Since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, fighting terrorism has comprised a larger part of the FBI’s budget than ever. The agency spends $3.3 billion thwarting terrorist plots and only $2.6 billion investigating organized crime. That shift in budget priorities has led to a shift in their day-to-day operations as well.
While the FBI has traditionally been investigative in its work, in recent years they have morphed into a complete terrorism agency. And the pressure to put away “bad guys” has motivated the Bureau to go to unsettling lengths to catch would-be terrorists in the midst of a plot.
In many cases, agents will get in touch with disgruntled people in America – many of them Muslim – and offer to provide them with plans, money and weapons to carry out a terrorist act. Posing as members of al Qaeda, federal agents target poor, marginalized and unhappy people who may be willing to commit a terrorist act on their own but do not have the resources or ability to do so.
In one particularly egregious case, FBI agents contacted four black Muslim men who were struggling with poverty in a bad neighborhood. One of them suffered from significant mental illness. The FBI was persistent in trying to set up these men even as the leader of the group tried to avoid the undercover agent, ignoring calls, pretending not to be home and even ceasing his attendance at the mosque.
When the leader of the group lost his job, the $250,000 offered by the agent seemed not only enticing, but integral to their survival. After the four men were arrested, the judge in the case harshly criticized the FBI’s handling of the case, calling it a “fantasy terror operation” but the men still received a minimum sentence of 25 years.
Next week we’ll talk more about entrapment and some of the criminal justice issues that arise in these cases.
Source: Business Insider, “The FBI Goes to Disturbing Lengths to Set Up Potential Terrorists,” Paul Szoldra, March 11, 2013.
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