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As Real Threat from Al-Qaeda Fades, Is FBI Stepping Up Set-Ups?

Published: March 15, 2013
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Al-Qaeda is far from being the threat it used to be, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is still foiling plenty of domestic terrorism plots, some of which they’ve helped hatch.

This week, the nation’s top intelligence officials testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the surprising revelation was how much people such as James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, talked about budgets and cyber attacks instead of threats posed by al-Qaeda.

According to Clapper (pdf), al-Qaeda’s main operation, located in Pakistan, is in such bad shape that it is “probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West.”

Furthermore, the terrorist organization’s regional spinoffs in the Middle East and Africa may pose trouble locally, but aren’t in a position to carry out attacks on American soil.

And yet, the FBI keeps exposing and arresting anti-American elements in the U.S. that are allegedly a threat.

According to Mother Jones, the bureau—which has reportedly spent $3.3 billion pursuing terrorists since the 9/11 attacks—often goes after “disgruntled” individuals who seem willing to participate in a terrorist plot, including phony ones cooked up by federal agents. The FBI’s involvement goes so far as to provide plans, equipment and weapons to those eventually arrested for participating in the schemes.

One example cited was Michael Curtis Reynolds, who was arrested in 2005 for expressing interest in helping blow up pipelines and refineries in the U.S.

Later, the FBI concluded that Reynolds probably wasn’t as serious a threat as they previously feared, in part because he might be suffering from mental health problems.

The FBI’s handling of a 2009 “terrorist” case—in which the agency supplied fake weapons to a group of four impoverished, mentally unstable men—was harshly criticized by New York District Judge Colleen McMahan, who called it a “fantasy terror operation.” Said the judge of the FBI’s actions to thwart an alleged bombing plot: “Only the government could have made a ‘terrorist’ out of [defendant] Mr. [James] Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope."

Susanne Brody, a defense attorney in another terrorism case, concluded, “When the government supplies a fake bomb and then thwarts the plot, this is insanity. This is grandstanding.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman

To Learn More:

Spy Chiefs Point to a Much, Much Weaker Al-Qaida (by Spencer Ackerman, Wired)

The FBI Goes To Disturbing Lengths To Set Up Potential Terrorists (by Paul Szoldra, Business Insider)

Is the FBI Encouraging Terrorist Plots In Order to Stop Them and Boost Their Success Rate? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Homegrown Terrorism or Entrapment? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

FBI Paid Ex-Con $177,000 to Entrap Muslims (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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