FBI Terror Plot: How the Government Is Destroying the Lives of Innocent People
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Once the restraining order was issued, Monteilh was effectively done as an informant. His work became public a few months later when he was convicted on grand larceny charges in an unrelated incident. He subsequently sued the FBI, alleging the agency had revealed his informant status, leading to an attack by a fellow prisoner during his incarceration. He also gave a statement in support of a suit filed against the bureau by the ACLU that named the then head of the Los Angeles office, J. Stephen Tidwell, who had made a point of visiting a mosque in Irvine in June 2006 and telling the congregants that the FBI would not spy on them. “If we’re going to mosques to come to services, we will tell you,” he said. “We don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.” The next month, agents under Tidwell deployed Monteilh to the very same mosque.
According to Monteilh, his handlers in Operation Flex instructed him to identify potential militants or, failing that, to “pay attention to people’s problems”—such as marital or business difficulties—and assess whether individuals might be susceptible to rumors about their sexual orientation “so that they could be persuaded to become informants.” His handlers also told him that “everybody knows somebody,” meaning that people from Afghanistan, for example, would inevitably have family members or acquaintances with ties to the Taliban—information the FBI could use to “threaten…and pressure them to provide information, or could justify additional surveillance.” Monteilh said the agents also gave him the green light to have sex with Muslim women for investigative purposes. “They said if it would enhance the intelligence, go ahead and have sex,” he told a reporter. “So I did.” When Monteilh asked his handler, agent Kevin Armstrong, about the FBI’s broad latitude in conducting the investigation, he said Armstrong told him that on national security matters, “Kevin is God.”
In 2005 the FBI’s Office of the Inspector General found “serious shortcomings” in the bureau’s Criminal Informant Program. The report, which examined some 120 cases, including those related to terrorism, found that 87 percent of the investigations involving informants contained violations of the FBI’s own guidelines. Among the chief violations were the failure of agents to caution informants about the “limits of their activities,” the “failure to report unauthorized illegal activity” by their informants, and the issuance of “retroactive approvals” for illegal acts the informants had already committed. The report noted that since 2001 the rules had been loosened at the FBI’s request to reflect the new emphasis on intelligence gathering, and by extension the bureau’s dire need for informants. In testimony before Congress in May 2002, FBI Director Mueller argued that requiring agents to read “verbatim instructions” to their informants, “written in often intimidating legalese, [was] proving to have a chilling effect, causing confidential informants to leave the program.”
When inspectors asked the FBI to identify a terrorism investigation in which an informant had played a “pivotal role,” the bureau cited the work of Mohamed Alanssi, who in 2005 had secured the conviction of a well-known Yemeni cleric and his assistant. The two men were charged with funding Al Qaeda and Hamas. What the report didn’t mention was that Alanssi, in a fit of pique at his handlers (who he claimed owed him money for his services as an informant in as many as twenty terrorism prosecutions), had set himself on fire in front of the White House and ended up being deemed so unstable that at the trial of the two Yemenis, he was asked to testify for the defense.