An appeal from the man accused of plotting to blow up a Christmas tree in downtown Portland, Oregon accuses the FBI of entrapping the man on charges of terrorism.
On Wednesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments related to surveillance and possible entrapment of Mohamed Mohamud, the man convicted of attempting to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon in 2010.
Mohamud, a Somali-American student who was 19 at the time of the incident, was told he would be participating in a bombing with two al-Qaida recruiters. The recruiters ended up being informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the bomb was a fake. In 2014 Mohamud would be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The arrest and sentence lead many activists and members of the Muslim community to question whether the FBI had gone too far and possibly created a terrorist out of thin air.
From his indictment through his appeals, including in a brief filed February with the Ninth Circuit, public defenders have argued that their client was entrapped by sophisticated FBI agents who “preyed on Mr. Mohamud’s known vulnerabilities.”
Currying support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the case along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the case has also sparked much controversy around Section 702 of the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law allows the government to track phone and emails without warrants.
A three-judge panel listened to Mohamud’s appeal and arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Zusman who defended the government’s use of informants. Zusman argued that Mohamud had long been in contact with a student at Portland State University who was wanted by the Saudi Kingdom for terrorism links.
U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Bea asked the prosecutor to show in the record where “Mr. Mohamud evinces a predisposition to commit a terrorist act prior to his first meeting with undercover agent Youssef.” Zusman said Mohamud “praised” terrorist actions and apparently “had been thinking about committing an act of violent jihad since he was 15.” Still, Chief Deputy Federal Public Defender Stephen Sady believes Mohamud’s case “was marred by an array of constitutional errors.”
Mohamud’s appeal centers around the illegal use of Section 702 of the FISA Act. The Ninth Circuit will be the first appeals court to rule on what type of surveillance is allowed by the controversial section. The FISA Act is absolutely an extremely dangerous tool for agencies of the government, but it is the idea that the government may be entrapping or directly create terrorists that deserves a closer look.
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“Almost nothing about this scenario was true. The cell phone wasn’t connected to the toggle switch. The detonation cords weren’t wired to an explosive device. The blue drums weren’t filled with diesel-saturated fertilizer, but harmless grass seed. Mohamed wasn’t a member of al Qaeda,” CounterPunch reported in 2013. “Of Somali origin, he was a troubled college dropout from Beaverton, Oregon, home of Nike. Youssef wasn’t a member of al Qaeda. Hussein was not one of al Qaeda’s top bomb makers. Youssef and Hussein were not really arrested and neither was charged with being part of a terrorist plot. Youssef and Hussein were both federal agents.”
CounterPunch also noted (and court records show) that “Mohamed Mohamud did not seek out the bomb plotters; they found him and seduced the young man into joining their conspiracy.” In the end, it seems “the infamous Portland Christmas Tree Bomb Plot was scripted by the FBI.” However, it’s important to note that this practice has been happening for years.
The FBI’s involvement in domestic terror plots – and the ever thinner line between catching and creating “terrorists” – has not been completely lost on the major media outlets. Commenting on the situation, Rolling Stone’s Rick Perlstein wrote a piece entitled “How FBI Entrapment Is Inventing ‘Terrorists’ – and Letting Bad Guys Off the Hook” questioning the motives of the bureau. The New York Times even seemed to take a bold stance with David Shipler’s piece, “Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I.”, which stated:
This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.
The article details the way entrapment efforts disguised as counter-terrorism usually start: with an individual making comments to friends, or through online postings, before being approached by an informant who encourages them to take their speech to the next level. Since 9/11 these types of stings have become commonplace – so much so that in America today, merely discussing the possibility of violence with an informant can warrant an arrest.
Recorded conversations show, contrary to claims by the Justice Department, that suspects are not always warned about the consequences of their actions and are, in fact, sometimes told by their informants to continue their efforts.
An investigation by Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases. The investigation revealed that the largest portion of the FBI’s $3.3 billion budget is currently directed to counter-terrorism. It is that bloated budget which has allowed the FBI to entrap many other people who may or may not have ever been involved in committing crimes.
Shortly after Mohamud’s arrest there also was the case of the Cleveland 5. In October 2011, the FBI sent an unnamed informant, known as a confidential human source, or CHS, to infiltrate Occupy Cleveland in hopes of finding potential “terrorists.” The FBI sent in a career criminal convicted of at least six charges, including robbery, to investigate the Occupy group and “potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists who would be attending.” The CHS found five men with anti-government sentiments and began encouraging them to consider various acts of terrorism.
Under the encouragement of the CHS the group plotted to blow up a bridge in Ohio on April 30, 2012. The CHS reportedly took the men from discussing knocking down bank signs to discussing buying C4 explosives, promising them fake license plates and alibis to soothe their fears of being arrested and sent to Guantanamo. The CHS repeatedly pressed the men to consider buying the explosives in the weeks leading up to the arrest. One of the 5, Connor Stevens, was actually recorded rejecting violent tactics, saying, “It’s actually harder to be non-violent than it is to do stuff like that.”
Eventually, though, the group was persuaded to buy explosives and upon attempting to make use of the dummy explosives, which had been provided by another FBI informant, they were arrested. The men received sentences ranging from six to 11 years.
With the recent shootings and high tensions it is extremely important to be on guard and remain cautious. Despite a need for righteous anger we cannot allow ourselves to be swept up in the heat of the moment and stray from the strategy of peaceful non-compliance, resistance, and building of alternatives. If someone approaches you with a braindead scheme to blow something up tell them to shove it and immediately remove yourself from the situation. We need a culture of security if we are going to overcome snitches and the prying eyes and ears of Big Brother.
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact [email protected]
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