21 Mar Episode 31: Fake ISIS Plots and the Selling of Forever War
Citations Needed | March 21, 2018 | Transcript
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Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I’m Nima Shirazi.
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Adam: Yeah. So, uh, welcome to the show.
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Adam: You weren’t thanking me?
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Nima: That’s what I just did.
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Nima: Right. As a shameless plug.
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Nima: Wait, Patreon.com/-
Adam: Okay, that’s enough. Anyway, on this episode, speaking of marketing – nice segue, Adam – we are going to talk about the nature in which the War on Terror, the permanent War on Terror, the war, the war that will never end is marketed. And one of the main marketing features of that war is the FBI entrapment, FBI sting, FBI foiled plot that-
Nima: FBI created plots that then they foil themselves and then their headlines splashed all across our media saying, ‘FBI captures wanna be terrorist. You’re all safe now thanks to the FBI but terrorists still want to kill you.’
Adam: We’ve seen these headlines a million times. ‘ISIS plot foiled,’ ‘ISIS in Brooklyn,’ ‘Woman stopped at airport on way to join ISIS.’ These stories strike fear into the hearts of Americans everywhere, especially in the build up to the war against ISIS in 2014.
Clip #1: Another case of suspected homegrown terror, another US citizen plotting to blow up Americans.
Clip #2: The Department of Justice says that it’s arrested a man plotting to carry out a terror attack in support of ISIS.
Clip #3: The FBI says it has foiled a plot to terrorize a popular shopping district in San Francisco on Christmas Day.
Clip #4: More arrests of ISIS sympathizers here in the United States. The FBI nabbed at least six people in Minneapolis and San Diego for their alleged roles in an ISIS inspired terror plot.
Clip #5: Three Brooklyn men are under arrest. Two of them charged with planning to fight for ISIS either in Syria, or if that failed, here in the United States.
Clip #6: Today, six Somali Americans who live in Minnesota were charged with attempting to enlist with the terrorist group known as Islamic State or ISIS.
Clip #7: A 23-year-old man from Florida has been arrested and charged with plotting to plant and detonate a bomb on a public beach and the Department of Justice says he was inspired by ISIS.
Clip #8: We learned today that agents have arrested two men in what the feds say was a terrorist plot to attack a military recruiting station in Seattle.
Clip #9: Aaron Daniels was arrested today at John Glenn International Airport, where investigators say he was about to board a plane bound for Libya with a plan to fight on behalf of ISIS.
Nima: At the time, and actually still now, but at the time, ISIS or the Islamic State or ISIL, the group was seemingly everywhere. They were a recruiting our teenagers at malls and movie theaters. They were at attempting to, you know, strike in every major city across the country, seemingly all at once. There was going to be, you know, coordinated attacks. They were always popping up their new cells. But what do these headlines and these kinds of news reports, these very alarmist news hits, uh, what do they mean? Like what is meant when the media says there’s a quote unquote ‘ISIS plot’.
Adam: So, today we’re going to talk about the, the gap between the reality of what really happens in these alleged plots versus how the media reports them and how that massive chasm in between the two is what provides the, um, I’m going to pull up my Cuisinart MetaphorMixer2000 to say that the massive gap between the reality of what these supposed plots are, which are mostly bogus with some exceptions, versus what the media reports, which is always rounding up to the most sensationalist headline, that this gap provides the cover for the War on Terror, which is now going into its 18th year.
Nima: We will be joined later in the show by Pardiss Kabriaei, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Pardiss Kabriaei: People hear a charge of material support for ISIS or al-Qaeda and there’s an immediate association or stigma. But if you actually look at what’s alleged in a criminal complaint or an indictment in terms of overt acts in many, many, many of these cases, there’s very little beyond statements, you know, over social media apps, tweets and Facebook posts. Uh, you know, initially anyway. And then, you know, before a government agent gets involved and then prods the person along.
Adam: Anyone who’s ever looked at these cases closely, we can highlight some of the more egregious cases, which we’re going to do right now. We’re going to take some of the more artificial or FBI driven plots. And for those who’ve heard of this, some of these will be very interesting. I venture to guess that the majority of the listeners will actually quite know what the nuance of this is, that these cases in the summer of 2014 really hit their peak. Now they existed before that. But that was really when the fever before the launching of the war against ISIL in August of 2014, that summer, there was non-stop coverage of this. And this lasted until probably about mid 2016. So for about two and a half years we had this fever pitch of ISIS plots that were going to come, they were all going to kill us all. We’re going to run through a few of the cases that were the most egregious. And what we mean by this is how the media covered it versus what actually happened. So we’re going to start with the Edmonds cousins case. So in March of 2015, the FBI announced at the eleventh hour that they had foiled a quote ‘ISIS plot’ in the United States. And the case involved two men, an Army National Guard specialist, Hasan Edmonds and his cousin Jonas Edmonds. They were essentially going to join ISIS in Syria. This is a common feature one sees in all these cases. And so right on cue the American media said that the FBI had quote, ‘disrupted a plot.’ Another headline read that quote, “The FBI Disrupts Plot to Kill Scores at Military Base on Behalf of Islamic State.” That was The Washington Post.
Nima: That was a The Washington Post headline, which is basically just like repurposed FBI press releases.
Adam: Yeah. And you see this time again from even from The New York Times, from Daily News, there was a huge headline on MSNBC that read, “National Guard soldier, cousin charged in ISIS plot.” Now this is one of several cases where, of course, there was no actual ISIS involved. The people, and this is very common, and we’ll go over this again, the cousins in question were talking to FBI undercover agents and informants.
Nima: The whole time.
Adam: There was never any actual ISIS.
Adam: And this is something we see time and time again. There was two cases in 2013 and 2014 respectively of someone by the name of Abdella Tounisi is a 19 year old in Aurora, Illinois who the FBI, and the kid was not very bright. He had made some like all these things, they usually start from someone posting something on social media. And what happened was the FBI created a fake al-Qaeda website with, with a fake al-Qaeda video.
Nima: Like a promotional terrorist video.
Adam: Yeah, and they created a fake al-Qaeda in Syria email list, this guy signed up to an al-Qaeda email list. This is, this is the guy-
Nima: ‘Cause that’s how it’s done.
Adam: Right. And so, and then of course he went to the airport one day and lo and behold there’s fifteen FBI agents there and he’s now serving decades in prison. The more cynical example is when I like to talk about a lot, um, Javed Sheikh, was a 29 year old in North Carolina who was promised marriage in Syria from a woman he met online who physically was there they had had Skype conversations. She was an FBI agent and she convinced him that she was a nurse in, in Syria, um, without any regard for how she was getting such great internet connectivity.
Adam: This is a person who has had a history of mental health problems. He lived with his parents. He was 29 years old. He had never had a relationship. And then she, the undercover agent, told him to come to Syria. He did, and went to the airport, lo and behold, there’s the FBI. So the head, but the headlines of these stories, if you go read them, are “Aurora teen caught trying to join ISIS.”
Nima: “Trying to joining al-Nusra.” Right.
Adam: Al-Nusra. And then you see, you know, “Local North Carolinian arrested for going to join ISIS.” So the headlines never, they emit the sort of, the amount of falseness and Potemkin-ist, they’re being prodded and poked along here. And this is something that we’ve talked about before on the show and it’s something that a lot of people have done documentaries about, but most people don’t know the extent to which these are totally bogus plots.
Nima: Exactly. And so this has been going on obviously for years and years with regard to the War on Terror since the early 2000s obviously, but as Adam said earlier, it really kind of hit this fever pitch in 2014. So in 2014 actually, the evidence shows that, uh, at least 30 percent of these so called ISIS related then prosecutions, like the trials of these supposedly captured terrorists, right? At least 30 percent of those prosecutions involved these undercover operations. Since February of 2015 that figure has more than doubled.
Adam: There was a separate study done by a Human Rights Watch that found 99 percent of the plots were FBI nudged or FBI sort of contrived. So the numbers range, I think The Intercept did their own analysis and found that the number was something like 70 percent. So depending how you define it, that that’s the kind of scope of things. Now the most hilarious one, or the one I found most hilarious was again, right at the peak of the war in October of 2015, we got the following headlines, “Annihilate America: Inside a Secret, Frightening Scheme to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS,” that’s liberal outlet Salon. “AP: Smugglers Busted Trying to Sell Nuclear Materials to ISIS”, CBS News. The Independent, “FBI Foil Smugglers’ Plot to Sell Nuclear Materials to ISIS.” Now there’s only one problem, at no point in this plot was there any ever actual any nuclear material, nor was there ever actually any ISIS involved.
Nima: Right. It was like maybe you could say there was a plot. That’s the one word. The plot was wholly created by the FBI.
Adam: This was the FBI in concert with Moldovan authorities. They had disrupted the supposed Russia and ISIS nuclear ring. Of course he had to throw Russia in there. That’s important. But at no point were these smugglers, these Moldova, who again they thought they were selling to ISIS, but there never was any actual ISIS involved. So you had these headlines that said, “Smugglers Try to Sell Nuclear Materials to ISIS,” NBC News. Fox News, “Smugglers Try to Sell Nukes to ISIS.” Daily Mail, “FBI Foiled 4 Attempts by Gangs to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS Through Russian Connections.” Now, there never was any ISIS at all. They were selling to what they thought was an ISIS informant. But that’s not, so if I hear, right. And so there was a, there was a CBS headline that says, “Plot to Sell Nuclear Materials to ISIS Foiled.” Now, if I read that, I think that there’s actual ISIS involved.
Nima: So then actually this kind of falsehood was then taken to the next level. It wasn’t even said that those involved in this plan and this plot tried to do something that, obviously, maybe they were trying to do, but we’re never going to achieve because they weren’t actually talking to ISIS. But then certain media covered this as if ISIS was actually involved. So you have Business Insider in October of 2015 saying, “AP Investigation Finds That Nuclear Smugglers Shopped Radioactive Material to ISIS and Other Terrorists.” So ‘shopped to’ obviously means they were in contact with ISIS. They weren’t.
Adam: Right. They never did.
Nima: The Chicago Tribune at the same time ran the headline, “Nuclear Smuggler Shopped Radioactive Material to Islamic State, Other Terrorists: AP Report.” And so, you know, nothing, like, maybe they attempted to do something, but that was never going to happen.
Adam: Here’s what the International Business Times reporter, Christopher Harress, now this was later retracted, but this is what he wrote, “Members of the Islamic State group with links to Russian gangs were trying to get a hold of nuclear material to build a radioactive dirty bomb before Moldovan police and FBI operatives stopped them.” Now there never was any Islamic State in this plot.
Adam: Now, this gentleman, again, they later corrected it or later retracted it, but his mistake was a reasonable one because when people hear ISIS, they think there’s actual ISIS and not some FBI asshole acting like ISIS. So what you have is a kind of meta terror. It’s something we we’ve talked about before, which is there is terrorism. Then there’s the other side of that which is the FBI contrived terrorism that wildly inflates the actual threat of terrorism because the media doesn’t make a distinction.
Nima: Right. So in the case, for example, of the Newburgh Four this is another kind of similar similarly, uh, you know, FBI run plot involving those with mental health issues, which is usually the kind of prime target for FBI sting operations, someone who’s really prone to go along with suggestive informants often and basically it’s okay to play this role and they’re just really taken advantage of. So in the case of the Newburgh Four the judge on the case said that the US government, and this would’ve been the FBI specifically, but the US government quote, “Came up with the crime, provided the means and removed all relevant obstacles.”
Nima: And that basically by doing this, they created a wannabe terrorist out of someone who would not have done that otherwise. And whose — this is the judge again — “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
Nima: Meaning this person would never have been able to pull off this plan. It was only by the grace of the FBI that this even became something to talk about.
Adam: Oh of course. This was seen very pronounced in the Emanuel Lutchman case. A case that I spent a lot of time writing about. So Emanuel Lutchman was a Rochester resident who was homeless and he was an African American, like a lot of these guys, by the way, a lot of the FBI entrapment case believe me is a Black Lives Matter issue because they disproportionately attack recent converts to Islam. He had met two people in his mosque that he frequented and he was making some idle talk about ISIL or something. This was a plot where it had four people, three of them were informants, paid by the FBI, tens of thousands of dollars over time, probably upwards of 100,000 dollars and one person who was homeless, had two different stints at a hospital for mental illness, someone who had massive mental problems, uh, who did not have a job. They found him outside of a local bar where he used to pick up cigarette butts and smoke them. And that he had a plot to go into this bar with a machete and attack people on New Year’s Eve. This was the so-called ‘Rochester New Year’s Eve ISIS plot.’ And you saw this from CBS to local reports to The New York Times, The Washington Post to the International Business Times. They all just mindlessly repeated this headline of ‘Rochester, New Year’s Eve, plot foiled by FBI.’
Nima: So you’re all safe now. Thank god.
Adam: But wait, it gets better. Not only was this plot 75 percent the FBI, not only was the person a person who was homeless and had a long history of mental illness, this was someone who did not have the $20 to go to Walmart to buy the zip ties and the knives to carry out the plot. So the FBI not only drove him to Walmart because he didn’t have a car, they gave him $20 to buy the products and then conspired with Walmart to not raise any red flags. So the actual person to ring it up knew that they were involved.
Nima: In what way is that foiling a plot?
Adam: Right. And so something rare happened in this case. The local media in Rochester actually looked into this and started criticizing it. And you want to know why? Because they had to cancel their New Year’s Eve celebration that year, which is, which apparently is a massive tradition in Rochester and so people were calling up angry at the police and local media saying, ‘Why the hell did they cancel?’ And they looked into it and turns out there isn’t really anything there. It was totally FBI contrived. The NYPD used it as a pretext to up their security during New Year’s Eve as did a number of other police departments in the, in the, in the tri-state area. This is something totally manufactured by the FBI in the most egregious way possible for someone who’s the most vulnerable. And again, maybe the guy had some musings online, maybe he was, you know, said some things at a mosque he shouldn’t have said, but it’s completely 100 percent authored by the FBI in a pretty, a pretty transparent way. It’s one of the ones, cause I’ve written about this a lot, that really pisses me, this, this and the and the Sheikh case in North Carolina, are really egregious, like extreme examples. And of course there’s, there’s a gradient right? On one end of the spectrum, you have people who may or may actually be developing a plot.
Adam: That does happen occasionally.
Adam: But the vast, vast majority are assisted on some gradient by the FBI from sort of probably not going to happen but maybe could to-
Nima: But maybe could and nudging to-
Adam: But literally never going to happen ever if the FBI didn’t come along and write the script for them.
Nima: Right. The New York Times reported in 2014 about Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Oregon College student who was then going to, like, set off a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Do you remember this? In 2014? So in that case, the FBI by provided this guy with the van loaded with six 55 gallon drums of “inert material” because it wasn’t an actual bomb, but they provided the thing that the guy thought was this car bomb, van bomb, but it had harmless blasting caps, a detonator cord, a gallon of a diesel fuel to make it smell flammable.
Nima: Right? And so The Times reported on this yet again, here’s what they say, quote, “An undercover FBI agent even did the driving, with Mr. Mohamud in the passenger seat. To trigger the bomb the student punched a number into a cell phone and got no boom, only a bust.” That’s clever writing. But so when this case is then reported on its, ‘Christmas tree lighting plot foiled’, which obviously you also see the linkages with promoting a very racialized profiled in terms of ethnicity, but there’s such a religious component here obviously because it’s going to be addressing often young Muslim men, but these plots that are created by the FBI, a bunch of them have these Christmas season timing to them so that there’s an attack on American values right? Christian values.
Adam: It’s the Fourth of July attack that happened in 2015.
Nima: Yeah. Exactly.
Adam: Which was similarly contrived where it had to take place on Fourth of July because there’s always warnings about Fourth of July attacks. There’s a corollary propaganda effort around the time of 2014 and 2013 about Americans going to join ISIS. This was the huge moral panic. This achieved two things. Number one, it brought the war effort home, so where now it’s, it’s Johnny and Jim Jr. going to join ISIS. Now it’s not. It’s not intellectual. It’s visceral, it’s real. It’s hit home. And the second thing it did is it justified a basically, that was the original end to all the post noted reforms because now ISIS is lurking in the shadows online. Companies like Twitter and Facebook started, this is when they started really joining these partnerships with the government to monitor, cause ISIS was going to come recruit your kid. You know, The New York Times had the front page about the woman who was recruited by ISIS. Now the numbers, however, never really added up. So on September 4, 2014 when then Secretary Chuck Hagel was in front of Congress pushing for this war against ISIS. He told Congress there was more than quote, “More than a hundred Americans fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.” Now, the war against Isis in Syria was launched on September 22, 2014. Now this was a huge escalation because Iraq gave us permission if you recall, the nominal Prime Minister of Iraq, Maliki, he gave us permission in August of 2014 to bomb, but in September when we bombed Syria, there was no legal justification for it. It was totally illegal by any objective measure. This was a radical escalation. So the day we bombed on September 22, 2014, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, a couple of hours after we started bombing, reports, “Actually there’s only 20 to 30 American fighters in Syria.”
Adam: Oh, and guess what? Two weeks later at a press conference, James Comey tells the Associated Press that actually there is quote, “Less than a dozen.” So now we’ve gone from a hundred Americans, to 20 to 30 Americans to a dozen Americans who are in ISIL, because they realized that at some point we were going to wonder why dead Americans weren’t coming back and to this day, if I’m not mistaken, I think the number is roughly two Americans that have actually died in ISIS. So there was supposed to be hundreds of Americans in ISIS. 120, 150 so all these different numbers. And at one point they even said 200, 250 Americans in ISIS. So the war’s been going on for, you know, three years now and where are these dead Americans? They don’t exist.
Nima: Right, because they are not there.
Adam: The vast majority of Americans who have died in ISIS are fighting against ISIS with the YPJ and YPG, um, effectively on the side of the US military at this point, or at least back then. So, you know, you had this corollary moral panic about your kids and daughters going to join ISIS. This was a huge thing and there was a lot of rounding up around that time and I think now we’ve sort of moved on to where these things get a little dodgy. This is back to the sort of plots, the sort of plots where they moved from the bombing plots, which was the Al-Qaeda way of doing it, right? They’re kind of Inspire Magazine, you know, pipe bomb, Tsarnaev brothers to the beheading plots, which were all the vogue in 2015 when ISIS started beheading people in 2014. So there was one plot in Boston in 2015, gentleman by the name of, um, Usaamah Rahim who was involved with a bunch of informants under 24-hour surveillance that he was going to behead Pam Geller.
Nima: That’s noted right wing anti-Islam, hate monger, sociopath Pam Geller.
Adam: Right. And so when the FBI allegedly and Boston police moved in to arrest him, he went crazy with this knife and they shot him to death and he died. Now one little thing is missing from this, which is a week prior on May 27, he was shot on June 2, 2015, on May 27and I’m reading from the actual affidavit that the FBI filed in court. Here it is quote, “On or about May 27, 2015 before the marine fighting knife was delivered,” he had ordered a marine fighting knife, “an FBI agent bomb technician intercepted the package and x-rayed and determined it contained a large knife and a knife sharpening tool. Shortly thereafter, using video surveillance, FBI agents watched as the package containing the knife and the sharpener was delivered to Rahim’s address.” So they intercepted his weapon that they knew he was going to use and they put it back in the box and gave it to him.
Nima: Right. Just so that they could then have a success.
Adam: Just so that they could then have a success. And you see this time and time again, and this is where we transfer to the Garland plot, which this was revealed years later actually, about last year by the lawyers of the gentleman who was arrested, Simpson.
Nima: Elton Simpson, the guy who’s going to allegedly go to the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland to shoot up this ‘draw Muhammed as a cartoon’ contest, is being trailed by the FBI in a car as he’s driving to the place to do this thing. And this was reported on-
Adam: Right. On 60 minutes.
Nima: 60 Minutes. Right.
Adam: So listen to this clip in 60 Minutes and listen to Anderson Cooper’s complete incredulity and shock at the fact that facts are what they are. And this shows the extent of FBI involvement in these plots.
Anderson Cooper: Another batch of documents by the government revealing the biggest surprise of all. The undercover agent was in a car directly behind Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi when they started shooting. This cell phone photo of school security guard, Bruce Joiner and police officer Greg Stevens was taken by the undercover agent seconds before the attack…The idea that he’s taking a photograph of the two people who happened to be attacked moments before they are attacked.
Dan Maynard: It’s stunning.
Anderson Cooper: I mean, talk about being in the right or the wrong place at the right or the wrong time.
Dan Maynard: The idea that he’s right there 30 seconds before the attack happens is just incredible to me.
Anderson Cooper: What would you want to ask the undercover agent?
Dan Maynard: I would love to ask the under cover agent, uh, are these the only communications that you had with Simpson? Did you have more communications with Simpson? How is it that you ended up coming to Garland, Texas? Why are you even there?
Anderson Cooper: We wanted to ask the FBI those same questions, but the bureau would not agree to an interview. All the FBI would give us was this email statement. It reads, “There was no advanced knowledge of a plot to attack the cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas.” If you’re wondering what happened to the FBI’s undercover agent, he fled the scene but was stopped at gunpoint by Garland police. This is video of him in handcuffs recorded by a local news crew. We blurred his face to protect his identity.
Dan Maynard: I can’t tell you where the, whether the FBI knew the attack was going to occur. I would, I don’t like to think that they let it occur. But it is shocking to me that an undercover agent sees fellas jumping out of a car and he drives on. Um, I find that shocking.
Adam: And the day before this whole thing happened, an FBI informant told Simpson to quote, “Tear up Texas.”
Nima: So often in these cases we see these kind of, you know, egged on plots going along, going along, and then we hear, always after the fact, of course, that at a certain point these people who are, who are being talked into doing this have second thoughts. They, they want to not do it. They’re like, I really don’t think this is what I want to be doing. And then they’re re-talked into it by the FBI. They’re like, “No, really you do want to do this.”
Adam: And the thing that’s important to understand is that post 9/11, especially generally speaking in Europe, you can’t accuse someone or arrest or prosecute someone for a terrorist attack where there’s no actual connection to a group that’s real. Whereas in the US, the standard is so low all you need to do, all you need to show is guilt of mind, which means there never actually has to be any actual terror plot. Now there’s two problems with this. Legally, you’re effectively creating a crime in many ways. Again, not always, but most of the time they’re creating a crime and they’re prodding someone to go do it who are vulnerable or mentally unwell and so forth. The second problem is the one that’s more on our domain, which has to do with the net propaganda effect. So there was one image, uh, in July of 2015 where former CIA Director and lobbyist for DC PR firm, Beacon Global Strategies, not coincidentally, was on CBS and he’s sitting there talking about the ISIS plots. This was peak ISIS panic.
Nima: This is Michael Morell.
Adam: Yes, this is Michael Morell and he’s got this, this, this map of America and it has four states in blood red. One is Minnesota and it says, “Minneapolis, six arrests for Isis plots,” “New York, New Jersey, three arrests for ISIS plots,” “Cincinnati, one arrest in January,” “Phoenix, Arizona, one arrest.” Now, the thing is not a single one of these plots ever actually involved ISIS.
Adam: These were totally manufactured plots, but the average person reading when they see recent ISIS arrest and see all these ISIS plots they assume there are like ISIS terror cells, right?
Nima: They’re like, “ISIS is around.” Right.
Adam: Which is exactly the fucking point of these things. The point is to radically inflate the threat. Now, of course, again, it’s like with the Russia stuff. It doesn’t mean Russia’s not meddling, doesn’t mean ISIS doesn’t exist. Doesn’t mean ISIS isn’t training and recruiting, of course they are. But the FBI and the federal government in general and our media in concert are radically inflating the actual scope of the threat by a magnitude of ten, fifty, a hundred x.
Nima: Right. And then the implications of this are obviously played out not only in the media but in the courts. And I mean to date, not a single one of these terrorism related indictments has been thrown out by virtue of entrapment since 9/11.
Adam: Cause it’s almost impossible to prove.
Nima: Not a single one.
Adam: Because all they need to do is give them one out, that’s like, that’s the legal standard. They have to give them an out or at some point say, “You know you don’t have to do this,” with some throwaway line.
Adam: As long as they say that their ass is covered.
Adam: They can pretty much-
Nima: Then it’s no longer quote unquote “entrapment.”
Adam: Yeah, they just build these, these, these Truman Show plots around them. And then they’re like, “Oh, by the way, you know, you don’t have to do this, but you really should.”
Nima: Right. And I should also point out that this is all by design. This is not just something that the FBI stumbled into. So within days of the attacks of 9/11, FBI director Robert Mueller, you know, Hashtag Resistance hero, Robert Mueller, issued a memo on a new FBI policy that was supposed to be followed immediately. And this had to do with what was known as quote “Forward leaning, preventative prosecutions.” And so-
Adam: Forward leaning. I like that.
Nima: So that is central to this, that is foundational to what the FBI is doing. They have this ever-expanding informant networks.
Adam: 15,000 informants that the FBI is domestically and I would argue probably at least two thirds of that are directed towards Muslims.
Nima: Right. And so in 2016 Salon reported that research by the investigative journalist, Trevor Aaronson, found that informants involved in these operations had been paid as much as a hundred thousand dollars by the FBI. And many of these informants have criminal backgrounds themselves. So.
Adam: Yeah they get them to flip.
Nima: Exactly. So you kind of see the incentive for these informants to really build up these plots because then they get off for whatever they are being accused of.
Adam: And the political context is of course the key here, which is that especially in the buildup to the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, that there has to be, it fuels that war. It drives it home. Otherwise it’s abstract, you know, people are war fatigued. But if you have, I mean, we had non-stop ISIS videos, you know, we had that vice undercover thing with ISIS that premiered, read roughly 5:30 on August 7, 2014 approximately two hours before Obama went on air to launch air strikes-
Nima: Mhmm. Convenient.
Adam: That provided the visual collateral. Um, so, you know, we had this non-stop ISIS panic I mean you know from 2014 and 2015 it doesn’t mean that ISIS wasn’t a threat, in many ways it was, or it certainly was to the people of Iraq and Syria. But, but the domestic element was wildly inflated and foreign fighters were mostly coming from mostly coming from Saudi Arabia in Tunisia was some in Europe. But the existence of American foreign fighters was, I mean, basically nothing. I think there was only, there’s maybe less than a half a dozen documented cases, maybe less than a dozen. Um, I think Comey was actually telling the truth when he gave the dozen number. I think that’s probably the amount of Americans that ever traveled for the purposes of fighting ISIS. Of course, if you go back from 2011 and 2010 when people were coming from Australia and the UK to go fight the Assad government or Assad regime, that they were actually painted in a positive light. They were painted as freedom fighters.
Nima: Oh exactly. Those were like the noble foreign fighters.
Adam: Right, and then suddenly when it became clear that it was jihadist in nature the war effort shift to fighting ISIL in Syria then it became yesterday’s hero was now a jihadist terrorist, and so this all sort of accumulated around this war effort, which of course is the broader context and then there’s of course the idea of the FBI effectively being in the business of solving its own problems, which in the wonderful Newburgh Four documentary, there was one FBI agent who basically stated their entire business model which is,
Thomas Fuentes: If you’re a submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit your proposal that “We won the War on Terror and everything’s great,” because the first thing that’s going to happen is your budget is going to be cut in half. You know, it’s my, uh, opposite of Jesse Jackson’s “Keep hope alive.” This is keep fear alive. Keep it alive.
Nima: We are going to be joined in just a moment to talk about this and so much more with Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Stay with us.
Clip #1: Tonight. The FBI and DHS are warning law enforcement around the country, concerned about young Americans wanting to fight with the terrorist group ISIS.
Clip #2: Very latest on the arrest of a teen from Indiana who officials say was on his way to join ISIS overseas and may have a plan to launch attacks right here at home.
Clip #3: And we have new information tonight about the young Colorado woman who went from shy, quiet, suburban girl to an accused terrorist.
Clip #4: And the scariest part of all is right here in America. At least a hundred and forty of those jihadists are Americans.
Nima: We are joined now by Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Hi Pardiss.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Hi. Thank you for pronouncing my last name correctly.
Nima: I would have no excuse not to.
Pardiss Kebriaei: That’s right. That’s true.
Adam: So thank you so much for joining us. The, uh, the, the theme of today’s show is the gap between how the media portrays FBI ISIS plot foils, if you will, sting operations, entrapments, whatever have you and what the reality is on the ground. Um, so in your line of work, which is to sort of try to highlight these, uh, the first question I have is to what extent does the media narrative around these things like ‘FBI stops ISIS plot,’ uh, ‘Al-Qaeda plot foiled at the eleventh hour.’ Um, during 2014, 2015, we saw a number of these supposed ISIS recruits going to the airport. Uh, many of which again, we’re totally Potemkin in nature. To what extent does this, does this flood of media reports make it difficult to have an honest conversation about the tactics used by the FBI?
Pardiss Kebriaei: I guess I would first start by saying there isn’t really a ton of there, there’s virtually no reporting or very little reporting other than your podcast and The Intercept and you know, freelance reporters like Aviva Stahl, people who actually look at these cases in any depth. Um, so the vast majority of reporting is a short article at the time of arrest that announces the arrest and the plot and then nothing until a guilty plea and sentencing. So, um, that’s, I mean, that’s just, there’s no in depth, there’s very little in depth reporting on any of these cases. And these are cases that have been ongoing, you know, for, the under the Obama Administration certainly they’ve really picked up since the beginning of ISIS, the emergence of ISIS. So there’s really been an uptick since about 2014 and the number of prosecutions, domestic prosecutions. Um, but anyway, the, the media, uh, has not, you know, other than a few outlets that a few individual reporters looked in depth at these cases in any fashion. And I think that certainly affects, um, what happens, you know, juries are people, judges are people. Um, so there is no broader background understanding of who the defendants are, how these arrests have come to be, you know, what the actual overt conduct is. I mean, I think people hear a charge of material support for ISIS or Al-Qaeda and there’s an immediate association or stigma, but if you actually look at what’s alleged in a criminal complaint or an indictment in terms of overt acts in many, many, many of these cases, there’s very little beyond statements, you know, over social media apps, tweets, Facebook posts, uh, you know, initially anyway. And then, you know, before a government gets involved and then prods the person along.
Adam: The ability to prod along these, these plots is really where the rub is, right? Because there’s kind of a gradient on one end of the spectrum you have some people who maybe are maybe actively sort of pursuing violent acts and maybe it’s sort of sensible that the FBI give them a little nudge. Although that even that is debatable. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have people who are basically just doing idle chatter, who are sometimes mentally unwell, oftentimes mentally unwell. In the beginning of the show we talked about the case of Emanuel Lutchman in Rochester, New York, who had twice been committed for mental instability, who was targeted by three different informants, who didn’t have the money to go to Walmart to buy the materials, so the FBI drove him there and then gave him the $20 in cash to buy some zip ties and some knives or something. And that’s sort of the more extreme end of the spectrum, but yet all this is flattened and when the media announces a headline its, ISIS plot, ISIS plot, but the FBI, I think even by and the really good documentary on the Newburgh Four, the FBI agent says, “Keep fear alive.” There’s a political component to this, which is the FBI needs to rationalize its existence and it does so by constantly having these headlines. That the headlines are the thing. This is one of the rare instances where absolutely 100 percent of the motive behind what the FBI is doing or what law enforcement does is entirely about the headlines where sometimes it’s like 60, 70 percent. I think in this case it’s 100. To what extent does that get completely flattened in any of these kind of gradients get flattened?
Pardiss Kebriaei: The vast majority of cases since 2014, uh, alleging material support for ISIS have been travel related cases. I mean, they’re not even, they’re not even these sting operations where we can question how much the FBI was involved and what the plot was and how predisposed the person was to actual carry out the act. The vast majority are, you know, uh, young men in their late teens and early twenties who are buying or thinking about buying a plane ticket to travel to Syria, allegedly or Turkey or even someplace in the Middle East. And that coupled with, uh, you know, social media content then becomes the case. Um, so yes, there are informants involved in even those cases, but I think we need to be clear that the majority of cases since 2014 against ISIS have been travel related, which means, you know, really just buying a ticket and getting to the airport and then arrest, um, nothing about, you know, does the person actually arrive there? What happens when they arrived there? Were they fighting? Did they have a true intention to actually go to Syria and join ISIS and stay and fight? I mean, none of that. It’s, it’s totally preemptive. I mean, it’s, it’s caught at the airport and again, even those, even those cases, which are the vast majority, involve undercover agents and um, you know, confidential informants who prod the person along and give them money to buy a plane ticket or drive them to the airport, um, you know, or put them in touch with, uh, with a supposed recruiter in Syria to sort of get them information about how to get there. So.
Adam: Yeah, at the top of the show, we discussed the case of Javed Sheikh, in North Carolina, the 29 year old. We discussed the case of Shannon Conley in Colorado. There was the 19 year old in Aurora I think in Illinois by the name of Abdella Tounisi. Um, in the case of Sheikh, they had a, uh, an actual, as we discussed at the top of the show an actual woman FBI agent posing as a nurse in Syria for someone who had never had a relationship with a woman before. Um, and so yeah, this is all you’re right, you’re right to point this out that they’re not even really plots there are simple travel to allegedly going to Istanbul, Turkey.
Pardiss Kebriaei: And interestingly, when you look at acts or attacks that have actually been carried out, um, you know, you look at the Chelsea attack, you look at St. Paul’s and what just happened last year. These aren’t people who were on the government’s radar actually. Um, so most of these cases aren’t even, you know, they don’t even involve people who have actually carried out attacks. Those aren’t the people who are online necessarily, you know, tweeting or posting things about support for ISIS. Uh, so it’s just, it’s sort of a, it’s an interesting contrast that, you know, the cases have actually resulted in harm and actual harm of people who are not on the government’s radar.
Adam: Yeah. I wrote a piece for FAIR in July of 2016 that looked at all 50 instances since 9/11 of the FBI or DHS warning of an upcoming terror attack.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Adam: And not a single one of them proceeded a terror attack.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Adam: So what’s the point? It’s just a, it’s a complete psychological operation.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Well I think it’s to your point that there is, there is an industry and there’s an infrastructure that needs to be used. There are resources that need to be used. And so many of these cases target the most vulnerable people and totally exploit them. I mean, it’s, it’s shocking reading some of these cases you anecdotally like you hear about, you know, a particular person who has mental health problems or, you know, is homeless and you think, well, maybe those are sort of the isolated cases, but if you actually start looking at the body of these cases as a whole, it’s more than the isolated view. It’s many, many cases where defendants are extremely young, extremely vulnerable, extremely impressionable, whether because of abuse, uh, in their backgrounds, whether because of mental health or cognitive issues. Um, you know, just real issues that make them vulnerable and impressionable and those are the people who are getting targeted.
Nima: Yeah, it actually shines a light on the gross hypocrisy and almost obvious evidence of who is being targeted and obviously who is being ignored. There are, I think numerous reports of the FBI getting tips about, you know, certain behavior or certain acts, certain intentions for young white men who have accumulated a lot of guns and are talking about killing people or threatening to kill people and those then do not result in arrests or surveillance. Certainly not profiling, obviously not. But then once an attack is carried out, once mass murder is carried out, well then those men really suffer from mental illness. Can you talk about how surveillance and profiling plays into who the victims of these FBI plots wind up being and how you deal with that in court?
Pardiss Kebriaei: I think religious profiling, profiling of national origin, and at one point profiling of men although women are now increasingly targets, um, absolutely has everything to do with who the government throws resources at. I mean so many, and again, I think it’s safe to say the majority of these cases come about by, you know, uh, um, a young man, Muslim, um, or uh, you know, convert to Islam tweeting something or posting something on a chat room or in social media, it getting picked up by agents who are watching for that kind of content. I mean, I’m sure there were words that trigger attention and then there’s sort of swarmed by, um, you know, an undercover, either online or then there sort of a, an in-person connection made. So absolutely. I mean if you, every, well, I mean every single I haven’t done the research on, on, um, arrests for violence, terrorism, domestic terrorism that is not a about ISIS or al-Qaeda and sort of compare the numbers. But I think it’s pretty clear just, you know, from what we’re seeing anecdotally, that the majority of terrorism related cases involve Muslims, Muslim men, young men, uh, you know, and, and allegations of ISIS, support for ISIS. So yeah, I don’t think you can be a Muslim man or woman and now, um, and, and say something in support of ISIS and not get attention from the FBI, you know, and what that means is, is surveillance. It means online surveillance and then a friend request on Facebook, uh, or you know, in-person connection somehow. A friend, a supposed friend approaches you and you know, makes known that you’re sort of like-minded and then a relationship, a friendship that goes on for months or a year or even two years. Um, so profiling has everything to do with these cases.
Adam: I think Trevor Aaronson, at The Intercept found that, or I think it may have been an article for The Guardian that, that there’s about 15,000 informants in the United States. There was a kind of rough estimate that roughly two thirds or maybe even as high as 80 percent were focusing on Muslims, which is I think comes out to about an informant for every 1,500 Muslim, a Muslim person in this country. And of course, that of course it’s going to necessarily lead to a certain narrative because, you know, you know, white terrorism of course kills more people than Muslim terrorism in this country, but the vast majority of resources are focused on the Muslim aspect of it, largely because the US is not currently bombing seven Christian countries. Right? The narrative supports a war narrative as well, which makes it extra sexy. And has a totally perverse incentive alignment. Um, in your opinion, to what extent does the feedback loop of the entrapment plots and the necessity to keep bombing these countries, to what extent are they inextricably linked and can we ever end this kind of entrapment regime without ending these wars?
Pardiss Kebriaei: Yeah, I mean, I think to your first question I think absolutely the arrests, the nature of who’s getting targeted and domestic prosecutions, the nature of who’s getting targeted with drones abroad, the nature of who’s getting targeted in immigration policies that exclude certain people from certain foreign countries, um, you know, the nature of policies that, you know, call for registration for certain citizens and legal permanent residents in the United States. I mean, these are all related. I think that under Trump, it’s, it’s a bit more obvious, um, you know, the connections, I think he and his inner circle sort of stated their agenda at the very beginning of his candidacy and his presidency in terms of seeing Islam as a cancer, seeing as seeing it as a sickness, you know, there being a presumption of dangerousness by virtue of just being a Muslim. And then you add onto that other identities like a foreign national or, you know, being a foreigner from a certain part of the world. So I think it’s absolutely overt and clear under Trump. Um, but I think these things were happening under, I mean they were happening under Obama as well. Um, so these prosecutions, I mean some of the most egregious and outrageous were in 2014 and 15 and even earlier than that. Under the Obama Administration, under the Obama DoJ, um, that we’re doing the same sort of targeting, same sorts of, um, entrapment operations. Outrageous use of informants targeting of totally vulnerable kids or young people. So again yes, there was a connection. I think it’s absolutely obvious in these times.
Nima: So Pardiss, we’ve heard judges basically condemn all aspects of certain cases, saying, you know, that the FBI came up with the crime, provided the means removed all relevant obstacles, and then yet still find the defendant guilty, still say, “Yeah, but it never reaches this issue of entrapment.” Why is the bar so high for that kind of thing? And is it just built to get convictions?
Pardiss Kebriaei: I come into these cases from a, on the civil side. I mean, I, I pay attention and sort of we come in to address post-conviction issues including conditions of confinement and things like that as a way of trying to talk about the criminal conviction in a criminal case. Um, and then I research these cases, but I don’t actually do the criminal defense.
Pardiss Kebriaei: What I know though is that if you are a criminal defense lawyer, um, you know, the overwhelming majority of these cases end in pleas. They’re not, you know, they’re not cases that go to trial. That’s not that different from, I mean some of, some of what’s wrong and unjust and what happens in these cases is very connected to broader problems in the criminal justice system more broadly. Um, you know, there is like the majority of ordinary criminal cases which also result in pleas, plea deals, not jury trials, um, the vast majority of these cases end the same way. So if you’re a criminal defense lawyer and you have a client who is facing, you know, three different counts of material support for terrorism that all stem from, you know, buying a, I don’t know, buying a plane ticket and going to an airport or even one count of material support for terrorism and he’s facing or she’s facing 20 years, which is what you can get for one count of material support for as little as buying a plane ticket and going to the airport, 20 years in prison. 20 years and I think it’s important to say it’s not just the sentence, you get of prison time, in almost all of these cases, there’s a certain period of time of what’s called supervised release, which is a period of government surveillance and monitoring of you by a probation officer that can go on for another few decades. So if you’re a lawyer representing someone who’s facing that kind of prison time, you’re in, you know, you’re looking out for your client’s interests and you’re trying to get them the best deal you can. And that doesn’t often happen by going to trial. So, you know, you’re really trying to facilitate a good plea deal. You know, a sentence that’s as light as possible. You’re not trying to necessarily be political and push the judge and push the jury and make a make political statement about how messed up these cases are. You’re trying to sort of get your client the least amount of prison time. So a lot of these cases, I mean, I think part of the challenge is, you know, these cases end, like there’s not much of a life to them beyond the arrest and the way the arrest comes about. And then there’s kind of silence. If you look at the court docket, there’s kind of silence until, in a lot of these cases, until a plea deal is reached and then there’s sentencing. So, um, so anyway, I think that, you know, as a criminal defense lawyer, you’re sort of focused on using mitigating information about your client’s background, certainly talking about the nature of the plot, but you’re not trying to be adversarial or sort of aggressive.
Pardiss Kebriaei: You’re trying to be diplomatic and deferential to the judge and even to the prosecution to try to get your client a good deal.
Nima: Right, ‘cause it could be so much worse.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Yeah. I mean, you know, over 90 percent of criminal cases end in pleas and over I think 80 or maybe it’s less than that, but anyway, the vast majority of these terrorism cases end the same way. So it’s pretty much guaranteed that if you are charged with material support for terrorism today and for a long time, you are guaranteed prison time. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the entrapment was, how many government agents were involved, how much they facilitated, what happened, how little you actually did in terms of support. None of those things matter. You’re going to get prison time. I mean I’ve not looked, I’ve not seen one case where someone was acquitted who was actually charged with material support for terrorism.
Pardiss Kebriaei: There are some cases of people who have been charged with lying to the FBI, making fraudulent statements or some sort of immigration related violation, um, as a way of sort of, you know, just finding a way to arrest them. I think some of those cases, maybe there has been an acquittal, but in none of these materials support cases that I’ve looked at, and I could be wrong, there might be one or two or a sort of very, very small number. But nothing I’ve seen has resulted in anyone getting off.
Nima: So basically, the indictment is the conviction.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Absolutely. Absolutely. And a lenient sentence. I mean, like I said, you can get, it used to be that you could get 15, the maximum prison time you could get for one count of material support was 15 years. That’s not been increased to 20 years. So a lenient sentence is, you know, 11 years, 12 years.
Pardiss Kebriaei: I mean that’s, we’ve totally lost a sense of scale in terms of what that means, you know, I mean, you know, you have a 19 year old who’s going to spend the next decade in prison and then have decades of government surveillance over him and that kind of supervised release surveillance is pretty onerous. I mean, it means you can’t, you have monitoring software installed on your computer or you’re not allowed to use a computer without the permission of your probation officer. You have to report to your probation officer every time you want to leave your district. There are even provisions in some cases that say you cannot associate in any way with anyone who is involved in violence or terrorism without defining what that means. You’re ordered to have mental health or quote unquote “de-radicalization” therapy. Forced to take medication. I mean, you know, it’s that kind of, it’s not just checking in with your probation officer. They are really onerous provisions that stay with you for, you know, in most cases, like a couple of decades, at least.
Adam: The point you made about the lack of adversarial nature of the process is a really, really important one as it pertains to public perception in the media. So when I try to explain the stakes to people, like, I’ll explain the nature of these entrapments to your layman. Right? Or even some people who may be listening and didn’t know a lot of this stuff. They say, “Well, they have a lawyer, don’t they?” So there’s an assumption that if this was a big deal, they would bring it up, but the deck is stacked against them. So off the record, I talked to one of the lawyers of one of the people we mentioned in the show, I won’t name them. This person was speaking to someone overseas, uh, who was allegedly an ISIS recruiter in the Middle East. And it occurred to me that this case fit every single, every single detail of an FBI entrapment case, but unlike all the others, there was never any disclosure by the FBI that there wasn’t an informant or an FBI agent, which led me to believe that it was very likely that there was a CIA informant and a CIA agent involved in this. Because domestically the FBI does this, but on a global scale we know that the CIA does this a lot too, to sort of track some of the patterns of people who were going to Syria, 2014, 2015. Right? So I asked him, I said, as it ever occur to you that maybe this mystery person who they, who they contacted, who they fell in love with, of course, like all the other ones, um, you know, promised them marriage and Jihad and so forth that this person was working for either American or foreign intelligence. Because I know there was a case in one of the recruits in Turkey. They alleged that it was Canadian intelligence that had, that had entrapped them and he looked at me, he’s like, “You know, that’s totally possible.” And I’m like, “Did you ever consider it?” And he says, “No, that’s not what I was paid to do. That’s not what I was assigned to do.” They’re not really, these lawyers, you know, again, in their defense they can’t ask these existential questions, they don’t have the time or the capacity, their job is to make sure their client doesn’t spend 20 years in prison. So these broad questions that have to be asked by the media, they have to be asked by people like you and people frankly like me and others. But, you know, it’s unfortunate because people assume there’s an adversarial legal system, but there isn’t one.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Not at all. Um, and there’s a penalty for going to trial. So if you go to trial, I mean there’s a reason why people don’t go to trial. If you go, you’re facing the full, the full total of all the counts, the various accounts that the prosecution can bring against you. And there are so many different ways that the government can use the same basic set of facts to turn it into five different counts of different charges that add up to like a life sentence or decades.
Pardiss Kebriaei: So absolutely it is false to say that you get due process, you know, due process in the federal system in these cases because you get, sure you get charged. So that’s different from Guantanamo, which I work on, but you know, you don’t, if these cases are not about going to trial and presenting a defense and having the, forcing the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and having a trial before your peers. They are not about that. They are about, uh, you know, getting a good plea deal that means you’ll be in prison for 10 years instead of 20 years or for however many years. Um, so it’s, I mean, you know, I mentioned Guantanamo, I got into these cases from, my background was actually funding Guantanamo detainees and the refrain in those cases by human rights groups and by lawyers including myself for many years has been ‘charge or trial’, you know, ‘charge or release’ meaning like the suggestion is that if only we were to charge people at Guantanamo, that would be a cure and it’s not. I mean that assumes that there is greater, I mean again it’s not exactly the same and there is something different, you know, there is greater process you get by being, by virtue of being charged. But again it’s not understood by the public and it’s certainly not true to say that there is actually more of a process than in most of these cases being charged and then striking a deal and then being able to present evidence to a judge at sentencing and try to make your case there.
Nima: It really just screams at the fact that labeling something terrorism or associated with terrorism, terror-linked, terror-affiliated does all the work for the government.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Yes.
Nima: I mean, there is apparently nothing else that can be done once that label is there, it’s game over. What are the ways to move forward with this? How are these labels, you know, able to be broken down?
Pardiss Kebriaei: I mean I think, first I just want to point out another challenge which is, um, not only is there no process and no public jury, you know, trial in most of these cases for reporters to observe and you know, for themselves and for the public to observe for itself, um, many lawyers or most lawyers, I would say criminal defense lawyers, aren’t going to want to talk to the press or to the public during the course of negotiations with the prosecution about a plea deal, you know, so it’s doubly difficult to try to really understand what happens in these cases and how convictions are produced. But that said, I mean, I think the way forward in part is at a very basic level to do what we can, um, in terms of investigation and reporting and trying to bring to bear as much scrutiny as we can. And that means, you know, I mean, there’s still a lot that one can glean from looking at the public court documents, like if you even look at a complaint or you know, the affidavit of the FBI agent who was the undercover, I mean, it’s, in many cases it’s plain, you know, how little there actually is, or if you read the sentencing documents, many of which are public. Not all. But, um, you know, you read those, you get a sense of the defendant’s history, you know, their background, their mental health issues, their abuse. So there are still ways, and it clearly, I mean, there have been reporters who have done the research and profiled certain cases and I think that that needs to, that needs to happen more. I mean, its still in the minority of, you know, the reporting is still far too little. Um, and I think there’s more that can be done. So I think that at a basic level it takes scrutiny, press and public scrutiny.
Adam: I’ve said over and over again that I think that if most journalists would actually read the affidavit or read the indictment-
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Adam: Like actually read it. Like actually read it, instead of the FBI press release, which is always what they link to. Its clearly what they read.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. Right.
Adam: That the way they frame it would be radically different. And it’s deeply, we note at the top of the show that the Rochester plot by Emanuel Lutchman, which was totally bogus, that it was one of the few instances where local media pushed back against it and the only reason it was is because the plot was a New Year’s Eve plot and they had to cancel their New Year’s Eve party that night and citizens were outraged because it’s a tradition in Rochester apparently for the last like 50 years or so.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Adam: So they were calling up the new station saying, “Why the hell did you cancel our New Year’s Eve plot?” So unless you’re middle class white media consumer is bothered, nobody really bothers to look into this stuff.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. No, and I mean it’s really, I mean it’s, it’s sort of random, like I was just, I’m not going to be able to be specific about the case where there was a case in Florida involving an entrapment, it was an entrapment case of a young man who had immigrated from Cuba, who had, I think there were mental health issues involved in his case. It was another one of these outrageous cases and there was a local reporter, um, who he, I think he went to trial and she went to his trial and she reported on it and it was some of the best reporting I’ve seen on these cases and it was from a local reporter in Florida who was writing for a very local paper. Um, but if, you know, if more reporters at that level certainly did that kind of reporting to educate their community about, you know, the person who just got convicted and to have a counter narrative to, you know, the article that inevitably gets written about the conviction, um, you know, that alone would make a difference. And then certainly at a national level, I mean, the reporting that I see in The New York Times is ridiculous. I mean, it’s unacceptable. There’s been pieces that have gone into a bit more depth, but I would say the focus is when there’s more depth, it’s about radicalization. It’s been sort of a focus on who the defendant is and how they were radicalized and what their trajectory was. It’s not really looking at the court case and the conviction and the government’s role and how a conviction was produced. Um, so the pieces that I’ve seen in large part, you know, in mainstream or more sort of, you know, outlets like The Times to the extent they’ve gone deeper, it’s in that way.
Adam: Oh yeah. They love, they love the stories in 2014, 2015 about “What makes ISIS tick, why are all these Americans joining them?” You know, there was supposedly these hundreds and hundreds of Americans that were just flooding over there. It turns out that it’s probably, you know, I could count them on one hand, so that whole moral panic was horseshit. Maybe it was certainly less true probably in Europe. I think that in France and UK it was actually more of a problem. Certainly in countries like Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, which were basically providing the fighters for Al-Nusra and ISIS, especially in that timeframe with which they were at the same organization in 2013, 2014. But the idea that Americans were somehow in mass going to join ISIS was never true. And yet it was the entire basis behind the whole moral panic.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. Right, no it’s the minority of cases. I mean people, in most of these cases its someone getting stopped at the airport or even before.
Adam: And The New York Times had 9,000 of these fucking stories about ISIS and everyone would hand wring and share it on Twitter and go, “Oh my gosh, it’s everywhere.” But it turns out it was like literally at most five people.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. No I mean, that’s right. I mean, most of these stories are about let’s get into the head of a terrorist and understand how they became a terrorist, which fine, you know, but alongside that there is zero analysis in those outlets of, you know, of anything else. And then what drives me particularly crazy is this narrative of sort of reporting where the angle is, “Look, we prosecuted a terrorist in court and nothing happened, um, you know, and we are capable. Our federal courts are capable of this and we don’t need places like Guantanamo.” I mean that is the-
Adam: Yeah the liberal version of Guantanamo.
Pardiss Kebriaei: That’s the liberal sort of talking point. So even places like the Marshall Project, which should know better because there’s an understanding of how broken the criminal justice system is in this bizarre way. There’s just this total disconnect. The only reporting I’ve seen on these domestic cases has been to make that point to say, look, there was this, this major terrorism case that happened in federal court in downtown Manhattan. And there was, the sky didn’t fall and you know, it was fine. And it’s to make the point that, right our federal courts are capable. Um, and there isn’t much more to the article.
Adam: Well that’s Bill Keller for you.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Yeah. So it’s, you know, it’s particularly bizarre to me to have criminal justice people, well I don’t think it’s mostly criminal justice making that point. Anyway outlets like that, who on their other pages talk about how broken the system is and you know, what kinds of conditions defendants are held in to sort of coerce them into making plea deals. You know, what kind of sentences they face that force them into accepting a deal. How rare it is to actually go to trial. What happens at trial. Um, you know, the racism that is embedded in the system and yet none of that is talked about, um, in, yeah.
Nima: Because once you scream ‘terror’ then you can get away with it.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Nima: Right, I think that’s such a great point to bring up the idea that these, that these trials not only serve to chest-thump about the FBI’s, you know, ability to thwart attacks that they themselves created, but then the press not only lets them do that in print but then spins it exactly to bolster up the success and the nobility of the US justice system.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. Right.
Nima: So it kind of has this like double whammy of both this kind of right wing security state back patting and this liberal hand wringing about, about justice. Uh, I think that’s a really important point.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Just one, you know, you had asked the question about the way forward and what we can do. I think part of what’s missing to the point of what we were just talking about in the criminal justice system is a, is a bridge to criminal justice advocates who know better, who know the system, know how broken it is and would have that context for seeing these cases. I think part of the problem is that human rights advocates are the people who are out there sort of making talking points and issuing press releases and sort of doing the talking about these cases are largely um, you know, they are people who are disconnected, are not criminal justice advocates, who don’t have that context. That are largely national security people. I mean a lot of that sort of point about the strength of the federal courts and the federal system in relation to Guantanamo, that talking point comes from national security people in human rights organizations who don’t work in the criminal justice system. So anyway, there’s, there’s, I think a bridge that needs to be made to those advocates in the criminal justice field who can help translate and explain some of the unfairness and the injustice in these cases because it had roots. I mean clearly entrapment is not a new thing. The use of corrupt informants is not a new thing. So some of these things have precedent.
Adam: Yeah. The whole model is War on Drugs. I mean that’s where all that stuff comes from.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right, exactly.
Adam: If you’re listening to this and you operate in this world or know people like, you’re a bad person, like, this is bad. Stop. I’m scolding now. I’m finger wagging. I’m literally finger wagging. Like, it’s like we all know it’s bullshit. It’s one of the weirdest, like, theaters that goes on.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right.
Adam: It’s morally repugnant that this is something that goes on without a lot of sort of meaningful criticism except around the margins. Right. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s like the whole thing is such a charade.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Right. And the cost is dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of young people, mostly young people who are sitting in prison for the next ten, twenty, however many years of their lives, you know.
Nima. Yeah, and their families.
Pardiss Kebriaei: And their families. Absolutely.
Nima: Uh, well, we will leave it there. Thank you so much Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. It was so great to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Pardiss Kebriaei: Yeah, it was great talking to you guys. Thank you.
Adam: Uh, yeah. So, uh, interesting to get the legal perspective there cause you know, again, you and I always say most of those are bullshit. I think your average moral person could look at these and go, yeah, most of those are bullshit.
Adam: I think even your most like, you know, throw, throw the book at him, right-wing asshole can look at least a couple of these and be like, and that’s really not fair or that’s kind of sleazy, but the idea that these lawyers are not about that argument because the way the system is set up is that they just try to get them from 35 years in federal prison to six years in prison.
Nima: Right, exactly.
Adam: That’s what you see.
Nima: It’s already such a losing battle that it’s purely damage control, right I mean, it’s-
Adam: Because there’s no one on the other side to ask the bigger questions.
Adam: And certainly not the media who mindlessly repeats all these headlines non-stop all the time. “ISIS plot, ISIS plot, Foiled ISIS plot.” Now what if they said something like, “FBI foils plot largely of their construction.” They would have a different-
Nima: Right. “FBI drives fake car bomb to Christmas tree lighting.” That’d be like, “What?”
Adam: Somehow has press conference ready to go.
Nima: Right, exactly. Press release, pre-written, right. Media contacts found in glove compartment.
Adam: And I, you know, of the things, and again, like we mentioned before, we’re truffle pigs, right? We look for the shit we searched out and like there’s certain topics that where there’s just such a massive gap between reality and fiction, reality and what’s reported and I gotta say like pound for pound, the terror plot coverage versus what really happened. I mean that like my first five articles at Fair cause they just kept dishing them out. I mean ISIS plot? There is no ISIS involved in this plot.
Adam: I mean there was a massive headline in The New York Daily News where it’s got the police sketch artist of the three guys it says, “ISIS in Brooklyn.” There was never any ISIS in Brooklyn. Now they could make some theoretical argument that if they showed allegiance with ISIS that by definition makes them ISIS, but that’s not how the average person interprets that. They think there’s some sleeper cell taking orders from, from Baghdadi back in Raqqa and that’s just not what’s going on.
Nima: And that they’re sitting, you know, in a neighborhood close to you and close to your family and that this is happening all around you and could and could strike at any at any moment. That’s the fear. That’s keeping the fear alive. It’s the same reason we see endless reports of, “They’re coming in through Mexico,” “They’re coming down through Canada,” “They’re, you know, coming by sea and drilling up through the fucking ground.” Like that’s why it is just to perpetuate this constant fear and in the case of these FBI entrapment cases, they all tend to hinge on these kinds of thought crimes.
Adam: It’s just deeply, its just, it’s, it’s so immoral, and I wish I had a less corny way of putting it. But so many of these cases are just wrong. Like these are people that are spending twenty, thirty years in federal prison for going to an airport because they thought they were going to go marry someone. I don’t know how a moral person can look at this and think this is a good or desirable thing and the media, which again is very atomized and it’s all about the headline and basically reprints the FBI press release is totally copeable in maintaining this regime of exploitation and racist demagoguery. And I wrote, one of the articles I wrote for Fair once was how the corporate media paved the way for Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Because you have these networks like CNN and even to some extent NBC and MSNBC hand wringing over Trump’s Muslim ban, but for the last three years they’re running these ISIS plot stories uncritically on loop. Like what did you think was going to happen?
Nima: Right, exactly.
Adam: Xenophobia and Islamophobia is the logical byproduct of hyping every time the FBI farts into the greatest crime, you know, fucking Al Capone. I mean, that’s the logical implication, right? Trump just took that and ran with it but like you can’t run ISIS videos on loop. You can’t run all these terror plots on loop. You can’t every single beheading video on loop and not expect there to be some type of backlash.
Nima: And so then you see that the new liberal hero, Robert Mueller, had so much to do with this in the wake of 9/11.
Adam: So did James Comey.
Nima: Right. Exactly.
Adam: James Comey has got more bodies than MS-13. James Comey has put more people in prison for thought crime and for being, you know, dupes than, I mean I, I, it’s dozens. Its scores. Lives ruined, lives are over, these lives are over these and they’re never getting these lives back. And these are the people that in theory the FBI should be protecting. The most vulnerable, the mentally unwell, you know, so they did some pro ISIS scribblings on Facebook right? What I think a moral and normal society would do is try to get them counseling or try to like say hey, maybe they’re saying it’s not, you know, there’s other ways of dealing with this by the way, this is how a lot of other countries deal with this. But in the US they see that as an opportunity to get the fish on the hook and to reel them in.
Nima: And to put people in prison and to then put it on blast so that War on Terror is still something that needs to be prosecuted. So that budgets stay inflated, so that prisons stay full and brown people stay scared. Um, and since we like to kind of dig into history a bit on this show as well as more recent examples of these issues, I did want to read this one section from a New Yorker article that came out just a couple of years ago, but it’s about a court case in 1951. And so here’s the, here’s the quote, in 1951, Supreme Court Justice William O’Douglas dissented from a ruling related to the conviction of Communist Party leaders, and offered a warning about laws so broad that quote, “illegality is made to turn on intent, not on the nature of the act.” End quote. He wrote quote, “We then start probing men’s minds for motive and purpose; they become entangled in the law not for what they did but for what they thought.” End quote. And so we see that really playing out. It used to be directed at, you know, lets say communists and now it’s directed at jihadists.
Adam: A lot of these entrapment methods were, were, um, perfected in the War on Drugs. These were very, very common during the eighties and nineties even today. These elaborate, elaborate plots.
Nima: It should also be noted that the, that the press was not always so, basically, obsequious to power in this regard. They did not always just blast out these headlines. I’ll just quote now from a Rolling Stone piece, uh, from 2012, which talks about a specific case in 1972. So, “In the 1972 ‘Camden 28’ trial of Catholic left conspirators who tried to steal and destroy registration records from a local draft board, the star witness got his breaking-and-entering training from the FBI and swore in court that the accused never would have raided the building absent his leadership.” The article goes on, “Newsday editorialized in 1972 of the Camden Case, ‘We have come to expect such tactics from totalitarian nations that have no respect for individual rights permitting dissent. They have no place in America and those who advocate them have no place in this government.’” That was a Newsday editorial about the government basically entrapping people to break the law. So hopefully next time we see a headline stating how successfully, uh, the FBI has foiled the next plot-
Adam: There’s a 95 percent chance there’s no ISIS involved.
Adam: Good show.
Nima: Good show.
Adam: Thank you for joining us. I hope we’ve depressed you as usual. That’s why we’re here.
Nima: And thank you again for listening. And of course to our critic level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant is Josh Kross. Our research assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. The music is by Granddaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, March 21, 2018.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.