News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

How the FBI's Network of Informants Actually Created Most of the Terrorist Plots "Foiled" in the US Since 9/11

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots—or leading them?

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share
 
 
 

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the FBI's more successful counterterrorism informants. ( See our timeline of Hussain's career as an informant [13].) He'd originally come to the bureau's attention when he was  busted in a DMV scam [79] that charged test takers $300 to $500 for a license. Having "worked off" those charges, he'd transitioned from indentured informant to paid snitch, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would  start conversations with strangers about jihad [80]. "I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI," Hussain said during Cromitie's trial. Most of the mosque's congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a wealthy businessman and always arrived in one of his  four luxury cars [81]—a Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs—made plenty of friends. But after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he had not identified a single  actual target [82].

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain clearly had Cromitie's number. "Allah didn't bring you here to work for Walmart," he  told him [83] at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could "con the corn from the cob," had a history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw and heard things that weren't there and had twice tried to  commit suicide [84]. He told tall tales, most of them entirely untrue—like the one about how his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four months of their relationship isn't known, because the FBI  did not record [85] those conversations. Based on later conversations, it's clear that Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target,  all expenses paid [86] by the FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped pay  Cromitie's rent [87]. He offered to buy him a  barbershop [88]. Finally, he asked Cromitie to  recruit others [89] and help him bomb synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A  hidden camera [90] was trained on the living room.

"I don't want anyone to get hurt," Cromitie  told the informant [91].

"Who? I—"

"Think about it before you speak," Cromitie interrupted.

"If there is American soldiers, I don't care," Hussain said, trying a fresh angle.

"Hold up," Cromitie agreed. "If it's American soldiers, I don't even care."

"If it's kids, I care," Hussain said. "If it's women, I care."

"I care. That's what I'm worried about. And I'm going to tell you, I don't care if it's a whole synagogue of men."

"Yep."

"I would take 'em down, I don't even care. 'Cause I know they are the ones."

"We have the equipment to do it."

"See, see, I'm not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I'm worried about is my safety," Cromitie said.

"Oh, yeah, safety comes first."

"I want to get in and I want to get out."

"Trust me," Hussain assured.

At Cromitie's trial, Hussain would admit that he created the—in his word—"impression" that Cromitie would make a lot of money by bombing synagogues.

 
See more stories tagged with: