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.)


He Reported the FBI’s Own Informant to the FBI

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

He Reported the FBI’s Own Informant to the FBI: “Here’s an incredible piece of reporting in the Washington Post about Craig Monteilh, a convicted criminal turned FBI informant-provocateur, and former foot-solider in our War on Terror:

Before the sun rose, the informant donned a white Islamic robe. A tiny camera was sewn into a button, and a microphone was buried in a device attached to his keys.


‘This is Farouk al-Aziz, code name Oracle,’ he said into the keys as he sat in his parked car in this quiet community south of Los Angeles. ‘It’s November 13th, 4:30 a.m. And we’re hot.’

The undercover FBI informant – a convicted forger named Craig Monteilh – then drove off for 5 a.m. prayers at the Islamic Center of Irvine, where he says he spied on dozens of worshipers in a quest for potential terrorists.


Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI has used informants successfully as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States. Agency officials say they are careful not to violate civil liberties and do not target Muslims.

To wit:
Monteilh said he was instructed to infiltrate mosques throughout Orange and two neighboring counties in Southern California, where the Muslim population of nearly 500,000 is the nation’s largest. He was told to target the Islamic Center of Irvine, he said, because it was near his home.


FBI tactics were already a sensitive issue at the Irvine mosque, a stucco, two-story building that draws as many as 2,000 people for Friday prayers.

With tensions rising between law enforcement and Muslims over allegations of FBI surveillance, J. Stephen Tidwell, then head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, spoke at the mosque in June 2006.


‘If we’re going to mosques to come to services, we will tell you,’ he said, according to a video of his speech. ‘. . . The FBI will tell you we’re coming for the very reason that we don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.’

Two months later, in August 2006, Monteilh arrived at the same mosque. He had called earlier and met with the imam. That Friday, he took shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, before hundreds of worshipers.
Read the whole thing.  Monteilh can not be taken at his word, but the information the Post corroborated is damning. The parallels with the War on Drugs are alarming, particularly paying convicted criminals large sums of money to make cases against alleged criminals.

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

Here we go again.

Two on the Street Right Now

“Let me put this in perspective,” Biden said on Face the Nation. “There have been three people tried and convicted by the last administration in military courts. Two are walking the street right now. There have been over 300 tried in federal courts by the last administration and by us. They’re all in jail now. None of them are out seeing the light of day.”

We’re looking into Biden’s assertion that more than 300 people have been tried in federal courts and will post our findings soon.

Here, we are examining Biden’s assertion that three people were tried and convicted by the last administration in military commissions, and that two of three have been released

After consulting news reports and military documents, we discovered that Biden was correct. We also checked with experts who both support and oppose military commissions for various reasons, and no one disputed Biden’s numbers.

via PolitiFact | Two of three convicted in military commissions have been released.

You gotta love Joe for that soundbite!

Obama on Anderson Cooper 360

Video – Breaking News Videos from

(Via CNN Video.)

Word to the Wise

Under Obama, `war on terror’ catchphrase fading – Yahoo! News:

“The ‘War on Terror’ is losing the war of words. The catchphrase burned into the American lexicon hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is fading away, slowly if not deliberately being replaced by a new administration bent on repairing the U.S. image among Muslim nations.”

(Via Yahoo! News.)

Nuance continues to reign.