Glenn Greenwald's concerns about credibility and value of many of the much touted busts of various "terror plots" on American soil deserve to be pondered carefully.
The FBI is obviously quite pleased with itself over its arrest of a 19-year-old Somali-American, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who — with months of encouragement, support and money from the FBI's own undercover agents — allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon. Media accounts are almost uniformly trumpeting this event exactly as the FBI describes it. Loyalists of both parties are doing the same, with Democratic Party commentators proclaiming that this proves how great and effective Democrats are at stopping The Evil Terrorists, while right-wing polemicists point to this arrest as yet more proof that those menacing Muslims sure are violent and dangerous.
What's missing from all of these celebrations is an iota of questioning or skepticism. All of the information about this episode — all of it — comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud. As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims — as here — are uncorroborated and unexamined. That's why we have what we call "trials" before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened: because the government doesn't always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things often look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government's claims to scrutiny. The FBI affidavit — as well as whatever its agents are whispering into the ears of reporters — contains only those facts the FBI chose to include, but omits the ones it chose to exclude. And even the "facts" that are included are merely assertions at this point and thus may not be facts at all.
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.
I posted this link on Facebook with this comment:
[W]hile I certainly want security officials to be vigilant, realize they're going to err on the side of caution in ways I might not agree with, and expect honest mistakes to happen, it does seem like a lot of these "plots" being foiled a…re to various degrees manufactured by the authorities and seemingly based on flagrant entrapment.
I wonder if this de facto "Muslim exemption" to the long-standing ban on entrapment is affecting other types of criminal investigation. After all, if an undercover agent can induce a Muslim kid to buy arms, you'd think a cop can pull the same trick for drugs or prostitution.
I grant that given the higher stakes involved in terrorism for uninvolved third parties, there might be a case for easing this prohibition in the case of potential [terrorists], but there's a difference between using unorthodox techniques to uncover people with signficant potential to harm others and actively working to radicalize disturbed people in order to lure them into a trap and artificially improve one's statistics.
If this is how post-9/11 American democracy must work, let's codify it. Lay these carve-outs out in black and white in our legal statutes and amend the Constitution so that the special treatment of Muslims is at least governed by law.