I was out of state when this happened, otherwise I probably would have covered this sooner. As usual, Glenn Greenwald delivers the goods:
It may very well be that the FBI successfully and within legal limits arrested a dangerous criminal intent on carrying out a serious Terrorist plot that would have killed many innocent people, in which case they deserve praise. Court-approved surveillance and use of undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist plots are legitimate tactics when used in accordance with the law.
But it may also just as easily be the case that the FBI — as they’ve done many times in the past — found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner; created a plot it then persuaded/manipulated/entrapped him to join, essentially turning him into a Terrorist; and then patted itself on the back once it arrested him for having thwarted a “Terrorist plot” which, from start to finish, was entirely the FBI’s own concoction. Having stopped a plot which it itself manufactured, the FBI then publicly touts — and an uncritical media amplifies — its “success” to the world, thus proving both that domestic Terrorism from Muslims is a serious threat and the Government’s vast surveillance powers — current and future new ones — are necessary. […]
We hear the same exact thing over and over and over from accused Terrorists — that they are attempting to carry out plots in retaliation for past and ongoing American violence against Muslim civilians and to deter such future acts. Here we find one of the great mysteries in American political culture: that the U.S. Government dispatches its military all over the world — invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries — torturing them, imprisoning them without charges, shooting them up at checkpoints, sending remote-controlled drones to explode their homes, imposing sanctions that starve hundreds of thousands of children to death — and Americans are then baffled when some Muslims — an amazingly small percentage — harbor anger and vengeance toward them and want to return the violence. And here we also find the greatest myth in American political discourse: that engaging in all of that military aggression somehow constitutes Staying Safe and combating Terrorism — rather than doing more than any single other cause to provoke, sustain and fuel Terrorism.
It’s entirely reasonable to assume that the FBI agent’s recording gear malfunctioned or that someone made an honest mistake in configuring the equipment, as anyone who has worked with recording gear can tell you. But from a strictly legal standpoint, it seems like that should be a big strike against the FBI. Unlike Greenwald, I’m not a lawyer, though, so I don’t know.
From what little I know about the case, it does seem that Mohamud was motivated to commit violence. But the specific plot and access to weapons was furnished by the FBI. Even taking the FBI at its word, its difficult to see Mohamud as a great threat on his own. Still, it’s clear that there are some angry people in this country willing to do violence to our citizens, and as Greenwald points out, there’s relatively little discussion as to why. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m no friend to Islam, but it’s clearer every day that US foreign policy is a bigger driver for terrorism than religion.
Update: My friend Johnny Brainwash has taken a look at the affidavit and has a post on it:
The specific notion of a car bomb was Mohamud’s, but he had no clue how to go about it. Not a single operational detail would have happened without the FBI. He did buy some of the bomb components, sure, but with money and a shopping list provided by the feds. He also provided some Google Maps images and a disguise, both also at the request of undercover agents. Beyond that, he couldn’t even get to Portland if the FBI didn’t give him a ride.
This alleged plot, like nearly every alleged jihadi plot in the US, amounts to nearly nothing. Not that the kid is blameless or should get off scot-free, but he wasn’t much of a threat. Not compared to people who have committed genuine terrorist acts on American soil in the last couple of years, and certainly not enough to justify the feramongering that has gotten an added boost out of this. The story isn’t “OMG America under attack!!1!” It’s more like “look, another dumbass with fantasies of jihad- at least this one didn’t set his nuts on fire.”
He adds in the comments:
I don’t necessarily ascribe such specific intent to individual FBI’ers, or to the agency as a whole. It’s their job to catch criminals, and their budgets and prestige depend on it, so they’re going to catch them even if it takes some wishful thinking to create them. I think lots of law enforcement types, like lots of other folks, buy into the narrative of terrorists lurking under every bed, and so they don’t always realize when they’re going overboard.
I think others of them probably do realize, though.
I’m sort of leery of ascribing intent these days, preferring to describe observed behavior. Remarkable how it untangles things sometimes.