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Manufacturing Terrorists: Inside the FBI's terror sting operations

Terrorism

Imagine a country in which the government pays convicted con artists and criminals to scour minority religious communities for disgruntled, financially desperate, or mentally ill patsies who can be talked into joining fake terror plots, even if only for money. Imagine that the country's government then busts its patsies with great fanfare to justify ever-increasing authority and ever-increasing funding. According to journalist Trevor Aaronson's The Terror Factory, this isn't the premise for a Kafka novel; it's reality in the post-9/11 United States.

Manufacturing Terrorists: Inside the FBI's terror sting operations

by Michael German
Reason
January 15, 2013

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, by Trevor Aaronson, Ig Publishing, 256 pages, $24.95.

Imagine a country in which the government pays convicted con artists and criminals to scour minority religious communities for disgruntled, financially desperate, or mentally ill patsies who can be talked into joining fake terror plots, even if only for money. Imagine that the country's government then busts its patsies with great fanfare to justify ever-increasing authority and ever-increasing funding. According to journalist Trevor Aaronson's The Terror Factory, this isn't the premise for a Kafka novel; it's reality in the post-9/11 United States.

The Terror Factory is a well-researched and fast-paced exposé of the dubious tactics the FBI has used in targeting Muslim Americans with sting operations since 2001. The book updates and expands upon Aaronson's award-winning 2011 Mother Jones cover story, "The Informants." Most readers have likely heard about several alleged conspiracies to attack skyscrapers, synagogues, or subway stations, involving either individuals that the FBI calls "lone wolves" or small cells a credulous press tagged with such sinister appellations as the "Newburgh 4" or the "Liberty City 7." Many of these frightening plots were almost entirely concocted and engineered by the FBI itself, using corrupt agents provocateurs who often posed a far more serious criminal threat than the dim-witted saps the investigations targeted.

Drawing on court records and on interviews with the defendants, their lawyers, their families, and the FBI officials and prosecutors who oversaw the investigations, Aaronson portrays an agency that has adopted an "any means necessary" approach to its terrorism prevention efforts, regardless of whether there are real terrorists being caught. To the FBI, this imperative justifies recruiting informants with extensive criminal records, including convictions for fraud, violent crimes, and even child molestation, that in an earlier era would have disqualified them except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

In addition to providing leniency, if not forgiveness, for heinous crimes, the FBI pays these informants tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, creating a perverse incentive for them to ensnare dupes into terror plots. Aaronson quotes an FBI official defending this practice: "To catch the devil you have to go to hell."

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