do is changeable over time. You concept of the situation verges dangerously into a willingness to police thought.
posted by JHarris at 10:04 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Law enforcement is not ignoring these people. Some recent news...

It seems like most of the things on your list are reactions to crimes that were committed rather than proactive operations to prevent crime or directing dangerous people/groups into false plots before they come with something dangerous on their own.

I don't really have an opinion one way or the other but your list doesn't really refute the blogger's assertion.

On preview, what FatherDagon said.
posted by VTX at 10:06 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


And secondong snaparapans, Rolling Stone publishes some excellent politics articles. Don't let their obstensible focus of music distract you, they do good work.
posted by JHarris at 10:06 AM on June 4, 2012


"It seems doubtful that they are reliably simulating what real terror recruiters do"

Doubtful indeed =).

Someone mentioned the FBI's illustrious history of car-theft investigations. There was a great reason for that which continues to this day: You can always make just one more more car-theft bust. It is a bottomless pool from which you can, without faking one statistic, show year-over-year improvement in effectiveness (arrests, convictions, recoveries, etc) no matter what. That was Hoover's genius in running his armed PR firm. There is a direct parallel in the War on Drugs, and its bottomless pool of crimes to solve.

One might imagine that the FBI will hardly ever run across a "serious" terrorist plot. They're rare. (Note: The FBI is not the final arbiter of what counter-terrorist activities it will pursue, any more than they can decide what counter-intelligence activities they participate in. The FBI can stumble on a plot and have it taken away from them.)

What the FBI can and does run across *often* are chest-thumping, shit-talking idiots. There's a bottomless pool of those. Whenever the FBI needs to demonstrate its "counter-terrorism" chops, there's a chump out there with the operational security instincts of a twelve-year-old who will be willing to have a new acquaintance hook them up with a two-liter soda bottle full of nitroglycerine so they can blow up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
posted by graftole at 10:12 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The legal definition of "entrapment" is important in the context, as you can actually escape conviction when entrapment occurs. There is actually a concrete effect when this kind of entrapment is proven.

The colloquial definition of "entrapment" is unimportant in this context, as all it signals is a general sense of moral and ethical disapproval.

While the case law on entrapment is hairy and varies by jurisdiction, but the general principles aren't that hard to understand. The idea for the crime has to come from the government, not from the individual; the government has to persuade the individual into committing the crime; the individual must not have been ready or willing to commit the crime before the interaction with the government.

When you look at what the FBI has been doing with regard to terror attacks, you see that the cases occupy various places on the spectrum from entrapment to not-entrapment. Part of the reason why entrapment is such a difficult defense to pull off is the fact that every case is different, the allegedly entrapped individuals are often not shining angels of purity, it's difficult to show that someone was not ready and willing to perform an activity that they were later ready and willing to perform, and the government often has better lawyers.

Without the plan, a person who "would" do something is a person who never will -- and what people would do is changeable over time. You concept of the situation verges dangerously into a willingness to police thought.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Complete idiots are often the first, and not the last, people to try dangerous schemes. See the Shoe Bomber, the Underwear Bomber, et al. Four Lions is a much more accurate depiction of terrorist activity than 24.

Remember that famous video clip of an Al-Qaeda top dog shooting a rifle, and then grabbing the rifle by the barrel, only to drop it while his body language was screaming "ouchy, that's hot"? Yeaaaaaah. And that guy was one of the brain trusts, relatively speaking.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:15 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have time to engage fully right now, but folks interested in the topic should look at the work of Michael German, former FBI agent and now a policy expert for the ACLU (an unusual career path to say the least). As a federal undercover agent he took down a bunch of white supremacist groups and wrote an excellent book about it, Thinking Like a Terrorist.
posted by postel's law at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neither is any false-flag op that ever went down. Kennedy and McNamara either thought it was too nefarious or too risky or both. I know Operation Northwoods is the Sacred Shroud of Tinhattery, but at least admit that it was a non-operation, okay?

Your comparison was to demonic posession. Unless you are going to claim that demonic possession doesn't occur because Satan considers it too nefarious and/or risky, you have exposed that comparison as specious.
posted by Trurl at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


the FBI .. ignoring much more dangerous right wing groups, including white supremacists.

Law enforcement is not ignoring these people. Some recent news:


But the list you give is almost exclusively of actual crimes like arson and murder, which once they are committed, the police can hardly just ignore. This contrasts with the dripfeed to the media of 'foiled plots' that we hear about the Islamic Fundamentalists - doesn't it?

The wider point is that the state does not bother to infiltrate and spy on far-right groups in much of a meaningful way. By contrast, in the UK the police are totally embedded in not only Trotskyist groups but also things like environmental activism.

We have around a dozen recently exposed and named police agents who were involved with green activist groups or similar, and actually fathered children as part of their undercover identities, and the media and establishment just lets this news pass (or more accurately 'gets rid of it' as Chomsky I think puts it - there are certain facts that just can't exist in polite discourse).

The state doesn't really have any problem with ultra-right groups - why would it?
posted by colie at 10:27 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your comparison was to demonic posession. Unless you are going to claim that demonic possession doesn't occur because Satan considers it too nefarious and/or risky, you have exposed that comparison as specious.

The comparison was meant to demonstrate that it's as easy to accuse someone of being possessed by demons as it is for someone to claim that an event was an example of false-flag terrorism. In both cases it depends on the credulity and ignorance of the people to whom the appeal is made.

Since Operation Northwoods never went down, I submit that using it as evidence that governments engage in such activities is unwarranted. But with your dedication to reason and logic, I'm sure you already knew that.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


the media and establishment just lets this news pass

I personally saw this story reported in print in the Guardian and the Mail and on the television news (BBC I think). It didn't seen covered up.
posted by Winnemac at 11:02 AM on June 4, 2012


People can argue for or against this, for or against the kettlings, the press put downs, the stop and frisks, the targeting of minorities, the re-classification of crimes to look good...

It all looks pretty broken, from the most basic municipal force to the FBI, it doesn't look like a system that pursues truth or justice anymore. It looks like a system pursues what's best for the minds of the (white, enfranchised) populace and what's best for the careers of the officers.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


No need to chase theoretical Kennedy-era false flag operations when you had Operation Cointelpro in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where the FBI was involved in framing defendants, illegal break-ins, agents provocateur and even assassination. Of course this was under Hoover.

I don't see any evidence of this type of thing now though. A lot of it seems to be people who are on extremist chat rooms, or mouthing off outside a mosque, already saying they're gonna fuck shit up. Details matter, but I don't think its automatically wrong to steer these guys into fake government plots when they are often looking for real plots. A sting can be like an anti-oxidant that binds to these free radicals.
posted by msalt at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Details matter, but I don't think its automatically wrong to steer these guys into fake government plots when they are often looking for real plots. A sting can be like an anti-oxidant that binds to these free radicals.

Yeah, this. Catching morons in a public manner scares away the rational and fearful actors. It also forces (perhaps would-be) extremists to think that all violent actors are LEOs, thereby sowing distrust and preventing large-scale conspiracies from gelling in the first place.

I'm not saying these individual stings are necessarily legal, moral, or ethical, but there's nothing inherently wrong with the general strategy of waiting around in chat rooms, offering someone a bomb when they want to blow something up, and then arresting them when they accept said bomb.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally saw this story reported in print in the Guardian and the Mail and on the television news (BBC I think). It didn't seen covered up.

It wasn't 'covered up' in the kind of Nixon-classified-documents way. Sure, you could read about it for a day or two.

But no police department or individual has been charged with any crimes as a result or even given a ticking off as far as I know. The fathering of the children is against even the lax codes set down by the police themselves for this kind of thing, and the actual nature of the intelligence these agents were supposed to be gathering is also never defined. Walk into a pub in London tonight and ask anyone about the secret policemen paid to infiltrate airport expansion protesters and nobody will have a clue what you're talking about. Unlike their opinion of the shoe bomber.

My point was that this was an example of how the news media used their tone of 'what a strange old world, with police doing these dodgy things, my my, that was bad wasn't it' - without any follow up to decide who's guilty, why it's wrong, why it happened at an institutional level, who benefitted from it, and why it shouldn't happen again. This is 'getting rid of it' Expert Mode, I think.
posted by colie at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought this was about sting operations and the efficacy thereof. Are you indicating the FBI actually carried out some attacks in this piece?
The problem is when the news blares out with "Terrorists captured" and details the plot without pointing out that the people who came up with it were actually FBI people. In that sense, the FBI is giving an impression of there being a much greater terrorist threat then there actually is.

That said, the "Sting operation" makes sense as far as preventing some terrorism. If there were no stings, delusional idiots could conspire with each other with reasonable belief that the people they were talking too were other delusional idiots, and not cops. With sting operations in play, there is a real risk that anyone you might conspire with might be an under cover agent.

But what concerns me is that if it wasn't for these stings there probably wouldn't be much if any "terrorism" in the U.S. So it's creating a false impression that there are lots of terrorists running around when there are not, thus justifying more money to spent on counter-terror, which goes into more stings and so on.
Every time the FBI has a crowing press conference over how they managed to trick some sad-sack chumps into Doing Teh Terrorizm, the rest of the chumps get needlessly paranoid and even less effective. The real players wake up and spend more time and effort culling out their chumps so they don't accidentally bring the heat down.

Everyone wins! Responsible Adults get to keep the FBI busy, reducing the impact those Fine Agents have on real CT work. The FBI gets to pat themselves on the back again for being so awesome at investigating and stuff! The US populace gets to read True Tales of Terror, where in this issue some chumps were going to blow up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they would have gotten away with it if the whole thing wasn't orchestrated by those meddling FBI kids.
Sounds interesting, except for the obvious fact that you just made all that stuff up and are assuming it's true because... why, exactly? How and why would you know how any of that works?
That should never happen, though, because 'shutting it down with extreme prejudice' should always end with the defendants' constitutionally-guaranteed speedy, fair, and public trial before a jury of their peers. Once we decide that there is a class of (alleged) crimes so terrible that they must be kept secret from the public, then we open ourselves up to modern-day star chambers and unaccountable political prosecutions.
Seems unlikely that it would. The Zazi plot was largely consider to be a "real" plot, by people who were capable of actually caring it out, and he received real AQ training in Pakistan. He was tracked and arrested by the FBI and apparently was experimenting with actual explosives when he was caught (looking at the Wikipedia article)

It's likely, IMO, that graftole is just making stuff up.
It's one thing to be entrapped into selling drugs or soliciting a prostitute. It's quite another to be "entrapped" into agreeing to participate in a scheme to kill innocent people. I don't have much sympathy for anyone who gets swept up in a plan to murder civilians.
Legally, why would it be any different? It's all illegal and if something is a valid legal technique against terrorists, why wouldn't it be a valid legal technique against drug dealers?

Also, the FBI does in fact do drug dealing "Stings" the same way. John DeLorean caught up in an FBI "cocaine dealing" scheme that's actually fairly similar to how a lot of these terrorists schemes. In fact, DeLorian actually did defend himself on an entrapment defense:
DeLorean successfully defended himself with a procedural defense, despite video evidence of him referring to a suitcase full of cocaine as "good as gold" – arguing that the FBI had enticed a convicted narcotics smuggler to get him to supply the money to buy the cocaine. His attorney stated in Time (March 19, 1984), "This [was] a fictitious crime. Without the government, there would be no crime." The DeLorean defense team did not call any witnesses. DeLorean was found not guilty because of entrapment on August 16, 1984.[14]
posted by delmoi at 11:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post, jb.
posted by box at 11:37 AM on June 4, 2012


Delmoi, I was making a moral point. One can empathize with the poverty-stricken man lured into a drug deal, or the lovelorn bachelor suckered into a honeytrap. Even if one assumes entrapment, however, I can't empathize with someone who agrees to participate in a conspiracy to commit mass murder.

Of course you're right that in the legal sense of the word, "entrapment" is a legitimate defense for would-be drug dealers and terrorists alike.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:41 AM on June 4, 2012


Like copronymus, I'm wondering what the 3 non-sting operations were, and I find it shoddy journalism on Mother Jones' part not to say. (I spent a chunk of time digging through that article without finding it.) Any ideas?

I'm guessing
1) The Zazi NY Subway plot, as delmoi said
2) The Times Square attempted bombing (Faisal Shahzad)
3) The Detroit Underwear Bomber plot? Does that count as domestic?
posted by msalt at 11:45 AM on June 4, 2012


There was an incident here in Dallas where a Muslim kid was upset about getting hassled about his religion, and was going on line making vague statements about how he felt like blowing stuff up. Unfortunately he caught the eye of the FBI, and an agent started working him up to the whole thing. The kid was talking about blowing stuff up in his little suburb, which is where the people hasseling him were, and the agent convinced him that was too small time. The agent actually drove him around Downtown to help him pick out a sufficiently important building to blow up. The kid had no idea how to get ahold of explosives, so the agent provided him with some. He didn't know how to build the bomb, so the agent helped him do that.

He is now serving 30 years, having taken a plea bargin to avoid life in prison.

FBI -- Keeping us safe from emo kids on the Internet!
posted by pbrim at 11:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was an incident here in Dallas where a Muslim kid was upset about getting hassled about his religion, and was going on line making vague statements about how he felt like blowing stuff up.

You sure he didn't just hate us for our freedom?
posted by Trurl at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2012


There was an incident here in Dallas where a Muslim kid was upset about getting hassled about his religion [...] FBI -- Keeping us safe from emo kids on the Internet!

I doubt that is the whole story, somehow. Links please.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:19 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man Sentenced to 24 Years in Prison for Attempting to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction to Bomb Skyscraper in Downtown Dallas

Official complaint [.pdf]

Anigbrowl, your instincts are correct. Read pages 6-7 of the complaint. The email exchanges between the FBI undercover agents and Smadi show a radicalized young man committed to violent jihad.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2012


It's surprising that this FPP links to extremely non-reputable sites like infowars, but completely ignores things like DHS investigations of rightwing extremism. Many rightwing groups have been rolled up by the FBI in stings, with varying degrees of success. The FBI appears to take an equal-opportunity stance on these things, contrary to the suggestions of the FPP.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The email exchanges between the FBI undercover agents and Smadi show a radicalized young man committed to violent jihad.

Indeed.
By God who created me, there will not be a retreat at all, even if they take me to Guantanamo for the rest of my life. I will never forget Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, or any land wher the call of "there is no God but God, Muhammad is God's Messenger" is raised.

Who will assist the brothers, the infants, the women who become widows and their orphan children? Who would return these lands before religion and blessing disappear? Who would cause these tyrants to fall?
posted by Trurl at 12:56 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, so infowars isn't exactly a reputable site, but you're saying Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Guardian, Rolling Stone Magazine, and This American Life are "extremely non-reputable" sites?
posted by stagewhisper at 12:58 PM on June 4, 2012


And I believe it is immoral to quash dissent with smear tactics. YMMV.

Thank you for arguing in good faith! Yes indeed, my mileage my vary regarding quashing dissent. Since we may not totally agree, I may be authoritarian. It's not that we could see the situation differently, it just a question of whether I believe in freedom or not!

I believe that was the intention from the very beginning.

Me too. But again, I'm not sure what you specific objection is to here: the tactic or specific instances of it's application. I don't think this should be used against Occupy, since there is not much of a credible threat. I don't think that means this is "entrapment" or should not be used against legitimate threats. I also don't think that, even if they were trolling to "bring down" Occupy, we should ignore people expressing a desire to destroy a bridge, even if they are dorks.
posted by spaltavian at 1:03 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trurl, not sure I'm getting your point. Are you suggesting that Smadi's plans to kill civilians were somehow legitimate? It seems awfully slippery for you to start off the thread complaining about entrapment and governmental abuses of power, then to pivot to an inference that one of these would-be terrorists had some legitimate grievances.

So which is it? False flags and cheap baiting of vulnerable Muslims, or chickens coming home to roost?
posted by BobbyVan at 1:07 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd consider it entrapment any time a state actor engages in emotional manipulation to bring about an illegal activity. Imagine if police officers acted like pimps to recruit prostitutes and johns to arrest both. Isn't that exactly what we're talking about here when an operation is being led by an FBI agent/contractor?

SHHHH DON'T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:18 PM on June 4, 2012


So which is it? False flags and cheap baiting of vulnerable Muslims, or chickens coming home to roost?

The possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Take an angry kid persecuted by rednecks for being Muslim, have an FBI plant encourage him connect it to US persecution of Muslims worldwide, and see what you get.

But we don't need to argue about that. Let's say you're right. He was an Evil Terrorist from day one and the federales nailed him on a righteous bust.

He's telling you in plain language what made him angry enough to kill. As long as you continue to shrug off those reasons, there will be plenty more where he came from.
posted by Trurl at 1:35 PM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


The possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Take an angry kid persecuted by rednecks for being Muslim, have an FBI plant encourage him connect it to US persecution of Muslims worldwide, and see what you get.

But we don't need to argue about that. Let's say you're right. He was an Evil Terrorist from day one and the federales nailed him on a righteous bust.

He's telling you in plain language what made him angry enough to kill. As long as you continue to shrug off those reasons, there will be plenty more where he came from.


That about nails it.
posted by colie at 1:41 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appreciate your honesty, Trurl, but I find these competing narratives confusing.

On the one hand, we have an FPP and a few articles suggesting that the FBI's domestic terrorism work is basically a snipe hunt - and ignores "much more dangerous right wing" groups. On the other hand, you're telling me that US foreign policy is creating terrorists and "there will be plenty more where [they] came from."

If you really believe the latter, isn't it irresponsible to also push a narrative that suggests that the Islamic militants who have been charged w/ domestic terrorism in the US are dupes and patsies who really got their ideas from rogue informants?

Don't you see the inconsistency here? Should we be worried about blowback and putting the FBI on alert, or should we be diverting our resources on right wing groups like the sovereign citizen movement and the Klan?
posted by BobbyVan at 1:59 PM on June 4, 2012


Except the FBI doesn't set US foreign policy. So I'm not sure what it "nails". Very few people here on Metafilter don't think American foregin policy has been really terrible. Do we ignore threats of violence when the causes are legitimate?

Let's say you're right. He was an Evil Terrorist from day one and the federales nailed him on a righteous bust.

Stop talking down to people. Know one spoke in this manner.

As long as you continue to shrug off those reasons,

Who, exactly shrugged off those reasons? Can you please quote and explain; because BobbyVan's post wasn't doing that at all.

I don't shrug off those reasons; I think they are pretty clear indicators of how American foreign policy needs to be rethought. That doesn't mean I think we should persue those who want to violently attack the US because of those reasons any less. Do you?
posted by spaltavian at 2:01 PM on June 4, 2012


should we be diverting our resources on right wing groups

I wonder what 'our' 'resources' might be.
posted by colie at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2012


Imagine if police officers acted like pimps to recruit prostitutes and johns to arrest both.

SHHHH DON'T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS.


How about the CIA-based 1955-1965 "Operation Midnight Climax"? It's a bit different in goals and procedures, but still...

"Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients to the apartment served up acid-laced cocktails to unsuspecting johns, while martini-swilling secret agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed, some disguised as electrical outlets.

To get the guys in the mood, the walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The agents grew fascinated with the kinky sex games that played out between the johns and the hookers. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action."

You sure he didn't just hate us for our freedom?

LOL, thankfully we've gotten rid of all that pesky freedom, so they've got nothing to hate us for, now...right? right?
posted by nTeleKy at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2012


I'm definitely torn on these kinds of operations.

However:

It's funny how moral terminology is captured by the law. The reason it's called "entrapment" in the first place is because there was a pre-existing moral sense that certain types of (so-called) law enforcement were inherent unjust. The fact that the US legal system has given "entrapment" an official definition does not mean that that is what the word means forever after, or even that the current legal meaning is the only legal meaning the word should have. If I call something "entrapment" (or "a violation of my civil liberties,") I may be using those terms in the official US-legal-system-approved sense, but I may also be using them in the pre-existing and more fundamental senses from which they were born. And it's not the user's job to specify to every legally-trained listener that he or she means the word in its common, justice-based sense rather than the sense that the legal system has defined for it. It's unfortunate that this sometimes causes confusion, but that's language for you, and the legal prescriptivists no more own the definitions of these very important words than do any other prescriptivists.

So yes, I'd say this is definitely entrapment, in a fairly straightforward way. It may be the case that the word means something else in US law, or that no one actually successfully defends themselves in the US by claiming entrapment, but the injustices of one country have nothing whatsoever to do with the applicability of the word and the fundamental concepts of justice that underly it.


I can only go by the things I've read about these sting operations, and one thing they tend to have in common is that the undercover agent always goes above and beyond to make damn sure the target is serious at every step of the way. "Say no now and everything is fine," etc. This is for two reasons- it eliminates the possibility of claims of entrapment, and it puts the target on record clearly saying they want to do the bad thing.

Entrapment is not giving the target a reasonable way out. It is inciting someone to violence they had no idea of committing.

We can all imagine situations where we are so pissed off and so stressed that we might mutter some kind of threat against the source of our woes. Now imagine we are overheard by someone who tips off the FBI. They send someone our way to see whether we are serious, and they try to get us to bite on some plan. We would, hopefully, recoil in horror and say "jeez, no, I was just venting." The people who DO bite on the plans, and who then continually reassert their intent to complete the plan, ARE dangerous.
posted by gjc at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2012


On the one hand, we have an FPP and a few articles suggesting that the FBI's domestic terrorism work is basically a snipe hunt - and ignores "much more dangerous right wing" groups. On the other hand, you're telling me that US foreign policy is creating terrorists and "there will be plenty more where [they] came from." If you really believe the latter, isn't it irresponsible to also push a narrative that suggests that the Islamic militants who have been charged w/ domestic terrorism in the US are dupes and patsies who really got their ideas from rogue informants?

If by "narrative" you mean the reporting of The New York Times, it may indeed be irresponsible of me to believe it. But with Mother Jones corroborating - combined with the lengthy history of FBI ratfucking - I find it persuasive.

I don't think it's irresponsible to acknowledge facts. Nor do I think that the FBI ceasing to contrive domestic terror plots for its own aggrandizement will hinder anyone's ability to defend against the genuine threats to us created by US foreign policy.
posted by Trurl at 2:55 PM on June 4, 2012


Didn't the FBI just convict two Arizona right-wing extremists using a sexy FBI informant who infiltrated their circle? So I'm confused by this FPP -- was it good or bad that they did that?
posted by msalt at 3:19 PM on June 4, 2012





But we don't need to argue about that. Let's say you're right. He was an Evil Terrorist from day one and the federales nailed him on a righteous bust. He's telling you in plain language what made him angry enough to kill. As long as you continue to shrug off those reasons, there will be plenty more where he came from.

That doesn't mean he's right, though. People in the grip of religious mania were going on killing sprees long before the US ever came into existence. You don't have to support US foreign policy to recognize that there are some pre-existing tensions in parts of the Muslim world. There are bitter tribal and schismatic conflicts dating back centuries. Much like your assertion that bin Laden just had a really big chip on his shoulder of our manufacture, you're inviting us to believe in a pacific culture galvanized into radicalism by the wickedness of the US. Are we supposed to think the same of the right-wing extremists that have been apprehended by the FBI - that they were just gentle god-fearing types that were forced to take up arms by the sheer evilness of the federal government?
posted by anigbrowl at 3:22 PM on June 4, 2012


Didn't the FBI just convict two Arizona right-wing extremists using a sexy FBI informant who infiltrated their circle? So I'm confused by this FPP -- was it good or bad that they did that?

If she devised the plot they were arrested for, provided them with the materials, and gave instructions on their use, that's bad.

If she did so sexily, that's slightly less bad - but still bad.
posted by Trurl at 3:26 PM on June 4, 2012


On the one hand, we have an FPP and a few articles suggesting that the FBI's domestic terrorism work is basically a snipe hunt - and ignores "much more dangerous right wing" groups. On the other hand, you're telling me that US foreign policy is creating terrorists and "there will be plenty more where [they] came from."

If you really believe the latter, isn't it irresponsible to also push a narrative that suggests that the Islamic militants who have been charged w/ domestic terrorism in the US are dupes and patsies who really got their ideas from rogue informants?
There's no reason why those can't both be true at the same time, as far as I can tell.

There's no reason to think that this kid would have ever done anything if not for prompting from the feds. Sure, once he was contacted by people he thought were real terrorists he was interested. Certainly there have been lots of people all over the world who have been angry about the people around them. Without actually encouraging them what would have happened? Probably nothing at all.
You don't have to support US foreign policy to recognize that there are some pre-existing tensions in parts of the Muslim world. There are bitter tribal and schismatic conflicts dating back centuries.
Yeah and what kind of idiot do you have to be to think that has anything to do with us?

As far as I know Sunnis and Shiites get along just fine in most places in the world. Catholics and protestants have issues going back centuries, but although there have occasionally be been problems (in northern Ireland, for example) you wouldn't expect Catholics and protestants to suddenly start bombing each other in Boston or new York because both exit in both cities. If the equation of "Historic tension == Terrorism" the US would be brimming over with Catholic/Protestant terrorism.
Much like your assertion that bin Laden just had a really big chip on his shoulder of our manufacture, you're inviting us to believe in a pacific culture galvanized into radicalism by the wickedness of the US.
And are you seriously arguing that he attacked us on 9/11 because he just really didn't like Shiites? It's the only alternate explanation you've offered, and yet it clearly makes no sense at all.

And again, trying to blame terrorism against the US on the Sunni/Shiite thing is saying that protestant/catholic strife would somehow result in the IRA bombing Tokyo.
posted by delmoi at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the FBI made one-tenth the effort to recruit right-wing Americans for violent plots against the government, they'd get ten times the catches.

I have personally met people who I'm morally sure would participate given half a chance, people who made no attempt to conceal their distaste for the government, particularly under Mr. Obama - apparently armed, dangerous people who supposedly knew how to use guns. Anyone who has spent any time seriously drinking or taking drugs in middle America has met these people.

there's nothing inherently wrong with the general strategy of waiting around in chat rooms, offering someone a bomb when they want to blow something up, and then arresting them when they accept said bomb.

That isn't what we're seeing, though - we're seeing the investigators pressure and convince people into actually performing actions that they had never done before. Lots and lots of people talk shit in chat rooms....

I honestly believe that the FBI could be arresting an almost unlimited number of people this way if they wanted to and if they included right-wingers. But why? Shouldn't they be concentrating on plots where the FBI is not the ones leading the plot, instead of creating new revolutionaries?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


The email exchanges between the FBI undercover agents and Smadi show a radicalized young man committed to violent jihad.


The irratating thing about these sorts of stings is like in this case where the officer could have arrested Smadi for dozens of offenses for probably weeks before the actual fake event but instead chose to string him along hoping for the big nova of offenses and jail time. Either out of spite or to make the investigation worth it so they can continue to play undercover secret agent.
posted by Mitheral at 4:19 PM on June 4, 2012


If the FBI made one-tenth the effort to recruit right-wing Americans for violent plots against the government, they'd get ten times the catches

How do you know the level of effort?

Frankly, I suspect this is what happens when you're trying to catch big fish and it turns out there's only minnows to be had.

These guys all got burned on 9/11. That's not going to happen again. So we get this.

None of these people were legally entrapped. It is a hail mary defense. Anyone with real experience in a criminal law practice will tell you that.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:31 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny how moral terminology is captured by the law. The reason it's called "entrapment" in the first place is because there was a pre-existing moral sense that certain types of (so-called) law enforcement were inherent unjust. The fact that the US legal system has given "entrapment" an official definition does not mean that that is what the word means forever after, or even that the current legal meaning is the only legal meaning the word should have. If I call something "entrapment" (or "a violation of my civil liberties,") I may be using those terms in the official US-legal-system-approved sense, but I may also be using them in the pre-existing and more fundamental senses from which they were born. And it's not the user's job to specify to every legally-trained listener that he or she means the word in its common, justice-based sense rather than the sense that the legal system has defined for it. It's unfortunate that this sometimes causes confusion, but that's language for you, and the legal prescriptivists no more own the definitions of these very important words than do any other prescriptivists.

This is a thread linking to descriptions of legal cases currently in the justice system. People rely on context.


Also, I've been both a historian and a lawyer. I've never heard once of any larger moral sense for the term from which the legal concept derives. If you'd please provide a link to some thing citing this alleged larger "fundamental" sense, I'd appreciate it. I have never seen any pre-existing sense to this term at all. Ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2012


And are you seriously arguing that he attacked us on 9/11 because he just really didn't like Shiites? It's the only alternate explanation you've offered, and yet it clearly makes no sense at all.

No, that is not what I am suggesting at all. Although now that you mention it...

And again, trying to blame terrorism against the US on the Sunni/Shiite thing is saying that protestant/catholic strife would somehow result in the IRA bombing Tokyo.

Not as far-fetched as you think. What I am saying is that the stated political agenda of terrorism is often an excuse for criminal opportunism. Sure, bin Laden could find plenty of reasons to hate the USA, but if you're prepared to hijack airliners and blow up buildings he might just as easily have sponsored terrorism against India, China, the UK or whoever. What I'm objecting to is the notion that the US is the causative factor in such violence. I can see plenty wrong with US foreign policy, but some posters seem bent on assuming that everything the US does is bad by default, as if the terrorists in question would otherwise be meek as lambs.

Consider, for example, the Taliban's much-condemned destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. What was being protested there, buddhistic hegemony? The point is that the sort of people who do such things tend to be total assholes, so we should take their stated explanations ('the US is evil and forced us to do it') with a pinch of salt rather than at face value.

That isn't what we're seeing, though - we're seeing the investigators pressure and convince people into actually performing actions that they had never done before.

I'm not. If you ever feel someone is trying to pressure you or coerce you into committing an act of terrorism, I suggest that you a) say 'no, and not just no, but fuck no' and b) call the law enforcement agency of your choice upon the person you feel is instigating such activity. Haven't you mnoticed in cases like this how the defendants almost invariably have multiple opportunities to back out, but eh FBI tend not to produce the badges until after the person they're investigating has attempted to take delivery of or even detonate a bomb? Every time I read one of these stories in the news and then go look at the actual criminal complaint, the news article always seems to omit a massive amount of rather incriminating evidence.

If the FBI made one-tenth the effort to recruit right-wing Americans for violent plots against the government, they'd get ten times the catches.

As pointed out above, the FBI does in fact monitor and arrest right-wing anti-government plotters as well.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:42 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


None of these people were legally entrapped

Actually being charged with something puts them in the privileged class.
posted by Trurl at 4:43 PM on June 4, 2012


These are not simply people who "continually reassert their intent to complete the plan", gjc. One third were *led* by FBI agents or contractors, creating all manor of social pressures. And the Ohio bridge bombers were mentally retarded of course.

There is an underlying point in Rick Perlstein's article that FBI agents were specifically trying to discredit the Occupy Wall St. We aren't talking about Islamists or even prostituted, but constitutionally protected speech the FBI wished to discredited.

I'd agree with Ironmouth that they're "trying to catch big fish [when] there's only minnows", but that scenario is intrinsic to our political system. It follows the courts need to widening the definition of entrapment until the FBI cleans up its act, certainly the politicians and law enforcement won't fix this.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2012


delmoi: "It's likely, IMO, that graftole is just making stuff up. "

That goes double for the parts about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I wish I could make up something as incredibly off-the-wall as the Portland Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony described in the NYT link, but that's in truth-is-stranger-than-fiction territory.
posted by graftole at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2012




These are not simply people who "continually reassert their intent to complete the plan", gjc. One third were *led* by FBI agents or contractors, creating all manor of social pressures.

Hmmm...should I blow up that building, or put my social life and self-esteem in jeopardy? Difficult choice...

And the Ohio bridge bombers were mentally retarded of course.

The news story that Infowars used as a source states that three of the five accused have possible mental health issues. None of them are suggested to have been mentally retarded, although 5 of them have a history of violent petty crime, from assault to domestic violence. I have mental health issues, but I am most certainly not retarded. At this point you seem to be just Making Shit Up to support your position, albeit carelessly rather than deliberately.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:39 PM on June 4, 2012


None of these people were legally entrapped. It is a hail mary defense.

THEN the law needs to be changed, because this sounds like madness.
posted by JHarris at 5:42 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That goes double for the parts about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There too we can not ignore the numerous provocations - such as the Billy Joel induction.
posted by Trurl at 5:44 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is because you are victim of a fallacy, the idea that a person somehow "is," secretly, someone who will or would do something or isn't, when in fact these notions are malleable. Without the plan, a person who "would" do something is a person who never will -- and what people would do is changeable over time.

No JHarris, they're people who did do something (commit to a criminal course of action) when presented with the opportunity to do so. Your belief that without being offered such an opportunity a person 'never will' do something is the fallacy here. You have absolutely no way of knowing that; it was precisely such an assumption that led to people ignoring red flags leading up to the Fort Hood shooting, and many other episodes of this type.

It's a really, really long way from venting about how you disapprove of the government or suchlike to actually pressing the button on what you believe to be a detonator for a bomb that is going to destroy a building or a plane and/or kill large numbers of people. It's not a case of 'hey guy, imagine if this button had the power to mess things up for The Man, would you press it? OH SNAP I'm with the FBI and you're under arrest lulz!' You don't pay out money for explosives or set off what you believe to be explosive triggers because it would be socially awkward to do otherwise.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:05 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your belief that without being offered such an opportunity a person 'never will' do something is the fallacy here.

If that opportunity never arises then that person actually will do that thing, so I don't see how it is fallacious. To my understanding the criminal justice system exists to punish harm, not potential.
posted by JHarris at 6:39 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, will never do that thing.
posted by JHarris at 6:39 PM on June 4, 2012


These are not simply people who "continually reassert their intent to complete the plan", gjc. One third were *led* by FBI agents or contractors, creating all manor of social pressures.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
posted by gjc at 7:49 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is an underlying point in Rick Perlstein's article that FBI agents were specifically trying to discredit the Occupy Wall St. We aren't talking about Islamists or even prostituted, but constitutionally protected speech the FBI wished to discredited.

There is nothing even remotely unconstitutional about trying to discredit someone else's speech. The protesters had their say, the feds get theirs too. Freedom of speech is not freedom from opposing viewpoints.
posted by gjc at 7:54 PM on June 4, 2012


The Enemy Within: Since the end of the Cold War, America has been on a relentless search for enemies. But the real dangers are at home. Foerign Policy, May/June 2012
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:32 PM on June 4, 2012


The protesters had their say, the feds get theirs too. Freedom of speech is not freedom from opposing viewpoints.

Yeah, sure, and the cop who lives down the street who hates scotsmen gets to beat any up he apprehends on his rounds. How do you even come around to thinking this is a matter of the FBI agents asserting their free speech rights? Who do you think they are, giant corporations?
posted by JHarris at 8:32 PM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


If someone -- crazy or inept or not -- is casting about for ways to attack America before the FBI is involved, then I have no problem with informants leading them on. This is the US -- essentially anyone can buy a high powered automatic and just start shooting. It's amazing it doesn't happen more often (a la Fort Hood) and you can kill a number of people even if you're crazy and inept.

I would much rather have some informant spinning cotton candy plots with fake explosives and leading the guy on then have him go "Fuck it, I'm going to Walmart for an assault rifle."
posted by msalt at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2012


Not to nitpick, but for the sake of accuracy I feel compelled to point out that not anyone can buy a "high powered automatic", the Fort Hood shooting didn't involve any automatic weapons (save for the weapons responders used), and you can't buy "assault rifles" at Wal Mart. Just sayin'...
posted by broadway bill at 10:21 PM on June 4, 2012


Fair enough, I stand corrected. I'd rather have an informant lead him on than have the guy go "Fuck it, I'm going to Guns Galore for an FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol outfitted with laser sights." (Which, though not automatic, was sufficient to kill 13 and wound 29 others at Fort Hood.)
posted by msalt at 11:42 PM on June 4, 2012


It really disturbs me to see how often the FBI seems to be supplying much of the information, motivation, and means necessary to commit these acts. It really is dangerously close to thoughtcrime in some cases and needs to be curbed.
posted by nath at 1:37 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm flabbergasted that anyone would equate CONTELPRO like activities with "the feds having their say".
posted by jeffburdges at 5:11 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't get to pick who gets free speech and who doesn't.
posted by gjc at 5:41 AM on June 5, 2012


... And you don't get to pick when the NYPD bursts down your door to serve a two year old warrent and hold you for questioning on the day of a protest you helped organize. Is that really free speech on behalf of the government? Are we done here? I mean in terms of the "American experiment".
posted by fuq at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2012


and anyone *money* chooses who gets free speech.
posted by fuq at 7:22 AM on June 5, 2012


You don't get to pick who gets free speech and who doesn't.

Free speech is something (the Supreme Court's idiotic ruling on corporations notwithstanding) that arises from the individual. Duties acquired through one's employment are not an expression of free speech. Using those duties as an excuse to project one's opinions upon the world are an abuse of power because the rest of us don't have those far-reaching powers. Being hired by the FBI doesn't make you some kind of dictatorial super-citizen with special ability to decides how the world works.
posted by JHarris at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2012


You don't get to pick who gets free speech and who doesn't.

gjc, there's a bit of a difference between citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and government authorities policing those citizens in furtherance of their law and order mandates. I haven't seen any intelligent advocates on the political right justifying a crackdown on Occupy on the basis of protecting the free speech rights of the authorities... that's a little silly, given that one side of such a "debate" would have the option of using legitimate force to deliver its message.

Furthermore, the message from the US government about Occupy was pretty mixed. Local politicians and police forces were obviously quite critical about some of Occupy's tactics, but President Obama was vocal in his support for Occupy's objectives.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that opportunity never arises then that person actually [never] will do that thing, so I don't see how it is fallacious.

You don't know that a) someone else won't provide the opportunity; the existence of suicide bombers and other examples demonstrates the existence of such people; or b) that someone won't autonomously decide to pursue actions to which they are already predisposed.

Your theory assumes that people are passive actors who are helplessly goaded into criminality by the FBI. This ignores the fact that people can say 'non' to a criminal proposal, or even go partway towards doing something and then change their mind and back out of it. Your excuse for people who took the actions necessary to blow up a skyscraper is that they were victims of peer pressure? Really? I hate to invoke the spirit of the Reagan administration's war on drugs, but when someone invites you to commit acts that appear to involve loss of human life or massive destruction of property, you should in fact Just Say No.

Read the legal complaints in these cases. It's not like the FBI are all 'wev'e kidnapped your wife and kids, push this button or carry this mysterious box from A to B or the hostages die.' Instead they are at pains to verify the would-be terrorist is serious and willing to commit to carrying out a terrorist act. In the example from Dallas, the FBI agent even says that the defendant will still be loved and treated as a brother if he chooses to back out. Instead of saying 'no, actually I don't really want to blow anyone up' he replies that yes, he wants to cause destruction and pain. The guy then parks what he believes to be an Oklahoma City -sized truck bomb inside a building, travels away to a safe distance, and then dials up the number on a cellphone to detonate it, believing that by doing so he is going to kill hundreds of people, maybe far more. Fuck him.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:33 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it would be a better use of the FBI's time and resources to try to find the people who are willing to do something destructive and are capable of doing it without hand-holding from the FBI or anyone else.
posted by Jestocost at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jestocost, I think the alternative -- constant, indefinite surveillance of those who express a willingness to kill civilians in a terrorist act -- would be the bigger waste of resources (and the greater injury to liberty). Surely you aren't suggesting that the FBI make a one-off determination of "capability" and ignore those deemed "incapable" at a specific moment in time.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:44 PM on June 5, 2012




I think it would be a better use of the FBI's time and resources to try to find the people who are willing to do something destructive and are capable of doing it without hand-holding from the FBI or anyone else.

"Capability" is not a black or white concept. There's a fine line between a moron like the Shoe Bomber and a moron like Anders Breivik.

Besides, it's illegal to blow up a skyscraper, even if you otherwise wouldn't know where to find a bomb, or even if you're an moron.

There's more to the plan than just catching morons, too. It's good to make people aware that people who offer you bombs, etc. are very possibly federal agents. Make rational actors too scared to buy bombs. Prevent large-scale planning.

Individual sting operations may have serious problems, but there's nothing wrong with the general tactic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


>This is a thread linking to descriptions of legal cases currently in the justice system. People rely on context.

Also, I've been both a historian and a lawyer. I've never heard once of any larger moral sense for the term from which the legal concept derives. If you'd please provide a link to some thing citing this alleged larger "fundamental" sense, I'd appreciate it. I have never seen any pre-existing sense to this term at all. Ever.
Descriptively speaking, this is a thread doing many things, including displaying comments by various people, many of whom are not lawyers, who feel that certain behaviors by law enforcement agencies are unjust. Partly borrowing from the legal terminology, and partly working from pre-existing meanings and the obvious etymology of the term, many of them call some of these behaviors "entrapment."

I don't know when the legal term was first used, but the word's use in the sense most people mean it clearly predates its existence in the modern legal record. Looking at my OED, we find these examples where the meaning is fairly similar to how many people use the word in this thread:

Entrapment:
1613 Sherley Trav. Persia 38 His first victory would rather haue proued a snare to his intrapment.

Entrap:
1851 Hussey Papal Power i. 38 Having been at first persuaded or entrapped, into an approval of Pelagius' doctrines.

And applied regarding the police, but not in the context of actually being used by lawyers or courts, we have:
1930 Publishers' Weekly 11 Jan. 213/1 The use of entrapment methods by Chicago reformers to bring about the arrest of booksellers on charges of handling immoral literature has aroused city-wide indignation among the trade.

As a bonus, using (originally) different language but reflecting the ubiquity of the concept in police states throughout the ages, we have:
She stroked K.'s hand once more, jumped up and ran over to the window. Before he realised it, K. grasped for her hand but failed to catch it. He really was attracted to the woman, and even after thinking hard about it could find no good reason why he should not give in to her allure. It briefly crossed his mind that the woman meant to entrap him on behalf of the court, but that was an objection he had no difficulty in fending off. In what way could she entrap him? Was he not still free...?

And heck, once we're off English, you could probably quite reasonably translate the key line from Genesis using the word! And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

So anyway, without going even further overboard into this, my guess is that, as is often the case, the underlying moral concept long predates the use of that concept in a legal context, and as is often the case, the legal term is adopted from the existing common language, usually in a way that modifies but does not fundamentally change the moral meaning of that word. In time, what usually happens is that the legal system progressively refines and changes the meaning of the word as a term of art, but it of course still exists in the common language, continuing to mean a variety of things that naturally evolve over time.

At some point in this process, someone says something like "hey, the police planning a new crime and talking people who might not have done anything about it into actually committing crimes is wrong, that's entrapment!" And then sometimes a lawyer or two will come charging in and say, that's not what "entrapment" means, this is a legal context, the word means x, y, z. But that's just what the word means in US law in 2012. Indeed, should those aggrieved lay-people persuade enough legislators, the legal meaning will swiftly change to resemble what these non-legal folks mean by the word.

And I guess sometimes in this process some lawyers go even further and suggest these other meanings are not real at all and perhaps never even existed, possibly asserting this via their authority as lawyers. But like the rest of it, that's a factual claim about the history and sociology of language. And it's usually false.
posted by chortly at 10:10 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl: You don't know that a) someone else won't provide the opportunity; the existence of suicide bombers and other examples demonstrates the existence of such people;

But you don't know what someone will. Maybe we are both making an assumption: mine, that these opportunities don't grow on trees, yours, that these people are just waiting for any excuse to go out and bomb something.

or b) that someone won't autonomously decide to pursue actions to which they are already predisposed.

Then wait until they've gotten a little further along and apprehend them when they've shown their own guilt rather than playing Mephistopheles to their Faust. Maybe it means we get there a little late and they actually do end up bombing someone before we catch them (an argument that, to me, carries a whiff of Pascal's wager), but conversely, if we goad them into it, maybe they then go out and bomb in a way in which they can't be caught.

Your theory assumes that people are passive actors who are helplessly goaded into criminality by the FBI.

No, my theory is not a theory. What I know is that people do thousands of different things for hundreds of different reasons, and we are all capable of doing things we wouldn't otherwise think possible if the situation arises. Maybe there is an edge case situation out there that could turn someone normal into a righteous bomber of government buildings? What if the U.S. government does turn actually evil at some future point, a suggestion that makes me uncomfortable to make in two distinctly different ways (NOTE TO FEDS READING THIS: I AM A HARMLESS PROGRAMMER OF COMPUTER GAMES), but it remains is close to the reasons the founding fathers dumped tea into a harbor and fought a war? What does normal mean anyhow?

This sounds like Argument from Action Movie, or maybe reducto ex wingnut, I grant, but it remains that the world is not divided into Good and Bad people. And there are mentally ill people though who would go through their lives being quietly harmless unless someone pushes them towards shiny red buttons. Our society may be filled with hidden kegs of dynamite; the proper way to find them is not to throw lit matches around, then strain one's ears hoping to catch the sound of hissing fuses.
posted by JHarris at 8:07 AM on June 6, 2012




But you don't know what someone will. Maybe we are both making an assumption: mine, that these opportunities don't grow on trees, yours, that these people are just waiting for any excuse to go out and bomb something.

I'm not making that assumption at all. I'm recognizing the fact that they did actually carry out the actions required to bomb something.

What I know is that people do thousands of different things for hundreds of different reasons, and we are all capable of doing things we wouldn't otherwise think possible if the situation arises. Maybe there is an edge case situation out there that could turn someone normal into a righteous bomber of government buildings?

There's no such things as a righteous indiscriminate bomber. If someone is sufficiently motivated by their belief in the evil nature of government, then getting caught is an operational risk they have to accept.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


White Supremacists in Pensacola: Terror By Another Name, Esquire blog.

"It is very important to know who The Terrorists really are. It is important to keep people afraid only of the right people."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]




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