Foiled terrorist plots often masterminded by FBI

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Imaginative plans to carry out acts of terror, including a Presidents Day jihadist attack on a train station in Kansas City, the bombing of a Sep. 11 memorial event, setting off a 1,000-pound bomb at Fort Riley, and detonating a weapon of mass destruction at a Wichita airport were all foiled by FBI agents. However, it turns out that they were all masterminded by them, too.

A review of several recent terrorism cases investigated by the FBI in Kansas and Missouri revealed that “the most sensational plots invoking the name of the Islamic State or al-Qaida here were largely the invention of FBI agents carrying out elaborate sting operations on individuals identified through social media as being potentially dangerous.”

An article in the Kansas City Star detailed two local terrorism investigations where the alleged terrorists “were unknowingly following the directions of undercover FBI agents who supplied fake bombs and came up with key elements of the plans.”

Michael German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and former FBI agent, expressed his concerns about the dangers of FBI agents masterminding acts of terrorism. “There has been a clear effort to manufacture plots,” he said.

Research from the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law in New York shows that “law enforcement has increasingly used undercover agents and informants to develop such cases in recent years, especially against people suspected of being inspired by the Islamic State,” detailing 126 Islamic State-related cases which were prosecuted by federal authorities across the country since 2014.

According to data, “nearly two-thirds involved undercover agents or informants,” and the FBI is increasingly using sting operations to catch would-be terrorists.

Undercover FBI employees set up the latest alleged plotter, Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr., 25, of Columbia, who planned to bomb a train station and possibly buses in Kansas City on Feb. 20.

According to the report, two FBI agents “suggested the time, place and type of attack, and loaned Hester $20 to buy the 9-volt batteries, duct tape, roofing nails and copper wire that they implied would be ingredients for a bomb. Hester reportedly failed to buy the copper wire, saying he could not find it. There were no actual bombs.” Hester was indicted last week.

Court documents showed that Hester was identified by agents as a suspect after posting Facebook comments about his “conversion to Islam, his hatred for the United States and his belief that supposed U.S. mistreatment of Muslims had to be ‘put to an end.’”

Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, commented that authorities must often use undercover tactics to thwart terrorist plots, some of which are terrifyingly real. He gave the example of a 2007 case where “six Muslim men from New Jersey and Philadelphia were charged with plotting to attack Fort Dix with automatic weapons and possibly rocket-propelled grenades in what authorities said was a plan ‘to kill as many soldiers as possible.'”

Johnson said that the Fort Dix case was a very real, serious plan, noting, “They actually had a small arsenal.”

In another example, last year, authorities uncovered what they said was a plot by a militia group to bomb an apartment complex that housed a number of Somalis in Kansas. Court documents showed that the defendants in that case included three men “who had stockpiled weapons and told an FBI source of their plan.”

Johnson explained that sting cases do not always carry a real threat and suspects might not have the resources or even the ability to carry out attacks. “Most of these cases are trumped-up, FBI facilitated,” he said. “A lot of times, these people are just engaging in free speech. If they’re American citizens, they can say they hate America, they can say, ‘I support ISIS.’ Then they become targeted, and they were either provided the capability, or they were arrested for just the plotting aspect.”

Dru Stevenson, a law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston has studied undercover cases vs. entrapment defenses and said that sting operations could help stop terrorism by imprisoning those who would be willing to carry out such acts.

Stevenson explained that stings can help put a chilling effect on real terrorists looking for recruits. “If the choice is between waiting for the person to find some real terrorists to get involved with, or giving them a phony plot, I’m fine with giving them a phony plot,” he said, noting the Boston Marathon bombers are a good example.  “Those are the kind of people I wish someone had caught in a sting before they hurt a lot of people.”

Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security, which authored the Islamic State prosecutions report, said that there is a common profile of potential terrorists:

  • Their average age is 26
  • 77 percent are U.S. citizens
  • One-third are converts to Islam
  • One-third live with their parents
  • Close to 90 percent are social media users
  • Few had any link to Islamic State members overseas

“If you take away the undercover cases to see what are the real organized terrorism cases, we’re not seeing it,” Greenberg said. “What do we have? The threat is different from what we’re being told.”

H/T: The Kansas City Star

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