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Shocker: Only 1% of So Called Terrorists Nabbed by the FBI Were Real

A larger number of arrestees, poor and powerless, were caught in FBI "Threat Factory" stings.

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Of course, Derek couldn’t name the name of any judges and so the informant then gets Derek involved in a more manageable plot. He suggests that they go attack a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. For whatever reason, as in a lot of these plots, Derek agrees that he wants to do that, but the problem for the FBI informant and the FBI agent in this case was that Derek didn’t have any money.

He didn’t have any money to buy guns. He didn’t have any money to buy any weapons that he would need for the plot, so the FBI agents and the undercover informant cook-up this idea where the FBI informant will introduce Derek to an arms dealer who can provide grenades and Derek, in turn, has these two ratty, old stereo speakers, which are the only thing he has of earthly value and the informant tells Derek, "I think if you bring your stereo speakers to an arms dealer, he’ll just say, OK, fair trade and here’s four grenades.''

I don’t know many arms dealers in this world, but I’m pretty sure that none of them is going to accept old stereo speakers for grenades, but of course, Derek didn’t know that. Derek shows up at the shopping mall dutifully carrying his stereo speakers, gives them to the undercover agent who’s posing as the arms dealer, and the arms dealer hands over the grenades. Agents rush in, arrest Derek and charge him with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, and he’s ultimately serving 17 years in prison.

Clearly that’s an example of a man on the fringes of our society, unlikely to ever commit significant violence on his own and yet through this sting operation he is empowered to get involved in a plot that, were it real, would have been really horrifying. And when it’s portrayed in the public and through the media, it does seem horrifying. Here is this man plotting with an Al-Qaeda operative, an undercover FBI informant, to blow up people in a shopping mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Of course, the truth is that that was nothing more than a fantasy by the FBI, controlled at every step by the FBI and no one was really in danger and there’s no evidence to suggest that Derek ever would have met a real Al-Qaeda operative who could have made him the terrorist that he apparently wanted to be.

JH: Trevor, let’s talk a little about the incentives here. It seems to me—and this isn’t an original thought—that there’s a bureaucratic imperative to justify agency budgets. After 9/11, kind of in a panic, we basically doubled the size of our intelligence agencies, created a new Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI refocused its mission.

How much of this tendency to entrap these people comes from that imperative to justify bloated counter-terrorism budgets in your view?

TA: Actually a lot. I’m not of the opinion that there are high-ranking people at the FBI who are saying, You know what? We want to stick it to Muslims in the United States. Although there’s evidence of xenophobia and a certain amount of Islamophobia within the FBI, I don’t think that’s the real reason behind this.

Instead, I think the reason we’re seeing these really aggressive sting operations is the result of something of a bureaucratic evil. That is every year Congress allocates the FBI’s budget, and they set the counter-terrorism budget at $3 billion, which is the largest part of the FBI’s budget, more than it receives for organized crime and financial fraud.

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