FBI Accused of Entrapping Muslims; ATF Accused of Entrapping Minorities

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
James Cromitie (AP Photo)

Entrapment has become a popular tactic within two of the largest federal law enforcement agencies in the United States, both of which have come under scrutiny in their attempts to combat terrorism threats and illegal drug sales.


In cases involving counterterrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been accused by a leading human rights organization of unfairly and illegally going after Muslims during sting operations.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports (pdf) that numerous times since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans have gone to jail for planning or aiding terror campaigns. But many were entrapped by FBI agents who in some instances encouraged plots and provided material support to those who might otherwise not have acted, the group says.


Andrea Prasow, HRW’s deputy Washington director, told The Washington Post that “in many of the cases we documented, there was no threat until the FBI showed up and helped turn people into terrorists.”


The report says of the more than 500 people prosecuted for terrorism or related offenses since 9/11, nearly 50% of the convictions relied on testimony from informants. In almost 30% of those cases, the sting operations involved informants who “played an active role in the underlying plot.”


In particular, people with intellectual or mental disabilities have been targeted by the FBI for their sting operations.


Shahawar Matin Siraj, convicted in 2006 for attempting to bomb a Manhattan subway, had in fact objected to participating in the operation that had been devised by the informant trying to recruit him. Siraj told the undercover operative that he didn’t feel comfortable planting bombs and said he would need to first discuss it with his mother.


And in one high-profile case (the “Newburgh Four”), New York District Judge Colleen McMahan, the federal judge overseeing the trial, characterized the government as having come “up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles.” She added, “Only the government could have made a ‘terrorist’ out of [defendant] Mr. [James] Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope.”


Entrapment has also been a popular tool of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has reportedly targeted racial and ethnic minorities during drug sting operations, USA Today reported.


The newspaper found that the ATF stings have more than quadrupled in number over the past 10 years, spelling trouble for blacks and Hispanics caught up in the agency’s efforts.

Racial or ethnic minorities made up at least 91% of those arrested in the stings that focused on nabbing people for new crimes instead of solving old ones. The operations, like those of the FBI, relied heavily on informants, some of whom picked out suspects they met on the street.


“There’s something very wrong going on here,” Alison Siegler, a University of Chicago law professor who is helping to challenge the ATF’s tactics in federal court, told USA Today. “The government is creating these crimes and then choosing who it's going to target.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Illusion of Justice (Human Rights Watch) (pdf)

Government Agents 'Directly Involved' in Most High-Profile US Terror Plots (by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian)

Human Rights Report Takes at U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions, Criticizes FBI Tactics (by Adam Goldman, Washington Post)

Mother of Man Convicted of Terrorism Wants President Obama to Watch 'the Newburgh Sting' Documentary on HBO (by Daniel Beekman, New York Daily News)

Investigation: ATF Drug Stings Targeted Minorities (by Brad Heath, USA Today)

As Real Threat from Al-Qaeda Fades, Is FBI Stepping Up Set-Ups? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

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


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