The trial for the Portland man accused of attempting to bomb the city’s 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony took an interesting turn on Monday.
In testimony, FBI Special Agent Miltiatis Trousas, one of two undercover agents involved in the case, indicated the defendant Mohamed O. Mohamud had no concrete plans to stage the event before the FBI’s involvement.
Specifically, Trousas admitted Mohamud did not purchase explosives or research how to make them before he met with the undercover agents.
The FBI started heavily surveilling the defendant’s phone calls and emails after red flags were raised in 2009 that Mohamud may be in contact with terrorists overseas.
Indeed, Mohamud told the undercover agents he’d been thinking about jihad since before he was 15 years old. While the agents supplied the plan, the bomb and the van for the 2010 incident, they repeatedly told the defendant he “had a choice” and that he did not have to go through with it.
As the trial runs its course, more details should emerge concerning how much the FBI agents’ actions influenced the defendant’s decisions, but the question is begged: Without the FBI, would there have been a plot to break up?
The FBI has a long history of using covert counter-terrorism strategies that have drawn heavy criticism from both activists and lawyers.
As in the Mohamud case, would-be terrorists sniffed out by the FBI’s some 15,000 undercover agents rarely have the means, connections or know-how to carry out plots. In fact, the very plots and bombs are often supplied to them by the FBI itself.
Another example occurred during last year’s Occupy Wall Street-related May Day protests when a group of four attempted to blow up a major bridge in Cleveland, Ohio. The man with the plan? An apparently pushy FBI informant posing as an anarchist. The supplier of the bomb? An FBI agent.
Perhaps the most high-profile example of government-aided terrorism plots is the 2009 Christmas Day “underwear bombing.” Though sparsely reported in the news, a witness claimed to have seen a suspicious-looking man get Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab past security and onto the plane without a passport. It was later confirmed by the U.S. State Department that the federal government did help him get into the country.
“Revocation action [of Mutallab’s visa] would’ve disclosed what they were doing,” said Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary of Management for the State Department, concerning the visa waiver that was given. The CIA’s goal in helping the attack take place was to get closer to some of Mutallab’s al-Qaeda ties.
Perhaps it is time to have a more robust discussion of the FBI’s more questionable counter-terrorism tactics and their consequences.