The Aspirational Terrorist and Other Stories from the War on Terror

Posted on May 22, 2009

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If you thought this morning’s news about a foiled terrorist bomb plot sounded familiar it probably wasn’t just your imagination. The story in fact, reads almost word for word like several other foiled plots that have occured over the past few years; plots that included bumbling, poor and poorly educated “aspirational terrorists” and the hyperactive “informants”, who had such an attachment to duty, they literally became the ring leaders and prime movers of the organizations they were ostensibly infiltrating. In the current plot, which involves at least one former crack addict and a man with learning disabilities, the defendants were so poorly prepared that the informant literally had to accomplish nearly all of the planning, arrangements and acquisition of materials himself. That, in fact, was perhaps the only real difference in this story from previous ones–that this time the FBI made sure to catch the men in the “act” of placing the fake explosives it had acquired for them.

There’s probably a good reason for that. The DOJ had a remarkably unpleasant time over the past years trying to convict defendants in a similar case–a foiled plot to (completely ludicrously) destroy Sears Tower. Six of the “Liberty Seven” were convicted only after two hung juries just 10 days ago and after reams of negative press about Bush’s overambitious terror prosecutions (though as Jonathan Turley noted,“It goes to show that if you try it enough times, you’ll eventually find a jury that will convict on very little evidence.”)

In other matters, the whole thing is boilerplate. Just take a look at this sentence from today’s New York Times:

A federal law enforcement official described the plot as “aspirational” — meaning that the suspects wanted to do something but had no weapons or explosives — and described the operation as a sting with a cooperator within the group.

“It was fully controlled at all times,” a law enforcement official said.

And from the Sears Tower Case in 2006:

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director said today that a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago by seven Miami men now facing federal conspiracy charges was “more aspirational than operational,” but illustrated the threat posed by small groups without connections to international terror networks.”

In both cases though some of the accused had criminal records, the informants were perhaps more skillful and more serious criminals than the criminals themselves–a Visa violator in the Sears Tower case and ironically, a convicted identity thief in the current case. And in both cases, men without a chance of hell of even succesfully robbing a corner liquor store stand trial for intricate terrorist plots that would strain the credulity of a Jerry Bruckheimer in his prime.

These perfectly formed and foiled terrorist plots have become an effective beard for the homefront of the war on terror; not only maintaining the illusion that there is an ubiquitous and active threat to the US, but more importantly presenting the FBI as infallibly prescient and omnipotent in rooting out domestic terror. Be afraid, but don’t question us–we’re the only thing standing between you and the terrorists! Additionally, many may note that this sentence from the NYT’s coverage today, seems a bit suspicious for its blessedly good timing.

“This was a very serious threat that could have cost many, many lives if it had gone through,” Representative Peter T. King, Republican from Long Island, said in an interview with WPIX-TV. “It would have been a horrible, damaging tragedy. There’s a real threat from homegrown terrorists and also from jailhouse converts.”

Even observers with communicative cerebral hemispheres may now reconsider the absurd claims that transferring suspected terrorists from Guantanamo to US prisons might p0se a danger to Americans.

Here’s a sampling of similar cases over the past years. What they have in common is a group of very dumb, semi-literate, poor ne’erdowells, made the perfect stunt doubles for the villains in the war on terror.

The Fort Dix Case

[from Time magazine] Mahmoud Omar is an informant. He plays the most important role in a terrorism case, yet one you never hear about. Like many informants, Omar worked against the government before he worked for it. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to three counts of bank fraud in Pennsylvania and went to jail for six months. In 2002, Omar, a legal immigrant from Egypt, declared bankruptcy. That same year, the U.S. government tried and failed to deport him. Two years later, Omar was arrested again — this time after he got into a fight with a neighbor. In 2006, the government again tried to deport him. But that same year, the very same government put Omar on its payroll, and the immigration case quietly went away. Under the direction of the FBI, he infiltrated a group of friends in Cherry Hill, N.J., whom the government suspected of harboring terrorist intentions. For 16 months, Omar earned thousands of dollars recording hundreds of conversations. He drove one man to do surveillance of possible targets, according to court documents, and he offered to help buy illegal weapons for the group. Finally, in 2007, Omar handed over the men, thereafter known as the Fort Dix Six.

The JFK Airport Case

Four New Yorkers were led by an FBI informant–a convicted drug dealer out to reduce his sentence. The informant provided most of the plans, and promised the men he would get them the explosives they needed. Of course, he had to, the accused ringleader was so illiterate that his brother had to help him fill out his application to work as a baggage handler at the airport. The man was 63 years old. This one’s still working its way through the system.

Finally, in one of the gravest injustices:

The Lodi Case

Ultimately, jurors were swayed by a confession that was videotaped during a lengthy FBI interrogation. His lawyer said the confession was coerced after agents peppered him with leading questions and wore him down during an all-night session. The case against the Hayats grew from a wider federal probe into the 2,500-member Pakistani community in Lodi, a farming and wine-growing region about 35 miles south of the state capital.

That investigation began shortly after the September 2001 terror attacks and focused on whether Lodi business owners were sending money to terror groups abroad.

The case against Hamid Hayat began after an informant the FBI sent to Lodi befriended him and began secretly tape-recording their conversations. During those talks, most of which were in the Hayat home, Hamid Hayat talked about jihad, praised al-Qaida and expressed support for religious governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His lawyer during the trial’s criminal phase, Wazhma Mojaddidi, said those sentiments were nothing more than the idle chatter of a directionless young man who had only a sixth-grade education. She said the government had no proof her client had ever attended a terror camp..

This really does approach the Orwellian level. It may even surpass it.

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