In the dozen years since the 9/11 attacks, we've watched as a classified new legal regime for government surveillance has been hashed out, local police forces have become heavily armed military-type units and a whole new layer of bureaucracy has hatched to provide us with an abundance of “homeland security.”
Proponents of this build-up argue that it's made us safer. They point to hundreds of foiled plots to make their case. But Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, dug into these supposedly dastardly plots and found that they are much less than meets the eye.
Aaronson recently appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion.
Joshua Holland: Trevor, the raw statistical data say that Americans have a significantly better chance of being struck dead by lightning than of being killed in a terrorist attack here at home. It’s obviously different for people in some other countries.
I got that from the official terrorism statistics put out by the FBI and other related agencies. And they also track foiled attacks. These law enforcement gencies say that these foiled attacks prove that they are saving American lives. How would you respond to that?
Trevor Aaronson: I’d say that the majority of the foiled attacks that they cite are really only foiled attacks because the FBI made the attack possible, and most of the people who are caught in these so-called foiled attacks are caught through sting operations that use either an undercover FBI agent or informant posing as some sort of Al-Qaeda operative.
In all of these cases, the defendants, or the would-be terrorists, are people who at best have a vague idea that they want to commit some sort of violent act or some sort of act of terrorism but have no means on their own. They don’t have weapons. They don’t have connections with any international terrorist groups.
In many cases they’re mentally ill or they’re economically desperate. An undercover informant or agent posing as an Al-Qaeda operative gives them everything they need… gives them the transportation, gives them the money if they need it, and then gives them the bomb and even the idea for the terrorist attack. And then when that person pushes a button to detonate the bomb that they believe will explode—a bomb that was provided to them in whole by the FBI—agents rush in, arrest them and charge them with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and then parade that person out to the public saying, "Look at us. We caught a terrorist. This is us keeping you safe."
If you look at the record of prosecutions in the decade after 911, there has yet to be a case of some Al-Qaeda operative providing the means for a wannabe terrorist to do an act of terrorism. It’s only the FBI that’s providing the means through these sting operations. What this has done is really inflate the threat of terrorism within the United States—particularly from Muslim terrorists—because in almost all of these cases sting operations target men on the fringes of Muslim communities who might be mentally ill, economically desperate or otherwise very easily manipulated by an informant who can make a lot of money in these sting operations.
JH: The thing that I find eye-opening about this is—I’ve certainly known that many of these supposed plots were basically inventions of the FBI, but I didn’t know it was that consistent. You’re saying that this is the case with all of the suspects we’ve heard of in the post-911 era?
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