Most Terrorist Plots in the US Aren't Invented by Al Qaeda -- They're Manufactured by the FBI
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Indeed, that is exactly what the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been delivering throughout the decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001. But whether it’s what the American people expect is questionable, because most Americans today have no idea that since 9/11, one single organization has been responsible for hatching and financing more terrorist plots in the United States than any other. That organization isn’t Al Qaeda, the terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the spectacular 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And it isn’t Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Shabaab, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any of the other more than forty U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. No, the organization responsible for more terrorist plots over the last decade than any other is the FBI. Through elaborate and expensive sting operations involving informants and undercover agents posing as terrorists, the FBI has arrested and the Justice Department has prosecuted dozens of men government officials say posed direct—but by no means immediate or credible—threats to the United States.
Just as in the Martinez case, in terrorism sting after terrorism sting, FBI and DOJ officials have hosted high-profile press conferences to announce yet another foiled terrorist plot. But what isn’t publicized during these press conferences is the fact that government-described terrorists such as Antonio Martinez were able to carry forward with their potentially lethal plots only because FBI informants and agents provided them with all of the means—in most cases delivering weapons and equipment, in some cases even paying for rent and doling out a little spending money to keep targets on the hook. In cities around the country where terrorism sting operations have occurred—among them New York City, Albany, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Portland, Tampa, Houston, and Dallas—a central question exists: Is the FBI catching terrorists or creating them?
In the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal law enforcement profile of a terrorist has changed dramatically. The men responsible for downing the World Trade Center were disciplined and patient; they were also living and training in the United States with money from an Al Qaeda cell led by Kuwaiti-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. In the days and weeks following 9/11, federal officials anxiously awaited a second wave of attacks, which would be launched, they believed at the time, by several sleeper cells around the country. But the feared second wave never crashed ashore. Instead, the United States and allied nations invaded Afghanistan, Al Qaeda’s home base, and forced Osama bin Laden and his deputies into hiding. Bruised and hunted, Al Qaeda no longer had the capability to train terrorists and send them to the United States.
In response, Al Qaeda’s leaders moved to what FBI officials describe as a “franchise model.” If you can’t run Al Qaeda as a hierarchal, centrally organized outfit, the theory went, run it as a franchise. In other words, export ideas—not terrorists. Al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations went online, setting up websites and forums dedicated to instilling their beliefs in disenfranchised Muslims already living in Western nations. A slickly designed magazine, appropriately titled Inspire, quickly followed. Article headlines included “I Am Proud to Be a Traitor to America,”9 and “Why Did I Choose Al-Qaeda?” Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born, high-ranking Al Qaeda official who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, became something of the terrorist organization’s Dear Abby. Have a question about Islam? Ask Anwar! Muslim men in nations throughout the Western world would email him questions, and al-Awlaki would reply dutifully, and in English, encouraging many of his electronic pen pals to violent action. Al-Awlaki also kept a blog and a Facebook page, and regularly posted recruitment videos to YouTube. He said in one video:
I specifically invite the youth to either fight in the West or join their brothers in the fronts of jihad: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.
I invite them to join us in our new front, Yemen, the base from which the great jihad of the Arabian Peninsula will begin, the base from which the greatest army of Islam will march forth.
Al Qaeda’s move to a franchise model met with some success. U.S. army major Nadal Hassan, for example, corresponded with al-Awlaki before he killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-nine others in the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings in 2009. Antonio Martinez and other American-born men, many of them recent converts to Islam, also sent al-Awlaki messages or watched Al Qaeda propaganda videos online before moving forward in alleged terrorist plots.