Security Theater

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Security Theater:

“This is a good piece by Ted Conover pivoting off the arrest of the Oregon bomber, to talk about the convictions of supposed terrorists in Newburgh, New York:

These prosecutions fail the smell test, and lately the odor has washed over my own Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale. Last month, if you missed the news, four African-American ex-cons from Newburgh, N.Y., were convicted of plotting to bomb two synagogues here, one of them half a block from my house. The government released a photo of some of the men casing the joint that our local paper ran the day they were convicted.

One of the men in the photo is an FBI informant, Shahed Hussain. The case seems like a slam-dunk–until you learn more about him. Hussain, driving a flashy Mercedes and using the alias Maqsood, began to frequent the Masjid al-Ikhlas in down-at-the-heels Newburgh in 2008. Mosque leaders say he would meet congregants in the parking lot afterward, offering gifts and telling them they could make a lot of money–$25,000–if they helped him pursue jihad. The assistant imam said the suspicion Hussain was an informant was so great ‘it was almost like he had a neon sign on him.’ A congregant told a reporter that, in retrospect, everyone wished they’d called him out or turned him in. ‘Maybe the mistake we made was that we didn’t report him,’ the man said. ‘But how are we going to report the government agent to the government?’

Hussain bought meals for the group of four men he assembled because none of them had jobs or money. The owner of a Newburgh restaurant where they occasionally ate considered him ‘the boss,’ because he would pick up the tab. Among his other inducements were the offer of $250,000 and a BMW to the most volubly anti-Semitic plotter, the man the government says was the ringleader, James Cromitie. To drive that car, Cromitie would have needed a driver’s license–which he didn’t have.

Another supposed plotter, a Haitian, was a paranoid schizophrenic (according to his imam), which was the reason his deportation had been deferred (according to The Nation’s, and who kept bottles of urine in his squalid apartment (according to the New York Times). The last two, both surnamed Williams, have histories of drug busts and minimum-wage jobs in Newburgh. At trial the government asserted that the plot was driven by anti-American hatred. But in papers filed in court by defense lawyers before the trial began, Cromitie is quoted in government transcripts explaining to Hussain that the men ‘will do it for the money. … They’re not even thinking about the cause.’

Greenwald makes a similar critique of the Oregon case. What scares me is how this sort of crime-fighting, post-9/11, basically justifies itself. So we’re at war with terror. A war means we need to find and isolate the bad guys. So we send agents provocateurs to areas where bad guys might frequent and, essentially, employ a version of buy-bust theory to smoke them out.Then we announce their neutralization via arrest, thus proving that….we’re at war with terror. Rinse. Repeat. Conover writes at the end:

This prong of our nation’s anti-terrorism strategy seems tantamount to sending lots of little devils out into Muslim communities and getting them to sit on people’s shoulders and whisper in their ears. One imagines that there is no shortage of Americans who, with enough money and other enticement, could be lured into crimes either ordinary or political: selling drugs or attacking gay people or racial minorities. But does dangling carrots that reward badness really make us safer? If it hadn’t been for the FBI, I don’t believe the Newburgh Four would have targeted my neighborhood, or anyone else’s.

Indeed, I suspect one could declare war against racism and just as easily employ provocateurs to cyclically ‘prove’ the problem of violent white supremacists. And once such a war is launched, and such a unit is formed, what incentive would such a unit have to declare the war won, essentially justifying it’s own dismemberment? Indeed, there’s always a potential terrorist out there somewhere…

(Via Ta-Nehisi Coates :: The Atlantic.)


One thought on “Security Theater”

  1. Isn’t this largely what was done with the Panthers during the late 60s, early 70s? I’ve read credible reports that, in hindsight, much of the violence was inspired by informants – the informants would infiltrate the organization, suggest violent acts, convince people to follow and then…voila: The Panthers are a violent group.

    It is much like the whole ‘enhanced interrogation’ episode of taking a manual describing potential scenarios of torture during the Korean War and turning it into a manual of how to interrogate.

    They found it okay because they were convinced that the prisoners had information that needed to be extracted, in the same manner that these FBI agents are already convinced that these Muslims are already dangerous.

    Just another sign that our security is being managed by amateurs.

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